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

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. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Coach Pop's Legacy And How It Relates To The Church Today

Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
There has been a lot of fanfare around Greg Popovich's 1,000 wins as coach of the San Antonio Spurs, as there should be. Certainly this has been an incredible achievement.  Only a handful of coaches have accomplished this and only one other, Jerry Sloan, has won over 1,000 games with just one team.  
But Pop's legacy will go beyond his number of wins or the number of NBA championships as a coach and won't be finished when he decides to retire. His most significant achievement will be his impact on the league and that will be felt for many years to come because of the incredible amount of his disciples that will carry on his legacy for years to come. Pop certainly would not take credit for the abundance of former Spurs players, coaches and employees scattered around the NBA, but the number is staggering. 

In the high-profile coaching positions alone you'll find former Spurs like Alvin Gentry, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro, Jacque Vaughn, Mike Brown, P.J. Carlesimo, Monte Williams and Brett Brown.  I haven't even mentioned the coaches of the two teams with this year's best records in the NBA, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, a Spur guard on the 2003 championship team, and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer who spent 19 years in the Spurs organization.  And it doesn't end with the coaching fraternity. There are NBA general managers, Danny Ferry, Dell Demps and Sam Presti who are disciples of Pop.

What is amazing is that coach Pop seems to relish the opportunities for his disciples to move on to other teams. Losing Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer at the same time, two long-time assistants must have been incredibly difficult.  But I never heard one negative comment from Coach Pop, just proud accolades for both of them.  Pop just celebrates their new head coaching roles and reloads with a new batch of eager young coaches. 

Steve Kerr on Pop's legacy said, "His impact on coaching is dramatic. Pop has pretty much taken over the league.  All of his protégés are out there, spread all across the league, GMs and coaches. It's amazing to see guys are having a lot of success so the impact goes well beyond the game itself."

I couldn't tell you whether Coach Pop has always mentored coaches with the intent to send them out or whether it is just the by-product of the Spurs program that most every team wants to replicate. But you do know that Pop is very willing to let go of his coaches and he puts the welfare of his players, coaches and employees ahead of his own interests. This is very uncommon in the competitive professional sports world.  Yet, the team still stays on or near the top every year.    

What would it be like if pastors across the nation had the same attitude about their members and staff as Coach Pop?  Imagine, the impact around the world, if instead of being afraid of losing staff, volunteers, or members, pastors intentionally trained and discipled young men and women and actually encouraged them to leave their congregation and spread the Gospel, as missionaries or plant churches.  What if the goal was to send instead of trying to hold on to everyone?  

I spent 20 years on staff at a large church in Austin, many of those years ministering to several hundred single adults.  Now returning to Austin, I've had the privilege of reconnecting with some of those who still live in Austin.  Very few are attending my old church anymore. I've gotten invitations to attend churches all over Austin where they are now attending. This is not a slam against my old church.  It is just the way it is in most all churches.  

Few people stay for a lifetime at any one church. The average American family moves every five to six years, so unless they leave earlier for some other reason, 5 years is about as long as you'll have most members! To think you will be able to hold on to your members for much longer is fooling yourself.  This is one of the top stressors for pastors (I've counseled many pastors about their pain and frustration over a family or families that has chosen to leave their church) and many spend a lot of their ministry trying to find ways to 'close the back door' and maintain as many of their members for as long as possible. Members will leave for all sorts of reasons and if you take it personally, it can suck your passion for the church right out of you and possibly kill your ministry totally.

Yet every experienced church planter I know will tell a new church planter that the initial team that helps start your church will not be with you long term. They are coached to view your initial core team as the scaffolding to help build a foundation for your church but don't expect them to be there long term. 

So instead of getting all worked up about a family that leaves your church, why not do what Greg Popovich does with the Spurs, train them and send them out.  Heck, it's actually what the Bible tells the leaders of the church to do, help every member to see their potential as a missionary and equip the Saints for ministry.  You've got most people for five years, so why not implement some sort of 5 year discipleship plan that will help grow your members into mature believers who are equipped to serve as ministers and missionaries wherever they may end up. Then celebrate those who move on to take the Gospel and your church DNA to other churches, countries or ministries. 

It may seem counter-intuitive to growing a church, but it is God's formula! Focus on His Kingdom and you'll grow people, the church and the Kingdom!  We made the switch at Grace Point when several great families left our church for various reasons during a critical season. It was painful.  Yet working through the difficult period, we realized that San Antonio, being a military city, was a temporary home for many of our families. So instead of being discouraged about families who leave, we looked forward to seeing where and how they used what they learned from their time at Grace Point.  We set a God-sized goal to help plant 100 churches in 10 years. We discipled to equip and empower our members to go. After we made the switch from holding onto to sending, we began to grow again, doubling in size over the next ten years, sending people all over the world and planting more than 100 churches.

Pastors, you can relieve a lot of your stress, disappointment and frustration by replacing your old mindset of worrying about "closing the back door" with a big Kingdom mindset of discipling and sending. After all, God is a sending God, sending his very Son to earth so that you and I could be redeemed.  So why should we think differently?

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Power Of Taking One Step Of Faith

Looking back on my ministry experiences, I've found that adventure and untold opportunities to experience God are just one step of obedience away. But often that step of faith can seem like foolishness. When faced with the choice between risking our lives and playing it safe, fear can be described as wisdom and we can miss out on experiencing God.

A great example is the story of Rob and Joany Wills, a typical hard working west Texas couple that took one small step of faith which has led to a spectacular adventure with God.  Rob, a long time high school football coach, and Joany, a high school counselor, were working and serving in their church and life group in San Antonio. But a testimony from Teresa Devlin, a missionary to Honduras suddenly changed the course of their life. God began to stir in them a desire to go with a team from their church to Honduras on a short term mission trip.  But Joany had never been out of the country and so, even though there was a desire, there was also great fear and anxiety.  She was intimidated by the smallest details, afraid to even go and get a passport.

After hearing the missionary's story and praying, Joany, despite her fears, committed to going to Honduras and set about preparing for their first trip overseas.  They were so impacted by the mission trip that they began to consider retiring and going full time on the mission field. I remember having lunch with Rob and Joany and them asking me if I thought they were crazy to consider going full time on mission. Absolutely not I said. I encouraged them to pursue the idea and see where it leads them.

After researching and learning that they could retire, and live off their retirement, they decided to go for it. They had no idea where they would go, but were convinced that God wanted them on the mission field somewhere overseas.

Fast forward a couple of years and you'll now find Rob and Joany living in Ireland serving as missionaries full time.  They had spent a half a year traveling to Central America, visiting missions amd orphanages with the expectation that this was where they would serve as missionaries.  During their travels they were persuaded to go to Waterford, Ireland and spend some time with a small evangelical church. Rob, being a west Texas high school football coach, did some research and found out that the town had an American club football team that had recently been organized. He contacted the coach and told him that he was coming to Waterford and would like to meet him.  Well you would have thought that a celebrity was coming to Waterford.  In the eyes of these amateur football players, meeting a bona fide Texas football coach was like meeting Bill Belichick in person. 

During the Wills' initial visit to Ireland, God opened several doors for ministry and with an invitation to coach the football team they chose to move to Ireland and be missionaries to an area that is very much post-Christian. Rob says that most adults in Ireland consider evangelical Christianity a cult.
Since Rob and Joany are able to live off their retirement, the money they raise goes directly to their ministry. Joany has opened up a thrift store that they named The Grace Shop. They secured a three story building downtown which had been a hostel, using the first floor to house the store. Their living quarters are on the second floor and the third floor is being used to house mission teams.  Most of the clothes they sell at the thrift shop come from donations from friends here in the U.S.  It's been a wonderful avenue for Joany to meet and develop relationships with ladies in the town.  She is holding a Bible study and using relationship evangelism to share the Gospel. Rob has been coaching and sharing God's grace to the men on the football team. He has had a profound impact in the first year he has been there and will be on Ireland's national football team's coaching staff.

If this were the extent of their impact, it would be amazing but God has a way of doing even more than we could imagine. This past fall, Rob and Joany had the opportunity to travel to India with the pastor of the church in Waterford to help train and disciple Indian pastors and potential leaders. Rob returned with an incredible experience of being able to impact men and women who are serving in areas where there had never been a church before.  He told me that it seemed beyond his imagination that God would call this old west Texas coach to Ireland to minister to men in India! Rob went on to share this wonderful story about his trip to India, how God works even in the details to meet our ministry needs. 

"Shortly before we left for India we received a sizable amount of money in our checking account. At first we thought there had been a mistake but we discovered that the donation of $2500 was from my mother.  My dad's death in April had been ruled an accident and one of his insurance policies paid off. My mom divided it up between me and my siblings and we received $2500.

At the end of our pastor's conference in India, we asked the organizing pastors if they had any urgent needs for their ministry. We wanted to give them a blessing for an immediate need. They told us how all the pastors shared one motorcycle in order to reach the remote villages.  I asked how many they needed and they said two more would help them tremendously. What is the cost for a motorcycle here?  They answered 70,000 rupees per bike about $1250.  The two motorcycles would cost exactly the same amount, $2500 that we received unexpectedly from my dad's insurance policy. God knows ahead of time our needs and He is faithful to provide. 

As I listened to Rob and Joany excitedly tell this story and the other amazing things God was doing, I thought back only a few years when Joany was too afraid to even get a passport. The transformation was incredible. But as she overcame her fears and put her trust in Jesus and obeyed His call, Joany and Rob are now experiencing Him in wonders beyond our imagination.  We receive power when we step out and trust God!  It may often seem like insanity, but often times taking one faithful step forward can catapult you into the center God's epic drama.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The One Thing Pastors Must Do From The Pulpit

Mark Miller posted a great blog on this subject:  Inspire
After reading his blog, I was inspired to repost a blog I wrote a couple of years ago on the same subject. 

A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves." - Harvey Mackay

I came across this quote the other day, which I quickly put into my most favorite quote folder.  It made me think of the former great football coach of Baylor University, Grant Teaff.  Teaff was an incredible motivator who turned that football program around in the 70’s leading them to the Southwest Conference championship with the miracle on the Brazos in 1974.  His inspiring stories and coaching moves are legendary and considered the key to his greatness as a coach.  I was fortunate to be a student athlete at Baylor when we won the conference in 74.  

One legend was how he used the illustration of eating a worm to inspire his team to victory.  Coach Teaff wanted to emphasize taking care of details so he shared the ice fisherman’s secret to catching fish.  Coach Teaff said the secret was to keep the worms warm.  He explained that the ice fisherman would keep the worms in his mouth until it was time to put them on the hook.  Warm worms attracted the fish and that small step was the difference between catching a lot of fish or coming home with an empty bucket. The coach then pulled out a big long earth worm and put it in his mouth, saying the difference between winning and losing was taking care of the small details.  The players went berserk, ran out on to the field and pulled off an incredible upset.  Coach Teaff used a great visual to get across a point but more than anything he inspired his team.

If I were to give what I thought is the most important thing for a pastor to strive for outside of being Biblically sound, it would be to inspire his flock.  When you prepare a sermon, Bible study, lecture or testimony, think about what you want to accomplish.  Shouldn’t you always have a goal to inspire others to change.  What sets the great preacher apart from the good is inspiration.

When I walk away from a great sermon, I'm motivated to change.  As I thought more about the significance of inspiration, I could see how important it is for all those who want to make a difference in the world.  Whether you are preaching, teaching, coaching or parenting, inspiration is such a critical ingredient to helping others change, and yet so many miss the opportunity.

Preaching today often is either all intellect and no inspiration or all hype and no substance. There is a trend in many churches today to emphasize teaching and imparting information in the name of discipleship. The goal is to dump a lot of information and hope some of it sticks.  The problem is that without inspiring others to own it, apply it, and share it with others, the information is just that.  Inspiration is what separates the mediocre from the superior communicator.   We can criticize the preachers who preach to thousands each week for their lack of deep content but what most every one of them has in common is that they do a great job of inspiring.

Whether you are a preacher, coach, parent, teacher or mentor, to be great, you must consistently inspire others.  Aim to inspire.