Thursday, May 01, 2008

Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry Conference Intersects With The Present Future—Part 2.

How do you get Presbyterians to begin thinking outside of the “normal” Presbyterian box? The PCUSA, as a denomination, has done a good job of trying to be involved in “justice” issues—although, I am perplexed by why they only tackle projects on one side of the political isle. Do we need to help the poor? Yes, we do. Do we need to work toward better race relations? Yes, we do. Do we need to try to lead people to Christ so that they can experience eternal life? Yes, we do. Do we need to encourage people to live moral, biblical lives? Yes, we do. Do we need to encourage Christians to grow in their faith, yielding more and more of their lives to Christ? Yes, we do. Do we need to encourage people to store God’s Word in their hearts (Psalm 119)? Yes, we do.

I have come to the conclusion (and I don’t like the conclusion) that denominations will have little impact on assisting local congregations to carry out these tasks. It seems (at least by their actions) that most denominations care more about the survival of the “denomination” than they do about the Kingdom of God. I cannot think of anything that the PCUSA has done to aid my congregation in its ministry in the past ten years. The closest is the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s camps in the New Orleans area and our Presbytery’s work in the flooded areas of southwest Washington. Still, as important as these two things are, they have had very little impact on the ministry of Evergreen Presbyterian Church.

The world has changed and “higher headquarters” is doing nothing to assist our churches face this new landscape. Oh, they say that the proposed revisions to the Book of Order will help us. Bull!! I have read the proposed changes—several times—and there is nothing that will help Evergreen face the changing religious landscape of today. I read the stuff coming out of Louisville and wonder, “Do these people even recognize that the world is changing?” All I see is more of the same old stuff.

So, what is a pastor or a church to do?

The other day I was watching an episode of The Deadliest Catch. Captain Phil, captain of the Cornelia Marie, wall pulling up empty pots. He would set his pots and they would come up empty. At wits end, he got on the radio and called some of his sister ships. He called—they didn’t answer. They were on the crabs and did not want the entire fleet to know about it. Plus, some felt that all Phil did was follow other boats and set his crab pots where other boats were setting pots. Phil felt all alone—responsible for the financial success of the boat and its crew.

Pastors in the Presbyterian Church (and most other denominations) are a lot like Captain Phil. The denomination is not equipped (I would hate to think that they are unwilling) to help the local congregation fulfill its ministry. So what are we to do?

Here are a few things I have come up with:

  • Spend a LOT of time in prayer and fasting. God has to show us what he wants us to do. We have to connect to his will because he is not going to connect to our will.
  • Wait on the Lord. Most of us do not like to wait on anything. In the past two days I have watched three cars just blow through red traffic signals—the drivers couldn’t be bothered with having to stop and wait.
  • Learn all we can about the changing religious/spiritual climate of the United States and the rest of the world. It is the same God who is active around this world. God is doing great things in many parts of the world; we need to see what he is doing and catch the movement of God’s Spirit.
  • Learn from the past. “Learning from the past” does not mean “repeating” the past. I have been teaching a church history class for the past 14 weeks—only two or three more weeks to go. The class has been anything but boring. We have seen how God has moved in powerful ways. We have seen how the Presbyterian Church missed out on several of those powerful movements because of “fear,” being uncomfortable with the supernatural expressions of the Holy Spirit and just plain old institutional stubbornness.
  • Keep putting down your pots. Crab pots that are on the deck of a ship are guaranteed to not catch any crab.
  • Target your ministries. A crab boat targets male king (you can only keep the males) crabs during king crab season. Male king crabs hang out with male king crabs, and they are located in different areas than Opelio crabs. During Opelio crab season you target male Opelio crabs. Failing to target our ministries will yield poor results.
  • Learn from those who are reaching people with the gospel—even if they aren’t Presbyterian.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure.
  • Be prepared for those steeped in the denomination to be resistant and even upset with you and your church. The loudest critics of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Joel Osteen are Christians—there are very few critics from outside the church.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry Conference Intersects With The Present Future.

Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future intersects nicely with the Purpose Driven Presbyterians model for ministry. The similarities are:
  • The world has changed—whether we like it or not.
  • Individual churches are not reaching the potential that God has for them.
  • Christ calls us to be missional—working to lead people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • The message of the gospel stays the same but the way that it is delivered to those disconnected from Jesus must change.
  • Spiritual formation will be a key component of a living, vital church.
  • God’s people need to be trained, equipped and released for ministry.

The easiest thing that a church can do is to continue doing exactly what it has been doing; unfortunately, what we have been doing may not be pleasing to God. As a Presbyterian pastor, I stand (actually, I am sitting at The Oasis) convicted. For too many years I was not willing to tackle some of our church’s dysfunctional habits. I have seen too many pastors (and church leaders) demonized by their churches (some of them deserved it). Change is always difficult; change in a church is exponentially more difficult than most other settings for change.

Christ never said that following him was going to be easy. The original disciples were beaten, tortured, arrested, ostracized and even killed for their faith. And yet, they gave everything they had to help spread the gospel. That is where the North American church runs into problems.

We have it easy: freedom to worship any god that we choose, a democratic society where we actually have voice in how the government runs and more money than just about any culture since the beginning of time. It is difficult for North American Christians (especially me) to be totally sold out to Jesus. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had—his things got in the way of him being sold out to God. Christ calls us to give up our will, our desire to get our way. Jesus calls us to follow all of the commandments—all of them, not just the ones we like. Jesus wants us to learn how to “submit” to him—yes, SUBMIT. We conveniently forget that Jesus said that few will take the narrow path that leads to heaven.

The past few weeks have been very unsettling. God has been challenging me. Am I willing to be sold out for Christ? Am I willing to help lead a church to become sold out for Christ?

And then a miracle happened and God opened my eyes…

Our youth group is hitting on all cylinders. The vast majority of the students do not come from families with a church background. These young men and women are EXCITED about Jesus. Every Sunday the back of the church is filled with these students. While our church canceled worship last weekend to work out in the community our high school students were right there—even with many of them doing a 30-hour famine to raise money for World Visions hunger programs at the same time. These young people didn’t just do the one job they signed up for—when they completed that task they went down to where the others were working and helped complete other projects. They cooked and served breakfast to the entire Graham Fired Department (even though they had not eaten since breakfast the prior day). They shoveled and raked dirt and gravel. They scraped and painted picnic tables. SOLD OUT FOR CHRIST!

Evergreen Presbyterian Church has turned the corner. We are beginning to learn what it means to be sold out for Christ. We have a long way to go. Call it Purpose Driven. Call it moving into The Present Future. Call it anything you want. I call it—pleasing God!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry Conference – Post #3.

Why did Jesus come to the earth?

Seeking that which is lost is a major theme of Jesus’ parables. Jesus talked about lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. These parables showed how important saving the “lost” is to Jesus.

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save that what was lost. Jesus was about salvation.

What did Jesus think about the “church people” of his day? Reading through the gospels it is easy to come to the conclusion that Jesus had a very low opinion of “church people” – especially the leaders. The “church people” cared about themselves—not those who were “lost.” The “church people” didn’t give a rip about the “sinners.”

Let’s fast-forward 2000 years…

Would most churches be able to prove with a preponderance of the evidence that they care about sinners—those apart from Jesus? Would I be able to prove it? Would Presbyterian churches be able to prove it?

Jesus spent so much time with “sinners” that the church leaders accused him of being a drunkard. Jesus went to the parties. Jesus went where there were prostitutes. Jesus was with people when they were drunk. Jesus was with the “crack-dealers” of his day – the tax collectors. The “sinners” found that Jesus cared about them. The sinners flocked to Jesus. Jesus had good news for them. Jesus gave them hope. Jesus would give them life!

Now comes the hard part… if you don’t want to be convicted you better stop reading now. You have been warned! Since I am a Presbyterian pastor I will be picking on Presbyterians but the criticisms apply to most every church and denomination.

The time has come to cut through all the crap.

How many new conversions have there been at your/my church is the past two months? How many of the new members have truly come into membership through a profession of faith? How many of our new members (or people at worship) have simply migrated from another church? Honestly, HOW MANY!!!

In the Presbyterian Church we have three ways to become a member of the church: profession of faith, reaffirmation of faith and letter of transfer. At Evergreen, we regularly have people come to the church from churches that do not “transfer” members. We are stuck with a dilemma—they don’t fit any of the categories. There isn’t a letter of transfer so we cannot “officially’ call them a transfer member. They have continually worshipped God so they really haven’t come in by profession of faith or reaffirmation of faith. At Evergreen, we record that they come in through a reaffirmation of faith. Thus, our “numbers” are not exactly correct.

An in-depth look at most churchs would find that we gain new people from other churches. We pat ourselves on the back for our annual membership gains. When the truth is that we just swap people back and forth. All the while, the “lost” are still lost. It would seem as though the Presbyterian Church doesn’t care about the lost—even Evergreen! But things are changing (at least at Evergreen).

The secret to being a healthy congregation is to have BALANCE between worship, fellowship/connecting, discipleship, ministry and mission/evangelism. Christian Schwartz, of Natural Church Development, says that a church can only grow to the level of its weakest area. Presbyterian churches do not grow because we do not do evangelism (or what ever you want to call it). Evangelism makes us uncomfortable. Evangelism implies that some people won’t make it to heaven (and we have many pastors who don’t believe this). We are more concerned about those inside the walls of the church than we are about those outside the church. We are out of balance.

Several years ago Evergreen Presbyterian Church did the Natural Church Development survey. We found that our lowest area was “fellowship” – it was even lower that evangelism! We put a lot of effort into building relationship. We have made great strides in this area—we still have a long way to go. If Evergreen Presbyterian Church was to take the survey today we would find that our lowest area is evangelism/mission—we are too inwardly focused. The Faith in Act!on campaign was implemented to help change from an inward focus to an outward focus. We have made baby steps—but we are started in the right direction!

When I hear a church (or church leader, pastor or person sitting in the pews) say that we can’t have a “seeker” sensitive worship service I want to cry. They are saying that they don’t care about the very people Jesus came to save. The arrogance! The pride! God’s judgment?

I have yet to find a church that says, “Sinners not welcome here.” Yet, most things that our churches do communicate that very message.

On the first day of the Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry conference we were challenged to “collect information” about the people in our community. Part of this process includes going to those people who don’t go to church and asking them questions like (there are many more questions that could be asked):

  • What are your greatest needs? What are the needs of your family?
  • Describe the type (not denomination) of church you would go to if you were to go to church?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your favorite radio station?
  • What makes you maddest about the church?

Another part of this information gathering process involves hanging out with some folks who don’t go to church. Jesus did it all the time. I have found that the longer a person is a Christian the less time they spend with unbelievers. We lose touch with the very people Jesus came to save.

Coming away from this year’s Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry conference I felt the Holy Spirit challenging me to spend more time looking outside the walls of the church. I need to spend time with people who don’t go to church. I need to spend time with people who aren’t Christians.

What would happen if every church REQUIRED their pastor(s) to take one Sunday each month and not go to church? No, they would get to just sit at home and watch the ball game. The purpose of “missing” church would be to spend the day with a non-believer. The pastor would be REQUIRED to report back to the Elders concerning that day. Imagine doing that EVERY month. I believe it would change the church. Before long, the entire church would close its doors one Sunday a month so that those who love Jesus would be able to spend quality, and quantity, time with the “lost.” Imagine…

Monday, April 28, 2008

Presbyterians Seeking Purpose Driven Ministry Conference – Post #2.

God is moving mightily all around the world; God’s people (and church) are hindering that movement in North America and Western Europe.

Dan Southerland (our main speaker) identified the four major movements of God in the world today. Some churches focus on one or two of these areas, smart churches stand where these mighty streams converge.

  • The cell church movement: Call them small groups. Call them life groups. Call them house churches. Call them anything you like, the point is that people will not stay in a church where they have not formed close relationships—others of said that “you must grow smaller in order to grow bigger.”
  • The contemporary worship movement: For the first time in the history of the church there is a single style of music that unites Christians around the globe. Hillsong comes out with a new worship cd and within a month those songs are being sung on six continents in thousands upon thousands of churches.
  • The seeker movement: Dan shared a concept called “disconnected” – people are disconnected from God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The seeker movement recognizes that people are disconnected from God and intentionally tries to connect people to God. The purpose of Dan’s church is helping disconnected people move to the next level in their relationship with Jesus.
  • The church planting movement: Denominations do a CRAPPY (my word, not Dan’s) job of planting churches. I have had many conversations with a former denominational staffer person concerning church planting and redevelopment. Very, very few of the PCUSA’s new church developments have succeeded in growing to an average of 200 people in worship each week. The PCUSA plants very few churches. If we want to grow (in terms of numbers) then we must plant new churches. There are at least three or four areas in my part of the Presbytery that should have a Presbyterian church. Our Presbytery doesn’t have the $$$--the new church development $$$ were spent on remodeling the Presbytery Office (they are being repaid to the new church development account at the rate of $10,000/year and it will take about 12 years to repay the money). Local churches need to birth new churches. That is the only way it is going to work. Dan’s church was formed in 2005 with about five people. They now worship well over a thousand AND have planted five or six churches (I can’t remember whether it is five or six—I am getting too old).

Traditional denominations/churches don’t like these four movements of God. Traditional denominations/churches hope and pray for the days of old. Traditional denominations/churches are uncomfortable with these movements of God—the movements don’t fit their worldview.

How do these four movements of God fit into the Purpose Driven model? The Purpose Driven model identifies its five purposes from the Great Commandment and the Great Commission: worship, fellowship (connecting), discipleship, ministry & mission/evangelism. The first three rivers of God’s action (cell church, contemporary music, seeker sensitive) fit nicely within the local congregation in the Purpose Driven model of ministry. Church planting should be the next step for Purpose Driven church in their effort to reach the disconnected.

Dan defined “maturity” as, “the ability to choose purpose over preference.” Dan prefers traditional hymns, music and worship. So do the older folks at his church (Next Level Church). However, they intentionally set aside personal preferences in worship style so that they can reach people who are disconnected from God. His older folk want their grandchildren to know Christ—and that traditional worship styles do not connect with their grandchildren.

SO… how does all of this apply to Evergreen Presbyterian Church and your church, too, for that matter?

We have just completed our four week Faith in Act!on campaign. We average just over 100 people is worship each week. We had about 85% of our church is small groups for the past four weeks! The people in those small groups (and in worship) were encouraged to look outside the walls of our church to see people who are disconnected from Christ and people who are in need. Each week the participants reported back to their groups the ways in which the Holy Spirit directed them to help people (that is being seeker driven). We cancelled our regular worship services this past weekend so that we could go out and serve our community and the world. We had about 83% of congregation show up to serve our community and world yesterday. The people that we served were absolutely BLOWN AWAY with what we were doing!! A reporter from a local paper was so amazed at what was going on that he was with our group for almost 2.5 hours! He visited every work site and interviewed our workers. He thought that we must have 500+ people at our church in order to have that many people out working in the community. He could not believe the actual size of our church. Looking outward—not looking inward, it’s called seeker sensitive. Our worship is already leaning heavily in the contemporary direction, so there as no major change here—well, that isn’t quite true. During the month we used DVDs for many of our “Moments for Mission” spots. We also switched to our new software for controlling our graphic projections during worship—it is way cool!

For the last month Evergreen Presbyterian Church has truly lived as a Purpose Driven Presbyterian congregation. We were living out most of the four major streams of God’s action in today’s world. WAY COOL!