Pulling Back the Curtain, Part II

ПечатьA month into this church planting journey, I feel like I’m getting more insights every day. I’ve known since the day I left my engineering career to take a job in full-time vocational ministry that it’s a calling and not for the weak of heart. Church planting is no exception to this.

Last year, as I was in the pre-launch phase of the church plant, I told people all the time that I had never experienced more self-doubt than I had during that season of life. I’m not generally a person who struggles with confidence, but that season was rough for me. Rough, but good, as I realized that self-confidence should be replaced with God-confidence, knowing where my confidence should be rooted.

Ministry in general, especially in smaller settings, can be incredibly lonely. You’re busy running around and checking on the welfare of everyone else and not everyone is conscious of the fact that no one is checking on you. So, you need to be proactive and make sure that you’ve got someone who you can lean on in those times. Lone rangers in ministry rarely last long. In fact, I think the road of ministry is littered with the broken lives of those lone rangers.

In an effort to continue to pull back the curtain to reveal what’s behind it, I want to share some insights from this first month and a half (and all the time leading up to it as well).

1) Measuring, Not Counting

A few months ago, a friend of mine shared some insight with me that I couldn’t stop mulling over in my head. We were talking about the metrics by which churches answered the question of whether or not they were “successful.” I told him that I was tired of the “nickels and noses” model, where we count how many butts in the chairs and how much money we had raised.

He said that we needed to move to a place of measuring rather than counting. We measure life change and transformation in people. That’s not something that you can easily do if you’re just counting the people and their money.

Standing there in our worship space Sunday after Sunday, as the clock moves closer and closer to the time of our worship service,  my heart sinks further down when no one shows up. It’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to wonder what I’m doing wrong.

But we need to move beyond just butts in the seats. Are we making a difference? Are the people who are coming being impacted for Christ? Would it matter if we were here or not? These are the more important questions, in my opinion. These are the things to measure, impact and influence.

2) Trends Take Time

The world is a very different place than it was when I was a kid. The church is also very different than when I was a kid. Assessing today based on yesterday is really hard. Solving today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions is downright silly (go read “Canoeing the Mountains”).

As much as I would like to see every person in a worship service every weekend, I know that expectation is unreasonable. Life happens. Stuff happens. While I think being part of a faith community is essential for spiritual formation, people need a reason to care and a reason to invest their time into something.

I don’t know how long it takes to see patterns and trends in data, but I can tell you without a doubt that it’s not six weeks. It’s like farming or gardening, you do the behind the scenes stuff and then just wait. We are doing our best to do that behind the scenes stuff, outreach, relationship building, consistently and persistently. We will watch the trends over time and see what we see.

3) Where Your Treasure Is, Your Heart Is Also

One of the best books that I read in preparation for this journey (other than the Bible) is a book by Simon Sinek called “Start With Why.” It’s a book that I think is an essential read, not just for church planters, but for pastors as well.

Churches have gotten really good at telling everybody “What” they do but have forgotten (or never even knew) how to tell people “Why” they do it. The “What” is not nearly as compelling as the “Why.” People rarely give to “What” but they may give to “Why.” People want to make a difference and they want to see that they are making a difference.

If someone is going to give their hard-earned money towards something, they want to make sure that it’s worth it. That makes perfect sense to me.

At the same time, this is one of those things that needs to be measured. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When people give to a local faith community, the local expression of the church, it’s a pretty good indicator that someone believes in what’s happening. So, if they begin to give of their hard-earned money towards the vision, then it’s probably because they believe in that vision.

4) Vision Casting

Speaking of vision, it’s something that needs to be spoken of often.

I think that some pastors and planters get the idea that because they believe strongly in something and think about it all day, every day, that everyone else does the same.

Not the case.

People live busy lives. I don’t say that as an excuse, I say that because it’s true. I think that part of the responsibility of pastors is to continue to help people remember to be looking at their world through a specific lens, the lens of a Christian worldview.

They won’t necessarily do that on their own, they need help with that. They need reminders. Those reminders need to happen beyond just the Sunday worship service. When they walk out of your church on Sunday, it’s possible that they might not think as deeply about Christ again until the following Sunday.

Vision casting is about letting people see just how seeing the world through the eyes of Christ can impact them. It’s about letting them see God’s vision for the world, that Jesus cares for those in the world who are furthest from him as well as those who are close to him. This needs to happen often, otherwise people forget.

5) Culture Making

The same friend who I talked about measuring versus counting with also had a conversation with me about culture making. We talked about Andy Crouch’s book of the same name. Many people within the Church are critical of the culture in which we live, I understand that, but what is the Church doing to combat that? How does the Church combat that?

Crouch, in his book, talks about how the best way to change culture is to create culture. If we are dissatisfied with what we see in culture, are we creating a new culture? I won’t go through all that Crouch says, but this means so much more than just creating a “Christian” alternative to what’s already happening. 

Honestly, I could write a whole post (if not a whole blog series) on this, but the long and short of it is that we create culture in what we do. What kind of culture are we creating? People may be attracted to programs and certain offerings of the Church, but those things won’t necessarily make them stick. They need something more.

If I marry someone just because they are beautiful and there is nothing more to our relationship, that relationship will be short lived, because it’s based on something fleeting. But if I find someone attractive outwardly, get to know them, and find them even more attractive inwardly because of their character, it’s more likely that the relationship will have staying power.

What kind of culture are we creating in our local expressions of the Church? Are we just offering a place where people can run and hide from the big bad world that lurks beyond the doors? Or are we seeking to create a culture that engages the world beyond our doors, seeking to have conversations about what Jesus means to us and why he matters?

I’m far from done learning on this journey, but I will keep sharing as I go. I’m no expert and will make far more mistakes, but it’s in those mistakes that we can learn the most. I’ll keep pulling back the curtain for anyone who wants to see. Hopefully, the insights that I’m gaining might be helpful for even one other person in this journey.

 

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Pulling Back the Curtain – Part I

ПечатьI have been on a church planting journey unofficially for about a year. The decision to plant happened sometime in the summer of 2018. Throughout the Fall of that year, plans were being made, funds were being raised, a team was being assembled, and prayers were being prayed. In January 2019, it became official, we had received our 501c3 status a few months before and we were ready to begin the pre-launch process.

Growing up in the church, the concept of church planting was not foreign to me. But I definitely encountered a number of people who looked at me sideways if I used the term. It sounds kind of weird if you don’t have a church background. Most people just want to say that you are starting a new church, which is much simpler and probably leads to less staring.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued to strive for authenticity from myself and the people around me. Authenticity and transparency. I get a little tired of things being shrouded in secrecy. Maybe it’s a result of growing up in a pastor’s home where Mom and Dad were always whispering about something. Nowadays, even with my kids, I probably tell them way more than they should know, but secrets never helped me in my own formation, so why should I think it will help them?

All this being said, I know that some of the most powerful lessons that I have learned in life have come from two places: learning from the mistakes of others and learning from my own mistakes. Throughout this church planting journey (as I seem to keep referring to it), I’ve decided that I need to pull back the curtain to show what’s behind it. While there are multiple reasons for it, the two main ones that jump out are that it will provide some accountability and it will also demystify what’s back there.

Two weeks after launching the first public worship service of our church startup (aka church plant, The Branch), the big question I was bombarded with was, “How’s it going?” I knew everyone meant well, but it’s a far bigger question than a two minute conversation thrown out in passing at the grocery store. I’ve never been known for brevity in words, and this time is no exception, so asking such a gigantic question and leaving me limited space to answer is hard for me.

The answer that I consistently gave to those who asked was that church planting is a little like tracking your 401k, it’s more about the long game, the journey, the trajectory. If you look at it day after day, it’s easy to get frustrated, angry, scared, worried, nervous, anxious, and a variety of other emotions that are based on its instability. Church planting, like a 401k, is not about overnight success.

I’m not sure what everyone wants to hear when I am asked that question, but I have desperately fought to not simply throw out numbers. Telling people how many people were at our launch service and how many we have had every Sunday since is tempting but not a true indicator of what’s really going on. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way we count in the 21st century church. I call it “nickels and noses.” How much money do you have and how many people are coming?

If that’s what we’re counting, than we aren’t measuring something that gives a deeper indication of the change or transformation that is happening in the people who come, in our community, and in ourselves. I didn’t start a church from scratch to see how big it could get, I started a church from scratch because a) it was what I felt God was calling me to and b) I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Despite popular belief, walking through the doors of a church and sitting in a chair or pew doesn’t automatically equate to life change and transformation.

So, I’ve tried to get into the habit of talking about what I am seeing beneath any numbers. I’m talking about things that some church planters might not be talking about. I’m walking with a high school student through depression, identity, and thoughts of self-harm. I’m visiting a recently graduated young man in prison, I’m spending time on the psych ward of a hospital with a friend, brother, and fellow sojourner. I dare say that you’re not going to see a ton of church planters doing these things.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to distinguish myself as different, outside the norm. I like to mess with people’s preconceived notions. It’s probably heavily linked to being an Enneagram 8, but I also think it’s because I’ve grown tired of settling for the status quo and the norms that are too easily passed off as prerequisites for success.

We don’t have tons of people coming to our Sunday worship service, but we are beginning to make a mark. We’re caring for people. We’re caring for our town in small ways. We’re doing our best to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where God has planted us. We are partnering with others whose heart beats with a similar beat.

So, if you run into me in public and you decide you just might go there and ask me how it’s going, be prepared, you probably won’t get a statistical resume of how wonderful of a leader I am (I’m not) and how amazingly successful we’ve been so far. Instead, I might just tell you a story, a story of how God is beginning to break down barriers one at a time. While others are doing their best to put up walls, we’re trying to break some down. If you want to hear stories like that, then go ahead, ask away.

I Need, We Need

As I am on the heels of kicking off a new faith community, a lot of my thoughts have been about the church. Not only have I been in full-time vocational ministry for the last fifteen years, but I grew up in the home of a pastor and can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t connected in some way to a local church community.

Starting a church from scratch has given me the opportunity to look at everything with fresh eyes, as if I had never experienced any of it before. When you start things from scratch, you don’t get to say, “We’ve always done it that way.” There can be no excuses.There are no magic formulas. There should be no sacred cows.

I have spent the last few years focusing on StrengthsFinders and how it relates to people within the church community. One of the key uses of StrengthsFinders is to help people connect with what will engage them in their jobs. It made sense to me, as I thought about StrengthsFinders, that the same application could be used within the church. Couldn’t we look for the ways that we would be engaged in our church to find out how we could stick better?

When we start looking at ourselves as pieces of a bigger picture, we move from simply looking for ways to have our needs met to looking to help meet the needs that we see before us. We don’t just ask what I need, but we also ask what we need.

I had a meeting the other day with a few friends, two of whom have been on this church planting journey with me. All three of these friends have a strong voice of advocacy for their own special needs children. I brought us all together to consider what we can be doing as a new church to consider this important community and how they can fit and integrate into what God is building in and through us.

As we talked about different local expressions of the church, one of my friends talked about this very concept of needs. When we fail to see who the church is and why she exists, we fail to move past the question of what she can do for me. We simply see the church as an organization that provides goods for us to consume.

But what happens when we ask ourselves how the church needs me. The way that I see it, in community, we should be transformed and be transforming. Not only are we transforming, but we should be part of that transformation process in others. We should be seeking to be used and to use the gifts that we have for the sake of the community as well.

When we come to this place, we began to see how we fit into the big picture, we begin to see that if we are truly seeking to be used, then our community needs us as much as we need our community.

It was a beautiful reminder of the mutuality of community. Any kind of relationship that is one-sided will grow stale at best, will lead to some kind of abuse or burnout at worst. But when we find the mutual aspects of community, finding our way, our use, and our purpose, it changes the whole thing.

So, considering our place in community, how do we move from simply asking how I am getting what I need and move to the place of helping us with what we need? I think we need to understand who we are, how we are made, and what we have to offer. If we can identify that first, that’s a great step in the right direction of helping us stick better and find our purpose in the place that God has brought us.

Fearful

home aloneAs the day approaches when we will publicly launch out our new church, it’s been a journey of faith for me, my family, and the team of people who have joined us to embark on this new adventure.

I met with a friend yesterday, thinking, dreaming, planning for the future as we look at how we can collectively, with our two churches, press into the place where God has planted us. 1 John 4:18 came up in our conversation, a verse that I’ve quoted many times in years past. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I told my friend that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear.

There have been many days along the way that I could easily have been gripped by fear. There will be many days ahead where I could be gripped by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the inability to provide for my family. Fear of failure.

But there are also many times along the way that I have seen my faith multiplied and enlarged. In those moments when fear begins to creep in, slowly threatening to overtake me, God has allowed these small glimpses of what could be, propelling me forward with just enough hope to get me over the next hill, kind of like the little engine that could.

Fear tells us that we can’t. Faith tells us that God can.

Fear tells us that we aren’t enough. Faith tells us that God is everything.

Fear tells us that it’s impossible. Faith tells us that all things are possible with God.

I have refused to be gripped by fear in all of this, and every single time that I am ready to give up, to throw in the towel, to pack it all up and walk away, I am reminded that the driving force behind what I am doing has nothing to do with trying to be good or look good or succeed, it has everything to do with feeling called to do what we are doing.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

I believe that I am loved by the One who created me. I believe that he has given me the talents and strengths to do what he has called me to do. I believe that he can sustain me and that just as the author of the Book of Hebrews says, he can equip me with everything I need to accomplish his will.

Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? No. Do I wish that I didn’t have to walk in faith? Sometimes. But the whole reason why I am at this place in my life, fifteen years away from a successful engineering career, is because I didn’t feel like I could make the same difference in the world around me as an engineer as I can as a pastor. That’s not to say that engineers can’t make a difference, just that as an engineer, I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I can doing what I am doing now.

And so, we press forward in faith, not fear.

Many people tell me that this is what I was made for, to do this, to launch out. I can echo those sentiments and I see this as the culmination of years of being shaped and formed.

Only time will tell whether or not we are “successful” in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, I would much rather be faithful and faith-filled than successful, because I think in his eyes, faithful and faith-filled actually amounts to success.

 

Owning vs. Taking Ownership

I had a conversation with a good friend last night about all that’s happening in my life right now. As we get ready to start this brand new church in a matter of weeks, so many different things are coming to the surface.

Having grown up within the established church, I’ve got my fair share of stories. Despite the fallibility of people, I realized a long time ago that my faith wasn’t supposed to be in them but rather in Jesus. People will disappoint you, discourage you, let you down, and sometimes stab you in the back. We encounter people like that within the church and we are surprised but I don’t think that it should be any more a surprise to us than when we find sick people when we go to the hospital.

It’s not the surprise of finding them in church, it’s the surprise that the behavior is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Yes, Christ came to heal because it is the sick who need a doctor, but doctors generally give some direction on a plan of health and wellness to be on the road to recovery. If patients fail to follow that, they can’t be surprised when they don’t get better and feel better.

Over my years within the church, I’ve heard the statistics that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. I’m not sure how accurate those statistics are and, frankly, I’m not sure I care because anything less than 100% of engagement means that we still need to be working so that people can not just attend church but be part of the church.

It makes me think about the difference between owning something and taking ownership of something. You see, I think that there are some people in the 21st century who believe that they own the church but they don’t want to take ownership OF the church.

Owning something means that you paid a price to possess it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you take care of it once you have it. It might mean that you pay someone else to take care of it. It may mean that you don’t take care of it at all.

But taking ownership of something means that possessing it isn’t the main goal, it means that you take responsibility for it. When it succeeds, you rejoice. When it fails, you lament. As it goes, so you go. You don’t abandon it when things aren’t going well. You stick by it.

A few years back, a phrase became popular to utter, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” The thing about that phrase is that the church is the bride of Christ. So, if you say that you love Jesus and hate the church, that’s like telling your best friend that you love him but you think his wife is a……well, you get it.

As we launch out with this new church, I want to allow God to build us into a place where people take ownership. I don’t want people to feel like because they have given money towards the ministry of the church that they somehow own the church and get to call the shots. If anyone owns the church, it’s Jesus, she is his bride, but I don’t think it’s about owning, it’s about loving and committing to her.

No, the church is not perfect, but neither are any of us. Abandoning her when she shows her imperfections is no better than abandoning your spouse the moment he or she begins to show that they are human.

I hope and pray that when people come to see what God is building through us, the specific local expression of his body, that they will see people taking ownership of the church rather than owning the church. I hope that they see beyond the flaws of the people who are there and instead see the flawless head of the church, Jesus Christ, who we are all seeking to be more like every day.

It’s a…..baby!

This process of starting a new church that we are in, it feels a lot like waiting for the birth of your first child.

A friend and I spoke the other day and he brought this up to me. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The analogy is so spot on.

When you and your spouse are expecting a baby, you go through the procedures of eating right, caring for yourself, regularly visiting the doctor, and everything else that’s necessary to ensure a healthy baby.

As time marches on and you get closer and closer to the due date, the anticipation, excitement, and terror can be overwhelming. You can’t wait to meet this baby, to see his or her face, to hold them, smell them, cuddle them, just look at them. There is excitement over what it means, this new human being who will charge into your world, disrupting it and making it perfect all at once.

But there is also the terror. Not sure how many first-time expectant parents didn’t think at least once along the way, “Oh my goodness, can I do this? What kind of parent will I be?” If we all waited to have children until we were ready, we may never ever have children.

Waiting for a church to be born has felt similar, but I could never quite find the words to describe it until my friend introduced this to me the other day.

In less than two months, a baby church will be born. We are preparing for it. When it comes, it needs to be nurtured. We wait. We anticipate. We get nervous.

Ultimately, we follow the direction and leading that God gives us through his Holy Spirit. We trust. We pray. We plan.

And to be honest, as much as I thought and planned and hoped along the way before my first child was born, when it came down to it and he was born, most of those things fell away. The only thing that I cared about the most was that he was healthy and growing. The other things were just bonuses.

In much the same way, if things don’t look exactly like I thought they should with this church, I think I will have a similar approach, my number one desire is for a healthy “baby.”

Just Being Honest

This past weekend, my family and I had the chance to travel down to the church of a good friend of mine. He had asked me to preach for him and I was grateful for the opportunity to be with him and his church family. He and I have spent the last few years becoming friends. Now, I feel even closer to him as we ramp up towards starting a new church ourselves.

There were so many joys that we experienced in our time together. As we’ve had the opportunity to travel around to different churches, my perspective has grown and I have been humbled to see all the different expressions of the church in a variety of contexts.

One thing that struck both my wife and me was the authenticity of the people in his church. They were so open and honest, sharing things that surprised me considering that they had just met us. Nothing uncomfortable or awkward, just honest and real, appropriate.

This struck me so much because this doesn’t just happen, it needs to be nurtured. I know that my friend has nurtured it. As we’ve walked together in friendship over the past few years, I have had the chance to see him journey through some difficult seasons. I’ve also seen just how God has worked through those difficult seasons, how he has grown so much through them. I’m confident that God’s growth hasn’t limited itself to him but has spread throughout his faith community as well.

As I pondered on all that I had seen, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was such a surprise to come to a church and find such openness and authenticity. But isn’t the church the place where we should be encountering that kind of thing? Isn’t it the place where we should see Jesus’ words, “Come all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest?” Why is it a surprise when we experience that kind of honesty in the church?

One thing that I sure hope happens as God builds his church through us is that this kind of honesty and authentic atmosphere can be built as well. I hope and pray that people can come back to using words like “refuge” and “safe” to describe the church, and I know that a lot of that will depend on how I lead.

Honesty is only good if it leads somewhere. Our motivation for honesty shouldn’t be to just “get something off our chest.” If we are honest and have no desire for that honesty to help someone else in love, we probably need to rethink it. In fact, sometimes, we might need to withhold our honest thoughts and feelings as they just won’t be well-received by the people we feel burdened to tell.

I’ve been wrestling with this a lot lately, continuing to check my own motivations in speaking truth. Leaning into the Holy Spirit to guide and move. Holding my tongue when my motivation is wrong. Speaking even when it might be uncomfortable but doing it in love with purpose and hope.

My heart for people to meet Jesus is met equally by a heart that desperately knows that the Church has much of which we need to repent. We have not done things well in loving those who don’t look or think like us. We have not always welcomed well the widows and orphans. Pro-life has not always meant from birth to death for us. We have not always remembered that the history of the people of God includes exile, bondage, and times of wandering. We have forgotten that God’s people are immigrants, seeking solace in a land that is not their own.

I pray that the Church can begin to be honest with herself first. Once we begin to get honest about who we are, where we have gone wrong, and how we move forward, I think that kind of authenticity and humility will go a long way to letting people see beyond the Church and see Jesus.

How Are You Different? – The Parish Model

Have you ever had someone give you language to describe something that you’ve known or sensed for a long time but could never describe? For me, it’s happened a few times.

One of the most significant cases of this for me was with StrengthsFinders. I always sensed that there were things that I was really good at and things that I was really bad at, but I never had the language to talk about it and describe it.

The Enneagram is another example of this, giving me language to describe my personality so that people can understand me better. It’s been helpful to describe myself in a way that people can see, hear, and understand (hopefully) that it’s something deeper than me just trying to offend and tick off as many people as possible.

A month ago, I was speaking at my denominational meeting, giving an update about what we are doing in the area of church planting and casting vision for where we are headed. I’ve been known to be passionate when I speak and this was no exception. Couple that with the fact that it’s been quite some time since I’ve preached in a church (going on five months) and I was probably pretty fiery.

After I got finished, I headed to the back of the auditorium where I was promptly approached by a gentleman I had never seen before. We made our way out into the foyer and began a conversation that started with him asking me what my dinner plans were that evening.

As we began talking, I was captivated by the ideas that he was throwing out. He was one of the keynote speakers for the afternoon and I was disappointed to have missed most of his talks because of another meeting that I had. But we talked long enough that afternoon (and then again at dinner) for me to fixate on one idea and concept that he shared.

He said that the new model of church was a parish model. Well, I had heard similar concepts before, but his concept was different. The idea of a parish church is hundreds of years old. The Episcopal Church still uses this idea in naming some of their churches. I grew up in a town with St. Luke’s Parish and I’ve seen that multiple times. Churches function in a geographic area as a parish, ministering to the people within that specific area.

But my new friend cast a different idea. He said that  today is different than it once was. He ministers in blues bars and other places where the people to whom he ministers may never darken the door of a church building. At the same time, the people who come to his church on a Sunday may never darken the doors of these blues bars and other places. It makes for separate ministry spaces with the understanding that there may never be overlap between the areas.

As I’ve been ministering in the community where we are planting, I’ve had this underlying sense more than once, but I could never quite articulate it the way that my new friend did. There are countless new people that I am meeting. I’ve enjoyed these new friendships. I have no hesitation to invite them to come once we launch out this new church, but there is no expectation that they will all be there. So what do I do with that?

It’s amazing to me how often it seems that we embrace the notion of a Triune God in evangelical circles and then live as if only two of those three persons of God are legitimate and real. Francis Chan wrote about it in “Forgotten God.” We talk a good game about the Holy Spirit and then we proceed to live as if he doesn’t exist or as if the same power that raised Christ from the dead is unavailable to him.

If I really trust that some plant seeds, some water seeds, but only God makes them grow, then I need to rely way more on the Holy Spirit than I may be willing to admit. Yes, I need to be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I need to teach people the ways of Jesus. But I also need to trust that behind the scenes in ways unknown to me and outside of my own control, God is at work through the Holy Spirit doing a work that I could never do on my own.

I believe that community is important. I believe that being part of a community significantly impacts the way that I live my life. I believe that there are benefits when I give myself fully to community. I can’t make everyone believe that same thing. I can earn trust. I can share when asked about what I believe. But I can never make them embrace this for their own. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

There should always be an urgency in those of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That urgency can often spring up in us in a way that ignites our passion to see others come to that same acknowledgement and confession. But if I don’t let the Holy Spirit do the work that he needs to do in them and simply try to argue them or convince them to that conclusion, then I can’t expect good things to be the outcome.

I said it earlier in this series, the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet part of it. Am I okay with spending time and ministering to people who will never darken the doors of my church? I better be, because if I’m not, then I probably shouldn’t say that I believe in the Holy Spirit and the work that he is capable of accomplishing.

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

 

How Are You Different? – Trust Matters

The place of the church in American society has significantly diminished from what it was 50 years ago. Where once churches held central places in cities and towns, not only geographically but socially as well, they no longer hold that same place of esteem that they once did. The process of this fall from esteem was not a fast one. Tim Keller, in his book “Center Church,” describes this societal change.

The problem is, the church’s response to this societal fall has been more complaint than correction. Instead of saying, “What can we do to adapt to this fall?” the church has instead said, “How do we get back to our place of esteem and glory?”

This fall from esteem has helped the church to garner a look of suspicion from most of society, not just from those who are not a part of it but also those who are or at one time have been a part of it. Because of its stance on various issues, the church has been labeled as prejudiced, bigoted, and closed-minded.

It’s really easy to lament this change and wish for the golden days when the church was respected and esteemed, but what will that lament change? Will it be helpful? Or the church can do the hard work of building trust in its community, seeking to build relationships with people who have become skeptical and calloused towards the church.

In this day and age, I am constantly reminded of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (bold and italics mine)

I’ve heard this verse quoted many times and it seems that many people have neglected to include that bold phrase, “to everyone who asks you.” I’ve heard people say, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” and then they do just that, giving everyone around them an answer to their hope without building a relationship or earning their trust. They just launch into answering questions that are never asked.

We live in a day and age of skepticism where people are not as trusting as they once may have been. Taking that into consideration, trust is something that is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and slow, cumulative process. It can’t be microwaved, it needs to simmer and soak through interactions and conversations.

This has been one of the major growing areas for me during this church planting journey. I’ve written before about my personal journey of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, this is part of it. If people think that I am only listening so that I can get a word in, there will be no trust built. But if I listen to understand and hear what others are saying, if I show genuine concern for them and the things that they are concerned for, trust is built.

The last thing that I ever want someone to think is that I’m just a salesman who is “selling Jesus.” I’ve seen this happen all too often, Jesus becomes a bargaining chip for people. Come to be part of our party, but first you need to listen to our “Jesus pitch” before we let you enjoy yourself. Worse than this is when people come to have some of their physical needs met and we tell them, “We’ll give you what you need when you listen to what we want you to listen to.”

Treating Jesus and the gospel like a bargaining chip cheapens the message of grace behind it. If we don’t earn trust and earn our voice, why should people listen to us? If we simply listen so that we can get our moment in the spotlight, people will sniff out the disingenuousness of our listening and we will be even further from gaining their trust or earning a right to be heard.

Trust matters and this is a part of the process that can’t be skipped or fast-tracked. It needs to be entered into authentically, organically, and with the utmost patience and care.

As I’ve been building relationships within the community, this is forefront on my radar screen. I want to hear about the things that people care about. I want to hear their hearts, know their fears, know their joys, know their passions. I don’t want to know or hear these things so that I can use them as collateral to negotiate, I want to know and hear these things so that I genuinely care about these new friends I am meeting. If I don’t care about these things, then I am just a salesman, selling Jesus, doing my best to convince people of something.

Jesus said to love my neighbor, and it seems that one of the most loving things that I can do is to listen, care, and build trust with people, letting them know that I’m for them and about them, not simply wanting to tell them what I need to tell them and then move on.

Building trust leads to the last significant difference which is also the newest one for me: establishing a parish model of church. We’ll talk about that in our next and final installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

How Are You Different? – Partnership Is Key

If there is one thing that I’ve seen done both well and horribly, from one extreme to the other, in all of my time within the church, it’s this one. Partnership.

When I say partnership, there are two different aspects that I am talking about: within the community and with other churches.

Henry Blackaby wrote a book years ago called “Experiencing God.” The premise of the book was one big idea: find out where God is moving and working and go there.

As big of a book as “Experiencing God” was among churches that I was a part of, I was amazed that more didn’t really embrace the premise that it proposed. So, as I’ve begun the work of starting something new in a community, this has been at the forefront of my mind in both organizations and churches.

I should give a little aside to the fact that Gallup’s StrengthsFinders has been a significant part of my own journey. In a word, the premise behind StrengthsFinders is that we are all good at something and we should focus on those things in which we do our best work, leaving the things that are not in our wheelhouse to those who possess the strengths to do them well.

As I look at communities, I see so many different organizations. There is the school system, full of teachers, administrators, and other committed workers who have the best interest of the children of the community in mind. There is the emergency response workers who also have the best interest of the community in mind. There are community focused organizations. There are small businesses. There are hosts of others organizations who have a primary focus and a skillset that lies outside of the church community which is being built.

In my opinion, it would be absolutely stupid for me not to consider the strengths of these organizations. To hear what they are doing and to find out ways that we can come alongside what they are already doing seems to be one of the wisest things that we could do. I’ve always said to my wife, “We are better together.” It’s true in a marriage and I believe it’s true in communities. Coming alongside other organizations to find ways in which we can work together is a crucial piece of building this new church.

But the partnerships don’t stop there. In fact, it may be easier to think about partnering with organizations than to think about partnering with other faith communities.

In the past, this kind of work may have been called ecumenical. Like so many other words, ecumenical has inherited a host of baggage along the way. While I think the word is more loaded than it should be, my own denomination has helped me to see the value of ecumenicism. Our motto is, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

If each church is living into the phrase that my friend shared years ago, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” then they all have something that they do really well while there are other things that they don’t do so well.

So what happens when they work together?

Honestly, to enter into any community, town, or city and think that your church alone is the answer to all of its problems has to be one of the most arrogant and egotistical approaches I’ve seen, and God knows that I’ve seen it more times than I would be willing to admit.

But the experience that I have been having thus far is that some of the churches in the community (not all of the churches) really want to see how they can encourage each other and help each other, looking at the mission of God as significantly bigger than just their local church.

Honestly, I have just not seen this happen very often. There was one church that I was part of in another state in which I experienced the polar opposite of this. All I will say is that it felt like the equivalent of a boys’ locker room with everyone trying to outdo each other. Instead of working together, it felt like everyone was trying to outdo each other and compete with one another.

Last time I checked, the mission of God was what the Church was called to, the whole Church. To think that one church could single-handedly accomplish that just doesn’t make sense. Partnership is key.

For partnership to work though, trust matters. And that’s what we will look at in the next installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2