Pastoring Spiritual Refugees

As I have been praying for the people I pastor this week I was struck by the realization of just how many of them have been harmed or carry scars from difficult church experiences. Now it is to be expected when you replant a church after leadership failure and abandoning of the church but even those new since my arrival have similar stories.

Thankfully we do have a few that are new to the faith and learning “church” as we worship together but the vast majority came seeking something different than their previous experience, a better polity, deeper theology, smaller numbers, quieter music. Even just a place to lay low and heal after a hard church break-up.

Truth be told I am okay with this. Of course I, and the people in our church, would like to have growth with new believers. But when we took this assignment Stacy and I knew we were going to be used by the Lord to help bring people to health. And I think I am learning to see what that health looks like, but there are challenges I didn’t expect pastoring spiritual refugees.

Patterns are hard to unlearn

Repeat “offenders” in church experiences are common. Why some left their last church might very well be why they leave yours or more likely, the way they left will be the way they make the next exit. Personalities are slow to change the things most traumatizing about church (except actual abuse) are quick to have an effect on those personalities prone to it.

Even the way in which people engage and the expectations they have cling tightly. For some, the patterns won’t break (but by prayer and fasting.)

It can be a challenge to understand the hurt

Because stories and experiences are all so varied in nature and you usually only have a narrow view of the reality, it can be hard to be empathetic. On top of that, those still healing can’t always articulate their pain or how to avoid it again.

I suppose if you have had a difficult experience yourself you might have a leg up in understanding the pain. Personally, however, I have never been so close to church difficulty as to be traumatized by it. There have certainly been difficult moments but none that forced me to leave. So I often feel disadvantaged in leading those most hurt from their history.

Even with these challenges, the remedy remains the same.

The gospel is the only remedy

It is grace we are all in need of and honestly if we each recognized that we are still “sick” we can get a long way on. Even when we come out the other side of church difficulty we can think our way is best, but the first inclination should be to see our sin and the greater grace of Jesus. That also goes for those leading the hurting. We have to be so passionate about the gospel that we respond to each challenge with grace and a willingness to listen and learn alongside each other.

Shared vision, direction, and unity are only found in that which brings us together, the good news of Jesus. So we endeavor to know nothing else but Christ and him crucified. He took on the cross to deal not only with my sin but also your bad church experience and by his grace we can get through it.

The gospel must be applied with gentleness

I am just learning this truth. While I have a litany of solutions to any situation and desire to run ahead as I lead, it is the gospel applied with patience and gentleness that is the salve for the burned and broken.

I am sure I will miss the mark on this and need to come back to the well myself and recognize Jesus’ gentleness toward me.

We are all refugees

While I have categorized spiritual refugees here, truth is that in the church we are all refugees in need of renewal and redemption. Far from home and waiting on our ultimate deliverance in Christ. So brothers and sisters, keep going. Preach the gospel to yourself and each other. Mine its depths for resolution and the fuel to keep going. And know that even when it feels like it, you are never alone.

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:17–18 (ESV)

Worthwhile: July 12, 2019

Happy Friday friends. We are moving into the second half of July and making all the plans for fall. New projects. Renewed vigor. And the same need of daily naps.

Start your weekend with some reading, and listening, with these worthwhile bits of the internets. From a perspective hard to swallow all the way to Christian music that is genuine and artistic.


“Here his concern is only with the basic question of where authority and rule lie in world events. He will reply that all events originate in heaven, all individuals are stirred and guided by the Lord, all empires rise and fall at his direction: there is no other ultimate agent.”

J. Alec Motyer on Isaiah 41

First up is a topic that comes with quite a lot of controversy but deserves our thoughtful engagement. Reparations. Now answer this question, have you ever really deeply thought about it or do you immediately jump to impossibility when thinking of the topic?

Well, I want to encourage you to actually take the effort to understand the idea and think Christianly about it. Timothy Thomas has published what I think is a fair look at reparation with stirring to rethink it.

“Imagine I came to you and confessed that I had stolen something from you many years ago, something that made it exceedingly difficult for you and your family to prosper. But rather than compensate you for my theft, or even return what I had stolen, I merely apologized. Naturally, you would be unsatisfied by my words. Imagine if I had said: “But it happened so long ago. You’ve overcome so much in the meantime, and your family has found a way to flourish in the face of hardship, even without what I stole from you. So returning or replacing it isn’t going to change anything. It’s only going to stir up bitterness. Besides, we’re both Christians, and you of all people should understand forgiveness.” You probably wouldn’t consider my apology contrite or Christian.”

Head over to Christ and Pop Culture and give it a read.


Next up, giving your church away. I have long had the hope and vision for leading a church planting church – one always sending, seeding the kingdom with mature faithful saints, even if it means we are a small church forever without acclaim.

Alan Frow and the people of Southlands have been living this out as a medium-sized multiplying church and Alan has a forthcoming book on the very idea I think we should all jump on and he has been sharing snippets on his blog.

In this glimpse into the book Frow talks about embracing the pain of subtraction and it gives a helpful look into what it means to pursue multiplication. It sometimes hurts but it worth it because it is what Jesus has called us to.

Give it a read and order the book when it is available later this month!


Lastly, Brett McCracken doesn’t want you to think that all Christian musicians have to offer is what you hear on KLOVE.

“The reputation of Christian music has not been the greatest in recent decades. Often accused of being derivative, sugarcoated, and samey-sounding, “Christian music” as a genre has become such a liability that many musicians understandably avoid the label like the plague.”

Brett goes on to present 14 artists to watch. Each has been producing quality, theologically sound music. Read his take here and then change up your summer playlist.


Cityalight is on McCracken’s list and this song has been wrecking me this week.

Have a great weekend and run to Jesus with all of who you are. He loves you and will give you strength.

Vitality found with brothers

Today I found myself again. I was given tremendous grace from Jesus as I met with a group of dear pastor brothers first at a coffee with two important friends and then the cohort at San Diego Church Planting. The cohort is a group of pastors and planters with a desire to do ministry in our city together for a long time. To support and care for one another.

The day began for me juggling the many needs of our small church and a lamenting session with elder Bill about how tired I was shouldering the responsibilities as a lone staff member. Added to that feeling a headache and pinched nerve in my back, I was a grumpy Gus.

But the Lord used these brothers to administer his grace and goodness to my weary soul. First over coffee I was reminded that my struggles are not unique to me and as we talked about the challenges and hopes of our churches I felt the keen reminder of God’s grace for our work and the need to rely on the Spirit for the power to do the work he has called us to.

Then over lunch connecting with other men doing ministry in our city I found myself thanking the Lord for the support this group has been for me. As we rose to sing together the presence of God was noticeable and the singing was such a rich reminder of the grace we all preach of each week and are in desperate need of ourselves.

From there we heard a gentle exhortation on gentleness in ministry and we studied Scripture together to affirm the call toward it for us as pastors. And we ended our time praying for one another.

I left refreshed. Where I had entered the day with bitterness, Jesus was gentle to me through the love of brothers and he gave me rest. It was like catching my breath and reclaiming the vision for ministry the Lord has given me.

This is the reason I am so passionate about encouraging pastors in our city and county to form groups to pray for one another. And it is why I think it is so vital for churches to partner with doctrinally aligned networks so pastors have this type of encouragement from those invested in their ministry and church.

Pastor, please find other pastors that can support you and pray with you. It is vital and a way to vitality.

What I Miss Most (and Least) About Working in Political & Nonprofit Communications

Today For the Church published a post from Jared Wilson on what he misses about pastoral ministry. It is a good look into some of the realities of being a pastor if you are looking for insights into that… which so few people are unless of course you desire to be a pastor.

But the post also had me thinking about about my previous work and what I miss about it. I am always fascinated that so few pastors have had paid work outside of Christendom and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to earn a paycheck outside of the spiritual industrial complex! I think it gives me healthy perspective as I now pastor people working in all sorts of fields.

It has been nine years since I left DC and the career I was building in communications. These are the things I miss most (and least) about working in political and nonprofit communications.

What I miss about working communications

1. Non-believing Colleagues

My big reason for sending my children to public school is that I don’t want the only sinners they know to be the people in our church. This is also something I miss about working professionally outside of the church. Often times I would be the only or one of a few Christians in the office and in my personal following of Jesus it was helpful to challenge the way I was choosing to live as distinguishable or not.

It was also the helpful to share my faith giving me increased perspective on where people were coming from or how they had formed their thoughts of faith and God. My Jewish boss asking what the big deal was about Jesus (oh how I wish I could go back to this conversation today!) The deputy that asked me to be his “life coach” or the other coworker who accepted my challenge over beers after work to stop running from God and reengage with the church (he is training to be a pastor now).

The church can be a bubble, and even with actively working to invest in “non spiritual” spaces there is something different to daily interaction that vocation provides.

2. Earning My Keep

Now I don’t mean to say that I don’t earn my wages as pastor but that I just am not given the same freedom to talk about how good I am at what I do!

In communications you not only promoted or built brands, you were capable of being your own. Your resume mattered, the work you did was valued and you could get paid really well if you excelled. If you did the work you were rewarded. I never once was asked what I did all day (like I do as a pastor). And only other communications professions thought or expressed they could do my job better than me, not everyone and their uncle…

As a pastor though any whiff of confidence is met with accusations of pride and the types of thing most people do to “get ahead” are oddly viewed with disdain in the church.

I know personally how bad actors have tainted pastoral ministry, and I am not advocating for a lack of accountability or ego-driven pastors. There is just a strange difference that I wonder if we make worse than it needs to be.

3. Being in the Know

This one probably only applies to a small subset of people but there was something about having a security clearance and as one friend put it “knowing what was going on behind the headlines and having an impact on those events.” I remember having a conversation with a good friend and he remarked that I was just repeating my parties’ “talking points” on an issue and I reminded him that I wrote the talking points.

This is probably what makes me nostalgic as I watch shows like Madame Secretary or presidential debates. While a pastor can certainly make a difference in the lives of those he shepherds, there was something about having influence in places to effect change on a different scale.

4. Winging It

I used to think I was quick on my feet and enjoyed the opportunity to wing it in a pinch. I remember a key conversation with a new boss who was prone to make slip ups where I told him to say what he felt like he needed to say and I would clean it up.

Now as a pastor I am careful and prefer precision. People needle me about preaching from a manuscript but if what I say is shaping the way people think of Jesus and Scripture I want to be precise. With a reporter from the Times or a schedule-crunched event I preferred to wing it and it usually worked to my advantage.

What I don’t miss about working in communications

1. Crisis Mode

Maybe this was a D.C. thing but often it was the default mentality in most teams I was a part of. Everything was the biggest deal. Even the smallest concern warranted defcon 1. It was silly.

Personally I threw off the shackle of the crisis mode after a detail to Iraq. It gave me keen perspective on the importance of getting a story out or catching up on the latest press clippings.

Pastoral ministry has its share of crisis but it is not the normal posture and I am okay with that.

2. The Temporary Reality of It

Even the greatest of success was momentary. While working with agencies that actively save lives there was a sense that there had to be something deeper, more meaningful, eternal in nature. This is what I get to wage into every day. Tackling life, impending death, and how to thrive as people that follow Jesus through it all.

Pastoral ministry plays in the eternally significant and we can make an eternal impact and I think that is good.


I am sure I could come up with more, but this I know for sure, I love being a pastor. It is an honor and weighty responsibility to open Scripture and care for people through all of life.