All posts by Chris Marshall

Pastoring a Church without walls

Almost 20 years ago now, I made a conscience decision to fire myself vocationally from ministry.  I had an instinct, a calling and a drive to create a response of the church to it’s present and emerging culture. It was clear to me that the word on the street was a growing distrust in the structures known as church.  What could church look like for people who would never step foot in a church?  I had a dream of a ‘missional’ church, a church without walls, where the posture was not asking people to come to church, but the church being ‘sent’ to where people were living/working/playing etc.   Reframing the church from being perceived as a building  or special event once a week to a community on mission doing all of life together.  I believe fundamentally that church is not someplace you go, but a people you belong to.

I’m still a pastor, I just don’t get paid for it.  I am sent into my world to care, love, inspire, teach, educate, inform, protect, marry, bury, baptize, pray for, pray with, pray behind their backs, create, build, enact mercy, stand for justice . . . all the things pastors should do in their culture.  I have no walls to keep me in, in the words of John Wesley, ‘the world is my parish’.  I don’t know about you, but I pastor a REALLY BIG church.   I’m sent to the 7.8 billion people that God has put on earth that I may come into contact with.  I work under the assumption that if we come into contact then the Creator wanted it to be and I’m available for the assignment he has in mind.  Pastoral ministry is not a job, it’s a way of life.  It’s a set of gifts given to you by your Creator and he gets to decide how they are used.  We are characters in a divine story being written one chapter at a time.

I don’t really buy the categories for faith I grew up in.  Churched or unchurched, saved or lost, believer or unbeliever, christian or nonchristian,  religious or secular etc.  I think we are all made up of the same substances of sinners and saints.  To me, church is more like an AA meeting, you participate and belong because you need it.  You start with the fact you have need, not because you’ve arrived at any great end.  I share this need with all my neighbors, all of them.  God isn’t mad, he just misses us.  He wants us to know the unyielding affection he has for us, all of us.  He wants to meet us at our place of need and do the mystical work of transformation together that is available to any of us through the Spirit of Christ.  That’s my job, to walk around my community and culture and give away the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have anything more important to do.  It’s the entire deal in pure form.

A church without walls.  Missional church is sent to bars, pubs, coffee houses, marketplaces, stadiums, fields, parks, libraries, entertainment centers, neighborhoods, schools, famers markets, festivals, concerts, parties, parades, online forums, places of work, etc. etc. where all the saints and sinners hang out.  There is no place where Christ’s extravagant love is not, therefore there is no condemnation or judgment.  Leave your self-righteousness and judgment at home, God is love.  We are a community invited to participate in the love and affection of the one who made us and doesn’t want to be without us.  He isn’t mad, he misses us.  All of us and everywhere.

 

Lighten up, 2016

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In 2016, I had a major job transition.  As of July 1, I had no guaranteed income, no health insurance for my family and no real idea what provision would look like moving forward.  Now, to know me, is to know I’m a bit of a controller and a planner.  Perhaps more than ‘a bit’.  I’m most of the time too intense for most others in my drive to push ahead and plan strategically.  I’m a doer and a planner, a starter, a leader, a ‘make things happen’ kinda guy.  I was left with all the big questions of a Father of 3, husband to 1 and the responsibility of the majority of our income for 23 years of marriage.

I was faced with all the familiar voices to listen to:  fear, anxiety, depression, anger, heaviness, despair, control, urgency, scarcity, shame, guilt etc.

Then in my raw and honest moments of genuine prayer, I began to hear a different voice.  It was gentle, at peace, sure, confident, full, light, generous, gracious, hopeful, fun, creative, joyful, bold and . . . sustainable.  It was a mindset I could grow to live into and let it sustain me regardless of my circumstances.  I could choose to ‘lighten up’ and have zero changes to my circumstances and yet experientially live them differently.  As I chose to listen to that voice and give it my attention, energy and opportunity started sparking up all around me.  Even though I still do not have a traditional ‘job’ per se, my family’s needs have been completely taken care of.  I’m working hard at freelancing and provision has come in a myriad of ways.

I have no ‘job’, no guaranteed income and yet I’ve never been more excited about the future.  Creativity is a constant companion.  Every day has been full of new opportunity and potentials are in every conversation.  Instead of a heavy slave-master of having to control it all myself, I’m trusting in a Provider who has never left me without.  I’m learning to ‘lighten up’ and enjoy the ride, no matter the circumstances.  Even in difficult scenarios, I’m more present, more alive in the situation, fear hasn’t sucked the life out of my presence.

By no longer trying to strong-arm my life; I became truly powerful.  Confidence is rising and expectations for goodness are the norm.  In this mindset, my freedom and my creativity are more dangerous.  I’m choosing what I want to pick a fight with and I’m enjoying every punch I get to throw along the way at life’s bullies.  When darkness and doubt come to my doorstep, I War with words of thankfulness and gratefulness.  In this discipline, I ‘lighten up’ and the clouds begin to dissipate and the sun rises again on my hope.

Forever the cynic, I’ve become a bit of Mr. Positivity and it’s incredibly more healthy for me.  I am eager to see where it all takes me in 2017.  But I’m thankful for the lesson in 2016 to ‘lighten up’.

Residing with Mortals?

“‘But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” -2 Chron. 6:18-19 (King Solomon)

Friends, do not be fooled by the cooing baby in the manger or the swaddling clothes. Though physically an infant, in reality he was not vulnerable, he was the creator and sustainer of the entire universe come for a visit. Immanuel . . . God with us.
The reality is he doesn’t need us, rather we need him. If we did not bring ourselves into being then we are on a great search for the truth about who we are, why we are here and what we are to do. Not unlike the shepherds and wise men, we travel afar for the answers to life’s great questions.


The beauty of Christmas is not that God needed us but it is that he WANTED us. God does not need to reside with mortals on earth . . . but he did. He chose to. He chose you. He chose us. Our choice is to come humbly to that manger and bow low, the King has come and his gift is pure Love. In that Love, we find who we really are both now and forever. The proper response is a primal shout of Hope. Immanuel, God with us. #hallelujah

Shepherds and the Ghetto

The 1st century Shepherd, no longer the esteemed wealth acquiring job producer of 1k years previous, now the lowest rung of the Palestinian caste ladder; the dirty labor class. They weren’t considered cute and adorable as our Christmas pageants parade them in burlap, they were detestable, high in stench, assumingly deeply sinful and dirty. Having no social status it is they who receive the esteemed invitation to a Manger. Why not the religious leaders? Why not the powerful elite? Why not the educated do-gooders?

From it’s infancy, the life and teachings of Jesus have had a prejudice towards the marginalized, the outsider, the looked down upon, the lost, the broken, the poor, the laborers, the dirty, the deeply sinful . . . the shepherd-types. If this is you, know that the Jesus of the Manger has an unyielding affection for you despite the prejudices of this world. If this isn’t you, the Manger tells you to humble yourself and remember you used to be. No one is immune to the unquenchable affection of the Creator when He enters into His Creation and starts making announcements.


The Manger is a ghetto, we are taught to go around them, not to them or in them. But nowhere, nobody and nothing is forgotten at the Manger. It all matters in a beautiful Creation. Find your ghetto, and love their today. It is the love of the Manger that announces hope and brings peace on earth. The invitation is open . . .

 

Broken Strength

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“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  ― Brené Brown

I am of the opinion that being honest about our frailty, our weakness, our vulnerabilities is part of what makes us strong in the end.  Embracing our brokenness is an element of what actually makes us whole.  Admitting that we don’t ‘have it all together’ is actually a crucial part of what God may want to do to ‘bring it all together’.  When you live under Grace, strength and competency is not a requirement.  #thankGod

Why pretend?  Why put on a false-self just to please others and their judgment of you?  Why show others an imposter that’s not the real you? If they do return the affirmation you crave they still aren’t affirming the real you; just the imposter you put out there for them to accept.  If it’s not you, it won’t satisfy, you will be left in the same discontentment of your folly. It’s not strong to pretend, it’s a fearful reaction to potential rejection.

You want to be a strong leader?  Act powerfully, and it starts with living with, in and through your own vulnerability.  People aren’t looking for leaders who play ‘make believe’ about their real selves, they are looking for the compelling experience of raw authenticity and it’s a rare thing.  People need a leader they can relate to but are living beyond them so that they can lead them to a land they’ve not yet been.  If you are pretending about your own self, as Brennan Manning puts it: ‘you are handing out travel brochures to places you’ve never been.’   

There’s a beauty and a strength in brokenness.  It requires inner strength and confidence to admit weakness, to risk rejection, to put our real selves ‘out there’.  It requires that you are rooted in another place than the affection of your followers, it requires that your identity is rooted somewhere else than in the acceptance of others.  It’s a confidence in who you are and who you belong to no matter what the crowds say.  It’s a place of raw, holy and Broken Strength.  

If you learn to live there, there is nothing that can move you.  Nothing.  Anchor down in Broken Strength.  

“Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives.” – Henri Nouwen

Missional Communities: trouble-makers or church?

occRobert Dale states: “New paradigms always create translation challenges especially for the church, a conserving institution by definition. The church has too rarely anticipated challenges and changes. We have been tempted to live in a world that no longer exists. Consequently, the future has too often surprised the church.”
The vocation of the church to embody the very Kingdom of God
‘on earth as it is in heaven’ is far too high a calling to not respond to these shifts with a sense of purpose and complete mission.
Significant breakthroughs in ideas, thoughts and new constructs of organization do not happen overnight. Thomas Kuhn suggests that scientific discoveries rarely happen as a natural outgrowth of the previous knowledge base, but rather by means of peripheral
‘revolutions.’ There tend to be a few individuals who begin to perceive reality in ways qualitatively different than the established mindset of those practicing ‘normal science.’
The need for change comes from a small group of ‘pioneers’
who sense that the existing model is“riddled with anomalies and is unable to solve emerging problems.” Historically within the church, those thinking pioneers are not seen as helpful to the mission of the future but rather as distracting voices and perceived as ‘troublemakers’ within the religious system.
It is my view  that the pastoral leader of the future cannot be tethered to a desire to be fully accepted by the established thought of the day in exchange for the pursuit of a calling to incarnate Gospel communities where they are not presently flourishing. Pioneers are needed to seek new lands and opportunities, by nature they do not add to the present establishment. The church can no longer be seen as an entity located in a single facility or an institutional organization and its related activities, but must now be transformed into a gathered people in community as well as a ‘sent’ people with a common calling and vocation.  The large centralized institutions of the past built on the tenets of ‘modernism’ with its Enlightenment gods of science, technology and industrialization are increasingly losing their magic.
By definition, a missional community is a ‘sent’ people. They are fast, mobile and resourceful. They can adapt and change according to
the land and climate. Missional communities are a gathered people on pilgrimage together. They are the Ekklesia ‘called out’ of the world and then sent back into the world; “foreignness is an element of its constitution.”
A pilgrim people is rooted in the mentality of only habitating a temporary residence, they are on the move have no fixed abode.
If the people are pilgrims and on the move, this would necessitate a pastoral leadership that is also incarnational in its time and space. There is increasingly a movement away from a monopoly of ordained men who hold the power seats of Ekklesia and do the work of the ministry on behalf of the whole people of God. A generation of pastors are leaving a vocational presence within Ekklesia and going on the move with the rest of the people on mission. Leaders are incarnating their vocation within the culture in order to offer the ministry of Ekklesia in the “ongoing life of the Christian community in shops, villages, farms, cities, classrooms, homes, law offices, in counseling, politics, statecraft and recreation.”
Many are finding that it is no longer adequate for the minister to function primarily within the professional role of being the preacher,
administrator of programs and counselor for the flock. Rather, they are sensing a calling to lead the Ekklesia within the reality of being a church without walls and seek employment in culture where they can engage seekers and the unchurched.
There is a movement from an emphasis on professional clergy, who are center stage in the singularity of the gathered church event, to
“Christian professionals who are ministering in the world and in the marketplace.” Many are finding their calling not in being a pastor to the community, but by locating themselves vocationally as a mission outpost within the community.
Missional Communities, they are a thing.  Trouble-makers or church?  I’ll write more about them . . . . or just move on.

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)