A church plant thought experiment

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Here’s how the question–which I am still gnawing on–was posed to me:

         What if you started a church with the aim and intent of killing it in 10 years?

This question should push us past preconceived notions of what church has to look like.

For the most part, when someone plants a church, the intent is to grow larger, build wealth for funding buildings / programs / staffing / etc. and carry on in similar fashion until Jesus returns.

Some of those churches get very large. Others stay quite small. And there are all sizes in between.

But what if you shocked your imagination to go beyond the consideration of size? What if the main component of a new church was time?

The first vision casting would go something like —

We are going to exist as this faith community for 10 years, Lord willing. And in that 10 years, we will not buy or build anything but will fully devote monies to spreading the gospel in word and deed. Whatever is left at the 10 year mark will be funneled into another ministry, or, 10 year church will begin anew in another city.

The follow up question to the possibility of a church like this is whether anyone would dare sign on?

Here are two immediate implications, at least in my mind, of such a model.

  1. A renewed urgency around the gospel
  2. A renewed responsibility to steward resources

You get the sense when you read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus and his crew really believed the message of the gospel was urgent. That lives depended on it. Eternities, in fact. And the gospel, lived out, could change communities, cities, countries, and continents. Which explains why I’m typing this in the United States of ‘Murica more than 2000 years after a nomadic carpenter from Nazareth died on a tree.

Beyond the urgency to share and proclaim, how would knowing you have 1o years and only 10 years change the way you allocated the kingdom dollars people would give? I think it would look drastically different than most of our churches now, including the one I pastor in which we are trying to pay off a $1million note on a building with 100 people in it each week. That same story is multiplied, sometimes by 30  or more, across the US.

Isn’t it an exciting question to at least consider? 1o years, All in. And then all out.

What might be? Aiming to kill a church may very well mean the preemptive death of divisive preference wars, because what’s the point? There’s no establishment, no old guard…naïve? Maybe. But plausible.

What do you think could be different with 10 year church?

 

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

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The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.

 

A question I could have used 10 years ago…but at least I have today

pexels-photo-298018Some questions are clearly rhetorical, right?

Some, however, are not. So let me share one I heard in an interview of Bob Goff.

When asked about growth and personal development, here is what Bob said he asks himself

What does the next humblest version of me look like?

In other words, I’m this level of humble now. What would the next level of humble look like? What would change? How would I treat people differently? What are things I wouldn’t say any more? What are things I would begin to say or say more often? What habits would I need to form to reach that next level of humble?

Some questions are meant to be answered.

And in order to answer them, you have to accost yourself, your preferences, opinions, defaults, self-perception. After all, there is no growth without struggle.

What does the next humblest version of you look like?

Healthy things do grow, but perhaps differently than expected

Monday’s post was about the prevalent church growth mantra “healthy things grow.”

After seeing firsthand and hearing other eyewitness stories of church growth, I decided to maintain a shred of suspicion towards anyone who says that.

My somewhat over the top response is, cancer grows–is it healthy? Moreover,  Poison Ivy. Wildfires. Discord. Rumors. Bitterness. These  things, generally agreed upon as bad, grow. And usually at a rapid pace!

The first post was to suggest that perhaps growth (numerically) isn’t the best indicator of a church’s health. It can be. But not necessarily.

So to follow up, let’s ask another question , namely, what kind of growth are we talking about?

Those who employ the healthy things grow rhetoric have in mind quantitative growth. In other words, that which is measured via tangible metrics such as nickels and noses.

  • How much money is coming in?
  • What’s our budget this year?
  • How many people showed up Sunday?
  • What was our count for Easter?

So to flesh it out more honestly, “healthy things grow” could better read “healthy things increase in number.” More people will attend and more will be given. If more people aren’t attending, then what you have, dear friend, is not healthy. Nobody ever tells you how many people have to attend and at what pace that number must grow in order to remain healthy.

I’m a bivocational pastor of a church that rests in a rural town with a population less than that of a suburban Wal-Mart at 5pm. There is no reason to suspect that our city or church will experience an influx of people any time soon. That isn’t to say our church cannot experience quantitative growth, but if I measure my success or effectiveness by sheer numbers, depression is the only logical destination.

In order to continue in ministry and not be eeyorethe  Eeyore of east Tennessee, I’ve been pondering more deeply qualitative growth—quantitative’s lesser known and somewhat marginalized third cousin twice removed.

A dear friend and mentor (we’ll call him Mike because that’s his name) advised me how to answer the inevitable pastor question, ‘What are you runnin’?

  • So you know, how a pastor answers that question  tells the questioner nearly everything they need to know about you.
  • Pastors young and old feel the need to explain why the numbers are lagging or aren’t as high as others; this I know from experience. Some even lie.

So should I be ashamed to answer 100? 110? 120?
Because that would be my answer every week.

Mike suggested I give them a real number (not the preacher count) and then nuance it like this: “We have 130 who call our church home, but we have 10 people who really get it.”

      Say what?

In other words, there are 10 disciples of Jesus who truly believe that Jesus demands all and are willing to give all. So however many that may be in your particular context, that’s more of a qualitative measure.

–> Now you can go about figuring that out in different ways. Perhaps you measure a combination of how many folks serve on Sunday and in their community, how many are in a community/small/life group, and so forth, charting those percentages over a specified time. 

Somehow you’re trying to ascertain whether people are becoming more rooted and built up in their faith. And is that rootedness bearing fruit–such as a life of gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).

Whatever measures we use, let’s fight viciously against the long-standing notion that more equals better and therefore healthier.

There are very sick churches with lots of people coming on Sunday.

-conversely-

There are very healthy churches with few people coming on Sunday.

Numbers are not gospel. It’s nearly impossible to quantify soul-growth. That growth is only proven over the long haul and becomes difficult to boast of. It also makes it harder to decide who should speak at all those conferences (too snide?).

“You’re just bitter because you have a small church!”

That could be a fair retort.

But, as the apostle Paul said, God will look at our labors, not our results. Only He gives growth that matters (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

Unlike some, I do not think that a small church has somehow been more faithful to the gospel and the Bible thus resulting in their smallness. In the same way, I don’t think that because a church is large it is healthy or more faithful.

With all of these things in mind, one thing I’ve resolved to do this year is to be far more FOR churches of various flavors (provided they aren’t heretical). So churches I wouldn’t necessarily attend or pastors I wouldn’t gel with on all matters…I still want to maintain a posture of support and cheer them on in gospel-true faithfulness and fruitfulness. Join me?

 

God forbid you catch the rabbit

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Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.

I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?

This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.

Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.

For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.

Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.

That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.

See, the target always changes.

The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.

And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.

Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”

  • What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
  • What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
  • What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
  • What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?

You get the rabbit. Then what?

It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.

 

Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about how you’re sabotaging satisfaction in life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • That relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert. I’ve maintained adequate levels of dissatisfaction my entire adult life.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race! (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog he doesn’t know exists, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downton Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? EVERY RIGHT if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, if I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass.

And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………You didn’t guess. I’ll just tell you. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

As it turned out, my unrealistic expectations were akin to Round Up. I killed whatever grass I found under my feet.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job.

It makes sense, then, that changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

Where is there joylessness in your life? Where is there discontent?

Now, what adjustments–however small–can you make to your expectations in these areas? Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.

 

Sometimes it’s the right idea but you’re the wrong person

Image result for solomon's temple

Solomon’s, NOT DAVID’S, temple

I hated even writing that title.

I still hate reading it.

It reminds me  of  that whole, was Facebook the idea of Mark Zuckerberg or those tall Winklevoss twins?

At any rate, I feel like that wrong person sometimes. Especially when I look at what person X is doing or how person Q is thriving  and think, “I could be doing that” or “I had that idea, too” or “Seriously, him?”

You may have a great idea, a good idea. But you may not be the right person to do it. That could be for any number of reasons–don’t have the platform, too educated, not educated enough, don’t know the right people, short on cash, maxed out credit.

King David, it turns out, had a really great idea. It was actually a good idea in the moral sense. But David didn’t get to do it. Here is son Solomon’s account of dad’s dream and subsequent denial:

2 Chronicles 6:7-10

Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, it is not you who shall build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 10 Now the Lord has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.

Great job, David! Way to dream a big, bold, God-sized dream! Nevertheless…no…not now…not ever…at least, not you…

I have historically journaled my dreams and tried not to talk about them too much lest a Solomon come along and get to live them out instead of me. But at some point David must have told Solomon what he was thinking and imagining. It caught Solomon’s imagination, too. And God wanted it to be Solomon.

There’s honor in thinking big and having great ideas, morally great ideas, and not being the one who sees it to fruition. That’s okay in the economy of God’s kingdom because all credit goes to Him anyways. All glory goes to Him.

So maybe it’s time to dream out loud a bit more and share what big thing is stirring within and monopolizing our thoughts. And then to pray something like, “Lord, if not me, then someone.”

You can demolish or be demolished. Here’s how.

One of the positives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

One of the negatives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

It’s one thing to dream about making something better or starting something fresh, but it’s another thing to try to live that out before it happens–if it’s going to happen at all–and to imagine that whatever you’re dreaming actually exists and is being enjoyed by others right now. That’s the part I have trouble with.

The imagined future, the possibilities, all the what ifs and so on, are all far better than the present. Result?

Discouragement, dissatisfaction, and discontentment with the present. Yep, all the d-words…

So I was expressing these feelings one day, and Lindsey reminded me that I need to take every thought captive.

OH NO SHE DIDN’T quote Bible words at me! She didn’t pay an exorbitant amount of money on a degree that she could’ve gotten for $900 in a little deal called Logos! Okay, she helped pay for it, but that paper on my wall has my name on it.

The apostle Paul writes about “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, HCSB).

EVERY THOUGHT. That’s just exhausting.

Paul precedes the what  with the why: “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds…(verses 3-4).

Love that last part I underlined. Demolition. There’s nothing gentle or sweet about that.

Image result for demolition

A massive metal machine gently massaging rubble

would easily say that my dreaming, and subsequent discontentment, has been a stronghold.

The lie of something better, grass that’s greener…water your own stinking grass.

I want to live into what Jim Elliot urged, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I want to demolish those strongholds by the power of the Spirit of Truth.

Jesus said today has its own troubles. Today has more than enough to keep you occupied. Stop worrying about tomorrow and your five-year plan. Just be obedient to Jesus today. And the next day. And repeat.

As thoughts arise, measure them against the truth of God’s Word.

  • Is this thought leading me closer to Christ?
  • Is it stirring affections for the Lord?
  • OR is it leading me into one of those d-words?
  • Ultimately, if I run with this thought and let it linger, will I end up in sin of some sort?

God be with you (and me) in taking EVERY thought captive to obey Christ today.

 

Good vs. Great — The Toughest Battle

Business strategist and author Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great that “good is the enemy of great.” In short it means the majority settle for what’s good instead of striving for what’s great or what’s best. 

Instinctively we know that’s true because a lot of us have done some good things. But there’s an aching to do something great. 

Yet here many of us sit, reading the blogs of those who’ve done great things, scrolling through tweets of those who’ve done great things, listening to their podcasts, and fantasizing away most days–about doing great things, of course. 

John Piper is one of the guys in the world I admire. Some theological differences aside, I can’t discount his contribution to the world of pastoral ministry and pastoral training. Beyond that, he is a man of simple means and steadfast single-mindedness. This is what pastor John wrote about the good and great tension:

            “The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” 

Not surprisingly, that quote comes from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Don’t waste your life with a bunch of goods and okays and acceptables. The point is not to say that you can only do one thing your whole life or have a sole interest like Dr. Frankenstein.

Rather, the point is to say, if you are mastered by an unending devotion to carry out God’s will no matter the kickback or obstacles, then you’ll make a durable difference in the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll be invited to speak at a conference or get a book deal (it’s possible), but it does mean you will influence and inspire those in your circles of influence. 

And what that person who inspires you has done for you, you may well do for others. It could be for co-workers, for your children, grandchildren, church members, who knows…

But be mastered by the most important thing, by a sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s leading. That will serve you and God’s kingdom no matter the endeavor you choose. Nothing will count more in the end beyond the blood of Jesus than whether the Lord is able to say to you, “I spoke. You obeyed. Well done.” 

The Destination vs. The Path

Moses has been brought to life by the rifle-wielding Charlton Heston and shape-shifting Christian Bale. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen either movie–the 10 Commandments or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

But I’ve read the script.

As I was reading this morning in Numbers 20 and 27, I felt that “Hey, you should pay attention, Patrick” nudge. In Numbers 20 the Israelites are once again grumbling, complaining, mumbling…it was incessant.

They were frustrated with how this whole exodus things was going. And they were thirsty. Flash back to Exodus 17 when the Israelites were grumbling, complaining, murmuring and God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and VOILA, water.

Back to Numbers 20. God tells Moses to get water from a rock again, only this time he was to ‘tell’ the water to come forth from the rock, not strike the rock. Moses hit the rock twice and water gushed forth.

  1. Moses was supposed to speak to the rock. He was disobedient.
  2. Water still came from the rock. Why? I’m not sure, but I presume because Moses was God’s appointed man, and He knew these persnickety people would eat Moses alive if they watched as he failed.

Hey, at least the people got water, right? Well done, Moses.

But God watches this and decides that rather than commendation, Moses and Aaron will receive consequence. Death. They did not believe in God or uphold Him as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel (Num 20:12).  The two guys who have led the people over these decades and entertained their barrage of complaints and fallen down before the Lord to plead on their behalves, well, no Promised Land for you.

Take Heed: It is possible to do a good thing, a helpful thing, a productive thing, a newsworthy thing…in an unfaithful manner.

From the vantage point of the people the goal had been achieved–water! Mission accomplished.

From the vantage point of God, unfaithful means are unfaithful no matter the outcome. The means, in the economy of God, are more important than the outcome. Faithfulness along the way is more important than the destination

Our minds conjure up so many dreams and goals and such, especially the minds of a group of folks sitting around a table–be it a board or group of elders. How often I’ve heard of a decision to pursue this or that goal/agenda and thought, whose vision is that exactly? Of course it’s unarguable since it’s given a stamp of divine approval. 

But for all our conquests in the name of God, we must be clear that it is not by any means possible that these plans be carried out. There may be moments, and should be moments, in which leaders say, “Wait, are we certain this is God’s plan?” or even “We confess, this was far more a human agenda than a holy agenda.” 

I have to be cautious not to take the Lord’s name in vain by setting out to reach a destination devoid of faithful journeying. After all, how would the people I’m leading know? For all Israel knew Moses was doing exactly as God had instructed. But whether it was Moses’ emotions that got the best of him or his ambition, he didn’t heed the voice of God. 

Is there any area or venture in which you’re striving towards a goal or have a plan that may need some reworking according to what God is speaking to you?

“Do not fear. Be of good courage” is a refrain throughout Exodus and Numbers. Rest assured knowing that the outcome of a faithful pathway will please God. It may not seem as glorious to other people (like seeing you hit a rock and water come gushing out), but you’ll know you were faithful to God.