Church Programs: Get A Better Vehicle

lakeI have only traveled internationally a couple of times in my life, and I have only left my home continent three times. I am clearly no expert on intercontinental travel, but I am fairly confident that a US resident will need more than a car to reach five of the six other continents. A vehicle working here is not necessarily a vehicle that will work everywhere.

I feel like most churches, pastors, and Christians struggle to understand this concept when it comes to reaching the world around them with the gospel.

The vehicle you have been using to reach the world around you is probably not the vehicle you need to blaze new ground in the places outside your world. Andy Stanley makes a painfully obvious observation that pastors and churches need to understand:

“Your [church, discipleship program, evangelism plan, missions strategy] is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently getting.”

Think of every frustration you have with your church. Think of every person you wish you were reaching. Think of every empty seat you long to see filled with a person committed to following Jesus. Think of every ministry and mission you wish you could fund.

Now, recognize the brutal truth – your church is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently seeing.

Every problem has to be met with a solution. If your solution to seeing an ocean between you and your destination is to just keep driving, it won’t be long before you are sinking.

You may already feel the water around your ankles. But you can stop. You can find a new vehicle. You can get where God is calling you to go.

Let me share 5 absolutely crucial steps to get where you want to go.

  1. KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!!!! I cannot overstate this enough. Most churches and pastors have no idea where they want to go. You need to be able to answer that question in two sentences or less. If it takes more than that, no one else will remember everywhere you are trying to go, and you will end up going by yourself. Two sentences. Where is your [church, ministry, discipleship program, evangelism strategy] going?
  2. Ask questions until you have to look up more questions to ask. Once you know where you are going, ask questions about everything! Why are we doing that? Who is helping us get there? Should we be doing that? Is that working like we were promised it would? What do we need more of? What is our cost benefit for every ministry and event we have at our church? Ask questions until you have exhausted yourself learning about where you are, refining where you are going, and evaluating what you have and what you need. Never stop asking questions.
  3. Be personal, loving, and generous as you evaluate people. Prioritize people as you try to go to a new destination. Go as slow as they need to go. Communicate clearly, then communicate clearly again, and again, and again. A leader who arrives as a destination without people following is not a leader – you’re a lone wolf. A leader who arrives at a destination with a trunk full of dead volunteers is not a leader – you are a sanctified sociopath. Prioritize people as you reach your destination.
  4. Be obsessively relentless and coldly ruthless in evaluating systems. Once you know where you are going, you need to evaluate everything you do, every penny you spend, every word you say, every program in place. My dad was part of a major mega church that would literally spend millions of dollars on a massive Christmas production every year in order to reach the lost with the story of Jesus and the gospel. Over the course of a few years, my dad was able to present a brutal truth to the leadership of that church – their 20 year tradition, taking millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, and every ounce of leadership capital every year, was, and had been, failing to fulfill its purpose. Every year. I am proud to say my dad was influential in killing one of the most loved traditions in one of the most important churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I am proud because my dad was ruthlessly committed to reaching the lost. Be absolutely ruthless in evaluating your systems, because no system is worth the soul of a lost person in your city who will not be reached with that system.
  5. Take the action you know you need to take. As you deal gently with people and harshly with systems, you will find times where action must be taken. Pray for the courage to take that action. I once had a mentor tell me courage was the most important quality of a leader, and I did not understand that at all – until I looked back and saw all the ways my inaction had hurt the church I was called to lead and the people I was called to shepherd. Be strong and courageous. Take action as soon as you know action is needed.

Just over 10 months ago, my church I am helping to plant had a really great women’s bible study going, led by a seriously gifted teacher in our church. At that time, we were a church plant team that had not even launched yet. That rocking bible study was amazing, but it was not leading people to disciple other people, which is why I speak of that amazing bible study with an incredibly gifted teacher in past tense. Having a great women’s bible study is not what we need right now. We need our people to disciple other people. So we were ruthless in our assessment of that system, and we took the action we needed to. We broke up our great bible study led by a phenomenal teacher to start three small bible studies led by less gifted teachers.

Now, almost a year later, we have four women who are teaching the bible to other women on a weekly basis. We have seen two women find their place in our community with relationships they never imagined having in the church. We are currently seeing a marriage saved, and one of those small groups, led by one of our not-as-good-as-her teachers was the catalyst that led to life change for both the wife and husband. We know where we are going, and we aren’t about to let the wrong vehicle stop us.

Pastor, find and use the right vehicle to get you where you want to go. You will never regret dropping the program that wasn’t working in order to embrace the one that will.

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Resources on Race Relations

racial reconciliationFor the last year, I have been wading into the swampy mess of American race relations. Like all good swamps, the water is murky, every step you take comes with danger of being attacked, and visibility is limited. But I’m still moving through it.

Now, I invite you to join me, white friends. Come on in, the water’s fine.

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Christians, #HashtagsArentEnough

I have never watched an ISIS beheading video. I have never subjected myself to nasty medical videos. I don’t even watch sad movies. My own life is filled with more than enough sorrow and heartache; I don’t need to add more.

But last year, I watched the video of Tamir Rice’s encounter with the police, where he, a twelve year old child playing by himself with a toy gun, was shot by a police officer who had barely stepped away from a still moving police car. I watched for four more minutes as no one even stooped to tell the child help was coming.

Then I watched Eric Garner’s death. This was one big, tough, scary looking guy who was resisting arrest. But even big men beg for their lives. I heard it. I watched this man use his last breath to beg a policeman for another.

Then I watched Alton Sterling get tazed, tackled, and pinned to the ground while he was trying to sell CD’s outside his friend’s convenience store. I watched two pretty tough looking police officers pin him to the ground. I watched the officer’s gun being pulled and pressed into the man’s chest. Then I heard the shots with no doubt of the outcome.

Then I watched the second video of Alton Sterling’s struggle with two police officers, which, from a different angle, showed more. He lost the struggle with the police officers. That was clear. Then he was shot, four or six times, I am not sure. Then began Alton’s final struggle. For his life. I watched him slowly moving. I heard him groaning. I watched his blood pooling. I saw him losing his struggle to keep living.

Then I watched the press conference with Alton Sterling’s son losing control that no fifteen year old boy should be expected to maintain. I heard this child weeping. Repeating that he just wants his daddy. I saw his real heart-wrenching sorrow, put on display for all of us to watch. And I wept with him. Even as I write this now, my throat is tight, my eyes are filled. But I can maintain some sort of control, because I am not a kid. And I can still talk to my dad, my biggest hero.

Wednesday morning, the day after the videos of Alton made waves in America, I told my wife, that I am so tired of seeing these young men dying in the midst of such ambiguous circumstances. I am so tired of being reprimanded by my white friends for jumping to conclusions or ignoring the facts when I express sorrow over the death of another black man at the hands of the police. I am so tired of seeing people line up to protect “the facts” when their brothers and sisters are begging for sympathy. I told her I am so tired of these racial wars we start every time someone dies at the hands of the police.

Then, Wednesday night, I watched the video of Philando Castille’s struggle for life, which he lost. There is a lot of ambiguity in this story, because it is still so fresh. What is not ambiguous: I watched a man, shot four times, bleeding to death in his girlfriend’s car while a policeman shouted at him under gun point. That went on for two minutes. Until finally, the police took more action than shooting and shouting: they arrested the dying man’s girlfriend. Did I mention the man was dying while he was being shouted at? Did I mention detaining the supremely poised and calm girlfriend took higher precedence than checking on the man who is bleeding out in the car?

Did I mention the four year old girl sitting in the car watching it all?

I wonder what damage it does to watch your mom’s boyfriend groaning for two minutes after being shot while the man with the gun shouts at him? I wonder how many dreams will be tainted by the image of his blood spreading across his spotless white t-shirt? I wonder how you will ever trust a policeman again, when their shouts for your mother to get on the ground drown out the sound of a dying man’s weakening breath?

I wonder what it is like to be black in America, and to have a mental checklist of how to keep your children safe from the police? Does this toy gun look fake enough that a policeman will at least speak with my son before shooting? Should I teach my son to slouch when police approach, since he is kind of big for his age? Should I teach my kids that whatever policemen tell you to do, you do, regardless of mistreatment, violation of rights, and fear for his safety?

I don’t know what it is like to be black in America.

That is why I have started to watch these videos. And I encourage every white person to watch them as well. This is the first step many of us need to take in addressing the racial polarization in our country. Stop acting as though a hashtag connects you to what is happening. You need to see the faces. You need to hear the moaning.

You need to weep with Alton Sterling’s son as he desperately weeps for his father. Even if it is in the privacy of your own home, you need to connect with what is happening.

Then I have a few quick thoughts which are working to frame my plan of action for the future.

  • The church, with a strong belief in the imago dei, the fall, and the universal call to repentance, is the only venue with any sort of coherent framework to begin these dialogues. 
  • There is no quick fix, because each new spate of violence merely hints at the ongoing issues under the surface. It is sort of like walking through a dust storm where you occasionally have deal with a grain of sand in your eye. That grain is a real problem, but not the problem.
  • Both white people and people of color need to agree to enter into serious conversations, knowing they will hurt, and willing to give grace.
  • A new world, free from the stain of sin and suffering is our only hope for the eradication of racial tension, but we must begin rooting out racial injustice.
  • A monumental change will come when people stop thinking that a hashtag is activism, because only personal action brings any change. 

 

The first action I recommend: invite someone of another race to come into your house, eat dinner with your family, and befriend your kids.

Hashtagging is a start, but activism is about action. It’s time to do something.

Protecting Your Wife: Principles for planters

Tomorrow will mark my family’s one year anniversary in our new home in Phoenix and our new life as church planters. Reflecting on our first year, I can confidently say I did a pretty decent job of serving my wife. I made a LOT of other mistakes in a LOT of other areas, but I did pretty well in caring for my wife. I want to share some of the principles I set in place that protected my wife. My principles were developed to address our parachute approach to planting, but they can apply any time you leave your primary support network to start something new. I hope these principles will be a blessing to other planters, but mostly, I pray they will result in blessings to your wife.

Devote the first 6 weeks to finding Christian friends. I know you want to hit the ground running and focus on evangelism, but, for the long term good of your wife’s heart, devote significant time to build a relational foundation. Both you and your wife will instinctively crave relationships, but, be warned, most people you meet in the next year will come and go faster than you will believe. You need to develop a strong foundation of stable friendships to help keep you grounded during the coming tempests of temporary relationships. Practical Tip: Develop a plan for finding friends. I decided that for the first 6 weeks, I would constantly pursue pastors and Christians hoping to find some families with whom we would click. My focus was on pastors of missional churches, in roughly the same life stage as my wife and me. I literally had a list written before we hit the ground. I pursued the pastors on my list, and we invited them into our home for dinner with no agenda, which was a blessing to them as well as us. Pursue Christian friends!

Share the vision with your wife before anyone else. Church planting is relational work, which is tiring work (at least it is to introverts, such as myself). Your temptation will be to constantly share the vision God has given you with everyone, then come home, exhausted, and assume your wife is still on board. She needs to be reminded constantly why you are there. Do not assume she is still on board – ask her! Let her see your passion. Let your enthusiasm spill over onto her. Keep her fire burning for the mission you have been called to. Practical Tip: As soon as a plan develops to the point you write it down, share it with your wife first. My measurable for this principle is simple – if my wife is ever surprised by a decision I made, I failed to keep her primary in my vision process.

Keep your family first. . . on your calendar. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to prioritize spending high-quality, focused, and uninterrupted time with your family. I suggest you have a day of the week that is your family day. Pick a day, and then guard it ferociously. For us, we decided to enjoy Family Fridays. Over the past year, during different seasons, we have switched to Monday Fun Days, but we have never let the week go by without a designated day of intentional family fun. Don’t believe the lie that you are too busy, or the needs of the community are too great, or your work as an evangelist is too pressing. God will manage for those 4 or 5 hours without you. Practical Tip: Spend the money and get some passes to a local museum or the zoo that your children love. Take away the decision process involved in “where do we go?” Kids are creatures of habit, find what they like and just keep doing it.

Gently, but consistently, press into the tensions your wife feels about how you allocate your time. This principle should be a humbling, tough process. Because if you are truly loving and serving your wife, sometimes you will have to relinquish your plans for the good of your family. And, if you are called by God and driven towards that call, slowing down hurts! Sometimes you may be tempted to think she is slowing you down, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Really, she is helping you pace. Which I definitely need. Whenever I go running by myself, I literally run half the distance I can run when I run with her. Not because I am weak-willed when running by myself, but because I am too confident in my own capacity. Church planting is about distance, not speed, and you need someone to pace you. Most likely, that person is your wife. Value her as a gift, and lean into it constantly. Practical Tip: Set aside 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon to look at your calendar with your wife for the next two weeks. Decide upon priorities together, and ask her directly what kind of time she and the kids need from you above your family day together.

Shepherd your wife’s heart. What kind of a shepherd ignores his flock in the plains in order to pursue mountain goats on the cliffs? A bad shepherd. Your wife is your most important church member. Be the pastor she needs. Find out how she is responding to the circumstances of her life. Counsel her when she is trying to balance her roles as mom, unpaid staff, and devoted wife. Weep with her when her good friend leaves the church and drops her without looking back. Help her disentangle her frustrations with the process of church planting from the people of the church. In general, treat her like a church member you desperately need to keep connected to the body, because she is and you do! Practical Tip: Establish a weekly date night (ours is a Friday night, at-home date night after the kids are in bed) and focus on asking her questions, and ask her if you can speak to those things. You will be amazed what intentional pastoring will do in your wife’s heart.

Church planting has chewed up and spit out more more men than you would ever want to know when you are planting yourself. When I talk to most people involved in lots of planting, the posture and commitment of the planter’s wife is almost always a factor. That points to a failure of men, not a weakness of women. When Eve succumbed to the lies of the serpent, God called Adam to account. Her failure in the face of trial was Adam’s failure to protect and serve her through the trial.

Your wife is her own person, with her own relationship with God, but your job is to protect her, serve her, and lead her as you walk the path of planting together.

 

 

Christian, Be Like Bourne: Living on Mission

BOURNEThere is a new Bourne movie coming our way, and my wife and I cannot wait. Jason Bourne is one of my favorite action movie heroes for lots of reasons. He is humble. He never quits. He can do just about anything. And he is always the underdog, hopelessly outmatched, but able to find a way through. Aside from the character, the music always great, the acting is top notch, the cinematics are flawless, and the greater story arc pushes the individual movies. They are really great movies.

There is one type of scene which has featured in each of the movies about Jason Bourne, and it ties directly into Christian living: improvised weapons.

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Patriots and Exiles: Why #NeverTrump?

NeverTrump.pngIt seems that Trump has won the republican nomination. I know the game is not over yet. But after taking Florida as one of his 18 wins, he is no longer an unruly house guest overstaying his welcome, he now has more right to the space than anyone else in the room. He is flat-out winning, and no appeal to a divided voting block changes the simple fact of his clear and consistent march to victory. He keeps winning, which puts many people I know, love, and respect into the awkward position of voting for a man they detest in order to uphold the conservative principles of the party they love.

I don’t feel a hint of that awkwardness, though, because I can firmly, without hesitation, say I will never vote for a man like Trump. And I want to tell you why.

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Spiritual Warfare: My life as case study

spiritual_warfareHave you seen or experienced spiritual warfare? Until my family and I began the process of planting a church, I don’t know that I ever had any experience with spiritual warfare outside of battling my own sin, hearing missionaries talk about their battles, and sharing and hearing with other Christians the stories of demonic oppression told to one another like ghost stories around a campfire. And that was the extent to which I understood spiritual warfare – fighting with my own pride or bad attitudes and stories of the creepiest, unexplainable stuff that happened somewhere else in the world. I only understood Spiritual Warfare as something small or something remote.

I really didn’t understand spiritual warfare.

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Nicodemus: A Story of Weak Faith and a Great Pastor

I love the way the Bible portrays its heroes. David, the man after God’s own heart, the warrior poet who wrote half the book of Psalms, the King who united a kingdom, was also an adulterer (2 Samuel 11).  Moses, the man chosen by God to free the Hebrew people from slavery, got started as an impatient hothead (Exodus 2:11-12, explained in Acts 7:25). Look at any of the Judges! They are all kind of jacked up! The Bible is full of heroes, but all of them look a lot like us – sinful men in need of God’s grace.

One of the imperfect, but relatable characters of the Bible is Nicodemus. I love this guy. More pointedly, I love how John uses him to demonstrate something so common, it often remains unremarkable. What Nicodemus demonstrates is a weak, faltering, fragile faith.

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Thoughts on Tithing

As I am working towards establishing a healthy, reproducing church, one of the biggest needs we have is financial stability. So I want to quickly think through some issues that always pop up when a pastor of a church starts talking about money.

My thoughts on this will be seated in our context, directed by scripture, and applied to my own little already-but-not-yet congregation.

CONTEXT: The first thing I want to note, is our cultural context, because when we enter into a discussion of money, we carry some pretty significant baggage in with us.

I used to say that money was an idol, but I don’t think that is the case for the vast majority of people. I think most of us just use money to serve our actual idols. I think most of us, who struggle with an iron grip or a guarded heart over our money, actually idolize things like comfort, security, and authority. Some people draw their personal sense of self worth from how much money they have, but most of us just want to be comfortable and taken care of. And we instinctively, sinfully, put our hope for comfort and security in money, instead of God. People get nervous talking about money, because it paves the path to indulging our idolatry. If we turn to money for our source of comfort and hope for the future, then we will struggle to approach with honesty what the Bible teaches.

A QUICK BIBLICAL REFERENCE FOR TITHING: So, knowing that you probably love something that makes you love money, I want to offer an important Biblical frame for a discussion on money.

Money is given by God as a tool to accomplish His plan, and give Him glory.

He designated in the Old Testament, with incredible attention to detail, how his people were to use their money. For our purpose, let’s focus on the giving to the temple to support the priests and the work they were doing. God repeatedly requests 10% of the first fruits of his people’s labors. He does so regarding Melchizedek, and he applies this principle to all of Israel, including those who don’t technically get a salary, the Levites (Numbers 18:21-32). The tithe, 10%, is the base expectation for God’s people in the Old Testament, and God’s promise is to richly reward those who trust him in their tithing.

Now, we need to decide whether this Old Testament practice applies to us today, living under the new covenant of Christ. I believe it does.

LIFE IN THE NEW COVENANT: Jesus taught a principle in the Sermon on the Mount that is vital to understanding the place of the tithe: God’s commands are meant to reveal our heart. When God tells us not to commit adultery, Jesus calls us adulterers because of the lust in our hearts. When God tells us not to murder, Jesus tells us our hearts stand guilty of murder for our hatred of others. On the other side of the coin, when the Pharisees tithe everything, publicly demonstrating their faithfulness in tithing all the way down to their spices (a pretty humorous jab), the pride in their hearts leaves them condemned. There is a principle of intensification that Jesus embodies. Jesus intensifies and deepens every command he teaches. Jesus is only concerned with our actions so far as they demonstrate our hearts. The Pharisee’s public demonstration of piety showed a heart puffed up with pride. When Jesus asked the rich, young ruler to give up everything he owned, it is because Jesus wanted to be first in that guy’s heart. Jesus issued a command to reveal a heart.

For us, our generosity shows what we value: our stuff or God’s rule, our security or our faith, our comfort or our trust in God’s provision. Action reveals the heart, and the heart is where Jesus works.

Therefore, the tithe is a great way for us to analyze our hearts. Do we instinctively look for the way to get out of it? Or do we thank God he has freed us so we can obey it? When ever I hear someone ask if we have to tithe, I just hear a lustful teenager asking how far is too far. I want to shake them and tell them to stop asking the wrong questions! I want to help the teen remain close to God, not discuss how far away can he get! I want to help the conscientious church member  better serve God with their money, not discuss how much they get to keep! The degree to which your money and possessions own you, is the same degree that Jesus doesn’t.

Jesus does not want or need your money, he wants your heart! Free from the shackles of misplaced hope for idolatrous comfort and security.

MONEY – FREED FROM AND FREED FOR: In conclusion, I think Christians have been freed from our idolatry, and, as a result, our money can serve God instead of our idols. Therefore, we should put our money to use in God’s kingdom. Give as much as possible regularly, and look for opportunities to give beyond that amount occasionally. Radical generosity demonstrates a confidence in God as both the provider and the purpose in our giving. I think you should give regularly to the place where God is serving you, and give beyond that occasionally, where God leads you.

For the members of our little church, you can give regularly, at the level you are able, by clicking the button below.

For those not in our congregation, begin giving regularly to yours! For everyone, let’s commit to live lives of generosity that beg those around us to ask about the confidence within us, which trusts in God, not money, to be our deliverer.

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TOMS and Family Ministry

Fullscreen capture 372013 24150 PM.bmpI am sure you have heard of the shoe company called TOMS. They do not make high quality shoes. They do not make the most attractive shoes. Nor are they the most comfortable shoes, yet this little company gained incredible popularity very quickly because of the reason behind buying their shoes: for every pair you purchase they donate a pair to a needy child. The reason behind buying these shoes is what drove their incredible success.

TOMS became a movement in and of themselves, but the danger of a movement showed up when TOMS became a norm in youth culture; the true reason for their popularity was diluted as Sketchers, Forever 21, Justice, and many other stores started producing knockoff TOMS. You see what happened? The shoe became such a norm that now people don’t know why they are buying overpriced, low quality, and uncomfortable shoes. People are just buying shoes because they look similar to the shoes everyone else is buying. The reason was diluted by the power of the movement.

The church cannot afford to let the reason drop in our pursuit of family ministry.

Family ministry is a necessity in the American church, and many bestselling ministry books are currently in the area of family ministry. The rise of the movement tells pastors that there is something important going on, so we all want to make sure we take part in it. The problem is that in our vigor to join the movement, we may miss the reason the movement began. Much like teenagers buying knockoff TOMS, we may be missing the point.

Average Christian mothers and fathers likely understand the family to be a launching pad for each child, providing them with all of the love, safety, and affirmation needed to be a successful individual. That sounds great, but is it what God wants for the family? If you read through the Bible (including the Old Testament) it is very difficult to squeeze the individualistic, success-driven picture of the American family into a Biblical response of why God created the family. Time and time again God commanded fathers to teach their children all the commands of the Lord, remind their children of the great things the Lord had done, and discipline their children in order to teach submission to the Lord.

What if we, as Christians, actually believed God knew best? What if we, as parents, actually believed God had a greater plan for our families than raising successful (i.e. rich) children? What if God gave children to parents in order to fulfill the great commission?

Then Christian parents would probably believe themselves to be the primary disciplers of their children.

This is why we need Family Ministry. We need to retrain the American church to understand the family as a primary tool in God’s plan of redemption. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that God wants to use families in His plan of redemption; he has been doing it since he called one man and his family to be a blessing to all other families. God still wants to use the family, but the family has to be redeemed. It has to be spiritually redeemed by Christ, and its purpose has to be redeemed by parents.

Parents need to see their role through the lens of the Bible. Deuteronomy 6 needs to become more than an idea; it needs to become a guidebook for how we make disciples, starting in our own home. Pastors need to reinforce this role to the parents in our congregations. We need to understand that the first and most important influence in the life of a child will never be our youth pastor; therefore, we should be working to train those who will be doing the heavy lifting of discipleship. We need to minister to families with a constant focus on the reason why. The local church is where parents meet to be equipped and trained; families are the frontlines of gospel warfare.

If we ride the wave of family ministry and lose the reason we need it, then we have done nothing more than take part in a flash in the pan movement, here today and gone tomorrow.

If, however, we work through Scripture and come to an understanding of the family as God’s training ground for new disciples, then we are going to be a part of the greatest movement in the history of the world: the movement of a perfect, holy God towards his sinful, needy children.

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