Category: New Life Church (page 2 of 10)

Are We Still Fascinated with God?

It began in mystery and it will end in mystery; but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between. – Diane Ackerman

 

The most dangerous Christ followers are those who have lost their fascination with God. No less than modern-day Pharisees who possess infinite knowledge ABOUT God but no real relationship WITH him, they become wonder-void wildcards who are unpredictable, unhelpful, often even outright harmful to their families, to the churches they call home, to the community in which they belong. Their eyes and hearts no longer blink and beat with awestruck reverence for their God.

Is this really the way of Christ?

Certainly we are to be grown up in our knowledge of God: we are to read about him, we are to learn about him, we are to talk about him, we are to be about his work. But to check the box of spirituality there—at that superficial point—and call it a day? Call it a LIFE? That is to miss life wholly, life as it’s meant to be lived.

God cannot be tamed by our sterile religious dogmas or caged in our closed-up-tight theological boxes. No, he is too fierce, too unwieldly, too OTHER, to be managed. Restrained? Never. But revered? Now we’re onto something. He is too wondrous to constrain with a single word, which means that those in intimate relationship with him can’t help but live life wonderstruck. We can’t help but be fascinated with God.

We are to come to God, come into relationship with him, as children. Not in the sense of childishness—immature, impetuous, demanding—but rather childlikeness. We come to him chatty, clingy, and in need. We come eager, excitable, and entranced. We come full of questions, full of awe.

LIKE, not ISH. This is where wonder begins.

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More Than Songs and Sermons …

Recently, a well known Christian author announced that he no longer attends church because he claims he does not connect with God through songs and rarely learns from listening to a lecture. If that was all the church was about, I suppose many would follow his example and abandon the weekly gathering.

However, church is more than a one hour production highlighted by song and sermon. Church is a perpetual gathering of people who, together, are becoming the people of God and while hymns and homilies are still very important to me and others, church involves a huge scope of Divine activity.

  1. We help prepare couples for marriage.
  2. We meet with married couples who are struggling to stay married.
  3. We perform official duties at weddings.
  4. We help families plan the funerals for their loved ones.
  5. We speak and lead at funeral services.
  6. We equip leaders to go plant churches around the globe.
  7. We send teams to help missionaries around the globe, especially in times of crisis.
  8. We help take care of the poor in our city, especially the widows and orphans.
  9. We baptize and disciple new believers.
  10. We celebrate the Eucharist together.
  11. We pray for the sick and visit them at their homes and in the hospital.
  12. We prepare meals and help those who are going through a crisis.
  13. We help people who are struggling financially.
  14. We gather and pray for each other.
  15. We support families who have adopted children.

“We” is a synonym for the entire church body in the above list. While a handful of these activities are overseen by the clergy, most are not. I suppose some of these could be done alone or with a few close friends, but after two decades of following Jesus, I am still convinced that we are best when we gather often as a big messy family to serve Christ and others together.

This past Sunday, I counseled a young unmarried couple who want to follow Jesus, but are living together. I prayed with a single mom who has a struggling teenager, hugged a young widow who is still grieving the sudden loss of her military husband, encouraged a family who is returning to the local church after 20 years away, answered questions from a sad lady who was upset about a church decision and prayed for an elderly couple who are moving to retirement in another state.

I did not choose all of them for my community and they did not all choose me. Church is not just hanging out with our friends or the people we choose. We need people we have not yet met and people we have not met need us. Church chooses us.

Sure, it would be easier to isolate myself among a tribe of homogenous people, but church does not give us that luxury. Church gives us the privilege of loving people unlike ourselves.

 

 

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What I Learned from a Coffee Meeting with Three Gay Men

Recently three gay men in our community invited me to meet for coffee. It wound up being the best meeting of my week. Challenging, thought-provoking, enlightening—I’m grateful I said yes.

I’ll admit that as we all were getting settled around the small table in the downtown café, immediate tension was our common bond—not because any of us is an unkind person, but because there exist thick and longstanding stereotypes about them—gay men—and about types like me—evangelical megachurch pastors—as well as myriad assumptions to overcome. Would they lash out at me in anger? Would I condemn them for their sinful ways? Both parties were suspicious: where was this thing headed, anyway?

What follows are five lessons learned from that hour-long meeting, courtesy of one who stands today renewed in his hope that bridge-building still is possible, regardless of the chasm we’re trying to span.

One: Our stories are more similar than we think.

As I took in the tales of their upbringing—their families, their histories, their quirks—I realized that the details that separated my experience from theirs were grossly outnumbered by the uncanny similarities we shared. The truth is, none of us had perfect families.

Two: Truth isn’t always conveyed in love.

To a person, these three men explained to me that as soon as they came out as gay, they were treated terribly by Christ followers, all of whom wanted them to “know the truth.” Consequently, these men were well versed in the evangelical theories of marriage, family, and sexuality. They were also well versed in the art of being judged and scorned.

Three: Homosexuality is more bipartisan than we may think.

Two of the three men were Republicans, which spurred on more than a few laughs about how both straight and gay people like to keep their money in their pocket instead of adding to the government dole.

Four: Common sense points to common ground.

As we continued our conversation, it became apparent to me that while we may never agree on what the Bible means when it speaks of both sexuality and homosexuality, certainly we can agree that both the gay community and the evangelical Jesus-following community can do a better job of being kind toward one another. “Bullying is never okay,” I said to them, just before affirming my commitment to help stand up for everyone in our city—both gay and straight—who is being targeted for insults and outright violence. I shared my story of being falsely accused of being a “hater’ when, in fact, I have never felt that way about the gay community.

Five: Coffee tables are places of peace.

The four of us—three gay guys and a straight pastor—agreed that further dialogue held in neutral territory was imperative to our bridging a volatile gap.

Listen, I have not budged a bit on my theology regarding biblical marriage being solely between a man and a woman. I have not wavered in my belief that acting on homosexual tendencies remains an outright sin. I’m simply determined to live as Jesus lived. He had real relationships with people who believed and lived differently than him.

We are called to be people of peace. Join me if you dare.

 

 

 

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Building Strong Internships in Your Local Church

Recently, I sat down with Pastor David Perkins and talked at length about building a student leadership ministry in every local church or what a lot of people call internships. Pastor David leads our student ministry here at New Life, which includes the Desperation Leadership Academy. We talked about lots of issues, including the use of volunteers, empowering student leaders and keeping people engaged. I think this will be really helpful to your church if you are serious about building relationships and discipling high school, college and 20-somethings. Let me know what is working in your congregation in the comments section below.

 

Click here to watch the video.

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Leadership Under Pressure

“What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” 2 Timothy 1:13-14 (A letter from his mentor Paul)

When a leader feels pressure and has to make a decision, there is little or no time to decide on core convictions in that moment. So, the leader makes the call based on the convictions he has already established. That can be good or bad, depending on who has primarily influenced them. If they have had healthy mentors, the chances of a healthy decision are greatly improved. If they have had flawed influence, the opposite can be true.

Peacetime is the best time to establish core values and convictions. The best sailors prepare their boats for storms while in the harbor, not in the gales of hurricanes. In fact, most boats sink because there was little preparation before the storm, even though the sailors knew full well that storms were coming.

Leaders know there are times of calm and times of chaos. I have experienced both while serving my congregation here at New Life Church. Just 100 days after I arrived as pastor, in December 2007, we were attacked by a young man with gun and two of our young girls were killed in the parking lot after our Sunday gatherings. That was no time to decide on my core values and convictions.

Instead, what I had been taught rose to the surface and shaped my decisions. Only later did I realize how much I appreciated the sound leadership wisdom I had received in the years before from men like Robert Morris, Jimmy Evans, and Tom Lane. I had no choice at that moment but to lean upon what I had already learned from them. I share a lot of these learned life lessons in my book Sons and Daughters if you want to read more.

Since that fateful Sunday, I have become a student of leaders under pressure. Almost always, they make decisions under pressure based upon the influencers who most defined them. Sometimes that is great and sometimes that is disaster.

The seas are calm at New Life today and I am grateful. This is the time for me to learn from healthy leaders, to grow, and to mature. I presume other storms will arrive, along with the pressure to make critical decisions. My prayer for all of us is that we make those decisions under the influence of the Holy Spirit and from the wisdom and health of the leaders God has sent us along the way.

Questions for us to consider:

Who are we learning from right now?

Are they healthy leaders? Is their home and marriage healthy? Is their walk with Christ healthy?

Have their leadership convictions stood the test of storms?

What are our core values? Will these values survive the inevitable trials of life?

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The Blessings and Challenges of a Young Team

We are really blessed to have a great team of young leaders at New Life, but a young team also brings unique challenges that not all churches are ready to face. In fact, most churches tend to lean toward more mature pastors and leaders because of these potential messes. While I value maturity and believe we should honor those with experience we cannot leave young leaders behind.

So, if you are committed like I am to working alongside a team that reflects every generation, including the college and 20-somethings, take note of the challenges and rewards before you start this journey.

1. Young leaders sometimes have poor work habits.

This is especially true if they have never worked outside the church in the “real world.” Even though the church is a family, there is still work to be done, tasks to be finished, deadlines to be met and communication to be made. To do all this requires time management skills which are difficult for most young leaders who tend to think only about an hour into their future.

2. Young leaders do not know the right questions to ask.

I have heard many mature leaders complain, “I could have helped them if they had only asked.” Most of the time we think young leaders are arrogant, but most of the time, young leaders simply did not know what questions needed to be asked. We should tell them upfront to come to us with questions. More importantly we should make it easy for them to come to us because we have earned their trust and they know we want them to succeed.

3. Young leaders mean more messes to clean up.

Yep! That is true, but some of the greatest discoveries in human history were made in really messy laboratories. If you only want to perpetuate the status quo, work only with people who think and act like yourself. If you want innovation, youth and messes are a part of the deal. Yes, we can do it quicker without any messes, but that does not mean we can do it better.

4. Young leaders need places to practice.

Young leaders need laboratories where they experiment. Classrooms are fine for discussion of data and facts, but at some point they must get their hands in the soil. Right now, young leaders are overseeing many of the 24-hour prayer meetings at New Life and are getting real congregational leadership experience. Are all the meetings being led perfectly?  Probably not. But they are all being led sincerely, which is more important to me. We will coach them and lead them, but better yet, we will also learn from them.

We want young leaders at New Life. That is why we invest staff and resources into the Desperation Leadership Academy and into our New Life School of Worship. Students from around the world are on our campus right now, learning, studying, and making messes. I promise, both of us are better because of it.

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The Praying Church

Most churches pray, but not all are praying churches. Most churches pause during their gatherings to pray, sometimes out of ritual, but certainly out of sincerity. But, how does a church make the leap to become a praying church, where prayer is the engine and fuel behind every spiritual advancement?

1. Prayer is modeled

Prayer is caught more than taught. Praying pastors model a prayerful life and those that are influenced by them tend to lead a prayerful life of their own. We just started 21 days of prayer and fasting with prayer meetings happening 24 hours a day. I am leading many of these meetings because I really do believe it is powerful when two or more gather to pray in unity.

2. Prayer is first

In a praying church, the first response to any difficult situation is to pray. When there is still no solution, the answer is to pray again. Repeat as needed.

3. Prayer is proactive

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to first ask for God’s Kingdom to come to the earth. Later in the prayer, he told them to ask for daily bread. It is true that the most attended prayer services are normally after a national or local crisis and that is certainly warranted. However, we should be proactive in our prayers, asking now for the Kingdom to come.

4. Prayer is the assignment

In Eugene Peterson’s classic book, Working the Angles, he writes that many church members make it difficult for pastors to spend unhurried time in prayer.  It is easier to point to new buildings, compelling sermons and increased attendance as signs of their success. Instead, a praying church sees prayer as a primary assignment of their leaders.

5. Prayer is worship and worship is prayer

A praying church prays with a singing voice. Their songs are anthems, prophetic declarations and pronouncements of faith. We sing as we pray and we pray as we sing. A praying church believes in the power of words spoken and words sung. They believe God hears all of it and responds to all of us.

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Thankful for 2012

2012 will go down as one of the most memorable years of our lives for many reasons. There was certainly too much violence with shootings in Aurora and Newtown that left scores dead. Our city also suffered through the most destructive wildfire in our history with over 300 homes lost during the summer. Then there were months of political arguing during a contentious election season.

Yes, there was plenty of bad and even horrific news, but I am also grateful for so many amazing things that happened, too.

1. Pam, Abram and Callie are healthy and we love each other.

2. We planted a thriving church in Fort Collins, CO. with our friend Aaron Stern.

3. Our church paid off over $3million of debt.

4. I met Eugene Peterson and I think he liked me.

5. The Mayans were wrong.

6. We leased our first apartment complex to house homeless single moms and their families.

7. Our downtown campus opened at Easter and is doing well under the leadership of Glenn Packiam.

8. Participated and partnered with ministries around the world that saw over 3 million people accept Christ.

9. I survived Disney.

10. We opened our first Dream Center in Swaziland.

11. I released a book called Sons and Daughters

12. We gave away over $300,000 of relief supplies to Waldo Fire victims.

13 We started a Sunday night service led by David Perkins where hundreds gather for worship and prayer.

14. Students from around the world are studying in our School of Worship, the Kings University and our Desperation Leadership Academy.

15. Miracles are happening every week in the lives of women who receive treatment at our free medical clinic.

This list could go on, for sure. I am so thankful that even in the midst of bad news, good news was breaking in all around us. God was with us. This I know.

What are you most thankful for in 2012?

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The Thinking Church

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Philippians 4:8-9

What are you thinking about right now? Are you considering any new ideas or imagining new possibilities or realities? Have our churches become so populated by homogenous believers that there is no room for any competing philosophies?

Certainly, our local congregations must hold tightly to the foundations of our faith and not be drawn away by every new and fancy fad. Truly, we must teach the absolutes of Scripture without compromise, but I wonder if we have stopped thinking and growing along the way.

Recently, our team read a book together called Beauty Will Save the World, written by Pastor Brian Zahnd, which led to some great debate. It angered a few, challenged most of us, but made all of us think about some long held beliefs. At the end of the journey, many of us did not change our minds, but at least it caused us to stop and rethink why we believed what we believed.

Are you willing to listen to people outside your primary stream? I am not asking you to change your mind, but I am challenging you to at least listen. The older we get, we must be more intentional to continue our curious pursuit of learning. We must resist dogmatic beliefs that are based on assumptions rather than empirical evidence.

A thinking believer, rooted in the ancient truths of our faith, but infatuated with growing, resisting the stagnation of tired traditions, is a powerful force. God gave us both hearts and brains. We should nurture, cultivate and care for both.

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What Every Church Planter Needs?

A group of us had some great conversations at our New Life Leader’s Conference last week about planting healthy, life giving local churches. New Life has planted three successful churches in the last four years and we talked at the conference about the reasons each of them is thriving.

1. There was a prayerful evaluation of the lead pastor

One of the reasons many church plants fail is because the wrong person is leading the effort. For our three plants, each of the leaders submitted to an evaluation from our local elders and a stringent evaluation from the ARC Churches a great organization that you can send your potential church pioneers to for evaluation.

2. There were resources to send with them

Church planting is certainly not a business enterprise, but a church plant can fail for the same reason a new business can fail – no money or resources. Our local church set aside a portion of our mission’s budget so that we could send money with the church planting team. It certainly was not all they would need, but it was enough to get them started for a few months in a new city.

3. A local congregation sent them

It is so important for a church planting team to have an extended family. We believe that when a key leader on our team is sent to plant another church, we should celebrate like at a wedding. So many times, a church does not allow talented leaders to leave and it feels like a divorce. These leaders start leading their church like abandoned orphans instead of sent sons. I talk about the strengths and pitfalls of both scenarios in my new book, Sons and Daughters.

4. There were systems and plans to help them launch

We believe in leaning into the wisdom of those who have gone before us. There is not a need, in most cases, to reinvent the wheel with systems and procedures for things like guest follow-up, children’s ministry in a mobile location, sound equipment that can stand the riggers of set up and tear down every week and building a dream team of volunteers. Again, the ARC Churches is a great place to learn many of these things.

5. There is coaching and support going forward

All of the above can be in place and the church plant still fail. We must be willing to come alongside our leaders in those first few months, but also in the years that follow. All of us need mentors, overseers and coaches. Most importantly, we need friends who love us and will take our call when we feel discouraged and alone.

Church planting is a spiritual battle that only can prevail if there is abundant prayer surrounding a faithful leader who will teach the Scriptures and build authentic community. It is not easy and it costs more than any of us think, but our nation and world needs new churches to bring light into the dark corners of our culture. May we be ready to help them do just that.

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