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Posts from September 2010

Why Has God Blessed Us?

A seemingly strange phenomenon has been occurring here at First Baptist the past few months.  Over the past five years we have strategically sought to be more involved and missional (to use a popular church term) in our community.  We have adopted schools, provided for teachers and students, given use of our facilities for certain events, etc.  We're still in the process and now something a little different is happening.  Groups and people in the community are now calling us asking for partnerships.

We have always had groups call to ask us to promote certain events and activities.  We've even been asked by other churches in our community throughout the years to promote their events (i.e. women's conferences, men's events, concerts, etc.) but rarely have we had schools and other organizations call to see if we can support them.  Well, we've had folks call, but now the attitude seems different.  Maybe it's not their attitude, but ours.

Here are just a few of the recent examples. . .

  • We have received calls from local public schools wondering if we could adopt them as we have Grove Park and Swimming Pen Creek Elementaries.
  • We have been asked by a victims' rights group to be available for those in our community who have been victimized by crime.
  • We have been asked to allow support groups to meet in our facilities (i.e. cancer support groups, epilepsy support groups, addiction recovery groups, etc.)
  • We have been offered free reign at a local retirement facility to minister to the folks there and serve.  
  • We have been asked by some local high schools and junior high schools to host big events (i.e. baccalaureates, concerts, awards ceremonies, etc.)
  • We have been asked to help put on a community wide Halloween alternative (Journey Church is the primary sponsor, so we get to partner with them, Canvas Church, Calvary Assembly of God, Orange Park Seventh-Day Adventist Church and other local organizations and businesses to do this.)

It may not be odd to be asked to do these things, but I feel our receptiveness to these types of community opportunities has deepened.  

What is happening here is that the people of God in our faith family are seeing that to say we're here for the community is pretty useless unless we are willing to use what we have been blessed with for His glory.

I'll be honest with you - this is a radical shift from how I used to think and I believe, how most churches have operated.  We (most churches) have, in the past, put so much emphasis on buildings and what we own as a church.  I remember talking with folks in our church years ago when our worship center was completed who were just giddy that we had a new building.  I've been reminded of these interactions as I have seen other local churches open up new facilities recently and have heard how proud they are.  It seems that we often get more excited about the completion of a building (which, by the way, we end up paying on and locking our funds up for the next thirty years or so) than with the completion of ministries that see lives transformed for eternity.  Don't get me wrong.  The facilities we have here are incredible and God has allowed us to be managers of them so that He can bring more people in our community to Him.  The buildings allow us to be in a position to be contacted by local schools, retirement centers, etc. for opportunities to serve.  I get that.  It's just that we need to remember the buildings, buses, and resources we have been blessed with are given to us for a reason.  That reason is not to make a name for ourselves or to build our little kingdom(s).

Why have we been blessed? We have been blessed to be a blessing to others in Christ's name, so that the Kingdom of God may increase.

By the way - I'm not just talking about the church as an organization.  I'm talking about the church as a people.  Each one of you reading this who are followers of Christ have been blessed.  Most of you are in the United States - the richest nation in the world.  We live in a self-centered culture that attempts to make it "all about me" or "you" but that's the lie.  It's not about us.  It's a tired cliche' but it's true.  We are blessed for a reason.

These thoughts I have been working through are truly a work in progress.  I continue to read through the book of James and am preaching through it on Sundays.  James 2 just really nails it.  Faith without works is dead.  What are we doing with what God has blessed us?


Defending a Man's Honor Through Facebook (In Memory of Paul Bowers)

Do you remember when social media was something only teenagers or college students were engaged in? These were the days when Facebook was called "The Facebook" and Friendster and MySpace were the most popular modes of connecting.  Blogs were not commonplace.  I led a conference for the Florida Baptist Convention in the panhandle of Florida a number of years ago on how to use the internet as a tool for reaching people for Christ.  This was a conference for a small association of churches and the ideas of chat rooms, blogs and anything more than a cursory e-mail were hard for most of the people in my conference to comprehend.

Now, Facebook and Twitter have become so commonplace that businesses, churches, non-profits and, of course individuals of all ages are using the media to connect, reconnect or share ideas.

I do recognize the dangers of these social networks.  Believe me, as a pastor, I have counseled couples who are struggling to stay together after one or both of the spouses have reconnected with old high school flames on Facebook.  However, even though this danger is there, I believe use of social media is here to stay and can be a positive thing.  Just today, I reconnected with a friend from high school I hadn't had contact with since 1986.  One other thing I'm noticing - with all the reconnecting with high school friends and acquaintances, many of the barriers and cliques that existed as teenagers have dissolved.  Well, maybe not all of them, but many.

As far as using Facebook and Twitter to connect with people about things that really matter, I believe it's a positive.  I tweet regularly (I can't believe I just made that statement) about things going on in our church, family and community.  It has become a way to keep folks apprised of upcoming events, prayer needs, funerals, community needs, etc.  

With all the good that social media offers as far as connecting with folks, it also gives a platform for some to spread things that simply aren't true and can be potentially damaging.

Here's what has brought this to the forefront.  My high school (Richland High School) is four states away from where I currently live.  While a good many of those I went to school with and graduated with still live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, many do not (me included.)  Since signing up for Facebook, I have been able to "friend" a good many of my old high school friends and acquaintances.  Some of these are people I used to hang out with, play ball with and just have fun with.  Others were simply classmates.  Still others were just kids who roamed the halls between classes and I knew who they were, they knew who I was, but honestly, we didn't really know each other as friends.  Then there's the group who graduated with me, but honestly I never knew them and still don't.  The only thing we have in common is a Richland High School Class of 1986 diploma.

Yesterday, a former classmate (who would fall into that last category) posted some pretty crazy things about another Class of 1986 "Rebel" (that's the RHS mascot.)  I caught wind of it through some other friends' postings and had to check it out.  I guess the curiosity got to me.  Apparently, this person making crazy postings is pretty deep into conspiracy theories and strange beliefs.  I'm not talking about simply "grassy knoll" beliefs, but deeper conspiracies that have no basis in reality.

The subject this person was posting about was a friend from high school named Paul Bowers.  Let me set the record straight here.  This friend was well liked.  He played JV basketball with me.  We never "hung out" or spent a lot of time together outside of school.  In other words, he would never say I was one of his best friends.  I wouldn't say that of him either, but there was a friendship there. Maybe more of a comradeship.  He was a nice kid, well liked by his peers and teachers and an an all around good guy.  He was also brave enough, along with some other friends, to kidnap the Kip's Big Boy and let him hang out in the school's courtyard for the first week of class.  At least I believe Paul was in on that.  That's how I remember Paul.  I have friends on Facebook who knew him a lot better than I and they have shared some pretty amazing things about him.  It gives a glimpse into the type of man he grew into.

Paul Bowers graduated from Richland High School in 1986.  He went on to graduate from Texas A&M University where he excelled.  Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  He earned many accolades as an Air Force officer and was soon promoted to First Lieutenant.  

I had not known all that Paul had achieved and only a couple of years ago when a couple of friends on Facebook were talking about "missing Paul" did I discover that he was killed in a plane crash in 1995.  The aircraft, assigned to the 332nd Airlift Flight, Randolf AFB, Texas was flying from Andrews AFB to Randolph but was diverting to Alexander City Airport in Alabama (35 miles north of Maxwell AFB in Montgomery.)  An in-flight emergency occurred and the plane went down - eight were killed.  In honor of all, I list them here:  Clark G. Fiester, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, his military assistant Col. Jack Clark II, Maj. Gen. Glenn A. Profitt II, Maj. Hubert B. Fisher, Capt. Paul Carey, retired AF Maj. James K. Horne, US Army Sgt. Pedro Mercado, and 1st Lt. Paul M. Bowers.

It is said by some who saw the event that Paul could be seen in the cockpit doing all he could to keep the C-21 Learjet from hitting a nearby nursing home.  The crash occurred in a nearby forest area. Can you imagine if it had crashed into the nursing home?

There's much to be said about Paul - this friend and acquaintance from years ago.  His closer friends have done well to keep his memory alive.

That brings me to the point of this posting.  One of the dangers of social media is that it can give a platform for anyone with any ideas.  I'm all about free speech, believe me.  It's a uniquely American right.  As a son of a retired Air Force Major and friend to many active duty and retired military, I know the depth of commitment made to protecting our freedoms and Constitutional rights by our military men and women.  So, I'm not about eliminating someone's right to free speech.

That being said - social media still seems to legitimize crazy ideas.  Once this former classmate started posting his theories about Paul's death, it became apparent that he had struck a nerve among a group of forty-somethings who dared not let their friend's life be besmirched with lies and "crazy" talk.

I saw something occur through social media yesterday that I had never seen before.  A group of people with a common link (in this case a high school experience, common friendship with one man, a common sense of decency) come together to make sure that these false statements didn't go by unchallenged.  I am proud of the way these friends stood up for the memory of a fallen loved one.

This is a different type of posting than I normally make here on my blog.  This one won't be copied to Baptist newspaper sites or other religious postings.  This one doesn't have anything to do with church health, family issues, current ministry opportunities on our area or even random things like college football, basketball teams or other leisure activities.  This posting is about making sure that the truth is known and fought for.

It may not seem like a battle for truth, but it is.  When one lie (in this case about a friend) is left unchallenged - it gains legitimacy.  Now, some make the point that if left alone, it would go away.  That may be the case at times, but there are situations where you cannot just continue to sit on your hands an keep your mouth shut.  When injustices are being done, good men and women must step up.  Whether it's fighting for the honor of a friend who has passed away or other atrocities that occur in our world (children going hungry, parents abandoning or abusing their children, women being abused, homeless being ignored, slave trading around the world, etc.) good, Godly people must step up.

I'm reminded of what our student ministry is focusing on this year with their "Worship + Justice" theme.  Well, that's a posting for another day.

So, folks, we must stand for what is right and true.  Truth results in freedom.  That is biblical.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  - John 8:32 (NIV)

OK, enough preaching for one posting.  Here are some photos and a Senate Resolution about Paul Bowers.  Would I call him a hero?  While we were in high school?  No.  He was a Big Boy kidnapper (just a joke folks.)  Now, oh yeah. Paul is a hero. The word "hero" is thrown around a little too cavalierly nowadays, but I believe after reading of Paul's efforts to steer clear of the nursing home and to live with integrity, the world fits.  (Thanks Krissy Wall for the resolution info.)

SENATE RESOLUTION

In Memory of

First Lieutenant Paul Bowers

 

WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas joins the citizens of San Antonio in mourning the untimely death of First Lieutenant Paul Bowers; and

WHEREAS, Paul Bowers was born October 24, 1967, in Odessa, Texas, to Joseph M. and Joan G. Bowers; his mother died when he was 10 years old; and

WHEREAS, He graduated from Richland High School where he was a member of the National Honor Society and Young Life and played junior varsity basketball; and

WHEREAS, He enrolled at Texas A&M University in 1986, joined the Corps of Cadets, and was a member of Squadron One of the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps Wing; he was voted "Most Athletic" and was a member of the prestigious Texas A&M Freshman Drill Team; and

WHEREAS, An outstanding student and a leader in his class, Paul became company commander in his senior year and was the recipient of the Texas A&M University Distinguished Student award; he was accepted in to the United States Air Force pilot training program, and after graduation from Texas A&M University, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1991; and

WHEREAS, Paul Bowers was dedicated to his work as a pilot and was fourth in his pilot training class at Vance Air Force Base; he was later stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio where he received the 1995 First Quarter Outstanding Pilot award on April 14, 1995; and

WHEREAS, First Lieutenant Paul Bowers was a man of many talents and interests; he excelled at water sports and enjoyed his work on an old home he was remodeling; he was pursuing a master's degree in environmental science at the University of Texas at San Antonio at the time of his death; and

WHEREAS, An exemplary and distinguished young man of courage and tenacity, Paul Bowers gave willingly of his time to others, and his warmth and engaging personality will not be forgotten by those who knew him; and

WHEREAS, Paul Bowers lived his life to the fullest, and he leaves behind memories that will be treasured forever by his family and many friends; now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 74th Legislature, hereby extend sincere condolences to the bereaved family of First Lieutenant Paul Bowers and, be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for the members of his family as an expression of deepest sympathy from the Texas Senate, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of Paul Bowers.

 

President of the Senate

I hereby certify that the above Resolution was adopted by the Senate on May 17, 1995, by a rising vote.

Secretary of the Senate

Paul Bowers

Paul Bowers 1
  


The Baptist Association - Is It Necessary Today?

The church I pastor is part of one of the largest and most vibrant Associations in the Southern Baptist Convention.  The Jacksonville Baptist Association (JBA) has more than two hundred member churches.  These churches are of varying sizes and composition.  There are churches that work under a more traditional model - much like Southern Baptist Churches have for the past fifty years or so.  There are churches that have moved to a newer model - whether that be classified as purpose-driven, missional or some other current buzzword.  Churches where dressing in your "Sunday best" means a suit and tie for the men, dresses for women and other churches where "come as you are" is the dress code.  These are just aesthetic differences.   The cultural and ethnic diversity is evident and celebrated.  Churches near the beach.  Churches in the rural areas of the county.  This is to say that like many larger cities, especially those in the South, there is no "one size fits all" model for our churches.

The JBA has taken the lead in many areas over the past few decades, while under the leadership of Dr. Ron Rowe.  Dr. Rowe is highly respected and much loved by the pastors, churches and community leaders in Jacksonville.  He has been actively leading churches to discover new paradigms and leadership strategies and has increased the awareness of the mostly white Southern Baptist churches in this area of the ethnic and cultural diversity of our communities.  This has led to increased church plants and new culturally and ethnically diverse fellowships to join our network.  There are also the port ministries and new work ministries in Jacksonville that show how an Association can function as a catalyst for reaching people for Christ.  These are all worth celebrating.

Dr. Rowe is a good friend and a visionary leader.  Then, he went and decided to retire.  How dare he! (Just kidding.  Though he calls it retirement, in truth, he's still in ministry because he realizes that, as many ministers do, you just cannot retire from serving.)  He no longer is the Director of Missions for the JBA and now, somehow, I've been put on the Administrative Committee and Search Committee for the JBA.  I think Ron tricked me to get me to agree to this before he retired.

I shared with a friend of mine that I was now on these committees and he said at first he was shocked.  I wasn't sure if he was shocked the JBA would ask me or that I would agree.  I think maybe a little of both.  This minister friend and life-long Southern Baptist questioned whether the concept of the Association would exist in the near future.  Apparently, that is the question that is being asked throughout our denomination.

With this past summer's vote to approve the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's proposal and new leadership either now in place or soon to come for our mission boards, and the hard decisions that have had to be made at the state convention level, the uncertainty of the future make-up and organization of the Southern Baptist Convention looms heavy.

So, we're led to ask "What about the associations?"

I'll be honest with you.  I have thought more about this in the past four months than ever in my ministry. 

As I look at the number of churches who participate in associational ministries and support associational missions financially, it has become obvious that many churches are asking this question regarding the future need of associations.

The reality is that many larger churches have moved to donating a token gift to their local associations because, frankly, they (the churches) don't need the association.  I'm not throwing stones here, because in some cases the associations in question have become obsolete.

That's a pretty harsh thing to say, but I believe it's true.

I was reading Pastor Steven Ruff's blog posts about associational futures and found these quotes:

Monty Hale, Director of Association and Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention said, “The association will be the face of Southern Baptists in the future. Most church leaders relate to the association to accomplish their God-given task of reaching the world for Christ.” Dr. Jimmy Draper, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources made the following statement, “In our obsession with what is new in world of church growth, let us not forget that all traditions are not bad and all of the past cannot be jettisoned. It is our tradition that builds our communities. The bedrock of that tradition in Baptist life is the local association.” Pastor Kyle Waddell of Pine Level Baptist Church in Early Branch, South Carolina says, “If I could sum my view up in one word it would be bleak. I personally have served in churches from three different associations in our state and have never seen the total effects come from any association in the capacity it was created to produce. I believe as do many in leadership in the SBC convention that the local association has outlived its usefulness in its present state and that if it were to close its doors many of our churches would never know.”  Dr. Jerry Nash, Director of Missions for the Harmony Baptist Association in Trenton, Florida writes,“With cooperative Southern Baptist pastors and effective leadership, the future of the Association is very bright.  It ultimately is at the local level that working relationships are built and trustworthiness is established.  As the SBC and state convention leaders and entities acknowledge and affirm the local Association we will be stronger as Southern Baptists.  It is just my opinion, but I believe to ignore or bypass the local Association will ultimately lead to the decline of Southern Baptists.”

These quotes are pretty much all over the board when it comes to forecasting the future of the Baptist Associations, which shows that there is no real consensus of what is to come.  I'm no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, so my take is no better than those quoted here and elsewhere.  My belief is that the old model will not be effective (and has already proven so in many areas) in the age we now live.

I have a vested interest in the JBA, so my thoughts are primarily related to the Jacksonville region.  Where Dr. Rowe led our association to new levels of understanding, support and leadership, the next leader must continue to move us forward into missional living and kingdom focus.  Now, I know I just used the latest church buzzword "missional" here, but in this sense, it's more than a buzzword.  It's an understanding that we are to serve as missionaries in the culture which we have been placed.  It's the church moving beyond the walls of the facilities to engage the people we are called to bless and reach with the Gospel.

What must the association's role be?  It must be more than a resource hub, though that is and should be a role.  It must be more than a planner of Sunday School training events, though that as well must be present.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the association was the connecting tool between denominational programs of the SBC to the local church.  In most cases, you could travel to any city or community in the nation with a Southern Baptist Church and find pretty much the same programs (WMU, Brotherhood, Sunday School, RAs, GAs, Training Union, etc.)  That is not the case today in that many churches are organized differently and not all have every, or in some cases any, of the traditional Southern Baptist programs in house.  However, many associations across our convention are still organized like the ones in the 1950s or 1960s (or maybe more progressively like the 1980s.)  What this means is that in many cases the argument that the association is irrelevant becomes true - not because there's a dislike of the association, but because the relevance of the programming is lost.

That being said, the JBA, again in my opinion, is poised to become the new model for Associational ministry for the Southern Baptist Convention in this age of the Great Commission Resurgence.

What must the association become?  One that is built on leading pastors to lead their congregations to live out the Great Commission through missional ministries (seeing themselves as missionaries to their community.) One who leads churches to plant churches in their community and beyond (with more of a purpose than to just build little kingdoms.)  One that provides a network for pastors and leaders to share and continue learning, for when you stop learning, you stop leading.  One that does not throw out the "traditional" programming and methods simply because they're old (especially since most churches still live there) but can lead pastors and churches to rediscover how to fulfill the purposes these programs were developed for in a new culture (i.e. not expecting every church to program the same, but leading them to discover ways to live out the Great Commission.)  Finally, to lead pastors to realize that more for the Kingdom can be done together than can be done alone.  This is not all encompassing, but this is where I believe the new association will find its niche.

Otherwise, the old association model will remain for a while, but due to lack of funding (which is becoming evident) and lack of interest by many churches it will cease to exist.  In those cases, no one will miss the association.


There's No Excuse for Kids in Our Community To Go Hungry

Last Saturday I heard a startling statistic.  The statistic had to do with the number of children in our nation that go hungry daily.  The numbers are staggering. . .but at least that's not the case for my community.  Well, that was what I thought anyway.  I believe that's what most people think.

Let's look at my community.  Clay County is a great place to live.  There is much good happening.  The schools are wonderful.  There are stores and businesses throughout the towns of Clay County.  Many, many people have moved to this county over the past twenty years due to the many positive aspects.  Of course, the economic hard times have hit us, some severely, but overall, Clay County is a prosperous area.

So, Sunday I asked our Clay County Schools Superintendent Ben Wortham if he could give me a ballpark figure of how many children in our county are on a free or reduced lunch plan.  This is an indicator of economic issues and health issues.  I know we have a few children on these plans.  Mr. Wortham said the numbers are around 38% county-wide.  The percentages vary depending upon school location and demographics obviously, but if we have approximately 300,000 school-age children in our county, then over 114,000 are on these plans.

The free lunch plans are fine.  This allows children to have a healthy, nutritious meal during the school days and during the summer, as these programs are available in our community.  We have six to ten Title I schools in our county and one of the qualifiers of Title I is that 60% of the children qualify for the free lunch program.  At least three of these schools are within a mile and a half of our main church campus.

So, here's the question "What about the weekends?"  What do these children eat on the weekends?  The schools are not able to provide.  For some, this means they do not eat.  For others, they do, but it may be limited.

The speaker at the conference said that we live in communities that are affluent with "third world aspects in our own neighborhoods."  The message was to challenge us to get outside the walls of the church buildings and move beyond "drive by" evangelism and service projects.  

I shared this information with my children, Ashley and Daniel (high school senior and freshman at Fleming Island High School, respectively) and the realization that something must be done became paramount.

We looked up some options and found that throughout the nation there are churches and communities doing "Backpack Clubs" to fill this need.  We know of none in our county and so. . .with Ashley and Daniel leading out, the "Team Backpack" concept was born.

Ashley shared the concept with the student ministry last night.  She talked about it with one of her teachers at school (to find out that a fellow student in her class would qualify as one of those on free lunch) and is meeting with school officials at Grove Park Elementary School today.

The desire is to start "Team Backpack" in October.  Starting small - with five children, but with a long-term goal (twenty years or so) to provide backpacks with meals for all children in our county.  That's a huge goal.  I told her it's a God-sized goal.

So, we're sending press releases out.  We feel God is opening doors.  I'm excited that I'm not leading this ministry.  I get to participate and be a cheerleader, but this isn't my program.

Oh, and here's one other thing.  As we share, folks are saying "Why don't you provide for more than five children?"  We will, but will start small.  Sometimes, the newness wear off and volunteers quit and have to stop providing the backpacks.  When a ministry begins there's often a lot of excitement at first.  We may have fifty volunteers at first packing just five backpacks, but that's OK.  Some will feel they're not needed for the ministry, but they are.  Why?  Because it will expand, in God's timing, with people in place to make it happen.

We talk about being the church.  We ask the question "Would the community miss us if we ceased to exist?"  This is the church in action.  This will bless those in our community.  This is putting feet to what we learn. This is love in action.

Ashley's going to create a Facebook Page for Team Backpack and over the next few weeks iron out all the details.  Stay tuned.  This is an intergenerational ministry opportunity.  Planning to pack backpacks on Wednesday nights at 5:30pm and 7:30pm in the gym at the main campus.  We'll start with just 5:30pm, since there are only five backpacks, but as we expand, we'll have two times.  Great opportunity for individuals and families to serve together.

Team backpack copy
Click below for a PDF document breaking down the need, proposal, goal, process and FAQ of Team Backpack.

Download Team Backpack Proposal 2


Where Would You Church?

That title looks like a typo.  Some of you are saying "Shouldn't it say 'Where would you go to church?' or maybe 'Where would you do church?'" but it's not a typo.  Read it again - "Where would you church?"

How can the word church be a verb?  It's hard to think like this because we have been programmed to think of church as a building or facility of some type.  If you're more progressive, you think of church as the people (which is right) but even that is a noun.  So, how can you church?

Don't misconstrue this.  Church has been used as a verb in the past, and in some cases still is, when referencing to church discipline.  In other words if a person were asked to leave a fellowship, it would be say that he or she was "churched."

Still, that's not the point here.  Back to the question - Where would you church?

Since the children of God are the church, that means wherever we are, we are doing the work and ministry of the church.  That may be at work, a restaurant, at home, a ball game, etc.

This is not an easy concept to grasp, at least not for me, but I know it's right.  The old template of church being a building or the gathering of the fellowship is changing, or better yet, coming into better focus.  The children of God church wherever they are.

We have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  When you live in the old metric, it's easy to forget this.

Our staff has been chewing through this concept.  It's frustrating to some, confusing to others and challenging to all.  So, I thought I'd open it up to you here.  Go through this process with us. . .

Rather than try to build a crowd, let's go where the crowd is.  That leads to this question "Where is the crowd?"

Here are some places where crowds gather in our community:

  • Walmart (This was mentioned at our conference last Saturday and again in the Deacons' meeting Monday night.  It's true.  There are people in Walmart all the time.)
  • Tailgating before the Jaguars games.  Here's a thought.  It's radical.  Seems wrong, but bear with me.  What if we had a team of ticket holders who intentionally set up a good tailgating scene in the parking lot of the stadium before the Jaguars games.  The purpose is to have fun, but to intentionally engage with others in the parking lot getting ready for the games.  You know there's a group that attends church services and then shows up at the game, but the opportunity to engage real people with real life doesn't happen often because the game has started and the focus is on cheering or booing the players and/or refs.  I think we've moved beyond the day where "If you're a good Christian you wouldn't have season tickets" to "You are a Christian with season tickets.  How can God use this for the Kingdom?"  Somehow, this has to count, right?
  • Whitey's Fish Camp.  There's a subculture in our county that gathers regularly, if not daily, at Whitey's.  
  • High School Football Games.  Let's face it, Floridians love football and we love our schools.  These stadiums are packed every Friday night.  We have to do more than invite people to come to a "church" event after the game.  
  • Orange Park Mall.  Not the safest place to hang out, but there are still a ton of people there.
  • Clarke Park in Orange Park.  This little town-owned park across from the church always has cars in the lot and kids in the playground.  Normally, there are birthday parties all day on the weekend.
  • Clay County Soccer.  It's been huge since Eagle Harbor built the fields.  
  • Sonny's an La Nop.  Seems like these restaurants are rarely empty, and I should know.
  • High School Awards Events & Concerts.  We host some of these, but they always draw a crowd.
  • Homecoming Parades.  Again with the high schools, and I believe all of them have some sort of parade around homecoming.  This means student involvement, parental support and community interest.
  • The E.R.  This is a touchy subject because most of the folks in the waiting room aren't doing too well, but it's always crowded on the weekends.  That means those working are stressed, too.

Oh, I'm sure there are more.  These just came to mind.

As you look around the community, you will see more crowds.  This is also based on your life stage, interests and circle of influence.  So, you should be able to add to the list.

That being said, here's where I have no answers.  How can we "church" in these crowds?  How can we better penetrate the culture beyond the walls of our building and bless those who need it (note, I didn't say deserve it. . . because no one deserves to be blessed.)  

Let this run around your head for a while. 

I know there are some who really struggle with this concept.  Some of you have even told me that you think I'm devaluing the building of the church with these statements and based on the fact you were saved in a church building, you think I'm missing something.  I appreciate those comments, but again, we just have to get to the point where we stop viewing the buildings as the church.  If the building burned down (and man, I hope it doesn't because now that I stated that, it would look odd) the church would not cease to exist.

We are the church and where we go is where we "church."

So, where are you the church?


Four Stages The Church Must Go Through to Become Missional

Change is a word that makes folks cringe - especially when they hear it in church.  Last night we had our monthly Deacons meeting and after going through the regular monthly updates and reports, we discussed insights relating to the missional shift occurring in our church and others.

Together, we have been reading through Reggie McNeal's book The Missional Renaissance.  Reggie was also here in Jacksonville last Saturday and many of our deacons attended the conference.  This means the concept of implementing missional changes was fresh in our minds.

One of the issues with this missional concept is that many hear their pastors speak of it and classify it mentally as the latest "church growth buzzword."  For many, it mentally goes into the file with "Church Growth," "Purpose-Driven," "Emergent," and others.  Now, "Missional" can become a buzzword and it has for many.  The danger of buzzwording (I made up that term) is that the word becomes so overused and misused that it becomes meaningless.  Reggie McNeal even stated in a poscast that you could "put missional in a cookbook title and it would sell right now."  True, but not very encouraging.

So, what does missional mean - really?  Simply put the missional church is "the people of God partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world."  If that's too "official" look at it this way - it's living life daily in the community and culture God has placed you with the mindset of a missionary, intent on blessing the people of your community and being the "hands and feet" of Christ in a very real way.

It's confusing.  People in our fellowship are struggling with the definition.  It's not the same as being mission minded.  Many churches are mission minded.  We are mission minded.  That term means that we care about the global mission.  We collect funds regularly for mission efforts in Florida, North America and the world.  We participate in Operation Christmas Child.  We support mission efforts in Haiti.  We participate in disaster relief.  We even regularly send teams throughout the world on mission trips.  There are many other things. However, just because we support and participate in these mission endeavors, that does not mean we are missional.

Honestly, I believe we began making the shift to becoming a missional church about five years ago.  We, like many churches, in the past have done "drive by" ministry for folks in our community, but five years ago we intentionally adopted Grove Park Elementary School and committed to a long-term partnership in helping this Title I school in our community to grow stronger.  Our intent was just to bless them.  This we did before we had ever heard the term missional.  Apparently, this wasn't just a good idea we had, but a God idea.  In fact, this model has been replicated many times over throughout our nation.  It is my contention that every church needs to adopt a local public school.  Anyway, that's a subject for another post.

Back to this subject of change and growth.  Any organization (church, business, non-profit) must change over time.  Many times Christians hear this and bow up.  They are offended that we even bring up the notion that the church must change.  They hear what isn't being said.  They hear "The message of the church is broken.  We need to change it to be non-offensive."  That is so wrong.  The fact is that the message, the Gospel, is timeless.  It never changes and churches or denominations who have watered down the message or avoided talking about Jesus, sin, salvation and the process of redemption become meaningless.  These churches eventually close their doors (or sustain their existence on the offerings of older members and become a club.)

The change that must take place over time is always contextual.  It may be organizational.  Regardless, when change is addressed and a pastor or leader becomes a change agent, he is facing an uphill challenge.

I'll stay with the missional concept and explain the general process that any organization must go through when change must occur.

Step One - The issue at hand is addressed and for the most part, many in the organization must deal with denial.  This is called the Denial Step.  Until brought to the organization's attention, there is group denial that anything is wrong.  The organization continues to move ahead with the same template it has used for years.  The culture, community, or in the case of businesses - the customers have changed, but the organization has yet to adjust.  

Step Two - This is where many churches and businesses too, lose it.  This step is the Resistance Step. There will always be a backlash from some within the church when change is proposed.  The resistance may not be belligerent, so pastors need not think the people are the enemy.  In fact, the challenge for the pastor is to remember that those who are resistant are still part of his flock.  In many cases, resistance is based on fear or lack of understanding.  I talked with one of our men who after discussing at length the need to be missional stated that he just didn't get it.  This man is a great guy.  He loves the Lord.  He loves his church and desires to serve and lead others to serve the Lord, but like many he doesn't have a "box" in which to place this missional concept.  It's hard to make a philosophical shift in this sense.  I think it may be even harder when it seems that others around you "get it" and you don't.  It causes frustration.

Now, take note here.  There will be some resistant to change because they are belligerent.  They have hard hearts and do not have a Kingdom mindset.  Some will get angry when any change is proposed. Some may even leave the church.  That's unfortunate, but it's a reality.  The problems occur when the leader (i.e. the pastor) fails to stay on mission and backs up to unhealthy resistance.  When these political moves are taken, opportunities are lost and consequently the church . . .well, the church looks like most in North America - plateaued or dying, maintaining, internally focused clubs.

Sometimes, an event occurs within the community that pushes a church from this stage of resistance to the stage of exploration.  Sadly, these events are not always good.  In our case, the kidnapping and murder of Somer Thompson moved us from Step Two to Three.  The community, and especially Somer's family, needed to see and experience the love of Christ in a very real way during this time.  At this point, all our regularly scheduled events and planning stalled as we asked the question "How can we be the church to this family and community right now."  The people of our church jumped to the Exploration stage and began serving in ways collectively I have never experienced before.  One of our deacons at the time caught me in the parking lot before the funeral visitation and said "This is what you've been talking about the past few years.  I think we get it now."  Wow!  He was right.  What is really exciting is that we never intended to be used the way we were (and prayerfully, we will never have to be used in that type of situation again) but because we had already begun the process of changing our outlook from internal to external, God had prepared us to be His hands and feet to this community.

Step Three  -  This is an exciting stage of change.  It's called the Exploration Stage.  This is when the people within the church or organization begin to "get it" and explore ways to implement the concept.  In the missional concept, it's the people of God realizing that we're here to "be the church" not just "go to church" and the community becomes the mission field.  No more "drive by" church events.  No more "flash in the pan" Christian events, but long-term ministries that impact the world for the sake of the Gospel (and consequently, change the lives of those within the church.)

Step Four -  This is the final upswing portion.  This is the Commitment Stage.  It is here that the church as a whole is fully engaged in this process.  Those within the body know what, in this case, missional is and are able to share the vision to others.  A new language is developed.  A new way of being the church is experienced.  

These stages of change are consistent across the board in all organizations.  However, even when you make it to step four, the leader or leaders will discover that we are in an always changing world, so back we go to a new Step One.  The church - always changing methods without changing the Message in order to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

In our county today, there are maybe two or three churches that I know of who are intentionally seeking to be missional.  I put us in that category.  Others are churches from different denominations or are non-denominational.  It's an interesting journey, and some will never move from the Denial Stage or Resistance Stage.  However, we must press on.  Why?  Because being missional is not just a good idea.  It's a God idea.  

By the way, if you're wondering where our church is in this process, I believe we are just moving out of Step Two to Step Three.  Yes, I stated we jumped there about a year ago when crisis hit our community, but we have been systematically stepping back and forth between the two steps since.  It's good.  It's challenging, because now we're seeing more and more members of our church speaking words of "exploration" and seeing the bigger picture.

If you're still in Step One or Two. . .hang in there.  It's worth it.

Recommended reading on the missional movement:

The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal

Lost and Found:  The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them by Ed Stetzer

Transformational Church:  Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer

Viral Churches:  Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird

More books listed in my bookstore here.


1 - Set Apart - Test Day

Do you remember when your teacher would begin class with this statement "Take out a piece of paper and number 1 through 10"?  That meant a pop quiz was coming and the stress level in the class was just about to go through the roof.

Tests are no fun, but the are necessary.  God tests his children.  He doesn't tempt, but He does test.  

This message looks at the first chapter of James and addresses the false theological statement that you probably have said at some point (I know I have) - "God will never give you more than you can handle."  Sounds good.  Just not true.  Take a listen.

03 1 - Test Day


How To Make International News With a Bonfire. . .Not a Good Idea

Well, it's been in the news for over a week and Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville is, at least at this moment, still planning to burn copies of the Qur'an on Saturday.  The Washington Post says that Jones may have postponed the burning following a call by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and a potential meeting with the NYC Ground Zero proposed mosque imam (though we hear conflicting reports about this proposed meeting.)  Regardless, the little church of 50 (that number is dwindling we hear) is still the top national and international news story.

Do you remember when the most newsworthy thing happening in Gainesville was that the Gators were playing football?

Now, according to the Drudge Report, there is a pastor of a church near Fort Campbell in Tennessee, a church in Topeka, Kansas and a group in Wyoming planning to have their own Qur'an burnings.

Anyway, since this has been all over the news, I have been asked by church members, folks in the community, people in the barber shop and the local elementary school where my wife subs what my thoughts were on this.  

I have avoided blogging about this just because there were so many other posts out there, but for those four or five of you that actually read this blog, I thought I would share my point of view.

Simply put - I think it's a terrible idea.

My personal belief is that Pastor Jones and these others are receiving exactly what they desired - publicity.  You've heard the old adage "Any publicity is good publicity."  Well, not in this case.

You may think by stating this is a bad idea, I'm saying that the Muslim religion is valid and equal to Christianity and that the Muslim holy book should be viewed as equal to the Bible.  I'll be clear here - I do not believe that at all.  There are Christian churches in Gainesville who have stated as sign of solidarity and tolerance that they will read from the Qur'an during their Sunday worship services.  There is even a Jewish Synagogue in Gainesville that will read from the Qur'an during their Sabbath gathering.  They are doing this, they say, as a sign of tolerance and support of all religious beliefs.  In fact, they are doing this as a sign of protest to Pastor Jones.  Is this the response Jones wanted?  "Christian" churches reading from the Qur'an.  I have problems with that and fear that if a church will teach from the Qur'an as a "holy book" during a Christian worship service, then they apparently do not hold the value of the Bible very high.  That would be a discussion for another post.

I do believe that the Qur'an burnings will do nothing to lead others to Christ, open doors to reaching Muslims in this world with the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus and will definitely put American military men and women, Christian missionaries in Muslim countries and Christian natives in predominantly Muslim countries in harms way for no good reason.

I am all for using different methods for reaching people with the Gospel, but not at all for changing the message.  Some lean to becoming more liberal in their teachings of the Word of God for fear of insulting or turning off people.  Others lean to becoming more legalistic and start looking more and more like the Pharisees of the New Testament.  Both extremes are tools the Enemy uses to divide and attack churches.

Rather than just restate what others have said so well, I am going to link to a few blog postings here regarding the issue.

Terry Jones - Founders Ministries Blog:  Terry Jones, Qur'an Burning and the Way of Jesus

William Rice - Calvary Baptist Clearwater Blog: Gainesville Pastor Has It All Wrong

Charles Colson - A Bad Idea: International Burn a Koran Day