A Story about a Church: Something Has to Change!
“Why is that life – that joyful life with Jesus – so hard to experience now? What is it about the way we are living life that makes such moments exceptional, and why on earth can they not be normative?”
She had me at “why.”
She was right.
In my heart, I sensed that something had to change.
In order to answer her question, “Why is that life so hard to experience now,” I did some research. I was hoping to find a book from someone who’d experience the same or similar thing and then learned how to practice the with-God life in the midst of the day-to-day grind.
A Journey into the With-God Life
While thumbing through an edition of Christianity Today, I stumbled onto an advertisement for a book from a new author, Ruth Haley Barton.
The title of the book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, immediately caught my attention.
It sounded exactly like the kind of thing for which Melissa was searching!
The book told the story of a young woman who had served a church at the highest levels of leadership, in one of America’s most prolific and influential churches at the time. Her story, to my surprise, was not one of celebration and joy, but one of sadness and heartache.
I ordered the book for Melissa.
She began reading it – really devouring it – and sensing that such a way of life is possible and it could be realized without enduring the pain of chemotherapy.
Back to Normal?!?
Of course, as is the case for most of us, if you aren’t willing to go all the way with things that matter the most, those things typically become pleasant memories of a life-once-longed for but simply not achievable.
In our case, parenting, pastoring, and the endless responsibilities of raising a family began to squeeze everything else out.
Life was pleasantly, in some ways, back to normal. The kids loved having mom back and enjoyed watching every inch of her hair as it grew again! The congregation was growing in numbers and our ‘best days’ seemed to be right in front of us. I was leading a small team of three full-time pastors, two full-time support staff, and enjoying every minute of it.
Yet, none of my achievements, growth, or momentum in ministry that I was experiencing could quiet the whisper in my soul. A whisper wooing me back to the place where I desired Christ more than I desired achievement and accomplishment.
Over time the whisper grew to a low-roar.
Melissa and I both continued to sense that changes were coming. We sensed that God was inviting us into a new and perhaps deeper journey with Him.
When the Whisper Becomes a Roar
Then, one evening, while cooking on the grill, the whisper-roar became a vision that changed everything. And, while I didn’t hear an audible voice, I was impressed to write the following words that I believe came directly from our Lord:
“Dear son, please know this: I am not a proposition to prove, a program to purchase, or a system to manage. I am a person to be discovered and a relationship to enjoy.”
Though I’ve conveyed this story at length elsewhere, all I need to say here is that I knew – at that moment – that things were about to change. I had no idea, however, just what that change would bring to us and what it would require of us.
I soon learned that it required more than I expected or was prepared to give. It also delivered more joy and peace than I ever thought or imagined possible!
Indeed, the change in direction would require deep, ongoing, and often painful inner change. This image of God as a person to discover and relationship to enjoy meant the internal waters that fed my soul needed to be nourished by the living well.
Surrender: An Ongoing Journey of Relinquishment
Practically speaking, this meant dying-to-self.
I had to surrender the need to be nourished by my accomplishments in ministry, my success in marriage, and my triumphs as a parent. Fundamentally this new vision meant that all my loves (stealing an Augustinian idea) needed to be reordered.
Of course, this meant that I needed to be willing to surrender, or at the very least, re-frame, everything I believed to be true about church-work and ministry-life.
In one portion of Ruth’s book, she quotes Psalm 46:10, where the author encourages us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Accentuating the depth within and behind moments of silence, Barton reminds the reader that the core of the Hebrew phrase “be still” suggests something akin to, “let go of your grip.”
“Let go of your grip.”
This is precisely the message Christ was delivering both to me and Melissa back in 2009 – 2010.
Little did we know that He would send us out on a church-planting expedition that would demand daily surrender and lead us to a place where we would seek to discern the will of the Lord.
Second, as a couple.
Finally, with a few more.
Now, as a community.
In fact, Pillar is in the midst of a Season of Discernment. A season in which we are striving, as an entire church body, to hear and respond to the will of the Lord together.
Before I tell that story, however, I need to take you back into the bowels of 2010 and 2011. It’s there where God finally granted the clarity and courage to step out in faith!
Disrupting to Renew!