I Can’t Go Back! I Don’t Want To Go Back! Don’t Make Me Go Back! Part Two: “Business = Holiness”

July 20, 2010 at 8:06 am

dreamstime_2013090Yesterday I thought out loud about the idea of “professional ministers,” recognizing that most seminaries exist because many churches have failed to properly disciple people and have thus failed to build up leaders. “Leadership development” has thus primarily become about the transfer of information (as has most preaching), so we send our young men off to an academic program believing that they will return equipped to shepherd. Pastors are treated as professionals so that we have to develop proper resumés and go through rigorous interview processes because, as we’ve already noted, churches are not discipling, so we have to hire leaders form the outside.

Much of this mindset also accompanies another subtle but powerful idea that I will not go back to: business = holiness. Many churches fill up every possible day and evening with something on their schedule because we have come to believe that if we’re doing more for or at the church, then we’re somehow more holy. The result is that we look down on those people who have lives outside of scheduled church activities as somehow being less holy, and if they really cared about the Lord, they’d be here with us, because, after all, nothing good can outside of these walls!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that our entire lives should not be devoted to the Lord. I’m just saying that, as a pastor, I would rather our people have their neighbors over for dinner than help keep a program running at a building. At Church of the Cross, we only have two regularly scheduled events on our calender: Gathered Worship and Community Groups. If you compare our calender to some others, you might conclude that we don’t do a whole lot. And, maybe we don’t in the traditional sense. But, I’m comfortable saying that we actually ask much more of our people than many churches that offer something every evening of the week. Rather than participate in a bunch of programs, we ask you to radically reorient your entire life around the Gospel. We ask you to learn (with us) to live everyday life with Gospel intentionality.

I’m not convinced that business = holiness, so we don’t have a lot of things on our schedule. Everyone’s time and resources are focused and funneled inward rather than outward to be a blessing to our neighbors and communities. We huddle together rather than living like missionaries. I think that part of the reason for this tendency is because we often define holiness as not just separation from sin but from sinners. So, the more activities we can come up with to occupy ourselves, the less contact we’ll have to have with “those people.” I think at least one more reason might be because, many of us really do want to know as much as possible. So we want a class for everything. Rather than be equipped to learn ourselves, we would rather be taught, so the more programs our church offers, the better. But, the truth is, most Christians know much more about the Bible than they live. Learning more only increases what you’re accountable for.

Thom Rainer talks about Simple Church, while Tim Chester and Steve Timmis talk about Total Church. Though the authors come from different backgrounds, both books share the conviction that too many of our churches simply bog down our people and bottleneck the discipleship process with business. The most effective churches at disciple-making are the most focused and streamlined. Full church calendars do not always produce fully-formed disciples.

I Can’t Go Back! I Don’t Want To Go Back! Don’t Make Me Go Back! Part One: Professional Ministry, or “Hire-A-Pastors”

July 19, 2010 at 8:12 am

1065245_handshakeI hesitated to write these posts with this title because I don’t want it to be read as me saying that I wouldn’t go back to any of the particular churches that I have served with in the past. That’s not it at all. No, instead, what I’ve been thinking about is more of a ministry mindset. When I began to wrestle through the conviction that I felt like God was calling me into ministry, I did what every “professional” minister does, I went to seminary.

I had a great seminary experience as far as seminary experiences go. After seminary, I did what all good “professional” ministers do, I sent out resumés; approximately 150 of them, to every state in the country, including Puerto Rico. That’s not an exaggeration. We interviewed with around 40 churches, received offers from four of them, rejected all four offers and went somewhere else.

When my wife and I became convinced that God was calling us away from our church family in Texas to come back to Arizona to plant a church, I was honestly a bit scared. I had pastored, but I had never planted a church. I went to seminary, but there was no church planting class. After hitting the ground and getting in the trenches, I am so very thankful for my past ministry experiences, both the good and the bad. I don’t know that you can ever really be prepared for church planting, but I at least wasn’t surprised by some of the things that I encountered.

The deeper we got into planting Church of the Cross, the more we were confronted with what type of church culture we wanted to be. All I really had was my experience, books and interaction with other pastors. But I knew that there was something inside me that no longer felt completely comfortable with the “hire a pastor” approach that has now become the norm. John Piper’s book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals hits on this, but the irony to me is that it is so widely read in “professional” seminary classrooms.

I have come to wonder if we exist in this current system of seminary-educated (but often ill-equipped – let’s be honest, 96 credit hours of academic work does not equip you to sit with a family grieving the loss of their child . . . ) “hire a pastors” is because our churches have failed at our fundamental duty: discipleship. If we fail at discipleship, we fail at leadership development. If we fail at leadership development, we have to ship our young men off to be “trained” in the seminaries. If we send our young men off to the seminaries, they don’t usually come back to serve with us, they go to the church that “hires” them.

Thus, we try to create a “one-size fits all” church and pastor, where the two are interchangeable and a local church can simply hire a pastor to “fill a vacancy.” But what happened to the biblical idea(l) of the church being family? When a brother leaves for college, you don’t hire someone else to fill his role. Despite our best intentions, we have professionalized the church itself. For many, it is one career path among many, it is a marketing niché, a subculture. All this because we have failed to raise up our own leaders and that because we have failed at discipleship (Yes, I understand that the relationship between “professional” ministers and seminaries is a chicken/egg question, but for the sake of this piece, just bear with me please).

I can’t go back to the “professional ministry” world. But that means that we at Church of the Cross had better get serious about discipleship, which leads to leadership development, which leads to equipping the next generation of leaders.

Thanks for Asking; Here’s The Eli Update

July 15, 2010 at 10:50 am

img_2891Last Saturday morning, Kristi went to some garage sales with her mom and the boys and I went out to test our skateboard ramp. When Kristi came home, Eli’s (our youngest of four boys) eyes and mouth had become a bit red and swollen, almost like he had gotten a bad sun-burn only in those areas, or like he was having an allergic reaction to something. We watched him all day Saturday, gave him some Benadryl and it didn’t get better or worse. By Sunday afternoon, it had begun to spread on his body and it began to look like he had a bad sunburn.

We took him to a pediatric urgent care Sunday evening and they said that it looked like an allergic reaction to something, they prescribed some Prednisone and referred us to an allergist. But, over the course of Monday, it became worse. We phoned our pediatrician’s triage nurse who referred us to Phoenix Children’s Hospital urgent care facility. Their initial concern was that it might be “Toxic Shock” or something related so they sent us to Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s emergency room for testing. Phoenix Children’s Hospital immediately admitted us, diagnosing Eli with “SSSS,” or”Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome.”

SSSS is a somewhat rare form of a staph infection involved naturally occurring staph cells that we aimg_29041ll carry. In a certain number of children, usually 5 or under, something triggers these staph cells to release a toxin, which burns the skin. The mild cases (which Eli had) results in what seems to be a sunburn and minor blistering, but the severe cases can result in third degree burns. We were quarantined in the “infectious disease” section of the hospital. We were in the hospital beginning late Monday night and we were released Wednesday afternoon. Since it is somewhat rare, we had a parade of doctors and medical students coming by to look and ask questions.

I don’t know if you have ever had to admit a child to the hospital, but it’s not easy. In fact, it’s quite difficult. It downright sucks. Granted, Eli did not have anything life-threatening, but watching your tw0-year old son get an IV in his wrist and then having to hold him while he screams “DADDY, I SCARED!” is enough to break any Daddy’s heart. And it did.

The whole time we were in the hospital, I kept thinking about the song “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us (I was going to put a link to a video of this song here, but trust me, it’s very hard to find a good version).” There are times when I feel distant from God, but, thinking about how much I love my sons, what I would do for them, reminds me of how much the Father has loved us and how much He has done for us. If I can love my son this much and lay with him all night, how much has the Father loved us that Jesus died for us? It’s not that I didn’t already know these things, but when you’re in the hospital with one of your children, there’s a weight to these truths that penetrates your heart and reminds you afresh of grace.

I was reminded that opportunities to demonstrate and talk about God’s love and grace are always before us, we’re just not always aware of them. The first night we were there, I had the chance to talk with a nurse for about an hour-and-a-half. He was supposed to be asking me intake questions, but he kept asking about our family life. He wanted to know how Kristi and I have made it through 13 years of marriage, how I try to be a Daddy to four boys, how do we not treat them all the same. He had lots of questions about why our family seemed a bit different than many of the families that he encounters. I’ll be honest; I was dead-tired. It was 1:30 in the morning, my fourth son was being quarantined in the hospital and we had just traveled to and from Sierra Vista to do a funeral for some dear friends that day. I was a bit irritable. But I was reminded that, this was a perfect opportunity to tell this man that my wife and I have made it this far, we love our boys the way we do, because of Jesus. I was also convicted about how many similar opportunities I miss or ignore.

img_2905Recently at the Acts 29 pastor’s retreat, I remember Matt Chandler and some others talking about how there are certain times when you can actually feel the prayers of the saints on your behalf. This was one of those times for us. We have felt lifted up with strength and peace in the midst of a trial. We have felt loved and supported by people all across the country and it is humbling. It is one thing to offer prayer and help to others in need and it’s another to accept it. It is a healthy reminder that following Jesus is not an individual sport. We are all in this together. I hope that we can show to others the love and support that was shown to us. The world will know that we are belong to Jesus because of our love for one another (John 13:35). What a powerful apologetic.

We were released yesterday afternoon and have been home since. Eli is doing much better and it’s been amazing how quickly his skin has healed. He is on a very strong, very nasty oral antibiotic for ten days and eye drops, but he is not contagious. In fact, he’s playing with his brothers now. We’ve never been so happy to be back to the chaos. Thank you all for walking through this with us, for your prayers, service and support.

The Three Bs and Resigning Pastors

July 9, 2010 at 10:09 am

picture-113I get e-mail newsletters from the company we worked with at Church of the Cross for our 501c3 application. The latest one really intrigued me. As you can see from the picture, it was all about why July 5th is one of the top days for ministers to resign their positions. The first paragraph reads:

For many pastors the Monday after July 4th is a very depressing day.  That is the day when countless pastors feel the most abandoned by God and by the congregation.   Though the reasoning is not clear, it seems that we pastors, from the day we say “Yes” to God’s call, associate His blessing on our life with the size of the crowd and the offering on Sundays…which is why many pastors want to quit the Monday after the fourth of July!

I get to talk to a lot of pastors. I enjoy hearing what God is doing in different parts of his family. I like being challenged to think outside of my own little box (yes, we all have them). I like to hear what’s working for people to grow disciples and what isn’t. But there’s one part I don’t like; invariably, the question always comes in some form or another: So, what are your numbers? How many people are you running?

I understand the question and why we ask it. There are some healthy reasons to periodically examine numbers. It seems reasonable that if the Word is being faithfully preached, lives are being changed, people are living as a family of learning, serving missionaries, that your “numbers” would increase, even if slowly. After all, the role of the church is to make disciples, which, by necessity, means that we should be increasing. If we are at stagnant numbers for extended periods of time, it seems reasonable to question whether or not we are truly making disciples.

But, the article and the question hint at something both deeper and darker: we have come to gauge success or failure in many churches by the “Three Bs: Butts, Buildings and Budgets.” When this becomes your gauge, your view of the number of people shifts: you no longer praise God for even a slow trickle of growing disciples, because slow trickles, slow, steady growth does not fuel the Three Bs. Far too often, churches have come to view people as a means to an end. The Three Bs are our gauge, so we need people to fuel the Three Bs, so if we’re not growing (numerically), then we’re not “successful.”

Yes, there is a tension here. Yes, we should pay attention to numbers, but I wonder if so many pastors resign on July 5th because they look at numbers wrongly. Instead of understanding the natural rhythms of life and rejoicing that our people get a chance to take a vacation, get some rest (though vacations are often not restful!), be with family and have some fun, we view ourselves as failures because there are not butts in the seats, which affects the budget, which affects the building, which means that we have failed.

There is much more to say here and I’m not the first to say any of it but I just wonder what it might look like if we abandoned the Three Bs as measures of success or failure and got back to discipleship?

I’ve Just Been Talking Elsewhere

July 2, 2010 at 11:00 am

crossI have not blogged here much lately. In fact, it’s been about a month. That kind of defeats the purpose of a blog, doesn’t it?! But all is not lost. In fact, I have been posting over at the Church of the Cross blog. Most of the things I’ve been pondering as “blog-worthy” lately pertain directly to my church family, so that’s where I have been posting. I don’t know if you are interested in those posts or not, but I wanted to point you in that direction just in case.

I thought about re-posting some of the posts here because the comments section works better here, but honestly, I didn’t feel like going to the trouble. So if you’re interested in what I’ve been processing lately, please visit the Church of the Cross blog. I would love your feedback.

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