Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We're back!

The Higg 5 outside our cottage in Takoma Park, MD
We've officially been back from sabbatical for 19 days now and my heart and mind still haven't found a truly sufficient way to put into words all that God did in us while we were away. This post may be a bit choppy, but if you hang with me my hope is that you'll get a glimpse of how God responded to your prayers for our family.

It started out rough... If you want to get technical, our sabbatical began in the wee hours of the morning on April 1st. About 2 hours later Rylan was puking her guts out. For the next 3 days we all experienced a stomach bug as our official welcome to life on sabbatical!

It got better... By April 4th, the day we jumped on an airplane headed for Maryland, we were all feeling well enough to fly. The travel day was great. Hazel was a champ on the flight. All was well.

Then the fun really began... or not... So we've been doing the Dave Ramsey thing. If you're not familiar with him, he is an anti-debt and pro-generosity financial guru who advocates for getting rid of credit cards all together. That's great right? It is until you show up at 11pm in Baltimore, MD to pick up your rental car and they tell you you're out of luck because you don't have a credit card!!! No big deal though right? The guy told us there were a few places that took debit cards as long as you paid a big deposit. Unfortunately, the catch is that you have to have a return ticket. We had not purchased return tickets yet because we wanted to be able to come home early if things in Maryland didn't work out. So far things in Maryland weren't working out. Fail.

So what happened?

UBER to the rescue! We took an Uber to Takoma Park, MD and finally made it to our 1 room (not 1 bedroom, 1 room) 325 sq. ft. cottage! You read that right. Our family of 5 lived for 2 1/2 months in 1 room. For those of you who know me well, you would be correct in assuming that I was ready to give up after night one. But for those of you who know my wife, you will not be surprised to find out that she rises up to all challenges. She calmed us down, rearranged the cottage, turned a small storage loft into a mini master bedroom, created a nursery out of a pack n' play and a few blankets, a 1st grade boys room out of a twin mattress and a table, and a little girls room out of a bay window.


That's right. My wife is amazing. I knew that all along but this confirmed it to any doubters and haters out there. If you want more details about living as a family of 5 in a one room cottage with no kitchen and and a husband that can at times be grumpy... give her a call. She may not admit it but I think she loved it!

My biggest sabbatical lesson... So we do not lose heart.
Most of you know that we left for sabbatical after the most difficult 2 years of life and ministry we've ever experienced. We were tired... exhausted really... and according to the definitions of burn-out, I was a classic case.

I began my sabbatical reading Lamentations. That's right. That's where I was mentally and spiritually. I started with Lamentations! I just wanted to wallow with Jeremiah for a while. Lamentations 3:52-53... I was hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause; they flung me alive into the pit and cast sones on me.

Cry me a river right? I was on edge, grumpy, sad, frustrated and really just feeling sorry for myself in a lot of ways.  There were many things that happened along the way that began to soften and change my heart, but let me just tell you about 3 of them.

1) God led me to 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. 
          So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. As we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Several years ago, prior to things getting really, really messy in ministry, I listened to a song by Shane and Shane called "Though You Slay Me" that had an expert from a John Piper sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 mixed in. I thought it was an incredible song about the reality of life following Jesus... things are gonna get hard but we still praise our Savior. Then I watched the entire sermon Piper had preached and it was one of the best sermons I've ever heard in my life... maybe the best. But I wondered why I kept running across it because my life was going pretty good. I loved my job. My family was healthy... finally. The Pathway was growing. We had more leaders and more Intentional Communities than ever and we were seeing people come to faith in Christ.

And then the walls came tumbling down.

Long story short, after a couple years of hard, followed by an unexpected sabbatical, I was not thinking much about 2 Corinthians 4. I was thinking about Lamentations 3 (see above). But God in his providence kept running me directly into 2 Corinthians 4.

While we were away I would spend most Wednesdays in Washington D.C. just nerding out on American history and exploring. But towards the end of the day I would attend a Bible study at Capitol Hill Baptist Church led by Pastor Mark Dever and other members of his staff. Pastor Mark was leading the church through a verse by verse study of... you guessed it... 2 Corinthians! And they were on verses 16-18 the second week I attended.

Ok God, now I'm listening.

I've rambled for long enough, but the bottom line is this: I memorized 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 as I walked from Capitol Hill Baptist Church to the south side of the White House that night and it has become my automatic prayer response to discouragement ever since.

So we do not lose heart.  Why don't we lose heart? Because the affliction we experience now, though painful, overwhelming, and not at all small, is actually light in comparison to the weight of glory and reward and beauty awaiting followers of Christ in eternity. The key is to allow the afflictions to be an automatic reminder to stop looking at the seen, and begin looking at the unseen.

I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to do just that.

2) I read a sermon by C.J. Mahaney called "Sustaining the Pastor's Soul." 
When is the last time you read a sermon? Maybe never right? Only on sabbatical! Well, one night at the Capitol Hill Baptist Bible study Pastor Mark was giving away books and the one I received was a collection of sermons from a "Together for the Gospel" conference back around 2009. I saw the title, "Sustaining the Pastor's Soul," was the final sermon in the book and I was definitely intrigued. However, being the nerdy rule follower that I am, I didn't feel like I could cheat and read the last sermon first, so I started with the preface. Thankfully, the preface said that if you were a pastor struggling with weariness, the best idea would be to read the last chapter first!

Permission? Praise Jesus! And reading that chapter changed the trajectory of my sabbatical. 

In the sermon Mahaney remarks that he believed most of the pastor's in the room were faithful pastors and for that they had his utmost respect. But then he made the statement that he believed many of the pastor's in the room were not happy pastors. That was the crux of his message. As important as it is to be faithful, it is also important to be joyful. He made it clear he was not talking about superficial happiness, but a deeply rooted happiness that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

3 keys to being a happy pastor:

I could write for days about how all 3 of these things have affected me deeply. But let me just say for sake of clarity that these 3 things are not random suggestions from a seasoned pastor. Mahaney was examining the life of one of the greatest pastor's that ever lived, the Apostle Paul. And he taught these three keys directly from Paul's words in the first chapter of Philippians.

So often we gloss over Scripture, especially the opening verses of Paul's letters. But I hope you will not be able to read Philippians 1 again without sensing Paul's gratitude for the church in Philippi despite their struggles, his faith in God to finish the work he had started in them, and his deeply rooted, absolutely authentic affection for the people of the church.

These 3 keys have played an incredible role in my new found joy in pastoring.

3) A prayer walk from the Pentagon to the Iwo Jima memorial.
A couple of weeks before we left Takoma Park, MD, I decided to go see the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon. It was a somber and sobering reminder of the brevity of life and the effects of evil in the world. I decided to walk from there to the Iwa Jima memorial which is one of my favorite memorials in Washington D.C. On the way, I prayed for my church.

Now before you start thinking I'm going super-spiritual on you, let me confess that praying for my church was difficult while I was on sabbatical. My job was to rest and unplug and praying for the church made me think of the struggles, the hard things, and the challenges. I did it because I knew it was right. But I was not "feeling" it in my heart.

That day was different. On that day I decided to learn a lesson from the Apostle Paul via CJ Mahaney and I prayed for the people in my church by name. But instead of interceding for them, I thanked God for them in very specific terms. As my prayers of gratitude began flowing from my heart and my lips to the one true God Almighty, my heart began to soften. I began praising and thanking God for all the life change he had brought into specific people over the past 7 1/2 years. I began thanking God for pulling people out addiction. I began thanking him for saving single mom's and by extension breathing hope into the lives of their kids. I began thanking God for taking people who have lived incredibly rough lives and placing them into leadership positions. I began thanking God for a church who loved their pastor and his family enough to send us on sabbatical when God showed them we needed it.

As my gratitude was unearthed, and cultivated, my hard heart began to rejoice. I began to get a taste... a reminder... of what it was to be a happy pastor.

The time since then has not been perfect. But it has been sweet and I believe I am growing.  I am grateful for who we are as a church, and for what God has done in us and through us.  I am grateful that Jesus Christ died for this church. I am grateful for the gospel.

God answered your prayers. We asked for you to pray for us in 3 specific ways and I wanted to fill you in on how God was gracious and faithful to answer your prayers.

1) We asked you to pray that we would rest with a depth that we've never experienced before. That prayer was most definitely answered. We rested physically. I took more naps over the last 3 months than I have ever taken in my life and I did not hear the sound of an alarm clock for 94 days!  It was glorious.

We rested spiritually as we just got to spend an abundance of time in God's word, in prayer, and in worship. And we rested mentally as we did not have to think strategically in any way shape or form for 3 months.

Thank you for praying for rest.

2) We asked you to pray that we would laugh... a lot. I could tell you story after story of how God answered that prayer. Laughing with my family on this trip will be a memory that lasts a life time. We slowed down, I learned to relax, and the result was a lot more fun. I'll never forget the first week we were there; no dishwasher, no kitchen sink, only a hotplate and a toaster oven. I walked into the bathroom and Kelli was doing dishes in the bathtub! We laughed a lot!!!

3) We asked you to pray for Jagen, Rylan and Hazel. I tell you what, when you go somewhere for 3 months it's not vacation, it's life. And I promise I'm not complaining at all. But the reality of our sabbatical was that real things happened. We battled sickness, allergies, lice, and Hazel even had to have a minor surgery for an infected abscess!  But you know what? God was with us, provided for us, and sustained us every step of the way. And most of all, our kids loved our time in D.C. We were praying that while this trip was a source of refreshment for us, it would not become a source of bitterness for our kids. And God answered that prayer.

Not only did our kids have a blast, we were able to disciple Jagen and Rylan in particular with an intensity that we've never experienced before. We had deep theological discussion on the way home from church. They each memorized the Romans Road during our sabbatical which was fun and amazing. And last but not least, their school in Takoma Park had a "go to work with your parent" day so I used that time to teach them how to write a sermon. They both picked a passage of Scripture, read it, pulled out the meaning, came up with application and preached it to the rest of the family!!!  No joke, it was incredible!

I'll shut up now. I just have to say we're still processing all that God did in us. We're amazed by his grace... on the cross and in our daily lives. We're amazed by the generosity of others: Our church sending us away... paid... just to rest. A sweet woman named Merita, who is now a dear friend, was willing to open up her cottage... and her home... to a random family who knows her brother-- for FREE! A church family in Maryland that was willing to allow us to step into the life of their church for 3 months without expecting anything in return. They just allowed us to sit and be for a while... letting worship and the Word wash over us week in and week out.

A question I've been asked several times since I've been back, in light of the fact that The Pathway not only did not die without the Higginbotham's, but actually thrived is this: "Is it hard to know that the church did so well without you guys?" And to this I can honestly say No, it's not hard at all. In fact, just the opposite. The first lesson God taught us when we came to Tacoma was that he didn't need us. We were new to Tacoma and had just started a Bible study when our twins were born 9 weeks early and landed in the hospital for 6 weeks.  Our focus shifted from church planting to caring for our fragile, precious, newborns. But God didn't need us. He just graciously allows us to be a part of what he's doing. A church was still started out of those crazy times when we were completely focused on our kids.

The same was true for this sabbatical. I can honestly say that Kelli and I knew The Pathway didn't need us, but we weren't sure The Pathway knew that. I'm thankful, overjoyed, and even proud to say The Pathway now knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they don't need us!  But hear this... the most encourage thing has been how much The Pathway has made it clear that they want us.  We have felt so loved, so missed, and so desired by our church upon our return home.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I have no idea what The Pathway will look like a year from now, but I'm so thankful that God has called me to be a part of it.

And I'm sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace...     The Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi (Phil. 1:6-7)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Saying good-bye... for 3 months

In less than 48 hours my family will be embarking on an unexpected, scary, and exciting adventure known as a sabbatical!

If you're reading this blog, you know that the last 2 years have been anything but easy for The Pathway and our family. We're in our 8th year in Tacoma... 10th in Washington... and we are, in a word, tired. I almost said exhausted, but I actually feel like tired is more appropriate. Exhausted is the way I feel after an intense run or a vigorous game of basketball. Tired is a feeling that creeps up on a person after an extended time of physical, emotional, and spiritual exertion. Sometimes you don't even see it coming or realize it has arrived. That's where Kelli and I have found ourselves. Tired.

In April 2015 we were having a blast! We finally felt like the Holy Spirit was busting through some significant growth barriers. We were seeing people come to faith in Christ, we were on our way to 7 Intentional Communities and for the first time ever we averaged over 100 people at our Sunday gathering for the month. That summer we hosted 8 mission teams and saw God do incredible things in and through our 6 summer interns. Everything was clicking.  Until it wasn't.

I can look back and identify the warning signs. I can point to dozens and dozens of mistakes I made, decisions I would have made differently, conversations I wish I could take back and so on and so forth. I've had to confess and repent of sinful choices I made and wounds I caused.  At the end of the day, I know that Satan wants to stop the good work of God through the local church. He wants to stop it and he'll stop at nothing to distract, disrupt, and destroy what God is doing in and through a local church. And here's the hardest thing for me to acknowledge and accept... Satan won a battle in the life of The Pathway church. He won a battle and he won it on my watch.

But here's another reality. My God has already won the war!  My God is not finished yet and there is no mistake, no decision, no disruption that can thwart the sovereign plan of God being carried out in and through his church. There is nothing Satan can do, no battle he can wage or even win, that will stop every knee from bowing and ever tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Fast forward 2 years... We're 2 days away from April 2017 and as I mentioned, we are more tired than we realized. We are now a church of 3 Intentional Communities and this month we averaged just under 60 people at our Sunday gathering. However, I truly believe God has been refining us. He has been teaching us about worship, love, patience, community, mission, and discipleship. I believe we are a church on the mend. I believe we are a church getting healthier. But I also believe that I am a pastor that needs to rest and heal.

A couple months ago we were in the midst of making some pretty big decisions in regard to our church. I was doing my best to lead us forward, but I was struggling to believe that we could make any real progress. I wasn't seeing clearly. I was tired, irritable, impatient, discouraged. I was exhibiting all the signs of burn-out. I struggled with things I've never struggled with before. I was struggling with vision for the church, confidence as a leader, motivation to accomplish daily tasks, and on and on the list could go. I didn't know what to do.

Thankfully, one of our best friends in the world had been praying for us. Not just praying, asking God seriously for answers. Fasting for our family... for me as a pastor. She approached our Church Council and proposed a 3 month sabbatical for me and my family. They were immediately and completely on board. They approached me and graciously said they wanted to do a better job than ever before at taking care of me and my family. They said they wanted to figure out how to send us on sabbatical, how to make it happen quickly, and how to ensure it would be as beneficial as possible.

My first reaction? Gratitude.
My next reaction? This is impossible.

But it wasn't impossible. So far (and the actual sabbatical hasn't even started yet), it has been amazing. Our Church Council and other leaders have stepped up to fill the roles Kelli and I have been playing. Our entire church has been supportive, encouraging, prayerful, willing to serve, and excited for our family. Everyone has been open and teachable, wanting what's best for God's glory, God's church, and our family. It has been a humbling experience.

Where are we headed? God has provided a place for our family to stay for the majority of April, May, and June in Takoma Park, MD. Jagen and Rylan will be enrolling in school there for the last few months of 1st grade thanks to the incredible support and guidance of their current teacher and principal, both of whom love Jesus! We're excited to step out of Tacoma, step out of our normal routines and step out of ministry leadership... for a season... for the purpose of resting and healing, worshiping and recalibrating.

How can you reach us? For the most part you will not be able to reach us during April, May and June. I will be leaving my cell phone behind and logging completely out of e-mail and all social media. If you have an emergency and need to get a hold of us, our Church Council (contact info at will know how to get a hold of us. Other than that, we will be "going dark," to steal a phrase from my favorite TV character Jack Bauer.

How can you pray for us?
1) Please pray that we will rest with a depth that we’ve never experienced before. Pray that we will rest our hearts, our minds, and our bodies.

2) Pray that we will laugh. I know that sounds funny, but pastoring a church can be a very sobering thing. There are so many joys, but many of those joys come in the midst of pain, challenge, struggle, and heartache. One of our goals is to laugh… a lot. 

3) Pray for Jagen, Rylan, and Hazel. Jagen and Rylan will be leaving their friends for 3 months, enrolling in a new school in Maryland and trying to make new friends. Please pray that they will enjoy this time, learn a lot, grow in their love of Jesus and look back with gratitude rather than bitterness.  Pray for Hazel and all the logistics of traveling and staying in a place that’s not “home” with a 19 month old. Pray that she will sleep well, stay healthy, and continue to grow and learn the way she has been to this point.

Ultimately, we have no idea what to expect and no idea what life will look like when we return to Tacoma in 3 months. What we do know is that God has orchestrated this opportunity and we are going to walk forward in faith! God led us to a passage of Scripture that we've decided to make the theme of our sabbatical and a primary focus for our family the next 3 months. It's significant for many reasons, but one verse in particular God used in my parents life during a difficult season many years ago, and I'm thankful that God brought it back to us during what has been a tough stretch for our family. The chapter our family will be meditating on during our sabbatical is Psalm 118.  I'll leave you with a short excerpt so you can get a glimpse into our hearts through God's Word. Thank you for your prayers and your support these last 8 years and over these next 3 months. 

Psalm 118:13-23

[13] I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
[14] The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
[15] Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
[16] the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
[17] I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
[18] The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
[19] Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
[20] This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
[21] I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
[22] The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
[23] This is the LORD's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes. (ESV)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

the BIG picture

First & foremost I want to say thank you for the overwhelming response to my last post.  The amount of people who read, prayed, and/or reached out to me was more encouraging than words can express. I want to reiterate that although the last year has been the hardest of our ministry, the last 3+ months have been the most exciting (mixed with scary), encouraging, refreshing, and re-energizing that we have ever experienced! That does not mean the last 3 months have been without struggle, but the struggle has produced a strength that is reflecting God's glory in beautiful & powerful ways.

Now, for a look at the BIG picture.  I've blogged about the importance of longevity in ministry before, but I'm being reminded of it again as God is helping me catch glimpses... graceful glimpses... of the BIG picture plans he is working out in and through our church.

Mat & Tig-- On Saturday night Kelli and I were able to sit in our living room with our friends Mat & Antigony as we walked through our third pre-marriage mentorship meeting.  Again, I don't want to paint a false picture.  True pre-marriage mentoring is hard.  It's designed to strengthen the couple and get them talking about difficult issues pre-marriage so they can more effectively navigate and overcome those challenges in marriage.  But after Mat & Tig left our house, I couldn't help but remember some of my first encounters with Mat 5+ years ago.

Mat was a neighbor... he was a friend of friends.  But to be honest, in my small faith, I never imagined that his life would be changed by the gospel.  I never imagined that he and his soon to be wife (who we didn't even know at that point) would be a huge part of The Pathway.  I never imagined that Kelli and I would have the opportunity to teach him about what a godly marriage can be and should be.  I never thought I would be able to truly call him my friend.  But God sees the BIG picture & I stand amazed at what God can do!

Raijoneah-- Many of you know that we held our first monthly worship gathering a couple of weeks ago.  I stood up to preach the Word of God, looked out into the congregation, and there sat Raijoneah.  Why is that significant?  Well, we first met Raijoneah when she was in middle school and our church was still gathering on Friday nights at Tacoma United Methodist Church.  Raijoneah was with our church for a while, but she, like so many, drifted away.  She drifted from community.

Today, that middle schooler is about to graduate college!  On her own initiative she not only sought out our worship gathering, she answered my challenge to every person in the room: "You're next step needs to be Intentional Community!"  Almost 7 years ago we met Raijoneah.  I don't know what God is doing in her heart.  What I do know is she worshiped with us a few weeks ago, she began gathering with an Intentional Community last week, and she reached out for help digging deeper into the Word of God. I don't know what God is doing in Raijoneah's heart. But God sees the BIG picture & I stand amazed at what God can do!

Jerry-- I'm sitting in a coffee shop, as I so often do on Tuesday mornings, getting ready to go pick up Jerry from his final night in a hotel with his 13 month old baby.  I don't remember when I first met Jerry but it was about 5 years ago.  When I met him he was homeless.  He's still homeless.  Let that sink in for a moment....................... When I met Jerry, 5 years ago, he was homeless.  He's still homeless.  Only now, he's homeless with a 13 month old.

Jerry is one of those guys who's story breaks my heart and literally makes me cry out, "God!  What are you doing here?"  He's not just behind the 8 ball, he's off the table and out the door of the pool hall.  He's been homeless since he was a kid, he didn't finish school, he doesn't have a job, a car, and he has a criminal record that makes it difficult to overcome anything.  I hadn't seen Jerry in what I think has added up to a couple of years and then I ran into him "randomly" at a restaurant about 6 months ago.  Sunday he called me.  He said he didn't know what else to do.  He's trying to take care of himself and his baby, but he's just not sure what to do.  He said The Pathway has always treated him with love and respect, no matter what he looked like or what he did.  So he called me.  I'm going to spend time with Jerry and see how we can walk with him.  I don't know what the future holds for Jerry. But God sees the BIG picture & I stand amazed at what God can do!

Please keep praying for The Pathway. We have lots of exciting things happening, many opportunities on the horizon, lots of decisions to make, and many roles to fill.  I'm not sure what the future holds for The Pathway.  I don't know what things will look like a year from now. But God sees the BIG picture & I stand amazed at what God can do!

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! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Thanks for the hug Jesus

We've been going through a pretty challenging time here in Tacoma.  We were sad to say good-bye to Adam & Khylee Forgety, our Associate Pastor and his wife, along with their precious son Eli.  They were more than staff members though, they are friends to us and literally a part of our Tacoma family.  Please pray for them as they are in a time of transition right now.  It's exciting but also scary as they step into a new phase of life.  We already miss them a ton.  The Pathway is not the same without them.

We also experienced what felt like a tsunami of difficult situations in the life of our church.  People are people and wherever there are people there are tough situations, emotional pain, relational challenges, new callings, life transitions, and on and on the list could go.  For a couple months I felt like I was spending all my time at coffee or on the phone with people who were sincerely wrestling with God's calling on their lives, tough situations at home, family dynamics, struggles with the church and their role in the body, and overall life challenges.  This is of course normal in life and in church, but it just felt extreme.

Then came last week.  Not to be too cheesy, but sometimes I think God knows his kids just need a hug.  And last week God gave me a really big and extended bear hug.  This is what it looked like...

We have a family in our church that we connected with this past summer through another family in our church.  It's been so fun getting to know them and see God working in their lives through some incredibly challenging situations.  One of the things we've been praying for with them is for a member of their family to come to faith in Christ.  Well, last Sunday he indicated a desire to get baptized!  Of course that begs the question: Do you believe?  One of our Intentional Community Leaders was able to sit down and talk with him about it and pray with him as he professed faith in Jesus!  Thanks for the hug Jesus!

Then on Thursday evening I invited myself to one of our Intentional Community gatherings because they were having a farewell "sending" party for Erin, the first international missionary to be sent out by The Pathway.  It was absolutely incredible to spend time with that Intentional Community.  They of course are not perfect and I'm sure do not always function easily, but it was beautiful to not just attend a Bible study (although I do of course love to study the Bible!), but to get to spend the evening with a group of people that felt more like family than church acquaintances.  I was with a group of people who very obviously sharing life together.  Food was brought and shared, kids were running around like crazy, stories were told and it all culminated in a sweet and powerful time of prayer over Erin.  Thanks for the hug Jesus!

Later that evening I got a text from one of our newest Intentional Community Leaders.  His Intentional Community was launching a new marriage study that evening and of course we were all nervous and hopeful that it would go well.  His text just said, "It went well."  Of course I inquired more and found out that they had a total of 4 couples in attendance... which was huge for them because to that point they had really only had 2 committed couples.  Over the next couple days I had representatives from 2 of the newer families seek me out and tell me how blessed they were by the study and how excited they were to be a part of this new Intentional Community.  Thanks for the hug Jesus!

And then on Saturday we launched our new men's ministry called Together:Men.  We tried to start it once before and although the first gathering went well, we had some changes in the leadership and it kind of flopped after that... a seemingly missed opportunity.  With that in mind, I didn't know exactly what to expect this time.  We planned a work day where we travelled to our sending church in Snoqualmie and helped them work on their new (old) church building.  We ended up with 12 guys in attendance!  Some long-time Pathway men and some brand new!  We crammed into the old church van, made the hour-long trek to Snoqualmie, and had an absolute blast serving side-by-side.  I definitely think it was the start of something significant!  Thanks for the hug Jesus.

And thank you all for praying for us through this time of transition.  As I mentioned above, please continue to pray for the Forgety family.  Please pray for God to provide us with a permanent worship leader.  By God's grace alone we found a humble and passionate man of God, Jordan Brokaw, who is serving us in an interim capacity.  He's been with us for 2 Sundays now and it has been an absolute joy.  Please pray for Jordan as he continues to serve our church and pray for the Spirit to lead us to the man God has in mind to take us into the future!

Monday, January 18, 2016


Everything about life and ministry is hard.  I think about my brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted around the world and I realize how insignificant and petty my "hard" things really are.  At the same time, "hard" is relative, and I think it's ok to admit things feel hard even if they might seem small when comparing them to larger global issues.

Change.  Change is so hard.  When you first plant a church, or at least when we planted The Pathway, change isn't a big deal at all.  There's no history.  There are no committees.  There are no agendas.  There aren't even any "churched" people.  But now that we've been in Tacoma 6 years, we're starting to feel the difficulty of change.  You grow to love so many different things... but you grow to love people in particular.  Whether it's due to a move, a change in life stage, something simpler or something more difficult, change is hard.

Autonomy.  Standing on our own two feet is hard.  In every aspect of the church, we see a biblical model of dependence.  We are to lean on each other, we are to lean on Jesus, we are to lean on the Holy Spirit.  But in church planting, the goal is autonomy and ultimately reproduction... hopefully even multiplication.  But autonomy is hard.  Autonomy is scary.  Autonomy demands faith.

Generosity.  Generosity is really, really hard.  Not at first mind you.  But once you live generously, I mean extremely generously, either individually or corporately, and then you get burned... it's really hard to keep being generous.  But Jesus was generous.  We are called to be generous.  We can't stop no matter how hard it is.

Leadership.  Leadership is hard.  There are more days than I care to admit when I would like to throw all my responsibility out the window.  Leadership means pain.  When others struggle, you struggle.  When others hurt, you hurt.  It also means joy.  But somehow the pain seems to come in larger doses than the joy... at times.  Leadership is also hard in the realm of raising up and empowering biblical leaders.  Specifically elders.  We have desired to be an elder-led church since our inception, but I believe with all my heart you don't just pick elders.  I believe elders are called by God and it's simply (or not so simply) our job to identify them.  They have to want it.  They have to be called.  They have to be qualified.  And they don't grow on trees.  Leadership is hard.

Reproduction.  Reproduction is our vision.  We want to be a reproducing church.  But it's so stinking' hard.  Every time you feel like you've got something good going... BAM!... brick wall.  And you don't want to reproduce the wrong things.  That would be like passing around a disease.  You can infect so many different people and negatively impact the Kingdom of God by reproducing the wrong things.  Reproduction is hard.

All these things are hard, but they are absolutely no match for the power of God's Word!  We've been studying Genesis as a church and it's rocking my world!  God is so big and he cares so much.  He cares about the big things, but he also cares about the little things.  I have hope because of his bigness.  I have hope because of his personal nature.  I have hope because of his omnipotence.  I have hope because of his love and grace through Jesus.  I have hope even in the midst of the hard.

I'll close with words from the Apostle Paul that have brought me great hope in the midst of recent hard.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Keep praying!  God is working in the midst of the "hard" and I'm excited to see all that he has in store for The Pathway and for the city of Tacoma in 2016 and beyond!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Discouragement & Purpose

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

     Psalm 51:10-13

This Psalm has meant so much to me in so many different ways, at so many different seasons of life, for so many years.  I was in high school back in the late 90's when my youth pastor, Garfield Green, challenged our youth group to memorize part of this Psalm (thanks Gar!).  It always struck me that David asked God to restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation.  It's such a sweet and necessary reminder that there is a Savior and I'm not him!  In the good times and the hard I so often think about me, pray about me, and focus on me.  In reality, all hope, joy, life and peace is not, thankfully, found in me.  Such a humbling and powerful truth.

This week I'm leaning into this passage for 2 specific reasons: discouragement & purpose.

Discouragement:  Those of you who know me best know that it has been a hard 6 months... spiritually & emotionally.  Just hard.  While some of the hard has been a result of frustrating and messy situations, circumstances, and relationships, some of it has just been the result of that scary, intimidating, 4-letter word... life.  In the last 6 months (and I'm estimating here), we've seen more people leave our church due to sin, relational issues, and other disagreements, than ever before. I know this is a part of life and ministry, but I refuse to accept it.  God has hard wired me to care about people and to want for them what they often don't even want for themselves.  Reconciliation, spiritual growth, humility, repentance, and more... much more.

My heart aches for those who were unable to find those things as a part of The Pathway church.  I trust Jesus with each and everyone of these situations, but I'd be lying if I said they didn't affect me personally.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a strong sense of personal responsibility and pastoral failure every time someone walks away from our church.  This along with many changes in my world... going from a 4 person staff to a 2 person staff, having a brand new baby enter our world, seeing many of our long-term partnerships begin (necessarily so) to come to an end, and on and on the list could go... I've just been experiencing some significant discouragement.  Thankfully not depression... but discouragement none-the-less.

But there's hope!  I'm so thankful for the hope of the gospel.  That's where David's Psalm comes into play.  David had screwed up royally (the whole Bathsheba incident) and had every reason to be discouraged.  But his prayer was this ...renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation...  Those are the words, that is the prayer, I'm leaning into during this hopefully short-time of discouragement. Why?  Because God was faithful to David and because God has always been faithful to me.  When I am weak, he makes me strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)!  Truer words have never been written!

Purpose.  This passage of Scripture has also been helping me remember my purpose and the process that often precedes the accomplishment of the purpose.  My entire existence is wrapped up in my relationship with Christ.  I exist by him, through him, and for him.  I believe that with everything I am and I am incredibly thankful for that reality.

Our church's mission statement reflects my own... We exist to reflect God's glory by reproducing disciples.  That's what I want to do more than anything else in the world.  I want to reflect the glory of my creator and reproduce followers of Jesus.  That's it.  Everything in my life is wrapped up in those 2 purposes.  Our family is on mission for the glory of God.  Kelli and I are discipling our kids for the glory of God.  We spend time in christian community and in our local community for the glory of God and the purpose of making disciples.  So when that doesn't happen, it's incredibly difficult.

This year The Pathway has baptized 6 people and you better believe I praise God for each and everyone of the six.  But 6 is not enough.  If my purpose as a disciple is to make more disciples.  If our purpose as a church is to make more disciples.  If I really believe making more disciples is what reflects God's glory in the greatest possible way, then 6 isn't enough!  We can't be satisfied with six.  We just can't.  I just can't.

And that's when I have to preach to myself the truth of Psalm 51.  After David cries out to the Lord to restore to me the joy of your salvation...  he then proclaims the inevitable result of that restoration of joy.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you.

God doesn't operate off of a formula.  It's not as simple as a+b=c.  If it was, I'd have it mastered.  But David was a man after God's heart according to the Scriptures and David's prayer indicates that a restoration of joy from God's salvation can lead to effective disciple-making.  When joy is restored, sinner's are converted.

That's my prayer this week.  Lord Jesus, restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation... Then I will teach transgressors YOUR ways, and sinners will be converted to YOU.