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Friday Thoughts – Idols

Fri ,16/01/2009

American Idol started this week and I can’t be more excited. Yes – Sarah Beth and I are Idol junkies. We love to watch people succeed and we love to cringe when people mess up. I’ve got my favorite American Idols – Carrie Underwood and Daughtry, as well as my least favorite – that “Soul Patrol” guy. But all in all – I really, really, really like American Idol. In fact before we got DVR we wouldn’t answer our phones during that sacred hour. Now I know what you’re thinking: Chip is about to write about how we idolize people and we should be prioritizing Christ. No – that isn’t it at all, but I do want to reflect on some of the major idols that the church deals with.

If you watch American Idol there are several critiques that the judges give that they think will help the “star-wanna-be” better. 1) You must be able to sing, but the best singer doesn’t always win. 2) You must “look” the part, this is a big deal. 3) There must be the “x” factor, something about the person that is like-able – Kelly Clarkston was a great example of that. She wasnt’ the best singer (in my opinion), but she did have that “x” factor. All of this combined will hopefully propel this person to success. Here is my point: The church tends to be the same way in its desire to discover “success” or become “successful.”

For the last few weeks I’ve been wrestling with the “idols” that the church has erected in order to be “successful.” So here are a few thoughts:

1) The Idol Of Nickels and Noses – If you have a lot of people, and you have a big budget then you must be a great church. Well let’s back up for a moment. I do believe that a healthy church is a growing church, but unhealthy churches attract people as well. There are churches everywhere that don’t teach the gospel, but attract large crowds. One prominent preacher stands up every week in his coliseum out west and never speaks of repentance, forgiveness and holiness – but there is a lot of positivity going on. We have to be very careful because this is the idol that we tend to buy into the most.

2) The Idol Of Programs – Now this is something that may make you a little uncomfortable, but it is so true. Many see that a churches success is built upon the number of “programs” that they have. I recently read of a church that had about 400 people in weekly attendance and over 150 different programs. Guess what was happening to that church? It was losing more and more people each year. Programs are relatively new thing to Christianity – in fact the word “youth minister” or “childrens minister” did not exist 75 years ago. Programs are important and good, but they don’t make a church a “good” church.

3) The Idol Of Being Trendy – If we wear our jeans, have a kicking worship team, serve coffee before worship, and multi-media in our service (and anything else creative that you can think of) then it must be a “good” church (sounds a lot like our church). Do you know that worship music is only about 500-600 years old in the local church, that the hymns that we deem as old and traditional were probably set to bar tunes in order to better relate to those who had come out of the bars and into church, and that the music that was cutting edge in 1995 is now seen as “old”. Think about it: how many people still wear the “wwjd” bracelet, when was the last time you saw a bumper sticker that said “Jesus is my co-pilot” and whatever happened to “DC Talk”? Trends come and go, so there has to be something more.

4) The Idol Of Evangelism Programs – What do I mean by this? We send out thousands of postcards every year. Next week we’ll be sending out 20,000 to invite people to church. There are business cards at the welcome center that you can take and give to your friends to invite them to church, our website is very user friendly for those who may want to visit, and I love what our greeters do for first time guests each week. Not only that, there are thousands of books, programs and seminars to teach people how to share their faith – I just read of a new one yesterday called the “evangecube” for kids. These are all very, very, important things – and we will do them because people matter to us, but I want to remind you as a leader and as a church member of one important thought: the means of expressing Christ is important, but the message of Christ is more important. We cannot count on a postcard to bring people to church – we must depend upon Christ, and act accordingly. The Bible tells us that “blessed are the feet who bring good news” – so bring good news to people. Christ works through you – we are his instruments. Don’t depend on the program too much.

Idols can be set up easily and quickly. We see success through the use of certain tools, we feel comfortable with certain trends, or specific programs are helpful – so that means it must be successful, right? The means of conveying the message of Christ is not the measure of success – it is Jesus. So as we walk together through the next month, year, 20 years – no matter what the size, program, trend or technique used to bring truth and people together – there must be a foundational commitment to the power of Christ (read Ephesians 1:17-22) moving through His people.

When Life Gives You Lemons….Sometimes You Need To Drink OJ

Fri ,25/07/2008

I love to enter a challenging situation and come out of it victoriously. There is something about persevering through difficult situations and seeing the task through. So as I write this I want you to understand that I’m a big believer is taking the lemons of life and making it into lemonade; but sometimes we need to switch to OJ. What do I mean by this – well I mean that sometimes we waste so much time, energy and opportunity on proving that we can “make it” that we miss the opportunities laid before us. The focus is not quiting, but changing direction or tactics.

So how do we know when its time to drink OJ? Here are some thoughts:

1) Ask yourself if the current challenge is geared for your giftedness and personality. For instance, I may want to take on the challenge of being a world class gymnast, but the reality is that I can’t even touch my toes without pain. So we have to filter our decisions through the context in which God has made us.

2) Ask yourself is the current challenge is what God has for you. What I mean is that sometimes chasing dreams is not always following God’s will. The challenges may not be lemons they may be directional signs.

3) Ask yourself is the current challenge taking an unnecessary toll on your family. Now before we go any farther I want you to know that there have been times in my life when God has led us in a certain direction that has been hard on our family, but there was always a sense of peace. Sometimes the toll that the family has to deal with is not worth accomplishment that might be achieved in the future.

4) Ask yourself is the achieved end the legacy you want to leave. If you do persevere through the challenges – if you do make lemonade – is that the legacy that you want to be known for. I have found the greatest peace in pursuing the “lesser” things because they were the pursuits that God would have me chase.

 I’m not saying quit – but what I am saying is that as you fight – make sure it is the good fight and not the egotistical fight.

Back In The Saddle

Sat ,28/06/2008

For a few days this week – we took the kids to the beach (I love Jekyll Island). It was really cool because there was no cell phone service and I left my laptop at home. We had a great time, but not a lot of time for spiritual refreshment – which leads me to this question: How can I increase my discipline to be more effective in increasing God’s kingdom in my life, my family and my ministry? I have two kids under four, a house to maintain (to help my wife maintain), a gym membership, church stuff, school stuff and time that I need (and want) to spend with my family. There are a few other priorities in my life, but there seems to be too little time for rest and spiritual discipline – and don’t get me started on working out – I believe that paying a gym membership should guarantee automatic weight loss and athletic stamina. So how do you do it all in a 24 hour period – and still get enough sleep to function well the next day? I don’t know – but I’m going to work real hard to find out. This vacation was great – and needed – but now its time to figure all this stuff out. Any thoughts?

Podcast-Contextualization

Tue ,24/06/2008

Check out the podcast I had the opportunity to do with NAMB – http://www.churchplantingvillage.net/site/c.iiJTKZPEJpH/b.4276707/ – I learned so much from this interview – especially from Tom Cheyney – he rocks – you can check out his site www.planterdude.com.

Relational Intentionality

Fri ,20/06/2008

Relationships are the greatest assimilation and evangelism tool that the church has. Advertisers and marketers tell us that “word of mouth” is the best means of advertising. In fact, the owner at the place where I get my haircut refuses to advertise because her “clients are her billboards.” Within the context of church planting – and evangelism as a whole, relationships are the key to effective and permanent church growth. The problem is that people can “smell” your intentions a mile away. So how do we become intentional about Christ in our relationships?

I think there are several keys:

1) Truly care for the people that you know – Matthew 22:39 “Love your neighbor as  yourself.” Because of one’s love for God – the outpouring element of that relationships is the love one shows to others. In our relationships – we have to truly care.

2) Prayer is a big part of these relationships with intention. I John 5:14 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask according to his will he hears us.” We need to learn to pray for openness to the gospel among those we have a relationship with.

3) Don’t speak too soon. Spend time with people before dropping the gospel card. I’m not saying that you should hide the fact that you are a Christian, but for me (mainly because people know that I’m a minister) they are expecting that I talk about God immediately.

4) Look for opportunities to share as soon as possible. Now I know that contradicts my prior statement – but many times you’ll find an open door. I am a minister – obviously – and people expect me to talk about Jesus – so let’s talk about him. The barrier is disengaging awkwardness or feelings of resentment toward you and the conversation. This goes back to the first point – disengage them because you care – they will know that you care for them.

5) Share, share, share, share – if you are a Christian and you seek to be obedient to Scripture, specifically on the issues of evangelism, the natural outpouring of Christ is natural – thus every relationship becomes intentional.

For many people who have been burnt because of the zeal of some Christians who share their faith in a “wrong way” – in my mind there are two probable reasons: 1) They are very resistant to the gospel and no matter what you do – they’re going to reject it, and 2) They have just been “attacked” by a very immature Christian who either hasn’t learned to balance zeal with good interpersonal skills – or they aren’t concerned with the person, rather they are concernde with the “notch” on the gospel gun belt.

Be intentional – but be relational as well. Don’t hide anything – and always present yourself as one who has been changed by God’s grace.

Lessons From A Warrior

Wed ,18/06/2008

Currently I’m reading We Were Soldiers Once…And Young by General Hal Moore. You may remember the movie with Mel Gibson called We Were Soldiers that was based on the book a few years ago. I’ve always loved history and reading about great figures in history. This book has been overwhelming in so many ways – and it really impacts me as a leader for a variety of reasons:

1) General Moore knew his men – all throughout the book he speaks of his men by name and where they were from. You get the sense that he really loved his soldiers.

2) During the battle of LZ-XRAY there were a few hundred US troops fighting against thousands of highly trained and more experienced North Vietnamese Troops – but during the worst time in battle there is a sense that Moore kept his cool and his men continued to fight. In fact the leadership of Moore is clearly seen in the leadership of his subordinate officers. He intentionally had his men “pass on” and “train” those below them the baton of leadership.

3) As a pastor/church planter I find that my ministry is an extreme roller coaster – with big highs and deep lows. I’m learning from Scripture and further illustrated by this book – that you have to be willing to fight the hard fight in order to see the greatest victory. Moore continued to fight in the midst of surmounting odds.

4) Moore was willing to lead by doing. He was in the battle – not hunkered down somewhere five miles away – he was involved. Leadership must not only be positional, but it also (and more importantly) must be influential in the actions of the leader.

5) I realize that I don’t have an ounce of manhood compared to the guys of 7th Calvary during Vietnam – these guys were the real deal. I pray that in my ministry I can fight the fight with the same tenacity that they fought with.

Shouldn’t I Be More Grateful?

Tue ,13/05/2008

My first job in ministry was when I was a college student at Valdosta State University – I was given the opportunity to serve as a seminar leader at a camp called “Super WOW” with the Georgia Baptist Convention. This was a great experience and it set the tone for the years to come. While in college I was highly involved with the Baptist Student Union – this is where I met my wife, forged life long friendships, grew in my relationship with Christ, discipled and was ultimately “called” into ministry. Later I worked with the Centrifuge camps – also Southern Baptist, served with the North American Mission Board, attended (and still attend) a Southern Baptist Seminary (New Orleans), started a Baptist Collegiate Ministry and now two churches that have baptist affiliation. I’m not writing this to give you my resume, but to reflect on a burning question: “Why I am not totally committed to Baptists?”

For many who read this blog the mere word baptist makes you head for the hills – including those I pastor, but the reality is that no matter how many scars Baptists have – they have a tradition that is steeped in evangelism, church planting, doctrine and Biblically based teaching. But still – sometimes I hit myself for feeling “icky” when it comes to the baptist way of doing things. The truth is I’m embarrassed of what sometimes does or does not happen in the baptist world. This is not a blog dedicated to the tearing down of all that is baptist – it is just a reflection on my on journey and I’ve come to this conclusion: I probably should be more grateful.

No matter how you twist it baptists have been investing in me and my ministry my entire life – and although I don’t agree with everything that is is baptist – I am one. Today I had the opportunity to sit with a bunch of guys much smarter than me at the Georgia Baptist Convention and talk about what it is going to take for Georgia Baptists to plant effective churches. I left there with no answers – in fact I may be even a little more discouraged because it is a huge mountain that must be climbed, but I’m invested. What is encouraging is this: they are listening – finally – they are listening. The image problem that Baptist have toward those in my generation is not going to fix itself overnight (that was obvious as I walked out of the 48 million dollar Georgia Baptist Building) and the relationships between older and younger baptists aren’t going to be forged next week – but the fact that our newer churches are being heard – is awesome.

I don’t know if this meeting will make a difference or not – but I haven’t given up on the idea that 15 million people from churches all around America working together to resource, educate, serve and minister can be and is one of the most effective tools today to share Christ. I’m praying for a new day in the life of Baptists – a day when we can throw off a corporate imagine and put on the imagine of Christ – the suffering servant.

My Day At The Big House

Thu ,08/05/2008

Today I had the opportunity to spend some time with the church planting department at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. My old church planting seminary professor and friend Dr. David Meacham is the head this department and invited me to share a testimony with his team about church planting from a current church planter. I will be honest – I really enjoyed myself. So many times church planters can get bitter toward “those in charge” because the planter make lack resources, feel unsupported, or just want to be mad at someone and they are an easy target. I’ve been that guy – several times. Church planting is tough work – it is not for the faint of heart. With eternity on the line the church planter makes the “big ask” continually – and gets turned down all the time. There has to be vision and there must be an assurance of God’s calling.

To all my church planting brethren: You need to know that these guys are behind you. I was overwhelmed that they were not only asking my opinion but asking for ways that they could help. They even took notes. I know I’m pretty insignificant in the scheme of things – but I really sensed that these guys want to do all that they can to resource us. It’s also important to know that they don’t hold the cash box either (you’ll know what I mean if you’re a planter).

They asked me a question that had already been rolling around in my brain, but mediated on during my commute back: What would be 2-3 things you would tell a planter just starting out. Here’s what I said (and if given the opportunity again – I would add one more):

1) Spend the money: you may not think that you’ll have enough money to make payroll, pay rent, or make copies – but if you do not invest the resources in getting the gospel to the people you cannot reap the benefit of what that might bring. You’re investing in the kingdom – you’re investing in people. I’ve seen God – time and time again – provide. Spend the money (wisely).

2) Get a coach: I believe that coaching and networking with other planters is more important than the finances. Coaching has kept me out of a lot of trouble and kept me pointed in the right direction.

3) Be willing to fail (this is the one I’d say if I had the chance to say it again) – if God has called you to the work and it ends up with you closing the doors then guess what: you can be congratulated for your obedience. I once asked a planter if He felt so called to His plant that He was willing to fail doing it – he thought I was crazy. But this is the kind of lunatic that can change the world – those who will put it all on the line day in and day out for the glory of God.

I appreciate the guys at NAMB and all that they are doing. Yes they need to tweak some things and yes there needs to be more communication and financial resources – but the guys I met with today are in the trenches with us – I pray that God would bring them fruitful ministry.

It’s Nice To Win Sometimes

Wed ,30/04/2008

ts1.jpgEveryone needs to hit a home run in life. Well maybe not a “real” home-run, because some of us – like me – are dysfunction-ally created when it comes to baseball/softball. The point I’m making is that it is nice to win sometimes. Victory for you maybe defeating the weeds in your front yard, getting the stain out of your best shirt, or convincing your teenage daughter that text messaging isn’t necessary for life. Whatever the victory – its nice to go up against the “shark” and win. Problem is that our victories are so few and far between we forget what a “win” is and what it feels like to win.

As I look at Scripture – specifically I John 5:13-15 – I think we misunderstand the “home run.” So what does it mean to overcome something and gain victory? Here are a few thoughts:

 1) Winning Is A Matter Of Perspective – And Our Perspective Isn’t Always Right – I John 5:13-15 talks about believing in Christ and having confidence in asking him to provide our victory (or requests) if it is according to his will. So many times we forget who is truly in charge here. No it is not your wife, husband, parents, roommate, kids, boss, or even you – it is Christ. When we can vulnerably seek what He wants and He overcomes – then we understand what the right win is.

2) Prayer Is The Vehicle That Drives Us To Victory – We tend to “act” first then we “pray.” Maybe the first step in accomplishing goals and victory is to understand God’s will before we ask. Understanding God’s will is understanding Scripture – and as we strive to overcome – we pray for the outcome, strength, and humility – all the while having confidence.

3) Accomplishment Is Not In The Eye Of the Beholder, But In The Hands Of the “Holder” – Christ accomplishes life and grants grace and mercy. When He accomplished salvation for our redemption we can rightly rest on His sovereign presence – accomplishing what He wills, not what always what we want.

So whatever your shark may be – relax, God has undercontrol.

The Bird In My Office

Mon ,28/04/2008

This last week has been a tough one. Every church has its challenges, but the challenges with a church plant are magnified. I think a lot of the “challenges” that every church plant deals with is simply spiritual warfare. We have to learn to overcome these times of discouragement, or else we will become another statistic.

So I’m sitting in my office thinking through all the things that I have to deal with today and reflecting on some of the challenges that I’ve been facing during the last few days – when suddenly a bird flies into my office. My office is the bonus room in our home and some how this sparrow squeezes through a crack between the window air-conditioner unit and the window seal. I will be honest: it scared the poop out of me. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks that a bird will fly into their office in the middle of deep introspective thought. The bird wanted to get out as much as I wanted him to leave and he kept flying into the closed window. I finally opened another window, knocked out the screen and guided the bird out with a broom – I consider myself a hero.

This is what I’ve learned from that stupid bird: right now I feel like I’m banging my head into some kind of glass trying to achieve what God has called me to do. The glass could be finances, people, or personal inhibitions, but we all have our piece of glass. I’m waiting for God to open up a window, but like the bird I have to keep banging away.

I think resilience is learned in the trenches of life. While one person may be born with more “guts” than another, resilence comes with the banging of a head against some piece of glass. Church planting is about hammering away through tough stuff – even to face more challenges in the future. Today – I needed that rat with wings in my office – because I’m reminded that we’re all just sparrows that He watches over. Pray that God would open windows at River Hills Church – and that we would have the courage, tenacity and resilience to continue to bang our heads against that which stands in our way.