I Need, We Need

As I am on the heels of kicking off a new faith community, a lot of my thoughts have been about the church. Not only have I been in full-time vocational ministry for the last fifteen years, but I grew up in the home of a pastor and can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t connected in some way to a local church community.

Starting a church from scratch has given me the opportunity to look at everything with fresh eyes, as if I had never experienced any of it before. When you start things from scratch, you don’t get to say, “We’ve always done it that way.” There can be no excuses.There are no magic formulas. There should be no sacred cows.

I have spent the last few years focusing on StrengthsFinders and how it relates to people within the church community. One of the key uses of StrengthsFinders is to help people connect with what will engage them in their jobs. It made sense to me, as I thought about StrengthsFinders, that the same application could be used within the church. Couldn’t we look for the ways that we would be engaged in our church to find out how we could stick better?

When we start looking at ourselves as pieces of a bigger picture, we move from simply looking for ways to have our needs met to looking to help meet the needs that we see before us. We don’t just ask what I need, but we also ask what we need.

I had a meeting the other day with a few friends, two of whom have been on this church planting journey with me. All three of these friends have a strong voice of advocacy for their own special needs children. I brought us all together to consider what we can be doing as a new church to consider this important community and how they can fit and integrate into what God is building in and through us.

As we talked about different local expressions of the church, one of my friends talked about this very concept of needs. When we fail to see who the church is and why she exists, we fail to move past the question of what she can do for me. We simply see the church as an organization that provides goods for us to consume.

But what happens when we ask ourselves how the church needs me. The way that I see it, in community, we should be transformed and be transforming. Not only are we transforming, but we should be part of that transformation process in others. We should be seeking to be used and to use the gifts that we have for the sake of the community as well.

When we come to this place, we began to see how we fit into the big picture, we begin to see that if we are truly seeking to be used, then our community needs us as much as we need our community.

It was a beautiful reminder of the mutuality of community. Any kind of relationship that is one-sided will grow stale at best, will lead to some kind of abuse or burnout at worst. But when we find the mutual aspects of community, finding our way, our use, and our purpose, it changes the whole thing.

So, considering our place in community, how do we move from simply asking how I am getting what I need and move to the place of helping us with what we need? I think we need to understand who we are, how we are made, and what we have to offer. If we can identify that first, that’s a great step in the right direction of helping us stick better and find our purpose in the place that God has brought us.

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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

 

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?”

The Cost of Community

I’m beginning to compile thoughts on community. It seems that it’s a recurring theme in my conversations lately. But I’m very curious what people think about community, how they view it, how much it is a part of their lives, and even how they define it.

As I’ve served in a local church for the past fifteen years and been part of a church community of some sorts for the bulk of my life, that has been one of the greatest pictures to me of community. It has defined community for me in so many ways, both the good and the bad.

I would go so far as to say that because of the community of which I have been part, some of the challenges and difficulties in life have been tempered. The loss of parents. The addition of children. Health issues. Going through any of these things on your own with no one around you is a challenge. Add community and the whole dynamic changes.

Here’s one of the insights that I’ve seen lately. I shared this with a friend recently and it continues to resonate as my brain unpacks it more. Community is costly but we aren’t always willing to pay the price. In fact, I think that we are looking for a high-quality product but many times we are only willing to pay economy price for it.

Now, when I say that community is costly, I am not talking about actual financial cost, although it might sometimes come to that. I am talking about resource cost in general. Community costs us, but what are we willing to pay for it.

Over and over, in my experience, I continue to see people who want what they want regardless of what they have to pay for it, but not in the area of community. When it comes to community, people have high expectations and high need but they want to pay low costs and have low commitment.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. You get what you pay for, an old adage that’s as meaningful today as it was when it was first coined. If you aren’t willing to pay the cost and give the commitment to community, do you really have the right to complain when it doesn’t meet the needs that you were hoping it would?

In my job, I have had the opportunity to meet with couples as they move towards marriage, as they struggle with marriage, and as they just encounter everything that life throws at them. Recently, in a wedding I officiated, I told the couple that you don’t go into a marriage expecting to change the other person. Marriage is as much about your own formation as it is about the formation of your partner.

But how many times have I seen couples who come to me and, whether they explicitly say it or not, are saying deep down that the needs that they thought would be met in their spouse are not being met. The first question I want to ask them is, “How are you meeting their needs?”

This is an experiment, a testing ground, this journey that I am on. As I move forward in the launching of a brand new church, community and all the conversations around it will inform so much of what I do. As I journey through, I’ll be taking notes the whole time and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it, successes and failures alike.

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.

Know Your Limits

I was sitting in a local coffee shop the other day and a couple came in looking for breakfast options. The guy behind the counter told them that their breakfast options were limited and then proceeded to tell them about a place down the street that had a more full breakfast menu. The couple thanked him and headed out the door to the little diner down the street.

As I sat there, enthralled with what had just played out before me, I couldn’t help but think about the wisdom in knowing your limitations, in knowing what you can offer and what you can’t. This played out before me in a small little cafe, but I wondered why it doesn’t play out more in churches.

In this church planting journey that I have been on, I’ve thought a lot about churches and what they can and can’t do. I’ve thought a lot about trying to be all things to all people. I’ve wondered what keeps pastors from being secure enough in who they are and who their church is to tell people who are looking for something that they won’t find there that it might not be the place for them.

It’s far more tempting when new people come into your church to do your best to woo them and persuade them that this is the place for them, even if they are looking for something that you can’t give them. It’s far more difficult to be honest and tell them that you know a place that might be a better fit for them. I know that there are pastors out there who actually do that, recommend that people find what they’re looking for down the street, across town, or somewhere else.

In the long run, knowing limitations, both personally and as a church, will help us be more effective. I’ve learned that over the past few years, improving in the area of delegation, not to get out of working but to free myself up to do the things that I do best. Why is it that pastors and churches struggle to do what this coffee shop attendant did? Why do we struggle to know our limitations, admit our limitations, and live into the things at which we excel?

As I embark on this journey, what are the top reasons why I need to follow the example of this coffee shop attendant?

1) It helps to solidify and cast vision

I have a friend and mentor who planted a church years ago. His church has grown to be one of the largest in the area. While it might all seem like it came easily, he can share war stories and show the scars that he’s earned to get to the place where he is at. The one consistent story he has told is of the “vision wranglers” who came to the church with high expectations of what they were looking for and what they thought needed to be offered. Listening to them rather than pursuing the God given vision that you have been given will lead to a distorted vision and a confusing pursuit of that.

If a decision making process is formed to analyze opportunities and offerings within a church to ensure that they are aligned with the vision, it will go a long way in not only preventing burnout but also enforcing, solidifying, and casting that vision. When people ask if you offer something and you answer, “That doesn’t really align with the vision that God has given us,” people might not like it, but they will know what that vision is and how it drives everything that you do as a church.

2) It allows you to focus on your strengths

I could write an entire post on strengths and my own journey in them, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it brief. Focusing on strengths is far more fulfilling than focusing on weaknesses. That’s not to say that God doesn’t call us to grow in areas of weakness and rely on him, but I firmly believe that we still need to lean into him even when we are operating in our strengths. Just because something is your strength doesn’t mean you do it perfectly.

Focusing on the things that we are good at helps us be more effective and efficient as individuals. It makes sense that when we take it to a more corporate and communal level to the church that the same should be true. If we know the strengths of our faith community, we should live into them rather than trying to be like the other faith community down the street or across town.

When we try to do the things that we aren’t good at, not only do we become less efficient and effective, we also suffer from an identity crisis. We fail to see who God has created us to be and long to be other than who he has made us. In our pursuit of another identity, we basically tell God that we’re not satisfied with who he made us and we’d much rather be something else.

3) It helps to appreciate the vastness and diversity of the body of Christ

If the body of Christ is as diverse as Paul seems to describe it as in his letters, then maybe we aren’t all meant to do everything. There’s something to be said about a hand doing things that hands were meant to do. Same can be said of feet doing things that feet were meant to do. But an arm was never meant to smell, a leg was never meant to taste, a foot was never mean to see. Likewise, the nose, tongue, and eyes weren’t meant to do the things that arms, legs, and feet do.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging our limitations. In fact, I think that when we acknowledge those limitations, we begin to see just how vast and diverse the body of Christ is and appreciate the gifts of others. While we may still long to be something other than we are, if we humble ourselves, I think God can bring us to the place where we gain more appreciation for the gifts of others, especially when we know how hard it is to try to live into those things.

At the same time, hopefully others come to that same place and begin to appreciate us and the gifts that God has given to us.

This is all fine and good in theory, in fact, someone told me last week that I had a lot of theories. That’s part of the beauty of this journey I find myself on, theories will be tried and tested. They will be proved or disproved. The nice thing is that this is one theory that I’ve seen played out for me by others who have gone before, so theory or not, successful or not in my case, it’s been proven before.

Ultimately, my heart is about being part of God’s kingdom work in this world. That’s not always easy, it’s not without challenges, but I think that it can go a long way towards removing some of those challenges when we begin to live in to who God has made us, both as individuals and communities, and let others live into who they are. If we find ourselves living into that, I think we will begin to see what many of us have prayed for over and over again, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Cutting Deep

A little more than four years ago, my community was rocked when a local police officer and his wife were out for a run and the wife was hit by a car and killed. The running community reacted. A memorial run was set up. A memorial license plate was created. An organization began. A legacy was left.

Now, a little more than four years later, tragedy has struck my community again. A beloved preschool teacher was walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a car. Although she initially survived the accident, she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Again, a community reacts and responds.

In the wake of the tragedy, I spoke to countless teachers who talked about the difficulties that have rippled through their school this year. Suicides. Attempted suicides. Sexual assaults. The list goes on. How much more could one community take, they asked?

This is what seems to happen in a tight-knit community, tragedy strikes and the impact runs deep. Part of it is because of how the various neighborhoods in the community are set up. People live there because they want to be connected to each other. People live there because they want to know their neighbors. But there’s risk in that. When we love deeply, we hurt deeply. When tragedy strikes, it cuts deep into our hearts.

This tragedy strikes my family harder than the last one. This woman was my oldest child’s preschool teacher years ago. For nine years, my three children went through that preschool. For nine years, although we didn’t have her more than one year, we were connected. She knew stories about me, from the mouth of my child, that others have probably never heard.

When news hit me about her death, I was numb. In the middle of the night following, I awoke and lay restless in my bed. Her husband. Her children. Her family. My heart ached. What more could I do other than feel their pain and pray?

In a day and age where we all seem connected yet aren’t always, the silver lining of the tragedy is that I see just how connected and tight-knit my community seems to be. I see people rallying around a family in need, a family who is hurting. I know that many people’s interest will wane as the headlines fade from the papers about the incident. Those closest to the family will journey with them for a time. The connections will remain.

My heart hurts today. Many are hurting in the aftermath of this. But I’d be hard-pressed to believe that any who are hurting regretted their connections. Tennyson said that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We were made for connection, we were made for relationship, to avoid relationship for the sake of avoiding pain will only result in the deeper pain of loneliness.

I don’t know what more will come from this tragedy. I hope that there is more than the usual tears shed, meals delivered, flowers and cards sent, and then the resumption of normality for everyone not directly connected to the victim.

We’re going through a series during Lent at my church on slowing down. It seems incredibly relevant on so many levels as I sit here and type this. Slowing down physically. Slowing down mentally. Slowing down emotionally. We need to slow down. We move too fast, and we certainly move too fast to really grieve our losses. I know that one from experience.

Yes, pain cuts deep when we’re connected, but maybe we can slow down and ask ourselves just how this tragedy, and every tragedy that we face, experience, witness, or even hear about, will change the way that we live our lives. Will they make a difference or will we just return to the status quo as soon as the memories fade?

I choose change.