Thursday, March 31, 2016

It's dangerous business going out your front door nowadays: Kingdom living in today's crazy world!

I love the scene in the Fellowship of The Ring when Sam hesitates to go with Frodo saying "if I take one more step, it will be the farthest I've even been from home."  Frodo encourages Sam to go saying, "remember what Bilbo always said, 'it's dangerous business going out your front door. You step onto the road and if you don't take your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to'."

Christians can be much like Sam when trying to make a decision whether to go on a mission trip, move overseas to serve God in a foreign land, or starting a ministry in a new place. And in today's world where we hear about almost every tragic event, the fear of travel can be a huge barrier to following God's calling. We in America have an aversion to taking risks. It hasn't always been that way. Our founding fathers risked much to make America the country it is. But just mention to someone you are going to Africa or to Europe to serve on mission and see the bewildering looks on their faces. "Are you serious? Why would you take a risk like that?"

I recently had a conversation with a friend who shared that she had been struggling with a decision that she believes is a calling from God to serve him in a specific way. Her idea for ministry would provide hospice patients a unique peaceful and spiritual rest during their last days on earth. The problem she explained was that her dream would require her to quit her well-paying job and take a big risk by starting a non-profit ministry. Many of her friends and family thought she was being foolish to do so.  Her dream required her to risk, sacrifice material things and security. She asked herself, am I being foolish or am I being faithful to God's call? 

Sometimes when I try to determine God's direction for me, taking a risk to serve others can often seem as being irrational, unsafe or imprudent. So many Christians pass up opportunities because they fear losing material things, security and often friends. Yet, when we look at just about any faithful person in the Bible, we see how they risked much and gave up much to follow God's calling. Think about what Abraham, Noah, and Moses were asked to do. From the outside what God was calling them to do seemed like folly. For them and the disciples in the New Testament, Kingdom living meant leaving the security of the present and stepping in with both feet not sure of where they would be swept off to, but knowing that God was with them.  

Our consumer culture demands the opposite of Kingdom living. It drives us to mostly play it safe, and when we are encouraged to risk, it is usually for the sake of possessions, power or profit. We are told to live up to our potential but as my pastor proclaimed one Sunday, "Kingdom living is not living up to our potential, it is pursuing our calling!" That calling often requires us to put aside comfort, safety, material security and the life we currently live, even the world's idea of sanity for something much more grand, much more fulfilling. 

Yet, when we are faced with a choice to join in God's adventure, we are much like Bilbo Baggins. We go to church and live our daily life. We don't like unexpected visitors and unanticipated surprises that break our routine. But as it happens so often, as it did to Bilbo Baggins, opportunity knocks at our door, out of the blue or as we are are minding our own business, God sends an opportunity our way to join Him in an adventure.  And we get to choose. 

Take it from someone that has been all over the world. When you say "yes" to God and enter His adventure, you'll go places that will take your breath away and serve along side of the most unusual cast of characters. I've experienced this all over the world, working alongside Muslim men to build a playground at a school in Morocco to worshiping God with inmates inside a prison in South Africa. 

So if you are contemplating going oversees on a mission trip, don't listen to the world, friends and acquaintances who will try to talk you out of going. You'll hear all kinds of reasons for not going. It's unsafe. It's too much money which could better be spent helping people here.  You are being irresponsible to your family.  Some of the arguments may sound logical. But often your friends won't understand because they view life from a worldly perspective, not from a Kingdom mindset. Just say "yes" to God.  I promise you won't be the same when you return!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Go! Get Out There!

The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20,  contains Jesus' last words, his marching orders to his disciples before he ascended into Heaven.  This exhortation we believe is also meant for us, Jesus' modern day disciples.  However, so much of our church experience today is centered around the local church. Many of our "church activities" consist of going to church and serving on Sunday. For much of the church's history there has been this "come to us" approach to ministry.  The missional church movement aims to change that and to be more intentional in fulfilling Jesus' call for us to get out of the church and "go and make disciples".

The challenge for all churches is how to motivate Christians to actually get out of their comfort zone and go.  One church in San Antonio devised a unique plan in which the church would forgo meeting for worship one Sunday a month and instead minister outside of the church to the masses.  This church, Bethel, set up a drive-up prayer station in an empty parking lot near their church. The members of the church wave banners and signs along the road inviting drivers to pull over for prayer. Other church members offer prayer to those who stop by. The leaders of the church say they were surprised at how many people actually pull over and share their prayer requests every week.  It has invigorated the church and opened the door for the members to have some great conversations with people who would never step foot into their church.  Their members really look forward to these Sundays in which they get to minister to others.  They meet at the church on these Sundays for a time of prayer and then head to the parking lot to minister to others.

My church, Austin Christian Fellowship, does not have a worship service on the fifth Sundays during the year.  Instead, the church members work on mission projects that the church sets up, one on Saturday and another on Sunday morning.  Some churches, such as Rock Hills in San Antonio, take the first Sunday of each month to serve and minister to the community. What is your church doing to create a "go to them mindset" instead of a "come to us" approach? 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

This Church Failure Drives Me Crazy

"I'm discouraged," says the 28 year old single woman, answering my inquiry about her attempt to become involved in church. "Discouraged? How so," I asked. We had been discussing her return to the church for the past few weeks. Myra works for a company that I serve as chaplain.  She had grown up Catholic but had not gone regularly to church in several years. She began to feel a need to start going to church regularly and a friend recently had invited her to a non-denominational church which she said she really enjoyed. This was a contemporary church that seemed to focus on living your faith in the real world. 

Myra had told me a few weeks ago that she had made up her mind to give this church a shot and started going weekly. Myra even signed up to be in a small group and she also signed up to help out in the children's ministry and to sing on their praise team. She was really excited about this opportunity and the impact it would have on her life.  Yet on this day Myra explained that she was discouraged because a month had passed and she had not heard anything from the church.  She said she wasn't going to let this affect her faith but admitted she was discouraged so much that she just didn't go to church this past Sunday.

Hearing this broke my heart. This is an epic failure for a church. The church Myra is attempting to become involved in is a multi-site of a large church that I know has systems to help assimilate newcomers.  Yet, here is an example of a professional, attractive young single adult who is searching and wanting to become involved in the church, knowing that this step is crucial for her faith and spiritual development.  And the church somehow drops the ball at the crucial point in this young woman's life.  

I don't know the details of this church's process so I don't know the reason for their inability to follow up with Myra. Maybe their process failed or the person who is in charge of newcomer assimilation didn't do her job.  Perhaps it is because Myra is single and the church just does not have much for single adults.  Myra said there seemed to be a lot of things for families but she didn't notice anything special for single adults.  Whatever the reason, if a church doesn't respond when the iron is hot so to speak, they have a good chance of missing out altogether on the opportunity to help this one person know Christ and change her life. I can't think of another thing a church can do that is more important.

Myra is a typical millennial. She is single like a majority of the millennial generation. I've seen many blogs and heard sermons about the urgent need to reach the millenials if the church is to succeed in the future.  Could it be that the reason the church is not reaching them is that they are neglecting the largest group of millennials, the unmarried adult?  In a past blog I wrote about what it takes to reach the 20 something generation, not just young families with children which is important, but also the single twenty something adult.  
But, unless there are ministries in place that a young single can plug into, and a process that helps him or her connect, a church will just not reach them.  

Remember, the millennial generation may be different than the previous in many ways but each one of them is similar to most people in that they: 
  • Want to be valued
  • Want to be challenged
  • Want to be used
  • Want to be mentored 
  • Want community
  • Want to make a difference
How is your church reaching them and incorporating them into your church?  I'd like to hear from you.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Can A Man Love Two Women At The Same Time?

My wife and I find the Bachelor television show very interesting, watching how the relationships develop and seeing all the drama over those three simple words, "I love you". This year's version has generated a lot of buzz, "Ben, how could you tell two women that you love them?  What were you thinking"?  My wife explained to me that you cannot love two women at one time. She said, "if you think you do, then you really do not love either one".  I argued that you can be "in love" with more than one person but it's all in how you define "love".  

The reason I think there is so much fuss and fret about saying "I love you" and anticipating those words from the person we care for is because we believe that in saying those three words there comes a level of commitment, or expectation beyond just a sexual feeling. And where it gets even more confusing is that "I love you" seldom means the same thing to the one saying and the one receiving. You can bet the ladies who heard "I love you" from Ben are thinking commitment, something more than a sexual attraction.  They are thinking "I love you" means that Ben is going to choose me as his mate for life, when in reality Ben may be just expressing a feeling, because he cannot make a long term commitment to two women.  

A wise friend told me that when it comes to declarations like "I love you", we should always attach "today" to the end of it, when receiving it. "I love you, today!" Because tomorrow, next month or next year, those feelings may change. Yet, when we hear those words we assume they mean forever. But feeling based statements are dynamic and can change by the minute, mood, or circumstance. 

So the reason we have difficulty with the phrase "I love you" is because the word "love" in our English language means so many things. I can love my car, my dog and my wife. But love in each of these cases means different things.  In the Greek, there are several words used to describe love. Eros is a love based on feelings, a sexual attraction. We get our word erotic from eros.  Philos is the Greek word that describes more of a friendship, a love between two people who have common interests or a fondness for a brother or sister. Philadelphia come from this word, the city of brotherly love.  Agape is another word for love in the Greek that describes a love that is unconditional, sacrificial and permanent. In a good marriage, a husband and wife will give and receive all three of these types of love.  

Agape is used in the Bible to describe God's love. As we love others as God loved us, only then can we be assured of a love that is not based on only feelings and emotions, but based on action, sacrifice, commitment and permanence. Isn't this what we desire from our mate, what we hear them saying when they whisper "I love you"?  

So I believe Ben was saying "I eros" you to both women, but they were hearing, "I agape you". He let his emotions do the talking and now he will have to break one woman's heart. Or perhaps both. The question now is what did the ladies mean when they said "I love you" to Ben?   Oh this is so confusing. So glad I'm married and not in Ben's shoes.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Surviving Your First Mutiny

Most every church planter goes through difficult periods, times when the planter is tested to their limits.  One of those times in the first year or two of a church plant is when the planter loses some of his key leaders or core team members. During one of our Missional Association gathering of church planters, one thing on which they all agreed was that most of the initial core team would not be around to see the church they helped start, flourish. Yet, knowing this and being forewarned does not lessen the hurt and disappointment when a key person leaves your church.
One of our church planters shared how his best friend who had been working with him for over a year to get their church off the ground decided to leave to go to another church. This pastor was thinking, if I can't even keep my best friend from abandoning me, how am I going to grow a church?  Yet, the next Sunday people were saved and life and the church went on without him.
Another pastor told how most of his entire leadership team including band members and their financial person decided to leave en masse. He found out that one disgruntled leader had influenced the team to mutiny.  One month later the team had been replaced and the church was growing faster than it had ever grown. This church planter remarked that the mutiny was actually a blessing for the church and that a couple of the leaders who left may have been an obstruction to growth.
So don't be surprised when a key leader or leaders whom you have recruited to help you start the church decide to move on. There could be any number of reasons and most have nothing to do with the church planter/pastor or their leadership.  Many people who have that apostolic gifting love starting things and once they get the church going, they feel their job is accomplished. For many others, their expectations of what the church will be are never realized. And when that hits them, they decide to search elsewhere. But whatever the reason, don't be surprised when it happens. How you handle that first mutiny will often determine whether your church makes it. Pastors can become so discouraged that they lose their passion and will to continue. But if you can hang in there, learn from the experience and continue to reach people, you and the church will be better off after the mutiny.  

Three things to consider about your initial leadership team. 
1) Think of your initial core team as the scaffolding for the church. They help build the foundation but they are usually not part of that foundation, the long term pillars that your church builds upon. They are there for a season and you should appreciate them for their role in starting the church. Anyone who continues past the first couple of years in icing on the cake. 
2) The Second generation of leaders are usually much more consistent than the first. They are usually recruited from within the new church body instead of from outside of your church. These may be new believers or seekers so they have fewer expectations of what church should be and are usually more loyal to the mission of the church and pastor's vision. 
3)  All growing things need pruning. You will need to prune away people who could actually be holding the growth or hindering the development of others in your church. When we hold onto everyone, we can stifle the growth of the church.

Your vision for the church and your expectations for the church members go a long way in how you personally react to people who leave your church. If you are concerned with your seating capacity instead of your sending capacity in the church you are pastoring, you will probably be distraught over any leader or influential family that says goodbye. But if your mindset is to disciple and send, then you as a pastor can actually celebrate the family that leaves as your missionaries to another location. These people are as much a part of your legacy as those who remain in your church! If your church has done a good job in discipling the family, you can be confident that their ministry and the things they learned will be passed on to their next church and circle of influence. 

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