Monday, December 19, 2005

iPod Church

I've officially been sucked into the iPod world. I held out forever, but my gracious wife decided to get me a new iPod for Christmas with her Christmas bonus. She thought that I needed something for graduating from seminary, but I think that the gift of a third child was really enough. :)

In reality, I think the iPod revolution just continues the flow of our culture towards individual expression (though everyone has the same iPod), where expressions of personal preferences continues to drive the way we consume as Americans. Consumeristic Christianity has been decried for years, but I think we are really just at the beginning of that movement. What does the "local church" look like in an environment where I am used to getting the song/message/information I need instantly? If I'm struggling with divorce in my family, why would I go to church and listen to a series on stewardship? The ability for me to order an personal iPod from the Apple website on Friday in my living room in Ovilla, and then receive it in the mail from China today, shapes the way we think about the world. We surely live in a global culture, but we also live in a global culture that can deliver anything I need to me in a matter of days (and really in a matter of hours if I'm willing to pay for it). How will this culture continue to shape the church of the future?

This shift may have more to do with why many of the youngest generation continue to leave the institutional church behind. The main draw for most people to commit to a church body has always been a connection with a community of saints, but many 20-somethings find community in different ways online and in various social settings. I'm not sure what this means for the future of how church leadership delivers spiritual formation (though I have a few ideas), but it is sure that my generation feels like most churches are living 10-20 years behind the times. Is it possible to develop a church that constantly pushes the envelope for what can be done to reach people with the gospel and move them to maturity, OR will every new church eventually fall into the same trap of thinking that the methods that got them where they are will always work? I believe the KEY to seeing churches move past their traditional models is leadership developement and deployment with younger generations. Risk is obiously involved, but risk is surely involved with continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

And I'm Worried about 3

After I blogged this morning about the future (and our stress level), I read an amazing article today about a family with 16 kids. I'll quit complaining now. :)

The Future

The last couple weeks have been a time of real prayer and reflection for my family. I have fasted from blogging in order to take time out to spend more time in prayer and planning for the future. As many of you probably have already heard, we have accepted a position to be a church planting pastor with Hill Country Bible Church NW in Austin. After praying hard about the Lord's will, we have sensed his direction in uniting our hearts with this amazing church's vision for reaching Austin with the gospel. The church officially made us an offer for the position last Thursday, and we accepted on Friday. We are signing the lease today on a house about 1.5 miles from the church, and we should be moved in by December 30th. The Lord has helped me to finish seminary (which felt like it would never come) and has directed my steps throughout this process. I am truly not worthy of the wonderful grace that God has shown me in providing for our needs and guiding our path. So, long story short, we move in two weeks, and I start as a church-planting pastor on their staff on February 1st.

Please be praying for us during this transition. Our nerves are already on edge because of moving, but our hearts are hurting over leaving our friends and family in the DFW metroplex. We know that we are not leaving relationships, but just putting greater distance between us and the people we love. However, we know that fulfilling God's purpose for our lives is more important than our own comfort. We are truly excited to see what new friendships and adventures God has in store for us in Austin. Pray especially for our families as we move 3 hours away from them with their grandkids - and pray for us adapting to not having babysitters ready all the time! Please pray that God will help us grow spiritually during this year of residency. I am excited to see how I am going to develop during this year of planning and preparation. Finally, please pray for my wife and kids to handle the move and the transition easily as well.

Our last bit of overwhelming news came last Saturday as we were visiting Austin. We found out Saturday night that we are expecting our third child. We have always wanted more kids (just not this soon!), but we recognize that we really have no control over this process. Barie was using birth control and we still got pregnant. The third child should arrive sometime around the middle of August. We are excited because we know that life is a blessing that God gives, and we know that God will provide for our needs, but honestly, we are scared about having three little ones in a new town. Pray for our sanity.

As I'm back into the blogosphere, check out my devotional site, authenticwalk.blogspot.com, for new devotionals starting today. Also, I am binding an edited version of my devotional study through Jeremiah that appeared on my blog in June, July, and August this year. Shoot me a note if you want a copy of this study, and I'll see what I can do.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

2-Year Old Eyes

Today, my parents and I took Kade to watch the Children's Parade in downtown Dallas (along with everyone in the metroplex who had small children and thought that this was a beautiful day for a parade). I'm not normally a big parade guy, but I would have stood by that street in downtown all day to give Kade the chance to see the marching bands and the floats and cartoon characters. For some reason, as we get older, we lose the ability to live with a sense of wonder. I don't know if this curse has it's source in our arrogant understanding that we've seen everything before or in the fact that we don't want to seem to enjoy anything in this life too much. Maybe we have come to terms with the fact that this life is only about suffering (which it definitely contains) and refuse to laugh or smile or cheer or wave or cry in our excitement about anything. How sad.

I want to return to the ability to see life through the eyes of my two-year-old son. I crave to enjoy the small things of life every day instead of becoming overwhelmed by the unknowns. My son doesn't fear tomorrow (in his case because he has no comprehension of what "tomorrow" means or what "tomorrow" brings), while some days all I can think about is what is coming around the corner. Jesus said something about letting tomorrow worry about itself, but to enjoy today for itself. A number of deaths have occurred around me lately, and they have served to remind me that tomorrow is not guaranteed. As John Ortberg says, "the definition of the fool in this life is the one who plans for every contingency, but fails to plan for the one sure event that will occur in his life - death." I am asking God to continue to help me plan faithfully for my future, but not to allow that tendency to steal my joy today.

So here's to the joy of looking at life through the eyes of my son and the eyes of the Son.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Being the Church

In my mind, several small phrases have totally shifted the way I think about leadership in the body of Christ in the future. I have become aware of small groups of churches that are beginning to push the envelopes in these areas, and they are having tremendous success in expanding God's kingdom. The first phrase has been, "the church exists for the world." I have blogged about this before and will continue to write about the impact that the outward-focused movement will have on the local church. More and more mature Christians are coming to the point of frustration with getting fat on everything the church has to offer for them. We spend all of our time, energy, and money on serving ourselves, and then wonder why contemporary Christians are selfish consumers of church in much the same way that they consume other products. The bar is being raised, however, concerning the level of commitment required to impact the world for Christ, and I believe that the church will respond.

The major shift happening now, though, in my mind is in the way we use the word "church." For so long, we have talked about going to the church or attending church or meeting at the church that we have lost the ability to understand the NT idea that we are the church. The people who follow Jesus are the church. I don't think this is just a shift in verbiage - I think it is a fundamental change in the way people think about themselves and their responsibility before God. I don't go to church once or twice a week (to meet with God); I am the church (and I walk with God every moment of every day). What happens when the people of God begin to understand that wherever they gather and whatever they do, they are the church? Barna has put his finger on something in his new book Revolution, where he writes about many mature followers of Christ who are beginning to understand that they can walk with Christ and serve others and build the kingdom of God apart from the building they have called "church." This shift is built on a new understanding by many that in our "American" church culture, we have been rocked to sleep by the idea that our Christianity was secure because we had buildings on every corner. But here is the key: many buildings do not represent a healthy church (just ask post-Christian Europe). A healthy church means healthy Christians because the Christians are the church. This leads to many great questions about the establishment, and as a church planter, I get excited about hopefully asking the right questions. I'm not confident about any answers yet, but I am confident that these paradigm shifts will affect the rest of my ministry.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

1 A.M. Thoughts

For whatever reason, I can't sleep tonight. I haven't felt good the last couple of days, and I should be sleeping right now, but my mind is working overtime right now on many things. Mainly, I'm praying more and more about "listening to the voice of the Lord." What exactly does that mean? I have been thinking today about the Civil War. I know that sounds weird in this discussion, but in my reading I have noticed how both the North and South believed that they were doing "God's will," and that the Lord was truly on their side. Many times in our lives, we seem to think that we know for sure what God is telling us to do or what God thinks about a certain event. Despite all the mistakes that people have made throughout history reading the signs of the times, we continue to read our circumstances as though we know what God is saying through each and every event that occurs. I have problems with this form of folk-theology for two reasons: first, we never see the whole picture...as I wrote on my devotional blog several days ago, God's thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. We think that we understand what God is doing, but many times in my life I have thought God was doing one thing, when actually years later I understand that He was doing something totally different. Second, we are naturally self-centered. We seem to see that God is doing great things in our own lives while He is certainly disciplining other people. The fact is that God blesses and God disciplines everyone, and we should be slow to proclaim that we know at anyone one time exactly what the mind of God is about anything. Rather, we probably should stick to proclaiming what we know from God - His Word.

I'm think I want to be more like Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War never said that God was on the side of the Union, but simply said that he hoped that the Union was on God's side. Maybe we would all do better working to make sure that we were on the Lord's side than making any kind of bold claims of what God has said beyond what He has revealed in His Word.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving thoughts

On Thanksgiving 2005, I've been thinking...

...that a short life well lived is much more important than a long life poorly lived. As I stood through Courtney's funeral yesterday (yes, stood, because of the overwhelming amount of people attending the service), I heard the words of William Wallace from Braveheart, "Every man (and woman) dies, but not every man truly lives." How true. Here's to Courtney fighting the good fight and living well.

...that though we think we are totally in control of our destinies, the Lord directs the path of our lives. I've been reading Truman by David McCullough during my two week break from school, and if anything has been reinforced in my mind, it is the pure truth that most of the major events in our lives are outside our control. Who would have thought that Harry Truman would ever be President of the United States, much less the one to make the major decision of dropping the atomic bomb? Unreal.

...that family is frustrating at times, but the most wonderful gift that God gives us. I am thankful this year more than most for a family that will always support me and love me. My wife, kids, parents, sister & brother-in-law, cousins, extended family are all wonderful people, and a true gift from God in my life. They all get on my nerves sometimes (some more than others, ha!), but I am truly thankful for each one of them.

...that every good gift in my life is a blessing from God that I don't deserve and a testimony to His grace.

...that I can't wait to eat lunch!

Here' s wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Departure

We got word last night that Courtney Howard, a very special girl in our college group at church, had finally surrendered in her battle with cancer after years of struggle. She had been a special part of our lives for the last two years, and we are mourning the loss we feel while celebrating her arrival in the arms of Christ. Please pray for her family as they struggle with their loss. Also pray for Dane & Marni White who have loved Courtney as one of their own.

I have posted a few thoughts on unanswered prayers on my devotional blog. Please take a few minutes to read it and add any comments you have.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Senior Sermon

I've been working this week on the topic for my senior sermon (December 8th). During my degree program at DTS, I have been required to take three preaching courses. The first two classes required two sermons, and this last class (called "senior preaching" by the guys in it) requires three. For all of the sermons in these classes, specific requirements are made for which texts you can preach and even how you can preach them. Except for the senior sermon. For their last sermon, each student chooses their own text. While we were away this week of vacation, I have been thinking daily about this last sermon. I excited about it for two reasons.

First, many of my family and friends are coming to celebrate this as the completion of my studies at seminary. The school doesn't have a fall graduation, so I have invited all of my family and friends to come here my last sermon. I am excited about preaching to those who have meant so much to me during my years at school. And second, this will be my last chance to preach to my fellow classmates who have been through senior preaching with me. So, I have been wondering - what need do I share with my fellow classmates who are about to launch into a lifetime of ministry inside the church? The resounding theme in my heart: dependence on the Spirit of God.

In reponse to this need, I've been reading through the book of Acts again. Acts is a tough book to preach because we don't want to preach every event in the narrative as normative for the Christian church. In other words, we don't want to preach that if you lie to God about your tithe, God will strike you dead (as He did Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5). The point of that narrative is probably more about the authority of the apostles to establish the church as representatives of Christ Himself and the divinity of the Holy Spirit than establishing a punishment for unethical giving. But I am excited about preaching Acts (because of the consistently powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit) in my senior sermon. Right now, I am thinking about Acts 4:23-31, where Peter and John pray with other believers after being released from prison. I love the fact that they pray for great boldness with the message of Christ and for great displays of the Spirit's power in their midst. And you know what? It happens.

Pray for me as I prepare to share my heart about our great need to rely on the life-giving and life-changing Spirit of God.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Blessed Man

Proverbs 31:10-12 reads...
"An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far
above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life."

I have been thinking this morning about the amazing nature of the woman that I am married to. The Bible speaks wonderful words of truth when it says that the worth of an excellent wife far exceeds any precious jewel that we could own. This weekend God has reminded me that I am married to the most well-rounded woman I have ever met. Those that know me well know that I am not vulnerable with many people in my life. But I am so vulnerable with my sweetheart, and she still loves me and cares for me and serves my family. Her devotion and love simply overwhelm me.

This weekend I have seen her continue to work hard to build authentic relationships in a way that challenges most people. I have seen her sacrificially give of herself so that my oldest son could have the best 2 year old birthday I think I have ever seen. I have seen her serve me and the boys humbly and graciously. I have seen her exude the qualities of Christ that demonstrate to all that Jesus has transformed her heart. In short, I have been reminded that God worked His second most gracious event in my life (right behind salvation) in giving me a wife named Barie.

I Love Her.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Author's Conversion

If you have been exposed to anything that Anne Rice has written, you know that she has always had a fetish for the dark things in the spirit world. An article in the Dallas Morning News grabbed my eye as it described her life-changing encounter with God and her new book.

Check it out here.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Abortion Article

I just finished one of the best pieces on abortion I have ever read. This op-ed appears in tomorrow's Washington Post, and it moved me deeply when I read it tonight. Please encourage everyone you know to reflect on the powerful message in this wonderfully written article. Post your comments here on what you think...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Catalyst Day #3

After sitting through the final day of Catalyst speakers, I am thinking...

...that just as the church needs leaders, churches need leaders. In other words, there are those people inside each church that set the pace and shape the vision for the future of the church. And in the country, there are those churches that set the pace and shape the direction of other churches for the future. I know that God has called me to be a leader in the local church - I hope that the Lord gives me a team of people to work with that will help our church be a pace-setting church for other churches in America and the world.

...that I worry too much about the future because I am a control-freak, and that I need to really trust the Lord for my future and the future of the ministry He gives me. I know that God is in control, and I am learning daily what it means to have full confidence in His sovereign authority. God is full of mercy, and I thank Him that He is able to shower grace on me during all the times when I have made huge mistakes in my life and ministry. His goodness gives me peace as I seek to serve Him.

...that young passionate ministers of the gospel need to quit beating up on those who have gone before them, but rather appreciate their successes and learn from their failures. It is the height of arrogance for us who are under 30 to bag on those who are over 50 who have actually done it.

...that most churches are hurting in America because of a lack of competence and leadership from those in positions of authority. I am afraid that the 75 churches that close each week quit asking how they could improve and simply got used to doing things the way they have always done them. We must continually seek to serve God with excellence and dependence.

...that God does things we don't understand, but that He is always working around us if we will just open our eyes to see Him.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Catalyst Day #2

After sitting through the amazing main sessions at Catalyst today with Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Donald Miller, and John Maxwell, I have been thinking...

...that progress never warrants compromise as a leader. I see times in my future when I will be tempted to compromise my biblical principles for the sake of making quick progress as a leader. I have decided today by God's grace I will never compromise my integrity for the sake of moving forward. In other words, I have chosen to say that the person I become is more important the progress I make.

...that we have committed the error of worshipping music rather than worshipping the Creator. We have come together in community and sung songs of "worship" to our Lord for years and never surrendered the areas of sin in our lives that we struggle with. We have talked a good game, looking for the hottest worship "experience" without truly surrendering all of our identity and life to the Lordship of Jesus. I have failed to communicate to others that worship experiences without worship lifestyles lead to dead faith.

...that I need to repent before God for my lack of connections with His world. I have been so enveloped by the Christian subculture that I hardly know many lost people. I'm not talking even being friends with non-Christians, but just knowing them. I have lost all relationships with people that are without faith, and I have lost a voice into this godless world. I need to start noticing that other people exist, and I need to start valuing others above myself. I have looked out for number 1 for too long, and in the process, I have lost sight of a hurting world.

...that in order for me to be the Leader that God uses, I have to be passionate about making a real difference in this world and know what God is calling me to do. I have to find that one thing that God has wired me and built me to do, my passion and my calling. And then I have to do that one thing with all my heart. I am hungry to fulfill God's call on my life, and passionate about obeying the Lord as He clearly puts that picture before me.

...that God is so good.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Catalyst Day #1

After a few labs with leading thinkers today and some discussion time with my wife, I am thinking…

…that those outside and inside the church are tired of all the talking and want to be more involved with doing. Endless sermons and Bible studies and small group discussions are wearing everyone out with the talking – people need to be led into the doing.

…that the church fools itself into thinking it is a place where reality is addressed when many issues that the culture are talking about are never even touched inside the church. The church needs to speak the life-changing message of Christ in such a way that shows the world that we understand the world we live in.

…that the church will always be hopelessly behind the culture if we continue to model the methods of the church after the methods of the business world. Instead of leading the charge, the church in America is always about ten years behind the culture and destined to stay there when trying to copy and imitate. The church needs to drop its desire to be like the world and instead learn what it means to be the church in the world.

…that evangelism in the 21st century will only occur when the church gets more serious about showing the gospel. The church in America will continue to only reach the already convinced until it confesses up the fact that it has a major image problem in the non-Christian world. The church needs to get serious about repenting for past sin and serving the world to Christ. I would love to see the people of Christ serving so faithfully and passionately that pagan people ask us how they can become followers of Jesus.

…that honesty, authenticity, and transparency must begin with the leadership in the church if we every desire to see those traits in our people. The church desperately needs leaders who will commit to showing the gospel on top of teaching the gospel.

…that the crises of the church of the 21st century in America is a crises of leadership, and that 75 churches will continue to close every week in this country until leaders begin to call the church to missional living and service.

…that we all need to look harder for the work of Jesus around us. He is alive today, and He is active in the world, but we are missing Him. There is nothing more powerful in life than to join up with what God is already doing in the world.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Future Trends #7: Mystical Connection to Historical Roots

As a generation, the postmoderns seem to be less and less satisfied with cerebral engagement than with a connection with the eternal. I feel this tension as a child of Enlightenment faith where every doctrine and belief submits to the idol of reason. Not reasonable? Then it can't possibly be true. And so we remove every mystical (mysterious), unknowable aspect of our faith away from our people. Now, anyone who knows me understands that I hope that we all would seek to love the Lord with all of our minds. I am not for stupid or lazy faith. Too many Christians today simply don't want to spend time or the energy it takes to study the Scriptures and theology to know what we should believe. They mark it up to "those things that we will never understand." Well, God did not give us a faith that is impossible to understand. He wants us to use the brains that He gave us to learn about Him from the Word He gave us. So, I am not a fan of stupid Christianity. But I am a fan of mysterious Christianity. There are many things that we cannot explain and will never fully understand in this life. I like that. It makes some people nervous - especially those who have bought into rationalism to the point that nothing can be experienced unless I can make it reasonable to my mind. Reason is not sovereign - the Triune God is sovereign. And He works in mysterious ways.

The reconnection with the mystical parts of our faith is intriguing to many Westerners who have grown up in a scientific culture. We desire to know the ancient faith of so many who went before. One thing that this desire for the mystery of God will drive (in my opinion anyway) is a reconnection with the historical roots of Christianity. Most of pre-Enlightenment Christianity has much to teach us today about experiencing the mystery of God through the Word and the sacraments in community. A couple thoughts lend themselves to this conclusion. First, more Christians will realize that the church of Jesus Christ survived for 1500 years without the printed Bible. This will show us again the priority of studying the Word in community and learning our theological framework within the boundaries of the church (immediate and historical). The drive to push our people to read the Scriptures on a daily basis will be connected with a deep desire to experience the living Word as He shapes us in community. The creeds will even make a comeback in some circles as a desire for historical orthodoxy increases. Second, more Christians will realize that the modern church has lost its sacramental identity. Driven more by fads and perceived needs of lost people, the church has lost its place for the Christian as the connection between the heavenly and the earthly, the eternal and the temporary. The church of the future will reembrace a high view of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Look for a new practical theology driven by mystical views of ancient practices.

There you have it; expect more connection with ancient communities of faith through their confessions, practices, and sacramental theology. It is coming.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Future Trends #6: Elder-Rule

Sorry for the delay on my posts. Starting school has slowed down my personal blogging.

I believe that one of the sharpest trends to shape the future church will be the elder-rule model. Most young ministers that I know who have grown up in congregational-rule models are done with them. There are still many questions about authority that the church will struggle with in the future (say between full-time staff and lay-leadership), but I see growing unanimity in young leaders away from a committee and congregational-led model.

The Scripture talks about elders (also called overseers) several times, but without much specificity as far as how they function in the practical leadership of the church. In the book of Acts, the apostles called qualified men to serve as deacons to take care of the physical needs of the people so that they could focus on their calling - praying and teaching the Word. Most scholars agree that there is enough ambiguity in the NT to allow for different models of biblical leadership in the local church. However, the key issue of ecclesiology that the NT does address is the supreme leadership of Jesus. He is the head, the real senior pastor. Therefore, the main question for the church is how to best follow Jesus' leadership as its head. The most startling reality is that men who desire to lead the church in following Jesus must first know who Jesus is and understand what he is trying to accomplish through his church. This requires a great deal of knowledge and wisdom concerning the teachings of the Bible. We need to find godly men of character who know the Scriptures and are obeying its teaching to show us how to follow Jesus.

Our generation is done with the model that says everyone is in charge of the church. Everyone in the church is not in the same place spiritually. Honestly, some are more mature than others. This is why Paul tells Timothy to make sure that the elders are not new converts. We need to find those men of faith who have been following hard after Jesus for a good amount of time and get behind their leadership. Jesus commands quality elders in His Word, and the church will limp along until we grasp this idea. The church of the future will begin to shape itself around following men who are following hard after Jesus.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Random Thoughts

As you probably can tell from the last week, I'm not sure personal blogging is going to excel during the school semester. I have so much to write about (mind is racing with new things), but time is at a premium right now. I thought tonight I would just recommend a few blogs that I am reading for your consumption if you have a few extra minutes.

The first is by Sandra Glahn who is my creative writing prof at the seminary. Her writing is specialized in the areas of reproductive issues and sexuality. She is a wonderful writer. You can read her latest work at http://aspire2.blogpost.com/.

The second is by Brent McKinney, who was my youth pastor a decade ago. He is a very authentic person, and I enjoy checking in monthly to see what is happening in his world and with his family. His oldest daughter turned fourteen this week - I used to make up bedtime stories for her when she was four. I'm getting old. You can read his stuff at http://mckinneyfamily.blogspot.com/.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Help

If you are thinking about giving to the relief effort to help the victims of hurricane Katrina, I would recommend giving through Samaritan's Purse or the Red Cross.

You can donate to Samaritan's Purse at www.samaritanspurse.com

You can donate to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org

Blessings as you give to those who are need.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Future Trend #5: Focused Missions Work

I think another major trend that will impact the church in the future is the desire that church leaders will have to focus their missions efforts. It seems like to me that churches try to do so many things that they end up doing many things poorly instead of a few things well. This is especially true in the area of missions. Instead of putting lots of resources and manpower into one area, churches tend to give a little of what they have to many different places. I think a future trend (and one that churches are already doing) will be the adoption of a specific city (or region) in the world to do missions work in. Therefore, the church would pour all of its global missions effort into a specific location for a set amount of time. During that time (whether 10, 15, 20 years, etc.), the church would send all of its missions giving, all of its short-term trips, everything into this one area. The lasting relationship would be of profound importance to knowing the community, knowing the people, and therefore knowing the needs. It seems like to me that most short-term mission trips are 98% about the impact on the group going, NOT on the area they are going to. This could be changed, however, if the church had a focused approach to missions that centered everything around a certain location. This way, each short term group, whether families or young people or college students, could build upon the work done by groups that had gone before them. This focused concentration of effort, manpower, energy, and finances would have quicker and longer lasting impact on an area than sporadic missions efforts. If missions is truly about the people in the foreign country and not about us, then this seems like a future trend that is past due in arriving.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Future Trend #4: Meaningful Membership

Before I get to the new post, here's a great thought from Barna on the topic of my last post, team leadership:

"The longer we deny the benefits of team leadership, the less likely it is that we will experience the power of God in the church, in society, or in our personal efforts. There is only one ministry superstar: Jesus Christ. If we persist in seeking to lead churches through the display of talents and abilities resident within only a few unusually capable individuals, rather than allowing the community of believers to use their significant-but-less-inclusive leadership skills in an orchestrated unison to accomplish synergistic outcomes, the church and society will pay the price for such defiance." Amen.

Now on to trend #4...

What in the world does membership mean today in most churches? Specifically in Southern Baptist churches, it takes so little to be a member that I wonder why we even have membership. If someone simply walks the aisle and confesses Christ or promises to transfer from another church or simply makes a statement that they have been saved and baptized, they're in. We really don't know about their conversion. We don't really know what they believe. They don't know anything about our church. It is absolute madness. And what does it take to lose membership? I'm not really sure - I have yet to see it happen.

I think a major trend that will take shape for young leaders in the church is a rethinking about how membership operates in the local church. There are a couple of reasons this will happen. First, there is an awareness among young leaders that the church has the lost the ability to use discipline corporately in any circumstances. There may be multiple explanations for why the church fails to discipline its members for sinful lifestyles (like a lack of seriousness about sin and poor church government structure), but the major cause is a lack of clarity about what it even means to be a member in the church. How can we discipline those who we have allowed to be "members" but that we haven't seen in three years? If the church is going to try and really use its authority to shape the lives of its people, then we have to begin with a healthier understanding of membership.

The second reason that membership will be examined afresh is because of leaders taking a new look at the benefits of membership. Why does someone want to be a member of our community? If there are extended benefits to being a member of a church, then how can the church make sure that it is careful about what it defines a member to be? If members are allowed to vote on major church issues (like elders, budgets, big purchases, etc.), then shouldn't we care about who the members are? The role that leadership decides that lay people play in the direction of the church will make them think again about what membership means. Do we really want someone who is not walking with Christ to shape the direction of a church? Major issues to think about.

The third and final reason that membership will be changed is because membership is not defined in Scripture. Membership is a construct that churches use to help define their church polity. Therefore, it is open for debate and needs to be changed to better facilitate the church successfully completing those tasks that Scripture does command. If membership simply exists to help the church fulfill its calling, then it needs to be updated when it is hurting the church do that very thing.

SO...look for lots of changes to come in what membership means and how it functions in the local church.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Future Trends 3: Social Justice

While the liberal church has always been a champion for social causes, many in conservative, evangelical churches have failed to engage the social issues of their day because of a fear that they would lose their passion for the gospel. I think a third major trend that will shape the future of the evangelical church will be a passion to engage on the major social issues of our day. We have already been hard at work on the social issues of abortion and marriage, but I'm talking about other worldwide social issues. The evangelical church is bound to wake up soon to realize that while around 3500 abortions occur daily in the US, about 30,000 children die each day in the world because malnutrition and preventable diseases. A future trend in the church is going to be a sincere concern for the weakest among us (like the unborn, the handicapped, the elderly, children, etc.). There is going to be an engagement in the world unlike what any previous generation has seen. This will occur for two reasons.

First, the next generation of church leaders will realize the need to have a holistic gospel - a gospel that speaks toward the individual's destiny for eternity and toward the individual's life today. Whereas the church has become complacent to encourage a "personal" faith, the church of the future will challenge followers of Christ to give their whole lives to living as Jesus lived. This will include a new emphasis on what it means to be a follower of Christ in community with other Christians and in community with the world. I believe that post-modernism will drive the church to engage the culture based on biblical values and not to run from it. This engagement will challenge Christ-followers to have a holistic view of the impact of the gospel and not just a personal view.

Second, the worldwide environment we live in will make the distance between countries and peoples increasingly smaller. The time it takes for world events to get from the actual scene to my laptop is now seconds. This type of technological environment makes it hard for Christians to act like they don't know about what is happening to their brothers and sisters around the world. In fact, the new generation of church leaders, having grown up in a web-savvy world, will continue to challenge the church to look at the whole world when talking about the church and not just America.

These two trends - a holistic gospel and a smaller world - will lead the evangelical church to engage the major social justice issues of our days (poverty, racial conflict, ethnic conflict, AIDS, etc.) without losing its passion for the saving message of Christ crucified.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Future Trends 2: Team Leadership

The second trend that I believe will shape the future of the church is team leadership. For too long, all of the leadership responsibility has been placed solely on the senior pastor. Not only are the expectations outrageous for the senior pastor, but the demands of the day to day job are extremely stressful. Many men can thrive in that kind of situation, but my observation is that many cannot. Instead of placing sole leadership responsibility on the shoulders of the senior pastor, I believe that the church of the future will be led by teams. Now, I understand the need for a directional leader. I think that there has to be someone responsible for the vision and direction of the church as a whole. Somebody has to make sure that everyone is playing on the same team and moving the same direction. But how does that person relate and function within the structure of the leadership? Instead of making him the one untouchable, it seems to me that more and more churches will move toward a team leadership model. In this model, each team member should serve according to their natural abilities, their spiritual gifts, and their calling. I think we have a major problem in many churches that I have observed when people serve in positions they are not gifted or called to serve in. How does this happen and how can it be fixed?

First, everyone needs to know their own personal design. How has God put them together? If people could be honest about their own strengths and weaknesses, then we could begin to put teams together that would complementary of each other and not contradictory. We need strong teams of leaders in the local church who know who they are and also know who they are not. "Knowing who I am not" is maybe the most important thing that most people in leadership today struggle with. If I know what I am not good at and what I am not called to do, then I can freely and humbly put people around me who are gifted and called in those areas. These teams of leaders can then function at a level beyond the old 'senior pastor' model.

Second, roles needs to be clearly defined. I think teams struggle because people on the team don't know what their responsibility is on the team. Instead of hoping that everything will fall into place, hard discussions need to happen that will help shape the operation and design of the team. The original team members need to make sure they know where they are lacking and begin to invest in people who can feel those gaps. In fact, it is imperative that people in the team leadership model are continuing to invest in young leaders and train them up for future leadership in the church.

Third, as can clearly be seen above, the team needs to have mutual respect and accountability among itself. The team leadership model will only succeed if team members have enough trust among themselves to really say what needs to be said to each other. The team leadership model will only succeed when team members open up their lives to one another and are truly mutually accountable to one another. This must be modeled first by the directional leader so that all others on the team will understand the need to hold each other to a high standard of morality and excellence in their lives. The leadership team must model among themselves the same behavior they hope to see develop among the lay people.

I believe this team leadership model is powerful and sure to be a future trend in many churches.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Future Trends 1: Blogging in the Church

I've just read a great article in Texas Baptist magazine that contains some thoughts about how the world is changing and what that means for the church. I'm going to use their outline as some talking points for future blogs about leading in the church.

Future Trend #1 = Blogging

Well, I read this article and felt pretty good about trying to use blogging as a tool in our youth ministry at FBO. However, I have not thought through all the ramifications that blogging (& its next-of-kin, pod-casting - more on that later) can have on the ministry of the local church. Here are some thoughts that I am having about how blogging could potentially shape the future of our ministries...

...blogging to do outreach and evangelism. I'm thinking that we might test this out when we do the Back 2 School Bash at the end of this month. I'm wondering if we can't get our teenagers to start blogging about the B2S Bash and get the word out to their friends online. I'm also thinking about doing some work on how to teach about doing evangelism using IM and blogs in the fall. I don't know - what do you think?

...blogging to keep people up to date on prayer needs in the church. We could post information, hospital information, requests from the people in need, pictures of new babies, etc. all on the prayer blog. And then people could post their specific prayers and words of encouragement to people who are needing to hear it. This could keep all of our people informed and praying for one another.

I don't know - do you think this blogging thing could be used any other ways in the church? Could we really begin to teach a "blogging for Jesus" training session? Maybe I'm out of my mind, and we should just stick to face-to-face relationships. Seems most of us have lost the skills to make those happen (but that's another blog topic). What do you think about blogging and future of the church?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Authenticity

I hope that our generation really engages the people of our culture with authenticity. I can think of nothing that turns a person off more than pretending to be something that you are not. Now, we don't know the extent of Rafael Palmeiro's steroid use at this point, but on the surface it kicks you in the gut because he gave such a spirited defense of his behavior before Congress. I think there would have been repercussions if he had said before that he used steroids, but now he just seems like a cheater and a liar. Everyone who knows him doesn't think that it is possible that he could have lied before Congress (and it may yet turn out that he didn't), but it just destroys his credibility as a person if he did. When someone pretends to be something that they are not, it simply causes everyone around him to question everything he says from that point forward. It is really about a lack of trust.

For those of us in the ministry, nothing could be more important in my mind that our credibility. We want everyone that hears us to put stock into the words that come out of our mouth. And yet, when we stand in the pulpit and present our lives and perfect and flawless, we begin to lose that credibility. I think personally that a major shift is happening in this area between generations. For the previous generation, I think they wanted to hold their pastor on this separate level of holiness that they were turned off by any mention of his own struggles and imperfections. This has definitely changed today - my generation responds positively when a man of God can stand before them and admit his own sins and flaws. This creates credibility with people because it comes from authenticity. We desire authenticity in our leaders. I do anyway. I want to know that those that I follow are human and real and living through the same desires and hurts that I am living through. I want to be that kind of leader. I want to stand so confidently in my identity in Christ that I can show people the real Keith, not pastor Keith.

Have we gotten to the place where we can show this kind of authenticity? I think it will take great humility from us as leaders to be this real. We may have to lay down our desire to be seen as greater than we actually are. Or we may actually have to become what we want people to see. Either way, authentic leaders are crucial for the future of the church if we desire authentic Christ-followers in the church.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Essentials

When I think about Jesus' prayer to the Father in John 17 that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one, I weep for the church today. In our unique American market-driven expression of the church, we have created more denominations that I could even list. Every group has ended up splitting from another group, claiming that their corner of Christianity was more pure, more "biblical", more faithful to the New Testament church. We have been divided against one another for too long. In the absence of strong unity, the church has hurt itself and its testimony in the world. How can we claim to be followers of Christ when we disobey His command to have unity within our ranks? We have become obsessed with our own egos and decided that we would rather have our own group than do the hard work of reconciliation. As a friend of mine said recently in church, "it is like we are all on the same team, but we are all too busy taking out our teammates to fight the opponent." And personally, I believe that the enemy of the church likes it this way. When local churches band together to pool their resources and talents, they can make an amazing impact on their communities. But most church leaders are not willing to take the initiative required to build the unity bridge. They would simply rather build their own kingdom than the kingdom.

How do we begin to tear down the walls that separate churches and work together for the good of Christ's kingdom here on earth? I believe the major challenge is for each church to decide on the essentials. What is it that we think someone must believe and affirm in order for us to work with them? Of course, the list of essentials may be longer within our own churches (like to screen teachers, elders, etc.), but I am talking about the list of essentials that should guide ecumenical work. How do we decide who we should partner with and who we shouldn't? It seems to me that the reason that we separate from each other into smaller and smaller segments rather than working together is because we make the essentials list too long. If I believe the KJV is essential to the faith, then I am going to separate myself from everyone who uses another translation. With me? So, what are the essentials that should guide us? Personally, I see my list getting smaller and smaller over the years. I would say now that my list of essentials includes the following: the Trinity, salvation by faith, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the authority of Scripture. If someone can come to the table with these beliefs, I really think that I could work with them. I am amazed how many things we fight about are not on this list - worship style, building style, spiritual gifts, end times theology, ecclesiology, etc. I could go on and on. Why are we so divided if we agree on the main things? What do think the essentials should include? What core beliefs do you think are necessary for us to be "Christian"?

I pray the church of the future will grow in unity as it continues to discuss the essentials to the faith.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Why is the church here?

I was listening to Erwin McManus lecture the other night about growing leaders in the postmodern generation, and he was fielding a lot of questions about the "emerging" church that he leads called Mosaic in California. The main thought that he left me with, which I am still praying through, is not a new thought to me - but it is still a profound one. And it has been reinforced by my re-introduction to the ministry of Mission Arlington this week. Erwin said that the problem with most churches today is that they have forgotten why they exist. He said most churches believe that the church exists for itself, but that the Scriptures teach that the church exists for the world. You would think after four years of seminary and six years of ministry, I would really have already understood the reason the church exists. But I really don't think that I have thought about it clearly. We always quote the Great Commission in our minds when we talk about the church's mission - to "make disciples." But what does this mean in reality? Does it mean that we exist to build into one another in the local congregation and hope that those on the outside will like what we do and become a part of our community? Or does it mean that we exist to engage those outside the four walls of our church? Does it mean we have been called by God to look outside our church for the reason we exist?

This really bothers me in a religious environment where most churches spend most of their money on themselves. Most churches spend most of their money on programs for them, ministers to teach them, buildings to house them, and technology to entertain them. If we believe we are to really be about leading the world to follow Christ, what are we doing? I was told by a leader in my faith community recently that most churches in my denomination are failing to simply convert their own - and by that he meant the kids of the church members on the role. I think we are struggling more than we are willing to admit sometimes. And I think this issue of mission is really a huge part of our problem. Why are we here? McManus said that he believed that mission was the fire that fueled the passion of the church. In other words, if we are not on the same page about why we exist, we will never fully and passionately pursue that goal. I hope that we can move beyond the place of saying that we want the world to convert to the church and begin saying that we want the world to convert to Christ. I sincerely hope that the institutional church today is not keeping people away from following our Savior. And I say that with trembling fear because I am a member and a minister in the institutional church.

I guess the question I want answered is "are we too attached to our methods and traditions that we fail to engage the next generation with the all-consuming, life-transforming story of Jesus"? Are we really more concerned with having church "our way" than about introducing our community to the Savior? Because I believe the Bible teaches us that the church exists for the world, not for itself. If not, then why has God even left us here?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Historical Amnesia

I'm more and more weary with American Christians' inability to think clearly about the history of our own country. The nostalgia that so many feel for "Christian" America seems to be a view that is completely misguided and uninformed of what the founding of our country actually looked like. What many people mean when they talk about a "Christian" America is really a statement about the loosening of standards for what is acceptable in the public arena. But looser standards in the public arena do not really have anything to say about the hearts of people or the general morality of a culture. For example, the early American culture (that I have been reading a lot about lately - 1776, Founding Brothers, His Excellency: George Washington) was a more genteel place of "gentlemen" and "ladies." It was driven by an aristocratic understanding of life driven by a hangover from the feudal ideology of medieval scholasticism. In other words, those who had power and status in early American society knew how to handle themselves in a socially acceptable way in the public arena (according to what the "culture" said was acceptable)), but those who actually had this power and status were few and far between. The early American culture was dominated by hard living, hard drinking, and incredible discrepancy between those who had titles and land and those who did not. Early American cities were just as likely as today to have centers of local prostitution, gambling, ungodly entertainment, and drinking. The major differences in culture between early America and today is that technology has changed the dissemination of cultural influences.

My premise is actually really simple - I think that nostalgia for a "Christian" America is driven by a feeling that we are losing the hearts of Americans, not the culture war. Whatever happens to our culture in America does not fundamentally change the function or the mission of the church. The church was called to spread the life-giving message of Christ to sinful man in the 1770's and in the 2000's. If the mission and function of the church is bound by the godliness of the culture, then why is the church growing fastest in places like communist China where Atheism is the state religion? If the church wants to shape culture, it has to get it's mind out of the clouds and think clearly about the world and it's mission. If we want to see change, then we need to be investing in spreading the gospel to all people - not hoping to legislate morality from Washington. The idea that we are now in a "post-Christian" society implies that America was once a "Christian" nation. From my study of history, I really struggle to see this. Were there Christians in early America in prominent positions of authority? Sure, but there are evangelical Christians involved in every area of government today. My hope is not in government and fundamentally not even in culture. My hope is in the gospel, and we need to proclaim the true source of our hope.

Because we live in a generation that is generally ignorant of history (read world and church history), we constantly have to fight this tendency to say, "if we would just go back to when..." This historical amnesia puts false hope in the culture of the past and points people away from what amazing things God is doing in our generation with the gospel. I personally don't desire to go back to the days of slavery and social injustice that gripped early American culture. You see - nostalgia over American history really has to do with your remembrance of the past. Hoping not to sound too postmodern, I truly believe that we have forgotten the sins of past generations. Have we lost decency in the public arena? Yes. Are we committing our own moral crimes by killing 1.3 million innocent babies a year in abortion? Yes. Are we going to legalize same-sex marriage within my lifetime? Probably. But will these changes have an impact on the church or my ministry? Not likely. You and I are called to love people and share Christ with them in whatever cultural context we find ourselves in. My mission is not to fix the culture, but to change hearts.

What do you think?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Measuring Success in Ministry

Two articles in the weekend editions of the Dallas Morning News caught my eye today. One was the cover article of Saturday's religion section documenting Lakewood Church's move to their new 16,000 seat sanctuary at the converted Compaq center in Houston this weekend. The other was in Sunday's metro section. It was also about a preacher - but this one wasn't about a huge building or mass ministry. It was the story of Rev. CBT Smith who is close to his 90th birthday. He is receiving the Living Legend award from a Dallas preaching conference this week for his lifetime of ministry. And when I say lifetime, I mean it - 70 years of preaching the gospel.

In this context, I've really been wrestling with how you measure success in ministry. We have to confess that ultimately we are working in the eternal market and measurements are hard to come by. It seems that any kind of measurement in this world is temporary and therefore ultimately flawed. Only God really knows the ultimate impact of what we do in ministry - and therefore it may be futile to really try to measure anything. At the same time, however, we want to know that we are doing things in ministry that really matter. If we never take measurement of our own ministry efforts, how will we grow into the mature overseers that God needs for the church to grow? Evaluation seems crucial to me - the question then just revolves around what to measure. What do I try to measure and how do I actually measure it?

The attention of the world and the attention of most pastors centers on numbers. If we are running lots of people in the pews, then we are successful in ministry. While it is easy to be cynical of this view, numbers do represent people. And if we are truly honest, we do want to influence the most number of people that we can for the sake of the glory of Christ. The reality, however, is that numbers alone do not equate to ministry success. Surely, lots of personalities in the pulpit draw crowds with communicating any content. Therefore, we have to go further. Using Jesus' call to "make disciples" in the Great Commission, we could say that the measurement has to include a pastor's record on making disciples - but how do you measure that? It is possible, but it takes more space to discuss than I have here.

I think the one that hit me this weekend while looking over the paper is the quality of faithfulness. To spend a lifetime proclaiming the truth of God's Word without doing something in your life that distracts from your message. This is maybe the greatest success that any preacher can have - to use his whole life (not just part of it) as a testimony to God's grace by his faithful ministry of God's Word and his faithful obedience to what he preaches. Sounds simple - and hard. God, help me to make it to the end still burning with passion for the gospel that has transformed my heart.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Teaching Theology

The church has got to do things with more concern for theological reflection. We are not traditionally in the business of caring too much about theology (since most people hear the word and begin to assume immediately that you are talking about dead, stale, mental religion with no heart). Why can't the church be passionate about loving God totally with our hearts and totally with our minds (kind of sounds like Jesus' command)? I believe the church is always given to extremes in an attempt to fight the unbalanced approaches of the previous generation. For me, my church background included an environment where religion was about attending an hour long service on Sunday and hoping that I didn't fall asleep. For many young people who grew up in a spiritually dry church, the immediate reaction is to cling to anything that has passion and excitement in it. There is current youth ministry book out right now basically echoing these ideas. Kenda Dean in Practicing Passion basically argues for a church of passion (arguing against empty religiosity in the mainline churches) that will encompass the desires of young people to be a part of something that is worthy giving their lives for. In other words, the church today recognizes that empty tradition of a generation ago will not continue to produce a thriving faith in the next generation of students.

The result of this has been a focus on the heart and on passion. We have written love songs to God that we sing in worship every week. The more emotional we get at a retreat or a camp or an event, the more spiritual we think we have been. The emotions are good, but we are in danger of losing our theological distinctiveness as Christians if we are not careful. We, as church leaders, have got to realize that everything we do in the church teaches theology. We communicate something about God and His character every time we have church. Can we begin to think critically again about what we are teaching? Of course, to think deeply about what we are teaching about God, we have to think deeply about what we believe ourselves about God. The danger is that we have been consumed in Christian culture so long that we begin to use all of the Christian jargon that we hear without thinking well about what it means. What does it mean that Jesus is God incarnate? How does that impact my life and my ministry? What does it mean that God is Triune? How does that change the way I teach about God?

I am afraid that in all of our concern for emotional impact we have sacrificed theological reflection. I wonder if it is possible to be a part of a church that encourages both - passionate pursuit of intimacy with God and intense theological reflection about what the Bible teaches us about God. I hope it is, and I hope that the next generation of church leaders can work hard at keeping balance in these two areas so that we teach accurately and passionately about the nature of God.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Church Buildings

Two notes:

First, a note that I'm going to be in Colorado all week and won't post again until next week.

Second, a thought about church buildings. I've personally been in churches that meet in all types of buildings, but only recently have I started thinking about how church buildings teach people about God. If you have talked to me recently, you know that I am beginning to think that everything we do in church leadership teaches people about our view of God. I especially believe that our worship music teaches theology. What does it teach? That's a topic for another blog entry. I think that lots of other things not only reflect our understanding of the Creator (as leadership), but also teach people that come to our church something about God.

It is really odd to feel this way because I am part of a generation that really doesn't value the buildings that we worship in. More than likely, building spaces are about usability. The church has basically decided not to build space unless the word "multi-purpose" can be attached as an adjective before the name of the building. In our church now, we meet in a gym. I personally like the gym, but I wonder what it teaches people about God. If you have any thoughts, let me know. It might teach people that God is accessible, which is true to a point. It might teach people that God is casual - I'm not sure what to think about that. The reason I'm really thinking about this topic is because I went to a wedding at Skillman Church of Christ yesterday afternoon. After meeting throughout college and seminary in church buildings that don't feel like church buildings, it was quite something to feel a sense of awe as I walked into their sanctuary. Now, I believe with all my heart that the people that meet together are the church and not the building. However, the people of the church decide somewhere along the way (or maybe the leadership decides for them) that they will build a structure to meet in for worship. Does anyone ever ask the question, "What will this building teach people about God?" I wonder.

If you could design a church building any way you wanted with the purpose of teaching something specific about God - what would you design? Let me think about it this week & I'll post some ideas next week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Multiracial Church?

I had a fascinating conversation with some of my leadership students on the way to East Texas Baptist University yesterday morning. I've had the discussion before, but was challenged again about it because of a Christianity Today cover article last month. The question in view was simply: should the local church today make its goal to be a multiethnic community? Here are a few of my thoughts on the issue. Feel free to disagree:

First, the church has continued to be the most segregated hour of the week forty years after the civil rights movement. Whether or not you think this should change, the reality must at least be addressed. We continue to do church with people that are like us to the exclusion of those who are different. This generally is driven by a church-growth culture. The fastest way to grow a church numerically is to aim the efforts of the church's ministry a specific demographic. If we design our ministry efforts toward a specific age group, culture, and ethnic group, then we are more likely to rapidly grow our church. However, what does this teach people about what the church is and why it exists? Fundamentally, I believe it teaches people that the church exists to meet their needs and to cater to their preferences. And what we end up with is a singular ethnic group church with people who are the same age and make approximately the same income. Does this reflect the true body of Christ? No, and I think it should change.

Second, the suburban white churches in America are disproportionately wealthy when compared to urban minority churches. Again, whether or not you think this should change, we have to address the truth of the claim. The church in America contains the same inequity that the population contains. Why should this continue? It is driven by a church culture that says that 95% of what we spend of our budgets simply go to minister to our own people. Again, the lack of ethnic diversity is a part of the source of this problem.

Third, so many local churches do not reflect the communities in which they exist. As urban areas have become minority centers, the predominantly white churches have moved away from the city centers in order to maintain their ethnocentric identities. Instead of reaching out to their local minority communities, the white churches have relocated to continue to maintain their one-race identity.

In all of these things, I believe the church of Jesus in America is an embarrassment in the way that we continue to segregate. The schools and the business world have long embraced diversity as essential to life, but the church has not. Why should the church of Jesus be last to embrace diversity in our worshipping communities? What does the world think when it sees our inability to integrate the Sunday morning worship service?

I fundamentally think the problem is sourced in our lack of willingness to do things in worship that are not our first preference. In order to reach people that are not like us, is the church willing to do music and embrace traditions that are different from their own? Only in this way will the local church begin to be a community based on unity in diversity and not just unity based on unanimity. I believe we miss something when we don't have people in the church that are different from us (whether that is age, profession, income level, or race). But the question remains - do enough people think this a problem that should even be addressed? I pray so.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Doing What You Were Made To Do

As I sit around with our college students this weekend at Lake Granbury, I am reminded of a couple of things that God taught me a long time ago but are easy to forget. First, God is in the business of equipping every person in the church for the work of the ministry. Sometimes, those of us in vocational ministry begin to think that the church would not be able to function if we didn't do every ministry in the church. But we are missing the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:3-8 when he says that we are not to think too highly of ourselves, but are to recognize that we are all members of one body that have been gifted differently to accomplish the will of God in the church. This is an amazing fact that should challenge us to be thankful for the different giftings of every person in the church. They are gifted for a ministry in the church that I will never be able to accomplish.

Second, the Lord God of the universe has designed me as an individual to do something specific in the church. This is so encouraging and so challenging at the same time. Each of us has been gifted and designed by God to do one thing. Is the reason that so many people burn out and get discouraged in their ministry in the church because they are functioning in an area that they are not gifted for and not passionate about. Therefore, the question we must all answer is: what is the one thing that God has designed me to do in His church?

Of anything in my life, I want to be passionate about the church of Jesus. I want to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night excited about what God is doing in and through my life. Idealistic, some will say. Too young to know any different, others will say.

I will say - just hopeful that something better is possible.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dads and Kids

It is really overwhelming how much having children changes your life. I remember just two years ago how Barie and I were satisfied to just spend our money on our own stuff and spend all our free time on our own hobbies. How times have changed. I think children are God's way of really showing you how selfish you are. I know that I am amazed at how many times I get home from work and want to do "my thing." What's up with that? I guess the selfish sin nature still drives us more than we know. Selfishness is really apparent when I'm tired and dry spiritually. No wonder so many dads are losers in the area of giving to their kids. They have never gotten over themselves, and even if they have, they are so tired from working too many hours that they have nothing to give their families.

Being in student ministry has given me an interesting and unique perspective on the place of dads in the lives of their kids. I can now guess with startling accuracy when I meet a student whether or not they have a father who is engaged. By "engaged" I don't mean just there, but actually a part of the kid's life. How do I know? Well, the symptoms are everywhere, but the most obvious is the need for love and attention they seek from everyone else. As we get close to Father's Day 2005, I am reminded every day by my students about the importance of being a godly man who loves and cares for my sons.

May each of you fathers drive to be the man you would be proud if your sons become.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Reading the Bible

I'm a reader by nature. I really enjoy nothing more than sitting down with a good book and getting away from the worries and concerns of real life. The scary thing is that for people like me reading lots of books can become an idol that gets in the way of actually reading the Word. Isn't it funny how the enemy can even deceive you into thinking that reading a lot of books about the Bible is close enough to reading the Bible?

Not so. The text has to be read and absorbed in its context. Our cookie cutter approach to reading the text is devastating to our biblical literacy. We would never sit down with John Grisham and start reading in chapter 3, paragraph 2, sentence 4. If we did that, we would most likely not understand the characters very well that the author had been developing. We would not understand the references to earlier parts of the story that we had not read. And we would definitely not catch the subtle clues that were pointing us toward the resolution of the story. How, then, do we expect to read the Bible this way? I use to say that the problem with believers in our churches was their lack of application of the text. I have always said that people know that David killed Goliath, but they don't know what difference that makes in their lives. This is still true, but the real tragedy is that not that people are missing the application, but that they are really missing the meaning. The David and Goliath narrative sits in the middle of a long narrative about the life of David (and even larger than that, the narrative about the kingdom of Israel and the throne). What is the author of 1 and 2 Samuel doing with the David and Goliath story and how does this effect our interpretation of it?

We have got to begin to read whole books at a time if we are going to begin to understand what God is saying to us through the plot structure of the Scripture. For readers of lots of things other than the Bible, this will be a difficult task. Let's get busy reading God's Word and less busy reading about it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Highest View of God

I think that A.W. Tozer said it best in his book The Knowledge of the Holy when he wrote that the church of Jesus Christ will never rise above its view of God. This is because the fuel that burns the fires in mens' souls for the spread of the gospel around the globe is the unrivaled supremacy and value of God. Idolatry is not bowing down to some golden statue or saying words of praise to a wooden pole. No, idolatry is the common action of the heart to value something other than God as supreme. Whenever we exalt something higher than God in our lives, we are committing the ultimate sin - loving supremely that which is not supremely lovely. If the church is to catch a passion for evangelism, discipleship, and missions, it must begin with a recapturing of the doctrine of God.

How is it that the mysterious body of Christ has forgotten to teach the wonderful attributes and nature of God? What else do we have to offer a world ravaged by sin other than the person of God? And yet, week after week, the supreme value of man is preached from our pulpits. Apparently, God did everything because of our amazing value to Him. How have we allowed the pure gospel of God to be corrupted by the selfish, man-centered consumerism of this age? God redeemed humanity for the praise of His own glory, to demonstrate to all ages the surpassing greatness of his grace and mercy. Let us again as the church of Christ rise to the call to proclaim the wonder of the doctrine of God. We cannot afford to get this one wrong.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Priceless Wife...

The writer of Proverbs comments that there is no value comparison for a wife that fears the Lord. She is to be more treasured than any jewels that can be found on the earth. She could be the climactic element of the MasterCard commercial: engagment ring, $1000; wedding, $5000; honeymoon, $3000; wife of noble character: priceless. The wife who fears the Lord is one who cares for the needs of her family above her own. She is a servant above all things, selflessly giving without calling for others to satisfy her needs. She is a woman of honor, constantly bringing praise to her home and her family because of the way she treats the people around her. She is hospitable, always opening her home and her table to take care of the travelor. She will go out of her way to speak words of kindness to someone who is hurting because she is gifted with compassion and mercy of God. She invests all her energy in her children, never balking at the commitment that it takes to raise up young men and women of God. She is a helper to her spouse, always giving of herself to assist him and enoucrage him and challenge him. She is intimate with the Lord God and faithful to her family. She is amazing and rare.

I am married to a priceless wife ... her name is Barie.