Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A New Book Coming In May

It is always a joyful day when you sit down with your editor (my daughter, Anna Elkins) and obtain an ISBN number and register the title for a new book - The Leadership Rock: A Journey of a Life in Leadership. Looks like a May 1 release date.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“Green Jell-O Salad”

My pastoral transition will take place in my 65th year.  I have been learning a lot about myself in this new season.  As Jan and I prepare to hand the leadership of our church over to Ryan and Kate Rhoden, Ryan and I have been having wonderful conversations about how to do this transition well.

Many of the leadership structures in the American church resemble a totem pole where the leader on top must fall off or die before change can happen.  When we first arrived in Medford the Lord told me to start giving the ministry away. In order to do this the Lord asked me to lay down our totem pole structure of leadership and begin leading horizontally.

Vertical leadership structures are challenging to work with. Most of these function on the principle of addition – you add to the bottom of the totem pole and it continues to grow upward pushing the primary leader higher and higher making any future dismount difficult. A horizontal structure is different – it is laid down on its side to give the pastoral team the ability to move more freely in many directions and multiply itself instead of only adding. While we are trying to do this, I still need to function from a Senior Pastor role in areas of responsibility like document signing and denominational representation. These functions don’t give life, they simply honor our process.

In this leadership transition, I have learned more about my own personal fears and insecurities.  Sometimes letting go is more challenging than taking hold. These personal discoveries can be opportunities for personal growth or they can become toxic responses that mess up a good thing. How we handle what we discover about ourselves will determine the direction and health of our future ministry transition.

I have come to see how important it is to allow younger leaders the freedom to create a way to do ministry that is uniquely theirs. Our transition will be two years from now, though Ryan and I have been talking privately about this change for several years.

The assignment I gave Ryan for the next two years was to begin to create a model of ministry that will fit him.  I don’t want Ryan to try to wear Saul’s armor or my style of ministry.  God is calling Ryan, not another Garris. For me, this means allowing a young man the freedom to make his own decisions even before the change in leadership becomes a visible reality.  The closer leaders get to a transition the more important it becomes to grant the incoming leader permission to begin reworking the ministry and its structure to fit their unique gifts and calling.

Some of this release took place when I told Ryan he did not have to ask me for anything – it is already his.  Healthy transitions have a sense of inheritance. This concept will change how we relate to each other. Even our theology is radically affected for the positive when we know we already possess all that Christ gained on our behalf.  Don’t make young leaders ask for anything. Give before they ask. It’s how God relates to sons.

Ryan is doing all of this with me with great honor.  In fact, he once said to me, “I don’t want to do this if you are not going to be here.” Jan and I will continue to make Living Waters our home church after the change in leadership takes place.  We are looking forward to what is coming. Healthy transitions always bring a new release of creativity for everyone involved. After the transition how we relate to Ryan’s leadership will be important for the health of the church and for the visible testimony of our leadership in our community.

There is a large group of pastors my age – the Baby Boomer generation– who are entering their transitional years.  Many of us have bought homes in the cities we currently pastor and have developed life-long relationships. We are not thinking about moving after we give the leadership of our churches over to the young men and women who will follow us. 

The Church-world is strewn with debris from failed transitions and we don’t want to add to the garbage pile.  For those of us who stay and live in the place of our final pastoral transition our attitude and heart condition becomes so important in the making of a healthy change. Who wants an old grumpy previous pastor poisoning the ministry well with unresolved insecurities?  I sure don’t, emerging leaders don’t and neither does the church.

In one of our recent Monday morning conversations Ryan shared something with me that brings such clarity to all of this.  He said transitions are like the history surrounding family Thanksgiving dinners. Ryan shared that as a mother and father prepares the Thanksgiving meal they have everyone over to their house.  As time goes on this arrangement works just fine, but over the years, as the parents age, things begin to change.  Their kids grow up and have children of their own.  They begin hosting the Thanksgiving meal at their house and invite mom and dad over for dinner.  A transition takes place. The task involving all the preparation for the meal is no longer mom and dad’s job – it has shifted to the kids to plan and host the meal. 

Thanksgiving meals develop their own history. Some things do change over the years.  The way the turkey is done and how the table is set will change, but it would not be Thanksgiving dinner if mom did not bring her green Jell-O salad. The green Jell-O salad has always been on the table in our history as a family.  Our taste buds have been programmed for the flavor that mom and dad uniquely bring to our family meal.

As older leaders approach a time of transition, we need to understand our roles will have to change before, during and after our transition.  The closer we get to this time the more we need to define our “green Jell-O salad.” There is a flavor in each of our lives that is unique to us and needs to be brought to the table for the dinner to be complete.  Bringing our green Jell-O salad to the transitioning ministry table means our unique contribution will add flavor to the future of the ministry, not dominant the table setting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Margin Time" by Garris Elkins

Several years ago, I realized that if I was going to finish well I would need to invest in those things that allowed me to go deeper in my intimacy with God.  Over the years of ministry I have seen the encroachment of demands and needs taking over my calendar and daily schedule.  I wanted to make an adjustment, but I did not know how.

As I processed this with the Lord, I knew he wanted me to create a space somewhere in my week where duty wasn’t present.  God wanted the creation of a place where I did not study or create responses to the demands of others.  This would be a place where I did not have my daily devotional time with God or study for sermons.  God wanted a place that was a clean slate – a place that would resemble a walk with God in the coolness of Eden’s evening.

At the time I was first processing this, our church was having a weekly Wednesday night service.  I would normally go into the office at 9:00 a.m. each Wednesday and stay through the evening.  It made for a long day.  I remember distinctly the Lord saying, “Give me Wednesday morning.”  I began to ask him what that would look like.

Where we live in Southern Oregon our home is nestled in a small historic community surrounded by hiking trails.  I knew this is where I wanted to spend my time with God each Wednesday morning.  The next Wednesday was still a week off so I had time to think about what those times might look like.

God was asking me to create a spiritual cartilage between me and the demands of life. This would be a place void of any task. God wanted me to give him a moment in time solely devoted to him.  At first thought I should bring my bible along on these hikes.  He said no.  I thought I should go up on the mountaintop and have formal devotions with him.  He said no. With each suggestion I brought to him to show I would be faithfully involved in some task – He said no.  He wanted nothing from me, but my presence. This was not to be a "productive" place.

When that first Wednesday morning rolled around I put on my hiking boots and set out for the trails.  I distinctly remember crossing the threshold between the city and the forest.  As I crossed that threshold for the first time I said, “I am all yours, God.”  I have been saying those same words each week ever since for the last 10 years.  This weekly hike with God has been one of the most significant places where God has developed me as a person and as a pastor. I hike year round in the rain, snow and sun. 

One personal impact from these Wednesday hikes is the creativity they release.  An uncluttered mind is free to dream and pray for those things Paul described in Ephesians 3:20 that are “beyond.”  Things beyond all that we would ever dare to ask or think or imagine are called into our reality in these times.  My own ministry of writing got its birthing push on the trails above Jacksonville, Oregon on my weekly hikes.

I have come to call this Wednesday hike, my “Margin Time.” Margin Time is that space we give to God that is not invaded with anything. This place is where he can have us untethered to any form of duty or productivity.  This dedicated time becomes a creative garden where the seeds of heaven are planted in our lives. For me, this margin time has been my walk in the forest. For others it is getting on a motorcycle or riding a bike. Some will sit in private place and simply wait.  The way you spend this time is between you and God.

Recently, I told a group of pastors some of the best books are being written by leaders after they experience burnout and failure.  Some of the books, written before the burnout, were all about cramming more and more “good” things into your life to get the most return for your investment in ministry.  The books written by these leaders after their personal crisis are now asking us to pursue places that resemble a spiritual mountain trail where the stress of life and ministry does not have a voice.

Like a human knee without a cartilage to cushion the knee joint, our lives can be so bone-on-bone that we end up becoming crippled.  It is the cartilage – that space between the bones – that allows us to move forward. Each leader needs to create a place of margin time where the presence of God acts as a cushion between the urgencies of life and our long-term effectiveness. God is already present in your margin time. He is waiting there to be discovered.

It is Sunday as I write this and I am already looking forward to the upcoming Wednesday morning in the woods. God is already there waiting for me for our appointed hike.

“God’s Alarm Clock” by Garris Elkins

My weekends are important times for me.  This is the time each week the church gathers and when I teach. I take it seriously.  I always want to be fresh for Sunday morning so I can give my best to God and his people.  As the weekend rolls around I try to un-clutter my schedule so that Saturday night I get to bed early to be well rested for Sunday morning.

On one particular Saturday morning, I became wide-awake at 3:30 a.m. I thought this was not good.  I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to awaken Jan with my rustling in bed, so I quietly got up.

Instead of making the noise required to start the coffee maker, I decided to get in our car and head out to a donut shop I knew that opened at 4:00 a.m. I don’t normally eat donuts, but on this particular morning my palate called for one.

Arriving at the donut shop, I went through the drive-through and picked up an apple fritter and a large coffee. I drove around to the parking lot of the donut shop and turned on the radio and had my breakfast as I sat in the darkness.  When I finished the coffee and fritter I actually felt pretty good – not tired or groggy.  Then I drove home.

On Sunday I wasn’t tired at church even though my normal routine had been disturbed.  I had a great workweek and life went on as normal.

The next Saturday morning the same thing happened.  I became wide-awake, again, way too early to just lay in bed.  I knew what to do this time and headed for the donut shop. When I was done I thought I would drive to the church since it was close by.

When I arrived at the church is was about 4:30 a.m. I entered the back door that leads into the sanctuary and immediately sensed that hush you experience in a forest when all man-made noise is absent.  I stood there and began to soak in the abiding presence of God that accompanies a structure that week after week is dedicated to God and where sounds of worship and praise have filled the air for years.  It was like I was being bathed in warm oil.  I prayed and asked God to bless the coming Sunday service and then I drove home.

The next Saturday I was awakened again and then began to realize God was waking me from my sleep.  No alarm clock – just the Lord wanting time with one of his sons.  At this writing this has been going on every Saturday morning for the last thirteen years.  I set no alarm and he faithfully awakens me each week. I now spend close to three hours with God each Saturday morning. I look forward to this time each week.  I minister to him and he ministers to me as the city sleeps.

One of the things I do each week is to stand before an empty sanctuary and talk out loud with God about the Sunday message I will preach the next day.  I go over my sermon notes and let God make any adjustments he desires. I also bring the ingredients for breakfast and we eat together. 

On Saturday mornings I walk through the sanctuary and lay hands on each chair and pray for each person who will attend our worship services the next day.  I declare hope and destiny over the church.  I confront dark spirits.  I do the work of a priest of God.

For all the years I have done this I have told my staff the church facility is off-limits for those several hours.  They have scheduled church life around my weekly time with God.  The church also knows about this special time and honors my weekly appointment with God.

This protected and reserved time has allowed me to function in complete freedom with God.  There was a time God had me jog throughout our facility shouting prayers.  Another time I lay prostrate on the platform and moaned his heart for his people.  Once a 20 foot tall ladder was left in the sanctuary by the facilities team who were in the process of adjusting the platform lighting.  God has me climb all the way to the top of the ladder and prophetically declare his heart over his people.  Being alone with God has allowed me a new level of the freedom and intimacy.

What I have come to realize about life and ministry is God wants time alone with us.  He is so passionate about this that he will awaken us from our normal patterns of life and carve out time normally given to sleep and work and say, “Come and be with me.”  If we will walk with him into these times we will enter those places where we will experience the quiet hush of his presence. Those times will become one of the highlights of our week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

“His Defining Light” by Garris Elkins

We have just come through a moment in time where the Church has been repositioned into a new place. Few of us really understand this new position. Something has changed. This new place is not yet fully defined, but will become more evident with each passing day as we seek God’s face. 

As I prayed to understand this repositioning I began to see an image.  In the image we were standing in a dark room. I could sense this was a room of transition.  I could see someone standing at a dimmer switch that controlled the level of light allowed into the room.

As the dimmer switch was moved up the level of light within the room began to increase.  Those of us in the room started to see dimly lit objects around us. Things that seemed fuzzy in the low light level now began to take shape and definition.  As the room became fully illuminated four objects in the room became visible – a box, a boat, a sword and a journal.

As I looked across the room the first object I saw was a box.  It looked like one of those antique wooden steamer trunks used for travel a hundred years ago.  Across the face of the box was a large label that read, “Expired.”

God was letting me know that some of the methods of ministry we have used in the past would no longer be used in the future – they had expired their season of usefulness. Methods that worked in the past had become, for some, a place where faith was no longer needed.  The methodology linked to the known methods had now replaced the vulnerability of stepping forward in faith.

In the side of the hull of the boat was a large hole, just below the water line.  It was obvious this boat would not be able to float if launched. This hole was defined as “Self-promotion.”

Self-promotion had punctured the hull of the ship where ministry was allowed to become an industry.  Industry in the natural requires promotion and advertising in order to survive in the marketplace. I felt the grieving of the Lord over this issue when he said to me, “If I be lifted up – not what you do in my name – I will draw all men to myself.”  I began to repent of this very sin in my own heart.

This sword was large, like a medieval knight’s war-sword. The dulled edge of the sword was also chipped. I got the sense that it had been used to strike objects in its dulled state and was chipped because it had lost its ability to cut. 

I knew this sword represented the Word of God. At first I tried to understand what this meant since God’s Word is described to us as “active, alive and sharp.” The Word of God is a powerful weapon, so why was it not cutting?

I began to understand what I was seeing - this was an image of the Word in our hand unused, not the Word in its purest sense.  The Word in the hands of some has grown dull because of the lack of use. Our opinions about life, ministry and the Kingdom had replaced the Word. As a result, it was easier to try and use the sword as a weapon to motivate people towards our opinions.

I believe God is asking some of us to navigate this new place through a return to a Word-based understanding of life and calling. As these images and words came to my mind, the blade of the sword began to repair and glisten in sharpness under the reflecting light in the room.

This journal was titled, “Principles.”  There was a layer of dust covering the journal.  This journal of principles had not been handled for a long time.  I began to understand that principles we discovered in the last season had become slogans for our lives in the current season.  These principles had lost their power because they had not been used. They had only been spoken, observed and recorded. The dust had gathered on this journal of principles because they had not been handled and had not come in contact with our inner man.

As I continued to view this now fully illuminated room and it’s contents, I realized God was calling us to see clearly and to make adjustments that will yield abundance and fruitfulness in this new place.  The Early Church did not walk in assumption, nor did they follow intricate and developed long-term plans.  They lived in the moment dependent upon God to illuminate each step they took.  This dependence on him kept the room of their lives clear and uncluttered so they could move freely into the new and unchartered future of faith.

Father God, turn up the light of your presence in the room of our lives.  Show us the clutter.  Show us what we need to reactivate.  Make yourself known to us in this new place so that we can move forward into the full light of your presence.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

“The Great Omission” by Garris Elkins

When Jesus gave us the Great Commission he said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”  The Great Commission has become the marching orders for the Church over the last 2,000 years.

At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples to “Go” in another way.  He said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”  Two verses later in the same paragraph he said, “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe.”  When he uttered these words, Jesus made it clear that the preaching of the Gospel would forever be connected with supernatural ministry.   

We have the Great Commission well defined.  We understand much of what Jesus was telling his disciples in Matthew 28.  In fact, there is a significant industry within the Church relating to this aspect of our calling. You can buy books on the subject, read doctoral dissertations on discipleship and even attend conferences where we are told how to do the Great Commission by some of the brightest minds in the Church. With all of this availability on the subject of discipleship not much of what we are doing is impacting our American culture.

What we don’t have down is the “Go” part defined by Jesus in Mark 16 where he said, “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe.”  Many in the Church are comfortable with the Great Commission of Matthew 28, but get nervous with the sign, wonder and miracle aspect of our commission. 

The commissioning of the Church in Mark 16 has become, even within some historic Pentecostal and Charismatic groups, the Great Omission.  The dictionary defines an omission as something we neglect.  Miracles, signs and wonders were used by Jesus to get the attention of his culture so he could tell them about the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not neglect anything. He used it all to glorify the Father.

The very thing that will get the attention of our unbelieving culture – the supernatural – has many times been omitted from the message we are trying to preach.  We would never actually come out and say this, but there is very little supernatural evidence accompanying the vast majority of what we do within the American Church. I frequently have to ask myself, “What am I doing that requires God to show up in power?”

Our cities and our nation are waiting to experience what I would call, “The Greater Commission.” The Greater Commission melds together the calling Jesus gave us in Matthew 28 and in Mark 16 to become a disciple-making people who walk in the miraculous power of Christ before the cultures of our world.  There is not a culture on earth that can withstand the powerful combination found in The Greater Commission.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Living with Expectancy in 2013

In 2013 God will begin moving in powerful ways. This move of God will not be age, gender or race-specific. It will include many elements of previous revivals and renewals. Be careful of criticizing any one element you do not fully understand or agree with. What God is about to do will blow right by a critical spirit masquerading as discernment. Like the Early Church, reserve the word "heresy" only for issues that deal with Christ's divinity. God's ability to lead you into truth is always greater than the devil's ability to lead you into error. You have already been positioned for what God is about to do - be expectant. Happy New Year!