Conversational Church Style

The last church I pastored was a small, well-established church at the end of it’s life. We met in a coffeehouse that had previously been the church building and we engaged in what I called a “conversational service style.” Other’s might classify this as a “dialogical” approach to the weekly gathering.

We had transitioned to this style of service because I had become increasingly convinced that the congregation I served knew about Jesus and the Bible, but they did not know how to talk about Jesus  or biblical concepts. They could listen, absorb, and learn, but they struggled in actually talking about what they were learning.

In all fairness, if you were to ask the members of the congregation, I’m sure that they would deny my assertion, but the reality is that as the pastor leading a group made up primarily of heavily-churched individuals, I recognized the pattern of familiarity had created complacency and recognized there was a need for a different approach to learning how to live and think like Jesus.

Here’s the format we followed:

We gathered at an appointed time on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM. We were pretty loose with when we started, sometimes we started right on time, other days we spent the first 5-10 minutes just catching up with each other.

Next, we entered into a time of worship singing. Typically this was 3-4 songs. Then the scripture passage for the day was read. Then I presented a 5-10 minute brief synopsis of the scripture referencing culture, timeline, various historical references, etc.

The remainder of the service, the congregation talked about the following questions:

 
1. How would you apply this scripture to your life? (15 mins followed by a brief community discussion about how to apply the scripture.)
2. How would you share this scripture with someone else? (10 mins followed by a brief community discussion about how to share the scripture.)
3. What is something that you need prayer for? (5 mins of sharing prayer requests followed by an additional 5-10 minutes of table prayer, followed by a closing prayer)
 
The results of this approach was varied. For those who were not heavily-churched, they began to grow and learn. I could see how talking about Jesus was helping to build their relationship with Jesus. They may not get the biblical concepts exactly right, but they were trying and learning from each other.

For those who were heavily-churched, this was an incredibly uncomfortable environment. A common complaint was that they just wanted a regular sermon, they didn’t want to have to talk with each other. Because of this, I could see how the conversational environment was a constant irritation to them. They didn’t know how to talk about the Bible that they had heard so much about and because of this, they were unable to see any value in what we were doing.

In the end, this format was terrible for individuals who held onto to the belief that the church was supposed to look and feel a certain way and extraordinary at helping individuals who wanted to actually know and have a relationship with Jesus.

Easy or Hard

At times I get fixated on a theme or concept that I’m wrestling with. For the past couple of days, I’ve been wrestling with this theme of doing hard things versus doing easy things.

When asked the question, “Do you want to do hard things or easy things?” The answer appears to be a no brainer. OF COURSE we want to do the easy thing – it’s EASY. Why wouldn’t we? But then we remember that all of the leadership books tell us to do HARD things and since everyone wants to be a leader, our answer changes from doing the easy things to doing hard things.

I think when we say that we want to do the easy things, we are afraid that will be interpreted as being lazy or selfish, basically we have a lack of initiative or motivation. Conversely, when we say we want to do the hard things, that seems to reinforce the idea that we are selfless in someway and that our motivation is pure.

What if we have this backwards?

What if the easy way is exactly what God wants for us because it forces us to deny our human nature and become fully dependent and trust Him? What if the hard way is actually a manifestation of independence on God and a our desire to work WITH God instead of allowing God to work IN us?

Let me see if I can give you an example:

It would appear HARD to have to go to prison for our faith. But what if that is actually the EASY way because we are forced into a situation where we are fully dependent on God? It seems EASY to not draw attention to ourselves, but what if that is actually the HARD way because it’s not what God wants for us?

What if we have EASY and HARD confused? What if EASY is God’s way – no matter the difficulties we encounter? What if HARD is OUR way – no matter how comfortable that life is?

Press in or Walk Away?

It seems that there are always to clear responses to any situation.

The first response is that you can walk away. See something that you don’t like? Walk away. Are you bothered by the culture? Walk away. Did you get hurt or wounded or offended? Walk away. Is the task too difficult or too easy? Walk away.

Walking away is always an option. In fact, there are many who would argue that walking away is sometimes the best choice to make if what you are walking away from is actually hindering you from being complete.

The other response is to press in. See something you don’t like? Press in and make a difference. Are you bothered by the culture? Press in and change the culture. Have you been hurt or wounded or offended? Press into that hurt, expose that wound, deal with that offense and become better as a result of it. Is the task too difficult or too easy? Press in and do the very best you can with what you can.

Pressing in requires a deeper commitment to the task at hand. It requires you to not quit, to not give up, to dig deeper into whatever situation you find yourself in. Seth Godin wrote a book about this called “The Dip” – which talks about knowing when to walk away and knowing when to press in.

At the end of the day, it’s your decision – do you press in or do you walk away? Think carefully about this, consider the cost of both sides, seek Godly advice and wisdom, and then follow through with whatever decision you come to.

I Survived Being Hit By an F-250

A year ago I was crossing a street in Nashville, TN and was hit by a Ford F-250.

I survived.

I had been in Nashville to attend a leadership development training. I had spent the last couple of days with some amazing people and was exploring the city until my plane left at 4:30 PM. Because I’m fairly adventurous, I had declined to rent a car and had instead relied on Lyft’s and Lime Scooters to get to where I needed to go.

On Saturday, December 1st, 2018, I had left my hotel at around 10:00 AM and gone directly to the Nashville airport. I quickly realized that I did not want to spend the day in the airport, so I ordered a Lyft and had them take me to a local coffee shop. Once there, I picked up a Lime scooter and started a self-guided tour of Nashville.

I had a great time visiting little coffee shops and checking out the sites. The scooter was an amazing resource and I loved riding it. It struggled a bit going uphill like I expected, but it flew on the downhill sections. I found that the cars and trucks passing gave me the same respect they would give a cyclist and for the most part, I felt pretty safe.

I had just passed by Nissan Stadium where the Tennessee Titans played when I came to a crosswalk. I waited for the walk signal and then began crossing the street heading back towards downtown Nashville. It was about 2:00 PM and I figured I’d park the scooter, grab some food and then get a Lyft to the airport. I was almost to the center median when I was hit by a white Ford F-250.

I remember everything.

I remember seeing the white truck out of the corner of my eye and grimacing at the driver. Couldn’t he see me? I was wearing a florescent green fleece paired with a puffy red vest and a giant backpack with reflectors on it. I remember thinking that driver must have gunned his truck as soon as his light changed and that he’s going to be awful close to me. Doesn’t he realize that I’m a pedestrian and I have the right of way? I remember feeling like I was still safe because I was almost to the median and he certainly wasn’t going to be turning into the turning lane – his lane was further out.

I remember the hit.

For months after the accident, I would wake up in a sweat remembering how helpless I felt when the truck and I collided. I remember twisting through the air and relaxing my body. I remember hitting the pavement with backpack first, then rolling onto my left elbow, and then rolling into the center median gutter. I remember hearing my hydro-flask bouncing across the road and turning my head to track where it went so I could go pick it up. I remember trying to scramble up onto the center median so the guy in the truck wouldn’t run me over.

I remember the fear.

I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I slipped my backpack off and tried again, but I still couldn’t stand up. I could hear people shouting at me to stay down, to not move, that help was on the way. But I couldn’t stand up. After a few moments, I figured out that my left leg couldn’t hold any weight. My right leg seemed fine so I twisted around and got into a kneeling position where I could lean on the curb and try to push myself up. It worked and I was finally standing, but I could not straighten up. It was then that I realized I was hurt and in trouble. 

I remember the anger.

As people came rushing to my aid, I was so angry with the driver of the truck. I know he saw me, I know he targeted me, I know he was probably annoyed at me because I was riding a scooter. His driver’s side front bumper was bent, his headlight was broken, and his left front fender was crumpled, so I felt a little bad about that, but he hit me. How dare he not have the common decency to tap his brakes or slow down? What was he thinking that he almost killed me?

A few minutes later the police and fire truck were there. The police took statements from the witnesses, questioned the driver, and talked with me. Both the driver and the witnesses all said that I had hit my head, but my head didn’t hurt, only my elbow and leg hurt. As I stood there trying to make sense of everything, my only thought was that I needed to get home because I had to preach the next day.

I remember being scared.

The EMT’s checked me out and wrapped up my elbow which was bleeding pretty badly. They asked me to go to the hospital, I refused. I didn’t have any health insurance and all I wanted to do  was go home. I tried to walk but I still couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. I could feel that something was wrong with it, but I was in the middle of the street surrounded by police, EMT’s, and witnesses and so I wasn’t about to drop my pants to see what was going on down there.

I repeatedly refused to go to the hospital, even with the driver begging me to go. Even with one of the witnesses offering to drive me herself. Even with the police officers and the EMT’s strongly recommending to me that I go just to get checked out. I flat out refused to go. At the time, I was getting paid very little for pastoring the church and was only receiving tip money from the coffeehouse. My wife and I could not afford for me to take an ambulance ride because I had no health insurance and I was relatively confident that I had not hit my head – so I was fine… even though I couldn’t walk.

I left the scooter on the median.

When the police were done, I received an accident report form and hobbled my way across the street. I attempted to walk a block up a slight hill, but I couldn’t do it. I ordered a Lyft and in a few minutes, a car pulled up and I got in. I was going to the airport. I don’t remember much about that car ride. I believe that the shock was finally setting in and the pain in my leg was getting worse. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the airport and I thanked the driver and got out.

Once inside, I immediately went to the bathroom to check out my left leg. My left quadricep muscle was as hard as a rock and swelling. I didn’t think that was good, but it was too late now, I was going home. I managed to get through security and find my gate. I grabbed some Advil from a one of the stands as well as something to drink. 

I talked with the Delta agent at gate and explained to her that I had been hit by a car earlier that day and that if I could have a seat closer to the front, I would greatly appreciate that. I must have looked pretty bad because she immediately moved my seat on both flights.

Then I called my wife.

Once I was at the airport and settled. Once I had a handle on the situation. I called my wife and told her what had happened. She was not pleased, but I told her not to worry, I was boarding the plane and I’d see her in a few hours.

The plane rides home were terrible. It took me forever to hobble my way down the ramp and find my seat. Once seated, I could feel my leg swelling and stretching my jeans tight. I was sick to my stomach, but I was going home. I had a layover in Salt Lake City, so I had to hobble up the ramp and go find my gate and then repeat the process once more. 

Once we landed in Medford, I tried to walk down the ramp, but my leg wouldn’t work anymore. I tried hopping, but I couldn’t do that even. A fellow passenger took pity on me and let me try to lean on him for a few steps, but I couldn’t even do that. A few minutes later an agent with a wheelchair showed up and wheeled me into the terminal, through the exit doors, and all the way to the front door of the building. I stopped him from taking me outside though, because if my wife had seen me in a wheelchair – she’d have taken me to the hospital for sure. I hobbled through the doorway and saw my wife waiting for me. She helped me into the car and drove me home.

I preached the next day, I don’t remember the message. I had some friends who are church planting in Georgia arrive that Sunday morning and stay with us for a few days, but I don’t remember much about their visit. I remember having them and some others over to our house afterwards to talk, but again, I don’t remember.

Monday afternoon, after being pushed by my wife and our visitors, I went to the Emergency Care near my home. The PA x-rayed my elbow – nothing wrong with it, and told me to stay off my leg so it could heal.

It took about 2 months for the bruising in my leg to finally fade away. It took another 6 months before I felt like my leg had any strength in it. I’ve been able to hike and mountain bike a little, but I still haven’t felt comfortable running. 

At the time, I didn’t think I had hit my head even though the driver and the witnesses all said that I did. Even the PA at the Emergency Care place didn’t think I hit my head. But looking back now, I think I might have hit my head or at least had a concussion. My weight has changed, I’m much heavier now. My moods have changed, I can recognized that I’m much more morose than I used to be. I’ve noticed that my energy and motivation levels have changed. I’ve struggled more with depression and discouragement this past year than ever before.

Something happened that day that changed me forever. I’m grateful to be alive, but I’m different now and I don’t know how to get back to where I was before. All I know how to do is to keep trying to move forward in this new reality and not get trapped into inactivity or complacency. Some days that’s easy. Some days it’s not. I never know what the day will bring until I’m halfway through it.

Processing Can be Overrated

Sometimes processing can be overrated.

Hear me out on this. It’s not that it’s not important to process events or circumstances, it’s just that sometimes the processing can get in the way of what you’re supposed to be learning.

Sometimes processing keeps us from healing or moving forward. It can keep us from becoming whole or complete because the actual act of processing can be overwhelming and unending.

Processing is important, but moving on from processing is just as important. It’s the next level of healing, the next step in coming to terms with our own humanity, and the next phase in moving on.

So take the time to process, but give yourself permission to heal and move on.

The Most Stubborn Habits…

“The most stubborn habits which resist change with the greatest tenacity are those which worked well for a space of time and led to the practitioner being rewarded for those behaviors. If you suddenly tell such persons that their recipe for success is no longer viable, their personal experience belies your diagnosis. The road to convincing them is hard. It is the stuff of classic tragedy.” Charles Hampden-Turner and Linda Arc