The Guerrilla Pastors begin an ongoing discussion about subversive presence. They share conceptually what this term means with a number of stories along the way.
 Subversive Presence – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (Narration): Welcome to the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast, I’m your host, Josiah. On previous episodes, we have discussed this idea of a broad kingdom Imagination, a benevolent orthodoxy and a diverse praxis, all founded on this concept of subversive presence, and that is what today’s episode is all about. On our most recent episodes, we have discussed vocation and rejection, these words that have come up on a regular basis in our discussions of what it is to do guerrilla ministry founded on this subversive presence, but on this episode, we set the stage for future episodes to come by grappling with the idea that we are subverting something with our very presence. My fellow host and I will discuss this concept together, but in future episodes, we want to share with you what subversive presence looks like in real time by sharing the stories of our fellow pastors, most of which reside here in the Pacific Northwest.
This location is crucial as context is everything, and paints a picture of why this subversive presence is so crucial to this guerrilla ministry. Join us as we continue to dream about what the church could look like tomorrow if we remain faithful today on the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast.
The Introductory Hook (features numerous voices):
“What I noticed was that Christian’s could not have conversation with each other if they disagreed with one another.”
“It’s all about entering in to the textured presence of lived lives. The sanitation of it just broke for me. Like, church can’t be sanitized.”
“I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.”
“I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do Construction work. It’s good stuff!”
“The Church is struggling and declining in ways that we’ve never experienced in the United States and Canada right now.”
“We have to like allow ourselves to embrace new way of being in a place.”
“Insurgent revolutions, i.e. guerrilla warfare, is 20% bullets, and 80% blessing the people.”
“How do we be eternally faithful? Like, literally, how do we be faithful in a way today that in 20 years people aren’t going, ‘He was evil!’”
“Why are we so afraid? We believe that God is at work in all places, in all people at all times, and that is amazing. That should give us hope!”
We are the gorilla pastors join us as we explore a world of ministry founded on subversive presence!
Josiah (Narration): On our last episode, we stopped our round table discussion, mid conversation as Fasani was explaining what he was rejecting and then transitioning into what subversion looks like in light of what he was rejecting. Let’s continue right where we left off in our last conversation with Fasani on subversion.
Ryan Fasani: For me to subvert I don’t need a, a particular target or a, an individual with a name. All I need is to be honest with a system that promulgates a particular type of unhealthy way of being in the world. For me as a pastor that is, you know, daily d discovering what faithful leadership looks like. It has become evident that there is an entire system around an entire culture uh, a culture around, um, the existence of the church in America. That gives it a type of management orientation, a type of bureaucratic sensitivity and an institutional way of man of, of organizing itself. That itself constantly promulgates this kind of limited understanding of pastoral leadership.
Which means a, a really short way of saying is, you know, the American experiment gives the church all the resources it needs to create pastors that look like CEOs and manage institutions like Fortune 500 companies. A, that doesn’t work in a small community. B, it only works if you’re wildly successful in those metrics. And C, it ultimately ends the way Fortune 500 companies always end.
They either merge and become major conglomerates that span the globe or they die, and a few people walk away with all the money. Right, to subvert that doesn’t mean I need somebody’s face on my wall that I throw darts at. All that means is to faithfully practice an alternative way of fulfilling sincerely and honestly my unique calling, right? To me, that largely looks like being present with people that are broken, being a helping, being a healing hand with people that are dying. And offer creative alternatives that are consistent with my life experience and my unique skillset. Like it’s not some elaborate, you know, you know, expose on how I need to script everyone else’s new alternative pastoring model.
No, I’m not even attempting to create a new model. I’m simply attempting to be faithful to who I truly am. And that looks very subversive because it steps outside of what you, America has given the church as its only model for leadership.
Josiah (Narration): As Ryan shared, I was reminded of the fact that we as pastors can spend so much time discussing the theoretical. As we were busy pontificating the definition of a word, I was struck with the idea that this is more than just a concept, that this is something that has to be lived out. And since stories are powerful ways of conveying truths, I pressed them each for stories of subversion.
And here’s what Wardlaw had to say.
Brian Wardlaw: There was, uh, I think it, it reminds me… there was a story. This was one thing that I was proud of after being here for about six years. One of the things my buddy David Seaman had said, he was one of the pastors that started this, him and his wife started this with me as well as another couple, Jason and Stephanie Harwood.
David would say, we will know when we’re successful when someone calls us pastor because of the role we play in their lives more than because of the title we hold. So we never say we were pastors in our neighborhood just because there’s, because we didn’t have a congregation.
So it was confusing to people, even people who don’t go to church, if you say you’re a pastor.
They would say “Where do you Pastor?”
Uh… a neighborhood!?!
It doesn’t work, you know, so we, we stopped calling ourselves pastors. So David would say, we’ll know we’re successful when people call us pastor because of the role we play in their lives.
And, and so it, it was about six and a half years before a buddy of mine texted and said “Hey, pastor, uh, do you want to go out and talk through some stuff I’m dealing with?” I had forgotten that David had said that years, years before, you know, and it just, it like, it came back almost immediately when I saw that, and that was one of the first times.
That right there, that’s subversive pastoring to my mind. Um, and that was a win. Um, and, you know, uh, that was a very basic win.
Josiah: It didn’t, it didn’t matter your ordination status. or your licensing or your, as your designation or what building you were assigned to, right? Like none of that mattered.
Brian Wardlaw: Yeah. Yeah. Another time… I’m gonna tell one other story, sorry. And this was, uh, this was another win I remember, and it was around the same, about six, six or seven years in. So I was running a company, Jason Harwood and I were running a company in our neighborhood , uh, this is how we made our livelihood, called Happy Feet.
Um, and so we did a preschool-age programming with soccer, ran soccer leagues for three to seven year olds and things like that in the neighborhood. And it was kind of our end into the neighborhood and families and, and, Feeding, putting food on the table. So, and, uh, one of our friends, and she had grown up in the church and kind of had a negative experience around the church, but she knew that we were, uh, pastors and in ministry of some sort.
Um, again, people just don’t really understand the context for it . She ran into someone, um, a friend of hers at a grocery store, and the friend has a little girl and they were talking about going to a soccer game and they were going to a Happy Feet soccer game. Um, and she goes, oh, some friends of ours, um, own that.
And so this lady, because of the experience of her daughter, just told her friend about how Jason and i’s kind of, and the way we run our company, it’s just a positive atmosphere for the kids and families. And so my friend comes back to me and she goes, I just love the way you guys do ministry.
And this is her language.
I love the way you guys do ministry just by being good all around the neighborhood kind of thing is, is what she said. And I was like, again, she’s talking into what I’m doing. Um, and I’m going, that’s, that’s exactly what we were trying to do from the beginning. How do we, how do we be a a presence of goodness , you know, a presence of reconciliation, a presence of, of justice, of, um, of creativity, of environmental care, of all those things, you know, um, how do we be a presence of all those things that are of God in a neighborhood consistently. sometimes subversively.
Josiah: Hmm. Maybe just starting with a soccer camp for three to seven year olds. Man, that’s, that’s brilliant. That’s beautiful.
Josiah (Narration): Fasani also had a story to share, but not his own. The story he shared was one he had heard that he felt perfectly embodied what this idea of subversive presence was all about.
Ryan Fasani: I recently heard a story that captures my definition of subversive, and it’s about a farm that’s on the, um, US Mexico border. And the farm doesn’t grow crops, uh, as much as it uses local materials to build houses. It’s sort of a, it’s a, a building kind of trades farm. I mean, they support themselves with vegetables and fruits and stuff, but, um, it’s, it’s farm is in air quotes.
Anyhow, they did something, they’ve done something in the last 20 years that perfectly embodies this concept of subversion or subversive presence. They crossed the border and empowered some of the local, um, indigenous Mexicans to build, um, low income houses. And that itself is powerful, um, to empower indigenous leadership, um, to resource themselves and build their own local economy with, you know, the sweat of their own off the sweat of their own brow.
But that’s not the part that’s particularly subversive. What they did is when they went to, when they went in after building relationships for a couple years, um, And teaching just basic, basic carpentry skills. They realized that the one model for building that all these Mexican locals had was basically to use cement and cinder blocks.
Many of us have been on missions trips to Mexico. We know the building material. Well, they realized because the market, uh, for cinder blocks was the demand was so high and, and cement and concrete was so high that those that, that, uh, could be manipulated by some of the local governments and could skyrocket the prices and basically, you know, make a killing off of, um, you know, local demand for low income housing.
Well, this, this farm, this building farm, after building those relationships, realized that there was an infinite amount of local clay in the soil and in the local fields where they grew wheat, they would harvest the wheat and they would burn them, which is an often used practice, um, because it puts carbon back into the soil anyhow and then it’s immediately ready to regrow.
Well, they realized the stocks of the wheat was a available basically 12 months outta the year. And so what they did is they taught the local indigenous Mexicans to build with cob, which is clay sand, and straw, and if it’s in a dry environment, a semi-arrid environment, it only gains structural integrity more over time.
So they equip the local Mexicans to build outside, not only the conceptual paradigm, but outside the market paradigm that was unjust. And then they gave them the skill that was perpetually available. Now, here’s why that’s subversive, right? It’s subversive, not because the, the, the farmers that I read about were picking fights with the local government that were abusing builders.
I mean, that’s rebellious in its own right. But it was subversively faithful because it empowered the local indigenous community to access a free resource, essentially to be faithful to the gifts that were in abundance among them, right? So if I had define a subversive as finding an, you know, an adversary and toppling them, that’s one thing, but that’s not what we are doing.
Subversive is merely answering the question, what are the resources immediately available within your reach, in my case, within your congregation’s reach that can be leveraged for wholeness and sustainability. Now that’s, that’s subversive.
Josiah (narration): There is a famous line from a movie in 1989. The movie was A Field of Dreams and it starred Kevin Costner and the line was, if you build it, they will. If you haven’t seen the movie or if like me, you were two years old when it came out and you don’t really remember watching it. The concept is simple, albeit a little strange.
Essentially, a field with corn in it speaks to Kevin Costner’s character to build a baseball field so that the Chicago White Sox players from the 1919 team will come and play in it. And this is exactly what happens. With support from his wife, he builds a baseball field, and I guess he plays with his long dead baseball heroes, and the moral of the story is that dreams come true, however strange they may be.
What is even stranger for me is how accurate this same philosophy has been for the Evangelical American Church. As of late, if you haven’t paid attention, we have spent a couple decades asking questions as to why my generation stopped going. Why these big buildings became less and less full, why the Sunday morning stat lines continued to slump, if not completely disappear when we consider metrics-based counting of butts in pews.
Our focus was completely and totally on this, build it and they will come mentality of doing ministry while we completely miss the idea. Perhaps our young people were choosing to be faithful in a completely different way. Perhaps instead, they were choosing subversive presence within their very neighborhoods as a faithful way of being the church, instead of simply hanging their hat on going to a church building.
It’s also the very reason we began this podcast in the first place. We couldn’t help but ask ourselves, how can we celebrate these stories? As pastors in the Pacific Northwest, we are often written off as being too progressive or too liberal because we don’t do things the way, quote unquote, they have always been done.
The reality here is that the culture has said the church is no longer meaningful or relevant to its daily life, and that might be more of a reflection on the church than it is on the culture. So instead of waging culture wars about whether or not deconstruction is bad or wading through the muck, in the mere of choosing which side we choose to be on, on any given topic, whether it’s the latest and greatest critical race theory debate, or this up and coming drama unfolding from our Supreme Court justices with the undoing of Roe versus Wade, we simply want to point out the fact that life is complicated.
And that we are each on a faith journey trying to be faithful to who God has called us to be. And that looks different from person to person. In the New Testament, Paul himself says that we each play a unique part in the body of Christ. That as the church, as ministers of the gospel, as guerrilla pastors, the way we do ministry won’t look exactly the same from one person to the next, and that this is something we should celebrate.
So why is it that instead, we have spent the last few decades critiquing those who don’t do church exactly the way that we do it. Why is it that we have spent so much effort pointing out those who don’t pastor the way we think they should pastor? Why is it that we spend so much time creating divisions instead of celebrating the uniqueness that God has given each of us?
Our hope is to counteract this critical spirit by celebrating the stories of pastors primarily in the Pacific Northwest, who are continuing to remain faithful despite the ever-changing world around them. However, we know that we are not unique in our efforts to remain faithful to a vocation that seems to look a little different than it did even 20 years ago.
We know that we are not the only ones rejecting this one size fits all institutional norm when it comes to pastoring. Or being a part of a church. Additionally, we also know that there are many out there who have been subversively present within their neighborhoods, remaining faithful, who never have gotten the credit they deserve for living out the calling that God has placed on their lives.
As Brian said, it might sound weird to say that you are pastoring a neighborhood, but for those present, it was clear what his ministry was about as well as the difference he was making. In the place that he lived. So this podcast is for you. While you might spend your time being critiqued for deconstructing or changing the way church is done for the worst, we celebrate your faithfulness and we invite you to participate on this journey with us as we continue to discover what it is Guerrilla Ministry is all about.
In closing, I asked my fellow co-hosts what they thought we were inviting you into as podcasters, this is what they had to say.
Brian Wardlaw: I think we’re subversively asking people into it, uh, or inviting them into it. This is this. I’ll tell you this is, this would be my hope for it. Um, As we talk about our own experiences and learning, and this is all about learning for ourselves, um, from the past to the present to hopefully the future. And, and what we’ve learned is my hope is that the pastors out there both, um, vocationally, pa vocational pastors, um, but also lay people who have a heart for God and the kingdom that are discouraged that find that they can’t find their place in the institution or the church as we know it today, that just by listening to our journeys and the way that we’ve learned, um, and the way that we’re speaking about it, will hopefully open up an imagination where you start to find yourself included in the greater vocation of God in us and through us, um, through all of creation. That’s, that would be my hope.
I hope there’s someone who’s discouraged right now who finds hope and finds themselves participating and, uh, now and in the future, um, and participating not only in the restoration of all things kingdom language, but also in the learning process of being, allowing yourself to be healed, um, and you’re allowing yourself to, in a more healthy way to, to, to be actively involved in the kingdom.
Josiah: Love it.
Ryan Fasani: I, I think our conversation is merely an invitation to begin discerning how your inner world already is a template for your alternative ministry potential. For me that practically looks like this. When somebody locally wants to participate in the ministry I do in Wattcom County, Washington, it has now become as part of our first step, get this. This is the most inefficient commitment I’ve ever made, and I believe strongly in it.
You commit to one year of discernment, right? So you move here, you don’t participate three weeks out, six weeks out, six months out. You commit to one year of discernment. And here’s why. Because if I don’t do that, we will rely on old models that we import. When you show up, and instead, we must spend a year of prayerfully considering what your true self and your true gifting brings to the equation that we’re creating as a team, right?
The dynamic, the unique dynamic that we’re creating as a team. And only then after a year will we be able to faithfully engage what we discover in the needs of the local community. So one year of discernment. So I think what we’re doing in our conversation is inviting people into a similar discernment process, right?
What is your true self? How are you uniquely created? And in there is all the material you need to discern a creative alternative path, or as you might say, a subversive path. In ministry moving forward.
Josiah (narration): As we continue to invite you to discern what it is that God has called and created you to be. We will be sharing more stories of subversive presence. You’ll hear more from our previous guest pastors, Sean and Regina, but there will be more stories to come. Our hope is that we will practically share with you what it looks like to embody this broad kingdom imagination and benevolent orthodoxy as we celebrate the diverse praxis of those around us.
If you have stories yourself, we would love to hear them, as well as this podcast will not stay in the Pacific Northwest. Our only hope and goal is that we can continue to dream big dreams of what the church could look like tomorrow. If today we are bold enough to remain faithful, even if that faithfulness doesn’t look like it did yesterday.
Albert Einstein famously said that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As Guerrilla Pastors, our conviction is to learn from history and to evaluate and adapt so that we can be better ministers of the gospel here and now. To choose to not learn from our past mistakes is to choose to repeat history.
While it’s nice to reminisce and relive dreams, metaphorically reliving the glory days by building a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, the reality is that the world changes and our efforts to minister to it must adapt as well. Once upon a time, it was as easy as driving the church bus through a neighborhood to pick up children so that you could bring them to Sunday school every week.
But today, that might get you arrested. In closing, I leave you with this brief story. As a young lead pastor, my church was situated right next to a famous disc golf course. Almost weekly, I had some of my seasoned saints complain about how these golfers had the audacity to go and play on a Sunday morning instead of coming to our sanctuary to worship.
While I occasionally had smart Alec remarks about how they maybe just wanted to enjoy themselves instead on a Sunday morning, one particular conversation got to the heart of the matter. In the midst of ongoing grumbles about choosing to play golf instead of worshiping the creator of the universe, I simply said, what if we instead went to the golf course and served lemonade and simply showed them that we loved them and cared about them?
What would it say to them if we were willing to change our Sunday morning routine for the sake of another? As you might imagine, the response I received was a blank stare, which was immediately followed by the Sunday morning worship that day. And I can say that the topic was never brought up ever again. But this question begs answering what might it look like if we pause our regularly scheduled events for the sake of those around us?
What would our life look like if we chose to be subversively present, seeking the betterment of those around us instead of our own institutional advancements? In coming episodes, we will hear the answer to that question in the form of stories. Our hope is that they would broaden our imagination and help us as we continue to discern what it is to be the people God has created us to be.
Thank you so much for joining us on this episode, and we ask that you would join us next time on the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast.