“Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor” Book Review

Confessions of an Insignificant PastorWho sets the image of what is ‘normal’ in a Christian’s life and experience? Where does the place of transparency reside in a Christian’s life when our culture promotes accomplishment, size and performance? Pastor W. Mark Elliot, in his recent book Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor confronts the image of what too often is the ‘rugged individualist’ Christian persona. In its place, he reveals a transparent, genuine, real “pastor from nowhere, just a nobody from zip code 47492,” and he’s in good company.

I spoke with Pastor Mark. He said this book came out of a sensed call to put the message on paper. In a few days, alone on personal retreat, Mark recorded the lessons which had been birthed out of a “winter season of pastoring. It’s a negative title on a positive book.” When I asked him to identify the most important take-away, Pastor Mark replied, “Unplanned is a part of life. God call isn’t to achievement, but to faithfulness. After 28 years of ministry, my best accomplishment is that I have been faithful, I refuse to quit. I have found that God is still present in all of life’s circumstances.”

The book’s 16 chapters flesh out the image of a transparent man. Starting with “ I’m a Nobody from 47492”, to “I Work too Much” and “People Get on my Last Nerve” Pastor Mark openly shares his heart. Life is hard at times. We are all human, and walking through life as a Christian doesn’t mean the valleys will be filled in and steep hills leveled before we arrive. The climb (up or down) is taxing. Mark’s message is that our God goes with us, and we are not meant to walk alone.

The book is well researched, and Pastor Mark correlates a modern Christian’s similarity to men / women of the Bible. David was a nobody before he was king. Joseph was an arrogant teen, Jacob a manipulative entrepreneur, Moses a murderer, and the list goes on. The key, Mark writes, is that we begin to see ourselves the way God really does. We have value because we are his people, and we are meant to do life together rather than (pretending to) be a rugged individualist.

Each chapter ends with 3-5 questions meant to prompt discussion and reflection. The book, like life, is better when it’s shared. These questions flow well into discussions for small groups, and explore how we can become more genuine, authentic Christ followers.

I recommend this book highly. Too often we allow an image painted of what a Christian ‘should’ look like when the only real answer is this. A Christ follower should look like the One he or she is following. The lessons in this book will move the reader toward becoming genuine, transparent, authentic and real in their faith. There is a risk involved in this kind of lifestyle, but the alternative is to exist without really living.

by: Timothy Burns

A New Year – A Renewed Focus

I grew up spiritually in a coffeehouse. We didn’t have the recourses of the typical local church, nor were we focused on duplicating what hundreds of other churches in our city did on a daily basis. We lived close to the inner city neighborhood in which we opened our doors, and as a result our ministry was directly shaped by the needs of those who wandered in the door on any given weekend.

When I left for college, I found another coffee house drop in ministry, and made it my part time home. Spending time in the Para church organization didn’t replace my home church membership. Each Sunday and many Wednesday’s I attended traditional service and bible study. But again, spending time in the evangelism-focused outlet of a coffee house ministry shaped my personal born again views. AT the heart of my new life in Christ, I was called to find unique gifts Christ had put in my heart and use them to build the Kingdom in what ever way God brought before me.

Last year, I did a series of articles on Trinity Church in Lansing, Mi. If you check their website (www.trinitywired.com) you will find this perspective distilled into 3 words. Discover – Develop – Deploy.

I love the graphics Trinity has used to illustrate this kingdom principle. A seek planted in the ground discovers its purpose as it spouts roots and pushes a tender leaf into the sky. As the plant develops, it finds both strength and resources to become that for which God created it. Finally, the plant drops its own seed, fruit, or flower as it deploys that which it has collected, duplicating itself for the blessing of others.

These three words capture the heart of this blog. We are new creatures in Christ, and in that new creation we have a new purpose to discover.

God calls each member of the body to contribute from the gifts God has given them, and in doing so we mature from spiritual seedlings into a vineyard from which God expects a harvest.

God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to carry his redemptive message and revolutionary lifestyle to a dying world.

In this simple description are these quiet questions –

Have you discovered God’s new life?

What are you proactively, intentionally pursuing to develop his life and gifts within yourself?

Where are you called to deploy? Are you following, and obeying his call on your life?

Jesus said in John 17.3: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

This is our gift as we receive new life in Christ Jesus. This is our call to bring the knowledge of Christ to the world.

A Personal Mega-Church

By the numbers, Trinity Church in Lansing, Mi would be considered a ‘Mega-church.’ With 3 services each weekend, an average 2700 adults attend pulling behind them 500 to 700 children.  However, if you were standing on the balcony between services, you would experience a unique culture within the congregation.  A large atrium stretches across the back of the auditorium, with light flooding in from a three story window wall. Before, after and between services, Trinity member and guests pause over coffee to genuinely partake of each other’s lives.  The attendance numbers haven’t pushed aside real relationships, genuine caring, and time taken to build lasting friendships.

Trinity started in 1952 as a home fellowship.  Students and adults associated with Michigan State University wanted a personal, relationally connected church fellowship. The congregation is still strongly composed of professionals from the East Lansing university and business community. However, since moving to Lansing’s south side, the congregation has grown in numbers, and diversity.

For the next couple weeks I will be highlighting Lansing Trinity for this reason: although the numbers are large, the relationships are intimate and those at the church’s core continually reach outward.  While a member there, I couldn’t walk through the atrium without a number of genuine friends finding me, and asking meaningful questions.  So often I hear/read complaints about how larger churches loose the personal touch.  Trinity is an exception.  As such, those of us in ministry can learn from their spiritual, relational, and community successes.

I spoke with the Director of Connection ministries, Jeff Schneider, and asked about this personal and genuine organizational culture that is at Trinity’s core.  As we discussed what the church practiced in the way of supporting practices, Jeff told me that 70% – 75% of the congregation is regularly involved in small group communities.  Most meet in homes during the week, and gather multiple times a month, with a few meeting in the church building

I asked Jeff to what he attributed this high percentage of small groups.  He replied these three points:

1.    The church leadership models small groups.  The church leadership, from the head pastor to children’s church teachers are committed to “doing life together.”
2.    Small group ministry as a model for Christian growth is supported from the pulpit.  Christian growth and disciple building is understood and taught as necessary fruit in a Christian’s life. Small groups are a consistent vehicle to bring about that deep, abiding growth.
3.   Each year, the church holds 2 connection events. In the worship program each week is an opportunity to indicate interest in small groups for the outgoing. What Trinity has found more effective is biannual connection events. Jeff related that face to face events, where those who are not involved in small groups can meet leaders and build relational bridges, are the most effective means to get a new person to take the risk of engaging deliberate Christian community.

Read more about Trinity Church, Lansing Michigan here.