Sunday, January 28, 2007

Launching A Vision

This morning during both services, I shared the vision for the future that the elders and I believe God desires for our church: To become actively involved in planting churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

During that message, I shared five reasons why we believe this is God's leading for our church:

  • A Biblical Reason: The Bible assumes it.
  • A Pragmatic Reason: Experience proves it.
  • A Cultural Reason: America deserves it.
  • A Theological Reason: Faith demands it.
  • A Personal Reason: You and I need it.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be elaborating on each of these five reasons, fleshing them out in detail. I'll also be addressing questions of how, when, and where we might go about doing this.

You may feel that this is already a "done deal," and it's true that in the broad strokes, we are fully committed to this vision. However, it's also important to realize that this is very much a process; in many ways, we have no idea exactly where this is going to lead us. God has pointed us in a direction, but there are many steps we need to take in order to get from here to there. So the elders and I eager to hear your thoughts, ideas, comments, concerns, and feedback.

At this point in the process, there are two concepts that I think it's important for everyone to grasp:
  1. This is going to take all of us. There is nothing that destroys a church faster than disunity. Next week we're beginning a series on prayer called, and we'll be looking at the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in John 17. In that prayer, Jesus prayed that we (his followers) would be united in heart, mind, and purpose. When Jesus was getting ready to die on the cross, he was praying for you and me that we would be unified. We might have some different ideas about the best way to do things, and we might need to talk through critical decisions, but in the end, we all need to get behind this vision and fully invest ourselves in its success. It's going to take all of us.
  2. We need to pray. There are so many things to pray about:
  • Wisdom for the elders and Church Council as we continue to talk about who, when, where, and how;
  • Unity in our church;
  • Enthusiasm, excitement, determination, and conviction in our church about the vision;
  • Leadership multiplication, so that both churches will have enough leadership to carry out their ministries;
  • Numerical growth in our church, so that we can afford to invest people without crippling the mother church;
  • The people whose lives will be impacted by the establishment of a new church near them.

As we make decisions about strategy, these prayers will get more specific, and I'll be sharing those more specific requests with you as they become clear. Right now, I'm praying that God would raise up a prayer army from within our church that is actively praying for the progress of the vision. If you want to be part of that ministry or would like to know more about what is involved (you could be an answer to prayer!), click here. Prayer is going to be critical for everything we do from here on, just as it has been critical in bringing us to this point. We need to pray. Check out the prayer requests on the Pathway Forum.

I would love to hear your thoughts! Let's start a conversation here. What do you think? What excites you? What frightens you? What still remains unanswered in your mind? What are your reservations? What gives you confidence?

We're talking about igniting a movement around here. No one said it would be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Membership--Why Bother?

All the time, I talk with people who are hesitant to join the church for one reason or another. Here are the most common reasons that I hear:

  • I don't need to commit to a local church; I'm a member of the "universal church."
  • I'm already committed to the church; I don't need to stand up in front of everybody or have a piece of paper to make it "official."
  • We're not a congregational church (i.e., a democracy), so membership doesn't give me any benefit over non-membership.
  • I don't tithe (giving 10% of our income to God), and I'm not ready to yet.

I believe that church membership is very important for every Christian. Each of the above statements, while they sound sensible, fall short under scrutiny. Let me tackle each one separately, and then I'll outline what I believe to be the benefits of church membership.

1. All I need is the "universal church."

There is such a thing as the universal church that includes all Christians in all places and times. Everyone who is a Christ-follower is automatically a member of the universal church. But the Bible never even gives the slightest hint that this is enough to meet our spiritual needs. Every time Paul wrote a letter it was to a local church that met at a specific location--the church in Colosse, the church in Philippi, the church in Corinth. Paul was originally a member of the church in Antioch and was specially commissioned, along with Barnabas, to plant more churches throughout the Roman Empire. The local church is where the New Testament expects Christians to be.

Just like when you were born, you were automatically a member of the human family. But you didn't belong to a local family until someone chose to take you home from the hospital. It's not enough to belong to the human race--you need a family to support you, to teach you, to encourage you, to discipline you, to enculturate you. You need a local church family for those same reasons.

Only in America do we have church-hoppers who go from church to church and never stay in one church family. We need to put down roots and choose to commit to a local church. That's what membership is--a commitment to being a part of a local church.

2. I don't need to make my commitment "official."

Really? For those of you who are married, how would your spouse feel about that statement? Many Christians are just "dating" the church, just shacking up. Just like a wedding makes a marriage official, membership makes our commitment to the church official. Until we take that step, there's something lacking in the relationship.

When people are willing to live together but not willing to get married, it demonstrates--in and of itself--a lack of commitment. Either the couple feels the relationship may not have what it takes to make it for the long haul, or they're afraid of failure or abandonment, or they just don't want to go through the hassle of getting married. All of those things fall short of the kind of unconditional love that God says should characterize our lives--the kind of love he demonstrates for us. We need to fall in love with the church. If we're Jesus' followers, we'll love the same things he does; he loves the church so much that he died for it. Does it have flaws? Certainly! Find a marriage partner for me who doesn't. But we can choose to love it anyway.

The truth is, if we really are fully committed, we should have no problem saying so.

3. If I can't vote on stuff, what good is it?

It's true, we don't vote on much as a church. Only three things:

  • Elders
  • Changes in church structure
  • Referenda from the denomination

We are not a congregational church (majority rule) because we believe that such a system imposes a political philosophy (which has value in certain contexts) on a spiritual entity. Democracy is not appropriate for what the church is.

Voting, elections, boards, committees--what do these things all have in common? Politics, gridlock, bureaucracy, trouble. I suppose if we want our church to be about as efficient as the government, we could consider such a system, but I think we want to aim higher.

Our political system has as its foundation an understanding that different interests all need to get along, so opposing candidates compete in the arena of ideas for the hearts and minds of the voters. Whoever carries the day gets to implement their plan... but only for a season. Soon enough, the other guys carry the day, and they undo everything the previous administration set up.

The church is supposed to be unified. There should be no competing parties, opposing philosophies, and divergent interests. We're supposed to all work together to accomplish our mission. Can there be differences of opinion? Of course! But we talk about them in an attitude and atmosphere of love and generosity. Church membership is not supposed to be a vehicle for gaining power and a "voice." It is a commitment to a faith community that in turn strengthens our commitment to God.

4. I'm not a tither.

Well, tithing is a great habit to develop in our lives, but it's not a requirement for church membership. Tithing is one of the commitments you are encouraged to make after taking the Journey 201 Class, but it doesn't have anything to do with membership, which is the commitment you're encouraged to make after taking the Journey 101 Class.

Essentially, anyone who has committed their life to Jesus and is willing to act like it can become a member of PCC. It's that simple!

Hopefully, you see that these objections are hollow, but what do we gain by joining?

  • An opportunity to serve in key roles that advance the mission, vision, and values of PCC. No one can serve on a Core Team (the 8 ministry teams that are responsible for overseeing all the ministries of PCC) unless they are a member.
  • A commitment from the pastoral staff that we will encourage and support you spiritually, knowing that we will be held accountable by God for you.
  • The option of taking subsequent Journey classes (201, 301, & 401), where you can learn about the habits that you need to develop for spiritual maturity, how God has shaped you for ministry, and how to talk to others about your faith.
  • A place to love and be loved, to give and be given to, to serve and be served. We need each other. We weren't meant to do this without belonging to a community of faith.

If you want to sign up for the next membership class (Feb. 18 & 25), click here. I make no apologies in saying it might be one of the most important decisions you ever make.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Amoebas & Circles

Last month, during our advent series, "Jesus: No More Mr. Nice Guy," I devoted one message to talking about our church structure, which we call "The Amoeba." (Does anyone know what we could name him/her/it? We could use a church mascot--but I digress.)

Here’s a quick review:

Most churches structure themselves like grain silos: each ministry is its own separate entity. Sunday School, youth ministry, worship, evangelism, prayer meeting, adult Bible studies—each represents a different silo in the church’s overall setup. In this silo model, there’s no cooperation and no communication; departments compete for resources, for people, for funding, for calendar space; there’s duplication of structure, no common goal, no common agenda, and very little unity. Each group sees themselves as separate and distinct from the others, and they all have their own separate and distinct plan of what they want to do and how to do it.

Our amoeba is very different than a silo. It’s unified, flexible, dynamic, organic, and most importantly… alive! In addition, the amoeba has a center, the nucleus. That nucleus for us is Jesus Christ.

OK, so what? Church structure may not seem like the most exciting topic. Alright, I admit. It's actually not that exciting. But it is important. A bad structure (like the silo model) prevents a church from accomplishing its goals. A good structure provides a process where the church's goals are a natural byproduct of that structure. The structure of a bridge (or a molecule, or a car, or an organization) is essential to it fulfilling its pupose.

The purpose of our church is to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We exist to help people take steps toward being like Jesus, to move people in toward the center. So our structure should help us accomplish that purpose. Different people are in different places, so in our amoeba we meet them in different ways:


  • Target: Those furthest away from the nucleus: skeptics, critics, cynics
  • Purpose: To break down walls of resistance to God and his message
  • Method: To show God’s love with no strings attached (Florence Crittenton, Share ‘n’ Care)


  • Target: Those close to the amoeba boundary: inquirers, seekers, explorers
  • Purpose: To attract others to give themselves to Jesus
  • Method: To present opportunities for people to accept Jesus and/or come to church (Soccer Camp, postcards)


  • Target: Those inside or outside the amoeba who want to understand the Christian life better
  • Purpose: To challenge people to grow in their relationship with God
  • Method: To communicate the message of the Bible in ways that contemporary people can relate to (messages, dramas, music, medias)


  • Target: Those inside the amoeba who feel unconnected
  • Purpose: To nurture a culture that fuels the building of personal relationships
  • Method: To present opportunities for people to interact in a natural, authentic, loving way (game nights, potlucks)


  • Target: Those inside the amoeba who want to get closer to the nucleus
  • Purpose: To draw people toward intimacy with God
  • Method: To present opportunities for life-on-life interaction that spurs spiritual maturity (small groups, service teams)

We want to move people through an invisible (yet highly personal) process that leads them ever-closer to God. We want to help people—no matter where they are—take their next steps on their spiritual journeys. Most of all, we want our whole church to work together, recognizing that we’re all on the same team, contributing to the same mission.

Sometimes we draw our amoeba as concentric circles. The goal is to move people to the next circle closer to the center. So:

  • We want to draw the Community (Service/Outreach) into the Crowd (Worship)
  • We want those in the Crowd to become part of the Congregation (Community) (Journey 101 Class: Discovering My PCC Membership)
  • We want to challenge those in the Congregation to step into the Committed (Discipleship) (Journey 201 Class: Discovering My Maturity)
  • We want the Committed to join the Core (Journey 301 Class: Discovering My Ministry)

I'm sure that for many of you, all this structure stuff is very likely not the thing that makes you spin in circles with glee, but here's what I hope you take away from all this: This church is intentional, strategic, and focused like a laser on our mission. Everything--absolutely everything--is scrutinized against whether or not it advances our mission and follows our Core Values (Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story). You can trust your leadership at Pathway; following God unswervingly, I believe we are on the verge of great things for the kingdom of God in Jackson County--and beyond!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

What's This All About?

Welcome to the blog for Pathway Community Church in Jackson, MI!

This is the first of what I intend to be weekly postings about many things related to the life and faith journeys here at PCC. But first I want to talk about why I decided to start blogging. For those of you who may not be as tech-savvy, a "blog" (short for weblog) is like a public, Internet-based journal. There are many kinds of blogs that reflect the full range of interests that humans have around the world. Blogs can be brilliant or brainless, saintly or sinful, helpful or hopeless. But all of them are personal, and in that sense, profound. With a few mouse clicks, we can access the thoughts of the world--for good or ill--in the blogosphere and see what drives us, what frightens us, what motivates and inspires us, what we believe as human beings.

This is a significant time for us at Pathway Community Church, as we embark on a new vision of where God would lead us. (I'll be sharing more at the State of the Church Address on January 28 and beyond--please be sure to be there for that service if at all possible.) As we forge this new path under God's direction, I believe clear and honest communication is going to be central for our success. We must all be on the same page and pulling together in one direction as the body of Christ.

So this blog will be the place

  • to learn and understand the vision,
  • to interact with it and share your thoughts
  • to participate in its shape
  • and get a peek inside my head and heart as I share not only this vision, but myself as well.

I believe in the kingdom potential of this church because I believe in the power of God. All it takes is the courage to be obedient to him. If we are following him, there is no way that he will allow us to fail. The almighty God who can do anything can certainly empower us to accomplish the task that he's given us to do--if only we will believe him and trust him to the very end.

I have no doubt that there are challenges ahead and obstacles that we do not yet see. Nevertheless, how can we go wrong when the one steering the ship is the Master of the Wind?

"The Master Of The Wind"
My boat of life sails on a troubled sea
Whenever there's a wind in my sail.
But I have a friend who watches over me
When the breeze turns into a gale.

I know the Master of the wind.
I know the Maker of the rain.
He can calm a storm,
Make the sun shine again.
I know the Master of the wind.

Sometimes I soar like an eagle through the sky
Above the peaks my soul can be found.
An unexpected storm may drive me from the heights
Brings me low, but never brings me down.

I know the Master of the wind.
I know the Maker of the rain.
He can calm a storm,
Make the sun shine again.
I know the Master of the wind.

I look forward to interacting with you here in this new way. May you find yourself encouraged, challenged, strengthened, stretched, and inspired as we chart the direction for our church. May God bless you as you search for and find more of him.

For HIS Glory,

Pastor Scott