Tag Archives: development

The Development Pastor at One Year

dancingI wrote about Rachel at one month. I got excited about Julie and Jerome at one month. But I have not said too much about myself as I have been moving through this interesting transition year. Someone wondered why. So here I am. I’m almost a year into being the “Development Pastor.” I’m telling some of my own story.

My new role feels a bit like my village was raided and we needed to move — it is more of a transition than I expected! It is life-changing, but it is also life-affirming, in the sense that a lot of what God gave me along the way is like a tool chest for this new territory.

No, I did not retire

I went to the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ in July (like I have every other year for decades) and must have been asked twenty times, “How is retirement?” I’m shaking my head as I write. Retirement?!

I might have said, “I wish retirement!” (since 60somethings supposedly thirst for it), but I don’t wish.

My new role in the church is less hands on and supposedly less time (not yet, really), but it is no less an occupation to which I feel called and fully deployed. I actually started another part-time profession when I began to apply my new doctorate to psychotherapy in Circle Counseling’s new digs at 1226 S. Broad St. So I won’t be retiring any time soon.

That is odd.

It is odd for the founding pastor of a church to step away and let his descendants take over. Usually, they wheel him out in a coffin or wheel him into a fancy office where he can keep looking like he presides over everything. Or, if that doesn’t work out, he just disappears and leaves the future of the church to “whatever.” I think many people think disappearing is more normal than transitioning to another role in the body—fired, tired or expired, you are supposed to go.

But last week Gwen and I sat in our usual spot at the South Broad Sunday meeting — we still like it right up front. But that is as close to “up front” as I got. I have been asked several times if taking a back seat feels sad for me. I must miss giving speeches. Or worse, I must feel disappeared, since, in the past, people came to see me like I was an episode of The Big Bang Theory and now there is a crime drama at that time so they are into crime drama and forgot The Big Bang. A lot of pastors do disappear when they are not in front every week. It is actually sort of pastor protocol for them to not infect the career of their successors. Instead, I was sitting next to Rachel last week.

I don’t miss it that much.  I never really thought being “up front” was the heart of my leadership, anyway —  I never found myself in the footlights, I guess. And Circle of Hope is more of a tribe than a production company, anyway, so I grew into another role. That feels right to me. I am still a member of the tribe; I’m just doing something else that fits where I am and where we are now. I suppose it does seem odd that our employees are not mere interchangeable parts we could order out of a catalog, but that’s how we are.

What do you do now?

One of the Coordinators asked this question the other day even though I report to them every week. I think I have been predictable so long it is unnerving to let me change, “If you are not that, what could you possibly be?” Sometimes I feel like that too. We’re all getting a handle on it. I think of what I do now as all about the future.  Circle of Hope has an amazing identity and a wonderful community. I am all about developing us to take who we are and move it into the future God is laying out for us as a whole church. We are a much bigger deal than we used to be and we have a bigger responsibility to develop and use what we have been given. I think the world and the church needs us to be deep, conscientious and strong.

The three big titles in the description of what I do are Formation, Teaching, and Development.

  • Formation is about spiritual and psychological health – I try to give the church tools (like Daily Prayer and the Way of Jesus), but mostly this is about personal counseling, mentoring and spiritual direction.
  • Teaching is more obvious – sometimes I am back up front, but all over the church in the Sunday meetings and training times. I invent and organize Gifts for Growing (like the 30something Retreat and Doing Theology coming up). I write like this.
  • Development is the largest area right now – we have new systems to use to build our institution and we have new needs to face as we grow. I’m into developing all the systems and facing the needs. I help the Leadership Team grow (that’s my main team). I often deal with conflict and goal setting. I help with the practical matters of moving over the edge into new territory. Somebody noticed that it was nice to have “your very own older person” around — things happen when you are out on the edge.

What is our edge?

What the church has done with me and how we are multiplying a congregation right now is so remarkable people have a hard time understanding it. I love how we can take risks and let the Spirit empower us and save us. If you are not excited about that, I think you ought to be. You are edgy. But there are further places to move.

I think we are going to go against the grain of the Northeast’s spiritual devolution and keep church planting. Plus, like our Map says this year, I think we are going to create a mutuality web that is the antidote to the soul-crushing individualism being written into law in the United States. What’s more, I think our new ideas for “good business” are going to start a very practical expression of our creativity. Those are the first things that come to mind.

What about teens? What about urban parenting? What about school care? What about finding a voice for alternativity? What about art? Climate change? There is a lot going on, and there should be. It is a challenging era to be a Jesus follower and we have been given a lot to contribute to the Lord’s cause.

What gives you strength?

I’ve had several conversations that pointed this out to me this week. I realized that my capacity is all learned. I have some native ability to do what I do, of course. But most of what I need has been an acquisition, a gift received, not an inner discovery.

  • Simplicity – My money is a tool. My success does not define me. Life is what I am living. I stick with my calling.
  • Centered prayer – Silence and contemplation are essential. Being with Jesus all day is a joy.
  • Teaming – I don’t do anything alone. Relationships of love are how the best things get done. I am a covenant member of the body of Christ.
  • Focus on goals – I like getting things done and I will risk failure to do them. I try to keep it simple and determine to do what I can actually accomplish. I am not a perfectionist. Thinking and acting ahead is important.
  • Reading widely (and yes FB and Twitter) – Nothing much is new under the sun, I may just not know it yet. I think the art of repurposing is more important than invention most of the time. Humility and foolishness lead to good things; I listen from that vantage point.

What will be new?

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable after writing all this about myself. Presuming that someone is interested in me is not in my inner script. But I got to the end of it so the curious would feel more secure about what is happening in their church. It is odd. The new me is kind of odd, I guess. But I hope the change is very good. I am not sure what will happen, but a few things are coming into focus:

  • I hope my next ten years are full of children: spiritual children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.
  • I am going to enjoy letting go of our “2nd act” structures, once they can all walk —many of our innovations are still babies.
  • I intend to do more psychotherapy and spiritual direction.
  • I already write more.
  • I expect to teach more in the Hallowood Institute Gwen is founding, as well as throughout Circle of Hope.
  • I will apply myself to whatever I am given by God as I have always tried to do.
  • And, of course, Circle of Hope will be new. It is changing right now before our very eyes. Like I said, I actually feel a bit uprooted from the pleasant valley we used to live in. But I look forward to what will become of this much larger place into which we have entered. Much of it is unexplored, but what I have seen is beautiful! I look forward to what it becomes in much the same way I wonder if the baby’s eyes will stay blue — it is yet to be revealed but a sweet anticipation.

New developments

Development is hard. For instance: The crew and I, led by the devoted foreman Ben Blei, are in the last throes of finishing the project down the street at 1226 S. Broad. All the details we missed are becoming evident. All the last-minute demands to meet the deadlines are irritating us. Relationships that need to work, but don’t work that well, are becoming obvious. Our limitations are also becoming obvious. There are a lot of problems associated with developing an old abandoned building. There are good reasons people don’t take on big projects like that.

As I was writing that line, someone emailed and told me they were as good as an abandoned building and God started developing them! But they had some good reasons why they did not want to get with that program: details, demands, relationship issues, limitations, etc, etc. It is exciting whenever I hear about someone who is in the throes of developing faith! Because the main development project people resist taking on is themselves.

That kinds of sums up the focus of my new job. I’m now the “development pastor.” It is a big idea for a job description, in that I am going to get practical about how we get from here to there as the whole church, Circle of Hope. But it is also a very small idea, in that I am going to have more time to be devoted to individuals, especially the leaders, as they move into their future in Christ.

I am excited. I even renamed this blog to make that clear!

I need to develop and I want to help others develop

That’s probably the same as you – we’re on the same team after all. I just get to lead in it. We all need to develop — we’re doing it one way of another. I want to follow Christ into my fullness.

To develop in Christ means one has some kind of experiential knowledge of spiritual things that moves them to action — not just book knowledge, or secondhand knowledge or even Circle of Hope knowledge. You know God and that relationship is developing. I first learned this when I finally read the Bible and saw in Romans 8 that people who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. In all our talk about our “second act” we have been devoted to risking that the people of our church will be led by the Spirit: we’re trusting Christ to be at work in all of us; we’re trusting each other to keep developing as people in Christ and to resist settling into some placeholder life.

The last time I spoke in a Sunday meeting I offered three basic things we all need to hold on to if we are going to keep developing as individuals in Christ and keep developing as the Lord’s church. Let me briefly list them again.

  • Take incarnation seriously

The finite manifests the infinite, the physical is the doorway to the spiritual — like Jesus the incarnate Son of God is our way to eternity. This is the way to that. There are not sacred and profane places or moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places and moments. Christ in YOU is the hope of glory. Christ in US makes us the incarnation of the Lord in the here and now. To develop, take that honor seriously. You and we are important, no matter what voice inside or big power from outside tells us.

love tatoo

Continue reading New developments

Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #6

In September of 2012 I tried to encourage people to change when change was upon them, not hold on to their past and die off, spiritually.

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes whisper, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like I am losing faith or am destined for faith mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t move me anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department. He is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off, and isolated from his colleagues at work. In a strange turn of events, his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheikh and the sheikh’s sexy wealth-manager. Things begin to change. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own transformation.

Continue reading Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

What if I don’t feel God anymore?: Ewan McGregor on spiritual development

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes surreptitiously ask, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like a mundane Christian destined for mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

Ewan McGregor’s development parable

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department who is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off and cut off from relationships with his colleagues. When his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheik and the sheik’s wealth-managing, sexy assistant, things begin to transform. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own change.

The movie is a somewhat odd story about getting salmon to thrive and reproduce in the Yemeni desert. At one crucial point, they have created a lake and a fish ladder and they have stocked the lake with farm-bred salmon (because the wild fish were too precious for enthusiasts to part with). The farm-bred fish are like Ewan McGregor, staid and stuck in a holding tank. Ewan has sat in his cubicle for a long time not really doing anything; he has sat in his depressing marriage not having children and not really making love. The question about these farm-bred salmon is: will they swim upstream, as salmon instinctively must do to reproduce?

As with all good parables, you are already asking the question: “Will I?” What about my development?

will they develop?They tensely watch from the dam and are sure their whole, huge experiment is a bust. But right when they are ready to give up, one salmon leaps out of the water and soon all of them are turning around and getting up the ladder and up the stream. Excitement ensues.

But then something horrible happens. Just like Ewan experienced in the middle of his new project when his wife decided to leave him, some person who thinks the sheik is a liberal threat to Yemeni culture blows up the dam and most of the fish are left high and dry. Just a little creek is left of the water project. They are sure all is lost. Ewan does not know what to do. But as he despondently looks over the project, one lone, surviving fish leaps in the air. They were not all killed! A lot died, but something new hung on. Their previous idea for the water project was still in pieces, but a new and better result sprang up from ruins of their work.

Ewan felt like a dried up scientist destined for the mundane. He tried something new and it didn’t work just right and he did not know what to do. Something unexpected took place as a result of him taking some initiative. He endured the loss of what was and entered into what is next.

If you don’t feel God, that is probably what is happening to you.

First of all, no one can really answer the questions, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” because you are precious you. One size does not fit all when it comes to faith.

Second of all, I have some ideas about what might be going on. Don’t give up!

1)  Your childhood faith might be wearing out. It usually needs to move from head to heart.

I use the running the bases chart to talk about how we know God. It implies that we are always developing. That is a good thing, even though it includes feeling the uncertainty of moving further and the loss of standing safely on a base. The “game” is ongoing.

A lot of Christians only get to first base when it comes to understanding God. They have kind of a teenager faith. Many people come to faith when they are teenagers and they never get much farther than their original understanding. If you don’t experience the presence of God, maybe God moved on and you stopped following!

Old feelings pass away, but deeper feelings are in store. Spiritual “feelings” that are deeper than the reactions we learned in childhood are being developed in our much larger and deeper new eternal family.

2) You are going through a change of season and you need some new disciplines.

Just think about what is the center of having a “first base” faith in Jesus: knowing the Bible. It is quite a feat to achieve a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about, much more to feel secure about the way you are going to do the word.  It takes a lot of concentration to just get started. It might be tempting to stay on the first base of faith, or second, or wherever you are, even though that season of development is over.

In the case of reading the Bible, it can’t stay at the level of merely understanding concepts. For instance, the Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. From reading the Bible we gain a collection of basic approaches to laying a personal, spiritual foundation that must accompany our reading. Meditating on the Bible saturates us with the truth and love that is revealed. We’re not just reading the words, we are responding to God and forming our relationship.

If that relationship does not keep changing and growing, something is stuck. In a new season we are called to run the bases at a deeper level. Our original idea of what they meant, as good as it might have been, turns out to have something deeper behind it.

3) You are experiencing psychological development

In our relationships with God we are always working on basic trust. We develop in the Spirit a lot like children develop in their families. Rather than milk we need solid food. Eventually, we need to develop agency. We have to endure losses and become adult. What doesn’t kill us helps us grow, it is said, and that is mostly true.

If you are wondering why you don’t feel God, it could be depression or anxiety talking. These symptoms are “friends” that alert us to deeper things happening in our souls. They may not feel like friends, but they are signposts of change. The uncomfortable feelings we often prefer to avoid are actually important to our spiritual development. The destruction of dams we thought should never be blown up often results in something better we never could have predicted.

Close relationships and young marriages often go through a lot of anger and hurt as the partners push one another to develop. When children are added to a family they push people farther. Losing one’s job or losing a loved one calls us to become deeper, to trust God. We need to listen to our anger, listen to the sadness and other feelings behind it and find out what it developing. Let’s not merely fight, flee or freeze in a self-defeating way, our typical way, the old way. Jesus is a new way.

Thinking over a parable, reading this blog post, relating to what is said, trying to stay open to God (even if you think your relationship is in a holding tank that feels less than fresh), are all ways to start moving in a new direction. You have spiritual instincts that are always ready to kick in.

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