Today marks three years since I began my role as Lead Pastor of Markey Church.
When I stepped into this role, I had a lot of hope, a lot of ambition, a lot of idealism, and no idea what I was doing, or getting myself into.
David Kinnaman from The Barna Group has identified one trait that is common among pastors who thrive over the long haul. That trait is resiliency.
When I began my work at Markey Church, my resiliency muscle was pretty underdeveloped.
I stepped into a faith community that had been led very well for 33 years by our previous pastor. Jim was and is an incredibly gifted pastor relationally, and he did an amazing job w/ our financial resources as well. His season of ministry fruitfulness was long, and abundant. He took a small, country church, and led those folks into a growing, community-oriented faith community that impacted hundreds of people over three decades. No small feat!
But, like everything else in life, seasons come to and end. Jim knew that for Markey Church to thrive into the next season of life, his leadership needed to come to and end, so someone else could step in and lead the church in a new direction, with a new vision, in order to connect with new generations.
Enter a 32-year-old me, armed w/ a small amount of experience, a couple degrees, and some big dreams.
Over the past three years, I’ve worked with and led a large group of folks as we’ve changed virtually everything about who we are, and what we do, as a faith community, all while staying true to the specific ethos of who we’ve been for over 100 years. What I call, "A Church For The Sake Of Others."
We’ve made A LOT of changes in the past three years.
We’ve changed our kids ministry.
We’ve changed our student ministry.
We’ve changed our music.
We’ve changed our atmosphere.
We’ve changed our staffing structure.
We’ve changed how we do pastoral care.
We’ve changed how we engage w/ our community.
We’ve changed how we spend time together on Sundays.
We’ve changed how we spend time together on Monday-Saturday.
We’ve changed how we give.
We’ve changed virtually every ministry within our church.
We’ve changed staff members.
We’ve changed lay leaders.
We’ve changed our communication strategy
We’ve changed our assimilation process.
You get the idea. We’ve changed…..everything.
To say this has been difficult simply doesn’t capture the complexity of how change works, and what leading change in any organization, let alone a church, can do to one’s soul.
Anytime change comes about in one’s life, we all experience that change as a form of loss. Even if the changes have the potential to benefit us in the long run, it still hurts. Change is painful. And as I’ve learned from Rob Bell and others, change = loss, loss = pain, pain = grief.
If we don’t grieve the losses in our lives, that pain will continue to resurface in unexpected ways, over the course of our lives.
I know this pain well. I know it in my own life, as I’ve had to embrace changes that came unexpectedly over the past three years (my Dad died five months into my time here, among other losses). And I know this pain in the lives of others.
Often this pain from others has been directed at me in the form of harsh personal criticism, stubbornness, gossip, put-downs, insults, and the like. As they say, hurting people hurt people. And I’ve been both on the giving and receiving end of hurt.
Many folks have been unhappy as a result of the changes I’ve led at Markey Church. Most of those folks have made their unhappiness clear to me.
But many have been eager to embrace these changes too. Why? Because they see how, as a direct result of change, we’ve been able to help people in our broader community begin to know that God is FOR them, that God LOVES them, and that being part of the local church might just save their lives.
I’ve seen people, over the last three years, come to know that God is FOR them because of the changes I and others have led at Markey Church.
I’ve had people tell me they are now ready to say “yes" to following Jesus because of the way we’ve been able to communicate and demonstrate, through our church, how a relationship with God is accessible to them, even though they didn’t grow up in the church.
I’ve seen people who thought they were far from God, realize that God is so much closer than they thought.
And because we’ve made changes - because some of YOU have embraced these changes - many of these people now KNOW they can have a life marked by the Way of Jesus.
I love telling that story. It's such a good one.
As we continue to embrace change, there will inevitably be more. More people who come to know that God is FOR them. More Christians who begin to follow the Way of Jesus (lots of Christians need Jesus too). More brokenness made beautiful. And much more change.
I know this because, 1) our community is full of brokenness, 2) God is all about taking broken things/people and making them beautiful once again. That’s what God does. And, 3) constant change is here to stay. We can either ignore it, until we explode, or we can embrace it.
So has all the pain, all the heartache, all the loss and conflict and hurt people hurting people been worth it?
Yes. Emphatically, yes!
Have I made mistakes along the way.
Yes. Emphatically, yes!
But God has been growing within me a measure of resiliency that I’ve never known before. And that has made all the difference.
I still cry at night, from time to time, because of all the hurt people who are hurting people.
But that is happening far less these days.
Also, I see a counselor, I take my days off to play with my family and have a life away from my church work, I see a spiritual director, and I’m slowly learning to care less about everything, and care more about the right things.
The painting above was commissioned by my Wendy, and was made by our dear friend Phil Nellis. Phil titled this painting “Pastoral”, and it was a gift from my family to me as I embarked on this journey of leading Markey Church three years ago today.
This painting still makes the blood rush around my body, and all kinds of emotions swell to a crescendo. It shows a small child, working with his Father, to help cultivate the land where new life can flourish. It depicts the church being the source of this life, where the Spirit of God waters the ground that the Father, with the “help” of the small child, has so lovingly tended.
I am that child. I'm "helping" God do God's work. Isn't it sweet? As if God needs my help...
I am but a child, playing at the pastoral vocation, mimicking my Father, who loves me more than I could ever imagine.
This painting reminds me that I cannot force people to embrace change, or to grow. That I cannot force myself to grow either. This painting reminds me that my ONLY job is to work alongside of the Father, “helping” as a child does, working to create the right conditions where growth can happen.
It is not my job to make people grow. To believe this is my job is idolatry. Only God can help people grow. That is what God’s Spirit does. My job is to create the right conditions, and then make the invitation. But people can always say “no” - that is their choice.
So pastors, may you remember your calling, to cultivate the conditions where those under your care have the opportunity to choose to grow.
People of God, may you know that your Heavenly Father has created the conditions you are in, because he loves you, and because there is an invitation on your life, to walk with God in relationship, even when things are terribly painful.
People who are CONVINCED God is irrelevant - may you see the local Church in your specific community who is FOR you, and who desires to help you see that God is FOR you too.
And may we all come to see ourselves as children in the garden, “helping” our Father tend to his beautiful creation. Row by row. Plant by plant. Person by person.
Here’s to another three years.