Monday, October 12, 2015

Stepping Into Vision, Part 2: The Job Description

Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
(For Introduction and context please See Stepping Into Vision, Part 1)

*Caveat: this is a general description and would necessarily take on more specific, concrete forms in the context of a particular people, place and time. It is also an idealized vision and will be lived into wherever there is opportunity.

CONTEXT FOR POSITION: The Current State of the Church

This leadership position exists to plug holes in an increasingly fragmented and weary Christian existence for individuals and groups, a fragmentation that has arisen in our day as a result of the loss of teaching on the Kingdom of God and discipleship to Jesus as the heart of the Christian life. The “Christian life” is simply living the inviting life of one of Jesus’ disciples in our day to day world. The goal of the pastor is to work alongside Jesus as he restores his church to strength and vitality as a thriving community of disciples dwelling in Trinitarian circles of sufficiency, nurturing, teaching and manifesting ever greater experiences of Kingdom participation in the midst of everyday life. As Todd Hunter has put it, the Church is made up of “Cooperative friends of Jesus living lives of creative goodness in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

General Description
To help people follow Jesus by living the restful and inviting life of a disciple together with them in the midst of their actual lives. Following the way Jesus did it, the Spiritual Formation pastor will proclaim the availability of the Kingdom of God, teach about what life in the Kingdom is like, and manifest the reality of the Kingdom in a variety of relational contexts in the form of loving service.

Works with a team of pastors/elders to help inject congregational DNA with Trinitarian awareness and participation, evidenced through regular, easy obedience in everything Jesus commanded and restful, joyful living even in the midst of sorrow and pain.

*My identity as a disciple of Jesus is always more primary than any role I might perform, including that of Pastor. The chief thing I bring to those around me is the person I become.

Specific Tasks
(based on three things that Jesus did: proclaiming, manifesting, teaching the Kingdom of God)

  • To demonstrate the availability of the Kingdom by being available. Create space for people to walk with you.
  • Provide opportunities for every person to engage with God where they are, at this present time, apart from any notion of earning anything or proving themselves.
  • Proclaim fervently and frequently the grace of God, that is, God working in our lives to accomplish what we could not accomplish on our own. Related, the principle of indirection invites us to do what we can to present ourselves before God in whatever ways we are able, trusting Him to do what we cannot.
  • to help relocate the life of faith in the life of God’s STORY; to help create a storied culture of disciples where people are able to step into God’s story as full characters, beloved, from right where they are. Cultivation of a safe and sacred container for the work of God in our midst is the aim.
  • to contribute to a storied atmosphere of transparent humility and brokenness as the normal Christian life, especially for leaders.
  • to help oversee the spiritual health of the leadership and congregation, developing means of measuring progress that are Kingdom-based (fruit coming from abiding in the vine).

  • My primary ministry is in who I am and who I’m becoming in the Kingdom of God. As I make myself available to others in a variety of circumstances, ways and means, others are invited into the process as well.
  • to initiate, develop and facilitate “discipleship labs” where disciples can come together (preferably in small groups) to discuss issues coming up in their training (problems, failures, questions, etc.) These would be deeply practical and experimental meetings with a minimal amount of teaching but mostly open dialogue about what disciples are experiencing as we seek to follow Jesus together. Obviously a groundwork would have to be laid first in basic teaching and experience.
  • to facilitate guided group and individual experiences of both the presence and the absence of God; to train disciples in practicing the presence of God as underlying foundation to everything else.
  • Spiritual Direction/Coaching: to counsel individuals and groups, to offer interpretive possibilities, to listen and walk with others through life. The Pastor needs to be accessible to those in need.
  • to meet with individuals one on one to help facilitate receptivity and understanding of the work of Jesus already going on.
  • to organize and facilitate regular retreat opportunities for leaders and laypersons as testing/resting ground.
  • to provide opportunities for people to experiment and test their engagement with disciplines
  • In order for leaders to survive the authority they have been given they must intentionally create space for obscurity, silence and hiddenness. Otherwise, their fame will eat them alive. Therefore, I will seek to engage in “Service Sabbaths” on a regular cycle, agreed upon by the elder team, of 1-3 months in length every 1-2 years (for example). During this time, leaders have no other duties other than simple obscure service (e.g., janitorial work, clerical work, etc.) without pay being interrupted. Teach how this would cure many ego problems. This is Philippians 2 in action (e.g., Henri Nouwen leaving the University life to enter into the obscurity of L’arche); cf. Matt. 20:25-28)
  • to live out and help implement systems and rhythms that enable people to regularly let go of outcomes and rely on the Trinitarian action in and among them. E.g., letting ministries die, service sabbaths, etc.
  • to cultivate a raw, authentic hunger for God in worship, prayer and community; to help create a pervasive atmosphere of worship: attending to God, responding to God, participating with God.
  • to provide regular opportunities for disciples to test the Lord’s words in Kingdom living; to help create safety & margin for failure. To provide instruction and encouragement to put Jesus’ words into practice where we live.

  • to provide Kingdom context for all of human life; to teach about the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men and the ways they intersect
  • to demonstrate and teach the Trinitarian sufficiency as the context for all living, our new family of origin. (develop: The Trinitarian Field of Loving Action)
  • to teach and preach regularly, in a variety of settings, the Kingdom of God and it’s progressive fullness through the Scriptures culminating in Jesus Christ.
  • Reclaim terms and their surrounding thoughts/feelings/practices that have been lost or corrupted through religious activity: disciple, grace, Kingdom, Gospel, Bible reading, spiritual disciplines, etc.
  • to reclaim the area of lament for the church, providing teaching and experiential opportunities for God’s people to give voice to their pain in the context of safe community.
  • to design, implement and monitor a Kingdom process for developing leaders who are disciples
  • to equip the church to be the church, guided by the Great Commission (Matt 28:28-30): resting in the authority of Jesus, being and making disciples, living lives immersed in Trinitarian fullness, and learning to do everything Jesus said; all within the practice of Jesus’ authority and continual presence.
  • to seek ongoing training by attending special events/conferences (Crosspoint Ministries with Plass/Cofield, Potter’s Inn, EHS/Scazzero, Renovare, Dallas Willard Center, etc.).
  • to pursue Enneagram Certification and grow in using it as a discipleship tool

  • Though there are no formulas or “guarantees” to the spiritual life there are reliable outcomes, just as children reliably grow into adults when provided the necessary conditions for growth. The results we are getting are a natural result of the system we are in. To experience different results we must experience a different system.
  • Restful, easy lifestyles as we learn to partner with Jesus and participate in Trinitarian work.
  • Decrease in external pressure put on God’s people in order to get them to do things.
  • Congregational capacity to hold others’ stories without the compulsion to fix or judge
  • Rich and fervent worship times together
  • Fractured relationships healed and addictions (in their various forms) let go of.
  • Growing hope for our individual and corporate future in God (Rev 22:5)
  • People who pursue ministry guided and equipped by leadership but not controlled.
  • Solid people who are ready and able to simply do what Jesus did and say what Jesus said, in his confident peaceful manner.
  • People who are learning to be sweet and peaceful when they don’t get what they want.

What the Pastor brings to the church is who he is becoming, his transformed and transforming presence. Therefore, it is expected that care be taken regarded hours worked so that restful rhythms of soul care are maintained individually and in relationships. Boundaries between “work” and “home” are sometimes difficult to maintain but must be, for the sake of both. That said, no more than 40-50 hours will be worked each week, with at least one day of rest where there is no “church” activity. Monthly and Quarterly evaluations will keep tabs on this.

Prayer commitment:
As a vital part of this process, the Lord has called me to regular prayer along these lines:

Lord, the church needs shepherds who are, first and foremost, disciples of Jesus learning from him how to live eternally-now.
Make me into a shepherd after your own heart (form me)
Create a place for me to shepherd and care for others in the ways that are congruous and fitting to this Way of life. (form your people)
Have compassion on your people, Lord; we stand in desperate need of your Trinitarian sufficiency

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Stepping Into Vision, Part 1

In the early months of 2014, I felt prompted by the Lord to begin writing down a vision of what I would like to do with my life. This prompting came near the tail end of a long Dark Night of the soul which began in 2001-2002. A large part of this Dark Night involved acknowledging and mourning the death of my most significant vocational dreams (vocation = calling, life’s work). In fact, I was committed for a long time to never dreaming again because it just caused too much emotional pain. I believed (wrongly) that I was “shelved,” set aside as useless after having had my chance at following God into a full time vocation but somehow blowing it. I lost my chance, and with it, in a very real sense, my heart. Unknown to me, however, God had a recovery plan in place.

God, in his goodness, took me on a very different kind of journey than I had anticipated or wanted. It has been fraught with messiness and pain and slowly inbreaking light. Over time, healing began to slowly outweigh sorrow, and as it did I felt courage to pick up certain questions again - Why did God make me? Why am I here? What am I good at? What do I love to do? What do I enjoy? What gives me life? Does my life matter?

When I began writing I thought this would be mainly just a personal discipline, to help me work through thoughts and desires in a deeper way. I didn’t think anyone else would see it, so I felt no pressure to make it conform to what I thought others might want, need or like. The only stipulation from the Lord was that I would not limit desire, that I would allow myself to dream again.

As I chipped away at it for months, words slowly came together weaving a vision for what I would like to do. At first it was just simply titled, “Job Description.” Over several months it began to be obvious that it was a description of a specific Pastoral Vocation. Simply put, it is an articulation of the pastoral way I find myself already walking with my friends and family; it is the natural and easy way I show up in my most intimate relationships.

As I wrote, I became aware of several profound ideas. First, it was obvious to me that the vision was a “pastoral way” I’ve never seen lived out in the Church, even though I’ve seen it somewhat described and modeled through distant mentors and writers (Eugene Peterson & Dallas Willard being by far the most prominent). I have seen faint whispers and glimpses of it, but never to this extent, never this explicit. I knew that if this pastoral way were to find a home with a group of dear Christian believers, it would involve a profound re-envisioning of doing and being the Church. Obviously, I have had to come to terms with the fact that my desires and dreams are tied up inextricably with the life and practices of the Church.

I have come to understand that the message that is being preached in any given local Church will determine the range of ideas and practices within that Church. The "good news" that is proclaimed and/or assumed (these are often contradictory) will determine expectations on leaders and followers alike. What is “success”? What constitutes “failure”? How is Christian maturity gauged? The system we have in place will determine the results we have. If leaders are being burned out and torn up, then it is likely that pressure is on them to get people to do things, to make things happen, to “build God’s Church.” If however, these things are not their responsibility, then we should expect Church to go very differently. What would a Church look like if it were a community of disciples learning together directly from Jesus how to live in the Kingdom of God in the context of their everyday lives? What if we were free from outcomes? What if we didn’t have to get things done or make people do things?

Second, the vision flows from a set of core ideas having to do with discipleship to Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Even though I had been a Christian for over 20 years, I had never seen or understood the primary message that Jesus brought - that the Kingdom of God was now available to everyone who trusts in Him with their lives (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:1ff). My encounter with the Kingdom of God came primarily through an experience over many months of a sense of cooperation with God in “one more attempt” to lose weight. I have been heavy almost my entire life, but to my surprise, in late 2012 as I stepped into basic regimens of dieting, food tracking and exercise, I experienced a participation with God in letting go of deeply ingrained habits of turning to food for comfort, especially sweets.

As I rethought key theological terms like kingdom, grace, gospel and discipleship, the pastoral role and the kind of church that would be required for that role to be life-giving, was radically redefined. For example, one of the first things that a disciple learns from Jesus is how to let go of outcomes. What would a pastorate and church look like where this was commonly understood and practiced? The following blogs are my attempt to answer this and other similar questions.

In the blogs that follow I will spell out this vision in more detail. I have also adapted the vision to a resume format, and have been actively seeking to apply to any pastoral positions I can find that would allow room for development of this vision with an actual group of people.

See Part 2: The Job Description

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Autumn Teaches Us (by Parker J. Palmer)

(from one of my favorite books: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, 98-100).

Autumn is a season of great beauty, but is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death. Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring--and she scatters them with amazing abandon.

In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface experiences--on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a vocation.  And yet, if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come.

In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time--how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the 'road closed' sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sewn.

Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to “make” a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What Would It Take?

Sometimes the Lord asks me questions that sit on the back burner of my mind and act as a corrosive to work away on my defenses. Earlier this morning I was thinking about what a rough week off I’ve had, and how restlessness and frustration has culminated in constant back pain that is easily aggravated by additional stress.

As I thought about frustrations that I experienced yesterday in particular, and thought about frustration in general (what it is) I realized that the reason I get so frustrated at times is that I’ve got an outcome in mind that I need to see happen in order to feel safe and secure. In any activity I engage in, I have an outcome in mind, some end result I’m seeking.  Though there is nothing wrong with this, it becomes a problem when my will gets wrapped around that outcome as necessary to my well-being. I have to come to grips with the fact that due to traumas suffered in my past and my own sinful habits, I am often unable to differentiate outcomes from my well-being. In order for me to feel safe I must exert a sense of control upon whatever chaos I’m experiencing. A normal defense mechanism to survive a temporary crisis has become a hardened posture enthroning self-will as my only way to restore peace. It never works! The end result is the poison of self-will, leaving soul wreckage in its wake.

Into this thought process Jesus speaks:

“Beloved, what would it take for you to feel safe?”

Jesus’ question surprises me and seems to hit something I don’t have very well guarded. The question is not spoken in a harsh tone like, “don’t you know how much I’ve done for you?!?” It is more like a gentle invitation to re-consider the greatness of his goodness and the goodness of his greatness.

As I turn over the question in my mind, tears began to form as I realize that this – safety – is what I’ve really been searching for, what I’ve been fighting for and grasping for. It’s why I’ve been so frustrated and tense lately. I can now admit that I feel terrified inside and profoundly unsafe. I weep as I tell Jesus my sorrows and sins and receive his presence into my tears redeeming it all.

My commitment to self-protection and survival erodes into a broken dependence of needy tears. I rest, held together by arms better and stronger than mine. I trust that Jesus is my only safe place – my “refuge” as the Psalmists called it (Ps 18:1-2; 46:1).

I am reminded of Love poured out on the cross and Love risen. I remember the oh-so-good news of the Kingdom of God that Trinitarian Love is my habitation now that I’m “in Christ.” Gushing fountains of endless life are always within my reach; infinite love and all the safety that it affords is all around me, permeating my world, bathing my circumstances and experiences, filling my lungs. Jesus, have mercy, help me be open! Help me receive!

As I trust in Jesus I am growing in my ability to see the world (and my life) through his eyes, and coming to believe deep down that this world is a perfectly safe place for me to be, and for me to be me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Coming to Grips With an Insignificant Life

First, some confessions need to be made:

  • I feel insignificant and meaningless most of the time (for those in the know, that’s a “type 4” on the Enneagram).
  • My feelings of restlessness often overwhelm me, causing me to do anything to distract or numb myself.
  • Sometimes I am triggered by what I perceive to be rejection and betrayal from others, and these triggers easily overwhelm me, causing me to spiral in despair.
  • I often assume, without even thinking about it, that I am a unique failure - that my life is the “exception that proves the rule” of God’s providence, the one life he couldn’t do anything meaningful or beautiful with.
  • If I allow it, feelings and interpretations of meaninglessness can pervade every experience, conversation, activity, thoughts for the future, remembrance of the past and experience of the present. Even the most powerful and meaningful experience can be re-interpreted to fit this lens, this system of assumptions and beliefs. I rarely enjoy holidays, celebrations, vacations or birthdays for this reason.
  • Even in the writing of this blog, I hope that someone might notice and affirm me, all the while knowing that any affirmation I receive won’t even make a dent in the restlessness. This brings sadness.

If you’re still reading to this point, congratulations! You get to hear about my hope.

In the face of this “dark tide,” Jesus is teaching me something that helps, something that turns the tide - something powerful enough to even reverse the flow of the tide.

What I have found, over many years, is that pouring out my insignificance before God - a form of violent, thrashing surrender – is the only thing that leads me into a significant life, a meaningful life with God and with others. The one place I find meaning and purpose is with him, in the midst of my meaninglessness. Using every tool I can get my hands on and my mind around, I pour out the toxic brew of my pain, anger and frustration and more often than not find myself surprised that there is something even deeper, even more fundamental to “me.”

Emptied out and broken, I encounter the good and holy desires underneath it all:

I want to be known and loved for who I am
I want to be noticed, celebrated as unique, special and worthy
I want to love and bless that which is unique in me and in others
I want to feel safe

The experience of “emptying out” and being broken is necessary for me to be able to touch these desires free of the burden of making them happen. I can then leisurely sit with them in the presence of Jesus, open to what he would like to do.

Through this process, amidst the barren, lifeless abyss of meaningless restlessness, the presence of God-with-me births a restful, peaceful hope:

My significance is only found in Him, the insignificant God of the Cross.

Sure I knew that, but it took dozens of years of obscurity, hiddenness and suffering to enter into it, to really experience it and begin to make it my home. I had to taste a thousand dusty sandwiches before I could develop a taste for food and water not of my making. I had to test God’s promises a million times in dark places where dragons roam, before I could imagine myself cared for and loved enough to walk into another land – one where the dragons are transformed into birds, flowers, big skies and mighty rivers and mountains of soul rest and firstborn joy. I had to hear and receive the gentle words of Jesus in a thousand furious emotional hurricanes of rejection, self-hatred and despair before I could realize that His words are far more powerful than any darkness. I had to be held by God through a million free-falls. I had to practice the presence of God through many flights into sin as I tried to silence the pain.

Jesus has never left my side.

For this reason, I enter into every day determined to cling to Him as He clings to me, no matter the cost. Sometimes I have no idea if I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed altogether. He holds me still. His tenacious hold on me doesn’t ebb or flow with my commitment or my success or failure; it’s fueled by a far better source – the furious love of God, the radical and offensive commitment of a prodigal God to love and make whole the most unholy and broken people he can find.

The past few years have seen some dramatic shifts in my soul, ones that have yielded new dreams sprouting forth out of the rubble of shattered dreams. I am learning to live a way of life with Jesus that has brought much life to my heart and the hearts of those around me. This way of life could, Lord willing, evolve into a pastoral vocation if the people involved were desperate enough. There are so many hurting people (like me) out there, so many sheep in the church without shepherds, I long to help where I can. We’ll see what God does with this insignificant life. He’s won my heart; I’m not going anywhere.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8 NIV)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Gethsemani Journal–August 1, 2015

I recently spent a weekend at the Abbey of Gethsemani for a silence and solitude retreat. The Lord spoke in many beautiful and gentle ways, often through sunrise and sunset. The beauty of God seemed so all-pervasive and constant! I was reminded that all my journeys take place under the rule of this kind and powerful Father.

I wrote the following short reflection after being blessed by a magnificent sunset the night before.

Gethsemani Aug 2015

The Love of God and Joy of God floods the created universe, each moment a pulsating firestorm of goodness.

It permeates everything, crashing gently into this moment.

It surrounds and floods my family tree whispering:

“Courage, dear heart;

everything can be redeemed.

Everything sad is coming untrue.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Making Peace With Humidity

Lord, one of the things I’ve always hated about living in Louisville is the humidity during the summers. We sometimes call it “soup” to swim through, a trial to endure as it sucks the strength from our bodies and souls. I swear it’s like an atmospheric vampire, sucking the life force from me as I walk to my car! It hits me like a brick wall sometimes as I step out the door.

When the humidity descends, the A/C goes on everywhere and longing for my home state of Oregon increases exponentially. I long to be back “home,” where the only A/C we usually needed was found by opening windows. For most of us in Louisville, our windows shut sometime in May and usually don’t open again until September or October. Some people never open their windows, and that seems profoundly sad to me.

Jesus, my Master, you’ve been teaching this disciple the value and profound importance of embracing my life - all the messy mundane details of it - as a gift from you. You’re teaching me, Lord, slowly (so slowly!) that in order for me to see and interpret my life as you do I must learn to see and receive it in the context of Your heart-wrenching goodness.

Lord, as I walked with You one humid morning recently, my clothes getting drenched, I realized that humidity itself is a gift - one of the ways You tenderly care for this climate. I was gently rebuked as my clothes were getting soaked in sweat, that I had despised for so long this particular work of God that was now covering me with sweaty symbolism.

I still struggle making “peace” with it, but I realize it’s part of making peace with Jesus as He rules the world around me. I may have to limit my exposure due to my weakness, but I give thanks for humidity as one more expression of Your care for me, my family and this part of Your world. What would Kentucky be without summer humidity? Not God’s Kentucky, to be sure.

Also, Lord, this sets my imagination on fire - How could I miss for so long, your relational provision of a heavily weighted atmosphere? What a beautiful image - God fills the atmosphere around my body and my lungs; the air is freighted with water ready to drench the earth in “Yahweh’s affectionate satisfaction.”

Forgive me, Lord. 
Help me to see clearly and give thanks for my life.

For God’s Word is solid to the core;
   everything he makes is sound inside and out.
He loves it when everything fits,
   when his world is in plumb-line true.
Earth is drenched
   in God’s affectionate satisfaction. 
(Ps 33:4-5 MSG)