Saturday, June 30, 2007

Remember the Titans

I received a very sad email today from Bob Girard's son-in-law, informing me that Bob died recently. It was the kind of unexpected surprise that immediately brings a tear to the eye.

Bob Girard (1932-2007)
Robert C. Girard was the author of many inspiring and thought-provoking books, the most notable for me being Brethren, Hang Loose (Or What's Happening To My Church?), which I found by "accident" in the basement of a house I was boarding at after a summer of tree-planting in Northern Ontario.

The book was a great source of encouragement to Wendy and I, and we have bought countless second-hand copies and given them away to many friends over the years. A highlight for me will always be the light-hearted-but-serious phone conversation I had with Bob a few years back, when I was writing my original article about Detoxing From Church.

An except from Bob's obituary in the Arizona Republic:
"He was a graduate of Miltonvale Wesleyan College in Miltonvale, KS, and was an internationally recognized speaker and best selling author of seven published books, including "Brethren Hang Loose" (1972), the Bible Commentary Sunday school curriculum for Scripture Press/David C Cook Publishers, and his most recent A Smart Guide To The Bible- The Book Of Acts, released on June 19th, the morning he died...

"While at Our Heritage, "Pastor Bob" impacted thousands of lives through his devotion to Jesus Christ and His Word, his creative and innovative approach to ministry, and his fierce commitment to the body of Christ, his fellow believers."
Your race was well-run, Bob. Thanks for sharing your journey with so many of us. We have a lot to be grateful for.

We remember the Titans, and you were surely one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Church Obituary

The signs have been pointing this way for a while, but it was still a wee bit unsettling to read the obituary of a church that Wendy & I had once pastored in.

We were part of the church-planting team for the first five years, and it was a wild and woolly ride at times, believe you me.

The article reads, in part: 
"(Eastgate) Vineyard Christian Fellowship, worshipping in and serving from several different locations since 1992, held its last service April 29 (2007). The church’s administrator announced the closing on behalf of the congregation of 50, in a letter widely distributed in May. Several pastor couples have served the church, including... Robby and Wendy McAlpine.

"...The letter did not specify reasons for the closure – suggesting, rather, that 'we trust that as [God] has produced good seed in each of us... that He will plant these seeds in new places and bring growth and life through its members.'"
I remember:
  • when the church was little more than a small group meeting in the basement of an art gallery
  • the hey-day of GodRock when over 100+ youth and young adults were rocking out in a rented recreation centre
  • the church growing rapidly in the early days
  • sorting through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Toronto Blessing
  • pastors' retreats (as couples) where we laughed, hung out, prayed, drank beer, and dreamed about the future together
  • feeling like we'd finally found our "home" in ministry
It was also this church that eventually launched us, in 1997, into our season of Detoxing From Church.

But I also remember that, unlike many churches that go through tough times, the leadership did some things right. Of special significance was their decision, on the 10th anniversary of the church, to reach out and reconcile broken relationships with several former pastors, six years after Wendy & I had left.

Several people have privately commented that it's for the best that the steadily-shrinking and struggling fellowship shut down, and they're probably right in saying so. But it's still a very strange feeling in my gut, when I think about a church that Wendy & I were once pastors in, and had helped get off the ground in its early years, which simply doesn't exist anymore.

Maybe that's for the better, but it still feels weird.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Calling & Identity

Quick personal update:

Our current YWAM CDTS is just about over, with summer outreach to Australia & Western Samoa in less than two weeks. Wendy & I have also been asked to lead the Fall DTS in September, and last but not least, our two teenagers have contracted mononucleosis, which makes things instantly interesting as final exams approach in a few days.

And now on to "Calling & Identity":

In the Dark Ages commonly referred to as the 20th century, I used to use the following as a way of helping people choose to follow their dreams or passions:

”If money were no object, and success was guaranteed, what would you do?”

The objective was that whatever the respondents identified as “what they would do”, if money was no object and success was guaranteed, would be “obviously” what their true dreams and passion were. With the implication that they should therefore throw themselves into this passion/vision because it was clearly what they were meant to do.

I’m no longer 100% convinced that this was such a good idea. Partially, perhaps, but not 100%.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too many people – myself included – confuse a sense of “calling” with “that from which I receive a paycheque”. For example, if you view your “calling” as being a full-time, financially-compensated clergy-unit, and then the church down-sizes you, suddenly an identity crisis of biblical proportions hits you like a proverbial camel train.

For myself, I have always felt that my primary “calling” is to be an encourager. Remember those “Spiritual Gifts Analysis” worksheets? They were helpful in highlighting areas that you were already serving in, but not a good resource for identifying a heart passion, or as Len Sweet once observed, in hearing what’s on God’s heart for us.

When I first did a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, I was a fairly new Christian and still pretty cynical about life in general, not to mention my own fairly negative view of myself. But even with my less-than-optimistic approach to answering the questions, my final score (low though it was) offered the result of “Encouragement/Exhortation”.

And in the years since, I think it’s been pretty accurate to say that one of the things that is the most satisfying for me is to encourage and build up others; conversely, I often hear from others that I have a gift for encouragement. During my first year at Providence College, I had never even heard of “prophetic ministry” or “the gift of prophecy”. Having come from a theologically evangelical background (Associated Gospel Churches of Canada), our Spiritual Gifts inventories either didn’t include charismatic gifts, or had simply ignored them (since the tests were based on past performance).

But as a night watchman once a week at Providence College (student work duty), I had lots of free time between my rounds; there was nothing on TV that late at night, and doing homework at two in the morning – except in the final week of classes – wasn’t an option that appealed to me much.

So, I started writing encouragement notes to people, and sticking them into their mailboxes. Quite quickly, I discovered myself standing in front of the list of names and box numbers, searching for names that “stuck out” and then writing whatever came to mind for that person; sometimes it was a word of encouragement or appreciation, and often it was Scripture. Without ever thinking of myself as being “prophetic”, I was quietly learning, in my own manner, to hear the voice of God and to be an encourager.
It was also very interesting to note how many times people would come up to me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, to say thanks and “how did you know…”?
If I make “being a paid pastor” my “calling”, then I could lose my sense of calling and identity depending on whether or not I had a vocational financially-compensated placement in a pastoral role. And my calling and identity would be in the hands of whatever people held the power of hiring and firing.

However, if my calling and identity is that of an encourager, I can do that with or without a position, title, recognition, notoriety, or paycheque. And my calling and identity would be in the hands of Someone far greater.