Welcome to the Feral Pastor weblog! I'm honored that you have decided to spend some of your time with me. My goal is to make it well worth your while, and I’ll try to be concise (although I’d advise against betting any money on that!)
As it says on the main page, this blog focuses on both conventional congregations and house churches. Here’s how I came to have both an interest and an investment in these two directions.
My Pastoral Journey.
When I first began serving as a pastor in the early ‘90s, I was expecting ministry to be pretty much “business as usual” compared to what I saw growing up in the church. Teaching, preaching, baptisms and communion, visiting folks, weddings and funerals, confirmation classes and various meetings pretty much summed it up. A few years in however, it was becoming clear that there were some significant things afoot - energizing movements that showed up on my radar.
- ALPHA was arriving from Great Britain;
- Rick Warren was in the early days of Purpose Driven Life;
- interest in holistic and multiplying small groups was growing.
- permission-giving structures;
- policy-based governance anchored in renewed Mission-Vision-Value statements;
- team- and gift-based ministry and so on.
During these years I was also becoming aware of some big picture developments. I woke up to the decline of the church in North America. Membership had been falling continuously for forty, even fifty years in mainline denominations, even as population increased. Worship attendance statistics were even more alarming, showing that the problems were not limited to mainline churches. People were talking about the church having lost a whole generation and being well on the way to losing a second.
More broadly, the reality of North America as a mission field was dawning on me. And on top of that, I was awakening to the enormous cultural shifts taking place. I was becoming convinced that the roughly 500 years of Modernity was giving way to the very different postmodern world view, and that 17 or so centuries of Christendom was drawing to a close as well.
It was also a time of great ferment for me personally and spiritually. I began a Bible journaling practice using the SOAP format developed by Wayne Cordeiro at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. In connection with that, I was reading through the entire Bible for the first time. And I was greatly blessed by reading the Bible in Eugene Peterson’s The Message version. The sheer vibrancy and directness of his writing opened up an enormous window for me, through which I could hear the voice and the heart of God in ways I never had before.
In addition to all of this, I was also for the first time encountering Christian music written in a genre that connected for me emotionally. I grew up singing and enjoying hymns and anthems in church. But my native tongue musically – and emotionally – was Rock & Roll. So it was a veritable epiphany for me the first time I encountered a worship service using that genre. It was like growing up reading all your books in English and then one day finding something written in Portuguese and suddenly realizing that English is your second language, not your first. So a door was opened for me to begin to worship in my native musical language, and more importantly, to worship in my native emotional language.
Through this entire journey – pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual – I was incredibly blessed to have a traveling companion in my wife Kisten. She and I were co-pastors and we were right in step with each other all the way, both in what we were encountering and in how we reacted to it and embraced it.
We emerged through all of this with an awareness that we were called to “transformational ministry.” The state of the Church generally, our congregation included, was such that it was not sufficient just to make incremental or even major structural changes. The changes needed were in areas that were fundamental to existing congregational culture. Of course, what that really means is fostering fundamental, transformational change in the people. Aye, there’s the rub.
There are so many things that play into helping or hindering real change in people’s lives. But as we thought and experimented our way through it, we became convinced that the single greatest factor was a person’s relationships with other believers. That was the primary bottleneck for making progress. Most people were not spending significant time in substantial relationships intentionally tended to produce life-changing spiritual growth. And so, we set out to develop an intentionally multiplying small group system in the congregation. We even hoped to be a church of small groups, not just a church with small groups.
As we pursued this in the years that followed, we did have some success although certainly not so much as we had hoped. No doubt part of that was due to the typically glacial pace in making fundamental changes to an established culture. We knew going in that it was a long term process.
But on reflection, I concluded that there was another hindrance at play. For all of the time we spent preaching, teaching, talking and writing about how these kinds of relationships were fundamental to what the church needed to be and do, when it came right down to it we actually enacted them as if they were icing on the cake. Those small group relationships were great – sweet like sugar! – but it was all the rest of congregational life that actually took up most of everyone’s time and attention. And foremost in that camp was Sunday morning worship.
This really crystallized for me when I started thinking about the food pyramid. (Not the fancy new one with the rainbow triangles, but the original one with the blocks.) Fats and sugars are fine in your diet and even necessary, but you don’t need that much of them so they go at the top. Grains are the main thing. You need a lot of them, so they go on the bottom. Translating that to the church, large group corporate worship is a good thing, even necessary for a healthy “diet,” but you don’t actually need that much. It goes on the top. But the small group time, time spent in substantial relationships and significant conversation, that’s foundational. That goes down near the bottom. That’s what a healthy spiritual life would look like, but we were living life as a faith community in just the opposite way. Our priorities were inverted. We needed to flip the pyramid.
I began to wonder… what would it do for the life of the people if they met weekly in small groups, and then monthly, perhaps even quarterly for a rip-roarin’ pull-out-the-stops large group, corporate worship celebration? I thought about the possibilities for spiritual growth and evangelism. I thought about the time and the money it would release. I thought about the amazing celebrations we could do if we had a month or more to prepare for each one. I thought about the enormous decrease in the facilities needed. Then I realized, there is a name for the kind of congregational life where the small group is the main thing instead of an extra thing.
It’s called the house church.
This led me into discernment about my call. My wife had recently sensed that her time of service at our congregation was done and so she resigned her call. I stayed on and I was eager to see the work of transformation continue. A lot of progress had been made and there was great potential there. But I also knew that there were a growing number of pastors gifted and called for this kind transformational ministry who could carry it forward – maybe even better than I could!
But one thing was most persuasive for me. I knew of very few people who had the inclination and the opportunity to venture off in this new direction. Yet it seemed that the Lord had given me the desire and the opportunity to do just that. So I resigned from my call and concluded my service there in July of 2006.
Since then I’ve been resting, tending to family life, and gently following what I believe is the Lord’s leading into learning about the house church movement. I’ve been discovering people on this same path locally and beyond. I have not yet started or joined a specific house church and I continue to watch to discern God’s timing on that.
I’ve been collecting ideas and relationships, and those have brought me to the point of feeling it was time to start this blog. Most specifically, I’ve decided to be more intentional in seeking out people who are interested or active in the house church movement here in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. I intend to chronicle that journey here in the 100 Cups of Coffee topic thread.
While I expect to serve in this very different part of God’s vineyard, I still have a heart for pastors and lay church leaders who are continuing to do transformational ministry with conventional congregations. I want to be as much of an encourager and resource to them as I can while going this new direction. So I will also be using this blog as a way to offer ideas, metaphors, stories and information to those people in the Spoonful of Sugar topic thread.
Well, that’s where I am as I begin. I’m eager to hear from you and look forward to conversation on the journey.