Category Archives: Pastormac’s Pilgrimage

Pastormac’s Pilgrimage for “Next”: I took communion wrong.


I did communion wrong.  My wife told me so last Sunday.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about communion this week for two reasons.

First, it just so happens that in our Chronological Bible Study on Monday Nights (called the Journey.  Check out Pastormac’s Facebook page for details.) we’ve reached 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about people taking the Lord’s Supper in such an inappropriate manner that a) he says it’s not really the Lord’s Supper and b) some were even getting sick and dying, apparently as judgment.  More on this and my opening statement later.

Second,  yesterday we visited Hope E. Free Church with some friends of ours.  We had a really good time, particularly as we visited it with some other Lifesingers, as well as some friends who go even further back than that.   Short review:  My wife and oldest daughter said it was their favorite and the traditional feel brought them some comfort I think.  My second oldest daughter and I enjoyed it, but the traditional feel did not appeal to us as much.  I’m sure I’ll write more about that another time, but for now what I wanted to mention is that this would be the fourth straight church in four visits where Communion was on the agenda.  I don’t know if these churches do communion every week or it’s just something that we happen to be hitting on the designated Sundays.

So all this thinking about communion has led to a few thoughts.

1) I think I missed the boat on this one.  Although we did communion at Lifesong we did not do it regularly and we certainly did not do it frequently.  I think I missed an opportunity there, particularly as you’ll see by my discussion below we had a perfect set up for doing it meaningfully and in an organic matter that churches who do not sit at tables don’t have opportunity to do.  It is of course the most valuable and important part of our worship to remember what Christ did and what it really  means for us.  Communion is one good way to remember this.  Every church did communion differently.  One was integrated into the service which I liked.  Three of them had us go up for communion and one of them passed out the elements.  Two of them had a very free form, come-as-you-feel-lead approach and two of them had designated times for it.  One of them made very brief mention and as far as we could see no one took advantage of it.  The others emphasized it to a fairly high degree, by placement in the service or by talking it up.  Interestingly, all of them used the little tiny cups of juice and some kind of bread (not always unleavened, interestingly.)  This leads me to my second thought.

2) As valuable as the tradition is, and as much as I now wish we’d done more of it at Lifesong, I can’t help but also feel like the way we’re doing it in all these churches (again still better than not doing it at all as we basically did) is somehow missing a valuable point or two I see in Corinthians.

Here’s the passage:

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

Obviously I’m not about to suggest that we should follow the Corinthians example, but it’s interesting what abuses Paul is angry about because it’s an abuse that would be literally impossible to commit in our day.  This is not to say we are doing it wrong, but only differently.  He says that when they come together for the Lord’s Supper some are overeating and some are getting drunk.  Here’s what was common among all the churches we visited.

imagesI don’t care how strong or weak the content.  No way you’re getting drunk on this.

In fact at Hope it was half this size, because, very cleverly, they had basically half cups and the little tiny piece of bread went in the other side of the cup.  No way you’re overeating on that either.  You could argue, and it may even be true, that our traditions have evolved this way precisely to avoid the abuses Paul spoke about.  My point is not to argue that these churches are wrong.  I have benefitted from communion in each one, so much that I’ve confessed my own delinquency in doing so regularly at Lifesong in any form.

My point though is that clearly what Paul was thinking of as the Lord’s Supper is closer to the origin of the tradition than to what it is now.  The whole thing was begun by Jesus himself and it happened, not at some ceremonial tasting but at a ceremonial meal.    It was a passover meal which means it had deep ceremony and meaning, but it also means it was one great feast.  The lamb was literally the best they could find, the food was plentiful and the drink was bona-fide wine.  It was during this meal, this festive feast, that Jesus passed around a loaf of unleavened bread and a large cup of wine.  His point was clearly connected to Passover, but as He asks them to remember Him whenever they do this, could it no also apply to the mere act of eating and drinking together.  Could He not be saying that whenever you come together to eat, we should remember that our life comes not from our daily bread and wine but from the Lord Jesus Himself?

When Paul accuses them of taking the Lord’s supper wrongly, he is nor arguing about the methodology but about the complete lack of remembrance.  As they come together to feast they are not remembering Jesus and this is most evident because they are not remembering each other.  They are coming together and thinking only of themselves.  They are taking advantage of the free buffet even though they have food at home.  They are, in fact, forgetting those who truly do not have enough at home, embarrassing them by not letting them eat first, by not thinking of them first.  The entire book of 1 Corinthians really is summed up in chapter 13.  Every question they ask, every doctrinal nicety and methodological question is answered by Paul the same way:  think of your brothers, love them and behave accordingly.

This brings me to the pondering I’ve been doing about this possible new kind of church which may or may not be God’s leading near the University of New Mexico.  What if you could have a church where eating together could serve both as a service for those who need it (whether they be college students or prostitutes on Central) as well as a moment of remembering what the Lord has done.

While I do not scorn our current methods of communion I do note three significant differences in them which do appear to reflect and fit our culture better than our Lord’s culture.

1) Although our communion is done in gatherings, it’s very easily individual and doesn’t require others at all.  The cups are individual portions, the bread is separate and not torn from a larger loaf.  Their’s was clearly a communal occasion.

2) Ours is usually very solemn and quiet.  Theirs seemed to involve interaction and discussion, both in the Corinth church where it may have been wrong and in Jesus example where it was clearly right.

3) Ours is about remembering Jesus through prayer and worship which is good.  Theirs was about remembering Jesus through prayer, worship and service to others which is better.

Finally, how did I take communion wrong?  Well, as I mentioned every church did it differently and this was the first church where the instructions where to wait until the pastor read a certain passage  I didn’t wait.  Like the Corinthians I rushed in and ate when I felt ready.  Of course it wasn’t really wrong, but I did miss an opportunity to join with all my brothers and sisters in a moment and I was reminded that a moment alone is not the same as a moment together and while both can be good, the moments together are rare enough in our culture to be treasured.  Of course the bottom line to all this is what it really means; and not how we do it, so I’ll close with Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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Pastormac’s pilgrimage for “Next”:


Sorry this is up a about 12 hours late.  I’ve been working on something cool and exciting which will be announced soon!

But for now, on to my latest pilgrimage blog.

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We went to redemption in Rio Rancho yesterday.  This is a church plant from Desert Springs.  New church plants are easy for me to feel a special kinship with since that’s precisely what Lifesong was.  I guess there were two primary things that I noticed and both of them were more threads in the tapestry God is weaving of whatever “next” is.  First though, for the quick review.  The message was solid and well delivered (and hey Carlos Griegos who gave the sermon is a former Lobo Chaplain, so what’s not to like:-)  It was on parenting and there was a heavy emphasis on Grace and love which is always a good sign a far as I’m concerned.  Parenting in particular is one place where very noble intentions can lead to very unhelpful sermons.   Fear of losing our kids can lead us to seek formulas, guilt, and isolation. Sometimes the messages become so missional (we raise the next generation to change the world…) that the idea of loving your kids as a treasure and gift from the Lord somehow never enters in.  None of these  were present in the sermon and I greatly appreciated that.  There was a little of the “small Church desperation” among some of the members which I never liked when I saw in Lifesong (or frankly in myself) but that often comes from a place of deep love and community and a little fear, so I give grace for that.  None of that was present in the pastors who instead came across confident that God would lead as God would lead.  The ratio of kids to parents was close to 1 to 1 (of course we with our seven kids encouraged that ratio), which we, of course are fine with.  In particular adoption seems to be a big part of their culture, although I didn’t detect any self righteousness or pressure that “everyone should adopt.”  As a side note it’s interesting, but not terribly important, that the two smaller churches we’ve attended(Paragon being the other one)  had African American children in the class Josiah and Lidya attended, while the larger churches did not.  This is not a judgement in any way except to wonder if it is true that the smaller churches were most disproportionately diverse, and if so, why?   It is also possible that it’s more noticeable in a smaller church.  I’m not sure.  I do know that at redemption it’s the adoption culture which undoubtedly is responsible for that.  So on to the two things I mentioned earlier.

1) I knew a surprising number of people from other places.  Although you might expect this in a big church, it was surprising in a church no bigger than Lifesong was when we started, that there were so many people I knew from past church experiences of one kind or another.  The other thing about this that was cool was that some of them were kids in my church years and years ago who have now grown to be ministers in this church.  Along with the younger folk I ran into someone who was a leader in the church I attended whenI was a college student, so there was a range and it was encouraging.  It made me remember a couple of things. I’ve been around the block a bit and am now not only in title but in reality among my community an elder.  I don’t mean by this old.  That I still don’t believe, but that I”ve achieved a place of natural leadership and influence, that I have a legacy of people I can point to who’s lives have been changed over the last 20 years is something you cannot cheat or shortcut.  It’s something only perseverance and integrity gives you and I am grateful for God’s grace to lead me thus far.    In fact, one of these friends had a conversation with me after church in which he was encouraging me and my family to join precisely so that we could exercise such positive influence within the church.  He pointed out that the pastors were all under thirty (Can you imagine such a thing? says Pastormac,  who was ordained at the age of 21) and that what we would have benefitted from in our early years was just such steady wisdom and influence.  His words were persuasive but he added something to his words which I understand but with which I don’t think I agree  (which is a wordy way of saying I’m still thinking about it.)  He said that it’s the young people who will change the world.  that it’s young people who have always changed the world from Alexander the Great on through history.  His point was that in too many churches we hamstring the young and enthusiastic from having true leadership which is a shame and with that I agree.  But aside from the number of older people who changed the world which was already beginning to formulate in my head (C.S. Lewis, Colnel Sanders, George Washington, and, according to this study, most innovators)  Anyway as he talked about how now that we were both old (!) we had opportunity to change the world through them, I had two differing though not exactly contradictory reactions.

a) That would work.  I could easily see myself doing that.  I do have experiences and understandings and gifts which could be used here for just that purpose.  I have no problem with doing that with or without a title.  I never have.  Perhaps this is why I am here.

b) I’m neither out of energy nor out of ability to lead and how awesome would it be if I did end up doing something in the university area which really did challenge college students to change the world in ways that matter, bringing good news to all sorts of people down the line.  In other words, I felt a desire not only to influence younger men already on the road to doing great things, but to influence drifting, hopeless, angsty young men on the road to nothing.  Now that would be something. 🙂

Before I move to step two, I want to say that I think changing the world is something each of us does every day, or at least can do.  Passing a certain age, or not being past a certain age, does not take this amazing ability from you.  Every time you love someone uniquely, every time you share the gifts you’ve been given to share, you run the risk of changing someone forever.  Here’s one of my favorite Ted Talks to this point.  You’vee seen it before if you’ve been a long time reader, but it’s worth seeing again.

2) I have an awesome family.  During the teaching, Pastor Craig encouraged us to do a lot of things that make a lot of sense.  To share the Gospel with your kids, for you are the primary message.   To live the Gospel with your kids, because you are the primary model.  To saturate your family with discussions around the dinner table with talk of Christ, rather than trying to force devotions.  it was all good, and I felt good about it all.  Let me be as clear as possible.  My family is an Apple family.  The number of computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads and iTunes purchases could supply a small business well.  It is not an unusual site to see us at the dinner table on our devices.  We have arguments and dysfunction and discussions about meaningless stuff (did you know Kayak is not only a palindrome but actually a physical palindrome too because it can go forwards or backwards also?).  We do not close every day with group prayer; we do not gather for family devotions.  We are probably a lot like your family or likely even less disciplined and structured.

 

But last night, my family and I gathered to watch a video put out by John Elderege called “Epic.”

 

We did not do this as a result of the sermon but as a result of my having been trying to coordinate this for weeks.  I got no pushback on the night we did it and we had a very long substantive and challenging discussion afterwards.   This is not what is most awesome about my family though.

What is awesome is that during the discussion, we did not all express sterling faith, proper theological truths, and comfortable ideas.  Instead we wrestled with troubling questions, doubts, and frustrations.  We also shared truth and faith and grew as a result.  But it encouraged me and confirmed for me that the life as a pastor, while it has brought pain and hardship to my family, while it’s meant a loss of stability now as we seek awkwardly to find what’s next for all of us; that while al this is true, it’s also created in my kids a genuine hunger, a freedom to seek  God honestly and a love of truth, and bonding it all, a sense of community which makes it safe and ok to discuss in our family.  My wife and my kids are amazing people. People willing to risk, to question, to learn, all in order to seek the true living God, rather than a pale, safe, but ultimately comfortless and impotent shadow of God.   I was pleased to see that the community my kids fear we lost with Lifesong was inbred in us as a family.  Whatever next is, I am grateful that it will be with them

 

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Pastormac’s Pilgrimage for “Next:” Weird relationships.


Yesterday we went to Destiny Church.  It use to be called Destiny Center,  and for reasons I’ll explain later, I wondered about the name change.  I am curious if they needed to add the word church because people were confused about whether they were, in fact, a church.  I suppose by the name people might have thought it was a meditation center or something.  I”ve no idea.  We enjoyed the service and I was inspired by the teaching.  I’ll touch very briefly on that at the end.

Anyway, I like the senior pastor there, Jerome, and we have been friends; not bosom buddies, but  a little more than friendly acquaintances.  To his credit he treated me like we were best friends, making, me, I’ll admit, look good in front of a couple of my former congregants who we just happened to meet there (who were also trying it out.)  This made me feel good of course, and then an interesting thing happened.

I almost immediately began to wonder if he were really feeling this friendly for me or if it were because I was now a potential congregant.  This was entirely unfair and uncharitable of me, as Jerome probably would have, and has, treated me the same if he ran into me on the street..  It also made me ponder something I’ve pondered many times before, one of my least favorite things about being a pastor:

Being a pastor make relationships weird.

Not all relationships, probably not even most and certainly not all the time, but often enough to make me wonder if we’re doing something wrong in this chuch thing.   It might just be that there’s something wrong with us; and since the fall, I know that to be true.

In the best cases, a pastor/congregant relationship is simply a well bonded, deep and family like intimacy .  I’m finding, as Lifesingers continue to meet at Dion’s and enjoy each other’s company that this is largely true for my Lifesong experience.

Honestly, I helped this by setting clear expectations from the beginning.  with several strongly worded sermons on what not to expect from me.  I promised to make mistakes (and then, just so no one would forget, I made sure to keep that promise.)

One of my favorite statements in the literature about our church which we got to people early and often was

If a church is a place where you get all the answers, we’re not a church.

If a church is a place where everyone’s got their act together, we are not a church.

If a church is a place where the pastor alone cares for everyone’s needs, is available at all hours, and never struggles, then we are most definitely not a church.

On the other hand we believe a church is the place where there is the most safety and encouragement to ask the most relevant, and sincere questions.  We believe answers can be found in scripture, but are best sought together in community.

We are a church which understands that only one person in history has ever had His act completely together and that His name is Jesus and His role is God.  There is room in the universe for only one Messiah, and you are not it.  I am not it and no one at our church will pretend to be it.

So my most recent experience is filled with better than normal relationships, and perhaps the price of better than normal is some weirder than normal relationships along the way.

Today, as I blog, it has occurred to me that there are some clear things that both congregants and pastor’s could do differently which might make a difference.  It also occurs to me that I am an in unusual place of being a pastor without a church but also without rancor.  I did not close my last church bitterly, I have not forsworn the idea of pastoring again as a bad deal (in fact, I’m increasingly suspecting I will again have a church), and I have no congregation to manipulate by any advice I might give.  So, with that in mind, in case it helps anyone love their pastor better, I present some suggestions.  (If I were writing a blog predominately read by pastors, I would weight this heavily in that direction, sinnce I have only  few pastoral readers to my knowledge, I have sprinkled only a few exhortations to pastors.).

Not only do I mean no offense to anyone by this list, but if you have a different take from your perspective, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

1) Pastors, stop trying to motivate by guilt or fear.  Motivating may at times be your primary objective, and guilt and fear are great short term motivators, but they make for very weird relationships down the line, which means they are ultimately a much weaker motivator than love.  In the long run it develops weaker Christians with weaker convictions.  Sadly it teaches them to be more easily manipulated by the world, the flesh and the devil.   If loving them and teaching them accurately the word of God for their life is not enough for them to be motivated to stay, to serve, or to love others, than be assured guilt and fear may look more effective but will be truly counterproductive.  Furthermore they will return the favor and when they leave (and leave they will), they will explain it in ways that attempt to make you feel guilty or fearful.

2) Congregants, don’t proclaim undying lifetime devotion to your pastor in a  way which should only be reserved for marriage.  Many  people in my churches have proclaimed that they would follow me anywhere, and I only believe one of them:  my wife.  Oddly experience tells me that the louder someone proclaims their devotion to me as a pastor, the more likely it is that the hardness of the chair, the slowness of the worship music, or the inconsistency of my personality will ultimately drive them away.  On the other hand, one of my deacons from Lifesong, Phil and his wife, have served with me for 23 years, without ever once declaring undying devotion.  Am I saying you shouldn’t speak affirmation to your pastor?  Of course you should, but no pastor is  helped  by effusive, unrealistic displays of devotion.  If they are wise they will take it with a grain of salt, and if they do happen to believe you, they will only be more discouraged when you leave, even if it’s God who calls you to leave; and who are you to say that won’t happen?

3) Pastor’s, stop leading from fear.  This is not the same as motivating by fear.  This is being motivated by fear.  Leading from fear is notoriously easy as a pastor; particularly if  you are in a downward trajectory which many pastors encounter.  Trying to lead in order to “keep people” from leaving leads to terrible decision making and alienates those who were not thinking of leaving to begin with.  It turns your focus inward, leaving hopeless people outside your church, both hopeless and outside.  It messes up your good relationships in the church by introducing an element of distrust into relationships.

4) Congregants, do not expect your pastor to be an outgoing extrovert with his radar on for ministering to congregants all the time.  Personally as a pastor, I believe our commitment to our saints does not end at the church door and I hope to love and minister to everyone whether the grocery store or anywhere, but then I also expect this of my congregants.  At the same time I give my congregants grace to be  focused on other things at a given moment or time, to be human and not lead by the Holy Spirit at a given moment.  Some pastors, myself included, are not by nature extroverts and we get tired if we don’t have time to recharge alone or with just our family.  Some of us are not always great at paying attention to our surroundings.  I remember many many years ago (more than two decades) a particular congregant who left the church because, according to them they had frequently said hi to me at the grocery store and I had ignored them every time.  Despite the fact, that I honestly had never seen or heard them, even one of these times, they were convinced I was just being mean to them.  Let  your pastors be human.

5) Congregants, Treat your pastors with at least a  minimum of respect and love when you leave.  I am amazed and baffled with the numbers of truly sincere friends who have essentially snuck out of my church.  People who would talk to me about the most intimate details would make one of the most significant decisions of their life, one in which I am already intimately involved, without saying a single word about it to me.  As in breaking up, text messages and emails do not count.   I do understand that in some cases this comes from a desire to spare the pastor’s feelings, but more often it comes from a desire to protect ourselves from discomfort or from being challenged in our leaving.  If you are leaving for good reasons, or even if you are not, your pastor, unless he truly is a controlling guilt mongering, radically insecure pastor (lots of pastors are insecure, but not radically so!)  will survive your leaving and will feel gratitude more than anything if you speak to him as a friend would to a friend.  Will he try to talk  you into staying?  Probably, because until the moment you leave he is still your pastor in his mind, and he still wants to give you the best spiritual advice he can, and he probably believes you’re leaving is a mistake.  Trust me, after a conversation like this, relationships can still continue, severing ties doesn’t have to be the norm even if you do leave.

6) Congregants, when you do see a pastor whose church you’ve left, let go of the desire to prove to him you are doing ok.  Look, we know people leave our churches and thrive all the time.  It doesn’t make us feel better or worse.  God is gracious and people thrive.  I certainly hope everyone who left my church is doing more than ok, but when meeting a congregant on the street who spends fifteen minutes telling me how they are doing better than they’ve ever done, how their new church is amazing and fantastic and of their undying devotion to their new pastor, it makes me feel that either 1) they are not doing well and just trying, out of pride, to convince me, or 2) they are angry and bitter at me and trying to hurt me by showing me how much better they were without me.  Neither of these feels very good or leads to a healing relationship between us.  If instead you were to express gratitude for the time you had, for the things he brought you, he will not try to persuade your to come back, and frankly will probably be more assured that in fact you are doing well.  After all you were seeing things clearly enough to appreciate him! 🙂

7) Congregants, don’t expect your pastor to keep pastoring you after you remove yourself from his pastorship.  Again, I do try to minister to and love everyone God puts in front of me with needs.  But I also know that I have to focus my energies on the most direct stewardships in my life.  My family and my congregation, and the unchurched.  In the limited time I have on this earth, these are the people I will pursue.  If I respect and trust you then I am content that you have moved on to another church where you are being cared for.  This means that our relationship will change when you leave.  It’s not that I am not your friend, or that I am withholding love.  It is that I am trusting that you ultimately went where God directed and now you have to let someone else pastor you.  If as a friend you want to do lunch or hang out or even get advice, give me a call.  It’s awkward for me to call you precisely because I don’t want you to feel that I am trying to woo you back or control you.  You are the one that left, and I expect you to set the tone of the relationship at this point.  I know that’s a departure from how it’s been for years, but that’s the change in our relationship.

Ok, just some thoughts from a pastor without a church.  If it’s helpful, great.  If not, then it wasn’t meant for you.

As for Jerome’s message, it was all about Big idea #1, the primacy of the church.  While it was intended as a call to commitment for Destiny people to be outward centered, focused on reaching others; it felt to me like God was affirming the passion of my heart to continue to reach out to sincere unchurched God-seekers.  It went into the simmering stew which seems to be turning into something University flavored, something Downtown Central Albuquerque flavored.  It’s not yet boiling, the stew is not yet seasoned, and I’m unsure of how palatable I will yet find it.  As my wife said of the slowly cooking ideas, “It sounds right, but it sounds like a lot of hard work.”

But I”m enjoying my rest…and I’m wondering if after 23 years, I still don’t know yet what a church actually is…

Until next week faithful readers,  pray for me.  Love each other, be ye pastor, congregant or in between, or as a friend of mine, meaning the same thing says…just be cool.

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Pastormac’s Pilgrimage: What do 125 million American’s have in common?


So today was actually my first day to go to a different church.  The first week I played hookie, the second week I was at a conference, last week I was working and so today was my first visit to a new church as a visitor with no responsibility.  We decided to go to Paragon Church.  I had seen signs and explored their website and some of their philosophy, vision and approach appealed to me.  We took two cars (a necessity for us as it’s  impossible to find a car we can both afford and all fit in).  I introduced myself to the greeter at the front (who was very friendly), Kelly, she said her name was.  I introduce the three kids I had with me, which happened to be my three youngest.  Jubilation (called Jay at new meetings to avoid long discussions), Lidya (one of our Ethiopian imports) and Josiah (our Ethiopian import who also happens to be autistic.)

It was fascinating that a part of my brain became very much an observer; I couldn’t help but dissect this somewhat normal interaction but one for which I had been on the other side for so long.  I  felt like I could so easily see, understand and grasp everything that this friendly greeter was thinking,doing,  wanting me to take from our interaction and wanting to learn from me;  at the same time I was watching my own actions and even decision making process with interest (choosing not to mention I was a pastor, or Josiah’s autism…) and trying to connect that to various visitors I’ve greeted over the years.  This wasn’t as presumptive as it sounds, in fact, I found myself feeling an unusual degree of compassion and desire to help.  This was a small, new church who was receiving an unexpected visit of a family of 9!  We happened to be coming on Communion Sunday, which as I’ll explain later is a very unusual week for them.  I heard three people assure me, “This is a little different Sunday” before we even sat down.  I understand that nervous, questioning of whether we would prematurely make a negative judgment on such an unusual event.  I felt a kinship with this small but growing band of followers and found myself wanting to use my unusual vantage point to their advantage.  That’s when I decided not to follow normal “visitor” rules.

I started by adopting a demeanor of one who was part of the church rather than a visitor, by this I mean instead of waiting for them to be friendly to me, to comfort me I took the role I so often took as a pastor of trying to see how I could help them.  This was not easy to do, because honestly, so many people were eager to help and love on us that it became very difficult to outdo them.  Kelly walked us to the separate building where Sunday School took place and I chatted with her on the way as if I were the member.  I even greeted a couple people who looked surprised like they should have known me (which they didn’t).

When I returned from dropping off my younger kids I discovered that the rest of my family had chosen to sit in the front row!  The attendance at a few minutes before 10 was small (but this is after all New Mexico), so it was very noticeable.  I chuckled at my family’s boldness, but this seemed to match my desire to break visitor rules, so I joined them gleefully.

When we were asked to say hello to someone new, I initiated before others had a chance, and then watched in amusement as people had to walk from the back to the front to greet us.  Some seemed amused that we were in the front row and a few very comfortable people chatted with us about it.  By the way, when I say front row I mean second row, because anyone who has been to church more than once knows that no one, absolutely no one sits in the front row.  That’s the buffer row.  Occasionally it’s used by the pastor or worship leader, but never by any congregational member.  This, in fact, was the discussion we had with a friendly young woman.  The Pastor, Matt, came and introduced himself to each of my family and admitted he would likely not remember all our names.  I never would have remembered all our names as a pastor either, so I appreciated his authenticity.

I swear we lead the clapping during worship, we sang harmonies, loudly and lustily, I smiled at the worship leader, encouraging him whenever possible, and took notes right in front of the pastor.  (I hope he didn’t think I was texting as I take notes on my iPad.

In fact, it was fun visiting a church and acting like we weren’t visiting.  And for the most part it seemed to be encouraging and comfortable for others.  Only one moment fell slightly flat and both surprised and amused me.

As the service ended people began to put up chairs and I noticed my kids immediately began to help.  It was our habit after all, and so I jumped in to help as well.  They rolled out chair carts and people would fold up the chairs and place them on the carts.  It seemed familiar and simple enough after five years of doing the same, but twice as I hung up chairs, somebody removed the chair I hung up and placed it on a different cart or in one case the other side of the cart.  I was unable to discern the system, confused and amused by this, but I didn’t want to cause any more work, so I stopped helping with tear down.

We had been told by a friend of ours that the pastor and his wife were very nice and that turned out to be our experience.  They were both very genuine and nice.  The sermon was on the gospel from Corinthians.  It was solid and appropriate with the communion.

Oh, they did communion differently then I’ve seen and I enjoyed it.  Instead of it being a separate event, it they ran a seamless service, much like Lifesong has been known to do.  Music was interspersed between sermon chunks and the communion items were at the front for people to partake of as they felt lead during the worship.  I appreciated the effort towards a holistic service (Is that word still a negative in evangelical worlds?  I just mean all one piece, rather than segmented.)

One of my children, who was pretty devastated by the loss of Lifesong, said, he liked this service.  When I pressed him he said, “well if we have to go somewhere other than Lifesong I could live with this.”  which for him was a pretty rousing endorsement to be honest.

What does all this say about my pilgrimage?  Well a couple things can be added to my list of lessons learned so far.

1) I can, in fact, worship in a different church without constantly picking at the way they do things.  I can learn from a pastor who doesn’t teach like I do and with whom I have not discussed the “themes” of the day.  I could be part of another church, in short.

2) I will be surprised if that is in fact what I end up doing.

I have only the vaguest of ideas and plans in my head, but as God seems to do in my life, threads from all sorts of different places in the last month have started to weave into the merest notion of a pattern.  I don’t want to force or hurry the pattern and I”m ok letting God unfold it.  But often as God does this, the first realization is, “I don’t know what the plan is, but I will be surprised, if x, y, or z, isn’t part of that plan.”

Believe it or not that was my first proposal to my wife,  “Wouldn’t you be surprised if ten years from now we weren’t…you know.”  She did know and she admitted she too would be surprised.  Later that night I did a much better proposal which involved a waterfall, a ring and me on bended knee.  Neither of us were surprised by her answer. 🙂

Anyway, that doesn’t mean the tapestry always looks exactly like I vaguely conceive at this point, but I will say, that I will be surprised if another year from now I am not leading some kind of new church.

In today’s message, Pastor Matt, pointed out that 125 million Americans are unchurched.  My thoughts were, among other things, that Lifesong was just radical enough to appeal to some very non churchy people, but not radical enough to be seen as anything other than church by those who are not interested in church.  I am still pretty convinced that in the 125 million there are at least a few million who are not interested in church but they are interested in love, service, God, truth, life, and community.  People who are in need of Christ to fulfill those interests but just don’t know it because they always get stuck at the church door.  It has occurred to me that Lifesong chose to be a church which serves for the sake of those it blesses, and encourages Active Learning–discussion instead of lecture, activity instead of passivity and exploration instead of safe platitudes.  (Two of the big ideas I haven’t shared yet, by the way.) As I say, it occurred to me that we chose to be that kind of church and then chose a neighborhood where people did not want or feel a need to be served, and were not all that interested in active learning.  It further has occurred to me that the University of New Mexico and surrounding area might be just such a neighborhood where service and active learning might appeal to some for whom “Church” would not appeal.  So does God want me to try again?  Do I have the spiritual, physical, time and financial resources to try again?  I don’t know.  Does it make sense to try to plant a church which is not seen by “church” people was a church at all?  Does it make sense for someone with such a deep conviction for the value of local churches to create a plant which could not even be called a church?  Can I do that without hypocrisy or insincerity?  Let’s just say…I wouldn’t be surprised.

On the other hand, is it possible that this is not the tapestry’s final look?  Definitely possible.

Pray with me, for me, and feel free to dialogue as well.  Here or on my Facebook page, I am always interested in your input, your story and your thoughts.

By the way, You’re heard me mention recently the new book I’m working on.  Well, faithful readers, let me assure you, I have a few other surprises planned for you all in the weeks to come.  I may not always know where I”m going, but I know it’s always an adventure!  Thanks for joining it with me.

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Pastormac’s pilgrimage for next: Week Three


The third big idea in Lifesong’s Six Big ideas was GRACE.  

Years ago I noticed that most definitions of Grace define it by the unmerited favor aspect, which is completely accurate, but not accurately complete.  Scripture tends to describe Grace as not only God’s favor, but also His power.  For example,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8)

This verse speaks of God’s blessing and favor definitely, but it is a powerful kind of blessing which also makes us able and sufficient.  Anyway, the definition I’ve been using in my conferences, counseling and pastoring is that God’s Grace is His power and desire to do good to you.  

Not only does He desire to do good to you but He has the power to do so.  Not only is He capable of doing good to you, but He actually wants to.  The kicker is that this is an aspect of God’s character which does not, cannot be changed.  You cannot make God more or less gracious to you not matter what you do.  Behave well or poorly it makes God not one ounce more powerful or well disposed to you.  God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Anyway, this last week in my pilgrimage, I’ve been thinking about, and seeing this, in three ways:

First,

Last week I was invited to a pastor’s retreat in Colorado by the man in this picture with me.

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His name is John Meyer.  He is the regional director for Great Commission Churches for the region in which Lifesong church used to exist.  See that’s part of what was amazing about this invitation.  I was, in some ways no longer officially under his authority or care, no longer having an actual church in his region.  I have nothing tangible to offer him. No tithes, no ministry, nothing to give him.  Yet lack of office, does not equal lack of pastoral care.  I’ve experienced that myself with my former Lifesingers as we’ve met for Lunch at Dion’s or chatted via email, phone or in person., but it was nice to be on the receiving end.  John had the power to do good to me by inviting me to this retreat, and he apparently had the desire as well, because he did so with nothing to gain for himself.

 It was an interesting counterpoint to a moment I describe in my book, The Hidden Life, 20 years ago when I was on my way to a pastor’s conference.  At that time I was a pastor of a church who felt as if he didn’t belong at the pastor’s conference for having failed.  It was during that time I learned most deeply what Grace meant.  This time, I was no longer a pastor of a functioning church and yet I felt very much as if I belonged at this pastor’s retreat.  It wasn’t just John but the group of men with whom I shared this retreat.

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That’s not some weird religious gesture; they are in fact pretending to be elk.  Why?  Who knows?

These men had gathered to plan, pray and inspire one another on their next steps for their churches.  Some of them have planted churches from their church plants, others are very much where Lifesong was just a year ago, trying to discern what needs to happen to continue in fruitful ministry.  These men, not only accepted me on their retreat but they treated me, not as a pesky hanger-on who needed a place to hangout, nor a failed CEO to be pitied, nor even a wounded brother to be healed, but as an equal, worthy of giving and receiving advice.  These men, who were focused on planning for the future, spent time listening to stories of my past, as if it were valuable not only to me but to them to do so.  They had the power, by their mere interactions with me to do me good, and I’m grateful they also had the desire.

Second, 

The stories we shared, our own and our loved ones, our congregations and families, our communities and churches, reminded me of the importance of the work we do.  It affirmed my growing sense that not having a church doesn’t mean not using my gifts, and it certainly doesn’t mean people aren’t in need of Grace and love.  There is a lot of beauty in the world, much nobility, but there is also a lot of pain and despair; people in need of hope and grace and truth, in short Christ.  Everyone of us is given some supernatural flavor of that power and desire to do good which is so much a part of God’s character.  He invites us to share in such a precious stewardship; more precious than time, or money or even the people (congregations, kids…) we have authority and care over or any other stewardship he gives us.  The very stewardship of His manifold Grace.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10

Week by week in this pilgrimage God continues to remind me of  the needs in the world, the gifts and other resources He’s given me, and the expectation that i will be a steward of God’s Grace, just as He expects of you.

 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

As you and I walk this pilgrimage together I hope both of us get a clearer vision of how our stewardship unfolds.  Maybe some of our paths will cross and some of our stewardships will be shared.  Perhaps you will be God’s grace for me and I for you.  Who knows.

Third,
Today was the first day my family actually visited another church.  It is Tax Holiday weekend in New Mexico so it’s one of the few Sundays a year when I work at the Apple Store, so I was unable to go with them.  They visited Calvary of Rio Rancho, which is in many ways not far removed, a sort of distant cousin of the same age, to Great Commission.  They enjoyed the service, saw a few old friends there and were surprised by how well a few things went (for example our autistic son did better at this new strange  school than we envisioned.)  That being said, it was a very difficult time for my kids.  For them, dad has pastored the church they’ve attended for their whole lives.  For some of them, every thoughtless act affecting their pastor over years of pastoring, every act of disloyalty and every perceived disloyalty (even when there was none) now becomes a wound leading to the death of the church.  Maturity and longer experience of grace shown to me over the years makes it easier for me to understand the closing of the church as God’s plan, even in the midst of human failings.  It also allows me to understand that not all church partings are inappropriate or disloyal, and that even wrongful leavings are not personal attacks.
As with my children, for some of my congregation, Lifesong was the most accepting community they’ve found, a place where they felt they belonged and now that’s gone from them.  It is easy to look to people to blame; to me, to those who left, to ourselves.  How do we, when faced with such questions of loss, when feeling a desire to blame, when fairly or unfairly identifying someone to blame…how do we treat them with grace, how do we move through the grief to a place of hope and and ability to love others who did not love us first or well enough?
This is a struggle we all have.  There is not enough grace in the world between the sons of the King because we find ourselves dragged down into our own hurts and insecurities.  I hurt you, you hurt me, I hurt you in return and soon fairness becomes more important than love and the last word trumps acts of Grace.  My encouragement to me, my kids, my Lifesingers, and any who understand this struggle, is to remember God’s grace in our own lives, to dwell obsessively on the Gospel and the amazing power and desire of God to do good to us, and then we will be more likely to become stewards of that same Grace for others.
Well, that’s my pilgrimage thus far.  What do you think?  Where have you seen Grace?  Where are you not experiencing it?  I prefer dialogue to sermon, so comments are welcome, here or on Pastormac’s Facebook page.

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Pastormac’s Pilgrimage for next continues, and my 100th wordpress post!


So, I made a few promises regarding my 100th post, so let’s get to those first.

First, I promised a significant announcement.

Whatever “next” in my journey entails, I’ve decided it definitely does not mean sitting quietly in a world of desperate sadness, when I have good news to offer! It doesn’t mean deciding that without a church I have no gifts either. I, like you, am a steward of God’s Grace and I plan to honor that stewardship. So, whatever “next” entails, I’ve decided that some part of that means taking some of what I did as a pastor and doing it on a broader scale. It means, listening to your stories, sharing the incredible story of the universe as God has revealed it in Christ, and helping people understand their own stories better through community and truth.

Towards that end, today I start a new Facebook page; a page distinct from my personal page; a page where you can keep up with the latest conferences, speaking engagements, blogs and books from Pastormac (meaning me, in case you’ve forgotten that) but more importantly a place where you can share your story, connect with others and perhaps make sense of and embrace your own story in the process and community.

Here’s a piece of the longer description on that page.

Our lives too often appear to be chaotic, random circumstances without sense or order, and yet, the desire for order and meaning is fierce and undeniable. As a pastor of 23 years, I’ve become convinced that this desire is only one of many indications that our lives are neither random, nor chaotic.

Two things make understanding our stories more likely. One is discovering the punctuation and meaning of the author. There is truth in your story if you can learn to see it and embrace it.

The second is to see your story in light of the community of stories around us. Our stories always make more sense when not viewed in isolation. In that context we can begin to see the beauty not only in other’s stories, but in our own as well.

Pastormacs Facebook page. (There’s also a link on the sidebar of this page now)

You’ll see other exciting changes and evidence of this journey in coming months too. You’ve already seen a greatly increased regularity on my blog postings, which has produced an incredible 2000 percent increase in traffic (and yes that’s the real number rounded down, not a random number meant to sound big.) You can count on this regularity going forward. I also have talented professional friends helping me create a new website for this blog and create new more professional book covers. All this, to maximize the possibility of expanding my stewardship, rather than decreasing it as a result of the closing of Lifesong.

Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome, but get to the prizes!

Right, I also promised three giveaways. Ok, here’s how they work.

1) I will randomly award Prize package number one to a commenter on this post. Every one who comments on this post in the next 24 hours (Monday Morning at 9:00 is the cut off) gets one entry into the computer generated randomly determined winner. Here’s one wrinkle however, if you comment with something more substantive than “hey I commented here, I want a prize, gimme.” then you get two entries!

2) To win prize package number two, go to my new Facebook page (Here’s the link again) and post your favorite quote from someone other than yourself. The quote that gets the most likes in the next 24 hours (same time frame as number 1) will win. In the event of a tie, I will subjectively pick from the tying entries, the quote I like best. Be cool and take time to like other people’s quotes while you are there as well.

3) To win prize package number three you must send me the best set up for a punch line I provide. Ah but it’s trickier still. Not only do you have to come up with a set up which actually makes sense with the punch line, but you have to discover the punchline by solving the riddle/poem below. Then you have to send me your set up and the punchline (to prove you didn’t just get lucky but actually know what the punchline is) to dwdwlmm@gmail.com. AND you have to be the first to do all this. You don’t have to be the funniest. There is no time limit on this one. Just be the first to email me with the required elements.

Here’s your riddle/poem:

If this is five, and the word is tan

Find the first four and then

Find each word and find the first

Put them together and do your worst.

But what are the prizes?

Patience young grasshopper. Here they are.

Prize package One: A copy of The Hidden Life (hard or ebook whichever you prefer) and the same offer I made to my good friend Kelli Rush Bach. You pick the character (up to three, can include yourself if you’d like), the theme (anything at all as long as it’s reasonably family friendly). and the number of parts, up to 10 and I will write a Serial Saturday on your choices. You get to be the hero of your own story!

Prize package Two: A copy of The Hidden Life (hard or ebook whichever you prefer) and a brand new iPod Shuffle. You pick the color.

Prize Package Three: A copy of the Hidden Life (hard or ebook whichever you prefer) and an Amazon Gift card worth 50 dollars.

And now the pilgrimage continues.

On Monday I have been invited by one of our Great Commission leaders, the association for which I’ve been a pastor for two decades, and more importantly the community which inspired and discipled me, to attend a retreat with other pastor’s seeking direction. I found this to be a generous invitation and an opportunity it would be foolish to let go. I am seeking direction, this retreat offers a chance to find some, in the company of people I respect…voila! I’ll most likely process that with you all when I return. In the meantime, last week I mentioned big idea number 1, the primacy of the church. These big ideas are things we talked about a lot at Lifesong. In fact so much so that occasionally I would overhear complaints about hearing of them yet again on a particular Sunday Morning. But the thing is I’ve learned after so many years, that when the vision is clear to the pastor, when he feels like he’s shared it so much he’s growing weary of it, that is just about the time that the most attentive congregant is just starting to consider the ramifications. Vision must be heard, reheard, chewed on, spit out, reexamined, and finally digested (ok digesting food you’ve chewed and spit out is an unfortunate metaphor, but you get the point). Anyway, I prepared a little something for you, my faithful blog friends on the second big idea. So whether it’s your first or 100th time to hear this presentation, I hope you will give it some thought.

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Big Monsters and Big ideas


So, today was the morning I woke up and realized, I had no church home. It’s a very weird feeling. Remember, that for 27 years, I have gone to one of three very connected churches (each one a plant or mother church to another church). More to the point, I have been meeting with some of the same people for the entirety of those 27 years. Today those people are blessing others, are trying to find their way to/in a new church. I have no fear that they will be just fine without me, but I will miss them.

Given this sudden and strange freedom, my family and I did something which might seem odd to you.

Yep, we played hooky. We went to see Monsters University. It was a mini-vacation. For me a real one. Pastor’s rarely take real vacations. For an employed Pastor, you never take a vacation from caring. For 23 of those years, I’ve been responsible for “Church happening.” Not a Sunday has passed that I haven’t felt the joy/burden of making sure Sunday service happened. Even when I’ve been gone, I’ve been the one via delegation to see it through. I’ve checked in via text, and consistently through prayer. This Morning…nothing.

No people are waiting for events to unfold; no trailer needs to be unloaded, no people greeted, no sermon preached, no discussion led.

Of course I haven’t really stopped caring. I think about my former congregants today and I wonder how they are doing. I pray for them they are doing well. In fact, I will meet with many of them later today after church or green monsters..depending. We’ll be at Dion’s discussing how it went. It’s a testament to the authenticity and Grace of these people that I will feel no compunction telling them we opted for a movie today.

I have no fear that today’s excursion will confuse either me or my family about the need for church. For one thing 27 years of habits are not undone in 1 week. For another I’ve never gone to church because I had to, not even always because I wanted to. I’ve gone because of a deep seated conviction about its necessity. This is a conviction I still hold. In fact, this was one of the big ideas upon with Lifesong was founded.

Big Idea #1 The Primacy of the Church.

This is the big idea which is least “sexy” to people who hear about my big ideas. It’s not particularly post modern, and in fact sounds slightly archaic to people. But this is part of the point. Because I’m about to leave for the movie, and because it says it well, I’m going to explain by posting a section from a book I’ve been working on for at least five years, a book which I suspect will take me another five to finish. It’s a little long, but it serves two purposes. One is to let you understand my pilgrimage and my choices a little better going forward (and since you are reading you must be at least marginally interested) and two, it may serve as an encouragement to those of you who are wanting church but not sure why, and a challenge to those of you who don’t want church and know why.

“You’ve changed my life. I think if people could really see how you are trying, not to redefine Christianity, but to redefine how we “do” it, if they could really hear you, I think there would be millions here. I want to take that to other people to.”

There is so much about this statement that I love, that heartens me. Not the least of which is that it was spoken to me on our final Sunday by an 18 year old formerly “non-church” kid who is now striving to find a good church for himself with or without the rest of his family (preferably with) He sees how the Big ideas have a chance to revitalize the church in America. A friend of mine said that, as far as America is concerned, I’m just part of a dying industry. I hope he’s wrong. I believe there is the possibility in America for a new Christian era, and these 6 paradigms, these 6 big ideas have the potential to redefine the way we “do” church and bring healing, hope and good news to people. AT least that’s the theory. But then, how much theory do you trust from a pastor without one; how much talk about the importance of church do you take from a pastor who visited monsters instead of a church today? I recognize the irony without accepting it’s a contradiction. So I invite you to read the section below and let me know what you think.

I’ll let you know how lunch goes on Facebook, or possibly next week’s pilgrimage.

Chapter 1: (From the “6 Big Ideas” ) Why is Church?

That’s a funny question isn’t it? I thought about starting this book off with the question “What is the church” but I opted for this other more interesting question instead. Truly I think most of us are clearer about the nature of the church than we are about its purpose.

If asked, I am confident that the vast majority of the readers of this book would be able to give a pretty good description of the nature of the church. We know that it’s more than a building or the place we attend on Sunday Morning. We understand that the church is the body of Christ, made up of every man, woman and child who believes that Jesus is God and in His atoning death for our sins as the only hope we have for redemption.

Further, most of us understand that in practice, this large entity functions best when organized geographically into smaller groups–whether these groups meet in houses, schools, their own buildings or in the open air.

We know, or at least suspect, these things, but do we know why? Why is the church? What is it’s purpose? In fact, it’s probably telling that a small but significant percentage of my evangelical brothers and sisters, devoted to Christ, genuinely see no reason for attending a local church at all. The purpose of such gathering seems to them to be at best social, and at worst destructive to true faith. ( If you are such a brother or sister, I encourage you to skip to the appendix A.: What does Paul mean when he speaks of the “Church?” I then hope you will choose to make the journey with us and accept a respectful challenge to your current perspective on the local church.) Still even for most Christians, who do still attend local churches (in increasing numbers in fact), the true reason for going is often a bit of a mystery.

Is it an archaic social construct, mostly irrelevant and impotent, kept alive only for reasons of nostalgia? Is it a hospital for wounded Christians, a fortress for beleaguered ones, a cloister for those weary of engagement in the world? Maybe it’s an advancing force, a public meeting house for a political entity known as the moral majority or Christian conservatives. Why is the church? What does Jesus say? What does Scripture say?

I’ve been a Christian for over three decades, a pastor for over half that time, and I’ve come to strongly suspect that many of us are very much adrift when it comes to this question. That’s what this whole book is about. Why is the church? What is to be our impact on the world, what is to be our role, what are we to do?

For such a time as this

I fear, as with most issues of obedience, that our problem is not really a lack of understanding so much as a lack of faith. We find it hard to believe the incredible vision and plan which God has for the church. I hope this book will reinvigorate you, with a larger vision than that which you might have previously accepted.

Consider the story of Esther from the Old Testament. When we first encounter her, Esther is simply a young woman who becomes the Queen of Persia through no fault of her own. She is not apparently seeking the kingdom, but only becomes Queen after being drafted into a beauty contest. It is evident that it is God who has arranged events in such a fashion that Esther ends up one of the King’s favorite people at a very important moment in the history of the Jews.

One would think that Esther would recognize that God must have had some special plan to have placed her in such an influential position, and yet, when the time comes, the moment for which God had placed her in the palace, to prevent the destruction of the Jewish people, she almost balks. She probably would have balked in fact, if it were not for her guardian, Mordecai. It is Mordecai who reminds her of her special opportunities when he says, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

I believe that like Esther, we in the church have forgotten our faith in the face of our fears. Like Esther we’ve accepted for the moment the deception that our position is not really one of influence and power, but one of irrelevance and impotence. Like Esther, we’ve neglected to see the hand of God behind the events of our lives and history, leading us to such a time as this.

We stand at another critical crossroads, a confluence of events which has primed the world for a major philosophic and ideologic shift.

We stand at a moment when the American Church is filled with opportunity and power, but like Esther, we pause, and wonder if we dare believe in our own authority. As we buy into the myth of our own impotence, we put our hope in other institutions and people to save our culture. We need another Mordecai to remind us of the sovereignty of God and the size of His vision for the church.

There are Mordecais today. No doubt there are some in your local congregation, or on your radio, or in your bookstore. It is my prayer as I write that this book may be one of those Mordecais, calling the church to grab the opportunity, to recognize that perhaps we are here for such a time as this!

Here’s just a few of the ways God speaks of the church’s unique importance:

you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

You are the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13a)

Given God’s insistence that the church is a powerful force (perhaps the most powerful force on earth) why are we not already experiencing the realization of our influence? I believe the church’s lack of influence is largely because we do not understand what it is we are supposed to do or be.

Without this proper understanding of the church’s purpose and essence, we cannot act with any clear intention, and without clear intention the church flails and ultimately those passionate, devoted people who do have a heart for seeing God’s will done in America as it is in Heaven, are left to seek other institutions of purpose.If only, they say, we had a better grasp of politics or the media, for example, then we could change the world.

As important and influential as these other institutions may be, what we really need is a better grasp of the church.

This book explores six crucial paradigms which we in the American church must embrace regarding our purpose and power in order to see God’s order more rightly restored in America. I am certainly not the only one drawing attention to any one of these ideas, nor are all of them or even any of them, completely unrealized in any given church. These are not magic keys, nor are they the only important ideas, but I would suggest that a lack of conviction on these points may be preventing what ought to be the natural and great influence of the church in our culture.

Certainly no idea will ever supersede the intervening work of the Holy Spirit, but I would suggest that the growing awareness and acceptance of these paradigms is a significant part of the Holy Spirit’s current movement in America

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