Tuesday, April 14, 2009

creepy post-easter thoughts

It was a great weekend. No. Spectacular.

But only in hindsight.

Easter and Christmas weekends are when we push everyone to invite someone from work, family, neighborhood, etcetera, because, well, these are the times when people do their church-duty-thing and therefore an ideal time for us to clarify what it means to follow Jesus. On these big invitation weekends, I find myself getting weird. Antsy. Narrowed. Hyperpicky about techie-things. I feel bad for our staff. And, even worse, I get more inward-focused. I hate that; that’s the worse part.

You’d think I’d learn. Let me illustrate from a different life I once had.

I led worship at VCC for about a dozen years. Because of my church-orientation (word-of-faith camp) in the early days of my conversion, I thought that as a worship leader, if I hadn’t gone into hyperfaith and “prayed through” in the Spirit for thirty minutes prior to leading worship, then worship wasn’t going to happen. And if the worship wasn’t happening on any Sunday morning it was my fault. Back in the late eighties I worked a crazy job in a jingle-house recording studio outside the Vineyard as well as leading a couple of small groups and the worship on Sunday mornings. Going into hyperfaith was the “proper response” to my obsessive need to perform well for God in all those contexts (uh, plus a great way to burnout…). Only God and worship leaders’ spouses know the real performance anxieties as the worship leader asks this quintessential question on the car ride home: “How do you think worship went today?”—hoping to be validated in some way.

One Sunday morning as I was in hyperfaith on the way to lead worship, the Holy Spirit broke through and said, “You really think this thing depends on you, don’t you?” In other words, if I don’t pray just right, then God won’t show up—and I suddenly realized how sick I was, how creepily religious, how egocentric, how much it negated the body of Christ and the beauty and power of grace. As if this whole thing depended on me. Please. Talk about getting the wind knocked out. And so for the next month or so, I would drive to church on my way to lead worship with the local heavy metal station playing at 120 decibels—just to drive out the religious demons.

And I didn’t even like heavy metal.

There is so much performance mentality behind religious activity that it scares me now. The truth is, God loves us and enjoys our company so much and is frankly unimpressed by how well we think we do or don’t do. That doesn’t mean we become slack and shoddy, but that all of our activity is in response to His love for us, not in any effort to gain it, however subtle that may be.

So what does this have to do with my current Easter anxieties?

It’s just too easy to take everything extremely personal and forget that ultimately it’s not really dependent on us. Yeah, I know it’s my job to craft a thoughtful message that bridges the perception-gap of “church” that people who come twice-a-year have…and even more, hopefully present the message of the resurrection lucidly. And I know ultimately the buck stops here in terms of what gets included in the celebration. But if I’m not careful, that turns into a perverse performance mentality that cuts the legs out from under grace. It’s the same weirdness that crept into the Galatian church.

Anyway, it can make my enjoyment of the weekend weird. Face it: us pastors have peculiar issues.

So tonight Anita and I were eating at a local restaurant when we got a server who goes to the Vineyard. As we headed out the door, our server said, “There’s another guy who works here who goes to the Vineyard as well. Wait a minute.” She left and came out with “Bob”, a twenty-something who told us a great story. While in college, he got addicted to a prescription drug and then compounded his troubles by getting busted one night using a fake i.d. in a local bar. Even worse, he wrote a check with the fake name on the i.d. and ended up with two felony counts and some misdemeanors.

That’s serious; you don’t mess around with felonies. He hit the lowest point in his life.

When his trial came, the judge miraculously dismissed the felonies and left him with 150 hours of community service. Turns out, he was sent to perform them at the Vineyard and said it was the best 150 hours of his life. He did his time while Summer Of Service (S.O.S.—we host hundreds of kids and take them out serving every day for a week) and other things were happening and said his life radically changed. He was a lapsed Catholic and had always “believed” in God but it never seemed “personal”. That was two years ago and he’s been on fire since; he says he now lives to give Jesus glory.

I asked him how his family had responded to all this. He replied that they’ve started coming to VCC and this weekend his mom said, “I need to make a change in my life,” and walked down front to get the New Testament and Next Steps cd.


Wish I could enjoy those moments in the moment, but I guess it’s not half-bad with hindsight. She was part of a crowd of people who took that first step in the six celebrations.

I love it. Looking back now, of course.

Hope you had a great Resurrection Day...full of grace.


  1. You will never know how much your 'driving to work with heavy metal blaring' story has helped me in my own battle with the performance/earning mindset. Whenever I catch myself in it I remember that and do something similar (fortunately, I like some heavy metal so it's an enjoyable exercise!)...


    Love ya, brother!!

  2. I wonder how you have time to do all that you do and blog too. It is hard to fathom in a church with so many members ( 5,000 plus and growing) how you can manage your time.

    I have read the One Minute Manager and Managing Through Chaos which did give me perspective but it depended on choice of key people in key areas to carry the load. I would imagine you do that also with a generous amount of help from the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

    The one thing I found at Vineyard is the "Awe and shock" of the vastness of this Church. The enormous amount of people going to and fro with smiles and greetings. The carefully orchestrated programs for the services and best of all the presence of the Holy Spirit that eminates with in the auditorium. I generally prefered a small church in the past.

    It makes you want to stay for another service on the same day so you can experience it all over again. Is that creepy or what??

    You done good Dave.

  3. I've been planning a trip to Vineyard Cincy. I was baptized in 2007 and have decided to learn how to be a more 'effective' Christian. (and God laughed)

    Recently, I was involved in an outreach program. During this time I had several 'words' - pictures and visions for different people in my life. After 3 in a week, I was on fire - about myself. I thought that I had finally established the pipeline to the divine. It was only when I woke the next day that I remembered that my team was bathed in the prayers of 300 people. Pipeline, indeed.

    Ego is pride. Stress speaks pride. Even self-hatred is prideful; your belief that you were capable of doing something our creator had not seen before, and could not forgive.

    Scripture tells us to rest in the Lord. Not to become slothful or shoddy, but to relax and follow. As they say in Emmaus "Don't anticipate".

    I have the strength and wisdom to get through the next 15 minutes. God will take care of the rest.

    Nice, if creepy, thoughts!

  4. Great post Dave, creepy is a great description of the angst of the performer which torments within!

    At the end of last year I felt I had nothing left to offer, and I learnt that it dodesn't depend on us during that time. There was no difference in God's presence or people's response when I felt on it and when I felt I had nothing to give. Funny that...

  5. i used to lead a prayer team and i kept telling myself years before God shows up I just need to lay my stuff down so that God can work thru me during prayer team time. It works for some reason.

    Then just used this feature that God wants us to lay our stuff down pray it to him and fill yourself with the Holy spirit. Its that simple to me and it has helped me get ready.

    Used this to let people give prayer requests from themselves, to lay it down before prayer team. Get ready for God to perform and He does all the time.

    Because it does not matter what i have done before, just be available to Him. I think thats all God wants out of us. To be with Him