theilluminationdilemma

stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. [exploring the endless connections between faith in Jesus and everything else]

Some New Thoughts on Sabbath

I once had a ministry supervisor say to me: “Sabbath’s are encouraged, just don’t let your sabbath interfere with your work.”

When I came back at that comment with: “I think that’s actually the point of a sabbath: to interfere with and interrupt our work,” there was some back tracking, but the point was clear. You are here to work, don’t let anything get in the way of that!

Amy and I have tried to sabbath throughout our life together to varying degrees of success.
To be honest, we haven’t been that good at it.
We haven’t let sabbathing interfere with our work.

One of our commitments in this new chapter was to start practicing some good habits right out of the gate.

Monday is our sabbath. So, far we’ve done a good job of it. No work, ministry, or prep takes place on Mondays. Just family stuff.

Sometimes we go to Costco.
Sometimes we explore Oakland.
Sometimes we just stay home and make pancakes.
Sometimes we go to the park and then to a great family cafe for lunch (this is our favorite).

We don’t check much email (I don’t check my work email at all).
We don’t do too many chores.
We do try to have fun.
We are absolutely with each other.

I titled this post “new thoughts,” but really there are no new thoughts, just a better, more disciplined practice.

And it really is making a difference.

We all recover from Sunday.
It reorders and prioritizes the week.
It is renewing and refreshing and all the things sabbath is supposed to be.

I know this will grow more challenging and more disruptive as we move into future phases: Amy returning to work, the kids going to school, sports and activities, more ministry opportunities and pressures.

 But I’m also beginning to see that we can’t give this up. The day may have to change, but the day off never should.

My new thought on sabbath is that this is yet another area of life that requires discipline. And discipline is hard, but rewarding. We are reaping the benefits.

Please, friends, let sabbath interrupt your work.

It’s worth it.

Some New Thoughts on Fundraising

One of the questions I get asked most often these days, usually right after “aren’t you glad you moved and miss than winter in Boston,” is something to the effect of: “how does it feel to not have to fundraise anymore?”

Actually it isn’t as much of a question as an indirect way of saying: “You’re life must be so much better now that you don’t have to fundraise.”

I really dislike this comment.

To begin with, I actually liked fundraising. It kept me in touch with a lot of people who I otherwise might not have stayed in contact with. It forced me to ask for help, which is not something I enjoy doing naturally. We experienced grace and generosity in ways we would never have otherwise. Fundraising created a community with friends near and far, a sustaining community, a community that also helped us find our new role.

Furthermore, just because I am not fundraising doesn’t mean we are free of financial risk. That’s the subtext for a lot of people: fundraising is crazy and risky, working at a church is safe and secure (and in many people’s minds lucrative).

I object to this line of thinking greatly. Yes, the realities of fundraising are quite different from the realities of a salary. But, a church salary, especially at an urban, inner city church, is no sure thing. This community took a risk in hiring me, and any small church pastor will tell you about weekly anxiety and uncertainty.

This is not to say that I don’t have critiques of fundraising or that there aren’t aspects of the process that I am glad to be free of. It’s just not quite what most people might expect.

A couple of critiques:

1) First, fundraising is exhausting. It is a never-ending process. But, while it is a grind, that’s not actually what I am referring to.

I had a supporter who is a professor at Fuller Seminary in the psychology department, and she’s been working on a big project on Young Life, looking into the effects of camp ministry on discipleship. In the process she met and talked at a lot of Young Life staff, hearing their stories and getting to know what their life is like.

She drew a conclusion: Young Life staff are stressed out and working well beyond their capacity.

You might assume this is because they work too many hours, play too many silly games, and spend several weeks of the year at camp. But, that’s not actually what is wearing them out.

According to the research my friend was doing, the stress came through the balancing of too many communities. A Young Life staff has the community of student’s they are investing in (usually at a school). Then they have their co-workers and other area staff. They are building relationships with the school administrators. They have their church circles and their neighbors. They have other friends. If they are married, they are also balancing those “worlds.”

And then they have this group of people called “supporters,” 100-300 people they are regularly in contact with about prayer requests and financial support.

Now, as I mentioned earlier this is a beautiful thing, to have so many people supporting you. But, it is exhausting too.

In Boston we had our Sojourn team, our campus groups, our church groups, our friends in Boston, Amy’s work, our neighbors, our extended family around the country, other friends around the country, and then our support team. Some of those overlapped, but many did not. It’s no wonder we struggled with getting to know our neighbors.

One thing we already appreciate about this new chapter is that there are fewer circles to manage and we are freer to interact in each circle. We are more present than we ever were in Boston.

2) Second, I struggle with the unfortunate reality that fundraising is far too often used as THE vetting tool for mission work. In other words, if you can fundraise, you can do the work.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of great missionaries, campus ministers, young life leaders, etc, who never get to do what they were clearly created to do because they don’t have the network for fundraising.

Now, for some people this is a real obedience issue: there are some folks who are lazy, undisciplined, afraid or unwilling to ask, or  who lack the training to hit their fundraising goals. These folks squander the opportunity and gift in front of them.

But, for every one of those folks, there are two great missionaries who walk away because, for whatever reason, they can’t fundraise enough money. I think in particular of the college graduate who has to pay off student loans, or the first-generation immigrant student who simply doesn’t have the resources in their networks, or the new Christian who doesn’t have the church experience/community.

We make it very difficult for these people to participate if fundraising is the vetting issue.

Furthermore, there are some people who are great at fundraising who have no business being campus ministers or missionaries because of character issues or gifting.

3) My final thought is that fundraising can make the relationship between the organization and its employees difficult at times. If funds are not properly accounted for and kept track of fastidiously, it can breed resentment. Especially if some people are essentially forced into carrying the load for a time (or indefinitely).

I won’t go into details, but when I started fundraising I kept very detailed records of what I brought in and took out (no one else was doing this for me when I started and I am grateful we brought someone in to do this for us about two years into my time with the organization).

That decision turned out to be prescient, because there came a day when a significant chunk of money of that money disappeared. If not for my records I’m not sure what we would have done. For the record, this story is less about losing money and more of an example of one way that fundraising can lead to resentment and frustration.

This is an interesting phenomenon because one of the benefits of fundraising is the regular experience of grace and miraculous provision. It is amazing how quickly that turns when there is “miraculous” disappearing of funds. It tested my understanding of grace to be sure.

Having said all that I did enjoy fundraising. I got choked up writing my final thank you notes and I miss the connection and bonding that fundraising brings.

But I also feel free in a lot ways that seem healthy.

To my friends that continue to fundraise: keep on it faithful friends!

To the organizations that require fundraising: may you be full of integrity and serve the best interests of your employees.

To the rest of us: may we be generous to those who ask for our partnership.

Experts, Critical Thinking, and Naps

“The immediate access to information that Wikipedia, Google, Bing, and other Internet tools provide has created a new problem that few of us are trained to solve, and this has to be our collective mission in training the next generation of citizens. This has to be what we teach our children: how to evaluate the hordes of information that are out there, to discern what is true and what is not, to identify biases and half-truths, and to know how to be critical, independent thinkers. In short, the primary mission of teachers must shift from the dissemination of raw information to training a cluster of mental skills that revolve around critical thinking. And one of the first and most important lessons that should accompany this shift is an understanding that there exist in the world experts in many domains who know more than we do. They should not be trusted blindly, but their knowledge and opinions, if they pass certain tests of face validity and bias, should be held in higher regard than those who lack specialized training. The need for education and the development of expertise has never been greater. One of the things that experts spend a great deal of time doing is figuring out which sources of information are credible and which are not, and figuring out what they know versus what they don’t know. And these two skills are perhaps the most important things we can teach our children in this post-Wikipedia, post-Google world. What else? To be conscientious and agreeable. To be tolerant of others. To help those less fortunate than they. To take naps.”

– Daniel J. Levitan The Organized Mind  

It Does Happen

One of M’s new lines is “it does happen.”

As in, Daddy is walking through the kitchen and drops his cookie on the ground and begins to grumble under his breath. At which point, M swoops in, pats me on the back, and says:

It does happen.”

This weekend as we’ve reflected on Good Friday I was reminded in many ways that “it does happen.”
Sin, death, heartbreak, tragedy, dysfunction, deterioration, on and on it goes.
It does happen.

Yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, I was reminded that even while “it does happen,” something else is happening too.

Resurrection.

Sometimes blindingly, amazingly, obviously.
Most of the time, though, in a million tiny, mundane ways.
In the sacrificial hands of a good servant,
in the kind words of a wise friend,
in bread and wine,
in rain on Easter morning.

You can see it if you have the eyes: new life bursting forth right here and right now.

That’s the next step for M as she grows in wisdom.

Step one: recognize that it does happen.
Step two: develop the eyes to see another reality.
To hold Good Friday and Easter Sunday in a healthy tension.
And to know and believe in resurrection.

What I Get To Do

One of the weirder parts of our transition to California is that while we had at least three opportunities to share about what we were going to do in a public setting, we never got the chance to actually do it.*

So, I thought I’d take a post to share a little bit about what I/we get to do here in Oakland.

Broadly:

I get to help our new church build a culture of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in our neighborhood and city.
I get to pastor and shepherd and teach.
I get to learn and serve alongside a diverse group of people. I mean crazy diverse. In every possible way. Google employees and homeless folks, old and young, parents and kids and single folks, and on and it goes.

Specifically:

Amy and I are facilitating/teaching a class for 8 engaged/recently married couples and we are having a blast preparing for and interacting with this group.
I’ve been able to preach three times already.
I’m getting to build needed systems and structures.
I’m meeting with and coaching small group leaders.
I’m helping coach our Pais interns.
I get to have conversations with people who have serious questions about God.
I get to disciple.
I get to lead.

And:

I get to be home 5 or 6 times a week to help put our kids to bed.
I get to ride my bike to work every day.
I get a sabbath.
I get to live in the most diverse city in the country, wear shorts most of the time, and hug Buster Posey (ok, that last part is a lie, but IT COULD HAPPEN).

I don’t have words to express the gratitude I feel on a daily basis.

Thank you Jesus.

*I’ve written about some personal lesson I’ve learned about transitions, but I hope to write a post soon on the leadership lessons I learned during this season. 

Jen Hatmaker on Transitions

“Leaving is hard, even when a great adventure awaits you.

We knew were leaving. To go where? We didn’t have the first inkling. That was somewhere out there, yet to be determined. What lay in front of us was the telling, the transition, leaving the platform. After seven years, there was no doubt: This would be tough.

I hardly know what to say except that this season was terribly hard. I wish I had some of those weeks back to rethink this conversation or better word that piece of correspondence. We navigated with pure intentions and a fierce desire to do this well.

But things like leaving, new ideas, and perception–further complicated by no details about where we were going–made for a difficult transition. No one wanted the particulars more than us, but part of our task was going without knowing. Those were hard, difficult days. Sometimes following God is the worst. I can say with some confidence: if you go wherever God says and when, expect to be misunderstood.

And go anyway.

-Jen Hatmaker Interrupted

Donald Miller on Parenting

“It’s funny what happens to you when part of your heart gets born inside somebody else.

God doesn’t give us crying, pooping children because he wants to advance our careers. He gives them to us for the same reason he confused language at the Tower of Babel, to create chaos and deter us from investing too much energy in the gluttonous idols of self-absorption.”

-from Scary Close

Something New

It feels way too early to write an excellent post on how to transition well into a new position. (I highly recommend my friend Ryan’s post here on his career transition). So, rather than write a presecriptive post, I’ll just share a few things I’ve done and maybe someday I’ll write a part II and tell you whether they were good ideas or not!

1. Learn

Ask a lot of questions and listen to people. Especially people who have been around your church/company/work environment for a long time.

Read The First 90 Days.

Read the by-laws…study the web page…learn the software…whatever it takes. LEARN.

2. Stay Focused

Maybe you took an entry level job and like Ryan you need to say yes to just about everything. But, if you were hired to do a job that has a specific job description, do whatever it takes to stay on that job-description. Be strategic.

This is a hard one because it can feel arrogant/lazy to say no to things, but if you are supposed to fix computers don’t sign up to bake cookies. Focus is better than busyness.

3. Work Hard

This is where Ryan’s post is extremely helpful. Hustle, get after it, throw yourself into your to-do list.

Show up, show up on time, do the work.

And have fun. You took a big risk, you landed somewhere, this is an opportunity, so take advantage of it.

Expect The Unexpected

Yesterday I wrote about how you know when it’s time to move on to the next thing. Today I want to share some thoughts on what happens once you make the decision and start the process. Here we go:

1. Expect the Unexpected.

When this all started, when God started stirring our hearts towards California, we thought about Santa Cruz. Then we thought about San Francisco, and San Jose, and Fullerton, and downtown Los Angeles. So of course we ended up in Oakland.

Partnerships I thought we had in the bag dissolved, but others emerged along the way. People offered me jobs that I thought I would never be qualified to do.

We zigged and zagged, rode the emotional roller coaster up and down, and in the end are exactly where we need to be. I’d love to say I was able to anticipate all of this, but that would be a lie. I saw none of this coming. And I love that, especially in retrospect. It wasn’t easy, but it’s turned out to be beautiful.

2. Prepare to be Disappointed.

This is very connected to point number one, because if you have specific expectations heading into a transition you will be disappointed by the unexpected twists and turns.

Transitions are hard and they do weird things to people (especially yourself).
Some of those weird things can be really disappointing and hurtful.

This doesn’t mean you stop being friends with people, and this doesn’t give you an excuse to throw a grenade at the bridge once you get to the other side, but you must ready yourself for the reality that some people are going to let you down.

They are not perfect and neither are you, so grace is needed for them and for yourself.

Disappointment is not necessarily bad.
Sometimes it’s just a way of making a correction.
Sometimes it means mourning the loss of a dream or a change in your expectations.
But, you can’t avoid it. So let it be a way to grow in grace.

3. Prepare to be Amazed.

When you head into a time of transition you head into the unknown, and it is in the unknown that God tends to reveal to us all sorts of new and incredible truths.

And if experiencing the grace and generosity and provision and peace of God in new ways is not amazing then you need to reevaluate some things about your life.

Stepping into the unknown is the essence of faith and if we don’t practice that regularly we will lose the awe and wonder we should have about this incredible God.

And, you don’t have to move across the country to do that.

Where are you transitioning? Where do you need to adjust your expectations? How will you pay attention to the God who promises to show us something new and amazing when we lean into these transitional moments?

The Pull and The Push

We recently went through several major life transitions: we added a family member (Cruz!), we moved from the east to the west coast, and I started a new job. We have seen a lot of change in a short amount of time. I don’t think we are completely through this time of transition, but I wanted to share a couple of insights we’ve gleaned along the way.

So, today: how do you know when it’s time to make a big move?

A former student asked me this in a coffee shop back in November when I told her we were moving. It’s a great question.
I answered by saying: “well, you just know.”
I said that somewhat in jest. She responded by saying: “that’s such a Steve Boutry thing to say,” which means I did actually leave a legacy!

Of course there’s more to it than that, but I begin with that story because I have learned to put more and more stock into my intuitive/gut-sense, and, honestly, sometimes you just know.

When you start to get that sense you should start to pay attention to what my brother-in-law calls the pull and the push.

The pull: there should be something drawing you into a better future. A compelling vision for what might lie ahead.

Wanderlust, boredom, and/or frustration with you current situation are warning lights that something might wrong, but they are not reasons to make a big change. Pay attention to them, process them with wise people, but don’t make a big move just to make a big move, or because you are ticked.

Sometimes, though, you begin to sense that a vision is forming, an idea is taking root. Opportunities start to knock. You begin to see a different future. That’s the pull! Lean into it.

The push: there will also be some things (people, circumstances, etc) that make it clear it’s time to go.

The push is tricky because not every irritating thing is “the push.” There may be some relational difficulties you need to work through. There are hard conversations to be had. Make every effort to be at peace with those around you. Sometimes, after working through some of these issues, you may find that you should stay!

But do not think that just because you have a vision (a pull) that you will sail on to the next thing unscathed. The push will leave a mark, and that mark might hurt, but sometimes we need that to get moving.

Navigating the pull and the push is an art, and deserve a post of their own, but the quality of your character in a time of transition is measured in handling the pull and push well.

You will never know with one hundred percent certainty that “now is the time.”
Trust your gut.
Pay attention to the pull.
Be ready for the push.
And make sure you have some wise guides around you to help navigate the waters.

And then jump with both feet in confidence and enjoy the ride!
More on the “ride” tomorrow.

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