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Earl Marshall

Category: Pastoral Ministry

Lessons Learned from Taco Bell

It has been a long time since I ate at a Taco Bell. There was a day when it was my late night stop of choice but not anymore. But clearly it is still the choice of many and mostly because of its recent willingness to try new things. I don’t have a high need for change. I work with others that do have a high need for change. Even though that can create moments of tension we do share in a clear commitment and understanding that change is necessary as we pursue the mission that God has called us on to plant churches around the world.

Taco Bell has a similar perspective. Niccol the head of marketing at Taco Bell says, “If you have the belief that there’s still work to be done, then you’ll figure out how to break a little glass.” What I see at Taco Bell is a company that is trying new things and seeing if it works. Whether it is the creation of Beefy Frito Burritos or Dorito Locos Tacos, Taco Bell is looking for ways to break a little glass. Pastors need to learn how to break a little glass but not like a bull in a china shop.

As is the case at Taco Bell so should be the case in our churches. Innovation doesn’t rest with one person. The architecture of a culture of innovation may be a primary leader’s responsibility but innovation is a team thing. “From an innovation perspective, I’d love it if we had one person who just comes up with great ideas. But it doesn’t work that way,” says Matthews of Taco Bell. “The strategy is getting different people together, having food around, and having conversations.”

Sounds like a great idea!

I’m Not Sure I Understand

When I share the story of how Brenda and I decided that it was time for us to leave Compass I usually get a couple of responses.  The first is “wow, what an example of faith.”  I have to admit that doing this shows that I have faith never crosses my mind.  I have always seen what we are doing as an act of obedience generated out of necessity.  I appreciate the affirmation about my faith but for me the decision to leave Compass was generated out of what I perceived to be a need to lead and minister effectively to the church family that we love very much.  For over a year we wrestled with whether God wanted us to stay or leave.  We could not shake in our minds and hearts that our time in senior leadership at Compass was coming to a close.  I still remember praying to God that I did not feel it was right for Compass and the kingdom of God for me to be going back and forth on this.  I felt it was impacting my leadership.  So in April/May of 2013 I cried out to God again that I believed it was important that he confirm in my mind and heart whether I should reinvest my energy and stay or to begin the process of looking for what He had in store for us next.  I am not that mystical when it comes to making decisions.  There was no cloud with writing on it in the sky.  I did not hear an audible voice from God.  But as I was searching the Scriptures and reading Genesis it was clear to me that if God could ask Abraham to go and leave his father, God could be asking me to do the same.  So after more prayer Brenda and I submitted our wills and motives to the possibility of leaving a fantastic ministry here in Orangeville and wait on God to provide what would be next for us.  We believe we were following God’s moral will in our lives and trust that the choice we made to leave Compass was a good one.  That is faith but not the way that most people use the word.  I would hope that most who claim to be followers of Christ would do the same if in the same situation.

This leads me to the second response.  It is a non audible, look in my eyes very carefully, “are you crazy man” response.  While I don’t pretend to be the model on how to make major life decisions for people, I have found it interesting how many who are followers of Jesus Christ seem foreign to the idea of making a decision before knowing what is next.  Again, I am not saying that people should just always step out and not consider what is next before making a big decision like this.  I have counselled many and wisdom will look differently in different situations.  But I am surprised how many are not willing to consider the possibility that God may be leading them to leave before they know exactly where they are going.  I take solace in our decision from the fact that there are biblical examples of people who went even though they did not know where they were going.

There could be lots of reasons for why this is the case.  Being tied to good things like material needs, family, and personal history are some that come to my mind.  These are good things that should be considered but ultimately that can’t get in the way of making a choice that honours God.

On Not Being A Pastor

On Sunday night I tweeted the following, “Tonight as I lay down the title of pastor, I pray that God will continue to create in me a shepherd’s heart.”  Most of us would like to think that our identity is not wrapped up in the various roles that we play.  The truth is that for most of us who we are is shaped to some extent by what we do.  I am a child of Christ and I am a child of Christ while I am a husband, father, pastor, leader, preacher, author, mentor, coach and friend.  All of this is intertwined into the person that I am.  So, it is no surprise that when Tuesday of this week rolled around and staff meeting was happening, that I felt a sense of loss and a wave uncertainty washed over me. I know that my life is defined by more than my senior leader role.  I know I am loved by God with an everlasting love.  I know all of that.  I believe all of that.  But when a transition of roles takes place there is a sense of loss because how these values and worth used to be exercised in my life has changed.

There is a sense of relief in knowing that I am not in a meeting tomorrow morning but there is also a sense of loss in knowing that I am not in a meeting tomorrow morning.  Let’s be honest most of us know how this feels.  If you have gone through any kind of transition in life this is exactly how you have felt.  So, while I am confident in the journey that God has for us, I am experiencing the funk of change.  Today was better, I spent some time with good friends who prayed for and over me.  I cherish this because I know they are sympathetic to my journey.

I imagine Sunday will be an interesting day!

Reflections On My Last Sunday

Last night at the end of a long day full of celebration I walked out the church doors nearest to my study and heard the doors close behind me for the last time.  I took a quick look at the stars in the beautiful night sky and then I drove out of the church parking lot carefully taking one last glance at the church sign and building before heading home.  As I did this I was struck with the reality that everything was as it was supposed to be.

This is the end of a chapter not the end of the story.

My day started like most Sundays.  I was determined to keep things in routine.  I thought that might be the only way I could manage the emotion of the day.  So I got up at my regular time, turned the kettle on for my cup of tea, settled in to my green chair and proceeded to do what I do every Sunday morning.  I prayed over and through my sermon a number of times asking God to do what only He can do with His words.  I didn’t need to familiarize myself with the outline of my sermon.  I knew what I was going to preach on four months ago.  When we knew that we were leaving Compass I began to think of what my last words should be.  I was determined to do what I believe God wants every preacher of His word to do, lift Jesus high.

The text for the morning was Revelation 1:12-20.  The presence of the risen and glorious Jesus Christ is the greatest unseen reality in our lives and the life of the church.

When I arrived at the church building at 7:50 a.m. I realized that even though I wanted it to be just like every other Sunday, it was clearly not that at all.  When I arrived to my office there was a big Muchas Gracias sign hung up from wall to wall to wall.   For some absurd reason we had kept this sign that we created ten years ago.  And today it was coming out.  When I made my way to the auditorium I could hear the worship team practicing and as I was about to walk in, it hit me.  This was going to be the last time I did this.  It didn’t help that worship team members on stage started waving to me and the sound tech guys were unusually friendly (put that in just for them).

Our two services on Sunday morning were packed with people and so full of worship.  It was awesome!

When I was asked what I wanted for my farewell I made one request.  My request was that past and present staff members be asked to attend and be involved in the day.  Our staff team has been like family to us and we have cherished our time with each of them.  It was great to have so many of them attend and some of them participate in the services.  Having staff, elders and spouses commission us to whatever is next for us in ministry was such a moving experience for both Brenda and me.

I love preaching the Scriptures and I enjoy working with our worship teams in developing services that will deliver a big God honouring idea.  When word and worship work together great things happen.  And I had the sense on Sunday that great things were happening in the lives of many.  Being reminded that Jesus is who he is wherever he is was poignant.  Watching many wrestle with the fact that Jesus is in the middle of their lives with all of his majesty and power was priceless.

Some of our family members attended the 11:00 service.  I was thrilled to be able to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to them once again.  It was great to share lunch with them afterwards before Brenda and I made our way home for a very short rest and then it was back again for a time of celebration.  Things were supposed to start at 5:00.  When we got there for the staff group photo at 4:45 the parking lot was almost full.  We were overwhelmed with how many people came out.  As I told everyone there that evening, I was expecting my parents and a few friends.

We laughed and cried all evening.  Hugs all around.  Soul Collective brought us some great jazz.  Ken Derksen and Julianne August were amazing mc’s.   The staff and many who were involved in small group with us for years worked tirelessly on our behalf.  We were overwhelmed with all of the love.  I especially was moved by the video’s.  The montage of some of the videos and video out-takes, especially the day we taped at the goat farm, had me laughing so hard that I was crying.  Reading the many comments on Twitter and Facebook at the end of the evening made me realize how much we love this church and how much they love us.  I am glad that we could leave celebrating our love for one another.

Compass is an amazing group of people who are on a mission to make disciples who make disciples across their region and around the world.  It is only out of obedience to what we believe God is calling us to (as of yet to be determined) that we leave the church family that we love.

As we reflect on the words that people have written and spoken to us for days to come we do so knowing that things are indeed as they are supposed to be.  Yesterday was like an exclamation point at the end of a meaningful chapter in our lives.  It feels good to have an exclamation point at the end of this chapter.


Three Powerful Words

This week Brenda and I visited some of the senior aged people of our congregation.  Over the past twelve plus years we have been blessed with a great relationship with those who are older than we are.  I have been impressed with how these dear saints of God have embraced the change that has taken place within our church.  Whether it was a building expansion fundraising program, pushing forward in passionate worship, changing the name of our church, or starting new Compass sites, these beautiful friends have embraced us and the adventure.  This is impressive.

I was reminded of the power of words this week as we visited one of the senior women from our congregation.  We came to say goodbye and her face lit up when we walked into the room.  We praised God together for what he has done and is doing in her life.  I then told her, what I have told so many people in our church family over the years, “you are loved!”  Simple words but very powerful words.  Over the years she has questioned whether or not she was loved.  I have sat with her through many of these dark times of the soul.  There is nothing more lonely than wondering whether you are loved.  She thanked me for the many times that I told her that she was indeed loved.  On this past Thursday she heard these powerful words once again, “you are loved.”  She has been reminded that she is loved by the God who died for her and loved by the church family who cared for her.

Love those words.


Two More Sleeps and One More Preach

It is Friday afternoon and I just finished packing up my office.  This afternoon leaving Compass got real fast.  It has been a five month journey from announcing that we believed God was calling us to leave Compass to our last Sunday, April 27, 2014.  My blog entries over the next couple of months will be mostly about the “in between” adventure that God is taking us on.  We are leaving Compass trusting God for what is next, not having a clue about what is next.  I hope to be able to capture my thoughts, concerns, hopes and emotions in the weeks ahead.  Perhaps doing this will help someone else who follows in these same steps.

This week has been full of many tears.  Brenda and I have been reflecting often on the past twelve plus years of ministry.  I have also taken the time to write about some within our church who have made a huge impact on my life.  These are people we have journeyed with through different challenges and joys.  Every time I have stopped to reflect about someone it has been like someone has ripped my heart right out of my chest.  I have found myself sobbing over the depth of love God has given me for these friends who have blessed my life.  Tears of joy and pain.  Lets just say I have gone through a lot of tissue this week.

The five month period has probably been too long.  Not probably, it has been too long.  It has been a perpetual goodbye tour.  All of it good, normal and much of it awkward.  If I were doing this again I would say 2 to 3 months tops for the goodbyes.

It is times like these that it becomes apparent how much God has knit our hearts together with others.  I am experiencing how much I am loved and how much I love others.  God is good.

It’s Friday and Sunday is coming.

When Winning An Award Is A Big Deal

I am not one to make a big deal over the presentation of awards.  But last Thursday night is an exception.

Business Excellence AwardsLast Thursday night at the Greater Dufferin Area Chamber of Commerce awards presentation for Business Excellence, Compass Community Church received the award for Not for Profit Community Service.  I am thrilled for our church family because it really is a recognition of all of their hard work in our community.  We talk a lot about not being takers but givers in our region.  We do this because we value sharing the love of God in word and deed in our region.  We believe God has called us to declare and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in our region.

We along with many churches in our region are responding to God’s love for us in Jesus Christ by extending the grace of Jesus Christ to others.  This is not shocking to me but what is surprising to me is that Compass was recognized for this by our community.

A few weeks ago we received a phone call from the Chamber of Commerce indicating that we had been nominated for this award.  Anyone can nominate someone for a business excellence award but it turns out that someone not from our church, actually not from any church, nominated Compass because they recognized all the good things we were doing in our region.  We were asked by the Chamber of Commerce if we would be willing to receive an award if we won and then we had to fill out some forms indicating the different kinds of ministries we are involved with in our community.  A Chamber of Commerce outside of our region then reviewed all of the submissions and made the decision as to who would receive the award.

Years ago the church was at the centre of town and city life in Canada.  Today the church is at the fringe of Canadian culture.  Gary Nelson has so aptly described the church in Canada today as “borderland churches”.  I absolutely agree with the assessment that the church today must reorient itself to a more missional type of living.  We are indeed not in the centre any longer and that is more than ok.  Because this is true I must admit that I was taken back that not only would Compass be nominated but that it was awarded with recognition for its impact on community service.

Last Thursday night taught me that in midst of living on the fringes, being borderland churches, it is possible to make a difference and for that difference to be noticed.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful message when declared and demonstrated, in word and deed, consistently through the lives of individuals.  I emphasize the lives of individuals because Compass is so much more than an organized group it is a collection of people who are making a difference in our communities across our region under a common cause and calling.

I am thankful to see that a community of faith living on mission was recognized.  I am surprised by that.  I am hopeful that this will lead to God being glorified and famous.

The Unbusy Pastor

Peterson calls busy "a symptom not of commitment but of betrayal".  Used in conjunction with pastor "it is an outrageous scandal" (page 17).  For the most part I agree with his assessment.

I confess that the pastoral busyness (amount of activity and a state of hurriedness) in my schedule is my own problem.  I admit to a sense of vanity, yes I even think the song is about me sometimes.  Who doesn’t want to feel important and what better way to be important than to let people think you are busy?  It is at times the merit badge that I wear.  Seems to be the same for some of my colleagues but I should let them speak for themselves.  I am not as sure about being busy because I am lazy.  I believe, as I noted in my previous posting, my problem is more confusion than laziness.  I don’t sense in my church context that I have the problem of having others define for me what I should be doing as much as me wondering what I should be doing.

Peterson suggests three significant things that a pastor should do.  Praying that is cultivated from the "deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day" (page 20).  Preaching, "speak the Word of God that is Scripture in the language and rhythms of the people I live with" (page 20), that comes from hours of reflection, immersion, and drenching in Scripture . . . much more than what comes from preparing a sermon.  Listening to others, that comes from an unhurried leisure, a quality of spirit (page 21).

And all of this sounds so amazing.  Throw in a tall lemonade, sunshine, and a beach chair and I am in!

Is Peterson’s suggestion reasonable?  While different church cultures and contexts, and a person’s giftedness/personality/etc. will impact the expansion of the BIG THREE (like leadership related functions) I am growing in my conviction that Peterson is more right than delusional.  Some may not feel they have the freedom to fill their hours with the BIG THREE but we do a greater service for the Kingdom if we dialogue with those we must for this freedom.  I am fortunate that I belong to a church leadership team that is trying to understand along with me what kind of pastor-leader God wants.  I confess that in my few moments of clarity I find that I may be the one who is slowest to embrace what needs to be done. 

I love Peterson’s practical solution of scheduling unbusyness . . . what a fantastic oxymoron.  Now if I can just do that while letting everyone else think I am still busy . . . just kidding, sort of.   


The Naked Noun

Outside of scripture Peterson and Nouwen have been the most significant authorial influences in my understanding of pastoral ministry.  In my seventh year of ministry at OBC I amm experiencing a need to revisit a my personal understanding of what it means to be a pastor.  Life changes, churches change, we change and this I suppose is all good even if it does create some level of discomfort.

So in an attempt to grapple with this I am re-reading "The Contemplative Pastor" by Eugene Peterson.   

Peterson notes that the term "pastor" has become "naked" redefined by our culture.  "In general usage, the noun is weak, defined by parody and diluted by opportunism" (page 15).  He notes that he refuses to accept the cultures definition because if he does he is rendered harmless (page 16).

While I affirm his feelings of being perceived as harmless the bigger issue for me is that the "nakedness" leads to what seems like a never ending list of adjectives to describe this "shape-shifting" noun.  Some of these adjectives are created by assumed expectations in the culture and congregation but equally so from my own mind.  Actually I am finding that the problem is not as much cultural redefinition of the word but my own inability to define the word (which for my postmodern friends may be one and the same – right? maybe?)

Is the issue "what is a pastor?" or "what isn’t a pastor?"  In other words, "how long is the list?".  Then there is the inevitable "I want to compare my list to your list" and then "is it OK if I don’t feel guilty about not doing something that is on your list?" 

You know something, I love this calling on my life.  But some days I don’t know whether I am coming or going.   


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