Do something. Just don’t do everything.

As you can probably guess from my quotes page, I really believe that what we DO gives us much more credibility than what we KNOW or what we SAY. We can hold a lot of beliefs and ideas, but how we live says a lot more about what we truly believe.

I’m beginning to realize, though, there’s something unique about this. In the ministry world, I’ve been in a lot of different circles, and they all value different things. Some folks value great communication – if you can preach a strong, clear message, you’re in. Some are incredibly evangelical. If you’re living a life that’s sharing with people who don’t follow Christ, you’re doing what you should. Others focus on mission – are you regularly serving the poor? The oppressed? The needy?

It’s tough because it leads to a lot of divided focus for people pleasers like yours truly. We should be living all of these things out in some way in our personal lives. But “professionally,” as a minister, I can’t be the champion of every cause. I care about them all deeply. But I guess I’m realizing I won’t be the standout in every field, and that’s ok.

I’ve written about it before, but I really believe that beyond strategy and vision and everything else, following God means listening and following him right here, right now. That typically means starting something small, incomplete, and imperfect and taking steps forward as he leads. Some of the most amazing churches (groups of people) started as a small crowd stumbling their way around and worshipping God together. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The other thought is this: you/we/I don’t have to be great at every part. God shared something important with me through someone special a few years ago: you don’t have to achieve the goal alone. Whatever we’re doing – especially the spiritual things – isn’t meant to be just about us. Churches should have gifted evangelists, teachers, shepherds, and more. Follow God. Be who you are. Grow.

So here’s the deal. Start something imperfect today. And don’t do it alone. 

Lifting that sail and catching the winds of destiny

Let’s be honest. Poetry is a little too heady and cultured for this blog. It just is. I write in three-word sentences. I don’t write poetry.

But there’s this poem that Edgar Lee Masters wrote in his Spoon River Anthology that I think about every few months or so. The book is filled with poems – each a self-written epitaph of someone who has died in the fictional town of Spoon River. There’s one that stands out to me:

64. George Gray

I HAVE studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Since we’ve been talking about action and following God, it just seems to fit. How can we live a life where we dive in and follow God? A life of no regrets?

Learn from people with different perspectives

Maybe it’s not right to “rate” churches. Maybe it seems consumeristic. Maybe one visit to a service can’t get the feel of a community.

But what if a view from the outside, from an atheist, shed some light on a few of your blind spots? What if it caused a little conversation? What if it shook some presuppositions?

I’ve been reading some of Matt Casper’s ratings of a few churches. He’s an atheist who has traveled and visited churches with Christian Jim Henderson. Their recent book is Jim and Casper go to Church.

There’s a comment on the ratings site that nails down an important thought:

I love all this conversation…it’s all very challenging for me right now. First things first, I’m a Christ follower, but I’m having my doubts about my association with the Christian religion right about now.

Matt your book is more than intriguing to me because I’m a newer Christ follower (5 years) who works in a mega-church in the Midwest. I understand your points completely about the ‘lights, camera, action’ approach to a church service. I’m the guy in my church who’s in charge of making sure that all those things work each Sunday. In all honesty, I pushed to have a lot of those things installed in our building. I love production…what else can I say? Continue reading “Learn from people with different perspectives”

Sharing God’s love when it isn’t easy

It’s so easy to be spoiled and satisfied, isn’t it?

I just received an update from some wonderful men and women who are serving God in a very tough country. It’s slow going. It’s not easy work, and it’s not safe. But through their work serving the people (working to build schools, open medical clinics, train nurses, etc.) and building relationships, progress is made one tough step at a time.

They say that two things have made their work effective: trust and stories. They work to build mutual trust and they share and listen to personal stories. Trust is risky, they write, but they’re being both courageous and careful – they’re building trust however they can.

I’m stirred and challenged by people with faith like this. Sometimes in our effort to “think big” we avoid the tough callings for something that looks easier – something with the potential for impressive numbers and affirming success. We need to be willing to take the slow, tough road when God calls us down it and see success through his eyes.

For this group, every woman that lives through childbirth, every child who steps into a classroom for the first time, every life that is changed because of God’s message speaks of God’s love and power. It’s not always easy. It’s not always even fun. It’s work. But inside it there’s joy and purpose. There’s a point.

So … what are we doing?

Just say yes

When Bob Roberts asked Loren Cunningham what he thought it would be like to stand before God after all of the impact he’s had on the world, here’s what happened:

It became real quiet for a few minutes while Loren answered in typical humble Loren fashion, “Oh, I don’t know, I just said yes. All I did was obey. God spoke and I said yes. Maybe He asked 1,000 people before me, I was just the one who said yes–maybe I didn’t know any better.”

When I think about following God – personally and as a church – I tend to think a lot about methods. We need to connect to God, each other, and the world. We need to proclaim the truth and live the truth. And while all of those things are good, the most important step in the Christian life is simple. Say yes to God.

Don’t just share, engage a whole society

Bob Roberts, Jr., pastor of NorthWood Church was interviewed in the May 2007 issue of Church Executive.

What’s wrong with the way most churches do missions?

Well, the first thing that’s wrong is they don’t [do missions], if you look at the overwhelming amount of money that’s being spent on the church as opposed to the rest of the world. The second thing that’s wrong with it is they think they can just pay for [doing] missions and you can’t do that. The third thing I would say that’s wrong with it is they just take a pot shot approach to it.

Like sending a group of kids to South Africa?

Yea, and then next summer we’re going to send 50 people to Hawaii — and it’s not intentional. Here’s what we say: Go somewhere long term, stay there, don’t be-bop all over the world, get in a spot that really needs help and stay there. And engage it through all the domains of society.

Mission work should be a typical church member who’s on fire for God, and their job is their number one ministry. And they use that job in another country to serve those people. And as they live the Christian life in front of them they share their faith. That’s what we’ve done and it works.

So as an editor I should do what?

You should go to Hanoi with me and speak at the National University to all the journalists and all the magazine people about how you write articles, how do you layout a magazine, and where you work. They’ll ask you thousands of questions and you just answer their questions.

And you don’t get into trouble doing that. See we make this misnomer between closed and open countries. There are no closed countries to this kind of work I am talking about. People do not reject the Gospel, they reject the way we try to communicate the Gospel to them.

Here’s another problem. Most preachers want to go where they can preach; well, they need to get over their call to preach. The call to preach is to mobilize the body of Christ.

You’ve said that mission is engaging a whole society, evangelism isn’t the end game.

It’s not, I used to think it was, and I’m a personal evangelist. I share my faith like crazy with tons of people and I see people accept Christ. But if evangelism is the end game then once I’ve got them converted, I’ve done my job. But if the end game is the transformation of society, then it presupposes I have to have converts; it makes discipleship a must, not a luxury. And it makes ministry the end game to see transformation in society. What we do is we celebrate way too quickly. We have this victory thing, we get all these people praying this prayer, and we think, wow look at what happened. But it’s a lot easier to get up and get people emotional and praying a little prayer than it is to live the Christian life.

Read more here.

Using money for a global impact

Check out this video from Francis Chan’s church in Simi Valley. According to his site, it explains the reason why Cornerstone decided to build an outdoor amphitheatre instead of a new sanctuary.

It’s a powerful video, done in the style of an earlier Sarah McLachlan piece. It’s amazing how a global perspective can change how we view our resources …

via Ben Arment

The environment’s place in church

There’s a shift happening in culture. And churches that care about relevance and connection should watch, understand, and participate with the same gusto with which they seek out new music trends or useful sermon topics.

Every day, more people are becoming concerned about the environment and how our consumption affects it. On one end, many people were already there. But it was always more of a “niche” concern. Now, ask almost any college student or recent graduate, and they’ll show some level of concern. They’re altering eating habits, curbing consumption, and reusing what they can.

It may be happening only in certain areas of the U.S., but it’s beginning to happen everywhere. Seth Godin’s recent post gives an example:

“I was at the Union Square Market last week, buying some local eggs. A well-dressed woman marched up and handed two empty cardboard egg trays to the farmer, for reusing (a step better than recycling).

Suddenly, $40 an ounce for raspberries flown in from Chile isn’t so sexy any more.

Now, people look at someone driving a Chevy Suburban the same way they look at a fit person parking in a handicapped space. “Why,” they wonder, “do you need to do that?” It’s sort of a mix of suspicion and pity.”

But many evangelical churches see causes like the environment as distractions from the main thing. We’re called to share Jesus’ love. Focusing on trees and air quality misses the point!

Tim Stevens at Granger Community Church recently posted similar thoughts on his blog:

My eye stopped on the article called: “Indy Church Focuses on Global Warming as Vision to Make Difference.” Now, I have nothing against helping save the environment. That’s all good. But it angered me to realize our conference is raising this church up as a great example, a church to follow. …

I have a thought. How about if they make a goal to introduce someone to Christ this month? What if they educate their people on sharing their faith so they can reverse their decline? What if they set a goal of seeing marriages restored? How about helping their people become followers of Christ in a way that would impact their community? Maybe the objective for 2007 could be “Make Disciples.”

Again, I have nothing against fighting global warming. Or saving whales. Or rescuing lonely butterflies. But let’s keep first things first and keep the mission of the church crystal clear.

I understand! Some people have looked so closely at external issues, they seem to have forgotten Jesus all together. Many churches have reacted against this, focusing solely on proclamation of the word. But social issues are important for the evangelical church for two real reasons.

How we care for this world matters.
We should care for creation. God made it, and we should value it. I don’t think we all need to be vegetarians (I know others feel differently), but we should care for what God left us. We should use it wisely.

How we care for this world matters in the eyes of the world!
While many churches talk about quality and excellence, they turn a blind eye to an area of stewardship many churched, unchurched, and dechurched people care deeply about. By recognizing that how we treat our neighbor and the environment matters, the church could do a lot to break down the same type of stereotypes that the “relevant worship” movement broke down 10 years ago. Then, people assumed the church was irrelevant and out of touch with culture. By updating our worship and preaching styles to fit with a contemporary context, some people’s expectations were shattered and they saw God’s message from a new, life-changing perspective.

Now, it’s time for the church to realize that talking sympathetically about the care of our world and taking small steps to “live lightly” can make the same difference. How many churches actually recycle? If you’re in a building, can it be more energy efficient? What can we do to have a positive effect on the environment as a part of our mission to have a positive impact on the community as a whole?

Something like environmental stewardship should never be THE message, but it should be a part of our pursuit to honor Christ in our communities and the world.

What does it mean to be ‘missional’?

Glenn Smith has some great thoughts here.

“I’ve recently begun consulting relationships with a couple of new church plants and the leadership teams all claimed to be “missional.” As I asked them questions to understand their visions and their mental models of church, I realized very quickly that they were much more “consumer-driven” than missional. In fact, I’m coming to believe that North American “consumerism” is the biggest barrier to churches being missional. To plant or lead a missional church you have to begin with a core principle that I first learned from Fenton Moorhead, and that is “the church does not exist for itself!” Charles Van Engen in an excellent book entitle God’s Missionary People explains this in more detail. I commonly see American Christians nodding their heads in ascent, but then without realizing it, immediate start asking the “what’s in it for me/us” questions.”

So, as Christians who are leading out in the church or in a religious community, where do we stand? We want to be missional. We want to impact the world. But when push comes to shove, who do we choose? Us? Or them?