Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Could I Edit Myself Out of My Church?

My church is creating material for small groups to complement a message series. Members of the ministry staff, participants in our writers group, and others have been invited to submit supplemental devotionals. Another freelance editor and I were asked to edit them.

I’m in the middle of working on more than a dozen pieces written by people I barely know (it’s a big church), staff I’ve never personally met (it’s a big church), and coordinating with another freelance editor I didn’t even know was a freelance editor (it’s a big church). Unlike when I edit professionally for publishing houses, I’m not "in Kansas anymore.”

“We might have to change churches,” I said to my husband, who serves in hospital visitation.

“And why is that?” he asked.

“Because most writers don’t like to be edited. What am I doing?”

He thinks I was kidding, and he’s right. But my slight worry behind the joke is real. As a pastor’s daughter and later a pastor’s wife, I sometimes found myself in the center of or at least around the edges of church controversy, church snubs, church division…Must I go on? For years now, I’ve avoided being anywhere near the potential for church messes. They aren't pretty and they can hurt. I clearly remember sitting in a church office, crying my eyes out after someone scolded me in front of a roomful of church people. I had offended the other person without realizing it, and I was miserable,  hurt, and embarrassed.

So why did I put myself here where I could hurt someone’s feelings in this church by agreeing to edit these devotionals? It’s not that I’m not comfortable with my skill set, or that I’m not diligent about assuring authors their work is theirs, not mine. Other than for rules of grammar, spelling, and agreed-upon style, any changes I suggest are subject to their review and approval. I make this clear for every  author I edit, serving them on a professional basis. But this was serving community.

In addition to having some fear of hurt feelings, I’m one of those introverted beings who find it difficult to determine how to serve in the church without thrashing about like a fish out of water. That is, unless God paints a big green arrow, which he’s metaphorically done for me more than once. And I thank him for it. When it came to service within the church in the past, I often served in ways that filled a need, especially in the areas that affected my own children, but that didn’t put me even remotely in an area of gifting, lit in the green glow of his will. So I learned to wait for that green arrow. (That he has not seemed to prompt me to visibly serve in the church much in recent years would take another post to explore.)

When the writers group began meeting in the new year, one of God’s green arrows not only appeared, but, I think, glowed. One of the leaders specifically invited me to join, which works well with introverted people, and I mustered the courage to do it. After all, I am a writer, and I like to work with writers.

You’ll be asked to edit at some point, God said. I gulped. Uh, okay. But I didn't know it would be so soon.

I'm introverted, yes. But I’d like to get to know all these writers better. I’d like to encourage them in their gift. I might like to be in a small group with one or more of them and “do life together.” That means this service as editor is a risk; I could mess up, offend someone without meaning to. Oust myself. I’ve written about how editors must be “fair, balanced, and unafraid,” but this is working “fair, balanced, and a little afraid.” Yet I know taking a risk when following God's arrows can lead to doors of opportunity, ready to open.

I shared what I’d said to my husband with the leader who invited me to the writers group, and we both laughed. But then she said in all sincerity that she’s prayed for God to be at the center of it all. I’m so glad she has, and so have I.

In the meantime, I’m trying to see all the green arrows God has for me, especially any beginning to glow. I'll just have to not edit myself out of my church.

Is God painting green arrows for you?

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