Tabernacle as Church Planting Image?

The other day I was reading Exodus 26. One of the not so exciting bits of the Bible. Its where God gives the instructions to Moses on how to build the tabernacle – basically a big tent that they used to set up while they were in the desert for 40 years and before they built a temple in Jerusalem. it served them pretty well for a long, long time.

The instructions are really detailed. This is just a sample (vs. 2-5)

All the curtains are to be the same size—twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide. 3 Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. 4 Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the end curtain in the other set. 5 Make fifty loops on one curtain and fifty loops on the end curtain of the other set, with the loops opposite each other. 6 Then make fifty gold clasps and use them to fasten the curtains together so that the tabernacle is a unit.

It goes on for some time like that, then it gets into the furnishings, garments for the priests, the activities that would take place in the tabernacle. But these are just the instructions. From chapter 35 to 40, we get the story of them actually making all the stuff and setting up the tabernacle. It’s riveting and action packed!

I’ve often thought that the tabernacle is a good image for a Church plant. Most church plants have some set up required for worship, but most of them probably don’t even come close to the tabernacle in Exodus. I used to think that the tabernacle was a good way of talking about excellence, and being willing to work hard to have things “just right”. That details are important to God in Exodus, and they should be important to us in setting things up on Sunday mornings.

But what hit me the other day was the why. Why a tabernacle at all? Most church planters seem to think they are setting up all that stuff, getting things ready for the new person to arrive, so that the people who come can have a good experience and hear the gospel, that thy can in some way experience the presence of the Holy One.

But, here is the end of the book of Exodus (chapter 40):

34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

The tabernacle is for God. It’s not even for the people. God’s presence prevents even Moses from going in there. So basically, the people spend all this energy setting up the tabernacle to the exact specifications so that God can be there and they stand at a distance in awe. They don’t “enjoy” the tabernacle. There’s no program. There’s no coffee or tea. There’s no band. (There is a pretty cool light show, though – fire at night and cloud at day). When God’s presence lifts, the people know that its time to move on. They dismantle the tabernacle and go to the next place in the wilderness to set it up again. This is the way God led the people.

This isn’t about excellence or attention to detail. It’s about attention to God. The people literally didn’t lose sight of God and God’s leading. The tabernacle was a means to being able to follow God. It was not about figuring out what would be most engaging for the culture, it wasn’t about repackaging God. It was plain and simple. We tend to easily get caught up on the tabernacle, on the externals, and forget to watch for Gods leading.

We set up every week in a movie theatre, but our intention in meeting there is not to “be relevant” or to “repackage the gospel” in order to “reach more people for Jesus”, it is to be faithful to where we believe God is leading us, and to be faithful to who we believe God is calling us to be. That is our home for now – but like the Israelites in the wilderness, we aren’t truly home yet. We are journeying toward it, trying our best to follow after God. Even when we build a more permanent facility we won’t be home. It is part of where God is leading us, but it will also be another tabernacle where we will continue to sense the presence of God and try to follow.

Lizards and Theological Education

Do you ever complain about things not being part of your job? or about the little things? or about things you don’t like about your job? This is another Gem from “The Life of James Robertson” by Ralph Connor. Robertson is particularly unimpressed with some of the young, student ministers that he has recruited for the mission fields in Western Canada in the 1880’s. He calls a particular student “whiney” because he’s complaining about uncomfortable beds and things crawling on him in the night, and irregular meals that aren’t always tasty.

Robertson tells the student about a night when he slept in a dugout where lizards crawled onto his face and neck to find warmth. He just brushed them off and turned over.

Then we get this great quote:

“The poor student stood horrified. The Superintendent [Robertson] enthused for a few moments on lice and lizards and snakes, as though encounters therewith were as valuable as theology in a true missionary’s education, and the complaining dude subsided. His hardships vanished into thin air. He was rebuked and shamed, but could not reply, and the conversation drifted to other themes.”

Special note: A “dude” here, is a city-slicker. Although, I am tempted to picture Robertson saying “Quit whining, dude. One time, I had to sleep with lizards! Man, I learned a lot that night.”

Is Sprawl the Enemy?

I wonder if this has any implications for our Church in the suburbs? The video is a bit alarmist, but it would be great to have a true “neighbourhood”. One of the frustrating things for me about the box store environment is that there is no real provision for pedestrians or bikes – yet there are huge housing developments within a ten minute walking distance. Could Wavelerly West with their “town centre” concept be more on the right track – if it gets there? How could our Church design our property to be more attractive to pedestrians?

10 Random Leadership Challenges

Important: I love the congregation where I am a minister. It’s awesome. The people are amazing. I have no desire to go anywhere else. I believe that God has called me to be where I am and I love serving with the people there. AND there are some amazing leaders at Trinity and there are some new leaders emerging.

But this post is about challenges in leadership and yes, there are challenges…

I’m going to a conference in a few weeks and one of the presenters, Dale Woods, contacted the group who is attending and asked if we had particular concerns or questions around leadership.

Here’s the list of 10 random thoughts that came to me in the moment that I sent to Dale…

  1. Not enough people willing to lead.
  2. It seems like more time has to be invested in leaders than in “followers”. But I don’t seem to have the time to do that. It is also easy to get “burnt” by investing in leaders and then have them give up, or they just fizzle out themselves.
  3. When people are willing to lead, they don’t seem to have the time to invest in what they are leading (to do an exceptional job) let alone invest in developing themselves as leaders – how do we train/mentor people with such busy lives?
  4. There seem to be very few people who will strive for excellence – a lot of people will settle for what is easier, or what they know how to do, instead of being creative, or seeking help from others.
  5. Communication is a huge issue – how to get leaders to communicate (primarily with each other)
  6. A lot of leaders seem to like being in control and have real trouble letting go, and trusting. How can I overcome that, and almost as important, how do I help others (a) recognize that in themselves (b) do something about it
  7. How do we train/develop leaders in small church/new church settings without using workshops? What are other models for leadership development? Is there a more natural way?
  8. How do we balance/engage “what the church needs” / “what the neighbourhood needs” / “what everyone wants” / “what gifts are present” / “who is willing to do the work” ?
  9. NCD can feel pretty lonely when it comes to leadership. It often seems that things only happen if I (as the minister) make them happen, even if someone else is in charge of a particular project or area. It requires a ton of energy, and it is so tempting to just be in charge of everything because it’s easier than “working with people.” – I sometimes give in to the temptation. (see control-freak #6 above)
  10. Dealing with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, despair, lack of faith.
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A pastor should know less Latin (greek?) and more horse (twitter?)

I’ve been working my way through the biography of James Robertson, written in about 1907 or 08 by Ralph Connor. Robertson was the mission superintendent for most of Western Canada for the Presbyterian Church in Canada in the late 1800’s He (and the Holy Spirit!) is responsible for the explosion of Presbyterian Churches across the west during that period. Amazing story!

From page 238:

He [a young minister coming to the west for the first time] thought a minister’s duty was to preach the Gospel, and not be bothered with horses. I [Robertson] had to tell him that if he could not reach the people to whom he preached without a horse, then he must learn to drive and ride – in fact, that if these were his ideas he had no business in the North-West – that I would rather have a man know less Latin and more Horse, and that without some knowledge of horses a man was useless. The man looked amazed, but took all well and is going to work.”

So, today’s horse? We might want to immediately say – “the car” – duh! But maybe it’s social media – twitter, facebook, youtube. Robertson was talking about physically getting around (which was a real challenge that pastors had to pay attention to) – but that is not really an issue anymore. Today,we have a culture of privatism and rampant individualism. That culture is not being broken down by going door to door, but look what social media is doing. It is allowing people to connect in unprecedented ways, and people are actually “talking” to people that they would never have met otherwise, or talking more with people who used to be more peripheral in their lives. Robertson’s point was if you want to “reach the people” you need to get to where they are (on your horse!). Where are people today? More and more are moving into online social networks (Oprah’s on twitter now, so the floodgates are open!)

So, if we want to “reach the people”, our preference should be for pastors who know less greek and more twitter.

Thou shalt not laugh at dirty jokes nor fall asleep at meetings

Did you know that the Qumran community kicked people out of their community for 30 days for the following things? What amazes me about this is that the punishment is equal for all of these…

  1. Exposing oneself
  2. Giggling audibly at a crude joke
  3. Speaking ill of another community member
  4. Spitting (note: just “spitting”, not “spitting at someone”)
  5. Falling asleep at meetings (uh-oh)

File this under fun stuff that you find out when preparing for sermons (yes, this made it into last week’s sermon!)

Steve Bell Devotion Tour Closing Concert On CBC Radio

Steve Bell is such a great musician and this will be well worth the listen. Broadcast starts 8pm Eastern. Details can be found at the link below.

Steve Bell Devotion Tour Closing Concert To Be Broadcast On CBC Radio! | Signpost Music.

Staff vs. Building vs. “Program” vs. Contingency

At the Trinity annual meeting on Sunday, the elders brought forward a motion about exploring the possibility of hiring additional ministry staff to help further the growth of the congregation. We didn’t really have details worked out, but were looking to see if the congregation would support this in principle and allow us to think about how we might use $10,000 for an additional part time staff person. We need to really think through what they would do. The motion was tabled. I see that as a way for the congregation to say “we want to hear more” – “keep working on it.”

But this all brings up an interesting bias. My bias is to invest in staff whenever there is extra money, even if the congregation is small. Many in the Church (not necessarily Trinity), feel that when a church is small, there isn’t need for more staff, so we should save any extra money for “when we need it” and for “when we know what to use it for.” For me, the time is always now (except when it was yesterday). Ironically, I tend to be a planner and am looking forward. I guess I see staff in a church as contributing to the growth of the congregation. For me, staff are leaders, not managers. I think for those who see staff as a necessity when you have lots of people, they likely see staff as managers of the people and resources already there.

In New Churches (especially in PCC new churches) it seems as though the bias is towards saving as much money for a church building. Get the building built. For me, investing is staff (when you find the right people) gives you way more bang for your buck than investing in a facility. So, putting $10,000 towards a staff person will get better results than putting $10,000 in a building fund. That isn’t to say the church building isn’t important, just that you will get greater added value in ministry faster for less money when investing in staff. In other words, you need way more money to build a building that will effectively help the ministry.

The next bias is to invest in “program.” This is a pretty elusive one, because no one really knows what that is. Is it resources? equipment? rental for space? Without the staff motivating the volunteers, money for “program” probably won’t go anywhere. I would much rather hire someone awesome and give them a smaller budget to work with, than hire no one and give a committee a huge chunk of money and no real direction. I guess my bias is that the right staff can help bring direction to a team of people.

Finally, we come to contingency. What if something happens? What about the unforseen? What happens if we start to run low on funds? For me, having a small contingency makes sense, but having a large contingency is somewhat faith-less. If we start running out of money, that means that people aren’t giving and people are leaving. If that happens, the last thing we want is a large contingency, because we’ll rely on it, instead of waking up to the reality of what is happening. Our trust should be only in God, not in a contingency fund.

I guess this means the elders have some work to do. If we are going to spend money on staff, who will we hire, and to do what? Currently, there’s me (the minister), an administrator (about 10-12 hrs/wk) and a music director (about 5-7 hrs/wk). What next? And what form should it take?
Someone to work with children, youth? Campus ministry at the University? Someone to coordinate all educational programs for all ages? Someone to lead the Mission/Justice (I heard about a church with a “minister of compassion” as a paid position). Would it be smarter to increase the music director role?
Should we invest in staff to work for a “term” rather than the whole year?
Lots to think about.
Feel free to use the comments to suggest anything, or email me if you have ideas…

Pastoral Secret?

Didn’t know everyone knew this “pastoral secret” but I definitely feel it in my ministry.
Awesome post by Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the PCUSA abut pastoral identity. Love the honesty.

Check it out

Seth Godin’s wrong but you should listen to him anyway

I love reading what Seth Godin writes. Tribes is a great book. His blog is always fun and helpful to read. But there’s been something nagging at me about all of it.

Godin is in the business of telling people what they want to hear – you can make a difference, you can get a following, the world needs leaders, etc, etc. There is a real market for people like me to hear someone say that and believe it. There will always be others who will listen to Godin and others with the same message, and they too will succeed, write books, and say the same thing, and we’ll believe them and find hope for ourselves.

Except that, not everyone who follows Godin’s advise will succeed. And not everyone is meant to follow Godin’s advise. Godin’s advise only works if a minority do it, and he knows only a minority will do it – that’s why it works.

God’s plan (not Godin’s) is broader than that, and includes more than leaders, although it needs leaders. The interesting thing about God’s plan is that its best leaders need to first be followers – followers of Jesus, and listeners of God’s word. This is much tougher than figuring out a niche for yourself, or simply deciding what you want to do. This involves figuring out what God wants you to do – and sometimes God will want you to set your ego aside and support someone else. Sometimes God will want you to decrease so that someone else might increase.

Okay, the title of the post is a little harsh. I don’t think Seth Godin is really wrong, but I’m not sure he’s really “right” either. His writing is inspirational and exceedingly helpful for leaders (including those God has called to lead within the Church). So, read his stuff for sure, but remember he’s just a guy his own message. He’s not the source of hope for all leaders. We believe in a different source of hope.

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