Paying for School

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

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.