A Time To Be Silent

If you have visited this blog in the last year, you would have immediately noticed that I haven’t been posting anything new. My posts went from less frequent in 2011, to intermittent in 2012, to scarce in 2013. In light of the myriad of posts I made between 2008 and 2010, I wrestled with what was behind my reduced passion for posting. Do I make a connection between my diligence in posting and my final years as Pastor of St. Giles Kingsway? And given the immense satisfaction I’ve had with ministry in Nassau, why so few posts? I don’t have a comprehensive answer for the change in my posting patterns. The best answer I can give comes from a single verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:7).

For a Pastor who enjoys speaking and writing, I’ve sensed a call in recent years to listen more than I speak, and to read more than I write. Perhaps this is for a season, or perhaps it is a part of God’s transformative plan for me. Time will tell.

Recently, I have felt my passion for writing return, and I’m glad about that. For example, in my sermon prep, instead of labouring to add to my “word count” to make my sermon long enough, I’ve been having to spend considerable time reducing my word count so as to not unduly lengthen Sunday worship! I’ve also had something on my heart, which I want to transmit in a post–a message to my former congregations. From Jan. 1998 to June 2002, I was the Pastor of a 2-point charge, St. Andrew’s PC in Beeton, ON and Fraser PC in Tottenham, ON. From June 2002 to June 2010 I was the Pastor of St. Giles Kingsway PC in Toronto, ON. I think about those ministries often. Later today I intend to write a post entitled, “10 Things I Want To Say To My Former Congregations”. After a season of blog silence, I feel as though it might be time to speak again.

800 Days In Paradise

My linkedin profile informed me this morning that it has been 103 days since I last posted on this blog. Undoubtedly, this is the longest gap between posts since launching my blog in January 2008. I don’t know how to account for this silence, and I can’t even say for certain that it won’t be another 103 days before I post again. What I can say is that after a little more than 2 years of pastoring at St. Andrew’s Kirk in The Bahamas, I have never been out “in the field” more than I have been here.

I don’t know if the Lord is turning me into a missionary or simply making me the kind of pastor I should have been all along. The best theological explanation I can offer is the one I gave during an interview with Wendell Jones on his television show. Having been prompted by The Great Commission throughout my ministry, I find myself newly challenged by the first imperative, which is the word “Go” (Matthew 28:19).

In the past, I have pastored as though I were in a fortress—focussing mainly on those who were already on the inside. Today, I find myself keenly interested in reaching those who have yet to confess Christ, and those who have yet to connect themselves with a local church community. I often find myself in the neighborhood just south of the Kirk, Bain & Grant’s Town. I find myself making weekly visits to the local orphanage, Ranfurly Homes For Children. I have even found it fruitful for me to be a part of the Nassau Street Hockey League.

The counterintuitive aspect of this new focus is that the more we focus on those outside of the Kirk, the more we seem to be growing inside the Kirk. We remain a modest sized congregation to be sure, but I marvel on how progress on the inside can be the consequence of giving careful attention to those on the outside.

I am so proud of the Kirk’s leaders who have not only supported this ministry trajectory, but have encouraged it. This emphasis in reaching the community would not have been nearly as effective if it were only me “going” out. The number of Kirk members engaging our community is increasing and, by every appearance, it is making a profound difference in the lives of, both, those serving and those being served.

I think what I am trying to say is this: After more than 800 days as pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk, I couldn’t be happier.

Many predicted that my “honeymoon” stage with this congregation would eventually come to an end—and it still may. But I’m confident that this honeymoon will transition into a relationship marked by even deeper love and concern.

I’m often asked—by those within the Kirk, and those outside the Kirk—how long do I plan on staying? Ultimately, that is up to the Lord, but my intention is to stay in Nassau a very long time.

There is much work to be done, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all that God calls us to do. But I think it is important for me to remind the people I serve that I regard it to be a massive privilege, and a source of great joy, to be their pastor and friend.

See you in 103 days (or less).

My 1st Nassau-versary

Nassau AnniversaryMy wife and I have been feeling quite sentimental the last few days as we consider all that has transpired in the past year. You see, today is our 1st “Nassau-versary”—one year ago today we moved from Toronto, Canada to Nassau, Bahamas.

I shared many of the details related to this transition in a post written in March 2010. This current post is intended as a kind of “Year in Review” that affords me the opportunity to say “Thank you” to those who have helped us along the way.

I’m inclined to keep this post brief having read this morning my wife’s reflection on our transition and believing that she has conveyed better than I  how we currently feel.

One year later, we feel at home.

The transition shouldn’t have been so smooth. None of us had ever lived outside of Ontario. The differences between Nassau and Toronto are too numerous to list. We left behind family, friends, and familiar culture. I left behind, not only a congregation, but a denomination. My wife gave up her Marriage and Therapy practice and transitioned with no guarantee of being able to establish a similar practice here. My 8 year-old daughter left behind the only home she has ever known and all that was to connected to it.

Somehow, in spite of these drastic changes, one year later, we feel at home.

There are many who deserve credit for this. I immediately think of my new congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. The people have been exceedingly kind toward me and my family. I am acutely aware of my flaws and my shortcomings as a pastor, and yet these shortcomings have been continually met by grace.

As I consider all of the Sessions I have worked with as a Moderator and Interim Moderator, I can say that my experience has always been largely positive. It has only been a year, but I am proud to say that my interaction with the Kirk Session here has been entirely positive. At our last meeting I explained why I hadn’t suggested that we have a Session retreat this year. My feeling was that every meeting felt like a Session retreat. I am so grateful for that.

Many Kirk members have offered hospitality to our family–taking us out for lunch, or having us over for dinner. This may be something that can be anticipated in most congregations, but it is something that I refuse to take for granted. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

There is always a danger in naming individuals while attempting to say thank you to a group, but I must. Two individuals have gone above and beyond what you might expect from any church leader. Earla Bethel and Robin Brownrigg, by every appearance, have made it their mission to help the MacPhails adapt, settle, and thrive in this new environment. I will forever remember and give thanks for their kindness to my family.

Above all else, I thank the Lord for His sovereign mercy in my life. He has controlled and managed the things that I could not. He has kept congregational conflict at bay. He has shown Himself faithful in so many ways.

I suspect that many people read a passage like Jeremiah 29:11ff and think, “I hope that holds true for me.”  It delights me to say that I have experienced the fulfillment of this promise in my transition here:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Grateful seems like too small a word to convey how I feel today on my Nassau-versary. I say that I feel at home, but I am quite open to the possibility that this might just be home.

Your Online Persona

Persona. The role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one’s public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.

To varying degrees, every person I have ever met conveys a persona. Social networks serve to magnify this reality. We present ourselves to others, not falsely, but selectively. Our persona is not usually marked by adding things which aren’t there, but by omitting things which are there.

Example: My wife snaps a bunch of photos during our family outing and is about to post them on facebook. I notice a pic of me with my mouth full of food–I look awful, and so I plead with my wife to leave the picture out. Perhaps there is another pic where I look a bit grumpy; I ask her to leave that one out too. Why? Because I don’t want to present myself to others as a grumpy guy who eats too much–that’s not the persona I want to convey.

The same goes for our Twitter/Facebook status.  I could write: ”Today was miserable. Conflict at work. Confusion at home.” But I don’t. I’m not comfortable conveying a negative persona. Instead I write something much more benign like, “Don’t rub your eyes after eating hot chicken wings. Looking forward to hockey playoffs.

I think we all get that the persona we present to the world online is a bit sanitized. It’s the unwritten rule of tweeting, facebooking, and blogging to leave some of the ugly stuff out. If we’re experiencing a personal meltdown, that’s not something we’re going to share with our online community. As a result, what we’re left presenting is our online persona.

For those of us who are pastors, we tend to create a similar persona for the congregations we serve. We don’t tweet about the blow up at the annual general meeting. Nor do we post about record lows in Sunday attendance. We’re not going to blog about the conflict within the Board of Managers. Why? Because we’re dishonest? No. Because we have a certain persona we want to convey. We have an image in mind of what we want our congregation to look like, and we want to keep that in tact.

What got me thinking about this was a post from a well respected pastor, Perry Noble. Perry, like many of us, utilizes Twitter to keep people informed about what is going on in his congregation. Perry strikes me as a very upbeat, energetic, and positive guy–things I aspire to! But I gather that some of his 33,000+ Twitter followers were growing weary of hearing about all of the “epic” things going on where Perry pastors. In reply, Perry posted on his blog today, “I’m Sorry Your Church Is So Normal” (I’ll let you read it for yourself).

It’s possible that some of these critical Twitter followers are simply colleagues who are jealous of the amazing growth and progress that Perry is experiencing within his congregation. But it’s also possible, that some of the criticism of Perry is a genuine appeal for a less sanitized persona. Perhaps, the criticism comes from individuals who feel that they are only receiving half of the story.

I am taking the possibility of the latter to heart. I’m not sure that any of us are capable of altogether dropping our online persona, but I do think we might be able to offer a more balanced one.

I do experience personal and professional challenges. And while it is not always appropriate or helpful to share those challenges online, I am mindful that only reporting the “wins” isn’t appropriate either.

The question isn’t then, whether or not we have an online persona. The question is “How close is the persona to the real thing?” How authentic is our online persona?

I have some work to do on this. I want to close the gap.

I went wading through Proverbs today looking for some help and inspiration. You won’t find the word “authentic” in the Book of Proverbs, but honesty is a steady theme there. My favourite find? Proverbs 24:26: “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”

Consider yourself kissed.

Still Overwhelmed.

I communicate for a living, but recently I’ve had great difficulty communicating.

God is so good. Friends are so kind. We feel so loved in this emotional transition from life and ministry in Toronto to life and ministry in Nassau, Bahamas. I blogged on May 16 about the send-off we received that day from the people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well. The encouragement continued with a plethora of emails, facebook posts, comments, and messages from well wishing friends. In our final days in Toronto, we celebrated and said “good-bye” with numerous meals with dear friends.

We’re now Day 4 in Nassau. Today I was inducted as the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk and its mission charge in Abaco.  I was also received as a minister within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (USA). The Kirk in Nassau/Abaco is grateful for the support of the EPC as a denominational harbour while we plan and pray about the formation of a new denomination, The Presbyterian Church in The Bahamas (our long term goal).

It has been an emotional transition—it was extremely hard to say good-bye, and yet, the welcome we have received here has exceeded all expectations…

Day 1: Landing day. Met at the airport by three elders who helped transport our family, luggage, and pets to our new home (the manse). We arrived at the manse to a small army of people who were putting the finishing touches on the yard and house. Welcome baskets for each member of our family, including a basket of goodies for our dog and two cats! From there, the phone rang repeatedly—members of the Kirk wanting to bring words of welcome.

Day 2: Recovery day. Lots more phone calls, and then an invite to enjoy a swim and a BBQ at the home of one of the Kirk elders.

Day 3: Settling in day. Never have I filled 2 grocery carts before. One of the Kirk elders provided so generously for us, helping us to set up our kitchen. In the evening, we had a lovely reception at the home of another one of the elders. It was a fantastic night with great food and inspiring speeches, but for us the highlight was the surprise arrival of three friends from St. Giles Kingsway! It is unbelievable to me that these three flew down to Nassau to support our family during this transition. We are so touched, so thankful, so overwhelmed by all this kindness.

Day 4: Induction day. Today is my first day as the minister here. Members of the Presbytery of Florida (from the EPC) officiated much of the service, but it was my delight to lead the Kirk Session through the reaffirmation of their vows and to officiate Communion. After an hour and a half service, we were treated to what was perhaps the most impressive church brunch I have ever witnessed (I think I’m really going to enjoy the food here!). I hope to soon post some photos of the cakes which were especially made for today’s celebration (we even got to take one home!). Tonight, we’re heading out for dinner with our three friends from Toronto.

Day 5: Not sure what lies ahead, but I do expect I’ll be able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

We feel so affirmed in this call. We feel so welcomed in this transition. We feel so loved by a congregation that is just getting to know us.

I marvel at the kindness of so many. I am still overwhelmed.

I recognize that, very soon, I’ll need to push through the emotions of this transition and settle in as the minister here. There is much to do. There is seemingly limitless opportunity for the Kirk to increase its influence and impact upon the surrounding community. I feel so privileged to be a part of that.

On this, my first day as minister here, I’d like to offer a passage to my new congregation. May it inspire you to soar!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).