Checkout my good buddy’s web. Dave Jacobs recently interviewed me on my 10-week sabbatical.The article appears on his blog. Check out Dave’s writings, click the link below.
One of the key objectives I have as I come back from sabbatical is to allow God to re-invent my church and me now that I’ve chosen to not get back on the treadmill of Church, Inc. (a delightful term coined by author and former PK-staff colleague, E. Glenn Wagner). My summer of reading books like Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoir and The Contemplative Pastor has stirred me to become a different pastor than I’ve been over the last 13 years of church planting. No longer do I want to be the driving rancher/CEO who gives priority to the 3-B Syndrome.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that term by now. If not, let me just briefly explain that the 3-B Syndrome is the primary measuring stick the Americanized church uses in determining worth or value of a church or a pastor. If the 3-B’s; 1) BUILDING size, 2) BUCKS in the coffers; and 3) BUTTS in the seats; are going well and growing, the church and its’ leaders are a success. If any of these three arenas begin to slip, or God-forbid, all three take a nose dive, its’ curtains for the pastor in the ‘success’ department. Let’s face it folks, in our ‘bigger is better’, ‘let’s super-size that’ society, the church under 200 is seen as a little church that just hasn’t arrived. A nice work in process, but not worthy of our consideration when it comes to being truly ‘successful’.
Recently I talked with a pastor friend who was attending a regional denominational conference. I’ll call him Bill to protect the innocent! The leader of the conference (a very good man who happens to pastor a very large, successful church in the area) closed the meetings by asking all the pastors in the room to dream with him. He asked, “What dream do you have for your church?” After a few moments of prayer and reflection, the leader encouraged each pastor to huddle up with at least one other pastor in the room before leaving, asking them to join together, one-on-one, to hear each others’ dreams for their churches and then pray for one another before hitting the door.
Bill, my pastor friend, who has struggled over the years with the typical ups-and-downs of shepherding a smaller church, found the suggestion of dreaming a bit intimidating at first. To be honest, for most of us, it’s hard to dream with God after years of battling against the ugly 3-B Syndrome. But pray he did.
By the time Bill looked up to find a fellow-pastor, everyone was already paired up. The only guy available was the leader of the conference. Our friend felt a bit sheepish stepping up to this pastor, knowing that his church is a multi-site, several-thousand-member church. Bill’s church has struggled to break the 200 barrier over the years and at the time of this meeting; his church attendance was running less than 100.
Bill took a deep gulp and stepped up to the successful pastor. “My dream,” Bill said, “is to make my church into a training center, raising up leaders for the cause of Christ.” Without any hesitation, the leader of the conference smiled, and knowing my friend’s church very well, he said, “Bill, that’s a great dream. But let’s get your church over the 200 barrier first and then we can talk training center.”
Bill walked away from that conference frustrated. When I heard his story, I was mad. Really mad. Maybe this story affects you that way as well.
So, as I see it, it’s time to redefine ‘success’ in the Americanized church. My goal in the months ahead is to draw you and others into a growing network of pastors and others who believe that any church under 200 can actually accomplish a great deal for God. Tomorrow, I start a new blog series: THE SMALL CHURCH THAT WORKS (TSCTW). Maybe I’m goofy, but I’m starting to believe that small can be big. Especially when God gets involved and leads the way! Care to join the TSCTW parade?
People have asked me now that I’m back from our 10-week sabbatical, how it feels to get back in the saddle. To be truthful, the saddle feels a bit uncomfortable at times. If you’ve been reading this blog series you know that Sandy & I have made a promise to one another, and to God, that I’m not coming back from sabbatical only to strap on the 3-B Syndrome time-bomb. That’s the one that conveniently fits in my old saddle. It’s the measuring stick of ‘success’ for most American pastors. It’s the calculator from hell that keeps a pastor focused on growing 1) BUILDING size, 2) BUCKS in the offering plates, and 3) the number of BUTTS in the seats on Sunday morning. Do well with the 3-B’s and as a pastor, you’re a success. Do poorly in these three arenas and you’re a failure and so is your church.
In the past, I’d normally come back from a short break or summer vacation and get right to work on the 3-B’s. Building up our church’s expanding ministries, growing the fall programming of our church so that we’d all have a church community in Cedar Rapids Jesus would be proud of. Now while that sounds nice, the underlying truth is that Marty Boller has been driven much of his life in ministry by this ugly 3-B Syndrome. And if there is one thing I’m determined to change as I come back to Cedar Rapids, it’s the fact that I want nothing to do with the 3-B’s, nor trying to be a ‘back in the saddle’ rancher/CEO to my church. After ten weeks away from the evils of the 3-B monster, my heart says that Marty must fight to become the ‘unbusy contemplative pastor/shepherd who loves the people more than he does growing his church’.
Of course, in reality, that sounds great on paper. But after a few weeks of returning to pastoral ministry, there it is, right in front of me. The problems that stand in our way. Let’s see. Let me list a few of them for you:
1) Not enough money to make budget. Poor economy hitting people hard.
2) Deteriorating building & facility issues to address. But #1 makes that next to impossible.
3) An alarming drop in numbers of volunteers in children’s ministry. Our faithful & loyal kid’s ministry volunteer leader is tired, weary and near burn out.
4) Understaffed. Need a full-time associate pastor. But #1 makes that next to impossible.
5) It’s fall programming time, so I must come up with a mid-week small-group program this fall that will attract people toward discipleship.
6) Sunday attendance is sluggish, so gear up all of our leaders to do more for Jesus. Come up with some great teaching ideas to draw the people in.
7) Well meaning folks tell me how wonderful it is at the big church across town that just opened their new 20 million dollar facility. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a big building like that?
Let’s see. I think that brings you up-to-date on the first three weeks after returning from sabbatical. If you note, the 3-B Syndrome is dripping off each bullet point, yelling at me to not just stand there but also hurry up and do something. So much for being ‘back in the saddle’!
Henry Blackaby, author of the powerful book Experiencing God, talks about this ‘hurry up and do something’ attitude that drives so many Christian leaders. Blackaby believes that when our backs are against the wall, it’s this crisis of belief that tells us what we truly believe about our God. It’s in these moments of panic, when problems surround us, that our flesh cries out “Don’t just stand there, do something”. But Blackaby believes this ‘crisis of belief’, when we’re tempted to take matters into our own hands, is the very same moment our wonder-working God looks at our overwhelming situations and whispers to us, “Don’t just do something, son, just stand there!”
And now that’s the choice I have as I re-enter the real world of pastoral ministry. Will I panic at the problems that need solving? Will I put on my 3-B Syndrome gloves and get my hands on the problems, trying my best to solve each issue so that our church can not only survive but also thrive? While everything in me yells to solve the problems, I hear that quiet whisper from God:
“Trust me this time, son. This is my church, not yours. Allow me to do what only I can do to make this church into the small church that works. Listen carefully to me. Don’t panic. Remember who you are and what I’ve asked you to do. Remember as well who you aren’t and what I’ve not asked you to do.”
Thanks God, I needed that reminder. Quite possibly some others out there need that reminder today as well.
If you’ve been reading along with me on this journey through our ten-week sabbatical, you’ll recall that my very first day in Florida (see session 4) began with the burning question, “Lord, who am I?” After three very difficult years in pastoral ministry, wrestling with the evils of the 3-B Syndrome, I went off into this sabbatical truly wondering if these church battles had not wounded me beyond repair.
The 3-B Syndrome, which determines a church’s (and the pastor’s) success or failure by measuring 1) the size of the building; 2) the amount of bucks in the coffers; and 3) the number of butts in the seats, doesn’t play fair. As an evil taskmaster, it is never truly satisfied with your best efforts. If you and your church grow, it gives you a fleeting moment to taste that success, but within seconds, it’s demanding that you get back to work immediately, tackling the next God-project at hand. If you and your church falter in any of the 3-B’s, then watch out. You will be horse-whipped and any sense of worth or value associated with being a good shepherd of God’s people will be ripped away. As I see it, over time, the 3-B Syndrome is actually a very demonic-driven agent that can destroy lives, ruin families, and tear churches apart at the seams.
Eventually, a pastor, under the long-term influence of the 3-B Syndrome will lose track completely of who he or she is and why they got into this God-business in the first place. The ‘who am I’ and ‘why am I here’ questions begin to haunt you. And once the 3-B Syndrome has a pastor second-guessing those basic questions, the battle is nearly over.
But wait. There’s hope. Just when it seems like it can’t get any darker, the Son shows up.
And there He is. Standing by your side. Jesus of Nazareth. And now, instead of Satan interrogating you with these basic questions of ‘who are you’ and ‘why are you here’, it’s now the gentle voice of the Spirit, whispering these questions into your ear because He truly wants us to recall our first love and our initial call into Jesus’ ministry. It’s amazing how these two questions can take on a completely different meaning when you’re discussing them with Jesus instead of Satan.
So on Day 12 of our Florida trip, the voice changes.
Instead of the 3-B Syndrome demanding an answer to the question, ‘who are you’, now I hear the whisper of the Spirit, asking me to recall who He has said I have been all along.
If you’ve read any of my blogs over the years, you know that there has been one man (other, of course, than Jesus) who has influenced my life in ways beyond counting. While I had only three or four personal encounters with the man, his life and ministry impacted me at nearly every level of life. His name was John Wimber.
And while I was a bible-believing, born-again, Spirit-indwelled Christian prior to meeting John in 1985, my life with Jesus radically changed once I began hanging around John and his powerful teachings on the Kingdom way of life.
I have two stories I tell folks about when I talk about my encounters with John. First, in June 1986, John made his first trip to Evanston, IL. He came to visit our church for a long weekend and I was fortunate enough to be with a group of church leaders who played golf with John on Friday afternoon. I drove John and a few others to the course and after our 18-holes, John leaned over to me and joked, “Marty, in all my years of golfing, I’ve never seen a golfer who uses three fairways with every hole he plays!” Thank goodness John had such a great sense of humor, because I think that was his fun way of telling me my golfing stinks!
Another encounter I will always remember happened at the conclusion of the Vineyard pastor’s conference in Anaheim 1988. Sandy & I were planting our little Vineyard church in Iowa City at the time and at the very end of the last evening session, John closed the meetings by praying, hands-on, with every senior pastor and their spouse who wanted it. As I recall, there were hundreds of pastors who took John up on that offer and I’m guessing John took three or four hours, working late into the evening, coming around to each couple, praying personal prayers of blessing on each one.
That evening, standing there with John Wimber, the Holy Spirit spoke prayers of blessing over me that make me cry even to this very day.
So whenever God asks me to recall who He has made me to be and why I am here, I always go back to July, 1988 and our time of prayer with John Wimber.
John, you see, had a great way of keeping his life and ministry simple. He knew, first hand, how the trials and joys of pastoral ministry could go to your head. He knew that keeping your head screwed on tight was very important if you wanted to step into Jesus’ Kingdom ministry. So in an effort to keep things simple about himself, John used to refer to himself as ‘just a fat man from Missouri trying to get to heaven’.
As I sat there in Florida in my beach lounger on Day 12, I got it. Since I’m one of John’s guys at the very core, I guess the best way to describe myself is this:
I’m just a fat man from Iowa trying my very best to practice the Kingdom presence of God.
Wow! I like it. I think I can hold onto that. No shame. No hype. Just a simple statement that reminds me who I am and why I’m here. I believe, now, when I go back from my sabbatical and begin to go head to head with the evil 3-B Syndrome, I can win the battle by simply remembering who John Wimber was in Christ and who I am because of those powerful encounters with Jesus as I hung around John for all those years. I can focus on this one thing. This one goal. This one aspect of the Kingdom life that says it all. Thanks, John. I really needed that.
Sandy and I found ourselves during our sabbatical (June 2011) experiencing a lot of joy we hadn’t experienced in a good long while. We laughed. We played. We generally enjoyed not going to church for ten weeks in a row!
As most pastors can readily testify, pastoral ministry can be a real ‘joy-sucker’ at times. That’s a term coined by H.B. London, a long-time pastor who worked alongside James Dobson and Focus on the Family for years. Now don’t get me wrong. Working for Jesus is the best gig a person can get on this side of heaven. But like all jobs, the day-to-day grind in pastoral ministry can cause even the most devout pastor/shepherd to wear thin on the edges. And while some think that the Americanized church, with it’s insatiable obsession with the ‘bigger is always better’ mindset is the reason so many pastors are dropping like flies, the truth is that pastoral ministry, shepherding God’s people in the ways of God, has always been a trying profession. Just ask Moses, who got so angry at the stubbornness of God’s people one day he smashed his anointed walking stick onto the hard rocks of the Israeli wilderness. Or think about Jesus, who after three years of Kingdom ministry; healing the sick, raising the dead and saving the world; only had 120 men, women and children in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost. Apparently Jesus had some real difficulty breaking the 200-barrier as well!
And so it goes in the day-to-day life of the typical pastor of a smaller church in America. It’s a lonely job, but someone’s got to do it. But unfortunately, after time, with the pressures all around us to grow our churches or die, we pastors of smaller churches start to do some desperate things. Like Moses, we begin to grow so frustrated with our current lot in life; we begin to look outside the Lord’s presence for answers to our church growth problems. And as they say, desperate people do desperate things.
For Sandy & me, in 2007, we were right at the beginnings of our church growth desperation. We had grown our church plant in Cedar Rapids from 5 couples to over 350 in nine years. And while some pastors would look at that statistic and say, ‘nice job, Boller’, I was still looking for more. Keep in mind that no pastor that I know intentionally wants ‘more’ for bad reasons. In our heart of hearts, we want God’s amazing grace that we’ve experienced to touch more and more people in our cities. We want growth so that Jesus may be exalted in our communities. I truly believe that the intentions of ninety-nine percent of pastors in America who want their churches to grow want it for all the right reasons.
But despite the right reasons, there is a drive in most pastors of smaller and mid-sized churches to do our jobs better. This drive often embraces the ticking time bomb I like to call the 3-B Syndrome. It’s an ugly monster that drives pastors and church leaders in the westernized, Americanized church. It’s a measuring stick of success, used in determining if our church is doing well or not. The 3-B’s are simply this. 1) The size of our BUILDINGS; 2) the amount of BUCKS in the coffers; and 3) the number of BUTTS in the seats. Do well in these three arenas and you, my friend, are doing well at your pastoral ministry position. Do really well at it, and you’ll be recognized and promoted in your denominational circles. Do super well at it and you’ll be invited to speak at conferences and even write a ‘how to” book or two, helping the little people in pastoral ministry find success in their churches, like you have.
Do I sound a bit cynical? Sorry. I do that at times. This joy-sucker called the 3-B Syndrome has stolen so much of my joy in pastoral ministry over the last 30 years of ministry; I’m beginning to hate it like a curse.
So during our 10-week sabbatical, Sandy & I decided to not pack the 3-B Syndrome in our suitcases. We left it at home alone so maybe it might die of starvation. How cruel. But how appropriate!
So as we’re splashing in the pool at LHC (Lighthouse Cove) this summer, we’re remembering back to 2007. Our church was 350 people strong at the time and we were on our way to becoming a church that matters. Since we’ve never led a church of 350 before, Sandy & I were feeling over-taxed. We’d built the church from 5 couples to over 350 attenders in less than nine years, and we did it on a shoestring budget. Sandy & I were the only full-time pastors and we had only one other staff person, a ‘full-time-being-paid-at-half-time-rates’ admin assistant. This loyal worker and a handful of great volunteers had built this church into one we were all proud of. In fall 2007, we’d just added our first full-time associate pastor and now Sandy & I were finally freed up enough to go conference hopping.
Unfortunately, instead of taking a deep breath and enjoying the fruit of our labors, I decide that Sandy & I need to go to the ‘The Church That Works’ conference held annually at one of the biggest churches in our denomination. It’s a week-long gathering where all the biggest and best church-growth strategies are discussed. Sandy & I attended workshops on building bigger buildings, increasing the bucks in the offering plates, and ah yes, a session or two on how to attract more butts into the seats. Hmmm. Sounds like a 3-B Syndrome conference, doesn’t it?
Now please. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not here to criticize those who hold such conferences, nor am I downplaying the powerful ministries the church that hosts this conference does in their city. It’s an amazing story of God’s expanding Kingdom ministry that has taken a smaller church in the Midwest and made it into a mega-church that works.
So now, fast forward four years later. Summer 2011. Pompano Beach, Florida. Two old fart pastors, husband & wife of 36 years are laughing about how our attendance at the 2007 ‘The Church That Works’ conference pumped more 3-B Syndrome steroids into us than we’d ever experienced before. We came home in 2007, pushed the 3-B buttons and bang. The church that was having a hard time working at 350 people was now being told that we needed to become a church of 500. And as most pastors of churches know, efforts to ‘change’ people or move them beyond their comfort zones don’t go without kickback. Big kickback. So much kickback, we started a revolution in kickback. One that took out over 1/3 of our church over the next 3 years.
But as sad as that sounds, during our sabbatical, Sandy & I are starting to laugh about our 2007 experiences. The 3-B Syndrome had won. But now that we were wising up, we laughed. “Let’s hold another ‘Church That Works’ conference,” I joked with Sandy. “Let’s do it in Cedar Rapids and let’s call it, ‘The Small Church That Works’.” Then Sandy added, “And let’s advertise it in such a way that no pastor with a church over 200 can attend! No speakers from big churches. No church-growth experts. Just a conference for pastors of smaller churches, encouraging us to address the evils of the 3-B Syndrome!” “Yeah,” I laughed, “and let’s focus on pastors returning to our first-love and becoming the ‘unbusy pastor’ Eugene Peterson writes about. Ones that focus on becoming good shepherds again. Not commercialized leaders of Church, Inc. Just simple shepherding pastors enjoying life and ministry, for His Names’ sake.”
As we laughed in the Florida sun, who knew such an idea was anything other than a great joke. I guess time will tell, huh?
It’s amazing what a 10-week sabbatical can do. It’s equally amazing what God can do when He gathers like-minded brothers and sisters together to dream with Him. On the magic front porch of Dave & Ellen Jacobs home in late July, Sandy & I began to dream once again.
And to be quite honest, these ‘magic-porch’ dreams resulted in one big God-assignment!
“Build a whole new world,” God says. A universe where small can be big. A place where pastors across North America can be encouraged to escape from the evil taskmaster, the 3-B Syndrome. A world where ‘success’ for the church is being redefined. No longer will we calculate a church’s worth or a pastor’s abilities by adding up the numbers. In Church, Inc. (E. Glenn Wagner’s term for the current Americanized, commercialized church) we measure ‘success’ by starting with the square footage of our church facility (BUILDINGS), add in the number of dollars in the offering plates each week (BUCKS), and then top off the numbers-tank by counting the number of people occupying seats on Sunday morning (BUTTS). Every pastor knows that if these three numbers aren’t increasing month-by-month and year-by-year, than most certainly, we are failing at our jobs as rancher/CEO of our churches.
Just imagine. In a universe where biblically based Kingdom principles are the plumb line for success, pastors can gauge their ministry’s effectiveness by looking at a different set of measurements. In a world where small can be big, a pastor can embrace Kingdom growth that comes when he or she returns to their God-calling to be a shepherd of God’s people, not a CEO or a rancher. In a universe where bigger is not always better, a church community with under 200 people in attendance can actually become a working model of the small church that works! Amazing, huh?
In this upside-down universe where small can be big, a community of Kingdom people can gather with the intent of practicing the Kingdom presence of God, not running Americanized church programming geared to attract a big crowd. In this universe, a pastor and his or her ministry team can sit down with Jesus, charting out a Kingdom-directed growth plan that strategically utilizes the advantages of smaller church communities versus adapting someone else’s plans to grow your church into your city’s next mega-church.
Just think of it. Small gatherings of men, women, youth and children across North America who love Jesus with their whole hearts and who believe that God has more to say to them right now than the ‘bigger is better’ voices so prominent in church life today.
A pipe dream, you say?
I think not.
On the magic porch of Dave & Ellen Jacobs, we began to see that universe. It was touchable. It was real. It was attainable.
For two pastors from Iowa, weary & heavy-laden from many years of laboring under the heavy hand of the 3-B Syndrome, Sandy & I saw, first hand, how pastors can be encouraged to “step out of the traffic, and take a long-loving look at our High God”. (see Psalm 46: 10 in The Message). On the magic porch in Rogue River, Oregon, Sandy & I sat with Dave & Ellen Jacobs and dreamed with Jesus of a universe that lies just on the other side of busy. A valley. A lush meadow, just off the noisy interstate highway of worldly success, where the words ‘unbusy contemplative’ or ‘shepherd of God’s people’ become the best working definitions of a successful pastor.
Want to join us? The construction of this universe is just beginning. Come help bring this dream of a different world, where small can be big, into reality for pastors and churches across North America. More on that in future blogs.
It’s early Saturday morning. July 23rd, 2011. It’s a beautiful morning. Our first-floor guest bedroom has a sliding door right onto Dave & Ellen’s magic porch. Now some Christians don’t like the word ‘magic’ because it conjures up pictures of evil wizards, goblins and Harry Potter. I suppose the word ‘magic’ might do that for some, but for me, I guess the word ‘magic’ simply refers to something ‘out of this world’ or ‘beyond normal’.
To re-assure those who might think I found a few wizards, goblins or Harry Potter characters on the Jacob’s front & side porch, please know that none of that was there on this humble abode in Rogue River, Oregon. But from where I sat, in the comfortable rocking chair on Dave & Ellen’s side porch, gazing over the countryside, this early morning talk with God was nothing short of ‘magic’.
I began my morning devotionals that Saturday morning by thanking Jesus for this trip to Rogue River. I pondered what God wanted to accomplish through it as I prepared myself for the day. And while I had clearly written down what I wanted to talk to Dave about on this trip, I found myself a bit hesitant to step into the subject. Now that I was finally here, sitting on Dave’s front porch, the ideas seemed much less certain in my mind. Back in Florida, 3,000 miles and one and a half months away, it was so clear and pronounced.
“Marty, it’s not good for you and Sandy to be alone. Go visit Dave & Ellen Jacobs and ask them if they’d be willing to partner up with you on this next step in ministry I have for you.”
Yikes. It sounded so clear back in Pompano Beach, Florida in June. But now, here on July 23rd, sitting on Dave & Ellen’s front porch, it sounds pretty strange, and just a bit presumptuous, to think that I should go to Rogue River, Oregon with that kind of agenda.
But the more I sit there on Dave & Ellen’s magic porch, the more I feel the same peace of the Holy Spirit that rested on me in Florida. And then I remembered Dave’s comment the night before as we all sat on this very same front porch.
“What if there were a universe where everything is upside-down and inside-out? A place where small is big and big is small? A universe where small churches were important churches and, more importantly, where the pastor/shepherd of the small church was the hero of the story?”
As I reflected with God this Saturday morning, relaxing on Dave & Ellen’s front porch, I knew in my heart that when Dave asked this rhetorical question the night before, this was the Holy Spirit’s confirmation to me that we are both looking for the same thing. An upside-down universe. A place where the church of Jesus Christ is not modeled after American business models, but more on biblically-based patterns found in the scriptures. A place where pastors of churches return to their primary calling from Jesus to serve God’s people as simple shepherds, not geared-up ranchers and driving CEO’s. An upside-down place where success in ministry has been redefined for pastors. A world where the distorted 3-B Syndrome (measuring a pastor’s worth by looking at building size, bucks in the bank, and butts in the seats) is greatly reduced, replaced by Kingdom principles that Jesus gave His followers for achieving ‘successful’ Kingdom ministry.
As I sat on Dave & Ellen’s magic porch this Saturday morning, reflecting about this upside-down universe where small can be big, I heard in my mind’s ear, the Ray Kinsella-Field of Dreams whisper once again.
“Marty, you and Dave build that universe and they will come.”
Yikes, God. I thought only You can build universes. I thought only You had the ability to make such drastic changes in the landscape of church life in North America? I’m just a fat man from Iowa, doing my very best to practice the Kingdom presence of God. Dave is content in life to be a pastoral coach and contemplative man in Rogue River, Oregon. What do you mean, build it and they will come?
And then the Lord began laying out for me on that beautiful Saturday morning in Rogue River, Oregon, the railroad tracks we need to follow in order to bring this universe into existence. And as President John F. Kennedy said in his famous inaugural address to our nation in 1961, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That morning on Dave & Ellen’s magic porch, I think I got the first step. Get up and go talk to Dave. Tell him if we build that universe, with God’s help, they (the pastors of small churches across America) will come.
Gulp. Here we go. Step one.
So here we are at Dave & Ellen Jacobs home. A beautiful home tucked up against the Oregon hills. Now back home in Iowa, I’d call these Oregon hills moderate-sized mountains, but apparently in Oregon, they are just hills.
So as you can see from this photo (above) Dave & Ellen’s home is a very nice two-story home. When Dave stepped away from pastoral ministry in California about five years ago, they sold everything, loaded up the truck, and moved north. Just about 50 miles north of the California border is the Rogue River Valley. And this restored farmhouse on Lost Lane in Rogue River stood out to them as just the place to snuggle up next to the mountains (excuse me…hills) and set up shop as a pastoral coach to burned-out, tired & weary pastors of smaller churches.
After a few cordial ‘how-do-you-do’s’, Sandy & I are getting the grand tour of this beautiful home. The living room is full of family pictures. Dave & Ellen have five kids, all grown and out on their own. Like the Bollers, with four kids, all grown and out on their own, you tend to have a lot of memorable family pictures that you hang on the walls of your home. That way, you can step up to a picture anytime you want and remember a nice memory by simply gazing at some of your favorite family shots. As you get older, that trip down memory lane never gets dull. So it is with the walls of Dave & Ellen’s home. Lots of pictures. Lots of great family memories.
Upstairs, we enter the ‘official’ pastoral coach’s office. This is the room where all the magic happens. It’s the office where Dave sits (or usually stands and paces) as he so wisely coaches dozens and dozens of pastors across the country. I’ve often imagined this room as he describes it to me when I’m on the phone, but now, I get to see Captain Kirk’s command center first hand. I scan the room for any items of interest we have discussed in the past.
I find the picture of Dave and Mother Theresa. This is one of Dave’s favorites, taken when he and Ellen took a ministry team to India a number of years back. When given an opportunity to spend a few moments with Mother Theresa and the Sisters of the Poor, Dave jumped on it. This picture is one of those shots that bring back great memories for Dave and Ellen. The kind I mentioned earlier.
The tour ends with a walk-through the wonderful apartment unit attached to the rear portion of their home. While we are honored to stay in their first-floor guest room, this apartment unit is big enough to house a small family. It’s unfinished as of now, but has served well in the past for family members to stay there as needed. One of Dave’s kids and spouse lived there recently for a season before moving on to their permanent home. But now, the unit stands empty. Dave & Ellen tells us how they’ve dreamed over the years that this could become a quiet retreat place for pastors. As I’m walking through the two-floor apartment, memories stir of our recent one-week get-away at Come Rest Cottage in Edgewood, Iowa (see session 21). This apartment could certainly fit the bill.
With our arrival being around 5:30 PM, Ellen has dinner almost ready. We sit down in the cozy dining area just off the kitchen and suddenly Sandy & I feel like we’re home. All the nerves about meeting new people and wondering if this idea of staying here for a few days melt quickly away once we are in the home of these two wonderful people from Rogue River, Oregon.
After a delightful dinner, we adjourn to the front porch. Actually the front porch is also the side porch since it runs along two sides of the Jacob’s home. As you’ll see in some of the pictures I’ll be posting in the next few days, this porch overlooks the beautiful meadow that surrounds the Jacobs’ home. Lost Lane is just far enough outside of Rogue River that you feel like you are out in the country, miles from the hustle and bustle of city life. I’m not sure how long we sat out on the front porch that first evening. I know we didn’t go too late, since Sandy & I were pretty tired from our travels over the last three days. On Wednesday, we had driven from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Chicago (250 miles). On Thursday we flew from O’Hare to Seattle (a four-plus hour flight), rented a car, and drove to Portland (170 miles). On Friday, we drove from Portland to Rogue River (250 miles), so after three full days of travel, it was nice to sit still for a few hours, relaxing on the front porch of Jacob’s home. The sun was fading quickly and so were the Bollers.
But before we retire for the evening, the subject of why we came to Rogue River came up. And while we didn’t unload the full subject on Friday evening, we did engage in a wonderful conversation that began, what I believe, will be the pursuit of a lifetime. Let me simply end this session with the words I wrote in my journal:
Wow. Here I am. Actually sitting on the porch of Dave & Ellen Jacobs’ home. 3,000 miles away from the LHC (Lighthouse Cove in Pompano Beach, FL), yet still in the middle of the ‘word’ God released to me in June. So much has occurred since those first two weeks in Florida, but it’s becoming clearer now what God is asking of us. Dave said tonight, “What if there were a universe where everything is upside-down and inside-out? A place where small is big and big is small? A universe where small churches were important churches and, more importantly, where the pastor/shepherd of the small church was the hero of the story?” Ellen chimed in, “That would be the Kingdom, Dave!”
Suddenly, this fat pastor and his wife from Iowa who are simply doing their best to practice the Kingdom presence of God found themselves right at home. Two tired, worn-out Iowa pastors sitting on the magic front porch of two ‘retired-California pastors-now-turned-pastoral coaches to smaller churches’ in Rogue River, Oregon.
Both couples looking for a universe we hope really does exist. A pursuit, I believe, made in heaven.
Driving into Rogue River, Oregon is quite the experience. We have many small towns back home in Iowa; many of which are much smaller than Rogue River. So while the size of this little community in southwest Oregon didn’t surprise us, as we rolled off I-5, the natural beauty of the area certainly did.
Named for the famous river running directly through this fine community, Rogue River is a quaint little town, known world-wide, for its’ annual National Rooster Crowing Festival held in late June. Since we arrived in late July, all the roosters, apparently, had gone home, leaving us with only about 2,000 fine residents of Rogue River. Two of which were standing on their front porch, waving at us as we drove up the lane.
Now the name of this lane is Lost Lane, but since we had great directions from Ellen Jacobs, one of the two people standing on the front porch waving at us, the lane ended up being neither lost nor was it a lane. Back home in Iowa, a lane is country road that winds its’ way to an old country farmhouse. A lane is lined with corn and soybean fields, and a good number of pigs and cows. Those farm animals always make an Iowa lane smell like cow and pig manure, a stench most Americans find disgusting, but Iowa farmers call black gold. This lane in Oregon had none of those sites or smells.
This lane is more of what we Iowans would call an in-town gravel road. The instructions were very clear, however. Once you find Lost Lane, don’t go over 15 miles per hour, lest the neighbors living alongside Lost Lane get irritated at the stirred-up dust. I think I must have been going over 25, because the one neighbor with the stash of old cars sitting in his front yard looked kinda mad at me as I passed by. Sandy & I paid little attention to this guy, because we were focusing exclusively on the two residents of Rogue River, standing on their front porch, waving at us. They were both smiling as they waved, which helped a lot with our nerves.
If you read my last blog, you know that this trip to Rogue River was set up as a last-minute excursion. Our hosts, Dave & Ellen Jacobs, were the gracious recipients of this sabbatical visit from strangers from Iowa. As we found out later, this 5-day-4-night invasion of two Vineyard pastors from out east was just about as outside of the Jacobs’ ‘comfort zone’ box as it was for us!
But, like in Iowa, a friendly wave from the front porch always breaks the ice, so as we drive up to the Jacobs home, Sandy & I breathe a sigh of relief. “At least they’re smiling,” I said to Sandy as we get near the front circle drive. “Let’s give ‘em the flowers before we pull out the luggage,” Sandy continued. In the back of my mind, I’m still thinking I should have bought that bottle of wine back in Eugene, but Sandy thought that might be a bit much. “You know pastors,” Sandy said, “wine might not be something they appreciate.” But now, as we drive up Lost Lane, that discussion is long behind us, so it’s flowers that we hope will help this couple from Oregon like this couple from Iowa.
Strangely enough the Jacobs house on Lost Lane looks a lot like an updated Iowa country farmhouse with a big front porch running on two sides of the home. This big front porch, with its’ rocking chairs and country decorations, will end up becoming one of the key pieces of our sabbatical story, so I’ll wait on that till next time. So we get out of our rental car, wave and smile like all Iowans know how to do, and up the steps we go. Whoops, the flowers. Get the flowers, Sandy. This is it.