Monday, February 27, 2006

Church-Planting Guru

Of all the guys doing work in church-planting right now at a research level, none is as well versed as Ed Stetzer. Ed has a Ph.D. in the area of church-planting, and he leads much of the church-planting research and development for the SBC's North American Mission Board. Ed has planted several churches himself, and now is throwing his experience and training behind an effort to equip more church planters and connect more church-planting churches with each other. His website (www.newchurches.com) is one of the best out there on the topic of church-planting. He has tons of good resources (free), and links to a wide range of other church planting ministries. (Interesting side note for church-planters: as I scanned through many of the websites that Ed has linked from his home page, I could tell within a few seconds if I was going to spend time reading the content of the website based on the professionalism of the design - I hope that we don't make that same mistake in designing websites for our church plants.) Ed has authored several books, but his most recent work called Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age is an excellent read for someone wanting to get a good biblical and historical overview on the necessity of church planting and the basic nuts and bolts of how church planting works. Ed has his Ph.D. from Southern Seminary in Kentucky.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rip Out Your Heart

As I read through Psalm 14 last night, I was thinking more about the sinful condition of our world. Depravity touches every part of our lives, and this was starkly demonstrated to me when I saw one of the latest episodes of Nightline. During this episode, the reporter from ABC News covered the story of how newborn babies struggle for life in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at one of New York City's premier hosptials. In the episode that I saw, Nightline reported on Charlie, a baby born with severe health issues that has lived the first three months of his life with a ventilator to help him breath. He still lives in the NICU, and mom and dad switch out day and night shifts to be with their baby. The report raises all kinds of questions about modern medicine, life and death, and ethics. But beyond all that, the story of Charlie rips out your heart. You can read specifically about his story here. (Warning: be prepared to cry)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blue Like Jazz

One of the newest and most popular writers on the scene is Donald Miller. He first came to my attention about two years ago when I was turned on to his first major release, Blue Like Jazz, which has as its byline, "Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality." Basically, the book is a personal recounting of Miller's awakening as he left his conservative Christian subculture roots in Texas and drove to Portland, Oregon with a friend. His journy along the way (which is told in his first book, Through Painted Deserts) taught him many new things about God, about himself, and about other people. Blue Like Jazz records some of Miller's experiences (told in his engaging brutally honest style) as a student at and campus minister to one of the most liberal schools in the nation in Portland. His reflections on life and his relationship with God are life-changing to read because they come from his own life-change. His second major work, Searching for God Knows What, is a fresh look at the person and teachings of Jesus through Miller's new cultural lense.

Miller's major challenge to culturally unaware Christians in the south is to drop some of the legalistic baggage that has been attached to following Christ, and really care about people who don't follow Jesus. While doing ministry in a truly pagan environment, Miller learned that major paradigm shifts were needed in order to break through with the message of Jesus. Make sure and read Miller's list of 13 paradigm shifts. I haven't read his newest release, To Own A Dragon, but with a byline like "reflections on growing up without a father," I'm sure it will be another powerfully honest look at his own spiritual development. Just a warning before you start reading Miller: if you are politically
conservative, he will challenge many of your political views. If you don't agree with his views, read him anyway. His work deserves to be wrestled with at a personal level by all Christians.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Church-Planting Resources

During the residency year here at HCBC, one area that I'm going to continue to work on is connecting with other people who have done church planting and done it well. I'm continuing to use the web as a source of more information about church planting. Though interest in church planting has exploded in the last decade, the number of high-quality resources (and websites) available are relatively small (compared with other things you might research). So, I'm hoping that throughout the year, I can network with those are excelling in church planting to learn all I can. I then hope to pass on websites regularly that you might find interesting if you want to learn about what God is doing through church planting.

To start, the Acts 29 network is setting the bar high for developing and releasing church planters throughout North America. Acts 29 is the b
rain-child of Mark Driscoll, the lead (and founding pastor) of Mars Hill church, one of the fastest growing churches in the Northwest (Seattle, Washington). Mark is conservative in his theology, but progressive in his approach to reaching people with the gospel. His book, Radical Reformission, is a refreshing approach to being the church in a postmodern, post-Chrsitian society. He is a hard-core preacher (preaches for about an hour every Sunday), but he is raw and authentic and strictly Bible-based. His sermons are podcast through iTunes, and are really fun to listen to. You can also download specific sermons from the church's website. If you don't really care about all this, you need to at least check out his blog, called Resurgence, where he is talks about all kinds of fascinating issues. Mark is rough around the edges, but God is using him to powerfully impact our generation with the gospel. He is a passionate church planter, and he is continuing to call other churches to get involved with missional church-planting in America.

More to come...

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Da Vinci Code

The next several months will be an interesting time when more people will be interested in issues of text criticism than maybe any other time in the life of my ministry. While seminary guys discuss textual issues with some interest during classes and late night study sessions, Dan Brown has brought the rest of America into the discussion. It seems that almost everyone I've met has an opinion on Brown's book; the latest stats that I've seen show that over 40 million Americans have now purchased The Da Vinci Code. The reason that interest is peaking again is because the blockbuster movie with Tom Hanks is due to open in May. My pastor, Tim, announced to the men at this year's Men's Retreat that he was going to preach a series based on the Da Vinci Code around Easter as a primary evangelistic push for the church. As interest increases, we who know Christ, must be prepared to share the truth about the Bible that we trust and the history that gave us our Bible.

A great website has been set up called Da Vinci Code: The Challenge that will serve as a resource to believers who are trying to debunk the many false claims made by Dan Brown. A group of wonderful scholars will submit articles and lead discussion on the truth behind the novel. I hope you will take a moment to look over the resources available there. Also, please spend a minute to read this blog posting by Sandi Glahn; she has published in full a review done by Dan Wallace (a premier NT scholar at DTS) on a book claiming that many earlier manuscripts change significant doctrinal beliefs that Christians hold today (not true). Our job as followers of Jesus Christ is not to scream at these authors because of what they say, but to use the dialogue that they create to point people to the Living Savior.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Life-Change

Since I've returned fromt the men's retreat this weekend, several thoughts have been rolling around in my mind. I had a great time of fellowshipping with some top-shelf guys. They were an encouragement to me as I begin to walk this road toward church-planting. My heart and my spirit are rejoicing over the opporunity to minister in this city to these people. Isn't it truly amazing when you look back over the past several years of your life and see God's hand leading you and preparing you for the present moment and you didn't even see it coming? God's sovereignty and divine providence have been especially evident in my life the last week.

But back to the Men's Retreat - how did God impact my life this past weekend?

First, I have been reminded of the importance of focusing on who I am before I work on what I do. This really wasn't the theme of the weekend, but it was the area where God spoke to me in a powerful way. As I hear more and more people talk about incarnational leadership at this church (follow me as I follow Christ), I have come to recognize that I need to be the kind of man that I want the men in my church to be. In other words, even more important than the sermons I preach will be the life that I lead. Men will walk with Jesus as I walk with Him; they will love their wives as I love my wife; they will train up their children as I do my children. What a thought to think that I will reproduce my life in the men that I lead and train - I've got work to do on myself.

Second, as I processed the importance of being before doing, I have been challenged to meditate on where my time goes. I have listed the priorities of my life (walking with God, loving my wife, loving and training up my kids, staying physically fit, working faithfully at my calling, etc.), I have come to realize that I d0n't have a lot of empty time in my schedule for other things. This means that if I add a lot of TV or extra reading or computer surfing, etc., I will have to cut something else. Andy Stanley preached a message about this several years ago called choosing to cheat. Basically, his premise was that we will all choose to cheat something with our choices; the only question will be what we cheat. I want to cheat the stuff that doesn't matter. What separates the men from the boys? Discipline.

As we take the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ to the world, let's make sure that we are making choices with our time that assure that we are being changed by Jesus first.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Military Guys

I've started my first day today at work, and things are rocking right along. I am dealing with information overload (which you always do at first with a new job) and the fact that I have a hard time with names and I've met so many people in the last few days! But, I am encouraged by how God is leading in this whole process. We feel so encouraged by the kindness and passion of the people at HCBC.

I want to ask for prayers for some of my former students who are now serving in our nation's military. I just got word in the last week from Joey Graves (who is serving with the Army Reserve as a chaplain's assistant) that he is being deployed to Germany to work with the hospital chaplain for the next year. Hospital ministry is a difficult and draining assignment, but also one with lots of opportunity for sharing the gospel. Please pray for Joey as he serves our nation in Germany. I also got word that Andy Ellsworth (who is finishing up his training with the Marine Corp MP school) that he may be deployed to serve in Japan for 2 years after he finishes his training. Both of these guys are close to my heart and strong servants of Christ. I would ask you to please pray that they would stay close to the Lord during their time away. Thanks!