Can You Have Church Without an Agenda?

Can You Have Church Without an Agenda?

A couple of weekends ago, I participated in a men’s retreat. It was one I helped coordinate, and we had invited Wayne Jacobsen (founder of Lifestream Ministries, co-host of The God Journey podcast, and co-author on The Shack) to come and be with us.

I’ve never experienced a men’s retreat like this before. For one, we decided to run the retreat without an agenda. I had heard Wayne talk about this before, and it sounded like amazing things could happen. However, it also scared the heeby-jeebies out of me. Being a good ex-pastor, I always had a plan or agenda for things like this. After all, God’s not a God of chaos, so we shouldn’t be either, right?

Wouldn’t not having a schedule lead to utter chaos?

I decided to trust in the process that God has been leading me in over the last few years, and trust that it was God who was nudging me to have an agenda-less retreat. I ran it by my friend who so graciously offered up his lake house where we hosted the retreat. He obliged to the request.

I’ve seen and been part of retreats that fill up every moment of time, not really allowing you to connect with God, or others for that matter.  I’ve been to others that have a light schedule but also provide room to hear from God. I enjoyed the ones that didn’t fill up the whole time and so I wondered, “What could Father do if we don’t fill up any of the time, but turn it over completely to him?”

There were still doubts and fears, even at one point the first night of the retreat. I kept wondering, “Is this really going to work?” After that first moment of panic, I decided (again) to surrender the schedule to the Lord. We had one dinner planned with the wives on Saturday night; other than that, we left conversations, gatherings, and agenda to Father.

At the end of the weekend, as I reflected, I couldn’t have planned and orchestrated everything any better than what happened. There were deep conversations, there was time spent alone or in groups of two’s or three’s. I got to know new brothers and fellowship deeply with others that I hardly know. There was laughter and joy. There were moments where I was deeply satisfied and

It was, in a word, more.

I felt more community.

I felt more connection.

I felt more “church” than I have in a long time. All without an agenda – and all without planning much of anything.

I used to think that you needed a plan or schedule to make things happen. I really didn’t trust that God would show up without needing a bit of help. Now I know that a schedule isn’t necessary. Father can handle it. Much of the time, we limit God by our own agenda. We read into what He wants, instead of simply surrendering our agenda and plan to Him, because we ultimately don’t trust that He can do things without our assistance.

It doesn’t mean there is not room for a plan, on occasion. However, I think we (I know I did) have a tendency to over-plan and plan God right out of most of what we do. I’ve heard people ask, “Couldn’t God break into [our plan] if he wanted to?” I guess he could, but wouldn’t it be better to let Him lead from the beginning? Trust him with the program and the results.

Try it and see what happens. And when God shows up, I bet you’ll be glad you did!

Where can you create more space for God to set the agenda in your life or ministry? What fears do you have about leaving the results and schedule to Father?

Letting Go of Expectations

Letting Go of Expectations

This morning I received an email from a friend of mine who is a missionary in Mexico. I usually hear from him about once a week and we briefly tell each other how we can be praying.

He shared about his interns being too comfortable and needing to come to the end of themselves. He knew he couldn’t be the one to bring them to that point, but wondered at least how he could lead them down that road.

It got me thinking about our expectations for others, and the long journey it’s taken me to come to the end of myself. Every time I think I’m at the end, it seems Jesus is there tugging me forward saying, “That was just a resting place. It’s not the end.” Have you been there?

What Do You Expect?

Unmet expectations are the source of all kinds of conflict, whether in marriages or friendships or the workplace. This is especially true when the expectations are unrealistic. Much of the time, I believe they are.

  • We expect others to meet our needs completely, when there is only One that can fulfill us (and it’s not your spouse or significant other).
  • We have too high expectations of ourselves and get frustrated when we don’t meet those. (Come on, I’m not the only one am I?)
  • We have expectations that others need to be where we are spiritually and if not try to get them there. (Is that really our job? Check out 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
  • We expect other people to behave like us, respond like us, and communicate like us. We forget that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made. We fulfill different roles in the body, and our uniqueness is from the Lord (Sometimes it feels like it’s from the devil, though, right?)

Often we feel that we have a right to lead people down the road to meet our expectations, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. I know from experience. I’ve felt that way before, and I shake my head when I remember some of those moments. (That was before my Phari-sectomy).

God Has a Process

Does God want us to come to the end of ourselves? Absolutely. Can He use my friend as a part of that process? I’m sure He will.

The danger, I believe, is when we try to take on that process ourselves. Very rarely does any good come from trying to short-circuit God’s timing. (Just take a look at Abraham, Joseph, and any number of Bible characters who tried).

When we try to usurp the activity of God in someone’s life, we reveal a lack of trust in God and His work and growth in that person. Yes, he can absolutely use us to be a part of that process. So what role do we play in that?

What is My Part?

According to 1 Corinthians 3, we plant and we water. We are not in charge of growth. That is God’s domain. What does planting and watering look like? There’s not a specific formula for each person, and I’m not trying to set forth principles to live by but ideas to embrace.

FORGIVE

When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, forgive them. When you don’t meet your own, forgive yourself. Extend forgiveness frequently and generously.

ANOINT WITH GRACE AND MERCY

Be willing to shower people with God’s grace and mercy. Let go of unrealistic expectations and ask God to show you those when they occur.

LISTEN

Above all else, listen. Listen to Father for the gentle nudges that can help you walk alongside your brothers and sisters. Listen to your fellow believers as they share their struggles and what God is showing them. Help them navigate and nurture their relationships with Father and fellow believers.

May we be rich in mercy and slow in our criticism of those who love Jesus and may not be as far along as we are or as far as we think they ought to be. May we learn to see the beauty in our uniqueness and value our differences.

Do you struggle with imposing expectations on others? How do you respond when others place those on you?

Glenwood Prayer Update (new requests added)

For those of you following our Glenwood Outreach, Mike and I went to Glenwood the last 2  Sundays and had really good conversations with several of the residents. We got some good information as far as ways that we can help out, but we will need some help making connections. What follows are prayer requests and ways that we can continue to help the residents (and possibly ways for you to get involved). We are going to create a survey this week and contacting Becky, the apartment manager, to make sure she’s okay with us using it with residents.  Our whole goal of being involved with these people is to not assume what they need, but to really listen to them as far as their true needs.  We also will make sure we can use the clubhouse one night a week for a women’s Bible Study.

PRAYER REQUESTS

*New*

James – (apt. 515) – James wife has left him recently.  There are 6 kids in the picture (4 of them are theirs).  James definitely knows the Word.  He was quoting Scripture while we were talking with him.  He is open to being part of a men’s group and definitely needed some encouragement, but he seems to be doing okay.  We are praying for reconciliation with his wife and strength for him and his children.  We are also praying that Christ would guard his heart and mind and the hearts and minds of his children.  They are living with their mother, and it is not a good situation.

Erika (apt. 425) – Erika recently got her car totalled by a drunk driver.  She’s okay, although she did injure her ankle and is supposed to be on crutches.  The car is owned by  someone else, so she has to get a power of attorney to get the money to buy a new one.  We are praying that she is able to do this quickly, and that her ankle heals supernaturally quick.  She has also been struggling with anxiety, so we are praying Philippians 4:6-7 over her and that the peace of Christ would guard her heart and mind.

*Last Sunday*

Shontiel – (apt. 212 ) – she said that the biggest need right now for her and her friends are car problems and auto maintenance (her mechanic says she probably needs another car, and that it will cost more to fix than what it’s worth. We need to pray for a new car for her! – She also told us that Kristen is having car issues as well, which we’ve known about but need to help her get fixed (I don’t remember what’s wrong) – She thinks a Single mom’s ministry would be helpful for encouraging and connecting the women in Glenwood apts. and a mentor program for young boys – to connect them with consistent adult male relationships.

Rachel (apt. 717) – the AC on her car is out and needs $700 or so to get it fixed. She’s still working part time but has also applied for a FT job – let’s pray that she gets it! – She also said a mid-week Bible study would be helpful – she doesn’t know any other single moms in the apt. community. She attends Cowboy Church.

Abuk -(apt. 313) – please pray for encouragement for her. She is experiencing a lot of doubt. (Praise) – She found a tutor at AC that is going to help her prepare for her next (and final) time she can take the test to get into the LVN program. She also mentioned that gas was a big expense.

Paco – (apt. ?) – Mike and I met Paco as we were leaving. He works as a security guard and was about to leave when we saw him by the pool. From our brief conversation, he seemed to be a believer, but also let us know about a young man, James, in Building 5 that needed some encouragement. His wife has left him (James) recently and Paco said James was struggling. Mike and I plan to go back sometime this week and try to visit with him.

Manny and Veronica -(apt. 625)- I briefly talked to Manny, Veronica, and Fredarius. They were leaving to go to a family cookout. I had been praying this week that I would run into him, so go God! I asked if it would be alright if I stopped by sometime and visited with him and he said yes. So, let’s pray that God will arrange that encounter!

– Please pray with us that we will not enable these residents but empower them. We do not necessarily just want to give them everything for free, but we want them to contribute some so that they feel empowered as a person as well as helped.

Biggest Needs at Glenwood

– Automotive help for several single moms (If anyone has any connections, please let me know)

– Bible study for moms and a woman to step up and lead it.

– Gas cards (maybe offer them at a discount to residents – Glenwood groupon idea)

– Mentor program for youth

Upcoming Events

Last week of June – Mission Amarillo Group to Glenwood & Glenwood Community Block Party

Weekly visits with residents

If you would like to contribute to our cause or learn more about our ministry teams, please contact Will at ratlif.will@gmail.com.

The Church: Sent

When God moved us out of full-time vocational ministry and into a high school, I had no idea how messy some aspects of our ministry would be.  Our first year we focused on building relationships in the community and adjusting to a new job.  We got involved with a local apartment community and helped with a local back-to-school outreach and Christmas outreach.

Now, three years later, our most recent endeavor, though, has put us into closer contact with the people we’re trying to serve.  And it’s gotten messy…really messy.  We are dealing with people who have great need and little support.

– Single moms raising multiple children and cars that need constant repairs. Those same single moms are working, going to school to try to improve their lives (and the lives of their children), and are spread so thin that they have no time for themselves.

– Children running around their apartment complex with little supervision and little direction for their lives.  Fathers are absent from much of this community.

– People struggling with addictions and life-altering decisions (and those that love them trying to guide them to the right path.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not.)

And much, much more that I’m sure we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.  But one thing I know and am convinced of…

Our presence is needed.  Because our desire is, no matter what the circumstance, to point them to Jesus.  Only He can save.  Only He can restore.  Only He can heal.  We cannot save them.  But we can be there to point them to the only one who can.

If we’re not there, will God call someone else to go? I’m sure he would.  But what happens to all these people in the meantime?  If God calls us to share His love, His grace, and His mercy, then what are we waiting for?

There are people in your neighborhood, probably even on your block, that need the same thing that these people need:  for someone to show them God’s love.  They need to see God’s mercy and forgiveness extended to them in tangible ways.  There are people all around us who are hurting and searching for the truth.  God wants you to point them to Christ and show them mercy.

Romans 10:14 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

We are called to be those “preachers” to those around us.  Not to preach at them, but to live the gospel and proclaim the gospel in a way that draws them to Jesus.

Not sure how?  Here’s a great blog post from The Verge Network with some ideas  10 Simple Ways to be Missional.  Then, get out there and start preaching!

 

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Said (but I really meant it)…

Have you ever had one of those moments?  The one where you knew immediately that what you said had been totally misunderstood? (And maybe for good reason.)  When my wife and I lived in Arizona, I had one of those moments.  It was well intentioned and to my credit I really did mean it, but the way I said it was totally not the way I meant it to come out of my mouth.  (And to my wife’s credit, there was good reason for the misunderstanding).

So, there we were in bed one night, and my wife asked, “Why do you love me?”  (At this point the alarm bells go off in my head…WARNING!…ANSWER CAREFULLY!…THINK!)  Here’s what I said (again, not what I meant this to sound like) – “Because I have to.”  Yes, I know.  (Insert title again here.)

Okay, so now you’re wondering (I hope) about what I meant.  And it totally has to do with what I said.  Here’s what I meant, and if you understand what I’m saying and can explain it to my wife, please call.  I’m not sure she’s over it yet. 🙂

When I married my wife, I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.  I chose to love her 100%.  (Not sure why I digressed into Dr. Seuss speak just then).  I made a covenant with my wife, and I chose to love her unconditionally no matter what.  So, now it doesn’t matter whether I want to love my wife or not.  On that day, I made a choice, and I will do everything I can to live by that choice.  So, in essence, I don’t have a choice anymore NOT to love my wife.  I have to.  Because I made a covenant with my wife to do just that.

Agape is the Greek word for God’s love for us – unconditional love.  Love is part of God’s character.  It’s so much a part of God’s character that he can’t NOT love us.  It’s impossible.  In essence, He has to love us.  God made a choice from the beginning of creation to love what He made (and he called us VERY good).  He made a choice to love us no matter what, and because He made that choice, He demonstrated the ultimate act of love in His son, Jesus Christ.  Even while we were still in the midst of our sin. (Romans 5:8)

While I am in no way comparing myself to God, the concept is the same.  When we choose to love someone the way that God loved us, we are choosing to love beyond emotion, desire, and frustration and choosing a love that isn’t based on emotion but based on a choice, agape love.

So the next time your spouse asks you, “Why do you love me?”   Tell them, “Because I have to.”  And let me know how it works out for you.  (I’ll even let you sleep on my couch for a night or two.  Just don’t tell my wife.)