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28 September 2009

changes

Yes, I have finally arrived. I am earning my proverbial salt as a blogger by using "changes" as the title of a post. You may not know it, but this is a requirement for all bloggers. I think it's in the Super-Secret 13th Level Blogging Handbook somewhere, anyway.

This is life-altering stuff, and since it is in motion and I've told a couple of groups, I wanted to outline it in as much detail as possible so there would be no chance for hearsay, rumor, or speculation of motives. Some of that has started, and mercifully, it's been all good (a rarity!). I will be presenting the high points at Wall Highway on October 11, in case there are those who haven't heard it from the horse's mouth.

Updated note: this post gives personal background and observation which I believe is based fully in fact, and it's highly likely to contain something that will make you mad. If that happens, remember that I didn't write it with you personally in mind. Read what I say, see if it aligns with Scripture, and if it does, you have no reason to get mad. If you don't fit the mold, you have no reason to get mad. If you believe I'm twisting Scripture, you may get mad, and you need to jump in to correct me.

I sometimes wonder if it’s as glaring to anyone besides me that money has become such an important part of the functionality of the Church today that the lack of it throws our servanthood and our ministries into chaos. This is a symptom of the march of “progress” over the past 1,800 years, which has led the Church from being a family of believers with Christ as its head to being a well-structured business defined by people with similar theologies. While the Church hasn’t adapted to our culture in every way, we have adapted to it with alarming excellence in many ways.

With this in mind, about two years ago I began to study the Word more deeply and specifically than I had before, fully expecting God to reveal Himself to me more profoundly than I’d allowed Him to do in the past. I began to pray more fervently, expecting to see God work in mighty ways. In both cases God amazed me.

It seems to me that by and large, our churches have become slaves to their systems of operation rather than bondservants of Christ. As culture has marched forward, the Church has marched forward with it, and all too often the two are linked arm in arm. “…the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” These words of Paul have been taken to an extreme in the business of church. Isn’t it striking how much of a typical church’s budget doesn’t go toward assisting other struggling church fellowships, caring for widows and orphans, or supporting itinerate ministers and those who carry the Gospel to remote places? To add insult to injury, isn't it also striking that the main thing that goes from our churches toward these areas is money, not people?

Lately this has become all the more stark to me as I’ve learned of church fellowships that have let go of administrative and pastoral staff members due to financial strain, while others not far away are investing money in things like advertising campaigns, property improvements, new buildings, and ministries designed to bring people in for “growth” (as opposed to the Church going out). Unfortunately, this doesn’t even raise an eyebrow among the people of God. While I am not suggesting that one fellowship is more or less Godly than another, on the whole, churches continually prove through their actions that they’re primarily concerned with their own territories to the exclusion and detriment of others that labor for the sake of the Gospel.

(This is typically done with the idea that each church fellowship is called to minister to its specific area in its specific way -- that God has tasked each fellowship with sticking to its own area. While the sheer size of Christianity has necessitated multiple churches in neighboring areas, I maintain that the “territorial” idea isn’t Scriptural either in practice or in concept.)

In Acts 20, Paul talks to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:34-35, NLT, emphasis mine) While he admonishes the Church to care for its elders financially and he accepted one-time monetary gifts on at least two occasions, several times in his letters Paul flatly states that he will not avail himself of this right on an ongoing basis.

In the spirit of Paul’s words, about a year ago it struck me that God had blessed me with a unique possibility: the potential to pastor and lead His people at Wall Highway Baptist Church while financially supporting my family independently. This would also have the benefit of allowing me to live and work daily among people who may not know Christ while still serving the Church in the leadership role to which I’ve been called. My wife and I began to pray about it, but although the idea surfaced a few more times over the year, we never received any word from the Lord or indication that this was a viable option or a step of obedience to Him… until a few weeks ago.

In one specific moment I began to feel a very real sense of urgency that I should move back into the “secular” workforce; that now was the time. That evening I presented the idea to my wife and she was in complete agreement.

Over the next two days I was amazed at the “coincidences” that appeared before me. If I’d had any doubt that this was God’s idea, it would have been completely washed away over those days. The company I spoke with happened to have a position open. Amazingly – and unbeknownst to me at the time – I apparently had a window of opportunity that was open for one single day. It just happened to be the day I followed what I believed the Holy Spirit was telling me to do and talked with them.

In addition to two years of Scripture, prayer, and the uncanny situation surrounding the job, there were two independent confirmations of this direction to me and my wife over the next two or three days from Christ-followers who knew nothing about what was going on.

My family and I do not move forward lightly or with little consideration, but instead we move forward with full confidence in God and in the leading of the Holy Spirit. For many of the 18 years that we have been at Wall Highway, I served the body of Christ bi-vocationally, and I’m excited that I have the opportunity to return to this, beginning in October. I do so with a fresh vision of what the Church should look like and with the amazing opportunity to give my gifts for the building up of the body of Christ without expecting any financial compensation in return.

You may be thinking, “Bi-vocational?? In a church that size [we’re only around 500-600, so it’s not huge], you’re nuts to do this, Dean!” Not if the body of Christ begins to love, fellowship, and live in a Biblical way. Over the course of hundreds and hundreds of years, we have unintentionally moved toward atrophy in the body of Christ by anticipating that a small core of people, either paid staff or "super Christians" among us, will do what God has called all of His people to do (Acts 4:31, Romans 12:6-21, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 1 Corinthians 14:26). Ephesians 4:11-16 summarizes how the Church is to work as a body in which everyone functions, and church leaders are called to equip the saints to do God's work - not do it all for them!

It is absolutely critical for me to communicate plainly and directly that in no way am I moving away from the calling God placed on me to serve Him with my particular gifts, and to do so at Wall Highway Baptist Church. This is not a decision to stop serving God in a full-time capacity. “All believers are called into full-time ministry” is a valid phrase that is sometimes heard in Church meetings, but is one that is rarely reinforced by action or example. With a desperate desire to serve my Creator in the most Christ-centered way that I can, and with the full support of my family, this very statement is what I am pleased to continue to fulfill.

Finally, understand that I am not condemning those who earn their living in vocational ministry. (For real. I should probably elaborate more on this, but the post is already miles long...)

I welcome your comments!

11 comments:

mandy said...

This is very impressive, Dean. I'm reading through this thinking "He's crazy to look for a job right now. Nobody can find jobs right now." but DANG if you didn't have one waiting on you. I'm glad that you've got somewhere to land, and aren't just walking out into the nothingness of unemployment...

You asked for my thoughts, so my one concern is that, even in the back of your mind, your energy and time begins to slip away from the church and go more towards the "paying gig." I say this because, since we've been at seminary, I've done bi-vocational ministry in a number of windows. And, well, these ministries were second to my job. It just had to be that way. I had a commitment to work... Luckily, my job has given me time in my schedule to still do ministry stuff, but sometimes my energy was taxed by work.

That's my only concern. But, I'm more than certain you've already thought through that... Thought through the time and energy of being bi-vocational. I applaud your motive to do this in order to free up the church's finances. And I have no doubt that our founding Christian fathers would applaud as well. They are the reason why we have the phrase "tent-making" right?

PS: Your wife is amazing to support this as well.

Eileen said...

You know Dean... I am happy for you and your family. You and Callie have always encouraged me in some form or fashion. It is so wonderful when we see God working so clearly. Thank you for sharing how God has and is working in your life!

Fred McKinnon said...

Dean,
well, I guess I have my cake and eat it, too. I'm full-time salaried, AND I have my own business(es). go figure.

I've been where you are, though - I went part-time at a smaller church and focused more on my business. The key (and perhaps, a direct answer to Mandy's VERY VALID concerns) is roles ... just as you should block out time and focus on family, marriage, etc ... block out time and make it solely for church focus time.

Be sure and schedule appointment time for rehearsal prep, rehearsal, prayer, and of course ... most importantly of all ... connecting with me via twitter, blog, and TheWorshipCommunity (HAHAHAHA).

Seriously, man, I'm excited for you. There's nothing more scary, yet more liberating, than jumping out into the deep, with complete faith and trust that you are on God's path.

And Amen to Mandy's "PS" about your wife!

For the Kingdom,
Fred McKinnon
www.fredmckinnon.com
www.theworshipcommunity.com
www.highestpraise.com

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks, all!

I do need to make an important note wherre Mandy's and Fred's (valid) comments are concerned.

I've been at Wall Highway for 18 years -- the first 11 as pianist, four as bi-vocational worship pastor, and three as a full-time staff member.

My wife IS wary of things going back to the way they were for those crazy four bi-vocational years. I have to be -- and will be -- very, very deliberate in how we do what you guys advised.

Again, this is going to hinge on the body of believers functioning more as an organism with many parts. It's going to require continued Scriptural teaching and a unified vision. I believe the Church has a great "one body, many parts" concept but in most cases it remains just that -- a concept.

Dean Lusk said...

And what's this "TheWorshipCommunity" thing?

:-)

(I should be blacklisted for not participating more...)

pete wilson said...

Praying for you Dean. I really admired your willingness to be obedient to what God has called you to.

Peter Thurley said...

Dean,

I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. I have been pressured, for many years, to enter the pastorate, and while I have, to this point, successfully resisted, I know that the call of being a pastor is not one to be taken lightly. It sounds like God has blessed you in your ministry, and I pray that he would continue to do so as you move on from where you are now to where you re going.

Last night I was at the AGM for my faith community, Waterloo M.B. Church (http://waterloomb.org). The lead pastor gave a sermonette that admonished us to remember that we are all part of God's narrative, beginning with the creation, and moving along with history to now. He also admonished us not to dwell on the past, but instead to take Paul's words in his letter to the Philippians: "Forgetting what is behind, and straining towards what is ahead, I press on to win the prize for which Christ has call me heavenward." Look to the future and dream about the millions of ways that God will use you in your life to impacts people for him, whether in formal ministry or outside of it.

Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you.

God Bless!

Your Canadian Twitter friend,

Peter

Pam said...

Dean I admire you and your wife for stepping outside the "box" and following God's leading in your lives. So many times people are concerned with what will others think instead of what does He think. I've heard time and time again from different church leaders that if the money isn't there, the program will be ended because obviously God isn't providing for it. Yet seldom do they follow through with it. Instead, they find more creative ways to "beat the sheep" to give more. As Christ followers we should all be giving with a generous and happy heart of God's leading. I'm getting off track here. Bottom line to any believer is to follow God's leading in all aspects of their lives. You've been in our prayers and may God continue to give you clear direction and strength to do what He has led you to do.

Rich Kirkpatrick said...

Good job. I see a trend in "bivocational by choice" today. Philosophy and changes in thinking are not at pace with the local church. They cannot keep up, but eventually will have to.

I look forward to hearing what you learn and see in your new season of ministry life.

Anonymous said...

Dean,

I am convinced you are following God's lead. I know you are going to do all things for His glory. There are many parts of you that could be used for God's work both in the "secular" world, and the private sector. Best wishes in your career.

May God be with you in whatever work you are doing.

Love in Christ,

Nancy

Dean Lusk said...

Days later now, I just noted that Mandy said, "I applaud your motive to do this in order to free up the church's finances."

That happened to be a cool side-effect, but it definitely wasn't a motive. I have no doubt that it was God-orchestrated synchronicity. The reasons for it came right out of the Word in how I serve Him and the Church.

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