As I have made my way through Arrow Leadership, I've been challenged to grow in ways I needed in my life, ministry and family.
Let me begin with my new chapter. I've been serving in ministry at ACC for over four and a half years now. It started with being called to serve as Youth Pastor, little did I know that God would call me to serve as Lead Pastor in a few years of beginning here at ACC.
I'm not going to get into all the details of the transition because unfortunately there were some conflicts along the way that have hurt us as the church body and also strengthen us as a church body. Too often, we the church can hurt one another, rather than love one another as we are commanded to do.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
But this is about me, and my walk with God.
My walk with God hasn't always been the highest priority in my life. Sure, I would say it was, and at times God was the most significant priority, but when it was convenient. Now, don't hear what I'm not saying, I have always loved God since I gave my life over to him, and perhaps I'm coming off too strong, but I don't think so. When I talk about God not having the highest priority in my life, I merely mean that there were personal wants, or family and friends, and sometimes just doing "great" church programs that were the focus and not my personal time with God. That I think we could all agree too, and if so we just need to confess, "God, sometimes you are not the most important thing in my life, but I want you to be." That is where I have found myself as of late.
The needed change of heart.
The change that I so desperately desired... okay, perhaps not "desperately desired" or else I would have done something about it, rather I was aware it throughout my Christian walk, that I wanted to be "All In" for God, but I knew at times I wasn't.
Our church uses this phrase "All In" a lot. It's apart of our language, and it's ingrained in everything we strive for in ministry. I feel like some take it more serious than others, but again this is about my walk and not others. I didn't always take it seriously, and I am a pastor.
The ironic thing about the change in my life actually came out of conflict, and yet conflict is what often kept me from being "All In" for God. I've been in ministry long enough to know that church conflict is bound to happen because we are all sinners in need of grace. And the patterns of my walk with God were being determined on how well things were going in my life.
Now, with the new position and knowing I was going to experience new challenges I did not want my faith to waiver because I was serving in a new role with new challenges. I decided that I needed to grow in leadership, many of my friends and mentors have gone through a leadership program called Arrow Leadership (shout out to www.arrowleadership.org) and I enrolled in the Class of 47. This has been a huge factor in growth in my leadership, ministry, family, and most importantly walk with God. (Also, huge shout out to Atlantic Community Church for making it possible for me to do this program).
The first major issue I wrestled with at Arrow came down to my calling. I had been struggling with being called into Lead Pastor because I was tempted to think it was more out of convenience than calling, that I was in the right place at the right time. It's been just over a year in this position, and I am convinced that it was God's leading, and not just convenience. My Arrow Leadership partner, Tom Cullen (lead pastor of a church in Scarborough, Ontario), helped me to understand why I felt this way. How many people doubt their calling or purpose because of insecurities? Too many, perhaps you even now are wondering or even struggling to know? I want to suggest a few things that have helped me to become the man I should have been years ago.
Growing up I hated to read. I thought it was a waste of time compared to playing with friends or doing basically anything else. I saw it as a chore rather than developing myself. Of course, schooling required a certain amount of reading and I managed to do enough at times to get by. It wasn't until after schooling that I read for myself, and even then it was sporadic at times. While going through arrow reading requirements, it has sparked a consistent desire to read more, to grow in knowledge. One book in particular that helped me to understand the benefit of reading, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I wanted to be more effective in all areas of my life, and I knew that I had to stop watching so much Netflix or YouTube and do more reading in my spare time.
One trick that I learned on how to be more effective in reading was to listen to the audiobook, while also following along in my paperback copy. This was a game changer! Now I could stay more focused on the book, and my mind wouldn't wonder. Perhaps you're like me, something distracts you, and you take your eyes off the page, but when you come back, you realized that you're not sure where you left off, and if you did know, or maybe you're not sure what the author was really talking about. So, you re-read the paragraph or page. You do this over and over again, you start to get frustrated and eventually, you just give up on the book.
Listening to the audiobook while reading has made me a better reader because I enjoy reading more. It has also helped me be a better listener too. I will often speed up the audiobook to 1.5x or even 2.0x the speed of the reader. At first, this seems like they are going too fast for you to follow along, but the brain will adjust, and soon the speech seems normal. Training to the brain to listen to fast speech is making me a sharper listener.
Audiobook Game Changer
I had been using Audible for a platform for audiobooks. You pay around $15 a month, and they give you a free credit to be used with any audiobook. That was good I thought because I had not really read more than a book a month prior to that point.
David Lee (lead pastor in Hoffman Estates, Illinois), another Arrow Leadership partner, suggested an App called Scribd. It's basically Netflix for books, and instead of one free credit that Audible gave, I now have unlimited access to all the same books. Not just audiobooks, but ebooks, magazines, news articles, and even... sheet music? (guess I'm going to have to learn the piano). All of this is available for the same cost as Audible.
That week after David suggested the app, I managed to go through 3 books, and that week was one of the busiest weeks I have ever had, but I just wanted to read more and grow as fast as I could.
I assume if you are still reading this that you don't mind reading, and in fact, you may just enjoy reading. YOU NEED TO GET SCRIBD!! (www.scribd.com) They give you a 30 free trial to begin! I still listen and read the book at the same time. I'm able to have the text on my computer, and the audio goes through another window open on the computer or on my phone. (TIP: If you sign up but do not subscribe to Scribd, they will email you the next day and offer you 60 days free... or at least they did for me and a few others I know).
Reading the Bible
I was crushing books one after another, and still do; however, I noticed that I was reading more books about the Bible than I was reading the Bible, and this wasn't settling well with me. I was reading Mark Batterson's book "If," and he writes:
"In the presence of the Levitical priests, the kings of Israel were required to make a copy of the law in their own handwriting. They were required to keep it on their person at all times. And they were required to read it every single day. My advice? Act like a king!"
He goes on to say about the word "keep" in this passage is multifaceted. He continues to write:
The word keep means keepsake, as in treasured possession.
It means to guard something, as if your life depended on it.
It means to keep track of, like a courtroom stenographer.
It means to watch over, like an air traffic controller.
It means to keep watch, like a night watchman.
It means to preserve, like a taxidermist.
It means to examine, like a forensic scientist.
It means to cross-examine, like a prosecuting attorney.
It means to put in a vault, like a banker.
It means to put a contract on something, like a real estate agent.
It means to decipher secrets, like World War II code talkers.
It was at this moment that I was convinced that I need to change the way I do my personal reading of the Bible, different than my reading for sermons, but just for myself. I would write out the Bible. It doesn't matter how long it takes, I'm going to write it out in my own hand, and I am going to cherish it. As well, perhaps my children would cherish it too, and therefore I'm committing myself to write out the Bible at least three times, one for each of my children. We are expecting our third in a month, and I assume I will add more copies depending on how many children we have.
I LOVE WRITING OUT THE BIBLE! It has slowed down my process of taking God's word in. I'm mindful of every word and letter. While reading, we can skim over familiar passages, or names hard to pronounce. While writing, I have been more mindful of what I'm reading, and it's making a huge difference in my understanding of God's word.
One Discipline leads to another.
Let me finish up this lengthy blog with the current discipline I've been facing. Through my readings (again... reading books have helped me to grow) I've been challenged to fast. I've never fasted in my life, other than the 30 Hour Famine, but those don't count because youth groups throw pizza parties afterward, or do extravagant things to distract youth while not eating. Oh, and you can drink all the apple juice you want too. (Sorry for the rant, I just think it's not the best way to show kids about fasting or awareness for those in third-world countries).
I've never fasted with just water, and I felt that God was calling me to fast. I was again reading another book by Mark Batterson called "All In" and he was sharing, "If you aren't hungry for God, you are full of yourself." I knew I was hungry for God, but also knew that there were things I need to wrestle with God, and he was calling me to fast, but for how long.
I knew God was calling me to fast, and to fast for what seemed at the time to be a radical amount of time, more specifically to fast for 7 days. This would be 7 days of just water and no food, soups or juices. I spoke with one of our elders at the church who is a doctor, Stephen Allaby. And he encouraged I should be fine, but I should take a supplement of potassium.
It has now been 6 days of my fast, and I'm coming to the end of my week. I would write about it here, but I'll save that for another blog. I just want to say this, I'm becoming the man I should have been long ago because I've decided to be more intentional and more disciplined in my walk with God, my marriage to Ashley, my parenting to my kids, my leadership in the church, and every area of my life.
I hope this has inspired you to maybe try one or all of these disciplines in your own life. Rarely do great things happen in our life that develops us by chance, but rather the moments we are intentional about growth do we see our lives changed.