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 : 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?

National Night Out 2015

NNO15For the past three years, Port Royal Baptist Church has had the privilege of participating in a community-building event known as National Night Out. National Night Out is an initiative to develop and promote crime-prevention programs in neighborhoods involving watch groups, law enforcement agencies, churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals working toward one simple goal: safer and stronger communities. Our church has long had a burden for the multi-housing community that adjoins our campus and had been looking for ways to gain entry. In the years prior, we had not been allowed access to the property for a number of reasons. We approached the property manager with the National Night Out initiative and it allowed the crack in the door we had been praying about.

This is how it works. A church, business, or non-profit organization identifies a neighborhood to “adopt” and invites local law enforcement/fire safety agencies to join them. In our case, Port Royal Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department, and Beaufort County Fire Department will provide staff and resources from their departments to communicate their anti-crime and safety message. This initiative allows police and fire departments an opportunity to show the positive side of their work that many in the community never get to see. Our part is to host a block party (bounce house, popcorn, sno-cones, etc.) including a cookout. The property manager provides the space, power, and internal promotion to more than 100 family units. Through this initiative, foundational partnerships have been formed that have led to current ministry opportunities of ministry and involvement. On August 4th, 2015, we will all come together again to do our individual part in collectively making sure our community knows that we care about them.

Earlier I mentioned foundations for future involvement. From the church’s standpoint, we have had the privilege to go back into this neighborhood and minister in other ways. Because of a “non-church” event, we have been allowed to come back to host “church” events including those related to Easter, Vacation Bible School, Back Yard Bible Clubs, and Family Fun Days. We were able to match our burden for the community with the command to reach all people with the gospel because we built trust and earned the right to be involved in their lives. How did we do this? How can you do the same thing?

1. We took advantage of a secular event in order to lay the groundwork for ministry. Check your community calendars and involve your church in those events. I will be writing on the importance of merging church and community calendars this coming week. Check back for that.

2. We actually believe that our community is our responsibility, not someone else’s. Remember, missional is not about doing. It is all about being. Don’t allow someone else to be the missionary to your community.

3. We were not afraid to be told “no”. Neither should you. Pray, identify, and ask. We were told “no” in this particular multi-housing unit for years. Seasons change. Administrations change. Persistence pays off.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #4

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 the previous post, I began describing the characteristics of sending churches. I defined sending churches as “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.” Here is a quick recap of the first five characteristics of sending churches.

1. Sending Churches understand that time is an enemy.

2. Sending Churches have resolved in their hearts and minds that the church exists for those who are not there yet.

3. The passion and resolve to reach their community is reflected in the budget of a Sending Church.

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

5. Sending Churches resist the “maintenance” model of ministry.

6. Sending Churches view missions not as a singular activity to do but instead view it as a lifestyle to be embraced. Churches are really good at compartmentalizing. Programs have made this easier to do. Missions is often improperly viewed as a single event or a special offering. It is often improperly viewed as something we “do”, rather than who we are. Sending Churches see the pursuit of those outside of God’s family as something woven throughout the fabric of their overall work and ministry. If missions is only seen as something we do every now and again instead of embracing it as a lifestyle to be lived, we will never be effective in pushing back the darkness of lostness.

7. The leadership of a Sending Church models and practices a “live sent” lifestyle. When I say leadership here, I am speaking of the pastor. It has been said that “everything rises and falls with leadership.” This is never truer than when it is applied to the church. One of the interesting things that happens in the local church is that the congregation tends to take on the personality of their pastor. If the pastor is loving and caring, the congregation tends to be as well. If the pastor is cold and dismissive, the congregation tends to be as well. If the pastor embraces the fact that God has sent the believer into the world to be salt and light and models that in his everyday contact with people, the congregation tends to do the same. On the other hand, if the pastor refuses to embrace this fact and does not “live sent”, then all the preaching in the world will not do. Sending Churches are led by pastors who know what it means to “live sent”.

8. Sending Churches constantly evaluate ministries, programs, and staff in order to be in a better position to impact their community. The tendency of any organization, churches included, is to continue along the same path unless forced to change direction. As a result it is easy to get locked into a routine and fall into the rut of comfort and ease. We fail to remember that a rut is simply a grave with both ends knocked out. It is important for churches to evaluate their work and ministry often. This requires tough questions and honest answers. This is hard because over the years people become attached to “their program”, “their class”, or “their ministry”. Leaders must be aware that making changes can create a firestorm when someone’s favorite thing is affected, altered, or discontinued. Churches that are intentionally sending resources and people into their community for the purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ are constantly asking questions such as “What is not working?” “Do we have the proper funding for this ministry?” “Which programs are not effective?” “Are we utilizing the time and energy of our people in the best possible ways?” Sending Churches are willing to place the “sacred cows” on the altar for the sake of those who still need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sending Churches are constantly asking questions similar to this one, “In our current situation, what could we do different in order that more personnel and resources are given to the pursuit of those who are not here yet?”

9. Sending Churches see their community as their personal responsibility. I think this is self-explanatory. If we define community in the context of those living, working, and playing within the immediate reach of the local church, how can we not see them as our responsibility? Many churches see their community as a burden and a not a responsibility. The OT prophet Jeremiah spoke to the importance of accepting responsibility for our location and influence. He wrote, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” Sending Churches feel responsible for the well-being of their community and constantly study it, pray for it, and visit it.

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.

Live SENT–Part #3 : Sensitivity

Slide1In the first two parts of this series, I have introduced you to a SENT lifestyle. Jesus sent His Son into our world for a very specific reason: to make the Father known and to show us how to know Him. To Live SENT means being sensitive to what’s happening around you. As we go about our daily business as spokesman for the King and messengers of the gospel, it is important that we take time to look around and see other people. SENT people are sensitive people. What do I need to be sensitive to?

1. The Condition of People:

When it comes to noticing the condition of people and responding correctly, Jesus is our model. We see a prime example in Matthew’s gospel: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Matthew 9:35-36. We can see here how Jesus viewed the people of His day. Matthew used words and phrases such as weary, scattered, without a shepherd to describe their lives. As we push through our daily lives we need to be sensitive as well to the condition of the people with whom we share parts of our days. We need to be sensitive to the fact that, although things may look good on the surface, people are hurting, lonely, scared, helpless, abused, and hopeless. We need to be sensitive to the fact that, as our North American Mission Board reports, three out of four people in North America have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Being sensitive to other people may at times mean entering their world. Jesus, again, is our model. He worshipped with them, went to weddings with them, worked with them on fishing boats, laughed and cried with them. There is a difference between seeing and looking. Those who are hurting have had enough of people looking at them with false pity and contempt. They need to be seen, and when seen, loved on and cared for. It is a fact that Jesus did not give his life for a denomination, a building, or a program. It was people like you and me. Shouldn’t we look at others with the same sensitivity?

2. The Movement of God:

We all have an idea of what we want to do and we have found a comfortable routine in which to do it. I wonder if we have become slaves to the routine, prisoners to the programmed life, and enslaved to the calendar. I wonder if at times we don’t subconsciously try to calendar the movement of God in a way that suits us. I wonder if God Himself has our permission to shake up, rearranges, and stir our lives? I think about the apostle Paul here. He was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s reordering of his personal plans. “After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:7-9)

What now?

1. Pray for a brokenness over the condition of those in our communities that are hurting.

2. Intentionally come along side someone you know that is hurting and be a friend.

3. Ensure that your plans are not set in stone. Give the Holy Spirit permission to move you.