Showing posts with label the church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the church. Show all posts

September 17, 2014

A Love Letter to My Church (and to Church Planting)

A woman who recently finished reading The Church Planting Wife wrote to tell me she and her husband are moving across the country soon to plant a church. In my response, I said, "Although church planting is one of the most challenging things I've ever been a part of, it has also been my greatest joy!" I never want to sugar-coat church planting--it's challenging, it's hard work, and it will refine you at the very core of who you are. But I also never want to play down the overwhelming joys of having seen it through, especially those first tough years.
This Sunday, our church will turn six years old. On September 21, 2008, ten of us gathered in our living room (five of us carrying the Hoover last name, only one of us a Virginian), where we ate a few brownies, sang a few songs, and opened up the Scriptures. A year later, we had 31 people and a new location for our gatherings, and I felt as if I'd been through an internal war of flesh and fear wrestling against an emerging faith.

On Sunday, we'll gather hundreds strong, and we'll sing loud and clap our hands, and an elder will teach us from Ephesians, and we'll stay after to talk and love, and I'm typing this through tears. How did this happen? When did this become my life? Though the challenges never stop and the responsibility only grows and I'm still not certain I'm good at this church planting thing, I would never give it up, not in a million years. Because I wonder if I ever saw God like this before. I wonder if I had ever walked in faith before this. 

And I'm not talking about God being good because of numbers and the fact that we're still around six years later. I'm talking about the eyes of my heart being opened to things only faith can see. I'm talking about God's bittersweet refinement and discipline. I'm talking about learning to place my security in Christ alone.

But mostly I'm talking about watching God at work in His church.

By calling us into church planting, God pulled out a chair for me in a prime viewing location and continually says, "Watch this!" as He displays His manifest wisdom right before my eyes. I love these people, and I love how He uses us and moves among us.

From where I sit, I see housemates walking with their sister through grief, offering truth and hope all the while. I see young professionals seeking to glorify God in their workplaces. I see pastors and elders working tirelessly and faithfully to equip the saints for ministry and rightly divide the word of truth. I see college students serving sacrificially for the edification of families. I see families serving sacrificially for the edification of college students. I see women eager to disciple younger women in the faith. I see a worship leader who writes songs that teach and give voice to faith in real life. I see children growing up together, coming to faith, and learning to love. I see two who have been with us from the beginning, one of whom gets little public credit for how she's sacrificed but who has been so essential to our church. I see faithful efforts to reach neighbors and co-workers. I see marriages healed. I see people walking in their gifts. I see those with an eye toward the outsider. I see couples caring for the orphan the name of Jesus. Even among the darkness and brokenness of life, I see reconciliation and hope and community and joy.

And I see a pastor's wife who is happy beyond measure. I love these people. And I love the God who has nourished us.

Of course, there are other things that I pray to see and believe I'll see in time. This is real life and real church, after all. And, as you read this, you may be tempted to think about me, or my husband, or our specific church and what we have or haven't done to make this happen.

But that's just the point: six years ago, this group of people as a moving whole did not exist. We exist because God called us into being. And in these six years, the things that we've seen have only been God's doing. I haven't changed a single heart and neither has my husband. We haven't authored faith or reconciled people, and we certainly haven't been the spark and motivation for sacrificial service.

So this six-year mark isn't a moment that I celebrate myself or my husband or any person's work. This is a moment that makes me tear up because I've seen the goodness of God in the land of the living.

I love these people, I love this church, and I love our God.

September 9, 2014

What People Who Are New to Your Church Want You to Know

In the 14 years we've been married, my husband and I have only searched for a church home one time. It was during our seminary years, when we were first married and he had not yet become a pastor. After that season, he was hired by a church and then, 8 years later, we started one, so we've experienced church a little differently than most. 

But I will never forget being a visitor and, honestly, the experience has shaped almost everything I do in our current church. 
As a visitor, I remember being nervous and uncertain, but mostly I remember being eager--eager to find our "family", make friends, hear the Word preached clearly and powerfully, eager to worship, and eager to belong. When we weren't spoken to Sunday after Sunday, our eagerness deflated quickly. It still makes me feel uncertain when I think about it. 

Until you are new, until you're a visitor, it's difficult to understand what it's like and to put yourself in a visitor's shoes at your church, but it's so important to try. A warm, welcome, and helpful environment is one of the most essential ingredients for a person to become a follower of Christ and grow and connect within the church.

A sweet friend of mine just moved away to a different state this past summer. She wrote and told me of the loneliness and uncertainty she's feeling, especially in her and her family's efforts to connect to a local church. This is a woman who loves the Lord and, while mothering young children, sacrificially served in our church. She is eager not only to connect but to serve where God has taken her. She wrote what she wished others could see, which I'm sharing with her permission:

"It is the first day of Bible study. I am in a new town and have had a hard time making new friends. I have looked forward to today, to an opportunity to meet some sisters in Christ, hoping to find My People in the midst of a storm. Please make me feel welcome.

I come to the steps of the church. I have a child on each side, and a stroller. You all say hello, then watch as I try to lift the stroller up the stairs. Please help me.

I am in a new place. I don’t know where to go and don’t see any signs for where to bring my children. Please direct me.

After dropping off my children, I meekly walk back toward the main entrance. I don’t see any signs directing me where to go. Good! There are some moms behind me! I will wait for them, smile, and ask if I can go with them.  I try to make eye contact. They continue with their laughter and conversation and walk around me. Please just say hello.

I finally find the sanctuary, yet I don’t feel safe. I see all these sisters in Christ. But they all seem to know each other, and are not interested--or at least don’t seem to be interested--in making a new friend. Please help me find a place.

I bow my head and pray. I ask the Lord for the strength to get through the morning, and that I will now respond to others the way I wish someone had responded to me. Please, Lord, let me feel your presence when I feel so alone.  Let me find my place at Your feet.

I see a friend, the one person who has reached out. She smiles and makes room. Thank you for being like Christ and showing love."

My sweet friend is in a time of transition, as are many people at the start of this new school year. We will all more than likely encounter someone new in our churches and our neighborhoods this very week. Let's ask God to give us eyes to see the outsider, the new person, the lonely. Let's push through the awkward and interact with them. Something as simple as a helping hand or a warm welcome can show them the love of Christ and invite them into a community of believers. We may even have the opportunity to introduce them to Christ Himself.

June 5, 2014

Compelled By What?

In my study and memorization of Galatians, I've been consistently struck by one word that pops up throughout: compel. It likely sticks out because the word compel is in one of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture: "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

This is a hopeful compelling, a very sure footing and motivation for sacrificial ministry in Christ's name. But in Galatians, the compelling is of a different type, or more accurately, toward a different end. It is a compelling toward division, categories, and judgment. Toward people and their own glory rather than toward God and outward in love.
The gist of Galatians is this: Paul comes down hard on Jews (the circumcised) who have followed Christ through grace by faith but then have required Gentiles (the uncircumcised) to observe Jewish laws in order to be fully saved. Paul faces all kinds of pushback about it, but he holds a firm line that the gospel is that we are saved through grace by faith in Christ alone.

So where does this word compel show up? It appears in Galatians 2:3 and 2:14-16, but the one verse that has stood out to me is 6:12:

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised...

Why does this stand out? Because motivations and ideas have consequences. These were influential people teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation: leaders, teachers, pastors, perhaps even pastor's wives. Even Peter and Barnabas were caught up in it for a time (Galatians 2:11-13). We don't know the others' names, but we do know that their motivation was to instruct people to do a certain thing that would in effect cause people to come to their side, to be like them, to validate their choices and behaviors. It was to rally a group around them. They desired to make a good showing, and that motivation had divisive, harmful consequences. That desire led people astray from the true gospel.

This has just sort of stuck in my heart. I am just like every other woman alive--I want people to like me, admire me, and respect me. But as a pastor's wife, if that desire is my driving motivation for what I do in ministry, if I desire to make a good showing, my end goal is really to raise a group of people who follow me, not God. I am either preaching myself and my convictions, or I'm preaching the gospel; there is no middle ground. I'm compelled by something and I'm compelling others to something in everything I do. A desire for the approval of others will always compel me to manipulate others for my own glory. But the love of Christ, according to the 2 Corinthian passage, will always compel me to service, to live for others rather than for myself.

Sometimes I find myself wanting people to do things the way I do them or having the same convictions that I have about open-handed issues. Sometimes I want to force my thoughts and opinions on others. And, as I already stated, sometimes I just plain want to be liked. Galatians has challenged me to stop and consider how destructive those motivations can actually be if not reined in by Christ's gospel of grace.

And it's caused me to consider two things:
What am I compelled by? My own glory or by the love of Christ?
And what am I compelling others to? Myself or to the gospel?

I ask the same of you. Because motivations have consequences, either harmfully divisive or joyfully freeing, both for you and for others.

April 4, 2014

I Thought Ministry Would Be Glamorous

As early as high school, I had a sense that I might one day be a pastor's wife. The thought wasn't totally coherent, and it certainly wasn't something I went around talking about. I didn't sit guys down and interrogate them about their future vocation on first dates. I just kind of knew it would turn out the way it has, and all along I wanted it to turn out like it has.
When I was in high school and college, however, my idea of what ministry would be like wasn't at all accurate, so when I thought of what it might be like to marry a guy going into the ministry, I imagined it to be quite glamorous in a Baptisty sort of way. I'd stand with my husband at the back of the sanctuary to shake hands and everyone would know my name. I'd be honored and respected all over town because of my pastor's wife title. And I'd be spiritually glamorous too, having memorized the Bible somewhere along the way and knowing all the answers. This is how I imagined it.

The pastor's wife thing happened, but ministry has been nothing like I imagined. I shake hands, yes, and people sometimes know my name (sometimes not), but there's not much glamour in it all. Ministry is not about me (that was lesson #1), but it has been for me in the sense that it's shone a big ol' bright spotlight on my heart. The first thing God highlighted was my self-centeredness and my ambition, and He set the decision before me: would I seek to serve others or be served by them?

Sometimes I see a culture of ambition among church leaders that is scary to me, especially in the world of church planting. Let me clarify: I see an ambition in myself that is scary, and I recognize it in others because I've learned to recognize it in myself. The culture's insistence on performance, followers, flash, and results has infiltrated our church planting world and drives us, almost without us even realizing it, to use people rather than serve them and to question our success when obstacles get in our way or numbers sag. We seem to be just as obsessed with celebrity as the culture around us, and we're only content with the work as long as we're building quickly (and noisily).

This spring I've been reading about Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and I've seen in these guys something that I long to see in myself more and more: a love of the work over a love of the results from the work. They kept right on building the wall, teaching the Law, and restoring the temple through exhaustion, threat of attack, discouragement, accusation, and apathetic people. In all that, I'd probably be questioning my calling, pouting, or looking around for a pat on the back, certainly not emboldened to continue. But those guys listened and believed and acted on what God told them. They fulfilled Zechariah's prophetic words:

"For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth." Zechariah 4:10

To me, it seems that's what pure ministry is all about: not despising the day of small things, being willing to lay brick upon brick in the hot sun, to labor among rubble and discouragement with God's vision of what could be in mind, to consider only that the eyes of the Lord are watching and not the eyes of others. Ministry is day-in, day-out faithful building over a long period of time. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about it. If it wasn't glamorous for Jesus, it certainly won't be for us.

What if, as leaders, we really got this? What if I really got this? We'd quit chasing silly things, struggling with discontentment in our ministry, and believing that there should be something in it for us. Instead, we'd be characterized as suffering servants like Jesus was. We'd be looking for ways to go to the bottom rather than the top because at the bottom we'd have more people to serve. We'd be perfectly content being invisible in our labor because we'd trust that the eyes of the Lord are scanning to and fro, and that He sees what we do in His honor.

This is the trajectory I hope for the church and her leaders, that we quit shouting to be the loudest and most admired, that we not despise the day of small things, and that we stoop lower to lay brick upon brick of grace and truth and good works. This is how we best proclaim the Suffering Servant to one another and to the world around us, and this is how we love the work over the results of the work, and this is how we honor our God.

Have you believed that ministry or church planting should be glamorous? How has God taught you otherwise? 

March 4, 2014

Diversity and the Church

I am honored to share today a recent interview I did with Trillia Newbell, author of the new book, United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity. I am especially intrigued by the subject of diversity and the church and was glad for the opportunity to discuss it with her. 
Q: After so much progress in society regarding diversity, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?

A:
Perhaps we are all tired of the conversation about race. It doesn’t take much to recognize that our country continues to be divided along racial lines. Perhaps it seems that the country is moving toward unity, but it’s a fa├žade—just check your local news. And though our society may want to move on, we can’t, and neither can or should the church. Maybe our churches remain segregated simply because it’s comfortable. There’s nothing malicious to it; we are just more comfortable with “our own.” But also, it might be because diversity and racial issues are scary. Talking about race and racial reconciliation can be downright terrifying. No one wants to offend, and in our politically correct society, who would blame you? If you say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question, or call someone by the wrong name, will they be angry? Are you black or African-American? Chinese or Asian? Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican? This is an explosive topic, and sometimes it seems that the wisest course of action is to avoid it at all costs.


Q: You believe it’s vitally important to fight through the risks and the discomfort in order to fully live out the gospel of Christ.

A: Yes. We can so clearly see throughout Scripture that God celebrates the diversity of His creation. He does not distinguish between races: He created man in His own image, sent His Son to save the world, and saves anyone who believes. God calls Christians to be imitators of Christ and to walk in love. If He doesn’t show partiality, neither should we. The problem with the current church model and experience for most of us is that while we affirm these truths with our lips, Sunday morning reveals a different story.

Q: To a church that desires to have increased diversity, what suggestions would you offer?

A: I was taught by leaders whom I respect that it is okay to have a desire for diversity in music, activities, and the general environment. It is okay to think that, overall, the music, activities, and general environment should consider the entire congregation. Did you catch that? I’m not just saying music; it’s the activities as well. My church had wonderful events, but they were often geared toward one audience. If your church is truly seeking diversity (in any way), your activities must be diverse. This includes the activities for women. As we begin to view members of our churches as members of God’s family and thus as members of our family, our prejudices begin to crumble. Racial reconciliation is not only possible; it’s a must because we are the very family of God. That’s astounding. We are created equally. When Christ calls us to himself, He does not look at who we are in terms of ethnicity, nor does He call us because of who we are in any other way except that we are dead and in need of new life. We are equally saved. As a result, our churches should be the most gracious environments on the planet. More than any other place, the church should be more open to and excited about having people unlike themselves. This gracious environment must begin in our hearts. We have to look to Jesus and ask for grace to emulate His grace.


Q. I am a pastor's wife (as are many of my readers). I desire to see our church become more racially diverse. How can I as an individual practically be a part of change?

A. What a great question and one that I address in United. I don’t address pastor’s wives specifically but I think it applies as well. We could all simply invite people into our homes. I think we can complicate the pursuit of diversity. But I think if we show hospitality and love to others in general we can begin to build churches that are diverse. I don’t want to over simplify this; there are difficulties such as location of church, etc. I do, however, believe we can start by simply building relationships with people not like ourselves.

Q. Give us eyes to see: how do minorities experience racism in the church in ways that we might not recognize?

A. I cannot speak for all minorities; I can only share from my own experience and from the experiences of those who have contacted me to share. But before I think through experiences, I think it might help to define racism. If someone is blatantly opposing another because of their ethnicity then what I believe we are addressing is hate. Hating another person is clearly sinful. In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus gives no room for debating whether hate is sin—he goes on to say that we should not be sinfully angry and our anger is worthy of hell. We see in 1 John 3:15 that hate is considered murder. We know this to be true and thank God for his forgiving grace. The point is, racism is a serious offense. I think we’ve got to understand that it shouldn’t be minimized.

As far as blatant racism goes, I experienced that as a child visiting a church. A woman said something unkind and then made me and my friend sit near the back of the church. Most of the time, however, I think that people might experience a more subtle form of racism or perhaps partiality. In other words, someone might not speak to someone of another ethnicity or you might leave someone out of gatherings. I think it comes out in dating relationships as well. Someone might resist pursuing someone based on race (not because of lack of attraction). And we’ve seen churches ban interracial marriages—this I believe is a form of racism. I’m only scratching the surface on this topic.

Q. What are hindrances to a pursuit of diversity in the church and how do we move past those obstacles? 

A. I spend Chapter 8 in United addressing some potential hindrances. Location can definitely make pursuing diversity more complicated. So if you are in an area where the community is homogenous, it may be harder to reach beyond that ethnic group (not impossible, just harder). Another difficulty is the sin of partiality. James 2:1-16 addresses this temptation. We can be partial to those like us and therefore reject others or partial to those who we think are superior and better than others. It’s a temptation that we have to fight against. I think another potential problem could be fear. Fear of the unknown, afraid to make the effort, afraid to step out of our comfort zone. You name it. These are a few potentials.

But even still, God can give us grace to overcome all of this. There is great hope in the gospel. If God can reconcile us to Himself, surely He can reconcile us to each other. I have a lot of hope in this pursuit because I have a lot of hope in the gospel.  


Trillia Newbell is the Lead Editor of Karis, the women's channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She is also the consultant on Women's Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Her work has appeared on Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, The Resurgence, and more. Find out more about her book, United, by visiting her website: www.trillianewbell.com.


February 25, 2014

What Not To Say (And What To Say) To Your Pastor's Wife

After much thought, I have decided to remove this post. Time and perspective have shown me that it wasn't written with the grace that I wanted to convey. I may write it differently in the future, but for now, I'd direct you to the following post, which speaks to what all pastor's wives (and all people) want from others:

Just Listen: A Lesson from Ferguson (and from the post I removed)




January 28, 2014

Influence: You've Got It Online

Last week, I wrote that, as ministry wives, you and I have influence: on our own thought lives, our husbands, our children, and our churches. Most of us need a fresh reminder of this like we need most truth placed in front of us again and again: because we don't feel influential, and we don't often see any effects from our so-called influence, and so we doubt ourselves way more than we should. But I don't think influence is a feeling or a matter of results necessarily; I think it's about boldly filling the roles God's placed in front of us and trusting Him to do with our work what He wills.

So some of us need that fresh reminder in the face of fear and discouragement, but I think others of us need the reminder because we need to consider how to use our influence with discernment, especially in how we relate to the women in our churches online.
A blog reader broached the topic with this question: How much of a pastor's wife's personal preferences should she air online? I would add: What should she share online? And: How can she best use social media to enhance her ministry to women in her church?

These are actually things I've thought quite a bit about, especially because I write about being a pastor's wife online while also living a very real and often messy life offline. The people in my real life, many of whom go to our church, don't talk to me much about what I write here, but I'm sure some of them read this, and they see what I write about being their pastor's wife, and that sometimes messes with my head. Mostly, it causes me to think, "Am I being honest and forthright online about who I really am offline?" If those ever don't match, I need to quit this thing entirely.

And that, I think, is the first thing we need to know about our influence online: if we aren't being honest and forthright, if we're trying to create an image of something we're not, the people in our offline lives will quickly see through all that, and we'll eventually lose our influence in their lives.

The second thing is that, like everything else in my life, I want to use my online presence for the benefit of others. This is both my goal and my guideline. For example, what I write here may be the way I process a tangle of thoughts and emotions, but I also want it to be helpful to others in some way. As applied to Facebook or Twitter, am I generally drawing attention to myself (which is often what sharing personal convictions does) or generally using those as platforms to encourage, to champion someone else, to say thank you, or to connect with women in the church?

Because the quickest way to close hearts and ears to any gospel-influence you want to have in the lives of women is to spout your personal convictions all over social media, post pictures or status updates that make women in your church feel excluded, make overly-political statements, or to write negative comments about ministry or the church.

Some may feel hindered, like these are shackles placed on you simply because you're the pastor's wife. On the contrary, I think we have an opportunity to love and we develop more influence as we're careful and discerning with our online presence. Our online influence can quickly open doors with others, or it can shut them in our face, likely without us even realizing it.

So I'd encourage you to think about your online life. How can you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or your blog in ways that benefit and encourage others? How might someone who's considering visiting your church actually view your church based on your social media stream? And most importantly, does the external of your life and how you present it online match what's happening internally?

Your turn: How would you answer the questions posed above by the blog reader and by me? What principles do you follow when you're considering what to post online?

January 23, 2014

Good Ideas (From Other People)

Over the course of ministry, I've tucked away ideas that I've gathered from others, I've pulled them out at opportune times, and the really good ones have become staples in our ministry. All of them are from other people; none are my own. And now I happily share them with you! Might you share some of your tried-and-trues with us at the end of this post?

Bless the Staff Wives
My friend Shauna, a church planting wife in San Francisco, is a well of endless ideas, especially when it comes to blessing people. This summer, when we were on sabbatical, Shauna and I sat at the cutest little coffee and pastry shop and talked shop. She told me about two things she does to bless the staff wives at their church:

Christmas Bells: In December, Shauna gathers the ladies for a dinner. Throughout the evening, she rings jingle bells to announce that a treat is coming. She then passes out little gifts from special people in their lives. For example, a staff wife's mom might send a fun piece of jewelry for each of the women.
Night of Comfort and Joy: On the anniversary of the church plant, all the ladies bring a comfort food to a gathering, and together they create a time capsule answering specific questions about the previous year: favorite moments, saddest moments, most challenging moments, hopes for the coming year. They read through the previous year's time capsule and celebrate what God has done.

I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking it too: I want to be one of those staff wives at Shauna's church!

Don't Forget the Staff Kids
On Leading and Loving It a few years back, one of the pastor's wives mentioned that she celebrates the staff kids once a year. I hadn't thought of that! I immediately jumped on her idea, using Valentine's as the perfect excuse to shower some love on the kids of our staff and elders. It was so fun putting little treat bags together, writing notes thanking them for "sharing" their dads, and delivering the bags to our sweet kids, including my own.

Roll Out the Red Carpet
In my opinion, "Thank you" is simply not said enough, especially in the church. Saying thank you is a simple yet meaningful gesture for anyone, but especially for volunteers who sacrificially serve week-in and week-out.

In Bill Hybel's book Courageous Leadership, he mentions literally rolling out the red carpet for church volunteers. I love that idea and, as soon as I read the book, I knew I wanted to make sure our leaders regularly felt loved, appreciated, and special. Because we don't have a church building, I've settled on an annual dinner at our house. We move out all the furniture, we set up tables and a nice dinner, I develop a fun theme, and we have a time where we celebrate how God is using each other in our church and community. It is now the highlight of my year!

Go Smaller
The book that has most informed our ministry is Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden. The idea behind the book is simple, and it's something my husband says all the time: More time with fewer people leads to greater kingdom impact. That idea has sparked a passion in me for discipleship, for focusing smaller, and investing deeper in others.

52 Snow Days
As I write, it's a snow day at our house. The kids are outside sledding and community group has been canceled tonight. We have no where to go and no where to be, so we'll make a fire, maybe read Harry Potter or work a puzzle, and have some hot chocolate. Snow days are fun because everything shuts down. And they are always a reminder of what my husband says, the idea he's taught me how to implement: "God gives us 52 snow days every year." He's right--we have 52 sabbaths every year, and we should treat them as snow days, when we shut work down and just enjoy life.

What are the best ideas you've gotten from others? Perhaps they're words that have stuck with you or ideas that you've implemented in your church. Or perhaps they are examples you've seen that have meant something to you. We'd love to hear (and steal them)!

November 19, 2013

I Have a Dream (of What The Church Can Be)

When Kyle and I first started dreaming about what kind of church we'd like to plant in Charlottesville, approximately none of our conversation centered around programs. Instead, we talked about relationships, community, grace, and, mostly, how we'd like to see the gospel of Christ bring new life in us and in our adopted city. We hadn't really seen what we envisioned church to be, but we had a God-given dream and we had a calling to a city, and we just kind of went to work carving out what we held in our hearts, praying for God to move so we could see it come together in real life.

I love the church, the bride of Jesus Christ. I have a passionate desire to see her beautiful and lovely, even in her temporary, earthly brokenness. I believe the church is something much more profound than a set of programs and a good children's ministry and a bunch of people getting together on Sunday mornings. I believe the Bible is alive and active and that it speaks powerfully when it's preached. I believe, as my husband says, that the church is a battleship, not a cruise ship, and that as a people, we must enter the messiness and darkness of the world with the Light.

I also believe it's really important that we plant and build new churches with great care to detail and with the loftiest of goals. And that we build them according to the gospel and not according to our own desires, the desires of others, or our own dreams.
I recently read Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton, and he described in accurate detail the vague dream Kyle and I set out with in the beginning. He also describes what we hoped and still hope to leave behind. I hope this selected passage encourages you as you plant and build with gospel-precision:

Imagine two scenarios of church life. 

In the first, God gathers his people together in a covenantal event to judge and to justify, to kill and to make alive. The emphasis is on God's work for us--the Father's gracious plan, the Son's saving life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit's work of bringing life to the valley of dry bones through the proclamation of Christ.

The preaching focuses on God's work in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation, and sinners are swept into this unfolding drama. Trained and ordained to mine the riches of Scripture for the benefit of God's people, ministers try to push their own agendas, opinions, and personalities to the background so that God's Word will be clearly proclaimed. In this preaching, the people once again are simply receivers--recipients of grace.

Similarly, in baptism, they do not baptize themselves; they are baptized. In the Lord's supper, they do not prepare and cook the meal; they do not contribute to the fare; but they are guests who simply enjoy the bread of heaven.

As this gospel creates, deepens, and inflames faith, a profound sense of praise and thanksgiving fills hearts, leading to good works among the saints and in the world throughout the week. Having been served by God in the public assembly, the people are then servants of each other and their neighbors in the world. Pursuing their callings in the world with vigor and dedication, they win the respect of outsiders. Because they have been served well themselves--especially by pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons--they are able to share the Good News of Christ in well-informed and natural ways. And because they have been relieved of numerous burdens to spend all of their energy on church-related ministries throughout the week, they have more time to serve their families, neighbors, and coworkers in the world.

In the second scenario, the church is its own subculture, an alternative community not only for weekly dying and rising in Christ but for one's entire circles of friends, electricians, and neighbors.

In this scenario, the people assume that they come to church primarily to do something. The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to living a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world.

Their calling by God to secular vocations is made secondary to finding their ministry in the church. Often malnourished because of a ministry defined by personal charisma and motivational skills rather than by knowledge and godliness, these same sheep are expected to be shepherds themselves. Always serving, they are rarely served.

Ill-informed about the grand narrative of God's work in redemptive history, they do not really know what to say to a non-Christian except to talk about their own experiences and perhaps repeat some slogans or formulas that they might be hard-pressed to explain. Furthermore, because they are expected to be so heavily involved in church-related activities (often considered more important even than the public services on Sunday), they do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to develop significant relationships outside the church.

And if they were to bring a friend to church, they could not be sure that he or she would hear the gospel.

--
Dream of what church can be when it's centered on Christ as its Head and when His gospel of grace is preached. Now go in the Spirit's power to be a part of building that church.

November 11, 2013

Honoring Authority

God Himself has borne fruit in our ministry, and there is no question that it's been Him. Within His movement, I believe strongly that He has given my husband favor in our community because of one main thing. That thing is not leadership ability, hard work, charisma, or preaching skills, although he has those in spades if I do say so myself.

It is honor. Kyle has chosen to faithfully honor authority. Our church plant is the first time he has been the lead guy, so he's had lots of experience following others. Even when he has disagreed, even when he has had to take criticism himself because of behind-the-scenes decisions made by authority, even when it has been painstakingly difficult to do, he's done it. He's defended, held his tongue, respected his authority, and not let different ideas keep him from faithfully and fervently carrying out his ministry. Honor goes beyond external submission or assent. Honor resides in the heart and attitude, and I've seen my husband wrestle to get his heart and attitude in a God-honoring and authority-honoring place.
So I believe because he has honored his God-given authorities, God has honored him. I believe, too, that his honor of those he's served alongside as peers has been equally important. Working with others, championing their ministries, celebrating them, and learning from different styles have been vital lessons for him in preparation for church planting.

I've learned a lot in this area from my husband. I am not naturally a good follower, and I tend to be pretty opinionated and critical, especially about leaders. I've learned from Kyle how important it is to submit to the authorities God has placed in my life, and I've learned how to always look for the other side of the situation. How can I focus on the strengths of those in authority rather than the negatives? How can I give that person the benefit of the doubt? Am I expecting something from them that I wouldn't want someone expecting from me? Could it be that there are things I don't know about going on behind the scenes or that I am not privy to all the information?

Now that we're on the other side, I obviously see authority a little differently than I used to. I know what leadership entails and how difficult it is and how most people are quick to evaluate or see the negatives. I know that there are things that go on behind the scenes that inform certain decisions and that those decisions can be misconstrued because not all the information can be said publicly. I also see the personal side of the leader and how much he loves the people he serves. I want our church to honor my husband and give him the benefit of the doubt, and, thankfully, they very much do.

However, it points a spotlight right back onto my own heart and attitude about authority and honor. How do I speak of the other leaders who are not my husband? How do I champion those who lead, especially those who lead differently than how I might do something? How do I respond when an authority lovingly corrects me? How do I relate to others around me that I don't naturally connect with?

Sometimes honor is painful and difficult and sometimes it is a joy, but is always necessary if we are to be ministers of the gospel. In relation to church planting, a refusal to submit to authority leads some to start their own churches, but this is a horrible reason to do so. Because honor is a matter of the heart, it follows you into new endeavors. If honor hasn't been cultivated in our hearts prior to church planting, it plays out in how we deal with criticism and how we work with other church planters in our cities and how we manage and care for the team that comes with us. 

Honoring others comes down to honoring God. I'm trying to teach this to my children because we could use a whole lot more honor in our home right now. I say to them, "When you shoot an arrow of honor toward your brother, you're shooting another one up to God at the same time." (I know shooting arrows seems contrary to honor, but talk of shooting arrows makes boys sit up straight and pay attention.) The point is, we honor God by honoring others, because God created the people we're relating to and because He's put those people in authority over us. If we cannot honor people who have only borrowed authority, how will we honor the One who has all true authority? 

So go shoot your arrows today. Shoot your arrows of honor toward those you serve alongside, toward your spouse, and toward your children. Because when you do, you're shooting an arrow of honor straight to the heart of God. 

October 28, 2013

The Best Seat in the House

Last Sunday night, our elder and staff team came over for dinner to get to know Matt, a pastor from one of our partner churches in Manchester, England. Our boys marveled at his accent and enjoyed the Man City and Manchester United gifts he brought along for them, and the adults listened with fascination as Matt told stories about his church and about what God is doing in his post-Christian nation.

There were 13 of us squeezed in my dining room listening to those stories. Eleven were expected, but at the last minute, an elder's wife called and asked if their overnight guests, who were also in ministry, could come as well. The more the merrier, I said! One of our elders--an engineer--rearranged the dining room so we could all sit together in one space.

So there we were, the 13 of us, getting to know new faces and listening to stories of God at work. The two guests, as it so happened, are involved in a ministry to the United Nations in New York City. Before that, they were missionaries in Africa, and before that, were involved in campus ministry at the University of Virginia right here in Charlottesville.
After dinner, after serving coffee to an Englishman, we pushed our chairs back from the table and talked. We heard about how wide open the doors are among diplomats coming to the United Nations from other countries. We heard about people coming to Christ in Manchester. And we listened in awe as our two guests from New York talked about how they had prayed many years ago for a church to reach university students in our very city.

At one point, I surveyed the room and pondered all these things in my heart. I saw people that I love that are co-laborers in Charlottesville, but I also saw the bigger picture of God's work in the world. God working in Charlottesville. God working in Manchester. God working among the nations. Amazing, simply amazing.

I've thought about that moment the 13 of us were stuffed into my dining room several times since last Sunday. I've mainly thought about how extremely blessed I am to be a pastor's wife. Simply because I am a pastor's wife, I get a backstage pass to see and engage with God's work in this world. I get to hear stories and meet incredible people. My children get to hear stories and meet incredible people. I get to talk about Jesus with people, and I get to expound on His gospel of grace. I get to see Him bring people to faith and loose their chains. I get a glimpse at the big picture, and it's beautiful.

I've thought about this, too, because it's pretty easy to get deflated by all the other things we see and hear as a pastor's wife: the complaints against our husband, the people leaving the church or the faith, the hurts that we can't process with others, and the deep wounds and consequences from sin that we watch others experience. Those parts of ministry aren't easy and sometimes if we think too much about them, we want to quit.

That moment around my dining table reminded me to think on the good, to recall what God has done and recount it constantly and rejoice in even the smallest of victories. And to remember that the blessings and rewards of ministry far outweigh the difficulties. Being a pastor's wife is the best seat in the house, even if it's a folding chair crammed in an overcrowded dining room.

October 24, 2013

Unity, Not Uniformity

Because of technical difficulties with Feedburner yesterday, the post I wrote entitled Preparing Personally for Church Planting was not sent to email subscribers. If you missed it and would like to read it, you can click here

In some ways, grace can be lonely. Allow me to illustrate by simply asking a few questions:

What is the right way: cloth or disposable?
What is the Christian way: private or public?
Who is the more spiritual mom: stay-at-home or working?
What is right and what is wrong: missionary or businessman?
Who has favor in the eyes of God: she who has a tv or she who doesn't?
Who is better qualified for ministry: single or married?
What is the right way to feed your child: organic or non-organic?
What is the right way to spend your money: give it to a good cause or go on a vacation?
Who is more godly: the pierced or the unpierced? the made-up or those going au naturel?
Who is the more spiritual: adoptive parents or those who have no children?
I'm curious as to your response. However, I'm not looking for a circled list returned to me in the comment section. This is not a biblical exam because this list does not cover any commands from Scripture. This list does, however, cover things that we talk about in Christian circles. And we often make up rules about them.

If we set our lives according to man-made standards and parameters, we'll never be lonely. We can huddle together with the others who swear by cloth diapers and discuss the best brands. We can gather in our public school groups and turn our minds off to the unique needs of private school or homeschool moms. We can go to the mission field and look pitifully at the Americans still sitting in the pews back home. Indeed, when we live by the law, we can always find a like-minded soul to huddle with who will validate our choices. We can tell everyone our opinions as if they were law, because we have perpetual back-up. And we appear very together and very sure of ourselves.

But when we live according to the law--these man-made standards that have no basis in the gospel--we huddle far from those who don't agree, who don't live as we do, or who we cannot understand. We cause division, because we force people into categories and identities based on their choices.

When we live according to Christ's gospel of grace, we may be lonely in the sense that we won't huddle in any one category. We aren't identified by our choices. We can't be put in a box. We identify ourselves, not as this kind of mom or that kind of woman, but as a child of God. We follow His lead, not the lead of the huddle we're in.

Living identified as a child of God is hard to do. It's really hard to walk in grace. It's really hard to extend it to others and especially to give it to ourselves. It's hard because we have to reject the comparison game, and our flesh was born to compare. It's hard because we can't settle into nice, neat little categories, and we risk being misunderstood or judged. It's hard because sometimes God leads us differently than how He leads others, and we're standing out on an island feeling vulnerable and, sometimes, like we're doing something wrong and completely unspiritual.

But in another sense, grace is not lonely at all. Grace attracts where the law repels and divides. More accurately, grace attracts those who know their need for it, and it repels those who think they've already got it all figured out. A person living in grace will never be without the companionship of the fellow poor-in-spirit. Many will be drawn and freed by the grace she speaks.

So how did you answer the questions above? Each question should make you rise up in frustration, not rise up to defend your position, because these aren't the right questions we should be asking anyway. They aren't the questions we should be talking about with other women. Instead, we should be thinking about the humility that comes out of a gospel understanding, we should be talking about faith, hope, and love far more than diapers, education, and marriage, and we should be encouraging one another to go to God to ask, "Lord, what is it you have for me as an individual or for us as a family?" and then rejoicing in God's clear answers.

Because grace brings unity, but it doesn't bring uniformity.

October 3, 2013

What It's Like to be a Visitor at Church

When was the last time you visited a church other than your own?

We, of course, got to visit several this summer while we were away, and we even snuck in a Sunday at one in our own city when we returned. I absolutely loved experiencing different styles of worship, preaching, and ways of practicing community and communion. It was good for my soul because I saw that, truly, Jesus is the head of his Church. 

But I also learned a thing or two about what it's like to be a visitor at a church. We did the typical Saturday night internet search before each Sunday and discovered, like everyone else who ever searches for churches, that there are some bad and uninformative websites out there. Just so you know, we made our choices based upon the websites, and everyone in your city who doesn't know anyone at all is also deciding whether or not to try your church based on your website.

On Sunday mornings, we got up and did the whole running late thing because we could. And every single Sunday, I was nervous when we got to the church we had chosen to attend. I considered that this is exactly how people feel when they visit our church for the first time: they are worried about where to go, where their children are supposed to go, and, no matter how friendly or eager they are, they feel uncomfortable.
We tried all kinds of churches: historic churches filled with pews, church plants where we sat on couches, and 25-year-old churches with sprawling campuses. We worshipped using liturgy, 90's worship music, laser lights, and acoustic guitar. And we heard the gospel clearly spoken and in spoken word.

Of course, these things ministered to me, and I experienced God and His Body among strangers. But you know what mattered most to me, the visitor? That someone spoke to me. I just wanted someone to speak to me. I was completely uncomfortable and uncertain until someone came over to us and greeted us with warm conversation and a sincere welcome. But as soon as I was spoken to, I felt at home.

This recognition made me think of our own church and the new faces that walk through our doors every Sunday. They've done the internet search, they've tried to get there on time, and they're just a little unsure. They will know they're welcome in our expression of the Body of Christ only when they're warmly greeted and shown interest in. How simple!

Thinking about that got me really excited about my role as the pastor's wife. I absolutely love that I can be a small part of creating an environment of community and warmth just by having an eye for new faces and talking with them. And just think: someone's salvation and sanctification may just start with a smile and a conversation before or after church. Warm hospitality is that important.

I hope you have a chance to be a visitor one day, but, if not, take my word for it: practice hospitality! It's a vital ministry in your church.

(And the website....)
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