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A Message for the Church

(I shared this message with my church last week and I’d like to share it with everyone else. This is my heart concerning ministry)

Message from Pastor Doug Bursch for Evergreen Church

February 2020

I have pastored Evergreen Church for 21 years. Currently, I have the genuine pleasure of co-pastoring with Dan Behrens and Jennifer Bursch, along with the powerful assistance of our worship pastors Christine and Joel Bozich and many other faithful servants of Christ. Although we’ve had many important seasons in this church, I believe the next 5 years are incredibly important to the future of this congregation. I believe God led us out of our old temporal building to lead us into a new, more permanent future. In other words, he led us out, to lead us in. 

In 5 years, I will be 53 years old and my youngest son Sam will be a graduating senior from high school. In 5 years, I will have at least 4 books finished and I will hopefully be working on my 5th. I assume many speaking, preaching and teaching opportunities will open in the coming years as I take the message God placed on my heart to a larger, global audience. With our children out of the house or in college, Jennifer and I will have more opportunities to travel in ministry together. 

I do not understand all that awaits my future and I truly believe Jennifer and I will stay at Evergreen to pastor, be near family and to help take care of both of our parents. I believe Evergreen is a central part of our future. However, I cannot make any promises but to faithfully try to follow the Spirit’s leading. Regardless, our lives are going to change and I am beginning to look at our lives and our church life in the very small increment of 5 years or less. The next 5 years are going to have great importance for the long-term vision of Evergreen Church. 

Evergreen has always lived as a faith community. We entrust our days into the hands of God. Jen and I did not take this assignment to make money, but to be faithful and we repeatedly chose the path of faithfulness over financial provision or security. For 21 years, we turned down financial prosperity for the sake of spiritual prosperity. God provided enough for us to be content. We spiritually prospered through entrusting our lives into the hands of God.

God blessed our marriage, blessed our children and blessed this community. Even so, I relentlessly wrestled with God. I wrestled to understand God’s purposes and plans for my life. I have wrestled to understand why people have come and gone, accepted and rejected the love we have shown them. I have wrestled to make meaning out of so many situations that bewilder me. I have wrestled with my own emotional well-being and my ability to do a job that seems so ill-suited for this overly anxious, insecure man. I have wrestled, and God has never let me win. But he has spent time with me in the wrestling and I believe he knows me and sees my heart and understands my longing. He does not reject me or discard me. He loves me and calls me his own. He calls me his own as he calls you his own. 

As Jacob wrestled with God, so do we. Jacob’s name means usurper. Jacob spent much of his life trying to steal God’s blessing or trick people into giving him God’s blessing. Jacob wanted God’s blessing. He understood that the magic, the anointing, the true difference came from God, but his tactics were rather dubious and less than noble. Even so, God saw Jacob’s heart; that Jacob was more than just a usurper, that Jacob was a genuine struggler who understood that the best he could ever hope for comes from God. 

Gen. 32:22-32 tells a story of Jacob wrestling through the night with an angel that turns out to be an embodiment of God. In the story, Jacob tells God, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” God responds by asking Jacob for his name. God knows Jacob’s name, but he asks Jacob to say it out loud anyway. So Jacob responds and proclaims, “Jacob!” shouting to God the name that says so much about this restless man. Jacob, the usurper! Jacob, the one who tricks people into getting God’s blessing! Jacob, the one who fraudulently possesses the anointing of God. God responded by looking past Jacob’s name. God said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

 Jacob wrestled with God and God gave him a new name, the name Israel, one who wrestles or strives with God. In other words, God said to Jacob, I know what’s behind that usurping name. You just really, really want more of me…and that means something. I will honor the fact that you want the fullness of my blessing. I will honor your desire to wrestle with me until you get your blessing. You are Israel, the one who strives for the blessing…..and so are my people. My chosen people are Israel, the ones who wrestle for my blessing. 

I feel like the last year has been a year of profound wrestling for me. I know that God is all I want. I know that nothing else remotely compares to the truth I’ve found in God’s abiding presence and the sacred message of the Bible. However, I’ve been wrestling with trying to understand where we are going and what God is doing. In wrestling, I have felt almost fraudulent, like a Jacob usurper, fighting with God for selfish reasons, trying to get the blessing to soothe my heart and comfort my anxieties. Even so, I believe God has seen my heart and he still calls me his Israel. 

Evergreen has been brought out of a place of comfort into a place of uncertainty. Although we have been given a beautiful building to abide in, we are just visitors, setting up and tearing down, contending for our little storage space in a giant building, trying to find our place when there is no place for us in this city. We have been brought out into a new wilderness. Sure, we have fireplaces and new chairs, but we do not have a physical home. All we have is God and the people he has entrusted to our care. 

I have been thinking much about what our next steps should be and my thoughts have moved in many directions. However, I don’t want to follow what seems right in my eyes or even in the eyes of many. I want to honor God’s thoughts and God’s reason for our existence.

This is where I hesitate, because I know how to form a vision that people will value and I know how to structure a course that will look good to many. I know how to promote a vision that will even comfort and soothe my insecurities. I can share something that makes sense and even looks spiritually wise, but it might not be what God wants for us. So, I hesitate because I do not want to present a seemingly wise spiritual equation that is not God’s voice for our community. So, let me share this instead.

For me, Evergreen Church is an experiment. From the beginning, I intentionally wanted to facilitate a community that made room for the miraculous provision and presence of God. I wanted to see if a church could grow, not based on the cleverness of humans, but on the leading of the Holy Spirit and the truth, love and grace of God. I frequently get the feeling that some churches are structured in a way for everything to be ok or even great, even if God doesn’t show up. I didn’t want to structure a church that ran without encountering God. I didn’t want to structure a community that turned God into a system people followed or into steps or points we memorized. Instead, I wanted to make room for Jesus and to see what happens when people are each confronted with the resurrected presence of Jesus. 

I didn’t want our church to become the all-encompassing life for those who attend, where church is life and life is church and everyone eventually becomes an enclave of Christians separate from a dying world. I didn’t want church to be a meaningless ritual where our Sunday activity had no bearing on our daily witness.

Instead, I wanted to intentionally gather to worship God with integrity, to preach messages where God speaks to everyone in the room (including the pastors) and to provide opportunity for each of us to regularly repent. I wanted to regularly facilitate opportunities for people to respond to God’s presence and to find genuine transformation. I wanted us to gather and then to see how people live their lives when they take full responsibility to be Spirit-led as they walk into every relationship. I did not want to be anyone’s God, but to provide a place where people learned how to find God, hear God and yield to God’s leading in every situation of their lives. This meant not continually gathering people at church, but continually encouraging them to be the church in their own homes, friendships and work environments. I did not want to pastor a church that made people dependent upon church programs for their own spiritual well-being.

The other experiment of Evergreen has been to pastor a church where I refuse to be a controlling jerk. I decided I would not control things, force things, make people yield to my vision or plan. I would accept, embrace and wait for people to follow the Spirit’s leading. I would go out of my way to avoid any form of manipulation. This meant not demanding people worked in certain ministries or gave certain amounts of money or even showed up to church on a regular basis. Instead, I would see if we could grow a church by simply loving people, accepting people and making room for the resurrected presence of Jesus. 

I wanted to see if Spirit-led people would hear God’s voice and care about Evergreen because God told them to care about Evergreen. I wanted to see if Spirit-led people would give their best energy, time and resources to loving the formation of this sacred community. I wanted the story to be God’s voice, not my ability to persuade or organize.  

I certainly have not succeeded in all my aspirations and there are many more words and thoughts I could express. I know Pastor Dan, Jen, Christine and Joel have also had their own aspirations. Today, I just needed to tell you mine as the founding pastor of this community.

These are some of the motivations that have been at the heart of my journey with Evergreen. This is my heart. I stand before God and ask God, can you build a church without a pastor trying to control it? Can a church grow, thrive and be sustained without the implementation of all sorts of structures and systems that become laws of abiding rather than Spirit-filled expressions of the Kingdom? I so much want to see a church that thrives based on the Spirit’s leading in me and in you, that I have purposely waited for God to move in you, instead of forming structures to make you move. This might be wrong, but this has been my calling, to see if God is really moving and speaking a word that we can unite around. 

So now we are in a new season, where we are reorganizing Evergreen Church. We are creating some necessary systems for activities such as set up and tear down, meetings during the week and finding ways to invite people to our new location. However, as we pursue these systems and structures, I need to reiterate my passion. I don’t care about systems and structures. This is what I care about: I care about the love, grace, truth and goodness of God. If the love, grace, truth and goodness of God does not permeate everything we do, we have nothing. Without love, we are nothing. 

We have not gotten any new signage yet. So far, I have been reluctant to move forward on quickly, boldly announcing our new location. There are many reasons for this reluctance. We need time to figure out our set up and it isn’t the biggest priority. However, there is another reason for my reluctance. I don’t want to invite anyone here until we have some ideas fully settled. I don’t want anyone to enter our doors until we have this truth clear in our hearts: Evergreen Church must be motivated by the Gospel of Jesus, the Spirit’s presence and the over-powering motivation to love. All of us must be committed to welcome and embrace every person with the genuine, thoughtful, relentless, continual love of Jesus. We must be a community of love. If we don’t love, nothing we do matters. I we do love, everything else really won’t matter that much.

They will know we are Christians by our love. Jesus told us the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment must be the beat of our collective hearts. That we love every person the way we want to be loved. There can be no seasons of rejection, bitterness, anger or rage. And if we fall short of Christ’s love, we must be reconciled, turning from the darkness of hate, embracing forgiveness and seeking the truth of God in love. The gospel is a message of love. Jesus Christ, our righteousness, paid the dept for all sin, so that we could love all sinners into the kingdom of God through the grace and love of our Savior. We must love and challenge each other to love. There is not one person who can opt out of the mandate to love. From the youngest to the oldest, all of us are called to love and to love deeply; most importantly to love those entrusted to our care and to love our enemies as Christ has love us. 

Evergreen Church is an experiment. I am asking all of you to recommit to this experiment. An experiment rooted not in laws or rules or regulations, but in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our one true Savior. Evergreen Church is an experiment in Spirit-led intentionality and genuine grace and love. I believe God is calling us in the next five years to reach many people and leaders with his love. He is calling us to use this wilderness time to build a loving community as we seek a more permanent place to abide. 

In the coming months we will be prayerfully seeking a plan for Evergreen to have a place of our own. I believe God wants us to have our own home that will be a ministry center to train leaders as well as a place to continue the work we are doing this very moment. However, we must prepare our hearts for that future by embracing God’s mandate to love more. As we prepare our hearts, I am confident he will do a miracle in our midst. He will grow us as a people and he will find us a more permanent home.

I am not going to supplant God’s leading and presence with a system. Instead, I am going to call all of you to once again join me and others in this mysterious Spirit-led path of love. We will put in place some structures and systems, but nothing will replace our foundational passion to be a place that makes room for the resurrected presence of Jesus. We will find ways to work together with practical structures, but nothing will distract from our mandate to take this message into our homes, neighborhoods, work environments and world. This is a wonderful season full of possibility. Let us embrace what God is doing in the eternal now. If we do, we will be ever green. 

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