Pastor, Take a Vacation—for the Good of Your Church – Part 1 of 2

By Stephanie Dyrness

You are not the linchpin holding your congregation together.

I sit on the couch, flipping through my digital calendar, trying to do the math. When can we actually fit in some vacation time? There are so many factors to consider: the launch of the combined summer service, Vacation Bible School, various camps, vacations for other staff members. I also worry about the summer slump, which is already upon us. Can the church really afford not to have their lead pastors present, if only for morale?

My husband and I, co-lead pastors of our church, have the vacation time. All the books and all the ministry blogs and all the professors say pastors must tend to their families, guard their souls, and rest. I know in my heart we need to take more than one week—that in fact we need two in a row—to truly decompress and separate from the beautiful but weighty vocation that is parish ministry.

But so much can happen in two weeks. My mind begins to race. A conflict might emerge, a pressing administrative issue could arise, someone might end up in the hospital with only a good word from my lips able to sustain them. As my thoughts careen out of control, images of a church in tatters, a mass exodus, and possible explosions flood my mind’s eye.

Get a grip, I tell myself.

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The irrational fear and anxiety of taking a mere 14 consecutive days away from my parish has unveiled a wound within me that needs attention.

Why the Anxiety?

Vacation anxiety is not unique to ministry, but the pressure does have a unique faith-flavored flair to it. The stakes feel elevated for those in the field of soul care.

Practical concerns

There are, of course, practical concerns. Who will do what in our absence? How will the everyday, unseen tasks be completed? Who will honor the pulpit and preach faithfully when we’re gone? For those of us who feel a sense of scarcity in terms of local leadership, these practical concerns can paralyze us.

Perceptions

But vacation anxiety runs much deeper than the who, what, and how questions that arise when the pastor is out of town. There is also the anxiety of perception. Some pastors are more prone to this anxiety than others, but it merits mention.

As I plan time away, I find myself explaining, almost defending, our vacation. We haven’t taken any time off in 6 months. Or, We’ve been saving up for a long time to take a trip, and we’re doing it on the cheap, so we’re not being extravagant or anything! I secretly wonder, does my congregation begrudge me the time off? Will they perceive me as disengaged, selfish, and uncommitted to the church and the church’s needs? The fact that my paycheck comes from their tithes and offerings adds a new layer of angst, since I often feel the need to prove I’m worth the investment and that I’m not living large at their expense.

An idolatrous heart

But if I am truly honest with myself, my anxiety surrounding taking adequate time off goes even deeper than the practical concerns or the perceptions. I cannot in good faith say, “It’s them! It’s the congregation with their unreasonable expectations!” Because it is also me, with an idolatrous heart that has participated in and perhaps even propagated the narrative that the life of the church flows from, or at least through, the pastor.

In his ever-timely book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson quotes Hilary of Tours who describes a sin so often committed by pastors: irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.

And there it is: the sin of this pastor’s heart. I could blame the constant deluge of images that portray leaders as an organization’s capstone—the source of inspiration, motivation, and momentum. I could blame those highly “successful” pastors who peddle their systems and theories as necessary to salvation and vital to every church’s life together. I could even blame denominational leaders who present stories of visionary, gregarious leaders to mimic and ensure ecclesial growth and vitality.

But my accusations fall flat. I must take responsibility for the state of my soul and the lies I have believed—lies of my own self-importance, lies that my identity is contingent upon my vocation, even lies about the Spirit’s power to move and transform without direction from me. With that in mind, here are a few commitments I am making as I plan my upcoming vacation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Not Obligation, but Love

By Freya Galindo

Mexico’s big cities contain a multitude of social problems and unfavorable conditions for many people who live in vulnerable situations. Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, is not the exception, even more so because it is a city bordering the United States.

Eleven years ago, aware of this reality, the 1stChurch of the Nazarene in this city decided to set up a civil association dedicated to the formation, development and strengthening of families: “Ministerios Verbo de Vida, A.C.” (Word of Life Ministries).

In 2014, with a desire to meet a more specific need in the area and the goal of serving their community, they decided to use their church’s facilities to open a community soup kitchen through an alliance with the Mexican federal government’s Secretary of Social Development (SEDESOL).

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On August 4 of this year, the soup kitchen will celebrate four years of serving its community. Monday through Saturday, from 7-9 am and from 12-2 pm, food is provided for an average of 100 people, most of whom are senior citizens. In addition to the donations that this soup kitchen receives from SEDESOL, it is also supported by other churches, non-profit organizations and individuals. Pastor Conrado, his wife Petry, and their two children, along with some other volunteers, are the ones who regularly cook and serve in the soup kitchen.

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Recently, as a civil association, they presented a project to the federal government soliciting support to open 5 guitar schools in different parts of the city to provide a teaching space to train children and young people in music. This program is already developed in CERSAI # 3 (Center for Social Reintegration for Adolescent Offenders) in Ciudad Juárez, with 20 adolescents.

Another of the church’s dreams for the future is to open a shelter for immigrants (another social issue prevalent in Ciudad Juárez).

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Pastor Conrado’s words are inspiring as he describes the work they do as a church through the civil association and the community soup kitchen: “We do it with pleasure, not because of obligation, but with love.”

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Thank God for churches in the city that are making a difference through serving their communities!

To learn more about this ministry, visit their Facebook page: Ministerios Verbo de Vida, A.C.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Most churches I’ve been to are designed for someone just like me.

As much as I enjoy the Caribbean flavor of our worship, it is a constant reminder that our service and programs are not designed to reach me—they are designed to speak the heart language and meet the needs of other people in our community.

That’s how it should be, of course. But it strikes me that for all of my life I’ve been part of churches that were actively accommodating to people just like me—people my age and my race and my socioeconomic status. And I never thought of our worship and programs as “how we do church.” I thought of those things as “how people ought to do church.”

The implications of this lesson don’t stop with my past church experience. It’s become clearer to me in recent months that the vast majority of ministry resources, even Christian resources more broadly, are produced with “me” in mind. I’ve enjoyed a privileged status for a long time and never really realized it. I feel it as soon as something isn’t tailored to my tastes.

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The gift that comes from worshipping in a service that isn’t designed for me is that it reveals the depth of my consumeristic relationship with church. This is not a fun lesson, but it’s an important one.

Diversity doesn’t just “happen.”

We thought moving to one of the most diverse cities in America would mean that we would find comfortable diversity everywhere. Boy were we mistaken. The longer I live in New York City the more striking it is to me how segregated the city is. Neighborhoods and even blocks divide along ethnic designations. Schools can be monocultural even in diverse neighborhoods. It’s harder than I realized to find churches in the city that are committed to radical diversity.

All our social and civic systems work against ethnic and socioeconomic integration. It’s possible I knew that intellectually before now. But living where we live and worshipping where we worship has driven the point home: diversity doesn’t just “happen.” It takes deliberate and uncomfortable intentionality. It takes a group of people who are happy to hear all the church announcements twice—once in English and then again in Spanish—happy to sing all the songs in two languages. It takes a group of people who are willing to sacrifice their preferences so someone who sits near them can hear God speak to them the way they need to hear him.

I suppose the real gift of worshipping in a diverse urban church has been the tangible hospitality. While our service is not designed to appeal to my tastes, I am frequently moved by how accommodating people are to make sure my family feels welcome. We have been the recipients of great grace and kindness. That grace and kindness has made this vast new city feel small and familiar.

This article was originally published at: City to City.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Christ-Centered Discipleship

A few months ago, Dr. Rubén Fernández published in the Didache theological resource website an essay on discipleship within the context of the Mesoamerica Region.  I found it to be a bold, insightful rebuke of our current Church leadership and methodology (I include myself in that distinction).  Below I have provided an extract of this article that I hope you’ll find challenging.  The entire document is here.

We need a greater commitment to the life of holiness. As disciples of Christ we need to fight against the desires of the flesh that want to impose themselves on those of the Spirit. Desires that lead us to accommodate ourselves, to avoid situations or confrontations that may cause us harm, to believe that we have the right to ‘enjoy life’ by turning a blind eye to sin and the suffering that surrounds us.

We must practice a biblical and Christ-centered discipleship that mobilizes the Church to serve the world.

Today, for many Christians (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical), the cross is simply an element that is part of their dress code or a sort of protective amulet for their house or vehicle. Jesus died for our sins. That’s true. But it is also equally true that Jesus died because he confronted the corruption of power. The ministry of Jesus, was really transformative, countercultural and revolutionary and, therefore, highly dangerous.

Biblical and Christ-centered discipleship should shake the church out of its comfort zone and out of its ‘heavenly spirituality’ and lead the church to serve people by transforming their communities.

Young people are waiting for a militant, dissenting, reactive church. We are losing the new generations that reject a church interested in keeping things as they are.

How much do we teach people what it would be like to take up the cross today? To be radical will involve denouncing violence, defending those who are attacked unjustly, taking the side of the weakest, children, the elderly, the unprotected, etc.

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What is the price that a person pays for condemning these things? They will not have more money or win friends. More likely, they will probably be ‘in the sight’ of the Central American gangs, drug cartels or human trafficking in Mexico, corrupt police, purchased judges or unscrupulous politicians almost everywhere. If we put ourselves in the place of those brothers and sisters who have been victimized and others who live under threat to their families, it seems difficult to believe that our ‘prophetic voice’ could deal with those issues.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” How can we mobilize each Nazarene to carry their cross with dignity, so that they may respond to their personal call and become actively involved in the transformation of that place in the world where God has sent them to serve?

My observation in Mesoamerica is that the leadership of the evangelical church in general terms is of a conformist type. What we do well is preserve the status quo. We do not develop true discipleship on the road to the cross. We do not carry out real transformational leadership, like that of Jesus; we only put bandages on the wounds (and not that that’s wrong, but is it enough?). There are some of the countries in our region, such as in Central America, where the percentage of evangelicals is high and growing, but with a tiny impact on the change of society.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in cold blood at mass in 1980, said in a homily a year before his death: “A sermon that does not point to sin is not a gospel sermon…When the Church hears the weeping of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that nourish and perpetuate the misery from which the cry comes.”

How do we Nazarenes see the involvement of our church members in political careers? What message are we communicating to our members about the value of investing life in professions related to service and public administration?

How can we change the paradigm that still exists in many churches that the only way to serve God is through the pastoral profession or intra-ecclesial leadership?

How can we change from being trainers of church leaders to being trainers of leaders for our present context and reality?

***Dr. Rubén Fernández is Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Américas (SENDAS) in San José, Costa Rica.

A Plea to not Join the Jaded: Resisting the Soul-Withering Cynicism in Ministry

By Scott Armstrong

I was a rookie missionary, new to the field and eager to change the world.  I was chatting with a missionary colleague who had served for nearly a decade about a delicate conflict in the Church both on the field and back home.  At one point I expressed optimism that all would soon work out.  She rolled her eyes and shook her head in an all-knowing manner: “Wait a couple years.  You’ll be just as jaded as the rest of us.”

What!? This happened years ago, and I still remember it vividly.  Were ministry and missions going to gradually become a steady slog through dashed hopes and increasing distrust of leadership? This is not what I signed up for – let alone what I felt called to!

I recently heard Matt Chandler at one of the Exponential Church Planting and Multiplication Conferences.  He shared a story about taking his seven-year-old daughter to a Disney Fairies show.  She was so excited that she dressed up in a fairy costume.  Her dad had bought great tickets and her face beamed as they made their way down to the first row.

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However, from that particular section of the auditorium, Matt realized that they could see backstage where all of the fairies were putting on costumes and where the stage manager was signaling to all the actors when they would enter and exit. Props were being readied and then moved on stage.

Matt’s daughter began to give her attention more to what was happening backstage than to the amazing production right in front of her.  At one point she leaned over to her daddy and said, “Those aren’t the real fairies.  Those are just people dressed up like them.”

There was no more awe in her voice.  She had lost the magic.

Doesn’t this happen to us as we go through life, and ministry specifically? If we have been around for more than a few years, we have seen a lot of guck in the church, and it is not relegated to the average layperson.  Through experience (and some of our own selfishness and poor decisions, too) we see backstage and start to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly in leadership.  We start to use phrases like: “labor of love” and “plugging away” to describe our daily work. The thrill is definitely gone!

We cannot be naïve – there is a lot of life and ministry that is difficult and tiring. This news should not catch any of us off guard.

At the same time, the peek backstage does not have to take the magic of ministry away. Part of maturing in service to Christ and his people should not mean that we eventually by default become jaded!

So how do we resist this slow creep of cynicism? In my next post I will offer some important suggestions that have helped me personally with keeping spiritual fervor and not becoming jaded in ministry.

Mission Briefing: ‘Missionary’

By Howard Culbertson

People today use the word “missionary” in at least four ways:

– As a description for all Christians;

– As a label for people doing any kind of ministry anywhere;

– As a specialized category for anyone with cross-cultural ministry experience, whether that be long-term or for only a few days;

— As a title for those specifically called and gifted for long-term cross-cultural ministry.

So, which option is better? And, is there a reason to prefer one option over another?

I favor the last option. To me, that usage fits best with how believers are described in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. Those three passages compare the Church to a living organism.  Like a flesh-and-blood body, Christ’s Church is composed of many different members, each of whom has an important role to play for the organism.

Noting that a body could not function if it were made up only of eyes or ears, Paul wrote that the Church will likewise be dysfunctional if all believers try to do the same job. In this regard, Paul asked some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”  Paul obviously expected a “no” to those three questions asked in 1 Corinthians 12.

At_SKC_0.jpgTo be sure, the word “missionary” is not found in that passage. One reason is that “missionary” is rooted in Latin, a language that only came to be widely used years and years after New Testament times. Notwithstanding, Paul’s metaphor of a body is very relevant to how we use “missionary.” Beginning with Paul and Barnabas, the Church has recognized that God calls and equips specific people to give their lives crossing geographic, cultural, and language divides in order to foster church-planting movements, people such as Milly and Agnes Ibanda and their family (left), who recently were sent out from the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to serve in Madagascar. Those go-ers are the people for whom the word “missionary” was coined in the 1600s.

Broadening the meaning of “missionary” from its original usage is done with good intentions. However, I do not sense it has infused lukewarm believers with urgency and a sense of purpose. On the other hand, staying with the original narrow usage of “missionary” does aid the Church by:

– Reminding us of the need to be intentional about taking the church to “where it is not yet” (as opposed to having people to say, “We’re doing all God expects of us if we are ‘missionaries’ in our own neighborhoods”).

– Embracing the image of the church as a body made up of members with different functions, one of which is following a divine call to take the Gospel across cultural, language and geographic boundaries to “where the church is not yet.”

– Recognizing that God doesn’t expect everyone to pack their bags and grab an international flight. Some will be “go-ers.” Others will be their “senders.” That represents the meaning of the word “missionary” as it was originally coined.

Postscript: Reserving the title “missionary” for those doing a specific kind of ministry rather than applying it more broadly does not excuse any believer from being passionately involved through prayer, giving, mobilizing or going in BOTH near-neighbor outreach AND ends-of-the-earth evangelism.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine