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January 2011

January 31, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Three

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"Blessed are those who trust in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baka [weeping], they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, til each appears before God in Zion." ~ Psalm 84:5-7

As the previous post describes, our decision to leave Jacob's Well was not easily made. Rather, we wrestled for a couple of years to reconcile competing and conflicting impulses. If the Christian life is indeed a pilgrimage, then we felt like we were in that stage of the journey described in Psalm 23:4 as "the darkest valley" and Psalm 84:6 as the "valley of Baka," "baka" being the Hebrew word for weeping. There certainly didn't seem to be a simple or obvious solution to our struggle. Then, in the spring of 2009, a few critical things unfolded very rapidly. Though far from a quick or painless fix, through these developments we saw a path leading, if not up and out the valley, then at least further down the road we had been wandering along.

It began in April when I received a message from a friend I hadn't connected with in awhile. I first met Meredith Wheeler when he was the pastor of a large church outside Philadelphia. He had heard me speak at an Emergent conference in San Diego sometime in 2004 or 2005. Following that session, we visited for a bit. I was surprised to meet him again in the foyer of Jacob's Well one Sunday evening before our worship gathering a couple of months later. I believe he was on sabbatical at the time, traveling around the country to observe how different communities were seeking to be faithful to the gospel in our changing cultural context.

Meredith and I continued to connect periodically over the next couple of years. At that time, I was a member of the board of directors of Biblical Seminary outside Philadelphia. On one of my trips there, Meredith picked me up at the airport and drove me to the school an hour away. This gave us the opportunity to get to know each other beyond the brief chances we had enjoyed thus far. Because of that growing connection, I shared with him my fears about some health struggles my oldest son was facing when I ran into him the next year at the same conference in San Diego. Following that encounter, Meredith began to send regular emails asking after Mabry and telling me of his ongoing prayers for him and our family. Though it may not seem like much, those messages meant the world to me, reminding me that we were not forgotten. I am glad to say Meredith became a good friend. He is an amazing person whom God used to reach out to me at a couple critical junctures of my life. Eventually Mabry got better. As such things happen, though, Meredith and I slowly lost touch.

When I saw his name appear in my email inbox in April, 2009, I was thrilled. I learned that he had recently moved to New Zealand, accepting a position as the Head of School for Mission and Ministry at Laidlaw College in Auckland. Once there he added Vice Principal of Operations to his list of responsibilities. Beyond sharing news of his transition, he inquired whether or not I would be willing to come with my family to New Zealand to teach a three month course at the college. He also wanted to know if I could recommend someone to fill an open lecturer's position in the School of Mission and Ministry. True to character, he concluded that message asking about Mabry.

I was excited by the thought of visiting New Zealand with my family and reconnecting with Meredith, however it was mid-Spring by then and he needed someone in July. I gave my regrets, but told him that I would like to talk again. I was due for a sabbatical in 2010 and thought New Zealand would be a great place to spend it. We agreed to stay connected and begin planning for the next year.

Continue reading "There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Three" »

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January 28, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Two

Sahara01.jpg"The end of all our journeys will be to arrive at the place where we began and know it for the first time." ~ T.S. Eliot

In the previous post I shared the exciting news (at least for me!) that I will be returning to Jacob's Well Church mid-summer to take on the role of primary teaching pastor. The way this has unfolded is pretty amazing and I want to share parts of that story with you. But before I discuss the turn of events that led to this outcome, I'd like to first discuss the dynamics that influenced my decision to leave Jacob's Well in the first place.

I am motivated to do this for three reasons. First, I never took the opportunity to do so in this space and would like to now. Second, stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. To tell this story well, I want to give it some context. Third, I am passionate about local churches and their leaders. I spend a great deal of time talking with, reading and writing about, and coaching leaders seeking to be faithful to God and his purposes in their context. In best-case scenarios, this is a confusing and arduous task. I don't write that to complain or garner sympathy. To me, there is no greater privilege than leading a church. But there is no question that church leadership is fraught with challenges that often overwhelm and wear out its most committed practitioners. Perhaps this is not all that surprising. Every kind of work has its unique benefits and hazards. Men and women who follow Jesus into Christian service both follow a messiah who says that we find our lives when we lay them down and read scriptures that enjoin fortitude, perseverance, and long-suffering as we seek to live in the faith, hope, and love that animate God's kingdom. I believe that the struggles and opportunities that led to my resignation are not mine alone. In that sense this blog post is a narrative that operates simultaneously on a micro-level (my story) and meta-level (employing aspects of my story to make larger, systemic observations).

Thus, it is my hope that by sharing a few observations that illuminate the most recent chapters of my story, leaders might also have insight into the dynamics that could be impacting their own personal and communal stories. However, to do this I am going to have to generalize in ways that take very complex and dynamic realities and simplify them in fairly significant ways. I do this in order to make a couple of specific points in the clearest and briefest way possible. Though there are many different angles by which to approach this topic (e.g., organizational life cycles, stages of masculine spiritual journey, sustainable rhythms for people in helping professions, the necessity of leaders' ongoing professional and creative development, etc.), I want to focus primarily on the role that leadership plays in new communities and how it evolves (or doesn't) over time.

[Caution - this is a long post and will be an even longer series! I can't imagine too many people wanting to read on unless they are a) connected to Jacob's Well in some manner, or b) interested in the broader issues of sustainable church leadership that the rest of this post (and series) discusses...consider yourself warned! :-)]

Continue reading "There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part Two" »

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January 26, 2011

There and Back Again: A Pastor's Tale, Part One

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"The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I am really excited - and fairly amazed - to be able to share with you the news that I will be returning with my family to Kansas City, Missouri, in mid-July, 2011. I have accepted an invitation to be the primary teaching pastor at Jacob's Well Church, a new role that has been created since I departed in August 2009. I will assume my responsibilities sometime later in the summer.

Jacob's Well made this announcement on Sunday, January 23, at each of their three worship gatherings. You can read the statement here. Likewise, Laidlaw College announced my plans to the community here as simultaneously as possible. In fact, I'd liked to express my gratitude to all who helped coordinate the release of this news in a way that honored both communities - no small task given the distance that separates New Zealand and Kansas City in time (19 hours and a day ahead) and space (7800 miles) and the connectivity that instantaneously dissolves such distance in the socially-networked virtual world we now inhabit.

I am certain this news comes as quite a surprise to many who are reading this, or heard the announcement when it was first made. To you I say, "Me, too!" For those who are interested, over the next couple of days I will share some of the background of this story, as well as how this new chapter has come about...

But for now, let me say two things. First, I could not be more excited or humbled by the opportunity to return to Jacob's Well in this newly imagined capacity. That I have such an opportunity overwhelms me and once more demonstrates God's enormous goodness and generosity to me through his people - in particular, the people of Jacob's Well Church. I am grateful to once again be able to serve God as a part of this community. Second, I am equally grateful for the opportunity that I have had to live in New Zealand and work at Laidlaw College and beyond. The range of people who have welcomed my family to this amazing land and befriended us while here have made immigrating to "the ends of the earth" much easier than it should have been. We will leave dear friends, beloved and respected colleagues, and compelling work behind when we depart these beautiful shores for home.

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January 13, 2011

I Can Spare the Time...

Reflecting over the last couple of days on twenty years of marriage, twenty-five years of relationship to this woman...

I am a man, a boy really, blessed to have met a girl who has become an incredible friend, a worthy adversary, and a mother of unusual love, presence and grace. And, of course and always, a woman of great beauty. That I was 16 and somehow managed not to miss her or irreparably bungle the first steps of our dance is a mercy beyond reckoning.

I received Wendell Berry's wonderful new collection of poetry, Leavings: Poems, from my mother-in-law - signed by the author! - as a Christmas gift. I have been reading it slowly, savoring Berry's words a few stanzas at a time. This morning, coming to the end of the first section of poems, I read "Over the Edge." It is a beautiful reflection on marriage and one that speaks of the beauty of shared years.


Over the Edge


To tell a girl you loved her - my God! -

that was a leap off a cliff, requiring little

sense sweet as it was. And I have loved


many girls, women too, who by various fancies

of mind have seemed loveable. But only

with you have I actually tried it: the long labor,


the selfishness, the self-denial, the children

and grandchildren, the garden rows planted

and gathered, the births and deaths of many years.


We boys, when we were young and romantic

and ignorant, new to mystery and the power,

would wonder late into the night on the cliff's edge:


Was this love real? Was it true? And how

would you know? Well, it was time would tell,

if you were patient and could spare the time,


a long time, a lot of trouble, a lot of joy.

This one begins to look - would you say? - real?


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March 2011

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