Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Things We Got Right From the Beginning

PCC will celebrate its 17th year in five months.  Most churches make it or break it in the first five years of their existence.  I don’t understand all of this in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit and how much human skill is needed.  However, I do know that Paul recognized the need for wisdom and skill (on a human level) when he called himself a “wise master builder” when it came to church planting.  I wrote about this in 2008 here 

So, recognizing that nothing can be accomplished without a sovereign move of God, there are some things that we did get right in our formative years, that, I believe contributed to our longevity.

Here are five of the most decisive:

1.  In terms of programming/activities, we focused on two main things:  the weekend services and children's ministry.  Not small groups, mid-week services, choirs, cantatas, extra programs, foreign missions, or any thing else that may have broadened our ministry but blunted our impact..  We were decidedly simple because we were building from the ground up, and these two became the foundation for everything.

2.  We waited to build a building, using rented facilities as long as possible (about 8 ½ years).  We didn't wait to buy land, purchasing 25 acres after only three years of existence.  This is the crucial interplay.  Get your land as quickly as possible, and postpone building a building as long as possible.  The biggest mistake that new churches make is building too soon.  When a congregation of 75 people votes to build, they will build what 75 people can afford (which is small building and a long mortgage).  Now the shoe is telling the foot how big it is allowed to get.

3.  We put most of our resources and effort into outreach.  Lot’s of churches say they do this, but then they build their paid staff quick and large (instead of training volunteers and laymen), have super nice office space in the executive park, and, well, you get my point.

For the first 5-6 years the church offices were in my home.  Yep, my home phone was the church’s phone.  I worked as a bi-vocational pastor for the first 8 ½ years.  When we added two staff members, they too were bi-vocational.  My point is that we funneled what little money we had into things that would reach people – not serve us.  Still do.

4.  I had a bulldog tenacity in keeping the main thing the main thing.  By that I mean holding to the mission of the church and not allowing mission drift to set in.  We toed the line and made all of our decisions in light of our mission, vision, and values.  We lost a lot of people as a result (i.e., people who wanted to take us in another direction), but God has blessed this church with many more people.  The lesson I learned is this:  Churches grow by subtraction as much as by addition.

5.  Finally, we had a growth bias.  I know that sounds crass and it might invite all kinds of comments about the value of small churches, but let me make my point.  The NT demonstrates numerical growth, physical growth, and spiritual growth.  The book of Acts shows the early church grew by the thousands, and the very reason we know the numbers is because someone counted!

Consider these statistics:
  • There are more than 400,000 churches in America and 50% (200,000) of them run less that 75 people in attendance
  • 25% of all churches (100,000) run less than 35 in attendance
  • And 95% of all churches (380,000) have less than 300 people in attendance.
That means when PCC hit the 75 attendance mark we were as large as half the churches in America, and when we crossed the 300 attendance threshold we were in the upper five percent of all churches in America in regards to attendance size.

One of the most important things we did in the beginning was to establish a preferred vision of the future so firmly in our minds and spirit that we acted upon it, and then made decisions based upon it.  We believed to our core that we would be something other than a small church and it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In the very least, it was a vision we worked towards.  Whatever the reason, it seemed to work for us.

Again, I don’t know why these things matter as much as they do.  I just know they do.  It isn't meant to diminish the power of prayer, Biblical teaching, reliance upon the Holy Spirit, and such.  There just seems to be a “street smart” element to the things that really count.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sunday Mind Dump - November 24, 2013 (Monday Edition)

One word describes today’s service:  Great.

It was a solid day.

That’s one of the things I like about PCC the most; things are solid and well-done. Consistently.

It’s because we have such so many gifted people, committed people, skilled leaders, and multiple layers of talent.

Take today’s service for example – everything flowed seamlessly from start to finish. 

From the opening call to worship – to the teen appeal for warm clothing – to the exceptional song service (really loved the hymn) – to the brief message – to the ushers who served so well – to the receiving of elements – to the closing song – IT WAS A JOB WELL DONE!

Really appreciate the workers who served in the Kids Zone today too – their sacrificial service does not go unnoticed.

The ushers really did a good job.  They always do.  Many of these men are true deacons in every sense of the word.

The last month has been incredible at PCC.

Plus, attendance has been on the upswing the last few weeks.  Glad to see it.

Today we got a firm commitment from a couple to help make Kids Zone the best it can possibly be.

Really love it when people step forward like this.  Thank you.

BTW, I think Gary Weiborg’s sermon last Sunday was one of the best I have ever heard.

I really like it when God sends us seasoned people who get it and get it done.

Do you know that PCC has six pastors who attend here?  By that I mean six men who have served as senior pastors in other churches.  Of those six, four actively serve in some capacity at PCC.

That is in addition to the home-grown pastors we’ve raised up from within our own ranks.

We are fortunate.

December is going to be a great month at PCC.  We’ll hear a couple of speakers from our teaching team; the children’s choir will be performing again; and we’ll have a special Christmas service (with an emphasis on Advent) the Sunday before Christmas.

In January I plan to start a new message series from the OT book of Hosea.  It will be verse-by-verse… and it one of my favorite ways of teaching.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Good Things at PCC

The fruit of being a long-term pastor is really beginning to manifest itself in ways I could have never predicted.  Right now at PCC things are about as good as they have ever been.  I'm talking about the spiritual side of things and the far-reaching influence that PCC has right now into the community.  Sometimes I am left standing in awe.  Only God.  

It’s humbling to me, that in our 17th year as a church, we have witnessed so many people go public in their new found faith, watched believers grow, and accomplished so much.  I think that’s because we have never lost sight of the mission of the Church – to make disciples.  We’ve kept ourselves on tract when so many have tried to side tract us.  As a church family we have made this journey together – in fair weather and in crisis – and still PCC remains - stronger and more influential than ever.

Sometimes I lose sight of the steady kingdom impact we have accomplished over the years.  But when I take the time to look, to really look, I know this is a God thing.  And God willing, there will be many more years to come!

There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right.  Its beauty and power is something to witness…. and experience!  The local church builds bridges to the lost, offers truth to the confused, opens hers arms to the forgotten, and builds up the believer.

To this day I am still amazed at the journey PCC has traveled for almost 17 years.  Thousands of stories are told by real people who have been touched by God’s love.  Each story serves as a vivid reminder of the steady kingdom impact this ministry has had.  I absolutely love everything God is doing in our lives and our church. 

Looking ahead, I could not be more excited than I am right now.  This year is drawing to a close and we will finish well.  The New Year is almost upon us and looks brighter than ever!

Over the years since the beginning of PCC, staff members have come and gone, board members have come and gone, elders have come and gone, key lay leaders and donors have come and gone.  Even friends have come and gone.  Most left because of the unavoidable transitions of a mobile society.  Other departures have been painful and cut me to the core.  But either way, these exits have led to some of the loneliest moments of my life.  Why?  Because losing people hurts.

But after numerous late-night gut checks, I have come to complete clarity on this matter.  By God’s grace, I'm in this for the long haul and I fully intend to pursue the mission God has entrusted to this church, no matter what, no matter who comes or goes.  Whether PCC is setting records and I’m enjoying the enthusiastic support of people or if PCC is stumbling and struggling and I end up alone, still I will pursue the vision.

And I know most of you will continue on this journey too – just as you already have.  Together we are co-laborers for a cause greater than ourselves - Christ and His Church. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pastoral Requirement: The Ability to Teach

“An overseer (episkopos) then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, ABLE TO TEACH….” (I Timothy 3:2)

The main function of a pastor/elder is to feed the flock.  To do this, he must possess the ability to teach.  He must be skilled in teaching scripture.

In the OT God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will give you shepherds after My own heart who will lead you with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15).  That’s how the flock is fed… with knowledge and understanding that comes from those who are able to teach.

So what’s the difference between preaching and teaching?

You can spend a lifetime trying to figure out the difference between the two and never arrive at an answer.  In fact, the Bible seems to use the two words interchangeable.  Nevertheless, everyone has their own idea of how they differ.  Usually, it goes something like this:

If the pastor is talking in a relatively normal voice, then he is teaching.  But if he begins yelling, then he is preaching.  (And the louder he gets, the more anointing he has).

Or, you can distinguish the difference between teaching and preaching by the location of his necktie.  If the pastor loosens his necktie and is sucking air, he is preaching.  But if he leaves the knot in the middle, he is teaching.

I’m not being facetious, people actually believe that!

When I first began in the ministry, my mannerisms when preaching were much difference then they are now.  I used to pace back and forth on the platform like a caged lion.  I fell into the linguistic trap of trying to sound anointed.  I yelled, and waved my arms as I tried to wax eloquent.

But one day I was listening to another preacher who said something like this:  “The content of your message should have enough substance that you don’t need theatrics.  Look at Jesus’ style; when He preached the greatest sermon ever preached (the Sermon on the Mount), the Bible says He sat down and taught them (Matthew 5:1-2).  He didn’t run around like a cat with His tail caught on fire.”

Then it dawned on me.  The power of the message is in the content, not my platform mannerisms.  Knowledge and understanding of God’s Word is what changes lives and feeds sheep.

That day, I stopped yelling and began to focus instead on teaching God’s Word. I stopped 'working the room.' I stopped preaching to 'get a response' from the crowd. Instead, I started digging deeper into content because I wanted people to learn knowledge and understanding.  I decided right then and there that it is more important to influence people rather than trying to impress them.

That’s why “able to teach” is so vital to pastoral ministry.

Teach them, pastor.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Mind Dump - November 17, 2013

Holy Cow!  Today was absolutely a good day at PCC.

Hands down.

Attendance was way up again… the children’s choir knocked it out of the ball park… Renee Jones & Sandra Brooks did an exceptional job coaching and leading the kids… Nan Castleberry & Philip Polk nailed the offertory… and Gary Weighborg’s message was riveting.

God was glorified… the Body of Christ was edified… and Jesus was lifted up.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Out of the mouth of babes thou has perfected praise” (Matthew 21:16)

I am very proud of the PCC family.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Update on Renae (#2)

Renae and I have been out-of-town this week for a mini-getaway, which was the last chance we’d have before she has surgery.  While we were away her doctor called saying the results from her latest round of tests were in, and that she needed to come in for consultation.

This meant our trip was cut short and we came back home.  She went to the doctor Thursday morning and was told that cancer has been ruled out.

For this, we are very thankful.

Now she is being referred to an Endocrinologist who will prescribe treatment for her thyroid issues and the goiter.  Although cancer has been ruled out, she is still facing the likelihood of throat surgery. 

All things considered, she is feeling much better right now.

Your prayers are still coveted.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Update on Renae

The doctors have determined that Renae has two conditions related to her thyroid:

(1) Her thyroid is hyper-active (more than double the rate of normal), and, (2) she has a growth on the thyroid (either a tumor or goiter).

This week she has been undergoing additional tests to rule out cancer.  She will be at Baptist Hospital today for a final round of tests and scans.

Once the growth is identified, she will be undergoing surgery to have the tumor and her thyroid removed.  The surgery will be very soon.

Today she woke up experiencing pressure on her eyes, along with slightly blurred vision, which is a condition directly related to her thyroid.  This is addition to all the other painful symptoms she has been enduring for the last few months.

This is becoming very, very complicated.

Aside from the immediate concern of the thyroid and tumor, we are also concerned about her vision and future singing ability.

Prayers appreciated.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sources for Ideas

This is a house Renae and I found on Robinson Point Road.  It was built in the 1950s or early 60s, is now vacant, and is for sale.  We fell in love with the place.  It's full of charm and has become a source of ideas for our own home. 

The room on far right is the kitchen. You can see a picture of the kitchen interior below.  We really like the idea of a kitchen on the end of the house in this manner, and being so large.

Below is a house we found on Quintet Road in Pace.  It was built just a few years ago by a Pharmacist.  It’s is very, very large and way out of our price range, but we really like the wrap around porch. 

In fact, we pulled up to the house and Reane knocked on the door.  When the lady of the house answered, Renae asked her where she got the plans. We were invited in for a tour!  It was an amazing place.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Mind Dump - November 3, 2013

Service at PCC today was incredible. 

Attendance was way up (don’t ask me why because I don’t know), and the excitement in the room was spine-tingling.

Most importantly, we broke with the normal template of a typical Sunday morning service and did something spontaneous:  We had special prayer (laying-on of hands and anointing with oil) for anyone who desired.

It was powerful.  And….

It flowed seamlessly.

A direct result, I think, of experienced ministers knowing how to yield to the Holy Spirit.

Hats off to the worship team for “turning on a dime” being so skillfully responsive on short notice.

If tears and weeping are any sign of a deep (and comforting) move of God, then I can say confidently that this is exactly what happened today.

I absolutely had no way of knowing this was going to happen… but I’m very thankful that it ‘did’ happen.

What I mean is this:  On Sunday mornings during the song service I am sitting in the pew completely dialed-in to the message (sermon) I am about to present.  I’m sitting there thinking about ‘my part’ in the service, (you’d have to be a preacher to fully appreciate that).  After all, I spend the better part of each week preparing myself for this moment.

Today, it was different.

It just happened.

I’m glad it did.


I passed the anointing oil to a layman in the church and asked him to lead in the first prayer.  He did.  And he did an exceptional job.

Thank God for people in the church who know how to pray and are not “preacher dependent.”

Then I led in prayer.  Then Phillip led in prayer.

By the time it was over, people were streaming forward and half the church was laying hands on one another.

Then people started moving up the isle to pray for people who couldn’t get out of their seats.

Yea.  It was a good day at PCC.

After the altar service was over we took up an offering… sang some more… then I preached for 10 minutes.  Didn’t need to go any longer:  because there was nothing I could have said that would’ve improved upon what the Holy Spirit had already done!

I even picked up the bass guitar and played it (spontaneously) for the offertory.


For the month of November and December we have a great plan on the calendar.  There will be a Baby Dedication Service, Communion Service, Children’s Choir, a couple of guest speakers, and much more.


Next Sunday’s message is:  Rubbing Shoulders with Irreligious People (Part 2)

We are on the verge of a breakthrough.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Some People Make My Job a Joy

PCC has some incredible people.  They make my job a pure joy. 

These people are non-demanding and supportive.  They labor quietly, sacrificially serve, and financially support their church.  They are reliable, consistent, and always there.  Their attitude is good.  They are positive about Jesus and growing spiritually. 

They are “encouragers.” In fact, they might even have the gift of encouragement. Aside from ministering their gift to the body, they often direct it towards their pastor. These people can do more for my emotional well-being than a professionally trained therapist. They are gifts from God.

How the Role of Senior Pastor Changes Over Time

The longer I am at PCC the more I feel like a dad, not just a teacher.  In I Corinthians 4, the apostle Paul speaks of the fact that we have a lot of teachers but not many fathers in the Lord.  I genuinely care about the real people in our congregation, not just the numbers, because they are faces with names and stories.

Senior pastors who have been at the same church for any length of time can think back through all the stages the church has been through, and how their role has had to shift during those various stages.

For me, this time travel takes me back through sixteen years with the PCC congregation – a time span in which I….

Planted PCC with nothing more than faith and a vision.  We had no financial backing, no people, no support, no nothing.

Led the way to break through growth barriers as an aggressive visionary.  My zeal and energy level were off-the-chart.

Created a master plan and strategy, and developed the structure to make it happen.  This was about rallying the troops – those who bought into the vision – around the idea of what God could do right now through us.

Led this church to purchase 25 acres of land for a future campus, then through a three-year pledge campaign to raise funds, and finally through a successful building program. 

Survived the collapse of our building during Hurricane Dennis.

Pressed my way through our 10 Year Hiccup.  This occurred shortly after we moved into our new building.  We had just relocated and were experiencing significant changes when some core people left PCC.  This happens to every church.

Weathered staff turnover, leadership changes, and the migratory flow patterns of church members.  I wish church-hopping was not a reality, but it is.  I’m over my naiveté.  

Pushed through a downturn.  Churches have seasons; spring, summer, fall, winter.  There are times when everything is alive and growing.  There are other times when you experience drought, leanness, and the long dark nights of winter.  It’s easy to think something is wrong when, in fact, nothing is.  You just wait it out and allow the Lord to do His thing.  Those lean seasons are times of growth beneath the surface, in the root system.  I wish more people understood this, but they don’t.  Often they will leave… while the most faithful remain.

Pushed through a season of personal burnout.  All my years of hard-charging eventually caught up with me.  I hit a wall and experienced a major case of burnout.  I’ve written about it extensively on this blog.  Even now, I have to protect myself diligently so as not to have a relapse.

Started thinking about the next generation who will take the leadership baton.  My wife and I are empty nesters right now.  I’m thinking about the next chapter in my personal life, as well as PCC.  Right now a large part of my ministry is being devoted to training the next generation of leaders.  I think a lot about succession planning.

Have accepted the current season we are in and our optimum size.  I’m glad to say that many of our church members have stayed in this church over the years – through every season of hardship and fruitfulness – which demonstrates a level of maturity that pleases me immensely.  It affirms that my work as not been in vain.  To these people, I am more than a teacher.

I have matured too.  Settled down quite a bit.  No longer am I overly concerned about the Three B’s – buildings, budgets, and bodies.  I am more interested in church health and getting back to basics.