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.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Report From National Conference

Pastor Brent, John Fisher, Mike DeKarske, Phil Criner, and I just got back this afternoon from our denomination's National Conference at Saw Mill Creek Resort in Huron, OH, and I wanted to communicate with you some of the main insights that I came away with from the weekend.

  1. We are headed in the right direction as a church. When the various speakers talked about what it takes to transition a church toward effectiveness (i.e., accomplishing the church's mission of reaching lost people and making new disciples--Matthew 28:18-20), it was clear that we are already doing many of those things at Pathway Community Church. As a result, it was a very affirming weekend for us as leaders. We came away with a lot of encouragement that we can avoid the stagnation and decline that characterizes most churches in America today.
  2. Our church is ahead of most of the churches in our denomination. Not every church received the teaching the same way that we did. Unfortunately, many felt lost, confused, and overwhelmed because they have grown accustomed to and content with ineffectiveness and unfruitfulness. Be praying for our sister churches and their pastors as they go home and process all this, that God would show them how to implement healthy change in their churches and that he would raise up the people and tools they need to lead effectively.
  3. 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.
  4. We believe God wants to do incredible things at PCC. The God who created the heavens and the earth; who parted the Red Sea; who spoke to his prophets; who healed the blind, lame, and sick; who raised Jesus from the grave; and who turned the world upside-down with a rag-tag group of unschooled fishermen--this God is the same God who is living and active in our lives and in our church. He has declared that he will build his church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1)--we have absolutely everything that we need. Therefore, if we just listen to him and do what he says, we will see the full extent of his power--transforming hearts, lives, families, and communities. And he will use us to accomplish it! Isn't that a sobering and humbling thought?

Regarding our vision to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family, I spoke several times this weekend with Tom Blaylock, our denomination's Director of Church Multiplication. He will be sitting in on an upcoming elders meeting, and we will begin gaining information from him regarding the next steps for us to take in the implementation of this vision. Our goal is to discern with him what method of church planting we should pursue (parenting, partnering, multi-site, satellite), and what we will need to do to make that happen, whichever method we end up pursuing.

He had many kind words to say regarding our church, and he believes that we will be a leader for United Brethren churches in this area regarding church planting, since we have specifically established this as a concrete vision of where we believe God is leading us as a church.

I want to thank all of you for praying for us as we were gone. We will be delivering a more complete report to you during an upcoming worship service. I would also encourage you to talk with me or the others who went. I believe this weekend was one of the most important events in the recent history of our denomination, and the response of our pastors and churches will determine everything that matters about our collective future. My prayer is that we will turn a corner and become a denomination that is playing offense again--penetrating our world and impacting lives and communities for Jesus Christ--instead of standing around and waiting for the world to change.