Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back Roads

    As a passionate motorcyclist I not only love to ride, I particularly love back roads. I’ve been from Key West, Florida to Bangor, Maine. You can have the interstate, give me the “less traveled road.” And as much as I look forward to a road trip every year with my wife where we can chase endless curving, two lane stretches, I don’t wait for that once-a-year event. I try to take the “scenic route” no matter the destination.
    One of the many hospitals that I have visited in the Baltimore area is GBMC and it happens to be on the other side of this sprawling metropolitan area. Between my home and there is a not-so-appealing ride through a concrete city. On one of those ministry excursions via motorcycle I took the most direct route in getting there. It was efficient, but not particularly enjoyable. Upon the completion of my visit I decided to take the indirect route home without any idea of where it would take me. I knew that I was inside the Beltway and would somehow wind my way west, then south, eventually running into that band of pavement surrounding the city.
    The first area of adventure just happened to be a neighborhood of old, stately mansions with gorgeous lawns and huge mature trees. It was breathtaking. It wasn’t long before I found myself on a winding, two lane road surrounded by cornfields! It was surreal. Had I not known where I was, I would never have guessed where I was; inside the Baltimore Beltway. Even though it has been a several years since that ride, it has left an indelible impression on my mind.
    When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, introducing her to faith, His disciples, upon returning from town, exhibited some confusion in their subsequent conversation. While He wanted to talk about spiritual food, they kept thinking caloric food. It was in that context that He uttered those now famous words, “don’t say there are yet four months until the harvest. Look upon the fields, they are white already unto harvest.” While His disciples were left scratching their heads about what He meant, I get it. There are more ministry opportunities than we have eyes for. All we have to do is look!
    Church planting is about seeing the unseen, be it north, south, east or west. Leaving the familiar church paths with open eyes, we are likely to find those white fields and more than a few Samaritan women....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Occupational Hazards

  Occupational hazards: we assume to know what that means. We normally think of workplace safety like falling materials, bulletproof vests or crash helmets. Being in vocational ministry, having a title and a paycheck, is no exception. I know that it ranks high on the “most admired, trusted or respected professions” unless your trying to get a loan. Then, for some reason, we rank with used car salesmen. Among the ministerial are more than a few bad apples which is only a part of the occupational hazards of planting a church.
  My generation has viewed “soul winning” as the be all, do all and end all of Kingdom life. We have the gospel that sinners need, limited time/opportunity for getting the job done, haste makes waste, find ‘em, tackle ‘em, convert ‘em, build a church out of ‘em. That may have worked in the past, but no longer. My understanding of advancing the kingdom and particularly of church planting requires planning, patience, planting, watering and stealth. I hate just as much being labeled “preacher, pastor, minister, clergyman, reverend” publically as I did being the “preacher’s kid” growing up, because of the stigma (occupational hazard). I don’t know many sinners who really like hanging out with “God’s spy.”
  When I began the planting venture, I got into boating. Living on the Chesapeake Bay inspired some of that. Being given a boat took care of the rest. Because of my obsessive nature a little boat quickly became not enough boat and I found myself at a local dealership that was family owned. It looked a lot like a boat wrecking yard; my kind of place. Yes, I bought a bigger boat which exposed me to the family/employees and it was immediately evident that I was not on Holy Ground. As a customer, I began hanging out there, building relationships while concealing my identity. After some months, the owner having discovered what I did, asked, “What am I supposed to call you? I’ve never known a Preacher Man before.” Friendship gave way to ministry. (By-the-way, he still calls me “Preacher Man.”) Plant, water and expect a harvest, just not overnight. Bridge building takes time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Under The Sword

  In hindsight, I have become convinced that I have done my best work in ministry “fighting the good fight.” In the mid seventies I dutifully adopted the traditional approach to church work. At best, it was simply good for no other reason than we just didn’t know better. In the eighties we began reading about innovative ministries that were breaking the mold for doing church, coloring outside of conventional lines. At first I was suspicious, then became curious and finally convinced. It wasn’t how we did church that was important, it was why.
  While there were struggles in the traditional context, it was normally over earth shaking issues like the color of the carpet or whether to buy the newest Hymnal. Those were the days! The real kingdom struggles came with altering the program in order to reach the unchurched. I had found my calling! It was a Great Commission battle cry for which I was born. Every issue, every change, every step was incendiary. I, in effect, was attempting to “bust the union” of the denominational franchise. I hated every battle and loved every victory! Under the restraints of tradition I fought unrestrained. Then came the church plant. A funny thing happens when the restraints are removed. Like trapeze artists who swing without a net, caution becomes the watchword.
   Welcome to the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse. According to the legend, Damocles was a courtier who was smitten by the thought of being king and expressed so. Dionysius offered him the opportunity to switch places which he accepted. Having donned the crown and regal robe he sat on the throne at which time it was arranged to have a huge sword suspended over his head by a single hair of a horse’s tail.
    The Sword of Damocles; such is the glory of church planting.