First, can we talk a little about the series we’re in? I know you address some of these church identity points every couple of years. What is your thinking there?
We need to know who we are and who we are not. Being part of a denomination (EFCA), we are part of a group of churches, not just in the United States but around the world, that have multiple things in common. We agree on our statement of faith, and we agree in many ways about how we live out that faith.
So it’s good to know what to say when someone asks, “How are you different from a Lutheran church? How are you different from a Catholic church? How are you different from City First?” Well, these are tools to help us be able to articulate that a little better, to know better why we believe what we believe.
Typically, in a conversation like that, we go to church culture or style of worship, versus theological tenants.
Yeah. And there are some fairly strong distinctions in some areas. Some areas, not so much, but I think it’s important that we are able to articulate our Statement of Faith and recognize that for us, these 10 things are hills that we will die on. Everything else is second or third-tier. That doesn’t make the other things unimportant. They’re just not the most important.
In your sermon Sunday, you challenged us as Christians to ask, are we using our spiritual gifts to edify and build up the church? What was behind that question?
We have come out of a difficult couple of years. A lot has rattled our nation and world in ways that we didn’t think imaginable prior to that. Now more than ever, I believe the church needs to be the church—the beacon of hope, the city on a hill, salt and light. One of the amazing things we have available is to use the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has imparted to us individually as believers, and as the church.
And so, as we have been looking at our mission and vision as a church, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, spiritual gifts play a part in that. And as we’re fulfilling the vision of seeing all the generations go, tell and show the love of God in Rockford and around the world—the more we look at that, the more we say, “What’s my part in this?” If we’re all working in the same direction, working with that same mission that each and every one of us has been given, what’s my part in that?
That’s where spiritual gifts are so important. If you have the gift of evangelism, we want you to be sharing your faith in fun, creative ways. If you have the gift of hospitality, we want to better equip you as best we can—to say, what do you need to throw a block party or a fall festival in your neighborhood? As Paul puts it in Ephesians chapter 4, we want to equip the church for ministry. It’s not the staff’s job to fill all of these gaps and to meet every one of these spiritual gifts. No, this is an all-church thing. This is not a paid professional ministry-type thing.
Are you sensing a shift? Maybe it was COVID, or maybe it started before that. When we hear about what’s being called the Great Resignation, we think about job changes. But it’s being seen in volunteerism, too. Have we taken a negative turn as a culture?
I think we’ve come up with the “somebody else will do it” mentality. That’s been slowly seeping its way into the church. Some people saw—in some cases appropriately but in some not—COVID was an easy off-ramp. They suddenly weren’t expected to serve and fulfill the commitments they had made. For some, maybe it was a good time for an appropriate transition. For others, I think maybe it was getting out of the habit. Allowing something else to take that time slot. Maybe it was thinking they could find fulfillment somewhere else, and maybe that has been true. But I think a lot of it is habitual. We don’t have that muscle memory anymore. And maybe part of it is that we just think someone else will do it.
Do we tend to look at ministry opportunities as a burden, one more thing on the calendar—and not realize that exercising our spiritual gifts is this energizing, wonderful thing?
Yeah. When you truly find and recognize what spiritual gifts you have, that will be energizing to you. It won’t be draining. It doesn’t mean there won’t be times when it’s difficult. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when, it’s a Wednesday night. I had a long day at work. I have a headache. It’s 6:15. I need to go to serve at church in the kids ministry or student ministries or Thursdays with choir and orchestra or worship team, or fill in any blank that we have.
There are also times where, in the car on the way there, we’ll need to say, “Lord, you know what I’m feeling toward doing this. I’m surrendering this to you, and I need you to change my heart.” And he does. He really does.
You’ve already talked in church about your sabbatical. Can we go a little deeper?
Beforehand I sent a schedule proposal to the executive elders, just so that they were able to know that it wasn’t going to be Luke sleeping until noon every day and not intentionally resting the way that that I ought to be. They looked over that schedule and agreed with it.
We did a lot in June. Jessi worked that first week of sabbatical. so I had some great daddy-daughter time with Amelia, just the two of us during the day for that entire week. The following week, I was able to go to a cabin in Wisconsin and have some personal retreat time by myself with the Lord. He really revealed a lot to me during that time. I didn’t want to leave that place viewing this to-do list that I needed to work on. So I left what he had revealed to me there.
What do you mean by that?
I knew it wouldn’t be something that was fixed overnight. It was the final day of the retreat and I took time to invite the Lord into those things as I surrendered them to him. Previously, I would have attempted to “fix” these issues in my own strength and in my own power, but this time I knew that if there was going to be true lasting change, that it could not be by my power or strength, it needed to be in his. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have a part to play in it. It’s a daily surrendering and a daily laying down of my own pride.
I finished the sabbatical with another time of personal retreat. And the Lord allowed me to recognize what he had done over the past two months, re-energizing me for ministry and leading me to repentance in areas that I need to let go of, but then also bringing life to areas where I desperately needed it.
I’m excited for what the Lord has in this next season. I really am.
As you return, what looks different?
One of the things the Lord really spoke to me was, I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone type person. I don’t say this pridefully by any means. Jessi has referred to me as the bulldozer, where I’m just like, “Whatever it takes. I’m going to get the job done.” And then I’ll look behind me and say, “Oh. There’s kind of a wake of destruction behind me here that I didn’t recognize at the time.”
I don’t mean destruction of people. But in my own walk with the Lord, there have been times where I’ll stop and say, “Look, Lord, I’m working really hard. Are you pleased with me? I did all this. I’ve led myself to exhaustion. Was that a good sacrifice, Lord?” And that’s not what he desires.
And so as I continue to look long-term in ministry, which is what I want and where I believe the Lord has me, I’m not going to be able to do that if I continue to try to do it in my own power, in my own strength and abilities.
That’s something we know as believers, but yet we fall into that trap, don’t we?
Yeah. During that time of rest, I just felt the Lord saying, “Are you tired of doing this on your own yet? Are you tired of saying ‘No, I’ve got this?’” And I truly sensed: Yes, I am.
As I’ve come back, that’s something that I’ve asked Brad Brinson, my mentor, to hold me accountable to. I’ve asked Jessi to hold me accountable to it—that in those moments, Lord, it’s your strength, your power, not mine. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a part to play. But it just changes my perspective. And I think it’s a good and healthy place to be.
Is that one thing that, as a church, we could pray for you and your family?
In what other ways would you ask us to pray for you?
In the next month, it’s getting back into the swing of things. Even though I was gone, ministry continues and the church continues to move forward. So there are things I need to get caught up on.
Another thing is for us as a family as we look to the fall. We made the choice to home-school Amelia and school is starting again. So we’d appreciate your prayers in that, as Jessi and I both have the awesome responsibility of being her teachers. But it’s mainly Jessi, so be praying for her.
And then finally, pray that the things the Lord revealed to me during this time away are not quickly forgotten. That each and every day, I return to my knees and remember those things that he spoke over me and revealed to me through his Word and through the Spirit.
That can really happen, can’t it? Without setting some new rhythms and patterns, you can just default back to the familiar.
In fact, I met with a pastor locally during my sabbatical. He’s been in ministry for decades and he said to me, “Within the first couple of days back, you’re going to feel like you never left.” That Monday when I got back, it was exactly that. Now that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. But what he said was, “You’re coming back with a different perspective. You’re coming back with a different approach. You’re coming back rested and having all of the memories that you have from that sabbatical to continue to propel you forward.”
But it was pretty quick, you know? I was gone for two months and, boom. I have to imagine that’s a little bit like what a schoolteacher goes through every fall. They go back to class and it feels like they never left.
Is it as simple as a prayerful attitude, or are there other little places where you’re able to say, “No, it really is different now”?
It’s a prayerful attitude but there are also other patterns that are different. It’s accountability as well. Sharing a lot of those things with Brad and Jessi. During those moments when I’m trying to do things in my own power and ability, it’s them saying, “Hey, have you prayed about that? Have you surrendered that to the Lord?”
So it’s multifaceted. Of course it’s prayer. Of course it’s spending intentional time with him, which I was doing before. But then it’s giving people permission to hold me accountable to that, and to be able to recognize those times in myself. I think that’s been huge.