“You are So Young”: Patience, Ambition, and Mentoring

When Eugene Peterson, the great contemplative pastor, died last Autumn, I found as many interview videos of him as I could, and watched them all. What impressed me about his latest interviews was this:

Whether he was asked about his life, his ministry, about the counsel he would give young people in ministry, his response was always a variation on the utterly simple but elusive quest to just be yourself. 

rappersville water

Near Rapperswil, Switzerland

One can tell through these videos that the joy in which Peterson reveled in his old age was precisely this: the increasing pleasure of merely being himself. For Peterson, this second coming-of-age was not a growing disregard for sources of personal and moral formation outside of himself. Nor was it a quest to discover some hidden “self” within himself. It was rather a gradual—though quicker than for most!—and at last triumphant loosening of the fetters that bound his soul to what we might call juvenile ambition. 

I have tended to go on spurts of great ambition myself. And to champion ambition against its naysayers. And I would still defend it today, if what we mean by ambition is intentionality, deliberateness, zeal, and even something so crude-sounding as goal-setting. No one thinks of novelist and writer Annie Dillard as a paragon of American “Ambition,” but she nevertheless has grabbed hold of thousands of wandering attentions with her sage counsel: “A schedule is a net for catching days.” And “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Peterson2

Eugene Peterson. NavPress.

My instinct is that Peterson learned to catch days. Not by pursuing “achievement” or “progress” in the American industrial sense of those words. Rather, I think he learned to shut out the world in order to hear particular people. When asked about his magnificent paraphrase of the entire Bible, he said that he spent the first years of the project simply pastoring his congregation, learning how they used their English language, and recognizing that plain folk, normal folk who aren’t pastor-scholar-nerds, speak the English language much more plainly, effectively, naturally, and with greater feeling than academic lexicographers do.

Peterson was, as the Christian approach to culture is too infrequently summarized, against the world for the world. In order to contribute, he had to shun “achievement.” In order to speak through and beyond the noise and clamor of the American Christian trinket-and-publishing industrial complex, he had to ignore it and focus his attention on his little church in Bel Air, Maryland. By the end of his life, his very congregation had taught him how best to be himself. The real Eugene. He didn’t rush it. He knew that, by and by, the real Eugene was destined to develop and emerge. But first he had to be deliberately, almost monastically, local. Intentionally contemplative, prayerful, and hopeful.

Earlier in my own ministry, I too often caved in to juvenile ambition. Propelled and justified by a dubious earnestness and urgency to “make an impact” and “start a movement,” I indulged in the rush and hurry of church planting, even as I formally renounced all the industrial metaphors. I made fun of those who “launched” churches and insisted that we “plant” them instead. But despite my organic vocabulary, I was a manager, ambitious at heart and impatient in spirit. 

As our congregation enters upon an initiative to pair mentors and mentees in relationships designed to foster support and growth in grace, I have been enjoying our leadership’s consensus that we aren’t going to programmatize things. That we aren’t going to churn out disciples on a conveyor belt. That, instead, we are all going to commit to pursuing growth in grace, to supporting one another’s growth. I am enjoying a certain feeling of liberty, rather than managerial unease, as we pursue this together.

I am among the late-bloomers when it comes to the blessed substitution of patient intentionality in the place of juvenile ambition.

Paula Modersohn-Becker of Rilke

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Portrait of Rilke

The great German poet of a century ago Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, says of art and artists what I think can be said about ministry and ministers; about Christian growth and Christians; about human development and human beings:

Being an artist means: Not numbering and counting but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconscernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the so-called 10,000-hour-rule. The idea that to become great at something, you’ve got to put in 10,000 hours. I bet Rilke would say “fine, but don’t count the hours.”

Ten years into my pastoral ministry, I find myself repeating myself, particularly as I try to bring my sermons to a close. Two of the things that I keep saying are, “Isn’t it such a wonderful thing to be a Christian believer?” and “Remember: in Jesus Christ, your best days are always still ahead of you.”

Or, as Rilke tells his young poet, whom he mentors patiently with his tender letters:

“You are so young, and so much before all beginning.”

Advertisements

Sloth and Our Lazy Loving

I am in the midst of teaching through a course on The Seven Deadly Sins for the 5th time. This repetition has occasioned something of a seasonal self-audit of my own spirituality. Each time through, the study of each vice (aided mostly by Rebecca DeYoung’s great book on the subject) diagnoses things in me that make me uncomfortable and, hopefully more often than not, repentant.

DeYoung’s fantastic definition of sloth continues to haunt me. Sloth is not laziness, but laziness in loving. Sloth is “resistance to the demands of love.”

We are about as slow and as tardy to love as this sloth is lazy and late in Win, Lose, or Draw:

As I’ve studied the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion, my mind has been blown by two dynamics in this respect:

  1. The reality of our creaturely, finite, temporal natures means that we are constitutionally “late” to love–not in the tardy sense, but in the responsive sense. God loves first and best. We love, but any love we give that is worthy of the name is always already a citation, a response to a call that precedes us. This is not bad. It’s good. We are imitative beings through and through.
  2. We are fallen creatures. We are late in another sense. We are lazy in love. We resist love’s demands. We hear and see the speech and action of our Creator-Lover, and we kick against the goads. We instinctively know that if we are to truly receive such love, we will be compelled to give it again. And we know and can name the people in our lives we regard as unworthy of our love. And so we push away the love of the first and best Lover, thinking this releases us from our status as imitative beings. We reject love, so we won’t be compelled to love the unlovely.

I’ve read in several places recently that one major malaise of our current culture is its boredom. Marion suggests (in his own way) that boredom is the result of our systematic resistance to the demands of love. What is left when the receiving and giving of love is eschewed as our ultimate vocation? Boredom. The residue of an always-unsatisfying saturation with entertainment, diversion, distraction.

Our relationships feel like work and so we check out from them—often with entertainment.

But often with work. Busyness is the other side of the Boredom coin.

Or we view our work as something other than a response of love and a reiteration and imitation of that love in the direction of our neighbor, and so we avoid it.

A resolution or two:

  1. Some productivity guru once said that you should swallow a frog first thing every morning. If you do, you can be sure that you’ve done the hardest, most unpleasant thing you’ll do all day, and now it’s done and out of the way. If I know a demand of love faces me, and its demand is less than fully pleasant, I need to swallow that frog. Have the hard conversation. Put down the phone and look the person in the eye. Give myself in full attentiveness.
  2. I need to stop myself before every new vocational task. I need to remind myself that I am doing that task out of love for my neighbor, my colleague, my student, my friend, my children, my wife. I need to imagine the face of the beloved for whom I work, sitting there in the room with me as I work, asking for my love through my work.

All said, to love well, I need to resist my resistance to the demands of love.

When Will We Finally be Done Following Jesus?

When we talk about following Jesus, I wonder if we assume that this following is done
with when our earthly days are done; that our following will be over and our chillaxing will commence once we’re over Jordan.  

It’s like we think that spiritual and vocational effort (and aren’t these ultimately the same thing?) are a consequence of the fall, and that one day, in the sweet by and by, we won’t have to work to know Jesus and follow him faithfully.

We are allergic to effort, we champions of grace. But as Dallas Willard has told us, grace is not opposed to effort, but only to earning. In the New Creation, we’ll labor–but not just in our “work.” We’ll work to know and follow hard after Jesus in, through, and after any honest day’s labor. 

We won’t struggle against the world, the sinful flesh, and the devil as we try to know and follow Jesus in the age to come. But exhaustive theological knowledge and unabridged discipleship blueprints will not simply be downloaded into our heads when the trump resounds. Jesus is too mind-blowingly infinite and loving, and his (new) world is too full of places to venture further up and further in, for us to expect our following days to be done when the roll is called up yonder. 

And that means we’re practicing now. 

Risk a Challenge

“Some of the people we’ve ministered to the most still aren’t showing up consistently.”

Thus writes one of the young church planters I am coaching. Below is my reply.

10262218_10153109946495656_3974607543640672442_n

__________

Oh man. You’ve put your finger on the most frustrating and perpetual struggle of church planting. My counsel in the face of this issue, which will not go away, is threefold:

1. People Can’t Be ‘Church Plant Fodder’

You have to determine in your heart that you will resist valiantly the temptation to use people as “church plant fodder”; to minister only or primarily to those who can reciprocate by fueling your mission and aligning with your vision.

2. Discern if Someone is a ‘Person of Peace’

You have to, at the same time, employ the “person of peace” strategy, which is actually less of a strategy and more of a matter of spiritual discernment. [The “person of peace” is someone who, whether already a believer or not, seems to be open toward you and ready to serve you in one way or another.]

Even though we don’t want to reduce things to “butts in the seats”, people’s attendance is one indication of their spiritual temperature toward you and toward the things you’re committed to spiritually and missionally. There’s a sense in which you do need to be choosy about who you invest in. You are a finite person. You have to choose how to use your limited time, talents, and treasure.

Invest in the people who know, like, and trust you. Use that relational leverage to challenge them to kingdom faithfulness, and to invite them into your communal process of walking with Jesus in day-to-day life alongside you and the community that is forming around you. In other words, when you discern that certain people are in your sphere of influence and that your invitations and challenges will matter to them, invite and challenge them further, and further, and further.

3. Risk a Challenge and Invite them In

If you aren’t sure where someone is at with you, take the risk of a challenge. This is something that is hard for me to do. I’d rather people start to know, like, and trust me in obvious, ego-stroking ways, merely on the strength of my charisma, charm, and intellect. But that’s all vanity.

If someone is showing some receptivity to your ministry, but a lack of commitment to the mission God has given you, take the risk of looking them in the eyes and say: “I think the next step for you is to make a commitment to what God is doing among us. Don’t stay out on the edges of our extended spiritual family forever, taking from us what you need, when you need it, but never pressing your own gifts and value into our family’s mission. Instead, get in on what God is doing here.” This is a spiritual version of “poop or get off the pot.” And I believe in this challenge. Some will rise to it. Others will go away. It’s worth it.

______

What’s your perspective on this perennial ministry frustration? How do you strategically and missionally deploy your finite energies and competencies so that your mission moves forward, while at the same time you are not reducing human beings to “church plant fodder”?

Subscribe to get these posts via email.

Don’t Close Your Heart

The biggest surprise for me in church planting, by far, has been this:

Hell-storming Expectations

I thought that our little church would be storming the gates of hell like boy David against Big Bad Goliath. I thought we would be spending the majority of our energies and imaginations discerning how we would make a unique contribution to the flourishing of our city, and then acting on those conclusions. I assumed that what would keep me up at night would be my burden for helping my people get a burden for their neighbors and their spiritual and holistic needs.

10505521_10153206928695656_5439803834405133092_n

Mundane Realities

I never expected that the things that would keep me up at night were the deep needs and burdens of the ordinary Christians within our congregation. I didn’t anticipate that so much of my energy and imagination, and that of my co-planter, would be deployed in the service of helping our people navigate tough seasons in marriage, parenting, and vocation.

I feel dumb for this.

And I never expected that one of the hardest things for me to do with the ordinary Christians in my congregation would be to diligently keep my heart open to them. I wrote a while back about the necessity of having thick skin and a soft heart. Paul describes it in a similar way. He says to the Corinthian church that at the very same time he is grieved and perplexed by them, and yet his heart is open to them.

The Hard Work of Heart Work

In fact, he says that even though it is their unbecoming words, attitudes, and actions that have grieved and perplexed him (and messed up the life of the church), the barrier to a renewed relationship between he and them comes from closedness-of-heart. And not his heart. Theirs.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also. … Make room in your hearts for us. … I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. (2 Cor 6 and 7)

I’ve talked with veterans in ministry who have dealt with way more Corinthianesque garbage than I have. Some of them are burnt out. They have disengaged from ministry because they no longer want to have open hearts with difficult people. This saddens me, and should not be so. If you want a congregation with hearts wide open to one another, you, as the pastor, as the planter, have to persevere in open-heartedness.

As a pastor, as a church planter–heck, as a plain old Christian–you need to make sure that whatever barrier there might be between reconciliation with other people is always in the closedness of their hearts, not yours.

Subscribe to get these posts via email.

 

The Churched Disciple: Sabbath – “Expect”

Alas, back to our series on ‘the churched disciple’. If we’re going to have the kind of church that doesn’t underwhelm earnest Christians and encourage them to opt for ‘community’ instead of church, what kind of body of disciples do we need to become?

“Discipleship is never complicated or easy, but always simple and hard.” – Mike Breen

That’s certainly true of this call to discipleship. We’re called to expect that Jesus will give us plenty to receive in each Sabbath feast.

603588_10153001005195656_1469909046_n

The great London Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once had a pastor-friend who came to him discouraged. He was upset about the lack of fruit he saw from his preaching ministry. The pastor complained that he was not seeing people come to faith in Christ under his preaching.

“Well,” Spurgeon retorted, “you don’t expect that someone will come to faith in Christ during every sermon, do you?” Sheepishly, the pastor said, “well, no.” “That’s precisely the problem,” Spurgeon said.

SMALL EXPECTATIONS?

We often suffer from abysmally low expectations of what God will do in the power of the Spirit when his people are gathered in his presence.

Growing disciples of Jesus, in contrast, will experience an growing anticipation of what Jesus will do. Especially when we come to God in the posture of receptivity, we come expecting that it will primarily be him that does a great work in and among us.

We no longer look at Sunday as the religious version of a dreaded Monday. We no longer see it as a day when we have to get the children up, get them dressed, get them fed, and keep them quiet so that we can say we went to church, and that our kids didn’t embarrass us.

Instead, Sunday becomes one of our favorite days of the week—even if we love going to work on Monday and we begging out with pizza, beer, and a movie on Friday night.

3 LETHARGIC ALTERNATIVES

Some fast-growing churches seem to put all their energy into making the worship experience so spectacular that someone could wander in half-dead and be resurrected by the sheer force of the music, the lights, the preaching, and the crowds.

Other stagnating and declining churches seem to simply go through the Sunday motions, which can make the most zealous Christian comatose ten minutes in.

Some Christians have seen all this at its worst, and have lost hope in ever seeing it at its best. And so they are satisfied with small group gatherings and private devotions.

Our church’s experience of Jesus is dependent on our church’s expectations of Jesus. Will he pour himself out by his Spirit when we are gathered to keep his feast? Do we expect it? Do we believe that Jesus always throws the best feasts and brings the best wine?

So, what’s our challenge? How do we be become an expectant people?

ARE WE EXPECTING?

The challenge for those preparing to lead us in Festal Sabbathing is to mine the riches of the gospel of Jesus in its diverse implications for a more abundant life under his lordship. Preachers must prepare with diligence, with prayer, employing all their God-given powers of spiritual imagination to proclaim the gospel with authority and generosity (2 Tim 4:2). They must expect that God will accomplish much through its proclamation.

Those that cook food for the rest of us to enjoy should cook with love, expecting and praying that it will be received (there’s that word again!) with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). Those who watch the young children in the nursery, those who lead music, those who clean the kitchen, and all others who serve at the Sabbath feast should ready their hearts, expecting that their humble service will be used by the Spirit of God to enable others to receive his grace and be transformed by it.

Whatever we bring to the feast, we bring it with the joyful expectation that Jesus has given us the gift, and intends to use it for the edification of the body (Rom 12:4ff).

It is incumbent upon each member of the feasting body to calibrate their hearts throughout the week, expecting that the feast will be satisfying, and that Jesus will delight our souls on the richest of fare.

The challenge for each of us is much like the challenge of our entire Christian lives: to live our week in the hopeful expectation that the best is yet to come, and that each Sabbath feast is a foretaste of the greater feast of the New Jerusalem, which we also expect to enjoy soon.

Subscribe to get these posts via email.

6 Three-Quarter-Baked Arguments for Becoming Church Members Even if You’re About to Relocate

20140227-112720.jpg

I thought I’d pseudonymously share an exchange with a dear couple in our church about church membership, especially since they thought, as Dustin Hoffman says in The Graduate, these ideas were fully baked rather than half.

This couple is planning to relocate for a new job, after having leaned into the life of our church increasingly in the past year.

———————-

Dear Andy,

We appreciate the personal email asking about membership and where we’re at with it.

In light of our current life situation, we weren’t considering membership. If we were staying in Rock Hill, we’d be first in line to become members of Hill City. That’s a no-brainer. We love the church, consider it our home, and are committed to it. However, it’s clear to us that we’re not staying in Rock Hill, and we will be moving this summer. It didn’t make sense to us to become members and make that level of commitment if we’re leaving four months later.

As we look at our future and the coming move, the biggest regret we have about moving is leaving Hill City. Hill City has been a great fit for us, and we have felt more loved, wanted, and appreciated here than at any other church we’ve been a part of. We hope and pray that when we move, we can find something that approaches what we’ve found here with you all. You love Jesus and live life for him with an authenticity that is rare. You avoid pretense and aren’t afraid to live in a messy reality of brokenness and grace. You all are awesome!

In our remaining time in Rock Hill, we want to be fully engaged (and used!) in the church in any way we can. We want to make the most of the time we have left with you all.

If you have any feedback for us or a different perspective on this, please feel free to share.

-Joe & Judy

—————-

Dear Joe and Judy,

We’re of course so sorry we’ll be losing you and your gifts in our church, but obviously we want what Jesus wants for you and for his kingdom, and so we are thrilled that you’ve been given clarity about your next steps.

May I suggest a couple half-baked arguments for why you might consider going ahead and becoming members anyway? Either way, of course, we support your decisions.

1. Ellie and I were 90% sure we were moving away from Ohio when we found Grace Church in Hudson, OH. We found an unfathomably rich community and the restoration of our spiritual sanity, along with some robust Bible teaching that challenged us in our walk with Christ. We joined 2 months after beginning to attend. We moved 4 months later to SC. They baked us a cake and had a commissioning and send-off for us after the service on our last Sunday. It was moving, and we never regretted joining for a second.

2. When you arrive in your new context and settle into a church family, you’ll be able to have your new church contact us and we can commend you to them and to their care, so that there is a continuity in your care and in your membership. I know church membership and ‘transfer’ is taken more seriously in the Presbyterian tradition than maybe in others, but it was really neat to settle into our new church family in Columbia and have their elders contact our old elders in Ohio and have them commend us to their care. Weird Presbyterian idiosyncrasy, but I think it’s cool-weird, and meaningful.

3. If you were engaged to be married, because you had found your dream-spouse (or something finally close enough!), and then, 2 weeks before the wedding, found out that you only had 4 months to live: what would you do? I’d get married. You said “it didn’t make sense to … make that level of commitment if we’re leaving in four months.” The only level of commitment you’re making is to love and serve your heart out for the four months you’ve got with us before God calls you to your new home.

4. Obviously we’re not grasping for numbers, numbers, numbers, or we’d have a very different way of “doing church” (or “playing church”). But at the same time, it will be very meaningful for our church and for our supporting presbytery to see that we gained you two as members, even if for a short time. Especially the fact that you’re a generation more senior than me and Ellie makes a big difference and says something important to our supporting presbytery and to our rather young church body.

5. Four months is way too short a time for you to get in trouble for all your quirky views. You’re safe. 🙂

6. If in some measure God has restored your hearts to confidence in what the local church can be under the grace of Jesus, then consider your membership vows a testimony to the goodness of Jesus for what he’s done here in this place, and in your hearts while you have been among us.

You all are such a blessing to us, and your support and encouragement to our church is a huge vote of confidence that God is really at work among us. For a young, relatively less-experienced leader like myself, it’s both incredibly humbling and a massive encouragement to me that you all would affirm what Christ is doing within Hill City’s body. Thank you for that. Even if you still feel like membership is not the way to go, that’s okay for sure. It’s really no personal slight whatsoever. Either way we’d like to have the chance to lay hands on you and commission you in your new kingdom deployment when you are getting ready to leave for your next assignment.

Yours in Jesus,
Andy

————-

This couple found these reasons compelling. Maybe you will too?

My man Daniel also wrote a piece today on the beauty of church membership, which is worth a read.

Be Vulnerable. And Prepare to Have it Thrown Back at You.

I’m working on my promised posts about how I believe a Sabbath / Neighborhood / Vocation ecclesiology can and should give evangelicalism’s Donald Millers no need to quit going to church. Truthfully, it’s been challenging to think through why exactly I believe what I believe on this issue. Hence, the delay.

1546091_10152818032680656_1671376514_n

In the mean time, another standard church planting proverb.

I remember in seminary and during my several pastoral internships, I received a particular challenge and an accompanying caution.

The challenge

The challenge was not to set myself up as the unreachable paragon of spiritual maturity in my congregation. People needed to hear, in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and family, that I knew I was a sinner. That I had abiding idolatries that needed to be pulled from my heart’s embrace. That I was prepared to be the Lead Repenter. That I was in the same spiritual battle for holiness by grace that they were engaged in.

I believed what my professors and pastors said concerning this challenge. I committed myself to struggling for holiness by grace in the context of my community, just as I called others to do. I exhorted people to holiness by grace in my preaching and teaching, all the while sitting under my own preaching (and, thankfully, that of others in our community), and often made my own struggles plain to my congregation. I believe, fundamentally, that a pastor’s first identity is that of a plain, ordinary Christian. And I believe that emphasizing this helps people in their pursuit of holiness by grace.

The caution

In the very next breath, however, my profs and mentors would caution me. “Andy, whatever you say to people about your own struggles and sins, your own propensities to idolatry and your own inadequacies, these very things will be used against you. You can guarantee it.”

Really? People are that big of jerks? Yessir. And of course I’m one of those jerk-people myself at times.

And, in fact, this is just what has happened. 95% of my self-effacing references to my own hang-ups and inadequacies are at least somewhat effectual in enabling people to think more honestly about their own, and about the gracious Savior that is intent upon making us holy. But 5% of my disclosures are being gathered as intelligence data against me, and will be thrown back upon in a moment of fury.

Just recently, I suggested to someone that they could stand to imitate me in one respect: I have learned, relatively speaking, to bridle my tongue. The person had been setting forests ablaze with their torch of a tongue. I pointed out that I have a lot of relationships with people, many of which have been intact for a number of years, and that I’ve had much sweetness, a fair amount of authenticity, and very few fallings out. And that the individual, on the other hand, had burned bridge after bridge.

This individual replied that the only reason I have intact relationships is because I’m a people pleaser. I had fireproofed my relational bridges not because of growth in grace, but because my relational bridges were lacquered in idolatry.

This person must have been reading my blog or something.

The counsel

What did my profs and mentors say? They said to be vulnerable. They said to expect your vulnerability to be used against you. What else?

They told me to do it anyway. It’s worth it.

In fact, one of my mentors told me that the people who are most angry at their pastor, who use his shortcomings against him, are often the people who are in a spiritual jam. They are often the ones who are uncomfortable with the God of grace who seems to be an inescapable, claustrophobic presence surrounding them. They are those who take out their frustration with Jesus on someone other than Jesus. And so they are those whose outbursts and condemnations you cannot take personally, because it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. Unlike the people half asleep during the sermon and half asleep through most of their spiritual lives, these people are miserable.

So I’m simply here to reiterate what my teachers have said: Stay vulnerable. Know that it’ll be thrown back in your face. Don’t take it personally.

What’s at stake

What’s at stake here is not your self-esteem or your career or your emotional equilibrium. You probably are a people-pleaser on some level, even if it’s not to the degree that I am. But it’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the culture of gospel-drenchedness you’re hoping to cultivate. It’s about the unabashed pursuit of holiness-by-grace and the culture of loving challenge that must develop in order to provide the right environment for that pursuit. It’s about abiding in and with and under Christ Jesus. Yes, it’s about Jesus.

So don’t lose heart. Make yourself the bond-slave of your people for Jesus’ sake. Work on your idol of people-pleaserness, and trust that Jesus is more determined to get rid of it than even you are. But don’t quit being vulnerable, and don’t take it personally when that vulnerability is turned into condemnation by a few. Pray for these people: they’re miserable and their hearts are going to be restless until they find their rest in Jesus.

Subscribe to get these posts via email.

 

 

The Churched Disciple: When ‘Going to Church’ feels like a Distraction

In my last post, I suggested that many of the Donald Millers of the Christian world would be re-engaged with the local church if our churches gave them a compelling story about why their particular church exists.

photo: Sara McAllister. saramcallister.com

photo: Sara McAllister. saramcallister.com

Now, I’d like to suggest that a church’s broadened, compelling why calls for a integral and tightly-aligned, but diverse, multi-faceted, and sprawling how. If “going to church on Sunday” provokes a blasé response from passionate Christians, then it may be that the church has abandoned some key dimensions of its corporate calling.

Why leads to how

If your church believes most deeply that Jesus wants more than anything else to assemble his people for worship and instruction, and that its corporate calling is therefore to gather people to worship God and instruct them in Christian doctrine, then Sunday for 120 minutes or so will probably do the trick. That will be its how. 

On the other hand, if your church has a more expansive belief about spiritual reality, and a corporate calling as expansive as “the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill”, for example, then your church is going to have to gather, bless, challenge, equip, and deploy its people across a number of different spheres of kingdom reality.

Worship, or ‘every good work’?

In our case, that means Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord over all, and because we believe that he has entrusted the mystery and power of the gospel to the church, we know that we’ve got a much larger job than providing worship and Sunday School. We need to gather the people of God so that we can open the word of God, teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training one another in righteousness so that every one of us will be fully equipped for every good work. Every good work. That’s what the church is responsible to help the people of God with.

And that’s partly what Donald Miller is grieving over as he looks at the ecclesiastical landscape, and at his local options. He has learned to worship God through his work! He gets something that many Christians never get. And yet he isn’t graced, challenged, or equipped by the church for what he is called to do with roughly half of his waking hours.

We need grace and truth, warm invitation and robust challenge, not just for the good work we’re called to do on Sundays “at church”, but for the pursuit of our neighbors and our networks, and for faithfulness in our spiritual, spousal, familial, educational, and occupational callings.

When ‘going to church’ is a distraction

What I’m suggesting here is this: If our beliefs are too narrow and our ecclesiastical missions are too truncated, our Donald Millers may end up becoming too ‘distracted’ by the glorious expansiveness of their personal kingdom callings to take even 2 hours a week to “go to church on Sunday.”

And I find it difficult to blame them.

In the next few posts, I’ll outline what I believe what a more expansive approach ministry looks like. I’ll discuss what I mean by Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation, and how these or similar ecclesiastical hows can more fully equip God’s people for every good work.

Subscribe to get these posts via email.

Know Your Role

Just as a snowpocalypse is heading for the Southeast, I’m heading into a new work week. (I take Mondays off.) I want this work week to be apocalyptic. I’m realizing that I let The Mundane have an uncontested victory too many weeks.

999423_10152695019230656_1672573774_n

What I’m going to do to try and make this week apocalyptic will itself seem ironically mundane. I am going to spend 45 minutes in the morning reviewing my roles and establishing my goals. Sheesh. Even typing that last sentence feels boring.

My biggest takeaway from my most formative personal development book (Stephen Covey’s First Things First) was exactly this. I want to quit floating through my work week looking for the next least-boring thing that I can still justify as ‘work’ to do. I want to move the needle on my life’s work in a significant way by the time the week is out. And so I will sit down with my roles and goals.

Know Your Roles

What are they?

In more-or-less their order of importance, my seven personal roles are:

1. Husband.

2. Father.

3. Pastor-Church Planter.

4. Disciple-Maker.

5. Gospel Neighbor.

6. Community Group Leader.

7. Entrepreneur.

A couple of things to notice:

  • I’m entering a “work week”, but only one of these 7 roles—number 3—is actually my paid vocation. All 7 are my vocations, but only “Pastor-Church Planter” generates income.
  • My callings are life-specific. There may be 5,000 other Americans with the exact same vocational breakdown. That’s not many out of 315,000,000 Americans. Yours is probably different.
  • My callings are overwhelmingly relational. Most people’s probably are too, even if they don’t recognize them as such.
  • Most of my roles don’t immediately suggest obvious key actions that would move the needle in each calling. Most don’t seem to set me up for an apocalyptic week.

Know Your Goals

The only person who can discern what key actions in each of your roles will make for a well-worked work week is you. Ask yourself: “What’s next? What one action in each role, if tackled with zeal and followed through to completion, would enable me to say, at the end of this week, that I was faithful and fruitful across all my callings?”

The answers to this question are your goals for the week. Simple as that.

You will still have all your tasks, which are pressing and urgent. These aren’t your goals themselves. Your goals are the non-urgent, super-important things that will get lost—if you’re not vigilant—among the next-least-boring tasks and the distractions. Commit to these goals.  Schedule them. What block of time are you going to be working on it?

Reckon

Before you start the next week, sit down with your list of roles and the prior week’s goals. Evaluate yourself ruthlessly, and honestly. What kept you from moving the ball in the way you intended to? Were you faithful? Were you vigilant to schedule your goals and stick to your schedule?

Plan

Here’s where the work week gets apocalyptic. Working on the goals in each of your roles reveals what the next goal really ought to be. The apocalyptic boon of charting a clear course is in the fresh view afforded you as you arrive at the end of the charted course.

Adjust. Regroup. Make your goals more realistic, more achievable, more concrete, more measurable. Build on the momentum of what was achieved the prior week. Set aside this 45 minutes at the beginning of every week and make sure the prior week’s work reveals where you really are, and what’s really next.

_______________________

Look. I’m not speaking as an expert. I’m speaking as a church planter who floats and seeks distractions, who feels too often that his energy is not being channeled into the things that matter most. I post this not to lecture you. Mostly, I post it to keep myself accountable.

I’ll follow up in the days to come with some insights I gain as I actually commit myself to the task of seeking an apocalyptic work week.

Subscribe to get these posts via email.