May 30, 2006

It Is All Semantics

The past three years of my life were spent editing and writing. I still free-lance. During this time I have become aware of the power and/or powerlesness of a word. A word can be twisted and turned to mean just about anything the deliverer wants it to mean, but it can also take on a twisted and turned meaning as it the receiver receives it.

Sometimes arguments (especially theological one) could be avoided if people were simply more careful about their words and were careful to defing the words they use. Two people talking about spiritual gifts can be argueing, but really be in agreement.

The Church has also lost some important words through the years or at least lost their meaning. One of the biggest problems with an uneducated (theologically) ministry is that the words often get twisted. Not that this doesn't happen with educated ministry too!

Too many Chrsitians see theology as useless because the words have been too large and the concepts fought over incessantly. When in fact, theology is beautiful. And, it is best done when it is simple. Theology that does not result in good practice is bad theology. Theology that is separated from good practice is useless. Good practice that is separated from good theology is flimsy and weak (though I think better than good theology without good practice).

Here is an article about Dallas Willard and the use of words, and certain words we should redefine and not allow ourselves to lose. Be sure to check out the article, at the bottom is a great set of definitions.

Replacement Definitions - LeadershipJournal.net: "When pastors employ these words in the context of spiritual formation (i.e. discipleship), they may intend one meaning, but people receive it differently. Or, more tragic, the rich biblical meaning of these words may be lost on church leaders who themselves have been fed a diet of theological clich├ęs."

Why Do Pastors Leave the Ministry?

Here is blog posting by a pastor. MMIblog picked it up. This is great insight into SOME of the things your pastor might be feeling.

If you are feeling really daring, read through the comments at the bottom of the page on the link. When there is blood in the water...

Monday Morning Insight Weblog: Why Do Pastors Leave the Ministry?: "many people have asked me why i am stepping out of pastoring, at least for a while. there has been a great deal of conjecture on my behalf. some think it has a subversive twist to it. others imagine that i am absolutely distraught with life and cannot cope anymore. neither extreme really addresses the central issues i have faced. here are a few of the reasons why some of us tend to fade away:

we are tired of pretending that we cannot be hurt. people assume ministers are available for their criticism 24/7. people say things to clergy they would not say to their worst enemies. for some reason they feel at liberty to delve into every aspect of clergy life. they have an opinion about everything we do. they believe it is their god-given right to critique your personal life, your professional life, your emotional state, the way you dress, your use of colloquialisms, your kids, your personality, how much you spend on a car, your friendships, how you drive, how much you fart, the list goes on and on. pastors live their life in the limelight. they, therefore, constantly disappoint people. it is hard to disappoint people all the time. as a pastor, and maybe it is just me, i seem to let people down all the time. recently i was at a small group where several complained that i was not their close friend. besides the obvious fact that i do not have enough hours in the day nor the emotional energy to be friends with everyone, let alone friendly, how can you assume i would would want to be your close friend? ministers spend their entire life pretending to like a portion of the population that they really cannot stand…

pastors tend to build up that insecurity the longer they work. they feel the pressure to put numbers on the role, they also realize that people leave the church because of them. that is a heady responsibility to bear. they understand that people don't like them but it still hurts when they have people they have invested in leave the church because of them. this life can be an exercise in guilty and humility. everything that happens which is good is 'to god be the glory' ...they know who is to blame if things go bad. add to this that for some reason many churches rise and fall on the health and exuberance of their pastor. after a while pastors tend to jump from one quick fix solution to another in a desperate bid to patch holes that are systemic and often metaphysical. they attend conferences and clinics designed to point out their flaws and obvious solutions. they quickly conclude that they are the problem, the issue, and the solution. they develop a messiah complex. they develop an insecurity complex…

ministers are normal people who struggle with laziness and workaholism at the same time. no one knows what they do during the week so they tend to strive too hard to be noticed or duck out when they can get away with it. they realize that some volunteers do more than they do and it drives them crazy. they vassalate between the drive to do everything and the need to let others do the work of the church. they are control freaks, often out of necessity. sometimes out of ego need.

oh ya, and we love to be compared. compared to huge churches with massive budgets and incredible bands. compared to tv evangelists who spend more on dog food than we will see in a year. compared to amazing speakers, incredible entrepeneurs, and holy monkish nerds who can pray more than we can. that kind of stuff makes us very content.

ya this is a whine but it's my blog and you don't have to read it. perhaps, though, there may be a grain of truth in what you have read. take a look at your pastor if you have one. listen to his or her brokenness strewn in amongst the exterior confidence. let them know you don't need anything from them. shut up about them when others encourage you to spill. tell someone else to shut up occasionally. don't phone them on mondays. don't critique the way they dress when they go to the bank on their day off. don't act amazed when they stumble. we all stumble.

but for God's sake, don't feel sorry for them. they chose this life and it has incredible rewards. just pay them more.

and oh ya, they won't believe you when you praise them but they will obsess when you criticize them. sounds like quite a great life huh? makes you want to join right up i bet...

as for me, i'm just taking a break to get out of the fishbowl for a while. it's a calling - a blessing and a curse. of course now i have to get a real job where people have to get up every morning and put in 8 hours and pretend to care about stuff i never imagined caring about before."

May 29, 2006

Called to Greatness

Here is a good article on Greatness by Randy Bohlender: stuff i think: a question of greatness

Great Quote

A great reminder to those of us who are called to be Christ's "ambassadors."

"Her virtue was that she said what she thought, her vice that what she thought didn't amount to much."
Peter Ustinov
English actor & author (1921 - 2004)

Listen to the Audience

I am not a seeker-sensitive driven type of person. I think there are times when you have to give people what they need instead of what they want. I also believe that form, function, and message go hand in hand. The WAY we present the message says something about the message itself.

However, too many churches fail to listen to the general recommendations of the people attending the church. Most of what we do on a Sunday morning as a church is changeable (for one, because very little of it was directly handed down from Jesus and the Apostles).

If people don't show up to all church activities maybe it is time for the church leadership to realize that people have busy lives, they are overbooked (yes, maybe they should simplify), they don't like the activity, or they simply are not coming to it.

Here is a quote from a cell phone company that reminds us that we must be able to give people what they need in a way they can hear.

CNN.com - Making cell phones simple is hard - May 29, 2006: "On one recent day, a trio of researchers watched through one-way glass and overhead cameras as a volunteer navigated her way through a prototype program that lets parents set limits on their children's phone use.

The observers monitored how many steps it took for the woman to make the program work, how easily she made mistakes and how quickly she could get herself out of trouble. The results could be used to further tweak the program, said Robert Moritz, director of device development.

'If you bring somebody in and they have problems, it's not because they're dumb, but we were dumb with the design,' Moritz said, adding that the lab typically tests devices and programs with up to 50 users over three to nine months. The company also uses focus groups to determine what people want from their phones and what they say needs fixing."

In writing the above post, I got to thinking about the role of the priest and the prophet in the Old Testament. The priest led the people in the worship, and the prophets proclaimed God's message from outside. The priest led the day-to-day worship, and the prophet spoke from outside the system. Here is an interview with Eugene Peterson (biblical translator of the The Message) on Bono and U2 being prophetic and some of the differences between prophet and priest.

A Definition of Preaching?

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki's blog, I found this qoute:

design matters: Skeet shooting in the dark: "Over 20 years ago I formulated my General Theory of Design: 'Design consists of creating things for clients who may not know what they want, until they see what you've done, then they know exactly what they want, but it's not what you did.'"

May 27, 2006

Mission Trip or Mission Life-style

Can people go on a short-term mission trip and and return unchanged? Yes, they can. Can people go on a short-term mission trip and return changed? Yes, they can. I have seen both.

This article looks at the question, "What value does short-term mission trip have for its participants?" And, unfortunately, like most journalistic pieces, it never really gives anything close to an answer to the question.

Rise of sunshine Samaritans: on a mission or holiday? | csmonitor.com: "'We justify our efforts by saying [youth] will come back and make a difference in their own communities, but the research has demonstrated it's not happening,' says David Livermore, an evangelical scholar at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and author of a new book, 'Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence.' 'Kids are going down and 'loving on' Mexican kids for a week and then coming home and being the same racist white kids they were toward their Latino classmates before they went on the trip.'"

I think the answer lays somewhere in between. Short-term mission trips combined with a missionary life-style back home is best. At the church I planted, I attempted to move people from being spectator Christians to seeing the value God places on lost, broken, poor, hurting people. Not just the people they would meet on a "short-term mission trip," but also the people they meet in every-day-life.

Short-term mission trips have the potential to change someone's life, but that trip is not enough. It must be developed into a missionary life-style. Check out www.servantevangelism.com.

May 26, 2006

We Need More Failed Church Plants

I know that is a rather provocative title. I am not desiring more of our church plants to fail, what I think we need are more people attempting. If we attempt 10 "quality" plants and five succeed, that is 50% success rate; which looks good to those around us. But if we attempt 100 prepared church plants and 20 suceed that is 20%. Percentage-wise it doesn't look so good, though I know you can spin it, but it is 15 more churches.

I am all for well educated, thoughtful church planters and church plants. I am supportive of entering the church plant arena well-prepared and well-planned. I think that church planters must have a call to do what they are doing.

But...

As church planting builds momentum, many people, out of a desire to develop quality church plants that succeed, actually regulate the life out of church planting. By needing more failed church plants, I mean that we need more people attempting big things for God. Yes, there are going to be church plants that "fail." But no amount of administrating is going to eliminate some church plants from "failing." Besides, in the process of failing many church planters are developed and strengthened for what God plans to use them for in the future.

Steve Sjogren once said, "Excellence and competancy are choking the life out of the church." He was not saying do things in a shabby manner or without being prepared, but don't let planning take the place of practice. Steve gave one of his Servant Evangelism conferences the theme, "Ready, Fire, Aim!" His point was that sometimes churches get stuck in a "Ready...Aim...Ready...Aim...Ready...Aim" waiting game.

We certainly don't want just anyone going to plant a church. We want the best, the brightest, and, certainly, the called. We want them to have the best training. But we must send out more and more planters knowing that some will "fail" as self-sustaining, self-governing, self-propagating communities. We must send out more church planters without "regulating" them to death!

Have Fun!


Here is website that let's you create your own church sign.

Here is mine...remember it's all in fun!

Death By Ministry

It seems every church planter and pastor in the blogosphere has posted or linked to Mark Driscoll's great post on his blog: Death By Ministry.

I have been thinking about it, and have a different slightly different take on the assumptions that actually undermine the suggestions made by Mark Driscoll

To start, here are some of the statistics he gives:
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
Here are some of the problematic assumptions:
  1. Pastors are employees. Pastors are not employees, the church supports the pastor so they can do the work of ministry. Many churches assume they employ the pastor so they can tell the pastor what to do, and many church structures support this unbiblical model. A lot of churches under-pay or under-support their pastors so there is the added financial stress. This creates the problem that pastors feel they have to please their "employer" and so get involved in activities they are neither gifted or called to do. Some churches even expect the pastor to do "all" the ministry because "that is what we pay him/her for."
  2. Pastors are necessary. All right, this is somewhat true, but sometimes pastors think too highly of their role and necessity. "They can't do it without me!" There is the necessity for a leader, but the leader doesn't have to be the pastor. It is a faulty assumption to think that the leader has to be the Pastor.
  3. This is an emergency. Very few things are an emergency. Many pastors would do well to establish their personal list of values and then prioritze their lives around those core values. For instance, if spending time with God is a value, the pastor must put that into his/her schedule and show up; arranging everything else around that time.
  4. I have to find the time. Simply, you will never find the time, you must make the time!
These are just a few thoughts. Sometimes I think the church, and ministry, have become something they were never intended to become. Sometimes the pressures of ministry are self-inflicted and sometimes they are simply part of the systemic beast that has been created.

May 25, 2006

A Preacher's Tool for the 21st Century

If you are researching and preparing messages on a regular basis you have to check out: Google Notebook

This is a great resource for anyone researching on various topics or subjects online. Create a different notebook for each sermon or topic. Keep all the information, websites, images, or select-copy-add anything you need and access it from any online computer.

I don't normally blog about technology, but this has great potential for those of us who are keeping several months worth of speaking topics on the back burners.

They have even created an add-on for Firefox users.

The Power of Hospitality

A few months back I posted about SoulForce "protesting" at various Christian colleges across the United States. I thought there was going to be trouble, but that it could be avoided if the colleges took a loving, hospitable stance toward the protesters.

This article is great insight into the power of Jesus' words to love our enemies and to do good to those who hurt us:The Power of Hospitality - Christianity Today Magazine

May 23, 2006

Dumb Questions

I found the link for this on Randy Bohlender's blog.

CNN.com - Boy, 7, completes swim from Alcatraz - May 22, 2006:

"Asked what the hardest part was, he replied: 'The swimming.'"

I Hate Looking Intolerant

Why do Christians look intolerant to the people around them?

I believe it is because many feel they have to lead with their beliefs. They feel they have to "take a stand" against sin. They feel that demonstrating love to their homosexual, or alcoholic, or abortion having, or premarital sex having neighbors, without condemning those actions first, somehow means they accept all the persons behavior as legitimate.

I Hate Looking Intolerant: "Q. I feel like if I say homosexuality and abortion are sins, non-Christians think I am intolerant and jerky. What can I do about these beliefs that offend some people?

A. What can you do? Follow the example of Jesus..."

Why do we have to tell others WHAT we believe to be wrong before we show them God's love? Why can't we build relationships with people, show them God's love, and care for them as people without regard to their sinful practices (Lord, knows most of us have enough of our own to deal with!)? Why can't the holiness of our lives be the statement against their sinful behaviors? Why can't we speak up when GOD says it is time?

Why do we lead with LAW rather than lead with LOVE?

Heresy Hunting

Here is a great article. I am only providing part of the article because it is very long, but it is well worth the read.

Cerulean Sanctum » Who Watches the Watchers?: "But a couple live blogs I deleted outright. I killed even more of their kindred in my Bloglines setup. The common factor in those links and blogs that I will no longer read is that they were mostly heretic-hunting blogs.

Old timers here know that I've discussed the Godblogosphere's explosion of heretic hunters and taken a middle-of-the-road approach: We need to root out heresy, but we also need to do it soberly and with care.

But I've seen enough. The following are the reasons why I will no longer support those sites:

1. They're not confronting soberly and with care.
2. They're using dubious logic and questionable facts to assail their targets.
3. They disingenuously look the other way when their favorite sources violate their standards.
4. They often ignore the whole counsel of Scripture.
5. They operate in the same manner as the targets they criticize.
6. They overlook their own issues.
7. They utterly refuse correction when they're clearly wrong."

May 22, 2006

UFC

It is probably one of those things you are not supposed to admit, but I like UFC. My justification, as weak as it is, is that both men are in the ring of their own free will. I know, it is VERY weak justification for watching two grown men fight.

So anyway...

I found this biography of Matt Hughes on his website, and thought it was interesting how much a part of the site his testimony is. The wording seems very intentional: Matt Hughes Biography

This is one Christian no one is going to make fun of. While watching him on the Ultimate Fighter reality show, I was impressed with his, for lack of a better word, "spirit."

Ghandi vs. The Hypocrites

Many in the church have reduced salvation to nothing more than simply saying a prayer. And, while it begins with a prayer, a prayer is not enough. Simply mouthing the words "forgive me" is not enough.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect a person to know everything there is to know about follow Christ before starting out. In fact, I don't think people need to know as much as we think they do. But being a Christian means that we are followers of Jesus. Being a follower means that we are trying to do life in the way of Jesus, we doing what Jesus did.

How many people have we seen that have prayed the prayer, but have not taken on the responsibility of following? In contrast, how many would never claim to be a follower, but actually live out the love of God for Him and for neighbor.

I have been thinking about those who call themselves Christians, having said the prayer or whatever but act in very un-Christian ways, and those who would never call themselves Christians but act in very Christian ways.

Jesus tells a story about two sons. One son tells the father, "I won't do what you ask," but then goes and does it. The other son tells the father, "I will do what you ask," but then does not do it. Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Who was obedient?" The Pharisees said, "The first son."

Just wrestling...

May 19, 2006

A Great Prayer

This is a great prayer for this time in my life:

Jesus Creed » Prayer for Guidance: "A Prayer by Thomas Merton - Thoughts in Solitude

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not meean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

May 18, 2006

Dealing With Tough Feedback

When I first planted the church in Pleasant Hill, I was excited about the prospect of starting something new. I wanted to do church the way it ought to be done. I saw what others churches in the area offered and thought what we had was different.

The first time I received tough feedback was difficult for me. I could discount the outsiders, but when someone inside says, "I don't like that!" it is like someone kicks you in the gut. As much as you realize you are doing what God has called you to do, and no matter how hard you try to think otherwise, you feel like they are rejecting you.

Here is a great article for entrepreneurs that has a lot of implications for church planters:

Escape from Cubicle Nation: Developing your entrepreneur chops? Get comfortable with tough feedback: "The first time you get tough feedback as a new entrepreneur, it can really kick you in the gut."

Stop Praying

This blog post is challenging and insightful. Thank you Bob.

Maybe we should just stop praying...: "I think I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us, myself included, just need to stop praying. I don’t say that lightly… but I almost feel that it would be better to have no prayer in our lives than the kind of prayer that most of us, myself included, have.

Now- before you think that I’m going to say that the problem is that you are not spiritual, or that you don’t love God, or are lazy… let me tell you- I don’t believe that about you at all.

I believe that many of you have a deep sense of spirituality, a great love of God, and yet an anemic or non-existent “prayer life” (and I really hesitate to use that phrase- as though over here we have our prayer life, and over here we have our love life, and over here our home life and over here our work life… no- we only have one life, and either it’s a life of prayer, or it’s not, either it’s a life of love or it’s not).

No, I think that the reason why we don’t have a more vital life of prayer is that we are afraid..."

Hell

This quote is interesting in light of some of the discussions I have had with friends over the past few days.

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.
- Harry S Truman

May 17, 2006

My Favorite Comedian

Thinking About the Church Culture

I couldn't help but think about the many thousands of churches who lose wonderful, strong, godly pastors and staff, or have drained the life out of them.

Here is an excellent article that all leaders and church boards should read (there is some language, but the passion and sentiment is understandable!): Escape from Cubicle Nation: Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world

The Da Vinci Code

I have not even attempted to broach this topic, either the book or the movie, but thought this review from the NYTIMES was interesting.

It is funny how many Christians would make a big stink of something like this, and yet the general public watches and quickly forgets. Even the secular media disregards it. Interesting.

The Da Vinci Code - Review - Movies - New York Times

From Poverty to Generosity

At the end of June, my church is having Terry Appel in to speak on several nights.

One of the bylines from the descriptions says that, "Terry's passion is to help people move from poverty to generosity in God's love."

I like that phrase: "From poverty to generosity."

Many Christians and Leaders want to go from poverty to prosperity. We hear it from Name-It-And-Claim-It and Prosperity Gospel preachers all the time. They are always trying to justify their purchase of a new Jaquar or multi-million dollar home.

But our call is not to prosperity. Our call is to generosity. We are given more so that we can give more away. I don't necessarily mean that all our giving must go to and through the local church, though I do believe that Christians are to be financially responsible and supporting of their local church through regular tithing.

I think that a Christians life is to be one of abundant, overwhelming, overflowing generosity. Generosity that is not just found in our money, though this is a key place where it shows up, but generosity in our every day life. Generosity shows up in how we forgive, how we love, how patient we are, how much we tip our waiter or waitress, how we treat our neighbor.

Generosity is rooting in our realization that all this world has to offer is not ours to possess; it is simply on loan from God. It is living life with an open hand to others. Money is a key area where a lack of generosity rears its head, but for the church, we must be very careful because our lack of generosity shows up most frequently in our lack of love and forgiveness to others.

We want to lead with what we believe or what the person should believe or how the person should act. The Bible does not tell us to determine whom we offer forgiveness and love to based upon our evaluation of their behavior. We are to love our neighbor as ourself.

There was an old Vietnam/military type shirt that said, "Kill 'em all, Let God sort 'em out!" I think we should change that for the church, "Love 'em all, Let God sort it out!"

May 16, 2006

All Things to All People

This post is similar the last post on Target Audience.

On the way home, I was listening to the church planter tapes, and again he made the comment about knowing your target audience and adapting your ministry style to reach that group. Then, he used the typical verse from Paul, "I have become all things to all people..."

Now, there is a tension that must be maintainted. The planter must listen to those in his church and leadership team and be aware of God's leading through them...BUT, he/she cannot lead a church or ministry that is not them. The style has to fit the planter.

We are not in the business of finding what people want and giving it to them. As Tony Campolo says we are to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." We have to take into account that the unchurch (not-yet Christians) are in our midst, but we are still the church. We are not a business.

We must hold in tension being able to speak to the current culture in language that is understandable AND being the people of God. I don't think that Paul meant he was a cultural chameleon, but that he did nothing to offend those whom he was trying to reach. When he was with the Greeks he used their culture, writers, philosophers and poets to speak to them. When he was with the Jews he was able to use Torah, customs, and their culture to speak to them. He was able to do this because he was a Jewish Pharisee who grew up as a Roman citizen. He was not putting on masks or changing his color depending on who was with him, he was able to minister because that is who God made him.

Target Audience

This morning, on my drive to work, I was listening to the audio tapes from the Church Planter's Toolkit. I have been doing this for the past week or so.

This morning the focus was on the target audience and the style of service. The speaker was talking about studying your target area, defining the group of people your church will aim at reaching, and adapting the style of ministry to that focus group.

The information was good information, but the focus, at least as far as I am concerned, is way off and VERY modern. Yes, we need to understand the culture of the people in the area where we are going. Yes, we need to have core values, vision, and style settled before we get there. But, I don't think we are to discover what the area is like and then adapt the church to fit that style. I think we are to discover who God has made us, as the church planter, to be, and then make sure WE fit that particular culture.

Each church planter has a style, a vision, ministry focus in mind before they start. Hopefully, if it is done right, this vision is from God.

I hate the idea of adapting the church to fit an area (and this may all just be symantics), but I think God teaches, transforms, and shapes a minister to be effective in an area where HE will place the church planter. He has created us as church planters and molds and shapes us so that we are able to reach a certain culture in a particular area. If we attempt to change ourselves to fit the culture, we are like ducks out of water.

We do have to make sure we are listening to those in our church and taking their opinions and views into account. But the Church is not guided by culture, opinion, or personal whim. The Church must be guided by godly leaders listening to the voice of God and following after the vision He gives.

But, the planter must be careful. The church planters views, opinions, sense of direction, and vision, must BE from God, and the planter must realize that every thought and whim they have is not necessarily the direction of God. The planter is not the only one who hears God's voice in the process of the church plant.

There is a tension between God's use of a primary leader and the balance of the leadership team in leading a church. Sometimes the key leader has to back up and be patient in the execution of the visioin God gives.

My point is that the culture, people group, and community make up are important not in determining HOW we should design the church, but in what planter should go to that community. The church planter must know WHO he/she is and what style of ministry they feel comfortable in before they go to a community (unless they have a cross-cultural missionary call). Someone once told me, "Plant the type of church that YOU would want to go to."

This is not meant to be egotistical or self-centered. It is also not meant to ignore the input of others or to have church planters focus on one "homogenous" group. It is meant to take into account the work of God in forming a minister.

May 15, 2006

Mistakes...4

In the mistakes section, I am also putting things I learned along the way that I did not know, realize, or practice from the start of the church plant.

I think it is important to have the main thrust of your church in place when you start. You will have slight course changes, but the overall thrust of your church will be set from the start.

One of the things I learned is that you are not really there to start a church, you are there to love a people. You must love the city where you are planting, the culture that dominates the area, and the people in that culture and in your church.

I think found expression for me in the question, "Would you plant in that area if you were not paid in anyway to do it?" Another way to put it is, "If you had to be bivocational the rest of your life, would you be willing to pastor a church plant in that area?"

I don't think a planter should have to remain bivocational the entire time, but this question goes back to passion for planting and committment to an area. You must be in it for the long haul. You must be willing to stick it out for a while. I stayed in the church plant in Missouri for 6 years, and it did not grow. I sensed that God was leading me elsewhere.

But the pastor at my current church was in the church plant for 6 years, and knew that it was now or never for this particular church. He stuck it out, and God blessed the church. From year 5 to year 6 they went from about 75 to over 650!

That won't happen everywhere, but the committment to stay somewhere must be present. You must love them. You must love the culture in which you are planting.

In Memory of Jaroslav Pelikan

If you don't know of Jaroslav Pelikan, you have missed one of the strongest minds in Christian history. The breadth and depth of his work is astounding.

Jaroslav Pelikan passed away of the weekend due to complications of lung cancer.

Here is a great quote from Pelikan: The Doctrine Doctor - Christianity Today Magazine: "'You have to give the church what it needs, not what it wants. And in order to do that you may have to leave its payroll. It hurts me to say this because I want to be part of a church where that doesn't have to be said. But show me one where it is not true.'"

"I Feel So Used!"

I am just wondering what Conservative Evangelicals expected? Did they really think the Republican party would respect them the day after...the election? Did they really think the Republican party wanted a long-term, monogamous relationship?

Okay, enough of that. I just can't believe that various sections of the church have become nothing more than lap dogs to the political system. Politics do not hold the hope for our future, only the Kingdom of God holds any hope for us.

Conservative Christians Criticize Republicans - New York Times: "In the last several weeks, Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential Christian conservatives, has publicly accused Republican leaders of betraying the social conservatives who helped elect them in 2004. "

I am not saying we should not be involved in politics. We are part of the American public, but "our" leaders should not go in expecting the political system to be the savior of the US. Let's be realistic if you vote for one side you are supporting certain issues, but neglecting others. And it is vice versa for supporting the other side. I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!

May 14, 2006

Special Guest

It is interesting to be part of a large, progressive church. This week we had a grammy-nominated singer call to ask if we wanted her to sing at our weekend services.

So Sarah Kelly came to sing: www.myspace.com/sarahkelly

She has a wonderful, raspy voice (unlike most Barbie sounding Christian singers). I loved it!

She said that her new album was delayed because she got an opportunity to have Slash (from Guns 'N Roses) play on her album. She said she had an opportunity to pray with him after their recording session. "They are closer to God than most of us realized," she said. "They are not much different than we are--all of us need Jesus! Besides, I don't want you coming up to me at the table back there telling me I shouldn't have Slash play on my album because I don't want to hear it!"

My thinking (and maybe this isn't exactly right) but as long as he is sober and not smoking a cigarette on stage, I would let Slash play with my worship team...Okay, maybe I would have to think about that, but it's SLASH!

Okay, enough of that.

Mistakes...3

Okay, this is not a mistake I made, but something I learned along the way planting the church

Be absolutely sure of your call.

It is a guarantee that you will face some very tough times while planting a church. These are no less tough than problems faced when pastoring an established church, but different. It is absolutely vital that you hold fast to your call to church planting, and that you know there is nothing else God would rather have you do.

While in college one of my ministry professors said, "If you can do anything at all besides pastor and have a clear conscience...do it!" I agree. There is no need to suffer the trials of planting a church unless that is God's call for you.

Some would say that the Call of God on a person's life is only a personal thing. I think that is absolutely wrong and rejects biblical teaching concerning God's use of community. Our call to ministry is both personal and corporate. God speaks to and confirms His call in my life to me through my times of prayer, preparation, gifting, and His voice. But, God also use our community to call us into ministry. It is often other people who see it most clearly in our lives. They recognize the gifting and call sometimes sooner than we do, but they also recognize the lack of call despite our earnest attempts to believe we have a personal call.

This tough for many. Because the call is most often recognized in a personal setting, we often forget about the corporate aspects. It is a combination of the personal and the corporate.

When it comes to church planting, a definite sense of call is necessary. Without a sense of call, working a 9 to 5er will seem much more appealing.

Let’s Replace High-School Valedictorians

Rabbi Marc Gellman says, Let’s Replace High-School Valedictorians

Why should high school valedictorians be replaced? Because it sets us a standard of academic excellence that overides a standard of morality. Marc Gellman calls for a "menschadictorian." The word "Mensch," though not having an exact translation, means a person who is good all the way through.

Rabbi Gellman tells the story of Jacob, and ends the story like this, "In Jacob’s class there were several kids who never got a B but not a single kid who ever bought a whole pie for a homeless man and ate it with him on the curb. Jacob would have been, Jacob could have been, Jacob should have been a terrific menschadictorian."

Within our churches are people who have been "saved," but there are very few people who have loved their neighbor as they love themself, there are very few people who have fed the homeless and cared for the widow and orphan, there are very few who have cared for the hurting.

A large portion of the Church has focused almost exclusively on the "spiritual" aspect of the faith, and have totally neglected the physical flesh and blood aspect of the faith. The Christian faith is a faith that gets its hands dirty among the people. It is a faith that is lived out in the real world and not in the cathedrals and the ivory towers.

Be in the world, but not of the world.

May 12, 2006

Mistakes Part 2--The Wrong People

Another grave mistake is having the wrong people.

When I first started exploring the idea of planting a church, the idea of NOT allowing anyone to come along seemed absolutely unChristian. How could a church turn anyone away?

The idea is not to turn people away, but to sell your vision and only take on leaders who assume your vision. Unfortunately, discovering whether or not they share your vision is a long process. Following my resignation from the church plant, I discovered that some had no intention of ever supporting my vision. After SIX YEARS!

Here are some ways I think you can tell if they share your vision:
1. They are already doing the things you want to do.
2. They begin to actively use your language and share the vision on their own.
3. They bring their friends.
4. They seem to be "internally" motivated in the same direction. This does not mean that they no long need your support or encouragement or reminding about the vision.
5. They are not denominational people or long-time Christians. This is not to say that people in these two catagories do not make good church plant participants. But, you should be very careful. Often denominational people want you to be like every other church in the denomination and long-time Christians don't have many unchurched friends.

Share your vision widely and often. Be sure to interview the people who join the team of core players. Choose wisely (or you too may shrivel up like that guy in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie). Choose people who understand (at least somewhat) the difference between being a church and being a church plant (hint: there is much more required of the average participant in a church plant. AND, they will not have all the ministries they want either).

Don't be afraid to Dis-Invite people to the core team. Just like God prunes us to help us grow, so leadership has to be carefully pruned.

May 11, 2006

Mistakes...I've Made A Few...

In preparation for the next church plant, I am reviewing some of the mistakes I made during my first church plant. I am not doing this in some sadistic, depressive way, but rather as a way of correcting what I will do the next time. Also, this might help someone in the process of preparing to plant again.

By no means do I think a person can plant the perfect church with no mistakes. Everyone will make mistakes, and some of those mistakes will be HUGE!

But if by some chance some common, simple-to-avoid mistakes can be avoided then they should be...well...avoided!

One of the first mistakes, and one of the most common, is holding Sunday morning services too early. This is a mistake that is not easily, if ever, repaired. But the planter, working with a good coach, must evaluate and re-evaluate the appropriate time to begin holding Sunday services.

Those in the launch team will pressure the planter to go to service. And that pressure must be resisted. Spend time praying, evaluating, and with the advice of good counsel.

Several reasons planters begin holding Sunday Services are:
1. The pressure of the launch team
2. Expectation of more involvement-the planter thinks that if he/she holds Sunday services more people will come.
3. The planter is "hungry" to worship with the people
4. The planter is impatient.
5. The planter thinks things are moving along well enough to start.

I made the mistake of holding Sunday Services too early. I thought it would be a better time for the core team to gather and join in shared vision. Instead it created several problems:
1. Expectations of a "good" Sunday Service
2. No interaction between me and the core team
3. Visitor expectation of a Church
4. Lack of involvement on the part of the core team-they weren't prepared to take on their role in the process.
5. It drained time, money, and resources away from other, more valuable areas.

Yesterday, while attending the regional Vineyard conference, one of the main mistakes being discussed...starting too soon. I know if I had heard this warning I would have done what most other people would do...Ignore it! I wanted to get started. I have discovered that patience is really a virtue.

A Great Reminder

We love to polarize things. We love to define someone so that we can classify them and then assume we know all they believe because they make a few statements that we disagree with.

The ACLU Is Not Evil - Christianity Today Magazine: "Yet I must confess that, although I am pleased to balance the record, defending the ACLU is not my primary purpose here. I am more concerned about a habit of mind that seems to be growing among my fellow Christians, both political liberals and conservatives. That is, we seem to mimic the secular world's conflation of disagreement with wickedness, as if not sharing my worldview places my critic outside the realm of rational discourse."

How can we, as Christians, come to a place where we don't allow people to have different opinions without castigating them?

For me, I think it is the difference between Creed and Dogmatic Doctrine. Doctrine defines a belief structure down to the smallest classification, and then subjects its adherents to the rigors of its belief. Creed is more like a boundary. You know, by way of the Creed, when you have stepped outside of the boundaries.

The Christian faith is one of Creed. I believe it was John Wesley who said, "If your heart is like my heart, then give me your hand." He understood that good Christians had differences of doctrine and opinion, but they could live under the same Creed.

How many times have we allowed doctrine to separate us? How many times has a Calvinist and Arminian leveled un-Christlike attitudes toward each other because of doctrinal differences? Yes, doctrine makes a difference, but we are to live by Creed.

There are boundaries that we can not cross and remain part of the Christian faith, but doctrines come and go and change and develop.

We reject the idea of tolerance because we think it compromises our faith. But tolerance simply means that we allow other ideas to exist without abusing those who hold to them. We allow them to exist just as they allow us to exist.

We cannot close the very minds God has given us. We must treat our neighbors, even those who have different opinions and beliefs, with God's love.

May 10, 2006

Monkeys and Board Members

A friend sent this to me, and, though I have seen it before, it serves as a good post.


Monkey Experiment Proves Corporate Policy Process

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result, and all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon the monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how a company policy begins.

Post-Traumatic Faith

Here is a good reminder of how our faith and lives are affected by the realities of war. This also offers insight into how to deal with returning soldiers.

Post-Traumatic Faith - Christianity Today Magazine: "As Christians greet and welcome home the men and women who have served in Iraq, we should not be naive about what they have seen and done. Many are committed Christians who will spend the remainder of their lives trying to make sense of the events they have endured. It is work they must labor on with God. Jingoistic, rehearsed responses will only put would-be comforters in the same league as Job's friends. Listen to their stories, and let your life be challenged and changed as God's way is revealed in their lives."

May 9, 2006

That Church Has the Spirit

The other day, while talking with my father-in-law, he was talking about a small church in Columbus, Ohio that, "Had the spirit!"

I have always wondered about that statement. What does it mean to say that a church "has the Spirit." I think I know what it meant for my father-in-law. It meant that the church preached the Gospel, at least as he saw it. It probably also meant that it wasn't concerned with tradition or education.

The problem I have is that often churches are described as having "the Spirit," and they never lift a finger to for the poor or care too much for people outside their own little group. And yet if a church has an educated pastor, it is big, or it does things differently than someone is used to doing them--it must be selling out.

There are many churches that have a good "spirit," but not necessarily THE Spirit. They are friendly, comfortable, Bible preaching, but they don't actually let it make a difference in their lives. I have been to too many churches that are content with "Good" people, and don't push them on to something deeper. It is not enough to be good, we must be transformed. We can't just go to church, we must BE the church. We can't just listen to Jesus, we have to follow Him and pattern our lives after Him. They are comfortable having a good spirit, but content to live without THE Spirit.

Why is it that we settle for so little?

loriawright's Xanga Site

My wife has entered the blogosphere!

loriawright's Xanga Site

May 8, 2006

A Great Big God

Sometimes I think we too often imagine a too-small God. We, in scientific modernity, like things that we can quantify and classify. Family, genus, species...

But God is bigger than anything we can possibly imagine. Is He omnipotent? Yes, and more. Is He Sovreign? Yes, and more.

But we want to make Him Calvinist or Arminian or Open or Emerging or something.

Why can't we find some place in the middle. Not a place of compromise, but a place of tension. A place where God has a desire for us to know Truth, but understands our doubt and struggle. A God who is holy and sinless, and yet understands that our best efforts still fall short.

Why is it that we think a nice, neat theological system can contain all God has to offer of himself?

God is beyond us, infinitely beyond our ability to understand Him. This does not mean we cannot make statements about how He has revealed himself. (Jesus being the perfect revelation of God.) But it does mean that as soon as we put our understanding into words, we fall short.

We need room for a great, big God.

Starbucks Style

Here is a short article I found on how Starbuck's founder Howard Schultz leads:

Brand Autopsy: Lessons Learned from Howard Schultz: "LESSON 1: Dig deep to identify what you are truly passionate about (hint: it's not always the product itself) and convey that message to employees, customers, and colleagues. When you are passionate, you come across as excited, energetic, and enthusiastic -- all of the qualities people like to see in others. And if people like you, they're more likely to do business with you or to back your vision.

LESSON 2: Inspire your colleagues, investors, or employees by painting a picture of a world made better by your service, product, company, or cause.

LESSON 3: To get the most out of people, a leader has to tap into their emotions as well as their minds. People can relate to stories. They can see themselves in other people's stories. The ability to use stories to get people to buy into one's vision with their hearts is a powerful leadership capability."

May 7, 2006

Another Good Article by Rabbi Marc Gellman

I took some flack for another article I sent to some friends about Rabbi Gellman, but I have found that I have more in common with Rabbi Gellman and his generosity than some Christians I know.

Here is another insightful article:Rabbi Gellman Tries to Understand Angry Atheists - Newsweek Society - MSNBC.com

Buzz Agents

A few months ago I wrote a post on evangelism and how much of what we have said to be evangelism is simply modern salesmanship at work. Jason Coker hits it on the head in this post.

We should be ready to give an account and to share our faith, but when we do things in order to get a person ask us the questions or to "guide" them into asking, we are simply manipulating them. Sharing the Good News becomes nothing more than a sales pitch.

What is Your Dream?

Six years ago, I moved to a growing bedroom community just outside of Pleasant Hill. I was full of post-graduation Seminarrogance. I told myself I wasn't, but I was. I also told myself that I was not interested in numbers, but in helping people find Jesus and caring for the poor. Again, I was only kidding myself.

I discover my desire for numbers the first time I had to tell my District Super the attendance of my meetings. I realized I was falling far short of the other planters on my district. So I told my church about inviting and reaching their unchurch family and friends (it sounds much more spiritual than saying, we want more people).

Eventually, I had to deal with what it meant to pastor and be a spiritual leader when a church was not growing, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. I eventually realized that I was actually beginning to lead a church that was serving hurting and poor people, and it was I who was being transformed.

Today's message struck home in one particular area. I have the habit of walking up to God with my dreams and desires, and saying, "Here they are God...You bless them and make them happen." When, in fact, I need to say, "God what are you doing in my life and ministry, and how can I be more faithful. You give me Your dream!"

Over the next few years (or however long it takes), that is my prayer, "God give me your dream."

May 5, 2006

Starting Over

Last week, my family and I relocated from Kansas City to Dayton, Ohio. But this is more than just a relocating for a new job or to be closer to family, this is a dramatic change in life direction.

6 years ago, I moved to a small, bedroom community to plant a church. I wanted the church to be different from any I had seen in my current denominations. I wanted it to be relational, contemporary, seeker-aware, and outreach oriented. I wanted to plant a church that would serve the poor and the hurting of the community, and reach the lost. It was the most difficult and life-changing experience of my life so far.

So far!

After a year or so in the church plant I became bi-vocational. I started working for our denominational publisher as an editor and writer. I loved the work I did and the people I did it with. In fact, that job made it possible for me to continue planting the church both financially and emotionally.

In the summer of last year, I began to feel that God was going to call me and my family in a different direction. Little did I know how different!

It started with an e-mail to a pastor of a large, progressive church in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I was surprised when he responded to the e-mail with his cell phone number and an invitation to spend a weekend at his house. I accepted the invitation. We began a phone conversation that ranged on different topics concerning church planting, vision, and personal stuff.

At the end of the weekend with him in October, he invited me to move back to Dayton, and intern with him in preparation for the church plant God would call me to next.

Dayton was the last place I wanted to go. Don't get me wrong, I love Ohio and Dayton (some would think this is crazy, but I love it). I just thought that being around family would drive me crazy. After praying about it, my wife and I decided to pursue to opportunity.

It felt like it took forever, but it actually only took a few months. We had to tie up a few lose ends, and finally put our house up in April. Our house sold in less than two weeks, and we were in Ohio in less than six.

I left my church, my job, my friends, and move 700+ miles to Dayton. I also left the denomination I had worked in for the last 14 years. I had to resign my ordination credentials as well.

It feels like I am starting over. In fact, I am starting over. I am at the bottom of the totem pole, and I have to earn the trust and respect of those around me all over again. I am not only starting a new job in a new city, I am starting a whole new life.

I don't know exactly what God has in store for me in the future, but I am sure He is the one who was and is leading. Only He knows what the future holds.

May 4, 2006

Heresy

This post on Jesus Creed is about heresy, but this is a good statement in the midst.

Jesus Creed: "Let me suggest that the term “heretic” is used in three ways, only one of which (I believe) is justifiable — though I have little hope that the mudslingers will learn to use terms as they are supposed to be used.

Before I get there, though, let me add an emerging point: it is too bad we don’t have such an evocative term for praxis. Jesus’ focus was on “hypocrisy” more than “heresy,” and it might just be an indication of how far we’ve strayed for us to give so much attention to “heresy” and not enough to failure in praxis. As far as we can see, failure in practice is just as bad as failure in theology."

I agree. We focus on failures in "right" thinking, but we do not say much about "right" praxis. Churches are off the hook, responsibility-wise, as long as they have right theology. A church can have right theology and never once lift their finger to help the poor.

I don't believe a theology is "right" if it does not lead to right praxis.

Please Pray for My Friends

Please pray for these friends of mine. This is their 4-year-old son.

Las Cruces Sun-News - Local News

Dissapointed!

This trailer-park dwelling truck driver was most dissapointed that there were no paintings of dogs playing poker in the truck! How can you call it a valuable collection of art if there are no dog-poker pictures?

Truckload of Missing Art Recovered in Florida Trailer Park - New York Times: "A multimillion-dollar art heist that began two weeks ago when a truckload of paintings, sculpture and antique furniture vanished on the road from southern Florida to New York ended on Wednesday night in a most unlikely place: a 30-year-old trailer park in Gainesville."

Bottoms Up...On Second Thought

Do you know where your communion rum has been?

Oddly Enough News Article | Reuters.com

For Migrants and the Poor, Tents Must Count as Homes - New York Times

Here is an interesting article from the NYT: For Migrants and the Poor, Tents Must Count as Homes

This is happening in France, but I wonder how long until it happens in the United States. We have the poor and homeless, but a rising epidemic is taking place known as the "working poor." These are the people who have jobs, want employment, but can't seem to makes ends meet each month. Becuase they can't make ends meet, they do without in some pretty vital areas; particularly health care and dental.

I see this as part of the church's call to minister to the poor, the widow, and the orphan.

May 3, 2006

A Thought on Philemon

Today during staff meeting at the church, one of the pastors read this passage from Philemon 4-7, "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints." NIV

The bolded part really stood out to me as I listened to him read. In sharing my faith, I am the one who comes to a full understanding of everything I have in Christ. In sharing with others, I am constantly reminded, I constantly re-hear the story, and I constantly re-learn all that God in Christ has done for me.

Evangelism is as much about God reaching other people through me as it is about God reminding me of all He has done for me.

I don't think the NLT interprets the last part correctly, but it does interpret the sharing of the faith as a sharing of generosity. When I share my faith, I remember.

Okay...maybe this time I am back

Today they hooked up my internet at the house and I finally got the wireless figured out. I set the encryption so that people (like me) could not crib it. I have not been able to post very much because no one has been generous with their wifi--they all have encryption.

Christianity's Cultural Contributions - Christianity Today Magazine

Here is an interesting article: Christianity's Cultural Contributions - Christianity Today Magazine

It is funny how modern perceptions can color how we view history.

May 1, 2006

I'm Back...Kindof

I have a few moments to blog. This is the first time in almost a week. We will be getting internet at our apartment in a few days, but I am using the work computer for now.

We are here, very tired, and still trying to find ourselves. Our apartment is filled with boxes, though it is finally beginning to look more like a place where someone lives.

This is like starting life all over again. I am starting from the ground-level employment-wise and I am again trying to make a name for myself. Hopefully things begin to pull together over the next few weeks. The excitement has worn off, and the reality is beginning to set in...like where is the money coming from to pay our bills since I am making a lot less and my wife doesn't have a job yet.

This is where trusting God and not worrying is going to be the lesson of the week...year...