Jeff Iorg Blog
“Community” is a buzzword among many young adult Christians today. They long for it, insist it’s an elusive reality, and talk about how to achieve it. Community is important. But, unfortunately, the strategies and methods people today think produce community just don’t work. You can’t achieve community by sitting around your living room with a small group, drinking coffee, and talking about “doing life together.” That’s recipe for boredom, not community.
My mother’s recent death resulted in a powerful demonstration of community. More than 300 people came to her memorial service, including the mayor of a neighboring community and four commissioners from the county where she lived. Most of the crowd was her trail/parade/rodeo riding friends. For about 25 years, my mother, her matched team of horses, and her various wagons and buggies have been a staple in the cowboy culture in her area.
My mother and her friends have true community because they do something important together. They preserve a historic way of life and, along the way, raise money for and devote time to various children’s charities. When people do something important together, that involves personal investment (even sacrifice), community happens. That’s why men who fought in a war 40 years ago still have reunions, and picking up their annual conversations as if they had never been apart. That’s why women gather for sorority reunions with women from college days 30 years ago, and share the same bonds they had during those life-shaping experiences.
“Community” results from doing something together, from going through a shared experience doing something significant. Christian community results when Christians work together to accomplish God’s mission. As we pray intensely, work sacrificially, and share the pain and joy of hard-earned progress – community happens. Christian community results from living on mission together, not just talking about it.
So, this Christmas, rather than sit around discussing esoteric theological questions or musing about ministry conundrums with your small group – go serve the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and share the gospel. Do it with a group and watch community develop out of mission, not as a precursor to it.
On Saturday, December 6, my mother passed away. She died, as they say in West Texas, “with her boots on.” She was 77 and as active as most 40 year olds. She was an avid participate in trail rides, parades, and rodeos with her team of horses and various wagons. She had won more than 100 “best in show” awards over the past 25 years. She had participated in 4 Christmas parades this past week! She died in her sleep from natural causes.
My mother loved the Lord (especially during Cowboy Church), her family, her friends, and her horses – not always in that order! She was a courageous, vivacious, hard-working woman who thought helping others was the natural order of life. Thanks to all of you have offered prayers, emails, and other messages of support. We are sad, but rejoicing, in God’s grace to sustain us.
A prosperity preacher’s house went up for sale recently, sparking some controversy and reminding me again of the different perspectives people have on ministerial use of money and possessions. “Perspectives” is the key word. What seems appropriate to one person looks like extravagance to another. It’s hard to comment on these issues without sounding judgmental or self-serving.
My “old school” mentors taught me frugality was an essential quality for ministry leaders. We were supposed to model wise spending – controlling spending (personally and professionally) on lesser items so maximum resources could be spent on priorities germane to our mission. That still seems like a good goal to me.
Being frugal means making sober, self-limiting choices related to money and possessions. Being frugal is not the same as being cheap or selfish. Frugality is a positive quality, based on wise choices about priorities and careful allocation of resources. For example, a frugal person might skimp in some areas so they can spend extravagantly in others – like a husband packing a sack lunch every day to save money so he can take his wife out for a lavish dinner. Frugality is about spending on priorities, not just about avoiding spending money.
We are currently working out what “frugality” means at Golden Gate. We are spending millions on two new campuses – one in Southern California and a second in Northern California. We are trying to limit our spending to what we really need to accomplish our mission, nothing more. We are trying to avoid building to satisfy ego or compete with other schools. We are determined to save and invest some of our sale proceeds to assure our future financial stability.
Some have suggested we build “the best” because God wants his children to have “the best – whatever it costs.” That seems like a misguided, misinterpretation of how God wants his resources used. From my perspective, God wants his people to have what they need – and then send most of their resources to getting the gospel to people who have not yet heard about Jesus.
Yes, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. But, when we sell some of them, why do we get to spend the money on ourselves? Let’s meet our needs – our real needs – and then send the rest of the resources to the greater work of getting the gospel to as many people as possible.
Test First, Lessons Later
Nov 11 2014
Pusey Losch is a bi-vocational pastor who recently concluded his service as president of the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Baptist Convention. I was on their program last week as their Bible teacher and heard Rev. Losch deliver the President’s message. In his message, he made a cogent observation: “Life gives the test first; the lessons come later.”
That’s a brilliant summary of the spiritual growth process God uses to shape and change us. Most learning plans work the opposite way. First, we learn the lessons to prepare for the exam – then we take the test. That’s the way seminary – and every other school – works. Students even go so far as to ask, “What’s on the test?” so they can focus on learning the right lessons. Life works more like President Losch described. Test first; then we learn the lessons.
Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. As one country singer twangs, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go.” God allow us to experience life – including its hardships and trials, usually with little preparation or forewarning. We are moving along and then, wham! - cancer hits, a fiancé leaves, your company closes, or your child rebels. Suddenly, without much warning, you are being tested. You find yourself scrambling for answers and trying to figure out what to do next. God may seem far away.
But as someone who has lived through this process a time or two, let me encourage you. God is close. He is deepening your relationship with him and broadening your understanding of yourself. You will look back on the test and realize the lessons learned are so precious you are actually glad (ultimately, but not in the moment) for what happened to you. For example, one man told me, “My heart attack was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
That sounds weird – unless you’ve been there or through something similar. And if you have, it would not surprise me if your conclusions were about the same. So, expect God to allow some tests in your life. Then, pay attention. The lessons learned from them will enrich, deepen, and satisfy in ways more positive experiences can never come close to matching.