Mega-Pastors and Professional Wrestlers

In recent weeks, the evangelical cyber-world has been full of news about two pastors for all of the wrong reasons.   Like two passive-aggressive juveniles who wrestlecan’t seem to play nice on the playground, these men have managed to “fight” one another without ever meeting face to face.   Most of the interactions have been communicated indirectly through a blog, a sermon, or any number of twitter posts.   Both men are smart.  Both men are strong leaders.  Both men lead big churches.  Both men have influential ministries.  Both men have large groups of loyal followers.   Their statements are always influential and their decisions are never accidental.   Their most recent conflict began with a open-handed cyber-slap to the face and ended with what can only be described as an invitation to a theological thunder dome cage-match.

As I have watched all of this unfold, I was reminded how much I used to love 1980’s professional wrestling.  Growing up, I became a huge fan of men like Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, and Jake the Snake Roberts to name a few.  Admittedly, it took me a year or two to understand what exactly “Professional Wrestling” was.   It certainly was unlike any “sport” I’d ever seen like football or Soccer.  There didn’t appear to be any unbreakable rules in the ring, anything but threats in the interviews, or any real hope for the quiet wrestlers without costumes or fireworks.

I am reminiscing about 80’s professional wrestling because some of today’s mega-pastors remind me of these “athletes”.  In an effort not to offend the two of you that read this blog, I will not use any names of any pastors.  If someone comes to mind, it’s not my fault.  Instead, I will simply describe the qualities of good old-fashioned Professional Wrestling (PW) and let the analogy lead you where it will.

Pro-wrestling is all about being louder than the other guy.

PW is all about being louder than the other guy.  PW is one of the greatest one-upmanship games ever invented.  The goal of PW is not to win in the ring as much as it is to win in the interview!  I remember more than one interview with  color commentator Mean Gene Okerlund. While these interviews would typically start off with questions being asked, they usually ended with the “athlete” wrestling the microphone away from Gene and yelling colorful challenges to his opponent.   The wrestler would say the most off the wall things you could imagine.  It didn’t matter whether he would really do what he said, only that what he said was more memorable than what the next guy said.  Eventually words aren’t enough.  If an opponent is louder, or getting more publicity at their event, then the best way to draw the attention back to yourself is to interrupt their championship match with a metal chair.  Guess what everyone will be talking about on Monday.?

Pro-wrestling is all about having the most shocking signature move.

PW is also about having the most shocking signature move you can imagine.  The signature move was the special move that each wrestler had.  One of the most famous as the DDT by Jake the Snake Roberts.  In this move, Jake would put his opponent in a reverse headlock, slam his face to the ground, and knock him out cold.  Then, he would proceed to put his pet Boa Constrictor on the body of the unconscious man.  Awesome.  PW became identified with their signature moves i the same way that you see Pastors getting identified with theirs.   Some pastors swear, some tell jokes, others have bands that play AC/DC songs, and still others are known for their flaming criticisms.  There are all kinds of signature moves some good (texas-foot stomp), some bad (flying flip off top turnbuckle), some effective (figure four), some just silly (butt-choke).   Then there are those signature moves so “effectively destructive” they have necessitated acts of repentance–something that usually lasts until the next “match” when the move comes out again.

Pro-wrestling is about the image of the wrestler.

PW is about the image battle.  Professional Wrestlers epitomize narcissism.  The battle in the ring pales in value to the battle of image.  PW not only have signature moves, they have signature styles.  These men do not stumble into a particular style; grown men will go to great lengths to create and perpetuate this image.  This is because a “good image” leads to good merchandising.  There is much money and influence to be won with a good image.  They will sell their name to create action figures, T-shirts, even lunch pails.  You may hear talk about wrestling, but all you see are images of the wrestler.   PW is very man-centered.  Consider what happens when a pastor becomes this way–talking about himself more than Jesus or the church He died for.  You know the pastor has followed the same path of merchandising when the pastors name becomes the icon for the church (e.g. audio channels, website addresses, even special Study Bibles) In other words, with success, pastors can easily become confused as to exactly what “name” they are supposed to be promoting.

Pro-wresting is about the fans and the followers.

At its core, PW is a huge popularity contest.  PW fans don’t follow the sport, they follow the man.  Professional wrestlers are not interested in making more professional wrestlers, they are interested in making more fans.  A professional wrestler does not care if someone  takes up the sport as much as they hope to see them follow them in their sport.  In truth, adding more wrestlers runs the risk of robbing them of their power and influence.  Fans of wrestlers look and sound like the wrestlers.  They will dress like them, talk like them, even wrestle like them.   There are fans, groupies, and similar kinds of followers for everything in this world.  Not even pastors can stop people from becoming fans of their work, but they can make decisions to encourage or discourage teams and “camps” of followers.  Pastors are not supposed to make fans; they are supposed to make disciples Jesus.   Making disciples of Jesus is how you avoid making fans, and if pastors hear people quoting more words from their sermons than they do from Scripture, they are failing in this regard.

Pro-wrestling is about fake wrestling.

PW is not real.  I realize this may go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway.  Though professional wrestlers call themselves wrestlers, sound like wrestlers, and even look like wrestlers–they are not real wrestlers, their actors.  If you put any of these guys into the octagon with Antonio Silva or Cain Velasquez, they will be slaughtered.  Sadly, not everyone knows the difference between “real” wrestling and professional wrestling.  If you put them side by side, you’d see that real wrestling is much less dramatic, loud, or colorful.  But it is much more effective.   Just because someone has the title pastor does not mean that everything they do is “real ministry”.   Like professional wrestlers, some pastors would rather be actors; it is much more fun and rewarding, and much less hard and bloody.  Unfortunately, these drama-king pastors are the ones who get the headlines.  It is unlikely that you have ever heard of Aleksandr Karelin–the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. But I bet you’ve heard of Hulk Hogan.

Pastors, we have a lot to learn from Professional Wrestlers.


Beautifully simple church

Last night marked the first official gathering of Damascus Road Church in our Snohomish Imagespace.  This original historical timber frame building was constructed in 1882.  In its 131 years of life, it has functioned as a general store, a livery, a Pontiac Car lot, an office space, and even a Billiards hall.  But last night, for the first time, it served as a dwelling place for God among His people.   We prayed thanksgiving to our Lord.  We worshiped Him in song.  We proclaimed His Word publicly.  We made much of Jesus in a place where, quite probably, not much of Him has ever been made before. 

After the gathering, several of us were struck by the beautiful simplicity of it all.  Wires are exposed.  Rooms are unfinished.  Plumbing is disconnected. We had no bulletins.  We had no hospitality team.  We had no welcome desk.  We had no kid’s program.  We had no visual media.  We had no stage.  We had no sound.  We had no chairs.  And yet, we gathered as one family of families  to worship our one Lord with one voice.  

Our flesh can make an idol of simplicity as easily as it does with complexity.  In other words, I have no desire to pursue self-righteous simpleness.  I am challenged, however, to reconsider what a church really needs to worship the King.


Where is the Spirit leading you?

I was reading in Matthew 4 today and couldn’t get passed the first verse:  “Then Jesus wasImage led into the wilderness to be tempted (tested) by the devil”

Jesus’ 40 day journey into the wilderness is a replay of Israel’s 40 year wandering in the wilderness.  Hungry, weak, and vulnerable, the devil himself comes and tempts Jesus to deny God the Father, to lose faith, to sin.  Using the Word of God, Jesus success where Adam, Israel, and every man who has ever lived fails.  That is why Jesus is our sinless Savior and perfect substitute in death and life.

What I was struck with most, however, was the fact that the SPIRIT LED Him into the wilderness.  And as I recalled the the story of Israel’s from Exodus through Joshua.  Specifically, I considered how the Spirt led them at different times.  A times, the Spirit led them into a time of freedom from slavery; at other times, the Spirit led them into a time of testing; sometimes the Spirt led them into a time of victorious battle, and still other times, the Spirit led them into a time of peace, rebuilding, and rest. 

The question is never IF the Spirit leading, but always WHERE He is leading. In response to Frodo’s statement about his own trial, “I wish none of this had happened.” the wise fictional Wizard Gandalf said “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

What kind of time is He leading you into right now?  Freedom from slavery?  Temptation and testing?  Battle and Victory?  Or Peace and Rest?  

If you are not sure…why don’t you ask Him?

#2 Lesson from Honduras: The mission BEFORE the mission

First, I am not a “missions” expert.  These are simply my rambling reflections about our recent mission trip to Roatan, Honduras.Image

As our trip for Honduras approached, I became more and more anxious.  Part of my anxiety came from the “unknown”.  The other half came from what I knew, rather, what I had learned from our Dwellings contact about our build.  In the weeks prior to our departure, he posted pictures first with posts in the ground, then with floor joices set, then with a floor on! Though you would think such progress would encourage my excitement, it only served to discourage it because we weren’t the ones doing it. I feared the 10 strong men on our team would not have enough to do, that we would be unchallenged or bored, that we wouldn’t struggle or work hard, that we might not suffer enough, or that we would otherwise waste the time, money, or energy we had built up over the last 6 months. I feared that our “mission” would be done the day we started.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it, we later learned that our mission was not primarily to go there to build a house. That was what we were doing, but not what God would do in us. Alas, that is a lesson for another day.   But on the Monday we arrived, the first thing we did was go to the build site.  My fears only increased as it ‘appeared’ as if the building was nearly half complete (It wasn’t)!.  We surveyed the site, planned the next day, ate dinner, then spent some time discussing our “expectations” as a team. This was the first of several good conversations. I honestly shared some of the fears I had felt, specifically concerning what I “expected” would be lackluster project devoid of enough: blood, sweat, and tears to make it worthwhile. It was then that one man on our team reminded me of the mission before the mission.  

Sitting in Honduras, what was clear is that a house would be built of a single mom, her sister, and five children. That was the original vision for the mission and that was what we were about to do.  Whether the build took us only 6 hours or a full 6 days, our mission would be completed.  But the mission didn’t start on the Monday we arrived.  And those who brought it to completion were not only those who would swing a hammer.  The mission began nearly a year prior and included hundreds of friends, family, and even a  few strangers.  There is a mission before the mission–the work that God does through His people, for His glory, before a single board is ever nailed.

There was the proclamation before the mission:  The mission began with a small idea, but the vision was supported by a big idea–the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We were on mission to make the kingdom of God tangible.  We were on mission to go, love, and sacrifice someone who didn’t “deserve” it because Jesus came, loved, and sacrificed for us when we didn’t deserve it. . That mission began centuries ago and in 2013, a small group of men went again to remind people that Jesus is still saving.

There were the conversations about the mission: For whatever reason, people have an easier time of starting conversations about homes in Honduras than they do about their faith, their church, or their Lord. In the months prior to the build, hundreds of emails and face to face conversations took place.  We were excited to tell everyone (believer or not) what we were doing: friends, family, doctors, co-workers, baristas, even strangers. And, to our surprise, they all wanted to listen.  They wanted to know what we were doing, when, and why.  Many seeds were planted in the months prior to our leaving.

There were the events to support the mission: There were several fundraising events designed to help us raise money for the mission.  And though only 10 guys actually went on the trip, a ton more helped to organize these events.  The mission, before the mission, provided an opportunity for people to be a part of God’s work even if they couldn’t go.  They used their time, their energy, their resources, their homes, their creativity, everything they had to see this mission completed.  The mission gave focus to the “new” in faith and energized the “old” in faith, bringing everyone together with ONE mind, as ONE body, to complete ONE task, for our ONE God.

There was the giving toward the mission: Though we had nearly 9 months to raise the money (12k), at the beginning of January we had only raised 25% of what we needed for the build.  By the end of January, we were funded 110%. God is amazing. . But God works through people who gave sacrificially to support this mission.  Some gave as little as $10 and some gave as much as $1,500.  Our givers included little kids with allowances, teenagers with minimum wage jobs, young men with families and bills, older men with careers, unbelieving family members, friends who have never stepped food in our church, family doctors who heard about the mission from their patients, fireman who heard about it from co-workers, generous people at garage sales, even a big supportive group of longshoremen who simply love a good game of poker.  We are grateful for who God moved to give.   But I’ve realized that money is no object in God’s economy--it’s simply a tool He gives to use to point others to the Son He gave.  

The mission before the mission is something that often gets lost after the completion of the mission. Many will argue that short-term missions are a waste of time, money, and resources. I do believe we need to be wise in how we go on mission, but I have seen first hand the number of souls that even one simple mission can impact.

We need to be on mission here, there, and everywhere.  For a few it will mean a sacrifice of actually going “on mission”. But for most, that will mean staying at home “on mission”.  But what does that mean? For many it will mean sharing the vision with others.  For others, it will mean giving of their time or money. For some, it will mean employing their gifts.   And for everyone, it opens their eyes to something bigger than their own little kingdom.  This is the invaluable mission work that occurs before any “work” is done on the mission field.

#1 Lesson from Honduras: Out of my context

As both of you know (figure that is how many read this thing), I returned from a mission in ImageRoatan, Honduras last Sunday.  A team of 10 men spent a week building a home for a single mom, engaging with the Honduran culture, and learning about the dwellings ministry we partnered with.  The experience included everything imaginable and a few things unimaginable.  I don’t yet fully appreciate everything that happened there, perhaps I never will.  

Since Sunday, and even a few days prior, I have spent a lot of time journaling, praying, and talking about the experience.  It is not that I am searching for that one amazing divine-revelation that will validate the time and expense of the trip. On the contrary, like a grand buffet, I just don’t want to miss any one moral God wants me to chew on from this trip.  With a good pipe in hand, I intend on enjoying hours of contemplation for there is much to learn.  Moreover, I hope that writing a series of blogs will also help me to process some of the lessons God has for me.  Since this is the first mission trip I have been on as a pastor, these blogs will also serve as a tool to share my experience with the church I lead and love.  

To begin, the first lesson I learned from this trip has to do with the motivation for going in the first place.  Everyone has different reasons for signing up for such adventures.  Some probably feel compelled by God, their pastor, or their wives; others are invited by friends; and even a few are simply bored with their lives.  Personally, the inspiration from the trip came from a God-given desire to get out of my regular routine and context.  Though I may not have said this even a few months ago, I now believe that getting out of your context is more than just change for change sake.  It is a God-given desire, which leads to a God-empowered action, for the purpose of restoring a God-centered orientation.

Though I haven’t fully processed every detail of the trip, I remained convinced that EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF THEIR CONTEXT AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR. Of course, there are few guarantees about what will happen when you do this—that is why most people don’t.  The only things they can imagine are certain to happen is that they will have to take some risk (which is scary), spend money (which is limited), get time off work (which is difficult) , and otherwise be inconvenienced (which is unappealing).  Such “certainties” make convincing excuses. It is amazing how much faith we put in them. In truth, nothing is certain about such adventures before, during, or after.  But I have seen how God faithfully makes all things work together for those faithful few willing to trust him despite  such “certainties”.   

Without doubt, most of us would agree about one certainty. Most of most our lives largely consist of repetition and routine.  Personally, the life-rhythms for me and my family are fairly predictable on a daily, weekly, even monthly basis.  On a real practical level, I know what I am going to do tomorrow, when I will wake up, when I will go to bed, what I will wear, what I will eat, who I will meet with, what emails I will send, what time “nature will call”, what I will read, what I need to pray for, what I need to study for the sermon, pretty much everything that makes up what I do every day .   If that is not depressing enough, I know what roads I will drive on, where I will stop, where I will park, where I will get my coffee, even where I will get gas—and I know who will be there when I do all those things.  For better or worse, this is my context.

If we are not careful, I believe the familiarity of our context can numb us to a number of very important things as Christians, namely:  1) the joy of life with God 2) the joy of mission for God 3) and the joy that comes with the unpredictable mystery of following God into something unknown.  In other words, we forget why we who we are in Christ and why exactly we are still here.

Not everyone has to go to Honduras to get out of their context, there are a thousand ways to do it, near and far.  Here are my some of my personal guidelines about how to get out of your context, generated from my own reflections:

  1. Go and disconnect:  In our world of technology, it is easy to “go” and actually still be here.  In order to hear God, I believe you have to stop listening to the cyber world.
  2. Go and serve:  The key to getting out of your context is to focus your time on others.  This is not a vacation from your life-rhythms, but a decision to adopt the rhythm of someone else.
  3. Go on your dime: Quite simply, getting out of your context should cost you something. 
  4. Go with others:  Go with a team a people made up of some friends and some acquaintances.  Too many, or too close of friends, can easily draw you back into what is familiar by default.  You end up being in a different place but the same context, learning nothing.
  5. Go without your family:  Some will disagree with this.  I am convinced that family can sometimes be a distraction.  Your attention is divided (and rightly so).  There is much to be said about doing this with family, but I believe they will be more blessed if you do it alone.
  6. Go for at least a week:  While it takes less than a day to disconnect physically, t usually takes me two or three days to disconnect emotionally. 
  7. Go with God:  Getting out of your context is not “taking a break from God.”  Stepping away from the normal busyness of life should enable you to spend more time with God. 

Is there any life apart from Christ?

In Philippians 1.18b-26, It is clear that Paul has the expectation that his experience will Imageresult in his deliverance.  But, his definition of deliverance is freedom from prison OR freedom from his life.  Either way, his greatest hope is that he will not be ashamed in life or death.  In fact, Paul sounds torn between what he feels is better.  Not that he really has a choice in the matter, but he has a great desire to stay and work for Christ but an equal (or even greater) desire to be with Jesus.  For Paul, to LIVE IS CHRIST TO DIE IS GAIN. 

I wonder what it really means to “live as Christ?”  To live “as” Christ seems to mean more than just asking “What would Jesus do?” all of time.  Perhaps we aren’t to ask questions at all but, rather, preach to ourselves constantly through our daily life what Jesus HAS ALREADY DONE.  There are many different aspects of our daily lives…can we see that we are devoted to Christ in them? That the gospel is governing our approach to and appreciation for them?  This is not committed to doing life in a culturally “Christian way”, as much as doing it for, by, and through Jesus Christ.  Doing this should encompass all of life–make it all spiritual (not just Sunday mornings)–and result in more statements like:  To work is Christ.  To play is Christ.  To parent is Christ.  To grow is Christ. To spend is Christ.  To eat is Christ.  To drink is Christ. To relate is Christ.  To learn is Christ.  To rejoice is Christ.  To dream is Christ. To serve is Christ. To give is Christ.  To love is Christ.   Is there any life apart from Christ?  No, not if Jesus is actually right when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Apart from Christ, there is no motivation in life to live.  Apart from Christ, there is no power to live.  Apart from Christ, there is no example to live by. Come quickly Lord Jesus so that I can truly experience the glorified life! 

Colossians 4.1-4  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Damascus Road Snohomish is born!

Forgive me for my delay in sending this report. I wanted to take a moment to give God glory for all that He accomplished Sunday night in Snohomish. Damascus Road Snohomish LaunchGod is good and I delighted in watching Him work. By grace, he planted a new church in an old town. He filled it with his presence and began to gather what I hope becomes a family of families in Snohomish. By His Spirit, he employed the time and talents of his children to lead worship, clean glasses, set up chairs, hang signs, watch children, greet newcomers, and preach the word. I can recall a hundred ways he blessed us, and I can imagine a hundred more things He protected us from.

Thank you all for being a part of this new work. For me, there are very few things more energizing than being on mission with a group of fellow-gospel workers. Thank you for your sacrifice, your leadership, and your faithfulness to respond to the call of Jesus and follow him into what can feel like craziness.

Without doubt, it was exciting to have a full house to worship with. Thank you Ron and Liz for leading that (Steve and Kevin too). It brought me great peace to have Jason and Erin Johnson leading Kid’s Road, and great joy to see other members of Marysville serving. It was deeply rewarding to arrive at 4pm with a huge team of volunteers ready to set up. The mission is real and the gospel is being proclaimed a little bit more (not necessarily better) than it was on the first day of the year in Snohomish.

For the record, there were nearly 150 people gathered in Snohomish last Sunday night. What an awesome launch! This includes everyone, children and adults, visitors and committed members. Among those in attendance were well-wishers from Damascus Road | Marysville, members of the core team, and probably a few from CTK Snohomish. It is doubtful that those numbers will be the same this week, but we know God is mysterious and can always surprise us! Our prayer is that the unreached and unchurched will find a new home in this new family of families. Invite them.

For me personally, I found that the experience was much like a wedding. Though there is a lot of excitement, there is also a tremendous amount of relief to finally be done and married. For anyone who is married, however, you know that the hard work begins…but so does the tremendous joy.

I love you Damascus Road, and look forward to many years of ministry together in Marysville, Snohomish, and beyond. Grace.