Thursday, August 28, 2008

From Frustration to Freedom

I'm frustrated.

I have been frustrated for several years.

It seems like all the trade publications to which I subscribe and all the book catalogs I get have conspired to make me feel inadequate. These magazines tell me that I won't have a vital, missional, growing church unless I go to this seminar, or take that class, or go to such-and-such a conference. In fact, these magazine are now telling me that people will leave my church if I don't attend this or that. The books that the catalogs are hyping are telling me that unless I read this book I really don't understand ministry or culture.

And, then there are the books by the superpastors. These pastors and their minions write that I should start a new church and if I pray to God enough, and if I am faithful enough, then the new church will explode practically overnight and there will be no challenges, no wounds, no obstacles. God will provide a building and a parsonage and a great staff and top-rated musicians for your Praise Band even before you get started...all for free.


That may play in the silicon valley, or in Chicago, or Miami, but it doesn't play in Snover...or Flushing. I decided that a few years back.

I am tired of the church growth movement. I am tired of church and marketing used in the same sentence.

And, while I am at it...when did the church become a marketer for someone else's movie or T-shirts or bobble-head Jesuses??? Now I have to rent out a movie theater and give away tickets and t-shirts and key-rings and show someone's movie that portrays the gospel in a way that will reach our culture. If I don't, I am behind the times, and behind the eight-ball and behind several other things that, I'm sure, aren't good.


This cannot be happening!

Yeah, yeah...I know...the church has to remain relevant to the culture. The church has to speak to the culture. The church has to remain relevant. But, what does that mean? Does that mean we have to wear certain clothes, or tattoo our arms, or show movies, or sell DVD's, or give away iPhones? Or does it mean that we need to meet people with intelligent and loving responses to life's questions that point toward Jesus Christ (or at least provide a safe place for those questions to be asked and explored)? Does it mean that we become a strip mall offering a bookstore, a movie theater, a coffee shop, a free clinic, and twenty-seven different worship services with twenty-seven different worship styles each with their own pastor, staff and musical group? Or, does it mean that we are willing to journey with people and help them find God and Christ and grace and justice in the midst of whatever it is they find themselves in at any given time in their life?

When did pastors stop being spiritual role models and start becoming and rock stars an CEO's? When did the church stop being the people of God on a journey and start becoming a destination?

But, my frustration doesn't stop there, my friends...oh no.

For all of my career, and for years before it began, I have had a desire that non-believers and those who have been wounded and disillusioned by a church would enjoy a new or renewed relationship with God in Christ and with Christ's church. That desire has become more intense over the years. But, I have not been given the gift of evangelism. But, I have been given other gifts that help me share my faith in Jesus Christ and help me to organize and administrate ministries that help the congregations I have served witness their faith and invite people into a relationship with God and his church.

I/we have had some moderate success.

I know I have this desire for the non-believer and the dis-churched. I know that many of my congregation share that desire. Unfortunately, the non-believers and the dis-churched don't seem to know that we have this desire - and they are staying away in droves.

Back to the magazines and catalogs.

They tell me that if I do this or that then people will be beating down my door.

I don't believe it. I don't believe it because I don't believe that God is a cosmic vending machine and if I put the right amount of change in and push the right buttons in the right order then my congregation will grow. I don't believe that God works only within the bounds of a formula.

So, I have come to a decision.

I will lead our church to be the church that I believe God is imagining us to be. I have begun talking and praying with my team about what that might look like. And, I have been inspired, challenged and stretched. But, I am firmly convinced that this is by God's Spirit and God's grace. You couldn't talk me out of that. I am being freed from the need to be approved of by my peers and by the super-rock-star pastors. I am being freed from the need to have my congregation triple in one week...okay that wasn't really a need...more of a dream (I blame the super-rock-star pastors).

But, more than anything else, I am being freed from the frustration.

Freedom feels good.

And, I am excited - really excited - about the possibilities and potentials that God is revealing to me as I live into my decisions and my freedoms.

Excitement is good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The War of the Guys In Me

This will be an intensely personal blog so feel free to skip it if you want. I don't imagine it will be intensely personal because I will be writing about myself through it all, but because I will be writing about a raw nerve in my own being an perhaps yours as well.

I am a recovering perfectionist. Which is to say that that I am a perfectionist and that has often messed with my sense of self, many of my relationships and sometimes my ministry. Mostly, though, it messes with my own sense of self. I am my own worst critic and my own worst enemy. And, I am trying not to live in that framework. However, I am usually at war within myself - the holiness guy in me insists that, until I get my life more perfectly aligned with Christ, I am not entirely acceptable to God. The mystic in me tells me that God loves and accepts me perfectly and completely and unreservedly just as I am - flaws and imperfections and poor choices and all. The holiness guy fires back that the mystic guy is all about sloppy agape and cheap grace and whatever happened to becoming more like Jesus (read: perfect)? The mystic guy tells me that the holiness guy is a legalist with unrealistic standards that not even God demands. Holiness guy insist that sin and grace cannot co-exist in the same person. Mystic guy says, "They can and they do, dummy. Look in the mirror!" And, they end up making rude gestures at each other as they fight for dominance.

I am reading a book by Brennan Manning that is not really helping out the holiness guy in me. Father Manning writes about the furious grace of God - furious not in the sense of anger but in the sense of powerful and driven. God's grace is furious in the sense that God wants to pour it out liberally on everyone...soak us in it. But, like the people of the Gulf Coast who (rightly so) nail boards to their windows to keep out the hurricane's wind and rain, perfectionists often erect barriers (not rightly so) against God's grace.

Father Manning re-tells the story at the end of the gospel of John where Jesus meets Peter and the other disciples on the beach with breakfast. This is after Peter had denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest. Sometime during or after that meal Jesus asks Peter three times, "Peter, do you love me?" and Peter answers three times, "You know I love you, Lord." And, in reply, each time Jesus tells Peter "Feed my sheep/tend my lambs."

Here's what was new for me: the idea that Jesus knew that Peter loved him, even as he denied Jesus in the courtyard. Jesus knew Peter's denial was an act of self-preservation and not a deliberate attempt to hurt Jesus. So, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to reiterate his love for Jesus for each of the times Peter denied him. It was not so much an act of "atonement" as I had always thought, but an act of compassion for Peter. Let me 'splain...

If I were Peter (and I am pretty sure there is a Peter that runs around in me somewhere) I would be beating myself up for having denied Jesus when the chips were down. I would have talked myself into a downward spiral of how bad a person I am and how Jesus would never forgive me and how I was not fit to be in a relationship with God and how my footsteps stain this earth and so on. But, Jesus was not thinking that. Jesus knew my heart. Jesus knew that I really do love him, I was just thinking more about my own hide than his that night. (Thank God that every mistake we make does not mean an ending.) So, Jesus leads me into an opportunity to re-affirm my love and he re-affirms his.

But, that's not all. Jesus then gives Peter a commission: "Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs." This was perhaps John's way of telling how Peter became a leader in the early church. Brennan Manning writes, "Jesus didn't say anything more, what he said was enough. Do you love me? Can you allow my love to touch you in your weakness, and set you free there, and empower you? So that when Peter went out from then on empowered by Jesus, the only power he had was Jesus' love for him and his love for the Lord. That's the only power he had."

In my call to ministry I had a similar commission as Peter - in a kind of a shepherd motif. And, I have the same empowerment - though I didn't know it until now. I have been thinking that my empowerment came from my seminary degree (it doesn't) or from my ordination (it doesn't) or from my keen mind and powerful sermons and gifts for organization and administration (yeah...right!) My empowerment comes solely from God's love for me and my love for God. And, the rub is that even when I don't exactly love God, God still loves me and that empowers me to be the guy I was created and redeemed to be.

So, holiness guy in me is retreating and mystic guy in me is smiling smugly. Mystic guy isn't winning - I like to think it is God in me who is winning. May that be for all the recovering and not yet recovering perfectionists out there.

Maybe John Lennon was right: all you need is love.