A while ago I was job searching at various churches around the country. Over the course of two separate seasons of about 3 months each, I had conversations, filled out applications, was interviewed at, and traveled to maybe a dozen churches spread out across the country. Almost all of them were fantastic churches that, for one reason or another, just didn’t end up being a good fit for me.
As a side note, one of the comical things I experienced was that every single church I talked to in my interviews said the same few things in one way or another. Things like:
- “We’re a super healthy church.”
- “We live right on the border between two major demographics in our city.”
- “Our building is on a great location, right by the highway.”
- “Leadership is really supportive of our student ministries.”
I’m not saying I doubt any of the truthfulness of what they said, it just struck me as funny that every church I talked to kept saying the same things.
I remember one church in particular seemed just about perfect. Everything from location to vision to size and the job they were interviewing me for hit most of the “checks” on my list. But I still didn’t feel motivated to accept the position. I could tell their team was an amazing group of men and women who had a lot of history together, fun, and common interests. After a few days of praying, (over)thinking, and processing with Linds and some friends, I called the guy who would have been my boss to decline the job.
I decided to be honest with him and say that although everything seemed great, their staff seemed to have a great dynamic to it, which I just didn’t see myself fitting into. I’ll never forget his response. He, with a great deal of understanding and wisdom, replied: “I totally get that, man. I realized a long time ago that at the end of the day, I just want to do ministry with my friends.”
It was one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard about church-hiring.
I’ve experienced the large, slow gears of church hiring from both sides of the equation on multiple occasions. And I’ve found it’s incredibly difficult. And even the times it ends up working, too often I’ve seen the hired person not stay very long.
I think this is mostly due to the fact that hiring for a ministry role is different than hiring for a marketplace job. Due to the fact that most companies and interviewees just look at the things on a piece of paper such as salary and job description. Whereas a job in some form of ministry requires things like feeling called and spiritual gifts and a person’s relationship with Jesus.
In fact, we’ve nailed this down to a formula. Usually there are some list of overarching criteria that churches pay attention to when considering a hire. Most of them are a list of “C” words such as:
I’ve seen lists with other “C’s” but these 4 seem to be most common.
After experiencing a lot of interviews and the comment made by my almost-supervisor, I came up with a theory about church hiring: Churches should just hire their friends!
I think part of the reason church hiring is so laborious and time-consuming is because it takes a long, long, and (sometimes) LONG time to discover the character, competency, calling, and chemistry of a person! That’s why dating relationships, friendships, and park district softball leagues take a long time to form and deepen! It’s an intensely difficult thing to figure out over the course of a couple hour-long interviews, spread out over weeks and months.
So instead, hire your friends! People you know and can check 3 of the 4 “C’s” off the list! Hiring a friend means they’re someone you already have chemistry with, someone you know the character of, and someone you trust has the competency for the job you’re hiring for! The only question left is, do they feel called to it or not!
Now to be clear (to all your Human Resources reading this), I’m not saying that churches should, in any way, discriminate who they hire or only hire “yes men/women” who aren’t going to challenge them or keep them accountable.
I just mean that I think there’s some wonderful wisdom to “doing ministry with your friends.”
As I’ve thought through this, I’ve realized that some of the healthiest, most dynamically flourishing churches I know of were started and are lead by a group of friends! People who have done life together and who share a lot of similarities in their passions, gifts, theology, free-time, creativity, culture, goals, and much more.
All that being said, this might be a terrible idea, I mean I’m not in a leadership position over a church or dictating how hiring is or should be done. So, obviously take all this with a grain of salt. Actually more like a huge grain of salt. Like a horse salt lick.
Today was our final day is Israel and we spent it walking the places Jesus spent His last few days and hours before His crucifixion.
Just a heads up, none of the places we visited today are known 100% to be accurate. Some are generally believed to be accurate, some are believed by a small group of theologians and/or archeologists, some by the majority. All that to say, we visited the places our guide (through his research, experience, and discussions with professionals in the field) believe to be true.
We began our day with a hike up the Mount of Olives.
We walked up the road that is believed to be the same road Jesus road on a colt into the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21). On the way we passed the massive semetary that lies on the hill of the Mount of Olives.
Instead of flowers, the Jews place rocks on the tombs of loved ones to honor them and indicate they lived and righteous life
It’s reserved only for Jewish people and costs a lot of money to get a plot there. The reason Jews are so eager to be buried there is because The Mount of Olives is where it’s believed the Messiah will come.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south. – Zecharia 14:4
They want a front row seat to Messiah!
From there we hiked all the way up to the top and heard Rod teach about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
After that, we walked to the place where it’s believed Gethsemane was. First of all, we learned it’s not an actual “garden.” The reason John’s gospel (the only one to call it a “garden”) refers to it as one is a symbolic connection to the Garden of Eden and the way Jesus is about to complete the forgiveness of sin that began with Adam and Eve.
Gethsemane means “olive press” and was a place where olives were pressed for oil. So Jesus went to pray at an olive press. In fact, typically these were underground. So, there’s a beautiful church area in the place it’s believed Jesus went to pray after having Passover with His disciples.
One of the more potent things we learned as Rod taught us in the olive grove above where the press was (above picture), was about blood. Jesus was crucified during Passover, meaning the population of Jerusalem went from around 600k to between 2 and 3 million people. Also meaning that there would have been around 250,000 lambs sacrificed in the temple in a 24 hour period for all the people’s atonement. Of the many meanings this has, one of the practical ones is the sheer amount of blood that it would produce.
The priests would dispose of all this blood by pouring out in the temple courtyard where it would run down in the Kidron valley (which divides Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives) and drain all the way to Bethlehem (coincidence?), which is also where the passover lambs sold by the priests and Levites were raised and grazed (another coincidence?).
This means that when Jesus walked from just having had a Passover meal with His disciples to Gethsemane to pray, He would have had to walk through (or possibly over) a river of sacrificial blood from hundreds of unblemished lambs.
So Jesus prays (with anguish and horror, according to the words used in Scripture) in Gethsemane as He is about to walk to His death as the unblemished lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was a sobering image to process as we prayed and experienced communion in the place near where Jesus was that night.
Next we walked the streets of Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa (“The Way of the Cross”) through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, as it was the last day of Ramadan (for muslims) and also Shabbat (for Jews).
Our first stop was the courtyard in the Roman fort where it’s believed Jesus was scourged before carrying His cross through the city to where He was crucified.
The courtyard and scourging stone in the corner (where prisoners would have been tied to)
From there we visited the two spots that are most believed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. One is a garden area and the other is surrounded by the 2nd most famous church in the world (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
I’m not going to post any pictures here because neither site is guaranteed to be the official spot and it feels funny to post pictures of what could have been, especially since the two locations are so drastically different. Plus, as our group discussed, the whole experience was somewhat anticlimactic. While that sounds bad to say, the truth is that it was wonderful.
There’s nothing magical or mystical about our faith. We don’t worship an object or draw power from a place or thing. And while it’s so great to remember where Jesus died and was buried, the most important truth is that He’s not there any more! He is risen and alive and living in and around every single one of us!
That being said, here were a few details that were so interesting to learn about the crucifixion (wherever it was):
- Jesus (and the criminals next to Him) would have been crucified at eye level and at the base of Golgotha. We tend to picture it on top of a green, grassy hill. But for one, there’s no green, grassy hills in the middle east. And more importantly, the Romans used crucifixions like we use billboards. They were always done in the most public place as a sign to everyone of what happens if you mess with Rome. The Bible also says Jesus was spit on, which was common for passers by to do so. Also, they place a sign above the criminal that they’d want as many people as possible to read. Jesus’ death wasn’t on some far away hill, it was in plain sight of the 3 million people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover.
- Because crucifixions were so common (sometimes hundreds a day), the size of wood was always changing, depending on what was available. So it’s very possible Jesus was crucified on a capital T cross, a lower case t cross, or just on an actual tree.
- The place where Jesus was buried would only have been a few hundred yards from where He was crucified. Because of the need for them to hurry up the burial process (since He died at 3pm and they needed to finish all their work by sundown for the Sabbath (Shabbat), they wouldn’t have been able to travel very far.
- The entrance to the tomb would have only had about a 2′ by 2′ opening.
And probably a lot more details I can’t remember because MY BRAIN IS FULL!
It’s been an incredible couple weeks and I’m exhausted yet full in every sense of the word.
One final thing I wanted to include was maybe my favorite moment of the trip so far. One of our stops during the day was at Saint Anne’s Church, which is where Mary (the mother of Jesus) was born. There’s an incredibly beautiful church there, where we got to stand and sing worship. The acoustics in the building were beautifully haunting. I’ll end this post by showing you a short clip of our group praising God together (listen for how beautiful the echoes of our voices are):
This is my last post from Israel but I plan to post a final one once I’m home, have hugged and kissed my family (for a long time), and let some of what I’ve learned here sink in.
Thanks so much for reading and I’d love to tell you more (because there was so much more) in person!
Today was a day book-ended by very intense experiences.
We started out by walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Hezekiah (which means “God is my Strength”) build a tunnel underneath the old city of Jerusalem to divert water from the natural spring there (hence why it’s such a desirable place for a city) in order to keep Jerusalem and all the Jews living in it alive during the conquering’s of Assyria.
While the king of Assyria bragged in great detail about all the other kings and cities he conquered (and there were many), the only thing he could say about Hezekiah was that he “kept him like a bird in a cage.” The reason Jerusalem avoided destruction was because of the tunnel Hezekiah built.
The tunnel he built was nothing short of unbelievable. We hiked down under the modern city of Jerusalem and eventually entered a tiny entrance, about the size of a car door, with cold water up to our ankles flowing past.
The rest of the tunnel, which took a solid 20 minutes of brisk walking to get through, was a claustrophobic’s nightmare. We’re under hundreds of feet of rock (so it’s pitch black…save for our flashlights) and the tunnel size averages about the size of a small house doorway, getting narrower and shorter frequently, so there were times when I had to walk with my knees bent until it opened up again. At one point, the water was almost up to my waste and there are times when it would have been up to my chin.
Needless to say, those afraid of tight spaces were very, very challenged with their biggest fear and through prayer (at one point Rod having us yell Psalm 23 loudly and hearing the powerful thump of our echo through the caves), encouragement, and me rapping from the Space Jam soundtrack for some comedic distraction, we all made it through.
At the end of the tunnel is the Pool of Siloam where Jesus sent the blind man from the Temple Courtyard to go receive healing (John 9); a long descending journey for anyone, let alone someone who is blind.
Next we got to walk through the Israel Museum where, among other things, we got to walk through the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (there were no pictures allowed). Having already been to Quamran (where the scrolls were discovered), it was a wonderful experience to see the actual scrolls themselves in person. They were truly an amazing discovery that advanced the proof of the Bible from 1000 AD to 200 BC and solidified the roots of the Christian faith in truth to God’s chosen people and the Law.
The monument outside the Israel Museum, which is very specifically designed with “living water”, white stone, and in a similar shape to the jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls
After that we took the bus to Bethlehem for some shopping! I can’t get in too much detail about the borderlines and politics (mostly because it’s very confusing and I’m not that smart) but Bethlehem is located in modern day Palestine, which is literally right next to and within the Israel near Jerusalem. Bethlehem used to be home to about 80% Christian Arabs and 20% Muslim Arabs but now those percentages have switched and life is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians in that region.
Because of this, there is a man named Johnny who runs a Christian souvenir shop and is looked at as the Patriarch of Christianity within Bethlehem. Our guide informed us of this and said he doesn’t usually like to do touristy things but wants to try and support this man, his family, and the other Christians he supports in an area that can be very difficult at times. There was no pressure to spend, but it was going towards a wonderful cause.
Not only that, there were some amazing things to buy! The main products in Bethlehem are hand carvings made from Olive Wood. Depending on how long it is aged and dried, it can become as strong as stone and there were some carvings in the store that had been aged up to 800 years!
After some fun shopping and lunch, we headed off for a hike in the mid-day heat at Herodium. That was an enormous palace Herod built (38 acres compared to Caesar’s 9 acre palace) that featured a man-made lake with shaded island and man-made mountain for a lookout/bath, and where Herod is now buried.
The man-made mountain Herod built for part of his palace and also where he’s currently buried
A look at where the land of milk (land of the shepherd/desert) and honey (land of the farmer – they would make honey out of dates) meet
We’ve done a lot of study of Herod over our trip in part because He’s a significant influence on the Biblical story and God uses His building of Rome to advance His Kingdom with the early church, but also to illustrate a point. Herod was a self-absorbed dictator but he was also a genius who built some of the most technology-advanced structures of ancient history that today’s archeologists are struggling to figure out the means behind. And yet…his kingdom lies in ruins. His cities are toppled and even though he wanted to be thought of and was worshipped as a God while he was alive, today he’s simply a name is our history books.
While the other King, the true King of The Jews, is worshipped by millions worldwide.
Herod’s message was: “Your life for me!”
Jesus’ message was: “My life for all of you!”
Jesus won. The King born in a dinky town in a cave, died a criminal’s death, is the true King of Kings (Revelation 19)
Next, we went to the Holocaust Museum.
There’s not much to write and we weren’t allowed to take pictures.
But it was a powerful experience. The atrocities of the Nazi’s during the Holocaust made me angry, convicted, and nearly brought to tears. And yet, it was a great experience to be a part of an establishment that was mostly about not letting anyone forget. Through reading the names, hearing the stories, and reading the history of what the Jewish people went though, our group honored the memory of God’s chosen people who were killed during this horrific time.
We ended our day with some wonderful food with some of our new friends at a restaurant in the old city of Jerusalem. Lamb, rice, veggies, and red wine. Just about a perfect meal in Jerusalem.
For our last day tomorrow, we get to walk (literally) through Jesus’ last week before dying for the sins of mankind. Can’t wait!
Last night was our first experience both at night and in Jerusalem.
We walked through the marketplace to the Western Wall. I knew very little about the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) but after spending a night learning all about it, I was blown away by how significant it is. I’m far from a history buff but this whole trip has sparked a major interest in it, at least the history of Israel, which (according to Romans 11:17) is all Christian’s history as well.
The Western Wall is the only remaining piece of the Jewish Temple. Originally it was the location of the Jewish Synagogue, until Solomon built the temple on the same spot (which was destroyed by Babylon), followed by Herod the Great (the same Herod who ruled when Jesus was born and tried to have Him killed), building a supersized temple on top of the original in the same spot. After this temple (called “The 2nd Temple”) was destroyed, muslims occupied the area until Israel became an official state in 1948. Then in 1967, the Jewish people made the area we see today, where Jews come from all over the world to see and pray at the Western Wall. The reason being, the Western Wall was a part of the foundation of the platform that the temple was actually built on, and is the only original structure still standing.
It would be the equivalent of archeologists finding a beam of the cross Jesus was killed on that they knew without a shadow of a doubt was authentic. Obviously there’s nothing magical about the wood, but we would absolutely want to go see and touch and be near it as much as possible. We would have an incredible reverence for it and if it was within walking distance from our home or on our way to work (which it is for many Jews here in Jerusalem), we wouldn’t hesitate to make it a regular destination to pray and praise God and get our hearts in a position of worship and gratitude.
Because of the significance of the wall, those of the Jewish and Christian faith flock from around the world to experience such a significant part of our faith history. It was amazing to look at it and think that it stood before and during Jesus time as the place all followers of Jehovah came to worship Him.
As I placed my hands on the wall and prayed, I really sensed God’s presence. Again, there’s nothing magical about the wall, but I was standing in a place where (according to God’s Word) His presence lived, in the capital city of the land He chose and gave to His chosen people. It was a wonderful, powerful time of prayer that I’m so grateful to have experienced it.
Not only that, but we got to take an underground tour along a much longer portion of the Western Wall. In the ancient world, when a city was destroyed, conquered, or burned down, the conquering nation would simply level the city and build on top of it. Kind of like the layers of a cake. So, as modern archeologists dig into this (called a “tel”) they’re able to travel back in time and determine historical events.
That being said, the original main street for Jerusalem is much lower than the modern one. So as we toured underground through tunnels built by muslims who occupied the area before Israel became a state, we got to experience so much history.
Part of the base of the Western Wall that’s now underground, featuring a 600 ton (yes that’s correct) stone place there by Herod as he built
One of the most significant places underground is a spot that is the closest possible place to the Holiest Place (Holy of Holies) in the 2nd Temple. It’s underground but around 300 feet from the place that only the high priest was allowed to go and where the curtain was torn the moment of Jesus’ death.
Speaking of which, the Western Wall is only a few football fields away from where Jesus died, which I’m sure we’ll experience in our last two days in Israel.
Overall, it was a powerful night and so rich in history and God’s past and current presence.
Today we go to Bethlehem! On to the next!
Today we left the northern area of Galilee and headed towards Jerusalem.
Our first stop was a powerful one: The Jordan River.
Rod (our teacher) stepping in to teach us and my pal Rachel photo bombing
Our group had a baptism experience in the same river where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Many from our group chose to get baptized, while the rest chose to experience Mikveh. Mikveh is an ancient act of regular, self baptism as a symbolic act of cleansing. There were Mikveh pools outside temples and synagogues that the Jewish people (including Jesus before He would enter a synagogue, not as an act of repentence but as an act of commitment) would wash their feet, hands, head, heart, and sometimes even their eyes or mouth before entering into a time of worshipping God. Some of the more pious Jews even did it multiple times a day, before meals or when they just felt lead to.
It was a powerful experience for me doing Mikveh. Baptism is obviously Biblical, powerful, and something Jesus commands. But Mikveh (at least for me) was a whole new experience. Instead of being baptized by someone else and feeling the power of the moment as a public act of faith, Mikveh was something much more personal between just me a God.
I stood in the mucky waters of the refreshing water of the Jordan and thanked Jesus for His grace and forgiveness. Then I took the cool water and washed myself as I confessed and symbolized a cleansing I know Jesus has already given to me.
Then we all linked arms and crossed the Jordan together, as that’s what God’s people did as they literally and symbolically moved from one life (chaos, sin, desert, wandering, etc.) into a new life (freedom, promised land, hope, salvation, etc.). Needless to say, the day got off to a powerful start.
From there we visited the ancient Roman town of Scythopolis. There were no Biblical accounts here, but it continued to give us a flavor of the Roman, Hellenistic world that was in stark contrast to that of the Jewish world. The Romans glorified perfection (body, work, etc.) and comfort over anything else. Sound like any country or churches you know..?
Panoramic view of the city center, houses were on the outskirts
The “wide road/gate” Jesus was referencing when talking about the need to take His, “narrow” road that leads to life (Matthew 7)
An ancient Roman bathroom. My friends Matt and Debbie considering trying it…
After lunch we headed for our last hike of the day, and it was a humdinger. Not only in difficulty but also in significance.
While the bus took us the majority of the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, we did experience the intense walk from the ancient city of Jericho on the narrow, wilderness trail through the mountains. This was the same trail that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have taken up to 3 times a year to worship in Jerusalem.
It was also the area Jesus spent 40 days in while fasting in the wilderness. Contrary to what I thought (that Jesus spent these 40 days totally isolated amongst cactus and tumbleweeds), it’s highly likely Jesus interacted with people during this time. The “wilderness” to the Jewish people is where they lived. To us, that’s a place where we avoid, but they’re desert people. So Jesus, most likely, walked the path we walked to day, encountering numerous types of people during His fast and preparation. All while being tempted by the devil.
Not only that, but this was the same trail Jesus walked on His way to, what He knew would be, His death.
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem… – Luke 9:51
It was humbling to step on the same path our Savior once walked on, as He willingly walked towards His death and the payment for our sins.
After our hike, we sang songs on the bus as we ascended to “The House” where God’s people have traveled for thousands of years to worship Him.
Jerusalem in Hebrew is pronounced ya-roo-sha-lime. The suffix of “ime” in Hebrew means that there’s two of something. So the Hebrew words for hands, eyes, ears, etc. all end in with an “ime” sound. Jerusalem is the only city that has this suffix (since all other cities are singular) because of the fact that there is a Jerusalem in Heaven and on Earth (Revelation 21).
Tomorrow we explore the city!
Our first look at Jerusalem!