Changing Church Culture

1425591_10201729695697732_1896681831_nWith my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
(Psa 119:10)

I’ve asked myself often if what we do as a church resonates with those outside the church? For those who know me, you know I question many things. It’s in my nature. Long held beliefs many times are there simply because we never questioned why. It reminds me of an old story about a family who had a tradition of baking a ham each Christmas that was passed down for three generations. Each year as the family prepped the ham for baking they end would be trimmed and tossed in the trash before it went in the oven. When the fourth generation asked why, Mom stated “Grandma always did it and that’s how we learned”. When the youngest went to her Great-Grandma to ask the secret of the trimmed end, the elderly lady replied “My baking pan was too small and it was the only way the darn thing would fit!”

The application here is obvious. Many times, we simply never ask. We assume. Church culture is very much like this. We create an environment based on what we see as the ‘necessary’ elements. These generally include worship teams, children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, young adult ministry, senior saints ministry and the list could be endless. Many church planting organizations now have assessments that their prospective ’employees’ take to see if they are truly ‘called’..as if a test can determine this. I’m certain Moses would have failed miserably at these assessments given the rousing reception he received when he first let on that God had called him to free a nation from slavery. That’s not to say that some people truly are not fit for the task but again, we have created a culture where we now have expectations of the ‘team’ sent to establish a new church or revitalize an existing one.

In my own experience, I can say this…My kids were disinterested in youth groups. All of them. I’ve been in ministry now for a long time and can tell you, I had some very bright folks leading our youth but in the end, I saw what many others did…that a generation of children schooled by this ministry left the church at alarming rates, many never had a strong faith and the reason was obvious…The faith was lacking in daily life not only in their lives but in the family as a whole. Kids tend to reach for what they see in their parents or the adults in their lives who have influence. If it’s not real to those folks when the assaults of daily life hit, it’s not going to be real for them either. In academic terms, we have a sociological issue to deal with. Something that has developed over many years…not just the past 10-20 years. The problem began not long after Jesus ascended to heaven and has only begun rapidly picking up steam in the past one hundred years or so.

This issue has led many to write articles lamenting the church. I’m now inundated with opinion pieces titles “10 things wrong with the church”, “Why your kids are leaving the faith”, “College kids are moving away from home and church” and similar titles. You get the idea. The response to much of this has been the changing culture of the 21st Century. Millennials are now beginning to enter their prime adult years and this sociological problem has grown like a cancer. Lack of biblical understanding and pandering to a populace that yearns to be entertained has grown a narcissistic view of the church that leads to new interpretations of Scripture by changing leaders like Rob Bell and others who claim that their view of Scriptural truth has matured and broadened over the years. Many young women look to writers like Rachel Held Evans who is pointing the finger at more conservative Gen Xer’s like me and telling us our views have to change in order to bring her generation back to a church building. As she does, many in today’s society join her and are beginning to adopt her views as the new norm for our culture moving forward.

Which leads me back to my original question. What are we doing as a church that resonates with those outside of it? Is it truth we seek or approval? Is it a large crowd to manage who have expectations of the church to provide entertaining Jesus activities for their children at all stages of their lives? Or are we seeking to grow as a family in God’s Word, relying on IT and not catchy sermon titles and graphics to grab our attention for 20 minutes and then go home? DISCLAIMER: I am not criticizing any church or it’s model of ministry. Many would question my own and have their critiques. What I am asking is the question “Why are we here?” The prophet Amos dealt with a similar culture in his day and was called out by religious leaders when he foretold the woes God had pronounced on a people who had gotten enamored with themselves, their titles, and their lifestyle and had forgotten Him. He was a simple man with a fiery demeanor. My favorite of the minor prophets as our bible labels them.

I’ll have more to say on this at a later time…For now…I just wanted to ask the question and if any wish to reply, feel free to leave me a comment. Constructive replies will be posted. Those trolling for a fight, will be deleted.

Be blessed.

Changing Church Culture

One Simple Choice

ID-100194903For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
(Rom 1:11-12)

How often do you meet with others for the purpose of making a positive deposit in their lives? I believe it was in an interview with Success magazine that Pastor and Author John Maxwell made the comment that he now enters every gathering he is at with the idea that his purpose is to give something of value to the other person. It could be words of encouragement. In Maxwell’s case, maybe it’s one of his books. In any case, how often do we engage in conversation with others with this as our goal?

I’m bi-vocational in my ministry and do not take a regular salary from my church. It keeps me quite busy to say the least. What tempers me is my daily interaction with God. Every time I meet with Him in prayer and reading the Bible, He makes a deposit in my life with something I’ve read or an epiphany that comes in prayer. I keep a journal handy to write these things down to remind myself that I am called to do the same with others. I meet regularly with other pastors in my area and a few have become very close friends. At times I share burdens that I’m going through but more often these days I seek wisdom and mutual empowerment. If, like the Apostle Paul writes, we can be mutually encouraged by our meeting then I feel as though my time and more importantly, the other person’s time, is of great profit. When I go to work, I have to be careful not be caught up in gossip or to create it myself. I try to speak some type of victory into each person I work with. I find something positive every day to build up and in turn, NOT tear down.

The result of this simple mindset is my relationships are better. I’m not perfect by no means but I feel strengthened by mutual building up. I feel accomplished if I’ve given someone a word to validate their efforts. I can be challenged and stretched to grow farther by another peer than I can by trying to do it alone. But it has to start with the first effort. Are you willing to invest in another’s life? Can you do it today? Then tomorrow, invest in another until it becomes a habit. This takes time but like all good things, the effort is worth it. In a few months, you’ll have the momentum you need and the blessings you give others will bless in ways you never could imagine.

Start today. You can do it. NOW…

One Simple Choice

Three Steps to Affair Proof Your Marriage

Every day I see it. Men and Women leaving one another over infidelity. Sometimes, this occurs after years of marriage. “We’ve just grown apart” I hear them saying. Really? Does time really rob us of our excitement, love, and commitment? I’m not sure that’s how God designed our lives…

My lover speaks to me, “Get up, my darling, my beautiful one. Let’s go away!
(Song of Solomon 2:10 ERV)

When we start out with our beautiful one, our words are likely more in line with this verse of scripture. We are anxious to get up, go away, and live in bliss forever. All too soon, the reality of life sets in. Bills are due, the kids (oh yeah, you had a couple right?) are screaming, the car isn’t running right and your hours have been cut back at work. These are things that happen to everyone and many allow these things to ruin their relationships. In many other cases, we get bored with our spouses or betrothed and think life’s better elsewhere. Some people just like to lie and see how many notches in a belt they can get. Others struggle getting older and wondering if they still “got it”. The excuses are many and the lives shattered are just as numerous. I once had a young woman tell me “Love doesn’t last forever..It never does.” Then she proceeded to tell me “My mom says it’s about 10 years or so and then it’s over..” I had to shake my head and wonder how a generation is being taught these things while I struggle to make sure my kids understand that they should expect better in their relationships as they grow into adults. Several years ago, I came up with an easy to execute three point formula for affair proofing my marriage. It’s worked so far and as of this writing I’m nearing the 24 year mark with my wonderful wife. Do you want to keep the fire in your marriage burning? Do you want to keep passion alive and your sex lives interesting and fulfilling as God intended? Here’s my three point plan. In fact, I’m so committed to it, I write these three things down each day and make sure I’ve done them:

  1. Find one thing about my wife I can praise her on. Each day I look for something great to tell her. Thanks for keeping up with the laundry even though you work. Thanks for a great dinner. Thanks for a wonderful date. You are the best mom, wife, servant I know. Find SOMETHING to tell her each day how special she is. PRAISE HER and don’t wait for a return comment. Do it because you love her!
  2. Find one thing about her that I love. My wife has these amazing eyes. I tell her often how pretty they are. But I also love her heart for children. She’s a great kids teacher in my church. I love her sense of adventure. The key is I find one thing each day that I love about her and I TELL HER.
  3. Find one way to serve my wife. The last thing is to find at least one thing each day (and you can do more than one if you really try!) that I can do serve my wife. Maybe the laundry needs to be folded, put on hangers, etc. Maybe her flower bed needs to be weeded and watered. Maybe she needs a back or foot rub. (Yes guys you can do this). Whatever the need or perceived need, I make it my mission to DO at least one thing for her to serve her and show her I love her.

That’s it. Three easy steps you can take each day to show your spouse how much you love them. If you do these three things each day I will guarantee this..Your spouse will never turn out to be a bore. You may get tired from time to time. The two of you might still occasionally disagree. Yes, you might even have a spat..It happens. But if you take the time each day to do these three things, those tough times are easier to navigate through when your better half knows you love them.

DO THIS STARTING TODAY!

Three Steps to Affair Proof Your Marriage

A Longing in our Hearts

Our private lives are becoming more public by our own choice. As I read my friends’ posts on various social network sites I read of their underlying concerns that their security and private images will be made public. As the recent news of indecent photos being hacked and published from the Apple iCloud shows, nobody today can assume their online activity might not be made public at some point. Many are lamenting the ‘victims’ in this story and asking how this happened in the first place?

The problem lies in our own narcissistic view of ourselves. Many do not see it as such but it’s true. Sites such as Facebook (as of this writing) make it possible for individuals to complain about their lives, post racy images, and make fools of themselves all of their own free choice. Smart phones now make it possible for us to bypass such common sense notions as holding on to our thoughts, thinking through them, and choosing to stay quiet instead of taking a picture of ourselves in a bathroom mirror and asking the world if they like us.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
(Proverbs 14:29)

Many of these folks vent their anger at their bosses, lament their jobs and coworkers, and then get upset when others punish them for their misgivings. Teenagers by the bunches (and sadly, increasingly large numbers of adults) now post their sexual prowess and/or lies about their partner’s libido and cheating hearts for all to see. Lives are destroyed in a heart beat all by choice. People now argue online and use capital letters to make sure we all know that THEY ARE YELLING.

The problem is too much noise….

There’s so much noise in the online community we have to shout to be heard. We long to be significant. We do these things so that WE matter. We want to know that we are vital. For my generation growing up in the 80’s, we had nothing like social networking to vent our frustration. A song by the rock band RUSH captured the feelings of frustrated youth:

(Subdivisions)
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
(Subdivisions)
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Nothing has changed. The youth of this song is now in their 40’s (some of us nearly 50!) and sadly I see the shouts from many in my own age group longing for the significance and happiness they feel has eluded them for far too long…Others chime in and add to the cacophony of noise by “liking” and agreeing with them. The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal tapped into this emptiness when he wrote:

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

I admit I share things on social networks just like everyone else. I share pictures, quotes, and from time to time my feelings…I’ve been wrong at times and apologized. In large part though I see social networks for what they are, a fun lighthearted place to reconnect with friends from my past and network with my colleagues. I’ve drawn great value from having accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and I’m certain future networks that have yet to be launched. The key is to see them all for what they are, simply a tool to further deeper communication in private. They are a means to an end and not the end in and of themselves. I, too, want my life to count. I want significance as do each of us. In my life, I found that with Jesus Christ and like the Apostle Paul I can say:

…All I want now is Christ. I want to belong to him. In Christ I am right with God, but my being right does not come from following the law. It comes from God through faith. God uses my faith in Christ to make me right with him.
(Philippians 3:8b-9)

And in the end, I’m still figuring things out as Paul completes his thought here:

…I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine. That’s what Christ Jesus wants me to do. It is the reason he made me his.
(Philippians 3:12)

In short, don’t put stuff out there that you don’t want the world to see. If you want to share private matters, there’s email. Better yet, CALL someone. Talk to them personally. That is what real relationships are about. My friends are not a number on some social network. They are the blessings of God in my life who are available to me at all times in real life. THAT is my ultimate social network!

Be blessed and live well

A Longing in our Hearts

I’m Leaving Facebook!

I’m leaving Facebook. Well not really, but I said it didn’t I? In the past few weeks, several of my friends have made this comment and have followed through with either deactivating or deleting their account with the popular social media site. The reasons they give have merit. They are not limited to but include:

1) Time Waster. Yes, Facebook can be a huge time waster. The internet in general can do this to you!

2) Priorities. Time on FB leaves less time for the more important things

3) Drama. This one I more than agree with. Too much drama. People putting their lives out on the ‘net for all of us to know about including alleged mistreatment and abuse, infidelity, and any number of bad choices.

4) Refocus. This one could be tied to priorities but it includes the desire to put online energy to work in things that will pay dividends to the user.

These are some of the main things I read about. All have merit but for me, NONE of them are worth deleting my account. Why? Well for one, FB is still the largest social media network on the internet. Google Plus is my personal favorite and is climbing but it’s value is more in the specialized networking it offers to its users which I love. The best features of Facebook are available on G+ but are not being utilized as yet by many, probably because of the drama issue I mentioned earlier. Many who live on drama just want exposure rather than actually using the tool for bettering their lives and the lives of those they connect with. Which is another reason I will not drop Facebook…yet. The network gives me a chance to talk with friends, share my thoughts, and if necessary, to serve others. People who I might not know are in need otherwise.

So for those of you who want to drop your account, go ahead if that’s what you really want, but here is my own advice on the issues I listed earlier. As to time, limit yourself. I’m on Facebook a lot. But it’s many times in very short bursts to see if anyone has messaged me. I receive more messages through Facebook than I do email these days. I communicate with people across the globe with the ‘Messenger’ app on my smart phone. These conversations are important to me and I can make them a valuable part of my life. I can also limit myself to just browsing to about one or two times a day. It’s self discipline. If you cannot do this with a social network like Facebook, what are you doing with all the other distractions in your life and how is dropping your account going to help those?

Drama? Easy, if you have a friend who is just constantly posting nothing but laments about their spouse, their job, their parents, their neighbors, and their life in general, BLOCK THEM. You can still connect with them but you can block their posts showing on your wall. That way, they can still see what you post (Unless of course they block you!) but you can choose what to view on your feed. Simply click on the person’s latest post in the options area and tell Facebook that you either want to limit this person’s postings on your wall or block them altogether. I’ve done this with a number of my friends who I dearly care for but whose personal lives I do not need to know about unless they private message me.

To me, Facebook’s value far outweighs the negatives. I can limit and control them just as I can limit my time spent on it. If you feel you have to let it go, fine…It’s just an online site not replacing real face to face interaction. But perhaps what you really need to do is take that refocus issue I mentioned and apply to all of your life and not just this one aspect. Then, you might yourself less tied to FB and more in touch with the world around you!.

I’m Leaving Facebook!

Rethinking Church…

Note: This post is one I had written nearly six years ago on the topic of  the endless ‘system’ books for building a church. Not much has changed since then but I wanted to share it again…slightly revised as I go through my own journey….

 

ImageI’ve been clearing out my bookshelves lately.  I’ve decided on a long range plan for paring down my library for the eventual day my wife and I will downsize our living quarters.  Gradually, I’ve sold a few sets of my older bible study materials and I’m getting more and more audio and ebooks to replace paper (and it’s related space).  I’ve really had to think hard before clearing out some of my books but among the first to go in my Christian library is the plethora of church growth books I’ve amassed over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with growth but I’ve come to appreciate that most church growth folks don’t have a clue what they are talking about.  I’m not going to single anyone out because that would be in poor taste but it seems to me that all of the “Do-It-Yourself” church growth manuals are quite repetitive in their instruction.  The great church leader Richard Baxter said this about repetition in books:

It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best. And it is not possible to read over many on the same subject without a great deal of loss of precious time.

As I was putting some books in a box to give to my pastor friends here in Denver, that thought crossed my mind as I began thumbing through the many texts on church growth I have and I began looking at the process prescribed in each.  For the most part, the process is the same:

  • Identify your Mission
  • Make a vision statement
  • Prepare core values from the above
  • Simplify
  • Outreach
  • Assimilate

I speak for many preachers I know here in Colorado.  We’ve tried all the methods prescribed.  We’ve done the mailouts, handed out enough bottled water to fill one of our state’s resevoirs, did the kindness evangelism until we didn’t feel so kindly anymore, and have seen very little results from it.  Those tricks can get people in the door but they won’t keep them.  To be fair, the ideas shared above have some merit.  Having a clear vision of what you feel God has led you to for your church is crucial.  Cutting through the red tape to simplify the process of people getting to know the Lord while not compromising on the essential doctrines of the faith is great.  But after that, I’ve found that all the “methods” outlined in the various books have one thing in common.  It worked for THAT church.  Too many men have tried to duplicate the process elsewhere and have failed miserably.  Why?  Because they didn’t give themselves to the Lord to find out his process for THEIR church.  Here’s a quick illustration to highlight this point…

I absolutely hate receiving direct mail from churches in my mailbox.  Not because I’m a church planter myself but because they all say the same thing:

  • Wear comfortable clothes
  • Contemporary music
  • Relevant teaching (what does THAT mean)
  • Wonderful kids ministry
  • Not your Mom and Dad’s church (As if THAT was so bad)

I wonder…If I am a pastor and this stuff sickens me, does it sicken those who don’t have a connection to the church?  I would be amazed if I received a piece in the mail that said something to the affect of: “We’re all on a journey trying to figure this out.  We have our handbook for living and we’ll do our best to give you principles to live by but most of all, we just care about you and your family and want you to know we’d love to have you join us.”  Please, no more statements of why your church is so great.  Believe me, someone else is doing those “things” better than you.  It may not all be at one place, but somewhere else, specific areas areas are better.  What is going to keep people?  Richard Baxter speaks again…

If they can see you love them, you can say anything to them.

So there you have it.  That’s why I no longer ask about what a person’s running anymore.  It’s important as a church planter for me to be about LIFE TRANSFORMATION.  I DO understand the reasons behind the question.  But what’s more important is “How is your church health?”  Are your people learning how to BE a church instead of just focusing on how many fannies are in your seats..

Rethinking Church…

Being Fruitful – Part Two

ImageFor this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

Today I share part two of my thoughts regarding this passage in 2 Peter and the list the apostle gives us. I want to point out that lists are great and give us a road map of some things to strive for but the lists and the practices themselves are merely a way for us to grow in our relationship with God. If we use these types of lists merely as “checkoffs” in a box that we set up, then we really aren’t allowing God to use them to strengthen our life with Him. That is the whole purpose of spiritual discipline. I pray that if this list has touched and challenged you, that you will give it the respect it deserves but do not elevate it any higher than God Himself. With all of that said, we move on to the final three traits that Peter highlights…

1. Godliness. Peter is speaking of a reverent fear of the Lord. A magnification of Him in our hearts. Adoration that’s truly heart felt. Do I have this at all times? Do I make it known to others? Remember the first four in this list have to do with preparing our hearts for the outward work we are called to do. Moral excellence, knowledge of good and evil, self-control and patience all help to guide our speech and our actions and keep a check on our emotions which can run out of control if we are not careful. Now, Peter adds a Godly fear of the Lord with adoration. This leads to the cornerstone of what we should strive for in the final two traits…

2. Love for other Christians. Peter speaks of “brotherly affection” here. He is referring to our love for those in the church. As a pastor, I know full well I am called to love the church I lead even if at times, my emotions say otherwise. What about you? Do you love the people God has called you to serve? Can you say that you love the people even if there are some you may not like at times? This type of love is necessary if we are to take it, and go out into the world which brings us to the last trait.

3. A genuine love for everyone. “Brotherly affection” brings about a genuine love for people. We are called to witness to them. Do we, as Jonah did, secretly cry for their destruction, or, like Jeremiah, do we weep over the lost and do what we can to love them? This is perhaps the hardest trait of all and I think it’s not by accident that Peter finishes up his list with this one.

To love others is what we are called to do. This is not easy and sometimes, we may feel it to be an impossibility. Peter never said it was automatic. He told us here to work on it, to be adding to it. He tells us that if we do, we will NOT be unfruitful. In fact, later in the passage, he tells us we will not fall if we do this. I believe him. I pray you do to. Take this “list” and seek to grow in these areas. See if God doesn’t bless us!

Being Fruitful – Part Two

Being Fruitful – Part One

ImageFor this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

Sometime awhile back, this passage was one I came across in my daily bible reading. A simple list of traits but in them is found fruitful living for our Lord. In my work establishing new churches, I come across so many books, kits, conferences, and DVD programs designed to give me the information I “need” to grow a church. None of these are necessarily bad but I think sometimes, we can get caught up in the authority of the author or speaker and forget about the one who inspires them. It’s refreshing when God takes a simple passage like this one and implants it in my heart. This week, I’ll divide this passage up into two parts. Today, I’ll look at the first four traits on the list and later this week, I’ll discuss the last three. Lists like these are found throughout scripture and form a good basis for spiritual disciplines and growth. So let’s look at the first four as Peter writes about how we are to supplement our faith…

1. Am I supplementing my faith with virtue? By virtue, Peter is writing about excellence. An excellence in valor. Do I make a conscious choice each day to live as a Christian man? Do I model this to my family and, man to man, to my son? It’s easy to let little things slide and get caught up in the busyness that is life but to do so robs us of a wonderful life with God. Excellence is something we should always strive for but how much more important is this when following Jesus?

2. Knowledge comes next. Knowledge of what is good and what is evil. Knowledge of God’s will for my life. This is something we must pursue daily and discernment is knowing how to filter the junk out of our lives as it arrives. If we have that kind of knowledge, our hearts will stay pure and our focus will be razor sharp. What steps will I take today to learn something that will aid me in living out God’s purpose for my life?

3. Self-Control. This one was an issue when I was a twenty-something back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember thinking back to a time when I thought others were simply not moving quick enough or that they didn’t say what needed to be said. As a young Christian, I battled self-control in my life wanting to be wise but realizing very quickly that this life with God would be one that would take years to develop. Now, as I approach age 50 , I thank God for those lessons and for my pastor who was able to channel those emotions into something productive while God prepared me for what I’m doing now. If makes sense that in pursuing virtue and knowledge that self-control would follow on Peter’s list. I think once you have some knowledge of the Lord’s work in your life and you are pursuing excellence in serving Him, learning the fine art of self-control becomes easier. Not easy, but easier.

4. Steadfastness. Patient endurance. Again, Peter puts his list together in a logical manner. The fruit of self-control, developed with the first two traits, brings about the patient endurance needed to serve God over the long haul. We live in an imperfect world and if you are a pastor, you lead imperfect people. Imperfect people potentially will do things to harm the church and your family and if you are not mature enough to practice self-control, amidst other things on this list, you will surely fail because you will react in a way that dishonors God even if you feel you were justified. James builds on this thought when he says:

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:4 ESV)

In other words, our character is strengthened and our preparation for service is improved having learned to deal with issues that test our self-control. Our human nature is to retreat when we see something that we know is going to hurt us and we’d rather just avoid it. The bible tells us to let steadfastness have “its full effect” and not seek to remove ourselves prematurely. When we do, we stunt our spiritual growth. Better to go through the trials and endure the hardship and pain, then to remove ourselves and not be hardened for the battle that we are called to be in. So I ask myself, am I avoiding anything? If so, what should I do to face any crisis head on? Am I practicing solid morals and self-control to aid in my patience? How will this help me to grow in the future?

Later this week, I’ll flesh out the final three traits as outlined by the apostle Peter. My challenge to myself is to look for ways to strengthen them all in my day to day life so that I can be a fruitful servant of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Until next time, be blessed!

Being Fruitful – Part One

Establishing a New Church: The Finale, Life Transformation is THE Goal.

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New Life Taking Root!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent time on this blog outlining what I feel are the main ideas that should fuel the establishment of a new church. There’s so much more that could be written, perhaps I will undertake a future blog series on specific points in the church itself. What I’ve tried to present here is the takeaways from my own experience and a review of my journals from this time. The seven points featured in this blog series are for me what stood out, what made me rethink the way so many look at ‘church planting’ and the sorry business it has become in many circles.

Some pastors will not agree with me on several of the points. Many will argue that I’m making a case for doing away with the position. I am not. Some have questioned if I’m advocating for doing away with the institutional church. Again, I’ve made no such statement. What I have said in the former instance is that being a pastor is a call and not a profession. A pastor is a professional in the sense of how the world sees him but it is NOT a secular profession as it shouldn’t be seen as a ‘career’. A calling is far higher than a profession and I will state that I fear many entering pastoral ministry today see it as a profession and base their ministry service on the paycheck and not being totally submitted to God. On the latter point, that of the institutional church, I have questioned much of how we as a society operate within that model. There is nothing wrong with buildings and a simple structure of leadership but it’s just as valid to have church without the buildings, paid staff, and all the baubles a big production entails. What has happened in many instances is that a bureaucracy has developed that stifles the work of Jesus in the name of keeping order in the congregation. Order is a good thing but what really happens in most cases is self-preservation which is a sin. Many simply want to protect their power in the organization so they stir up congregants against each other or the leadership and the body gets sick.

It’s about Life Transformation

Everything I’ve written to this point ends with this one goal. Are lives being transformed? I’m not asking if lives are being changed. Change happens regularly. So often now that if we aren’t flexible enough we will be left behind by the pace of change. Many people come to a church to feel good about themselves, their families, and life in general. It’s a noble quest. One that SHOULD be welcomed but it’s only the beginning on what should happen on the way to the cross of Christ. Transformation is a completely new creation that affects how we interact with others, react to the struggles of life, our submission to Jesus, and a hunger for His Word. Transformation is much rarer than emotional decision.

Many churches today claim hundreds, even thousands of decisions. I will not question their claims but what I do ask is how many are transformed? How many are completely sold out to Jesus, serving others, praying fervently, and searching the scriptures. For many, this is the ‘role’ of the pastor but it’s not. It is to be the life of EVERY believer. Sadly though, few people in churches today read more than 5-7 chapters of scripture a week, some in a month. That is unacceptable. 30-50 chapters a week should our minimum expectation of the Christian. how are we to be transformed if we are not interacting with the Word of God? It is not the goal of preaching to deliver this amount of information in a 20-40 minute message. Preaching has many other factors that should drive it but transformation in the Christian life is not its main purpose. You read that right, Preaching is NOT about life transformation. It may point to that. It may drive it. It may lead to conviction that moves a person forward in faith to pursue transformation but if preachers and their sermons are the basis of life transformation in the life of new converts then our churches will be woefully anemic, whither, and die.

Transformation comes from the committed lives of all. THAT is where body life begins. Sermons can challenge, inform, and instruct us but our ACTIONS are what drive transformation. Investing time in the Word of God will drive us to prayer which in turn will drive us to serve which goes back to my “Love, Serve, Disciple” model I shared earlier in this series. Beware though. If you pursue transformation as your primary goal, many will leave for an easier church that doesn’t expect so rigorous a plan. Such is the warning of the Apostle Paul when he told us…

“The time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching. But people will find more and more teachers who please them. They will find teachers who say what they want to hear. People will stop listening to the truth. They will begin to follow the teaching in false stories. ” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Even Jesus, in his parable of the soils, tells us that perhaps only 1 in 4 people who listen to us will truly take to heart what is spoken and act on it in true faith. However, the harvest from these few will be bountiful if we only stop to sow the seed. The problem is we worry too much about finances, buildings, systems, and their maintenance to see the large untapped field of grain in our midst. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Are you willing to work to support the vision God has given you? Will you be unique? Will you go where many won’t because it’s not lucrative enough? Will you follow God to the desert road where few travel? If so, you might be used a catalyst for life transformation that could bring about revival in our lifetime.

Or….

We can continue doing what we’re doing and die quietly in the next generation or two and let Satan have his kingdom without a fight…. The choice is ours.

Establishing a New Church: The Finale, Life Transformation is THE Goal.

Establishing A New Church Part Six: Attendance Is Overrated!

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I know of a former church in my area of service that started with a big BANG. They saturated the market with tons of flyers, they moved a three person ministry core (along with their spouses) to Denver from another region of the U.S. All of these men were gifted in various areas. One for leadership, another for community building, yet another for music and they were charismatic to say the least. Then another group stepped up and put up money for them to rent a BIG worship space, a nice place…They had state of the art sound equipment, talented people by the droves who came to help them, they grew to two services within a few months and were near 200 people before the six month mark. I do not have official attendance numbers but I know their growth continued and they were featured in a well known book that was published at the time promoting a specific church growth method.

Then, IT happened…

I’m not sure when IT happened but the church had a decline in giving. They shifted worship spaces due to cost and attendance began to dwindle. Apparently the church body wasn’t interested in body life as much as they were comfort and when they had to relocate, some moved to new churches in the area. Giving declined further. Soon, the church was down to one service and IT continued. A few of the leaders resigned to work elsewhere. Apparently, the ‘call’ to this area was contingent on their salaries. One moved back to the area they came from. Later, another moved to another super-large church in the area. Finally, the lead Pastor resigned and turned the ministry over to another man who eventually closed the church. It died. And with it, scores of people left for large churches. The body life they craved was not contingent on their ministries but rather, by sheer numbers.

Attendance is overrated.

I feel well qualified to make this statement so anyone that wishes to criticize me can freely do so. This scenario indeed happened. What’s sad is I saw it happen two more times with other new works that cropped up around my church. Three times in less than ten years and I have seen identical events in other works that happened similar to this that killed what on the outside appeared to be healthy churches. They weren’t. If they were, they would have multiplied and not died when the leadership failed them and the enemy attacked. We place far too much emphasis on one man in many of these types of churches and only God knows the financial waste that accompanied these failures. Money that could have been spent helping other people rather than fueling the culture’s desire for comfort, space, and more of everything that we THINK is related to ‘church’.

We’re doomed at the outset if attendance is the starting point. In today’s current ‘church planting’ environment, we now have books outlining systems of growth that force us to focus first on numbers and then, on everything else. Vast money is spent finding a place, advertising the kick-off service, and then, spending on trivial things for this service designed to make it look first rate. We may even bus people in from other areas to boost early numbers. If all has been done well, the ‘machine’ will produce a crowd of hundreds maybe. Then, we can call it ‘success’.  But it’s not. The reality is half the people will likely not return. Even if 2/3 do the statistics point out that several will leave in the first year if the church doesn’t maintain the atmosphere it created for the opening service. Well known church growth ‘experts’ have statistics that point to those staying as having a shelf life of two years, maybe three, before they decide to pursue something else. This appears to be the case in each of the three incidents I reference here. At about the 24-36 month mark, all three of these works started declining. Some hit bottom quicker but all started a decline. The only common denominator I can see in each case was the fact that the initial excitement died and reality set in. The money required to maintain a ‘machine’ like the one that they kicked off with is substantial. Many did not wish to contribute a ‘tithe’ but rather, wanted to put their $5 in each week and call it good. Before long, services were cut and when the bells and whistles weren’t there anymore, people left and predictably many went to another work that offered the bells and whistles. I know this because I followed up with many of them in my own research. Most wanted the ‘atmosphere’ and ‘event’ excitement. Few pointed to spiritual growth as their reason for going. This is not being critical of any church but it is being critical of our expectations. When a plan is hatched that says we have to start with a bang, we had better realize what we are using to draw people in and it’s NOT Jesus or the Gospel. It’s the ‘event’ and once that atmosphere dies, the people die with it. There is truth in the statement that what you draw them with is what will keep them coming. That doesn’t mean we have to be boring but the reality is there’s a big business in church ‘planting’ with large groups these days. They can sink a lot of money into a plant and create quite the event. When what you offer is a simple, discipleship focused, structure, some will find that not as exciting. You quite possibly will stay small but that is okay. If that is what God wants, so be it. If he wants you to grow larger, that’s fine too but remember, what you draw them with is what you will keep them with. Can your finances support a large enterprise? Can they support it long term and not just for two to three years? Experience has shown me that if the answer is no, you will be no different than the churches mentioned above. All are real, all of the pastors lost their ‘jobs’ and the works closed. Although some just followed their ‘call’ to another city to try again, some left for other opportunities. Their churches were all better funded than most churches I know. The people were there but I’m not certain they were ‘invested’.

And that…my friends…is the final installment in this series coming later this week.

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