Monday, October 20, 2014

5 years

I cannot believe that we have been planting The Pathway in Tacoma for 5 years now.  Unbelievable.  What an epic journey Jesus is continuing to take us on.  It was actually 6 1/2 years ago that God called our family to help plant churches in the Pacific Northwest.  How young and crazy we were!  We came to Seattle for the first time in the fall of 2007 and by January of 2008 we had loaded up everything in our double-wide, jumped in the cab of our U-haul... me, Kelli and Addie (our then 2 year old pup) and began this incredible adventure.

No kids.  No fear.  And no clue what we were doing!

After a year and a half internship helping to plant Lifepointe Community Church in Snoqualmie, WA, we once again packed our things, this time just a 2 bed-room apartment worth of belongings, and headed south to Tacoma.  We still had Addie (and still do), but this time there were 2 little babies in Kelli's big ole' tummy!

We thought we were being so smart, so on the ball, and so prepared by moving November 1st.  After all, the twins weren't due until January!  Can anyone say "naive?"  Two weeks after spending our first night in Tacoma, Jagen and Rylan decided the womb was no place for them.  Looking back, we had no idea how crazy things were.  Kelli's water broke while we were spending the night at a friends apartment back in Snoqualmie.  We made the 45 minute drive from Snoqualmie, to the hospital a mile from our house in Tacoma, not knowing that was where we would be spending the next 6 weeks of our lives!  The kids were tiny, they were 9 weeks early, and we were just going with the flow.

We began our time in Tacoma with a vision.  It was based on Roman's 10.  In vs. 1 Paul writes... My hearts desire and my prayer to God is for their salvation.  I just remember that verse being the anthem of my life.  There was no denying that God brought us to Tacoma.  There was no arguing that he had called us to plant The Pathway church.  Everything in our hearts were beating for life change.  We fully understood, and still understand, Paul's heart in writing that particular sentence.  Everything in us wanted to see salvation for a city full of people that we did not know.  Not just that we didn't know everyone in the city.  We didn't know anyone in the city.  But we loved them.  We still do.

Later in Romans 10:13-15 Paul writes... Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in him in whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without someone preaching?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, how beautiful our the feet of those who bring the good news!

From this passage of Scripture flowed a vision statement that has carried us for 5 years.

We want to be a church with beautiful feet, committed to walking with our city down The Pathway of life by:
Serving our communities intentionally
Sharing the gospel with those we serve
Showing believers how to grow and 
Sending ordinary missionaries to start new Intentional Communities 
and new churches in Tacoma and beyond.

It's been amazing to see this vision become a reality.  We've literally have learned to walk with our city through life, learning who they are, becoming a part of the city and learning what their needs, desires and beliefs truly are.  We've served our tails off any and every way we know how.  From meeting tangible needs, to throwing block parties, partnering with local non-profits and getting our hands dirty with our neighbors.  We have seen a church grow with a passion and resolve to serve selflessly no matter how we are treated in return (Philippians 2).  

We've grown tremendously in sharing the gospel.  We've seen God change lives because of the hope of the gospel.  We've seen the addicted find recovery.  We've seen the recovered find purpose.  We've seen the nominal Christian find intentional mission.  We've seen the lonely and isolated individual find family in Christ.  We've seen the gospel infiltrate our city, by God's grace,  through the hands, feet and mouths of our church.  Unbelievable.

We've seen believers grow.  Sometimes I get so frustrated and feel like so much more should have happened by now.  But when I step back, breathe, and get some perspective, I think... WOW!  Look what you've done Lord.  We've seen disciples make disciples.  We've seen people who had never heard John 3:16 learn it, believe it and share it.  We've seen people who did not know sex outside of marriage was less than God's best decide on their own to honor God through repentance and then marriage.  We've seen folks who never thought they could lead or teach, lead and teach.  We've seen so many people grow in so many different ways.  

Make no mistake... all of this is by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone!

We've even been amazed to see God allow us to raise up and send-out ordinary missionaries (by ordinary I mean folks just like you and just like me).  We've launched new Intentional Communities in multiple neighborhoods committed to serving and sharing the gospel.  We were even a part of launching a new church focusing on University students in Seattle called The Way.  The church plant ended up not making it, but it was an incredible act of trust in the Lord on the part of all involved.  Lessons were learned, faith was grown and you better believe we're not done planting churches.  We were even able, by God's grace alone, to send 3 ordinary missionaries to South Africa last year to partner in sharing the gospel with a people who so desperately need good news!

It's been an amazing ride and it is so incredibly far from over.

We believe that God has accomplished the original vision he gave us for planting the gospel in Tacoma.  We believe he's done that and we believe he can do so much more!  We've learned, we've grown, our faith has been tested and our God has remained faithful.  As I've prayed and sought God's direction over the last several months and really even the last year, one word has continued to come into my mind and heart as God has provided a fresh vision and a renewed passion.  Its the word on the graphic at the top of this post... Reproduction.

This Friday and Saturday is our Leadership Retreat.  Please pray for the leaders of The Pathway as we cast vision, ask questions, pray, dare to dream big and more importantly dare to put our faith in a God who does big things!  Pray for unity, passion, direction and resolve to see Reproduction happen.  Finally, please pray as we launch our vision series the first Sunday in November and cast this new, fresh, gospel-centered vision to our church.  It will be an exciting time.  

Please pray that people show up, bring family and friends, get excited, take action and begin to Reproduce for the glory of God!

I can only imagine (Ephesians 3:20), if the Lord has not yet returned, what we will be celebrating in October of 2019!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Margin for Unexpected Ministry

I'm trying to figure out the most effective way to give you a glimpse into my world today.  I always feel like full disclosure is the best approach even if it occasionally means my blogs come across a bit choppy.  Hopefully you agree.

First of all, I have been graced to be raised up as a church planter in what I believe to be one of the most exciting times of church planting in our nations history.  There is a focus on church planting like never before.  Part of that is because of the advancement of technology.  Everywhere I turn there's something new to learn, read, watch or study.  It's incredible.  There is a deep well of tools and seasoned experience from which to draw from... and it can all be a bit overwhelming.

One of the things I've been struggling with over the last 6 months to a year is what can be best referred to as "pulling the trigger."  It doesn't really matter what I need to pull the trigger on.  It could be a small project, creating the most efficient to-do list, deciding who God is calling me to invest my life, time and energy into, or coming up with a strategy for the next phase in the life of our church.  I get somewhat gun shy because I've read so many warnings, so many well-meaning planters and pastors sharing all the monumental mistakes they've made and so many experienced ministers telling me "exactly how to do this thing" or "exactly how not to do that thing."  The trouble is, more often than not the "tried and true" advice of one person contradicts the "tried and true" advice of the next.

The result?  I find myself over thinking everything and accomplish little to nothing.  Not a good place to find yourself when pursuing the glory of God and the advancement of his mission in this world.

All that being said, there is something that I have heard everywhere, over and over, in different forms, but conveying the same basic wisdom from more pastors, leaders and church planters than I can count.

What's their advice?  What's their challenge?

Retreat regularly.

Now that almost seems impossible for many of you.  How on earth can you retreat on a regular basis?  I believe many of us don't even know what a true retreat looks like.  We feel like wherever we go we have to have something to do.  We have to buy tickets, attend conferences, be entertained and we can't imagine escaping technology for even a few hours, much less a few days.

But for some reason, even in the relatively short time I've been in ministry, the advice has stuck with me.  Maybe it's because I have a great wife who gently (most of the time) reminds me that when I pour myself out without filling myself up I will eventually burn myself out.  Maybe it's because for every passionate and on fire pastor I meet I seem to meet 5 who are exhausted, overweight, bitter and burned out.  Maybe it's because I've seen too many church planters burn the candle at both ends so to speak at the cost of their marriage, family or just as seriously, their joy.

Or maybe, just maybe, this lesson has stayed with me by the grace of God.

Whatever the reason, retreating, by myself, every year is something I have made a habit of.  My bride is so amazing (most of you know that).  This year we were coming off a particularly stressful and hectic season and I just didn't feel like it was the right time to leave.  I told her I felt like I should cancel and she assured me that it was necessary for me to go... not just for me, not just for our family or our church... but for God to get the most glory out of what we are pursuing together as a family and a church.  She sent me on my way and I'm so thankful she did.

I could tell you so many things that God did in those couple of nights away.  He allowed me to read an incredible book called The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms.  I highly recommend it.  He let me go for 2 runs... one on the beach.  He let me sleep the entire night through... twice!  He let me get healthy when I had been battling some pretty serious crud.  He let me pray.  He let me plan.  He let me dream, dream again and then dream bigger.  He let me write.  He let me read and meditate on his Word.  He granted me rest, peace, hope and joy.  It was a sweet time.

But of all those wonderful things, there is one thing he taught me that stands out above the rest.  It's not overly deep or profound, but it was an incredibly important message for me to hear.  It went something like this: SLOW DOWN STUPID! 

Such a simple message.  Such a truthful message.  I, like many of you I'm sure, tend to fill my plate too full.  I try to save the world all by myself (I'm pretty sure there's a King named Jesus who has that covered by the way).  I try to please everyone.  I hate to say "no" to anyone.  I like to have fun and do the things I enjoy, so I always make time for that.  I get up early, I stay up late and somehow in the midst of it all I figure out how to procrastinate.  I fall behind.  I try to catch up.  And before you know it I'm go 95 mph in 12 different directions spending the majority of my time on the things that matter the least.

What's the result?  There's probably too many to list, but in short, I don't have time for people who don't know Jesus.  I don't have time for divine appointments, for meeting needs, for praying for unexpected requests.  I just end up with no margin in my life.  And in reality, all the things I spend my time doing are farther from the heart of God than if I were just to make time to love a broken person.

So what am I going to do?  It's pretty crazy.  It's radical.  It's almost unimaginable.  I'm going to slow down!  Seriously.  I'm asking the Spirit of God to intervene in my life in a miraculous way.  I'm asking him to give me the courage to make time for people.  To trust him with the details, the to-do lists and the plans, and when there's a need... I want to meet it.  When there's a request... I want to pray for it.  When there's an unbeliever... I want to share Christ with them and when there's a brother or sister in Christ... I don't want to be too busy for them.

How is this possible you ask?  My best conclusion is... it's not! That is, it's not, apart from the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  But thankfully, I have access to both of those.  And you do too, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone!

In summary... Make sure you have margin in your life for unexpected ministry!