Welcoming the Future Church – A Book Review

welcoming the future churchThey have been called the most influential generation, and yet Millenials are distancing themselves more and more from the institution of the church. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, but they’ve not always found a place within the larger context of the local church, choosing instead to give their time to things that seem to be more effective.

In his latest book “Welcoming the Future Church,” Jonathan Pokluda shares his experience of watching a weekly gathering targeted at millenials grow from one hundred and fifty to tens of thousands. Pokluda shares in the introduction that, “If young adults aren’t joining and leading in your church, eventually your church will die. Or at the very least, it will miss out on an opportunity to impact and unleash the most influential generation the world has ever seen.”

Pokluda shares the things that he has seen effective at reaching this generation, things that might be surprising to those within the church who have thought that whistles and bells would be the draw that would bring Millenials into the church. He divides his book into three sections: Teach, Engage, and Deploy.

In the Teach section, Pokluda shares that drawing Millenials doesn’t involve a hiding of the truth. Instead, it involves preaching and teaching from the whole of the Bible, not just the comfortable parts. When there are areas that seem to lack clear direction, engaging in conversations about those areas, not shying away from them.

Pokluda shares his method of preparing messages and his approach to receiving feedback to be as effective as possible. He even admits that he has seen more life change come out of conversations than out of sermons, a fairly self-aware and honest assessment from a pastor. He encourages the reader to hear feedback often rather than just a few times a year. Constant feedback allows for constant change which leads to constant movement towards more effective communication.

There is no question that the church as an institution struggles with change. In the Engage section of the book, Pokluda encourages churches to hold loosely to traditions that might stand in the way of engaging the younger generation. Just as he encouraged an honest assessment of his own communication through feedback, he does the same in regards to the methods used within the church. When we base our methods on what worked then rather than what might be effective now, we arrogantly choose to idolize those methods rather than reach a new generation. It’s by design that Pokluda positions this section and discussion after his emphasis on the Bible so as not to be criticized by anyone who might suggest that he is pushing for a compromise in teaching doctrine or morality.

Pokluda encourages an environment within the church where Millenials can learn from other generations and vice versa. While they are open to instruction, they also want to be heard and valued. Relationship and authenticity are key. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver as so many churches have done. Don’t build your church on programs and attractional events only because you will soon lose those you’ve attracted through those things to another church that does them better.

One thing that Pokluda mentions that I particularly appreciated is the importance of discipleship moving beyond straight teaching concepts. If we don’t move from the “learning” aspect to the “doing” of discipleship, can we really call it discipleship? Discipleship means following and that can’t be in word alone, it needs to be accompanied by deeds.

In the last section, “Deploy,” Pokluda speaks of the importance of vision. Millenials (and everyone else in your church, for that matter) need to be given a picture of what can be. That picture needs to be compelling, energizing, and engaging. Expecting that they will come simply because you tell them it’s important is not enough. Pokluda writes, “give young adults a vision bigger than themselves. Don’t bore them by playing church, pretending to have it all together.” He goes on to say that a weak vision is the easiest way to discourage young people to live into their calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Delegation kills two birds with one stone, it benefits the leader by not requiring them to do it all themselves and it allows others to step up to their own strengths and gifts to lead as well. Pokluda shares from his own experiences about how he has seen teams built together to the point of enjoying one another’s company. Shared experiences are essential for this team-building.

In another very helpful section, Pokluda shares his 5 “C’s” of vision casting: convincing, constant, celebrate, communicate, and call. While the section isn’t very long, it provides some good application for the way forward as you engage young people in the life and ministry of your church.

This is a good place to start for anyone struggling with how to best engage the next generation. There are other resources from places like the Fuller Youth Institute which give some additional practical and more in-depth approaches towards engaging the younger generations with spirituality and discipleship. Pokluda’s book provides some helpful measures that don’t feel too overwhelming for someone who feels like they just don’t know where to start. If you find yourself in that place, this book may be helpful to give you a boost and start you on your way towards engaging the next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What’s Gonna Happen?

What’s Gonna Happen?

COVID-19 has thrown our world into a storm of uncertainty. The economy is in disarray as businesses have shut down, people have been laid off or furloughed, and the thought of reigniting it by slowly opening things up causes anxiety and anger.

I think we can safely say that the majority of the world has been touched in some way, shape, or form by COVID-19. It’s disrupted our lives and its effects will move far beyond the moment when stay at home orders are lifted and people can begin to cautiously emerge from their homes like groundhogs tentatively looking for their shadows. The world is not just untouched during this time, as we move ahead on the other side of the virus, the world will not be the same.

Nowhere has this felt the case more to me than within the church. As a pastor of a barely half a year old church plant, risk is something that I am well aware of, but moving to the other side of this will be an exercise in self-reflection that will only be achieved as we ask ourselves hard questions to which we give honest answers.

Here are five important questions that I think the Church needs to ask herself in this time:

1) Will we embrace change? 

Whether the church likes it or not, this time of separation has forced us all to embrace change on some level or another. I have said for years that the church is one of two organizations in the world that struggles to embrace change (the other is the educational system, who has stepped out during this time). Even when we think we’re good with change, we can generally open up our stable to reveal a host of sacred cows we’ve been hiding.

Change for change sake is never a good idea, but change for the sake of contextualizing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is essential. We see it within the New Testament as Jesus met people where they were as did Paul and so many others within the Book of Acts. It’s an essential part of communication to speak a language that those to whom you are speaking can understand.

The medium may change, but the message stays the same. Will the church embrace change in order to more effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

2) Will we compromise or coalesce?

Changing does not mean compromising, and I believe that many within the Church don’t always get that right. Adapting does not mean conforming to the culture. Attractional ministry can easily lead us down a road where we compromise our values and shift our moral compass simply to appease people we are trying to reach.

I’m not one to harp on certain issues that have the potential to divide, but simply avoiding them is not the right approach either. Will we compromise who we are and who God has called us in order that we can become more “relevant”?

3) Will we focus inward or outward?

One of the reasons that I became a church planter is because, since I became a pastor sixteen years ago and even before that, I had grown frustrated with the inward focus of the local church. The Great Commission has not changed since Jesus spoke it. We are still called to GO and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them what Jesus commanded.

I believe that the local church can often get caught up in the last part and forget the first part: GO. While spiritual formation and discipleship is essential within the local faith community, I believe that we have created an unsustainable model that looks more like a spiritual daycare than a training ground for disciples of Jesus. If our people still look the same as they did five years ago, that inward focus isn’t accomplishing what we thought it would.

Outward focus allows us to put into practice the spiritual practices and ideals that we claim to be learning. It allows us to put hands and feet to ideas and concepts. It also allows us to constantly be changed by seeing those whom God has a heart for, those who have not yet begun to follow Jesus Christ,

If the church is to survive, we need to get back to the essentials of evangelism and discipleship rather than transactional and attractional ministry.

4) Will we build community or clubs?

Community is essential. I’ve told more than one person in the past few months that when I write a book, the theme will most likely be community. My own personal experience with community has shaped and formed me. I would not be where I am had I not been surrounded by a loving, caring, and giving community to help walk with me through some dark periods of my life.

I am well aware that there is an entropy of sorts that happens within churches, even the most progressive and creative churches. That entropy moves us from a place of intentionality of openness to a place of unintentional cliquishness (if that’s even a word). We seek to be welcoming and eventually can become so comfortable with who we have that we simply build a social club.

If the church is simply a social club, there is nothing there that can’t be replaced with a thousand other clubs or organizations. We need to be something much more than just a club, we need to be a community that seeks to change the world one person at a time.

5) Will we become extinct?

The church in America has been declining for decades. Denying that is not just foolish, it’s ignorant. Instead of lamenting that the United States is no longer a “Christian” nation, we need to get down to brass tacks and begin the hard work of evangelism and discipleship once again. If we are simply building local churches around our preaching, music, and programs, there will inevitably come along someone else who can do those things better than we can. We will continue to swap members until Jesus returns and I fear the rebuke may be equivalent to the one talent servant in Jesus’ parable.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 were, “…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church will not fail because the true church isn’t a building, a program, or a person. The Church is a movement of people, disciples, seeking to be kingdom-minded and be part of God’s kingdom expansion in this world. Building the kingdom does not mean adding some beautiful aesthetics to pretty it up, it means literally building and expanding it beyond what it is today.

Will the church become extinct?

I think these questions and many more are essential questions for every disciple of Christ to ask themselves during this time and beyond? The thing about hard questions is that they demand hard answers. While some may see my criticism as harsh, the more complacent we become, the harsher the criticism for us to move out of that complacency to a place of effectiveness.

May God give us the courage and boldness to ask the hard questions of who we are in the church. May we seek his kingdom first and deny ourselves the desire to build a kingdom of our own making. May we elementarily return to our original commission and seek to go and make disciples rather than simply making consumers of programs whose sustaining power is only as effective as the latest trend.

Middle Man

middlemenI always find it fascinating in my life when two unrelated conversations happen to converge on some of the same subjects and material, especially when I wasn’t the one to have steered them that way.

I think that I can safely say that all of us continue to use words like “interesting” and “challenging” and “unprecedented” to describe the days in which we are living. I’m pretty sure that I would have been feeling that regardless of the situation I’m in, but the situation that I am in, being the pastor of a six month old church start up, has made all of those descriptors seem more apropos.

The other day, I was in desperate need of getting some work done, a need that was being elusively filled at my house. I still share an office with the church who sent us out to plant our new church. I decided to go to my office as I knew no more than one person would be there.

After finding myself more productive than I had been at home, I walked down the hall to poke my head in on one of the other pastors working in his office. As we talked about our own experiences and families from a safe social distance, he made a statement that stuck with me for the rest of the day. He said, “It seems like there are a bunch of pastors who are trying to justify their jobs during this time.”

He went on to say that he wasn’t feeling that at all but instead was feeling like this time, in many ways, was justifying and even demanding more of him. When he said that, it hit me right between the eyes as I realized he had articulated something that I had been feeling over the last few weeks.

I’ve been exhausted on so many levels over these past few weeks. To start, this is one of the worst times of the year for me and my allergies. While I’ve been getting allergy shots over the past few years and I take allergy medication, my allergy doctor has reminded me that there are always reactions and symptoms of those allergies. I’ve been feeling those big time.

I’ve been emotionally exhausted while five of us share the same space. While we all love each other, there is a new normal to acclimate to which is just different. That adjustment has been exhausting.

There’s the unknown which in and of itself is something to adjust to as well. That’s exhausting. My friend and fellow pastor described it best as going on a foreign mission trip and having to learn and adjust. All good things, but very tiring.

But my friend’s statement about pastors feeling the need to justify themselves and their existence, it struck me. I’ve seen it and it reminded me of a line from “Blazing Saddles” where Mel Brooks’ character tells his team of advisors, “We’ve got to protect our phoney baloney jobs.” I wondered to myself, how many pastors are out there right now who are feeling that same sentiment?

Thankfully, I haven’t felt that as much. What I have felt is that the needs of the people have skyrocketed. I’m not talking about people within my congregation, although they can be included, but the needs of people in general. People are scared. People are worried. People are depressed. People are angry. People are grieving. People are really experiencing the stages of grief as we journey through the unknown.

Those are the things that I’ve sensed in my reading, in my conversations, in my journeys through the community. If meeting people who are scared, worried, depressed, angry, and grieving doesn’t cry out for the presence of a pastor who can bring a message of love, hope, and peace, then I don’t know what does.

It was right around the time of this first conversation that another friend sent the lyrics to me from a song from one of my favorite bands, the Avett Brothers. We had a conversation here and there about it before, but she was pressing on me for my thoughts on the words.

The grandfather of the Avett Brothers was a pastor, so there is a deep faith rooted in them that they sing about often. On the song in question called “Me and God” they speak about a pastor who is a good man but express their belief that they don’t need a “middle man.” They can experience God in the various things of life, romance, music, work, and other things. They talk about going to church and even swearing when they pray, and the song concludes with them repeating the refrain, “My God and I don’t need a middle man.”

Why did this song hit me like it did when it did? Well, I agree with them, we don’t need a middle man. It kind of goes back to why the Reformation happened. Among the things that defined the Reformation was the priesthood of all believers, the fact that the only mediator we need is Jesus Christ, so we don’t have to pray or confess through anyone else (although there are commands to confess to one another in the Bible).

You see, I don’t see pastors as middle men, I see them as side men. There may be times when it seems like they’re leading the expedition and no one else can do that, but if that’s the position that they always find themselves in, then they’re doing something wrong. There is education and experience required for being a pastor, but the calling of a pastor is to discipleship, to teaching others how they can look more like Jesus and follow him more closely.

It’s kind of like parenting, when your children are young, there is a need for more guidance and instruction, but at some point, if they grow and mature the way they should, it becomes more of a growing with them, a walking with them, rather than a directing and guiding.

Maybe one of the reasons this whole season is uncomfortable for some pastors is because they’ve forgotten why they’re doing what they’re doing. Maybe they forgot that it wasn’t about always being in front but more being alongside. I don’t feel like I need to justify myself to anyone, instead, I feel like I need to lead in such a way that others will follow. And once they’re following, the positions and postures change and we find ourselves walking alongside each other on this journey called life, helping each other to become more like Jesus.

Kingdom or Empire

seed-in-hand-copyLike so many other pastors during this strange and uncertain time, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things, not the least of which is how we go about doing ministry. It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself for far longer than the few days that we’ve found ourselves  in the place we’re in. I’ve really been asking that question since I started in full-time vocational ministry nearly sixteen years ago.

Not only am I a pastor but I’m also a church planter. I snicker to myself as I write this, thinking about what an interesting time it is to try to build a church. Then I have to stop myself and realize that while I am and have been working to build a local community and expression of the church, my bigger goal and desire is to show people Jesus. Yes, I make a living as a pastor, but if that becomes my driving force, I think I’m missing the point.

Do I worry during these days? Sure. It’s a little unnerving not knowing what’s next, when all this social distancing can stop and we can go back to gathering in groups of ten people or more to do the things that we are so used to doing. Do I get anxious? Sure. I’ve done my best to stop looking at my retirement savings in these last few days as they continue to diminish in large quantities.

But I have hope that’s beyond the circumstances. If I don’t, then I’m a fraud and I probably shouldn’t be doing what I do. Again, that doesn’t mean 100% absolute surety that everything is going to be all right and that this won’t touch me at all. I’ve been touched by tragedy before and I’m sure it will touch me again. During that tragedy, I still knew God was there. He didn’t manifest himself the way that I would have liked him to. I wished for and prayed for better things, but that’s not what I got.

Or did I?

Every parent knows that if we gave our kids everything that they asked for, we would just end up with a bunch of spoiled kids. And there are often times when the things that our kids ask for and the things that our kids need are not the same thing. Giving them what they need often has to win out over giving them what they want. While they may think they know what they need and equate their wishes and desires with their needs, parents generally know better.

So, do we trust our heavenly father? Do we trust that he knows what’s best for us?

As I keep thinking through why I became a pastor and church planter, I keep reminding myself that I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t want to see if I could build an empire. I didn’t want to see if I could stand there checking off all the people as they walked through the door, puffing myself up with every check mark I added. I certainly didn’t become a pastor to get rich. If I had wanted money, I’d have stayed in the engineering world. Get-rich-quick pastors aren’t preaching the same gospel that I believe in.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. The kingdom is here and is coming. A now and not yet. Leaving his church, his people, to do the work of the kingdom meant expanding that, not through buildings but through people. The church isn’t buildings. The church isn’t programs.

I’ve told people over and over again that I want to have a kingdom vision of the Church. I want to think beyond myself. I want to think towards a God-sized vision, a kingdom vision, a vision of people meeting Jesus. To think that only happens through my local expression of the Church might be one of the most arrogant things that I could think. If I only want people to come to my church, then do I really have a kingdom vision? If I really want people to meet Jesus, shouldn’t I be okay with them ending up anywhere he is preached and worshipped?

These are trying times, and I know that everyone, including those who are part of the church, is feeling overwhelmed and anxious. But I do see it as an opportunity. I see my focus staying the same but I see myself changing my medium. Instead of face to face conversations at my local coffee shop, I’m trying to evoke thoughts and conversations online. Instead of speaking to a roomful of people every Sunday evening, I’m speaking to a screen and sharing the same hope that I would be sharing if I were with them in person.

You see, I want people to see Jesus. I want people to know Jesus. He’s the only reason that I’m not freaking out right now. He’s the only thing that’s keeping me somewhat sane right now. Without him, I have no idea where I would be. If they can know that, if they can see what he means to me and the difference that it makes, then I’ve done exactly what I’m supposed to do.

I’m doing my best to be part of building a kingdom. Empires crumble and fall. Empires are built around people and their arrogance and power. The kingdom I want to be a part of building has a king who is loving and selfless and gracious and kind. He gave up his only son so that we might live. He calls us to be part of his kingdom, but he doesn’t force us there. He urges us there. He loves us there. He pursues us until we finally realize just how much he loves us. He is a gentleman king whose love far surpasses anything that we could ask or think or imagine.

I have no idea what will be when this is all behind us. So many church plants fail within the first twelve to eighteen months. But I have to keep reminding myself that my main goal isn’t to build a church, to build an empire, it’s to build the kingdom. I get to be part of that no matter what I’m doing, and no virus can take that away from me.

Little Miracles

It’s been an interesting week for me, which seems like something that I’ve been saying a lot lately. I had my second board meeting for the little league (second one I attended because the last one I missed for my son’s birthday). I subbed at a middle school in the town where our church is being planted. I met with my leadership team for our church. I took my oldest son with me to see Bob Dylan. I met with a friend who leads an incredible ministry which includes a food pantry and weekend feedings of the homeless. I participated in a book discussion group where I was only one of two men in attendance.

In the midst of all that, I have had an interesting opportunity dropped in my lap for our church. It was one that was completely unexpected but one that has God’s fingerprints all over it. In some ways, it feels like the perfect situation because it provides for the long-term. The decision wouldn’t be made out of urgency or imminent need, but made out of a vision that God has given me for what lies ahead.

As I survey the events of the week, it’s hard to point to just one thing that seemed more significant than any of the others. They have all combined to fuel the fire of the week, a good fire, a fire that acts as fuel to propel the engine of who I am forward into whatever it is that God has in store. But as has been a common theme for me over the past years, community stands out significantly.

I serve a little league board in my community. I am getting to know the community of the middle school and elementary school in the community where I am serving. I am grateful and humbled by the community that God has surrounded me with to plant our church. We are partnered with and partnering with some incredible community organizations who are seeking the peace and prosperity of the place where God has us. I entered into a new community to have a civil discussion about topics which are usually accompanied by anger, frustration, and hurt.

Sitting down with my friend who runs the local ministry to the homeless and hurting, I was glad to hear some of his stories face to face. While I’ve had the chance to read some of them on social media, there’s nothing like hearing them for yourself, face to face, from the person who has experienced them.

There’s a verse in Hebrews in the Bible that talks of spurring one another on towards love and good deeds. The verse right after it is a verse that I point to over and over again to people who are constantly asking and wondering what the point is of being part of a church community. Don’t give up meeting together. Don’t take yourself out of community. Community is essential to spur you on to love and good deeds.

I can attest to this. That was my experience this week. Community made me better. Community changed me. Community helped me. Community helped me see things that I would normally miss.

In my conversation with my friend at lunch, we were both reminded of the ways that God has worked and is working all around us. My friend said, “If we don’t see it, it’s because we aren’t looking or paying attention.” Those words resonate so deeply with me.

I have felt a strong sense of my own need to celebrate the little things in the season of life where God has me. My frustrations and anxieties can be overwhelming to me, but I have to counteract them with a celebration of the little miracles that I see in my life. They are little enough that if I’m not looking, I will miss them. They are little enough that they might just underwhelm me when I’m looking at them…….if I forget what they truly are: miracles.

Little miracles happen every day, in the chance meetings of two people, in the opportunities that seemingly come out of nowhere, in the provisions that God brings, in all of the little things that I will rush right past if I don’t take time to slow down, pay attention, take notice, and tell about them.

Maybe it’s just a fuller realization for me of the old adage to stop and smell the roses, but it feels more significant than that to me. It feels more like touching the divine, the realization that God is here, not far away somewhere. The realization that the incarnation of Christ in Advent wasn’t completed in his death and resurrection, but was just the beginning.

At the end of this week, I am tired and weary, but not from bad or hard things, thankfully, from the overwhelming way that God meets me in my messy life. I’m hitting the weekend at just the right time, but I want to anticipate more of what this past week held for me. Because in experiencing more of what I did this week, I find the little miracles that God has for me. Nothing extravagant or ornate, but just enough that it keeps me coming back for more. Just enough that I can allay my fears and anxieties for a little bit longer. Just enough that it keeps hope alive and spurs me on to see whatever is next, lying just around the corner.

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 if no one shows up (thankfully, that hasn’t happened). 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.

 

Stop Hiding

hide-and-seekSocial media has been a gift, in some ways, to our disconnected lives. Despite living hundreds or thousands of miles away from friends and family, with a few clicks, we can stay up to date on significant events in their lives. We can watch kids grow up, see highlights from sporting events, witness, milestone achievements, and so much more. When we finally have the opportunity to see them in person, we can sometimes just pick up where we left off, carrying on with knowledge of some of the things that have taken place since we last saw each other.

That’s probably the best part of social media. But there’s always a shadow side to things, isn’t there? It’s almost like one of Newton’s laws of physics, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. To every positive there is an equal and opposite negative.

While some of us will put up whatever we want on our social media feeds, others of us feel that we can only put our best foot forward. Why show the not so clean part of our lives? Don’t we want people to think that we’ve got it all together? Don’t we want to make sure that everyone knows that we are measuring up?

I’ve lived enough of life to be kind of tired of trying to measure up. I know that I never will. There will always be someone out there who is nailing it, doing it better. But I also believe that grace is an important part of life. It’s how I am saved. It’s what I need extended to me every day. It’s what I need to extend to others every day.

I look around at my house and realize that I haven’t been keeping up with certain things. Weeds grow. The grass gets higher. The limbs on the trees get out of control. Then I look over at my three kids and I realize that as fast as those weeds, that grass, and those limbs grow, they’re growing faster. Am I spending time with them as they grow?

I’m not Super Dad. My children have a way of both subtly and not so subtly letting me know that. I fail too many times to name. I am selfish. I react. I don’t always adult well. Sometimes, an onlooker might wonder just who the kid and who the adult is in the relationship.

I’m not Super Husband. I’m not always as helpful as I should be. Sometimes, my needs outweigh the needs of everyone else in my mind. I don’t always think of my wife before myself. I fail.

But just because I fail sometimes doesn’t make me a failure. It’s what I make of the failures that determine just who I am. Are those failures a series of events that lead up to a greater success? Do I let those failures define me? Do those failures act as stepping stones from which I learn?

I’ve grown so tired of feeling like we need to perform for people that we don’t like. I’ve grown even more tired of the fact that we try to measure up to standards that were meant for somebody else. I’m not going to go as far as the cultural meme and say, “You be you,” but I think there’s something to it. Even in Jesus’ parable of the talents, not everyone was given the same amount of talents, but they were all judged based on what they did with what they had been given. We’re not supposed to examine ourselves on what we could have done had we been given someone else’s skillset. We’re not supposed to examine ourselves on “what ifs” either. We have to look at how well we are stewarding what we’ve been given. Are we using what we have been given to the best of our abilities?

If there is one place where people should be able to come and acknowledge these imperfections and shortcomings, it should be the Church. Not the building but the body. The Church was never meant to be a building, it was always a people, a movement, at least from how Jesus seems to have defined it.

At the same time, the Church should be the place where people also realize that what they are doing isn’t in their own power. When we can admit our shortcomings, it’s so much easier to accept help from others. When we can admit our failures, it seems simpler to stop trying to measure up.

Can we stop hiding? Can we create a space where we feel comfortable letting down our guard? Can we find people whom we trust?

I’d like to think that we can, but it won’t happen overnight. Every fire starts with a spark or a small flame. Who will you take off your mask for today? Will you stop hiding and encourage others to do the same?

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.

Something Like A Collision

car collisionThe other night, I was driving home from the hospital. I had just gone to visit a friend who has been struggling with health issues lately. Visits like that are always helpful to put things in perspective for my own life.

On the drive home, I was fairly pensive, pondering the existential questions of life as I drove up Interstate 95. My phone buzzed as a message came in from another friend asking whether I had a minute to chat. After my talk-to-text affirmative response, I spent some time on the phone with him hearing about the challenges that he is facing in his life within his own family.

When I hung up the phone with him, my mind raced to a handful of other friends and acquaintances whose lives have been a bit of a challenge lately. Marriages on the rocks. Childrearing challenges. Sickness. Crises of faith. It was a little overwhelming for me to consider.

My mind wandered to this church planting journey that I am on. I thought about the name of this church we are starting, The Branch. Our tagline has been, “Where life and faith meet.” I couldn’t help but think that sometimes that meeting of life and faith meet feels more like an abrupt collision than a cordial meeting.

Years ago, a mentor reminded me that when you embrace a name for yourself as a church, you had better be prepared to embrace all that comes in that name. I couldn’t help but hear his words as I thought about life and faith meeting. I’ve known from the start that this collision of life and faith would be messy.

I’ve never been one to tolerate giving messages or advice that I am not following myself. To think that any kind of meeting of what can sometimes feel like diametrically opposed things like life and faith would be a walk in the park would be naive, in my opinion. Collisions rarely are tidy.

But that’s the thing, as I thought about it, the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve grown weary of encountering people who are hurting who run from the church rather than running towards it. I’ve grown weary of the stories of people forming opinions about Jesus based on his imperfect followers. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like an insider’s club that suspiciously eyes outsiders for fear of what they might have brought with them. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like a retirement home for the already convinced rather than a hospital for the sick who are desperately in need of attention.

Different. Everyone wants to be different, to establish themselves within their own uniqueness. I guess we’ve embraced that same notion. We want to be different. We want to be a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace. So, when we begin to see barriers being broken down, I guess you could say that we can begin to measure ourselves against our goal.

I’ve been in a handful of accidents in my lifetime, nothing tremendously horrible (thankfully), but enough to know that collisions rarely leave us without a mark. Even if there is no physical evidence of a collision, it generally impacts us mentally.

I fully expect that the more and more we see life and faith meet, collide even, we will be impacted by those meetings, those collisions. We won’t be the same, and frankly, I think that’s what we’re going for.

 

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.”