Monthly Archives: February 2012

Stepping down

This week I resigned from my position at United EFC in Seattle. Below is the letter of resignation I sent to the congregation.


February 26, 2012

To the congregation of United EFC,

It with great sadness that I resign as Senior Pastor of United Evangelical Free Church. While we do not know what the future holds, we have confidence that God is sovereignly in control of the details of our lives. We know that he can be trusted.

It has become evident that some have lost confidence in my ability to lead because of what they perceive are mistakes made by me in the events surrounding Aaron’s departure. I chose not to make public the details of Aaron’s performance reviews. In 1 Corinthians 10:23, the apostle Paul says, “All things are possible, but not all things are profitable; all things are possible, but not all things edify.” I did not feel it was either beneficial or edifying for you to know all that the elders knew and discussed regarding Aaron. While the lack of details may bother some, it is my conviction that some things are best kept confidential. To spare the church any additional dissension and strife over this issue, I feel it best to resign.

I am grateful for the opportunity to minister among you these past seven and a half years. You took a chance on me when others would not. You encouraged me to grow. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.

As you begin this process of transition, let me encourage you to remember the instructions of Hebrews 13:17; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” The elders are tasked with leading and shepherding the church. You can make their job easier by choosing to follow their leadership.

Please pray for us as we begin this new season of life. Thank you.

Following His Footsteps,

Pastor Mark & Carol Wheeler

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in United Evangelical Free Church


People development

“Ministry leaders are usually better quarterbacks than coaches. We like to be out on the field, personally leading the charge, calling the plays and directing the team.

Coaches are about developing people and getting the very best out of them. While quarterbacks make plays, coaches make players.

If we want healthy teams, we must learn the skills of a coach. The greatest multiplication and impact of your ministry will be through the people you develop.

Replenish: Leading from a healthy soul, by Lance Witt

Good advice on building a team.

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Books, Leadership, Quotes


Life, faith, and the digital age

Book Review: Viral: How social networking is poised to ignite revival, by Leonard Sweet

Are you a Gutenberger or a Googler? Gutenbergers arrived from the twentieth century while Googlers are at home in the twenty-first century. Gutenbergers were shaped by the space race, John Kennedy, the Cold War, and the Beatles. Googlers are the digitized, globalized group that spends much of its life getting to know one another in a virtual world. Gutenbergers prefer reading books printed on paper while Googlers use an iPad, Kindle, or e-reader. Needless to say, each group approaches faith from a different point of view.

This understanding fuels the premise of Leonard Sweet’s latest offering. He explains that we live in a TGIF world—a world dominated by Twitter, Google, iPhones, and Facebook. Each of these tools has something to contribute to faith, namely, the importance of relationships. They help teach Christians how to be better friends to people who need God.

I found parts of the book easy to understand, follow, and benefit from. Others parts were a bit too philosophical for my taste. I had a harder time understanding those sections. I found the book thought provoking, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of Sweet’s other books. But it caused me to rethink social networking and how it can be used for ministry purposes.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Books


Temptation often follows success

While I was teaching in Russia last week, I pointed out to the group that David was often tempted and tested immediately following a success. I explained that as leaders, we always need to be on guard and vigilant. We are most vulnerable immediately following success.

I suppose I should have listened to my own advice. Before I could even get over jet jag, the crises, critics, and challenges were waiting by my door wanting to make an appointment.

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Character, Ministry


Deep convictions about the Bible

“I believe the Bible from Genesis to Genuine Leather. When I die, you’ll find my heart pressed between the pages of this book. Why? Because in it I have found the images and stories that kept working their magic, working as healing powers in my life. The Bible will do this for all of us, now and to the end of time.”

Leonard Sweet in Viral: How Social Networking is poised to ignite revival

Well said! The Scriptures are alive and life transforming.

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Books, Scripture


Tales from Tsibanobalka – 2012 edition

I recently returned from a ministry trip in Russia. Below is a copy of my report. It is eight pages full of stories, observations, pictures, and answers to prayer. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy reading about what God did and the lessons I learned. Here’s a pdf version of the report if you’d like to download a copy.





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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Ministry, Missions, Russia


Saturday is done in Tsibanobalka

We wrapped up the “Life of David” class this morning. I gave the men an assignment to review 1 & 2 Samuel and look for key principles that summarized David’s life, or lessons that they learned from David.

When we met for the last sessions, the men shared some great insights from God’s Word. I then closed the class by looking at David’s instructions to his son, Solomon, in 1 Chronicles 28-29.

One of the best compliments I received was from Sandzhik who said, “Your last session was perfect. You shared so many good principles in your lessons, and I will use them in many sermons. When I study, I have a hard time finding principles, and you showed me how.” Afterwards I was talking with Misha, my translator. He said he took what I taught last year on the book of Joshua and used it in several sermons in his church. He took another lesson and used it in his home group. Those two compliments were worth the price of a plane ticket. It was an encouraging end to a good week.

At the close of the session, I told the men I had a gift for them. Some people had given me cash for this ministry and Naomi suggested using some of the funds to buy warm socks for the men. As I gave them the socks I said, “Our prayer is that your hearts are warmed by the Word of God, and your feet stay warm as you preach the gospel.” Thanks to those of you who made the gift possible.

After lunch, the group parted company and went their separate ways. Before leaving town, however, the men from Kalmykia joined John and me in visiting Naomi at the hospital. In all my years of visiting Russia, this was a first for me. It had OIR—Only In Russia—written all over it on so many levels.

  • What is considered outpatient surgery in the States requires a weeklong stay in Russia.
  • The sanatorium/private hospital is hidden behind a gated entrance. Victor Semukhim, who used to live in Anapa, and Lena, John & Naomi’s assistant who lives in Anapa now, didn’t know of its existence.
  • You have to show your passport to get past the guard at the gate.
  • The front entrance has eleven steps, all of which were slick with ice.
  • Since it was the weekend, the front entrance was closed. Thus we entered from the side entrance. There is a huge patch of ice in front of the side entrance as well as ice on the steps. Not wanting to become another patient, I walked quite gingerly.
  • Since the side entrance was locked, we had to ring the bell to be let in. Who should answer the door but Naomi herself. After going back to get the key, she let the twelve of us in. At how many hospitals does the patient have a key and let the visitors in?
  • We could not go up to Naomi’s room, which was 85 degrees, but she could come downstairs, where it was cold enough to keep our coats on, to visit us.
  • Since the hospital doesn’t have an elevator, Naomi had to walk up & down the stairs.
  • I’ve made many hospital visits during my ministry, but none quite like this one.
  • This tale sounds so farfetched; most people will think I made it up. OIR.

When we got home from the hospital, John said, “It is early, but what about next year? Would you be willing to come back and teach another class? The men seem to like your teaching.” I said, “You bet. It’s only a matter of choosing dates. The folks at my church anticipate this will become an annual ministry.” We don’t know what the future holds, but there is an open door of ministry here for me.

Another OIR fun fact. All new drivers are required to have a sticker with an exclamation point on their car. The sticker for being a woman driver—high heeled shoe inside the triangle—is optional J This is the car driven by Lena, John & Naomi’s assistant.

Tomorrow morning I will attend Holy Trinity Church in Anapa with John. Afterwards, we hope to take Naomi out to lunch. (OIR – you can leave the hospital for the weekend as long as you come back. Say again?) After lunch, we will make our way to the Anapa airport and I will begin the homeward journey.

Thanks for praying.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in House of Grace, Ministry, Missions, Russia


Saturday in Tsibanobalka – Wrapup day

The “life of David” class wraps up this morning. The group has been very attentive and responsive. We’ve had some good interaction.

Perhaps the highlight of the three days was a discussion last night with Sandzhik and Edward about the region of Kalmykia and their respective ministries.

Kalmykia is located in the steppes of the Caucasus Mountains, near the Caspian Sea. According to John Musgrave, the land is flat for as far as the eye can see. Ethnically, the Kalmyk people are descendents of the Mongols and the only Buddhist people group in Europe. Edward said they came to the region in the 400s. About 300,000 people live in Kalmykia with half of them in the capital city of Ellista, where Sandzhik and Edward pastor their respective churches. There are only 15 churches in Ellista, so there is a huge need for the gospel. The rest of the population is spread throughout small cities and villages with one church here, and a Bible study there.

Sandzhik and Edward have known each other since 1997 before they became Christians. They both came to Christ that year and now are pastoring churches in Ellista. The two churches have recently begun to work together with the idea towards merging. Sandzhik, who I’ve known from previous conferences, is a passionate evangelist, discipler, and church planter. The fact he brought nine men with him to this class is testimony to his commitment to train and equip others. Meeting men like Sandzhik and Edward encourages me about the potential for the gospel in their part of the world. They desire to reach their own people as well as see missionaries sent into Dagestan, the region south of them.

Despite the vastness of the region and the sparse population, high speed internet is already in Ellista and is coming to the rest of the region. John Musgrave has tried to cast a vision for Sandzhik and Edward to broadcast their ministries in order to reach more people in the outlying areas. The idea has great potential.

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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in House of Grace, Leadership, Ministry, Missions, Russia


It’s Friday in Tsibanobalka

Day one of the “life of David” class is in the books. Being about one-third of the way through my notes probably means I’m about on schedule. The class meets around the dining room table. There’s been some good interaction with the men. They seem to be tracking with me by nodding appropriately, asking good questions, adding insightful comments, and taking notes.

The group is pretty diverse. Single, married, ages ranging from 20’s to 60’s, pastors, laymen, small group leaders, evangelists. 10 of the men came from Kalmykia. They drove 12 hours in two cars through a snow storm to get here.

Two men came from an alcohol rehabilitation center about 90 minutes away. Misha, my translator, came from Krasnodar, about three hours by bus (normally), though it took five because of the snow. I feel humbled in their presence and my life feels pedestrian compared to their challenges.

Dionis is a graduate of the rehab center and is now an evangelist. He evangelizes the criminal element in his city, going into the most dangerous pockets to share the gospel. I’m rather light weight compared to him.

After teaching the section on David and Goliath, I asked the men what were some of the giants that they face. Dionis said that he has been married for five months. A brother confronted him that he was spending too much time on his ministry and neglecting his family. His giant was the FEAR of what might happen or what people would think if he cut back on ministry. But he knew his family was his most important ministry so he wanted to do what was right. After the men shared, they prayed for one another.

I forgot how draining teaching through a translator can be. By the end of Thursday’s session I was pretty worn out. Once again, it shows how dependent I am on the prayers of others.

Naomi Musgrave came through her appendectomy well. She is recovering nicely, though anxious to get home. Thanks for praying.

During one of the breaks, Alexander, the pastor of the rehab center, received a phone call saying a child in his church had a brain tumor. Sandzhik shared a similar need about someone in his church. Before beginning the next session, we stopped to pray for these needs. Prayer is certainly a vital part of their lives.

House of Grace serves hearty meals to their guests. The men show their appreciation by eating hearty as well. They are quite talkative until the food is served. Then the conversation ceases as they dig in.

During the break times, the men enjoy their tea, playing chess, talking, playing guitar, and playing wii.

Today’s schedule will be the longest in terms of my teaching. We will have breakfast at 8:30am, lunch at 1pm, and dinner at 6pm, with teaching in between. Yesterday I taught about 6 hours, today I will teach about 7+ hours, and tomorrow about 3. It is enjoyable and profitable, because the men really want to learn.

Thanks for praying.

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in House of Grace, Russia


Thursday in Tsibanobalka – Class begins

Yesterday the House of Grace was cleaned from top to bottom and the beds were made in preparation for the next group to arrive. After making the beds, John Musgrave & I shopped for groceries. As I helped in the preparations, I reflected on some foundational principles behind successful short-term ministry trips that I learned during my time at Crossroads Bible Church. I had three key concepts drilled into my head by Dan Hollingsworth and Tim Jack. They were the principles of servanthood, flexibility, and leaving the fragrance of Jesus behind.

Servanthood is the idea that each team and person aims to serve the people we are going to and the missionaries we are working with. Rather than say, “Here’s what we are going to do?” we ask, “How can we help you? What do you need?”

Flexibility is the idea that we hold our agenda and schedule with an open hand rather than a clenched fist. If God wants to change things up, we will adjust accordingly. “Semper Gumby – Always Flexible” is our motto.

Leaving the fragrance of Jesus behind is the principle of seeking to be a blessing wherever we go. We want people to be sad we are leaving rather than wishing we had left sooner.

Those lessons were ingrained into my thinking and now color my approach every time I set out on another trip.

Today, I begin teaching on the life of David. Most of the men arrived during the night. The rest should arrive shortly. Please pray that I can connect with them. I want to tailor my material to best meet their needs and encourage them.

Please pray for Naomi Musgrave. She was not feeling well yesterday. After consulting a physician friend in the States via SKYPE, he encouraged her to get to a doctor as her symptoms sounded like appendicitis. John took Naomi to a hospital/sanatorium last evening. A doctor was called in. They did a laparoscopy and determined the offending organ needed to go. Surgery was done last night and she is now on the mend. Pray for a quick, smooth, and uncomplicated recovery.

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in House of Grace, Ministry, Missions, Russia