Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Staff Expands

The staff of Middleberry did what they did for the next couple months.  Elders and members of the church filled in where they could and things were fairly simple.  There was a group at Middleberry that wasn't able to find their place.  On a volunteer basis the eldership had put together a patchwork youth ministry.  Often times in the couse of missions or church planting we often forget that the kids are brought along for the ride.  In this case, the youth of Middleberry had always been part of a thriving youth ministry at GracePoint.  Now that Middleberry was on their own, who would lead the youth?

Enter Tyler.

Tyler was a local college student who had a passion for youth ministry.  His passion for youth ministry was shown in his preparation and his depth.  Tyler was a thinker!  He loved to ponder ministry and how programs interact.  It was his passion to lead families closer to God, and he felt like Middleberry was the perfect place to do it.  Tyler also needed an internship to graduate.  He approached Pastor Keith about the opportunity to intern for Middleberry and to create a youth program for them.  Tyler was hired!

During Tyler's short tenure at Middleberry a problem arose.  A woman in the church had been volunteering to put together the Childrens Sunday Morning worship.  She excelled at interacting with the kids but lacked in her organizational skills.  Tyler was new to the staff and was worried about being placed in charge of Children's programming.  Tyler was excellent with the jr. high and high school kids, but had no desire to be working with little kids.

Enter James.

James was working at a local warehouse and his heart ached for inner city students.  James had recently been hurt on the job had received a healthy settlement from the company and was now delivering packages.  Now he was looking for something to do...Middleberry was the answer.  During his youth, James spent a great deal of time at a lower economic pentecostal church volunteering.  He had an enormous heart for the kids in the Middleberry neighborhood.  There was no questioning his passion.

James made no qualms about his training.  He had graduated from a four year missions institute, but he was really only there to play sports.  Now he was on the doorstep of Middleberry asking to work for them.  Tyler loved the idea and Pastor Keith thought it was great.

James was brought on staff...besides he had grown up at GracePoint.  Though he never had any desire to do ministry and was considered unqualified to do many of the tasks that he would someday need to perform; Pastor James was brought on staff because the "fit" was just too perfect.  James was not the next step to anything, nor was he a move in a direction; James was a hire because he wanted a job.  The Elders at Middleberry loved James and brought him on for ten hours a week to do sunday morning childrens worship.

For those of you keeping score at home, the staff of Middleberry is up to Five: Pastor Keith, Steve the Outreach Pastor, Patricia the Secretary, Tyler the Youth Pastor, and Part-Time Childrens Pastor James.  With this staff in place Middleberry sprinted through their second year of ministry.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Two men you wont meet at Middleberry

Man 1: Trevor had hit the last note of their set and Pastor Keith approached the pulpit.  Middleberry's sanctuary is the crowning jewel of their Church (which will come up again).  Stained glass windows line the back two walls, flooding the sunday morning gathering with beams of gold, amber, and ruby.  It is a breathtaking sight as it bounces off the floor and illuminates the building.  The floor is an old hardwood floor that is resplendent with dark grain and the old boards creak with every step.  The entrance to the sanctuary sets at the top of a flight of stairs.  One enters through an arched set of double doors at the very back of the sanctuary (the furthest distance from the pulpit).  Twenty Pews set the congregation on the slopped floor of the auditorium and a single aisle runs down to the raised stage where Pastor Keith would give his sunday sermons.

That morning was just like any other as Keith rose to speak.  He pulled his notes from his Bible as he stood behind the pulpit and began to give his sermon on the life of Christ.  After he had spoken for 15 minutes or so the previously silent building began to creak.  This movement came not during the altar call but in the middle of one of Keith's points.  With every footstep, the old wooden boards creaked under the pressure of polished combat boots.  Keith knew who was coming foreward.   A man named David was coming forward.  David had come in late to the service and head entered the back of the sanctuary.  He always wore his long black trench coat over his jeans that were tucked tightly into his black combat boots.

David had not been coming long, but was slowly being integrated into the body of Middleberry.  With no prior knowledge of church or the gospel, David was really the first person to come through the doors of Middleberry from the neighborhood.  David had been down front a couple times, but this time was a little different.  This time he was coming down the aisle  sporting a holding a large Bowie knife that shone in the Sunday morning sun that came through the sky light.  Keith directed his sermon away from the sight that was coming down the aisle amidst them.  A couple deacons who were talking outside the doors of the sanctuary had entered as David made his way down front.  They met him at the front pew and persuaded him to follow them downstairs.  David wanted to talk to Pastor Keith.  Keith capped off his sermon and headed downstairs to deal with the issue.  The Pastor entered the kitchen in the midst of the standoff and spoke with David.  David was de-armed and escorted out by the deacons.  David didn't have any issues; just wanted to show off his new knife.  He was a little off...

Man 2: Craig had stumbled upon Middleberry while walking the neighborhood.  He had a checkered past that followed him on his journey to the city.  Middleberry seemed just the place for him to be involved.  The checkers on his past had forced him to register as a child predator, a fact that had forced most churches to turn their backs on him.  Craig was doing well the first couple weeks integrating into this community.  Craig stayed away from the children's areas and sunday school classes.  Though he had never disclosed his crimes to the leadership, he aimed to stay above reproach.

Then a member of the congregation had found a picture of Craig on a website.  The knowledge increased exponentially.  People who had just visited Middleberry once were now hearing about Craig.  Congregants were threatening to leave the church if Craig was not excommunicated.  Significant families complained to Pastor Keith.  Craig was asked to leave.

It was at this moment (after the David and now the Craig incident) that Keith would make the claim that would summarize the rest of his ministry: "I must protect the flock!"  Pastor Keith decided that he would protect the church members of Middleberry with all that he is.  His ministry would be characterized by his unabashed protection of the church body at the risk of never reaching out (because who knows who that might bring in).  The members of Middleberry in a rough part of the city, had now set the precedence that would turn the entire church into  a inward-focused entity, whose biggest aim was to care for and protect one another with ambivalence to all those outside the inner circle.

Im not sure how I would have reacted to David or Craig for that matter.  Knowledge and information are the key to understanding the situation.  Churches can do background checks and observation must be a priority.  The big issue here is the precedent that was set in quick reaction to these two men. The precent that would doom this body was the "vision" (if you could call it that, or more like a attitude): "At all costs protect the flock!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Worship that first year

Pastor Keith and the Middleberry Church relished the early years.  Things were simple then (later the staff of Middleberry would look back on these years as the golden years of ministry)!  For the most part the building was empty during the week, but it came alive on Sunday Morning.

Trevor (the new part-time worship pastor) led the congregation in a mixture of hymns and contemporary songs.  At 20 hours a week, Trevor did all he could to lead dynamic worship.  His heart had always been set of being a rock musician, but at his age, dreams change.  Trevor set out to make worship at Middleberry as lively and transformational as possible.  The people at Middleberry were a tough sell though.  He had led worship on Wednesday nights at GracePoint prior to the plant.  Pastor Keith was the main speaker every week during that service.  Wednesday nights at GracePoint held a different group of people than most of the other services.  They expected the songs they had always sung! These were the people that had come over to Middleberry.

Trevor's heart was drawn towards contemporary worship music; the Middleberry Church wanted traditional.  The "fit" was wearing off quickly.  Where Trevor pushed; the church (and following close behind Pastor Keith) pushed back.  The biggest issue for Trevor was understanding that he had taken the job with.  When interviewed, Trevor was told that the people of Middleberry wanted dynamic worship that would reach out to the community.  But what they really wanted was a fine mixture of hymns and 80's Christian power ballads.  For the first time (and it certainly wouldn't be the last) what Middleberry said they wanted, and what they would stand to fight for, would be two axiomatically different things.

Soon enough Trevor was getting on people's nerves.  Though he angered and upset people, it never dissuaded them from asking him to acquiesce to their needs, so Trevor was asked to do great things with limited means.  Since Trevor was adept at sound systems Middleberry relied heavily on him to do amazing things with limited means.  Since Trevor was gifted at many instruments, many asked him to give lessons to their kids.  Ridicule him on Sunday, praise him on Monday.  The Middleberry family viewed Trevor through the lens of their last interaction with him.

Trevor struggled during the rest of his tenure there at Middleberry.  He constantly struggled to walk the fine line the congregation had asked of him.  He panicked while putting together set lists because he never quite knew who he would offend.  If he spoke in the middle of the set, he never knew if he would have an email later from Pastor Keith.  When he spoke during worship, he was never sure of how much information to give about his struggles.

The wheels were coming off for Trevor and the leadership were none the wiser!  That is the advantage of never meeting, no one has to be burdened with the struggles of another.  The Church went on as they always did, oblivious to the events inside the walls of Middleberry!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Excitement of New!

Pastor Keith and the staff that "fit" perfectly marched into the Middleberry neighborhood ready to take on all comers.  The congregants of Middleberry were excited as well.  They were excited for two reasons:

(1) As I mentioned earlier the split (I'm sorry, the "plant" as they would like to call it) couldn't have come soon enough.  The young pastor at GracePoint had caused much resentment amongst those who founded Middleberry.  It all began when those at Middleberry still worshipped at GracePoint.

A few years back, GracePoint was coming out of a period of poor leadership from their Senior Pastor position.  Men had attempted to lead the Church who were either under-qualified; immoral; or interim pastors.  These men were unable to lead the large chuch of GracePoint effectively.  The eldership stepped in and set a vision for the future of GracePoint.  Two men felt qualified for the position: Pastor Keith and a young pastor who had grown up in the congregation and was currently serving a youth ministry in another state.  With Pastor Keith there was a great amount of experience and a long-term realtionship; with the young pastor came fresh ideas and a change for the future.

The eldership of GracePoint racked their brains.  Had the positions been open for both men to come on staff the decision would have been simple; however, the church needed one man to lead them into the next phase of their existence.  The elders made a difficult call informing their associate pastor for years, Pastor Keith, that he would have to wait to lead a church.  The elders chose the young Pastor from out of state.

This decision did not sit well with many in the congregation of GracePoint.  So many were poured into by Keith during his time as their youth pastor.  Others had grown in their relationship with him as he was the associate pastor in charge of discipleship.  Keith had grown up with many of these people and they were staunchly devoted to him.

With the introduction of the new Pastor at GracePoint came changes throughout the church.  What was asked of the congregation was stepped up.  What was expected of members and how things were organized changed the way GracePoint operated.  Support staff was realigned, leadership was called on the carpet and a vision for the future was instated which called for excellence and a new building! Pastor Keith was asked to grasp the vision set forth, but he desperately wanted to keep the status quo.  "It had been working for 15 years..." was the thought that kept running through Keith's mind.  He wanted nothing to do with this new vision, he wanted his sunday school class.  Pastor Keith had begun the search for a new congregation to serve when the idea for Middleberry came across his desk.

When Pastor Keith was given the opportunity to lead Middleberry, this disgruntled faction of the church that was loyal to him followed.  The phrases, "Come to Middleberry, we're like the Old GracePoint!", or "Middleberry is what GracePoint used to be!" became the rallying cry of this congregation.  So the people of Middleberry were glad to be worshipping anywhere but at GracePoint...that is one reason they were excited.  The other:

(2)  The church of Middleberry was the new game in town.  Their first event was a smash hit.  There were people coming from everywhere to see this new Church in the middle of town.  The people of Middleberry Church viewed this as the stamp of God's approval on them.  They have successfully brought the religion of suburbia into the center of the city. The next couple events would have the same success.  But while the leadership and staff of Middleberry celebrated the additions, they refused to see the revolving door that was happening at the back.  They were losing these people as quickly as they came in.  The revolving back door of Middleberry was a massive problem that the celebration masked and they would not let that rain on their parade!

This new body of believers at Middleberry Church were excited to be somewhere other than GracePoint and they were excited to be welcomed into the community by all the needs there.  But the welcome would eventually wear out and the newness would wear off, and we shall soon see the shallowness with which the community surrounding Middleberry was offered would crumble beneath them.   The old adage "What you win them with, you win them too" adequately explains the conundrum with which Middleberry was walking into!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

New Staff at Middleberry

As noted earlier, Middleberry Church (the reincarnation) was going well.  Sunday Mornings were packed (almost too packed as you read earlier), but Monday through Saturday the rooms of Middleberry Church remained silent.  As a fledgling church there were few programs up and running that first year.  There was no children's programs or bible studies, no choir practice or support groups.  There was little going on really.  Pastor Keith sat in his office 5 days a week and worked on sermons.

But Pastor Keith also performed all the counseling, maintenance, and publication tasks.  The books were still done at GracePoint where Pastor Keith also maintained an office (though he was never present there), but for the most part Middleberry was fairly independent and under staffed.  All of these tasks led Keith to realize that he was out maned, especially in a church of 350 people.

Enter in: Patricia.  Patricia had too grown frustrated with the direction of GracePoint towards the end.  The new pastor at GracePoint had rubbed her the wrong way as well.  What was done exactly, one cannot say but suffice to say her anger resounded strongly.  Patricia had recently left her job and needed a replacement.  She had never worked in a church and was relatively new to computers, but her zeal for working at Middleberry surpassed her lack of training and preparation.  Keith had been looking for someone to handle the publications, phone calls, and books at Middleberry.  The "fit" was just too perfect.  Patricia had a reputation for being difficult to work with, but she wanted the job so bad and Keith was so eager to fill the position that he hired her immediately, like he said "the 'fit' was just too perfect."

Not only was there a new person handling the phones, there was a new person manning an office.  Pastor Keith had counseled people for years, but GracePoint's problems were significantly different than the problems that he would face down at Middleberry.  The door at Middleberry was constantly assualted by people needing help with rent, a ride, money for food, and/or clothes.  Paroles and Partiers, teen mothers and teen runaways.  Pastor Keith was soon to understand what a different world that he now worked in.  For years he had been secluded in the suburbia surrounding GracePoint, now he was thrust into the heart of the city surrounding Middleberry.  Pastor Keith needed someone to come and take the burden of these people off of his plate.

Enter in: Steve.  Pastor Steve had grown up out West.  Though he had accepted Christ at an early age, he found difficulty living out his faith.  He had run into law trouble and found himself in prison early on in his life.  When he was released from prison he returned to his boyhood church and began to better understand how his faith was to be lived out.  Steve had always had a passion to do ministry and through some differing circumstances he found himself running into Pastor Keith.  Pastor Steve, though lacking any formal training and by his own admission "biblical knowledge" began to talk to Keith about adding him to the staff at Middleberry.  Keith needed someone to work with the broken people of the Middleberry neighborhood, Steve needed a place to live out his dream.  Steve had a passion for the people around Middleberry, and Keith needed a some assistance.  Though Steve was unable to help preach and had no teaching experience, the "fit" was just too perfect.  Though Steve had absolutely no idea where to start a ministry (and Keith offered no job description), the "fit" was just too perfect.  Keith could return to his sermons, Steve could write his own job description.  Without a direction and without a vision, the two men headed off into the future leading a group of people who were quickly forgetting who they were and the final piece of the puzzle was soon to come.

Leading worship was never Pastor Keith's forte.  He had done it a little bit at GracePoint but wasn't real excited about doing it on a weekly basis.  GracePoint had donated some drums and a piano, but Keith didn't feel up to organizing a praise band on a weekly interval.

Enter in: Trevor.  Trevor had grown up in the church.  He had attended GracePoint for years and had even led some worship there from time to time.  He was a phenomenally gifted musician.  He could not convince GracePoint to bring him on as a worship pastor; but Keith was more than happy to offer him the position.  Keith was given advice by GracePoint's lead pastor to bring in a worship leader of different ethnicity.  As any cross cultural missionary knows, "without diversity in the pulpit, there is no diversity in the pews."  GracePoints Pastor had even offered up the names of some talented worship leaders who were interested.  Pastor Keith was set on Trevor.  The "fit" was just too perfect.  Trevor needed a place to lead, Keith needed a worship pastor.  Trevor needed a chance to progress, Keith needed a break from leading.  Trevor started that month.

The "fit" was just too perfect.  This method of selecting staff would become the standard.  This method would lead to some serious issues later on in the life of Middleberry Church.  Without a direction for the church..."fit" dictates future.  Without a vision..."fit" leads us down roads that are difficult to traverse.  "Fit" became a synonym for easy and simple.  "Fit" became an excuse to make no effort.  Sadly enough "fit" would become the MO of Middleberry.

Pastor Keith alongside Pastor Steve, Worship Pastor Trevor and Assistant Patricia set off to lead Middleberry Church into the next stages of their development...but still the "fit" with the neighborhood still wasn't perfect!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Year of Amassed Pride

With an eldership in place, and Pastor Keith at the helm, Middleberry had arrived at the destination they had dreamed about just a few short months ago.  The GracePoint contingent came out in mass those first couple months.  

Middleberry's building was constructed years ago, and built to house a couple hundred people.  The GracePoint following nearly maxed out the capacity of Middleberry's sanctuary. To restate: a church whose soul purpose (or at least one of many) was to bring in people from Middleberry's neighborhood was already at capacity.  Where would the people from the surrounding houses find a place to sit?

A well known Church planting proverb is this: 80% capacity is full capacity.  Translation: once 80% of the seats are full, you will never get any fuller.  Most churches find ways to add seats (by adding another service or building on or other creative ways); but not Middleberry.  Middleberry would remain at capacity for the rest of their time in that neighborhood.  

The church at Middleberry ran at capacity for the next year or so.  On Sunday morning there were few seats that were open.  The Church saw this as a positive reflection of their spirituality.  During these formative months the church never looked around to see the kind of community they were building, never looked to see how the faces in the pews stood in stark contrast to the faces that looked at them from the street.

This issue would plague Middleberry in the future...but all was well that first year in the hub of the city.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Key Personnel of Middleberry Church

As Middleberry's (formerly half of GracePoint) doors opened that first year, excitement was everywhere especially with Pastor Keith.  But alongside his excitement there was exhaustion.  For the short history of the church Keith had labored on his own.  The workload had become much larger than he had anticipated.  Like the great posse's of western films; enter in the Eldership.  But who serves as elders in a brand new church?

To be clear: God places the highest importance on Biblical Eldership.  The elders are to be leaders in the Church; God's representative to the Church (not the other way around).  Elders are the visionaries and the shepherds of the body.  Elders are teachers and servers.  God places His Church in their able hands: a great gift indeed.

Pastor Keith chose carefully whom he would surround himself with and the leadership he would associate with.  He chose men who had previously served in an eldership role at GracePoint.  GracePoint had a differing view of eldership.  The elders were viewed more as business associates than visionaries.  They were more managers than shepherds.  GracePoint asked a lot of their elders: monthly Elder meetings lasting into the late hours of the night; monthly fellowship gatherings; weekly speaking and lesson planning.  The standards were high at GracePoint.

As noted earlier the appeal of Middleberry was that it wasn't GracePoint.  The elders at Middleberry would have none of these responsibilities.  They wanted no meetings, no responsibilities, and no expectations placed on them when it comes to shepherding and teaching.  Whatever the elders would do at Middleberry was out of their own ambition.  GracePoint's elders were asked to provide direction and vision; Middleberry's were asked when service was.  The elders at GracePoint were asked to provide job expectations and provide support for the staff; Middleberry's were asked to sit on dunk tanks and escort people to their seats on Sunday morning.

Middleberry's eldership asked/allowed Pastor Keith to do the leading/dreaming/and visionering.  They (the elders) were ecstatic with their new role (or lack there of).  God's men of leadership were reduced to spectators in the life of this Church and that's the way they wanted it.  They would be called in in extreme cases; but would never be asked to do what God had intended for them.  They had swung the pendulum from GracePoint’s extreme to the other.

What Middleberry was attempting to do was to save their elders from responsibility and in doing so made them a cheap imitation of what God had really desired for them.  Sadly enough, the Church would suffer from this decision.  What Middleberry was doing was sitting itself up to lose influence and their foundation in taking to the congregation they were to lead. 

Very quickly would the few responsibilities given these elders vanish into nothing but their names being mentioned in the weekly newsletter.  One would move out of state and remain an elder; another would only attend church on a monthly basis.  The eldership would gradually be reduced to a few men having coffee.  These elders were great men of God, but like many before us, would lose their God-given purpose and responsibilities by choosing the path of least resistance.

The first year for Middlebery Church would be the last one in which a vision would be present…