On episode 58 of The Edge of Innovation, we are exploring Christianity and who God is with Pastor Paul Buckley of King of Grace Church.
Pastors are Shepherds
What Does a Pastor Do?
The Nature of God – Who is God?
Is God a Mean Guy?
Looking Deeper in the Bible
Which Bible Should I Read?
Social Media as a Relationship Substitute
King of Grace Church – How it Began
The Presence of a Person
The Main Thing – Wrapping it All Up
Exploring Christianity: Who is God?
Pastors are Shepherds
Paul P: So you were, you’re a scientist. Not were. You are. And you’re a material scientist which is nontrivial. I mean, you know, it’s figuring out how things work and how they’re used in their extreme in some ways. Not just, oh, this is tape. You put it on something. It’s really stretching and understanding materials. I mean, before Post-It notes were invented, when Post-It notes were invented, they were a miracle. But a material scientist probably could have come up with that or would have been the type of person, and you were doing that in all sorts of different materials. So, I guess what I’m getting at is there was something there that wasn’t readily apparent. You know, Post-It notes was a failed experiment.
So now you were encouraged by the people around you, by your relationship with God, to go into ministry. I’ve always been struck by all the other countries in the world have minister of defense, minister of this, minister of that. And in America, we have secretary of defense.
So what does that mean to minister to people? So would you consider yourself a minister or a pastor, or are they different things?
Paul B: Well, minister is a title, and it connotes the idea of service. So, it’s a matter of protocol in some ways, what we call someone. Pastor literally means shepherd. In the scripture, you know, that’s what the role is called. So, I’m fine being called a minister. In our church and our group of churches, we typically don’t use the word minister. But I’m supposed to minister. I’m supposed to serve. I’m supposed to help people.
Paul P: So, help with what?
Paul B: Well, I help people in my role as a lead pastor.
Paul P: Do you come over and empty my trash.
Paul B: Sometimes.
Paul P: Are you serious?
Paul B: I’ve done all sorts of things in helping people. But that’s not the core of what I’m supposed to do — empty the trash. I need to be available to help people. A pastor’s called to really be like Christ. Really, all Christians are, but a pastor’s called to be like Christ in caring for others, shepherding people. Christ is the Good Shepherd, the ultimate shepherd. And pastors are seen as under shepherds. They’re shepherds that kind of are similar. So they’re to care of people.
So that metaphor of a shepherd and his flock is used in scripture quite a bit. It’s really the ancient, near-Eastern shepherd, not a Western shepherd. So the ancient near-Eastern shepherd lived with the flock. The flock knew him. He had names for all the sheep. He could speak to them, and he would lead them. He didn’t drive them. So he’d walk ahead to the next place, and they knew his voice. They’d stay close. He cared for them. And so that’s the image. A pastor is a leader who is integral to the flock. He’s part of the flock. He knows people. They know him. He leads in Christian truth. He leads in the application of that truth, coming alongside as someone who helps people. So there’s a degree of leadership. There’s a degree of assistance. There’s a degree of counseling and care that goes on. And a pastor is supposed to do that as part of a whole church.
So there are other people that come alongside and assist in many different roles, so you’re not by yourself in that but you’re kind of leading in that. So that’s kind of what I do.
What Does a Pastor Do?
Paul P: What does that physically, practically mean? I’m trying to figure out what is it you actually do. We sort of made the joke going over and emptying somebody’s trash or whatever. But I imagine it’s a lot more in depth than that. What is sort of the top level? Give some examples of what you do.
Paul B: Yeah, really, the most important things that a pastor is to do is really to minister in the word and in prayer — so to serve with the word of God. So you’re going to teach the Bible. You teach what it means and how we live in light of the Bible. So that’s done in many different contexts. That’s done in the context of relationships and meetings. Maybe you have different meetings, different groups that meet at the church, most centrally in our Sunday worship. There’s a message every week. You know, a 40, 45-minute message that’s given on the scriptures, the truth of the scriptures and the application of that. So you’re teaching the word but that’s also happening in relational contexts throughout the week.
I meet a lot in more one-on-one or one-on-two type contexts for what we would call biblical counseling. So people going through difficulties. It could be a long stint in unemployment and just wondering, you know, “What do I do?” And, “I feel terrible about myself, and so help me out.” And we talk about biblical truths that impact that and that help them endure through those times, where people are suffering and going through sickness. We have people with relational conflicts. And all the different problems of life, a pastor is to be a helper, comes alongside, helps with the truths of God’s word and understanding and applying and enjoying those truths.
Prayer would be something I spend time in, probably about an hour every day, just praying for our church. We believe that God is and he answers prayer, and we’re called to pray. All Christians are called to pray. But a pastor is really to spend a good amount of time praying, praying for his people. So that’s what I do.
During the week, we also, we’re an organization, as well. So we are an entity, an organization that has to be led and administered. So I oversee that. I don’t do too much of the administration. We have an administrator. We have different deacons, people who serve in the church in certain roles or responsibilities. So they do a lot of that, but I kind of oversee it. So there’s that aspect as well. I interact with other pastors and other, to some degree, community organizations and so that takes up part of the week. So all in all, I have to actually work hard to not spend too much time doing my job as a pastor and to keep my hours under 60.
The Nature of God – Who is God?
Paul P: Interesting. So now, we were talking about the sort of very nature of God, and you were saying he was good. There’s a lot of people who, I think, have an opinion on God that he’s a killjoy, or just angry man up in heaven. And, is that the accurate picture of him, do you think? Or would you agree with that or not?
Paul B: No, I think it’s a very shallow picture. I think you have to deal with the fact, though, that he’s just and he’s good. And there are bad things that go on, and there are bad things we do. So to kind of think that it’s a guilt-free thing, it wouldn’t be accurate in the sense that God can’t just sweep the wrong things we do under the rug, but he does make provision for forgiveness, and he wants us to receive that provision and live in it. So the rest of the story is that he’s a God of great love. He’s a God who is glorious and all these things we see around us in creation are things that he’s made. So he’s just fantastic in all the things that he does and all the things that he wants us to engage in with him. So he’s all those things. He’s good. And he provides for us. And he cares for us. He loves us deeply. He’s infinitely powerful.
And so, again, we touch on these things in life. We love what the Hubble Telescope shows you, you know. That’s what God made, and it shows us what he’s like. He’s glorious. He’s an artist. He causes the sun to rise and set and eclipses to happen and all these glorious things that, because of just his genius, his power, and he wants you to know him. And he wants us to enjoy eclipses, and he wants us to enjoy sunny days, and he wants us to love each other, and he wants us to form companies like Savior Labs to, to do good things, to use gifts. There’s just really innumerable types of things that we’re to do by God’s design, and it really shows his character.
So yes, we have to deal with the fact that he’s holy and good, and he’s concerned about the reality of our sin and our brokenness. But he provides for that, and he wants us to live in his love. He wants us to be reconciled and, and that’s a big motivator for us as a church — to live in those things and to so love our neighbors and our community that they would be interested in hearing that good news and experiencing its results.
Is God a Mean Guy?
Paul P: That’s fascinating. There’s been a strand through history of God being this mean god up there. Certainly, there’s a bunch of people, I would think, think that. And it sounds like the God you’re describing isn’t like that. It sounds like his predominant feature or attribute is love. And that’s like, okay, so what’s the big deal? If he likes me, that seems like it’s going to trump a lot of things. I’m wondering why the predisposition to thinking he’s this big, bad, mean, mean guy up there?
Paul B: Yeah. That’s a good question. I don’t know why we always think that. I think it can come from our own sense of looking at our lives and realizing that we’ve, when we compare ourselves against God, we don’t look too good. So the typical response when God shows up in scripture is for people to hide, uh, to be afraid. And I think that’s just because of who we are.
Again, we realize that something is wrong. So I think someone who’s realizing they’ve done something wrong is going to be predisposed to think that the party that they’ve offended is coming to be angry and deal with it. So that might be part of why we would think that way about God. But he’s so much more than that. Again, he is good. He’s not going to just wink an eye at those things. But he wants us to reconciled. He approaches us through Christ and invites us to be reconciled to him.
So his disposition is not primarily towards the offense. It’s towards us in love, towards reconciliation. So that’s how he is. That’s how he thinks about us. So that caricature of the angry man is inaccurate in that way. It’s not portraying who he is. But I think it does touch on the sense, our sense of guilt and the sense of there being a problem. And again, the Good News is that there’s a solution from God to deal with that.
Paul P: But it sounds like, not only is there solutions, but he’s gone out of his way to create the solution. So in other words, you know, it’s sort of like you offend me. I guess this is… Tell me if I’m paraphrasing you right. You’ve offended me, and so I’m offended. And I’m going to create the solution to reconcile with you, even though you’re the offensive one. I’m going to not only just create the solution, not just put it on the shelf, but I going to pursue you with it. That seems radical.
Paul B: Yeah. It is radical. And we see that in the life of Christ. As we read those stories, we see what God is like. Jesus says that. If you know him, you know the father. If you really want to know what God’s like, read about Jesus in one of the gospels.
Looking Deeper in the Bible
Paul P: What would you recommend somebody read if they’ve sort of known this or heard this or are socially aware of it but are sort of intrigued by some of the things they’ve heard?
Paul B: Yeah. I think lots of places. Two good places to go, quick read that gives you a quick and dramatic snapshot of Christ—
Paul P: Well, it is 2017, so everything has to be quick.
Paul B: It’s not that quick. It’s not just a tweet. But the Gospel of Mark, is packed with action. You get to see Jesus at work, and there’s a lot of explanation that goes on. He does something, and then it gets explained and interpreted. So it’s a great way to see what he’s like.
Paul P: All of these references will be in our show note. And so, if you’re driving now, you don’t have to write this down. You can go back to our show notes afterwards.
So what else would you consider something that would be an encouragement to somebody that’s curious about this?
Paul B: Another good place to start is the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is a little more intellectual maybe, a little more oriented towards concepts versus action. So Mark brings you who Jesus is through a lot of action and then explanation of the action. John is more… it’s still action. Jesus does things, but then there’s a lot of truth, a lot of ideas and concepts that are discussed and extended, and they go on for quite a while at times. I love them both. I like John in its depth of engagement and some of those concepts.
Paul P: So you said the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of John. What, what does that mean? In the Bible, there are all these different chapters or books in there and they are… Are they stories? Or what, what are they?
Paul B: The gospels. Again that would is just an old English way of saying Good News. So they’re the Good News according to Mark and, really, the good news about the life of Christ according to Mark. And they are ancient biographies. It’s important to understand ancient biographies are not like modern biographies so that the genre of biographies at that time was more about exposing you to the hero by kind of giving you snapshots. And it’s not a chronology. It’s not a detailed chronology of the hero’s life. It’s really like here’s what happened. Here’s what he did, and here’s what that means. Boom, boom, boom. You get a lot in that, so I’m not trying to underplay what you get from it. But if you go into it thinking I’m going to see a detailed, chronological biography of Jesus, you’re not going to see that.
Paul P: He was born on this day. It was a Thursday. It was raining. His parents were this, and then he grew up, and he, liked trains. Okay.
Paul B: Yeah. So it’s just a different type of literature, but really engaging biography.
Which Bible Should I Read?
Paul P: Okay. And so you’d recommend reading the Gospel of Mark and, and/or the Gospel of John. And now I know there are lots of different bibles out there. I mean, you can get the Photoshop bible, which tells everything about Photoshop. So you’re talking about, I think, the Holy Bible, of course, but there are different translations. There’s old English, which is sort of the, I think it’s called the King James Version, and what would you suggest would be more easy to read or easy to understand Bible that might be something that, you know, so you can choose from anything you want. We’re in America. We’re on the internet. We can pretty much get any, anything we want right now. Where would you have them turn?
Paul B: My favorite is the English Standard Version. All these versions are just different translations into English. So they’re pretty much all from the same original languages. So they’re all working off the same language — Hebrew and Greek and so forth. It’s just how do you say that in English? How do you translate it into our language? So they all agree very much. It’s just how do you phrase it.
So the English Standard Version is very well done. It’s a little more kind of college-level English, which can be good sometimes, because it can be more precise when it needs to be. If you want something that feels more kind of like how you talk with your best buddies, you know, the Contemporary English Version is good. And sometimes, you know, that is more effective.
I remember hearing a story of someone who went to college and was exposed to a Bible like the English Standard Version and read it and engaged in it. And they had grown up speaking, as a child, Pidgin English in Hawaii, and they were at some seminar, and there was a Bible translator reading out of a Hawaiian Pidgin English Bible, and this person was just touched deeply in their heart in ways that they had never been before, hearing the same words they had heard in a different translation now spoken in their childhood language. So it can has been that effect. So if you’re more comfortable kind of with the common vernacular you grew up with, maybe the Contemporary English Version. But the English Standard Version is an excellent—
Paul P: Well, we’ll put links to those in the show notes, maybe even the Pidgin…Hawaiian Pidgin English? Is that what it’s called?
Paul B: That’s it. Yeah.
Paul P: Wow.
Paul B: It’s called the Jesus Book.
Social Media as a Relationship Substitute
Paul P: Wow. Interesting. So we’ve sort of touched on social media and social, well, sort of social things — clubs we talked about and associations. And how do you think that is, we’re in 2017. There’s never been a 2017 yet. We’re in the first version of it, the only version of it. And we’ve never had the internet like we have it today. It’s all these new things. Imagine similar to the way the printed book was hundreds of years ago, or than the telephone was a hundred years ago, or not even a hundred years ago.
So all of these technologies come about. I think one of the differences between, I mentioned I’m into photography, so there’s been a photography club since photography was invented and people who were interested in it sort of clustered together and socialized and fellowshipped and got interested in that. But that took a very active, deliberate, act to go to a photo club. You’d have to go and do that.
Now with the internet, they’re sort of in our pocket. We can do anything we want. We can self-identify or have affinity to these groups that are much less, I guess, maybe tactile. You can have this virtualization of yourself to say, “Oh, yeah, I’m, I’m into photography because I go to this website that covers photography,” but there’s no person-to-person contact there. I might have a post on a Facebook page.
So what does that mean? Is that good? Is it bad? Is it a placebo for real relationships? And is it somebody sitting there trying to fill a need that ultimately they can’t fill because there’s nobody else in the room?
Paul B: Yeah, so is your question related to just the impact of these things on the church?
Paul P: I think that the church is one way to experience relationships. There is a big aspect of it based on what you’ve said. And what I’ve observed is that relationships are pretty important. So social media tends to, I think — I don’t want to overuse the word — become a placebo for relationships.
Paul B: Yeah, I think it’s a tool for relationship but I think we have to be careful to use it appropriately. So it can only do certain things. It can’t do other things. And I think the mistake is that we think it does it all. But like you were saying, placebo, you know, it gives this sense, like “Well, since I watch this church’s Sunday service from my house, I’m part of the church, and I’m, I’m good. I’m good to go, you know. I’m really involved in this church that I watch every Sunday,” or every Sunday night or whatever.
Now I don’t think it’s wrong necessarily to watch a church service on video. It can be great. But is that really what is intended in being part of a church? There’s so much more. There’s relationships, as you were saying. There’s a depth, there’s a breadth of relationship that is supposed to be part of being in a church. If you don’t have any commitment to anybody in that church to be there when they’re needy and just to be a friend—
Paul P: That’s what I’m saying.
Paul B: —to just to enjoy life together to some degree together as well, then you’re really not a part of that community. You’re just an observer. And yes, I think we can be anesthetized to the need for real community through the use of social media. And so we need to be wise and use it as a tool that’s appropriate to do certain things but to not use it as a total replacement for genuine community.
Paul P: I think one of the things in social media, that a lot of don’t necessarily recognize is that you don’t have any of the nonverbal cues that you can walk into a room and sense that somebody is not having a good day or is having a fantastic day. And you don’t have any way to perceive that in social media. And so it’s almost like a vacuum between us. And again, it’s not bad to send a message from one person to another or from me to the ether and everyone sees it that says, “I like Golden Retrievers.” Okay. It’s like that’s not a bad thing there. But if I don’t have a situation where people are perceiving my joys and sorrows, I’m missing out on a lot, I guess.
The Presence of a Person
Paul B: Yeah. I mean, you could analyze it from many avenues. The communication bandwidth is limited, as you were saying. So that’s certainly true. And there’s other media that’s true as well. The telephone, which we use quite a lot, doesn’t allow us to see each other. It’s a little bit better than text because you can hear in a voice. You can hear tones and cadence and all those things. So, it’s limited. Social media is limited in its bandwidth, but there’s other things that it can’t touch on, beyond just its ability to communicate or not communicate. I think there’s a huge statement in presence when we’re with somebody physically. We’re there. We’re there in their own space. We’re eating a meal together. We’re there physically. There’s an implication of friendship commitment. And there’s just something that it does for us in our relationships what we have experiences together where we’re near each other. We — I don’t know — go hang gliding together or something, you know. We’re going to talk about that for the rest of our lives. “Remember that time we went hang gliding?”
It wasn’t just that you went hang gliding, and then I went hang gliding a week later.
Paul P: We texted about it?
Paul B: “Oh, we both did that. And let’s talk about it.” No.
“We went hang gliding together. And, you know, I heard you when you, when you screamed, you know. And, I saw you. You put that landing. And then did you see the seagulls flying around?” You know, whatever it is. There’s a relationship, a fellowship in a sense in that activity together. So that’s way beyond just communication.
And then I think with that is just the life commitment of walking through life together and knowing that this person is here for me, you know. I mean, there are different levels of commitment. So within marriage, that’s a pretty high level. But the church is like a family. Family, that’s a very high level. Church is compared to a family in scripture. And so that community, the intension is that there be this life on life experience. And so social media can never do that.
Paul P: Alone it can’t do that. But I think it can enhance?
Paul B: Yeah. It’s a tool. And when it’s used appropriately, it can be very helpful.
King of Grace Church – How it Began
Paul P: Cool. So now, how long have you been doing this? You’re a pastor at a church, King of Grace in Haverhill, Mass. And we talked about you started out in Methuen and then moved into Haverhill. And so how long has this church been in existence?
Paul B: We celebrated our 15th anniversary in September actually. And I left to be trained as a pastor 17 years ago.
Paul P: So you didn’t just say one day, “I’m going to be a pastor,” and just say, “I’m open up a church.” That you actually planned and methodically went through this? Or was it “we’re going to drive to Boston?”
Paul B: Yeah. No, I didn’t want to do anything that crazy. It was a process and certainly there were other things that went on leading up to the decision to leave my job. So it was a smooth transition in the sense that it wasn’t like all of a sudden I went from doing nothing related to being a pastor to now being going off to be trained. I had been doing a lot of pastoral sorts of things up to that point. So when it was time to make the decision, it made sense.
And then I went to be trained at a pastors’ college within our denomination that has an accelerated program. So a lot of the elements you get over two or three years in seminaries, you get at this pastors’ college in nine or ten months.
Paul P: Oh, I see. Okay.
Paul B: It’s very intensive. It’s with pastors and the teachers, you get to interact quite a bit. A lot of mentoring that goes on. So it was a great. For me, it was nine month. And then I went into an internship to be further mentored and prepared. That was 11 months. And then from that I formed a team, worked with a team, and we all together started the church in 2002.
Paul P: So 15 years we’re coming up on. Are you where you expected? Not as far? Further? Or did you have no expectations or…?
Paul B: I’m grateful to be where we are. I’ll put it that way. Our church is about 200 folks that are there on a Sunday. In New England, that never happens, but that’s about how many folks we have and wonderful people and get into a lot of wonderful things.
When I started out, I was new at it and I planned out where I wanted to be. I had a one-year, five-year, a 10-year, and a 20-year plan. And so at this point, I think we’re at about the five year mark.
Paul P: Oh, really.
Paul B: Yeah.
Paul P: In what dimension? Numbers or building or…
Paul B: Multiple, multiple aspects. So, the numbers were related to just what I hoped would be the overall maturity of the church. I wanted it to be a church that was full of people that were fairly mature in their Christian worldview and the practice of that, a church that was effective in the community, reaching out to the community, being a helpful part of the community influencing people with the truth of Christianity. Also a church that was sending out other church plants. So there was a bunch of metrics that I had along those different time lines. So yeah, the five year would be inclusive of all those things. So, yeah.
Paul P: So it sounds like your expectations were higher than — dare I say — what God’s were?
Paul B: Yeah. And that’s fine with me. I think it’s better to, to aim high and then be content with what you get, so, rather than aim low and not get where you should be. So I still aim high. But it it’s tempered with some years of experience at this point.
The Main Thing – Wrapping it All Up
Paul P: Right. So, I guess just in closing, what would you sort of want to sum up? We’ve had a fairly meandering discussion here. But what would you want to say as a sort of summary of what we’ve talked about. And again, we’ve got lots of different people all over the world listening to this. They’re not all Bostonians who have a Boston worldview, which everybody in Boston thinks it’s the center of the universe, just if you don’t know that. So what would you what to sort of wrap up and put a bow on? The main things. Making sure the main thing is the main thing or remains the main thing, I think?
Paul B: Yeah. Wow. That’s a good question. We’ve talked about a lot of things. I think one of the big ideas in what we’re talking about is that we’re made by a good and great, incredibly interesting, creative, powerful, loving, good, and holy God. We’re made by him in his image, and he wants us to live that out in all it’s meant to be. But we need help with that. Left to ourselves, we’ve failed and will continue to fail. And in his care for us, in his goodness, he got involved, became a man, provided in the life and death and resurrection of Christ, a way for us to be reconciled with him and to start to fulfill what we’re made for, to image him, and all that that means. In all the different dimensions of creation and humanity. That’s offered to us. It’s a gracious gift. It’s a free gift, and we simply need to receive it, believe it, live in it, and I think live it out in the context of a community of faith, Christian faith. And I think it makes all the difference.
And I’d love to talk more and more, just about how it applies to every area of life. Again, I love science and wish I could do science and be a pastor. But, I know that worldview and that truth of being made in the image of God has a huge impact on how we do science, what we do science. And similarly with technology, with everything it connects.
So if I had to sum up, I’d say it’s about that big idea, being made by God in his image, and made for something that’s pretty fantastic. But we need help. We need him.
Paul P: Cool, very cool. Wow. We’ve been talking with Paul Buckley who’s the lead pastor at King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. All of his contact information and some of the resources we mentioned will be in the show notes, if you’re interested. And we appreciate your time in listening, and thank you for listening to the Edge of Innovation. Talk to you next time.