Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Free Stuff

Free stuff today only in honor of Happy Reformation Day! You know, Martin Luther, 95 Thesis, Church at Wittenberg...

Friday, October 26, 2012

10 Reasons I'd Never Come Back To Your Church

As a pastor, I would hope everyone who enters our doors would love our church just as much as I and many others do.  I have to remember to keep seeing things through the eyes of quests.  We've all heard of secret shoppers before.  I wonder how we'd do if there were "secret church attenders" (not to be confused with those who say they go to church but never actually do). 

What would turn visitors off from church?  Here are some things that would definitely turn me off from coming back to a church.  I'll try to be as generic as possible in case these are from real situations I've witnessed in my own church - probably not - after all, our church is perfect, right? 
10.  Can you dress a little nicer?  It is the Lord's Day after all.

If you set the standard of suit and tie that's all you'll attract.  Present a "come as you are" atmosphere.  Guests shouldn't feel as if they have to "come as I am or don't come at all." What if that is their best and they wore it because they already knew it was the Lord's day?

9.  Take that crying kid out of here...

Sure Jesus wept and He loved kids...but crying kids - hades no!  A crying baby can be distracting during church but the situation must be handled with extreme love and understanding.  No one can predict when a kid will cry.  Yes, we have a nursery but some mothers feel uneasy about putting their kids in a new nursery.  Some kids are apprehensive as well.  Never call them down from the pulpit if you are the pastor.  Never surround them with all your security team.  Don't attack them at first cry.  Usually moms know enough to step out.  They are probably trying a few things before making a move toward the door since it takes an act of congress to lug a baby, diaper suitcase, bible, purse, etc. out from the middle of the row.  Gently offering them a crying child room or a place to sit in the foyer where they can still hear the message is best.

8.  Children's ministry...I have no idea if we even have one of those...

While we are on the topic of children, all leadership, welcoming team, and anyone else in a serving position should be familiar enough with the preschool and children's ministry to tell a guest about the basics.  Don't just point them there either.  Walk them to the appropriate area asking the children's names, ages, etc. so you can introduce them to the people you hand them off to.  Even waiting on them so you can escort them back to the sanctuary to find a seat is a great way to say welcome!

7.  I'm sorry, we are full. 

This is otherwise known as, we weren't ready for you.  Some services like Easter and Christmas may have this problem more than not.  Pastors should keep an eye on the congestion levels of their congregation.  New services should start when you are at about 75%-80% capacity consistently for about 4-6 weeks.  Don't wait till you are maxed out.  Starting a new service or providing an overflow room could help a ton to keep your welcoming teams from being put in this position. If people see you have a plan for growth they will deal with a little congestion.  If they don't see you a moving, they'll be a leaving.

6.  Pass the offering plate multiple times.

Take up offering once during a service - building fund, tithes, special funds, etc.  Always tell guests they are not obligated to give anything but to be blessed.  Instead of hounding or shaming people into giving, teach on it.  Maybe a message once a year or a 3 minute talk before the offering.  Don't be ashamed of this act of worship but don't come across as a church who is only concerned about money either.

5.  My pastor isn't usually like this. 

Knowing you will have to explain why your pastor is the way he is (be it obnoxious, loud, long, etc) because you know a guest will have a problem with it is a problem in itself.  Pastors must come across as real people.  They must tell personal stories, preach like they talk in real life, and be friendly in the pulpit.  They do have the responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and upholding truth but this can be done lovingly.  If it always seems they are rebuking, mad, unorganized, etc. and many others have noticed it as well, it is time to confront your pastor lovingly in private.

4.  Fill out this paperwork again and again and again and again...

Ask for their info once and be responsible with it.  Don't have them fill out something for every member of the family.  When checking in children, have forms organized to include multiple children.  You hate paperwork as much as they do.  A few more tips...don't abuse their info.  Don't start spamming them 50 newsletters before they leave the parking lot.  Contact them, but don't intrude.  Don't just show up at their house unannounced either just cause you know how to plug their address into Mapquest.

3.  Don't smile at them or speak to them.  After all, they are new...

Church is not a clique.  Don't stare at them like they are out of place - they already had fears of being out of place and you are making them come true.  Don't stand around and only talk to those you know.  Make it a point to meet 3 new people each week at church.  Greet guests with a smile before they get out of their cars with a great parking team.  Why not invite quests to lunch after church?  Welcome them with your greeters and information desk assistants.  Have your ushers help them find a seat.   Have directions to your restrooms and children's facilities clearly labeled.  Have a warm atmosphere in your foyer - maybe serve coffee, unless you like leading church in the stone age or hades.  Your welcoming team (greeters, ushers, info desk assistants, parkers, leaders, etc.) should be loving and think about people, not rules, regulations, and requirements. 

2.  Tell people you preach the truth and if they don't like it they can find another place to worship.

They will take you up on that.  We should always preach truth and uphold the entirety of Scripture.  Never apologize for speaking the truth but do it in love or you'll be apologizing for being a legalistic Pharisee who doesn't love people.  Jesus was only confrontational and in people's faces when they were religious.  He never acted that way with the sinner.  He didn't scold Zacchaeus for climbing in a tree during service.  He loved on him and ate lunch with him.  He didn't appear to be unapproachable as a pastor with 12 body guards religiously named armor bearers.  The pastor should be out front greeting before and after the services not locked away in a greenroom because he is not a commoner.  Jesus let the woman with the issue of blood touch his garment and then he healed her.  You can and must speak the truth to new people but it must be done lovingly.  Truth sets free, not turns off. 

1.  Appear more concerned about the condition of your facilities than the condition of their family. 

"Get your foot off that wall" sure sounds less inviting to a first time guest's kid than "What is your name?"  Why not follow them around as they drink coffee with a mop?  Yell at their kids for dropping candy wrappers in the hallway.  Gripe when church is over because lots of people made a mess - lots of people always make a mess.  These are all sure ways to keep a great facility that no one comes back to.  You can always repaint and clean the carpet.  But you cannot make another first impression.

Are there more than ten?  Let me know by posting a comment below on my blog.

How To Know God's Will For Your Life

Is knowing God’s will for your life sometimes a little blurry? It would be awesome if He wrote out His will for us on billboards around town or just sent us a message on Facebook or Twitter saying “Here is My will for you today”. There are certain Bible verses that tell me His will in general principles (1 Thess. 5:18; 1 Peter 2:15; John 6:40; 2 Thess. 4:1-8; etc) but what about specific decision I have to make like should I take this job, should I marry this person, should we have a baby, or should I move my family?

First you must ask yourself what does God want from every person. His general Biblical principles tell us many things that every person should be doing. When you do these first and let them guide you, it is easier to make decisions about things the Bible doesn’t specifically address. One of these general principles is life is about God, not you. You were made to serve Him and others, not yourself. You are in for an uphill battle if you make decisions based solely on you.

Sometimes I want quick answers without learning a lesson or growing in Christ-like character. I just want to get past the decision even if the decision is less than satisfactory. I’ve found this out over time: God’s will usually isn’t instantly revealed and develops through a process. God wants more from me than the ability to get past a decision. He desires discipleship and character formation. More than that, He desires a relationship with me. Knowing every answer immediately would require no faith, no trust, no character, and no relationship with Him. God is not trying to keep us in the dark. He is not caught off guard by our circumstances. He didn’t mess up. That thing we are struggling with may just be God’s will for our lives. Praying through a few questions will not only help you find answers but strengthen your faith and relationship with God.

The first question is, “Is this a distraction from God’s ultimate call on my life?” Satan is trying to steal, kill and destroy your life (John 10:10). If Satan can’t get you to sin He will attempt to distract you by keeping you busy with good things that don’t fit into your calling. God desires great, Satan desires good enough. Maybe the decision you’re facing doesn’t involve sin or violate Scripture. It just has the potential to lead you away from God’s ultimate call for your life.

The second question is, “Is this decision sinful or am I in the flesh?” Does this present an opportunity to serve only your interests? Are you violating Scripture directly or indirectly (I’ve played the “Scripture doesn’t specifically say that is bad” game). Is it the easy way out? Will it cause you to be lazy or avoid character building circumstances? If you did this thing, would it cause you to be further away from your God-given relationships: Him, church, family, small group, etc.?

The last question is, “Is God in this?” If it isn’t distracting you from you calling and it isn’t sinful, is it possible it could be part of your calling. Could this decision serve people better? Will this build the church, your family, or your ministry? Is this a way God could use you in new and fresh way?

Whatever you do, get counsel from someone wiser and stronger in the faith. God speaks through your opportunities – good and bad. Everything requires faith. He will not lead you to something that violates Scripture. Maybe instead of asking, “Is this God’s will for my life” you should ask, "Does this cause my life to bring glory to God?”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pretty As A Princess

My daughters love to play dress up and be princesses. Pink and sequins are the new gold and diamonds as far as they are concerned. As a father, I must realize that true beauty cannot be gained from playing princess. As innocent as it is to dress up as a princess, nothing is so innocent that our culture cannot use it to harm. My daughters must gain their view of beauty from Scripture. While it feels good to dress up with all the glitter and sparkles, those things can never give an assurance of true beauty. The fantasy of the Disney princesses is that they are all beautiful, always overcome, all live in castles, all marry a prince-charming type, all are rich, and all live happily ever after. What happens when our girls can’t achieve those standards? They must know their beauty lies in the Lord.

I’m not picking on Disney here. Our entire culture sends our daughters damaging images with which they struggle. Beauty can be reduced to materialism and makeup, which will eventually leave our daughters unfulfilled. I desire to raise my daughters to know that true beauty comes from the Lord. Their image of beauty must be rooted in the beauty of Jesus and how He sees them not in how they see themselves in comparison to a world of Photoshop and starving models.

Our culture defines feminine worth by how women live up to societies’ standards of physical appearance. If men find you attractive then you are beautiful in the world’s eyes. My wife is very careful when it comes to choosing clothing for our girls because most clothing is about showing off their bodies. They are in elementary school! The world has perverted beauty and it devastates girls and women alike into insecurity and sometimes broken relationships.

God is beauty. Scripture tells me that God finds beauty in the heart, not in outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). A memory verse I’ve taught my girls is Proverbs 31:30: “lCharm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” True beauty is how God sees you. You are more beautiful in His eyes as you fear and praise Him! You look beautiful when you look like God! Beauty begins with purity of heart and growing in Christ-like character. Exploiting women’s bodies for lust is a perversion created after the Fall of man.

Some will read this and think all efforts in dress and appearance are sinful. There is nothing wrong with looking nice and being modest in your dress. There is nothing wrong in enhancing one’s outward appearance – as long as self-worth and the perception of beauty do not come from them. The only thing that corrects skewed beauty is the Gospel. We must teach our daughters that God loves them and designed them exactly as He wanted them. We must remind them often that we, especially fathers, love them. I do not want my daughters growing up and searching for the love and affirmation they were supposed to get from me and their mom. I must teach them that sexuality is from God and designed to flourish inside of marriage. I must continue to guard my daughter’s environment including what hangs on their walls, what they see me watch on TV, and what we approve for dress. I will take my daughters on dates because they need to see a man of God in action and avoid anything less. I must pray daily for the Lord to save them, guard them, teach them, and open their eyes to Jesus. God, give me the wisdom and grace to lead my girls, Your princesses, in Your ways.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your New Name

The most popular baby name in 2012 for a boy was Liam and for a girl was Emma. I’m sorry to say Stephen has never been in the top five names since 1910 but I’m hopeful for a strong showing in 2013. I'm happy with my name and glad it wasn't Harry (Harry Harrison is crazy - sorry to all the Harry Harrison's out there -  and Johnny Johnsons, Sammy Samsons, Phillip Phillips, etc.).  Parents in the western culture usually name kids based on preference. Most eastern culture names have great significance attached to them.  For instance the name Sophia means “wisdom” and the name David means “beloved one”.  Meaning of names worked out pretty well for my daughter Abby, which means “Her father rejoices.”  That makes me smile. My daughter Kylee’s name means “boomerang”. That makes me laugh.

Names are precious and can reveal who we are. They can show a person’s character or uniqueness. In the Bible, names are very significant. God’s name is great! Psalm 8:1 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth.” At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). We gather in (Matthew 18:20), have salvation alone through (John 1:12), and pray in (John 14:13-14) Jesus’ name. God’s name is wonderful (Judges 13:18), to be worshiped (Genesis 21:33; 26:25), and holy (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11). Just like David did, I praise the Lord with all my heart and bow only to Him. I praise His name for His unfailing love and faithfulness (Psalm 138:1-2).

God believes your name is also important. Maybe there is no real significance in the name your parents gave you, but there is great significance in who God wants you to become. When God saves us He changes our identity. We become His children – His family. We are adopted (Romans 8:14-17). God knows your name. Better yet, He has a new name for you. He did for Jacob. In Genesis 32:24-28 He basically told Jacob it’s time to come out of being a swindler, thief, and a lifetime of sinful behavior and start living for God. His new name would be Israel and He would become the foundation of the twelve tribes of God’s chosen people. He told Abram he would become Abraham, the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). He told Simon it’s time to be set apart and more than just a fisherman. He would become the first in every list of disciples, radical in his faith, and a leader of the first century church. His new name was Peter, which means “rock”. I like to call him “Rocky”.

Jacob tried to talk God out of his new name. Being honest and transparent, he was coming clean and owning up to his past. He was just admitting who he had always been. How could he ever be anything different? God’s response was and always is, “Great. Thanks for admitting you are a sinner and have a past. Everyone is like that. Now, let me tell you who you really are. Let me tell you who I am making you into. Let me give you a new identity.” When we try to go back to who we were, God wants us to remember that in Him we are a new creation with His name attached to us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 the old life has passed away and everything is now new in Christ. In Christ we are a new creation, have a new life, new spirit, new heart, new identity and a new name!

What has God called you out of and in to? Are you trying to live your new life in Him by reverting to who you used to be? Do your past failures and former way of living attempt to steal your new identity? Stop letting the world tell you who you are and choose to live in the new name and identity God has for you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Converts or Disciples?

The Christian life is designed by God to reproduce other Christians who live whole heartedly for Christ. Granted, you don’t save anyone – Christ alone, by grace through faith, does this by His work on the Cross. It takes anywhere from five minutes to an hour for a Christian to tell someone about the Gospel and for them to begin a relationship with Christ. But that short time span will never make a disciple out of them. It takes on average anywhere from twenty weeks to a couple of years for that new Christian to get on a road to maturity in Christ. Finding victory over habitual sin and problems of years past cannot be solved in a one minute prayer to receive Christ. That’s where discipleship comes in. A new Christian must be shown how to live a life for Christ and not just pray a prayer to receive salvation, a prayer ironically that isn’t listed in Scripture.

Here’s something you may not have thought about when it comes to discipleship. The moment you begin discipling someone you just doubled your ministry. Now, you have someone else you are growing in Christ other than yourself. A new believer in Christ needs someone to guide, warn, and instruct them in reading the Bible and living it out. I would say that when you are actively discipling someone in Christ you more than double your ministry. You teach them how to do just what you are doing. The result is they also disciple someone and the cycle continues. How much more effective is a disciple than a convert? How much more effective is a child who has been raised by loving and caring parents than a baby who is left alone after birth?

It is not enough to just lead someone to the Lord – we must train them to walk with Him by our example and edification. An effective Christian is one so is fruitful and multiplies. Making disciples is the true litmus test of personal discipleship. If you don’t have any then you probably aren’t growing yourself. Before his name change and New Testament writings, Paul spent a year with Barnabas at the Church of Antioch (Acts 11:25). This year long discipleship was the catalyst that launched Paul’s ministry, causing him to do greater works than Barnabas.

All believers must see the Biblical mandate of making disciples. Matthew 28:18-20 tell us to make disciples and baptize people. The latter is easier (or rather takes less work) than the former. I believe the discipleship process happens as we take someone on one-on-one and do the next statement of the Great Commission – teach them to obey all I (Jesus) have commanded you. That takes a while. It can’t be summed up in the sinner’s prayer and “hope you can join us for church”. We must follow hard after Christ and chase harder after new believers if we desire to see them go beyond conversion to discipleship. The only reason they aren’t discipled to the level you expect them to be at is because you haven’t taken them there.

Question: who are you discipling? Who are you intentionally and consistently meeting with for the sheer purpose of growing in Christ? Who are you pouring over Scriptures with? Who are you warring in prayer with? This isn’t a meet-and-eat or an occasional “catch up session”. It is a strategic union of two believers who desperately desire a relationship with Jesus as His disciples and know it only comes through discipling one another. I praise God if you’ve gotten someone to say a prayer or walk an aisle to initiate a relationship with Christ. Keep that up! Just don’t leave it there. Where is that man or woman now and are you leading them closer to the Lord or have you abandoned them at rebirth? We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. We should be reproducing. If you aren’t, then ask God why you are spiritually sterile.

We must ask God to empower us to win people to the Lord and disciple them. This is the essence of the true Gospel message. While our salvation doesn’t come by works nor is it kept by works, we should work hard to fully devote our lives to Christ and disciple others to do the same. One discipled believer has a greater impact on the world around them than twenty who simply make a superficial commitment to Jesus.