Thin Places

Thin places are amazing places.  Like an early morning mist, they are elusive and often change location in a moment.  They are well camouflaged, so much so in fact that most people run right past them never even knowing they are there.  Worse still, they often run right through the middle of them, busy, hurried, and oblivious. Like rushing across so much gold in the sand beneath our feet. Such loss.

Thin places, in Celtic lore, are those places where exists only a thin separation between heaven and earth.  A place where we can be in the earthly realm and in heaven all at the same time.  A thin place is where the holiness of the Eternal can be seen, felt, and experienced on this side of the veil that separates mortal from immortal.

Some thin places seem to stay in the same place. They don’t always move around, though it seems that mostly they do.  I have experienced a thin place, close in perception of the Presence of God while standing on familiar ground.  I know I am in a thin place every time at Dinosaur National Monument.  Each time I go I feel heaven so close. Strange, so many of the scientists who study ancient species believe their findings separate man from God.  When I am there I feel even closer.  God. Creator. Savior.  He first thought about dinosaurs and they did not fall apart from His knowledge. He thinks about me too.  Nothing that happens to me is apart from him.  Such care.  I sense creation in the presence of the ancient.

There is a thin place in the mountains where I live.  Often times I find it hovering over the town. Even more I find it hovering over our home just outside of town.  When I cannot find it there I can usually find it in the lonesome trails that are minutes from my front door. It is strong when I am alone.  Stronger still when I share it with others, but that kind is even more rare.  Finding two humans in the same heart at the same moment doesn’t happen often..

Thin places are healing, warm, and restorative places to be.  You can only experience them by first finding them.  You can stumble across them accidental, but will notice only once your senses are tuned to find them.  Loving God and loving folks is the best antennae for tuning into the presence of a thin place.  It makes them stand out more. They are more common than you think.  You just have to look for them, feel for them, and long for them. The best way to increase your odds of finding thin places it to linger longer than necessary once you have found one.  Get to know it.  Get accustomed to it.  Allow your pallet to be changed to long for its taste.  Perceive it, sense it, explore it.

Thin places are miraculous.  The downside is that when miracle becomes the rule then law becomes the exception.  That is why we cannot stay in a thin place, or if we do the thin place seems to move on away from us.  Thin places are special places.  They are places where we love to be.  I think that God loves to meet us there.  A lot like He did with Adam in Eden.

Thin places can go away in an instance.  A clumsy disregard for what is holy, an attempt to explain or somehow invite yourself to partner with it, and poof, there it goes.  Jesus invited three of his disciples to join him in a thin place.  Moses and Elijah came down to meet them.  Peter opened his mouth.  First mistake in a thin place.  Don’t pollute the air with what you have to say.  He tried to get involved, adding man efforts to a God event.  Second mistake.  Then it was over. Vanished and gone.  I wonder how long it could have lasted if he had just been.  I wonder if Jesus was disappointed.

You cannot make a thin place.  It simply is.  It is there.  It is just beyond the common.  It is waiting for you to take the time and to dream the dream of finding and letting it wash over you like a shower.  A baptism of closeness to the One who created  you, me, and the thin places too.

Neighborhoods. Not Small Groups

The church I attend is attractional.  It is consumer. Finally, it is Mega.  They don’t seem to bham commbe satisfied with those limitations. That is one of the reasons that it is the church I attend. They aren’t satisfied.

Even if they aren’t satisfied, most of the decisions, effort and money go into perpetuating the attractional model.  It works and people get saved and some of them grow into functioning Christians who reproduce, usually after the atractional model.

We are really big on the small group thing.  Good idea, in my opinion.  One of the leadership types said, “We don’t want to be a church with small groups. We want to be a church of small groups!”  Props and kudos on all of that.  Still, it is based upon the attractional model which, like I said, is not bad and it works.

We hired a small group pastor. Some churches have a couple of full time, a few part time, and a few volunteers who try to recruit, train, equip and empower small groups to start.  The common model is to identify leaders inside the church, develop the concept of that  small group  to appeal to those inside the church, and then present the group to the church for attendance.  Again, this is all working.

I like the attractional model of church. I like going there and I like being there.  My church, like many others, have cool teachers who are exceptionally well equipped for teaching.  The music is great and the coffee is good. My kids love being in the well done kids programs.  Do you get it? I like attractional churches. I am a consumer at that level.

I also like the whole Jesus story a lot too.  I like it even more than I like church. I loved the way The Message has the phrase, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  That is what Jesus did. He became a flesh and blood man and moved into the neighborhood. That is what my attractional church is wanting to do too, but mostly they aren’t.  They hope that the small group model will do that, but mostly they don’t.  They want to move into the neighborhood but it eludes them. There is some success, some impact. They have enough success to feel like they are making progress but the overall impact on the neighborhood is minimal.  Of course they can’t do everything, but to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. OK, that is way cliche and I apologize.

I don’t have the answer, or at least an answer that I have tried and proven.  Actually I have some grass roots success at being in and part of a neighborhood, but I already wrote that  blog. I am not talking about me, but I think that there are a lot of me out there who could be more if there was a different way to thinking about how we get into the neighborhood and what success in ministry means.  Read my blog, Unintentional Discipleship or The Community Phenomena if you want.  No worries. I am amazed that someone even read this one. Before I forget; thank you!

I have a suggestion that I would like to drop into the ears of a few of the movers and shakers that I know that lead from clear hearts and conscienceless from inside the attractional church.  I do so from time to time when they lend me their ears as well as their hair in a fifteen minute segment or two.  I ask, “Why don’t we make the next couple of pastoral hires into neighborhood pastors?”  Each church that attracts is made up of people from multiple neighborhoods and the only way for our pastors to make a difference in our current model is for them to come to us.  Why not draw up a plan, scheme plot and pray, develop a job description and a hiring criteria that would send a pastor into the neighborhood. The rubric of success would be impact in that geographical community.  Perhaps rather than convening small groups from inside the church to draw people inside the church, this staffer could draw people inside the church into the community in which they live.  Perhaps they would spread community, Christ community, into a place where there has been a void, and find that small group attending the big church for the great things that it has to offer. Small groups of neighbors, who would walk to each others house to get together rather than drive across town or across counties.   Get neighbors together who live inside the dynamics of a neighborhood.

I really don’t have an answer, but I do wonder about this.  Our city of Bellingham has several identifiable communities who actually self identify as well. They have names like the Lettered Streets, The Colombia Neighborhood and so on.  Perhaps instead of a small group pastor we could hire a Lettered Streets pastor.  The resources of the attractional church would be an incredible asset to an old fashioned, parish minded individual.  I think that the capitol C church would grow. I think the neighborhood church would grow, and I am certain that the attractional church would grow.  All their work would be done within walking distance.

This isn’t all my idea. There are others who are very local ministry, parish ministry minded. They usually seem to be at odds with the attractional church.  They don’t enjoy it like I do.  They only see what they see as bad in that model, not the good and even great value there. I would like to see a combination of the two ideas.  The influence of the church is waning.  That is because with too many people there is only a superficial relationship.  Rather than hiring the best and brightest to stand in the picture window of our church and beckon, “Come hither.” we could go there and point the way. If we want to invest in community then our traditional view of small groups is not the answer.  Neighborhoods are.  Just my opinion/

 

Community or Competition

vintage-photo-of-minneapolis-farmers-marketI did one of those Facebook games that revealed your most used words on Facebook. Fortunately for my wife, who is also a friend on Facebook, her name was one of the top used words, as was the word love and the names of my children. Whew, I was sweating that one!

Another word that was used a lot is the word community.  I have a lot of investment into the idea of community. It can be micro defined to indicate smaller subsections.  I want to use it in macro, to describe an entire way of thinking, of letting the thought of community influence and even dictate an approach to every day life.

On the other side of the spectrum is the word competition.  It didn’t show up at all on the Facebook game I played.  It can have several meanings, but the one I am looking at is the market way of thinking. Marketing, acquisition, competition!  Marketing operates under the assumption that there is a limited amount of resource available.  It assumes scarcity and uses fear of privation* to manipulate acquisition. Ruled by the marketing mindset one must compete, do whatever one is capable of to gather and store up this finite resource for yourself otherwise you will not have enough.  My abilities to gather and store make me better than someone who is not able to do the same. It takes no mind of what it takes away, only that it is yours by way of possession. It means that if I do not win then I lose, but for me to win then you must lose.

In a community mindset the assumption is that there is an abundance. There is enough to go around. Rather than scrambling to gather all that you can for yourself you are more inclined to share, help others gather, make sure that everyone has what they need.  Its OK, tomorrow there will be more. In the community way of thinking life slows down a bit. There seems to be more time to smell, to taste, and to savor living.  Our existence is no longer a race to some unseen finish line, but a tasty, meandering journey to be enjoyed for what it is.

Trying to live community in a market world takes work, intentionality, and determination.  A community minded person cannot force the market minded world to LOGO_BUYNOW_BLACKchange. They can only change their little corner of influence.  Sometimes community will be directly opposed by market, and often times market will win the battle, but the overall victor is still undecided.

I run my life internally under the principles of community.  My family and I invest ourselves into hospitality, extending the walls of our home out into the world, opening our lives to others.  We try to be generous givers, both of love and of substance.  We want to be even more generous. I understand that doing business in the market place has with it the inevitable contractual obligation.  It is what I have to do to pay my bills and enjoy the services of heat, lights, and others.

I run my business internally under the principles of community.  Rather than contracts, which state specific actions and restricts actions, we work under the idea of covenant.  Covenant is freedom and commitment all rolled into one big burrito!  As a community we covenant to work toward the good of the whole community. We share the resources rather than hoard them.  We do what we do to gather and know that there will always be enough and that there will be more tomorrow.

It isn’t that hard to do once there is some buy into the idea.  After all, that is what we all want. That is the kind of life Christ and the Apostles pointed to when they spoke of Kingdom.  It is hard to resist the temptation to assume scarcity.  It takes trust to believe that there will always be enough.  It makes us vulnerable. It takes a little while to begin to see that the heart really does resonate with being in and a part of a real community.

It is never easy, but sometimes people who buy into scarcity will attempt to take away from those who buy into abundance.  When that happens the temptation is to let them convince you that there really is a scarcity. Fear of loss can drive us away from love and community. That is why Jesus said to give to those who ask and not withhold.  His goal wasn’t to take away what we have,  but to show that your Heavenly Father cares and provides. All we have to do is believe enough to go and gather.

If you are able, we welcome you to explore living in community, both macro and micro, along side of us.  It is an experiment in being vulnerable and loving lavishly.  It is a reflection of what Kingdom living and Christ Following is all about.  It is also a great deal of fun, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be doing it.

 

pri·va·tion
prīˈvāSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: privation; plural noun: privations
  1. a state in which things that are essential for human well-being such as food and warmth are scarce or lacking.
    “years of rationing and privation”
    synonyms: deprivation, hardship, destitution, impoverishment, want, need, neediness, austerity

    “years of rationing and privation”
    antonyms: plenty, luxury
    • formal
      the loss or absence of a quality or attribute that is normally present.
      “cold is the privation of heat”

The Story

The story goes like this;

The very first church in our modern understanding of church, was planted a very long time old bookago.  It was led by a pastoral team who were also husband and wife.  They were especially equipped and had even been married for the specific purpose of the task ahead of them.  Their mission goal was to take care of the church and to be an influence for God’s Kingdom in the world around them.  The church itself was amazing.  It was equipped with every good thing a human needed, and it was a place where God Himself would show up.  I can only imagine the worship that went on there. The husband and wife team were free to minister in any way that they chose except one. They were forbidden to judge the people around them. That was the one ministry agenda that God reserved for Himself.

The rest of the story goes something like this; the wife and the husband really wanted to be able to judge like God judged. Who wouldn’t? I mean, to know the difference between good and evil and to be able to evaluate who was and who wasn’t, now that made perfect sense.  It seemed like wisdom, after all, how long could Eden be a great church if people who did evil came in and hung out there?  God would surely appreciate the help!” And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat”

God was not impressed.  Of all the good things that He had given, had wanted to give, for his first pastors to take the one ministry that He reserved for himself was too much.  It was so much more than any of the evil that had ever been committed that this one action carried with it the ultimate penalty, the death penalty.

I think more and more that people want to agree with Adam and Eve over God.  Adam and Eve had never done evil (that they knew of), but others may have and they wanted to be able to expose it, adjudicate it, and administer justice.  That was never God’s plan.  Christ didn’t condemn sinners, his harshest rebukes were reserved for those who felt that following God’s law somehow made a person adequate to judge how well others followed it.  He railed upon people who placed law above love and compassion. He said to love  God, you personally, and he said to love folks.  He reached out to sinners, responded to the frailty of their condition, and he cared about their heart.

Now, I get it. I really do!  Its like the old Irish drinking toast, “Here’s to our enemies, may the Good Lord turn their hearts, and if He doesn’t turn their hearts may He turn their ankles so we will know them by their limping!”  We really do want to know who is in and who is out. It is safer that way.  Clear cut rules by which we can map whether a person is really our kind .  We want to be certain they have paid just as high a price for their status with God as we do. Sort of like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. The only thing is that following the rules does not change our status with God one little bit.  Didn’t Jesus tell a story of people who did all the right things but were left outside of the Kingdom to come because they didn’t know him?  There goes that pesky little story thing.  Changes everything.

God makes it clear throughout the story: He doesn’t need or want our help in the judgement of others department.  That is love.  I mean serious love, to save us from the pain of judging our fellow humans.  What could be more scary than imperfect people judging other imperfect people according to a perfect God’s law.  Gives me the shakes just thinking about it.

adam-and-eve-e1304299403712

Pastoral lifestyles and co-living

A lot of thoughts are in my mind these days.  Some I am sure are placed there by the Holy Spirit. My only struggle with that is that most thoughts come in the same timbre and  sound of voice as the one I use to speak to myself.  The chatter up there can be deafening sometimes, making it hard to be clear which voice is God’s.

Yes, I hear voices.  I talk to them sometimes too.  The volume and the shear quantity has multiplied as my heart has softened toward God and toward His fiance.  My heart has softened through this whole adventure to the point that I am willing to consider serving in any capacity, even if that means serving in a pastoral role. While being a pastor had its successes, it was also a place of great injury to myself and a bit to others as well.  It was the one place that I swore I would never again return.  “Yep, that went well!”

In a bit of a shift from my previous life and pastoral calling I am beginning to open myself up to a pastoral lifestyle rather than a positional pastoral “ministry”.  I prefer the lifestyle measure of ministry effectiveness as opposed to the rubrics usually applied to a more classical pastoral ministry.  Rather than counting the nickles and the noses I am simply being there, being available and letting the relationship be as the Holy Spirit chooses rather than defining it as such.

The result of letting the Holy Spirit direct and quantify His use of my life is that I have had several people come into my “orbit” needing a pastor, or co-pastor in various degrees.  Some have needed personal counsel in life skills in addition to their identity in Christ, while others simply need some encouragement or to know that they have been heard.  This diversity is broader and without nearly as many conceived walls as I encountered in the role of Pastor.

One thought that has been sort of threading its way through the tapestry of envisioning and praying about the future is the concept of pastoral ministry through co-living.  I have been processing this idea with my wife as well as in prayer.  My first thought is that it looks a lot like my early days as a Christ Follower.  I got saved through an outreach of Youth With A Mission and I early on moved into a co-living situation that was modeled after a typical YWAM base.  Basically it was a medium range life commitment to living together for the purpose of training for outreach.  Even though I failed in the discipleship process by leaving early I find that the very core of my life as a Christ Follower was formed and is still influenced by the good and the wholesome aspect of living together with a common purpose.

My wife has a different perspective on co-living than I do.  Mine looks like YWAM, worship, community and outreach with the focus on processing through discipleship, internship and into leadership.  That places the focus more on single folk who are by nature more flexible in their lives and lifestyles to follow Jesus by moving into a co-living discipleship program.  My wife’s looks more like a long term or even lifetime arrangement of people of faith living cooperatively in close proximity.  Both examples have merit.

This pastoral lifestyle has led me to believe that God will bring ministry our way as we are both fit and dependent on Him to offer ministry.  Co-living or any other form of pastoring will come in the form that He chooses.  While a staff position might be nice, simply being available has it’s own advantages as well.  As a couple redeemed by Christ, we live by faith.  It is not because we are super spiritual.  We don’t know how to live successfully any other way.  We have finally found success in this sort of a serendipitous walk through the new life we enjoy in Christ.   Trusting that we will come out of our tents each and every day and find just enough of His providence to make it through the day has never once disappointed.

Fallen Leaders

humpty-dumpty

The challenge was actually laid as a suggestion.  It hung in the air for just a moment before the conversation went on to other things.  Later on I noticed that it was still there, not in a full on, offensive lineman in your face kind of way, but more like a feathery tickle in the back of the throat that you cant seem to cough away kind of way. “Maybe you should write a blog for fallen pastors.”  Yeah, right!

After my friend had gone on his own way and I busied myself about my work, the question, the suggestion, still kept tickling the back of my soul.  A week or two later and still the words echo, with a little bit of reverberation to add weight to the subject, “Maybe you should write a blog for fallen pastors, pastors, pastors (echo, echo, echo).  So since I can’t shake the thought and the words that were spoken a few weeks ago, I find myself becalmed at work with no one to distract me from sitting and wondering what that could be or what that might look like.  Usually I am more of a verbal processor, but I can often times process thoughts nearly as well at the keyboard, so here it is, the process.

My biggest question, and of course the question itself begs some questioning as well; am I the right one?  Of course the question needs to be examined to make sure that it is an honest question rather than a deflection from the real issue.  A quick check of my heart doesn’t seem to reveal any duplicitous motive, but rather an honest questioning of whether my experience and outcomes qualify me to be adequately used of the Spirit in such a manner.

Another question to be asked is whether or not my experience has been properly aged.  It seems so recent that I was one of the fallen pastors, and perhaps the journey toward healing and wholeness in Christ has not yet matured to the point required to offer competent encouragement.

Finally, and this being the biggest issue in my mind, is that of my natural level of leadership and how that relates to other leaders.  On a leadership scale of one to ten, with one being the lowest and ten being the highest I would place myself at a solid six. A quick overview of those fallen pastors whom I am acquainted with and that come to mind shows a consistent rating of eights and nines (some I would consider tens, but I am trying to be conservative).  What really do I have to offer and does my own level of leadership become an obstacle to what Christ wants to do?

One final addendum; when I have heard or read of fallen leaders the story has a similar process of crisis, fall, repentance and a restoration with those surrounding the leader, starting with those closest and branching out to those in the peripheral sphere of influence.  I, on the other hand, completely blew apart the inner circle making a restoration of the original relationships impossible.

While I am certain beyond doubt that God has forgiven me, I am forgiving myself, and that restoration is indeed taking place, my journey is not necessarily traditional or press worthy. It is, however, a real journey of a leader who succumbed to dark thoughts in the midst of the stresses of the position, which led to dark deeds.  It is a real story of a fallen man who, though broken and dirty in the midst of a mire of my own making refused to hide from the light of the Holy Spirit.  It is also the biography of the path toward forgiveness, the granting of and the receiving of that wonderful grace gift which is readily available but seems allusive by the very nature of its simplicity.

My mind is still drawn back to the story I read of the writhing and raw mass of humanity who had received the name Rock from our Messiah. The man sifted and broken, unable to do or stand on any of the brave promises he made to Jesus.  I think back to the Jesus who allowed all of His closest friends to be sifted personally by Satan, and who prayed for this one man’s faith through his fallenness.  I think of the love and providential care as Jesus gave Peter The Broken the all important mission to encourage the rest of the group, all broken apart and sifted as well.

If you are a fallen leader, I stand with you as one fallen as well. No amount of restoration will ever erase the history of our failures in the minds of many, but in the mind of God those sins are all as if they never were. I want to encourage you as I am being encouraged that our failures allow us to do what we forgot how to do in our former roles, and that is to lead from the place of our weakness rather than our strengths and gifts.  I am not sure in light of scripture how obedient Peter was in walking out his given ministry as an encourager, but as Jesus said in regards to John, “What does that mean to you? You follow me!”

If you have a mind to do so, walk with me down this path a little ways and we can both see, and even discuss among each other, what it is (if anything) that Christ will do with our experiences, and perhaps we might find some healing herbs of truth along the path to share, each with one another.