After fifteen years of youth ministry, in 2004, I was called to plant and pastor a church in Austin, Texas. I haven’t blogged about it overmuch but as more and more of the experiences become memories I will bring these stories out of my dusty archive of a brain. I will tell you that it has been the most challenging, rewarding, exhilarating, and heartrending set of experiences I have ever had. The plant itself was a risky proposition. We found ourselves, my First Fifteen and I, up against amazing odds. The fail rate of new churches was 90% within one year. And worse than that in Austin, apparently at that time, a graveyard of church starts. We elected to be a ‘city center’ rather than a neighborhood church. Then, to spice things up a bit, we decided our target audience would be those farthest from ever even listening to our message. We elected, or were called, not to be harvesters but seed planters. Within our first year our community was already made up primarily of broken hearts and minds, and religious backgrounds from atheist, to Wiccan to Buddhist. None of this was the hard part, for me.
I have ever been a man of passion. In high school I was a rolling ball of romance looking for some fair maiden to rescue. Incidentally, if you are an artistic and passionate teenage boy, most of the girls want to be your FRIEND and most of the boys think you are gay. Not that I cared much. I had great friends that would stand up for me, and vice versa, even when my mouth wrote checks my body couldn’t cash. And I loved them! All of them, my friends, my girlfriends! And I hurt, for one cannot help but hurt when one loves.
I was the same in college and then I felt the call to the ministry. Now my passion began to focus. I learned to love the unlovable and my God as I should. A few times over the years I lost that passion and had to remind myself of who I was built to be. I discovered a Geoff Moore song sometime in the mid-nineties that prayed simply, “I was a passionate boy, make me a passionate man.” And God answered my prayers.
The most difficult thing about the church plant has been my passionate heart and a certain number of expectations I have that come from trusting people completely. Three times since the beginning of our little church we had ‘train wrecks’ which had the potential of ending our work. During those three train wrecks, and I speak here openly of this for the first time, I felt like my brothers and sisters, some of them, some of my closest friends, let me down. So, I should say that I was not without fault, because it’s true. I make my share of mistakes. The hard thing was that in every case, either one of them didn’t trust me with the truth; didn’t stand up for me; didn’t accept my love for them; or believed I had done or said something so alien to how I perceive my own character that I couldn’t believe they actually thought what they thought. There’s a lot of I’s and Me’s in there. More on that. I was crushed, but a bit less so every time. I thought maybe I was journeying out of my selfishness. No such luck.
Turns out I was just growing bitter and hard. I was hurting less, because I was loving less. Along with some of the equilibrium I had gained, my heart had become calloused. Then I prayed again, make me passionate and this time, the answer was like an earthquake.
It started about a year ago when I noticed that I was loving people and life more strongly than I had in some time. I loved God with a new heart as well. I wasn’t aware how deep the change was however, until in the normal course of events, someone actually hurt me. Now, the nature of the hurt was a stated falsehood about me and my ministry. Since then, I have realized that it was my friends pain which brought about this falsehood, nothing malicious. And in retrospect there was some truth therein that I had to address. But it hurt. Bad. Like all of the rejections from all of the girls in Junior High School. I should have seen it coming. My wife had inadvertently hurt my feelings much deeper than I expected on a couple of occasions and she is my early warning system.
It’s happened twice more since then . Someone close to me has inadvertently sent me reeling emotionally. Silly really. But painful. And this time I need to learn to heal correctly, not get all calloused and armored up. Some folks would say I need to set better boundaries, but no, that’s not the answer, I know who to trust. And if you start shutting people out, your heart dies. I would much rather hurt among the living than be at peace among the dead. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13 that love always trust and perseveres. There is my goal, to basically learn to love without being a selfish b—–d! (See, I told you I’d explain all the Me’s and I’s!) Pain is expected, we are only human. It’s impossible to love without suffering, that’s why The Passion is the heart of the Gospel.
This post is familiar to me because it is just a more personal version of an earlier post, The Heart Breaks and Breaks.
I should add that I have forgiven any hurt that my friends may have caused me in working through our weaknesses. It is my desire to become ever more passionate in loving the people God has placed in my life. I need to forge a new reality, like Rush sang, closer to the heart. Pain fades. Love is eternal.