Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When I Don't Say It Like I Want To

i teach often.  for the last 14-15 years i have taught every week and more often than not, multiple times a week.  the most messages i've ever given in one week was 15 (different messages).  that's abnormal, of course, but when you teach all the time you are bound to have times when you just wish you had the chance to do it over.

that was me this weekend at our 9am service.  the whole time i was teaching i kept thinking, "this isn't coming out like i wanted it to."  as i was teaching i realized this isn't going to be clear.  after the service was done i was exhausted.  my mind was racing the entire time i was teaching, trying to figure out how to be more clear.  it weighs on me emotionally because, as a teacher, i really desire people to gain understanding of a truth.  so when it's not coming out right it drains me.  

because i've had this happen more than a few times, i've learned that there are 3 things i keep in mind to maintain sanity/grounding:
  1. God works despite us.  i have found that many times when i think it was a horrible message, God does things that i would never have expected anyway.  the bottom line is God speaks to people through His word regardless of whether or not i said things like i wanted to.  at our 11am service i said things much more the way i wanted to and, to be honest, i think it was much more clear.  but that doesn't mean God used it any more or less than the 9am service.
  2. it's usually more clear to others than i think.  if i'm not saying things the way i planned in my head, i'm the only one that knows that.  even though it's jumbled up in my own mind, nobody else knows that.  they don't know the difference so they are just listening to what i am saying, whereas i'm noticing what i am saying and comparing that with what i planned to say.  this makes it seem much less clear to me than it was to others there.
  3. it's not about me.  when i've done this in the past, i've often beaten myself up a bit.  the truth is i just took myself too seriously.  but i've learned a little.  i've learned that is simply my arrogance showing itself in insecurity.  so, i've had to check that at the stage and when i walk off just move on.  it is what it is and God still does what He does.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Using A Sermon Prep Team [3]

okay, here is the third post of this series, but i've decided to add a fourth.  when i originally thought of this series i wasn't thinking of my 6 week prep period prior to teaching the series. so in this post i will discuss that part and then the next post will cover what we do in our weekly meetings as we teach through the book.

here is what we did those weeks:
  • week 1: read entire book (prior to our meeting) in an unmarked bible (preferably one without chapter or verse distinctions) and talk about our initial observations, one chapter at a time
  • week 2: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and list out tensions in the text (theological or relational) or tensions in life the text addresses
  • week 3: read through entire book (prior to meeting) and note where thoughts start and finish.  every author has a "flow of thought" and this is CRITICAL to understand when teaching through a book.  in our meetings we talk about and share where we broke things down.
  • week 4: repeat week 3 without looking at our previous weeks' notes.  doing it this way you get a fresh look at it and in our meeting we then compare our new notes to the previous week and then collectively decide where the thoughts start and finish and which thoughts seem to be transitions between larger thoughts.
  • week 5: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and choose one verse for each major thought.  we've already listed out where these start and finish already so now we simply pick one verse or verses that best summarizes each thought.  we then talk through each of our conclusions and collectively land on the key verses for each thought.
  • week 6: read through entire book again (prior to meeting) and take note of major themes we see throughout the book and then list specific verses we see that theme.  in our meeting we collectively decide on these as well.
each of these areas require a lot of time for each of the team, but when a team of people are speaking into it is a balanced result.  "living" in just the text like this over a period of time you become very familiar with the book and really feel like you know it well.

finally, here are a couple of other (important) thoughts i'd like to mention:
  • notice we did not once look at a commentary during this time of preparation - not even the introductions in study bibles.  when teaching our job is NOT to give a book report.  nobody wants that.  a lot of people think that "doing the work" of preparation simply means reading what everyone else has said about the book after the study they did.  i couldn't disagree with this more.  i'm not negating the benefit of commentaries but there is a huge difference between teaching from our head knowledge and teaching from our hearts and lives.  i believe it's vital for people to hear from someone that has lived in this book for a while versus someone who has simply studied and then regurgitates what they learned.
  • going through this process before i teach makes sure that i really do understand the flow of the book before teaching any one part of it.  it helps me keep each section of scripture, however i break it down, in it's appropriate context. in other words, it keeps me honest as i teach.
in the next post i will share the process we go through in our weekly meetings as i prepare to teach through particular sections.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Using A Sermon Prep Team [2]

this short blog series is designed to throw out some thoughts that can hopefully help you think about ways to incorporate others into your study of scripture as you prepare to teach.  the bigger picture might even include a bible study in general.  regardless, the key is to get different types of people with different strengths so that your study becomes more holistic.  i'm seeing the beauty of this more and more as we go from week to week.

my previous post shared some of the higher level benefits of prepping my messages with a team of people versus in doing so in silo.  here i will share the types of people that i've found to be good to include.  to be clear, i didn't build the team with these types of people in mind.  i've just seen the beauty of having these types of people on the team with me.  all of the team has characteristics that overlap, but there are some clear distinctions between each person i've found to be very helpful.  here they are:
  1. Old Testament focused person.  this would be good in general, but especially as i teach through the book of Romans, this has been a great person to have.  geoff has been a college professor of the OT for about 5-6 years and it has proven to be a huge asset to the prep team.  if you don't have someone at this level it would be good to get someone that, at least, loves the Old Testament.
  2. theologically in tune person.  the team i have put together are all sound, but it's good to have someone that really knows the nuances of different views.  although he doesn't even have a bachelor degree, adam is that guy for me.   he interns at Colossae but is way more in tune with the differences than most of us in the room are and can clearly articulate most of the differences in views.  when we throw out phrases or sentences on how to communicate things he can really decipher through the theological nuances of what we're actually saying.  
  3. youth minded person.  our youth pastor, sean, is on the prep team and i love it because as we are prepping he's trying to figure out how he's going to teach this to junior high kids.  this does a number of things, but one thing it does is that it helps keep our conversation simple.  i boil things down pretty well, but having someone like him is fantastic.
  4. a precision person.  words are important and especially so when communicated verbally.  teaching a book like Romans can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be.  the book is actually quite simple in concept, but to find words and clear ways to draw distinctions can take some time.  daniel is an intern at Colossae and he is this guy for me.  he is good at illustrations and comparisons, which is obviously helpful.
  5. a people person.  it's really important to have someone that is in tune with people and, dare i say, a bit emotional (i mean that in the BEST sense).  justin is on staff with me and is highly relational.  we all are on staff, but justin is a bit more in tune emotionally which leads him to be a bit more sensitive.  he helps us keep in mind the people in the room and causes us to be more cautious with what we say and how we say it.
the only piece that i would love to have on my prep team is a woman.  we have some women in our church that are extremely sharp and i am going to try to get at least one, if not a few, on the team soon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Using A Sermon Prep Team [1]

i've been teaching weekly for about 16 years in the church context as well as conferences/camps/etc.  this has ranged from junior/high school ministry to college ministry to sunday morning services, from a mega church to a church plant.  i've tried many different things in my prep, done my notes a multitude of different ways...on and on.  in my pursuit to continue learning i recently tried something new: i put together a sermon prep team.  this team is made up of 5 other people that i meet with every week (i want to add some others too, actually).  so, i thought i would do a short series here about what i'm learning about using this format.  hopefully it will cause you to consider it at some level.  i think i will break this series up in the following ways:

1. benefits of using a "prep team"
2. types of people to have on a team like this
3. the format of our meetings - what we actually do

today i will simply start by listing out some benefits i'm finding with using a team to help me prepare:

1. train people.  it's not too often people see how a pastor preps for a message.  and it's far less that they actually get to be a part of the entire process.  i'm finding this tremendously helpful for training others.

2. unity of the team.  my team is made up of staff and non-paid interns, so doing this together keeps everyone dialed in and totally on the same page.  i'm finding this to be very helpful with culture building.  we are all a deeply in tune with what God is teaching us and what we are teaching the people in our church.

3. immediate feedback.  i've always prepped for my messages alone.  i don't read books on the subject and actually try to limit my reading of commentaries (i can explain why that is later).  i'm finding it to be a huge help to be able to bounce ideas off the team and get immediate feedback on it.  the truth is a lot of my ideas are not good...and this way i get to find that out before i walk on stage!

4. amazing ideas.  i lead the discussion and guide the thought process and ask the questions, but the bottom line is the people in the room come up with some brilliant thoughts that i'm pretty sure i would not have.  and this isn't just ideas for illustrations or creative things, but also ideas on how to articulate thoughts precisely and in a way that is truly helpful.  we all feed off each other and collectively get to places that none of us would have alone.

5. less prep time in general.  because we are all in it together i'm finding the time it takes me to prep for a message is far less than it used to be.  this is a big benefit that i frankly did not see coming.

6. less stress.  it's interesting that this approach lessens the amount of pressure or stress i feel.  the weight is ultimately on me (i guess) but it's entirely freeing to have a team that is taking this seriously to the point of collectively taking responsibility for what i will be teaching.

i'm sure there are more benefits i'm finding than this, but those are on the front of my mind right now.  i'll continue in the next post with the types of people i'm finding to be helpful to have in the room and a part of this team.  the bottom line is, i don't see how i can ever go back to prepping in silo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

thankfulness at thanksgiving is easy

being thankful over thanksgiving weekend is easy.  it's every other week that my sense of gratitude can be lost.
i would love to be able to say i never take things for granted and always remain grateful for what i have.
but i can't, if i'm honest.

it's amazing how when we first get something we are thankful.  but then, if we consistently have it, we begin to take it for granted.  water whenever we want it.  electricity that works all the time.  grocery stores stockpiled with food.  we are not grateful for these things all the time.  the truth is we take them for granted because they are our norm and we rarely take a step back to think about what we actually have in these things.

this past sunday at Colossae i taught on Romans 5:12-21.  in this section paul is comparing Adam with Jesus.  his point is clear: they are two different people and each leads us in a totally different direction.  here is the comparison he makes between these two in this section:

Adam led to: sin and death (12, 17, 21); Condemnation (16); Disobedience (19)
Jesus led to: Justification (16); Righteousness (17, 19); Obedience (19); Grace (15, 20)

polar opposites.  and for that, as a Christian, i am thankful.

here is what i know to be true about gratitude in my life: when i take my focus off myself (or people in general) and put it on Jesus, gratitude is naturally a part of my life.  additionally, when i take a step back and consider where i came from (i.e. the life of Adam - also see Ephesians 2:1-3) and compare that to where Jesus has brought me, i'm grateful.  

when i can keep these things at the front of my mind i remain thankful for more than just a weekend a year.  

Lord, help me to remember.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

4 Thoughts For Reaching Millenials

on saturday i was speaking at the You Lost Me LIVE tour with my good friend David Kinnaman.  he had asked me to speak previously at their Seattle event and then again to join them here, in Portland.  if you haven't read his book, You Lost Me, i would recommend doing so.

anyway, he asked me to speak about reaching Millenials in the church context.  i shared 4 thoughts.  here they are in summary:
  1. View them as people, not a stat.  this may seem obvious, but it's sadly not as common as it needs to be.  this generation is talked about (which means they are looked upon) as more of a demographic than human beings.  i get how talking about a generation in general terms can be helpful and even necessary, but this balance needs to be watched very carefully.  if you view them as a target to hit, you will surely miss.
  2. Give them belonging.  a sense of belonging only comes in/through the context of relationships.  no sermon, no programming, music, black clothe or candles...none of this gives a sense of belonging to a person.  people feel like they belong when they are relationally connected to people.  period.  to reach them there must be a relational focus of ministry.  millenials go missing when this type of connection is missing.
  3. Blame it on the gospel.  we must continue to call people to embrace the gospel, which at its very core, is a life of selflessness (Mark 8:34).  we tend to be good about teaching the benefits of the gospel, but not as good as pushing people to embrace the call of the gospel (self denial and actually following the selfless example of Jesus).  embracing the call of the gospel is the only thing that will serve as a motivator for people to focus on others, reach out, and adapt where necessary so that others can become more like Christ (1 Cor. 9:22).
  4. Embrace accountability.  holding people to the standards of scripture is not an option for spiritual leaders.  investing in other people (i.e. discipleship) is not an option or a good suggestion in scripture.  it is, in fact, a command.  as a lead pastor this is part of how i've asked to be evaluated by my elders.  if i am not helping older adults invest in younger people, i need to be fired.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts on 2 Gatherings

Yesterday was the first time we had 2 Sunday gatherings at Colossae Church.  We had reached capacity, and probably beyond, for our current facility and were forced to either: move into a bigger space or add an additional gathering.  We obviously chose the latter.

Now, to be honest, I have a whole mess of different feelings with this.  Here were some of my concerns with this transition going into it:

  1. Losing a sense of holistic community.  There is something really special to everyone being together and I didn't know how this would affect that.  The concern of becoming disjointed in ways was not small.  The life of Colossae is found in community, so keeping communities together is a priority.  With this transition people in the same community may join different gatherings and we wondered if this would negatively affect community.
  2. Putting the focus on Sunday mornings.  We have a very strong emphasis on embracing truths in every day life and doing so in the context of community.  This is not something we are willing to compromise on.
  3. Perception of growth negatively affecting our culture.  With the amount of growth we have experienced people sense that God is doing something, which is exciting.  But with that also comes a fear in people that we will lose who we are in midst of continual growth.  I admit, I share some of that concern as well.
With these types of things in mind (that is not an exhaustive list of my concerns going into this), we have put up some guardrails in place to protect our culture and mission.  I may post about those at another time. But, for today, I just want to post some of my thoughts about the plus side we are seeing with this transition:
  1. Smaller group in each gathering.  This allowed us to create some space to better allow people to actually connect with others in this setting.  This contributes to our desire to keep our Sunday morning gatherings a part of what we do as a community rather than it being a separate event.  This may actually be the biggest plus for us at this point.  We were very intentional about doing some things we haven't been able to do very well up to this point due to the number of people.
  2. Serve during one and join in another.  With one gathering people that served in our children's ministry missed out on the adult side of things.  This was a price people have been willing to pay, but it was a bit of a bummer.  Now we can serve at one and still join in on the adult side.  This actually caused more people to step up to the plate and take more significant roles in serving in a number of different ways.
  3. Able to teach twice.  This is a bit of a selfish one for me, but the reality is it's kind of nice to be able to teach my message a second time.  Only having one time is tough.  There are always things I wish I would've done differently when I'm done, which is the case whenever you teach something for the first time.  But I learned to deal with it, trusting in the Holy Spirit's ability to do what He does despite what I 'could've' said better.  Now it's kind of nice to be able to record both messages and then to think as a team as to which one we should post online.  It helps appease my insecurities a little :-)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Interview About "Better Off Without Jesus"

I've been doing a lot of radio interviews lately for my latest book, Better Off Without Jesus.  The interviews are fun to do and yet, a bit odd.  I may write a post about my thoughts of these interviews soon here - would be fun to unpack that a bit.

Anyway, today I did a LIVE radio interview on the book. Often times these interviews are LIVE on radio only, others are recorded and then aired at a later date via the radio, but then there are ones like this that are LIVE, Live Streaming and then is also posted for anyone to listen to.

So, if you would like to listen to this most recent interview, click here.   Hope it gives you a better understanding of the book and some of the thoughts in it!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Myth of Organic Ministry

Talk of "organic ministry" is not lacking, that's for sure.  Whenever people ask me about how I planted Colossae Church, follow up with me about one of my books, ask me to further explain my philosophy of ministry or even more specifically how I approach discipleship, they often say things like, "Oh, so you just want it to happen organically."  I think I get what they are saying, which is why I don't agree.  Let me explain a little.

Typically when people talk about organic ministry there seems to be an underlying assumption that as a leader I don't provide structure, lack focus and intentionality, but instead just sort of hang out with people, sit back, and let things happen.  But this is the myth of organic ministry.  And people who start churches with this understanding of organic quickly realize that that approach doesn't work.  Ministries (all organizations, actually) need direction and leadership.  Every community needs leadership, which means every church does as well.  Without structure and leadership the community will inevitably lack focus, become ingrown...and die.

And the truth is even the most organically minded house-church planters I know end up providing structure...they just don't call it that.  The numbers of people they lead might be less, but there is structure no doubt.  They have someone in charge of bringing food.  Someone prepares songs and leads singing.  Someone plans camping trips.  There is structure and leadership.  The idea that they just let relationships dictate everything is a myth...or, (at risk of sounding overly harsh) it is the thing that will lead to their demise as a leader.

Here are a few distinctions/thoughts I will offer with this:
  1. Relational and Organic aren't necessarily the same.  I have a relational focus in everything I do, but I don't just sit back and let things happen.  Some things, of course, take time to develop but that doesn't mean I lock myself in a closet, pray, and hope it all works out.  If organic means I prayerfully and intentionally spend a lot of time with people and think everyone has different needs so we intentionally structure to meet those in the context of relational communities, then I would say I'm organic.
  2. Intentionality and Formality are not the same.  We can be very intentional with people without formality.  For instance, we don't have to provide a 4 step process for everyone in our church to formally go through in order to be intentional in their lives.  We don't need to provide a curriculum for a group to go through in order for them to grow spiritually, although that can be helpful.  But if organic means we sometimes have classes for things, sometimes recommend content but place our priority on relationally connecting people to others who can help them, offering tools as needed, then I guess I'm organic.
  3. Our culture is horrible at cultivating relationships.  In western culture we are very slow to trust and truly commune with others in every aspect of our lives.  So, if organic means we understand this and thus provide room for relationships to naturally develop over time, but also provide some intentional structure and avenues for people to do so in the context of community, then again, I guess I'm organic.
All this to say, just because our church doesn't provide a bunch of classes, studies, programs, etc. for people to become a part of, it doesn't mean we sit back and just let it happen organically as some might define that term.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Millenials Don't Leave Church, They Leave a Sub-Culture

I've been thinking a lot lately about different books, theories, studies, etc. on how "Millenials" are leaving church.  I've written a bunch about it and friends of mine, like David Kinnaman (UnChristian and You Lost Me) and Dan Kimball (They Like Jesus But Not The Church), have written well articulated books describing this issue as well.

But I'm becoming less and less convinced they are leaving the Church.  Instead, I think many are simply leaving the sub-culture of a particular type of church.  And this is something that I haven't seen articulated yet.

For instance, in You Lost Me David Kinnaman describes "exiles" as people that feel more comfortable outside of a church context.  If you have not read this book yet I would recommend doing so.  But regardless, I believe much of the reason is because they just don't fit into the sub-culture of the church or churches they have been exposed to.  So, depending on context, this may be correctly articulated as them "leaving Church."  However, I think we can be more pointed and say they are leaving a specific sub-culture of Church.

I travel frequently and see so many different contexts of church.  I'm not just at conferences.  I'm also at a lot of college's and churches across the country.  And if there is one thing I can say for sure, it's that every church has it's own sub-culture.  Music is a variance, teaching styles can be drastically different but so is the way people dress, how pastors are approached, specific language that seems to dominate in certain contexts, programmatic structures are vastly contradictory, what people of certain ages can or cannot do, etc.

And it's important for us to realize that none of this is necessarily "Christian" or an accurate expression of "The Church."  It's simply a sub-culture's way of doing things or thinking about certain aspects of life.

I am hearing more and more young people simply not feeling like they fit into what they call "Church."  But I'm beginning to realize (or maybe just beginning to articulate clearly) it's simply the sub-culture of their "church" experience they are not fitting into.  And I've found that helping them make this distinction in their own minds is extremely helpful.  This may not be a huge distinction that changes the conversation about this topic in publishing, but I do think it's something we should keep in mind.

And I must say that I don't personally think it's bad to leave a particular sub-culture - regardless of context.  In fact, I think it's far more dangerous to think of some of the things we do in church (culturally) as actually being "Christian" or the way of living as "The Church."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Mission But Missing The Point

It's sexy now to be "on mission."  Churches sort of pride themselves in being a "missional church" or being a "missional community."  But the idea of the Church as mission is nothing new - it stems back to  the very early church fathers - actually, Jesus.

I love how the Church has focused in these ways because I believe it's God's heart.  In fact the mission statement for Colossae, the church I planted and pastor is: to join in God's mission of reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus.  As God's people we engage in what God is doing.  The gospel doesn't call us to inviting Jesus into our lives, but it's an invitation for us to join in with his life.

That's a very big and critical distinction for us to make [and one I talk a lot about in my forthcoming book, Better Off Without Jesus].  But no matter who we are or what position we have, we often all get something else confused.  We think being a Christian is about 'being on mission for God' rather than simply abiding in Christ.

What I have found is that I can 'be on misson' and yet still be missing the point; I can be doing all sorts of things 'on mission' and still have no intimacy with Jesus, my Lord and Savior.  I may feel and look spiritual but I'll be dying inside.  However, I also know something else to be true.  If I'm abiding in Christ and intimately remaining connected to him, then I'll be on mission.

This ought not be a chicken and egg conversation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lessons From An 80 Yr. Old Saint

We had a dear family member staying with us for the past 4 or 5 days.  She is a saint.  Amazing woman to say the least.  She loves God.  She has incredible insight.  She has a very sharp mind.  She gets ministry.  She is wise.

These are all things that make for fun conversations and especially when she throws out statements like, "You know, I remember when we first got electricity at the house and..."  This is when you know you're engaged in a fun conversation!  But over the course of the weekend she said 3 things that really stuck with me.  Here they are:

  1. We were talking about all the different ways leaders are leading churches.  She understands the approaches and acknowledges the need for different approaches.  But she looked at me and simply said, "Just do what God wants."  I wasn't complaining about anything, I wasn't even explaining things I have been thinking/praying through.  She just gets what it means to be called to something and issued that little nugget for me to chew on.  Just do what God wants.  It really is that simple.
  2. She was telling me of how she used to lead choir.  She said she never told anyone they couldn't sing or that they couldn't be involved.  She said she viewed it as her responsibility to help people be used and to make sure they were encouraged to continue serving the body of Christ in whatever capacity they could.  She said this is the role of a leader in her mind.  She spoke of leaders that go into churches and inherit a staff.  She understands that sometimes staff's need to change, but she also had another insight that I thought was profound.  She said a lot of times the new leader says things about their staff like, "They just wouldn't be my first choice" and therefore make a change.  A leader actually said that to her recently and she responded by saying, "Well, the same could be said about you.  I'm sure you weren't every persons first choice either, but they are giving you a chance to succeed." 
  3. Right before I left her at the airport she looked at me and said, "Chuck, I have a new urgency for prayer.  I will be praying because God answers prayer.  Prayer really works."  I said thank you, we hugged, and she walked away...probably praying.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Choosing Winners of Advance Reader Copies

You may or may not have caught it on my Twitter, but I am giving away advance reader copies of my forthcoming book, Better Off Without Jesus.  One a week, until the book releases August 7.  So, I posted something about the "contest" and said to RT for a chance to win a copy.

Well, I've had a few people ask me how I'm choosing the winner.  So, I thought I would let you know.

It's simple, really.  When it's time to announce the winner I list out the names of those that RT on a piece of paper (or sometimes assign numbers to them).

Then my 7 year old, Karis, picks the name who she wants to win or number that just stands out to her.

That's it.

Next week my 4 year old daughter, Hope, will choose.  Then we'll go back to Karis and so on.

It's a way that makes it fun for me, unbiased and it's a small way my girls get to be a part of the ministry.  Good luck!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Back Cover of "Better Off Without Jesus"

Here is the back cover of the book.  You can see the description and hopefully get a bit of a better glimpse at what the book is about.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Writing "Better Off Without Jesus" Was So Different For Me

This is my 6th book and yet I feel like it's my first.  I remember when my first book came out.  I was both nervous and excited.  I also had some insecurity about it.  I wondered if people would like it or if it would actually do as well as Zondervan thought it would.  Each book that followed my excitement was always there, but I became less nervous with each release and my insecurities subsided too.  But all the feelings from my first book are back - and even more intense.  I'm more excited, a bit more nervous and even more insecure in ways.

I am very excited because I really believe this book can be a tremendous help for people and especially for those of us that struggle to clearly hear God's direction for our lives.  For those of us that wonder how, in fact, can we know when God is speaking and when He is not.  But I'm nervous and insecure for entirely different reasons than I've been with any of my prior books.  Here are at 3 reasons why:

  1. I'm writing from a different perspective.  With my other books I was kind of the "expert" guy (as others call me).  I gave advice from my experience, but it was mostly ministry experience.  This book is very, very different.  It's personal.  I'm not writing as the "college ministry expert" but as a guy who, like others, just wants to do what God wants and is seeking to figure out what He is saying...and what He is not.  Trying to decipher and recognize His voice.
  2. I talk about my sin, a lot.  I am very open about my own sin(s) in this book, which is partially why insecurity creeps in.  I guess that would be somewhat normal.  One of the endorsers (I will post those soon) worded it as "vulnerable."  I shared all this because I hope those that read it can learn from my mistakes and tendencies.  My prayer is that others will get a clear picture of my issues and therefore be able to more accurately recognize them within themselves...and better understand how they distort the voice of God in their lives.
  3. I open some "wounds" in this book.  The story threaded through the book is my own and is centered on the hardest time in my entire life - no question.  I have not talked about this publicly much at all....and now it's all in print.  I write about things like me resigning from a ministry position and not being able to tell people the reasons why, the turmoil of going through an FBI investigation and tensions in relationships with people I love deeply.  This is all part of the story God has given me and I am honestly thankful for it.  But "going public" with such deep issues is a bit nerve racking for me. 
All that said, I'm excited for people to read it.  Why?  Well, I genuinely think it will be helpful.  The book releases August 7, but if you would like to pre-order it so it ships on that date, click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2 Fatal Blows To The Church (i.e. People)

At our very foundation we have some things off base.  Most is due to our culture overtaking much of our thinking.  This is a reality we all must honestly face.  We cannot get away from the fact that we are culturally influenced in our pursuit of authentic Christian faith and experience.  To deny cultural influence is to deny reality.

Here are what I believe to be 3 fatal blows our culture has thrown our way that hinder us from walking in the desired and intended ways of our Creator:

  1. Competition.  Western culture, in economics, in homes, in school, in sports....is driven by competition.  We want to win, be the best and more known.  We have bumper stickers for parents that have the "winning" elementary students.  People's pursuit of leadership positions in the church are too often about winning, being first.  Church planting is too often about winning, being the fastest growing and most sought after.  But the Christian life is actually based on serving others, not competition.  Our inward desire to be first can be compared to the disciples (see Mark 9:33-34), but must be met with the ways of Jesus (Mark 9:35). 
  2. Individualism.  We look out for ourselves before looking to help and serve anyone else.  We want privacy so make sure we have proper fences so nobody can see into our backyard.  We need security so make sure we are totally taken care of before helping anyone else out.  Unless we have more than we need we are not happy.  Let me use our physical body as a metaphor here.  The parts of our bodies only take what they need to survive and function.  If one thing begins to fail other parts compensate to pursue the overall health of the body.  If one part consumes more than it needs or there is an absence of compensation parts begin to die.  The only thing within our bodies that consumes more than it needs is cancer.  It's deadly because it serves itself and takes nothing else into consideration as it does so.  This is partly why the Christian life is based on cooperation, not individualism.  
I can't seem to get past the reality that many Primal communities around the world consider competition and individualism as nothing less than a mental illness.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Human Limitation - it's real

Two weeks ago I taught on Mark 9:14-32 at Colossae and talked about some limitations we experience as people.  At one point (v.19) we even see Jesus articulate the harsh reality that people are actually incapable of remaining faithful to God's design for them.   Throughout the book of Mark we've seen him articulate his realizations of people's limitations a few different times in our study and here it seems that he knows he is going to have to reconcile these issues himself - by leaving and dying to make the imperfect, perfect. 

Anyway, we didn't break the message down this way necessarily, but we saw human limitations expressed in at least 3 different ways through this passage:
  1. The misplacement of expectations.  We can often take what we should only expect of God and expect the same of other people.  We saw this with the man who brought his boy to Jesus, but then placed what he expected of Jesus onto the disciples.  They could not meet his expectations and it ended up in an argument (v.14-16).  Unmet expectations always lead to relational tensions.    
  2. Doubt and unbelief.  We all have areas of doubt in our lives because we all have areas of life that we are somewhere between uncertainty and absolute certainty in.  That's all doubt is.  But we also talked about how doubt is too often viewed as an enemy to faith rather than a reality of human limitation.  The bottom line is our limitations will not allow us to avoid doubt.  We will always deal with it to some degree.  Our response then should be that of the man who was honest about these areas with Jesus and turns to Jesus for help in his unbelief (v.24).  
  3. Reliance on self vs. dependence on God.  Jesus makes it clear at the end of this passage (v.29), with a little jab straight to the heart of the disciples, that they were trying to do the work of God by their own power.  Jesus tells them that this could only be done through prayer.  Prayer is a posture of dependence and that's what Jesus is wanting his disciples to understand.
We looked at these things from a few different angles but boiled it all down to the following statement:

"Our human limitations are seen in our limitless weaknesses and therefore we must rely on God’s unlimited power."

As you think about that this week, maybe you can ask yourself a few questions:
  1. What areas am I trying to do God's work in my own power?  When you recognize these things, I'd encourage you to go to God in repentance, asking for His help.
  2. What areas am I struggling with doubt and unbelief?  Recognize these areas and go to God, asking Him to help those areas.  In other words, let these areas of your life draw you to God versus away from Him.  This way doubt will be a catalyst to your faith versus an enemy.
  3. Am I placing unrealistic expectations on people that only should be expected of God?  If you are expecting things of people that should only be expected of God - like being perfect - then I'd encourage you to recognize that this is part of your own imperfection and to ask God for help in that.
The bottom line is we will either rely on our limitless weaknesses (which will create all sorts of tensions) or we can depend on God's unlimited power. I've found that a great practice in every day life for relying on God's unlimited power is to begin by consciously realizing the areas we are weak in and then turning to God for help in those areas.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Leadership 101

Over the next couple weeks I will be throwing out some thoughts on leadership.  I of course have a lot of different thoughts so this will be simply me throwing out whatever thought comes to me at the point of writing.  They will be somewhat random, straight to the point and hopefully helpful for you - although you may be the one that should be writing these instead of me. 

Todays thought comes from the apostle Paul and understanding a bit about his ministry.  For me, one of the biggest things that pops out about his leadership is the fact that he "lived among" those he served.  See Acts 20:17-21 for an example.  You can also see this phraseology throughout the book of 1 Thessalonians.

You might say Paul's leadership was "down to earth" and there is a beauty to leading this way.  He didn't lead from a position, he led from his life.  In Acts 20:17-21 alone we see those he led could attest to at least the following things:

1. his humility.  Can we look at those we lead and say to them that they can attest to our humility?
2. his compassion for them as human beings. Do we actually love people or just say we do?
3. his own trials in life.  Do we allow those we lead into even the difficult aspects of our lives?
4. his commitment to speaking truth. Do we love people enough to tell them the truth?
5. his consistency between public and private settings.  Are we consistent in character regardless of where we are?
6. his unchanging message.  Are we committed to telling everyone about the gospel? 

It seems as though Paul could answer all these positively, which is partly what made him such a powerful leader.  I hope to be able to do the same.