A Second Wind

There arose another generation after them, which knew not the “Jesus People,” nor yet the works which they had done…

My three and a half year-old son, Ethan, is nearly four feet tall. Over the last month his voracious appetite has returned and he’s been in need of an afternoon nap again too. Last week he woke up complaining of pain in his legs; he refused to walk and wanted to be carried for much of the day. It’s not easy lugging a 50 pounder up and down stairs, nor explaining to him that he’s experiencing growing pains. Every Christian movement (denomination) has growing pains too. As a matter of fact, every organization experiences transitional tension.

I was completely unaware, when I stepped into the ministry 14 years ago, that the movement with which I’m associated was entering the throes of just such a time. In actuality, it’s unavoidable. Growth, in life, is inevitable; and if vitality is to be maintained, it must be welcomed. But in such times, when pains begin to emerge, the initial reaction of those at the top is the impulse to engage restricting mechanisms. They are tempted to employ means to moderate the discomfort of change, but if they are not careful they will effectively amputate the budding new growth of future life. Practically speaking, they will force the new life to find fertile ground for growth elsewhere. This happens both in the microcosm of a local church as well as on the larger scale of an entire denomination (In fact, this is how our movement got it’s start).

At this moment in church history, this is a fresh reality for the Calvary Chapel Movement. We are confronted with the difficult truth that the man whom God elected as the forebearer of this movement will, at some point, be called home to glory. It is absolutely certain that he has run the race well, and that there is now laid up for him a crown of righteousness as well as a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from the Lord. But it is also certain that those that have been called at this point to administrate this transition find themselves in a difficult position that requires delicate handling.

The temptation to “bronze the movement” and take this opportunity to identify, clarify and codify just what it means to “be Calvary” is very apparent. Steps have been taken in the last months to forestall such a move, but there are many questions that remain — and perhaps rightly so — unanswered. But in the midst of all this is the present reality that there is a significant demographic in the ranks of Calvary Chapel that do not share the common history of the Jesus Movement, nor the exciting things that defined it. They’ve grown up in an established church, with established structures (bible colleges, radio ministries, conference centers, youth camps, etc…). They, myself included, know nothing of a time before “The Word For Today,” “A New Beginning,” “Harvest Crusades,” “Murrieta Hot Springs” and “Chuck Tracks” vs. “Chuck Tapes.”

We want to see in our generation what we hear of only as anecdotal accounts of yesteryear from others. We desperately desire to run our leg of the relay, but feel hindered by those who began doing so at 18 and now in their 60’s look at us in our 30’s and question whether or not we’re ready to do so. The great oaks of our movement are in danger of stifling the life of those under them.

I’ll readily admit that we may seem a bit brash. Indeed, at times we may completely drive our older brothers crazy. We might come across irreverent or disrespectful. Please understand, we — perhaps I should say “I” — mean no disrespect and truly do esteem those that have pioneered the paths of pastoral ministry in our movement.

Yes, there may be some among our ranks that are “reformed friendly.” We may question the apparent fear of Calvin, but that does not in any way mean that hold a reformed soteriology. True, we may not speak as often of the rapture or hold prophecy conferences and end-times updates, but that does not represent a departure from a traditional Calvary Chapel eschatological position. Indeed, we “do ministry” differently than perhaps has been done over the last 30 years, but if it wasn’t emergent to be barefoot, in a tent, listening to Lonnie Frisbee, then neither are we.

I’ve been told I’m controversial. I recognize that I’ve ruffled a few feathers. My desire is not mere controversy; my intent is not to be critical; my only aim is to stir my brothers up to further love and good works. Should the Lord tarry, I pray that Calvary Chapel continues it’s run. But as an inside observer, I think we’re in need of a second wind.

You’re on a Need to Know Basis

Do you ever just wish you knew exactly how God was going to accomplish everything He’s promised to do in your life? Do you ever wish that in addition to the big picture of where He’s leading you He’d also show you each twist and turn in the stream which will take you to that ultimate destination? I definitely do! I find myself banging my head, getting discouraged, getting frustrated, and even scared at times over the things I DON’T know and understand, instead of enjoying what I DO know and understand. In times like these what God uses to minister to me is the subjective work of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of the Scriptures. The Scriptures remind me that I am on a need to know basis when it comes to God’s plans and direction for my days. He tells me what I need to know to follow Him and enjoy what He’s doing today, and He calls me to trust Him with the other details. Check out some verses that have blown my mind and also comforted me lately.

 

“The secret [things belong] to the LORD our God, but those [things which are] revealed [belong] to us and to our children forever, that [we] may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Look among the nations and watch–Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him [are] all things, to whom [be] glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

The truth is there are sections in the Bible we just don’t want to think about. As I read I see God doing things like telling Abraham to sacrifice his son through which God brings a portrait of redemption. I see God telling Hosea to marry a pagan prostitute and have children and deal with all of the hardship of such a situation, and yet God brought through that uncommon (dare I say sinful in the normative sense) to paint a picture of redemption, turn many people to Himself, and grant encouragement to us. We see God call Abraham in Genesis 12 to leave his father, mother, and family to go to a land “I WILL” show you.

Most of us don’t want to think too deeply on passages like this. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand how they vibe with the normal ways God does thing.s Or maybe we aren’t interested in experiencing extraordinary kinds of assignments from Him because we like our comfort or rhythm of life. But these kinds of things remain staring at us in the Bible.

So I conclude God is loving enough and has the freedom to call me to do things that are totally out of the box. He can call me to do things that make me scratch my head. He may call me into seasons in which the only thing He can tell me is “if it were told you, you wouldn’t believe” how I’m going to do what I’ve promised. And my part is simply to trust, walk forward, and see what He does. I am on a need to know basis. The rest belongs to Him. I can rest in that because I know He is good, and that even if His plan leads me through hard situations and suffering, He will restore one hundred fold any loss accrued.

Why does He call us to such times? One reason is that the life of faith is all that pleases Him (Hebrews 11:1 and 6). So is God leading you through perplexing times? Strange times? Out of the box times? Don’t panic. That’s just what God does. Focus on what He HAS shown you, and trust Him to work out the rest.

Get Out of Your Office!

Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”, 2 Timothy 4:5.

How are you intentionally building relationships with non-believers?  Can you readily name non-believing friends you are burdened for?  I think one of the greatest dangers for the pastor is losing touch with the world and to isolate themselves in a Christian bubble.  This is easy to do.  I love my study.  I can get lost in here digging, researching, preparing for my next sermon or speaking engagement, planning out the church calendar, and dealing with church people.  It’s easy to end up in a place where you have no meaningful relationships with those who are apart from Christ.

It seems the further we disconnect with the nonbelieving world the harder time we have proclaiming the Gospel in a relevant manner.  Let me clarify this point.  I believe the gospel is relevant.  I actually abstain from worldly activities more than the average pastor–I don’t have cable, I don’t drink, I rarely go to the movies, etc, etc.  That being said, I find it critical to be out establishing relationships and engaging people who are not a part of the church.  Failing to do so ultimately diminish your sharpness, passion, and zeal as the Lord uses you to engage a lost world.  Your teaching will become dry.

Since I have been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church, I have been very convicted that it is paramount for me to be involved in the community.  Whether it’s Kiwanis, the local cemetery board, or serving as a law enforcement chaplain I have been compelled to be out amongst the nonbelieving world.  As I have done this, I have established genuine friendships.  I have been questioned about my faith.  I have been called to help in crisis.  I have seen God work through me and it is exciting!  These events shape my preaching and pastoring in a good way.

God has not called us to be taskmasters telling the people what to do, but to lead with our lives and to teach out of the outflow.  As you engage with people who are not Christians, you are reminded

 

 

 

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 3

In my previous two posts, I’ve introduced the idea that because the God of the bible has made clear what His end game is, (Rev. 5:7 7:9), and has commissioned His church to participate with Him in making that a reality, “missions” really should matter to us.  And that basically, everyone of His followers is called to be a “goer” or to “send” those that He has called to go.

In this post I’d like to share some of my experience and my perspective regarding the path to becoming a church that “sends them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God”. (3 John 6)  If a church begins to take “sending” seriously, there’s something crucial that needs to be constructed to facilitate that happening.

Are there any ways to determine which ministries are really important to the pastor and leaders of a local church?  I believe there are.  Here are a few:

1.  How often is that ministry referenced in the announcement or bulletin portion of the church service?

2.  How often is that ministry or an aspect of that ministry made reference to by the pastor in his messages?

3.  How prominent is that ministry in the foyer or the public area of the church office or the public gathering areas of the church?

4.  What percentage of the church budget is expended for that ministry?

5.  If a person wants to become a part of a specific ministry, has a policy or “process” already been developed that they will need to follow in order to be a part of that ministry?

Whether church leaders realize it or not, the ministries in their church that are closest to their hearts are revealed by these things.

Although it’s always interesting to ask the above 5 questions in regards to “missions”, I’d like to zero in on question number 5 alone.

To set the context for the points I’m going to make based on question 5,  I should say that my perspective is the result of meetings I’ve had with the pastors and leaders of more than 50 churches over the past 15 years.  In most of those meetings, “missions” was the reason for my being there and interacting with them.  And even when “missions” wasn’t the primary reason for my meeting with them I always probed around and tried to get a feel for where “missions” fit in their overall view of themselves, their specific ministry, and the ministries of their churches.

Interestingly enough, every one of these churches had extremely well thought-out and written-out policies and procedures for serving in children’s or youth ministry.  And most of them also had some kind of handbook and training process that needed to be followed in order for someone to be approved to lead a home fellowship.  Some of them also had written guidelines for ushering, parking lot attendants, volunteering in the bookstore, and so forth.

But guess what?  Less than a dozen of those churches had any kind of policy or procedure that a potential missionary would need to go through before being “sent” from the church to the mission field.

When I encouraged them, especially the senior pastors, to think about the potential value of creating a written “missions” policy, I was intrigued by the main response that many of them gave me.  It was something like this, “oh man, written policies usually become something you end up being enslaved to and then actually kept by the policy from accomplishing the end game that the policy was originally created to help produce”.

It was strange to me that they didn’t take the same perspective regarding written policy when it came to children’s and youth ministry.

If one of the reasons why following a written policy for children’s ministry is God’s heart for children that is clearly revealed in His word, doesn’t His word even more clearly reveal His heart and love for people from all the ethnic groups and languages that He created?

If a written policy is an expression of His and our love for the children and youth of our own church, wouldn’t a written policy for reaching those scattered around the world also be an expression of love?  And in both cases, that written policy wouldn’t only be a blessing to those receiving ministry, (children or youth, or people in other countries) it would also be a source of growth and blessing to those who ministered within the guidelines.

Just like the written policy for children’s and youth ministry, a written “missions” policy accomplishes the following purposes:

1.  It proclaims to everyone that this area of your ministry is so important that you have thought through and recorded ahead of time the direction and structure necessary to fulfill the vision God has given you in this area.  This instills confidence and trust in your leadership.

2.  Provides a “process” and guidelines that can be easily followed and lets everyone what they can expect if they desire to be involved in this area of ministry.

3.  In many cases, it protects the pastors or other church leaders from having to be the one that says “yes” or “no” to the person who is following the process of the policy on the journey to the mission field. Because the policy was instituted by a group of people at a point in the past and as the result of much prayer, thought, and research, the policy itself can play a major role in who/what is approved or disapproved.  A good written policy provides an incredibly useful “screening” process.

The bottom-line is that a well written missions policy that is the “fleshing” out of the vision of the senior pastor–customized to flesh out his vision and to fit within the unique needs of that church, can be a major blessing to every aspect of a local church.

If the leadership of a local church desires to progress in being “senders”, a written missions policy should be one of the first steps to ensure that “sending” of one of their own is done in a manner that is worthy of our Missionary God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wineskin in the Smoke

Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your statutes”, Psalm 119:83

I have been preaching through Psalm 119 over recent weeks.  I love the Psalms and the refreshment they bring to my soul.  I don’t think I could preach straight through them as a whole, but I love covering them in random order in between breaks of other books.  A couple of weeks ago the above verse gripped me with its imagery.

A wineskin in smoke would become brittle and unusable for in practical purposes.  This is how the psalmist describes  his condition.  I love being a preaching pastor.  It is what I have been called to do.  I cannot imagine not preaching the Word of God on a week-by-week basis.  With this being said, I have to admit preaching every week and leading a church can be draining as it demands much from the individual.

I’m not in this for the short-term.  As I have studied other pastors that are many years ahead of me, I have discovered that it takes a lot of P.M.S. (I couldn’t resist but to through a Navy term in here…”Preventative Maintenance Service” for you you non-sailors out there) to insure that we do not dry out spiritually and loose our passion for the ministry.

What can we do to keep our freshness and passion for serving in this capacity?

Take time off each day.

I read a book somewhere where the pastor understood each day to have only three parts–morning, afternoon, and evening.  He attempted to only work two of the three parts each day.  I don’t always succeed at this, but the thought has been very helpful to me in governing my days.

Take a Day off.

Once a week…if you can.  Well, you can see that this is a tough one for me.  It is just so hard to disengage.  I know it is good for me, for my family, and for the church.  I shoot for Thursdays, but I don’t always make the mark.  In my short coming in this area, my family and I adopted a new strategy about three years ago.  My grandfather-in-law lives outside of San Luis Obisbo on a 40-acre ranch.  We head up there once a month for a two-day (Sunday evening through Tuesday) getaway.  I love this time and has been very fruitful for my family.

Vacation.

Take an extended period of time of each year.  I am learning to open up this time more and more.  I think taking 3-4 Sundays off is ideal.  This year we had a baby and didn’t go anywhere so I don’t feel like I relaxed as much as I could have, but I did manage to read about 3 books that had nothing to do with the ministry which was very rewarding!  That being said, I am already looking forward to a vacation next year.

Read Biographies and non-studying type books.

I was recently reminded of the importance of reading books outside of our field of study.  We should be reading a ton in preparation for our preaching.  I believe in digging deep.  There is no way to short cut study time for good preaching.  That being said, reading on top of that can be difficult, but it is good for us to read “non-study” books and biographies.  It is okay, and beneficial, to read books for fun.  They will have a greater impact on you that you realize.

Exercise.

Pastors and exercise shouldn’t be an oxymoron.  Getting your blood-flowing won’t kill you, go on…give it a shot!  Some of my best sermon prep happens on runs, in the gym, or during a soccer match!  I refer you to my previous blog Spiritually Fit, Spiritually Flabby if you want to know more of my thoughts on this subject.

Pick up a hobby.

I’m not much of a “hobby guy.”  But in many respects I think my wife and kids are sort of a hobby for me during this time of my life.  I love spending time in the pool, going to the zoo, watching ballet, practicing Spanish, going for walks, or simply hanging out.  Probably the closest thing I have to a hobby is being a chaplain to law enforcement…yes, ministry you’d say, but the reality is that it is fun for me and helps me do things like shoot and blow up stuff which is hobbyish!  This being said, I do think having something fun that is not ministry related is great for your soul over the long-haul.

How do you stay fresh?

 

Are we a “sender” or a “goer”? Or are we disobedient? Part 1

This past week has been incredibly busy and an incredible blessing.  My wife and I made a quick trip back to Phoenix so that I could co-officiate the wedding of a young refugee couple from the Chin ethnic group of Burma.  Then, the morning after our return to Southern California, I traveled about 4 hours south of the border with Ron Clipp from Shepherd’s Staff in order to visit and hopefully encourage a few missionaries that live and serve in that huge, developing nation, known as Mexico.

Because of the busy-ness of the week and thus the limited time I’ve had available to write, I need to be brief in this post.  What I will write about in this and my next few posts is the result of my time in Mexico spending just a few hours with these amazingly faithful servants who have stayed at their God-assigned posts through heart crushing personal trials and personal suffering and yet joyfully love, serve, and represent Jesus to those they live among.  Spending even a few moments with the one family who has lived there for 13 years and the other that has lived there for 26 years is a privilege that I don’t take for granted. 

During the 1 hour and 45 minute wait at the border to cross back over to San Diego, Ron and I talked about the giant, yet humble examples of faithfulness the people we visited are.  And I couldn’t help but ponder afresh what/who it is that motivates people like them to do what they do.  As I said, this will be the first of a few posts, and as I unpackage them, I do believe that some of what I write will be of use to those who pastor and lead churches. 

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Paul, the greatest non-divine theologian in the New Testament, was also its greatest missionary.   And if that truth is not a coincidence, than it shouldn’t be surprising to discover that throughout church history, many other great theologians and pastors with solid, thoroughly saturated, bible-based theology either went, wanted to go, or strongly encouraged their followers to take the gospel to all nations.

Why is this? 

To put it simply, if anyone is in an authentic relationship with the God of the bible, they are in a relationship with the missionary God.  The deeper our relationship with and understanding of Him, the greater our desire will be to “declare His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3), and to find our own, God-given role in accomplishing that purpose. 

I believe the following quote summarizes quite accurately the thrust of God’s word in regards to the individual believer and a local church:  “there are only 2 options:  you’re either a sender or a goer.  Anything else is disobedience.”

 

Leadership by Dictat

Please allow me to introduce what I want to say about a certain leadership style by way of analogy.  I tell pre-marital couples, during the lesson on sexual intimacy, that basically anything goes in their sexual relationship except that which violates the other’s conscience or sense of propriety.  If he wants her to do something that she doesn’t want to do (or vice-versa), she will begin to avoid the marriage bed.  She will go to bed before him, after him, have a perpetual headache – or whatever.  She will avoid intimate moments because he is violating her sense of what is right and appropriate.  Because he insists on his way he damages and wounds the spirit of his wife and weakens the marriage bond.

Transfer this same mentality to leader who, by his actions, damages the sensibilities of his staff.  When this happens with regularity, the glue that holds an assistant pastor to the senior pastor is weakened.  Even as a husband should make decisions in light of his wife, a pastor should make decisions taking into consideration their impact upon those in ministry with him.  Will this decision affect their conscience or sense of ministry propriety?  I have heard so many stories of arbitrary pastoral leadership and I know that this is more than just an occasional gripe from a disaffected staff member.

As pastors, we so often shoot ourselves in the foot.

  • When loyalty is demanded and consideration is not given, a falling out is inevitable somewhere along the line.
  • When unquestioning obedience is expected and unprincipled leadership is offered, division is sure to come.
  • When those affected by the decisions of leadership cannot appeal to that leadership for clarity and understanding, a kingdom model of leadership is not being followed.  (This is what caused the Revolutionary War!)

This has really made me revisit my leadership style and how I think through the impact that my decisions and direction has on others.  It’s been a profitable meditation.  In James 3, the wisdom from above is easily entreated.  Have you ever known staff members/staff pastors who are afraid to question a decision the senior pastor has made?   The Jesus style of leadership is not time efficient.  But since much of the church operates according to the corporate model or the military model, pastoral leaders are often full bore ahead with the expectation that the staff will adoringly and obediently follow.  Sometimes, as leaders, we need to be forceful.  I don’t mind pushing someone, but I’m not into pulling them apart.

All too often Calvary Chapel pastors look at staff as functionaries and not as partners.  I want my staff and elders to have the sense that they are working with me and not for me.  I think I have largely achieved that without sacrificing any pastoral authority.  In fact, I believe this model enhances pastoral authority.  My staff and elders are following and walking with me at the same time.  For me, church leadership is like a marriage.  I am the head of my home – and my wife follows me and walks with me (and occasionally reins me in).

PS – I will be out of the office when this publishes and don’t know if Wi-Fi is available where I’ll be going.  I may not be able to interact with any comments that are made until I return.

These Things Take Time…

Proverbs 24:30-32

30 “I went by the field of the lazy man, And by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding;

31  And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with nettles; Its stone wall was broken down.

32  When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction:”

 

It’s an interesting thing to consider…wise King Solomon receiving instruction at the unkept vineyard of the lazy man who is devoid of understanding. So often I think I pass by the unkept vineyards and nary offer a glance. Not so with Solomon. He is walking down the dusty road, gravel crackling under his sandals, and he has the wherewithal to stop at this field, this vineyard, and he considers it. He considered it for a good amount of time. He looked over it in it’s entirety, “And there it was, all overgrown with thorns”. Initial thoughts? “What a waste of a good vineyard. So much potential lost in the bountiful fruit that could be produced to provide for themselves, the employ of others, and a blessing and joy to the community. So sad.

He then looked beyond external glancing appearance and saw, “Its surface was covered with nettles”. Pain-causing, annoying, irritating things, nettles. What obviously began as fertile soil in which to grow grapes was now encumbered by nettles. Someone started off with a desire, a vision, and hard work to bring it all to pass…but now it is hard and unable to really receive anything of benefit to the vines, as the weeds will steal most of it. What vinedresser would even hazard walking these rows of vines, tending the precious fruit, when there are nettles overtaking the ground. How lonely this vineyard must be with none to lovingly tend it.

Then, almost as if a sudden, subtle shock, or a prick of the heart does he notice, “Its stone wall was broken down”. The sorrowful state of disrepair speaks of a callous indifference, a disregard of one’s rightful duty of caring for, and protecting this once precious vineyard. Time, neglect and other anxieties must have slowly crept in, unseeingly eroding the once solid boundary of this once prized and promising field. Winds, rains, predators, careless or curious passers-by…all taking their toll under the ever unwatchful eye of the one into whose responsibility and stewardship it was given.

May we all take the time to make the time to walk down the village road, intentionally observing our surroundings. And when we happen upon the unkept vineyard of the man devoid of understanding, may we pause a long while, for nothing is as worthwhile as receiving some sound instruction for our own lives and the lives entrusted into our care.

When Transfer Growth is Healthy

Sometimes we are overly-simplistic in our criticisms and cautions. That’s just part of being human. Still, accuracy and balance (if biblical and true) is something to pursue. And one area in which I think pastors particularly get a little overly-simplistic is that of transfer growth. Transfer growth occurs when someone who is already a follower of Jesus (or at least professes to be so) switches from attending one local church to another.

There is a status quo regarding transfer growth that is understandable, often legitimate, but sometimes overboard. It is frankly taboo to appear to be at peace with Christians coming to your church or church-plant from another local church. As such, pastors who don’t want to be filleted don’t talk openly about it, no matter what the reason someone may have transferred to their church may be. My belief is that, while much of the time (perhaps most) transfer growth is due to unhealthy thinking or behavior, sometime’s it is not. And what I hope to do is shed some light on reasons why sometimes transfer growth can even be a godly, wise, and needed reality.

Let me be clear upfront that I don’t think intentionally pillaging the members of a gospel-centered, God-ordained church is ok. The leaders of the church I serve have, and will continue to tell people at times that they need to return to the church they came from when they desire to come to our fellowship in an unhealthy way, with selfish and sinful motivations. But I’ve also seen people come through our doors from other places who I will never tell to go back to where they came from. Here are some reasons why:

 1. The Gospel must be preached

Not all churches that have the gospel correct on their doctrinal statement actually preach the gospel. Some churches are so focused on speaking to people’s felt needs and emotional struggles that they forget to be clear on the problem of sin and how Jesus solved it for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. And in case we forgot, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17), nothing else. Sometimes people come to my church from another, maybe visiting with a friend or something, and they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, and God convicts them of sin, brings them to faith in the gospel and regenerates them. And as we counsel with them we discover that though they’ve been at a church that has the right gospel on paper, they’ve never heard it preached before. But now they understand it, are broken over it, and put their trust in Jesus in light of it.

The deal is, if you don’t understand and believe the true and simple gospel, you are not born-again. You are not saved from hell. So, for me, when I meet this kind of person at Refuge that last thing I’m going to do is tell them, “Well I’m sorry, but you need to go back where you came from.” I’m going to love them and make sure they have the opportunity to get the discipleship they’ve never had.

 2. Heresy is real

This ties in with the last point, but not every church that names Christ actually preaches Christ. Churches get into weird crap. That’s the bottom line. I remember learning that a local Episcopal church in a town where I used to pastor had started encouraging their Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) group to start using the Quran and Book of Mormon for their studies in addition to the Bible. Because of that kind of thing, I was more than happy to welcome a few transfers to our church who knew there was something wrong with that. They voiced their concerns, called for a change and repentance, and were unheard. So, I was happy to welcome them to a place they could not only be discipled, but invite moms to, knowing that they’d be getting the living water of God’s word instead of the poisonous waters of pluralism.

 3. Seasons in Life Change

We also need to allow for people to grow or transition into different seasons of life. If I were simply looking for a church to plug my family into in a non-vocational ministry sense today, I wouldn’t go to the churches I attended in the past. This isn’t because they are evil or wrong. They’re just not a good fit for where our family is at right now in our relationship with Jesus theologically and philosophically.

4. Sometimes Churches Really do Hurt People

One of the most tragic reasons I’ve seen transfer growth is when people are truly hurt by leaders and churches. A couple years ago a pastor in my area was found to have been having affairs with underage girls in the youth groups he was leading. Part of the fallout from that was that people transferred from that church to other churches, including ours. We welcomed these people to our church as a hospital where they could be cared for and encouraged.

 5. Sharing the lowest theological common denominator isn’t always enough

Generally speaking, if we have the gospel in common with another church I love to promote unity between us. But there are some churches that are involved in things that are just weird enough for me to understand why people would leave them. For instance I know of a church not far from us that began promoting the idea that certain crystals used in worship services can encapsulate the praises of God’s people and project them into the cosmos. This church was encouraging people to give their money and tithes to the people taking these crystals around and doing presentations with them. Then there is the whole prosperity preaching issue that was prevalent. Still other churches who have that “come to us if you don’t want to be held accountable for your sin, in the name of grace” reputation are a problem in our area too. Some of these churches claim (or really do) believe in the same Jesus and gospel we do. But that lowest common denominator isn’t always enough. I would never tell someone they need to go back to that kind of environment because of the way people over-generalize the problem with transfer growth.

I hate unnecessary, flippant, consumeranity, transfer growth. I want people to get saved through Refuge Church. But I also don’t want to be so naïve as to act as if there are no legitimate reasons people may transfer into, or out of the church I lead. So am I saying that all transfer growth is good? No! I’m just saying we need to not be overly-simplistic in the way we talk about the issue.

A Final Exhortation

Having a good relationship with the other pastors in your community is vitally important for handling transfer growth in a way that keeps the gospel witness in tact in your area. If the pastors in your area lob grenades at each other behind one another’s back without having face-to-face interaction, we turn into a bunch of squabbling church people. And most lost people don’t want any part of that. Communicate with the pastors in your community about transfer growth. Ask their advice on how to handle it, and follow-up with each other. The witness of the gospel depends upon it.