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This November I'll be participating with a really diverse group of church planters in a Church Planters Academy. If you are at all thinking about planting a church, this could be a great event for you to participate in.
I was quoted recently in a Christianity Today article on Multisite Video Venue churches.
A couple of clarifications- as Evergreen is technically a "multisite" church, I have no issue with that in itself. It's more the idea of the teaching ministry of the community being largely delegated to a video screen that really gets me. It's one thing when to show a video of an earlier service's message from someone still actuvely engaged there locally, it's another when it's a video from someone across town. But now the trend is towards large churches franchising themselves out of state- effectively giving over a key piece of local community leadership/teaching/eldering to videos (and yes, even holograms) of someone hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
CT wanted my take on Mars Hill Seattle planting a video venue here in town, so I gave it to them. Of course, articles like this lack nuance and extended explanations, so let me clarify a couple of things.
I'm fine with Mars Hill having a presence in PDX. Though we disagree (to say the least) on the role of women in church leadership (I'm pro, Mars Hill is con), I think we agree on the issues of the Jesus and the Gospel, and that gives us some vital common ground.
Second, my statement about Mars Hill coming in making church planters feel like mom and pop stores facing WalMart was really about the Acts 29 churches (Mars Hill's network) already started here. If I were one of those planters working to establish a new church here in PDX, I'm not sure I'd appreciate the move- maybe they don't mind, but I know how I'd feel.
At any rate read the article and let me know what you think.
(Also, here are the rest of my posts on this subject, if you are interested. And in case anyone cares, Tim Smith, the pastor sent here to start Mars Hill PDX are trying to arrange a time to get together and talk.)
I have a new post up on Out of Ur. Here's an excerpt and linkage.
As a pastor, I have authority in my community. But authority is not really what I want. What I really want is influence.
Authority is the ability to get people to do what I think they should do. Influence, however, is the ability to move people to want to do what they need to do.
Here’s what I know from Scripture: Pastors/elders/overseers have authority in the local community. Hebrews 13:17 encourages us all to “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.” First Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.” Of course, this isn’t carte blanche for church leaders to have control over every aspect of peoples’ lives, though I bet you have met some leaders who’d like to think so.
Jesus pointed us toward the correct use of authority...
Read the rest here
Can anyone explain to me how someone could be so intellectually self-unaware and obtuse as to be able to write, record and sing the following lyrics by Lily Allen:
Look inside your tiny mind
Now look a bit harder
Cause we're so uninspired, so sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor
So you say
It's not okay to be gay
Well I think you're just evil
You're just some racist who can't tie my laces
Your point of view is medieval
F*** you very, very much
Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So please don't stay in touch."
Uh, yeah... We're so tired of all the hatred, we're just going to add to it.
Makes complete sense.
It's not okay to have a problem with same-sex sexual activity. But it is okay to call someone evil because of their view that sex was designed to work a certain way in a certain context? Yeah...
This reminds me of a passage in Tim Timmerman's fantastic book A Bigger World Yet- Faith, Brotherhood & Same-Sex Needs in which he talks about his friend Jim who had strugged for years with same-sex attraction and has found finding a home in the church difficult- but maybe not for the reasons you think. Of course, he describes the reception you might be able to imagine from some-"I mean, God forbid I should even say 'I'm still having troubles.' They figure you got born again, you got Spirit-filled and you've done your discipleship program- you should be fixed. You should be better... If I did struggle what I got from the church was that I was the one who wasn't praying enough, I was the one who wasn't doing enough..."
I'm sure you've heard similar- but what about those on the left side of the spectrum, the affirming side? Surely those who eschewed hate would have a different reaction to Jim? Well...
He was asked to tell his story to a denominational gathering of a mainline denomination and when he shared that same-sex attraction was something he struggled with (as opposed to embracing) and that he had some ties with ministries that actually support men and women who want to move in a different direction, the reaction shocked him. "I've never had people hate me so vehemently," he said as he was called a bigot by people who should have been calling him "brother"...
I didn't mean for this to turn into a big post, but I think it's important to point out- we ALL struggle with hatred towards those on the "other" side, and whether you are hating someone because they are gay (which I think many do- though I'd argue that simply believing that same-sex sexual activity is out of bounds for Christ followers is NOT "hatred") or hating someone because of their to-the-right-of-you views about sexuality, you are still hating. And all the hating whether from the right or the left doesn't help anyone.
A final quote from Tim that I think many on both sides of this thing in the Church need to hear: "The battle that has been waging between Christians regarding homosexuality is killing people. Really. There are men like Jim who are smashed in between this debate like a pedestrian in the middle of two vehicles dead set on a head-on crash. These men are ostracized and not supported at church because they are treated like they are 'gay.' But they are vehemently attacked by gays and church goers who support the gay lifestyle because their actual choices present a challenge to the "born that way' story. Like modern lepers, they have nowhere to go where they are accepted and encouraged.
"I have watched men who don't find what they need in either warring faction give up asking for help. I've watched them make do, get by and, in many ways, simply go to sleep. I have watched men risk a myriad of sexually-transmitted diseases to have at least a moment of touch from another man. As we fight on the intellectual, emotional and psychological fronts men are losing their lives. I know them well as they show up on men's weekends I staff, threadbare and roadweary. They fear they can't get their needs met at church, but also find having sex with men tearing their soul to pieces. The church is busy arguing on an intellectual level over what Scripture may say, or over what is cuturally appropriate in the 21st century. Meanwhile, men are disappearing daily."
Found this at Christians For Biblical Equality
Choosing Priest Instead of Princess
The expanded version of this column first appeared in the "Beauty" issue ofMutuality, Spring 2011, and can be purchased here.
* * * * * *
I hadn't heard of Captivating yet or John and Stasi Eldredge's Ransomed Heart Ministries, the undisputed flagship of what I call the "Christian princess movement." So when I asked a friend about where all these crowns were coming from, she directed me to that book. I borrowed a copy and read it in a crowded coffee shop in the middle of an Indiana winter. In it, I learned that, as a woman, I was designed by God to be a princess who longed to be romanced, reveal her beauty, and play a part in a grand adventure.
I'll be honest with you—it was a pleasant daydream. I think that an overwhelmed, tired college student would take any diversion from her coursework, and if the diversion showed up on a white horse with a sword, so much the better. It was, apparently, God's will. I packed my bag, a little encouraged and a little deluded, and stood up. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.
It was, I think, God's firm but kind reminder of the reality I was living in. In that mirror I saw who I really was—a fallen image-bearer of God in a room full of other fallen image-bearers, no better or worse or more worthy of love than any of them. The world did not need my beauty—in that moment, it needed me to throw away my coffee cup so someone else could relax with a book and hot chocolate at my table for awhile. And in order to be a good steward of a college education, I was not going on any fantastic adventures but would have to complete the long, icy walk back to my dorm room, heat something up for dinner, and work hard. My life isn't a fairy tale, but God never promised me one. He promised me a hope and a future. I'll take it.
I'm not a princess (though I suspect my dad will fight me on this point when he reads this). And I don't think it's cynical of me to say it. It's not bad news. It's great news, actually. God has called me—has called all of us—not to a life of childlike sentimentality, but to concrete hope and service in him through discipleship. In this way I encourage women, when they're tempted to think of themselves as royal, to think of themselves as royal priests (1 Pet. 2:9). Here are the present pitfalls of being a princess—and God's alternative, which is so much better.
A Princess is Proud. There's a reason why so many leaders of women's retreats hand out plastic crowns and tell women they are princesses. It is exactly what everyone wants to hear. In our fallen state, we like to be flattered and coddled, to be let off the hook of responsibility, to feel entitled, and so forth. A princess is the heroine of the story—the perfect, untouchable character. We want to hear that "the whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me" (Captivating, p. 25). A daughter of God, on the other hand, is a beloved, hard-working, and self-sacrificing servant of her Father. She imitates Christ by loving and serving others without self-entitlement.
A Princess is Pretty. I have seen, heard, and read more Cinderella renditions than I can possibly count, and every Cinderella character seems to have one trait in common: she's pretty. Cinderellas can also be active or passive, bold or shy, rebellious or submissive, outspoken and strong or worn out and broken down. None of these qualities really matter because the only attribute she actually needs to get the prince is beauty. Christian princess culture has handily absorbed the "pretty princess" cultural phenomenon to the point that it's the underlying thesis for the Eldredges'Captivating. The Eldredges assert over and over again that the world longs to enjoy the beauty of a woman, and that every woman has it to offer.
A Princess is Passive. Remember how Sleeping Beauty wins her prince? Hint: it's right there in her name. She's beautiful. And she sleeps. For years. Good fortune just comes to her after she's been lying there for awhile. Snow White sleeps too, waiting for someone to show up and remove her curse. Cinderella actually goes to a ball to get her man, but only with the princess paraphernalia provided by her fairy godmother. Rapunzel waits in a tower and functions as her own ladder for someone to rescue her. And so on.
Noticing a pattern here? Being a princess comes with the guarantee that you don't have to venture out and take risks—that someone else will rescue you from servitude, or a tower, or a coma. Stationary princesses are rampant in the world of fairy tales. They are in a position of waiting to be rescued. That's it. Thank God that he has a much higher calling for us! Certainly there is an element of rescue in the Christian story—God has saved us by the gift of his wonderful grace, with no assistance on our part (Eph. 2:5). But God has given us another gift as well—the gift of work. The first couple was put in the Garden of Eden to "work it and take care of it" (Gen. 2:15). Solomon calls finding satisfaction in one's work "the gift of God" (Ecc. 3:13). And Paul commands new Christians to "work, doing something useful with their hands, that they may have something to give to the poor" (Eph. 4:28).
A girl's confidence should not come from a label that denotes value in title only. She has value because she has been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). Works prepared in advance for us to do—what an indescribable gift!
Now, if this doesn't sit well, remember that if our Father is still king, then we are still royal—all of us, men and women alike. Women are not princesses but "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession" in order that they "may declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Being a priest is a hard, high-responsibility calling that has been extended to every member of the church regardless of his or her gender. God has given us a new identity, and the hard work that comes with it is incompatible with the self-absorbed Christian culture of fairy tales, crowns, and princesshood.
When Paul speaks of love, he reminds us that when he grew up, he put childish ways behind him (1 Cor. 13:11). And when the elders worship at the throne of God, they take off their crowns and lay them before him (Rev. 4:10). Playing pretend is all right for little girls, but when we get to the throne of God, we too have to set aside our playthings and worship God, not ourselves. This is why I am choosing to be a priest and not a princess.
* * * * * * *
Laura Robinson is graduating from Indiana University in May with majors in English and religious studies and a minor in history. She will begin a masters program in biblical exegesis at Wheaton College in the fall. She interned for Christians for Biblical Equality in the summer of 2010 and enthusiastically encourages other students to do the same!
I remember after our son Jack was born. After all the sleepless nights, crying and frustrations with learning how to be parents for the first time, it was about two years in when I started to feel "human" again- back to my old self, someone I not only recognized but liked. (Of course, right around that time our second child Janie came along...)
This has been kind of like that.
For the last 2 1/2 months I've been on sabbatical. Often, in this pastoral world, after seven years it's customary to get a 2-3 month break, and the elders of Evergreen were gracious enough to offer (uh, insist on) that break to me.
The first month I think I spent somewhat numbed out- to be honest, for most of 2010 I was completely burned out. I began to recover a bit in the early parts of 2011, but there were enough challenging things happening that "recover" never really got out of 1st or 2nd gear.
So moving into sabbatical I was tired and feeling at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. I didn't have enough energy to do anything creative, so mostly I just...was. Which was great. Disney with the family, a church planters bootcamp and week at the Richmond Hill Abbey, and then just being home.
But these last few weeks of sleeping in, time with family just being together, road trips with Jack, some sunny days and now a week at a pastor's retreat house in WA have left me feeling "human" again- back to my old self, someone I not only recognize but like. At ease and at peace.
It's a good place to be.
Some things that have become clear to me during this time and in no particular order-
- "Let your life speak"- This phrase comes from Parker Palmer's book of the same name. I've been reading it this last week, and while a good chunk of it describes his journey through depression, much of it is devoted to themes of vocation and discernment. It's been clarifying and catalytic for me to read during this time, and to begin to learn to listen to what my life (and God thru my life) has been saying to me during this last few years. When we're young, we don't know who we are or frankly, how we've been put together (by God thru both biology, gifting and experience) and so have no idea what we're being formed for and called to. In the earlier parts of life I think I had the time and energy, the luxury to move in many directions, experiment, and bang my head against certain things even if some of them felt forced. At this stage, I'm feeling more and more like it's important to begin to narrow, to specialize and to focus on what I'm formed for and on what is forming of me in good ways so as to make Act 2, the second half, a focused and productive time in my life. And on that note...
- "Move away from your pathology"- this phrase is something my spiritual director Morris said to me recently and it's very much stuck in my brain. As the Gambler taught us, you got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em, and that means there are things that are very much worth the struggle and fighting thru to master. There are other things that eventually you just have to say "I'm trying to force something here" or "I think this will always be a trigger/a place of weakness/a shortcoming for me" and just move away from them. I know for me, certain areas of ministry and life in general are like this. While I'd still like to learn some new things and master some other things that have continued to get the best of me, I think the next season in life will be a narrowing of focus, a leaning into strengths and a leaving behind of what hasn't been working. Still thinking and praying thru what all that will mean.
- Connection to my family that has hit a new level needs to be maintained. For me, church planting and parenting came simultaneously- Jack was born the month before we officially "launched" evergreen, so the two have always co-existed. This has been my first crack at being a parent while not being a pastor, and I've loved it. Yeah, I've gone a little stir-crazy and needed to get out of the house and away from it all at times, but all in all, I feel as though during this time I've been able to get a taste of (and a taste for) something that I plan to move heaven and earth to keep. Again, not sure what that will mean in terms of schedule, but I know that I've hit a place inwardly with my wife and kids I'm not going to want to let go of.
All in all, I feel an energy and strength I haven't felt in years. And more, a desire to jump back into the pieces of ministry that are life-giving for me and where I see the most bang for buck in terms of what it brings to others and to begin to explore and arrange for other possibilities in the areas that aren't life-giving and where my efforts don't yield the kind of fruit I'd like to see.
Coming into the home stretch of this sabbatical (if I may wax psychologic for a minute) I feel a lot of ego integrity and self-differentiation- which is just a fancy way of saying, I feel much less tied to what people think of me and much happier about where I am, who I am and able to make choices and decisions based on the latter and not the former. Some of that comes with feeling more organically connected to God (relationship without the added ingredients of ministry study, preaching, etc), some comes from just finally feeling rested and human again, able to begin lift my eyes off of the urgent to-do's right in front of me and look at the horizon and dream a little...
I'm also thinking about growing a mustache. A big Three Dog Night kind of deal.
Anyone have any thoughts? :)
This is truly some amazing poetry- Heart, art and theology all wonderfully mixed together.
The title of this blog post and question that I ask is not one I am totally serious about - and not really suggesting we actually do call the accountant the worship pastor. But I do have the question of how we have overwhelmingly defined "worship" to primarily be music and singing.
Read the rest of Dan's great post here
10. The first words someone says to you are "I'm sorry, but that's our pew."
9. When the offering is low, they pass the plate around again. And again.
8. They say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic... and it's March. (Or even July 4th weekend for that matter...)
7. The church website has five or more pictures of the senior pastor on the front page alone. (ahem)
6. "I see you have a Bible! Great! Let me get you a copy of the other book we use... It's kind of a sequel!"
5. The name of the church is longer than five words... much longer.
3. Three words: The Power Team.
2. Worship Song: You Spin Me Right Round Jesus, Right Round.
1. You are being preached to by a hologram. (seriously)
Bonus: This guy is there.
Allow me to open a can of worms by touching briefly on what is quickly becoming the 3rd Rail of American culture, both within and without of the Church- homosexuality.
When I was studying counseling a decade ago, one of the more challenging things I was taught and had to grapple with was the idea that sexuality is not as set as we once believed, not concrete. That no one is either 100% homosexual or heterosexual and that we all are on the continuum somewhere between the two poles, and even sometimes experience movement along that continuum during our life.
After initially struggling with this idea, I came to embrace it- especially as I thought back on the experiences of many folks I had known and their sexual pasts/journeys.
(Note well what I'm saying and what I'm not saying- I'm not saying sexual behavior is relative. Behavior is a different issue, one where we make choices and exhibit control and should submit to God and His designs. The fact that our sexuality is forged in the confluence of gender and hormones and experience (both good and bad) and needs (both met and unmet) doesn't in any way free us from the obligations we have when we choose to be followers of Jesus to exhibit biblical sexual ethics and behaviors.
Also- In suggesting that same sex sexual behavior is out-of-bounds for followers of Christ, I'm not suggesting that gays and lesbians (or anyone else) should have fewer civil rights- though I would like to see the debate move laterally from "marriage" to something else. See here for a fuller explanation of my thoughts on the issue.)
So the question I had in reading this article this morning which described what I would see as a pretty mainline evangelical view towards homosexuality as "controversial" is this: If the best thinking on sexuality today describes it as somewhat fluid, and it's okay for a therapist to treat someone who, say, feels they have been born the "wrong" gender and would like help in changing, why is it now so controversial or wrong for a therapist to treat someone who says "I've become unhappy with my orientation (for religious or other reasons) and would like help in changing"?
Update: Here's another (and better) take on the issue of society's intolerance of the idea of change in sexuality: A Civil Tolerance
A couple of months ago, I participated in a little conference here in PDX, co-sponsored by the Ecclesia Network and North West Church Planters. It was called Rain and Shine, and the point was to draw together, for two days, a group of church planters who would talk about the brightest and darkest moments they had experienced in Church planting. Everyone got 14 minutes to speak. Here's an edited version of what I presented- my highest and lowest moments in being a church planter.
Probably like a lot of you, I came to church planting through the route of dissatisfaction and hurt. The angry young man. I grew tired of asking the same questions, banging my head against the same walls- tired of feeling hurt by the system and tired of seeing people I loved leave because they had been “hurt.”
So, when we planted our church here in Portland about 7 years ago- like you did or will do, we secretly, inwardly held the idea, even if we outwardly disavowed it, that we were going to be the church that got things right.
It’s not so much we thought we were better or somehow the pinnacle of ecclesiastical evolution- it was simply that we thought we could learn from the mistakes of the churches we had come from and just do it differently. Seems so easy, right?
We were going to be organic, non-programmatic, we would listen, learn, love... and though we took careful pains to warn people as they came into our community that community hurts, again, secretly, we believed- we would be the church that would never hurt people.
The question in our talks here at Rain and Shine is this: What are the darkest and brightest moments of church planting for you? And for me, there have been plenty of both- but probably the darkest has been over the last couple of years realizing that no matter what we do, we were going to be a church that hurt people.
I first started getting an inkling of this when I noticed that though we saw many people coming into church and coming to Christ or coming BACK to Church or back to Christ through our community, we saw just as many for whom we were the last stop on the way out. They had grown up in the evangelical church, many were even pastor’s kids, and they would come to our community as this last ditch effort. We meet in a pub, we’re not happy clappy, we’re not trying to be slick or production-oriented- for a lot of them, we were something still Christian that they thought maybe they could stomach. We even had some tell us “This is my last try- if this doesn’t work, I’m out.” I mean, no pressure, right?
And time and time again, though we saw many stick and find what they were looking for, we saw just as many turn around and walk out the door again, some with real anger towards us, or towards me. And in trying to pin down why this would happen, we’ve never come to any real conclusions, other than that some people are just going to be hurt, no matter what you do- their issues with God and with church are going to bubble up. Which church in inconsequential- it could be any. And quite often, it’s going to be yours.
But it hasn’t always been simply that some people were setting themselves up to be hurt- sometimes it was us- our choices, our actions. In dealing with people, with couples or individuals or even staff members, we made choices with the best of intentions that ended up alienating people, confirming their worst fears about church...hurting them.
It wasn’t what we intended, we meant well, but we stepped wrong and someone else ended up getting blown out the doors.
There have even been times when we knew- we knew- going into a situation- there’s potential here for great hurt, and we as elders would circle up and discuss- how can we do this with the minimum amount of pain? How can we do this right? Only to have it blow up in our faces, to have our decisions and choices hurt people we loved very much.
So what is MY darkest moment in church planting? My darkest moment in church planting was coming to the realization that no matter what I did, I was going to contribute to the hurt, the brokenness and pain that people had around church. I just was. We just were.
We always wanted to be a part of people’s faith stories. It’s just that we wanted to be a part of the good bits- the place where people came to Jesus- not the place where they rejected Him. The place where people found community and had their faith in followers of Jesus restored- not the place that got to drive the final nail in the coffin.
And after instance after instance of seeing people leave- angry, hurt- of trying SO HARD to bring the least amount of pain to people through some really hard situations and instead finding ourselves somehow, inexplicably bringing the maximum amount, I’ve come to the hard but good realization, that we don’t get to pick which part of people’s stories we get to play. Yes- we get to pick whether or not we will act in love, with kindness, like Jesus to the best of our ability- I get that. But I’m telling you- there are times when I have felt and when you will feel as though we were in a tragic opera- that God was using us in someone else’s life and what He happened to need at the moment was not a soft place for them to land but a hammer and a chisel. God was going to use us to get some people where HE needed them- to a place of discomfort or even crisis. There have been times when I cried out to God- really? Really? We’re trying so hard with this person and still- it seems like all we can do is screw it up further- that everything we do just seems to make it worse. REALLY?
And if that’s all there was to this thing, I think I probably would have packed it in a long time ago...
The good news is, though there have been a lot of dark moments, a lot of times when I wondered if we were going to “make it”, if what we were doing was even worth the effort it took to “make it,” there have been a lot of bright moments as well- mostly centered around the times when we stopped trying to build the Church, and just rested in the joy of being the church.
As I think back to those moments of gathering down at the river or creek to baptize people, of dancing for hours after marrying two people who met and fell in love in our community, of sitting with people and untangling some of the knots that they had encountered in life or faith, even of walking with some couples through some really deep water and seeing marriages actually make it, I’m glad that God has allowed me to even take part in this thing. Because though we often unintentionally hurt people, though we mess up, though God uses us in hard ways at times, He also is kind enough to let us share in the up times as well. The putting back together of what is broken and the healing of what was hurt.
And I’ve been able to see that best and brightest in seeing how the Gospel actually works in community. How rather than sitting as a lifeless proposition on a page, the Gospel is actually the tool the Holy Spirit uses most as He brings us not just to a saving place of faith in Jesus, but to maturity and Christ-likeness.
I have loved sitting with people who are describing to me their struggles with workaholism, or anger, or money, and realizing- Oh- the real issue here isn’t money, or work or whatever- the real issue is what you are asking it to do for you. To somehow save you, give you hope, give you worth. Let me tell you about Jesus.
I’ve loved sitting with couples in crisis- well, I haven’t loved that part, but I’ve loved being able to tell them- I know, I know the hurt seems overwhelming and forgiveness seems like an impossibility right now, but I want you to think hard, to remember, to meditate on what Jesus has done for you- how and how much He’s forgiven you, and see if that doesn’t open up new possibilities for you here.
And most of all, I have loved realizing that even for me, at my darkest moments as a pastor and in church planting, the Gospel has something to say. Those moments laying awake in bed at 2:30am on Sunday night after preaching- when attendance was low, and giving non-existent and I’m feeling like: “After that sermon it will be a miracle if anyone comes back next week.” And realizing- that in getting so tied up in the metrics, in resting so much of the weight of my soul and my identity on results, on what happened, on how I was perceived and received, I was asking those things to do for me what only Jesus could- to tell me I was worth something, make me whole, save me.
The Good News is that my people and their attendance, their applause, their approval are not my savior. Jesus is.
And so my brightest moment of all in church planting has been realizing that the Gospel- this good news about Jesus and His kingdom isn’t just a truth we learn at the beginning of our spiritual journey... the Good News is the transformative engine of change in the world, not just for Non-Christians, but for Christians and even for pastors. Our communities and we ourselves will never outgrow needing to hear it, and so we’ll never get past needing to preach it to them, to others... to ourselves.
In church planting, and in pastoring in this broken world hurt is inevitable- both to yourself and to those you are serving and reaching. Thank God we have in the Gospel the answer to the brokenness and hurt we inevitably experience and even in our best intentions bring to other people. Thank God for Jesus.
Saturday I was driving somewhere, doing something- I don't really remember what and it's not particularly important. But, alone with my thoughts and a bit more than 2/3 of the way thru my sabbatical, I realized- I'm not at peace.
Rested, yes. Relaxed, yes. Happy- as much as anyone could reasonably expect. And yet, that internal churn, that turmoil of never quite feeling at ease. At ease with myself or others, with the state of my world, with the state of my life.
Then I began wondering why this would be and what it should tell me- what did I need to do, change, become? Was it even possible this side of things to find "peace?"
I wasn't long down this train of thought before I knew that the kind of peace I was desiring, the emotional rest and contentedness I needed, probably wasn't going to be found in rearranging the furniture- not even the furniture if my inward life and certainly not the furniture of my outward life.
It came to me that the type of thing I wanted was first and foremost a gift, one given by God and received with thankfulness, not something found, earned or manufactured.
So I did the only thing I knew to do- I asked God for peace. Sitting in traffic, I prayed, and told God what I felt I needed and asked Him to provide it.
And graciously, He answered.
I have found myself over the last couple of days finally enjoying what has felt lacking for so long- not a sense that all was right in the world, because we all know that's not so, not even the range-limited world of "my life", but that I am okay with the world that is and my place in it- my place in enjoying it, contributing to it, changing it, being changed by it...
How long I will feel this way, I don't know. And I really have no point in writing this other than maybe simply to testify that God is good, and the kind of Father who delights in our delight and when asked by His child for something good, something delicious, sometimes answers, "Yes, of course- I'm glad you asked! I would love to give you that."
I don't find myself much in agreement with Southern Baptist Al Mohler, but... Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (most famous as a spiritual director of sorts to Michael Jackson) has responded on the Huffington Post to a tweet by Mohler. Mohler's offense? Offering Jesus to Anthony Weiner.
Mohler tweeted "Dear Congressman Weiner: There is no effective 'treatment' for sin. Only atonement, found only in Jesus Christ."
To which Rabbi Boteach responded: "I hear you, Rev. Mohler. But I seem to recall many sexual scandals involving evangelical ministers that would seem to undermine the premise that salvation through Jesus Christ grants immunity to sexual sin."
Say what now?
Does the Rabbi really mean to suggest that Mohler was offering an "immunity to sexual sin"??
He goes on to take Mohler to task for "proselytizing" via tweet and to lay out an interesting theory of redemption, namely- atonement and redemption are a product of what we do, and are impacted not in the least by our "faith."
Proselytize? Please- a shout out on twitter hardly counts as that- amidst all the cat calls, condemnation and kerfuffle, and it's Mohler, trying to speak what he sees as the bottom line for the man's soul that gets everyone's knickers in a twist? (Read the comments that follow the article- knicker are truly twisted good. Lots and lots of atheist and agnostic wedgies, in fact.)
Maybe it's the fact that Weiner is Jewish and Mohler a Christian? That's an interesting form of reverse religious bigotry... to say that a Christian can't recommend the only lifeline he knows and trusts to anyone who's *not* already of the same faith. This has truly become the post-modern unforgiveable sin: To offer what you believe is true to someone who doesn't already agree with you.
To the Rabbi's points, though-
1. He says: "I seem to recall many sexual scandals involving evangelical ministers that would seem to undermine the premise that salvation through Jesus Christ grants immunity to sexual sin." A complete straw man- who ever said faith in Jesus brings immunity to sexual sin??? Not me. In 40+ years of Christianity, Bible College, and Seminary I've never heard a *single* suggestion that it would. Forgiveness and moral/ethical maturity are separate (though related) matters. David's Judaism didn't save him from temptation and sin with Bathsheeba, and no one's faith in Jesus gives anyone a free pass from temptation.
2. More to the point- Mohler wasn't suggesting a way Weiner could gain immunity- rather, a path to redemption, and relationship with God. *It's okay if you disagree with Mohler's idea about that path*- please just understand what he was and wasn't saying- disagree, but at least show you are disagreeing with what he said and not your misunderstanding of it.
3. You are free to believe that "Redemption comes about not through anything we believe but how we behave" and "Redemption is never a function of belief and always a function of deed. " but this is NOT the core message of the faith that Mohler and I happen to share- and quoting Jesus in that context doesn't mean He believed it either. Jesus' point is that you know the kind of "tree" you are dealing with by the results of its life- in other words, an apple tree produces apples BECAUSE it is an apple tree, not the other way around. A tree does not BECOME an orange tree or an apple tree by producing either oranges or apples. Jesus is in that passage giving a test by which you can know the reality of someone's relationship with God, not a means by which one can come into that relationship (ie thru good works/"fruit").
4. The idea that our redemption and entrance into relationship with God is based not on what we do but on what Jesus did is the core essence of the Good News of Christianity- and good news it is. If my redemption were based on how well I toed the moral line, if my good works outweighed my bad- I'd be in a world of hurt, and so, I suspect, would most of those reading this.
5. I appreciate Rabbi Boteach quoting Jesus- but I think the conversation in John 6 would be more relevant on the issue of what God is really looking for from us: "They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (speaking of Himself)
6. The idea of belief bringing redemption isn't a Christian one though- I'm surprised to hear the Rabbi talk as he has here. It makes me wonder about the last time he read Genesis 15:6: "And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith."
When I first heard the Frost/Hirsch formulation of Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology it was a lightbulb moment for me. Their critique was simple- most churches got the Christology piece right, but inverted the last two, built their Ecclesiology (their church structure) and then formed a sense of Missiology- how they would live out mission in the world. But since they did it in that order, what they did in mission was necessarily shaped by the church strutures they had already formed. Thus, there were pieces and places of mission that were left untouched because "we have never done it that way" or "we don't have the facilities for that." Frost and Hirsch flipped the script and challenged the church to be shaped by our mission- to let mission flow out of our understanding of Jesus and who He is (the sent and sending God), and so be the sent community that structures itself along the lines of cooperation with God, what He's doing and sending/calling us to do.
Dave Fitch has long made no secret of his dislike of this formulation. I've never really understood it, since I think at heart he agrees with the idea that the church should be mission-shaped, not the other way around (our mission should be church-shaped).
But today I finally got his dislike when he asked the question: so where does the Christology come from? His critique is that the Frost/Hirsch formula seems to imply that the individual can come to an understanding of who Jesus is apart from community. And as far as that goes, it's a fair question. But it doesn't negate the overall flow that we base what we do on who Jesus is and we base who we are as a people on what we are called to do.
So maybe... instead of this:
it looks more like this:
The idea is that our ideas of Jesus are formed in the community- we discover Jesus in the intersection of Scripture/Church/His working in the world- that is, when we participate in His Body.
I recognize this is probably inside baseball for most, but of the 2% of you who get a charge in thinking about issues theological/ecclesiological/missiological... what do you think? Is the general flow right?
I'm at the Richmond Hill Abbey for the annual Ecclesia Church Planters Bootcamp I've been privileged to help out with these last few years. It's always a good time for my soul- being able to teach and be taught, hanging out with some increasingly good friends like J.R. Briggs and Dave Fitch...
One of the best parts of the week is joining the morning, noon and evening prayers that the resident community has in their rhythm of life. Very liturgical, sometimes very somber, very different from where most of us church planters are coming from.
The thing about it is- I've noticed that everyone comes at the beginning of the week, but by the end... not so much. So this morning, I got a moment to challenge the planters here with something I try to keep in front of our community: the real reason we show up to corporate worship and prayer times.
I think for many, it's exciting because it's different, at least at first. But after a day or two, it feels a bit more like a routine, a little dry... and people start thinking about other things they could do with that time.
And that's where it's important to know why we show up.
As pastors, we call people to be present in corporate times primarily for God and for the sake of others. The question of whether it was "good" for us is really secondary or tertiary. The real issue is whether it was good for God.
We show up to be present to God: to stand with the community of people standing in front of Him in worship, bending our ears and hearts to hear His word. And yes, that's a discipline or at least if it doesn't feel that way now, just wait. It will.
But it's not as though the question of "is it good for us" is completely irrelevant. It's simply that we need to take a longer view. What I've found is that showing up in front of God, being present to Him and the community this way is forming in the aggregate. Like showing up to gym, no particular time I go is going to get me "in shape." But... if I keep showing up?
I encouraged the pastors today to do what we ask our people to do- show up faithfully to corporate times of prayer, be present to God, be more concerned about the question "Was it good for God" than "Was it good for me" and most of all- trust that as I'm present to God, He'll be present to me, forming me for mission and life not just in the entertaining, engaging moments when it's easy to be present but in and through the times when it's not so easy. In fact, I think I can safely say, He probably forms us more in the discipline and routine and the slightly uphill than the easy-going and enjoyable times.
I'm winding down, taking care of last-minute details, trying to make sure all is ready... so I can drop out of vocational ministry for 3 months.
Last Sunday I preached my final sermon for the next little while. And, coming as it did after a long night of sweating out a fever of almost 103, it felt a bit more like limping over the finish line than anything else. But regardless, what was wonderful was being prayed for, blessed and "sent" in a sense, by the community.
This week, after 7 years with few breaks (I don't think there's been a year where I actually used all of my vacation) I'm setting it down, stepping away and taking a deep breath.
To tell you the truth, it couldn't come at a better time. Even though I have felt some sense of recovery these last few months, I still feel pretty crispy around the edges, pretty low on reserves... And already, I can feel certain brain cells waking up again- just taking the weight of ministry off (not the responsibility to care, but the responsibility to do something about it) is opening up bandwidth. I feel like I'm having the emotional and mental equivalent of nasal passages opening after taking a hit of nose spray. Words, ideas... feelings. Ahh, there they are. It's good.
Some have lovingly questioned my desire not to disappear completely but to remain somewhat connected to the community through being around on Sundays. I'll admit- there's some risk there, but here's my thinking.
When we first started Evergreen, one of my desires was to help build and pastor in a community where I felt like I could take a vacation WITH the people I was in community with, not FROM them. I had been in plenty of situations where the second was true... but never really the first.
And for the first 3, 3 1/2 years or so, I think that's exactly what I had.
But over the last few years, something has changed- the dynamic flipped, and to be honest, I want to push back against that feeling. Yes, there are times to get away, to be alone or be with family or friends who aren't part of our community. But if I can't just be a part of things, can't be friends, can't worship with, can't recreate with, can't do life with these folks- if this is just a position or a job for me, from which I need to take regular and extended breaks, well... that may be okay for others, but it's never what I envisioned and it's not what I want now.
So I'm going to try it and see. Can I just show up and worship with my family at Evergreen? Can I be a part of our community without having to run things, adjust things (and as Dustin warned me this week) have the last word on Sunday? Can I just be an Evergreener?
I want to be, I know that. We'll visit some other places, I'm sure- just to see what God is up to here in PDX. But, in the past when we've done that, I've always left feeling very grateful for our little community with the knowledge that there's no other place I'd like to be, worship, fellowship, live and love.
This season will be my chance to do that in a new way- and maybe my only chance for a long, long time.
I'm looking forward to it.