As we end another year, we naturally look back on where we have been and then onward to where we hope to go. But this year is a little different, as this marks the end of not only another year, but of another decade. All around us, we see lists of the top highlights of the 2010’s. The Top 10 list of the last 10 years featuring everything from politics to fashion, to songs and movies, and fantasy sports teams. While I’m not interested in creating my own Top 10 list for the decade it does seem like an appropriate moment to look back, prior to 2019, all the way to the beginning of the decade to mark the time and see what can be learned from my own journey of the past ten years.
In 2010 I was in full demolition mode. Fully immersed in the gospel of grace I was dismantling my old mindsets and theological paradigms on a weekly basis. I had swung the hammer and knocked down the idea of an angry God. I had left behind the frightening possibility that I could lose my salvation. I had settled into concept of the Holy Spirit as a comforter rather than a sheriff on the hunt for my sin, and I had finally stopped trying to earn the anointing and the favor that was so obviously mine, and so unearned in the first place.
In the spring of 2010 I entered my sixth year as senior pastor of a growing congregation in southeast Missouri. The difficult process of transitioning a body of believers from one mindset into another seemed to be behind us, and major growth was on the horizon. By 2012 we had grown from a congregation of a few dozen to one of several hundred, had a larger building donated to us, moved our campus and sold our old location. It was easy to see where life and ministry was going to take me, and we could settle in and watch God work as they say.
Oh the best laid plans of mice and men. When the decade began, I was on national satellite television, fairly convinced that it was my destiny to be the next big thing. As the church transitioned into a larger space, I published my first book and started the Deeper Daily Podcast. The sky was the limit. Be careful when you step into the realm of demolishing the old. The hammer that swings on your ideology will soon swing onto you, for if the things you knock down have been those which define you, the next thing to fall will be the version of yourself they have created.
By the middle of the decade I was tired. I had surrendered my childhood for ministry. Not even the message of grace could bring me the silence and solitude that my soul began to desire, though it did hammer away at my ambition and I found myself changed; changed to the point that I felt no impetus to lead, no drive to build, just the true passion to see myself as nothing more than one of the sons of God. In the natural, I just wanted to be left alone, to move through the day without helping someone solve their problems; to tackle deeper spiritual questions without having to go back over the basics again and again for new congregants. I didn’t want to do membership classes, or constantly reexamine the theology of grace for this week’s flock of visitors. I saw the invisible man beckoning me to step out of the boat and trod the road less travelled. It’s not meant for everyone, but I was meant for it.
I left the pastorate on Easter Sunday, 2015 and that summer we relocated our family and ministry to Southern California. My brother and I helped run a small business while I began the journey of itinerant minister, going where the doors would open, and following the sound of the Spirit. I had more questions than answers, and no solid answer to the question of “Why?” other than, “Because the Lord gave me the green light.”
In many ways, we found ourselves in California. I don’t mean we found ourselves living in California, I mean we really found ourselves. Lukas flourished in high school and fashioned himself into a competitive baseball player, achieved a scholarship to college and learned the valuable lesson of self-discovery when all other props of dependency are knocked from beneath you. Lauren found the theater and her love of art and performance. She squared off with the dragon of doubt and self-esteem, going through middle school in a new environment. She was toughened and better conditioned to face a world that will demand as much.
NaTasha and I grew closer, fell in love all over again, and had a second childhood, the one we missed out on the first time. We discovered that we could make it in a land without our parents and the people we had always known, and that there was more to learn about ourselves than we ever thought possible. After a few years, my brother and his family were settled into their routine. We sold our interest in the business and I learned that he would do just fine without me, and that I could go on in ministry without him. In fact, I had discovered ministry all over again. We met new people, shared in fellowship and vision with new pastors, and created a local fellowship of believers, meeting in living rooms, not for the purpose of starting a church, but for the sole joy of community and finding Jesus together in the Scriptures.
There is always a cost to moving forward. It costs your car some of its fuel and energy to propel you down the road. That cost is passed onto your wallet. But you go nowhere if you aren’t willing to pay. Moves have cost us stability and comfort, and the illusion that we know what tomorrow holds. They have also cost us money, and investments. We made mistakes, some out of hope and more out of ignorance. But our ministry is stronger for it, and our lives are richer, and maybe those things translate into changing lives in the 2020’s in ways we could not have imagined in the 2010’s.
Our move to Georgia in the summer of 2018 was far easier to make than the move of 2015, though we had even fewer reasons to make it. Lukas was leaving for college in Nebraska either way, Lauren was moving on to high school and did not want to attend in such a large district and we felt a tug from the Spirit to locate the ministry in a more economic friendly part of the country. Many things coalesced to put us north of Atlanta where we have a small community of friends with whom we meet weekly to share life, testimonies and Word. The fruit produced in this relationship has touched the world through digital media, and I almost literally can’t wait to see what the Father has in store next.
Speaking of digital media, that was the technological turn that made it all possible in this last decade. I think the 2010’s will ultimately be seen as a decade where nearly everything changed, and changed in way and at a pace that forced everyone to adjust and figure out how to cope. YouTube has redefined the word “broadcast,” with such wide bandwidth and scope of appeal that traditional television media is now more “narrowcast,” with high costs, lots of commercials, and less room for depth of discourse. Podcasts have replaced radio, proving that people will listen to what they can’t see, but that they want it when they want it and where they want it. Blogs have nearly destroyed print media, giving voice to a myriad of new writers and perspectives. Newspapers and magazines are relics; too slow and cumbersome in a world of instant news.
Our ministry benefited from timing, and the ability to move away from one form and into the other, a wisdom I will attribute to good advice and favor. We left satellite television and its exorbitant costs in 2012, choosing rather to focus on our webpage and YouTube. While many people found us on television that might not have otherwise, it is no comparison to what has happened through on demand video, and its accessibility through smart phones.
In 2012 we started the DDP. I had never heard a podcast, but I had heard of them, and my background in radio had me prepared to speak into a microphone with no visible audience. I started the podcast so that I could put out daily content. I had no concept, no ideas, and no vision. I like the bible, and I like studying it. I thought someone else might enjoy that too. 3.5 million audio downloads later, I’m convinced someone does.
Facebook is a bit more first decade than second decade of the century, and it’s probably seen it’s better days, but it was precipitous in putting our ministry into people’s lives. While the 2020’s could see the death of that medium as we know it, Twitter and Instagram seem poised to take over, with at least Twitter redefining our discourse as Americans. We will be forced to wrestle with what to do in a world where 100 million people can say what they want in 140 characters, anonymously. It is going to require a deep discourse about free speech, and the irony is that Twitter is the textbook opposite of deep discourse.
Everyone having a voice seems like a good step, but the dark side is that where everyone has a voice, everyone can be offended, and then everyone else gets to hear about it. Big bandwidth and instant media has made us believe that every young person is a snowflake, every old person is a boomer, every liberal is a libtard, every conservative is a redneck, every Democrat is a baby-killer, and every Republican is a racist. Maybe instant media hasn’t done this as much as our habit of surrounding ourselves with voices of agreement. Most of us find comfort in an echo chamber where everyone talks like us, agrees with us and generally dislikes the concepts and ideas that we dislike. This habit produces the “everyone I know thinks this way” mentality that spawns an “us versus them” way of thinking. No one wrestles with anything they disagree with, or has the opportunity to expand their own thinking. In truth, no one wins because everyone loses at a zero sum game of whatever they happen to be playing: politics, religion, etc.
The 2010’s pushed us further into camps. We divided a bit more, and the fissure of such division must be dealt with. As the gospel transformed my life and ministry it also transformed me in other, unexpected ways. I leave this decade far less political and less patriotic. That doesn’t mean I have no interest in politics or that I do not love my country, but rather that I have discovered the wonders of the Kingdom of God and the king of that kingdom, the Prince of Peace. He knows no borders, no race, and is no respecter of persons, and I am confronted with the stark reality that if I take him and his kingdom seriously then I must accept that it is like leaven in a loaf. It rises, constantly, consistently with or without my help. His kingdom is greater than all kingdoms of the world because it is unlike all kingdoms of the world. It does not function by war, or power, or politics. It does not retaliate when wronged. It knows no vengeance. It is merciful and forgiving. It is the opposite of every kingdom that has ever risen upon the face of the earth, and it will not be co-opted by any kingdom on the earth.
2019 closes with another Presidential impeachment, a replay of 21 years earlier, when 1998 closed much the same way. Then, it was a Democrat being impeached by a majority Republican opposition. Now, it’s precisely the opposite. It was most likely party driven then, and it appears to be the same way now.
2020 will give Americans yet another “most important election in our lifetime” moment. Maybe it is that important, but likely, no more so than the elections of other people’s lifetime. I’m hopeful that we can rise above the rancor and the hate, but I’m honestly not very optimistic. I think we will distill both sides down to one or two talking points, and confine both parties to one or two ideologies. I think one side will say the other is currently destroying America, and the other side will say the same thing about them. I think the philosophy of Jesus will be invoked by both sides, and that both sides will claim him as their spokesperson. I think someone will say Obama was the worst President we ever had and another will give that title to Trump. I think hypocrisy will show its head on both sides. One side will post vitriol toward Trump supporters, lumping them as all the same though they hated such profiling when they supported Obama, while the other side will post that even if you hate Trump you should at least be praying for the President, though they never said that when Obama was in office. Again, I’m hopeful, but not optimistic.
You know what I am optimistic about? The Kingdom of God. It is spreading, and the gospel is winning. People are being liberated from the shackles of religion, and from the systems of this world. Real, true wrestling is happening in people’s hearts and minds about the nature of a loving God, and about theological concepts that should have been hashed out centuries ago. I don’t know where we will land on all of them, but I am truly optimistic that it will be on the side of goodness, and decency, and love, and mercy.
For my ministry, I believe the next decade will be our greatest to date. It may not see the founding of a church – but again, it might. It may not see more books and series and product, but it may see more than ever. My point is that I do not know what the 20’s hold, but I cannot wait to get ahold of the 20’s. Let’s enjoy the journey together.
Grace to you.