Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Challenges of Leadership

A quick glimpse into my personal journal to see what God is teaching me about leadership these days as I try to lead this local body of believers:

1) Leadership is a stewardship (meaning that it is a temporary gift given to us by God that He can take away at any moment) that we will be held accountable for. Thanks to Andy Stanley for pointing this out repeatedly in his talks on leadership. I need to be reminded daily that my leadership is not my own, but a temporary responsibility that the Sovereign One has given to me. I think regularly about the day I will give an account to Him about my leadership.

2) Leadership can be very lonely at the top because it is ultimately about making hard decisions that will benefit the many rather than cater to the few. This means that leaders have to constantly say no to good things in order to say yes to great things. I have personally seen this episode repeated over and over again in our new church.

3) Leadership is primarily about clearly defining reality. In other words, if the leader does not see what is really happening around him and is not pointing out the true condition of his organization, he is not leading well. The temptation to self-deceive is very high in leadership, and we have to constantly fight to make sure we are seeing what is right in front of us. As George Orwell said, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." A hearty amen to that.

What is God teaching you these days?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Faith & Politics

We're hearing a lot of discussion this year about the role of faith in politics, first because it is a presidential election year, but second because the Democratic candidate at times is more comfortable talking about his Christian faith than the Republican candidate (different from previous election cycles). A few interesting links to get you thinking this morning about the intersection of faith and politics...

One of the more interesting potential vice-presidential possibilities on the Republican side this year is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, a 37-year old Indian immigrant who converted from the Hinduism of his parents to Catholicism as a high-school student. You can read more about this guy in this article in the WSJ.

Two, Andy Stanley has done a great sermon series this summer called "Letters the Next President" where he shared three biblical principles he wants the next president to remember. I thought the series was great and very thought-provoking. Check out this site for all the details.

Third, interesting news out that Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California and the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, will be hosting both presidential candidates on Saturday, August 16th at his church. Warren will moderate a one hour interview with McCain and a one hour interview with Obama. This will be one of the few times this campaign season that the two candidates are the same place, on the same stage, talking to the same moderator. I'm encouraged that God has given Warren this platform in our country. You can listen to him talk very intelligently about the intersection of faith and politics in this interview with CNN:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Evidence #354...

...that men are different from women.

I broke vases today during my sermon as an illustration of what has been lost since the fall.

Every man who talked to me after the service seemed a little sad that they didn't get the chance to break something today during church.

Every woman who talked to me after service was frustrated that I had destroyed perfectly good vases that could have been used to decorate their kitchens.

Fun times.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Most of you know that I traveled to Kazakhstan back in April for 2 weeks in order to help train church leaders who are working to start church-planting movements in Central Asian countries. It was an invigorating time, and I cam back re-focused on what God has called us to do in Round Rock and Greater Austin. As works with missions, you always return learning more than you ever teach. You can read my thoughts on the trip here. After returning from our trip, our church decided to get financially involved in the mission work in Central Asia (with East-West Ministries), and since then, I have been keeping my eyes open on news from that part of the world.

You can imagine that I was surprised when the WSJ cover page two days ago ran a full article revealing new details of corruption at the highest levels of the Kazakh government. Everyone has known that Kazakhstan's president (who has been in charge since the fall of the Soviet Empire) has been making tons of money on the backs of the Kazakh people over the years. He is known as one of the country's wealthiest people because he owns so much of the natural resource wealth in the country, but also because he owns a bank that lends his money to people in the country & makes a profit on this interest he charges. The WSJ article is giving first-hand reports for the first time of how deep the corruption goes.

Yesterday, the WSJ ran a follow-up article to this one talking about the response of the US government to the revelations from their first article. Interestingly enough, Kazakhstan is supposed to lead the OSCE (a group in Europe responsible to encourage human rights) starting in 2010. Hard to believe it is possible that a country with so much corruption and oppression of the poor could be lecturing other European countries about human rights violations.

Please pray for God to change the hearts of the leaders in Kazakhstan and to strengthen the believers who are boldly following Christ in tough circumstances.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Most Important Sermon To Date

This Sunday I announced in my sermon that our elder board is following God in taking the first steps in moving toward planting our first church in 2009. We have decided (after much prayer and deliberation) that God is calling us to plant in Round Rock, and that we will be working with one of the residents coming to be trained at HCBC NW. His name is Josh Cagle, and he has been a youth pastor in southern California for the last ten years. He and his wife, Amber, will be moving to the Austin area in August and starting the residency program in September.

I preached Sunday on our vision - our desire to see every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin have the chance to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of someone at a Hill Country Bible Church. I was giving the context of why we made the decision to plant our first church by the time of our 2nd anniversary as a church. Of all the messages I have preached over the last year of our church, this is most likely the most important. You can listen to it on our website or by downloading it from our podcast on iTunes.

I handed out one-page insert Sunday morning that attempted to answer many of the questions that I know people have in response to our decision. I want to post those thoughts here for anyone who wants to see what we're doing in more detail and see my current thinking on church-planting in the life of the church. Feel to free to comment below - I appreciate the feedback in clarifying my thoughts on this very important topic. Until All Treasure Him...

Q1: Where is the biblical mandate to start new churches?

A: The biblical mandate from Jesus is to be “sent” into the world (John 20:21) in order to be “His witnesses” (Acts 1:8) that we could “makes disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). This call to “make disciples” requires that we baptize follows of Christ and organize believers into local communities (see Acts 2:41-47). Starting new churches is the best way to make sure that we are following Jesus’ commands to evangelize the nations and turning new Christ-followers into committed disciples.

Beyond that, we have the example of the apostle Paul in the NT who went from city to city establishing new churches (see Acts 14:21-28, 16:9-12, and Titus 1:5) and raising up elders to oversee these local congregations. Paul demonstrates through his own life and ministry how personal evangelism and church-planting are directly connected.

Q2: How does church planting fit into our vision to reach every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ?

A: Our hope and prayer is that every person in our city has the opportunity to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of a real person. In order for every man, woman, and child from every socio-economic and every racial group to hear the gospel, we need to have strong, healthy, dynamic churches in every part of the city reaching into every demographic group. Church-planting is the most effective way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and since we are passionate about people experiencing Jesus Christ, we are committed to planting churches. If we discovered a better strategy for reaching the city tomorrow, we would stop planting churches and adopt that strategy. But that scenario is unlikely as history has consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of starting new churches in spreading the gospel.

Q3: Why should we plant new churches in Round Rock when so many churches in Round Rock already exist?

A: A quick survey of the research compiled on church-growth in Greater Austin and around the nation reveals that this question has two faulty underlying assumptions: first, that new churches compete with existing churches for members, and second, that Round Rock is a “churched” city. Let’s look at these assumptions one at a time.

(1) New churches find most of their members from those who are previously unchurched, not those who are transferring from other churches. Nation-wide surveys show that 60-80% of the new members in new churches are previously unchurched, while 80-90% of new members in congregations older than 15 years come from other churches. Because new congregations are forced to focus on the needs of non-members in the community rather than their own attenders, they are 6 to 8 times more effective in evangelism than established churches. Additionally, new churches are more effective in reaching different demographic groups than established churches. For all of these reasons, new churches do not compete with existing churches, but effectively reach those that existing churches are not reaching.

(2) Greater Round Rock has a current estimated population (summer 2008) of 133,000 people. A recent survey of the 63 current Protestant churches in RR shows that they have 16,150 in attendance on a typical Sunday, for a total of 12.1% of the population. With Greater Round Rock expected to grow to 250,000 people over the next thirty years, every church in Round Rock will need to grow and new churches will need to be planted in order to increase the percentage of our city’s population that regularly attends a church. Round Rock is not a “churched” city and is falling further behind every year that new churches are not started. One thing, however, is certain: without starting new congregations, the percentage of Round Rock residents that attend church will continue to decline.

Q4: Why are we planting a church before we build our own facility to meet in?

A: Starting a capital-campaign for a facility early in the life of our church would have three unintended consequences that could negatively impact our church. First, the energy and resources of our leadership would be focused on raising funds for the new building for several years. This would immediately become our church’s highest priority for the foreseeable future. Second, building before we plant would create the mindset that planting was secondary in importance to building, when in reality building is secondary to planting. Rather than asking how church-planting will impact our building-campaign, our elders hope to establish a pattern where we ask how a building-campaign will impact church planting. Simply put, order matters. Third, building early in the life a church always leads it to build too small. Because God has miraculously provided us an awesome home for the next several years at the YMCA at a good rental rate, we feel confident that we can continue to grow in our current space without taking on the financial burden of a new building.

Q5: Why is the model changing to a “missional-core” plant instead of the hive-off model that we used?

A: The “missional-core” planting model seeks to send a maximum of ten missional families with the planter instead of the large group of 30-40 families that are sent with a hive-off. The model has changed for two primary reasons. First, large hive-off churches tend to be less effective in their evangelism because they start with a large core of Christians from the mother-church rather than starting with a mix of missional Christians and new converts from the community. “Missional-core” plants spend more time and energy reaching the lost in their community rather than ministering to their own families. Second, in order to plant a large hive-off church, the “sending” church must be large and able to send off a large contingency. If planting is limited to the hive-off model, then only large churches will be involved in church planting in the city.

Q6: How will church-planting impact the ministry of Hill Country Bible Church Round Rock?

A: Church-planting is good for the “sending” church in several ways. First, planting a missional, evangelistic church renews the “sending” church’s commitment to evangelism and mission. As the church-planting team engages in strategic evangelism in the city, the families of the “sending” church are challenged to do their part to own the vision in their sphere of influence. Second, planting a new church provides opportunities for new people to step up into significant leadership roles. Church-planting opens opportunities in the “sending” church and obviously creates opportunities for service in the new church. Finally, church-planting matures the “sending” church by teaching us how to walk by faith and how to be Kingdom-minded. Each of us will learn to trust God more and be reminded that God’s work is bigger than our own congregation.

Q7: How much does it cost to plant a church, and how can we afford it?

A: The latest estimate on funding a church-plant in our association is about $135,000, which includes funding a resident in the training center for one year and providing some of the initial funding for the church plant. Of course, the final cost of the church-plant will vary depending on the actual costs incurred by the planting team. The funds for the cost of the plant can come from several sources: the sending church’s general budget, a special offering from the sending church, and the fundraising resources of the planter himself.

As of now, the elders of HCBC-RR have adjusted the remainder of the 2008 budget (starting in June) to reallocate future-facility funds into our church-planting fund now that the YMCA lease has been finalized for the next two years. Beyond that, we are trusting God to lead us over the next year in how to fund the plant, and we are also trusting Him to provide the necessary funds. Like all budgeting decisions, our money follows our priorities. We feel confident that God will honor our sacrifice for His Kingdom as He has done with other Hill Country churches as they have been open-handed with the resources God has provided.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Read it and weep...

To all those who endlessly berate me about my decision one year ago to sell my 2001 Chevy Silverado (with 75,000 miles on it) and buy a 2004 Kia Spectra (with 14,000 miles on it), read this article and weep...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Revolutionary Era

I read David McCullough's book on John Adams several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and his insight into the private world of one of America's founding fathers. Adams was known as the "voice of the Revolution" as much as Jefferson was known as the "pen of the Revolution" because of his vocal, argumentative, strong personality. McCullough won a Pulitzer Price for his writing on Adams, both for his strong historical work in the original sources (he spent many hours reading the letters between John and Abigail (his beloved wife) and between John and Thomas Jefferson) and his wonderful story-telling ability.

McCullough also won a Puli
tzer for his work on the life of Harry Truman, another president from American history who shaped our country in significant ways but was relatively unknown compared to other major figures from history. McCullough's book on Truman's life is also a fascinating read, though incredibly long and detailed (around 1,000 pages if I remember correctly).

But back to John Adams. HBO just turned McCullough's book into a 7-part miniseries that I've had the joy of watching while hanging out with my new baby late at night the last week. The series is awesome, and I would encourage everyone to check it out. The material captures well the complexity of the character of our second president. He was very intelligent, but could be overly-belligerent and hard to work with. He seemed to always be concerned with his reputation, and to that end, worked ceaselessly for his country while many times leaving his family to fend for themselves.

This series captures all of the awe-inspiring scenes of Adams' life - from his presence at the signing of the declaration of independence, to his time in France and his time as the first ambassador for America to England, to his time as the first vice-president of the US, to his four years as president of the US, to his long-time writing relationship with Thomas Jefferson. In all of this, the signs of the times stand out as remarkable when viewed from a 21st century perspective: the long times of separation from his family, the rigid relationships at home, the long trips across the ocean to get back and forth to Europe, the terrible medical conditions, and the blight of slavery.

In the end, this amazing series (and book) makes me thankful again for the sacrifices of so many that allowed us to enjoy the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sleepless Nights

The nights of the newborn are sleepless nights.

When we had our first son, I remember being frustrated when he kept me awake late at night, rocking him, singing to him, swaddling him, all in a vain attempt to get him to calm down and sleep.

Last night was one of those nights...

Son3 was up throwing up everything he ate yesterday (and if you know Kale, this was a large amount), and my daughter (still weird to write that) has her days and nights messed up as most newborns do.

But something has changed. I really enjoyed last night. I guess now I realize that it all goes by so fast, that I will wake up in a year and Brynlee will be walking around our house. In two years, she'll be talking, and in three years, she'll be ordering her older brothers around our house.

All that to say, the sleepless nights don't last.

I want to enjoy every one.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Why We're Not Emergent

Props to two young guys for writing a helpful corrective to the extremes coming from the emerging-church movement. I have read most of the guys that DeYoung and Kluck interact with in their book (from McClaren to Bell to Padgitt to Miller to McManus to Jones), and their critique is fair and compassionate. They are careful to not be hateful, but to be direct and firm, in their response to the major writers and themes from their works. DeYoung is young pastor of a Reformed Church in Michigan, and Kluck is a sports writer who is a member of his congregation. They write a very engaging, well-written book, with DeYoung writing the theological critiques of the movement and Kluck writing insightful observations from his time with emergent people and places. They alternate chapters throughout the book, which makes for a great change of pace during the reading and provides for two completely different views of the emerging church, though from the same perspective. Tag-line from the book:
You can be young, passionate about Jesus Christ, surrounded by diversity, engaged in a postmodern world, reared in evangelicalism, and not be an emergent Christian. In fact, I would argue that it would better if you weren't.
Besides the great biblical corrective that DeYoung gives to the emergent leaders, he also is well versed in church history. I really appreciated his long view of the church and his call to emergent leaders to not repeat the mistakes of Christian "reformers" throughout the history of the church. Here's the money quote:
I wish emergent leaders could see that what they critique is much older than they think and what they affirm is rarely as new as they imagine.
Beyond this, I most valued DeYoung's pastoral view of the implications of the changes that emergent leaders are making in their theology-proper. When we begin to discard the historical view of God passed down to us from the Scriptures and church history, we should expect drastic changes in the life of the church. Once again, DeYoung hits the nail right on the head: theology matters. If our view of God becomes so fluid that anything that anyone says has the same weight in explaining God's character and nature, we have lost the distinctiveness of our Christian faith and will soon lose the distinctiveness for our Christian living.

In their final chapter, the authors challenge church leaders to read and wrestle with all seven letters to the churches in Revelation. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, calling churches with dead orthodoxy to life and calling churches with tolerance for everything to love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates. I would close with their pressing words from David Wells:
God rests too inconsequentially upon the church...His Christ, if he is seen at all, is impoverished, thin, pale, and scarcely capable of inspiring awe, and his riches are entirely searchable...It is God that the church needs most - God in His grace and truth, God in his awesome and holy presence.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Baby Girl

Today, Brynlee Sage Ferguson was born, our first daughter and fourth child. God has blessed us beyond anything we could have ever imagined. Brynlee was born at 2:40 PM, weighed 8 lbs, 4 oz., and is 20 inches long. Mother and baby are great. Once again, I'm overwhelmed by God's grace in giving me such an awesome wife, who has now become an awesome mother of four kids. Here's a few snapshots from today...

Update: Barie has posted some more pictures on her blog...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Neighborhood Discussion...

Well, we finished our neighborhood backyard study-group last night. Just to catch you up, Barie and I (along with our neighbors, Mike & Dawn) invited any neighbors who wanted to come to join us in a four-week read of Tim Keller's book The Reason for God, which I reviewed here. World Magazine, a Christian weekly news-magazine, named Keller's book their 2008 book of the year. Their interview with Keller can be read on their website.

We had 6 couples come to our first backyard meeting, which we told everyone would be 4 weeks long. We passed out Keller's book during the first meeting and shared about our spiritual background (about those who had influenced our view of God and the church). A couple of insights from our fascinating time with our neighbors over the last four weeks...

1) People want to talk about spiritual things if they are given a safe place to dialogue about their doubts and struggles. I really enjoyed listening to our neighbors process their worldview, and I also loved hearing them talk about how much they appreciated having a safe place to talk about issues of faith.

2) Reading Keller's book in 3 weeks is too fast. We should have spread it out over a few more weeks - 6 weeks would have been perfect.

3) While some people have genuine intellectual struggles with Christianity and the Bible (which Keller handles very well), others have emotional struggles from past hurt/pain that is sometimes a larger hurdle for them to jump. Several times during our discussion, family members were mentioned by name who had turned my neighbors away from faith because of their behavior, attitude.

4) The gospel is truly amazing news. Sharing last night with our neighbors about the uniqueness of the Christian gospel was one of the highlights of the last month for me. I am passionate (like Keller) for people to know the difference between religion and the gospel. In a world saturated with religion, the gospel of grace pierces to the heart of our greatest need - transformation.

5) Having conversations with seekers about the gospel is invigorating and addictive.