Pastors, Politics, and Pot - What Should a Pastor Say Regarding Current Issues?

We once again find ourselves just weeks before election day. As with every other election day in our communities, lines of division are drawn regarding candidates, political parties, platforms, and potential laws.

With the first presidential debate now in our rear-view mirror, the collective sense is not one of relief but just the opposite. According to trending social media statements and spin, many are hoping that Doc Brown is near with his flux capacitor so we can all go back and re-boot the primaries. Nevertheless, the option is not viable, so we're left with what we have. I wrote of this previously here.

Pastors and Politics

The presidential debate reached a record crowd, but the debate that matters more to me is one I find myself in by nature of my role as pastor. I have peers in ministry with varying beliefs regarding the role of pastors and churches in politics. Some are strictly laissez-faire in their philosophy and often state that "the pulpit is not the forum for political discussions." 

Others respond with the belief that as citizens we are "obligated to share with our congregations from the pulpit" regarding political stances and policies.

For fear of appearing to be a fence-sitter, both responses are valid. 

Ultimately, the calling of a pastor is to shepherd God's flock with wisdom and love, modeling that shepherd viewed most clearly in Psalm 23. Understanding that to be true, when preaching the Word of God to the congregation, it is vital to remember the holiness and responsibility of such a calling. Therefore, those who view the pulpit as not being the forum for politics are right in the sense that the gospel is the message. To dilute the gospel of Christ by "Americanizing" or attempting to create patriotic church attenders (BTW - there's nothing wrong with being patriotic) rather than fully-devoted disciples of Christ misses the mark.

However...

Since we do not live in a bubble and to have a hands-off approach to the civic responsibility of participating in our democratic republic also seems to miss the mark. There is, in my opinion, a biblical calling for disciples to love God first and serve him well. We are also to love our neighbors as ourselves and while some would struggle to see how the Great Commandment equates to being politically active, I do not. 

I view it loving to give those God has entrusted under my leadership (as His under-shepherd) the very best, biblical insight on current affairs, trends, and cultural shifts. This insight includes insight into political issues. 

I have had the opportunity to meet many candidates during election years. In many cases these men and women are "visiting" our church. While some of my brothers serving in other churches will point out the visiting candidates from the pulpit or even bring them to the stage for a time of prayer or blessing, I do not. I just have not come to grips with using time allotted for the preaching of God's Word and worship for such pauses. 

Speaking on Policies

I will not endorse an individual candidate, but I have and will continue to speak and write on policies (especially platform statements) that either affirm or disavow biblical truths. Cultural shifts such as the those regarding abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, transgender restroom laws, and the legalization of marijuana are just examples of issues that should be addressed.

I believe that each of these issues (and these are just the trending ones now) speak to the value of God's design for life, sexuality, marriage, identity, and wholeness. 

Of the issues listed above, many evangelical conservatives stand together. However, there is that one outlier that causes greater debate. 

The Pot Issue

The legalization of "medical" marijuana has taken the American culture by storm. In my state (Florida) another amendment option is being placed before the citizens this November in an attempt to legalize marijuana. The amendment failed the last time it was presented, but this being Florida and with just a tweak or two of some wording, the amendment is back. If it fails this time, it will be back again, especially as the big money behind the move continues to work for this.

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Photo credit: fsecart via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

The Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, Dr. Tommy Green, recently posted an open letter to all Florida Baptists encouraging us to vote NO on the proposed amendment. This encouragement was endorsed by the State Board of Missions (full disclosure - I serve on this team.)

We all know that a few states, with Colorado being the most recent and prominent, have shifted their marijuana laws. While it may still be too soon to view the long-term results of legalized marijuana, that which we are seeing as results do not bode well for this. I would encourage listening to Dr. Albert Mohler's recent podcasts where he touches on some of the results. The ones tagged "legalization of marijuana" can be found here.

The debate over whether the use of medical marijuana continues, with the danger for those opposed being labeled as uncaring. The issue at hand is not whether you believe it should be legal or not (though I have strong opinions on this issue personally,) but whether you believe your pastor (or you, if you are a pastor) should speak on these issues from the pulpit. By the way, when I say "pulpit" I realize that many churches do not have traditional pieces of furniture with crosses on them for the pastor to stand behind. In fact, I have a table. So, I'm speaking of the time the pastor stands before the congregation to preach.

My post here will likely not sway most of you, but from my perspective, the pulpit should be used for the preaching of the gospel. Since we do not live in a vacuum, and are working out our salvation regularly we are continually praying to the Father for wisdom regarding how to engage well a culture far from God. We are also seeking wisdom and guidance into how to live holy lives and allow God's Word to give us direction. The living Word is not just history, but through the Spirit's guidance gives us answers and insight. Therefore, when it comes to speaking on issues such as those mentioned above, even the marijuana issue, the Bible speaks. 

The Bible was not written in a vacuum and Christians are not called to live in one either. Therefore, wisdom on such issues from a biblical perspective, should be shared with congregants from the one called by God to speak truth and guide. It is what a good shepherd does. 

Oh, and just in case it wasn't clear - I'm voting NO this fall.


Do You Remember When Religious Freedom Was a Right?

Oh, I know it's still in the US Constitution, but as I watch the cultural shift continue, it is clear that this thing we, as Americans, know as religious freedom will be viewed differently in the near future. As a reminder, or as a revelation for those who do not know, the first amendment to our Constitution is listed below:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I don't see the amendment being repealed, though that has happened with other ones in our past, but I do see a reinterpretation of the right coming. There are things that have historically been covered under this amendment as religious freedom, but may likely be eliminated. 

Just to be clear, this post is not about tax-exempt status for churches and religious entities (which, in my opinion, I see likely going away as well.) 

I am not seeking to be a "doom and gloom" guy. I'm not on the rooftops screaming at everyone as they drive by. I'm not wearing a sandwich board that states "The End Is Near." Those stereotypes tend to rise to the surface in times like these. I tend to think of myself as a realist and one who can discern the times.

Earlier this month an article by Michael Gryboski was featured on the Christian Press site. The story is titled "LGBT 'Shame List' of Christian Colleges Includes Azusa Pacific, Biola, Liberty, Wheaton." This is a story that others have referenced in recent weeks. Baptist Press ran a similar article, highlighting the great number of colleges, universities and seminaries related to the Southern Baptist Convention (full disclosure - I pastor an SBC church, have graduated from an SBC seminary, and currently attend a different SBC seminary for further study.) 

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Photo credit: UMaineStudentLife via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Shame List

The Shame List is produced by Campus Pride and is advertised as a resource for young people and parents seeking schools that do not discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation. The site's description of the list is below.

The Shame List identifies the “absolute worst campuses for LGBTQ youth” in the United States. The colleges & universities listed have chosen to openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and have requested Title IX exemptions to perpetuate the harms of religion-based bigotry.  The criterion to be the “absolute worst” campus includes either of the following: 1) Received and/or applied for a Title IX exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and/or 2) Demonstrated past history and track record of anti-LGBTQ actions, programs and practices.

The Title IX exemption is the key element in the creation of the list. For most Americans, Title IX has been celebrated as the rule that created equal athletic opportunities for women in university settings. Parents of young girls have traditionally viewed this rule as a positive as it has pushed colleges and universities to create more women's sports and to push more money toward these "non-revenue" sports. Without Title IX, it is likely that the NCAA would not have the Women's Basketball Tournament, names like Pat Summitt, Diana Turasi, Mia Hamm, and Mary Wise would not be as well known and women athletes likely would have less opportunities.

However, Title IX is also the umbrella that leaves colleges and universities open to having to affirm lifestyles and actions that are polar opposites to their religious groundings, statements of faith, and belief systems.

With the culture blurring greatly the line between male and female, it is only a matter of time before funding for financial aid (FAFSA) to predominantly religious institutions of higher learning becomes the element used to force (or seek to force) the abandonment of religious convictions in the area of gender.

Campus Pride is clear in their desires. I actually appreciate the forthrightness in the organization's leaders. There is no doubt as to their purpose in existing and their modus operandi. However, I disagree greatly with their focus and stated beliefs. That, too is my right.

So, I'm not seeking to shut down their site or discredit their organization. I am disagreeing and seeing the reality that is now and to come. 

The LGBT revolution, which is actually an extension of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, has effectively pushed toward governmental policy and law changes. As the nation collectively watches North Carolina suffer from the loss of funds due to their statewide bathroom policies, it is clear that step-by-step, that which was considered unmovable and an inalienable right to believe a certain way will soon shift in the public forum

The LGBT rights people have effectively equated their suffering to that of people of color who led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Yet, I have many African-American and minority race friends who find that comparison offensive. 

Nevertheless, the "Shame List" is out and most all schools listed are religious in nature and affiliated with Christian denominations. Nearly one-third of the 100 plus schools are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

No Shame In Being On The Shame List

President Jason Allen of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City had this response to having his school placed on the list:

"Regardless of what shaming -- online or otherwise -- may come, our convictions remain unchanged and our calling undeterred: we will winsomely, yet boldly, speak the full complement of Christian truth on this issue and every other issue to which the Bible speaks. And we will humbly point all, including Campus Pride, to Jesus as the only one who saves.

As we train our students, we seek to equip them to minister in a broken world, marred by human sinfulness and its consequences, including those harmed by the false promises of the sexual revolution. The good news is that Jesus Christ came so that whoever believes in Him -- gay or straight -- might be saved, and have their sins forgiven and their life transformed. That is the message Midwestern Seminary preaches and the message to which our students are giving their lives to declare."

The purpose of the shame list is ultimately lead Americans to not only not enroll, but to label and place these schools in a position where the title "haters" is most prominent. As I look over the list, there are schools listed that I would be proud to attend and have my children attend. At the same time, Christian or not, there are some that I would never attend or recommend. Yet, even in the cases of those I would not attend, there seems to be something lost when the right to hold to religious convictions is deemed hateful and evil. 

There are hundreds of colleges and universities that would be on the other end of the spectrum for Campus Pride. In fact, they also publish a list known as the "Best of the Best" for LGBTQ students. The list includes state universities and predominantly liberal-leaning schools, which is not surprising. 

It is a sticky situation. Most Christian students attend state universities. If Christian teenagers are effectively discipled and prepared to contend for the gospel (see Galatians 1) then attending such a university is not only a financially sound decision, but missionally focused one as well. Unfortunately, many students in our churches are not contenders and have and will fall prey to unbiblical teaching and liberal philosophy at the university level. These concerns include but go deeper than LGBT identification.

There are many students who discover their perfect fit for higher education not at the public university, but at a smaller, biblically-focused school. There are varied reasons for this. Sometimes it is academically based. Sometimes it is a chance to play sports at the college level (that was me). Sometimes it is simply the door that God is opening for His glory.

The Shame List will lead many to just shake their heads wondering how we have come so far. For me, it's no surprise. In fact, how did we not see this coming? The days are not only coming, but are here. Religious liberty will be redefined and dumbed down. Some of these schools on the list may not be in existence in ten years. Others will refuse any federal financial aid and their costs will lead to needs for private donations and scholarships and ultimately a decreased student population. Still, others will capitulate and disavow their long-held religious convictions. This will be deemed as progress, but regress is more like it.

As my friend Christopher Yuan said based on this story "This is the beginning of the end of religious freedom."

 


Is God a White Racist?

I heard on the radio as I drove to work this morning that the racial unrest in our nation, most recently in Charlotte and Tulsa, hearkens back to 1968. Many of my contemporaries do not remember that year, but those who lived through the era affirm that great fear and division was the news of the night as Walter Cronkite would remind us "that's the way it is."

Much is being said, written, preached, and tweeted about the state of race relations now. This goes much deeper than protesting the national anthem, though that has become a daily news story as Americans are seemingly creating "Patriotic Scorecards" to keep track of those who stand at attention, those who kneel, and those who hold their fists aloft. 

Yet, with much being said...the truth is more must be said, but more truth cemented in the Gospel. Beyond saying the right things, the gap toward belief and and action must be covered. 

For a lily-white American pastor (that would be me) attempting to write or speak from the perspective of an African-American man comes across as disingenuous. It is not that I cannot speak on the truth of Scripture or the history (both good and bad) of the church. Affirming the veracity and inerrancy of God's Word allows me to speak confidently on the issues, but sometimes having the capacity to speak truth does not equate to being heard.

 

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Cameron Triggs

Therefore, I thought I would share the following from my friend, fellow pastor, and church planter Cameron Triggs. Cameron previously served with Pastor H.B. Charles at Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He is currently serving in The Summit Network in North Carolina as he prepares to plant a new church in Orlando next year. Cameron is a gifted communicator and strong apologist for the Gospel. He recently published a short book titled Is God a White Racist: An Apologetic Dialogue. This short dialogue featuring two men, Walter and Charles, who are childhood friends and fraternity brothers. After college, they parted ways with Walter becoming the African-American Studies Director at a community college in Chicago and Charles becoming a pastor in Marietta, Georgia. 

The story is fictional, but the conversation is authentic and echoes what has been and is continuing to be a point of division and discussion within the African-American community.

I highly recommend my readers to take the time to read this little e-book. You will likely finish it in about fifteen minutes. 

Here are some things I gained from the read:

  • Contending for the Gospel is vital.
  • We must always be prepared with an answer. Saying "Let me call my pastor" will carry no water, and likely end a conversation with a non-believing friend. 
  • White American Christians need to think deeply about these issues.
  • All Christians need to think deeply about these issues.
  • Gospel thinking leads to Gospel-centric action.
  • No white person can fully grasp the African-American experience and to say "I understand" will likely end productive discussions immediately.
  • The Gospel has not changed, will not change, and is still God's gracious gift to humanity.
  • God is not a white racist, or a black racist, brown racist, tan racist. etc.
  • Behind all division and disunity among believers is the Enemy. 
  • Cliches and bumper sticker theology does not suffice.
  • Real life conversations on such deep issues are rarely resolved over one cup of coffee. 

Here's a portion of Cameron's story. Remember, Walter is a self-proclaimed agnostic and Charles is a pastor...

Walter: This all started about six years ago, Chuck. This is not an overnight metamorphosis. I really reasoned about this. I tried to reconcile how could a loving and powerful God be so unfair to people of color, and how could I, being a black man, follow a religion that enslaved us? A colleague of mine in the Philosophy Department really challenged my thinking. When he found out I was a “Christian”, he blatantly asked how. How could I follow a religion that supported slavery with exegesis from the “good book” itself? How could Jonathan Edwards, the so-called “Greatest American Theologian”, take on difficult philosophical issues, such as total depravity and irresistible grace, but never condemn slavery? Cotton Mather even argued that white people should teach their slaves that God has called them to be servants, and that they serve Jesus Christ while serving their masters. So, cotton-picking slaves served Christ while being beaten, hanged, raped, and whipped by white masters, right? These so-called “Christians” owned slaves as well. George Whitefield enslaved brothers too! Doesn’t that bother you, Chuck? Be real with me, man! It is that attitude of the church that projected books like, “The Negro as a Beast” by Charles Carrol! So, here we have a religion that is in direct opposition to our heritage and dignity.

Charles: Sigh…yea, Walt. I agree. Christians sin, sometimes grievously, against their own law. But what you just proposed is an ad hominem argument that is rather weak. Sure, the character of some Christians is corrupt, but Christianity as a whole can’t be thrown out with the bath water.

Click here or the image below to read the entire book.

Screenshot 2016-09-22 09.26.19

Special thanks to Cameron Triggs for producing such a timely and well-written dialogue.

Cameron Triggs web site - camtriggs.com

Jude3 Project - jude3project.com


firstFAMILY Podcast 019: Are We Asking Too Much?

09-21-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 019 - Asking Too Much

As a pastor of a church in a growing and changing suburban culture, there are numerous things we seek to do to engage the community. As we discussed these things, in addition to all the traditional ministry events and minutia of day-t0-day church life, I was growing frustrated. I found that we were asking the members of our church for much. My question was "Are we asking for too much?"

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This episode of the podcasts addresses this issue and while specific to our church I believe many other churches, of all sizes, find the squeeze of paying bills, offering benevolence, and serving the Lord by serving and loving others that we do.

 


A Moment That Changed Everything - My Message at @GameDayChurch on 9/11

We launched our second year of GameDay Church on September 11. This church service/event in the parking lot of EverBank Field prior to the Jaguars - Packers game drew a crowd and allowed us to engage in gospel-centric conversations with those walking by and hanging out at our tailgate event. Being that it was September 11, I felt that addressing the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic day of terror that hit our nation was appropriate. 

Here is a transcript of my message on 9/11 with reference to Matthew 9. Thanks to Jon Wood, our campus minister at IslandChurch for the story regarding the Eagles - Redskins football game.

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A few years ago there was an NFL game scheduled on a Sunday, but rather than a 1pm start, this one started at 2pm. That’s strange, but not the strangest thing about this game.

The game was being played between the Redskins and the Eagles. Philadelphia was out of the playoff hunt, but they were looking to play the role of spoiler. The Redskins were sitting at .500 and were in a position to squeak into the playoffs, but needed the win.

The game began with the Eagles taking an early lead.

The Redskins took advantage of a Philly turnover and scored in the second quarter, to tie it up at 7 apiece. Not really an offensive game so far.

 The game continued on and the fans who remained in the stands to watch what became a very sloppy game did so because, they’re well…fans.

The Eagles ended up turning the ball over more and the Redskins won. The game ended as most everyone thought.

And once the game was over, no one cared.

That game was over about 5pm and because of the way news spread at the time, the things happening globally that day became known by the fans and players by the end of the game. The announcer at the game, it’s is said, began asking some of the fans in the stands to report to certain areas immediately.

You see, on that day, December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

America was divided at the time. Can you imagine a divided America? It was severe. Many thought the war was dumb and we shouldn’t bother or get involved. Others thought we must. Then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened and there was no longer a valid option of sitting on the sidelines. America was thrust into World War II.

Those men who were called out of the stadium were active-duty military personnel. They were now at war. More would join. The entire nation would engage, even on the home front.

Fifteen years ago, another day began, just like every other day. People got up, had their coffee, went to work and then planes hit towers, a plane hit the Pentagon and one even crashed in Pennsylvania. The news reports were horrendous and clear.

Things had changed.

We now live in a post 9/11 world now and are reminded of that even as we enter EverBank today for the game. The metal detectors and bag searches are now normal.

Going to the airport and flying is different than it used to be.

We have a "new normal" because of these horrendous acts.

Sometimes, a regular day, or at least our plans for a regular day, can end up life-changing.

In these cases, the changes were brought on by attacks and terrorism. But, there are moments in life that are also unexpected, that lead to more positive and encouraging life-change.

In the Bible, there was a man named Matthew. He was a Jewish man, but not liked by his people. He was considered a sell-out. He was working for the occupying nation in his homeland by collecting taxes from his peers.

And, in those days, tax collectors were known to, and even expected to, fleece the people to pad their own pockets. The Roman government (the occupying one) didn’t care how much the native collectors gathered in taxes, as long as they had the amount Rome wanted. So, any extra they could get was for themselves.

So, Matthew goes to work on that day – just another day – nothing special expected, but something special did happen. Something he never saw coming.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)  [1]

Look at what happened. Jesus, the Son of God, intentionally went to a guy that the religious people, the neighbors, and others in the community did not like and would avoid if possible. Jesus went to him. He met him at his place of business, in his own comfort zone and offered him a chance at new life.

He said, “Follow me” which seems like the shortest invitation ever, and it was, but coming from Jesus, it was clearly strategic.

Matthew didn’t expect this, but was overwhelmed with the invite. “Me? Follow you? Seriously?” and he did.

Matthew became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, one of his closest friends. He, like the others in Jesus group of close friends, would later be described as one of the men who was turning the world upside down, for good.

Just another day, right?

Nope.

Everything changed and on this day, it changed for the better.

We can all relate to the 9/11 change, especially if you’re old enough to remember it. Some of us may remember Pearl Harbor, but at a minimum, we’ve read about it or watched the videos about it. We understand how those moments can change everything. And some of us here have a Matthew story – we understand how Jesus surprises us and changes everything. When we least expected it.

And maybe some here today will experience this. It’s just another Sunday. It’s another football game. It’s the start of the season. There was a day much like this last season and the season before, etc. But, today, you’re here and maybe, just maybe, Jesus is still doing what he did 2000 years ago. He’s meeting you when you least expected it and saying “Follow me.” Now, you get to decide to follow him or not.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 9:9–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


firstFAMILY Podcast 018: "The Insanity of God" by Nik Ripken

08-31-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 018 - The Insanity of God

It is recommended that you listen to this podcast through iTunes or your podcast app from the Google Play Store.

Yesterday, the film "The Insanity of God" had it's one-night-only showing at our local theater, as well as theaters around the nation. The documentary is based on the book of the same title by missionary Nik Ripken. While this podcast is somewhat of a review of the film, I am focusing more on the message of the book and film and the implications for the western church. There's more than could ever be covered in one podcast and we hope to have Nik and Ruth here in the future to share.

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LifeWay Films & Nik Ripken

In the meantime, here are the videos and links referenced in the podcast.

Official Movie Site - insanityofgodmovie.com

Official Trailer on YouTube

Nik speaking at the Sam James Institute on Vimeo

Nik Ripken Ministries

 


Keep Shuffling Along, Even When Others Mock You

Earlier this year, I attended a chapel service at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. An encouraging, challenging, gospel-centric message was presented and the story shared as an illustration has stuck with me. The speaker told of Cliff Young and his ultra-marathon run. I shared this with pastors and ministry leaders last week:

The Echo Chamber

Sometimes it is easy to fall into an echo chamber. This is true for pastors and leaders and ultimately, for just about anyone. We see these echo chambers develop at times, especially in election years. An echo chamber occurs when you surround yourself with people who only espouse the things you already believe. It is more comfortable to have friends and "amen-ers" echoing everything you already believe. However, it is also helpful to hear different points of view at times. This is not to say that all points of view are on equal footing. This is especially true when it comes to the veracity of Scripture and this little thing called "absolute truth."

Nevertheless, there are times when we (now, I'm talking to pastors and church leaders) do things certain ways because we have either always done them so or just don't see any other alternatives. Since many pastors tend to slide into "right-brain creativity" at times, partnered with a conviction to serve the Lord and reach people, we tend to live with "big picture" ideals. 

That means that there are often times we seek to do something that may seem out of the ordinary or classified as "we never done it that way before" for many in the church. Now, make sure you get this - I'm not referring to unbiblical, immoral, or simply stupid gimmicks that may be out of the ordinary. I'm referring to strategies, ideas, community engagement and other things that come to mind and just seem like they may be worth the effort for the church to consider. 

We all love comfort and familiarity. Many in the church (and just about any organization) push back against change or new ideas or out-of-the-ordinary options because of fear and uncertainty. And thus, many just plod along doing exactly the same things year after year, wondering why nothing seems to be changing. 

In a culture where information is just a click away, experts on everything live on websites and sometimes on our committees and membership rolls. The urgency of the gospel motivates us through the words of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. When we experience push back on community engagement, we wonder if others feel the same urgency for the sake of the gospel.

There are a number of people in the Bible who have had those experiences. Paul is one that comes to mind. He was a missionary, apostle, church starter… and many didn’t understand why he did what he did.

His old friends didn’t understand.

He new friends weren’t sure they could trust him.

Reminds me of another guy who was misunderstood at first.

Cliff Young - An Unlikely Run

In 1983 Australia hosted it’s inaugural ultra-marathon – a 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

On the day of the race, a man named Cliff Young showed up. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.

Cliff young
Newcastle Herald

The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race."

He was laughed at by the crowd and other runners.

Then the race began. Everyone else began to run and Cliff was still getting his shoes on (well, his boots.)

He starts running, but his "run" was more of a shuffle. (For you Gen-Xers and Boomers, imagine Tim Conway shuffling along as the old man on The Carol Burnett Show.)

When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn't even run properly. Many even feared for the old farmer's safety.

Cliff ran and ran and each day would get closer to the leading pack.

Then, on the final day, to everyone’s surprise, Cliff won the race.

He won by quite a bit.

When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn't know that!

He ran day and night for five days.

Never stopped.

How?

He just shuffled along.

Kind of like the tortoise and the hare.

They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race." To which he replied, "Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race."

God has called us to serve Him in all ways. The right thing to do is often not understood, even by those closest to us. Yet, we must press on. If every pastor abandoned the call when a loved one or friend said "Are you sure? You know, you should probably get a job to make money, just to have something to fall back on," there would be many more gaps in the history of godly church leaders, pastors, and missionaries. Sometimes in life, you do the right thing, the thing you know you must and no one gets it.

No one understands.

No one celebrates you.

Now, if you’re doing the wrong thing, that’s another story, but in Cliff’s case, he was doing what he knew he could and must.

Paul did too.

But many didn’t get it.

Many didn’t like it.

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)

Not exactly the life you’d sign up for, right?

Yet, there’s an end to the story that’s worth it.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)

You may not run like the others. That which you do may be mocked by other churches, pastors, or even church members. Don’t be unbiblical, but have ears to hear and eyes to see and keep shuffling along for the glory of God. The best is yet to come.

Gather Your Sheep - There's a Storm Coming

Run well. Finish well. And pastors, you know, we’re a lot like Cliff Young. We’re running, seeking to gather the sheep, because there’s a storm coming.

 


How to Keep the Older Generation in Church While Reaching the Younger

Last week, our Leadership Team attended a conference sponsored by the Jacksonville Baptist Association featuring author and speaker Haydn Shaw. Haydn speaks to corporations, businesses, governments agencies, and churches throughout the nation on the subject of generational connectedness.

For the first time ever, we have four generations in the workforce and five generations in the church.

I highly recommend Haydn's books...

For business leaders - Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart

For church leaders - Generational IQ: Christianity Isn't Dying, Millennials Aren't the Problem, and the Future Is Bright

Following the teaching sessions last week, our association provided links to talking points videos from Haydn. The one here resonates with many in our church and surrounding churches. In fact, for any church over twenty years old, the question of connecting multiple generations is a often ignored. Sometimes churches ignore the reality of multi-generational needs and desires and ultimately wake up one Sunday to notice that there are fifteen people in the congregation. All are now collecting Social Security checks. The order of worship is exactly the same as it has been each week for the past three decades. Most tragically, the realization that there are no "next generation" church members to entrust with the next chapter in the church's legacy.

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Photo credit: Fouquier ॐ via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

This is happening far too often in our denomination, as well as others. 

Presuming that doctrine is sound and desire to honor God is clear, churches are forced to address areas that previous generations never had to deal with at such a level. In this video, Haydn pulls no punches and addresses the issues related to reaching one end of the generational spectrum without missing the other. Watch this video clip...

Video 5: How Do We Keep from Hurting the Older Generations If We Change Things to Reach the Younger Generations? from Haydn Shaw on Vimeo.

 

 

 


Why There Is No Good Option In This Year's Election

I just received another stack of glossy "Me-Monster" political ads in the mail for upcoming elections. It doesn't upset me. It is pretty much a waste of paper, it seems. However, it's part of the game. I get it.

I have enjoyed (I know, it's kind of sick) the election cycles in our nation. Politics has always intrigued me. I read presidential biographies, even when it's clear they are slanted. I will vote in the upcoming election. Like many of you, I feel it is my right and duty. However, this year's options, especially for the highest office, are about as appealing as going to a restaurant for lunch and having only two choices on the menu - boiled sheep eyeball soup and braised gnu intestines. 

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Photo credit: trespotatoes via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Thanks to social media, political posturing and negative bashing hit all time highs over the last eight years. I heard one sociologist claim that he believes Christians have done more harm for the Kingdom through their hateful postings than they realize. I fear he is correct, based especially on the generational divides and shifts in political ideology.

Nevertheless, the vitriol online has seemingly shrunk this year. Oh, it's not good, but compared to the past national elections, it appears to be better. Now, it seems most people on both sides of the party aisle are saying "Your candidate is terrible and so is ours."

We all hear the "lesser of two evils" argument and the "not to vote is to vote for the other party" but those arguments tend to fade away when it comes to personal conviction and actually putting the X in a candidate's box.

One party's platform is now the most pro-abortion one in our nation's history. The other party's leaders are struggling to find ways to shut down their candidate's Twitter feed. Neither option is very palatable for the evangelical, convictional Christian.

I continue to be asked by friends and church members, "Who can we vote for?" I answer "You shouldn't end a sentence in a preposition," but that doesn't seem to help.

Maybe This Is It...

It hit me this week.

Perhaps God has allowed the election options to be what they are this year simply to move those who claim to be children of God from putting their faith in men/women, policies, politics, and governmental agencies to focus on Him as sovereign?

Just a thought.

Now, go vote. Seek the Lord's guidance. Trust Him and stop ending sentences in prepositions.


firstFAMILY Podcast 017: The Sending Church

08-17-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 017 - The Sending Church

Jesus clearly said "Come and see..." when questioned by potential disciples. However, the end of the gospel account says "Go and make..." 

Far too many churches park on the "come and see" model and never get to the "go and make" portion of the command. In this episode, Pastor David Tarkington speaks about the command to go and how it is truly not up for debate for the follower of Christ.

Referenced in this episode is Zach Bradley's writing "The Sending Church: Defined" by The Upstream Collective. Check out the work of Upstream at  theupstreamcollective.org.

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Identity Is Who You Are, Not What You Do #Rio2016

It is the time when many around the world become fans of sports they never watch at other times, and sometimes didn't even know existed. The Rio Olympics are garnering large viewing audiences and even with all the controversies surrounding Zika, green diving pools, drugged up Russians, jailed Olympic athletes, and NBC's decision to air women's gymnastics after the event actually happened, there have been some really incredible stories. Here are just a few...

First - Michael Phelps

Seriously! I was talking to my mother a couple of weeks ago and she said "Michael Phelps is going back to the Olympics. I wonder if he will be able to compete at his age (the ripe old age of 31) as he did in the last Olympics?" Well, that question has been answered and once everyone figured out why he had circular bruises all over his back (I thought the Salt Vampire from Star Trek got to him) he, at this writing, has earned his 21st Olympic gold medal.

Let that sink in for a moment.

21.

Gold.

Medals.

I remember when Mark Spitz's feat was deemed unmatchable and when Carl Lewis' 9 gold medals seemed amazing! Well, those accomplishments still are, but seriously - 21 gold medals. At this point, Jason Momoa should retire and Phelps should play Aquaman in the new Justice League movie. 

Second - Oksana Chusovitina

Have you heard of this gymnast? She's 41 years old and competing in the Olympics! She is representing Uzbekistan.

41.

Years.

Old.

Yeah, she has competed in seven Olympic games. She has a 17-year-old son. She has a son who is older than US gymnast Laurie "Human Emoji" Hernandez.

I'm not cheering for Uzbekistan, but I can't help but cheer for Oksana.

Third - Katie Ledecky

Another US swimmer. Katie has won 3 medals at this point (2 gold and 1 silver.) This 6', 19-year-old has an infectious smile and is dominating in the pool. 

There will be more stories to hit the headlines and men and women who are basically unknown now who will become nationally and internationally known in just a short time. 

Fourth - Synchronized Diving

Like I said, there are many sports in the Olympics that I never really watch or follow, but every four years find myself becoming a fan. One such sport is men's synchronized diving. These guys are incredible athletes, but honestly, this has never been a sport I've followed. It's definitely not a "money-sport" for local colleges and universities. Yet, a few days ago, I was watching this as two American athletes competed for a medal.

The Chinese team won gold. They tend to dominate in the diving competitions. They are amazing.  They jump off the platform, spin in mid-air and then, go into the pool without even making a splash, it seems. I made bigger splashes throwing pieces of bread into ponds for ducks to eat when I was a kid.

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Reuters

The American duo of David Boudia and Steele Johnson (that may be the best name of any Olympic athlete) earned the silver medal. Their dives were incredible. It is obvious that hours and hours of practice go into perfecting these skills. Yet, it wasn't the diving or even the medal win that made these guys different. It was the post-dive interview. When asked by NBC reporter Kelli Stavast what it meant to medal in the synchronized event, David said...

There's been an enormous amount of pressure. I've felt it. It's just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this [diving], and I'm thinking I'm defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ, and we're thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It's been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.

Steele agreed and added...

The way David just described it was flawless – the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace ... and it let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn't go great, I could still find joy because I'm at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor – just one of the best people to be around. God's given us a cool opportunity, and I'm glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event.

And that was aired live on NBC. Clear, concise, and not cheesy. Full article on Christian Examiner here.

Boudia has been speaking openly of his faith in Christ for years and even co-authored a book with Tim Ellsworth, Greater Than Gold.

In the midst of an event that places people on the international stage, David and Steele stated a clear reality that every person faces. Identity. When one's identity is founded on what one can do, there will come a day when that activity will end. Even the 41-year-old gymnast will eventually retire from competition (we think.) David and Steele may never compete in an Olympics together again, yet at this moment, David spoke truth that hopefully will resonate with all. 

As followers of Christ, our identity is rooted in him. It is for his glory that we do all we do. It is for his glory that we exist.

I was encouraged by these men's words. This was deeper than just quoting Philippians 4:13.

I am still not really a synchronized diving fan, though I will watch. I must say that I am a fan of these guys, though. Congrats!

 

 


Reflections from a Wedding

The summer is winding down and while there is no "official season" for weddings, we still see more weddings scheduled during the months of May through July here in our area. This year has been significant in my life regarding weddings. I have been to dozens of weddings - in most I have had the honor of serving as pastor (of officiant, to be precise.) Just over two months ago, I once again stood before the bride and groom, but also had the privilege of walking the bride down the aisle as in this very special wedding, the bride was my daughter.

Last night, I stepped in front of the crowd once more and led a man and woman into the covenant relationship of marriage. Once again, it was a beautiful wedding ceremony capped off with a fun reception for family and friends. 

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Photo credit: pixel pro photography via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

While I am not the "wedding expert" (those people tend to be relegated to TLC shows and special wedding blogs) I have been to my fair share of weddings and I have experienced these ceremonies from various perspectives, so here are some random (totally random) thoughts on weddings. Remember, these are from a pastor's perspective...and a man's.

RANDOM THOUGHT ON WEDDINGS & RECEPTIONS

  • Watch the groom. When the bride begins to walk down the aisle, you (the crowd) need to stand and look at her, but take a look at the groom. In most cases, this is the first time he has seen her in the dress and in my experience, the look on his face is priceless. Take a picture of him.
  • Flower girls and ring bearers are cute, but once they come down the aisle, they don't need to be the ones everyone is watching. So if they're really young, don't let stand up front with the bridal party unless they can handle standing still for about 45 minutes.
  • Take your pictures of the bride and groom, but if you're told to not use a flash - please turn it off. You may be frustrated that your photos are not as clear and Instagram-worthy, but no worries, in most cases a professional photographer has been paid to get higher resolution and better quality pictures. Don't be a distraction.
  • Uncle Guido needs to stay off the stage. This is a direct reference to one wedding I attended at our church. I was not officiating this one, but had a great seat because I was running the sound system for it. I'm not sure the uncle's name was Guido, but he looked like an Uncle Guido. His metallic, shiny shirt, with the top four buttons undone, hairy chest showing with gold medallion around his neck (for full effect, picture Danny DeVito at a disco) walked up on the stage to get some photographs DURING the ceremony. And, just so the image is complete, his camera was one of the cardboard, throw-away cameras that were popular about twenty years ago. So you hear this "click" then the loud winding of the film. The guy was really nice, but let's just say, he was a bit of a distraction.
  • When a worship service breaks out at the wedding, it is a good thing. In fact, it should be the case at each wedding since the imagery of husband and wife is God's choice for illustrating best Christ's relationship with his church. God-honoring weddings hit the mark. When the wedding centers upon his greatness and grace, everything falls into place. Of course, this means that the husband and wife should both be Christians. This makes that "equally yoked" concept clear. 
  • On that note, Christians should only marry Christians. That's not legalistic. It's not my idea. It's a biblical construct that shows obedience. I am sad to say that far too many weddings I see are built on the foundation of physical attraction, eros love, and "my biological clock is ticking and all my friends are getting married." Nevertheless, poor marriage preparation does keep the marriage counselors in business.
  • The marriage is more important than the wedding. Now, more than ever, this must be declared. When the state gives marriage license discounts for couples who have gone through pre-marital counseling, it's clear that even those who do not affirm God's plan for marriage see preparation as vital. We use SYMBIS (Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts) and it has provided for intense evaluation and open and frank conversations. Of course pre-marital counseling is only as effective as the couple is open and the facilitator is prepared.
  • The perfect wedding is one where a man and woman covenant to stay holy and faithful and to love and respect each other "until death do they part." Young ladies, especially, are inundated with Photoshopped images and finely edited videos of "perfect" weddings. Pinterest is not really a problem, but I have not been to a wedding in the past five years that was not influenced greatly by something the bride saw on Pinterest. Add that to "Say Yes to the Dress" and "I Found the Gown" and a host of other "reality" shows and undue pressure for perfection arises.
  • Godly weddings do not have to be in church buildings. There was a day when weddings held outside of church facilities raised the eyebrows of those in the community. Whispers such as "They're not allowed to be married in the church" would develop and in some cases that was true. Nevertheless, I am seeing many weddings held in facilities and even outdoors that are centered on God and his love. Sometimes, it's just a venue issue and the preference of the family and the bride. Remember, if this is a once-in-a-lifetime event having a beautiful venue in photographs and videos does not remove God from the ceremony. To be honest, I have been to my fair share of weddings in the church building that were less that worshipful.
  • The bride is beautiful! She is and she should be told this by others. In many cases, these women have spent hours getting ready for this moment. The most beautiful bride is the one who truly loves the Lord. I know it sounds cliche´, but it's not. The beauty of a woman devoted to God shines through and when she can actually wear that white dress as a sign of her purity saved for her husband, it is wonderful.
  • Tissues please. Even the strongest will have leaky eyes at times. I have learned to have tissues on hand for the bride, groom (and the father of the bride.) 
  • The bride gets final say. I tell the brides this clearly prior to the rehearsal. This is her wedding (and the groom, too, but he's just rented a tux and stands there waiting for her, so we let her decide all this.) That means this is not the wedding coordinator's wedding. It's really not the mother of the bride's wedding (though she likely paid for it). In most every case decisions are already made and the mother of the bride and the bride collaborated on it. In many cases, the ceremony had been planned since the bride was about eight. Nevertheless, I always ask the bride "Is this what you want?" if there's a change or question. If she doesn't like it, I become the bad guy and just say "No, we're doing it this way." If I make a mother of the bride or groom mad, it's no big deal. I won't be sitting with these folks at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays for the next few decades and that bride will. So, I figure, let's let the woman have her day.
  • One man to one woman marriage only.  (Yeah, I know there were polygamists in Scripture, but even those instances were not God's holy desire.) This was not an issue when I first began doing wedding ceremonies, but now that same-sex weddings are legal, some heretofore understood ideas are having to be declared clearly. Just to be clear, I will not perform the ceremony for same-sex couples or transgendered individuals. Our church won't host these ceremonies and none of our pastors or ministers will perform these either. While it's easy to declare us as "haters" the reality is that we believe we cannot honor God's plans and His word by playing a role in such events. Even as I led the wedding ceremony last night, I was made aware once more how many "man/woman" and "husband/wife" commands from Scripture are part of my vows and charge to the couple. I know that over 150,000 same-sex weddings have taken place in the US since the Obergefell case led to the legalization of such unions, but just because something is legal does not make it biblical. 
  • Husbands are to love their wives. Wives are to respect their husbands. For the first time, I added this in the ceremony yesterday. After the rings were given, the vows taken and the unity candle lit, the couple stood before me ready for the big "I declare you married, now kiss your bride" moment when I asked the groom plainly "Do you love her?" He answered yes! Then, I looked to the bride and said, "We've talked about this. You know the Bible commands the husband to love his wife, but the command to the wife is different." She remembered and said to me "Respect." I smiled and said, "That's how we men feel loved. So, do you respect him?" She said yes! It was a moment. You know, one of those moments where people in the room go "Oh, that's good." and then, of course the couple kissed and walked back down the aisle as one. Love and respect. Check out Dr. Emerson Eggerichs' book on this. Good stuff.
  • RSVPs matter. To be honest, there have been many times I have forgotten to RSVP for receptions. Once we (my wife and I) began putting together the details for our daughter's wedding and reception (which had limited seating) I began to see the value of the RSVP. So, send that back. Oh, apparently, some don't know what RSVP means. It's French for "SEND BACK YOUR RESPONSE." 
  • Only RSVP the number reserved. Regarding RSVPs, if there is a number pre-printed on your invitation, that means there is limited seating, so don't get mad and say "I'm adding my boyfriend or fourth child or uncle or whomever." If the invitation says "We've reserved 3 seats for you" it means there are only 3 seats, so either say "Yes, we three will be there" or signify a number less than three or just say no.
  • Show up. If you RSVP saying you'll be there and don't show up, especially if it's for the reception and a dinner is provided, you've just rudely cost the parents of the bride money. This wasn't the case really for our daughter's wedding, but I have seen it happen. Okay, here's the deal - I look at the empty chair next to me at the reception last night and wonder why the person said they were coming, had the family pay for that plate and then decided to not show. I'll go with benefit of the doubt and hope the person was sick (that's not really right, is it?) and couldn't make it. Oh yeah, sometimes people just plain forget and they miss an event. That's understandable, too. We're human. But....if you say "YES" and then the wedding day comes and you're at home and laying on the couch and just decided not to come because you, well, just don't want to come...DON'T. Get up, get dressed, put on some deodorant, comb your hair and go to the wedding. It's the right thing to do.
  • Dry receptions can be fun, and you'll remember it the next day sans headache. Drunks at wedding receptions are embarrassing and while funny, become a black mark on an otherwise beautiful ceremony. So, for one night just drink the tea, coffee, and watermelon-infused carbonated beverage (I have no idea what that is, but it was an option last night.)
  • Wedding reception music is important. Here's what I've observed - The Cupid Shuffle allows many people with only ten percent of dancing ability and rhythm to engage in a non-threatening "dance" and it looks fun. Music from the 80s is a must. This allows the 40 and 50-somethings in the crowd (these are often the parents, uncles, aunts, and mentors) to feel young and have flashbacks to high school. Be ready though, once "Footloose" starts playing, someone is going to try to dance like Kevin Bacon but look more like Chris Penn. Now that the "kids" are getting older, some classic pop music from N*Sync, the Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls tends to bring more people onto the dance floor.
  • Dancing is a misnomer as most of the white, Baptist people weddings I have attended show that clearly. The truth is clear, it's not that Baptists don't dance. It's that most Baptists (of which I am one) cannot dance. And since most Baptists don't drink publicly, these are sober people acting the fool on a dance floor. When these dance moments happen, iPhones appear. I'm always careful.
  • All weddings need drones. This is a new thing. At last night's wedding, the videographer had a drone! Yes, a drone. It was incredible. From my vantage point on stage, as the bride and groom exited the church building, the doors opened and they were greeted with a drone and I imagine the video is incredible. Of course, it's best to warn the wedding party the drone is there, otherwise they may think that Skynet has taken over.
  • Weddings must be holy, but should be fun at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive.
  • Outdoor weddings at 2pm in August in Florida are not best. Done these before. Good thing my suit is black and the sweat isn't noticeable. 
  • A good exit song is a must. Yesterday they played "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." It was fun.

Well, these are just thoughts and worth about what you expect. 

As I look back at over twenty years of officiating weddings, I cannot help but smile that many of the couples remain married, committed to the Lord and to each other. Oh, it's not a perfect record, but in every case, we sought to do the ceremony and the marriage right. It's not easy being married. As stressful as putting together a wedding may be, the real challenge comes once the ceremony ends. Yet, as it says in the Bible regarding all that God created, the marriage union, founded on him and his Word is GOOD.


Pastors and Politics - How To Lead In An Election Year

Every four years, at a minimum, questions are raised within the church regarding politics and political involvement. 

This year is no different and while the national stage has been set for the presidential election with Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Democrat nominee being Hillary Clinton, many Christians are now perplexed as for whom to vote. Of course there are some in both camps who are adamant about their candidate, but something interesting has happened this year. The development of the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary camps within each respective party has created a bit of a conundrum.

A Vote "For" Is Really a Vote "Against"

We have all heard these reasonings. Mostly from friends and family members (and maybe from our own mouths) regarding intentions come November. One group just cannot stomach voting for Trump, so they will vote for Clinton. Another group fears what may happen if Clinton is President, so they will vote for Trump. It's the "lesser of two evils" argument.

Still others, due to convictions and conscience will opt to vote for neither and will either leave that block blank or pick a third-party candidate. 

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

In a recent post on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor addresses this issue head-on. He quotes Matthew Franck, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University and Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute who argues "it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B."

Not everyone agrees with Franck's assessment, but the argument is clear. Click here to read the full posting by Taylor.

All Politics Is Local

I know no pastor who hasn't been inundated with questions and strong opinions regarding elections each cycle. Our local community is not unlike yours, I would bet. 

There have always been, and likely always will be, the local church that candidates attend or join simply for the political push. I was sitting with an elected official at a prayer breakfast two years ago when the local cycle of elections was in full swing (as they are now.) The room for the community prayer breakfast was full. The official leaned over to me and said, "Well, you can tell it's an election year." I laughed because I knew exactly what that meant. This person then said, "I'm a member of _______ Church (not mine and not a church in my denomination) and I get these mailings from candidates that state they are active members of my church, but I know good and well that they joined the church just last week. Happens every year."

That too is true, I'm sure. 

Now, I'm not faulting the churches. We all want people to join our fellowships. We really like it when they are becoming part of our church families due to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the desire to serve God. Yet, sometimes other things motivate members and we still love them and serve them and guide them as best we can as pastors.

Sometimes, however, the politics in the community can be used by the Enemy to not only divide people by political parties, but to create division within the family of God. It happens all the time and in every community, no doubt. 

I lament the loss of church family members due to these issues. 

How Political Should the Church Be?

Pastor - here's a truth I offer you today that you can bank on.

You will never be political enough for some in your church and at the same time, you will be way too political for others.

One friend left our church after months of living frustrated over things that, in my opinion, weren't that vital to the gospel or the mission of the church. When he joined a sister church in the community, he felt "led" to email me one last message. In this one (and there were many prior) he stated, "This other church's pastor is more political than you and speaks from the pulpit all the time about elections, voting and whom we should vote for." He went on about the glory of the politically divisive and yet, I know his pastor and I know he (the pastor) does not do as was stated. Yet, perception is reality, I guess.

Politics is a way of life in our culture. To avoid it is to skip out on a subject that must be addressed from the gospel perspective. I believe Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission states it well in this short video.

 

What To Do?

Simply put, as Christians, we should be involved in the process of voting. We should speak clearly on the issues that are addressed in Scripture. We must remember that God ordains all that lead and that He alone is our answer and rescuer and no politician or political party can usurp (or should, at least) that role.

Christians should be more evangelistic about Jesus than their candidate of choice.

Can you imagine if the effort to tell people about the Redeemer was as intense as the effort to get people to vote for one's preferred candidate what may happen?

Pastors - regardless where you land regarding how political you are publicly, pray for God's lead and be ready with a biblical, godly, gospel-saturated answer for all you do and say. Remember, you're not called to shepherd people for just the next term, but to lead them into eternity as citizens of the Kingdom of God - faithful and true.

Oh, and please vote. Lead your people to participate not check out and stay home on election day. There's nothing wrong with having voting registration at your church. Don't lead your church to passively ignore their responsibility as citizens, but moreso as followers of Christ. 


What the Dallas Shootings Reveal

This past week has been horrific. Stories flooding social media and airwaves first from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then Minnesota, and finally from Dallas, Texas.

 

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A Dallas police sergeant wears a mourning band on his badge during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Regarding the Dallas story, Twitter and Facebook erupted with first-person accounts. Some were authentic. Some were likely fabricated. Some were posted too soon (remember the gentleman with the rifle who was peacefully protesting and immediately became the suspect due to an improperly posted image?) It happens all the time. In the midst of the reports (and we now live in a world where "official" reports from reputable news agencies are often too quickly posted just as uninformed tweets and FB postings.) Evil seems to be winning. Maybe evil is winning, but remember, the game is not over and, as in sports, it doesn't matter who's in the lead at half-time.

Everything Is Political

The politicization of every tragedy seems to be the norm now. Maybe this was always the case, but with immediate, as-it-happens news updates, it now seems no public statement can be made without a politically-based leaning. Words are parsed. Spin is set. And the populace continues to shake their collective heads as if to say "Really? Wow! That's all you have?" knowing that tepid statements from leaders and influencers mean little.

Our nation has been divided since...oh, about 1776...along political and relational lines. Even our forefathers weren't exactly best friends (just read about the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson relationship.) The blackest time in our nation's history centers around division where brothers took up arms agains each other. Division has developed over religious, political, racial and even generational differences. The "United" States of America has always struggled to live up to that name. Yet, to be clear, I still believe the great experiment known as the USA is valuable, honorable, and the best option available among a world that has strived since the beginning for meaning, hope, and purpose. While I admit that not every founding father was a Christian, I believe God ordained the founding of this nation and did so for His glory.

Politics Will Not Solve Our Issues

Every generation has likely stated that "It's never been this bad, though," and that could be true. There have been moments of national unity, but often they're fleeting and prefaced by a tragedy (The Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, etc.) At times of crisis, the populace looks for a word of hope, of encouragement, of direction. At these times, those with an audience, those with influence, must speak and speak well.

In our nation, the President has been the one that most look to for words of hope and strength during times of war, fear, sadness and crisis. This has been the case throughout our limited history.

It is easy to see that, under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life. - Abraham Lincoln

We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage—of our resolve—of our wisdom—our essential democracy. If we meet that test—successfully and honorably—we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. - Harry S. Truman

I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace… He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction. - John F. Kennedy

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! - Ronald Reagan

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." - Ronald Reagan

I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. - George W. Bush

I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events, and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas. - Barack Obama

Yet, even with these words of strength, clarity, and comfort...fear remains.

More Than a Race Problem

Is there a race problem in America? Absolutely. While we have come far, we are continually reminded that we have far to go. There is still a race problem. This became evident to me last week as I was driving through a small town in northern Arkansas and saw a billboard advertising "White Pride Radio." Now, in case you haven't checked...I'm white. Lily white. I've always been white. I identify as white. I don't even tan well. Yet, when I saw the billboard, I was angered. Cloaked in "racial pride" and featuring an image of a young girl holding a puppy along with the word "Love" plastered on the sign, I was angered at the deception. This wasn't love. It was hate disguised as love. I went to the website and immediately it changed to a KKK online radio station. Yeah, I deleted my browser history.

Now, I realize that one billboard does not define an entire town. There are people in every community who are "color blind." There are true Christians of all races and in every neighborhood who value life because we are God's image-bearers.

 

I cannot speak as a black man, brown man, tan man, red man, yellow man, or any other shade of melanin man because, as I stated before, I'm a white man. It's a bit disingenuous to speak on behalf of a person or people group that one does not belong. Yet, here's what I do know to be true - hatred is not reserved for any one race. Well, I take that back. Hatred is something that develops within a particular race all too well - the human race

This is why political statements and posturing will never completely solve the problem. Division is the nature of man. Pride is the default setting. Anger is natural. Evil and depravity need not be taught. 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

It's our nature. It's why we have crime. It's why we need laws. It's why we need police officers.

So, as the stories unfold and sadly, another tragedy will hit the news soon, I fear (not because I know any specifics, but because I know the heart of man) we can rest assured that within the storms, within the crises, in the midst of the fear and the anger and the danger known in this world, evil only appears to be winning. Ultimately, love does win. Not the watered down hashtag of #LoveWins that has been used the past few years, but the agape, grace-centered, gospel-founded love that is Jesus Christ! 

In the meantime, we pray. 

Yes - Pray!

Yet, let's be more preemptive in our prayers. Don't wait for the tragedy to create the latest #PrayFor_____ trend (which I've used and will, so I'm not knocking that) but let's pray now for those grieving and mourning, for those seeking to get through today and the next, for those who are sworn to protect us, for the black lives, for the brown lives, for the red lives, for the yellow lives, for the white lives (I just had a flashback to the "Jesus Loves the Little Children" song I learned as a child) and for the mixed races (which at this point in our history includes just about everyone on the planet) and the blue lives (which include all the previous ones listed but whom wear badges and run to danger.)

 

Let's pray for strength, protection, and security, but let's amp it up a bit. Let's pray for salvation and the rescue of the depraved and desperate hearts that Jeremiah mentioned are within us all. Let's pray for those who do not know the rescuer, the ransomer of hearts, the redeemer of souls, the way, truth and life to know and surrender all to him. And let's not just pray for them, but be obedient to tell them of this great salvation.

For you see, apart from Christ...there is no hope.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

But with Christ, we have true hope. A hope that gives assurance that in all the craziness we experience, God remains sovereign.

 


Why We Plant Churches & New Campuses

Back in 2011 I attended the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Phoenix with one of my good friends. It was during this conference we began to pray about the journey of planting churches. The North American Mission Board was unveiling the "Send City" strategy and the impact of reaching people in strategic areas around the US and Canada. Our church had already partnered with a church planter—Chase Delperdang of Tucson, Arizona. The partnership was our first foray into this updated strategy of community engagement.

Over the years, we have partnered with planters in cities such as Portland, Colorado Springs, and Los Angeles. We fund as a sending church a family in Toronto and and another in Washington, DC.

Even as we have continued these relationships and seek to discover ways to support more fully, God continues to call us and challenge us to engage in our own community even more. 

We are an active support and assessing church for our local network and have recently created our own mini-network for the purpose of reaching more people in our community and surrounding towns. We know this is what we must do and yet, some, even within our church wonder why.

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Why Invest in Church Planting?

Some argue that planting churches is nothing more than a trendy movement. I have even heard some declare it to be unbiblical. Even when pointed to the unfolding of the church's expansion in the book of Acts, there are some who protest and do not see these as synonymous. Yet, I deem a church planting movement as not a new idea, but an outgrowth of cultural engagement and affirming, if not fulfilling, the words of Acts 1:8.

Granted, the term "church planting" is not in the Bible. However, disciple-making is and while some scoff that church planting is little more than institutional promotion, the reality is that healthy church plants (i.e. new expressions of local church bodies, grounded upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ) lead to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. God is honored and loved. People are loved. Disciples are made.

That being said, the varied church plants we sponsor are led by men called by God to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is about Kingdom-growth, plain and simple. When church planting fails in this area, it fails fully.

A few years ago, Ed Stetzer, then of LifeWay Research and himself a church planter wrote an article focused on why established churches should plant new works. Here is an abbreviated list of his reasons (full article may be found here.)

  • Church planting reaches lost people. Now retired Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, John Sullivan stated in a denominational meeting that new churches reach lost people at a better rate than established churches. He stated that we don't know exactly why this is, but the results prove it to be true.
  • Church planting follows a biblical pattern. Church planter, John Worcester gives a good overview of church planting as a function of the New Testament church in the video embedded below. His site is churchplanting.net 
  • Church planting is essential for survival. For any movement to thrive, it must multiply. 
  • Church planting benefits the planting church. When life change occurs within the ministries and plants sponsored by a church, the Lord energizes the "dry bones" for His glory.
  • Church planting is necessary to reach North America. This is the foundation of the Send strategy.
  • There's never a good time to plant - do it anyway.

In addition to planting and supporting new church plants, we are expanding into other regions of our community with satellite campuses. Churches have done this for years and we hosted a couple of campuses in years past. We did much well, but also learned from some 20/20 hindsight as to how to map and strategize better. There are numerous options when it comes to satellite campuses. Our model is to plant these in community schools, focused on reaching families, while serving the community. Each campus will have an on-campus minister and messages will be live, not video presentations. At this time, our new campuses will meet on off-days and times from the traditional Sunday morning. Go to creek.church and island.church to see a brief preview of where we will launch.

Why Put a Campus Where There Are So Many Other Churches?

One question that continues to be raised by friends about these campuses focuses on location and "why?" In each case, there are numerous other churches (of varying flavors) around. Yet, there are some demographic realities that have become clear as we have studied the areas. The truth is that the majority of those in the communities, even with numerous other churches around, do not attend any church of any type.

Some would say, "But if they wanted to attend, there are enough options. Why plant another?"

The simple answer is because we believe God is calling us to do so.

I was talking ton one friend about the Fleming Island area where we hope to plant Island Church next spring. There are numerous churches in this highly populated area. In addition to a young, large Baptist Church there are Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and even a new, fast-growing ARC church. Each is unique and yet, many are not engaged. The lostness in the community is overwhelming, as is the case in most every area in our nation.

In Fleming Island, at the corner of the two major roads are six pharmacies. It seems odd, but at Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Target, Publix, CVS, and Walgreens, residents can get their prescriptions filled as well as purchase other desired and needed items. Six pharmacies! Isn't that too many? Wouldn't one be enough? Well, apparently no. Each one seems to be doing well and apparently there are many, many people in our community purchasing legal drugs. The rumors are that the illegal ones are pretty rampant as well, but because it's a nice community they seem to be mostly designer drugs...but, I digress (too many cop friends, I guess.)

It's not exactly a fair comparison, but if there's a need for six pharmacies for physical ailments, surely there's a need for as many "spiritual pharmacies" that God desires to address the spiritual ailments of the people. 

So, we are planting a new campus, in Fleming Island and near Orange Park South. While these two areas are close, the demographics are vastly different. The barriers (bridges, waterways, divided highways, subdivisions, etc.) clearly create separate communities where the church is needed.

We Plant for the Sake of God's Kingdom

Tim Keller put it well in his article "Why Plant Churches"...

WE PLANT CHURCHES AS AN EXERCISE IN KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS.

All in all, church planting helps an existing church best when the new congregation is voluntarily birthed by an older “mother” congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income wash back into the mother church in various ways and strengthen and renew it. Although there is some pain in seeing good friends and valued leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually soon experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new, enthusiastic leaders and members.

However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue—the issue of “kingdom-mindedness.” New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80 percent—the new people the kingdom has gained through this new church—or are we going to bemoan the situation and resent the three families we lost to it?” Our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.

Any church that is more upset by its own small losses than grateful for the kingdom’s large gains is betraying its narrow interests. Even so, as we have seen, the benefits that new church planting offers to older congregations is very great, even if not initially obvious.

A New Metric

As we move forward in our planting and campus launching, we seek to do what every church says they want to do, but few succeed. We seek to reach lost, unchurched people for Christ. While most churches affirm this, many of our traditionally "successful" church starts (and I'm talking about in my denomination and community) reach fewer lost people and more saved, disenfranchised church members from other congregations. 

Just to be clear - moving Christians from "Church A" to "New Church B" is not Kingdom-growth. It may eventually lead to such, but unless Church A is celebrating the renewed heart of these transferred members and these people are fully engaged in big picture engagement (i.e. they're not just marketing their new brand of church, but are actually living their faith and sharing Christ) this is a facade of church growth.

I feel for the pastors and campus ministers who end up with a room full of former members of Church A. What do you do? Tell them to leave? Maybe, but that becomes a distraction as well.

J.D. Payne threw this option out on the Verge website...

We don’t need more flavors

What would happen if we recognized that a wise use of our Father’s resources (e.g., money, people) should be to assist in planting churches from out of the harvest fields, instead of establishing a new work in a community to provide a different style of worship/ministry for the believers who are already there?

We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches.

What would happen if we equipped and commissioned church planters with the task of only going to the lost in the people group/community?

Yes, we say we are advocating these things, but let’s begin to question our results.

Try this.  The next time you hear about a new church planted, a record number of new churches birthed in an area, or church planting goals reached, just ask the question, “What percent of the members of those churches recently came into the Kingdom of God?”

So, we echo the stated intention of every church planter and established church pastor I know when we say "We want to reach lost people!" Pray that we do and that we avoid the easy trap of using an old model that creates a perceived successful church, but no disciples. Pray that we live out our faith in ways that the lost are loved, even if they never come to Christ. Pray that we don't lose focus.

More to come as we continue on this journey. Please pray that much would be made of Jesus and that God alone would be glorified. 


Anxiety, Depression and the Church

I recently preached from Matthew 6:25-33. In this passage Jesus clearly commands his followers to not worry. In the ESV, the verse states "Do not be anxious about your life." It is pretty clear, as indicated in our congregation, when I asked "How many of you worry about things like money, clothing, home, your kids, etc.?" that just about everyone (and it looked like everyone) worries. Hands went up throughout the room. This may have been the most hands in the air in a Baptist church on record.

In reading the passage, Jesus speaks to his followers and basically asks "Why do you worry? God has this!"

It's true, even as Christians we tend to fall into this trap of wondering if God is going to come through. We ask "Did he get my request?" and sometimes, well, to be hones, we act like we have a better handle on what we need than God.

I mentioned that ultimately Jesus was speaking of the sin of unbelief. This is a natural drift based on the Enemy's strategy first revealed in the Garden of Eden. When the Enemy addressed Eve and Adam, he basically presented them with the possibility that God was untrustworthy and was holding out on them. That lie has been perpetuated ever since.

So, when Jesus says "Do not be anxious about your life..." he is addressing this core reality of unbelief. Do we really believe God? Do we really trust him?

To doubt and become anxious in this way is to subtly, and maybe subconsciously agree and affirm that God doesn't really care and will not come through. Jesus reveals the antidote for this sin of unbelief and it is found in verse 33 where he commands us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Apparently, you cannot actively seek God and not believe God. Therefore, this action is preceded by repentance.

But What About Anxiety?

I have friends who struggle with anxiety and what has been termed a medical disorder. Anxiety, worry, and depression are not all synonyms, but there are some similarities. What about the man or woman who struggles so deeply with anxiety and finds it debilitating? What about those who know the Lord and sincerely pray for release and help? What about when those answers do not seem to arrive?

For years the church has ignored the reality of mental illness. In some cases a response of "Just pray about it" was about all pastors and fellow Christians would offer. Some actually seem to have traveled back to the first century where every physical and mental illness was the direct result of individual sin. While this may be the case at times, ultimately all illness results from the fact we live in a fallen world where sin has infected all of creation. 

So, as I preached Sunday on this passage regarding anxious living, some would rightly wonder if just "praying away" the issues is enough? 

Believe me a superficial prescription is never biblically sound. 

Since 99.9% of the congregation publicly admitted that worry was prevalent in their lives,  prayers of repentance of not believing God needed to happen. It needed to happen in my life.

As for those who have diagnosed anxiety disorders or some other affirmed mental illness (and those two words—"mental illness"—need not be forbidden by Christians) the truth remains that God is ultimately the answer. 

For my friends who ask "I keep praying and God isn't taking this away, so now what?" I cannot help but think of Paul and his "thorn in the flesh." However, I don't pretend to easily equate the two. It just comes to mind and makes me wonder. I also think of Job who suffered much. The physical suffering of God's children is not always removed in a timely fashion. The mental suffering isn't either. 

This we know...God is not absent, nor is he ignoring his children.

The crowd that heard Jesus say "Do not be anxious" apparently were much like me and many who were here Sunday. They (we) were sinfully choosing to not fully believe that God was sovereign.

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I Believe, But Still Suffer

I grieve with those who seem overwhelmed by suffering, whether physical or mental. Christians are to grieve with those who grieve and to be honest, there are times when we just cannot understand what another is feeling.

I recently saw a commercial for a medication designed for people who suffer from migraine headaches. My wife suffers from these on occasion and she said that commercial nailed it. It is hard, if not impossible, to explain to another what is being experienced during these headaches. Words do not suffice. Pain is real and those who have never experienced it can be hurtful by simply stating "Just take some ibuprofen and take a nap." 

This is similar to those who suffer from anxiety or depression. They, too, have shared an inability to verbalize exactly what they feel and are experiencing. So, "Just be happy and get over it" is not really a helpful prescription.

So to those who suffer, my prayers for you are offered (comment below if you have specific requests). Repentance of the sin of unbelief is needed in my life, and likely in most every follower of Christ. Repentance of the sin of offering superficial prescriptions rather than true prayer and love for those suffering is needed as well.

An article by Brandon Peach on the Relevant website revealed this...

Anxiety and depression don't look how we often think.

When I've opened up to Christian friends about my own depression and anxiety disorders, they're often surprised. “You seem so happy all the time!” Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from doctors, because of the stigma attached to the illness. Churches often don't address mental illness, which gives the worship team guitarist or the elder even more incentive to keep it hidden away. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression often tend to contradict each other, which makes it really difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for the Church to recognize it.



“Learning to recognize the signs” then is often a failing strategy. If churches begin responding to mental disorders as a community willing to offer encouragement and support, people suffering from those illnesses may just be able to accept the help. It may just be people you never expected.

Even churches that seek to provide a safe haven for those suffering in their midst might not have a judgment-free place to discuss their struggles. Programs like Celebrate Recovery can provide an invaluable forum for people to interact with others who experience “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and can help deal with some of the self-medication many people with depression and anxiety use to numb themselves. Without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, though, “all are welcome” might not be enough. Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response.

Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it's time the Church leads society in helping to do the same.

A Pastor's Look at Depression

Perhaps one of the most helpful stories regarding these issues comes from Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton, Texas. Tommy entered into a depression that led to severe changes in his life. Even as a pastor of a Gospel-centric, Bible-believing church, he found the church's readiness to respond lacking. Below is a video of him sharing his story at a chapel service held at Dallas Theological Seminary. It's a long video, but worth the time.

 

 


When Chick-fil-A Opened on Sunday

Full disclosure: I'm a Chick-fil-A apologist.

I worked at Chick-fil-A when I was in high school. Those were the days when the restaurants were pretty much exclusively in malls and the menu included such things as deep-fried apple pies (they need to bring this back,) the Chick-N-Q and meals were served in cardboard boxes that looked like barns.

My children both worked for Chick-fil-A during high school and college.

We still eat at Chick-fil-A regularly. I even recommend students in our church to work for our local restaurants. I keep hoping for a kick-back in free nuggets for that.

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Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

There are many people who love Chick-fil-A.

There are also many people who hate the restaurant. Most of those who declare their hatred for Mr. Cathy's restaurant online and in the news state that it is the "intolerant" beliefs of ownership and the anti-LGBT policies of the business. This stems from CEO Dan Cathy's statements regarding his personal convictions that oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. You may remember that firestorm that hit the airwaves a number of years ago. I wrote about that here in a post from 2012. I remember squeezing into our local Chick-fil-A for a "Stand with CFA" grassroots event that drew more customers than in the history of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the cultural barrage continues to this day.

Some cities declared Chick-fil-A was not welcome to open restaurants within their municipalities. The news goes on and on and on. And Chick-fil-A continues to grow and while labeled as hateful for those who disagree with the owners religious and personal convictions, the local restaurants continue to illustrate their openness to hire qualified employees with no regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.

Sundays at Chick-fil-A

One of the most widely known characteristics of the Cathy's restaurants is that they are not open on Sundays. This was founder Truett Cathy's conviction as a Christian and active member of his local church. Though money is to be made by being open seven days a week, he refused to allow this. There are stories of individual operators who lost their restaurants when it was discovered by corporate that they were opening on Sundays. Even the powerful malls of the 1970s and 1980s could not sway Chick-fil-A to open. This is still true today. I remember a few years back as I was leading a mission team back to the US from a two-week project in Europe. We were to land in Philadelphia. We were pretty excited because we knew there was a Chick-fil-A in the Philadelphia airport. Yes! In Philadelphia there is sweet tea! It did not take long for our excitement of having our first American meal in two weeks of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and sweet iced tea wane due to the realization that we landed in Philly on a Sunday. 

Nevertheless, the "closed on Sundays" rule has remained. Apparently, it hasn't hurt Chick-fil-A as a business. They continue to grow and increase influence through leadership training, Winshape Camps and other ventures.

The Story Most Aren't Hearing

There are stories that hit the news and there are some that never make it on television at 6pm. Here's a good news story in the midst of a tragic event that illustrates that loving our neighbor is still the best policy.

Apparently, last Sunday in Orlando, the local Chick-fil-A opened. However, this operator is not likely to be in trouble. In fact, it seems that Chick-fil-A approved of this special Sunday opening. The opening was unique and in response to the terror attack at The Pulse nightclub.

Here's the story by Lairs Johnston:

Chick-fil-A is famous for two things…chicken sandwiches and controversy.

Like last month when the New York City Mayor urged people to boycott the restaurant because he felt they portrayed a hateful message towards the LGBT community. Well, this past Sunday, a day they’re infamously closed, they decided to do something out of character to help the victims.

Upon hearing the news of the Orlando shooting the restaurant opened its doors and fired up the grill, cooking hundreds of chicken burgers and orders of fries. The only thing is, they didn’t sell any. Instead, they donated everything to the local blood drive where people were gathered to donate and help out the victims of the massacre.

According to the DC Gazette, hundreds of people were fed and even posted about it on social media this past Sunday.

The owners of the popular Christian company have shown Christ in a time of tragedy. They didn’t compromise their beliefs, just showed them by extending love, opening their doors on a day they’re known for staying closed.

“They will know we are Christians by our love”–not for our best friends, not for our families or other Christians, but by how we love those who hurt us and disagree with us.

The Orlando shooting was an attack on the LGBT community. Let us not allow it to turn into more attacks – on the LGBT community, on the Muslim community, on each other.

Does This Really Matter?

Well, truthfully, it's just a local restaurant giving away chicken sandwiches. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it is really not that big a deal. Yet, here's why I believe this is significant. Johnston states it well when he says "They didn't compromise their beliefs, just showed them..."

Not every employee at Chick-fil-A is a Christian. Not everyone who works for the company agrees with the CEOs personal convictions. These are facts that are likely true in every corporation. Chick-fil-A is not really a "Christian company" because only people can be Christians. No restaurant goes to heaven when it finally closes. Yet, the people who work at this local restaurant (and I'm sure there were other restaurants and organizations that provided free meals and drinks as well to those in Orlando) did what Christ modeled. They actually did what the church should.

If you're in Orlando or following the reports focusing on the community, you will notice that many churches and followers of Christ have and are serving those who are hurting. Pray for those who wear the name of Jesus as they seek to love those the culture says they hate. Pray for our churches as they seek to minister and reach those who are hurting and scared and need to know that there is a Way to Life and He is Truth.

Love wins. And that's more than a watered-down hashtag.

 


How Christians Must Respond to the Orlando Tragedy

We awakened Sunday morning to the tragic news coming out of Orlando, Florida. A man with apparent self-proclaimed allegiances to ISIS opened fire in a gay nightclub early in the morning, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 50 more.

This is now categorized as the worst mass shooting in American history. Men and women lost their lives. Parents lost children. Brothers and sisters lost their siblings. And a nation mourns.

I confess I did not read the full story until late on Sunday afternoon and therefore, unfortunately, did not mention this tragedy as our church gathered together for worship yesterday morning. When I read the story and subsequently watched some of the video coming from Orlando, emotions swirled within me.

Once again we offer a hashtag "#PrayFor" notification on social media. This time it's not Lahore or Paris or Brussels, but is for the people of a city less than three hours from my home. Maybe "#PrayForOrlando" needs to be replaced with "#ImPrayingForOrlando" to ensure that the hashtag is less a command and more a declaration of action. Yes, prayer is active, not passive.

The terrorist connection is frightening for those in our nation, our state and especially for those in Orlando. Every time a terror connection is revealed, those who can remember are thrust back to September 11, 2001 when Islamic extremist terrorism became a reality to all of us.

Pray for Orlando

 

How We Must Respond

Let's be honest, the church (and I am referring to the conservative, evangelical, Baptist flavor of which I am part) has great potential for really messing up here with response. This is clearly due to the reality that the Islamic terrorist is, well...a Muslim, and those who were killed and injured are most likely lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Oh, and they were in a nightclub.

While posting a "#PrayForParis" or other such statement on social media just seems like the right thing to do, some Christians may initially struggle with offering a "#PrayForOrlando" statement for fear that they will be viewed as affirming things they feel strongly against (in this case, the LGBT lifestyle.)

These are just my thoughts on how Christians and the church should respond.

STOP - Seriously, just stop what you're doing for a moment. Take a pause. As news continues to pour out from Orlando and in news conferences in front of the Pulse Nightclub, stop what you're doing. Stop scrolling through trending stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. What has become more common as we move into a more inter-connected, technology-driven world, we find ourselves searching online to see what others are saying. I'm guilty of this and also of what many others find easy to do - vent online. Don't. Guard your hearts and stop for just a moment and think about the reality of what has happened.

PRAY 

Yes, really pray! In my life, I've discovered the intentional pause leads to deeper prayer. People are angry. People are afraid. People are hurting. Pray for the city of Orlando, but more for the people of Orlando and especially those directly touched by the tragedy. You do not have to agree nor affirm a person's lifestyle to grieve over them. Pray for the family members, friends and yes, even lovers of those killed. 

GRIEVE

Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) Names are now being released of those who were killed. These are not generic "extras" in a film or digital creations in a video game. These are real people. They were killed in a nightclub marketed to the LGBT community. These people are image-bearers of God who had their lives erased in a moment of hatred and terror. 

I read this morning the transcript of text messages sent from a young man to his mother as he and others were hiding in a restroom. The messages are haunting as he stated "He's coming. I'm going to die!" He has been confirmed as one of the victims and his mother is left, as are many others, grieving and questioning and now wondering "What could I have done?" As a parent, my heart goes out to the many who are being notified this morning, grieving the loss of a son or daughter and now thrust into the public spotlight as they mourn and ultimately have to plan a funeral soon.

BE SILENT, BUT SPEAK HOPE AND LOVE WHEN YOU MUST

Okay, this seems contradictory, but hear me out. At times the very best counsel and help a Christian can offer others is the ministry of presence. Just be there. You don't have to go to Orlando to do this. Believe me, as this story unfolds, there are many in your community and church, and even your family, who are shaken by this. Some because of the connection to the LGBT community or their own self-identity as LGBT. Others because of the affinity of age with those murdered. Some because they have friends or coworkers who may be more like the terrorist than they wanted to admit and now political correctness seems way too overrated.

Grief and fear are often bedfellows. So, as one who has hope, just BE THERE. And, when you do speak, go to Scripture, but not as the Pharisaical legalists do. In fact, I'd recommend you live out the Scripture. At this point the #LoveWins hashtag needs to not be about gay marriage, but about Christ-centered, Gospel-focused love for those who need it (and we all need it.) Questions such as "Why?" will come, and simple, man-centered answers never suffice. 

Following the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007, Erik Raymond wrote these words...

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

How Christians respond to this tragedy should be no different than how we respond to other depraved events where it seems evil is triumphant.

It is at these moments, Christ's love must shine through. We remember clearly that we are His ambassadors. This is a heavy calling. Respond well.

 

 


firstFAMILY Podcast 016: Resurrecting the Dead Church

06-08-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 016 - Resurrecting the Church


In this podcast, I share details related to church renewal and revitalization needed in our churches. Churches are dying. Some need to, but many just need refocusing. What would God have us do? Working harder is not the answer. Doing nothing is not an option. Join me in this discussion and check out the transcript as presented in the previous blog post here.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2016-06-08/758652111f1942ddb5a50d557767780e.png
A closed-down church building in northern Wales

 


Resurrecting the Dead Church

Christians are all about resurrections. At least every Spring when the pastels come out and Easter services are planned. 

When we baptize individuals in our churches, we're declaring a resurrection. In fact, I tell each person I baptize that they are about to preach the most powerful sermon ever. At that point, I tend to get a worried look as the person is thinking "I didn't know I was going to have to preach?!?" Then, I tell them that the very act of believer's baptism is the greatest illustration of life from death. The immersion reminds all who watch that Jesus died and was placed in a tomb  (buried.) When I pull the person back up out of the water, it is a picture of Jesus rising from the dead! What a sermon!

The baptism also shows that the individual died when he/she surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and was raised up a new creature in Christ. Old is gone and the new is here! 

It's a powerful image and I never grow tired of baptizing. 

What About Resurrecting the Church?

But what happens when the local church is in need of resurrection?

The numbers declare the reality - churches have a life-cycle. Based on statistical analysis from the North American Mission Board, over 70 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining. While attendance is not the only indicator of health or life, it is a strong one. Even so, as we look across the board, only 10 - 15 percent of our churches can be categorized as healthy and multiplying.

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By the Numbers

  • Across the SBC, we see close to 900 churches close annually
  • Two-thirds of these closures are churches over ten years old
  • Two-thirds of these closures are churches in growing, metro areas
  • The implications for Florida are that we see approximately 65 churches close annually
  • In the Jacksonville area, this means that almost 30 churches could be called "healthy," around 150 "plateaued or declining," and approximately 30 at or near risk of closing

In a meeting with denominational and regional leaders recently, we compared these statistics with known numbers of churches in our area and the data matches. Fortunately, our leaders and engaged churches are not content to see the statistics remain. We are blessed in our region to have wonderfully strategic, godly, and discerning leaders focused on these issues (Thank you - Rick Wheeler and the Jacksonville Baptist Association, especially.) Nevertheless, no denominational strategy will ever be sufficient to turn the tide. Working harder is not the answer. 

We have been able so see some amazing success stories in our city relating to church renewal and revitalization. In most cases, our associational leadership has played the role of broker between churches in the healthy ten percent and those in the bottom grouping. For this we are grateful.

While it is clear that God is moving among churches in Jacksonville and through the Jacksonville Baptist Association, we know that small victories will not shift the 70 percent into the category of "healthy and multiplying."

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Dying Churches Need a Strategic Shift

Many of our churches throughout Jacksonville were launched in the 1950s. They experienced growth and have histories of community engagement and victories. However, in many cases, the best days are decades in the past and the community around the church changed. Unfortunately, some churches have died. Honestly, some needed to die. Yet, I personally hate to see a church turn inward, ignore the gospel, grow calloused and die on the vine, especially in communities that are so in need for a clear, loving, biblically-relevant, gospel witness. 

John Mark Clifton, Lead National Strategist for Revitalization/RePlanting at NAMB, recently wrote a post about the reality of dying churches. In this post (found here), he breaks down the "Signs of a Dying Church" and all should take this to heart:

There is one reason a church dies. The church in Ephesus loved doctrine, they believed the truth, they worked hard, and they endured. But they were doomed to die if they did not return to that which they did at first. The church of Ephesus began with a bang (literally). It was birthed with a passion to reach its community and to make disciples. Over time, however, this passion waned. When a church ceases over a period of time to make disciples who make disciples and realize community transformation, that church will die.

The symptoms of a church near death are many and they include:

  1. They value the process of decision more than the outcome of decision.
  2. They value their preferences over the needs of the unreached.
  3. They have an inability to pass leadership to the next generation.
  4. They cease, often gradually, to be part of the fabric of their community.
  5. They grow dependent upon programs or personalities for growth or stability.
  6. They tend to blame the community for a lack of response and in time grow resentful of the community for not responding as it once did.
  7. They anesthetize the pain of death with over-abundance of activity and maintaining outdated structure.
  8. They confuse caring for the church facility with caring for the church members.

Most church leaders and members of local churches can see how these eight things can happen. In truth, most of us must repent for allowing these things to happen. This isn't rocket science - when we turn inward and focus on that which doesn't matter for eternity and the sake of the gospel, we begin to die. Sure, churches have life-cycles. Seriously, who's talking about the latest great things happening at the Church at Ephesus?

Yet, even with the known "life-cycles" of local churches, it is unhealthy and sinful to ignore that which God has called us to do. Is it possible that 70 percent of SBC churches have unintentionally allowed the worship of the church or the past to keep them from being who God has called them to be? Autonomy is wonderful, but we must not ignore the benefits and gospel-centered strategies (i.e. as exemplified in the book of Acts and Paul's letters) of being Kingdom-focused, community-engaged, partnered (or maybe "cooperating") churches. If the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, there is the possibility that we are only as strong in our community as our weakest church.

So, it's clear that dying churches need a strategic shift, but in many cases, they may not have the personnel or resources to do such. This is why strategic cooperation is so needed. The big church vs. small church battles that have grown in so many areas over the decades must go away. The battle is too grand to spend time focusing on issues that do not matter. So, as we check our egos at the door, we must come together for the sake of the Gospel. Is it possible? Not without divine intervention. 

Some dying churches will refuse to change. In many cases, they will become a local community's new CVS or Walgreens (depending on which corner the other one is built.) While affordable prescription drugs may fill a need for a community, I still believe a sold, Gospel witness will fill a greater need.

Will it be easy? Nope! But, who said ministry was easy?

 


Does Your Church Needs Rebooting?

Years ago, when I was in college and working at IBM as an intern, I learned much about personal computers and how they worked. I had to...job security. There were numerous times I would be called in by the executives in the building to come to their offices and fix their computers. The PC was still a fairly new machine and for a corporate culture that was built and relied on mainframes, learning the world of the PC was a shift for many long-time employees.

Nevertheless, I learned quickly that the first and often the best fix for the desktop computers was to simply turn off the machine, wait about thirty seconds, and turn it back on. The rebooting of the computer often reset the software and memory to a point that speed was regained and work could continue.

Computers have changed dramatically over the years, with the advent of smaller, more powerful microchips and, of course the move toward mobility with smart phones and tablets. However, even now, and maybe especially now, the simple rebooting of the machine is often needed.

On a Mac or Windows-based PC, the ability to "multi-task" by having multiple programs running at once is both a great help and at times, a great hindrance. Sometimes the computer (or phone) will slow down and cause the user great distress. Often this is remedied by closing programs that are open and running in the background. For the iPhone, it's a simple double-click of the button and a swipe of the app. It's simple, but does wonders.

It is my assertion that the local church can become much like these computers and phones at times. We, too, have many programs running. The larger the church, the more programs. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these various programs, but over time, churches have shown a tendency to do more because it's the "right thing to do" but fail to increase resources to keep the work at a high level and productive. In computer terms, we are running more programs but have not added any memory, or maybe storage space, to the machine.

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And we become bogged down.

We are considering this reality here at our church, and it is illustrated clearly when I look at our planning calendar and see markings and events on just about every day of the year. Some program is doing something, somewhere, in the name of the church (or at least using the resources of the church.) 

I think it's time for a reboot.

It's almost impossible to truly reboot a local church, especially one that has property and has been in existence for decades. To turn everything off for a season will cause great distress. However, maybe distress is what is needed?

Ministry programs are good, but as the old saying goes "sometimes good is the enemy of best" and as many church leaders know, despite our best efforts, "sacred cows" tend to appear over time.

One pastor stated at a conference that "Sacred cows make the best hamburger." He elicited a laugh from the crowd, but most pastors just wondered how this could ever happen.

Summer is a good time to reboot.

For our church, the school calendar pretty much runs the family calendars of our community. Therefore, the eight weeks or so of summer become a down-time for many families (or a short-time in which to cram any vacations or get-aways.)

While we still have the typical summer events on the calendar (VBS, camps, mission trips, etc.) we are cancelling our mid-week gatherings on Wednesday evenings. Some are shocked because in the Baptist world, Wednesday is like "Sabbath, Jr." but truth-be-told, over the past three years, the attendance on Wednesdays has been so low, the people basically voted to not come, by...not coming. 

If I could, I would probably cancel everything except Sunday morning worship this summer. It would be risky because our church culture is so set, but I know a reboot is needed. 

What happens when you reboot?

For a computer, programs and memory gets reset. For the church, leadership should take the time set aside during the reboot to evaluate every program and ministry offered by the church. It is during this time that "sacred cows" can be put out to pasture. It is at this time the hard questions such as "Should we even be doing this?" should be asked and then when the church is turned back on...some of the programs don't reappear. In other words, some programs need to be uninstalled.

Most pastors I know would love to do something like this, but find each week to be jam-packed with meetings, study time, visitation, etc. and the needed evaluation and restart never happens. We're just too busy. That's the problem with a continually running machine. You are always working to keep the machine running.

Dangers

  • Finances may suffer. Here's a practical reality, if you reboot some programming, giving may suffer. Just because your church isn't meeting on a certain day (or days) does not mean the expenses cease. In a consumer-based culture where people pay for their luxuries and activities, the unfortunate reality is that some feel as if they're "paying for their spiritual fix" weekly. Therefore, the risk of losing offerings is very real. However, this should not drive the decision. Just be aware.
  • A good idea vs. a God idea. Far too many of us pastors read about what some other church has done and then attempt to do the very same thing. While what was done at another local church may have been God's perfect plan for them, it may not be for you. Therefore, rebooting your church over the summer or some other time may just be a "good idea" and not "God's idea" so tread lightly and pray fervently.
  • The congregation doesn't "get it." Just because something makes perfect sense to you as a pastor and leader, the fact is that most in the congregation are not privy to the inner workings of the organization and would not automatically understand. So, communicate clearly and do so over and over again, BEFORE pulling the plug.

Does your church need a reboot? Perhaps. If you're on the verge of personal burnout, there's a good chance the church is as well. So goes the shepherd, so go the sheep. Giving permission for people to slow down is not a bad thing.

Reminders

Even if you stop doing some church events, remember that the Great Commission and Great Commandment never get put on "pause." The church is not the building (we keep saying that even though we don't act like we believe it) so this may force leadership to truly equip the saints for the work of the church, in their families, communities, workplaces and even on vacation.

Oh, one final warning. Sometimes when I would reboot a computer, it would not come back on correctly. That was an indication that a more serious issue needed to be addressed. Is it possible to reboot a church and find some things not coming back online? I believe so. In these cases, church health is the issue and when you recognize a real problem, you're better positioned to deal with it. 

Okay. I'm logging off now. I think I need a personal reboot.


A Rite of Passage for Junior High Boys

Nine years ago a school administrator and two teachers began a mentoring club at one of our local junior high schools for boys, simply put, who had little to no father influence and were getting into trouble in class.  This administrator, John Green is the founder of the group and eventually became principal of the school. He is now serving on the leadership staff at Seamark Ranch, a local ministry with group homes for children in need.

The mentoring group continues to meet, and currently has chapters at three local junior high schools. Our clubs (RealStuff Clubs) focus on leading young men into REAL Manhood that…

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility, and
  • Leads courageously. 

As a ministry of our church, we provide male mentors for these young boys. Our groups meet for one hour a week, prior to school in a room reserved on the campus. We abide by the law regarding student leadership and faculty sponsorship (Equal Access Act) to ensure no false allegations of “separation of church and state” have any grounding. We teach sessions on what it means to be a real man, using characters from the Bible and ultimately Jesus Christ as our perfect model.

Each year, as the culmination of our club meetings, we host a “Knighting Ceremony” where 7th graders are “knighted” into the journey of authentic manhood before their peers and family members. Each 7th grader receives a Bible as a gift. Our 8th graders receive the cross pendant from Band of Brothers ministry.

In the past, our mentors were the “knighters” and the presenters of the pendants. However, we now affirm that the ones who need to be doing this are the boys’ fathers (or grandfathers, or other significant male.) As mentors, we gladly stand in the gap for boys who have no father figure in their lives. Yet, for those with fathers, we focus on helping them learn how to do this vital rite of passage.

DSCF9066

So, this year, with over 250 in attendance (boys, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) our young men were charged with the code of being a real man, then their fathers were invited up to knight them (7th graders) or present the pendant (8th graders.) The fathers of 7th graders knighted these boys in the “name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and welcomed them into this fraternity called real manhood. The fathers of the 8th graders presented the pendant and then in their ear, spoke a word of blessing that included these key phrases “I love you! You have what it takes!” plus anything else they desired to say.

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It was a momentous evening and while it was focused on the boys, it truly was a night to remember for these fathers. For some, it was the first time they had spoken such words to their sons. Many had never heard their own fathers say such things. It was a divine rite of passage and we seek to provide support for them along the journey.

Group


Putting the Seat Down on the Restroom Debate

As you are most likely aware, a recent joint-action taken by the United States Department of Education and the Department of Justice regarding public school access for those students who identify as transgender to have access to the locker rooms and/or restrooms of based upon their gender identification rather than birth gender.
 
The edict passed down from our governmental agencies seeks to do what the US Constitution prohibits.
 
While this has been titled the "Wars of the Restrooms" it actually is much more than that. To politicize it as a restroom issue makes for ridiculous headlines and unfortunate protests via social media, that ultimately comes across as hate-filled (and in some cases, that's because they are hateful responses.)
 
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Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/smartsignbrooklyn/10213630306/">SmartSignBrooklyn</a> via <a href="https://visualhunt.com">Visualhunt.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a>
 

We Saw This Coming

While many continue to debate the veracity of restroom usage, this hearkens back to a post I wrote in 2014 (found here) regarding the city of Houston's desire to subpoena pastor's sermons regarding LGBT activism and biblical truth. Of course, most recently, Houston had its own restroom agenda. I wrote of that last November here.
 
The stories about culture shifts in this area will not lessen. It was just last summer when I shared with a fellow pastor that the stories relating to LGBT rights will continue to grow, and impact the church. At that time, there was much about lesbians and gay men and some news stories related to bisexuals. I shared that the "T" in the acronym is going to head to the forefront soon and local communities and churches would have to address it. Of course, my statement related to weddings and premarital counseling and the needed question to be asked by pastors of couples going through counseling to be "Were you born the gender you now are?"
 
We are now at this juncture. The "T" in the LGBT acronym is front and center and the culture is weighing its response.
 
I have read numerous articles about the restroom issues, both from secularists and Christians. There are some who declare the expected boycotts and others to seek to lay the issue to rest and allow anyone to use restrooms as they desire. 
 
Pastor John Piper responded well when asked if he would use Target's (the company in the cross-hairs of the boycotters and seemingly taking the lead in the corporate world's capitulation to the gender revolution) transgender restroom (or gender-neutral restroom). He stated...
 

My answer is, If I were there and if I had to, I would — just like I would stop on the highway if I had to. But I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to. And the reason I wouldn’t is because I want there to be a small act of protest and life consistency that may have no impact at all on the powers that make such decisions, but that keep my conscience clear and acknowledge God in practical affairs and give a consistency to my life that does help overall in showing the way of Christ to the world.

And I would say just one other thing. I think we should spend most of our creative energies on constructing in our minds and in our hearts and in our families great and beautiful and glorious alternative visions of reality than the ones we are being offered by the world. If we give most of our time to bemoaning and criticizing the world for acting like the world, our vision of God and his glorious future for his people will become smaller and smaller, and that could be a greater tragedy than the one we are living in. (His complete response is located here.)

The School Restrooms

Now, the issue at hand. With the government's non-binding threat to local schools coming out publicly this week, school boards and school systems are scrambling to answer well. The Duval County School Board (the largest school district in my area - Jacksonville, Florida) has stated they will comply with the mandate. Of course, lawsuits are now coming from parents who disagree.

The Clay County School Superintendent (the county where I reside) has stated that they will NOT comply with the mandate. School Board members will be addressing this on Thursday of this week. They are now being inundated with comments and threats from those who are offended, as well as words of encouragement and affirmation. 

Truth be told, our county school leadership rarely has a meeting without controversy. There continues to be great division among many in our county for numerous reasons, but in this case, regarding the affirmation of the federal government's directive, I anticipate a unified front for the most part in pushing back and saying "NO." I would encourage all in our county who have strong feelings in this issue to attend the School Board meeting. I know many who are offended that the directive would be ignored will be there. Their voices are already being heard. It is the voices of the encouragers that are needed. Many who never engage in politics and civics should consider attending and simply, in a winsome (not hateful, or angry) way, state their affirmation for the Superintendent and the School Board membership who must stand united on this issue. Someone needs to be a Barnabas in Babylon.

At a time when administrative assignments are being made for the next school years, students are living in the post-testing time of the year and having parties in classes, honor societies are inducting new members, clubs are having end-of-year events, and some are preparing to walk across the stage wearing a robe and mortarboard, the schools are talking about restrooms. Because they have to do so! This issue is not just in my local community. It's in every American community, thanks to the recent edict.

Churches and businesses are already having to find ways to answer the questions. (And these are questions that no one ever thought would be asked.)

This will not be an easily answered question and I foresee millions of dollars spent in lawsuits and litigation over this issue in the coming months, and perhaps years. 

Yet, the camel's nose is under the tent.

And those who live with a biblical worldview see things unfolding as expected, though not enjoyed. While there is no going back, and honestly, we shouldn't want to go backward, the need for Christians who consistently see the world through a biblical lens (i.e. worldview) is vital. 

Love God. Love people. Love ALL people (love does not mean affirm). Make disciples.

While the debate rages regarding identity, I go to Jesus' words in Matthew 19:4 (ESV) - “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female."

Remember...it's really not about the restrooms, but in case you didn't know, I am opposed to the gender-neutral and gender-identified choice for restroom/locker room usage.

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firstFAMILY Podcast 015: Killing the One-Eared Mickey Mouse

05-11-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 015 - One-Eared Mickey Mouse

 

Back in 1989, Stuart Cummings-Bond wrote in Youthworker Journal of the "One-Eared Mickey Mouse" that often develops within a church regarding student ministry. 

What is the One-Eared Mickey Mouse?

The premise is that left unchecked, the program model of youth ministry leads to an isolated entity with the thinnest of connections to church as a whole. This become a ministry silo (which I have written about here.) A healthier approach would find more overlap of the circles with intentional interaction and sharing of spiritual practices like worship.

One-earred-mickey

While student ministry often is the example used to describe this effect, the truth is it is not relegated to just ministry with teenagers. Any ministry within the church potentially can become its own "parachurch" ministry. This is often due to much weight being placed on the program model and the passion of those who serve within the ministry. For example, if John Doe serves in the intercessory prayer ministry, and has great passion for that ministry, there would be the natural tendency to elevate the prayer ministry over all other aspects of church ministry and opportunities. When this happens, a segmented leadership structure develops and an unintended "us vs. them" mentality develops which is evident in spiritual arrogance. You know, when only those who serve in "Ministry A" are considered to be really spiritual and doing something vital, while everyone else is missing out and living below the level of all that is holy.

Since Mickey's head is connected to his ear in this model at a very small, finely tuned point, it is very easy to be active in the "ear" and not be connected in the fullness of the church and its ministry.

This is poor ecclesiology and ultimately sinful.

And, just about every church of any significant age and size will inevitably drift here.

As our Leadership Team meets regularly to pray, plan and prepare (nice alliteration, huh?) we are more and more convicted of the potential for developing and even celebrating the "one-eared Mickey." Therefore, we must be strategic in our planning and more intentional in our practice to ensure this does not happen.

To declare our desire to have a family-equipping ministry means more than just saying "We're intentionally inter-generational." It means planning for opportunities where family members of all ages (and that's church family as well as biological and home-based families) to serve together, worship together, learn together, and grow together.

Perhaps one of the greatest divides in this era of legacy churches, church plants, megachurches, home churches, and all other models is the generational divide. When a segment of the church (defined by generation or age) is described as "those people" rather than "our family members" the divide is there.

By and large the "worship wars" of the 1990s and prior are over. The fact that "wars" were celebrated within the church is bad enough. The winner of the worship wars? Debatable, but likely not the church since division and self-centeredness tended to define the battle most accurately described as "The greatest waste of time within the church walls while the world kept on turning."

Yet, "Generation Wars" may be upon us...unless, we are proactive.

To ignore the "one-eared Mickey" is a recipe for loss. 

There are many resources available to help churches avoid this. One is Timothy Paul Jones' book Family Ministry Field Guide. I recommend it for all pastoral staff members (especially during the season of ministry planning and calendaring - which for us begins in August and ends in July each year.)


The Danger of Easy Christianity

On Sunday, I entered into a conversation with a good friend following the testimony presented by our church planting intern, Adam Wiggins. His story of redemption from a life far from God is inspiring and continues to impact many for the sake of the gospel. While talking with this friend, the discussion shifted to the failures at times we (the church and believers) have in effectively discipling new believers and worse, yet, offering a Christianity that is little more than a spiritual equivalent of joining a club.

 

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Photo credit: delete08 via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

 

 

Author and speaker, Rosaria Butterfield shared in her story of change, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, how becoming a Christian meant so much more than just "praying a prayer."

Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and fickle loyalties of my life. Conversion didn't "fit" my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experienced with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned - and am still learning - how to love God will all my heart, soul, strength and mind. When you die to yourself, you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.

Recently, on vacation in South Carolina, my husband and I went to a "community church." My conservative Reformed Presbyterian pastor and husband noted when we got back to the hotel room that we had just witnessed a service that contained a baptism without water, preaching without scripture, conversation about disappointment and pithy observations about financial responsibility without prayer, the distribution of flowers and trinkets without grace, and a dismissal without a blessing. Everyone was smiling, though, when it came time to walk out the door. This church's conversion prayer was printed in the bulletin. It read like this: "Dear God, I'm so sorry for my mistakes. Thanks for my salvation."

These misrepresentations of the gospel are dangerous and misleading. Sin is not a mistake. A mistake is taking the wrong exit on the highway. A sin is treason against a Holy God. A mistake is a logical misstep. Sin lurks in our heart and grabs us by the throat to do its bidding.

Strong words, but not wrong words. The problem presented is not the non-denominationalism of the community church. It's not in the methods, but ultimately in the lack of message. Easy Christianity is sold as an add-on to our already busy lives. It is a weak presentation of invaluable truth.

A.W. Tozer writes of this...

But now, after that ye . . . are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements? Galatians 4:9

I am not in the business of trying to downgrade any other believer’s efforts to win souls. I am just of the opinion that we are often too casual and there are too many tricks that can be used to make soul-winning encounters completely “painless” and at “no cost” and without any “inconvenience.”

Some of the unsaved with whom we deal on the “quick and easy” basis have such little preparation and are so ignorant of the plan of salvation that they would be willing to bow their heads and “accept” Buddha or Zoroaster if they thought they could get rid of us in that way.

To “accept Christ” in anything like a saving relationship is to have an attachment to the Person of Christ that is revolutionary, complete and exclusive!

It is more than joining some group that you like. It is more than having enjoyable social fellowship with other nice people. You give your heart and life and soul to Jesus Christ—and He becomes the center of your transformed life!

Lord, as Your followers share the gospel around the world today, I pray that each hearer will have a clear understanding of the consequences of the decision they will make to either accept or reject Jesus. (from Mornings with Tozer)

Becoming a Christian doesn't need to be difficult in the sense we create man-made hoops which to jump through. However, Christianity is not simply the spiritual addition to our lives. It is transformational, life-changing, eternity-securing and is not formulaic, though the road maps to total surrender are revealed in Scripture.


A Swing and a Miss...When Your Church Strikes Out with Guests

First impressions in church are a huge challenge, mainly because you get only one chance to make it.

In established, legacy churches, it becomes even more of a challenge because we have to strategically and intentionally be thinking "What would it be like to visit our church for the very first time?"

This is a difficult posting to make, due to the reality that pastors and churches are not supposed to be this transparent on the internet. Websites, Facebook posts and Twitter updates are always supposed to be uplifting, encouraging and enlightening. However, sometimes, the cold, hard reality of church-life comes and to ignore it or sugar-coat it is to do more harm than good.

I received an email this morning from a family that visited with our church for the first time (and possibly the last time) yesterday. I responded with great appreciation for the honesty and asking permission to share this information with our Leadership Team and church membership to help us understand the value of first impressions. I was given permission, but have changed the name in the email because it seemed like right thing to do.

Ready? Here we go...

Dear Sirs,

My wife and I attended your church for the first time this past Sunday. Our intent was to attend the 9:15am service. We wandered into the main sanctuary. The worship team was on on stage. We picked a seat and sat down. We were the only ones in the pews. Obviously we felt odd. No one approached us to redirect us to the gym for the service. (Our 9:15am service is more contemporary in worship style, and meets in our Family Ministry Center/Gym. - DT) Two friends of ours that were also attending for the first time asked a man with a name badge what we should do. He explained that the 9:15 was held in the gym and pointed to it's location. He did not offer to take us there. Needless to say we wandered a bit until we found the gym. No one from the church greeted us. No one said "hello" or "welcome." We were handed a packet when we entered the gym. That was the only contact we had with any staff or volunteer servants. We stayed for the entire service and were rushed out afterwards to facilitate the next event in the gym. My wife and I are not baby Christians. We are searching for a church home that follows the Word without compromise. I really thought that your church was it. Sadly, we will not be returning. No one welcomed us. We felt like we were NOT welcome there...

Bless you, Steve.

I was heart-broken and frustrated when I read this email. Not because Steve would dare send it. I greatly appreciate the fact that he did. I am not really mad at those who missed opportunities. I am, however, frustrated because I know we know better. We know that guests do not intuitively know where to go on our campus (which is a maze, to say the least) and that missed opportunities remained missed opportunities. 

We know there is much to be done facility-wise here, but also in other areas, as some have called it "to friendly-up the church." 

Don't misread here, we do have a friendly church. There is great love here and people who would (and have) do anything for a brother or sister. This church has stepped out of our comfort zones over the years to strategically engage our community. Yet, even with great intentions and strides taken, we miss at times. And those misses hurt.

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Why is it a constant challenge? Because we (and I do mean we, not just others in the church) get busy, have our routine, go to our classes, sit by our friends and forget that just calling ourselves "family" doesn't mean we are.

I don't know if Steve and his wife will come back. I hope they do. Fortunately, they are believers and so we didn't create a barrier to their salvation. But...what if they weren't believers? What if this was the first time they attended church ever and only did so because of a family crisis, or because after years of being prompted by the Holy Spirit, they said "yes." 

Some will say "The ushers missed this" or "The greeters missed this" or "The staff missed missed" or any other group designated to say "Welcome" but the reality is that WE, the entire church, the entire family, missed here. 

Swing and a miss!

May we learn from this and seek to remedy an age-old problem. This is the good news - we can learn. We can do better. All churches can. 

No one wants to go to a church where they feel unwelcome or ignored. That storyline is played out and that must change. Not just here...but in all churches seeking to engage a lost world for the sake of the Gospel.

"A word to the wise is sufficient."


Why Mother's Day Is No Longer the Big Attendance Day at Church

Mother's Day will be here soon. (That is my not-s0-subtle reminder to all you kids out there to go buy a card and a smelly candle today for mom, before all that's left are the cards that say "I like you" and the really stinky candles like "grey mist.")

I was recently in a church leadership meeting with a group of church members as we discussed the fluctuating attendance patterns at our church. At some point in the midst of the meeting, someone mentioned the BIG attendance days at church being Easter and Mother's Day.

At that point, it was clear that some of our folks were not actually considering the number of people who actually attend church on these days, but were remembering the bygone era of their early adulthood and childhood when these were the actual big attendance days.

For church leaders and pastors, planning ahead and promoting big days is not wrong. In fact, I believe it is very right. There is value in leveraging naturally high-attendance days for the sake of the Gospel. It's just that presuming that Easter and Mother's Day are the big days will reveal that the cultural calendar hasn't been checked in a while.

In full disclosure, Easter is still a pretty big attendance day for us here at our church. However, it should be noted that the total attendance this year on Easter was less than on Easter last year or in previous ones. While Chicken Little Christian will say that "We're dying! The church sky is falling!" the fact of the matter is that while we are continually seeking to find new ways to engage our community and the cultural domains, we are no more dying than any other Baptist church around. 

Wait...maybe we are dying. :-( 

Plateaued is dying, right? This will be a topic for another posting.

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Back to "big days." 

Over the years, and more dramatically, over the past five or six, the shift has been clearly made in our community regarding big attendance days. James Emery White, pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently wrote an article about community outreaches and his description of "big days" is exactly what is happening here.

A “big day” approach to outreach is simple: Seize the naturally big days in terms of cultural attendance, do all you can to reach out and invite people to attend, and do all you can to “hook” them so they will keep attending afterward.

Traditionally the two big days were Easter and Mother’s Day. The rationale behind this was that Easter was the one day everybody would still go to church, and Mother’s Day was the one day that Mom (often the only churchgoer in the family) would get her way with the rest of the clan.

A “big day” approach is still effective. The problem is that many churches haven’t updated their cultural calendar. How so? The biggest days don’t tend to be Easter or Mother’s Day anymore.

In regard to Easter, there just isn’t the cultural impetus to attend that once existed. Further, Easter is now tied to “spring break” on almost every public school and college calendar, making it one of the biggest vacation weekends of the year. There are actually healthy churches starting to dip in attendance on Easter!

As for Mother’s Day, again, moms these days are as unchurched as anyone. Further, families are so spread out geographically that this just isn’t the “big day” it used to be.

What days are? Services surrounding Christmas Eve, the fall time-change weekend and then the first weekend following the start of school (either in August or September). For example, for the past several years at Meck, we’ve consistently had more people at our Christmas Eve services than our Easter weekend services. And the spike in attendance for the weekend closest to the start of the new school year is one of the biggest spikes we experience.

In talking with other church leaders, we are far from alone.

He's right. We're in that camp as well. The Christmas Eve service here is the largest we have annually, and we really don't leverage it well. That will change this year as we will put more emphasis and energy in reaching our community on that day. In fact, we're going from one service at the main campus, to three at all our community campuses. 

Growing up in church (and I have been in church since the womb) I never remember, ever, going to to church on Christmas Eve. I don't think any of the churches we were members of (we were a military family, so many church homes over the years) had a Christmas Eve service. I do remember one having a New Years Eve service, but it was basically terrible and only a handful came to "pray in the new year" and celebrate superstitions by eating black-eyed peas.

However, here, Christmas Eve is THE biggest service of the year for us.

Mother's Day...not so much.

Nevertheless, we will meet on Mother's Day and we even have scheduled a parent/child dedication (more on that at another time, since now not everyone is allowed to participate.)

Every community has potentially BIG days. It is the role of the missionally-minded pastor and leadership team to study the cultural calendar and know the mission field well enough to leverage these days best. 


firstFAMILY Podcast 014: Adam Wiggins - from Jail to Church Planter - Part Two

04-27-2016 - firstFAMILY Podcast 014 - Adam Wiggins Part 2


Adam Wiggins

THIS IS PART TWO OF AN INTERVIEW FEATURING ADAM WIGGINS.

Adam Wiggins and his wife Sabrina joined our church recently with their family. Adam is serving as our church planting intern and will be spearheading the launch of our new campus meeting at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary School in August of this year.


Should Christians Boycott Companies?

Last week another boycott was recommended by Christians and this time, the online petition for boycott has garnered more signatures that just about any other one leveled at companies and corporations in the past.

When it comes to boycotts of companies making unbiblical decisions and instituting policies foreign to biblical truth, there have been many instituted over the years. I remember the boycotts of Disney, Nike, Amazon, Starbucks, AT&T and many more. The latest is a recommended boycott of Target based on their public statement  and newly instituted policies regarding opening public restrooms to transgendered people. 

We should have seen this coming. 

In fact, no one should be surprised that Target stepped up and publicly made this statement.

The worldview divide is growing larger. There will be no fence-sitting on issues of gender and sexual identity issues for any corporation, church or individual. No longer will people be able to say "I have no opinion." This is especially true for churches and Christians. 

You Have the Right to Boycott

I have no problems with people participating in boycotts. It is the right of every person to choose where to go and with whom to do business. 

The question that I have been asked by numerous people has to do with the biblical affirmation of boycotting and whether these are effective. 

Personally, I doubt that Target will change their stance. They will likely lose some money in the short-term. The financial hit may be significant. Though the cultural shift has happened, the restroom issues are a bit more "personal" and some, even non-believers, aren't quite to the point of affirming this shift. Nevertheless, I do not believe the outcry will be significant enough for Target to reverse it's stance. If they do, it will likely be temporary. Why? Because...worldview. 

Do I agree with Target's stand? Absolutely not. I am totally opposed to what they have stated and their newly instituted policy. However, that doesn't necessarily answer the question "Will the boycott do any good?" 

Some have postulated that we are in the place we are as a nation and culture because the church has been unwilling to stand firmly on the teachings of the Bible for so long. I do not doubt that truth of that statement, but we must remember that Christianity is more than a stand for moral goodness. It is much deeper than behavior modification. Christianity is about heart transformation through the power of God through His Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ. I believe the churches who have capitulated on the teachings of God's Word will be held accountable for that. In the meantime, those churches who have sought to stand firmly have been marginalized by the culture and many struggle to wonder if they're making a difference.

Should the church and Christians just stand idly by while cultural shifts continue to occur? No. That's never been the "salt and light" calling of believers. Neither should we turn into spiritual "Eeyores" who just live under a cloud and say "Oh, bother" all the time with a "sky is falling" countenance. It is clear that the gospel is still powerful and God is the change-agent for a world far from him.

 

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Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

 

 

But, Should You Boycott

Should Christians boycott organizations and corporations? Gotquestions.org addresses this in a succinct article (full article found here.)

Ultimately, the Bible says nothing regarding boycotts.

Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, states that while we are not to associate with the sexually immoral (which, by the way, the culture shift has pushed to the forefront as it relates to a biblical understanding of godly morality) he also states that we are still part of the world and ultimately cannot disassociate from all immoral people. The only way to totally disconnect from the immoral is to leave this world, which for Christians ultimately is our goal.

Yet, in the meantime, be salt and light, right?

Paul is writing to a church in the aforementioned passages (1 Corinthians 5) and he's pretty clear about associating with those who claim to be Christians but live contrary to God's Word. This is a huge teaching for the family of God as many Christians have seemingly chosen just portions of Scripture to hold high and honor. This teaching is needed today as it has been since the founding of Christ's church. Nevertheless, these verses are not exactly applicable when speaking of boycotting companies.

The only way to avoid ungodliness is to leave this world.

So, should you shop at a store that has publicly made statements that offend and are blatantly opposed to God and the gospel? That, as Paul speaks of in Romans is a matter of conscience, as led by the Holy Spirit. In areas where God's Word is not clear (and there are specific situations where that is the case) the believer, living in the Spirit, with the mind of Christ, will be guided into holiness and righteousness. 

Some will be convicted to join a boycott. Others will be led to not do so. Does this make either a "bad Christian?" Well, if you read Facebook posts and blogs (well, other ones, not this one, right? Ha.) you will find that some deem that it does. 

Gotquestions gives this solid information regarding those who feel led to join a boycott. These are questions that must be answered:

  • How far should the boycott extend?
  • What about the subsidiaries of the parent company? In some cases, when a boycott is to a corporation, there are many other businesses under the same umbrella that are ignored. Sometimes, as is the case in our multi-leveled corporate world, some "Christian" companies even fall under that banner.  For example, let's say you feel led to boycott Sony because of some of their movies or business practices. You'd also need to boycott Reunion Records, a popular Christian music label featuring some wonderful artists in Christian entertainment. Why? Because Sony Entertainment owns that company. BTW - that's just an example, not a call to boycott Sony. If you did, you'd also have to stop watching Jeopardy. Just sayin'.
  • Should vendors who sell to the boycotted company also be boycotted?
  • How will the effectiveness of the boycott be judged? Is the purpose to make a public statement? That's fine, and if that's the purpose of the boycott, go for it. If the purpose is to shut down the corporation, it could happen, but again, know your gauge of success.
  • What about Christians employed by the company? Some would say "They need to get another job" and that's easy to declare from a distance, but just consider the possibility of having every Christian working at a non-Christian business leave (BTW - corporations don't go to heaven, so is there really such thing as a Christian company?). Is this a wise strategy of the church? It is effective for missional engagement in cultural domains to have every believer walk away from their job, where they are surrounded by non-believers, and hide in a holy huddle for the sake of moral protection? 

Should you boycott? That's up to you. However, consider the reality of taking a stand for Christ. Consider a biblical worldview, without forsaking your opportunity to witness and love those who are enemies of the cross. Larry Osbourne says it well, when he declares that "the enemies of the cross are ultimately not our enemies, but victims of our Enemy."


The Shelf Life of the Local Church

It was a number of years ago at conference for pastors where I first heard this said aloud.

"The local church has a shelf life."

It was a shocking statement and caused many, myself included, to perk up and listen.  When I think of "shelf life" I think of food with dates printed on packaging. You know, like Twinkies, which supposedly have a shelf-life of three-thousand years. 

 

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Photo credit: Photog Bill via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

 

You see, for my entire life, I have heard how God's church is strong, solid, founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and because he is eternal, therefore the church would be as well, or so I thought. I even mentally went back to the passage in Scripture that seems to be the antithesis of this "shelf-life" statement. 

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

That's good stuff. It has to be. It's in the Bible.

Yet, when Christ was saying this to his disciples, seated likely in a synagogue, or near one, in the city of Caesarea Philippi, he was making a clear statement about Peter, his role and calling and ultimately about the church as a whole, and not the local expression of it. And, by the way, this city had (and still does have) a huge cave that goes deeply into the mountain, with water coming from it. This was where a temple to Pan was built and was known, in that day, as the "Gates of Hell." Interesting, huh?

Nevertheless, to be told by a pastor that the church has a shelf life was still astounding. Then, as he explained it became clear. The local expressions of church do not last forever, especially if they never adjust to the changing culture (understanding the change is method, not message-oriented.) We have all seen and heard of local churches that no longer exist. Europe is full of empty buildings that used to house churches. Many now stand empty while others have been converted to pubs, libraries and other such community-focused centers.

The churches listed in the New Testament, especially those in the book of Revelation, are not featured on Outreach Magazine's fastest growing or largest. When these cities are visited (and here's another thing, in the Bible, there's never a church smaller than a city. Think about that one!) today, the sites are historical archeological digs. Since the churches did not likely have buildings, meaning no building program or debt to pay off, there are no first century church buildings to visit.

How Long is the Shelf Life?

This is a difficult question. Some churches in our nation have existed for a couple of hundred years. However, it's difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of churches at that age. It's also difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of human beings that age as well. In this renewed era of church planting, there are many young churches that are making great impact. Some are large and have the tag of "mega-church" but many others are small when it comes to using old scorecard metrics (i.e. attendance and budgets) but are healthy and definitely impacting and engaging lostness. However, regarding age of these churches, most are barely entering puberty. Some have entered the emerging adulthood era of life.

I began thinking of this even more over the past few months as I've had discussions with pastors sensing God's call to revitalize and rebirth some churches that would be getting Social Security checks and AARP cards if they were individuals. The North American Mission Board of the SBC is even placing a focus on "Replanting" churches to see new life arise.

A good friend and denominational leader shared with me that there are a handful of churches in our region basically staying open because of the life-support of a few attendees and members. The closing of their doors is inevitable unless something happens. Oh, the members love Jesus and these churches have rich histories and some Kingdom-honoring stories in their past. The problem is that no one seems to be writing current chapters of God's grace and glory and the prospect of future chapters is dim.

Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Some Churches Need to Close

While it grieves me to see a church close for good, the sad truth is that some need to do so. Why is this? Jesus stated why when he addressed some local churches through his revelation to John.

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:5) - "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:16) - "Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth."
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:2) - "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God."
  • Laodicea (Revelation 3:16) - "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Most Churches Don't Have To Die

Here's the thing. As I read these warnings in Revelation, there is a certainty about what is to come, but also warnings. Warnings with helps. A number of "if" statements abound. If the church (and here it's the local expression of church) will repent of the sin of complacency, routine, disengagement from the lost world, pride, loss of love, etc. you will remain. If the church will shift from a focus on method and renew the focus on message, you will remain. If the church will be the church, not soiled by the sins of the world and the culture, not falling into legalism or liberalism, but firmly grounded on the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Word, it will remain.

In other words, if the local expression of church remembers who they are and why they are, they will remain.

The Warning

The warning to pastors and church leaders is simple here, however. Often missed in church growth and health events and conferences. Don't miss this - if your goal is to keep your church alive...you've already started dying.

Now, the church is the bride of Christ. I'm not minimizing the role and identity of God's church. However, sometimes our love of the local expression and the legacy of our work can overwhelm our love for the bridegroom. There is no place for a "fourth person of the Trinity" and even the church doesn't get to be upgraded to that level. God, and God alone, is our focus. Our local expressions of church exist for one reason, and that is to bring Him glory.

I wonder if many of the dead, closed, and dying churches missed that?

I wonder when they did? Because here's a reality check...even a young church can launch and live with this focus wrong. When that is the case, even if the local expression has an incredible weekly show, awesome graphics and promotional items, and even a solid preacher of the Word...if the focus is not on Christ, that church is already dying.

So, the church has a shelf life it seems in most communities. But does it have to be that way?