An Alternate Story

Until this week, I hadn’t really thought of it this way.  As part of a vision strategy time, I encourage others to imagine the world if what they had on their heart (their vision) didn’t come to pass.  For me, that would be imagining Casper, Wyoming without WindCity Church.   Now, this is not an exercise to puff ourselves up with pride of what we have done but is for the purpose of keeping the flames of passion alive that The Lord gave us when we began our particular vision.  

What got me to thinking about this is a person who we will call Fred.  We started a high school ministry on one of the campuses within our first few months of arriving in town.  It started with only a few students but grew slowly so we got to meet others.  After about 5 months, Fred’s daughter began attending our weekly meeting.  She was quiet and shy.  After another several months, we talked her into coming to our local summer youth camp.  To do so, I went to her home to get a release form signed. It was then that I realized that her step-dad was not only not a Christian but was very hostile to God and to any church.  As he put it, He and God had a mutual agreement - they hated each-other.  This was a great opportunity but was also very troubling especially for the daughter who had a new and vibrant faith. 

After youth camp, the family had a job crisis and our church family was able to help them out.  Through that the mom (who had a distant faith) decided to bring them all to church.  After another period of time they actually attended worship on a Sunday.  Afterwards, Fred talked to me and told me how he had hated church and normally would only come once to appease his family but that he liked us and might be back.  He attended regularly for about 4 months and then one night after a Worship Service he prayed to God to forgive Him and save Him.  Yes!  

Just this week the family had a major health crisis.  As I sat in the waiting room, with several others from our church, it was pointed out that Fred had never had anyone to be with him during tough times and that now he did.   It was then that I was refreshed by thinking about the many stories that have changed narrative because of the presence of God through the work of the little church I serve.  It was then that I was reminded that God’s promise to ‘never leave or forsake us’ is true both for God and for the comforting work of the Body of Christ.  

Think about the stories that have changed narrative because you are striving to accomplish the vision that God has placed within your heart.  If you are on the front end of a church planting journey, dream of the future impact that your ministry work can have.  Allow God to put that rocket fuel in your tank now.  There may be days where the only thing keeping you on the mission field is the call of God and it is on those days that a reminder of a ‘Fred Story’ may be just the thing that God uses to refresh you.  

Teaching Giving in a Church Plant

Your church budget starts at the same place your church attendance does at a new church plant.  Not zero but close.  For instance, we started with 5 people (one was me and the other four had my last name).  So, our attendance was 5 and our giving was the tithes and offerings that we contributed.  Don’t get me wrong, we had raised support from about 20 churches that sent money faithfully plus I had a bi-vocational income that went into the fund pool…but as far as local giving it was just us.  

The clock begins to tick in the mind of a planter the moment we move onto the field.  Our partners will only support us for so long.  That means our church will need to learn to give so that local giving will eventually replace outside giving.  

Unfortunately, people don’t show up at your new church plant with an automatic understanding of the importance of giving to The Lord and His work.  They also do not show up with a home budget that has room in it to give to such a cause.  How does a church planter cast a vision of giving then?  Here are a few do’s and ‘do nots’ that I have found thus far:

Don’t give to get. Just like the example in Acts 8 where Simon offers the apostles money to get power from God, we do not ever want to paint a picture of giving to get.  

Don’t give to measure. As in Mark 12 with the poor woman giving 2 mites, we don’t give to impress based upon a large offering nor do we neglect to give because we do not think our gift is significant.  Obedience is measured by action. 

Don’t give to budget.  As much as we want to give to support the work of ministry, we do not want to teach people to give in a needs-based way only.  We should give generously in good times and in bad. 

Do give because its Biblical.  Although many will argue about tithe and net and gross and all kinds of foolishness, giving generously is Biblical.  It is a core of the early church as you will read in Acts 2.  

Do give Sacrificially.  Let’s be honest, in our comfortable american christianity, we could give 10 or 15% and not really sacrifice much.  Romans 12:1-2 tell us our life is to be a living sacrifice.  Learning to sacrifice my abundance to see the Kingdom expand is vital. 

As an aside, we don’t pass a plate.  We do make a point of casting the vision and asking for our attendees to give each time we gather.  We do show them a budget monthly and try and tie that to vision at every level.  We do try and show the effects of their sacrificial generosity at every opportunity.  We do not give finances an idol-like position over other areas of giving (time, spiritual gifts, etc.). 

Mass Communicatin' or 'One-at-a-time-'n?

We want to preach before thousands.  We want to hear of crowds coming to repentance like they did in Acts 2.  We desire maximum impact.  Those are all appropriate wants and prayers.  

So, what does a person with dreams like that do when they have a day like this?  

Up at 5am to take the 4.5 hour drive to the area of high-need ministry.  We pray and talk and dream of the hopeful impact we can have on lostness in this area on this day.  I, my wife and our friend arrive in time to pray and then head to the prison where we are scheduled to have 3 hours of back-to-back teaching and preaching with a large number of inmates.  I meet up with my male contact that would be with me while I preach to two of the sessions.  We check in and do the customary precautions before entering a facility like this. 

As we enter into lock-down we hear one of the guards speaking to us over intercom, “This has never happened before…nobody wants to come to the first session”.  My contact is apologetic to me and is worried I might be upset and although disappointed, I begin to prepare for hour #2.  The intercom comes alive again and the guard informs us ‘There isn’t anybody for hour #2 either.  We only have 2 ladies signed up for hour #3 and we are sending them in”.  Uh-oh, our ladies aren’t expecting to be at the prison for another 2 hours and they have prepared to minister.  We call them and they head our way.  The two ladies come in and we begin to get to know them but before our ladies can get here, one of them is sent away.  

Here we are, now 6 people ready to minister the gospel and we have one person to minister to.  This isn’t what any of us expected when we got out of bed this morning.  We could get discouraged or we could do what the wisest of the 6 of us did when she told this young lady “God has an appointment with you today”.  I am reminded of the amazing story Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:10-14:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

The heart of God is for all but it is also for the ‘one’.  On this day, the one was a woman with many wounds and much guilt and shame.  As testimony and scripture were spoken in that room we saw a lost sheep carried to the throne of God.  It was as beautiful of a moment as I have experienced in sharing gospel with another person.  

In our strategy and in our vision we must have a vision for the masses in our city but we must never lose the face of ‘the one’.  God changes hearts individually and one-by-one.  Let’s keep the face of ministry singular and see that multiplied and pluralized by God’s Spirit in God’s way and God’s time.   That 4.5 hour drive home late at night was a process of coming to grips with the changes that the day provided verses the expectations we had entered it with.  

Sent too soon or Sent too slow?

When is a disciple ready to lead in ministry.  When can a person be sent out to plant a church?  We have many metrics and they each serve a purpose (seminary, pastoral experience, a clear call from God, etc.).  This is a question I have been wrestling with quite a bit.  You see, I am a Church Planter in Wyoming which is the least populated state in our nation.  Over 93% of the population is not part of a church.  We need more than one church, we need a couple of hundred more!  I moved from another state and so have others…yet, in the Mountain West context, it seems best to see people rise up to plant churches from within the indigenous population.  The impatient side of me says, ‘That will take too long!’.  This is why I have been reading John Chapter 1.  Follow this process along with me briefly. 

On day #1 in our adventure John the Baptist identifies Jesus as God The Son which means that these folks had zero knowledge of Christ up to this point.  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29 & 34

On day #2 John once again points to Jesus and encourages his men to follow Jesus instead of him.  The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.”  Still on that same day, they chose to come with Jesus without any long discourse recorded in Scripture. 

On the same day, as they followed Him, Andrew evangelizes his brother Simon and the little group began to grow. So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). John 1:35-42

On day #3, Jesus bring Philip into the team and Philip quickly recruits Nathaniel (with a bit of supernatural Jesus power for confirmation). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:43-49

You just witnessed the beginning of a multiplying church…all in 3 days time.  Now, one can argue that we will make all kinds of messes by expecting a shorter ‘incubation period’ for new disciples.  That’s true.  Ministry can be a glorious mess and we shouldn’t just send people out un-cocked or half-cocked.  However, one could also easily argue that the ‘goods and services christianity’ we see all around us is fueled by a long incubation period before a disciple gets to do anything.  When we sit at a destination and soak up only someone else’s time in the Word then we will likely become sour.  When we come to know Christ and study to show ourselves approved while living out our faith ‘along the way’ then we begin movement.  Movement keeps ministry going.  

Who do you have in your life that is ready for some movement?  Is there anyone who has taken a seat on the bench of ministry that you can invest in and get up and at it?  

No Stereotypes in Church Planting

We tend to dream big as Church Planters.  We set out with a goal to change the world beginning in our city.  We want everyone to get saved.  We want to reach thousands with the Gospel.  I get excited just typing it.  

Over time, we can begin to aim at different targets.  Changing the world can get modified to changing the style. Everyone getting saved can turn into everyone tithing.  Reaching thousands with the Gospel can turn into breaking that 100 barrier in our weekly attendance.  We even begin to dream of a certain ‘stereotype’ of who is a ‘good fit’ for our church plant.  Maybe you don’t…but I did…and so do many others.  

Then one day I met a fellow.  One of our frequent attendees brought him to our worship gathering.  He was a follower of Jesus but had spent much time out of church and away from the Lord due to severe illnesses that keep him disabled to this day.  He smelled of substances that I recognized as ‘not good’.  He was sad.  He was kind but he was sad.  He expected to be met with hostility, shame or who know’s what else.  You see, he had developed some stereotypes of ‘church people’ that were just as harmful to him as my ‘church planter stereotypes’ were becoming for me.  Fortunately, he wasn’t met with any of those things and was loved well.  He returned.  He came to a Missional Community and participated.  

Fast forward 10 months, this person is now serving in a vital role in our ministry…his ministry.  He has a smile that lights up a room.  He is the most accepting person I know.  Nothing has changed physically but two things have changed inwardly.  First, he has allowed me to re-evaluate how I look at others.  Second, he has changed in this way too.  The offering plate doesn’t ‘thud’ when he drops in his offering.  The pundits don’t write books about him and those like him.  He is one of the many that fall into the category of ‘least of these’.  To me, he is much more.  He has become a friend and a brother and I would take a thousand of him in any ministry anytime.  

Stereo-types can work both ways and there is little of value in them.  Of the many idols we should crush in our ministry lives, this one is high on my list.  What about you?

John 7:24 - Do not judge by appearances but judge with right judgement. 

Expecting Results

What do you expect to see once you have spoken God’s Word to others?  What is the desired outcome?  Do we want physical response?  Do we desire to see people pray?  Repent?  Make decisions to follow Christ?  

As you enter into a church planting context, it is vital to have appropriate expectations of what will happen when you faithfully proclaim God’s Word.  This means not having unrealistic expectations based upon past results.  This also means not having zero expectations or small expectations.  Take a look at this text to glean insight of how to properly look at the expected results of Proclaiming God’s Word:

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8 ESV)

These folks had been scattered…that sounds a lot like Church Planting.  When the winds of persecutions slowed they landed…all over the territory.  When they landed, they went about preaching The Word.  Perfect example for us to follow as a ministry model.  Ask God to send you and preach when you get there.  That’s simple.  We get an individual example of what this looked like with Philip.  In that, we see a great set of ‘results’ from preaching that should allow us to place appropriate expectations on what to hope and pray for when we bring God’s Word! 

First, the crowds paid attention.  For some of us, that would be enough.  We often wonder if that is happening.  God promises that His Word doesn’t return void so if you will preach it then folks will pay attention even if they don’t look like it.  Think teenager.  

Next, any spirit other than God’s Holy Spirit will be upset even to the point of experiencing the same type of scattering that brought you to the place in the first place.  That’s cool - evil will flee from the proclamation of The Word.  Now, this may not always look positive on the outside and could even make your attendance more transient than you would like.  Be faithful to proclaim and leave the metric of attendance to the One that builds His Church.

Thirdly, you can expect God’s Spirit to work in the lives of others as it did you when He sent you.  Philip saw the lame healed.  Who knows what God may do but you should expect He will do something special.  Opening spiritual eyes and loosing spiritual chains are mighty miracles that will glorify God.  Lord, let it be!

Lastly, for this text’s example, your proclaiming of the Gospel should leave a footprint of joy upon the city where you serve.  It did then and will now.  Proclaim Him faithfully and proclaim Him with the joy of salvation in your own life and see that joy spread!  Your vision of what to expect when you bring The Word should, at minimum, include these things.  Let’s be careful not to expect anything unbiblical. 

I have seen some of all of this and I want more.  I want my expectations to be biblical and right.  I bet you do too.   

Growth Motivators

A bodybuilder may use supplementation to motivate their body to grow.  However, if the hard work isn’t being done in the gym (and at the dinner table) then they will not see the desired results.  This is also true in the Kingdom of God.  We can do all kinds of things to dress up a church or make something cool, relevant and appealing but if we don’t have the appropriate growth motivators then we will likely not see Kingdom results.  

Certainly, God’s Word teaches us that our primary role in this ‘Kingdom Matrix’ is obedience to Jesus The King.  Will obedience motivate growth in your ministry.  Yup!  Is obedience hard.  Yup!  With obedience, we can expect results that are pleasing to King Jesus even if those results don’t add up to what we might expect or hope for. What else does God use to motivate growth in our ministries?  Let’s take a look at the early church and learn:

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1-3 ESV)

You only get a hint of it here but let me fill in the blanks.  God took His missionaries out of their comfortable homes and scattered them using the winds of persecution. Uh oh. That wasn’t listed in the advertisement for church planter. Is that right?  Did the early church really have persecution as one of its greatest growth motivators?  Yes, yes it did.  Why?  

  1. Because we will stay where we are comfortable if not pushed out into a place we can be obedient.  Persecution scattered missionaries to the places God willed them to be.
  2. Because persecution will get us moving at a pace that will separate us from our enemy who seeks to thwart the work of God and the purpose for which we are called.

Can we avoid this type of growth motivator?  Rather than seeking to avoid persecution we should instead look to be obedient.  Notice the apostles where an exception to this scattering?  Why?  They were already resisting comfort and moving at an obedient pace. 

There are many ‘techniques’ that have been given many words in print and that are supposed to serve as growth motivators for your ministry or church plant.  I’m not saying that there isn’t wisdom in those methods and helps…there likely is…but let’s give pause to the process of scattering and expanding that God used and see if we can apply it to our context.  

Chosen To Serve

Do you remember the first time you got chosen?  Maybe it was something recreational (like being picked for a sports team). Maybe it was something familial (like being asked to do something manly by your father).  It could be that you recall the first time you are called upon to do something within church or ministry service (like being asked to lead a prayer or be an usher). 

What feelings did you experience?  Excitement?  Thankfulness?  Fear?  Anticipation?  

Speaking of being chosen to serve…take a look at the early church’s version of just that:

[1] Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. [2] And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. [3] Therefore, brothers,(2) pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” [5] And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. [6] These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. [7] And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7 ESV)

Wow!  The church was growing and there were complaints.  Can’t imagine that.  Those called to lead recognized that they weren’t the only ones called to lead so they ‘chose’ more servant leaders.  I remember when I was first ‘chosen’.  I experienced all of those emotions and they both held a place in my heart then and still do now.  Let’s take a look at what I mean. 

Excitement - Being called to serve Holy God should begin with excitement but that excitement should continue rather than wane.  Do you get as excited to serve today as you did when first chosen?  If not, why not?  I’m not just talking about being ‘excitable’…but the deep and abiding feelings of joy that come from getting picked to do something with eternal value.  

Thankfulness - To be thankful for being ‘chosen’ is a big thing.  A thankful heart rarely has room to begrudge being used.  A sure-fire way to get burned-out is to lose the Thanksgiving factor in our service to The Lord.  

Fear - I don’t mean a paralyzing fear that hinders the work…but a cautious fear that causes us to seek God and His will so that as we serve in our ‘chosen’ roles we can do so with a confidence that we are serving well.  

Anticipation - To look ahead can be a gift if it doesn’t cause you to forget the moment you are in.  The early church was in a constant state of wonder as the dreamed about ‘what was next’.  What kept them from worrying about the ‘fear of the unknown’?  Could it be that this anticipation was so expectant and reliant upon the track record of power that God was displaying that they didn’t have time to worry.  

You are chosen.  So am I!  It is a gift that should wake us up with a bevy of holy emotions each day.  

Visions of Grandeur

How big is the vision that God has given you?  For a church planter, is it to start a new church, build it to a comfortable size, and pastor a people?  Sounds nice…doesn’t sound very big.  

I know, I know.  Everybody has their own vision so who am I to call you out on yours?  Well, here is the deal.  Every church planter’s vision better be linked at the hip with the vision of the original church.  We aren’t doing something new.  We are continuing something quite old.  Therefore, our vision should have the scope and size of the early church.  Read this excerpt from Acts 4 and dream with me:

[12] Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. [13] None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. [14] And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, [15] so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. [16] The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5:12-16 ESV)

Yes, that would be a vision of grandeur.  People chasing you down to get the blessing and healing of God!  Multitudes!  Lord, let it be. Yes, it is bigger than most of us have experienced.  But, YES, this is the story of the early church…the same church that you and I serve today.  Doesn’t it sound amazing?  Does it seem unattainable?  

Our vision should be something that seems completely improbable, impossible and unattainable IF God’s Spirit doesn’t lead it!  Our vision should seem so BIG that others will challenge it because it seems so grandiose (see last week’s writing on Church Plant Hijack).  Yet, when challenged, our vision should be so resolute because it is from God.  Is yours?  Here are a few questions to help you consider the value and size of your vision:

Is your vision something that can be done completely by human effort?

If your vision does not become a reality what will have been missed in your city or area of service?

What considerations do you make when others challenge your vision?  

Now, a God-inspired Vision is accomplished when you execute your Mission.  Next time, we will talk about the ingredients to that. 

Church Plant Hijack

 

Week 15 - December 23, 2015 - Church Plant Hijack

 

God gives you a vision for what to do, where to do and when to get started.  You are filled with awe and wonder as you consider the opportunity.  You get started and pour your heart and soul into serving Him on your new mission field.  You celebrate as others come along and hear the vision and get excited.  Yet others may not be as resolute on the vision as you are…this is natural since God gave it to you…but it is dangerous because that precious vision can be hijacked if you aren’t careful.

In the early church, generosity and complete surrender was a big part of the vision.  Towards the end of Acts 4 you hear of this things.  Then, a couple came along that had a vision of partial generosity and conditional surrender.  You can read about them here:

[1] But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, [2] and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. [3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? [4] While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” [5] When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. [6] The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. [7] After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. [8] And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you(1) sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” [9] But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” [10] Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. [11] And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Acts 5:1-11 ESV)

Peter could have been ecstatic that ‘some people’ where getting ‘some of the vision’.  He could have celebrated this gift with this couple.  He didn’t.  He saw it as a hijack to the vision of the church to surrender and support ‘all’ the work God wanted them to do.  What do you do when it appears that God’s vision for your work is being hijacked?  I mean, you can’t really strike people dead in their tracks can you?  Here are some thoughts to consider as you carry-out and protect the vision of God:

First, don’t be naive…it will likely happen early and often to you.  It may even happen before you launch/start.  It will likely even come from within your Core Group of leaders whom you are closest to…possibly even people with deep and abiding convictions about Christ…probably from someone whom you agree with on most of the ‘close-fisted issues of the faith’.   This does not make them enemies to fight.  We already have one of those. 

Next, understand that the greatest catalyst to vision hijack is poor communication.  When we do not cast and re-cast (ad-infinitum) the vision then we can’t expect others to grasp it therefore they will have their own visions.  Pour vision into every meeting you have with others.  Just when you think ‘they must be getting sick of this’ they are likely just beginning to hear it.  Keep it up!

Compromise and adapt on nonessentials.  Your vision does not include carpet color.  Your vision is about accomplishing much for God’s Kingdom.  Hold firm to that and hold loosely to other things.  Allow tons of input.  Make changes to methods but stay resolute to the message and vision of God for the work of God.   Your vision may never change but the way you accomplish it will be an ever-changing thing.  At year two of our church planting adventure, we have now seen so much change compared to how we started.  Many of those changes are of things that I thought were essential at the time but later learned they were just vehicles to drive the essentials home.  We found other vehicles that drove faster so we switched.  Don’t assume its a hijack when it may just be an insight of a better vehicle.  

Be prepared to deal with it.  When a hijack comes your way you will feel great tension.  It may cause you to lose people…people you care about greatly!  Friend, you will lose many more if you allow God’s vision to be hijacked.  Handle these things with grace but deal with them in urgency.  It may be that you can thwart a hijack by recasting vision and everybody is ok…it may not.  Consider this…if you are doing something new and a person (or group of people) want you to do it a different way, it is likely there is another organization that is already doing that.  Bless them and send them to that organization if they cannot adapt and embrace the vision of God for your organization. 

 

 

In The Face of Difficulty

One of the more difficult things in life is dealing with discouragement.  Within a ministry or church planting context, I believe this is an even greater issue.  There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged when a person looks around at the world.  Reading thru Acts 4, I see where the early disciples in this first church could have been greatly discouraged.  They had every ‘human’ reason to be sad or mopey or even depressed.  Yet, we read this in Acts 4:32-37:

[32] Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. [33] And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [34] There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold [35] and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [36] Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, [37] sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:32-37 ESV)

A church planter could be very discouraged when/if those within his new church were not unified or not caring to one-another.  The early church had a time where ‘the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul’.  That is encouraging.  We should find encouragement in unity rather than in metrics.  I talk often with my brothers in the church planting field and they deal regularly with the struggles of church planting in North America. 

A missionary could become discouraged when the resources to do the mission are sparse and/or when generosity isn’t taking hold within the Body.  The early church lived in such a way that ‘no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had all things in common’.  I doubt they had great wealth to be encouraged and we might not either.  Let us find encouragement in generosity rather than discouragement in lack.  

A ministry thrives upon the power of the saving work of Jesus.  We fan the flame by sharing our testimony and the testimony of Christ.  The early church did this ‘with great power’.  It kept everyone focused on the vision and mindful of the Master.  Discouragement didn’t overcome them just as it promised in Revelation 12:11 ‘And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’.  Seeing God at work in our life and remembering what He has done is a prescription to defeat discouragement and staying encouraged.  

Finally, to stay encouraged, God sends special ‘encouragers’ along the way.  In our text, that was Barnabas - the son of encouragement.  In your context, that may be a specific person or it may be a group.  We often discount or deflect encouragement.  As a servant leader of The Lord’s Church, let’s look for ways to stay encouraged and to be an encourager to those around us.  Let’s overcome the enemy and the world of discouragement with ‘the word of our testimony’!  

In The Face of Difficulty

It sure feels good when ministry is going smooth.  It can even cause me to think that that is the way it should be.  However, as much as I like it, that isn’t what is promised (check this out for proof - http://www.esvbible.org/John%2015%3A18-27/) and it isn’t what the biblical record shows us that the early church experienced.  With that knowledge, we shouldn’t have expectations of easy, comfortable or smooth…

How do we face the struggle when it comes?  How should we respond to persecution and difficulty?  The early church had been dealing with much of this type of thing and Acts 4:29-31 helps us understand how they responded and helps us develop an action plan for how we should as well!

[29] And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants(1) to continue to speak your word with all boldness, [30] while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” [31] And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)

When struggle comes my way my flesh usually wants to lash out.  That lashing can go towards something (a company, a church, an ideal) and can also go towards individuals.  Notice that when the early church dealt with struggles that they pointed their energies in the direction of The One who could do something about it - God Almighty.  They sought Holy God and laid their situation before Him.  If I spend all my energy placing blame or seeking retribution then I will have very little energy to seek God or to serve Him.  My ministry actions will be diminished in both energy and enthusiasm.  

Sometimes I seek God in the midst of the storm but rather than asking for what I truly need (so that I can be of Kingdom value) I ask for what I want.  ‘God, fix this person.  God, stop that group.’  The early church shows us a model of prayer in that when they prayed they asked God to empower them to be able to ‘continue’.  Continue to do what?  For them, it was to continue to speak the Word with boldness.  That translates into you and I doing the same and also shows that we should focus on the continuance of the Mission of God no matter the surroundings.  If you are a Church Planter then pray that you may continue to be effective in making disciples no matter what you face.  If you are a seminary student then pray that you may continue to prepare to serve God no matter the difficulty.   

When we pray in this way we can expect God to empower us to continue and we can expect that His Holy Spirit will be in operation in our lives in ways that shake up the world around us.  When we seek God’s Will rather than our comfort we can trust that His Will is going to be done on the earth as it is in heaven.  

Ministry life will be wrought with difficulties.  Church Planting may have more than the average.  Being prepared to respond biblically in the face of difficulty is key.  

Growing Small

What do I do when the church plant actually begins to grow?  What about when it outgrows my leadership?  Do I slow it down or is there a better solution?  This is a great question for any role of leadership in any organization but especially something as new and fragile as a church plant.  After all, our hope is to share the Good News of Jesus and see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven…aren’t we expecting things to grow bigger than we can handle on our own? 

Moses was leading a multiplying nation out of a horrific exile and found that his influence had outgrown his leadership capability using the model that might have worked while smaller (he did it all).  At the point of crisis, Moses received some solid counsel.  You can read about it here: http://www.esvbible.org/Exodus%2018%3A13-27/ - Exodus 18:13-27

The gist of Moses’ father-in-law’s advice (yes - you can get good advice from your in-laws unless your in-laws are out-laws) was that the nation was so large that to govern, manage and care for it effectively they would need to grow it down to a manageable size…they needed to grow small.  Day-to-day things would be managed by other leaders and mission-critical things would still flow up to Moses.  This is a beautiful concept!  Yet, it requires big changes from a traditional model.  Here are some things I am learning that are required to lead a growing organization (a church plant in my case):

  1. Give away Leadership - this isn’t easy and can initially be tough on pride but to lead well we must give away the leadership we have gained.  We can only hold on too so much and what we hold will limit us from picking up anything else.  Give it away and only take it back if there are issues of morality or something just as serious. 
  2. Empower Leadership - As you give away leadership you must empower that leader.  This is a two-fold process.  First, you empower the person to whom you are entrusting leadership by clearly defining the opportunity and expectation.  Next, you empower those who will be led by dis-connecting that leadership from yourself and casting a vision for the new structure.
  3. Equip Leaders - Leadership fails when we put somebody in a position that they are not equipped to handle.  The Gospel Ministry is all about equipping leaders (see http://www.esvbible.org/Ephesians%204%3A11-13/).  Make sure your leaders have the tools they need to serve with excellence. 
  4. Incubate Future Leaders - I love how the MLB has a farm system to develop future major-leaguer’s. We must have a pipeline to raise up the next leader.  This will likely be an area of significant investment for you.  Where will you find the time to do that?  By executing 1-2-3 above!
  5. Encourage & Respite Your Leaders - Burnout is a ministry killer.  Here are the two greatest weapons I have found to combat burnout.  Encouragement should be built deep within the DNA of your leadership system.  Not flimsy or surface-level stuff…encouraging from the heart and to the heart…whether the leader is up or down.  No matter the amount of encouragement you will need to develop a structure for proper respite’s and rest for all of your leaders.  If this is built into the front-end of your vision then you can prevent anyone worrying about turf when they get to rest.
  6. Develop Accountable Structures - Your leadership will only rise as far as it is equipped and will only fall to the point it is accountable.  Do you have solid accountability?  Will your leadership team?  
  7. Accept Results - When you give away leadership to an empowered and equipped leader you must be willing to live with the results.  This does not mean to settle…this means to accept.  You accept results and you work to improve along the way.  If your leadership model is strong enough you will look at the overall organization and realize it would be impossible to direct all of it without the leaders you have.  We serve a God that makes impossibilities seem very possible!

Do you need to grow your organization small?  Have you ‘out-kicked your coverage’ and need to re-evaluate for future success?  Growing small is not just an Old Testament idea…check out Acts 2 (link to my week 7 blog here).  To be effective minister’s of the Gospel for the Kingdom maybe we need to grow small! 

When Faith and Culture Collide

In any church or ministry we have to be prepared to live our lives as followers of Jesus from within the culture and context where God has placed us.  This is a foundational consideration for a church planter. It is not an accident that we are serving God in our city in 2015.  It is not an accident that we serve in America. It just so happens that most of the core truths of the Christian Faith collide with the worldview of much of the American culture in 2015. This is not a new phenomenon.  The Christian faith and the world’s culture are most generally not in agreement with one another.  Sure, we face many ‘new’ issues today within a post-modern and post-christian culture in America but there is a long history of that.  How does the Biblical record teach us to handle ourselves in faith & culture collide?   Let’s join Peter and John directly after they had proclaimed the Gospel in the Jewish temple.  

Acts 4:1- 22(ESV) - http://www.esvbible.org/Acts%204%3A1-22/

First, we see that the leaders of that local culture where ‘greatly annoyed’ (Acts 4:2) by the fact that Peter and John were proclaiming Jesus.  They were so annoyed that they arrested them but not until over 5,000 had been saved!  They put them in custody so that they could question them about the collision between two competing world views.  When your faith collides with the culture and context of your ministry you will face annoyed people.  You might even face worse.  This is not a new thing.  If you match annoyance with your own annoyance you have not cashed in on the opportunity that God has given you.  This is an open door to have an audience with important and influential people within your ministry field.  Put on the armor of God and the love of Christ and get ready!

Next, we see these cultural, political and religious leaders question them directly…they put them on the spot about ‘where this was coming from’.  Peter and John don’t shy away from the platform.  They proclaim Jesus to them.  They go further when they proclaim that these leaders had rejected this Jesus.  They refer to these men as ‘builders’.  Then and now, there are builders of culture.  There are architects of world views.  Rarely do these happen by accident.  Faith and Culture collide when what has been built has been constructed from a ‘man-centric’ perspective instead of a ‘God-centric’ perspective.  The builders that were doing the questioning on this day had begun their journey within the most ‘God-centric’ worldview ever (The Nation of Israel) but had slid into rebellion against that worldview when they could not accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of their own faith.  They took a left turn at Jesus and became ‘man-centric’ when they denied the cornerstone of their own belief system.  Everything they did from that point should have been expected.  Asking a culture to operate within Christian behavior but knowing they do not have Christ in their heart is going to end in you going insane.  Peter & John new this…it is high time we come to the same conclusion.  This does not mean we give up on our culture.  It just simply means we should not be shocked when our faith collides with the culture and context of our ministry.  It is that collision that can change lives.  It is that collision that we should anticipate and prepare for…again, with the love of Christ in the center.  

Lastly, how do we handle it when our culture and context tells us to stop doing what we do and stop saying what we say?  This collision on this day ended with the leaders warning (Acts 4:17-18) Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  It was a gag order.  The ‘man-centric’ culture said we don’t want to hear it.  Sound familiar?  Acts 4:19-20 gives us our great challenge.  This is the bar of measurement for the Christian when faith and culture collide.  ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. Peter and John knew that these leaders had the social power.  They laid themselves at the feet of their judgement.  However, they knew ultimately that God was God and that they had this truth to judge how they would behave underneath man’s authority.  They said they couldn’t stop.  It would be wrong.  In a culture that said ‘be true to yourself’ and ‘if it’s right for you, then it’s right’ had decided that the Christian faith would be the one area of objection to those statements.  Peter & John didn’t throw a fit…they just said they couldn’t do it.  It was love for God that guided this action.  It was love for the culture and context that guided this action.  

Your faith will and is colliding daily with the culture and context of your ministry.  How would God have us handle this?  We are facing some large social changes that will give us very real opportunities in the days ahead.  

Where Is God In the Midst of my struggle

Some weeks can be hard right?  As far as church planting weeks, this has been one of my toughest yet.  We have experienced a legal threat that will require us to change our name.  We have heard the news that our least won’t be renewed therefore we must hustle to find a new location in a city not known for affordable buildings.  Those bits of information came in within 24 hours of one-another.  

Maybe you have encountered some tough news recently…maybe you have asked yourself this question - “Where is God in the midst of my struggle?”  Especially for those of us that follow Jesus and that serve Him in ministry, it is natural for us to hope for a smoother trail.  Fortunately, as I was encountering this ‘hard week’ I was studying my preaching text from a recent Sunday.  I have been leading our new church through the Gospel of Mark.  Read the text with me:

Mark 6:45-52 (ESV) - Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

These men had been in the boat with Jesus before.  They had felt the comfort of knowing He was right there.  They had seen Him work mighty miracles.  However, they were now in the boat by themselves and they once again encounter the wind and the waves.  The journey across the sea becomes difficult.  Where was Jesus while this was happening?  He was watching them from His perfect viewpoint on the mountain.  This is a great comfort for us!  God is not unaware of our circumstance?  He is not uninterested in our plight.  

It brings me great peace to know that Jesus put His disciples in the boat.  That wind and those waves were something that Jesus wanted them to encounter without Him being physically present!  Why?  That’s how we grow in our faith.  

The Sea in this Bible text serves as a picture of the Christian life today.  God is present.  God sees.  God comes to us in our need.  Yet, in many ways, He places us in the boat and on the sea. He has shown us how to go out without Him being physically present with us (Mark 6:7-13).  The disciples had experienced that short-term trip so that they would learn how to trust that ‘He is with us always’.  

On the fourth watch, Jesus came to them.  They had to endure the sea and the struggle for a season.  We may think that God isn’t with us because we don’t feel Him.  We may think that God is absent because He has not yet come to our aid.  God IS with us.  God does know the details of our life.  In His Time and in His Will He does come to us in our time of need.  If our faith can grow when He feels distant then our joy can grow when He feels close.  Even better, as our faith grows we recognize that God is always with us and always close no matter how we may be feeling.  No matter what your ministry challenges are you can trust that God sees and knows.  Encounter the waves and the wind knowing that truth!

The Credit

In any ministry, we can be tempted to take credit for the successes we encounter.  This is especially true in a new church plant.  After all, we were part of the ‘Genesis’ of the work.  When I am tempted to take credit I am reminded of how Peter and John handled the situation after they saw a man healed by Jesus thru their ministry: 

Acts 3:11-21 (ESV) - While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Notice that the people were more than willing to hand the credit to them.  That is usually the case for both problem and blessing.  When things go wrong, the ministry leader takes the fall.  That makes it even harder not to accept at least some of the credit when things go right.  But if we take the credit and get the glory what are the probably outcomes?

  1. We lift up ourselves rather than our Savior.  Peter and John had done a good thing by helping this man but all they had done was point Him to Christ.  If they had taken the credit they would have missed the opportunity to life up the name of Jesus.  
  2. We put ourselves in the position of provider rather than our Great God.  You might think it is nice to be seen as the provider…until your doorway is full the morning after you took credit for something you have no earthly ability to sustain.  That results in you becoming tired and in the people seeking provision from you being left empty-handed.  We connect people to the Source of all things when we point every good thing to God’s handiwork.
  3. We lose the opportunity to share The Gospel with those who see God at work.  If we flex our muscles and say ‘that’s right, I am pretty good aren’t I?’, that will be the end of it.  However, if we see the adulation coming from others, and use that as a platform to present The Gospel, we have made the most of an opportunity that may not come again.  Peter and John do a fabulous job of that in this encounter.
  4. We get our reward right here instead of eternally. A helpful passage on this thought would be Matthew 6.  Our rewards are to serve God here and enjoy God there (eternally).  We lay up treasures for ourselves when we serve and expect zero credit…when we see credit coming and quickly point it upward towards the only One worthy of such praise - God!

Giving What We've Got

Church Planting may take you to a new area where you know few people and have limited experience/scope to guide you.  This has been my experience.  That has pushed me back to the Church Planting documentation in the book of Acts.  In Acts 3:1-8, we journey along with Peter and John fresh off of a life-changing encounter with God that has resulted in the planting of the worlds first mega-church (3000 added in one day!). Here it is in HCSB:  

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon.  And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them.  But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong.  

Have you ever worried that you wouldn’t have the resources needed to accomplish the mission/vision of the ministry you lead?  Silver and Gold can seem in very short supply at times.  This didn’t stop Peter and John from ministering.  The lame beggar asked for a hand out as he had on many occasions.  He didn’t get one this day.  Instead, these apostles gave him what they had - Jesus - in a large dose!

How did they deliver this gift? Personal delivery!  

First, they met the man with eye contact and they asked him to look at them.  When Jesus looked at the crowds around Him, He often felt compassion and this seems to be the case with Peter and John.  When we find ourself in new situations and new ministries we must never lose the personal.  We aren’t crunching numbers we are sharing the love of God.  How easy it would have been for these men to check their money bag, realize they didn’t have any extra money, and dismiss the man.  Instead, they made a connection that led to a miracle.  

Second, after they offered the man what they had, they went one step further.  They didn’t just leave the ball in his court.  They put their hand out and offered a real physical help to get him started.  Oh, this is important to any church plant - We must be willing to give a hand up!  Hand-outs may seem fruitless but hand-ups are were we can really show God’s Love.  

Notice that the man’s legs were strengthened after the apostles reached down for him and after he took their help and stepped up in faith.  Our role in God’s Kingdom can be best seen with an outstretched hand.  

No matter your ministry context, the resource of compassion and care must never be in short supply.  If we distance ourself from the personal, those resources will dry up faster than a bank account in Vegas.  

We are still new in this journey but I can look across our Sunday gatherings and tell a story for more than 50% of our folks about how one person/family has been touched personally by another person/family.  Take a good look at your surroundings and do an inventory of what you’ve got to give.  This may not be what people around you are asking for but it doesn’t mean that isn’t what they truly need.  How can you offer a hand up? 

What Should A New Church Look Like?

Growing up in the Bible-Belt of Arkansas, I had seen very traditional ways that church was done.  Those ways had been comfortable for me and many others.  As I served in churches, I saw slightly different expressions of ‘church life’ but the basics were still there.  

As I began preparing to plant a new church, a big question on my heart was ‘What should it look like?’ The clearest Bible text on this was Acts 2:42-47. Here it is in the ESV:  And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

These are the elements that would describe what the first church looked like and I believe they should be in the forefront of any church today no matter if we describe ourselves as traditional, contemporary, relevant, practical or in some other way. 

Devoted to the Apostles Teaching - John 20:21 says that as The Father sent Jesus, He sent the disciples (and us).  To be devoted to this teaching is to be devoted to God’s Word.  It is the central part of the faith life and is where our faith is anchored.  This devotion must permeate all other facets of ‘church life’ so that it serves as the strong foundation to build upon. 

Devoted to Fellowship/Communion/Community - The first church was together.  This didn’t make them squeaky clean…it made them messy!  They did the mess together.  They fellowshipped in that they spent much time together…but they also formed a community in that they were committed even when times where not perfect.  They shared in The Lord’s Table.  These times would build the bonds to their God and to one-another that would be maintained even in persecution. 

Devoted to Prayer - Prayer would be central to the culture of any church because it is the dialogue between the One the church is worshipping.  Listening to and speaking to God. 

Devoted to Generosity - The sharing and generosity that these first followers had with each-other was a true picture of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ (ultimately displayed on The Cross).  It drew them together and drew others to them.  It was counter-cultural.  It still is…

Happy - This word isn’t used in the text.  We read ‘glad’.  I just imagine a contented smile.  The early church was not just a bunch of stoics.  They found a deep and abiding joy in Christ and it showed.  No sour-faced, arms-crossed, ‘bless me if you can’ attitudes here.

Multiplying - They grew.  Fast.  How?  The Lord added to their number day by day.  They focused on Christ through the above things and God built His church.  Funny, he mentioned He would do that (Matthew 16:13-19).  They didn’t list any multiplication techniques…but I’m sure they put many into place as the chaos of growth threatened to consume their focus upon Christ.  10 months in and I still can’t describe to you what a new church plant should look like…but these elements haven’t changed.  Do they show up as central in the work of ministry for you?

What's The Message

Ok, what does a church planter do once they have an audience?  Preparing a message gets mixed reviews with many ministry leaders.  Some love it and others loathe it.  The difference is in the stress level that arises over direction.  We don’t want to get stale.  We don’t want to be ‘Johnny One-Note’.  We fear we may run out of material.  

This all came to a head for me as I entered ministry.  I served a Bible-Belt church where I preached 2-3 times per week and led at least two bible studies.  Then there were frequent weddings, funerals and counseling sessions.  How can a person ever stay prepared with that much fresh and relevant content?  It isn’t as if the Bible doesn’t have enough material…it is 807,361 words.  It often seemed like there was too much…surely I needed a way to focus each message.  Even now, as a Church Planter, I felt it that much more important to be ‘on-point’ at any time I was given a platform to share. 

I took a clue from Peter in Acts 2.  On the day of Pentecost, he stood up and began to preach.  His audience had heard many fancy speeches before and they thought he was drunk.  What would he do to bring home the message of The Gospel? Take a look at the scripture he delivers that day:

He Preached from the prophetic book of Joel Chapter 2 (in Acts 2:17-21).  He preached the Gospel from an Old Testaments prophets perspective.

He Preached from the Psalms with Psalm 16 (in Acts 2:25-28) and Psalm 110 (in Acts 2:34-35).  He preached the Gospel from Psalms which is musical and wisdom literature. 

With each text Peter quoted, he pointed to God’s Mighty work through Jesus.  Then he made an appeal for men to repent and follow this Jesus whom he preached.  

That is how I found peace with the message/messages.  I decided to preach The Gospel through all of scripture. The techniques would change.  The illustrations would be designed differently.  It didn’t matter though…I had my message.  The Gospel would be enough.  Now, I had some practical helps as well that I will offer hear:

  1. Preachers over-complicate things sometimes.  I can sure do it.  A resource that has been very helpful to me is Andy Stanley’s book called ‘Communicating for a Change’.  You may not agree with everything said but there are some powerful insights into how to communicate clearly and in a way that is remembered and applied.  
  2. Preachers try and think like scholars.  Don’t get me wrong, scholarly study is needed and rewarded but we often develop outlines that require scientific formula’s to decipher.  In scientific terms, if you are planning to spend hours of scholarly study, we need to be less ‘scientific theory’ and more ‘applied science’.
  3. Preachers need clarity and focus.  Turn on the TV to a news station and count how many different messages are going on at one time.  We suffer from ‘info overload’.  Your listeners walk in each week after days of overload.  They need clear teaching that is focused on what can truly help them live a life as a follower of Jesus.  Remove any bell and whistle that doesn’t enhance the clarity of the message.  
  4. Preachers forget the awe of the message we carry.  Our text is filled with the most powerful of all stories.  It is filled with the greatest of all evidences.  It is a life-changing message of a life-changing Savior that is offered to a people in need of changed lives.  What an honor.  Don’t forget the awesome nature of the message you carry! 

Connections

How would we reach people in this new church plant?  Where would they come from?  What would be the best way to communicate God’s Love to them?  As we look into the Scriptures we see God timing the launch of The Church with a cultural event that drew many people together:

Acts 2:6-13 (ESV) - And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

I couldn’t see any such event lining up in my city.  I read books on Church Planting to get tips.  I looked at Scripture.  I talked to peers and mentors.  I prayed.  Here are some ways to try and connect with people in your context and a few thoughts on each that I have experienced…

  1. Print Mass Marketing - in spite of all the debate over ‘importing Madison Avenue into the Church’ this can be helpful.  Postcards, flyers, etc. We have used them all.  It has been more successful in getting people aware of us than it has for getting people to an event or gathering.  In the early stages of a new ministry, this type of ‘ground cover’ can be useful.  Thus far, less than 5% of our weekly attendees have come as a result of this connection strategy. 
  2. Social-Media Marketing - A Facebook page seems most useful of all the options but it seems good to use as many mediums as possible to connect in the social sphere that is relevant to your context.  Frequent posts, blog-type writings, event updates and more all seem to help create awareness.  Regular ‘boosting’ of posts is an in-expensive way to broaden your online community and expand your connections.  We have seen this as the most effective way to market special events OTHER than our regular church gatherings (like community events).  We do see about 2% of our weekly attendees coming from it. 
  3. Website & Search Engine Optimization - It is true that your website is your ‘front door’ of your ministry.  It needs to be functional and frequently updated.  Even at that, it may not immediately be noticed our findable.  We sought out help to optimize our site.  There are many options.  You can overspend so do your research.  We have seen regular guests thanks to this connection strategy with as many as 5% of our weekly attendees coming from it. 
  4. Door-to-Door - Yes, we did that.  Yes, we do that.  We visited over 2,500 homes in our first year (with the help of several mission teams).  We simply brought a gift (a coffee mug filled with candy).  Included was information about our church and an invitation to be our guest and a brief survey about how ‘the newest church in town’ could serve or pray for them.  We have seen low results with this but we have seen results.  I meet people on a weekly basis that have been ‘mugged’ by us.  We have about 3% of our regular attendees due to this strategy. 
  5. Missional - What I mean by this is similar to what you would read about if reading several of the great ‘missional living’ books out.  One I would recommend would be ‘The Missional Quest’ by Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe.  This is a more personal way to connect with those around you whether it is neighbors, co-workers, etc. It is a relational connection and can even be a ‘word of mouth’ connection. It is a strategy that has its heart in the Gospel and the Commandment to ‘love people the way Jesus loves us’.  It is at the heart of our ministry and we see about 85% of our regular attendees coming from it.  

There are many ways to try and connect with folks whether you are a church planter or in some other type/style of ministry.  Maybe there isn’t a bad way.  Maybe instead of knocking certain styles we should do what we are led to do and applaud others for trying.  We must not forget that no matter the strategy, each person is brought to us by God.  However, we don’t want to sit back lazily with a ‘we built it, now send them’ faith.  We want a faith that is full of obedient action.  An action that shows our understanding that we are a ‘sent people’ - John 20:21. 

No matter the style, we should bathe our efforts in prayer and lead every effort with love for those that we are striving to connect.  Without God’s help and our love we will find that no level of effort will produce lasting results.  

How do you best connect with others for the purpose of ministry?