Challenges lead to creativity

The problem with much of our lives is that we become comfortable. It’s quite easy to stay where we are, do what we have always done, and not try something different, new or creative. To many of us can run from the creativity within us. But cretivity is sewn into the fabric of our being by a creative God. We run because everything is “fine” where we are.

We can often dwell on the cost of stepping out of the comfortable. Maybe it’s financial. It could be relational. It might even be the pure stress of the matter. No matter the excuss, we find one, good or bad, and lean on it with all our weight.

While this manifests itself in our personal lives and corporate lives, the church has not been exempt. After all, the church is people and people like comfortable. More often than not, it takes an event to move us in creative directions. It is like the company that is on the verge collapse and has to sell cereal just to stay afloat, like Air BNB. Or like the person who has to find time in their already busy schedule to exercise after their doctor gave them bad news regarding their health. In both crises, it is the challenges that force us out of the comfortable and into the creative. I would argue that it is perseverance in moments like these that cause us to grow as people, and I believe perseverance takes creativity.

Think of the human body. Exercise causes the body to go under stress, which causes the muscles that you’re working to break down. It’s the stress that creates growth. Here’s the thing, if you always do the exact same thing, same weight, same exercises, same exertion, you will never grow. Your body learns what to expect. It has a memory. You have to be creative with your workouts if you want the full benefit. You must do lifts and twists, different weights and reps in order to get the full impact.

To come back to the church, it can feel like we have to fight an uphill battle when it comes to creative change within the church (or any change for that matter). It’s like how we seek comfort personally, so too do our congregations and institutions accept their happy and comfortable existence. However, just like the body needs stress to grow, so it is with our congregations.

In the wake of Covid-19, I have been able to see something amazing. The stress of not being able to gather with our congregations has compelled churches to become creative. For many, this has meant trying out live feeds of their service or sermon on social media. This is a massive step for some congregations, and I’m proud of you. For others, they have become creative on how to reach out to their communities in the wake of isolation.

Challenge is forcing creativity.

My encouragement is for you to keep pushing to find new ways to show who Jesus is through good, bad, and ugly times. If this infectious disease goes away soon, don’t let the creativity fade along with it. Don’t settle back into the comfortable. We must keep pushing ourselves past the comfortable and into the creative. After all, we were made for creativity. It’s a beautiful place that though challenging, is real and stretching and the place of growth.

Let’s open up our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let’s allow the divine creativity to flow through us. Let’s, in a paraphrase of Acts 1:8, receive the Holy Spirit and be God’s creative witnesses in our cities, our municipalities, to people we don’t like, and even to the ends of the earth.

Are you a church builder or community impacter?

Are you building a church or reaching a community? Neither one is wrong, but they are different. You can build a church and reach a community; you can reach a community and build a church. They are are not mutually exclusive.

The difference lies in the approach. When you build a church, where people come from doesn’t matter. They could live on the other end of the city or in a different county, but they are a part of your church. Building a church has more of a macro approach. It might be more aimed at a demographic (i.e. young families, single professionals, boomers…jk) within a region. Building a church is contingent upon gathering a crowd. You then use that crowd to reach more people with Jesus. Naturally, within this church, you have people from many different areas who can take Jesus to their community. Awesome, right! They build a church and reach a community. The primary cause is to attract people to your church. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to reach communities.

The other approach is to reach a community. It is pinpointed not so much one demographic over a broad area, as it is trying to reach the people (even boomers) in a community, town, borough, etc. If you reach enough people with who Jesus is, you attract a crowd, and a church can grow. The primary cause is to reach a community. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to build a church.

The subtle difference isn’t so subtle. When we take the wrong approach to a community, it causes frustration, burnout, and even kills the ministry. Some neighbourhoods in large cities need and want specialized care. Maybe they feel segregated from another district who seems to get all the attention. Perhaps you’re in a rural area where there are no surrounding communities to draw. Try building a church in a community of a thousand, and it might be tough sledding. Yes, there may be people who travel from outside your ‘hood to attend whatever your gathering is, but you will miss out on reaching the community right in front of you because your net is cast too wide. In business, you might say, “Know your lane and do it well.”

However, you could find yourself in a municipality with a transient community. People may take pride in their community, but they are willing to travel across town or into a different city to have the amenity that they want. If someone became super focused on a specific area in this context, they could be throttling their growth. In business, you might call this diversification.

Where this can get challenging is in the comparison game. Pastors, boards, and parishioners always have, and it appears they always will compare themselves to one another. While both approaches goal is ultimately to reach people, they are different and cannot be compared. You might say you cannot compare Walmart to Patagonia. While one seems to literally sell everything, the other has a particular focus. You might like the example of Karl Vaters, who compares these types of churches to Ikea and Starbucks. There is one Ikea per million people where there might be a Starbucks in every neighbourhood. They both want to reach new customers, however, their approach is different. Starbucks doesn’t want you to drive across town for your double mocha blond roast with extra whip. They want you to go to your neighbourhood shop to the barista who knows your name. How bad would it be for business if Ikea were to set up shop in each district? That would be insane!!!

Yet so often in our church world, pastors don’t apply the right model. They want the numerical growth of this church or the neighbourhood impact of that church. While in either model, you can eventually have both, and it is something to build toward.

If your church is in a small community, a niche demographic, a segregated borough, remember what God has called you to. He has called you to reach those people. Never ignore the one for the hundreds you might wish you had.

If your church is in a city or a commuting municipality, remember that you have an opportunity to throw a broad net to reach out to many different people in different places. God has called you to that region. Never tunnel your vision so narrow that you cannot see the forest for the trees.

Finally, please…learn from one another. Church builders learn how to reach communities from community impactors and apply the principles to your small groups. Community reachers learn from the church builders on how to scale the impact you are making so that you can grow and multiply to reach other communities and people.

We are all a part of the kingdom. We just must remember which is your part.

A season to plant—A season to water, but God

And so the war begins. Maybe war is too strong of a word. There is however a clear distinction between two styles of churches and both think that they know the best way to do it.

Are you an attractional church? Maybe a church you can invite your friends to. After all, the church is the hope of the world. Or perhaps you’re a church that emphasizes the Word? Didn’t Jesus tell us to teach people to obey? Indeed, the Scriptures help reveal to us who God is, and if we can’t recognize who God is in the pantheon of gods, how can we have a relationship with him?

There often appears to be two types of healthy churches out there, churches that are good at planting seeds and ones that water well. Of course, there are the dysfunctional churches that keep seeds to themselves, and there is no water in sight, but that is for another blog.

What I have too often seen is that these two types of churches battle between which is the better/more-biblical model. What ends up is a reciprocal argument. “We want people to feel this is a safe place to discover Jesus.” “Yes, we need to communicate the Good News, but they need to know the whole of Scripture.” “But, you can’t disciple if there are no converts.”

It reminds me of the battle in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the discord in the church where the people were aligning themselves to one person of the Gospel or the other. The Apostle Paul was travelling around and telling people of the Good News that Jesus has come to be their Saviour. The other guy, Apollos, was in the teaching/discipleship vein. Sound familiar?

The Corinth Church began to argue on which was correct. They found themselves in camps. It is like modern-day people saying, “I’m a disciple of Billy Graham,” and another saying, “I’m a disciple of Wayne Grudem.” Or saying that one group are disciples of Nicky Gumble and another is a disciple of N.T. Wright, and allowing it to destroy the Christian fellowship between them. The argument is silly. They all want to point people to Christ. They do it in different ways and are for different points of the journey.

We have puffed out chests—inflated egos, rather than humility, and wanting to learn from each other. What ends up happening is that we create idols out of style, personality, models, and theology. Instead, we should be looking to God first and have the humility to learn from one another.

The Apostle Paul writes it like this, ” I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthian 3:6

I don’t care what you have done, what you know, how charming, experienced, or connected you are, unless the Holy Spirit is working, your church will never grow.

Sure, we may be able to get people in a room by our marketing savvy, maybe even be able to close the “back door” with our groups and programs, but God requires more of us. On the flip side, there’s a tendency to be so engrossed in the Word, that we miss what it is saying. We can be so busy learning about what God is that we never enter into the relationship to know who God is—to know His heart.

We have planters. We have waterers. Maybe you are either or depending on the season. However, we must always always always remember that it is God who makes it grow.

Instead of the war of words—the whose doing it better—we need to seek how to learn from each other and accept the challenge from each other to do better in what Christ has called the church to be.

Yesterday I sat in Starbuck’s across the table from a colleague who used to pastor in the same town as me. We talked about ministry. We encouraged each other in where God has called us, and what God has called us to. We did it because we are united in Christ. He, a Reformed Presbyterian, and myself a (some would say more liberal in my theology) Pentecostal. Challenging and encouraging. A hardcore Calvinist and me, a hardcore non-Calvinist.

It’s not about who does what. It is about pointing people to Christ. It is about knowing the heart of God. It’s about being united because we are all a part of the same family, the family of God. Most importantly, it is about having the humility to know that we don’t have it all together and that no matter how good we think we are, God is bigger and greater and is the only one who can bring real lasting, life-changing growth.

Is your church’s brand an idol?

Their signs were all along the road. The flags stood high in the air, letting me know I was in the right place. As I entered the parking lot, it was filled with cars with the church logo in their windows. Approaching the sanctuary, directly to the right of the door, was the merch table. I could buy a t-shirt with the church’s logo on it. 

No mention of Jesus. 

No mention of God.

No mention of the mission.

Just the logo.

Here’s the thing, minus the merch table, this could have described my church.

In the beginning, it was so important that people knew we were different from the other churches. I wanted the people in my community when they thought of church to have mine come to their mind first. After all, isn’t it about getting people in the door?

The point of the church is to proclaim that there is a better way. Jesus comes with love, hope, and liberty. Jesus’ Kingdom is being established in hearts and changing lives.

We want others to be a part of that.

Yet what I see, and what I have had to address in my own heart, is that we are creating organizational kingdoms and not Christ centred ones. Churches have become more concerned about branding their church and living out the mission of the church rather than proclaiming Christ and living out the life God is calling us too. Church’s do service projects in their community for the publicity rather than out of a heart of love. They love to broadcast all their good deeds, some are even God deeds, yet their self-praise ends up leaving them hollow.

I fear that we are treading too close to a Pharisaic mindset.

In the Scriptures, the book of Matthew takes the role of calling out the hypocrisy within the faith community. There were no “Christians” at the time. Thus, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish community, the one he was a part of. You see, the Jewish religious leaders of the time were more concerned about showing off the brand of their religion—holiness and piousness. In the book of Matthew, especially in chapter twenty-three, Jesus calls out the religious leaders tie to their religious brand, the promoting of themselves, and their lack of Integrity.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.”

Matt 23:5-7

It is not about your brand. It is about the Kingdom of God. It’s about a God who loved us enough, that while we were still covered in the muck of our misdeeds, he comes to lifts us out.

I love what Neil Cole writes,

“There are many books, tapes, seminars, an CD’s made to help people build the church, but if you are building the church, it isn’t the church. Jesus did not say ‘And upon this rock you will build my church.’ Jesus, an only Jesus, builds the church. If we build a church that is based on a charismatic personality, an innovative methodology, or anything else, we have a church that is inferior to that which Jesus would build.”

Your church isn’t about you, your church name or logo, your pastor, system, style, or whatever else you can think of.

The Church of Christ is about one thing, Christ. He will build it. Not your savvy.

Sure, you can market people into the building. We can appeal and dazzle. Unfortunately, time and time again, what I see is that people are attracted by the brand and then commissioned to be spokespersons’ of the church rather than the cross.

The Church is called to more. Let’s set aside the idol of our brand and instead pursue hearts that align with what it means to be a Christ Kingdom builder.

Check out the resources used in this post

3 things to get the most out of Sunday

If you are a regular church-goer then Sunday, more than likely, is the day when you gather with others who are on the same spiritual journey as you.

There are many reasons why we do this. To learn, be challenged, and fellowship with others, are to name a few. There are, however, times when this does not happen. It is quite easy to walk away from a Sunday service and feel, was that it? 

Whether you have felt like that or you always walk away satisfied, there are three things you can do before Sunday ever happens so that you can get the most out of Sunday (or whichever day you meet).

I break them down to heart, body, and mind.

1) Heart

This may seem obvious, but to get the most out of Sunday, you need to prepare your heart. But what does it mean to prepare your heart? 

To prepare your heart begins with prayer. Prayer is about repentance, thanksgiving, petition, lament. 

Consider prayers like this the tenderiser and your heart the meat. Now the Sunday becomes the grill. While not the perfect analogy, I hope you can get the picture. 

Sunday is a time when God speaks to His body corporately, which you are a part of. As Greg Boyd writes,

“…our heart conditions our ability to see and understand spiritual truths…”

You need to do your part to set aside the weekly distraction in order to hear what God is saying, which leads us to the second one.

2) Body

I’m not talking about spiritual jumping jacks or shoulder exercises so you can hold your hands up longer. Body has nothing to do with your physical body.

As mentioned previously, your part of the body of Christ. As a member of that body, you need to help the body get ready for what God is saying to His Church. You have just as much of a responsibility to help prepare the body for game day (to use a sports slogan), as anyone else.

Call someone up form your church have coffee, maybe lunch, or a someone for dinner and discuss spiritual matters. If your church has small groups, engage in them. Proverbs states that we are to be,

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17. 

A great way to get the most out of Sunday is to engage others with what God is doing in your life, their life, and the church as a wholes life.

3) Mind

Depending on your tradition, this is either over or underemphasized. In most cases, it’s the latter. Surprisingly, it is almost demonized. Yet, Jesus told us to love him with all our mind (Mark 12:30, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27).

Here’s the thing, it’s easy to be lazy. When you are lazy with your mind on spiritual matters, you do your self a disservice. Most churches nowadays do series. That means you can know the topic of the series and the Scripture before it ever comes. Pick up a commentary and do a little study. Even if you’re not a reader, it’s easy to either read a verse or listen to it. Once you do that, think about it, talk about it, pray about it. You can even find other sermons or podcasts on that Scripture.

Even if you don’t know what is coming next, you know what has happened. Engage the previous Sunday. Talk, pray, and think. Do as much as you can to engage the text and hear what God is speaking to you through it.

If you do these three, I guarantee that you will get the most out of your Sunday experience.

Checkout the resources used in this blog

Did the Supermarket wreck the Church?

Post world war two the world began to change, according to a recent Freakonomics episode, when it came to how you purchase food.

Post-war marked the supermarket age. Northern hemisphere countries, inspired by the “innovations” in the U.S.A., began to have one-stop shops. Mass-produced products started to be in demand.

For this mass-produced revolution to happen, it meant that our food needed to change. For food to be efficiently produced, harvester machines had to collect tomatoes. That meant the tomato had to be genetically modified. They needed to be harder–more resilient. Chicken also began to be modified. Bigger breasted and lighter feathers. This meant more meat that looks better in a package.

These advancements were necessary to have lots of food for a little cost. More bang per buck. The problem is, food isn’t as nutritious as it once was, some have argued it’s even dangerous. However, it is a necessary evil if we want maximum food for a minimum price.

If you are a Gen X’er or Xennial like myself, it was our grandparents who built the modern world, hence their generational name “builder.” While they did an excellent job giving us infrastructure in a post-war world, the development of mass-produced houses, cars, and as we have spoken of, food has dramatically affected our lives.

I believe something happened similar to this with the church within the same period. This is not to say that our grandparents intentionally stripped the church of nutrition, not in the slightest. What I believe is that well-meaning Christians began to do work that had a tremendous impact, but the cumulative side effects (just as in the agricultural world) have been detrimental.

To become more productive (mass-producing Christians) and make the product cheaper (buy-in costs less), we have modified what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship became a program. It is not that the big box megachurch is bad. It is that as anything thing becomes larger the small things that make it what it is, become increasingly more difficult to accomplish. After all, the kind of discipleship that Jesus and other followers modelled for us is not mass-producing, nor is it cheap. One might even call it inefficient.

With the industrialization of everything, the builders changed the world, not excluding the church. The neighbourhood church, like the mom and pop stores, faded away as society moved toward more efficient forms of church–the big box one-stop-shop church. After all, we can preach to more people, more revenue is pooled together, and it is cheaper.

What I mean by cheaper is that you can have all the amenities, maybe even more, with less buy-in. You can have the best speaking, music, and Sunday experience while giving less money and time. It becomes a lot easier to pull off “church” because more people giving less is more than fewer people giving more (time, money, and resources).

While this model has been successful at gathering crowds and more so introducing the character of Jesus, more often than not, it has offered light feathered, large breasted chickens, so to speak. It’s not intentional, but merely the design.

Is the solution to go back to the neighbourhood church? Maybe, but there’s a problem.

The problem lies in this, just as in our store analogy where the local shop begins to lose business and thus begins to copy the big box stores to sell the same product, they never can at the same price. The local store offers compromised food at a higher cost. The local church begins to make following Jesus into a Sunday experience while still demanding the in-depth relational collateral and workload of local church ministry. The price simply starts to surpass the return.

Neither of these speaks of the vocation in which Jesus has called us and the Holy Spirit has empowered us. The church, both large and small, has got into the business of running efficient service rather than the painstaking work of disciple-making.

In recent years there has been a push back in the food industry. People have been demanding free-range meat and non-GMO products. What is interesting is that people can taste the difference. If you’re really paying attention, you can even see the difference. To get this kind of food, it does cost more. Yet, those who have chased the products of how food should be, say they have discovered that it is worth the extra cost.

People are beginning to seek the same thing when it comes to a relationship with God and the church. As some Christians have sought and found the free-range non-GMO church, they have noticed that though it makes a greater demand on their life, it is genuinely better. There is a greater buy-in, the processes of making other disciples take a lot longer, yet the end product is much better (for lack of better language).

There is a contingent of churches and church leaders who are striving to usher a new healthier church back into the mainstream. They are trying to manifest what it looks like when Jesus said: “Go tell of the good news of God…baptize,… and teach them to obey…”

The fix isn’t the big box nor the local church. The repair is to reencounter the King of Kings, Jesus. It is His Spirit, the Holy Spirit the will reinvigorate all our churches. We need to hear his demand on our hearts again. As far as de-industrializing our churches, I honestly don’t know the solution. How do you produce quantity and quality?

Maybe you know. I hope you do.

We need to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Our big and small GMO churches have left people wanting more and allowed our culture to become morally bankrupt. We need a free-range church. We need to seek what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Your churches prognosis doesn’t have to be a diagnosis.

Just because you have been pronounced dead, it doesn’t mean that is the end.

Sure, death seems final. After all, the lungs and heart are no longer pumping, and the brain is no longer firing. Yet, I’ve heard of people coming back to life.

My father is in the military and has had the opportunity to meet some exciting fellows over the years. One time he invited his friend who was in the Australian special forces over for dinner. He began to tell us stories of grand adventures as if they were pulled straight out of a Robert Ludlum book. Amid these stories I presume to be true due to their wild nature––without revealing too many details (after all, if he told he would have to kill me…)–he stated that three times he awoke with a priest over him pronouncing his last rights.

Clearly, death is not the final note!

Just because someone else has pronounced you dead that doesn’t mean you are. You aren’t dead until you decide you are, not until you give in to death (which isn’t necessarily a bad–a natural life cycle has death at the end).

What I am alluding to isn’t the death of the physical body, although this may certainly apply. What I am thinking of is all the talk of the cycle of an organization or a church. Whether it is Les McKeown’s wheel of Predictable success or a someone like Paul Borden’s life cycle of a church, an organization can find themselves pegged on the wheel and deem themselves to have no hope. These are not to tell you to roll over and die. No! These tools are to help you diagnose symptoms. Whether in business or the church, these resources are meant as a prognosis, not a diagnosis. Yet, big and small churches alike confuse the two and accept a lesser fate then they should.

Congregations all across the world have been pronounced dead by communities, politicians, philosophers, and most shockingly, other church leaders. While it may be true that these congregations are operating in a “death Rattle” (to use Les McKeown’s phrase, until the congregation either gives up or in, there is always a chance that there can be life again.

In the vein of Jesus, many parables about plants (mustard seeds, scattering seeds, and vineyards). I would like to tell you about my orchid.

Two years ago on a Mother’s Day (or was it anniversary…or maybe it was Valentines), I bought my wife an orchid. I had heard on an episode of Stuff You Should Know that they were a pretty resilient flower, which is perfect for my wife. Let’s just say my wife is the place plants go to die. My wife tended the plant while it was in bloom, but as soon as the petals fell, she pronounced it dead. Yet, we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it away. It didn’t have flowers or buds. Just the stem was sticking up from green leaves.

The green leaves should have been a sign to us that life was possible. We just figured that there was no hope that the leaves and the stems were merely signs of past life and not the present.

The plant stayed in this state for over a year.

Over a year of no flowers–no buds.

Our neighbour is one of those weird plant people. What I mean is her plants live… When she saw our plant, she just couldn’t help but perform her plant voodoo on it.

She explained how the orchid wasn’t dead. She did this water and drain thing and told us to only give it a little water once a week.

Now that is my kind of plant.

We watered once a week.

Just over two years after this plant had lost its last flower, it now sprung life. Currently, multiple buds are ready to bloom.

Just because things seem dead, it doesn’t mean they are. Sometimes we just need an expert to give us a little nudge on in the right direction, on how to foster life.

It is recorded that Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me?

Jn 15:1–4

What we first must do is yield to God and allow Him to prune our life. We also need him to prune the branches in our churches. Trimming the dead branches off, God brings the plant back to life. The sacred cows get thrown away, selfishness departs, and desire to see people encounter the risen Christ remains and grows.

We can also learn a little from our neighbours. Like my wife and I did about our orchid. Authors like Thom Rainer, Rich Birch, Daniel Im, or Nelson Searcy have great resources for you to begin to trim branches, see the prognosis, and foster life.

Just because you have been pronounced dead, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. There could be new life right around the corner, you just need the knowledge and tools to make life happen.

We must yield the gardener, God. We must be willing to hear the advice of those who have travelled this road before. We must see the prognosis is not always a diagnosis.

Where have you seen a prognosis be accepted aa a death sentence?

Check out the resources used in this post

3 Things you Should do Before Leaving a Church

“I need a church that meets my needs” as if we’re a pre-teen relationship and not the body of Christ, people leave the churches they attend all the time. Where I live, there’s a known circuit, with a few new churches entering the loop. This is not unique to where I live.

With all these people going from one church to another, we need to ask ourselves, What are the steps we should take before we head for green pastures (or pastors).

Here is my take on the three steps you should take

(1) Is it personal or theological? Evaluate.

Personal issues can happen in various ways. Some are serious, but usually, they are not. Whenever you are in a community of people, there will be personality clashes. We see it on sports teams–we see it in the workplace–we see it in church. Chester and Timmis write,

“Community may sound exciting in theory, but in practice it is also painful and messy. When you share your lives with people, you can be sure you will annoy one another! But grace makes us humble.”

The church is called to live in the community it is designed for, but as these authors point out, it is difficult. However, as they also note, grace becomes a powerful tool. Most times, when something gets “personal” in a bad way, and we want to leave a church, it is for a minor issue. Usually a different opinion, an offence over a statement, or perception about a situation.

Way too often, people are easily offended and leave a church, not reconciling the relationships nor feelings.

This is not how we have been called to act!

We are called to love one another! Jesus stated in the book of John, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Community isn’t our calling. It’s to love each other. Community is the result of the love. “Those who are in love with community, destroy community;” writes Bonhoeffer. “..those who love people, build community.” We need each other. If we throw away relationships like used paper towel, we are left alone with a mess and no one to help us clean it up. As the old Italian proverb says, “The one who drinks alone, chokes.”

Personal issues are just that–personal. Usually, it has something to do with you. If it does have more to do with the other person, then you talk about it. {spoiler alert}

The Church needs different personalities. That includes the weird and difficult ones. Plus, how do you know you are not the weird and difficult one? Just because your friends tell you you’re not doesn’t mean a thing (who is to say they don’t fall in the weird and difficult category too!).

I believe there would be a lot less movement from church to church if we all gave each other a little grace. What if instead of leaving we were part of the solution. What if God wants to use you as an agent of change towards His grace and love?

The second part of this is theological. Just like personal, so much of this is your interpretation. We need to weigh whether the theological issue is a small issue or a significant issue. Paul told Timothy that the church was not to “argue about words.” Churches argue about some of the most foolish, small, unimportant theological issues. We should be able to have disagreements on matters without it meaning splitting a church. After all, we are to be known by our love.

Yes, of course, there are significant differences. Egalitarian vs. Complementarian–Calvinist vs. Arminian/openness–sola Scriptura vs. traditional readings. Such differences can make it hard to find theological unity. They can tend to be distractions to our growth in Christ. So while we are to love each other in Christ, we can grow deeper in our faith when we can find agreement on significant issues.

There are also small issues. Who wrote 2 Peter? Is Job or Jonah a parable? Was Jesus born on Dec 25 or not? (idk). No need to fight! These are nothing to trifle over. These are insignificant, and it is only your pride stopping you from growing together.

We must allow different opinions to spread their wings. If not, we are saying that our interpretation of God and the Scripture are infallible. I hope we all know that that isn’t true for any of us.

(2) Pray. And then pray some more.

Before you pray about whether you should leave a community or not, you should be praying for the people/pastors/deacons/elders who you have an issue with.

Whether it be a personal issue or theological issue, our humanity can get in the way. We can be set off by a comment, opinion or body language, and it can skew our whole entire thought process. I love what Andy Stanley says about other’s words,

“When someone’s words stir something inside of you, remember, it’s inside you. That makes it a you issue. You need to own it.”

Yes, they may have issues, but what is happening in you at that moment is “a you” thing, and you need to take it to God. Often we react when things begin to stir. While accountability and understanding are essential, they need to happen within the context of love. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are a body. We want the body working in wholeness.

There is a caveat though. Your temptation will be to pray for God to change their mind/attitude/heart. That’s normal. After all, you are the offended or the one in the right, and God clearly needs to work in their heart…..

Not so fast.

Don’t be so self-righteous. We are all broken people who are addicted to our selfishness.

When you pray for them, you need to be praying that God blesses them and pours His amazing love upon them. After all, Jesus did say to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. I believe your heart will begin to be changed, after all, that is all you can control.

When you pray for them, it helps you see them for who they are–a child of God. It helps you push past the issue and see a God-loved-child who is a part of the body of Christ. It will also help you see that your battle isn’t against that person or their opinion/worldview but,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:12

The Pastor isn’t your enemy. Dorthy, the worship leader, isn’t your nemesis. Just because Tom has an opinion about everything and feels free to share it despite how it makes others feel, that doesn’t mean he’s the villain. Our enemy is the brokenness from Hell itself that is ravishing each and every one of our lives, the brokenness that God has come to break.

Pray blessing on the person or church and ask God to increase your love for them. Do it until it happens. Only as your love increases to a burden are you ready for step three.

(3) Have a responsible, adult conversation. Not an email, text or facebook message.

If we never talk about our issues and each other’s issues, we can never be iron sharpening iron. If you never talk about what is on your heart, don’t assume the other person knows. Living as a body is hard. Just look at your own body. You need to exercise and to eat right as a whole unit, or there will be problems. Talking with each other in loving, responsible, and sensible ways is all a part of the exercise. To wait until you are in crisis is neglecting the body. It is like the person who never takes care of themselves and is then surprised when they have a significant health issue.

This conversation shouldn’t be one where you say that you are leaving nor you threatening to leave. The discussion should be about the health of the relationship, and that person should be the prime directive. After all, now that you have prayed and have a burden for all parties, you should be more concerned about the health of the person and church to which there is an issue.

If your first time discussing the issue you have is when you are wading a threat or say that you are leaving, that is your wrong, and you need to repent. Remember, you can only control your heart.

If you have thought it through, prayed for, and discussed, only then is it appropriate to consider leaving and that discussion needs to be filled with love and care, even if it is only on your end. It is also a discussion that needs to happen face to face. It will probably hurt, but it is the most healthy way to experience an amputation (after all, we are a body).

There are a few other steps that could be added. However, I believe if you follow these three basic steps, you will be along the road to help yourself and our churches be a much healthier place.

What are some steps that you would add?

Check out the resources used in this post

Why you shouldn’t plant a church

It seems like everyone is doing it! Pioneering a church. Did you know that the average church plant closes within the first three years? It is a tough business! The only thing that is tougher is the restaurant business.

Before I get too far into this, I believe we need more new churches.

But if you think you are starting the next Elevation, do yourself and those you serve a favour and don’t!

If you pioneer a church, I hope it explodes! (not literally, that would be awful). I hope you reach billions for Christ.

However, if you only reach a few, would it still be worth it? I hope it would. If you are going to shut things down because you don’t have the numbers you want or the finances aren’t good enough, or life is just hard, please don’t. You need to have tenacity!

There will be struggles in the church. Whether big or small, it is a certainty (about the only certainty).

The hardest part, though, is what happens in your life personally. They are things that no one really cares or thinks about. They are things that will dramatically affect how you do ministry.

I started Life Boat Church 4 years ago. Before planting, there were a ton of things that happened to my wife and me before deciding to move to start a church. However, they were from the outside.

In the vein of 2 Cor 11, here’s my list of things of all that has happened in the last four years.

The gift of blessing, our daughter was born. You’re thinking what, that’s not a difficulty. You’re right. But you’re wrong. Context is everything. At the time, we were living with my parents, which meant 8 people in a house. My parents, me and my wife, our 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 1-year-old. And now, a newborn. We love our kids. But we also love sleep. Two months before our church launched our beautiful daughter was born, we started a church. We were barely sleeping (even now it can be a struggle). But this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Bedbugs! We presume they came from the hospital. As I laid on the bed after our second pre-launch service, I saw a bug crawl across the bed. FLICK! It exploded–full of blood–all over the sheets. Do you know what it is like calling everyone on your launch team and tell them that they need to check their houses just in case I had transferred some to their homes? Added to the sleepless nights, this meant paranoid sleep (I don’t want to recount the memories).

February, as I did a shoulder press with my oldest son, POP. I tore the labrum in my shoulder (it’s the cartridge) and the nerve in the shoulder that goes up the neck and through the back, somehow, got wrapped around the ball of my shoulder. I was sleeping very little due to the newborn, the bed bugs, and now the excruciating shoulder. While I experienced healing with the nerve, I suffered from this for two years. Two years of sleeping 3-4 hours a night… You try being nice! Of course, when you have a portable church, and you can’t pick up heavy stuff–it doesn’t go over well. People don’t care that you’re in severe pain, haven’t slept, and irritable because of it. They care about the fact that they have stuff going on in their life–parents, work, kids. Real things. They’re hurting. They can’t carry yours too.

The next December right before our big Christmas Eve event my daughter, the one who was born the year before, got sick. I mean like really sick. Pneumonia, strep A, sepsis, fluid in her lung. Literally, she almost died. She was in the hospital for twelve days and had to get a chest tube. It was a terrifying scene. My wife stayed in the hospital with her while I watched the three boys while trying to get ready for our Christmas event. I had some fantastic help during this time. However, as much as the support is appreciated, it was only a mild aid to the extreme stress. It was during this time that I wrote the song, Invite You To Move (which is in my blog on May 24, 2019).

We luckily had a little break, other than my chronic shoulder pain and the odd emergency room visit due to the kids breathing and allergies (3out of 4 have anaphylactic allergies. 2 at of 4 have asthma).

Then came 2018. As I spoke about in my blog “What I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you think” (June 24, 2019, where I go into more detail), I was dealing with a lot of stress due to difficult situations with the church. This was when I ended up with shingles. Stress-induced shingles. I was confined to bed for nearly two months, except for Sunday mornings and important meetings.

You might pause, as I did and reflect on if this is for you, again as I did. Thoughts of something different. Maybe a position with more security and with less stress.

We determined that we had to be faithful to what God called us to. In fact, this was an opportunity to learn to be more dependent upon God–to learn what He wanted to teach us in the midst.

This was when we had a fantastic Summer and Fall. I felt refreshed. I had learned so much about my self and what needed to be changed in my life to be more like Christ.

Then came January 2019…

First, my daughter rolled out of her bed as she slept and landed awkwardly on the ground, breaking her collar bone. It happens to lots of kids. It’s a thing; however, it’s not that big of a deal. Yet, this was the beginning!

9 days later…

I joined a basketball league to get to meet some people. After all, my shoulder, after two years, just started to be pain-free. Seemed like a good idea. Noticing that I was the oldest on the court should have been a warning sign. While guarding a guy 10 years younger than me POP… I ruptured my Achilles. If you weren’t aware, this is a 12 month recovery period. I am currently approaching the halfway point, and it has been a long road. I’ve been worn down physically and drained me emotionally. It has also played tricks on me mentally. Yet it has caused wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth.

February was filled with doctors, appointments and physiotherapy.

Then March… my two oldest kids became very ill. They missed a week of school they were so sick. That’s when I heard my wife scream…

I grabbed my crutches and hobbled as quickly as I could to see my 8-year-old as stiff as a board, eyes rolled back, frothing at the mouth, and a deep moan/groan like sound. He was having a seizure. It was scary. VERY VERY Scary. We called the ambulance.

A couple days later, my middle son could barely breathe. He was admitted for four days with a severe asthma attack.

One child can’t lift their arm, I’m on crutches, one son is seeing the neurologist, and one sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator.

It would be really easy to hand in the towel. Life is hard.

Just because life is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be faithful. Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean you get to redefine how God’s calling is manifested in your life.

We need more churches, but if you are going to fold just because things are hard, that’s a good reason why you shouldn’t plant a church.

Starting a church can be hard. Many struggles will arise from within the new fellowship. They can be hard. If you think the battle stops there, you will be disappointed. Satan will stop at nothing to squash the God-dream in your heart and the amazing work you will do.

It is hard, but it is worth it! So so so worth it.

If you were to start a church, where would it be?

Addict in Recovery Church

Recently while working on a message for my church on the “ROI of Church” I came across this quote from Russell Brand’s book Recovery,

“When my disease is on me, the loneliness and hopelessness seem real. One of the first measures I can take to alleviate it is to reach out to another addict.”

Russell Brand

It reminded me of a thought that I’ve had for a long time.

We’re all addicts.

Every.

Single.

Person.

Whether it is something destructive, visible and socially ho-hum or something that is seen as necessary, discrete, and socially praised, we are all addicted to something.

Maybe it’s drugs or alcohol, or perhaps it’s love and affection. Maybe it’s sex or pornography, or perhaps it’s success and praise. It’s time we realize we are all addicts.

I believe that when we begin to recognize that we’re addicts and we decide to start to live in a community of people who realize we are all in recovery, we begin to see fullness and freshness come to our faith and thus, our churches. The church thus acts as a place of recovery, not a place where no one needs to recover.

If each of us would recognize that we are all equally broken, just manifesting it in different ways, I wonder how much more open we would be to “reach out to another addict” as Brand states, and them to us.

In Luke 15, it tells the story of two brothers who on the surface appear to be in complete contrast with each other. The younger, brash and seeking instant gratification, spends all his money on hookers and wild living. He finds himself at the end of life’s rope.

The older is righteous and willing to resist instant gratification. This brother stays at home, denying pleasure, and slaving for his father. Of course, the elder brother thinks he doesn’t have a problem. He is responsible. He works hard.

The younger son decided it would be better to return to his father as an apprentice after losing everything and dangling from the end of life’s rope. After all, he says, “even the hired hands live better than me.” He thinks he has to return home and be a slave for his father.

The older after seeing that his father has welcomed his younger brother home, thrown a huge party, and is calling him a son again pouts and declares that he has denied himself all the wild living and chose to slave for his father. To which the father response was that he never was a slave and all he had to do was ask, and everything would be his.

Though it manifests in different ways, both of these brothers suffered from the same sin. Neither brother knew their father’s heart. While one thought he would become a slave, the other lived as one. The only difference is the younger son’s willingness to repent while the elder lived in self-righteousness.

Whether it is self-indulgence or self-righteousness, the sin remains the same. Just as both brothers lived opposed to the father’s desire, so we do too. We are addicted to doing on our own. Whether it is making ourselves feel good or trying to earn God’s love and affection. When we have a community that is willing to admit they have a “self” problem, no matter which end of the spectrum each person finds themselves, we can be an immense help to each other.

When we are tempted to ignore the father’s heart, we would have someone to call.

Let’s be addicts in recovery church.

Check out the resources used in this post