I’d just finished a meeting Saturday morning around a campfire in our backyard when they arrived. Our neighbor brought over the steps for our emerging tiny house (named Hildegard, for reasons I’ll share in a different post) and set them in place. The next day, at the exact moment I was in Seattle sharing the news that I’d be stepping away from my role as Senior Pastor at the church I lead to focus on teaching (still at the same church, plus conferences and schools), writing, and developing a new ministry, the first snow of the season was falling. Of course! Fire, steps, and new season snow - all coming together as confirmation that our lives aren’t random pursuits of power and pleasure but, at their best, are a dance with our Creator, who guides and empowers us to live rich lives by guiding us on our journeys of transformation through each and every season.
The principles that have guided both the building of Hildegard, and the flow into a new season for me, can be helpful for you too:
Fan into flame the gifts you’ve been given - Throughout my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to have people speak into my life and affirm that God has given me gifts, especially in the realms of teaching and writing. There’s nothing to boast of here, because these are gifts given by my creator. If we know what our gifts are, we're wise to focus on developing and using them. Over the years, I’ve been given opportunities to write books, speak at conferences, and teach at Bible Schools and seminaries. In order to continue using and developing my gifts, I needed to offload operational details of the church I lead. We created an executive pastor position and most day to day operations were carried out by people whose gifts were in those areas, freeing me to continue conference speaking, writing, and focusing on teaching.
The other gift I have is walking with people, whether individuals or teams, as they navigate critical moments in their lives and seek wisdom and next steps. This was a huge part of our lives in the mountains prior to leading the church, and the Hildegard house is, in part, birthed from a desire to provide a place where those gifts can find expression again. I’m currently investigating the development of a coaching/formation ministry which will offer time and space for people to discern and take next steps toward wholeness in their lives. There’ll be more to say later, but the Hildegard house might well be a place of hospitality offered for people needing space to discern next steps. Believing that God speaks to us through creation as well as text and other people, the Hildegard space is intended to be a largely ‘device free’, minimalist space to encounter God through the rhythms of creation. Working with an architect to design it fed my earlier vocational goals of architecture. Watching it come to fruition just as I change roles in the church has been wondrous.
Follow the Flame of God’s guidance and vision - In Numbers 9, we’re told that God guided God’s people through times in the wilderness with a cloud by day and a flame by night. That means God reveals next steps to us, if we’re looking, listening, and willing to step out. All this is predicated on a belief that ‘the flame’ of God’s guidance is available to us. Seeing it requires looking and listening; to your dreams, your hopes, your losses, the voices of others, and at times, a voice and vision directly from the Creator who plants a seed through vision moments.
The flame led my wife and I to Southern California for seminary when we had no human desire to go there. But the flame knows best, so we went, made lifelong friends, and profound discoveries about ourselves, including our gifts and calling.
The flame planted a spark in my heart while leading a small church in eighties. A vision grew inside us that, in a world of celebrity pastors that became a Petri dish of leadership implosions and hypocrisy, it would be valuable for people to have a place where they could not only hear teaching, but share life with those doing the teaching. The spark grew to full blown fire and we eventually moved to the mountains to begin a ministry of teaching and hospitality in the context of creation.
The next time the flame flared up was after I’d spoken at Bethany Community Church in Seattle for a week In 1995. The phone rang and I heard, “this is Dave from the search committee of Bethany Community Church. Our committee would like you to apply for our Senior Pastor position.” Thus began a journey of wrestling with God about our desires to be rural not urban, small not big (Bethany was a big church of 300 at the time). In the end, the flame was clear and we knew we had to move. As I shared in the video link below, it was the best decision we ever made.
A spark happened a couple of years ago while standing in the forest behind our house. It was there that the seeds of the vision for a space where God can speak to people through creation were planted, and with it, sparks and embers, not yet fully formed, not yet flames, related to offering coaching and spiritual formation as a way of empowering people to take their next steps toward wholeness. This spark has been a bit of our earlier hospitality ministry, coming full circle. As I’m in the midst of writing this very post, I receive a text message from someone who said, “I’m reading your book, ‘Breathing New Life into Faith’. This hit me today, “The endurance required to take another step toward purity or truth telling or forgiveness is simply too much, so we make a pact with lust, duplicity, and bitterness. We park ourselves, making a home in a spot wholly inhospitable to our real calling, our real humanness.” Wondering if I could write you my story and you could help me work through “my calling”. Something like spiritual direction…”
And just like that, another spark falls on the dry kindling of readiness to discover my own next steps!
Learn to Wait I’ve often caught glimpses of a spark and then ran after it long before it was a flame worth following. I’d tried to make the vision real too quickly, and it never quite worked out. I tried to teach in colleges, tried to move the mountains, tried to change my context through all kinds of efforts of my own. Thankfully, my efforts failed consistently, leaving me in the dessert of ‘waiting’. It was in those dry lands that I learned that one is never really waiting, because this day, this context, these people are the only life I have, and I’d be wise to live fully present in this day, and let my Creator move me if, and when, Creator decides that it’s time. Jesus said it this way, “take no thought for tomorrow… today has enough challenges”. Indeed.
So we keep living, fully present, as we wait for sparks to became flames, wait for clouds to part, wait for movement, change, healing, and a hundred other things. It’s in our waiting that we find joys that aren’t contingent on a change in circumstances. It’s in our waiting that we find delightful surprises, moments of intimacy with people, shots of beauty and intimacy, glimpses of grace. But only if we’re present, paying attention to now, rather than waiting for life to begin.
And then, soon enough, the waiting is over, and the next chapter begins. I’m able, and delighted, to pass the torch of leadership. I’m excited for some space in life for God to allow next chapters to ripen. And most of all, I’m grateful to the One who always write a better story.
There are many sparks, many flames, many embers, but one Author, and its clear to me that the only way any of us can become the best versions of ourselves is to look for the sparks and flames, and follow. My wish for you is that your story flows out from your Maker's heart.
The video about my transition at the church and the exciting ways God is guiding our church can be found here. Please watch! I think you'll be encouraged!
The sparks of a coaching/formation ministry are still young. Next steps will come, but we've learned to wait. As we wait for the flame to mature, you can follow our journey here, by subscribing to this blog. I hope you'll join me on the ongoing journey to wholeness