I've been struggling. Personally, spiritually, pastorally, physically. I was talking with my wife on Saturday night about some of the stuff I've dealt with in the last year and beyond, and it blew me away when I realized the issues that have I've dealt with in my life. I know that's vague, but I want to give at least a little context for what I'm going to say and what I've experienced. I know we all go through difficult, dryer times. We all have detractors. And I've talked to a number of young pastors in the last months and years who have had many of the same issues. I know I'm not alone or unique.
In the few months prior to Verge God was really working on me. I've been doing a lot of repenting of the idols in my heart. I've been preaching the gospel to myself. Molly and I have been thinking through a lot together. She has been going through much of the same through a study that just rocked her world a couple of months back.
When I got to Verge I connected with friends and settled in for a good time. What I didn't expect that God would use this conference as a spiritual pivot-point. Practical, sure. Theological, maybe. Not spiritual. During the conference, through a number of sessions and conversations and events, the Holy Spirit haunted me with God's goodness and faithful love in Christ.
Let me briefly describe how the Holy Spirit worked in me at Verge.
First, I was blessed and challenged by the video lead-ins by Alan Hirsch. Each session started with Hirsch detailing an idea that the upcoming speakers would speak on. One-by-one these videos deepened my love for Christ and the Church. I ended up looking forward to the next video more than the next speaker. It was a great thread tying together the conference, and through them the Spirit was stirring that old fire in my belly to see God's local church vibrant and alive.
Second, as detailed in my previous post, Jeff Vanderstelt and Caesar Kalinowski's breakout on Soma Communities took Hirsch and gave it legs, concreteness. They took the hunger I was gaining for biblical, misisonal community encouraged by Hirsch and made it seem possible. God was renewing my view of community, my calling to shepherd our church toward it, and my love for the Church despite her flaws.
Third, the two sessions with Francis Chan were remarkable. Nothing flashy. Quite the opposite, really. Just real. The dude was real. He was honest about his own struggles and our struggles as pastors to want what God wants and to want them through the means God provides.
Both sessions were on the Holy Spirit. I don't care what the titles or topics were. The Holy Spirit was the point for me. Why are we functioning on any power other than the Holy Spirit? Chan said...
You will try and fail to start movements. Movements come from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit. If you try to go surfing and there are no waves, you send your buddy out to start splashing and try to make waves. We can't do it.
Think about the book of Acts, and how unstoppable they were. This is Holy Spirit powered.
I want to ride the wave. I'm spending way too much energy splashing in the ocean to make my own waves when if I look for the Spirit's waves, they will be unstoppable. How can we think our tactics and strategies and plans and efforts will go anywhere without God?
Chan's honest and sobering message inspired me to dream again about being the church we saw in Acts. I used to dream about the exciting, messy movement of God in the world. I want to want that again. Most preaching makes me want to believe I can do something. Chan made me want to believe and pray that God would do something.
In his second message Chan said something like this...
If you are not suffering, there is a problem. Imagine how close you’d be with Jesus and how safe you would feel had you suffered alongside Him. Then you would know this is real.
This was the message I can quote the least because I was so tunnel-visioned into what God was saying. I didn't hear the sermon, I experienced it. You can get a lot of the message from Jonathan McIntosh's post. He echoes much of what I thought about Chan and the work of the Holy Spirit at Verge.
Allow me to quote JMac here for my fourth and final point.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit showed up. Jonathan writes...
The best part of the weekend was a worship session on Saturday afternoon that never seemed to stop. It was time for the singing to be done and for all of us to move on to the next deal on the schedule – except that God had something else on His schedule.
Matt Carter got up and acknowledged that something was going on. Breakouts were going to start soon and that if people needed to go they could, but he opened the door for others to stick around if they felt so led. And we did. People just stood there. Or knelt. Or bowed.
And then one by one, people spontaneously started calling out to God. In a group of thousands, people started calling on the name of Jesus.
It’s hard to describe what happened, and I really don’t want to dishonor that moment by trying to make it seem more dramatic than it was. I’ll just say that for me it was an intense moment of sensing God’s hugeness and my own smallness and yet feeling accepted in that instead of alienated. It’s the first time I’ve seen something like that happen in a group that large since my charismatic revival days.
I agree. I've had a lot of "aha" moments from God through His Word. I've had a sacred few moments when He was noticeably present in a special way. I've had even fewer like Verge when He moved in unity among many and was, apparently, sensed by nearly all of us.
Truthfully, I'm all too skeptical of these things. So much junk is said to be the work of the Spirit, and that's when eye-rolling and tongue-clucking commences. But I can't deny the experience I (we) had at Verge. It was the culmination of many things happening in my life. It was sparked by truth and Christology and ecclesiology and evangelistic/missional fervor at Verge. But the crescendo for me, and it seems for all of us, was when a "rock star pastor" (Chan) laid himself bare, talked about struggles instead of displaying his flapping cap, and talked about Jesus and the Spirit instead of strategies. It was a moment I can't forget, and that drives me NOT to pursue a new ministry plan BUT rather power that can only come from the haunting of the Holy Ghost.
May our churches find ourselves on our knees far more than we sketch out plans. May the interruptions that God puts in our lives be seen as more important than our intentions. May we be willing to suffer as missionaries for our great God. And may He be glorified.