Month: December 2009

The future of the local church

In the past ten years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations. While the ancient Sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate.

I have four predictions for the next decade of local church.

1. The places where we gather will become smaller

Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith.

2. The church will be launched into real mission.

The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractional events, but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world.

3. The church will return to its ancient roots

If it’s new, it’s probably not truth. If its truth, it’s probably not new. I believe the ancient, yet simple recipe of local church will return. We will gather often, read the Scriptures, worship intently, pray fervently, be led by servants, live authentically, and honor the Sacraments. For sure, we will continue to be creative and inventive, but not at the expense of the ancient structure which has transcended all generations for over 2000 years.

4. The church will return to wonder and awe

The churches that embrace the supernatural nature of God will see the most growth and have the most influence in the coming decade. Good preaching, trendy stage sets, and clever videos will not be enough in the next ten years because people want to see God intervene more and more in the affairs of the earth with miracles and healings. Sound theology must prevail and we must not return to our sloppy Charismatic tendencies, but we must also embrace the mysterious and risky nature of God and not be afraid of wonder and awe. While the Holy Spirit may be unpredictable, the results are always predictable – people will find God, people will be healed and people will discover real freedom.


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2009 in the rearview mirror

 

This past year was one of the most challenging of my life, but in the midst of these struggles, I learned priceless things about God, myself, my family and my friends. It is not a year I would care to repeat, but like every difficult season, I am discovering I was more blessed than I imagined.

 

1.       I rediscovered joy

After the difficult first three months, I found myself staring at depression and wondering if there would ever be a stretch of days without drama. Pam confronted me at lunch one day in late April and asked me a question that I will never forget. She asked, “Are you enjoying yourself?” My candid response was “No, I’m not.”

That started me on a journey to rediscover the joy of my calling and assignment. While reading the story of the imprisoned Paul and Silas, I found the secret to living with joy even when our outside circumstances are dire. They worshipped despite being in prison and chains. I realized that I must guard my personal devotion to Christ and never lose my passion for knowing more of Him. My joy returned by mid-June and I can actually admit that on more days than not, I am enjoying what I get to do.

 

2.       I began writing a book

Any book of lasting value has to be birthed out of conflict, pain or revelation. Sometimes all three are required. I am not sure if I am qualified to write anything, but I am certain God has given me the ok to pen some thoughts and begin the journey. So, I began to write, pray and discuss a set of ideas that I hope will form a book that will bless and encourage others. I have an agreement with a major publisher and I expect a book to be released sometimes in 2011. The process of praying over ideas, choosing a publisher and writing down thoughts has invigorated me and I am grateful for the favor and grace along the way.

 

3.       I helped a friend with his dream

I imagine I will remember the events of December 6th as one of my favorites of all time. It was on this Sunday that we announced that Pastor Ross Parsley would plant OneChapel in Austin, TX. Ross is one of my best friends and it is so exciting to help him launch this work and see him fulfill God’s call on his life.  It is a privilege to support him and launch him with resources and a capable team. 

It was a defining moment for New Life and I suspect something was implanted into our DNA that will define us for a generation. We are a Great Commission church that believes in planting other local churches with the best of our leaders.

There were lots of other great memories from 2009 – The Thorn, two epic Desperation events, praying for children who had been adopted into New Life families, the early morning prayer meetings on Thursday, serving with other New Lifers during Elevate, and a spectacular Wonderland experience on Christmas Eve.  We are moving forward into deeper waters and for that, I am grateful. 

A new decade dawns in a few days, and I believe the next ten years will be full of challenges, adventures, risks, and victories.  Let it begin – I am ready for what is ahead.

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Questions from a seeker

Seekers are defined as those people who are exploring spirituality but have not arrived at any concrete conclusions. They are interested in the person of Jesus, mostly turned off by the established church, but willing to live life with people who seem authentic. If the local church is committed to helping seekers find Jesus, we must know what questions they are asking and what things are of no interest to them. What are the primary questions being asked by seekers? I’m glad you asked!

1.       Do you really care about me?

Seekers believe the local church of today is nothing more than a corporate monolith interested only in established rituals, their attendance at events and their money. They wonder if church people really care about those who can’t speak church language, don’t dress like church people, and certainly don’t behave like church people.  They are willing to listen to our ideology but only if we will listen to their viewpoint with the same respect.  The local church must be committed to the intentional journey and not try to herd seekers into a box of ideas with our arguments or go for the quick sale.

2.       Are you for real?

Nothing turns off seekers like hypocrisy.  They don’t care if we make mistakes, but when we do, they expect us to own up to our shortcomings, asked for forgiveness and move forward.  In other words, they want us to take off those cheesy church masks. Seekers want to know if we are living out our beliefs in private in the same way we talk about our beliefs in public.  They expect us to say what we mean and mean what we say.

3.       Do you really love one another?

Seekers also need to see proof and the best evidence is when we, as followers of Christ, love one another sincerely.  Conflicts among believers are going to happen and seekers are certainly not looking for a fantasy world where everybody is perfect.  That world doesn’t exist.  But they are looking for a community that is committed to unity, forgiveness and redemption.  They earnestly desire a fellowship that is led by servant leaders who lead with integrity and for a group of people who are willing to sacrifice for one another.

Seekers are not interested anymore in leaders who are bible experts or leaders with a flashy, charismatic personality.  They care even less about the big staged events happening weekly at our buildings, although they are drawn to gatherings where they can have a spiritual experience.  In the end, seekers value honesty, transparency and candid conversations. If the local church is willing to engage them on that level, seekers will find the truth they so desperately desire.

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The Sending

This past Sunday at New Life we announced that Pastor Ross Parsley will be relocating to Austin, Texas to plant a life giving church sometimes next spring or summer.  It was a really special moment for all of us at New Life to send out such an amazing leader to fulfill an obvious call on his life. It was also special because church planting is one of my deepest passions and one of the most significant ways any church can fulfill the Great Commission.

Pastor Ross and I have been praying, planning and discussing this for months and after praying some more with the elders we all sensed it was time to launch Ross into this new adventure.  Pastor Ross will put a dent in the universe when he gets to Austin and we, as his New Life family, are committed to praying and supporting him.

I believe Pastor Ross and his team has been set up for success because he chose to leave the best possible way. Too many times, a young leader gets a call to plant a church, but then finds it difficult to get any support from his leadership or does not value the input of his leaders. I have found there are three common ways to leave one church and plant another, but only one gets the full blessings of heaven.

Most often, a young leader is not allowed to even talk about leaving for fear of punishment or the young leader does not value authority so they leave suddenly. I call this a divorce. It is ugly and hurtful, both to the young leader and to the church they leave.  The relationship is sometimes forever fractured which must cause God great sorrow.

The second way is not much better. The young leader decides to plant a church and announces it later to the leadership without really asking them to be a part of the process. Most times, the leaders of the church pray for them and announce it to the church, but there is no permanent partnership.

Pastor Ross chose the best way. He was open and honest about his desire to plant a church and he allowed me and the other elders a chance to pray with him and give him counsel every step of the way.  He even gave us permission to stop the church plant if we felt he was making a mistake. That took a lot of courage and integrity for Pastor Ross, but it was the right thing to do and God will bless him.

This church plant feels like a wedding, not a divorce.  We are certainly sad that Pastor Ross is leaving, but just like a wedding, we are also happy for the new family that is being formed and we are already looking forward to Pastor Ross coming back for lots of visits. When he does return, he will be welcomed home with cheers and hugs.

I am proud of Pastor Ross and I am proud of New Life. I suspect we will send lots of young leaders to plant churches in the coming years, and I hope we can always celebrate weddings and not be saddened by any divorces. If we will commit to being a sending church and young leaders will choose to be sent, the Kingdom of Heaven will expand and our New Life family will only multiply.

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