Category Archives: Church

The Future of Church

I’m privileged and honored to be a part of a group of pastors who care deeply about the church and the people they are called to pastor. Dr. Daniel Brown has been instrumental in bringing this group together and speaking into our lives and challenging our thinking. He recently wrote a very compelling paper on the state of the church and many Christians’ view of the church and the need for church attendance. Dr. Brown regularly travels the world and has a broad perspective on this matter. You can find all of the resources Dr. Brown has created at his website Commended to the Word. I wanted to share his paper as I agree with his thoughts completely, as well as a bit of the conversation that it sparked amongst myself and another pastor. Let me point out, we’re all in agreement, we’re just adding our own flavors to the discussion, but it’s a vital discussion and worth sharing. Below is this discussion, it’s a long one, but worth it!

Dr. Daniel Brown’s Paper answering the question “Should We Leave The Church”:

Should We Leave Church Behind?

An Email and a Reply

WHEN I RECEIVED THE EMAIL, I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT MY FRIENDS WERE ASKING. I WASN’T SURPRISED BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN HAVING SEVERAL SIMILAR CONVERSATIONS ALL OVER THE WORLD, especially in the last year. The question Should I leave my church is not new. Most of the time the issue comes up out of frustration or hurt – legitimate or otherwise. Wounded, disappointed believers have been asking themselves, others and God that question for as long as churches have existed. When the vision of a local church and the vision of an individual for his or her life are vastly different from one another, it’s probably even a good choice to leave that local congregation.

But today, more than ever before, believers are asking this question because they doubt the fundamental legitimacy and usefulness of any local church. At issue are not specific decisions or mistakes made by a church leader, but an overall challenge to churches everywhere. Is the local church a distraction to or a distortion of the ministry Jesus wants us engaged in?

Something’s Changing

Over these past months, I have been sensing profound change in the near future for the Church. As pleased as I am with the way in which we did church when I pastored for 22 years, I know with certainty I would pastor/lead differently today. Too many things have changed in our world. God is the Maker of seasons, and He advises His people to use different harvesting approaches for different crops. God invented change and new ways for us to respond.

Whenever change becomes a subject, it instantly creates a measure of fear, defensiveness or worry. The last thing I want to do is to create dread in the heart of pastors – or some need for them to defend their church program or their approach to ministry. Jesus does not instill fear in His Church. However, He does alert shepherds to dangers faced by their flock, so when heresy or false teaching tries to worm its way into our midst, something is supposed to rise up inside of us: an alert, a warning. That is not fear for ourselves; it is concern for others, and it doesn’t usually tie us up in knots on the inside.

It is understandable that we fear the unknown, especially when it is a changed future. Sometimes, however, we become afraid because we worry that we are running or have run in vain – that we’re doing something wrong, and we have been found out. Nothing I am sensing of impending change is even remotely connected with an indictment against leaders and pastors. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit is chastening or correcting the leaders of His church. Quite the opposite, I believe He is trying to give us an inside track for the future!

Is God Finished with Church?

Unfortunately, there are several voices that seem to be calling for an end to the local church. I even heard of one Frenchman who is declaring that church is a false God, and that we don’t need the church; we just need Jesus and ministry without structure. Added to these wild calls to dissolve the church are several developments – like the house church movement. There is no denying a significant decline in church attendance, especially among long-term believers who no longer find church relevant or necessary in their spiritual walk.

It is as though the flock is scattering before our eyes. That should alert us to something fundamentally off-base. Jesus taught us that if a shepherd is struck down, the sheep scatter. There can be no doubt that the enemy of our soul prefers to have the flock scattered! I do not believe that Jesus intends to see His church broken up primarily into isolated pockets of individual believers who have no appreciation for and receive no benefit from larger assemblies. Even in countries where persecution makes small-group fellowships the only option, there is always an earnest desire in believers’ hearts for greater freedom to allow for larger gatherings! How odd that in countries where we are free to congregate publicly in whatever-size churches some people suggest we ought to fragment our fellowship or leave it as spontaneous.

One pastor friend of mine recently asked, “Why do we leave all the important subjects to the crazies and the weirdoes?” He was talking about extremist teachers/prophets who declare that the local church is obsolete. These teachers appeal to isolation and lawlessness that lurk in every heart. Let’s face it, it is much easier to live out my Christian life when I have no real accountability set up around me. Feeling that I am right and my leader is wrong, I can simply unfetter myself from the relationship and walk away. I don’t have to wrestle with the challenging pain of submitting to leaders with whom I disagree.

And as long as I keep my fellowship group small enough, I’m unlikely to find much difficulty in relationships – because the group is, by definition, highly selective and exclusive. The more informal the group, the less likely any member will need to go through protracted seasons of disagreement or discomfort with any other member. There will be no iron sharpening iron, no struggles to get along with fellow believers. “Just me and Jesus” is profoundly off-center from the New Testament record where we read of the church learning to respond to Hellenistic widows neglected in daily rationing (Acts 6:1-8); disharmony between individuals like Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2); as well as the constant exhortation to “preserve unity” (Ephesians 4:3), and not to forsake gathering together “as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25).

Make no mistake, there are many ungodly and spiritually dangerous reasons why individuals get tempted to draw away from regular church involvement. For example, Proverbs 18:1 explains that some people separate themselves in order to pursue their own “desire” unchallenged by the wisdom of others. Sometimes, the lying whispers of slanderers divide and scatter a flock (Proverbs 16:28; 17:9). Self-seekers, fault-finders and worldly-minded people can also create divisions (see 3 John 1:9-11 and Jude 1:16-19).

A Church for Our Era

But what I’m sensing in the larger Body of Christ today is neither what some extremist teachers are espousing nor what carnal saints are following. Those are both smoke-screens, distractions. I’m interested in how the Holy Spirit is whispering something wonderfully fresh, trying to change the way we think about and do church. I don’t feel threatened by this change; I feel excited and hopeful. Months from now, we will have a better vocabulary and a better understanding, so we will be able to dialogue about these developments far better than I am able to speak of them today. But I want to get started.

As I have said, a kind and good God is trying to alert the leaders of His church to a reorientation that will make His church more capable for more ministry in today’s world. Let’s not forget that God is more aware than anyone of the changes going on in our times – and the vastly different mindset of this era compared to previous eras. Could we all agree that God has never been one to lag behind the times; He is the God who prophesies and arranges the future! Since God knows what is coming, He knows best how to position His church to take full advantage of the changes developing in our culture.

I received an e-mail from some friends in another part of the world (see below). It is typical of the kind of conversations I’m having with people everywhere. Long-time believers. Sincere followers of Christ. Seasoned leaders. Mature Christians. In essence, this couple is wrestling with the decision of whether or not to leave their local church. You may not have had similar conversations with people you know, but I promise you that these thoughts are swirling around in the minds of many Christians.

E-Mail From a Solid and Dedicated Christian Couple

Happy New Year Daniel!!! Hope you and your family are doing good!?

Since the Leadership Conference I had the impression I should write you, it was a up and down… But since last night I felt, I have to! But first, no pressure, if you are not able to answer by the way, it’s ok! [Husband] told me, He had a conversation with you once early in the morning… This morning He felt He should go earlier to the breakfast and see if He would meet you there… So it really felt like a meeting from God!

For [Husband] and me, since several months, we felt, how we live church, it’s not really satisfying anymore and we desire for much more.

The last months we met often different kind of Christians from all different kind of churches. It just came so. And… I prayed to have Christians as neighbors and it really happened! In our house and we meet from time to time, encouraging each other in the way with Jesus and to look outside of the church! It’s so great! With the others it was similar, sharing with each other our faith and our visions… and feeling God has something new and fresh for us, that He would like to do something new with our church, with this I mean the body of Christ! When we have spend time with this people, it felt like church!

Many things we were living in our church, I don’t see so much anymore and things were happening lately not so fun with people…

Last night we have been with friends and sharing our lives and suddenly [Husband] told us, since a time it came up more and more in him, He don’t feel good anymore in [Church] and to see things how [Pastor] is doing, and said, the time is over He thinks and it would be better to leave the church.

For me it was kind a shock! Yes of course, since about 3 years I don’t feel so good anymore and I tried always to do what God was asking me to do and to pray for our church and to encouraging people to look on the good things… I got tired… At the moment I feel confusion, frustration, sadness and have many questions about things we are doing where I’m not sure anymore if it’s so in the bible…

We heard a sermon from a guy named [Man], He was pastor for 20 years. God called him out of this and He got another ministry. God met him once, when He almost died and said to him: Stop to preach about revival, preach about reformation, I want do a new thing and changing structures, church living and theologies… About this time, [Woman] and [Man] got the same word! We felt more and more, how we live church it’s not really functioning. When [Husband] tried to speak with [Pastor], He couldn’t get trough. Since many years I submitted to [Pastor] even I saw some things different. Today, does this sound crazy? Is it better to get out?

Should I submit to [Husband] even I don’t have the peace yet? Sometimes I don’t know what means submissions under my husband. What do you think? I really would like to do what God has for us! Sorry, this mail is so long and I stop now!

My E-mail in Reply [expanded from the original]

Hello [Woman] and Happy New Year to you and [Husband],

I am so happy you wrote me. The questions you ask and the implications for your lives are BIG—and not so easy to answer via email. But I will do my best…

Let me begin by telling you what I am hearing and seeing all over the world. Many, many believers are finding church unsatisfying. The feelings of dissatisfaction are not really about specific situations or people. Obviously, conflicts and disagreements over decisions, etc. can always be a problem, but when so many people in so many countries are having the same feeling, I conclude that their feelings are not really about their individual local churches.

So let’s start there. I think it will be a big mistake if you conclude that the problem is confined to [Church], or that if [Pastor] made different decisions you would be more satisfied.

Something much bigger than your local church is going on. I don’t yet have the right words to describe it, but when I read your e-mail, I smiled to myself because what you are describing is what I have been trying to describe. Many believers desire more than just a weekly service. They long to be “ministry agents” – to be more active in sharing with others, and living out their faith in spontaneous, informal ways. I suspect that many of the Christians you have been meeting from other churches are feeling the same thing. So, I do not really believe the problem is with [Church] or any other specific congregation.

In fact, I don’t really see this as a problem, at all. Rather, it seems that God, by His Spirit, is alerting us (prophetically) to something He wants to be doing in the future. [Husband] is a prophetic guy! And your passion for the unsaved will always leave you feeling dissatisfied if you live out your faith mostly within the walls of the church.

I don’t think this is the time to leave your church, as much as it is a time to help lead your church. As you are discovering, leadership in the kingdom is never a simple matter! It requires that we surrender often, pay a huge price of personal sacrifice, and continue to resist the temptation to stop leading. What I mean by that is this: once we leave a group – because they are not yet ready to go where we want to go – we are no longer leaders! We have surrendered our responsibility for others, and have put our own needs/desires ahead of theirs. We have stepped into isolation, and no one can follow us where were going.

This is a mistake that I see many believers make. They don’t understand that leadership is a long process filled with many points of frustration. As a leader, I must always balance a tension. Of course I want to go where God wants me to go; but I also have a responsibility to bring people with me. So I must be sensitive about how quickly I move. There are many people who believe they are following the leading of God to leave the church they have been a part of. But I almost never see those people ending up as leaders in the future. They tend to merely fade away from any lasting ministry, and squander all that was invested in them.

Oh, they might gossip and say bad things about church leaders in order to get people to follow them out of the church, but once they get out of the church, they rarely lead anyone through the Scriptures or disciple anyone in the things of the Kingdom. I have watched so many disgruntled saints become more and more isolated, and less and less engaged in ministry. Bitterness is the usual outcome when people attribute their issues to others’ faults. Can you name even one former leader who left your church in [country] who now exercises any regular leadership/discipleship role for the sake of others? I’ve known your church for many years, and I cannot!

Spontaneous, informal fellowship is fabulous! I’m glad that you are meeting up with other Christians and gathering in your home to share with one another. That really is the meaning of church. But I have also discovered that lasting spiritual results almost always require some kind of structure. Again, it is difficult to maintain the proper balance: if there is too much structure or if we rely too much on programs, the spontaneous life and vitality drains away; but if we just have spontaneous meetings with individual believers, and have no regular structure or regular instruction, the fruit tends not to last.

I urge you to be very careful in the decision you make.

I will tell you a personal secret: the denomination I have been part of for nearly 35 years has mostly been frustrating to me. I cannot even begin to tell you how many disappointments and hurts have come into my life as a result of my continued participation in our denomination. Many, many times I wanted to leave it. I was sure they were not going in the right direction. I was sure they were missing it! Why have I stayed in the Movement all these years? I have stayed because there are only three alternatives: 1) join up with another group/church that will end up having as many problems; 2) start an independent group that will end up having as many problems; or, 3) refuse to connect and submit myself meaningfully to the Body of Christ.

If I leave my church or my denomination, I can no longer lead the people I love who are in them. They are the reason I have stayed in our denomination.

So, here’s the very difficult question for you: What will you do after you leave [Church]? Are you really ready to offer yourselves as spiritual leaders who promise to care for, nurture and disciple these many believers that you are coming into contact with? Or, would you prefer to teach them, by your example, that they can flourish in their spiritual walk without vital, ongoing participation in an assembly of other believers. [By the way, how much of your spiritual understanding and maturity do you think is due to the many years you sat under regular teaching at church—and connected with church members who were further along in their walk?]

Long ago I lost count of the men and women who received love, mending, training and spiritual empowerment at our church, but who later forgot about doing to others what was done to them. When it came time to “grow up” and exchange the thrill of receiving ministry for the responsibility doing ministry, they found fault with the very place/process that God used so mightily in their life! I’m actually somewhat proud that our church couldn’t keep pace with their ever-increasing appetite for being blessed, rather than being a blessing to others.

Right now, the out-of-church happenings in your lives all seem exciting and spiritual. But remember, a tree must be judged by its fruit. True spiritual fruit takes a long time to develop. I wonder if people truly understand just how much pain and suffering and thankless, unsatisfying work is required for authentic spiritual breakthrough? Harvests only come after a long string of bone-wearying days. Jesus doesn’t invite His followers to be ministry connoisseurs, excitement-seekers or free-agents; He calls us to be bondservants who can always find a way to be a blessing to others—regardless of the setting.

I’m not really a spiritual person just because I can walk into an orchard and pick several apples when they’re in season. I am a spiritual person only if I am willing to do all of the hard work for many months leading up to an apple harvest. I have to fertilize, water, dig out the weeds and do many not-so-exciting things. That’s why I’m a spiritual pragmatist: the question that most guides my life (when I do not hear specific instruction from the Lord) is “Where and how can I do the most good to the most people over the long-haul?”

Immediate excitement isn’t the same thing as long-term engagement. For all its warts and blemishes, the local church is still the best arrangement to keep believers in ministry connection with one another to impact their community over many years.

What God is doing right now is very, very big. Even for someone like me who has walked with Jesus for decades, it is still hard to discern what He is doing – and what He wants us to do. But one thing I know for certain. Our response in this changing season must be spiritual in the true sense of the word. Spiritual is not always what I want, or what satisfies me. Spiritual is long-suffering and patient and self-sacrificing. Spiritual sows in tears and remains steadfast even when others benefit more than we do from our participation.

Of course, I will love you whatever you two decide. I sincerely hope that you will find a way to participate in spontaneous ministry outside of church without making the decision to completely leave your church. Both you and [Church] will lose something if you do.

With much love, Daniel

Visit our website ctw.coastlands.org

My Thoughts After Reading Daniel’s Paper

I think what we’re seeing is a backlash of sorts to the attractional model of church in the last 20-30 years. Our style of church has become an entertainment model of sorts, not to be crass, and not fellowship and discipleship/training based. Just as TV shows run their course, people weary of them and they’re canceled, because the audience is wanting more and they walk away. Now, in Western culture at least, self created content is supreme with the rise of YouTube, etc. People want to be involved in the process and not mere spectators. Its not enough to just be entertained. There is a huge community of fan-based content creation. Fans of Star Wars don’t just want to watch Star Wars, they want to make their own Star Wars movies. It isn’t enough to just play Angry Birds, people create they’re own “levels” on their dining room tables out of blocks and stuffed green pigs!
Folks desire to be involved in the process and not mere spectators. But isn’t this the model Jesus gave us? “Go” was his great commission. Jesus’ call is an intentional and specific directive that His disciples and followers be involved in the process! I take what Dr. Brown is clarifying as a call to make churches a place of fellowship and discipleship so that Christians have a foundation in truth to then “Go.” To be involved in the process, to be content-creators of new and innovative ways to advance the kingdom. Our role as pastors is not to satisfy, entertain and placate but to provide a place to cultivate dynamic relationships amongst Christians, for that place where “iron sharpens iron,” and to teach and train Christians to go into a pluralistic culture and contextualize the gospel as Paul did at Mars Hill for the Athenians. In that, I believe, those Christians questioning “church” and their place in it will sense a renewed meaning and purpose to gathering with other believers as a springboard to missional action in their neighborhoods and communities.
A tough reality for us pastors is there is still a latent desire among many to be entertained only and not involved, and they will clamor for that. We will have to walk through this transition with the fresh work the Holy Spirit is breathing as a goal to work towards and be wary of the voices calling for the status quo. A bit of rambling from me, but Dr. Brown has helped organize thoughts and ideas rolling around in my head.
As always Dr. Brown is leading us forward through the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thanks!

My Friend, Todd Millikan’s, thoughts. Todd pastors in California.

The emphasis that this is something new God is doing was at first a bit disorienting for me.  Then I remembered that God hasn’t changed and neither have His methods.  I think that what we’re seeing is the inevitable end of a fleshly approach to ministry.

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8).  Programs and structures are needed just like a body needs a skeleton.  But when programs and structures were heralded and believed in as a source of life rather than a vehicle for it, ministry became fleshy… or maybe better said, boney!  Skeletal.  People who have believed in church rather than in Jesus are disappointed.  People who have been serving structures rather than following the Spirit are disillusioned.

Our job as pastors is to empower people with the Holy Spirit to do hands-on ministry and then invent structures and are flexible to the point of being destructible (when Jesus walked away from the Temple in Matt. 24:1-2, he declared the end of organized religion).  Thus our programs and structures should always be seen as temporary and experimental.

May we always have the faith and courage to invent structures that the Spirit can blow across to bring life (Ezekiel 37).  But may we always be ready to abandon those bones when the Spirit changes directions.

 
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Leadership Writing #1 Courage

As Ephesus Church grows, my heart to see more leaders raised up and trained increases. It seems to be in my mind and on my heart more and more these days. God is working at Ephesus, of that there is no doubt. I firmly believe that over the course of the next year we will see tremendous growth spiritually and numerically. With that, comes much excitement at being a part of God’s work, but it also means it will become much bigger than me (which has already happened!) and require a large team of leaders to effectively accomplish the mission attached to this vision of loving Jesus, loving people and loving the city. That’s why I keep thinking about training up and equipping leaders. Which has led to this: the first of approximately 14 writings on qualities and key issues of leadership, specifically as it pertains to Ephesus Church and the direction God has called us. I’m not intentionally writing to a global audience or attempting to be overly original. My intent with these writings on leadership is to speak into the lives of emerging leaders at Ephesus Church. I will include thoughts and ideas from many sources. My prayer is to impact the ability of Ephesus Church to accommodate and thrive in an environment of growth and change as we push forward with God’s mission by building up leaders. So here goes….

 

LEADERSHIP WRITING #1 COURAGE

Effective leadership always begins with personal courage. If you’re not willing to step out and move forward in the face of great (or small) odds you won’t be able to lead at any level, whether it is leading one other person on a small project or hundreds of people across many levels and departments of the church. Leading means blazing new trails, not always following established procedure, and this requires courage. We’re inspired by leaders who take risks, who are bold, and step out. If we are unable to step out courageously, nothing will ever be accomplished. The church will plateau and eventually decline into mediocrity. My heart and prayer is that we are a church of courage, both personally and corporately. For some of us that means taking HUGE risks, for others it is courage that manifests in the form of baby steps. Both are to be commended, because what is key is that we are all exhibiting courage in our lives and our ministry. Below I’ve laid out 6 key aspects of courage.

1. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk

Courage at its root is exhibited in action. Doing nothing takes no courage at all (unless you’re facing a Grizzly bear and doing nothing is the right thing to do, because if you ran the bear would chase you and eat you, but come on we live in Charlotte!). We know the story of David and Goliath, I preached on it a couple of months ago! That is one of the great stories of courage in the bible. Why? It is a story of courage, because David moved forward in the face of risk. Saul had the title and position, he was king, everyone was supposed to be following him, but what did he do when faced with Goliath? Nothing. No courage, therefore no leadership, and the people gave their hearts and lives to David as their king and leader. 1 Samuel 17.48 sums David’s courage up very well, “David hastened and ran…to meet the Philistine.” This past Sunday (2/8/09) we looked at Jesus’ first call to the disciples to become fishers of men. They had much to learn and a lot of growing ahead of them, but they began their ministry with courage. They dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They gave up everything for a guy they had just met. They didn’t know where this would take them or what all the implications were, but they were already budding leaders because they had the courage to act, to move forward, to be decisive in the face of risk. One of my favorite books/movies is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, and yes, I’ve actually read the book too! The central personality in this story of an airborne company in World War 2 is Dick Winters, who rose from the rank of lieutenant to major over the course of 3 years. Even before becoming company commander, the men trusted and respected him because of his courage. One such example of action in the face of risk was at a crossroads in Belgium during Operation Market Garden. His unit was pinned down and had seemingly nowhere to go except forward into the German lines. Winters acknowledges that he was scared, but something had to be done. So he stands up and runs toward the enemy force. There was incredible risk! The enemy all carried rifles and greatly outnumbered him! But then his men followed his example of courage and they ended up capturing an enemy unit nearly 4 times their size. If Captain Winters had not moved forward in the face of risk his entire unit would most likely have been killed or captured. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk.

2. Courage is not the absence of fear

Too often we think we must not be courageous because we’re scared! Not true! Courage means moving forward in spite of fear. Any great leader or hero, who is honest with himself, will always acknowledge the fear that accompanied their actions and decisions. Courage is being able to act in spite of fear. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, says “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” How many of us were scared the first time we got behind the wheel of a car on the open road? But most of us are still driving (probably all of you!). The destination was worth moving past the fear. The idea of taking the car out on your own on the weekend motivated you, that was courage. Now you probably don’t think twice about getting into a car and driving just about anywhere. Not long ago I read a book called The 4 Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. I’m not a huge fan of the book, because his main theme is to figure out a way to make lot’s of money without you having to do much and then spend the rest of your life on vacation. Maybe that sounds good to you, but it’s like I mentioned in a recent sermon, do you really want to be known as the person who went on a lot of vacations, or do you hope your life counts for more than that? Anyway, back to my illustration, Ferriss does have some good applications for life and how we do things. One of those is about stepping out even when a little scared or there’s a big chance of failure (which I’ll hit on in #6). He said do something you’re afraid to do. He challenges business students to email people they think they have no chance of getting in contact with like Bill Gates or J Lo. I took that challenge. I sent an email to my not-so-secret hero, Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and to a more local pastor I greatly respect, Tyler Jones of Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh and asked them both if I could have a meeting. Mark Driscoll still hasn’t replied! But Tyler Jones did. Side note: Last week I finally introduced myself to Mark Driscoll face-to-face at a conference. I’ve been to his church twice and seen him at 2 different conferences, but I finally faced my fear, and my inherent introvertism and said hi and shook his hand last week. And yes I have washed my hands since, because I’m not a teenage girl with Tiger Beat photo spreads pinned up in my bedroom. And no, I didn’t mention the email, because I’m pretty sure it never made it past an assistant somewhere and I didn’t want to come across as a stalker. That email with Tyler Jones has led to the beginnings of an invaluable mentoring relationship as Vintage 21 started 5 years ago with a very similar foundation and vision as Ephesus and has since grown to 1000 in weekly attendance, and therefore I have much to learn and glean from Tyler. But I had to face some fear and thoughts of “this will never work” and just send an email. Sometimes building our courage up is that simple. A more challenging example in my life was the planting of Ephesus. Our initial plan was to start Ephesus Church in the suburbs of Charlotte near Concord and the University area. I have to be honest, perhaps it was pride or ignorance, but nonetheless, I wasn’t that scared at the prospect of planting a church in that area. Then God shifted our focus and began leading us to plant in Uptown. That immediately was scary! I was scared of what that meant and what it would take. I was scared because I didn’t really know how to plant a church in an urban center. I didn’t know anyone who had ever done it, none of the church planting books really talked about that type of church plant. It was unknown, I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge, and there was fear. But something else came with that fear, a realization that this truly must be God’s plan. He was calling me to courage and faith in Him. True courage means facing fear and moving forward in spite of fear, not in the absence of fear.

3. Courage inspires commitment from others

I believe it was Rick Warren who said if you think you’re leading and no one is following you, you’re just going for a walk. A leader who acts courageously inspires commitment in others. No one wants to follow someone who is indecisive or a wuss! We are all looking for someone who is bold and moving forward to follow after. Again, the example of Dick Winters. Following D-Day Winters’ company was tasked with taking the French village of Carentan. As they approached the village, the occupying Germans opened fire and caught the Americans in the open on a road. Realizing they would be systematically mowed down by machine gun fire, Winters jumped up, yelled at his men to follow him and in the midst of a hail of machine gun fire began running towards the village and the Germans (this was also toward the safety of the walls and buildings of the village as opposed to the open road they were on). Men recounted years later how they were in awe of Winters standing there in the middle of the road with bullets throwing up dirt and debris all around him as he called his men forward. They were inspired to follow and charged into Carentan eventually taking the village. His men then recounted that after Winter’s actions on that road, where they witnessed his courage and leadership, they were willing to follow him all the way to Berlin. If you’re looking for ways to build a committed team, lead with courage.

4. Courage expands your influence, your impact and your world

Too often our influence and experiences in life are limited because we don’t have enough courage. John Adams, our nation’s 2nd president and signer of both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was tasked with a dangerous assignment in the midst of the Revolution, travel to France to build a strategic alliance. Today, going to France doesn’t take much, a few dollars and a plane ticket and you’re there in a few hours. A few years ago, Casey and I traveled from London to Paris on board a high-speed train through the Channel Tunnel. I remember marveling at how quickly and easily we could travel from one nation’s capital to another, underwater, never leaving our seat between breakfast and lunch. But for John Adams this meant a month-long voyage in a small sailing ship across the dangerous North Atlantic in winter. Not to mention any British ship they encountered was ordered to sink them. Adams faced the journey with courage. He ended up having a hand in brokering an alliance with France, was then sent to Holland as an emissary and ultimately became the first United States ambassador to England. Because of his courage to face that first transatlantic journey he was acknowledged as the most understanding man in the new nation of world cultures and the thinking of other nations. No one else in America traveled as extensively as John Adams and this breadth of knowledge and wisdom led to his being elected the 2nd president of the United States. Increasing your impact and influence begins with courage.

5. Courage means thriving on change

At the place we are now as a church and the stage in life many of you are in, this may seem fairly easy. As a young church we’re only now building in systems, programs and procedures, the “way we do things.” With that, everything is changing constantly. Many of you are new to the area, are starting new jobs or first venturing out into a new phase of life. Change is a normal part of many of our lives right now. But that won’t always be the case. We start to settle into routines and predictable patterns, which then can lead to the danger of “coasting,” personally and as a church. You often hear the term “sacred cows.” In the Hindu faith system, cows are considered sacred animals, the culmination of many lifetimes and positive karmic choices which eventually land your spirit in the holy and revered body of a large, slow-moving, smelly, fly-covered, patty-makin’ cud-chewer. The glory! But to many Hindus, cows are sacred, Hindus don’t eat beef, they don’t butcher cows for their meat, they allow cows to roam freely and can be imprisoned or even executed for hitting a cow with their car. That’s the foundation for the term “sacred cow.” If we allow ourselves to resist change and settle into comfortable patterns we begin developing sacred cows in our life and become stagnant. We can’t kill or change the pattern or routine or program or system because it is special or sacred just because we’ve done it that way for a while, or we used to do it that way where we came from, etcetera. Courage means thriving on change. Consistently challenging the system in a healthy way to be more effective or more engaging. It takes courage because it means being willing to try new things, to experiment and to let go of the comfortable patterns we’re used to, but may not be as effective or efficacious as they once were. Often this includes being willing and courageous enough to hand over status and position in support of positive change. This may mean stepping down or to the side and allowing others to take up the banner on the front lines. George Washington was a great example of this kind of courage. There is no question of his leadership ability and courage exemplified throughout the founding of the United States. He then stepped into this very new role of “President” in leading the new republic, and for 8 years he led and solidified this nation through very trying times. But then his courage really showed forth when he stepped aside after two terms as president. What many don’t know is that the two-term limit on US presidents was not legally instituted until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951 as a response to Franklin Roosevelt being elected to an unprecedented 4 terms. George Washington willingly and courageously refused to run for president a 3rd time to allow the new Constitution to gain traction as the underpinning of an elected, republican government. Change was an essential to the strength of the Constitution; Washington understood this and had the courage to support fresh change by his actions. Andy Stanley says, “Leaders challenge what is for the sake of what should be” and then they act on it courageously.

 

6. It takes courage to be willing to fail

Too often we think of courage only accompanying success. But failure often leads to the greatest lessons leading to the greatest future success. If we only focused on the possibility of failure we would never act, and therefore truly fail by accomplishing nothing! There’s a story of Tom Watson, the founder of IBM instilling this principle in a junior executive. The junior man had taken a risk that cost the company $10 million, a lot of money then and now. When summoned to Watson’s office, the executive sheepishly offered his resignation. Watson’s reply was, “You can’t be serious, we just spent $10 million educating you!” Watson understood the courage it took to take the risk and the lessons gained from failing. Our society has developed this unspoken “one-strike and your out” mentality. If that was the case Lincoln would never have freed the slaves, Edison would never have invented the light bulb and Neil Armstrong would never have set foot on the moon (and yes I believe we really went to the moon!). They had the courage to try and fail and try again. Now, it must also be understood that having the courage to fail does not equate to being careless and reckless. God has entrusted us with people and resources that we must steward well. As a nascent mountaineer I have an intense level of respect for Ed Viesturs, one of the world’s pre-eminent mountain climbers. Several things set Viesturs apart from his contemporaries, he’s still alive (!), he has climbed all of the world’s tallest peaks without oxygen, he’s failed to reach the top on nearly every first attempt of those peaks, and he moves forward with courage, but never carelessly (which is why he is still alive!). Viesturs didn’t make it to the top of several mountains on his first attempts, but he learned his lessons and had the courage to come back and try again. He didn’t let failure stop him or carelessness to kill him. Being courageous means being willing to fail and continue to move forward.

 

Work it out:

o   Where have you acted courageously? Not acted courageously?

 

o   What opportunities have you missed because of a lack of courage?

 

o   How would you rate your willingness to be courageous?

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Wrestle

This past Sunday at Ephesus we looked at David’s hurt and frustration when Uzzah died after trying to steady the Ark on its journey to Jerusalem. Seemingly God struck down Uzzah for not a really good reason, at least from our perspective. But that’s right where things get sketchy, when we start trying to answer everything from our perspective. At its core, that’s supreme arrogance. In this world of tolerance and correctness, we determine those things based on our own perspective. Who are we really? Even from a secular, humanistic perspective we’re not much. Just random chance evolution, destined to become worm food. Who are we to say what’s just and what isn’t? The same is true of our understanding of God. Who are we to decide what is just and what isn’t? It’s a tough concept, and one that Christians too often gloss over or pretend isn’t really a struggle. “We’re Christians and everything therefore, is peachy!” But we know in our hearts that’s not true. That’s why it was good to wrestle with those questions this past Sunday. We have to wrestle, constantly. Our faith demands, our purpose to our city demands. God who wants our authentic love deserves it. He deserves a people who wrestle and think and strive to better know Him. Honestly, it was a tough one for me, I had to wrestle with just putting together a coherent message that allowed us to journey closer to understand God’s justice. But I’m glad I did, I’m glad the Holy Spirit prompted me to go there. If you want you can check out the podcast here(will be up by the end of the week of 12/1). Keep wrestling!

PS: I mentioned a couple of great books on the subject, here they are

The Reason for God, by Tim Keller

Mere Christianity, by CS Lewis (an oldie, but a goodie!)

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Matt Chandler brings a smackdown…in a nice way

I don’t often just post a link to other blogs/articles etc. but this one is too good to pass on. Matt Chandler pastors a large church in Dallas that has seen phenomenal growth while being focused on content as opposed to flash. I was convicted reading this article in ways I didn’t realize were inside me. What’s your true motivation? Why do you pursue what you pursue? Are the motives what they should be? Matt Chandler challenges us in this post.

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Questions on theology

You know over the last few months since Ephesus has started to get some traction, I’ve had more questions on theology and what we REALLY believe than in my previous 10 years of ministry combined. It’s funny, because personally I have studied more theology in the last year than I have in any other year of my time in ministry. I’ve been challenged to fully flesh out what I believe and wrestle with issues that for too long the US church has just kind of ignored. I’m certainly not alone in this. Across the US church, leaders and pastors and church goers are wrestling with theology. It unfortunately has led to some schisms, but overall I see it as a huge benefit to our personal relationships with Jesus. We live in a very pluralistic culture spiritually, and that makes it much more crucial that we are absolutely solid in what we know, what we believe, and why we believe it. Paul challenges us in Ephesians 4 to know what we believe and not be swayed. He was speaking to a very spiritually pluralistic culture when he gave this challenge so it very much speaks to us today. So I say, “Ask the questions!” It’s great that people have the questions and don’t just allow themselves to either take things at face value or be swayed by the cunning of man. As for me, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my theology and interpretation of Scripture. I believe I have no choice, but I’m sure on the constant journey of learning and knowing Scripture and the underlying theology better. With that, I’m going to go work through my daily Life Journal now, cause that’s where it starts!

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