All posts by Chris Marshall

Showing Up

“80% of success is just showing up.” -Woody Allen

So I was re-reading a popular narrative in the New Testament this morning from John 6 and it was the ‘Bread and Fish for All’ as The Message puts it.  Traditionally we understand this to be the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  There are a lot of faith-stretching learnings in this story.  It was like Jesus was click-baiting his disciples by making them go out and find some paltry replenishments so that they knew in the end, that what would be done would not have come from them and their accomplishments.  I could write a whole other book on the futility of self-sufficiency, I’ve lived that dead-end over and over.

8-9 One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Here is what struck me this morning; sure the 5 loaves and 2 fish were not nearly enough for 5,000 men (not including women and children), BUT it seems an OBSCENE amount of food for a small boy, no?  

Do we ever ask the question why the boy has SO much food just for himself?  I’m just speculating, but it occurred to me that maybe the boy just had some extra that morning, maybe sometimes he doesn’t, but that day, that week, that season his family had more than needed.  Maybe they made a habit of ‘showing up’ when they had extra with a heart to give and be generous in case the opportunity presents itself.  ‘Showing up’ is a decision of the heart and mind to carry out values and commitments whether anyone knows about it or not.  Most of ‘Showing up’ is done in anonymity, no spotlight, no miracle recorded, just you and your commitment to who you are and what you want to do in this world.

Everyone wants the miracle, everyone wants the ecstatic experience of the victory, everyone wants the big win, everyone wants the glory of the finish line, everyone wants the accolade of the award . . . but who wants to ‘show up’ when no one is watching?  Who wants to give away their extra today because it’s in their heart to do, not because it will be recorded in a Holy Scripture?

I’m in a place in life where I have a lot of great and valuable work, but very little income.  I know it is likely just a season, but I don’t know how long the season will last.  My mind wants to jump to the end, where Jesus multiplies the little and shows off in the kind of power he has.  But in taking the example of this young boy today, I recognize that the challenge is to ‘show up’ today in the value of the work before me without the need for physical reinforcement of income.   ‘Showing up’ comes from a deeper set of values, an imbedded set of deep commitments planted in you to fulfill your identity and calling in this world.  Collecting a paycheck is not a big enough idea, you were destined to count in ways you never imagined.  Today, it’s about ‘showing up’ in our work and letting value be its own reward.

Picking a Fight for 2017

We all end up dead, it’s just a matter of how and why.” -William Wallace, Braveheart

One of my favorite scenes out of Braveheart is what comes just after the legendary battlefield speech of William Wallace to his fellow Scotsmen at Sterling. The speech is over, the troops are fired up, now what?  The dialogue goes like this:

Stephen: Fine speech. Now what do we do?

William Wallace: Just be yourselves.

Hamish: Where are you going?

William Wallace: I’m going to pick a fight.

Hamish: Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.

What do you want to pick a fight with in 2017?

Resolutions are for the comfortable, I’m interested in the kinds of decisions that lead to uncomfortable change.  Change, deep down, fire-breathed transformation.  Where is the fire in your belly?  What keeps you up at night?  What injustice can you not live with?  What habit is in the way of you absolutely slaying your job?  What negative mindset is robbing you of your creativity?  What slave master says it owns your freedom?  What is in the way of you living out a dream?

Everybody dreams, the difference is some people actually experience them.  The separation is usually a matter of discipline from the dream stage to the experience stage.  It’s largely an issue of will, discipline, effort, heart, stubbornness, resilience, resources and perseverance.  If you pick a fight, you are likely to get punched in the mouth, that’s a given.  The issue is when you hit the mat, do you resolve to get up?  Outlasting your opponent is where the marrow of the victory comes from, you bid your time, and when the opportunity presents itself, return your blow and land it on your enemy’s jaw.  It’s yours for the taking, opportunity knocks.

I’m entering 2017 not with a resolution, but with a primal scream to take another step of what I was put on this earth to do.  I am challenged, I am stretched, I am vulnerable . . . the bullies are on the battleground in front of me.  They hurl their insults, they predict my failure, they intimidate with accusations of lies.  They are the voices I oppose.  The primal scream is louder than those voices, it’s what I’m listening to.  I don’t want to take a step forward, I want to dismantle the entire system of resistance in front of me.  The life of the Creator lives in me, his breath breathes in me.  Therefore, I have no fear . . . none.  I’m here to pick a fight.

What are you picking a fight with in 2017?  How can I help you?

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

shepherd

“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.