Category Archives: ministry

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.

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It’s not about what it means, it’s about doing it.

It seems that the challenge of the bible isn’t what it means. Okay, that is tough. It’s hard to understand what the bible is saying in lots of places. But the basic message is pretty clear. The bible is talking about loving and caring for our neighbor. It is about recognizing God as the only feasible center of our lives. Stuff like that. The question isn’t ‘What do all the individual passages about this mean?’, it’s ‘How will I do that?’ And that isn’t a debate question, it’s an action issue. Just do it. Afterward go to bed thanking God for a chance to try,  asking forgiveness for what you messed up or missed, and a hint about how to do it tomorrow.

What do you have to know to follow Jesus? If you know that God loves you, and everyone else in the world, then you know enough to be dangerous.

Go be dangerous.

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.


Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

Launching a ‘not very good church’ on purpose

Cover of mailer for Jacob's Well Longfellow preview

Is this anyway to attract people to our church? We think so. Obviously not if you were trying to get people who already think church is just fine. But why would we do that? They are probably going to church already. What about all those people (a majority today?) who think there is something basically wrong with ‘church’?

From the very beginning Jacob’s Well was designed to speak to people who have given up or are ready to give up on church, God and faith. It seems ridiculous to try to interest them by claiming what a good example of church we are. The copy on the back of our mailer says, “If your image of church is like most people’s, we’re glad not to be a very good example of it. So instead of being another church, we’ve tried to be a “what if” church. One known for being honest, thinking, relevant and casual so people can be themselves – you know, their real selves.”

We believe that life needs God at its center and Jesus in its heart, but we also believe that for that to happen people need churches that are authentic to who they are. People want their church to be in their own  neighborhood so it resonates with, pulls together and speaks to people with whom they already share community.  That’s why we’re in the process of starting Jacob’s Well Longfellow just 4 miles from Jacob’s Well Field in this densely populated urban neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

We had our first monthly  “preview” service on Sunday at Anne Sullivan School on Sunday (Jan. 24, 2010) and had a great time. The school and district have been great partners and the building is wonderful. Most of all, the team of people, many brand new to the Jacob’s Well community, have been incredible. A little over 100 people attended, nearly half of them new to Jacob’s Well. A great start. But it is just a start. We want to add value to the Longfellow neighborhood and be part of the struggles and joys of the community and individuals. We don’t just want to expand, we want to fulfill what God has in mind for us. And we need to let them know we are here. As I’ve said a thousand times, “It doesn’t do any good to start a church if no one knows about it.”

Starting another church is a lot of work. Being an authentic presence is a much bigger task, but that is what it is all about.

[Want to know more about why we would do this? Read “Most of us aren’t here yet.”]

Pastors can be their family’s worst pastor

I know many pastors and church developers read this site, so here is a series of thoughts that I’ve been discovering or been taught. Hopefully you’ll be able to implement what is of value before you have to learn them the hard way – like I did…

You’ve heard people say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” well, not always true. Some of the characteristics that make me a better pastor for my congregation, make me a worse pastor for my family. In particular it is being there for the congregation. Always being available is great, but if you are, your congregation and community will take advantage of you, and you will not be available for your family.

Message to your congregation/community: “You are important to me!”

Message to your family: “Other people are more important to me!”

Spouse and kids can be (and rightly so) hurt and resentful. And how can they argue?!? You are doing good and important stuff. The laundry list of the things I get dragged into each week stuns me, and the little my family hears about it often shocks them. Not only is it good and important, but it is supposed to be God’s work. How can your kids, or your husband or wife, compete with that? How can they say, “I want more of you. Don’t give so much to God.” They can’t. Well actually, they often do, but they do so through rebellion, giving up on the church, God or you.

Your kids just want a dad, or a mom. They don’t want you to be a pastor, or a superhero for St. Whatever’s.

Boundaries are part of the answer. Have inviolable time set aside for the family. Don’t just make sure you are at the important events in their lives, set aside enough space to be part of making the memorable, unimportant moments.

Don't be SuperStupid

Don't be SuperStupid

Better than boundaries is making sure the ministry of your congregation belongs to the congregation, not you. Don’t worry, you won’t become dispensable. The “S” on your chest may just be standing for “Stupid” instead of “Super.” [That’s a Rick Warren line…] There is more than enough work that you will not be able to pass off to someone else. But the truth is that God pulled the people who make your congregation together because they need each other, not just because they need you. Design the DNA to turn your people to each other. More gifts, more hands, better ministry.

And you… you can do what you are uniquely called and equipped to do. And… you can let your family know that nothing God gave you is more important than they are.