Category Archives: pastor

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.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 1 It’s not about everyone having more.

Prologue: Jacob’s Well, the church I serve, has  been working it’s way through a worship season called JustStart> (developed by a collaborative of people and agencies) and it has helped us learn a lot about being the church, not just having a church. I’ve been learning a lot too. The next entries are a way for me to put some of what has emerged as particularly compelling to me out for others to read, comment on, challenge, borrow, whatever.  Thanks for reading.

Poverty doesn’t end by everyone Having MORE.

When we say that the poor need more, what we tend to think is that they should have something closer to what we have. Can’t work. Thomas Friedman, in his book  Hot, Flat and Crowded, discusses a unit of measure first developed by Tom Burke,  called the ‘Americum.” It is any group of 350 million people with an average income greater than $15,000 and a growing penchant for consuming. It is an America. There are now approximately 2 Americums in the world. One in North America, and the other in Europe with some help from spots in Asia and South America. But by 2030, with economic growth and the development of a middle class around the world, Friedman tells us there will 8 or 9. The problem is that this planet doesn’t have enough resources to support that much consumption.

If the world is going to level off, it isn’t going to be at the energy intense, hyper-consumption mode we have here in the U.S. And besides the resource impossibility, if we stop and think about it we also know that it isn’t our ‘ stuff’ that fulfills our lives anyway.

This is Step 1 because it is an illusion we all just have to get over: we aren’t going to save this world by helping them become wealthy in the fashion of the west.

What is ironic is that while the earth isn’t nearly big enough for us all to share in the American dream, it is more than big enough for us all to share  in God’s dream for us. It’s time to look elsewhere for what will satisfy our and everyone else’s needs.

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!

The Dump Truck of Affirmation

I think I heard this phrase from Ron Sylvia first, but it sure captured it for me.

The question I’m dealing with right now is where is God at work. Not in theory. not just theologically safe, but where in my life, do I feel sure, confident, whatever, that God is there. There are places and all of them squoosh out between my fingers when I squeeze my fingers too tightly, but this is one that keeps coming through for me. The dump truck of affirmation.

Let’s face it, following God isn’t easy, and it is hard to know where to go, what to do, and whether you are walking with God or lost in the wilderness. So I get discouraged sometimes – a lot of times – and I’ve learned to let God know that. My prayer is something like this, “God, this is tough. I don’t know if what I’m doing is working, whether it’s worth it, or whether you are even there right now. Can you let me know?” And when I ask I get an answer, God comes through bigger than I expect. I start getting emails and phone calls from people – unsolicited, things start working out, people appear out of nowhere to take on leadership roles or fill gaps that are driving me crazy. It’s like God has everything going just fine, and cracks it open wide enough for me to see how what I’m up to fits into it – more than enough to keep me going. It’s not a hint, not a suggestion that could be easily dismissed as chance or selective perception, its the dump truck of affirmation.

Plop. “There it is,” God says, “you asked. Try and deny it.”

I know, this all sounds kind of weird to me too. But it happens. Every time. Sometimes the affirmation is not of what I’m doing but the new direction that I should be heading. Coming from God though, it isn’t like a reprimand, but like an inviting open door showing me what I want more than what I have. I guess God doesn’t just tell us – or at least me – what I should or shouldn’t do, and God doesn’t just melt the problems away, God does seem to care enough about me to want me to know I’m not alone and that what I’m doing is worthwhile and not just an invention of my own imagination.

Try it. Be honest with God about your discouragement. I can make no guarantees about how it will work out for you, but that dump truck of affirmation keeps backing up for me and dropping another load. So… I guess I’ll go back to work tomorrow and finish that message and try to connect with a few more lives this week.

Hypocrisy

There is only one way to not be a hypocrite.

Quit claiming you aren’t one.

We are all hypocrites, it’s unavoidable. No one lives up to everything they believe in, practices everything they preach, or orders their life around all their values. Let’s be honest and quit pretending we’re perfect. Then when we aren’t spending all that time and energy in deception, denial and guilt we can actually start doing something about our dissatisfaction with being that way.

I am the pastor of a church FULL of hypocrites. We just try to be honest about it. I think it’s a great vision for a church.

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.

Speak to the Pilgrim

winding-roadBeing the pastor of a church that was created to reach people who have given up on or don’t like church, I have to speak differently. I can’t assume Bible or theological knowledge, and even more so, I can’t assume “buy in.” People are skeptics or at least questioning. And since we aren’t just trying to get a batch of those folks in and up to speed so that we can  move on this is a permanent, not temporary, mode.

Here’s the question I get asked and struggle with a lot: How do you create a worship experience, especially the teaching/preaching part, that meets the needs of those totally new and even outside faith, and those who are now in and ready for more? Can you speak to both at once?

My answer: Yes you can, and here’s how. The temptation, and even the downfall, of many established churches full of established believers is to speak to where people are in their faith, and that creates a split between the different places people are spiritually. Lyle Schaller says this is what we call “preaching to the choir.”  Think about it… faith is process, it is either growing and changing or dead. In reality there is little difference between the person who is new to faith and the one who has a long history. We all have a long, long way to go.

I aim at the movement of my target; flying, not sitting ducks. I don’t preach to where any one (seeker or believer, if you want to use that language) is, but to the movement within them. We are all on a winding road that takes attention, practice, skill and grace. None of us can see down the road too far, and it should never be an option to stay where we are right now.

Preach to the pilgrim, the sojourner, the learner, the restless within each person and yourself. That is what we all have in common, it binds us together, and it is the place that God’s Spirit is most at work.

I’d love to hear the reactions of people who hear my preaching. Is this a concern or a frustration for you? What works or doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear!

Other preachers… what do you think?

Practice what you preach (or just practice?)

I was meeting with my GroupLife group on Sunday evening and Steve, one of our hosts, said, “You hear people say you ought to practice what you preach, but I wonder if we shouldn’t just practice.” Wow.

Of course that brought up a very good conversation about the virtue and pitfalls of preaching. Legislating faithfulness or proclaiming judgment are dangerous areas for us human beings and this ‘bad news’ method of sharing ‘good news’ seems dubious. But there is value in connecting actions to words. You can be good forever, but aren’t you – at some point or other – obligated to tell people why?

I suppose so (I am a preacher after all), but I really like Steve’s inclination to just practice. Here’s why. Preaching – especially outside the bounds of the Church – has a tendency to do more than share, it likes to hold agendas, to hustle people into its camp rather than their camp. Is it insecurity about the preachers’ camp that drives this, because your joining my camp rationalizes why I’m in this camp?

I imagine that if you are heaven-bent on practicing (excuse the pun) there will be a time when you will speak. Practicing your faith would mean not just acting from your source, but pointing to it. If I want to give people something very special, by practicing what is most valued by me, then I will want to connect them with it so they can receive it without having to go through me. It’s not about convincing anyone, it is about giving my best away. Practicing speaks when the time is right. It doesn’t strategically wait, but is just ready. That’s what’s so interesting about Jesus; he wasn’t about collecting people, he was ready to give what was needed and did it for our sake.

Was it Augustine who purportedly said, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”?

PRACTICE!

Sailing anyone?

Sail to Sunset

Sailing is at least as deep as life…

I long ago learned two things. My most powerful ministries will come from one of two places… my deepest hurts and my deepest passions. I can talk about the hurts some other time, right now I’m into passions! Sailing is a biggy for me and my ability to use it to connect with people and to connect people to the real stuff of life, the world and faith has been one of the most treasured things I get to do.

Interested in an adventure? We will have a Jacob’s Well trip sailing the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior Friday, June 20-Sunday, June 22 (arrive anytime on Thursday, June 19). You don’t need any previous sailing experience, or to be a Jacob’s Well person to come along – just to be interested in an experience of a lifetime.

See a video teaser and find more information HERE.

Reading the Bible today

michelangelo-god-touches-usweb.jpg

I’ve had some great conversations with some folks lately. I am continually impressed with the questions and depth of personal investment people have in what they are struggling with. Most who meet me to talk over a cup of coffee or an email are thinking about faith, and one of the regular themes is the Bible. How do we understand, use, believe that book?

Clearly the way the Bible has been treated as an “inerrant and infallible” writing come from God isn’t working anymore. Is the Bible less than it once was? Or is it less to us than it is among some churches who cling to those claims? Wrong question!

Truth has a different role today. In a world that is as pluralistic as ours and where assumptions are not just challenged everyday, but dumped on their head, authority and absolutes just aren’t what they once were. Frankly, I think the Bible is becoming more alive and, theologically speaking, is becoming more powerful as it steps down from its ivory tower and starts living with us. Are there rumblings of Jesus in that statement?!?! Hope so…

Jacob’s Well was founded on the conviction that the Bible is not only relevant, but it is foundational. THE writing among many writings that have true spiritual strength. But it isn’t an instruction book. It’s truth is mined, not just spread like frosting. It’s truth is contingent on our willingness and ability to subject ourselves to it, and to bring our lives into the story. Indeed, without application to our lives there is no truth there at all. Just writing. Or as I like to say, the ‘book’ itself, white pages with black (or red, ugh… I am not a fan of red-letter Bibles… another blog…) is the dead word of God. The living word of God is embracing the people behind and before the story; the telling of the story around the fire at night 1000’s of years ago, the gradual recording of it, the editing, the compiling, the translation, the reading, the interpreting, the sharing of it. This on-going process is where inspiration happens, every step of the way. God’s word is alive when, and only when, humanity and humans engage and wrestle with the writing this way.

That means the Bible is contextual.  This is not its weakness but it’s strength and we live in a world today that is willing and able to see that!  I contend that it is comprised of universal truths (as far as human words speaking from particular contexts can express them) and the application of those truths. Our task, to read and apply the truths, and to learn from the application of truths (not to mimic them). That puts us in the messy situation of deciding which is which, but what about living by faith isn’t messy?

I read Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed (www.jesuscreed.org), when I have time (he writes a lot!). A week or so ago he blogged the notes below that are very interesting. They talk(in ‘theologian-speak’) about what Jacob’s Well is built on. These are six points that he believes characterize the emerging church’ s relationship with the Bible and “the Story” of what the Bible is pointing to. He seems to think they are healthy trends. I’d add that they are both healthy and inevitable. Deal with them! Interestingly they come from both sides, i.e. they show how post-modern culture is putting ‘religion’ in its place to make room for the Real World, and also putting ‘modernism’ in its place to make room for the Story. Here they are:

1. De-throning science as the sole Story.
2. En-throning a subjectivity as part of the real Story.
3. Embracing a local story as part of the real Story.
4. Epistemic (that means ‘intellectual’) humility about what one concludes from the Bible.
5. Acceptance of myth and fiction as capable of truth-telling. (I really love this one! Watch for a worship series on this before too long!)
6. Admission of cultural influence on all texts, even the Bible.

Any comments from wrestlers? Or from people who think we’re not supposed to be wrestling? I’d love to hear from either… just gives me another thing to wrestle with.