I spend most Mondays at 11 a.m. in a very similar fashion. I open up Facebook and watch “The Morning After Ministry Show” with Andrew Larsen and Timothy Miller. I’ve been watching their web show for quite a while now and always enjoy the way in which they communicate authentically with each other as friends and as fellow pastors who live in the Tampa, FL area. They’ve got a great chemistry together and their show always delivers laughs, insights, and thought-provoking material. It doesn’t hurt that both of them have their own unique sense of humor, so they play off each other really well. Whenever I can watch, I always enjoy the show and their hour always seems to fly by. Its not uncommon to hear my wife ask on Monday evenings, “Hey did you see the show today?” and then we talk/laugh about whatever was shared.
These two friends are also part of a group of 5 pastors who host the “Practically Pastoring Podcast”. Jeff, Delmar, and Frank the other pastors in the group who share their real-life situations, cultural commentary, and theological conversations in a way that’s always relatable and enjoyable. So, when this group of 5 pastors announced in 2021 that they would be hosting the first ever “Practically Pastoring Conference” in February of 2022, it didn’t take long at all for me to register, book my flight, and wait until the day arrived.
That day was 2 days ago, February 21. I’m sitting in the Tampa International Airport waiting for my flight and while the whole experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d put down some details; really for my own benefit (thanks a lot, zero memory power), but also in hopes that perhaps these reflections might spark something in you, whether you’re a pastor, an atheist, a student, or anyone else with a pulse.
If nothing else, this conference–albeit brief–was definitely true to its name and DNA: it certainly passed the “practical” test. Every conversation, presentation, and piece of content was practically helpful in some way. It was either directly related to my life and ministry or it was something at least worth tucking away to stew on later. I was honestly concerned that my backpack (my lone piece of luggage) would never fit all the books we were given. Not to mention the transparent, helpful, thoughtful words that were shared during each session. So that’s my first kudos to these 5 pastors: they created a practical experience that I trust will prove helpful in the lives and ministries of those who attended.
I’m the type of person that has thoughts triggered by listening to others but sometimes those thoughts have precious little to do with what I’m hearing while I’m listening. Anyone else? Just me? Is that weird?
Let me give you an example.
(By the way, I doodle when I listen. So here’s a doodle I doodled while listening…) We were discussing ministry in context and I began to think of ministry OUT of context. That is, what does the ministry of fostering spiritual community look like regardless of the “who” and the “where”?
As a pastor who’s lived through and survived the last 2 years of the madness and mass exodus of countless Christians trying to navigate spiritual community in the context of a global pandemic, I have definitely and repeatedly revisited the “why” behind everything we do.
In this instance, its a questioning of why we do things and what we do and when we do them.
When we as a people (the Church) gather together, there are two primary objectives. The first is to lean. That is, to find strength, comfort, welcoming, acceptance, inclusion, and fellowship. Certainly it can happen virtually. And it does. But the better method is physically and in person. Is it inconvenient? Mundate at times? Perhaps even predictable which for some equates to boring? Sure. But that makes it no less imperative. I am fully convinced that you cannot grow spiritually in the way God designed and desires apart from spiritual community. And authentic spiritual community is best delivered through the discipline of leaning. When we lean, we find that those around us are also leaning and lean-worthy. None of us are perfect, but all of us are perfect candidates for the beautiful community God invites us all into.
The next objective when we gather is to learn. Please understand that I do NOT mean that this is the only time when you learn and grow spiritually as if there is a day and time to your spiritual nourishment. None of us would feed our physical selves once a week or even twice a week, so why would we think that a weekly meal of whatever the pastor is serving will be sufficient to sustain our spiritual health and vitality? The idea of learning when we gather is that we maintain a hunger for God’s Word, for clear instruction, for holiness, and the interweaving of our journey with that of others who are also following Jesus. These are all ways in which we learn.
The right outcome of all this leaning and learning is that we are launched into the rest of our week ready to love and to lead. So, let’s flesh out in simple terms what that might look like.
You likely have certain responses to the word “love”. You might think a wide variety of things in regards to what love looks like. For our purposes here, we will embrace God’s definition of love that was penned through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
“Love is patient, love is kind, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Since you’re not perfect and neither am I, we can always, always look at this standard of love and see where we stand. With God’s help (and you don’t need much help here), we can see clearly and instantly where we fall short in terms of this standard. Ask yourself practical questions like…
When and with whom have I been impatient?
Where has kindness been visible in me?
Who am I jealous of right now and why?
How has pride manifested in my thoughts and words?
Have I thought or done anything in an effort to place someone below me?
Where is selfishness showing up in my daily life?
When have I too easily gotten angry this week and why?
Against who am I holding a grudge right now?
Is my heart currently embracing and living in truth?
Who in my life needs protection?
Who am I trusting fully?
What am I hoping and who needs me to share hope with them?
What we’ve done with these few lines of scripture is we have translated them into practical, more measurable goals. Not as a legalistic checklist for our own egos, but for reaping the benefits of seeking to love others as we are loved by God.
Lastly, an outcome of our spiritual community is that we lead. I believe the concept of leadership is quite tainted in our time. We have defined it quite narrowly and therefore have inadvertently exempted those who do not view (or value) themselves as what pop culture considers “leaders”. What if anyone who claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord were to also accept their place of servant leadership in their own everyday world? What if we embraced the opportunities for initiative and influence that surround us continually? We may be inclined to dismiss this thought because the opportunities seem too small or insignificant, but I would say that there is no such thing in the Kingdom of God. In fact, from a biblical standpoint the case could be made that the places, and tasks, and people that culture might consider “small” or “insignificant” are exactly where Jesus loved to hang out. How can we so simply decide for Him that our obedience won’t matter simply because we deem the opportunity too small?
In what ways do you need to reframe and redefine your understanding of what it means to lead? You there–you mother of those toddlers, do you think you’re not leading right now? Seriously? You there–the high schooler who’s still floundering to find a sure faith footing. Do you think you’re not making an impact on your school community as you simply love Jesus honestly and carelessly? Of course you are. And what about you–the one who has found themselves working a job you didn’t count on and perhaps don’t even want right now; do you really think you’re not a force of leadership among other employees? Indeed you are. And what about you, the widow(er)–are you resigned to coast the rest of the way simply because things aren’t as they were before your spouse passed on? Have you reckoned yourself without influence and ability to lead because of the grief you bear? With all due respect, this is hogwash. Or perhaps I should look at you–the one who feels broken, used, hurt, damaged, or disqualified because of past decisions and shame. Do you really think there’s no room at the Table of God’s Grace and therefore God’s gloriousness usefulness for you? You couldn’t be more wrong.
There are scads of other doodles and thoughts I’ll be taking away from these last 36 hours in Tarpon Springs, FL. But I’ll need to do some more processing before I can share those. I hope that you’ve read something here to make you smile, make you think, make you mad, or make you change. If I’ve triggered anything in your mind, I’d love to know that. I always leave the comment section open and I love to hear from those who read my blog.
As I close, here’s a photo I took this morning with Andrew and Tim. I’m honored to now call them more than just those 2 guys who are on that show that I watch. I’m proud to call them friends.