Friday, February 26, 2010

Among The People

Well, I'm closing in on my first month as a Walmart employee. I can't begin to describe to you how different it is to work there as opposed to my former jobs in ministry. Corporate bureaucracy, rules, and having to clock out for lunch at a certain time are all very different from what I'm used to. Since I'm a Customer Service Manager, I'm in constant contact with people, both other employees and customers, all day long. Throughout the day I usually have at least one moment, sometimes many, where I realize just how out of touch I've been with the way real people live and work. I've been a pastor for a long time now, but I've never lived and worked among the "real people". I pray that my current situation opens my eyes to unique ways and opportunities to shepherd.

Here is a reality I have been exposed to over the last month:

It's very difficult, if not impossible, to understand how to care for the poor and vulnerable if you are not poor and vulnerable too. Have you ever had to depend on government assistance to pay for groceries or receive health care for your children? Until you understand the embarrassment and have received the judgmental stares, it will be very hard to truly care for those that do.

In the church world, especially student ministry, the phrase "incarnational ministry" gets thrown around a lot. The phrase describes a philosophy of ministry where a group focuses on a deeply relational strategy to reach and serve people. As you might know, the incarnation is a theological term describing the supernatural act of God becoming human and living among the people. So, it makes sense that we would try to model our ministries in a similar fashion. I know I've used it to describe my efforts in student ministry many times in the past. What doesn't make sense is how often we forget the full consequences of God's incarnation. It ended in torture, a cross, and death. Take a look at what Phil. 2:6-8 has to say:

6 He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson

If we are going to talk the talk of an incarnational ministry then there are a couple of things we should expect along the way. First, we have to empty ourselves and sacrifice our status and all that we have and hold dear. We must humble ourselves so that we can truly understand the people God has sent us to minister to. Then, we must prepare for the suffering that will come. Expect hurt. Expect trials. True incarnational ministry will not end with just deepened relationships. It will in fact, take your life.

I don't like where God has my family right now. I don't like not being comfortable. I don't like not knowing if we can afford the next month's expenses. I don't like having to clock in and be told when I can and can't go to lunch. My list of "don't likes" seems to grow by the minute these days. But, my ability to be content and peaceful also seems to be growing. What God is doing in me and my family's life is irrelevant to my likes and dislikes. He has placed me right in the middle of this messed up world by messing up my own world. He is in the process of emptying me of all that I thought I needed and cared about. The trials and hurt, and there's certainly more to come, are nothing more than the result of transitioning from living outside or above the people, to moving right into their neighborhood.

Any thoughts? What does, or would, it take for you to follow the path of living an incarnational lifestyle?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Support Letters In The Mail!

Yep, we've sent out our first round of support letters. This round went out to close family and friends on Saturday morning. Included in the letter is an update on the life and journey of the Ward family, and a section that asks for financial and prayer support over the next 18 months. Our goal is to raise $1500 of monthly financial support to supplement my income and help provide for general living expenses. Anything we receive above the $1500 will be placed into The Mission's general expense fund to be used on a variety of regular church expenditures. As we look to the future we are trying to plan for monthly expenses such as facility rental, curriculum for children, etc.

Our hope is that in 18 months The Mission will achieve financial independence. Until then, we are asking for folks from all over to partner with us to bring The Mission to life. Over the next few weeks, as the appropriate documents are filed, we will have a number of convenient online donation options. If you would like to download a copy of the support letter or donate now through PayPal, you can do so by clicking here.

We have already received a number of donations and are incredibly grateful for how God is providing for us. Please visit for more information about the church. As always, I will continue to post updates and items of interest here so that you can keep up with what God is doing in and through The Mission.

10,000 Blessings,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ideas for Ash Wednesday and Lent

Hi, everyone. It’s Rachel.

As part of our worship at The Mission, we try to keep in step with the church calendar and incorporate liturgy into our service. We do this for a couple of reasons—to acknowledge that our small church is part of a much bigger Church and to remember that our young community springs from a very old Community.

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. This is an important time in the life of the Church, so I wanted to provide those of you wishing to participate with some direction and resources.

Lent is a forty-day period of preparation, reflection, and self-denial that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through Holy Week. It commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before his ministry began, and historically served as a time of preparation for new believers awaiting baptism. Many people choose to give up certain habits or refocus on the spiritual disciplines during this time of year.

On my blog, I’ve compiled “40 Ideas for Lent” if you would like to take a look.

If you would like to participate in an Ash Wednesday service, First United Methodist Church in Spring City is having one at 7 p.m., as are most Methodist, Catholic, and Episcopal churches in Chattanooga.

On Sunday night, our prayers will focus on repentance and will include the collect for Ash Wednesday:

"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen." (from the Book of Common Prayer)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More on the Job and My Self...

Ok, so I got a job at Walmart as a Customer Service Manager. Getting this job has caused some interesting thoughts over the last few days. On one hand I'm excited that I got a job that will allow me the flexibility to pursue my first passion which is starting The Mission. On the the other hand I felt some embarrassment about working at Walmart. I felt like I was somehow above that kind of job.

Here's some good old fashion irony for you. A pastor sent to minister to a community thinks he is too good to work alongside the community he was sent to minister to. I'm so glad that Jesus didn't think this way. I wonder how many fellow ministers out there feel this way about the community they were sent to shepherd? My first test in Dayton as a missionary to the community didn't go so well. Pray for me to do better when the next one comes along.

Until now I've been paid a handsome salary to do the work of the Kingdom. I've never had to ask myself the question of whether I'd do this work if I had to support myself. I have to tell you that it makes a big difference. Each day I have to go about the work set out for me with a sense of dependence that rarely effected me before. I think anyone in a paid ministry position should have to ask themselves this question: Would I do this if I wasn't getting paid for it?

The last few months have been a very difficult journey for my family and me. Not much has worked out the way we planned it. Now, we are praying for a season of restoration. We want to be together again as a family as soon as possible. We want to be financially stable again. Not rich, just stable. We want a place to call home with our furniture and beds. I even miss our refrigerator sometimes. Please remember to lift us up in prayer over these next few weeks that God would provide for our needs the way He sees fit.

I'm reminded of Proverbs 16:9 where it says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Well, we've made a lot of plans over the last few months. But, in faith we trust that the Lord is guiding our steps as He desires. If sacrifice is required on our part to bring glory to His name, then I'll do my best to follow. For now, I've got to get some sleep because I have to be at Walmart at 7 AM.