I went back to a very odd spot this last week... a place I hadn't really been in quite a while.
A few years ago, I was burned out in every sense of the word- ministry-wise, emotionally, physically, spiritually... I left the church I was at in NC (a brief detour between now and my 2 years in Europe) and came back here to Portland to pursue a Masters in counseling at Western.
I was so gone on church that I thought if I never walked into another evangelical establishment again, I'd be happy.
The funny thing was, I had all these ideas floating around in my head for what church could be... and my friend Tim, who was the Young Adults guy at a pretty conservative Bible church here in town said "We need some of that here!"
And so was born Reach 2.0... it was kind of Evergreen in utero, at least a number of aspects of it. Within its context of Lake Bible Church, we never had the freedom to work out ministry philosophy and community stuff the way we would have liked... but for about a year and a half, we got fairly funky with what a community's gathering could be. People came, it was good, God used it... and we shut it down. The larger church as a whole didn't really dig what we were cooking up (the pastor of that church is now preaching sermons where he decries Blue Like Jazz and Velvet Elvis as he pounds (literally) copies of those particular books against the pulpit) and we eventually knew it had run its course.
But it was fun while it lasted.
Fun and stressful.
We had a real (over) emphasis on the actual gathering. I honestly thought at the time that if we had a cool gathering, a great community would be formed around it. I now know that the opposite is true- gather a good community and the time you gather as a whole community will largely take care of itself, flowing out of the goodness of the community itself.
But at the time I was heavily, heavily invested in making sure that what we did was cutting edge...
We experimented with media in all its forms, were into the "sensory" thing, wanted everything to look, feel, smell, taste. sound just right.
That's a lot of things to get right, and a lot that can go wrong.
Some of the most stressful times in my life were just before those Reach 2.0 deals. I'd have video still rendering, be running around trying to adjust the lights and color gels, getting the couches just so, making sure the musicians and whoever was leading the discussion knew their cues and the order of things...
It was a really fertile time for me, when God was working a lot of things out in my heart, not the least of which was a desire to get back into pastoral ministry... but I've got to tell you, the pressure I felt before those gatherings to make everything work right was intense. So many variables, so much that we simply didn't know how to do but wanted to try, and so much riding on it for us... we felt like doing this is the only thing that makes staying here bearable...
There were times when I thought I was going to have a coronary, times like once, during the gathering directly after 9-11, when I had a video rendering all through the service, a video that was meant to top off the speaker's message and bring it all home... and the video finished rendering while the guy was praying. No joke- He said "amen" and it was done, and I pressed "play"... I think that evening took about 5-6 years off my life.
I never, ever, ever wanted to feel that kind of pressure again, and that's a big part of why we do things much, much, much more simply at evergreen.
But I went back to that place again this last week.
Ash Wednesday was meant to be a pretty simple gathering for us- no musicians, just some responsive readings by the people, some time spent in contemplation, some time spent processing through some stations... no problem, right?
Well, set-up took longer than I thought, some elements (the Ashes!) were a little later in showing than I thought, and so it was 5 minutes before our start time when I finally got around to hooking my laptop up to the second projector, the one we were going to project the words on that would form the responsive readings which would serve as the anchor part of the evening.
Only problem was, the little adaptor I need to connect up my Mac to the projector had gone AWOL. I dug through everything- all our totes, my bag, the projector bag... nothing.
Okay- Amy D. has her work laptop- we'll just throw this on my thumb drive and zip it on over...
My thumb drive was gone too.
Writing about it now, it seems so silly... but man- there it was- that old feeling. That intense pressure of feeling like everything is riding on me making this right. My identity wrapped up in producing a cool experience for these people because, this is what I do... and in the back of my mind the fear that not having it together leads to people jumping ship to places that do. So all in all, a complete lack of faith in God working things out not as I necessarily planned, but as He wants them to be, and a complete lack of faith in people to be anything other than simple consumers who will gravitate to the coolest spiritual "product."
The long and short of it is that we found a thumb drive, the ashes for the service did arrive, everyone was extrememly gracious and I think the evening worked on a lot of levels, not the least of which was a call to remember what's really important and to focus on Jesus as our salvation- not food, drink, success... or even smoothly running gatherings where everyone is impressed with the creativity of the one leading it.
Thanks God for always being willing to help me circle back to lessons I thought I had learned, but maybe needed to review another time. And thanks Evergreeners for understanding your occasionally neurotic pastor...
Anybody else identify with any of this??