Monday, February 25, 2008

Hittin' the (Air)Waves

Pastor Brent and I are going to be special guests on Glenn Bone's radio show on Wednesday morning at 8:45am. Rev. Bone is the senior pastor of Good Seed Ministries in Chicago, which is also one of our ministry partners that we support financially. He broadcasts a radio show five times weekly on the Big Gospel Xpress, WBGX 1570 AM-Chicago. You can hear the radio show by going over to and clicking on the "Listen Live" tab.

Pastor Brent and I have also been working to bring Rev. Bone and several of his lay leaders here to Jackson in April to lead a one-day Purpose-Driven conference, which would be hosted at our church. We would make this conference open and available to other churches in our community as well. However, we would also have a period of time set aside that would be dedicated exclusively to our own leaders and their leadership development. Rev. Bone is also willing to speak at our Sunday services that weekend. He has spoken at our church once before (in 2005), and I know many of you still remember him and his passionate message.

Other conversations we are having with him include:

  • Opening up an opportunity for our youth and adults to spend a few days in Chicago and help Good Seed with their different inner-city ministries;
  • Joining together on a missions trip to Jamaica in September--if you're interested in going, it will be approximately $900 per person, and you should begin the process of obtaining a passport soon, as it will easily take at least 6 weeks to process. Here's a link to the State Department's website if you're interested.
All these things still need to be nailed down--they're still in the discussion stage. But we'll be sharing plans with you as they develop, and keeping you informed of the various opportunities. This is a great chance for all of us to interact with an exciting church that is definitely impacting their community for Christ.

Good Seed Ministries has a unique vision to reach the discouraged communities of south and west Chicago with the life-changing power of Jesus. Through a holistic approach, they aspire to meet all the needs of the people around them—spiritual, emotional, and physical. Their inspiring goals include the construction of a massive community center that will service the various needs of their community and the birthing of a daughter church that will carry these same values and mission to a nearby community.

They were one of only 80 congregations around the world to receive a Healthy Church Award from Purpose-Driven Ministries in 2005, and Rev. Bone was named Pastor of the Year by Worldvision Chicago. He has spoken at numerous conferences around the country. It's a great joy and privilege to partner with them to advance God's kingdom.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"A Different Kind of Church"

On our postcards that we print up from time to time, it says, "Pathway Community Church is a different kind of church. We offer a relaxed, friendly, authentic atmosphere where people can come and check out the message of Jesus for themselves. Come join us at Pathway Community Church!"

Pastor Brent pointed out to me that it seems every church wants to promote itself as "a different kind of church." After all, you never hear a church that says, "Hey! We're a church just like all the other ones. Come to the church that's no different."

And yet, I believe we are a different kind of church. What is it that makes us different? I think several things:

First, a relaxed atmosphere. This is a church where people really can come "as they are." I was talking with a new couple in our church recently, and the wife told me that as a kid she had always heard that it didn't matter what you wear to church. But that message was always undermined by the fact that you (of course!) couldn't wear jeans or shorts or play clothes. In other words, it didn't matter what you wore, as long as you dressed up in clothes you would never ordinarily wear otherwise. Clothing certainly isn't everything, but it is something. This is a church that really does let people be who they are--in how they dress, how they talk, what their needs are, and what's going on in their lives. We don't get embarrassed or ashamed of people and their problems or their needs.

Second, a friendly atmosphere. This is a church that goes out of its way to welcome people--all people, not just the regulars or the ones who are already "in." All churches are friendly to the people who are already part of the church, but many--while friendly to one another--are cold and aloof to outsiders. Literally every single person who has gone through the Journey Class 101 that I have taught (well over 30 people) has commented about the genuine friendliness of the people here being one of the main things that attracted them and caused them to keep coming back. We value people, we remember their names, we go out of our way to recognize them and show them that they matter to us. We have a greeting time in the service every week--that's by design--because it impresses people when they are noticed and warmly welcomed. Some people are stunned to learn that a church might actually be glad they're there.

Third, an authentic atmosphere. We talk about real problems--the kind that real people have in their real lives--and what God has to say about them in his word. We talk about Real Faith and what that looks like lived out in Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story.

The more I talk with people outside our church, the more I realize just how rare these qualities are. Almost everyone has had some experience with churches and/or church people, and the overwhelming majority of those experiences are extremely negative. Most churches in America today are unhelpful, unwelcoming, uptight, and inauthentic; they do not share "good news" in a way that it can be recognized as something good. It's not that people have refused to give the church a chance--it's that they tried it and found it to be a total waste of time.

We definitely do some things that are unusual here--our themed series, the fact that I preach in jeans, incorporating secular music and movies, and zany skits--but that's not what makes us a different church. All that stuff is just externals. The real difference is in our philosophy, our strategy, and the way we engage people as legitimate conversation partners who are worthy of being convinced of the truth instead of being lectured and threatened with the truth.

Pathway Community Church is a different kind of church. I hope you're taking the opportunity to share that with the people that God has placed in your life. That's not just a slogan--it's really true. We work hard to create an atmosphere where people can come and really experience God speaking to their hearts and lives--where people can come and check out the message of Jesus for themselves.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Annual Meeting & Celebration

We had our annual all-church meeting & celebration on Saturday night. The menu was great--soup, spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and lots of desserts. The game time was fun (for example, I learned that Carissa Courtney has eaten three meats you can't buy at Meijer--venison, alligator(!) and bear I think). We also saw a slideshow that highlighted some of the great things that have happened in our church in 2007.

But the highlight of the night was being able to hear from Tom Blaylock, our denomination's Director of Church Multiplication, and Gordon Kettel, the founding pastor of Imagine This, a United Brethren church plant in Grand Ledge.

Tom relayed his own personal experience planting a church in Williamston, as well as his desire to find pastors and churches that are interested in working to plant new congregations. Our vision is one that is extremely exciting to him. He said that so many churches get locked into seeing just their own issues that they fail to see the fields that are ready for harvest all around them (Matthew 9:36-38). He also talked about the LEAD Team concept and one of the LEAD Teams that is already up and functioning.

Gordon shared about his own experience being a part of two church plants. They both took a lot of work, and one involved traveling from west of Lansing (where he lives) to the Detroit area (where the church plant was) each week. However, after stepping back for a period of rest, he felt that God was calling him to plant a church in his own area, and eventually God led him to the Grand Ledge community. Gordon also shared some of the great successes they are seeing (including whole families coming to faith in Christ), some of their key minsitries, as well as some of their challenges. It was truly an inspirational and affirming evening.

After Gordon shared, Tom called me up extemporaneously to lay hands on me and pray for me and our church. That was an extremely moving time for me personally. It's always encouraging to be endorsed and supported by someone in a leadership position.

When the evening was concluded, Gordon shared with me that he saw a lot of positive interaction as he shared his story--good eye contact, heads nodding, smiles. He said that he sensed a real enthusiasm for the vision to plant churches. I believe he's right. I sense a greater unity and support now for our misison, vision, and values than I ever have since coming here three years ago. It really is good to hear of the kingdom of God advancing and taking shape, lives being transformed and eternities changed. That's what it's all about. That's why we want to accomplish our vision--to make an impact on the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

I believe that as we stay committed to the task, dedicated to the work to which God has called us, keep building relationships and reaching out with the love of Christ to the people God has placed in our lives, we will begin to see the same fruit. God blesses and empowers those who are committed to lives of obedience to him.

Each of the elders on the ballot received the necessary 2/3 vote to serve. John Fisher and Mike DeKarske will continue to serve, and now Phil Criner will be added to the elders team as well. In addition, the proposal regarding how to amend the church structure passed unanimously. Thank you to all who participated in this great evening of celebration and thanks.

Monday, February 4, 2008

My First LEAD Team Meeting

Tomorrow (Tuesday), I'm going to be going to my first LEAD Team meeting. It's not our LEAD team--that's not assembled yet--but it's a LEAD Team that supports Gordon Kettel's church in Grand Ledge, MI, Imagine This LLC. Gordon, incidentally, is going to be one of our special guests this Saturday at our Annual All-Church Meeting & Celebration.

This LEAD Team is headed by Howard Matthews, of Homefront UB Church in Grandville, MI, near Grand Rapids. Howard is also a member of our denomination's Church Multiplication Leadership Team.

I'm hoping that this opportunity will help me learn more about what happens at LEAD Team meetings and give me the chance to rub elbows with some other pastors in our denomination who are working to plant new churches. The meeting lasts from 1pm Tuesday to 1pm Wednesday. Olive Garden has graciously given me Tuesday off to be able to attend. I will, however, be leaving early on Wednesday to report back to work at the restaurant Wednesday lunch.

I'm grateful for the invitation to come and be a fly on their wall, and I'm praying that God will help me learn everything he wants me to learn to make the greatest impact for him that I can here in Jackson!

FYI: This is the 53rd entry for this blog. One full year now of weekly communicating with you about the mission, vision, and values of our church. Thanks to all of you who read faithfully and pray regarding the needs of our church as we journey toward health and obedience to God's plan for us.

Also... wasn't that just the best Super Bowl you've seen in a long, long time? What a game!