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A WHITE CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSE TO THE FERGUSON NON-INDICTMENT (repost)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

NOTE: The post was first sent as a Devotion from An Ordinary Guy and is being reposted on the Blog page. (An additional blog will be published as well.)

Justice, they say, is blind. People, we know, are not.

As the grand jury decision on an indictment for officer Darren Wilson was read in Ferguson, Missouri tonight a few questions ran through my mind and heart:

As a PASTOR, what do I tell the church I serve regarding this decision?
As a FATHER, what do I teach my girls about this decision?

My answers to those two questions were strikingly similar.

Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a legal expert, nor am I in law enforcement. I have friends in both professions. I know people who stand on both sides of this argument, many defending the actions of Officer Wilson, and many crying discrimination and murder. I have friends who are black, friends who are white, and friends who don't identify as either. I am very good friends with republicans and I hang out with several democrats and independents. EVERYONE has an opinion and EVERYONE'S opinions are heavily influenced by their feelings, their upbringing, and what they hear and choose to believe in the media outlets they prefer.

I'm not writing this to pick a side or prove a point. The tragedy and loss of this event demands much more respect than turning the events of August 9 into an opinion-driven political debate. The truth is, 12 people (9 white, 3 black; 7 men, 5 women) were asked to hear as much testimony as possible to determine whether an indictment should be made.

I was not one of the 12. Chances are, neither where you.

So, how do I, as a white, middle class, midwestern (living in the south), Christian man response to the grand jury's decision? Here's what is running through my head tonight:

1) WE LIVE IN A GREAT COUNTRY.
That may be a strange place to start, but I believe it is true. I truly believe that America is an amazing and wonderful place to live. This is a country that allows people to argue and debate, at the top of their lungs, everything that the government is doing, while the government protects their freedom to do so. It's a country where people are elected into office and every citizen is given the right to share their voice in that process. We live in a country that, in theory, treats everyone the same, established on a few "unalienable rights," beginning with: "ALL men are created equal."

2) WE LIVE IN A FLAWED COUNTRY.
That being said, it isn't a perfect country. Our system is flawed. Our politicians are flawed. Our government is flawed. WE are flawed. It's one thing to write that "all men are created equal," it's another thing entirely to LIVE it. If we're being honest, and by WE, I mean EVERYBODY, we all may well believe that men are created equal, but we don't necessary believe that all men should be treated equally.

I do not believe that America is the be-all-end-all country that will save the world. I do not subscribe to any thoughts, theologically or otherwise, that God has chosen the U.S.A. to be His representatives here on earth. I in NO WAY believe that every other country in the world should be like us. I AM advocating that one of the strengths of our country is it's messiness. We are a mess of messed up people, and it's in that messiness and uniqueness that we are supposed to come together, as a nation, and move forward as ONE. We are supposed to be a country that embraces differences and challenges in hopes that our uniquenesses will make us stronger. That being said ...

3) WHITE CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY.
In general, we don't. We can say that the Michael Brown shooting is about more than a race issue, and I believe that it is, but it has exposed some very nasty truths about America that we have been pushing under the rug for decades, if not centuries. And it has revealed much about the separatist nature of the American church. 

This summer we took a look at the movie "12 Years a Slave" as a church. In preparing for the sermon I must have watched the movie 10 times in one week. It's a brutal movie. Very hard to watch. Do you want to know what I was the most bothered by? The beating scenes were very difficult to sit through, and there is one rape scene that I simply could not bear to watch. No doubt the brutality of the slave-era in American was unconscionable. But what bothered me the most was the inability ... no, that's not the right word ... the unwillingness of white men to stand up on behalf of what they knew was right. Truth be told, I'm not sure much has changed today. Most white American churches will either ignore this issue completely, or they will stand by and do nothing, allowing black churches to do all the fighting.

4) BLACK CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE WHITE COMMUNITY EITHER.
I know what's going to come of this one ... "Why does the black community need to stand up for the white community?" "What could the whites want or need from the blacks around them, they aren't the ones being oppressed or shot?"

Let me ask you, how often do you see black churches get involved in any perceived injustices against white people? Can you recall a time when a predominantly black church reached out to a predominantly white church and offered to stand with them in a time of disgrace, dispute, or discrimination?

A while back I met with an African American pastor/friend here in our small town of Bluffton. He acknowledged to me that his church would have a difficult time worshiping with our church for no other reason than the fact that we were considered a "white church." He didn't feel that way, but his church did.

5) SOMEONE DIED AND EVERYONE LOST.
What gets lost in all of this to me is that a young man died and another man took that life. Self-defense or not, every family member and associate of these two individuals is forever changed. Whether this was an injustice or not will be debated in history books for years to come, but please do not miss out on the truth that it is a tragedy on ALL accounts.

Michael Brown died. His parents lost a son. His friends lost a loved one. His life is over. Officer Darren Wilson is changed too, forever living with the loss of a life at his hands. His life and his family's lives are altered forever.

Ferguson, Missouri has lost too. For decades to come they will be a town remembered by and referenced as the place Michael Brown was shot ... the place black and white tensions exploded ... the place where riots took place ... the place that changed history ...

6) WE HAVE TO DO BETTER.
We ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... HAVE ... TO ... DO ... BETTER.
White Americans need to realize that racism is alive & well, seeded by hatred and fear.

Black Americans need to realize that a way of thinking (racism) is the real enemy.
White Christians need to realize that our black brothers & sisters need us to stand w/ them.
Black Christians need to realize that white brothers & sisters need them to stand w/ us.

If we ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... if we want to become a stronger nation, we need to do better. For our own sake. For our kids' sake. For the sake of our country's future. And as Christians, this shouldn't even be a topic of debate any longer! How abundantly clear does the New Testament make its case for unity? You know, phrases like, "One body," "one baptism," "one faith," "one church," or "there is neither Jew nor Gentile," or "slave or free," or "male or female," or on and on and on (check out Galatians 3:28Colossians 3:11Romans 10:9-12).

If we, as a country, expect to see the changes that are needed to our justice system or in letting our voices be heard, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. If we, as Christians, expect to see the Church united, as one, without color barriers or discrimination, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. Are we capable of doing this? I believe we are ... but only with a lot of help ...

7) COME, LORD JESUS.
I'm just going to say it like it is ... Good Lord, help us. Racial tensions, taking lives, anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, hate ... pride, denial, arrogance, absence, injustice ... Sin has screwed us all, and we are all in need of a Savior.

 

So what now? Now, with God's help, we try to find healing in all of this. We try to see a place for the Gospel to bring hope to the hopeless and peace to the peaceless. We find opportunities in OUR worlds to live compassion, to everyone. We try not to react out of fear or hate or judgement, but instead we try to respond with truth, with grace, and with love.

And at the end of the day, we pray. We pray that God will forgive us, that His Spirit will heal us, and that our kids will do better than we did.

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5 MUST DOS FOR A NEW LEAD PASTOR

I love leadership stuff, and I especially love helping young leaders and pastors. If it weren't for those who poured into me, I don't know where I'd be today! So with that in mind, a few weeks back a friend of mine emailed and asked for some advice for a Senior Pastor job interview. I thought his question was great, so for today's blog let me share some thoughts. Here's the original question:

What would you give as a ‘Top 5’ MUST DO things for a new senior pastor at a new church?

1) Establish trust
This takes time. A LOT of time. I asked everyone in the church to give me 6 months before they left. Allow the church time to settle. Allow me time to figure out where I am and what I'm doing. If after 6 months you don't feel like the direction we are heading is for you, then graciously bow out ... but at least allow the church and me (as the new guy) time to build up some trust.

2) Listen to EVERYBODY
Even the people you don't want to listen to! Listen to them. Take notes. Identify who you can trust (elders, staff, etc.) and then bounce what you're hearing off of their relationships with people. Do a lot of listening and a lot less talking.

3) Evaluate Honestly
Once you know who is on the same page with you begin evaluating things for yourself. Coming into the church everything is going to be great. New guy, new relationships, new vision, new energy. When the "new" wears off, make sure you are listening to the right people to begin evaluating what need to be done.

4) Say "no" to almost everything
This is a big one. Say "no" ... a lot. You're the new guy, so everyone will want to come and tell you how the church should be run, what worked at their last church, what big ideas they have that you should know about, etc. Politely tell people "no" on almost everything so that you have time to develop your vision and a plausible strategy for the church. Once you have that in place, begin saying "yes" ONLY to the things that align with your vision and strategy.

5) Focus on people, not programs
Spend time with people. Spend time with small groups. Spend A LOT of time with your staff and leaders. Get to know them and let them get to know you. It is going to be your first impulse to want to run in and start setting up everything that you know will work (from your previous ministry), only to find out it might not work in your new ministry. Concentrate on building people and relationships before you focus on building the church as an organization

And here's a bonus for you:

BONUS:
Ask your leadership for time. At least 3 years before you are held up to the pressure of change and improvement. People want to see improvement and production immediately, but in ministry that ONLY comes through relationships, which must be built on trust. That takes time. Ask your leaders for time to make changes before they begin asking for results.

While I know this blog post won't be for everyone on the list, I hope it will help out some. And if you AREN'T a pastor, but you are a members of a church where a new pastor is coming in, read through this list and be ready to help them out. Being the new guy with a big vision in a place other people already call home is a tough place to be!

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PARENTING A CHURCH (or 8 Ways to Break Your Pastor's Heart)

Let me get real "real" for a few minutes. Pastors get ticked off from time to time. It happens.

Don't judge them, and don't expect them to be perfect, just accept the fact that they are human, and faulty, and they have emotions too.

Y0u might also accept the fact that sometimes they're right to get upset or take something personally. Sometimes (not all the time), you would be ticked off too if you were in their shoes.

First, let me set the table. Imagine pouring yourself into someone. Guiding them. Praying for them. Listening to their complaints and rarely hearing their appreciation. Loving them. Trying to balance how to speak truth to them without making them walk away from you. Imagine being there for them every chance you can and never living up to their expectations. Imagine watching that person walk away, just to come back and leave again. Imagine knowing that eventually this fictional person that you care about is going to leave you for good, because that's generally the way it works.

Funny ... as I read that last paragraph it reminds me how I feel as a parent ...

Welcome to the life of a pastor.

Some of you might read that and think, "My pastor doesn't feel that way about me!" I can promise you that your pastor feels that way, not just about you, but about everyone he has a relationship with in the church. It isn't that he has a deeply personally relationship with everyone in the church, it's that he feels a deeply personal responsibility for everyone in the church.

That being said, let me share a few ways that people have ticked me off (read: broken my heart) as a lead pastor:

1. PLACE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR ME HIGHER THAN YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF

Somewhere people picked up the idea that pastors are supposed to be super-human. We are supposed to be perfect, not only in our morality, but in our attitudes, decision making, organizational planning and strategy, parenting, sermon delivery ... the list goes on and on. The funny thing is, I don't know a single pastor who doesn't already feel the "pressure of perfection" from themselves. Trust me, no one expects me to be more perfect than me! The last thing I need is everyone else placing that expectation on me too! The first thing I want is the grace from everyone else that they expect me to give them when they screw up. One of the hardest things for me to fess up to is the fact that I'm not "good" enough; one of the most heart-breaking things for me to realize is that in the eyes of many, I'm supposed to be.

I'm grateful that I have often been (and currently am) in environments that have allowed me to fail. I'm also grateful that when I have fallen, those who understand this point have been the first to help me back up again.

2. SECOND GUESS MY LEADERSHIP WITHOUT INVESTING IN IT

Several years ago I really got fired up about leadership. I think most churches/pastors did. I went back to Seminary and picked up my Master's Degree in "Pastoral Leadership," because I wanted to be a better leader of people. There have been a number of times that I have sought out the counsel and advice of those whom I respect. Long phone calls or numerous emails back and forth. Breakfasts or lunches with those who are willing to pour into me a little bit. The handful of people who have poured into me have never second guessed my leadership. They have questioned it. They have made me defend it. Sometimes they may have even disagreed with it.

It's funny, the people who have questioned my leadership the most are the ones who have never invested in it. Never reached out to me. Never sat down to ask me questions or even challenged me. Sure, they've asked other people about it or shared their leadership thoughts with other leaders, but not me. As if it isn't hard enough to lead a few hundred (or thousand) people all with different backgrounds, expectations, interests, and goals, pastors have to lead them while be constantly second-guessed by the same group, without the benefit of investment from most of them.

3. WITHHOLD YOURSELF FROM THE CHURCH

This goes hand in hand with #2, because most of the people who are second guessing the leadership of the pastor are also the least willing to get involved in the mission of the church. They'll come on a Sunday. They may get involved in a small group of people. It might even be that they attend an occasional event or two throughout the year ... but getting involved ... let's not get too fanatical here.

A pastor, by nature, is giving everything to their church. Not to boast, but most of our staff is involved in several areas of ministry/service every Sunday. Currently, we meet in a high school, so we have a lot to do on a Sunday morning. In a few weeks my schedule will consist of being on the set-up team (Saturday night), playing keyboard/piano for the praise band (Saturday rehearsal & 2 services on Sunday), preaching both Sunday services, and being part of the tear down team. That's all on the same weekend! The reason it isn't boasting is because I'm not proud of it - I'd GLADLY not serve in so many capacities, if only we had more people who would get involved. Knowing that you are so heavily invested with passion and practice towards a mission that others withhold themselves from (for whatever reason) is not only heart-breaking, it's back-breaking!

4. COMPLAIN ABOUT "GETTING CONNECTED" WITHOUT EVER TRYING TO GET CONNECTED

I sat in a meeting with a few families checking out our church a few weeks ago. During the meeting one of them made the comment, "We just don't know how to get connected here." Another followed up by saying, "We just don't seem to know what is happening at the church." Of course, I was concerned, so here were my follow up questions:

"Have you been to our website recently?" - No. "Have you been to our Facebook site much? - No. "Have you emailed or reached out to any of our staff about getting involved?" - No. "Have you filled out a Connect Card in the morning program/bulletin?" - No.

It was that last one that was so ironic. So ... you want to get connected, but you haven't filled out a CONNECT card?! It's kind of like going to a restaurant, being shown to your seat, given a menu, and told the specials, and getting upset when the server comes back and doesn't know what you want though you've never said a word to them!

Most pastors aren't marketing/communication experts, and in today's age of instant and constant communication, the expectation is that they be masters of a all forms of connection. The reason I put this one on the list is because it is probably one that I struggle with the more than most. There is nothing more demoralizing than having your weakest link constantly pointed out, especially by those who aren't interested in connecting nearly as much as they are interested in someone else connecting for them.

5. TALK ABOUT MY FAMILY

This is extra crushing knowing that my family allows the church unique glimpses into their lives through the stories I tell on Sundays. It's akin to sharing your secrets with someone only to have them judge and condemn you to others because of those secrets.

I'm not perfect and neither is my family ... but if you want to pick on someone, it better be me. I'm OK to hear you tear me down as as pastor/leader, and in most cases I have broad enough shoulders to take the criticism of my shortcomings as a father or husband. But don't think for a second that I'm OK with you shinning the light and centering my family in your crosshairs.

6. COMPARE OUR CHURCH TO THE LARGEST, MOST SUCCESSFUL CHURCHES IN TOWN (OR IN THE WORLD!)

I'm not Andy Stanley, and our church isn't Northpoint. I'm not Craig Groeschel, and our church isn't Lifechurch.

Imagine working your butt off to be the best ____________ you can be, just to have everyone you are leading tell you that you aren't as good as ____________ ... who happens to be one of the best in the world at what you do.

It's kind of like that ...

7. SHARE YOUR FRUSTRATIONS WITH EVERYONE EXCEPT ME

 It's odd, but true. No one knows more about what the church is doing as an organization or why than the pastor, but they tend to be the last ones to hear about people's frustrations. I mean, come on ... it's not like we don't have our frustrations too! Believe me, no one is more frustrated at what the church is struggling with than the the pastor! We all know that people are frustrated, but it is heartbreaking to hear from someone else that somebody said that so-and-so was frustrated about ...

It isn't the frustration that's heartbreaking, it's the lack of, well, anything. It's the lack of trust, thinking we don't understand. It's the absence of concern, knowing that you're willing to talk to others, but not invested enough to talk to me. It's the realization that even though I'm trying to be transparent as a leader, the people who I'm leading are often interested in being transparent with everyone except me.

8. LEAVE THE CHURCH WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING

 This one is the most baffling to me. Just a few weeks ago a family left the church without talking to me. Even though they didn't tell me directly, I knew about it. I passed one of them on Sunday morning and asked, "How's everything going?" to which they replied, "GREAT!" ... only to hear from somebody else not 5 minutes later that they had resigned from volunteering and were going to leave the church. Imagine how awkward it's going to be when I see this family in Target next time!

Seriously, when you are a part of a family, or at the very least a fraternity of friends, would you ever consider leaving without saying, "Goodbye?" How about, "You know we love you, but this just isn't working out?" Or maybe, "Thanks for everything you do, but we feel like it's time to move on?"

Pastors are big people ... we can take it. The truth is, it is more hurtful by far for you to simply walk away saying nothing than it is for you to come and say goodbye in person.

I'm not writing this blog today to complain, I'm really not. I'm writing it to help Christians understand that leadership of any kind is difficult, and as a "spiritual leader," at times it seems unbearable. The strange thing is, it's not the workload or even the personal pressure that I put on myself that seem unbearable, it's the "parenting of the church" that weighs on me.

While some of you may say, "Quit your bellyaching and get a real job!" I'll simply say that quitting isn't an option. I wouldn't quit parenting my daughters because it got hard ... which reminds me of something my mother-in-law told Karrie and me years ago, and something we still say at home a lot: It's easy to be a bad parent ...

Here's to being a good parent, especially when it's hard ...

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I'M A LEADER, NOW WHAT?

For the first 13 years of ministry I led from a chair other than the first chair. As a worship pastor I had an inherent public influence (to this day I believe this position is the 2nd most influential position in the church after the Lead Pastor), but I had to earn influence in private. It is one thing to have influence from your position "down" to those whom you have been given authority over, it is entirely something different to be given permission to influence those "above" you. For the last 5+ years I have been blessed to be the Lead Pastor at Live Oak Christian Church. Upon arriving at the church in August of 2008, the economy tanked, the town/area the church is located became depressed, and the 4 year-old-church-meeting-in-the-high-school's weaknesses were exposed ... with a new, young leader (ME) and a board of Elder who weren't prepared for the fallout. Needless to say, I found myself wondering, "Why did I ever leave the second chair?!" But it was in those years that I learned some incredibly valuable leadership lessons, some through the wisdom of others, some through what I had seen in the leaders I had been around, and ALL through trial by fire! If you're a new leader, I hope these will help you out.

1. ESTABLISH YOUR HABITS This is the one I wish I would have learned sooner. Once you begin leading a church, you better have your good habits firmly in place! Quiet time, prayer time, daily planning, physical fitness ... as the demands of your church grow, your time will become precious, and if you're habits aren't rooted, they will be the first to go under the crush of pressure and urgency.

2. BUILD TRUST Do you make changes quick, or do you wait? Do you forge ahead, or do you hold back? This seems to be a big debate among leaders, but here's the bottom line: making changes of any kind requires the trust of the people under your leadership. If you make big changes or numerous changes quickly, you are going to go into "trust debt." People will follow you, but at a cost. If you take your time with change, you are going to eventually spend your "trust currency" when the time comes. The point is, either way, build trust. Build the trust of your leadership first, your team second, and your church third.

3. SURVEY THE LANDSCAPE Take a good look around. Now, take another look! So many young leaders get lost in the beginning of their influence because they are trying to change something from where they just came instead of where they are! Or, worse yet, they  are trying to push an agenda or a mindset that fits them, but not the people they are leading. Get to know the landscape before you start leading it!

4. PICK THE RIGHT FOUNDATIONEvery building needs the right foundation. It is, without question, the part of construction that you must get right! As a church, the foundation is already set from a Biblical standpoint (read Colossians 1 and the first few chapters of Acts); what I'm talking about is "who" and "how" you're going to be. What is your vision? Your values? What is your church uniquely positioned to do? What are your people gifted for and passionate about? Answering these questions will take a lot of the previous step (survey the landscape), and a lot of time, but getting this right is crucial to the rest of your leadership!

5. DEVELOP A PLAN Not just a list of goals, but a plan. Not just a "wish list," but a strategy. Grab the people who are invested in this ministry with you and ask them to pour into the plan. Pray it up, write it out, pray it up some more, get insight and buy in from the people who have the most to gain and the most to lose ... then pray about it AGAIN! This step takes a leader a maddeningly long amount of time! Be patient - it will pay off. The plan isn't just about results and outcomes, it's about transformation and ministry. It's about developing a process through which people will gain access to and understanding for life transformation. It's no small step!

6. SEEK WISE COUNSEL Strategies are great, and plans are important ... they are also changeable. How many structures end up being the exact replica of the first draft? This is a great time for you to pull in people who aren't as close to your ministry as they are to you. Let people speak into you. Let people guide you. Let people build IN you. Let them pray about your plan, analyze it, and shoot holes in it. Trust the people you trust and let them honestly evaluate your plan ... then humbly listen.

7. BE PATIENT Aaaaaand here comes the hard part. Your plans WILL fail. Your plans will change. Your goals will shift. People will come and go. Some people that you thought would never bail will bail, and some that you never thought would stay will become your greatest allies. Growth - deep, healthy, spiritual growth - never comes easily and almost always comes with a cost. Be patient.

8. DON'T GIVE UP! Seriously, don't. Commit to what you are doing and stick it out. Every time something gets hard, stop looking at churchstaffing.com and quite brushing up your resume. Dig in, get your hands dirty, scrape up your knees, and don't give up. If you have to move chairs every week, move them. If you have to hold your 12th vision meeting of the year, hold it. If you have doubts and questions, and are overwhelmed with your calling ... welcome to leadership. Find any leader in the Bible and study them. The great leaders - Moses, Joshua, David, Peter, Paul, Jesus - they were all frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed to the point of resignation. (Remember Jesus in the garden, "If there is any other way ...") The desire to give up is going to come, and when it does, know in advance that you're not going to. Don't give up.

9. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE In light of the last point (Don't Give Up), this one is vital, and often extremely difficult. No one quite understands what it is like to lead a church except for other senior pastors, and, unfortunately, senior pastors in your town might not always be the easiest guys to connect with. Here's my suggestion (or at least what works for me).

Guys who knew me BEFORE I as a senior pastor: I have a few dear friends and mentors who have permission to speak into my life at any level, most of whom don't live anywhere near me. They give me a needed perspective on who I am, not on what I do.

Another senior pastor in my area: I have a senior pastor friend here in town who I connect with - we think alike, laugh a lot, share ideas, can be honest with each other, and we don't have to worry about competition - thanks Jeff Cranston.

A guy in the trenches with me: I have a friend on staff who has seen me through a lot of insecurities and screw-ups because he sees me as a friend before he sees me as a boss - thanks Eric Campbell.

I also have an amazing wife who supports me no matter what - when I'm up, when I'm down, and when I don't have a clue (which is frighteningly often!)

10. DON'T FORGET TO ENJOY THE RIDEI'll admit, this one is a tough one for me. I can hear 98 positive comments, but I'll only focus on the 2 negative. I can be a part of deep life change and exciting ministries, but I'll lose sleep over the leaders who are struggling and the people who are unhappy. It is so easy to miss the JOY in what you are doing because of the PAIN in all of it! Why is it that we (I) take to heart the bad stuff, but don't let the good stuff sink in? Don't forget to appreciate the ride your on and to enjoy all the lessons from every bump and bruise you get along the way!

I'm still learning as I go, and I know there are a hundred books and a thousand posts that can give you more (and probably better) insights than these, but hopefully they will help somebody out along the way.

Feel free to leave any thoughts/comments; I'd love to see people post what they would add to the list!

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JOINING VS. BUILDING

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this blog 2 years ago, but am just now sharing it. The post is especially relevant to the topic of OWNERSHIP at Live Oak right now.

I'm pretty frustrated today. I heard today that a family was going to be leaving our church, and that always bothers me. I don't think anyone should want to leave Live Oak, but I understand that people leave churches all the time.

People leave churches for a myriad of reasons - it's too far away, it's not like my old church, the music is too loud, we can't get connected, we're looking for something that's more "us," - but it is amazing to me how few people leave for Biblical reasons. (While there are many valid reasons to leave, truly, only a few are Biblical - bad theology, immorality, etc., but that's a different blog!)

But here is one of the reasons that I see masked in several excuses for leaving, and it drives me crazy.

People would rather JOIN a church than BUILD a church.

grill-assembly

A few summers ago I bought a new grill from Lowe's - a big two barrel grill - a MAN grill. (It took me and two workers from Lowe's to load the boxes into my jeep!) When I got home, I pulled all of the parts out of the boxes and went to work. At one point Avery came into the garage to help, but I think the number of bolts, nuts, and instruction sheets overwhelmed her! When I bought the grill I had the option of having them assemble it for me at the store, but I wanted to build it. To me there is just something gratifying and fulfilling about putting something together. (Yes, I'm that strange guy that likes to put together the pre-fab dressers and TV stands!)

I think this is a lost mindset today in America. We expect everything to come out of the box put together for us. We get frustrated if things aren't "plug and play." When was the last time you had to pull something out of the box and actually work to put it together?

In the Ukraine, a friend of mine is building his house. Note, I said he is building it, I didn't say he was having it build for him. As he has time and money, he adds on to the second story of his house. He invites a few friends over and they go to work. If he doesn't have time or money he stops and waits until he can start building again. I'm not talking about adding a room here, I'm talking about adding a second story! I have been amazed to see his pictures over the last few years as the house has progressed from his persistence.

We just don't get that in America. If it says "some assembly required" we trend towards the "comes fully assembled" item, or at the very least we see if there is an option to pay someone else to put it together for us.

Unfortunately, I believe this "join" instead of "build" mentality is killing the church and weakening people's ability to grow their faith.

If our church doesn't have a strong program for our students we would rather join another church instead of build where we are.

If a small group doesn't meet on our schedule, we'd rather join another group instead of starting a new group.

If it takes too long for someone else to initiate a relationship at one church we'd rather join already existing relationships elsewhere instead of building new relationships.

It is just too much work, too much sacrifice, to actually build something. We want our church experience to come ready made, fully assembled straight out of the box. I think that's why church-hopping has become a common Sunday sport for many Christians. It isn't that they have a "competitive" spirit about churches, they just have a "comparative" spirit, and the church that stacks up the best to where I am right now is the church I want to JOIN. I once heard a very dedicated Christian family "church shop" us at Live Oak and ultimately decide to go somewhere else. When I asked them what drew them to the other church, their answer was, "We've done a new church work before and it's just too much work. We want to be in a place where we can simply go to church." It is much easier to JOIN than to BUILD.

This is also true in our discipleship, in following Jesus. We are quick to do the easy part of signing up for our faith (joining), but slow, if not resistant, to doing the work of growing up in our faith (building). We will often look for the easiest, quick-fix book, program, small group, or spiritual growth opportunity instead of the most rewarding, sometimes challenging, long-term, work-oriented option.

When Jesus sent His followers out, among many instructions He said, "Don't hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who WORK deserve to be fed." (Matthew 10:10). I know that passage focuses on something a bit different than this post, but don't miss the simple fact that being a disciple of Jesus takes work.

Following Jesus is hard. Being a part of a church, especially a healthy church, takes work … and we need workers.

If you are in a healthy church right now … if you are working hard to build the Kingdom of God in your life and in your community, then I applaud you.

If you are at a healthy church right now, sitting on the sideline watching others swing the hammer, get off your butt, grab a tool and get to work, it might just build your faith too.

And if you are simply jumping from church to church, looking to join up instead of build up, with due respect, don't bother coming to Live Oak; we're looking for OWNERS, not consumers.

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