Thursday, March 8, 2012

BAD LUCK AND CHURCH PLANTING

I'm currently reading GREAT BY CHOICE by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen.  Today I read the chapter called "Return on Luck." In this chapter, the authors ask the question: What part did luck play in the success of these 10X companies? As one might guess given the title of the book,  the authors conclude that luck does not play a significant role.  Essentially, great companies make their own luck, and overcome bad luck.

Tucked away in the middle of the chapter is this sobering observation: "A single stroke of good luck, no matter how big the break, cannot by itself make a good company. But a single stroke of extremely bad luck that slams you on the Death Line, or an extended sequence of bad luck events that creates a catastrophic outcome, can terminate the quest."

As someone who cares about church planting, and is himself involved in planting a church, I began reflecting on the bad luck stories I have heard in relationship to church planting. Promised funding dries up. Try as it might, the new church cannot find a place to meet, or one that fits into a meager budget. The planter becomes sick. While one these scenarios may raise questions,  the possibility of extremely bad luck is a scary reality for a church planter. (It's a scary reality in all of life, isn't it?)

As I read reflected on bad luck stories and what might go wrong with the church I'm currently planting, I was struck by a verse in the Bible I read this morning.  It is found  I Samuel 23:14. David is experiencing a whole bunch of "bad luck". King Saul is hunting him, intent on killing him. Saul is drawing near; the David story is about to end. Then when we read, "But God did not give David into his hands." God protected David. God did not allow David to experience bad luck.

Extremely bad luck is always a possibility when one is planting a church. But, church planters cannot live in the fear of what might go wrong; they step forward in the confidence that God will protect and provide. Planters operate in the confidence that  God will not give them, or their church, into the jaws of extremely bad luck.

It is relatively easy for us to see how God moves and provides positively on our behalf. We have a more difficult time seeing the ways in which God protects us from the "bad luck." Today, I want to be thankful for the good things God has done. Today, I also want to be extra thankful for the bad things that have not happened. And, while I find the chapter on "luck" very helpful, and understand the intent of the authors, I am thankful that I serve a sovereign God, who is in control of my luck, and the luck of others who answer the call to plant churches.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

GOD KNOWS, WE TRUST

Our job is to trust the God who knows the future, and is working out his redemptive purposes for our good and His glory. This truth was brought home to me afresh as I read Genesis 18 this morning.

There are two primary events in Genesis 18, emanating from the visit of the heavenly 'trio" to Abraham.  The first event involves the announcement of a son, Isaac. What is the response of Abraham and Sarah to this announcement? Laughter. In fact, "laugh" is found four times in the space of a few verses. The second involves the announcement of Sodom's sin, and the destruction the city. What is the response of Abraham to this announcement? Argument and pleading. Abraham wants to be sure that he can trust God to do the right thing.

I have never tied these two incidents together. Now I see that they are connected by what I call--GOD KNOWS, WE TRUST. In both of these events, we see a man who struggles to trust God what God knows.

You know the end of this story that begins in this chapter.  Isaac is born on schedule (Gen 21), and Sodom is revealed to be more wicked than Abraham could ever have imagined (Gen 19). God knows what he knows, and God knows what he is doing. Abraham had to learn that he could trust God.

Of course, what we read in scripture is meant to be applied to our lives. Do we really believe God knows? Does God know what is happening in the world? Does God know how to handle the affairs of the world? Is God aware of what is going on in our lives? If the answer is "yes" then our response is to trust.

I pray that I can do that well in 2012.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

EVANGELISTIC CHURCHES AND ME

Georgia's TOP EVANGELISTIC CHURCHES was the name of a pamphlet recently sent to me by a friend. Honestly, it's not the kind of pamphlet I typically keep around. Before throwing it out, however, I decided to give it a scan. 

What lessons can be gleaned from these churches? While 10 are listed, let me cite the top 5. Incidentally, when measured by the number of baptisms, these churches are truly evangelistic. Regardless of whether they are categorized as small, medium or large (over 500), the vast majority of the churches had a better than 1:10 attendance to baptism ratio--and that's really good.

#1 - Evangelistic churches are intentional in their approach.
#2 - The pastor's influence is elevated in evangelistic churches.
#3 - Evangelistic churches purposefully engage the congregation in personal evangelism.
#4 - Evangelistic churches pray for the lost and unchurched by name.
#5 - Evangelistic churches connect their ministries to evangelistic opportunities.

Any surprises here. I don't think so. There are no new programs, secret methods, or great gimmicks. It's all about intentionality, leadership, training, dependency on God and using every opportunity to present the claims of Christ.

It's pretty basic stuff, isn't it?  It makes me ask the question: Why isn't every church evangelistic? I suppose there are a number of reasons. But, I wonder if in the end it doesn't come down to something real basic--passion. How much passion do we have for the gospel? Is our heart burning with the compelling love of Jesus that motivates us to do whatever we can to make him known to people? Where there is passion there is a way.

Instead of decrying the lack of passion in the churches I see and know, I think I'll take some time to examine my own heart.  How much do I pray for my neighbors?  When is the last time I shared the gospel with someone face to face? How much does my heart burn within me? 

Lord, I'm ready and willing. Lead me, sensitize me, and give me the words to say to someone in whose heart you have already been at work. 








Monday, June 20, 2011

WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING?

Yesterday I watched Rory McIlroy destroy a world-class field of golfers and win the US Open by eight strokes. Besides the wide-margin of victory, what makes his victory so intriguing is that Roy is still a kid,  only twenty-two years old. As the announcers were sharing their post-tournament reflections, Johnny Miller talked about the whole group of young, outstanding, up-and-coming, highly-talented, twenty-something golfers that are changing the landscape of the sport. Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson) may well be giving way to Rory and Jason (Jason Day, a twenty-three year old, finished in second.)

Today I will be attending an assessment event at Hope Baptist Church for church planters hosted by Launch, a church-planting organization. The assessment will be filled with young, twenty-something, aspiring church planters. Being somewhat familiar with what's happening in church planting around our country these days, I realize that this event is not an isolated phenomenon. Scores of passionate, gifted, twenty-somethings are sensing God's call to plant a church.  In his recent book,   Ed Stetzer pointed out that for the first time in a long time there are now more churches being planted than closed each year in our country. These young church-planters are changing the landscape of the church, and may be instruments in changing the landscape of the nations itself.

I began this morning by thinking about the new developments taking place in the world of golf. Now, mid-morning, I'm thinking about new developments taking place in church planting.  Both developments testify to changes taking place in our world, but only one of these has the power to effect lasting change.

What concerns me about me is that I could have caught up in the world of golf and missed the greater thing that God is doing in his church. I could have missed the greater thing that God is doing because I was spending my time looking at, giving attention to, and thinking about something else.

I don't want to miss what God is doing in our world. My guess is that you don't either. One thing is clear, however,  if we want to see what God is doing, we need to be looking for it. If we are prayerfully looking for what God is doing, I'm confident He will reveal it to us.  That's a promise God gives to us again and again. Once we know what God is doing, then we have the great privilege of participating in his activity.

I'm really looking forward to being at this assessment this morning. God is up to something, and it's a lot bigger than a stunning victory at a golf tournament. Let's make sure we don't miss it.


Save Now

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

EVERYDAY HEROES

Recently my wife and I watched "The Longest Day," the epic WWII movie about the allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. I have never seen a movie with so many stars in it. Evidently, every notable actor of that era felt it was his patriotic duty to play a role.

After I viewed the movie, I was struck by the fact that there was not really a leading character. With all the stars, there's not a star! It's a movie that simply chronicles the exploits of many heroic and courageous individuals and platoons. The general (Eisenhower) who after the counsel of his advisors reluctantly gives the order for the invasion. The soldiers who secure the bridge. The paratroopers who take the village. The thousands of unnamed soldiers who are gunned down trying to secure a beachhead. The army engineers who finally make a way from Omaha Beach.

Who's the hero of the story? No one. Or even better everyone. Everyone is a hero!

"The Longest Day" is  a powerful picture of the church on mission. Ultimately the war against the forces of darkness is going to be won because individual Christ-followers live courageously and sacrificially for the cause of the gospel. The mother who will not stop praying for her wayward child. The student who loves the geek to Jesus. The church planter who dares to believe the gospel can reach that neighborhood. The computer programmer who chooses to take his skills to the mission field so the scriptures can be translated more efficiently into new languages.

 To be sure, we live in a celebrity Christian culture. Certain names make headlines. But, in the end, it will be ordinary Christians doing their duty in the trenches of life that help the church accomplish its mission. Thank God for EVERYDAY HEROES.

Friday, January 28, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON PLANTING A CHURCH

For the past three days I have served as an assessor for a church planters Assessment Center sponsored by Converge.  The goal of the assessment process is very simple: to discern whether a candidate possesses a sufficient number of sixteen key building blocks to serve as the Lead Pastor of a a new church plant.

The whole process took me back to my own experience as a church planter in the mid 1980's. My wife and I did not attend an assessment center. I can only guess what kind recommendation we might have received if we had attended one. Certainly, the assessors would have questioned our plan to co-pastor the new church. They  probably have raised concerns about the common "D" both of us share on the DISC portrait. I can envision recommendations involving the need to visit some church planting models before we began the work, and to have a clearer philosophy of ministry in place.

I don't know how many of the sixteen building blocks were in place in our lives individually and together when we planted Warm Spring Baptist Church. But, looking back, here are some of the factors that I believe were instrumental in the success of this new church.

A clear sense of call. Deep in our hearts, Pat and I knew that God had called us to plant the church. During the tough times we could go back in our minds to the moment when we both heard "God's small voice" inviting us to be part of what He would do.

A deep faith in what God would do. We believed that the God who had called us to this work, was the One who would prosper the work. Jesus was going to build THIS church.

An earnest practice of prayer. Prayer was very much a part of our ministry routine. We cried out regularly for God's direction and help. We desperately needed it.

A commitment to excellence in preaching. Both Pat and I took the task of preaching seriously, and did our best to teach/preach the truths of the Bible with passion and relevance. In the early days, when our music was pretty mediocre,  I believe  the preaching that made the difference.

Persistent and varied outreach. During the early days, we worked hard to get out the word and invite people to attend the church. We knocked on doors, sent out mass mailers, and held special events. Looking back at our efforts today, the attempts seem somewhat amateurish. But, God blessed them, probably because they were done with the right heart and undergirded by prayer.

A ready made launch team. We came to a group of about twenty people who had been meeting in a Bible Study for about two years. Most of them had left other churches in frustration. They were all older than we were. For many aspiring planters the things I have just listed would be warning signs. In our case, the  core team was deeply committed to the success of the new church, and worked hard to help it grow.

Financial support. We planted under the old paradigm in which the denomination provided salary support. In our case, this support was spread over five years, decreasing 20% each year. This was a great blessing. Today, we would be out raising our own support.

Property. Even when the church was meeting in a house, it knew that it would be located on five acres on Warm Springs Road. A sign on the property provided publicity for the new church. Far more importantly however, it communicated permanency to the community.

The right place at the right time. We planted in Las Vegas, right at the beginning of the population boom. You know the old saying: "Location. Location. Location."

I believe that all of the factors above were important in the planting of Warm Springs Baptist Church.
But, the biggest and best explanation for the church is God.  He is behind these factors, in these factors, and bigger than these factors. He is the foundation and mortar for any and all building blocks needed in planting a new church. Assessments are important. I believe in them. I plan to be part of them in the future. But, church's are not planted by candidates who do well at assessment centers. Ultimately, God is the one who gives the growth (I Cor. 3:6-7). Church planters have the privilege of being along for the ride--and my wife, and I can testify: "It's a great one."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL?

How much do I really want to see the gospel go forward? Am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, or am I really wanting to use the gospel in subtle ways for my own glory? These are questions I ask myself after reading Philippians 1:18 this morning. 


Paul pens Philippians while in prison. Instead of griping about his fate, Paul writes of how "his imprisonment has really served to advance the gospel" (1:12). The gospel is being advanced because his chains are encouraging others to share the message of Jesus. He recognizes the mixed motives of these "preachers." Some of them, in fact, are motivated by "selfish ambition" (17). What's Paul's response to all of this? A rather remarkable one in my opinion. "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way whether from true motives or false, Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice" (1:18).
Paul rejoices because the gospel is going forward. He could have complained about his chains. He might have attacked the deceitfulness of those who were using the gospel for their own gain, and, it should be added, seeking to harm him in the process. But his own condition is not important. What matters to him is the advance of the gospel. Christ is being proclaimed--and this knowledge gives him great joy.
Paul had a passion for the gospel. This passion flowed from his life-changing encounter with Jesus, and an ever-deepening love for his Lord. In his must-read book, MOVEMENTS THAT CHANGE THE WORLD, David Garrison notes that historically movements well from a "white-hot faith." Movements begin with a person who is radically transformed by Jesus, and now lives all of life in light of that reality. National church consultant Will Mancini speaks of how churches, more than anything else, need to be fueled in ministry by "redemptive passion." Paul burned with "white-hot faith;" he was driven by "redemptive passion." No wonder he rejoiced when the gospel went forth, even at great cost, discomfort and sacrifice to himself.
That brings me back to me. How much do I really want to see the gospel advance? One thing is clear: My passion for the advance of the gospel will be in direct proportion to my love for Jesus. I want my prayer to be simple and incessant: May I be increasingly infatuated with Jesus. May He increase more and more in my life, even as I joyfully decrease.