10 Things I've Learned During My Residency
I have spent nearly the past 2 years in a Pastoral & Church Planting Residency at the Austin Stone Community Church. It's been a wild ride of conviction, clarity, and growth for my wife and me as we've done our best to humbly learn and serve during our time here. And by the grace of God we've learned a ton. As we enter into a time of transition to Los Angeles to plant a church, here is a reflection of 10 things I've learned (or learned more of) in Austin.
10. GOD IS FAITHFUL
"Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds." (Psalm 36:5)
I simply continue to learn this truth over and over again. From the minute we began support raising for this residency 2 years ago, we questioned what in the world we were doing. With full time jobs, a kid at home, and one on the way while wrapping up our time in New York City, there were moments where we did not think it possible. Yet, God provided, stirring the generous hearts of many to join our team. We prayed for community as we came to a new city, new culture, new church. God provided. In our own ignorance, we only budgeted to buy one car (because most people don't have cars in NYC), and we quickly realized the need for two. God provided. Last fall, we needed to move into a neighborhood for our Goer Missional Community. But then Hurricane Harvey showed up, forcing us to change all our plans. God provided by rallying our new community with people we hadn't even met yet to move our entire apartment in two hours. As we came to Austin we asked for greater affection for Christ, increased knowledge of his Word, and to see people discipled and come to faith. God provided. In so many ways, both practically and spiritually, God has continued to prove himself faithful. Lord, please don't let us forget this.
9. THE TENSION BETWEEN STEWARDSHIP, MISSION, & BLESSING
"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." (Psalm 24:1-2)
Incredibly wise, gifted, and experienced men lead the Austin Stone, and it's been a privilege to sit at their feet and learn. As I process how to lead my own family, and potentially a church, this philosophy of ministry resources has been incredibly helpful. There are three things that we must always keep in tension when considering the resources God gives us:
- Stewardship: We must be wise in operating within God-given constraints. God is infinitely capable, yet providentially limits our resources while giving us all we need to accomplish what he desires.
- Mission: We are compelled to be creative, innovative, and even risk-taking in our boldness to see the kingdom of God expand. God invites us to dream big and call upon the one who owns "the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:10) God graciously works through us and the resources he gives us to accomplish much for his glory.
- Blessing: We get to serve and bless others because we serve a God who has given us everything. Because of the infinite reserve that God possesses, we have been given much to graciously share with the church and the world around us so that Jesus Christ would be exalted all the more.
8. SCHEDULED MISSION
"After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go." (Luke 10:1)
I used to joke that mission shouldn't be scheduled because mission is a part of the identity of a Christian. Jesus calls his followers to be fishers of men. (Mark 1:17) Paul says we are not simply new creations, but ambassadors for Christ and messengers of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:17-20). We are the saved and sent people of God. However, though mission is a part of our identity, many (myself included) have a difficult time putting this identity into practice. And what I've learned this past year is that scheduled mission - a specifically dedicated time to go with a friend and engage people in spiritual conversations - is good. Not only does it foster a greater burden for the lost, but it increases our confidence to evangelize friends, family, coworkers, and those we simply meet "on the go." As people who long to abide in Christ, we know we need dedicated time in the Word and in prayer. Could not the same be true of mission?
7. PRAY MORE, WORRY LESS
"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33)
Sounds easier said than done. When I asked a former Church Planting Resident how I should focus the rest of my time in the residency, this is what he said: "Pray more, worry less." Yes yes yes, but what should I DO with my time?? How easy it is to move past this simple, yet profound truth. Scripture is clear:
- God is independent of his creation and is completely sufficient in and of himself. (Acts 17:24-25)
- Jesus will build his church. (Matt 16:18)
- God works in us and through us for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13)
- To God alone be the glory (Psalm 115:1)
As a pastor here once said, "God's doing 10,000 things, and you're aware of maybe 5 of them." When you combine the truths of God's eternal and infinite power and wisdom and his steadfast love for you, we really need not worry. Simply abide and be faithful. He will take care of the rest.
6. DISCIPLESHIP IS GROUNDED IN OBEDIENCE
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (obey) all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
It's one of those truths I've read constantly in Scripture but never truly grasped until I was challenged with it during my time in this residency. Disciples of Jesus are obedient to him as Lord, Master and Commander, King. In the Great Commission, Jesus told the apostles to go and make disciples, a process that included teaching them to obey all that he commanded. Jesus reiterates throughout the book of John the significance of obedience as a picture of love: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15) For that's what Jesus did. He loved the Father, longed to glorify him, and lived to obey him totally. We may call ourselves Christians, but are we seeking to obey all that Christ has commanded? All the while knowing that if/when we fail "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1)
Obedience is a sign of love, and it's a sign of trust. It says, "I am willing to lay down my life, my preferences, my desires for the sake of what you call me to, no matter what." It's denying ourselves and picking up our cross daily to follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23) "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)
5. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CULTURE
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," said Peter Drucker, the Austrian-American businessman and author. And it's true. You can develop all the strategies and programs you want, but none will outlast or have the transformative power that culture has. It's significant. Culture always exists around you, and it is a necessary part of a healthy team. If you don't shape the culture you want to see, the culture will be formed on its own through others whether you like it or not. And a healthy, biblical culture has longevity and will produce the kind of leaders and disciple makers you want to see more than any program will. Therefore, to create a worthwhile culture, you must be intentional in shaping it, protecting it, and reminding people about it. The Stone and the campus team I've been a part of does this very well.
4. LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE
"For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:15)
Jesus did not instruct his disciples to do anything that he himself had not done. For the first several chapters of Luke, we see Jesus traveling from town to town essentially doing two main things: healing and proclaiming the gospel. What do his 12 apostles do when they are sent out? Heal and proclaim. (Luke 9:6) What does Jesus then tell his 72 disciples to do when he sends them out? Heal and proclaim. (Luke 10:9). Jesus always had his disciples with him as he taught, rested, prayed, grieved, and performed many signs and wonders.
Leaders must not simply teach, they must not simply organize or facilitate, they must seek to be people worth imitating as they imitate Christ. (1 Cor 11:1) As leaders, if we want to see people evangelize, we must bring them with us as we evangelize. If we want to see people grow in reading God's Word and prayer, we must bring them with us as we read God's Word and pray. To build leaders, we must lead. Counselors, we must counsel. Servants, we must serve. A pastor here once said, "Leaders teach others to love what they love." To do this, we must not simply tell them, we must show them.
3. I LOVE MY WIFE
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." (Proverbs 18:22)
I feel like I learn this afresh every single year, and this residency has only brought greater clarity to how much I love this woman. Words cannot describe my affection for her. Though I have tried with poetry and song (for her eyes and ears only), yet it seems I cannot do my feelings justice. She has sacrificed, endured, been challenged and stretched these past two years in ways we never imagined. It's been a privilege to watch her grow in her knowledge and love of God's Word, to see her jump in to the chaos of this church planting residency, wrestle with her own identity and calling, all while loving and caring for our two kiddos. I am so thankful to have such a partner in crime who is willing to traverse the globe with me for the sake of the gospel. I am continually astounded by God's grace to me in the gift of my wife.
She is not perfect, but I've seen these words played out more and more in her life:
"She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." (Prov 31:24-29)
2. GOD'S HEART FOR THE NATIONS
"For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9)
"Unreached People Groups" was a term I'm sure I had heard before as a Christian but never given any time or thought to. The fact that there are millions of people without any access to a church or gospel witness just never crossed my mind, let alone convicted my heart. And yet the second half of the book of Acts is entirely about Paul reaching the unreached. From God's creation mandate in Genesis 1 to the multitudes of people groups surrounding the throne in Revelation, Scripture is filled with God's heart for the nations. Jesus tells us to make disciples "of all nations" (Matt 28:19) and be his witnesses to "the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
If God's mission is to redeem a people for his own glory, then certainly he receives more glory the more diverse those peoples are. As created image bearers, there is not one ethnicity that could fully represent the beautiful complexities and inexhaustible nature of our God. As I continue to learn and be awed by his vastness, does he not deserve anything less than the worship of all the peoples of the earth? "Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods." (Psalm 96:3-4)
1. JESUS IS WORTHY
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Philippians 3:8)
More than anything during my time in this residency, I have learned this: that Jesus Christ is worthy. He is utterly and completely worthy "to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:12) He is preeminent in all things, for "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Col 1:19-20) There is no one more beautiful, no one more glorious, no one more worthy of all of our being. "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature." (Heb 1:3)
The more I get to know Jesus, the more I read of him in his Word, the more I spend time with him in prayer, the more I obey him, the more enthralled I become. There is simply no one like him. And as I've heard stories of sacrifice and surrounded myself with men and women willing to risk everything for the sake of his name and his kingdom, he becomes all the more worthy in my eyes. This is the cry of Paul's heart in Philippians 3. No matter what Paul has achieved or been given in this life, Christ is of surpassing worth. All of it is loss compared to knowing him.
"He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2:8-11)
To God alone be the glory.