2153_tricksandtools-628x250

Tricks & Tools of the Day

If you’re anything like me, then you are constantly looking for better and/or more efficient ways of keeping up with the regular tasks of day to day life and ministry. Being that I was raised with technology, that typically means that I am looking for apps and services that make my life and ministry a bit easier. With that in mind, I’d like to share twelve of the tools (some you probably know/use and a few you may have never used or even heard of) that I use on a daily basis that just work.

Dropbox

dropboxDropbox is an essential tool for me. I’ve had an account with Dropbox since it became available, recommended it to dozens of people (which has increased my free storage) and purchased more storage (even though there are potentially cheaper or free alternatives) because it just works great. For more than two years now I’ve had nearly all of my data stored across all of my devices via Dropbox. I know that some people will decry potential security issues to this way of working, but I’m not majorily concerned. All the projects I am working on a always backed-up and up-to-date on each of my devices (laptop, desktop, phone and iPad) and accessible on any computer.

iCloud

icloud2I’ve been a Apple/Mac user since I was in second grade. At that time it was all 3.5” floppies, Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego, but every year (in my opinion) Apple gets better and better at adding exceptional features. That’s definitely the story with iCloud. If you’ve been around Apple long enough then you’ve been through the growing pains of iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and even the early days of iCloud. But today iCloud is a major contender, and one I use constantly.

Besides synced contacts, calendars, notes and reminders across all of my devices, iCloud offers me the ability to easily work on documents anytime, anywhere. iCloud enables someone—like me—that uses Apple iWork exclusively (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) the ability to be typing notes in Pages on my iMac at home, edit them on my iPad or iPhone on the go, have the most current version available later on my MacBook Air (while at Starbucks no doubt), and then finish them up on my iMac at the office.

Yes, I know… I have an Apple disorder. People call our office “The Orchard.” If you’re an apple user too, iCloud is a no-brainer.

Google Drive

google_driveThere is certainly some redundancy in these first three (perhaps even with the 4th too). Google drive can do many of the same things that Dropbox and iCloud do. One could make the case that Dropbox is unnecessary if you are using iCloud or Google Drive and that you should choose between iCloud or Google Drive. That’s for others to fight about. For me, I like all three for differing reasons and have found all of them to be helpful to my regular work flow and habits.

If you work with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (i.e. most churches and para-church organizations) then you really should look in to Google for Nonprofits (http://www.google.com/nonprofits/), which makes Google Apps freely available to your whole organization. At our church, Cross Connection, we’ve had an authorized Google for Nonprofits account for several years, and we use it extensively.

Our office uses shared calendars and Google Drive/Apps daily. We regularly collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and share project files and folders. Google Drive has also been a huge help in the work that I do with ministries outside of our local church. Whether it’s the Church Planting Network, our Online School, or individuals that I am mentoring or working with in the church. It is becoming more and more essential.

Evernote

evernoteI started this post in Evernote on my laptop, and now I’m continuing it on my iPhone. I use Evernote constantly throughout my day. When an idea comes to mind or a new thought for a message or article, I reach for my iPhone and jot it down in Evernote. If I’m readying an article that of like to tag and save for later, I email a copy of it to my Evernote account from Safari on my iPhone, iPad or computer. The ability to attach pictures/files, tag, geotag, search and gather notes into notebooks makes Evernote my goto notes app.

Evernote is such a paradigm changer for some that books have been written entire websites dedicated to and seminars held on how to more effectively get things done using it.

Kindle App (for iOS)

kindleI don’t think I’ve bought a “real book” (unless it was not available as an ebook) since the Kindle app came out for iPad. I’m the type of person that reads several books at one time. Kindle makes this all the more easy. I love the ability to have my entire library with me everywhere and at anytime. And to have highlights, notes and bookmarks synced across devices is a huge plus!

 

 

Goodreader

goodreaderThere are many reader/annotation apps for the iPad/iPhone (and other sub-par handheld devices), but I prefer Goodreader. Although I use it for all kinds of document files (PDF, Doc, XLS, PPT, etc.), my primary use of Goodreader is as my teaching notes tool.

The final draft of my teaching notes is always saved to Dropbox as a PDF. Then, when I’m ready to teach/preach I download the file from Dropbox in Goodreader, make any final highlights and annotations to it and step up to the pulpit.

Like I said, this is just one of many such tools, but it has a ton of features I’ve not seen in others.

Mantis Study Bible & Blue Letter Bible

mantisOk, so this is really two different apps/services, but they accomplish the same task, so I’ve grouped them together.

I downloaded and purchased add-ons for Mantis Study Bible the first day I had my very first iPad. Although there are (now) other options available (even at a better price), I’ve stuck with Mantis because it works great, and I have got a bit of money invested in it. The only downside is that I wish there was a MacOS version available to use on my laptop/desktop, but that’s where Blue Letter Bible comes in.

I have Logos study bible, but I rarely open it. It has some great features and tools, but it has just never really fit into my workflow too well. I began using Blue Letter Bible as my primary Bible study tool more than 10 years ago. Thankfully they updated their user interface in the last year, but even before the update it was a topnotch tool that is totally free. I like it so much I’ve happily donated to the ministry of Blue Letter Bible. While it doesn’t have near the features of a fully featured Accordance or Logos, it’s spectacular for getting a study done.

blueletter

Mailchimp

mailchimpLike several of other apps/services, Mailchimp is one of many options available to send mass emails to a large list of subscribers.

We use Mailchimp both at Cross Connection and the Calvary Church Planting Network. Each Friday I send out an email to more than 500 subscribers at the church to update them about what’s happening at our weekend services or about what’s coming up the following week. It’s a no-cost (for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month), easy to use tool, that returns great metrics/reports.

Mailbox App

mailboxSpeaking of email…

It’s a first-world problem that all 21st century first-worlders share… too much email (Yes, I know, with Mailchimp we’re contributing to the problem). I have way too much of it on way too many accounts. On average I get 100-200 emails a day (during the week). In all honesty, only about a quarter to a third of them are of much importance (side note: I’m testing sanebox to deal with the other 66%).** Not only do I have too much email, but I check my email mostly on my iPhone and I routinely see emails there that need more attention than just a quick response from the phone. The problem is that those emails often get buried by the time I get back to my computer and then, they get are missed… which is a huge problem.

Enter Mailbox App. With mailbox, when I see an email on my phone, I can swipe to the left and bring up a prompt to (essentially) hide it till later today, this evening, tomorrow, next week, etc.

[one_half][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5396″ caption=”slide left…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half] [one_half_last][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5395″ caption=”slide right…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half_last] A swipe a bit further to the left and I can easily move the email to a designated folder (CCPN, Cross Connect, etc.).

A partial swipe to the right immediately archives the message and a full swipe to the right deletes it. Don’t understand? Watch the video…

Expensify

expensifyExpensify has made my (and our Cross Connection Staff’s) life so much easier! Expensify has a very clear and simple statement about what they do… “Expense reports that don’t suck | Simple, hassle-free expense reporting.”

In the past (until about 6 months ago that is) all of those on our staff that have credit cards would receive their monthly statement with something like a spreadsheet attached on which they would identify what each expense was and which ministry/account it was attached to. In addition they would attach their receipts to it and return it to our Quickbooks master in a timely manner. Problem was, it never actually happened that way… in a timely manner.

Lets face it, I lose receipts, and I’m terrible at getting things done that I just hate doing. But Expensify has completely transformed that. Now, when myself or one of our staff members make a purchase with their church card, they take a picture of the receipt with the Expensify App on their iPhone, record the info of who the payee was, how much it cost and which accounting category it falls under. Then at the end of the month, what use to take me a couple of hours has been reduced to minutes. I just check the statement with the data on Expensify’s website and if everything checks out I hit send and it emails a PDF expense report to our Quickbookie. AWESOME!

img_Expensify_laptopphoneExpensify is mostly free for the first 2 people on a team and then $6 for each additional individual. Well worth the cost, at least for us.

The Table

tableMany churches use church management software (CMS) like Active Network’s Fellowship One, ACS Technologies or Church Community Builder; some prefer a church social network like The City (which is now owned by ACS). All of these are great services. Each of them have their own pros and cons, and all of them come at a cost. If your church is not using anything for administratively managing the work, you should at least look into it. We (at Cross Connection) have looked at several and are in the process of implementing Fellowship One. The only problem was that we wanted something that would also decentralize certain aspects of administration, community and church life. Facebook is a definite option, and many churches use it effectively, but for us Facebook has too much noise. The City offers some great features, but (1) doesn’t integrate with our CMS and (2) it would be an additional cost on top of our management solution with F1. Which is why, about a year ago, we implemented The Table at our church.

The Table is a church focused/oriented social networking platform. It’s free, easy to setup and use, and has proven super useful for us. Also, The Table integrates with Fellowship One and shares user data across the platforms. So, when Joe Average updates his contact info on The Table, it is updated in our church management records.

1Password

1passwordIt’s another 21st century, first-world problem. We have accounts for Amazon, Google, iCloud, Blue Letter Bible, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, The Table… and that’s just the apps and services mentioned in this post. At present I have 198 accounts with individual logins and passwords (I know, that’s insane). Enter 1Password.

Like Apple’s original Keychain (which I could never get to work properly) and now iCloud Keychain (which works pretty well), 1Password offers saving and syncing (using Dropbox) of your login and password information for your many accounts. Then, with a simple hotkey (Command+) it prompts you for your single 1Password password (only once while logged in) and then inputs the unique username and password for whatever site you are on.

iCloud Keychain is accomplishing the same basic functionality… I’ve just become accustomed to using 1Password over the years, so for now I’m still using it.

What apps or services are you using that are a help?
Share them in the comments below.


[divider_advanced color=”#bb0c00″ paddingTop=”15″ paddingBottom=”5″]

 

logo-sanebox-2013-blue-fac53d24ba90186c66c7db3c260609f1**After a few days using SaneBox I can say for certain that it’s worth a look! Although there’s a monthly cost for the service, it does a great job of reducing the clutter in my inbox. Check out the 14 day free trial, you may find that you like it.

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.

Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?

First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.

The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.

This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.

The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.

12132089

Keys to Successful Pastoral Ministry

“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, {19} having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck…” (1 Timothy 1:18-19)

In my own ministry as a pastor, I have often turned to this passage to strongly remind myself of the call of God upon my life. I do not think I’m alone in this … we pastors have great need to build upon the foundation that Jesus Christ has laid down for us, and in us.

The passage includes four critical criteria for effective and God-honoring ministry.

1.      We must accept the charge or command of God concerning the focus of our ministry. 

In the context of 1 Timothy, the command of God had to do with the proper interpretation and application of the law of God (“the law is good if one uses it lawfully”), as well as the instructions concerning the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry found in the letter.

1 Timothy 3:15 …but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

2.      We must conduct our ministries in view of specific prophecies that came to us as part of our calling. 

Every pastor I have ever asked about their call into pastoral ministry has a story to tell. There were Bible verses, there were words of knowledge, there were direct words from God in times of private prayer, there were prophetic words that were often unsolicited.

What Paul is telling Timothy here is that he must call to mind these words from God, and use them for courage, for authority, and for specificity in serving our Chief Shepherd.

3.      We must exercise faith. 

No one can fulfill the ministry of pastor-teacher without faith. Sometimes the faith is the actual gift of faith … the supernatural ability to believe God for supernatural things in a specific situation. Sometimes the faith is visionary faith. The pastor knows the Lord is leading, and trusts God to guide and provide for what He is doing. At all times the pastor is to believe what he believes … about the Bible, about God and about sound doctrine.

4.      We must work hard to maintain a good conscience. 

No doubt this is a difficult task, especially because the enemies of all true believers are also the enemies of the pastor. We deal with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil uses these realms—the world and flesh—in his attempts to destroy us. Only through Christ will we emerge victorious.

Thankfully, the pastor has access to all the means of grace … the word of God, the Spirit of God, Christian fellowship, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, confession of sin, sanctifying grace enabling him to repent when necessary. He must be diligent to apply these means of grace in order to live a life pleasing to God and fruitful in His work.

The prize of a good conscience makes the effort worth it. Continued fellowship with and closeness to God are of inestimable value.

The success of our ministries cannot be measured by numbers, budgets, or programs. Success can only be measured by the degree of faithfulness to our calling. God is faithful, who will also bring it to pass if we allow Him.

spheres

Sphere’s of Gospel Sovereignty

Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Prime Minister of the 19th Century, developed a concept known as Sphere’s of Sovereignty. The idea is that different principalities hold different authorities in different areas in different ways. Last week in our Sunday gathering we were considering the Great Commission as presented by Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus says to his disciples in this passage, “ALL authority is given to me.” This would have seemed a radical statement to make to a group of marginalised peasants out in the sticks of the Roman Empire. But it’s true.

We live in a society that has authorities in different spheres. People go to work under their employer’s authority. They live in a nation under government authority. They live life in familial structures, in contexts of social authority. We are all dominated by authority structures and these are not a bad thing. Authority is God-given, but some authorities over-step their mandate. There is an authority that reigns supreme. All these domains of authority exist within the realm of Christ’s authority. It all belongs to Jesus. Kuyper, in speaking about spheres of authority says this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'”

Gospel Spheres

The fact of the matter is Jesus trumps all authority claims. The work place assumes authority that says, “you can’t mention Christ here.” Families assume authority that say, “Christ doesn’t have dominion over the skeletal closets, and familial practices.” Governments assume authority which says, “There is no place for your God here.” Society assumes authority that says, “Don’t talk about faith, that’s a private matter.” Religiously assumed authority says, “Every faith is equally valid, your faith is no more valid than mine.” But there is an over-riding all-legitimate authority. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me… Go…”

The Great Commission is about responding to a higher sphere of authority. Paul was subdued by political authority being placed in chains, but he said the gospel is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9).

GOSPEL Fears

There are other spheres of authority though. These are the spheres of our idols and fears. Sometimes, it is the unnamed things that wield the true weight of authority in our lives. The authority of approval says, “If you tell me about Jesus, I will no longer accept you.” The authority of comfort says, “To make disciples of Christ is work, and you will no longer be able to maintain your comforts.” The authority of control says, “If I make it clear that I’m a Christ-follower, I will no longer be able to control people.” The authority of superiority says, “This person doesn’t deserve to hear the gospel. I do not want to see them as my equal.” What fear or idol is assuming the authority in our lives and the lives of our church families? These are forces to be reckoned with. But here’s the answer. Jesus has all authority over every sphere. He is Lord of all.

The Great Commission is responding to Jesus’ All-authority, over all peoples, to obey all Jesus’ commands, recognising his empowering presence at all times and in all places.

leadership

The Necessity of Pastoral Leadership

The role of pastor-teacher, especially that of lead pastor-teacher, is one in which a number of spiritual gifts are in operation.

The gift of the word of wisdom is essential, that the pastor might give a word in season in difficult situations (Isaiah 50:4). Prophecy is essential, that the pastor might speak edification and exhortation and comfort to men (1 Corinthians 14:3). Evangelism is helpful, especially for the church planter. Teaching is an obvious need, as the pastor is commanded to feed Christ’s sheep with the whole counsel of God (John 21:17; Acts 20:27). And so on…

But of all the spiritual gifts that a pastor may have, leading is right near the top of the list. The pastor who has strong abilities to tend and teach God’s people will do fine, but without the gift of leadership the church may get stuck in its numerical growth … perhaps at the 75 number that represents the size of the average American congregation; or perhaps at the 200 number that is typical of the size at which many churches remain fixed. [I’ll not be entering a discussion about the ideal size of a church. The ideal size of a specific church is determined by several factors. That discussion is too broad for the purposes of this blog.]

In my experience working with churches and pastors, I have observed that churches that have been able to create a culture of equipping and releasing legitimate ministry and responsibility have been able to exceed these numbers. The churches that remain small or stuck have not been able to create such a culture.

Sometimes churches are stuck because of the desire of the people. Some are not willing to be part of a church that is too large, as they feel uncomfortable. So if it grows past a certain point, they leave for smaller pastures. At other times churches are stuck because of the pastor. He may be uncomfortable pastoring where he does not know everyone personally. Or perhaps he is so engaged on doing the ministry that he neglects the training of others do to significant ministry. I’ve seen pastors that do it all—they clean, they mow, they teach, they sing, they counsel, they bookkeep, etc. Such pastors have something in common; their churches are always small.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father in law Jethro gave Moses sound advice after observing him doing ministry all by himself. Jethro counseled Moses to find able men with strong character, and to delegate the responsibility of the ministry to them according to their abilities. This thrust Moses into another kind of leadership which not only saved his life but also made life much better for the entire congregation.

In the book of Acts, important ministry was thrust upon the apostles when the Greek speaking widows were being slighted in the daily distribution of food. Wisely, the apostles did not yield to the temptation of doing this ministry themselves. Instead, they oversaw a Spirit-led process of identifying and releasing seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that would be responsible for the matter. The apostles were exercising leadership by such an action, and were able to be faithful to their God-given priorities of the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. The result was that the church grew by leaps and bounds.

I’m going to include an excerpt from the CCPN church planting manual that speaks very well to the issue of the priority of pastoral leadership. It is Jesus’ desire that His pastors do ministry His way. Hopefully this will encourage some to make adjustments that may prove helpful in the growing of His church.

_______________________________________________________________________

Leading: able to cast vision, mobilize, inspire and build systems. It seems axiomatic that lead pastors be able to lead (1 Cor.12:28). Leaders must know where God is leading them (vision) and be able to persuade others to follow them. C. Peter Wagner describes leadership as, “The spiritual ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purposes for the future and to communicate these goals in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work to accomplish those goals for the glory of God.”

Are you able to communicate and strategize effectively? Although pastoral care is important it may not be  the primary role of the pastor of the church, at least not if the church is going to grow numerically. In that case, the more important roles include casting vision, developing leaders, teaching, prayer and making disciples.

Chuck Swindoll observes that the key is inspiring influence, “Those who do the best job of management – those most successful as leaders – use their influence to inspire others to follow, to work harder, to sacrifice, if necessary.” When godliness and great vision are combined in the same person, that individual exerts great influence over others.

The average pastor can care for only about 75 people (the average size of a U.S. church). So, for the church to grow beyond that level requires the pastor to learn to effectively lead by establishing administration, organization, systems, delegating & intentionally mentoring others to lead (as in Exodus 18 and Acts 6).

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable leader?

Teaching: effectively communicate the truth of the text, in context with cultural relevance, and be able to refute false doctrine since it threatens people’s relationship with God. Preliminarily, recognize that this is the threshold qualification for a pastor-elder (1 Tim.3). Our movement emphasizes expositional Bible teaching, verse by verse through books of the Bible (Is. 28:10). Consider the example of Ezra, he prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord (studied), and to do it (applied the Word in his own life), and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (note: he did not try to teach until after he studied and sought to live it; Ezra 7:10).

Also, we need to distinguish teaching from a dynamic personality or oratory skills. In other words, you may be able to draw a crowd but might not be teaching the Word of God. James provides a sober warning that those who assume the role of teacher will be headed to a stricter standard (higher judgment) regarding the soundness of the doctrine they expound (Ja. 3:1). Do you have the gift to teach and are you diligent to stir-up that gift? In other words, do you apply diligent effort to grow as a Bible teacher? Do you devote yourself to the study of the Word and seek to grow as a communicator of the truth? Have you studied systematic theology? Do you spend “quantity time” observing and interpreting the text before trying to apply the text to people’s lives? Are people growing in their understanding of God as a result of your teaching? Does anyone want to hear what you have to say? While numbers are not the litmus test of teaching success if you are unable to attract people you may not have the gift.

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable teacher?

Shepherding: pastors will give an account to God for how they cared for the spiritual well-being of those they were entrusted to care for (Heb.13:17). You need to love people and be diligent to care for the flock – don’t view the people as your audience but love them like Jesus who was moved with compassion (Mk.6:34). Care for people because Jesus loves them & gave His life for them (Ac. 20:28). Protect them from wolves who attempt to draw them from Christ to themselves, & remember the Sheep belong to Jesus (Ac. 20:29). Learn to listen well or else you won’t discover how people are doing. I confess, that I need to remember to listen better, to be patient with people, and to avoid jumping to conclusions. When I listen better I’m a more effective shepherd.

God will set shepherds over His people who will care for them in place of worthless self- focused shepherds who desert the sheep (Jer. 23:4, Zech.11:15-17, Jn.10:12-13). Being a shepherd requires you to see people as individuals with needs instead of a multitude (Mk. 6). A shepherd is on mission to seek and save that which is lost (Lu.19:10).

A pastor’s perspective (from pastor Bruce Zachary): in my “early years” as a church planter I confused being a shepherd, in other words loving people, with wanting to care for every perceived need. It tended to create unhealthy dependency upon me, rather than God, and I tended to like being needed. Nevertheless, it was unhealthy for the church and for me on various levels. Furthermore, this dynamic is prevalent in small churches under 150 adults. Therefore, I suggest that you focus on leading and teaching as priorities and then being a shepherd.

okeechobee

Miles Wide

Last week I traveled to the East Coast as a representative of the Calvary Church Planting Network at a Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference in Florida.  In so doing I was honestly amazed by the scope of the Calvary Chapel family of churches.  Walking onto the campus at Calvary Merritt Island was — quite honestly — like walking into a room full of strangers.  Although southern hospitality was truly on display, I [personally] knew only about 6 people at the conference, and 3 of them were representing ministries from my church.  This was a totally foreign experience for me, as every conference I attend on the West Coast is like a family reunion.  In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend such conferences is to interact and fellowship with brothers I do not get a chance to see often.  Those are wonderfully refreshing times.  The South East Calvary Chapel Pastor’s Conference was a refreshing time too, but in a different way.

I was genuinely refreshed by the breadth of Calvary Chapel.  There are hundreds and hundreds of Calvary churches throughout the nation (and the world), many, if not most of them are very small community fellowships.  Their pastors are down-to-earth normal guys who stepped into the ministry as unlikely candidates for pastoral work.  Their backgrounds typically have more to do with manual labor than ministry training, but by God’s grace and the work of the His Spirit, these men have become shepherds of God-seekers who are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior.

I was also struck by the importance of reaching out to those who may not know anyone or are significantly disconnected from others, with like DNA, in ministry.  In San Diego County (where I serve as a pastor) there are upwards of 50 Calvary Chapel’s.  Fellowship with others in the work is not just a phone-call away, but a 5 or 10 minute drive away too.

While there I met Pastor Fred, from Calvary Chapel Okeechobee.  He and his wife started the church and when looking for a house in Okeechobee they happened upon an old church with a parsonage that was right in their price range.  So, they bought a home and with it a meeting place for the church that [literally] is their home.  They serve in a community with more cows than people, or so they said.  I’m sure it’s true too.  It’s there on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee — a lake you cannot swim in cause the gators would get you.  I had no idea there was such a place as Okeechobee, or a Calvary there, but there is; and I’m sure there are hundreds of other Okeechobee’s and Pastor Fred’s in Calvary.  They’ll probably never speak at a conference, and probably wouldn’t want to if they were asked asked, but they are faithfully serving and laying down their lives for Christ’s Bride.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

– Hebrews 6:10

well

Dig Up the Old Wells

And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. (Genesis 26:18, NKJV)

I am a fan of this passage, and its present application as it pertains to church life. Last week, Jon Langley introduced the question about how to do church. From my perspective, Genesis 26:18 helps greatly in answering the question.

(Note: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached his incredible series on revival based largely upon this text, but that won’t be my subject here. For that treatment, check out the book. It’s called Revival.)

The passage tells about Isaac—young Isaac, inexperienced Isaac. As he began to move about in the land and enjoy/obtain the promised inheritance, he encountered some difficulties with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In spite of these difficulties, Isaac was blessed and became very prosperous.

Things were going well for him when he came upon some wells that had been dug by his father Abraham. Although these wells had been earthed by the Philistines for some reason, Isaac felt it well worth the time and effort to unearth and re-dig the same wells. Apparently he sensed that these wells were valuable, having been dug by his well-respected father. Not only did he re-dig the wells, he revived their names. He called them exactly what they’d been called when Abraham had named them at first.

The connection between this story and the present day question of how to do church seems obvious to me. The application of this connection may not be so obvious.

If we’re going to do church today we should do it in view of history, in the light of what has been done before. Like Isaac with his father, we should respect the work of those who have gone before, and we should build upon any solid, Christ-centered foundation they have laid.

So how far back do we look?

As far as the church is concerned, we have to go back to her Founder, namely Jesus. Sadly, in far too many places even His well has been covered up. Living water isn’t flowing in such places, to be sure. Jesus is the One who said that He would build His church. Paul later added that no other foundation could be laid than that which has been laid. The foundation is Jesus Himself.

(Pastor, here are questions for you: is the church you are pastoring built upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know Him well? Do the people know Him well? Are the grace and truth of Jesus part of your personal and church DNA? Is the sole aim of the people to follow Him? Is it your sole aim to follow Him? Is He your example for love and grace?)

We must also look back and re-dig the wells of the apostles and prophets. We do this primarily through the study of the NT epistles and the book of Acts. We don’t need to look around today nearly as much as we need to look back. We look back to Romans for soteriology, to Ephesians for ecclesiology, to Colossians for Christology, to James for practical Christian living, to the book of Acts for the pattern of ministry in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, we look back and re-dig the Christ-centered, apostolic wells that are evident from church history. When we find such wells, we drink deeply and wisely, constantly measuring water quality through the tests of Christocentric and Biblical revelation.

And when we do look around at current methods of doing church, we’re in a constant evaluation mode. Is this thoroughly Biblical? Does it appear in the nature and teaching of Jesus? Is it found as a pattern anywhere in the book of Acts? Is there specific teaching on it in the epistles? Does it square with the two great commandments?

Isaac would have been extremely unwise (and disrespectful) had he decided to just pass by and ignore those old wells. So it will be for us, if we only look around at what others are doing … and fail to look back to what has gone before within the plan and purposes of God.

Normal Church

NORMAL CHURCH: How should the Church ‘do church’?

I have no wisdom to share, no hobby horse to ride, no burning coal of encouragement or rebuke. Rather, I have a question that I admit I have no answer to. This is not a Rob Bell-esque attempt to stir things up by posing a question and pretending I have no opinion on the matter while secretly pursuing an end. I truly want to know more about something, and hope that those who read, comment, and lurk on this blog will jump in and share their Biblically educated thoughts that I may be further enlightened; that we all may.

Does God reveal a specific design in Scripture for what the Church should look like? To this I say “yes”. I actually could write a post on that: the Biblical description of who the Church is, our position, our calling, our purpose. But that’s not the question I’m curious about.

I’m wondering if God reveals specifically how the Church should worship, meet, pray, and go about being and doing those things we know that Scripture calls the Church to be and do. Was it intended to be the same for all time, or to change and adapt? Have we ever done it right? What is “normal church” supposed to be? Are the guidelines loose enough to allow for many different cultural expressions of “doing church”? I hope I haven’t muddied the water in trying to ask the question. Let me get really specific.

It’s clear from the Biblical record of the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest gatherings of the local Church bodies met in homes, open-air locations, and other convenient places held by members of the body of Christ. We see the earliest church praying together daily, and sharing their resources for the common good of the body of Christ. This was in Jerusalem. But we also see small glimpses into the lives of local Church bodies in Antioch, in Asia, in Greece. We see the weekly “love feast”, the sending out of missionaries, the appointing of elders and deacons. The call to teach and shepherd and discipline the Church.

As stated above I don’t have definite answers to all my questions, but from what I have studied it seems that the Church meeting together in “church” buildings didn’t begin until the mid 3rd century. Now it’s considered “normal” and even required by some groups. In fact, when I affiliated as a Calvary Chapel pastor it was a requirement that the local Church body I was pastoring met in an official building of some sort and specifically on Sunday. And yet the Church grew and thrived for over 200 years in homes, open spaces, and other properties they had access to through members of the Body. Was this God’s plan all along? To build up His Church in these places until the day when legal ownership of their own building would be possible, and then that would become the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan that the individual members of His Body would meet together daily until such a time as they were able to get by with Sunday mornings and maybe a mid-week meeting? Is the bi-weekly meeting God’s plan for the new “normal”?

Was it God’s plan for His Church to share things in common and send aid to other local Church bodies in desperate need until they became big enough to have so many of their own issues that they need only worry about themselves? Was this His design for the new “normal”?

The Church in Jerusalem met daily. The Church in Corinth had love feasts and communion on Sundays. Was it His plan for those things to be temporary until we figured out a better way that would become the new “normal”?

Is our “normal” of today (and the last several centuries) just as flexible as the “normal” recorded in Acts? Or is our normal the end all? How can a pastor or elder have confidence that they are leading His Church in a way that He intended? In other words… how do we KNOW that a Sunday morning service with 30 minutes of singing/music/worship, followed by 30-60 minutes of expositional teaching, the collection of offerings, announcements, and maybe a potluck is how God truly intends for His Church to accomplish the mission of making disciples throughout the world? Or is it simply one of many ways?

Please don’t turn on the assumption afterburners and think that because I’m asking the questions I’m against these things or being contrary for the sake of stirring up conversation. I’m not entertaining some kind of dangerous doubt, or loosing the faith. If we can’t question and reaffirm why we do what we do in the name of Christ then we have no business claiming to do it in His name!

So, are these things done the way that we do them because God revealed that His Church should do them thusly? Or are they our interpretations of BIble and history and custom, tailored over time, institutionalised, and made comfortable via the vehicle of cultural adaptation?

If God never intended for there to be a specific Biblically mandated liturgy (beyond baptism and communion and the making of disciples throughout the world), then I’m okay with that. In fact it’s quite freeing to know that we can truly be lead by the Spirit within the bounds of common sense, cultural compatibility, and Biblical principles to carry out the work and ministry of the local Church body in the way He leads.

But if God gave us a specific design then what is it? If it’s what we see in the early church, then where in Scripture is it taught and why don’t we still do it that way? Why would a movement that typically decries the influence of Constantine’s legalisation of the Christian faith as “marriage to the world” then also cling to one of the chief results: the Church owning property and meeting in official buildings of worship rather than believers’ homes and other properties and open spaces in the community? Why was communalism okay then, but so heavily guarded against, and even sneered at now? Why was daily prayer and worship normal then, but beyond even the ability to imagine now (because people are busy with “their own lives”)?

If it’s what we see in the “normal” of today then where in Scripture is it taught and why didn’t the early church figure it out?

Or is it that those things were never normal and we’ve just misunderstood the record?

Or maybe they truly weren’t intended to remain “normal”, and the bi-weekly meetings of busy Body members with little to no real knowledge of each other and love of one another was always God’s goal? (Okay, I admit that one was opinion and a bit of bitterness masked in the facade of a question).

The thing is, it’s not normal in other places I’ve lived and spent time in. It’s not normal in many places I’ve heard from others about. What should the daily life and liturgy of the Church look like? Who got it right? The early Church? The African Church? The Indian Church? The Western Church? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? The Chinese underground Church? Or is there a “normal” or “right” way at all, other than just doing what is truly Spirit lead and best for the Body of Christ in each local Church body?

I know… lots of questions. Let’s here some of your answers. I’m really very curious and hope that many comment and share what they’ve learned from Scripture, prayer, research, and experience.

Thanks!

The Missional Myth

A term you may hear thrown around a lot these days is the word Missional. You may have wondered what it meant, who was behind it, and who is being Missional. The church loves to name movements within. We have had the Great Awakening, The Azusa Revivals, and The Jesus Movement to name a few. Recently movements with in the church haven’t necessarily been revivals but instead methods of doing ministry. It started with the Seeker Sensitive movement (Attractional) which was counteracted by the Emergent Church movement. I am not going to define any of these movements but instead take a look at the movement of the moment which is the Missional Movement.

Now some would argue with me that Missional isn’t a movement but the true way to do church. We are all missionaries and we are to go and be missionaries in our communities, hence being Missional. If it was that easy I wouldn’t be writing this blog. In fact when I first heard of Missional and what it was my first thought was “Duh!” Unfortunately there isn’t one definition for being Missional. Tim Keller in his book Center Church identifies four definitions and then goes on to give his own.

The Missional movement, first defined in 1999, is really a morphing of many different movements. You will find a large section of Reformed pastors describing themselves as Missional. You will also find converts from the Emergent movement as well as the Attractional movement all jumping on the bandwagon. So what is the Missional movement? It is a push to get the church to look outward towards the lost in the community instead of inward. It is a movement to de-emphasize the position of the pastor and to lift of the Priesthood of all Saints.

Here is my issue with this movement. It over emphasizes social justice as a way preaching the Gospel. It  over emphasizes community over congregations. It also elevates contextualization over content. What I mean by that is that there is far too much emphasis put on not offending people with our message and that we need to speak in terms that they will understand. The over-arching reasoning that a Missional person uses is that our culture is changing fast and so we as a church needs to change as well. We are no longer a Christian culture (Christendom) and so we need to adapt to the culture. My objection to this is that the first century church wasn’t born into a Christian Culture and spent the first 300 years, not relating to the culture of the day, but instead sticking out.

The Missional movement celebrates the Mars Hill method of reaching people, reasoning with them. The irony of this it was Paul’s least fruitful ministry place. Right after Athens Paul went to Corinth and we see him attempt another tactic…humility. He preached Christ and him Crucified and that’s it! Corinth was a place that even our culture would blush at today yet Paul experienced great fruit in that city. Instead of the church trying to adapt to the culture what we need to do is strip ministry down to the basics and humbly preach Jesus Christ.

Here is the mythical part of this movement. It is a lot of theory but there is very little effectiveness going on. We can talk all day about equipping people to be on mission in their community or workplace but we aren’t seeing a lot of it. I am all for reaching the community but to me this movement seems like a repackaged concoction of a bunch of previous movements that have recently passed.

IMG_1513 - Version 2

Tangaraj

In this third instalment of posts on pressing on to do the difficult things rather than being complacent in things easy and battles already won, I want to address the recently revived topic of church planting. Admittedly there has been an upswing in both talk and action in this area, but it’s still in the category of the “hard things” for the majority. I pray that what the Lord has been teaching me proves useful for you as well.

This past January I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to India to teach some of our brothers who pastor there the Inductive Bible Study method. After visiting three different regions of India, traveling by local airplane, car, taxi, auto-rickshaw, and bus, and teaching my part of the study at two large conferences to a total audience of several hundred pastors, the results were surprising.

They learned a lot of new information, techniques, and even some truths that they had not previously known. But that wasn’t the real surprise. They were extremely receptive and eager and thankful. That wasn’t surprising so much as it was humbling. The really surprising thing was this… I learned about church planting.

As of the time of my visit to India in January, 2012, I had already church planted twice: once in Southern California and once in East Africa. I had also traveled to 15 countries, taught in four different Bible Colleges, and spent the previous five years on the mission field in East Africa. So traveling to India for three weeks of IBS and other ministry was routine to me in a way. I expected the Lord would use us to bless the local pastors and then I’d be back to other ministry with a 16th country visited and the joy of knowing the Lord used me to further train indigenous pastors. What I got instead was a lesson in purpose… a lesson in doing truly hard things… a lesson in setting aside the excess weight of eloquent excuses… a lesson in fulfilling the great commission, rather than the great omission.

The Indian ministry that invited us to come has a fairly simple mission: gather together the many independent pastors of India with no training or resources and provide a network of likeminded brothers to pray for one another, be trained together, and fulfil the Great Commission together. At the second conference we did I met a man that all the other pastors yielded to. He was one of the oldest pastors there, but that’s not why they respected him so much. They honoured him for a different reason. His name is Tangaraj, but we called him the Apostle Paul of South India.

Tangaraj
When Tangaraj was a very young boy, an Indian believer walked into his village, placed a box on the ground in the centre of the village, lifted up a piece of scrap metal that he had shaped into a cone, and began proclaiming the gospel to the Hindu population. Before the day was over, the villagers stoned the man nearly to death. Tangaraj’s parents had pity on the man and dragged him into their small hut. They did their best to patch him up and then they sent him on his way. Years later, when Tangaraj was a teen, he was sick and needed to get medical attention at a British-run clinic in another village. The nurse there saw to his physical needs, but also shared the gospel with him. Tangaraj put his faith in Christ that day. As he returned to his village he thought about what to do now that he believed in Jesus rather than the village god and the multitude of other Hindu idols. He then recalled the image of the man from his childhood. The one who was nearly killed for proclaiming Jesus in his village. So the teenage Tangaraj found a wooden crate and a piece of scrap metal which he shaped into a cone. He then stood in the middle of the village and began to proclaim Christ. He knew only the basic truth of the gospel, and he proclaimed it boldly. He was beaten and chased away many times. He spent many nights sleeping in a chicken coop simply so that nobody could find him and he could finally get a bit of rest. As he grew and continued to risk his life, preaching in the villages near him, he had only one desire, one prayer: Lord, please let me plant twenty five churches for Your kingdom before I die.

By the time Tangaraj met up with SIM and became one of their key pastors, he was already in his sixties. And yet, he told us, he was disappointed because he had only been able to plant a few churches for Jesus. After partnering with SIM and taking younger pastors under his wing, he had since been able – both directly and indirectly – to be part of two hundred and seventy church plants in South India! You see the pastors in that mission have an agreement. They will receive a basic stipend to meet the basic needs of they and their families, and they will receive regular pastoral training. In return they agree to be serious about the work of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, committing to planting five churches in their respective regions in five years. Yes, I said that. Five churches in five years.

“But wait! That’s too fast!”

Says who?

“That can’t possibly work.”

It has.

“They won’t have strong leadership and will eventually fail.”

They haven’t.

But the Bible says…
I remember my first thought when I heard it, too. Being the typical representative of the group I’m a part of, my first thought was one of skepticism masked in a Biblical pretext: “But the Bible says not to lay hands on a man too quickly.” And that’s right. The Bible does say that. The Holy Spirit then gently knocked on my head… “Then don’t do it too quickly. Do what’s necessary to raise him up right in a shorter time frame. It doesn’t take as long when the man being raised up is serious, committed, and not distracted by the world like you were and like most the men you’ve discipled still are.”

In a conversation with myself and the Holy Spirit that seemed as though it took several minutes but really only lasted a second or two, I realised that basic Great Commission disciple-making and church planting had become a “hard thing” for me and so many similarly situated to me. It’s like somehow, somewhere we buried the disciple-making and church planting of the Great Commission somewhere under a pile of million-man altar calls and Bible verse soundbites so that they only surface when the Holy Spirit back-pressure builds up enough to cause an eruption. Then we say, “Okay, I guess God wants to plant a church. We’ll pray for you.”

It’s unrealistic
Even amongst the most level-headed, Godly, Christ-preaching and teaching pastor-friends of mine, the idea of purposing to plant a certain number of churches in a certain amount of time is beyond the realm of normal thinking for them. Why is that? In fact, a dear friend of mine was my roommate for that ministry trip to India and saw and heard and experienced the same things as me. This brother is the definition of Godly pastor, self-controlled, socially and personally conservative, well-mannered, mature, responsible, thoughtful, and whatever the opposite of “hasty” is. Yet at the end of the trip as we talked about the Indian pastors we had met he confessed to me that he had learned the same thing as I did in regards to church planting: we need to be more serious and purposeful about it. The Great Commission is not unrealistic, it’s what we’re commissioned to do. It may look different in different places and at different times, but it’s still something we need to be passionate and purposeful about doing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We’ll get to it in due time
We need to stop excusing it. We need to stop making it and eventual priority because we simply refuse to believe it can be done without a twenty-year plan. We need to stop using misapplied memorised Bible verses to bind and slow down the work of church planting. I’m the first to recognise and admit that it may take a little longer in America because — simply put — most men are much more difficult to disciple and raise up for ministry due to distraction. I know I was. It is most definitely a cultural thing. It is what it is, but what it isn’t is an excuse to not plan and purpose. Maybe five churches in five years is ludicrous for all the right reasons. But do we just forget about church planting altogether until it just spontaneously combusts? How about one church plant in five years? Can you focus on training up one individual or team of individuals in a five year period?

They’re not ready yet
As we raise up these men and/or teams of people, do we spend way too much time trying to make images of ourselves who will then make copies of our church rather than making disciples of Christ who may very well do things differently than us? I really and truly struggled with this at one point in ministry. It was hard to let God use me to disciple and raise up a man that didn’t’ think just like me, make exactly the same decisions I would, or end up leading a church that didn’t look or feel exactly like what I thought it should. But is making a disciple of Christ and helping him to plant a church supposed to be about what I think is best or is it about what Christ wants? How can we “disciple” a man to be lead by the Holy Spirit and then correct Him for doing so because he does something that’s not how we did it last time? As we disciple and see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a man’s life we must be willing to let him be lead by the Spirit and do things according to his own personality and relationship with the Lord. We need to let go and trust God to do great things with and through him, rather than trying to micromanage the formation of a replica ministry. We mustn’t be about the business of mimeographing ministry style and form, but rather reinvesting the grace of God into the lives of others whom God will lead and use according to His purposes and not ours.

It might fail
I know some will only think of the potential failure of trying to plant churches with such purpose and passion. I truly hate failure. In fact, it’s a very real and burdensome fear that I have to deal with daily. But through my experiences of failure and success I’ve learned that even if some fail for one reason or another, the potential for failure has NEVER been a reason to say no to God’s clear call and commission.

I went to India to share what I knew about studying the Bible and in an unexpected twist was truly and deeply challenged in the area of church planting. I know it’s become a popular topic of late and I hope I’m not repeating anything already spoken. I’ve had a chance to listen to a couple of the teachings from Calvary Church Planting Network’s Re-Engage Conference that just took place. One thing that stuck was something Brian Brodersen said: that the great commission is a church planting mission because discipleship best takes place in the context of the local church (my paraphrase). I think it’s time for a proper re-evaluation of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in the local church today. I think we can learn a lot from the attitude, purpose, and vision of our brothers in the church in India. We need to be passionate and purposeful about the Great Commission of making disciples via the local church rather than carrying on the great omission of neglecting these things.

(Since finishing this article I came across an encouraging statement on the homepage of Calvary Church Planting Network. What a blessing it was to read it. Carry on brothers. Carry on.)