Sunday, August 31, 2014

Church Planting WORKSHOP 101

Planting a new congregation was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my years of ministry.  It was also the most fulfilling!  -Dan Clites

Hey everyone!  I'm offering another Church Planting WORKSHOP, 101 style, at the up-coming LCMC Annual Gathering in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, October 8th.  While attendance at the gathering (October 5-8) is important for sharing in the over-all vision of the association, it is not required to participate in the planting workshop.

There is no charge for this 5-hour workshop, starting at 10:00 am (yes, we will start 2-hours before the annual gathering is officially wrapped-up) and running through to 3:00 pm.  We will share in a working lunch, provided at no cost for those who register ahead of time.  The purpose of this fast-paced, but extremely informational workshop, is to help YOU or someone you know, discern God's calling to plant any one of several experiences of effective new ministries.  If you want to plant in the near future, please don't miss this opportunity for a boost!

What to expect:  We will start at 10:00 am sharp (in a room yet to be determined, but in the same facility as the gathering--- the Iowa Events Center).  We will end promptly at 3:00 pm.  This, so you can make your travel plans for going home.  Bring family, friends and/or leaders with you.  The more people you have helping you in a church planting endeavor, the better!

At this 5-hour workshop....
- You'll get connected to the planting assessment and training process of the LCMC.

- You'll discover the variety of church planting experiences that God is using to reach the unreachable.  Find out how one size does not have to fit all!

- You'll realize that you don't have to be ordained to be a church planter.  Just called!

-You'll get keyed into the great attributes of great church planters.

-You'll explore how to cast a fresh vision and develop a church that is born for your city.

-You'll start to be be trained in how to gather people and raise the necessary funds.

-You'll learn to use facilities so they don't use you.

-You'll hear testimonies from those who are currently serving in the mission field of planting.

-You'll get connected to other planters and be encouraged to think big.

-You'll find out how your existing church can become more missional for city impact.

How to register:  Go to the website and click on ANNUAL GATHERING.  From there, you can register for the gathering AND the workshop!  Thanks, and I hope to see YOU at the workshop!

ALSO #1:  I will be sharing two different one-hour "breakout" sessions at the gathering, Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7.  One breakout will take-on how to be a missional church, while the other breakout will speak to how we will develop 1,000 new congregations over the next decade.  Be sure to register for the breakouts when you register for the gathering.

ALSO #2: Please be sure to register to participate in the Tuesday night (October 7) MEAL PACKING MISSION!  We are currently way-short of enough helping hands.  Let's be the Church that night, and be a part of God's miracle moment--- packing 400,000 meals in just two-hours!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Planting Preaching Tips

I've been away from the pastoral pulpit for 18-months now, but I'm still listening to plenty of messages in-person and on-line (Lutheran and other).  With that in mind, the following coaching tips are meant to be encouraging for our LCMC church planters and missional preachers.

When preaching...
  ...challenge yourself to come up with a style, or method, that is not being used by others.  What might that look like for you and your personality and/or your particular mission field?  If we are going to reach the unreached (people who don't know Jesus, or don't like church as it is), it's probably a good idea to not sound and present like EVERY other preacher!  As with everything in life, go to the Lord in prayer on this one.  He wants you to be you, not you being someone else.

...don't just talk about Jesus--- but declare what he is doing!  He is more than just an important historical character like Martin Luther or Abraham Lincoln--- Jesus is ALIVE and literally with us today!  That's the perfect power for reaching the millennial generation that wants to be unconventionally trained to live out their faith in the daily marketplace.  Living in the power of the Holy Spirit is the church's secret weapon that must not remain a secret!

...don't just talk about mission--- but teach people how to be obedient in living missionally as an everyday lifestyle.  Doing missional events and activities are fine, but people want and need to be trained and encouraged in how they can live missionally in regular, every day life: at home, work, school and in community.  In worship, have your people share from the front even the simplest testimonies of how they are striving to be missional--- through the easy and not so easy moments of life.  This way, people can begin to understand they don't need some grand story to be living significantly as a disciple of Jesus.

...keep in mind that your congregation doesn't exist for itself...but exists for the sake of others. Ministering and fellowshipping within your church family is certainly not a bad thing, but what can you add to your Sunday message to inspire and empower the people to take the church to the streets?  Too often churches are way more concerned about growing their own numbers inside the building on a Sunday, rather than growing a kingdom influence in the community on Monday.  Since many people don't know "how" to be influencers because they are not being led to do so--- YOU teach and demonstrate to them "how" to be obedient!

...consistently cast vision (God's preferred future) and your mission (your strategy for participating in God's preferred future).  Complement the vision and mission of your church with your values (what's important to you).  Again, this glues together the gospel with the point of your church's existence.  Social justice is important, so long as its backbone is made up of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Hey, let's out "social justice" the "social justice folks" by outlasting them, out loving them and out producing them!  That way, they can't complain about your Christianity!  Maybe then, they'll even want to know more about this Jesus guy....

...encourage your folks to use their Bibles in worship.  If you don't teach and encourage them to open up the Word in worship, they probably won't do it at home.  Printing the scriptures on the screen, or in a bulletin, is certainly convenient for the eyes, but it doesn't empower folks to keep their fingers on the Word.  Try this: put shorter scripture passages on the screen while still inviting everyone to at least look up your main preaching scripture.  This way the folks are in the Word, but not spending too much time going back-and-forth finding passages and getting distracted from the over-all message.  Don't worry about your visitors not knowing the Bible.  Loving them as your celebrated guests over-comes any short-term embarrassment of not knowing the Bible.  Maybe, just maybe, they WANT to join a church that celebrates Bible usage?!

...ask God for the courage to preach to current events--- locally, nationally and globally.  I rarely (and by rarely I mean never) hear any preacher speak directly to their city's issues, or what's currently going on with race relations, ISIS or Hamas, Israel or Christians in Iran.  Why is that?  Is it because preachers don't know what to say, or they're afraid they'll come off as political?  If so, work at making sure you're addressing the Gospel with a prayer life and a keen eye on the news with a biblical world view--- so you can stop sharing generic messages that have the spiritual punch of a butterfly! messages around recognized cultural holidays.  I'm not talking about the obvious ones like Christmas and Easter, but the odd cultural celebrations--- like Ground Hog's Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day.  With Labor Day approaching, create your message around the theme of "Every Member is a Working Minister, and Labor is our Worship!"  Encourage everyone to recognize they are, no matter their occupation, a minister of the Lord Jesus in the marketplace!  I can already hear the testimonies coming from all over the place!

...begin preaching the announcements.  In other words, instead of sharing at the beginning (or end) of your service all the "ministry things" people should sign-up for, or attend, connect your programs to the power and importance of the gospel by linking them to your message.  It gives hands and feet to your theme for the day.  Use "...for example..." a lot!  Announcements are often boring and a waste of time...but build them into your message, and they become powerfully relevant!

...dare to invite folks to speak with you within the message.  You will, however, have to patiently teach them the difference between interrupting and trying to gain immature attention--- and the sharing of a heart-felt response to your questions.  By occasionally using dialogue over (or with) a monologue preaching style, you can help people better remember your message.  They are now a part of the message--- moving them from audience to army mode!

...tie your message to any baptisms in worship and/or to Holy Communion.  Neither sacrament are suppose to be a worship interruption, or separate from what your trying to share as a theme.  This, however, is usually the case in a poorly constructed worship service.  If you creatively flow baptism and communion into your message theme for the day, it breaks the religious feel from the service, and creates a relational atmosphere.  Can I emphasize "be creative" enough?

...stop talking like you're afraid to offend someone.  The cross IS offensive and that's why I believe so many preachers fail to mention sin and the need of a savior--- because they're afraid of man!  If the cross is not shared as the saving tool of God, we turn Jesus into a simple community organizer.  If a preacher can't lovingly share truth and grace together, then no one's life will be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Aren't you tired of religious church services?  Of course.  The un-church need to see changed lives!  We all do!  So, be the leader of bold truth and bold grace!  I believe people will follow someone who is boldly following Jesus.

...challenge yourself to use media in a savvy manner.  Creatively (there's that word again) build video testimonies into your message so the two connect in harmony.  Use video clips that complement what you're doing instead of interrupting.  Don't cut and paste, but weave videos into the worship like a work of God-art!  This requires more planning and prepping on your part, but so what!?  It's worth it because God-art grabs people's hearts!

...ask yourself the following question in your preparation:  "Did Jesus have to die so that I could preach this message?"  If not, you're probably not preaching the gospel.  If so, GREAT!  The core is ready, now just be creative around it!

So friends....

...When preaching, seek to take on some, or all, of these coaching tips.  I guarantee you'll start to feel better about your presentation of the gospel and the creative, effective equipping will begin!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part-4: Planting is not easy, but still excellent

This wraps-up my mini-series on "Planting is not easy, but still excellent."  Of course, nothing is ever really wrapped-up...and that's the point.  We live in a broken world with broken pieces of people and places always flying around--- that's why the mission to share God's Good News will always be a challenge.  Yet, we always have His power as we seek first His kingdom!  Planters: We take heart in Jesus who says, "Take heart...I have over-come the world!"

Story-4: "Changing the Spiritual Climate"
After standing with it's majestic stone facing since 1873, Holy Cross Episcopalian Church closed it's doors in 2009.  Why?  It's members had slowly died off--- a classic case of what happens when you stop making disciples that make more disciples.  My church plant, Rejoice!, then purchased the land and facility and made plans to develop a parking lot and add-on a 9,000 square foot facility--- functional for contemporary worship.

Planting is not easy, but still excellent....

We invited the surrounding neighborhoods to come and see our plans for improving the property and blessing the whole city.  We shared grace with all, but grace was not received by all.  A small, but very angry group of atheist started a city-wide petition against Rejoice!'s vision to add-on to the facility.  They argued we were wrecking history.  We argued the building's history was as a church facility--- and we were going to keep it's history by moving forward to make more history!

None-the-less, the atheists sued us.  They posted signs around the city to defame us.  They wrote to the newspaper and attacked us through a popular city blog.  The campaign against Rejoice! (or, more likely, against evangelical Christianity) seemed to be working.  The city had a dark cloud over it.

I must admit that my initial "flesh response" was to fight back with clever words.  The Holy Spirit, however, broke me from that thinking.  I was not to wage a war of flesh-and-blood against flesh-and- blood, but to follow the Father's fight--- a fight in the heavenlies.  Therefore, our congregation stayed away from responding to the blogs and we didn't write letters to the editor.  Instead, we pray-walked the neighborhoods of the city!  We blessed and spoke peace over our enemies.  Our responses were positive--- blessing and loving.

Planting is not easy, but still excellent...

What happened?  Long story, short: in about one-year's time we not only won the case to build, but even more powerful is that we won the people of the city.  There is no doubt prayers of peace broke the spiritual climate of hate.  In it's place, the Spirit created an atmosphere of blessing that ignited a renewed hope that Jesus is real and relevant.

How do I know this?  Here's one example: Rejoice! began serving the city--- helping to clean up the river/park areas, helping families in crisis, supporting the local government with individual prayer and opening up the new facility to city-wide needs.  Members of Rejoice! volunteered to serve on the annual city celebration team--- giving, giving, giving as a blessing in the name of Jesus.  Even the mayor's atheist wife dropped her mistrust of Bible-believing Christians and began to welcome the vision of Rejoice!.  Wow...all because we battled against principalities of darkness instead of battling flesh and blood!

Friends: preparing for the launch, launching, then developing a new ministry for sustainability is never easy...and the work will never be completed (see blogs 1-2-3 on this topic for more details)...but it is excellent when we develop a church to be effective in bringing the heart of Jesus to the people, instead of developing a church that only brings Christians to the programs.

Start a new ministry and you will automatically have a bulls-eye painted on your back.  That's because Satan is afraid of any Christian movement that is missional.  Mission in Christ always defeats the work of the enemy.  New church plants will continue to come under attack and I say GOOD!  That means you're on to something important--- changing the spiritual climate of your city!  After all, we plant not because it's easy...but because it's purpose is excellent! 

2 Chronicles 20:17, "You will not need to fight in this battle.  Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Part-3: Planting is not easy, but still excellent

Here is part-3 of a mini-series on over-coming false thinking that planting a new church gets easier after the launch and a few years of developing.  Please consider reading blogs 1-and-2 on this topic to pick-up the momentum from some of my own stories of how planting is not easy, but still excellent!

Story-3: Be-trayed, yet Be-loved.
A key bit of advice from my own planting coach was to not officially name anyone to a leadership title before year-3.  That way, people could prove in good time they were participating as a "it's all about the kingdom cause" and not as a "it's all about the them cause."  My coach's advice was godly.

Right from the start we had one family that seemed to be stellar in faith, but the father was always asking when we were going to have a "council" because he would like to serve on it.  At year-3, I named him to the first "vision team."  A mere one month later, he pulled his first power play, gathering-up a couple other families and insisting that we change our course of planting action--- including for me to fire a key staff person whom I loved having on board.

The new vision team member got quite angry when I said, "Sorry, but that's not the best course of action for anyone," so he and his wife began spreading some simple lies to deceive enough folks to leave our church plant--- right at the very time our 3-year financial covenant with our mother church was wrapping-up!  Over 60 people left our plant with their thousands of dollars of offerings.  It was like watching a bunch of Ben Franklin's with wings attached, all flying-out the window at the same time!

Spiritual warfare?  Of course.  You can expect such with a new church plant.  Why do you suppose Satan had babies 2-years and under killed around baby Moses and then again around baby Jesus?  Because both babies would be great threats to darkness if allowed to grow up!  It's the same with baby church plants that are Bible-based and Holy Spirit led to transform cities!  Satan wants them out of the picture because they are a direct threat to his plans.

Planting a church is not easy, but still excellent!

By God's instructions (literally, God told me to hold tight before man the vision HE gave me) our fledgling church plant over-came the above adversity.  Our leaders went deeper into prayer and the Word.  We repented and re-focused on God's vision for us to be a church of the city.  In less than 3-months, our growing worship numbers not only made up for the loss of the departed, but surpassed our previous attendance.  Likewise, our financial giving not only made up for the earlier loss, but surpassed as well.  Surpassed!  Through it all, our congregation witnessed our collective obedience of trusting in the Lord and how He would guide our path.  We lived and witnessed Proverbs 3:5-6.

Indeed, planting a church is not easy, but still excellent!

Next week, I'll wrap-up this mini-series with a couple more stories of God's goodness in the mist of a church plant seeking to be transformational for the city--- even when things get tough.  My hope is that my experiences will inspire you to keep the faith and keeping planting.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Part-2: Planting is not easy, but still excellent!

In my last blog post of July 27, 2014, I spoke to the myth that after the launch and the first couple years of getting established, church planting starts getting easier.  Not true.  The difficulties simply change.  After all, if you're doing real front-line ministry, training disciples that multiply and impact a city, then it's never going to be easy...but will still be you move forward in obedience of faith!  

Over the next couple weeks, allow me to share a few stories of how I experienced first-hand some not easy, but still excellent moments of church planting.

Story-1:  Bumping into Bill
After moving to my plant site in 2003, I began looking for a space to call a "ministry center" for offices and general meeting space.  After searching for weeks, I caught a new "For Lease" sign in a window of a small strip mall.  I went in and found the owner in the midst of a clean-up.  The space had been a pet grooming store and it smelled like 70x70 wet dogs.  Still, it was the perfect size in a great location.  Trouble is, after I shared my new church vision, the owner told me I couldn't afford his space.  I left to look some more.  The very next day, however, the owner of the strip mall called me and invited me to lease his open space--- at a discount!

The Lord had led me to my "person of peace."  Bill Clifford liked me, enjoyed Jesus, and was intrigued by the vision of the new church start.  He wanted to bless me.  Eventually, Bill started worshipping at Rejoice! did his daughter and her family.  For the next 7-years before his death, Bill was always looking to assist me in his own unique ways.  He was an influential voice in the community and always spoke well of our church plant in such a manner that it opened up doors of influence.  My bumping into Bill was God ordained.

Indeed, searching for a worship center space was not easy, but it was still excellent...

Story-2: Hannah the not so Horrible. 
After I found a worship ministry facility, I also needed to find a Sunday morning worship site and a space in the community big enough to host 150 people for Alpha gatherings.  I approached the School District only to be given a list of 100 Do's and mostly Don'ts for rental of the 300 seat high school auditorium and connecting lunch room.  The person I had to work with was Hannah.  She was a toughie and I'm being nice.  I could tell that allowing us into the high school on Sundays was seemingly more of hassle than a benefit for Hannah.  Still, after the first 3-years of always paying our bills on time, cleaning-up after ourselves (and even better than how we found it) and treating the custodians with great respect, Hannah began to bend her own iron-rod rules.  Grace begets grace.  The next thing we know, we're getting two large closets on the theater stage to store all our worship and childcare equipment.  From then on, every time I walked into Hannah's office to book something new, the doors of welcome flew open for me.  By the time our church left the high school for our own building in our 9th year, the school had such high regard for church plants that it allowed another plant to move in right after us!

Indeed, searching for a worship space was not easy, but it was still excellent....

Next week...even more stories of miracles and turn-arounds....