Oct 21, 2013

PRAXIS is Moving to Things That Matter

Friends, it's been a fun journey blogging on this site. 

I will now be blogging over at Things that Matter as the wordpress site offers more options.

Hope to see you at the new and improved site! 


Oct 14, 2013

If There is No Struggle, There is No Progress...Frederick Douglass

This quote came from the Common Prayer reading from this morning.

American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who press to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. 


Oct 13, 2013

A. W. Tozer on Money

As base a thing money often is, it yet can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost souls to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.

A. W. Tozer

Oct 12, 2013

The Question...

"The question which has to be put to every local congregation is the question whether it is a credible sign of God's reign in justice and mercy over the whole of life, whether it is an open fellowship whose concerns are as wide as the concerns for humanity, whether it cares for its neighbors in a way which reflects and springs out of God's care for them, whether its common life is recognizable as a foretaste of the blessing which God intends for the whole human family."

Leslie Newbigin

Oct 9, 2013

Legalism...Why It's so Deadly


There was a man named John who walked into a bank to finalize a business transaction dressed in his blue jeans. The teller told him that the officer he needed to see wasn't in and he would have to come back the next day. John said that would be fine and asked the teller to validate his parking ticket.

The teller then informed him that according to bank policy, she couldn't validate his parking ticket because he had not technically completed a financial transaction.

John asked for an exception, since he had come to the bank intending to do business, but wasn't able to because the appropriate officer wasn't in.

The teller didn't budge. She said, "I'm sorry; that's our policy. Rules are rules."

So John decided to make a business transaction. He decided to close his account.

The account he closed had a balance of over $1.5 million.

This qualified as a business transaction, and the teller was able to validate the parking ticket.

True story.

Legalism.

Rules are necessary.

Life would be chaos without rules.

However, legalistic adherence to rules without using common sense and judgment is not only dumb but it's deadly. It will kill relationships. It will destroy organizations.


Oct 8, 2013

Woo Hoo!!! World Communion Sunday

What a great Sunday!!!

LCOP, thank you for responding and showing up to our first combined communion Sundays.

It was so cool to celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism, receive new members, ordain and install our new deacons with the whole church gathered in one place. Loved seeing the sanctuary full with our people.

What a great Sunday!!!

Way to go LCOP! You made it happen!

Looking forward to many more great celebrations to come.

Oct 7, 2013

The Little Church on the Prairie...Love this Church, Love This Name

The Little Church on the Prairie...

Seriously? That's the name of the church?

Yup.

If you've lived in Lakewood, this name is no big deal. It's a part of your reality. People around Lakewood know this name because the church is kind of a historic place. It's been around as long as Lakewood has been around, and the church has done some pretty significant ministry around here. So when locals hear the name, they think of the history and the legacy of the ministry of the Little Church on the Prairie.

When everyone else hears the name of the church, they hear "Little House on the Prairie."

Come on. You did too.

When I tell people the name of the church where I pastor, one of the most common reactions is laughter. They think I'm kidding. And when they realize it's really our name, they're embarrassed for laughing.

That's how it typically goes.

For new residents in Lakewood and for others who don't know our history, the name doesn't do anything for us. One could make the argument that the name actually might be hurting us with new residents and younger people who are looking for a church in the area.

When I first came to LCOP as its senior pastor, one of the changes I contemplated was leading the church through a name change.

As with all change a leader leads, there are some very important questions to consider:
  • What are the costs?
  • What are the benefits?
  • Is this a battle worth fighting?
First, what are the costs of making such a change?

There are folks at LCOP who were born here. They're parents help to get the church started. They were baptized here, married here, and buried their loved ones here. The Little Church is their church. Changing the name of a church or organization that has as much emotional ties as our's should only be taken with the utmost care.

The cost of making a name change would have been very significant. It could have been done but would come at a costly relational price.

Second, what would be the benefits of a name change?

We could have gone with a name that expressed more clearly the vision and the direction of the church, a name that connected with the people we are trying to reach in the community.

Finally, would this been a battle worth fighting?

One of the realities of leadership is that not all battles are worth fighting. There are things that absolutely need to be fought for, but not all things fit in that category.

The more I spent time reflecting on the name, it was clear that this would have way more relational cost and consequences than benefits. And more importantly, with all the other things that needed changing, the name of the church was not even close to being a priority.

I'm going on four years of as one of the pastors at the Little Church on the Prairie. You know what? The name's grown on me. I actually think it really fits the culture and the history of this church.

We are a place where simplicity matters, relationships matter, character matters. We may not be the fanciest place around, but you're going to find some wonderful, caring, loving people at the Little Church on the Prairie.

The Little Church on the Prairie...Love this church! Love this name.

Sep 24, 2013

Combined Worship Services Every Month? Yes!!!


Have you heard? The Little Church on the Prairie will be having combined worship services on first Sundays of every month!

Here are some reasons why the Little Church on the Prairie will be having a combined worship service on communion Sundays.

First, one of the things people have said about the two services is that we rarely get an opportunity to get to know one another. Having two services is like having two churches.

We agree. So we are planning on worshiping corporately as one church at least once a month.

Second, the sacraments should be celebrated together. Every time we take communion and baptize, we celebrate our oneness in Christ. And since we’re celebrating our unity, what better way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptism than doing it as one church.

The sacraments ought to be celebrated together. So we are.

Thirdly, whenever officers are elected, they are installed and ordained for the whole congregation. We’ve been installing and ordaining our officers at one service while saying something like, “In the earlier service we installed and ordained…”

We don’t want to do that anymore.

Our elected officers are installed and ordained for our entire congregation. Our entire congregation should celebrate our officers together. So we are.

Finally, until recently, we’ve been receiving new members at their respective services. We believe receiving new members is one of the greatest joys of our church. We believe we ought to welcome and celebrate new members together. So we are.

Have you heard? The Little Church on the Prairie will be having combined worship services on first Sundays of every month!!!

Hallelujah!

Let’s worship and celebrate together.

In Christ,
Pastor James <><

Sep 19, 2013

Oscar Romero: Prophet, Priest, Martyr

Image Borrowed from http://mauricebroaddus.com
Oscar Romero, a Catholic priest and martyr from El Salvador, said, "A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth - Beware! - is not the true church of Jesus Christ. A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call."

WOW!!!

Sep 12, 2013

Success and Failure - Michael Jordan

"I've missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. 

"I've lost almost three hundred games. 

"Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. 

"I've failed over and over again in my life.

"And that is why I succeed."

Michael Jordan

Sep 11, 2013

How Can We Best Remember 9/11?

Image Borrowed from National Geographic
9/11

This date will never be the same.

I was on my way to work and the radio announcers were trying to make sense of what just happened when the first plane crashed into the Twin Towers.

A few minutes later, the radio announcers said that another plane had hit the Twin Towers.

This wasn't an accident.

This was an act of terror.

By the time I got to the church office we were all gathered around a television numbed by the shock and horror of what we were seeing. It looked surreal. It look like a scene out of a movie. This shouldn't be on the news!

This morning as I was driving to the office, I heard a radio broadcast of the announcers reacting to the events unfolding that day. Hearing the shock and dismay of the announcers from 9/11 brought back a flood of emotions. I found myself tearing up and then feeling a sense of rage against the cowards who intentionally targeted civilians.

The rage and hatred against the evil perpetrated by the terrorists that day was as real and visceral today as it was on that day.

But here's the thing. If we respond to evil and hatred with more evil and more hatred, we lose. America and all she stands for loses. Honor loses. Goodness loses. Virtue loses. Freedom loses.

For those who truly hate and despise evil must never allow evil to stop us from choosing the good, from serving others, from toiling for peace. For the moment we give up on choosing the good, evil triumphs.

America, choose the good. Serve those less fortunate. Never cease in working for peace.

Remember 9/11.
Image Borrowed from National Geographic


Aug 26, 2013

Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, MTV, VMA's - Reflection of American Culture

I woke up this morning to the Twitter and Facebook world exploding with tweets about Miley Cyrus raunchy performance at the VMA's last night.

Most of the tweets, posts, and news reports lambast Miley Cyrus.

I get it.

Some have lambasted Robin Thicke and others who charge that there's a double standard when Miley Cyrus is being criticized and Robin Thicke isn't.

I get that too.

But here's the thing: the reason why Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, MTV, the VMA's do what they do is because the American public wants to see that crap.

If people don't watch, buy their music, turn the radio off or tune to another station when their songs come on, then there is no story.

Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, MTV, VMA's are a reflection of American culture.

We have been pushing the boundaries of decency so far that what is truly offensive and shocking is permitted, celebrated, imitated.

That's what saddens me.


Aug 20, 2013

Stalkers or Followers of Jesus

Your typical American Christian:

  • Wants to know much about Jesus as possible - his life, his friends, his life-style, his routines, his habits, his tendencies, etc.
  • Memorizes sayings of Jesus
  • Studies the characteristics, motives, thoughts, and intentions of Jesus
The major problem with all of the above: this is what stalkers do.

Jesus never asked us to stalk him. He asked us to follow him. 

Following Jesus not only is about knowing things about Jesus, but being changed and transformed by Jesus. 

So which one are you? 

Aug 14, 2013

God's Dream for the World

God's dream for the world is about the redemption of all creation, not just individuals getting into heaven; it is about the restoration of life as God intended it to be; it is about realigning life around God and God's ways.
Alan Roxburgh

Aug 13, 2013

Thoughts from Watching Elysium

This past weekend I had a chance to see the movie Elysium.

The story takes place sometime in the near future. The planet earth has been abandoned by the rich due to the violence, the pollution, the disease, etc. The rich have deemed earth to be unliveable.

The rich live on an idyllic setting called Elysium. On Elysium there are no illnesses. There is no hunger. There is no pollution.

The people living on planet earth long to live like the rich on Elysium.

One of the interesting things about Elysium is that they have the technology to cure all illnesses.

As I was talking with my brother-in-law about the movie I could not shake the thought that people had the technology and the ability to cure all diseases, and yet  they refused share that technology and ability with all people? Why would anyone want to keep such technology for only the few? Why would they only limit healing for the rich? Why wouldn't they use the technology for all who needed healing? What kind of people would be okay with keeping such technology to themselves?

It made no sense to me.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks...we have enough food and technology right now to eradicate world hunger.

Not another human being need to ever die again because they did not have enough food. We already have all the food to feed all the people on the planet.

We already have the technology and the infrastructure to get the food to the hungry.

So here's the million dollar question?

Why aren't we doing what we know to be absolutely doable today? Why are people dying of hunger?

Jul 26, 2013

Burnout and What Leaders Can Do to Prevent It

One of the realities all organizations face is burnout: leaders burnout, your people burnout, burnout happens.

I've been reflecting on my leadership for the past twenty plus years and I know that there were good people - people who love Jesus, who love the church, who appreciated my leadership - who still experienced burnout with my leadership and the church.

I HATE the thought of my actions and my leadership causing people to get frustrated and discouraged.

Life is hard enough, church is hard enough! And the thought that my actions and my leadership caused others to burnout just kills me.

As I consider my ministry one of the areas where my leadership fell short is in helping good people connect what they were doing to the bigger picture.

You see, in leadership and organizational life, there are some things that need to get done that are not fun, glamorous, exciting. There are some things that need to get done that are boring, routine, and difficult.

That's just life. That's organizational reality.

One of the surest way to guarantee burnout and frustration is when people are engaged in activities and responsibilities to which they don't see making a difference.

But here's the thing: there are some activities and responsibilities that don't necessarily produce immediate results that are visible. But if they're not done excellently, the organization crumbles. Accounting, property maintenance, stewardship, fund raising, volunteer coordination, etc., are some examples that come to mind.

If these things don't get done excellently, no organization will function for long.

The key is in reminding and encouraging people that what they are doing absolutely impacts the vitality of the organization. The leader has the capacity to help people see how what they are doing is making a difference.

I can do a better job. I must do a better job of this.

Another way that my leadership has caused burnout is when people are asked to do something that is outside of their giftedness and strengths.

I confess that because certain leadership responsibilities needed to be filled, I've agreed to people being placed in roles that I knew were not their strength or their passion.

That's stupid!

One of the leader's task is to place people in roles and situations where they can thrive.

I can and must not do that to people who love God and love the church. That's a sure way to cause people to be discouraged.

Life is hard enough. Church is difficult enough.

Leaders should do their best to not add extra burden to those who are giving of their time, talents, and finances to see God change the world.

I pray that I am getting better as a leader.

The people of LCOP deserve to have a leader like that.

Jul 24, 2013

No Perfect Church; But Every Church Can Improve

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow - 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Reality - Only God can grow churches.

Without God, nothing grows. Without God, nothing happens.

Only God grows churches.

But then how come I stress out so much about church growth? How come pastors and leaders freak out about the lack of growth?

While it is absolutely truth that only God grows churches, it is also absolutely true that churches can do a lot to ensure that their particular church doesn't grow.

God designed the church so that when the church behaves and functions like a church, churches grow.

However, because churches are filled with people, churches are filled with personal agendas. Yes, that includes the pastors and leaders. So when churches get off target from why the church exists and starts playing the personal agenda game, bad stuff happens. And when bad stuff happens, growth...well...it ain't happening.

There are too many examples of how this plays out. I'm sure you can list your own. But here are some from you might have encountered.
  • When a visitor who's been reluctant to try the church thing comes to the church for the first time in a long time is asked to move seats because they are sitting in someone's seat
  • When a person is told that if they would just pray more then they wouldn't be dealing with so much guilt and shame
  • When a person is told that perhaps it was their fault that their spouse beat them senselessly
  • When a person is told that they don't belong because they are _______
The list literally can go on for quite a while.

That's the thing.

God designed the church to grow. God is the only one who can grow churches.

BUT!!!!! 

The church can sometimes be its biggest hurdle because the church keeps getting in the way of Jesus.

So what can we do to be better at being the church God wants us to be? I don't know all the answers, but I think these might be a good start.
  • Treat all people with love, respect, and dignity.
  • Being gracious, welcoming, hospitable trumps being right and getting my way. It's not that being right is not important. Being right absolutely matters. But caring must come first. We must earn the right to teach the right things. 
  • Don't just proclaim good news. Be good news in the community.
  • Make difference.
  • Make the world a better place because Jesus is Lord. 
  • Establish God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
No church is perfect. 

But every church can improve.

Jul 18, 2013

Missional Disciples

There's a lot of conversation in church circles of "missional" churches. I am one who finds the writings and the experiments with the emerging and missional churches quite fascinating and hopeful.

I've come across quite a few attempts at to define what it means to be a missional church.

Bottom line, if a church is missional, I believe there are several characteristics about this church.

  1. The church exists to accomplish its mission
  2. The mission of the church is not to be discovered. God has already given to the church her mission. It is the great commission: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you."

In order to be a missional church, it needs to be filled with missional disciples.

So what is a missional disciple?

A missional disciple is one who has made the mission of Christ his/her own mission and see themselves as a missionary in a world that needs to know who Christ is.

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

The Bible assumes that when we live as faithful disciples, that our lives would be so distinct, set apart, and attractive that the people around us would ask us about the hope that is in us.

So let me ask you, when's the last time anyone asked you about the hope that is in you? When's the last time anyone asked your church about the hope that your church brings?

That's a problem!!!!!

I want to be asked.

How can we live in such a way that people would ask?

You've got be missional disciples. Whatever else this may mean, it has to mean that the missional disciple see him/herself as a missionary in the world they live.

In order to be a successful missionary, here are several things that successful missionaries must do.

  1. They need to learn the language of the people they are trying to reach. 
  2. If you don't know the language of the people you're trying to reach, you're not going to get anywhere. We must learn the language of the people in our neighborhoods hanging out at Starbucks, at the gyms, at the bars, at our work places. 
  3. They need to learn the culture of the people they are trying to reach. Even if you know the language of the people you're trying to reach, you still need to learn the ethos and the values of the people you're trying to reach. Because until you do, you will find yourself offending the very people you're trying to reach, and you won't even know that you're being offensive. 
  4. They need to certain of Jesus. You need to know what the good news is. You need to know why you're doing what you're doing.
  5. They need to translate the good news of Jesus Christ in a language and values that makes sense to the people they are trying to reach. They need to know how to be good news to the people they are trying to reach. 
This is what successful missionaries do.

This is what missional disciples do.

Missional churches, therefore, are churches that are making and equipping missional disciples.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

The leaders of missional churches will focus their time and energy in making and equipping missional disciples. This is one of the main purposes of leaders in missional congregations.

Is that how your church is functioning? 

Jul 17, 2013

Zimmerman Case and the Good News of the Gathered Church

Every time we gather to worship, I say to the congregation, "You are in the right place! There is no other place God would have us to be than right here in God's house worshiping God!"

I say this same phrase every week.

I know it can become routine but I say it because it reminds me of why I am there...it reminds me of why we are there.

That was never more true that this past Sunday. I shared with my congregation the following thoughts.

You see in a congregation like our's, there were folks who gathered to worship who applauded the decision of the Zimmerman verdict. At the same time, there were folks who were outraged and hurt by the decision of the Trayvon Martin case.

But you see, the most radical thing that was taking place at the Little Church on the Prairie that Sunday and every Sunday that people gather to worship was that people were declaring that the hope of the world was not in the hands of some jury, or court system, or the political system of a country.

The hope for our communities was not in correcting an injustice or celebrating the justice system at work.

Our gathered community was the visible demonstration that the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

And because of Jesus Christ and all that he had done for us on the cross, we the gathered people who might disagree passionately about what happened with the case and other many important issues were going to treat people we even disagree with with love, respect, dignity, honor, and grace.

We commit to treating all people with love, respect, dignity, honor, and grace because we believe that our calling from Christ is higher than any political or social calling.

We were declaring by our gathering that our hope for the world and our community was in folks who call themselves Christ-followers treating others, regardless of political, social, educational, financial, racial, differences with love, respect, honor, dignity, and grace precisely because Jesus is our Lord.

Our gathering was a visible protest against the ways of the world and against the powers that be, that our only hope is in Christ and Christ alone.

That's what our church proclaims every time we gather to worship the risen One.

Jesus is the hope of the world.

So every time we gather for worship, know this: We are in the right place. There is no other place God would have us to be than right here in God's house worshiping God!

Jul 16, 2013

Why the Church Exists Part 3: Make Faithful Disciples

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20).

The purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is best expressed in the great commission. There are three parts to the great commission:
1. Go
2. Make new disciples
3. Make faithful disciples

In the last several days we have looked at the first two parts of the great commission. Today we'll look at the third part of the great commission: making faithful disciples.

The church is to go to where people need to see the gospel of Jesus Christ incarnated where they live, work, and play. The church is sent to the people who need Jesus because the church is supposed to make new disciples.

When new disciples are made, then the church's task is to make all disciples into faithful disciples.

I need to make a disclaimer. Faithful disciples is redundant. If you are a disciple, you are faithful.

That being said, the truth is we've created a lot more church gathering attenders than we have made faithful disciples.

What is the definition of a faithful disciple? Jesus tells us. Faithful disciples are those who obey everything that Jesus has commanded. Faithful disciples are obedient disciples.

Discipleship has everything to do with following and obeying. It's not about how much of Bible we know, how long we've been going to church, what titles we might hold in the church.

It's all about following Christ and obeying Christ.

So how are our churches doing in making faithful disciples? How are we doing in the whole following and obeying thing?

The most honest answer I think we can give is that we do this well in parts.

One of the things about most mainline churches is that while we have been doing a fairly decent job of educating our members, we have not been doing as well in helping people become obedient and faithful disciples.

Howard Hendricks once said, "God doesn't reveal truth to us so that we can be smarter sinners. The purpose of revelation is for transformation."

The reason why God reveals truth is to change us. And we are changed when we obey everything that God has commanded us.

Most of our churches have wonderful God-loving people. That's certainly the case in my church. Our people love Jesus and genuinely want to do what God is asking of us...to a point.

I say to a point because in all honesty, this is something I personally wrestle with.

Jesus doesn't merely ask for 10% or a part of my life. Jesus demands my all.

The problem I have with discipleship is the "all" part. If one were to observe my life, most would think that I am doing better than most. But the truth is, there are still parts of my life that I have the hardest time surrendering to Christ. I don't mind giving to God 10%, 50%, heck, most of my life. I think I've done that. But there are parts that I still have trouble giving over to God.

That's the part of discipleship I struggle with.

That's the part of discipleship that I need to keep working on.

That's the part of discipleship that our churches need to work on.

The question we need to ask is, "Is what we're currently doing producing faithful, obedient disciples?"

The answer to this question will be addressed by not how much of the Bible we can recite, or how long we've been going to church. It simply comes down to how much we obey what God has commanded - not just the parts we agree with, not just the parts we like, but simply what God has commanded.

Do we resemble Jesus more and more in our actions and thoughts?

We are a congregation doing our part to pray, discern, and discover better ways to go and make new disciples and make faithful disciples.

What we're certain of is that what we're currently doing is not helping us accomplish our main mission.

Therefore, we are in a season to discern and discover what God wants the church to be about:
1. Go! - go to where people are and be good news to those who don't know Jesus
2. Make new disciples
3. Make faithful disciples

While we don't yet know the "answers" to being this church, we are convinced that it will involve our church changing and becoming something different than what we are currently.

How we can put the resources of people, talents, time, finances, and facilities of LCOP to maximize our ability to go and make new disciples and faithful disciples.

I hope that you too will journey with us in discovering better ways to accomplish the mission given to us by Christ.

This isn't our mission. It's not the pastor's mission. This is the mission which Jesus charged his church with when he ascended into heaven.

So let's get it!


Jul 15, 2013

Why the Church Exists Part 2: Make New Disciples

Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20).

The reason why the church is sent and told to "Go" to the people who need Jesus with the good news of Jesus Christ is so that the church can make new disciples of all nations.

Specifically, we are to baptize new disciples.

So how are our churches doing with the whole making new disciples thing?

If your church is anything like your typical mainline churches, it's not doing too well. Actually, most churches are tanking. In fact, in far too many cases we are burying more people than we are baptizing people. In too many of our churches we have way more funerals than adult baptisms.

Not good.

We can point to lots of busy bodies. Lots of programs. Plenty of facilities. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent. But the end result is still the same. We are failing in Christ's main mandate for the church.

Is the way we're currently doing church the best way, the most effective way to reach non-Christians? Is what we're currently doing the best way to make new disciples?

It doesn't take a seminary degree to figure out that what we're currently doing is not the best way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. You don't have to be a genius to see that what we're currently doing as a church isn't the only way to do and be church. The numbers speak for themselves.

Here's the million dollar question? If this is not the most effective way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, why do we keep doing what we're doing?

Shouldn't we try something else? Shouldn't we try things that might actually produce better results?

With the exception of very few churches, churches that are growing are not growing because they are making new disciples, but most churches that are growing are growing because other churches are declining. Member transfers, church hoppers are the typical ways that churches are growing.

The thing is, when we get to heaven God will ask us, "Did you accomplish the main mission for which I created the church?"

One of our realities is that most of the churches in the United States are absolutely failing in making new disciples.

But here's the good news. We can change. We can start doing things differently.

In the book of Acts, we come across the burgeoning New Testament church. All the first Christians were Jews. When the first Christians said "church" everyone knew what church looked like. It was the gathered people around the word in the synagogue, and everyone who was part of that community was Jewish.

Just as when we say church, most people think about gathered church in the sanctuary and assume that's what a church looks like without even giving it a second thought, this is how the early church thought about church.

Of course church is the gathered Jewish community in the synagogue.

But in Acts 15, the early church did an amazing thing. They discerned that the new emerging gentile Christians did not have to do church in the way they've always done church in order to be a part of Christ's church. The early church leaders refused to force people to become like them in order for gentiles to be Christ-followers.

Could it be that the greatest gift that our church can offer the emerging church is the recognition that the new emerging church does not have to do church the way we've always done church in order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Take a good look at the new testament church before Constantine. It was not clerically centered. It was not tied to a physical property.

They gathered around the word. They prayed. They shared a common meal. They served one another. They served and ministered in their communities.

Acts 15:19-20 says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood."

The early church leaders made a critical decision. They were going to do whatever it took, do everything in their power to reach those who are turning to God.

This was not a watering down of the gospel. Standards would not be compromised. But they were totally open to doing whatever it took to incarnate the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Everything I have been trained to do is to grow and sustain the institutional church. Most of my time is spent to make sure we have a good Sunday experience.

But this Sunday experience has clearly shown that it is no longer helping us to accomplish our main mission of making new disciples.

So why do we keep doing what we're doing even when we know it no longer works?

Let me tell you a secret.

God loves the people around your church who don't know him. God already knows how best to reach them.

Our task is not to figure out best ways. God already knows.

Our primary task is to pray and ask God how he wants the church to love the people God already loves. And then when God tells us, go do that.

Go and make new disciples.

Go and do whatever it takes to make new disciples. 

Jul 12, 2013

Why the Church Exists Part 1: Go!!!

GO!!! and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Go!!!

What don't we get about "Go"?

That's the first part of the great commission. The church has somehow turned this complete backwards. 

The invitation of the church is "Come". 
  • Come to church with me. 
  • Come to our small group. 
  • Come to VBS.
The church is called to go to the people who don't know that God sent his Son to to die on the cross to pay the debt of sin so that those who believe would have eternal life. That's our calling. We are to go to where the people are. We are to be the good news in the very places where good news is so desperately needed. 

And yet instead of going, we keep staying and inviting folks to come.

Instead of being missionaries - ones who are living out the mission of Christ wherever they are - we ask non-Christian folk to be missionaries to church communities.

You see, missionaries go into areas where people don't know Jesus and learn to speak the language of the target people, learn the culture of the target people, and translate the gospel in a way that the target people can understand.

But when we invite people to church, we are asking those who do not know church language, understand Christian culture, to come into church adapting Christian practices in order to receive grace.

This is totally backwards.

Go!!!

You see, not only is this the opposite of what we have been called to do, but this is highly unproductive in a post-church, post-Christian world. 

When it was the norm for people to go to church, the "come to church" invitation worked. Even if people didn't go to church, there was a generation when people knew they should be at church. In fact, there was a day when people would have felt guilty being outside during church hours.

Those days are long gone.

In today's world, we have to recapture God's call for the church to "Go" to where the people are. 

A while back, I was talking with one of the pastors on staff at my church about our new members classes. I told him that at the end of the class what I wanted every member to commit to were the following: 
1. worshiping at one of the worship services
2. joining one of the small groups
3. giving and serving through our church

I felt pretty good about these things.

And then I got home and began thinking about what I just said. 

In effect, I told our associate pastor that we want our new members who are perfectly situated in life circles where they are surrounded by non-Christians in their work places, gyms, home, starbucks, pubs, etc. - the very places where we want the church to show up - and get our new members so busy with church stuff, doing church things, in church that they have no time for anything or anyone else. 

We were encouraging new members to abandon their mission fields!!!

Instead of equipping and encouraging our new members to be the best missionaries in their existing environments, the church I was creating, the church I had been a member of all my life, encourages people to desert the very place they should be missionaries in and insulate themselves with other Christians.

This is the perfect example of turning God's command for the church to "Go" and internalizing it by making it "Come." 

That's dumb!!!

We want our new members, heck, all our members, to "Go" and be church, be Christ's light, be hope, be an example out there. That's what it means to be church!

Go!

My job, the leader's jobs, is to equip and encourage our members to be the church 24/7, 7 days a week, out there.

We are to take the good news of Jesus Christ, and incarnate the good news of Jesus Christ in the multiple settings that the members of the church find themselves in. 

The church gathers to be fed, to be encouraged, to be reminded, to be briefed, and equipped for their main mission so that they can live out that mission out there.

Go!

We are praying and discerning how we can do church differently so that we see ourselves primarily as the home base to equip, train, empower, and brief the church for her mission so that our members can be church 24/7, 7 days a week out there.

Go!

What would the church look like if the church was organized to primarily to "Go" instead of "Come"?

That's the question we're doing our best to discern.

Go!!!

Jul 11, 2013

Why The Church Exists: Intro

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The great commission is not merely one of the things that the church is to be about. This is the pinnacle of what the church is to be about. This is our mission. No matter what else we do - Sunday worship, choirs, bands, youth activities, children's ministry, etc. - we are called to accomplish our main mission.

There's nothing wrong with any of the things listed above. They are all good things. But they are not ultimate things. They are all means to accomplish the main mission.

What is the main mission? The great commission.

Here's the thing. God didn't create the church and then sit around wondering about what the church should be about. From the beginning of creation to the end of time, God's desire has been to reconcile the world to himself. And the church was brought into existence because in God's sovereign omnipotence God determined the church to be the best tool and instrument to accomplish his mission.

Jesus completed the mission. The church is now the one who is called to proclaim what God has done for the world.

The great commission is not something we choose to do in our spare time as the church. This is our mission. This is why we exist.

There are three parts to the great commission:
1. Go
2. Make new disciples
3. Make faithful disciples

In the next three days, we will be looking at each of these one at a time.

Jul 10, 2013

What's Your Problem?

Miracles.

Everyone loves a miracle. But I'm not sure everyone really wants a miracle.

Let me explain.

In the Bible, there are three ingredients necessary for a miracle.

The first ingredient necessary for a miracle is a problem or an obstacle.

Not just any ol' problem or miracle, mind you. The type of problem or miracle we're talking about here is a problem and miracle so big, so daunting, so impossible that there is no way you're ever going to overcome it. You need a gigantic problem. A problem of biblical portions.

The second ingredient for a miracle is God. Not just any God but a God who is all powerful and all knowing. But not just a God who is all powerful and all knowing, but a God who is all that and who absolutely loves you.

The third ingredient necessary is a faithful people. But not just any faithful people, but people who are so wonderfully faithful that they actually do what God commands them to do. Even when things don't make sense, even when you don't see the point of it, even if you don't feel like it, even when you don't get it. You do it because God said to do it...faithful.

So here's the miracle principle: No Problems? No Miracles.

So let me ask you?

Are you faced with an impossible situation? a problem of biblical proportions? Awesome!!!

Does God love you and want what's best for you? Of course he does!!!

This brings us to you. Are you faithful? Are you ready to be crazy faithful to do what God asks of you? Are you willing to obey simply because God said so?

If so, let me ask you again, what's your problem?

Give it to God and stay faithful and see what God does with impossible situations.

Jun 20, 2013

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

When I die and stand before God, one of the things I believe God will ask of me is, "So, what did you do with your leadership gifts to be about your life mission?"

I don't think God will be concerned about how big our budget was, how many people in our pews, etc. But I do think God will be measure my faithfulness to him by examining how faithful I was to being about his main mission.

The last thing Jesus commanded his disciples before he ascended into heaven is: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

There is no clearer call for why the church exists than this passage.

Jesus didn’t created the church and then figure out what her mission might be. God created the church because the church of Jesus Christ is the most effective vehicle to carry out his mission.

When churches function as God plans for them to, there is no greater vehicle in creation to reconcile broken and sinful people to God, and to establish God's kingdom here are on earth as it is in heaven as the church of Jesus Christ!

That's the church!

Let’s look at the specific parts of the mission:
  • “Go” - The church is a sent organism. We are to be in the world and the world is supposed to be a better place because Jesus is present through his church (the people of God).
  • “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” - The first thing that the church is to be about is making new disciples.
  • “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” - The second thing that the church is called to do is to make faithful disciples.

The pastors and leaders of LCOP will be exploring in the weeks to come:
  • How are we doing in making new disciples?
  • How are we doing in making faithful disciples?
  • How are we doing in making our world a better place?
  • Is what we’re currently doing the best ways to accomplish the above goals?
  • How can we best accomplish the above goals?

We are praying, listening, discerning how God wants us to start a new ministry that can come along side what we are currently doing to help us to be more effective as a church to accomplish what God is calling the church to do.

We appreciate your prayers. 

Jun 12, 2013

Masquerading as an Angel of Light

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 
- 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.

There is so much that is passed off as political correctness...

There is so much that looks like fairness and equality...

There is so much today that passes as people's rights and righteousness..

Not everything is what they seem.

No matter what people say, there is absolute truth. There are absolute standards. There is absolutely a God to whom we are all accountable. 

Jun 11, 2013

300 Mile Ride Through the Cascades

Went on a 300 mile motorcycle ride yesterday through the Cascades.

What a beautiful day for a ride!

The plan was to ride to Mt. Saint Helen's. Everything was going to plan until I made a wrong turn. So instead of going up to Mt. Saint Helen's, we ended up on the wrong side of the mountain. It wasn't all bad because there is a way up Mt. Saint Helen's up the back way and we were told that the views were even better!

We climbed up some bumpy roads for an hour only to discover that the road up to the observatory was closed due to snow.

Here's the crazy part. We read 2 signs along the way up the mountain saying that the road was closed due to summer. But did we pay attention to them? No...

After backtracking and adding another 100 miles to our ride, we decided to make the best of it and went up to Mt. Rainier instead. Even though I had been up to Paradise numerous times, this was the first time I had gone there on my bike. It's so much more fun to ride up there.

All in all a great day for a ride.

Lessons of the day:
  • Know where you're going.
  • Ignore the signs at your own peril.
  • Even when you're lost, make the best of it.

Jun 4, 2013

I Want to Be Asked

Remember in elementary school when they used to line us up on opposite sides of the cafeteria - boys on one side and the girls on the other? Then they would instruct the girls to go over and pick out their boys to dance with.

No boy wanted to be the last boy chosen.

God forbid. No one asked and you had to dance with the teacher because she was the only one left.

Every single boy wanted to be asked.

There's something that is quite affirming about being asked.

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you."

One of the interesting things about this verse is that the Bible assumes that Christ-followers and the church would live a life that is so different than everyone else that:
1. they would notice that the life of Christians are lived differently
2. the difference would be so remarkable and hopeful that they would enquire of the source of hope

The Bible assumes that the Christian life is supposed to be different...so different that others would notice and would ask Christians of the reason for the difference.

So let me ask you.

When's the last time anyone asked you to give them the reason for your hope?

When's the last time anyone noticed that the people gathering at church do life so differently that they can't help but notice and be intrigued that they would ask for the source of our hope?

The issue in our world today is that the values of the churchgoing people are so much like everyone else that you can hardly notice a difference.

The simple fact is that Christians are supposed to be different. We're not supposed to be like everyone else.

How we manage our money, our time, our sexual ethic, our hopes and dreams, how we treat others, how we invest in others, etc. - it's supposed to be different.

Our lives ought to point people to Christ.

God, I pray that I can live in such a way that draws people to you. Help me to live a life that causes others to wonder about you.

God help our church to live in such a way our community can't help but notice the difference you are making. 

Jun 2, 2013

Miss-Communicating What the Church is About

David Arcos is one of the pastors of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles. He shares the following story.

Living in LA, David figured it would be good for him to learn Spanish to make himself more marketable. He learned just enough Spanish to be dangerous. His first job was being a bilingual kindergarten teacher.

He figured he knew enough Spanish to get by and the kindergartners wouldn't know any better and teach him what he didn't know.

On of the first open house with the parents, instead of just talking about where the crayons are and where the kids sit, and the daily routine, he thought he would make a speech.

He started his speech by saying, "I'm really glad that you're here today," all of it in Spanish of course.

"My hope and my goal this year is that I would help your children succeed." But he used the word "sucideo" for succeed, which means suicide. So what he ended up saying as, "My hope and goal this year is that I would help your children commit suicide."

The parents were getting little nervous, but he continued on in confidence.

"Every day, your children come in and pay me for lunch. They don't need to pay me, they need to pay the lady in the cafeteria," he said.

But instead of using "bagar" which means to pay, he said, "begar" which means to hit.

So what he actually said was, "Every day your kids come in and they hit me. What they need to be doing is to hit the lady in the cafeteria."

You think that's bad? It gets worse.

He said, "When your children are absent, they can't just come straight to the classroom. The next time they come to school, they must get a note from the office before they can come to class."

But instead of using the word "oha" which means note, he used the word "hota" which means lesbian.

So what he said was, every time your child is absent they need to get a lesbian from the office. Some of you have been trying to sneak into class without a lesbian from the office. It's very simple - lesbians are easy to pick up in the office. They are all there!"

Needless to say, he didn't last long in that job and is now a pastor at Mosaic.

I share that story because I think that's what's happening with the church today. We keep miss-communicating what the church is about.

We think we're saying to the world, "God loves you," but that's not what the world is hearing.

We think we're saying that God has a wonderful plan for us, and without seeing ourselves in the plan of God we are forever going to be lost. But what instead comes out is that Christianity doesn't make any difference to real pain and real lives. Christianity is all about Christians doing things for themselves and building bigger buildings for themselves.

Let me ask a simple question. Hundreds of thousands churches gathered in worship on Sunday this week in America.

Do you think anyone in our community even has a clue that the church gathered for them? That the church exists to share God's love with them?

The church has to be about more than the gathering. The church has to be about being and doing the ministry of Jesus Christ in our world.

The purpose of the gathering is to get everyone on the same page so that we all know what we're supposed to be doing the rest of the week. The purpose of the gathering is for equipping and encouraging acts of ministry. The ministry of the church of Jesus Christ is lived out 24/7, 365 days a year.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded!!!

May 31, 2013

We're On a Mission From God

How did the church become what it is today?

Is the modern day church what Jesus had in mind when he declared, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?" (Matt. 16:18).

Can there be other forms and organisms of the church that is just as valid, if not even more, what Christ had in mind for the church?

At the core of these questions, I am assuming that the primary purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is to proclaim and live into the ministry and the mission of God such that it leads to changed lives.

Jesus told us the primary purpose of the church when he said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18).

It's about making new disciples so that God can change the world.

If this is what the church is all about, is the way we're doing church currently the most effective way to make disciples and to bring about transformation?

Are there other ways? Are there better ways to be and to do church than what we are currently doing?

What must the church do and what must the church be about if we are to be about making disciples that bring about transformation?

I certainly don't have "the" answers, but I believe the church must be about at least the following things if she is be about making disciples and impacting the world.

  • the gospel of Jesus Christ must be clearly preached and understood 
    • that God created the world with a plan and purpose; and it was good
    • but sin entered the world through the disobedience of man and the woman
    • that God sent his Son to bring the remedy for sin and rescue man and woman
    • that the life, ministry, death, and the resurrection of Jesus is the only pathway to salvation
    • all who receive Jesus are birthed into eternity
  • the teachings of scripture must be clearly taught and understood
  • the church cannot be about only words but deeds
  • the church is about community - relationships matter
  • the church never existed for its own; the church exists to be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ

As I lead, I don't want to merely do church the way we've done church. I want to do church in a way that produces the greatest fruit.

May 30, 2013

Faithfulness and/or Success

I want my life to matter.

I want my ministry to count.

What do I mean when I say those things?

If I'm honest, when I say those things what I mean is that I want my life and ministry to be a success. And by success I mean success in ways that anyone can count - the size, the numbers, the budget, the scope, etc.

Sure, I know that God has called me be faithful to him.

At the end, God will not ask, "James, how come you weren't as successful as Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren?"

What God will hold me and every servant accountable to is, "James, were you faithful?"

We must each answer that question.

I know all that.

I know that what I have control over is my faithfulness. I know that success is all in the hands of God.

But gosh darn it! I want to be successful!!!

And that's the God-honest truth.

I want to see the ministry of the Little Church on the Prairie thriving and growing, impacting more lives than ever before.

I want to see the power of God transforming lives, families, marriages, and our community.

I want to see those who do not know Christ coming to saving faith in and through his church.

I want to see God at work in my life and through LCOP.

God, I want faithfulness and success.

Is that too much to ask for?

May 29, 2013

Fort Steilacoom Park

Love living in Washington...

What's the Church Smell Like

I am currently reading a book called "Tattoos on the Heart" by Father Gregory Boyle. It's a book about a priest who goes into one of the most heavily gang-infested areas in America with the love of Christ.

The stories of transformation are real and heartwarming. It is well worth the read.

I want to share an excerpt that beautifully illustrates who and what the church can be.

The church that Father Boyle pastors made a commitment that they would stand in solidarity with undocumented workers. So one of the decisions the church made was to use the sanctuary as a shelter for the undocumented workers.

Having undocumented workers was a great idea. But it also came with the particular odor of about a hundred or so men sleeping in their sanctuary every day.

Well, people started to complain.

It was too stinky.

Father Boyle decided to tackle the odor issue in one of his homilies. This is what he writes:

I start the homily one day with, "What's the church smell like?"

People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women are searching inside their purses for they know not what.

"Come on, now," I throw back at them, "what's the church smell like?"

"Huele a patas" (smells like feet), Don Rafael booms out. He was old and never cared what people thought.

"Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?"

"Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?" says a woman.

"Well, why do we let that happen here?"

"Es nuestro compromiso" (It's what we've committed to do), says another.

"Well, why would anyone commit to do that?"

"Porque es lo que haria Jesus." (It what's Jesus would do).

"Well, then...what's the church smell like now?"

A man stand and bellows, "Huele a nuestro compromiso" (it smells like commitment).

The place cheers.

Guadalupe waves her arms wildly, "Huele a rosas" (smells like roses).

The packed church roars with laughter and a newfound kinship that embraced someone else's odor as their own. The stink in the church hadn't changed, only how the folks saw it. 

I love that!

That's the smell of church.

That church smells like Jesus!

May 28, 2013

What's With the Team Preaching?

For those of you who are regular attenders at the Little Church on the Prairie might have noticed that we've had two preachers co-preaching on Sunday mornings.

What's with the two preachers or team preaching?

Here's a simple truth: all people need Jesus.

Nothing will ever change that. People need what only God can give through his Son Jesus Christ.

Question: are there more effective ways to communicate Jesus to our generation? Is preaching in a lecture style the only way to "preach" Jesus?

The pastoral staff at LCOP are convinced that lecture style teaching is not the only way, and perhaps not even the most effective way to communicate Jesus to our generation.

Here are the goals for our preaching at LCOP:

  • discover better ways to communicate Jesus
  • discover more effective ways to communicate the truths of God in a way that leads to life transformation

While we search, experiment, and discern more effective ways to "preach" Jesus, we want to be crystal clear that our intent is not novelty or just innovating for innovation sake. Novelty gets old real fast. And Innovation is only useful when it is useful.

What we want our preaching to be about is communicating Jesus was faithfully and effectively as possible. We'll do whatever it takes to do that.

The emerging generations learn best through communication/dialogue rather than through lecture. The pastors of LCOP want to model communication and dialogue in our preaching.

We covet your prayers and thoughts as LCOP seeks better ways to reach people for Jesus.

For the glory of God!

Pastors James, Brad, and Cheryl