Q&A With Tim Lucas, Pastor
Today's Q&A is with Tim Lucas, pastor of the "Liquid" ministry.
Lucas' minstry gained national attention recently at a Gay Pride event in New Jersey. I had a post about it, which you may find here.
He's the one on the left.
Why did you become a pastor?
When I graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in English, I actually vowed I’d never do two things: 1) teach English, and 2) pastor a church.
Why? On the English side, I wanted to write rather than teach. On the pastor side, I grew up in the evangelical church and decided polite Churchianity was something I could never give my life to.
However, Jesus had other ideas— you know what happens when you make a vow to God that begins “I’ll do anything, Lord, EXCEPT...”
Six months out of college, I got my first job teaching English. I taught at a public HS for eight years, which was the best possible training I could have received for learning how to communicate and connect with emerging generations.
At the same time, my wife and I began leading a Sunday School class in our parent church (www.millingtonbaptist.org), which began growing as we tried to make it a place for folks who found modern church either boring, irrelevant, or stuffy. We began addressing real-life issues (such as sex, for instance) in a way that resonated with everyday folks who are hungry for authentic conversation rather than pat answers.
That little class grew over the next four years into Liquid (www.liquidchurch.com), where I now serve as the Lead Teaching Pastor.
All in all, I guess you could say the Lord dragged me into ministry “kicking and screaming.” I didn’t want to teach, I didn’t want to pastor... Here I am a Teaching Pastor.
Jesus has a sense of humor; I’m proof of that.
Where did you go to seminary? What were your most memorable experiences there?
I attended seminary at Bethel Seminary of the East and did work at their satellite campus in Manhattan. I had a fantastic instructor named Wyndy Corbin, who helped open my eyes to the whole postmodern cultural transition that we’re currently experiencing. My worst experience was learning Greek. To this day, I still only know a little Greek-- he owns a fantastic diner down the street from me. (ba-da-bump)
Seminary can be a “cemetery” for young leaders since most traditional models are equipping pastors for ministry in a world that no longer exists. In the West, we’re living in a post-Christian culture and there are only a handful of seminaries actively addressing the real needs of emerging church leaders. One that I’m currently excited about is Biblical Theological Seminary (www.biblical.edu) in PA, which is committed to training missional leaders for the emerging church and teaching them how to be in dialog with postmodern culture.
Do you consider yourself an evangelical? A conservative Christian? What, and why?
If by the word “evangelical” you mean that I’ve made a personal commitment to entrust Jesus with my life, and am learning how to live in His Kingdom through His Word in the Bible, then sure you can call me an evangelical. However, I’m probably most comfortable with the term “Christ follower”-- that gets it back to the basics. I follow Jesus— I trust Him impeccably with all areas of my life. My passion is not for any particular denomination, political ideology, or religious agenda.
Unfortunately, I think the term “conservative Christian” carries with it all sorts of other baggage including political views and particular social positions. Although the mainstream media uses the term rather broadly to lump diverse believers together, it most often conjures an image of folks who are white, middle class, and Republican. All sorts of ideas and agendas have been tacked on to the label “conservative Christianity”-- many of which have little to do with the Gospel (including hard right positions on gun control, taxes, government regulation, etc.)
I had a fascinating conversation with a black drag queen at Liquid’s recent outreach to the gay community. My African-American friend was wearing an orange kilt and was a large man— about 6’5, pushing 250 lbs— and clearly gay. When he learned I was a follower of Christ, he said: “Oh, I could never be a Christian.”
When I asked him why not, he replied: “Honey, unless you got a magic wand, I don’t think I’m gonna be white and Republican anytime soon!”
That was so revealing to me: this man believed that to follow Christ would literally require him to change his skin color and political convictions! Why? Clearly, his view of Christians owes much to the extraneous stuff attached to the popular labels “evangelicals” and “conservative Christians.”
Too bad for him... Worse yet, for us!
If a gay person came up to you wanting to be a Christian, would you tell them that they had to stop being gay to walk that path?
I would simply tell him/her what Jesus says is necessary for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God: that is, to simply admit one’s need for the Father’s love and forgiveness and trust in Jesus. From what little Greek I do recall, “repent” simply means to change one’s mind— to rethink one’s life and beliefs in such a comprehensive way that it results in radical life-change.
That radical life-change will undoubtedly include many things as they start following Jesus— and I’d never mislead a gay person into thinking their sexuality will somehow be exempt from the touch of God. Speaking personally, I’m heterosexual— married and monogamous— but Jesus lays claim to my personal thought life and challenges me on private lust issues all the time. (Which in some ways seems unfair since I was born heterosexual, live in a hypersensual culture, and often experience attractions to images or people outside my marriage that seem quite natural)
But here comes Jesus with His whole “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart” teaching... and I’ve come to understand that He wants a say over my private sexual behavior also.
(Following Jesus can be quite painful— any real growth is— but the change is good, I tell you.)
So I’d make no guarantees about what God is/isn’t going to do with someone’s life, once they decide to entrust their life to His Son Jesus.
Case in point: If you told me 17 years ago, that someday I’d be spending my Sunday at a Gay Pride Festival handing-out bottled water to crossdressers and transsexuals, I’d tell you to repent from smoking weed.
But here I am— and here goes Jesus changing me in another area now. The most recent thing to go has been my judgmental and hypocritical attitude toward gay and lesbian folks; Jesus is performing spiritual surgery on my heart and replacing private scorn with unusual love and compassion.
How’s this for irony: Jesus’ renovation of my heart is not only making me a better person— it’s actually making the world a better place for gays and lesbians.
The GLBTI community actually owes Jesus a huge shout-out in my opinion: There’s one less religious bigot in the world (me) because of Him!
How actively involved should Christians be in politics and social issues?
I don’t think it’s whether or not they should be involved— nor is “to what extent?” at the heart of the issue. Rather, I think the question “in what manner?” will be most decisive in the decade to come. In my opinion, the much-ballyhooed “culture war” model is tired, worn-out, and badly in need of replacement. Folks are tired of the polarizing rhetoric that does little to change hearts and minds, but rather simply causes opponents to become more entrenched in their polarized views of the world.
Most folks think Christians are simply people who are AGAINST all sorts of things (the list of “anti-” is a mile long: anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, etc.) Most folks on the street have little idea of what Christians are actually FOR! (sometimes I’m not sure if Christians are clear on that either, but that’s a whole other issue...)
Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking: What if Christians adopted a model of engagement that didn’t focus so much on what we’re against and tactics of political warfare (ie: lobbing bombs & verbal barbs in the media... issuing screeds and circulating petitions).
Rather, what if we instead marshalled our energies to “bless” our enemies-- rather than simply work to undermine them?
Practically speaking, that’s one of the reasons our church decided to reach-out to the gay community in NJ and humbly serve them at their Gay Pride Festival this past summer. We didn’t want to demonstrate against homosexuality & gay marriage so much as we wanted to demonstrate God’s love to them in a practical way. So we gave out free, ice cold bottled water to everyone on a scorching summer day.
Folks were grateful for the water, but even more significantly, I think our “activism” challenged many stereotypes of what Christianity is all about. I think many GLBTI folks were surprised to discover that we’ve actually inherited our brother Jesus’ ability to unconditionally love all people (yes, even those with whom we morally disagree).
GRACE, pure and simple, is the church’s one great distinctive. As author Philip Yancey has noted, grace is the one thing that the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing that it craves above all else. So if Christians are really serious about generating political change that makes a difference in the world— which is the transformation of hearts and minds (not the legislation of morality)-- then we’ve got to recover Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies. And yes: that means even those (especially those?) who are at odds with a traditional biblical worldview.
If you listen to the angry rhetoric of many “politicized” Christians, you get the impression that if we just pass more stringent legislation in Washington, then our country will turn around. Less mercy; more laws! Stigmatize gays; shame single moms; keep out the immigrants, etc.
Unfortunately, as Jesus pointed out to the conservative religious leaders of his day, a focus on moral values apart from grace is deadening.
At the end of the day, it’s only God’s grace that can truly transform the angriest of hearts and offer hope to a jaded world. In my opinion, Christians must learn to play that elusive “grace note” if they’re really serious about cultural renewal.
It seems that you are trying to be "cool" in terms of look and style, yet you are promoting a faith tradition that is almost 2,000 years old. Do you see a paradox in that?
I’d challenge the notion that I’m “trying to be cool”-- “cool” is a pretty elusive thing when your daily routine involves regularly changing infants and hauling the contents of the Diaper Genie out to the curb. If by cool, you mean that I don’t wear a suit-and-tie to church in favor of jeans, I’d advise you not to read too much into that. Sometimes folks have holes in their jeans not because they’re trying to emulate fashion trends— but rather, because their pants are simply worn-out (but still comfortable).
Liquid no doubt has an alternative feel to it that resonates with emerging generations, but usually there’s a pretty decent reason for using postmodern tools to communicate the ancient, timeless message of Christ: Sometimes the sanctuary is darkened in favor of candles— that has less to do with looking like a VH1 acoustic set, and more to do with reconnecting with long-forgotten liturgical forms. (the Hebrew people in the OT considered the smoke rising from incense to symbolize the prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven)
Sometimes I use movie clips or other digital art in my teaching— that has less to do with appearing “tech-savvy,” and more to do with recovering the ancient teaching style of Jesus who told stories, used everyday illustrations, and drew powerful visual pictures from everyday culture to help communicate the Father’s love to lost people in a powerful way.
I don’t see a paradox in what we do at Liquid— I simply see the recovery of some ancient forms of worship and teaching that perhaps the modern church has overlooked, but we’re re-discovering again.
What should others know about your ministry? What should others know about faith?
The message of the Gospel is timeless— the methods we use to communicate it are always changing. That’s actually one of the reasons for our name “Liquid”-- as a ministry, we want to be fluid and adaptable when it comes to discovering new wineskins through which to pour the living water Jesus Christ offers our thirsty world.
If folks want to know more about Liquid, I’d suggest they check-out www.liquidchurch.com for a little taste of what we’re all about.
Better yet: I’d love the chance to welcome them personally if they’re ever in NJ and can come visit us some Sunday night. We’ve got folks from every background— whether unchurched or overchurched, you’re likely to find traveling partners for your spiritual journey at Liquid.
If folks want to know more about faith, I’d suggest they read one of the Gospels (I’m reading through Luke right now) and simply ask Jesus to reveal Himself to them in a personal way. I hope folks never confuse institutional church with Jesus. Liquid is full of folks who have given up on Churchianity, but have not given up on Christ just yet. Best part is, Jesus refuses to give up on us. No matter how we’ve blown it, what kind of trainwreck we’ve made of our lives, we are loved beyond measure by this God of amazing grace.
Liquid is simply a place where everyday folks are accepted “as is” and invited to experience the unconditional embrace of the God who gave His life for theirs.
I'd like to thank Tim for his time.
Other articles on Religion, Science, and Philosophy
Q&A with Oscar McCloud, pastor
Photo Essay: Gays and Billy Graham
How Christian Compassion Gets Complicated: A Story on the Liquid Ministry