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The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays.

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween.

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

scripture

The Anti-Scripture

I was at conference a couple weeks a go here in London hosted by CCEF. One of the things they mentioned doing when looking at the Psalms in order to get a clearer understanding of what the Psalm is saying is to take a look at what it is not saying. I loved the idea and decided to use it on Ephesians 2:8-9. If we turn those two verses on their head and turn them into Anti-Scripture, here’s what we get..

For by your efforts you have saved yourself through your hard work to please God. You’ve done it! You are now worthy of God, so take pride in your accomplishment and compare yourself to those losers who are not as far along as you. You have earned God’s acceptance, but you better keep it up so you don’t lose it.

I found this a powerful device to underscore what the verse is actually saying. I think I’m going to incorporate this as a regular part of my study of Scripture. What is this Scripture not saying? Just for clarity sake, let’s look at the legit verses.

Ephesians 2:8–9, (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Praise God for his gift of grace!

 

 

chosen

Chosen to Abide and Rest

When I assumed the lead pastor role at a former church, one of the amazingly supportive couples in leadership sent me the following thoughts. The church was going through a grieving process over the loss of their previous pastor, always a tough situation for the incoming pastor.

When I received their note I sensed the presence of God in the words. Somehow I knew I’d need the assurance and confidence they would inspire within me. Now years later, I can see how true that has been. In fact, I find myself leaning upon these truths even today.

Last week I was meditating on John 15, and the Lord reiterated these same thoughts to my heart. Back in September (2012) when I went fulltime into my current ministry, Jesus spoke to me about abiding in Him, and He in me. That would be the key, I heard Him say. He would open doors, give me the wisdom I need, provide for our needs, and direct me clearly into the teachings He would have me share as I travel here and there.

All I can say is that He has been faithful, and I’m continuing to learn how to rest in Him.

I hope these words are a strength to you as well … rhema to your soul. God bless you.

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“You are in God’s place at God’s perfect time. Your days are in His hands, and He is your future. 

“He has gifted you and placed His hand upon you to bless you and make you a blessing.

 “The burden of your ministry is not yours to carry—as you rest, He will work; as you abide, He will bring fruit; as you sow, He will give the increase.

 “He is your shield and your exceeding great reward.” (Roy Lessin, from God Has Chosen You.”)

We thank the Lord that He has called you to Himself, to your ministry, and to us. God Bless You.

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  —  John 15:16 (King James Version)

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.

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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.

tsp

You Need a TSP

your pastor left

 

You Need a TSP.

We’re not talking here about Trisodium Phosphate, Telecommunications Service Provider, or a Touch Screen Panel.

We’re actually talking about a Transitional Senior Pastor.

The following article by my friend Dr. Mark Platt has helped shape my ministry with Poimen Ministries (www.poimenministries.com).

Since I left Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay in 2006, I have been directly or partially involved in this sort of role in four different churches. I have discovered that it’s a hugely important and often unrealized ministry that could save the lives of many churches, and propel them on to greater fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. Other men working alongside of me with Poimen Ministries have done the same thing, with the same outcomes. Glory to God!

After my current TSP role is completed in American Canyon, my wife and I remain open to doing it again (and possibly again and again) in years to come. I love the ongoing blessing of seeing these churches grow and do well after I leave. (Finally! We got rid of the bum!” — LOL)

My hope is that the concepts in Mark Platt’s article will spread to many places. The church needs organic leadership like a TSP can provide.

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You Need a TSP!

by Dr. Mark Platt 

A few years ago, I met with the chairman of a church where the long-term pastor had just announced that he was leaving. I began to explain to him how important it would be to hire a TSP (transitional senior pastor). This man who was a very successful businessman interrupted me in about my second sentence.  Confidently, he told me “we got it covered!” As a denominational worker, I thought I should explain the wisdom of a TSP to him so I tried again. But he interrupted me again: “Our church is different. You don’t understand!” As I left, I politely told him that if they needed any help I would be happy to help.

In the months that followed, it became clear that they didn’t have it covered. They tried get a permanent pastor within a month of the long-term pastor’s leaving.  The church voted him down. Then they quickly put one of the associates in as the “interim.”  It turned out that he wanted the job but didn’t have enough votes. Some people wanted him and others didn’t, which divided the church. When the interim was done, the church had lost people, lost money for missionaries, and lost a lot more.

Sadly, many churches think just like this man. They think they can just jam a new pastor in right away. Others think all they need is pulpit supply so they recruit a parade of para-church people, retired pastors, and seminary professors in to preach. Then they put an associate in charge of the staff as the “interim” and share the pastoral duties among the staff. Sometimes churches bring in a person who went to seminary but either has been an unsuccessful pastor or never been a pastor. This can be a disaster as the church declines. Once in awhile, churches get someone who is a stealth candidate who gets the inside track on a job that he should not have. The worst scenario is making one of the associates the TSP because this divides the church or insures that the associate will not be able to stay. While these plans might work occasionally and might save the almighty dollar, they are, at the least, ineffective and at worse, do great damage to churches.

After watching some transition tragedies as well as some glorious successes with TSPs for many years now, I have become convinced that churches need to hire a “transitional senior pastor,” (a TSP). In fact, when God led me to leave my denominational post after twenty-six years, He called me to help churches as a transitional senior pastor. I have seen first-hand how a TSP can greatly help churches in the interim time after a lead pastor leaves and until the new permanent pastor arrives.

I call this the work of a “transitional senior pastor.” I use this term and not the old name “interim” on purpose. I think “interim” connotes someone in-between who hold things together and marks time until a new permanent pastor arrives. After years of watching this from a very close vantage point, I can see how a church can either go through the interim time or they can grow through it. That is the difference between whether a church gets an interim or intentionally chooses to get a TSP.

A TSP has all the authority and responsibilities of a senior pastor: teaching the Bible. persuading people to live God’s way, loving, caring, leading, building unity, serving, helping the church reach out to their community with God’s love, mentoring leaders, guiding staff, diagnosing and treating problems, organizing, and getting a church ready for a new pastor. A TSP is part-foster parent, part-coach, part-teddy bear, part-warrior, part designated hitter, part-peacemaker, part-mentor, and a few more things.

When a senior pastor leaves, every church needs a TSP. I know I sound pretty bold and emphatic about this TSP thing. But I have seen enough to be convinced. When your church is without a pastor, you need a TSP! Here are 10 reasons why:

1. A TSP can be a stabilizing force. When a pastor leaves, some people in a church will see this as the time to go church shopping. Vision is very fragile and can dissipate very quickly in the interim time. A TSP can prevent drift and decline. If there is a parade of pulpit supply and no leader, the church will lose people. Seeing the same face in the pulpit gives continuity and comfort to a congregation. In my denominational work, Pastor Glennon Culwell did 14 TSP assignments for us. Several of these churches told me about the steadiness and stability that this veteran brought to their church. If you pick a good TSP, it will quiet the folks down who want a quick pulpit search and a shotgun wedding so the church can make a prayerful and methodical search that will honor God.

2. A TSP can deal with deferred maintenance. Every pastor has a style and a way of doing things. Pastors only have enough time, energy and political capital to deal with certain things. And just like a typical homeowner, most of us can’t see the things that need to be fixed. A good TSP will have “fresh eyes” to see the things that need to be fixed. The Apostle Paul told a TSP named Titus (1:5): “straighten out what was left unfinished.” If a TSP is doing his job, he can marshal the forces to move and improve the neglected ministries of the church.

3. A TSP can minimize conflict. A vacancy in the office of the senior pastor is one of the times when churches often fall into conflict. Frequently, there has been some element of conflict or disagreement as a pastor leaves. Conflicts often center on music, staff, budget, vision, and other issues. These days there are often diverse theological views in churches. The permanent senior pastor may have been the boy in the dike holding back warring factions. So, when the pastor leaves, these opposing points of view often think it is time to get their way. A transitional senior pastor can be the traffic cop who guides the church through this peril.

4. A TSP can preserve the power of the senior pastor. Whenever a senior pastor leaves, lay people, staff, the church board, and others will instinctively work to fill the void left by the departing pastor. This is very dangerous because these same folks will guard their new turf and can prevent a new permanent pastor from leading. That is why it is important to put a TSP in place almost immediately. A good TSP will keep and strengthen the power of the senior pastor. A good TSP will fill the leadership vacuum until the new pastor arrives. This is vital because strong pastoral leadership is a key element in a church’s health and growth. Proverbs 29:2 says: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order”.

5. A TSP can get the church acclimated to change. When a pastor leads a church for a long time, a church gets accustomed to doing things the certain way. This can be disastrous because every pastor is different. We want pastors to be themselves and be led of the Holy Spirit. So the job of a TSP is to prepare the church for change by making changes so the new permanent pastor can lead in the way God has wired him. If the TSP has made some changes, the new pastor can make needed changes easier.

6. A TSP can deal with hard and dangerous issues. He can be the one who takes the blame. There might be incompetent or disloyal staff members that need to be dismissed.  Quite often, the former pastor did not have the political capital to deal with who those who need to go. Since the TSP is there for a short time, it gives him the freedom and even courage that the permanent pastor might not have. A good TSP should have a thick enough skin to deal with systemic and persistent issues of the transitional church so the new pastor won’t have to. This is a crucial ministry a TSP can perform.

7. A TSP can help the search committee. Most people on search committees know precious little about how a church grows, how pastors think and lead, or how to conduct a God-honoring pulpit search. In fact, my experience is that most search committee members have never been on a search committee before. A good TSP will be able to guide them with the mechanics and intricacies of a pulpit search. He can point out the dangers and save them from making tragic mistakes. He can show them how to do background research, due diligence, a congregational survey, demographics, and develop a profile of the pastor that might fit. Many TSPs are well-connected to sources of potential candidates in ways that most search committees are not.

8. A TSP can help them in the grieving process. Grief is often the result of the exit of a long-term pastor or an adulterous pastor. It is vital to make time for healing within the congregation and to put the service of the former pastor in perspective. There must be a time of letting go of the former pastor and for discarding old expectations, wounds, patterns, and baggage of the past. Only when the congregation has let go of the former pastor can a new pastor be fully accepted. If this period is rushed or neglected, the new pastor will be viewed as an intruder and an interloper so that the new pastor will not last.

9. A TSP can help the permanent pastor succeed. I will never forget hearing Lyle Schaller speak at a seminar for denominational executives. This wise consultant to churches said: “Churches need to have an intentional interim pastor. If they don’t they will have an unintentional interim pastor (the Biblical term is ‘sacrificial lamb’).” A TSP can be the buffer after a beloved pastor leaves and whose legacy no one can match.  Recently, Chris Collingsworth became the successor to John Madden, the legendary sportscaster who is retiring from Monday Night Football. Collingsworth said something like this: “it’s better to be the person who follows the person who follows the legend, rather than be the person who follows the legend.” A TSP can follow the legend so the new pastor won’t have to and that is critical in the succession process of a church.

10. A TSP can save the church money. I have watched churches try to “go on the cheap” with their transitions and end up paying dearly when 20% or more of their people leave and their tithes with them. Other transition plans may work occasionally and may save a few bucks. But in the long run, not hiring a TSP can be very costly. A veteran TSP can help preserve the church. When Dr. Roy Kraft retired from Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz, California after 43 years, he was asked to help Arcade Church in Sacramento in their transition after Dr. Lee Toms retired. Dr. Kraft led Arcade for over a year. This church did well with Pastor Toms but it grew and flourished with Dr. Kraft as the TSP.  New believers and new members who began to support Arcade’s budget were the by-products of his TSP ministry. A good TSP will pay for himself and will help the church honor God!

What should you look for in a TSP? Now, a TSP is not a miracle-worker. He will need your prayers, your support, your alliances, your cooperation, and your willingness to follow his leadership. If you pick a godly and gifted TSP, it will greatly benefit your church in transition. So, pick someone who will not allow himself to be considered for your permanent pastor. Pick a veteran who has been a pastor with distinction. Pick someone who promises to be with your church the entire time until the new pastor arrives. Pick someone who can build on the church’s strengths and fix some of the church’s weaknesses. Pick someone who is seeing his ministry as a calling from God to help church through transitions. If you do these things, I believe God will move your church toward growth and blessing as you honor God.

If I have convinced you that you need a TSP, The Goehner Group is a great resource for finding a good TSP to help your church or para-church organization to navigate through your transition. Call them. My last church used The Goehner Group in their pulpit search with great results and satisfaction. I pray that God will help your church in honoring God in your transition.

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mark-platt-picDr. Mark Platt is a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle and Shoreline College. For 26 years, Mark worked for a denomination helping churches grow, pastoring pastors, and leading a new church ministry. Now Mark helps churches in the interim time between permanent pastors. Mark’s passion is honoring God and helping people know Him personally. Mark is a graduate of California State University in Fresno and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. For many years, Mark was an adjunct professor at Western Seminary, Bay Area campus. Mark and Margaret like to travel, hike, and drive the back roads. Margaret teaches high school in Cupertino, California.

Cautionweb

Shooting with Civilians

I didn’t grow up shooting.  Maybe once, or twice, but nothing that made a real impact on me.  I learned to shoot in the SEAL teams.  From the get go, safety was hammered down my throat.  Things like, “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot”, “Never point your weapon at anything your not willing to destroy”, “A gun is always loaded”, and so forth and so on.  The threat of doing something unsafe or “sweeping someone” (i.e. inadvertently pointing a weapon at someone) would result in severe discipline or being kicked out of the program altogether.

With this fear set deep within us, the instructors let us handle the weapons.  We started slow with learning their components and breaking them apart and reassembling them, then static shooting (i.e. standing still on the range while shooting) progressing over time to very dynamic shooting (i.e. shooting while moving with a lot of moving parts).  As we progressed in these shooting scenarios, the threat of dangers increased because of odds of human error significantly increasing.  But everyone had been carefully trained in safely handling the weapon at all times.  Safety became second nature.  We went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, to a full blown sprint with the things we were doing, but gun safety was hammered home from day one and never was eased.  We were safe because the level of training we received on the weapons.  My time in the SEAL teams has made it virtually impossible to feel comfortable shooting outside of a military or law enforcement setting.  I’m sorry to offend anyone, but civilian shooters can be dangerous and goofy on the range.  I try to avoid it altogether.

This thought popped into my head the other day when I mulled over these verses:

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible describes itself as a great weapon.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is described as the only offensive tool the believer has been given.  With this truth, I think there are some lessons from shooting that I can apply to Bible study today.

Take a gun safety course.  I believe in safety with the Bible like I do with guns.  After becoming a Christian, I realized that I would often play “Russian Roulette” with the Bible.  I would open it flip through pages and just stop somewhere.  I had no idea the big picture of the Bible, the overriding theme, or anything really.  I didn’t know where to begin or how to handle this book of the Bible.  I literally could have made it say anything I wanted it to.  I see myself then and I was equivalent to a toddler playing with a loaded weapon!  As a pastor now, I recognized that many new Christians are not given any orientation class to the Bible.  If this is you, I would suggest reading a book like Howard Hendricks book, “Living by the Book” that will help you learn about hermeneutics–the art and science of studying the Bible.  I would also encourage you to attend faithfully a church where the Bible is taught in a systematic (i.e. Book at a time) way so you learn what Bible study looks like.

Never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy.  This rule in shooting makes the point that every gun is loaded and should be treated as such even if there is no bullet within a 100 miles.  Never loose your respect for the harm a weapon can cause people or things.  This point, as it relates to the Bible, is difficult to articulate.  The Bible is God’s Word, we must handle it very carefully.  When we quote it, we are sharing a Word of the Lord to encourage, rebuke, or shape one’s thoughts about something.  Unfortunately, I have seen many use the Bible in a way for self interest or personal gain.  I would like to urge us to use extreme caution as we are interpreting and applying the Bible.  Certainly this is true as we relate it to others.  It concerns me when I see people cutting and pasting the Bible to prove themselves right on a particular point instead of humbling themselves under the Word to discover the truth.  The Bible should never be used to win an argument, although the Bible has the power and authority to settle arguments if this makes sense.

Perfect practice makes perfect.  There is a saying, “Practice makes perfect” that the SEAL teams don’t agree with.  As I began shooting, one of the sayings I heard early on was, “Perfect practice makes perfect!”  Bad habits are hard to break and bad practice only conditions bad habits.  Because of this truth, I would encourage every believer, whether you’ve been a Christian for 1 day or 30 years, to grow in the practice of hermeneutics.  It’s never too late to start.  The sooner you are equipped to study and apply the Bible on your own, the faster you will be equipped to serve your Lord.  Paul said this to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  This command applies to all believers as far as I am concerned.

Some closing thoughts.  Let me be clear, every believer has the Spirit to guide them in the study of the Bible.  God has revealed His Word to us and has said this about it, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We have been entrusted with the use of a very powerful book.  I pray that we would take the time to learn how to read, study, and apply in our lives!

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Cemetery or Seminary?

In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist…this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays…I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God’s call, I wasn’t sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn’t have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors…which feels weird as I don’t really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God’s call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn’t know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute’s distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like “Old Testament Survey”, “New Testament Survey”, “Elements of Bible Study”, and “Advanced Bible Study Methods.” Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  I ended up completing a year’s worth of coursework through Moody’s program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Master’s of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was “All but dissertation” because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people. Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry–whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, “Did seminary really help you?” I laugh and respond with something like, “If I wasn’t in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis.”  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, “Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, “Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!”  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary–which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on “The Christian and Combat” we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don’t feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven’t been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting “cemetery” slip out of your mouth when “seminary” was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn’t need seminary to go to the ministry…we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

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Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?