As I mentioned previously, setting a church in order is no small task. I had to settle on the matter of church leadership; specifically pastor-elders and deacons. Then there was the matter of women.
I have spent years trying to understand certain difficult passages in the Bible regarding women. My findings could fill an entire book, so I will keep it simple here. After hundreds of hours of study I have been able to summarize the three most common positions that have been adopted within Christianity regarding women. Those positions are:
Hierarchal – In this view men and women are created to operate in different roles in life and ministry based solely upon gender. Women cannot be elders or deacons, serve communion, teach men, lead worship, or speak in church services in any capacity. They are not allowed to usher or even serve as door greeters. In this view all women are under the submission of all men; meaning that even the strongest woman in the church would have to submit to the weakest man in the church. Women can only be involved in ministries for women or children. (Main texts are: Genesis 1:27; 2:18; 3:16-17; I Corinthians 11:3, 8-9; I Timothy 2:11-3:13).
Complementarian – In this view all church ministries are open to qualified women, with the single exception of pastor-elders, which is reserved for qualified men. Women can be deacons, serve communion, teach, lead worship, have participatory roles in church services, and be in full-time paid ministry. (Main texts are: Same as hierarchical with an emphasis on I Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1-2).
Egalitarian – In this view men and women are partners together in every area of ministry. All ministries and offices in the church are open to all qualified men and women. Gender does not exclude any person from any church office. Under this view women may be pastors, even senior pastors. (Main texts are: Judges 4; Acts 16:11-15; 18:26; Luke 8:1-3; Romans 16:1-3, 6-7, 12; Galatians 3:28).
In considering these views I quickly dismissed the hierarchal position. While it appears to have its Biblical merits, it is out of balance with other passages that obviously treat women with a more elevated status. The role of women in the church cannot be conclusively determined by a few restrictive passages that are often advanced by men who believe that subordination represents God’s will for all women. Scripture must be balanced against other scripture to arrive at a proper Biblical conclusion on any subject, and I believe hierarchal proponents fail to do this. Churches that hold to this view are often very legalistic in nature and oppressive.
Personally, I think the complementarian view seems to strike a good balance between all three positions. But I also think the egalitarian view has its merits as well; its interpretation of the scriptures is a sound one (though all don't agree with the conclusions), plus there are instances in which this position might be the best scenario for some churches. On the negative side, some egalitarian’s promote radical feminism which is unbiblical; not to mention being as extreme in their views as those of dominating men found in the hierarchal camp.
At Pace Community Church, we tend to lean towards a blended view of the complentarianand egalitarian positions; that is, all ministries are open to qualified women in the church with the single exception of the office of senior pastor. Other than that single office, women may serve anywhere and everywhere in our church, including a pastoral role and other levels of senior leadership, provided they are gifted, called, and qualified.
Men who fail to acknowledge and enlist the energy of women suffer for their arrogance. Pontius Pilate's wife, for example, tried to warn him not to be involved in the trial of Jesus. "I have a dream about him" she said. Pilate ignored her and signed Jesus' death warrant, as well as his own dishonorable place in history.
If not for women, PCC would not be here. Over the years they have performed most of the work which has helped propel us to the place we are today. Many of these tasks could have been carried out by men, but some of the men would not step up and lead. Churches depend on the financial support of women as much as they depend upon the financial support of men, not to mention their spiritual and physical contributions, and PCC is the better for it. Churches that ignore the postive impact that women can bring to the table, do so at their own loss.
Some men are real sissies when it comes to spiritual leadership; their prayer life is almost non-existent, they are too timid to pray out loud or lead in public prayer, they don’t pray with their families, very seldom crack open a Bible, will not teach a Bible class, have little desire for the Word of God, and fail to express any desire to work in the church. They will not man up and lead. Yet, many of these same men want to keep women submissive by limiting their role in the church based solely on gender. How convenient.
I decided early on that it would be a cold day in Hades before I will ever permit this church to rise no higher than the level of spiritually weak men. I have been often criticized for allowing women to serve in visible roles at PCC. I’m okay with that. If I had allowed spiritually weak men to dictate policy about gender roles at PCC, this church would still be running 37 people and headed by weak men who do not know how to lead.
Women on the other hand, will often jump into the action and get themselves involved in the ministry while the men stand back and watch. They will lead, teach, pray, take charge, get excited about God, read their Bibles, inspire others and motivate teams. If men are too weak to do these things, it’s their own problem. They are burying the talents God has given them and He will hold them accountable. Women sometimes have to fill that gap created by men. But even if men step up and fill their godly roles in the church, it does not disqualify women from serving because the Body of Christ needs both.
Pace Community Church has been very fortunate over the years because we have always experienced a healthy balance between the genders. A high percentage of both men and women employ their gifts, talents, and leadership skills in this church. The end result for us has been a healthy, thriving New Testament church.
When the Bible is interpreted comprehensively, by comparing scripture against scripture, it’s easy to conclude that God has placed both men and women in the Body of Christ to serve in His kingdom, and that ministry opportunities should be made available in the church based on giftedness, and not by gender alone.
Now that my family was set in order, and I was beginning to set the church in order by installing pastor-elders, I had to arrive at some conclusions regarding the office of deacons in our church.
The Scriptures clearly describe two offices for leadership in New Testament churches - pastors and deacons.
Pastors (elders) manage the church; they teach sound doctrine, lead the flock, pray, make disciples, and provide oversight. Deacons serve in the church; in helps, mercy ministries, and any form of practical assistance. There is a clear distinction between the two offices, levels of authority, and the duties that each has.
Does PCC have deacons? Yes, we have deacons - as they are defined by the Bible. We do not have a deacon board that runs the church; our deacons run the ministries which have been authorized by our pastor-elders.
There are three words for “deacon” found in the Bible (diakonos, diakonia, diakoneō) and they all translates as “servant” or “service” or “to serve.” In some instances the word deacon also means "minister" or "messenger." In the Bible these individuals liberated the apostles from direct involvement in congregational care by serving in such areas as the daily administration of food to widows and the like, relief work to the needy, and waiting on tables, in order that the apostles and teachers might be freed up to teach the Word of God and lead the flock (see Acts 6:1-7). Deacons served as assistants to the apostles, and later, to the elders of the church. They were not called to supervise elders (pastors), but to serve as extensions of pastoral ministry by ministering to widows, serving others, distributing goods to the needy, and provide various forms of congregational care. As such, deacons are under the authority of pastor-elders, and the office, in itself, carries no authority beyond its immediate assignment. There are no specific on-going roles defined in scripture for deacons, rather they served as needed.
Thus deacons in Pace Community Church are equated as ministry leaders, ministry servants, or small group leaders in our ministry environment. Such a person in our church is a servant who drapes a towel over his or her arm and is actively involved in hands on ministry that is providing some type of congregational care, helps, visitation, or administration of a specific ministry in this church. This can range from parking lot supervisors, head ushers, the head of hospitality, leading our grounds-keeping team, building maintenance, hospital visitation, visiting widows and shut-ins, serving communion, locking and securing the building, welcoming visitors, building cleanliness, small group leaders, or any tangible form of assistance in preparation for the Sunday services. Without such people the ministries of Pace Community Church would simply cease to exist. That is why we need servant-deacons in our ranks.
Deacons are not elected positions. They are appointed by the pastor-elders of the Church (see Acts 6:3), on the basis of need and upon their unique giftedness for the task. There can be no limit to the number of deacons, as this is dependent solely upon the Holy Spirit's disbursement of spiritual gifts in the Church.
Additionally, by using this Biblical role of deacon (rather than a denominational or traditional one) we have created opportunities for women to serve in this capacity - such as Pheobe in Romans 16:1-2 (who is called a servant or deacon with the Greek word diakononbeing used to describe her). We have long been taught that the New Testament does not show women in the capacity of deacon or deaconess and that God does not want women to be involved in the ministries of the church. However, this verse, which has either been poorly translated and interpreted, or ignored, lies like a little jewel in the Word of God and affirms women in their service to God. It says that Phoebe was a servant (diakonon, which means deacon) of the church at Cenchrea. Further still, the following passages, (Rom. 16:3, 12; Phil. 4:2, 3; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:9, 10; Titus 2:3-4), makes it evident that females were engaged in various Christian ministries.
Rather than sitting on bureaucratic committees getting very little done, our deacons are with people and meeting needs every week! And that's one of the things that makes PCC such a great church.
I Timothy 3:8-10 (NIV) 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. Tomorrow – the role of women in the church.
Pastor-Elders Knowing I needed to set the church in order by implementing a Biblically functioning church government, I began an in-depth study and became very acquainted with the various forms of church government practiced by virtually all denominations. I consider myself to be pretty well informed on the subject. While this blog does not have space for a full discourse on the subject, I have written extensively on the subject and am saving the material for future publication. Here is what I discovered:
Some churches operate by Congregational Rule. This is an American invention and it appeals to our sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operations of the church. The pastor and staff are seen as employees of the congregation who are hired by church members and can be fired by church members. Pastors and staff who serve in these churches are routinely voted in and voted out by the membership. This form of church government is most often seen in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. These churches also have deacon boards that operate as official representatives of the congregation to the pastor – much like congress does to the president – often seeing their role as protecting the church from the pastor or either pointing out the shortcomings of the pastor so that he will do a better job as their employee.
As I studied the Bible, I found no justification for this form of government at all. Congregational forms of church government often wind up causing the pastor to be directed by the very sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling. Such churches are not led, but instead make decisions by compromise to appease all the various interests in the church. In the case of PCC, the thought of having new Christians, immature Christians, backsliders, carnal church members, troublemakers, and porn addicts, outvoting me on Jesus’ will for the direction of our church sounded like mental patients taking over their hospital and trying to run it themselves! So I dismissed the congregational form of government rather quickly.
Then there is the Episcopal form of church government used by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few). In this form of government the church is governed by a hierarchy. Basically, there is an outside bishop, or someone of similar stature called by a different name, who oversees a group of churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, transfers pastors, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Spirit in self determination.
The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of laymen who are called elders (the "presbytery"). These lay elders form an “elder board” (much like the deacon board found in Baptist and Pentecostal churches) and are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system operates more like a corporate board found in the secular business world that approves or disapproves plans brought to them by the pastor and staff. The pastor becomes a mere spiritual figurehead who has the appearance of leadership but no real authority. Real authority rests with the laymen who serve on the elder board because they are the controllers of the church. These elder boards usually bog down in too much hierarchy or too little leadership. They eventually turn into slow moving bureaucratic committees who accomplish very little because of their emphasis on turfism rather than mission.
Another form of church government is the Solo Pastor which is usually found in smaller churches. In this model, the senior pastor is the lone authority of the church. This model works well for smaller churches because they have a simple and decisive leadership with only one senior leader in place. But this model does not work very well for growing or larger churches because the solo pastor is prone to make big mistakes if no one is able to stop a dumb idea. Since the solo pastor is not accountable to anyone, the church is also very vulnerable to sin by the senior pastor, especially sexual sin or false teaching. Additionally, churches that are led by the solo pastor model are more susceptible to Satan’s attack; to destroy the church Satan would only need to get the pastor to commit a serious sin or merely be injured in an automobile accident – suddenly the church would be leaderless. So I rejected the solo pastor model as being unwise.
Finally there is the Elder Led Church. This form of church government is more apostolic or theocratic in nature, and is closest to the model used by the apostles and others found in the New Testament. By elder led churches, I am referring to those who are true Biblical elders. So, who then, who are the elders? There is a wide range of interpretations on this subject, and most denominational views are so complicated that the apostle Paul himself couldn’t figure it out.
In the Bible only pastors are elders. They are not laymen who do pastoral things such as visit hospitals, sit on boards, or make announcements on Sunday morning. There is no such thing as a lay-elder in the Bible. Only those who are called, gifted, anointed, and functioning as a pastor, or filling the office of a pastor, are Biblical elders. Once this simple fact is understood, the fog lifts.
Using this model, and under ideal circumstances, there should be a plurality of pastors (elders) leading a church. The senior pastor (as the senior elder) is most responsible for the church to hear from God about vision, and is the primary teacher of God’s Word to the flock. Beyond that, the other pastor-elders provide oversight to the administrative side of the church, its operations, as well as its varied ministries, and keep the senior pastor accountable in matters of doctrine, finances, and personal morality. This means those people who are gifted, called, trained, and experienced to lead the church are the ones exercising authority and managing the church. This model is sometimes referred to as a Staff Led church, provided the church is led by pastors and senior staff who meet the Biblical requirements of elder as set forth in I Timothy 3, Titus 1, and I Peter 5:1-4.
As I became convinced that this form of church government was most Biblical, I began to implement it (something I mentioned in part 5 of this series). One-by-one I replaced our unbiblical trustees (some of whom were not even good Christians) with true Biblical elders. I started by prayerfully asking God which people He wanted chosen as leaders in this church. I then sought out those who had expressed a desire to teach and lead, and who were already functioning as pastors in our church. I examined them to see if they met the Biblical criteria. I also looked up their financial giving to the church because Jesus said that our money follows our heart, and I wanted to see if these people were truly with me on the mission to take the gospel to our city and build our church. I was looking for people who loved God and this church as much as I do. It was easy to identify such people because their fruit was apparent, they gave heavily, and they donated more time to the church than anyone else.
These elder-pastors became a great assistance to me because they picked up a lot of the pastoral work, such as providing oversight to ministry departments, supervising entire segments of our church, teaching classes, counseling, and developing other leaders. This allowed me to pull back a bit from working IN the church and spend more time working ON the church.
With this kind of Biblical team in place, I could now focus more attention on reaching the lost, building membership, and feeding our people well on Sunday mornings with sound doctrine and the mission of our church. This was absolutely essential to our survival because a lot of people had found their way into our church that had different agendas, theological differences, levels of commitment, and ideas of which direction this church should be headed. I needed to create a filter to get the wrong people out of the church and keep the right people in. So I revised our Membership Class – Seminar 101, Discovering the PCC Family – by strengthening certain weak portions and emphasizing certain components that would press people to make a firm decision about commitment.
I did not want anyone else joining our church, to hold a leadership position, teach a class, lead a small group, or receive any training from us until they had first completed the seminar and signed the membership covenant that demands a lot from our members. To be brutally frank, I did not want our church to invest time and energy into people who were not on our mission.
At PCC, everyone who serves on our Senior Leadership Team, as well as our legal church board, are God-called pastors, overseers, or are functioning as pastors. As our church continues to grow in 2010 we will be installing new elders using the criteria mentioned above. Having a Biblical form of church government is a primary reason that we have grown, are healthy, are producing disciples, and have been able to withstand the concerted attacks of Satan that sought to destroy us.
Setting a church in order is no small task. By that I mean establishing its leadership structure, government, and appointing who will lead. Yet the scriptures teach that a pastor must have his own house in order first, because if he can’t manage his own family well then he will not be able to manage the family of God (I Timothy 3:4-5).
By the fourth year at PCC Renae and I were feeling the full pressure of planting a church. We had no money, the church offerings were still low, we were both working full time outside of the church while donating forty hours or more to the work, and our children were little and having to be shuttled to separate ball games over a two county area – not to mention the trips out of town for playoff games. The stress was incredible. It was a very expensive time in the life of our family at a time when our income was the lowest it has ever been, which only made things worse.
I knew I needed to put my home in order by relieving some of the pressure that was on the family and our marriage. Because all church business was still taking place out of our home, the boundary between family life and church work had been erased. It was horrible. So the first order of business was to find and rent office space in town and conduct administrative operations from there. I began to search for available office space, collected a sample of prospects and called a meeting with our trustees one evening in my home. After Renae and the boys left the house, being displaced for the umpteenth time, I presented this information to the trustees so we could make a decision on the matter. To my utter astonishment their first response was “it costs too much.” I sat there in disbelief. They knew the pressure we were under, not to mention how ineffective it had become having the church offices in our home, and there they sat – in my home – saying it cost too much. Can you see the irony here? Here we are having a leadership meeting in my home for the thousandth time, my wife and children have been run out of the house for the evening yet again, I’m living on a paupers salary, and they are more interested in saving rent money than saving my family. These men had gotten too familiar with me and Renae and were now taking our sacrifices for granted.
Aftert two weeks of wrangling level heads prevailed and we were able to secure office space in town. This move saved my family as well as the church, and kept me from going postal on somebody. I could only think how stupid and ineffective it was to take two full weeks to get these slow movers to agree to renting some office space, especially since the offices had already been in my home for more than four years! Once this move was completed our family relationships improved significantly and my home felt like home again. It also helped us to clarify when we were “on the clock” and when we were not. It also felt good going to work each day, having a real office and a quiet place to study.
As I began to put my home in order, I was also convinced that I needed to do a better job of putting the church in order. Our leadership structure at the time was deplorable, but it was the best that I could put together considering the people I had to work with. A few of these folks did a good job, but quite frankly most of them simply did not even meet the Biblical requirements of being a good disciple, much less spiritual leaders. Looking back on it now I shudder to think about the disaster that was in the making. My leadership team constantly changed, with people coming and going each year. It was like musical chairs. This created a great deal of instability, but on the other hand it also meant misfits didn’t become entrenched. That’s was a good thing because some of these people turned out to be sons of perdition.
After the fiasco concerning the office space, as well as numerous other incidents that raised alarm bells, I knew that major changes needed to take place in our church from the top down. So I set in motion a three-to-four year plan to phase out the current trustees and replace them with people who possessed better qualifications. I began looking for those who were as close as possible to meeting the Biblical requirements of a pastor-elder. As each trustee's term came to an end, I simply appointed a better qualified person in his place. There was no vote, no majority decision, no secret ballots, and no majority rule. This follows the Biblical pattern of Paul instructing Timothy – a young pastor – to appoint elders in the church he was pastoring (2 Timothy 2:2) as well as to Titus (Titus 1:5). I did this each year until there was a complete turnover in the senior leadership structure of PCC.
Of course this didn’t set well with some people, especially those who felt like they were losing power. But it didn’t matter to me. It had to be done. The very survival of our church was at stake. Although I was extremely frustrated with my home life and the church, I had to own the fact that they were both under my leadership and that I had done a poor job of organizing things to function formally. Besides, I had been thoroughly chastised by God by now and had learned my lesson well – if you play with hornets you are going to get stung. It was His church – not a religious club where fat cats and heavy weights get to make power plays - and He had already prescribed in His Word who is supposed to lead it, and what the eligibility requirements of those leaders are.
This led to an in-dept study about elders, deacons, and women, and their roles in the church.
A Turning Point About Growth By the end of the summer of 2001 we were running about 125-150 in attendance and had purchased 25 acres of land. It was an exciting time for us because it gave us the feeling of being a legitimate church and we were now taking tangible steps towards having a permanent location. We put a sign up on the side of the highway that read “Future Home of Pace Community Church.” It felt good.
Many churches at this size often stall and do not grow any farther. The reason is simple – the highest number of people that the average person can connect with is about 150. In fact, the average church member knows only about 60 people in his/her church no matter what size it is. A church of 150 is one single cell where everyone knows everyone else; it feels like one big family. Therefore any church that is committed to evangelism and bringing the gospel to their city will find it very difficult to grow beyond this number.
When I told our people that we were going to continue growing beyond that number, some of them freaked out. The most common complaint was “Our church is going to change,” or “I like things the way they are now” or “If we grow I won’t know everybody.” I decided right then and there that was exactly the reason why we needed to keep growing – so that we are not held down at a level where certain people felt the need to know everyone else and everyone else’s business.
Our church services started getting better. We scraped together enough money to buy some honking speakers, poles to mount the speakers on, and an overhead projector for the song service. We added a few members to the band which helped. I thought "we've really got the ball rolling now" and will surely go over the 200 threshold and keep growing. But it seemed like we had to find a new drummer or new singers every couple of months because someone would sleep in and not show up, or would get mad about something and quit, or we would have to remove someone because of a morality issue. Each time that happened our church services would go back to stinking again, just like the smelly school cafeteria we were meeting in.
It seemed like for every inch of ground we gained, we would lose a foot in return. Satan certainly does not want God’s church to grow and will often use people to resist any efforts to do so. Spiritual warfare was involved here, not to mention a lack of Biblical understanding on the subject of church growth. So I attacked the problem with the scriptures.
I continually stressed the importance of taking the gospel to our city. I taught from the book of Acts showing how the early church was birthed and grew by the power of God. We discovered together that the early church started out with 120 people but quickly grew to 3000 because this was the will of God to happen. I also explained that if the early church had the same attitude that our church had, the gospel would have never spread from Jerusalem and we would have never heard about Jesus ourselves. I made it clear (in the Sunday messages and our membership class) that limiting the size of our church for our own convenience was a sin and that we should be a church that exists for the people who are not yet saved more than for the people who already are.
Looking back, I believe this was one of the most important moments in our church’s history because we were deciding if PCC was going to be defined by the size of our mission to take the gospel to our city or by the number of people who were currently attending.
The scriptures won the day.
Now the hard part began. We had to get our church functioning with healthy internal systems, competent leaders, and clear expectations from our people. This season of our church was marked by a number of critical beginnings, such as getting the wrong people out of our church and getting the right people to commit to our church, as well as doing whatever it takes to fulfill the mission God had given us.
Fabulous day! Just when I think it can’t get any better, it does.
Attendance was good – 481 - a little lower than our new normal, but still good. Giving was strong too.
The music was dead-on target. All four songs were done well, the words were full of theology, and the emphasis was very God-honoring. I especially liked the last song – Give Us Clean Hands. We also closed service with the same number – it was a perfect way to cement our commitment.
Glad to have our bass player back on stage. I filled-in last week in his absence and enjoyed doing so. But I’m an acoustic guy at heart. BTW, Alex did a good job on bass – especially on the song “Breathe” – he was as smooth as silk. I had to turn and look at him a couple of times because I was so impressed.
Our drummer did an outstanding job too – lame foot and all. I am still impressed at the self-taught strides this man has made.
Today was the final message on the book Malachi. Our church has changed as a result of this series.
A few people told me that I seemed to have more liberty and energy during the sermon today. I replied that it was probably because I was glad the series was over.
The new teen band rehearsed during the second service and one of the teen classes had to relocate to the admin area. The place was packed with wall-to-wall teens.
After church today the Care & Prayer Team had a lunch meeting to make plans for 2010, improve systems, and spend some time together in fellowship. It looked like about 30+ people were present. This group handles most of the crisis response for families in our church such as funerals, benevolence, some shut-ins, and other needs. They are sometimes involved in hospital visitation. They are also the primary group that handles the prayer requests that come to our attention. I was very encouraged to see this group “handling it” – especially without expecting me to be the one to hold it together. These people do a lot of deacon work in our church. Great job to the leaders who make it happen.
There was lot of God-honoring activity in the house today. i.e., Chairs being brought out, classes meeting all over the building, teen band cranking up, workers meetings, excellent worship, staff meeting, a strong word, and hundreds of hands lifted in worship. The new hospitality team is doing an excellent job too! What’s not to like about that?
I got a chance to walk through the building BEFORE service today and talk with a people. I like doing that, but often cannot. I took a stroll down the children's hallway greeting people, saying thank-you to our workers, and meeting young nervous parents. It appeared as if they were glad to see me walking around in that part of the building because I so seldom do. It was also fun to mingle with some of the congregation before service. Especially like seeing the teenagers sitting on the front row. Oh man, to influence the next generation is such a privilege.
JUST FOR THE RECORD – I am not leaving PCC, resigning, taking another church, stepping down, going somewhere else, or moving. I am here long term, and if God is willing, for the rest of my life. I have made a lifetime commitment to this church and will be here.
ON THE OTHER HAND, my role is going to change at PCC… just as it has continuously changed since the days of our beginning. This year, 2010, will see more changes at our church. Some of the first changes to be noticed will occur on the stage (with our band) that will be affecting me directly, as well as Renae, and even others, as we recruit and develop new and additional talent. Some of my other responsibilities in the church are going to change too as we train and nstall new leaders in certain critical areas. I will be writing more about this later.
FINALLY – I am writing a current blog series entitled CONFESSIONS OF A CHURCH PLANTER. Just so you know, this series has nothing to do with any issues going on right now. I am writing a book on PCC’s journey and want to record my thoughts before I lose them from memory. It has been twelve years since our little church began and a LOT of stuff has happened over those years – and that’s what I am writing about. In fact, our church has never been healthier, happier, or more enjoyable than it is right now. Except for the fact that Renae and I are overworked and need a break, this is the BEST SEASON EVER in our church’s history. As for me personally right now, I am healed, well, and whole. I've never been in a better state of mind.
I hope you will follow the series. Keep in mind some of the content is likely to be raw. Since it happened that way, there is no need for me to sugar coat it. It is what it is.
I hope you will live a God-honoring life this week.
Tomorrow’s message is Living in the Light of God’s Revealed Will. This is part 8 and the last message in the series through the book of Malachi. Now that we have learned what God expects, the challenge before us is to live accordingly. Will I be a doer of the Word or a hearer only? Am I going to live a God-honoring life or will I continue in casual Christianity? This series has changed PCC.
My current blog series Confessions of a Church Planter will resume on Monday. This material will be used in a book I am writing about being a church planter. I am telling the story of the birth of PCC and the nuts-and-bolts aspects of organizing a new church. It is also the story of my growth as a pastor, the mistakes I made along the way, and how God’s grace was able to make up the gap in spite of those mistakes. There is a possibility that Creation House of Strang Publications, will publish the book. I’ve been contacted by them and it’s got me pretty motivated.
Listening to godly counsel. Sometimes it is easier to follow the herd and replace godly friends with those who will give you the counsel you want to hear. That’s what Rehoboam did by listening to his buddies instead of his father’s wise counselors (I Kings 12). When a person makes a bad choice and a godly pastor or friends calls them out, it’s easier to write them off and find a new set of friends who will give validation to your actions. The problem with that strategy is that it is self-centered. If you just surround yourself with yes-men, it can lead to your ruin. Better to follow the strategy of Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”
Easter is just six weeks away. It comes a little early this year. We have a lot of planning to do. Hope the weather cooperates.
Time change occurs in about three weeks. I’m looking forward to the longer days.
Lobby lizards. It’s not a good thing when people are hanging out in the hallways or foyer during the church service for no good reason. I’ve seen plenty of church’s where this happens; the pastor stays in his office until sermon time and then he makes his entrance; musicians perform and then go hang out in a stage room skipping the sermon; or church workers never step foot inside because they are loitering in the lobby. In fact, a couple of year ago we had a significant problem with this very thing at PCC. Fortunately, we got it cleaned up.
We gather on Sunday’s to participate in congregational worship. That’s what it means to “congregate.” Pastors should be in the service when the music is taking place, and band members should be in the service when the sermon is being delivered. Teachers in our age-level ministries should not teach our kids in one service and then slip out the back door without attending the adult worship service. When anyone does this they are giving off the impression that they are better and don’t need to participate in collective worship like everyone else. Everyone needs worship and everyone needs to hear the sermon from God’s Word that is directed to our church family. At PCC we have two services, so attend one and serve one. Don’t exempt yourself by acting like a rock star.
Church work always involves spiritual warfare and demonic attacks. But there are certain seasons that are more intense than others. By the fourth year at PCC I was neck deep in it and all hell broke loose.
I had naively gathered people into our church but was not discerning enough as to who would be allowed to attend, lead, or influence others. Just as I thought things were coming together, things began to come apart; heretics were seeking to hijack our gospel; trouble makers were trying to hijack our mission; church controllers were trying to take over leadership; and lazy consumer types were a drain on the church’s resources. I painfully learned the importance of evaluating people properly.
There were times when I was not sure our church would survive. Other churches in the area were criticizing us for meeting in a school, and nutjobs inside our church were threatening our very existence. Our reputation was being hurt in the community. And the soft church people from our core group started to wilt under the pressure.
I hit a particularly low point when a few families began leaving us. We had invested hundreds of hours in these couples and their children, going back to the beginning of PCC. I had been with them in crisis, in sickness, officiated at their weddings, baptized their children, led them to Christ, assisted in their spiritual formation, and had been into their homes as well as they being in ours. Renae and I considered these people to be friends until they began telling us why they were leaving. They complained that since the church had grown and things were busier now, my wife and I had become less available to them.
Renae and I were both working full time jobs on the side because the church could not afford to pay me a full time salary, and we were both volunteering more than forty hours a week to the church. Being rejected by these friends felt like a punch in the gut.
We were stunned, and hurt. We needed couples like this to help the church survive, not jump ship because my wife or I could not drop everything to take them out to tea, or whatever it was they expected of us. The odd thing was that many of these folks transferred to another church that was larger than ours, which made no sense because they would not get any closer to that pastor and his wife than they had to Renae and me. Yet they felt at liberty to inform us that we were not doing enough for them. It seemed obvious to me that they wanted us to bend over backwards and promise to do anything to make them happy in order to keep them in the church. But I did not play their game – I let them go. They were not on a mission to bring the gospel to our city like I was. Their mission was to get Renae and me to jump like trained show dogs upon command.
I have faced that same experience hundreds of times over the years at PCC, and it’s hard every time I encounter it. As a church grows, it also changes. And as the church changes, so does the accessibility of the pastor and his family. As the pastor gets busier with new people and responsibilities, some people are displaced and are not as close to the pastor as they once had been. Displaced church members expect the pastor to guarantee their access to him no matter what, and become resentful if he does not. If the pastor agrees to these demands, he will keep disgruntled people from leaving the church but will not be able to reach new people because his time and energy will be devoted to pleasing those who feel they have seniority rights.
No matter what a pastor does in this situation, he will lose people. So he must wisely decide who he is willing to lose.
By now our congregation was filled with two kinds of people. About half the people were committed to building a church that brought the gospel to the people of our city and they were willing to faithfully serve that mission. The other half had other agendas – with each one wanting to take us in a different direction – which would have deconstructed everything we stood for.
We had heretics calling themselves Christians. I had lazy, selfish Christians who considered themselves mature. There were sinners who needed to repent, leaders who needed to lead in the right direction, and hypocrites who just needed to leave. I knew it was time to start making some tough calls in our church family and clean up the mess that had been created.
Certain leaders on my management team resisted me and our church’s mission every step of the way. I began the cleanup by informing them that everyone who served in that position did so by my invitation, and the reason they were asked to serve on this team was to help me fulfill the mission and vision of our church – not to pull it in the direction they thought it should go. I accepted the resignations of half the team. This resulted in the loss of several families.
Next I fired the head usher. He was irresponsible and frequently missed. But when he missed two Sunday’s in a row without even so much as a phone call to let us know he would be out – I had enough. His absence created a security breach for us at offering time – not to mention making me look like an idiot when people asked me where he was and I didn’t know. I called him up as soon as I got home that afternoon and told him it was over. He was crying by the time we hung up the phone. This too resulted in the loss of his family and a few of his friends. I later found out that he had been visiting other churches (those two Sunday’s he was absent) because he was considering leaving PCC all along. In the end, I was able to make the decision for him that he seemed to be having trouble making for himself.
Next I had to tell another man to put a lid on his talking in tongues during the church service because it was interrupting my sermon and freaking people out. I believe in the gifts of the Spirit, but this guy was out of order and violated every principle in the Bible for the proper use of spiritual gifts. When I spoke to him he got so upset with me that I thought he was going to punch me in the face. He stomped out slamming the door as he went and never came back to our church again. Within a year he died.
A defining moment occurred one Sunday morning after service. In a tense confrontational showdown with a church trustee, the leadership authority of our church was cemented once and for all. This individual had been challenging me for months, and when he realized he had an audience listening, felt emboldened enough to approach me and demand that I report to him concerning my daily activities. It was an ambush. It was then that I Biblically corrected him in front of everyone who was listening, as well as the other trustees. I thought, hey, he doesn’t mind challenging me in front of an audience, so I will respond to him in front of the same audience. I informed him that I did report to him, nor would I ever, and neither did I work for him, but rather that he reports to me. He stared at me in stunned disbelief with a startled look on his face not saying a word. Apparently he had pulled this kind of tactic with previous pastors in his past and thought he would do the same at PCC. He continued to stare at me in silence while everyone else was looking at the floor in embarrassment. This was the moment of truth - it was all or nothing and only one of us is going to come out on top - either I'm going to be dominated by this church-controller or either he is going to follow the leadership of the person who God has anointed and authorized to lead the church. I broke the silence and asked, "Are we clear on that?" Instead of answering, he turned around and walked out the door without saying a word. Shortly after that event he stepped down as a trustee, left our church, and began a vicious e-mail campaign against me.
Another couple wanted to lead a small group using a curriculum that I could not approve of. I met with them and I tried to reason with them explaining how the material was contrary to our position at PCC. Furthermore, they were not members of our church and were not even willing to take our membership class to find out what our church’s mission was. I pleaded with them to take the class and get on board with our mission before I could release them to ministry in our church, but they would not budge. I realized they had their own mission and simply wanted to use PCC as a means to get there. Because they were not teachable, I kicked them out that day.
This kind of thing went on for months. It was a brutal season, but I kept going back to our mission and the vision that had birthed PCC in the first place. It was about keeping the main thing the main thing and not allowing others to hijack it.
This was the first season of dealing with widespread immaturity in our church. But it was not the last. There was more to come.
For the first 4-5 years the church offices of PCC were in my home. We did not have enough money to rent office space in town, so my home became the logical spot. Because of this, it was very difficult to separate business hours from home hours – not to mention that the sanctity of our home was always violated and intruded upon by church business. I spent my days getting up, getting dressed, and sitting at a desk in my master bedroom acting like I had office hours, which proved to be unproductive. The kids were little and running around, there was noise in the house, and the phone always rang.
It was only natural that people would call our home phone when they needed to speak to the pastor. Being a normal male who hates to talk on the phone, I soon got sick of answering it. I also quickly learned that if I answered the phone, the same people would call more frequently, and I did not really want to talk to them because they were emotionally draining.
This was drilled home to me by one lady in particular. Let’s call her “Jane.” She stands out among all the rest because she literally called me every single day, often multiple times a day, and would tie me up on the phone for hours at time. She was the most self-defeated person I have ever met. At first I thought I could help her, and naively thought she would get better by my offering her godly pastoral advice. After a couple of months it finally dawned on me that she did not want to get better; she only wanted someone to listen to her misery. She talked about her last church, her miserable husband, her depression, and intimate details about her life; stuff I did not want or need to hear. It was grinding me down.
Finally, one day, I had enough. After several months listening to her unending crying, my patience had run thin. We were talking on the phone and I had now become the object of her criticism. She blamed me for taking her husband’s side in their ongoing feud, she condemned me for not fixing her emotional state of mind, and she even prophesied to me (over the phone) a curse upon Pace Community Church for allowing Satan to get in the church. With that I let loose on her in a way that she had never heard any previous pastor talk to her. She was startled at my response; in fact, I was startled at my response. After she hung up, I never heard from her again.
I decided that although a pastor is supposed to answer the phone and help people, I would end up with a gun to my temple if I continued doing that. I also decided that I was going to keep doing what I thought God wanted me to do instead of what people in the church expected me to do. To address the on-going needs in the congregation I needed to find men and women who had the gift of caring and let them take care of the “Jane’s.” But for me, our church was not only about the ones who currently attended, but also the ones who we did not yet have, and I needed to be the one to go after them. I’m not sure most pastors are aware of this, but the church that God wants to build also consists of the people who do not currently attend. Those people will never come to churches on their own, so pastors need to go to those people. This follows the pattern in Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who left the 99 sheep (in the flock) to find the one who was lost.
Emotionally, ministry has proven to be more exhausting than I could have ever imagined. Because I deeply love people, especially hurting people who sincerely want to get better, the pains of other people’s lives began to take a deep toll on me. Many nights were spent in prayer, or at hospitals, instead of sleeping, and even on days that were supposed to be my days off, my mind was consumed with the painful hardships and sinful rebellions of our people.
Then it happened - all hell broke loose and it nearly killed me.
Our first two years at PCC were both fun and challenging at the same time. Attendance was about 50 people. Like most pastors of small churches, I was doing a lot of deacon work. I would unlock the building, prepare the church bulletin and sermon guide, run them to the copy shop for duplication, set up our sound system on Sunday, set up chairs, welcome visitors, conduct the church service, clean up the room after everyone left, and haul the equipment back to my garage until next Sunday.
Thankfully a few people started helping out. But I quickly discovered that in a small church, ministry is usually something that the pastor does for his congregation, and people will chip in to help only when they feel like it. I realized that if this mindset remained in our church and was allowed to take hold, it would bury me in unending work for lazy and ungrateful church people.
In the first two years we were attracting an assorted bag of mixed-nuts to our church. Some came to simply watch the show each week; they gave nothing and served nowhere. Then there were the consumer-types who likewise gave nothing and served nowhere, but always wanted more and demanded more of my time, attention, and church resources. Fortunately, a handful of people were there to serve, give, and help out any way they could. They came to our church wanting to get involved and were enormously encouraging to me.
I continually repeated the mission of our church each Sunday – to obey the Greatest Commandment and obey the Great Commission – so that people who stayed with us understood that they were not welcome to bring any other agenda to PCC. (God, would you please rapture the charismatic lady who shows up each Sunday with a tambourine? She wants to turn us into a dancing church). The problem with many of the people we attracted in those first two years was that they had already been to every other church in town – sucking the life out of the pastor and the church’s resources – and now wanted to do the same with us. Such people were worthless for a mission-oriented church such as ours. Week after week, they would walk in to our church to see what they could get from us, never thinking that perhaps they should serve Christ by helping to build a ministry.
Looking back I realize that I made some strategic errors that nearly killed the progress of our church. First, I had an informal leadership structure, as is common in small churches, which permitted heretics, nut jobs, wackos, troublemakers, and pushy types to wield a lot of power. Worse still, it was hard to know how to remove such people without killing our little church. We were small – made up of one social network – and to remove one person from a leadership position was to risk losing every person.
Another mistake I made was not having enough formal small groups in our fledgling church family. The entire church was based on relationships that were connected to me, and we didn’t have enough groups to help people connect with each other. This kept me from focusing my energy on finding new people for our church, and I got stuck in friendship circles with a handful of people who were already members. They often became jealous when I tried to establish relationships with others, not understanding that is the nature of the work in the ministry.
A third mistake I made was underestimating the importance of money in a church plant and for carrying out the Great Commission. Somehow I got the idea that money was a dirty topic to talk about and felt guilty every time I mentioned it in church. To this day, I am not sure where I got this boneheaded idea from, but I was willing to have both my wife and I work full-time jobs to pay our personal bills and the bills for our little church, to the point that we began having stress-related health issues. Each week our church was receiving about $150 in the offering – with a lot of $1 bills – which was not enough to cover expenses.
Obviously, I knew this trend could not continue or I was going to end up in a padded room being monitored by men white jackets. So I began to formulate a plan to organize our church with a better leadership structure that included real elders, real servants, and real Christians who would get on board with our mission of helping us reach and disciple the lost – and hopefully save my sanity.
That’s when some of the first tension cracks began to appear in our little church family....
An old grandfather put his young grandson on the family donkey and begins the long journey to town. As they travel along the well-used pathway, passersby say, “Look at that selfish, spoiled kid riding the donkey while the old man is walking.”
Not wanting people to criticize his grandson, the old man trades places with the boy.
Soon people begin to say, “Look at that lazy old man making the child walk.”
Not wanting to be called lazy, the grandfather gets off the donkey and walks along side it.
Observers begin to remark, “Look at those two stupid people walking when they could be riding the donkey.”
Acting on their criticism, the grandfather seats both himself and his grandson on the donkey.
As they continue along, the next people watching them comment, “Look how they are brutalizing that donkey. They’re going to break its back.”
In response, they get off the donkey. They put the donkey on THEIR backs, and carry it the rest of the way into town, arriving bedraggled, exhausted, and still the subject of bystander criticism.
WHAT’S THE POINT: If you try to please everyone you will soon have a donkey on your back… and then they’ll even criticize you for that. So make your decisions based upon what you know to be the right thing to do, and ignore bystanders.
The beginning of each year is always a very lean time for us at PCC (I suspect for most churches). It’s the dead of winter, the nights are long and the days are short. Attendance usually dips down low because sickness keeps many people out. Giving patterns usually follow attendance patterns. Then of course, there are some people who are fair-weather Christians or casual attenders. They come out only at springtime. For them it’s easier to just sleep in this time of the year.
In spite of that historical trend it is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT for us RIGHT NOW. January and February of this year has turned out to be the strongest we have ever experienced than any other year! Attendance has remained consistently strong - even higher than normal a few Sundays. We have fewer springtime believers in our church family - they've grown up. Giving is strong – with no decreases. Commitment to volunteer positions is strong – with almost no ‘no-shows.’ Enthusiasm for PCC is at an all-time high among our members – we don’t have just members, we have raving fans. Discipleship is manifesting itself among our people in many different ways, and new leaders are emerging from the ranks of our teens and college-age groups.
This is very encouraging to me. Beginning the year so strong gives us a jump start on the ministry, and is also a good sign for the remainder of the year. I am confident that 2010 is going to be the best year that PCC has ever experienced.
Everyone wants to be “the leader” – don’t they? From the outside looking in, the role looks good. Leaders usually get an office, and maybe even a little prestige. But when you actually get the job you begin realize it’s not exactly the walk in the park you pictured it to be. Here’s why being “the leader” in church work is a lot tougher than most people realize:
1. When people are angry about something they vent their frustration on leaders.
2. When church members are fighting each other, they want the pastor to referee or take sides. In the end, both sides end up mad at the leader.
3. When couples are divorcing, they want the pastor to take sides. When you don’t take sides, both get angry at the pastor.
4. Guess who gets to say “no” to a lot of things? Yes. It’s “the leader.” Sometimes you have to say no to friends who have good ideas, and sometimes you have to say no to not-so-nice people with bad ideas. It’s never fun, but it has to be done for the simple reason you can’t say yes to every request. There are too many.
5. When staff or ministry leaders are not performing well, guess who gets to have the “hard talk” that sometimes results in letting a person go? You guessed it - the leader.
6. When it’s time to conduct performance evaluations, guess who gets to do it? You already know.
7. Churches have budgets. Guess who gets to tell ministry leaders that their “amazing idea” is not allowed because it won’t fit into the budget?
8. Leaders have a bull’s eye painted on themselves in which people feel free to take shots at. These criticisms come from people they thought were their friends, or by people who have never met them.
9. If you are a church leader, you are scrutinized for everything you do or say. What movie you are seeing, what you wear in public, or whether or not you spoke to someone in Wal-Mart.
10. Since it is impossible to make everyone happy, someone is ticked off at you all the time.
Not everyone who wants to be a leader can last as a leader. Think long and hard about a leadership role in your church before you enter one. If you can’t deal with the hard stuff, a leadership role can mess you up. Be sure God has gifted you and called you there. People who want to be leaders for the title or prestige do not last because those things don’t matter when the pressures of leadership show up.
But hey, if you’ve got what it takes, then go for it. The church needs great leaders!
A good solid day. Kind of like a meat-and-potatoes dinner.
Attendance was off by about 50-60 people due to it being a four-day weekend, President's Day, and Valentines Day all in one.
Our regular drummer was back in the saddle today. He did a good job.
Our regular bass player was out of town so I had to fill in on the bass guitar. I’m a little rusty – it’s been a while since I have played bass. I enjoyed playing the part. But I did make a couple of glaring mistakes.
Today’s message was from Malachi 3:13-18 – “A Faithful Remnant.” Yes, it was a strong word. Yes, it was an encouraging word.
I really liked v.17-18 where God said He would put a “distinction” between those who are His and those who are not. “They will be mine” He says. Amazing.
I talked about premarital sex today. Two people got up and walked out.
I am amazed how often people will ask me to pray with them to discover whether or not it is God’s will for them to marry a person they are currently dating – while they completely ignore His will on sexual activity before marriage. The thought never occurs to them that God may not bother to tell them who to marry until they first learn how to date. It’s as if they want God’s input on the big decisions in their life, but don’t want His interference in the day-to-day stuff. That’s treating God like a part-time consultant. There’s a problem with that kind of thinking. God doesn’t do part-time consulting. God does God.
The goal of teaching is not to make everyone happy. The goal of teaching is to learn what God expects of His people. For those who accept the authority of the Scriptures in their life, they have no problem with this. Others may bristle, but God’s holy remnant gets it.
We are on a talent search looking for additional musicians to serve in the worship band. Looking for a bass player (we are losing the current player, Alex, in August), and an acoustic guitarist (to take my place)…. a piano player (to fill in for Renae)… and an additional (but very strong) worship leader. Why? We need deeper layers of talent for the sake of the church. The church band and the Sunday services should be able to function in the absence of me and Renae. We are actively working towards that goal.
Leadership development is high on my list of things to do in 2010. It is also time for my role to change.
My ultimate goal for PCC is to have a fully functioning church leadership team that can keep this church going in our absence.
Received a very nice letter from a couple today communicating to me how much God has done in their life. They also had high compliments for PCC and its impact on their lives. These kinds of letters remind me why we do the work we do.
I’ve been on a sugar fast for four weeks.
I ran four days this week – three of those times was for 4.3 miles, one time for 2 miles. I hope to increase the mileage a little higher this week.
Changes in Hospitality. Beginning this Sunday you will notice a change in our display of refreshments in the atrium. We are scaling back significantly – both the volume and variety – and taking it down to coffee, juice, doughnuts, and maybe a little fruit. Downsizing will accomplish several good things for us; it will be less labor intensive for the hospitality team to prepare, less cleanup afterwards, it will mean less mess being tracked into the sanctuary, and it will cut costs. This is all good.
Annual Calendar. We are working on an annual calendar outlining the main events for the year. This will help our staff team to focus on the big picture rather than the next event that is just around the corner. Developing “one heartbeat” is one of the most important parts of developing an effective church staff or leadership team. Too many churches have leadership teams (elders, staff, etc) that are not a team. Rather, they are isolated individualists who are more committed to their specific area than having one heart for the whole mission of the church. A unified calendar (like a unified budget) keeps us working in the same direction rather than pulling apart.
Leadership Development. This year is the year for leadership development at PCC. Of course we are always developing leaders, but want to improve our efforts. We are going big in this matter.
This Sunday’s Sermon. The message title is “A Faithful Remnant” from chapter Malachi 3 and will be very encouraging. God promises to put a “distinction” between those who are His and those who are not. This series through the book of Malachi has been great. A lot of people have communicated to me how edifying it has been. We are going deeper and wider all the time around here.
The Role of Women in the Church. For the last four weeks I’ve been working on a blog series about the role of women in the church. I’ve just about got it finished. I hope to begin posting this series next week. Here’s a clue: There are a few passages in the Bible that are difficult to fully understand, but what is easy to understand is that the Holy Spirit does not distribute spiritual gifts according to gender.
In every church there is a constant tension between service and serve-us. Most churches end up tipping the scale towards the members only. But to reach and disciple the lost means tipping the scales in the opposite direction. This requires unselfish members who are willing to give up their own comfort, preferences, and traditions. Enormous spiritual maturity is required for church members to voluntarily make this shift.
Everyone likes to be called a “servant of God.” But who likes to be called a servant of OTHERS? But we serve God best when we are serving others.
Jesus said of Himself, “Even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister…” (Matt.20:28). This is the mind of an unselfish servant… a true servant of God… one who serves others.
Church members demonstrate incredible spiritual maturity when they are considerate of the needs and fears of unbelievers and are willing to place those needs above their own. The apostle Paul said, “I am made all things to all men…and this I do for the gospel’s sake” (I Corinthians 9:22-23). It’s not for my sake, for traditions, for my preferences, or because this is the way we’ve always done it. We do this for Jesus’ sake ( 2 Corinthians 4:5).
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
No Sugar. I’ve been on a sugar fast for three weeks. I started out thinking I would go a couple of days. After I made that goal I extended it to a week, then extended it again. I’m avoiding processed sugar like cookies, cake, candy, ketchup, sauces, etc. – the obvious sources. Now that I am sugar-conscious I am noticing sugar everywhere – even in canned vegetables – places you wouldn’t expect to find it. Of course, I’m still eating fruit – which contains sugar – but I feel okay doing that. I haven’t experienced any significant weight-loss yet (just a little), but should pretty soon. It usually takes my body about six weeks to start responding to changes in my diet. The beauty of eliminating processed sugar is that I am drastically cutting my calories but I don’t have to stop eating real food. I am avoiding the calorie-dense non-nutritional sources of sugar.
Exercise. I run about four or five days a week. I’m a two-mile runner – at my age that seems to be the best distance for me. Today however I ran 3.4 miles just to see if I could. The weather was very cool making it an easy run.
Stage fright. I never experience it in front of the PCC family. I am very comfortable there. It was not that way when I first began in the ministry however. I would experience stage fright so bad that I would literally be sick for two/three days before the event. I would get nauseated, have butterflies in my stomach, and actually throw up. By the time I took the pulpit I would be weak in body and my mouth as dry as cotton. How I survived those days I will never know. But it’s not a problem any longer. I am totally relaxed and completely at home in front of the PCC family.
What kind of Bible do you use? Primarily the King James Version (KJV) because this is the one I cut my spiritual teeth on and I am most familiar with it. I also sometimes like the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV). I think they all have their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day I have the most confidence in the KJV.
Do you ever feel like quitting the ministry? No. I love what I do. But I do think about taking a Sabbatical to get some serious rest. I’m long overdue for an extended break and could benefit from recharging my batteries. Our church would benefit from a well-rested pastor as well.
Do you ever wear designer jeans? No. I’m not that cool. I’m too old to wear fancy stitching on my rear pockets. Besides, I don’t want to look like a dork. Wearing my shirt tails out most of the time is as ‘hip’ as I can get. Other than that, I am a Levi’s kind-of-guy. Levi’s are the standard by which all other jeans are measured.
The Great Commission is a strategy for expanding the kingdom of God. Targeting unbelievers for evangelism, making disciples, and developing them towards spiritual maturity always results in church growth and greater generosity from its members. First you get people to come to Christ, then to grow in Christ.
Consider Jesus’ method of making disciples. When people were invited to follow Him, the invitation began with the words “COME AND SEE” (John 1:43-46). That is the ENTRY POINT for faith. Just show up. Sit in the back. Just watch. Don’t sing anything, say anything, or sacrifice anything. Just “come and see.”
From there Jesus takes them through a process of ever-increasing levels of commitment. Over a period of three years He turns up the heat. As they begin following Him, He starts saying, “YOU ARE MY DISCIPLE IF….” And He REDEFINES commitment. You are my disciple if you love one another… bear fruit…take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Me.” On and on it goes. He is raising the bar of commitment.
In those days nobody “took up a cross” unless they were on their way to death. This was a Roman form of execution. By using that as a reference for discipleship, Jesus was saying “Come and die” to yourself. There is a big difference between COME AND SEE and COME AND DIE. He didn’t say “come and die” at the very first. It takes Him three years into a relationship with His closest followers before He does.
Churches often fail to realize this – that developing maturity (in individual believers and church congregations) is a PROCESS that you take people through. It takes time to mature believers into disciples… and it takes time to develop new churches into mature churches.
Consider PCC – your church family. In the beginning years we were in the “COME AND SEE” phase. Over time we have become more like the “COME AND DIE” phase. That’s why the preaching is different today, the standards of leadership are higher, church discipline is practiced, expectations are communicated, and worship more intense.
Not everyone understands this process, or has patience for it.
A few years ago a certain guy in our church (who was one of those “Come and die” types) communicated to me how shallow he thought the people of PCC were. He was impatient with people in our church family who were still in the “Come and see” stage of their spiritual journey. He disliked having sinners in the church. He had very little tolerance for new believers who were still transitioning their way into the faith life. He was opinionated of those who were still carrying baggage from their former life. He distanced himself from anyone who did not share his views. Because of his jaundiced eyesight he was unable to see the accomplishments that 'were' occurring all over the place within our church and, consequently, he type-cast the entire church as being “shallow.” He focused on the shortcomings of a few people and, in a broad stroke of the brush, concluded that PCC was a broken church that needed to be 'fixed.' He became fixated on all that 'didn't measure up' and could not see the move of God that was taking place among this flock. He did not have a true shepherds heart. The process of how to develop a 'flock of sheep' towards spiritual maturity had evaded him. I had seen signs of impatience in him before, but this one event made me finally realize that HE AIN’T FLOWIN’ WHERE WE’RE GOIN’. Too bad for him. I wished he had simply demonstrated a little more maturity ‘himself’ (by being patient with others who were behind him in their development). It takes loving, patient shepherds to pull a group of people along.
What happens in a lot of churches is they tend to be one or the other. Either they are a “Come and see” church or a “Come and die” church. The “Come and see” churches do a good job of bringing people in the front door, but don’t do a good job of leading them towards deeper levels of maturity. The “Come and die” churches don’t reach anybody for Christ so they just keep taking their frozen chosen deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and deeper.
What PCC does is try to cover the whole spectrum of “Come and see” to “Come and die.” At any given time we have people in our church family who are not-yet believers (sinners), brand new believers, growing believers, and mature believers. So we offer weekend services, seminars for membership and maturity, small groups for fellowship & Bible study, Bible electives & classes, and opportunities to serve. We have cells, classes, covenants, commitments, and coaching.
This is not just one-on-one. It’s not just one small group to another small group. It’s not just about the big crowd on Sunday morning either. It’s about ALL of those things. It’s a combination of all these opportunities. We take into account that different people are at different stages in their spiritual development and that people learn in different ways.
Most churches have not built these kinds of LEVELS OF LEARNING into their discipleship development. On the other hand, when you carry out the Great Commission properly, it results in growing churches as well as growing disciples.