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Posts from October 2015

What's In a Name? The Birth of the firstFAMILY

Since the chartering of First Baptist Church of Orange Park (the church I pastor) in 1951, the focus of our mission has been and always will be to honor and love God and to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the years the location of our church has changed as has leadership and models of ministry. However, our focus has never shifted from the Gospel and it never will.

(CLARIFICATION: First Baptist Church was actually begun as a Bible study class on Mrs. Carrie Clarke's front porch in 1919. In 1921, the church held its first business meeting. The sponsor of the new church in Orange Park was Murray Hill Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Mrs. Clarke was a member. The 1951 date is when the church was officially chartered with a constitution and by-laws. The church was incorporated in 1976. So, regardless which date you choose, FBCOP has been around for quite some time.)

To state the obvious, the community where God planted our church campus has changed dramatically since 1951. I still run into some Orange Parkians (not sure that's really a word) who will tell me they remember when the four-lane, divided avenue our church is located was nothing but a dirt road with orange trees planted in the medians. Now, most all orange trees in Orange Park are just images on our street signs.

As our community has dramatically changed, we have sought to seek ways to continue reaching people for Christ in our neighborhood and beyond. Our county and nearby Jacksonville, Florida are areas that identify greatly by geographic names and community identifiers. When one speaks of living in Jacksonville to a native, the next question is "Where in Jacksonville?" and that question is a pointed one with an expected answer of a region such as "the Westside, Southside, Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, Northside, the Beaches, Mandarin, etc." Each area has a distinct identity and then within each area, there are more distinctions. In Clay County, where Orange Park is located, those distinctions often are defined by the names of housing developments or neighborhoods such as Pace Island, Eagle Harbor, Oak Leaf, the Ravines, Ridgecrest, Bear Run, Orange Park South, etc.

Yet, over time as as we have grown to be less internally-focused and have sought God's lead into areas of ministry, doors have opened for our church to begin new expressions of church in various locations throughout our county, Jacksonville and beyond.

"First Baptist Church of Orange Park" has been the name of our church since its founding. Apparently, there were no points given for creativity back in the 1950s. As is the case with many legacy churches, names prominently stated the denominational affiliation and the geographic location. In our case, it also designates that we arrived on the scene before any other Baptist churches. For those who have grown up in the Baptist world, this is normal. Yet, over the years I have been asked many times (and more recently) if all First Baptist Churches are the same. I used to joke that we were franchises like McDonald's, but have stopped due to the fact that most of the people asking believe me. 

In some areas of our nation, the denominational tagline is a hindrance. That is not so much a problem in the area of Florida where we are located, but thanks to the protesting, pseudo-church in Kansas that uses the Baptist name, I have had to explain to a number of young men and women that we are in no way connected to that group.

Proverbs 22:1 reminds us the value of a good name and thankfully, our church has been able to develop a name in the community over the years that brings with it good connotations. This is due to our church family members and their willingness to love people and serve those in our local schools and community. 

Forty New Expressions of Church

God is sending us outside Orange Park.

As we have been praying through and I have been preaching through the reality that God sends his church into a world that needs light and salt, it is clear now that we will not be limited only to the area of Orange Park. We have already experienced the sending of missionaries and church planters throughout the world, as those from our family have said "Yes" to the call and have been sent. 

There will be more.

There will also be more churches birthed through the ministry of First Baptist. Our desire is to see forty new expressions of church birthed through First Baptist. These will be satellite locations, new church plants, special-event gatherings and culturally-defined churches. 

The birth of the firstFAMILY

In truth, the ministry of First Baptist will be a mini-network of churches and missions founded on the Gospel and focused on implementing the "Big 3" of 1) Loving God, 2) Loving people, and 3) Making disciples.

GameDay Church at the Jacksonville Jaguars home games is one of our first new endeavors. As we began to put the pieces together for this expression of church, it became clear that we would be seeking to connect with people throughout the Jacksonville area. While the name "Baptist" may be attractive to some and a turn-off to others (and much has been written about that over the years, so I won't delve into that) we discovered that the regional name was going to be a larger barrier. Missionally-speaking, it is unwise to create barriers to reaching people with the Gospel, especially since we are called to engage the culture for the sake of God's Kingdom (not our little ones.) 

First family logo all blue

So, firstFAMILY was birthed and has become the banner under which all our ministries, venues, and mission endeavors function. The name is all-encompassing and travels well.

Don't Hear What I'm Not Saying (or Don't Read What I'm Not Writing)

Here are some answers to the FAQ:

  • We are NOT changing the name of the church. First Baptist Church of Orange Park remains our legal name and also remains the hub of all ministries hosted as the firstFAMILY. Our offices are at FBCOP. Our primary worship services and ministries are housed at this location. In a sense, FBCOP is the headquarters for all that is firstFAMILY.
  • As mission support is shifting for Southern Baptists, we will continue to give through the Cooperative Program, but also will be supporting missionaries on the field who are not funded by the International Mission Board or North American Mission Board, but who are doctrinally-aligned with us. In many cases, these are missionaries who were previously serving with the IMB, but have been released recently due to financial realignment. This mission support will be under firstFAMILY Missions and will help us continue to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel, especially in areas where we have connections and a vested interest.
  • Satellite campuses will be tagged with the name firstFAMILY. We have opportunities now and are praying through others regarding the placement of campuses in the Northside, Oakleaf and Swimming Pen Creek areas. Since geographic titles are not bad, these will likely be named something like firstFAMILY-Northside, firstFAMILY-Oakleaf, etc. The names flow better than "First Baptist Church of Orange Park at the Northside." Not only does that have two regional names, causing confusion, it is too long. A firstFAMILY-Toronto venue is not out of the realm of possibilities either.
  • New expressions of church will continue to be birthed in the firstFAMILY network. GameDay Church is our first non-traditional church expression. 
  • We are developing a Church Planting Center at our church, that will work in conjunction with the Jacksonville Baptist Association to assess, prepare and resource those called to plant churches.
  • Our orphan care ministry is already growing and will continue to expand services to those seeking to foster or adopt children as well as support children located in orphanages locally and internationally.

We continue to seek clarity regarding where God is at work in our area and throughout the world and will join Him there. Rather than create crowds, we will go where they already gather, taking the message of the Gospel with us and trusting God's Spirit to do what He always has. Our role is to be obedient.

There is value and power in the name "family." In fact, it is a "good name." When people join God's family, they cease to be "those people." This is a significant step. The term "family" brings with it a sense of identity and unity. 

These are exciting days and I'm convinced the best is yet to come.


ONE Service - 2015

10-18-2015-930-ONE Service-We Are Antioch

We gathered together as a church family yesterday for ONE Service. This was a challenging undertaking as we met together for worship, family business, and the declaration of God's Word together in one service. Based on what people have been buzzing about the past day, there was great joy and excitement in gathering together. 

One service logo 2

I'm excited for ONE Service 2016. We're already planning it.

ONE Service 2015 from First Family on Vimeo.

 


The Strength of the Church That Risks

If you do a search online for churches that risk you find page after page focusing on insurance for religious organizations. These are gathered under the title "Risk Management." In other words, this is the exact opposite of what I was actually searching. 

I was not seeking to find ways to manage risk, though I'm not saying that's necessarily bad, especially in the area of protecting families and property. It just seemed funny that the sites that popped up on my screen focused solely on the ability to keep churches safe and I was seeking to find examples of churches who refuse to stay safe (and I'm not talking about insurance or lawsuit related issues.)

Over my twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry I have served on church staff that sought to maintain status quo at times. I've also experienced moments that could be described simply as "risky endeavors."

I have not taken a survey. I have not studied the data on this. I'm speaking simply from my personal perspective and what I discern to be true about the church where I pastor. 

Tweet: When we take risks, we are at our best. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/_W3aN+ When we take risks, we are at our best.

The church that refuses to take risks soon becomes irrelevant to the community in which it lives.

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It seems to me that most every church plant and new start, and I'm not just talking about new churches planted recently, but when legacy churches began decades and maybe centuries ago, there was great risk involved.

Maybe risk isn't the word the comes to mind, but it is accurate. At some point in the early part of the 20th century, in the community where the church I pastor is located, a woman began hosting a Bible study for children on her front porch. This Bible study was the genesis of what became First Baptist Church of Orange Park. Now, Mrs. Clarke likely didn't see that Bible study as risky, but looking back at the circumstances, it was. There was a need revealed to a woman who loved her community and area children. Like many planters in today's culture, when you throw out a crazy idea like a group gathering to study the Bible, there is no way to know who will show up or even if the effort will take root. 

In this case, it did. There were other factors at play in the birthing of the local Baptist church, and hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time, there was no way to know if a church would be birthed and if so, would it mature.

Here we are a number of decades later and as I look back at our storied history, it is truly miraculous that we still exist. Like many churches, there have been some great chapters, but just as many terrible ones. When I was called to pastoral staff here back in the mid-1990s, this church was still healing from scandals and pastoral failings from a decade earlier. 

We took risks for the sake of the Gospel

In a different era, under the leadership of Dr. Allen Harrod, our Senior Pastor at the time, this church took some significant risks. Dr. Harrod's leadership in this time was essential. He led a church reeling from scandal and poor theology into an era of growth and solid Gospel footing. Facilities were built. Others were upgraded. Ministries were developed and not unlike the birthing of this church decades prior, no one really knew how these new efforts would pan out.

Eleven years ago I was called to serve as Lead Pastor here. Since ministry options and new ideas had become the norm in our church culture, risk was not viewed as our enemy. It was not something viewed as frightening. This is likely due to the many new steps taken under the tenure of Dr. Harrod.

I think back to events and ministry options we began under the title "This is an experiment. Let's see if it will work." In truth, we were seeking to discover ways to continually look outward in a church culture that defaults to looking inward. The biggest challenge was revealed quickly. 

Most people avoid risk at all costs

This is true for people in the church as well. 

If your church has an influx of "transfer members," which many legacy churches do, there is a tendency for transferred fear (or risk-averse culture) to infect a growing, outwardly-focused family.

Yet, as one wise senior adult told me years ago, "It's not that we're so afraid of new things. We just need you to lead us into understanding what it will mean and why it's worth the risk."

That's the role of the pastor/leader. 

So, as I look back over the years, I remember some pretty risky efforts in ministry (at least for us) that slowly moved our church to begin to live more missionally while presenting an attractional God to those who never even knew He existed.

There are numerous things that precipitate a risky choice in church life. In most cases, it's the revelation that to do nothing new leaves a local church just going through the motions and eventually wondering why they aren't growing or living effectively on mission.

As I read the Bible, I see numerous risky steps taken by men and women of God. In each case, whether it was Moses speaking boldly to Pharaoh, David stepping in front of a giant with little more than a sling, Esther approaching the king, or even Jesus declaring his role to the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, these were only risky from the human perspective.

Adversity is very big when it’s all you can see. But it’s very small when it’s surrounded by opportunity. - Glen Llopis

Tweet: The church that refuses to risk is the same church that refuses to step out in faith. We call those dead churches. @davidtark The church that refuses to risk is the same church that refuses to step out in faith. We call those dead churches.

Taking risks for the sake of the Gospel is not to be done apart from prayer.

Tweet: To step out in faith without listening, hearing and discerning God's voice isn't risky. It's dumb. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/ao2R5+ To step out in faith without hearing, discerning and listening to God's voice isn't risky. It's dumb.

So, take some risks. Dare to step out. It's when you're at your best as a church.

Our latest risky endeavor is GameDay Church. Check it out here - gamedaychurch.org.


It's Now Newsworthy That Women Are Clothed

When I was a teenager, there was a section in Sports Illustrated magazine titled "Signs of the Apocalypse." These were short blurbs in sports news that were strange and funny and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the magazine stated they were signs the end of the age was upon us.

Recently, in this age of strange news, a story hit the airwaves and the web that if published on April 1 would have been chalked up as another "April Fool's Day" joke. It seems that Playboy magazine has decided that it is now time to stop publishing nude photographs of women. 

In an article in The Week, the decision was described this way:

The decision was made by top editors and founder Hugh Hefner, who agreed that Playboy and its nude women don't pack the same punch they did when the magazine launched 62 years ago. As CEO Scott Flanders so delicately told The New York Times: "You're now just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture." The revamped magazine will keep its investigative pieces and interviews, and introduce a "sex-positive" female columnist and "PG-13" version of the Playmate of the Month.

The comment that stands out here is this one "You're now just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture."

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15101416/4eb29520-195b-4518-9b5a-a38953da4099.png
Photo credit: x-ray delta one / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

That speaks immensely and to be honest, it reveals much about our cultural shift. Gone are the days when Hugh Hefner was viewed as radical and became the "hero" of men seeking some dangerous (and sinful) voyeuristic pleasure. Playboy magazine loses money, but is viewed as a promotional tool for the Playboy brand. According to the article referenced above, the Playboy website removed nudity in 2014 to make it safe for work. This statement reveals much about the American workplace now. Apparently, surfing Playboy's website is not a problem in the workplace.

The magazine founded by Hugh Hefner has famously celebrated a lifestyle of debauchery and overt sexuality. While many women, celebrities, sports figures and models have graced the covers and centerfolds, the corporation has long been viewed as demeaning to women.

This perspective has changed some in our culture over the past few years as more women serve in leadership roles at Playboy and many others have voiced that posing for the magazine is more about empowerment and liberation than objectification. 

That is amazing statement.

It's About the Articles, Right?

For years, the joke has been that people purchase Playboy magazine to read the articles. I guess we will see.

The magazine has run articles since its inception and broke some ground when it secured an interview with then Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. That article was controversial in that an avowed Christian, and at the time, a Southern Baptist, sat down for an interview with a magazine known for it's photographs of nude women rather than it's political essays. Carter's interview drew many comments. When Carter stated "I've committed adultery in my heart many times," political pundits declared his candidacy to be over.

Nowadays, for a presidential candidate to sit for an interview with Playboy or another magazine or media entity known for overt sexual imagery and liberal-leaning articles, most people would not bat an eye.

Apparently, there are numerous serious articles written over the years in Playboy. The political leanings and cultural foci have been consistent over the years. The test is now to see if Playboy can survive in its new format as a combination of a Victoria's Secret catalog and Time magazine.

Why Should We Care?

The simple reason this story matters is that it is illustrative of the changing landscape of our culture. That which used to be outside the norm and offensive is now so common that the shock factor is gone. Some would say that magazines as an entity will soon cease to exist. This is likely for most as the growth of social media and magazine apps increases. 

The boundaries have been moved. 

The cultural rules have changed.

Hugh Hefner may still be lounging around in his silk pajamas with numerous "girlfriends" young enough to be his grandchildren, but even Hugh isn't shocking anymore.

The Church in a Safe Playboy World

Well, just because Playboy is choosing not to publish nude photographs, calling it "safe" is still quite an understatement. Overt celebration of promiscuous and "free-love" sexuality is not safe.

Tweet: Just putting clothes on a model does not change a world-view. #playboy http://ctt.ec/cWH5Z+ Just putting clothes on a model does not change a world-view. 

The church must remember that the battle is not against flesh (no pun intended) and blood, but against a spiritual enemy who seeks destruction. All that God created as beautiful, our enemy attempts to hijack. This is the battle of world-views.

A Christian world-view gives perspective from a biblical foundation.

It is imperative that the church focuses on what has been written, not in a news article, a blog and definitely not in Playboy, but in the inerrant Word of God. We must live what it says and be doers of the Word. 


Talk Is Cheap - Part 5 - The Implanted Word

10-11-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 5 - Receiving the Word

When I was a kid, I would plant beans in cups in my room. It’s weird, but I was a weird kid. My mom would buy bags of dried beans at the grocery - you know lima beans, great northern (or butter) beans, etc. I’m not sure why I wanted to do this, but I would take some of those beans, put some dirt in a cup and plant them in a little one-bean garden in my room.

Eventually, this became part of the required science project in junior high school. Amazingly (at least to me) these beans would sprout and grow. I never had any beans grow on my bean plants, but they always would sprout and grow. Some became pretty tall.

I was probably the only kid in school growing beans in cups in my room. Now, I knew of some other students who grew plants in their rooms, but I was never allowed to hang out with them. I think they eventually got caught.

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I was never a gardener, but some of you are. We have master gardeners here in the church family. I do not know the intricacies of gardening. It requires more patience than I have, I guess.  But those of you who know more about that, know the principles referred to in Scripture regarding gardening and faith. You know, “You reap what you sow” and the like.

The Bible actually uses a number of references related to agriculture and life outside the city. It’s wise not to skip these portions just because you may not live on a farm or grow your own food. The deeper truths are there and vital.

In James' letter in the New Testament he speaks of the need to receive with meekness the implanted word. It made me think of those beans I used to plant, for some reason. 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

This is a reference to Christians who have been born again. This word is the gospel. It has been given to us as a gift. Jesus spoke of this. James referenced this. 

In John’s account of Jesus’ life, he shares a moment where Jesus spoke to religious leaders who sought to kill him.

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. John 8:37 (ESV)

Jesus is speaking to people who are people who were highly religious and looked upon well by those in society. They were the celebrity preachers of the day and were greatly loved. They knew their Bible (well, the Old Testament at least) and could quote it verbatim. They looked well, dressed well, spoke well and yet. . .Jesus calls them out.

Apparently, the implantation of the word of God (a phrase I never hear anyone using) is more biblical than “praying the prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart.” 

What Is the Result of Not Receiving This Word?

Apart from the reception of the implanted word, religion is dead.

Maybe that’s what has happened to most of the churches in our nation?

Maybe that’s why the mission has seemingly been forsaken?

Maybe that’s why we lament that “things are really getting bad?”

Maybe we have spent too much time focusing on behaving well rather than the reception of the word and therefore have fallen into the mundane walk of a religion with no power?

Could it be that we have unknowingly become more like the ones wanting to throw stones at Jesus than like Jesus Himself? Not consciously, but perhaps it has occurred.

Maybe that’s why it is so difficult a concept to quantify the command to “make disciples?” 

Maybe that’s why we think that by doing more religious activity we are forwarding the Kingdom of God?

In the midst of this reality, there is great news. All we have to do is put away and receive.

New birth is received through surrender to God’s Spirit, the repentance of sin and reception of Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Spirit carries the word into our lives and reveals the truth of Christ that is not possible just by choice. It’s by God’s design.

Life is given through the word and through that word of Truth, we are transformed.

The Spirit of God dwells within the children of God. The word of God is implanted within the children of God.

Verse 21 tells us the result of receiving this implanted word is the salvation of our souls. Don’t underestimate this.

It’s truly a simple principle, when you think about it. “Put away” and “receive.” Maybe you have a desire, but that hasn’t been enough for you to see life change. Maybe you were sincere in your prayer to receive Christ. . .but still there’s something not quite right. It’s not about having everything figured out. It’s about total surrender - perhaps the one thing keeping many who have “prayed the prayer” from being disciples of Christ.

What If?

What if we did this? What if we received with meekness the implanted word? What if total surrender happened today? What if church attenders and even church members took the dangerous step of faith into living as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

It’s not adding something into our lives. It’s replacing something.

You and your sins must separate, or you and your God cannot come together. - Charles Spurgeon


Has Your Church Peaked?

I was reading post this morning by Seth Godin about the Mac and how businesses and primary products seem to hit a peak. That is, there is this point where the product isn't improved dramatically, the customer base is no longer increased and creativity stalls.

Godin writes. . .

The Grateful Dead hit their peak in 1977. Miles Davis in 1959, Warhol perhaps ten years later. It's not surprising that artists hit a peak—their lives have an arc, and so does the work. It can't possibly keep amazing us forever.

Fans say that the Porsche arguably hit a peak in 1995 or so, and the Corvette before that. Sears hit a peak more than a decade ago. It's more surprising to us when a brand, an organization or a business hits a peak, because the purpose of the institution is to improve over time. They gain more resources, more experience, more market acceptance... they're not supposed to get bored, or old or lose their touch. If Disney hadn't peaked, there would never have been a Pixar. If Nokia and Motorola hadn't peaked, there never would have been a smart phone.

One reason for peaking turns out to be success.

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One does not have to look too far to find articles and blog posts about the rise of the "Nones" in American religious life and the stories of the marginalization of local churches.

Since the early 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of megachurches in the United States. The most common definition of a megachurch is a church that averages over 2,000 attenders weekly. There were approximately fifty megachurches in the US in 1980. Today, there are over 880. One statistic states that a new megachurch emerges in the US every two weeks in today's culture.

As America has become a predominantly urban and suburban culture, the growth of such places of worship was inevitable, it seems. The impact of these fellowships has been good, for the most part, and attractive for those seeking to be part of a larger story.

However, even with the rise of the megachurch, church attendance and participation in our culture seems to be going the opposite direction.

Why?

Have many churches peaked?

Bob Russell, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church, speaks of the reality of a local church's "shelf-life." He states. . .

One can trace the history of most churches through the swing of a bell curve. Birthed out of a need, it progresses upward through vision, commitment, enthusiasm, growth, and reputation, peaking at pride of achievement. Then the church slowly declines through tradition, dwindling attendance, indifference, bureaucracy, cynicism, and eventually death. 

In a conference I attended years ago, Reggie McNeal stated "All churches have a shelf-life. That's why we're not talking about the church at Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc. as modern pictures of a health and growth."

It's a wake up call for most pastors and church members.

Even in the suburban community where the church I serve is located, we have had to address the amazing demographic changes that have happened in just the past decade. To continue to program and plan to reach people as we did ten to fifteen years ago means that within ten to fifteen years, we may be struggling for survival.

Tweet: No church wants to be known as the  No church wants to be known as the "Sears" of the church-world, or even worse - the "Montgomery Ward."

Has Your Church Peaked?

A strategic and honest analysis of the health of your church is needed. To believe that everything is okay simply because there are people attending today is not enough. Since disciple-making is the goal of, and commission to the local church, it behooves us to ensure we (pastors and leaders) are equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). 

Tweet: Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/Rv0P9+ Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo.

Tweet: Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/nf6h9+ Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now.

I think about the twelve whom Jesus called out as apostles. For three years he taught, led and poured truth into them. This was done for their present situations, but he had a larger story in mind. Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew and the rest had no idea that the work they would be commissioned to do for the sake of the Gospel would ever be more than the "holy huddle" of the twelve plus Jesus. Then, as he equipped them, he revealed to them their calling. 

He is still doing this.

The Local Church Is Valuable

The expression of the local church is valuable and God's design for impact in a community and ultimately the world. While His church will prevail, even when faced against the "gates of Hell" and the power of the Enemy, the reality is that numerous local churches no longer exist. This is not threatening to God or cause for distress. It is, however, a potential wake-up call for the fellowship of local believers.

We have a calling for now. The local church is still viable. However, the local church that becomes so inwardly focused and content to remain in small stories that ultimately do not matter, a funeral is coming. By the way, this is the truth for the mini-church and the mega-church.

We are wise to heed the words of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation (Bob Russell):

  • “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (2:5).
  • “Be faithful even to the point of death” (2:10).
  •  “Hold on to what you have until I come (2:25).
  • “Be earnest and repent” (3:19).
  • “Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” (3:2).

Tweet: Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/8Xe8E+ The adage is true - "Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future."

Your Church Has Peaked. . .Now What?

In this age where church planting is celebrated in the evangelical world, many established and "legacy" churches are struggling to discover their identity in a changing culture. While some may have to shut their doors and eventually sell their property, not all have to go this route.

Revitalization is key. 

To revitalize a dying church requires strategic "heart surgery." I have heard of far too many churches still gathering in old buildings, with rusty baptismal pipes (Baptist churches) and just a handful of senior adult ladies and one or two senior adult men gathering on Sunday mornings wondering what will happen in just a few years. 

Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, nothing will likely happen.

However, I have also had the privilege of watching a handful of dying (actually these churches weren't dying - they were actually dead and had been for years. I call them Zombie churches) churches swallow the pride of yesteryear and seek partnerships with growing, healthy and new expressions of church in their community. In some cases, the skin tone of the leadership had to change to better impact the changing community. In other situations, the heart language was different as immigrants have moved into an area. It's the same old story - the community changed and the church didn't respond. The wonderful thing is that in these cases, it wasn't too late.

The original expression of church peaked, but then was re-introduced through a healthy partnership and a newer, strategic vision. This is more than a fresh coat of paint on a broken-down building. This is a rebirth.

These churches have been born again.

Time ran a story a while back on "10 Companies That Radically Transformed Their Businesses" with illustrations of corporations who used to sell certain products then shifted and remain impactful today. IBM still exists because they realized at some point the business of creating punch-cards and tabulating machines would end. Nokia used to be a paper mill that sold rubber and cable works. Now, they make cell phones (though they may have to shift that too as Apple and Samsung seem to have cornered that market.)

The difference in these businesses and the church is that the "core product" is the only thing that will never change for the church. The Gospel is unchanging and always relevant. The means for sharing this Word changes over time, yet the Word never changes.

The local church may peak, but the Gospel never does.

The word to the wise is to know the Gospel, learn from the past, live in the present and look forward to the future. Just don't water-down or change the message.

 


At Some Point, You Have to Stop Asking "Isn't There Another Church Doing This?"

Yeah, I know - "There's nothing new under the sun."

It's a wise saying from a wise man and it still holds true.

However, as we seek to lead well and pastor with integrity in a swiftly changing culture, the fact is that often we (the church, pastors, leaders, etc.) find ourselves just doing the same things over and over again and wondering why we aren't seeming to gain any ground.

Unchanging Gospel

Now, I am referring to methodology here, not doctrinal soundness. To be clear, the unchanging truth of the Gospel remains the solid footing upon which we stand. There is no changing of the Gospel. There is no value in "watering it down." There is no viability in "making the Gospel relevant" because in and of itself, the Gospel is always relevant, for all people, in all cultures, at all time.

Changing Methods

What I am speaking of are the methods of "doing church" in our culture. I grew up in a Baptist world where regardless where I lived (Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, etc.) the way we held church weekly was virtually unchanged. Sunday School was always at 9:45am on Sunday morning. That was followed by an 11am worship service. Most Sunday afternoons were short in that we were back at the church building for Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training and an evening worship service. Tuesday was church-wide visitation and Wednesday was filled with "Prayer Meeting" for adults and a combination of choirs, missions education and student worship services for the rest of the congregation.

In most of my Baptist church families, the bulletin on Sunday mornings were the same (we all bought them from the Baptist Book Store - now LifeWay) and in many cases, the layout of the facilities were identical. This was due to the fact that our family often joined churches that were small in size and received building blueprints from the Baptist Book Store or somewhere in Nashville, so the L-shaped or U-shaped buildings with a "Sanctuary" on one end and offices and Sunday School rooms on the other were common.

New Wineskins

There comes a time when the methods for connecting and reaching people in the community (i.e. mission field) where God has placed His church must change. In most cases, churches struggle with this because we tend to lean on old models that worked decades ago and therefore put money and effort into plans ultimately designed to reach people who no longer exist.

Tony Morgan has recently blogged about the reality and danger of churches that are so predictable in all they do that, for the most part, they are finding themselves being ignored by a culture who does not care what they are "selling." Unfortunately, this is not just reserved for those who are outside the church. Some who have attended for years are wondering how they found themselves in such a rut.

Lightstock_55418_small_david_tarkington

In Tony's post titled "Predictable: 9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rut" he gives some great insight. (You should click the link and read his full list as well as related posts in the "Predictable" series.)

His first reason is this:

Tweet: All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable. @tonymorganlive All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable.

When I read that, I thought "YES!!! Someone finally said it. Thank you, Tony!"

I cannot tell you how many meetings I have had over the years with pastors, in our church and in our network, and other leadership team members when a new idea was thrown onto the table that resulted in someone saying "Surely someone else is doing something like this. Let's go see them or visit their website or talk to them."

Now, I fully agree that the wise leader will seek information and detail from others who have gone down a similar path, but the fact of the matter is that when God reveals new and creative ways to do ministry for the sake of His name and the intent of reaching the people (i.e. mission field) surrounding one's church, there is likely NO ONE doing ministry exactly how you will do it, or should.

Tweet: At some point, you should be the first to do  At some point, you should be the first to do "something" ministry related.

We live in the age of the mega-church. So many great and creative ideas have been developed and new ways of connecting with people have been birthed. While the Gospel remains unchanged, there are few, if any, vibrant, healthy churches that look like the churches I attended back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Just because City Church, Passion City Church, Saddleback, North Point, Summit or any host of other solid churches around our nation and network do ministry a certain way does not mean that is the exact way you should.

Know Your Community & Culture

Tweet: The pastor should know his culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect on a real, relevant and deep level. @davidtark 
 The pastor and leadership team should know their culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect with them on a real, relevant and deep level. 

If your community (you know, the mission field) is full of people who wear camouflage, drive four-wheel drive trucks, listen to outlaw country music, own big dogs, hunt and fish and love their Budweiser, it is likely that preaching in skinny jeans, bowties, hairstyles where the back of your head is shaved and the top just flows like a One Direction member, referencing kale salads and soccer games is not the "new, creative" steps needed to engage. However, I don't advocate becoming something you are not, pastor, in order to connect. Sure, be all things to all people, but ultimately, be authentic. Most anyone can see through fake-ness.

Fear Stifles Creativity

Hopefully, you have a leadership team (these are not always paid staff members, by the way) who have the freedom to think creatively. Celebrate that freedom, especially if you are not naturally bent to be creative. Listen well and take some chances. Predictability may be safe, but there are many "safe churches" who are closing their doors. 

Remember, this calling we have is not a calling to safety, but a dangerous calling for His sake.

We are the "sent out ones." 

So, while there may be someone who has done it before (whatever "it" is) please quit stifling what the Holy Spirit may be birthing for sake of safety.

Tweet: Predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim. @davidtark Ultimately, predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim.