Sunday, July 27, 2014

Part-1: A missional life is not easy, but it is excellent

In the midst of planting a new congregation, with all it's initial ups-and-downs and attention to detail, I recall thinking early on that, "SOME DAY, when we have a building of our own, a full staff, more money and a (fill in your own blank), THEN life will be easier.  THEN we'll be able to put the ministry machine into motion and simply maintain it.  THEN, life will be easier for the sake of real ministry...."

Oh how wrong I was...but in a good way.

Just like a school kid who says he can't wait to be a grown-up so he won't have to deal with tests anymore, a planter can exhibit that same kind of thinking.  Certainly a start-up from scratch is packed with tests to get off the ground--- like a rocketSHIP--- but even in space, astronauts are still encountering situations.  Likewise, when Jesus says to pick up our cross and follow him into a life of discipleSHIP, he is inviting us into a missional life, not a maintenance one.  A missional life is not easy, but it is excellent.  Those missional tests will lead to missional testimonies of God's missional goodness...and the presence of God's goodness always brings a redeeming A++ to all situations! 

In other words, as a church plant matures, the tests simply shift from one challenge to another.  Tests change, but they don't go away.  That's ok, because it means the plant is moving in a relationSHIP--- it's God to the people and the people to God, then God's people to others.  This, instead of just establishing a religious institution where the tests are often more mechanical than missional.

Here are some examples...

1). As your ministry plant grows in "people presence," it creates the need for complexities.  For instance, going to two or more worship services means more childcare help is needed, more band member time is required, more prayer teams should be trained and even more coffee must be brewed!  Establishing two or more services can create two or more different congregations when it comes to fellowship.  A disconnection can start, but that's a test that can be passed well.  When people say, "I don't know everyone like I use to," you can remind them the most important person that everyone needs to know at your church is--- Jesus.  It's not easy, but it is excellent.  

2). Over-prepare and do not ignore on-going coaching advice.  After the launch and the excitement of the first few months are behind you, coaching is still needed to prepare for the next challenges.  For example, many churches get stuck and will stay stuck at 100 people, or 200 people, UNTIL you change your leadership course.  The more folks in worship, the more/better leadership is needed to be trained and deployed for the sake of training and deploying others.  Don't first see yourself as a chaplain, but as an apostle who breaks new ground and multiplies impact.  If chaplains are needed, recruit and train them from the spiritual gifts that are present in your leadership.  Great planters are great at investing in people to make them great!  It's not easy, but it is excellent. 

3). God inspires great ideas...but He also empowers us by His Holy Spirit to implement good ideas into God action.  What's a good idea?  Usually one that haunts us from our lack of our implementation!  As your new ministry starts growing and time passes, be sure to continue creating fresh opportunities for missional movement.  What worked last year may not work this year.  Our world/culture is changing that fast!  With that in mind, don't throw people into ministry like coal into a furnace to run the machine, but train and encourage them over-and-over.  Again, it's relationship over religion.  It takes longer, but in the long-run, it blesses deeper and wider because it's God's idea of church.  So, empower people to pursue great things.  Don't hoard the glory, share the glory.  After all, that's what God is doing all the time--- sharing His glory with us as we participate in His mission!  It's not easy, but it is excellent. 

4). Ask yourself over and over, "What can I pursue today if I wasn't afraid of failure?"  Don't be one of those pastors who are just trying to survive.  Fear of failure or fear of man is always cancelled when we follow Jesus, who consistently reminds us to "Not be afraid, for I am with you always."  No matter how discouraging church planting can be at times--- do not lose the faith.  The goal of life is not to arrive at death safely, but to show others how to be the kind of Jesus-disciple that rips down dark curtains for His light to shine through.  Hey, when was the last time you heard that kind of talk from a pastor!!?  YOU are to be the one to declare such truth!  Sometimes short-term losses will gain long-term successes.  In my up-coming blogs, I will share a few examples of how the Lord imparted into me "bold faith" for the sake of my planting experience.

A missional life is not easy...but it is excellent.

Sunday, July 13, 2014 more than a name, but a lifestyle

This week I'll be at Hosanna Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Illinois, for a gathering of LCMC district coordinators.  Every three-years the districts gather together for vision casting.  The goal is to strengthen the faith and the collective mission of the 700+ churches within our nation-wide districts.

I'll have one key word to share with the group: missional.  The L and the C of LCMC are important in identifying ourselves--- we are, after all, Lutheran Congregations.  The M and the C, however, are even more important.  Yes, I said it...even more important!  First and foremost, we are Missionaries for Christ that make-up Lutheran Congregations.

The 700-plus congregations that currently make-up the LCMC are not going away anytime soon, but our influence in the world will disappear...very soon...if we don't start living-out the M for C.  When our cultural influence is gone, the church will be nothing more than a religious activity, rather than the powerful presence of God that transforms.  Lutherans talk church and theology very well, but now it is time to live it...every day in every place of daily life.  Missional for Christ!

I believe the best way for our association to birth 1,000 NEW and healthy congregations that reach the entire culture, is for our CURRENT congregations to practice a missional mindset of multiplication in their respective communities.  The best way for that to happen, is for congregational leadership to train, equip and encourage every member to be a minister of the mission of Jesus Christ.  It's more than just dispensing more knowledge, or gathering for fun fellowship, it's showing people HOW to literally follow Jesus outside the church building.  It is "there" where the incarnational Jesus meets people and awakens them to their need for the gospel.

Two quick ideas for districts: to challenge every congregation to explore the following....
1). Train leaders to form "Transformational Communities" from our existing congregations in order to better serve the city (see my blog from March 3, 2014).

2). Put monies aside every month to help launch a conventional church start in the district--- either as a single congregation, or in teaming-up with other district congregations.  Create a "family tree" of church plants.

Friends, please join me in prayer for the LCMC District Coordinator's gathering, July 15-16, that it will be more than just a time of sharing good information, but a breakthrough in great transformation.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Be light in darkness, or just add more light to light?

I recently shared in an interesting discussion about cutting-edge mission.  It was with a pastor that I believe is more comfortable living in membership maintenance than in dangerous discipleship.

I asked, "What if a bartender and a stripper, who both worked in the same "den of darkness," were to come to faith in Jesus because one of their customers lovingly and boldly saw the "bad bar" as their sphere of influence to share the "good news?"

In other words, should we be the light of Christ in order to break the blindness of darkness, or only stay with other Christians, thus adding more light to light?

Here's a possibility: How about the bartender keep his job while now working as a "minister of Jesus" to the folks who belly-up to his counter?  His labor is now his act of worship!  After all, if he leaves the bar and just works inside the church, who is going to be the light of Christ in that particular den of darkness?

What if the stripper comes to faith?  Should she leave her job and with it her new influence over her colleagues?

My pastor friend struggled with this question.  I see it, however, as a good struggle, for it jabs at the desire for church to only serve as a comfortable place, away from such tough stuff of life.

Here are some missional thoughts for church planters...and anyone else.  Yes, sometimes it is best to simply leave the past behind and follow Jesus out of hell, period.  Leave the bar and never go back for a variety of good reasons.  Sometimes, however, it is best to follow Jesus back into hell and bust its locked gates with kingdom keys.  Could the stripper leave her job but seek to keep a friendship with the other gals in order to speak peace into them?  Perhaps.  Those friends, after all, are more likely to listen to her share in her living room about Jesus than listen to me from the church stage!   How about the bartender?  Can he keep his employment and still be a Christian?  Of course.  

Scripture says Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and the religious types mocked and hated him for it.  Why?  They didn't understand that Jesus came to the world not to wipe-it-out, but to win- it-into his kingdom reign.  Thus, the cross and the resurrection--- light conquering darkness.  The way I see it with a "missional mindset," is if we are following Jesus (and that is the definition of discipleship) then we are naturally becoming more supernatural like him as well.  We can then do what he does with his power and his authority to cast out demons and give hope to the hopeless.  We may, or may not, seek to intensionally be in dark places all the time so that God's light can shine brightest, but let's AT LEAST be ready at all times to share the hope we have in Jesus!

As I have shared before, a missional life is better than just doing missional stuff.  That's because your life IS the mission!