"It is a joy to be expended in some vocation that is greater than one's self."- Will Willimon
"It is a joy to be expended in some vocation that is greater than one's self."- Will Willimon
(I wrote this about a year and a half ago, just beyond our one year anniversary as a community)
I feel the weight of this pastoring thing.
We're past our one year anniversary now. I guess we're no longer "newlyweds" on this church adventure. It looks like (fingers crossed) God is going to allow us to keep doing this thing for at least a little while longer.
The more "successful" something gets, the heavier it gets.
That having been said, it's a good heavy. It's the heavy of lifting only (or almost only) what I as pastor am supposed to lift.
But more and more I understand where things begin to change for some people... how they go from that pure small thing to that big corporate thing- from soul to commerce and from people to program.
Here it is- when there are 25 people in your church community, when you are the only one getting paid, when your community is a mix of mature core group people and non-Christians who are being taken care of by those core group people, church is light as a feather. Yes, there's the question of "Will we make it?" But your concern is for you, your family, your finances and you can always go and do something else. Those core people will be okay, the non-christians they are taking care of will continue to be taken care and wouldn't mourn the passing of your little church experiment.
But as the community grows, things change. Now, you're beginning to pay others. They are depending on you. Screw up, and people suffer. There are non-Christians who are becoming a part of your community (and good thing too- isn't that the whole purpose?) who need answers, who need connection to others, and hopefully the community will reach out to them, fold them in, love them and teach them... but you've got to at least monitor the process, keep your finger on a lot of different pulses.
I guess the weight I feel is the weight of souls. Those who need to hear things explained in a simple, understandable way, and who need the next step. And those who walked away from the simple- the irreduceable mystery of the Gospel boiled down to alliterated bullet points and step-by-step Christianity. How in the world do you speak to both of those people at the same time?
I felt this accutely yesterday as we worked through a happy little passage in 1st John. The antiChrist vs Christ, liars vs truth, essential black and white vs the experienced reality of a grey existence. (Inner dialogue: Don't screw this one up Bob...)
It just feels like it's counting more and more and more. Like as offerings grow and we think about paying the other pastors on staff, now it's not just me and my family but they and theirs. It's not just a small handful of people but more and more hurt Christians who may not give church (and God?) another chance, more non-Christians who need to find Jesus in and through us. More people being fed and clothed by our community...
What if I teach them wrong? What if I lead them wrong? What happens then?
In all this I have been comforted this weekend by the presence of the Holy Spirit both in the passage of 1st John we worked through and with me personally. I think Pentecost came at the right time this year :)
Ultimately, Christ is the pastor of these people and the Holy Spirit is the teacher of their souls. I'm a channel, not the source. It's not up to me.
I can help or I can hurt, but in the final equation, it's not my gig. It's not about me.
If we give in to the programmatic impulse, it will be at these times (which will happen again and again) when our size has grown larger than our organic approach has allowed us to structure for. These will be the times we're tempted to impose some structure, buy a program, import a methodology, rather than allowing ourselves as a community to actually feel the tension and figure out our response to that tension. Structure will come, but from the community praying about a need and then figuring out what feels right for them, not the leadership figuring out what the next cool thing in that area of ministry is... structure in response to growth, not in advance of it. I know that seems like bad business practice...
But I know there is no economy of scale when it comes to people's souls. It's the work of a craftsman, not an assembly line. You can educate people in groups, but you form them one-on-one-on-one (you, the other person, and the Holy Spirit). You can standardize your approach to making certain things... I just don't know if "disciples" is one of them. And that means this will never be simple. There is no magic bullet. For as many people as we have, that's how many pastoral approaches will be called for.
Before we started this thing I would flippantly throw out the phrase "If your church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice?" I never thought about the weight that would come if we were ever able to answer "yes."
A letter I got (edited)...
I just read your article on the ooze about "Why You Should Plant A Church".
I am currently a _________ pastor at an AG church in my community. Part of my responsibility has been in working with the student ministries and with the worship team. I tend to lean pretty contemporary and feel that we should use every means imaginable to let people encounter the love of Christ. Thus we have sponsored battles of the bands, coffee house nights, etc. All encouraging an unchurched, non christian crowd to attend. We do so by inviting some secular bands to perform. As you can imagine in our church setting this has raised some eyebrows and some tempers, but it has also put me in contact with some great people who really do have a spiritual hunger, who would never otherwise seek to feed at our trough.
...I have another dilemma that has arisen from all of this. A young man who grew up in church but wandered to a far country has through this type of ministry recently rededicated his life to Christ. He brought his guitar and has been playing with our worship team. A couple of Sundays ago I asked if he would like to sit in for one of the vocalists who couldn't make it. He consented and did a phenominal job. Last week when our senior pastor was on vacation and I was asked to speak, I had him lead worship.
The deal was I told him he could sing whatever songs he felt led to and could use whatever musicians he wanted.
This young man plays in a indie band at local clubs on weekends. He has for years and I have no problem, with that at all. Much to my suprise on Sunday morning, some of his band members played with our worship band. It was a prayer answered for me. He did a temendous job leading worship. Everything had an edge to it that atracted younger people into worship. I was more than pleased.
Now comes the rub. One of the other young musicians who has some jealousy issues went to his website and saw a picture of his band playing in a bar, and a shot of him with a cigarette in his mouth and drink in hand. Now I realize that he is on a journey, and perhaps I put him "up front" too soon. But this has started a lynch mob of older, supposedly "more mature" christians, who are ready to string me up for allowing this poor example in front of our congregation.
Any advice. I don't want to outstep my bounds, but I certainly don't want to allow anything to damage this young, christian musician, who God has undoubtedly been at work in. or anything to prevent him from continuing to pursue using his talents in worship to God.
Thanks for any input you can give.
I constantly bounce back and forth between various places on the continuum of confidence and inadequacy. It's not that I feel like I'm a complete schmuck at the whole pastor thing, but you know, these are real life situations we're dealing with here. Real decisions, real families, real stuff.
So I find myself today praying for wisdom: Wisdom to love people well and generously and wisdom to set good, healthy boundaries. Wisdom to forgive and let love cover over a multitude of sins and wisdom to hold people to account for their own good and the good of everyone involved. Just wisdom...
The feelings of confidence come from those moments, those flashes of beauty and brilliance where I can clearly see the Spirit of God having His way in our community, moving us farther towards maturity and nearer to being the missional, Jesus-embodying community He had in mind. Knowing that God has not abandoned you? That He is very present even in the midst of chaos and hard conversations? Priceless.
The feelings of inadequacy come from the same places, I think. Knowing that God will move... or He won't. That He will give me the wisdom I need... or will allow me to learn some hard lessons the old fashioned way- by screwing everything up.
Man- I hope I don't screw everything up.
I'm actually doing okay on this cool (!) summer morning. Like I said earlier... just praying. So I suppose even this is a prayer. Lord, please help me. Help me to listen when I need to, speak when I need to, and help me to know the difference between the two. Let me depend on You to create this community, but in that dependence work- work for unity, for love, for Christ-centered community. And please help me not to screw it all up. Amen.
Sorry for the random stroll through Bob's synapses, everyone...
I posted this idea this morning over at pastorhacks.net. Obvious? Humor me... I'm still learning. :)
So... probably the biggest area of contention between my wife and me is the computer. My time on the computer, to be more precise. My prodigious, profligate, outrageous time on the computer to be exact.
I'm going to be doing some thinking about how to tame the beast... and here's one I've been formulating as a personal rule regarding email-
1st thing in the morning is bad enough (something about priorities and hearing from God before I hear from a lot of other sources, you know? At least for me...)
But particularly bad is the last-minute-just-before-you-go-to-bed email check. Why?
Mark Driscoll posts on pastoral burn out
Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
Seventy-six percent of Christian clergy are overweight versus 61 percent of the public, according to a national survey of more than 2,500 religious leaders conducted in 2004 by Pulpit and Pew, a research project on pastoral leadership based at Duke Divinity School.
Our Easter gathering was good... Nothing really different or special in the gathering itself (other than that we did announcements at the end), just a good time of shaking off the sorrow of Good Friday and embracing the joy of the resurrection. We ended up having more people than we've ever had at a gathering, which was very cool, though it always surprises me when it happens (okay- it's a bit less surprising on Easter...)
But this weekend got me thinking... There are some dangers for the soul of a community surrounding Easter time.
And the soul of a pastor, I think.
I want us to be careful of how we think, talk and act around times like this last weekend.
Remember, Little Pastor- Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to pimp our programs or build our flock, even under the guise of "concern for lost". And it's not about me. (Please wait a minute while I repeat that a few times to myself... ) Heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing the Gospel preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.
Times like Easter and Christmas are dangerous for us in that we begin to see them as something different than what they really are for the life of a community. This is where the Christian calendar really helps, I think- focusing our communal life on the events of the life of Christ all year around, rather than seeing "two big outreach event Sundays!" every year in Christmas and Easter.
Yeah, a lot of people come to a Sunday service once or twice and year, and they are more likely to come on Easter than just about any other time than Christmas. And yes, the Holy Spirit is amazing, drawing people to Himself even through our goofy Easter pageants and songs (or, our smoke machines and laser shows, if that's your thing...).
The danger in giving in to the impulse to do something radically different and humongous big and special at these times is what we communicate both to our community and those we are inviting to become a part of our community. What we subtly communicate (and sometimes not so subtly) to our people is that their job is to invite people who are not in our churches to come on Sunday morning so that the Pastor and the drama team and the worship guy and the Holy Spirit can take a whack at them.
I know that's overstating, but believe me... I've been there. And that's what "event evangelism" communicates, I think. Further, it often (unintentionally) communicates that it's not the job of the average person to be introducing people to Jesus. Leave it to the pros with the degrees and the training and the gifts.
How disempowering is that for people?
I would much rather we both explicitly and implicitly communicate a model that looks more like befriending people, enfolding them into the rhythms of our lives, sharing the highs/lows and how our faith informs those with them, integrating them into home groups and movie nights and the big events of our lives... and how natural would it be after all that love and enfolding that they become a part of our community, even before they believe? And then... that they believe, having seen it lived and tested and the reality of a life of faith, as opposed to simply a special sunday morning where the band rocks extra hard and the pastor has a few more funny stories than normal?
Easter is dangerous for those of us who are trying to avoid an attractional model of church because the attractional model reaches its zenith... or maybe its nadir... every year at Easter as thousands of churches try to do "something special" in the hopes that their people will invite others to come and be bait-n-switched into a relationship with Jesus... and we, trying hard to do something a bit more simple and organic, are tempted to abandon the rhythms of our community in a misguided effort to "keep up."
Yeah... I said "bait 'n' switch" because that's what it is. More than simply communicate to our people that it's not their job, we communicate something to those we would love to see become part of our community... And it's not a positive message. In fact, if we're not careful, we could end up really disappointing some people. How?
By "offering" them less on subsequent visits. Less pizzazz... less oomph. I'd be kind of pissed off if the first week I went was Cirque Du Soleil and the next week was Phil and Ted's Bargain Rate Circus, you know?
I was super impressed to see another church planter dial it down a bit this year after hearing the disappointment of some people who came to Easter services last year and when coming back the next week were faced with a completely different (and less exciting) offering.
Look, I'm not saying we shouldn't take advantage of increased visitor attendance and preach the Gospel and hope that God does something amazing in people's lives...
I'm just saying that if that's your strategy- wait for someone to wander within range of your Gospel cannons and then fire on them in hopes of scoring a hit, or worse yet, doing some cool things in the hopes that they might be lured within range, then I think there a better way. Less defined, less able to be controlled by the pastors, less able to brag about at pastor's conferences or have a book written about it... but better. People loving people into your community and into relationship with Jesus.
It doesn't take mailers, banners, and Cirque Du Soleil every week. Just a bunch of loving, welcoming Christ followers. People who genuinely care. People who are seeking relationships with other people, and sharing life with them. A competent all-community gathering where things work well so as not to be a distraction from what God wants to do that morning, sure... but less of a focus on Sunday mornings as the center of community and more of a focus on the community and its revolving around Jesus Himself.
I remain convinced that what we win people with, we win them to.
update: Andrew Seely has some good and similar thoughts here
Allow me to give you a bit of insight into one of the barren places in the heart of someone who knows better... should know better... but struggles nonetheless.
I'm a church planter. A pastor. I love my community. I love my people. I love other communities... but not like I should, I think. Because if I did, I'm not sure I would feel like I do sometimes.
"It's kingdom, not competition."
How many times have I repeated that to myself? How many more times am I going to have to repeat that to myself before I get it?
I often don't have a problem with this. I'm usually able to keep a level head. In fact, just yesterday, I saw someone I hadn't seen at our gathering in a couple of weeks. As we chatted a bit, she told me she had visited another community the week previous and really liked it. In fact, she thought from now on, she might divide her time and her Sundays between us and them. When I heard that, I immediately told her "No! Don't do that! If evergreen isn't home for you, go be a part of that community. But pick one community and commit. Dig in, know them and be known by them. But don't split yourself..."
Like I said, I often don't have a problem with this.
But not always.
This feeling, this resurgance of the darker part of me was brought on by a comment someone made to me today that made me feel as though perhaps they were going to jump over to another community in town. The hard part is that
a. I have been excited about this person being a part of evergreen and
b. they were introduced to this other community through us sending a group of people there to feed the homeless teens they work with.
I try to hold our people with an open hand, knowing that ultimately they are God's, not "ours" and that some people will journey with us forever, some just for a short time. We're not the community for everyone. I know that.
But... this brings up the competitive feeling in me. The dark, rank part of my nature that sees church as a zero-sum game and people as units to be counted, added, listed... possessed.
Which is complete crap. I have less and less of a problem with the people who come to us from a certain very large, very well-known emergent-esque church here in town (I hear "Yeah... we used to go over there, but it was getting too big" at least once a week). So why worry when some people trickle down to a slightly smaller community we are serving?
Why would this affect me like this?
I don't know.
It just does.
Damn that dark, sticky place deep down in the corner of my soul...
"Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me."
I'm hitting a weird spot, here in ministry. A bit of personal black ice, as it were.
My subconscious has started messing me in the form of dreams again. It's been awhile since I've had any significant dreams, and lately, even though they haven't been as vivid as some in the past that I knew "meant something", I've been dreaming about Europe.
Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere...
It's just the dang two year mark approaching.
Something John Johnson told me awhile ago has really stuck with me. He said, your first year in a new ministry situation is generally spent just trying to keep your head above water, your second making mistakes/learning lessons and getting the lay of the land. The 3rd year in a situation is when you really begin to fire on all four cylinders, and generally continue to do so until a time of re-evaluation in your 5th year, or for some, the 7th.
The problem is that when most pastors hit some rough spots in that 2nd year, they take that as a "sign" and start the process of moving on. The average pastoral tenure is somewhere around 2.5 years.
Many don't allow themselves to stay long enough in a place to get effective.
This has been me. When I think back on all the 2 year stints I've put in, I'm amazed... Alaska, Portland (the first time around, a little longer than two years, but I had school to tie me down), the Netherlands, North Carolina, a couple more places here in Portland... ugh.
So, my psyche is baiting me. I keep dreaming about going back to the Netherlands. But it's just the internal 2-year speed bump.
I love my community and don't want to be anywhere else. I feel like I've learned a lot of lessons (and am still learning many) over the last two years... Can't wait to become effective! And as I pass the two year mark as a father (next week!) and as a lead pastor (April), I know my brain is going to mess with me.
I talked a bit here about the dual role of pastor/prophet and how the combination of the two can be difficult...
This week I'm preaching Luke 17. In it, Jesus says: "I am warning you! If a brother sins, rebuke him; then if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him."
I love that this comes as a warning... I also love the disciples' response to what they apparently considered an impossible command: They said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
I hate that the New Living tries to soften this and put some distance between what Jesus says and the disciples' immediate response (the NLT says "One day the apostles said to the Lord, 'We need more faith; tell us how to get it'" completely disconnecting the two).
Here's something interesting about this...
In the disciples' day, I have no doubt that the forgiving 7 times 70 (or seven times a day as Luke puts it) part was the issue. That was hard for them (of course, it's not as though it's not hard for us, either... but then again, none of us have ever seen someone stoned for sinning. I think Jesus is being pretty radical here in a society that didn't know a whole lot about second and third chances, much less 70th chances).
But I wonder if it's not the other clause in Jesus' command to us here that we ourselves will get tripped up on: If your brother (or sister) sins, rebuke (admonish, reprimand, reprove) him.
And everyone said... "Increase our faith!"
I think in our context, it's much easier to talk about forgiving, and forgiving prodigiously, than it is to talk about the confrontation God the Holy Spirit often uses to bring conviction, repentance and then forgiveness.
Lord, increase my faith...
But here, Jesus distills the essence of the prophet/pastor dualism; the admonishment and call to repentance, and then the open arms and true forgiving/embracing that follows.
Lord, increase my faith.
I have to be honest and say, I have no idea how this works practically. How do I approach people about personal sin? How do I do so particularly in light of the (perceived) power differential between "pastor" and "lay person"? Sure, we are all for confronting certain sins, but how do we handle the tough wedge issues divinding us as a nation and even as a church... things about which there are differing opinions?
Lord, increase our faith.
"Even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed," the Lord answered, "you could say to this mulberry tree, `May God uproot you and throw you into the sea,' and it would obey you!"
I really, really need to do this more often.
I miss my family... my wife, my son. But that's a good thing, isn't it?
I need to miss them more often.
Just a couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was convinced that I needed a vacation. He was equally convinced that this conference wouldn't be that. I tried to explain that I really thought it would be, but he remained unconvinced that it could be.
My goal in coming to the National Pastor's Convention was to try to get some mental and spiritual stimulation while simultaneously getting some physical and emotional rest.
David Fitch is the author of a book I was going to write once upon a time (everyone's writing the books I have in my head! Dang it!) called The Great Giveaway
He delineates some excellent take aways from both sides, and leaves us with the question we should all be wrestling with: "We would do well then as Christian leaders of an emerging Christianity to deal then with the question, 'what kind of community would we have to be in order to be able to say the kinds of things we are called to say to those gay and lesbian among us and our neighbors?'"
So, a little discussion on leadership has broken out in the comments on my 1st Seven Questions answer...
I wrote the post below, and Brian said:
Trust. Trust that we will find balance without having to run all over the teeter-totter trying to creating balance at each moment.
To which I said:
Oh, I do Brian.. but it's a three-legged stool, you know?
Trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us, trust in the community to listen to the Holy Spirit, and exercising my role as shepherd, our role as elders. It seems like if you kick out any of these three, you end up in trouble.
I can trust, but also act...
The trust keeps me from freaking out.
i hope. :)
To which Brian replied:
And then Starla chimed in:
Three legged stool? So, you think that the leadership is a different post than the community post? Somehow separate and distinct? Oh, dear God, no. Bob, you are part of the community and do not exist apart from it. And do you share the same weight as the Holy Spirit? Dear Blessed Lord! This analogy disturbs me so.
Having greater weight or responsibility is one thing, but you're own separate post!?! Simply having greater responsibility has been misused and overused so many times...by so many leaders...there must be a better way. Surely, there is, at the very least, a better analogy.
And I replied:
Well, I'll think more about it... but some thoughts:
It's an us/we (leadership) not a "me" and that's pretty important.
There are commands in Scripture directed specifically at teachers/pastors/leaders...
It seems as though God, in the context of community, calls some to higher responsibility...
We can flatten it as much as is humanly possible, but there will always be a role for leaders, right?
I separate it in my comment, because there may be a time when leadership needs to call the community to listen to the Holy Spirit more carefully (and vice versa!), right?
No wait... the more I think about this, the more I think it's an appropriate analogy. Let's change gears and see if it still works...
Take the issue of kid's ministry, right? We've been saying it's an everybody/all community thing... but some are stepping up and taking more responsibility in bringing structure to what we do with kids... so what's wrong with saying that kid's ministry rest on the legs of the community as a whole, and parents and those who have stepped up to facilitate? There's definitely overlap there, but also some areas where there's no overlap... each deserves to be singled out.
Or doing the Bridge feast? Clearly, the multnomah group depends on the community as a whole to do it and help make it happen, but they take the lead... feeding the Bridge kids rests on the legs of the community as a whole and the Multnomah Village Home Group...
So yeah, in the context of keeping the community on track, we depend on the Holy Spirit, on the community as a whole, and the leadership as a subset of the community.
So what do you think? Should leadership get it's own leg in the stool???
As an aside, I think starla was posting this as I wrote those last comments, but she asks some really good questions about just what leaders will be judged on, anyway:
I agree, Leaders, I believe, will be judged at a higher standard based on my reading of scripture. Am I judged by the correctness of my position? My ability to create consensus? The patience I show others? The gentleness of correction? I already am not perfect, nor can I be. I cannot have perfect theology or a perfect faith. So, how will I be judged?
Does that greater responsibility translate into a change in behavior? Maek me more conservative? Less likely to take risks? Does that mean a lay person does not share the burden of training others? Making others accountable? Operating under conviction?
It starts to look a great deal like the conversation we had about marriage...
(BTW-by "you" I meant leadership--it is no less strange for me to think of you, rich, chris, chip and stephen having your own 'leg'.)
AJ, one of a growing number of Quaker friends I have, posted this excellent observation/list of questions on her blog...
It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing but expecting a different result. How many times do I do that with Christmas? It comes but once a year, and during that trip around the sun I forget the “good intentions” I had of changing or of being different. But how can I be different if I haven’t sat with what happened previously? Change is generally a process, and some intentional steps have to be taken to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
What did I notice this past week?
What was something new?
What was something familiar?
Were these good?
What activities brought me closer to God’s heart?
What activities took me away from God’s peace?
Where did I encounter Christ?
What did I notice this past week?
I've noticed that there's a difference between the productive pastor and the spiritual pastor. It's not that I necessarily think the two are incompatible, it's just that overly focusing on the first will lead to a loss of the second.
I've spent the last couple of weeks obsessed with productivity. I think what started it out was reading that there's a magical ceiling/number (surprise, it's 120... right about where Evergreen sits) where if any more growth is going to occur, a pastor must transition from a teacher/shepherd to a teacher /leader.
Well, if you read this blog at all, you know that's like waving a red flag in front of a bull for me. I can't stomach the idea of pastor as CEO (which is what I think "leader" is code for)... so I got determined to get better (thru technology!) at keeping up with people. I've been on a mission for software (haven't found much really useful... there's a hole in the market for pastoral software, folks!), for productivity hacks (developed a few) and for reorganizing certain things in my shepherding, including contacting and even our website.
The long and the short of it is that while I've been engrossed in a couple of really big projects (including a complete website redesign), I've been feeling very spiritually disconnected... from people, from myself, from God.
I need to remember that for a pastor, "productivity" is more than whatever you can get out of a good business management book.
For a pastor, productivity means praying. It means remaining spiritual vital yourself... I just haven't felt that way over the last couple of weeks. So, I'm going to stop blogging for a moment and go and spend some time with God... Back later.
Okay... not all pastors... but we need to admit to certain pressures, right?
I think I'll bring the two big themes of recent weeks (at least here on the bob.blog) of Video Venues and Christmas Closures together in one final post sometime this week...
But let me say, the response to The Unspoken Issue with Christmas on Sundays has been wild. People agreeing! People disagreeing! Dogs and cats, living together... mass chaos!
Okay, it hasn't exactly been a battle of titannic, biblical proportions, but some interesting things have been said and some interesting folks have checked in...
One fascinating comment that was left last night that shows it's not just big church and big church pastors who struggle with some of these things:
"This week, I think about 20 people showed up to our church. 7 of them were on the worship team. I had to be at church by 8 to put a songlist together, rehearse the band, etc.
My kids (4 of them) expect that they are going to get presents on Christmas morning. If I have to prepare for a lousy, non-biblically-mandated church service on Christmas morning, just because it happens to fall on a Sunday (the pagan's choice for Sabbath), something is wrong."
What I hear is pressure.
Little known piece of trivia for you all... many pastors approach Christmas with a deep sense of ambivalence- that is, they both love it and hate it.
In talking with another pastor last week, we both came to the conclusion that we'll be glad when it's done :)
Christmas, Easter... these are hard times to preach. There's a lot of pressure to take your community through some very familiar stories/passages, and yet be creative with them. There's the added pressure of non-Christians showing up and a lot of regulars being gone. All in all, if you are in the pastoral vocation, Christmas is a time of great pressure and little peace.
Which is a shame.
Imagine having to make something "special" for a large group of people... And there's no second chance! One Christmas Eve when everyone brings the people they've been hoping to "get to church" (not a good strategy, by the way, but that's a different blog entry) and they are waiting with baited breath to hear God speak through you directly to their friends while at the same time making it magical and wonderful for their kids and for them. What if that wonderfully creative sermon from Zephaniah that seemed like such an awesome idea when it came to you at 3:30 in the morning, rather than being the delightful piece of homiletical masterwork you imagined, actually drops like a big fat farty noise in the middle of a public place... embarassing and no one will look you in the eye.
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night..."
Yeah, that's more like it. Better to stick with Luke...
Lots of pressure around the ol' Christmas tree...
Of course, I think it's like that for everyone these days, right? But for pastors, it all kinds of melds together in work/calling/family/identity stuff...
Okay... I hate that phrase, but let's set aside the little gag reflex we all get when we read "people management software", and help a brother out!
I'm needing something, something to help me stay connected with people.
RIght now I have a word doc list of eveyone who's "in" at evergreen (or at least "around a lot").
My management system is this.
Look at word doc.
Think to myself, "Hey! Haven't talked to them in awhile. I should call/email, etc"
Here's what I want- something to help track contacts and info- when and how often have I gotten together with someone, emailed them, called, etc. Who's getting most of my time? Who needs more? Who have we had over, too much and not enough?
Who gives the most money?
Totally, totally kidding about that last part! (Just for the record, I have no idea, don't see that info, don't want to!)
But you see what I'm looking for? Something MAC-based to help me out with staying connected with people.
Commence suggesting: now!
Okay... I know I said no podcast for this week, but since last week's is terribly late, I can post it today and no one's the wiser... heh heh heh...
The "After Gathering Podcast" wasn't doing it for me either this week or last week... gotta do some re-tooling and rethinking on what I want that to be. So none for today, sorry...
I was driving to the Horse Brass last night with our associate pastor, Chris and he thanked me for bringing him along on our little church planting adventure and giving him, via our conversations, a window into when I'm doing well and when I'm doing not so well and the ups and downs of the pastoral thing. (My pleasure, man!)
What I told him, and what I tell you now, is that I'm doing my best to live transparently, to put myself out there (which is a scary thing for an introvert). And I do it on purpose and with reasons.
In no particular order, my reasons are something like this...
The era of the pastor on the pedestal is over. Not that we shouldn't respect our pastors, but too many of us grew up being allowed to think that the pastor was a cut above, on a super-spiritual plane that we should aspire to, but probably would never reach short of becoming pastors ourselves (or missionaries... missionaries were even better in some cases). The problem is that pastors are only human and the first time they show that, those who enjoy the pastor-on-the-pedestal are left feeling hurt and betrayed. Better to let people know up front- I'm just like you. I struggle with self-doubt, with identity and motivation issues just like everyone. I struggle with sin. I get angry. I'm selfish too much of the time. Sometimes I don't want to spend time with God. I hate the fact that my hair is deserting me, but my stomach seems to be hitting a growth period.
But in the midst of all that God shows me grace and forgiveness, God is my center and my ground. It's possible to live this life and not be swept away, not be pulled under. And it doesn't happen because you reach a level of spiritual perfection where the waters calm and the clouds part. It happens because through those very things you struggle with you are driven time and time again to God Himself.
And if I didn't live that process openly with people, what right would I have to try to tell them that's how it works?
Also, I want to share. I'm the kind of guy that when he finds a band he likes, he's likely to make you a disc of their stuff (copyrights be darned!). I feel the same way with my experience in life, in pastoring and in church planting. I hope that what I share of our journey will help in some way for those who are on the same trip, or thinking about it. I don't have much to offer, but what I lack in quality, I try to make up for in quantity :)
Blogging for me is like journaling, keeping a diary. I just don't want to have to die before anyone gets to read it.
But more than that, it's my way of making a contribution to the conversation.
A couple of years ago I was doing a guys group in my home, and we were going through Wild at Heart (Oh c'mon... you know you've done it too.) We were talking about "why are we here?" Aside from our main goal in life being to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, what specifically was our piece of the puzzle- what did God put us here for?
The image that came to my mind, as blustery as it sounds, was this: to help change the church.
I'm thankful for the couple hundred people who stop by here daily, reading my thoughts on organic church, on non-programatic ministry, on walking away from the consumer-church mentality. If they pick up something while they're here, great... that's another tiny, tiny piece I've contributed to that which is a life goal for me- to change the church to be more focused on God and the Gospel/Kingdom of God and more healthy for people.
But lastly, it's valuable for me. I'm a verbal processor who often doesn't know what I think until I'm saying it. This discipline, this little blog is worth it for me because it helps solidify my thoughts, helps me form my thinking and refine my ideas. It helps me express myself, what I'm feeling and exercise my demons. It just plain helps
So thanks blog, for being here for me. Even when I should be in bed...
One of my co-contributers over at The Via Media has posted his short-version bio...
I've heard this story before... Too many people left high and dry (and often down and out) by the church. Why does this happen?
Thanks for sharing your story, man...
Link: the via media:: Scott.
I'm a little down today.
I feel like I fouled one off yesterday... I know, I know. I love it when Starla reminds me of my own philosophy that the whole gathering preaches, not just the parts spoken by me, and that since we're not trying to be an attractional church, but a missional, covenant community, the idea that each and every sermon must be a polished jewel of perfection (so that people will want to keep coming back!) is erroneous...
This is what I do. I pastor. The two areas I have devoted myself to are
people (loving them, counseling them, discipling them).
The reason I am pursuing an organic church model is to allow me to do those things, do them well, and forget all the rest of the crap that "Pastoring" has come to mean. I don't need to sit in commitee meetings and worry about administration and managing and all that. At least, I don't want to.
And so now, as I sit here and think about why I feel so shell shocked today, it's because in those two areas that I have held on to and given myself to are feeling... less than stellar. I know it's incorrect to vest my identity and feelings of self in my vocation, but it's a very human thing to do. Just let me feel what I'm feeling :)
No more about yesterday's gathering- it was good in many ways. I'm just thinking I wish I had let someone else (who doesn't preach every week) preach this week so they could have had a month or two to think/pray/prepare. For me, having the short week killed me.
Well- good lesson for next year.
And someone else is speaking next week (on waiting/Zechariah/Elizabeth...), so this week I should be able to work ahead.
But that other area... the people area... I'm feeling it there as well. The holiday stuff has me feeling disconnected from people as many were gone this week/weekend, and as someone our community loves very much seems to have left town today without any notice.
"The people living in darkness have seen a great light..."
It seems a bit dark today... But I guess that's the beauty of Advent. Sitting in darkness... waiting for light.
Thanks for letting me vent a bit, oh blog of mine. You're always such a good listener. :)
Okay... some very good push-back on the ideas of Video Venues (planting churches where the teaching is done strictly through a video feed from another location).
I wanted to quote some of the good questions that were asked in response to what I said here and on Steve McCoy's blog, and then later, after working over a sermon I'm not completely happy with :) I'll do my best to answer...
what if church plants had pastors but used videos of other preachers because:
1. they decided the sermon is just one element of their time together and not the premier thing.
2. they decided that allowing their pastor time to shepherd was more imporant than having him prepare to preach every week
3. they decided that there are very gifted preachers in the body of Christ and they wanted to learn from those diverse voices as well.
such a model might include using many different videos from different churches...
And Geoff, pastor of one of the innovating churches in this area asked:
1. Does an effective preacher always make an effective pastor? I've seen excellent preachers who IMHO do a very poor job of shepherding their flock and lousy speakers who are great pastors.
2. Are there people called to lead congregations who don't have the gift of teaching? One of our most effective campus pastors at Seacoast is a former farmer who has no formal theological training, can't spell expository, but is incredible at helping people to grow in their faith. If he planted a church on his own he would be able to minister to very few people; because he doesn't have to preach he is able to pastor a congregation of over 600 people.
3. Would Paul have used video if it had been available? I'm not sure I understand the difference between watching a video and listening to a letter being read at a church service. (Obviously Paul's video would have divinely inspired, we don't have that advantage at Seacoast. :)
4. Why is church planting superior to opening campuses? At Seacoast we do both. If a we have a leader who has a unique vision and a call to preach we help him plant an autonomous church. (We've helped plant almost 25 new churches in the past few years) If a leader resonates with the vision God has given Seacoast and does not feel a call to preach we help him plant a new Seacoast campus.
5. If people are committing their lives to Christ and growing in their faith, what difference does it make who preaches, who controls the purse strings, what the name is over the door? I'm not sure God is overly concerned with the forms that we invent for how church is done (house church, mega-church, multi-site, community church) as long as we are obeying the Great Commission.
Last week I commented on SteveMcCoy's blog about the latest sermon to be podcast by the Cussing Pastor. CP's church has grown and grown big. So... they are launching Video Venues as a solution to this problem.
Now... I want to be careful here. The CP serves God, not Bob. CP's community is different than mine, and its choices are its own.
But like Steve is now doing, I want to raise some questions. I'll try to do it carefully, tactfully, but still... some questions.
First, this is a great problem to have. When your community is healthy, growing and pushing out the walls, that's something to celebrate.
The obvious question is "what's next?"
I've written a lot about the role of pastor and how I believe that the larger a community gets, the harder it is to be an actual pastor as opposed to a manager, a CEO, an administrator... and eventually (both figuratively and now literally) a talking head.
It seems like the clear choice to me is to plant churches.
If you have the resources to plant a video venue, you have the resources to plant a church. If you have the need to do a video venue, I believe you have the need to plant a church...
I can think of very few reasons to choose a video venue over a church plant... and I don't like any of them. All I can say is that to me:
1. Video Venues seem to perpetuate the celebrity pastor model we (well... at least I am ) are trying to move away from. As Rick McKinley here in Portland is prone to say, "The celebrity-driven church must die." Now, while I'm sure that the CP would agree with that statement in principle, what good is your principle if your structures don't concur?
By setting up video venues, we not only perpetuate the structure that feeds the celebrity-driven church model... we plant it, water it and build a wall around it. We literally splice it into the DNA of our communities by going to great length, expense and trouble to ensure that everyone who wants to hear one single individual speak on a Sunday morning, can.
2. Video Venues seem to place an unbridgable distance between a pastor and his or her people, which I believe is unhealthy for a community. I've talked a lot about shepherds knowing those they are trying to shepherd, whether as a pastor or an elder. This is nigh unto impossible in the 1000+ person mega church... adding a Video Venue that meets 20 miles distant from the "main campus" does absolutely nothing to alleviate this. In fact, it says it is normal and good. I disagree.
3. In fact, Video Venues are unhealthy in the long run to the soul of both pastor and people. Doug Pagitt says something to the effect that with the way most do preaching, it's possible over the course of a couple of years for a person to hear literally hundreds of messages from a preacher and have that preacher hear not a single word from that person. At this point, pastors of large churches are literally firewalling themselves off from the people they are trying to love, shepherd and teach. How is this positive in any way, shape or form? The addition of Video Venues magnifies this problem 100 fold. Now, I not only am teaching people I have never and will never meet, I must place even more protections around myself to keep any one of them from ever feeling entitled to offer me feedback or even ask me a follow-up question.
I know that there are reasons why people want to do this- "We're growing! More people want to be part of our church than we can accomodate!" Fine. Time to set up a podcast so whoever wants to hear your sermon can, no matter how many seats you have in your space. Time to tell some of the Christians to grow up, step out in faith to something new and make room for someone not quite as far along the journey as them. Time to get off the celebrity train, say goodbye to the influence, power and resources (money) that having that many people "under" you brings. Time to invest heavily in other pastors, other/new communities. Time to plant churches.
Caveat: I know I come off sounding like I know it all. I know I don't. I realize that as the pastor of a church with just over a hundred people, I'm talking about institutions with multimillion dollar campuses and thousands of people that are headed by famous, well-known and respected pastors. Ok. I'm batting way out of my league... I don't feel like these churches are "apostate" or "shipwrecking their faith" or any of that kind of stuff. These are choices communities make, sometimes with spiritual motives, sometimes with financial ones, usually with a mixture of both. These choices are (on balance) either positive or negative for the Church here in America. I feel as though they will end up being negative... and I'm just saying so.
Yes... time for yet another in a series of "pastoral angst" posts. I should probably create a category just for these since they seem to crop up regularly and persistently.
I'm just glad to
a. have a place to express it (you, oh blog of mine)
b. have a community that can handle having a pastor who struggles to handle it.
At any rate, Sunday nights, post-gatherings, are when my psyche seems to hit overdrive. All my insecurities and dreck rise to the surface and... weird dreams and trouble sleeping.
I dreamed that I planned a week where we don't do much, you know- just casual. "What if we all just showed up?"
And of course, on that week- all the regulars I lean on (you know who you are) were missing and the place was packed out with people I had never seen before...
I had to get up on a stage so everyone could see/hear me. The band hadn't really put anything together. I started with "I hope you guys aren't expecting a whole lot today..." We weren't at the Lab- not sure what the venue was.
Someone led in the kids for an Advent thing, and they were all in costumes. "Someone has been working hard with these kids" I thought. It was the one comforting thing in amidst a frightening dream.
Well... you non-pastors out there probably won't get that, but it's akin to the "get to school and find out there's a test you haven't studied for... oh and you are naked" dream.
I think my brain is telling me that I
-love the fact that more and more people are doing evergreen things without me- just making stuff happen. I love that, especially with the kids.
-worry. I worry about connecting with new/newer people.
There were so many new faces AGAIN this week. Many that I don't get the chance to personally meet. I think I may have to give up the dream/hope that I will be able to connect with everyone, every week. That could happen when there were 30 of us... but not now.
I guess I just need to trust that the same dynamic of "people doing things" is working itself out in this area too- that people are meeting others, asking them their names, their stories, helping them feel safe, welcome... home.
I know that Sundays aren't the center of our community- at least they aren't supposed to be. But they are the entry point for many.
Sometimes, the new faces can feel like a weight. 5-10 new faces a week x 52 weeks means a lot of people I have shaken hands with, spoken with a bit, that our community has (I hoped) welcomed and made to feel at home... and we have never seen again. That's what I mean by weight... it adds up.
Okay- totally time to turn this post around.
The good news is that every week lately, it seems, I do see someone for the 2nd or 3rd or 4th time... and that's incredibly cool. My goal isn't to build a sunday service, but rather a community. A group of people who share life together, seek and worship God together, love the poor and each other.
And by God's amazing grace, that appears to be what's happening.
I perforrmed my first wedding this weekend.
I'm not sure how I made it nearly ten years in some type of pastoral ministry (youth/worship/associate/lead) or another without a wedding, but there you have it.
And here you have it...
Now, I want to make sure you all know, that regardless of how the pictures look, I am not ridiculously short. 5'6'' is average height, dagnabbit!
This is one tall bride and groom! The one with me standing between them makes me look either 4 1/2 feet tall... or standing 15 feet back from the couple...
It went well, I think, for no rehearsal and having a rookie at bat. :)
After the ceremony, I told the groom that as of now I am batting 1000 with my wedding/marriage "stats" and he better not mess it up for me...
Here's what Paul said to Timothy:
"Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right, and God will save you and those who hear you."
Other translations say "Pay close attention to your life and your doctrine."
As we move in this post-modern, emerging church kind of way, even as the Spirit of God moves among us and brings people into the Kingdom through us... we need to remember that while God uses us cracked and imperfect vessels, He wants us to be careful. Be careful of devloping more cracks, be careful of cracking others...
And we can crack others in various ways... by what we do and the way that we live...
and by what we teach them.
I've expended a lot of bandwidth, mentally, on this issue this week. How can we help each other? In this post-denominational context when there are all these independent little communities floating around trying to be relationally connected, dare we allow that relational connection to flower into a sense of accountability to one another?
Dare we not allow it?
When someone expresses concern about your life or your doctrine, whether as a community or as a pastor, don't be too quick to dismiss it...
Perhaps God is talking to you.
Perhaps not, and if not, no harm done in listening, considering and moving on.
But if so...
Just a thought...
Much of what is written on suffering is not in the least helpful when someone is actually suffering, being concerned, generally, with the Big Picture...
Last night at the Brass I talked to two guys who have both had one hell (literally) of a year. What do you say when someone tells you a story that sounds more like Job than anything else (one even said, "I'm glad I don't have kids because I'm sure they would have been crushed by a tornado or something...")?
NT Wright has this great thought on suffering in For All God's Worth- It's not meant to help those in the middle of pain, though it may. I think it more helps to explain what Paul meant when he said "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." (maybe). For me, it helps me to make sense of some past suffering and (hopefully) whatever is coming down the pike.
Can suffering be redemptive?
"And as we engage in this cross-shaped ministry of reconciliation, we must not be surprised if from time to time it feels as though we ourselves are being pulled apart. We talk of 'taking up the cross' or 'having a cross to bear' as though God somewhat arbitrarily gave each of us some pain or trouble just to make things difficult for us, to stop us having too easy a life of it. Not so. Just as evil is more than the sum total of human wrongdoing, and just as God's victory over evil is more than the sum total of human loving, so our ministry of reconciliation is more than simply words we speak and the physical acts we perform. We ourselves, whole persons, are caught up in the process in ways beyond our understanding, so that our suffering, whatever it may be, becomes part of Christ's own passion, of God's own passion, and as such brings healing and reconciliation at levels and depth beyond our imagining. Our task is to be faithful to the calling of the cros: to live in God's new world as the agents of His love, and to pray that the cross we carry today will become a part of the healing and reconciliation of the world. We will not understand in the present time how it is that our pain, our illness, our heartbreak, our deep frustration is somehow taken up into the pain of God and the healing of the world; but if we offer it back to God that is precisely what will happen."
Sorry about the blogging lapse, everyone. I was in Florida for my sister's wedding. How very odd to fly across the country for a weekend visit. Did our great-grandparents ever even imagine that would be so?
Odd to be gone from the computer... I took the whole weekend off. When I told my wife that, she had a difficult time believing me. I tend to have the computer glued to my lap (in fact, it's a wonder it hasn't rendered me sterile- but no worries! Number 2 is on the way and due in May!!). At any rate, whereas the thought of a weekend away from my cyber reality would have at one time freaked me out considerably, it was actually a really nice break. I can take my hands off the wheel for a few days... the car won't go off the road.
Odd to be gone from evergreen this weekend. I think, I'm not sure but I think... that this was only my second Sunday missed? Is that right? So odd to be sitting on a sunny Florida back porch with a cool breeze blowing, thinking "They're setting up now. Someone's doing the welcome now. They're just about done now." Thinking and praying... While it was nice to get a break from the computer, not so much with evergreen... I don't know as I've ever really been a part of something where I wasn't itching to get away for a few weeks. Maybe that's the result of me being the lead dude on this, or maybe it's actually a result of the fact that we've managed (with God's help, of course) to become something of a community and I genuinely MISS it when I'm away. Miss the people, miss the interaction, miss the love...
I enjoy evergreen on Sundays... But I think in this next year it's actually going to become fun. Sunday mornings, for all that I look forward to about them are still stressful. I have yet to just settle back into them and really begin to enjoy... I look forward to that.
I've heard it said that no matter how long you pastor, with each church you never really hit your stride until year three. Year one you are just trying to keep head above water, get your bearings... year two you are still on the learning curve, learning the processes and the pitfalls... and it's not until year three that you become really, seriously productive as a pastor, as you now know the lay of the land, how best to spend your time and energies in that particular situation, what to aviod, etc. Looking forward to seeing and feeling that particular sweet spot as we enter our third year next Spring.