Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Story of My Pastoral Call

I have a few blog posts drafted on such interesting (to me) topics as “the doctrine of taxation?” and “the connection between Maslow and spiritual formation.” I’ll hold those in my back pocket for now. Meanwhile, especially since one of the express purposes of this blog is to share my experience as a “slasher” (bi-vocational) pastor, I figured I should actually start sharing some of those experiences. Besides, I have learned that people respond to story, not just argument, so here’s one of my own, this one on my call to pastoral ministry.

My mom saved some mementos of my early childhood in a small book. There is one “page” in this book for each grade level, and each one has a little pocket with items from that grade: report cards, creative writing projects, drawings, etc. In the pockets for kindergarten and first grade, there are two drawings. The captions on the drawings say “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Both of these drawings are of a man, standing behind a pulpit arms outstretched, with a Bible the size of the man. Apparently, I wanted to be a pastor with a really big Bible.

After first grade, I apparently changed my mind, and at various points I wanted to be a soccer player, a meteorologist, an artist, and an entrepreneur. By the time I went to college (GVSU), the thought of pastoral ministry was entirely gone. I was still quite ministry-oriented, but I figured lay leadership would be as far as I would go. By this time my two older brothers had gotten Computer Science degrees and were on the path toward careers in software engineering. When I was asked at student orientation what my major was I chose the default: Computer Science. (As an aside, I do not regret that decision, and still consider by job as a software engineer rewarding, and not only for the pay.)

I fairly quickly became a part of several Christian groups on campus but eventually committed to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Somewhere in there I became a small group leader, attended several conferences, attended IVCF’s “School of Leadership Training”, and took on more leadership in the chapter. Most importantly, I discovered something important: I liked to teach!

I took an elective near the end of my time at GVSU on the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural South to the industrialized North in the early 20th century. At the end of the class we had to do a presentation in front of the class. Amazingly, the idea of the presentation didn’t scare me to death. In fact, because I worked hard on the project, I was actually a little excited to present. For me, that was bizarre.

I began to look forward to teaching and leadership planning in all kinds of settings I would have avoided like the plague just a few years earlier.

Some people started calling me “seminary Steve.” I’m not sure who, or why, but once again my mind started to ask the question, “what about pastoral ministry?”

I don’t always share the next part of my story – it depends a bit on the audience – but here I get to tell the whole thing without interruption, so it allows me to explain myself.

In my senior (maybe Junior?) year, our chapter held a Jesus Awareness Week (JAW) which was essentially a week of evangelism. This included open air preaching, guest musicians, and conversational evangelism. Near the end of JAW we had some speakers give an evangelistic call, where a couple of people re-committed their lives to Christ. One of the speakers was unexpected, or, at least, I didn’t know who he was or that he was coming. He did a great job so afterward I came up to him to thank him. He looked at me and told me (basically without any introduction): “You are called to become a pastor. God has protected you and prepared you to become a Pastor.” I was blown away. Who was this guy? What was he talking about?

To be honest, to this day, I take this “prophetic call” with a grain of salt. I’m open but cautious when it comes to the so-called sign gifts. As a stand-alone word, I would have ignored it, and I think rightly so. But, it wasn’t a lone voice. By this point it was becoming clear that pastoral ministry was something I needed to consider more seriously.

I better pause here. I eventually went to seminary, but even at the start of seminary the call to pastoral ministry was uncertain. I still had to be convinced.

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Loosen Your Grip

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  Hebrews 11:8

We discovered this week how to get teenagers to come to a morning service: Donuts! Well played Katie, well played.

Last week was Thanksgiving so we skipped a week of our “Faith” series. We pick up again this week with Hebrews 11:8-10, which introduces us to the faith of Abraham.

In Genesis 12 we learn that God came to Abraham (then called Abram) and told him to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” with the promise of future blessing. Abraham was seventy-five years old at the time, and childless. Seventy-five hardly seems to the time to set off on a new adventure in a land you’ve never seen, far away from those who can care for you in your old age. All Abraham had to go on was his encounter with God, and his faith in God’s promises.

Hebrews goes on to tell us that when he finally arrived in the promised land, he lived in tents. His posture in the land was as a “stranger in a foreign land.” Abraham was never “at home.” He left home, and became a stranger.

Why did he do it? Verse 10 tells us “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He was OK living in a tent because he wanted to live in a city built by God. He was striving for an unseen (but permanent) city because he had faith in the unseen God.

For Abraham receive the blessings that come with the promises of God, he had to loosen his grip – he had to be willing to let go of the world he had always known in order to embrace the world God was offering him. He had to let go of his homeland. He had to let go of his security in old age. He had to let go of his family. He had to let go of familiar surroundings – all in order to grasp the blessings of God.

In order to follow Jesus, we need to unclench our fists. We need to be willing to let go of what we hold dear. (Keep in mind, this is a Talk Time for teenagers, adult readers might need to consider other things they might need to loosen their grip on).

We need to loosen our grip on Money. The rich you ruler came to Jesus (Luke 18:18-29) asking how to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer is shocking – sell all you have and give to the poor. The ruler was unwilling to do this, because he was very wealthy, and went away sad. Because he was unwilling to let go of his great wealth, he was unable to follow Jesus.

We need to loosen our grip on Social Status. Jesus regularly associated with the unwanted, the unclean, and the uncool. Those who feared man and not God and were always worried about what others thought about them, failed to follow Jesus.

We need to loosen our grip on our pursuit of Pleasure. The world offers all kinds of “pleasures” – drunkenness, pornography, crude humor, excessively violent movies, etc. God’s word calls us to flee from sexual immorality and have nothing to do with coarse joking. We are warned against drunkenness. 1 John 2:15-17 says “do not love the world or anything in the world… for everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

All this may sound like a loss, but it’s not. Abraham did not lose anything, other than temporal comfort, by living in tents in his old age. He, in fact, gained access to the city built by God. He gave up was temporary to gain what was permanent. In the words of Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to save what he cannot lose.”

Jesus tells a parable about kingdom of God in Matthew 18:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

It’s worth it to let go of everything to gain the kingdom of God.

Church Values: Gospel Mission

Halfway around the world, fighting has broken out along the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The violence has thrown the already volatile and troubled region into renewed chaos. Residents are fleeing the city of Goma.

Given that our church has a relationship with some missionaries who have served in the area, today (Sunday) we presented the church with an opportunity to provide emergency funds to provide displaced people in the area with basic necessities. These missionaries also regularly provide goats for widows and bicycles for local pastors in the region. They also equip local pastors to teach their congregations “the whole council of God.”

Our church’s relationship with these missionaries is relatively young, but we’re excited about it, not only because of the great good they are doing in an extremely dangerous part of the world, but because their values closely mirror our values as a church.

As I’ve noted before, the unique mission of the church is that of gospel proclamation, that is, bringing the good news that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, and that, for any who will come to Him in faith, He will give eternal life now and forever. That being said, we still have the responsibility to help the needy whenever we are given the opportunity. Sending money to local churches in the DRC and Rwanda is a way we can meet that need.

We as a church value “holistic Gospel mission.” That is, we want to reach out to the whole person, both their physical and spiritual needs. Whenever possible, we don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. Some situations call for us to meet a spiritual need. Some call for us to meet a more practical or pressing need.

This is part of what we’re trying to do with our After School program. One of our primary motivations for starting the program was to provide kids in our area with a safe and fun place to go between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00. Local city leaders had informed us that this was a dangerous time for kids, where they could get recruited into gangs or get into trouble. We were trying to meet a very practical need for the city. But, it’s also a great opportunity for us to teach the kids about God – to present them with a message they might not hear anywhere else.

On face value – comparing our mission to the kids of Wyoming and our missionaries’ mission to the displaced in DRC/Rwanda – seems trite. Certainly, the conditions in DRC/Rwanda are much more dire. Nevertheless, the two missions come out of the same value set, a desire to meet the practical and spiritual needs of the world around us, by loving, serving, and proclaiming Christ.

Note: This post is the first of a series on the values of the church where I currently serve: Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship and this post appears there as well.

The Prophet and The Great Commission

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on Deuteronomy 34, especially 34:10-12 and the identity/characteristics of The Prophet in Deuteronomy 18:14-22.

I will also be highlighting one of the most important values of our church: obeying the Great Commission.

As I’ve thought through the passage, and how to highlight what our church does to obey the Great Commission, I’ve been struck by a few important points of connection.

Most importantly, is that The Prophet, of whom it is said, “you must listen to Him” (Deuteronomy 18:15) is Jesus, of whom the Father declared, in the presence of Elijah and Moses, at the Transfiguration “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

It is this same Jesus who commands us to go out and make disciples. From the testimony of the Father, we must listen to Him and obey.

Second, Jesus tells go out “teaching everything I have commanded you.” Part of what it means to make disciples, is to teach people to obey the Father, by obeying the commandments of the Son. This is important because, as God says in Deuteronomy 18:19 “I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.”

Finally, the final compiler of Deuteronomy, the one who wrote Deuteronomy 34:10-12, was clearly looking forward to the future hope of The Prophet. The Gospel of Jesus contains within it the double joy of proclaiming the truth the future is already here and that the fullness of our hope is yet to come. Jesus has already come, died for our sins and been raised to eternal life, conquering sin and death. And, Jesus is coming again, to restore all things and to reign in the fullness of His glory, not only to defeat sin and death – which He has already done – but to destroy them completely.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This post, like many other posts that will appear on this site, was also posted on our church’s leadership blog: here.

 

The Slasher Pastor

The title of this blog sounds way cooler than the forthcoming content.

The title came to me after reading an article on the characteristics of the so-called “Millennials.” According to the article, Millenials have something called “Slashitude,” that is, they have multiple jobs, side projects, etc. For example, “I’m a Pastor/Programmer/Writer.” I couldn’t relate to much else in the article, but I do love my various side projects. Of course, “side projects” really isn’t a very good term for me because it’s too hard to determine which is the side project and which is the main project.

Right now (as of 2012) I have two main projects – careers – working both as a Pastor and as a software engineer in the Aerospace industry. For many bi-vocational Pastors, being bi-vocational is a way of working as a Pastor and making money. The “secular” work is a “job.” The Pastoral work is a “calling.” The goal for most bi-vocational Pastors is to jettison the “secular” job as quickly as possible.

This is not quite true for me, although the possibility of full time ministry certainly exists. My theological beliefs prevent me from bifurcating “secular” and “religious” work or of elevating the role of Pastor over and against the role of the layperson serving the church with their particular gifts and abilities. Also, I consider my “secular” work as far more than a means to make money, although it certainly does that. It’s also a way for me to hone my personal skills, release my inner engineer, glorify God by being a witness to others, and connect with those in my congregation, especially those in a similar profession.

I have been using the term “bi-vocational” and the blog probably could be more simply called “The Bi-vocational Pastor.” Two things stopped me from naming it that. First, it’s boring. Second, it’s not accurate for what I intend the blog to be about. The term bi-vocational implies “two jobs.” But, I don’t want this blog to be just about my two jobs, but also about all my various side projects – primarily in the realm of writing.

In the Summer of 2012 I partnered with a Seminary colleague to write my first book: Prayers for My City: A Fixed-Hour Prayer Guide for Wyoming. (For non-West-Michiganders, Wyoming is a city in West Michigan – this isn’t a prayer guide for the State of Wyoming). The project was quite modest. Essentially I wrote two introductory chapters and twenty-one Wyoming specific prayers. My work was compiled into a pre-existing format as part of a broader West Michigan “Prayers for My City” series.

Even though the project was modest, it opened a few doors for me. I had long been interested in writing a book. I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, but I like to do it, and am slowly developing the discipline to get better. This project taught me a few valuable lessons. First, it’s OK to take chances and to put yourself out there. If you think you have a good idea, maybe someone else will think so to. Second, I can do this (write, that is), by God’s grace, and one baby-step at a time. Third, networking and “selling” your idea isn’t really as bad as it sounds. Sure, the first phone interview I had with the press was kind of rough, but things only got easier after that. Fourth, picking up writing as a side project doesn’t have to be time-prohibitive. That is, I don’t have to drop the ball on everything else in order to be a writer, even a published writer.

I have a few goals for this blog:

(1)    Journal my life as a “slasher” (read: bi-vocational) Pastor, in the hope that it will provide some help and encouragement to others in a similar situation.

(2)    Think through, by writing through, various topics of theology. Writing something out usually helps me clarify big ideas, which helps me as I teach. There will probably be a number of posts about some topic I am teaching through at church. I hope you read and benefit from these posts, but also understand some of these are done as much for my benefit as for the readers. This probably isn’t the best blogger etiquette, but, well, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

(3)    Write through other book ideas. I hope to write more books in the future. I am particularly interested in writing books that will benefit local churches. Since I am currently the Pastor of Spiritual Formation, the early content of the blog will probably focus on that and related content. Ideally I would like to use some of the content from this blog in a future book. I’m interested in your feedback as well.

I appreciate your feedback as I go. Thanks for reading.