New Post at Out of Ur: The Challenge of Pope Francis

Since his installation, Pope Francis has impressed much of the world with his humility. Shunning the ostentatious outfits worn by his predecessors, the new Pope has exchanged red silk shoes for regular black leather ones, a golden crucifix around his neck for a plain iron one and ditched altogether the furred ermine stoles we often saw Pope Benedict wear. He’s chosen not to live in the luxury of the Apostolic “palace,” but in community with other priests in a nearby dormitory. He has washed the feet of prisoners, including notably two women, one a Muslim, both papal firsts. He even picked up his own luggage and paid his own bill at the hotel used during the Conclave.

Humble style isn’t new for Pope Francis. As an archbishop he lived in a simple downtown apartment, took the bus to work, and cooked his own meals. He was a challenging example of a true pastoral heart to the priests who served under his care. He once stated that he believed too many priests had become administrators rather than pastors.
Priests, he said, should strive to “go out to meet the people,” especially those who were not a part of his church. The pastor who confines himself in the rectory, he stated, is not an “authentic pastor.”

His lifestyle has been a powerful challenge to clergy excess and entitlement, for both Catholics and Protestants.

I know that most pastors live lives that we could call “simple.” We’re often underpaid, underappreciated and underwhelmed by the results of our ministries—both in our quality of life, and in our retirement accounts.

Yet we still see a flood of images of “successful” pastors. They’re living large. He or she leads a large congregation, lives in a large house, has a large book publishing deal and speaks to large conferences for large fees.

And it’s those pastors that many of us long to become.

Read the rest here at Out of Ur

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Genesis Church Planter’s Training

There are just a few spots left for this year’s Genesis Church Planter’s Training.

Here’s why you should attend:

It is an entire week created to teach church planters about:

  • theology and ecclesiology (why plant a church? what are we after in planting churches? how do we grow the hearts of people in our context?)
  •  missiology (how do I learn the context to which I am being sent? what is God’s mission and how do I fit into it?)
  • the practical ins and outs of church planting (recruiting volunteers, raising support, applying for a 501(c)(3) status, developing a core team, etc)
  • the heart issues that come with this calling (do I believe the gospel I am proclaiming? how do I develop healthy rhythms in a high burnout rate calling? how do I define success/failure in church planting?).

It was so valuable I still refer back to my notes on what I learned.

The Ecclesia Network (to which our church, Evergreen belongs) sponsors and hosts this event every May in Richmond, VA – and this year it’s held May 20-24. 

Each year I have the privilege of being a part of the team that helps host this event.In addition to solid training from a variety of practitioners, you get to be around other church planters who are in similar seasons of ministry. I’ve found great friendships that remain over the years that started and were developed through these training weeks. It’s a week I look forward to – as a member of the faculty of this training week, I get to interact with other church planters, hearing their stories, their hopes and their fears in starting a new work in the kingdom of God.

And the location for this training couldn’t be better. Richmond Hill Retreat Center (located on historical Church Hill in Richmond VA) is an ecumenical retreat center committed to continual prayer for reconciliation in the city of Richmond. You not only get church plant training, but you eat meals and sleep on the premises with others- in addition to praying the hours three times a day in the chapel with the residents of the Richmond Hill community. The grounds, the garden, the chapel, the living quarters always bring me such rest and a closeness to God.

Church planters, I know it might be tempting to say I’m busy or It’s expensive or I don’t think I’ll know anybody else attending or It’s short notice. But I’m telling you: you will find this week to be incredibly valuable for you and your church. Trust me.

Click here to download the brochure. 

Click here to register. 

Come join us for the week. I look forward to hearing your story and walking alongside of you in this significant calling of church planting. 

(ht:JR Briggs… I totally ripped off this post from him!)

Don’t Forget to Grieve

How should we approach Good Friday?

I once attended a Good Friday service where the pastor encouraged us to look at Good Friday positively, to see the crucifixion through “Easter eyes.” To be honest, the bright lights and the upbeat music and mood felt to me like a missed opportunity. His intentions were good. He wanted to protect us from feeling defeated as we meditated on the death of Christ. But in doing so, he robbed us of exactly the feeling and experience that Good Friday is meant to give us.

Those of us who inhabit the sphere of “American Christianity” live in a world that doesn’t know when, how, or even why to grieve. For us, Christianity is about victory, it’s about feeling better about ourselves. It’s upbeat, inspiring, short, and peppy. I know one pastor of a large church who once asked his worship leaders not to play any songs written in a minor key. Too much of a downer.

Thinking back… like all of us, I was hit hard by the events of September 2001. I was up early on the morning of the 11th for a meeting and was actually watching TV when the second plane smashed through the tower. I walked around the rest of the day numb and in shock. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

I went to services that weekend, hoping someone could help me with my grief, hoping that with the people of God I could feel what I needed to feel, process my questions and grief, and come to some resolution. But instead of mourning, instead of an honest admission that we have no idea why things like this happen, I was asked to salute the flag and sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” What I needed was a church service. What I got was a pep rally. We needed to grieve. Instead we were told to feel better.

And we wonder why so many of us struggle with a persistent, low-level depression. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because when we should, we refuse to grieve. We hold in the tears, when they should come out. That emotion tends to leak out in other ways, at other times—some not nearly so appropriate or healthy as crying.

I’m absolutely amazed when I see television coverage of third-world countries, particularly the coverage of disasters. When I see the keening, wailing women, the men tearing their clothes from their bodies and even the hair from their heads in anguish, I realize how emotionally impoverished we stoics in America are. I realize that the grief and mourning which the Bible speaks highly of is completely missing from our vocabulary. We’ve lost the ability to grieve.

And with it, I think we’ve lost the ability to be truly joyful. Have you ever wondered how those who live in other cultures, even those who live lives of impoverishment can smile so broadly and celebrate so joyfully in the midst of their impoverishment? We watch our news in amazement as year after year, at times of victory or celebration, they fill the streets, dancing in joy, eyes bright. The closest to that we ever come is when our team wins the Series, or the Superbowl. And even that is a pale mockery of the joy that we know we should feel at times, but never seem to find. We wish we could dance the way that they dance, or feel the joy and excitement they seem to feel.

Take Easter, for example. Every year the pastor stands and does his or her best to project the words “Christ is risen!” And we half-heartedly answer, “He is risen indeed.” Usually we have to try it a couple of times to work up any enthusiasm at all.

And the reason we don’t feel the joy at Easter that we know we should feel is because we don’t feel the grief at Good Friday that we could. We enter our well-lit sanctuaries on Good Friday, sing some songs, hear a nice message about the crucifixion, and go out for dessert afterwards with our friends. We enter with smiles on our faces and leave the same way.

Good Friday ruined the first disciples’ weekend. Maybe we should allow it to ruin ours, as well. For them it felt like the end of the world. Maybe we could pretend, even for a day, that’s it’s the end of ours, too—that while what Jesus went through on our behalf is something to be celebrated, it’s also something to be mourned, to be anguished about, to grieve.

This Good Friday, allow the grief to seep deep down into your bones, into your bowels. Meditate on the wounds, the suffering, and the deep, deep love of Christ. Allow the tears to well up from the pit of your being, escape your eyes, and roll down your face. Let the sobs rock your body. Leave the Good Friday service in silence. Extend your mourning through the night and into Saturday. Leave the TV off. Wear black. Refuse to medicate, distract, or otherwise soothe yourself. Mourn. Grieve.

If you do this, as the sun rises on Sunday, you will finally know what Easter is all about.

A Thought at The Beginning of Lent

Lent is an opportunity, not an obligation.

While it’s true that God didn’t ask you to give up coffee, sweets or other Lenten-staples, but rather your whole life, often the process of surrendering a whole life begins simply and small: Giving up something that has become too central, too important.

In other words, don’t think you can give Him your whole life, if you can’t give Him, even for a couple of weeks, that thing your heart rebels against losing.

Busyness… or Gluttony?

(From the Archives)

A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle. It’s as though their eyes were bigger than their stomachs.

- David Allen, Getting Things Done

It’s more than likely that you’ve heard a message, read a book, or done some thinking about “busyness” in the last year or two. Slightly less likely, but still entirely possible, is that you’ve heard a message, read a book, or done some thinking on “gluttony” during the same time.

It’s highly unlikely that the two were connected. But maybe they should have been.

Why do we say yes to so much? Is it because we are guilt-ridden, co-dependent angst monkeys who lack the willpower to say no? No. We say no to a million things a day. Usually to things that are good for us, but still…when we want to, we know how to say no just fine, thank you.

Is it because we have a drive towards self justification that works itself out in our work and an ever-increasing load of commitments through which we seek to earn the favor of others and God? In part, yes…

But maybe it also has something to do with our appetites. You know, our appetites for recognition and “importance.” To be liked, appreciated, admired. Even our appetite to “get things done.” And honestly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But like all things in this broken world, left unchecked by the Spirit and un-submitted to God, our appetite to be liked and our desire to achieve will run out of control.

I’ve been thinking about busyness as though it is a problem to be managed – increase my productivity and I could, of course, accept and keep more commitments, more on my plate… more to feed my ego.

Maybe the problem with busyness isn’t it. Maybe it’s me. Me and my ego and pride.

Conceived of this way, busyness isn’t an issue of time management and productivity, it’s an issue of desire. When is enough, enough? When am I doing enough good things through which that God-given desire to feel productive and useful in this world can be fulfilled? When do I cross the line between finding satisfaction in the good day’s work I put in and trying to find my identity through an ever-increasing load of ego-enhancing commitments?

I spend a lot of time thinking about how people can be more productive in ministry. And don’t get me wrong, I want to continue to work on productivity/time management and all the rest. But until I work through the inner issues of why I try to do so much, all the productivity hacks in the word really just add up to enabling.

In other words, most days I don’t need any more help being productive or managing the stress of work. I think I need help in managing my appetite for applause and the stress of opportunity.

I fear my busyness is simply a sign of my gluttony.

Yet, O Lord God, let me not rest content with such an ideal of manhood as men have known apart from Christ.  Rather let such a mind be in me as was in Him.  Let me not rest till I come to the stature of HIs own fullness.  Let me listen to Christ’s question: What do you more than others?  And so may the threefold Christian graces of faith, hope, and love be more and more formed within me, until all my walk and conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ.

O Thou whose love to man was proven in the passion and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, let the power of His Cross be with me today.  Let me love as He loved.  Let my obedience be unto death.  In leaning upon His Cross, let me not refuse my own; yet in bearing mine, let me bear it by the strength of His.”

-John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer

We who live before the Audience of One can say to the world: ‘I have only one audience. Before you I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.’ … Needless to say, the modern world is light years from the Puritan world. We have moved from the ‘inner directed’ world of the Puritans, in which calling acted as an inner compass, to the ‘other directed’ world of modern society…
“The Puritans lived as if they had swallowed gyroscopes; we modern Christians live as if we have swallowed Gallup polls.”

- Os Guinness

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Further Thoughts on a Win-Win on Same-Sex Marriage

Among the most commented on and linked to posts on this blog has been my piece “Last Chance For a Win-Win on Same-Sex Marriage?

While many saw my proposal as a common-sense solution to one of the most divisive issues in our culture, others thought I was an idiot. Fair enough, I suppose.

Two great discussions I recently noticed and wanted to direct you to are these- This one at Near Emmaus seems to land mostly on “Bob’s thinking is right on!”

This one over at Rachel Held Evan’s seems to land mostly on “Bob’s an idiot.” Also, many seem to miss the spirit of a “win-win”, but what are you going to do?

 

At any rate- two great discussions with lots to chew on.

I’ll be at Missio Alliance… will you?

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Missio Alliance has its most direct origins in the Ecclesia Network – a network of church-planting leaders that has been around for the last 6-7 years. This network has been an enormous help to me and many others who have felt a need for their church community to be part of something larger – a family that would be a source of inspiration, encouragement, and sharpening. Ecclesia has, and continues to be, a great place for those who are thinking about and seeking to embody issues of church planting from a missional perspective (think Newbigin, Bosch, Guder) and taking the realities of Post-Christendom seriously.

The people of the Ecclesia network are incredibly theologically minded; not heady, just intentionally reflective. And, while the training, gatherings, coaching, assessment, and other aspects of Ecclesia’s work have been helpful for many of our churches and leaders with reference to issues of church planting, there has been a growing sense and call for a broader kind of “space” where we could come together to dialogue and workout larger theological and cultural issues for the sake of mission. And then, as we began talking and listening to people outside of the network, we realized we weren’t alone; there was a pretty broad and even passionate call for such an initiative amongst disperate communities, networks, and tribes.

Here’s a brief video of Dave Fitch talking about “Why Missio Alliance?” And if you want to know even more, check out this About Page as it talks about some of our core convictions, distinguishing features, outlines the doctrinal and cultural issues that are framing our work, and explains our current leadership structure.

 

(HT: JR Rozko)

The meaning of earthly existence is not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prosperity, but in the development of the soul.”

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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