I Am Glad To Be In A Man’s Man Kind of Church

snake e-mailOne of my good friends is a man’s-man kind of guy. My friend’s name is Dirt and the name says a lot about this guy. He is a professional hunter and fisherman. He actually owns an International shooting supply company, has led professional hunting and fishing expeditions around the world and has a well known hunting show on several cable stations. (If he were a Bible character he would be a Jacob or a Peter.)

What impresses me with a guy like Dirt is that in addition to being a tough guy, he loves his wife, his two daughters and his grandchildren. Cheryl and I have traveled on the mission field with Dirt and Connie King, and underneath that rough exterior, that frankly would intimidate me if I didn’t know him, is the heart of a great guy who would do anything he could to help someone in need. Whenever he is not traveling with his television show he is sitting in church and is one of my biggest encouragers every week he is there.

I like that kind of guy. We see it in our brave soldiers who fearlessly defend our nation. We see it in the dozens of hunters and fishermen in our church. We see it in the football and baseball players and coaches. We see it in the guy who works an office job fighting his way through the corporate world or the factory worker who sweats 8 hours a day to feed his family. One thing I am so thankful for at Grace Community Church is that we have attracted a lot of men’s men who are tough outside, but inside they have tender hearts for God and their families. I love when a man leads his family to church. Of course, I am thankful for all our ladies who come even when their husbands don’t, but when  man leads the way his family will almost always follow.

I hope we are always that kind of church. Happy Father’s Day!

I Danced At Church Yesterday

I danced at church yesterday.  I did not dance alone, Cheryl danced with me, but I did dance. Several people indicated they would never believe it until they saw it, so here is the proof.

We are in the middle of a family series and I was talking yesterday about marriage and specifically the need to commit ourselves to making marriage work.  My co-pastor Chad and his wife sang while Cheryl and I danced.  It was a visual picture of the leadership of the church admitting that marriage is tough, but our commitment to make it work is what can make a marriage strong.

You would have to listen to the whole message for it to make complete sense. You can do that HERE.  I also share a few tips to protect your marriage in this message.  For other thoughts on marriage, check out that category of this blog HERE.

I am thankful for a church that allows us freedom to express Biblical truth in creative ways.  What a joy to pastor at Grace Community Church.

What plan do you have to protect your marriage?

Relationship-Based Verses Program-Based Ministry

We are launching a new ministry this Fall at Grace Community Church. I am as excited about its potential as I am anything we have done in our church’s short history. Recently I was asked about the “budget” for this new ministry. I chuckled when I was forced to answer, “What budget? “ The truth is there is no money for this ministry. It is a total relationship-building ministry. Money may eventually be available as the ministry grows, but the goal of this ministry, as with all others, is to meet and change lives. The initial start of this will have to come with no financial investment.

When we started our church, a paradigm shift that I had to make, as did most on our staff, and the one that new people coming to our church must make, is the shift from being a program-based ministry to one of being a relationship-based ministry. There is a difference.

I grew up with a program-based mindset. Program-based ministries need to be managed. Most programs require staff oversight, financial resources to fund them, and require on-going support and maintenance from the church. When problems occur within the ministry rules are created to keep them from happening again. Once a program begins it rarely is dropped from the church’s ministry offerings.

In a relationship-based mindset, while the goal is the same, to grow people into the image of Christ, the approach is completely different. The focus shifts from a developing and managing a program to fostering relationships between people. I agree it is a subtle shift, but instead of looking for new programs to develop, the intent is to look for relationships to begin and grow. Relationships-based ministry can often be done with no money. Instead of adding rules, more grace must be applied. Because relationships involve people more than structure, relationship-based ministries can be messier at times and harder to manage.

If done well, I believe relationship-based ministry has a better potential to enhance real life change. I realize my program-based ministry friends would say that their programs have the same intent as our relationship-based ministry and I agree. I also realize our relationship-based ministry relies on a certain amount of programs to administer relationship development, but the major difference is the shift in primary focus from developing and managing programs to developing and encouraging relationships.

Imagine when a ministry opportunity arises in the church if the number one goal was not to create a new program but instead to explore ways of creating new relationships.

The Opportunities From The Fall of Pastor Gary Lamb

I am still somewhat numb over the news and buzz over the fall of Pastor Gary Lamb.  In my previous post I addressed some of these issues, but with the news continuing to dominate many of the blogs I read I decided to address the issue again.  Obviously this is a far more public failure because Gary blogged about it personally and the Internet and social media participation is much larger now than in the past.

I am especially bummed by some of the comments and views I am reading on other posts about this issue. Some people have decided that Pastor Lamb’s situation provides an opportunity to bash him and every church structured like his church.  (For an example, read the comments on Monday Morning Insight’s post about this issue.)  While this is well meaning for the most part, I frankly feel that when a situation like this occurs and gets such public attention that it provides opportunities we did not previously have to do something positive for the Kingdom.

Here are some Kingdom-building opportunities for the church to consider:

  • It gives us the opportunity to show the world how the church treats people who are in sin.  Jesus showed us how He treats sinners in John 8.  We now have that same chance.  Sadly, based on the comments I see from pastors and others on various blog posts, I am not sure we are painting the same picture Jesus did.  And yet we wonder why hurting people do not look to the church as their first place of hope in hurting times.
  • It gives us the opportunity to build or rebuild accountability into our lives and in the life of our church.  Every pastor and minister should be asking if this could happen to him or her with his or her current system, or lack thereof, of accountability.  As I said in my previous post, I know too many pastors who see nothing wrong with being alone with other staff members of the opposite sex.   Hello?
  • It gives us the opportunity to check our own hearts and marriages individually.  If a married person does not seriously take a look at where their own marriage is after reading this story, I would question the sincerity of keeping their marriage strong.
  • It gives us the opportunity to help at least two families rebuild their marriage. Is there a better way to model for married couples outside the church that are in distress that with God’s grace and strength a marriage can be restored than to witness it with one of our own?  I hope the restoration of these marriages gets as much attention as the failure in the marriages has received.
  • It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate grace and restoration of a fallen soldier.  Regardless of one’s take on Pastor Gary Lamb’s qualification for the pastorate or his style of ministry, few can question the impact he has had on so many people’s lives or the passion he has displayed for Christ.  I cannot help but think that produces overall good for the body.  Granted we all need to be checked at times to make sure we are walking in complete truth, and that time is obviously now for Pastor Lamb, but how effective could he be if he is restored, mentored, and sent back out to invest that renewed passion for the Kingdom’s good?  (I believe the body of Christ was questioning the effectiveness of Paul at one point, yet God used his failures in powerful ways.)

Could this be one of those opportunities where God can work all things for good?  Could we place all the negative energies some have towards Gary Lamb  towards praying that God gets glory here and that lives are drawn to Him through this failure?

NOTE: In times like this we should certainly all get refocussed on truth.  To help with this, read the series of devotionals I am posting this week beginning with this one HERE.)

An Encouragement to Stay Faithful to God’s Call

In some quiet time this morning, God led me to pray for some of the struggling ministers I know and work with each week.  I was reminded also of this verse:

1 Corinthians 16:8-9
But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Sometimes we keep doing what we are doing because God called us to do it, not because we are popular, the work is easy, or even that we are being well received at the time.  Being obedient to the call of God is sometimes painful, unpopular, difficult, and seemingly unrewarded (at the time).

I am also reminded of this passage from Mark 10:29-31 (The Message Version)

Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”

Do you need a reminder to hang tight to the call God has placed on your life?  How can I or the readers of this blog pray for you right now?

What Is God Up To At Grace Community Church?

thegbwI don’t know how to describe what’s happening right now at Grace Community Church, short of the Spirit of God works in the hearts of people.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since I know God is more interested in people in our community than I am or any of our staff is concerned…and we love our community, but it is an exciting time to be at Grace.

In 3 and half years we have watched God bring people to the church through their neighbors, friends and families.  We have witnessed double-digit growth every year.  After a church reaches the size ours is now growth normally begins to slow to a smaller rate, but this year we have had yet another growth spurt.  Most Sundays this year have been 30% in attendance or more over last year.  (I wish our budget were doing likewise, because we might be able to staff appropriately or build a building soon, but that will come in time.)  Not only are more people attending but also God is showing up in people’s lives in incredible ways!

Another phenomenon is that God is bringing people with influence over a circle of friends or family. As these people get excited they start to bring the people within their circle.  If this trend continues we can expect even greater things in the months to come!  I’m pumped for God!  (I’m nervous for us as a staff, because I think we quit being able to figure out what God is doing or to manage growth a couple years ago! We will need more than ever to rely on Christ’s strength.)

I’m curious from other pastors, is your church experiencing the same thing right now?  Can you explain what is happening?

Grace people, what do you think God is doing?  Do you sense it like I do?

Innovative Ministry Leader: Don’t Miss This Opportunity

flowerdust-graphic1This year at Grace Community Church we became even more conscious of how we spend money and we have always been conservative with what we spend.  The economy has had an impact on our people.  While our local economy is strong, the perception among people has created a mood of uncertainty and so we are looking for ways to be better stewards of our resources.

At the same time, our church has continued to grow and the needs for our ministries are greater than ever.  This season has forced us to find ways to do more with less.  We need to continue to train our people, learn new ways of doing things and keep up with current trends, but we can no longer afford to attend all the conferences we once could.

Introduce a novel idea. (Why didn’t I think of this first?)  Why not bring first-rate conferences to the churches where everyone who wants to attend can benefit from the teaching firsthand?  Enter Innovative Ministry Leader.

Innovative Ministry Leader is the world’s first web-based training center. It will feature monthly teaching videos in the areas of leadership, worship, marketing, culture and technology from today’s top church leaders including Dino Rizzo, Anne Jackson, Jud Wilhite and Mark Batterson…and the list is growing daily.   During and after the monthly video sessions participants will be able to login to engage with the speakers through features on the website.    All videos will be archived as well, so you can access them at anytime!

It all kicks off in June and comes with a low monthly subscription of $34.99 for unlimited access to everything. Imagine sending all your staff, leadership and volunteers to a top notch teaching every single month.

Act now to get in on this incredible opportunity!

Tribute to Small Group Leaders

home_mainThe best life, community and spiritual growth happens at Grace Community Church within the context of our small group ministry.  We have some amazing leaders of our small groups.  I’m always encouraged by their willingness to sacrifice part of them to invest in other people.  I know each of them would say, however, that they receive far more in return than they give up.   Serving others is like that.

Group life helps relationships become more authentic.  It connects people who would otherwise never meet.  It builds friendships for life.  In the three groups we have led since the church started we have found people we now consider family. I cannot imagine our life without them now.  In all my years working in ministry, as a layperson and as a pastor, there is no place where the Acts 2 model of church is displayed any better than within the small group settings that meet in people’s homes.

Group leaders thank you for investing in, leading, loving, encouraging, shaping people to become growing disciples of Jesus Christ.  You are true Kingdom-builders!  Your time and energy helps to make us a better church. Grace Community Church would not be the church we are without you!

Small Steps to Spiritual Growth

Yesterday I posted a simple way to implement change in an organization when the changes needed seem overwhelming.  You can read that post HERE.

Today I want to put a contextual spin on the issue for the area of spiritual growth.  I know lots of believers, especially early in their Christian walk, who think they should instantly have spiritual maturity shortly after being saved.  Spiritual growth is a process that takes years of discipleship.

If you want to mature in your faith, start with one spiritual discipline.  Master that discipline (or get better at it at least) and then move to another discipline.  For example, try to form a habit of regular church attendance. Then start reading your Bible everyday.  When that becomes a regular part of your day, begin to form a prayer list.  After a period of time you can start journaling.  Keep adding positive changes to your spiritual life, but only add one at a time.  See if that helps you grow without facing spiritual burnout.

What suggestions do you have towards spiritual growth?

How To Honor Your Pastor’s Wife

One of the toughest jobs in the church is that of being a pastor’s wife.  No doubt I have one of the best in Cheryl.  (I would say the best, but I have a co-pastor and he has an excellent one also!)  Cheryl has a full-time professional job, is an excellent mom and wife, but the demands on her as my wife are often overwhelming. Still she handles it with grace and a smile.

I want to help you know how to honor and protect your pastor’s wife.  Here I am not talking on behalf of Cheryl. She would never ask for this and frankly we are in the best church environment I have ever experienced as far as the way our staff and spouses are treated.  I know, however, because of my work with pastors outside of Grace that many pastor’s wives are facing burnout, a sense of loneliness, and often struggle even to come to church.

If you want to treat your pastor’s wife well:  (These may work equally well for the husband of a pastor or minister, but I can only speak from my perspective.)

  • Do not put too many expectations on the pastor’s wife.  She cannot be everywhere, at everything and know everyone’s name and family situation and still carry out her role in the home.
  • Do not expect her to take your side on an issue opposing her husband.  She will protect him as you would your spouse.
  • Protect the pastor’s wife from gossip.  She does not need to know the “prayer concerns” that are really just a way of spreading rumors.
  • Let her have a husband and enjoy her family time.  The pastor is pulled in many directions.  If you can limit your demands on his schedule to his normal working hours it will help the pastor’s wife have a family life also.
  • Include her without placing demands or expectations on her.  The pastor’s wife is often one of the loneliest women in the church.  She rarely knows whom to trust and often is excluded from times that are just for fun.
  • Never repeat what she says.  If the pastor’s wife happens to share information with you about the church or her personal life, keep it to yourself.  There will be temptation to share her words as “juicy news”, but you will honor her by remaining silent.
  • If your church really wants to honor the pastor’s wife, find ways to give her time away with her husband and/or family.  That is probably what she needs the most.
  • Pray for your pastor’s wife and family daily.

Feel free to give a shout-out to your pastor’s wife here on this post and share ways you can honor your pastor’s wife.  If you are a pastor or pastor’s wife, I would love to hear your thoughts.