Solid!

Solid.

That’s my impression of every single missionary family I met last week. Simply put, they are solid people.

Solid in their convictions.

Solid in their life.

Solid faith.

Solid marriages.

Solid families.

Solid kids with solid faiths of their own.

Solid.

If I were starting a church, I’d want any one of them planting with me. I would want them as elders, and ministry leaders. When we worshiped, the singing was genuine, and when they would pray, it was bold and meaningful.

These people get it.

Enter the interesting paradox. Given the opportunity to describe themselves in three words, I doubt any of them would use the word “solid,” or any of its synonyms. There was a humility about them. It was one thing they all had in common. It was humility born of struggle and heartache. A bi-product of moving away from family, of feeling alone in a new culture.

As one minister put it, “When you get to a new culture, it’s very strange. The very essence of your calling, mission and job is communication, yet you can’t even ask anyone where the bathroom is.”

John [the apostle] recorded John [the Baptizer] as saying of Jesus, “I must become less, he must become more” (John 3:30). Then Paul proceeded to call himself the least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9), the least of the believers (Eph. 3:8), and the least of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). As his view of himself decreased, Jesus was glorified.

I think that is what has happened with these missionaries. Those that have stuck with it for the long term—who have struggled through being the new guy, struggled through learning a new culture, being worth very little (in a pragmatic sense) because of an inability to communicate, struggled through questioning the decisions they’d made, struggled through a life apart from everything comfortable, not to mention taking on the challenge of raising support from the generosity of others—those people have been humbled. They have become less, and their passion for the gospel has only grown stronger and stronger.

Growth only comes out of struggle. Life grows in the valley, regardless of how grand the mountain peaks may be. As one worship song says, “There may be pain in the night, but Joy comes in the morning.”

This isn’t to say they don’t have issues. Or sins to deal with. Or disagreements with spouses, church members and kids. This doesn’t mean their kids never run into trouble, or that everything is always hunky-dory. In fact, I got to see a few very small examples of some of these while I was with them.

Because they are real about it.

Because they aren’t shaken by it.

Because they have been through the fire and come out “without the smell of fire on them” (Daniel 3:27).

Because they are solid.

I want to be solid.

Back From Vacation (Sabbath?)

Today is our first day back from vacation. It was a great week in the Cape Fear area of North Carolina.

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We got to take our little guy to the beach for the first time, and it was just a great opportunity to regroup as a family. We had no wifi and phone reception was very spotty. So we spent time together. We rested when we were tired. We went out and found something to do when we were bored. We played, sang, swam and snuggled (the little guy’s expiration on snuggles will come all too soon, we hear). It was incredibly relaxing and refreshing.

I noticed two things about taking a week away.

First, When you think about it, times like this week were designed by our creator. That was the original intent behind the Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for man.” (Mark 2:27). Every week we would take a day out to rest and recreate. In Old Testament Israel, there was even a Sabbath year every seven years, where no planting or harvesting was done (hence, our word, “sabbatical”). And every seventh Sabbath year was a Jubilee (or a real shindig). We need times to rest, recreate and recharge, even if it’s not out-of-town.

Second, by the time we left, we were ready to get back. I was itching to write again, and just dying for a new book to read. Mallorie was ready to be home, too, and to get back into a more normal routine. That’s the funny thing about good, Sabbath rest. It gives you a renewed appreciation and excitement for the work you were made to do (yes, we were made to work!). 

So it is good to be back. I’m excited to be posting more often. And I’m starting to think that the Big Guy upstairs knows more about work flow than I do.

The Churchless Pastor is, well, Churchless

“What does ‘Churchless Pastor’ mean, exactly?”

The question has been asked of me several times. The question mostly stems from the fact that this churchless pastor has been, for the last year, churched. A year ago my wife, son and I packed up and moved to Muncie, Indiana, to take my first full-time pastorate. During that year, the idea of the “churchless pastor” was born. As of a week ago, it became a reality.

On June 1, 2012 we moved here, and on June 2, 2013 I preached my last sermon.

While I’ve been writing in this blog for months, I’m now officially churchless. Mallorie, Cade and I will be moving back to Louisville, KY (which always felt like home, even while we were in Indiana) and taking steps toward a slower less busy life.

So what happened?

The short answer is that we bit off more than we could chew. Many people have done great things while in grad school, and I’m not the first trying to tackle ministry and graduate school at the same time. However, the last 366 days have reinforced some truths that I have held for a long time but was not wise enough to listen to:

  1. Life is not supposed to be as high-octane as American culture has made it. We need time to think, time to talk, time to invest in relationships and time for God in our daily and weekly rhythms.
  2. My first and most important ministry is my family. Therefore life must be structured in a way that they are my first investment.
  3. I don’t know what “ministry” looks like for me yet.

School was not getting the attention it deserves, Mallorie felt she & Cade were getting the short end of the stick 5+ nights a week, and certain responsibilities at the church were not getting done. In short, a lot of people can manage that; I didn’t feel it was wise to keep trying.

So what is the “churchless pastor” about?

Here’s the deal: while a lot of people “get out of ministry” because of burnout, that’s not my deal. I’m not burnt out. In fact, even if I were, I believe whole-heartedly that we are disciples called to make disciples who make disciples. We are all in ministry, even when we “get out.” There’s a false dichotomy saying that you are either “in ministry” or a “volunteer/lay person/bystander” to ministry.

We’ve got to fight that false separation.

So I’ve left the church and am pursuing a passion. I want to equip those “volunteers/lay persons/bystanders” to engage in their faith. If that is you, YOU ARE A MINISTER! You are called to go make disciples, to live life abandoned to God. You are called to think about why you are a Christian, to read the word and see the AMAZING story that God is telling about you, me and everyone who has ever – or will ever – live. 

I have left a “church” so that I could be a pastor, but maybe a pastor without a “church.” A pastor whose church is a little more scattered, a pastor whose “church” is united despite being comprised of strangers.

Hence, I am a “churchless” pastor.

And I hope that the ideas I share here are, first of all, faithful to the Word, but second of all helpful. I am excited about this stage in life and the opportunity to write, and I am excited to share the discipleship journey with all of you.

Let’s jump in together!

-Nick