I posted awhile back concerning the Epic Fail Pastors Conference. Now J.R. Briggs has put up a video about it. Check it out. (If my wife wasn’t due within 2 weeks of the conference, I’d be there.)
One of the fundamental qualities of Ecclesia is the importance of being relational. Trainings, conferences, and other events are infused with times of getting to know one another. Intentional periods of discussion around meals supplemented by impromptu introductions between newly made friends are definitely highlights found within the Network.
While I was at the National Gathering I met people from Los Angeles, Hollywood, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago, along with people from Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New Jersey. Basically, nearly every area of the US was present. This not only enables everyone to get a little synopsis of the life and culture of these areas, but also what God is doing in these areas. The differences in context are certainly there, but the commonalities are rather surprising too. Churches are experimenting with different methods and thoughts; no one is copying each other in an effort to expand the kingdom. Yet, most people are very aware of our common mission: to make disciples.
I truly did enjoy all the random conversations I had with people. I have always been a relational person and feel that everyone has a story to tell. However, there was one conversation I had with my new friend Dave Kludt that sticks out.
I met Dave on Wednesday night as he sitting with my roommates from Denver for dinner. (My new friends Stephen and Jason are pastors at New Denver Church. Check it out.) Dave is an equipper with Kairos Hollywood out in California. (He blogs at Can’t. Catch. My. Breath.) We talked briefly that first evening, but it led to a deeper conversation Thursday during lunch with Dave and his fellow equipper, Audrey.
We discussed a variety of things, but stayed focused on the ideas surrounding what is typically called being bi-vocational. This is, typically within church circles, designated for pastors who get paid by their churches and also have an outside-the-church job. Usually, the nonchurch job takes up the majority of the week’s time. For myself, I work in a Special Education classroom, interim pastor at St. Andrew’s, and lead/partake in a smaller faith community. Dave works at Fuller Seminary while working with a team at Kairos.
The main thing that stuck out during our conversation was the reality of bi-vocationalism. More and more pastors, especially young pastors, come out of seminary, which is typically required by churches, under the load of school loans and looking for pastor jobs. Most churches require an MDiv (Master of Divinity) also known as 3 years of grad school in which you end up with 90-92 credits under your belt. Now since it is 3 years of grad school, most people come out with nearly $30-40,000 in debt. Now don’t forget, this is on top of the debt typically accumulated after 4 years of undergrad work. I have friends who have done both their undergrad and grad work ALL through school loans. For those who don’t know, this means they now owe well over $100,000. That means every month they pay between $1500 and $2000 in school loans. Furthermore, from what I have seen, most churches don’t start young guys with educations and little experience anywhere near enough to balance out their budgets. Needless to say, something has to give.
This isn’t what stuck out, however. Dave told me about his conversations with non-white pastors in California and how being bi-vocational affects them. I had never really thought about it, mainly because I’m a young white dude who grew up in the middle class suburbs, but for many, many non-white pastors being employed by different places has been a reality for quite some time.
We didn’t talk about this much, but Dave’s passing comments really stuck with me. Why is it that most non-white pastors practice a trade that pays the bills while pastoring their church? Why is that our non-white brothers and sisters have been out of their studies and offices meeting people and being influences in their communities while most white pastors have been isolated inside the church walls? Perhaps it is because so many predominantly white churches, especially suburban middle class churches, have had plenty of financial wealth. So much so that they employ multiple pastors with larger paychecks and benefits. (Please don’t hear me saying anything negative about this reality. I’m merely pointing out the bi-vocational situation among white and non-white pastors based on a simple conversation.)
I recently read The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. It addresses the fact that the Western, especially the American, white church is declining in population while the non-white population is rising. Basically, the underlying premise of the book is the lessons in faith and practice we white Americans can learn from our non-white church family. Such is the case with being bi-vocational. What can we learn from those who have had to be bi-vocational? How can we humbly discuss our struggles and anxieties in ways that can result in them turning into strengths and possibilities? What strategies could we take away from those who have been expanding the kingdom year in and year out in both the pastorate and in public?
There are many other questions that come from this. Hopefully, we can all learn for the benefit of others.
Thanks for the conversation Dave. It was appreciated.
I returned from my time at the Ecclesia National Gathering last night despite the somewhat treacherous driving conditions. Overall, it was a great time of meeting new people, reconnecting with some older friends, and learning about spiritual formation. In the next few posts, I’ll give some of the highlights of our time and what they may hold for the future.
As I mentioned in the last post, Todd Hunter and MaryKate Morse were the two main speakers. They opened our time Wednesday afternoon with a general introduction to what spiritual formation entails. A simple definition was given: “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is a great, concise definition with some key elements to being the people of God.
First, it is a process. In many Christian circles the emphasis is on salvation (typically a very reduced version of it: dying and going to heaven someday) and then anything of substance usually tails off. Discipleship and formation aren’t necessarily entered into the equation because it is simply seen as that: an equation. Rather than being seen as a process we enter into through salvation, Christian faith is seen as a decision in which all the benefits of said decision are immediately ours. The reality is that life is the process time in which Christ forms us into his image. It is a lifelong journey.
Second, we aren’t being transformed into just “a better person”, but we are being made into the image of Christ. This is essential for our understanding, not just of New Testament Christianity, but for our understanding of the entire Christian narrative. If we were made in the image of God in the beginning, it was fragmented and broken because of sin, part of the redemption process must be the restoration of this original image-bearing. Along with the image being reformed come the works and original purpose of this image-bearer.
This is the third aspect of our definition: mission. Formation into the image of Christ, thus rendering us into the humans we are supposed to be, naturally leads into mission. We don’t begin our journey into Christ-likeness and then keep it all to ourselves. No, formation into the image of Christ pushed us into the world for the sake of the world. This is (again) linked to knowing, understanding, and embodying the entire narrative of God. Because he is a missionary God we are a missionary people, formed in his likeness for the benefit of others. This is why Todd Hunter says, “Missional without formational will always remain aspirational.” They are two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps this is why we don’t see much missionary activity in local churches. If there is a link between embodying the entire narrative of God and missional/formational concepts, and I think there is, then we must ask if we’re lacking in any of these areas. Do we know the impetus behind our being and doing as Christians? Do we anticipate living fully someday “in heaven” or do we strive for life here and now? Are we intentionally pursuing formation (transformation of our malformation) for the sake of others or are we intent with the way things are? If formation and mission are in constant relational tension, what are we intentionally doing to shape our being and vice versa?
Part of our pastoral team at St. Andrew’s Anglican is the Rev. Sam Coilpillai. Every time I see him and ask him how he is doing he always responds with the same answer: “Doing well by the grace of God.”
Tomorrow I will make my way to the D.C. area in order to attend the Ecclesia National Gathering. And in similar fashion to Sam, I will be attending by the grace of God. I was invited to attend, but didn’t have the money for it. I talked with some generous brothers who have helped me out before, but there weren’t any available resources. So I had decided I wasn’t going to be able to attend.
Then last Tuesday my friend, and director of Ecclesia, informed me of a church in the Network that was going to fully pay for me to go. I had to change some things up in the schedule, but overall, and even though I’m a little sick, it will work out. And all by the grace of God.
Would you please pray for me and everyone else in attendance that we would be attentive to what Jesus has for us? Pray for the speakers, listeners, programmers, and everyone else involved that it would be a few days of growing together for the sake of others. Ecclesia is very relational and intentional about getting people connected. It makes me wonder why God has graciously provided for me. Please pray that it will be a profitable time for all.
Here are some interesting links from the week:
1. Within the church planting world there are assessments that people typically go through. Steve Addison wonders about their legitimacy.
2. My main man, N.T. Wright, recently spoke at Duke University. Here is a video of his sermon from their Sunday Service.
3. If you haven’t checked out the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, I seriously urge you to do so. It is taking place in Cape Town, South Africa and is a gathering of Christians from around the world to discuss and explore how to continue to reach the world for Jesus. The things I have seen, heard, and listened to from this time make me incredibly envious of my sister and her husband who were invited to present at the Congress. What an opportunity! Here is the link to some of the videos from the Congress.
4. PBS had a series entitled “God in America”, which they debuted a few weeks ago. If you missed it, here it is again.
5. Have you seen the reality show cast that makes up the race for New York State Governor? Ah yes, the debate that aired this past week was a highlight of much political substance, historical precedents, and sheer idiocy. Here is the link to Syracuse.com’s review of it. Within the article there are links to other state newspapers and agency’s reviews as well.
6. If you happen to run across this and live in the L.A. area, check out the LA 2010 Unconference. My friend JR Woodward is helping put it together. Check out his blog to see the list of speakers.
7. There is a movement afoot. The Spirit is at work. If you live in the Chicago region, check out the Missional Learning Commons on October 29-30. The topics for the time will focus on missional discipleship, missional family, and missional leadership. Check out Ben Sternke’s blog or Dave Fitch’s blog for more info on the event.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Ecclesia Network’s church planting training with my good friend Steven Evans. It was an amazing week filled with unbelievable training combined with potential and promising friendships. Our group of fellow church planters was intentionally kept small (about 15 of us), which made the overall feel more comfortable and intimate. Over the next few days/weeks I will be posting on our time of learning, praying, and planning. Here is the first part.
This is the backside of the retreat center where we slept, ate, conversed, prayed and learned. Upon arriving at our destination, we felt an immediate sense of both escape and of being at a place of peace. The irenic feel of Richmond Hill was something I’ve only felt a few other places: the hillside church in Africa, the High Braes Refuge, and Indian Lake in the Adirondacks to name a few. Even though it was raining the weather wasn’t getting in the way of our initial calm ending our 8.5 hour drive.
Richmond Hill is basically on the top of a big hill facing the city of Richmond. Originally built circa the Civil War, it was built as a monastery for those who would pray for the citizens of Richmond. Apparently, there is the remains of the largest slave market in America nearby contrasted by the seemingly ironic setting of Patrick Henry’s famous, “Give me liberty of give me death.” Ironic because of its contrasting freedom of whites with that of the Africans. Needless to say, the racial reconciliation needed in the area, and still needed for that matter, was of utmost importance. Hence the need for an intentional community praying for the people of Richmond, both now and then.
The grounds are spectacular in both their natural beauty and their spiritual beckoning. G.K. Chesterton says we shouldn’t call nature our Mother. Rather we should call her our Sister since we both have the same Father. With that in mind we can laugh with her humor and revel in her beauty as a fellow creature of God. There were silent alcoves furnished with garden chairs for those seeking God’s Spirit in the wind-swept paths. It was the epitome of what you would want in your backyard if you had the money and effort to have your own retreat out your back door.
The community that lives and manages Richmond Hill was as inspiring as the beauty of the grounds and architecture of yesteryear. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual forebears, the current community is intentional in the purpose. They live there for the benefit of the citizens of Richmond through prayer, services, meals, and other servant-oriented realms. The daily rhythm of prayer at 7am, noon, and 6pm were enriching ways to slow ourselves down and join in communal prayer. I enjoyed the rhythmic patterns that we were allowed to join in with, especially because of the liturgical form each prayer session took. The responsive prayer tells me that they value the common unified voice of the people. We pray as the people of God, together in one voice without losing the individuality of each person. Community does not deny the individual; it enhances it.
Communal prayer was always followed by communal dining. The community prepares, serves, and cleans up for those whom are visiting. In prayer we seek out God for the benefit of others. In food we get to know others around what God has provided for us. And when I say food, I mean unbelievably good food. With such good food, it was hard not to laugh and listen with strangers who were quickly becoming fellow partners in the gospel.
Every aspect of Richmond Hill as a location was unbelievable and helpful in the culmination of the Ecclesia Network’s training. It all came together in the aesthetics of our locale and this was just our first day. The beauty of the people and place of Richmond Hill were the proper antecedents for the days that followed. Below are a few more pictures of the place. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Enjoy. (If you want to see the bigger pics, let me know.)