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Archive for June, 2014

Thoughts After LifeChurch.tv

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

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 Lifechurch.tv 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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LifeChurch.Tv

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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 Lifechurch.tv. Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel started this congregation back in 1996 with just a handful of people. Today Lifechurch.tv 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 Lifechurch.tv 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 Lifechurch.tv 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: www.lifechurch.tv. 

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

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Presence

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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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Sabbatical Day Three

June 3, 2014 1 comment

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What’s the good word? Here I am on day three of my sabbatical for the summer. Sunday was okay because we were getting ready for my daughter London’s 4th birthday party, so we were busy. Didn’t really sink in. Yesterday was Monday, and really that is usually when I take off during the week. Still didn’t sink in. But boy was it weird today. Today is usually my staff meeting day. It was strange not being there. I found myself wanting to send emails about stuff I was finding to staff. Just weird. That aside, it has been restful so far. I have begun reading my first sabbatical book “Jesus: Zealot” and I must say I picked a good one. This one has been great to read and at times difficult to read. Here are some highlights so far:

There were many prophets, preachers, and messiahs tramping around the Holy Land during Jesus’ day. Many were dubbed false messiahs and some we know by name. A few are even mentioned in the New Testament. There was the prophet Thadeus, that we find in the book of Acts. He had 400 disciples before Rome captured him and cut off his head. Yikes! But the book paints a picture that during first century Palestine, being a messiah was all the craze.

There is a problem nailing down (pardon the pun) the historical Jesus. Out side the New Testament there is almost no trace of the man who would so permanently alter the course of human history. The earliest and most reliable non biblical reference to Jesus comes from the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In a brief passage he writes of a fiendish Jewish high priest named Ananus, who, after the death of the Roman governor Festus, unlawfully condemned a certain “James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah,” to stoning for transgressions against the law. This only mentions Jesus in passing. Josephus is focused on his brother James, NOT Jesus himself.

Gospels by definition are “good news” and are not meant to be, nor ever were meant to be, historical documentation of Jesus’ life. These are not eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds recorded by people who knew him. They are testimonies of faith composed by the communities of faith and written many years after the events they describe. Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man.

If we take what we learn about Jesus from the Gospels it’s hard to paint a picture as to why Rome would condemn him to die. Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. The plaque the Romans placed above Jesus’s head read “King of the Jews” and it was NOT meant to be sarcastic. Every criminal got a plaque detailing what they were being crucified for. Jesus’ crime, in the eyes of Rome, was striving for kingly rule (treason), the same crime all the other messiah like people were killed for. This is in direct contrast to the gentle shepherd image of Jesus cultivated by the early Christian community.

 

There is more, but I’ll get back to more later. This is just a snap shot of the first few pages. Yeh, it’s gonna be a ride! I guess this is why it’s hard, it’s contrasting the Jesus of faith with the historical Jesus. A lot of folks have a hard time with that. We want to take the gospels as…well, gospel truth. While we can glean something about Jesus from them, it doesn’t paint a total picture of who the historical Jesus was. It gets more interesting, and I’ll fill you in more as I go along. And that’s the good word for today.

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