24 March 2006

I'm in the middle of my most interesting life-chapter. Having spent six months unemployed, and now four months employed as an interim pastor-teacher, I am in the process of uncovering and learning to live into God's more permanent will for my life.

And based on my experiences with the nine churches I applied at for pastoral positions, on some of the books I've read during this past year, and on many conversations I've had with other pastor-teachers about their "finding God's will/transitional" experiences, here are six of the important lessons I've learned ...


FIRST, it was easy to lie to people about my level of hope. When continually asked "how things were going", usually by people I loved, trusted, and who I even knew were praying for me and for my family, it became all to easy to say "I'm doing okay” and “I'm trusting God" when the reality was that much of the time I was doubting, fearful and anxious about my future.

God has taught me to be honest, even when it possibly showed a crisis of faith; inviting people to pray specifically for my doubts , my fears, and my anxious heart. And the more honest I become, the more I’ve strongly felt the presence and support of God through the prayers of these folks.

SECOND, it can really be hard to know which churches to apply to – because just like candidates want to "market" themselves as the real-deal, honest, wise, experienced and caring … it's easy for churches to "market" themselves as healthy, organizationally sound, spiritually mature, and confident about the vision God has given them for who they are to be, than they actually are.

God has taught me to have a "rifle" approach instead of a "shotgun" approach to the application process. Praying about what specific churches to apply to instead of only praying for God's will once I've applied at a plethora of churches was a refreshing philosophical shift that I experienced a month or two into this unemployment chapter.

I want to trust others intentions and not assign motives. But I also want to be as discerning about them as I want them to be about me. This perspective has helped me view the churches I'm "in process with" as colleagues who can be trusted, rather than as adversaries who need to be "won over."

THIRD, email is a great way to communicate, but it has limitations.

Applying for jobs and communicating over the Internet has become common and even helpful in many ways. But nothing can take the place of a phone call and/or a face-to-face conversation. Eye contact, tone and posture just aren't discernible over email ... either from the candidate to the search committee, or from the search committee to the candidate.


FIRST, healthy churches do exist – and most of them are committed to lifting up the person of Jesus Christ, aren't shy about the teaching of God's WORD, are passionate about listening to and obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit, and have a vision for equipping and encouraging their flocks to turn their inward faith outward.

While many of house-church adherents are crying "the sky is falling" in regards to the no-hope-crisis they believe the modern-day Christian church has degenerated into, I’m not dismayed about the "state of the church."

On the contrary, I have great hope about what I see the church becoming and doing. I see a growing vision to know and live into the reality and the power of the Kingdom of God.

I see a passionate willingness on the part of the church to be teachable at all times, pruned when necessary, and trained in righteousness – all through the consistent, creative, and compassionate teaching of God's WORD.

I see flocks who have abandoned the "fortress mentality" of the church for good – embracing instead a desire to go into their neighborhoods, their cities, and their world with the transforming, missional Truth of Jesus Christ.

SECOND, healthy churches want their pastor-teachers to lead them, but not without accountability, partnership, and process.

Having been led by leaders who lacked integrity of word-and-deed, and/or having been mentored by leaders who let them down through moral failure – it’s easy to see why many flocks are skittish about asking a pastor-teacher to really lead them.

Because of this reality, leaders must be committed to accountability, partnership and process.

When a pastor-teacher doesn't want (and even request) accountability in ministry, they should be suspect of having more pride (and it’s fruit, arrogance), than humility (and it’s fruit, confidence).

When a pastor-teacher doesn't desire partnership in ministry, they will never know the joy and peace that comes through the sweet fruit of being yoked with others in ministry endeavors.

And when a pastor-teacher doesn't value process, they will never learn to rely on discernment and courage as the two equal halves of obedience ... and in the end they’ll far too easily mistake "opportunistic zeal" for being "Spirit-led". And we all know the result of that fatal flaw.

THIRD, healthy churches have staff members who know how to have fun and who don't take themselves too seriously – while at the same time maintaining vision, purpose and passion.

"Taking ministry seriously" and yet "not taking oneself too seriously" … all pastor-teachers, and church leaders must embrace these two priorities.

"Taking ministry seriously" will be the fruit of a heart of conviction, a will given over to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and a life centered on Jesus Christ.

"Not taking oneself too seriously" will be the fruit of a pastor-teacher, and of church leaders who are seeking to be set free from ego, who have relinquished the need to be territorial, and who feel secure in who they are, what God is asking them to do, and their obedience to God's calling.

When pastor-teachers, and/or church leaders feel the need to control people, outcomes, programs, ministries and even worship, they will always be led into a life of non-joyful bondage.

But learning to be ourselves, to plan simply and expect profound results, and not being afraid of admitting our mistakes, our weaknesses and the sins we struggle with, is a freeing posture to adopt. And as pastor-teachers adopt this posture, the rest of the flock will feel free to do the same.

I am still greatly enjoying my life at Ogden Church in SE Michigan, but I invite you to join me as I continue on the journey of seeking, finding and living into the next, more permanent chapter of God's will for my life. Godspeed.



18 March 2006

George Fox, the founder of the Quaker denomination in the mid 1600’s in England was a powerful combination an apostle (a sent one), an evangelist (one who speaks forth the message of salvation), a prophet (one who calls the church back to it’s First Love, Jesus Christ), and a pastor-teacher (a shepherd of the flock who both grounds and guards the people under his care through the teaching and living out of God’s WORD). George Fox wore so many hats that I’m sure at times he wished he had more than one head.

The Church of England was the only real church at the time … at least the only one that was recognized and allowed by the British Crown and by the military man turned politician named Oliver Cromwell, who called himself “The Lord Protector of England.” And to say that Oliver “was not a good man” would be one of the great understatements of history.

For about 10 years, Oliver Cromwell crushed the hopes, the confidence, and the faith of the people living in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. He was an equal-opportunity oppressor who made the church bow down to him and his ideals, subjugating all the religious leaders of his day to either follow him or be executed. You gotta love that choice.

In fact, Oliver Cromwell was such a scoundrel, that after he died of natural causes in 1658, he was so hated and reviled by the people of England and by the people who succeeded him in leadership … he was so completely despised and loathed, that in 1661, three years after his death, his body was exhumed and he was publicly executed.

Now I’ve heard of people getting an award after their death … but getting publically executed three years after you’re dead and buried?! Wow! That’s got to be a new height of lowness! So Oliver was a real piece of work … and the oppression he brought to the British Isles politically, socially, economically and spiritually was not soon forgotten.

Sound a bit like the Roman Empire, and the cultural atmosphere of the Early Church doesn't it? And yet out of this time of great persecution and suffering, God raised up a variety of leaders and Christian movements, through which He could bring Truth and Light to the hurting, discouraged, oppressed people of the British Isles.

These groups had various names, including “The Children of the Light,” “The Ranters,” and “The Society Of Friends” who were also called “The Quakers” ... a group of Christians who took the name “Friends” from Jesus’ words in John 15:14 when He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you to do.”

George Fox, was a shoemaker and about 25 years old when God used him to turn Cromwell and much of England on its ear. The church is the people, not the steeple George Fox was fond of saying. Out of context Fox’s words sounds simple, almost like they've been lifted out of a nursery rhyme.

And yet God used the context in which George Fox’s words were spoken in the birthing process of a new perception of what the Church was and could become.

The church is the people not the steeple. At Ogden Church, we don’t literally have a “steeple", and yet I believe Fox’s words need to be paid attention to because we have a building, we have a location where we come together on Sundays and throughout the week. And what Fox was trying to get across to people is that it is God’s design, God’s plan, God’s heart for us that the church not be a place, but that …

The church must be a living organism made up of
walking, talking, breathing, fully-alive people who
are making it their daily choice to invite Jesus to teach
them how to think, how to speak and how to live …
and who are inviting others to join them in their quest.

The church is the people, not the steeple. Sometimes the people who make up the church are the church gathered. Like on Sunday mornings and at other times throughout the week. We’re literally together. But we don’t come together just so we can have a “holy huddle” designed to keep the world and all its “ungodly influences” outside our doors. No way!

We come together as the church gathered so that we might be grounded in the WORD of God and guarded by the WORD of God … so that we might be equipped and encouraged to live for Jesus in practical, down-to-earth, day-in-and-day-out ways. And for what purpose? So that during the other 160-something hours in the week when we’re not the church gathered that we will be the church scattered … the church out in the world, engaging the world, living out our faith in ways both radical and strong and in ways simple and quiet.

The church gathered … and … the church scattered. This holy rhythm of gathering together for Jesus-focused worship and then being scattered out in Spirit-led ministry is how the influence of God and the presence of Jesus Christ in us and through us will have the power to change the world. This God-cadence of gathered-and-scattered is how the Kingdom of God grows, matures, and becomes more than just a good idea.

God calls us, during all the hours in every week when we’re not the church gathered, to intentionally let our "inward faith turn outward" and become the church scattered. Scattered out into our homes, into our schools, into our offices, into the grocery store, into wherever we go. Because it’s only as we begin to “get this” and “understand this” that we will begin to live “missional lives.” Lives no longer centered in our egos … lives no longer directed only by our priorities … lives no longer paralyzed by fear.

To live “missional lives” means living lives that find their source in God, that find their purpose in God, that find their hopes and dreams in God … lives that see the world, not as a “den of sinners” to be judged, feared and shunned … but …
  • That see that the world is a place filled with people just waiting for someone to explain to them that the longing in their hearts for significance, for purpose and for a place to belong …
  • That see the world as a place filled with people just waiting to be loved into the heart of God …
  • That see that ultimately this longing and ache inside of people isn’t a desire for worldly success. But rather, it’s a longing to know God and be known by God … it’s a longing to know themselves, their real selves … and it’s a longing to know others and to be known by others.
  • And that this is a longing and a nearly inexpressible yearning to experience the transforming power of spiritual community.
  • And that this is a hunger to connect with Jesus Christ, the One who stepped out of heaven for the single purpose of stepping into our lives.
Can we really begin to live this way? Yes we can, but only with God's help and direction. And I am filled with great hope that this is who we are becoming and who we will continue becoming the group of Christ-followers who meet as the church gathered at 3201 E Highway 223 in Adrian, MI ... and who then goes out as the church scattered ... out into Adrian, Lambertville, Tecumseh, Blissfield, Tipton, Palmyra, and all the other locations we've been called by God to live and be His presence, His light, His hands and feet, and His ears and mouths? Without a doubt.

And if this a vision of who the church can be that you want to learn more about and live into, then you’re in luck. Because this is a description of who the leadership at Ogden Church longs for it to be and to become in greater measure.

The church is the people, not the steeple. The church isn’t a location. It’s you and me. It’s people caring for one another, watching out for one another, crying with those who cry and laughing at those who, frankly, need to be laughed at … I mean, laughing with those who laugh. But there’s always more to uncover, discover and live into about what God’s intentions are for us as “the church”, as the Bride of Christ.

There’s always more for us to learn about what it means for us to "become the church". And I know that God gets excited when you and I long in our hearts to connect with what’s in His heart and on His mind for us as “His church.” Godspeed.



09 March 2006

Today I spent most of the day studying and preparing for this Sunday's teaching from First Peter 1:22-25. I thank God for the opportunity to be the interim pastor-teacher at Ogden Church here in Adrian, Michigan.

The reason so many pastors download sermons from the Internet or copy them from books is because their flock literally doesn't give them the time they need to study and prepare to teach God's WORD. And so I am very thankful to the leadership at Ogden Church for giving me the time needed to do this each week – and for not making me feel like I should spend the 12-20 hours a week I put into this (depending on the week and how many times I need to share from the WORD) doing something else they've labeled as "more important."

Nothing is more important. When a pastor-teacher studies and prepares to feed the flock, it is their 'spiritual act of worship', it is their commitment to 'seeking first the Kingdom of God', knowing that all the other pastoral duties, all the other shepherding responsibilities on the plate of their life will be "added unto them ... and unto to the flock as well.'"

When a shepherd isn't "released" to do this primary work ... when a shepherd isn't given the time they needs to prepare to feed the flock, the flock is set up for failure as believers.

Is the shepherd of a flock the only one who can effectively teach them? Of course not. But they will be the one who sets the pace, creates the tone, and the one who God most often uses in a public way to open the eyes of the hearts to hear God ... so they can dialogue with God ... so they can partner with God ... so they can live the "with-God" life consistently and with passion.

I'm just a guy, a regular person ... no different than the rest of the folks at Ogden Church. But to study and teach God's WORD to the people I am shepherding ... this is how God has wired me, gifted me, and called me. To use God's WORD to feed, guard and ground His flock – this is the joy, the privilege and the glad responsibility God has asked me to live into.

And God hasn't asked me to do this to make me look good. God knows that for that to happen it would take more than this! Rather, God has made this request of me; so that as I remain diligent to do what I've been asked to do, the flock at Ogden Church might have the blessed opportunity to become more fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Good night and Godspeed.