#717 - WHY CHRISTOPHER WILL BECOME ONE HELLUVA' CHURCH PLANTER

Edward & Christopher

Nearly 4 years ago, during a time when I was having a hard time recovering from a difficult ministry season, God blessed myself and our church with an incredible gift—Christopher and Brittany Stites.

In addition to bringing a much-needed reinforcement to our leadership team, God also used them to remind me that, even though I had just experienced a ministry “failure,” he was not finished working in and through THEMOVEMENT.CHURCH. I am forever grateful.

For the last four years I have had the privilege of serving alongside Christopher, and I have had a front row seat to God’s activity through and God’s favor on his life. It has been incredible to watch, and I know the best is ahead. In less than 8 months, we are going to be sending Pastor Christopher, Brittany, and some of our church members out to plant another church in the city of Oakland! Our church plant is going to plant a church!

In an effort to honor Christopher for what he has meant to me and to encourage him (and all those who follow him) for the journey that is ahead, I want to publicly affirm why I am confident Christopher is going to make one helluva’ church planter!

#1 - CHRISTOPHER WORKS HARD.

He rises early. He stays up late. And he does this, day in and day out, to do whatever it takes to provide for his family, serve the church, and be there for those around him. He works hard to be a good husband. He works hard to be a good father. He works hard to build his coffee company. He works hard to preach good sermons. He works hard to lead and love people. He doesn't make excuses about the hard work. He doesn’t complain about the hard work. He doesn’t try to avoid the hard work. He just works hard. Christopher is going to become one helluva’ church-planter because church-planting requires hard work, and Christopher works hard.

#2 - CHRISTOPHER PREACHES STRONG.

Whether he’s given one month to prepare or one day, Christopher, every time out, preaches the Word of God accurately, boldly, and inspiringly. He preaches with a confidence and a force that comes from knowing he is called, the Bible is true, Jesus is worthy, and the gospel is powerful! Every time I sit under Christopher’s teaching, I am impacted by its strength. He preaches strongly because he has, first, been impacted deeply. He preaches strongly because the Spirit of God is in him truly. He preaches strongly because he is gifted immensely! Christopher is going to become one helluva’ church-planter because church-planting requires strong preaching, and Christopher preaches strong.

#3 - CHRISTOPHER LEARNS ALWAYS.

Christopher is a student. He is a student of people. He is a student of ministry. He is a student of the Word. He is a student of people. (I can’t make this up. While I was writing this paragraph, Christopher literally texted me a picture of a paragraph from a book he’s reading! RIDICULOUS!) His passion for learning is motivated by a humility and sober judgement of himself. He knows he doesn’t know it all, but he doesn’t learn to become a know-it-all. He takes learning seriously because he takes becoming a better version of himself seriously. He takes becoming a better Christian, husband, father, pastor, and business owner seriously. Christopher is going to become one helluva’ church-planter because church-planting requires always learning, and Christopher learns always.

#4 - CHRISTOPHER LOVES JESUS.

More than he loves his wife. More than he loves his kids. More than he loves his business. More than he loves his ministry. Even more than he loves his coffee! Christopher loves Jesus. Christopher is enamored by Jesus. Christopher is mindful of Jesus. Christopher is committed to Jesus. He loves Jesus because he is so in tune with how deeply Jesus loves him. Christopher worships Jesus through song. Christopher worships Jesus through prayer. Christopher worships Jesus through obedience. Christopher is going to become one helluva’ church-planter because church-planting requires a constant declaration of the simple phrase, “Jesus loves,” and Christopher loves Jesus.

Though it is going to be difficult to send Christopher and Brittany and their team out of our church to plant another church, I can’t wait to see how God glorifies himself through Christopher’s leadership. I can’t wait to hear the testimonies of lives being changed by Jesus as a result of Christopher allowing Jesus to continually change him. The best is truly yet to come! (Follow their church-planting journey on Instagram - @tmc.life!)

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!

If you know Christopher or have been impacted by his ministry from afar, drop a comment below and let him know why you think he is going to make one helluva’ church-planter!

#715 - HOW I CAST VISION

Ministry Leaders at THEMOVEMENT.CHURCH

Ministry Leaders at THEMOVEMENT.CHURCH

Over the past 3 days, I’ve had one-on-one meetings with 6 of the key leaders of our church. In addition to catching up relationally and checking in on them spiritually, I also found myself casting vision and inviting them into a deeper level of commitment to the ministries in which they lead.

Much has been written about how to cast vision publicly and in large group settings, but, in my experience, casting vision effectively one-on-one is equally (if not more) important.

Here are a few questions I keep in mind when going into meetings with key leaders. When I check my motives and approach by asking myself these questions, it sets me up to cast vision most effectively.

CHECK MOTIVATIONS & INTENTIONS FIRST.

  1. What will I prioritize in this meeting—trying to serve them or trying to get them to serve me?

  2. What is my greater concern—the condition of their soul or the quality of their service?

  3. What am I more in tune with—the story God is writing through their lives or the story I want to be written that best serves the story God is writing through our church?

  4. What will I convey most obviously—my love for them or my need for them?

After I’ve checked my motives with these questions and invested time in the meeting building relational equity, here are a few critical components in casting vision effectively:

STEP #1 - REMIND THEM OF THE PAST

  • Here is what God has done through this church.

  • Here is what God has done in you.

  • Here is what God has done through you and your leadership to this point.

STEP #2 - SHOW THEM THE PRESENT

  • Here is what God is currently doing in this church.

  • Here is what God is currently doing in you.

  • Here is what God is currently doing through you and your leadership.

STEP #3 - PAINT A PICTURE OF A POTENTIAL FUTURE

  • Here is what God could do in this church.

  • Here is what God could do in you.

  • Here is what God could do through you and your leadership.

  • Here is a pathway to get there.

Vision has been cast effectively when a person can see, for themselves, that in light of what God has been doing in their lives, what they are being invited into next…just makes sense.

Though it will be hard.
Though it will require sacrifice.
Though it will require growth.

Time and time again, I have seen people step up to do the difficult things God is requiring of them when they see how it “fits in” with his previous activity in their lives.

Remind them of what God has done. Show them what God can do. Invite them to step into opportunity. Wait on God to convict them to move forward. Definitely not the only way, probably not the best way, but it’s what’s worked for me!

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

How have you casted vision effectively (or ineffectively)? I’d love to learn from you in the comments below!

#714 - A VERY IMPORTANT OPEN LETTER TO MY CHURCH FAMILY

1st Annual All-Church Retreat!

1st Annual All-Church Retreat!

Since coming back to work, over the last two weeks, I have felt an overwhelming sense of love and appreciation from you towards me. It has been incredible! Thank you.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege it is to be one of your pastors. Being back with you has reminded me of so many of the things I love about you, and, through the writing of this letter, I want to be sure you know why shepherding you brings me great joy and God great glory.

#1 - YOU’RE HUNGRY.

For Bible teaching. For righteousness. For more of what God has for your life. For more of what God has for the city of Oakland. Thank you for being a church family who isn’t satisfied with the status quo. God is glorified through your hunger!

#2 - YOU’RE HUMBLE.

In the way that you receive correction. In the way that you respond to praise. In the way that you request direction. In the way that you cry out to God in prayer. Thank you for being a church family who understands that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. God is glorified through your humility!

#3 - YOU’RE HONEST.

About your struggles. About your sins. About your shortcomings. About your doubts. About your disappointments. About your dreams. About the issues you see in the church. About the problems you see with church leadership. About the concerns you have with the way things are being done. Thank you for being a church family that prioritizes truth-telling over image-protecting. God is glorified through your honesty!

#4 - YOU’RE SACRIFICIAL.

With your time. With your financial resources. With your physical and spiritual gifts. With your homes. With your cars. With your comfort. With your sleep! With whatever you have that can be leveraged for the good of someone inside and outside of the church who has a need. Thank you for being a church family who consistently “picks up your cross” to follow Jesus. God is glorified through your sacrifice!

#5 - YOU’RE SENSITIVE.

To the needs of others. To the pain of others. To the skepticism of others. To the experience of a first-time guest. To those who find themselves on the “fringes” of our church family. To the cares and concerns of my wife. To the leadings/promptings of the Holy Spirit. To the moment. Thank you for being a church family who isn’t tone deaf to the Holy Spirit of God in you and to people that are around you. God is glorified through your sensitivity!

#6 - YOU’RE SUBMITTED.

To the Word of God. To the pastors of the church. To the leader of your ministry. To each other. Thank you for being a church family who understands that how we submit to each other is a reflection of how submitted we are to God. God is glorified through your submission!

#7 - YOU’RE COMMITTED.

To God. To our mission to overwhelm Oakland with love. To the ministries in which you serve. To the small group in which you participate. To becoming a praying church. Thank you for being a church family who does what you say you’re going to do. God is glorified through your commitment!

#8 - YOU’RE COURAGEOUS.

Through your steps of obedience. Through your willingness to have tough conversations. Through your interactions with those who don’t yet follow Christ. Through your faith to follow God wherever he may lead you. Thank you for being a church family is willing to leave your comfort zones for the sake of the gospel. God is glorified through your courage!

#9 - YOU’RE COLLABORATIVE.

In the way that you approach ministry. In the way that you solve problems. In the way that you overcome obstacles. In the way that you meet the needs of our city Thank you for being a church family who truly functions as a body—each member interdependent upon the other. God is glorified through your willingness to work together!

THANK YOU.

Thank you for being a church family that daily glorifies God though how you love God, love others, and love me! There is no other church family who I would rather serve alongside.

As long as we stay humble and reliant upon the power of God within us, there is no telling how God will glorify himself through us next! Buckle up. THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

#711 - 4 COMPELLING REASONS LEAD PASTORS ABSOLUTELY NEED TO TAKE EXTENDED SABBATICALS

Joy

I definitely will have more reasons to write about when I talk to the leaders and members of our church community about the impact my sabbatical had on our organization, but in the meantime, here are the most compelling reasons, I have come to understand through going on my sabbatical, why I believe every lead pastor should take an extended sabbatical (at least 3 months) away from ministry every 5-7 years.

1. A SABBATICAL WILL FORCE YOU TO BECOME AN EMPOWERING LEADER.

One of the reasons you may be hesitant (or refuse) to take an extended sabbatical is that because you know the organization couldn’t function without your efforts present. If this is the case, as a leader, this is not something to be proud of. The goal of leadership in general and church leadership in particular is to get things done through other people.

With that in mind, one of the beauties of committing to a future extended sabbatical is that it will force you to start getting more things done through other people. An extended sabbatical will force you to prepare the organization to exist without you. An extended sabbatical will make you a better trainer, teacher, mentor, and developer of people. A sabbatical will loosen your grip on something that was never meant to be held so tightly—who does things and the way they are done.

The funny thing is, you should be doing this anyway because there will be a day when the organization will exist without you! (Unless you want it to die when you do.) So why not start preparing now?

2. A SABBATICAL WILL SUFFOCATE YOUR PRIDE.

The truth is, for many pastors, we think we are more important to the Kingdom of God than we actually are. We think our preaching matters that much. We think our leadership matters that much. We think our ideas and our strategies matter that much. We think our way of doing things is the best. We think if we’re gone, the church will lack something. I know this about you because this is what I thought about me!

Here’s what my sabbatical showed me in the clearest of ways: I truly, truly, truly am not necessary for the church of Jesus Christ to advance. Jesus promised he would build his church long before I was alive, and Jesus will continue to fulfill that promise long after I’m gone. Though I am thankful and overwhelmed that God would actually partner with me to build his Church, I am convinced like never before that HE is the one doing ALL of the heavy lifting.

In my absence, giving increased. In my absence, leaders thrived. In my absence, the gospel was proclaimed. In my absence volunteers were recruited. In my absence, disciples were made. One of the greatest cures for an unhealthy view of how integral you think you are to the advancement of the Kingdom of God, is an extended time away. A sabbatical is the sweetest tasting humble pie you will ever indulge in!

3. A SABBATICAL WILL BLESS YOUR SPOUSE AND CHILDREN LIKE NOTHING ELSE CAN.

If you have been in full-time ministry., as a lead pastor, for over five years, you may be able to keep working at the pace you currently are, but your spouse and children, very likely, want you to take a break. (If you don’t believe me, I dare you to ask them!)

During a sabbatical you can give your spouse and children a gift (that they absolutely crave) that is very difficult to give during the day in day out grind of pastoral leadership—your emotional energy. Emotional energy to be present. Emotional energy to listen. Emotional energy to thoughtfully respond. Emotional energy to serve. Emotional energy to hear from the Lord how you can love your family better. Emotional energy be bothered!

Though you don’t need a sabbatical to give this type of emotional energy to your family in smaller doses, if you desire to love your family with your presence in a way that is extraordinary, an extended sabbatical is necessary. My wife articulated it this way:

One of the best parts of your sabbatical was being able to have “the whole you.”

In the end, when you decide to take an extended sabbatical, you declare and more importantly show to your spouse and children, with crystal-clear clarity—you matter more. And unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you don’t commit to extended seasons of rest you communicate maybe more subtly—you matter less.

4. A SABBATICAL WILL SHOW YOU THAT JESUS IS MORE GLORIOUS THAN A SABBATICAL.

Only when you get to thoroughly experience what you believe is best, will you discover that Jesus is better!

Getting 3 months away from work, paid. Going on a 25-day vacation to Italy. Eating the finest foods in the world. Playing video games for as long as I want. Purchasing our first home. These are the blessings I experienced during my sabbatical. Many would consider these things, if they were to experience them, “the best.” And don't get me wrong, they were wonderful.

BUT, and I’m not just saying this because I’m a pastor, during my sabbatical, my moments praising God and contemplating and resting in his love for me were infinitely more satisfying than the “stuff.” His love. His grace. His patience. His character. His worthiness. His power. His presence. These were all things I came to realize were way more precious to me than “the best” that a sabbatical could offer.

“Better is one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere.” My sabbatical showed me in this clearest of ways how deeply true King David’s words actually are. Jesus. Is. BETTER.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

If you are a lead pastor, or anyone else who has ever taken an extended sabbatical away from work, why would you say a sabbatical is absolutely necessary? Please share in the comments below!

#710 - THE 5 THINGS I MISSED MOST ABOUT WORK WHILE NOT WORKING

Monday Night Prayer Crew!

Monday Night Prayer Crew!

1. PRAYING AND WORSHIPPING GOD WITH MY CHURCH FAMILY.

I missed hearing the grateful prayers of thanksgiving and praise. I missed hearing the humble prayers of confession and repentance. I missed hearing the faith-filled prayers of petition and supplication. I missed hearing all of our voices joined together singing to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There is absolutely no substitution for gathering with the body of Christ to pray and worship him together. I can’t wait till this Sunday to do it again!

2. PREACHING THE BIBLE.

Though I am thankful for the break, I missed preaching God’s Word. I missed the preparation. I missed the insights that the Holy Spirit reveals. I missed putting together my Keynote presentations! I missed being led to say things while preaching that only the Holy Spirit of God could’ve led me to say because I had no intention of saying them. I missed calling people to respond to the preached word of God. I am absolutely humbled by God’s call on my life to proclaim his Word, and I can’t wait till this weekend when I get to do it again!

3. LEADING OUR LEADERSHIP TEAMS.

I missed leading us to praise God for his blessings. I missed leading us to trust God. I missed leading us to confront and confess sin. I missed leading us to have tough conversations. I missed leading us to come up with creative solutions to problems. I missed leading us to grow in our love for each other. I missed leading us to take bold steps of faith. I missed leading us to create awesome Sunday worship services. I missed casting vision. I missed leading the humble servants of Christ who I am privileged to serve alongside. I can’t wait till two Sundays from now when our pastoral team/wives will get together, and I get to lead them again!

4. DISCIPLING MEN.

I missed the one-on-one discipleship relationships that I’m privileged to be a part of. I missed the meals together. I missed reading the word together. I missed praying together. I missed asking the tough questions. I missed encouraging and celebrating steps of obedience. I missed applying grace and truth to sin. I missed the joy that comes from investing life into life, and I can’t wait till I return to engage in these discipleship relationships again!

5. DESIGNING GRAPHICS/MARKETING/BRANDING MATERIAL!

Though someone else should probably be doing it, I missed it! I missed finding new fonts. I missed finding just the right image and mixing it with just the right typeface to communicate just the right feeling and emotion. I missed using my creativity to serve the body of Christ! (I just finished designing the branding for our six-year anniversary, and though it’s not anything spectacular, putting it together was something I thoroughly enjoyed!)

six-year anniversary branding

The truth is, though I enjoyed every bit of my sabbatical, I am anxious and excited to get back to doing the things I was uniquely wired to do day in and day out! I am so blessed to have a job that requires the use of my passions and my skills. God is worthy of my praise for his kindness in calling me to and positioning me in this type of work at THEMOVEMENT.CHURCH.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

Whether you have your “dream job” or not, take a moment to thank and praise God for the parts of your job that you are thankful for. Thank him for the opportunities you do have to use your unique gifts. Feel free to share them in the comments below. I’d love to know!

#680 - FALLEN HEROES

I am grieved by how their sin stains.
I am frustrated by how their flesh won.
I am sickened by how their victims suffer.
I am devastated by how their family aches. 
I am saddened by how their church struggles.
I am overwhelmed by how their actions impact.

I AM SOBERED BY HOW THEIR STORY COULD BE MINE.

BUT...

I am thankful because God's love heals.
I am hopeful because God's grace restores.
I am joyful because God's purpose remains.
I am grateful because God's justice exposes.
I am prayerful because God's power overcomes.
I am cheerful because God's Church perseveres.

I AM MINDFUL BECAUSE GOD'S WARNING IS THIS:

"Take heed lest you fall." 

#653 - AN UNEXPECTED ASPECT OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY

Tonight as we were in our prayer meeting, it hit me. As I was praying, an element of spiritual maturity dawned on me, and I had never thought about it in this way before.

It wasn't Bible knowledge. It wasn't church attendance. It wasn't evangelism. It wasn't giving. It wasn't serving. 

ONE OF THE GREATEST INDICATORS OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS CHILDLIKE FAITH.

This hit me while I was praying because I realized that I do not pray as audaciously as I should because, over the years, in some ways, I have lost my childlike faith in God. 

Why do I believe in Him for salvation, but I do not call out to Him for healing? Why do I trust in Him for forgiveness, but I do not petition Him for revival? Why am I sure that I am justified, yet I am unsure of whether or not He can still perform miracles? Why am I confident that He will return, yet I am hesitant to ask Him to do the supernatural in my midst.

It almost seems as if, over the years, as I've grown in my ability to explain God, I've lost my ability to believe God. What a tragedy!

Here are three ways that I know my faith has shrunk that I hope to reverse and I pray you'll avoid!

MY PRAYERS WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS ACCURATE RATHER THAN AUDACIOUS.

One indicator of this might be if you always feel the need to say in your prayers, "If it's your will..."  Only you know whether or not that is a necessary statement in your prayers or if you are using it as a way to guard your ego if the prayer is not answered. Audacious prayers requires childlike faith.

MY PREACHING WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS PRACTICAL RATHER THAN PROPHETIC. 

Did God call me to preach just so that people would have a few "to-do's" to try during the week? I don't think so. God called me to preach so that His truth would be proclaimed. He called me to preach so that darkness would be exchanged for light; so that death would be exchanged for life! Prophetic preaching requires childlike faith.

MY LEADERSHIP WOULD BE BEST DESCRIBED AS CALCULATED RATHER THAN COURAGEOUS.

The local church doesn't need another calculated leader. That might be what a business looking to turn a profit needs. But, the body of Christ needs a courageous leader who will boldly follow the leading of the Holy Spirit regardless of the cost. Courageous leadership requires childlike faith. 

Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with accurate prayers, practical preaching, and calculated leadership. It is when these things come at the expense of childlike faith where I believe one's spiritual maturity must come into question. Enough is enough.

Would you join me in maturing our ability to believe God like a child?

"For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom." Matthew 18:2-4 (MSG)

#614 - THIS EXPLAINS IT

Why do I care so much about the inner-life of a leader? Why do I care about their emotional health? Why do I care about the health of their walk with Jesus? Why do I care about their rhythms of rest? Why do I care about a leader's insecurities? Why do I care about their motivations?

Why don't I just let these things slide and concentrate on the work that needs to get done?

Today, I read this quote from Pete Scazzero that puts into words why, many times, I put an inordinate amount of attention on what's going on in a leader's heart, rather than what's going on with a leader's hands.

Minimally transformed leaders result in minimally transformed teams doing minimally transforming ministry.
— Pete Scazzero

In other words...

TRANSFORMATIONAL MINISTRY IS A BY-PRODUCT OF A TRANSFORMED LIFE.

With this in mind, we must no longer ignore the "seen" and the "un-seen" character deficiencies in our lives.

We can't ignore the pervasive anger.
We can't ignore the constant envy.
We can't ignore the irrational jealousy.
We can't ignore the petty attitude. 
We can't ignore the insensitive apathy. 
We can't ignore the negative demeanor.
We can't ignore the adolescent insecurity.
We can't ignore the divisive spirit. 
We can't ignore the deficient love.

If we think we can do effective ministry while ignoring these things, we are kidding ourselves.

We cannot lead beyond our own spiritual growth and development. We cannot help others address the darkness within themselves if we can't address the darkness within us. We cannot effectively extend grace to others in the areas where we have yet to receive it for ourselves. 

THE DELUSION MUST END. IF WE'RE NOT BEING TRANSFORMED, WE CANNOT BE TRANSFORMING. 

#613 - DRASTIC DISCIPLESHIP

Sometimes, baby steps aren't acceptable. Sometimes, a little bit of progress isn't enough. Sometimes, "I'm trying" doesn't matter. Sometimes, being on the right trajectory won't cut it.

When the idolatry is overt. When the sin is egregious. When the relationship is abusive. When the addiction is deadly. When the pride is undeniable. When the stubbornness is insidious. When the ministry is suffering. Drastic discipleship is necessary.

Drastic discipleship demands that the disciple take a significant step of obedience, immediately. 

Quit the job.
Pay the debt.
Delete the app.
Confess the sin.
Admit the wrong.
End the relationship.
Check into the program.
Change the living situation.
Step down from the ministry.

DRASTIC DISCIPLESHIP SAYS, "OBEY. TODAY."

If progress is being slowed down. If growth is being stunted. If movement is lacking. If potential is being forfeited. If other people are suffering as a result of one's disobedience. Do we really have the luxury of not discipling in this way?

It's not about being harsh. It's not about being impatient. It's not about being insensitive.

IT'S ABOUT LOVE.

The question is, "Do we love the people who we disciple enough to demand urgent obedience?"

If we are truly convinced that there is great joy in living a life totally surrendered to Christ, why would we not move people towards the type of obedience that would require complete surrender?

This isn't the type of discipleship approach that needs to be implemented at all times, but there are definitely sometimes when this is exactly the type of approach that is required.

After all, didn't Jesus model this type of discipleship for us?

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.
MATTHEW 10:21-22

One final thought, after strongly encouraging that the step of obedience be taken, it's up to the Holy Spirit to lead. It's up to the Holy Spirit to convict. It's up to the Holy Spirit to transform. It's up to the Holy Spirit to do the supernatural. But...

WE MUST NOT ABDICATE OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO IMPLORE FELLOW BELIEVERS TO PICK UP THEIR CROSS TO FOLLOW AFTER CHRIST.

#612 - BETTER THAN NUMBERS

As obsessed as pastors (including myself) can be about numbers (attendance, salvations, baptisms, giving, etc.), it's never the numbers that bring me the most joy. It's never the numbers that motivate me to persevere another day. It's never the numbers that reveal the transforming power of God. It's never the numbers that bring me to tears.

IT'S THE NAMES BEHIND THE NUMBERS AND THE STORIES BEHIND THE NAMES THAT ARE MOST MEANINGFUL. 

It's the story of the un-churched single woman who, for the first time, finds herself interested in a community of faith. It's the story of the de-churched young man who, for the first time in a long time, is giving church another chance. It's the story of the over-churched couple who is looking for a church where their faith can be revived, and they feel like they've found it in your church! 

It's the story of the marriage that is restored. It's the story of the sin that is overcome. It's the story of the step of faith that is taken.

It's the story of faith in the midst of struggle. It's the story of hope in the midst of tragedy. It's the story of joy in the midst of sadness.

It's the story of someone who was baptized in your church baptizing someone else! It's the story of someone who was saved in your church serving in your church! It's the story of someone you discipled, discipling someone who is discipling someone else! 

Stories matter. Stories inspire. Stories display the transforming power of God.

WE COUNT NUMBERS, BUT STORIES REMIND US OF WHAT COUNTS.

So, if you ever, like me, find yourself discouraged about the numbers, find a story. Find a story of life-change within your community of faith. Find a story of growth. Find a story of development. 

Find the story. Celebrate the story. Praise God for the story.

And slowly but surely watch your obsession over the numbers take up less and less room in your soul. 

#610 - MY SHAMEFUL CONFESSION ABOUT THE RESURRECTION

For far too long, I have appreciated and praised God for Christ's death on the cross, but I have not been in awe of and worshipped Him for His resurrection from the grave.

I have not lived my present life in light of my future resurrection.

I have lived short-sighted. I have lived more for the temporary than for the eternal. I have not been utilizing the single, greatest resource for hope ever given to mankind by God.

But, as I prepared and preached my Easter message, I found myself with a new found appreciation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This appreciation comes not only for how the resurrection of Christ will impact my eternity, but for also how it will impact my life now! I hope you will join me in praising God for his resurrection power! 

Because Christ rose again, I will rise again. And because I will rise again...

IN REGARDS TO MY STORY

  • The best part will be the end.
  • Everyday, I get closer to the best part.
  • "Happily every after" does not only happen in fairytales. 

IN REGARDS TO HARDSHIP

  • Every difficulty is temporary. No hardship is final.
  • Even if sickness or tragedy were to take my life, it will usher me in to my very best days.
  • No relational, financial, emotional, mental, educational, physical, or spiritual challenge I face can threaten me ultimately being resurrected with Christ. 

IN REGARDS TO SUCCESS AND FAILURE

  • No earthly success or failure will define me.
  • Every earthly success will be outdone in the end.
  • Every earthly failure will be undone in the end.

IN REGARDS TO PURPOSE

  • There's more to life than enjoying the "middle chapters."
  • There's deep motivation to spread the gospel so that more people will have hope during their "middle chapters" and experience the "ending" that I am anxiously awaiting.
  • There's urgency because the end is drawing near.

IN REGARDS TO HOPE

  • I have it. Always.
  • I can give it. Anytime.
  • I can access it by simply beholding my resurrected Christ!

"For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:21-23

#601 - THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THIS

Don't allow yourself to be fooled. 
Church isn't and neither is community.

Don't allow yourself to be distracted. 
Blogs aren't and neither are books.

Don't allow yourself to be tricked. 
Work isn't and neither is worship.

Don't allow yourself to be deceived.
Prayer isn't and neither is a preacher.

Don't allow yourself to be confused. 
Service isn't and neither is sacrifice.

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SCRIPTURES.

There is no substitute for the truth that comes from the Scriptures. There is no substitute for the revelation that comes from the Scriptures. There is no substitute for the Voice that comes from the Scriptures.

It's in the Scriptures where...

God's story is written.
God's love is revealed.
God's gospel is displayed.
God's commands are given.
God's Son is resurrected.
God's return is foretold!

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE SCRIPTURES.

Read them. Study them. Enjoy them.

The life that can be found in them is nowhere else to be found. 

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4

#598 - LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

For someone who speaks for a living, the temptation is always so strong. My natural instinct is to talk before I listen. To speak before I hear.

But this needs to change.

I need to understand, I don't know it all! I know very little actually! Why do I feel so compelled to talk all the time? If I know anything, I need to know this: I can't learn anything while talking! 

With this in mind, my commitment is this:

When it comes to my relationship with God...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about what I want to do for Him. More listening to what He wants to do through me. Less talking about my promises to Him. More listening to His promises for me. Less talking about my desires. More listening to his direction. Less me. More Him.

When it comes to those I am privileged to pastor...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about where they should go. More listening to where they have been. Less talking about my opinions. More listening to their experiences. Less talking about my suggestions. More listening to their situations. Less me. More them.

When it comes to those I am privileged to learn from...

LESS TALKING. MORE LISTENING.

Less talking about what I'm achieving. More listening to what they've achieved. Less talking about what I think. More listening to what they know. Less talking about my insights. More listening to their wisdom. Less me. More them.

And if these thoughts aren't enough to compel me to do more listening than talking, then these Scriptures should!

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Proverbs 18:13

"...let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak..." James 1:19

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Proverbs 10:19

#597 - 25 SOURCES OF REST

In this fast-paced world that we live in, rest is a luxury. But it's not just rest for your body that people long for, people also long for rest for their minds, their souls, and their spirits. I know I do!

What that in mind, and with Easter just a little under two weeks away and a message this upcoming Sunday that I am pretty anxious about, I figure it would be a very beneficial thought exercise to remind myself of where my rest (mind, body, and soul) comes from:

  1. There is no good I can do that could make God love me any more.
  2. There is no bad I can do that could make God love me any less.
  3. I am declared righteous in the sight of God.
  4. God loves me just as much as He loves His Son, Jesus Christ.
  5. I am infinitely loved by the Infinite.
  6. My sins are forgiven.
  7. God is with me. 
  8. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave (Holy Spirit) lives within me.
  9. My work for God doesn't determine my worth to God.
  10. Christ will build His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
  11. God loves His children more than I ever could or ever will.
  12. I am just the messenger. I am not the message.
  13. God was at work in the world long before I got here, and God will be at work in the world long after I'm gone.
  14. God will get me what I need, when I need it, in the way I need it.
  15. God is holy, righteous, and sovereign, and I am His child!
  16. God's presence is His greatest gift, and I already have that!
  17. God knows what I need before I even ask Him.
  18. God works all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
  19. My job is to plant and water seeds. God's job is to make them grow.
  20. God's faithfulness to me isn't predicated by my faithfulness to Him. 
  21. God's plans for me are far greater than anything I can hope for or imagine.
  22. While I am sleeping, God is working.
  23. I am not the solution. God is. 
  24. God doesn't need me. 
  25. Christ will return, and I will spend eternity in the physical presence of God Almighty!

Knowing, believing, and trusting in these truths gives me a rest and a peace that surpasses all understanding. Now if God would just give me the grace and wisdom to remember them!

Before moving on with the rest of your day, I'd like to make 2 requests of you..

  1. Pick one or two of the truths above and meditate on it until you really are put at rest. 
  2. Please feel free to share in the comments below your sources of rest.

#596 - THE PRICE OF DISOBEDIENCE

Though obedience to God comes at a personal cost, I’d rather pay the price of obedience than forfeit the peace of mind that comes from knowing my life is surrendered to Christ.

Obedience costs me my comfort.
Obedience costs me my familiarity.
Obedience costs me my control.

But, disobedience costs me so much more.

Disobedience costs me my peace. 
Disobedience costs me my confidence.
Disobedience costs me my joy.

OBEY.

You can either bow to God in obedience or bow to yourself through disobedience. 

CHOOSE GOD.

You're not worth being bowed down to. 

#594 - WHEN YOUR HEART BETRAYS YOU

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

The wickedness of my heart is one of those most discouraging things about me. How I want it to feel, how I want it to react, how I want it to respond, how I want it to believe, and how I want it to love - rarely is my reality. More times than I'd like...

MY HEART BETRAYS ME.

My heart lies. My heart exaggerates. My heart deceives

And because I have experienced the betrayal of my heart time and time again, I am convinced...

MY HEART MUST BE LED.   

When my heart feels jealous, I must lead it away from jealousy by celebrating the success of others. When my heart feels discontent, I must lead it away from discontentment by praising God for His blessings. When my heart feels selfish, I must lead it away from selfishness by extending generosity to someone in need. When my heart feels worried, I must lead it away from worry by meditating on the promises of God's Word.

When my wanders towards control, I must lead it towards delegating authority. When my heart wanders towards lust, I must lead it towards loving my wife. When my heart wanders towards laziness, I must lead it towards disciplining my body. When my heart wanders towards legalism, I must lead it towards embracing God's grace

When my heart runs away from commitment, I must lead it towards being faithful one more day. When my heart runs away from empathy, I must lead it towards asking one more question. When my heart runs away from courage, I must lead it towards taking one more bold step.

LEAD YOUR HEART. WHEREVER YOU TAKE IT, IT WILL FOLLOW.

#592 - THE PSALMIST'S SPIRITUAL MATURITY

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
Psalm 69:13

For all of my prayers. For all of my concerns. For all of my desires.
The Psalmist gives me an appropriate and spiritually mature mindset for all my requests unto God.

ANSWERED PRAYER

He will answer.

ABUNDANT LOVE

Because He is loving.

ACCEPTABLE TIME

When He sees fit.

God's acceptable time is the appropriate time.
TRUST.

#577 - HOW TO FOSTER EFFECTIVE CHURCH PLANT PARTNERSHIPS

As written about in a previous post, theMOVEMENT has been blessed to receive over $1 million in partnership support over the last 5 years. What God has done in partnering theMOVEMENT Church with various churches across the country has been nothing short of a miracle. Having no previous relationships with or knowledge of any of these churches is proof that God deserves all the glory and praise for the supernatural connections He has made. 

Through these various partnerships, we've been able to launch a healthy, growing, almost self-sustaining, preparing to reproduce itself church plant in the heart of one of the most expensive places to live in the entire world! The Bay Area of California, more specifically, the city of Oakland. 

How did this happen? How were these partnerships started? How were these partnerships maintained? Many factors go into it, but after 5 years of cultivating partnerships to support the church of our church plant, here are the main lessons I've learned:

FOR THE PARTNERING CHURCH

  1. Be convinced that planting new churches is an effective strategy for evangelism. Tim Keller writes, "The single best way to reach non-Christians is to start new churches. The transitional new community creates space for outsiders to plug in." For the gospel to advance, new churches must be planted, sustained, and then re-produce. The degree to which you believe this will be the degree to which your church invests in partnering with church plants. 
  2. Be interested in the success of churches other than your own. Though this may seem condescending to even ask, it is a question worth honestly answering, "Do we want to see other churches, especially new ones, succeed in reaching people with the gospel?"
  3. Be sacrificial in paying a price to see that success come to fruition. If the answer to previous question is "Yes," the answer to this one is equally important. Are you willing to pay the price of investing in a church other than your own? Are you ready to give financially? Are you ready to send your people out to support another church? Are you ready to invest time during your Sunday Services and small groups to pray for church plants? Are you ready to "lose" something for another church's gain?
  4. Be willing to serve the church plant on their terms. Can you give financially without directing the funds? Can you send missions teams when it's convenient for the church plant? Can you send missions teams to do work that the church plant needs done and not to do work you prefer doing?
  5. Be discerning of the Lead Church Planter. Do you sense an anointing on his life for planting and pastoring a church? Does he have a track record of starting and growing something from scratch? Does he have the spiritual gift of leadership and has he used that gift to win people to Jesus and make disciples? Is his marriage healthy? Pray about this. Get more than one set of eyes on the planter, his wife, and his team and discern accordingly.
  6. Be ready to start before you're ready. Especially to churches who have never partnered with a church plant before, you must be ready to start before you understand everything about partnering with a church plant. Much of what you will learn about how to partner with a church plant is learned after you partner with a church plant!
  7. Be OK with asking tough questions. Because you will be accountable with how you invested the resources of your church, you must be comfortable with checking in on your investment. Are Sunday Services growing in attendance? How are disciples being made? Is the leadership team healthy? Is the church increasing its internal revenue through tithes and offerings? Is there a plan for this church to become self-sustaining?   

FOR THE CHURCH PLANTER

  1. Be convinced of your unique mission and vision. Do you have a burden? Do you have a burning passion to reach the lost? If you're not convinced of what you're setting out to do and why you're setting out to do it, you will have a very difficult time convincing anyone to support you. 
  2. Be clear on what you need. How much money do you need, exactly? How many volunteers do you need, exactly? What kind of support do you need, exactly? How can the partner church help you to accomplish your mission, specifically? How can you be prayed for, specifically? The more clear you are on what you need, the easier you make it for a potential partner church to meet that need.
  3. Be ready to give an account. Keep accurate numbers. Keep accurate accounts. Keep track of stories. If you can't answer the question of how your church is doing with specific numbers and compelling testimonies of how God is moving within your new church community, the partner church may begin to feel as if their resources are being stewarded poorly.
  4. Be honest about your struggles and failures. Partnering with other churches to support your church plant is about so much more than the money. What has been more valuable to me than the money is the mentorship. Mentorship from more seasoned pastors and leaders is invaluable. But, the door for mentorship to take place is opened by you when you are honest about the difficulties you are having as a church planter. 
  5. Be entitled to nothing. A partnership with a church is a gift and a grace from God. If a check doesn't come in, if a promise is not kept, if communication is not frequent, if a partnership ends prematurely - guard your heart. Be careful to never feel, think, or act in ways that communicates that your partner church owes you anything. They don't. God gives. God takes away. Bless God and bless the partner church, regardless. 
  6. Be thankful for everything. Every check, every prayer, every volunteer, every phone call, every act of kindness, every correction or rebuke, every word of advice - be thankful for it all. Thank the church. Thank God. Be in awe and wonder that God would allow any help to come your way. 
  7. Be prepared for the relationship to transition. Just as a relationship with a parent and a child evolves over time, so will a church partnership with your church plant. If the partnership is going well, over time, the church partner should be pouring less and less into your church and your church should be pouring more and more time into another church plant! This is how the cycle continues and the multiplication of healthy churches can become a reality!

In no way are these lists exhaustive, but I believe they do lay a good foundation for existing churches to partner with new church plants. Please feel free to comment below with other best practices you would recommend!

SPECIAL THANKS TO: 
Crossroads Church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Houston's First Baptist Church, Central Baptist Church, 1st Baptist Trussville, Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Epic Church, Echo Church, Southcliff Baptist Church, Stonegate Fellowship, Liberty Baptist Church, North American Mission Board, California State Baptist Convention, and the East Bay Baptist Association. You are the partners who have helped make our church plant a light in the city of Oakland!

#565 - WHEN PEOPLE LEAVE YOUR CHURCH

Over the last 5 years of pastoring in Oakland, many people have walked through the doors of theMOVEMENT Church and many people have walked out. Many people who I extended ministry to and did ministry with are no longer here. 

Some people have left for great and godly reasons while others have left for not so great or godly reasons (at least in my opinion). But regardless of the reasons for departure, they all are painful. 

I’ve actually come to realize that it’s one of the hardest things about pastoral ministry. After having loved people deeply, invested in them generously, and seen God move in them mightily, it is hard to watch them walk away from your community of faith and pursue what God has for them next.   

But with every person whose season ends at our church, I have a choice.

I have a choice in how I will respond to the news. I have a choice in how I will love them for the remainder of the time that they are here. I have a choice in how I will talk about them when they are gone. 

Unfortunately, I have not gotten this right as often as I would like to, but, in an effort to improve my ability to love people well as they leave, here are a few practical lessons I’ve learned:

DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL

Though sometimes people will leave because of you, many times it will be for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you! Many times, God really does have something better for them elsewhere. Remember, it is Jesus, ultimately, who we want people to trust in and be tethered to, not us. Be sure that how you handle someone’s departure doesn’t become an obstacle to their future relationship with Christ and the Church. 

PASTOR THEM THROUGH THEIR DEPARTURE

If allowed the opportunity, pastor the person leaving on how they can honor God as they go. Pastor them in how they can honor the church as they go. Pastor them by affirming their gifts and contribution while they were with you. Pastor them by lovingly pointing out the ways in which you hope they grow in their next community of faith. Don’t be lazy in your leadership just because they are leaving. Finish well. You will be held accountable. 

HONOR THEM PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY

If the situation permits and if the honor is warranted, publicly honor them for their commitment and service to your community. Honor them before the group of people who was most impacted by their presence. God is honored by honor. But, don’t only speak favorably of them in front of others, speak favorably of them behind closed doors as well. God is dishonored by dishonor. People are watching. From how you handle the situation, you want people to see that your church is not only a safe place to come to, but it is also a safe place to leave from.  

MOVE ON

Too many times I've made the mistake of putting so much emotional energy into those who have left that I've robbed those who have stayed of healthy leadership. You must press forward. Being emotionally present with the people who aren’t a part of your community will cause you to be spiritually absent from the people who are, and that is a huge disservice to them. God has not called you to people who are no longer called to you. Discern the difference, and love and lead accordingly.   

FIND YOUR JOY IN CHRIST

No man, woman, or family should determine how confident you are in carrying out your calling. For too long, my self-worth and level of fulfillment was wrapped up in who was and who was not following me. What I’ve come to realize is that looking to someone in your church to provide for you what only Christ can provide is idolatry of the worst kind.  Christ alone. He is our joy. He is our reward. Don’t settle for the crumbs of man’s approval when God’s love is a banquet that you can feast from daily!