Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How Any of This Works

One of the things that fascinates me most is our tendency to disregard the things the Gospels and the Epistles teach in order to embrace or accommodate doing things just like the dominant culture around us.

I think the root of this is not biblical illiteracy but rather a conviction (conscious or unconscious) that the Bible, for all that it is, is not practical.

Back in my Bible College days, right after John finished writing Revelation, a good friend of mine was interning for the summer at a Colorado church. In his first staff meeting the senior pastor asked if my friend could recommend any good books on leadership. My friend suggested a book we had just read for a class the semester before, A Theology of Church Leadership, by LarryRichards. The senior pastor replied, “No, I mean something practical.”

A little part of me died when I first heard that story.

One thing that seems clear to me is that kingdom leadership has only one Lord and we’re not to have any “lording” going on in the kingdom.

First, there’s this troubling passage in red, Matthew 20:25-28 “But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NLT)

And then Peter seems to be drawing on that when he writes to church leaders and says, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” (1 Peter 5:2-3 NLT)

Jesus demonstrates his approach to leadership in the Upper Room by washing his disciples feet and punctuates the experience with these not so cryptic words, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15 NLT)

I’ve been with church leaders who, with a very straight face, have told me, “The way I wash people’s feet is by telling them what to do. I serve the church by exercising my gift of leadership and giving them direction.”

In heaven, Jesus does a face palm every time someone says something like this.

The primary problem with this is: “The way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that comes.” 

If we lead like bosses, we’re bringing a bossy kingdom but not a foot washing kingdom. If we, as leaders, lord our position over people rather than becoming their slaves, we’re bringing a lordly kingdom but we’re not bringing a servant of all kingdom. Our tendency is to be like Peter and tell Jesus he has more important things to do than wash our feet but Jesus still reminds us that if we don’t let him serve us, we’re not going to make it into the kingdom. And we can “release” other people to do the foot washing, but if we’re not humbling ourselves and cleaning toilets, stacking chairs and giving someone a lift, we’re building a kingdom but we’re not bringing the same kingdom that our foot washing king calls us to bring.

But this isn’t practical. And it’s messy. And people might not know you’re the boss when you lead like Jesus.

In North America, it seems to me that we are challenged to strive to arrive at a level where you’ll never be mistaken for a slave again. The level where people ask for your endorsement, where they bring you water bottles in the green room and they stop asking you to pick up after yourself. It seems to me that we’ve inverted Jesus’ plan for kingdom leadership in favor of creating a celebrity class and a boss class where your behavior can no longer be questioned and your success is not measured by feet washed but by finances and followers.

“We’re too big to fail.” Isn’t just said about financial institutions and big business. It’s also said about some churches and some Christian celebrities and this is not and has never been the way of the foot-washer King.

Recovery, I think, starts with rejecting celebrity culture, particularly within the church.

Second, while I believe Christian leadership is a form of martyrdom, we must not turn a blind eye to the bad behavior of our brothers and sisters, particularly in leadership roles. We're all human, we all mess up, we all need to be called on our stuff. We all need a Nathan to step up - which starts with leaders who welcome "Nathans" and the confrontation they bring.

Third, we need to filter our practices through this lens, “The way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that comes.”

And finally, we need, like Israel, to stop insisting on human kings so we can be cool like the other nations and just let Jesus be Lord.

I’m not arguing for anarchy, necessarily, but I am very sure that we have by and large adopted pragmatism as our ethic – if it works it must be God – when Jesus called us to entirely different kind of kingdom where leaders are recognized by their service and not by their status.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dear VUSA pt 2

Dear VUSA,

Hey, it’s me again.

I wanted to finish sharing my feelings with you. (part one here)

Before I get to that, I want to tell you why I’m writing you like this, I’d like to tell you why I am not writing this and then tell you about how I’m feeling.

And then I’ll just leave this with you and won’t bother you again.

VUSA, I love you. I believe in you. I really do. That’s the main reason I’m writing. If I thought you permanently sucked and I hated you, I’d just slip away.

VUSA, I’m writing like this because we have no ombudsman, no party that I know I can reach out to who will listen and will sit us down and help us listen to each other. As a system, you seem both impenetrable and impervious.

But I love you, I believe in you and I have a dream of how our relationship can be, therefore, I write.

I am not writing because I’m lonely or sad or going through a particularly hard time in my local church. I’m not writing you, VUSA, because I have no friends or I’m on the verge of a breakdown. I’m not writing you because I like to complain and want to be “that guy” that causes everyone to inwardly groan when they see he’s in the meeting.

I’m not writing to criticize people, the parts of your sum, VUSA.

This is important because 32% of our population will personalize what I am writing even though it’s not written about them or about any person. I am writing about a system. About VUSA.

You are a system and you have developed a mindset, an attitude, a personality, an existence that lives beyond the individual parts that make you up. You are a system that influences the people who live inside of you every bit as much or more than they influence you. That’s what a system does.

A wise person once said, “The way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that comes.” Systems are not neutral. Your nature will produce fruit after its kind. They way you do things shapes the future as much or more than the words or values you speak, no matter who the people are that are plugged into your system.

I’m not writing with the illusion that I can do a single thing about that, but I do believe that I am my brother’s keeper and if you see a brother, or system, that causes hurt feelings and you don’t speak up or try to speak up, you’re complicit. I don’t want to be complicit.

So this is the part where I finish telling you about how I feel about our relationship.

Once upon a time I went to work at a store and met some great people. Right away one guy invited me and my wife over for dinner. We were new to town and I was excited about the possibility of establishing new relationships.

We had a great meal, good conversation, funny stories but then after the meal the couple asked me and my wife to have a seat on their couch while they set up a white board on a stand. The warm hospitality suddenly felt awkward.

For the next hour we listened to their multi-level marketing presentation and heard about the incredible opportunity to be one of their “legs.” There were upline people at various levels from diamond to emerald but the goal, as they explained it to us, was to get our own legs and become uplines to others from whom we would eventually collect money off of their work.

VUSA, for me, this is how I feel about our relationship. I feel like my worth to you is in my potential as a leg in your multi-level church planting movement. I feel like I’m a downline. I’m a leg. I feel like my worth to you is based on my ability to produce and to purchase, to get more downlines, more legs planted, more resources flowing upwards to feed you. I’ve watched people diagram you VUSA, I’ve seen them use their hands to demonstrate the multi-levels of your system. I left a system like that in order to join the Vineyard.

And now it’s starting to feel to me like we’ve become what I left.

I’m not mad at you, VUSA, we are what we are and perhaps this is the way that all systems are eventually bound to develop.

I just have this dream that we will have a different sort of relationship where I don’t feel like I work for you but with you and that when you are making decisions that affect me and the church I’m in, you’ll drop us a line and ask for some feedback before it actually happens. I have a dream that our kingdom theology will influence you, our system, as much as it influences our local churches and our every day relationships and that it will influence me because God knows I need it to.

The hard thing is for those who are inside the system to be able to see or relate to what I am talking about. Place influences perspective and there are people who enjoy a connection to your system that can’t possibly relate to how I feel. I acknowledge and accept that. It’s part of the complex nature of family systems – we’re all in ‘normal’ families until we start to hang out with other families because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Our relationship with the couple who invited us over for dinner and a presentation didn’t develop very far because my wife, who has an aversion to multi-level marketing, said we weren’t interested.
And then they weren’t.

And VUSA, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried that telling you all this will make you despise me. But I would feel much worse if I never said a word.

I’m one hundred percent sold out for the kingdom and for the Vineyard. The Spirit has used Kingdom theology to shape me and how I fulfill my vocation. I’m not going anywhere. That might be good news or bad news to you VUSA, but I really couldn’t carry on without telling you how I’m feeling.

So I offer both parts of this letter up to the interwebs with a prayer that the Spirit is at work in people AND in systems. I pray that there are better days ahead for us and that we can develop a healthy system that will facilitate our vocation into the future. I hope the same system that produced a booklet for guidance on having hard conversations is willing to embrace sitting down with downliners like me and having some of those hard conversations because the way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that comes.

Friday, March 9, 2018


Dear VUSA,

I have a dream.

It involves the two of us.

I’d like to tell you about it.

VUSA, you know I believe in you, I love you, I support you.

And I believe that you believe that you believe in me, you love me and you support me.

When I do pre-marital counseling with a couple one of the things we talk about is that we need to learn each other’s life language – what communicates love to one is oppressive smothering to another and what’s overly attentive to one just barely scratches the surface of need for another. Love is hard like that.

So I’m writing this to tell you what love looks like for me. Just me. I’m not speaking on behalf of or representing anyone. I don’t presume to speak for my generation, for churches or pastors in our region or even all older, chubby, white male pastors.

Just me.

And let me answer the obvious question – why do this on a blog? Why not write directly to you?

Truthfully, I don’t even know how to write directly to you. Isn’t that crazy? I know I have email addresses but I’ve sent emails off before and not even received an auto generated “read receipt.” To be fair, I’ve also sent emails off and I have received a response right away or eventually or after a while. But I don’t write every day or every week or even every month. And I’ve tried to write with positive “way-to-go’s” and not just questions or criticisms or requests.

So I’m writing this and posting on my blog much like I used to write letters to Santa as a child and then drop them in the mailbox at school. Truthfully, I never did get the stuff I asked for so I tend to doubt the efficacy of that/this approach. Still, a person has to try.

But do they?

I suppose not, but I have to try. It’s how I’m wired.

So I’m posting this in the hope of telling you about my love language and attempting some kind of positive communication.

First, I need to feel heard. I need to feel like someone is there and someone is listening to me. I think it’s one of the fundamental gifts of relationship. VUSA, I don’t feel heard, I don’t feel there’s a mechanism for being heard and that gets extremely frustrating for me.

This probably surprises you, the not feeling heard part.

Your communication to me over the last couple years has dramatically improved. Thank you for that. The last annual report was killer, as I emailed you at the time.

But telling me things is only half the relational equation, listening is the other part and the most important part.

Last year I received a call from VI. A very nice person asked me a number of questions about our involvement with VI and how VI could be an even greater benefit to our local church. We spent 30 minutes or so on the phone. I felt listened to. I’m not sure that VI made any changes at all based on my input, frankly I don’t care. But I did feel listened to and that was not only something that I care about but it made me feel cared for.

As a pastor of a small church that is in the range of 75% of our Vineyard USA churches, that little bit of feeling listened to made me feel pretty good and feel a lot more invested in what happens with and to VI.

There are some extraordinary resources available these days that you could use VUSA that don’t even require you to pick up a phone and call me or sit at a keyboard and email me. Even if you jumped on Survey Monkey and sent out a free (for you to use) 10 question survey once a year, it would at least make me feel like you were listening and I was actually participating in our relationship beyond my monthly spousal support cheque.

When you’re about to make a big decision, you could let all 600/1200 of us know before you did it and just invite some simple feedback through a simple online form or forum. Even if you never read it, I’d still feel listened to just because you asked the question and gave me a chance to respond. The illusion of partnership is more comforting than the feeling of a hard cold “I don’t care what you think, this is what we’re doing.”

It’s how I’m wired.

I know I’m supposed to be getting this from other pastors and from our area and our region but to be honest, the decisions you make are the decisions that affect us. The choices you make are choices that not only affect you but for which all of us must bear the consequences. And while it doesn’t hurt to have this same kind of thing happen at the area and regional level, it’s really nice to hear, now and then, that you want to hear from me and you want to know what’s going on with me beyond our annual census.

For me, and this is just how I’m wired, the annual auto-generated birthday email is a little like peeing in my bowl of cornflakes. For me, the way I’m wired, it just serves as a reminder how deeply out of touch I feel from you. But if you sent me a note once a year that asked me how I’m doing and what the biggest struggle I’m facing is right now, that would really speak to me.

VUSA, I get that you’ve tried to create a structure where this happens through our area and our region – I’m not speaking for everyone VUSA, just me, but for me, that’s just not working. Sorry, I wish it was but when you make all the big decisions, when you ask for my census numbers, when you decide how to spend the money we faithfully send every month, I feel the need to hear from you.

Now, let me tell you what will happen next and ask you to pray for me.  Some of your other fans are going to tell me I have a bad spirit.  A spirit of cynicism, a spirit of judgment, a spirit of criticism, and so on. Maybe they are right. I don’t think they are but I have to be open to the possibility that they are right and know me better than I know myself. It won’t be a helpful response, so please pray for me not to respond like a jerk – as is my tendency.

The other thing that will happen is that someone will explain to me that this isn’t how you and I are supposed to work, that this isn’t the kind of relationship that we have with each other.

That’s o.k. too, and no doubt it is true.

But I have a dream.

I’ll tell you more about it in my next post…

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dear Christian Millennial Bloggers Who Speak for their Generation,

Dear Christian Millennial Bloggers Who Speak for their Generation,

Stop it.

I’ve read several versions now of “the kind of church we’re looking for” and I need to tell you this…stop it.

It’s just not true. It might be true for you and if you’re writing it I definitely hope it’s true for you. But I promise you, it’s not true for your generation.

I’m smack dab in the middle of fog machine, lights and mega-church country and I see your generation lining up every week for multiple services at the very kinds of churches and services that Christian millennial bloggers keep insisting you are not interested in.

It’s probably just a really good idea if all our self-appointed spokespeople for generations, races, faiths and politics just stop it.

Speak for yourself. Fill your boots. Have at it. I’m not mad at you, it’s just tiresome to have writer’s summing up a generation or other demographic groups of people as if any group of people is monolithic. People just aren’t as simple as all that and you and all your friends are not a reasonable sample size to provide a conclusion that applies to a whole continent of people who share your demo. You are neither as uniformly flavored as your critics might think or your fellow bloggers might like to think.

Dear Christian Millennial Blogger, I don't think the issue is that you are a Millennial. I think the issue is that you are a blogger and I'm not asking this for my generation or even my vocation - just for me, here in my mom's basement. Please stop with the posts about what your generation is looking for from the local church. Just go hang out with a few pastors over coffee and talk to them about what YOU are looking for - or better yet, start a church, it's apparently very easy to do what we do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Incredulity Towards the Meta-Narrative(s)

I appreciate pastors. We’re not perfect. There are some wolves who dress up like sheep, no doubt.

But I appreciate the women and men who find themselves engaged in this vocation, often brought into it despite their personal preferences, dreams and plan for their own lives.

One of the most challenging things about being a pastor in our days and in our ways is the mix of messages we receive about what the Church is supposed to be all about.

We not only have the experts in our local church itself, but we have the pro tips coming in on a regular basis from the Christian publishing houses. On my shelves alone, you could find the following “relatively” new books:

Missional Church
Organic Church
Slow Church
Comeback Churches
The Kingdom focused church
The Living Church
Simple Church
Vintage Church
Deep Church
Church 3.0
Transformational Church
Everyday Church
Emerging Church
Sticky Church
Messy Church
Aqua Church 2.0
The Emotionally Healthy Church
The Purpose Driven Church
The Saviour Sensitive Church
Center Church
The Unstuck Church
The High Impact Church
Total Church

No wonder there’s more than a little incredulity towards the metanarrative. We have so many versions of “what it all boils down to” that it’s impossible for pastors to keep up. It seems inevitable that pastors who try to stay informed will develop some anxiety and depression. 

One week after you finally get your church all sticky we discover that messy is where it’s at and a week after that it’s really about being a deep, emotionally purpose-driven transformational simple church. Easy, there’s a book for that, and probably a conference coming up too.

Most of the pastors I know are trying to do the best they can in the best way they know how and they have a genuine interest in continuing to grow, improve and develop their gift/skill set as women and men engaged in the vocational call to pastor. I realize that in almost every field there is continuing ed and there are new voices offering a new way, a better way, to do that thing you do. However, most of these don’t include the weight of eternal consequences and dire warnings for those who step out to be pastors and teachers for the flock of God of which they are only a part.

So what I’m on about today is I hope if you have a pastor and you find you can appreciate even a percentage of their efforts on your behalf that you can give them some encouragement today. (BTW – 5 tips on how they can do what they do better is NOT encouragement no matter what you think.) And for those who are already engaged in this vocation that is far, far more art than science, I applaud you today and I am grateful for the light you are that shines against this encroaching darkness. YOU are a star.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Honor Where It's Not Due

John Wimber used a string of metaphors to describe what the Church is and how we’re supposed to engage with one another and the world. John said, “The Church is called to be a family, a hospital, a school and an army.” We experience the truth of these metaphors, not just through their positive characteristics, but through their negative characteristics as well or the unintended consequences of functioning in these ways together.

A question I’ve been asked many times in pastoral ministry has been in relationship to one of the Ten Commandments. The question goes something like, “How do I honor my father and my mother when they’ve…” and there is a spectrum of things with which you can fill in the blank that range from the cruel and criminal to the thoughtless and absent. Family is like heaven when it’s good and it can feel like hell when it’s bad.

If that’s true, it’s just as true about church family. And it can really scramble our eggs when this family we’ve become a part of is the setting of both our healing and our hurting. What is true of family systems can be especially true of our denominational or ecclesiastical systems. And the special kind of grief and hurting that family systems generate for those within, our church government systems will not only duplicate but even amplify because of the mixture of familial relationship and the practice of faith in God.

In the church system of today there is a culture that has developed that further compounds the hurt and harm done. This culture is found in many or most of the expressions of the church in North America today but is probably most prevalent in the Fundamental, Evangelical and Charismatic sub-cultures. We’ve taken this beautiful idea of “honor your father and mother” and turned it into something controlling, shaming and dismissive. An “honor culture” has come to dominate our culture in a way that makes, “speaking the truth in love” seem abusive or at least disrespectful and wrong.

I’m not suggesting this is something brand new but I am saying that we are now reaping the full effect of this dysfunctional way of relating to each other as the family of God.

How does the honor culture manifest? We have come to believe that honoring men is more important and pleasing to God than telling the truth about abuse or neglect. When someone in leadership is doing or has done something wrong we quote, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” As if it actually says, “Love covers up a multitude of sins.” And that we are somehow honoring God by protecting the reputations or speaking well of those in leadership because God places a higher value on honoring people in power than calling them out for the hurt they cause. And while there are egregious examples that make the news and we can all shake our heads over and feel good that we’d never “do that,” it is the result of the very same culture that we’ve allowed to develop wherein a senior pastor speaks in ugly and disrespectful ways to the worship pastor on staff and we make excuses and insist on everyone holding their silence and telling ourselves that the number of people coming to faith is more important than calling the leader out and insisting their behavior stops.

In family systems there are rules that develop. The members of the family aren’t given a manual or asked to watch a video detailing the rules and yet the same rules come up again and again in these dysfunctional families. A counseling organization’s website lists some of these rules:

Here are some typical spoken or unspoken rules in unhealthy family systems:
Do what “looks good”, even if it is dishonest
Don’t be a bother and don’t rock the boat
Deny things you don’t want to see, and they will go away
Do what I say, even when I do the opposite
Express only happy positive feelings
It is wrong to be angry or sad
You must never question our behavior, but go along with it
You must conform to what we expect of you, no matter what
Your needs are not as important as our needs[1]

So, here’s a simple question. Have you ever heard or felt any of the above coming from the leadership of your faith community? Your denomination, network or your movement? Do you think God is more interested in “honor” or health or truth? Do things usually get better because we look the other way or do things tend to only improve when we speak truth to power? Ask yourself, do the people who we ask to follow the rules feel as empowered as the people who make our rules?

There’s a risk here, whether it’s in our biological family or our church family, denomination or movement. If you rock the boat and speak up you are likely to be told you have a rebellious spirit or told you are being cynical or have a spirit of cynicism or told the only problem is that you keep complaining when no one else is or, and this is the hardest cut of all, you'll be ignored until you go away. When talking to others who are feeling the need to speak up in family situations like these I always offer the same warning, don’t bring it up unless you are fully prepared to have the family shun you – we are quicker to turn on the person who turned on the light than the person who brought the darkness to begin with. This is especially true in our church families.

But I still have this conviction that these words are true, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What rule of dysfunction have you broken? How can we honor each other without ignoring the harm we and others in our family system do?


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Open Letter to Vineyard Music

Dear Vineyard Music,

This is a long overdue letter of appreciation. 

I still remember the first Vineyard meeting I walked into. Before a message was preached, a word given, or a ministry time happened, there was the music.

It was in the worship that I felt God spoke to me, it was in the songs that I heard my own heart’s cry, it was the intimate, hungry, vulnerable, simplicity that I, like many others, was moved to say, “this is my tribe, these are my people.”

We used to eagerly look forward to the newest CD that you would produce and our worship leaders and teams would mine them for the songs we would sing. I still remember attending a small Vineyard on holidays that had no band so worship time was a set list pre-programmed to play from Winds of Worship CDs. I settled into my seat expecting boredom and found myself moved to tears as the Spirit came into the room as a song, recorded months earlier in a continent away opened our hearts to God. Those albums not only gave us songs to sing, they shaped our communities with good theology. The songs not only communicated our Vineyard values but the inclusion of local worship teams and songwriters from local churches made us believe we really meant that everyone gets to play.

Thanks to you, I connected with words and music that have brought me closer to God. You’ve been the conduit through which the artists among us, the poets and prophets, could share what God was putting on their hearts. Our whole movement has been enriched through the ministry you all have performed for us. Thanks to you, our churches have had a common songbook from which to sing for 30 years now. Thanks to you, these songs have transcended our own movement and have gone on to inspire other movements and denominations with our theology and values.  A generation of worship leaders and songwriters now exists who have been influenced significantly by the men and women who have shared their music with us through you.

John Wimber used to say that you could tell what we value by looking at our calendars and our checkbooks.  I am grateful that, as a Movement, we have invested a part of our annual income to contribute to the flourishing of our worship community within the Vineyard. I’m grateful that, as a Movement, we have put worship events on the national calendar and we have used the finances we collect from local Vineyard churches to encourage and develop local church worship leaders, sound people, songwriters, singers and musicians.  I would be deeply saddened if there ever came a day when we stopped investing our time and money in Vineyard Music, it would say something tragic about the state of our Movement.

Like the sound person who everyone ignores when things are going well but everyone turns to give the stink eye to when something goes wrong, I feel like we don’t adequately appreciate what we have in Vineyard Music. VM doesn’t belong to a big label, unlike other groups producing worship music. VM doesn’t have the deep pockets, in fact you have worked with shrinking pockets, that many other church labels have. Our songwriters and artists have received little or nothing with which to fund their projects over the last few years and yet we continue to have amazing songs from them come to us through you. You have been swimming in the pond with much bigger fish with a lot more resource for promotion and production and yet you've continued to bring us songs and worship projects that give us a lot of gold to mine.

I suspect very few of us are aware of how little finance you have to work with and while we should be marveling at how you’ve multiplied it to do more than seems possible, we’ve been critical because you haven’t done more. I’m sorry for that. I’m grateful for your willingness to make sacrifices that go unnoticed and the imagination you’ve brought to the table to do more than the resources on hand would seem to make possible.

Thanks, Vineyard Music, for all you’ve done and all you are doing to make our Movement, our local churches, our individual lives, richer and deeper and more beautiful. Thank you, songwriters, musicians, singers and worship leaders for giving and giving in this new age of digital music when making a living at your craft has become all but impossible. Thank you, Vineyard Music, for the hard work you do behind the scenes that has brought life and encouragement and resources to our local churches that makes us who we are.

My hope for the future is that we will invest more and more into Vineyard Music and put an emphasis once again on the power of God's presence - free of hype - that has always been a part of our story as worshipers of God and rescuers of men.