You Are Not Who You Think You Are

You Are Not Who You Think You AreHave you ever met someone who is always incredibly negative about life? I’m not talking about someone who is suffering with depression or living in a dark chapter…I am talking about a person who refuses to look on the bright side. It can be exhausting. People in this situation tend to convince themselves that reality is different than what is obvious. They look at their experiences through a different lens than most.

When something is apparent to one person, and it seems that another is almost blinded to the truth, frustration can rise, and relationships can be damaged. If a person in this situation embraces pride, then they tend to further distance themselves from others. As distance grows, isolation breeds contempt and bitterness. These traits can rewire a person’s mind to believe things that are simply untrue.

There is a fundamental temptation in the heart of many, if not all, of people who have chosen to follow Jesus. The pattern is almost written as a common script. The individual will make great strides in their life and see great transformation. They may live on a wonderful trajectory for a significant period of time, and then something happens that derails their progress. Perhaps they give into an old temptation, or stumble over a struggle they thought they left behind. In this scenario, there are three ways that a person can go. The first way is to acknowledge the mistake and step forward into growth. The second way is to embrace defeat and punish themselves for a relatively short time. The last way complicates things a bit. It is the circumstance in which a person convinces themselves that they are “just that way” and they will “never change”.

As a pastor, it can be so frustrating to interact with a person who has taken a slight detour in their faith, and for them to be convinced that “this is who they truly are”. Why do we do this? Why do we think our bad behavior is our true self and any previous good behavior is nullified? This is like getting the flu and convincing yourself and that you are always meant to be sick. People can change, and we are meant to change. We are meant to grow and flourish, and we must learn from our mistakes.

There are people who I have met and truly look up to with amazing stories of how God has navigated their lives. They can tell you tales of how they were completely different when they were younger, and their development can be compared to a caterpillar and a butterfly.

God loves you exactly the way you are, but He loves you too much to not cultivate progress in your life. I guarantee you, when you are going through a rough patch in your life, and you have convinced yourself that you will “always be this way” …you are not who you think you are. Sometimes it is easy to believe the lie that a mistake can send you backwards when, in actuality, it is more like just “taking the scenic route”. Now, this is not an excuse for cultivating horrible behavior, but perhaps it can bring hope to someone who is feeling lost.

You are not who you think you are. Remember, you can be better.

-Landon DeCrastos

In Defense of Ritual

ritual defenseProfessionals train and sacrifice countless hours to perfect their craft. It doesn’t matter if the area of expertise is in the arts, entertainment, sports, engineering, medicine or public service…the individual that betters themselves will be prepared for the most extreme challenges when it comes to their prowess. When firefighters work out, and keep their body fit, the point is to build strong muscles, so they are ready in case an unfortunate circumstance occurs, and someone needs rescued. These men and women perform repetitious exercises to not only build strength, but to build consistency and familiarity in a variety of tasks. Sports players do this same thing. A baseball player will swing their bat hundreds of times in a row, so that their mind and body is in sync. Actors are no different. These folks meditate over their lines until they are performing them in their sleep. In whatever situation, this idea is called “building muscle memory”.

Ask just about anyone on the street if they think that building muscle memory is a good thing, and most would agree that it is prudent. These same people may even recall a favorite moment in their discipline of choice and tell you how that person who hit the game-winning home run or the violinist who performed the flawless concerto inspired them to be better in their profession.

As great of an idea this concept is, for some reason, there is still significant backlash regarding this practice in our spiritual lives. People praise the soccer player that scores the winning goal but often look down on the Christian who has embraced ritual and tradition. It is so tempting to look at the life of an ancient early Christian or Jewish believer and dismiss their daily rhythms as archaic and meaningless. Sure, they may actually be meaningless, but that is not the fault of the practice, but perhaps the practitioner.

When we look in scripture, especially the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), we see countless commands given by God to His chosen people. Some of these seem so foreign to the 21st Century believer, and for those who feel “deeply enlightened”, they may even seem counter intuitive. The fact is, God used ritual and tradition to build muscle memory…even though some of it may not have made immediate sense. This memory developed over many generations, not to keep His people busy, but to prepare them for the personification of holiness that would eventually come. He wanted to condition them to respond to His leading…to learn to step out into territory that felt unnatural. It was no different than learning basic motor skills as a child, and putting them all together as an adult to become a contributing citizen.

The more I read and think about building a life of ritual, the more I am drawn to the fact that our ancient mothers and fathers had it absolutely right. Perhaps, we do not have to mimic their every move, but I think, to be healthy we must develop a life of consistent rhythm. You can shake your fist at me, and yell “legalism” all you want…but it seems like we don’t even bat an eye when it comes to developing habits that are unhealthy for us. Do you have a habit or struggle that you go to regularly for comfort or solace? Get my point? How about developing habits of praise and worship? How about setting up things in your life that will be a reminder of God’s faithfulness? What about Holy repetition?

To be honest, whether the religious ritual is weekly worship, daily prayer, or sacred personal reading…the point is not for us to be entertained or stimulated. The point is to be reminded, and to put ourselves in a position in which obedience comes more naturally.

Now…in the name of Jesus…Go and be His disciples. Train and remember where he has brought you from.

Speaking of “where He has brought you from” …Do you ever forget about that? If you do, it is possible you really misunderstand what it means to grow…In my next blog post, I am going to explore that…stay tuned.

…to be continued.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Ferryman

There is a story that’s more than lore
About believers who have come before
Those who sought Jesus over earthly more
And earnestly asked him to save

These folks acknowledged the pain he bore
And answered when He knocked on the door
They found meaning they always longed for
And loved the grace He gave

To them, serving was not a chore
When they prayed, they felt their hearts soar
Scripture changed their very core
Their eternal future was gilded and paved

Then one day our precious Lord
Ferried them to the beautiful shore
Asking them to trust Him just once more
And ride the uncertain wave

When they did, they found what they were created for
Streets of gold and everyone they adore
Waiting at the golden door
And the joy that God naturally gave

So what can we learn from this report?
Well, whether long or even short
Our earthly time is not for sport
And eternal life starts before the grave.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Meeting

Holy-of-Holies

The High Priest opened the curtain and slowly walked into the Holy Place. His hands were still damp from the recent experience in the water basin. He took a deep breath as he walked through the threshold and whispered a quick prayer during the initial steps.

He looked to the left and made note of the candelabra. This priceless piece was hammered out of one piece of pure gold. Until this point, this lampstand has been used for several generations, but one would have poor observation skills not to notice that the stand still looked brand new. He knew that there was deep meaning in all the pieces that were placed in the Temple, but there was something in him that understood that there was a far deeper meaning to this lamp than what he could currently comprehend. Perhaps the full meaning would be revealed in time…

As he shuffled forward, his robe nearly dragged on the ground. He, once again, became aware of the weight of his breastplate. When he looked to his right side, he remembered the 12 tribes of Israel. This was symbolized by the loaves of bread on the table. The High Priest closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. The smell of freshly baked wheat filled his nostrils, and for some reason, as if it was forcibly planted in his mind, stories of the times that God was faithful to His people were recalled.

The path became shorter, and the priest saw the last stand that he had to navigate around. The closer he got, the more the scent of incense gripped him. This small table had great significance, and the placement made it so it was almost an obstruction to the final goal. As the smoke filled the air, he was made acutely aware of his mission and purpose. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people that he was there to represent. One concept that struck him, that he had never thought of before, concerned the placement of this table. It was strategic. When God gave the instructions through Moses to build the original Tabernacle, it seems as if He wanted to make sure that prayer was the closest thing to Him. Perhaps there is more power in this action that we often think.

With a bowl full of blood in his hand, the High Priest approached the final curtain. He opened it to see the Arc of the Covenant. His heart pounded harder and harder. He felt slightly dizzy and had to compose himself. The makeshift room seemed to be illuminated and he felt as if it was significantly hotter. Then, he gave thanks to Yahweh, and began sprinkling the blood on the artifact. The experience seemed short lived as he concentrated on the ritual. He exited.

Weeks later, the High Priest heard rumors of a baby that was born not too far away. This child was born during the empire-wide census in a stable among animals. People spoke of a scandalized mother, who was pregnant before she was married to her husband. After a while, word about this little boy seemed to fade away. Perhaps we may hear more about this story later.

A New Ministry Model

ministry modelWhether or not I have consciously realized it, I have been on a quest for over a decade to discover the perfect ministry model. In pastoral circles, we use the phrase “ministry model” to categorize a system of programs and ideas that lead the pastor on a trajectory of success in their respective calling.

In ministry, according to what most instructors, consultants, books and mentors tell us is that success in the role of a pastor has more to do with people accumulated under our scope of ministry than anything else. The bigger the church or program grows (in the shortest time possible), the more successful the ministry. In recent years, I have challenged leaders to redefine success as “a consistent and unwavering focus on God’s mission in the world.” So, in essence, I guess you could say that I am challenging our definition of success.

I know what you are thinking. I am a heretic when it comes to ministry preparation. I hear the justification all the time that the interaction of the Holy Spirit in the life of ministry automatically means exponential growth. “Biblically, anything that the Holy Spirit has [his] hand in grows quickly…” is a phrase or inference that is often conveyed. This, however, is actually not always true. When this justification is brought up, the mental image of the massive growth of the New Testament Pentecost event is visualized. The spiritual domino effect of this was mind boggling. In many people’s minds, when the Holy Spirit is unleashed and active, this is what happens. Things go crazy and, as scripture says “people are added to the group daily”. There is not much wrong with this thought process, but it doesn’t give a full look at a larger story. The fact is, when we truly look at scripture as a unified story, we realize that the Holy Spirit has initiated growth on many different levels and in many different ways. At times, we see the Holy Spirit’s transformative power in one on one interactions. Other times, we see power unleashed through the healing of a man or woman. In even more rare occasions, we see massive groups converted in bulk. Whatever the case may be, there is great evidence to suggest that God’s awesome power is not limited by our metrics, and He is creative. Keep in mind, Jesus’ ministry was not one based on rapid expansion but consistent commitment to His purpose on earth.

My heart has been heavy for a long time concerning ministry preparation. I feel like we, as a Christian culture, have adopted a “Henry Ford” model of education and training (assembly line). It seems as if pastors have stepped into a process in which they are given a “cookie cutter” system of practices and expectations to help them be successful in the task of attracting large crowds. In the same way, whether it is purposeful or not, we are being told that there are only certain personality mixes that are eligible for pastoral ministry. I will write about this concept in my next blog post.

I think we need to rethink the way we do ministry. Passing clergy through an assembly line of preparation is simply not Biblical. I also think we need to consider a new model of ministry. There are 3 things I think we need to emphasize in this new thrust (which is not new at all):

  1. Shepherd shaped development– Too often, we are calling a new minister to seek to be someone God has never called to them be. We think that, in the best case scenario, and if everything goes well, this pastor will become the local community celebrity and gain a massive following (as long as God “blesses” them). Instead, when a leader does not reach that expectation, they become frustrated and even question their ministerial call. What if we put more effort to teach new pastors to become a shepherd? The position of shepherd implies not only a mentality of guiding, but also sending. A shepherd will send the herd forward, and when they need it, come alongside and direct. When a pastor is shepherd, they dedicate themselves to a community, and they spend energy in making sure that each person is cared for, and loved. They develop trust and deeper concern. It is hard and messy. It is not easy. It will frustrate the leader. It is immensely worth the time.

  1. Pastor as Healer – Sometimes, as Christians, we get a wrong impression about the word “healing”. Perhaps we cringe or our mind drifts to televangelists who misunderstood the gifts of the Spirit. In this context, the word healer and soother could be interchangeable. The idea is that a leader can and should seek to be an influence that provides care, infuses peace, and speaks life into everyone they encounter. Also, the minister should develop a desire to see that other leaders are brought through rejuvenation.

  1. Minister as a trainer/ mentor – There is nothing more satisfying than to experience someone, that you have poured time and energy into, grow and take ownership of their own area of ministry. This person may have started out as skeptical about the Gospel, but now they are leading others to Jesus! This is energizing! Pastors across the board should be doing this. I know that many leaders would say that their role is to pour into a smaller group so that this small group can pour into the masses. This is absolutely true. This would be a great example of what this concept looks like in a larger ministry setting.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against the larger worship communities and I think that they can be incredible assets to the Kingdom of God. My problem is that we often expect every leader to look the same and we base success off of statistics and sometimes arbitrary metrics. I understand that many are only trying to harness these principles for efficiency…and many are doing this….but let’s not take these ideas and consider every other ministry arbitrary if they are not “falling in line”. Some leaders are gifted and called to lead smaller communities, and they should be encouraged, and equipped to develop passionate disciples in that context.

In my next blog post, I will speak about the personalities that make up a church and the internal wiring of a pastor. I think we are being told, as implied before, that only a certain type of person is a valid candidate for ministry. Spoiler alert: scripture counteracts this idea.

Love you all,

-Landon DeCrastos

Is Bivocational Ministry a Sin?

bivo ministryToday, I am going to give you a “behind the scenes” look at the life and thought process of a bivocational pastor. This category of minister is becoming more common, because we are seeing a fundamental change in the landscape of pastoral ministry. The economy is changing in a way so that many churches are not able to pay their pastor a full-time wage so they must seek employment outside of the church to support their family. It is nothing new, of course, because we know that missionaries have been doing this very thing for hundreds of years. Traditionally, we see this type of ministry done in a church with a smaller membership. The reason for this is obvious; a lack of funding. I am a bivocational pastor, and I know many of them. I don’t often hear complaints about living this lifestyle from the clergy themselves. It is necessary and most are happy to do it (albeit tired) if it means being able to give more to the church, and support their family.

Bivocational ministry can be a great blessing to the Kingdom of God. Through this method, pastors can directly interact with people in the workplace that they may not normally get to minister to. Clergy then can be immersed missionaries in all environments, and embed themselves in just about any context. These are positive aspects to this lifestyle.

Are there any negatives to living this way? Well…unfortunately there are downfalls. Pastors get tired, and as much as we can say that they need to be solely sustained by their calling, it does not negate the fact that our physical bodies and emotional capacities wear down over time. Members will sometimes become frustrated with their leader because the church may not be growing by a massive amount. Meanwhile, the minister is giving every ounce of energy they possess to two (or more) vocations and it can feel like running on a never-ending treadmill. While the pastor is at their day job, there may even be a person who needs them laying in a hospital bed, and their family is becoming frustrated because they have not yet had a visit. Often the answer is to demand more and more from the leader instead of stepping up to the plate.

Clergy that choose to live this life accept the fact that they must adapt to the needs of their position. Sometimes they drop the ball, or forget an important detail. There are times they want to say “no” because they just want one free night to themselves. At the same time, love and the desire for the broken to be healed compels them. It animates their dry bones. Changed lives ignite energy.

I have spoken with pastors who become very frustrated, because people have told them that they need to be more focused on the church and that they should quit their job and “trust God more” for finances. I would argue that this pastor should ask that wonderful parishioner to quit their job so they can volunteer at the church full-time, and see what they say. I digress. The fact is, there are many Christians who would never admit it, but by their actions, would consider bivocational ministry a sin. “Sin” of course being that which inconveniences them. What we forget is that every Christian is called to be a minister. Every believer is a missionary in their context.

Now, before I get angry emails and comments, I want to make it very clear, that I am very blessed to have a congregation that understands the costs and rewards of a pastor that is bivocational. I appreciate the fact that I can live this life with their support and encouragement.

Scripture tells us that even the Apostle Paul was a minister who worked a second job. He had an incredible passion for the Gospel. He did what God called Him to do. He looked forward and didn’t dwell in the past.

Is bivocational ministry a sin? Of course not. Let’s stop treating it that way.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

3 Things All Pastors Should Know

3 Things All Pastors Should KnowOne of the most important lessons I have learned as a pastor is that I must always maintain a teachable spirit. Ministry can be stressful and require a lot of physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental energy so making a vow to humbly learn all one can is vital. I am, by no means, an expert in the area of ministry, but I have realized that there are things I didn’t necessarily learn in seminary.  I do believe that my schooling was very valuable and I would recommend it to any pastor I speak with, but there are just so many things that must be learned on the “field” that can’t be taught.

Today, I want to speak about 3 Things All Pastors Should Know.

Sometimes your ideas are not the best ideas– Often when a pastor enters into their ministry calling, they have big and beautiful ideas about the programs, sermons, partnerships, and impact they will have in their church or organization. These types of thoughts get them excited about the endless possibilities. Then, reality sets in and when the minister makes their attempt to change the world, discouragement comes because the people they are leading are not responding in the way they imagined. Sometimes, this makes church leaders frustrated and want to give up. The fact is, this realization does have to be a bad thing. Often times, the best thing that could happen in pastoral ministry is for the anointed leader to come to terms with the fact that they are not the most creative person in the church. Perhaps there are others that, if listened to, and given authority, can set the church up to fulfill the call that God has given them. Now, don’t get me wrong, the pastor is the person who articulates the agenda for the group they are shepherding, but don’t forget that there are others who are blessed with great talent and creativity. They can be a powerful force for ministry too.

Don’t make your ministry a career – My heart breaks when I see pastors moving from church to church in a relatively short amount of time. In a way, I get it. Sometimes one church is not a great fit and we make mistakes discerning where God wants us. The problem comes, though, when a minister is always in search of that next larger church as if it is some sort of “promotion”. When we do this, we start to look at people as a consumer good or inanimate object. We also begin to look at each spiritual interaction as a means to an end for our benefit. Pastor…YOU MUST STOP THIS! The people who are in front of you are hurting and need someone to lead them into their own Promised Land. You could be their Moses (well, technically Joshua but you get my point). Don’t leave your ministry until God calls you to do so. And, no, God’s only way of “calling you” is not through the avenue of more influence, comfort, and a higher salary. Snap out of it.

It’s okay to admit you are wrong – It is often tempting, as a pastor, to believe that the people who we lead in ministry think of us as flawless human beings who can do no wrong. This is obviously false. There are times when the pastor is wrong, and if they are stubborn about admitting this quickly then their influence will be tarnished. People want leaders who are transparent and who understand their pain. If their shepherd won’t admit and embrace their humanity then they become irrelevant. We don’t have all the answers and we can’t fix every problem. We can, however love people through their own mess.

I wish I would have learned a lot of these things earlier in ministry. I think it would make me a better leader today. It’s okay, though, because God is still using me and I am anxious to continue to grow.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos