Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our Most Recent Support Letter

Dear friends and family, Jan 14th 2010

We now live in Birmingham, our hometown. Our last six weeks have been full of joyful rides on curvy mountain roads ascending and descending through valleys dotted with homes bedecked with Christmas lights. We have spent many nights and afternoons with family and friends. Some friends are new and some have been around for a while and are rejoicing in our return. We look at each other at least once a week and say, “We live here now.” It is surreal and often feels like a dream.

It is funny how dreams can morph into something bigger than yourself. They can take you out of your Universe and plant you elsewhere. Imagine dreaming about getting a new Chrysler and then waking up to find a Lexus in your driveway. Has the dream come true? Yes…and no.

Before I “let the cat out of the bag”, let’s get Biblical. The dreams of the Israelites were not delusional or even illusional. They were born out of the promises of God for deliverance and redemption. Jewish heads were put on pillows with visions of a Roman butt kicking. But then they stepped out on the porch and saw Jesus. Awesome. Actually they did not see his awesomeness. They saw only the disappointments of their small dreams. Jesus promised an awakening and they preferred to be asleep.

When I moved to Birmingham I harbored a dream of planting a church from scratch. There were some people interested and I was getting encouragement from friends, family and other church-planters. Two days after moving into town, I was sitting with Johnny Grimes, who planted Branch Life in Birmingham just over a year ago. There we sat in Momma Goldberg’s in Homewood on 18th St. and Johnny proposed marriage - the marriage of Branch Life Church with my vision for Homewood.

Surprised on one level, I was not startled. Before this conversation, everything else felt like a distraction from the dream. This felt like, from the first moment, an enlargement of the dream. It still feels that way many weeks later.

Little did I know, Johnny had been challenged by someone else to consider this course months earlier. He had been interviewing me for some time by stealth. And I gotta tell ya, it is refreshing to be interviewed without knowing it.

So what will I be doing? I will be doing pretty much everything I would be doing anyway; preaching, small group ministry, looking for a location to meet and leadership development. The grand thing about it all is how I will not be doing it alone. You know, Paul and Silas, Laurel and Hardy. Bono and the Edge.

One of the things I was worried about was, “Will I be able to bring anything to the table?” “Yes”, I was told and told not very gently, “You are now the old guy.” While I am certainly not the oldest guy involved at Branch Life, I will bring some years to the leadership.

I love being part of Branch Life Church. On Sundays, there are about 70 people joined together. They are black and white, single and married, young and “old.” On the first Sunday of 2010, in the first baptismal service of the one-year-old church plant, 5 adults were baptized. That’s incredible.

Upon leaving student ministry with a bitter taste in my mouth, I learned something I would not trade all the darkness for. I learned what everyone acknowledges but no one really puts any stock in. I learned that the spread of the gospel is vastly bigger then I am. Therefore I must want the gospel to spread even if I don’t get to be a part of it. Once you get to that glorious country of self-forgetfulness in ministry it is not much of a journey from planting a church to joining a church-plant.

To be honest, I am a little scared of church planting by myself and well, ministry in general. Addicted to applause and pats on the back, I am a prime candidate for Church-Planter Idol. In our current evangelical culture full of rock-star preachers, it will be good for me to preach less than a couple dozen times a year.

I am sure there will be more than a few of you who will think this looks like a demotion of some kind. “For goodness sake, you have gone from dreaming of being a lead planter to joining an already existing church-plant.” It is a demotion. And that is why I call this the enlargement of a dream.

“What do we need?” Thank you for asking. First, we need prayer. We need prayer for…

1. Our emotional health. Pray the gospel would daily help us keep things in perspective.

2. Pray we find an affordable house in the Homewood area of town. This is no easy task. Apart from the supernatural work of God…well, pray for us.

3. My car died. I am mourning the loss. Praise God we have a car to use for the time being The church whose house we are living in has loaned us a nice one. Pray also we would find one soon.

4. Finally, ask God to draw people into Branch Life Church ( for our good, their joy and the glory of God.

Also, we are in need of financial support. Branch Life is able to pay me $20K for 2010. But I must raise the other half of my salary and funds for the ministry expenses of the church. Please prayerfully consider either giving a one time donation or giving monthly. Thank you so much to those who have already given. It is much appreciated.


Matt Redmond (for Bethany, Emma, Knox and Dylan)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Confession of a Failing Pastor

(I wrote the following back in August of 2009, I was at my wit's end emotionally. It was so bad, when we went on vacation to Birmingham to visit family, I was prepared to stay. Never to go back. I was right in the middle of despair. My guess is, a lot of guys in ministry get to that place and it is a terrible place to be. Accountants can experience despair and go do something else and it looks heroic. Pastors? No way. They are expected to rip open their shirts and reveal the S on the their chest. Bullets are supposed to bounce off and sermons just appear. All the while kryptonite is hurled at them through email, social media and meetings in coffee shops.)

Whether I am failing as a student pastor or only perceived as failing is at this point moot. Well, maybe not entirely. But the effects are the same. Right? I mean, it is neither here nor there if the whispers are there, the discussions are going on behind your back and the arrows are flying. The truth of the matter is perhaps a very important thing for the Senior Pastor/Preacher/Lead Pastor and possibly for someone who oversees an adult ministry. Why? Because they trade in truth.

Me? I trade in bodies, numbers and pizza. And it is amazing that the decrease in that which I trade in is the reason I feel as if I am drowning. Usually, the abundance is the difficulty. Usually you drown in abundance. In my case it is the stark nature of the thing. There are not enough bodies. I am not doing enough. I do not care enough. When or what is enough? How would I know? When everyone is happy?

It’s like a hall of mirrors really. I went to one at the Alabama State Fair back in elementary school. To be honest, it freaked me out. You turn one way and you are fat. The other way shows you as remarkably short. Another turn and you are twisted beyond all recognition. And all the reflections make it very hard to actually get perspective on the distortions and see reality for what it is. Even when you find the exit…exhausted, have you escaped? Are you not still trying to catch your breath?

I vowed to never go back in.

Today I went to bed twice for short periods of time. Is this healthy? It felt healthy. When you are hungry, you eat. When you are cold, you put on more clothing. When you are tired – soul-tired - you lay down. Still.

Twice this week I am supposed to teach and for the first time in my ministerial life, I am not looking forward to it. This has never been the case before. I have always fed off the enjoyment of doing this. But right now I just want to hang out with Sam Adams and Billie Holiday. I just want to hang out with my wife in silence with small talk sprinkled clean by laughter. I want to watch my kids play and tickle them every now and then. Another nap would be welcome also.

Do I need a vacation? Am I burnt out? Maybe. The only path of sanity I can find is quitting. And I do not mean quitting this ‘job’. I am talking about quitting altogether. When you start envying the Fed-Ex delivery driver, something is not right. Can you quit for just a week or two? Perhaps I could start back then. But a few weeks of not being a “Pastor” (or at least what I am told that is) would be welcome indeed.

I used to talk about wanting to quit every week. That was very different. I knew I could not quit. The “call” was clear. Now not so much. Before, I could read something in the Scriptures or in a book that would drive me further in. Now what used to be fuel is retardant.

Not doubting my salvation is a great deal of help. The gospel is still good news. I don’t want to leave the “church”. I don’t want to leave my family. As a matter of fact these are the two things I want to run towards. Some may call it selfish but I want to be ministered to for a while. Emmylou Harris is singing My Baby Needs A Shepherd.

None of this is written for pity. There is cathartic help of course. But I really could find nothing like this anywhere. They are probably there somewhere. I did find some articles and essays about how pastors overcame their failures. Nowhere, though, did I find anything like a confession from a failing pastor in the midst of failure. “My name is Matt Redmond…not that Matt Redman…and I am a failing pastor.”

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Some Thoughts While Reading Eugene Peterson, Part 3

So I am sitting here reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson. In fact, the goal is to read through all his books this year. When you gain so much from them, you want to tell everyone to read his books as much as time and money afford. There is sanity in them. Strange. Not sanity as opposed to insanity only as much as opposed to inanity. There is a serious beauty here beyond grasp but that draws you nonetheless. His writing is doing a number of things.

First, it is becoming painfully clear that I have pretty much failed at all he is teaching me as a pastor. I am angry with myself and I am still craving to drink deeply from the very source that is causing me pain. Jesus did this also, you know. And I catch a whiff of the Christ when I read his rebukes of my ministry. He has been near him and learned from him. Just as it was painful for the woman caught in adultery and yet glorious to look into his eyes of grace, I love learning that I am wrong from him.

Second, I am seeing the full blown reality of so many edges and shadows I glimpsed previously. For years there have been ideas, thoughts and emotions fiddled with. Played with. But they all seemed so out of sync with the day's ways of doing. However, not at all confident I would be taken seriously, well, you know...

An example? Certainly. We tend to celebrate the electric and exciting. The big and the bold, which gets noticed and makes people say, "Yes! There is God moving!" We act as if God is not moving unless this is the case. Thus our desire and celebration of large crowds. And thus our lust for the event-driven ministry, which is something we can point to so easily. I have had this sneaky suspicion - which I have in turn failed to act in accordance with - this is not necessarily what God is after. Usually. Peterson has helped me see (to paraphrase his words) that God is not after our spasms of passion but our long line of obedience in the same direction. When we inordinately crave the stupendous and exciting and bombastic we have shown our unbelief in the work of the Holy Spirit, who works so often unseen by our eyes and is pleased to move through the regular, consistent, ordinary means of grace given by God for our good and His glory. No wonder our obedience of faith has careened into the retaining walls of consumer-driven retail religiosity. We simply do not believe - in all our talk of God-centeredness - he is enough and he will save people.

Last, I am enjoying his works because there are so few good writers in Christendom. And the ones we do have are Catholic usually. Why is this the case? Because we are happy with crappy writing as long as its "Christian." We write unoriginal books with sleepy sentences and mundane paragraphs. Our fiction is either the same story repeated again and again or it is ripped off from whatever is selling in the secular markets. Rarely is our prose good writing other than technically speaking. Every sentence by Eugene Peterson has a poetic ring to it. He chooses words like they matter. His sentences never feel throwaway. For us to be a people who are shaped by a book filled with poetry, our writings have no echo of it. Indeed, Peterson points out that the first words expressed by a human in Scripture are poetry (Genesis 2:23). Our doctrines are full and deep. But our writings are hollow.

And Peterson has turned me onto great writers. One is Annie Dillard who writes like no one. No one. She is singular. And I can hear an echo of her genius beauty in Peterson's own words.

It is actually frustrating for me to try and capture this with my own words. Most likely I've no business trying to use words to convey my love for his words and his appreciation for them. My wife, I have tried to use words to convey my love of them to her. As Patient as she is, it is always sounded weird to me till I read Peterson talk about words.

You know what? If you had told me a year ago I would be reading Eugene Peterson the way a drowning man clings to a life preserver, I would have thought you no prophet. Shows what I know.

Monday, February 01, 2010

In Praise Of The Ordinary Jesus

'"Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). Because of what? Because Jesus was so obviously human -- so ordinary, so uncharismatic, so unexciting, so everyday human.'

Jesus would have made a terrible youth pastor.

There Is No Prophetic Voice Speaking Into the Sports Culture

This past weekend I read an excellent article on the subject of Sport and Christianity. It was the cover story of Christianity Today Magazine. The main argument is that we have, as evangelicals have drunk (drank?) the Kool-Aid instead of speaking into the Sports Culture. This to me was an unusual piece and set it apart because well, you see, no one is talking about this. At all.

There is no prophetic voice speaking into the Sports Culture.

This article is a start. A good start. The problem? No one seems to be reading this article (if Twitter is any indication) and if they are, they are not talking about it. If there was an article on being missional in our culture or missions in Zambia - or especially on church planting, it would be forwarded all over the place. But Sports? Perhaps we are a little too invested to look at this closely and think deeply.

For some reason the evangelicals I know have no problem with themselves or others being so invested in a game/sport they will malign, make fun of and ridicule referees, officials, players and fans. They will curse, have ruined days and talk in moral terms regarding trades, playing time and get into violent arguments over ability and who has been hired to coach. Has anyone ever stepped back and thought, "this is weird"?

We argue on message boards, on Twitter, facebook and the radio. Argue? Really? No one is really talking about it. And do not get me started on the optional nature of church attendance and the compulsory nature of our kid's sporting endeavors. Am I guilty of all this? Yes. Without a doubt. Of course. The crazy thing though is...and this is no has ever talked to me about it. Never.