I was thinking about dates this morning. When you look at a calendar, each day is marked off by a neat little square. Isn’t that how we want our lives to be — nice little squares mapped out in a predictable sequential order? And yet, for the most part, isn’t real life actually the exact opposite?
What set me off on this thought? Well today is May 1st, which means yesterday was April 30th. On a calendar, this seems simple enough, almost sterile and uneventful. And yet these two dates represent significant boundaries in mine and my family’s life.
Yesterday, April 30th, was my last day as a staff pastor in my church and probably my last day as a vocational pastor in the current established evangelical church system. That day was a day of grieving, especially as I walked the various rooms on the church campus recalling memories and praying for the people and ministries that will continue there. I grieve the end of perhaps the most important phase of my life thus far.
I grieve the changes, if not the end, to most of the friendships I’ve developed over the last eight years. I’ve moved around enough to know that comments of “Let’s stay in touch” rarely materialize into anything substantial, especially if the relationship was simply built around a weekly event. My hope and prayer is that the several deep friendships that have developed will evolve into something deeper as we move beyond the context of weekly ministry.
I grieve the end of my calling to vocational ministry — a calling that I’ve felt from the first days of my Christian life. All the educational and occupational training in my adult life has been focused on this calling.
I grieve the death of a dream. When Debbie and I came to Vineyard, we felt we would grow old there. We felt God would use us for a long long time to influence and be influenced by the people who called our church their home. But almost suddenly, that dream ended and within months we realized that we were to travel down a different path than what we initially envisioned.
I grieve the end of my family’s life at our church as well. This was a church that Debbie and I felt truly loved and embraced. Our children’s lives revolved around the church. They have memories of worship, playing, laughing and friends and teachers who loved them. This transition is as equally difficult for my kids as it is for Debbie and me.
I grieve the potential and actual misunderstanding we will and have received. God is calling us on a pastoral and theological journey that falls “off of the map” for many evangelicals. I’ve already heard the word “cult” used a couple of times without any real inquiry about who we are and what we’re trying to do. A lot of Christians don’t have a frame of reference outside of the current church model. To them, church is often defined by programs, events and leaders and so our ideas seem very foreign.
That’s April 30th. A day of grieving. Today is May 1st. A day of excitement.
I’m excited about the level of friendship that will be developed outside of the current paradigm of church I’ve been living and working in. I’m excited about getting together with friends just to enjoy the friendship and encourage one another on in love and goodness rather than planning programs or events. I’m also excited about the new levels of friendship and community that will be experienced in our new missional community — friendships that actually participate in the rawness of each other’s lives (right where God is working) and not in the facade of our Sunday-going-to-church lives. I’m also excited about the new friendships that will develop as our missional community actually becomes missional — deeper friendships with neighbors, coworkers and people who would rather “congregate” at a coffeehouse than a church.
I’m excited about a small group of growing apprentices who will spur each other on toward deeper discipleship in Christ that, from my experience, cannot be obtained in the current evangelical system. I really believe the theological and ecclesiological exploration we embark on will revolutionize the lives of those who stick to it. And I’m especially excited to be going with those who have committed to it. These are incredible people.
I’m excited about what my family will experience and learn in this spiritual “greenhouse.” My kids will grow up in a system specifically designed for real Christian community and spiritual formation.
I’m excited about a new career change and the personal formation that I will experience with God in all of this.
I’m excited about the birth of a new dream — a dream of a new way of being God’s sent people, disciples who take seriously Jesus’ words (“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”) so that they are doing everything possible to learn from Jesus how to embody, demonstrate and announce God’s fullness and reign just like Christ did. I’m excited about personally participating in God’s mission of goodness and love in ways not possible in the current evangelical system.
I’m excited about the most significant phase of my life to come.
Lord, thank you for the past and thank you for the future. Thank you for being with me each day, even when it doesn’t fit into a nice little box on a calendar. It’s especially in those times when I can enter your kingdom and become a little more like you. Amen.