“Take my yoke on you and learn from me…” (Matthew 11:29).
Have you ever read something that Scripture calls us to do and felt a sense of dread? A feeling of “Here’s one more thing I really don’t know how to do,” or “Here’s something else that our church is not adequate for”?
This is a common response of many established churches to the idea of engaging in church planting. It’s seems like such a momentous commitment; how would we even begin? Only about one in five churches ever do.
And yet, there is something in our faith that convicts us that we need more churches, not fewer. New churches that can reach people that our church likely will not. In new places that we likely will not go ourselves.
I minister with a congregation of around 70 people. Like many church families these days, it is a challenge for us to meet budget for our own needs. Our personnel, time, and other resources are stretched pretty thin.
With regard to partnering in church planting, my prayer is that we will take this as a sign not to do nothing, but to offer what we can to the Lord.
In contrast to the way that many people in his time practiced religion, Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 are not a command meant to add to our burdens. They are a loving invitation to joy; to enter a larger, more fruitful life. Kingdom life. And he promises to teach us how to live that way. What a blessing it is to know that there is nothing that the Lord directs us to be or to do that he does not also guarantee to supply what we need to be able to do it! He shoulders the yoke with us.
National Church Planting Sunday is May 21.
I take this promise to heart this year as I share with my church family about National Church Planting Sunday this year. It is a day for believers across this nation to celebrate, support, and bring awareness to church planting.
Maybe this year, the best we can do is take the next small step in the right direction. That may mean seeking to become better acquainted with and informed by those who are active in church planting. It definitely means committing to praying more about how our church can become involved. (You can download a calendar of church planting prayers here.)
I want my church to take that next step.
I want my church to share the joy of partnering with others for the sake of the Gospel (Philippians 1:3-5). We don’t have to be on the front lines of church planting, but we sure don’t need to be on the sidelines!
I want my church to know the delight of seeing lives transformed through church plants that we’ve had some part in encouraging and supporting.
I want my church to experience the unity that results from coming together in prayer and planning and giving in order to participate in the highest mission we could ever be a part of.
If you have any questions about National Church Planting Sunday or how you can get involved, please contact Ron Clark.
by Ron Clark, Kairos Executive DIrector
Easter is a special time for both Lori and me. In ministry we always placed an emphasis on Sunday worship, inviting friends to church and to dinner in our home, and preaching Jesus’ resurrection. I would challenge our congregation to invite their neighbors on Sunday, and to begin praying for God’s Spirit to move in the hearts of those seeking healing, transformation, and forgiveness.
We planted Agape Church of Christ on Easter Sunday 2007. Easter was always
a great day for church planting as we celebrated Agape’s birthday and saw our attendance grow each year. Now, after leaving full time preaching ministry, we continue that pattern of inviting friends to worship with us and to enjoy a meal in our home. It is a day that brings life, hope, and relationship with Jesus.
We cannot imagine our lives without this day. While I believe that every Sunday is resurrection day, Easter reminds us that love, mercy, and hope conquer death and the fear of death. One reason is because Jesus, and his disciples, have always faced their fears because they had hope in new life.
In Luke 9:23-36, Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to a mountain for prayer. This happened eight days (eight is the number of the resurrection in the ancient world) after Jesus challenged them with the news that he would be rejected, crucified, killed, and raised to life. During this time Jesus told the disciples that if they were ashamed of his life and death, he would be ashamed of them. For eight days they must have wrestled with his words and the reality of his mission. The fear of his suffering (and their own) and the shame of the cross must have weighed heavily on them.
Now, on this mountain, Jesus’ three best friends came with him for a time of prayer and reflection. As usual, the three men were sleepy and did not see that Jesus’ clothes were bright and white and that he talked with Moses (the only one to see God face to face) and Elijah about his “exodus” at Jerusalem. As the three friends awoke and witnessed Jesus’ glory they offered to put up shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but while they were speaking a cloud covered them all as God spoke. Peter, James, and John were witnessing a divine event. The bright light, clothes, conversation with Jewish heroes, glory, and cloud represented one thing . . . Jesus is God. In the Bible when a cloud filled the tabernacle people ran. In this story the three friends of Jesus walk into the cloud.
Notice what Luke wrote, “they were afraid as they entered the cloud . . .” (Luke 9:34). These three realized that they were in the presence of God but overcame their fear by drawing near to the presence of Jesus. While following Jesus, his crucifixion, and resurrection come with a price, we can overcome our fears as we follow Jesus.
Planting a church was difficult. It was hard to leave an established church to step out on faith as we, like Peter, James, and John, would enter the cloud, sometimes afraid, knowing that Jesus would provide. Our fears were overcome as we saw Jesus change countless lives, touch hearts, and prove that he had indeed risen. This past week we heard the news of a member from Agape who died from a long and painful battle with cancer. Ken and Linda McDonald had both been sold into the sex industry as teenagers and finally left, found each other, and married. We met them at one of the houseless villages where we served, built homes, and led Bible studies. They came to Agape and were baptized at our Christmas service. Their struggle with drugs and alcohol continued for a few years but Linda helped Lori in her ministry and Ken sang on our praise team.
Even though Ken had AIDS, he was welcome and active in our church. After moving from Portland to South Oregon they found another good church and remained sober. Linda wrote this to me, “Ken often related the story about how you and Agape helped us get off the streets, out of the village, and into a little apartment. We have shared how much love you all gave to the homeless of Portland and told this over and over as part of our testimony. We can never thank
you in Jesus enough.”
That says it all. Their life is proof of Easter.
Ministry in houseless villages, loving those who have been trafficked and struggle with addictions, and opening our lives and homes to those who feel unworthy is one way we enter the cloud, even though we may be afraid. Even more, Ken and Linda showed us that they were willing to enter the cloud despite their fears, anxiety, and addictions. In the end Jesus saves and that was not only their testimony, but it can be ours as well.
Jesus is risen and He continues to raise others to life.
By MacKenzie Wood
Hello there! My name is MacKenzie Wood and I am in my third year as an apprentice with Sojourn Campus Ministry at the University of Washington. Having recently graduated from college, I have been able to see the impact of campus ministry in my own life as a student, and now as a minister with Sojourn over the past few years. And it has been such a blessing! There have been ups and downs, and through it all, I’ve seen God work in my life and in the lives of students.
I am originally from Yakima, WA which is about 3 hours east of Seattle. Before working with Sojourn Campus Ministry, I had been a student at the University of Washington (UW) and I had been really involved with campus ministry as a student! It was where I found community and a place to continue learning about God and growing in my faith. As I was approaching my last year of college, I felt that God had given me a heart for campus ministry and I wanted to stay and work with students at UW. After graduating in the spring of 2020, I contacted Sojourn Campus Ministry, because I had seen on their website that they had an apprenticeship program. After talking with them, they invited me to the program! I moved back to Seattle in September of 2020 (I had been home because of COVID) and I was ready to begin working with the campus ministry.
Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of working with Sojourn Campus Ministry. The 2020-2021 school year was a challenging one. The UW campus was almost completely remote. It was very difficult to meet new students and all of our bible studies had to be done over Zoom for the majority of the year. But through that time, God taught me how to trust Him day-by-day, persevere through challenging and uncertain times, and to love those God had put me with at that time. I learned a lot about prayer and about patience (especially with the 7 roommates I had at the time).
Then the 2021-2022 school year came around. We were so excited that students would finally be back on campus! Yet, a bit apprehensive, knowing that things could still suddenly change. Many students had graduated and we met very few new students the year before, so we had only a few students in the ministry at that time. It was hard to imagine how we would grow the ministry. But, stepping out in faith and trusting that God had work for us to do at the university, we began tabling in the Quad and passing out flyers. Over the first two weeks of school, we met many students, several of whom would come to be the committed members of our group. We met students who came from a variety of different backgrounds, and some who weren’t Christian, but were open and curious. And as we have begun building community together, we had weekly bible studies and nights where we took communion together and shared our testimonies. It was a blessing to watch as students opened up and shared the journey God has been taking them on.
Now, as I finish out the third fall quarter with Sojourn, I am so grateful for all the students that are a part of our ministry and have been so excited to see how God is moving in their lives.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on why campus ministry is so important. And these are the thoughts that have come to mind:
1. College campus ministry invites non-Christians to hear about Jesus, possibly for the first time. At UW and at many US universities, there are students coming from all around the world and from a variety of different backgrounds. Many students we meet come from a Christian background, but there are also so many who don’t! Some might be too afraid to enter a church, but we are able to meet them on common ground and share the gospel with them!
2. College is a time of learning new ideas. It’s important for students to see that God cares about the things that they are passionate about. Growing up in the church, it is easy to think that if you want to live a life serving the Lord, you have to work in church ministry. Sometimes, it can even feel like there is a struggle between wanting to serve God and wanting to pursue the passions they have. Many of the students we meet often see their studies as very separate from their faith and their relationship with God. As campus ministers, we get to invite them into seeing their passions and gifting as being intertwined with the call God has on their lives. They get to be challenged on their intentions for what they want to do, and lean in to being a part of what God is doing in the world, in whatever area of work or career.
3. Campus ministry invites the church into a bigger picture of what God is doing in their community. Campus ministry cannot function well without the support of local churches and local believers. Sometimes, it is hard to want to invest in students who are constantly coming and going, rarely staying longer than 4 years. It is hard to continually say goodbye. But the reality is, the things they learn in college will go on to impact them for years to come. And they will be the ones who go back to their homes and carry the gospel with them. More than that, we have the opportunity to learn from those who come from so many different backgrounds. And we are often challenged by the perspective of others, forced to wrestle with our faith and grow in our knowledge of God. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s important that we step into the uncomfortable so we can continue to grow.
I myself can testify to the life-changing impact of campus ministry. It provided a community and a safe place to grow in my faith and ask questions. And it was for this very reason that I knew I wanted to work in campus ministry. College can be a time of great joy, anxiety, chaos, excitement, and discovery. And what a blessing it has been to be a part of this journey with students and point them to the One who sees them and loves them amidst it all.
So, dear reader, I would like you to consider becoming involved in campus ministry! If you are a student, I would encourage you to consider becoming an apprentice with a campus ministry. And if you are a leader with a church or a campus ministry organization, I would encourage you to consider creating apprenticeship programs. What a great way to invite young people to serve their peers, learn how to become a leader, and grow in their faith.
A Theology of Silence
As a preacher there are times that I feel pressure to express something about something in the culture.
And I meant for that sentence to be purposely vague!
Various stories arise in the news that create a tug on me to post on social media or to speak up on Sunday morning. Hopefully this is not the Spirit tugging on me, for reasons I will explain shortly, but I do not think it is. I think it is this impulse that I need to participate in the cultural battle of the day.
Another shooting at a school. Should I say something?
A musical artist dressed silly on an awards show or a football game or just getting eggs at an LA supermarket.
Should I say something?
The entire Christian subculture is debating this issue or talking about this peculiar religious event that’s happening. Should I say something? Often in these moments, saying nothing can feel like abdication of a responsibility to pastor the flock.
Because we all have a platform to broadcast our thoughts we have tricked ourselves into thinking that we all need to broadcast our thoughts and should broadcast our thoughts. Inherent in this confusion is the reality that social media not only platforms us all, but also makes us feel non-existent vacuums. “If I don’t say something then all anyone will hear is the other side! I have to be the brave soldier of truth that stands up to the godless armies of falsehood!” This fallacy is all the more clear when you look at the size of social media. Someone who thinks what you are thinking has certainly posted on it. In fact, probably thousands of someones. If you haven’t seen it, then you have not looked hard enough or the algorithm just wants to squash this sentiment.
The invention of social media has created a false sense of necessity.
As Christians we have not spent enough time considering a theology of silence.
When is silence appropriate? When is it wise? A few things quickly come to mind. Jesus, in the midst of an unjust criminal process, chose to say very little. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb before the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). These passages of the suffering servant suggest that at times the oppressive hand of empire does not deserve a response, or at the least will not care to listen. Similarly, Jesus chose silence when responding to those who would stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8). More generically, the wisdom of Proverbs states “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:28). Job’s friends, throughout their encounters with the suffering man, show how damaging it can be when someone prattles on about something which they do not understand. As God says, they have been obscuring his plans with words lacking in understanding (Job 38:2).
There is a theme of minding your own business in certain contexts in Scripture. When the Sons of Thunder are worried about raining fire down from heaven on inhospitable people Jesus is appalled at their angry outbursts (Luke 9:55). Jesus tells his disciples to not worry about others doing exorcisms in his name because “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Paul is fine with those who preach out of selfish ambition as long as Jesus is proclaimed (Philippians 1:18). And Paul’s great advice about how we should express our religious opinions on disputable matters? “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22). These are all scenarios where Christians are encouraged to just let certain circumstances go by without comment.
Often we feel compelled; we have to say something. We cannot bear to allow oppression to happen unopposed! We cannot let theological error go unchallenged! We must expose those acting selfishly under the guise of religion! Or at a more basic level, we must show the world how smart or right we are! And to all of this I would counter, “Sure you can.” The Bible often calls us to consider how to still our tongue or gives us examples of godly silent people. We have to be more discerning and less reactionary.
I know there can be a counter argument said about the importance of speaking up in the face of evil. One might point to issues of justice like Jesus driving the money changers from the temple or Esther speaking for her people. Stories of persecution in the book of Daniel show believers willing to stand in protest against idolatry and the king. I would humbly suggest even those texts are a bit more silence friendly than we think. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to act in certain ways, but they don’t exactly wax poetic about it. Esther is encouraged to speak, but even there her silence would lead to personal punishment, not a thwarting of God’s will. Ultimately there are things we need to say which will cause division. But thriving in that division and conflict is not what these passages call for.
The other reality of a social media world is that it bifurcates society on most every issue. False dichotomies replicate like amorous rabbits. Not every issue has “two sides.” Nuance is possible. I fear that our quickness to speak creates a quickness to divide. It is concerning how often a careful statement is boiled down into a caricature deserving of ridicule. This matters because a refusal to participate in that game is not the same as not caring about the issue at hand. Sometimes silence is rooted in understanding that the culture at large simply cannot show the necessary patience to engage in a real conversation. Feeding the outrage machine helps no one.
I struggle with many of these themes in part because I am a millennial and am too aware of the faults of my generation. For good reasons, many of us have developed some habits that are together metastasizing. One is an obsession with ideological purity. Someone can only be trustworthy if they are without sin, so to speak, within a particular community of thought. This purity obsession also makes everyone defensive, lest they be proven to fall short in any way which would disqualify themselves from conversation. Furthermore, due to a perception that previous generations too easily acquiesced to injustice, my generation can be unrelenting. There is no space for grace or mercy. Those guilty of missteps must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law! Finally, silence is itself a sin. If you aren’t speaking up you are part of the problem! So people are compelled to speak, required to do so with 100% agreement to the in-group think, and will lose their credibility totally if they fail at either step.
So what do we do? Do we just sit in cowardice? No. But we have to have a higher standard by which we determine if our words are necessary. I do not think the problem is totally unique. James talks about the danger of the tongue in chapter 3 of his epistle. Often we divorce that section from the end of the chapter because of the headings in our Bibles. But the argument flows naturally in the book. You need to tame your tongue! It is difficult and many do not, but it is important! But then he continues with this: live differently instead. Show your wisdom by your life as much as by your words. And what does a wise life look like? “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” When I speak, it should be in such a way that is pure. It comes from good intentions. It loves peace (and presumably hates conflict) and thinks about how others feel. When possible, it allows others to have control. It gives people a break and produces goodness in the world. I do my best to say what things actually are, not spin them to my side. Mean what you say. When you try to make the world more peaceful, then you live in right relationships with God and others. And if we cannot speak in a way that seeks peace, maybe we should not say anything at all.
But, Does It Really Work?
by Caleb Borchers
Many of us have been in that place, maybe at 2am on a night where we cannot sleep, where we look at the latest doohickey an infomercial is selling and we are torn between our piqued curiosity and our cynicism. If that device actually can do everything the overly telegenic talking heads say it does, then I am so there! But more likely than not, they are selling me a bill of goods.
The modern preacher needs to have a healthy dose of such skepticism. As we preach to an increasingly skeptical world, a sermon that shares Jesus without any thought toward doubt is going to come off as obtuse. The issue is exacerbated by the other sharks swimming around on the cable channels: TV preachers. Health and wealth gospel peddlers share a version of Jesus' message that sounds great but does not line up with the actual struggles of everyday people, much less Jesus’ own experience of suffering and rejection. To preach a gospel that always works, is always wonderful, and never costs anything is to become an easily dismissed caricature in our times.
As I have preached over the years in our setting at The Feast Church, I have struggled with how to share the hope we have. I am painfully concerned about overselling what life in Jesus is actually like. When I look out at the pews and see families who have suffered unimaginable difficulties, it makes me timid. If I declare too strongly the benefit of following Jesus I imagine someone rising up and saying, “That’s not true! I have been a Christian 30 years and it hasn’t protected me from pain or tragedy!” How does a preacher avoid becoming a Hallmark cliché machine, while also holding out something better than the drudgery of a truly secular experience of our planet?
We are currently working through a series at The Feast Church on “Divine Interruptions.” The general theme is that God comes into our lives and interrupts them. Often the path of Christ is one that doesn’t go like we think it will. To highlight this in practical terms we are spending 10-15 minutes each week interviewing one of our members. We find a particular situation in their life where God interrupted their plans and we discuss it. I then offer a short thought on a biblical text that resonates with their story. It means about half the sermon prep for me, but more importantly we are giving witness to God’s work in our community.
Only three weeks in I am generally amazed. With each person you see a life has been deeply touched by the hand of God. You also quickly discover that every person you know has a mountain of thoughts and experiences that you don’t know anything about unless you ask. What strikes me is how God-formed each story truly is. Circumstance after circumstance where people’s best moments are the fruit of divine interruption. This reality does not change when we talk with someone who dramatically converted late in life or with someone who was raised in a Christian home.
As a preacher, I fear that all I preach is essentially country club membership. Join our church, come to some social events, do a little community service, make friends, etc. Christian faith is an add on to their lives, like getting a sunroof in your new Sonata. As we do these interviews that fear is eased greatly. When people give themselves to the Lord it truly makes a magnificent difference. While I am concerned about unfairly minimizing the beauty in my non-Christian friends’ lives, it is hard not to see that Jesus does make a difference. The quantity and quality of stories I hear from my Christian friends truly disarm my cynicism. When people truly hand their lives over to Jesus of Nazareth what you so often see is an incredible transformation of their entire person.
One of our core values as a church has always been “dialogue.” We think people learn better when they discuss things, not just listen to teaching. Usually, we put that core value within the context of non-Christians in conversation with Christians in an environment that allow struggles and doubts. As this series has continued, I realize more and more that dialogue is important within the family of faith too. At the very least, God does not get nearly the press God deserves! So often we experience providence and merely do not report it out. The result is a kind of spiritual isolation in what should be connected communities. Instead of all being encouraged by declaring the work of the Lord we sit back and kind of wonder if this Jesus stuff is really all it is cracked up to be.
In summary, I would encourage Christians reading this blog to consider where the spaces of testimony are within your church. As traditionally non-charismatic communities, those of us in Churches of Christ really have not created space for this kind of communication. It happens a little in prayer requests, but those often turn into complaint sessions more frequently than praise fests. Many of our churches are far too protective of who gets behind a microphone. If we truly want the blessing of God, and to draw in those who are curious, we need to do more sharing. When we do we honor God’s work and prove that, yes, it really does work!
By Chandler Petray
Hey! My name is Chandler Petray. I am twenty-three years old, and was born and raised in the Fort Smith area, Arkansas. I enjoy music, fixing things, computers, and nature. This year, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith (UAFS) in May, got married in August at Mount Magazine State Park, and moved to Seattle, Washington in September. Needless to say, this has been a very exciting year for me and my newlywed wife, Briana.
Briana and I both grew up together in Arkansas. Moving to Seattle was a big change for us: the weather (houses have no AC?!?!), culture, politics, amount of people, traffic, cost of living, religion, diversity, you get the idea. It practically feels like a different country, that just happens to speak English and fall under the domain of the federal government.
The reason we moved to Seattle was for my new apprenticeship at Sojourn campus ministry. Sojourn has been serving the University of Washington (UW) campus since 2017, empowering students to live like Jesus. Founded and still under the leadership of Daniel and Holly Jarchow.
During my undergraduate years at UAFS my life was changed by Lion’s For Christ (LFC) campus ministry, headed by Cade Richards. I learned what the Gospel meant for me (salvation), and what I should do in response to it (glorifying God). Towards the end of my stay at UAFS, I felt a calling and a desire to continue helping college students come to God. With the help and advice from Cade, Briana, best friend Zac Wolfe, and roommate Ben Sherer, and many more, I decided coming out to Seattle to do a two-year apprenticeship with Sojourn was what was best for me.
What I Anticipate Learning:
1. Different Environment of the Pacific Northwest: Seattle
A year ago, before I knew of this apprenticeship, if someone asked me what I knew about Seattle, I would have told them: Space Needle; lots of rain; big-tech; music; drug, housing, mental health issues; very liberal; beautiful nature; and “that’s where the Seahawks are from, right?”
About this time last year, when Chris Buxton was helping me get connected to campus ministries looking for apprentices, I specified that I wanted to move to an area away from the Bible belt of the Southeastern United States, for I knew it would give me a greater learning experience in how to do ministry. The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is about as far away as you can get from the Bible belt and remain in the United States.
2. Switching From a Spiritual Consumer to Contributor
During my time at UAFS, I was a student-leader in the LFC campus ministry. I would help plan/lead events, answer questions in group studies, and be an active member. However, the shift from student leader to apprentice can’t be overstated, and having to learn how to be a teacher/leader is a big responsibility. When I was a college student, my time at the ministry was my time with God. Now I need time that is set apart to just be with God, rather than just the time spent studying for upcoming events, and time with Briana and God. It’s important to keep growing closer to God individually, but it has proved to be a difficult adjustment.
Another shift I am experiencing is in group discussion. In the past, I had no problem speaking, and would answer most questions thrown up during a discussion if no one answered. However, in my role now, I am letting the students answer most of the time, and discovering the knowledge of the scripture for themselves. My goal is to get to the point where in my answering, I don’t just slam-dunk the question, but I set it up, trying to help stimulate the conversation so that a student can slam-dunk it.
3. Biblical Knowledge, Books, and Application
The goal of a campus ministry apprenticeship first and foremost, is to develop knowledge, skills, and experience to help become the best minister of Christ I can be. One very important development area is knowledge about scripture, truths, and other Christian topics. I grew up in a Christian household, but didn’t start seriously reading my Bible until just a few years ago. There’s still many books and scripture that I have yet to read, so I have been reading what hasn’t been read yet. Besides the word of God, there’s other resources to use as tools too. I have been reading some Christian books recommended to me, and just this past week I started a new one to help with our current Bible study group for the undergraduates, The Greco-Roman World of The New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers.
I believe as a Christian it’s important to be well versed in scripture, and have pocket-verses to help ourselves, as well as those we are ministering to. Doing Kairos’s DiscoveryLabs has helped me tremendously with understanding what tools, knowledge, and skills a minister needs to be effective. Some ministry skills I would like to learn are how to read text not just for myself, but how it could help those I minister to. Another is making it easier to digest or tailored to what the people need.
Thanks For Reading!
I hope you learned more about me, and my passion for campus ministry. I just started this two-year apprenticeship in September, so I still have a long way to go. However, I feel like I have already come so far this year. I hope other churches or organizations will create apprenticeship programs or seek out applicants, for this is one of the best ways to figure out if vocational ministry is the right choice for someone. You can find me on Facebook, and here’s my email if you want to reach out or have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” (Philippians 4:23)
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1: 23)
You probably heard this verse recently. It gets dusted off with the Christmas decorations and shared in songs and pictures and sermons throughout December. And then, too often, it gets tucked away until the next Christmas.
But Immanuel wasn't just the name of baby Jesus. It was the miracle of God made flesh. It was God dwelling with people. It was God come near.
God's presence. It's our theme for 2023. It has everything to do with life in Christ and everything to do with planting churches.
Just as God came near to us, we draw near to people who don't yet know him. Just as Jesus was born in a crowded town in the midst of cultural turmoil, we take him to where the people are in the midst of whatever their messes are.
Travel with us this year as we explore the ways and places God makes his presence known. The challenge is to not only read or talk about God with us, but to practice dwelling where he dwells, seeing and interacting with people as he does, and discovering he has already inhabited all the places we will go.
My Annoying Angel
by Caleb Borchers
“Do you grind your teeth at night while you sleep?”
Recently I have had to deal with a new challenge for me. I found out that I had a cracked tooth. Needless to say, I figured this out rather quickly and painfully! It was a bit of a shock for me, as I had never had any sort of major dental issues in my life. The pain I experienced was a constant drag and has been far more disrupting to my ability to function than I would have guessed. Overall, the experience has given me new found sympathy for the people I have served in church who deal with issues of chronic pain. It is so hard to function when you are hurting.
The thing that took me off guard, and got me thinking, was the way that the pain was related to stress. In my case, when I get stressed out I tend to tighten up my neck and jaw muscles. The pain that was happening at the root of the tooth was close enough to those neck and jaw muscles that when I started getting stressed out there was a domino effect that caused my teeth to hurt. I would start to get worked up and next thing I know, zap, there comes the pain!
This domino effect of suffering was hardly enjoyable but it made me aware of myself in a way that I normally am not. My tooth pain became sort of an early stress alarm system. “Ow, my mouth hurts, what is going on…oh, I’m stressed.”
Doctors have been warning the American public for decades now that our lifestyles of poor diet, too little exercise, and excessive stress are killing us. And far too often the stress goes unnoticed and is not dealt with properly. My wife is a massage therapist and other people’s stress damage literally helps us keep the lights on! So much of her work is overcoming the destruction stress is doing to people’s bodies. What I became aware of was something I should have already known: stress was creeping into my life all over the place, with shocking frequency.
I am pretty disturbed by the ways in which the Christianity that I see practiced around me (and even in our church and my own life) is so distant from the spiritual life that Jesus describes. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Jesus describes a life where stress and worry do not have a place. Where we can rest easy. And then I look around at Christians who all seem to be haggard. Tired. Worn out. Burned out. Exhausted.
We are so tired that even these promises or offers by Jesus feel like guilt trips. “Well Jesus, I am worried! The yoke doesn’t feel light! So what? Now I need to add the burden of not feeling the way I’m supposed to feel to my back?! It isn’t enough to live this hard life, but now I need to be ashamed that it feels hard!” I do not think that is what Jesus means to offer us by any means, but I understand why people feel that way. There is some sort of disconnection between our experienced reality and the way Jesus talks in these passages. Why is there the gap? What can we do about it?
The simple, but frustrating, answer is that a lot of the yokes we carry are not in fact Jesus’ yoke. They are yokes of cultural expectations, issues from our family of origin, structures churches foolishly put in place, unresolved personal issues, and a bunch more. This is why Jesus asks us for a totality of our life, to let him be lord over all of it. Because as long as we keep control we pile our plates quickly with all the things that break us down. As churches we need to be really aware of this. What are we asking of people? I worked as a volunteer board member at a local non-profit. They would thank us profusely for the time we were giving to the organization. By my math, it was less than 5 hours a month. I grew up at a church that asked a minimum 16 hours a month, if not 20 to 25. Here at The Feast Church we try to balance those things out. While we want opportunities for spiritual growth and service, we know we have to maintain a calendar that doesn’t wear people out. Our structures too often do not appreciate the challenges of the modern family. Obsessing over continuing programs, upholding tradition, and boosting attendance numbers while also grounding our people into emotional dust is counterproductive.
Our personal lives are also a piece of this puzzle. Many of us are not really stressing about the current situation in front of us. Instead, we are re-experiencing hurt from decades ago or playing defense against a tragedy that will never come. Understanding our own mental health is important. I have appreciated the work of someone like Pete Scazzero, who has been urging the church to realize that all the spiritual programs in the world are not going to be able to move the needle if our emotional and psychological health is broken. We are whole people. As such, we need to see healing in all aspects of our lives.
We have to consider, as Christians, better ways to live. Ways to live more lightly. I am convinced a major part of this is a stubborn refusal to accept that we are less important than we think we are. Many of us have a mental complex, born out of good intentions, that if we do not carry something it will fall and break. The world is full of sacred eggs, flying precariously through the sky, and it is only our own strength and courage which will manage to catch them before they become sunny side up messes all over the floor. My friend Jacob Parnell had excellent advice at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures for those who work in ministry, particularly at small churches. Let some of them fall. And break. If they do and people are distraught, they will take up the cause of rebuilding that thing. And if no one notices, it wasn’t that big of a loss. Simplifying our lives is essential. Cutting back on the things we feel compelled to do for the things that are fruitful is something we all have to tackle.
I certainly do not think being stressed out is a sin. It helps nothing to feel guilty about your stress. Still, I wonder if our underlying stress issues are a lot like any other health problem we have. If we suffer various ailments we eventually ask, “What is going on here?” We might change our diets, exercise routine, lifestyle, schedule, etc. It is not a sin to have achy knees, but that does not mean that there are not things one might do to try to deal with the issue so they can live a more joyful, pain free life. My guess is a lot of us are suffering from our stress and we do not even know it.
For me, that obnoxious tooth sort of became a heavenly messenger. A really annoying angel. Each time it flared up I considered if the thing I was getting tense about was worth the pain. The answer was almost always no.
Reflections of a Ministry Intern
One of the best ways to become a healthy, successful minister is to serve in a healthy, growing church. Several church planters and campus ministers in the Kairos network have taken on interns and apprentices. Just as mentors poured into them, they are pouring into a new generation of kingdom workers.
Today, Kathleen Short, ministry intern at Luminous City Church in San Diego, shares some thoughts from her first weeks of training.
What do you hope to learn as a ministry Intern?
I hope to learn more about Jesus, such as his story, his promises, and his way of life. I want to witness and be a witness to others in how Jesus is changing our lives. I want to improve in all aspects of life better through his way, but especially in relationships with others.
I also want to learn how the church and ministry run and sustain as primarily a volunteer organization. I look forward to learning new tools and skills while continuing to practice the skills and gifts I already have. I can't wait to learn how I can help others do the same with their spiritual gifts.
Lastly, is how we can best serve our community.
How does your position as a ministry apprentice serve the church?
I feel like my staff position is helping the church by sustaining its existence in a community that can greatly benefit from doing life and community with other believers. I also believe that what I bring to the church is not only a comprehensive set of skills that help multiple areas of the ministry, but also a different perspective on how we can best serve others in and outside of the church based on the variety of ways of serving others in my career.
What are the most important things you've learned in your first couple months as a ministry intern?
The most important things I've learned in my couple months as a staff is learning:
by Caleb Borchers
After weeks and weeks of preparation, it was finally over. Several of the people in our launch team got together on the afternoon of our launch, back in 2015, and we had a little party. We were an exhausted bunch. In the lead up to launch, not only did we have the struggle of getting our systems in place, having our worship team ready, and writing the sermon, but we also had the blessing and challenge of getting a church building space ready that would be our home. For many weeks my wife and I got up, took our oldest to school, worked like crazy, picked up the kid from school, worked until bed, and threw some food down our throats somewhere in between. We simply went nonstop for weeks.
I had this thought during the party that night years ago: “Now we just have to do it again, six days and 18 hours from now. On repeat. Forever.”
I guess all jobs have a certain relentless cycle to them. Payroll has to get done each week. Bills never stop coming in. Quarterly and annual reviews happen like clockwork. But it feels like ministry has a special hamster wheel factor to it. Every Sunday 10AM comes and the church expects to have songs to sing and a sermon to ingest. As a church planter, I have been more involved in making that happen then someone in a larger established church may be. For much of our church’s existence I have had to keep tabs on not just my lesson but many other pieces as well. While at Easter we loudly proclaim, “It’s Friday…but Sunday is coming!” the preacher more sheepishly, ominously says each week, “It may be Monday morning, but Sunday is coming!”
We just celebrated our seventh anniversary as a church. 365 Sundays! (Yes there is a 53 Sunday year in there, as weird as that sounds it is how calendars work.) That is so many weeks in a row. We had COVID and sometimes we had online church only. But there was some sort of content for our members every week 365 weeks in a row! I do not believe that a single one of those has come and gone without me having some role in preparations, somewhere along the line.
Looking at it that way can make you a little bleary eyed. How do you discern an ongoing story through all of that? Early on, church plants have a clear, distinct story. The shape is pretty obvious. After a dreaming phase a team is put together, momentum builds, and the church launches! And even past that, there are celebrations of milestones like certain attendance numbers or staying alive after so many years or getting a new facility or financial independence. But like a person, those years start to fade in significance. What’s the difference between 43 and 44, for a person? Not much. I’m suspicious an 8 year old church isn’t that different from a 7 year old church. How do we continue to have a sense of direction and purpose?
Church planters, when they are honest, will admit they have a bad little habit of patronizing established churches. It is usually subtle and not malicious. But we say things like, “We’re planting a church because we want to be mission driven. Instead of merely existing week in and week out, we are trying to inspire people to own their faith and be active in their community.” This, put more bluntly, might be something like, “Church plants are active and alive, unlike the old tired churches that just exist on life support week in and week out.” Now there is some reality to that all. It is much easier to get people excited to volunteer in Year 1 than Year 7. I’m experiencing that now. I cannot imagine year 78!
Necessarily we give a lot of energy and attention to something in its neonatal stage, but that fades. Parents are not bad parents because they check in on their 52 year-old child a little less than a newborn. Churches transition into a stage where they just function without as much constant attention. If they don’t, they usually shutter because it is simply too much stress on whoever is keeping the plates spinning.
All of this has me thinking about the “law of undulation.” This is a phrase C.S. Lewis discusses some in The Screwtape Letters. The idea, simply put, is that human beings go spiritually through natural cycles of growth and vitality, as well as natural cycles of drought and dryness. It is ingrained in the fact that we are subject to time. Lewis suggests that these phases are at least used by God, if not explicitly part of his design. After all, this is true of the seasons and weather. Undulation is a natural rhythm that helps us to find meaning. Undulation is a necessary part of our biology and psychology.
As Americans, we are allergic to undulation. I think that it is somewhat due to our economic/capitalistic values creeping into everything. Corporate America believes that everything should always be up and to the right. Growth, growth, growth. No company announces, “Our profits are exactly where they were last year, but that is plenty.” A culture that is never satiated will necessarily shudder at contraction. Instead we always want to see growth year over year. This is true of our spiritual life too. We think we should grow beyond last quarter in attendance, giving, maturity, and everything else!
Lewis suggests that there are two different ways Satan might discourage us in undulation. Both are about rejecting the reality of ups and downs. On the one hand, some are tempted to think that high moments are the totality of faith. Such people cannot tolerate moments that are less than mountain top experiences. They feel they are slipping and in a foolish surge of energy try to force such ecstatic experiences. On the other hand, some will see their current state of low spiritual intensity as not a phase but the norm. They then look back on moments of intense spiritual experience and discount it as the folly of youth or false emotionalism. Lewis suggests that neither is helpful. We instead welcome these phases as necessary parts of our spiritual journey which God will, in the least, use to his purposes if not create in the first place.
Any person or church that walks a journey of faith for some length of time will know this reality of undulation. Faithfulness over the long haul is challenging. Our faith can be a bit like a marriage where the passion of the early days can mellow into the depth of a quiet, confident connection. Allowing that season to be a maturing of our love and not negligence of it will always be an important balance to strike. Part of the work of maturing, as a believer and a community, is learning to accept and welcome the undulation God sends our way.