Questions About Change

November 15, 2013

OK- my plans to pick up writing here again have not materialized as quickly as I planned. Life gets so busy sometimes. But I do have plans to remedy this situation and actually have a pretty good strategy to start writing again. Thanks for the patience and those of you who connected with me to let me know you had missed me. It means a lot to hear that and makes me want to write another post!

 

I got to connect with a dear friend this morning. This is a friend I have known now for years. We met in our summer intensive Greek class with the world’s worst Greek teacher and suffered through the hours upon hours of eating, drinking, and dreaming in Greek. I’m pretty sure that kind of suffering induces a bond that few others would understand. Adam and I have remained friends through the years of seminary and beyond, through ministries and ministry changes, through challenges and triumphs, through long distances and long silences. He’s the type of person where we can pick where we left off. And I still smile at the memory of him walking into the lounge at the seminary after class, and flipping over chairs re-enacting Jesus in the temple flipping tables, as Adam protested the current state of the Church and it’s disregard for the passions of God. Adam then sat in the middle of the room hunched over and mad until our other friend, Paul, and I coaxed him to join us. It’s been tremendous to watch God take Adam’s passion for the poor and hungry and turn it into a breathtaking vocation that has traveled the world and interacted with many cultures and people. In some ways, I’m pretty sure Adam has had a pretty rockstar vocation- only not in the way so many Christians view “rockstar pastors.” Adam’s work has had a depth of meaning that I confess I am sometimes jealous of.

And now Adam is planting a church. And I couldn’t be more excited for him. And more scared. 

Adam is trying to do something that bucks the conventional. I realize that just about every church planter says that they are “bucking the conventional” only to discover they have simply created the same thing that every other church planter has. But Adam is trying to do something different, something that speaks to the goodness of what the Church is called to be and do. And I know, as does he, that the road is tough for him. It’s tough in a culture that requires churches to work harder at understanding it and it’s tough in a church culture that is hostile to what innovated planters are doing. Adam is not a typical stereotype of a church planter- and that makes me excited because I think it’s the non-typical church planters that actually find a sustainable church that speaks to the heart of what is happening today and in the future. But I know how hard ministry is… and while I’ve never planted a church, I know how hard that is too.

As we reconnected today, I thought about all this and more. As someone whose current ministry is trying to help pastors navigate through both the very real everyday problems of leadership AND the forecast of the future and what it means for their ministries, these issues loomed large in my head as I listened to Adam. We both speak out of a deep love for Jesus and for the Church and even for our own tradition, though time and experiences has removed our rose colored glasses we used to wear about our tradition. And we realize that this problem is not just a Covenant one- it’s all over, many traditions, many denominations, many churches… and not just in the West. I recently sat at a meeting of various pastors and as I listened to them, I wondered how often we Christians are asking all the wrong questions. No wonder we struggle to find answers.

As I drove to Denver after hanging up with Adam, I thought about these heavy matters. And I wondered: what if the start of something new for Christians is to learn genuine connection to others? I am of course assuming that those people would already have genuine connection to Jesus, but if that is too overreaching, maybe we should start there. What does it mean to have the ability and commitment and willingness to genuinely connect with others? To create in that willingness the space for relationship, for understanding, for listening, for grace. And I’m not just talking about people like Adam and me, who are both pastors, of the same era, of the same faith, of the same denomination, though some of us might do well to start with our own since we may be lacking in that area. I’m wondering what it looks like to truly connect with and listen to those who are so radically different from us. Who don’t have the same “worldview” (to throw out an overused term from my childhood). Who don’t see thing the way “I” do. And to stop pretending that Christians have superiority in the culture anymore. Dr. Miroslav Volf (Yale Divinity School) would argue that we must begin to see ourselves as one of many and begin our approach from there. He would say that to come from place of superiority- either real or imagined- is to abuse the relationship and create a violent structure where true grace and faith from Jesus is obstructed. And I think he may be right.

Could it be that Jesus was right? That Christians are yeast- one of many ingredients in the bread illustration he was using. But when we start realizing we are that, could it be that our power comes from the gentle permeation that comes only with the authenticity of being in relationship with each other and the others around us? Unfortunately, so much of what we say is “doing life together” really isn’t. Perhaps that’s the first place we ought to look.

I don’t know what God will do with Adam’s new church plant. I also don’t know what God will do with my call and ministry and gifts. I don’t know what God will do with this Reformation we are living through and what the Church will be on the other end of it. But I do know that these seasons of wrestling in this larger Reformation we are experiencing in the Church are important… perhaps even as important as connecting with a dear friend, who still remains a piece of what community and ministry means to me.

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