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Pastor, Writer, Contemplative

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Never Thought I’d Say This But… We’re Church Planting………… Again!

It was almost a year ago, back in December 2013 when the thought first entered my mind, and it was not a welcome thought at all.

I was serving at a solid church and had a stable position there as senior pastor, was getting settled in Katy, and together with my wife and kids, were building a life out here in the ‘burbs of Houston. Everything was going right. But on the wrong track, it felt like, and a radical course adjustment was needed. I remember reading the words of Peter Drucker, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” And while the church is not a business, the principle still applies: if your org is going down a different track than what you envisioned, then either get ready for a long ride, or prepare to make a courageous decision – to get onto the right track headed for the vision you have for ministry.

And I knew that it had to be a multiethnic vision reaching all people in Houston.

So as I faced what was then a daunting task, I put my head down and waded right in. I took a lot of heat and had plenty of sleepless nights. I lost my appetite for a while. My ears itched, a lot. Still, I continued through. I had key mentors assure me I was doing the right thing. That was a big confirmation for me; that if these people – who have no qualms about telling me I’m doing something wrong and in fact have done so in the past – if these people who can tell me straight up can say that I am on the right track, then maybe indeed it is a God-thing, and not yet another of Wayne’s darn-fool idealistic crusades.

So I asked God for the courage to persist – alone, if need be, and to my surprise, I discovered that people were seeing the same vision, the same track, and were even prepared to jump onto it with me. That brought tears to my eyes, often. And even those who weren’t on board with it, understood it, and even blessed it, for which I am never sufficiently grateful.

So on July 20th we began gathering in my living room, a core group of 30 adults and 20 children.

We named ourselves Woven Covenant Church.

We came up with a financial plan, as well as a launch plan for this new church.

We formed committees and task teams, working on location, staffing, hiring, marketing, branding, welcoming, programming, etc.

I stepped back, sat down in my chair and watched it unfold(ing) before my eyes. I didn’t have to do much. The people are doing it. It’s high collaboration, and requires minimal management, because we all are heading down the same track: that of a missional church with a multiethnic mission in the suburbs of west Houston.

I sometimes don’t feel like a church planter. In fact, often. I know my skill and gift set does not match that of charismatic leader who is a strong people-gatherer. I’m more of a Russian novelist. Bookish. Alone. Pensive. Reflective. Introspective. Charismatic church leader? Enter identity crisis. I have a lot of pain about this. Really. And I am trying to come to terms with it; that while I must – and should – build up the weaker parts of my personality, I can only naturally lead with my strongest leg. And I can also allow others to operate out of their strengths, leading in ways that I cannot.

So I am thankful for my core team, in knowing me and accepting me as their shepherd, trying to fumble around figuring out Texas football, with my endless Lord of the Rings analogies, and pie-in-the-sky idealism.

woven_tables01

little_children01 awesome_BB-with_children daddyJune

The Greatest Ministry You Or I Will Ever Do Is…

I’ve been in ministry for over a decade a now, and I’ve seen quite a bit; From border-crashing in Central Asia to performing with a live band in front of 40,000 as a missionary, from seminary studies in the edenic Vancouver to monastic living among the quiet woods & mountains of the Pacific NW, from pastoral ministry amongst the suburban poor, to the glamors of church planting amongst “postmodern” trendsetters in hipster cafes, I have repeatedly found the greatest ministry I will ever do is amongst those who will give me no accolades, will not “grow” my church as the formula goes, will not advance my scheme, my agenda or my empire, and yet will give me Everything in return:

I facilitated what I consider “art therapy” (I’m not professionally licensed) among the handicapped / autistic community of my church. I focused on colors with warmth, to get us in touch with the nurturing dimensions, even capturing some of that “placenta” affect;

The response? Great success! There was good engagement and the tactile learning experience of pushing paint around on a canvas was placating, and I will even go so far as to say, a “spiritual experience” for all of us. Perhaps I will post the finished product soon, which I hope to display prominently at church…

So, in light of these thoughts, I’m re-posting the following which was written several years ago – thoughts on the same theme of what is “true ministry”:

One thing that always makes me smile is when I hear church planters talk of what kind of people they will gather together in their new churches. “We plan on gathering the hip, urban trendsters who have turned their back on the church”. One proposal I read listed Subaru owners and indie rockers. I can’t help but smirk because I relate to this. You want to gather the “cool” folk. It’s so what we want and it’s actually so off-target. Reminds me of a line from one of my fav movies, Tombstone:

Doc: What did you want?

Wyatt: Just to live a normal life.

Doc: There’s no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.

Likewise we hope to gather the “normal” people without issues, dirt under the fingernails, psychological problems, you know, normal, hip, young trendsters like us. But there are no “normal” people. And for that matter, there are no “cool” people. There’s just people. Somehow in our desire to go to the poor we look for the exotic, when in fact there’s a need to pastor such common folk right in front of us. Like:

trailer owners

Wal Mart shoppers

middle America

Nascar fans

country folk

rural dwellers

the elderly

So oft missed is this last demographic. The post modern pastor almost never looks @ the elderly or the shut-ins probably because they have nothign to give back to us, can’t contribute to the growth of the church, or for that matter to the offering. But that is why they are so necessary. Because no one visits them in this age of retirement and disability homes. We commit them, the white coats take care of them and we wipe our hands clean. There’s something anti-church in that. So thank you to Pastor Jay in the pic above for pushing me into the door of the local Rehab facility. The smells, and the undecipherable speech, and the oddities eventually won me ever. Some of the most precious ministry happens at the retirement center.

Remembering 9/11

Where were you when it happened?

Epiphany @ Work: A Prescription for Spiritual Burnout

1.16.2011 – I’m re-posting this gem in light of today’s talk on Sabbath and the dangerous potential for burnout when we ignore the concept; I am of the mind that you can’t change behavior w/o changing worldview first, and workaholism is something so entrenched and rooted, even in our (flawed) views of spirituality. Here they are:

3.4.2010 – I found this post via a RT and it’s stuck in my head for the past day or so. That’s when I know I’ve read something important. I mean REALLY important. If you’re (spiritually) burned-out, take some time to read this – THE TOP TEN SYMPTOMS OF EMOTIONALLY UNHEALTHY SPIRITUALITY – it’s that good… and maybe it will save your life. All those 10 “symptoms” I’ve known intimately; no wonder I was a depression-laden wreck over a decade ago when experiencing those; spiritual-superman may be a title we covet, but it’s a prescription for self-martyrdom if you ask me, and there’s nothing great about that. I like the adage: “I prefer to burn like coal – long and deep, as opposed to petrol – which flares up in a flash and disappears quickly.” So here for your edification are those 10 symptoms listed briefly (and pls do read  the above link as well!):

1. Using God to run from God
2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear
3. Dying to the wrong things
4. Denying the past’s impact on the present
5. Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments
6. Doing for God instead of being with God
7. Spiritualizing away conflict
8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure
9. Living without limits
10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey

so what do u think? ;)

Concrete Steps to Breaking the “Glass Ceiling” in Academic Hiring

Reposting this as prompted by a great list of suggestions over at The Fund for Theological Education blog, on “The Doctoral Diversity Deficit.” I for one, do believe there is a need for Affirmative Action when it comes to hiring in the academic setting (PhD’s, that is). The article lists the following:

1. Critical mass of faculty of color – in legitimating research “from the margins”

2. Curricular and extracurricular opportunities for mentoring and preparation – for those who may not readily benefit due to economic or social status

3. Faculty “shoulder tapping” – a greater accessibility to mentoring of minority students

But as it stands, “concrete steps to breaking the glass ceiling” – particularly in academic settings still remains an uphill battle…

3/30/2010

The convo over @ Prof. Stackhouse’s blog “On Behalf of Diversity in Academic Hiring” has been heating up and I for one am thrilled it is taking place. I must admit however that I was somewhat disarmed when he challenged us to provide concrete steps towards progress; “particular things we can do, or particular people we should look at, etc.” Disarmed in the sense that while this has been something I’ve thought about a lot, I must confess I found myself somewhat unable to answer that question. If I may dwell on the theoretical just a bit longer I would say that the glass ceiling has to be cracked from above, engendering participation, and I think this is a theologically-grounded sentiment. The concrete however is a lot harder. How do we break the “glass ceiling”? Is it as simple as intentional hiring? What other concrete steps can be taken? Who has done this successfully and how have they accomplished it (towards what ends?)

Are Biblical Languages Necessary for (Postmodern) Ministry?

Recently I was asked this by a good friend.

So as I plow my way through Regent’s summer Hebrew intensive (affectionately coined “suicide Hebrew” by students) I reflect on this question again. And my answer is still unwaveringly – yes. With all the gravitas I can inflect through a blog post – yes. Can you hear it in my voice? So what’s so important that someone would subject themselves to the torture of pronominal suffixes and third declension nouns when we have just fine English translations? And what about the postmodern context? Does that change anything (I really think not but adding the word “postmodern” tends to make everything sexy, like black-rimmed glasses and facial stubble)? I think John Piper is dead-on on this one: Read the rest of this entry »

A Prayer For The Least Of These

Thank God for Regent College’s contemplative chapels:

Almighty God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

to me the least of saints

to me allow that I may keep even the smallest door,

the farthest, darkest, coldest door,

the door that is least used, the stiffest door.

If only it be in Your house, O God,

that I can see Your glory even afar,

and hear Your voice,

and know that I am with You, O God.

Attributed to Columba of Iona