Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 - In Reflection

Here are my thoughts as I look back on my personal journey this year. Some themes and values have risen to the top. It was a good year.


This year several of my long-term ideas became realities. I saw a book and a movie completed that were a combined 15 years in the making. Good things take time...lots and lots of time. I think about the things I am working on now differently. So much of life is putting one foot ahead of the other...and then when you get pushed back a few hundred steps, starting over again.


I am a passionate fella, but I have felt like I have been operating on a half-tank of passion for the last five or six years. 2010 was the year that I sensed a return of some of the passion that was lost through the trials of my early experiences. I feel more ready for what is next than I have in a long time, especially as it relates to ministry.


This ties into "passion" for me. I am a learner and always have been, but there are seasons when I learn more as life comes at me...and other seasons when I seek to learn more aggressively. The switch was flipped back to a more aggressive learning posture sometime this year. I think this will progress more in 2011. I'm looking into some graduate school options beginning in the fall of 2011.


Improv started as a hobby for me. Then it became a career. Now it is a lifestyle. It has connected mysteriously to my spiritual gifts and personality. I am not speaking about doing comedy gigs in this context - it is much deeper than that. I am learning that I teach and lead best as an improvisor. I have known this for years, but I tend to not say it because it can come off like an excuse for being disorganized or unprepared. This isn't the case. I think for me it means that I must focus more on organizing my life and preparing for situations before they arise. The statement in I Peter 3 has come to mean more to me this year..."always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." My goal as a teacher would be to be able to teach from a Kingdom-context about anything at any moment - to always be prepared. This has come to mean that it is more important for me to prepare myself for a message than to prepare a message for an audience.


I have had some tough years, but this was not one of them. I cannot help but think that this life stage for our family will be looked back on with much joy in the years to come. My kids are growing up, but still kids. As Debbie and I approach our sixteenth anniversary this week I am confronted with the beautiful reality that if I date my life back to my earliest memories - half of it has been as her husband. I'd say that I am a lucky guy, but that seems rather trite and understated. I am humbled to have been given the life I have. I don't deserve it. It is all grace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Get Me to the Church On Time

Hey Cincinnati Friends!

We have a lot of Celebrations coming up to round out the year at Vineyard Cincinnati. I wanted to post the options here so that you can know when to show up:

This coming weekend we have normal times: Sat. 6:30 - Sun. 9, 10:15, 11:45. I will be speaking on "Christmas: The Untold Story - a Love Story."

Then starts a run of five identical special Christmas Celebrations. In years past we have done more of a performance/show at Christmas. (Re-Gifter, A Cat Named Bruce, etc.) Those were great, but this year it seemed best to be more straightforward in our approach. We are getting back to some Vineyard Christmas basics - singing, teaching (both Dave and me), candle lighting and a donut outreach following every Celebration. Come. Bring a friend to experience a warm reminder of the fact that God loves us enough to come looking for us. The Christmas Eve Celebrations on the 24th will be identical to the other three options.
Dec. 21 - 7pm
Dec. 22 - 7pm
Dec. 23 - 7pm
Christmas Eve - 4pm and 6pm

It doesn't stop there. Well, it does for just one day. On Christmas Day we WILL NOT be having our Saturday evening Celebration. But we will have our normal Sunday morning Celebrations at 9, 10:15 and 11:45. Dave will be teaching on Christmas as the Never Ending Story.

We WILL have a Celebration on New Year's Day, Saturday, January 1. I'll be kicking off a new series called All Things New. However, the first weekend of the year will begin  our new regular times. When are those new times, you ask? I'm glad you asked. That is answered in the video below:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Heaven/Earth Combo Pack

I find myself in the mood to think about heaven today. Maybe just throw out a few opinions that have been brewing in me over the last few years. I was convicted not too long ago that I had not properly elevated resurrection to its proper place in my theology and the practical application of my faith. For many years as young Christian I would have said that the goal of faith is to attain an other-worldly "heaven" after death. Resurrection was a truth that took a back seat to heaven defined as some sort of disembodied experience that existed only after death. Then, beginning in the late 1990's, I discovered the centrality of the Kingdom of God to Jesus' message, life and person. I clearly saw that this sort of wait-to-die-other-worldy-heaven is not the goal of following Jesus; but, if anything, perhaps a future reality of the results of life with God in the present. I began to see that most of the time the word "heaven" is used in the New Testament it references the reality of the current and future reign of God, as opposed to some purely futuristic time and place floating in another future dimension.

Over the last two years I have been challenged primarily through the teachings of theologians like N.T. Wright and Tim Keller to consider more fully the "after-life" implications of a Kingdom-centered, Resurrection-centered theology. I have come in recent years to believe that God is a material God working within a material universe. This means, to me, that God is the God of "stuff" and always does his work in the context of his "stuff." This is true of the creation account, the story of Israel, the incarnation of Christ and the advent of the church. God uses the material stuff he has made, including people, to live out his story. I have come to believe that this material universe was not created to simply be reduced to some spiritual other-worldy existence in the future. In the final analysis, I believe that God will keep and redeem more of his stuff than he will destroy. Of course, some of what the Bible says about the after-life is cryptic and some passages seem to be, at least on the surface, saying subtly different things. (I apologize for speaking in generalities. I am simply not particularly in the mood to document my opinions today. This is more of a brain dump than a fully realized position piece...)

Today I believe in resurrection. I believe in redemption. I believe that I will live again on a new (redeemed/fixed) earth that has been invaded by a new heaven. Heaven will come to earth fully and drive out all that which is hell. This will be a mystery, but I have opinions about it these days. Namely, I think we will have families, friends, jobs, houses and chocolate cake. I think we will continue to write, create art, make business, have dinner parties and play golf. (My dad will be happy about this - at least the golf part.) I think that "heaven" will look a lot like earth does today - minus the hellish and evil parts of it. Many react strongly to this idea when I say it. "Why would I want to live like this forever?" is often the response. It is hard to grasp, but what if your life was reduced only to the moments where God is fully reigning in your heart and world, when your joy is complete in him, when you are love and loved, using your gifts, thriving in life. We have all had those experiences - maybe only for a few minutes here or there. I think that the new Heaven/Earth Combo Pack will look a lot like that. We will be physically resurrected to life after we die. We will be ushered back to populate a properly functioning earth/heaven that is built for us to thrive as fully human. It will be like the Garden of Eden turned City of God - God's real-time, real-world social network built out of humanity's best potential realized under God's direct reign.

This does things to my emotions that my previous concepts of heaven did not allow. It means that for many of the passions deep inside me, the clock is not necessarily clicking. Perhaps I will be free, for instance, to try a few careers that interest me after I die and am resurrected. (We were gardeners in Eden before the fall. We had tasks, jobs, careers. Why would the new Heaven/Earth Combo Pack be so different?)

This all makes me wonder if I should think differently about the idea of human struggle in what we commonly call the after-life. We know that the new post-resurrection Combo Pack will be a place of "no more death or mourning or crying or pain." I have come to wonder of late - now aloud - about the meaning of this though. Death will be beaten through Jesus and our resurrections. I can get that. Life everlasting hurts my brain but I can begin to imagine it at least. What is hard to imagine is a life without struggle. I ask questions like, would I really want to play golf if I always got a hole in one? Or would I desire to write a screenplay if I knew it would be perfect from the beginning of the process? Or why create a piece of art if it will be flawless without much effort on my part? I am thinking aloud and may be bordering on some sort of heresy, but I wonder if we confuse "work" with pain sometimes. I wonder if it is so inherently human to struggle, that struggling will continue in the Combo Pack. Perhaps, I would suggest, we grow to find the joy in these struggles. Maybe we will be so calibrated to God - so able to see all we do as worship - that our "failures" won't create pain but only desire to serve him better. Maybe the after-life, in this hypothesis, isn't about us being perfect but being perfectly fitted for life with God in the context of our humanity and his direct presence.

I reserve the right to be off base with most of this. But it does put some things in perspective today for me. My current relationships somehow matter more if they continue in the Combo Pack. My career and hobbies matter more. My city matters way more if it will someday be a part of the combined new heaven/new earth. Resurrection somehow makes eternity tangible. It means eternity has already started and we are living in it. It begins to chip away at some of the great mysterious statements uttered by Jesus. Namely, that the Kingdom of God has come now...and will fully come later.

Maybe my ramblings today could just lead you to ask different questions. One question to start with: What if "heaven" was more about God coming back to earth than us going to be with God? It seems, at least, like that is the way John envisioned it in Revelation:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Today I Baptized My Son...

Today I baptized my firstborn son, Eli. He has wanted to do this for a few years now. With all of our immediate family here, it made sense to do it today. His only request was that we not do it in front of a bunch of strangers...a request that I completely understood.

I have baptized a few hundred people in my life. I have no way of really knowing how many. But obviously today was different. Baptism is very important to me. I occasionally take a little grief from some of my workmates for my Campbellite roots. My original spiritual tribe put a high emphasis on water baptism by immersion. Historically in many circles and circumstances, this emphasis became a divisive overemphasis on the form of baptism and a staunch belief that baptism itself was the salvific event. Regardless, those aren't the reasons why I value baptism today. To me, it is valuable in large part because it is one of the few real-time events that Christians have to mark their spiritual journey. So much of life with God is a long, seemingly never-ending process. The sacrament of baptism is a rare marker in the process. It is the marker of the beginning of a relationship between disciple and guru - slave and master - son and father. I am not so sure why people get caught up in arguments as to the exact moment when life with God begins for the Christian - before, during or after baptism. The point, in my opinion, is that it is intended to be at/toward the beginning of our commitment to God. It is a symbolic act that is also a real historical event. It is like a birthday or a wedding day. Debbie would say that she somehow knew our boys before they were born. I was just as committed to Debbie the day before our wedding than the day after. But the days matter. Birthdays. Wedding Days. We look back on them and remember them because, if for no other reason, they actually happened. That moment of happening matters so much in a lifetime dominated by the normalcy of the slow process. We need something close to the beginning to call "the beginning." And God knew this.

Eil and I have talked about Jesus through the years, but I realized that our talk before his baptism this morning was more important...or at least it would be more memorable to him. Part of the reason that I had Eli wait for a while to be baptized is that it seemed nearly impossible for him to grasp the idea of the  Kingdom a few years ago. He first understood Jesus as Savior. He wanted to be baptized a few years ago because he had "messed up" and wanted forgiveness. Maybe that should have been enough. But I knew that I wouldn't baptize an adult if that was all they knew about Jesus. So I waited. Today we talked about Eli's relationship with Jesus in three ways:

1. Lord - Eli has been taking Judo recently and he has a Judo teacher named Frank Herzog. He has learned to call Frank, "Sensei" which means teacher or master. Judo has been a great teaching tool to help Eli learn about Jesus. Jesus was more of an eastern thinker and he calls disciples (or students) to himself. Today when Eli smiled and told me that Jesus was his Sensei, I knew he had the very beginning understandings of lordship.

2. King - Some people think I'm a little too intense on this point, but I think that to receive Jesus is to receive his present and coming Kingdom (or reign). What this means to Eli at this point in the beginning of his discipleship is that the Jews and Christians are "our people" before any other ethnic or political group. (Yes, I made my kid tell me that his primary allegiance was to Jesus and not America. Hopefully he won't be in therapy for that someday.)

3. Savior - This brought us back to what Eli first understood about Jesus. We discussed his terminal sin addiction and how Jesus offers a cure for it. And then I told him that baptism reminds us that just as Jesus died and lived again, so we will all be resurrected after we die.

The last thing we talked about is what Jesus taught us about God - that he is our Father. I told Eli that I had tried to my best to be a good dad, but that I had failed in him in many ways. God is his perfect Father. I also stretched his mind a bit when I told him that even though I am his dad, we share a Father now. So we are also brothers.

So, God has known Eli since before he was born and Eli has been on a journey to know God since his first breath. But today was the day Eli did something about it. And fifteen of us were fortunate enough to watch it happen.

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vineyard MicroChurch Initiative

I wanted to give a quick recap of the information shared at our meeting last night for those interested in a new thing we are doing at Vineyard Cincinnati. After nearly two years of discerning what would be next for us as a church, the shareholders (members) and leaders of the Vineyard felt especially drawn to two words: pray and go. From this initial focus, the leaders discerned that God was asking us to think more multiplicative about everything we do. How could we prayerfully send our best into our city and world? How could we free up our structure enough to provide space for new expressions of church to emerge within the Vineyard?

One strategy that emerged was a multi-site concept. We decided that God was calling us initially to start two sites in Uptown and Middletown to function as missional outposts of the Kingdom. These sites are a way for us to send some of our own to serve and love other people in our city who need God's love and power.

Beyond that, we also sensed that God wanted us to push into a new realm. As many of you know, I was part of the house church movement (sometimes called simple or organic church) for many years. That experience fundamentally altered the way I think about and define church. I now define a church as simply God's family on a mission. Of course, many aspects of the house church movement in the USA over the last decade have been reactionary. That was my story. I was reacting against some clear shortcomings within the institutional church structure and megachurch movement. I thought that house churching was the answer to the problems I saw in bigger, more organized expressions of church. Indeed, they were the answer to some of the problems. But we found that house churches simply had other difficulties. Alas, we proved the age-old axiom that there is no perfect church or church structure. So I wandered back into "big" church three years ago with a strong sensitivity toward the lessons learned while living within an intentionally small church.

There are many others within the Vineyard who see the value of smaller incarnational/missional expressions of church. It became obvious that God was ready to make us one church in many locations. This will include the bigger sites like the ones at Uptown and Middletown, but it will also include an emerging network of MicroChurches. (We almost used the word "house church" but some of these churches will not meet in houses.)

Here is our current thinking about Vineyard MicroChurches and how we envision them coming to be. One thing I have learned about new adventures is that nothing works out in practicum quite the way it does in pre-planning. That said, here is the DRAFT of the ideas we are currently throwing around. If something stirs within you after reading it, feel free to email me. With all of this going down, I am a little behind in correspondence, but I'd love to hear from you if God has prepared you to partner with us.

Here are the notes from our first meeting:

DRAFT! (Have I said that yet?)

Vineyard MicroChurch Communities – Current Thinking
November 21, 2010

·      What is a Vineyard MicroChurch Commmunity?

DRAFT: A Vineyard MicroChurch is a smaller holistic expression of church centered upon a specific missional calling within the larger mission and vision of Vineyard Cincinnati.

·      Holistic Expression:

We will use Acts 2:42 as a simple meeting blueprint:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

1.     Teaching – Weekly meetings will include the video teaching from VC.
2.     Fellowship – Guided discussion questions will follow the teaching.
3.     Prayer – A time will be dedicated to listening prayer each week.
4.     Breaking of Bread – Meetings will include a common meal or a Eucharistic experience (or both).

·      Specific Missional Calling - Six phases to birthing a MicroChurch:

1.     God calls a person to love a specific group of people.
2.     That person steps up and says, “I’m called to love ______________ into a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
3.     Vineyard leadership comes along side this person to:
a.     Discern if the calling aligns with our greater mission.
b.     Train and equip the person for their next step.
c.      Call others to the mission.
d.     Relationally partner throughout the life of the calling.
4.     A call goes out – Who else is God calling to this mission?
5.     When the call is answered by a leader, a pastor* and an administrator a MicroChurch community is born.
6.     Weekly meetings begin using the Acts 2:42 model as way to fulfill the mission.

* pastor is defined here as someone gifted as a caregiver, likely not a professional church worker.
·      What makes a MicroChurch part of the Vineyard?

For MicroChurches to flourish, they will need enough freedom to adapt to their specific mission and culture while remaining part of Vineyard Cincinnati. The following expectations will be met by each MicroChurch in order to be part of Vineyard Cincinnati. Beyond these requirements, MicroChurches will have the freedom to contextualize to the people they are reaching.

1.     Submission to the VC beliefs, mission, vision and eldership.
2.     Commitment to the Acts 2:42 model for the weekly meeting including the weekend video teaching.
3.     Centralized giving. (Still working on what this will look like.)
4.     Leaders agree to submit to training from the MicroChurch initiative leadership team including aligning with the current leadership pathway and shareholder process.

·      What MicroChurches are and are not:

1.     They are not simply small church services. (They are communities.)
2.     They are not simply small groups. (They are similar to small groups but also a full expression of church life.)
3.     They are not independent churches. (They are fully a part of Vineyard Cincinnati.)
4.     They are not starter groups for bigger sites. (Some may evolve to this, but it is not the goal. Ideally, MicroChurches are growing by multiplying other MicroChurches.)
5.     They are not for people fed up with “Big Church.” (Rather, they are for people who can see the power of marrying big church and small church thinking.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get the Skinny on what's NEXT.

If you filled out a NEXT STEP card this weekend at the Vineyard, you should have received an email from me today inviting you to one of three meetings to discuss the new sites. I thought I would post it here as well in case you missed it:

Thanks for taking the initiative this weekend by filling out one of the NEXT STEP cards. I can't express to you how excited I am to begin walking out this vision with you. I was so encouraged that God had prepared many of you in specific ways to help Vineyard Cincinnati become one church in many places.

You are receiving this email because you indicated you're willingness to serve for a year in Uptown, Middletown, or be trained as a micro-site leader. We've set up some initial meetings where you can get more information, ask questions, meet others who have committed to serve with you, and begin to move forward.

The Uptown meeting is next Wednesday, November 17th at 7:00pm at The 86 Club - 2820 Vine Street Cincinnati, Ohio 45219. There is a large parking lot across the street next to the Elementary school that can be accessed from the corner of Vine and Daniels Street.

The Micro-site meeting will be Sunday, November 21st at 5:00pm at Vineyard Tri-County in the Great Rooms.

The Middletown meeting will be Sunday, December 5th at 5:00pm at Vineyard Tri-County in the Great Rooms.

Please register at (childcare is available)

I hope you can make it to one of the meetings. If you have questions, please reply to this email with them and someone will get back to you. We will keep you updated as we go and there will be more opportunities to learn more in the months to come. 


If you missed either of the last two weekends, you missed a lot. Catch up at

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What's Next.

I spoke this weekend at the Vineyard, wrapping up our NEXT series. I read from my prayer journal and some people asked that I post what I read here on my blog. The following is a slightly edited (for grammar) version of what I wrote after asking God, "What should I tell everyone this weekend?" It can be dangerous to say that you have heard the voice of God. I submit this to you, as I did this weekend, as simply my thoughts after asking that question in prayer:

A 15 year-old girl sits alone in an apartment in Corryville. She’s pregnant and nobody knows. She’s scared and alone and confused. She needs a lot – she needs a friend, a father, a plan, a hug. She needs more wisdom that her friends have to offer and a large dose of grace that nobody in her family is willing to give her. She needs Jesus. And we think…if only she could be here with us today at the Vineyard. Maybe we could help – at least with the hug and the grace. But she isn’t here. She’s there.

A 52 year-old man sits alone at a Starbucks in Montgomery. He gets up every morning, puts on a $2,000 suit, kisses his wife and kids and gets in his luxury car to go to work. The only problem is that he hasn’t had a job for three months. He can’t bring himself to tell his wife. He doesn’t feel like a man anymore. All he has worked for is gone. What will she think when she finds out? How long can he hide this? He needs a friend and the courage to be vulnerable. He needs a place safe enough to be honest. He doesn’t know it yet, but he needs Jesus. And we think...if only he could be here with us at the Vineyard. Maybe we could be his family – pray for him. Maybe we could help him a little. But he isn’t here. He’s there.

A thirty-something couple watch television in Middletown. It’s all they do now. They used to do other stuff, but if they were honest they would say that their lives are boring now…maybe even disappointing. He had dreams of coaching football. She wanted kids. Neither happened. Now they are lost. They need a reason to get off the couch. They need a savior to rescue them from the hypnotic stupor they have fallen into. They need Jesus. And we think...if only they’d come here and be with us. Maybe they’d meet God and find meaning. Maybe those life disappointments could be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But they aren’t here. They’re there.

But what if they didn’t have to come here? What is “here” anyway except a building? We aren’t this place anymore than my house is my family or the college I went to is my education. We are a mobile people, but we have been inch by inch believing the lie that somehow we are confined to this location and to a methodology that says “come to us.” This NEXT vision for Vineyard Cincinnati is about saying that “come to us” isn’t enough when people in our city are lonely, hurting and checking out of life. This series for us as a church is a bold announcement to anyone who will listen: Vineyard Cincinnati is on the move. We are – from this point forward and without apology or reservation – a “go to them” movement. We hope people still come to us, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because we are going to them - everyone of them. We are taking Jesus to every neighborhood and community in our city…and any other place God will lead us to. We are adjusting our strategies to reflect the belief that our mission statement of 25 years is actually attainable. That it could really happen in our lifetime. That we will actually love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus and give away to the world what God has give to us. In other words, we really are going love the people of this city. Everyone of them – as impossible as that may sound in this moment.

To do this we are going to have to mobilize and multiply in different ways. Everything we do must multiply. First and foremost, we must multiply disciples: every person here must teach someone what they have learned thus far about life with Jesus. We must multiply leaders: every leader in our organization starting with Dave and me and the elders will have an emerging leader learning from them. We must multiply groups: every community praying and looking for how God can birth a new community through them. And we are going to multiply Celebration experiences. We are taking this – what we are doing right now – to the people who aren’t currently here now. We have prayed and prayed that God would show where to begin this effort and he has led us to start two new Vineyard sites in Middletown and Uptown. These are not going to be carbon-copy-pack-and-play church services in a box, but missional outposts of the Kingdom where people can be know and be known, serve and be served and love and be loved into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We are also seeking for leaders called by God to start intentionally smaller expressions of church that can reach people who would never or could never come to an institutional feeling church. These “microsites” will be holistic communities of faith that are part of us, but do church in homes and public places. They will be our special forces invading subcultures and immobile people groups in our city with the dangerous and beautiful love of Jesus and power of his coming Kingdom. All of this means that by this time next year we will be one church meeting in at least 13 places – here at TriCounty, in Uptown and Middletown and in ten smaller, more subversive microsites scattered about the city and beyond.

This is not about us or our plan. This is not about some sort of institutional expansion. If I was into institutional expansion I’d be working for the government or Steve Jobs or Facebook. This is about Jesus. It’s about that nameless girl in Corryville, that hurting guy in Montgomery and that lifeless couple in Middletown. It’s about the fact that God loves Cincinnati and he has a plan for this city. To sit on our hands while God has a plan to love a city is the greatest sin a church can commit. The leaders of this church understand that and we are calling you to action. Are you ready for what’s NEXT? 

Befriend Vineyard Uptown and Vineyard Middletown on Facebook for up-to-date information.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The NEXT Adventure...are you in?

There are two ways that people movements grow. The first is through addition growth. That means that people are invited into a primarily centralized group or organization and they stick around - usually because they relate to the overall mission of the group. But also because they find a place where they sense personal belonging. This is true across the board - you see it in politics, social groups, and organizations that exist to cure cancer or fight for animal rights. You also see it in local churches.

The second way that movements grow is through multiplication. These sorts of organizations tend to be less centralized while finding a way to retain common mission and language. They place a high value on reproduction.

The novel (and movie) Fight Club paints a fictional example of a movement that transitions from addition growth (people inviting others into one fight club) to multiplication growth (other clubs springing up in other cities and places without warning.) The movie is rather vile and probably shouldn't be on your list for family fun night, but I can remember watching it and seeing a vision for the church.

What if a local church could be unified in mission and vision, but just decentralized enough to spread easily and quickly wherever God wanted it to go? This idea so ravaged my heart over a decade ago that I  led the church I was pastoring away from an addition growth model toward what I hoped could become a multiplication model. We learned some lessons in that process. We may have transitioned too quickly and we probably became too decentralized in a classic pendulum swing reaction. But my ecclesiology (what I believe about church) and my missiology changed forever through that process. To put it simply, I believe that the Kingdom grows optimally in a multiplication mode. Addition growth is good. Multiplication growth is better. I could prove this historically, but I shall bore you with those details at a later date.

This brings us to where we are now at Vineyard Cincinnati. This weekend Dave announced that we are aggressively moving toward a more multiplicative mindset as a church. Reproduction across the board will be our new goal. Multiplying disciples, leaders, groups and celebrations...

(A side note about The Vineyard. Before my time we planted nearly 30 churches in greater Cincinnati. This is, indeed, multiplication thinking at its finest. It was one of three key reasons that coming to The Vineyard appealed to me so much. This new thinking is congruent with that, but just a new strategy to multiply in a different way.)

In 2011 we will launch two larger sites in Uptown on Short Vine near the University of Cincinnati and in Middletown. These sites will have their own style and flavor, but will be part of Vineyard Cincinnati. We are just becoming one church in many places. To find that sweet spot between decentralization and speaking a common vision, we will have the same weekend teaching at every site using video. I am very excited about this multiplication strategy, but that isn't all that we are doing.

Other churches around the U.S. are multiplying through this sort of strategy. We aren't the fist to think of it, but we took a long time to pray about it. God is leading us to do it differently than some of them. We felt that our initial sites should be in areas of our city that are currently struggling economically. It is in  our DNA to serve those who are struggling the most. We want to go to them first.

We are doing something else within this strategy that appears to be unique to us. We have come to see that we can learn a lot from the house church movement. (Also called simple church or organic church in some circles.) I was in this movement for several years. Smaller churches that function more like missional small groups have an amazing potential for multiplicative growth. What if The Vineyard created space for very simple expressions of church to align with us organizationally? They would function as smaller communities of people living out the reality of following Jesus in their neighborhoods, but they would also choose to be a part of The Vineyard because they share a common mission and vision with us. By using the weekend teaching time on video they would align with our overall mission and direction, but they would also be small and mobile enough to reach people that we currently cannot. Having been a part of a house church movement in the past, I saw that bigger churches were able do some things that my little church of 12 people couldn't. For instance, The Vineyard just drilled our 90th clean water well in Nigeria. Being a part of a bigger group of people allows us to do bigger things that we cannot do on our own.

What if we could find that sweet spot and have "micro-sites" that operate as a hybrid between a house church and a weekend celebration. There is literally no barrier to that sort of growth. As a matter of fact, our first micro-site is launching in Hilton Head, South Carolina. A multiplying mindset breaks down barriers that are impassable in the addition mindset. Even geographical ones.

Maybe you are someone who loves Vineyard Cincinnati, but you live farther away than is conducive to come to Tri-County, Uptown or Middletown on the weekends. Maybe you have felt like part of us from afar. Maybe you used to be a Vineyard member but moved away and have yet to find a home church that connects with your outward focused dreams in your new location. Or maybe you live in Cincinnati and love our church, but also have seen the benefits of the simple church movement. Maybe God is calling some of you to pray about entering a time of training to lead a micro-site community where you are. The good news is that our church now has a new strategy to experiment in ways that before were impossible. We are ready to multiply. If you are as well...and your heart is racing, email me now and we will begin the discussion.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Doing vs. Having Done

I do a lot of things that I like having done, but don't love doing. For instance, I don't like running. I do that about four or five days per week. It's good for me and I feel great after a run...but I hate every minute of it. I've been running for nearly two years now and it is supposed to be fun at some point, but I'm not counting on it.

I feel the same way about reading. I love having read a book. I don't like the process. It takes a lot of time and makes me sleepy.

And then there is writing. Some of my friends love the process of writing. Not feels a lot like running without the shortness of breath. I love that I have written a book and a few screenplays. I like that I have blogged for nearly a decade now, but I don't enjoy the process of writing very much at all. I like being a writer, being called a writer, having written...I just don't like writing.

Some other processes do hold my interest. I enjoy the actual process of acting, improv, producing and teaching. I think this just means I am a performer - for better or worse.

This is all one big preamble to say that I have been writing more or less nonstop over the last week for stuff coming up over the next year at VCC. I am excited about having written all of it, but I am rather creatively wiped out. Blogging tends to suffer as well when bigger writing projects kick in. I am excited to get back to the Community Series next week. You can catch up with it on the sidebar to your left on my blog page if you want.

That's all I have to say for now. I have to quit writing this post now to go write some more. Then I may go for a run...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The World Premiere!

I wanted to quickly thank all of you (over 200) who came to the premiere of Hitting the Nuts Saturday night. It was the perfect way to launch this movie. I was honored and humbled by all of your support. Now onto the last stage of making an indie film...the distribution. The buzz around the festival is helping to get the word out. The more times people see HTN and talk about it in a positive way, the better.

It's a funny movie that the world will want to see. Now it's all about getting in the right hands.

After the buzz from Saturday night, the second showing tonight at 7pm quickly sold out. Luckily, the Esquire just now opened up a larger theater for us. So, there are about 100 tickets left if you would like to see the movie tonight in Cincinnati. You just need to call the theater to reserve with a credit card at 513-281-2803.

Once you see the movie, if you enjoyed it, you can help get the word out by going to the official imdb page and rating it, writing a review or starting a discussion. That link is

Thanks again for all of your support! I have great, supportive friends.

Friday, October 08, 2010

July 4, 2006

I was on the back half of an improv tour turned bad. It was a holiday and I hadn't seen my family for a month. My team was staying at a Hampton Inn near the airport in Atlanta and I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I remember waiting in the lobby for my three friends to come down from their room so that we could go to Stone Mountain and watch the fireworks there. I was thinking about how I had moved to LA about a year earlier to pursue acting. I was wondering how I had gotten to the place of being apart from my family and giving away promotional t-shirts in shopping malls. It wasn't the best season of my life.

The lady behind the front desk asked how I was doing. I knew her name at the time, but can't remember it now. We had been at the hotel for a week already. I told her I was missing home and feeling a little betrayed that my "improv" tour had transformed into very little improv and a lot of brainless brand marketing.

"What do you really want to do?" she asked.

"I want to be a part of a movie that I could be proud of," I said.

"Then you should write one," she said. "And then make it."

She was right. I knew it instantly. So I spent the last few weeks of that tour thinking about what kind of movie I could make. I started a few rough drafts that did not work at all. And then I decided I would write a comedy about the things I knew...things like Bible Belt America...and Texas Hold 'Em poker. That was it. Those two worlds combined created instant comedy in my mind. And my first movie had to be improvised or it wouldn't be me. So I came home in late July and began writing.

As it turns out, that tour wasn't so bad after all. I met some great people...four of who actually ended up in the movie. And I met a wise, nameless hotel employee who deserves credit for any success this little project will generate. And I learned that all good things take time. So, tomorrow Hitting the Nuts premieres at the Cincinnati Film Festival - only 1,557 days later.

It's a funny movie. That is the one thing I was sure would be true of it from start to finish. It was written by an ex-pastor who became a pastor again before it was finished. If you'd like to be part of the world premiere, ticket info is detailed at this link.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

How to See "Hitting the Nuts" in Cincy!

I am extremely excited that my comedy, Hitting the Nuts, is set to premiere and show a total of three times at the Cincinnati Film Festival next week. It is a little confusing as to how to get tickets because of all the various options. I am going to attempt to walk you through them now, so hang on...

The first thing to know is that HTN is showing three times.

Sat. Oct 9th at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, IN at 8 pm. (World Premiere - 21 or older)
Mon. Oct 11th at the Esquire in Clifton at 7 pm (no age restrictions)
Tue. Oct 12th at the Esquire in Clifton at 5 pm (no age restrictions)

Here are some links to help you get tickets.

1. "I want to see HTN Oct. 11 at the Esquire." Go to this link and scroll to "Oct. 11 7pm" Tickets are $10 each.

2. "I want top see HTN Oct. 12 at the Esquire." Go to this link and scroll down to "Oct. 12 5pm" Tickets are $10 each.

3. "I want to go to the World Premiere at Hollywood Casino and JUST see HTN. I don't want to see the other movie that day or go to the pre-screening reception." (The after party is free with a ticket. The pre-screening reception (food, drinks) is not free. This only includes the movie and after party for $10. Go to this link and SCROLL down to OCT 9, 2010 8pm to get your tickets.

4. "I want to go the World Premiere AND the pre-screening reception." OK, you party animal. Go to this link and SCROLL down to OCT 9, 2010 6PM then select "Reception and HTN." This is $25.

5. "I want to see the 5pm Saturday Night Live Documentary by James Franco and HTN with an option to go or not go to the reception." You are an overachiever! But I'll be there with you for this one. This is $35 (or $20 sans reception). Go to this link SCROLL down to OCT 9, 2010 5pm and follow the directions like a trained monkey from there.

6. There may still be day passes available for $20 and full festival passes for $80. Find that info yourself by looking around. They can also answer questions you may have from here. I have give you all I know!

Can't wait to see you there! Pass this info around on Facebook at Twitter to help a brother market a movie. As a final reminder, this is a personal comedy project (PG-13ish) just for fun and with no agenda apart from world-wide box office domination.

Check out the latest teaser video:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Vineyard is turning 25!

This Sunday. 10:30 a.m. The Cintas Center at Xavier University. One huge Celebration.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Practice of Christian Community - Part 4. My Take on "Small Groups"

I have, rather inconsistently, been doing a series on this blog on Christian community. I've recently added links on the left sidebar for the community series...and links to my earlier leadership series on the right side. So, head over there and catch up if you missed the first three posts.

I'd like to write today about "small groups." First - a full disclaimer: I help lead a church with a small group ministry. I believe that a larger church with no method of grouping people into smaller communities is relatively pointless. I've written several times about this. I believe that "small groups" are actually much closer to the New Testament idea of "church" than what we normally call church.

That said, I need to address a significant weakness in typical "small group" programs and ministries. Namely, that many people tend to drift toward seeing their group as primarily an event or meeting instead of a community. Ironically, this is why small group ministries became so widely popular in the American church over the last three force people to move past the mentality that church is primarily an event or meeting (Sunday service) instead of an interactive community. Unfortunately, many small groups facilitate the exact same problem diagnosed on Sunday mornings but in a smaller format. They become simply another (sometimes irregular) meeting to attend - an event to go to for prayer, study and maybe to sing a few songs. Yes, sometimes in these meetings people do grow deeper together and actually begin to share life on a deeper level. Sometimes truths are told and tears are shed. (This is good thing.) But, more often than not, once the event ends so does the sharing of life...until the next meeting in a week or two.

As church leaders, we tend to look at our small group numbers as a sign of health and a barometer for how our people are doing at sharing life together. If we have 500 people in our church and 400 of them are in groups, we feel pretty good about things. "80% of our people are in community," we say. But are they? Are we sure they just aren't attending another meeting? This should be of primary concern for a pastor.

I think it comes down to us wanting a short cut when it comes to community. We know that it is impossible to live in the Kingdom and know Jesus apart from life within a community. We want everyone in our organization to know Jesus and the Kingdom, so we create a system of groups to ensure their growth. This is not bad thinking. It is actually a well-intentioned loving act of leadership. But...we cannot let ourselves so easily off the hook in assuming that gathering people in meetings will lead to community. Our goal is not that our people attend events, but that they can honestly say that they are part of a growing, missional spiritual family. We want people to be in community - not simply in "small groups."

Attending a meeting together doesn't make us a community. Neither does studying the Bible twice a month together. Nor sharing "how we are really doing" 24 times per year. Here's the hard pill to swallow: there is no quick fix to real community. It takes TIME. Lots of it. More than you probably think you have or want to give. Real Christian communities live life together daily. They arrange their lives around each other. Their informal meetings dwarf their formal scheduled ones.

Think about how families are made. Real families are slowly formed over years and decades. I don't buy the "quality is better than quantity" argument for half a second. The people I know the most, love the most, have been influenced by the most are the people I have spent the most time with. My mom and dad, my wife and kids...and my closest friends. Family involves daily check-ins, regular clarifications, consistent communication and, perhaps most importantly, shared proximity. In essence, family is forged over time though the act of togetherness. Once a family has been forged in togetherness, it can afford to be apart for a while. But none of us would honestly imagine a husband-wife or parent-child relationship built solely upon two 90-minute formal meetings per month. We should not presume that a spiritual family can be formed that way either. I'm rather convinced that it cannot.

Of course, at some point balance is a factor. I need days to be alone. I need days to be with just my wife and kids. But I also need to be a part of a church. I need a spiritual family. I rarely go two days without being with someone in my community. It could be a lunch with a friend, a text to check in, a formal "small group" meeting or a friday night poker game. When a community learns to live life together, the need to strictly "program" their time together diminishes. In my opinion, this is why the weekly or bi-weekly formal meeting is still important. It's the time to check in with one another about the state of the community: Have we prayed together this week? Have we shared? Have we learned? What have we learned? Have we worshipped? Have we served the poor? The meeting is a time to keep the community on isn't the time, generally speaking, to do the mission. That is done everyday as life is lived together.

This may create in many of us a flood of negative reactions: What do you mean my small group isn't enough? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get together just once a week in the first place? This is all too much work!

I get it. I feel that way sometimes...even about the people I love. And I think I have found the answer: It is simply hard to live in community. It is more natural to isolate. Being a part of a Christian community will involve radical sacrifice on your part. Just as being a part of a family influences every decision you make, so being a part of a spiritual family has consequences in every area of your life. It will take time to see this family birthed: hours and days and years. It is how families are made...slowly and over time.

So my advice for you is to find a few people to love. Live your daily lives in regular proximity with one another. Be entwined. Tie your lives in relational knots. And have a few "small group" meetings each month to make sure you are becoming the sort of community that honors Jesus and points others toward his coming reign.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hitting the Nuts World Premiere!

I just sent the following e-mail to the cast and crew of Hitting the Nuts. I thought I'd share it with the's exciting news for all of us!

*content disclaimer - You are all invited to the premiere of the movie, but please know that it is intended to be a PG-13ish comedy with little redeeming value apart from inducing uproarious laughter. If SNL-style humor is offensive to you, you may prefer a quiet evening at home.

Dear Cast, Crew and Supporters of HTN,

It is hard to believe that it has been thirteen months since we wrapped shooting on Hitting the Nuts. It's even harder to believe that it has been over four years in the making! I'd like to think it just proves that good things take time.

I'm excited to announce that Hitting the Nuts was recently named an official selection to the Cincinnati Film Festival. This is an internationally known festival recently named one of the "25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" by Movie Maker magazine. (See the full article here if you'd like: )

HTN will premiere at 8pm on Saturday, October 9th at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, IN. (Cincy Metro). The festival and casino are also throwing a release party for us at Boogie Nights nightclub after the event. Or course, you are all invited and I hope you can come. We are still planning on theatrical screenings in Las Vegas, Kansas City and Louisville, Ky in the months to come if you want to wait for HTN to come closer to you.

There are about 500 tickets available for the event. Beginning Sept. 30th, the festival will begin releasing tickets for individual films for $10. Until then you can only purchase weeklong and day passes. Those are available now at the following link:

I'm also excited about the film leading into HTN at 5pm. It is the regional premiere of the SNL documentary "Saturday Night" produced by and starring James Franco (Spider-Man, Eat Pray Love). If you are interested in seeing that film and HTN, I would suggest a day pass - which is available now at the link above. If you are coming from out of town, the Hollywood Casino is offering a special room rate for festival attendees. Because the premiere is in a casino, attendees need to be at least 21 years old. However, there will be a second viewing of HTN at The Esquire theater in Cincinnati the following Tuesday. More details on that showing will be available in the days to come at

Feel free to forward this email, post links on Twitter and Facebook and spread the word anyway you can. The best way to get the most current information about the movie is to direct people to the official Facebook page at

We are working on DVD distribution now with positive feedback from potential distributors.  (A VP at a major studio watched the movie and told me he thought he was the funniest indie comedy he had seen in two years. He took it home and watched it again with his wife...) It will take a while to find the perfect match for distribution, but the process is going very well. The festival exposure will do nothing but help us get closer to a deal.

Obviously, it wouldn't be what it is without all of you. I can't wait for you to see the final product.


Joe Boyd
Producer, Hitting the Nuts
HTN trailer:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fences - A new VCC feature film

Whenever I write or talk about what is happening in and around the Vineyard with film and video production, I cannot help but personalize it. I felt as though I was leaving a dream behind me in Los Angeles when I accepted the call to come to Cincinnati a little over three years ago. It was confusing because I felt as though God really wanted me to pursue a vocation in and around film and TV production. When the unexplainable and undeniable circumstances occurred surrounding the opportunity to return to Ohio and align with VCC, Debbie and I had no choice but to follow what was clearly a God-inspired invitation to work here. We haven't regretted it. God was (and still is) in it.

That reality didn't take away some of the confusion and grief surrounding what felt like a calling in LA abandoned half-finished. I remember holding back tears my last day in Hollywood thinking, "I have a new calling to pursue, but this one isn't finished yet." Secretly I wondered if I had somehow failed God...or maybe I had never been called to the entertainment industry to begin with. Maybe I had just fooled myself into doing something I wanted to do. I had, over the course of my five years outside of vocational ministry, received various emails from well-meaning people telling me that I was denying my call to be a pastor and should leave the "Hollywood experiment" behind and work at a church again. Those emails had always fueled me to prove them wrong. I hated the mentality that working at a church was somehow more of a calling than some other vocation. On that last day in LA, I began to wonder if maybe they were right. Had I fooled myself into following some self-centered dream that God had to come and rescue me from by giving me a church job? I had no answers to those I decided to leave them on the west coast and come here.

I remember thinking of he moved to a new land in faith. And I tried to do the same. I would let my old dreams die on the vine because God had intervened and given me a new worthy adventure. So I came to Ohio to be a pastor and help lead a church.

What slowly became obvious, though, is that when God gives you a calling it isn't that simple. Looking back, God seems to have been busy taking the seemingly unconnected strands of my life and weaving them together. Doors in the entertainment industry that were closed, began to open once I moved here. God had moved other people to VCC with aligning passions. So personally, this is the one area of my life where I most feel God's love and grace toward me. The dream I left in LA followed me to Cincinnati. And I have no idea where it is going from here, but I am thankful. I still hold back tears at times...but now they come from overwhelming gratitude. God loves me enough to allow me to be all I am...not just one part of me at a time. For a guy like me, that's the best gift he could give.

So all this brings me to an announcement. Over the next year we will be shooting two feature films through VCC. In 2011, we will produce a romantic comedy currently titled A Strange Brand of Happy. We had hoped to shoot that movie this year, but we need a little more time to round out the funding.

In the meantime, we will be making a low/no budget digital feature called Fences. Here's what it is about:

Josh, a young white social worker, moves into a predominately African American neighborhood in Cincinnati. His next-door neighbor is George, a recently retired African American who doesn’t exactly welcome Josh into the neighborhood.

Over the course of one day, through a series of misinterpreted events, both Josh and George learn that in order to really become neighbors they are going to have to do the hard work of getting to know each other. Blurring (and sometimes crossing) the lines of racism and prejudice, both men discover that the real healing will only come in time…one genuine conversation at a time. 

We believe that Fences will initiate conversations in Cincinnati and beyond about the subtle prejudices we all have. And we believe these simple conversations will lead to healing. This forum gives VCC an opportunity to say the sorts of things we have said for 25 years in a new, culturally relevant way. It gives our voice a microphone to the world.

So, Fences will shoot for about twelve days beginning September, 27th. We are depending on volunteers to pull this off. It's not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. We have lots of video professionals and actors already volunteering their time. At this point, we could use help with the following:

-individuals or restaurants who can provide a meal for 15-20 people.
-people who can provide snacks and drinks for the other volunteers on set.
-locations for shooting: specifically a convenience store exterior, gas station, car wash and a suburban house with a closed in patio room.
-help gathering and finding props.
-cars for out-of-town actors to borrow for a week or so.
-people committed to pray for the project.

If you want help with these things, email us at and we will be in touch this week.

We'd love to have you be a part of this. All of us together can create something amazing. God is good.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Practice of Christian Community - Part 3. The Acts 2 Community.

I discovered Acts 2:42-27 when I was in high school. It struck a chord with me. I knew that I wanted to live in a community like the one described there. Here it is in the NIV:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

It still stirs something within me. I am frustrated that I have learned so much over the last twenty years since it first captivated my heart. It was stunningly beautiful in my youthful innocence. These days, it reads more like a nearly-possible-but-not-entirely-likely future reality. With age comes a sobering realism. This is still the community I desire, but when it comes to living life together, the disciples in Acts 2 did have a few things in their favor that we do not:

1. The Resurrection. They had within their midst the apostles - eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. These days we all have a temptation to only see the resurrection through a metaphorical lens. I think that is a true way to see it. (To say that we metaphorically die to ourselves and live again is certainly a teaching of Jesus.) The rub comes when we only believe it metaphorically. It seems that the Acts 2 community, fueled by the 12 to 500 eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus, had no room for doubt in the physical resurrection. Their instant conversion to a radical communal lifestyle had to flow from that utterly unique circumstance.

2. Socio-political circumstances. There has been an assumption that the earliest disciples would have been shunned from the Jewish community in Jerusalem, including their own families of origin. If this is true then they may have been economically, socially and political ostracized forcing them to more fully depend on one another. Though not in North America, there are places in the world today where a conversion to Christianity results in persecution, or at least severe shunning. This forces believers together to meet real life needs. A similar thing may have been happening in Jerusalem.

3. The Eschaton. The last thing the leaders of the Acts 2 community heard from God was that "this same Jesus who you have seen disappear will return to you." They obviously took this to mean a quick (and very real) return - within a matter of days or weeks perhaps. They believed that they were living in the very last days before the great King would come and rule Israel. (These last days are called "The Escahton.") Their actions in Acts 2 mirror what they anticipated life to look like when their great King would come to reign. In essence, they began living as if the King were already reigning because they knew he was about to return at any moment. Decades later, these early Christians struggled with the fact that Jesus had not yet returned to fully reign. In II Peter 3, Peter writes to a group of churches saying:

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If Peter found himself in a position to remind followers of Jesus that he is still returning despite a delay of only twenty years, we can admit that the task is exponentially harder for us 2,000 years later.

With all of that as background, I cannot dismiss Acts 2:42-47 as simply history. I think it is a vision of pure Kingdom community lived out in Jerusalem circa 30 AD.  As the Kingdom (present and yet to come) invades any people or culture, these same realities begin to emerge: devotion to prayer, teaching, togetherness, meal-sharing, radical generosity, worship, expectation of the miraculous and numerical growth. What happened in Acts 2 still happens today. But, it gets messy. It got messy then as well. Acts 2 is a snapshot of the church on its honeymoon while the letters of Paul and Peter show us a messier version of community as the disciples begin to set into a daily life within their various cities.

So at this point in my life I try to avoid the most extreme positions on this passage. It can be dangerous when viewed as a prescriptive formula for church growth. (ie - we all have to sell our houses and live together or if we don't see any miracles this year we aren't a real church, etc.) The other extreme is the position that more or less excuses the Acts 2 community as an anomaly - just a bunch of excited new converts caught up in what they thought was the last days. This quickly takes us down the road of learning from their mistakes vs. learning from their faithful witness. I choose to believe that their response was valid and exactly what God wanted. If nothing else, they painted a picture for all of us to follow. Through Luke's pen, they showed us what  community will look like in the Kingdom fulfilled. As for me, I'd rather give my life to seeing us get us close as we can to that vision on this side of the Parousia.  These are the last days. We are in the Eschaton. We have been for 2,000 years...but to God that's like 48 hours. I'd love for Jesus to find my church looking a lot more like Acts 2 than anything else when he comes back to reign.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I don't like being a pastor.

I don't like being a pastor.

Now let me unpack that.

Maybe, a less dramatic way to say what I am feeling is that I don't like being perceived or labeled as a pastor. The Bible lists pastoring among the spiritual gifts given to believers. I don't believe that I have a large measure of the "pastoring" gift. To me, a true pastor (Biblically speaking) is someone exceptionally gifted to care for and disciple a smaller group of people. I may be better at that than I give myself credit for, but it isn't my primary gifting.

I can look past that, though. I live in culture where the word "pastor" (or minster, reverend, etc.) means something other than what the New Testament means when it uses the word. I don't have to be the etymological purist who tries to rescues words back to their earlier meanings. I'm tempted to do that, but it isn't worth the effort. So, in our culture, a "pastor" is for all intensive purposes defined as a protestant priest. Most people would define a "pastor" as a professional clergyman who leads a church (meaning a non-profit religious organization). There are, of course, negative connotations to the word. Lots of pastors are egomaniacs, for instance. Many are rather shallow people using religion to forge a career for themselves. Some of them, of course, love God and their people legitimately...ok, probably most of them do if I am being fair. But, the reality is that the word itself isn't a very exciting label for me to attach to myself.

When someone on an airplane asks me what I do I usually say, "I work for a church." If I'm feeling particularly guarded I might say something like,  "I do lots of things...teach at a church, write books, make movies." They will generally be intrigued more by writing books and making movies, which leads the conversation toward a more desired destination. In most circumstances I can rarely make these words come out of my mouth: "I'm a pastor."

I do have business cards that I never use that say "pastor." It's also what appears on my W2 form. I am, legally speaking, a pastor. I'm registered with the state of Ohio as a member of the clergy to perform religious rites. I'm a pastor. I just hate being called one.

I worry that I think too negatively about this stuff. I know I can tend to do that. The "happier" people in my life advise me to make it my ambition to embrace the title and embark on a crusade to redefine it. But it's hard to give my life to redeeming a title that neither Biblically nor culturally accurately defines what God has called me to be.

This post all comes from a thought I had during our prayer time last night in my church meeting (small group). It hit me that for all of the obviously rough days Jesus weathered, there might have been a similar frustration that he quietly endured day to day. I started thinking about how many people called him "Rabbi." He was a rabbi - a teacher. But he wasn't like the other rabbis. He spent the majority of his time combatting the Pharisees, the leading faction of rabbis. I wonder if the average person - at first glance - just put Jesus in the "rabbi box." I wonder if they thought things like, "He's a little different than the Pharisees, but a rabbi is a rabbi. He's all talk. All about the rules. All about the power, etc."

Of course, those who spent time with him would begin to say things like, "unlike the other rabbis, he speaks with genuine authority." But, I can't help but wonder if his stomach didn't turn now and again when a stranger walked up to him and addressed him as "rabbi." Maybe I'm way off. I am obviously projecting my own story onto his...but I don't think I have thought about how the cultural expectations of being a rabbi could have been a frustrating obstacle toward his goal of bringing the Kingdom.

I have a great measure of clarity around what God has called me to these days. He's called me to live my life in a church defined as a "a small missional family loving God and each other." He's called me to Cincinnati and the Vineyard to use my gifts to mobilize people to see the Kingdom come in our city and beyond. He's called me to play a role in speaking to the larger American culture through film and video production. I'd do those things regardless of my job or title or circumstances. I don't think any of these callings make me a pastor, but you can keep calling me that if you long as neither of us really start believing it too much.


Pastor Joe