Archives for July 2019
The Renew Community, Lansdale PA
Doug Moister serves as the lead pastor at the Renew Community. Doug and his wife Mear accepted the call to come on staff with Renew in 2011. Today, besides his pastoral and preaching duties with Renew, Doug is a life long learner, a church history nerd, a coach in the community, and an enthusiastic fly fisherman. Doug and Mear enjoy spending time with their kids and thanking God for all He has done and continues to do in the community.
How would you describe the area your church is in?
Lansdale is a northwest suburb of Philadelphia that sits along the R5 rail line(a rail line that runs into the heart of the city). It is a small town that has been growing its image and identity over the past 10 years. Some things folks notice when they come to town is the walkability, new construction, and renovations of old buildings. We have had an influx of coffee shops, breweries, and unique restaurants in the past few years. Which has shown a jump in the housing market and made things tougher for our lower income friends. Lansdale is culturally diverse, we have a thousand member mosque within walking distance from where we meet. Lastly, there are a ton of young families who live in Lansdale.
How would you describe the journey of pastoring The Renew Community? What have been some of the milestones/different seasons?
Around year 7 we experienced a really difficult season with some good folks leaving well and not so well. It also seemed that some of our most steady healthy folks were going through some really hard things. I believe looking back that Renew was invited into a season of growing up during that time and trusting the Lord to take us through that process. Another significant season for us happened a year and a half ago when J.R. Briggs the founding pastor stepped down but did not leave, that brought about the hiring of Ben Pitzen and he has been such a blessing to our community. We are also grateful that we get to tell a story of a founding pastor stepping down, handing over the reins and being part of the community. Lastly, our Elders ROCK! 3 years ago we added two women elders and that has built trust and been a blessing on so many levels to Renew. I could go on…
Looking back, what do you know now you wish you had known when you first started at Renew?
I don’t think there is much I would change, maybe the way I personally handled certain situations, or things we tried. I would have started seeing a spiritual director about 3 years sooner.
As you think about what you’ve been able to do so far in ministry there what are some things you have done/tried that have worked well?
I would say we have made it goal to be more creative in the arts and take risks in our gatherings and House churches. We have and it has paid off as we are seeing creatives come out of the woodwork for us.
What hasn’t worked so well? What have you had to rethink/reimagine/rework?
I am constantly evaluating what is working and not working. one thing I would say that has been something I am burdened about is continuing to push Renew outside of herself. We have been given the gift of a healthy community, and we need to use that to move beyond ourselves. Particularly in our house churches. House church is part of our hybrid structure and I am rethinking how we do mission in and to our geographical areas where our 9 house churches meet.
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
Wow, just one…. A few months ago I was getting up to teach on a Sunday and I sensed the Holy Spirit put something on my heart which would have been a complete change from what I had planned. I didn’t listen, the teaching went off well, but I missed an opportunity to obey.
What is something you’ve been hearing from or learning from God in this last season of leading?
That God is faithful, and I need to grow in my own trust of his leadership.
What do you dream/hope/pray The Renew Community looks like in five years?
My prayer is that we plant two churches, one to the west of us and one in Philadelphia.
While acknowledging no community is perfectly mature, I often think that the reason more communities are not more spiritually mature is because their leaders are not more spiritually mature.
Why aren’t they? As Dallas Willard points out in The Spirit of the Disciplines, while we want to react as Christ would react, behave as Christ would behave and lead as Christ would lead, we are unwilling to do the things and practice the disciplines that enabled him to react, behave and lead as he did.
“We must learn to follow His preparations, the disciplines for life in God’s rule that enabled him to receive His Father’s constant and effective support while doing His will.”
Programs and teaching series will not do half as much good in a community as elders who transparently live their lives and their practices before a watching community.
Disciplines for God
Many times I have sat with both pastors and elders who spoke of being spiritually dry. What I hear over and over again is that it’s difficult to find or make the time for reading Scripture; it’s hard to pray in a disciplined and consistent manner; and it’s nearly impossible to set aside time simply to sit and be present to God in the midst of the busyness and rigors of life, work and ministry.
When I was a youth pastor, one day I sat at my desk, staring down at my open Bible and wondering, Would I do this if I thought no one would ever ask me if I had? At the time, my truthful answer was no. It was then I realized I needed a major paradigm shift in how I related to God.
Leadership demanded that I engage with the spiritual disciplines, but leadership was not sufficient to make those practices vital and real in my life. What I needed was to fall in love with God again—to see in him a loveliness and a value apart from how he contributed to my position in church leadership. Leadership will “call the question” in your life: do you love God for God, or God as a means to an end? To put it another way, are you in love with Him or are you seeing relationship with Him as a necessary means to maintaining leadership and your reputation?
Disciplines for others
One of the main reasons leaders find it so hard to be disciplined in spending time in God’s Word, solitude and stillness, prayer, meditation and fasting is that they feel they are so busy with life, so busy in doing good, so busy serving God and the community that they neglect the care of their own souls. As Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan wrote, they are busy preparing meals for others even while they themselves are starving. You simply can’t feed anyone without having been fed yourself. What you offer to others will be of little nutritional value to them unless it flows from a vital, connected, disciplined relationship with God.
This can be particularly difficult for leaders who are bi-vocational or not in paid ministry. There is a temptation to see serving the church in leadership, attending meetings and fulfilling all the obligations of an elder as, if not sufficient for our spiritual lives, all that we really have the bandwidth to do.
When talking with pastors and other ministry leaders, I urge them to see their own spiritual formation as a way of not simply growing in relationship with the God who loves them, but also of loving others around them. My wife, my children and the people in my church need me to be in prayer and in Scripture regularly, in solitude and silence often. They need me to be grounded spiritually and growing, because that’s the only way I’ll ever be able to discharge my responsibilities to them faithfully. Seeing what we do publicly as loving service to our community is only half the story. Seeing what we do privately as we care for our souls also as loving service to others is the rest.
Disciplines for ourselves
The late-night phone calls, the inevitable conflicts, the difficulty of seeing others make wrong choices—all of these have an impact. Practicing the disciplines helps shape that impact for our good.
Implementing the spiritual disciplines in our lives also helps us minimize our anxious reactivity and choose a more constructive response instead. For example, the practice of studying the Scriptures brings the cognitive perspective to an emotionally-laden situation. We are reminded by the words on the page to love our enemy when our natural reaction is to lash out in anger. As we pray for our enemy, we open ourselves up to consider compassion and mercy. As we confess our sins, we face our sinfulness and avoid over-focusing on the sinfulness of the other. Gradually, we experience transformation, becoming the kind of people who are actually capable of forgiving an enemy.
How do some handle the stress of leadership and life so they grow from it while others feel more and more like burned-out husks, stumbling through another meeting, dealing with another crisis? I would venture to say it comes down to how they view themselves and those stresses. Spending time with God reminds us of His presence, even in the most difficult parts of life and church leadership. It grounds us in the character of Christ and informs our reactions. It enables us to choose loving responses rather than react or be defensive. And it reminds us that even in the hardest parts of leading a church community, God wants to use what we go through and our responses to it to form and shape us and our communities.
This post is adapted from Eldership and the Mission of God- Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership, by J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt
Bob is the Director of Equipping and Spiritual Formation for the Ecclesia Network.
He’s the co-author of Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership as well as Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture.
He planted the Evergreen Community in Portland, OR in 2004 and holds a DMin from George Fox/Portland Seminary.
Bob currently lives in Boise, ID with his wife, Amy, his kids, Jack, Jane, and Josie and his dog, Bentley.
Dallas Willard isn’t an easy man to create small talk with.
What do you say to a distinguished professor of Philosophy at USC who has chosen in his spare time to write life-changing books like The Divine Conspiracy and speak to Christians regularly about spiritual practices and disciplines?
But as I got stuck sitting by him, against my will, at the Ecclesia National Gathering I felt like I should say something to him rather than endure the awkward silence that surrounded us. I didn’t realize our short conversation would leave me thinking for weeks.
I opened with, “So, did you get in from California yesterday?”
He said, “Yes.”
I waited for a few awkward seconds but that was clearly the only thing he intended to say. I followed up with: “Still on California time?” An innocent and somewhat silly question, but I was nervous and was feeling pretty wrecked myself after having just arriving from Portland the day before. His response was not what I expected.
“Let me tell you something” he said gently as I can imagine a grandfather saying to one he loves. “I used to travel a lot, and I particularly remember a 14 hour flight to South Africa where they practically had to scrape me off the plane. It was then that I heard the Lord tell me very clearly, “Dallas, when you travel I want you to do three things: fast, prayer, and memorize scripture. And if you do those things, I will sustain you.” He continued, “And so I started doing those three things anytime I flew longer than 2 or 3 hours and since then I’ve never felt the effects of jet-lag again. He has sustained me.”
At this point in the conversation I felt about a half-inch tall. Dallas wasn’t trying to make me feel small, it was simply that in his presence there was no way for me to not feel small, and petty, and trite. You can sense when you are in the presence of someone that is genuine and real, just as easily as you can sense when you are in the presence of a complete phony. And Dallas is the real deal.
People like Dallas Willard are special not just for what they say, but because they model what a faithful Christ-follower looks like. After you hear or interact with such people, you’re not just left with great ideas, but with a desire to be the quality of person that they themselves are. It’s easy to find pastors who are wise and give you great ministry advice, it’s a lot harder to find pastors who you see and think, “I want to be like that person because they are like Jesus.” I hope that when I’m 75 years old, people will say that about me. But I know for now I have quite a distance between where I am and what I aspire to be. I also know that Dallas Willard didn’t become the kind of person he is naturally or easily.
I don’t aspire to be a “famous” pastor. Nor do I aspire to write a great book, speak at conferences, be known by a lot of people who have tons of twitter followers, or make a name for myself. I simply want to be the kind of person who has the depth of friendship with God that people like Dallas Willard have cultivated over the years. If I can model for people what that looks like as I grow older, I will feel more than successful.
Dustin grew up in a small farming community in Central Illinois, helped to plant a church in New York City after college, and has led a college ministry in Tampa, FL. He has a BA in Preaching and Bible from Lincoln Christian University (Lincoln, IL) and an M.Div from Western Seminary (Portland, OR). He loves his wife Kelli, two boys; Gram and Owen, and his little foster daughter. He’s a homebrewer, an avid reader, and an obsessed Cubs fan. You can check out his old blog he rarely updates here and his homebrew blog here.
Over this last year, one of the key goals we have been working on during our family’s homeschooling adventure is an understand of homophones, homographs, and homonyms. In case you are forgetting your beginning Greek and Latin, a homophone is a word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently, and with a different meaning. In contrast a homograph is a word that is spelled the same, but sounds different, and also carries a different meaning. Related, but apart from both of those, are homonyms. These are words that sound alike and are spelled alike but have different meanings. “Church” is one of those words.
For many people, when they talk about a church, they are talking about the “local” church. That is, a community of people, covenanted with one another, and gathered around the risen Jesus in a specific location. For a long time, this has been associated with a building or a place of meeting, but we all know that it means much more than this. This is the primary use of the word ekklesia in the New Testament. In addition, there is the “universal” church. A concept we clearly get from the pages of scripture and we can all acknowledge is that such a reality “exists.” Yet, as Dallas Willard once remarked, “The problem with the “universal” church is that we can never see it. Only God sees it, and it is probably better that way.” However, in the pages of scripture, there is a third understanding of the word ekklesia, and it is the one most important to our network.
The Kind of “Church” that is Ecclesia
Craig Van Gelder goes to great pains to demonstrate that this usage of the term ekklesia is where we get our conception of networks, families of churches, or denominations both historically and textually. This usage referenced the connection of local churches beyond their own individuality. Yet, the reason we do not notice these texts as often is because their direct application is varied. In some cases, the texts describe leaders that are sent out from congregations, in others they are teams sent for resourcing purposes, and still others describe apostles and overseers that serve beyond one local church. In all, Van Gelder describes this usage of ekklesia as “mobile mission structures” that exist beyond local churches for the intertwining, coordinating, and expanding of ministry.
For obvious reasons, in this season of life, this is the nature of “church” to which I pay greatest attention. Whether we are talking about denominations, associations, or networks, the nature of “church” here all refers to something beyond the local church, but more concrete than the universal church. It is something covenantal, purposeful, and connected.
With this in mind, I want to share 6 areas that are marking the “churches” in our time who are demonstrating vitality and momentum. The truth is, the great majority of “denominations” today are severely challenged, so it’s not as difficult to observe the common marks of those that are not.
Mark 1: Most churches (within the family) demonstrate an outward orientation from an Orthodox position related to the core understandings of the church throughout the ages.
What is important about this marker is that it illustrates that BOTH of these dispositions are vital. A network of churches (and the individual churches themselves) must generally be focused outward in bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in their community AND they must maintain Orthodoxy despite the cultural pressures attempting to dissuade them from such a posture. It’s also important to note the reverse of this mark – church families that, as a whole, do not face outward and do not maintain Orthodoxy are struggling. For all of my looking, I have yet to observe a denomination or family of churches that is departing Orthodoxy (or moving left of center) that could be said to be living in vitality and with momentum.For all of my looking, I have yet to observe a denomination or family of churches that is departing Orthodoxy (or moving left of center) that could be said to be living in vitality and with momentum. Click To Tweet
Mark 2: Most churches have learned to be perseverant, steadfast, and opportunistic according to what is called for in the right season.
Here is the recognition that often what makes a congregation fruitful is that it knows how to wisely carry itself in different seasons of life. Families of churches that are encouraging each of these postures in their corresponding seasons create a culture where congregations understand the season in which they find themselves. Ministry is not always stable. There are seasons of difficulty and pruning. Our response in those seasons is to persevere. If the season never ends, we may be able to safely assume that a more permanent decision related to the congregation’s life is in order, but for the most part, difficult seasons come and go. This is particularly true in church planting. When we are in more stable/plateaued seasons, the important key is not to assume that everything needs to change. In our world of immediate demands for success, when things are not moving “up and to the right” our tendency can be to assume something is wrong. Instead, it may be simply important to just hold steady. I can think of many, many churches within our network (Evergreen, Kairos, New Denver, Neighborhood Church, All Souls, Renew, and many others) that demonstrated perseverance through challenges and patience in steady seasons.
Finally, and this is perhaps the greatest skill congregations need to hone, is how to move into a mentality of opportunity when a “harvest time” arises. I cannot even count the number of situations I am aware of that a church did not act upon the opportunity in front of them. Had they done so, it could have had a dramatic impact on the faith of the community and the vibrancy of the church for years to come. Yet, a lack of faith, or a spirit of mediocrity, or an unwillingness to double effort for a season caused the door of opportunity to close. In contrast, there are many churches in our network (Church @ the Well, Brick City, Redemption, and many others) who saw opportunities in front of them and took steps of faith even when the outcome was not certain.
Mark 3: The family is making
preparations for a future where the average participant is less wealthy, and
Families of churches that are demonstrating a path toward a vibrant future are fully aware of the demographic changes taking place in North American Christianity. They understand that the people of the world have come to North America and that the shape of the future church will not be determined by the people that have shaped the past. There will be more congregations in each family representing particular people groups and more congregations reflecting the multi-cultural nature of our cities. As the “Anglo” church shrinks in number, it is critical that an appropriate transfer of leadership and authority be enacted. Where this reality is present, the “church” is doing better. Further, these associations of churches also understand that the average member of the family will, most likely, have a smaller economic capacity than in the past. The cause of this is partly from generational shifts, partly from the multi-ethnic composition of the future church, and partly because of slow growing or stagnating wages impacting most people that call the United States home. All in all, the church will not enjoy the financial capacity it has been accustomed to for the last several decades. Where we are learning to get “leaner and meaner”, there is vitality. In some aspects of this Ecclesia is strong, and in others we really need help. We are great at not being “wealthy,” but are not as far along at being “less western.” Our heart yearns for this though.
Mark 4: Most churches maintain a hopefulness in God’s work and a commitment to trust that God’s ways will prevail.
There is much to be said about the capacity for faith among churches that are prevailing in the midst of our cultural moment. In fact, it’s hard to find thorough examples of churches that are prevailing without a high degree of faith and trust in the Kingdom of God revealed through the person and work of the Jesus Christ and manifested most clearly within the pages of scripture as illumined by the ongoing work of the Spirit. Ultimately, churches that put their hope in this reality in spite of whatever circumstances they are facing, will see God come through for them in due time. The churches in Ecclesia that have trusted in this aspect of God’s action and character have seen surprising outcomes. The churches that have followed this path in Ecclesia over the years are too numerous to name. I can say that many of them have seen God’s clear action and redemption on the other side of their faithfulness. Yet, some still wait, but they stay faithful.
Mark 5: The family as a whole gives the majority of its efforts to clear strategies that make and multiply disciples.
Groups of churches that are moving with vibrancy today focus on fewer areas in their life together. Once upon a time, families of churches (mostly in the form of denominations and associations), attempted to cover the full gamut of Christian experience in their resourcing and common life. It would not be abnormal to find everything from Christian camping to annuity planning and from worship resources to Sunday school. Today, those moving with strength are really focused on whatever it will take to make and multiply disciples. Typically, this manifests itself in areas of focus around developing leaders, church planting, church renewal and growth, evangelism and community impact, etc.Today, those moving with strength are really focused on whatever it will take to make and multiply disciples. Click To Tweet
Mark 6: Theological clarity exists among the churches and theological coherence exists between the churches.
This one is perhaps far more important than many leaders in our day might first consider. In just about every family of churches that demonstrate clear signs of momentum today, very little time is spent on debating divergent theological views. In other words, churches associated with one another have clarity about what they believe together and their beliefs are coherent with each other. Coherence is not the same as complete agreement. Yet, incoherence is detrimental. For instance, it is hard to cohere together two divergent understandings of what Christian marriage means theologically and scripturally. It is also difficult to cohere a hermeneutic that leads to either of those opposing positions. I’m using these as examples since they are the most clear demonstrations of theological incoherence impacting families of churches today. Again, I am hard pressed to find any example of a family of churches that is thriving where such incoherence is present. Out of a commitment to both what we believe to be faithful and fruitful, we press fully into this reality.
What This Means For Ecclesia
As I’ve reflected a great deal on the networks of churches that seem to be cutting against the grain of struggle, I’m encouraged by many of these aspects within Ecclesia. There are some where we are doing well as a “church” together and there are others that clearly need more focus and attention. Like any local church our “church” is a work in progress. Nevertheless, as a leadership team for our network, we are committed to strengthening, developing, and growing further in each of these marks as they represent a concrete set of guidance for how ministries like Ecclesia are thriving today. Of course, we are only striving for these markers in so much as they represent many of the very same things that are helping our churches (as a whole) thrive today as well. Within Ecclesia we hold up the primacy of the local church – for it is the epicenter of God’s action in the world. Yet, primacy is not the same as autonomy or independence. We are better as a “church” when we act together, cohere together and stand in faithfulness together. My long-term contention has been that the early church network probably looked a good bit like what Ecclesia (and others like us) looks today. I hope that in so doing we honor Christ and have even a small percentage of the impact as those first followers of the Resurrected Son.