“I didn’t know what was in store for me when I let go of the dream of being the pastor at that big, beautiful church.”
But staying would have betrayed a very private secret: The way I see to the shalom of my brothers and sisters is to create environments in which people’s latent gifts can emerge.
When you get close to discovering what your secret is—how you see to the shalom of your brothers and sisters—there will almost always be a tempting alternative that is close but not quite it. It’s a wise person who waits for the real thing and resists that which is close enough.
When I decided to leave the church that I loved, I knew I was still a pastor. I knew I wanted to lead and preach. I wanted to create the kind of culture in which people’s latent God-given gifts could emerge and flourish. And that is when the idea of planting a church slowly began to emerge, like a blazing and beautiful sunrise after a long, dark night.
After dozens of conversations with Mary and close friends, after countless prayers of desperation and some excitement, I told Dave and the board that I needed to leave to plant a church. I was forty-three years old. They were gracious and also quite surprised. Though they affirmed my sense of motivation and calling, it brought up lots of questions for them and some pain. It happened a lot quicker than they thought it would. At the end of it all, they blessed Mary and me, prayed for us, and sent us out.
In May 2014, I started having conversations with people about starting a church called Genesis. Our stated vision was to join God’s work of “cultivating new beginnings in all of us, everywhere.” Those first few months were exhilarating, exhausting, and sometimes frightening. As I stared at spreadsheets with projected expenses of staff and equipment, I became an expert at asking people to give—financially, with their time, their gifts, and their passions.
We dreamed of starting something that felt warm, small, and ancient but progressive. We wouldn’t use screens to project words; we’d use liturgy bulletins that people could hold and bring home, with beautiful prayers written out, which we would recite together. We’d be guided by the seasons of the church calendar. We’d follow the lectionary—a three-year cycle of Scripture readings that would keep us anchored in the story of God. We’d partner with organizations that are meeting the needs of vulnerable children and those who are exploited in the world.
Mary and I spent a long weekend at my parents’ cabin, writing and talking and dreaming. Our church’s guiding values emerged slowly out of that time, and I love them:
Simplicity. We want to stay responsive to what’s important, so we order our lives and our community in ways that leave margin and space, where we live within our limits. We are intentional and wise in our choices and our commitments.
Conversation. We ask lots of questions that show interest in people and in process. We’re better when we’re talking and learning, so we allow great questions to lead us together toward what’s good and true. We can be confident in sharing and hearing ideas, because we know God is more and better than anything we can name.
Rhythms. We honor the Sabbath, we follow the lectionary, and we’re learning spiritual practices. We are countercultural in how we create space to hear from God in our lives and in our worship gatherings. We follow the seasons of the church calendar—finding daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that help us stay rooted in the story of God.
Attentiveness. We believe that God is actively at work at all times and places, making all things new. Because we want to join that work, we spend time praying for and seeking a restored way of seeing, hearing and sensing God, one another, and our own souls.
Restoration. What is made new in us is there to join in the work of making all things new. A part of this work is to be aware of and be present to suffering people and a suffering world, and to use our gifts to alleviate that suffering. God breathes life into us so that we can be a healing presence in the world.
Ordinariness. Most of us live our lives as if we need to be more and different and better in order to be significant. We want to live our lives as is—embracing who we are and where we are, believing that our gifts, our life, our vocation, as small or large as it actually is, is where God will be present to us and active through us. We believe that we can bless others by being who we actually are and operating from where we actually are.
Delight. We try to respond to what is beautiful and good with wonder, celebration, joy, gratitude, and love. We also try to smile, laugh, and enjoy one another. What delights us leads us into doing all kinds of good in the world.
That was two years ago. We are now a growing, intergenerational family of people who are seeing new beginnings in ourselves and others.
There is Carol, my favorite seventy-three-year-old, who sits in a wheelchair, a blanket covering her even in the summertime. She has buried three husbands, has multiple sclerosis, has just had painful hip surgery, and keeps talking about her own new beginnings.
And there is Pam, who is approaching her sixties and can’t stop dreaming. She and her husband, Will, were quite wealthy, with kids and big toys and lots of traveling, before they were ambushed by God’s love and a new vision for their family. Then they lost most of their money and had to start over. Pam wants to create places of healing for people who are hurting and broken.
And there is Trynica, the ten-year-old who decided to run a 5K on her birthday to raise more than $1,000 for women caught in sex trafficking. Trynie (as we call her) is hopeful, delightful, responsible, and is a gifted speaker. We’ve had her share poems at church, something she takes very seriously. Genesis is a place from which she is rising and becoming powerful.
And there is me.
Church planting can be a treacherous place for someone addicted to approval and admiration. I’m learning to take myself less seriously when attendance numbers drop. I’m learning to resolve conflict and stay engaged in a long obedience in the same direction, rather than chasing the next exciting thing. I’m learning to explore my joy and also touch my limits.
I’m learning that I really can’t be a successful pastor.
But I am learning that I can be a restored pastor. Restoring what’s broken isn’t just about crawling on your hands and knees through glass until you’re bloody and broken. Lech lecha means that at least some of the metrics for a successful Steve means that my own joy and my own enjoyment matter. I think I’m starting to learn that I can be a joyful pastor. Not a driven one, not a busy one, not a heroic one.
I didn’t know any of that was in store for me when I let go of the dream of being the next senior pastor at that big, beautiful church. How could I have known?
I hadn’t gone where I needed to go yet.
Taken from WHOLE: Restoring What Is Broken in Me, You, And the Entire World by Steve Wiens. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.