Sunday, December 30, 2007

A New Year

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve! This is the time of year when most people (Dilbert notwithstanding--see comic below) reflect on the year that's past--what went right, what went wrong, what was unavoidable, and what could have been done better--and look forward to the year that's still unblemished. Many people use this time to make plans about what will be different in the new year, and they set goals, or "resolutions."

Half of all Americans will resolve this new year to lose weight, but only 2% of Christians have set any spiritual goals for themselves. I'm all for losing weight (in fact, I'm going to try to drop about 20 pounds myself), but if we're going to experience all that God has for us, we need to make our relationship with him a central focus for our lives.

Next week, we're kicking off a new series called "God's Gym," and we're looking at what we can do to become spiritually fit. This is a three-part series that focuses on the three core components of the Christian life--our relationship with God, our relationship with the church, and our relationship with the world. This is the same as Pathway's Key Three--Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story.

Here are some of the goals that I have for this coming year in leading the church:

  • Reducing my number of regular church meetings. In particular, the elders will be meeting every other week (instead of weekly), and the Worship Design Team will meet monthly (instead of bi-weekly).
  • Establishing an interdenominational LEAD Team in Jackson County. Reducing meetings will free me up to meet with area pastors to put together a LEAD Team of churches that will work together to plant churches in Jackson County and reach the 100,000 people with no church family. If the team is established in 2008, we should be able to plant our first church in 2010.
  • Composing and offering the Journey 401 Class. This class will be focused on how to build relationships with unbelievers, how to steer conversations to spiritual topics, and how to share your faith. With the completion of this class, we'll have our first group of people who have completed "The Journey," the four core classes of Pathway Community Church, and we will recognize them as "360-degree disciples."

Here are some goals that I have for my personal life as a follower of Christ:

  • Become more consistent in my personal prayer and Bible study. Aha! I bet you thought you were the only one who struggled in this area! This is an area I've grown in steadily over the past several years, and it has become an anchor for my life. Nevertheless, I find that there are still those days when "something comes up" to take me away from it. I occasionally even find a stretch of days when I get out of the habit. I'm still looking forward to the year that I have a quiet time with God every single day.
  • Become a more effective leader in my family, in my church, and at Olive Garden. A leader is a person that others follow, a person with influence. I want to lead more effectively so that the people around me are drawn closer to Christ.
  • Lead two people from Olive Garden to faith in Christ. I have spent the last six months establishing and building relationships. I now have several people that I can talk to on a serious level about life, God, money, family, goals, and priorities. I will be praying that God would open doors for at least two of my coworkers to respond to an invitation to make God the boss of their lives, and that I would be wise enough to discern when those doors are opened.

What do you want to do this year for God? You might consider one or more of the following ideas:

  • Attend a worship service every single Sunday unless you're sick (or you have to care for a sick child). That includes vacations (they even have churches in Orlando!) and when you're "really busy."
  • Join a small group. If you're not part of a small group, you're getting only half of the benefits of our church. A small group that you meet with regularly is where you really get to build relationships, get to know other people, and see up-close what faith looks like where the rubber meets the road. One of our small groups is starting a study this week--Just Walk Across The Room. Email Pastor Scott, or call the office (78-5388) for more details.
  • Take the next Journey Class. If you've taken 101, take 201. If you've taken 201, take 301. If you've taken 301, take 401. If you haven't taken any, take 101 and consider joining the church. These classes are chalk-full of practical help on how to live the Christian life.
  • Find a ministry. If you don't serve anywhere in the church, you're missing out on an important way to grow spiritually. The Bible says that all of us are intended to do our part, and that God wants to teach us something through our service, in addition to helping others.
  • Start tithing, or regular financial giving. The Bible says that we ought to give God at least a tithe, or 10% of our income. There are lots of benefits that come to us as a result (we cover these in the Journey 201 class), but the biggest is that we let God take first place in our lives instead of money. Without tithing, we will always find ourselves chasing after money instead of God.
  • Bring a friend, neighbor, or family member to church. Reach out of your comfort zone, and tell someone about what you've gained as a result of your relationship with God, or why you like our church, and invite them to join you. Be sensitive! Realize that they may be scared or unsure about what they'll find here. Keep on talking, and keep on inviting; share about things they might find funny, interesting, or comforting. And above all, PRAY!

In any event, don't let this new year go by without making it an opportunity to grow closer to God. Find a way to get more of him into your life, and discover the joy and peace he brings to us as we keep advancing in our spiritual journeys! Happy walking!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

The last week has been very "interesting" for me. Last Sunday, we canceled services due to the weather. That left me to figure out how to condense two weeks of content down to one week for today's message, and also where to put songs, skits, videoes, etc. for the last two weeks of the series--in addition to planning the Christmas Eve service tomorrow, of course.

I got that all arranged and felt good about it, when we lost electrical power today--right in the middle of the second song of the first service!--and had to pull the plug on some of the content that relies on electricity to run (i.e., video projector, CD player). We just made up a new order of service on the fly. Needless to say, I was feeling a little frazzled, and I'm sure that some of you noticed.

Fortunately, power was eventually restored, and we are still planning on having a great Christmas Eve candlelight service tomorrow night at 7:00pm. Of course, with this wind blowing (and more tree limbs crashing??), who knows what we'll end up having!

In all of this, I've been thinking about how it seems at Christmas time there's always something to distract us, calling our attention away from Christ. There's a mythology about what Christmas is supposed to be, and then there's what we really experience:

We Say Christmas Is:
About Christ
For Family Gatherings
About Giving
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
But Christmas REALLY Is:
About Shopping
For Family Fighting
About Showing Off
The Most Painful Time Of The Year

And it seems to me that we expend so much energy trying to make Christmas into what we say it is--trying to pretend that the reality of Christmas measures up to our mythology about Christmas--when what we ought to be doing is getting out of the Christmas hamster-wheel.

When we spend so much time on stuff that's not Christ--shopping lists, parties, gift exchanges, Christmas cards, cookies & goodies, and so forth--how is there room to squeeze him into our lives? How can we say the holiday is about him? How could he possibly be the focus, when all the activity doesn't have anything to do with thinking about him, or acting like him?
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem! Did you get your kid a Nintendo Wii gaming system?
  • God made a way for us to know him! I think I'll buy a new TV!
  • God expressed his infinite love for us! Let's brag to everyone we know about all the great things we did this year in an impersonal letter!
  • The hope of all people was fulfilled in Jesus Christ! Will (insert family member) be upset if we don't (insert outrageous holiday demand)?

There's always other stuff that's going to compete for our attention. But who is in charge of your attention? Only you can give your attention to something. What are you giving your attention to this holiday season? Consumerism or Christ? Holiday mayhem or the manger?

Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't have anything to do with sticking a sign in your yard or what your family chooses to do with Santa Claus. It has everything to do with how we order and prioritize our lives. I hope you can come to the Christmas Eve Service on Monday at 7:00pm, and if you've been distracted by other stuff, you can start over. But even if you can't make it for the service, it's never too late to turn our attention to Jesus! There's still time to focus on Christ--who he is, what he has done for us, and what we owe him. Even if you can't get time until after Dec. 25, that's fine. What's important is that we make sure we have Christ at the center of our lives year-round, and if we find at any time we've gotten away from that, we get back to it as quickly as we can.

Have a Merry Christmas, as you focus on Christ, not the spectacle that's grown up around this holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Storm!!!

UPDATE: WE ARE CANCELLING ALL ACTIVITIES TODAY. I found out that many major county roads are still unplowed, and some vehicles without 4-wheel drive are getting stuck in the snow. All activities are cancelled--9:30, 11:00, Awana, and Youth Group. Stay warm & safe!

My original post appears below. Some of the information is now inaccurate. Please understand that as you read further:

Hey all! Just wanted to let you know, we are calling off the 9:30 service this morning. We will still have the 11:00 service.

I went out for a little drive this morning, and the main roads I drove on (Lansing Ave. & Parnall Ave.) were in pretty good shape. It was clear that the plows had been working all night long. All four lanes on both roads were open and moving fairly well (there was other traffic out, besides me). I think most people should be ok if they can get to a main road.

My philosophy on calling off church is this:

  • If it is absolutely unsafe to travel, I will cancel everything because I want to protect the people who have to be there--the praise team, sound & video techs, teachers, etc.
  • If the weather will significantly impact attendance, I will cancel the first service only. I cancel the first service, and not the second, because it gives more time for plows & salt trucks, as well as just general traffic beating the snow down & cutting tracks through rarely-traveled areas.

Some people feel guilty if they stay home when church is not cancelled. They would rather I cancel church for everybody, and then they don't have to feel guilty. However, I take a different perspective. I think each family should decide what is best for them since each family's situation is different.

  • Some have to drive a long way, while others live literally around the corner from the church.
  • Some have small children, while other households are composed entirely of adults.
  • Some people are uncomfortable driving in winter weather, while others look at every winter storm as simply one more challenge to be conquered.
  • Some are just getting over colds or other sicknesses, or beginning to come down with them, and don't want to get out in the weather.

So you have to decide what's best for you and your family. Just because church is going on, that doesn't mean that you're necessarily wrong not to stay home. Nobody will think any less of you, or call you up in front of the congregation to confess your sin. :) However, for the people who want to come and are able to come, we want to provide them the opportunity to gather with the family of God and worship.

See you at 11:00!! (...or not)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Bi-Vocational Life

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I'm still employed at Olive Garden, and how that's going. My response is always to say that things are going well (which is not a lie), but I expect oftentimes that people would like to know more about how I'm able to manage a family and two jobs (one of which is ministry, which is a very huge one!). So I thought this would be a good week to share with you some of the adjustments I've made to make things go more smoothly, as well as some of the challenges that we deal with in trying to make it all work.

As soon as I found out we were implementing an emergency budget and that my salary would be reduced by 15%, I went out and found a supplemental job. Tanya and I had already run the numbers and realized that we would not be able to make a pay cut work for us, so I asked the elders for permission to get another job once we enacted the emergenecy budget. Since that time, I've been working about 15-20 hours a week at Olive Garden as a cook, and I've cut back to about 35 hours a week at the church. Here are some of the things that help:

1) Olive Garden has been extremely understanding regarding my schedule, and this makes planning possible. When I was hired, I told them that I would never be available to work on Sundays, but that I could work any other days. When I was training, they had me working doing lots of different things--opening, lunch, dinner, split shifts, whatever. I conveyed to them that it made it difficult to schedule meetings, etc., when I didn't know from week to week which evenings I'd be working. They quickly moved me to a set schedule, and as a bonus they didn't have me work any evenings at all, so that conflicts would never be an issue. My OG schedule is now pretty much always the lunch shift Monday through Thursday. Knowing what to expect makes it much easier to plan my weeks and set appointments.

2) Early on, I discovered that composing my messages each week was suddenly much more difficult. Prior to working at Olive Garden, I would block out an entire day (usually Tuesday) to write the bulk of my message. Occasionally, I would tweak it in subsequent days as I had new thoughts or insights, but by and large the message was established by Tuesday night. Since I now work Monday through Thursday for 3-5 hours right in the middle of the day, I can't just block out an extended time for message preparation. Initially, I was grabbing a few hours here or there as I had opportunity, but this was becoming more and more of a drain, and consuming a huge part of my week. In August I asked (and received from) the Church Council permission to take a week of from OG (which they agreed to) and collect my original salary for one week's time. During that week, I was able to compose messages for August, September, October, and November (in varying stages of "done-ness"). For those four months, I had at least partially finished messages to work from, and that helped immensely. Having now run out of those messages, I can tell a huge difference. This last week, I worked on my message from Monday night through Thursday morning. This coming week is another week of just working on messages again (Pastor Brent is preaching on Sunday), so I'm hoping to have another several months' worth ready to go again.

3) I've found that being in the office less forces me to be more efficient when I'm there. I just don't have time to spend on stuff that isn't necessary. So that's been good as well.

4) I absolutely refuse to work more than I do. If something doesn't get done, then it just isn't done, and the world will go on. I make sure that I am with my family at least three evenings a week, and I don't work anywhere on Saturdays. That time is sacred time, and I don't let anything impinge on it. Without a fierce devotion to my family time, this could be a real timebomb, but the fact is the only things more important to me than the church are my relationship with my family and my relationship with God.

5) I know that many of you continue to pray for me and my family. I want to thank you so much for that. I believe that prayer makes all the difference in the world, and that God will continue to give us the grace we need to make it through this time for as long as it lasts.

Here are some of the things that I still wrestle with:

1) I don't have much time for long-range planning, goal setting, or leadership development. These are extremely important, and it will eventually harm the church if I have to push these priorities off indefinitely. However, they are time-consuming, and I find myself often having to attend to more urgent matters.

2) Due to my OG schedule, Debbie and I are hardly ever in the office together. We leave notes and so forth, but oftentimes office communication is difficult. In addition, now that her hours have been reduced from 20 to 12 under the emergency budget, she is able to do less for me. I often have to do work that I would rather hand off to a secretary because she is so restricted in her time.

3) Pastor Brent and I have eliminated our weekly staff meeting. It's amazing how well we still keep in touch with all the things that are going on between us; however, it was in our staff meetings that much of our brainstorming, planning, and goal-setting took place.

I still haven't figured all these things out, but I guess there's no way to make a less-than-ideal situation suddenly become ideal. It is a challenge, but things are also going well, and we've put some tools in place to help it be that way.

The main thing is that we continue to stay faithful to Christ and to where he calls us, and he will give us the grace to meet the challenges that face us on the way.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas II: The Sequel

Next week starts a new series we're calling "Christmas II: The Sequel". You already know about the first Christmas--angels and shepherds and wisemen, oh my!--but did you know there's going to be a sequel? We're taking a look at when Christ comes back to earth, and what that means to you and me.

Many Christians know that Jesus is coming back again someday, but that fact is little more than an interesting trivia item when it comes to their daily living. OK, Jesus is coming, so what? What does that have to do with me in the here and now? Well, the Bible tells us that this knowledge should make a dramatic difference in how we live out our everyday lives.

How? You'll have to come to the worship services and find out. Here's a link to the church website, which lets you know what we're going to be talking about each week of the series.

In the meantime, here's some factoids to ponder:

  • The word "Christmas" comes from the combination of two words: "Christ" and "mass" (the Catholic celebration of communion or eucharist). "Mass" derives its origin from the Latin word for "send" or "dismiss." So "Christmas" literally means "The sending of Christ." The Father will send Christ to earth again, so that's why we're calling this series "Christmas II: The Sequel"!
  • The period of time leading up to Christmas is often referred to as "advent." You may have advent calendars or advent candles in your homes. "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival", such as when we talk about the advent of the computer. This term refers not only to the first coming of Christ, but also the second. That's one reason we chose to do this series at Christmas time, to link the two advents
  • We'll be talking about both Christmases, the first and the second, how they're similar and how they're different, and what it means to live between the Christmases.

I'm really excited about this series, and I hope you make a point to be at church this month, as we talk about something that I believe very few Christians really understand--the significance of the second coming of Christ for our daily lives. Don't miss it! This time... it's for eternity!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

Corporations, governments, agencies, denominations, and pretty much any organization that is trying to accomplish something are all discovering that in our contantly changing, frangmented, information-overloaded world, that the people who know best about many things are not found at the top of the organizational chart. It's the people who are trying to carry out the work who know the most about how things are working and what's going on.

I experience this every day at Olive Garden. Olive Garden is a multi-national corporation, broken down into different districts and regions. Every restaurant is measured against every other restaurant in the corporation, in the district, and in the region. Cooks in Italy design our menu and tell us step-by-step how to make it in our restaurant, and the corporation tells us how long it should take to cook it.

The problem? The instructions we're given have no connection with reality. According to our corporate headquarters, an order of kids chicken fingers should take three minutes to cook. If I followed their directions, our restaurant would become a hotbed of salmonella poisoning because no chicken finger has ever cooked through in less than six minutes ever since I started there. But I can't even get our kitchen manager to admit the corporate information is wrong. Information from above is never questioned in our corporation--information from below is never heeded. It's a top-down structure.

Our denomination has undergone a reorganization in the last couple years. What once was a top-down system--where churches had to follow the latest fad program that the denomination endorsed... until the next one came along--is now a bottom-up system. The denomination headquarters serves as a support team to equip, empower, and uphold local churches as they seek to carry out their mission locally. The denomination still sets the broad parameters within which churches must work, but they give churches wide latitude in the manner in which they carry out their work. And they seek to come alongside churches and help them in whatever way they can with whatever resources they have at their disposal.

I would love for our church, too, to be a bottom-up church. I envision a time when small groups and ministry teams will see needs--both inside and outside the church--and simply move to meet those needs. I picture neighbors working together to reach their other neighbors for Christ and invite them to our church. I see people greeting newcomers with more than a handshake but taking them out to dinner, or inviting them over to their house, so that they can sit down and talk and really get to know one another.

In other words, a place where ministry just happens--not because some committee created a program, or the pastor said to, but because each member has a passion for the kingdom of God, and we all love to be a contributing part of it.

There's nothing that would stop this from happening right now. Our structure would definitely support this. It's not a violation of our mission, vision, or values; in fact, I think it's a better expression of them. It doesn't run counter to the philosophy or theology of our church.

And yet, it seems to me that we are stuck in a formalism. Everyone wants to come to me and ask my opinion, and get my permission to do stuff. Or ask the Church Council for their permission. Church, I want you to know--you are empowered! Go do it! Whatever God has laid on your heart, GO FOR IT! We want to be a bottom-up church. I'm confident that you have many more wonderful ideas than I do. I couldn't possibly come up with everything myself. There are situations that only you know about. There are needs that only you can meet. So I want you to know... you have my permission--go after it!

Bottoms up!

There will be no blog posting for the next two weeks. I will be on vacation from 11/19 to 11/26. So I'll see you again here in December. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall Vision Update

For the last three months, this space has been pretty much constantly devoted to our 40 Days of Community campiagn, "Let's Get 1t Together!" But the purpose of this blog is much broader than this one campaign. It is intended to serve as a vehicle for clear and honest communication regarding many things related to our corporate life and faith journey here at PCC.

And that's what we need to return to, now that this 40-day campaign is behind us (although I hope the spirit of the campaign never leaves us!).

During the campaign, I shared a "Vision Update" message, during which I outlined our strategy for moving forward and accomplishing our vision "to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family." This strategy consists of assembling a LEAD Team of churches in Jackson that would work together for the purpose of launching a daughter church.

While each congregation that is part of the LEAD Team will eventually contribute to the success of the daughter church, only the senior pastor of each congregation participates in the initial planning phase. These senior pastors get together for a 24-hour meeting 5-6 times per year for a two-year period. LEAD is an acronym that summarizes the main activity of the team at these meetings:

  • LEARN: Something about church planting will be learned at each meeting. This will most likely take place through reading and discussing chapters from a particular book.
  • ENCOURAGE: The pastors will encourage one another and pray for one another in their own particular challenges, struggles, trials, and difficulties. We will pray for the success of, and God's involvement in, each of our ministries. And we will spend time together building relationships and trust.
  • ACHIEVE: At each meeting, various assignments will be given out, and the LEAD Team members will report back whatever progress has been made. Plans will be made regarding what should be accomplished before the next meeting. By the end of the two-year process, with everything being accomplished, we should be able to celebrate the birth of a new church.
  • DREAM: Time will also be given to dreaming about where God wants to take this process, what he wishes to accomplish through it for his kingdom and his glory.

Over the two years, the churches involved in the LEAD Team will commit to contributing three things to the church plant--people, prayers, and pockets.

Once a church planter has been selected, he will be given permission to speak in each congregation represented by the LEAD Team. At that point, he will share his vision for this new church and invite members from each of the parenting churches to join him as part of the launch team--the core of the new congregation. The pastors of each of the churches agree up-front that they will bless and release anyone whom God calls from their church to be a part of the new church.

Churches also commit to praying for the church-planting process from beginning to end--the establishment of the LEAD Team, the work of the LEAD Team over the two years, and the success and health of the new congregation once it is birthed.

Finally, churches commit to financially supporting the fledgling congregation. The minimum investment is $100/month for 2 years, but some churches will need to contribute more than that. Typically with LEAD Teams, new churches can be financed 1/3 from a denominational source, 1/3 from money raised by the planting pastor, and 1/3 from the sponsoring churches (i.e., the LEAD Team). As I mentioned, ours will be the first LEAD Team that I am aware of that is a multi-denominational endeavor, so denominational money may be more difficult to come by. Most denominations want to send money only if it goes to "one of their own." That's one of the hurdles that will need to be jumped, and one of the items of prayer we'll need to bring before God's throne of grace at the proper time.

So far, we have a list of about 20 churches that we want to contact and invite to be a part of this endeavor. We are praying for 4-5 churches that will say yes and join with us to ignite a spiritual movement in Jackson County, reaching out to the 100,000 unchurched and reconciling them to God through Christ Jesus.

I'm going to begin contacting these churches after the holidays at the beginning of the new year, and I'm so excited about this. We're hoping to have our first LEAD Team orientation meeting in March or April 2008, after which point pastors would decide for good if they and their churches are in or out.

There are still many questions to answer:

  • Who will be part of this LEAD Team with us?
  • What denomination will the daughter church be?
  • Who will be the planting pastor?
  • Where will the church plant meet?
  • What community (or "target") will the church plant seek to reach?

These will be answered in time by the LEAD Team itself as we work and pray together. I'll be certain to keep you well-informed as plans develop.

I ask you to keep this whole process in prayer. Pray right now especially for our future partners--that God would lead us to them, that he would open up the right doors for us, that he would prepare the way for us to connect with each other, and that we would be engaged with kindred hearts that beat for the lost of Jackson County. May God bless our church and our efforts as we step out in faith, trusting in his leading, his provision, his guidance, and his will for his kingdom. Amen!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Isn't it amazing? In our culture, it's acceptable to celebrate something as menial and trivial as the Red Sox taking a commanding three games to zero lead in the World Series (I mean, in the scheme of things, how important is it, really?). But to celebrate what God has done among us is somehow strange and excessive. It's ok to be a sports nut, but to pour that kind of emotion into a spiritual celebration makes you a religious nut, and that's definitely not ok, according to the world around us.

Well, around here we like to turn conventional thinking on its head. We think that God is a lot more important than baseball, much more worthy of being celebrated, and infinitely more deserving of our time, attention, devotion, and enthusiasm!

Here's some of the great things to celebrate over these last 40 days:

  • Over 85% of our church in small groups
  • More than double the kids in Awana compared to last year
  • A new Awana Commander, Larry Burman, who comes with a passion for God and a love for kids
  • Increase in adult leaders for Awana
  • Lots of new faces in Youth Group, as the kids have been reaching out together to invite their friends
  • Double the number of adult leaders for Youth Group
  • All kinds of Small Group Service Projects ministering to people and meeting tangible needs in all sorts of different ways--distributing food, clothing kids for winter, providing childcare for single moms, helping maintain property at a camp for at-risk kids, and more!
  • Some of these groups are going to be involved in on-going ministry beyond the 40 Days of Community Campaign
  • Advancement in our Vision--in January 2008, I'll be contacting pastors of other churches to invite them to partner with us to plant churches in Jackson County. We want to ignite a spiritual movement--a saturation church-planting movement in Jackson County to reach the 100,000 people here with no church family.

God is so good! He deserves shouts of Hallelujah! and Hosanna! Let's get excited about what God is up to in our midst! Let's thank him and praise him! Let's use these 40 days as motivation to continue striving toward being the kind of church he calls us to be. Let's devote ourselves to intense prayer, as we know that Satan wants to oppose anyone who would actually undertake a real effort to advance the kingdom of God. Let's celebrate!

This evening, Pastor Brent said, "This is a good time to be a part of this church." I couldn't agree more! God is doing stuff--he's changing hearts and calling us to greater devotion, greater obedience, and greater blessing.

The 40 Days is over, but this is certainly not the end!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Worshiping Together

I said some pretty extreme things about worship this morning:
  • Worship is the number one purpose of our lives.
  • Every other Christian activity--fellowship, outreach, discipleship, service--is included in and exceeded by worship.
  • Worship is the fundamental activity of a Christian.

It's no accident that I didn't say any of these statements about any of the other topics we've addressed over the course of these 40 days. Nothing is as important as worship.

At our church, the worship service plays a central role in helping us accomplish our mission: To meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We present our worship services in such a way that they are interesting, intelligible, and instructive to unbelievers, without sacrificing the needs of believers. Thus, we minister to believers, but we use the same service to be an invitation to unbelievers to join with us on this Pathway of faith.

How do we do this?

  • We don't skimp on worship music, but we do choose songs that are easily understood. Some seeker-sensitive churches have only 1 or 2 songs in which the congregation is invited to sing along. Instead, they focus on cultivating a concert or performance atmosphere, since that is what unchurched people are more familiar with. However, we believe that worship music instructs us about who God is and our rightful relationship with him. If we want spiritual seekers to consider the Christian life, we should demonstrate to them what that looks like--and it is a life of worship, ascribing praise, honor, glory, and strength to God; acknowledging him as the source of life, love, fulfilment and joy. Even so, we avoid the songs that use archaic words and grammar, and we employ musical styles that unchurched people are familiar with.
  • We don't dilute the message, but we do make it relevant. Some seeker-sensitive churches concentrate only on "felt needs," which are the needs that spiritual seekers already know about and currently feel in their lives. They reduce the good news about Jesus to a self-serve, self-help seminar--here, try this and see if it makes your life better. Now, that is part of the good news--Jesus does make our lives better--but it's only part. We also talk about struggles, sacrifice, suffering, pain, and doubt. We talk about relinquishing authority and submitting to God's will and God's plans. These are not popular ideas, but they are essential for understanding what the Christian life is all about. Even so, when we deal with these ideas, we put them in terms and talk about life situations that non-Christians can relate to.
  • We don't teach concepts, but we do challenge assumptions. Well, ok, we do teach concepts, but not just that. We don't have services that are just educational (e.g., "Here's a 5-part series on the soteriology of the apostle Paul"). Any teaching that we give is actually applied to life the way we live it every day. So there's often not a lot of content--you could usually sum up each week's message in one sentence. Instead there's a lot of application and a focus on what this really means for us if we take God's word seriously. Very often we find that the word of God and predominant American culture are at odds with one another, and our job is to conform to God's instructions, not our culture's expectations. The emphasis is on living in accordance with God's direction, not absorbing knowledge.

Our worship service is designed to be the main entry point for unchurched people to come into our church. They can come through an activity, like Trunk or Treat. They can even come through a small group. But most people will come into our church by being invited by someone else to join them at a worship service. If they keep coming, after a few weeks, they should begin to understand that God is our rightful authority, that he has revealed his will for our lives through the Bible, that it is our obligation to follow his instructions, and that we can understand the purpose of our lives only if we follow him.

These are the lessons that are observed from watching God's people worship, which includes fellowshipping with other believers, reaching out in love to our community, growing closer to God, and serving him.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Serving Together

This morning we talked about how we all pitch in together. In the church, we each contribute our part, and God turns the whole thing into a wonderful instrument of his power. We shared about how every ministry is missional--that is, it advances the mission of the church, "to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus."

This doesn't happen by accident. It happens by design. It's something we have to be intentional about. Instead of departments, our church is organized into ministries. Instead of committes, we have teams. What's the difference? Isn't it just semantics? No! A department selfishly hoards resources; a ministry selflessly serves others for a purpose. A committee discusses and decides what other people can and can't do; a team actually does it.

And all of our ministry teams are integrated into one seamless process that advances our mission:
We serve together on teams, and our teams serve together to advance the mission of the church. And now our church is going to be serving together with other churches to accomplish our vision "to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family."

We'll be talking more about that next Sunday, but I'm really excited about this new direction that the vision is taking because it is an extention of this highly biblical principle that we are BETTER TOGETHER! God wants to bring his church together!

This 40 day focus on community is not a study about how we can just enjoy a great spiritual community for our own gratification (in fact, if that were the point, it would turn it into something other than a spiritual community!). Instead, we are partners with a purpose, a community with a cause, an organism with an objective. We are united by our mission, vision, and values, which is more powerful than anything that could ever divide us.

Today's Ministry Fair was a great opportunity to plug into service (and to eat Hinkley's Donut Holes!); I hope you didn't miss it! If you did, it's not too late. Send me an email and let me know what area of ministry you might want to help with, or if you don't have any idea, we can just start at square one and start talking about what might be a good fit for you. (And make sure you get to Hinkley's early--they're always busy!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Growing Together

This week, our theme is about how we grow spiritually better together. This is one that is very important to me because it flies in the face of much of contemporary Christianity, which has allied itself against the Bible and in favor of American values of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Today's Christian says, "Leave me alone! I don't need you in order to have a growing relationship with God!" How sadly false.

Until I entered the ministry, I never would have guessed at all the professing Christians who don't attend church. Whether they actually possess an authentic relationship with Christ, I'll leave up to God to determine; what I do know is that they are disobedient and not following what the Bible lays out for us in terms of how to live out the Christian life. For example, Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another."

But these "Christians" (in quotes because they don't actually follow Christ's teachings) claim to worship God best on a golf course, listening to a CD, in a deer blind, in their living room with a TV, or some other place where they "experience God."

While I firmly believe that one can experience God practically anywhere, enjoying a day of golf is no substitute for corporate worship in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ, or a Bible study with a small group. They're not the same thing.

Here's what never happens on a golf course:

  • God's word is not taught, explained, or applied.
  • One is never challenged to greater obedience or deeper faith.
  • No one is there to point out sinful attitudes, ungodly behaviors, or dishonoring habits.
  • There are no spiritual standards or expectations--no demands (except greens fees).
  • No one tithes to a golf course.
  • There are no stories of inspiring spiritual examples to emulate or pattern oneself after.

Here's what does happen:

  • We grow smug and arrogant, self-satisfied with our superiority over all those losers who need the church.
  • We learn how easy it is to compromise our integrity when no one objects.
  • We congratulate ourselves on what we do well and ignore our spiritual failures.
  • We live in utter obliviousness of our blind spots.
  • We dwell on the failures of others, the hurts that others have inflicted on us, and the injustices done toward us--and we hang onto them as justification for our withdrawal from a spiritual community.

A "pick-your-own" spirituality is just another form of self-worship. We set ourselves up as the authority, instead of God. We bend the rules to conform to our wishes, instead of bending ourselves to conform to God's standards. We follow the example of Satan (who in his heart desired to be like God), rather than the example of Christ ("who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" Philippians 2:6).

The fact is that we need each other. When we face challenges, we need each other. When we sin, we need each other. When we hurt, we need each other. When we have victories, we need each other. When we have questions, we need each other. When we don't want to be with other people, we need each other.

That's why every one of us needs a small group. We need to stop hiding from one another and start growing together. Are you a baby Christian? You need a group! Are you a mature Christian? You need a group! Are you a stuck Christian? You REALLY need a group! We grow better together!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fellowshiping Together

This week during our worship services, we had a crash course in relationships. We learned about the things that destroy relationships and how, instead of destroying our relationships, we can build them up! I don't think I ever used the word, but what we were really talking about was fellowship.

One of the best definitions of fellowship I ever heard is "two fellows in the same ship." When you're in the same ship with someone, you have a common direction, a common destination, a common vehicle to get you there, and you share a common fate. Ideally, if you're in the same ship, you're pulling together, working together, communicating, and probably having fun doing it as you build your relationship with one another.

So often we drain the word fellowship of its meaning by limiting it to potluck dinners and coffee in the lobby. Real fellowship can happen during those times, but most of the time it doesn't. Those interactions tend to be surface-y and unremarkable. But real fellowship is anything but unremarkable!! Most of the time, true fellowship occurs outside of the church building, on a day other than Sunday, as we share our lives with one another--discussing our personal thoughts and feelings, sharing our fears and hopes, carrying each other's burdens, encouraging, supporting, praying for each other, and helping each other.

Fellowship happens in the context of strong relationships, characterized by unselfishness, humility, love, and forgiveness.

So, let me ask you, do you have fellowship with anyone? Is there anyone else you've revealed yourself to, anyone you've shared your innermost thoughts and feelings with? Is there anyone you've cried with, prayed together with, and shared life with? Is there anyone you'd lay everything on the line for?

If not, you're missing out on one of the reasons you were created. This is the kind of deep, fulfilling, satisfying, purposeful relationship that should characterize a church body. We can't have that kind of deep relationship with every single person in the church, but every single person in the church should have that kind of deep relationship with somebody.

And this is the kind of relationship that the world is dying for! Do you remember the memory verse from week 1? "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35). Our relationships are THE central aspect of our faith. It's not our knowledge, not our deeds, not our gifts, not our accomplishments, not our words that matter to God; it's how much we love other people.

"If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don't have any love, I've become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God's Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don't have any love, I'm nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don't have any love, it doesn't help me" (1 Cor. 13: 1-4).

Are you ready to love? It's the only thing that matters.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reaching Out Together

Oftentimes, evangelism seems like a daunting task to us because we don't conceive of it properly. Somehow, many of us have picked up the idea that we each have the individual responsibility to befriend unbelievers, explain to them the gospel message, answer any and all questions they might have, break down all walls of resistance, pray with them to receive Christ as their personal savior, and get them plugged into some kind of discipleship process. Is it any wonder that we acknowledge the importance of evangelism ("Yes, *nod, nod* I definitely think someone ought to do evangelism; I'm all for it!"), but when it comes to actually reaching out ourselves... well, that seems a little overwhelming.

The truth is we reach out better together! There are many aspects to evangelism because everyone comes to Christ differently. Some people have intellectual objections to believing in God. Others have had negative experiences with church people in the past. Still others are just kind of oblivious and haven't really considered their spirituality. And there are many, many other kinds of unbelievers. They each need something slightly different in order to believe. When we work together, we can each concentrate on what each of us is best at.

In addition, people often come to Christ in stages. Sometimes, a person will have a lot of different issues that they need to work through before they're ready to enter into a personal relationship with God. Paul talks about reaching out together in 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."

So when you're involved in leading someone to Christ, very often, there has been a lot of work that God has already done in their life through other people. You're already only one person on a big team, so why not get more people involved and make the team even bigger?

Here are some specific ways that we can reach out together:

  • Have your small group pray for people whom you are trying to reach for Christ
  • When your small group does its service project, make sure that the people you serve realize that this love is coming to them in the name of Jesus Christ and Pathway Community Church.
  • Invite your unsaved friends to church activities (like Trunk or Treat!) so that they can develop relationships with others in the church--they're more likely to come to a church where they know several people instead of just you
  • Plan parties (scrapbooking, girls' nights, guys' nights, Super Bowl, poker night, 4th of July--anything!) and invite church people and unchurched people
  • Refer unchurched friends to Christians for their various needs--auto mechanics, contractors, lawyers, counselors, plumbers, landscapers, etc.--especially if you know these people personally
  • Find a way to serve when the church has outreach ministries going on, and see if there's anyone you can encourage to join you--even someone who doesn't attend worship!

This weekend, Tanya and I are putting a new roof on our house, and many in the church are coming over to help us. I'm going to invite several of the guys from Olive Garden who aren't working that day to join us. You can be praying along with me that they'll say yes!

This is the reason your small group is doing a service project during the 40 Days of Community--because we reach out better together! Be creative! Ask God to show you how you can team up with other Christians to win your unchurched friends to Christ... because we reach out better together!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

We're Better Together!

We really are better together! Wasn't this a great weekend?!! Spending time together, camping out at the church, building a great big bonfire, playing games together, lots of great conversations and connections, a worship service in the round, and the start of our first 40 Days of Community groups. What a kickoff!!! [pictures will be added to this blog later in the week, so stay tuned! As a bonus, we'll link you to the Jello-wrestling pictures when they get uploaded to the youth group site!!] :)

For me personally, in addition to all the plain ol' fun, I honestly can't remember a weekend where I had more meaningful conversations with people about all sorts of big things in their lives--family issues, career issues, relational issues, health issues, grief issues, spiritual issues. It seems that many in our church are going through difficult times right now, and it is a great time to focus (like we will for these 40 days) on the responsibility we have to love each other and carry one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).

For those of you who missed it, you missed a great day, but you don't have to miss the rest of the great days that God has in store for us. Make sure you get to your group this week. If you're not in a group, see the list down below for names & contact information. We all need a group! Because we're better together! Remember...
  • I'm incomplete by myself
  • I'm unaccountable by myself
  • I'm disobedient by myself
  • I'm unsupported by myself
  • I'm unloved by myself
  • I'm unloving by myself

I don't want to be incomplete, unaccountable, disobedient, unsupported, unloved, and unloving. I want the opposite of that! I want to be complete, accountable, obedient, supported, loved, and loving. And to do that, I need to connect to the spiritual family that God has designed for me, the spiritual family that goes on and on forever--his church!

This whole notion that I can be a good Christian without other people around me is a lie from the pit of hell. The Christian life is not about "Me-n-God"--it's about me acknowledging God as the boss of my life and following what he says, and he says that he wants me to be a part of a local body of believers. Whenever I think I can be a Christian without the church, or without being real in relationships with the people around me, or without reaching out to the people God has placed in my life who don't know him, I'm living a lie.

I need this. You need this. Everyone you know needs this. It's the reason we were created. We were created to love, and you can't love by yourself. You have to practice it by learning how to love in relationships. What a great time to start! It's DAY ONE!!!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More 40 Days of Community

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I've updated my last post (8/26) to include stuff that has recently been added to the calendar during the 40 Days Campaign, as well as more small groups that have been started and other information. Be sure to check it out if you have any 40 Days questions. Additionally, here are some things you might want to know:

  • So many of you signed up to be in groups that we ran out of books, signing all of you up! Praise the Lord! We do have more books on the way. So if you didn't get yours, don't worry! There will be one for you on Sunday, so that you'll be able to start right out on Day 1 with everybody else.
  • We had 18 new people sign up for small groups today, bringing the total to 72, which accounts for 82% of the adults in our church. That's obviously fantastic news, but we're still short of our goal of 100% participation. If you know of someone who's not in a group, invite them to come be part of yours!
  • If you're not in a group, you can start your own, if you're a member of the church. Just grab a couple friends (they don't even have to be part of our church!) and let us know. We'll get you all the materials you need--VHS tapes with small group lessons, books, & a service project list.
  • We have added a new edition of the Journey 101 Class, which is our church membership class, to the 40 Days of Community campaign. If this is all about coming together as a community, what better way to do that than to have new people "officially" join the community?! The class will meet on September 30 & October 7 from 4:00-6:30pm. The cost will be $15 per person, which includes materials and dinner. If you want to sign up for the class, you can email me.

I'm really enthusiastic about this campaign. I know that God wants to do great things among us, and I'm excited to see the response so far. Let's keep praying for 100% participation, and devote ourselves fully for these 40 days. Let's Get 1t Together!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

40 Days News

OK, we've got so much information out there now about the 40 Days of Community, I wanted to put it all in the blog so that you can find out everything you need to know in one easy place. (See how much I care about you?)

1. Timeline
9/11 24-Hour Prayer Vigil & Day of Fasting (sign up for a 30-minute slot; prayer lists will be provided for all pray-ers)
9/15 Camp-Out at Church (overnight—bring games & camp food)
9/16 40 Days Kickoff
§ Outdoor service at 10:30 (bring a chair if you don't like folding chairs)
§ Potluck & games following (bring stuff for giant hoagies & your own table service and drinks)
§ Small Groups start meeting this week
9/30 & 10/7 Journey Class 101 (Church Membership) 4:00-6:30pm
10/6 Prayer Walk Through Our Community (more info to come)
10/14 Ministry Fair (more info to come)
10/28 Trunk Or Treat/40 Days Celebration

2. Small Groups
There are a number of options for small groups. If you would like to join a group (we have set a goal of 100% participation), you can sign up in the church lobby, or call the host of the group you are interested in. Here is the schedule of when each group will meet during the 40 Days:

Sunday: 8:30am (John Fisher; 769.6990)
1:30pm (Shaun DeKarske; )
6:00pm (Mike Majchrowski; 787-8703)--MEN'S GROUP
Monday: 11:45am (Tanya Hardaway; 796-0558)--LADIES' GROUP
7:00pm (Jim & Connie Gray; 783.5977)
Tuesday: 6:30pm (Sharon Houck; 596.2661)
6:30pm (Karen Bliss; 789.6707)--LADIES' GROUP
Friday: 7:00pm (Pam O'Neil; 764.0529)

***The books are $8.25 apiece; however, if the cost is prohibitive for you, please let us know, and we will make sure you can still be in a group--we don't want the cost to stop anyone from participating.

3. Children's Ministries
Starting September 23 (the week after the combined-service kickoff), we are moving Awana from Wednesday night to Sunday morning at 11:00, during the second service. KIDS Church will be moving to 9:30.

Here are some of the reasons for this switch:
*Attendance in Awana has been declining, partly because it is an island on Wednesday night, not supported by anything else going on in the church.
*Adult helpers for Awana have found it difficult to make it on Wednesday nights.
*We anticipate that identical worship services during the 40 Days will increase attendance at 9:30. Along with the resumption of small groups, this could place a strain on our current Sunday School by adding many kids.
*It helps reinforce our goal for members to "attend one/serve one" on Sunday mornings.

There are also further reasons for this switch; if you have questions, please direct them to Pastor Brent, the head of our Life Development Team, which oversees the children's ministries of our church.

This means that we will be in need of helpers to serve in Awana during the second service. If you would like to help out, please see or email Pastor Brent.

4. Identical Services
Don't forget--we're going to try out having identical services for the 40 Days of Community. This means we'll have the same music and other worship elements in both services. So if you want to serve in Awana, or the nursery, or attend a small group, etc., you don't need to worry about the service style--they'll be exactly the same! Feel free to attend the service that best fits your schedule.

5. The Main Thing
In all the details, don't lose track of the point of all this: It's time for us to "Get 1t Together!" We will declare as a church during these 40 Days that we are committed as a community of faith to the mission, vision, and values of PCC, and that this commitment will be demonstrated in our lives, not just in our words. Get ready for God to do great things among us!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

100% Participation

For the upcoming 40 Days of Community, we are praying for 100% participation. That means every single person in a small group for the 40 days of the campaign. Why is this so important?

  • You don't want to miss out! This is the kind of thing that promises to make a huge impact on our church. This is what people are going to be thinking about, talking about, and living out in their lives. You don't want to be outside the loop. Be aware of what's happening, and be a part of it instead of getting left behind.
  • You don't want to lose out! This is a great chance to grow spiritually. Everything that we're doing as a church for a 40-day period is going to be reinforcing each other. The worship services, the small groups, the service activities, the times of prayer--all of it fits together. If you opt out of any of the components, it makes the rest of them weaker and less meaningful and impactful for you. Don't lose out on this great chance for spiritual growth!
  • You don't want to mope out! These groups are going to be fun! They're so much more than just a Bible study--you'll be talking about what God is teaching you, and hearing about what he's doing in the lives of others; you'll also be banding together with your group to show God's love to those outside our church in tangible ways. You may just make some great new friendships with those who are on this spiritual journey with you!
  • You don't want to conk out! We need the help and support of each other sometimes to keep going. If these lessons that we learn over the course of the 40 Days of Community are to take root in our lives, we need to talk about them and live them with others. We were never meant to do the Christian life on our own, and in fact when we try, we nearly always fail miserably. We need each other to support us and stand by us and cheer us on to keep us going.

It's very simple--for our church and for each of us as individuals to get everything we can out of these 40 days, we need to get involved in it. We have to give ourselves to it because we're only going to get from it what we put into it.

Nevertheless, you may still have some reservations about getting into a group:

  • What if I have an unusual schedule? We're trying to put together groups that will meet all schedule needs. If you desire to be in a group, sign up and let us know your schedule needs, and we will do everything we can to match you up with a group.
  • What if I can't afford the book? We're working on trying to acquire free books from other churches who have already done 40 Days of Community and have leftover books. We will use these resources to offset costs and even provide some materials free of cost for those who need it. Please don't let money prevent you from getting everything out of this campaign that God wants you to experience.
  • What if I had a bad small group experience in the past? I know that some people have tried to participate in a group before, and it didn't work out for whatever reason. That's no reason to never try to connect with any people ever again! The truth is that we can never be what God intends us to be without the direct involvement of other people in our lives. We all need to keep trying until we find the right group for us.

If you are still unsure about groups, talk with me! I am confident you will not regret joining with other people for these 40 days, and I'm also confident that if you choose to skip out, you will not get the full benefit of this campaign. Commit right now to letting God work in your life; commit to taking part in this campaign. We're praying for 100% involvement!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

40 Days Of Community

Alright, it's time to get ready for 40 Days of Community, coming 9/16!! Here's an overview of this dynamic moment for our church:

1. PURPOSE: We can't ever forget why we're doing this. We need to unite as a church around our mission, vision, and values. These are the most important things in the world--more important than our careers, our possessions, our entertainment options, or our personal preferences. They are what hold us together in community.

2. PREMISE: "Let's Get 1t Together!" If we can come together and pursue our mission, vision, and values with single-minded determination and persistence, trusting the power of God to bless the obedience of his people, we will see him do great things in our midst. As Pastor Brent reminded us this morning, God's promises are fulfilled only for the obedient.

3. PREPARATION: We need everyone to prepare their hearts and minds to hear what God has to say to each of us individually, and to all of us corporately. I believe God wants to move us to a new level as a church--where we are passionate about PCC's mission, vision, and values; and where we can be authentic and real with one another, sharing and carrying one another's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ. Preparation happens through PRAYER. PRAY for this campaign and what God wants to do in your life and in the life of our church.

4. PARTICIPATION: We are praying for 100% participation in this campaign. That means every single person in our church in a small group for these 40 days. If you're already in a small group, great! If not, we'll have options for you to plug into. It's only for a few weeks--I promise, you won't regret making this commitment.

4. PIECES: Here are the different campaign components that make up the PCC version of the 40 Days of Community:

  • Weekly small groups, starting the week of 9/16--one version for adults and another for teens, all centered around each week's theme.
  • Daily journal that will lead you to scriptures and prayer centered around each week's theme--daily journal and small group studies are combined in one easy volume.
  • KIDS Church focused on each week's theme--all ages will be learning exactly the same lessons at the same time, all on an age-appropriate level. These multiple reinforcements aid learning and foster family discussion.
  • Identical Services--both services (9:30 & 11:00) will offer contemporary music. Now you can choose the service that fits your schedule best!
  • Special Events--24-hour Prayer Vigil & Day of Fasting (9/11); 40 Days Kickoff Service (9/16); Prayer Walk in our Community (10/6); Ministry Fair (10/14); Local Missions Projects, including Trunk Or Treat (10/28); Celebration Service (10/28)
  • Combined Worship Services--We'll be starting and ending the 40 Day journey all together with a combined service at 10:30 on 9/16 and another one in the evening on 10/28.
5. PRODUCT: A clearer sense of purpose, a greater commitment to God and his church, an enthusiasm for reaching out to others, and a passion for advancing his kingdom.

Please don't miss this chance to be a part of what God wants to do among us. Plan now to clear out whatever you need to clear out, in order to make room for 40 Days of Community. For 40 Days, let's commit to doing this right, and "Let's Get 1t Together!"

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Our new message series starting August 12 is called "McFaith." The Key Three of Pathway Community Church are Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story--these are the things we need to do to be effective, faithful, and fruitful as a church. But lately I've been thinking about what derails churches and turns people away from Christ, and I think it's the doppelganger cousins of these three core values--McSpirituality, McCommunity, and McStory.

You see, people can spot a counterfeit a mile away. People know when our words and our lives don't line up. And this is not so much about whether or not we are perfect; the world isn't looking for perfect people (they know that's a stupid thing to look for). It's not about whether or not we meet our own standards because nobody meets their own standards; everyone, by their own admission, is sometimes selfish, dishonest, irresponsible, lazy, or whatever.

This McFaith series is about pretending to be perfect when we're not. It's about pretending to have it all together when we don't. It's about arrogating to ourselves the responsibility to tell everyone else what's wrong with their lives, when we're having plenty of trouble with our own. People hate that. I hate that. God hates that. It's ugly and repellent.

There is a counterfeit faith that is running rampant in contemporary American Christianity, and we have to stamp it out. It is a spirituality that is all knowledge and no deeds. It is a community that is self-centered, self-serving, and self-absorbed. It is a story that is arrogant, condescending, and rude, when it even gets told at all.

This is not the faith that Jesus calls us to, and it is not acceptable for his people. We need the real stuff, not McFaith. That junk-food faith won't feed us, won't nourish us, won't satisfy us. It will only make us fat and unattractive. Let's get ourselves set to enjoy Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


It's a funny thing--now that we have computers, email, voice mail, cell phones, iphones, Blackberrys, instant messaging, texting (how is that a verb? but I digress...), and whatever other communication tools are coming out next month, it seems like communication is harder than ever! The problem is that in the information age, there's just too much information to absorb. With all the noise out there, they say it takes at least seven exposures to one message for us to retain it.

For instance, we have a Church-wide picnic coming up next Sunday after the second service. Who knew?! It's been in the bulletin every week since the end of June. I mentioned it from the platform on June 24, when I talked about the emergency budget and how we would now have to each provide our own table service. (Incidentally, not having coffee seemed to strike a real chord--many of you responded by bringing in all the coffee we'll need for the next six months! Hopefully, you're inviting new people to church as well, but again I digress...)

It's just part of the communication paradox--the more communication we receive, the less we hear.

In our church, we have several communication systems:

  • The platform on Sunday mornings. This one can be very effective when used correctly. Most of the time, we don't do verbal announcements because the more that is announced, the less is heard. After two announcements, everyone is already thinking about where they want to go for lunch after the service and not listening to a word that is being said. We reserve this time for events that are timely and related to every single person in the church.
  • The bulletin. This is the primary communication tool of our church. A new edition comes out each week full of information that will keep you connected with what is going on with the Youth Group, with PrimeTimers, with small groups, with church events, and more! Don't forget to read your bulletins!! So many people never even crack them open (you know who you are!) and miss out on all sorts of stuff they might like to know.
  • This blog. Here you can find out stuff before anyone else does. You can find out what direction we're heading as a church, what our big hurdles are, how you can pray, and what kind of progress we're making. Many times, the stuff that comes out here eventually comes out on the platform, but you can get a heads-up before the rest (or if you miss a week visiting Aunt Gertrude, you won't come back saying, "When did we decide we're going to plant a church???")
  • The Prayer Posse. I send out an email (almost) every week to 50+ people in the church, detailing our prayer needs. This is not meant to be a newsletter, but the fact is that in order to pray effectively, people must know what is going on. So each email includes background info, as well as specific prayer requests. (Incidentally, for those without internet access, a print copy is available in your mailbox.) Not part of the Prayer Posse yet? Sign up here.
  • Our website ( Most of the information on the website is static, but you can always see what is going to be coming up for the worship services on Sunday, and there are also places to sign up for the Journey classes or get information about small groups or how to plug into ministries.

In the fall, in conjunction with the 40 Days of Community Campaign, "Let's Get 1t Together", we'll be launching a new communication tool, a revamped edition of the e-newsletter. It will be emailed every week, or every two weeks, and it will contain information that we don't include in the other communication tools, such as events at other churches or in the community, denominational news, youth and children's ministry updates, our church's finance figures, and little tibits like where to find the minutes from last month's Church Council meeting (labeled mailbox in the lobby).

Effective communication is extremely important; it's at the heart of every healthy relationship. Please understand that we are trying very hard to be as effective as we can possibly be in communicating well with this congregation.

HOWEVER... It is also important to understand that communication is a two-way street. When information is coming out, it's important that someone listen to it; otherwise, communication gets short-circuited. When information comes out and there is no feedback, it's hard to know if communication has occurred or not. We take our responsibilities as communicators seriously, but the recipients of communication have responsibilities, too.

I'm notorious for not being able to follow conversations in a crowded restaurant or at parties. I have trouble focusing in on one person and tuning out all the other conversations around me in order to hear them. It's not easy to block out noise, but it's the only way for effective communication to take place.

Ultimately, if we want our spiritual lives to have top priority, and if we are bound to one another in a spiritual community of faith, it means we all have to make church communications a top priority. We have to be intentional about sharing and listening so that it doesn't just get lost in the sea of noise.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Let's Get 1t Together

I mentioned in the services this morning that in September, we'll be launching a 40-day campaign called, "Let's Get 1t Together!" that will be based on the 40 Days of Community, a follow-up to the 40 Days of Purpose that our church did almost 3 years ago with Pastor Gayle. Whereas the intent of the first campaign was to discover the answer to the question, "What on earth am I here for?" this second one focuses on the question, "What on earth are we here for?"

For us at Pathway Community Church, I believe this campaign will give us the opportunity to join ourselves to one another in a stronger way around our mission, vision, and values.

  • Our mission is to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Our vision is to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.
  • Our Core Values are Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story--focusing on our relationships with God, with each other, and with the world.
These three things--our mission, vision, and values--explain why we exist, how we function, and where we are headed together. They are more foundational and more fundamental than anything else that can be said about us as a church. They represent the indespensable elements of our corporate life, and this is what we sign on to support and uphold when we make the pledge of membership.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to allow other things to creep in to our thinking--like believing the church exists so that I can have a nice group of people to be with, so that I can have fun activities to participate in, so that I can listen to the kind of music that I like, so that I can be around people who are like me. Whenever any of those thoughts surface, then we drift away from our mission, vision, and values; instead, we divide over the same things the rest of the world does: age, gender, race, socio-economic status, educational background, political persuasion, school districts, sports rivalries, etc.

We want to "Get 1t Together" and declare that none of that stuff matters--it's all temporal, insignificant, and pointless. It serves no purpose. Instead, we want to unite as a community around our mission, vision, and values--so that we are actually living out these indispensable elements of our corporate life, instead of just talking about them.

I'm currently putting together a planning team to coordinate the various elements of the 40-Day campaign. If you are interested or if you have questions, please email me. Additionally, I ask that all of you would pray that God would prepare us for this campaign, that he would accomplish his purposes through it, and that he would be glorified through a greater commitment and unity than we have ever seen in our church before!

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Soccer Camp In Review

I wanted to take a few inches here to devote to my reflections on Soccer Camp 2007. I would love to be able to share with you all sorts of stats and information, but unfortunately I don't have that available right now--be on the lookout for a comment to be added to this post once I can obtain that info.

What I do have are some random thoughts and observations:

  • It was great to see new people helping out with Soccer Camp! Many of our dependable soccer servants who have contributed their time and talents over the years were out of town this week, and it blessed my heart to see a number of new people step into key slots.
  • Our numbers were down this year. My understanding is that they've fallen somewhat steadily since the first year when we had over 100 kids. There are a number of potential factors: 1) We changed the week from what it has been previously, possibly affecting some families' plans; 2) Our new week coincided with a number of VBS and other church programs in the area (we didn't know this 4 months ago, of course); 3) Increased competition from area sports camps, day camps, and video games makes it harder to attract kids to church functions in general--there's just a lot more for kids to do these days; 4) More churches are offering soccer camps now, so it's not as unique a thing as it once was. The Life Development Team will be taking a look at these factors and evaluating the overall effectiveness of Soccer Camp as a ministry.
  • I think we did a better job than in the past of reaching out to the families who were here on our property. As I posted last week, we can host a great event, but it won't matter if we don't build bridges to the people who come to us. I saw many people making an intentional effort to strike up conversations with parents and grandparents. Way to go! We'll see what kind of results that might produce for attendance on Sunday mornings. Remember, it may not happen immediately--if you met someone new and hit it off, do what you can to follow up with them and build that relationship even more.
  • We didn't know what my availability for Soccer Camp was going to be until the last minute (because of my schedule at Olive Garden), so I wasn't put in charge of anything. It was really wonderful to be able to meet the families, introduce myself, and not feel the pressure of preparing a message for the kids or leading the singing. As it was, I worked about 80 hours last week, so I'm especially grateful to the people who stepped up and helped out in those areas. Terry and Loretta... you rock!

Once I find out, I'll pass on to you what we know about the families that were here--how many unchurched, how many who have not been at Soccer Camp previously. I'll also let you know how many decisions we had for Christ--I'm confident it will be fewer than we have had in the last couple years because we had fewer kids and because we focused more on building relationships with the families instead of trying to get kids to simply "pray the prayer."

I don't want to downplay a child's decision to receive Christ by any means, but as I've shared with you in a recent worship service, when a child is the first in his family to receive Christ, the rest of the family also become Christians only 3.5% of the time. I further suspect that the vast majority of those kids who grow up in a home without faith will not grow up possessing an authentic daily relationship with God through Christ. So our focus is now on reaching families, not just having kids accept Christ.

We're trying to become more effective in our outreach ministries--bearing fruit that will last (John 15:16). Don't miss your last chance to sign up for an outreach small group, which will meet over the next 4 weeks. Call the office (784-5388) this week if you are interested. I promise after you are a part of this group, you will gain confidence to reach out to the non-Christians around you every day. Don't miss this opportunity to let go of your fear!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Soccer Camp 2007

Well, I'm a couple days behind on my blog. Usually I try to get these done on Sunday, but it just didn't work out for me this week. Nevertheless, I want to focus us all on Soccer Camp, which "kicked" off last night.

Soccer Camp is one of our ministries that I believe exemplifies who we are as a church at our best and our worst. First, our best:

  • Although other churches have followed our lead since its inception, we were one of the first churches in this area to offer a summer Soccer Camp instead of a traditional VBS, illustrating our commitment to innovative, relevant ministry that benefits our community.
  • Soccer Camp makes creative use of the resources that we have, such as our property and pavillion. We do a great job of using what God has given us in creative ways.
  • Soccer Camp taps into the growing popularity of youth soccer in our community, just like we always try to relate the Christian faith to our everyday lives.
  • Soccer Camp has consistently provided us with more first-time decisions for Christ than all our other ministries combined.
  • Soccer Camp has had a variety of people involved in all aspects of leadership and direction over the years, yet it continues to operate smoothly because we've refined many of the logistical issues down to a science. It is one of the many things that we do consistently and with excellence.
  • Soccer Camp fits in perfectly with our church's focus on children and families, communicating that kids are important to us.

But as we look at Soccer Camp with new eyes, it also reflects some of the major weaknesses that are evident in our church on a broader scale:

  • We've never examined the actual kingdom impact of Soccer Camp (how are we doing at reaching the unchurched?), focusing instead on overall numbers and running our program with excellence.
  • Very few of us have used it as an opportunity to invite our unchurched neighbors and friends to bring their kids to.
  • We have not developed new relationships with families as a result of Soccer Camp, since there is little interaction between parents and church people.
  • We have provided a "hospitality tent" with refreshments and information about our church, which demonstrates a "come-to-us" attitude instead of a "go-to-them" attitude.

My goal is not to put down Soccer Camp or those who have led it or been involved in it. Instead, I just want to point out that I think its strengths and weaknesses over the years line up exactly with our church's strengths and weaknesses over that same time period. So if we're going to develop and change as a church, becoming more effective at reaching out beyond ourselves, maybe one of the first things to change is how we think of Soccer Camp and what we do at Soccer Camp (since that's what we're doing this week!). Here are some ideas:

  • As we see parents sitting in the grass watching their kids, let's go to THEM! We can even take cookies and lemonade from the hospitality tent and bring them refreshments. Let's find out their names, where they live, what kids they go with, what they do for a living, and start building relationships.
  • Let's find out whether they attend a church, and let them know they'd be welcome here if they were looking for a church family.
  • Let's pray for the people we meet, and pray for ourselves that God would show us the opporutnities that we have to meet people and that he would use us to help bring someone into our church.

I love doing things excellently, and I'm proud of the excellence of our ministries here at Pathway. But I don't really care about excellence for excellence's sake. I want to be excellent so that we can be even more effective in accomplishing the overall mission of our church--to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. If we're not doing that, then nothing else matters, no matter how smooth and well-done it is. Let's make sure that this year, Soccer Camp is about accomplishing our mission! Go Team!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Outreach Update

Well, since we issued the challenge in the worship services last week to become more outreach-focused, I have been so encouraged and inspired by the response from this congregation! The many commitments to get involved personally in reaching out to our community was far beyond what I expected, and I believe it represents a major answer to prayer. I have not yet gone through the sheets that were turned in this week, but last week alone brought commitments from nearly 50 people! Most made commitments in multiple areas. Praise the Lord!

With the number of people who signed up for the 4-week small groups that will be using the "Just Walk Across The Room" curriculum designed to teach people how to overcome the most common reasons that hold us back from personal evangelism, we are anticipating launching at least two of these groups. One group will be meeting on Monday evenings. The other will be determined by the schedules of the people signed up. One of the great things about this curriculum is that we are able to use it for free! We are using the surplus supplies from Brown Corners UB Church in Clare, MI. Again, praise the Lord for his (spiritual and financial) provision--supplying exactly what we need at the time we need it most!

Additionally, many people have indicated a desire to personally reach out to their unchurched friends and family--either by building those relationships, or actually inviting them to come to a church function, whether that be a worship service or some other event. We will be following up personally with each of those who made such a commitment, so that we can encourage, support, and pray specifically for them as they reach out.

For me, I'm starting to get into the swing of things at Olive Garden. Many of you have asked how this new job is going for me. It is definitely an adjustment, but I also am enjoying it a lot. I love to cook, and I am meeting a lot of great and interesting people. The management told everybody ahead of time that I'm a pastor (usually I try to keep that info under wraps when I'm out in public--it creates some weird reactions in people), so I've had to break through some stereotypes about who I am and what I'm all about. Nevertheless, it's been a good thing, too; some of the people there have been asking me questions about the church--what it's like, what kind of music we have, etc. I'm hopeful that I'll get the chance to build relationships and bring some of my new friends to church. You can all be praying for me as I try to reach out to my new coworkers, and also as I try to balance the demands of this new schedule, while keeping my own relationships with God and my family my top priorities.

I believe this is the dawning of a new era in the life of our church. The reality is that it has to be. We will not survive long-term if we don't make a serious and whole-hearted effort to make new disciples. This needs to be the central drive behind everything that we do. As we serve, we need to reach out. As we worship, we need to reach out. As we build our own relationships, we need to reach out. As we grow closer to God, we need to reach out. We need to continually be searching for ways to include more people in what we're doing because Christ died for more than just us--he died for the world. It seems cliche, I know, but it's true. Christ died for everyone around us, and he's given us the responsibility to reach them. Thank you all for your new (or renewed) commitment to evangelism. Now let's rise to the challenge and live out the true meaning of our faith! God has amazing things in store for us!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Somebody's Funeral

Today in our worship services we had "Somebody's Funeral." From now on, we won't be able to rely on "somebody" to serve, to give, to evangelize, and do everything else that God calls each of us to do, because "somebody" is dead. We all (and I include myself in this as well) need to recognize our own personal need to live out our life of faith in all areas--Real Spirituality (our vertical relationship with God), Real Community (our horizontal relationship with our church family), and Real Story (our outward relationship with the unchurched people that God has placed in our lives).

For too long, I believe we've been just coasting along, content and satisfied with the status quo (Latin for "the mess we are in"). We do many things with excellence, and so we congratulate ourselves and pat ourselves on the back. But rarely do we do the hard work of looking at whether we accomplished our goals, or whether we furthered the mission of the church and advanced God's kingdom. We can put on an excellent event (or an excellent message series) that is impressive on many levels, but are we building relationships with new people? Are we seeing any results? Are we bearing any fruit for the kingdom of God? Jesus tells us, "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit" (John 15:1-2 NIV). This is why churches die--they cease to bear fruit, and God cuts them off.

For too long, I believe that we've been comfortable with "a church for us." But Christ tells us that when we sign on to his plan, our lives are no longer about us. Once we give ourselves to him, now our job becomes to go tell others about the great news that we are experiencing. Our church has to be "a church for the unchurched." And it has to happen intentionally, with all of us pulling together in the same direction, working toward the same end; it doesn't work when all we change is the structure and the style but don't actually build relationships and invite others to join us. The church is the only institution in the world that exists for the people who are not yet members, and it's time we internalized what that means for each of us personally.

In essence, what this means is that we're all done messing around. We're all done accepting ministry that focuses on the surface and neglects the central mission of the church. We're all done with stuff that looks good on paper but doesn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of real kingdom impact. We're all done with things that would be great if they actually had any point of contact with an unchurched person. We're all done with practice--it's time for us to graduate into actually living out our convictions.

This also means that things are going to be different. The expectations are changing. From now on, we are going to be clear that personal outreach is a vital part of what we do as a church. This means that we're not going to just talk about it and not actually expect that anyone will really do it. We're going to equip our members to be faithful in this area of their lives--through training, small groups, classes, and whatever other forums may be necessary--so that no one is left behind. We're going to hold leaders at all levels accountable for living out these concepts in their lives.

Somebody's dead. Now it's time for the rest of us to do what we've been shoving off to Somebody. It's time for us to accept personal responsibility for the mission of our church. After all, nothing else really matters in the light of eternity.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Emergency Budget

In the fall, I mentioned in one of my messages that we were facing a financial problem--our giving does not equal our expenses, and we have been drawing on savings to make up the difference. I noted that the source of our financial problem was three-fold:

  • Not tithing, or giving a tenth of our income, as God instructs us in the Bible (dividing the money given by the number of households who are members or regular attenders, if we assumed that we were tithing, we would also have to assume that all the families in our church are near federal poverty levels).
  • Not growing (attendance figures for October 2005 and 2006 were nearly identical)
  • Overstaffing (a church of our size cannot support two full-time pastors for a prolonged period)
Looking at these three factors, I also noted that change in any one of the three would solve the financial crisis. If we were to start tithing (but not necessarily growing), we would not have any problem meeting expenses. If we were to begin growing (but not necessarily tithing), we would eventually have enough people to share the financial burden and meet expenses. Or we could meet expenses by cutting staff.

Any one area would fix our financial problems, but that doesn't mean that the three areas are equal in importance--because the first two issues are spiritual issues. In other words, our financial failures have been caused by our spiritual failures, and addressing this as a financial issue does nothing to alleviate the spiritual failure in our congregation. It would only sweep it under the rug; it would only deal with the symptom, not the problem.

The reason that we are overstaffed is because we expected to grow, and we staffed ahead of our growth so that we could be ready for it. Now, I'm happy to report that we have grown some since we last talked about all this in October; unfortunately, nearly all our growth has been from people who were already attending other churches--we have not been accomplishing the core task that Christ gave his church of making disciples. And the growth has not continued, it has leveled off, and it is still not enough growth yet to sustain two pastors.

In preparing the 2007 budget, the Church Council approved an ordinary budget that contained significant cuts from the 2006 budget (which we have been operating under), as well as an "emergency budget" that would go into effect if the savings account balance fell below $5000. On June 8, I got a call from Taryn Barlow, our Finance Core Team leader, that we had reached the emergency budget threshhold.

The Church Council had an emergency meeting after church on June 10. The elders discussed the issue on June 12. And the Church Council met again on our regular meeting date of June 14 to tackle the implementation of this emergency budget. Here is a summary of what will happen now under the emergency budget:
  • Pastor Brent and I have received reductions in our salary of 15%; as a result, we have received permission from the elders to pursue additional outside employment to supplement our income. I will be reporting to Olive Garden on Thursday afternoon to begin training as a cook. Pastor Brent is still looking for another job.
  • The secretary and custodian have both had their hours signifiantly reduced. They will now be working less than half of their previous hours, beginning July 1.
  • Nearly all ministries of the church will be either eliminated or made to be self-funding.
  • Soccer Camp (July 9-13) has been given special permission to take place as advertised and promoted in the community due to a special gift to underwrite it.
  • The emergency budget will be reevaluated in October to see if adjustments can be made.
When I last posted two weeks ago (I was on vacation last week), I mentioned how the elders and I realized at National Conference that we weren't being obedient as a church to the Great Commission:
We are still not where we want to be. As we took a hard look at our church, we
had to face the fact that we still are reaching very few new people for Christ.
While there are a handful among our attenders who could be considered recently
unchurched, most of our new families have come from other churches in the area.
That kind of growth, of course, does not grow the kingdom of God, only our tiny
little empire. Christ calls us to be fishers of men, not swappers of fish from
aquarium to aquarium. We currently have a breakdown (or several breakdowns) in our fishing strategy, and we will be addressing those. Pray for us.

I believe this financial situation is due to our disobedience as a church. We have decided as a congregation not to address our spiritual problems of not tithing and not growing; as a result, we are forced to cut staff. At this point, we are only losing staff hours, not staff people. But if these measures fail to fix our deficits, we will be forced to start letting people go. We need to take a hard look at ourselves.

  • Why have we not been developing relationships with unchurched people?
  • Why have we not been inviting people to church?
  • Why have we not been inviting people to other events (Lugnuts game, work day, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) that would expose them to others in our church and perhaps eventually get them connected?
  • Why have we not been taking postcards and handing them out when given the opportunity?
  • Why have we chosen to give less than a tithe?

We need to answer these questions for ourselves because these are the responsibilities we all have as followers of Jesus. If we're not fulfilling our responsibilities, we have to ask ourselves, "Why?"

For me personally, I'm prepared to admit that I have made excuses for myself. I have tried to justify my disobedience in this area by pointing to everything else that I do and thinking that "someone else" should step up to the plate. I have had to realize that I have not led this church properly in this area by setting the right example, and that is part of the reason that the church hasn't stepped up to the plate--I haven't been modeling it. How can I expect others to do what I'm not willing to do? I'm looking forward to this change in my work schedule, which will force me to interact with unchurched people on a regular basis at the restaurant and build relationships with them.

God has seen fit to force me to do what I have been unwilling to do on my own, and I see this whole situation as an answer to prayer. I have been praying for over two years now that God would do extraordinary things through our church. I have been praying that we would be faithful to the call that he has placed on us. And he is using these circumstances to bring us to where he wants us to be; I believe he is trying to get our attention to zero in on where we have gotten off-track.

The truth is that we haven't really cared about lost people. If we did, we would have been reaching out to them. Now that God has our attention, we can see whether we really want to follow him or not.

Please pray for our finances, but especially pray that God would begin to change the heart of our church to bring it in line with his heart. Pray that he would change your heart, if you are one who has not been on the front lines of this spiritual battle for the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.