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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Do I Smell To Others?

I happened upon a new reality TV show the other night while channel surfing. I admit I gravitate to the competition reality shows the most and this was a competition to see who would be the next weather personality. Don't laugh, this one episode actually was pretty entertaining for me because one of the contestants was a young pastor.  I was curious to see how he performed and how others perceived him. 
It turned out that the young pastor was the central figure of the show as his over-the-top personality irritated all of the other contestants. The contestants were divided into two teams for a competition and this young pastor just took over the team acting as self appointed leader. It was as if he had taken an intense course in leadership the day before and he was going to use every leadership quote, inspirational charge and team building concept he learned all in one setting. But his manner was way too contrived and he ended up looking like some sort of a cartoon character.

I could understand his motive but the way he went about it was akin to what the apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13:1if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  This is a great description of how the pastor sounded to his team members and sure enough when they lost the team competition, the pastor was chosen as one of two competing to see who was going to be sent home.

In an interesting twist, the pastor chose not to compete, actually volunteering to go home and sacrificing his opportunity so that the person he was competing against could keep his dream of becoming a weather personality alive. It was an admirable decision but left everyone scratching their heads. Because the pastor seemed to try so hard, it came across as contrived and insincere and he lost whatever he was trying to accomplish.

The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:15 that we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  Verse 17 says, Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.  

I've always thought that the most important self check is to take a sniff of our own aroma from time to time. Unfortunately, too often Christians' odor is more of a stench than the fragrance of Christ. How do you smell to other non-believers? Am I giving off a sweet aroma of sincerity and love or do I come across as a self-serving jerk, sounding like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal to others?  It's hard to know unless you ask your friends or fellow believers to give you a true assessment. You probably will never get a chance to see yourself on television and make that assessment yourself like this pastor.  
We may all be taken more seriously if we lived our lives with sincerity and love. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Big Kingdom vs little kingdom vision

Joe is a young adult pastor of a large church overseeing small groups and discipleship of adults. He has been on staff for five years and seen steady growth in his ministry in numbers of new members and numbers of small groups. He has felt God's calling to pastor a church since he gave his life to Christ and the desire to plant has been percolating for a couple of years. 
He decides he needs to share his feelings about planting with his senior pastor. Joe is exited and nervous about the meeting. He believes the pastor will be glad to hear that he will be starting a new congregation and believes the pastor will support his decision because he has often preached on the great commission.
However, when told, the pastor is very disappointed that Joe is considering leaving the church to plant another church. The pastor begins to distance himself from Joe and then tells Joe he must be gone by the end of the week saying the elders had come to this decision. He gives Joe no support to start another church, either money or emotional.  Joe now is heartbroken, angry and feels guilty about leaving and taking any close ministry friends with him.  So he starts one of the most difficult tasks there is, planting a church, somewhat disillusioned with the church and having little to no support.  

As a coach for church planters I have had numerous pastors share experiences much like this.  What is behind this attitude of pastors?  Why would a pastor or elder board not support someone on their staff that feels God calling them to grow the kingdom outside their own church?  It boils down to a little kingdom vision instead of having a vision to grow God's Kingdom.  When a pastor has a limited vision it leads to several negative traits.
  • Possessiveness  (My church is all that matters, so we must not let anything distract us from growing our church)
  • Control (We don't want our members going outside of our church for information or inspiration because we have all the answers)
  • Limits spiritual growth of the pastor, staff, leadership and members of the church.  
  • Limits numeric growth of the church (It's God's economy, the more you give the greater you will grow)
  • Limits mission involvement outside of the mother church (The cost is too great to send people and do missions overseas)
  • Limits opportunity to multiply 
When everything in your world is only about your church, losing a staff member hurts, especially one that is popular and does a good job. It is natural to want to keep good talent, just like any business would hate to lose a good employee. But if we have an interest in the individual and a big kingdom mindset, we will encourage our staff to grow and expand wherever they feel God calling them to serve.  

Even some businesses have a less possessive attitude about their employees than many churches. The San Antonio Spurs are a great example of an organization that is not possessive and only concerned about their team. They consistently encourage their best and most talented coaches to step up to better coaching positions on other teams. I blogged about the Spurs management style here. It should not be all about my church. It's about God's Kingdom and helping people become all they can be in Christ. If that means you have to search for a new staff member, so be it. Our purpose is to grow people and thus grow God's Kingdom to glorify Him.  

All it takes is a change in one's perspective from small kingdom to large Kingdom. When your purpose is enlarged, you can start to intentionally train church planters and start churches. You can train missionaries and celebrate when church members move away to serve on the mission field, start a new church or serve another church.  You'll be able to unburden yourself with "closing the back door", and not be so disappointed and hurt over families that leave your church.  Yes, when you start giving your members away instead of controlling and holding on to them, you will be surprised at how your church will grow people, your church and the Kingdom of God.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The life cycle of a church: Is your church a movement, monument, museum, or morgue?

James Shupp has recently published an interesting and informative novel, Who Killed My Church, about a dying church and its pastor's last efforts to turn it around. This is a fictional story yet you'll recognize the problems as the plight of hundreds of churches across the country.  And Shupp writes from his own experience as a pastor of a once mega church trying to reclaim its glory and significance in the community. 

With humor and great storytelling, Shupp takes the reader through the fictional Green Street Baptist's struggle to reclaim its purpose and mission.  If you have been involved in a church for any time at all, you'll probably swear Shupp used members of your church as his characters and just changed their names. 

In the story, the church hires a consultant to help the leadership come up with a plan to revive their church.  Shupp lays out the seasons of a church, starting as a movement, slipping into a monument, then becoming a museum and finally dying at the morgue stage. As the consultant cleverly explains this to the leadership of Green Street Baptist,
"All churches that began as a movement have a way of getting stuck in a moment.  When this occurs, they transform into monuments that do little more than honor the past.  Nostalgia can roll through a house of worship like a heat wave on a summer day.  A church that collects too many of these monuments ultimately becomes a museum.  There are pastors and staff all across America who feel more like curators of a museum than men and women of God with a fire in their bones.  If this trend isn’t reversed, these churches will ultimately become morgues.  The frozen chosen are always the last ones to turn out the lights.  Don’t let this happen to you.”

I've experienced the slow transition from movement to monument while on staff of churches and have coached churches that were in the museum stage. So I can attest that although the book is fictional, the the story is relevant, compelling and inspirational.

Check out the chart from the book, Who Killed My Church? See if you can identify which season your church is in.  If your church is a monument or museum can you return to being a movement?  If so, how?  See how it's done in this wonderful book, Who Killed My Church?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The "Out Of This World" Spurs Way

There is a lot of buzz about how the San Antonio Spurs can get their players to sign contracts that are well below market value.  Danny Green, the Spurs sharp shooting 3 point and defensive specialist, was asked why he made the decision to sign such a reduced contract with the Spurs. He replied calmly that he didn't think he took less, that he believed he signed for what he was worth. One analyst commented that he thought the Spurs brainwashed their players. 
Although he said it tongue in cheek, the commentator is right that the Spurs' way is totally contrary to most NBA teams. Obviously the Spurs are a first class organization and many players relish the opportunity to play for coach Pop. And having the opportunity to get a championship ring is also a real sugar stick. But I think the Spurs culture is the real driving force for those who have chosen to play for the Spurs at a reduced salary. It takes an athlete with certain principles and values to sacrifice millions of dollars. And the Spurs don't have to brainwash players because they find players who have the character and values that are compatible with the Spurs ways. So you won't find prima donnas and chest-thumping, trash-talking Spurs. And yet maybe the best test of whether a player would fit the Spurs is if they are willing to sacrifice millions to play for them.  

Walking away from millions of dollars like Tim Duncan, Danny Green and David West is almost unheard of in most any profession today. Granted, these guys have still made their millions but it takes a very special person to basically say that making millions more is not the driving force in their lives, that there is something greater and more valuable than money.  That's difficult for most athletes because the media, fans and peers measure them by the amount of money they make. Most get their significance by comparing their salaries with other players, and demanding compensatory salary. 

I'm reminded of someone in the Bible who sacrificed untold riches also.  Hebrews 11:24-26 describes how Moses refused the world's riches and chose to be a Jewish slave instead of Egyptian royalty. Moses refused the world's value system, the same value system that we now have.
1.Power and prestige
Instead of all of these, Moses chose his Hebrew heritage and slavery.

Now I'm not comparing any of the Spurs players to Moses. But it is refreshing to hear anyone putting the team, others, or family ahead of the almighty dollar. It seldom happens but when it does, you know that the player has a very different set of values. Moses was able to say no to royalty because as verse 26 says, he was looking ahead to his reward. Moses' goal, purpose, and vision were "counter to this world". David Robinson and Avery Johnson set the "out of this world" Spurs culture.  Then Duncan and Popovich cultivated and refined that culture to what now is the Spurs way.  It is different and so refreshing. I'm proud to be a Spurs fan!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Doing it Jesus' way the counterculture path

I always find it interesting to hear celebrities speak out in public about their faith in Jesus Christ. Many avoid getting too deep into their lifestyle. Russell Wilson is one athlete who does not shy away from his personal life and how he puts his faith into practice. The Seattle Seahawks quarterback shares a lot about his faith in this interview at a church in San Diego and how he lives it out, including his his relationship with his girlfriend.  
Wilson declares that he is taking the lead in their relationship and doing it "Jesus' way." I find it ironic how counterculture his stand is today when just a few years ago we were promoting the "just say no" campaign.  Go here to watch the whole interview. His discussion about his relationship with his girlfriend is about the 25 minute mark in the interview. 

Christians need to get used to the idea that our lifestyle as followers of Christ will not be the popular way.  We will have many decisions to make along the way, choosing between the righteous way or the popular choice. When we make the choice to live the "Jesus way", the Bible says we are living by faith, exercising our faith and trust in that way.  Hebrews gives us the examples of those who lived by faith, making the decisions to follow God and not the world.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reaching The Millennial And Why This Millennial Stayed In The Church

Millenials gather for a game at Topgolf 

I had a great conversation recently with several young pastors who have started churches that are reaching Millenials. These church planters were either of the Millenial generation or just a bit older. I wanted to hear how they were reaching the Millenials today and what it is that motivates the Millennial to seek after God.

The pastors all agreed that the Millennial craves community. A large portion of twenty-something adults have not had great, authentic family experiences so they want to experience family and community. These pastors agreed that for the church to reach Millennials, it must provide community for them or they will not stick. The problem voiced by one pastor is that often when the church tries to create community it comes across as fake or inauthentic. For Millenials, community happens naturally.

A good example of a business that is thriving because it is reaching Millenials is Top Golf. They have taken the traditional game of golf and put it into a structure that is more conducive to groups that create community much like bowling. Where golf has been more of an individual sport, now through Top Golf it becomes a group experience which appeals to the Millennial.

The young church planters went on to say that churches must also allow Millennials to question why we believe and why we act the way we do. Millennials need to be able to ask questions without fear or rejections. Their world view is not a biblical world view like ours. They have been taught a secular world view so we must be patient and listen to them and understand their perspective. They tend to be more liberal so if the church focuses a lot on politics and trying to persuade members to be more conservative, instead of focusing on the Gospel, the Millennials will drift away.

They can be biblically illiterate also. We can't assume they even know the basics of Christianity. One pastor commented about how he had to explain where Christmas originated to a young girl. She did not even know that it was a holiday celebrating Jesus' birth.

Millennials also want their faith to be practical and integrated into their everyday life.  That is why the Missional model appeals to them. They will accept a challenge and respond well to activism. They won't stay long at your church unless they are challenged to put their faith into action. Coming to worship to be entertained will not sustain them. 

This is a quote from an excellent blog post by Ryan Cole on why he stayed in the church,  Statistics show that Millennials are are not interested in work and life balance; they are interested in work and life INTEGRATION. The same is true about their faith. They don’t just wanna show up on Sunday if they have not integrated their LIFE >> WORK >> and FAITH together as one!
So a church must do these three things to reach the Millennial, 
  • Provide authentic community
  • Give a solid explanation of the Good News and how and why it changes the way we live our lives 
  • Focus on and involve them in the mission of God
I suggest this should be the goal for every person attending your church, not just Millenials. But it is especially essential to reach the twenty-something's. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Are the church wars coming to an end?

In the four decades after WW2, religion in America resembled more of a horse race than a dynamic disciple making force. At its peak in the 70's and 80's, churches competed and battled each other to see who could be the biggest and most influential church in the city.  Blame it on the good old American competitive spirit, but today many Christians would look at this competitive motivation as sinful, selfish and off base. It's interesting to look back and see what brought on all this competition between churches.

After WW2, soaring birth rates, economic good times and a focus on normalcy and family converged to create a religious culture in America. Most Americans identified as Christians and so as new neighborhoods sprang up in suburbs all over America, new churches were in high demand. Denominations began building churches and adding the believers to their roles particularly in these suburbs. The process was simple, sort of the "you build it and they will come" method. You found land in a new area of growth, built a building, put a pastor in place, promoted your church brand, opened your doors and waited for the folks to come. The idea was that the better you advertised and better you did church, the larger your church would be.

Churches were in essence, a business and we were in the business of getting people in our church and money to meet our budgets. We operated like businesses and other churches were our competition. Ironically, churches within our own denomination were our biggest competition. I was on staff of one of the largest churches in the city during the 80's when we heard that a pastor of another church in our city had proclaimed that his goal was to bury us! His motivation for ministry was to have bragging rights as the biggest church in town. There was even a constant bantering by the pastors who openly criticized other churches and pastors from the pulpit.  And these were pastors from the same denomination!  Church wars were in full force.  

Evangelism was our cry but what really drove us was our desire to win the church wars and rise above all other churches. Some strategies were less subtle than others. My church had a high attendance day three times a year. Something just didn't set with me that we would be motivated to bring our friends to church to set a record!  Yet it seemed to work because we always had a big attendance on those days. 

This competition between churches seems to be coming to an end but as recent as three years ago I still noticed an almost paranoia about churches taking members away. I coached a pastor who had a great church facility in a prime location in a fast growing bedroom community of a major city. He had a declining attendance for three consecutive years and pointed the blame on the other churches in town. He bemoaned that it was difficult to grow because there was a new church plant in almost every public space in town. I asked him if he did a house to house survey of the neighborhood, how many of those families would be going to church on a regular basis. He admitted that probably one in four or five at best would be church goers. So I asked him, "What if you focused on those who weren't going to church, wouldn't there be plenty in that pond and more than enough to go around?"  I had to convince him that the other churches were not the enemy.  

As our religious culture has changed resulting in fewer Americans going to church, churches are focusing more on reaching the "nones" rather than competing with other churches over Christians. Part of the reason new churches are planting as non-denominational or without the denomination in their church name is to reach those who have been alienated from church.  Our enemy is not other churches who steal our members but the evil one who is drawing people away from God and the church!

So now as pastors have set their sights on the real enemy, instead of looking at the churches in their city as competitors, pastors are beginning to see other churches as partners in the real battle to restore faith to the next generations.  Sure there are still a lot of Christians who church hop and churches are still concerned about "closing the back door", but there seems to be an authentic spirit of cooperation now much more than competition.  

One great example is the Christ Together movement, networking with other churches of all denominations in their city to reach their city for Christ. In Christ Together Austin there are over 300 participating churches of all denominations working together ao that every man, woman and child multiple opportunities to see, hear and respond to the Gospel.  i wrote about it and some other examples of churches working together in my post about the new church culture.  Maybe churches are taking Jesus' pray for unity in John 17:20-23 to heart.

Go here to read about the Christ Together Austin movement of God to unite the church for a Kingdom purpose.