Do You Love Your Church?

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 1 Corinthians 16:19-20 NIV

My message today at Grace Community Church is from the book of Acts.  It is evident from Paul’s writings that he loved the local church. The local church is a huge part of the New Testament. The Book of Acts alone chronicles the history of its foundation.

Years ago I participated in a one-day medical clinic in a slum near Rio, Brazil that remains nameless, because the government has yet to name it. It is literally built on the side of a steep mountain. Simply walking to the clinic was a huge task. My job was to evangelize the crowd waiting to see the doctors. My translator and I had several decisions to accept Christ, but remarkably we also encountered a good number of professing believers. When I told them that the desire was to eventually start a church in the slum, they were ecstatic. One lady began to jump up and down with excitement. They wanted a local church!

The reaction of these people to the hopes of a local church being established caused me to wonder. How excited do most of us get at the prospect of attending church?   In some cities in the United States there are more churches than in some countries in total, yet statistics tell us that 80% of the people are not in church on a given Sunday. Announce that you are going to open an evangelical church in America today and, while it will attract some attention (frankly some positive and some negative), I doubt many will jump up and down with excitement.

What is the difference? Could it be that we take our hundreds of local church options for granted? I do not know the reasons we fail to be as excited about churches as in some places in other countries I have visited, but I do believe God has a plan for the local church. It is still His method for reaching the lost and hurting, building disciples and sending workers out to develop His kingdom.

Do you love the church?    Who do you know that needs an invitation to join what God is doing in your church?  Could God be expecting you to invite them?

Passion Play Via Twitter?

Technology is being used in incredible ways for Kingdom growth. It seems this Easter I have seen much more advertising for “Internet Church”. Several leading churches are encouraging people to check out the Internet this Easter. That’s not new, but it seems more prevalent this year than ever.

As most who follow this blog know, I’m kind of into Twitter. Twitter has provided me with some incredible connections and I have truly learned from this new form of social networking. In fact, I seem to find out breaking news from Twitter faster than any other source. It is where I find most of the blogs I read, ministry resources, and discover cutting-edge leaders and insights. I highly recommend Twitter.

With as much as I believe in using whatever resources are available, I’m still trying to figure out the latest Twitter ministry I heard about today. A New York church is launching the first ever Passion play via Twitter. Read the article HERE.

What do you think? Can Twitter do justice, in 140 characters or less, to this timeless story? Just curious. Is this a good thing or does this one cross the line in your opinion? (Wherever the line is these days, of course.)

Matt Chandler: Jesus Wants The Rose



 

This blew me away when I saw it the first time.  This probably captures my heart for the church and church planting as well as anything I could say.  My heart breaks for the person who so desperately needs the Gospel, but has been bruised or even rejected by the church.  Christ would never reject you. In fact, He was rejected so that you could be received.  He loves you that much.

Isaiah 53

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; of my people he was stricken.He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, for the transgression nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will and he will divide the spoils

By the way, if your life is messed up, if you think you’ve made too many mistakes in life, we have a seat for you at Grace Community Church.  Jesus loves you and so do we.

Inspiration from a 200 Year Old Church

Our church is 3 ½ years old. We have learned a lot in that time, but each day we realize we have so much more to learn.  We usually look to newer churches to get inspiration, simply because they are closest to doing things the way we do them, but recently I was reminded that there are things I should learn from much older churches.

Spring Creek Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee recently celebrated their 200th anniversary.  In the last five years they have had incredible percentage growth.  This is an “old country church”, as some might refer to them, who has adapted to culture while staying true to the original vision of the past.  They have planted dozens of churches in their 200-year history, including the large First Baptist Church where I grew up and still love today.  In a way, Spring Creek has played a role in my spiritual development and what I do at Grace Community Church by planting FBC, where I was saved, baptized, married and gained so much experience in ministry.

I recently asked their music minister the secret of their continued success. He said, “Our motto is to keep things Real and Relevant”.  Also we are not always looking backwards, but moving forward.”  Huh?  That sounds like something our 3 ½ year old church might say.

Thanks Spring Creek for that inspiration!  Keep it real and relevant for the next 200 years!

Reflections on Losing a Staff Member

Daniel Doss, the amazing worship leader who helped launch Grace Community Church, announced to the church this week that he is leaving to help plant another church.  Daniel has one of the most gifted voices I have ever heard and could easily find a position anywhere, including staying at Grace, but he is excited to be pursuing the dream of planting again (it does get in your blood) with a high school friend in Northern Indiana.  Daniel is our first full-time staff member to leave and we are surely going to miss his and Emily’s energy and passion for what we are doing at Grace.

I have some random thoughts about losing Daniel as a staff member:

  • Daniel has prepared us well for his absence.  He has assembled an incredible team of “worshipping artists” (his term) and they are ready to continue the excellence Daniel began.
  • We were proactive in this situation.  Knowing Daniel’s talent level and his continued passion for Kingdom-building, we knew we could lose Daniel someday if God presented him another opportunity to do this again.  Two years ago we hired another worship leader, equally talented, but with different skills, to co-lead with Daniel.  Michael has been and is ready to lead the deal.  It was sometimes difficult explaining why we had two highly talented leaders in the area of worship, but now we are thankful for the risk we took in making that happen.
  • I told Daniel when he first told me he was sensing a call to this new plant that I am a forward thinking person.  I truly believe a vision must be about more than a personality, so we will continue to the vision Daniel helped us launch.  Michael Higdon is talented and for all practical purposes assumed leadership of Sunday mornings several months ago. He previously led worship for over 20,000 per weekend at Fellowship Church in Dallas, so he is well equipped to continue the excellence Grace is known for in worship.
  • Daniel is leaving on good terms with the church, his worship team, and even Emily’s family who live in Clarksville.   We are sad to lose them, but can rejoice with them in this new venture.  I hope every staff exit we have in the years to come can happen this smoothly.
  • Daniel and Emily Doss will always be a part of Grace Community Church.  I’m fully convinced they will still be connected to us in some way years from now.  They are family to us as a staff and to the church.  Our paths will continue to cross in the years to come.

Daniel and Emily, Cheryl and I love you both.  We admire your hearts, your passion for life, ministry and others, and your faith in taking risks.  Thanks for the difference you have made in our life.

(PS.  I’m hoping Daniel and Emily won’t mind that I grabbed one of their pictures.  I found it on Google images.  They are quite popular there!)

Church Planting Is In My Blood

at_church_thm1Church planting is in my blood. It didn’t occur to me until recently, but shortly after my mother came to Clarksville she was a charter member of a local church.  They are celebrating their 50th anniversary today.  Shortly after this my mother married my father and became a Baptist, but she has always loved her Lutheran heritage.

Congratulations Grace Lutheran Church on 50 years of Kingdom growth.

I love the vision and excitement of church planting and it is one method God has used for many years to reach new people.   God continues to work through those willing to work hard, love people, and take risks to build the Kingdom.

Keeping Core Members In A Church Plant

I often hear church planters say to expect to lose half the original core members within the first year of a new church plant. While I agree that is the trend, I don’t think it has to be that way.  I am now in my second plant.  With this second church we went about the core selection in a very methodical way, fully intending to keep all original core members if possible.

I love the fact that 3 and half years after we launched every one of our core members are still actively supporting Grace Community Church.  (We did have one couple move, but we knew they were going to before we launched and they return often and still support us financially.  Another couple moved to accept a call to ministry, but they are back with us at the time of this post waiting for God’s next assignment for them.)

As the founding pastor, I actually interviewed all potential core members a couple of months before we had our first informational meeting.  (I have a co-pastor, but he had not committed to the plant at this step in our formation.)  Everyone I talked with was told they “may receive an invitation in the coming weeks to an informational meeting”.  Not everyone I talked with was invited.  It wasn’t that they weren’t great people.  In fact, I only talked with great people. It was that we were looking for some certain characteristics of great people.

What makes a successful core group?  Some of these we didn’t understand until a year or more into our launch, but we are so glad God led us to these characteristics.

Here are the common characteristics of our original core members:

1.    The people were placed on our hearts before we ever approached them. Cheryl and I both agreed I should talk with each one.

2.    They were passionate about the church plant from the first conversation. We didn’t have to talk them into being core members. You might say we looked for the Mary heart not the Zechariah heart. (Luke 1) If they asked “When?” it was different then if they asked “Why?”

3.    They had a holy discontent with their current walk with Christ.  They knew they wanted something more, but didn’t know how to address it.

4.    They understood and were willing to own the vision as their own. They were willing to sacrifice and, once we started, would have planted the church even if no one else ever came.

5.    They planned from the beginning to contribute time, money and resources to the cause. (Everyone assumed responsibility.)

6.    Although not a requirement, every man I met with (I met individually with the man first) got teary-eyed during the initial conversation about the church plant.

Obviously planting a church should be a work of the Holy Spirit.  As you are praying for the people God wants to use in this way, trust the impressions He places on your heart.  You are certainly not a failure should you lose core members. I would encourage people to go elsewhere if their heart is not in it, but I do believe it is possible to keep all core members in a new church plant.

If you are a church planter or part of a church plant, how did you find core members?

Learning to Handle the Stress of Growth as a Pastor

Our church is three and half years old. We have seen God do some amazing things in our short time and we continue to stand in awe of His grace upon us. Planting a church is hard work and not for the faint-hearted, but it’s been a joy ride at the same time. I love seeing people get excited about life, and especially gaining passion for Jesus, so these have been some of the best years of my life.

I need to be honest about something though. It all seemed to be fun when we were starting the church and had a few hundred people hanging out with us. Last Fall when we broke the 1,000 mark in average attendance (now over 1,800) some things changed. It has actually become work some days!

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining. It is still fun and I’m glad we are growing and meeting needs as a church.  I love the team I work with and we have some of the most fun people in the world at our church, but I am realizing my need to be more focused, more intentional, and more consistent in my leadership if we are going to continue at this pace of growth as a church. I certainly don’t want to quench what God is doing!

I’m spending more time learning from church leaders, trying to balance my time, encouraging our team, delegating when possible, exercising more, and spending more time in prayer and in God’s Word.

What other suggestions do you have for me?  How do you handle the stress of leadership?

Next Day Reflection On the Tragic Death Of Rev. Fred Winters

Pastors and churches as a whole are obviously in shock from the sudden death of Pastor Fred Winters yesterday. I posted my own personal shock in a post you can read HERE.

This morning we had our regularly scheduled elders meeting. One of our elders came prepared to encourage more security measures in all of our church services, a direct reaction to the news from Sunday about Dr. Winters. Effective immediately, we will add another on-duty sheriff’s deputy. We will ask our professional trained police and sheriff department employees; we have several in the church, to be available on a volunteer basis. Since we have a large military population, we plan to quietly identify some of our trained soldiers to be observant during services. I am in full agreement with each of these measures. In the long-term, we will evaluate all our security measures.

I do not know what measures were in place at First Baptist Maryville and it would be completely unfair to assume that enough was not done. I am not sure any measures could have protected their pastor in the way this incident occurred. Tragic events cannot be completely avoided. I think it is important, however, to allow this incident, and other tragedies in recent years, to cause us to consider the security measures of our churches. Ultimately, God is in control of His church and can protect His people, but we live in a scary world where deranged people carry out desperate activities and it is important for us as leaders to be prudent in these matters. (Certainly prudence and wisdom are Biblical concepts.)

I also believe that this incident should remind each of us as pastors how diligent we must be in doing the work God has called us to do. We are certainly living in turbulent times.

Please continue to remember Pastor Winters family and church in your prayers.

Encouragement Amidst Tragedy from Pastor Fred Winters

My heart goes out to the family of Rev. Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church, Maryville, IL. According to news reports a gunman killed him in the middle of services at his church this morning. Read a news report HERE.

Cheryl shared the story with me this afternoon while driving back into town. It’s all I’ve been able to think about since. There’s not a sense of fear on my part as a pastor, I just can’t stop thinking about his family and his church. I don’t want to bring more undue attention to the family at such a time as this, although I’m sure the media will cover it thoroughly, but you can read about his family and even see a picture of them on the church’s website. (It wouldn’t surprise me if they take the site down for a couple days shortly.)

In looking through the site I was impressed with the church’s vision. Rev. Winters seemed to have great plans for the future. If you spend some time on the church’s website, check out the future building plans of the church.  Wow! One thing that impressed me, and made me realize how God prepares us at times, is the current sermon series Dr. Winters was preaching through. You can listen HERE. Pastor Winters was teaching his church how to be happy in the midst of a scary world. Listen to his sermon from February 22, 2009. He says, “The number one factor in finding happiness in life is faith”, based on Philippians 4:4-9. He goes onto say that all of us desire something deeper than happiness. We want joy and it is not based on our circumstances, but our faith. The news report says Dr. Winters was a “happy” person. I think I know why.  (He ends his faith message with a story about his daughters. Prior to the message on faith he had preached on the importance of family. I plan to listen to that sermon next.)  I would say he left a great legacy to all who will follow.  Let Reverend Winter’s message encourage all of us during the times of uncertainty in the world.

Please pray for this pastor’s family, the church, and the Kingdom of God in the coming days.