Monday, May 31, 2010

I can't "fix it!"

So here's what God has been teaching me over the past few weeks... "I can't fix it!" Now those who know me might assume I'm talking about all the things that can break around the house. I'm known for not being a handyman (just ask my Dad who is given a list of things to fix every time he comes to visit). However, I've been learning that on top of the things around the house, I'm also completely inadequate and incapable of fixing the brokenness in people's lives.

This may be obvious to some but it has been a liberating revelation to me. Almost daily I encounter people by phone or email who need something in their lives "fixed." Because the church is often known as a place of restoration (which is a good thing), people come to the pastor of a church to "fix" them. Whether they have physical, emotional, financial, psychological or spiritual problems, they come to me wanting to be fixed. Most of the time we've lived in Tacoma I thought that if I could just "fix" whatever was broken in their lives, they would see the power and grace of Jesus and give their life to him... I was wrong.

What I found instead was that by acting in my own strength not only was I not helping them, I was stealing glory from God and getting myself more and more frustrated. Does that mean I refuse to be there for people in the midst of their brokenness? Absolutely not. That is what the entire church is called to do (not just the pastor). We can often provide a "patch" (Matt. 25) while God brings the eternal "fix." However, over the last few weeks I've stopped trying to fix people and just been really honest with them. I've told them that the only thing that can fix them is a relationship with God through Jesus. Some people are interested in what that looks like, some people move on to the next place they think they can get a quick "fix."

Don't get me wrong, we still meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs. I've just switched the order in which I offer things and I've changed the expectation of where the results lie. I first offer Jesus, and only Jesus. Then if we can meet a felt need we will do so. However, I've learned to make it clear that Jesus promises brokenness, hard times, and junk in our lives. It's guaranteed. If you disagree, read the beatitudes in Matthew 5, or read James or 1 Peter. Our lives this side of heaven will never be completely "fixed." However, we can have an eternal "fixing" that will give us hope through our worldly struggles.

What I've learned is that only Jesus brings that kind of "fixing." Only Jesus can give that eternal hope. I can't. I can just point people to Jesus. So can you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Starting to "get-it"

Monday started rough. We began another adult small group a while back on Monday afternoons at one of our guys apartments. We would usually have 4-6 people but no one really "connected" and it was often a different 4-6 people every week. We restarted it a couple weeks ago but it has just been me and the guy whose apartment we meet at. Not bad, but not effective. I think the host of the Monday group is going through a lot of personal struggles and I'm seriously praying about pulling the plug on it and encouraging him to reconnect with our other group for a while. That feels like backward movement? I'm just not sure.

Then comes Friday. I think Becca Hurst might disagree with me when I say Friday was good. I know she was thankful for it, but it was much harder for her than it was for me. To be honest, the girls we are reaching can be the most self-centered and obnoxious group I've ever been around in my life. That's hard for the one (Becca) who is pouring her life into them. I'll give you a brief example of what we see most weeks.

The way our student gathering works is we eat dinner together and then we all meet together in a large group for a teaching time and then we break up into guys and girls groups for discussion. Right now we have more girls than guys by far, but the guys are actually a great deal more reserved than the girls. Well, this past Friday when I was teaching in the large group, one of the girls who was wearing huge baggy sweatpants, sagging them like you would see many guys do, and a tank top reached into her bag while I was teaching out of 2 Timothy 2 and pulled out a stick of deodorant. She preceded to raise her hand as if to ask a question but instead she applied her sweat guard right there for everyone to witness. How do you keep teaching during that? How does everyone keep from being distracted? How can God be glorified during that? Only the grace of Jesus!

We went on from that and the Word was spoken. Being the teacher, I have the blessing of being able to look into everyone's eyes and know that while a few were in another world, the majority were engaged this week. Both small groups bore some fruit but the girls was also a continuation of the distracting challenge I just described. Pray for our students. Pray that they would catch the fire that is the Holy Spirit. Pray for myself and Becca. Pray that we would trust the sovereign working of our Lord Jesus in the midst of "deodorant" distractions!

Sunday was what made the week truly great! I know it is the first day of the week but for me in many ways it is the end of the week. We had a great group, somewhere around 12 or 13 people but that is not what made it good. The goodness came from the fruit that we saw and the evidence that at least some of our people are finally starting to "get-it!" Every week (not Sunday to Sunday... but almost everyday of every week) we emphasize, teach and challenge people that the Kingdom of God will not grow until they begin reproducing themselves... simply taking the gospel and what they've learned about it and sharing it with others. We also continue to remind them that the church isn't just a place you go on Sunday. We should be there for each other everyday of the week and available to meet each others needs as well as the needs of the people in our community.

Well, an example of reproduction is Anthony. Anthony is 15 or 16 years old and he is always sharing the gospel and inviting people to The Pathway. It doesn't matter if the person is 5 years old or 50 Anthony will invite them. Well this week he invited to our adult Bible study (remember, he is a student) a homeless man he had met the previous week. It was awesome to see that man come, share some of his story and admit that although he acknowledges God he has not been a part of a church in a very long time.

We also have a man named Orlando who has recently become a part of our church. I am constantly telling him that he can call on our church to help others who have needs. He took me up on it this week and introduced us to a friend of a friend who was in the hospital and all alone. Kelli and I both were able to go visit this woman and as a result both Orlando's friend Maryanne and her friend Deborah who had been in the hospital came to The Pathway on Sunday. It is a beautiful picture of God's church in action and it had nothing to do with me or our leadership and everything to do with the Spirit of God.

An awesome side note is that two of the 3 new faces at The Pathway are homeless. God continues to remind me that homeless does not equal unredeemable. The third has been clean and sober for a little over a year now and is vocal about the role Gods grace has played in her transformation.

Truly beautiful.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Confessions of a Church Planter

A quick update on how our small groups are going. Our Friday night youth gathering is going awesome! We had to draw a line in the sand regarding the ages of the people who were attending in order to assure spiritual depth over numerical growth. That is a test of faith to say the least but even though our numbers have definitely dipped, we are seeing a new depth of Bible study, discussion and spiritual growth that gives me great confidence that numerical growth will soon follow.

We started a Monday afternoon small group a while back that grew to about 6 people but it was always a different 6 and then kind of faded when bad weather hit because we were having it outdoors. Antwon and I brainstormed and restarted a few weeks ago. So far it is just me and him so please pray that we would be faithful to invite more unchurched and lost friends. Antwon has agreed to work towards leading that group which is very exciting!

Our Sunday group is where I want to spend most of my time and honestly confess my backwards heart. Those who know me and anyone on our leadership team you know that we have prayed for a diverse church from the very beginning and at the core of our church we have a heart to bring spiritual & physical restoration to the poor, broken, forgotten, needy... the "outcast." Well, a lesson I should have learned a long time ago... be careful what you pray for because God just might give it to you... has become very relevant in my life!

I think in my heart I truly wanted a diverse church that included the "outcast" as a part of the church and not just a "ministry" of the church, but I wanted God to birth the church in the order that was convenient for me. I wanted him to connect us with lots of cool, young, techsavvy people who would bring innovative ideas to the table so we could have a church "worthy" of church planting in 2010. I truly wanted God to bring us those people who have a heart for the "outcast," and then together we would begin to bring diversity to our church... How ignorant I am!

What God has decided to do instead is bring us a church where I am the minority in every way... ethnically, economically, marital status... our church is diverse, but the lost, unchurched, poor "outcast" has become the foundation and it is hard for me to accept. One of the most difficult things about reaching the poor is that it is almost impossible to communicate with them. Every church planting class I took in seminary and since has emphasized the importance of social media. Okay seriously, the people God has brought to The Pathway seldom have a home phone, much less have a clue how to afford a cell phone or stay connected via our website,facebook and twitter! Talk about frustrating! Now I could ramble on and complain about this for ages, which is my sinful tendency, or I could accept what God has beautifully begun to piece together and trust him with the results.

What has God taught me through this unusual church birthing process? That's easy. Everyone, including our 30 year old schizophrenic, our 2 brothers with mental handicaps, single mom full of questions whose rebellious & recently saved daughter brought her to church, our 21 year old Montana intern, our 19 year old homeless guy, our 50 year old Cuban single dad and everyone in between, every single one of them is a soul, created by God, separated from him by sin and desperately in need of a Savior. All of these people need Jesus and I have decided, no matter what order God decides to piece together our diverse church, I will be thankful and faithful to the call he has placed on my life.

Jesus-- I'm sorry I wanted it my "selfish" way. Thank you for moving despite me. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your church.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hitting the Wall

There are all kinds of walls in life and I believe running into them at times is a virtual certainty.

I believe we have hit our first wall in Tacoma. To be honest, if you asked our leadership team I don't know that they would agree because of all the things we are seeing God do. However, I believe the fact that God is still moving does not have any bearing on the existence of a wall in the life of our church. Walls pop up at many points along the pathway of life but God never stops moving. It's simply an obstacle that must be recognized and overcome.

What is our wall? Our wall is one of leadership. I have alluded to this wall before but it is becoming more evident everyday. Our church is built on the idea of reproduction. We want to reproduce believers, reproduce disciples, reproduce leaders, reproduce small groups and reproduce churches. The only way we can do this is if people, from all different backgrounds and experiences, lead. There are two major problems with this at The Pathway (and maybe in your church as well).
1) Many people don't want to lead.
2) Most leaders have been taught to look for the potential in a future leader rather than to create a future leader by believing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What do we do about this? The short answer is "I don't know." If I did, we would already be through the wall. What I do know is that we can't start by working on problem #1. The only way to change #1 (which is built into others), is for us to change our own struggle with #2 (which is built into us). We have to realize that if we wait for leaders that show "potential," especially in unreached and pre-Christian cultures, we will be waiting a long time. God has called us to take fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, persecutors... sinners... introduce them to Jesus and teach them to believe they can lead. Only then will they want to lead. Only then will we break through the wall of leadership and begin to see rapid reproduction.

The wall is before us.

The question is, how will we respond? Will we lay at the foot of the wall stunned and unresponsive? Or, will we find a way to climb over, go around or break through the wall we have encountered?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Completely Inadequate

This week flew by so fast I don't even know what happened. My desire is that this post be a testimony to God's desire and ability to use us in our weakness. I laugh with Kelli on a regular basis about how inadequate we are for the calling God has placed on our lives. We genuinely don't mean that in a self-deprecating way and we're not throwing out a lame attempt to get sympathy. It's just that the things God is doing through our church, in the lives of the lost, it's simply amazing and most of the time we have no idea how to handle the situations that come up. We literally just have to keep our feet moving forward and trust that God is going to provide the answers.

We were reminded of our inadequacy about a week ago when we were fortunate enough to be able to attend the Catalyst West Coast Leadership Conference in Orange County, CA. It was an amazing time of learning and refreshment. Kelli and I even got to spend one awesome California evening walking barefoot on Laguna Beach... but I digress. Most of you have heard of Louie Giglio and Christ Tomlin (The Passion Events). Well, they are now planting a church in Atlanta, GA and Louie Giglio was speaking at Catalyst. His comments really hit home and reminded us of the small role we play in this whole process and the huge role the Holy Spirit plays. To sum up his comments he basically said, "I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing!" To hear a guy like Louie Giglio say that, and really mean it, was awesome! Not because he or we want to be a part of an "ignorant" church planting movement. But because we want to be a part of a Holy Spirit led church planting movement. And when that happens, you literally have no idea what your doing, you just bask in the grace of Jesus and watch lives being changed!

That's how we feel here in Tacoma right now. We truly believe God is preparing our city for something great. Something deep. An awakening. We don't believe it will be because of us or The Pathway. We believe it's going to happen in spite of us and through the church. We believe that the Holy Spirit has been at work here for a long time, using many churches and church plants, and for whatever reason we believe he has chosen us to be workers in the harvest field. I think though that the key is our complete inadequacy. We're nothing special... on our own. But through the grace of Jesus and the Acts 1:8 power of the Holy Spirit we can be used in a special way.

Keep praying.