Archive for 2015

Any Given Sunday

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      We're still adjusting to our new normal, which doesn't really have a normal. Sunday's vary, and we never know what to expect. We could be rushing to get more food and print more bulletins, or we could look around wondering where everyone went.
      However, there is a consistency to our Sunday mornings. On any given Sunday, if you stop by our church, you will see our front door with scooters and bikes lined up outside.


     At about 9:30 am, kids start to show up. They love helping set up every Sunday morning. A couple Sundays ago, the district superintendent was here. While I was showing him around the church building, to see the progress we have made with our renovations, one of the kids made coffee, put coffee and hot water in the carafes, brought the breakfast food upstairs, and even remembered to put the milk in an ice bath so it would stay cold. 
      The kids at our church love to serve, they love to be a part of something, and they set their own alarms, and get themselves dressed most Sunday mornings, just to be here to do so. I've learned to never shy from asking "can you clean this up?" "can you fold these bulletins for me?"
      A couple Sundays ago, I asked a 2nd grade girl if she could make sure that everybody had a bulletin and a copy of the song we were singing that morning. This past Sunday, she came up to me, with the bulletins in hand saying "Pastor Robbie, should I make sure everyone has one of these again?" This Sunday, she will probably just do it. 
     If you were to visit our church on a Sunday morning, you won't see crowds, or a power point system. You won't get a praise band, or an elaborate sound system. You won't have the best furniture, or the best preacher (though, I'm not too bad, if I do say so myself). What you will see though, is the kingdom of God in action, where even the youngest are not turned away, but have a place. Not just a place to be babysit, but a place to participate and to serve. They are an integral part of the body of Christ, and they are discovering what that looks like.
     So when the district superintendent looks at me and says "you are raising up the next generation of church here", I am taken aback, and think for a second. That's exactly what we are doing. Sowing seeds with kids, many of whom have never connected with church before, to hear the gospel, and then to take their gifts of kindness, for reading scripture, for passing out bulletins, for singing, and we tell them "you can use those gifts, no matter how small, to be the kingdom of God here". 
    I challenge you, if you've never considered inter-generational worship, and putting children into service positions in your church, do it! They need some training, some mentoring, and they might not do it like an adult would. (many times they'll surprise you, and do it better), and you will truly see the kingdom of God come to life before your eyes. 
     At this point, I can't imagine doing church any other way. 


Pastor Appreciation: Learning to appreciate myself

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       October is Pastor appreciation month. Do not worry if you forgot or didn't know, there is still time to write a nice note and give your pastor a hug (trust me, those are more valuable than any sort of knick knack for her/his office). Also, you don't need a month to appreciate your pastor, invite them to coffee, get them a gift card, again, write a nice note. 
      I tease Mac every October with the same old joke, "It's pastor appreciation month, so how are you going to appreciate your pastor?" 
     Pastor appreciation is great. It's awesome to appreciate the people who mean a lot to us. People who willingly put in day in and day out to help us walk this road called life. Who answer our late night phone calls. Who give up vacations to officiate funerals. Who cry with us, and rejoice with us. Who help us enter into the presence of God. 
     But the question is, do I appreciate myself? People in care giving fields (nursing, doctors, teachers, and yes pastors, among others) care for others. It's our calling, it's our job, it's our life, and it's usually our passion. Only one issue, those are often some of the jobs with the highest burn out rates, with high issues of heart disease, and an assortment of other stress related issues. We tend to be overweight, we sometimes have last year's (or a decade ago's) hairstyle. Why? Because our life is spent caring for others, lifting up others, and not always caring for ourselves.
      We recently got back from a vacation to Florida, and I was again reminded that when you fly a plane with a child and the oxygen mask should fall, you put the mask on yourself first AND THEN your child. Because if you pass out, your child is not in good shape. 
       Here's the reality, I'm horrible at caring for myself, of appreciating myself. I put it off with the rhetoric of "others need me". Or "I don't have time". And while those things might be true, I forget that if I'm a mess, if I'm passed out in the seat next to the member of my congregation with a need... I can't help them! I have to put the oxygen mask on myself first. 
      SO here is the gruesome reality. 
     This is me with Mac in May. Aren't we cute?! I had no idea, but when I went to the doctor later that month, I found out I weighed the heaviest I ever did in my life. I was shocked. I was overwhelmed, and I realized I had no one to blame but myself. I was not treating my body like the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was not appreciating myself, and I was using all of these "good reasons" to neglect doing so. 
     So, I kicked my butt into gear. I prayed a lot. I realized I can't be a good pastor and be unhealthy. I can't be a good wife and be unhealthy. I can't care for others, if I don't care for myself, and I prayed about that A LOT! 
    Then I called my sister in law, who is a registered dietician and overhauled my eating. I told myself that it's ok to celebrate, to have treats, but my body is the temple of the Holy spirit, not a garbage can (sense a theme here?) so I was much more aware of what I was putting in.
     Solely changing my diet caused me to lose 10 pounds. I had more energy, and I felt a lot better. 
     After I got my diet under control, I did something I had no desire to do ever in my life. I started running. Not only did I start running, I started getting up at 5am to run. 
     In fact, I felt so good that in september I ran my first 5k!

      All of this to say, I'm learning to appreciate myself. To focus less on the things I don't like, and more on the fact that God gave me legs to move, a voice to speak and sing, He gave me this tremendous call to shepherd His people, and I am going to do everything in my power to value myself as the beloved of God, as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and put my oxygen mask on  first so I can better care for those around me. 
         
     I've lost over 20 pounds, and I feel great. I have a long way to go, but I know that I can do it, for my well being, and for the well being of those around me. 




The Gospel and Waffles

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    sorry for the delay in posting... our church has exploded! Which is amazing and wonderful, but also means a ton more work. We are still learning balance, and continually having to reevaluate how we do things... we also might need to purchase new chairs. I've been working on this piece for a while. I hope you enjoy it! -Pastor Robbie

    Every Sunday morning we serve breakfast at church. I don't mean donuts and coffee, though sometimes we have those too, we have full breakfast. Waffles, sausage, breakfast casserole, french toast, pancakes, bacon, eggs, quiche, biscuits and gravy. Every week it varies, but each week we have breakfast.
     It started a bit from necessity. When we started meeting with our launch team on a regular basis, it was easier for everyone to come for meetings when there was food.
     When we transitioned to meeting for corporate worship, we decided to keep breakfast. The reason for having breakfast each week is less about practical necessity, and more about the gospel.
     I know that seems weird, what does the gospel have to do with waffles?
       Food is a universal language. We all have to eat. Most of us enjoy eating. It's an integral part of culture and identity. We eat to celebrate. We eat when we mourn. We bring others food to say "welcome" "thanks" "Congratulations" or "I'm sorry".
     Food is powerful.
     One of the powerful aspects of food is that it unites people. Something happens around a table. The playing field is leveled somehow, and we are all there as equals. We're experiencing something together. We're building relationships together, around food. I sometimes say "when our mouths are full, we are a little bit more open to listening."
      I think there is a reason Jesus met at tables so often, because something happens around food. Barriers and guards are brought down, and people open up.
     Hospitality, in all its forms, is a powerful act (something at the heart of the middle eastern culture Jesus was a part of). It is a radical act, of welcoming, of loving, of doing something life giving and necessary together, and enjoying it.
      We know we will never be the church (well at least for now) with the greatest music, the best facilities (there's a lot of work to do), or probably even the best preacher (though I can try), but what we excel at is hospitality. The art of making people feel welcome. Of not feeling like guests, but feeling like family. Like they are a part of something, and their voice and presence is beyond welcome here. One way we extend that hospitality is through breakfast.
      Food is powerful. Food is so powerful in fact, it's a part of the liturgy of the church. The wine (or in our case the juice) and the bread. The tasting of something tangible to give us a bit of the grace of God.This reminder that we hold within us the body of Christ, and then go out to extend that grace to the world as we live out what it means to be the body of Christ.
     I'm reminded of that grace every time we gather to eat breakfast. Eating food together is not a sacrament, but there is something wholly sacramental about it. It breaks down walls. When our mouths are busy, we listen a little bit more, we laugh a little bit more fully, and life feels a bit richer.
     So, we eat together every week. Old and young. Rich and poor. Black and white.
      And when we eat together, something happens. Stories are shared. Lives are united. Our differences seem to fade away in light of a common purpose, and then as we transition into the worship service with our stomachs filled, we enter understanding those around us a little bit more.
      A couple Sundays ago, I watched as the young teens in our church (which is currently the dominant demographic) gather at the breakfast table, eating, laughing, and then they pulled out a card game. They lingered there, laughing, including the others, and there was something so beautiful about that. The kingdom of God being born through the common bond of waffles and a card game. They may not have anything else in common, but for a few moments they were united, walls broke down, and bonds were formed.
     Now we are wrestling with the growing pains of what our breakfasts will look like in the future. We've had to put out cold cereal last minute to make up for food shortages, but no one wants to let go of this time. This good news in syrup and gravy. The good news that we are a big family, and all are welcome to participate. That we are all welcome to eat in celebration, and we are welcome to eat in our grief... but we are all welcome here. We are welcome at this common table.
     And that truly is the gospel, isn't it? The good news? That we are all welcome, that we all benefit, that we all can find a healing balm for our wounded hearts, or a celebratory pastry? That there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, but that when we come to Christ we are all the Children of God and those other things don't matter so much.
     So, each Sunday I look forward to young faces light up, and adults laugh and catch up around tables, because what I see is a beautiful representation of the kingdom of God in the midst of eating waffles.

The Birthday Freebie Tour

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This blog has absolutely nothing to do with our church plant. I've had lots of requests for how I got so many free treats for my birthday, so I decided I'd write it out here. Don't worry, we'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging soon! 

     I have a difficult time treating myself. Seriously. I don't like buying things (I almost always have remorse after a purchase). I constantly think that I have way too much stuff already, when so much of the world is in need, and that I'm blessed to be a blessing. I am constantly going through things, giving things away, thinking about who I can help. I'm not saying that to say "look at how great I am!" In fact, the opposite actually.
     I remember when I was dating a guy once (who had similar views about using things until they wear out, and caring for the earth, the poor, etc.) I was telling him how the sheets on my bed had holes in them (honestly I was trying to say "see! I really live what i say I live!"). I'd had them for years, and they were hand me downs to begin with, and they were completely falling apart. He kept telling me over the phone "Robbie, I'm all for not getting things you don't need, but seriously, I think you need to get rid of those sheets and get some new ones."
     It's ridiculous really, how far I take it sometimes. To the point that I have certain family members that check in on me sometimes to make sure I'm taking care of myself in the midst of my attempts to save the world! Mac gets incredibly upset, because there are days I'll tell him I forgot to eat lunch, because I'm so busy doing other things.
     I really take to heart that others come first, and so I do everything in my power to live that way. My money, my time, etc. I try to spend for the sake of God and others.
     Which is noble.... maybe... but more likely than not, it's a little insane. Because NO ONE can live that way long term. You can not spend your entire life running around caring for everyone and neglecting yourself. I have some great mentors that have tried teaching me that. One is my mother in law, who continually says, if you don't care for yourself, you are no good to anyone else. You have to have a few moments, or something in your life, that makes you feel lovely, that makes you feel confident, that makes you feel refreshed, and filled, so you can pour out yourself for the sake of others.
     I can attest to this, because when I find small ways to nurture my heart and soul, I am a much better wife, sister, daughter, friend, and pastor. Seriously.
     So one way I treat myself, is on my birthday. I'm cheap (as you may have gathered) so I like a good bargain. A few years ago, I discovered that many of my favorite restaurants give out something for free on birthdays.
      I've always wanted to do a "freebie tour" and decided this year was the year! So I'm going to show you the stops I made over the last few days (and mention a few I haven't gotten to yet) and how you can do your own birthday tour!!

    My first stop was Panera. If you aren't a part of Panera's loyalty card program, join! They give you freebies quite often (I'm actually fairly close to another one now). Sometimes it's a free drink, sometimes a buy one get one deal. Anyway, on your birthday they give you a birthday reward, of a free pastry. I got my favorite, a blueberry scone, and bought a large black coffee to go with it. It was a great way to start my day at the office. Writing a sermon and eating this delicious Pastry, which is a true splurge for me. 



    We just discovered Firehouse subs in the past year, and we love it! I learned this year that Firehouse Subs does a free medium sub on your birthday. You just have to go in on the day of your birthday with an id. That's it. They hand you a free sub. It's pretty awesome. 



     Dunkin Donuts is another freebie you get when joining DD perks. They have an app on your phone, and will send you an email. The coupon is for a free medium drink (any drink) for your birthday! The coupon is good for 2 weeks. I used it to get this huge oreo coolatta. (though it was delicious, this was my biggest regret of the day... I've vastly reduced my carb and sugar intake, and after everything of the day, my body was very unhappy after this drink, so I suggest sticking with iced coffee which has far less sugar... consider yourselves warned). 

    Our last stop on my actual birthday was to Red Lobster for dinner. Red Lobster also has an e-mail club. They send you a coupon for a free dessert. However, I didn't bring my coupon with me, we just told them it was my birthday and I got this delicious free piece of cheescake!! And they sang for me. (As a side note, Cheescake Factory gives you a free piece of cheescake on your birthday too! We went there a few years ago... and if you are in it just for the cheesacke, go with cheescake factory!)

     This is the birthday perk I look forward to every year. Most people have discovered it by now, but starbucks gives you a free drink on your birthday. Again, you just need to join their loyalty program. It's a little trickier now than it used to be, because it's linked to a gift card. So Do NOT THROW OUT your starbucks giftcards!!! Or at least keep one of them, and link a rewards program to it. They also have an app, which you can load all your gift cards on to (it makes it super convenient) and you can reload your gift cards straight from the app. When your birthday is coming, they load a reward on it, so even though my gift card said $0.00, it registered as a free drink. This is any drink, any size, with any whipped topping you want!!! This is a serious splurge for me, in fact I only get this frappuccino on my birthday each year. 



   This was the first year I used this coupon. It's also from an e-mail perks program (so sign up). It's buy one get one free entrees at Qdoba. Many rewards programs require a puchase like this. My parents got me a Qdoba gift card this year (thanks mom and dad) so it worked out for Mac and I to use the coupon AND the gift card. Which meant a free meal for both of us, and enough money left over for when the next craving for queso hits. (Old Country Buffet has a buy one get one free coupon for your birthday, if you sign up for their club. Famous Daves gives you a discount of 50% off in their birthday club. Chilis and Applebess give you the option of a free appetizer or dessert with a purchase of an entree). 

    This is my second favorite birthday freebie (after starbucks). If you sign up for Noodles and Company's email club, you get a free regular sized bowl for your birthday! You also can add a protein for free. This is seriously an entire meal free! The coupon is good for 2 weeks, so if you are feeling full, go a couple days after your birthday like I did. 

    That's my full tour so far. However, there are many many more freebies I have yet to use. I haven't used any of my free ice cream coupons yet, which include a blizzard from Dairy Queen, custard from Culvers, Baskin robbins, and Coldstone. All of those places you just need to sign up for the email club.
     There are also some more free breakfasts out there. Ihop and Dennys both give you coupons for free birthday breakfast in your email. 

      So have fun looking for all the freebies! I planned out the ones I really wanted to go to, and what ones were only good the day of my birthday, and ones I could use later.
     In fact, we are going up to Michigan this weekend, to enjoy a freebie at a restaurant in Frankenmuth. Since my Mom and I have the same birthday month (our birthdays are only a day apart) we are going to a restaurant where we can both get free meals within the month of August!

     I had a lot of fun going on the birthday tour, and taking some time out for myself. I don't do it often, but with that, and the awesome birthday party my sister in law threw for me, I really ended the weekend feeling loved and ready to take on the world! 
     I hope that whenever your birthday is, you have a happy one, and that you take a little bit of time for yourself, so you can better serve the world around you! 







Lessons we've Learned our First Year: Insights from a Pastor's Spouse

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Last week a pastor from our district called to interview me about church planting. It caught me a little off guard, but it was a great conversation and made me think over the past year. Ever since that conversation, I've been meditating on things I've learned over the past 15 months. So, I've decided to write a series of posts on lessons we've learned over our first year of church planting. This is the fourth and final post in the series. If you'd like to read the others they can be found here: Part 3Part 2, and Part 1.

This is the last post in my "church planting: lessons we've learned our first year" series. This one will be a bit different. I've interviewed my husband Mac, in order to gain his perspective on what the past year as been like. Since these are the type of pictures that happen with him, I'm sure you are in for a wealth of entertainment. (Maybe I should've added that a sense of humor is great for a marriage AND for church planting. Laughter makes the dark days brighter, and if nothing else, we have a lot of laughter). 


What has been the most difficult aspect of church planting, from your perspective as the pastor's spouse? 

     Um... The most difficult aspect?
yes.
      
    The most difficult is, having the burden of having to provide financially. I don't have a choice to not have a job, to support both of us, and student loans, and all of our other bills. 

What is one surprising insight from the past year? Something you didn't expect?
       That our little Northwest Indiana district is as cool as it is. I thought it would be "Indianay", which I guess unfairly, has a negative stereotype. 

In what ways has this year challenged you personally?
     I thought I was already asked this question?

No you weren't. 
     Well, see my previous answer. 

So, so you see finances as the most challenging?
     yes, God can bring us people to come to the church, but God's not going to make money rain down on our house. It's the one thing within our control that I have to take care of. 

Has your perspective of church changed over the past year?

     No. 

What has been the greatest blessing, in terms of church planting, this past year?

     Um... the conncections and support we've had both from our short term missions groups, but also from other pastors on our district. 

What is one thing you've learned about God this year?

     It's not like we had oodles of moneys before, so it's not like I needed to learn that God provides, I already knew that, because God's always come through before, but I learned that... I guess I just learned even more ways that God can display his Godiness outside of the preconceived notions we have as the "american church"

If you were to give a pastor's spouse one piece of advice on being married to a church planting pastor, what would that be?
     Don't ask your wife to do the laundry, and expect it to be done... wait that was just a funny answer. Sleep when you can, because you never stop working. Even when you come home from work, the first thing someone says isn't "hi" it's "what are we having for dinner?" when you first walk through the door. 

Anything else? 
     No . There is nothing I can say to prepare them, just deal with it. Because every situation is not the same. Most church planters don't have a dirty stinky building to clean up. 

What are some highlights from the past 15 months?
       Having lots of children come to church because they want to. 

 If you had to guess, how many hours have you spent prepping church or parsonage walls for painting?
     I would measure that not in hours but in days. At least a month and a half, but probably closer to 2 or 3 months. 

If you had the choice to do it all again, even knowing the painting to be done, would you?
       Yes. But then I changed my mind because I hate Jesus... NO of course I would say yes! We came to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and that doesn't change. You can't say "oh, I'm uncomfortable, sorry Jesus' . Just have this building close and have no one in it." 

Is there anything you'd like to add...
         If you are not sure if church planting is for you, don't talk to someone, go visit a church plant. If you are thinking about planting a church, and have everything you need theologically, and mentally, then just do it. If you are sure you want to plant a church, and you think you'd be perfect at it, and have everything you need and it'll be super easy, then you will be in for a shock, because you are underestimating the challenges that come with planting a church in 2015. There is no manual, there is no guide, there is no class that will prepare you for doing this. In fact, forget everything you thought you knew before about planting a church, go somewhere you want to plant a church, and just start being a good neighbor. 
     

Lessons We've Learned our First Year: Prevenient Grace

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  Last week a pastor from our district called to interview me about church planting. It caught me a little off guard, but it was a great conversation and made me think over the past year. Ever since that conversation, I've been meditating on things I've learned over the past 15 months. So, I've decided to write a series of posts on lessons we've learned over our first year of church planting. This is the third in the series. If you'd like to read the first and second posts, find them here Part 1: Is it Hard? and here Part 2: Top 3 Leadership Insights.

     When people ask me what is the biggest lesson I've learned over the past year, I always talk about prevenient grace. 
     Prevenient grace may be an unfamiliar word to you, but it's a common word in our faith tradition to talk about the grace that goes before. The grace the Holy Spirit extends to people, before they make a commitment of faith. The grace that brings about good, truth, and love in places, maybe without even recognizing that God is the source of good, truth, and love. We believe that it is ever present and that it is a gift for everyone. That it calls to everyone. That it is at work always, in lives and communities throughout the world. 
      One of the beliefs we came into this adventure with, is that God is already at work in this community through the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit. There is sometimes this misconception that when someone does missions work of any kind, at home or abroad, that "we are bringing Jesus to them". That we somehow own the monopoly on Jesus and that he is not present in that place until we show up. 
      That's completely not true. 
      We know that the Holy Spirit is moving in ways beyond our understanding. That when Jesus came to earth, he brought the kingdom of God to earth as well, and though it's not fully realized yet, it is still very present. 
       So, when we arrived to Hammond, we approached it with the idea that we would look for where the Holy Spirit was already at work in the community, and we would jump into that. 
     We had no idea what we were in for. Because while we could articulate what prevenient grace is, and what it might look like in a theoretical sense, I don't know if we would have given you concrete, astounding, almost miraculous examples of that until we dived into this adventure of Church planting. 
         When we first moved, there was a tremendous amount of work to be done. The yard needed to be cared for, the buildings needed some TLC, and we spent the first couple weeks we were in our house, working on putting everything together. Since I had shingles, we received a significant amount of help from family. 
       While they were out weeding and doing other lawn care one day, a couple of ladies stopped by to say hello. My mother in law came back in and said "You have some skeptics. They keep asking what's going to be different this time." So, we prayed, that our skeptics would not only lose their skepticism about us, but that they would become our biggest supporters, and they have! 
       One of the ladies who was unsure of who we are and what we were doing, has become one of our biggest advocates to the neighborhood. She vocally supports us, and offers her help whenever she is able. 
       Prevenient grace.
       After our building got cleaned out enough to be usable, I came home one day after work, and Mac told me that some ladies had come by to ask if they could use a room in our church for Al-Anon meetings to take place. I met with them, talked with them, and it was a great fit for both of us. We didn't seek them out, they sought us out. Now, women are finding hope and healing, and our building is being used more than once a week. 
       Prevenient grace. 
      Prior to moving, I read that 2 out of 3 of the libraries in Hammond (a city of nearly 80,000) had closed. I knew that access to books is one of the big determining factors in school success, drop out rates, and subsequently, poverty. So I thought it would be amazing to install a Little Free Library on our property. After moving, I realized just how far away the remaining library was from our neighborhood. We had a substantial amount of books left in our building, and so we thought it was worth a shot to offer this to our neighborhood.
           We didn't have the money for a while, but then I remembered that someone had gifted us some funds shortly after we moved. Using that gift, along with some mission trip funds, we were able to purchase a library and install it in front of our building. 
         There has been no end to the positive impact this has made. Neighbors have brought their own books to swap in and out since the first day. I've met multiple neighbors, and had many conversations with them at our little library. I've had several neighbors tell me how grateful they are that we put it in, how much it made their children's summer, and what an asset it has been to the neighborhood.
        Prevenient grace. 
         This summer, we planned a Vacation Bible School. We had absolutely no idea how it would turn out, but we decided just to test it out. The first night we had 0 kids. We prayed, we passed out more flyers, and by night 4 we had 13! 
          Prevenient grace.
           The kids felt so loved and cared for at VBS that many of them started coming to church services on Sunday, on their own! They get up, and walk to church, with little to no parent intervention. Some are so excited to participate in communion, and learning more about the grace of God that extends beyond prevenient grace to saving grace. 
             Prevenient grace.
        At the beginning of the summer we put in a fire pit. It's sort of an out of the box thing to do in an urban neighborhood church yard, but we thought it might just be crazy enough to work. 
        A couple weekends ago, we had a bonfire with a church that partners with us, and now the kids who have been coming to our church got to be the hosts, and minister to others. 
       Neighbors walking by stopped by for a hot dog, a s'more, and conversation. 
         Prevenient grace. 
        The grace that goes before us, and that calls people is so evident here. The ways that God has brought people to us, the ways that God was already at work, and we were just able to jump in. We didn't set out thinking that many of these things would happen within our first year, and the few things we had thought of, have ended up being more successful than we ever could have planned. 
      God's grace is present in our little neighborhood in Hammond. The kingdom of God is alive and growing in Hammond, we just keep praying for the wisdom to see it, and the strength to hold on for the great ride. We didn't bring Jesus here, but we are so privileged to get to see him at work in the lives of our neighbors, and help sow more seeds of the kingdom here. 

Lessons We've Learned our First Year: Top 3 Leadership Insights

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  Last week a pastor from our district called to interview me about church planting. It caught me a little off guard, but it was a great conversation and made me think over the past year. Ever since that conversation, I've been meditating on things I've learned over the past 15 months. So, I've decided to write a series of posts on lessons we've learned over our first year of church planting. This is the second. Make sure to check back for the next posts in the series. 

     One of the questions that was asked of me, was "what are the top 3 leadership insights you've gained planting a church?" I'm sure I said um about a thousand times, but I actually knew right away what I thought.
    I'm not a huge fan of lists like "top 3" or "top 5" or "5 steps" of or to whatever, but there are definitely 3 prominent leadership skills I've noticed as being invaluable this year.

Flexibility. I thought of this one right away. This is something that has been a cornerstone in ministry (or life for that matter) as a whole, but has been especially helpful church planting.
      Every day is different, and things rarely (if ever) go as expected. There must be flexibility in your approach, or you will go crazy.
      There are a few ways this has played out in our ministry.
     The first is just in renovating our building. There is a reason people site home renovations as a reason for divorce. Now make that home a nearly hundred year old church building, and it's a recipe for disaster. Everything took longer than expected, EVERYTHING! Cleaning took twice as long, because of pests, so not only did everything need to be vacuumed, but you needed to wear a face mask, and bleach the shop vac AND the area after cleaning. Painting took longer than expected because first we had to removed stuff off the walls, (which took days in and of itself) and then there was sanding and patching. You get the point. Our schedule and time line had to be somewhat flexible or we would have drove one another insane. Being flexible allowed us to stay married (hooray) and our leadership team to not hate each other by our launch, despite how exhausted we were.
         And that's just with the building. Flexibility applies to the ministry as well. People are not easy to control, and even if they were, that's not the best method of ministry. That means that sometimes you plan things that don't work out at all. Sometimes expectations are not met. Sometimes things don't fit our urban context, or the specific age group. When 5 kids show up on a Sunday morning, and kids outnumber adults in church service, suddenly flexibility is needed as the sermon has to be reworked on the spot to engage them a little more. Or, when we were trying VBS for the first time, and the kids were nervous to come inside the church. It was important to go to them, to change our schedule, to completely rework what VBS looked like, or we would have missed the ministry victories and beauty of that week due to our need to be rigidly on task.
           Lastly, there must be flexibility with the schedule. Being co-vocational means that I must be creative with my time. Sometimes that means studying during lunch break, a lot of time that means reading the sermon text on Monday and not getting to write it until Friday (or Saturday... or sometimes Sunday morning). It's not ideal, but it's life. Being rigid would only continually cause frustration. Now, there is necessity in planning and balancing life and work, but if that planning gets in the way of engaging with my family or with my community, it becomes a hindrance and not a help. Feeling guilty about not staying on task, would only be one more hurdle to jump, and we already have enough of those, so I try to be as flexible as possible, while still getting things done.

Humility. This may be the most important leadership skill when church planting. Everything must be approached with humility. Everything.
     It is an arrogant thing to walk into a neighborhood and tell people what's wrong with their lives based on a few statistics and demographics you read. It is an arrogant thing to assume that everyone in your church planting area is un-churched, and it is arrogant to assume that those who are un-churched know nothing of God or faith. If we had done any of those things, our work would have ended before it began.
     There's an old saying "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason" this applies even more so to Church planting. You must always listen first. You must always intentionally listen, and the listening may take weeks, or months, or years, before you earn the right to speak into that person's life, but you must earn that right. That takes a lot of humility. And once you've earned that right, you still have to be humble enough to love them without strings attached. They may never come to church, they may never follow Christ, we must be humble and respectful enough to love them in spite of that, because Christ does.
     It takes a significant amount of humility to ask for help. To realize that the task ahead is one that you can not do on your own, that you need Christ first and foremost, but that you need other people as well. Everything is a group effort. Church planting should never be an island, and if it feels that way, it may be because there isn't enough humility present to ask for help. Sometimes that's just asking someone to pray, sometimes that's asking for money (though we've been grateful to not have to do that much.... yet), sometimes that's asking another pastor over for dinner or calling another ministry couple to vent too. This is important, and we need to have the humility to do so.
      You must also have humility when looking at the people around you. It is incredibly easy to judge. Just the other day Mac and I were talking about how difficult it is to not judge people when watching them make unwise food choices at the grocery store. We come into that situation incredibly privileged, to have parents who taught us how to cook, who educated us about good nutrition, who taught us that pre-processed foods aren't worth the money, etc. Not everyone comes from the backgrounds we do. This could be said about multiple situations we encounter on a regular basis. Hammond is different than where either one of us grew up. Very different in many ways, and we continually have to check our biases and privileges at the door, to humbly view people as the beloved of God. To view people with different eyes. To be less judgmental.
      It is incredibly humbling to realize that maybe our views of poverty, of urban culture, of food insecurity, of race, of gender, or whatever other biases and views we might have are wrong, BUT it's incredibly necessary to be humble enough to admit that. We can't grow if we don't, and we certainly can not sow seeds of the Kingdom if we come from a place of arrogance. Christ became human, he served alongside humanity, as humanity, to show the extent of God's great love for us; we must do the same, no matter how many times it takes for us to mess up, ask for forgiveness and start again.

Thick Skin and Soft Hearts. I am unsure of who first taught me this phrase in relation to ministry, but whoever it was, I am grateful, because it has been a phrase I go back to over and over again.
       Ministry is hard. It doesn't matter if that is teaching a Sunday School class, running an after school program, teaching at a christian daycare, pastoring a church, or church planting. People are messy, and broken.
     There are times when I come home from school, and I tell Mac about a student who was particularly difficult, or who told me about their life at home, and he gets teary eyed and says to me "how do you not just bring them all home at the end of the day?" And I say "because I can't."
       I physically can not take every kid with a rough home life home, and even if I could, we don't have the emotional or financial resources to care for them. It is heart breaking. My heart grieves over and over again for many stories I hear from day to day.
       When my al-anon ladies come in each week, I work in my office, and I can often hear their sobs from the other room, and my heart breaks again.
        My heart breaks, it grieves, it mourns, and bleeds for so many wounds here and around the world, and that should never ever change. If it does, that is the day I should leave ministry. Having a callous heart is not the heart of God, a God who mourns when we mourn.
     However, in the midst of that world I must live, care for myself and my family, and be a pastor that can pastor her people. If I end up in the fetal position on the floor of my office, I am no good to anybody.
     That's where having a thick skin comes in. I have to be strong enough to wake up each day, to do the tasks that God has called me to. There is a time and a place for falling apart, but that time is generally not at 8am Monday morning, or 10am on Sunday, that time is usually during prayer, as I lament to God the breaking of my heart for a broken world. That's often with Mac as we reflect on our time here, and our day to day life. Sometimes that time is with close trusted friends and family, who get it, who get me, and who get the task we are called too, who bring me back to the reminder that I do not have to carry these burdens alone, but there is a community (the Church) who walks with me, and a Holy Spirit who gives me strength.
       The other area where having a thick skin and a soft heart is necessary is when dealing with difficult people.
      It happens. It happens more often than you think, that someone is critical. Someone tries to tell you that your entire ministry philosophy is wrong, I've had someone go as far as to question how much I love Jesus. It truly gets ugly sometimes.
        Sometimes as Christians we believe it is our call to be a doormat, maybe there is a time for that, but that time is never when you are caring for your flock. I don't like confrontation, I don't like it at all, but it is sometimes necessary, and it is sometimes impossible to avoid.
     I have to be able to stick it out, to stand my ground, to be able to state clearly what we are doing and why, without reverting back into that fetal position in my office. If I become a sobbing mess in front of that person or people, I lose credibility. I become a horrible shepherd, because I need to protect and care for my flock, and sometimes that means standing up for them and for what we do.         However, if I ever get to the point where I am too big for criticism, where I care nothing for what others think, I've lost my humility and my soft heart. Every word shouldn't wound me, but I need to still have the ears to hear, and the humility and wisdom to see beyond the shrapnel hurled in my direction. Because soft hearts are able to recognize when they are wrong, and to move in a different direction. Soft hearts are malleable to the Holy Spirit, and are able to be flexible and humble. Soft hearts are able to grow.

      These are the top 3 leadership insights I've found helpful this year, but they apply to any ministry, and are helpful in life in general. There are many other skills I could list. I'd love to hear if there are any leadership insights you would add, or if you have found one of these skills particularly helpful in your ministry. Leave me a comment, I'd love to read them.

And, if you missed my first post in this series, you can find it here: Lessons We've Learned our First Year: Is it hard?

Lessons We've Learned our First Year: Is it Hard?

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  Last week a pastor from our district called to interview me about church planting. It caught me a little off guard, but it was a great conversation and made me think over the past year. Ever since that conversation, I've been meditating on things I've learned over the past 15 months. So, I've decided to write a series of posts on lessons we've learned over our first year of church planting. This is the first. Make sure to check back for the next posts in the series. 

     I'm asked often if church planting is harder than we anticipated and if we are ready to throw our hands up in exasperation yet. That's a hard question to answer, because the things that are hard, are not things I anticipated as being hard (except for administrative tasks... which I have never been great at. And that's not hard as much as annoying. I miss having an administrative assistant daily.). Many of the things I thought would be difficult, aren't.
      I thought that meeting neighbors would be daunting, and difficult. That it would take months, or years to have deep conversations. That however has been completely untrue in our experience. There are a few exceptions to that, but the culture of our neighborhood is very open. People are outside a lot, which makes it easy to get to know people. Mac and I are also outgoing people, which probably has helped with this, but within a few months we knew many of our neighbors names. Getting to know people on a deeper level, takes more time, but we've gotten to know some really great people, who call me for prayer, who come into my office for hugs when they've had a rough day, and who are excited to see us out in the community.
     The other thing I thought would be incredibly difficult, would be learning to live with less. Our finances have been tighter since moving, however it's not been near the struggle I thought it would be. We have very generous people around us, who always seem to step in at the right time. We have great jobs, and health insurance. All of these things have really helped in that transition, and because we really feel we are called here, and we love our neighborhood and broader community, it makes the sacrifices feel less like sacrifices.
     However, probably one of the things I didn't anticipate was the strain on our schedule. I naively thought we'd have much more time together, and a bit more control over our schedule. To be able to take weekends off (something we never really have gotten to do), and take some extra vacation time. That has not happened. If anything, it seems like we are always adjusting to a new schedule. When we first moved, we got used to the schedule of hosting groups, and my being out of work. Then school started, and I began working, so our schedule switched again. Mac then switched jobs (which was great financially) but it meant I didn't have a car during the day, so our schedule again switched. Then we started Sunday morning worship services. By the time we got used to that routine, it was again summer, with our summer mission trip schedule. Now we are back to the school year, now with 2 cars, Sunday morning worship services, and both of us working jobs that pay again.
     I knew things would be busy, and a lot of work, but I really thought I'd feel more in control of my schedule than I do. Mainly it's because we had no idea what anything would look like, now that we do, it feels a bit more manageable to get into a routine.... until we get another curve ball.
      The other difficult aspect of church planting for us, and maybe even more difficult than the scheduling, is to explain to other Christians what it is we do. People who don't go to church seem to get it, that we are here to love the neighbors, to be people of peace, grace, reconciliation and love to the people around us, and to be a catalyst for transformation in our community. Many church people don't get it... at all.
     We get asked questions like "what model of church planting are you following?" "How many people are in your church?" "But what do you actually do...." All of those questions I cringe to answer. We don't ask these questions of ourselves, we tend to just ask, are we being faithful to what God is calling us? If the answer is yes, we just keep doing that.
    The truth is, our model is Jesus, and that's about it. We don't have lots of people in our chairs Sunday morning, but we interact with hundreds of people many weeks, so Sunday is a poor way to look at what we do. We tend to not look at butts in pews as a sign of success, but whether or not we were faithful to follow Christ, care for one another, and love our neighbors during the week.
      Each day around here is different, but we do a lot of different things. We garden, we ask people how their day is, we welcome people into our home, we write, we read, we clean, we cook, we go for walks through our neighborhood, I write a sermon each week, choose songs from the hymnal, print off bulletins, answer the phone, go over budgets, go to the bank, talk to neighbors, oh, and then we also do house work and have jobs on top of that, while caring for our dog, one another, and spending time with friends and family. Pretty much our lives look like most everyone else's.
      We try to engage the neighborhood, mostly by being good neighbors and living our day to day lives as Christ followers. There isn't a magic formula, or method really, just being people who truly love Jesus and seek to live that out to the best of our ability, with our lives open to the people around us (from the grocery store, to church on Sunday, from the coffee shop, to mission trip teams). But if you want to know what we tend to live out as a model, it's this: Radical hospitality. That's it. We believe that true hospitality can change the world.
     In fact in many ways, we believe it already has. After all, it's Christ's great call to join life with him that brought us here. The call to be immersed in the life of a community seeking Christ, called the church, is a call to hospitality. A call to care for others, to invite others into our lives, and to in turn be invited into the lives of others. That's why Jesus is our model, because he was great at this. At inviting people into his life, at being present in the lives of others.
    This is what we seek to do, each Sunday as we serve breakfast, during the week as we invite people into our home, or even when we make books available to our neighbors. These are all ways we seek to live life together with our neighbors. And, yes, this is hard sometimes. It's really hard to be faithful sometimes, because we know that is a call to sacrifice, to give up our comfort, to answer the door when we don't feel like it, to walk the hard path with people. But that's the call of a disciple, to follow the path of Christ, and it would be a mistake to think that is an easy path, but we truly believe it's the best path, and so, we continue to walk it.
   
Next Post- top 3 leadership insights I've gained year 1 

Happy New School Year!

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     I really love the first day of school. I love the entire feeling of going back to school; the sales on school supplies and the stacks of yellow pencils at the store, watching the kids walk down the sidewalk with backpacks that look as though they will tip them over, and the ever so slight scent of fall in the air.
    Many people look at years from January through December, but I have always looked at the beginning of the year, as the beginning of school. My years are always scheduled that way, probably because I was in youth ministry for so long right after being a student, and now because I substitute teach.

    Today is the first day of school, and I love it. As a church in the middle of a neighborhood, we are really trying to think of ways to engage with our neighborhood.
    At the end of the school year, I came up with the crazy idea to have popsicles for the kids after school, which you can read about in an earlier blog. We decided to do something along the same lines for the first day of school.
    We decided it would be fun to give all of the students walking by on their way to school (we have neighborhood schools here, so nearly everyone walks) a small gift. Last weekend, my helpers put together around 50 gift bags each containing pencils and erasers, with a tag that said "Happy First Day of School!"

      It's a small gesture really, and with some donations from others, it cost us very little. We wanted to think of something small, that could make a difference, even if the only difference was to make someone's day a little bit happier. 

     So, this morning we got to work. Seeking to be a bright spot in the day of our neighbors. For some, sending their kids to school is an exciting day. For others, it's more difficult. The same goes for students, one small kindergartner told us how she has been wanting to go to school for so long, because she watched her brothers go to school, and now it was finally her turn. Others didn't look quite so excited to be going back on such a nice day. 
    
     We passed out 20 or so gift bags, and we had tons of donuts left over, but I think the day was a great success! The highlight for me, was getting to give a doughnut and coffee to our crossing guard. I can not say enough nice things about him. We interact a lot when I walk to the school to sub, but he also helps me cross the street, if I'm there while he is, to go to the post office or run other errands. He's always so kind, and is a bright spot in many of my days. 
      When I gave him a doughnut and coffee, he was so surprised and happy. He told me how he was so surprised, and grateful for the treat. 
       We met neighbors that we had yet to meet, and I was proud of myself for remembering the names of many I have met throughout the year. If nothing else, we got to let our neighbors know we are here, that we care for them, and got to see our neighbor kids with their giant backpacks and new school clothes. It was a great way to start the day, and the new year. 
         

   It was a small gesture. It was a bit out of the box, but I'm glad we did it, if for no other reason than to get to wish the neighborhood kids a happy first day of school, and have a moment to celebrate the start of a new year with them. 
     

    I pray this new school year, with new beginnings, with new challenges, with new triumphs and trials, is filled with the prevenient grace of God. That the grace of God would touch each student and teacher's life in profound ways. That they might be challenged to be better people, that they might be compelled to be people of compassion, and that this year would be a year filled with learning that transforms lives and communities for the better. 


This is Our Church too

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     I sometimes take the local church for granted. I grew up in the church, it was (for the most part) a place of comfort and support for me. When I began working as a pastor in churches, I found this support even more important.
     There are times where support was fleeting, or absent, and even a few times hostility replaced support, but overwhelmingly the church has been a place where if I needed help I could go.
     So when my car needed a new tire a couple years ago, it was a guy from our small group who showed up and replaced my tire while we were out of town. I was surprised, yet at the same time, that's what church does, steps in when you need help and support.
     I've always considered myself a part of the church, because I have always been included from a young age in the life of the church, with parents who emphasized that church wasn't solely a place we go, but something we participate in.
     The other day, my eyes were opened to how much I take that for granted.
      Our church, The Mission Church, partners with another Nazarene church on our district, Duneland Community church, who brings a group of young teenagers on a regular basis to serve alongside us. They launched their school year with a 24 hour service retreat with us this past weekend.
     It's a lock-in, but with a service aspect. Which is really amazing.
     We invited everyone from our church to come out on the Friday night of their arrival for a bonfire, and to spread the word to anyone else in the neighborhood who would like to come.
     The boys from church showed up early, in great anticipation of meeting kids around the same age as them from another church, and to play games.
     While we were setting everything up, and waiting for their arrival, I told the boys "You guys have to remember to be good hosts."
      They got very excited and replied "Wait? Are we hosting them?"
       I responded with "Well this is your church isn't it. And since our church is hosting them, and you are a part of this church, then that means you are hosting them."
      Then the smiles really started. They got really big eyes and said "This is our church! This is our church too! We get to host them! We are the hosts!"
      A lump caught in my throat a little bit, at how excited they were to be included. To have someone say "This is your church too." They were so proud, so excited, and waited with eagerness to greet our friends with cheers of welcome.
     They sat our guests around the bonfire and took time to ask each of their names, and a few things that they were interested in. They took the time to include our guests in games and in laughter.
      As neighbors walked by, they too were welcomed into the circle. Young and old, eating hot dogs, marshmallow sticking to our faces, laughing, getting to know one another, tears in our eyes from the smoke, we were the church. Friends we just met, and friends we've known for a year. We were the Church and this was a thin place.
       The kingdom of God was so close, as one of the boys from our church said the prayer for the food, as the older kids helped the younger ones make marshmallows. As a little neighbor girl ran up and hugged me. As Mac knelt over the fire making her the first s'more she had ever eaten in her life. The kingdom of God was so visible as kids from the neighborhood begged their parents to stay just a little bit longer.
      And as I lay my head on my pillow, far later than the time I'm used too, my hair still smelling of smoke, I knew that I had been in the presence of Jesus that night, and that I had seen the Church with new eyes. I could rest with an excitement in my heart that "This is my church too!" and what an amazing church it is.

Grace in the Mess

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      When I went to college, I originally wanted to get a minor in Spanish. When I opted to study youth ministry, I switched my minor to Children's ministry, believing that would make me more marketable to churches.

      For years, I regretted that decision. Having a minor in children's ministry has been helpful, but having a degree in Spanish would have helped me better communicate with my neighbors.
     When I started as a church planter, I looked over both of my degrees, and while I didn't regret having either one (they really helped form me, and teach me) I felt as though I might have been better prepared had I gotten a general pastoral ministry degree and gone on to get an M Div. 
        It's my firm belief that if we allow God to use us, God has the ability to use everything we have, and not waste anything. 
       My youth ministry degrees and experience has been helpful as we've hosted groups of teens to serve during the summer. It's been a way for me to help plan out short term missions trips in a way that connects with the spiritual development of teenagers. 
        However, it wasn't until this past Sunday that I really saw my minor in Children's ministry step up to such a valued position.
       Sunday morning we were honored to double our church size. 
       We were very excited with 5 new church visitors, who all happen to have found our church through vacation bible school, and are all under the age of 14. They added a lot of life and energy to our Sunday morning, and we were so blessed to have them be a part of our congregation.
      One of our visions for our church is that we are a truly inter-generational church, and we were missing an important demographic to that.... children. We really feel that everyone, no matter their age, background, race, gender, etc. has something to offer the kingdom of God. That the kingdom of God, the Church, is at it's best when it is a mosaic of people and experiences. 
       We want to explore and live out what it means to have all ages serving, worshiping, learning, and living life together. 
      When I first proposed this idea, I had a couple different people ask me if it would be difficult to preach and teach to such a diverse group of people. How do you preach sermons that reach the youngest to the oldest?
       I'm still exploring the answers to that, but there is a beauty to kids coming to church (some for the first time in their lives). Watching as the adults in our tiny congregation help them find the books of the bible we are exploring, and show them the verses. There's something really moving about kids coming up to take communion (maybe for the first time), and smiles breaking out over their face, and thinking that even if they don't understand it all, that God's grace is for them too. That God's grace in that bread and juice is for them as much as it is for the most theologically learned person among us. There is joy in answering questions mid-sermon, and seeing little boys in their Sunday best (who you know tried so hard). There are humbling moments when they hand you crinkled bills and handfuls of change to give their little bit back to the LORD.
            There is immense beauty in the messy. The messiness of learning church together, with our neighbors, young and old. Learning to follow God together, black and white, affluent and poor, educated and less educated. It is the most crazy adventure I've probably ever embarked on, but I'm a better Christ follower for sitting in the midst of it.

          And, in the midst of the messy, I re-learned, that when you give everything over to God, who truly wastes nothing, even a minor degree in children's ministry. 
       

Different and Beautiful

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       Prior to planting The Mission Church, I had always worked in established churches. Most of these churches were in a suburban context, and the one rural church I worked in, still operated in very suburban ways.
       Because these were established churches, there was a certain way we did things. I grew up in the church, so this culture was familiar to me. You go to church early, before Sunday School to help set up, then you go to a Sunday School class divided by age, afterwards you might have a coffee break, then you go to church service, where you sing, pray, take offering, and listen to a sermon. Many churches had Sunday night service, where you'd come back for more songs, prayers, another offering, and sermon. I knew what potluck meant (gathering for lots of food prepared by many hands). Midweek service was either youth group or some type of kids club. Summer had a week long Vacation Bible School.
      This was the culture that I grew up in. It didn't seem weird, or out of place. From the time I was tiny, I could sit still through church, and my mom says I sat through bible stories in the nursery before I was a year old.

This is me (back middle) my little sister and some friends in our church when I was in High School

       The past few weeks have opened my eyes to how very strange this culture is to people who have not encountered church on a regular basis. The culture of church is beautiful and varied, but very difficult for young people in particular, who have never interacted with church before.
        When we attempted to do Vacation Bible School, we discovered it was not written for our context, urban and unchurched, an issue I never ran into before, because i was working within the context of a church culture. Sitting still for 20 minutes is a challenge, singing songs seems out of place, listening to bible stories is a new thing, and there is 0 understanding of what missions is, let alone raising money for a missions project.
     The reality we are dealing with, is that these kids don't even know if they can just walk into a church building. One kid asked "Do we just walk in? Or do we have to have our invite with us?" They are timid and wary of our building. They are unsure of what they are to do, and the whole experience is alien to them.
       We talk a lot around here about redefining church to culture. That we have to illustrate what the church is outside of our walls, if we ever want to see anyone come inside of them. But a large part of that work, is redefining church culture to ourselves. Reorienting ministry to look different than we've done it before, and realizing that it's okay to do things different.
        When we stepped outside of the Vacation Bible School format, amazing things happened. Kids opened up. They were laughing, they were comfortable, they were open. They felt okay coming into the church. All because we scrapped what we thought we needed to do, and replaced it with something organic and beautiful. You can't force someone to become a Christian, or to come into a church, anymore than you can force someone to be your friend or to love you. That's not how relationships work, and that's not how Jesus works.

       Jesus stands at the door and knocks, he doesn't bust the door down. If we had busted doors down, we would have missed the grace of the Holy Spirit at work.
       So today, as I was working on a few projects at church, I heard "Pastor Robbie! Hi!" In small excited boy voices, and a smile broke out over my face, and I called to all of them by name. This time they weren't timid about coming into the church and asked "Can we help you with anything? We want to help." I gave them something to do, a small project that was done in just a few minutes, but they felt a part of something, and I did to.
      I felt a part of this great movement of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is here. It's present. Sometimes it looks like a church that's been around for decades, with established youth groups and programming, but sometimes it looks like sweaty neighborhood boys chasing soccer balls in the yard. Sometimes it looks like open hearts looking for a place to belong. Sometimes it looks different than what we ever dreamed or imagined it could, and it's beautiful.