March 4, 2015

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Life in a Pioneer Church

Pioneer – noun

1.a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.
2. one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry,enterprise, or progress:

pioneers in cancer research.
3. one of a group of foot soldiers detailed to make roads, dig intrenchments, etc., in advance of the main body.
4. Ecology. an organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life.
Let me tell you about life in a Pioneer Church. I love all of these definitions of pioneers because they all tell a bit of the tale of life in a Pioneer Church. (This is the first of several posts I am writing on life at our church) The one I like the most is the definition from ecology. An organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life. That is a wonderful perspective on the life we are enjoying together at Duneland Community Church. Newgrowth
It started about 4.5 years ago. When I arrived at DCC back in the fall of 2008 it was a triage situation. I came in to stop the bleeding and help the church get back on its feet. Two years in that bleeding had stopped, the church was starting to regain its strength, and we faced an important question. What type of church do we want to be? That question consumed most of the our focus for about a year. We wrestled with our view of the world, we prayed, we listened, we talked together, and we emerged with a clear vision. We are investing everything we have into becoming a church the other 2/3.
Who are the other 2/3? Well sociologists tell us that in the US about 2/3 of the population have no interest in stepping foot into a church building. As Alan Hirsch has said ,”No matter how sexy you are at your sexiest, they aren’t interested.” What must mission and church life look like in order to establish life in such a barren environment? How can we see kingdom life, the best life- abundant life, emerge in such a difficult and hostile environment? Well that is what we committed to trying to find out.
We committed to something really important in this process.  We are willing to fail in our efforts to be a church for the 2/3. We don’t have a Plan B. 
So 4.5 years later we are just beginning to see signs of life emerging in barren lands. One of our missional communities is cohosted by a wonderful couple, who are practicing Buddhists, and run the local coffee shop. At a joint Mardi Gras party we threw with them at their coffee shop one of our pastors found himself sitting at a table of teenagers, of various religious backgrounds, discussing all their spiritual questions. This was an incredible opportunity to speak truth and exhibit grace to a group that have little to no interest in ever stepping foot in the front door of our building. Such a scenario was unimaginable when this process began.
There is the guy who encountered our church because of an incident involving bowling shoes. (That is a great story) He arrived at an uncertain moment of his life, emerging from crisis. Now he has found a missional calling heading up our team of runners that are raising money for clean water projects in Africa. (Yeah Team World Vision!) To his own disbelief he will run the Chicago Marathon for the third time this year to support this work, he is in a leadership development huddle, and he is helping others find their mission. A church that was wounded, unhealthy, and without much life has now had over 2 dozen people run a marathon for clean water projects. That is bringing life to dry and arid land literally and metaphorically!
When an unfortunate incident took place at a local school involving youth, cell phones, and poor decisions, the school reached out to us to help provide some education and service opportunities for students. Why? Well we are the best known group in our community when it comes to fighting sex trafficking. People are well aware of our work with Free The Girls and our effort to educate our community about the local and global horrors of Human Trafficking. In a moment of uncertainty, in an area where no one knew had to proceed, they called upon the only pioneers they knew to help guide the way.
Much of what we have tried has failed. We have planted seeds that have been choked out by weeds, that have been eaten by birds, and some that emerged for a brief moment before dying out. But an all out commitment to pioneering is finally bringing about lasting growth in previously barren land. Each new sign of a life is a blessing of unimaginable joy. It is a testament to the faith, the sacrifice, and the endurance of a beautiful group of Pioneers. Life in a Pioneer Church is much harder than we believed it could be, but it is also far more rewarding than we ever imagined.

(Check back next week for part 2 of Life in an Pioneer Church)
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January 20, 2015

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The Day My Faith Mattered

Ten years ago today the world as I knew it was shattered. It is a testament to my privileged and protected upbringing that some of what shattered that day remained in place until I was 28 years old. That day, however, changed everything about me. It reshaped my faith, it altered the course of my ministry, and it redefined my calling. (As I write about it, however, I do so with a serious caveat. My life was greatly effected by the death of a dear friend, but his death left behind a wife and three amazing daughters who lost far more than I did. I never focus on its impact on me without recognizing how insignificant its impact on me truly is in comparison. )

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOn January 20, 2005 I lost my dear friend, mentor, and pastor Raegan May. In the decade since then I have reflected on this defining moment of my life over and over again. Unsurprisingly God has used what could have been the worst moment I experienced and has reshaped it into the absolute bedrock of my faith and ministry. (5 years ago I wrote a letter to Raegan about his impact on me. You can read it here)

Until that day in NC when my place of refuge became a crime scene there were whole sections of scripture that had no relevance for my life. I would read the Psalms and hear the writers lament about loss, cry for the defeat of their enemies, or ask God for justice and the words would bounce off of me without meaning. Conceptually I understood the Psalmists perspectives, they just didn’t matter to me. The moment joy was ripped from me and replaced with anguish scripture came alive.

The faith that had sustained me for 28 years proved inadequate for what that day and the months and years that followed required of me. The faith of a privileged, healthy, well educated, comfortable pastor was replaced with something far realer. Thanks be to God! The faith that had brought me to that moment was woefully inadequate for the calling God had actually placed on my life. I needed more capacity, more transparency, more trust, and so much more Jesus than I had ever known.

Ten years ago today I found myself as a 28 year old youth pastor trying to wrestle with grief and anguish while also feeling 1923830_24113141011_9809_nspiritually responsible for a congregation of hundreds of people who just lost their spiritual leader in unthinkable circumstances. I no longer had the energy necessary to be a husband and father. So God stepped in and sustained me. I didn’t have the courage to be a messenger of tragedy to so many, so God strengthened me and gave me the words. I didn’t have the faith required to keep showing up day after day and sit in my office 8 feet from where my friend died and to kept grinding away at a job that had suddenly lost its joy. But each day God met me in that office and whispered his love for me. No part of me wanted the responsibility of preaching the Word of God each week in Raegan’s church, to Raegan’s people, standing in Raegan’s chancel, but each time I stood up in front of those people his Spirit took over. He spoke for me when I knew no words. His love flowed in and through me to give hope where I had so little.

Going through that season of loss shaped me for my calling in ways that 7 years of schooling and a lifetime of studying scripture never could. My faith mattered that day. In the face of death my faith was real. In a time of weakness God showed me His strength. Strange as it may seem, looking back on that day now, all I can feel is thankfulness. I am thankful for my friend Raegan who loved me and helped me to see the love of God in new ways. I am thankful for God’s grace that is still being poured out in abundance on an amazing family I dearly love. I am thankful for the pain. I can still access still if I want to, I can go back to those moments of shock and horror and feel now what I felt then. But doing so is tempered with love. God has demonstrated his love to me in such abundance since those days that I cannot remember the pain without remembering the joy.

So on this day of remembrance I give thanks. This is the day my faith became real to me. This is the day of Gods’ love sanctifying me through pain and loss. This is when the rest of my life, a glorious and blessed life, truly began. I miss my friend, I grieve for him still, but I know that he too is transformed now by God’s grace. Thanks be to God.

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January 12, 2015

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25 Reasons to Stop Attending Church on Sunday Morning

I am the master of the obvious. I can tell you what has already happened almost instantly after it has happened. I am not sure that qualifies me as a prophet or merely as a person with 5 senses. So here goes, I am about to drop some knowledge on you. People are going to church far less than they used to. (By that I mean weekly morning worship services, I won’t get all pastoral on you and tell you that you can’t go to church, you are the church and that is part of our problem).

Are you stunned? If you are stunned it is probably because you only rarely show up to a worship service and therefore you have no idea, you show up occasionally and just think you only attend on the down weeks, or you go to a handful of megachurches who continue to grow inspite of or in cause of the decline of other places. (No snarkiness there, just being honest.)

After years of battling this reality I have decided that maybe my weekly attendance, as required by being paid to be present, should be curtailed. Maybe the take a year or two off, go once a month, or show up at Easter and Christmas folks have it right. Maybe I am the nut for wanting to be in worship with my church family as often a possible. So here are the best 25 reasons I can come up with for why you should stop going to church on Sunday Morning. (These may or may not be based on actual conversations with real life people)

25. Have you tried to get out of the house to church with multiple kids, dressed up, early on a weekend? it is stupid. It will take the Jesus right out of you.

24. NBC is now showing the English Premier League on Sunday mornings. You can now watch football before you watch football.

23. Every time I show up for a worship service they ask me for money.

22. You don’t like karaoke and modern worship is close enough.

21. Germs! People at church are always so friendly trying to shake your hand and give you hugs. Think of the germs people!

20. Other people’s kids – Sometimes you barely want to be around your own children.

19. Announcements – How often have you ever left a worship service thankful for announcements?

18. Joel Osteen – He is on t.v. in your home, he is always smiling, and he won’t call your house

17. Balance – Life is so busy, between soccer games, work, Bible Study, volunteering for your kids, hosting parties, and you know sleep and stuff, we all need some balance. If you start skipping church you can still keep doing all that other stuff.

16. Weight Loss – Church is always filled with donuts, pastries, muffins, and food that people want to give you. If we stop going to church we can eliminate at least one day a week at the gym and still break even.

15. Preachers – Over educated Jesus freaks who speak at you for 30 minutes at a time, need I say more?

14. You have a hard enough time living up to your mother’s expectations. So why add in the expectations of being part of a church family. All those expectations about caring for others, investing in their lives, serving, and praying, who needs that?

13. It is cold outside. Why leave your house?

12. it is beautiful outside. Why be stuck inside all morning when the weather is so nice.

11. It is cloudy. Clouds bum me out, I need to find something fun to do so I can feel better.

10. It is raining. (See reason 13 for more details)

9. Soccer matches – My child has a .0000008% chance of getting a $1500 a year scholarship to a Division 2 college, you have to make whatever sacrifices necessary to chase that dream.

8. Comfort! I don’t want to change who I am and the pastor is always challenging me to be more like Jesus. It makes me tired.

7. I’m an introvert. Church is made for extroverts, I mean there is even a time scheduled for greeting people. I hate that. I go to the bathroom or search through my purse the whole greeting time.

6. I’m an extrovert. I want to talk back to the preacher the whole time they are preaching. My spouse keeps telling me to stop making jokes about what the preacher says.

5. My spiritual life is private. God just wants me to be happy. He never says anything about being connected to others or sharing in communal life. At least I don’t think he said that. Or at a minimum I don’t want him to say that.

4. Netflix – How can you go to church when they just added all 7 seasons of Friends to Netflix? The weekend should be devoted to binge watching t.v. shows from the mid 90s

3. Jesus never went to church on a Sunday.

2. God is love, he will love me whether I go or not.

1. The Associate Pastor is preaching.

Of course this wouldn’t be complete without at least one reason to continue to gather with other believers in worship each week. Corporate worship is an anchor for community life, spiritual growth, and mission without which we grow comfortable in our own ways of thinking and living, regardless of how they line up with God’s desires for us.

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January 2, 2015

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Less is More – The Theme for 2015

Years ago I realized that New Year’s Resolutions had a tendency to be counterproductive for my life. Too often I would make a resolution that felt like a black and white, either/or, decision and I would feel like a failure when I ultimately failed to hold to its absolute nature. Generally life change is an up and down reality for me, so I have, for the past decade or so, adopted themes for the year. Generally my themes have helped to guide my decisions and rhythms. Or at least that is what they are supposed to do.

My theme in 2014 ended up being “I am running”. This was a very literal theme as I spent the year training for a marathon, but it was a spiritual and emotional theme as well. I arrived at the end of 2014 feeling very much the same way I felt at the end of my marathon. I was spent, hurting, limping, and ready to rest. After a nice week off with my family and some good time reading and reflecting I am finally feeling whole again.

One of the biggest things God has taught me this past year is that he is the Lord of the Harvest. This is not a new truth to me, but I often have to prove something multiple times, in painful ways, before I realize just how true it is. Spiritual fruitfulness is a direct result of learning to remain in Christ. This is the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples in John 15. Apart from Christ they can not bear fruit. A kingdom harvest is only ever the result of God at work through us, We can not will it or make it happen by our own efforts, no matter how clever, extensive, or frantic they are. Kingdom breakthrough comes at God’s time, by God’s means, when his people are obedient and prepared.

The Word of God for me heading into 2015 is all about diving deeper into the power of abiding in Christ. The best way I know to name this is Less is More. So here are my goals for 2015. I am going to spend less time trying to be clever, stylish, witty, or impressive as a means of bringing about growth for our church. Instead I will point people increasingly towards the good news of Christ. I will trust more that the Cross is sufficient to change lives. I am going to spend less energy chasing people. I was deeply wounded on a personal level by people who left our church, simply gave up on church, or lived very distracted lives in 2014. My natural reaction to this type of pain is to chase new people or try to show those other people they were wrong. I will work really hard to not repeat this cycle this year, whatever may come. Instead I will spend more time with the absolutely committed and sold out members of our DCC family.

Finally, I am going to lead better and lead differently. I am trying to lead too many different aspects of our church. I am going to give up ownership of things that others can do and instead invest more heavily in the tasks that most require my specific attention. I will led our leaders more intentionally and work to empower and release them in mission. As part of this leadership shift I will also lead myself better. i will take better care of my body and soul and work less. That will show up mainly through some spiritual retreats and some time away by myself.

So here is to 2015. I am encouraged and excited about this New Year and all that God is going to do. I can’t wait until 2016 when I can look back at this year at the breakthrough God has brought and to simply give him the praise for it all. God is faithful and his word endures forever. Amen.

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November 17, 2014

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The Command We Refuse to Keep

We are pretty good at ignoring the commands of God. Sometimes it is passive ignorance and sometimes it is very active. If we are honest with ourselves most of us will readily admit that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are trying, but we know we are still growing in this area. Most of us feel good about not murdering anyone recently, although Jesus’ version of this command (where we can’t even hate people) is a bit tougher to keep. But, of all of the commandments God has given us, do we as Christians actively dismiss and ignore any of them more than the command to keep the Sabbath?

Our violation of this command can actually be a source of pride! We pride ourselves in working ourselves to death. We wear our weariness and exhaustion as badges of honor. This is especially true of pastors. So many studies have shown that pastors are some of the worst Sabbath violators. Burnouts and moral failures abound in the world of Sabbath breaking pastors. But this is a problem for most Western Christians, not just those who work on Sundays. We have no margin in our lives. We don’t take care of the first things first. We have a tendency to push soul care, body care, and time with God  to the margins of our lives instead of making them the foundation of abundant life.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reminded, in my own life, just why Sabbath is so important. This has been an especially demanding season of my life. My job has me spinning a lot of plates. I go back and forth between discipling leaders, trying to push our church into new missional frontiers, connecting with people new to our community, trying to improve our facility, leading a staff of multiple part time people who function on very different schedules, preaching, shaping our worship services. pastoral care, seeking out those who have fallen away from our fellowship, trying to get people stuck in ruts unstuck, maintaining the technology necessary to run our church and about 15 other tasks. Oh, and I just trained for a year and ran over 700 miles so I could join in the great adventure of running the Chicago marathon with my people.

In addition to all of that I volunteer my time and energy as president of the board for Free The Girls, I volunteer as a Frontier Leader for 3D Movements discipling other pastors and leaders, and I am working with our district superintendent to help churches that need revitalization. At home I have been working hard to help Gretchen as she has taken on graduate school for the next three years to pursue a new career. This has me in charge of homework quite a bit of the time, running kids around to appointments, doing more laundry than I have ever ventured to do and in charge of feeding our family for the great majority of each of the 3 meals each of us eats each day.

Here is the thing, I read that list and it seems impossible and ridiculous, but honestly it doesn’t feel that way. I am a very high capacity person and of all the things I listed I consider it a great joy that almost all of them are part of my life because I am passionate about them. God has entrusted me with a tremendous amount of responsibility. I hope and pray that those responsibilities have continued to expand because I have proven faithful with the responsibilities that he has given me thus far. But, with all those responsibilities the primary focus of my life has to be Sabbath. I can only be responsible for my church and family if first I care for myself. Over the past couple of weeks I have had some extra Sabbath and It has shown me just how important Sabbath is. With proper rest lately, I have realized that I am actually pretty worn down right now. I have recognized struggles in my spirit that I didn’t know where there. I have gained quite a bit of perspective on where I am and what God is calling me to do. Most importantly, I have heard my Father say to me over and over how loved I am regardless of what I do or don’t do. My identity comes not from keeping plates spinning, feeding my children, or being an abolitionist. My identity is secure in my Father’s love for me.

That is what Sabbath does. It gives us space so that we can be reminded of God’s truth. Sabbath keeps us grounded. Sabbath gives us strength for the work God gives us. Without Sabbath we can’t possibly do the work of God the way God intends us to. Without Sabbath we are ignoring a basic rhythm of life with God so by definition we end up being out of step with God. So let me encourage you today to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Make time with God, care for your soul, care for your body, true and blessed rest, the first priority of your life. Without it we have no hope of discovering abundant life in Christ.

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November 10, 2014

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When In Doubt Pick Up Your Cross

From Luke 9 – Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Everyday there is an ad on Facebook, a tweet from someone I follow, or an email that arrives in my inbox promising me ministry breakthrough if I just get this book, attend this conference, start this coaching, or subscribe to this website. There is a magic bullet being peddled at all times to all pastors. I am so hungry for kingdom breakthrough that I fight the urge with these products, or as I think of them -magic bullets, to put my trust in them. I want to be effective in my ministry. I long to see the power of God manifest itself in our church family. But this morning i was reminded that whenever we are in doubt about which way to move forward, how to experience the power of God, or what strategy we should is best for our mission, we need only turn to one place. We need only ever turn back to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus.

The cross is for us not only a means for salvation but the very entry point for life in the kingdom of God. Here at the cross, when we pick it up and carry it, we are taking on the very lordship of Jesus over our life. We are submitting to Jesus as our king. We are declaring that we will do things Jesus’ way because he is our king and because we are living in his kingdom. The cross is our way of understanding life as servants to King Jesus.

So when in doubt about what is next we simply return to the cross, pick it up, and follow Jesus again. We surrender ourselves once again to Jesus as king. We surrender our egos, our fears, our burdens, our sin, and our control in order to live a Jesus life. As a community we come again to a place of obedient surrender in order to experience the power of Christ. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered the powers of the this world. It is through the cross that Jesus conquered death and sin. It is through the cross that God made Jesus king. So when in doubt we pick up our cross again and follow Jesus.

There is no magic bullet or strategy for becoming a powerful and effective church. There is no magic bullet for becoming holy. There is no strategy or sermon series or new program that will suddenly unlock kingdom breakthrough. There is always, only, ever, for us the cross. We come back to it each day, we pick it up, we declare Jesus king and us his followers. We step out in obedience to die to ourselves once again and to trust that in death we discover life. In weakness we are made strong. In humility we are glorified. In service of the king we are made free.

There is only way forward in service of the king and that is walking the path of Jesus. Our only way forward is the cross.

November 3, 2014

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When the only answer I have is Jesus

There are a slew of jokes were the Sunday School teacher asks the students a question and there is some various form of response where the kid answers “It sounds like a _____ (squirrel, rock, Santa Claus, the President, etc.) but I am going to go ahead and say Jesus.” The default answer in Sunday School was always Jesus.

I think I have finally reached the point in my ministry when the only answer I have is Jesus. Yesterday marked 6 years as the pastor of Duneland Community Church. I offered my reflections on our time together in a State of the Church Address. The underlying theme of the message was essentially this: I have nothing more to offer my congregation other than Jesus.

It has taken 6 years for me to get to this point. Coming in as a 31 year old who was serving as a lead pastor for the first time I felt like I had a lot to offer DCC. I could see a church whose finances were in shambles, had little vision, wasn’t developing leaders, had little going in worship/children/discipleship/youth ministry, and just needed a shot in the arm. I knew what I could offer in those regards. Looking at the church I knew that an organizational overhaul would inject life. If we could just fix these issues we would begin to thrive.

I was partly right. We have worked hard over the last 6 years to fix those issues and we have had some great results because of it. But, the major results we are longing for, the God sized breakthrough that we are expecting and praying for, that hasn’t happened yet. It turns out that I am not clever enough, cool enough, or a big enough force of personality to accidentally or intentionally build God’s church. That is a good thing. From the get go I have worked to build a church around something other than myself. Well, we have been pretty successful in that regard. Six years into my hopefully very long tenure at DCC, however, we are still facing battles that I figured a bit of good leadership and hard effort would easily overcome. Turns out build a really amazing church focused on being a family on mission to the world is a long, slow, and exceptionally difficult process.

So as I begin this next segment of my pastoral ministry I am left with only one answer. Jesus promised to build his church. All the hope we have as a church rests in who our Father is and what he has promised us. I am not the answer to the biggest questions. This realization at first was a bit of a punch in the stomach because it felt like a failure. Increasingly, however, it feels freeing and wonderful. I am not the answer. I am not smart enough, cool enough, or gifted enough to do the work of growing the Kingdom. All I can do is be obedient, work hard, and trust in God for the results. Thanks be to God! That is good news for me, for our church, and for the world.

So when people ask me about the future of our church I will share with them our dreams, how we are trying to be obedient, and testimonies of God’s love at work. Most all, though, I will point them to my Father and his amazing power at work and I will give them a simple answer. All our hope for the future is in Jesus.

September 15, 2014

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Be More, Not Do More

What is the most important thing God has said to you lately?

That questions begs another question. Have you heard God speak to you lately? If not, why? Are you listening? Are you quiet? How did you respond the last time God spoke to you? Did you do anything with that word yet?

This summer God had a new word for me. As usual, it wasn’t something entirely new. It regularly takes me several hearings of something before it sticks and I actually respond to it. But over the last 6 weeks God has spoken the same message to me repeatedly. God said, “Greg I need you to be more, not do more.”

For the past 3-4 months my spirit has been struggling. Ministry is a fickle lover. Sometimes she is generous and affectionate and makes you float on top of the world from all of her loving. Other times she is cold, callous, and handles you with such perceived apathy that you wonder if you are just making up the memories of all that affection. 2014 has been a very fickle year in ministry. There have been long awaited answers to prayer that have caused my heart to rejoice. There have been circumstantial challenges that have thwarted my best laid plans. There have been breakthroughs and there have been breakdowns. Forward progress ground to a halt for a while and then started to slide backwards. The disease of distraction and apathy spread throughout our community decimating the ranks of the missionally present.

In the midst of this reality I wasn’t listening to God very well. Primarily I was whining to God. I was complaining about how my best laid plans weren’t working. I complained about all the distractions that were sapping away the missional energy of our people. I was complaining about my lack of power or influence to grow the church. After a couple of months of whining, however, I finally shut my mouth and started listening again. God, the ever patient parent who had been waiting all summer for me to stop throwing my hissy, seemed relieved when I was finally done and ready to listen. That is when he spoke. It was gentle, kind, and direct. “Greg, I need you to be more, not do more.”

My Father reminded me that my primary focus as a spiritual leader has to be my own character development. I cannot lead others where I have not gone. When I am stressed or disappointed I turn to competency rather than character to help turn the tide. But God reminded me that while my competency is helpful, he doesn’t actually need me to build his church. He has that covered. What he needs and desires of me is for me to be more like him. I can go deeper into God’s grace, I can surrender more of my life, I can be more. As that starts to happen things will change.

There is no guarantee that the struggles of circumstance or mission will change, but my reactions to them certainly will. My ability to lead others through struggles will grow substantially. The grace I have to offer others will increase. My life will be far more worthy of imitation and I will be a better mentor and discipler. When that happens it will be a measure of success far more important than Sunday morning attendance, giving, or upgrades to our building.

I need to be more, not do more. I am trying. I am surrendering. I am quietly listening.

What is God saying to you today? What are you going to do about it?

August 25, 2014

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Reflections from The Missional Frontier

If there was a T.V. series made about a church living on the missional frontier I think it would be called Heaven on Wheels. The past couple of weeks I have been watching the AMC program Hell on Wheels, which tells that story of the building of the Pacific railroad. The town that accompanies the railroad, moving from place to place, is called Hell on Wheels. This image of the railroad going through new territory and facing tremendous internal and external challenges is helpful. Leading the process of changing a church culture and sending out missional leaders into a post Christendom culture is very difficult. Four years into this process as a church we have learned a lot. Here are some of my reflections. 

 

You Don’t Have to Be Qualified, You Just Have to Be Willing to Learn

None of us have ever done this before. I am leading a church that that I have always dreamed about, but never been a part of. I went to school for 7 years but wasn’t trained to do the work I am now doing. (Thankfully my character and ability to learn and adapt was shaped during my excellent schooling!) All of our leaders are unlearning the ways they have always done church and learning new ways to function. We feel like each new step is a mixture of hope, improvisation, research and guessing.

What we are discovering, however, is that each of us has something important to add to our mission. There are gifts that have remained dormant for many years in the comfort of the known. Beyond that God has empowered us to step into new roles with an expanded capacity. The number one requirement to make an impact is a willingness to go and learn.

 

The Laws are different on the Frontier

The gunslinging West is the scene in which Hells on Wheels takes place. There are less gunfights on our missional frontier, but rough towns with saloons and hardworking people are a familiar reality. You find unexpected partners and find yourself making decisions you never could have imagined before. The frontier changes you.

I found myself standing on the stage at the world famous Laugh Factory in Chicago asking a room full of women to give me their bras and help us fight human trafficking (not the ones they were wearing, just to be clear). We have invested increasing amounts of time and energy into people who have never stepped foot in our church. We hired staff we had never met in person to move across the globe for a part time position. We bought a building and then moved our youth ministry to someone else’s facility to have a different outpost.  We meet and pray regularly for God to open up doors for us to move into unexpected places such as trailer parks and strip clubs. Life, success, daily living, all of it changes on the frontier.

 

You better have some gumption

Progress is slow, often painfully so, on the frontier. Some ventures will fail outright. Some will start to succeed and then an external factor out of your control will end them. Some ventures are simply backbreaking and take huge amounts of effort before you see progress. Sometimes everything works perfectly and it flourishes from the beginning. Regardless, if you don’t have some serious Kingdom gumption in you, the frontier will defeat you.

You will have these difficult moments when nothing is thriving and the train heading back home will be ready to leave the station and you will have make a decision. Is this pursuit worth dedicating your life to or is it merely an idea you liked once upon a time. In those moments of decision you will discover whether or not you can make it on the frontier. Do you have the wherewithal to stick it out? Have you rooted your life deep enough in Christ to withstand the onslaught of struggles the frontier will throw at you?

 

Four years into changing everything we do and everything we know. It seems forever and but a breath at the same time. Four years into the rest of my life. The missional frontier has changed me. There is no going back. I feel like  I am building railroad tracks that only run one way because I can’t go back to the comfort of the life I knew before. The Kingdom of God is like a railroad being built across a vast frontier. Thanks be to God.

August 11, 2014

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When God tells you it’s going to be Legen …..Wait for it, wait for it….

Dary, it’s going to be legendary….

One of the running gags on the show How I Met Your Mother was Barney Stinson (expertly played by Neil Patrick Harris) and his love of the term Legendary. Sometimes their shenanigans were so awesome that they were Legen…….. wait for it, wait some more, I hope you aren’t lactose intolerant because the rest of this word is …dary.

 

But what about when God pulls a Barney Stinson on you. (I don’t know if anyone has ever written that sentence before. I might have just been excommunicated.)  Several years ago God led our church through a process of dreaming together. We began to look at ourselves and the world around us with a different set of eyes. Our faith grew, our mission expanded, and our hearts began to beat a bit faster as we realized what God who God was calling us to be.

With a new vision filling our dreams we embarked upon a long and difficult journey. I am not sure what we expected, but I am beginning to think we were as naive as Bilbo Baggins setting off on a trip with a bunch of dwarves. We had no idea how long or how hard this journey would be. At first the breakthroughs came quickly. We were primed for a change and the reality of having a clear vision filled us with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and activity brought about new ideas, renewed focus of formerly tired leaders, and additional help from others excited by our passion.

A little way down along the path, however, the monotony of traveling began to wear on us. This is not an express trip. This is a long and difficult journey to a place none of us have ever been before. We aren’t sure how long it will take, or all the difficulties we will face in getting there. We just feel compelled to keep going, chasing after this vision God has given us.

Feeling a bit weary from the journey and uncertain about my fortitude to continue going, I received a word from God. God promised me that the work he began in us would be completed. He promised me that a harvest was coming. God assured me that our work would not be in vain and that the pay off would be greater than we could hope for. Then he told me to wait for it.

So we are in the “wait for it” stage of a Legen………dary vision. We are on the journey we be don’t have any idea how long it will take. We trust in the vision given to us and celebrate all the breakthroughs that have already happened. We aren’t there yet, however, and the waiting is the hardest part. (Thanks for the lyrical help Tom Petty) The waiting is a big part of the breakthrough. I am learning more and more how essential this part of the journey is. Without the waiting there is no Legendary pay off. Without the daily grind of one foot in front of the other we never make it to our destination.

So, while we wait for it, God encourages us to keep going. In Romans 12 Paul says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This is the work of waiting. It is a zealous and fervent patience that maintains its joy. 

So if God is making you…..wait for it…… keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that the journey will be legen…….

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