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Posts from September 2014

Give Us Back Our Church!

A few years ago, Gordon MacDonald wrote a fictional account, based in fact, of a church that was changing.

The book's title says it clearly, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Loves Tries to Enter the 21st Century.

510UvyGYxELI purchased the book and began reading it a few years ago.

Here's how the Preface (non-fiction) begins. . .

The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years. From his perpective everything had changed - overnight, he said - into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of as his spiritual home.

I listened to him describe what sounded like ecclesiastical carnage. Programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits come to mind) thrust aside.

His anguish (and his anger) began with a young pastor who had been appointed with a challenge from the church's leadership to "stir things up with a new vision." His mandate: make the church grow like the Willow Creeks, the Saddlebacks, the Mars Hills, and all the other megachurches that have appeared during the last decade.

According to my friend, most of the church members - in particular, the older generation - had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began. Who would protest against, he asked, the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched? But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches. 

Here's what I heard him saying. What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention (a favorite word of mine) of ways to love God and serve people. What they did not see coming was a reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience. In summary: virtually everything in the life of their church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.

It was during this part of the conversation that my lunch partner finally said, "Our church has been stolen out form under us. It's been hijacked." His solution to the problem? To leave and search for another church that "appreciated" the older and better church ways his generation was familiar and comfortable with.

As I recall the conversation, my friend was less than delighted when he discovered that I wasn't completely sympathetic to his cause. I tried to find a kind way to say, "Get used to it," but I wasn't very successful."

My parting comment that day was something like this: "You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We're not talking about decades - we're talking about years."

What is unfortunate is that the account shared by MacDonald in the Preface to his book is not fiction and has been replicated over and again in churches throughout our nation.

There are numerous churches in the city where I serve that have experienced the very same challenges. Some have called pastors, over and again, seeking to find the right fit. Unfortunately, some of these churches have now been tagged "Pastor Killers" based on the reality that they have left many wounded shepherds in their wake. Many of these wounded warriors have either stepped out of ministry or strongly contemplated it. 

Ship-turning1Granted, there are some pastors (and friends of mine) who have sought to lead their church through needed change too quickly. You just cannot turn a ship on a dime. Therefore, incremental change is needed with continued vision-casting by the pastor and leaders reminding the church of the bigger picture. All change must be done not based on a model of the latest megachurch, but solely on the discerned will of God for said congregation.

Pastors easily slide toward egotism. It's the nature of the calling, I guess, partnered with personality traits, most often High "D" or "I" categorizations on the DISC profile along with the stress of the role. No excuses here, just an acknowledgement of reality. Therefore, let me be clear that God does not honor prideful egos, whether from the pulpit or the pew (or in today's vernacular - from the tall table or the cushioned chairs).

I have yet to meet a pastor called to lead an established, or legacy, church through transition who has not been accused of wrong-doing. In most cases, the accusations stem from the loss of perceived sacred cows within the church.

Often the frustrations come from a perceived shift of focus from self, a specific demographic, or program or even worship style.

The church I have been called to serve is a wonderful one because of the godly people here and a clear focus on Jesus Christ. As I think back over the previous twenty-one years, I am encouraged by all that God has done. In fact, just contemplating the miracles of new life, Kingdom focus and celebrations of victory lead to a personal worship service themed by "Thank You" to our God.

The work done prior to my leadership was ground-breaking for a church solidly and proudly (unfortunately) inwardly-focused. As we moved through the early years of the 21st century, it became clear a shift was needed. Not everyone understood or believed this, but I applaud and thank previous leadership for not being satisfied with status quo.

It is clear today that if the shift from inward-only ministry had not occured, or at least begun to occur in the early 2000s, this church would be seeking a merger with a church on more solid ground financially and likely would be seeking ways to keep the doors open here. This is not a dystopian, doom and gloom statement, but one based on what we have seen occur in our own county and in churches in Jacksonville.

Thankfully, we are a church who became like the men of Issachar, who "knew the times" and sought to impact the world God has placed us for His glory.

This has meant change. It's not been dramatic. It's been slow. As best we could, we have sought to keep everyone on the boat while making the turn. Perhaps we have not always been successful in that, and for that I am sorry. However, I cannot and will not apologize for leading a church into the culture of lostness so that we may fulfill our Great Commission, push back the darkness, engage the lost and make disciples. 

Yes, I've been accused of hijacking this church. It hurts when the accusations come, because. . .well, I'm human and those arrows always seem to penetrate areas thought impervious to pain.

While I didn't eat lunch with the same friend that Gordon MacDonald did, I too have had a discourse with a friend as well. This statement was then shared, "If you want to dedicate your life to church planting, and missional work, that is very commendable, but if that is your choice, go to work with the Convention and let us have our church back."

I responded that my life is dedicated not to the church, not church planting, not a program or event, but to God alone. He rescued me. He gave me life through Jesus Christ. He called me. Therefore, He's the center and main character in my story. In fact, "my" story is not about me. It's His story and I'm blessed to be invited into it.

Regarding missional work, that's a misnomer, I fear. The reality is that it is impossible for a true church or follower of Christ to be anything but missional. It's not a fad or descriptor of process, but a characteristic of a disciple.

As for the Convention. I've not been called by God to serve in that capacity at this time in my life. Therefore, to go work for the Convention (either SBC or Florida Baptist Convention) apart from a calling would do a disservice to this church, my family and all churches within our denomination.

Then, the kicker "Let us have our church back." I found it interesting that this came from a friend who has been a member of this church about ten years less than I have. Most likely, he's echoing others. I pray it's a quiet minority. Here's why - when a church slips into believing it's "my church" or "our church" God may just allow that to happen.

Believe me, you don't want a church to own. You don't want a church that is identified as "yours." Christians do not own a church. Christians are the church. The ownership is based solely on the one who has paid the price - God alone.

So, be careful to ask for "your church back." Back from whom, God? We do not wish God to remove his lampstand from our presence.

Though my answer was thought out and carefully worded, I'm not sure it swayed him. For that reason, I grieve.

My Recommendations for Other Pastors

For other pastors who face these situations, seek counsel and pray intently. Be prepared to admit poor leadership and vision casting when it's apparent. No one is perfect and leadership is a tenuous thing. Be holy. Be humble. Be caring. Be loving. 

Pastor the full church (yes, I'm using the word "pastor" as a verb) from preschool to senior adult and every demographic within. Develop lead teams, deacons and ministers to come along side to aid in this. Keep the vision clear. Stay focused and remember the big picture. 

But, don't ever apologize for doing the will of God.

How appropriate that Joe McKeever (a 74 year old pastor) wrote this blog post this past week. Take a moment and read this and respect the wisdom of the ages from a seasoned man of God - "Neckties and Drum Sets: Things We Should Get Over." 

Pressing on!


Wisdom from a Farmer

This was given to me by a friend (Paul Williams) a couple of weeks ago. Not original, but funny. . .and a lot of truth here.

An old farmer's words of wisdom we could all live by.

  • Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.
  • Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
  • Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
  • A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
  • Words that soak into your ears are whispered. . .not yelled.
  • Meanness don't just happen overnight.
  • Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.
  • Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.
  • It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.
  • You cannot unsay a cruel word.
  • Every path has a few puddles.
  • When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
  • The sermons are lived, not preached.
  • Most of the stuff people worry about, ain't never gonna happen anyway.
  • Don't judge folks by their relatives.
  • Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  • Live a good and honorable life, then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.
  • Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't bothering you none.
  • Timin' has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.
  • Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.
  • The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'.
  • Always drink upstream from the herd.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
  • Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.
  • If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
  • Live simply, love generously, care deeply.
  • Speak kindly, and leave the rest to God.

I think this farmer may have known Solomon.


THE SIN OF OUTSOURCING: How "Good" Ministries Are Robbing the Church

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.

As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.

Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.

A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.


Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.

In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."


We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.

The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.

While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.

We must live out the truths of Scripture. 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)

This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.

Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.

While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again. 



Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.

If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.

A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.

The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.

Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.

Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:

  • Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
  • Salvation & Baptism
  • Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
  • Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
  • Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
  • High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
  • Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)

At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well. 


This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles. 

It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.

That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually. 


More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?" 

In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?

The Gospel is never-changing. 

The Truth is never-changing.

The strategies are always changing.

Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.

Why We Must Remember 9/11

Thirteen years!

It is hard to believe that this tragedy occurred thirteen years ago.

That means the students in seventh grade this year were not born until after this event.

So many things happened in 2001 and while there are timelines and websites listing all the many global events, they all pale in comparison to the one event that cemented this date in United States history to forever to be known simply as 9/11.

On this day, as many of us were just working through another weekday, we were shaken in an instant and as the day wore on, the tragic reality that our nation was under attack by overt terrorist action.

Two planes crashed into and ultimately destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

One plane crashed into the Pentagon.

One plane was diverted due to a group effort by passengers, from an imminent attack on the nation's capital and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

This day of tragedy united our nation in a way unseen for decades.

Unfortunately, it seems that the unity was fleeting as Americans consistently poll as being more divided than ever. 

May today be a day of remembrance for us as Americans. May we remember how others throughout the world came to our support and grieved with us. May we remember as followers of Christ, how God renewed our strength and comforted us in our grief. 

May we remember those directly involved in the story.

Images of heroes, those in the planes, those in the Trade Center and Pentagon and especially those who willingly went into soon to be destroyed buildings and dangerous areas in order to help and rescuse others come to mind.

And this is good.

It is good to remember.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were instructed by God to set up special feasts and memorials to remind them of His provision and rescue during difficult days. However, it seems that over time, the moments of remembrance became routine for many. . .if not totally forgotten.

To know 9/11 apart from remembering (even remembering vicariously through reading accounts of others) the events of this day and the events leading up to it can be tragic. To know things, but not really understand leads to the potential of repeating history. 

May we remember.

May we always remember.

May we always be resolute.

May we never have another 9/11 type day.

I remember that shortly after 9/11, as the nation unified, flags unfurled in record numbers, police, firefighters and public servants were acknowledged and thanked for their service. All the sudden, we were not taking for granted the day. We were treasuring our time with our children and families. We were intentionally celebrating our freedoms by packing churches, worshipping together, enjoying picnics, baseball games (the World Series!) and resolutely declaring that our freedoms that offended some in the world, would remain.

We resolved to "Never Forget!"

Those who died that day have been memorialized, rightly so, and each American should know the intrinsic value of a life.

So, on this day, on this September 11, let us remember. Let us remember with more than a flippant acknowledgement of an event, but let us remember how when life seems to be routine, there is always a bigger story. Let us remember that life matters. Let us remember that evil exists, but God reigns and is never startled. 

Where was God on September 11, 2001?

The answer is simple, but truly deep. God was in the same place He has always been and is today. He is not unloving. He is not disconnected. He is, and always has been and will be, totally engaged and in control.

May He reign in our hearts as Lord and in our collective grief and remembrance, give us peace.

May He especially be experienced today in the lives of family members and survivors from those connected personally to 9/11.







Thank you again to all police officers and firefighters who serve in large cities, suburbs and rural areas. May we never take you and your service for granted.

When You're Accused of Being Too Focused on Missions

"Can a church be too missional or too focused on global missions?"

Every so often I hear the murmuring. It's natural. No church of any size, seeking to engage its community and and the world for the Kingdom is immune to the this.

Terms become buzzwords all to quickly in our world, so just to clarify. . .


Perhaps it is best to begin with explaining what “missional” is not. Missional is not the latest in a long line of church growth strategies. It is not a new program for evangelism. It is not a way to mobilize church members to do missions more efficiently and effectively. Neither is it a fad created by postmodern Western Christianity. It is not the same as being “mission minded.” It is not an effort to increase mission giving or support within the church.

In the western church, we have been trained to use a scorecard that validates event attendance and participation in church programs as evidence of congregational health. The reality is that by focusing so intently on this man-made scorecard, the church has drifted from fulfilling its commission to make disciples. There are a number of theological distinctions that help undergird the theological foundation of living and conversing missionally. Without a biblical foundation to terms used within the culture of the church, we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift.[i]

In an attempt to make the shift to the new paradigm, pastors and churches often misuse terminology. As Alan Hirsch states, “The word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.”[ii] This is why missional is often viewed as just another phase or program. In this case, since “missional” seems so hard for many to define clearly, the word is misapplied. Consequently, the missional theology we have been called to live out becomes nothing more than a watered-down retread of previous attempts to be relevant in a changing culture. When the term is used in a way to mean anything that is evangelistic or contextualized or relevant (often viewed as being edgy or “cool”) its meaning is then lost in the method employed.[iii] Missional then, becomes difficult to define. Therefore, we are left describing what it is not. We are then relegated to describing its uses.

Missional is. . .

  • God's nature (John 20:21)
  • Incarnational
  • Joining God in His mission
  • A movement
  • Making disciples

In our effort, as a church, to live missionally, we have strategically sought places of impact outside the walls of the church facility. Whether it be a school, a nursing home, a hospital, a community gathering place, coaching at the Y, serving the community, or anything else that offers us opportunities to be the hands of feet of Christ in the midst of the community where we have been placed, missional living becomes the new normal.


As Southern Baptists, global missions has always been a big part or our identity. The thing about global missions is that it begins in our "Jerusalem" and extends throughout the world. Our focus is not to complete our mission efforts here (our "Jerusalem") and then move to the next outlying area ("Judea, Samaria, etc.") before going throughout the world. The mission of Acts 1:8 is concurrent.

Over the years, since before I was called to be Lead Pastor at our church, leadership has led the church to engage globally. This has been done through short-term mission trips and through the partnerships with missionaries on the field, not to mention our financial support given directly to missionaries, through annual missions offerings as well as consistent giving through our Cooperative Program.

As God has blessed us, financially and in other ways, we have been able to send teams to places throughout our city, state, nation and the world. 

We have been able to play a strategic role in seeing Kingdom growth throughout the world.

It's a joy to get a message from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona or Greensboro, North Carolina or even Burlington, Ontario relating God-stories regarding services, gatherings, small groups, life change, salvations and baptisms. We celebrate with our partners knowing God has used us in a small way in this great story.

When our missionaries in the UK let us know of a young man in their post-Christian culture who surrendered to Christ as Lord, we celebrate because we are part of this!



Sometimes, it's easy to forget the mission. It's easy to forget what really matters. It's easy to get worried (i.e. temporary atheism) about church finances and property and worship times and other things and come to the conclusion that "We need to take care of things here rather than worry about those churches and missionaries 'over there.'"

Yes, I have heard this.

It grieves me to hear it.

Here's my premise - we can never do too much.

Oh, I know, we (as one local church) cannot fund every missionary fully. We cannot provide everything for everyone. I understand that reality. However, I believe partnerships are more than financial (though finances are vital, and I don't apologize for reminding people to give.) Prayer for and with church planters, missionaries and those in the community we serve is tangible. 

Prayer is not passive.

We must remain focused and remember that God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing. When we are engaged in the larger story, God's story, He is pleased. When we settly for small stories where the kingdom is more about us than God, sin is the result.

Do you ever wonder what happens to churches who refuse to live generously, model prayer and proper stewardship, refuse to give and partner with those "over there" for the sake of the Kingdom? 

They die. 

Some have been dead for years. They still have buildings. They still meet. They survive on the financial gifts of club members who have voted God out of the story, but they're dead and eventually. . .even the building will be empty.




[i] Brisco, Brad. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Missional Church Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012. 

[ii] Meigs, Rick. "Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church?" Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church? N.p., 30 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.

[iii] Thomas, Scott. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Acts 29 Network: Flower Mound, TX. Acts 29 Network, 15 June 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.

Redemption of the Worshipper: Dennis Jernigan

Most likely, you know his songs. For years, churches have been singing songs by Dennis Jerinigan. Some of his most noted songs are sung in the church I pastor regularly. They are powerful and lead me to the throne of grace. Dennis has been called a modern-day psalmist.

701Dennis' journey begins in a small town in Oklahoma. An encounter as a five-year-old boy led him down a path of questions and confusion.

"I wasn't like other little boys," he says.

Prior to his surrender to Christ, he lived a destructive homosexual lifestyle. Like many, he sought friendships and relationships. This, as is often the case, led to more and more pain and loneliness.

God used true friends and music to lead him to peace. To God.

Jernigan says that through music, God changed him in ways he never could have imagined. He surrendered to Christ fully in his mid-20s and began a ministry recording music, sharing his story, and leading others to freedom.

It's a story of hope.

It's a story of redemption.

It's a true story and can be so many others' story as well.

A documentary of Dennis Jernigan's journey is available in full on YouTube. I've linked it below. You'll need to carve out time to watch, but it is worth it.


Some great quotes by Dennis. . .

In an instant, I was made a brand new creation. I don't identify myself as a recovering homosexual. . .never have, never will. . . I am signed, sealed, delivered, utterly, irrevocably who my Father says I am - a new creation.

I've been duped, all these years. I really have been duped. I've been going to man to find out what a man is supposed to be. I've been going to human thinking as if it's the highest thought ever, when I needed to be going to my Creator all along for my true identity.

I'm not going to let the gay community tell me any longer who I am. I'm not going to let the temptations that I experience, because they didn't stop right away, define me.

Temptation defines nobody, so stop letting it define who you are Jernigan.

My past failures will no longer define me.

My present circumstances will no longer define me.

I'm not even going to define me.

I'm going to let my Father in heaven tell me who he says I am.