Anniversaries and Appreciation

Time sure flies, doesn’t it?

Two years ago on Halloween, I started my Leadership Residency at The District Church, not sure where the road would lead or what would happen, not sure whether or not I was even called to fulltime pastoral ministry.

I guess God did, though; and one year ago today, I was ordained and began my service as Associate Pastor at The District Church.

And what an adventure it’s been! As I look back, even just over the last twenty-four months, I can see how God has been growing me and teaching me, developing me and maturing me, hammering at those places in me that need purifying — the Master Blacksmith at work. I can see how God has been knitting together a tremendous community here in DC — a community of flawed and imperfect people, but a people who are being renewed day by day, a people who are seeking after God and seeking to serve one another and the city in which we live. I can see how God has been at work in so many different ways, and it is truly gratifying that I get to be a part of it.

To top it off, yesterday at the end of the service, Aaron, Amy and I were invited up to the stage, and the church threw us a surprise Pastor Appreciation Day (we had NO clue!), complete with ginormous cake and dozens of cards written to us by people in the community. It was truly humbling, so encouraging, and reminded me that I am so privileged to serve as one of the pastors of such an amazing group of folks.

It also reminded me how much I appreciate all of you. Most of you have been walking this journey with me at least the last year; many for the last two years; and still a good few since my time at Sojourners, at Fuller, and beyond.

And so I wanted to take this opportunity just to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your love, your support, your prayers, your wisdom, and above all, your friendship. I would not be where I am now, if not for you.

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)

Not easy; but definitely right

Hey friends,

Sorry for being incommunicado the last month—as I alluded to in my last email, things began getting a little busy with the addition of my ONE job; and they really didn’t let up in March. Here’s a quick update on both fronts:

  • ONE: we were aiming to have 250 signups for our Lazarus Sunday campaign (check the last email for an explanation), and have been overwhelmed by the 1,500 we got! Now the big task is following up with all of these churches and pastors, and making sure that at least some of them follow through with the event! Meanwhile, I’ve absolutely LOVED working there—awesome work environment, awesome people, awesome mission. (And I get paid.)
  • TDC: I led worship in mid-March, and preached last Sunday (“What Mary Did,” now available on iTunes and the church website; as usual, would love to know your thoughts and feedback). The small group I’ve had the privilege of leading has been going fantastically well: again, awesome people, and I think we’ve really been able to build some solid community there. And serving with Young Life at Cardozo High School has been a great experience as well—glad to be building some good relationships there, too.

I’ll end with a little anecdote: Aaron preached this morning from John 13 about “The Authority of Service,” about the difference between power and authority, and how Jesus’ authority was evidenced in his service. Now, in mapping out our Gospel of John sermon series in January, we didn’t plan it this way at all: we had no idea that John 13 would fall on this day, nor did we have on the calendar the three service opportunities that will be going on these next three weekends: Columbia Heights Service Day this coming Saturday, our Kids’ City Festival next weekend, and the 3-on-3 basketball tournament the weekend after. It’s sort of amazing to see how God weaved it all together. Just another reminder that God’s been in control, and even when we’re not totally sure what we’re doing, God does!

So life has been all kinds of amazing. Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by a strange sense of peace,  something I’ve understood as divine affirmation that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, being who I was supposed to be. There have certainly been challenges, ups and downs, and difficulties—I’ve been pretty tired, and I don’t enjoy the numerous consecutive days of not getting home until after 9 or 10 because of dual responsibilities and activities. It definitely hasn’t been easy; but it has definitely been right.

And I pray the same for you, wherever you are: that you might walk where God leads you, and though those paths might not be easy, that they would be right.

Peace and love,
Jus.

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.

Links of the Day, October 29

Turns out, I just needed a couple days to get back in the driver’s seat. 🙂

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Miscellaneous