Heritage Park, which just so happens to be the greatest church on planet earth.
It's a time of reflection, so here are 8 lessons learned along the way.
First, the whole darn thing is really - no, I mean really - not about me. Not even a little bit. The moment I equate the needs of my ego with the Kingdom's agenda, I'm off the rails already. There's a particular danger I face (and if you are a pastor or have one, he does too) because the Enemy loves to let the accolades turn into ambition which turns into an agenda. And since I'm the pastor and doing the Lord's work, that agenda MUST be holy and right and good...right? The aspiration to be a pastor (1 Timothy 3.1) is not the same as the ambition of an agenda. The one has "Spirit" as a root. Enough said.
Second, preaching regularly is the hardest and most rewarding calling on the planet, but no one will remember too much of what you've said. It took me about 4 years of preaching as the pastor of Heritage Park before I slept on Saturday nights with any soundness. That wasn't because I hadn't preached a lot beforehand. I had. It was the weight of being the pastor and speaking to God's people on His behalf. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2.16)
Third, the church is both organization and organism, both Trellis and Vine. I like working on the Vine but the Trellis needs attention too. And frankly, I'm not the best organization / administration / leadership guy. I have a friend who lives two years ahead in his organizational thinking. My sense of things from the Spirit is that is why his church is larger. I'm genuinely not jealous. I just don't know that I have the leadership capacity for that. Which leads to...
Fourth, if you find a weak spot, it's worth working to improve it. I have so many I won't enumerate them. But I'll give you an example. I have always struggled with Evangelistic Preaching, the kind of preaching that lays out the Gospel and invites people to follow Christ. This past year, I took a class in my doctoral program called Evangelistic Preaching. One particular chapter of one particular book was worth the price of the class in terms of my comfort level with that task now. I know guys who either reassign their weaknesses or hire to compensate. I'm not saying that's always bad, but I also know that improvement is a good avenue.
Fifth, the greatest compliment I've been paid as a pastor of this people is not that I'm a good preacher but that I am a good preacher who genuinely loves my people. That happened two weeks ago. I want to be a good preacher-teacher-communicator. But they won't know I'm a Christian by my preaching. It's love (John 13.34-35).
Sixth, living the trials I'm enduring in a public manner encourages people who are going through trials of their own. We have seen this with the adoptions our family has pursued. The waiting for Peanut (publicly) and dealing with the Minion's sickness (publicly) has borne fruit in our church family. I'm not sure it's for everyone. And I know that some use trials as an attention-getter. But they can be beneficial. If you want to see someone who did that incredibly well, look at Matt and Lauren Chandler when they went through Matt's cancer. Well done.
As a corollary to #6, when we focus on church health good things happen. The trials we went through in 2014 showed just how healthy our church was. I couldn't be prouder. Could. Not. Be. Prouder.
Seventh, our staff works like a basketball team and that makes for a terrific environment. We implemented two rules when I started: we'd always be honest with one another and we'd always talk to one another before talking about one another. Each person plays a role and it works very very very well. Our strengths play off of one another, and there's absolutely no gift to a leader like a loyal #2.
Eighth, there is no way I'm any good at any of this without my wife. I cannot say enough. And what I might would be a paltry portrait of the reality. She. Is. Amazing.