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Earl Marshall

Month: May 2014

One Month Check Up

One of the questions I get asked over and over again these days is “how are you doing?” This is not asked in the obligatory welcoming way but in the “tell me, really, how are you doing?” way. Usually I answer with a perfunctory “fine” or “OK” but perhaps one month in to my journey it would be helpful to take an account.

It will be four Sundays this Sunday, May 25th, since our last Sunday at Compass and in many ways it feels like our good-bye was much longer than one month ago. It has not been hard to distance myself emotionally from Compass. I admit that I am surprised by this. I would have expected a greater challenge. Even as I write this I feel a twinge of guilt expressing this (just a twinge). I have experienced a number of moments of reconnection. These moments of reconnection include simple little things like driving by the church building, running into someone at Starbucks, or the occasional email with someone from Compass. None of it is bad, all of it is normal, enjoyable and necessary.

Overall I would say I am much more relaxed. I knew I was wound tight but I didn’t know how tightly wound until the string was pulled. The responsibility of church ministry along with all of its privileges has been removed and every week I am feeling more and more weightless. I imagine part of this is also because of the simplicity of our home life right now. We are experiencing this time without children at home and with parents in good health. I am grateful for the gift of this moment in time.

I miss the rhythm of preparation and preaching. I am enjoying the break and having others shepherd me in the ministry of God’s word but my passion for preaching is undeniable.

I am more appreciative of my time with others. When I left Compass I removed myself from an entire network of relationships. I am not part of that normal flow of relationships and I miss that very much. So when I get the opportunity to spend minutes or hours with someone it just brings that much more joy.

I am thankful for God’s care. I am confident in his call. I am blessed with an abiding relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I am enjoying the present even as I am hopeful for the future.

I am appreciative of God’s clarity. The past six months and in particular the past month has been full of helpful conversations with others, which has led to dynamic conversations between Brenda and myself. It has been exciting to reach out to God with Brenda in prayer. God has used all of this to help us discern the desires he is placing in our heart for ministry.

One month in I am grateful.


In Praise of Slacking

We have all been made by God with an undeniable creativity. We all express it differently but nevertheless we are creative.  I have found that in my life creativity flourishes under different conditions. There are times when  a moment of stress births a necessary creative response. A crisis can do that, whereas living in perceived crisis mode will usually suck any creative juices dry. Second, surrounding myself with other creatives has and does cultivate creativity. There is nothing like the energy in the room filled with creative minds committed to sharing a creative spirit. I have found, however, that this also has its limits. Too many creative minds for too long of a time has always resulted in copying rather than creativity in my life. That is why my motto for the conferences I attend is, “get one thing and then I’m out of here.” I believe that when choosing a conference to attend your motto should be “location, location, location.” Third, I have found the discipline of “working it out” and in particular with others has many times produced a creative result. Sometimes the process produces a creativity that I would or could not have expressed on my own, the type that comes only as a result of being developed by a team. I have often found that this team does not need to be full of people that others would label as “creative” but that when people of all creative stripes are given a clear purpose and put their minds together in a disciplined process amazing things can and do happen.

But for me, by far, the greatest means of engendering creativity in my mind and spirit is space in my life. You can call it, “boredom”, “stillness”, even “wasting time” if you want, but I prefer to call it “space”. This space has a physical, emotional, and spiritual aspect to it. Space in my life is when my focus on the presence of God is heightened. I love the fact that I live a creative life. I also know that being connected to the Creator is essential to all of this. This is why we sabbath. One day a week where we “do nothing”, “veg”, “be lazy.” A day to rest and to live as unto God. That is space! The problem is that so many of us don’t have this regular rhythm of space. We get weighed down and personalize our responsibilities and decisions instead of living our lives reminded that our lives are part of God’s everlasting legacy.

I am presently experiencing a self imposed, God directed, sabbatical. I was reminded of Buchanan’s words that one won’t be able to fully experience the beauty of a sabbatical if they don’t know how to sabbath. These words are painfully true enough. Even as I learn to embrace “boredom”, “stillness”, and “laziness,” I am finding that God is birthing in me a new found creativity and passion for what could be. So today I am thankful to God, giving Him praise for slacking!

Starting To Figure It Out?

Today ends the second week since we left Compass.  Emotionally this week was better than the first week.  The first week was more up and down.  This week we were at a cottage for three days.  These were three days full of “space”.  At the end of the first week I had four days on my own and then I made the trek to meet Brenda for three days at the cottage.  Being physically removed from home and away from Orangeville gave my spirit and mind the freedom it needed.  It was a remarkable three days that allowed me to pull together many of the thoughts I have been having for five months about a future direction for ministry.  I call it my next 10 to 15 years.  I will be 53 this summer so if you do the math you can see that these 10 to 15 years are important years.

Over the course of the past five months I have found it challenging to focus and pray in depth about what is next while serving Compass.  Even though during these months I have talked with many about various possibilities for future ministry it was not until I was removed from the responsibility of pastoral leadership that I was able to think freely and creatively about what could be next for me.  This has been a unique experience for me in this season in my life.  In years past I would not have struggled with formulating a new future direction while serving in a ministry role but this time I have found that being uncluttered in my life has helped me in being focused and succinct.

So after two weeks, the thoughts that have been whirling around in my head for five months make a lot more sense to me.  I believe this is all God given. There is no reason for me to think otherwise.  We are praying that God would give us the desires of our hearts believing that these desires are what God desires for us.  Not our will but God’s will is what we are praying for.

I believe that the next 10 to 15 years for me/us will be dedicated to the following

Preaching and teaching God’s Word.  This is my calling and passion in life.

Encouraging and equipping church leaders and in particular the next generation of church leaders in pastoral ministry and leadership.

Doing the above while based in a local church.

I don’t know how all of this is going to work out.  Not sure if we will serve in one church or a movement of churches doing the above.  Not sure if it will be through church planting or working with an existing church.  Not sure if this will be all in place in year one of ten or something that we will grow towards.  What I do know is that this next chapter of my life is an important chapter in my life.  My prayer is if it would bring God glory and pleasure that he would use my life to do his work and bring widespread spiritual renewal to Canada within my lifetime.

Hopeful for what is next!


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!

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