Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above – but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Future, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban

How to Save Your Church (By Letting it Be Something Other Than a Church)

This is a repost from The Burner Blog. I wrote this a few weeks ago and am now sharing it here!

On my commute to work, I bike past three church buildings that no longer function as churches.

Each of these buildings was once home to a congregation – Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Methodist – but each was unable to sustain their faithful presence through the rapid and extensive transitions taking place in their neighborhood. For years, these churches sat abandoned on desirable property in desirable neighborhoods that have no desire for a church.

Each of these properties has recently been purchased or leased by entrepreneurs. One has been converted into a beautiful single-family home, complete with the original steeple and bell. One is used as a gallery and performance space in the trendiest up-and-coming neighborhoods of Los Angeles. One is currently in the process of being transitioned into a boutique hotel and bar in one of LA’s hipster havens.

I love each of these ideas. The spaces, each with their preservationist conversions, are beautiful. Those taking the lead on the conversions have done their homework, creating business plans that take into account their neighborhood context and demographics.

I love each of these ideas but they make me sad.

• Why did the pastors, committees, or denominations representing these congregations hold so tightly to the single-use they had in mind for their space that they allowed these beautiful buildings to sit unused for years?

• Why did they allow their financial reserves to drain away as they maintained the status quo even as the pews grew increasingly empty?

• Why was it only an outside entrepreneur that saw through the years of neglect and abandonment to envision these buildings as beautiful spaces for the good of the neighborhood?

• Why do we still train pastors in the preservation of stagnant church buildings and congregational legacies while the needs of their community – needs which could be met, in part at least, through creative use of physical properties and structures – go unnoticed or ignored?

Even with the missional conversation trickling down into older, established congregations, too much of our “missional talk” gets stuck in sermons and service projects, never actually igniting an imagination for how the resources of our churches – property, buildings, finances, people – could be used to serve those who are not interested in walking into a church – but would be interested in an art gallery, performance space, warming center, speakeasy, community space, or tutoring center.

When will we recognize that the way of the cross might involve offering our property and buildings as multi-use community space that might happen to also host a worshipping congregation a few times a week?

When will we anoint, bless, and commission pastors to serve as landlords, community developers and entrepreneurs rather than pulpit-and-pew preservers?

When will we allow the expectations of the past to be buried in order to see a resurrection of imagination for our cities and neighborhoods?

Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Family, Future, Meaning, Prayer, Ramblings, Relational

A Baby on the Way (Part 2): Fertility’s No Guarantee

A while back, I wrote a bit about pregnancy, parenting, fear, and trust.

Today, a bit about the journey towards pregnancy, parenting, fear, and trust.

We decided to try and start a family two years ago (although our trip to Cambodia delayed our “start date” on that decision). We planned and prayed about the timing, thinking about Krissy’s teaching schedule, my job situation, and, more generally, about where we were at with the bigger picture of our journey together through life.

We had a number of great friends at Fuller, similar to us in age, life situation, etc., who were having babies and getting pregnant, sometimes without trying (or at least not trying very hard NOT to!). We kind of assumed once we were ready to give it a go, it would be as simple as…well, you know.

But it didn’t turn to be as simple, quick, or easy as we assumed.

Weeks became months without any developments. A few late months got our hopes up but just turned out to be late months. At some point in all of this, we found more and more friends who were also having a difficult time getting pregnant. Compared to many of these friends, we were only at the very, very early stages of the often long, always difficult, and rarely-discussed journey of infertility.

As the months passed, we began to occasionally put words to the reality we were experiencing: this was not as easy as we thought – this may not ever be a quick or easy resolution – getting pregnant may not be a physical possibility for us. It was a difficult thing to process, with both of us experiencing similar (yet extremely different) emotions and feelings. We were used to hearing people talk about becoming pregnant; but most people do not talk about not becoming pregnant. This felt especially true in Los Angeles, where it seems more common for couples to choose to remain childless.

We were lucky to have friends who were part of our journey from the initial decision to start a family – people who would ask along the way how things were progressing. But those conversations can be awkward for everyone; our culture doesn’t do a great job of helping us navigate through conversations about infertility.

After a year of trying to get pregnant, we became “eligible” for infertility consultations with our health coverage, but it took us longer than that to finally go in because going in to discuss infertility felt like submitting to a reality that we didn’t want to face – taking on a label or potential label that we weren’t ready to acknowledge.

Our story ends on a happy note: as it turns out that we were newly pregnant when we walked into our first infertility appointment (although we didn’t find that out until a few weeks later). We’re very grateful for the way things turned out, but a pregnancy does not erase the frustration, sadness, disappointment, and confusion experience on our journey towards pregnancy, and it certainly does not alleviate those same feelings for our friends who are still in the midst of that journey.

Infertility is a reality for many people – it was for us – and our culture (and churches especially) needs to find better ways to acknowledge, converse, support, and encourage people who are on this journey.

Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Homiletics, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Prayer, Ramblings, Resurrection, Teaching, Two Many Things, Worship

Finding Hope in the Midst of Failure

On Sunday I spoke at our Kairos Hollywood weekly gathering. It was the fifth Sunday in Lent, and I reflected on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and failure: my own failure in keeping this year’s Lenten fast, the Israelite community’s failure to love God and neighbor as intended, and our continued failures to live together in community for the sake of our city as God’s children.

It’s freeing as a pastor, but mainly as a person, to be in a community where failure is a broachable subject. Where I can stand up front in front of our community not as an expert in perfect living, not as a model for the truly blessed life, nor as a sage with answers to every question that might arise – but as myself. People have expectations of me, and I have expectations of myself, but they are not so vastly different from the expectations I have of others.

We share leadership in our community, and we also share the burden of accountability. Today, I had lunch with my three co-pastors. Three people I’ve worked with, led with, struggled with and against, and spent countless hours in conversation. But also countless hours in prayer and seeking God’s guidance for our community. These are people I love and respect and am grateful to serve alongside.

With this shared burden of leadership, together seeking God’s will and shalom for our city, it’s okay to recognize areas of failure in my life. It’s okay to be a failure. The patriarchs of Israel were failures. The community of Israel failed time and time again. The disciples failed even at moments that seemed so desperately crucial. The spiritual family of Christianity has an extensive family tree riddled with failures.

And it’s okay. It really is. Because, as I shared with our community on Sunday:

In the midst of failure, in the midst of death, this is the word of God proclaimed to a broken people – “the days are coming and I will make a new covenant.” A situation that seems hopeless ceases to be hopeless because of this new reality breaking in.

Even in the midst of death there is hope and there is life.

Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Contemp Culture, Ministry, Ramblings, Reading Reflections

Your Church is Too Safe (Book Review)

Earlier this month, Mark Buchanan’s latest book, Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down, released (Zondervan, 2012). Mark has written a number of books, and pastors a church in western Canada. He’s a great writer with a great heart for the church.

Mark begins the introduction acknowledging his boredom with the church as it currently is and recognizing that he’s likely not alone in this boredom. He asks

What happened? When did we start making it our priority to be safe instead of dangerous, nice instead of holy, cautious instead of bold, self-absorbed instead of counting everything loss in order to be found in Christ? (9)

The book does not follow a set outline or path, but meanders through Mark’s reflections on the church as it is, and the church as it could and should be. There’s no agenda in the book, other than to encourage churches to do a better job of being the church.

I enjoyed the book, largely because Mark’s writing is engaging and thoughtful and he is incredibly passionate and hopeful about what God can do through the church. There are a number of books that come out each year with a similar goal of inspiring people to have a renewed and reenergized vision for the mission of the church. They don’t tend to be highly strategic or highly focused; they simply tell the story of how God is moving in churches around the world. I don’t think that it’s a great use of time for pastors to read every new book that comes out about the church, but I do think that they should probably read one newly released book in this category each year. Your Church is Too Safe would be a fine option for this year’s pick.

Books, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Homiletics, Meaning, Ministry, Pedagogy, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Teaching, Worship

4 Reasons You Should Try A New Bible Translation

I recently received a copy of the complete Common English Bible (CEB), a recently “fresh” translation of the Bible completed by a large team of translators from a large number of denominations. (Read through to the end if you’d like a copy, since the publishers have offered to give out a copy to people reading this blog.)

I first heard of the CEB because one of my seminary professors, Joel B. Green, served as the New Testament Editor for the translation team. I was lucky enough to have taken a number of classes from Joel during my time at Fuller, and I learned a tremendous amount from him as a scholar, teacher, preacher, and (for me, most importantly) good reader of the Scriptures. So I was curious about the Bible translation he devoted much time to over the past years.

Anyways, as I was paging through and reading the CEB, I started thinking about how unusual it is for most people to use more than one translation of the Bible in their regular engagement with the Scriptures. I most often flip between TNIV and NIV (2011), with an occasional different translation thrown in every now and again. After some time spent thinking about this, I wonder if people in our churches would be better readers of Scripture (and, thereby, maybe a healthier church community?) if we spent more time reading different translations of the Bible. (This is working off the assumption that people in our community actually read the Bible, which is probably not the case for many or most people in your church..but that’s for a different post.)

Here’s FOUR reasons you should try a new Bible translation:

1. Your translation is neither inspired or inerrant.

Watch me now. I believe that the Bible is inspired (depending on your exact definition of inerrancy, I may or may not agree with your use of that specific word, but inspired we can probably agree on). I also believe that the Bible is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character. So the Bible is inspired (and depending on how you look at it, or define the term, inerrant or infallible), but your specific translation of choice is not the definitive dividing line between inspired and not-inspired

The Church has not always had the benefit of your NIV (1984, 2005 or 2011!), your ESV, or your NRSV. But the Church has always inspired Scriptures. So branch out from your version, because it’s not the only game in town.

2. God can (and will) speak to you through another translation.

The Scriptures are one of the ways God has chosen to communicate to creation. We are privileged to have translations available in many, many languages and dialects around the world. God speaks to people through the diversity of translations across languages and cultures, just as God spoke to people through a diversity of translations across time.

Have a bit of faith that God can speak to you through a translation you’re not used to, because people on different continents, just like our grandparents and ancestors in different times, heard the voice of God through a variety of translations. Trust that the God who spoke through different translations still speaks through different translations.

3. You are probably too comfortable with your Bible.

Common and familiar language can be comforting. But it can also be cozy. Coziness does not tend to foster challenge and growth. Something hearing unfamiliar words will make you pause or resist or scream!

You’re probably not used to opening to the first pages of your Bible and reading “when God began to create the heavens and the earth” (CEB). It sounds a bit different than “In the beginning, God created” (NIV).

Is there a difference there? Is God continuing to create new life and stir up new things, or is God’s creative work solely a piece of ancient history – a thing of the past?

Reading a new translation and hearing words you’re not used to can jar you into asking questions about yourself, about God, and about our world, and those questions can lead to growth and life.

4. You probably read the Bible your church reads (and your church is not fully representative of the Church).

Nothing against your church, but it is not the Church. No matter what you think or what they teach.

God is doing good and beautiful work outside the walls of your building, outside the border of your city or state or nation – even in California!

Reading a new translation gives us an eye towards our brothers and sisters in the global church, or sometimes just the church next door to yours (you know the one, the one that’s too conservative or too liberal). God might be doing something in their midst based on their experience reading the Bible, and you might find that God’s goodness and sovereignty extend a bit beyond the comfort zone of your own church’s walls.

Thoughts? Do you read one translation or many? Would you encourage people you know to read one translation or many?

If you’d like a softcover copy of the CEB, leave a comment and interact with some part of this post below. One random commenter (or one sole commenter) will get a copy sent to them (you’ll need to send me your address if you are selected).

Note: A copy of the CEB was sent to me by the publishers, and they are stirring up thoughts in my mind about the Bible, the Scriptures, the sacred text, the inspired word of God, etc. and I am posting those thoughts here.