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Behind the Message: Finding Gratefulness in the Mess

April 7, 2024

In this week’s Behind the Message, Pastors Ben and Evan kick off a 6-part discussion through the book of Philippians. In week 1, they explore Paul’s opening address to the church in Philippi, where he expresses his gratitude and thankfulness for the young church.

Westside Church
Behind the Message: Finding Gratefulness in the Mess
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Sermon Transcript:

Speaker A: From Westside Church in Bend, Oregon, this is behind the message. Each week we take you behind what we're teaching at Westside. I'm Ben Flemming.

Speaker B: And I'm Evan Earwicker. We are together this year pastors of west side church. Thank you for joining us. We are kicking back into behind the message with a discussion around our series in Philippians. We're spending six weeks talking through the book of Philippians and seeing what Paul might have to say to us today as believers, as followers of Jesus. Whether or not you're inside a church or used to be in a church, we hope you'll enjoy these conversations as we look through the book of Philippians. We're talking about gratefulness. Today I wanted to read Philippians one, three, six, and maybe that will start us as a talking point to kick off on. I thank God every time I remember you in all my prayers for you. I always ray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. A familiar passage where Paul is really describing how grateful he is for an imperfect church.

Speaker A: Yeah, the vibes are good, right, with Paul and the church in Philippi. And I think it's tempting and not necessarily incorrect to teach this entire passage as an understanding of how joy works. But you certainly can't take that out of the context of Paul has such an affinity for this specific group of people that something has happened through their support and their care and their love for him, he has established this relationship that he doesn't seem to necessarily have with other churches, which leads me to the question of as church leadership and folks that are heavily invested in this. Is this specifically a blueprint for how we approach every church and situation, this book of Philippians? Or is this a way to approach a very specific kind of relationship that you hope to engage in?

Speaker B: Right. Yeah. And that's always the question. Is this an occasional thing that Paul is saying to a specific group, or is it universal for all of us? What I know is universal and has always been the case in churches, is that they're flawed. Right? They're filled with flawed people. And this is why sometimes when we talk about getting back to the practices or what was going on in the early church, I always want to say, but the early church was pretty flawed, and that's why we have all these letters to churches. Is Paul saying, hey, this is where it's going wrong and we need to reform and shape and change in order to become what Jesus had intended. So there's no perfect church, right. In acts two, day one, really cool things happening. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is poured out, but immediately, the church that forms is not the ideal or the perfect church. Right. That's on that day when the church is the spotless bride, you know? But until then, we have an imperfect church that is constantly trying to be shaped better into the image of Jesus. And so in those ways, I think this becomes a universal truth, because Paul would be writing to us if he were here. Yeah.

Speaker A: And there's no complete arrival either, is what you're saying. Not only is there no perfect church, but there's not even this goal that we're trying to achieve, that we can achieve and then have some kind of a sustained perfection for five, six, seven years, which I think subconsciously, we're always thinking, well, maybe I could be the exception personally, that I'll hit this point in my life and everything will be good for at least an extended period. Or maybe we can be that as church leaders and our church can look like that it is this constant. Like, that is the job. Right. The job is to regularly understanding where we're at right now, where we need to go. Not only is what are steps one through ten, but what steps one through 1.5, you know? And that's been the biggest kicker for me, I guess, as a follower of Christ, slowing down enough and giving myself enough grace to understand that this is a constant work in progress. And I think that's where Paul finds his gratefulness with Philippians. Right. That he is creating a perspective with them. And, of course, he's thankful for everything that's actually happening right here at the moment. But it seems like Paul really understands in this letter this broader scope of how we follow Jesus as a church.

Speaker B: Yeah. And I think what Paul is encouraging is gratefulness, is always looking back. I'm grateful for what has happened, but you don't look too far back. There's a certain presence in Paul's writing that I think is in the moment where he's saying, I'm grateful and thankful for what's happening now. And I've seen this. I think it's really natural that nostalgia kicks in about the good old days of community or church, or you think back to, oh, high school. Our friends were so present in our lives, and we've never had that level of friendship. And so I think of Napoleon dynamite, right? Like, oh, if coach had just put me in, I would have thrown that football over them mountains. But there's this nostalgia thing that kicks in. I think maturity in our faith is to realize, like, I'm probably remembering things better than they were. And where we're at today isn't perfect, but God is present here. And so trying to pull us into the present in our gratefulness. How do you do that with your own memories of maybe church or your faith at moments that in your mind feel like they were better? Yeah.

Speaker A: I think a lot of the discussion that we've been having as a church over the last couple of years, with more earnest anyways, about spiritual formation, slowing our pace down through a personal liturgy, as well as changing our liturgy as a church. The difference between west side on a weekend from when we started this podcast several years ago to now, you know, we do communion every single week. We have a benediction that we read at the very end of the service. Just these little markers that slow down the pace enough with the intention that they put us in that present place more often. And we're trying to teach ourselves in our church, how do we slow down, use some of these things that on the surface might even seem like repetition, but they're forming us slowly, slowly, slowly. And they allow us to engage in the present. Because even the conversations that we have in meetings, we just came from one. It's all about, all right, this happened, and then this is what we gotta prepare for over the next few months or a year or whatever. It's so tempting to live in both those places. Cause that's how human beings survive. So I guess my answer would be gratefulness. And the present starts with even understanding that we can experience the present right now, in this moment. And then.

Speaker B: Yeah.

Speaker A: What are those triggers that actually put you into that? Is it the prayer of examine? Is it a time of worship? Is it music that grounds you? And are we regularly engaging in these practices?

Speaker B: Yeah. The regularity of spiritual practice that isn't based on how am I feeling about this moment? And I'm going to respond from an emotional place. Some of these more liturgical or spiritual practice based things that we do, if we deal with regularity, it's kind of like investing, right? Like you're not supposed to invest when you feel like it's a good moment. Timing the market, they say, is a loser's wager. I feel like sometimes our spirituality, we play that game of like, I'm going to time based on my emotions, how I respond to the presence of God. And we end up similarly in, I think, losing battle with trying to see our faith grow. And so this idea of every week, good, bad, hard weeks, great weeks, when I feel close to God, when I feel far away from God. I'm going to, for instance, listen to Ephesians, chapter three. That we read every week over the church. You know, that I would be rooted and grounded in love. And know with all the saints. What is the breadth and height, length and depth of the love of Christ. I mean, those things with regularity, not based on my emotions, I think have an effect. Right?

Speaker A: You said breadth and height and length of depth with such confidence. Every time I go to read that over the church, I'm like, breath. I just want to make sure I enunciate the th at the end.

Speaker B: It takes a lot of practice to say that in order. I don't even know if the order's right. Yeah, it's part of your liturgy in the morning, getting ready when you wake up. Yeah. Right. Right.

Speaker A: Well, and this is wrong, but I'm trying to. I don't know if it's wrong. Paul is in a particularly vulnerable spot.

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: We always talk about how. Well, listen to how grateful he is. And he's doing this even though he's in prison. Right. And I'm wondering if Paul might be even getting more reflective. That he's a bit more open to this gratefulness in the present that we're talking about because of his situation. There's some times where I find myself on a long walk all by myself, or in a restaurant all by myself. And I'm sitting there and I'll feel the urge to be like, you know, I should tell this person that I love him. I should send him a text, or I should respond to this. And that inkling doesn't necessarily come to me anywhere else. And that's just in the 30 minutes that I'm walking all by myself. Paul is now met with an extended period of time to be alone with his thoughts, to think about who's loved him most or whatever. And I'm not saying he's in a privileged situation or anything like that, of course. But this solitude that he has, I'm sure, is lending itself to this reflection. And even hearing the spirit in a different way.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think circumstances that are difficult will do that. Right. They'll either drive us into gratitude or they'll drive us into resentment. And that's a great battle that I think you see in Paul's writings, where he's constantly wrestling with this. Turning his time in prison or turning his when he's shipwrecked. And beaten and all these things into contentment. He's writing about these things not because they're nice thoughts. It's because he's wrestling with them in real time. And so when he's writing with gratitude to this church, I don't feel like that's a natural reaction. That is something that is cultivated through a life of prayerful spiritual maturity in Paul's life.

Speaker A: And do you get the maturity without all that pain? I guess we all go through some version of pain, right? We're not going to be thrown in prison and shipwrecked necessarily like Paul or even in your situation. Alyssa's gone through a cancer diagnosis, and there's been a lot of stuff that's gone on, even with staff here, that has been spiritually forming for the Steve Mickles and the boaster and Brady's. Can you do it without that extent of pain?

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: That's probably a terrible question.

Speaker B: I don't know. I mean, James one, right. Consider it pure joy when you experience trials of many kinds. Knowing that, and I'm gonna get this one wrong, but the endurance produces something in us, and we're not spiritually mature, I don't think, until we've operated in endurance. And what do you endure? Well, if it's pleasant, you're not enduring it. Right. And so, yeah, I think. Not to say, like, the people who have experienced the most pain are always the most mature. Because I do think there are different reactions and responses. But I think it is difficult, if you haven't experienced any kind of trouble or hardship or pain, to have a correct perspective that drives you into spiritual growth.

Speaker A: Yeah. Spiritual masochists or anything like that. That's not the idea. I wonder sometimes if it's even just identifying pain and struggle in your life as pain and struggle. I think the times that I've been the least mature and I've grown the least, it's when I have gone through difficult things and not allowed myself to experience and feel that pain or that loss, or ask the questions in the middle of it. Curiosity, a lot of times, brings its own kind of pain, which is followed by its own maturity. So maybe it's a little bit less about the level of trauma that we experience. As opposed to allowing ourselves to feel all the things that come into our minds and bodies when we go through crisis, big or small.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. And crisis pain, but also change, you know? And that is something. Even if you haven't experienced a big tragedy in your life, or you haven't lost somebody you love or you haven't been diagnosed with something or you haven't, you know, been broke and lost your job. We all experience change. I mean, that is a universal experience of change. And I think that can be something that triggers the same kind of responses, either reaching for growth or reaching for unhealth or vices, or all those things that we turn to when we don't feel stability in our life, maybe speaking.

Speaker A: Of the church, right, that's something that's come to the church en masse, I mean, over now, thousands of years. But I'm even just thinking about our lifetime, just our time in ministry, just the last five years, through a pandemic and election cycle and all these things, the church has become just something different every day. Sometimes it felt like for a while, or every year, and finding gratefulness in the middle of all of that, because I think I have the nostalgia attachment sometimes to an old way that I did church or whatever, if we could chase that. I think I'm also a little too hard on the church sometimes, or myself in the middle of specific crisis. I don't easily find gratefulness for the church, which is a weird thing, I feel like for a senior pastor to say it's been coming to me a little bit more easily over the last, especially twelve months, there's been a richness and a beauty, I think, to what's going on here. But I think it's almost easier for me personally to find some gratefulness in the present of my life and to just be regularly grumpy or inconvenienced about the condition of the church in the present. I don't know. You and I have gone through a lot of similar things. Do you feel that?

Speaker B: Well, I think picking apart church practices and ways is really easy, right? I mean, it's so easy, and that's a way you can go and you can become very cynical about the mission of the church, the function of the church, the makeup of churches, the western church, american church. I mean, at every level there are things that you can absolutely tear apart. What I've found is it's usually unhelpful just to consider all the church's wrongs without, I guess, having a heart to see the grace of God still work through his church. So it's very easy to trash on the church and say, and that's why we just walk away. And many do. And I'm actually not faulting anybody for doing that. There's a lot wrong with churches and church people, but I think the more helpful and constructive way, maybe this is how Paul approaches it is. I think Jesus loves this church, and I think that if I am following in the way of Jesus, I'm going to love his church, too, in a way that doesn't shy away from honestly critiquing her, but also with a heart to see Jesus somehow redeem and work through what's happening.

Speaker A: Paul's got enough skin in the game, right, to trust him. He's not. He doesn't criticize the church on his way out the door or so that he can just sit in the back and continue to throw rocks. That's not anything like that. He's a bit more committed to it. But I understand people that are not grateful for the church, like you're saying. I think it's because we advertise ourselves to be something different. I think there's tough situations and people and reasons to be cynical about the restaurant that you go to or the city that you live in or whatever. But usually not a lot of those other entities are advertising themselves as people that are seeking after this integrity and honor and grace and salvation that we do. And so I think it lends itself to harsher criticism faster because that's what we're claiming to go after.

Speaker B: Right, right. Yeah. You promise a lot, then you raise the bar, and when you fall short of that, the gap is pretty glaring. And I think that's why, yeah, it's really important. Hypocrisy in the church, obviously, is such a turn off to so many because we claim to have such a high standard of morality. All the things, honesty and integrity, and then when those things don't happen, it's like, well, that's what we kind of built our brand on. And then you fail at it, what do you have left? And so it's fair critique. And I think critique is not bad. It has to have some kind of hope in it. Yeah. Otherwise we should just give up and leave.

Speaker A: And maybe that's the trick, especially for today, for me, for you, for a lot of folks listening to this podcast. Please critique. You can critique westside. You can critique me, critique the history of this faith. I think that's great. I think it's helpful. Your curiosity, I think, is actually gonna lead you somewhere good and healthy. But, man, it's tough to do it without that strand of hope that runs through the whole thing. And I think that's true when you critique anything at all, unless you just wanna burn it all the way to the ground. But if you have any hope for the church, that's gonna make your questions, I think, or your critique, a lot more valuable and important, and create some kind of change, even if it's just in your own spirit.

Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah. And all this is coming into focus for me, I think probably for you, too. This is the first podcast we've done on behind the message since Steve Mikkel left last June. So it's been about nine months without Steve in senior leadership here at the church. He's now our district supervisor, so technically still our boss, but we don't see him on the daily anymore. And so in that change that's brought for me, kind of dueling feelings. One is, I'm aware of my inadequacies when they crop up because of the weight of what we lead and what we are doing as the senior pastors of the church. But then I'm also very aware that the beauty of this community and the church that we have been given to lead feels like something I don't deserve. And so there's a gratefulness that comes from this sense of, like, I know where I feel inadequate for the job, but because the job has been given to us, what a gift. I don't take for granted the church we have. And so it resonates this feeling of gratefulness, which is also includes sometimes a feeling of inadequacy. I don't know, maybe you don't wrestle with that. You're like, no, I'm perfectly adequate for the test.

Speaker A: Oh, I always think I'm inadequate. which is funny. Cause I get. I referenced this in a couple messages. I get affirmation all the time, and I feel inadequate, and I always try to wrestle with, all right, what of that inadequacy is some kind of a humility that feels the honor of, not even the position, but the honor of people being willing to listen to what I have to say is a pretty distinct honor. So what of it is the humility that comes with that? And then what of it is my unwillingness to step into a position that God's calling me to or a position that I've taken, I've agreed to lead from here. Right? And so, yeah, it leads me into this grateful place. And a bit out of the cynicism, which, you know, I'm really easily cynical. Spent a lot of years really heavily critiquing and judging and angry at the church. And then there's something funny about getting put in this position and being like, well, it falls a little flat to just throw rocks now because I'm sitting at the top of the top of the organization.

Speaker B: And so you either got to figure.

Speaker A: Out a way to be grateful, or I think you have to get out at this point, for me and discover faith maybe from a different position, but, gosh, the grace that others have given me, the church has given me. I think that God has given me through the process. It's been great working with you. Yeah. The gratefulness is changing my perspective. It's not just creating a different feeling within my heart, but it's changing my perspective on the church. It's like I've been given. I put so much skin in the game where all of a sudden there's different pieces of this faith in this community that begin to pop out in ways that I hadn't considered before. The easy way to say what I just said over the last three minutes is probably. I just feel like I'm maturing.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker A: And being less of a whiny baby boy.

Speaker B: And that's a process. We're all maturing, I think, for us, for the longest time, you know, you're like the young guys in a staff or at a church or in leadership, and then it feels like overnight, you wake up one day, and now it's your turn to lead at the higher levels in that organization or that church. And at some level, maybe this is true for you, for sure. For me, I feel like I'm still one of the young guys in my twenties, and I'm not. We're both rapidly approaching 40. It's a different season, but it's hard to make that transition sometimes when there's nobody necessarily above you anymore. That's a lot of pressure sometimes.

Speaker A: Yeah, a lot of pressure. And the perspective change of that.

Speaker B: Yeah.

Speaker A: Of like, always feeling like you have somebody else that you can kind of lean on at the end of the day. And I think we have that.

Speaker B: Right?

Speaker A: I think we still have that with Steve. We have it with other members of the staff. But the buck stops here for sure. And that changes everything. But again, part of that perspective change in the maturing is that I've now been given a window into a lot of different areas of our church and even into more individual conversations with people coming into the office and wanted to talk with me or you, which was always the case to a degree, but it wasn't the whole breadth of the church.

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: So there's older people than ever that have wanted to come in and talk to me and encourage or listen or pray or whatever, and I'm beginning to hear more stories and that broader perspective, and I wonder if Paul just has that having visited all the different churches and gone around to the different places, prisons, ships, all the things that he has this broad perspective now that's created that maturity in him. And so I'm hearing these stories about people that have come to bend and unexpectedly gotten divorced and gone through this crisis, lost the job that they came here for. I'm walking over into free food market and seeing people get their hair cut and just droves of people getting free groceries and getting to know the staff that's running that. There's so much happening in the life of the church that is super life giving. And for me personally, it was easy to get caught up in maybe a few, like, cultural angry conversations. And that narrowed my perspective to, well, this is what the church is doing and talking about, and we're talking about it poorly. And so I hate it. It's a broader perspective. The stories are beautiful, and God still works through communities like this.

Speaker B: Yeah. And for every. Every hard change, there's also good change that comes with it. I mean, I think we've talked at length about the effect of COVID on our church. I think in many churches, a lot of people left, a lot of people came back, a lot of new people are with us now. But for sure, the makeup of the church is very, very different now than even two years ago in 2022. And so it feels like I've said this to somebody, was talking about how we are leading a legacy church. We're in our 70th year this year as a church in our city, and yet in a lot of ways, it feels like a church plant. Right. So it opens all these opportunities to, I think, reframe how we even see the church that we're in.

Speaker A: Are you grateful then for the last four years? Obviously, you're never grateful for a pandemic. That's not what I'm saying. The difficulty that we walk through. So we talked about, you guys have been through personal crisis in a way that I haven't. That's the most shared crisis you and I have ever had.

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: We walk through that together. Are you thankful for that struggle a bit? It's a tough question.

Speaker B: Yeah, it is. I don't know if. I think maybe the baby step is when you start to see the good that comes out of trouble, that you are grateful for it. And that's maybe the immature gratefulness for difficulty is when it gets good on the other end, when health starts to turn around, or my wife is doing well as she is, then you're like, okay, this was good. I think the end goal is in the middle of the trouble to be like, I'm so grateful for whatever you're up to, God, I don't know that I'm there yet. When people are leaving the church en masse, I don't know I'm grateful for that. But then when new folks come and are encouraging and supportive of the mission God has us on, then I can be like, oh, yeah, this was all God's plan and it's great. I just don't know if I'm quite there. Being grateful on the front end of what God does.

Speaker A: Oh, I wasn't grateful in the middle of it.

Speaker B: Yeah, right.

Speaker A: The farthest thing from, uh.

Speaker B: Yeah.

Speaker A: And I don't know that I'm, I don't know. It's one of those funny things in life you don't want to. I don't want to approach people that are going through difficulty and go, you know, hey, God works all things together for good for those who love him. That's pretty insensitive. And I don't think it gets after the actual heart of God in those moments. And there's a shaping and a molding that happens in the middle of those things. And I am assuming that I get 20 years down the road from now and I could probably point to the pandemic and some of the struggles that I had within it that directly led to some real beautiful things in my life all the way down that road to be grateful for it.

Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker A: Maybe this is the next part of my maturity process, understanding how this works.

Speaker B: It seems like a breakdown too. We have to break down this idea of a linear pain, then joy. Pain, then joy. I think many times they come together and God meets us in trouble and meets us in moments of pain. And joy is, I mean, romans eight would say birthed out of pain. Right? It's the joy and the pain aren't so separate or different. There's something to that, I think, where maturity in our faith doesn't say, oh, if I could just get through this pain and finally get back to my joy, but it's to say, I'm in this place and I think both are gonna meet me here. It's gonna be tough, but there's gonna be joy along this path that God has me on.

Speaker A: And I think it gets back to the consistency thing that you brought up. I like the metaphor of the investment market. Only a fool thinks that they can just hit the timing right on every single one of these things. So it gets back to the consistency of maybe I'm grateful on a difficult day because every day I'm practicing gratefulness. Right. And so it hits the joyful days and it hits the difficult days, and it becomes a piece of who I am and not just a result of my. The scenario that I'm currently walking in.

Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah. Part of my morning prayer is psalms 23 every morning. And I love psalm 23 because it really walks you through a full range of the good and the bad. You know, you're being led by quiet waters, and you're also gonna walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Some days, goodness and mercy are gonna follow you all the days of your life, but also you're gonna be in the midst of all your enemies. And so some things like that, when you're praying through all of that every day and what it takes 30 seconds to read through psalms 23, but there is, I think, a resonant truth that on my good days, I really feel, yeah, the Lord is my shepherd, and I'm not in one of it. I'm content with you, God. And there's other days when I'm like, I'm walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. And that has to be an encouragement to my soul. But I think that's what we're given in scripture and in some of these old prayers is something that kind of covers the peaks and the valleys.

Speaker A: And you would probably make the argument that that's why we pray old prayers, and not just ones that are coming as a result of my thoughts and feelings at the moment, which are valuable as well, but that grounding in an old prayer that forces you to walk through experiencing the value of shadow, of death and the fearing no evil. Right. It forces you to go down both of those roads and say both things out loud because they're both a part of the process.

Speaker B: Yeah, that's right. That's right. And maybe process is a good word for what we're all on. The church, as Paul saw, it wasn't a process wasn't perfect, and it wasn't worth throwing away. You know, it wasn't worthless to the point of tossing it out. And the same is true for us, not as. Just as leaders, but as dads and husbands. And all that God is doing in us is to continually shape us for the rest of our lives. And this is what I love about some of the older men in my life. I think of Pastor Cliff, who's retiring this week. Guys who are never in a place where they're saying, I'm done growing. I'm done learning. I'm done being shaped, but are constantly leaning in to being changed by the presence of God.

Speaker A: And they have every excuse to be a shell of themselves by the end of their lives. Cliff's not the end of his life, but he certainly lived more than we have. And I've experienced these moments where I've been like, if I just keep going on this trajectory, I'm going to be the most angry, lonely, dark person by the time I reach 60, 70, 80 years old. And so they've discovered something along the way where they've rejected the opportunity to just kind of keep going deeper into themselves. And they've embraced a lot of these things through. And Cliff's a good example, too, of someone that's experienced some pretty extreme suffering. Yeah, they found something else. It's tempting for me to just read through ecclesiastes every morning instead of psalms 23.

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: Which is almost all pretty dark, cynical poetry imagery. But there's a reason that that exists next to proverbs, right?

Speaker B: Yeah. And it's what you pay attention to, right. There's moments to pay attention, like ecclesiastes does to the futility of life in the world. And I think that's, unfortunately where a lot of people live. If you're scrolling the news and that's your main window into a perspective on God's world, yeah, it's going to be pretty heavy. But you can also pay attention to other things. You can pay attention to the goodness all around us and the life that God is cultivating in our communities and in our world. So I think our attention matters in how we're going to either be grateful.

Speaker A: Or be cynical and understanding that gratefulness can come from these things. As you said earlier, gratefulness isn't ignorance. It's not. And I'm sure you could be at this church in Philippi and say, man, Paul just talks about how grateful he is. He doesn't know what this leader did today or how this conversation went. It was just happening. He's talking about how awesome we are and that we're saints, and he's grateful. Gratefulness isn't a product of ignorance or stupidity or a lack of knowledge. Real gratefulness is a product of understanding and knowing all those things and still choosing the practice of gratefulness.

Speaker B: And there's a reason it doesn't just stop here, right? Paul's going to go on to give instruction because he knows they're not perfect and he knows they're not actually saints. So I love this pattern where you start with gratefulness, and that's like your starting posture, your starting position, and then, yeah, of course you're going to address what's going on and issues to be resolved, things that need to be shaped and formed and corrected. But to start from a position of gratefulness, maybe, is the takeaway from this passage is that's where we start. We start with gratefulness, and then from there. And then from there, too often, we start with the cynic. We start with the mindset of the critiquer, the critic. There you go. Start from that perspective. And then we wonder why life seems so grim.

Speaker A: Yeah, this is gonna go wrong. So let me confirm over the next several hours or through the process why I was right in the hole first place.

Speaker B: Right.

Speaker A: And the same could probably be true for gratefulness. Let me. Let me tell you that I'm grateful for this, and let me prove that I'm right. Let me see what I'm gonna pay attention to. But again, not at the expense of saying everything is fine. I think the church has gotten critiqued for that, too. You know, like, when things are going horribly wrong, the church sometimes has just gone, well, you know, God's in control. It's like, ah, that sounds. That's right. And it sounds and feels ignorant sometimes in the moment, in the experience, right. When everything is burning down, for the church to say, yeah, well, we're not gonna get water. God's just in control. We're not gonna try to put the fire out. And that's, that's not it.

Speaker B: Yeah. As though because we're religious people, somehow we're above correction. I think the opposite is true, as Paul would see it, because we are following the way of Jesus, the bar actually gets raised. I mean, churches should be more accountable than any other organization. And yet we flipped it. Right? So oftentimes, if you think, oh, we're untouchable because God is on our side, no, we should be consistently disciplined and corrected by the presence in the word of God if we're genuinely following after him.

Speaker A: And a recommended way to frame this book as we walk through together over the next several weeks, frame it with Paul not changing who he is, but frame it with this gratefulness that's at the front, instruction and correction, still steeped in that same gratefulness. And then it finishes well with gratefulness as well. But it's the same person, the same teaching. And because he's grateful, the teaching and correction happens alongside.

Speaker B: That's good. And maybe it's obvious, maybe not, but the word gratefulness is rooted in the same as grace. And this is what it takes to operate in this way. It's grace. It's grace from God, and it's grace that we extend to one another to be grateful. It doesn't happen naturally, and it's not an objective truth. Often that gratefulness is a given. It's something I think we have to choose. And from a place of grace for one another, we offer that. And I have so much empathy for those that have decided that the church or church people don't deserve gratefulness, that we've gone too wrong for too long. So much empathy for that. And I think we talk to people often that are on the fence of saying, like, I don't know. I don't know if I can do it anymore. What do you say to them?

Speaker A: Oh, my gosh. First of all, I literally say to them, I've experienced what you're experiencing. I can empathize deeply and I haven't experienced exactly what they have. I don't want to go too far, but I can empathize with that feeling of, I was sold a bill of goods about this whole church thing and I feel like I've been duped. That's the first thing that I say. And then I do, through the course of that conversation and getting to know their experience without trying to fix things or heal anything myself, encourage them to find that little piece or that little inkling sometimes I've had in conversations. They go, I hate the whole thing about the church, but the song that I sung when I was twelve years old somehow keeps me attached to this whole thing. But this one relationship or this one bit of grace. And so encourage people gently to see if they can't find a piece of this thing that is redemptive and graceful.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. And maybe that's our job in this moment as leaders, as pastors, is to come alongside and give room for people that don't want to have to say, oh, I'm certain about everything you say and everything this represents that I'm 100% on board. This kind of weird loyalty test that I think has been common in many church circles for a long time. I think that needs to be set aside. Right? Yeah. Where we give people room to wrestle not only with their faith, but with their relationship with church and to exist in community without saying, like, maybe falsely, I have no issues with any of this. I don't struggle with any of this. We're all good. I love everything. But setting that aside and saying, you can struggle with your relationship with religion and church and your faith and still be here and still be engaged in this relationship. Yeah.

Speaker A: Loyalty test is a good way to put that. I think we ask people to do that, and so then they feel like my options are to be all the way in on every detail of this, or I have to leave very quietly so that nobody says anything to me or leave just angrily so that everyone knows that I've shut this door all the way and you can't bring me back in. I think we're all, if we're honest, we're walking through something that feels like a bit of a mix in between. And I wouldn't tell you to, but I would encourage you to just try to hold on to a little bit of hope. That's all it takes. That's what every good story usually has, is a group of people that are up against the odds. But this little bit of hope enables them to continue to walk through and discover whatever's on the other side of this grand adventure. And I am convinced, in spite of a lot of my cynicism and anger and difficult relationship that I've had with the church, I am convinced now more than ever that there's something worth hoping for in the middle of all. There's something to hold onto in this story and community and salvation that I think this whole thing brings. And so, as I say that, I'm not asking you to show up early to church every weekend or join a small group, because that's how you really hope. I am asking you to just at least mentally hold on to this. There's something that might be redeemable about this whole thing and see where that takes you.

Speaker B: Yeah. And hopefully we'll be along for many along that journey in a way that is not threatening, you know, not demanding that loyalty test.

Speaker A: Do people still feel like you're gonna be threatened by that? Have you discovered that in conversation, if they bring it up, they wanna ask Evan earwicker, are they like, oh, my gosh, is he going to say something?

Speaker B: I mean, I think because of the titles or the positions we have as pastors, I think a lot of people, maybe not close friends, but a lot of people, if they're sitting down for the first time, feel a need to project a certain confidence in their faith or in the church, or they don't offend you, you're the pastor. They're not going to come out swinging, and that's okay. But hopefully, as those conversations go deeper, there's a realization that there's some safety. If your experience has been poor within churches to have those conversations without feeling like I'm gonna be personally offended, because not everything has gone perfect.

Speaker A: It's, like, my favorite conversation, though.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker A: When people book an appointment with me and they come into my office and they say, I'm just having a hard time with this whole church thing. I don't know if I could ever feel more honored than to have a talk with somebody that feels like they want to actually work that out with the pastor.

Speaker B: Right. Yeah.

Speaker A: Or at least start the conversation with the pastor. And I like to believe that I'm not pushy. I've been told I'm scary, but I like to believe that I'm not pushy about moving people in this direction or that direction. I think this is part of it. I don't know how. Maybe it's just my experience. I don't know how you arrive at this really grateful place for the church without walking through this first. I don't know how that would work, because it hasn't been that way for me.

Speaker B: Yeah. Yeah. I think gratefulness without ever experiencing any of the problems in church life is more infatuation than it is deep love. It's like, yeah, first everything seems great, and you're projecting the best case scenario on everyone around you in that church or in that community, and then inevitably, people disappoint you. And then it's, how do you respond to those disappointments? Do you go deeper in relationship and that community? Or are you so offended that everything wasn't perfect that you back out and there's nothing wrong with infatuation at first, but you can't stay there. Yeah.

Speaker A: And we've talked about this through a stages of faith exercise or six stages, I think. Right.

Speaker B: Yeah. The critical journey.

Speaker A: Yeah, the critical journey. And essentially distill this down. We really should preach on this sometime together. Cause I enjoy it so much. But the first three stages kind of amount to enthusiasm, almost an unchecked enthusiasm in some ways. And then there's a wall that's often hit after stage three, and either you can loop from the wall back to one again and try to just drum up enthusiasm, and you run through stages one, two, and three, and you hit the wall again, and then you go back, or you just quit. I am most interested in talking to people right now that have hit that wall. I think there's a beauty to pastoring and not even pastoring, just being friends with people that feel like they're laying down at what feels like a helpless and hopeless moment in faith and wondering what's next. Because it's not that stages one, two, and three aren't a genuine kind of faith. I think it's a necessary part of our walk. But what you said, you were not meant to stay there. And there's a depth that comes from four, five, and six stages. That is really what we're after.

Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. And in those later stages, I think what you're looking for from a church or a community changes in the first stages. You're looking for really strong alpha leaders, like that type a, let's go rah rah kind of leadership. You're looking for empirical truth. Just tell me, black and white, what is the truth? And you go through that wall and that wall, it can be a diagnosis. It can be the loss of a loved one. It can be something that shakes your.

Speaker A: Faith to the core.

Speaker B: A divorce, or so many different ways that we hit that wall. But on the other side of that, oftentimes, if you stay in it, you're looking for different things. You're looking for a deeper, maybe quieter kind of faith.

Speaker A: Yeah, yeah. You get out of, I think, how it manifests itself modernly. And this is where I become not grateful for churches, for the church. I don't want to be the kind of person that seeks after this kind of pop faith thing, where it really does come down to a lot of times who's got the fanciest show and tells the funniest stories and is the most compelling from a platformer on a video. I'm not opposed to being compelling, but if we just stay in that spot and there isn't that quieter, firmer faith, it's frustrating to me, and I think the church in general, and I know for me personally, I've taken advantage of that kind of stages one, two, and three, we're just looking for this infatuation, and there's almost an incentive to keep people there as a church, right, because four, five, and six people are getting real tight in knowing Jesus, and it feels like as a leader, sometimes they need you less. I think that breeds insecurity. And the one, two, and three stage faith person is a lot more overt in their love for you and their need for you as a leader.

Speaker B: Right. And they show up all the time, they want to do all the stuff always. And that feels great, as if you're leading to church. I mean, enthusiastic people showing up every day and the late stage spiritual journey, folks are just kind of quiet, and they don't have to be there at everything you do, and they're not. They're not infatuated with you as a leader. Cause they're in a deeper spot and. Yeah. That doesn't massage the ego of the leader as much. Right. Yeah.

Speaker A: So we're incentivized in an immature way to keep people on the early stages of faith, but that's not the goal. And I think. And maybe Paul's experiencing some of that, too. A lot of that gratefulness comes from a group of people that have gotten beyond, well, we just gotta wait for Paul to come back around again or we gotta wait for just this next miracle or this next thing. There are people that are leaning into this depth of community that's creating this joy through difficult circumstances. And Paul's identifying it and saying, this is the stuff.

Speaker B: Yeah. And he talks about this process. Right. The milk versus the meat kind of things. He gives room for people to be in early stages. Of course, you don't yell at a baby. Cause they're a baby. Right. You care for them well, but you don't create your whole world around only being able to care for babies. You have to be able to, I think, lead and care for people at every stage of that journey. And I hope our community is one that we can do both. I think my tendency in this moment is like, well, let's just ignore the young first stage people and let's just focus on the more mature. Well, that's not healthy or good.

Speaker A: Right?

Speaker B: Yeah.

Speaker A: There is something about that metaphor, too, though. Let's say as a parent, there's a bit of a tearing that happens when you see your kids starting to need you less, and it's like, oh, this is great. And I'm a little sad. I think a lot of times I approach that scripture from the idea of, I need to move into a different stage of my faith where it's meat and not milk. And that's true and important, but a reminder as well for those of us who are raising anybody, raising kids, or encouraging people in friendships or leading in some capacity. The idea is that they would find Jesus and the grace that he offers and not just find a reason to be compelled by your leadership.

Speaker B: We'll be back next week with another conversation in the book of Philippians. As always, our website is westsidechurch.org or behindthemessage.com. They say to like and share, I guess, is what you do on podcasts. Yeah, do that and review us on Apple podcasts. That helps other people find, really, the show filled with grace. We'll see you next time.