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Walking vs. Wishing

In a day when so many of the "branch campuses" of the church are going the way of branch banks, I constantly hear the stress of pastors trying to discern next steps having tweaked their message and methods to little avail. I feel for them as much as when restaurant owners faced COVID.

CHANGE is difficult and there are some realities playing out that we seem in denial of, though data such as from Pew Research comfirms the generational flight from places of worship. In fact, a now dated book, Church Refugees told us it was coming back in 2014.

My daily blog posts are intended to ease the pain while stressing the coming realities for the sake of my Alpha Gen grandkids! Yes, they are meant for much more than just my navel gazing. I truly hope to add value from my 75 years of learnings.

However, shooting straight while being recieved as inspirational, positive but strategic and solution oriented, seems ever more difficult to deliver, given my particular calling as a change agent. I feel you, Jeremiah!!

There are many clergy who still bring hope, otherwise I would not be attending church weekly. In no way do I want to discourage those industry leaders. Yes, I used the word industry as the American church seems less than to resemble the original Jesus movement birthed out of Jerusalem.

My Pentecostal upbringing early on fostered the idea now deep in my bones that church was the only good ground for a true and Godly calling. Yet now, having engaged in that sector as an executive pastor as well as several others, I share empathy for those long behind the pulpits, many now searching for new options. However, I am daily encouraged by a growing movement that is more marketplace driven, solutions oriented the the traditional church, Christ followers with bith/and lifestyles.

I have always been privileged with a sense of future, even felt prophetic at times. I must say that a "voice" has truly guided me. From my earliest days on the street, I have always heard that voice. First at age ten, "one day you will preach the gospel" though what I perceived was something akin to my great grandfather who rode horseback in the mountains of North Carolina. Other than the horse, there was little appeal.

Then as a teen, I recall seeing miracles manifest among the Pentecostal purveyors of the gospel that caught my attention, but the poverty that surrounded a mostly blue collar crowd persuaded me to align with those more popular, given their parent's personal means.

I began to inquire and learned that their parents were more well educated. How does that happen, it's a thing called college, so I signed up, sought out how I might fund it and discovered a no interest loan through a community foundation.

Within my first year, my actions caught the eye of the Dean of Men, not because of my academic success, but his constant intervention in my dormitory shenanigans. Fortunately for me, Dean Haskins was there by God assignment to help wayward young men and began to tell me of a better use of my intellect. I would soon understand that the prayers of my blue-collar parent's were far reaching and more precious than gold. I recall the Dean somtines using different words than my Pentecostal parents but he certainly achieved his goal. I would later graduate with a biology degree with certifications in physics, chemistry and math.

The certification was necessary short term to teach in the public schools just long enough to pay off my loan, all before taking up an offer for a doctoral fellowship in physiology promised by a professor my senior year.

After one year in the classroom, I fell in love with teaching and was there for 15 years. During those years in a small rural community I was able to establish deep relationships with youngsters, parents and community leaders some of whom stay in contact to this day.

The quality of those relationships brought with them an appreciation for community and re-entry into the religious community with exposure to multiple denominations. With that came an awareness how often nonessential doctrines separate the Body of Christ.

Years later that awareness led me to explore what was happening at a nearby church in my hometown. It had mushroomed from a small isolated campus to a growing multicultural megachurch. By that time I had completed my second post graduate degree and was five years into public school administration. My goal to become a local superintendent as a means of deep community impact before retirement.

My focus in those five years as an associate on a team of five was community engagement, which had earlier been driven by my awareness of the gaps spawns by denominational divisivenessness. My heart was toward an outside means of community development that better fit the early church stories I had come to love by way the scriptures. It was said of them that they were turning their cities "upside down." It seemed early on that the potential for transformational impact through the Body of Christ was being diminished by the Institutional Church.

However, my earlier upbringing persuaded me that perhaps a larger, multicultural congregation could deliver greater impact than the small town congregation we were then serving. I jumped ship, left my public education trajectory and became an executive pastor. Little did I know that God had me in a curriculum that would eventually wean me from the long nurtured aspiration of "preaching the gospel" from the perspective of pulpit ministry.

Once free to engage a larger body of believers in the way that I had learned in my public school arena, anything seemed possible. However, after launching three successful church based nonprofits as a means of funding church driven initiatives, I came to the hard realization that churches saw what I was doing as a means of building adherents, with church growth more the goal than community impact. I began to hear whispers, that this tail that I represented was wagging the dog.

As well, one of the marketplace leaders that I had come to know encouraged me to set up my own for-profit consulting business, which would later lead to a professional coaching initiative. His advice was that a source of earned income and then his well modeled philanthropy would serve my needs and remedy the "hat in hand" identity that had begun to follow my presence as a churchman.

The "Voice" would provide me a name one night mid-slumber, Master Counsel. I chartered the business and stepped out on my own.

Both my community experience, leadership degrees and coaching certification gave me credibility as I set out to reform the church and re-engage the Body of Christ in the greater community.

I would launch out at the denominational level, coaching a statewide presbytery in establishing a leadership center that would bring together well skilled business entrepreneurs and senior pastors as a means of shared intelligence and kingdom collaboration.

That resulted in the purchase of an old vineyard and a large office facility with a colonial like architecture that set by a large lake, visible from a major interstate. This seemed like dream come true as a I drafted a mission statement and case for support built around a "New wine for these pioneers of Pentecost."

That soon became a concern among denominational prebytery regardingthe use of a language that seemed to sanction the use of wine and as well, suspect of the engagement of businessmen some of whom had been politically engaged and had garnered negative press. That would alter the trajectory of their mission, perhaps intentionally to avoid change.

That initiative along with multiple consultations and monthly coaching sessions with pastoral leaders was followed by a downturn in the economy in 2003 which caused churches to pull back even further and would divert my attention more toward the marketplace.

Can you sense God at work?

On December 28, 2008 I would hear the "Voice" declare, "My Church is in Foreclosure", something I now have watched unfold for 15 years, as the Institutional Church loses its grip on the Body of Christ, she being returned to her rightful owner.

I now feel persuaded that my ability to cast 50,000 foot views for younger wanderers was a gift that required me to matriculate through five community sectors such that I could point back with assurance that God is in comtrol when a young mentee seems troubled.

Stories like being selected to serve on a team to design a Unified Development Ordinace for a county with eight municipalities, based on complaints regarding institutional intrusion into residential communities. Our church was one of those institutions.

From the rebuking selected to the county Planning Board, mind you still identified as a pastor. Then came my engagement in real estate by way of pursuit of municipal landfill challenges, the introduction to waste transfer stations and then a recommendation that led to three terms as an elected mayor.

Talk about a trajectory takeaway, God can place a young man anywhere he needs the gospel preached and if need be, use words or works to deliver.

Calling, courage, collaboration = community! Stop wishing and start walking!

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What an encouraging read!


Dick Joyce
Dick Joyce
28 de jul. de 2023

Was that written in one sitting, one day (or was I massaged over several days)?

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