Why flashy churches are killing the Great Commission

light-showWell, I really don’t think that title statement is true, but now that I have your attention..

Over the course of most of my life, whether as a child in church or as a leader/staff member of a church, the up-front or behind-the-curtain message has predominantly been “Invite your friends to church and we will tell them about Jesus.”  You’ll hear phraseology like “Invest and Invite” and we’ll even do very seeker-friendly type initiatives for getting people in the door, such as free t-shirt days or iPad giveaways.  Sounds simple and effective enough, right? 

But what if that whole mentality is actually hurting the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ clearest instructions?  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations..”.  What we know is that he was speaking directly to the handful of disciples physically present with him that day, and indirectly to the millions of disciples that would follow him as a result of the present-disciples’ ministry (John 17:20).  We also know that this is an instruction for ALL followers of Jesus, not just the ones that get paid for it.  Yet, it’s estimated that some 98% of followers of Jesus in North America are not currently involved in any sort of disciple making effort.  Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.

Since I’ve probably already made few folks mad, or risen the anxiety of others, now is probably a good opportunity for a time out, so that I can explain what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that getting people to attend a church service is bad, or that we shouldn’t encourage people to invite their friends.  I’m not saying that constructing the flow and feel of our church services so that it speaks to the consciousness of the non-believing world around us is bad, so long as we make Jesus the star of the show and not the guy with skinny jeans and a hair bun.  I’m not saying that glitz and lights and lasers are a bad thing, although they do personally annoy the fire out of me (some people are like me, and some people are not), but I’ll even sit through that if Jesus is championed and people are invited to join him in his family and mission.

Here’s what I am saying.

For the past few decades the church has been telling its people to get out and build relationships with their non-believing friends so that they can invite them to church (and we’re going to make it super friendly and relevant for them) and once they’re there, the professionals would take over.  This was a major part of much of my ministry focus over the last 15 years or so both as a student pastor and a lead pastor, and it was misguided.  Even once I tried to turn the ship, so to speak, the boat had a hard time crossing the current.

Instead, we as pastors need to center the thrust of our efforts in ministry on training and equipping the people who follow Jesus to do the work of a disciple of Jesus.  That means that the more conversations need to happen after the sermon, amongst believing and non-believing friends on what the text says, and whether God is to be trusted or not.  That means more gospel conversations need to happen in living rooms than in worship centers.  And it means that churches should aim to deprogramatitze their ministries so people are better released to go and live on mission, with one another.

The statement remains true, that the church carries the hope of the world, so long as that hope is not confused for a building, a church service or even a professional staff.  Every believer, each one a disciple, all carrying out the great commission.  Now that’s some flash.

Steadfast and slow to anger

james119Confession: I have anger issues.

Many of these issues have been resolved by the simple process of aging. As I remind my wife of often, I get better with age.

Even though I’ve learned how to employ self restraint, my natural default reaction to things can get to anger a little quicker than what’s ideal.

James 1:17,19 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change….Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.

So what do good gifts have to do with being slow to anger?  It’s a simple formula.

Increased gratitude = decreased potential for anger.

I’ve noticed that when I have a hightened sense of gratitude, I need to work far less at controlling my anger. Where gratitude doesn’t exist, anger usually does.

Something else I’ve noticed: entitled people don’t tend to be steadfast people. Entitlement breeds the expectation of immediacy. Steadfastness is patient, humble….and oh yeah, grateful.

7 things TURN is teaching me about myself

turn_by_marksmanthestalker-d8xw3bdMy wife and I have recently started watching a new series called TURN: Washingtons Spies. Set in the late 1700s, this series is based on real characters involved in the Revolutionary War, serving as our nation’s first spies. I was intrigued by the show because I love the era, but I was captured by the show because I discovered it teaching me things about myself.

Here they are in no particular order.

1. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, that will have a culture shifting effect on future generations.  Watching the show, I’ve actually thought, “man, I wish I could have been there”. What an exciting and important time to be alive!  And what a huge impact these people had on the world. It may sound self-indulgent, but it’s certainly not meant that way. I just want to be a part of something positive that’s bigger than my small and short life. God created us for this longing, and in part, for this reason – for the fame of Jesus and the benefit of the city.

2. I don’t mind leading from the background, and have found this season of my life to be potentially very healthy.  For the last 15 years, my leadership has either been mostly or completely “from the front”. Currently, my leadership is more in the background and I’m surprised by how much I enjoy it. I don’t know that I’ll be in this position forever, but that doesn’t really matter much to me right now.  What I’m learning from this seat is the reminder that leadership is mostly about service, selflessness, and giving other people the credit.  Not many people knew Abe’s name, and it didn’t matter.  George Washington served an important role and really, Abe’s was no less significant.

3. I prefer careful thought, strategy and process-oriented movement, over hard and fast, brute force movement.  Let’s face it, the style of warfare back then was just goofy. No way I’d do it, but not because I’m a coward. Instead it’s because it’s just not strategic enough for me. I understand there was great strategy in Britian’s warfare tactics, and they essentially ruled the world with it for a long time. But It lacked creativity and finesse, and the absence of those things can drive me crazy. If I would have served in the army back then, I probably would have been court marshaled for criticizing the system.

4. I work well on a team and have a healthy understanding of authority, but also have the ability and desire to make important decisions on my own. Abe knew who he worked for, but he also made big decisions on his own. He was a part of the team, but could play in such a way that he was often out on his own. It wasn’t either-or for him, it was both-and.  I’ve spent time as an “only-lonely” pastor (the most depressing phrase on the planet), and as a part of several large and small teams. As a leader, and someone who’s devoted to community, mixing accountability and independence is an ideal recipe.

5. I am not a niche player, and have skills (and interests) in a variety of leadership areas.  Abe seemed to be one of those guys that could fit in a variety of situations. I’m very comfortable around church people, and people far from God. I like young people, and those who have tons more life experience than I. I can relate to people from most every walk of life and I’m a “generalist” type leader than can fill several slots on the team at the same time. I’m flexible and adaptable. Abe had to play both sides, and would often have to improvise.

6. I often don’t realize the large effect my small actions have, both positively and negatively.  Most of the things – taken individually – that Abe did, didn’t really matter all that much. But combine them all together, over the course of several years, and he played a key role in whining America’s freedom. I’ve learned to take this truth as both encouragement and warning. Small things I do, can have a big effect. And, unfortunately, this is just as true (if not more so) with how I can hurt people as it is with how I can help people. I’ve never shot anyone with a gun, but my little verbal shots can have a very big negative impact. With God’s grace, he’s restoring both me and those I’ve wounded in the past.

7. I need people in my life that help me stay on the right trajectory. So far, almost everyone around Abe has had to at one time or another, remind him of what he’s doing and why; to stay the course. He’s gotten frustrated, confused and filled with doubt. But his friends are there to set him right again, and I’ve found that the more of this I have in my life, the better I am at what I’m doing, and the greater benefit I am to the people around me.

Are there stories in your life that you’re relentlessly attracted to?  What might those stories be telling you about yourself, and how might these realizations help you to learn and grow?

Blessing: Defined and unpacked

img_1075Google defines Blessing as, “God’s favor or protection”.  They more or less nailed it.

The Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia breaks it up into 4 particular understandings:

1. Blessing can be taken in a sense that’s synonymous with praise.

Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the Lord at all times”. I’ve talked with probably thousands of people over the last decade or so who think this statement sounds incredibly selfish and egotistical, but God wants our “praise”. That is, our devotion, our adoration, our awe. It sounds arrogant because we think of it from a human perspective. No human should desire these things. God is different. God does deserve it. As John Piper says in Let the Nations be Glad, “Mission happens because worship does not.” In other words, the reason the church (that’s you, not an organization, if you are “in Christ”) is here is because of mission. It’s the only purpose you could possibly have left, if you are already forever His. So, your purpose to continue here in this life is so that others might also give Him praise. It’s that important.

We look forward in anticipation to Revelation 7:9-10, that says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Why? Because we love the idea, and the fact, that at some point, everyone will worship him. They will acknowledge Jesus to be the savior of the world, and He will have his due reward.  When we “bless” the Lord, we give him the credit and recognition he is due.

2. Blessing can be used to express a wish or desire of good fortune, especially of a spiritual kind.

Psalm 128:2 says, “You will eat the fruit of your labor, blessings and prosperity will be yours.” It is right for the church to meet real, physical needs out of a desire to see the world blessed. In fact, Jesus often uses physical blessings to demonstrate his care and concern for people to ultimately have a much more significant spiritual blessing, which is our invitation to abide in Him. Social justice, so to speak, is not a new thing. If done from a pure heart, these sorts of efforts happen because followers of Jesus want to see the people around them experience God’s love and attention; His blessing. Where they fail is when we separate the physical from the spiritual. As GK Chesterton has said, “The man who knocks on the door of a brothel, is actually looking for God” (my paraphrase). We know and understand that people are looking for something good and true and right. Far too many are looking in, not just the wrong places, but simply in places where they’ll only find a facsimile of what their heart is really longing for. That facsimile will lead many to destruction, and some to pacification that never results in glorification.

3. Blessing can signify the sanctification or dedication of a person or thing to some sacred purpose.

Matthew 26:26 says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’”. Jesus was dedicating himself to the service of his disciples. And not only to these disciples, but also to those who would believe because of their ministry (John 17:20). The crazy part? He was dedicating our very lives to something sacred as well. It’s the “glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  By “taking and eating” we are taking on the ministry and message – and the power! – of Jesus himself, being dedicated and set apart for a new identity and a new message of reconciliation to the world around us (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). It’s not the pastor or the missionary that have this very sacred calling. It’s the accountant, the school teacher, the stay-at-home mom, the governmental official and the mechanic, who are more importantly “alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-10), and who are dedicated to the sacred work of the church in their every day, normal lives (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). But we are not alone! We are dedicated to this life and this calling along with a community of faith, which is a gathering of believers in Jesus, to live out this life of mission and blessing (dedication) together.

4. Blessing can be used to designate a particular gift or good will.

Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.  The primary reason the church is here is to, along with Jesus, “seek  and save that which is lost”.  That’s what we do.  Who we are is similar to that, but expresses itself in equal virtue to the community around us, regardless of whether the lost want to be saved or not.  Because the reality is, some of them don’t.  But, we are to be a blessing to them all.  We are to add value to the entire community, not just the ones that agree with us, and certainly not only after they align with our worldview.  Followers of Jesus are to demonstrate good will, with no strings attached.  One of the best questions any local church can ask of itself is, “If we were to close our doors and move out of the neighborhood, would anyone miss us?”  I believe this to be the most essential question to gauge the success of any local church.  Got a big building?  So what.  It’s probably taking up valuable non-taxable real estate in your community.  Got a large budget?  Good for you, where do those dollars go to help the rich and the poor in your community, beyond catchy sermon series?  Got a lot of butts in the seats?  How are you inspiring those in attendance to spend their lives “seeking the prosperity of the city?”  What if you closed down?  Would anyone even care?  Regardless of the return-on-investment and the results on the organization, the church exists to do good in the city where they reside.

Is it okay to not stand during the national anthem? A knucklehead’s perspective.

american-flag-photography-picture-8551-highThe short answer, in this country, is Yes.

When people start to evaluate or critique the US in matters of civil liberties, equality and the like, I think one aspect of it tends to go on without nearly enough discussion.  That is the divide between governmental laws, and the behavior of the citizenry.

The reality is, there was a time, from the governmental laws perspective, that kneeling at the national anthem, or sitting in the front of the city bus, was a really good idea.  Thank God for people like Rosa Parks.  Thank God for people like Martin Luther King, Jr.  Thank God that my kids will never know, in this country, an environment where white people have their own bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants or seats on the bus.  I’d like to think that I would have, as a white dude of privilege, taken the same stands, beatings and arrests that many others did, but we’ll never know.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to, and I’m glad that my kids won’t – at least not for this issue.  I fully support an athlete’s (or anyone’s) choice to not stand during the national anthem.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I don’t salute or put my hand over my heart when the national anthem plays, or the pledge of allegiance is recited.  My reasons are far different, of course.  I abstain, because my allegiance belongs first and foremost to the kingdom of God, and I am primarily a citizen of that nation.  My residence here is more of a guest, sojourner, or even an exile.  I love and appreciate the country that I live in, but I will turn my back on it in an instant if my allegiance to King Jesus called for it.  What I and others, need to remember though, is that the country that we aren’t saluting or standing for, is the very one that affords us the ability to do so.  This shouldn’t obligate us, but it should keep us sober in our protest, so to speak.  If we chose to abstain in many other countries, we would likely be shot, or hung, or worse.

The other perspective is the behavior of the citizenry, which governmental laws, really, have little influence over.  Sure the civl rights movement of the 1960’s had a profound eventual effect on the behavior of many citizens in the US.  And if it weren’t for the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years earlier, we might not be where we are today.  But it was eventual, and has effected many, but not all.  Through our laws, we might be able to force someone do or not do certain things.  But we’ll never be able to force anyone to think or believe certain things.  Indeed, I’m grateful again, that this is true.  It’s unfortunate that many people are driven by hate and prejudice and ignorance.  It’s more than unfortunate; it’s a damn shame.  But that’s what happens when you are dealing with people who, well, are people.

If folks not standing during songs gets people talking about some of the attitudes we have in our country, then I’m all for it.  If it can have an eventual effect on it all, then outstanding.  I think it’s a little silly that this could be the sort of thing that gets people talking, but the means aren’t so much the issue, are they?

However.  As we protest people’s attitudes and their behaviors, or even their belief systems that might be offensive to the majority of our citizenry, let’s not forget that we do have the great fortune to live in a land where we are – regardless of our viewpoint – afforded the right and the privilege to stand up, speak out, or in this case, just take a seat.

Searching

searching_by_latyrx-d4is6g8Go read John 1:1-28

Did you pick up on whats happening in the story?  The pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) had sent “preists and levites” to find John the Baptist and discover whether he was the Messiah, a prophet, or something else.  Apparently they’d heard about who he was and what he was doing, and they wanted to know more.

The insteresting thing to consider here was their intentions.  Why were they seeking him out?  Were they really interested in whether or not John was the messiah?  Did they want to follow him?  Did they want to kill him?

Now remember, they sent priests and levites.  These are people who would – theoretically – be able to interpret and identify if someone was the messiah, or a prophet, or something else.  Obviously many of them failed miserably with the Jesus thing.

But still, the pharisees sent trained people to find out if John was the messiah.  Assume for a second that it was a genuine search.  “Are you who we should follow?” they might of asked.

This is a question, whether we realize it or not, that we ask every day.  For most poeple in our culture it’s not really tied to a person (other than themselves perhaps) but to an idea.  “Is this was I should give my life to?”  “Is this what I need to live for?”  “Will this give me the things that I feel that I need in life?”  “Is that what I’ll find my identity in?”

We ask questions like that every day.  We’re searching.  Sometimes we don’t even realize it because we’ve already locked into what we think the answer is, but at some point we realize it’s like chasing a moving target.  And then we change our focus or direction.

I do it too.

And then Jesus shows up.

What if he is what you’re actually looking for?  What if he’s the answer to that constant reminder in the world that something’s wrong?  What if the target is right next to you, and it’s not going anywhere?

Would you do this?  Would you close your eyes for a second?  Well, read this first and then close your eyes.  Close your eyes and just ask Jesus to show himself.  That simple.  Then, today, tomorrow, this week, keep your eyes open.  Keep looking.  You never really know when he might show up.

Grass

grass-background-12“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭40‬:‭8‬ ESV)

You and I have a life cycle. We are born, we live, and we die. Each life is like a quick blink on the landscape of eternity. But that blink is significant. It’s not pointless. It reverberates throughout eternity. Like Presson Phillips says, “And though the life of heathen calls to me, forever is a long time to be free”.

The interesting thing about Isaiah 40:8 is the dichotomy found therein. On one hand, we are like grass, and that grass has a life cycle, and that life cycle is nothing as compared to the word of God. But on the other hand, the cycle of life that the grass lives is important, and it’s planted there for a specific purpose.

That got me thinking, as a gardening idiot, what is the life cycle of grass?  Here’s what I found:

Lifecycle of grass

– seed is planted/sprouts

– plant is established from seed

– flowering takes place

– seed shattering/scattering

– dormancy, stems grow parallel to the ground, forming a thick base that grows over other plants

– second growth peak, root development

Is there any coincidence that the kingdom of God is often compared to plant life?  Is there any coincidence that the Gospel is often compared to plant life?

Both are “planted”. Both begin to “grow”. Both “flower” into something beautiful that’s meant for reproduction. Both are “scattered” or shared. Both grow “outward” in addition to upward. And both “dig deeper roots” if they are to flourish and become sustainable.

The word of the Lord stands forever, and has no end to it. The grass fades, but while it’s here, it lives, breathes, spreads and takes root. It is hugely important. Perhaps the ecosystem couldn’t even live without.

You and I are the grass. We’re not infinite the way God is, but while we’re here, we have a purpose. We have a life, and that life is meant to blossom and grow and reproduce.

Where are you growing?  Where are you coming fully alive?  And, where are you reproducing?