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?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dangerous Dependencies

No, I'm not necessarily talking about crack, cocaine, lsd, or marajuana. I'm not even talking about the more mild versions of addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. Nope, I'm not even talking about the acceptable Christian addictions to caffeine, food, and "acceptable" medicines.

These addictions are awful for your physical body, but our spiritual dependencies can be far more harmful. Many of these tendencies are exemplified in our personal lives, but I think our ministries magnify these to an even greater extent.

1. Ourselves - This is the first dependency that may come to your mind - yourself. I'm sure this is a human nature temptation, but I think the American culture has elevated this vice to levels of virture. We value the self-made man. The Batman who single-handedly takes on the forces of darkness. The Michael Phelps who establishes previously unimaginable records in the Olympic pool. The welfare mother who starts a million dollar business. These are stories that we as Americans thrive off of, and they encourage us onto individual acts of greatness. Unfortunately, this characteristic of America is not likewise a characteristic of God. Proverbs 3:34 states that God "mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble." The ability to please God is not found inside of us. Neither is the ability to minister for God.

2. Experts - Did you know that you could get a college degree in International Historic Preservation  (Savannah College of Art and Design), Australian and New Zealand Studies (Georgetown University), or Concrete Industry Management (MTSU)? This is the age of specialization! If you love to obsess about the obscure, hello 21st century. There is an expert for your every need. These experts are even kind enough to supply an endless stream of blogs, articles, books, and conferences. I'm certainly not saying that all experts are part of the secret Satanic plot to bring in the reign of the antichrist. Experts, in fact, can aid us toward finding and accomplishing the will of God, but be careful. Through narrative, 2Chr 16:7 and 12 give us a solemn warning through the life of King Asa. He relied on the king of Eram to deliver him militarily and his doctors to deliver him from his foot disease. These were the experts of his day! He failed... God judged him for relying on experts rather than on the Almight God.

3. Education - For the record, I think everyone who gets the MDiv is serious about preparing for the work of God while everyone who goes on to get a doctorate is depending on their eduction for godliness and growth! End of story. :) Just kidding! As tidy as that might be, education can present a real dependency challenge to all of us. Whether you have a high school degree, a PhD in New Testament Interpretation, or 274 years of Sunday School experience, we tend to discern and navigate our path through life based on our own knowledge and application of it. However, depending on our learning is the antithesis of trusting the Lord to direct our paths (Pr 3:5-6).

4. Strategy - Yep, we not only like our own experts and our own knowledge, we typically like do to things our own way. Our self dependence results in using our own schemes. The psalmist contrasts those who depend in chariots and horses to those who trust in the Lord (Ps 20:7). Would anyone use a horse to build their church? Probably not. The chariot has potential as an eco-friendly extension of the bus ministry, but few would use it. To depend, however,on horses and chariots to win military victories (3,000 years ago) is as ludicrous as it is to depend on them to build a church. We are terribly flawed whenever we rely on human devised strategies, plans, or 12 step processes to accomplish the work of God.

5. Tradition - This one may kind of strike you as odd. How does tradition fit as a dangerous dependency? Well, let me ask you this. If you were going to start an outreach program, what would you do? Exactly what you've always done? What another church you admire does? If you were going to plant a church, what would it look like? What would you do? Would you duplicate the church you just left, regardless of the geographic or cultural changers? I think the difference between depending on tradition compared to depending on experts, education, or strategy is that depending on tradition is not usually deliberate. It's usually the default mode. It takes work to seek out experts, get an education, or study and develop strategy. Tradition is an easy master. It's cheap, and readily accessible, even though it's not the most sophisticated of dependencies (kind of like sniffing glue). For a very interesting passage regarding dependence on tradition, see 1 Samuel 4:1-11.

Pretty negative so far? Personally, I don't think so. Identifying the problem is always the first step to solving the problem. And the solution is oh so simple. How can we accomplish the work of God's kingdom? How can we start local churches through evangelizing the lost? How can we train Christ-followers to the point of spiritual maturity and reproduction? We Can't! Jesus can and will! Jesus said that He will build His church (Mt 16:18).

So does that mean we sit around and do nothing? Hardly. Our job is to trust the Lord, be faithful what He has called each one of us to do, and leave the results to the Lord.

Our General's Warning: Beware of dangerous dependencies! They possess a lifetime of danger!

  • Did I miss any dangerous dependencies?
  • Were any misdiagnosed?
  • Which one do you think is the most dangerous?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interview with Jud Wilhite

Last month I was privileged to be able to attend the NewSpring Leadership Conference with Dan Threlfall. Dan's company Sharefaith was an official sponsor of the conference. Due to this arrangement, I was able to sit in (as official photographer) on an interview with Jud Wilhite, one of the speakers at the conference. Jud is senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Jud prefers to call the city typically known as "Sin City," "Grace City!"

Sharefaith has been kind enough to post the entire interview on their blog. Here's a couple of highlights from it:
The “Grace City” concept is rooted in what I think God can do, and how he sees a city. The world sees this place [Las Vegas] as Sin City, but if you step back from it, you see that God’s grace is available. When it comes to connecting with our culture, this idea of telling the truth in love is the linchpin for us. We don’t try to be relevant. We don’t try to be cool. We’re not making a big effort to “connect.” What we’re trying to do is live the gospel in our culture—honestly and truthfully.
There are a couple things that are dear to my heart. These are the culture of radical grace and radical truth... Today, it seems like it’s hard to find a church that values the Bible as the Word of God–that values it as the truth, that doesn’t want to compromise or bend it, that doesn’t want to take it in a liberal direction. But it’s hard to find a church that does so in the context of a truly grace-filled culture—a culture that lets you come in jacked out of your mind, and still be loved. I’m encouraged to be seeing this in church plants and church starts. I’m seeing a love for grace and a culture of grace that loves people, but also a love and respect for God’s Word and a willingness to take a stand on his Word.
Make sure you check out the entire interview here!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review - The Trellis and the Vine

A friend of mine sent me a video of Mark Dever reviewing The Trellis and the Vine, in which he states, "this is the best book I've ever read on the nature of church ministry." Now if I stated something like that, it wouldn't mean much. But, when Mark Dever makes a statement like that, it's worth taking a second look. So, my search to get my hands on a copy of this book began. That leads me to one of the few negative comments I can make about the book - the title and cover. Neither the title nor cover real jump out and get your attention. I can prove this! My search for the book finally ended up on my bureau! I had been given the book by a friend back in April, but the book had never caught my attention. In fact, it did little more than collect dust with some of my other "someday books." Maybe it's just because I'm not into the whole gardening thing, but a book with a title about vegetation and lawn ornaments doesn't exactly demand my attention.

Now that my big negative is off my chest, the rest of the book remains! To be fair to M & P, the trellis/vine analogy makes a lot of sense, once you read the book. The authors compare the trellis to the structure and programs of the church while the vine represents the people of the church. Sometimes structure is helpful to support the growth of people, but more often than not, the structure soon becomes an uncontrollable prima dona, demanding all the attention and resources of the church. Eventually, the church forgets about its mission to build people and focuses on building and maintaining an organization. As beautiful and as impressive as the structure may be, the authors contend that this structure is not accomplishing and is even impeding the work of God.

This book calls for a radical ministry mind-shift. Here are 11 shifts that the authors feel are necessary:
  • from running programs to building people
  • from running events to training people
  • from using people to growing people
  • from filling gaps to training new workers
  • from solving problems to helping people make progress
  • from clinging to ordained ministry to developing team leadership
  • from focusing on church polity to forging ministry partnerships
  • from relying on training institutions to establishing local training
  • from focusing on immediate pressure to aiming for long-term expansion
  • from engaging in management to engaging in ministry
  • from seeking church growth to seeking gospel growth
I know that list is tedious, but think about those paradigm shifts. I'm sure that your church may not land on every bad side of the issue, but I think every church struggles with the gravitational pull of focusing on the organization. Or, if they aren't struggling, they have simply succumbed to the pressure.

The authors make it clear that they aren't advocating more lectures or classes on the issue of discipleship. Convictions, character, and competency must be carefully developed through life on life interaction.

For those of you whose version of packing light for a trip includes bringing a U-Haul on an overnite trip, this book is your ministry philosophy equivalent. I don't possibly have time to give all the highlights of this book. I simply want to encourage you to read it. Here's a few questions this book attempts to address:
  • I'm very busy with ministry as it is! How can I possibly make time to invest my life in people?
  • Should I prioritize the people I invest my life in? If so, who? and why?
  • If every believer is actively ministering God's word to each other, what is the need and role of the Sunday sermon?
  • If everyone is really called to minister, why do we pay someone in particular to do it (the pastor)?
  • Oh yeah! Let's say I buy into all the stuff and I want to shift my thinking and practice. Where in the world do I begin? (yes, he thankfully does answer this question in great detail.
The book concludes with a very insightful section addressing possible objections to his paradigm shift. The neat thing is the questions he is answering are genuine questions that many readers might be left asking.

The question is, was Mark Dever right? Is this really the best book on church ministry? I would answer with a hearty affirmative! Apart from the Bible itself, this is the best I have seen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Multi-site or to Biblically Plant Local Churches

Isn't it great when a debate is framed so openly and fairly? :) Here's a discussion/debate between James MacDonald, Mark Dever, and Mark Driscoll that I got tipped off to by Dan Threlfall. Mark Dever ably takes the position of uni-site church plants. Dever spends most of the interview asking questions of Driscoll regarding his multi-site philosophy.

It always seemed to me that the uni-site approach was the more theological position while the multi-site approach was more strategic and yes, cool. I'm sure there are a wide variety of philosophy and strategy among those who advocate multi-site, just as there are innumerable approaches to the uni-site approach. On both accounts I'm sure there are plenty examples of churches that are not equally well thought out and enacted. It's easy and somewhat enjoyable to pick apart examples on either side that are ill conceived or executed poorly. That's what makes this interview so enjoyable. You get to see leaders of both approaches discuss their approach to the matter.

So, forget the personalities representing the positions. The real question is, what do you think? Pros/cons?

(Please note that the pictures are deliberately contrasting just to confuse the issue further)