When People Leave

On a regular basis people come to our church, and on a regular basis people leave our church. For all sorts of reasons, they leave. This is the painful part of being a pastor. I am so very grateful that more people are coming than going these days, but every person who leaves is a loss not just to the church in an abstract way but a loss to me personally, and to our staff. As a pastor I hold people in my heart in a deep way, and I carry their stories with me. It is not a matter of “if” people will leave our church; it is rather a matter of “when.” After all, weather by God’s calling elsewhere, or entropy, or death – we are all on a journey. Each goodbye is painful, sometimes heart-wrenching. I think that just as it is in friendship, we will have our “communities of faith” for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some friendships are for a reason, others a season, and some for a lifetime. Our churches are like that too. To be in a church for a lifetime is a rare and beautiful gift, and if you are given this gift, cherish it. Evelena is 94 years old and has been walking through the doors of our church building since she was 14. That is a rare and precious gift. She is a rare and precious gift whom we cherish.

When we decided to adopt a child from China, we imagined a child who was all alone, perhaps in a crib, with little attention or love. After we were “matched” with Lyla, we came to discover quite a different story! Lyla was in a home with the most fabulous and loving foster family. Hulu, her foster mom, immediately began video chatting with me daily so that Lyla could get to know her new mom even months before we met. We would send videos back and forth each day and I would sing to Lyla and read her stories and Hulu would play those videos for Lyla when we were still millions of miles apart. So when we finally met Lyla face-to-face, she already had been prepared in countless ways to be family.

The journey of a foster family is one of loving deeply and fully, and then letting go. Letting go is the final act of love. It is a picture of sacrificial love that is vulnerable, beautiful, and impossible to fully honor.

Hulu and her family gave Lyla (and us) a gift – the gift of loving Lyla and then letting her go. They will always love Lyla in their hearts, but they held her loosely in their hands, knowing one day she would no longer be in their home, though she will always be in their hearts. This is the excruciating work of love.

So here is how I am coming to cope with the dynamic of loving & loosing that is inherent to ministry. Sometimes as a church we are an adoptive family, and other times we are a foster family. We don’t always know which one we will get to be when someone walks through our doors. But, either way our job is the same: love people. Love people like family. Love people deeply, fully, and without fear. If the possibility of someone leaving tomorrow keeps me from loving them fully today, then fear wins. And scripture says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” 1 Jo. 4:18

Maybe someone will leave because their time with us was only for a reason or a season. I want to be Hulu in these moments of departure. Like Hulu I will cry, I will grieve, I may even wish it were different. And at the exact same time I will remember: this is what we are made to do. We are made to love, and sometimes loving means letting go. And so the door of my heart remains open towards the person who leaves so that they can go where God leads them with my love and blessing. And if they ever need this family again – we are here. We are here. We are always here. We will love you when you come, and we will love you as you go. We will love you when you fall away and flake out, and if you choose to return, we will love you then as well. After all, our job is to love one another as we have been loved by God.

Our weekly benediction says, “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm, may He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you, may He bring you home rejoicing – once again into our doors.”

Hulu and I still regularly exchange photos, and she continues to send Lyla the most amazing gifts. As Lyla’s mom, I am forever grateful that Lyla has so many people all around the world who love her so deeply. So for those of you who have left our flock, and for those of you who may, please know that you will always have a special place in my heart. I’m honored to be one of the pastors in this world who has played a small part in your journey.

Someday, Lyla and I will go visit Hulu again in China….”once again into her doors.”

Susie

How to Get Unstuck- A Note from Susie

I recently read this provocative quote by Richard Rohr:
“In our strange configuration of life that we have today, all you have to do is prove that you are the victim and you immediately have the moral high ground. You are almost untouchable. It is a strange way of getting moral high ground without doing any kind of moral development whatsoever. You do not have to grow up. You do not have to let go. You do not have to forgive. You do not have to surrender. You just have to accuse somebody else. Somehow, to prove that somebody else is down makes you feel up. To prove that somebody else is a sinner gives you the strange experience, obviously not true, that you are a saint. To prove that someone else is wrong or has hurt you makes you right. This is in the blood of North America now. I do not know where it came from, but it is clearly a distortion of the message of the Cross.”
What is the message of the cross? The message of the cross is love. And love compels and nurtures sanctification, referred to as “moral development” in Rohr’s quotation. The cross pours enough love upon each of us that we can love ourselves and others from the overflow. Loving ourselves and others means that rather than living into an identity of “victim,” which we may have earned through terrible wounds from others, or we may have believed because other people named us this, we can live into a new identity and write a new story with God as our co-Author. We get to leave behind our old selves and our ways of relating, including using our hurt as a weapon to blame, attack, or entrap others. At the cross Jesus became sin so that we might be set free. Free to love, create, give, explore, and grow in faith and compassion.
In a recent coaching session with Michael Warden, our staff team learned about the “drama triangle,” which looks like this:
In the drama triangle, an individual who believes him/herself to be a “victim” will attempt to make others either the persecutor or the rescuer in their story.
One problem with the victim triangle is that it leaves the individual stuck in an identity that is so much less joyful and impactful than what God intends. A different option can be illustrated through the “empowerment triangle.” In the empowerment triangle, an individual begins to own their own story by asking, “What do I want to create?” Rather than focusing on the painful past or present, the person seeks a desirable outcome that is guided by love for self and others. In this model, the person refuses to abdicate their own responsibility and identity, even as they accept influence from challengers and coaches.

Author Henri Nouwen said this, “How can someone ever trust in the existence of an unconditional divine love when most, if not all, of what he or she has experienced is the opposite of love – fear, hatred, violence, and abuse?…They are not condemned to be victims! There remains within them, hidden as it may seem, the possibility to choose love. Many people who have suffered the most horrendous rejections and been subject to the most cruel torture are able to choose love. By choosing love they become witnesses not only to enormous human resiliency but also to the divine love that transcends all human loves. Those who choose, even on a small scale, to love in the midst of hatred and fear are the people who offer true hope to our world.”
Learning to reframe our perspective and our ways of relating to others is a process requiring much grace! But the more we meditate on Christ’s love for us, the more strengthened we become to shift from a victim to a creator in our circumstances and relationships. In this way, we will more fully honor Christ, whose love sets us free to resist participation in the victim culture so prevalent in our country.
*If these concepts of the drama and empowerment triangles intrigue you, you can read more in The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic), by David Emerald, or visit Power of TED* | TED* Videos – Escape the Drama Triangle with TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) to watch video links.

Are you a “people over task” or “task over people” kind of person?

Our staff just returned from a retreat up in Summit County and one of the goals for our time away together was simply to get to know one another more and the unique ways God has made us. To aid us in this task we did the Gallup Strengths Finder assessment. Basically this tool reveals a person’s top “strengths.”  It was fun and fascinating to learn more about the strengths of each staff member. One of the things that struck me during this activity is that every strength has a blind spot – and that as followers of Christ we do not boast in our strength but rather in our weaknesses because in these Christ shows His strength in us.
I’m not discrediting the value of the Strengths Finder exercise; it’s still very valuable to understand how God has naturally gifted us. However one of my “strengths” is Achiever. Basically I like to get stuff done… every day… like, every single day… even on vacation. It gives me a positive energy charge to achieve things.
This serves me well in my life as a pastor; however, like with all strengths, the blind spot is that I can over-function in ways that prioritize tasks over people. I need to acknowledge this dimension of my “Achiever” strength and invite Christ to be sufficient in my weakness.
How can Christ be sufficient in us if we’re unwilling to acknowledge weakness and only boast in strength? Psalm 127 says, “Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” The second part of this psalm says, “Children are a gift from the LORD.”
What a fascinating contrast!  The Psalmist is talking about our work and what is truly of value. So often our culture seeks to turn us into machines who are driving, driving, driving only to realize we’ve wound up nowhere. We climb, climb, climb only to find out our ladder is up against the wrong wall.
But children are the contrasting picture the Psalmist gives. Children are a picture of relational gifts born out of love, not efficiency. Many relational gifts are born out of love. Throughout Scripture, God reminds us that love is our life breath. Giving and receiving love, in communion with God and others, is our deepest hunger and purpose. Everything else is secondary.
Even if my strength is achievement, and yours is financial planning or database improvement or whatever God has given you that you do well- as followers of Christ, we need to follow his example and prioritize our relationships with people above our tasks.

Ecosystem

During our all-church family meeting last month, someone asked, “What is our vision for growth as a church?” Our vision is to help people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. One dimension of that vision is outreach. 93% of people living in Denver are not connected to a faith community. Many people are neither experiencing God’s great love for them nor God’s purpose for their lives. We hope to respond to that need by intentionally reaching out to more people in our 30-minute footprint with God’s love. We love because He first loved us. We pray God will fill and flood your life, your neighbor’s life, and your families’ lives with His light and love until no seat is left empty when we gather in worship.
Alongside reaching out, our vision is that God would transform you and I into his likeness and form us in community. Transformation happens as we understand and embrace in ever-increasing ways that we are God’s beloved, precious in His eyes. Community happens as we respect, honor, and enjoy each other. Our vision is that God would so knit us together that no one in this city would be alone. Our vision is for little groups of friendship to form all over Denver where love and laughter and friendship would spontaneously spring up, and everyone would know that they are never alone.
Our vision is that when we run out of seats in our sanctuary, we start planting churches, rather than building a bigger building, which furthers the vision of helping more people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. Here is why we care about this vision: 1) People matter to God, 2) We exist to represent Christ in this world and convey to others that they matter to God. 3) We see our church as an eco-system, similar to a river. Every eco-system has a carrying capacity. If a river has a carrying capacity for 500 fish, that means the river is designed to care for 500 fish. 500 fish can thrive there. But if that river suddenly has far fewer or far more fish than it is designed to carry, the fish will begin to die. Churches, like eco-systems, have a carrying capacity. The carrying capacity of a church is determined by the number of worship services, the number of staff and volunteers, the size of the sanctuary, etc. The carrying capacity of Platt Park Church is about 500-600. Last Sunday we had 225. Platt Park church could double in size today with our exact same facility, staff and programing! Whatever our size, our mission will always be to help people become passionate, devoted followers of Christ. This vision is compatible with growth, and we’re excited to live into it boldly, exercising our responsibility to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us to continue to reach out to people in Denver.

We Welcome Refugees

Sometimes a single photograph can change the world. Sometimes one photo can grab our attention, awaken our senses, and change our perspective. The recent photo of 3-year-old Aylan’s body being washed ashore on a Turkish beach and carried away by a policeman has grabbed the attention of our world. This heartbreaking photo has raised awareness about the refugee crisis in Syria and worldwide.
As followers of Christ, we see the images and cry out, “Lord, have mercy. Things are absolutely NOT the way they are supposed to be!”
Our first response might be to ask, where is God in this?
BUT WHAT IF GOD IS ASKING US, WHERE ARE YOU IN THIS?
Jesus talked of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Can you imagine if Aylan were your child? What does it mean to love a stranger and empathize with his or her pain even at a great distance? Do we grieve deeply over the displacement and desperation of thousands upon thousands of refugees’ lives? How can we tenderize our hearts to break as God’s does for those who suffer, knowing that He loves each of them as He loves each of us? What does love require of us?
Christ’s love compels us to care and to act, to respond to this crisis now with the urgency that all human life deserves. For this reason, Platt Park Church has partnered with the global movement #WeWelcomeRefugees. I encourage you to visit http://www.wewelcomerefugees.com to educate yourself further on what is going on in Syria and worldwide-and how the American Christian church, including us, can extend practical compassion.
Let the photographs we see and the stories we hear move us from where we are now to somewhere new, through the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance.

Accepting Limits

I’m the kind of person who likes to have a lot of things going on in life. When I was a kid, my mom would tease me about how I would start a project, and then go play with a friend, and then come back to the project, and then start another project in the middle of that project. I also like to break away from all that is going on and embrace solitude and silence right in the middle of a full life. It is how I operate best. Sometimes I have too much going on and have to scale back, and other times there is not enough challenge, and I feel bored, so I think and pray about what the next arena of involvement might be.
But lately, I have been thinking about limits.  I’ve been trying to identify and accept the limits of my season with a new little one at home. Bringing Lyla home has been one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life. It is a dream come true! I feel so full of gratitude every single day for the gift of Lyla in our family. Annnnndddd….going from 1 kid to 2 kids is no joke!  Life feels much fuller now!
Vocationally, I am regularly asked to be involved in extra things. Can you speak at this event? Can you mentor me? Can you lead this group? Recently I said yes to an extra speaking opportunity when I knew in my heart I should say no. I really wanted to do it, though and it is for a great church, and so I said yes. Here’s the thing: every time I say yes to something extra, I say no to time at home with Lyla and Russell.  I am so aware that they are “little people” for such a short time, and already it feels like it’s going fast. (Well, some days are long, but the years are going fast!) I don’t want to miss this. I want to be present. I want to be here.
Shortly after saying yes to that engagement (when I knew I should’ve said no,) another request came my way. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to respectfully decline, and I’m so glad I did!  Accepting the limits of this season is about honoring what God has called me to and recognizing that really and truly there are a multitude of other people – amazing people – who can say yes, when I need to say no.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear your stories of accepting limits.

The Average CEO

The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is just 4.6 years, and  it’s even shorter for many pastors (average of 4 years.) This statistic could be explained by burnout, but it could also be a reflection of a shadowy tendency of human nature. People sometimes leave when the going gets tough, when the honeymoon is over. By changing positions frequently, it’s possible to keep one’s life and leadership in a constant “honeymoon phase” and leave the problems to someone else. However, this isn’t the kind of leadership Jesus modeled and advocated.

Jesus talked once about the mentality of the shepherd versus the hired hand. He said, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it” (John 10:12). Jesus highlighted the difference between someone who acts like a shepherd/owner and someone who acts like a hired hand. The shepherd has ownership of his flock, is invested in their wellbeing, and is connected with their destiny. Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd” who knows his sheep and lays his life down for them. When it comes to that which God calls us to do, he wants us to imitate Jesus and be shepherds/owners and not like hired hands.

Although it has taken me some time, I’m now grateful for a leadership crisis I experienced at an early age. I had to face my own inclination to run away. I experienced new levels of grace through the grueling, soul-refining work of conflict resolution, forgiveness, and team-building that test a leader’s character. Crisis, portrayed in Jesus’ parable as the wolf’s intrusion and attack, has a way of revealing motives and prompting reactive behavior. We all have a mix of pure and impure, selfish and loving motives, but crisis often strips us of our facades and breaks down for us what is really important. Crisis clarifies why we are doing what we are doing and to what extent we are committed to the “sheep” entrusted to us. Crisis is a tremendous way to grow in intimacy with the Lord.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -1963

When crisis comes, let’s trust our Jesus-shepherd and be faithful to the task and to the people who look to us for leadership. Let’s allow the hard times to take us deeper with the One who loves us and gave His life for us.