Relational Poverty

When I was a youth pastor, I’d take annual foreign mission trips with my students. And leading up to the trip we’d have training and prep to do. Of the many talks we would have, one in particular was about the difference between relative poverty and absolute poverty.

One shows a poverty existing only in comparison to what you possess/own.
The other is a state of poverty in which a person/people have no capability to live.

And sure enough, while on the trip, I’d have one-on-one conversations with students who were struggling seeing people who had food, shelter, and family BUT didn’t possess what (in their American mindset) was anything suitable for their personal standard for living. They’d see children playing and families singing but couldn’t wrap their minds around how they could possess that type of heart without the “possessions” that make us Americans comfortable.

I miss those trips with students.
I miss de-briefing with them.
I miss hearing how much they learned about what really matters in the Kingdom of God.
I miss seeing them begin to engage in their worlds because their faith deepened from leaving for a week, unplugging from the world they knew, and plugging into community and mission.

But there’s another type of poverty that I see growing. I’ll call it, “relational poverty.” we live in a day and age of loneliness and isolation. We live in a time of having thousands of social media friends and followers but nobody to have a conversation with. We’ve replace handshakes and hugs with “likes” and “favorites.” One on end, someone feels like they’ve reached out because they clicked a button on a status. On the other end, a person searches for something else to post in order to get their next stimulating fix from social media attention.

We don’t have an absence of connection; we have an absence of contact.

We live in an age of relational poverty. We know a lot of people. But we don’t really know them” and/or nobody really knows us.

This has been something I’ve pondered over the past month in our series on faith here at Kfirst called “The 13th Floor.” We’ve been exploring what faith is and how to operate in it. And as I’m going over a number of study-notes I see a small bullet point I typed out a few months ago that caught my eye:

“Faith grows best in community.”

What does this have to do with relational poverty? Everything.

From the beginning of time, we were created to be in community/relationship with others and with God. And the results of the “original sin” was to attack those relationships (blame each other and God) and to isolate (hide) ourselves. No wonder why God said “it is not good for man to be alone.” I believe this was more than a statement about marriage but a state of our being. We were created to be in and operate in relationship with others.

And I truly believe that’s where faith grows best.

It’s no wonder that one of the greatest attacks to faith in Christ in an age of over-connection is to impoverish us of relationships. We can’t find unity of faith in denominations because we live in constant criticism of others. We can’t celebrate faith because we envy what someone else has been blessed with. We have immature faith because we do not seek out the mentorship (spiritual fathers and mothers) of those who’ve gone before us. We can’t develop faith though dialogue because we haven’t learned how to disagree “agreeably” on surface issues and live in agreement on the foundational things of Jesus. We can’t pass on faith  because we’re too busy attacking/despising another generation instead of celebrating what makes the other distinct so that we can learn from each other.

I believe in being a person of prayer. I believe in being in the Scriptures daily. I believe in living a life of worship. Those are necessary for nourishing the soul. But without relationships, I would truly question how can faith actually exist and grow.

Why do I still believe in the Church? Because my faith isn’t in the Church but in Jesus. And because my faith is in Jesus, it allows me to navigate relationships without the expectations in people who I should have in Christ alone. He is the “author” of my faith (Hebrews 12:1), and He “perfects” grows it. And I believe that faith growth happens best in community.

And it’s in the community of Church that my faith is challenged and deepened by interacting with people of various backgrounds and generations. It’s in those relationships I can celebrate what God is doing in others to give me challenge and hope for my own faith. I find my faith grown as I sit with others in dialogue and civil conversation. I find my faith strengthened when I see people of a variety of color, nationality, background, and economics come together under the name of Jesus.

Would you take a huge step of faith this week? Make a relational initiation of contact with someone. Sit for coffee or a meal with someone you don’t normally connect with. Find someone of a younger generation to learn from. Find a peer to sit with an encourage. Call up someone of an older generation and inquire of their story. Seek out someone of a difference race to listen and learn.

Get in community. Watch the level of relational poverty diminish and faith rise in His Church.

 

Love you all. Praying for you.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Pastoring in a Vacuum: 4 Ways to Invite Much Needed Connection

In my backpack, apart from my laptop, you’ll find 3 essentials. My iPad, my journal, and a book I’m reading (don’t judge me for not saying “bible” as it’s always accessible on my phone and/or tablet). The reasons for these three:

  • My iPad for my bible and my tunes
  • A book positions me to be stretched and deepened.
  • My journal position to process what I am learning and write down what God is speaking to me.

(Why I journal and why you should consider it.)

In my latest read, “Divine Direction” by Craig Groeschel, I’m working on some things to help mentor young adults. But chapter 6 has really hammered me hard on something that I find far too many pastors struggle with: Connection.

He says,

“…consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential: (1) a friend to challenge you and bring out your best, (2) a friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith, and (3) a friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it.” (pg. 152)

This was a “selah” moment. Honestly, I found myself setting down my book and sending out intentional texts of encouragement to a few pastors that have been those 3 key relationships to me.

But please know…This was not how I started ministry.

Yes I had “friends.” But to allow or invite friends on all three of those levels is a whole other issue. I can say, in those first couple years, I only had a “version” of the #2 type of friends. They were the people I ran to in the challenging times. But that was it. It wasn’t that I didn’t possess any other type of friend. The reality was, I was guarded regarding others. My insecurities kept me from asking for too much help or, in some cases, allowing others to help. I found some semblance of satisfaction in “figuring it out myself” while longing for community and mentorship. Back then I called it “work ethic.” 20 years later, I call it for what it really was: pride.

Operating in a vacuum (isolation), unfortunately, is how a number of pastors operate in ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the situations that my fellow co-laborers experience. For some, geography is a challenge. You feel so far away from friendships and denominational connections that the locational disconnect translates into relational chasms. Maybe like me, you have, what I would call, a “genetic” challenge. I term myself as a “nurtured extrovert.” By nature, I’m shy and very quiet, and thus, became my excuse to not reach out. Now-a-days, my wife wonders why  I have to engage in conversation with random strangers in the mall.  For others, age is a huge relational issue. I can appreciate being the only minister in the room from one particular generation and you long for a peer to connect with.  Then there are “situational” challenges. I totally get wanting to find someone who is in a similar place in ministry who shares either a similar place of ministry or a specific season in the life of a church.  I know, personally, I love finding other pastors and churches who have walked similar paths and/or tracking along where I see and envision Kfirst.

But regardless of the challenge, we (ministers) have to power through and to intentionally engage in community. We were divinely designed to live in community. I get how busy you are. But there are times we are so busy doing “good” things that we, many times, can miss out on the “best” things. And, in my limited experiential opinion, operating in relationship as a minister is one of those “best” things we cannot ignore. As my mentor has said to me in so many occasions,

“The enemy works in isolation; God works in community.”

If we expect our congregations to work in community, we ought to practice it first. How dare we ask people to do something we refuse to live out. Relationships is what I have discovered is a phenomenal way to have both healthy ministry and longevity in ministry (positions and vocation). It’s time to lay down our pride. It is time to toss aside our insecurities with the local “competition” (other churches). You were not built for seclusion; you have been created to grow and live in community.

So how can we do this in 2017? How does this practically look? These are not “ground breaking” ideas but they will position you to get out of your vacuum.

  1. Practice the PBT model.
    • Find a Paul (find a mentor or two).
    • Find a Timothy (find someone to disciple).
    • Find a Barnabas (find peers to encourage and be encouraged).
  2. Join a network.
    • Kfirst is part of the River Valley Network. I love that I get to interact with churches from all over the nation and develop a camaraderie with pastors from a variety of size churches and generations.
    • I am involved in some online FB groups. Though they are not a “network” per se, they have become a network of ministers to have ongoing discussions and constant feedback. I love hearing from people who are very much not like me but possess a similar Kingdom heart.
    • I’m always on the hunt for other “networks” and “groups” for me and my staff to help us learn as well as possibly use us to pour into someone else. We can’t just be consumers; we need to be contributors.
  3. Leverage social media.
    • My disclaimer: social media doesn’t equate to deep relationships. BUT it can be an avenue to develop relational connections.
    • I have used all facets of social media to follow churches and ministers to create connections. Peering into the world of other churches helps elevate my vision and gets me out of my little box that I have put ministry in.
  4. Look outside of your denomination. 
    • I love the Assemblies of God. But the Kingdom of God is bigger than our denomination…er…fellowship (#AGJokes). My move to a smaller town in mid-Michigan in the summer of 2002 really opened my eyes and my heart to embrace other ministers who were not A/G but were engaging the Jesus’ Kingdom. I love engaging with pastors in my Kalamazoo area. I love knowing their heart. I also love to be able to recommend other churches when someone comes to Kfirst and doesn’t feel a “fit” in our church community.  And that can’t happen if you (1) are insecure and (2) don’t know the pastors in your city.

I know there are probably other ways, but I wanted to challenge you and keep it simple. Craig Groeschel hit me hard and has made me sit back and reevaluate my connections and I think you should to.

Do you have “community”? Maybe a better question: Will you allow “community” to help you grow and, in turn, will help them grow?

Love you all. Praying for you as you step into connections and allow God to work through community.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: If you’re looking for a marriage resource, check out my book by clicking on the image:

The Pastor’s Wife: 2 Thoughts on Dealing with Loneliness

Something I heard early in ministry was “ministry is a lonely place.”

And it CAN be a lonely place, but it DOESN’T have to be that way. What I learned was that the enemy works in isolation, but God works in community.

Being a pastor’s wife isn’t always easy. Relationships and friendships can be difficult or complicated. In my first 7 years of ministry, I can say I had 1 close friend and she was only around for a few of those years. Overall, in the FIRST ½ of ministry:

I felt alone.

I could give the Sunday morning smiles, I did my “part”. But deep down:

I was guarded, I had walls up.
I was very insecure.
I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.
I didn’t know who I was in ministry.
Just tried to fit what others wanted me to be.
I was so tired of feeling alone but I felts like I was weak if I asked for help
I was tired of comparing myself to others, which was robbing the joy from my life.

It wasn’t till about 7 years into ministry (2 years into our second position), with the help of some pretty amazing ladies, I started figuring out what my role and purpose was in ministry and then being OK with me being ME.

Ladies, it’s probably safe to say: we’ve all been there. We have had those Sunday’s watching our husband bring the Word, being surrounded by a congregation, yet feeling alone. We feel like we are being jammed into a mold of what a pastor’s wife should look or act like.  Sometimes you feel all eyes are on you and you are being judged. We feel we are not the best moms…wives…preachers…leaders…

People’s expectations can be stifling. They can make us feel stranded in the middle of nowhere with no escape.  And THAT can make it hard to let your guard down, be vulnerable, and trusting. Like I said friendships can be difficult and complicated. It’s hard to find those close, real friendships

God NEVER PROMISED we wouldn’t have times of loneliness. Even Jesus experienced loneliness as everyone close to him abandoned him. I think of Genesis 32:24. It says, “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”  When I feel alone, I feel like I’m in a wrestling match. 

I wrestle with the mold I’m told to fit into
I wrestle with the expectations of everyone
I wrestle against the pressure to have a healthy marriage and family in ministry
On top of that, I wrestle with my own emotions (am I good enough? am I doing enough?).
The list can go on…

I’m so thankful for the Word. It’s full of examples, of people like you and me.  They are people with “issues.”  And one of the great promises in scripture is a promise he gave to people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua:. He promised them: “I will never leave you or forsake you” 

PLEASE NOTE THIS: God would not offer a reminder if he knew we wouldn’t need it

I’ve have felt all those things many times and can still experience them. I haven’t mastered this thing of loneliness, but I think God has given me a great strategy: VULNERABILITY

1 – Be VULNERABLE to God. In your loneliness, draw near to God. In your inadequacies, draw near to Jesus. He didn’t place you in ministry so YOU could figure it out and work it out by yourself. He gave Joshua the promise of his presence in Joshua 5:1 because God knew Joshua would have times where he needed the reminder AND he promises us that MANY times throughout scripture because he knows we need the reminders.

2 – Be VULNERABLE to people. Take some chances. Be open to people. To be honest Dave and I have taken some chances and we have been hurt by some friends (or so-called-friends). And relational pain can make me want to put my guard right back up. But we continue to strive for healthy relationships.

Some of the things that I (or Dave and I) have done is..

    • We have a team of  intercessors that we meet with EVERY month, they have become people we trust and can say really anything to.
    • We are part of a small group (that we do not lead) which have become some of our closest friends.
    • We connect and are friends with many of the Pastor’s in our area! We love reaching our community with these amazing leaders! It’s about the Kingdom of God and not building our own little empires.
    • When we meet another ministry couple (regardless of denomination), we look for opportunities to meet up and develop relationships.
    • I look for ladies to connect with.

But it takes VULNERABILITY to do it. 

I’m not saying you need to spill your guts to everyone, but you’re going to need to make some efforts and get creative. A great pattern to even follow: 

  • Find a Paul (mentor, wiser, mature, etc). 
  • Find a Barnabas (peer, encourager). 
  • Find a Timothy (someone to pour into, find someone to disciple)

But most of all, look around you. There are pastor’s wives around you.  We are all women in ministry. We are all on a similar journey. We are joined by a common purpose. We are filled with the same Spirit.

We are here.  

And it’s going to take you stepping out and being a little vulnerable to God and others. 

Above all ladies, don’t let the enemy work in your isolation. Choose to work in community.

– Anne Barringer

Marriage blog: “Too busy: The art of abusing with neglect.”

Sobering moments.  There’s no other words for those times or events that send us back to earth to the real world we are living in.  This is what I read in an article that my youth pastor sent me.

Long story short (you can read it in its entirety here), a CEO was known for working insane hours. His alarm clock would go off at 2:45am and he’d be in the office at 4:15am, before returning home around 7pm.  I assume he was a coffee drinker and/or one of the greatest contributors to the rise of the popularity of “5 Hour Energy”.

He states,

About a year ago, I asked my daughter several times to do something – brush her teeth I think it was – with no success. I reminded her that it was not so long ago that she would have immediately responded, and I wouldn’t have had to ask her multiple times; she would have known from my tone of voice that I was serious.

She asked me to wait a minute, went to her room and came back with a piece of paper. It was a list that she had compiled of her important events and activities that I had missed due to work commitments. Talk about a wake-up call.

According to the article, the list she brought him contained 22 items.  These included her first day at school and first soccer match of the season all the way to a parent-teacher meeting at a Halloween parade.

And the school year wasn’t over.

busy

Can our spouses write us a similar list?  Can our kids?

You may not have the job demand of the CEO of Pimco.  You may have already forgiven yourself because you’ve compared yourself to the article saying, “at least I’m not that bad” and decided to do nothing about neglecting your marriage or your children.  But that’s exactly what the Devil would love for you to do.  Rationalize the neglect.  Just understand something: when you rationalize, you tell yourself “rational lies”.  Most couples are not determined to drift.  Drifting happens with neglect.

It doesn’t happen just from jobs.  We used hobbies, home responsibilities, friendships, our favorite TV shows, sports, and yes, even church activities as things to fill our time and steal precious moments away from the people who matter most.  If you look at that list, none of them are bad or even sinful.  But when the priority of them is a higher priority than your spouse or your children, you need to rethink what Jesus has called you to. Everything in our life has demands.  It is in our priorities that those demands are funneled and filtered as to not abuse our loved ones with neglect.

There is nothing that this CEO could have done about the past but repent.  Repentance is necessary.  But repentance is meaningless if it doesn’t change the trajectory of your life.  Your actions must lived out your contrite heart.

Ephesians 5:15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Today is the day to respond.  Today is the day to stop the neglect.  You have seasons to enjoy with your family and the challenge of today from Ephesians 5 is to “make the best use of the time.”  The only way to do that is to approach it “not as unwise but as wise.”  And, outside of your relationship with Christ (which all healthy relationships spring out of), your family is the wisest relationship you can and should pour yourself into.

Got some regrets about the neglect?  Pour into your spouse.  Seek forgiveness with a repentant heart.  Let your life as a spouse and/or parent erase the lists that have accumulated from neglect.  Today, start a new story with them.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

2 Minute Marriage Devo: “You’re not alone” #marriage

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June is our journey through some scripture selections on the topic of Marriage.  I want to invite you to join me. It’s as simple as looking at the blog and reading the passage for the day.  Today’s passage is Isaiah 41:10:

Isaiah 41:10

10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.