Ephesians 1:18

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... Ephesians 1:18

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Church We Have A Problem According To Pew Study

The latest Pew Research Survey on religion in America does not paint a rosy picture for the Christian church, reporting a decline of "Christians" of almost 8% from 2007.  The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. 

Mainline protestant denominations took the brunt of the decline while evangelical churches actually increased in number, as much a 5 million.  Yet the future does not look promising for either because there is a failure to reproduce generationally both in mainline and evangelical churches. The millennial generation, especially many of the young millennials, are not continuing the faith of their parents. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. 

In the evangelical church, there has always been a high value of making new disciples, to evangelize the lost, hence the term evangelical church.  In my coaching of pastors, much of our energy is spent on developing strategies to reach those who do not believe. Perhaps we should also examine how we are raising up our children to love God and pursue truth.  Somewhere along the line we are losing that battle and if those closest to us fail to carry on with our faith, then how can we expect to convince those outside our family to believe in Christ? How do we leave a legacy of faith without pushing it upon our children or turning them away from the church? How do we best disciple them? They are after all, the future of the church.

I've written about the issue in a recent blog; The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child and also the root of the problem; Survey Indicates Religious Faith Not A High Value For Many Christians.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and answers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child

I attended a dynamic worship service this past Sunday at Austin Christian Fellowship where pastor Will Davis Jr. and his wife Susie talked about raising children. They shared some powerful words of instruction and encouragement to parents about raising children in today's culture and landed on what I believe is our greatest gift to children from 3 John 1:4 where John says "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth". 

So the great question to ask yourself is what would bring me the greatest joy in my children when they become adults?  Susie makes this significant statement, "If your goal for your children is to get into a good college, marry a wonderful spouse or a live happy life, this tells a lot about you as a parent."  As followers of Christ, shouldn't our greatest joy be to see our children walking in truth, loving God and serving Him and others. If that is true, shouldn't leaving a legacy of faith be our greatest gift to our children?

Will and Susie gave some great advice on how to leave a legacy of faith in a culture that so wants to take you and your children in a totally different direction?  They explained that the the key is to impress the word of God into your child by making the word of God the backdrop for everything you do.
An important first step is to establish a mission statement for your family. Then talk about it, memorize it, post it around the house, stencil it on your wall or stick it on the fridge so that you children will see it, know it and learn to live from it. This mission statement, should be about what is most important to you and your family. It should be a summary of what would bring you the most joy in your children, your end goal as a parent. So when your child acts up or wanders off, you can remind them that their actions do not match their purpose.    

Do you have a family mission statement? If so, I'd love for you to share it.  
If not, Here is an exercise that will help your family create a mission statement.

Powerful quotes from the message:
  • Make the whole template of God's word your end goal.
  • Our long term goal for our children, the end goal of parenting is to have a faith that carries them through life, not a fear that cripples them.
  • You shouldn't be the one who pushes your children into the dark because you can't handle their darkness. 
  • Leave a legacy of belief and faith, not a legacy of fear. 
  • What leaks out to your children? When you leak, you want to leak the word of God. If it's not in you, it will not leak out. 
  • If you focus only on helping your child to be culturally relevant, to give them the best that culture has to offer, you'll grow a child to be culturally relevant but biblically irrelevant.
  • We parent from a worldly mindset. Because we pursue, worry about, and fight about worldly things. 
  • Help your children love the right things by you loving the right things.  1 John 2:15-17
  • Our children need to see us loving the things of God. When was the last time your children caught you, praying, loving God, serving others? 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Family and Faith, Slipping Away But Still Our Best Hope

From ART.Com
If you are like me, you find yourself shaking your head daily, wondering what in the world is going on in our society today. I was shocked early on, but I've almost become numb to the disturbing news and shocking events that I hear about almost every day.  Perhaps more than anything, I'm most troubled by the redefinition of morals and values in our culture today. 

We seem to have lost our heart and soul as a nation. And because of that, our people must be governed more and more from the outside in, instead of living from the inside out.

For 2,000 years, our values and standards of right and wrong have been fairly consistent.  And the primary method of instilling those values has been through the church and the family. Our Christian faith teaches that we must be transformed from within to live out these principles which our society is built upon. These values of honesty, selflessness, love, self control, and freedom have been replaced with deception and cover up, saying whatever to make you look good, selfishness, hatred, irresponsibility, and control.  

As our society moves away from the Judeo-Christian ethic and Christianity in general, those in charge of regulating behavior must manage from the outside in. Think about it.  The two ways we maintain a society of law and order is to either instill a morality from within or manage with a set of rules and regulations from the outside.  So a person will either act in a civil manner because of what they have been taught or because of the fear of punishment if they are caught violating the law.  

When we rely upon the latter exclusively, imposing our standards and values from the outside, more control becomes necessary, more laws and more policing. We see it throughout our society, evidenced by our overcrowded prisons to sports leagues having to define their own codes of conduct. The more irresponsible we are as a society, the more control is needed and the less freedom we have.

As the family disintegrates and the church becomes less of an influence, (the two main engines for the development of character and values) the government must step into the void and find alternative ways to teach their values. So not only have our values changed but so also have the means by which we instill those values.

The media and our education system now have become the training ground for the new morality replacing the church and family.  So now the values are defined by those who have the most influence either in the media or government. And those values that have been such a foundation of our society for hundreds of years can now change from year to year depending on who has the power. 

The simple answer to the the problems we now face is to return to the two pillars of our country, family and faith.  I'm not sure whether we will ever be able to restore our families to where they once were. Will the church ever have the influence it once had to cultivate biblical values in our country? These are still our best hope and for Christians will remain to be our way of spiritual growth and character development, but I fear that both of these have lost most of their influence on our society in general.  It's a sad day and yet through it all, we know and trust that God is in control. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The new church culture; Returning to its roots

The biblical picture of the church at its most basic level, is a community, not a hierarchy, business, or organization. It is structured like the human body – on the basis of life.  Wow, it is so wonderful and refreshing to see churches across this country returning to this first century church model.

Yes, there is a ground swell of believers; apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers who are not satisfied with doing church as usual, but want to be part of a revolution, a movement that helps us to return to the first century church model. These Christ followers have shifted their paradigm and have begun to think more in these directions:
  • from (my) kingdom to (God's) Kingdom
  • from doing ministry for to equipping others to do ministry
  • from closing the church's back door to opening the door and sending people out
  • from controlling and maintaining to unleashing and releasing 
  • from growing a church to starting churches that multiply churches
  • from seating capacity to sending capacity
  • from loving people like me, to loving all of our neighbors
  • from programs to organic ministry
  • from mega to many mini
  • from serving the church to impacting the world
  • from carbon copies to unique expressions
  • from competition and division to unity and collaboration.
This change has been slow to evolve because a church body that is willing to change must overcome several barriers, including tradition and culture. But throughout history, when the church has veered off course, someone has stepped up to challenge, to provide the fuel to spark a change and that is happening today.

There are plenty of examples of this movement today, including major conferences like Verge and Exponential networks and the Perspectives Bible course that are fueling this change.  Here in central Texas, individual churches have started to focus much more on missions, like Grace Point Church in San Antonio. Grace Point encourages and expects every member to go local once a year and global once every five years as a way to build a missional culture.

Austin Christian Fellowship gives 50 percent of their budget to missions!  When there is a fifth Sunday in the month, the church and all of its church plants do not meet for worship, but serve their community that weekend on Saturday and Sunday with various mission projects. 

The Park Community Church in San Antonio is cultivating and training church planters, not for the fast growing suburban areas but to send back into San Antonio inner city neighborhoods. The church planters must move into the neighborhood in which they are planting. 

Alex Fleming resisted the urge to plant in the suburbs and instead planted Life Restored Church in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of San Antonio. He is now working with other churches to develop an urban church planting movement.  

The San Antonio Baptist Association has broken away from just planting the traditional attractional church to also planting and multiplying house churches. SABA helped start 150 house churches in the past three years, which are multiplying rapidly.

Both Austin and San Antonio churches are working together in unprecedented ways to impact their cities for Christ. Over 350 Austin churches of various denominations worked in a coordinated effort to reach the lost for Christ through Explore God curriculum and all collaborated to help schools across Austin improve third grade reading levels. This year the churches are meeting once a month to pray together and to see how they can better serve the city. The Christ Together movement has spread to San Antonio where churches of all denominations are meeting there on an on going basis to determine how best they can impact the city for Christ. 

I pray that the movement grows. I hear wonderful reports from all over the United States and the world! I'd love to hear how your church is making a difference for Christ in unique ways. 

Let's Do This Together!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

There's A New Gang In The Neighborhood

New building for Life Restored Church

Pastor Alex Fleming talks with a purpose, a grand vision of hope and restoration as he shares how there is always a group of young men and women who hang out at the "picnic" around the corner from the church. He explains that these are drug dealers and prostitutes doing their deals on the west side of San Antonio, an area of high drugs, prostitution and crime. I envision a park with picnic tables and a bunch of people hanging around. He laughs and and says, "no, the Picnic is the corner grocery store where they hang". He explains that one gang will dominate until they are run away by the police and then a different gang takes their place. But now that his church has moved into the neighborhood, he says that his church members have become the the new "gang" in the neighborhood, a group of courageous believers who are handing out the hope of the Gospel instead of drugs, death and destruction.

Lots of work on the interior
Life Restored Church lives out the meaning of missional every day. But without the help of a suburban church that has chosen to be missional, they might not exist. When churches work together to impact and grow the Kingdom, it is a beautiful thing, a true definition of missional. Crossroads Baptist Church, an established, traditiounal church in a middle class neighborhood of west San Antonio recently partnered with Life Restored Church, one of our Missional Association
church plants near downtown San Antonio,
to support the church plant not only financially but also with mission teams and individual members.

This spring, Life Restored Church desperately needed to find another place for worship. Working with Crossroads and The Missional Association, pastor Alex Fleming was able to locate an affordable building for sale near Haven For Hope on the west side. It wasn't a pretty building but Alex was really excited about the possibility of worshipping there and ministering to the neighborhood.  The problem was having to quickly raise money for the down payment and also the cost of refurbishing the old building. 

Pastor Alex Fleming and new disciple
Crossroads was there to help with both. While Life Restored Church members got busy raising money through bake sales and such, a Sunday school class at Crossroads raised over $5,000 and within a month, Life Restored had raised the needed funds for the down payment and enough to start the renovation. Crossroads then provided a general contractor to donate his time to oversee the renovations. Teams have been sent to help the members of Life Restored with the construction, cleanup and remodeling. 
This is definitely an area of town that the Crossroads members would consider their "Samaria".  Pastor Alex Fleming had an
opportunity to start a church in the suburbs but chose to locate the church near where he grew up on the west side. He decided that he would not be just the pastor of a church but the pastor of the neighborhood, to work to restore a neighborhood and give its inhabitants a renewed hope. The first Sunday in the building saw a packed crowd and 9 people who made decisions to follow Christ. They also hit the ground running with a program for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. A small house on the property is being used to house some of those going through rehab. It's only the beginning step to reclaiming an entire area of the city for Christ, but Alex has a vision and a plan to continue to restore lives, give hope and 

Being missional for Crossroads was not difficult. It just took a pastor, Doug Diehl and church leaders with a passion for going and giving outside of their own church, to say yes to a inner city church in need. Not many men and women have the courage or calling to live and serve in the inner city. But those who do minister in urban areas need the help and support of suburban churches. It's a great partnership that can provide a means for those in the suburbs to experience what missional means, what living out the Gospel is all about.  Wouldn't it be great if every church in the suburbs had a partner church in the inner city or started one. Perhaps we could reclaim some of the lost territory when our churches evacuated the inner city to head to the growing suburbs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Better Way To Help A Person Change

Have you ever faced the pressure of helping someone make a change in their behavior or making sure an employee improves their production at work? And you feel the panic of having little or no confidence that you can actually help. A coaching approach is the simple and effective way to help others to change.
I learned while training to be a life coach that asking questions is the key to helping the one you are coaching to solve a problem, improve performance or get from point A to point B. In a coaching session, the coach simply asks questions and is not to offer his or her advice unless the one being coached gives permission. The reason is that using questions has been found to be the best method to accomplishing change in an individual. This method of discipleship is effective in most every area of leadership, from raising children to managing a staff.  Here is a great video from the Behavioral Science Guys that explains why questions are more effective than lecturing in leading to change.

Let's say you have an employee who is under performing.  Why not use the coaching method to get change and improve his performance.
  • Ask questions to clarify the problem and assess current reality.
  • Ask questions to create a goal and plan of action.
  • Ask questions to determine the obstacles to achieving the goal.
  • Ask questions for accountability and next steps.
So instead of racking your brain to come up with a solution for them, help them come up with their own solution by asking questions. Here are some coaching questions to ask:

   * Exactly what are we trying to accomplish?
   * What can you control?
   * What is out of your control?
   * What does the data reveal?
   * What are the potential causes of this situation?
   * What have others done successfully in the past?
   * In a perfect world, what would the ideal look like?
   * In a year from now, where would you like to be?
   * If you are unsuccessful, what is the worst that could happen?
   * If you could do just one thing, what would you do?
   * How will you measure your progress?
   * If we hired outside consultants to help us, what do we think they would do for us?
   * If we were trying to accomplish the opposite, what would we do?
   * Who can help you think about this?
   * What happens if you do nothing?
   * What are all of your options?
   * What are the roadblocks to success?
   * What is the first thing you need to do?
   * When do we need to make a decision/act?
   * If failure were not an option, what would we do?
   * If money were no object, what would we do?
   * What will you have achieved by our next meeting?
   * How would I depict this situation in a picture?

Check out Mark Miller's post on My Favorite Leadership Question

Want information on becoming a certified coach?  Check out Coaching For Clergy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Believe In The God Of The Bible?

Sharing your faith in today's world can be challenging and intimidating.  As you  develop a relationship with a non-believer, one of the things I find that they want to know is, why I believe in God. Not all the theological and scientific reasons that God exists, but simply what are the benefits of my faith in God. Sure it's a bit selfish but unless I can give them motivation to believe in the God of the Bible, a non-believer may not be open to the idea of faith in God.  
The apostle Paul, all through out his letters in the New Testament, speaks of the riches of Christ Jesus as in Ephesians 3:8.  We call it the "Good News".  So how would I explain to a non-believer those riches or the practical benefits of having a faith in the God of the Bible beyond "you are going to hell if you don't believe".  
I'm not sure why, but I woke up the other morning with this urgency to put down on paper those benefits of my faith and the reasons I continue to believe in Jesus Christ even as the world, society and culture constantly challenges and tries to undermine my faith.
After putting my thoughts on paper, I realized that this was a great exercise that I had never considered doing before.  Below are the things I jotted down.  It is by no means an exhaustive list but some of the riches in Christ I have experienced that came to mind.   It may benefit you also to take a few moments to write your own list of the things you receive from having faith in God and to share that with someone who doesn't believe.  I'd also love for you to add yours to my list.  

Believing in the God of the Bible
  • Gives me the reason for my life, it answers the question, why am I here. 
  • Like a compass, belief in God establishes direction and a purpose for living beyond just living for myself.  
  • Provides me an anchor, solid footing in a world that is constantly shifting.
  • Helps me understand the existence of evil in the world and explains why I also have the propensity to do evil.
  • Provides me a way to reconcile and overcome this evil in my life, my failures, my selfishness. It helps me to understand grace and forgiveness and how to forgive others and also accept forgiveness. 
  • Provides wide but solid boundaries that protect me and give me the best opportunity to experience a life of joy, peace and fulfillment in this crazy, messed up world that seems to want to take it away from us. Within those boundaries I find great freedom and yet incredible security. 
  • Gives me an understanding of the true meaning of love and doesn't demand or suggest but compels me to love others in the same manner in which I am loved by Jesus. 
  • Jesus' life gives me a model of how to live my life, but not only instructions on how to love God and how to love and serve others but also the power to do so. 
  • More than knowledge, my faith offers me a way to communicate and actually experience the creator of the universe on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. 
  • It gives me an identity and a family of fellow believers.
  • Gives me hope for the future, assurance that there is more to life than just today and that my life will continue to exist beyond death for eternity.