As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve always been searching, even when I didn’t have words to express what I was looking for. Meeting Jesus and becoming his apprentice answered the deepest parts of my questing heart. And following God’s calling into professional ministry for over fourteen years provided wonderful opportunities to fulfill that search.
Yet through it all, I have always felt God calling me to journey deeper and to explore his kingdom. So here I am, standing on the threshold of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ironically, all of my adult education and professional experience have brought me to this place — a place where all of my adult education and professional experience are virtually obsolete and irrelevant. And while that prospect has its own issues to deal with, I have a substantial peace about the next steps. Simply put, I believe God has journeyed with me and shaped me so that I could be right here.
When I first committed to following Jesus, I told him I would go wherever he led me. And if that means following him into a place where everything I’ve learned and worked for must be laid aside, then it is a very simple price to pay in order to journey with him further into his life and likeness.
So how did I get here?
As an associate pastor in a small Vineyard church, I had fully embraced the business model of running a church. Inspired by men like John Maxwell, Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, I strained to create an efficient and effective Christian organization. I spent most of my waking hours trying to design and implement systems for assimilating, training, mobilizing, and reaching people, especially leaders. And on a personal level, I was doing everything I counseled others to do in order to grow as Christians — Sunday worship attendance, small group attendance, tithing, evangelism, daily quiet time, teaching Sunday school, reading the Bible in a year, serving in ministries, praying for people, practicing spiritual gifts and more.
And yet, something was terribly wrong. I was always stressed, frustrated, and angry. I was consuming caffeine non-stop and taking Tylenol like candy for my constant headaches. The worst thing was how I had learned to create a happy “ministry” exterior to cover up this internal mess. I could be smiling and joking with someone that I was fuming over and he would never know it.
And then I crashed. I had a burnout crisis that is still very vivid in my memory after all of these years. The despair and self-loathing I felt at that moment still haunts me.
I crawled away from that moment completely broken. I could do only one thing — cling to Jesus. I spent most mornings in a local coffee shop just resting in Jesus’ presence. I listened to worship music, prayed, read Scripture and journaled. But these were no longer activities I did to grow as a Christian. They became communion with Jesus. I quickly became aware that I had spent years amassing Bible knowledge, developing organizational skills, and engaging in Christian activities with very little, if any, inward transformation into Christ’s likeness.
I learned painfully that the system one uses is designed to produce the results one experiences. In other words, my broken inner life was the direct result of how I lived my life as a Christian and a pastor. It was because of how I lived my life, not despite it, that I was in such a mess. My theology and my practices were broken. And simply trying to “do better” or “try harder” would ultimately create the same results.
So my focus changed to following Jesus into his likeness and allowing his ministry to be the natural outflow of his character and life within me. I would still do my job as a pastor, but everything began changing. My theology began changing as I realized that virtually every aspect — christology, bibliology, soteriology, eschatology, missiology, cosmology — was distorted and therefore contributed to my ill health. This in turn changed my teaching and preaching. And it changed how I worked as a pastor. I could still do my job, but how I did it and why I did it had changed. Over time I began to sense health.
And over time I began to sense something else.
I was becoming a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I was no longer fitting in the church I helped build and pastor. The lasting changes I was experiencing on a personal level and trying to realize on a corporate level would require a hugely different church paradigm in order to see them reproduced within the congregation’s life. In the end, I probably created more disruption than was necessary.
Through a series of circumstances, God orchestrated my departure for the sake of my health as well as the church’s. Mark, who was also on staff with me at the Vineyard, left as well. We, and a few families close to us, received the leadership’s blessing to go and try to develop something new, a missional community.
To be continued…