Pastoring is a gift, not a job

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“He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13 (The Message)

This is a topic I know a little bit about.  I have 3 professional pastoral degrees . . . 3.  Undergrad in Student Ministry, Masters of Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry; all from accredited Universities and Seminaries.  However, about 16-17 years ago, I fired myself from pastoring being my ‘paid’ vocation and I became bi-vocational.  I really dislike the term ‘bi-vocational’, it supposes some nice and clean sectioned identities where your pastoral open sign is on or off.  The apostle Paul talked about a trade he had in tent-making to support himself financially so that he would not be a burden to the people he was called to serve with his pastoral gifts.  Over the past 16-17 years, I have been a: manager, educator,  administrator, advisor, consultant, estimator, writer, speaker, coach and customer service rep.  All of those things have paid me $ to support my habit of using my gifts to lead, serve and teach the Church.

Why?  For me it has been both strategic and personal.  The majority of the context of people I serve have been hurt by the church, are skeptical of the church, have lost trust in the church or believe the connection of church and money is a conflict of interest.  If I cared about my neighbors, I needed to remove the barrier of $ and my care for them.  I didn’t want my message of care to be tied to anything else other than I genuinely care because the goodness of God flows through me.  No unnecessary barriers, just opportunity and conversation about what is real and true in life, trust could be earned again.  Secondly, I had a dream of doing church without $.  What could it look like to not have any bills or overhead so that 100% of our collected giving could go towards missional needs in the community?  In the 15 years of Ordinary Community Church, even as a small community, we have given away over $100k towards needs because we have no bills.  A church without walls, without borders and without overhead.

This is not the ideal model, it is just one of many forms the church can take in the early 21st century.  Nothing wrong with paid pastors or church overhead, just know that every choice and decision we make around $ makes an immediate statement to our ministry context and cultural identity.  Pastoring has become big business in many ways, particularly in the US.  It is not uncommon for large churches to pay tens of thousands of dollars in search consulting fees to help find the next talent to feed the sheep.  There is a church corporate ladder to climb just like in any other industry and I’m not even judging that, it’s probably a natural flow of the right people getting to the right fits.  I just get really uncomfortable when I hear pastoring being equated with a job.  A pastoral salary is not an entitlement.  Would you do it if you never got paid?

Why be a tent-maker?:

  • Longevity and sustainability, finances of church do not depend on support
  • Leaders invested in tangible community, builds trusts and adds credibility
  • Be missional – ‘Pay the price  to understand a people until they know that you understand them’
  • Pastor not seen as a CEO leader, not a consumer relationship of an exchange of goods and services
  • Eliminates divide between sacred and secular
  • Will Gen X and Millenials financially support large church structures and organizations in the future given their skepticism towards institutions and consumption patterns?  (Will the $ even be there in the future when Baby Boomers and Builders pass on?)

Pastoring is not a job, it’s a gifting to act on everywhere and with everyone.  It’s a life of service to give away, there is not entitlement in it.  Our job is to deny ourselves, serve an unseen God by loving a seen people right in front of us.

Count Leo Tolstoy said it well: “All men are to be loved equally. But since you can not do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into close connection with you.”  You don’t have a job, you have a gift, go use it.

Nothing wrong with a safe life, it’s just Boring

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The Nordic Vikings of old had a term we Anglo-Saxons translate as “Berserk”.  ‘Bersekr’ literally means ‘bear shirt’ or one who would run into battle in a crazed confidence wearing only the animal skin as armor.  Not a safe life, but a confident one.

I’m not advocating a Viking lifestyle, generally we have evolved in our domestic and international diplomatic relations past shield walls and pillaging.  The old world of desperation and scarce resources has been replaced with modern comforts and a surplus of goods.  But I do want to speak against narratives of safety, security, small thinking and small living.  We don’t have to settle for the safe, we can step onto the field with a fierce confidence and stare an enemy in the face. Life doesn’t have to be boring, we can choose to go Bersekr’ .

We can choose the safe life that’s largely all about us and our comforts and security, that’s the mythology of the American Dream. The more as a culture we pursue this dream, the more our use of anti-depressants is rising; correlation?   Is it possible we just have all the wrong dreams?  What we thought would make us happy, content, purposeful, fulfilled are not the things we are pursuing at all?  Something deep inside us wants to armor-up and go ‘Bersekr’ but we are choosing the fool’s gold of the American dream.  There is nothing wrong with a safe life, it’s just boring.  😉

10 years ago this past March, I lost one of my best friends to colon cancer at the age of 32. I visited his grave this week and it got me thinking.  His name was Mark Palmer and he was as much my friend as he was a co-mentor in my life.  We filled that role for one another.  I walked with him as he grieved the loss of his 26 yr. old wife to stomach cancer.  I walked with him as he suffered through his own battle against cancer.  What I observed in my friend was a heart of courage that would never give up on his fierce commitment to hope for himself and the community he loved so much.  He gave up the pursuit of the American Dream of comfort in order to live in solidarity with the poverty and suffering of his neighbors.  He made it his life and calling to mentor young hearts who were filled with angst, passion, talent and pain and dreamed for a better world.   He lived his life on purpose.  He got 32 years to ‘Bersekr’ in his own giftedness and then he gracefully passed over the veil to the reality of another Kingdom in fullness.

Friends, we get one life.  ONE!  We will be buried not with any of our creature comforts and not with one of our retirement benefits, not with any piece of security.  All that the American Dream offers us, we get buried with none of it.  It’s a fool’s gold, a chasing after the wrong dreams.  We live in a broken world crying out for hope, leadership, courage, peace, goodness and the identity shaping of fierce community.  You can live a safe life, it’s just boring.  You can choose to go ‘Bersekr’ and make a difference with your one wild and precious life like no one else with your skill-set can.  Oh the stories people will tell at your funeral, it won’t be about your stuff, it will be about your amazing life and battles won for the good of all.  We get one life, choose wisely, all of life depends on it.

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“I guess what I really want to say is this: be hopeful. Don’t stop fighting. On some level this thing is bigger than all of us. It’s not about having a wife die of cancer at 26, and then 2 years later getting the same terminal illness. It’s not about me and how I fight this disease or how our little family walks through it. The bigger picture is the battle against sickness and death that we all face because we live in a broken world. But it’s even more about the Kingdom that has broken in and offers us a chance at relief from that disease. It offers health and victory where before there was none. There is hope in the midst of hopelessness. Death is not where we lose; the onset of hopelessness is the great defeater. So allow hope to rise up within you. And when it seems that hopefulness is the least appropriate response in this situation, let it rise up even more. Whisper your hope when you lie down at night; scream your hope when you wake in the morning. Live your hope as if it is the one and only thing that sustains you in this ravaged world. You will not be disappointed.

-Mark Palmer, last blog post before he passed 3/25/06

“Do not be an accuser of my Provision” -God

accuserrHad a great opportunity last week as a part of a course I’m facilitating for Masters of Ministry students to spend a day outside at a contemplative retreat center.  We had two 3 hour blocks of time for rest, silence and solitude.  Even though I’m an extreme extrovert, I enjoy times to get away and just listen, think and pray.  I found a great spot by myself next to the water in the shade (pictured above) to do some thinking.

It seems that I had quite an agenda, instead of listening, I did a lot of talking.  I was anxious, nervous, unsettled and a bit scared.  Last week was the first week in my 25 years of ministry life and 23 years of marriage that I did not bring home a paycheck.  Severance is done and unemployment has not kicked in yet and so all provision was outside my control.  I’m wired as a leader, doer, starter and ‘make things happen’ kind of guy.  As far I as I knew, nothing was happening in the way I understood it.  So I let God know I was anxious and worried . . .

When you get away and get quiet, sometimes God says things really clearly and this is exactly what I heard:

Do Not Be An Accuser of My Provision!”

God directed to me to my iPhone app. for our coffee store that we just launched that shows our daily, weekly and monthly sales.  (Does God speak through iPhone apps??  That’s another blog idea) He said, ‘count it up’.   So I did . . . the results were that it appeared the total of our ‘random’ coffee sales for the week came to the total of my previous paycheck.  Gross mind you, not even Net, God didn’t take any taxes out.  “Chris, do not be an accuser of my provision!” Translation:  Chris, trust me.

At that point I slowed down my thinking more, started listening more and looked around me.  I started noticing things I hadn’t before:  ants carrying dinner and supplies to their home, turtles sunning on the river rocks, trees waving in the wind protecting me from the sun, a snake skin shed and left near my feet, fish bubbling at the surface of the water and birds flying overhead.  I was sitting in an entire ecosystem of provision and design.  Everyday, day in and day out, for millions of years, the Creation receives it’s provision from it’s Creator.  Who am I to be anxious?

Our culture tells us and shouts to us our entitlements.  Tells us what we deserve, what we have coming to us, what we should demand, what we should control, what we should store up, what we should  hoard so that we won’t be vulnerable.  We get to choose a mentality of abundance or scarcity.  Is the provision of God’s created world for me scarce and I should fight for resources, or is it abundant and I should trust Him at His feasting table?  Do I trust Him and His provision for me and my family?  The issue is of course trust.

You get to choose the voices you listen to and trust.  You get to choose the source of your wisdom.  The culture says the resources of our world are scarce.  The Creator says his Creation is abundant and it can be trusted.  I’m going with the original source.  No longer an accuser, I’m grateful today.  I’m learning to trust.

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.  – Mathew 6:30-34 (The Message)

‘Give Thanks Until you Become Thanks’

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“Give thanks until you become thanks” – Graham Cooke

It seems when we are at our most desperate, when our backs are really against the wall, that we get to make brave decisions about what is true and valuable, and what really isn’t.  My wife and I put our heads on our pillows tonight in the reality that we will wake in the morning for the first time in 23 years of marriage without full-time income.  This wasn’t our plan, but we’ve never put much value in our plans.  When we married, we gave vows to each other and before our God and we said some things we really meant.  That we would serve Him no matter what the circumstances and that it would be the same in our heart whether in sickness or health, in poverty as in wealth.  He’s kept his side of the bargain, and we’re keeping ours.

Our thoughts tonight are not those of despair, anger or loneliness.  No, that’s not how communion with the Creator works.  His world is abundant resources, authentic community, unlimited power, extravagant grace, unmerited mercy and abounding love.   Income or no income, we get a seat at His table and His table is lavish feast.  He’s never let us go, He’s never left us alone, His presence is the air we are to breathe.

I get what Graham is trying to say, ‘give thanks until you become thanks.‘  We get to choose what we attach our attention and allegiance to.  We can make attachments with our problems, our circumstances, our limitations, our short-comings, our trials, our bills etc. and wallow in the pity of what isn’t working out.  OR we can choose to not make our agreements there, and rather ‘set our minds on things above’  where the resources to change our situation are.  We can attach our attention, our attitude, our mind, our heart, our very soul to the feasting table of the Kingdom of God.  While we wait, we have amazing company at that table.  It’s our life, it’s true life.  And . . . it’s enough.

There is an enemy who used to feast on my predisposition to depression, to darkness, to isolation, to destruction . . .  but I don’t feel like making those choices anymore.  I’m giving thanks until I become thanks and I hope that really pisses him off.  He kept me in bondage to spirals of negativity for as long as I can remember and so tonight on behalf of my family and our future, I declare vengeance over the enemy’s plans.  Our focus, attention and allegiance is fixated on the One who made all, governs all and is making all things new.  Thankfulness is an act of war; vengeance is choosing these things.

I don’t know how long our situation will remain the same.  I don’t know if it will be hours, days, weeks, months or years.  I just know that when I give thanks until I become thanks that I experience peace, power, perspective and abundant joy.  Sitting at His table is an awful lot of fun no matter what circumstances I’m in.  In His Kingdom and at His table; I’m filthy rich.  That’s all we need, it’s enough.

“1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” -Colossians 3 (The Message)