Saturday, August 29, 2009
When you invite people over to your house, who (and what kind of people) do you invite? You invite your friends, right? You invite people that you enjoy being with, and those you trust. While together you have dinner, share stories, swap tall tales and just generally relax in each others company. It feels natural, is easy to do, and does not feel forced. You are friends.
Now, do the same thing and simply add in a Bible study or topical discussion and what you have is the best kind of small group possible – having company over with a purpose. Everyone grabs a cup of coffee and visits for a few minutes. Then you gather around in a circle for a Bible study. It is a discussion-type format where you can ask questions or offer some input. This lasts about forty five minutes. Then the group concludes by offering a short prayer. Afterwards, everyone is invited to hang around a little longer for refreshments and finger foods – which everyone does! A lot of laughter and loud conversation fills the air. By the time people leave, everyone feels good and uplifted.
Consider this…. you LIKE the people you are ALREADY hanging out with. Right? You share something in common with them… you are probably in the same age group… share a common life interest… have similar goals… are working on the same projects… have compatible personality types… and have common needs. Why not just have a group with THESE people? Makes sense to me.
Using this philosophy as a model for small groups makes it so enjoyable that almost anyone is willing to get involved; the soccer moms, plumbers, line workers, young professionals, and everyone in-between – regular people. Furthermore, such people WILL make this SHIFT one night a week and commit to a small group because it’s worth their while to do so.
To lead a small group or to be in a group, one does not have to be a Bible teacher, an elder or elder material – just a regular person who is capable of having company over, joining (or leading) a group discussion, and willing to do life together with other like-minded people. Small groups should not feel like another night of work. They should improve your life, not burden it.
What is a healthy small group? A healthy groups is:
- A group of ten to fifteen people who come together weekly or biweekly to help one another to grow closer to God.
- A diverse collection of individuals who have some form of affinity (i.e., common interest)
- A place where people can come as they are, and know that they are accepted with all their faults and failings
- A safe place. For people to open up and begin to share life together, they must know that their group is a safe environment; what is SAID in the group STAYS in the group.
- A place that is built upon AUTHENTIC relationships; where people really do like each other and enjoy one another’s company.
- FUN. If a group is not fun it will not last.
- A group that multiples by developing other leaders
In order for a group to be effective as a life-changing force, it must have the RIGHT BALANCE in THREE main areas – SHEPHERDING, TEACHING, and FELLOWSHIP. Small groups that focus primarily on one – at the expense of the other two – usually fail.
Through shepherding people belong to a group where they reach out to and help one another. Through teaching people look to the Word of God for guidance and permanent life-change. Through fellowship people develop authentic and lasting relationships that extend outside the walls of the church.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Recognizing that small groups often attract two main types of personalities, (A+ types and high maintenance people), I began to see the importance of attracting, well, regular people – not just high achievers and low achievers, but regular people too. You know, the soccer moms, baseball dads, accountants, electricians, college students, young professionals, blue collar workers, and the kinds of people who are just good, regular Christians.
I can understand why regular people are not attracted to small groups. They are extremely busy already, and have a wide variety of interests, duties, and hobbies to keep them engaged. They are doing good to make it to church on Sunday. Soccer moms, for instance, already have support groups with other soccer moms in mini vans driving from soccer practice to youth meetings. Most of these regular people recognize that they SHOULD be in a church small group, but their schedules don’t allow for it; and quite frankly, being in a room full of high maintenance people who are emotionally draining is not attractive enough for them to make this shift one extra night a week. Besides, some groups are downright gloomy and depressing. They feel like just another bad meeting. Who wants to do this? Not me!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that everybody already thinks, but is afraid to say…. I want to meet with people I ENJOY being with. Life is too short to do otherwise. I want to experience laughter, animated conversation, happiness and fun with the people I do small groups with. I want people who will improve my life, not burden it. Give me a group of people whose company I enjoy, and I’ll probably be there. Put me in a group of people who are difficult to get along with, and I’m almost certain some emergency will come up to keep me from going.
Now, I know there are some super-saints in the world who will take their time to sit and listen to anyone say anything that comes to mind…. but I’m not that sanctified. I don’t want to take a night out of my week, week after week, to sit in a room with people who are high maintenance, emotionally draining, or those who rub me the wrong way. I have phone calls to make, a wife who wants my attention, bills to pay, books to read, groceries to buy, chores to do, grass to cut and three dogs to feed. I’m already jammed for time, so why would I want to use what little time I have left to attend another bad meeting that I don’t enjoy. I simply will not do it.
I think most regular people relate to this… though they are afraid to admit it.
I love small groups (community groups, or whatever you want to call them). I've been attending them most of my life and have been active in them for twelve years at PCC. Currently, I am active in two groups. So don't think I'm down on groups. I'm not. I down on bad groups.
Tomorrow I will post another follow up that describes what a HEALTHY group looks like.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Small groups have a tendency to attract two types of people. One group is the GROWING SERVANT. These are the A+ people who are positive 2s and 3s on the Engel Scale. They are dedicated and willingly follow the leadership of their church. When a class needs to be taught, they will teach. When a project needs to be carried out, they will get it done. When a new initiative is being launched, they will get involved. Whatever direction the church takes, these are the early adopters. They buy in and lend their support. They are in for the whole ride, committed through thick and thin. They love their church, will tithe, volunteer and serve sacrificially for no recognition. They practice and live in obedience to God. While they are not perfect and are still working their way through personal issues and challenges, these are the people who make church work.
The other type of people who are attracted to small groups are the HIGH MAINTENANCE PEOPLE. They struggle in their relationships across the board. They rarely hold the same job very long, can’t or won’t pay their bills, have conflict with authority, and regularly need assistance from the church. These congregants generally don’t accept the wisdom of others, don’t adhere to the leadership of the church, and are easily offended – which is sometimes why they are in the position they’re in. They feel as if they are fighting the whole world and can’t trust anyone. Granted, these people usually have reasons for these feelings, but to be frank, these feelings make them high maintenance people who are very difficult to help. No matter how much you do, it is never enough. Continuous drama surrounds their lives. They are difficult and stubborn in their ways, argumentative, and are very skilled at making others feel responsible for their misery.
ENTER SMALL GROUPS
At first glance it seems like putting both of these types of people together in a small group would work. After all, A+ personalities can take care of the others. Right? On the contrary, it is usually catastrophic for both the group and the group leader. A+ people usually enjoy the company of one another, but high maintenance people, on the other hand, require a great deal of hand-holding care which is very draining. They will highjack the group discussion by making themselves the object of everyone’s attention and pity. If allowed, they will turn the entire meeting into a therapeutic counseling session for themselves. When given the chance, the only thing they will talk about is their latest crisis. They are clingy, needy, and often toxic.
I’ll never forget the day that one of our small group leaders came up to me at church and said, “Boy, my small group is emotionally draining. So-and-so never seems to get any better, and I didn’t realize how much time these people would require of me.” We chuckled about it, but inwardly I knew it would only be a matter of time before this leader would become “too busy” to continue leading his small group. Sure enough, he lasted just a little while longer and then simply stopped. When I asked him of his small group experience he said that he had done a great deal of ministry to others, but there were too many weird people in his group and that he was no longer comfortable having them in his home. He also said he had met a lot of new people by being a small group leader, but didn’t really consider any of them to be his friends. They were, at best, acquaintances or ministry projects, but mostly challenges because they had become so dependent upon him and his wife.
For him, his small group became another night of work rather than a night of enjoyment and growth with a group of friends.
Tomorrow I will post a follow up to this.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
When it comes to involvement in church-related activities during the week, MOST PEOPLE have a LIMITED AMOUNT of time they can DONATE. As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in ONLY TWO TIME SLOTS A WEEK. No matter what that third or fourth meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.
Of course, there are exceptions. Every church has some ministry animals who show up whenever the doors are open. In addition, there are others who serve in key positions who give more than a couple of time slots. But the pattern holds true for most people – it’s TWO TIME SLOTS, with an occasional extra meeting or special event thrown in.
At PCC, we have chosen to tailor our ministry to this reality. If most people have only two time slots they are able to donate each week, we want it to be the WEEKEND SERVICES and SMALL GROUPS. Most churches have way too many activities, programs, and events on the schedule. In a two time-slot world, that can be a huge drain on the family, and additionally, it creates excessive competition within the church for limited resources.
To ensure that the most important and productive ministries thrive, it is necessary for us to periodically prune the programs and ministries that are least effective or most draining upon people’s time and limited church resources. In other words, we find ways to cut competing systems or programs from the church docket. We have made some tough decisions in the past about certain programs and ministries because they were a drain; decisions that were very unpopular at the time. We have had to SAY NO to a great many ideas that would have broadened our ministry but blunted our impact.
For instance, from the beginning we decided not to provide choirs, mid-week church services, Sunday night worship services, Easter cantatas, Christmas specials, and a host of other good but potentially competitive programs. There is nothing wrong with any of these programs or ministries. But for us, we can’t do everything that comes along. It wears people out.
WEEKEND SERVICES & SMALL GROUPS are what we do for a two time-slot world.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed…” (James 5:16a KJV).
According to this verse there is healing for us when we confess our faults to one another. For instance, when we sin against someone we should confess that fault to the offended person and seek reconciliation. By doing so healing comes to the relationship and to our soul. In a broader application, it is also good to confess our faults (to people in general) in the sense that we are open and transparent. This too brings healing to our soul.
But this verse DOES NOT MEAN that you are obligated to tell JUST ANYBODY all the sins that you are wrestling with. That can backfire on you. You confess your faults to people you CAN TRUST; safe people. With ‘safe people’ in your life you can reveal the things about yourself and family that make you human. And if you have someone that you can reveal your humanity to, it brings healing. That’s why you should make every effort at making CLOSE FRIENDS; safe people.
There are some people that you NEVER want to confess your faults to because they are not safe. They are blabber mouths. The next thing you know they will be babbling it all over the place; even on Facebook or their blog. Some misguided souls (control freaks) believe that you are obligated to air your dirty laundry to them, citing the above verse as a proof text. Beware of such people. They are dangerous. They are toxic. They are controlling. You don’t want them as friends, and you don’t want to be in a small group with them either.
A safe person is the kind of friend who sees your nakedness and they love you anyway; bad hair, bad breath, warts and all. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). A safe person is the one who sticks very close to you when your weaknesses show up. They simply choose to COVER that weakness by NOT REPEATING IT. A safe person is someone who overlooks things that others love to whisper about. He doesn’t rub it in, he rubs it out.
You know who the safe people are in your life. Trust them.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
- Okay, okay, already! Some of you are so impatient. I didn’t post a Sunday Mind Dump last week because Renae and I went out of town for a day trip…. and some people are going into withdrawals. SO HERE GOES……
- What a totally AMAZING day! The house was packed, the music fantastic, and the Spirit of God was operating as only He can do.
- CDs flew off the shelf. A number of people actually stayed and attended the second service AFTER attending the first service. Wow.
- It blows me away seeing all the TEENAGERS in church each week. I especially like seeing them on the front row fully engaged; worshipping, taking notes, open Bibles, and soaking it up. It is very exciting, and is also humbling to me.
- In fact, I noticed this among the adults too - in both services. Sometimes when I look out over the congregation I notice lots of people taking notes and flipping through their Bibles marking passages. This is very uplifting to me. I don’t think I am that profound, but am delighted that the flock of PCC has such a desire for the WORD OF GOD!
- (Not only were people taking notes, I think some people were PASSING notes).
- Someone said to me one time that PCC was a shallow church because we project the Bible passages on the screen overhead. Huh? What a critic. I told him so, too. If you'd like to know who, just ask me.
- Have I mentioned that I LOVE SUNDAYS?
- There are some great comments on FACEBOOK about today’s service too. I can’t tell you how much this impresses me; young adults, senior adults, and teenagers are eating it up! What is it about PCC that appeals to such a cross-section of our community?
- Can I confide in you? There are A LOT of people in our church family who are HURTING, and they are hurting in a major way. There is so much pain in our church family, that, when I think about the sheer volume of people, it is overwhelming to me. I hurt for these people.
- I’m glad that PCC is a SAFE HARBOR where hurting people can find SAFE PEOPLE, safe relationships, and safe friendships. Not every church can say that. “Thank You God, that You have seen fit to send hurting people to PCC where they can find shelter in the storm.”
- There is no way I could have planned THIS MORNING’S MESSAGE (in advance) without God directing my steps. I usually try to plan a couple of weeks in advance, (following the Holy Spirit’s lead, I believe), and little did I realize the impact today’s topic would have. Moreover, little did I realize that I WOULD BE LIVING IT as well! ONLY GOD knows WHAT HE WAS ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH in this morning’s service – within me – and within a lot of other people too.
- For the last two weeks I have had Renae send out an e-mail (i.e., “From the Desk of Pastor Ron”) to mention the weekend services and encourage people to be in God’s House on Sunday. There are 600-700 names on this e-mail list, and it has been proven to be very effective for us. However, last Friday, someone replied saying something like this: “My name is so-and-so. I visited your church one time back in June. While there, I noticed there were no crosses or crucifixes on display, nor did I hear the name Jesus mentioned once. Please explain.” Renae did the right thing by not replying to this persons demand (that we ‘explain’ ourselves) and simply removed this person from our e-mail list. By doing so, she did not waste precious emotional energy on a one-time-only visitor (malcontent) who apparently has a problem with Pace Community Church. I’m not in the habit of ‘explaining’ the ‘whys’ and 'hows' behind everything we do (to demanding personalities) because it is an exercise in futility. Besides, we cover the whys-and-hows in our 101 seminar. But if I had replied to this person, this is what I would have said….
I’m sorry that after ONE VISIT you have judged us so severely and found us to be unworthy of a second visit. You asked us to explain ourselves as to why you didn’t see the things you were looking for. Well, here’s why: You arrived at church with a CHIP ON YOUR SHOULDER. You were looking for something to condemn and find fault with, and that’s exactly what you found. You OVERLOOKED the obvious and visible dedication we have to God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the resulting changed lives. People always FIND what they are LOOKING FOR, and if you didn't hear the name of Jesus mentioned in the service it's only because that's what you were EXPECTING. If you had not been looking at us with a jaundiced eye you would have noticed the crosses in the atrim and would have heard the name of Jesus Christ heralded a dozen times. Apparently you are a deeply critical and bitter person. Unlike the 500 other people who have found our church to be a place of healing and God-honoring worship, you found only fault. If you would take the beam out of your own eye you would then see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. PCC would not be a good church for you - we are incapable of making you happy.”
- THAT is what I would have said. But Renae took the high road and didn't bother with it.
- We had an APPRECIATION RECEPTION for CATHY DENNY today after the second service. It was our opportunity to say “thank you” for 6 ½ years of exceptional service to PCC. Cathy has proven herself to be absolutely loyal (to me and PCC), faithful to God and her duties, and has performed with a high standard of excellence. PCC is where it is today, in part, to her faithful service. About 100 people stayed for her reception, (and I took note of who was there), and there were a lot of expressions of love and friendship. I think it was one of those “God moments” that church congregations sometimes experience in their journey. We honored her for a ‘job well done’
- Today was the wedding anniversary of my mother and (deceased) father. They would have been married for 54 years today. (Sorry Mom if I got that incorrect. Is it 53, or 54?). Dad passed away in 2004. I miss him… sometimes deeply.
- Our staffing transition is almost complete. I will be posting an update on this soon; probably next week.
- I am in a personal ‘growth period’ right now. I feel like I am growing up in many ways.
- Being around student teenagers reminds me that I am getting old.
- Does anyone else love this weather? Or is it just me?
- College football begins in two weeks.
- One thing I don’t understand about college football is the MALE CHEERLEADERS. I’m sure that any one of them could beat the daylights out of me (because they are so athletic). But I don’t get it. A guy cheerleader? Seems like a prissy britches to me.
- Renae and I will probably BE GONE for three days next week.
- Unite Picnic THIS Wednesday night.
- We are about to enter a NEW SEASON at PCC… new workers, new leaders, new accomplishments, and new victories. Oh yea, and a FRESH outpouring of God’s Spirit.
- Miriam was put outside the camp for seven days because of her sin. That’s called ‘CHURCH DISCIPLINE’ today. You may (or may not) notice it, but it is something we practice and enforce at PCC.
- I am PUMPED UP about PCC, God, and the ministry accomplishments that are ahead of us.
- I love our church. Honestly, there is no place I would rather be than the Sunday morning services at PCC. Sadly, I don’t think many pastors can say that.
- Next Sunday (actually Monday) is the one-year anniversary of Nathan Melton's death. It was a sad loss and we miss him. He was a good friend to both of our sons. Many of his family members still attend PCC and still feel the pain of his loss. We are thinking of you this week. Our thoughts and prayers go out especially to Pamela and Darrell, Nathan's parents. And young people, remember the promises you made to God that Sunday at the altar.
- PCC has some of the most amazing volunteers that I have ever seen in my life! Just so you know, we are planning a VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION event to take place in October or November. We are going to PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS on this event. We are overdue.
- Our FALL SEMESTER of SMALL GROUPS begins in September. I’m looking forward to them. It appears a lot of new people are interested in signing up.
- I was blown away by the number of visitors and guests today. Where do all these people come from?
- I am astonished at the number of YOUNG COUPLES currently attending PCC. This is VERY, VERY encouraging to me. Young couples are the demographic group that is very DELIBERATE about getting their life STARTED OFF RIGHT and are SEARCHING for ROLE MODELS and MENTORS to help guide them in the right direction. If you are a married couple, say in your 30’s or 40’s, with a successful marriage yourself, you have a great opportunity RIGHT NOW to INVEST YOUR LIFE into the lives of someone else that will MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Let me encourage you to seriously consider leading a small group, or leading a 4 x 4. You will affect (impact) someone’s life for time and eternity. With the exception of your own family, there is nothing greater that you could do with your life than to help another couple to have a successful marriage and family. Think about it.
- GREG GILL is doing an amazing job on the drums. I don’t know if you have noticed, but he has really stepped up and filled a critical need in our band. We always seem to be short-handed in this area, but finally it appears we have a long-term musician for this position. In fact, he has literally TAUGHT HIMSELF through self discipline. This is a feat within itself. Trust me, this is a very difficult thing to do. I’m a musician myself, and have been playing three different instruments for more than thirty years…. but I couldn’t drum my way out of a wet paper bag! Either you’ve got it (on percussion) or you don’t. I love it when he hits the cymbals, or does a serious drum-roll at the end of a stanza. Greg Gill is almost in the same category as Greg Baker (one of our former drummers) – which is saying a lot. All credit goes to Greg, he did it on his own.
- Lest I be remiss in honorable mentions, let me give a SHOUT OUT to ALEX CASEY as well. This is a young man who I have my eyes on. Recently baptized, Alex shows all the signs of potential ministry service. He is a young man with obvious spiritual inclinations towards the “things of God.” He really seems to have a serious interest in deeper spiritual matters; a rare thing among young men today. That aside, he is a good musician too; playing bass guitar, saxophone, flute, AND drums. Way to go Alex, you are such an asset to PCC!
- Have I mentioned that I love PCC?
- Do you ever sit back and realize that God is so much better than you deserve?
- I’m still riding my bicycle faithfully – about four times a week. This is my attempt to work off my mid-life midriff. Mark my word…. I’m going to be cut-and-defined by December.
- Don’t hold it against me, but I like watching UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
I’m not as young as I used to be. I still feel young (in my thinking) most of the time, but I often feel the slow-down in my body. At any rate, I am accepting the fact that I can never go back. As I evaluate my life now and look to the future, here’s how I hope to live the second half of my life:
I want to draw nearer to God than I ever have, and continually surrender to the dealings of God. I don’t want Jesus to be my hobby. I don’t want Christianity to be my “spare time” pursuit. I want to be consumed with a pursuit for God. I want to be someone who will never quit, never give in, and never lose faith. I want to reach the place where I obey every command He gives. I have a deep longing for God.
I want my relationship with Renae to go deeper in the second half of our lives. We’ve been married for 28 years. (I hope we have 28 more). Both of our children are now grown. Plus, we have kept ourselves in pretty good shape, and are otherwise healthy, which means we could have a pretty active life in front of us. Without the responsibility of small children to take care of, we now have the opportunity to travel extensively and spend a great deal of time (alone) together. I hope we can travel the United States from one end to the other, as well as a trip or two to Europe. In the full cycle of marriage the end is like the beginning – just like it started – the husband and wife. I think I’m looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to being surrounded by an extended family of grandchildren one day…. but not too soon. I think I will enjoy having my two sons and their families over for the holidays and stuff like that. It feels kind of corny to get sentimental, but I'm certain I am going to enjoy that phase of my life.
My top ministry challenge is to prepare the congregation of PCC for a time when I will not be the senior pastor. While I believe I still have a long tenure ahead of me at PCC, I am looking far enough into the future trying to visualize the day when someone else will be at the helm. That day will come and when it does Pace Community Church must still be effective after I am no longer its lead pastor. That means that I must (right now) continue the process of cultivating new leaders (both staff and volunteers) with an eye on the future. The future of PCC will require leaders who value where we have been, but also can see where this church must go. To that end, I will have to embrace changes that I myself may not understand. That will be necessary if this church is to have ‘staying power’ beyond my tenure. Who knows, the next pastor of PCC may be a teenager who currently attends our youth ministry right now. Trust me, my eyes are open.
God is not your problem. He is on your side. He calls out to us, pursues us, seeks us, blesses us and stays with us.
It’s not the absence of problems that gives us peace; it’s God’s presence WITH US while we are IN the problems that gives us peace. When Jesus sent His disciples into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature He knew they would encounter troubles, dangers, and deprivation. So He offers them this promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
God is with you, so give Him the same place in your heart that He has in the universe.
This Sunday’s message is entitled WOUNDED BY THOSE YOU LOVE as we continue our series "In the Heat of the Desert" based upon the book of Numbers. If you have ever faced this kind of pain – and we all have – then please be in God’s House this weekend. We will look at a remarkable story in God’s Word and learn life-changing principles that we can apply to our own lives. This Sunday could be the beginning of a healing journey for you.
Please invite everyone you know, and personally bring as many as you can to the services with you this weekend. I will be teaching, the music will be fantastic, and the people friendly. Most important of all, God will be present.
See you Sunday!
Arrive early for a good cup of coffee.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
People often submit prayer requests to the church, or to me personally, asking for prayer. We are very glad to respond to these requests. But sometimes people will turn it around and ask how THEY can pray for us.
How You Can Pray For PCC:
- Pray that we stay focused on our God-given mission and mandate without ever letting mission drift set in.
- Pray for our church staff. We have the greatest staff in the world and you will never know how much they do behind the scenes to make PCC run smoothly. Pray for their families too.
- Pray for our church family. We are living in hard economic times.
- Pray for the suffering people who show up at PCC every single Sunday. The needs are so great.
- Also, pray for other churches in the area who are doing a work for God. We are all on the same team.
How You Can Pray For Me:
- Pray that I stay close to God and maintain my spiritual walk.
- Pray for my protection. The amount of spiritual warfare I have been involved in is nothing like I have ever seen.
- Pray for my family – Renae, Jonathan, Jamie, and Nathan. They are my first ministry. The burden they carry you would never know. God knows. Talk to Him in our behalf.
- Pray that I don’t get sidetracked. It would be easy for me to be sidetracked and focus too much on those who want to see PCC destroyed. Trust me, those people exist.
- Pray that I hear from God regularly.
- Pray for my testimony, that I maintain a good and healthy one.
- Pray that I lead well, teach well, and shepherd well.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
One of the core values at PCC is: Believers should be authentic and transparent, while yearning for continuous growth.
This core value means that we should not pretend to be someone other than who God made us to be, and that we should be open enough to admit to others that we don’t always get it right. It’s good to celebrate our home runs, but it’s also okay to admit we strike out sometimes too.
That’s why I like Pace Community Church. I am free to be myself. For example, I don’t have to impart wisdom with the four-syllable eloquence of Bill Hybles, or the witty one-liner wisdom of Rick Warren. I don’t have to be an academic, so I will not attempt to talk like John Calvin - doing so will only make me look silly. Besides, I am quite capable looking silly without adding pretense and hypocrisy to my list of offenses. I can only be who I am and will continue to strive to become who God wants me to be.
If PCC is your church family, you are free to be real.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Illness, stress, family problems, job demands, etc., rob us of sleep. And when we constantly run on low battery power it shows up in our attitudes, our relationships and our performance. The Bible says:
(1) “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.”
(2) “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps 4:8 NKJV).
(3) “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet” (Pr 3:24 NKJV).
Sleep is an act of trust; when you go to sleep the world is in God’s hands, not yours. And it will get along very well, even if you’re not awake to control things. When you awaken tomorrow morning, just like God gave Israel fresh manna each day, He will give you the grace needed. Jeremiah said, “After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me” (Jer 31:26 NKJV).
Have you ever tried to pray when you were suffering from sleep deficit? It’s hard to do. Before Elijah was able to spend prolonged time in prayer the angel of the Lord made him take not one, but two long naps. Contrast that with the disciples in Gethsemane who couldn’t pray because they kept falling asleep. Know what? It’s hard to think, feel and act like Jesus when you lack sleep. That’s why “He gives His beloved sleep.”
Maybe the most spiritual thing you could do is get to bed earlier and wake up refreshed so you’re ready to fulfill God’s purposes for your day.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Churchless Christianity makes about as much sense as a Christless Christianity. The New Testament knows nothing of an unchurched Christian.
Belonging to a local church is not an ‘option’ for the believer; it is a requirement. In the book of Acts God didn’t add people to the church without saving them AND He didn’t save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership went together; and still do.
Friday, August 14, 2009
My guess is that every one of us knows someone who is wrestling with an addiction of some sort, or some type of destructive behavior. Maybe you saw that person in the mirror this morning. The stakes are very high. We only get one life, and we must learn how to live it well.
This weekend we are beginning a new message series entitled “In the Heat of the Desert” in which we will learn those destructive patterns of behavior to avoid, and why. We will also learn how to overcome each and every one through God’s help and provision.
Please invite everyone you know, and personally bring as many as you can to the services with you this weekend. I will be teaching, the music will be fantastic, and the people friendly. Most important of all, God will be present.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I have been visiting sick people in hospitals for more than half my life. Without exception, the two most prominent sicknesses I have encountered through my visits are HEART DISEASE and SMOKING RELATED illnesses. Most astonishing of all, both of these conditions are PREVENTABLE!
I’m not talking about people with genetic defects, chromosome mutations, deficient immune systems, or other forces beyond their control. I’m talking about people who EAT and SMOKE themselves to an early grave!
If you have seen as many people DIE prematurely from poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and inhaling toxic poisons that could kill a horse as I have, you would tremble.
Please. Live healthy. Exercise. And quit smoking.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
We have two new message series on the calander.
- Begining this Sunday is 'In the Heat of the Desert.' This series will last about 4-6 weeks.
- Next will be 'Future Shock' which is about end time events and Biblical prophecy.
Read below for a description of each.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
- Taught from Isaiah 58 today – “God’s Chosen Fast.” This chapter is one of two Towering Landmarks in God’s Word that describes what He expects from His people; specifically helping the underprivileged. Matthew 25 is the other.
- Over the summer I have taught on: Confronting Casual Christianity…. Confronting Consumer Christianity…. God is For You….. Jesus Announces His Ministry Agenda…. The Greatest Commandment…. Who is My Neighbor?…. The Least of These My Brethren…. and today, God’s Chosen Fast.
- These messages have been a CALL for the church to BE the church. It’s not enough that we come to church and enjoy our services. We have to open our eyes to the disenfranchised in our community and do something about it. We have to live it 24/7.
- The local church is still the hope of the world.
- I think this idea has taken hold in our congregation and has began to exert its influence upon people’s perception of Christianity; it’s not about us – we are expected to serve others.
- Quote of the day: “All of us have an idea of what we would like for God to do for us. But have you ever thought about what God wants YOU to do FOR HIM?”
- This series of messages has THINNED the ranks. I’m okay with that. Remember the crowds that followed Jesus for the loaves & fishes (only) and He challenged them on their motives? Many of His disciples turned back. And some church people in Santa Rosa County will never grow up.
- We have created a climate in PCC this summer that no one is coming to church unless they want a full dose of God.
- There is nothing like the local church when it is working right.
- When you read through the book of Acts, you see a body of believers that was serious about GATHERING together… and those meetings were not dry and boring. You get the sense that they were doing more than just praying for better jobs and getting a passing grade in Algebra. They were praying for BOLDNESS and opportunities to spread the gospel.
- The early church was characterized by bold preaching, bold witnessing, bold prayers, and bold responses to that preaching. Let it be so at PCC.
- I’m looking for God to do great things.
- God usually does some of His greatest works THROUGH people who are TOTALLY YEILDED to Him.
- Leadership thought of the day: We are evaluating our ministries; the bottom performers will be discontinued and the top performers will be improved and duplicated.
Friday, August 7, 2009
This is a message about the futility of religious activities producing spirituality. We will learn how God's people pretended to be devout - even by acceptable practices such as prayer, fasting, and humilty - and yet it availed them nothing. They had to learn that observing liturgies by the letter of the Law was not acceptable to God. Their outward performance of religiousity actually offended God.
To that end, God told them what a true fast really was. This is an EYE OPENER.
You will want to BRING YOUR BIBLE for this messgae. Bring a high lighter or colored pencil too, because you will want to mark this passage in your Bible. It is another TOWERING LANDMARK in God's Word that shows us what He expects of His followers.
I think PCC is on the verge of a major spiritual breakthrough.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
When new people move into our community and begin looking for a church to attend, they usually do so prayerfully believing God will lead them to the right place. They don’t really care if the church is running 150, 500, or 1500 in attendance. They are not looking for the “best show” in town. What they are looking for is a church that has a kingdom mindset. When a church has a kingdom mindset people are valued; and there will be follow up after they visit.
Read the following true story:
After our relocation, on our “to do” list was to find a church where we could worship and tithe. Our prayer was that God would direct us to where He wanted us to belong. We honestly did not care if the church had 30 people in attendance or 3000. We visited several churches for 3 months but only one followed up on our visit. Yes I said ONE. By follow up I mean they responded to our questions turned in on a visitor card or other form of contact via a phone call, email or letter.
The benefit of being part of a church with a kingdom mindset is that it has has greatly blessed our children. In the past few weeks I have emailed the children and youth director and each time I received a response in less than 24 hours. Staff and volunteers were professional and helpful. Julie Durling (children’s director) called me twice outside of her office hours, another worker named Susan emailed me and encouraged me to call her anytime I had a question and offered to meet with me. Last Sunday night our shy 13 year old went to a youth group for the first time. He was nervous and had no desire to go. Peter Dahlin, the youth director immediately connected with Matthew and introduced him to others. Margaret a volunteer approached us and her passion for reaching youth oozed out of her every word. His small group leader, Ray White, helped to make him feel welcome and at ease. They gave every first time visitor a sports bag with the youth logo and inside was a water bottle and a leather compact Bible that Matthew was very excited about using. Seeing the volunteer and financial investment, it was obvious that reaching kids is a priority and passion.
This lady and her husband were very impressed by the way they and their family were treated by this church. Needless to say, this was the church they decided to attend.
Just a little effort goes a long way....
Are you ruled by negativity? A lot of people are. Life for them is one big fat bummer! A negative mind-set can sabotage your life, rob your dreams, and cause you to end up lonely. No one likes to hang out with a sour puss.
Negativity reflects inner defeat.
Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NKJV). Negativity often lashes out at circumstances, people, the environment, or the government. It always lays the blame upon the parents, the preacher, a leader, a school teacher, or a spouse. When people spew their negativity, it’s not really about their circumstance – it’s a reflection of what is going on inside.
Negativity always justifies itself.
Negative people justify themselves and their sour personalities by portraying themselves as a victim. Negative people draw on their negative experiences and build their beliefs and opinions around them. Then they justify their position because of what has happened to them.
Consider what Proverbs has to say, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” (Proverbs 16:2 NKJV). You see, men justify their attitudes and actions. God, on the other hand, knows the truth and holds us responsible.
You have to own it. You may not have been able to prevent what has happened to you in the past, but you are responsible for who you allow yourself to become. That’s the plain truth.
Negativity chooses your friends for you.
We need to be very careful who we spend our time with, and who we allow to give us advice. Are your friends the kind who are moving onward and upward, or are they wallowing in negativity, self-pity and mediocrity, going nowhere fast? Are their words inspiring you to, or are they draining to you?
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20 NKJV).
Whatever direction your friends are headed is where you are headed too.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17 KJV).
Church leaders & congregations have a choice; they can choose for their church to be a type of Country Club or a Hospital. If a church sees itself as a “Members Only” gathering, it is little more than a Country Club for spiritual fat cats. The sole purpose of such a church is to make everything comfortable for its paying customers – the members. This kind of church has as its main concern the décor of the building, protecting the carpet on the floor, preserving the church traditions and honoring its liturgies. Everything is aimed at the needs, comfort, and approval of the paying customers – the members. In such an environment, church members will be conditioned to act like ‘club members’ who ‘pay their dues’ and expect everything to be catered in their direction. If they do not like what is going on, they will leave and not come back.
Churches that see themselves as hospitals possess a different mentality altogether. A hospital is for sick people and the purpose of its existence is to make them well. When this mind-set exists in a church congregation – not only is it exciting and fulfilling to see – but you also witness more and more new people coming to the church services so they can be helped, healed, and delivered. The members of such congregations know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they have the only true medicine that will help hurting humanity.
There are many things we can do for hurting people, and must do for them. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal is to introduce them to Jesus Christ for a life-changing experience. When this happens they become part of the healing process themselves, and assume responsibility to help and heal others.
People in the world know how a church feels about them, and you cannot fool them. If a church is stuck up and self-righteous, people will know it. If a church is a healing station for the afflicted – full of compassionate believers – people will know that too.
The Church is the hope of the world. If church leaders do not have an outward vision to become salt and light in our world, (to promote spiritual transformation, pursue justice, and proclaim the gospel to the lost), then our churches will become spiritual cocoons where privileged Christians can retreat from a hostile world.
A church that lives within its four walls only is no church at all.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I specifically remember being at his house one evening for a cookout. He invited me and a few others from PCC to come over. Also on his invitation list that night was a large group of people from his former church. It was a set up; intentionally designed to get us to mingle together and hopefully draw them to PCC after meeting me in an informal setting. To this day I can vividly remember the guilt I felt that night. I didn’t plan this event, I didn’t want to be a party to it, but there I was in the middle of it. I went home that night feeling like I had done something wrong. Building a church by raiding the pews of my neighbor is, for me, downright sinful.
- Aside from robbing my neighbor, transfer growth is weak growth. People who leave churches for no good reason often arrive at their new church with a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage. That baggage usually re-manifests itself in their new church and becomes a drain on the pastor, the vision, and the church’s resources. It only takes a few people – with unresolved issues – to keep a full time pastor very tied up with counseling sessions, gripe sessions, and conflict over the direction of the church. Ask me how I know this.
- Transfer growth is also uncommitted growth. Church hopping is a manifestation of some inability to become a part of the body of Christ. Unless the hurt is healed or the dysfunction cured, these transferees will run headlong into the same confrontations in their new location as they faced in their last church. Building a house on transferring members is a fruitless endeavor. What transfers into your church will surely transfer out.
I made an attempt to contact their former pastor. Much to my chagrin I found out that he was leaving and going to another church out of state. This presented a new dilemma for me – their former pastor wasn’t concerned about getting them back, and now I was stuck with them! Suffice it to say that PCC experienced both of these negative consequences (weak growth & uncommitted growth) from this group of people. It was very, very bitter for me. I suppose I got what I deserved; and had reaped what I had sown. The best I could do, at this point, was to accept them and shepherd them the best as I could without allowing them to hijack our church.
For a couple of years things coasted along just fine, with friendships being formed along the way. It looked like it just might work out. But it didn’t. Eventually rumblings of discontent could be heard. Gripe sessions kept me pinned down and discussions over the direction of our church were constant. The emotional dysfunction and spiritual baggage that these people brought with them to PCC was now showing itself on full display. Our church was on the edge of being hijacked! A conflict ensued, but the mission & vision of PCC won the day.
True to form, this group of people left PCC the same way they had come – looking for greener pastures. To the person, every one of them left. Every single one. Not a single one remained with us.
The best way I know to pastor and build a church is through the honest labor of conversion growth. Nothing takes the place of reaching people for Christ; and once converted, discipling them. For the church, that translates into dedicated workers for the Lord, and life-long friendships for the pastor.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Cathy Denny wrote an excellent blog about Sunday's service. It is worth the read. We have received a lot of postive feedback and testimonies from a number of people - on the registration cards, personal conversations, on Facebook, etc. Only God can do what happened yesterday.
Sunday Reflections From the Pew
Let me pause to say that having people from other churches visit our church is not that unusual. Nor is it unusual for any church for that matter. It’s just a fact of church life. Church transferees sometimes find a new church home at PCC and are a blessing to us. In fact, some of our best members have come from other churches, and were sent to us by God. But when a large influx of new visitors suddenly arrives at PCC from a single church elsewhere, my antenna goes up. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that not everything is as it appears on the surface. It’s important to probe a little deeper. Which I did. More about that later.
First here, are some thoughts on the ethics on receiving members from other churches:
- A code of conduct (something like a Covenant of Pastoral Integrity) exists among some pastors in which the pastor of the church being visited will notify the pastor of the church that the members are from, informing him of who has just arrived.
- In this conversation pastors will share information about what is going on, who has just arrived, why the members have transferred, and will sometimes be prompted to encourage the members to return to their former church.
- The purpose behind this practice is to promote and protect the ministry of fellow pastors, and to promote healthy relationships between churches within the Christian community.
- It is a very good practice.
- Some pastors don’t bother. They are very glad to opportunistically profit from the mass exodus of members from another church. It’s cheap growth - growth that avoids the labor of evangelism & discipleship – it is fast and efficient; and it graphs well on the church’s year-end report.
- Building a house on shifting members is fruitless. What transfers into your church will surely transfer out.
I had a few conversations with some of these new arrivals and was able to quickly ascertain that they had left their previous church because of an internal squabble. An organizational realignment was taking place, affecting a handful of people who did not get their way, so their response was to leave and find another church – ours. This handful of people were able convince many others to follow them which resulted in significant damage to the church they left behind. By now I am seeing warning flags all over the place. Then some of these people actually began calling me in my home! They would pour on the accolades about how great our church was and how bad their former church was. I was unimpressed.
Knowing something had to be done; I called the pastor of this church. In the conversation I said, “John (not his real name), a lot of members from your church have been showing up at PCC for the last six weeks or so. I’m so concerned about this that I wanted to assure you that I have not been soliciting them, encouraging them to come, or inviting them. They are just showing up. Can you tell me what is going on, and what can I do to help?” We had a very lengthy conversation and traded a great deal of information.
John was so impressed that I had taken the time to call and reassure him, that he gathered his staff, church board, and entire leadership team and told them of our conversation. When they realized that Pace Community Church was not in competition with them, but only wanted to help, they were filled with enormous gratitude. I can't tell you how grateful they were. It was amazing.
Then I spoke to the obvious leaders of this new group in our church and informed them that it wouldn't be any different for them at PCC than it was in their last church. We sometimes have to make tough decisions that not everyone likes, and if you’re looking for a church where you can always get you way, then you’ll be disappointed. To the person, every one of them left within two weeks. Every single last one of them.
One of the richer aspects that I learned from this experience was that everyone involved had an opportunity for spiritual growth by responding in a mature way.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
- CRAZY doesn’t even begin to describe today. It was just crazy!!!
- Summer is winding down, summer travel is almost over, and our attendance is going to see a significant upswing soon.
- I’ve got to say… a lot of people in our church family have some major issues going on in their lives right now. These are issues that potentially threaten their marriages and their commitment to God. I feel overwhelmed.
- Worship was good. Music was good.
- The message was a strong Word – “The Least of These My Brethren”
- My favorite quote of the day: “God has called us to catch fish and feed the sheep… not corral goats.” It was a real groaner.
- My second favorite quote of the day: “It takes five times more energy to reactivate an inactive, disgruntled, or carnal church member than it does to reach people who are spiritually receptive.”
- If you have friends who are lost, who are in pain, who could benefit from the love of God…. THEN DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET THEM TO CHURCH WITH YOU!
- Is there any other church in our area who has more formerly messed up people who have been delivered by the power of God than we do? I don’t know. But the stories I hear are amazing! I’m glad God is using the ministries of PCC in this way.
- There are some good comments on Facebook about today’s church service.
- I think we’ve got some major Mojo going on at PCC.
- Have you recently sat down and had deep thought about how blessed you are? If you haven’t, please do so. It puts everything back in perspective.
- I have read a couple of very good books this summer which have really challenged me.
- Who are all these new people at PCC. Seriously, it feels like a we are a brand new church in many ways. I think this is a good thing.
- I love the diversity in our church. By no means are we perfect, but I do feel like we are a group of people who are trying to do the Christian life the best we know how…. and we’re doing it together. To me, that counts for something.
- A good season of ministry is just around the corner for PCC. This fall is simply going to be amazing!
- I anticipate a very active week of blogging. Check back each day.
- Tomorrow I will be posting a blog entitled, "The Ethics of Receiving Church Members from Other Churches." It's a follow up to Friday's post.