Tuesday, September 6, 2016

If the "more" never comes...

It's been a long time since I posted a blog entry.  My last post was February to be exact.  While there are multiple reasons (excuses) for that, the truth is it's been too hard.  I've shared before that the longer The Pathway has existed, the harder it is to blog.  I write the same way I preach, with honesty and with transparency.  But when you're planting a church, when you're the pastor of a church, every aspect of your life has to do with other people, their lives, their stories, their struggles, their joys, their pains, and their celebrations.  And hear me clearly, I'm not complaining about my calling as a pastor.  I'm blessed beyond belief, even on the most difficult days.  But sometimes it's hard to find the words.

With that being said, I'm going to give the blog a shot again.  No guarantees, but so many of you support my family and The Pathway, so many of you sacrifice a lot financially, so many of you pray faithfully, I want to do my best to keep you in the loop.

So here goes...
The last year has been the hardest of my ministry.
The last 3 months have been the best of my ministry.
The last 2 days have been absolutely miserable.

Cry me a river right?  Hey, if you want honest you have to deal with a little bit of whining.  But I promise, I'm not looking for sympathy!  I know that even my worst days are dripping with hope because I am absolutely certain that my Redeemer Lives!  Jesus Christ paid for every pain, every sin, every bit of brokenness and I am confident that he has never lost control.  I have hope because Jesus not only died, he rose from the dead!!!

Why has the last year been so hard?
Well, we've seen a lot of brokenness over the past year.  A lot.  Most of you know that we strive not simply to be a church comprised of one gathering that meets on Sunday mornings, but a church of Intentional Communities that live life together in those smaller communities on a daily basis and are united with each other under the Lordship of Christ and around a common mission: We exist to reflect God's glory by reproducing disciples through Intentional Communities.

That's our goal.  But life is messy.  Church is messy.  People are messy.  So it doesn't always work out right.  For a variety of reasons (and I truly mean that... there were many reasons, some good, some bad, some hard, some easy, some wrong, and some right), we saw an entire Intentional Community dissolve last year. Not just dissolve as an IC and join other IC's.  We saw an entire IC leave The Pathway.

It broke my heart. 
It breaks my heart.

While I recognize intellectually that I am not the chief shepherd of The Pathway, that would be Jesus.  I am the under shepherd.  But I still consider it my responsibility to care for the flock well on a daily basis.  No matter what the reason, if a part of the body is broken, hurting, or dysfunctional, I take responsibility for that.  And when an entire segment of the church leaves, I take responsibility for that too.  I didn't do my job well.  I failed the body.  And I am so sorry to each person that I failed.

Before you start feeling bad for me, remember what I know to be true... Jesus said clearly to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, My grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in weakness!  Praise Jesus for that reality because I long for God's power and I have a whole lot of weakness.

I hope, that without sharing all the details, that helps you understand why the last year was miserable.  Why I genuinely considered giving up as a pastor, as a church planter.  I know that's not what a leader is supposed to say, but it's the truth.  There were extended amounts of time where I thought my failures were too great, my weaknesses too glaring, the brokenness too painful to continue.  Ahh, but then I remembered the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, and the truth that he had not lost control, and he had not revoked my calling.  And by God's grace, we pressed on!

Why have the last 3 months been so good?
The short answer is that over the last 3 months we broke all the "rules" of church for the purpose of cultivating greater clarity of purpose in the body, deeper unity surrounding that clarity of mission, and ultimately pursuing greater strength corporately.  And it wasn't just breaking the rules that made the last 3 months fantastic, it was the fact that we were following Jesus every step of the way!

I mean that with all my heart.  There is nothing more hopeful, more satisfying, more peaceful, and more joyful than following Jesus!  It's not always easy... and the last 3 months have not been easy.  Everyone is not always going to think you're doing the right thing... we definitely experienced a lot of questioning and push back over the last 3 months... but we followed Jesus and he never gets off course!

What did that look like?
Well, we felt like we were becoming a church that was simply surviving instead of thriving.  That's not good.  And we felt like 10% of the people were doing 90% of the ministry.  That's not good.  So we decided to slam on the breaks, gathering everyone together for an extended family meeting (months not hours), teach non-stop on vision (reflecting God's glory by reproducing disciples through Intentional Community), and then re-launch stronger than ever before!  We have called this season re:SET.

What is re:SET?
June-- In the month of June we did not gather on Sundays at all.  Our Intentional Communities continued to gather, but we just gave all of our most committed volunteers a break from all the logistics of "portable church."  It was a time to re:FRESH and it was so sweet and needed!

July-- In July we had a re:UNION so to speak on Sunday mornings at my home.  That's right!  My home (God bless my wife!).  One Sunday we had over 70 people at my house... 1400 sq. ft. of craziness!  Of course we flooded into the back yard as well.  But we didn't just reunite, we also re:TRAINED.  We spent 4 weeks talking in depth about what it means to be Intentional Community (see Acts... specifically Acts 1-4) and helped people think about and identify the role God has uniquely called them to play in our church.  It was messy and it was beautiful!

August--  August was all about mission.  Even when you're a portable church you have trouble getting outside the "4 walls" of whatever building you can find... school, house, whatever!  So every Sunday morning in August we hit the streets of the Hilltop (our neighborhood) and served the homeless.  It was again, very messy, but it was also uniquely incredible!  We saw people step up and serve who had never done mission with us before.  I witnessed people sharing the gospel who had probably never shared the gospel before.  Our church gave money.  Our church gave time.  Our church gave their lives for the sake of the gospel.  It was incredible.

What now?
Now we are waiting.  We're trying to be patient and trying not to rush back to our "normal" church routines too quickly.  Our IC's are regathering in their smaller forms, coming up with their own unique plan to "be the church" together.  We're diving into monthly Sunday gatherings first and as we grow and gain greater commitment from our people, we will follow Jesus where he leads.  We think that he will lead us to weekly worship gatherings sooner rather than later, but wherever he leads, we'll go!

Why has it been an absolutely miserable 2 days?
I'm not really sure.  I think the best I can say is that I started taking my eyes off Jesus and began to become a slave to fear, feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.  I thought I would share with you the un-edited, albeit shortened journal entry I made yesterday to give you some insight into the daily struggle I feel as a pastor... I'm sure it's a struggle your pastor feels too.  Maybe it will help you pray for me.  Maybe it will help you pray for him.

Father-- To say that yesterday and this morning were a struggle would be a huge understatement.  I feel like yesterday I was incredibly mad and today I was incredibly discouraged and overwhelmed.  I literally was thinking in my head and coming up with ways to justify in my mind that I want more.  Specifically when it comes to ministry and the church.  I long for more.  Then I logged on to North Point and decided to listen to one song and the chorus smashed me in the heart.

Christ is enough for me.
Christ is enough for me.
Everything I need is in you Lord.
Everything I need.

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back.

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.

The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back
No turning back

The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back, no turning back.

I think Father, and I pray that you would continue to work in me, I think it's not wrong for me to want more for our church and our city as long as Jesus truly is enough.  If the more never comes Lord, I declare, Jesus is enough for me!