Friday, April 6, 2012

When My Addiction and Good Friday Collide

Perhaps it's the whole world that's addicted. Maybe it's just Americans. But I know it's me. I'm addicted to a happy ending. I loath depressing stories. I can't stand movies or plays in which the actors that you've been groomed to care for end up emotionally shattered, thwarted, maimed, or dead. Who wants to waste two to three hours in order to feel depressed at the end?! Not me. I'm a sucker for the happy ending. I love to see heroes defeating the bad guys, the poor guy making it big, and the hapless guy winning the heart of the beautiful girl.

So, when my optimism collides with Good Friday, my mind instantly runs to Sunday. Resurrection! Death is defeated. Satan is on the run. Sin and the curse now have an expiration date. There is grace for this life and hope for the next. PRAISE GOD!

This has changed a little bit for me. No, not my whole personality. I'm still the guy addicted to happy endings. What's changed is my view of Good Friday. A couple of years ago, I watched The Passion on Good Friday. The movie focuses almost exclusively on the horrors of Good Friday, while giving barely a nod to Resurrection Sunday. As the credits started rolling, all those who had watched the movie with me simultaneously started discussing the happy ending. Then, as I sat there, overwhelmed, it struck me. Perhaps my excitement over the resurrection has diminished my appreciation of Good Friday.

Good Friday was good for us, not for Jesus. Jesus started celebrating Passover, a festival reminding Israel of the deliverance and mercy of God, with his disciples and friends. One of them left midway through the feast to betray him for some coin. Jesus acknowledges that the leader of the disciples will betray him before the night ends. They go to the garden and pray. Jesus agonizes over the cross that awaits him, asking the Father if there is another way. There is not. Jesus returns to find his followers overcome with sleep. Temple guards capture him in the night, betrayed by a kiss. Abandoned by his followers. Sham trial. Vicious accusations. Ridicule. Shame. Paraded from one court to another. Deprived of sleep and exhausted, Jesus is sentenced to scouring. Each lash brings indescribable pain, loss of blood, and further weaknessed. Devoid of pity or common sense, the crowd tastes blood and screams for the execution of their King and Savior. Jesus is forced to carry the cross on his lacerated back through the crowded streets teaming with gawking spectators. He is nailed to a cross. Scorned by those that surround him, Jesus asks God to forgive them. Soon after, Jesus takes his last breath. His death is confirmed by the sharp point of a Roman spear.

Two friends beg for the body of Jesus. The disciples are scattered, hiding in fear for their lives. Tears stream down the faces of women as they prepare the spices for his burial. Roman guards seal the tomb. It's the end. When the first Good Friday ended, it was dark. Very dark. Jesus enemies rejoiced for a couple of days while his followers and friends mourned.

It's been healthy for me to appreciate Good Friday a bit more. To slow down and not rush so quickly to the resurrection. To remember the penalty for my sin and rebellion. Contemplating the worst day in human history has fostered in me immense gratitude for the best day in human history, Easter. But here I go again, the hopeless addict of the happy ending.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review - Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

Purpose - This book chronicles the beginning years of Mars Hill Church. Driscoll wrote this extremely transparent book to help others with their ministry. It's not hard to find a book that is extremely honest about mistakes made in church planting. Rarely, though, is the book written by the church planter.

Content - You always know a book is going to be interesting when it has a "Chapter Zero!" That chapter doesn't disappoint. It discusses ten theological and philosophical point, apparently discussed in greater depths in The Radical Reformission. He discusses the differences between the traditional, the contemporary, and the missional church, the 'gospel' proclaimed by each group, the missional and attractive approaches to church, and a few other topics. "Chapter Zero" is foundational for the remainder of the story. The rest of the book is stuffed like a Christmas stocking with fascinating stories, painful mistakes, public repentance, and gospel triumphs. 

Analysis - The book is full of fantastics insights, such as "It was at that time I realized our church would never have a sign out front that said "Everyone welcome," because I did not want everyone. Instead, I wanted people who would reach out to the lost young people in our area" (63). Driscoll seems like he was largely unprepared for starting a church, especially one with the impact that his was going to have. It seems that each stage of the church brought challenges that he didn't have an answer to. His response was to dig down deep and study out the issues. He worked through ecclesiology, reformed theology, male leadership in the church, and spiritual gifts by this forced process. Driscoll's language is at times a bit vulgar, especially in recounting a counseling situation.


Who will benefit from the book? Those curious about the process involved in starting Mars Hill, or just a church in general. It's very honest regarding the things a church planter has to work through and the challenges that are faced. Those seeking information about cultural changes and different responses to them will find this a helpful introduction. This book is certainly not perfect though (namely because it was written by a human and humans tend not to be perfect). For anyone who has a huge beef with Driscoll already, I was advise against reading this book. You are likely to be jumping on every point of disagreement while missing the good insights the book does offer.

How will they benefit? This book will prepare you for some of the challenges face in church planting. It also will help guide you through the often painful process of reaching people and growing the church for the grace of God.

Where does this book fit into the process of ministry design? God is an infinitely creative God, so it is doubtful that anyone's church planting story will or should look like Driscoll's. The book would be very useful to those starting a church to ensure that they've thought through some key issues. This book would also be useful to pastors who wake up to find that their church is stalled, in decline, or is having a hard time breaking through to the next level. I wouldn't follow this book like a blue print, but it certainly provides some helpful points. If you are desperate or time deprived, then perhaps read a book specifically on the subject. If you want a fascinating book to pull you through the points, then this book would provide that.

Aha Thoughts? "Our church was not the people we had but primarily the people we did not yhet have, and I needed to go get those people. I'm still not sure if most pastors are aware that their churches are comprised of peple they don't know yet."
"With things going so well, I feared we'd get too comfortable, and so I decided it was time to blow it all up, create some strategic chaos, and start over yet again" (please read the book for crucial context).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ditching Comfort for a Greater Commission

A few months ago, I was helping a friend put a roof on a house. Another guy that my friend had hired asked me what my future plans were. When I told him that my wife and I were heading to Maine to start a church, he was floored. He asked, “Why would you go start a church when there are existing churches that need pastors?” This guy was a well-meaning individual who had spent years in decent churches and was almost a graduate of a Bible college. But church planting was completely unimaginable to him. Then it got me thinking. Could this way of thinking be more widespread? Sure hope not, but just in case, let me attempt to answer the question – “Why plant churches?”

1. Most existing churches aren’t cutting it – Gallup polls from 2002-2005 provide the rather depressing statistic that 40-44% of Americans attend a place of worship on a weekly basis (please note that I do not confuse attending church with repentance and salvation in Jesus. I think it is reasonably safe to assume though that not too many regenerate people sit out of church for years on end). However, David Olson, author of The American Church in Crisis, states that only 17.5% of Americans actually attend a church of any type. Church attendance in 2006 totaled 51,668,200, while the population grew by 51,773,556 people between the years 1990 and 2006! Grab the Prozac! Clearly the American church is not even keeping even with the population growth, much less gaining on it. A noted church planter, Albert Einstein, famously said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe it’s time for some new gospel-centered churches.

2. Most existing churches are aging – Aging churches are like aging bodies. Eventually they break down. God’s universal church remains invincible and unthreatened, but the local manifestations of God’s church all have a life cycle. 57% of the churches over 40 years old are in decline (Olson, 84). The older a church is, the better the chances are that the church is not fulfilling the Great Commission purposes for which that church actually exists.

3. Church plants reach more people – Yes, new churches are actually better at reaching lost people with the Gospel. Ed Stetzer’s research suggests that a new church reaches 10 people for every 100 members in its first year. Churches that are 15 years old only reach 3 people per year. Seems like existing churches get comfortable, or perhaps a spiritual version of amnesia.

4. Church plants are more focused on Great Commission work – Church planters of gospel churches are inherently focused on reaching people. Why? Because they don’t have anyone except their wife and a couple of snotty-nosed kids (unless they are smart enough to recruit a team, but that’s another tangent). The church planters look at the risk, and take the plunge. All their energies are focused on the power and spread of the gospel. Compare this to an existing church. They fight to maintain their culture instead of striving to promote the gospel. They start sniping at their allies and ignore their enemies. The big focus of the calendar year is making sure that the Christmas party comes off well and that the electric bills get paid. Sure, there are fine examples of churches that keep a Great Commission focus, but it seems too many churches become consumed with their particular breed of Christianity. When a church loses its Great Commission focus, it quickly degenerates into a social/humanitarian club. Church plants don’t have that luxury.

5. Church plants are apostolic, or at least Pauline – Hopefully it’s apparently clear by now the necessity of planting church in order to make disciples of Jesus. Here’s a bonus though. Church planting is Pauline! In Romans 15:20 Paul states “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” The world needs to be reached. Your neighbor needs to be reached. Paul’s solution…. preach the gospel, start churches.

I’m not here to bash established churches. I love them. I’ve benefitted from them. The question is, “why do you love them?” Is it comfortable? Is it “safe?” Does it have all the established programs to cater to your desires? If your church isn’t focused on Great Commission purposes, or if you can’t focus on Great Commission purposes while there, then it’s time you consider starting a church.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review - Viral Churches

I gave a sneak preview of this book earlier this year but neglected to post the full review. This book was totally worth the time spent to read it.

Purpose - The subtitle of this book is "Helping Church Planters become Movement Makers." That pretty much says it all. Stetzer and Bird largely assume that if you are a Christian that you are interested (or preferably involved) in church planting. The purpose of Viral Churches is to "inspire and help you develop a church multiplication movment--an exponential birth of new churches that engage lost people and that replicate themselves through even more new churches" (5).

Content - The book leads you on a mental journey from your status quo (church planting, finers crossed) to the author's preferred reality (church multiplication). Each chapter is dedicated to one specific concept, and the authors have kindly included an example of a church or movement that they believe exemplifies this principle. This book discusses the need for church multiplication, the necessity of evangelism, and the dire lack of leaders in the church. The church needs to actively develop leaders if it is going to have the capacity to reach this generation. Viral Churches also discusses the process of training, launching, and streamlining networks of churches.

Analysis - I loved the fact that they weren't trying to shove one method or one group down your throat. There is definitely room for such books, but it wonderful to read a book that was much more concerned with the destination than the precise path traveled. Chapter 6 demonstrates that proper recruitment, assessment, and deployment all contribute to the viability of a church plant, but shows a variety of way by which each of these points can be accomplished.

Who will benefit from the book? Any pastor or church planter who is concerned about the growing population of the globe and the current inability of the church to keep pace will benefit from this book. Those who already have this burden will benefit greatly from the mechanics and examples that Viral Churches provide.

How will they benefit? This book will radically transform your vision of what God could and desires to accomplish in this world. It will give some practical suggestions for making this possible. It also identifies some pitfalls that will thwart even the best of intentions.

Where does this book fit into the process of ministry design? Any pastor who is looking for what God has called their church to do in this lifetime should consider reading this book. Church planters are more likely to adopt the principles in this book as they are already vested in starting a new work of God rather than maintaining existing works. These concepts might be rather daunting to those in previously established works as it is so far from the realm of their thinking, but if you find yourself in this category, it's probably all the more reason that you should read this book.

Aha Thoughts
  • The concept of deliberately building church multiplication into your DNA from the very first day was revolutionary.
  • One impediment to church multiplication has been the development of a professional clergy that limits ministry to the ordained.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review - Sun Stand Still

I'm trying out a new format for book reviews. Let me know if you like it or not.

At the recent NewSpring Leadership Conference, Steven Furtick kindly gave all participants an "Advance Reading Copy" of his new book, Sun Stand Still. The book has been waiting in que, until now. I half expected the book to be an account of the startup and "success" of Elevation Church in Charlotte. I was pleasantly surprised. 

Purpose - Sun Stand Still was written to inspire audacious faith in an incredible God. Believers often live life to the lowest common denominator, but God remains a great God, desirous of doing amazing things.

Content - Joshua's battle against the Amorites in Joshua 10 provides the backdrop for most of this book and, obviously, the title. God had promised Joshua victory over the pagans, but night was creeping up, threatening to short-circuit a complete victory. Joshua requested the absurd from God - that God would make the sun stand still. Not a whole lot of precedent for this prayer. Furtick encourages believers to place their faith in an awesome God and similarly ask for incredible things from God, in all areas of life - Sun Stand Still prayers. Furtick also encourages the development of Page 23 visions. He was reading the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and came across this sentence on page 23: "I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf." Furtick isn't promoting a gospel though that promises you the world if you only plant the seed money. In fact, he cautions that "if the dream in your heart isn't biblically based, focused on Jesus, affirmed by the key people in your life, and tethered to your passions, gifts, and life experiences, chances are, you're way off prompt." In short, this book isn't that different from William Carey's encouragement to "expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."

Analysis - For some reason it's natural to start uncomfortably squirming in your chair when someone starts into the "believe in God and watch Him do incredible things" line. However, this book was one of the better sources I've read on the connection between faith, prayer, and our relationship with God. He demonstrates all the biblical reasons to absolutely believe in God for a Page 23 vision while firmly staking our expectations on the word of God and the faithfulness of God. He aptly addresses the cost of asking God for great things, why God doesn't grant us the miracles we desire every time, the delays in God's answers, and the need to "push while you pray. This book would have been less than half the book it turned out to be if Furtick had ignored these questions that press on most of our minds. 

  • Who will benefit from the book? Every believer can and will benefit from this book. The examples given in the book range from the page 23 vision to start a church to reach Charlotte to the passion to reach a loved one for Christ.
  • How will they benefit? This book is fantastic help for those seeking God's direction and plan for their lifes. It encourages us to looks above the pile of work we are buried in and seek what God desires to accomplish. It pushes us beyond existence to participating in God's plans. Furtick also soberly reminds that there is a price to be paid and that we must put feet to our prayers.
Where does this book fit into the process of ministry design? Reading through this book would be particularly helpful early in the stage of setting up your ministry. It encourages you to think beyond what everyone else is doing and seek God's face for what he would have you to do. Probably not a bad book to read before planning a new year either!

Aha Thoughts - "The world is waiting for change. God's people are the change the world is waiting for. So seize the vision. Activate audacious faith. Make your move."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Church Planting for Dummies

I had been putting all this work into church planting. Studying the Scriptures. Praying. Reading books. Going to conferences. Yep... pretty much eating and breathing anything church-planting related. Last night I realized all my work was unnecessary when I watched this short 3 minute video! Here are all the basics of church planting in a tiny package.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spooky on Your Mind?

The holiday called Halloween is almost here, unleashing hordes of little children to do the dirty work of gathering candy for their parents who are in little need of it! The planet has generally embraced the holiday with capitalistic fervor. Haunted houses alone draw in between 300-400 million dollars and over 400,000 visitors eager to be spooked.

It's hard to know what Halloween even celebrates. Unlike most holidays which celebrate something or someone, this holiday seems more like an excuse. An excuse to eat lots of candy. An excuse for adults to relive their childhood and play dressup. An excuse to play Michelangelo on a pumpkin. An excuse to watch horror movies.

I don't pretend to offer the final word on this subject, but I would like to point out a few pros and cons to help us analyze this holiday biblically. After all, if I completely solved the problem this year, Christianity would be without a problem to discuss at this time next year!

  • Time to work on our relationships - Should we need a holiday to slow down and notice those around us? No! However, life gets busy and often we neglect to spend the time with our spouse, kids, and friends. Relationships require investments, but often we get so busy with work, bills, meetings, and raking our dumb lawns that we neglect to enjoy those God has blessed us with. Let's not forget that "the man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord" (Pr 18:22). Enjoying time with ones spouse, kids, and/or friends is definitely a good thing!
  • Fun - "Come on!" you say. "This is hardly a theological reason." Well, since when has fun been a crime. Carving pumpkins are really fun, especially when your brother knows how to transform the seeds into an amazing snack. Dressing up in costume might not be everyone's cup of tea, but hey, if being a cowboy for one night is your idea of fun then go for it! It's not that different than the escapism from reality evidenced by those who enjoy fiction novels, action movies, or reality TV shows. God is the one "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim 6:17).
  • Cultivates creativity - For all of you who have more creative thoughts in one second than I do in a year, this is your day. Honestly, how creative can you be with a turkey? Sure, a Christmas tree might give you a few opportunities, but nothing beats a pumpkin!
  • Connects you with your community - When's the last time you talked with all those neighbors? Last Halloween? Did you forget you have neighbors? Intentionally involving ourselves with the community isn't a negative. In fact, it could potentially gives us inroads to do the most important thing - share the gospel!
  • Free candy - Need I say more :)
  • Economic realities - Money is a resource from God. An awful lot of mulah can be spent on consumables. Candy costs a bunch (until the post-Halloween sale). Costumes certainly aren't cheap either. And how many times a year are you going to don your Captain Jack Sparrow costume?
  • Trivialization of spiritual beings - In my estimation, this is one of the biggest dangers. You can dress up as demons, angels, or the devil himself without ever taking time to appreciate the character you are representing. Spiritual warfare isn't a joke. It's for real. It's for keeps. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Granted, we don't know what this spiritual beings look like (if such a "look" is even possible for spiritual beings), but trivializing and representing the enemies of God is a frightful position to be in.
  • Cavities and obesity - These dangers can both be mitigated by a trip to the dentist and another New Year's resolution that will come in less than 2 months. Be careful that we don't give in to one of America's favorite sins - gluttony.
  • Provocative costumes - It's concerning that this holiday is so sexualized, but it's hardly surprising. In a culture that's using sex to sell everything from shoes to cars to a season worth of entertainment on a TV show, the influence of evil hearts and minds on Halloween should not be surprising, but that doesn't make it any less wrong. There is a vast array of sexual costumes for any adult party you might attend. Even more concerning is that the provacative costumes available for adults come in kid sizes.
An Alternative
A healthy alternative for Halloween is Reformation Day. The idea of running around in an itchy, hooded robe nailing pieces of paper on all your neighbors' doors is just too good to pass up (aside from having to shave part of your head for one night of fun)!
What about you?
I think there are some serious postives as well as some grave negatives. The answer - a Spirit-controlled, Word-dependent personal decision.

What about you? Do you and your family celebrate Halloween? If so, how? Why? If not, why?