Tag Archives: #vocation

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.

 

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.

Why I fired myself as a Pastor

The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir

youre-fired

About 15 years ago I made a conscious decision that if I wanted to be taken seriously by a skeptical and cynical culture for the faith that I feel so strongly about, I couldn’t do it from a vocational role that was a stumbling block to that conversation.  When I was in graduate school (aka Seminary), I took a course in Anthropology where we got back to the basics of human communication and how culture messages work.  For anyone to be heard, they must have an ‘acceptable role’ within that culture so that people understood their place first, then their message.  If missionaries were going to go to a foreign land, they couldn’t come with their western labels such as ‘pastor’, they needed to take on a role that culture would accept like doctor, teacher or engineer.

I applied this same teaching and understanding to the cynical postmodern world. If people’s biggest barrier to understanding the true Christ was the hypocrisy of church leadership and/or the mismanagement of money and spiritual power, then why not do what I could to remove it.  If I was who I claimed to be, I would be able to do it without an office, position or budget.  So 15 years ago I fired myself as a pastor and have sought vocational roles within my culture that make sense to anyone (i.e. teacher, administrator, manager).  To say that this journey has been a painful and confusing one would be an understatement.  I have had very few if any models to learn from, I’ve largely tried to figure it out on my own and have found solace in many friends/sojourners along the way trying to figure out the same path.

To go along with the anthropological reasoning, the more I read and was taught about the successful tactics of pastoring or growing churches in the American landscape, the more I felt less comfortable in my own skin.  It is difficult for me to marry the core teachings of Jesus with the tenets of the American consumer and corporate culture.  In fact, at their core, I find them at complete odds with one another.  I could not and still cannot figure a way to allow them to sit in the same room or barter at the same table.  They both want to be king and there is only one King.  One or the other will reckon your allegiance, I want to tread very carefully in that arena.  You can only serve one master.

Christian community is not about money, power, position or titles.  It’s not about a particular place or a particular time or event in the week.  Christian community is most basically about a life that is organized around the teachings of a Jesus who said to love God and love neighbor (it’s not more complicated than that).  It is possible that this can be done without a budget, campaign, crusade, conference, seminar, workshop or infomercial Jesus.  But it’s not possible without a complete abandoning to your own selfish ambitions and having them replaced with the King’s orders.  This is the truth whether you pastor vocationally or not.  I believe God has called me to this sometimes painful and confusing journey, but it’s not really for me to figure out.  My job is to follow.

I have a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree in a vocational field I don’t work in.  On the surface, that is pure foolishness.  And it would be with the exception that I sucked the marrow out of each of those learning experiences to help mold and shape me into the person and leader I am today.  Spirituality is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.  When spirituality is no longer your job, you are free to love and serve and live as you truly believe.  It is that freedom over the past 15 years that I would not exchange for anything, they are my King’s orders to follow.

On Vocation and Contentment

This is something I wrote/blogged on July 1, 2003.  Just came upon it and realized I still wrestle with all the same issues as do many of the leaders around me in my networks.  I’m trying to learn a lesson apparently I haven’t learned over the past 10 years.  But I’m listening . . . I guess to myself.

“Had lunch today with another missional community leader, Dave and we talked together of our frustration with having seminary degrees that don’t help us get jobs in the real world and in being mediators between the emerging church expression and the one we were trained in, get finances from and have some accountability towards. We wondered out loud about the politics of it all, personal compromises and the desperate need to be the pastors we long to be but also provide for our families, cuz no one else will. Through all of that we came to a different conclusion than the one we were planning on. It is simply, “quit whining!” The Kingdom is now. Yes, we don’t know our future completely and we don’t know what tommorrow will be, but in the now the Kingdom is happening and we are missing it. We are at times despairing, wrapped in fear, lost in the transition and all during that, God is providing for all our needs. And we complain cuz we want security.

It struck us that Jesus maintained his joy because he lived in the “now”. As we strategize after goals and expectations that will never be met, the Kingdom goes unnoticed around us. Each opportunity to connect with my wife, each opportunity to enjoy my kids, each opportunity to dwell richly in my community of friends gets sucked dry cuz I’m worried about tommorrow. The Kingdom is here and we are still looking for the consumation of all things. We rob ourselves of joy, peace and contentment cuz we are focused on the future and God is now!

Oh, that I would stop my striving and running and achieving and building and rescuing the urgent. That I would learn to have joy on the ride. Love the ride. Live for the ride. Some ride the ups and downs of the roller coaster (life) only being in fear of the next turn, or wondering when it will end, or hanging on for dear life with their eyes closed. I need to learn how to enjoy the thrill of right now! Lick it up, dwell richly in now.

I have a book on my desk that I’ve only skimmed written by a Budhist called “The Power of Now”. Why are the Budhists kicking our arses in this area of peace, joy and contentment? We evangelicals run the machine known as church. A ferocious appetite for more consumer goods. When leaders burn out, replace them. But keep striving, keep turning the crank, keep doing the same inhuman activity over and over again and believing that this time its really different, this time we will find the magic pill that solves all our problems.

The Kingdom is now, don’t miss it. Its the secret to joy, peace and contentment. I’m leaving now, to go sit and be with my wife, right now. Thank you Abba for the joy of now. “

Finding this today, I am quite literally preaching to myself . . . again.