Speaking Church May Be Hurting Us

Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?

Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.

As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.

Missional Monday : Church Leaders – Are You Serving Your Community While Secretly Desiring Reimbursement?

MMlogoIt is important for church leaders to know why they engage in community ministry. This means churches must understand what drives them outside the church walls and into the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools of the community. When you combine the command to pray for the welfare and peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and the commission to be witnesses for the gospel wherever we are (Acts 1:8), an important truth emerges: the church has a responsibility to those who are not a part of it. With that being said, ministry in our communities is difficult. Ministry in our communities can be messy. Ministry in our communities can be time-consuming. Ministry in our communities has a financial component to it as well. As a result, members of the church wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of this deal?” This question, at the basement level, is one of reimbursement.

There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on their behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning then certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a means to gain materially from the people then certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. How might a church seek reimbursement from the community?

  1. Filling a seat in the sanctuary. Churches may take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us” stance. A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is people filling a seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct measurement. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. This is not easy to accept.

  1. Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free ride”. This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, seeing them as consumers only. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church has to resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we’re reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.

Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred”. If there is no loss incurred then there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.

Missional Monday : 80 Days of Summer – A Family Ministry Challenge

mmSummer is coming to an end. Vacations have been taken, school shopping is in full swing, and family schedules are getting back to normal. Summer can be a double-edged sword. On one hand you have students who are excited to be free and are thinking only of having fun. On the other hand you have parents stressing over how to keep their kids occupied for three months. It can be tricky for families to juggle the summer. Summer can be a tricky time around the church as well. Family schedules are different. Attendance patterns shift.  For this reason churches operate under an unpublished principle during the summer: don’t start anything new. Well, we violated that principle this year.

With the reality of families scattering during the summer, we asked ourselves a question, “Why does it have to be this way?” So, we decided to give our families an opportunity to spend some of their free time together in kingdom work.  On June 3rd we began 80 Days of Summer;  a family ministry challenge that would continue through August 22nd. The concept is simple. 80 Days centers around a very specific goal: to see families serving their community together.  Over the course of 80 days, 17 ministry opportunities in 9 different community locations were scheduled. We challenged our families to choose a ministry event and work together. It pleases me to be able to say that we have accomplished our goal. We have seen families, some for the first time, give up their free time and serve the kingdom through their local church.

Getting all caught up in numbers is not a good thing. With that being said, numbers do reflect a certain reality. As of this past Friday, 15 ministry opportunities have taken place with two remaining. Over the course of these opportunities, 48 different people have been involved and have contributed 902 volunteer hours to our community. My heart has been blessed this summer to know that we were committed both to our families and to our community.

Missional Monday : Love Gave 2015

mmSeveral months ago I was sitting with Shane Olsen, lead pastor of Decibel Church and Mike Green, lead pastor of the The Link at lunch. I do not remember the purpose of that meeting. Perhaps we were debriefing a past event or planning a future event. I simply can’t remember. I do remember that out conversation turned toward our city. As the discussion went on, one question seemed to emerge: How can our churches work together in order to show God’s love toward our city? We had already been serving our community in our own individual contexts. Collectively we were all part of large community-wide, non-denominational Thanksgiving event that fed hundreds and hundreds of families. Several questions helped to frame the above question.

What more could we do together?

Is once a year enough to make a real and lasting impact?

What resources could we pool and leverage to make a difference?

What is the best option for long-term and lasting impact?

It was out of this discussion that Love Gave was born.

So, what is Love Gave? Well, there is no formal mission and purpose statement. I guess you could call it an emphasis, a focus, or perhaps collaboration. My prayer is that it becomes a movement. We decided that over a 40 period (October 11th – November 22nd) that we would make it a priority to serve our city in a visible display of God’s love. During this 40 day period, each church will choose their individual emphasis. Port Royal Baptist will see 40 Days of Community. Collectively we will come together for two main community events in under-served areas; one in Beaufort (October 24th) and one in Port Royal (November 7th).  I believe a fundamental principle in community ministry is to ask agencies and city leaders how the church can help them in order to cut down on duplication and focus resources. We met with the mayor of Beaufort and Port Royal’s town manager to share our vision and seek guidance. Both recognized the need and welcomed the help. There are at least three goals we hope to attain through these events. First, it is our desire to show the cities of Beaufort and Port Royal a visible witness of God’s love through sacrifice and service. Second, it is our desire to show the community how beautiful and how strong the Body of Christ is. Lastly, it is our desire to give at least 1000 volunteer hours to our cities on each of the two city ministry days.  Although the details of each city ministry day are still coming together, we do know a few things for sure. The Beaufort ministry day will consist of park clean-up and painting, renovation work for a needy homeowner, and a carnival/block party in the Greene Street area. The Port Royal ministry day will consist of skate park repair/painting and other work in Veterans Memorial Park.

I would ask that you pray. Pray that our cities will see God’s love lived out in practical ways and that hearts will be softened to the gospel as a result. Pray for the approximately 10-12 churches that will be involved in Love Gave. Pray that their congregations will be strengthened as a result of serving their community. Please pray that this truly would be a movement that would be embraced as we partner with our cities to love the people who make them up. I would also ask that you volunteer. I would pray that you might embrace this opportunity to “be” the church.

Should the Church Take Into Account the Community’s Calendar?

calendarI have heard it said that if you want to know what a person values, check their calendar. Calendars reflect what we feel is important and worthy of giving our time to. Calendars reflect priorities. Most churches have a master calendar that contains all events, reservations, service times, and ministries offered. Most often churches have groups (Church Council, Leadership Team, etc.) whose responsibility is to coordinate the above activities. An important task in this planning is to ensure there is as little overlap as possible. The last thing we as a church wants is to schedule multiple ministry opportunities on the same day and cause people to have to choose. There is another calendar that is often overlooked; the local community calendar. Every local community has a calendar that lists events, news, festivals, and other functions that are unique to the community. Most often town councils or similar groups publish their calendars far enough ahead so that their community can make plans to participate.

Why does this matter? For far too long the church and its community itself have been content to exist and function as if they don’t need each other. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If the church believes that their community matters then the two should work together as often as possible. The church needs the community. The community is the place and the people into which God has planted the local church as light and ministers of grace. God has called His people to their community to flavor and influence. The community needs the church as well. Whether they acknowledge it or not does not negate the truth of it. The community needs the positive influence the local church brings to the table. The community needs the willingness and desire of the church to serve and make a difference that is in its very DNA.

Please hear me closely. I am not advocating allowing the secular community to determine what kinds of ministry the church chooses to engage in.  I don’t believe that would be wise on our part. I am fairly certain the community would not allow the church to determine their activities either. How then can we work together? Does the church have a responsibility to be involved in the life of their local community? Absolutely. Can both parties benefit when each are acknowledged? No doubt.

I have thought at length on this subject and the results have shaped my philosophy of ministry. When planning events and ministry opportunities for the church body, we should take into account what is going on in the community on that given day or weekend. It is not for the purpose of avoiding conflict. Instead, it is to determine the possibility that the church can be involved in that event. When there are special events in the community, the church should seek ways to involve itself when possible. As the church involves itself in the everyday life of the community, trust is built and relationships will be formed over time.

The goal for the church as it relates to the community is to be an agent of change and hope through the message of the gospel of Christ. When the community sees that the church cares about the people and their future, without any strings attached, credibility is earned in the eyes of the community. Now, does the community have to acknowledge the church for the church to be credible? Of course not. Jesus Christ established the New Testament Church and needs no secular approval. However, the old saying is true here, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Credibility is the platform from which the gospel is made known. It is the bridge that the gospel walks over. Consistent involvement is necessary if we hope to make a difference and a lasting mark on the community into which the church has been planted. Why compete when we can cooperate?

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #3

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.

The first two posts in this series dealt with the characteristics of staying churches. In this and the following post I want to look at sending churches. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “If there be any one point in which the Christian church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate lukewarmness, it is in the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world.” With this in mind, what is a sending church and what does it look like?

Sending Churches are those churches who are intentionally sending people and resources into their community for the explicit purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ. These churches see their community as their responsibility.

What does a Sending Church look like?

1. Sending Churches understand that time is an enemy. We do not know how much time we have. We can make all kinds of assumptions and plans that have us being here for years and years and years. If we believe this we allow ourselves to, either intentionally or unintentionally, put off what we know we should be doing today. Time is drawing to a close and the number of those without Christ keeps rising. Sending Churches understand that they can’t waste even a minute when it comes to sharing the gospel message.

2. Sending Churches have resolved in their hearts and minds that the church exists for those who are not there yet. I say “resolved” because this is a conscious decision, a reality that you must come to terms with. When a congregation commits themselves to the notion that their existence is for those outside of it, personal comfort goes out the window. If I truly believe that my reason for existence as a church is for those not yet a part of it, then I must be willing to be inconvenienced for their sake. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so very well, “The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity.”

3. The passion and resolve to reach their community is reflected in the budget of a Sending Church. As I shared in a previous post, I believe you can tell a great deal about someone by the looking at the friends they keep, their calendar, and their checkbook. The same is true for churches. A church budget is actually a list of priorities; what’s important gets funded. Churches that see the community as their responsibility and are determined to reach it build into their budgets the necessary funding to allow the work to be done. The mark of a sending church is that more funds are allotted for outside community ministry than is allotted to internal fellowship events.

4. Sending Churches intentionally schedule ministries, events, and activities for reaching their community. 

The key word here is “intentional”. Sending churches are very proactive in the scheduling opportunities for their people to serve and connect with their communities. Community engagement does not happen by accident. These churches understand the wisdom in scheduling different types of ministry in different locations. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it is almost impossible to catch fish without putting a hook in the water. It is rare for a fish to jump in the boat. No matter how much the fisherman wants this to happen, it shouldn’t be expected. No matter how much we want people to come to our churches, no matter how much we want to make a difference in the community, no matter how much we want to go after the lost around us, if we never step out and take a risk we will never know the reward. Sending churches don’t talk about ministry and service, they just do it.

5. Sending Churches resist the “maintenance” model of ministry. Most everything that exists requires some sort of maintenance along the way to keep it in good running and working order. Churches are no different. Churches that fall into a “maintenance mode” of existence make the adjustments to keep this working as they always have. Sending churches focus on creating and reaching instead of maintaining. I want to be careful here. I’m not saying that maintenance is bad or that the maintenance model is not effective for the kingdom. However, if the focus of, and the pleasure of the church is keeping the lights on, paying the preacher, and personal comfort, something is out of focus.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #1

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences.

I recently led a conference for our local Baptist association entitled “Community Engagement”. The purpose of this conference was to introduce church leaders to principles and strategies for reaching their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles and strategies that I shared are the same ones that guide our aggressive community ministry at Port Royal Baptist Church. In addition to the fifteen principles, I shared the difference between sending and staying churches. Why mention this? Not every church is ready and willing to reach out and make themselves uncomfortable getting to know and minister to their community. Before any church can get serious about reaching the neighborhoods and communities around them, they must determine if they are willing to pay the price to do so. Over the next few days I will share the nine characteristics of both staying and sending churches. I will begin with the first five of staying churches.

Staying Churches are those churches who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. These churches acknowledge their community but don’t necessarily feel responsible for them.

What does a Staying Church look like?

1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at a person’s friends, calendar, and checkbook and be able to tell where their heart is. The same is true for churches. Churches budget what is important to them. The budget of a staying church reflects a desire, although not spoken, to keep the membership entertained and happy. In staying churches, budgets are heavier in the areas of fellowship and lighter in the areas of missions and evangelism.

2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”. I believe it is fair to say that the one of the largest expenses churches have is facilities upkeep and maintenance. Because of this large monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the church building from anything that might harm or hurt it. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can certainly hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministries. An example here is helpful. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things on the carpet. Children write on the wall. In order to prevent all of this from happening, a staying church makes the decision to not reach families with kids because they might “hurt the building”.

3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.” If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time you have been exposed to all kinds of church programming. I can say that in our Southern Baptist life we have never had a shortage of church programs. Church programming is much live television programming. Cable companies offer shows and programs to satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, hunting, cooking, sports, news, etc.) Church programming is much the same. We utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, young adults, military, senior adults, etc.) Problems occur when churches see the programs as the end and not a means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programming. The real question is not “Do we need to add another program?” The real question should be “Are the programs we are using helping us fulfill our purpose or do we need to do stop and do something different?” A word of caution. Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television show was cancelled? The same feelings are true in the local church.

4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry. This is very common. Throughout the year, most churches take up missions offerings for various causes. Staying churches believe this goes far enough. Why? It’s easy. It’s clean. I had a former church member tell me, “that’s what we pay missionaries for.” It’s one thing to simply throw money at a cause. It’s something altogether different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is one major problem with this practice. The majority of the missions offerings that churches collect are not for their immediate community. Who is reaching them?

5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Not much to stay here. For a church to reach and impact an ever-changing and ever-evolving community, business as usual must go out the window. Staying churches prefer to bask in comfort than to inconvenience themselves for someone else. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty.