[dropcap3]M[/dropcap3]inistering in a theistic environment is relatively easy. Relatively easy in the sense that the you, and the person to whom you are ministering, are playing from the same deck. When you ask, “Can I pray for you?” there’s likely a common understanding about prayer. When you speak about God you can assume that your hearer has a similar concept of God. Religious people with a similar [theistic] worldview are generally more receptive to the gospel, thus “large-scale” evangelism can be effective.
Evangelism in America for several generations had been anything but cross-cultural. For many, “cross-cultural evangelism” has been the equivalent of “foreign missions.” That is simply no longer the case, and contextualization of the gospel is now commonplace for evangelism in our own backyard. There are however some problems. “Contextualization” seems foreign to most ministers over 40. The mainline church is still [largely] relying on evangelistic tactics that are oriented toward a theistic worldview, and expecting receptiveness to the gospel like what you’d hope for among theistics (if I can make up a word).
At the close of 2008 I began teaching through the book of Acts at Calvary Escondido. Six months later, as we came to chapters 10 & 11, I was struck by how the move of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to the “uttermost parts” – or the Hellenistic Roman world – mirrored the shift of culture the church is now facing in 21st century America. In many ways we’ve reverted to a 1st century mindset and culture in the west. How’s that for progress? This is incredibly foreign for the western church, as it has not experienced such an environment for centuries. This epic shift has given rise to the term “Post-Christian,” which strikes great fear into the hearts of masses of evangelicals.
The first week of April, 2009, Newsweek’s cover featured the headline “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” John Meacham’s provocative article “The End of Christian America” got more than a little rise out of many in the Christian community. A year prior, in February, 2008, The Pew Forum released it’s nearly 150 page “Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew’s survey of more than 35,000 Americans explored this religious and cultural shift; it was, in many ways, the catalyst for Meacham’s article and Newsweek’s cover.
Post-Christian. This is the cultural landscape of 21st century America; and Western Europe for that matter (Europe is actually far further down the path). Christianity and the “Christian worldview” are no longer the default in America. Some staunchly hold that America is a Christian nation and consider it their call to defend [politically] “Christian America.” Every time I am confronted by this mindset, I am reminded of Jesus’ words to Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight… My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36, emphasis mine) Perhaps we’d do well to actually read those bumper-stickers that are so trendy among evangelicals today.
Why does this reality seem to frighten us so much? Have we totally forgotten that the world in which Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and many others ministered was wholly non-Christian by the very fact that it was pre-Christian? Do we honestly [and arrogantly] believe that America is the last hope for the Christian faith? Look at the statistics, Christianity is not slowing it’s pace of growth in the least. Sure, it may be growing fastest in places other than America and Western Europe, but the Christian faith is not in decline, even in the west.
What then is in decline? To answer that we’d have to ask, “What exactly is “Christian America?”” I believe that “Christian America” has actually meant “Christian Consumerism,” or if I can make up another word, “Consumeranity.” If that is dead or dying, may it be that the DNR is signed and notarized.
Certainly the long way about it, but what exactly is the point for 21st century evangelism in America? Clearly it’s going to look different than it has, but it’s going to be more like it was, as in the days of Paul.
Large scale “crusade evangelism” may still have a place [for a time]. However, most who attend crusades are already theistically minded. They are, for lack of a better analogy, the low hanging fruit. Paul did seek such individuals in his evangelism. Always when he entered a new city he searched for the synagogue; he first desired audience with the Jews and gentile god-fearers. Ultimately he would endeavor to reach the unreached; the paganistic, polytheistic, pluralistic Roman mind.
Evangelism with Romans involved contextualization and more explanation; and uptake, or receptiveness to the gospel was on a much smaller scale. Roman’s were skeptical and suspicious. At Athens in Acts 17 there were a few who were open, but most mocked and dismissed Paul’s defense. This is what I believe awaits the evangelist of our day; skepticism, suspicion, mocking and dismissiveness. Add to this, they, the modern day lost, are not going to come to us; we must meet them in the marketplace, outside the structure of the church.
These may be changes from the norm of Christianity in America, but the reality is that what we’ve experienced in America has not been normal to Christianity. American Christianity for the last hundred years (or more) has made abnormal, normal. So much so that we’ve lost sight of the fact that every Christian is called to be an evangelist on mission. We have exalted a few key leaders as evangelists and cast on their shoulder the burden of the task. The harvest is white and the few laborers are bound to grow weary unless we reengage the body as a whole.
Michael Frost can be controversial. What do you think? Is he correct?
“We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight, the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. It’s a rich state of affairs where natural needs are satisfied and natural giftings are fruitfully employed all under the arch of God and in His love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, [Eerdmans, 1995] p. 10)
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB
God uses the picture of a soldier to teach spiritual truths to His followers throughout the Bible. This is especially true concerning Paul’s mentoring of the young pastor Timothy in the above passage. Whenever I stumble across these illustrations I feel like I have a distinct advantage in uderstanding them after serving as a Navy SEAL for 12 years. The phrase “good soldier of Christ Jesus” surges adrenaline through my veins as I realize the similarities my new life as a pastor has to my old life as a SEAL. Pastoring is a serious endeavor not for the faint of heart.
“Get your loose ends taken care of boys” is a phase that would circulate my SEAL platoons in the months leading up to deployment. As the day approached and the reality of combat was setting in, teammates were reminded to insure their personal lives were in order before we left. Having “loose ends taken care of” was a critical element to the success of the mission. Having your bills paid and family relations in order are far less glamorous than tasks like making explosives, jumping out of planes and other job requirements of the SEAL, but the consequences of these areas being “loose” often resulted in dire consequences. I believe this truth is the same in the pastoral ministry—whether you are a seasoned pastor or an aspiring church-planter or missionary.
I entered the vocational ministry full time a little over six years ago. In this time, I have come to see that many pastors have “loose ends” that hinder, if not destroy, the work of the ministry they have been called to. I would like to suggest a two big items that every pastor, church-planter, or missionary should take care of before launching into the ministry and maintain with vigilance while in the ministry if they desire to
serve over the long haul.
“He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 NASB. Please read that verse again. What does your family have to do with your qualifications for serving as a pastor? Everything! The pastor’s family is a main qualifier in determining if a man should be serving in the ministry, yet it seems that this area is neglected by many “gurus” in church growth, planting, etc. circles.
I went to a very good Bible College and Seminary and am grateful for the preparation I received, yet I don’t remember taking a single class on “Strengthening Your Family as a Pastor.” It breaks my heart to see pastor after pastor fall out because they have neglected to shepherd their family along the way. Men, we tow a hard road as pastors. Please, invest in your family consistently. You are your wife’s husband and pastor—she needs you. You are your kid’s dad and pastor—they need you.
There is no substitute for time together. I heard someone once say that, “Quality time comes with quantity of time.” This is so true. You must make a habit of scheduling family time daily, taking a day off every week, and planning annual get aways. The life of a pastor is unlike any other job. We don’t really have “hours” as we are truly 24/7. I am not sure how some pastors are able to keep regular office hours and respond to the many and diverse crisis’ that come within the life of the church. I am thankful that my church supports me working out of home. I have a detached office that gives me the ability to spend time with the family when I am on study breaks. This time at home allows me to respond to the
variation of needs 24/7 without neglecting my family.
Men, take it to heart—if you house is in order, your ability to serve greatly increases. Every family is different. The ministry is a calling on the whole family. Take the time to determine what works for your family and make midcourse corrections continually along the way.
Jesus said it best, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13, NASB). Paul continues this thread as he grooms the young pastor Timothy, “An overseer, then, must be…free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB).
Are you familiar with this shout, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!”? You should be. I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s message to Christians to get debt free, to live like no other so you can LIVE like no other. Are you aware that most mission agencies will not consider a candidate for the mission field until they are debt free? I think this should be policy for every pastor who wants to run the course well.
We live in a country where huge amounts of debt are normative—Christians are no different. If you are in debt, I highly encourage you to make it a priority to get out of debt. This is challenging, but the rewards of the freedom to serve are amazing when you are living without debt crushing down upon you. The journey out of debt is a hard road that takes discipline and commitment to get to the end of. Get a plan together through resources like Dave Ramsey’s books or others out there.
The Rewards Ahead!
We pastors entered this race with great intentions. The course before us is not a sprint it is a marathon. The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b, NASB). Is financial debt entangling and choking the life out of you? Get rid of it. Pay it off. Stop charging and spend less than you make. Have you left your family in the dust? As a Navy SEAL instructor leading runs, I would often have to circle back and pick up the “stragglers” (those who couldn’t keep up). You may have to circle back to your family. You may owe your wife and kids an apology. You may need to have a hard talk with your family about how you can give them more of your time.
If you’re like me, you get goose bumps reading Paul’s final words to Timothy to finish strong. At the end of my life I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NASB). Running this race free of debt is so much easier than running with debt weighting you down. On my death bed I pray that my wife, kids, and future grandkids will be there as brothers and sisters in Christ running their race strong. Who’s with me?
Something to reflect upon this Saturday
Here is the paragraph on “Christian Social Responsibility” in the Lausanne Covenant (Paragraph 5):
We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression. Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
Candidate Barack Obama, June 2007
The conservative [especially] evangelical community was stirred into a frenzy by the above quote. Political opponents from coast to coast sought to use it as a rallying point for their base. While four years later I find few statements that I can heartily agree with from our now president Barack Obama, this is definitely one of them.
Cultural shifts are difficult. They are not always sudden and jarring like a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. They tend rather to change landscapes like the slow crushing move of a glacier. The cold hard reality is that culture is never static, which poses a significant problem, as we [humans] don’t much like change.
The Christian, more than any other, must be flexible and ready to adapt to the realities of cultural evolution. We are to be men and women, on mission; a mission which involves a commission to “go.” So, like culture, we are also not static. Our default however, is to tend toward inflexibility. This means that the life for the Christian will [almost] always involve some level of discomfort. As strangers and pilgrims in this world we will never truly find home, in this life. It is this truth that Jesus identified when he said to a potential seeker, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20)
Acts chapter 11 highlights for us a major cultural shift for the early church, one which I’m convinced mirrors what the 21st century evangelical church is now facing in the US and western Europe.
Briefly, Acts 11 brings the church face to face with the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophetic promises. Jesus prophesied saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
For roughly the first 10 years of the church’s existence, it found its base among Jews and Samaritans, primarily. Those who filled her ranks came from a theistic worldview; they were religious. Gospel uptake among those of a theistic persuasion was pretty good. At the birth of the church during Pentecost we witness something akin to the crusade evangelism of the 20th century as 3,000 were converted. Shortly after that there came another 5,000 (depending on how you read it). But a decade in, at Acts chapter 10, we witness the gospel’s advance into a paganistic, pluralistic, polytheistic, somewhat secularistic environment. Acts 11 reveals the apostolic reaction to what we could call “culture shock.”
Culture shock is what happens when you wake-up one day to find the culture around you has changed, and you have not. The evangelical church in America is experiencing a culture shock similar to that of the church in Acts 11. President Obama’s quote exposes the cultural shift, which the church is beginning to wake-up to. How we (the church) react to this shift will shape much of our evangelistic efforts in 21st century America.
People leave churches just as they leave our lives. That is a simple fact. Oftentimes, pastors find more sorrow in people leaving then they find joy in people coming. Anytime someone leaves a church, it affects the pastor. If a pastor cares at all about the people in his family of faith, people leaving can often be quite devastating. Oftentimes, people can learn more about their pastor based on how he handles people leaving the church.
My heart in this article is to give some perspective on how to handle when people leave the church. I have heard of many horror stories about how people are treated by the leadership and congregation when they leave a church and I believe it breaks the Lord’s heart. For those of you who enjoy alliteration, our study on Leaving will center around 5 ‘L’s. Ultimately, I believe that the goal should be a heart that feels this way automatically (ie. the heart of Christ). But often the right heart follows obedient actions. I pray that this will be a blessing to you.
It’s an opportunity to LET
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LET God be God. We have to remember that not every person fits into every congregation. In reality, all of the redeemed fit perfectly into the kingdom of God and His universal church. But on this side of eternity, no every person fits perfectly into each ministry’s style. There are times when people, for whatever reason, can not learn from a certain teacher. Maybe the messages are too cerebral or too milky. Maybe the Lord wants to use a person’s gifting in another body for a specific purpose. Could it be that God, in His sovereign purposes, wants someone to be somewhere else for their own growth and the growth of another body? Could it be that a certain person’s attendance at the church that you pastor will hinder His work? We have to remember that God is sovereign and it is His church, not yours. When people leave it is an opportunity to LET God order His church on this side of eternity.
It’s an opportunity to LEARN
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEARN about your pastoring and people’s perceptions of the church. Now I realize that this point will not sit well with some people but I believe that it is important enough to pursue. Each child of God, pastors included, is in the process of sanctification. We are all continually being conformed to the image of Christ. Not one of us ‘has arrived’. When people tell you that they are leaving, if you have a teachable spirit, you can learn much. I have made it a personal policy that when people tell me that they will be leaving the church, to ask them a few questions. Now before you ever do this, you have to ready for them to answer it honestly and you shouldn’t get upset with them for their answers. Remember, you are asking them because you want to grow and learn. Back to the questions, ‘Is there any way that I, as the pastor, could have tended to you better?’ ‘Is there anything that you feel that the church is lacking that is causing you to want to fellowship elsewhere?’ ‘If you could change anything about our ministry here, what would it be?’
The answers to these types of questions can range from the purely trivial (ie. I don’t like the new color of the sanctuary chairs) to the profound (ie. My children leave the Kid’s church all spun out on sugar without any recollection of what, if anything was taught). Now the reason for these answers can be manifold but at least you will get an understanding of how the ministry is perceived and how you can pray and grow. To be honest with you, I have found this to be invaluable to understand my failings as a pastor.
In conclusion on this point, I think that it is important to take EVERYTHING that is shared in these situations to the Lord for Him to address with you. Too many times, a pastor will hear the same reoccurring reasons for people leaving and instead of bringing them to the Lord; they just stay upset at the people. When this happens, the pastor is missing out on God’s gift of growth.
It’s an opportunity to LOVE
When someone tells you that they are leaving the church, I believe that the Lord is giving you one last opportunity to LOVE and PRAY for the person. Do people leave the church having felt disrespected and disposable? Or do you send them away blessed and encouraged? I have made it a personal policy to always pray for and bless people on the way out the door. I commit them into the Lord’s hands for His loving care. I ask the Lord to place them exactly where He wants them for His glory. When the prayer is over, I remind the people how much I love them and have been grateful for our time together. I tell them that I am always there for them and even though we may fellowship in different places, we are all part of His body. I believe that this gives God tremendous glory and I can’t tell you how many times, those same folks have gotten in touch when things have happened so that I can pray for them and encourage them. They may never come back to the church, but at least that relationship stays in tact.
It’s an opportunity to LEAN
When somebody leaves the church, it is an opportunity to LEAN upon Christ. The Bible teaches that we can ‘cast our cares upon Him because He cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). As children of God, we are constantly learning how to abide in Christ. We know that we cannot bear any fruit unless we do. We abide in Him when we choose to lean upon Him at those times of struggle and trial. When people are leaving the church, it gives the pastor a great opportunity to walk by faith and to learn to rest in His everlasting arms. Whether the anxiety stems from ministry needs, a drop in the offering, what people might say, etc., when people leave the church it can cause intense amounts of pastoral anxiety. Brothers, lean upon Christ and be at rest when people leave.
It’s an opportunity to LEAD
When people leave the church, it is an opportunity to LEAD the church in grace. It is all too often that churches have a cultic feel to them because the people shun or look down upon people for leaving. As the pastor, we can often foster this type of mentality by speaking ill or talking down on the people who have left. Oftentimes the pastor does this to make himself feel better and it is totally carnal. As the pastor you are a sheep with a bell on at most. When people leave, do not abide gossip or maliciousness. Continue to lead the church as Jesus does: with grace, dignity, integrity, and love. Remember Jesus walked the Calvary road before us and leads by example. He didn’t stop walking in grace simply because He was hurt. He kept on to the glory of God.
INITIAL LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR NEW CHURCH PLANT (Part II)
LOOKING FOR A LEADERSHIP TEAM?
Hopefully at this point you’re convinced from part one of this series that it would be a good idea to pray about the possibility of gathering an accountability board to help you as you plant your new church. But maybe at this point you’re wondering what to look for in potential board members. In part two of this series let me give you some points of practical wisdom in this area that I’ve gleaned through trial and error:
MEN WHO’VE GONE BEFORE YOU
First of all, you want to pray for at least one if not a couple seasoned men who can guide you who have planted a church before. Guys who have been through the gauntlet of church planting uniquely understand the challenges you’ll face. That’s not to say anything negative about pastors who haven’t planted the churches they pastor. I know that the church climate in the west today tends to treat pastors who haven’t specifically planted a church as sort of second rate pastors. That is stupid, to put it bluntly. There are good men who pastor churches who have never planted a church. These guys can help you a ton when the church is planted. But in some ways not all of them may be able to fully relate to the unique battles of actually planting a church from the ground up. Pray for the Lord to give you humble and helpful men who can serve you who have actually done the specific kind of work you are going to attempt.
I have transitioned into pastoring an existing church as well as planted a church from the ground up. While pastoring an existing church helped prepare me for some things I encountered in the process of planting, there were other challenges I faced that were totally new to me in planting a church. For one example, in the church I assumed leadership over, by-laws for the ministry were already written and the church had 501c3 status before I began leading. As a result, when I went out to plant a church I really didn’t know where to start in getting those things in place. I was glad to have a brother like Daniel Fusco in my advice corner who’d worked through those issues in his process of planting who could point me in the right direction.
A lot of guys who haven’t planted a church from scratch are like I was before planting. They haven’t thought about how the systems and infrastructure that exist in the churches they lead actually got put into place through the pastor who planted their church. Some will, but they seem to be the exception. So the point is, it is a good idea to pray for help from at least one or two guys who have gone through all the nuts and bolts of specifically starting churches who can help you out with good advice and direction.
“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.” –Ecclesiastes 12:11 NKJV
MEN WITH WISDOM IN DIFFERENT KEY AREAS
Second, pray for men who have wisdom in different key areas of ministry according to your context. Planting churches isn’t just about preaching the Word. That’s the main thing, but there are many other practical things with which you may need helpful wisdom when it comes to establishing local churches. I’d encourage you to seek elders who can serve as advisors in main areas.
If I had it to do over again, as someone who planted in the west I’d look for one guy that is great with business oversight, another who is good with systems for things like discipleship and ministry structure, a guy who is great on the pastoral shepherding side of ministry, and another guy who is great at preaching. A team like that could really give you some rounded encouragement, direction, and accountability for planting in a context like mine.
The specific areas in which you need insight will vary culture to culture. So the key is to determine what shape a local church needs to take to fit your culture, and then look for wisdom from others who are familiar with the practical needs you’ll have and the challenges you’ll face in that context who can advise you in how to bring that church shape to fruition as Jesus plants the church through you. Pray about it.
“Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.” –Proverbs 20:18 NKJV
MEN WITH SIMILAR MISSIOLOGICAL VISION
Third, pray for men who share a similar missiological vision to yours. This way counsel you receive from your board will be moving down the same stream you’ve been called to float. You won’t find yourself hung up with them over missional strategy and amoral issues. For example, if you want to plant a church that is urban and nontraditional you may not want to have a guy on your board who leads a church that is rural and traditional. This isn’t always the case if you both think like contextualizing missionaries. You just want to make sure that the prospective accountability elder in such a case isn’t going to make a certain form or style of church an issue of right and wrong. If you partner with them and this type of thing happens you’ll end up either having to fire a friend for causing more barriers than being helpful, or you will end up with a guy who is a constant thorn in your side because you don’t have the guts to make the hard choice and take him off the team. Neither situation is desirable. Pray for guys who have a missionary vision similar to yours.
“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” –Amos 3:3 NKJV
MEN WHO ARE ACCESSIBLE
Fourth, pray for men to whom you will generally have easy access. You want these guys to want to make time for you. You don’t want to have to bang down their door anytime you need to get some help. You will want guys who prayerfully agree upfront to conference with you in person at least once a month for a board meeting. It’s easy to include guys on your leadership team who live far away from you in prayer and discussions by way of media tools like Skype and other social network resources. No matter how it shakes out practically you mainly need to know that you’ll have appropriate access to your guys for help when you need it. Of course, never forget that even though all human advice be cut off from you, Jesus is with you always even to the end of the age.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17 NKJV
MEN WHO PRAY
The true source of wisdom is the heart of God. We access His wisdom through His Word, and through prayer. It’s really tempting in church planting to only focus on “how-to’s” and practical stuff. We must never forget that sometimes the Spirit wants to do something that is beyond our logic and resources. So you want to first be a man who defaults to prayer over every mission decision, even if the thing to do seems obvious from a practical standpoint in a given situation. Likewise, you want men who will seek wisdom from God on how to advise you, not just their own logic.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” –Proverbs 1:7 NKJV
“…Men always ought to pray, and not lose heart…” –Luke 18:1 NKJV
Lead Pastor, Refuge Church