Category Archives: church

When you’re not the one

As a pastor I feel a strong responsibility to ‘be there’ for people. That’s not a bad instinct, but sometimes I can’t. It is easy to feel as though I should do whatever it takes for the people God has called me to serve. Strong theological themes like ‘sacrifice,’ ‘servanthood’ and ‘self-expenditure’ come to mind. But then there are other messages like self-care so I am there for the rest of the flock, not just the one that is lost. I also believe that the ministry I’m called to give myself away for is more than my role as pastor of a church. My larger ministry includes first of all my family. If I give everything to someone in my congregation who is hurting, who calls out to me, what about myself and my family? Dilemmas of limits and boundaries versus trusting God in all things challenge me.

Paul is oft quoted for saying he had become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9.22) and maybe he did… few people gave as much as consistently as Paul, but are we all called to be Paul? And didn’t he lose his temper with some congregations and groups? Didn’t he refuse to stay and care for nascent congregations in order to fulfill his larger role in ministry as an apostle, leaving others to stay, care and nurture?

Jesus wasn’t the person for everyone either. He healed and ministered to many, but not everyone. He taught, he healed, he moved on. I suppose he didn’t give up on the Jewish authorities, but he sure didn’t lose any sleep over their inability to figure out who he was. I note that Jesus didn’t chase Nicodemus down, just messed with his mind (spirit) when Nicodemus kept coming back for more. Jesus even walked away from Nazareth concluding that a prophet just isn’t going to ‘be the one’ for  his hometown (Mt 13.54ff).

It’s complicated, but I don’t think I can or should be everything any one person needs at all costs.

I still struggle with the tension between giving of myself without measure and drawing the line  saying I can’t do it, but I am also growing in my appreciation that it is a mark of spiritual/personal maturity to discern the difference and act accordingly. It also drives me forward on intentionally crafting a community made in which people will, all in all, be there for each other. I don’t assume responsibility to be the one for everyone or anyone else, rather I  assume responsibility that the culture, systems and support are there so that we can be the sort of community where the right person will be there to be the one.

Do Plaid

Plaid adds spice

Plaids are interesting. They allow you to put together colors that would normally never be found in clothes. And strangely, plaids need those surprising contrasting colors to save the base colors from being boring and unnoticeable. They don’t belong there, yet seem to at the same time.

As a person chosen by God to be God’s holy people (1 Peter 2.9) you are the contrast colors to the world. You don’t quite fit in, you aren’t part of the usual script, yet somehow you look good there and belong there. You are not only valuable, you bring hope, breathe life and redeem the fabric of humanity from itself. You do it because the color you bring is the color God gave you.

Wear plaid. Do plaid. Remember.

When church happens

Feeding the hungryShane Claiborne said some things about Acts chapter 2 that opened this up for me when we were talking about poverty as part of our JustStart> at Jacob’s Well.  The relevant verses are Acts 2.44-45

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Now one can throw up all sorts of complications  around this passage, like how they pooled and distributed their wealth, and the difference between needs and wants. Such controversies miss the point, however, which is that when the church began, they happily and mutually filled the holes in each others lives.

Elimination of poverty isn’t a requirement or a duty of the church, it is simply what happens when church happens. In other words it isn’t giving your congregation a name,  a constitution or erecting a building that makes you a church, it’s God working among and through you to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. When people are church, they start living differently – others see that and like it. They want to be part of it. And when they do, they too are part of the church and their needs are met. The contagious, ever expanding, life-giving movement that introduces the kingdom of God is happening.

What is a sign that a church just got born? Needs are met. Poverty – all types – ends.

  • If you are thinking of starting a church, don’t miss this.
  • If you are wondering what to do with your church, don’t get distracted from this.
  • If you are looking for a church, look for this as a sign of a living one.

When will the world change?

We have been talking and thinking and dreaming and doing justice the last six weeks as Jacob’s Well. It has been interesting. I know people who have started some pretty admirable endeavors, one person told me he wants to quit his job and open a communal house as a long term shelter for homeless people. Many have done nothing. There is no judgement, there is learning and watching and wondering.  This is hard stuff and the changes that could happen, that should happen will take time – more than six weeks.

One thing I relearned during this time is just how the world is going to change. I truly believe that God wants the world to change, to better reflect God’s intentions, love, hope and righteousness than it does. But it isn’t going to change because we change it. Really, I mean it! The world needs to change, we are part of the change, BUT that change doesn’t happen because we get around to making it happen. The world changes when we let God change us.

Gandhi’s quote is famous, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is as true as it is profound. What it doesn’t say is that even that change isn’t made by us. The world needs to be changed, and it happens when we are changed, but that change needs to come from beyond us. We cannot comprehend the nature or the scope of the change, we do not have the will nor the patience to make it. We have to let God do it.

Jesus talked about those who give up their life for his sake would find it (Luke 9.24). Paul talked about dying and rising to Christ (Romans ch.6). But how does that happen? How do we let God change us. This is hard to answer because sooner or later we get to something that we do. The difference is that this isn’t a matter of continually trying to manipulate ourselves or the world, but of simple dwelling in God. Being still, listening for God anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes getting away from the world to hear, other times diving into the world to hear. And when we notice anything – even the something-almost-nothing (1 Kings 19.12), letting God know we are afraid and don’t know how. And asking God to remake our hearts to receive the change we cannot make ourselves.

It is good to have a community of people who walk along with you when you try to let change like this start happening in your life. And when our communities become holy places wide open to this happening in and among them, this world is going to get changed.

IMPACT!

We’re trying to increase our income at Jacob’s Well right now. Frankly, if we don’t we’ll have to do some serious cutting. I’m not worried about it, I have the sense that the community is ready to respond and the initial contacts I’ve had with people have borne that out. But this situation has forced me to think long and hard about the whole ‘money raising’ side of the church. It is awkward, easily manipulative and insincere. When I am asking people to increase their giving I have the possible double motives of trying to cover my own salary and maintain the church that I am familiar with. I.e., ask others to sacrifice so I don’t have to.

Some good hard wrestling and guidance by other very smart and ‘in it for the longhaul’ Jacob’s Well folks have taken me beyond that. Now I realize that it is all about impact (beyond all the also true statements of the spiritually benefits of learning generosity and gratitude to God). It is so hard to keep articulating the vision over and against the need, that is the purpose over and against paying the light bill. But what I’ve discovered is that giving to the church isn’t paying salaries, buying or renting buildings, it isn’t purchasing materials or anything else, it is resourcing the church to have impact.

We want our churches to have impact – in our lives, our communities and in the world. When we give money (or anything) to a church that uses it responsibly, we are resourcing it for impact. You do not pay a salary, you provide a highly trained (hopefully), passionate and hard-working person to go to work and make things happen; to equip leaders, to prepare contexts for growing in faith, for changing lives, for unleashing the faith of others. Things that God wants to have happen and aren’t going to happen by people who are busy with their own occupations, worlds of knowledge and expertise and homes and families.

Who doesn’t want their church to have more impact than it does already? Who doesn’t understand that an organization that has the people and resources to make things happen is going to have that sort of impact? Who doesn’t realize that this takes investment, and that God’s gift of our wealth is what gives us the ability to make that happen.

Don’t apologize for seeking to prepare your church for impact. And don’t expect your church to have it if you are not investing in it aggressively with all that God has given you: your time, your ability, your money.

Dreams come true!

You might think this is crazy, but I’ve fantasized about this for years and yesterday it happened! I’m in the office and the phone rings and there is a woman on the other end. [If you’re thinking this is a sexual fantasy… get your mind out of the gutter! 🙂 ] She tells me she lives close to our church and is only working part-time but can’t get enough hours. She is really short of money for rent, feeding her kids, paying bills, etc. some friend of hers told her Jacob’s Well was a church that could help her work out her finances.

Okay, so here’s the deal. We need help with our finances at Jacob’s Well! We are running a deficit every month in this recession are getting within a hair’s breadth of having to cut back on staff or something (don’t worry staff… you won’t find out about lay offs in my blog – I promise!).  So I tell her that and inform her right away that we don’t have money to hand out. However, we do take managing our money really seriously and do a lot of work with people in establishing budgets and dealing with debt. I was ready to hear the ‘click’ on the other end as she hung up. But no, she cuts me off and says she isn’t looking for money. She was calling in hopes of finding help so she could learn how to better live on the money she has. Wow… I just sat there. Finally I came to and told her I could have someone call her who could help and she was  thrilled.

Why is this so cool? One, somehow the word is out that we believe our money is a spiritual issue and that we really want to help people manage their money so it isn’t managing them and getting between them and God. And that person shared that message with another person. I’ve worked in churches a long time. I have dealt with more people who walked in the door or called on the phone  looking for financial help than I can count, but I have NEVER had this happen before.

Two, if that wasn’t enough… I was already on the phone and had to put that person on hold to take this woman’s call. The person I put on hold was the person who runs our budgeting and debt workshops. I talk to him maybe once every 2 months on the phone. Within 5 minutes I had them connected.

Okay God… maybe it is worth working this hard. I guess I can doubt myself once in a while, but maybe I don’t have to doubt you so often. You are making things happen. Thanks for the glimpse. I need it!

God exists, but does God do anything?

Okay, one of the driving factors for me to start a new church (read the Jacob’s Well story here) was that I didn’t want to have to choose between the existing options. This is true in nearly every aspect of the life of the church, but the one I am writing about here is the real and active presence of God. On the one-side you have people who see God everywhere. God is responsible for all the good stuff that has happened to them, and for getting them out of all the bad stuff. Strangely, this God wasn’t responsible for the bad stuff The precarious walk between the optionsin their lives, except for helping good stuff come from it. But this God is often seen behind the bad stuff that happens to other people as a sign of judgment on them. This is deus ex machina, the game playing God. Sorry, can’t do it.

On the other side is a tradition that has rationalized God so thoroughly that God has (as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) disappeared in a puff of logic. God still exists, and is a wonderful force for good in the universe, but any suggestion of just where or when makes people very uncomfortable very fast. I guess I’m looking for more.

So, I don’t want to choose between those two options. I feel like God is an active force in my life and in our world, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is pretty difficult to pin it down. It is a faith thing. My experience with God can be very compelling for me, but it is for me. You need to have your own experiences that are compelling for you.

When churches just get good at being churches (which is quite possible) and lose the active sense of God – a real, credible, respectable and inspired sense – they are in danger of losing their soul. It may as well be another club that offers good things for life; not the stuff that changes life by turning it upside down and inside out. By the way, an active God doesn’t just turn people’s lives upside down and inside out, but does that to churches too! So I asked the Jacob’s Well Board, which is responsible for the well-being of our community, to spend some time thinking about how God is active in their lives. I gave them each a composition book and asked them to start keeping track of where God was showing up.

They were pretty good sports about it, it seems. But I admit it isn’t an easy assignment. Not as hard as making our budget balance, but pretty hard. It is going to take some thinking, and soul searching. I know that I have to spend a fair amount of time just thinking about what it means that God is active in my life before I start writing where God is actually there. But that’s me. And I’m hopelessly cerebral and skeptical and all that fun stuff that constipates faith.

So there is God Sighting #1.  My intellectual approach to life has had its veneer irreparably cracked to let God in. God did it. God does it. My heart knows God and teaches my head. It may not seem like a lot to you, but it is pretty clearly God’s work to me.

More Active God Coming… the dump truck of affirmation, and the desperation of Haiti. Stay tuned.

Oh, and thanks for reading – I’d appreciate comments.