Yep. I'm gonna tell the whole story. Well at least the whole highlight reel of the story and I will let you make up your own mind about where we are, because it has been a crazy few months. I'm also going to begin posting on this blog. Some posts will be repeated on a church plant blog that I am also going to create just to sort out posts about just church planting stuff.
But here we go...
Some of you know more of the story than others, so I am going to fill all of you in on the last few years and months of our lives, just to frame what we are doing in a way that makes sense.
Keep in mind for this retelling that I grew to know and experience God through a church that I was at when it began (a church plant). That particular church had a different feeling at that time than any other church that I have ever been at. (I am not saying that to put down other
churches that I have been at. Some churches should feel different than others, no question. But this particular church is a church that desperately cared for people, broken people, needy people, hurt people, questioning people, confused people, ANY people. There were good things and bad things about that church, and I honestly believe that because of the people at that church who mentored me, and the people that I worked with and spent time with, I got an even different feel from that church than many other people had. I realize that my nature is to set this feeling and this perception of this church on a pedestal, and to idealize my skewed remembrance of this place. But I have thought those things through and that is not what I am doing.
There was a feeling at that place that made me know and believe that there are people who want to live as a community of God in very Matthew 5 types of ways, honestly confessing to each other, helping each other and growing together. That feeling and those people were a big part of starting me on a path of growth.
All of that was a preface...
That past feeling has created a need and desire in my life to see others live that way. Expecting God to do something, expecting people to open to each other and live deeply together, and reaching out to not only draw other people in, but also going out and infecting other people with that spirit and feeling.
I should stop talking about the feeling, because you are probably thinking that it is some unobtainable and over blown sentiment that I have built up too much.
In many church moments that I have been in since, it wasn't just that there was a different feeling, many times, there was no feeling, or a feeling that a church should be something that exists for itself. Some of the feelings that I have experienced from chur
ches that I have been in since at their best moments have been:
-desires to fill seats
-goals of increasing budgets to support programs and facilities
-desires to make the people on the outside of the church look and act like the people on the inside
-a blind eye to incredible amounts of selfishness and sin of church leaders
-the attitude that the people in the congregation are ignorant compared to the staff
-a desire to disciple people who have more primary needs
-a desire to educate people who have more primary needs
-a desire to rebuke peoples' sin without dealing with bigger issues
-a desire to placate people because of their financial support of the church
Whoa, whoa, whoa...Mike. Are you saying that these churches were this depraved, that they cared more about money than people?!
NO! That's not at all what I am saying. I need to qualify and explain this so that you don't get the wrong idea. In fact, when you look at all of these statements, there are good and bad parts to each of them. Most of these statements characterize churches who want to bring more people in, churches that want to educate, and disciple, churches that want to deal with the things that separate people from a relationship with God.
What I am saying is that there are times when the necessities of money and facility get in the way of people, there are times when good people with good desires get tunnel vision that makes them lose perspective on what the church is about.
And of course, I was the angel who always maintained the Biblical, Jesus perspective on all of these issues.. Right? Nope, that wasn't me at all. I got caught up in almost every one of those feelings at one time or another. I wanted my program to be the biggest and best and holiest. I wanted to be recognized for my ability to do ministry. I wanted people to pour their money and time into my ministries so that other people would come in and say: WOW! This place must have the best youth pastor ever!
I was corrupted by wrong motives over and over again. I was filled with selfish and self gratifying desires time and time again.
I wasn't immune to all of that stuff. I was participating in it, I was justifying my own ambitions by saying, and trying to make myself believe that it was all for God. But there
was too much of me in there.
I want to be sure that you know that I don't hold any of the pastors that I worked for or with as responsible for all of that. All three of the pastors I have worked for over the past decade were gifted and talented in so many ways. Craig was one of the warmest and caring and genuine Pastors that I have ever met. John was an incredible visionary and manager who could inspire commitment in people's lives, Allan is one of the most talented and funny communicators I have ever been around. None of them were perfect, all of them were special and taught me a lot. All of them cared deeply about their church and the people who attended it. No doubt.
At each of those churches I have met and worked with amazing people. People rich with personality and passion. Unique people who can't be duplicated anywhere.
Each of those churches, talented and gifted leaders, amazing and unique people in the congregation. But in each of those places, I tried to create something like what I had felt before. I'll make it clear here that, no, I don't live in the past and don't think that I can have those feelings back. What I was trying to create, was that kind of passion and purpose. I could be like many youth pastors or church staffers that I know who complain that the Senior Pastor, or the Board, created a place where this could not happen.
But when it comes down to it, it was not the fault of the Senior Pastor, they are supposed to cast the vision for their church and teach others to communicate it well. It is certainly not the fault of the board or congregation. Though all of those entities change the persona of the church by their presence and decisions, a vast majority of board members and church congregants, seemed willing to follow and grow.
If you are looking for someone to blame, there are two choices that I will give you:
-You can either say: "it is too difficult for one staff member to change the ethos or persona of the whole church themselves! It is a systemic fault in all large churches." And I will agree, it was not my place to overstep leadership and demand my way so that everyone can conform to what I want all of us to feel. I will also agree that large churches in today's culture have huge challenges to keep the focus off of programs, budgets, staffing, facilities and ON people.
-Or you can say: "The common denominator in all of those situations is YOU Mike!" And I will also agree. I certainly got distracted and caught up in all of those challenges. I certainly was full of selfishness at times. But, I will say, to be honest: the bigger problem with me was that there were too many times where I could have taken a stand and didn't, where I could have made waves and valued harmony too much. There are too many times when I saw w
rong things happening and just wrote it off as: "that's just who they are, or how they see things." There are too many times when I could have risked, but I chose to remain silent, or stationary, or even worse went along with things that I did not agree with.
I can not tell you the number of times when I knew that I should have, or could have done, but I remained silent because it would create too much disharmony, or because it would put a key staff member or volunteer against me, or because it would overshadow other ministries or take an inordinate proportion of budget away from other good things that were happening.
I didn't risk, simply because it would have put me in a place in which I am not generally comfortable, in conflict. Some of these risks may have cost me my job, or would have painted me in a poor light to my superiors. Risking my job, meant risking my house and f
inances and the comfort of my family. But by not risking those things, I have been living as something that I am not. Or rather, I have not let myself or my family be who they could have been.
I have not only deprived myself of happiness for the sake of other people's harmony, I have also deprived my family of the husband and dad that I truly am. I have deprived my churches of knowing the leader and pastor that I know that I am. This isn't to say that I have not let myself out at times, or that relationships have been fake or untrue with me. What I am saying is that everything has been watered down. I wasn't living a lie at all. But I wasn't living fully in the truth. When it comes down to it, there have been few people that I have known that have lived in the honesty and truth that I am talking about. Seriously, most of the people that I have known, and have worked with, the staff members, the parents of the youth that I have ministered to, most of them have made it clear that they lived in the same paradigm but in different circumstances. Whether it has been working at a job that they don't like because they don't think they could qualify for another, going to the "safety college" because it is closer and cheaper than the place where they really want to go, tolerating sexual harassment at work, tolerating disrespect from their spouses, believing that their kids couldn't become obedient or motivated because of their personalities, or many many other reasons or circumstances: most people I know live in this paradigm where staying safe, tolerating less than what they are
worth, and asking too little from themselves at work or in relationships characterizes their everyday lives. I didn't want to live like this.
I want to make it clear here that I wasn't living with some major gross unresolved sin. But my regret is that i did not step up more often and risk. When we created small groups and Flipside in Port Orchard, and when we changed FlipSide and made it better and better, and when we moved to Phoenix, and when we changed Hot Church and created new groups. All of those were bold moves were glimpses into what God was doing in me. Those all took hard work and passion. But, I often wonder how much different or better each would have been had I stood up and moved forward daily with the same risk and passion that it took to create those groups and the trips and the moments that came out of them. Risking more would have brought me more disharmony and discomfort, and who knows, it may have gotten me fired at times. I would probably have more scars. Hopefully, I would have picked the right times and issues for which to take a stand. I always did pride myself on knowing which battles to choose, but more often than not, that may have been a justification to stay out of any battles.
So recently I took a chance. I felt a call to step out and take every risk in the book at the same time. I will talk about this call in another post at another time. The short of it is that not only did I feel a call to plant a church, I felt a need to do it. I felt a real choice inside of me that said I could either continue on doing what I was doing only taking the smaller risks and only letting the watered down version of me out; and I could do this for the rest of my life and the rest of my ministry. OR, I could finally take the risk.
Maybe God sets things up like this. Maybe there was a sense in God's call that because of how long I had been sheltering myself and my family and my churches and the people I ministered from the whole me, maybe I would have to take every risk in the book. Maybe I would have to risk our home and financial security, and good salary, and our place at a nice and fun church in a safe and good neighborhood, with our putting green and pool. This risk, presented itself as the hurdle to getting to where we wanted to go, and also as the very clear choice that I could continue in safety, knowing that there was more of me to give; or to let go of everything that seemed so stable, risk it all and be the real me.
Let me make it clear. God called me to risk it all. But it was not the risk I trumped it up to be. I was not risking my relationship with Kim, she has always been in my corner and I have never felt that so solidly as right now. I was risking her finances, and I was risking my kids security at many levels. But, one thing I have learned in the last few months is that God has ALWAYS stepped up and been a provider and protector. I was done working half way through May, Kim was done at the end of July and somehow we have still made it this far.
For those of you who don't know the logistics...
We were asked to interview for a Church Planting position in Washington State, which basically meant that there was some funding in place, provided by a church that wanted to see a new church start and reach new people. We interviewed and the opportunity was put on hold. We didn't know what we should do.
I had felt a call to planting for quite a while, but never was the call so strong. I quit my job, without knowing where we were going, but knowing that the only way to move forward was to quit my past and move ahead. We then had a choice: figure out how to plant a church in Phoenix, or figure out how to plant a church in Washington state (which is where I felt a real desire to go to.)
The easier plan was to plant in Phoenix. So we started thinking this way. Until a couple of friends suggested that we not do the easiest thing. We got confirmation when we started thinking this way. The original group who called us about the plant in Washington, and not long after, I was offered a solid job where I could be a bi-vocational pastor. A friend would pay me to manage a pizza store, and would pay benefits for my family too.
This would be difficult, but it was real and it was a way. So we started planning this way. Until our friend from Washington State called us again. Because the Pizza job was a one year commitment and would start almost immediately (and was not able to be postponed), I had a choice. I could pursue the Washington church plant which was like a dream come true, or I could take the pizza job and see what happens. Let me make it clear, because the Pizza job was a sure thing offered by a such a good person with a good heart, it was safer. The risk was to try for the Washington church plant for which I would only know if I was able to do it after I went through an assessment. This assessment could have told us that we were not able or ready or qualified to plant a church.
We went to the assessment. We risked it all again. We were moving to Washington regardless, but this would determine whether we would have a job when we got there or not.
The assessment was grueling. We threw our whole selves into it. We were given assignments late in the day to be ready by morning. We could have done the minimum, but we stayed up almost all night, both nights, we spent money on them, we worked as hard as we could. And we did well.
I don't know whether we would have gotten the thumbs up from the church planting assessment if we did the minimum, and I don't know if us going all out with effort made the difference. But I will tell you this, it made the difference for me. It not only showed me how much I wanted this, and how much I was called to do this and able to do this, it showed me that I am ready to go all out. I am ready to risk it all and put myself out there. Putting ourselves out there helped convince me that I will be better when I fully put it all on the line.
They did give us the thumbs up, or green light or whatever. And I have to tell you that even though it was only 3 days. It was more meaningful to me that any graduation I have ever been through. I never put it all out there in High School or College.
So I moved us here. Knowing that I had risked it all, and we are only just beginning. There are a lot more risks to come. There is a lot more of me to pour out there.
There are a couple of times in this move where I have forgotten how much God is providing for us and have been filled with worry or fear, but at every level, God meets our needs. Even renting a house, I was tempted to go the easy road and choose second best. But I decided to risk it and negotiate for the owner of the house that we liked to bring it to the same price as our lower priced "safe" choice. I told them that I would walk away, if they didn't. We did get the house.
We are in Marysville, right next to Lake Stevens. We are clearly seeing an area of need in this place and area ready to go all out to be a part of this community and to start a church where people will feel like I felt 15 years ago.
I want to feel at home in my own skin. I want to love the place where I live and love the people in this place. I want to pour everything I have out here. There is not even a part of me that imagines that this road is going to be easy. But I already made that choice. I said bye, bye to easy and chose risk.
If you are asking where we are at, there is one simple answer: We are home.
** My Disclaimers
1. By saying that I did not risk and put myself out there in relationships, I want whoever reads this to know that I was not "fake" in my relationships. In fact, I feel very fortunate to have the friends that I have. But I have not risked enough to move relationships to deeper levels. I don't regret any relationships that I have made. My regrets are the ones that I either didn't make, or never had more depth of discussion and care.
2. I want to make it clear that in no way am I faulting any church, pastor, board, or congregant for anything. In fact, I really treasure time at each of those places. If anything, I fault myself for not investing even more of myself.
3. I also want to make it clear that I am very proud of many things that I have been a part of in ministry over the years. The groups, small groups, trips, the way the spirit moved in Mexico more than once, the creation of small groups and FlipSide in Port Orchard, the changes that we made in Hot Church. There have certainly been times where I have been moved to be a part of very special ministries at each of these churches. All of those things took a lot of hard work and were glimpses into what I was called to do.