The First Five (Part II)

Having arrived in New Jersey just over five months ago, I’ve been reflecting on things I’ve learned during this transition. And while there is much I’ve learned by asking questions (e.g. What’s a pork roll? Who’s “Bruce”?), what I’d like to share are those things I’ve learned not by asking questions but through my personal experience over these past five months. I recently shared part one of these lessons. Here’s part two.

My family is my first calling.

The pastor who consistently gives everything to the church, reserving only leftovers for family is a tragic and far too common story. And it’s never a happy ending. It was in light of this a seminary professor once warned, “Never sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.” The moment those words came out of his mouth,

I made a vow in my heart before God that my family would always be my first calling.

As I reflect upon my commitment to my family over these past five months, I’m haunted by the thought that I could’ve done better. Not because I’ve failed in some big way. Rather, it’s because I’ve failed in a thousand little ways. Too often when physically present to my family, I’ve been mentally and emotionally absent because I was thinking about my next sermon or that email or that meeting. Too often when “watching” my kids, my phone had my eyes. Too often when planning evening meetings, I did not consider how it would impact those who depend upon me in the evenings.

I want to do better this year. Not only do my wife and kids deserve better, but Park does too.

My ability to be a healthy and effective leader in the church will never exceed the extent to which I am faithfully loving and serving my family.

Park is unique.

When I meet someone for the first time (not least of all on Sunday mornings), one of my go-to questions is, “So how long have you been connected to Park?” Sometimes the response is simple and then we move on. But other times this question leads toward rich conversations about what initially brought them to Park and what has kept them here. And while no two stories are the same, I’ve noticed a common theme:

Park Church is different (in a good way).

Time and time again, I hear how someone’s experience with Park Church contradicts their preconceived ideas about religion, inviting them to reimagine things like “church” or “God” or “Christianity.” In my view, this is exactly what a community of Jesus followers should be doing.

In Jesus’ day and age, everyone had preconceived ideas about God and his kingdom. Then came Jesus, proclaiming (with what he said) and portraying (with what he did) a vision of God’s kingdom that challenged everyone’s ideas. No one expected God to bring his great rescue through the death and resurrection of his messiah. And then, continuing Jesus’ mission, in the power of the Spirit, his followers formed small communities (i.e. “churches”) whose way of life was so peculiar, the watching Roman world could not help but take notice (Why do you only worship one god? Why do you care so much about taking care of the poor? Why don’t you attend the gladiatorial games? How come you treat women and slaves with such dignity, honor, and respect?)

As a community of Jesus followers, we should live the sort of corporate life together that causes the watching world to take notice.

Like Jesus and many of the earliest members of his movement, Park Church is unique. Hearing stories of transformation has shown me that.

The best is yet to come.

As I just mentioned, I’ve had many conversations over these past five months. And while the topics have varied, I always cherish hearing about the life-transforming encounters with God people have had because of Park. Often when people start sharing how Park has been a community where God has met them, they get emotional. Sometimes tears well up. Sometimes I can see the excitement in their eyes. Sometimes they start talking quietly, signaling the sacredness of what they’re about to share. It’s beautiful. I love it. And I hope I get to have many more conversations like these. And yet …

Despite the power and beauty of remembering God’s past faithfulness, I am most excited about what’s yet to come.

I look forward to the time when stories about God showing up yesterday through a neighbor or last Thursday at Community Group or in the office Monday morning are the norm. It’s not that God isn’t present and active now; of course he is. Neither is it the case that I’m not hearing stories like this. I do. I just want more. And I’m convinced that God does too. How many people will we get to baptize this year? How many people, though they have very strong and understandable reasons for keeping God and “religion” at arm’s length, will slowly begin to draw near because of their encounter with the people of Park? How might God want to bring healing to the afflicted – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically? What unexpected and exciting paths might Jesus lead us down as we follow him together? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but there is one thing I’m sure of:

the best is yet to come.