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Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

Pray Hard

I’ve Got to Pray More

Last week my wife and I drove down to Twin Peaks, CA for the Calvary Church Planting Network’s reEngage Conference. While we were only able to be there for two days, those days were well worth it.

All of the content and vibe of the conference was tremendous, but I want to share briefly about the impact Dave Earley’s message had on me personally. He spoke during the Tuesday evening session.

He talked about prayer. Here are some notable quotes that deeply encouraged me.

Speaking on the incredible success of the apostolic church, and the power they possessed: “We’ll never have Acts 2 until we have Acts 1.”

Referring to the urgency and necessity of prayer in spite of very busy pastoral schedules, he quoted C. H. Spurgeon: “Sometimes we think we’re too busy to pray. This is also a great mistake, for prayer is a saving of time.” In that regard, he also quoted Luther’s famous “I’m so busy I must spend the first three hours of my day in prayer” statement.

As he talked about the giants of the faith and the source of their successes: “If you want what they had you gotta do what they did.” In that context, he was talking about prayer and the prayer habits of the George Muellers, D.L. Moodys, and Hudson Taylors of the past.

Commenting on the ridiculousness of operating on our own strength and vision apart from the Lord, Dave asked: “How many of you think that God can do things bigger, better, and faster than you can?”

He talked about the three jobs of pastors … to pray, to teach, and to develop and release leaders.

In my own life, I have learned to pray well over the 39 years I’ve lived since I was baptized with the Holy Spirit in August of 1973. I have been shown—by the Lord Himself—how important prayer is to my walk with Him and to my calling and ministry. But I have to be honest and say that my prayer life has been anemic by comparison. I talk to the Lord every day, but have not been in the habit of daily getting on my knees for any real length of time … whether in worship, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession.

I was not condemned by Dave Earley’s message. Rather, I was encouraged as I was being rebuked and exhorted. I sensed the Holy Spirit Himself speaking to me during the message.

I want to change my priorities and habits in my latter years. It will be a battle, I know. The enemy will fight hard to gain control of the most effective means to marginalize and ruin his methods. But I must do this. I must pray. I get to pray. I/we are privileged to pray.

The last five days have seen growth and improvement. I am hopeful. And God is faithful and able.

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

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Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

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Pastoral No Man’s Land

When I entered ministry almost twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Attractional or Seeker Sensitive movement. There was a lot out there on how to program you ministry right down to the very last detail. Being fresh out of college without any ministry training or education I kind of got swept into it, except for one small detail, I wasn’t very good at it. It threw me into quite the quandary because that is what success was being measured by. For a long time I felt like I was in pastoral no man’s land.

No man’s land is a metaphor that has been used to describe a lot of situations but to me it comes from the Tennis world. I played in high school and college and no man’s land was the area between the baseline and service line. You didn’t want to get caught in that area because that is where the ball usually bounces and it is hard to return a ball that is bouncing right at your feet. You needed to be behind the baseline where you can hit the ball at the apex or up at the net putting away a volley. If you got caught in no man’s land you usually didn’t win the point.

The problem is that many pastors find themselves in pastoral no man’s land. They are somewhere in between in a lot of areas. You can be in pastoral no man’s land when comes to being attractional or missional, being outgoing or an introvert, or being a visionary or academic. If you read popular books they tell you that you must commit to one or the other to be successful. The problem is that it is the Type A personalities who write these books and they are geared towards that style. From their perspective being in no man’s land is ineffective.

The fact is that I enjoy doing a lot of things as a pastor. I love studying the Bible and teaching but I don’t want to spend my whole day doing it. I enjoy counseling people but after too many appointments I am drained and think everyone is whacked. In secret, which I never admit at any pastor’s conference, I love spreadsheets, profit and loss statements, and numbers. I like variety but if I listened to other people, which I used to, I would think I am in Pastoral no man’s land. They tell you that you have to do one thing really well and delegate the rest and if you focus on too many areas you aren’t doing anything well.

To be honest God doesn’t look for us to do even one thing well. One lesson I have to learn over and over is that “Where I am weak He is strong.” The older I get the weaker I realize am in all areas. I have taken too much credit for any success in my life. It’s when I give up from exhaustion God usually takes over and accomplishes in seconds what I tried for weeks to do.

The fact is that we have three callings as a Pastor: Prophet, Priest, and King. Most of us specialize in one of these and struggle in the other two. Neglecting one or more of these areas will eventually take its toll on us or on the ministry God has blessed us with. If you feel like you are in pastoral no man’s land take heart. God may have you there to show His glory through our weaknesses. Stop trying to measure up to other pastors and books. Instead decide to be content where God has you and start seeking Him more for the increase.

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Church Plants vs. Established Churches

Is it better to be part of a church plant, or an established church? I don’t know that one is better than the other. But these are some observations I have had comparing the two. They are definitely generalizations. Most (if not all) of the bloggers here on Cross Connection are more experienced than I am, so I value the coming comments (both elaborative and corrective).

Pros for Church Plants; Cons for Established Churches

  • Church plant members have a pioneering attitude.
  • Established church members have a maintaining attitude.
  • Church plant members are more willing to take risks.
  • Established church members are afraid of risks, preferring what is comfortable or ‘established’.
  • Church plant members are willing to think in a way that is new and different.
  • Established church members prefer traditions and being able to anticipate the future.
  • Church plant members constantly look ahead to what is going to happen.
  • Established church members often look back at what has happened.

Pros for Established Churches; Cons for Church Plants

  • Church plant members are sometimes those who think they can make the church the way they want it.
  • Established church members are already content with the church structure.
  • Church plants often lack resources including qualified workers.
  • Established churches are often well funded and have more qualified workers.
  • Church plant members sometimes think they can showcase their talent because the church is usually small.
  • Established churches can discriminate more on who can fill roles because they are usually bigger.

Mix of Pros and Cons

  • Church plants tend to be more missional focused in outreach (going to where unbelievers are).
  • Established churches tend to be more attractional focused in outreach (bring unbelievers to where they are).
  • Church plants tend to have a stronger emphasis on evangelism.
  • Established churches tend to have a stronger structure for discipleship.
  • Church plant members expect something more grassroots.
  • Established church members expect something more professional.

 

 

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Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

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Sinkhole

Several years ago, I read Gordon MacDonald’s book “Ordering Your Private World.” He begins by describing sinkholes in Florida. Water aquifers drain leaving a subterranean void that will, without any notice, give way. Suddenly a house sinks into a massive hole; all the while nobody expected it.

A little over a year ago, I fell into one of these sinkholes. It was a Sunday morning and I stood up to preach, as I had done hundreds of times before, but this particular Sunday, I lost control and began to weep. The next five minutes seemed like an eternity as I worked to regain my composure. The church was completely caught off guard (not to mention the fact that Brits have a reputation of holding a stiff upper lip). They had no idea that I had been under such stress. My internal anxiety had been increasing because of a combination of church finances, critics within the church, inability to minister to particular deep needs of people, exhaustion, mounting discouragement, etc. I remembered MacDonald’s sinkhole as I lay in this pit, depressed and lacking in faith. Simply put, I wanted out.

 Here are some of the early warning signs that I failed to notice.

  • I ceased to have vision for the church and found myself just trying to maintain.
  • I viewed myself as the servant, and therefore didn’t give others the opportunity to serve me in my mounting need.
  • My times of prayer decreased while my times of anxiety increased.
  • I began to use my creativity to look for ways to get out of full-time ministry.
  • I internalized my conflicts, rather than sharing with trusted friends/counsellors my struggle and fatigue.
  • I had begun to feel like I was a sermon machine, needing to birth a sermon every few days.
  • I found that I was being careful not to ruffle feathers of certain critics, seeking their approval instead of God’s approval.
  • I had put people’s spiritual needs above my own.

Here are some things that particularly helped.

  • I began to put my spiritual needs first. This seems antithetical. I had thought that I had what it took to minister to people. In order to serve others, I need to receive from the Lord. It’s like those pre-flight announcements. If the oxygen mask drops down, put your own mask on before you help your child. If you don’t, you will have no strength to help anyone. 1 Samuel 30:6 tells us that “David strengthened himself in the Lord.” One of the ways I began to do this was to take a monthly day of retreat to pray and seek the Lord. This isn’t for the church, but for my own soul. The great Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne said the best thing he could give his church was his own personal holiness.
  • I began sharing my struggles with the church (obviously what is shared requires discretion). One of the reasons for my sinkhole was a lack of help and co-labouring by the church body. Since the church felt I had everything under control, their involvement in the church had become passive. Since I began to humble myself and share my struggles and my perpetual need for God’s grace, the church has become far more active taking on ministry. This has also helped people see that perfection is not the benchmark for ministry, but availability to God is.
  • When I’m struggling I tend to isolate and internalize. This is not wise (Proverbs 18:1). I keep in regular contact with other pastors who keep me accountable and who have carte blanche to speak hard truths to me. My wife also, has the same right. When she sees signs, she will challenge me and will exhort me.
  • I purpose to serve for the pleasure of Jesus. If I’m pleasing people, my joy or energy rises and falls with their perception. I remind myself that I am already “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6 NKJ). Paul said in Galatians 1:10 that we cannot seek to please men and be Jesus’ servant.
  • I began to pray with thanksgiving. This is commanded in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but thanksgiving can easily be substituted with grumbling which essentially is an accusation against the Lord.
  • I began to say ‘no’ to ministry opportunities. I am free from doing things simply because people want me to do them. My place is not to do everything, but to do what God has called me to do. I pray about the opportunity and ask if this need is a need I am to meet. I am not the saviour; I serve the Saviour.

God is a gracious fountain who never runs dry. These changes have been helpful in keeping my feet from wandering from the fountain of living water.

 

By the way, we will be away on holiday (vacation) for the next 10 days, so if there are any comments, I may not get to responding to before then.

Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?