By Michael De Ruyter
This past February, at a pastor's retreat in Austin, Texas, God moved in my life as clearly as he did when he first called me to ministry. He invited me to live into a new season of emotional maturing, which I have come to see as virtually identical to spiritual maturing. One way to define emotional maturity is the ability to stay relationally connected with another person while at the same time not having one's own feelings and behaviors determined by that person. Here's another way to think about it: emotional maturity is needed in order to consistently live according to one's own values and beliefs rather than being controlled by anxious feelings with any given person or situation. Defining emotional maturity and actually seeing it in my own life are two very different things.
This pastor's retreat was the first step in a series of events known as the Ridder Leadership Initiative. As a partnership between Western Seminary, the RCA, and the Ridder Leadership endowment, the Ridder Initiative is designed to help congregations become fruitful and faithful in sustained missional engagement. Our facilitators for this ongoing process, Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor, insist that only renewed and transformed pastors will lead renewed and transformed congregations. The week in Austin greatly surpassed my expectations and was the beginning of that ongoing journey for me, bridging the gap between knowledge and understanding and the experience of real growth.
As we worked together as a large group, in small groups, and in extended times of personal reflection and journaling, I began to see how my limited emotional maturity was limiting my ministry. It was also affecting my own sense of peace and joy before God and my relationships with others. It is never fun to come face to face with one's own brokenness, but on the other side there is new life. Even in Austin the Spirit was stirring something new and fresh in my life.
Since Austin, and in connection with my coach from the regional synod, I have been working to lead out of this place of growing emotional depth and maturity. Ministry has become richer and more rewarding and more fruitful as I have become less anxious and reactive in stressful or demanding situations. Instead I'm learning to manage my own anxiety and trust others enough to be vulnerable and authentic in relationships. Through the Ridder Leadership Initiative God has energized new hope in me that he really is at work renewing our church by first renewing her pastor.
Michael De Ruyter is pastor at Midland Reformed Church in Midland, Michigan.