Saturday, January 31, 2009

Closing the Back Door #2

When we first started PCC we were a very small church meeting in an old high school cafeteria. There were many Sunday mornings that we would come in only to find food, trash, and all sorts of debris on the floor or stuck to the wall. Since the cafeteria also doubled as the school’s wrestling team practice location, it smelled like a locker room. The air conditioners failed often in the summer, and the heaters were inadequate in the winter. Compared to other churches in the area who had their own buildings, comfortable seating, state of the art technology, fresh restrooms, and sanitary nursery’s, we were lacking. We simply could not offer the same amenities that other churches were able to offer.

Yet we grew.

Basically what we did was take the money and resources that would have otherwise gone into slick programming and instead poured it into making our church more welcoming and friendly. Rather than being cool, hip, and offering the best dog and pony show in town, we made the decision to serve our people so well that they would want to bring their friends, without being asked to do so, even if it meant bringing them to a damp cafeteria.

Basically, we created a church service that was effective for come-and-see evangelism, while velcroing newcomers to our church for long-term spiritual growth. We encouraged people to connect relationally in friendship circles, small groups, ministry teams, and other networks. We understood that godly relationships are the glue that holds a church together, which contributed to rentention of our members, spiritual growth for individuals, and spiritual health for PCC.

Of course we have people go out the back door. That’s a given. Usually its over some issue like serving coffee at church or non-essential points of theology. But historically, over eleven years, our back door has been virtually closed. That’s why we grow. That’s why we have so many long-term members. That’s why we are a healthy church.

Even a small trickle can flood the whole house if everything is locked up tight.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Closing the Back Door #1

If the back door of a church is wide open, it doesn’t matter how many people are coming through the front door – that church is losing a spiritual harvest. It is easy to get so focused on reaching people that we have forgotten the importance of keeping people.

Churches that can retain people are healthier than those who don’t. They not only attract spiritual window-shoppers and lead them to Christ; they also grow them up to maturity.

That is what Jesus has called us to do… to “go” and “make disciples.” That’s evangelism and maturity in one missional sentence.

Do you remember the parable of the sower and the seed? Three out of four of the soils which had seed planted in it failed to produce a crop healthy enough for a harvest. The point of the parable is simply this – a spiritual start is no guarantee of a happy ending. No farmer in his right mind would ever be satisfied with those kinds of results. A crop that didn’t last all the way to harvest time would be a financial disaster.

Likewise, when churches lose three out of four people who are coming through the front door they are facing a disaster. The only thing worse would be to not have any visitors in the first place.

PCC is healthy and growing - not only because we have so many who visit each week - but because we have succeeded in retaining so many of them. We are a “sticky” church.

I think we can do better.

We must do better.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Living in a Glass House

Those who are not in vocational ministry may not have a full grasp of what it is really like to be a lead pastor. Right or wrong, people have expectations that are so diverse that if I tried to live up to every one of them I would go bonkers. Consider the following:

  • Some people believe I am holier than I could possibly achieve. Others are suspicious, secretly hoping I will fail.

  • Some good people sincerely hope that my family and I prosper and are able to enjoy a good standard of living. Others believe that my family and I should barely live above the poverty line.

  • Many people will have high expectations of my children – higher than what is reasonable. Some will privately (or publicly) gloat if they fail.

  • Some people want to get close to me simply because I am the lead pastor. Others are too nervous to be around me.

  • Some people extend genuine love towards me and my family. Others are easily offended, and their love turns to bitter hate over something that is very minor.

  • Some shower me with accolades; almost gushing. Many of those same people will leave our church by the end of the year.

  • Some of the best friendships I have ever had, I developed while in the ministry as a pastor. These are friendships that will last a lifetime. At the same time, some of the greatest pains I have experienced in broken relationships also occurred while in the ministry, which will also last a lifetime.

  • As God blesses the ministry I am involved in, the more negative voices I hear. When it was small and struggling, people had plenty to say then too.

  • People are always watching. Many are full of grace. Many are full of judgment.

  • No matter how healthy a church is, the children of the pastor feel a different kind of pressure than anyone else’s kids.

It's like living in a fishbowl. Could you do this job?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Active Faith

When people say “I’m trusting God,” I think they mean it passively.

I need a new job, but I’m not going to knock on any doors to ask for one. I’m just trusting God. If He wants me to get it, then I will.

Our church is not going to reach out to the lost. If God wants this church to grow, He will bring them to us.

I’m not going to confront that backbiter. I’m just believing God to work it out.

Not good!

Faith is an active verb. It not only means you believe something, it also means you actually do something. You put feet to your beliefs and to your prayers. Yes, trusting God means resting in Him. But it also means action, obedience, involvement, initiative, and godly follow through.

Without action, what you are calling faith is simply wishful thinking.

Monday, January 26, 2009

If You Don't Lead, Someone Else Will

For pastors, staff, department heads, and ministry leaders:

If you don’t lead, someone else will - no matter what your formal structure says. Even if you are the authorized lead person, if you don’t lead someone else will. Some group or person always steps up to fill a leadership vacuum… often with negativity. It's up to you to keep the ship on course and to prevent an overthrow. It's also up to you to not allow mission drift to set in. Any form of Christian governance has to begin with strong leadership and trust – and that means you.

Never be afraid to lead. Stand up. When you shy away from leadership you are abdicating your God-given role.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

OMG! Another Fantastic Day

Do you know why Sunday’s are called “The Lord’s Day?” Because that’s exactly what it is – it is God’s Day. It’s a day when churches are filled with people, hearts are open and receptive, and there’s a lot of room for God to do some really big stuff in people’s lives.

Church was very good today. Attendance was over 500 again… that’s twice in the last three weeks. We are definitely on an upward swing right now.

Giving was real good today also. Thank you to everyone who gives so sacrificially. It means a great deal to me, it is an investment in your church, and God considers it to be an offering of worship. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The Signs of Life offering got a good boost too. I don’t know the exact amount yet. Pastor Gene will have that information available tomorrow, and we’ll have it posted in the bulletin next Sunday. This campaign has been a huge success for us.

Several people committed to Christ today. Others signed up for small groups. Still more have indicated a desire to be baptized. What’s not to like about that?

The next class for Seminar 101 is filling up quickly. We have about 30 people signed up now. By March 15th it should be 50 or more.

Small groups start February 15. I’m excited about this semester.

We beginning to plan for Easter right now. Comes in April this year. It’s going to be a big day. Probably over one thousand people that day. Last year we had over 800.

The teen ministry has experienced record-breaking attendance for the last three weeks in a row.

The volunteers at PCC are simply great people. We could not have church if it were not for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who pitches in and does your part. I appreciate your faithfulness and attention to detail.
Quotes from today’s message
  • God’s Word is active and alive, giving an inward witness of its truths
  • You have enlightenment - the natural man does not
  • God’s Word penetrates so deep it can even separate the soul from the spirit
  • The soul is the psyche of man. The spirit is the pneuma of man
  • God’s Word reveals the motives of our heart, which is exactly why those who embrace their sin hate to hear it preached or taught
  • Of all truths contained in the Bible, the most important truth is this Bible teaches us how to get eternal life

PCC is ROCKING right now!

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Sunday

A Sharp Two Edged Sword
.......Hebrews 4:12-13

God Uses Weak People

Did you know God uses weak people? Sure, He uses strong people but He also uses weak people.

Instead of hiding our weaknesses we should learn to recognize them. Because it is only there that we really get to know ourselves. Not only that, it is there that God can do His greatest work in you.

Of all people who God could have called into full time vocational ministry, I would have considered myself least likely:
  • I didn’t come from a long line of preachers in the family tree. As far as I know, I am the only one
  • As a kid I was pretty shy, except within a close circle of friends
  • My people skills were not that good
  • As a young adult I was terrified of public speaking. The thought of speaking in front of a group of people would bring me nausea. I would be sick for days at a time
  • I didn’t become a believer until I was in my mid-20s, which meant I didn’t know anything about the Bible. Nothing
  • Not to mention my personal insecurities

Yet, God called me.

The Apostle Paul even admitted he had a serious weakness. He identified it as a thorn in the flesh, which is further described as a messenger of Satan (2 Cor.12:7-10). This weakness, whatever is was, caused Paul great limitations. Yet, God called him and used him.

The Bible is full of examples of how God uses imperfect, ordinary people to do extraordinary things in spite of their weaknesses.

This includes you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ministering to Someone who is Dying

I just received a Ministry Toolbox Newsletter from Rick Warren which contains a great article (with bullet points) on how to effectively minister to someone who is dying. This is a must-read for any serious church worker. It's one of the things we do...

You can read it
here. Print out a copy and save it for future refrence.

Some 411 About PCC

1. Gene Tharp (admin pastor) informed me yesterday that our average attendance is higher now than this time last year. What this means is, not only have we “made up the gap” but have also increased above and beyond. We are on an upward swing – especially when you consider the fact that we have had two recent Sundays over 500.

2. Last night (Wed) the teen ministry had another record-breaking attendance. This is three weeks in a row! Each week it gets higher. Counting the adult workers, there were over 60 in attendance. The best part of the evening (in the midst of the noise and chaos that kids always generate) was a genuine move of God. You should have seen it! These kids are getting some solid Bible too – milk for babes and meat for men.

3. The Children’s ministry is rocking! Cathy Denny was telling me about some of the kids – how their hearts are opening up to the power of God and instruction from the Word. Her stories are amazing. I don’t fully understand what’s going on in our age-level ministries right now, but something significant is happening.

4. The spring semester of small groups is about to launch (most begin the week of Feb 15) and we have a full compliment of groups to offer. Very excited about this. Even have a couple of new groups with new leaders this time around.

5. There are a lot of hurting people in our church family who need the support that only body of Christ can provide; which means you. The number of suffering people are too many and the needs too diverse for one or two people to be able to take care of, so I’m asking you to look around and take notice. There is someone in your church family that God wants you to reach out to. Don’t let the people who sit near you on Sunday morning just come up missing without noticing it. Get to know the people near you. Don’t let them fall through the cracks. Some of these people have “beginning faith” and can be easily sidetracked by the complications of life. That is why God has placed you where you are at – to be a vessel of honor for Him.

6. The reason God is sending so many people to PCC right now is because we are a hospital for the sick, a refuge for the hurting, and a school for the growing. God knows these “scattered sheep who have no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36) will find what He wants them to have when they are brought to the right place. This is a God thing. Last night a lady, with tears in her eyes, said to Renae, “This church has saved my life.” We hear this story over and over again from so many people.

I'm Better

I'm better today. Woke up this morning and could tell I'm turning the corner. The remnants of this cold will probably hang on for another week, but for now I'm glad to see improvement. It has been a full ten days. This cold has been wicked.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shepherds & Backbone

When our church was less than one year old, a certain family got involved with helping us. I was grateful for the help. But within a couple of months I could sense that this couple would eventually cause some trouble. I could detect the “little moves” they were making. They seemed to be happy enough, but I noticed that they also kept trying to inject their traditions and preferences onto us. Eventually I had to have one of those painful conversations.

Year two, the same thing occurred but this time it was with someone else.

Year three, same thing. Different people.

Year four, five, six, seven and eight, same thing. Different people. Same song, second stanza.

Year nine and ten. Same thing. Louder voices. You get the idea.

Here’s the point. During the lifetime of a church there will always be people who show up with certain expectations that they want the church to meet. Often they have an agenda of their own – one that is different from the church. This agenda will eventually manifest itself in which they will try to steer the ship in the direction they think it should go. They gain leverage to do this by getting close to the pastor, volunteering for critical positions, or gathering a group of people together who see things their way. Or perhaps after having given money they gradually begin to feel emboldened (or entitled) to take a stand against the mission of the church.

In each instance, the only remedy is someone with backbone.

It doesn’t matter what the organizational flow chart says, what the vision says, what the church’s structure is, or what model of government they use. People know how to "massage" the system to get what they are after. But at the end of the day it takes someone with backbone who will to stand up to these challenges and look the person straight in the eye and communicate to them that what they are attempting to do is not permitted, nor will it be successful. Period.

This is not an easy thing to do. I wish there would be fewer instances of this as time goes by, but there is not. It happens every year, and I am certain will continue to do so.

For instance, this past week I was having a conversation in the atrium after 2nd service with a person who has been attending with us for about six months. This individual approached me and began to quiz me about our church. At some point in the conversation I was asked why we don’t use a worship style from the 70s. I explained that methods and styles are not sacred and churches should change them often in order to say fresh. But the message (God’s Word) never changes. Besides, we don’t use a 70s style worship because that was thirty years ago and we don’t live back then! At which point this person said they “strongly disagreed with me.” Are you frigging kidding me? Here we are eleven years into this work and this “six month wonder” shows up out of nowhere and wants to “strongly disagree” and take issue? Not to mention the fact that hundreds of people attend our church each week (who are happy) and have been radically changed by the power of God. The miracles of life-change and operations of the Holy Spirit are too numerous to mention. Yet, all this person was concerned about was our “style” and “methods.”

I think another painful conversation is in my near future. This is one I will probably enjoy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Money Money Money

One of the areas that is most out of control in peoples lives is their finances. They overspend, don’t save, and are into debt up to their eyeballs. Many people don’t even know how to accurately balance a checking account, or how to keep track of their spending by using a (check book) ledger. Not to mention, not having a budget.

Okay, you are 45 years old and you’ve been saving $2.26 per week for five years. Are you kidding me? How can you be that age and not have any money?

There are two main lessons that people must learn when it comes to their personal finances – and this is the absolute truth:

#1. You must put God first in your finances.

First of all, it’s a command. Secondly, God wants all of you, including those things you hold most dear – like money. One of the most forceful things Jesus ever said about money is found in Matthew 6:21 – “where your money is, there your heart is also.” How we manage our money reveals where God is in our priorities. Thirdly, there is a practical benefit to putting God first in your finances – learning discipline. When you tithe you are practicing financial discipline, and discipline is the bedrock to good financial stewardship.

#2. You must get out of debt – especially unsecured debt (i.e., credit cards).

About 80% of Americans live from paycheck-to-paycheck. They are so deep in debt - up to their eyeballs - that there can’t even be a ripple on the surface of the lake or they will go under. Not a good thing.

A home mortgage is acceptable debt, because you gain equity in the home. Besides, not everyone has got $200,000 laying around to pay cash for a home. So if you want to get out of the weather and have a warm place to sleep at night, you’ve got to borrow in order to buy a home. A basic rule of thumb on the mortgage is this – your monthly payment should not be more than 30% your monthly income. Less is even better. Make plans to be mortgage free at some point in your life.

Sometimes we even have to carry a loan on an automobile – after all, not everyone has got $20k-30k just laying around somewhere. And even if you do, you might not want to come off that much of your cash; instead choosing to remain liquid. But it should always be remembered that automobiles, unlike homes, are not investments. As soon as you drive off the lot with your new car you are upside down on the loan – meaning the car depreciates so quickly in value that you now owe more on the car than it is actually worth. Best case scenario, if you have to borrow money to buy a car, pay it off and then drive it for years and years afterwards. Drive it until you have to recap the steering wheel. I have 180,000 miles on my 1998 Tahoe – that baby is now eleven years old. I’m going to drive it until I get 225,000 miles out of it. Guess what I’ve been doing all these years that I haven’t been making a car payment? You’re right, I’ve been saving the money.

Credit card debt. There is nothing good about it. Nothing. Credit card companies use predatory lending practices to prey upon the unsuspecting by offering easy credit, easy money, and requiring no collateral. The catch? High interest rates, hidden costs, arbitrary fees, double cycle billing, penalties, and changing terms in the contract – all designed to keep you on the leash for the rest of your life.

Thousands of years ago Solomon wrote, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Unsecured debt means you will be “working for the man” for the rest of your life - not working for yourself, but for “the man.” Not good.

When we don’t have debt, or when we have little debt, there is incredible freedom in our lives. We don’t live in fear of losing our jobs. We feel more secure as retirement years approach. If we want to change jobs or careers, we can simply do so. If you want to just pack up and move, you can. Plus, with so much of our money freed up, we can become more generous and charitable. What’s not to like about all that?

I hope more people in PCC will begin practicing these two principles: put God first in your finances, and reduce your debt.
  • Don’t let money ruin your marriage
  • Don’t let money rob you of your love for God
  • Don’t allow yourself to become enslaved to debt
  • Liberate yourself

The economy is no problem for God. I don't know what 2009 is going to be like for our nation. President Obama says it might get worse before it gets better. He's probably right. It may not be a good year for others. But it can be YOUR best year ever.

"I've never seen the righteous forsaken nor God's seed begging for bread" (Psalms 37:25).

Embrace this.

If you’d like to find out HOW TO, here’s what you can do:

1. Take Discovery Seminar 201 the next time it is offered. There is an entire section on how to put God first in your finances.

2. Take Financial Peace University being offered in our next semester of small groups. Begins February 3rd. You can stop by the display table in the sanctuary this Sunday morning to ask questions. This program offers practical steps on how to become debt free. Video preview this Sunday after 2nd service.

3. Buy a book on the subject. There is plenty of material available.

4. JUST DO IT. This is not rocket science. It does't take a genius. It takes discipline. Good financial stewardship is 20% knowledge and 80% discipline. You already know enough. Now just get with the program . Liberate yourself.... begining today!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Catch-Up

I have been sick for a full seven days now. It has not been pleasant. That’s why there has been a slow-down on my blog. I’ve been too weak to think of anything to write.

Man, am I sick.

Yesterday took a lot out of me. Preaching two services each week is physically exhausting, but it especially took its toll yesterday. Not a good thing to do when I’m already weak. I got home yesterday and was wasted. I felt like a zombie all day.

Church was good yesterday… about 450-something in attendance. We were a little lower than the previous week – probably due to the raining weather, sickness, and the holiday weekend.

The message yesterday was different, but good. i.e., “No Longer Enslaved to Sin” based on Romans 6. I could tell people were thinking hard about some of the statements I was making. That’s always a good thing.

We learned about positional truth and experiential truth. We also learned the difference between legal obedience and loving obedience.

Apparently the message was a big hit – given that (about) fourteen people told me so, and given the number of CDs we sold. One lady came up to me after service (looked to be in her 30s), tugged on my arm and said, “I’ve got to tell you. Something got hold of my husband today. He never cries, but he cried all through the sermon.” I looked over at him (we were in the atrium now) and his eyes were still red and swollen. FYI, this man is in the military - special forces commando type – a real hard-charger – yet his heart is being soften by the Holy Spirit and Word of God. This never gets old.

I had another conversation in the atrium after the second service….. with a crack pot.

Some quotes from the message:

  • For sin shall NOT have dominion over you. Either that statement is true, or either it is not true. If it is true, then it means exactly what it says.
  • You don’t have to sin every day. If you do, sin dominates you.
  • There are some things God wants me to know. And there are some things God wants me to do.
  • God wants me to “consider” myself dead to sin. This requires faith.
  • The same faith you used to believe John 3:16 is the same faith you use to believe Romans 6:11 and Romans 6:14 – that’s how these positional truths become a reality in your life.
  • Loving obedience, though often defective, is nevertheless the kind of obedience God accepts.
  • God is looking for the constant flow of my heart. That’s what He measures me by.

The Signs of Life special offering has gone very well. We have one more Sunday and I will be making a final appeal to close the gap. Up to this point it has been a huge success. We are now in a much better position to plan our ministry initiatives knowing that the funds are there. Wow!

We have some great ideas planned for this year.

Small groups begin Feb.15. We have a couple of new groups and group leaders this time around. Another good thing.

I’m thinking of leading a group myself.

We are thinking of having a choir on Sunday mornings – for about four weeks. This choir would not sing special choir numbers, rather would be like a large backup worship team. We are now looking for choir risers to put on the platform against the back wall - something big enough to hold about twenty-five people. This choir would simply sing with the worship team the songs we already know. This would be a win-win for everyone. The “fun factor” would be off the chart for those who got to be in the choir. The “visual element” would inject some newness and freshness into the Sunday services. Plus, it would include a lot more people into a “participation role” which is always a good thing. I think this would ROCK.

If this happens, it will happen before Easter. If it works successfully, we can do it two-three times a year. Oh yea.

The DNA of PCC runs deep... Consider the following:

A family that has recently started attending PCC (about 3 weeks now) is so excited about our church that the wife in this family told Renae that she is inviting everyone she knows to come check us out. She said she has literally invited every person she knows or comes into contact with. I think her exact words were, “I wish I had known about this church before; it is the best thing going in the area.” I would not be surprised if five or six new families started attending with us because of this enthusiastic evangelist. It's not about us - it's what God is doing among us that makes the difference.

A phone call out of the blue. Last Thursday we received a phone call out of nowhere. The man on the other end of the line said he was going through a terrible divorce and he recognized he needed to get in church and find a church family. Question: Why would God lead him to call us of all churches? This is God at work. BTW, he was at church yesterday. I met and talked with him.

Check back every day. I'm back in the game. Besides, I feel a creative burst coming on.

Friday, January 16, 2009

This Sunday

This Sunday's message - No Longer a Slave to Sin
Romans 6

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Church News

1. Cathy Denny has an excellent post about the Wednesday night children's classes. You can read it
here or simply use the link to her home page found on the left side of this blog.

2. Also, the teen department had another record-breaking attendance last night. That's two weeks in a row.

3. Someone asked about the article I wrote entitled "Blog Starter Kit for the Self Righteous." You can read it here - It's good. Real good.

I'm Ranting, I Know

I know, I know. I’ve been ranting all this week - and will probably keep doing so for the rest of the week too... or until I run out of steam.
I guess the planets are in alignment or something. Maybe I’m going through man-o-pause. Or maybe I’m tired of spreading a thin Christan glaze of sugar-coated sentimentality on everything I say.

Besides, you like it when I rant. It makes for better reading anyway.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

It bothers me that the only goal of some preachers is to get people to “pray a prayer” and then leave them on their own. The job of the preacher and the role of the church is to “make disciples” which means there must be instruction after the prayer.

There is a need in learning the Old Testament, plowing through the hard theological topics, answering the tough questions people ask, and a hundred other things. Not only does the Bible talk about marriage, controlling the tongue, and the business of the church – it also deals with other topics that cannot be brushed aside. Life is not a nursery rhyme where answers are found in a flannel graph Jesus. Life is hard, and it takes the hard truths from the “whole counsel” of God’s Word to properly equip God’s people.

Not only do we teach people how to become a Christian, we must teach people how to BE Christians. It doesn’t matter if you use small groups, Sunday School, Bible studies, discipleship classes, equipping classes, discipleship seminars, whatever… there must be a way for people to learn and grow in knowledge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Random Rants

To some people and for some reason, pastoral ministry is a glowing, naive, dreamy life idealized as hours of Bible reading, prayer walks with Jesus, and days spent singing worship songs and smiling. But being a pastor often times is the spiritual equivalent of being clubbed while running a gauntlet.

A church rises and falls on its leadership. You can talk about all the others ministries of the church until the cows come in, but nothing really gets going until you have the right people in the right leadership positions.

Let me give you an idea. Recently in our church, in one weeks time, a man had surgery for a tumor on his spine, another man died leaving his grieving family behind. Still another family has had to call in hospice for their ailing father. Another family is about to remove life-support from their mother. Still another man in our church family was told he has 4-6 months to live. All these families are reeling and hurting. Should I preach on the goat in the book of Leviticus for deeper understanding, or should I preach on some other topic that’s more relevant that might help these people with their pain?

If you are big and bad enough to go out and start your own work, please do so. Perhaps God’s blessing will be upon your efforts. If He has called you to do so, it will succeed. But if you are a behind-the-scenes sheep-stealer you will get what you deserve. Be honorable. Do it the right way.

Some churches view themselves as the "technicians of God’s Word" who preserve the truth while the rest of us mere mortals have a watered-down gospel. While they often do a good work, I don't think they realize the creepy vibes they give off. It’s cold, unemotional, and indifferent – and doesn’t feel like the warmth usually associated with the message of grace.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But until you have shouldered the responsibility of making decisions at the senior-levels of an organization, you have the luxury of being shielded from the consequence of your opinions. Real leaders don’t just mouth opinions… they make decisions… and live with the consequences.

His Anger Ruined His Ministry

Anger will mess you up. Take for instance this true story:

I know a guy who was leading a ministry once. I watched his anger build and would check in from time to time to ask if everything was okay. He assured me it was. “It looks like you are burning the candle from both ends and appear stressed out” I observed. “I’ve got it under control” he said. Repeatedly I would revisit the issue and each time his response was the same. Yet his irritability grew, as did his cynicism and negative comments about other people. He was becoming toxic.

At first his comments were like velvet daggers; you know, friendly insults that were contained in jokes. At this point he was not openly expressing his true anger, but it was leaking out subtlety (something I failed to notice at the time). Eventually it escalated into full-blown misbehavior for all to see. His countenance changed. His personality changed. He became bitter, hostile, harsh, and difficult to be around. He had frequent bouts of serious irritability and was unable to resolve conflicts. He often started arguments. Over time he became withdrawn. The velvet daggers tuned into constant sarcasm, ridicule, and mean-spirited jokes. His communication became condescending - that is, he spoke down to people. He also became domineering in his ministry area. His ministry began to hemorrhage at the seams as people began to drop out by the droves. Like rats jumping from a sinking ship, people were getting out while they still had the chance. He was grinding it into the ground… all by himself.

A spirit of criticism and suspicion took control of his personality. He became hyper-sensitive, short-fused, and impatient. Gossip, whispering, and negative talk became the order of the day. He morphed into another person. Nearly everyone within his gravitational field could feel his downward pull. His negativity was causing people to withdraw - he was becoming marginalized by his very own friends because no one wanted to be around an angry man.

Then one day, it happened. He erupted. It wasn’t pretty. He lost his ministry. And every bit of it was self-inflicted. Even to this day he places the blame upon others rather than himself. He can’t even own it.

My biggest mistake? Not acting sooner.

FYI: I wrote a previous article about anger which offers a Biblical perspective how quarrelsome people are disqualified from the ministry. You may read it here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Encounters I've Had

My life is never dull. For example:

Once a man said to me, “God told me that I am supposed to preach in your church.” I responded, “As soon as He notifies me, I’ll give you a call.” He never has.

One Sunday morning I was literally walking onto the stage (we were 15 seconds from starting service) when a guy stops me and wants to know our position abortion. Are you kidding me? Get a brain. (I'll be glad to talk to anyone about anything... but not 15 seconds before church starts).

I had a conversation with a guy who was suffering from elderitus, (elder-itus). He had no concept of what a Biblical elder really was. No matter what I said he just wasn't getting it. His mind was already made up. I tried and tired to explain it to him. It became apparent to me that I needed crayons.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

OMG! What a Church Service We Had Today!

Was today's service awesome or what? It totally blew my socks off. I stand astonished every week at what God is doing right now... and today was even better. Where are all these people coming from?

Attendance was good – 507.


If your children attend our Children's Minsitry - Rock Solid - and you would like to know what they leanred today, you can read it here. Our children's ministy is one of the best in the area.

Started a new series – “Growing Up is Hard to Do.”

A few sound bites from today’s message – “What’s My Position?” – are:
  • Many believers suffer from stunted growth or arrested development
  • Some prefer the dependency of a counseling relationship to the rigors of discipleship
  • Psychology has been with us for about 100 years. And nothing we have learned in 100 years of applied psychology can add one iota of insight to the Word of God, or one pinch of power to the God who has been setting captives free for millennia without the aide of modern remedies
  • Spiritual growth means I bring my “practice” into alignment with my “position.”
  • There are no short cuts. Seasoned development is what God is attempting to produce in you

The illustration about being in the bathroom with 360 degree mirrors on the wall was off-the-chart.

We don’t offer Jesus-lite… nor do we offer decaffeinated Christianity. That’s why our church has so many growing disciples and fully devoted followers of JC!

Our vision is not up for sale… neither is it up for discussion.

Our Signs of Life special offering continues to grow. This is truly a God –thing.

GENEROSITY is a sign of a fully-devoted follower of Christ - and our church is FULL of these kinds of people.

The opening song, “God of Wonders” always moves me. It did so again today. Of course, it always helps when the musicians and singers do it well. I’m glad our singers can sing on-key. Aren’t you?

Last Wednesday night the teen department had a record attendance.

Our teen department has more boys (young men) than girls. In fact, the ratio is more than 2-to-1. This is a direct result of having several godly men as part of the leadership team.

The children’s mid-week service is very, very effective right now. It is a delight to see so many mothers bringing their children. The attendance there grows each week as well. They are doing something right!

What God is doing at PCC right now is NOT normal. What I mean, it IS normal for God, but it’s not normal for the typical church. There are amazing SIGNS OF LIFE all over the place.

“24” comes on tonight. That’s what I’ll be doing. I’m going watch Jack Bauer save the world again. He is “the man.”

But a real-life man is Bear Grylls who hosts the survival program Man vrs. Wild. Anyone who can eat a raw heart (or other unmentionable organs) right out of a freshly killed animal has got something I don’t. If I get lost in the woods, I want to be with him. And when I grow up, I want to be like him.

I read the blogs of other pastors all the time and I don’t get it. What’s their problem? Stop whining and fix the problem.

Of course, there are some other blogs I would never read. “They ain’t got nuthun to say.” And besides, it’s hard to listen to a pin head.

I wish everyone could experience what it is like to be part of a church like PCC.

I’m really excited.

I think I need to join Celebrate Recovery for my addiction to Guacamole. And for the record, I make some of the best Guacamole dip you’ll ever eat.

Would you like to know how to instantly recognize false doctrine? Just get familiar with true doctrine. That’s how. It’s a waste of time to study every wind of doctrine that blows through town – there are too many. Familiarize yourself with your own Bible. Then when someone comes along and says something off-the-wall, it’s very easy to see. It will keep from being misled, and it will keep you out of hell.

There is SO much energy at PCC right now – everywhere.

Thank you to the person who left that nice gift on my desk today. You have been thinking of me. It was very nice of you.

I met a large group of first-time guests today. Where are all these people coming from?

I also talked with four new couples to our church – who have been attending about 4-6 weeks. I was so encouraged to hear how excited they are to have found PCC. They were telling me things like, “We’re in…. I’ve signed up for 101… My kids are totally engaged by the children’s ministry… This is exactly what my family has been looking for.” What’s not to like about that?

Got to go. Jack Bauer is coming on in 20 minutes and I want to be ready.

Check back daily this week.

Teen Trip to Maddisons

We took a group of teens to Madison’s Restaurant today after church. This event was for those who had perfect attendance during the fall quarter. What a blast we had!

Click each picture to enlarge. Then hit your backspace button to return.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Blog Starter Kit for the Self-Righteous

The only people who ever criticized Jesus were His religious counterparts – the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were very jealous of His ministry, His teachings, and the fact that great crowds followed Him everywhere while their own influence was shrinking. The ministry of Jesus threatened their brittle system and they attacked Him for it.

This same ministerial jealously motivates the self-righteous today. Their sanctimonious attitude combined with a lack of influence makes them critical of anyone who is outside their camp. In an effort to help them, I have put together this “Blog Starter Kit for the Self-Righteous."

Here’s how:

1. Quote theologians a lot and become a master at copy-and-paste. It will make you look good by giving people the impression that you are in the same academic arena as these deep thinkers. Having no original thoughts of your own, it will provide you with some “filler” on your site. You can use their opinions to rail against other churches thereby validating your own opinions of other churches. Besides, it will also polarize people into one camp or the other – compelling them to choose sides based upon your favorite personalities – and that’s what you are after, polarization.

2. Quote dead theologians too. Tozer is a good place to start, but if you don’t know who he is, any dead guy will do – especially if they are English or European. It makes you look deep when you quote theologians that no one else has ever heard of. They will wonder in amazement at your connection to these masters of the past.

3. Only talk about theology and pontificate a lot. After all, that’s the only subject spiritual people are interested in. Nobody listens to music, watches TV, has fun, or goes to the movies. And if they do, they shouldn’t. And since modern technology in the church is leading people away from the truth, use your blog and computer (which BTW is modern technology) to rail against the modern culture creeping into churches.

4. Always appear to be pious. Never be personal or transparent by talking about your home, family, hobbies, fears, friends, likes and dislikes. And when you do talk about your failures, use false humility – it makes you look deep. Your blog should focus only on how much you know about theology and how spiritual you are. Try to write in such a way that you sound like you are a cut above the pew level.

5. Take every chance you get to remind people that society is going to hell, nothing can be done about it, and the church is the one leading them there. Don’t be purpose driven, (balancing worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and service equally). Instead, single out your favorite aspect of the Christian life and focus on that. Harp away and let that be your hobby horse. Be be driven by tradition, legalism, polity, your favorite authors, and narrow-minded view points. Be sure to continuously point out what is wrong with America, the church, and pastors. Talk about your church and how it follows the true Biblical pattern while all others do not. Suggest to people that the only way to get to heaven is to follow your version of Christianity, and the rest be damned.

6. Target a church that is more fruitful than your ministry and tell people that the only thing they care about is numbers. Overlook the fact that there is an entire book in the Bible named “Numbers” (and since you don’t know why it was given that name, just ignore it). Overlook the fact that great crowds followed Jesus. Overlook the fact that the early church grew exponentially by multiplied thousands over and over again. And also overlook the fact that heaven will be a crowded place. Keep telling yourself that God is more interested in quality, not quantity. Reassure yourself that you and your other self-righteous cronies are God's true remnant – because it will make you feel better about your low numbers, your slipping influence, your shrinking ministry, and dismal lack of spiritual fruit.

7. Don’t use the word “relevant” in your blog and don’t be relevant in your ministry. Instead, strive to be irrelevant – it’s better. Besides, if you try to be relevant, the other Pharisees will stop reading your blog and you won’t get invited to the 6th annual conference on Theological Hermeneutics and Interpretative Exegesis of Expository Preaching based upon 5th Century Puritan Practices.

8. Since all the other churches are getting it wrong by preaching too much grace and are actually reaching messed up people, focus instead more on wrath, judgment, sin, and hell. That’s what people need – more judgment and less grace. Make condemned people feel more condemned - they deserve it. They made their bed, now make them lie in it. Plus, it makes self-righteous people feel special because if confirms they are not like everyone else.

9. Attempt to explain God by using an acrostic. Even though it is impossible to do so, regular people sitting at the pew level won’t know the difference. You’ll look smart and appear intelligent because you have it memorized and know what each letter stands for. Even though God (the Ancient of Days) cannot be summarized by your neatly packaged sound bites, it doesn’t really matter. You believe it, and that’s all that counts.

10. In the spirit of legalism, be sure to push your ideas on others. Find verses in the Bible that support your view and feel free to use them out of context. Twist the words and tell people that it doesn’t mean what it plainly says, but rather “this is what it actually means.” Use your legalistic views to condemn drums and guitars in the church, different styles of preaching, casual dress, and large crowds. Find verses in the Bible to back up your views about dress codes, and be sure to wear your itchy, polyester suit to church each Sunday so you can prove you are “bearing your cross for Jesus.” Since it’s not enough for you to simply have a personal conviction on these matters, keep looking in the Bible until you find the right verse you can use to push your views on others. In the event you can’t find a Bible verse to quote out of context, just quote one of your favorite authors – it’s almost as good.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Second Service

10. You get to sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning, which means you can stay up late Saturday night to watch Saturday Night Live and not feel guilty about it

9. The sermon is better because I’ve already had a practice run on the group in the first service

8. The doughnuts are better because we use the stale ones in the first service

7. You still get out of church in time to beat the Baptists and Methodists to the local greasy spoon

6. I’m hot and sweaty by the time the second service begins, which means I probably will have more anointing

5. Something really weird always happens in the second service – there’s no way you will go to sleep

4. All the seats are the same price

3. Two words, “blue jeans”

2. Two more words, “flip flops”

1. We spike the coffee for the second service

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Churches That Are Unable to Change

Churches very often will offer ministry ideas that are out-dated, and in teach on topics that very few people are interested in. In other words, churches are often answering questions no one is really asking.

Consider this true story as an illustration. For hundreds of years Switzerland was considered the standard for watchmaking excellence. One day a researcher in Switzerland developed the digital quartz watch. When he presented the idea to the decision makers of the company, they looked hard for all the familiar components of past success. They asked “What is the spring made of?... Where are the twenty-three jeweled parts that have set the world’s time-keeping standard?... And where is the stem to wind the watch or adjust the time?”

This watch did not fit their rigid expectations of what a watch should be, so they rejected the concept as an idea that was defective and would never catch on.

After the Japanese started mass producing the very watch the Swiss rejected, the Swiss market-share dropped from nearly 80 percent to 10 percent. The inability to view the world as it was instead of how it used to be was very costly for the Swiss.

Consider the auto makers of America. Same story. For decades they operated on a business plan that was out of touch with reality. They kept manufacturing and selling automobiles (big SUVs) they thought the public should have, rather than observing what the pubic was actually buying.

Worship is changing today as much as watches have changed. Some churches are taking advantage of the new opportunities creating new worship styles. Others seem to ignore these trends. Unable to see worship in a new light, some churches are stuck in an older form of worship and attracts fewer and fewer worshippers.

Gone is the day of Greco-Roman rhetoric (a proposition and 3 arguments) and somber atmospheres. People today are not responsive to that climate and ministry leaders must be mission-minded, not professional.

Otherwise, people vote with their feet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Some 411 About Me

I really feel the anticipation of newness. I’m excited about the possibilities before us and the hope of the future. Here what’s happening with me right now:

  • I’m thinking a lot about spiritual maturity and drawing nearer to God

  • I’m thinking about our small groups ministry this year and would like to see several more sermon-based groups formed

  • I plan to read the Bible through again

  • I am practicing fasting in the month of January

  • I hope to take an extended Sabbatical this year

  • I am rebuilding some boundaries into my life – mostly time related

  • I am working towards being 100% debt free

  • I would like to visit England sometime, see the Grand Canyon, and re-trace the steps of the apostle Paul where he traveled along the Mediterranean Sea in his missionary journeys

  • I am increasing my level of exercise and cutting calories. Think I will try to narrow my waistline. You’ve heard of continental drift? Well, my tectonic plates have shifted out of place along the fault lines, creating new crevasses in places I am not supposed to have them. If I don’t do something soon there is going to be a fracture in the surface strata of my lower regions resulting in a volcanic eruption!

  • If you see a guy riding a bicycle around Pace in spandex, don’t freak out. It’s only me. Man, I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

The Rigors of Discipleship

We don’t hear much about spiritual growth these days. Many believers look for instant solutions or dramatic experiences to unlock the key for them. But real, lasting victory does not come through those means. God’s design is that we be seasoned to maturity through a continual process of growth.

Multitudes of professing believers suffer from arrested development. Churches are filled with those who are spiritually immature, undiscerning, weak, and fragile. Thousands – perhaps more – are addicted to “therapy,” evidently preferring the dependency of a counseling relationship to the rigors of discipleship and growth in grace.

Have you ever noticed a seasoned, mature believer? You've seen them. These are the people who live victorious lives, have overcome the wicked one, and have their act together! Their life is healthy, well-balanced, and well-adjusted. All without some psycho-babble mish-mash to help them cope. This is the kind of life that God wants all His children to live. It is the promise of the overcomer.

God intends that every Christian grow into spiritual maturity. His Word commands us, “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is our obligation – and it is also our privilege.

God’s answer to anything and everything you face is found in the person Jesus Christ and in our seasoned development. What the gospel offers us is God’s own presence and power to enable us to live the kind of life that is consistent with His Word. The boundless blessings of spiritual growth are like a divine vault that is easily unlocked through the disciplines of spiritual growth.

Christ of eternity is in the business of healing past hurts, rebuilding broken lives, freeing us from hopeless addictions, liberating us from our old nature, and giving us Himself in its place! Yet many have short-changed themselves by exchanging this life-giving gospel for psychological pottage.

The rigors of discipleship involve disciplines…. not being coddled.

We have nothing new under the sun. We have no problems in this century that millions before us in thousands of years past have not suffered and been delivered from by God. Modern psychology, psychotherapy, psychopharmacology (i.e., drug induced changes in mood) and all that goes with it have only been around for a little more than 100 years. If Jesus Christ cannot make good on His offer without the aid of treatments which have not been known until this century, then He lied to the people of His day and has cruelly deceived nearly 2000 years of desperate followers.

Nothing we have learned in the past 100 years of applied psychology can add one iota of insight to the Bible or one pinch of power to God who is in the business of making new creatures out of ruined lives!

The power of God and the rigors of discipleship still work.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

SNAC - Sunday Night After Church

We had good attendance toady. Second service was way up!

Lot's of visitors.

Several visiting families were investigating the teen and children's ministry, asking a lot of questions, and appeared to be pleased at what they saw and heard. I've got a feeling that these two ministry areas are about to experience another growth surge.

Our church is sitting on the edge of something big.

I think a lot of denominations have grown old and tired, if not dead. They’ve gotten so political and internally focused that they have missed God.

I think church should be the most crowded place in the community on Sunday mornings.

I believe church should be a place where people are challenged to take active steps in getting closer to God…. and NOT be a private country club for spiritual fat-cats, or the frozen chosen.

I’m glad Pace Community Church is the perfect place for people who aren’t.

In preaching, it’s important to practice “safe text.”

If the only goal of church leaders is to keep do-nothing Christians happy, then God probably isn’t.

If a church is going to be successful and fruitful, then it has to want the things God wants.

What does God want? Think about it….

Our staff and ministry team is the BEST we’ve ever had. They are unselfish and realize that church is not about them; it’s about others and their role is to serve others. They will do whatever it takes to make things happen.

This year (2009) is going to be the greatest and most challenging we have ever seen and I'm going to need God’s wisdom and direction every step of the way.... I covet your prayers.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Five Signs of a Lame Blogger

1. A lame blogger has ZERO original thoughts.

2. A lame blogger is insecure. They are always searching the internet to see if someone is talking about them or what they believe.

3. A lame blogger only reacts to what others are saying. They are always in attack mode, or react mode. Rather than posting their own thought-provoking insights and building up a base of readers on their own site, these people only respond to what others are saying.

4. A lame blogger is angry and jealous. It shows, oh boy, does it ever show.

5. A lame blogger is obsessive and can’t let go. It’s as if they hover out there, surfing around, just waiting to find something they don’t agree with, so they can swoop in and then talk about that. Their life seems to revolve around this stuff. For instance, when a person (who does not like me) perpetually visits my blog just to see if I have said something they don’t agree with, you know this person is sick.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Recognizing What Season You're In

“Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV)

We live our lives in changing seasons, and seasons have beginnings and endings. So, diversity is the key to longevity. If you don’t understand that, you can lose your sense of purpose and become barren. That’s why successful farmers keep rotating their crops. They plant corn in one field, then when it goes out of season they plow that field and let it rest. At the same time they’re busy elsewhere harvesting alfalfa to make hay, after which that field goes through the same process. In spring they change the order of things so the field where corn once grew now produces alfalfa, and so forth.

When Paul told Timothy, "Be ready in season and out of season," he was encouraging him to broaden his spiritual horizons. In Timothy’s case he needed to understand there’s a time to correct people, and a time to comfort them (See 2 Timothy 4:25 NKJV). Timing is so important. The Psalmist compared the blessed man to "a tree...which yields...fruit in season" (Psalms 1:3 NIV). To succeed, you must recognize what season you are in!

And you must also understand that God is more concerned with the depth of your roots than the height of your branches. That’s why He takes your struggles and uses them to cultivate the kind of soil (and soul) necessary to produce good fruit. One more thing, from time to time He will permit storms to blow away those people and things that hinder the work He’s trying to produce in you.

It’s a new season for PCC… and for me.