Malcolm Tyree

A collection of thoughts on things that matter

Archive for the category “Ministry Trips”

Pastor Appreciation Month: Cliff Sanders

College can be an intimidating place. You walk into a lecture hall, the podium up front has a microphone and there’s a large screen on the wall for a series of points to a lecture. The professor starts up, “Ahem!”
Profs with a hoary head of gray hair, goatees, and spectacles tend to capture the imagination of their students. When the prof has a commanding presence and leads you to see a subject or an idea in a different way, it’s really easy for the student to fall into awe of the prof. You can almost see the prof as beyond human. That is until you have lunch with them.

When I went to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) in the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a required course for all traditional students at MBC; Biblical Life & Witness. The professor was in his mid 40’s and loved tweaking with the minds of the incoming Freshmen. Unbeknownst to me or my classmates, we were about to embark on an upheaval of the way we perceived God and ourselves.

 

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Cliff Sanders, D. Min. (photo from Facebook)

 Cliff Sanders was my professor at MBC. In my time as a student, I had seven course with Cliff; 21 undergraduate hours. From Introduction to Old and New Testament and Biblical Life & Witness to the three inductive Bible study method classes and How to Teach the Bible, Cliff shaped (warped) my mind into a new way of viewing the sitz im laben of the scripture stories and how to draw out practical applications for today.

I admired Cliff and thought one day I might be like him; a college professor shaping young minds. Cliff had served as a pastor prior to coming to MBC and carried with him real world thinking as well as what I perceived to be a solid rational thinking about how to interpret the Bible. With his Masters of Divinity and efforts at earning his Doctorate in Ministry, I found myself looking at Cliff and wondering what it would be like to be him.

Part of what drew me to Cliff was his willingness to go beyond the classroom and lecture hall. Cliff would eat lunch with the common folk. Nearly everyday, Cliff would hold court at a table in the cafeteria. Carefully wrapping his salt and pepper shakers with a napkin as he seasoned the “delicacy” of the day, Cliff would joke, laugh, talk smack, and engage students, staff, and faculty around the table. It was at those many roundtable lunches with Cliff that I first experience the power of eating together to form community.

Even though Cliff was working on his doctorate, he was more than willing to have lunch with 18-22 year old punk, know it alls, like me. He welcomed us to the table and treated us as equals. He did not come across as “better than us.” Sure, Cliff would brag a bit too much about the Texas Longhorns in the room filled with fans of SEC teams or that University just south of the campus; mocking the fight song “Boomer Sooner” in a horrid cry. I am sure the cafeteria staff was glad to see the table empty of Cliff and his fans because it meant the room would quiet down and they could finally close up for the day. But as a member of the table, I miss those lunches.

Cliff carried such influence for me, that I went a step further in my gluttonous learning from him. I asked Cliff to provide pre-marital counseling for me and Christy. He was quick to sit us down and tell Christy how difficult it was going to be for her. He recounted stories of how he could see similarities between me and him, and therefore knew some of the challenges we might have. Cliff shared how he had to learn to love his wife, Becky. He was straightforward with me about how I would have to be intentional not to “forget” Christy in my daily life.

Though Cliff was not formally my pastor, he was one of my pastors during my years at MBC. 

I was honored to serve at MBC alongside Cliff when I graduated and worked in the Campus Ministries office. I remember being a part of the faculty and staff prayer time each week as we would pray with one another. I watched Cliff wrestle with Becky’s cancer battle. I was allowed to see my professor as vulnerable and transparent. We had grown beyond the loud antics of lunch and the debates in the classroom to the place of colleagues, friends, sharing life together. 

In many ways, my relationship with Cliff has helped me move from being intimidated by God to seeing that I am welcomed at his table, for lunch, prayer, and friendship.

Pastor Appreciation Month: Steve Williams

“Do you wear blue jeans?”

That was it. That was my brilliant question to ask in the candidate forum for the new pastor for the First Church of God in Clarksville, Tennessee.At the time I asked the question of the candidate, I was one of the youth leaders, the guy who mowed the church lawn, and who changed the sign. I had become in the mind of some “the church mouse” as I had worked and found my way around everything at the church’s building. It seemed like I was there nearly all the time. This was an awkward season for First Church. The long time, well-loved pastor Gene Lanham was retiring (or so he thought) and the congregation was looking to find a new pastor. The transition schedule was like you might expect for the President of the United States. We, as a congregation, were filtering through candidates, and then voting accordingly, while expecting that Bro. Lanham’s last Sunday would be followed by the next pastor’s first Monday.

The candidate was like most pastoral candidates, different than the previous guy. Bro. Lanham was like a grandfather; the candidate was a young 30-something father of two. Bro. Lahham was comfortable and easy going; the candidate quick and intense. Bro. Lanham was walking on the journey; the candidate was a crusader.

If you know much about me, you can likely see why I would have been drawn to the candidate. 

So, as the congregation assembled to ask questions in the open forum for the candidate, I couldn’t think of anything particularly deep or theological. My question was practical. Looking back on it, the question was theological. At the heart, I was asking the candidate “are you like me?”

A few days later, we voted yes, and that fall, Steven Williams became my new pastor.

 

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Steve Williams in 2014 picture from Facebook

 
Steve was my first glimpse of what it looked like to be a pastor and a dad at the same time. Stephanie and Luke were young kids. I don’t think Luke had quite started school. Luke was a bit of a challenge at times. I remember him going pee outside the church’s office one day because he was too impatient to wait for the restroom to become available. I also remember Steve having to step down in the middle of a sermon, escort Luke to the lobby, and then return a few awkward moments later to finish the sermon. The tears in Luke’s eyes indicated that Steve had quickly switched from pastor to dad back to pastor.

Steve was a crusader. He was passionate about the Church of God Reformation Movement. He ran a publishing company out of the church’s attic where we would reprint and ship classic Church of God writings by the likes of FG Smith, Lily McCutchen, Arlo Newell, and others. He was also heavily involved in the conservative association of ministers known as Pastors’ Fellowship. Steve’s publishing company worked closely with Pastors’ Fellowship to distribute the early teachings of the movement.

Steve was a fiery preacher. His passion for truth and commitment to the teachings of the church came through again and again. Steve also loved Bus Ministry. He introduced that chaos to our congregation and I gladly jumped in. Steve wanted to see a men’s ministry happening to compliment the Women of the Church of God (WCG) that met regularly. I was glad to see this take off. We needed a college-age Sunday School class, after all we had an emerging group of 20-somethings; so I stepped in to offer to lead it. An opening came in the Children’s Church; Steve tagged me to lead it. Needless to say, if there was an opportunity, Steve knew he could ask and I would likely say “yes.”

Steve saw a willingness to serve in me. He challenged me to consider going to Bible College to get a degree so that I could professionally serve in the church. He encouraged me to head off to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) instead of floundering around at the state university in town. 

I knew Steve to be hard charging, passionate, and motivating. He pushed me out of the comfort of Clarksville, Tennessee, and into the adventures that I would experience because I went to Oklahoma City and Mid-America Bible College.

After I left in the summer of 1997, things with First Church and Steve began to change. The passionate charging ahead began to wear folks down. Steve’s marriage was hurting too. Near the end of my first year at Mid-America, Steve discovered his wife had been having an affair. It was heart breaking for everyone. Steve resigned and moved.

Steve has since remarried, become a grandad, and is still a crusader. Steve was my pastor who challenged me to go.

Oh, yes, Steve did wear blue jeans.

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Steve having fun in recent days, much like we did in Clarksville together. (picture from Facebook)

Change the World | Jesus is the Subject

Have you heard? Church of God Ministries wants to help you live out your dream of changing the world! Through the contributions of an anonymous donor, General Director Jim Lyon has formed the Innovation Trustees to award grants (up to $20,000) to new and engaging projects across the North America that help change the world.

The Innovation Trustees are looking to empower individuals and small groups to try the bold ideas God has given them. For many of us, all we need is to know someone else believes in us. The Innovation Trustees believe in you. This belief is grounded in the words of Jesus, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the works I have done and even greater….” (John 14:12).

Watch this video by Geremy Dixon announcing what is going on.
Why would I promote this? First and foremost, I believe in finding new ways of equipping everyday people to make a difference in our world, particularly in the name of Jesus. Second, I’m one of the Innovation Trustees.
This second video is from McDowell Mountain Church as an example of a video application submission.
To apply for the grant, go to www.jesusisthesubject.org/change-the-world. Submit your grant application today! You can even do it via video. The deadline for submissions is September 15. Don’t miss this opportunity to change the world you live in! Share this news with your family, church, and community. This grant is not restricted to pastors, ministers, or clergy. The grant is open to all.

Don’t delay, apply today!

Change the World | Jesus is the Subject.

Asking Too Much From Christian Believers (part 1)

It’s interesting to me that we’ve established the standards for elders and deacons, given by Paul to Timothy, as the standard for all believers.

This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:1-13 NLT)

It seems to me, this is creating an unnecessary hurdle or barrier for many to feel as though they can follow Jesus.

Certainly, these standards are preferred for believers, but Paul does not seem to indicate they are required for everyone. Rather, Paul is distinguishing the difference between leader-servants for the church and all of those who are a part of the church.

Additionally, Paul does not seem to indicate that those who don’t meet these standards are ineligible to serve within the church. He is saying that to be a deacon or elder requires meeting these standards.

This leaves us, from an application point, wrestling with questions like these:
What are the markers of a disciple or believer of Jesus?
Are there markers for ordinary Christians?
What does a deacon do?
What is the role of an elder?

This may be an issue only for those of us in evangelical churches. It may be an outgrowth of the premise of “the priesthood of believers.” There are many issues that play into this practice of expecting all believers to behave as elders or deacons.

It just seems to me that we are asking and even expecting too much of the average believer.

What say you?

12 years in 12 days (part 11)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

Moving into the summer of 2012, I was leading Grace Point into a potential opportunity that would secure a headquarters for our ministry operations. After a series of conversations over nearly three years, we were officially making an offer on the old fire station located across the street from Jordan Elementary in the new subdivision with more than 500 home being built in the three year span of time. Much to our surprise in June, we discovered that we did not win the auction, even more surprising, the city of Odessa leaders chose to keep the property to convert it into a community center.

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At the time, I did not realize the impact of the loss of the property. We had talked about it for nearly three years. It had become a key piece in our ministry vision. Additionally, the years of being portable were beginning to wear on our team members. The loss of the opportunity to transform the building into our ministry headquarters was a significant blow to our morale.

There was little time to grieve for me as I was quickly on to another adventure. This time I was headed to Denver, Colorado, for the International Youth Convention of the Church of God with teens from GP. We had a great time white water rafting, rock climbing, and camping along with the Convention program.

To help prepare Jordan Elementary for the new school year, our team took a Saturday and painted the cafeteria.

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Als that summer, my friend Brent gave me some flying lessons. He allowed me to pilot his plane from the DFW area to Midland-Odessa and then later from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Odessa. It was fun learning from a pro like Brent.

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In August, Christy surprised me with an amazing birthday gift! She had been working since May to arrange for me to go skydiving with other guys from GP. She caught me completely off guard with this gift. Though none of the other GPers joined in the adventure, I had a great time skydiving!

School started up, with another change to our routine. As the 11-12 year came to a close, we decided that Christy would step away from teaching. Though she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the students, the educational system had changed and Christy felt it was time to step away. She returned to being a stay at home mom.

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As for me, I was now serving as the PTA president for Jordan and our district’s council. The two proved to be very challenging yet rewarding. The district council needed to be restarted and so I was tasked with leading that charge. Thanks to the help of the district administration, principals, and parents we were able to reestablish the PTAs presence in the district’s operations.

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I also began working full time with the Sewell Team that fall. This was a tremendous opportunity to work alongside a faith based company committed to leadership growth. I served as the Learning and Development Coordinator through May.

As you can imagine, my schedule was pretty full between Sewell, PTA at Jordan, PTA for the city, and Grace Point. I was loving it!

Out of nowhere, Grace Point began to see our strongest ministry season in the late winter and early spring. As we approached Easter for 2013, we knew this was a prime opportunity to reach our neighbors and coworkers. It was also during this season that Christy stepped up to lead the worship band.

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On Easter we had 149 people in attendance. That was two times the size of our normal attendance at the time. We shared in baptisms and had fired up the grill for lunch while the kids hunted eggs and played. We also held a balloon launch reminding us of the resurrection.

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The spring had been a great season of ministry and now it was time to move into summer. Big changes were on the way for our family.

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12 years in 12 days (part 8)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

The summer of 2009 proved to be an emotional one. Our dear friends, Henry, Kate, and Emma Littich, were moving. The Littichs had been among the closest to our family and Emma was like a sister to Caitlyn and Andrew. Henry had accepted a new position in Kansas and they moved in June. Along with the Littichs departure, two other families we had journeyed with left Grace Point as well. One moved out of the area and another felt lead to participate in another church in town. This was not how we had hoped to start the summer.

In May, Grace Point had received a sizable gift from the West Texas District of the Church of God in Texas. We were anticipating taking GP to the next level in part because of this gift, but also do to the momentum and success we had developed over the previous year. The hope was we could use this money as seed money for a new ministry headquarters or some other way to bless the community we lived in.

We were finally hitting a healthy stride and the carpet felt like it was taken from underneath us with the departure of these key families.

Just as they were leaving, a new family was coming in. Christy’s parents were moving to Odessa. Terry had retired from ministry and they wanted to be in the warm weather with the grandkids. It was great having them in the area.

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About three weeks after they moved to Odessa, Christy and I signed a contract to build a new home in a developing subdivision, four blocks from Terry and Cheryl. After living more than 14 hours away, we would now be less than 5 minutes from each other.

The new subdivision was emerging in 2009. Christy and I had worked hard throughout the spring to position ourselves to be able to move there and serve as missionaries to the new residents. We had heard good thing about the property developers and we saw this as a prime opportunity to get into a bigger house, but also to grow with new families and friends.IMG_0328

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Closing out the summer, we also celebrated by baptizing five people, including Caitlyn. After the baptism in a member’s pool, I declared the pool open for swimming and Andrew jumped right into the deeper section, without his floatation device. We scrambled to rescue him! Afterwards, everyone remarked about how calm I was. The the truth is I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of everyone by hollering at him like I really wanted to!

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So our summer was mixed with emotion.

The summer of 2009 also brought an economic downturn for the city of Odessa. Unemployment spiked just before school. With most families living paycheck to paycheck, GP lead the charge to help in a tangible way. We held our first backpack giveaway. Using some of the money from the large gift from earlier in the year, we purchased 500 backpacks and mobilized GPers to bring in additional school supplies to be given away just before school started.

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On the Sunday that we gave the supplies away, the line was nearly a block long. The guests filled the gym to a standing room crowd and when the supplies and backpacks were given away there was little left behind. It was an amazing day.

In September, Terry had a heart attack while at a Men’s Retreat south of Austin. He had the attack at about 3am on Sunday morning, so I was scrambling to get Cheryl to him as well as figure out how to get things taken care of for GP’s worship gathering just a few hours away. Austin is approximately 6 hours from Odessa. We started on the road around daybreak. One hour south of Odessa, a deer ran across the road, colliding with Cheryl and I in our minivan. We had just paid it off two weeks prior. The deer totaled the van. We ended up flying Cheryl to Austin. Fortunately, Terry was with his brother at the retreat. After a short stay in the hospital, Terry and Cheryl made it home without any other issues.

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In October, Christy’s aunt Linda died. Christy, Cheryl, and Terry traveled to Illinois for her funeral.

Our hope was the backpack giveaway would translate into additional ministry opportunities in our community and new families would participate in GP. This did not happen and ministry turned difficult. The loss of key families at GP along with a series of personal family crises for us had a ripple effect. Though we did have new families come in, they were not able to immediately fill the void created and we needed a fresh start.

When we began planning to move to the new neighborhood, we did not anticipate moving Grace Point as well. Yet, as we began to survey the neighborhood, there was a great building that stood out as a potential ministry headquarters and community center. The Old Fire Station had been turned over to a non-profit group. The group had dwindled in participation through the years and the building was in need of some TLC. After talking with the group, we thought there might be a possibility of obtaining the facility from the group, while allowing them to continue to operate their non-profit at the center.

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So, with that in mind, we moved Grace Point from Blanton Elementary to Jordan Elementary at the turn of the new year.  2010 would be a fresh start for GP.

The move was hard on GP. There had been some grumbling by a long time family that was unhappy about the direction of GP. I had to have the hardest conversation of my career during this time. Over a hot dog, I had to say to my friend of many years I could no longer be the pastor for his family. Things had reached a point where for the sake of GP, we had to part ways. It was the hardest thing I’ve done as a leader. No one had ever trained me to ask a parishioner and friend to find another pastor. I am still amazed at the grace he showed to me in moving on. I’m glad to know I can still count him as a friend today.

As Christy and I settled into the new house and neighborhood in January, we had a lot of work to do personally and professionally. Christy was struggling with teaching sixth graders and I was struggling to find new people to attend GP.

Caitlyn continued to excel at school.

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Andrew had won the hearts of his preK teachers to the point that they were now attending and serving at Grace Point. As we moved into the new location, Ms. Lori and Ms. Kim brought a freshness to the ministry efforts, especially in our children’s ministry areas.

Easter was becoming a big deal at GP. For 2010, we worked hard and nearly tripled our regular attendance. Instead of a big egg hunt, this year we opted to give away kites. We also baptized two on that day. Dená and her son Trace had come to our Easter service a year before.

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The year was full! As we entered the summer of 2010 progress was being made, but it was different than expected.

12 years in 12 days (part 7)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

Coming into the summer of 2008, I really believed we were ready to soar!

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Things at Grace Point were coming along great. We were developing a great band. We had a good influx of visitors. We had found a rhythm for scheduling team members. We were beginning a ministry for teens. Everything seemed like it was coming together.

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Added to all the great things happening, I finally got an iPhone! Could things get any better?

Earlier in the year, one of our neighbors had roped Christy back into the classroom. For the final few months of the school year, Christy served as a tutor for Jr. High Students in the AVID program. We realized that if she was going to work, we should maximize her income potential. So in the fall of 08, Christy returned to the classroom full time as a 6th Grade Teacher.

Before Christy head off to work, we made a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains for a Robinson Family Reunion. This would be a special trip for all as it was the first time nearly the whole clan had been together in years, and the last time too as Aunt Linda’s health was declining quickly.

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As Christy entered back into teacher, Caitlyn started Kindergarten. So each morning, the girls would leave the house to just the boys!

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To give me a break, we enrolled Andrew in a local Mothers’ Day Out program. Caitlyn had attended the year before and had a fabulous experience. Andrew began going on Mondays and Wednesdays and soon he had won the hearts of his teachers, Ms. Lori and Ms. Kim, who would become a part of our family over the next few years.

Christy was hard at work helping 6th graders achieve more everyday. She was paired up with Janet Miller. The two rotated their students and shared life. Janet was Christy’s mentor in returning to the classroom.

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As we moved into 2009, we were getting ready to see Christy’s parents move to Odessa from Missouri. We also began exploring building a new home for us too. Meanwhile, Christy was working hard and Grace Point was doing good.

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As was my training. we ramped up for Easter! Through the help of a grant from Church of God Ministries, we rented the city’s outdoor stage and hosted a huge Easter Egg Hunt and Resurrection Celebration. This year, the weather was fabulous! The only thing that went wrong that day was me! I was running a fever and sick to my stomach Easter morning.easter 181

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By our best estimate there were nearly 200 people in attendance for the event. It was a big win for the team!

The school year was coming to a close and big changes were on the way. The beginning of our eighth year would be one  filled with sorrows and joys.

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Busy or Purposeful? 4 Questions to Clarify Your Activities

Too often we’ve measured success by how busy we are.

The challenge is we can be busy without purpose.

Clarifying what you want to achieve is the way to move from busyness to purposefulness.

So whether it’s in business, ministry, parenting, volunteering, or whatever, clarify your purpose and you’ll achieve more than just being busy. Additionally, you won’t feel busy as much as you’ll feel fulfilled.

Here are 4 questions to ask to clarify your activities so you can fulfill your purpose:

1. 5 years from now how do I want my life to look?

2. What are my 5 to 7 core values?

3. What am I doing that I need to stop doing in order to live within my values and my vision for my life?

4. What will I start doing to achieve purpose and not just be busy?

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My 2¢ on Church Leadership: Entrepreneur and Shepherd Together

Someone told me recently that they were having a hard time figuring out if I should be leading a church or in a think tank group. I’m certain that it was a compliment and a concern at the same time. The statement has stuck with me and I’ve decided that I really like being a part of the ideas for the future, but I want to be a part of bringing those ideas into reality. Does that make me an entrepreneur?

In a recent post, Carey Nieuwhof has built on a dialog with Karl Vaters about the how the church is in need of a shift, particularly in the way we value size and leadership.

Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds | careynieuwhof.com.

Carey has proposed the elevation of the value of “spiritual entrepreneurs” versus the traditional elevation of those who are “shepherds.” As I have dialoged with two friends on this issue, one suggested changing the term shepherd to “chaplain” and the other suggested we needed to see more “entrepreneurial shepherds.” Both of these guys are leaders in the church and so one could assume these two are pushing back on the change by trying to find a midway point while conceding a need for change. Like many situations, I can see multiple sides.

My first thoughts on Carey’s post was “why can’t we do a better job of teaming up entrepreneurs and shepherds?

Typically, we see entrepreneurs as risk taking, convention breaking, action-oriented leaders. While shepherds are seen as care giving, tradition guarding, consensus-oriented leaders. Is there a way to combine those two?

Some might search for combining them into one person. I think that is a lofty, idealistic goal that won’t work. I do think we can work hard to team up a entrepreneur and a shepherd.

When was the last time you tried to dive your car with only the gas pedal? How about the brake only? We know this is foolish! To drive, it requires a healthy use of both the brake and the gas pedal. There is often a coordination between the two of them, and possibly a third (the clutch).

Clutch, Brake, Gas Pedal

I remember learning to drive a standard transmission in Clarksville, TN. There was a particular hill heading into downtown that had a stop light at the top of it. I was paranoid that I would be caught at that light! I was afraid that I would not be able to properly coordinate the clutch, brake, and gas (three pedals, two feet) in order to take off when the light turned green. Eventually, I was faced with the challenge. Fortunately, I had been driving long enough by the time this arose that I was able to move ahead without sliding back into the car behind me.

It is true for too many years, the greater church has been riding the brakes. As shepherds have led through consensus and care, it has gone slower than many (like myself) would prefer. Those of us with a “heavy right foot” have been pining for the chance to open things up and see how far and fast we can go! As the culture shifts around the church, it feels like maybe we should just lay on the gas! I get it.

Yet, what if we need to work in tandem rather than in opposition. If you are wired as a shepherd can you help an entrepreneur? If you are an entrepreneur, can you help a shepherd?

As we read through Ephesians 4, the entrepreneur (the gas pedal) is closer to the apostle and evangelist. The shepherd (the brake) looks more like the pastor and teacher. I maybe wrong, but I think the prophet is the clutch. The point is, Jesus appointed each for his church so that the church would be fully equipped for the mission.

It’s time we stop elevating one over the other. It takes each of us. Today, we need to be innovative and bold about trying new things and reclaiming what hell has stolen from the kingdom. We also need to keep in mind that the church is a community designed to be caring and compassionate for those inside and outside our assemblies and fellowships.

How radical would it be for congregations, denom groups, networks, etc. to be intentional about pairing up entrepreneurs and shepherds. What would the church look like under those circumstances?

Count me in! I want to pair up! Any shepherds up to joining up?

End of a Season: The Closure of Grace Point

 “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Sunday, March 23, 2014, is Grace Point’s Finale. After 390 weeks, the experiment is coming to a close.

In early February, I sat and watched this year’s Super Bowl contest as the Seattle Seahawks overpowered the Denver Broncos, I was disappointed. The Broncos season was filled with so many highlights that it almost seemed inevitable that they would win the big game. Yet, as more than 111 million people watched, it became evident that the league’s best offense was struggling to produce any positive momentum. One could argue that it was the efficiency of Seattle’s Defense that stymied Peyton Manning and the high scoring Broncos. It could also be said, they just had a bad game. Either way, the game is over and a new season of football is in the waiting. Yet, it is still tough to go out on a defeat.

Football is one of the most popular things in our culture today. As NFL games continue to draw tens of thousands to stadiums and millions through TV audiences, it makes for an easier illustration. From the flag football games for grade schoolers, to Pop Warner Tackle for those in late elementary and middle school, to the JV and Varsity squads of High School, to the ranks of college, semi-pro, and elite levels of the NFL, football is all around us. Living in Odessa, Texas, home of “Friday Night Lights” it is even more apparent that football is everywhere.

The expectations to win are huge. Every player, coach, management team, and fan wants their team to walk away with the championship. We know these expectations will leave most of us disappointed. After all, not every team will win the championship. Some players won’t finish the season. Coaches will be let go. Teams will dissolve. Players will be traded. Fans will find new teams to rut for. Not every play leads to a touchdown and you don’t win every game or every season.

Needless to say, there is a lot we can learn about life by playing and watching football.

As a pastor and church planter, I struggle with the expectation to win. I feel like I am playing for the greatest reasons – the Kingdom of God. Sometimes my zeal can be a bit over the top, but I love what I do. Yet, just like a football game, not every situation leads to a score or victory and at some point you need a rest or a season to end.

Eight years ago, I experienced the end of a season of leadership in a struggling congregation. As pastor, I had poured myself into the efforts of turn around and seeking for a win. After 42 months, the management team of the congregation felt it was time to go different directions. I was let go. My season was over.

Within six months, I was on board with a new team. This was a start up team. In many ways it was a research and development group or experimental program. I was leading an effort to plant a new congregation.

In the effort to be new, we worked hard to not get caught in the patterns of “the way things had always been done.” We created an atmosphere of acceptance, casualness, and inspiration that attracted a lot of people from our city. We tested the boundaries of what could be done and experienced moments of impact. Over seven and a half years, we sought to be a group that would make a difference.

Today, it is hard to say, but it needs to be said, the season for Grace Point Church has come to an end.  Like the many teams, this is not how we had hoped our season would come to an end. As the founder and pastor, I had hoped we would have a longer and fuller legacy, but I know the time has come to move on.

For just a moment I want to applaud the amazing group of people who were willing to experiment with us. Through the years, on a meager budget of less than $80,000 a year, our team accomplished a number of good things.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Beautifying local school campuses
  • Inspiring other congregations in efforts of community engagement
  • Training worship leaders
  • Engaging children into the life of the church
  • Providing backpacks to school children in need
  • Serving the community through partnerships with local non-profits
  • Empowering international missionaries to translate the scriptures and raise up indigenous leaders
  • Assisting in planting other churches across the United States
  • Supporting orphans through child sponsorships and special projects
  • Providing curriculum to other congregations unable to purchase it for themselves
  • Offering cups of hot chocolate to families out on cold, windy days at the park and stores
  • Equipping people with the necessary skills to manage their finances
  • Allowing people to explore their faith
  • Introducing children and teens to Christian principles
  • Teaching people how to understand the Bible as it relates to how to live
  • Celebrating with one another as babies are born, marriages restored, and victories won
  • Mourning with one another as loved ones passed, marriages failed, and defeats were experienced
  • Baptizing new believers in swimming pools, hot tubs, and water troughs
  • Exposing people to the message of Christ that reminds us he loves less than perfect people
  • Loving one another, regardless of background or life choices

There are a variety of things that led to this decision to disband. Some of the challenges included:

  • An overemphasis of the worship gathering
  • An underemphasis of mentorships
  • An inability to fully create a shared “3rd place”
  • A demanding economic environment which leaves little margin in personal schedules
  • A limited number of core members
  • A sense of “if we preach the right message, God will bring the right people”
  • An assumption that we knew how to disciple
  • A failure to develop deeper friendships beyond the casual Sunday greetings
  • A lack of emphasis on stewardship

There are other things that we might add to the list, but I don’t believe it is necessary to list each of them today. Over time, I hope to explore each of the successes and failures and extrapolate lessons learned from each. For now, it is fair to say we got off the sidelines and did the best with what we knew and what we had.

There are a multitude of people who have made this season of my life possible. I could not list all who were involved without forgetting someone. Let me mention a few. First, Christy, Caitlyn, and Andrew. Their willingness to open up our home, chase after me because I forgot something, and release me to meetings, events, trainings, and more, have been overlooked. They have allowed Grace Point to be a part of our family and it will be hard to not have this a part of us any longer. Second, the Gregg family. This family is now more than one family, but to me, they’ll always be one I treasurer. The Greggs have walked with me throughout this season. The truth is I’ve run so fast at times, I’ve taken for granted that they would catch up. They’ve filled the gaps for me on so many occasions. Third, my Tuesday Lunch Crew. The conversations that I have had with a group of five other pastors in my city have allowed me to sustain and thrive. I can’t express how much they have “normalized” my feelings and fears. Finally, to the countless others who have prayed, supported, encouraged, and fought for and with us! This is where the list gets really long! Thank you to each of you. I know your names, I see your faces. I know this season of life was possible because of you.

Now, some of you maybe wondering what is in store for my next season. Outside of being a husband to Christy, father to Caitlyn, Andrew, and now Breanna, and a faithful follower of Christ who serves the church and loves the people of this world, I don’t know. We are waiting for our next appointment/assignment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this note. Thank you for the investment you’ve made in us. Thank you for this season of life.

“Now, all glory to God, who is able, through his might power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

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