Friday, September 28, 2007

40 Day Fast - Spiritual Renewal

Well last night I had a fantastic 7 cheese lasagna for dinner. What made it more special was that it was the first food I have eaten since August 18th (I did take in nutriens though water, juice, broth and fruit concoctions made in the blender). I didn't share that part of my 40 day spiritual renewal earlier on because sometimes things like this are easier to talk about after you are done. You get less distracted from your spiritual focus when you don't have to talk about your fast all the time.

Anyway, it was a great time. I haven't felt this close to God since . . . well, since the last time I did a 40 Day Fast with Bill Bright back in 1998. The primary focus of this fast was to recenter my life with God. I think of the time Paul spent in Arabia after his Damascus road experience but before he began his missionary journeys. This fast had a similar purpose. I have almost stopped blogging. I canceled plans to attend 3 conferences including a trip to Europe that I was planning during this time. I just felt like I needed an extended period of time to reconnect to God and evaluate my life.

We have also been praying specifically for a few things like selling our home and a rental property to get out of debt and getting to France to begin the church planting vision that God has put on our hearts. It is interesting that I felt that God was mostly silent on these issues until this last week and really the last day or two. We feel like God began to move in some areas in a big way especially in the last 2 days. We don't have it all figured out yet but are excited to post more about some new directions in our life soon.

Please pray for us and God's direction in our lives right now. We are so committed to him and his service. We will go anywhere and do anything to be right in the middle of his plan and we believe that plan right now includes the vision he has given us for Catalyst France and ultimately for Europe which will be online in the near future as Catalyst Europe Now. God is shaking things up a bit right now and we are excited to be able to share more of this journey as things unfold.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Church Learn from Microsoft?

Either no one was brave enough to comment on my last post or I have lost all my readers during my 40 day Spiritual Renewal. It has been strange that I have gone from blogging everyday to only 11 times in 37 days. I have probably looked at my stats even less than that. I believe that I will get back to more consistent posting when the 40 days is over but I really believe that God has removed blogging from my mind during this time so that I will focus more on listening to Him.

The 40 day period will be over Thursday night. Maybe I will be able to share some about what I have learned or experienced after that.

Anyway, about the church learning from Microsoft blog.

I have heard lots of people say that they hate to hear the church taking anything from the business world. I am sure that sentiment becomes even stronger when we look at really large powerful companies. After all, business is all about profit. When the church becomes about profit, we have sold out, right? Of course. Material profit should never be the motive of the church.

We can still make some comparisons though. If Microsoft is getting new customers and keeping them, we can compare that to the church reaching new people with the gospel message and incorporating them into the ministry of the church. The problem for most people is that since the business is focused on profit that the have different motives that lead to their success.

It seems to me that God created the natural world and that all truth is God's truth. Most would not argue that sin brings pleasure for a while but in the end leads to destruction. The same would probably be true of business. There are businesses that operate illegally or immorally and succeed for a while, but just look at companies like Enron and you can see that even in the business world you cannot continue to succeed outside of God's natural law. Babylon was a great world power for a long time but they fell. Egypt and Rome were great world powers but they fell. Many businesses have come and gone from unethical practices.

I don't believe that the church should try to be like the business world, but there are things that we can learn from some business practices. Unfortunately, we tend to do much of what we do based on tradition. Businesses can't do that or they will die. They have to find ways to interact with modern culture to continue to reach new generations of people. Paul had the same problem. His tradition meant following the Jewish ceremonial laws. When God sent him to the pagan world to preach the gospel he had to find ways to preach that gospel message in a way that non-Jews could understand. The church today faces the same problem.

When we in the church find practices in the business world that seem to be effective at reaching new customers or developing leaders we should take note. It's not that churches need to be more like businesses, but some businesses are better at some of God's principals than some churches. (ouch. that hurt!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Church Could Learn From Microsoft

I saw a post on the MMI blog Monday about how the church could learn from Microsoft (full post). I've reposted the points below without commentary. I'll add the commentary tomorrow. I'd love to here your comments.

1). Hire the Best People—(how many churches hire poorly and then really pay for it? Hire the best people the first time by doing your homework and searching high and low for your next staff member)

2). Bet the Company’s (church’s) Future On Big Opportunities —(that’s called ‘risk’… something many churches NEVER do!)

3). Expect People To fail & Learn from Their Mistakes—(many times, we don’t allow people to make mistakes; many times we don’t allow people enough authority and ownership to make mistakes. I think it has something to do with #2 (our aversion to risk))

4). Insure that Managers Can Do the Work of the People That Report To Them—(this goes to ‘competence’… again, hire well; hire competence… ministry should be a team effort; not a ‘that’s his area and I know nothing about it’ thing)

5). Evaluate People Only On Their Recent Performance— (boy, I see this often… when a staff person fails (see #3), he/she is doomed. Forgive and give another chance. Restore and encourage. Allow for growth and encouragement. You may be surprised what people can pull off!)

6). Spend Money Frugally—(Many churches are frugal because they have to be. Others spend money like it’s going out of style. Make sure your spending match’s your vision and purpose… otherwise you might as well throw it out into the street)

7). Manage A Large Company (church) Like A Collection of Small, Independent Companies (churches) —(I think we’re starting to see this happen more these days)

8). Know What Is Actually Going On In the Company—(again, ministry is a team thing… be sure you know what’s happening in other areas, not just your own.)

9). Establish an “esprit de cour” (a spirit of cooperation) to motivate People To Superior Performance—(isn’t this biblical?)

10). Never Make Your Employees Put Up with Stupid Rules—(ok… be honest… does your church have any stupid rules? Why?)

11). Create an Office Atmosphere That’s Like a Home Away from Home— (people always work best when they’re comfortable)

12). (a rule specific to Microsoft’s environment): Focus On Total World Domination—(OK… ‘world domination’ sounds a little strong; but in our ‘business’ it would be a great thing, wouldn’t it? To see the church and Christ’s impact on the world increase would be awesome.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Wife - Real Life Superhero

Last weekend we went to the first 5k off the season in the Raleigh area. Gina started of the season right, by winning overall female. She beat all the women, not just the masters.

Yesterday, Gina ran the Magnificent Mile in Raleigh. It also served as the USATF North Carolina 1 mile Championship. Gina won the female masters division. Infact, she broke the the state USATF record. I think "smashed the record" was the terminology they used. I am a proud husband. How many 39 year old men are married to a woman who can run a 5:26 mile? She was even invited by a race director to run the USATF NC 5k & Half Marathon Championship races ... expenses paid. Did I mention that the Half Marathon is at the beach?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sacrifice to Reach the Lost

I met Vince Antonucci at the Exponential Conference in Orlando earlier this year. He recently planted a church in Virginia Beach called Forefront Church. He really means it when he says they focus on reaching people far from God. He wrote a great blog yesterday about sacrificing in order to reach the lost. It is powerful. I've reposted the whole thing here.

So how do we improve at reaching lost people? First, we need to understand God’s heart for lost people. Probably we even need to have God’s heart for lost people. Without that, I don’t think it will help to learn how to do a worship service that connects with the lost, or a new effective way to share the gospel with the lost, or creative marketing ideas that will get lost people to show up.

Why won’t it help?

Because it will always be easier to not reach the lost. It will always be easier to reach the saved and seek to keep them happy. And so even if we know how to reach lost people eventually we will stop trying because it’s just too difficult.

This is why every church wants to reach lost people, but so few do.

I read a story about Jeff Van Gundy, who used to be the basketball coach of the New York Knicks. Later he was hired to coach the Houston Rockets. The day he was hired he left the press conference and went straight to the airport. He took a plane to the hometown of Steve Francis. Steve Francis was the Rockets’ point guard, and one of the better players in the NBA. But Steve Francis had led the Rockets in shots and in scoring every year of his career. That is not the role of a point guard. Point guards distribute the ball. They get everyone else involved and should rarely take shots. So Jeff Van Gundy flies to Steve Francis’ hometown, drove to his house, knocked on his door, walks in, sits across a table from him, looks him in the eye, and says, “Steve, everyone wants to be on a winning team. The question is: Are you willing to sacrifice to be on a winning team?”

And every church wants to reach lost people, the question is: Are you willing to sacrifice to reach lost people?

Because there are sacrifices if you want to reach lost people. There are costs you will pay.

  • There’s the reality that if you reach out to truly lost people, you’re gonna have people curse in yor sanctuary. We had someone curse in a baptistery!
  • There is a lot of extra work, many hours, that goes into having facilities that look great, rather than settling for good enough.
  • There is the messiness of the lives of people you will reach – and you will get drug into their messes.
  • There’s the burden of having to fire people on your staff who don’t live up to the standards that you’re striving for rather than taking the easy way out of just keeping them around so that you don’t make waves.
  • There’s the cost that you will be criticized by other churches for the methods you’re using. I’ve had someone call me and say, “You hand-clapping gospel puke!” and hang up on me
  • You’ll have thumb-sucking Christians whining to you all the time about how they’re “not getting fed.”
  • You will lose people in your church who don’t understand why you do things the way you do and why you focus so much on unchurched people. Those people you lose may be tithers. We have lost the biggest giving family in our church in the last year … twice! They left, came back, and now they’ve left again. And they’ve taken their money with them. That’s a real cost!
  • And if you seek to reach people who are truly unchurched rather than those who go to other churches, well non-Christian, unchurched people don’t tithe. And so there will be less income for your church, and therefore less salary for you.
    You will have people who dress wrong, people with Mohawks, people who smoke on the church patio, people sitting in the middle of your sanctuary who smell like beer.

Everyone wants to be part of a church that reaches lost people, the question is: Are you willing to sacrifice to be part of a church that reaches lost people? Most aren’t. And if you’re not, well, who will?

The truth is that we’ll never be willing to make those sacrifices until we understand and have God’s heart for lost people.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Out of Control

I have felt closer to God during this time of spiritual renewal than I have in a long time. That's kind of the point, I know. It is interesting how he has taken many normal desires away from me (like blogging and reading blogs), at least temporarily, to allow me to focus more on him.

Anyway, I did read a blog by Craig Groeschel this morning that I thought was really good. Here's a most of it:

I’ve experienced innumerable benefits and deep satisfaction leading a growing ministry. But with each step up in influence and effectiveness, I’ve had to give up something that was hard to surrender. This week I’ll talk about five things you might have to “give up to go up.”

Give Up Control

One of the first things you must give up to go up is control. Most of us like to control the things around us—especially in ministry.

Some thoughts on control:

  • The smaller your ministry is, the easier it is to control.
  • The more you try to control your ministry, the more you’ll limit it.
  • People who fight to stay in control might attract followers, but they rarely attract leaders.
  • Growing leaders learn to delegate authority, not just responsibility.
  • Growing ministries are always out of control.
  • If we try to control everything, we’re squeezing God out of our ministries.

What are you trying to control that you need to surrender?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'll Make You Famous

For the last 35 days I have been praying for the children in Africa with Children's Cup. They set up a special time of 40 days of prayer each year where you can learn about many of their Care Point ministries there and pray for them specifically. I encourage you to go to their site and join us in prayer even though you may pray beyond the 40 days.

As I have been reading about the children with Children's Cup and contemplating getting involved in the youth program at my church, God has been speaking to me. I worked in youth ministry for several years throughout my time in seminary. At one point I became a little frustrated because I couldn't seem to get some of the kids to be respectful. I think it made me mad that they would disrespect God and the people he called to serve them. It was at this point where I decided I was not cut out for youth ministry.

This morning I sensed God speaking to me and saying, "you need to see them the way I see them; as the future." I think that I have always known that the youth are the future, but I never looked at each one as if he or she were the future. If you work with youth you will likely never be famous, but you can make an investment in making someone else famous. And that investment in young people will make God famous.

Most of our churches have huge generational gaps in them because we are not investing in succeeding generations. If we don't connect with these generations in our churches, we will never connect to those generations outside our churches. We need to quit thinking of youth ministry as a another ministry in the church that will need some funding and begin thinking of youth ministry as our church's future. We not only need to train them up, but we need their help to train us to reach their generation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Be Secure in Your Calling

I was doing some missions recruiting this last spring at Columbia International University. I had been reading the blog of a pastor named Gary Lamb for about 6 months prior to my trip. He pastors a church in Canton, GA called Revolution Church. I decided while I was in the neighborhood(?) I would take an extra 9 hours to drop in an visit Gary in the Atlanta area.

I really liked Gary. He can be a little over the top for Christians to take but he is very real and just naive enough to reach those people who most pastors would never reach. He started his outreach in bars because he understood that culture from his own life before Christ. He reminds me of the disciples. When God changed him he went to reach those from his own culture and community rather than join the ranks of the church elite. He is the real deal and is turning the city of Canton upside down for Jesus with his raw faith.

Check out this awesome post he wrote on Being Secure in your Calling.