Monthly Archives: December 2011

15 Lessons in 15 Months in NYC: 5-1

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being in New York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I posted lessons 15-11 on Monday and lessons 10-6 on Wednesday, and here are lessons 5-1.

5. To be “For the City” you must be “For Your Neighborhood”
The good news is that most churches have recaptured an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to a huge concern for and move to act on behalf of the poor and marginalized. As a result there are many churches that are seeking the physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare of their city. They are being “For the City” by advocating for the human flourishing of every person in the city.

This is the vision of a church truly being Jesus to their city, but practically this must be worked out in neighborhoods. In Manhattan, it seems that every 10 blocks is telling its own story, presenting a message of its worldview that is different from the surrounding area. It’s no different in the suburbs as subdivisions present a fairly consistent message about what is important.

Each neighborhood has beauty to it and each neighborhood has brokenness. To seek the human flourishing of a city, you must start next door or down the block. Begin by answering the questions “What do I love about my neighborhood?” and “What is the one thing I would like to see improved that would heal the brokenness of my neighborhood?”

Our city is 8.5 million people with the matching problems. Until “the city” becomes smaller and more tangible through our neighborhood, the task of seeking human flourishing is too daunting, but a community of people working together on the issues of their neighbors can see beautiful change.

4. To be “For Your Neighborhood” you must enjoy your neighborhood
The unfortunate side of recapturing a gospel vision to care for the poor is the ability of the human heart to make a good cause a duty to perform. A duty attitude prevents you from investing in your neighborhood the same way you would if you enjoyed it.

We only live for and give ourselves fully to things that we enjoy. So what do you enjoy about your neighborhood? What do you enjoy about your neighbors? If you spend all of your time commuting to another part of town, why don’t you move there?

I’ve seen this attitude change our way of life and the way of life of others in our community. In New York, you can live your whole life within a 10 block radius, it is built to be a walkable and enjoyable community, but if you only see the brokenness and never look for the beauty to enjoy, you will despise your neighborhood and never care for it in a way that could improve it.

3. Community is part of the mission
I am a huge advocate for missional communities, the idea of a community of Christ followers extending the message and mercy of Christ together. Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to have shifted to only beating the drum of mission at the neglect of community. It has become more about “being missional” than being a community…on mission.

Building a healthy community is just as much a part of the mission as reaching and caring for new people. Sacrificing community for the sake of mission will lead to burnout, bitterness, hurt and sin that goes unaddressed and never gets healed.

The communities I’ve seen that flourish on mission usually flourish as a family caring for one another. The habit of loving others becomes so ingrained in the community it naturally overflows to those outside of the community.

You don’t JUST aim for community or JUST aim for mission, you aim for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which invites people into a loving family and sends that family on mission to care for others and invites others into that family.

2. Community takes 6-9 months to establish, another 3-6 is a lot of fun & then it gets messy

We left a lot of great friends and family when we moved. Initially, we were wondering who might replace them, but you don’t replace old friends, you make new ones. It’s “not the same” as it was and it shouldn’t be. There’s no need to replace, there’s need to establish new relationships.

It takes a while, usually 6-9 months, then you have fun for a while, but then it gets messy. It seems like we have been taught that messiness should never happen in friendships, but you handle the messiness (the somewhat annoying habits, the differences of opinions, the correction conversations) and work through the messiness, the relationships are better on the other end.

Community takes time, sometimes it’s awkward, messy, and not always fun, but eventually becomes a joy to those who pursue it and commit to it.

1. Despite all the challenges it’s worth it

The last 15 months have been amazing, but they have also been incredibly challenging, and at times painful. We left behind friends, family, and what seemed like the American dream with a house on a cul-de-sac, but it’s been worth it. It can be challenging to be a family in the city, there are plenty of shocking looks and comments about having such a huge family, but it’s worth it.

We are incredibly thankful that we have been able to grow as a family while being a part of a church that cares for one another like a family, but also seeks to care for the neighborhoods of this city as is they are our family as well.

Jesus died on a cross and promised His followers a joyful life, but also that it would involve sacrifices and those would at times be painful. Saying goodbye and missing friends and family has been painful, but there has been a greater understanding of the Christian faith and a greater opportunity to share our faith because of the sacrifices we have felt God has called us to.

There are many more lessons that I have learned and surely many more that I will learn. I hope you have enjoyed my processing of the last year plus and would encourage you to do the same.

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15 Lessons in 15 Months in NYC: 10-6

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being inNew York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I’ve broken them up into 3 posts because I have a tendency to write too much, on Monday I posted 15-11, today is 10-6, and Friday 5-1. I’d love to hear the lessons you have learned over the past year.

10. Once a pastor, always a pastor
Pastoral ministry is a calling that never stops. Once you take the title of pastor, everywhere you go, you are a pastor. It isn’t reserved for Sundays or office hours, it is a title that comes with expectations. At times this has been difficult for me because I like to “turn off” and have down time, which I had as a Civil Engineer. No one asked me to design a road that would solve their personal traffic problems outside of the office.

This has been good for me, refining me so that I don’t stop pastoring when I come home, and it has challenged me to always be looking to share Christ with my life. It is something I have to remember though, that when we have people in our home from our church or even outside the church, I’m representing the church and Jesus for better or worse.

Honestly, I think most Christians treat their faith as if it has an on and off switch instead of it being constant. The expectations can be, at times, overwhelming and I’m learning to delegate to our deacons and leaders as much as possible and take a refreshing day off, but I’m thankful for this calling. It’s made me a better friend, husband, and father.

9. It takes a city & a smaller community to raise a kid
Kids are a joy to a city with more dogs than children. Even if the stats don’t verify that, it certainly feels that way. It has been amazing to see the demeanor of entire subway change because of our kids. In fact, people go out of their way to help our family get around the city. There is so much to offer our children here, from museums, to zoos, from sports teams to the arts, they are exposed to so much culture and we love it. It’s also been remarkable to see our kids adjust to the space given to them.

It feels as though the city is helping raise our kids, but we also know they need a smaller community that cares for them. Our church has been that community, they are helping raise our kids whether they know it or not. When I try to teach Eli something, I’m not surprised when he tells me he learned that from a teacher in our kid’s ministry or one of his babysitters.

For us, babysitters are part of the family, not people that serve a function. We know our children are better behaved and have more joy when they have a number of people (single, married, male, female) in their lives who love Jesus and love them.

8. Everyone needs community

This is true of everyone, anyone who says differently, either with their words or their lifestyle, is lying and likely lonely. The city has a way of pressing that into you even more. In a city of 8.5 million, it can be a lonely place without people who you can care for and who care for you.

But the reality is that it’s not a city thing, the loss of community results in greater consumerism, discontentment, depression, and loneliness. We have all been made to desire to be known and know others. We thrive in that environment. But it’s never easy and requires sacrifice to have any decent community. From sacrificing with your parenting methods, your schedule, your workload, or your finances, community is worth the cost.

So whether that is paying more to live closer to those you love, letting your kids skip their naptime and risking meltdowns, or choosing to have a little less “me-time”, you won’t miss those things when they result in community.

7. It’s better to be in the city during natural disasters than outside the city
We’ve been in the city during a blizzard and outside the city during an earthquake and a hurricane. For some reason, the city seems to thrive on natural disasters, everyone seems to join forces and be concerned for one another.

But if you are trying to get back into the city, forget about it. We were on vacation for Hurricane Irene while our kids were being babysat in the city. We moved our flights up in hopes to avoid the hurricane, but every airport in theNew York Cityarea went on full shutdown. We had to fly into Washington-Dulles (as the hurricane was hitting), wait out the night with some family members and drive up the next day.

I think this is something I love about the city. It bans together through trial, seeking to persevere together and I believe that is inspiring.

6. This city will make or break your faith

In the bible belt, Christianity at least appears normal. There are plenty of full churches on Sunday and claiming to be a Christian can be an advantage at work or in gathering friendships. There are many who claim to be Christian for its benefits package, but never truly live like they know Jesus.

In the city, there’s no point in faking it. It is a disadvantage in a city that sees churches as harmful to renting space in schools, let alone claims an absolute truth of Jesus being God. I’ve seen many people move to the city and for the first time in their lives are faced with questions of what they really believe. Their family is stretched thin, their job sucks the joy of life out of them, and they wonder if Jesus really is who He said He was, The Lord and Savior who died to pay for the sins of the world, offering forgiveness and life through His resurrection.

There’s no better place to wrestle with those questions than in a community that loves Jesus and takes Him seriously. I’ve seen it firm up people’s faith and unfortunately, I’ve seen people abandon their faith for the pleasures of this world.

The city refines you through its challenges. No matter how great you thought you were, the city will humble you, break you down, but then allow you to be built back up. It’s a strange and beautiful thing to live here. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be a family in the city.

5-1 hopefully coming Friday…

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15 Lessons in 15 months in NYC: 15-11

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being in New York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I’ve broken them up into 3 posts because I have a tendency to write too much, so today will be 15-11, Wednesday 10-6, and Friday 5-1.

15. You can’t call another city home and love where you live.

Over the past 15 months, New York has become home for us. When we first moved here, we fell into the same trap of so many transplants, that “home” was where we came from and this is where we live. Vacations become “going home” and the city suffers because you become an extended-stay tourist instead of an invested resident.

Every transplant must make the transition to New York as home and until they do, their love for the city and their community will be lacking.

When New York became the place we called home, a place where we established roots, we took ownership for the condition of our city, for the betterment and enjoyment of our neighborhood. Some say home is where the heart is, but God establishes where we live, so we can make it a home for the benefit of others.

14. You don’t REALLY need 2000sf, all the furniture that fits in it or a dishwasher

We moved from a 3-bedroom house in “everything’s bigger here” Texas to a two-bedroom apartment. We sold, gave away, or threw away about 70% of our stuff and we don’t miss it. Extra space becomes a need for furniture too easily with a big house and one day you wake up to find you don’t even use that two car garage because it’s storing all of your excess.

We’ve learned to live more simply, it’s been challenging, but really refreshing. We left a piece of furniture on the moving truck when we first moved and it was a sign of things to come as we find ourselves looking to avoid clutter for the sake of sanity.

Our 3 kids share a room and they love it (for now). There’s always a tendency to long for more, but we’ve learned (are learning) contentment enables joy to flourish in a home, and to be thankful for things we used to take for granted, like a full-size fridge and oven.

13. Evangelism is more education & advocacy than apologetic debate
When most people think of evangelism, pictures of awkward interactions where you try to convince the uninterested through intellectual arguments are often the first thing to come to mind. There’s also the stereotype of the New Yorker uninterested and hostile to Christianity.

In 15 months, I’ve met just a few hostile to Christianity and most curious about Jesus. Any hostility is mostly due to being uninformed of Jesus and mostly angry at “church”. Most of evangelism has become educating and advocating for who Jesus is, what He has done for everyone, and what He calls a people who represent (the church) Him to live for. From my experience, people here have become interested in hearing more, wanting to have these “deeper conversations” instead of avoiding religious conversations.

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and overall purpose are what convince people of and even desire that truth, not my carefully crafted words. I’ve learned to spend more time discussing these things and listening to actual questions about Jesus.

12. The city forces you to parent more

As a parent in the city, there can be many fears, from losing your kids in the crowds, to the dangers of walking along streets packed with more cars than they were designed to hold. One response to these fears is to shrink back, do less, and try to protect your child from all the dangers.

For us, it has forced us to parent more. To train, equip, instruct, and correct more than we did in the suburbs. It can seem non-stop because of the nature of the city, but I’ve had conversations with Eli & Calvin at their age that I wouldn’t normally have until much older. Things like why people are sleeping on the streets, collecting change on the corners, or performing for money in the subways (the last 2 Eli has thought would be good careers…).

The comforts of the suburbs have a way of hiding things that may need to be addressed while the close quarters of an NYC apartment tend to bring out the best and worst right in front of you, providing an opportunity to parent. For me, it’s made me a better, hopefully wiser, and engaged Dad.

11. God answers prayers big & small

We’ve seen God answer prayers to sell our house, get Eli into a great school, and provide a new apartment when it seemed hopeless.  We’ve also seen God answer the “small” prayers of friends for Eli and Calvin, keeping our kids healthy, and providing community for our family.

God is interested in the mundane and the monumental and prayer has revealed that to be true because He hears and He answers. Not always exactly how we want it, but it’s always been good.

Moving to New York City has blessed our family life, our marriage, and has taught us more than we know. Prayer has taught us and shown us God’s provision in all these things. It’s been a great 15 months.

Lessons 10-6 coming Wednesday.

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TED talk worth watching: The power of vulnerability

This may be the best TED talk I’ve ever watched. It has huge implications for connecting with people, whether it’s marriage, parenting, or friends. It deals with shame, joy, & explains how vulnerability can free us from numbing ourselves to reality.

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Yes, And vs. No, Because

This past August on vacation I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and I’m not ashamed to say that I loved it. I laughed a lot but was also challenged by the leadership lessons that she expressed and learned through her career and from Lorne Michaels.

I started to read it and think about how these lessons could shape the church and the way Christians approach God. One of the lessons she highlights is from her years of improv and specifically the rules of improv, which we used when I participated in Man Question and it changed the whole dynamic of relational interaction. She says this…

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with evertthing everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own…To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

When I look at the alternative of YES, AND, it’s NO, BECAUSE which is really the beginning of an argument if you think about it. If someone presents an idea and it’s immediately met with “No, because…” how deflating is that? While Yes, And invites opportunity and creative thinking, No, Because invites debate and to follow the status quo.

She talks about how this plays out in life.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

But as I read it, I really started to think about the difference between church plants and established churches, which is directly related to start-ups & established companies.

Yes, And vs. No, Because in the Church

A church plant approaches everything with Yes, And. The possibilities are endless, but an established church has a No, Because filter that it runs everything through based on traditions, denominations, or “that’s just the way we do it” mentalities.

Now, I’m not suggesting we take a Yes, And approach with theology, but I am saying we do so with the way we approach “doing church” and how the church carries out the mission of God to love and serve your neighbor as yourself. In that realm, the possibilities are endless unless you have a No, Because culture.

The problem is that a No, Because culture kills any chance of creating an innovative environment for methodology. It sees new missional methodologies as challenging your “right way” instead of being open to adopting a new way of doing things that may enable you and your church to bless your neighborhood and thrive as a community that loves one another.

Cultivating a Yes, And culture where it’s “your responsibility to contribute” provides the opportunity to be open to new ideas and even new people speaking into the way things are done. It invites the voices of everyone to take ownership of the outcome.

Even when the And presents a potential contradiction to the initial idea, you are creating a collaborative environment where everyone is engaged and looking to contribute to the solution rather than maintain the status quo.

This is what happened in Man Question discussing masculinity with straight, gay, and bisexual men. The ideas eventually contradicted themselves, but the Yes, And rules provided the environment where everyone was willing to share their ideas and give credence to listen and process the ideas of others. This led to greater and deeper conversations because of the willingness to let an idea run its course with somewhat competing ideas.

When a church adopts a No, Because mentality with its methods, it is beginning the process of dying as a church. It becomes a nostalgic organization looking to keep things the way they were or maintain the current way, instead of seeing the church community do greater things than they’ve ever done.

A church should never abandon the Yes, And with methods.

Yes, And vs. No, Because with God

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since August and I mainly thought of them in terms of church until I went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Prayer Meeting about a month ago.

As I stood with thousands of others praying to God for healing, for reconciliation of marriages, for children to be set free from drugs, I was so challenged that my prayer life was being hindered by a No, Because mentality with God. Instead of asking God to do great things, I was saying “No, God won’t listen to that because there are more important things.” “No, I can’t pray that because I’m had a rough week with too many mistakes in my life.”

Even my theology presented a No, Because roadblock in prayer, saying “No, God doesn’t seem to do the same thing He did in the book of Acts in the Bible so I shouldn’t ask for those things.”

I began to sense that I was living in the No, Because mentality with God that I disliked seeing in the church.

Adopting the Yes, And mentality has changed the way I sit in church meetings discussing our Community Groups, how we equip families, how we empower people to be great at their jobs, secure in their singleness, pursuing covenant marriage at the right time.

It’s also changed how I pray, coming to talk with God with an open-mindedness that He may want to do something outside my theological box I like to put God in so I can manage my relationship with Him.

As the end of the year approaches, we all look back at what we want to change and do differently in the coming year. Adopting a Yes, And mentality may be the best thing you do for your life, your job, your ministry, and your relationship with God.

 

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Why I’m going to Verge and why you should too

Every year there are hundreds of church conferences where pastors and church leaders gather to collaborate and learn from speakers and breakout sessions. They are usually titled after a motivational word (Exponential, Vault, Catalyst, Unleash) tied to a theme for the conference.

I don’t like most church conferences.

So when I initially heard about Verge when I lived in Austin in 2010, I thought “Another Conference? Is this really necessary?” But since it was in my hometown at the time and focused on Missional Communities, a topic I am passionate about and now work to accomplish, I decided to go.

I was blown away.

It was unlike any church conference I had attended. I am used to a church conference that has all the celebrity pastors and feels more like a sales pitch for the pastor’s church/book/website/resources than about Jesus. When most conferences are promoting theology but lack practicals, or promoting practicals for church growth without good theology, Verge combined good theology with best practices. When many conferences pit the megachurch against the house church, Verge brought the two together and everyone else in between to focus on how each can learn from the other.

It started with Matt Carter & Francis Chan calling us to love Jesus more than our mission or method, what followed were speakers from house churches, global church planting movements, mega-church pastors, mid-size church pastors, and authors coming together to promote Jesus and the mission of the church over any method of church. I attended the pre-conference workshops, the main sessions, the breakouts, and I walked away challenged by truth and equipped for ministry. It’s the reason church conferences exist, but they rarely accomplish this goal.

That’s why I was disappointed to hear there was no Verge Conference in 2011, so I attended Exponential (which I will never do again and wish I would have attended RightNow instead), but it’s also why I’m excited for Verge 2012. Every pastor I meet, I recommend Verge to them because it really is, in my opinion, the best church conference and one of the few I will always attend.

Verge 2012 maintains the focus on missional communities, but has expanded it’s scope to address the impact of the gospel in mercy & justice through their For The City track and the impact of taking the gospel to the nations in their For The Nations track. The speakers continue to range from theologians to practitioners, from house church leaders to megachurch pastors, and everyone in between.

The For The City track has Dr. John Perkins who was a part of the civil rights movement and has done monumental work in establishing lasting Christian community development principles that inform the way we approach mercy & justice. It includes Dave Gibbons, Bob Lupton, and many others who have and are working to fight injustice, poverty, and seeking to extend the mercy of Jesus Christ.

The For The Nations track brings back George Patterson, who came off the stage into the audience at Verge in 2010 to make his point during his message and who has also been a part of starting and multiplying churches through Central America. He is joined by David Platt, author of Radical, and Jeremy Story, who is the president of Campus Renewal Ministries. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy here in New York City and am always encouraged by his heart to see God use the prayers of the church to fuel missions.

Verge was established as a Missional Community Conference, a conference focused on helping communities of believers join Jesus in renewing all things with the message and mercy of His gospel. It continues to bring some of the best thinkers and practitioners in missional communities with Hugh Halter, Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, Jeff Vandersteldt and many others.

When I attended in 2010 I was a part of a college ministry in Austin while working as civil engineer. It influenced my approach to ministry, but also my approach to work and how I cared for my neighbors. I think that may be what is most unique about Verge, its ability to impact anyone who attends a church with the implications of the gospel let alone those who pastor them.

It’s only $129 (until Feb. 20) for 4 days that will encourage and refresh you as much as challenge you.

That’s why I’m attending Verge 2012 and you should too.

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Happy Birthday Mya!

Friday December 2nd, our baby girl Mya turned 1! We celebrated with Magnolia Cupcakes in the West Village with a number of friends from our church! Here’s a look at our cute little girl over the last year!

Having 3 kids in the city can be quite challenging, but incredibly fun. We love the opportunity it provides to explore parts of the city we would have never imagined existed. Seeing the city through our kid’s eyes is so refreshing and enlightening. Mya is our New Yorker so we are excited to see her grow up in the city.

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NYC Churches in Public Schools

For the last 17 years a lawsuit has been going on in the background as churches rented from NYC public schools as an incredible alternative to the high costs of renting space around New York City. The Bronx Household of Faith was the first church to pursue renting from a public school, but was told the NYC Department of Education’s policy was not to rent their facilities to religious organizations.

This appears to be discrimination based on religious grounds as the D.O.E. rents their facility (at least from what I’ve seen) to birthday parties, youth sports leagues, and other community organizations. This led to a lawsuit alleging discrimination and violating the freedom of expression laid out in the First Amendment.

It has been ruled in favor of the Department, then appealed and ruled in favor of the church, then appealed again resulting in a ruling in favor of the schools, and finally submitted to the Supreme Court this last fall. This past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to take and review the case meaning the D.O.E.’s policy of not renting their space for religious services can stand and around 60 churches will now be removed from meeting at public schools starting in February.

So the question becomes, how do I respond? As I’ve thought through this, knowing this day might come here is my personal response. Though I’m a pastor at a church who meets in the public schools, this not an official church stance, just what I personally see in the scriptures as an appropriate way to respond.

Be Thankful. For the last decade many churches have had the gift of holding their weekly gatherings in public schools, which provide great space through auditoriums and classrooms that provide a great opportunity for childcare during services. The cost to the church was typically lower than renting anywhere else providing new churches with a great way to begin holding services when they typically have very little financial resources. Churches would come on Sunday morning, set up their information, band equipment as necessary, and then by Sunday afternoon it would be as if they had never been there.

This has allowed churches to focus more of their energy into being a people rather than maintaining a specific space. This freedom has allowed churches to create a community that serves their neighbors and blesses their neighborhood and city through volunteering at non-profits, mentoring programs, and caring for the poor and marginalized.

So as we close out our time at public schools, we can extend a thankful heart to the principals, school coordinators, janitorial staff and police officers that help make our Sunday gatherings possible. They have enabled us to live out being the church throughout the week without a lot of difficulties on Sundays.

Pray. We don’t believe in a God who is uninvolved in the everyday. We believe in a God who is concerned with personal relationships, the way nations are run, and how we interact with the world who disagrees with our belief.

Pray for the people of our city as there are many that vehemently disagree with churches being there. This Op-ed in the New York Times last June illustrates the frustration of many parents toward churches using schools. (Sidenote: The things she alleges about churches discussing the school children is something I have NEVER witnessed and think should never be done.) We must pray for favor in the eyes of our neighbors.

Pray for administrators, the city council, state leadership, and other governmental agencies. This policy was established and enforced by people who do not see the benefit of churches and see them as detrimental to the school. It can all change if new administrators or legislators share a differing view. Things can change through prayer.

Pray for the churches of New York City. This is a great opportunity for uniting around Jesus and His gospel first for all the churches in NYC. To set aside our secondary theological battles for a while and be on the same team toward the goal of Jesus getting the glory. Pray for the Catholic church, which has typically been opposed to partnership in the city with evangelical churches.

Most of all, pray that God is shown to be glorious through this whole thing.

Trust God. This did not catch God by surprise. We believe in One God who rules over all and in His goodness saw this as a way to challenge the church and our city. God’s plan of establishing churches who love one another and their neighbors does not change because of the policies of men. So we can trust that God is using this for a specific reason and it provides us with a great opportunity to seek God for understanding and trust that He will provide.

Return to Truth. The New Testament puts the focus of church on the people of God, not a place. The scriptures show that Christianity was automatically embraced and given space to meet, but they met in homes and eventually built their own places of worship. Persecution or discrimination was common, Jesus Himself was crucified, reviled and despised by authorities. His followers should not expect to be treated any different.

Bless the Schools & Community. In 1 Peter 3, Christians are instructed to bless as we have been blessed in the face of rejection. The policy of the D.O.E. is to rent to all organizations that “benefit the welfare of the community”. This is the exact language of Jeremiah 29 in the Old Testament of the bible that the people of God are to seek the welfare of their neighborhood, city, and country.

What a great opportunity to be a community of faith that seeks the blessing, the holistic flourishing of our neighbors and neighborhood to the point that everyone would state the benefit of the church in a community.

Earlier today, I stood with a number of other pastors and congregants from a number of different theological, denominational and ethnic backgrounds. We stood with people from different faith backgrounds from Christianity and we stood with city councilmen and women along with other government officials as they proposed Assembly bill A 8800 which would prevent school districts from excluding groups from meeting on school property because of religious purposes.

It was great to be a part of and encouraging seeing so much support across religions, denominations, and those without faith. Legislation is only one route toward change, but it will not be lasting unless people change and people change their ideas of God by encountering the love of God through the community of God.

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Just Don’t Hate My Church

That was some of the greatest advice I had ever received.

I’d like to let you in on a not-so-secret reality about the church. Churches, pastors, and church leaders make decisions that often bother, frustrate, or offend people within those churches. Some of these decisions are mistakes that offend people, others are right decisions that offend people because they have a different vision, hope, or plan for the church than those who lead it.

I have made decisions that have been wrong and made mistakes that have hurt people, offended people, and angered people. I’ve also made decisions, said things that were right and God-glorifying that have angered people, upset them.

This usually results in bitterness toward the church or leadership within people in the congregation. Often this bitterness never gets addressed, the frustrations never brought up, and eventually people leave their congregation having never explained why or even healed from their hurt, anger, or bitterness. It doesn’t have to be this way.

You see, I was one of these people who would get frustrated and at times bitter at my former church. It was the church I loved, told everyone about, but there were times when I disagreed with the decisions of the pastors and leaders. I questioned why, made assumptions (usually false) and let it grow into bitterness. There were other times I brought them up to the leadership and it did not always change the decision, but it gave me an opportunity to get over my frustration through seeking understanding.

One of those times, I sat with one of the pastors who had listened to my frustrations, explained things I was falsely assuming and was unaware of and then he said, “Logan, I’m not asking you to agree with everything our church does, to sign off on every decision, but just don’t hate my church.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear. I am, by nature, someone who sees more flaws than he sees beauty, identifying the holes and skipping over the great things. But my main error is that I am not doing this out of love, I often do this out of pride and frustration.

These words continue to challenge me today. I’m now a pastor at a church and I’m the one usually upsetting or offending someone despite my lack of intent to do so. I still see things that are not done well, but I have learned to take these to God through prayer, asking Him to give me a love for the ministry, person, or decision I think needs to be addressed. It has changed my demeanor in addressing decisions, it has lessened my frustration, it has let me avoid the darkness of bitterness and it has given me hope for a better future.

What should you do when you disagree?

Being on the pastor side of things, I would encourage people who disagree, or are offended or frustrated by their church, pastor, ministry leader to address the things, decisions, words that have brought the hurt. But I want to encourage you in the how.

First, Pray. Our emotions are often God’s way of calling us to spend time with Him. I mean look at the Psalms, the writers are an emotional wreck. This gives us the opportunity to reflect on the why of the emotion. Is there something in me that God is revealing? A false idea, a wrong belief, a personal preference that isn’t like Jesus?

Is there something in the church/leader that God is showing me to improve the church/leader’s ability to minister and love others? My encouragement would be to talk to God in prayer in readiness that it could be you that needs to change and also readiness that God could use you, in love, to change your church. I am convinced though, that God rarely uses people who do not pursue change in love.

Second, Seek Understanding. Email the pastor, ministry leader, or the person who is directly tied to the emotions you are feeling. I’ve discovered that when I share my frustrations, anger, hurt feelings with friends and not the person, I only multiplied bitterness causing more frustration and was left with the same feelings and no healing.

Only when you address your thoughts and emotions with someone who was involved in the cause can that help you understand, help you process, help you pursue healing.

In some cases, this may not be possible to meet with the person directly but there are likely people you can sit with that have greater ability to point out where you might be misunderstanding than your friends could. In these cases, I would encourage you to pursue a leader or someone who will point out your errors in thinking.

In seeking understanding, I would encourage you to come with more questions than statements. That provides an opportunity for any of your false assumptions to be destroyed and grants the leadership an opportunity to explain without feeling the need to defend.

Be gracious toward any mistakes, showing that you recognize the gospel tells us we are all falling short of perfection, except for Jesus, and all in need of the saving grace of Jesus to change us.

Third, Pray. After you have met with the church or ministry leader to seek understanding, go back to God in prayer, asking God again to grow in you love for the leadership, to grow the leadership, to guard them from error, and pray for continued understanding and healing.

I am now at a place where I have been the bitter and frustrated person and I’ve met with the person who has been hurt by my thoughts, decisions, or what I said. It’s always humbling, always a little messy, but has always been good and I am always thankful to talk through it.

Most people feel bad sharing their thoughts or even asking further questions of leadership, but I am always quick to encourage them to share. The church is intended to be a family and it can get messy, but it cannot be a loving family with any root of bitterness. I love talking through any and all messiness in hopes to pursue a healing understanding.

Just Don’t Hate My Church.

And if you’re a pastor, church leader, or ministry leader, come to these discussions ready to listen, quick to apologize, slow to defend, and ready to share the why of your thought or decision.

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A move to Chelsea: the why & how

Two months ago we moved to a new apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan from the Upper East Side. Since then I had hoped to share why and how, as these are the predominant questions we receive and it’s taken me this long to get to it.

When we first moved to New York, we discovered the challenges of the school system and that led us to both pursue understanding but also to pray. We prayed the entire year that God would show us by Eli’s school where He wanted us to live and who He wanted us to share our lives with more. We did this because of our convictions, one being that our children’s education is extremely important to their future and the other conviction toward supporting and investing in public school teachers, classmates of our kids, and their families as the best way to see a neighborhood flourish long-term.

As we applied for schools, ranking them, and awaiting our placement, we thought we would be headed toward the East 90s for schooling and neighborhood, so when Eli was placed in Chelsea Prep it was quite a surprise, but led us to pray about moving to Chelsea. It wouldn’t be an easy move as Chelsea is typically more expensive than the Upper East Side, it isn’t known for being family friendly like the UES, and we didn’t know any other families there, though we knew a number of great people from our church.

We felt similar to Paul in Acts 16, where he wanted to see the gospel expanded in Asia, but the Spirit kept preventing him from going there. We wanted to see the love of Jesus extended to Chelsea, but felt like the challenge of getting there was too great as we looked at 15 apartments with no luck.

For Community? For Mission? Or Both?

This was a very hard decision for us logistically, but also personally, which led to more prayer and even fasting as considered the decision. One reason is because the scriptures challenge Christians to let the gospel of Jesus Christ inform all of their decisions, even moving. So when it came to moving, we had the question of do we move to stay in community with the people on the Upper East Side that we have established relationships with and endure the schlepping commute to Chelsea? Or do we move for the “mission” of serving and loving Eli’s school and those families to bring the love of Christ to an area of the city where it isn’t?

My tendency is to pit those two against each other, to say if we move to Chelsea it is against the pursuit of our current community or to choose community is against the pursuit of mission. But wise council from our friends and former pastors caused us to expand our understanding.

For us, moving to Chelsea did not lessen our commitment to the friends and families we had met on the Upper East Side. Would it make it more challenging? Sure, but it wouldn’t prevent us from traveling up there to be around our friends. Staying in the UES would have made it harder to engage in Eli’s school, but our commitment to that did not change, though it would be more challenging. It was not either or, but both/and.

How God provided a place and how we moved into it

We were coming down to the wire on the decision, having been rejected by a few apartments, being shocked by their (lack of) size in Chelsea, and having to make a quick decision on an availability in the UES. It was then that a broker who had initially told us we would never find a place in Chelsea for our budget, called us to say he found the perfect place.

We checked it out, a 2 bedroom, big enough for all our kids to share a room, a great kitchen and the same price we would be paying on the Upper East Side. The only downside was that it was the 5th floor of a walk-up, but our boys made the trek up the stairs just fine so we applied and were accepted. We felt and continue to feel like it’s a blessing from God to our family.

Finding an apartment is hard enough in Manhattan, but moving into one can be just as challenging. This is where our community came in and blew us away with their generosity of their time and moving skills.

On a Saturday morning in late September, about 20-25 people from our church came and moved us from the 2nd floor of a building on the UES to the 5th floor of a walk-up (that’s no elevator and 60 steps). The remarkable thing is they still want to be our friends.

Even more amazing was that they helped make our apartment a home. They hung curtains, made beds, and unpacked the kitchen. It was humbling and we couldn’t be more thankful.

We’ve been there for 2 months, it’s been great to walk Eli to school in the morning, to serve and encourage his teacher, to connect with the families of his classmates and to have more space for the kids to run around and in the kitchen. We love living near the High Line, Chelsea Market, Madison Square Park, and I even walk to work. It’s been amazing.

God has blessed us tremendously. Oh, and one more perk…the view…

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