If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Yup. It’s back. The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it. But now it’s back.
You’re probably wondering, “What? What’s back?”
The fire is back. It’s in my bones. I feel it when I wake up. I think about it throughout the day. It’s back.
CATCHING FIRE (…but not like the hunger games)
I first felt the fire in January 2012, when I went to a conference called Ambition. It was a conference hosted by the organization that I worked for, InterVarsity, that was focused on planting new ministries on college campuses around the country and mobilizing students in our current chapters to reach their universities with the Gospel.
But while I was there, something strange happened. I got a fire, not just for college ministry, but for the church as a whole. My heart started to pound as I thought about this crazy idea of planting churches and mobilizing existing ones to reach people with the good news about Jesus Christ. As I thought about this, my heart started to pound like an engine and pump fuel through my veins. I realized that Jesus is so good – sooooo good – and that I cannot just keep him to myself anymore. I was so captivated by the awesomeness of Jesus Christ that I was willing to do something crazy for him.
And so I did. I left the ministry that I loved (InterVarsity) to follow the calling he had for me to begin pursuing pastoral ministry. I decided to do the crazy thing of joining a denomination – the Lutheran Church – in order to pursue this calling, which, for a nondenominational evangelical guy like me, was equivalent to a junior high guy suddenly waking up one morning and realizing that girls really aren’t that bad.
I got plugged into a great church (Trinity) and connected to an awesome network (FiveTwo) where I met other men and women who were just as on fire for planting churches and reaching the lost as I was. I would wake up in the morning thinking about planting. I would go to sleep at night, dreaming about how to better reach people with the Gospel. It was in my head. It was in my bones. I was on fire.
And then I lost it.
So how did this happen? How did I lose the fire? Honestly, it was a whole lot of things, but, in many ways, coming to Seminary has been the hardest. Why? Well, there was the shock, due to a variety of complicated circumstances, which led to us needing to leave our home church and come to our denominational school to finish out training for pastoral ministry. Then there was the shock of entering into a denominational subculture which does not always value things like church planting, evangelism, or interdenominational partnerships for the sake of reaching the lost. Finally, there is the reality that, in Seminary, it is easy for your faith to become a homework assignment.
I remember a mentor of mine saying that Seminary is one of the most dangerous places for you to be, because Seminary can destroy your soul. I have felt and experienced all of this. And as I did, the fire started to die. It was getting snuffed out by papers, derogatory comments, cynicism, and tribalism. I was lonely and angry, sad and depressed.
GETTING IT BACK
So how did it come back? Honestly, I don’t know. In many ways it makes me think of something Jesus once said:
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I don’t think it was any one thing in particular, but rather a series of small things, each one adding tinder back to the tiny spark that was once a roaring flame.
The first was the realization that the highlight of this past year was going through something called CPAC (church planters assessment cohort). During those three days we met with fellow seminarians and current pastors, all who have a passion for planting churches and reaching people with the Gospel. As we worked together to come up with strategies for planting a church my heart really started to beat again. I remember getting to the end of our time together and looking at my fellow students as we all said, “You know…this could work. We could actually do this.” Planting was back on the table.
The second was spending time with a couple of other passionate guys who want more from pastoral ministry. They want to see new ministries launched, new churches planted, and new people reached with the Gospel. Just sharing stories, passions, and heartaches has made a world of difference. Hope was returning.
The third was reading through a book. Over the break I took some time to sit down with the book Church Planter by Darrin Patrick. Though there was no lightening bolt moment as I read through it, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey…he’s talking about me.” He was describing my heart and my longings in terms I could relate to. I was starting to feel the burn.
The fourth (and certainly not the least) was that I have just been spending time in Scripture. Every day, three chapters a day, I just read. I love seeing God at work. I love seeing how, from the beginning of Scripture to the end, he has been pursuing us, wooing us, and going about his work in redeeming us through Christ. God is good. Jesus is precious to me once more. The fire was lit.
This week the burn has been there. I wake up thinking about church planting. I go to sleep dreaming about how to reach the lost with the Gospel. There is a fire in my bones that won’t go out. More than anything I want to pursue this calling to plant new ministries, to reach more people, and to preach the Gospel with everything I’ve got. I love it and I don’t want it to leave.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
The first thing is to start talking with people. This month I have the privilege of joining my friends at FiveTwo‘s annual wikiconference. While the conference is always a blast, what I have missed are the friendships and camaraderie that come with it. I’m looking forward to sitting in the room with planters, pastors, and practitioners and just picking their brains about planting and starting new ministries.
I am also planning to meeting and talking with some of the guys who lead The Journey, a multisite church here in St. Louis that is also one of the national hubs for the Acts 29 church planting network. I want to learn from people who are doing this planting thing well, so that I know how to start looking ahead and preparing for life after the Sem.
But more than this, I need to stay connected throughout this year with people who have planted, who are planting, and who want to plant. I need to build relationships with people who share the same passion and take the time to listen to and learn from them. I need the connections that I have lost over the course of this past year as well as to make some new ones in the process.
The second thing is to start praying and looking ahead to life after Seminary. I need to take the time to ask God, “What do you have for us?” I think it is going to be important to make sure that we are being as attentive to him as we were when we first decided to transition out of InterVarsity and into pastoral ministry. This will take regular time in Scripture, ongoing conversations with friends, family, and colleagues, and a healthy diet of books, talks, and sermons that will keep this fire burning.
The truth is that I want to do something crazy for Jesus again. And I can’t wait to see where he will take us.