Sunday, January 27, 2008

State Of The Church

Today I delivered the annual "State Of The Church Address." Here are some of the salient points:

  • We are making concrete progress toward our vision to become actively involved in church planting to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. So far, at least three other churches are interested in pursuing the idea to partner with us in the accomplishment of this vision.
  • The vision is a bold, daring move, in that (as far as I can tell) there are no other communities in America pursuing an inter-denominational LEAD Team strategy, which is what we are proposing. This is an "impossible" task from a human perspective. Therefore, God will get all the glory when he causes it to happen.
  • Even as we move forward in the vision for church-planting to reach the 100,000 people around us with no church family, we recognize that we ourselves are not doing our part. We are not being faithful to our stated mission and our core value of Real Story, which is proved by our anemic growth (up 9 people per week in 2007 to an average worship attendance of 125).
  • If we are to be a truly effective church, we must change this aspect of who we are--we must become committed to personal outreach in truth and in reality, not in words, ideas, and good intentions.

For a long time, I have been torn between two different goals in my preaching: promoting our church's vision, and advocating for our church's health. I want to promote the vision as a means of improving our health--calling us to see the spiritual needs of the 100,000 people in our community who need to know about Christ. On the other hand, I want us to become more healthy so that we can effectively accomplish the vision. Obviously, the two messages go hand-in-hand, and yet I've wondered which is the more effective message for accomplishing both objectives.

I think I've erred on the side of promoting the vision to the detriment of calling us to health, and the result has been to lure us into a complacency. After all, the vision is a long-term project, and not something that has very much direct impact on us right now. I've allowed the vision to become our substitute for personal outreach, so that in the back of our minds we say, "We don't have to reach our friends and neighbors because we'll plant a church someday to reach people."

But that type of thinking will not fly. For one thing, it's just plain disobedient. Christ has mandated his church to go into the world and tell his message. If we refuse to do it, we sin. Second, we'll never get out of our financial crisis; we will never grow to the point that there are enough people to spread out the financial burden of two pastors (we'll always be overstaffed). At some point, we'll have to make the decision that we won't have two pastors anymore, and I don't think anybody wants that. Third, if we give away people and leaders to plant churches but don't reach out to the world around us, we'll eventally run out of people and leaders. We need to grow in order to even just tread water.

It's easy for me to see how I've made this mistake. The vision is positive; our unhealthy patterns are negative (I hate focusing on the negative). The vision requires little from us right now; to become healthy requires a complete re-orientation and re-direction of our hearts, minds, and lives, and the sooner the better (it's easy to preach sacrifice down the road). Finally, I have more personal and direct control over the progress of the vision, but church health depends on all of us (as much as I try to trust God, I still like being in control far too much).

But the numbers reveal the truth: no tangible fruit to point to. We haven't really accomplished anything. And I don't know about you, but I can't stand to pretend to do something without really doing it. I'm not satisfied with plausible deniability--"well, we tried to reach out, it just didn't work." The Bible says that we are to be judged by our fruit, not our intentions. It's all about real results, not vague, nebulous notions of "progress." I'm sick of getting closer. I'm tired of another year of building, getting ready to turn the corner, almost ready to do something significant. Let's be done getting ready and get started already! Let's just do it!

Let's rise up and be the church that God calls us to be! Here are some concrete steps you can take:

  • Ask God to show you five people in your life you have direct contact with on a regular or semi-regular basis who aren't currently connected to a church.
  • Begin praying for those five people every day. Pray for every need you are aware that they have--spiritual, financial, emotional, relational, etc.
  • Share those names with your small group and have them start praying with you.
  • Pray that God would help you love them more than you currently do, that you would love them the way HE loves them.
  • Pray for (and look for) opportunities to talk about spiritual things--God, the Bible, church.
  • Invite them to un upcoming message series that might line up with their lives, their interests, or their needs.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Money, Money, Money

I don't know about how things are in your home, but in the Hardaway household we receive multiple and frequent requests from individuals and groups asking for money. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and Asbury Seminary represent this week's contenders for our cash.

Interestingly, the church is no different. Most weeks we get calls from someone looking for help with a gas bill, rent, or food. These needs are met through our Share 'n' Care ministry. But we periodically also get requests from other agencies, groups, minsitries, and individuals to support them financially on an ongoing basis.

In our home, we have decided to give money only to Christian groups and individuals that purposely, strategically, and intentionally advance God's kingdom. While there are many worthwhile causes, our finances are limited. Since we can't support everything, we want to put our money where it will do the most good in the light of eternity. So we choose not to support the firefighters, the FOP, the VFW, the Red Cross, or the United Way--regardless of all the wonderful things they might do. We direct a tithe (10% of our income) to the church and give above and beyond that to other entities advancing God's kingdom.

The elders and I have tried to apply a similar standard for our church in examining the various ministry partnership opportunities that come to us. As a church, from the money that comes in, we give away a tithe (10%) to support other ministries in our backyard and around the world. According to the Acts 1:8 formula, we have Judea/Samaria partners (those who work in other regions of the United States, or who reach those we would not likely have contact with) and ends-of-the-earth partners (who work outside of our national/linguistic group). We understand that "Jerusalem"--the area of Jackson that we have contact with--is our responsibility.

Unfortunately, we can't even afford to support all the Christian groups and individuals who seek partnership with us--our tithe simply doesn't cover it. Therefore, we have adopted a second set of criteria--examining our partnerships through the prism of our Key Three: Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story--as well as directing our money to ministries that are bearing fruit.

I am pleased to tell you that we have added three new minsitry partners for 2008:

  • Imagine This, LLC is a new United Brethren church in Grand Ledge, MI. It was started in January 2007. LLC stands for Life, Love, Community. According to their website, the name communicates "that our lives can be radically impacted beyond our present thinking through a growing relationship with God. If you can imagine it, God has already seen it." This is PCC's first step into actively supporting church planting.
  • Dove Counseling provides Christian counseling to the residents of Jackson County. Many who seek counseling at Dove do not personally have a relationship with Christ, yet nevertheless recognize their spiritual needs and desire a Christian perspective. Dove takes a holistic approach to counseling, seeking to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their clients.
  • Ron and Sally Carraway have attended our church for about a year. They work for New Tribes Missions here in Jackson, but have agreed to return to the mission field (they served for 12 years in Papua New Guinea) to oversee the various ministries of NTM in Cambodia. They are planning to head out this spring.

While we wish we could do more, we are still excited to be a part of these great ministries. For a complete list of our ministry partners, please visit our website. It is our desire to be faithful stewards (caretakers) of God's resources, so we work hard to put his money where it will do the most good in the light of eternity. Every time you give to Pathway Community Church, you support the kingdom of God in exciting ways all around the world. Thank you for giving.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Jackson Church Planting

Last week (as I told you I would), I began contacting area pastors to meet with them about the possibility of joining us on a LEAD Team, whose purpose would be to jointly plant churches in Jackson County. I was able to talk with several, and even met with one already--Andy Merritt from rivertree community church. This is the new Wesleyan church plant that is meeting in the Plaza Cinemas on Wisner St. (you may have read the article about them in the Jackson Cit-Pat). They haven't even launched yet (their official launch is Feb. 10), but Andy was very eager to meet and talk about the common goal we have to reach this community with the good news of Jesus.

We had a great conversation and agreed that we would consider and pray about whether God would have us join together in this project. Here are some of the key things I learned about Andy and rivertree that are relevant to our own church and our vision:

  • Andy was formerly on staff at Trinity Wesleyan Church, and that church in examining the needs of the county was struck by the fact that there are 100,000 people in the County with no relationship with a local church. Does that sound familiar?
  • In trying to figure out how to meet the spiritual needs of the community, they discovered that church planting is the most effective way to reach people for Christ. That was the theme of my 2/11/07 post on this very blog--one of the five reasons we identified for pursuing this vision.
  • Andy's district superintendent is a big supporter and promoter of church planting. In fact, he had challenged all of the zones in the West Michigan district of the Wesleyan Church to plant a church in a three-year time frame. rivertree community church is a product of that challenge.

One of the things I was able to tell Andy is that the Wesleyan Church and the United Brethren in Christ have already teamed up before to plant a church in Michigan. Sunfield UB Church (Sunfield, MI) and Impact Weslyan Church (Lowell, MI) worked together to start a church in nearby Portland. The church launched on October 6, 2006. For more information, you can check out the UB website.

This week, on Monday I am meeting with Bob & Mary Wyatt from Hanover-Horton Christian Center. The Wyatts are heavily involved in the Jackson Emmaus community. Emmaus is an inter-denominational spiritual renewal movement with communities in every state and countries around the world. They also head up the Jackson County Intercessors, a group that has been strategically praying for the spiritual needs of Jackson County and for Jackson's churches for several years.

On Friday, I'll be meeting with Kevin Cherry, the senior pastor at Heart o' the Lakes UB Church in Brooklyn. HOLUBC was originally planted with families from our church (at that time our name was Gethsemane UB Church) who accepted a call to help reach the people in the Columbia Lake area, and Kevin is the nephew of our founding pastor Herb Cherry.

I sense that God is doing incredible things, and I think it is so exciting for us to have the chance to be a part of it. As far as I know, there are no other communities in which denominations are coming together to compose a LEAD Team for strategic church planting. Please pray for these upcoming meetings and for God's continued leading and blessing.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Church Multiplication

As I related to you last fall, my plan in 2008 is to begin meeting with area pastors to ask them to consider joining us to compose a LEAD team. This is a team of churches that would share responsibility and resources for multiplying churches in Jackson County. Due to the holidays and the short week, I've not been able to get started yet, but my intent is to start setting up appointments this week. The elders and I have developed a list of about 20 different churches that we want to contact. We're hoping that in the end at least 4-5 will respond positively with a commitment to join us.

You'll be hearing a lot about the vision in coming weeks. The State of the Church Address is at the end of January (1/27), followed by the all-church annual Meeting & Celebration (2/9 at 6:30pm). I'll also be writing in this space quite a bit as the vision progresses. I would covet your prayers during this crucial time of gathering partners. If you would like to join the Prayer Posse and receive my weekly prayer email, please send me an email, and I'll add you to my list!

After I've finished meeting with the pastors on my list, Tom Blaylock, the Director of Church Multiplication for the UB denomination, will come and lead an informational meeting for the area pastors who have expressed interest (this will probably take place in March). He'll explain what a LEAD team looks like, what it does, how it works, etc., and he'll answer any questions that the pastors have. He'll also invite them to come to the first LEAD team meeting to check it out. If they come back to the second one, then they're committing to be in it for the long haul. After two years, if a LEAD team does the work it's supposed to, the result should be a new local congregation in Jackson County.

In April, the denomination is paying to send me to a 4-day church multiplication conference in Orlando, Florida, called "Exponential." (If you're going to learn about God, it ought to be near a beach somewhere--that's my motto!) This conference is built around II Timothy 2:2: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." This is the inspired advice of the apostle Paul to his protege, Timothy--that is, God's word in the mouth of an experienced church planting coach to a young church planter. This verse contains the necessary DNA for reproducing churches:

  • Apostolic Vision
  • Radical Disciple-Making
  • Genuine Community
  • Missional Impulse
  • The Gospel

Each of the main sessions will center on one of these five necessary components for healthy church multiplication. In addition, there are numerous break-out sessions, where we can each individually choose specific aspects of church planting to focus on and learn about, depending on what we feel would be most helpful for us.

This is a great honor for me, and for our church. But more than that, it is a continued affirmation of God's blessing and direction for us, as he equips, enables, and empowers those whom he calls. He will give us everything we need to do it! I am confident that there will be much for me to learn, and I hope to pass on as much to you as I can. I am grateful that the denomination is investing considerable resources to help us accomplish the vision that God has given us to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family through church multiplication.