That Darn Pearl!

November 12, 2014 1 comment

What’s the good word? I have had a series of ups and downs lately. Nothing big, but a series of irritations, so to speak. Truth is I was saying to folks, “I’m not letting it bother me!” Truth is I came out of my sabbatical telling myself that I can sweat the small stuff, the things that really will be inconsequential in the long run. But the REAL truth is, I really WAS letting it get to me. God has a way when we pray to show up. I had prayed the last two night on my nightly walk with our dog Aurora. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning flipping through the radio station, I heard a pastor tell this story:

It all begins with a grain of sand that gets into the oyster’s shell and this irritates the oyster so terribly. No matter what the oyster does it cannot rid itself of the little grain of sand.‘0h my,’ says the oyster, ‘this is terrible, I have a big problem here, what am I going to do about this, how can I get rid of this problem?’ Try what it may nothing worked. The grain of sand was there to stay. The oyster spends its days thinking about how to get rid of this grain of sand. After a while the oyster decides to pray and meditate and to ask for guidance from the powers above. The oyster meditates for a long time. It understands that it was never going to get rid of the grain of sand. The oyster finally accepts the fact that it has no choice but to live with the problem.
After more reflection it occurs to the oyster to change its approach to the problem. The oyster instead of being irritated slowly and with great love and patience begins to engulf the grain of sand with warmth and love. Lo and behold the grain of sand begins to soften and slowly grow. With amazement the oyster watches the little grain of sand as it grows and grows, and eventually turns into a beautiful, smooth, shiny velvety little pearl. When the oyster succeeds in doing this, it is satisfied and is very happy with itself. It has not only rid itself of the problem but has gained wealth and value.
Sometimes we need the little irritations and have to go through them in order to harvest our inner pearl. God wants to grow something inside of me, God sees something I need to work on. The Scriptures talk about how God is the Potter and we are the clay, we are being molded by God in our lives. It is these irritations in life that God is using not to punish us but to mold us into what we are to become. The key is to past the test that is uniquely our own that God is giving to each one of us individually. If we aren’t growing, we aren’t truly walking our discipleship walk. If we were, we would be allowing God to transform our heart and renew our minds. I need to do that now, in this instance. Let me get to working on my pearl! And that’s the good word for today.
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Top Reasons No One Wants to Go to Church

July 17, 2014 1 comment


What’s the good word? Another sabbatical book down. This one by Group called: Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore. In it, Thom and Joani Schulz use Barna research to get at this very question. The researched showed that there were four top reasons why:

1. “I feel judged.” Do you realize that 87% of Americans today label Christians as judgmental? That’s more than I thought. Fair or unfair, this is most people’s view of the church. Have you ever been judged yourself by someone at church? Have you ever formed negative opinions about people who came to your church? Is it possible for us to create an environment where people are welcomed and accepted…no matter what? I believe the answer is yes, but we have a ways to go!


2. “I don’t want to be lectured.” In other words, “You don’t care what I think or wonder about.” More than ever, people today want to participate in the discussion. This is especially true with the two younger generations Mosaics (1984-2002) and Busters (1965-1983). Think how un-conversation-friendly churches are designed to be. Sitting in chars or pews, facing a stage, and looking at the backs of people’s heads is hardly conducive to talking with others. And it’s not just about conversations, it’s about the questions they have as well. They also have stories to share. This is the challenge for me, how can I make my messages more engaging for folks? Faith is a relationship. Is it possible to create a church environment where people can fully expect to grow closer to someone every time they go? Is it possible for church to be known as the pale where we all go to grow relationships? I believe the answer is yes!


3. “Church people are bunch of hypocrites.” We can’t keep pretending we have it all together. WE can’t keep trying to putt on a perfect face. Perhaps it is why every Sunday, for those visiting us, I say something like, “If you have questions and doubts, you are welcome here because all of us are in the same boat. None of us have it all together either!” But here’s what I say to this one, Welcome to the club! We ARE a bunch of hypocrites. We’re ALL guilty of dying one thing and doing another. We are ALL sinners. Romans 3:23: “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Is this label fair? Unfair? Does it really matter? Is it possible to create a church environment where people find genuine authenticity on every level? Is it possible for the church to be the ultimate center for sincerity? I believe the answer is yes!


4. “Your God is irrelevant to my life. But I’d like to know there is a God and that God cares about me.” Most people don’t experience God at a typical church service. Most people crave something simple. They want to be reassured that God is real, that God is more than a historical figure, and that God is present today, and that God is active in people’s lives. For those searching, they don’t understand that God IS real and active in their daily lives. But hey, I want to experience God in worship just as much as you do. But sadly, reattach reveals that only 44% of people who attend church every week say they regularly experience God at church. Is it possible to create a church environment where people truly experience God all the time? Is it possible for church to be known as more in touch that out of touch? Is it possible for the church to be known as the most relevant place to go on Sunday? I believe the answer is yes!!

What if we, the church, acknowledged that we have to make some changes? OUCH! So what’s your view? Are these pretty accurate? Do you agree or disagree with these findings? I’ll post their four responses later. And that’s the good word for today!

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What’s the good word? Today took me to visit Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. This was one of the most hospitable churches I have visited so far. At the end of every meeting with each staff me member, each one closed our time by praying for me and praying for Messiah. Again, it was Small Groups that stood out to me, and it is something we will continue to press and improve on at Messiah. They aren’t something we do, small groups are who we are. One thing that stood out at me was that each Small Group leader is taught that their group is a mini-church. They are Paul’s out there and they are communicating with mini-churches, much like Paul did in writing to these churches in Ephesus, Philippi, etc. To me, that changes things totally for these leaders. We gather together for corporate worship, but each member is a part of a smaller mini-church. I think this helps us see Life Groups in a whole new way.

Now to my gripe and my praise. My gripe is this: So far at every single church that I have been to I have heard about “the experience” people get on Sunday morning. I have rarely, if at all, heard anything about what they are doing in their cities and in their community, and how they are out there making a difference, other than inviting others to come to church. One thing I have to say about Messiah, and I know I have heard from some that we should do more, but we get out there and support our community. We live out that “Be The Church” philosophy very well, and I made sure I tooted that horn while visiting. The question Bishop Mike posed to a synod assembly a while back, still sticks with me, “Forget the Sunday worship experience, if your church was gone tomorrow, would any one in your community notice?” OUCH! It’s about living out the Great Commission and going out in service. It’s a part of our purpose statement and it’s a part of who we are called to be as disciples. And I will stake a flag on that summit any day! And that’s the good word for today.

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Thoughts After


What’s the good word? A couple of things as I wrap up my time here in Oklahoma City with my visit to

We are on the right track. We need to continue to make decisions today that will continue the growth for tomorrow.

Life Groups: It’s not something we do, it’s who we are. They are a vital part of each growing congregation that I have visited to far and they need to continue to be a part of who we are at Messiah. They are crucial!

We need to continue to strive for excellence in all we do. Excellence honors God and it inspires people.

It’s all about welcoming and inviting. It is ever important for all of us to continue to be a welcoming community. I asked a staffer at Lifechurch, “If you strip away all the bells and whistles, forget the elaborate staging and big budget, what gets people to stay.” Their response was, “#1 a welcoming atmosphere when they arrive. #2 Relevant and yet challenging messages.” Disney has this down to tee. We as a church need to as well. Walt Disney always had a saying, “Every day is opening day for someone.” That needs to be our mantra. For someone on Sunday, there never isn’t a Sunday when we don’t have a guest, it’s that persons first time. We should treat every Sunday as if it’s our first Sunday.

And now to the inviting part. That picture up there says it all. It’s not up to an evangelism committee, or the pastor, or the staff, it’s up to the members. What I see in each of these congregations and especially this one, people are not afraid to invite others. They are proud of their church, and they take seriously their charge from Jesus himself to go out and tell others the good news. Are we willing to do anything short of sinning to reach others with that good news and invite them? I think this is a BIG key for us moving forward as a congregation.

Finally, I am realizing that my role is changing at Messiah. I should be focused on vision casting, staff supervision, preaching. Preaching is already taking up more and more of my time, and I feel we need to continue to offer excellent, engaging, and challenging messages/worship for folks. That takes time. We need to look seriously into how we can make this happen.

It was a really great experience up here, and I am thankful for this time and the time took to show me the ropes and teach me a few things. It was certainly worth my time. And that’s the good word for today.

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photo 2


What’s the good word? Today I head out to Oklahoma City for the next two days to worship, visit, and learn with the good folks at Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel started this congregation back in 1996 with just a handful of people. Today has 14 campuses in Oklahoma City alone with other locations in other states. One of the first books I had leadership read before I got to Messiah was Craig’s book “It”. It was a pivotal book in the life of leadership and set the bar for us as a congregation. At it’s heart what the importance of vision in the life of a congregation. At that point we created our purpose statement and have centered all ministries around it. One of the wonderful things about is that everything they create and do for the church, they give away as resources for other churches to use, for free!

I’ll be posting here more about my reflections on throughout my visit. So continue to check back. Until then, go on over to their website and check them out and read more about them: 

And that’s the good word for today! I have a plane to catch!

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What’s the good word? The past day has been a blur for me. I had to say goodbye to my best friend for the past 15 years, my dog Penny. And if there is one thing that has been sticking out for me the past 24 hours it has been the importance of presence.

Starting with her, her presence mattered to my family. I rescued her in my first year of seminary and her presence in my apartment helped me transition to a new city and a new way of life. When I moved to Iowa for internship and didn’t know anyone, her presence living with me mattered. Now that she’s gone it is a glaring reality. We expect to see her lying there in our closet when we go in. We expect her to greet us at the door. We expect to hear her claws clicking on the hardwoods at night as she switches sides of the bed at night. Now that that presence is gone it is deeply missed.

This morning I listened to a podcast by Andy Stanley about casting vision. The podcast spoke about how important it is for not just the pastor, but all people to be vision casters. Whatever position you serve in at the church, just by what you do, you are casting the vision for the church. Do you truly believe in the vision of the church? If so, let that spill into everything that you do. If you are a greeter, cast the vision of the church when you greet the folks, by how you greet people. Ask their name if you don’t know. The volunteers are the one’s on the front line, and the vision can’t come from just the pastor alone. It has to come from everyone. I wonder how deep the vision and the purpose of Messiah has gotten into the DNA of the congregation. If it truly has ignited a congregation, if it truly has gotten deep into the life and DNA of the congregation, then Andy Stanley says it then will move people from benefiting FROM the vision to participating IN the vision.

So what does that have to do with Penny. It goes back to our saying at Messiah, “Your Presence Matters.” It matters in the life of the congregation, and it matters in casting the vision to new people so that they then become participants in the vision of the church. When your presence is missing we can tell. You may not realize it, but we do. AND as we continue to grow as a congregation it is going to matter more and more. The days of “well someone else is going to step up and do it, so I don’t have to…” are over. It will take the entire “village” to move the vision of Messiah forward. And how will we know that we have accomplished this? Andy says we will know the day that I leave as the pastor of the congregation. Will the congregation be talking about the good old days when Pastor Brad was here, or will the next generation of leaders be continuing to move forward the vision of the church? And that’s the good news for today.

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Not Anything New

What’s the good word? I sign up for these emails from Thom Rainer. He’s one of the guys who wrote the book “Simple Church.” This book really shaped the way I look at church. It helped me to live into the saying, “Just because we can do everything, doesn’t mean we should.” His most recent email was about the most common factor in declining churches. It peaked my interest. I have been in the ministry for 9 years now and every time I hear and see the same thing. “Here’s a chart showing our worship attendance…” and the line is usually going down. So, what’s the main reason for decline (this is for all churches, not necessarily the ones I hear about at assemblies)?

Stated simply, the most common factor in declining churches is an inward focus. The ministries are for the members. The budget is used mainly for meeting the needs of members. Conflict happens when members don’t get their way. Well, you get the point.

This not necessarily earth shattering, nor is it new. But if that’s the case, and if we know this, why aren’t we doing anything about it? What changed the trajectory of Messiah to become a fast growing congregation? I feel it was when we shifted our focus outward. That first Sunday when we cancelled “church” and went out into our community to be the church started a snowball effect. We then began to shift focus globally, and still we grew. It is true. I believe this is what folks are looking for in a congregation, one that focuses outwardly.

Thom Rainer said there are warning signs:

  • There are very few attempts to minister to those in the community.
  • Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires.
  • Numbers of members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, other church staff, and lay leaders in the church.
  • Any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance.
  • The past becomes the hero.
  • Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light.
  • Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.
  • If the churches are a part of a denomination or similar affiliation, meetings of those denominations mirror the churches in lost focus and divisiveness

So if this continues year after year, what will we as a church do about it beside talking about how we need to change the course of our declining numbers? And that’s the good word for today.


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