Six months ago, to the day, I began a new ministry position at Journey the Way and moved from the beautiful Sonoma Coast to the middle of the United States, otherwise known as Wichita, KS. In some ways the last six months have flown by. In many ways however it seems like I’ve been here for a while now. I suppose both are good. As I reflect back on the last six months here there are a few things that stand out to me.
- Although the culture is different, the problem with people is still the same. I am of course speaking of our heart problems. Sin still dominates the narrative of our lives and we live with it almost subconsciously. People in Kansas are just as deeply entrenched in sin as people in California. Somehow the great American values that we all believe exist in places like Kansas (and not California) really aren’t all that great. People may dress up, beautify or hide their sin in different ways here, but it is still sin. This is in many ways encouraging to me because I came here not as a savior, and not as a life-coach or wellness-improvement-director. I came here as a sinner myself knowing that the only remedy for my sin and folly is Christ.
- God’s grace is infinitely greater than I deserve or can comprehend. I am literally befuddled here in Wichita. It hardly seems that another day goes by and I am not standing there with my jaw on the ground wondering why in the world God has been so kind to me. We buy a house and He sends a hail storm to make the house better. He provides mercies for us that we aren’t even overtly asking Him for. Doors to meet neighbors and share the gospel open before us. My wife and children are deep sources of joy. I don’t deserve their company, let alone their friendship, love and support. God keeps showing us kindness after kindness after kindness. Today I have to confess I am better than I ever deserve.
- A new environment for ministry has revealed new (latent?) gifts. If you asked me about my gifting back in January of this year I would have told you that I’m first and foremost a “prophet” type leader. Good at holding forth vision for the church, calling people to repentance, bold and serious about the Word of God and see that as my major strength. You would probably agree with that, and to a degree I still believe that to be true. However hanging out underneath that “prophet” type of leadership (and maybe more dormant than anything) was a “kingly” type of leadership. “Kings” as we are described organize systems and structures for to enable growth, discipleship and gospel-advance. As I came to Wichita the church I found a natural expression of my gifts as a “king,” more so than I ever had before. That sort of discovery has been energizing and exciting to me. My use of a spreadsheet has increased exponentially. So far I like it.
- Kansas is a “Decider State” that needs the gospel. Kansas is often considered one of the “fly-over” states that can be easily dismissed and forgotten in the larger American culture. However, an epiphany of sorts occurred to me last night. While culture may trickle down from the big cities to the rural towns and villages, that culture does not become an embodied corporate identity until the villages and towns affirm and adopt that culture. Where did the battle for taking prayer out of public schools occur? It wasn’t New York City. It was Topeka, Kansas. Where was slavery hotly debated and even violently contested? Yes it was in Washington D.C. but in all reality it the fight was real in Lawrence, Kansas. It isn’t so much “As the culture goes, so goes Kansas.” It’s more like “As Kansas confirms, so the culture affirms.” All of this to say there is a deep need in the city-centers of Kansas for gospel-centered churches. We need a movement of gospel-centered, missional churches throughout our state. More then that we need a deep movement of the Holy Spirit to ignite and carry out this gospel fire.
- The river that runs through the middle of Wichita is called the “Ar-Kansas” river. The name of the Indian tribe is pronounced Kan-sas. Not Kan-saw. I have no idea why the state to the south of Missouri can’t pronounce it correctly.
- Church ministry is hard. Still. Whether it is church-planting or an established-church, overseas mission work or youth work the ministry of the Word is hard work. It’s hard not because the Word is hard, but ultimately because we are working for spiritual transformation and maturity in Christ. The realization is that I can’t make blind people see. I can’t make sinners repent. I can’t make the religious humble. The Holy Spirit must do that. All of this to remind me that I am always out of my league as a pastor. Always.