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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?

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.

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.