The Story We're Telling

Everyone wants to tell a good story. I believe my primary job as a pastor is to help my church to tell that story in a fresh way. We have only really two options when it comes to stories, we either tell a different story than everyone else, or we tell the same story but in a fresh way.

I’ve been trying to get everyone to see “Les Miserables” with Hugh Jackman. It’s fantastic. I also love the stage production and the book. The book is my favorite, but each brings something different and something fresh. Each is telling the same story in a different way. The same is true of the church in the United States. We are telling a story with who we are and what we do. It’s my contention (and I think clearly shown in statistics) that either the story itself has gotten old, or the way we’re telling it isn’t sufficient anymore.

The story, at its heart, is that God wants to help everyone to belong. Every human has a deep longing to be told that they are accepted and loved. So I have a hard time believing the problem is the story itself. I can only conclude that it is the way we’re telling that story that is failing. And possibly the way we’re telling it is altering the story itself.

Currently, the story the American church has been telling is one of consumer spiritualism. Come, receive something, be it “the gospel”, great worship, a good sermon, then leave and the actual acts of living out the faith should be done solo. If you are looking to serve, serve the mechanism that helps make better worship services.

I think there are a few problems with this. First, we are telling people that if their gifts do not serve publicly, if they aren’t a good speaker, singer, or (gulp) prayer, then they aren’t as valued. I don’t think this was ever an intentional decision by church leaders, but it’s where we are nonetheless.

Second, most of our time and energy is spent on making a more meaningful weekly worship experience. What we are saying with that is that the most important thing to the community life is that we worship in the same way and that we agree with the pastor’s doctrine. Or at the very least with his or her message from that week.

Third, it is that our individual kingdoms take precedent over the larger kingdom of God. As a pastor, I can verify that my ego is hurt if someone prefers someone else’s preaching. As a Christian, I can recognize that that is the reality in life. But as a part of the church universal, I have to ask why that should even matter. I don’t think this was ever anyone’s intent, but competition among churches is fierce.

So, with that said, I think that there is a better story for my church to live. I say “my” not in a possessive sense, but in a sense of belonging. Does that mean that this plan will solve all our problems or that this plan will change everything overnight? Not at all. Does that mean that I’m the only person to come up with this? I don’t think so, but I don’t really know.

This plan comes primarily from a place of recognizing the disconnect between Jesus telling people to “follow” and the modern church telling people to “accept.” What if we helped people to follow their way into acceptance? What if we challenged people that acts of community service and acts of deep fellowship were as important as acts of communal worship? What if we help people to truly realize the priesthood of the believer, to take their own spirituality seriously, and to stop allowing clergy or church structure to dictate their relationship to God?

So, I’m suggesting that Refuge moves to a “cycle of Sundays” rather than simply meeting for worship every week. I realized amidst a pretty difficult personal crisis (that’s not completely over) that, at the moment, our church values are merely lip service. We aren’t living our values authentically. If you looked at our church from the outside, you would say we valued worship and fellowship.

Our list of core values, however, are as follows: Mission, Discipleship, Service, Worship, and Fellowship. The problem is, I’ve been struggling for months, maybe years, to try to put a structure in place that really helps our people to live those values. I think this cycle of Sundays is a step in the right direction. With all that said, what will it look like?

Week 1: Mission- This is definitely the most difficult for me right now. How do we put wheels on it? As of now, I would like this to be a week that we are “scattered” as a church. Each is charged with finding someone outside of our community and being a blessing to them. Doesn’t have to happen on Sunday, but that’s a time that people have already reserved for something else that may be a good time. I believe that the creativity of our people can shape this and they can own this better than if I gave them a task.

Week 2: Fellowship- This is probably the firmest for me right now. We can gather at the Cozy Cottage each month and have a meal together. We would sit in family type tables of 5-9 or so and have a few questions to discuss but nothing too strict. We would have some greeters to help people feel welcome. We would then encourage people to bring board games or whatever to play after. This is a great week to involve those that are gifted with hospitality and service.

Week 3: Service- This week has also presented some difficulty. At its heart, I’d like to see us serving the community that we meet in and serving our own members. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, but I do know that Jesus makes it clear that we are to serve. Service is like an antidote to the gospel of consumerism. We may look at having two options and just letting people choose, but this will be done as a community. People often dislike the Christian church, but I would suggest that if we served our communities more and judged them less then that would go a long way to repairing the damage done.

Week 4: Worship- This week is also fairly firm in my mind. We would spend the first part of the service looking back at the month that was, hearing testimony from Mission, Service, and Fellowship and then anticipating the month to come. I’d like to spend time commissioning to go and be the light of the world, and to let our folks know that God has called them to have an impact.

I am also suggesting weekly discipleship groups. My personal goal is to equip our people with the tools they need to study the bible and theology on their own. I realized that I need to commit myself more to that. People learn better in a dialogue than a monologue, and so time when questions and discussion can take place is often more effective than time without.

Statistics make it clear that the American church is failing. We can’t continue with “business as usual” and bury our heads in the sand. We must adapt and evolve or we will become irrelevant. We must tell the story again, but in fresh ways. Or maybe, to stretch the analogy, we must help people begin to tell the story themselves, so that they can hear it in fresh ways. The story is simply that God make us belong to his community, and now we have the blessing of helping others belong as well. Each is loved and accepted as they are, and each realizes that each other is also on a journey. This is what I believe we should do.


Discipleship is easy, if you do it wrong

"And then from the moment they met Jesus, they did exactly as he expected and never failed him..."

I think that's the way most of us in the clergy expect the gospels to end. Jesus calls his disciples, they meet him and they walk off into the sunset because the disciples have been instantly changed into little Christs.

But somehow, this is never the way it works in my church. And it wasn't the way it worked for me. It sure would be nice if it did.

I could just point my finger and, bam!, she no longer worries, he no longer offers excuses, she immediately follows through more and he suddenly cares about his spiritual life.

But, for some reason, it never works out that way.

I think we have settled for an already assembled version of spirituality when the bible teaches a certain level of "do it yourself." Most of us pull into church, order an increase in discipleship, and then drive off, ready to reap the rewards. But the way I see discipleship in the bible, it took the best (Jesus, in case you didn't know) 3+ years to form these vapid fishermen into some semblance of a church.

And most of the time I expect serious improvement next week.

The real tragedy of this line of thinking, is that most often it comes from a clergy who think we are already "spiritually formed." But the fact is, true discipleship demands that both the one being discipled and the one doing the discipling are constantly in motion, constantly examining their own relationship to God, constantly seeking more in themselves.

Hopefully I can remember these two things better, 1. I need to change as much as anyone else, 2. Real change takes days, weeks, months, even years.


Going home

It was really easy to look at the last ten years objectively and know that they had, in fact, happened. I attended Howard Payne for four of them, Truett seminary for another three, and lived in Colorado for three. But when I really thought about it, it just didn't seem to make sense that I had been away from Classen for more years than I actually attended it.

Classen is a magnet school, ranging from grade six to twelve. So, for those seven years, I was surrounded by almost the same supporting cast (forgive the self-centeredness... we are all the star of our own show). I attended the same church and had the same friends. Then, one day it was over. I moved to Texas, learned some stuff, married a wonderful lady, and then moved to Colorado. Those years would always be a part of me, but they were no longer most of me.

The thing that I wasn't really aware of, was that there was really one person who had always been my biggest support.While I was busy with papers and girls and friends, one person was the light in my life regardless of how selfish I truly was. She was there every time I drove the five or six hours it took to make it home, she was there when I needed to wash clothes, and she was there when I didn't want to stay at my mom's house anymore. My grandma was the rock in my life.

Then, one day I got a call. And she was gone.

It's only been a couple months now, and it it still feels a bit surreal. It feels like the next time I go home, she will be there. She will exclaim "OOOHHHH!" as I walk in the door. She will repeat how good it is to see me, and she will walk in front of the TV on a critical fourth down or just as I am attacked in a video game.

But the truth is, I know she won't.

In the same way that I can't go back to the simplicity of just being part of Classen and Northwest, I can't go back to the days when she was there to lift me up. She won't be coming back.

I went to Oklahoma City for my ten year reunion, and for the first time she wasn't there. She didn't tell me how proud she was of me, or that she wanted an applesauce donut. In reality, it was difficult for me to appreciate her when I had her, but now that she's gone it's my hope that I still can make her proud.

Rest in peace, Roberta, you are missed.



I'm back.

It has been a pretty eventful couple of months for me, guess more like four months... but here goes.

Sometime in April Robin and I made the difficult decision that if we were going to follow this dream of pastoring a church plant, we needed to jump all the way in. We prayed and thought and crunched some numbers, and realized that maybe God was just calling us to leap. So we did.

So here I am. Two and a half weeks into pastoring with all my time. So far, I love every bit of it. The only problem with doing all your work for God, is the payscale. The church has been very gracious and generous to us, stepping out in faith to pay something, but let's be honest, we'll never have to worry that I'm making too much...

My weight loss goals have held pretty well. I am hanging right between 200 and 205, and while I would like to drop all the way to or below 190, this is a pretty good spot so far. I think if I went hardcore for a month or so, I could pretty easily drop that last little bit. I feel so much better than I did at 225 and fit my clothes much better.

I like to think I'm being a better husband as time goes on, Robin recently told me she is the happiest in our marriage she has ever been. And while I would like to think that is all due to me, quite a bit is due to her. And probably more credit is due to God. He has given us peace and taken away stress in what very well could have been a very difficult transition. He has held us up, and I look forward on talking in the future about how he has been providing.

Hope to keep this up weekly, next week will start on more theological type topics.


In the name of Jesus

Just finished reading this wonderful little book by Henri Nouwen, and honestly teared up a few times. The reminders he offers in it are pretty difficult to swallow, while at the same time being fairly revolutionary.

The book was written as a series of lectures that he delivered on Christian leadership in the 21st century. The more I read the more I wanted to read. The more I thought "yes! this is what we are all missing today. this is why church is broken."

Nouwen offers that many times we are tempted to lead, Jesus is really calling us to the servant mentality of allowing ourselves to be led. We should regularly end up going where we don't want to go, and experiencing things we don't want to experience. And I kept thinking it felt really familiar.

Sometimes I just ask Jesus to let me give up on being in ministry, but I am reminded that this is where he wants me. My theological reflection leads me to trust and follow, even thought sometimes it is incredibly hard. And after reading Nouwen, I have more hope that I am doing the right thing.

At the end of the book, he talks about how he took a man who is mentally retarded with him to his leadership event. The whole time they talked about "doing it together" and after Nouwen had finished speaking, his friend stood up to say a few words. Then his friend spent time meeting people and getting to know those in attendance. His friend was not particularly well-spoken, but the whole point of it was to do it together. Jesus wants us to let others participate in the ministry, even if sometimes they don't do a great job. And that's really humbling to me.



Ok, really dropping the ball on my blogging resolution.

Finished up my month of diet pretty well. Ended up -14 for the month. Not as good as I hoped, but I fit into small jeans now... so that's good.

As for loving Robin better, I surprised her pretty well with an anniversary gift, so I think I'm doing pretty well on that...

Reading, I have finished 11 books so far this year, so well ahead of pace. Still sucking at my language discipline, so time to get that in gear.

I have been thinking about church quite a bit recently, and one of the main things I have come to realize is that I need to learn to appreciate wherever we are. I definitely don't mean that I should allow myself to be complacent and to think that we have arrived. But I do mean that I should learn to enjoy the ride and to be grateful for the victories that we do have.

We have had some really positive things happen since Refuge started. Just the other night I listened as people on our leadership team poured their hearts out to one another. That wasn't happening when we first started.

I meet weekly with a guy who has never really spent much time thinking about God, but since becoming part of our church he says every day has something to do with God.

We have been provided for every step of the way, we are looking to go on an overseas mission trip this calendar year, and we fight pretty well. No, Refuge is anything but perfect. But, Refuge is functional and loving. And that makes me hopeful and grateful. I can only hope we continue to grow in love and hopefully continue to add those who are not churched. If nothing else, God has been teaching me through this whole process.


Dang. And Ethics....

Oops. So... grade for weekly posting-- F. Sorry team

Grade for diet for this week, D+. Had a serious relapse yesterday, ate most of a thing of crazy bread and drank a DP. It was just so good. Gained a pound back. I'm still at minus 12 pounds for the month, hoping to rally this week and end up at minus 17-20 or so by a week from today, so I have my work cut out for me. Hopefully I can finish strong.

Language grade- 0. I have done nothing on it and am ashamed of that.

Reading grade- A-. I have read well, but have a couple books that I need to put to sleep this week. Next week is vacation so will only read fiction that week, should easily kill 2-5 that week.

Loving spouse grade- B?- I'm making a more concerted effort to ask questions and listen better, but still much improvement to do.

I have been thinking a lot about ethics this past couple weeks. I spend (too much) some time on reddit.com while at work, and probably 95% of the vocal posters there are aggressive atheists, meaning they can't let a post go by without criticising Christianity. And we probably deserve quite a bit of criticism.

However, one criticism I believe is off-target. Many will say that they do not need some "flying spaghetti monster" to tell them how to be a moral person. I think they couldn't be further from the truth. I want to submit that the only biblical measure of ethics is relationship.

Now, this idea is certainly not original with me, but I'm not sure who to credit with it, so I just want to at least claim that I am not taking credit for the idea.

Some of us like to pretend that there are two ideas floating around of "good" and "evil" and that they are completely objective. I think "good" and "evil" are 100% subjective. They are completely and totally products of relationship. No rule is arbitrary, but every part of good ethics is relationship.

The only correct relationship from human to human is one of altruistic love. The only correct way to view others is that they are more important than us. That is the only ethic we are called to.

The only correct way to have relationship from human to God is one of obedient love. The relationship of creator to creature places us where we might sometimes follow God's command even if it seems arbitrary for us. The reason being that God has revealed himself in and as love, thus if we are to be in correct relation to him, then we must trust that he has our best interests in mind. We will never completely understand, but that is not for the creature to decide.

The difficulty is determining what God told us to do and when he told us to do it. If someone claims that they were told by God to blow up a building, does that mean we trust them and hand them some C4? I think we have to judge each instance separately, but I think we can generally say that blowing things up is not in line with love. So if God is love, then God would not command us to do something unloving.

Blowing up a building is an easy target (pun intended), but what about something like telling someone the brutal, honest truth? When is that appropriate? I think at that point we have to judge ourselves and ask our creator for wisdom. We will end up in gray areas, but we must constantly be looking at motivation and examing ourselves constantly.