Someone sabotaged our computer. We discovered what they did right before we wanted to do a few things for the meeting last night. Three of us were huddled in front of it lamenting, offering ineffectual suggestions and generally having some mutual anxiety — and that just before we were to lead an evening centered on “not worrying!”
Now that everything worked out fine-if-not-perfectly, I look back fondly on the scene – back on how our strange little partnership in the gospel was revealed in that moment. We were anxious about something only Jesus could get us together to be anxious about. Each of us had travelled a long distance geographically and culturally to become important in a new kingdom and tribe. I like it when I notice that blessing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being partners lately and feeling thankful. I think my feeling is a lot like what Paul felt about the Philippians when he started a letter to them with: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:4). From the first day of Circle of Hope until now, I have had such amazing partners, beginning with my wife and family and then one person after another who Jesus drew together to form our incendiary community of faith: partners in building community, making disciples, showing compassion, doing business, inventing administration, weathering crises, sharing money and standing together in problems a lot worse than a sabotaged computer! What a blessing!
I have been especially thankful for the partnership of my fellow pastors along the way. Gerry Davis, Joe Snell, Mike Major, Tim Bathurst, and Bryan Robinson added their gifts and moved on. Then there are the seven who serve as Pastor right now who rose up from among us and have given their love and service for years. You might not know that the average tenure of a pastor in the United States is about four years. Most of our pastors get started in the ranks as cell leaders. By the time they become a pastor in one of our congregations, they’ve probably already served for four years! A secret to our survival and remarkable success in building the body of Christ in a relatively-hostile territory is our long-lived pastor partnership.
Ben White and Rachel Sensenig are good examples of emerging pastors. They both have experimental roles in the church that we wanted pastors to fill. Ben is the Development Pastor attached to Broad and Washington. He has been inventing ways to connect with new people groups and develop the congregation’s capacity to grow. In the process, he is developing himself! Rachel is the Administrative Pastor who works for the whole church: our network of congregations, cells and teams. Her role has grown dramatically as we have figured out how to be who we are. She has helped us figure that out, often doing things administratively and learning new sides of leadership that don’t fit naturally with her gifts in the process. They are important, much-loved partners.
I am on a team of four pastors who lead the four congregations. I think next year we will be even more of a team as we lean into being one church in four or more locations rather than four congregations networked as a church. Our partnership is crucial to the health of our community. It is not so much that everyone needs to be led around a lot, but the gravity of our love and unity, as well as our diversity in age, experience and background is a great engine for what we hope the whole church will be.
Last week Jonny Rashid of Broad and Dauphin was lobbying to get an Egyptian flag on the rack that displays the countries where our covenant members were born. He thinks citizenship should count as well as birthplace. He has opinions. He has energy. He has a young family and a young congregation. He is forthright, dogged and faithful: a great partner.
Nate Hulfish of Marlton and Crescent reluctantly stayed home from the intentional retreat last weekend because he was also recovering from his wife’s epic wisdom teeth extraction. I also think he kind of wanted to be at the Collingswood Book Fair because he has been meeting as many people as possible – even acting contrary to his introversion to do so! He is an articulate teacher, a determined learner, malleable and ambitious: a great partner.
Joshua Grace of Frankford and Norris is one-of-a-kind. He has grown up in Circle of Hope and channels our way of life in an always-on-the-edge kind of way. He is an interesting mix of being hidden away with off-the-grid musicians and being popular with famous people across the country. He’s a force. He has passions. He is loyal, imaginative and longsuffering: a great partner.
Gwen White is the most random pastor. We finally named her a “teaching pastor” and gave her a token sum to honor what she had been giving for free for years. This past weekend she showed her stuff well when she led our retreat. I am not sure she even had to prepare too much to be that helpful. She is self-giving, insightful, a determined builder and wonderfully rebellious against what should not be messing up her “dear one,” Jesus.
A paean is a song of praise or triumph. It implies, to me, enthusiastic Greeks dancing around in a celebration and then settling down as one of their great orators offers a poem that sums up what everyone is excited about so we could remember it twenty-five hundred years later. Nobody on this list cares much about getting summed up for history – they’re hardly done yet, for one thing! But they are such great partners, (as you probably are if you got to the end of this), they deserve a paean.