Pulling for Tebow, but not Patriots?

I have to admit I was somewhat saddened by the news that Tim Tebow had been signed by the Patriots. I have no love for the Boston sports market. I support a church planter bringing the gospel to this un-churched area, but outside that, along with my prayers, is all the love this area will get from me. Honestly, I’ve just grown a distaste for Boston’s sports teams, but its not like a Jonah-Nineveh type deal. I’ve got no beef with the people, just the sports teams.

Besides Bellicheat, we may have a new reason to dislike the Pats with the murder investigation involving one of its star tight ends Aaron Hernandez, who currently has not been ruled out as a suspect.

But I digress, as usual.

I’m happy Tim Tebow was able to find a team wiling to take a risk on his services (although he does have as many play-off wins as Falcons QB Matt Ryan). I’m not convinced he will make the 53 man roster, but I hope he does.

And therein lies my dilemma. What if he plays and plays well-unlikely as it may be? I couldn’t pull for the Patriots. Perhaps I’ll pull for Tebow to get some touchdowns and for the defense to play like the Buccaneers of 2012 (less than 30 yards away from worst pass defense ever).

I wonder if other folks do that? Pull for a player they admired in college, but pull against his particular NFL team.

Then I thought, I wonder if Tebow might be offended. Not that he reads this blog, or that I’ll run into him or whatever. But could that possibly be offensive to him? I think he might have a right to be offended. He’s a team player. It’s not about stats (his are always terrible), but about the team winning.

Would he be flattered-or rather honored-to have a fan who will pull for him to succeed yet for his team to fail? Or would Tebow say, “You can’t follow me, and hate what I care most about. You can’t like me, but hate and pull against my friends. Those people are like my brothers. You can’t follow me but hate what I came to do with and for these guys. You can’t separate me as a person from my work on this team.

If Tebow would be offended, then how much more so would Jesus be offended by those who say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.”

Can you love Jesus but want nothing to do with those whom he has declared to be his friends (John 15:14), his brothers (Hebrews 2:11)?

Can you love him but hate his bride (Rev 21:2)? That’s almost like saying, “I love you Geoff, and I’d love to hang out sometime, but don’t bring that dirty tramp of a wife you married. I cant stand her. No offense though.”

Hmmm…..Yep that would offend me. And I would say that you can’t love me and hate the one I love more than anyone else in the world. Well you could, but I don’t think that would constitute a very healthy relationship.

Can you love Jesus but hate the team he played for (meaning on their behalf)? Can you love Jesus but hate his wife, as though that is not offensive to Him?

I don’t think Tebow would be down with that, and I know Jesus isn’t down with it. As hard as the local church is to love (and those in local churches can be very hard; I know, I’m one of them), these are still Jesus’ little brothers, bride, servants, friends, and I guess you could say “teammates,” when they are fulfilling his mission.

How many leaders you got? Now that’s a better question

The other day I received a similar question to the ones mentioned in my previous post. The question, probably posed out of mere curiosity, provoked a little more thought than the standard: “how many you got” type questions. Instead of how many kids do you have, it was more like, “How many leaders do you have?”

That is a different type of question and one that deserves a little more positive dissecting.

One common thread I’ve noticed the past several years in books/articles I’ve read, seminars attended, ministry leaders I’ve talked with, and years of extensive personal experience/reflection is that the kids who walk with Jesus have several things in common. 

And having one dynamic youth leader really isn’t tops on the list. But what seems to always be present is that the youth have had a number of adult relationships. Perhaps it looks like adults investing in their lives through a youth group, Sunday School, mentoring, or simply an “unstructured” but invested relationship involving hospitality, normal activities, or a retreat. 

One youth leader, and/or two parents are not enough. It’s a great start, but kids need multiple adult relationships. By the way, I’m not de-emphasizing parent-child discipling relationship for that is primary; I’m merely emphasizing the responsibility of those in the covenant community. The principle “the more the merrier” could not be more apropos.

So here is the kicker: kids aren’t going to naturally seek out adults. Adults have to seek them out. That may look like volunteering to teach Sunday School or youth group. That may look like filling in as a sub from time time. That may look like simply doing something very novel and creative: trying to talk with them on a Sunday morning. It may look like serving alongside of them as they rake leaves or participating in fantasy football with them. It may look like inviting them over to share a recipe or grab a latte. Regardless, if you are an adult male/female without a record who loves Jesus and currently has a pulse, you can play a part. Take that first step.
They actually do like adults. And they need adults. But they probably won’t take that first step, and we probably shouldn’t expect them to. 

When I prayed for the graduates last Sunday, I thanked God for the number of adults who were involved in their lives. I’m hopeful for these kids leaving school. For the most part, they are connected to other youth and adults.

I’m hopeful in a God who is faithful even when we as parents, youth leaders, or the rest of the church are faithless. But I’ll take that as encouragement instead of a license to laziness. We often think of our kids in this way: “We ONLY have 18 years with them and so need to take advantage of this time.” But for some reason I don’t think we often view our covenant children with the same sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

Thanks for all of you who have invested in not only your children, but the children of others. I hope you realize how important that time and relationship really are in the eyes of your Heavenly Father. Whatever the impact you notice or fail to notice (remember sometimes the impact isn’t seen for years down the road, and sometimes there may not be the impact we desire), remember it isn’t that type of “numbers game.” And remember Henry Lyte’s hymn Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, “Think what Spirit dwells within thee, think what Father’s smiles are thine….” Those are the only smiles you need to motivate and remind you that you cannot fail.

How many kids you got? What ministries you got?

Every so often I field about questions like, “How many kids do you have in your children’s ministries or youth group?” Sometimes the answer will determine whether that person will or will not choose your church. That’s why they ask. And of course, sometimes folks are simply curious and want to know what’s there.

In addition to the “how many you got” question, I’ll also get “What ministries do you have?” Sometimes that will determine if the person will or will not come to your church (and I’m not saying that this is inherently wrong by the way!). Sometimes folks want to be aware of what’s there.

A dear friend created a scenario of someone hit by a car and going to heaven. This was the first thing they said, “Well, Lord, at least as I looking for a church with a good youth program!”

Often times a consumer mentality overtakes us like a Jamaican sprinter-I refuse to give any more glory to the glory hound-and yet we don’t necessarily recognize it at first.

The Good

First of all, I do want to say that these questions do have an element of goodness to them. You should care that your children have fellowship, good teaching, Christian friends. And so it’s good to ask how the covenant community can assist you in raising up disciples. Some Christian parents don’t care, feel like dragging them to church each Sunday completes their promise to look to Jesus for their and their child’s salvation, raising him/her within the covenant family (alluding here to Presbyterians). So these questions are in and of themselves necessarily bad questions. They can be healthy.

The Bad

However, not all of our inclinations toward ministries are necessarily good. In fact they can be quite, well, bad-to stay consistent with the title of this section. Behind our questions (even my own) is often a deeper question: what can you do for me? This can manifest itself when our main choice of churches is simply what can you do for me, before, what do you believe, what is your mission, how do plan to accomplish that mission?

The Ugly

Another question behind the question (the one that is stated) is how can this ministry replace and lessen my involvement in the child’s growth in the grace or coming to faith? What ministries do you have that can now let me off the hook in regards to MY teaching, discipleship? What can you do for me so that I can now be concerned about my child’s social life, sports, grades, etc…..? 

So these questions, if unexamined, can leave us in our natural state of consumer.

I would like to pose some other questions that people can ask when looking for a new church, or staying at a current church. These aren’t from Mt. Sinai, as Steve Brown always says. Just my thoughts which might be helpful to battle against our consumer mentality and put us more in a participatory mode.

1.) How many kids do you have in your youth ministry? If I come to, or join, or stay at this church, will I attempt to invite kids to the children’s/youth ministry? Instead of focusing on the current numbers, might God use me to grow the current ministry? And if I go to a big church, will I and my child still be likely to invite un-churched kids to come? Or will it make it easier to invite? In other words, how can I participate in Christ’s mission in either setting? Practically speaking if each person leaves or doesn’t come because of there are low numbers, it can’t grow.

2.) What ministries do you have? Again nothing inherently wrong with the question, but I would encourage asking more questions. If it fits in with the vision of the church, could I help start such and such ministry? Or how can I use my gifts to plug into existing ministries, or informal things like having parties at my house? I think some of the greatest ministry happens informally. Regardless, Church ministries usually have to start somewhere. The best ones seem to come from members who see a need, refuse to leave, but instead stay and meet that need.

Caveat: The longer I pastor the less black and white I get regarding a “good” (obviously meaning my opinion) time to leave a church or what things must be in place for one to connect and serve. I realize that sometimes the Holy Spirit “leaves the building” and Jesus removes the lampstand. At that point it is hopeless. If that is your conviction, then it might actually be better to head on down the road. My request is that you don’t necessarily ignore these questions, but instead spend some time examining and adding deeper follow up questions. The church today desperately needs participators more than it needs consumers. Remember that pastors and members are naturally wired towards consumerism but the Holy Spirit supernaturally enables us to become participators in the gospel. What a privilege.

Non-political reflections on "You didn’t build that"

The other day President Obama ruffled a few feathers with his statement on business, “You didn’t build that.” These words below have certainly rubbed Republicans the wrong way, and I would imagine perhaps Democrats-though I can’t confirm that. I’ve just seen facebook post after facebook post mock Obama’s infamous or in-famous (depending on your vote) speech.

“If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own….I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there!  ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”

And you can imagine that within the same dialog, this probably didn’t endear him any further to many:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now this blog is for the most part like myself, fairly a-political. So I won’t comment on the political or economic component, but instead the anti-individualistic undertone which comprised Obama’s speech. Mitt Romney and other Republicans have opposed this idea, as well want to remain consistent with their own ideology. But I want to say that I think Obama is actually on to something here, that would be quite beneficial to all Christians. Let me explain.

Obama’s driving force behind this comment is his own democratic ideology: successful businesses should pay a larger amount of taxes than those less successful because they have benefited from someone else’s hard work or government structure. At least I think that’s the gist. They didn’t do it entirely by themselves: they sprang up from good soil.
I think the Christian has to agree with this to a large degree. For instance, none of us could run a succesfull business in communist China, right? But consider the other factors of success. Yes some folks work harder than others; that’s hard to argue! Yet who gives man the intellectual and physical capability to do hard work? Clearly some folks just don’t have it; they were not born with the right tools.

Now think of environment. There are always rags-to-riches stories, but consider the fact that these are in fact “stories,” meaning they are not the norm.

Now none of this obliges you to pay higher taxes to the government. I get that and don’t necessarily see the tit-for-tat connection.

But don’t we (I’m saying those of a more Republican persuasion-which is my personal bias) carry the, “Yes I did build that with my hard work” sentiment into church? I worked hard and continue to work hard at this job, therefore it’s my money. It is my house, so I’m not accountable to use it for hospitality. These are my kids and this is my family so why should I bring someone else into the picture for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

On the contrary, we are dependent upon the Lord who ordains all things. Perhaps this passage may help remind us (I’m pretty forgetful) that ultimately we didn’t build our families, houses, or businesses independently. This is what God has to say on the matter in James 4:13-16

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

God does ordain all things and has ordained your opportunity, experience, background, situation, environment, and even ability and drive to do hard work.

I think its hard at times to tithe-though I get that I’m a pastor and it would incredibly hypocritical not to-because we have to trust that God will take care of us when we give back 10% of our income. But I really don’t think fear is the primary driving force.

I think it is primarily an issue of ownership. Whose money is it? If it’s God’s money, God’s house, God’s business, God’s family, then it’s much easier to trust Him with continuing to provide the money, or provide for our houses, businesses, and families.

If you are one who has worked hard, regularly works hard, has taken great risks for a business venture, I personally applaud you. Any sort of work, particularly starting businesses, takes guts, vision, determination, risk, and perseverance. I just think that the hardest working among us are perhaps the most vulnerable to forget the truth found in James 4:13-16.

Distinctly Republican thinking (of which I lean) or distinctly American individualistic thinking (of which most people lean) can sometimes replace-albeit in a subtle way-distinctly gospel-centered thinking and living.

A response to Rachel Evan’s "15 Reasons why I left the church" Part III

This is my final post on Rachel Evan’s “15 Reasons why I left the church.”  
  11. I left the church because I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

This is where Rachel and I definitely disagree. There are evangelical denominations which do have woman pastors. If that is truly your conviction as a woman, then I suppose its probably wise to seek such an evangelical congregation. However, more than few congregations with a female pastorate or who support the female pastorate have one major thing in common: they don’t hold fast to the gospel. If your conviction is to connect to an “female friendly” evangelical church, and no such church in your area exists, I think Jesus wants you to stay put. The “freedom” of a woman in a pulpit cannot become greater than your need to place yourself week-in and week-out under the preaching of God’s word. Even it is from a fallible man. Like all of us. Don’t let this “freedom” become an idol. Paul called himself “free” even though he was in chains, and he did not make Onesimus’ freedom THE issue in his letter to Philemon. Neither can the “freedom of woman to preach” become the issue in your church or any other church.

12. I left the church because I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity. 

Christians are to love people in both word and deed (I John 3:16-18; Matt 25:31-40). We can serve people and not tell them about Jesus. That sounds un-spiritual. But think about it for a second. We visited the nursing home with the youth group and demonstrated God’s love. We had a brief opportunity to share the gospel and took advantage of it. But it wasn’t a waste of our time because we didn’t evangelize. Neither was it a waste of time to do Angel Tree for Xmas time (and not put a gospel track in it the gift). There are ways to love your community without words and so display the gospel. 

It’s also good to give of our time and resources to serve our community and expect nothing in return. We don’t give SO THAT poor people become Christians. We give because Christ emptied himself and became poor so that we would become rich. The recipients should not feel that if they don’t become Christians the help will stop. 
However, the ultimate need of that person and community is JESUS. And so as we help, we pray that God opens doors for not only conversation but conversions. We can’t lose this distinction as we do mercy and show love to our community. As Paul pleads with Herod Agrippa, “I pray that all would become what I am except for these chains (Acts 26).
 13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school. 
This one I get, but would feel more comfortable qualifying it. Sunday School or Christian Ed has its main intent (at least in our church) the growing in knowledge of God and His Word that the content of the gospel would cause the Heart to warm. You can’t lose this or else you stop making disciples and start creating social workers with no lasting motivation other than self-righteousness.

But the result of the learning the content of God’s Word and the warming of the Heart is that the students would desire to serve with their Hands. We have several opportunities for our students to use their Hands (collecting pop tops for Ronald McDonald house, supporting a child in S. Africa).

Honestly the Methodist churches have much to teach us how to best love our communities. I would imagine she didn’t grow up in a Methodist congregation (they have women pastors and do a better job at addressing poverty-though some have lost any gospel distinction). Still, many churches are getting better at this. There is much discussion on whether or not it is the church’s (as institution) or church’s (as believers living as salt and light) job to do this. But whether it’s your church leadership gathering individuals and providing the initiative, or rather individual members providing the impetus to love your community, you need to love your community. It needs your love. In practice, churches and leaders on either sides of the discussion don’t look all that different. Find a way to love and bless your community, and don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from other churches, and if people will listen, stay and teach.

14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience. 

Doubts are part of faith. Faith is messy. I have doubts, and dark nights where I question everything from God’s goodness, presence, even existence. Fortunately His Spirit won’t let me go too far, a testimony to Psalm 139. Doubts can be evidence of spiritual attack, apathy in tending toward care of your own soul, or even overconfidence of reason or empiricism. But for some, doubts can last longer than others. Even seasons. Still, they are a normal part of growing in faith, so no one should freak out WHEN he has them or WHEN others have them. We can learn from this for sure.

15. I left the church because one day, they put signs out in the church lawn that said “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.  
I’m against gay marriage. I know Christians who aren’t against it because they say you can’t legislate morality. This doesn’t really hold much water to me because everything is probably in essence moral (killing, stealing, even speeding, etc…). I think. Regardless, we will agree to disagree. But the church is not a political entity. Unfortunately some churches make use of these signs, as well as host candidates to speak in their churches. I don’t think this is what a church should do. In reality, such a sign isn’t going to change any opinions anyway or win them to your side.
Christians are political and have a right to be political, but the church is a-political. It’s a place where in Christ there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor, black nor white, Republican or Democrat (Gal 3:28). You leave your politics at the door. The church aims-or rather should aim-to produce disciples who think, act, and vote their political convictions through the lens of God’s Word with the aim of loving their neighbors. I’ve been privy to healthy churches who may have someone inform the uninformed (like myself) of the candidates and issues before them on a particular ballot. But those folks have not said, “This is how you should vote on this issue.” That’s unacceptable.

Unfortunately politics probably isn’t as black/white as I’d like it to be either. Our denomination is clearly against abortion. Some positions, like slavery, are like that. But signs telling people how to vote often preclude the opportunity for the gospel to change peoples hearts: seeing the awfulness of things like abortion. Only the gospel can change people’s views on marriage. A sign ultimately accomplishes nothing and makes the church lose some of its cultural distinction. The gospel and applying the gospel by loving others does actually make much more a difference.  Its 10 times more effective than a sign. Ultimately a sign is just a sign of impatience.

A response to Rachel Evans "15 Reasons Why I left the church" Part II

This is a continuation on Rachel Evans’ blogpost “15 Reasons Why I left the Church.”

While I don’t think there is any reason to abandon the church altogether, local churches have much to learn from her reasons for leaving. I’m thankful for her honesty and specificity. There is much to learn from her.

Here are Reasons 6-10, and my takes on them.

6. I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt. 

Isn’t that a sad thing? The church can sometimes be the worst place to doubt, but it really shouldn’t. In fact it should be the opposite. Doubt in community, don’t doubt alone. Doubt your doubts, but doubt your doubts with others. Never alone. Doubts don’t look so scary in community. And if we’re all honest with one another, we have varying degrees of doubt. Little known Jude 21 even reminds us, “And have mercy on those who doubt…”  We probably need to do a better job of not freaking out when people say, “I don’t know if I believe _______ or believe at all.” Christians will people outside the church not freaked out about that. So let’s relax. God isn’t too busy to deal with all of our doubts. He’s not scared of them and we shouldn’t be either.
7. I left the church because I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.” 

Some folks are sensitive to being projects. I was exposed to this in college, when some lass found out that others were “targeting” her. She wrote about it in the campus newspaper. I’m not sure if she was/is a believer or not. I had no problem with people intentionally discipling or evangelizing me. But I know both unbelievers as well as believers can be sensitive toward this.

I think this is all in mentality. We have to be intentional in evangelizing, discipling, and mentoring. Whether it’s someone else saying, “Go and disciple so and so” or me deciding “I need to disciple so and so,” there’s always going to some intentionality. I don’t know how you follow the Great Commission without intentionality. You can’t make disciples without making a disciple out of this person or that person.

However to me (and I don’t know what “project” means to her-maybe I’ll ask her!) it’s often in the intent. When it comes to outreach, the goal is to really develop friendships that are gospel centered (moving towards the gospel). However, if that person never becomes a Christian, I have still gained a friend.

I have a feeling that becoming someone’s project perhaps means the expectation that the person becomes like you or becomes like X with this and that quality.

But we all need discipleship in some sort of community. Many people are content hiding on Sundays. That can’t be the case.

8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

You don’t have to vote Republican to be a Christians. You don’t have to vote Democrat either. Some denominations or congregations have de facto candidates. We have to vote our conscience. I’m in a primarily Republican congregation. I haven’t asked everyone, but I’ve listened to them talk. They’re Republican. There’s an assumption that I always think like they do. I don’t always. But that’s OK. That’s just part of living in community. Church members however should make sure that there is no church “party line.” And in conversation, it’s probably wise to makes sure you know AND respect the politics of another before assuming them. That can be a bit unloving, and reinforce “you must vote this way” mentality even if you don’t explicitly say it. In the end, both sides have to bear with one another in love. If you’re a Democrat or Republican and feel alone, please don’t leave. Then you close the door for a more diverse congregation in the future.

9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

It’s OK to be troubled by violence. We should. If the violence in the OT doesn’t make us do a double-take, we may be de-sensitized. But there are good resources and answers to questions like these. We should not be afraid to ever answer with “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” But I would probably put our answers in this order: 1.) I don’t know, but here may be some good resources on _____ 2.) I personally don’t know why, and it’s hard….. 3.) God’s Ways are Higher than our ways.

 10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride.
I love this one. Honest. Some people are “driven” from the church. Many are not. Many just leave because of these two reasons. The preacher didn’t do _____. The music was not contemporary or too contemporary….Most of the time its just these two things: selfishness and pride. A desire had become elevated to the level of a “need,” and it wasn’t met. As a result, it OBVIOUSLY made the person become angry. That’s what happens when desires are elevated to the level of needs. 

This is a gal who recognizes that she plays a part. I can work with that. Most churches can work with that. If more folks would recognize how much pride and selfishness they bring to the local church the SECOND they step in the door, we’d see fewer people leaving. And we’d see fewer “reasons” for them to leave. Remember the Seinfeld break-up line, “It’s not you it’s me.” Before you break-up with the church, remember this line, and that may stop your break-up.

Response to 15 Reasons Why I left the Church

Some blogging chick name Rachel Evans that a friend of mine follows on Twitter (and I subscribed to his list) put out something rather provocative. And sad. And perhaps something those who haven’t left the church really need to hear. Her blog post is called “15 Reasons I left the church.” It’s worth the read as its insightful, honest, and accurate. Here it is and here are her reasons:
1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. 
2. I left the church because when we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex. 
3. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities. 
4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse. 
5. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith. 
6. I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt. 
7. I left the church because I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.” 
8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.
9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride. 
11. I left the church because I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up. 
12. I left the church because I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity. 
13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school. 
14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience. 
15. I left the church because one day, they put signs out in the church lawn that said “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.  
I first want to say how NOT to respond to these issues when they come up with your friends, your kids, co-workers or neighbors. Don’t respond to someone’s frustrations at church with the law: “it says you should go to church regularly (which I think it does in Hebrews 10). Don’t respond with anger. Don’t respond by saying how dumb the reasons are. 
Most of these reasons are good reasons to WANT to leave the church. None of them qualify as biblical reasons to JUSTIFY leaving the local church. But she has some great points, so let’s see what we can learn from her. When people grow up in the church but don’t abandon the faith professed in the church (the latter happens as much as the former I presume), it is often motivated by a lack of love they sense in the church. So instead of pointing fingers, let’s repent of ways in which we may have repelled people from the church by our intentional or unintentional sins. By the way, she came out with a following article for why she came back to church-though I’m not totally sure what that coming back looks like in practice. 
I’ll just break these reasons up into a mini series with hopefully not too many posts. Probably 3. Worked for Tolkien and a few others….
1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. 
This chick may be better at bible studies. We need more women teaching the bible in the church. I know folks who are better at teaching bible studies who haven’t been utilized or affirmed in their gifts. Church leaders do drop the ball. That makes me sad. Yet I know of one gal who hasn’t been utilized properly with her teaching gifts, but has taken the opportunity to do more private one-on-one discipleship (people have sought her out-that’s what happens sometimes when you’re gifted; though it doesn’t have to be the case, as I still have to seek people out for this!). Jesus had a discipleship/small/cd group (whatever you call them) of 12. But he also had 3. If you as an individual aren’t given the opportunity to lead a bible study, then meet one-on-one with another believer and train him/her to do the same. There are a zillion people in my church alone who could benefit from this! One-to-One bible reading is a great resource for how to read the bible with another Christian.
Sometimes people refuse training or oversight and that’s why the opportunity isn’t there. Sometimes its just not having time. Sometimes we aren’t as good as we think we are and so people don’t come. Sometimes we are good enough, but for whatever reason people haven’t showed up to bible studies we tried to start. Don’t leave the church. Disciple one or two or three people. Nothing is cooler or more effective in building and multiplying the church.

2. I left the church because when we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.

 Great point. Don’t ignore the sin of suburbia. These sins are much more subtle. I “need” a bigger house, more expensive car, more space. That’s greed. Let’s talk about greed and selfishness as often as we talk about sex as sins that ensnare.
3. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities. 
The church has to be a place to raise questions and to not be afraid of what we hear. Parents, pastors, teachers have to listen. For our primary learning place (Sunday School), we try to let it be a place for questions. In youth group, we are spending a semester answering THEIR questions. The church can’t be scared of questions. It also can’t be scared to say, “I don’t know.” As James reminds us, let us be slow to speak and quick to listen. Listen to questions. Wouldn’t we rather have folks ask the church questions instead of their non-Christian friends who WILL listen non-judgmentally?
4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.
Would love some more info on what makes it feel like a country club. Probably cliquish. Fair indictment. The only way to change that is to talk to others who don’t look like you. Get talking now. Too me a cult has specific rules (explained or understood). For instance, you might have freedom to school your children the way you feel led, but if you don’t do it the “church’s way,” then you get snide remarks, a need to give good explanation for why you’re not doing it the “church’s way” (as though that’s THE way unless you can argue for another), or a stack of books on why you need to do it the “church’s way.” I’ve been a target of that, and it does feel cult-ish. Very. Believe the gospel. Really believe the gospel gives you a freedom to follow YOUR convictions. Don’t force convictions and don’t let others force convictions on you. But when they do, please don’t leave or the cultists will continue.
5. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith. 
Whether or not someone can become ordained in a denomination and hold this view is up that denomination. I don’t believe in Darwinistic evolution, and believe our common ancestor is a LITERAL Adam. I think there are plenty of holes in evolution. But many Christians do believe in some sort (not totally because they believe God played some part) of evolution. I have former professors who do. It’s probably a slippery slope, and you should in the context of a good relationship be able to disagree and explain why you do. I just don’t think its accurate to tell someone that any form of evolution is completely incompatible with faith; and that they need to leave the church or give the impression that they should. It’s probably wise to be careful when you say you can’t be a Christian and hold to some sort of belief in an evolutionary process (or any other ______.) I just don’t see how the bible gives us that 100% confidence to make such a bold claim. I might be wrong, but when you make such a claim you should have 100% confidence. And I don’t. If someone still holds to I Cor 15, which Paul puts forth as the message of the gospel, I can’t say with confidence that their science makes null and void their profession (even if they are wrong in their science-which I believe!).

Hope this is helpful in our quest to examine our own churches so that we can do what we can to be responsible and pray God’s Sovereign grace brings back those we may have unknowingly pushed away. Let’s hold more tightly to the gospel and let that be the reason people don’t like the church.

Thoughts from the 2020 conference

This past weekend, several close friends and I drove up to Butler PA to attend the C.E.P. 2020 Conference. The overall ministry projection, desire, and prayer was for the church to make disciples who make disciples. Several speakers specifically described such disciples as Kingdom disciples and further defined them as having 1.) Heart that loves King Jesus 2.) Mind that thinks like King Jesus 3.) Lives of service to others. Basically it was the same vision we already have put in place at Redeemer with the Head, Heart, Hands model.
But what was new was the tangible expectation of producing disciples from our children who would be discipling others. The plan is a 10 year plan. Not a 20 year plan. A 10 year plan. That means that if parents and church partner together, that by age 14, he/she would be ready in some way to make disciples. I’ve always believed that youth will only rise to the level that is expected of them. As a result, I’ve conceptually raised the bar, and begun to practically put in place opportunities for them to serve. But I’m not sure that I’ve practically put structures into place for them to actually disciple others. 
Much of discipleship is informal. Philippians 4:9 shows us both content (what you’ve learned, heard), but also informal (what has been “seen in me.”) This stuff was already on my heart due to a timely text message from a parent the past week, so now the fire to practically put something in place is scorching my back side.
Straight shooter Sue Jakes reminded us of a very simple application of the scriptural truth: children are a blessing. If that is the case, how are we as a covenant community ministering together to our covenant children? Not YOUR kids, but YOUR CHURCH’s kids. I’ve heard several times in my ministry over the years, “I just don’t like kids.” Sue Jakes shared with us a simple response: “Repent.” If children are a blessing, then we can’t just “wash our hands of them.” That children are a blessing is not specific or particular conviction, it is a timeless truth. That we disciple our covenant children is not specific or particular conviction, it is a timeless command. 
What that command looks like can be all across the board. Nursery or 2-3 year old church (we start discipling these kids at age 2), children’s church (4-1st grade), Sunday School, youth group. These are formal structures in place for passing on “what we’ve learned/received/heard” but much of discipleship is informal (“seen in me.”) At the conference, I could tell many folks’ answer to discipleship was simply “do Sunday School and do it better.” But the speakers challenged us all with the plethora of informal ministry opportunities to disciple our covenant children. 
To be regularly involved in Sunday School requires some teaching gifts. To be regularly involved in youth ministry requires a certain amount of, well, maybe insanity. But to be involved in some sort of informal relationship with children/youth requires a pulse and a love of Jesus. That’s it.
Do things with them. Even the introverted sound guy, can bring a youth along with him to help set up, troubleshoot, etc… When you pass out bulletins, pass them out with a child. When you greet, don’t just greet with a smile; greet with a kid.
Talk to them. Simple things like getting to know the names of other children/youth in the church. Talk to them. Ask questions about them and their lives. None of this stuff requires you to be “marooned” in a nursery or class room for an hour and half. It involves you simply taking time to look at those children/youth and around you and move towards them. That’s it.
In the end, if you don’t make any effort to somehow involve yourself with our covenant children, you don’t have a problem with kids/youth; you a problem with God. They need you and you need them. I don’t want to see more kids go off to college and not come back to the church. More than that, we want disciples that are salt and light outside the church. Be a disciple and make disciples. It’s for the church. It’s for you.

When people in your church move away….

Several of the families that my wife and I consider close friends are being transferred out of state. That means we won’t be seeing them much anymore. And that is sad for us. And it is sad for our church not only because we loved them for who they were, but because they brought their gifts and passions to Redeemer. We’ll miss them personally, as well as their gifts.

Two nights ago I pondered this “exodus” for a bit. Is it worth getting close to people who may very well move in a year or two? Should we protect ourselves from this potential heartache? Should we be careful to befriend those who are more likely to stay in the area for a while?
Here are some thoughts
1.) Love vs. Self Protection: Much of what passes for love these days is nothing but self-protection. In other words, we say, “Yes” to some people and “No” to others to protect ourselves from their displeasure.  But if love keeps no record of wrongs (I Cor 13), it always opens itself to being wronged or hurt. Sometimes this hurt is not caused by any intentional or even unintentional sin (though this is often the case). Sometimes its caused by a job transfer. And if we let the “well this person could move and then I’d be hurt” mentality to creep in, we’ve protected ourselves but not loved. And love that Christians have for another ought to appear unique before the world: by this all men will know we are His disciples, if we love one another (John 13:35).
2.) God’s love moves toward people. That has to be our definition of love. This quote from Ed Welch’s When People are Big, God is Small, offers much to the challenge of befriending people who may move away from us.

In light of Hosea, such a strategy (never allowing oneself to get hurt by someone who could leave) is no longer an option for the Christian. God’s love is a costly love. It never takes the easy path away from relationships. Instead, it plots how to move toward other people. It thinks creatively of ways to surprise them with love. 

3.) Losing people?  I hate “losing” people whom I love and who love me, and support and serve the local church. I’ve “lost” friends time and time again due to moves (I still keep in touch with some, but its obviously a different relationship). But I have to remember that they are not MY sheep. They’re not yours either. They’re Jesus’ sheep. I’m just an “under-shepherd”(I Peter 5). So if He sees fit to shuffle sheep by moving them out of state, He has that right. I don’t have to like it, and I can be frustrated and saddened, but I do have to recognize His right. And He seems to know more than I do, so that really helps too.
4.) A mindset of sending, as opposed to hoarding. Naturally we tend to hoard our blessings instead of sharing them, whether it be a good dessert, friends, family, or finances. Pastors and parishioners alike can be guilty of this when it comes to people in the church. But hoarding products or people is really contrary to the purpose of blessing (Gen 12:1-3). After a season of being blessed with good relationships and fellow laborers in the gospel, do we even consider that God may want us to bless others by sending our dear friends out or releasing them? Are we really quick, or even open, to send out families we love to serve as missionaries, or plant churches, or to move?

When people are “sent” in the traditional way missionaries are sent, that’s one thing. We have a category for that. Yet often God sends people to serve in different places via a job change. They are still sent, as God determines the exact places where we live (Acts 17:26). And that’s how the gospel really went out in the beginning: some were commissioned to go, but others were “sent” or “scattered” by persecution (Acts 8:1-4).

5.) It is always better to have loved/been loved and “lost” than not to have loved/been loved at all. When people love us and we love them, we and they are always better for it. One lad told me the other day that he had a “mini-revival” while at Redeemer. I’m glad for HIS SAKE that he was here. And I’m glad for MY SAKE that somehow I, and the rest of the church family, played a part in that. Despite the sad departure, loving them and being loved by them was worth it. It always is and always will be.

Just some things to think about when friends leave your church family. Simply writing these down has helped me look at people leaving in a different way.

Petyon Manning Syndrome

For the first time in the Colts last 227 games (you do the math-seriously, I”m not going to), Peyton Manning will not be playing the quarterback position. Perhaps even more amazing is Buccaneer defensive back Ronde Barber’s streak now takes center stage. Seeing as Ronde is actually in there tackling people while Peyton rarely gets touched, I’m more impressed with the former. He just happens to be a Buccaneer….
Peyton’s streak has been a blessing. But one would wonder if at some points it has also been a curse? Some wonder if this could spell the end of this Roman Empire-esque run for the Colts. But in this case, the problem is not Goths, immorality, infrastructure, or anything like that. It appears that if there is a collapse-and this is only a possibility-that one failure will stand out above the rest: failure to groom a successor for Manning.
In the article I linked to above, one aspect of a good employee/teammate is:


  ….a man’s true value to his employer is revealed by what’s accomplished when he’s not around. Well folks, it’s time to finally put that premise to the test.
On Sunday, we’ll finally see what happens when Peyton Manning doesn’t step onto the field. We’ll see what happens when a team only keeps 2 quarterbacks on the roster for years and doesn’t develop any new talent. But not all teams with Iron Man quarterbacks have fallen prey to the failure to address the need for new leadership. Green Bay drafted a quarterback you may have heard of named Aaron Rogers (fresh off a Super Bowl win-even though the Pack had the same record as the Bucs last year) and gave him time to develop before Brett Favre “diva-ed” his way out of there.
Peyton Manning Syndrome happens in churches all the time. Someone is talented at preaching, teaching, leading a small group bible study, playing music, evangelizing, etc….For years that person just does what he/she does best. But eventually that person will die, go to college, move away, or change churches. 
As pastors and church members, I think we always need to think a few years out. Who can I train to do what I do so that we’ll presently be multiplying ministry (as opposed to simply maintaining) as well as protecting ourselves for unseen transitions? Now I’m not referring to programs. Some programs need to die. I’m talking about people ministering the gospel to each other in in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Who else has gifts similar to yours? Can be they be trained to assist or eventually replace you to pursue more personal ministry?

A pastor and member’s true “worth” (I’m not arguing some folks are essentially more important) to the church is probably seen more in their temporary absence (as they step aside and share leadership) than in their conspicuous presence. The church needs the gifts of its members. But in some way, the less dependent a church is on ONE person here and there-unless that person is the God/Man Jesus-the healthier and prosperous that church is and will be. 

Now most of this falls on the church leadership to think more like the Green Bay Packers than the Indianapolis Colts: to always be thinking 2-3 years down the road. Nevertheless, members can serve in the same way by trying to raise up replacements or assistants which will then open up new opportunities for them or for new-comers.