Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stop Digging Ditches

Eugene Peterson ~ “I had just assumed the energy would keep coming.”  It’s a harsh look in the mirror for every pastor who stays on the job longer than 5 years… one day you enter what Peterson calls “The Badlands.” We cannot live from goal to goal forever. At some point we have to stop digging ditches and start to dig a well.

Eugene Peterson on Pastoring

Jonathan Merritt’s recent interview with Eugene Peterson is vintage Peterson. Merritt asked Peterson what advice he might give people who are preparing for ministry. I think Peterson’s response is perfect:
“I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.”
The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.

Go to the smallest church

I'm reading Eugene Peterson this week... and it is challenging. Here is his advice to young Christians.

“Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.”

Monday, July 7, 2014


(From GRACELETS by Bill Faris, MPC)

The harm in your hands

"When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise" (Proverbs 10: 19)

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Let me get right to the point:
do not use texting for anything beyond "reporting" information.  A "good" text is "I'll be picking dinner up on the way home". A "bad" text is "You never listen to me. I feel so hurt by your indifference.  I'm sick of you putting up your walls".

Dear Readers: NEVER use texts to share your opinions.  And, for goodness sake, please do not use texting to express your feelings. And any text which has to be scrolled to be read is probably an unwise and problematic one.  And any text which you would be embarrassed for your spouse, pastor, parent, or best friend to read or view is suspect, too.

I know, I know --  many will ignore this advice. They will get into a deeply-felt and intense texting exchange with a friend, spouse, "ex", son, daughter, or co-worker. It will seem necessary. It will seem urgent. It will seem expedient.

As they text, their blood is pumping. Adrenaline is coursing through their system. They are engaged, aroused, "all in". In their own mind they can "hear the words" they are texting. Their inner voice has nuance, emphasis, tone, emotional complexity. Inside their own heart they can "hear" the rise and fall of their voice as their fingers fly to punch out a long stream of digital content.

They think they are communicating what is in their heart and mind just like they "hear it" in their head.  Plus, they can do so VERY rapidly in a gushing torrent of unedited stream-of-consciousness output that is reminiscent of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.

This is a fools game. "Communicating" important emotional or complex content in this manner WILL cost them. Things will be misunderstood.  Words will be shared that cannot be taken back (indeed, they can be saved, cross-referenced, referred back to, and used as "proof positive" in any number of ways).  Straight up: texting of this kind is DUMB. It often hurts, messes things up, and doesn't help.  Just stop it.

The Problem With Texting

Texting is fine as a way to communicate "unloaded", non-controversial, and emotionally neutral data.  But to utilize texting beyond this is to ignore everything we know about the important elements of truly effective communication.

You see, every conversation is really THREE concurrent conversations. There is the exchange of raw data.  That's one. Then there is the emotional conversation with the other. That's two. Then there is the emotional conversation with one's self. That's three.

All three are happening concurrently in every conversation.  That's why the most effective and complete conversations are face-to-face.  Face-to-face interactions allow each of these three levels of communication to be discerned at a higher level. Also, face-to-face conversations allow the non-verbal aspects of communication to play their essential role.

Texting, by its nature, is not up to the task of carrying non-verbal, emotional, nuanced aspects of communication. It is not capable of being delicate, exacting, or sophisticated. It is like doing surgery with a chain saw. Or, as the speaker in the video below quips: "it is like communicating through a straw".

Unedited = Unwise

To argue via text is the worse possible use of the medium. When passions are high and tempers are hot, it is human nature to want to spill out one's feelings without
editing.  Writing a letter or even an email at least makes us slow down, craft, pause, re-think, and sculpt our words and thoughts into what we hope will be an effective communication.

One of the problems is the presence of adrenaline in our systems. When we are aroused, defensive, or on the attack our system automatically injects a shot of adrenaline into our system.  We don't have to think about this.  It is auto-response. Adrenaline serves an important purpose to our most primal instincts - the so-called "fight of flee" mechanism.

If we are "fight" oriented, adrenaline raises our alertness, causes us to strike harder, and move quicker. It helps us bypass the
editing and processing centers of the brain. We will flash our claws, release our roar, and unsheathe our sharpest swords. Make no mistake.  We can do all of this digitally if we whip out our handy communication device and start pushing buttons inspired by adrenaline.

If, on the other hand, we are in "flee" mode, adrenaline helps us run away faster and raises our defensive instincts to a premium level.  We automatically shift into a hyper-alert state.  We will perceive anything that has even the slightest sense of being a threat as an ICBM headed straight to our soul and we will go into super-defensive mode.

Therefore, when those with whom we are intensively texting send their message back to us, let's just say we are not likely to be great at the interpretive, nuanced, and complex parts of good human communication.

Now, take note: either response will last about fifteen minutes. That is -- unless we keep the arousal of our primal instincts going. (By the way: this includes the sexual instincts which helps to account for the unbelievably regrettable instances of "sexting" that ruin people's lives and reputations every day).

If we keep firing new shots of adrenaline into our system we can crank on for a long, long time and the damage, misunderstanding, and regrets can stack u[ like cord wood without our having to think about it.

Just stop it.  At least for fifteen minutes. Here's how.

1. STOP and pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to write a thoughtful email, dial into a Spirit-led phone call, or set up an important face-to-face meeting.

2. STOP and settle down for at least fifteen minutes. Start writing your thoughts down in an email or on paper. EDIT your words. SETTLE your heart.  FOCUS your mind. Then, communicate back from your wisest, deepest place.

3. STOP and ask yourself: "What am I sending that will BE SAVED FOREVER on someone else's handy-dandy communication device"?  Then ask yourself: "do I want these words to be recorded in this form - when I have shot them out this fast - FOREVER"?

4. STOP and consider whether you need to re-read, re-think, re-interpret, and spend time with the communications you are getting from others before you can say you really "get" where they are coming from.

If you are responding before fifteen minutes have passed (if it is an emotionally intense exchange) you can almost be CERTAIN YOU ARE NOT "HEARING" them properly. You are almost certainly REACTING.

I hope you will join me in making a covenant with your fingers, computer, smart phone, and The Lord to only use texts for reporting purposes and not for arguing, inappropriate sexual messages, emotionally intense communications and the like.  Okay?  Okay.
: )

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Family Name

I have a confession... I don't love everybody equally! I am a Lancaster. I am especially partial to Lancasters. I don't hold them up as an example... as perfected... as better than any other family. I know some really quality Jones and Smith's... but I will never feel for them what I do for Lancasters. And the reason is simple... they are mine! Its what I come from... my DNA, my blood is Lancaster blood. We share common history, background, experiences. Admittedly, some Lancasters are not as loveable as others... some have checkered pasts... but I will always have a preference for my family over all others.

In the past few weeks I've heard more than one person say something to me like "I wish we didn't talk so much about Vineyard and just talked about being part of the body".  While I understand the meaning of this sentiment it is oversimplistic. It reflects a lack of community and a lack of connectedness. You see, to me Vineyard is not my church... it is not my denomination... it is not an association... it is my spiritual family. The family DNA... the bloodline... runs deep through me. Not because they are better than another family... we don't think of our family that way... as heirarchical... they simply are ours. I love Vineyard and I love them because they are my tribe. I understand the way they think because we share history, background, experiences. Admittedly, some Vineyards are not as loveable as others... some have checkered pasts... I don't ask others from different families to love them as I do... it would be inappropriate even... but to suggest I drop the family name and focus on the whole would be just as odd as someone asking me to drop Lancaster from my introductions and just focus on being part of the human race.

how does God feel about me?”

From blog of Robby McAlpine
A recent video that I saw on leadership challenges for the 21st century, that I found to that rare blend of challenging, well-articulated, and encouraging, is from Skye Jethani’s keynote address at a conference last year.

I highly recommend watching the entire video. It’s not a new issue, but Jethani’s resource is one of the best single-source items I’ve ever come across.

But within the video, Jethari shared a concern that really grabbed my attention, and inspired that I write about it.

It’s the issue of passing on to each generation a clear understanding that, in Christ and because of Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

In the video, at one point Jethani talks about a conversation he had with a group of college students, when they suggested they would like to talk about sin in their lives. Turning the topic just slightly (not wanting to hear their specific confessions in a public forum), Jethari had them share, one at a time, their response to this question:

“In the midst of my sin, how does God feel about me?”

Pretty basic question for a bunch of college students who had been raised in Christian circles and churches, right?

Without exception, each of these young Christian adults (some with tears) gave basically the same answer: :God is extremely disappointed with me.”

What I found amazing about this story from 2013, is how much similarity it bore to something I used to do with youth groups 25 or 30 years ago (there really is nothing new under the sun!):

I would go around the group with two questions (usually took up the entire youth meeting to do this):

1. If you could ask God any ONE question, what would it be?

The answers wouldn’t all be identical, but generally around 90% or higher would be some form of “if God is good, why is there evil and injustice in the world”?

2. If God could ask YOU any one question, what do you think He’d ask?

With almost no exceptions, the answers could be summed up identically to Jethari’s story: “God feels disappointed when He looks at me.” Some of the comments would be about “why are’t you doing more” or “why don’t you trust Me” or “when will you get serious about your faith”, but the bottom line was the same:

Their guiding perception was that whenever God looked at them, His first reaction was disappointment (if not impatience).

There are at least a couple of ways you could interpret and respond to this intriguing parallel between Jethari’s discovery last year, and mine from the mid-1980s.

1. The critical finger-pointing church-basher approach:

Shake your head in long-suffering exasperation and deliver a well-rehearsed rant on how the institutional church just “don’t get it”, and use this as another bullet in your church-killin’ arsenal.

2. The pastoral recognition of opportunity:

Every generation needs to “own” its own faith. Every generation will be bombarded with lies and twisted thinking about God and their relationship to Him. Every generation therefore needs deliberate, repeated, very intentional teaching about their Identity in Christ.

Each generation feels the same desperation in their struggle with sin that Paul rants about with such great anguish and passion in Romans 7:15-24:

“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

And each generation desperately needs to hear Paul’s stunning and life-giving conclusion to this very same passage, emphasized with a sense of hope, thanksgiving, and wonder:

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord… Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:25-8:2)

There is no condemnation. God isn’t disappointed with you. God looks at each of us through the completed work of His Son and our Savior: Jesus Christ.

Every generation needs to hear this. Loud and clear. It’s an opportunity to bring freedom, encouragement, and life.

There is no condemnation. (Can I get an “amen”?)

Carl Tuttle on Missions

Decided I'd respond to this question in a separate post:

John Barnes asks, "Here's another one for you to chew on Carl Tuttle, where exactly is the mission field, going on a missions trip, missions ministry. Have at it!"

OK John and others - here are some thoughts on that: First of all, we live in a country in which most evangelical churches have adopted or gravitated towards a consumer-driven 'attractional' approach (in other words 'if you build it, produce it, provide it...they will come.') And I can't say that it doesn't work. What I do think I can safely say, is it doesn't produce disciples - the very thing we are commissioned to do. Therefore, in the vast majority of these churches...we are lucky if 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I won't say that people don't come to Christ through this avenue...they do. What I will say is that we certainly are not producing disciples. Jesus said to 'make disciples' 'teaching them to obey'. A disciple is not one who serves various ministries of a church, occupied with responsibilities and activity. A disciple is not someone who has bought into the pastor's or church's vision. A disciple is one who has encountered the living Christ, died to self and now live and orders their life around the purposes and plan of God. One whose time, money, body, energy, thoughts and attitudes are owned by Jesus. Disciples seek to imitate Christ and walk in love as ones who are dearly loved. Service within the community of faith, the Church, is based on serving others in the way He served us. He laid down his life.

Those who 'lead' in the Church are not meant to be served, but are to serve the community. Teaching, pastoring (caring for) maturing the gathered community. That includes not doing everything and letting others watch, but It means enfolding others in service by bringing them along side, modeling for them, equipping and releasing others to do 'the work of the ministry'.
How that relates to missions, the mission, doing the work of a missionary? It's the foundation upon which we build - it's the launching pad. It begins in first in our homes...then our neighborhoods, our places of work, our cities, other nations. But it flows from a relationship of submission to the priorities of the Kingdom and an eternal perspective. Again it's who we are not what we do.

Activity does not equal ministry. Wimber used to say, "we're an army not an audience" - and for the first several years of the church - I'd say as long as 20 years - he made no room for anything else. He would say commitment to Christ equaled commitment to His Church and His cause.

A little story: For years we met in temporary facilities. We rolled out carpet, set up chairs, the sound, the stage, the whole thing. We did that for a couple thousand people for years. We had arrive early in the morning and begin by rolling out carpet to protect the gymnasium floor. The chair were stored about 100 yards from the building. Every Sunday morning John and Carol Wimber would be there engaged in the process. I remember John rolling racks of chairs up the hill to the gymnasium, sweating profusely. We had bleachers that were pulled out for some of the seating and Carol would wipe down all of the seating areas. All that to say, that during all that time - they continued to see their role as serving God's people. Even after he became 'John Wimber'. They always saw themselves as having given up ownership of their lives the day they met Christ.

John would say, 'there's no magic in a plane ride' - meaning if you're not doing it where you live, what makes you think you're going to do it somewhere else.

It's just my opinion, but I think we have developed too many models of and for ministry that don't reflect the values of the Kingdom. Everything flows from loving God with our whole heart and others as ourselves. A devoted follower of Jesus doesn't need to be motivated or convinced to's just what a devoted follower of Jesus does. I sometimes wonder how many people would flee from the Church if we began 'teaching them to obey all he has commanded' - in place of trying to figure out what people like, want or desire? Let me repeat one thing: You don't have to motivate a devoted follower of Jesus! You don't have to convince them of their mission or purpose. It's not what they do, it's who they are.