2011 has been quite the adventure. This time last year we decided to head into the church planting world, and a year later New Vintage Church is thriving. Our church community is growing, lives are being changed, and most importantly the Lord is working mightily in very apparent ways. Along with these blessings have come massive challenges to my personal faith. When we decided to start from scratch, I decided to take the opportunity to re-examine a lot of my practices and methodology, which lead to a lot of time in the word, which lead to a lot of challenging growth. Here are some of the bigger things I’ve learned, said, and wrestled with over the last year:
God’s loves us. It’s easy to forget this when things don’t go according to our plan but it’s true. It’s even easier to forget this when tragedies happen, there’s not enough money to buy groceries, or we are so caught up in our own glory that we don’t notice His. All the same, God loves us. Here’s the kicker, God wants to love us. At the top of my list of things that I’ve said the most this year in terms of my own personal faith and encouragement to others, it is that God absolutely, without a doubt wants to love you. You are worth it.
Grace is not a means of accounting, but a way of life. Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that God’s grace was a way of getting us back to a zero sum when it comes to our scorecard with the Lord. I needed just enough grace to get me back on God’s good side and then I was on my own from there. I found myself saying, ‘Just don’t mess up again, God will have to use His grace on you… again’. I felt like I was a burden and constant disappointment to God. Looking back, I’m wondering how I ever smiled. I’ve had the blessing to spend more time in the word this year than ever before. Check that, I took the opportunity to spend more time in the word than I ever have before. What have I learned? That grace is less like a cash register and more like the air we breathe. I heard Dallas Willard say, “We often think of grace in terms of the sinner, but the saint burns through grace like a jet plane burns through fuel on take-off’. Experiencing God’s grace is like that breath of fresh air. It fills the lungs and feeds the soul. Next up on my list of popular phrases this year is, “may you live in the grace of God.”
Church should be a blessing, not a burden. This has been a tough one to wrestle with, because there is so much potential to step on toes here. My prayer has been that as God makes this truth more apparent, that He would accompany that knowledge with the wisdom to express it in a loving and constructive way. That being said, I still fight the urge to over program, over schedule, and over burden our ministry. Fortunately, I am surrounded by a healthy team that keeps that in check. It’s such a slippery slope. Church events are good, we want more of them. Everyone in the church should know each other (still looking for that verse) so everyone should be at as many events as possible. If you are ‘plugged-in’ to the church you will participate in as many events as possible. Pretty soon the calendar is filled with well-intentioned ideas and families are spending more and more time, effort and energy on churchy things, and those that can participate in everything do, while the rest feel guilty because they can’t be at everything and are constantly ‘forsaking the assembly’ which means they are obviously not as faithful. The reality of that is worse than my run-on sentence because we often don’t realize that is the system we have created. Events are good, attendance is great, but whole point of the Church is that we are here to worship God. I find myself spending less time inviting people to events and more time talking about souls; mine and theirs, and where they are with the Lord. From a practical standpoint, it’s so nice to be able to encourage our kids that play sports to be a missionary to their team and not burden them with guilt about not being able to make an event. This year I have found myself saying “live out your faith” so much more than “come to our event”.
More of us, and less of them. Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know people from different types of churches than my particular background, especially youth ministers. Everyone last one of them has a passion for God, teenagers and deepening the connection between the two. We come from different backgrounds, with different names on our buildings and business cards, and I’ve always believed that made us very different. The truth is that we have so much more in common than our divisions would imply. Worshiping God comes in so many different forms and methods. We throw around words like: liberal, conservative, progressive, reformed, traditional, contemporary, etc to try and separate and categorize ourselves. I understand the need and/or inevitability of this, but have learned that these brothers and sisters are allies in ministry, not opponents. We may not agree on everything, but who does? Choosing to work with youth ministers from different backgrounds has given me a much broader perspective on how expansive God’s work really is. It also has me thinking that heaven is going to be much more packed than I had previously believed. This year I find myself saying, “inclusion over exclusion” to so many brothers and sisters I never knew I had.
Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Dad used to say that and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve made decisions over the past few years that were not easy, not popular, and not without consequence. Would I go back and do them again knowing the consequences? Absolutely. Perhaps with kinder, gentler words, and greater explanation, but the answer is still a resounding yes. God never said doing the right thing would be easy, but He did say those who choose to do the right thing are blessed. And that is exactly how I feel. The stress of dealing with friends who aren’t supportive or don’t understand is nothing compared to knowing in your heart you did not do the right thing. Dad used to say it to me, and I find myself saying to others more and more, “doing the right thing isalways the right thing to do”.
One love, one heart.