“We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight, the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. It’s a rich state of affairs where natural needs are satisfied and natural giftings are fruitfully employed all under the arch of God and in His love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, [Eerdmans, 1995] p. 10)
Something to reflect upon this Saturday
Here is the paragraph on “Christian Social Responsibility” in the Lausanne Covenant (Paragraph 5):
We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression. Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007
The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.
Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.
The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)
Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.
Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”
Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.
People leave churches just as they leave our lives. That is a simple fact. Oftentimes, pastors find more sorrow in people leaving then they find joy in people coming. Anytime someone leaves a church, it affects the pastor. If a pastor cares at all about the people in his family of faith, people leaving can often be quite devastating. Oftentimes, people can learn more about their pastor based on how he handles people leaving the church.
My heart in this article is to give some perspective on how to handle when people leave the church. I have heard of many horror stories about how people are treated by the leadership and congregation when they leave a church and I believe it breaks the Lord’s heart. For those of you who enjoy alliteration, our study on Leaving will center around 5 ‘L’s. Ultimately, I believe that the goal should be a heart that feels this way automatically (ie. the heart of Christ). But often the right heart follows obedient actions. I pray that this will be a blessing to you.
It’s an opportunity to LET
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LET God be God. We have to remember that not every person fits into every congregation. In reality, all of the redeemed fit perfectly into the kingdom of God and His universal church. But on this side of eternity, no every person fits perfectly into each ministry’s style. There are times when people, for whatever reason, can not learn from a certain teacher. Maybe the messages are too cerebral or too milky. Maybe the Lord wants to use a person’s gifting in another body for a specific purpose. Could it be that God, in His sovereign purposes, wants someone to be somewhere else for their own growth and the growth of another body? Could it be that a certain person’s attendance at the church that you pastor will hinder His work? We have to remember that God is sovereign and it is His church, not yours. When people leave it is an opportunity to LET God order His church on this side of eternity.
It’s an opportunity to LEARN
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEARN about your pastoring and people’s perceptions of the church. Now I realize that this point will not sit well with some people but I believe that it is important enough to pursue. Each child of God, pastors included, is in the process of sanctification. We are all continually being conformed to the image of Christ. Not one of us ‘has arrived’. When people tell you that they are leaving, if you have a teachable spirit, you can learn much. I have made it a personal policy that when people tell me that they will be leaving the church, to ask them a few questions. Now before you ever do this, you have to ready for them to answer it honestly and you shouldn’t get upset with them for their answers. Remember, you are asking them because you want to grow and learn. Back to the questions, ‘Is there any way that I, as the pastor, could have tended to you better?’ ‘Is there anything that you feel that the church is lacking that is causing you to want to fellowship elsewhere?’ ‘If you could change anything about our ministry here, what would it be?’
The answers to these types of questions can range from the purely trivial (ie. I don’t like the new color of the sanctuary chairs) to the profound (ie. My children leave the Kid’s church all spun out on sugar without any recollection of what, if anything was taught). Now the reason for these answers can be manifold but at least you will get an understanding of how the ministry is perceived and how you can pray and grow. To be honest with you, I have found this to be invaluable to understand my failings as a pastor.
In conclusion on this point, I think that it is important to take EVERYTHING that is shared in these situations to the Lord for Him to address with you. Too many times, a pastor will hear the same reoccurring reasons for people leaving and instead of bringing them to the Lord; they just stay upset at the people. When this happens, the pastor is missing out on God’s gift of growth.
It’s an opportunity to LOVE
When someone tells you that they are leaving the church, I believe that the Lord is giving you one last opportunity to LOVE and PRAY for the person. Do people leave the church having felt disrespected and disposable? Or do you send them away blessed and encouraged? I have made it a personal policy to always pray for and bless people on the way out the door. I commit them into the Lord’s hands for His loving care. I ask the Lord to place them exactly where He wants them for His glory. When the prayer is over, I remind the people how much I love them and have been grateful for our time together. I tell them that I am always there for them and even though we may fellowship in different places, we are all part of His body. I believe that this gives God tremendous glory and I can’t tell you how many times, those same folks have gotten in touch when things have happened so that I can pray for them and encourage them. They may never come back to the church, but at least that relationship stays in tact.
It’s an opportunity to LEAN
When somebody leaves the church, it is an opportunity to LEAN upon Christ. The Bible teaches that we can ‘cast our cares upon Him because He cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). As children of God, we are constantly learning how to abide in Christ. We know that we cannot bear any fruit unless we do. We abide in Him when we choose to lean upon Him at those times of struggle and trial. When people are leaving the church, it gives the pastor a great opportunity to walk by faith and to learn to rest in His everlasting arms. Whether the anxiety stems from ministry needs, a drop in the offering, what people might say, etc., when people leave the church it can cause intense amounts of pastoral anxiety. Brothers, lean upon Christ and be at rest when people leave.
It’s an opportunity to LEAD
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEAD the church in grace. It is all too often that churches have a cultic feel to them because the people shun or look down upon people for leaving. As the pastor, we can often foster this type of mentality by speaking ill or talking down on the people who have left. Oftentimes the pastor does this to make himself feel better and it is totally carnal. As the pastor you are a sheep with a bell on at most. When people leave, do not abide gossip or maliciousness. Continue to lead the church as Jesus does: with grace, dignity, integrity, and love. Remember Jesus walked the Calvary road before us and leads by example. He didn’t stop walking in grace simply because He was hurt. He kept on to the glory of God.
INITIAL LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR NEW CHURCH PLANT (Part II)
LOOKING FOR A LEADERSHIP TEAM?
Hopefully at this point you’re convinced from part one of this series that it would be a good idea to pray about the possibility of gathering an accountability board to help you as you plant your new church. But maybe at this point you’re wondering what to look for in potential board members. In part two of this series let me give you some points of practical wisdom in this area that I’ve gleaned through trial and error:
MEN WHO’VE GONE BEFORE YOU
First of all, you want to pray for at least one if not a couple seasoned men who can guide you who have planted a church before. Guys who have been through the gauntlet of church planting uniquely understand the challenges you’ll face. That’s not to say anything negative about pastors who haven’t planted the churches they pastor. I know that the church climate in the west today tends to treat pastors who haven’t specifically planted a church as sort of second rate pastors. That is stupid, to put it bluntly. There are good men who pastor churches who have never planted a church. These guys can help you a ton when the church is planted. But in some ways not all of them may be able to fully relate to the unique battles of actually planting a church from the ground up. Pray for the Lord to give you humble and helpful men who can serve you who have actually done the specific kind of work you are going to attempt.
I have transitioned into pastoring an existing church as well as planted a church from the ground up. While pastoring an existing church helped prepare me for some things I encountered in the process of planting, there were other challenges I faced that were totally new to me in planting a church. For one example, in the church I assumed leadership over, by-laws for the ministry were already written and the church had 501c3 status before I began leading. As a result, when I went out to plant a church I really didn’t know where to start in getting those things in place. I was glad to have a brother like Daniel Fusco in my advice corner who’d worked through those issues in his process of planting who could point me in the right direction.
A lot of guys who haven’t planted a church from scratch are like I was before planting. They haven’t thought about how the systems and infrastructure that exist in the churches they lead actually got put into place through the pastor who planted their church. Some will, but they seem to be the exception. So the point is, it is a good idea to pray for help from at least one or two guys who have gone through all the nuts and bolts of specifically starting churches who can help you out with good advice and direction.
“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.” –Ecclesiastes 12:11 NKJV
MEN WITH WISDOM IN DIFFERENT KEY AREAS
Second, pray for men who have wisdom in different key areas of ministry according to your context. Planting churches isn’t just about preaching the Word. That’s the main thing, but there are many other practical things with which you may need helpful wisdom when it comes to establishing local churches. I’d encourage you to seek elders who can serve as advisors in main areas.
If I had it to do over again, as someone who planted in the west I’d look for one guy that is great with business oversight, another who is good with systems for things like discipleship and ministry structure, a guy who is great on the pastoral shepherding side of ministry, and another guy who is great at preaching. A team like that could really give you some rounded encouragement, direction, and accountability for planting in a context like mine.
The specific areas in which you need insight will vary culture to culture. So the key is to determine what shape a local church needs to take to fit your culture, and then look for wisdom from others who are familiar with the practical needs you’ll have and the challenges you’ll face in that context who can advise you in how to bring that church shape to fruition as Jesus plants the church through you. Pray about it.
“Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.” –Proverbs 20:18 NKJV
MEN WITH SIMILAR MISSIOLOGICAL VISION
Third, pray for men who share a similar missiological vision to yours. This way counsel you receive from your board will be moving down the same stream you’ve been called to float. You won’t find yourself hung up with them over missional strategy and amoral issues. For example, if you want to plant a church that is urban and nontraditional you may not want to have a guy on your board who leads a church that is rural and traditional. This isn’t always the case if you both think like contextualizing missionaries. You just want to make sure that the prospective accountability elder in such a case isn’t going to make a certain form or style of church an issue of right and wrong. If you partner with them and this type of thing happens you’ll end up either having to fire a friend for causing more barriers than being helpful, or you will end up with a guy who is a constant thorn in your side because you don’t have the guts to make the hard choice and take him off the team. Neither situation is desirable. Pray for guys who have a missionary vision similar to yours.
“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” –Amos 3:3 NKJV
MEN WHO ARE ACCESSIBLE
Fourth, pray for men to whom you will generally have easy access. You want these guys to want to make time for you. You don’t want to have to bang down their door anytime you need to get some help. You will want guys who prayerfully agree upfront to conference with you in person at least once a month for a board meeting. It’s easy to include guys on your leadership team who live far away from you in prayer and discussions by way of media tools like Skype and other social network resources. No matter how it shakes out practically you mainly need to know that you’ll have appropriate access to your guys for help when you need it. Of course, never forget that even though all human advice be cut off from you, Jesus is with you always even to the end of the age.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17 NKJV
MEN WHO PRAY
The true source of wisdom is the heart of God. We access His wisdom through His Word, and through prayer. It’s really tempting in church planting to only focus on “how-to’s” and practical stuff. We must never forget that sometimes the Spirit wants to do something that is beyond our logic and resources. So you want to first be a man who defaults to prayer over every mission decision, even if the thing to do seems obvious from a practical standpoint in a given situation. Likewise, you want men who will seek wisdom from God on how to advise you, not just their own logic.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” –Proverbs 1:7 NKJV
“…Men always ought to pray, and not lose heart…” –Luke 18:1 NKJV
Lead Pastor, Refuge Church
INITIAL LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR NEW CHURCH Part I
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
THE SINFUL SELF-AUTONOMY OF THE CHURCH PLANTER
Having a prayerfully selected pastoral leadership team to which you are accountable going into a new church plant is plainly a good idea in most cases. Most church planters, including myself, tend to be do-it-your-self types. And so in an entrepreneurial spirit we set out to accomplish what’s on our hearts, our way, convinced the plan we have is the one that will establish the new church we dream to plant successfully.
This kind of self-autonomy can be American and western, but it isn’t always very New Testament and Christian. When Jesus sent out disciples He did so two-by-two. When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey they went together under the Holy Spirit unified decision of the other leaders who served the church in Antioch. In Paul’s later missionary journeys he always had at least a few good men with him whom he was benefiting from, and also training for leadership.
What’s the point? The point is that, biblically speaking, leadership teams are incredibly valuable. Having a leadership team doesn’t mean you aren’t the lead planter or senior pastor. It means you value the godly wisdom of others, you recognize that you have inherent flaws and a sinners’ heart that can wander, and that you need to benefit from what God is doing and has done in other Christians if you want to realize your full potential in Christ.
Practical Reasons to Prayerfully Seek a Team
Before I set out to plant a church in northern Utah I felt clearly convicted by the Holy Spirit that I needed to find some men He had in mind who would serve as the initial leadership team over the new church. Prayerfully following His leadership over me as the lead planter proved to be wise, as following the Holy Spirit and the example of Scripture always is. The Lord connected me with three men from different places and ministry experiences who all agreed to serve as an outside elder accountability board to me until local elders could be raised up. Let me share some of the benefits I experienced through having the support of a board of pastors to whom I was accountable as I started a new church:
A POOL OF KNOWLEDGE
Number one, the elder team provided a pool of knowledge beyond my own from which I could glean. Particularly if you’re a young planter with a lot of passion, you probably don’t know as much as you think you do. That is definitely true of me. Being able to bounce ideas off of guys I trusted who could affirm or challenge what I was thinking has been great. Sometimes I’ve stepped back from what would have been poor decisions through their counsel. Sometimes I’ve gone forward with their support. Sometimes I’ve taken their counsel and ended up doing something different than what was suggested knowing I had heard from the Lord. In every case I have had counsel and accountability and a group of good Christian men praying for me. That, my friends, is invaluable.
GOOD MISSIONAL STRATEGY
Number two, having the accountability of an elder team proved to be good missional strategy where I planted. If you’re from a culture used to hierarchical religious leadership structures similar to the LDS cultures where I’ve planted and served churches, you know that many people will be apprehensive if you appear to have gone rogue without any form of human authority or accountability in your life. Many people will actually think you are the cult in the area if you appear to be going it alone. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with committed Mormons who display skepticism about lone-ranger church planters. On the other hand, when I share with these same people that I have an outside accountability board of men who counsel me and help with oversight there’s always a sense of disarming in the conversation. I can tell that they get almost automatically less skeptical, and take me and the work Jesus has called me to do more seriously. So for some people, having an accountability board may remove obstacles to them hearing the gospel.
A GOOD SUPPORT GROUP
Number three, having an outside accountability elder board provided me with a sometimes much needed support group! Now, I agree that there can be no crying in church planting when you’re the lead pastor! On the other hand, I know from experience that church planting is generally hard work. Most of us aren’t planting in a time of revival where we’re seeing mass conversions. It isn’t like the hippy days of old for Calvary Chapel where, from the stories you hear, you can sometimes get the impression that all one had to do was go out on the street corner and yell Jesus’ name and five-hundred people would get saved on the spot.
If that happens for you, great! But more than likely, barring a sovereign revival sparked afresh by the Holy Spirit, planting a church is going to feel grueling! There might be times when you feel like giving up. There might be times when you wish the few people you do have coming to your new church would simply leave because of how they treat you and your family. There might be times when you begin to doubt your call. In times like these you need men to whom you can turn for exhortation, prayer, and sometimes flat out rebuke.
Number four, an outside elder board has provided a source of not only ministerial accountability for me, but personal accountability. You and I are still sinners even though we are called to the ministry. Paul told Timothy, “God…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace.” What he is saying to Timothy is that not only are we saved by grace, but pastors are in the ministry by grace!
Sometimes when I listen to my own heart and the words of other planters I get the sense that we think we’re saved by grace, but that God put us in the ministry because of our works. We think He saved us in spite of our ugliness, but that He uses us because of our awesomeness. No, brothers! We are in the ministry by grace just as much as we are saved by grace.
As sinners who are in the ministry by grace we are going to need the grace of God often. We are going to deal with temptation. We are going to deal with failure. We are going to deal with the weight of the sin of those we serve. All of this is good cause to gather a good board of accountability elders who can restore us and encourage us in the grace of God from time to time. Don’t go it alone!
*In parts two and three of this series we will look at the kind of men you should look for when establishing your initial leadership team, as well as things to consider when transitioning to a local board of elders. Stay tuned.
Lead Pastor, Refuge Church
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Philippians 2:13 NLT
I had the opportunity this morning to share with about 20 of our summer interns from the youth group at CCEsco. It’s always a great blessing to share with young disciples that are experiencing their first real exposure to God’s call upon their lives. I know, for me, that the three summers I spent as a youth intern at my church were incredibly formative. With that as a backdrop I’m excited to see how God transforms the minds, hearts and directions of these teens.
Philippians 2:13, the primary text we considered today, has been a “goto” passage for me for many of the last 10 years. Every semester at the bible college I meet students who are confronted with God’s call and challenged by what, or where, they are to go and do next. My question – which is also my answer – when they seek counsel on the call of God is always the same, “What do you want to do?” For some reason this question is initially bothersome to most. As I’ve talked with dozens of inquiring students in the last 7 years, I believe I’ve discovered the reason why [partly].
Sadly, we have disconnected our will, desire and enjoyment from God’s call and His glory in our lives. Pastor John Piper does a great job identifying this unfortunate reality in the first chapter of his book “Desiring God.” Over the last 12 years of vocational ministry I’ve witnessed these things work in perfect concert as God has directed my path. I have come to see that most often God directs me [first] by desire
Ok, so I anticipate an objection at this point. Yes, desires can be dangerous. My assumption is that the person seeking God’s will and direction is [hopefully] filtering their desires through the revealed will of God, in His word. A fool might say, “I desire to sleep with my girlfriend, ultimately God created me with this desire, He created a way in which I can satisfy this appetite. He must therefore be “ok” with me indulging.” No, God’s word is clear, the body is not for fornication (I have a teaching on this point if needed). The word of God is always our standard. My desires have to be measured by the character of Christ and His word. Adam Clarke was right when he said, “The godly man never indulges a desire which he cannot form into a prayer to God.”
The Psalms are full of verses that seem perfectly suited for greeting cards and calendars. Psalm 37:4 has found it’s way on to many of them (can you imagine the royalties King David is receiving in heaven?).
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Psalm 37:4 KJV
As I’ve meditated upon this verse I’ve concluded that there are at least two ways to read it. The common way to read it is to say, “If you delight yourself in the Lord, then He will give you the things that you desire in your heart.” I certainly think this reading is correct, but I believe it’s equally valid to read it, “If you delight yourself in the Lord then He will place [new] desires into your heart.” Haven’t each of us experienced a shifting, if not a wholesale transforming of our desires as we have set ourselves to delight in God? God works in us to desire His good pleasure, and when we desire His good pleasure He delights to grant to us what we desire.
In walking with the Lord we are regularly confronted with crossroad decisions. It is at such intersections that we are challenged with the call and will of God. “God, what path do you want me to take?” In asking that question many times I have often sensed the Lord responding, “Which path do you want to take?”
Upon graduating from high school I, like so many, was confronted with such a junction. I was interested in photography and graphic-design, had a natural ability/talent with computers, and a desire to serve God in a church setting, especially with youth. Three doors stood before me. I knew that whichever one I proceeded through I’d find a way in the will of God to use it as a ministry. To be quite honest, I chose the door I liked the most and enrolled at Calvary Chapel Bible College.
A few months into my first semester at college I found myself faced with something of a dilemma. Bible College was great, the setting was beautiful, but I found that much of what I was learning I’d already received through the school of ministry at my home church. The problem was amplified by fact that I was hindered from being apart of body-life within a church while at the college. A new desire began to form in my heart.
Tuesday, November 17, 1998. That night is indelibly imprinted in my heart and mind. Pastor Jon Courson shared at lectures from Genesis 22, on the sacrifice of Isaac. During his message Pastor Jon said, “Perhaps the Lord has called you to leave the Bible College next semester.” Those words gripped my attention as he continued, “If the Lord tells you otherwise 3 days from now, make sure you listen.”
Five days later, following the Sunday services at my home church, myself and a friend from the college (Chuck) were invited to join the church staff as interns in the new year. As my desire met an open door I immediately chose to return to my home church. Chuck couldn’t understand how I could make such a quick decision without [apparently] praying about it.
The following day I was presented an alternate door when I was invited to join the internet services staff at the Bible College. Desire won out, I returned to CCEsco as a pastoral intern in January 1999. Since that time I have continually seen God work in this manner. The desire to teach at a foreign Bible College extension campus was met one year later by an open door serving under David Guzik in Siegen, Germany. The desire (given in 2002) to take over as the senior pastor of Calvary Escondido was met with an open door five years later.
In many ways I have come to expect that God will lead me by a desire, an open door and the resources or ability to do just what it is I desire, and all for His glory and pleasure. His glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive.