Exciting News, #1

As 2012 draws to a (busy) close and 2013 begins to peek over the horizon, I’m excited to share some great news with you all:

Recently, the church’s Executive Team met and agreed unanimously to increase their support of me by $10,000 (for the year) beginning on January 1, 2013. They also affirmed their support of my role in the church and reaffirmed their commitment to get to the point where they’re completely covering my salary (with the increase, the church will be covering about 75%).

Which leads me to ask:

Will you partner with me to raise the remaining $10,000 I need to meet my budget for 2013?

God has been so faithful–through the gifts and support of over 50 people, including many of you–over the last couple years; and I’m so grateful for your partnership in this adventure. If you’d like to help support me financially, you’re welcome to do so:

[All gifts are fully tax-deductible.]

And if you’re part of The District Church and you’ve been supporting me, thank you first of all–I’ve appreciated your focused giving so much–but let me now encourage you to give directly to the church, with the reassurance that they’re working toward fully supporting me financially.

Praying peace, hope, joy, and love for you this Advent season,

Justin.

P.S. The observant among you will have noticed that this email is labeled “#1.” Yes, there’s more exciting news for 2013, and I can’t wait to share it in the coming weeks!

2012: Two weeks in

2012 is not even two weeks old and God has already begun his work in and around me. About a week ago, as I prayed about what God had in store for me this year, my mind was drawn toward the word “intentionality”–a theme I talked about in my New Year’s sermon (“In the beginning … rest”) and also in a recent blog. I got the sense that this would be a year of big decisions and big choices, with big consequences. At the time, I had no idea what those would be, but even in the last week, I’m beginning to see what God might have in mind.

This weekend, The District Church’s Leadership Community will be heading on its yearly retreat, for a time of spiritual renewal and re-visioning for the coming year. Last year, we had about thirty people; this year, our church having grown now to a community of around 250, we have over 50 people coming–and several other leaders weren’t able to make it this weekend! Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we get involved in helping this toddler-aged church learn to walk and talk.

As for myself, I’m learning to fill out my role as Associate Pastor at the church, moving from a manager and task-completer to a vision-casting, proactively-investing leader, with the remit to create, to innovate, to make space for other people to grow into their God-given potential. It’s, in equal parts, exciting and challenging, and I can’t wait to see how God does his alchemical work with what I have to offer. Discerning where and how to invest my time and energy is definitely a matter of prayer, and I’d appreciate yours for my continuing development in the calling God has for me.

Finally, I’m so stoked to inform you that–through the generosity of many of you getting this email–I’m now at over 50% of my target support for this year, after only two months! That’s not even including those of you who’ve said you want to support my work at The District Church but haven’t yet given! What an amazing testimony to your love and support; I’m so humbled, and glad to have you along for the journey. I count you as part of the ministry team without whom my work wouldn’t be possible! And as a reminder of how I ended up where I am, here’s a video produced by Lindsay, one of the storytellers (she’s a writer and photographer) at our church, from an interview we did last summer:

Facebook reminds me of God

 

Facebook has this new thing where it posts flashbacks: “On this day in …” Today it popped up on my sidebar while I was browsing a friend’s pictures, and it read: “On this day in 2010: ‘Heading up to MA for final interviews. If you’re the praying kind …’”

Wow. It’s only been a year. It’s already been a year. The last twelve months have simultaneously felt like they’ve flown by, and yet an eternity has happened in that same time. Twelve months ago, I was still on the verge—and completely mentally prepared—to move to Cape Cod. I was excited for the opportunity to get paid to play music and hang out with young people, and excited for the opportunity to get to work with John-Paul.

 

It was also the first step in the redirection play that God ran on my life. A couple days after this post, I was back in DC … lost, uncertain, searching, wondering. I had no idea that God had better things for me—all I knew was that what I thought was going to happen, hadn’t.

So today, I give thanks to God for his redirection play, for his bigger plan, for proving himself trustworthy. I give thanks for the times when my plans didn’t come about because God had his own, for the disappointment that was the fertile ground for a new hope, for the uncertainty that gave space for me to trust and have faith in God.

And thanks to Facebook for reminding me of all of this. 🙂

Reflections on The Pastor

Eugene Peterson is a pastor and author that I respect greatly, and whose words and spirituality have impacted me immensely—through his mentorship of my own mentor as well as books like Subversive Spirituality, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Where Your Treasure Is, Leap Over A Wall and Living the Resurrection. So it was with great eagerness that I bought his latest book, simply entitled The Pastor: A Memoir; I was very excited to learn from the life and experiences of a man who had influenced mine so much. My experience of vocational discernment very much mirrors Peterson’s, from the lessons I grew up with as a kid, to the experiences I had that—at least on the surface—had no business in the formation of a pastor, to the stumbling, fumbling journey into pastorhood: “Seemingly unconnected, haphazard events and people turned out to be organic to who I am” (25). Peterson described this journey as, “all the while becoming, without my knowing it, a pastor”(11).

As I take my own baby steps as a pastor, the lessons of someone who has faithfully walked the path that I seek to walk, and who has both the humility and the spiritual awareness to be attentive to what God is doing at every step, are especially valuable to me. I know I will make mistakes and I know I will never be done learning, but I also know—Peterson has taught me this over the last decade—that if I’m looking, I will see God at work in any and every situation; it is often—though not always—a matter of perspective.

A different perspective is something I often come away from Peterson’s writings with: a new insight, a better understanding, a fuller way of seeing something. This book is no different as, for instance, he describes the church as “a place where dignity is confirmed” (40), “a community of stories” (106), and, on a more cosmic level, “a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God” (110).

And through the stories that he shares in the book of his own experiences and his reflections on them, I begin to understand a little more what it means to be a pastor—some of the joys and challenges I have already faced as well as some of the joys and challenges that I can look forward to.

I have already begun to see the truth to the words of George Arthur Buttrick that Peterson quotes, that the most important thing to do in preparing to preach each week is to meet with the people of the church: “There is no way that I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about” (87). And I have already seen my tendency to deal with people as problems to be fixed; and Peterson also faced this temptation, but came to understand that “my work is not to fix people. It is to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living a holy life” (137).

The quiet, settled rooted spirituality that Peterson has written of, espoused, and lived out over decades is one that I have sought to emulate and become familiar with, and I look forward to continuing to grow in it. There’s a “kind of relaxed leisureliness that flows from a person who knows what he’s about, who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. No need for hurry if you’re confident in who you are” (29). Especially for someone like myself, who has activist (read: busy!) tendencies, a spirituality that slows down, that brings peace, that provides deep roots, is especially necessary.

Perhaps most encouragingly, in reflecting on The Pastor, I have already seen the work that God has done and continues to do in my life in preparing me to be a pastor. I have had great friends and family who have walked before me on this road whose example I look up to: Clem, Gabe, John-Paul, Aaron, and more. And though I have never met him, Eugene Peterson is one whom I count as a spiritual father, who has a way of not just articulating experiences that I too have, but also of casting a vision for who I want to be:

I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence. I can’t do that on the run. It takes a lot of time. I started out doing that with you, but now I feel too crowded.

I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods. This is subtle stuff. It demands some detachment and perspective. I can’t do this just by trying harder.

I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversation so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ–your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can’t do that when I am running scared.

I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson.

I want to be an unbusy pastor. (278)

Want to support a young pastor?

Dear friend,

When I agreed to spend Christmas 2009 with Aaron and Amy Graham, little did I know what I was getting myself into. Aaron and I spent a lot of time together, especially as we both attended, and taught at, Urbana 2009 (InterVarsity’s triennial missions conference). We talked a lot about churches, about what we felt God was calling us to, and about what church could look like.

At the time, Aaron and Amy were thinking of planting a church in our neighborhood of Columbia Heights, and a few months later they took the plunge. I’ve been involved with The District Church since we began meeting as a small group of twelve in the Grahams’ living room, through to our public gatherings that began in September with several dozen more people.

After a couple months of discernment, prayer and a lot of time trying to figure out what God wanted to do with me, I felt led to join the staff of the church, which I did on October 31, 2010.

So here I am, the first Leadership Resident of The District Church, which, depending on how you look at it, makes me either a pioneer or a guinea pig … or some hybrid. My responsibilities for the next year and a half essentially cover the gamut of pastoral urban ministry: teaching, preaching (which I did for the first time in mid-December; see right), discipling, chaplaincy, church and community outreach in the neighborhood, and leading worship. (For more on what it means to be a Leadership Resident, you can check out the “About Us” page of our website: www.districtchurch.org.)

Due to the church’s youth and its identity as a non-denominational missional church plant, Aaron and Amy have raised support in order to live and serve full-time. I’m committing to do the same, raising support in order to enable me to serve the church and the city, the church in the city.

To that end, I’m excited to invite you to be a part of what I believe God’s doing in and through me, this church, and this city.

I hope that you will prayerfully consider joining me in helping found this new church in our nation’s capital.

Peace and grace,

Jus.

***

WHY THE DISTRICT CHURCH?

At The District Church, we want to be centered around and excelling in worship, community and justice; we want to be a church that seeks to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love the city to which God had called us. If you look on the church’s website (www.districtchurch.org), one of our first descriptors is “A Church for the City.”

This vision and passion is built upon God’s words to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Washington, DC is a fascinating city. On the one hand, it is a city rich in culture and history, a city to which movers and shakers come from all over the world, a city that leads the country in terms of life expectancy, education and income.

And yet it is also a city with devastating poverty, a struggling public education system, and an HIV infection rate higher than many sub-Saharan African nations—it’s estimated that one in every twenty adults in DC has the infection.

People come to DC to change the country, to change the world … and yet changing the city is often overlooked. We want to be a church that seeks to make a genuine, tangible difference in the place to which we have been called.

Moreover, community is hard to find in a city whose transience is so ingrained by the political cycles; in this context, we want to be a church that provides such community to people. People may—and will—leave DC because God calls them to other things, but we don’t want people leaving DC because they couldn’t find a faith community and friends.

***

RAISING SUPPORT

I began raising support in mid-October and by the grace of God and the generosity of family and friends, I’ve already been able to raise $15,000 in support both pledged and given, both one-time and monthly.

To put this into context, I’d budgeted about $2,500 per month (or $30,000 for the year, November to November), which includes rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation … everything, really! So I’ve raised half of the support I need for the year, and I’m asking you to help me get the rest of the way!

TO GIVE, PLEASE FILL THIS OUT AND SEND BACK TO justin@districtchurch.org.

I/we would like to offer monthly support by donating on the 1st__ 16th__ of the month:

$500____ $250____ $100____ $50____ $25____ Other____

These contributions will be mailed__ transferred online__ automatically drafted online __

I/we would like to give a special gift of $________

Name:____________________ Phone:________________

Address:______________________

City:______________ State:___  Zip/Postcode:__________

E-mail:___________________________________

You can set up your online giving by visiting www.districtchurch.org, clicking Giving, and selecting the “Leadership Residency” fund in the drop-down menu. You may also make checks payable to “The District Church,” with “Leadership Residency” in the memo, and mail to: PO Box 3116, Washington, DC 20010.

All gifts are fully tax-deductible.