You probably let it just come and go… you probably missed the day all together. How could you? June 24th was take your dog to work day. Everyone should participate in this great day. At my office we celebrate it EVERY DAY! I guess this is just one of the small benefits of the home office. Sure there are plenty of difficulties but they all melt away when it is just me, my books, the laptop, and my dog.
You can’t live within the throws of suburbia without an all-american dog! You don’t have to have three of them like we do we but everyone needs at least one. We brought Shiner home just after Christmas this year as an eight-week-old puppy. He is definitely my dog. I house trained him. I stayed up at night with him when he first came home. I feed him. And, I train him. But I LOVE doing it. He is our second Labrador Retriever. Our older one is about twelve-years-old now. He and I didn’t bond in the same way because he had to spend a good chunk of time away from us early on in his life.
Why in the world am I telling you about my dog? I know that is what you thinking… Aside from the fact that I can because this is my site, he does fit into the larger theme of things here at Suburbia Uncovered. Shiner has been one of the greatest conversation points between me and my neighbors over the past 6 months. He has also forced me to GET OUTSIDE. There is something about a well behaved dog that brings comfort and conversation between strangers. It is no exaggeration that my relationship with the man who lives directly across the street from us has exploded over the past six months for no other reason aside from us finding common ground through my dog.
Shiner is fun… he is stress relief for me… and I have really enjoyed having him. But, he is also another small tool (although he is not really that small) that I can leverage in my efforts to engage life with my neighbors. Maybe you have a dog and you walk it religiously every evening around your neighborhood. I want to encourage you to view that as a God-given opportunity. Use that time to pray for the homes that you are passing. Use it to embrace new opportunities to converse with the neighbors that God has brought around you. And hey… if you don’t have a dog this is a great excuse to go out and get one – for the glory God, by all means.
The projection of perfection is the umbrella under which we suburbanites live. When I began learning how to research a culture during my doctoral studies, one of the first things we talked about was the difference between an insider and an outsider. There are both pros and cons to looking in on a culture from the outside inward. Also, there are both pros and cons to studying a culture from the inside (as an insider). I have done extensive study in the area of suburban culture. But, I am both limited by and blessed through my view as an insider of the culture.
At some moments I can see things others can’t and then at other moments I seem to be blind to truths that jump to the attention of others. One of the biggest characteristics of suburbia is the facade of perfection. There is a social pressure to project the image of perfection in all areas of life. We project the image of perfect parenting by all the activities in which our children participate – and how many stickers for those activities we can put on the back of our SUVs. We project the image of professional success by the long hours and busyness we advertise during everyday, normal conversations. Have you ever noticed how often someone tells you about how many hours they work or how late they come home? We’ve correlated the amount of time we work with an appearance of success.
It has become very evident to me that I inherently try to project an image of perfection as well. Sounds hypocritical doesn’t it? Well, it is what it is… My natural inclination is to hide the specific struggles that I am experiencing. I have really noticed this in my preaching. Just today I taught on “Journeying Through Struggles” from 1 Peter 4:12-19 and it was so difficult to be authentic. It was so incredibly uncomfortable to even reference the struggles I have walked through over the years. I did some, but I could feel myself pulling back… not wanting to go too deep. Some of my motives are very healthy – I want the scriptures to be front-and-center at all times. I don’t want to justify the issue away by this reason alone. Other times, I regret to say, I am just incredibly uncomfortable letting people see that I don’t have everything all together. Who am I really fooling? It is such a sinful inclination for me to be this prideful.
Growing in authenticity as a suburban pastor is one of the ways God is stretching me right now. This is the area where he is growing me personally and growing me as a pastor and teacher. He is teaching me to find that zone where I can make much of him through being completely honest about me. The gospel begins to radically transform individuals and families when they come to a point of honesty, authenticity, and transparency with Jesus. I have been called by God to lead people to this place of authenticity. The manner in which I will be able to lead them there is not by words alone but by my example.
What are some ways that you can be more authentic and honest with those around you? Where are some areas of your life where God might want you to lower the facade and allow some other people in to journey with you? Not one of us is perfect, you know…..
“Those who can’t do, teach.” I’m sure you have heard that saying some place before. The saying alludes to this idea that people who are not able to succeed in a given field can revert to teaching in that field. Well, I have not hidden the fact that I am the pastor of a church called The Crossings. We are a church in the middle of stereotypical suburbia. Every word I speak in the pulpit or over coffee is placed within the suburban context. God has called me – and so many others, I believe – to be a missionary in this suburban sprawl called Katy, Tx.
There has been one very small thing that we have done which has produced more encouraging moments than anything else over our five years of residence in this neighborhood. It really is ridiculously stupid to admit this is a “new” engagement for us. But, we fall into the same traps that everyone else does here in suburbia – we get too busy. It really is true that we find ourselves too busy managing church to talk to our neighbors about Jesus. How asinine is that? I’m ashamed to admit it… but I’m committed to being honest with my journey.
Here it is… we have started spending time outside. Yup, it is that simple. We realized after living in our current home for five years that we really did not truly know a single neighbor. Sure, we waved and recognized some faces on the way to the mailbox. But, the fact remains, we were not in the habit of having life-on-life conversations with the community in which God had placed us. So what did we do?
As a family we began to sit outside and let the kids play. We sit on the front porch and play with our children and our puppy. At times we allow the kids to eat their evening meal outside and then spend a few minutes playing. We look for every opportunity to just be there – visible. I don’t have any mind-blowing stories of how we have seen Jesus heal demonized home owners. What has happened is we have begun to see the same people repeatedly while meeting others for the first time. The conversations between us and our neighbors has multiplied exponentially. It has been amazing how God has connected the dots. We will talk to one neighbor who mentions seeing us out with the kids or throwing the retriever dummy for the dog – it seems to break walls and create some comfort. We have had some pretty deep conversations with some and just a hello to others… but it is PROGRESS!
We are praying that God continues to use these interactions as an opportunity to live as Jesus – incarnate within a community, through relationships. What would it look like for you to spend more time outside? If you have kids, sit in the driveway and let them play… If you have a dog, play with it or begin training it… How about a flowerbed? Do you have a flowerbed? Start working in your yard and looking for opportunities to engage life with those who live around you. Just take that simple little step and GO OUTSIDE!
The story God is using to transform me can be read in the first post, Journeying Through Pain (1 of 3). This writing slowly begins to open the door of realizations that God has impressed on my heart. I’m processing these ideas for this Sunday’s sermon which will directly precede my surgery this next week. The passage I will be preaching is 1 Peter 4:12-19. The ideas here will be a slight explosion on those thoughts.
These are the statements that have brought me comfort in this season. These statements give me some direction and hope as I have wrestled between the thoughts of my flesh and the nudges from the Spirit.
- My struggles are planned catalysts of transformation.
- My struggles are an opportunity to deeply experience Christ.
- My struggles are an avenue to greater Christ-driven JOY.
- My struggles are a means of walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
- My struggles are ultimately purposed to draw attention to God.
- My struggles are crafted for my ultimate good.
- My struggles are an exercise of my faith.
- My struggles are a call to radical obedience.
I plan to write one more post in this series that continues these ideas after I arrive on the other side of my surgery.
I want to start by saying that so many of you who will read this have been through exponentially worse circumstances than I have ever experienced. Also, I’ve never been left alone for a moment on this journey. My family, wife, and friends have been a phenomenal blessing.
In my own small way I have asked a lot of questions and struggled to hear God through it all. My hope is that a glimpse into my struggle will spark some new thoughts about how God works.
As a 34 year old/young man, I have now dealt with a “thorn in my side” for over half of my years. The pauline pun there is pretty literal. When I was 16 I was a very healthy High School student playing safety on the school football team. Midway through the game I tackled one of the opposing running backs in the middle of the field and began feeling a sharp pain in my side. When we left the felid as our offense came out, I mentioned what had happened to the team trainer. He, understandably, dismissed it as a usual cramp of some type. I don’t hold that against him. If I remember correctly he was a combat medic during the Vietnam War and I’m sure he was pretty desensitized.
Later that night my parents took me to the ER because I began passing a lot of blood in my urine. As expected, there were countless tests run and doctors consulted. I met my first urologist that weekend as he was called in to diagnose and treat my ailment. He described to me and my family that what he found was a blockage or “obstruction” that was inhibiting my kidney in function of draining to the bladder. He thought this issue had probably been present my entire life and by some chance had been enflamed during this football game. It was and is pretty confusing to think through how something that was present from birth would begin to cause pain after 16 years of going unnoticed… but I’m not going to dive into that story.
I missed so much school that we had to work through various appeal processes so that I could acquire the necessary credits to advance. By the end of my High School career I had been through multiple procedures and had seen numerous specialists all over the Houston area. None of the surgical procedures were successful. The pain came in varying intensities over the following years. I would go weeks, and even months, of some occasions without any pain. The seasons of reprieve would be followed by seasons of life altering discomfort.
There are a few pretty entertaining stories along the way… I wish I could share all of them. Okay, just one. I have taken A LOT of pain medication over the years… every kind imaginable. One day my mom and I were heading downtown to visit a new doctor and I had taken a good bit of pain medication. As sometimes happens, I got nauseous and my mom pulled the car over. We were on the Pierce Elevated in Houston which is a long bridge that travels over roads and “stuff.” I opened the car door and vomited off the bridge onto whatever opportune audience was below… I didn’t look… I didn’t want to know.
In 2009 things seemed to intensify without reprieve. Every day I would experience significant pain on my right side. After many tests there was another surgical procedure called a Robotic Pyeloplasty. I spent a few days in the hospital and some additional days at home recovering. It seems as though there were a few months of improvement after that procedure before all of the symptoms returned.
As of today I am approaching my next surgery continuing to pray that it will be the one that ends this journey. The story is still unfolding. My wife has always known me as someone who is battling this and my children have only known their father as one who is marked by it. My ministry career including my journey as Church Planter and Pastor at The Crossings has been marked by this struggle as well.
You can probably quickly imagine the questions I have asked. God, why…. why can’t I be a healthy father and husband? Why can’t I run and play with my kids at every whim? or help my wife bathe them and put them to bed? God, I’m a pastor of a church… I can work harder and be more effective if I’m healthy. Why do you see fit to limit me in my work for you and your church? The common denominator here is the question WHY! It is the same question so many others have asked regarding their individual struggles in life.
In the next post I will share the areas where I believe I have answers and the other areas where I find myself still asking.
This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked. Sometimes there is a little variation like, “How do you feel things are going?” or “Is the church doing well?” or “Are you growing?” Some slight twist on that seems to be what anyone who knows me (barely) wants to ask. Let me quickly say, sometimes it is out of pure love and interest for me and the body of Christ. However, there are other times when it feels like it is a fishing expedition for some tidbit of gossip that might be exciting enough to earn the questioner an interested audience at a future engagement.
I’ve answered this question many different ways over the years. The truth is that it should be answered differently during various seasons because the church is a living body which goes through struggles and sees great victories. However, aside from just the truth of answering the question, I have found that there are a couple different approaches that I can take – and honestly, I have done them all.
Politician Pastor – Often times, depending on how well I know the individual who is doing the asking, there is a significant temptation to offer a political spin as my reply. This reply would only consist of the great victories being experience and it would put a twist on any of the struggles. Here is an example of how the Politician Pastor might answer –
The church is doing great. We have been reaching the world through our mission efforts and we are seeing new families here in Katy all the time. Our people are so busy with the journey on which God has placed them and it has been such a great joy seeing them continue to grow.
Self-deprecating Pastor – There is a temptation for pastors to lean into the “vow of poverty” stereotype as a way to acquire attention from others. If he can get someone feeling sorry for him then he might be able to pull out some encouraging words of comfort that fuels the fire of his pride. Here is an example of how the Self-deprecating Pastor might reply –
We have been going through a tough season. The weight is just so heavy… I try my best to keep up with the needs of the people but there just isn’t enough hours in the day. We are seeing new families but it seems like every new family has five children and demands so much attention.
Authentic Pastor – This is harder than it sounds to accomplish. It seems to me that each pastor has a default setting that he tends towards. I believe that I tend toward the Political Pastor sometimes. I’m not trying to blame the institution here… but I feel like I have been trained to constantly benchmark the morale of the church. Through the books and classes that are often provided to many pastors they are taught a CEO style of leadership. Here is an example of how the Authentic Pastor might reply… and how I hope I can reply –
God’s grace is so evident through the victories and struggles in our church community right now. We are seeing people who are struggling but they are struggling within our community of faith and support. We are seeing new families come and taste of our Sunday morning gathering. Some of those families are diving in head-first while others continue their journey to find the church they have pictured. What excites me the most is that whether walking in victory or struggle, passing through or leading the charge, we are experiencing the transforming power of the gospel in a constant way.
Those of you who have not ever experienced the inside of ministry may find this all to be craziness. However, I would guess that those of who have been engaged in the work of furthering His church would find some harmony.
I often find that pastoral ministry is really an indescribable experience. I am able to feel some of the greatest joys that anyone could every feel. I get to see amazing things happen inside of homes that are nothing short of miraculous. I get to see Jesus make himself known inside the hearts of people on a regular basis. I see people being dramatically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ weekly. I feel so incredibly blessed that God chose to make himself known through my weakness.
I have also had some difficult times in my ministry career. Honestly, I have seen more of those times after I began pastoring The Crossings some years ago. Somewhere within the collision of Lead Pastor and Church Planter there emerged a new set of obstacles.
In a very awkward way, reading statistics like this are comforting. Before you question my sanity let me tell you a little more… they are not comforting in what they directly communicate but rather what they cause me to remember. When I see things like this –
Hours and Pay
- 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
- 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
- 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Training and Preparedness
- 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
- 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
Health and Well-Being
- 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
- 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Marriage and Family
- 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
- 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
- 80% spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
- 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
- 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
- #1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.
… I am reminded that we as pastors are fighting a spiritual battle that is so very real. I was called specifically by God to give my life proclaiming his message and discipling his people. I was called to give every bit of me to every bit of him. God not only called me but he appointed me to a position to walk in that calling. If ANYTHING receives the attention of Satan (the deceiver and accuser) then such a calling as I have described would be one of those things.
Reading statistics like this are encouraging only because they remind me that my calling places me on a battle field surrounded by the enemy. Although I know that my sword and shield will triumph that does not mean I will avoid a bloody fight. Understanding the nature and reality of the fight are foundational to mustering the endurance to suit-up every day. I pray that by God’s grace he will protect me and my family from becoming one of these statistics… and I pray that he will deliver those who have already found themselves deeply embedded within these numbers.