#718 - HOW THE WISDOM OF DALLAS WILLARD IS WRECKING ME

City to City Bay Area Faculty

City to City Bay Area Faculty

Over the last 24 hours, I had the privilege of meeting with the City to City Bay Area Faculty to discuss/evaluate the current church-planter incubator we are facilitating and to dream about and plan for the next group of participants. I am humbled to be a part of a group of such wise, Kingdom-minded leaders.

As we were discussing values/strategies, Nancy Ortberg shared the following exchange that her husband John and Dallas Willard had at a conference in February of 2013.

John Ortberg: I don’t know how we can leave this without getting to a much more painful reality. Most of us here are a part of churches. I work at a church. I love the church, yet there are times when I think about the church and the smallness and pettiness and mean-spiritedness and competitiveness and superficiality. Really, it starts with me, but it is so mind-numbingly painful. And there’s such a gap between it and the picture Jesus talked about. Why is it that way? Why is it so hard? What do we do with that?

Dallas Willard: Well. I’ve thought and prayed and worried a lot about this myself. Once you back up and look at it, it’s obvious that the separation between the churches in our communities is one of the hardest things to get past to begin to appreciate what Christ is doing in the world. I have tried to approach this by saying to ministers that…

…the most important part of your ministry is that to other ministers. Come to know them and begin to get over the idea of separation and competition.

When Nancy shared this thought in our meeting today, I was absolutely arrested by the thought.

Over the last year in particular, because of the opportunities I have had to serve the “Big C” Church through my affiliations with the SEND Network, Acts 29, and City to City Bay Area, ministering to ministers (especially to those in the city that my church is in—Oakland) has increasingly become a greater passion and priority. I absolutely love encouraging church planters and pastors in whatever way I can.

But, this increasing passion has concerned me at times because I feel like because there is so much work to be done in my local church, I really shouldn’t be investing in other ministers as often as I do.

In many ways, this blog also is an extension of my desire to minister to other ministers. And most times, when I sit down to write, I am conflicted over whether or not this is a proper investment of my time.

I praise God for the wisdom of Dallas Willard shared above. In many ways not only does it give me a freedom to continue doing what I’m doing, but it gives me an affirmation that my instinct to serve other pastors with my time, effort, and energy is a godly one. And…it challenges me very strongly to lean into the instinct (even though it feels like I may not have the time) even more!

In closing, I want to list just a few of the “benefits” I’ve experienced as a result of prioritizing ministering to other ministers:

  1. It eliminates the deception that God only works mightily through my “style,” philosophy of ministry, theological affiliation, or “tribe.”

  2. It broadens my understanding of the myriad of ways God is expanding His kingdom beyond what I can see him doing through my local congregation. (Because He’s doing SO MUCH MORE!)

  3. It encourages my heart to know that my struggles, hardships, and obstacles in ministry aren’t unique to me.

  4. It raises my awareness of less/more effective ways of doing ministry.

  5. It helps my congregation develop the much-needed humility to recognize that what God is doing through our church is only a tiny sliver of what He is doing in the world at large.

  6. It expands my fruit-bearing beyond my own “orchard.” (Undeservedly and miraculously so.)

In short, ministering to other ministers makes me less self-absorbed and more God-aware.

I praise God for this gift because a prideful guy life myself sure needs it!

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

If you are a minister who has ministered to other ministers, what benefits have you seen from doing so? I’d love to learn from you. Please drop a comment below!

#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!

#712 - 6 YEARS PLANTED. 6 TOUGH LESSONS LEARNED--THE HARD WAY.

SIX!

3 years I ago, on the day before we celebrated our 3-year anniversary as a church, I wrote this.

3 years later, two days after we celebrated our 6-year anniversary of our church, I thought it would be wise to write about what I’ve learned since.

LESSON #1: There will be people who leave and hate you deeply, BUT there will also be people who stay and love you dearly.

Before leaving for my sabbatical and upon my return, I experienced the deep love, respect, and appreciation that many people in the congregation have for my wife and I. It felt so good!

As hard is it is to deal with people who leave and don’t have very many positive feelings for you as they go, focus on the people who love you. Appreciate the people who love you. Continue to invest in the people who love you. Investing in haters is a waste of energy.

Key note: Some people who stay will actually hate you (why they stay I’ll never understand), but some people who leave will actually love you. I guess the bottom line is…you’ll always have to deal with BOTH!

LESSON #2: Your spouse will pay a price, BUT your spouse won’t regret the price they pay. 

They will get less of your attention. They will get less of your emotional energy. They will get less of your time. They will constantly feel like they are “sharing” you with the church.

But, if you do your best to never sacrifice your spouse on the altar of ministry, set boundaries, and are sensitive to your spouse’s needs, there will be days when your spouse says to you, “I know that this has been hard, but I’m glad we did it.” The church plant will reveal to your spouse who God is in ways that nothing else ever could. And there will be days when they recognize that truth. Those days are the best.

LESSON #3: Most of what you want to happen won’t, BUT everything God wants to happen will

The amount of people. The amount of money. The amount of salvations. The amount of baptisms. The amount of impact—you’re very likely always going to want more than what is. More than what God has given you.

But what I’ve come to find out after six years of leading a church plant is this: the amount of people, money, salvations, baptisms, and impact that God does give you, is exactly the amount you’re supposed to have!

LESSON #4: Money will always be an issue, BUT you can impact how big of an issue it will be. 

Specifically in regards to money, you’ll always feel like you need more. But, the level of anxiety, worry, frustration and fear that your church/team has around the issue of money will be a direct reflection of your attitude towards your financial situation. 

The more faith, hope, and confidence you have that God will financially provide for the church’s needs, the more faith, hope, and confidence your church will have that God will provide. 

The choice is yours. You can either be a “thermostat” that constantly sets the “temperature” to faith and expectancy or you will be a “thermometer” that merely reads the “temperature” of fear and worry that enters the room every time finances get tight. Be a thermostat.

LESSON #5: Volunteers will constantly be quitting, BUT volunteers are who God will consistently keep sending.

They’re “burnt out.” Their “season” of serving is over. They’re too busy. They move away. You will very rarely have a month where a volunteer doesn’t quit.

But, as you pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers, He will send laborers. He will send exactly who you need, at exactly the right time, every single time! If you don’t have the volunteer you want now, you very likely don’t need them now. Wait on the Lord.  

LESSON #6: Leading people to pray corporately is hard, BUT neglecting to pray corporately will always make ministry harder.

Getting a church community to remain committed to praying together is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt to do. Week after week, month after month, getting people to see the importance of gathering to pray together will feel like pushing a 200-pound boulder up a steep incline. Leading a community of faith in consistent corporate prayer is hard work. 

But, here’s why I don’t give up. Doing ministry void of an emphasis on corporate prayer is like standing on the bottom of a steep incline trying to stop a 200-pound boulder, that is coming right at you, before it runs you over—it is IMPOSSIBLE. 

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

If you are a church planter, part of a church planting team, or an attender of a church-planting church, what lessons have you learned about church-planting? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below! I’d like to learn from you. For real.

#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!

#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. 

#588 - SUNDAY SERVICE TENSIONS

As a pastor, in a local church, every Sunday I am aware of and must manage various tensions:

  • Leading with both confidence and desperation.
  • Preaching to both Christians and Non-Christians.
  • Teaching in a way that is both Biblical and practical.
  • Connecting with both Members and 1st-Time Guests.
  • Engaging in the service both personally and pastorally.
  • Singing songs that are both God-exalting and good sounding.
  • Giving opportunities for both seasoned leaders and new volunteers to serve.
  • Being mindful of both the planned format of the service and the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

But in addition to all the tensions listed above, there is also another tension that typically burdens me more than the rest. The tension is this: 

MINISTERING WITH BOTH URGENCY AND PEACE.

We must minister with urgency because:

  • Today is the day of salvation!
  • Someone may be giving the church one last chance.
  • Someone may be desperately seeking God for answers.
  • Someone may be attending church for the first time in a long time.
  • Someone may have had a horrible week and they don't know where else to turn.

We must minister with peace because:

  • God knows His sheep and His sheep know His voice!
  • No one's salvation is dependent upon one church service.
  • No one's relationship with God is dependent upon one church service.
  • God is not confined to one church service to meet a person's spiritual need. 
  • The overall success, health, or legacy of the church isn't defined by one church service.

We must minister with urgency, tomorrow is not promised to anyone. But, we also must minister with peace - God is not limited, in any way, by tomorrow. 

#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!

#530 - I MUST WRESTLE WITH THESE THINGS

Because you don't affirm me, you don't love me. Because you disagree with me strongly, you can't care for me deeply. Because you're not condoning how I'm behaving, you're not committed to who I'm becoming.

Are these statements true?

My convictions are who I am. If you don't love my convictions, you don't love me. They're inseparable. To reject what I believe is to reject me. 

Really?

If you don't accept my choices, you don't accept me. And to not accept me is to exclude me. And to exclude me is to not dignify me. That is inhumane. 

Is it?

These are statements, feelings, and positions that many people have. For real. I need to think critically about them. Not to, is to be insensitive and invalidating.