military2

When the “perks” become ultimate, the ultimate becomes a “perk”

A few months ago, (May 4, 2012) I wrote a post about my conviction that the U.S. Military, as it exists today, provides an amazingly accurate analogy for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In this post, I’d like to take hold of the U.S. Military analogy one more time, but now I’d like to broaden the scope of the analogy from the individual believer’s walk with the Lord to the ultimate purpose Jesus has for His church that He builds, (hint:  He was, is, and always will be The Missionary God).

I’d like to begin by asking a multiple choice question regarding any and all branches of the U.S. Military:

Which one of the following is the ultimate reason the U.S. Military exists?  (Only one answer is correct!)

A.  To provide each member with specific vocational training and vocational work that will make their post military career much more likely to be successful?

B.  To provide the opportunity for career advancement, travel, and financial resources for further education upon completion of their term of service?

C.  To provide the opportunity for travel, first class recreation, decent housing, and all medical and dental needs for its members and their immediate family?

D.  To willingly obey the Commander-in-Chief of the United States when he deems it necessary for the good of the U.S. that the military actively engage an enemy of this country at any location necessary, even if by doing so, that member of the military might be required to give up his/her own life.

Clearly, although the U.S. Military provides everything listed in A,B, and C, above, those things are not the reasons why the U.S. Military exists.  Those are all good things, and the U.S. Military spends literally billions of dollars to ensure that those things are provided for its members.  But really, those things are more like the “perks” that are provided to those who willingly choose to submit themselves to the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Military, which is letter “D”.

I vividly remember the day that I “swore in” to the U.S. Army, at the age of 17, on May 29, 1976, (a month after I graduated high school).  All of the cool advertising and various marketing tools used by the recruiter focused on A, B, and C.  And it sure sounded like those were great reasons to join.  But at the AFEES station in Los Angeles on that day, the reality of what I was really signing up for hit me like a ton of bricks as I raised my right hand and repeated the oath of obedience,  voluntarily giving over to the Commander-In-Chief at that time, (Gerald Ford…soon to be Jimmy Carter), the authority to send me anywhere he deemed necessary even if it meant my life could realistically be brought to an end in the process.

Because of what I understood that I was doing on that day, even at that young age, I’ve always been bothered by those who have joined the U.S. Military as part of the reserves or the various National Guard units.  Unless I’m mistaken, they all “swore in” too, taking the same kind of oath that I did.   And because that is true, it irritates me to no end that when the wars of the last 12 years took place and they were called upon to transition to active duty and be deployed, a large number of them complained, saying something to the effect of “this isn’t what I signed up for!”  Wrong…its exactly what they signed up for!

Where did these complaining pseudo-soldiers/sailors/airmen go wrong?  They joined for the “perks” and were convinced that the “perks” were the reason the military existed, even though they actually did “swear in” and take the oath.  For some reason, they never actually understood or believed that the purpose of the U.S. Military wasn’t ultimately or primarily for their own benefit.

Might there be an application here to the local church and it’s members?  I’m convinced there is.

Have local churches, by over-emphasizing  the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members, actually contributed to a foundational misunderstanding by their own members of the ultimate reason for the church’s existence?  I think so.

Have the leaders of local churches inadvertently communicated to their members that the “perks” of being a member of God’s Kingdom and a part of their local church are what is ultimately important and thereby relegated the actual ultimate reason to a “perk” that the members of the church have the option to participate in or not?  Again, I think so.

And if the above two observations have any validity, might it not also be valid that the pastors and church leaders have contributed and communicated these things because they themselves believe the “perks” are what’s ultimate?

I’ve probably stirred enough irritation with this post so I’ll shut it down for now.  But I will expand on these things in my next post by spending a bit of time pondering U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and some principles they operate by that perhaps pastors and church leaders can learn from.

Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?

 

 

A “goer” or a “sender”? Part 2

Are you a sender or a goer?  Or, are you in disobedience?  Those were the two questions that I ended my last post with.  For this post, I’ll begin with just one question and move forward from there.

Is it possible to have a personal, interactive relationship with the God who has revealed Himself in the bible and NOT be interested in what is generally referred to as “missions”?

Me thinks not……and here’s why:

As Matt Kottman so simply and beautifully pointed out in his reply to my last post, God Himself, in the essence of who He is, (a tri-une God), is both a sender, (the Father), a goer, (the Son), and an ongoing sender, (the Holy Spirit), who empowers those that continue to go and those who send them!  Because this is true, anyone, (especially a pastor), with the God-given gift of teaching that is empowered by the Holy Spirit will be challenging God’s people to either go or send those who He does call to go.

As I’ve pointed out before in a previous blog post, those who commandeered the great line from “Field of Dreams” and turned it into “If you teach it, they will come”, were a bit off, in my opinion.  The reality is that, “If you teach it, they will go”!  And obviously the THEY is a reference to God’s people–those who hunger to be taught His word.

And to spin that line one more way, “If you teach it, they will send!”  And they will “send” those who “go” in accordance with the principles that the Apostle John challenged Gaius with in 3 John 6-8.  He basically told Gaius that those who have gone forth for His name’s sake should be sent forward on their journey “in a manner worthy of God” and that by doing so the one who sends them in this way becomes a “fellow worker for the truth”.

The two missionary families that I visited in Mexico a few weeks were great examples of what I’m talking about.  The one family heard the call to “go” 13 years ago.  The other heard that call 26 years ago.  Both of them were sent forward on their journey by their home churches (both of which were Calvary Chapels), in a “manner worthy of God”.  And, as unusual as it is, they have continued to be maintained in various ways by their home churches over all the years they’ve been there in a way that is “worthy of God”.  Their home churches, through the leadership imparted by the senior pastor have truly been “fellow workers for the truth”.

As much as it grieves me to say it, those two missionary families and the care they’ve received from their home churches, (similar to the care I received from my home church when I served on the field), are the miniscule exception and definitely NOT the rule that is the norm within our group of churches.

In my next post I’ll unpackage a few more of the reasons that prompted me to ask the question above (in italics).  But for now, let me leave you with a question based on a different phrase that I heard for the first time at the first CC Senior Pastor’s conference I attended in 1984:

Pastor, are your sheep the “best fed and best loved” even when the Good Shepherd calls them to serve in foreign pastures?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Story of God’s Presence (Part 2)

In my previous post we looked at God’s presence in the Old Testament. Let’s look at how God is moving from Eden, the Tent, and the Temple, into the New Testament.

Jesus

A new day dawned after four hundred years of silence. The presence chamber (Holy of Holies) in the Temple was vacant, but God’s presence broke into an exiled world in a new way. In John 1:14, we read that Jesus ‘tented’ among us. John intends us to recollect the Tent where God’s presence rested. The tent was an arrow pointing to something greater.[1] Jesus is described as the place of God’s presence. Jesus furthers this fulfilment in calling himself the temple saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (Joh 2:19-21). The glory of God broke into human history in a whole new way. Previously the glory was concealed in a cloud. Now the glory was veiled in flesh. Echoes of Eden resound as Immanuel, God with us (Mat 1:23), walked among us!

Adam was unable to fully enjoy and extend the presence of God on earth because of his rebellion. In the garden of perfection, under idyllic circumstances, Adam failed, rejecting God’s good Word that brings man close to God. Jesus as the incarnate Word (Joh 1:1-2), in a world at enmity with its Creator, in a hostile wilderness, keeps God’s Word. Where both Adam and Israel failed, Jesus triumphs.

However, his accomplishment does little for us if it’s not gifted to us. Jesus as the true temple, true High Priest (Heb 7:26-27), and true sacrifice (Joh 1:29) would give up his life on the cross, the tree of death, wearing a crown of thorns (echoing the curse of toiling amongst thorns (Gen 3:18)) to open the way for exiled humanity to know the Eden-like presence of God. On the cross Jesus said to the repentant thief, “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luk 23:43, see also Rev 2:7).

The true High Priest offers the true Sacrifice and invites people into the true Temple of God’s presence.

Church

Before Jesus ascended back to the Father, he promised the disciples that he would not abandon them, but would give them a Helper of the same essence as himself.[2] This Helper is God’s Holy Spirit who comes upon the church. In fact, Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, the message of God’s presence will be extended in the world (Act 1:8). No longer confined to a garden in the Middle East, a wilderness in the Sinai desert, a city in Jerusalem, it will spread throughout the earth.

The Church becomes the physical place of God’s presence, as it’s the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1Co 3:16-17). God’s Spirit makes God’s people God’s dwelling (Eph 2:20-22). No longer will people need to go to a place where the presence of God is. This place/temple is extending, as God’s Spirit gathers stones making them alive (1Pe 2:4-6). As glorious as this is, the place of God’s presence is still limited as the earth is full of brokenness and pain caused by sin. God’s presence in the Church reminds us of Eden, but it’s certainly not Eden.

New Jerusalem

At the end of all things we see a new city coming down from heaven (Rev 21:10). Its shape is unlike any city ever seen before. It is something new, special, and distinct. It’s a perfect cube in shape, reminding us of the cubic Holy of Holies. Its gates are always open (Rev 21:25), indicating unrestricted access to God’s presence. A river, like in Eden, flows from the centre, God’s own throne (Rev 22:1-3). All the pain of self-rule and exile is abolished and God’s loving, good, and gracious rule is present. The people of God will know the paradise of God’s presence as “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).


[1] John 1:16-17 reveals that grace had been given in the giving of the Law of Moses (which include the building plans for the Tent), but when Jesus came, a whole new dimension of grace was given. We have received the grace of God’s presence directly in Jesus, above and beyond the grace of God’s presence in the tent.

[2] Joh 14:16, the word another here means “another of the same kind”.

Stressed

PLAN OR DIE

Life is busy. Ministry life is even busier. Something I figured out in the first six months of being in pastoral ministry was that I was going to have to plan my week well, or die. And as my ministry load has steadily and dramatically increased over the years I’m more convinced than ever that having a “plan or die” mentality is essential to survival and effectiveness in the ministry. I’m so convinced of this that I not only plan out my schedule to the minute as much as possible every few months, but I also require all pastoral trainees at the church I lead to do the same in cooperation with their family when they start the training process. I figure it is better to learn early to plan by instruction than to figure it out through burnout and floundering ministry endeavors.

Below is a copy of one of my old daily schedules:

 

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-8AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:30-2PM: Church

 

2:30- Evening: Family Time

8-9AM:

Morning Routine

 

9AM-Evening:

Family Day/Daddy Date

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30:

Exercise

 

7:30-8:15AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:15-6PM: Solitude

 

 

 

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Leader Follow-up

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-4PM: Counseling Apps

 

4-6PM: Leadership Meeting/Fellowship

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Counseling Apps

 

7-8AM:

Morning Routine

 

8-10:

Family Time

 

10-12:

House Chores

 

12-1: Lunch

 

1-Evening:

Family Time

 

 

 

Some will look at that schedule and think I’m too loose with planning. Others will think I’m too extreme.

Here are a few benefits I’ve experienced from learning to plan my schedule this way:

 1. Stuff gets done

If I just try to swing at things “when I get around to it” I frequently find that I never really get around to it. I have to plan for the needed stuff to happen, or it won’t happen. But conversely, if most everything has a spot on the schedule, it gets done.

 2. I have more free time

That’s right, MORE free time. The counterintuitive thing I’ve learned about intensely detailed planning is that having a solid plan actually frees you instead of restricting you. The reason for this is that if I work on everything when I’m supposed to, for as long as I’m supposed to, I end up getting things done much quicker and more efficiently than I would if I did those same things when I felt I had a spare moment. For example, I have 7 hours and 45 minutes scheduled for sermon preparation time because that is an extremely important part of my job. But the reality is that it usually only takes me 2 to 4 hours to completely prepare for a sermon. So as I work diligently on my sermon during schedule times I end up getting it done, and the remaining sermon prep slots become free time to do other things. That is how detailed planning gives me more time instead of restricting me.

 3. My family is informed

The last benefit I’ll mention (though there are many more) is that planning this way blesses my family because it makes it easy for us to be on the same page day-to-day. Generally, my wife knows exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it if she wants. And my family knows that when dad’s working, he’s working. But they trust me with the busy times because they know I’m making scheduled times in which we invest in our family which are just for us a priority as well.

The truth is that our need/desire to plan comes from our being made in the image of God. Our God is an ordered God of planning. Jesus came to earth when “the fullness of time had come.”[1] God is not the author of confusion and chaos, but peace, rhythm, and harmony.[2] No wonder life is draining and unproductive when we approach it chaotically, without plan or intentionality. If you feel like you’re suffocating under the weight of responsibilities and lack of direction in what to do, that alarm in your mind might be the Holy Spirit exhorting you to plan or die.


[1] Gal. 4:4 NKJV

[2] 1 Cor. 14:33

Presence

The Story of God’s Presence (Part 1)

The Bible is a story, not an encyclopaedia. To find a topic in an encyclopaedia, just turn to the letter “G” to read about God, turn to the letter “M” to learn about Messiah. The Bible doesn’t work this way. By story, I do not mean fiction, but rather an unfolding message. The Bible isn’t about God. It’s about God’s purpose and interaction with people. This grand narrative is a fabric of many threads, but lets look at one of the major threads in the Scriptures – God’s presence.

Now that we’ve threaded the needle, lets follow the stitch in the fabric as we look at Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, Jesus, the Church, and the New Jerusalem.

Eden

The Bible begins with an idyllic description of the world we all desire. It’s a place of incomparable beauty, peace, and blessing – the place of God’s presence. God created man to be in relationship with him. In fact, God walked with Adam in Eden (Genesis 3:8). Adam, being in harmony with his Creator, wasn’t laden down with fears; his relationship with his Maker was free from inhibitions. There was no pain or death, simply the joyful pleasure of life lived in God’s presence.  Something as wonderful as this ought to be shared, and so God blessed Adam with the joy of extending the Garden through fruitful expansion (Gen 1:26-28). He called Adam to work and keep the Garden (Gen 2:15-17). The very nature of the Garden itself yearned to cover the earth as a river flowed outward from it dividing into four other rivers (Gen 2:5-9). God’s purpose was to multiply this place of his presence throughout the earth.

This wonderful relationship between man and his God is the joyful life that everyone longs for, but like us, Adam began looking for a way to have the fruit of God’s presence without God himself. Adam and his wife ate from the tree that actualized life lived under self-rule. Choosing to distrust God and God’s Word, man could no longer enjoy the very presence of God. Man became an exile, and lest Adam try to re-enter the Garden, the Lord set cherubim, heavenly beings, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance (Gen 3:23-24).

Tent

God’s purposes hadn’t changed. He still wanted his creature to enjoy and know his presence, but sin now stood in the way between God’s blazing glory and man’s now frail existence. Although Eden, the place of God’s presence, was sealed off from people who rejected God’s goodness, God’s mission hadn’t changed. God called a man named Moses to establish a place of God’s presence that people could come near (Exo 25:8-10). God would meet with Moses and speak with him “face to face” in this tent often called the Tent of Meeting (Exo 33:7-11).

But man’s sin still stood in the way. Although Moses was graciously allowed to enter into God’s presence, God’s glory was veiled in a cloud (Exo 34:5). Moses was unable to actually see God. Reminding us of Eden, the tent’s inner chamber, known as the Holy of Holies, was separated by a veil, and on it were embroidered cherubim (Exo 26:31-33), reminding us of the certain death of sinners standing before a holy God. Access was restricted. There was an occasion in which one man could enter into the Holy of Holies. The high priest, on the annual Day of Atonement, was permitted entry after he offered a sin sacrifice for himself (Lev 16:2-3). His entry was granted only to make atonement for the sin of the people. The high priest did this with great fear, fully aware of his own sin. As with Moses, a cloud covered the presence of God to shield the high priest from death.

God created man to enjoy his presence, but the bitter fruit of sin beckons people to rule their own life in opposition to God. The message of this Holy of Holies is that God is still in pursuit of us. In spite of our rejecting him to be self-made gods, our Maker still pursues us. God had Moses make this tent seeking to multiply his divine presence on the earth. Why a tent? A tent is mobile (Exo 40:24-28). God was moving. He was extending his presence.

Temple

Later in Israel’s history, to show the permanence of his presence, a temple was established in Jerusalem, which God called the place of his Name (1Ki 8:29). The Temple was the epicenter from which the message of God’s presence could echo forth throughout the world. The Temple extended the presence of God, which he said would be a place for all nations to communicate with him (Isa 56:7, 1Ki 8:41-43). Like the tent, access into the thirty-foot cube of the Holy of Holies was only permitted on the Day of Atonement and only by the high priest. Sin still prohibited people from being able to enter in and enjoy God’s Eden-like presence.

The people of Israel didn’t keep God’s good Word, even though they had the reminder of God’s presence in temple form. Ultimately, the Babylonians, as a judgment of God on his people, would destroy this Temple (2 Chr 36:18). The article of furniture symbolizing God’s presence (the Ark) would also go missing. The new temple to be built seventy years later would be a ‘presence-less’ shell, housing a hollow Holy of Holies. Had God ceased from his mission? No. God’s mission is still active.

God is at work in the world. His mission of making himself known is always underway. This is what we see God doing in the Old Testament, but it doesn’t end there. The New Testament brings yet more clarity to God’s purpose and presence. We will look at this in my next post.

 


[1] John 1:16-17 reveals that grace had been given in the giving of the Law of Moses (which include the building plans for the Tent), but when Jesus came, a whole new dimension of grace was given. We have received the grace of God’s presence directly in Jesus, above and beyond the grace of God’s presence in the tent.

[2] Joh 14:16, the word another here means “another of the same kind”.

justice

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

church_split

The Dark Side of Church Planting

I have been a strong advocate of church planting as long as I have been in the ministry. And I still believe very much in church planting. I have heard it said that the key to the spread of the gospel is new churches. I dispute that. The key to the spread of the gospel is the Spirit working through the church. New and local congregations should be part of the universal church. God did not ordain new churches. He ordained THE church that is meant to spread virally like yeast in flour. With this reality in place, church planting has become very very sexy amongst Evangelicals in the recent seven or eight years. This is not a bad thing either. But like all things, there exists a shadow side. As a three time church planter (and someone who has coached and counseled literally hundreds of church planters), I wanted to spend some time exploring that dark side.

It’s not a church plant, it is a church transfer

This, to me, is the largest dark side to the current obsession with church planting. Statistically, church are being planted with rapidity but the number of Christians are declining in the West. What that means, simply, is that many church plants are really church transfers. A new congregation is birthed but with existing members moving from another church. So one church begins by the pillaging of another. This is not a bad thing when that is an intentional mitosis model of the existing church (multiplication by subtraction). But usually it is not the plan of the existing church. Instead it is imposed on the existing church by a new congregation that subverts the existing church. This problem is also exacerbated by our Western success models. A church plant is ‘successful’ if there is x number of people there. So for a church plant to be deemed successful, they need bodies in the building, no matter where they came from. So I have always advocated that the best way to discern the fruitfulness of a church plant is by baptisms, not by Sunday attendance. So if a church has 30 people in the end of the first year and did 20 baptisms, to me that is a realistic church plant. If a church has 500 people at the end of the first year and did 50 baptisms, then that is a church transfer in my estimation. I always tell church planters this, “Seek and save the lost and throw back the already saved.” By the way, the “market share” of those outside Christ far exceeds those inside.

Not All church plants are alike

In trying to understand the impact of a church plant, we have to look at the circumstances in which it was birthed. Some church plants I like to call ‘trust fund’ church plants. Like a person with a trust fund, their work is fully bankrolled by a large sending organization (both finances and people). Another type of church plant is a “you against the world” church plant where it is a single individual just doing it without any help. Neither one of these ways (or any of the shades in between) are better, worse, more spiritual or less, but they are different and should be viewed differently. In a culture that finds its value by understanding itself in relation to another, this creates a pretty toxic environment. If a church just moved 100 people in an area from elsewhere and have 150 people at it, is it really more mightily used by God than a church that began with one family and has 40 people? In our culture, the church planter with 150 is considered a success and the planter with 40 is just another church planter. Do you see the rub there?

The church split plant

This is all too common and truly sad. This is the church plant that is really a split off of another church (usually led by a disgruntled ex-pastor, missionary or popular volunteer). This plant is within about 30 minutes of the host church and is fueled solely by the disgruntledness against the host church. It is never characterized this way though (until after some time when honesty prevails). It is always characterized in the most spiritual of terms, God’s calling, seeking to disciple differently then they see around. When I have talked with church planters contemplating this, I always say the same thing. “Don’t be THAT guy.” You see, once you are that guy, you carry that with you for the rest of your ministry.

In conclusion, our goal should always be the glory of God in the people of God by the Spirit of God. Church planting should not be a competition nor some sort of carnal badge of honor. It is the calling of God for us to be in His army in the way in which He desires. As churches continue to be planted, let us make sure that we do it with the strength that God supplies that in all things he will get the glory in Christ Jesus.

Mission Minded

Last night my family and I along with our small group served dinner at the local homeless shelter. It is something that my wife and I have been wanting to do for several months now and the planets finally aligned and it was a great experience. It was really cool! Four families from our small group along with ten children (four of which were ours) stormed the place. We served BBQ hamburgers to 35 homeless or transitional people in Lompoc. The people were so nice and appreciative and seemed to enjoy the “life” that our group brought. It is something our group is going to do a monthly basis and our church does on a weekly basis.

Now my city doesn’t have a large homeless population. We are twenty miles off of the nearest freeway and kind of secluded. To be honest that is that way that most of the people in my town like it. They want to remain a small town (even though there are 65,000 people in the area). That presents a problem of inward focus. People, like most everywhere else, tend to look after their own and are almost vigilant about not exposing themselves or their families to anything that might adversely affect it. They use excuses like business or such but in reality, in their gross fear, they don’t want to be bothered. I find this most apparent in my church which is located in a upper middle class bedroom community right next to a country club. Here the focus is on forward advancement and anything of service must serve that cause. Sadly, because of so much inward focus, there is a lot of hollowness and exhaustion.

We are doing things to change that. We have created a campaign that is focused on reaching the lost and hurting of Lompoc. Do I expect the whole church to jump on board? No, but I do want to take that core group of people in our church who are being moved by the Holy Spirit and have a hunger to reach people and give them an opportunity. In the process I also think that those who are on the fence might give it a try. I am not worried about consensus or even who is not there, but out of the conviction that God is putting on my heart, ministering to those God is giving us.

To augment this process of making our church more mission minded I started teaching through the Gospel of John last Sunday. You can’t teach through this book without realizing your role in reaching your community. Even in the prologue of John he mentions “light”, “witness”, and “believe” several times. In fact the whole purpose of John is wrapped up in John 20:31 which says “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John wrote the whole book with the purpose of reaching the lost Jews in the Diaspora.

While I would not join what is called the Missional movement I am trying to lead our church to be more missions minded. I have always had a heart for the lost and hurting and that got lost in my attempt to disciple and equip the church that God has blessed me with. I don’t think you can come to a complete balance but I definitely want to correct the lopsided wobble. We are all called as Christians and churches to reach those who don’t know Jesus. The question we need to ask is “How mission minded are we?”