How Are You Different? – The Parish Model

Have you ever had someone give you language to describe something that you’ve known or sensed for a long time but could never describe? For me, it’s happened a few times.

One of the most significant cases of this for me was with StrengthsFinders. I always sensed that there were things that I was really good at and things that I was really bad at, but I never had the language to talk about it and describe it.

The Enneagram is another example of this, giving me language to describe my personality so that people can understand me better. It’s been helpful to describe myself in a way that people can see, hear, and understand (hopefully) that it’s something deeper than me just trying to offend and tick off as many people as possible.

A month ago, I was speaking at my denominational meeting, giving an update about what we are doing in the area of church planting and casting vision for where we are headed. I’ve been known to be passionate when I speak and this was no exception. Couple that with the fact that it’s been quite some time since I’ve preached in a church (going on five months) and I was probably pretty fiery.

After I got finished, I headed to the back of the auditorium where I was promptly approached by a gentleman I had never seen before. We made our way out into the foyer and began a conversation that started with him asking me what my dinner plans were that evening.

As we began talking, I was captivated by the ideas that he was throwing out. He was one of the keynote speakers for the afternoon and I was disappointed to have missed most of his talks because of another meeting that I had. But we talked long enough that afternoon (and then again at dinner) for me to fixate on one idea and concept that he shared.

He said that the new model of church was a parish model. Well, I had heard similar concepts before, but his concept was different. The idea of a parish church is hundreds of years old. The Episcopal Church still uses this idea in naming some of their churches. I grew up in a town with St. Luke’s Parish and I’ve seen that multiple times. Churches function in a geographic area as a parish, ministering to the people within that specific area.

But my new friend cast a different idea. He said that  today is different than it once was. He ministers in blues bars and other places where the people to whom he ministers may never darken the door of a church building. At the same time, the people who come to his church on a Sunday may never darken the doors of these blues bars and other places. It makes for separate ministry spaces with the understanding that there may never be overlap between the areas.

As I’ve been ministering in the community where we are planting, I’ve had this underlying sense more than once, but I could never quite articulate it the way that my new friend did. There are countless new people that I am meeting. I’ve enjoyed these new friendships. I have no hesitation to invite them to come once we launch out this new church, but there is no expectation that they will all be there. So what do I do with that?

It’s amazing to me how often it seems that we embrace the notion of a Triune God in evangelical circles and then live as if only two of those three persons of God are legitimate and real. Francis Chan wrote about it in “Forgotten God.” We talk a good game about the Holy Spirit and then we proceed to live as if he doesn’t exist or as if the same power that raised Christ from the dead is unavailable to him.

If I really trust that some plant seeds, some water seeds, but only God makes them grow, then I need to rely way more on the Holy Spirit than I may be willing to admit. Yes, I need to be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I need to teach people the ways of Jesus. But I also need to trust that behind the scenes in ways unknown to me and outside of my own control, God is at work through the Holy Spirit doing a work that I could never do on my own.

I believe that community is important. I believe that being part of a community significantly impacts the way that I live my life. I believe that there are benefits when I give myself fully to community. I can’t make everyone believe that same thing. I can earn trust. I can share when asked about what I believe. But I can never make them embrace this for their own. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

There should always be an urgency in those of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That urgency can often spring up in us in a way that ignites our passion to see others come to that same acknowledgement and confession. But if I don’t let the Holy Spirit do the work that he needs to do in them and simply try to argue them or convince them to that conclusion, then I can’t expect good things to be the outcome.

I said it earlier in this series, the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet part of it. Am I okay with spending time and ministering to people who will never darken the doors of my church? I better be, because if I’m not, then I probably shouldn’t say that I believe in the Holy Spirit and the work that he is capable of accomplishing.

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

 

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How Are You Different? – Trust Matters

The place of the church in American society has significantly diminished from what it was 50 years ago. Where once churches held central places in cities and towns, not only geographically but socially as well, they no longer hold that same place of esteem that they once did. The process of this fall from esteem was not a fast one. Tim Keller, in his book “Center Church,” describes this societal change.

The problem is, the church’s response to this societal fall has been more complaint than correction. Instead of saying, “What can we do to adapt to this fall?” the church has instead said, “How do we get back to our place of esteem and glory?”

This fall from esteem has helped the church to garner a look of suspicion from most of society, not just from those who are not a part of it but also those who are or at one time have been a part of it. Because of its stance on various issues, the church has been labeled as prejudiced, bigoted, and closed-minded.

It’s really easy to lament this change and wish for the golden days when the church was respected and esteemed, but what will that lament change? Will it be helpful? Or the church can do the hard work of building trust in its community, seeking to build relationships with people who have become skeptical and calloused towards the church.

In this day and age, I am constantly reminded of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (bold and italics mine)

I’ve heard this verse quoted many times and it seems that many people have neglected to include that bold phrase, “to everyone who asks you.” I’ve heard people say, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” and then they do just that, giving everyone around them an answer to their hope without building a relationship or earning their trust. They just launch into answering questions that are never asked.

We live in a day and age of skepticism where people are not as trusting as they once may have been. Taking that into consideration, trust is something that is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and slow, cumulative process. It can’t be microwaved, it needs to simmer and soak through interactions and conversations.

This has been one of the major growing areas for me during this church planting journey. I’ve written before about my personal journey of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, this is part of it. If people think that I am only listening so that I can get a word in, there will be no trust built. But if I listen to understand and hear what others are saying, if I show genuine concern for them and the things that they are concerned for, trust is built.

The last thing that I ever want someone to think is that I’m just a salesman who is “selling Jesus.” I’ve seen this happen all too often, Jesus becomes a bargaining chip for people. Come to be part of our party, but first you need to listen to our “Jesus pitch” before we let you enjoy yourself. Worse than this is when people come to have some of their physical needs met and we tell them, “We’ll give you what you need when you listen to what we want you to listen to.”

Treating Jesus and the gospel like a bargaining chip cheapens the message of grace behind it. If we don’t earn trust and earn our voice, why should people listen to us? If we simply listen so that we can get our moment in the spotlight, people will sniff out the disingenuousness of our listening and we will be even further from gaining their trust or earning a right to be heard.

Trust matters and this is a part of the process that can’t be skipped or fast-tracked. It needs to be entered into authentically, organically, and with the utmost patience and care.

As I’ve been building relationships within the community, this is forefront on my radar screen. I want to hear about the things that people care about. I want to hear their hearts, know their fears, know their joys, know their passions. I don’t want to know or hear these things so that I can use them as collateral to negotiate, I want to know and hear these things so that I genuinely care about these new friends I am meeting. If I don’t care about these things, then I am just a salesman, selling Jesus, doing my best to convince people of something.

Jesus said to love my neighbor, and it seems that one of the most loving things that I can do is to listen, care, and build trust with people, letting them know that I’m for them and about them, not simply wanting to tell them what I need to tell them and then move on.

Building trust leads to the last significant difference which is also the newest one for me: establishing a parish model of church. We’ll talk about that in our next and final installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

How Are You Different? – Partnership Is Key

If there is one thing that I’ve seen done both well and horribly, from one extreme to the other, in all of my time within the church, it’s this one. Partnership.

When I say partnership, there are two different aspects that I am talking about: within the community and with other churches.

Henry Blackaby wrote a book years ago called “Experiencing God.” The premise of the book was one big idea: find out where God is moving and working and go there.

As big of a book as “Experiencing God” was among churches that I was a part of, I was amazed that more didn’t really embrace the premise that it proposed. So, as I’ve begun the work of starting something new in a community, this has been at the forefront of my mind in both organizations and churches.

I should give a little aside to the fact that Gallup’s StrengthsFinders has been a significant part of my own journey. In a word, the premise behind StrengthsFinders is that we are all good at something and we should focus on those things in which we do our best work, leaving the things that are not in our wheelhouse to those who possess the strengths to do them well.

As I look at communities, I see so many different organizations. There is the school system, full of teachers, administrators, and other committed workers who have the best interest of the children of the community in mind. There is the emergency response workers who also have the best interest of the community in mind. There are community focused organizations. There are small businesses. There are hosts of others organizations who have a primary focus and a skillset that lies outside of the church community which is being built.

In my opinion, it would be absolutely stupid for me not to consider the strengths of these organizations. To hear what they are doing and to find out ways that we can come alongside what they are already doing seems to be one of the wisest things that we could do. I’ve always said to my wife, “We are better together.” It’s true in a marriage and I believe it’s true in communities. Coming alongside other organizations to find ways in which we can work together is a crucial piece of building this new church.

But the partnerships don’t stop there. In fact, it may be easier to think about partnering with organizations than to think about partnering with other faith communities.

In the past, this kind of work may have been called ecumenical. Like so many other words, ecumenical has inherited a host of baggage along the way. While I think the word is more loaded than it should be, my own denomination has helped me to see the value of ecumenicism. Our motto is, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

If each church is living into the phrase that my friend shared years ago, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” then they all have something that they do really well while there are other things that they don’t do so well.

So what happens when they work together?

Honestly, to enter into any community, town, or city and think that your church alone is the answer to all of its problems has to be one of the most arrogant and egotistical approaches I’ve seen, and God knows that I’ve seen it more times than I would be willing to admit.

But the experience that I have been having thus far is that some of the churches in the community (not all of the churches) really want to see how they can encourage each other and help each other, looking at the mission of God as significantly bigger than just their local church.

Honestly, I have just not seen this happen very often. There was one church that I was part of in another state in which I experienced the polar opposite of this. All I will say is that it felt like the equivalent of a boys’ locker room with everyone trying to outdo each other. Instead of working together, it felt like everyone was trying to outdo each other and compete with one another.

Last time I checked, the mission of God was what the Church was called to, the whole Church. To think that one church could single-handedly accomplish that just doesn’t make sense. Partnership is key.

For partnership to work though, trust matters. And that’s what we will look at in the next installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2

 

How Are You Different? – A Redefined Mission

During this church planting journey that we are on, I’ve been doing a magical mystery tour of some of the other church plants that meet in non-traditional locations around the Richmond area. I’ve been taking note of the things that I have liked, the things that I haven’t liked, and doing my best to remember what stands out the most that I think would fit well in this new community that we are hoping that God builds through us.

A few weeks ago, we visited a church where the pastor spoke as they segued into their offering time. For those not familiar with this, most churches have a time set aside to gather up funds in what they call “the offering.” Some pass offering plates, others pass baskets. Some invite people to the front. Others have boxes at the exits for people to deposit donations to the church and its mission as they leave the worship service.

This pastor spoke of how they give 20% of their offerings to better the community of which they are a part. As he talked about the joy it gives him to contribute to these missions, I couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah 29:7, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

As he talked about these missions, I wasn’t completely sure that all of those missions were “Christian” missions. Now, I could write a whole blog post or series about what that actually means, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say that it has to do with the mission and vision and whether or not there is some importance given to an evangelistic focus. In other words, is it a concern for an organization that people’s physical needs alone are met or is there emphasis given to people’s spiritual needs as well?

All that being said, it really got me thinking about how important this is.

While this is a significant part of who we will be as a church, I don’t think it means that the mission of God cannot be accomplished through people who don’t have that same focus. Seeking the peace and prosperity of the community, if we are really thinking holistically, involves physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s possible that missions can be supported who do this better than the local church does.

This really plays into the next significant difference which is that partnership is key.

We’ll talk about that in the next post of “How are you different?”

This is part 2 of a 5 part series. You can read Part 1 here.

 

How Are You Different? – Who We Are For

Over the years that I have been in ministry as a full-time vocation (15 years this month), one of the quotes I’ve been known to use over and over again is that the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet here.

When Jesus left his disciples, his commission to them was to go and make disciples, teaching people to obey everything that he commands and baptizing them. So, at any given time, within the church of Jesus Christ, we are raising up disciples and nurturing disciples. Raising disciples happens when we share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who have yet to hear it or yet to embrace it.

Unfortunately, the gravitational pull for most churches is inward. It becomes the default position because once a church is established and begins meeting, sustaining itself can easily become the most important thing, especially for the pastor and everyone who considers that church to be their home and community.

It’s really the difference between being inward facing versus outward facing.

When we are inward facing, we exist for the people who are already part of our community. The programs that we set up and create, the services we provide, the events that we plan, they all focus on those who are already a part of our church and who are most likely funding the mission that we have embraced.

When we are outward facing, we are always asking the question, “Who is it that is not yet here who needs to be part of this community?” We will also be looking through the lens of those who are not yet there as we analyze what we do. Are we speaking language that is easily understood by those who have not grown up in the church? Are we creating an environment that is winsome and welcoming to those who have never darkened our doors before?

As I move towards the launch of this new church plant, one thing that I want to emphasize over and over again is that we are for those who are not yet here and not yet part of our community.

I’ll be honest with you, this scares me, not a little, but a lot. It can get messy. Answers may be elusive at times. We will make mistakes. But we continue to press forward, doing our best to make sure that we are seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ to people who are not yet part of our community.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Jeremiah. In particular, I appreciate the 29th chapter of the book. I was the guy who quoted Jeremiah 29:11 in my senior yearbook quote in high school, but that’s not the verse that stands out to me all these years later. It’s actually the verse that happens just a few sentences before it. Verse 7.

Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

With this verse in mind, this leads me to the second difference that I see as significant: A redefined mission.

We’ll look at that difference in the next installment of “How are you different?”

How Are You Different?

One of the questions that I consistently get in this church planting journey is, “How are you different from every other church out there?”

As I’ve thought about it, it’s a great question. It’s a great question not just for church planters and church plants but also for every local church. What is it about your local church that distinguishes it from every other church?

Years ago, I heard a friend and colleague ask the question (and I’ve blogged about this before), “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” We may not always have that answer at our ready, but it’s one that we certainly should think about because, whether we admit it or not, there should be something unique about us.

All that being said, I was asked this by someone on my team last week. It got me to thinking about it and wondering, what’s the answer to this?

Our experiences are going to dictate our response and approach to the present and the future. That’s certainly the case with church planting as well. The things that I have experienced over the years as I have been a part of churches as a volunteer, an attender, a staff member, and a pastor, those things will dictate how I move forward and what things become most important to me.

As I’ve thought about it, there are five things that I’ve distinguished as different. Now, when I say different, I don’t mean that there are no churches out there that do these things, it’s just that in my experience, they are not always the norm among churches.

The other thing that I think it’s important to point out, these things are not an indictment of every church that I have ever been a part of. Identifying these things does not mean that all the churches that I have been a part of in the past have lacked these qualities, it just means that these are the five things that I have identified as important.

Without further ado, the five qualities and distinguishing factors that I have identified are:

  • Who we are for
  • A redefined mission
  • Partnership is key
  • Trust matters
  • A parish model

Over the next few weeks, I will look at these qualities. So, hope you come back to read what I have to say about these as the weeks go on.

 

Context Is Key

A few years back, a friend and mentor of mine introduced me to a concept that really made sense regarding the local church. He talked about the three C’s of church. Contents, Context, and Containers. The contents of what church is about is non-negotiable. If we are seeking to be faithful to the Bible, we will do our best to understand it and let the contents of what we do and say as the church be driven by what it says.

The containers in which that content is housed are negotiable, they can change. Another way of saying container might be presentation. How is the contents being presented? In which containers is the content housed?

But I haven’t really been thinking much about contents or containers lately. I’ve mainly been focused on context. This friend and mentor asked a question as he presented this idea of context. He asked, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?”

As I’ve been on this church planting journey, I’ve been visiting other churches to get an idea of how they do things. I’ve especially wanted to observe churches that meet in non-traditional spaces, spaces that are not their own. Schools. Theaters. Rented spaces where they have to set up and tear down every week. We’ve visited a number of them.

As I look back over the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, I can see a progression of my thinking in regards to church. Ten years ago, I questioned why church planting was necessary. I also questioned why there are so many churches and why people feel the need to constantly change churches. It never made a lot of sense to me and it still doesn’t completely make sense, but I’ve begun to put some of the pieces together in my head.

You see, as I’ve looked around and seen these different expressions of the body of Christ, I’ve begun to understand that it makes more sense than I thought for there to be so many expressions. After all, we are a diverse people and that diversity is going to shine differently in different contexts and in different people.

But there are two things that I think need to happen in order for this to be more effective.

1)  Before you leave and before you commit, ask a different question

It seems that people choose churches like they choose an outfit in the morning before they leave the house, it all depends on what kind of mood they are in. I think that often people come to the local church and ask themselves what she can do for them, and I don’t think that’s the right question.

With all apologies to JFK, I think his statement about asking what you can do for your country may apply here as well. Instead of asking what a church can do for them or even asking what they can do for the church, I think they need to ask themselves, “How can I best fit into this community?” or “Is there a place for me in this community?” or even “How can I best use the gifts that God has given me in this community?”

I think that some people may ask that question but I wonder how many actually go through the due diligence of seeking the answer in earnest. It seems that people are quick to express their frustration with the inadequacies of the local church and quickly go find another one. I wonder what would happen if every pastor expressed the same frustration over those members and their lack of engagement and using of their gifts in that same local church. That would be interesting!

If we think about it in terms of the context question my friend shared, I think we might wonder how we might fit into this local expression as God expresses himself through us in this place and at this time. Are we seeking ways that we fit or are we seeking ways that we disagree?

If the church is to be about the Missio Dei, the mission of God, her people will need to ask these questions with the intent of finding out how to best be used by God. This doesn’t mean that God can’t accomplish his will without us, but it does mean that we should always be asking how can I use what God has given me to best be a part of his work?

So, before you take your toys and go somewhere else, ask yourself if you have really been seeking to use the gifts that God has given you where he planted you.

2) Come Together Despite Differences

The town in which I am starting a new church is a unique place. It’s fairly diverse in many ways and it’s been cool and interesting to see.

There are a number of churches that already exist there and I’ve already had it asked of me more than once why this place needs one more church. And what I am finding is that God wants to take a group of people who come together in community to allow him to uniquely express himself in this particular place at this particular time.

If you were to put all of the churches together, I think you would have a lot of differing opinions on a number of different topics. But, I also think that there would be a number of areas where you would see agreement, and frankly, I think that gets overlooked far too often.

For how far down the road we are since the church was established in the first century, I don’t know that there will ever be a time this side of eternity when we could move towards one local expression of the body of Christ. In the meantime, though, I think we can look for a taste of what is to come. I think we can look at the essentials and see if we align there. If we do, I think we can have some discussions on the places where we differ and see if those differences prevent us from fellowship together. If we are honest, I have a hard time believing that they will.

In fact, as I look around at the community and its needs, I think that God can accomplish his work through his church if some of the barriers that have been keeping us apart are removed. That doesn’t mean that we will all agree on everything. That doesn’t mean that there might still be some significant differences. Could it be that some of these differences exist so that we can work through them and in spite of them? What would happen if the world could see the testimony of grace in these local churches as they put differences aside and seek to be on mission together?

As I continue to go from church to church to see how God is expressing himself from context to context, I am beginning to understand that these separate churches aren’t a bad thing if we can just try to find ways to come together now and then. We can be unique, express ourselves in the ways that God is calling us to express ourselves, and still find ways to cross over the barriers that keep us apart to have a taste of unity, not uniformity, not full agreement, but oneness. After all, there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.

The picture that we see in Revelation 7 seems to be a “someday” picture, a picture that we figure we’ll get to after Jesus returns. I wonder what it would look like if we began to practice that now, every tribe, tongue, and nation coming together to worship the Lord. A foretaste of what is to come, and I don’t think it’s a pipe dream to think we can begin to experience it this side of eternity.

Soli Deo gloria!

Hey, Dad…

cell phoneNext month will mark six years since I lost my dad. My healing and grief process has been a journey, a journey which has changed and shaped me. People are right when they say that you never recover from a loss. You are never the same, a piece of you is gone, but you put one foot in front of the other, slowly beginning to live again, discovering the “new” normal and rhythm of life.

I lost count of the number of times that I grabbed for my phone to make a phone call to my parents in those six years. To be honest, their phone numbers are still programmed into my phone although they’ve most likely been assigned to someone else by now. I can’t bring myself to get rid of the numbers or the voicemails that I have. On occasion, I’ve listened to them again just to hear the sound of my parents’ voices.

While there have been countless times I’ve wanted to pick up my phone to call my parents just to call them, there have been plenty of other times when there has been something specific that’s been on my mind that I’ve wanted to pick their brains about or just glean their wisdom and experience. That’s been especially true of this church planting journey that I’m on and my desire to just talk with my dad.

“Hey, Dad, I’ve got a question for you.”

“Hey, Dad, tell me about the time when you…”

Hey, Dad, I’m really wondering about how you handled…”

No, my dad wasn’t a church planter, he was a pastor, but there have been multiple times when I’ve felt as if my own experience has paralleled his. The town in which I am planting reminds me in some small ways of my own hometown. They share some of the same characteristics and quirks while also having some stark contrasts. My dad also found himself in friendships with those who held opposite political, ideological, and spiritual views than he did.

It’s funny because there were times when his stance and voice made me uncomfortable. There were multiple times when I know that he angered people in voicing his convictions and yet, he still managed to engage in conversations with those with whom he disagreed.

I’ve not had many regrets when it comes to my relationship with my parents, but I’ve felt a little twinge of guilt in these times, wishing so longingly to have been less selfish than I was so that I could have seen and appreciated the value of their experience. Once they were gone, I thought of a million questions that I wish I had asked them.

I’ve been blessed with a handful of other mentors during this time. I am grateful for their collective wisdom and experience as well as their willingness to share what they have with me. No offense to any of them, but there’s just nothing like the conversation between a father and a son.

I’ll continue to enjoy and take advantage of those great mentors and their voices. There’s a plethora of information and resources that I enjoy that my dad just never had access to (or he avoided because, let’s face it, he wasn’t the most technologically savvy). My faith tells me that I will see my dad again, and I’ll continue to wait for that day, when I’ll recognize him from afar and run to him as fast as I can and say, “Hey, Dad, I’ve got a lot to tell you!”

 

To Boldly Go

One consistent piece of wisdom and advice that people have given me regarding church planting has come from those who have done it before. Over and over again, they have said that church planting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done in life, if not the hardest, but one of the most rewarding as well. The rewards are not always or often as visible as you would like them to be. The costs exceed what you are sometimes willing to pay.

As I look back at a challenging week, I can relate to those who have gone before me and passed on this wisdom.

I’m reminded of personal trainers who push you beyond where you would push yourself. It’s the rare breed of person who might push themselves to the point of greatness, exercising self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-control. The rest of us need a village around us to help us reach those heights which seem unattainable on our own. The strength by which we arrive there would not have been conjured up on our own, it has to be supernatural.

The other day, I looked at my wife and I said, “We would be nowhere if it weren’t for prayer.” We have known this during other seasons of our life but the truth of that has been hammered home to us once again. When we have faced challenges in our life together, prayer has been one of our first courses of action. We continue to affirm this and know that something happens when we pray, both individually and corporately.

I look at where I am and I am grateful for those who surround me. Cheerleaders. Encouragers. Achievers. I feel like I am made to look greater by those with whom I have surrounded myself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am learning something new every day. I am growing in ways that I didn’t know I needed to grow or that I was not willing to allow myself on my own. This crucible of leadership is not for the faint of heart. Enter if you are called, all others need not apply.

The wisest man in the world, Solomon, wrote in his book as the teacher that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. There is power in community. We reach new heights when we ride on the wings of others.

I am changing. I am transforming. The growth and transformation is not without pain or discomfort. But I believe that the outcome will significantly surpass all that I could ask or think or imagine.

Love People, Solve Problems

As I’ve been on this church planting journey that I’ve been on, I’ve tried to surround myself with some quality mentors and leaders from whom I can learn. I’ve done enough life and ministry at this point that some of the arrogance that I once had in my twenties has been rubbed away and I’ve come to a place of acknowledgement of my own limitations and inadequacies. I have been incredibly blessed to have a few mentors around me who have spoken truth, life, and encouragement to me.

Last week, I met with one of those friends and mentors for lunch. I was updating him on where I am in the process and telling him some cool God stories that had taken place. God stories are the ones that you know could only happen by God’s power and hand, not by my own talents or abilities.

As we shared stories and caught up, he felt led to share some insights with me. He told me that he wanted to share something with me that had been helpful to him which he thought would also be helpful to me.

He said, “Remember, love people and solve problems.”

As the words escaped his mouth, he let them hang there for a minute. I’m sure that the look on my face hinted at the activity in my brain at that moment. I was trying to wrap my head around just what that meant.

When he had seen that I had struggled long enough to decipher his saying, he launched into his own experience of embodying those words. He said that he had at one time tried to solve people and love problems. But he realized that was fruitless and just led to frustration.

You see, ministry in general can be frustrating. Heck, any occupation that deals with people can be frustrating, so who am I kidding. If you deal with people, you will find yourself at times angry, frustrated, and wanting to give up. You will see them as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved. The achievers among us will want to fix them, to solve them, to help them reach their full potential and forget all about one of Jesus’ greatest commands: to love them.

I can be very task oriented. I can easily see a problem and move to fix it rather than trying to understand why it’s there. In my effort to move to solution, I forget that there is flesh and blood before me, someone to be loved and not fixed.

This friend and mentor knows me well enough by now to know that this same lesson that had proved some monumental and crucial to him was also something I needed to hear and embrace.

You see, focusing on loving someone and solving the problem pits me against the problem rather than the person. When we see the problem, even if that means there is conflict between us, we join together to do our best to find out how we solve the problem together. If we look at each other rather than the problem, all we will see is each other as the problem and then try to fix each other to accommodate our own preference or mindset.

It’s too easy to get caught up in looking past people to solutions and completely forgetting how valuable and important those people are. Loving people takes time and compassion. It takes empathy and care. Loving them and solving problems means investment. If we fail to love people and solve problems, then when we fail to solve a person, we simply discard them or walk away, excusing this abandonment as necessary because of the lack of growth and movement we saw.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that somewhere along the way, someone loved us rather than trying to solve us. They took the time and invested in us, seeking a solution to a very real problem but seeking that solution through us rather than in us.

There is only one person who can solve and fix people, and that is God. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. The more that we try to do it, the more frustrated we will find ourselves becoming.

What will happen if you go into your day seeking to love people and solve problems. I know that in just the few short days since this truth was hammered home to me it has made a significant impact in me. It’s hard to rush towards solutions when you are simply trying to love someone.