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Belonging & Believing

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I hope to document my journey of integrating at Central Presbyterian Church as a way to see how God is helping me as the Pastor of Evangelism and Community. It will be a way that I can listen and experience more of what God wants in leading the church to be one that continues to encourage people to come BELONG to his family and church. The church tag line is Know, Be Known and Make Known.  I am called to this church to make sure that we strive for people to come and be known. You have an important part to play in God’s family and church here at Central. The way God has made you and shaped you brings so much to his Kingdom and church. I hope you will be encouraged by my story, and join me in celebrating how God weaves together all of our stories into the deep history of Central. With a strong sense of togetherness and calling from God, I believe God will lead us to go and make known who he is to the community around us.  It will be a challenge to share the good news of Christ to those that we come in contact with, whether in or outside of the church.  I will strive to help us learn what it looks like to trust God in helping people go on that journey to BELIEF.

First Entry – 2/12/18

From 3 to 35 | My First Staff Meeting at Central 

At my last two churches, all-staff meetings were typically 3 or 4 people gathering together. On my first day at Central, this was clearly not the case. No longer a small meeting of a few, but a really big meeting of 30-plus. Was this something completely new and different? Yes. Was it strange to be in a room of people that I just met and learned their names? Definitely. Did I feel uncomfortable in this brand new environment? No, absolutely not!

Personally, I have always wanted staff meetings to be a time for the staff to share and be open with what is going on in our lives and ministries. It is a time to share, pray, and talk. Although the organizational parts of staff meetings will always be important, I have always felt that the most important thing is connecting with each other and knowing each other as we do ministry together.

Entering into my first all-staff meeting with the rest of the Central staff, I felt extremely comfortable where God has placed me. We enjoyed worship and praise together, and Pastor Clay led devotional that was clearly encouraging transparency and openness of what we each were dealing with in ministry. This led to staff members sharing what was sincerely on their hearts, both the positives and challenges in their ministries. This environment is what I was truly hoping for to be able to build relationships with ministry partners, working together as one, to impact the Kingdom.

I’ve been impacted deeply by God’s calling to be here at Central. It isn’t something that was quick, painless, or easy. In fact, it was quite the opposite, seeming more like a long journey that at times was excruciatingly painful (hard saying goodbye to close friends, church members, a context that we were so familiar with). But one thing was for sure, we knew God had called, so we had to trust God by faith and obey and “go," leaving behind our comfort zones. But how reassuring that God has given us a place where we find comfort with Him and God’s people to do His work going forward.

Posted by Ben Tzeng

Loving & Seeking the Lost

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You may notice two lovable-yet-mischievous guests in the backyard of the missions house. Those are our dogs, Tory and Reggie. If you are a dog lover, you know they become part of your family once they enter your home, and these particular two hold a special place in our hearts. Whether they are on their best behavior or getting into mischief, our love for them runs deep and is unconditional. Mostly.

Reggie is a Brittany Spaniel and our resident “Houdini,” seemingly able to find his way into or out of just about anywhere. Monday evening he somehow managed to push and climb his way out of the backyard and disappeared into the Davis Place neighborhood. Our family began a desperate search, but after several hours and no Reggie, we gave up for the night, but continued to pray the Lord would bring him back to his family. Was he ok? Will we ever see him again? Our hearts were broken, and it was a difficult night.

It occurs to me that this is a powerful picture of how our heavenly Father feels when we go astray. We are precious to him, dear members of his  family. When we run away it breaks his heart, but he will not stop his relentless pursuit to bring us back home. He is the faithful Shepherd.

This week I begin serving as your Senior Pastor, and we’re beginning a study of  Isaiah. Isaiah offers a snapshot of God’s never-ending pursuit of us as our Father and our Shepherd. Time and again, the people of Israel turned their backs against the Lord, but time and again, the Lord pursued them and called them to relationship. We may climb our way out of God’s proverbial yard, and think we have found the good life in our new found “freedom.” But in reality, we put ourselves in grave danger when we do so.

Isaiah also boldly reminds us that the Lord calls us back for a purpose. God wants to save and protect us, but he also calls us to be part of his mission to rescue a lost world. He invites us to sense the burden he feels for a world that is full of pain and in rebellion against him, as we once were. This is God’s mission, and I wonder what role that he has for Central to play in it in the years ahead? As we begin this new chapter of ministry together, I am overjoyed and full of anticipation as to what God has in store for us.

It is a great relief to share with you that a “good shepherd” found Reggie and brought him to a local shelter, safe and sound. He is home again, and we could not be happier. The Lord God Almighty rejoices over us, and we can only imagine his great joy when we return to him. May that joy be our strength as we join him in the mission that he has for us in the years ahead.

With humble gratitude for each of you,

Pastor Clay

Posted by Clay Smith

3 Questions & Answers About Spiritual Formation

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Last summer, my title changed from “Pastor of Worship and Arts” to “Pastor of Spiritual Formation.”  Since that time, some people at Central have asked me some very good questions about the meaning of my new title, and I want to share what I hope are some good answers.

The first question is this: “What does spiritual formation mean?”  This is a shorthand phrase to describe the comprehensive work of God to make us the people that he created us to become.  As our Creator, God formed the first human being (Gen. 2:7), and he formed each of us with the same exquisite care (Ps. 139:13–16).  As our Savior, God is undoing all that is de-formed in us by sin and its cursed effects; he is re-forming us by con-forming or trans-forming us into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) by the power of his Spirit, not only in our souls but ultimately in our bodies as well (Phil. 3:21).

“Spiritual formation” is the ultimate purpose for everything that we do as a church.  The goal of our church is not simply to enjoy stirring worship services or to engage one another in classes or small groups or to serve people in need in our city and around the world.  God calls us to those practices of worship, community life, and outreach because they are the means by which we know and love God and through which God transforms us into a people who bear the image of the Son of God and manifest his likeness in our character and actions with increasing maturity and glory.

God’s work in spiritual formation is a lifelong process of growth.  Jesus is not only our sacrifice and priest but also our model, teacher, and guide, and he calls us to be disciples who follow him by submitting to his wise methods of training so that we can be like him (Luke 6:40).  As Pastor of Spiritual Formation, my calling is to help our church to see the full vision of God’s transformative plan for us and to pursue that vision by all the means and methods that God provides for our training in the way, the truth, and the life of God.

A second question often follows the first: “Isn’t this what the church has often called discipleship?”  Yes, it is.  Spiritual formation is simply another term for the process of becoming a full disciple of Jesus.  It describes the life and goal to which Jesus calls his followers and students (disciples). 

And that answer leads naturally to a third: “Why would I choose the phrase “spiritual formation” for my title rather than ‘Pastor of Discipleship’”?   One reason is that the term “discipleship” has become strongly associated inside the church not simply with the overall process of spiritual formation but also with a particular means of pursuing it.  For many people, the term “discipleship” brings to mind classrooms, curriculum, and structured mentoring relationships in which older, knowledgeable Christians teach the basics of the Christian faith to people who are younger or less experienced.  While those are forms that accomplish some aspects of discipleship, the process of becoming a mature disciple of Jesus—the process of spiritual formation—involves far more than that.  Indeed, the most focused forms of spiritual formation do not occur in classes but rather in coffee shops and around dinner tables, in phone calls and emails, in service projects and daily work, and in spiritual conversations saturated in the word of God and prayer shared by close Christian friends.  The revelation of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels shows us clearly that his means of grace and his methods of training and forming us go far beyond anything we can experience in a classroom, a sermon, a lecture, or a workbook.

A second reason why I prefer the phrase “spiritual formation” is that it has the potential to connect with people outside the church.  The word “discipleship” is a very churchy word; one almost never hears the words “disciple” and “discipleship” used outside Christian circles.  While those terms are fine for communication between Christians, the terms “spiritual” and “spirituality” are widely used in American culture to talk about religious beliefs, longings, and practices.  Therefore, referring to the ministry of the church as “spiritual formation” establishes a common ground for communication by using language that many people already use to label their most ultimate concerns and commitments.  One of the fastest growing categories of religious life in America is the set of people who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”  Thus, naming the ministry of Jesus as “spiritual formation” presents Christ as the fulfillment of our deepest questions and longings in language that is already culturally familiar.

For some additional resources for understanding spiritual formation, see Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation,” and his books The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God and Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.