Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pastor Scott's Book List

OK, I don't know who exactly reads these blog postings that I put up here. I know that there are lots of people in our church who are not "readers." But I'm thinking if you read this regularly, it's because you do enjoy reading at some level at least. If that's not you, it's ok to just close this out and wait for next week's posting, but for those of you who like books, I want to alert you to the fact that I updated my book list (it's over there on the left <------ see?).

Most of my books I've had on my list have to do with church structure, church leadership, church planting, church health.... Well, you get the idea. These three books I've added, however, really don't have anything to do with church (at least directly). But I'm finding them very thought-provoking, and if you like to read, I bet many of you would find them worthwhile as well. That's why I added them to my list.

I'll tackle them in alphabetical order:

  • Joy At Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun On The Job. This book is written by a Christian businessman, co-founder and long-time CEO of AES, a multi-billion dollar international power company with over 40,000 employees. This company is based on 4 Core Values: Integrity, Justice, Social Responsibility, and Fun. The book is primarily about the value of Fun, defined as "rewarding, exciting, creative, and successful." The company strives to empower every employee with the ability to make important decisions about things that really matter, and then they are held accountable for their decisions. Leaders are there to give advice (not permission) to those making decisions; the CEO himself set a goal of personally making only 1 important decision for the company a year. The result of this approach was to create happier, more dedicated, more productive employees, fulfilling their God-given purpose of productive work.
  • Loving Monday: How To Succeed In Business Without Selling Your Soul. Written by a successful Ohio manufacturing executive, this book explores how to integrate your work with your faith. The result is that instead of grinding it out until Friday and living only for weekends, your work can actually be filled with meaning and purpose. As a result, both work and faith grow--along with your love for Mondays. Beckett destroys the idea that "secular" work is not God-honoring; he argues that any work that's not inherently immoral can actually be a form of worship--not just church work or "professional" ministry.
  • We Are Driven: The Compulsive Behavior America Applauds. Workaholism, perfectionism, the need to control. These behaviors are often called "good addictions," but they are not good because they detract from--instead of adding to--our lives. Although many people are applauded for these behaviors, they damage marriages, friendships, families, and other relationships. The authors contend that many times these behaviors are rooted in shame, low self-esteem, and guilt, which drive us to super-human ambitions at which we inevitably fail, creating a new cycle of shame, low self-esteem, and guilt.

Each of these books, though not about church, I believe have tremendous value for how we "do" church. They give insight in how to organize, lead, motivate, and minister, and beginning in May, the elders and I will begin studying Joy At Work to discuss some of these insights. If you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to read with me:

Joy At Work / Loving Monday / We Are Driven

Just so you know, I'm reading these books in preparation for our next upcoming series ("The Office" about work; and "Driven", a NASCAR-themed series about our purpose in life), and I'm sure you'll hear some of these insights coming out in sermons and other interactions with me. I'd love to know about anyone else who's reading these and any thoughts you might have!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Commercials On Easter?

Over the last several major Christian holidays, we've employed some... shall we say "unique"(?) message series as backdrops.

Christmas 2005: Narnia
Easter 2006: CSI (Crucifixion Scene Investigation)
Christmas 2006: Jesus, No More Mr. Nice Guy
Easter 2007: Dragging 110%
Christmas 2007: Christmas II: The Sequel
Easter 2008: Commercials

With each of these series, I've received similar comments in advance of their launch: "What in the world does {insert series title here} have to do with {the holiday in question}?" It's true, on the surface, Harley motorcycles and barbed wire have nothing to do with Christmas, and Fazoli's signs have nothing to do with Easter. But there is a method to the madness.

At holiday times, we receive more guests than at other times of the year, and we want to do everything we can to encourage them to come back--to be here more than once or twice a year. So how can we do that? Here are some ideas:

  • We can decorate the sanctuary with Easter lilies or Christmas poinsettias. Would that make an unchurched person come back the next week? History would seem to indicate that it doesn't.
  • We can put together a special cantata or a children's choir performance of music that unchurched people are unfamiliar with. Maybe it will take several months to prepare and consume the whole service time, leaving no room for a message that might engage them or cause them to ask questions or seek to find out more.
  • We could dramatically re-enact the biblical stories with no explanation about what this has to do with my day-to-day life.
  • We could have an extra-long message that is essentially a course in systematic theology, covering the atonement, redemption, justification, sanctification, and exaltation. We could lay out a complicated, detailed plan of salvation that answers every question nobody would ask.

These are the traditional ways that Easter is commemmorated by most churches. Some of them even like to combine these different elements.

Here's our approach: We want to do whatever we can to bring our visitors back the week after they come for the special holiday. So we keep a few things in mind:

  • We figure they've already had a "traditional" Easter/Christmas experience. They were probably at a church last year and the year before that. That approach wasn't successful in attracting them, so we want to try something different.
  • If they come for a "special" week and they do come back, we want that week to be just as special. For instance, if a person comes on Easter and there's a re-enactment of the Bible story, won't they be disappointed when that never happens in that church again? We want our services to be representative of what we do here every week so that there won't be any disappointment for return guests.
  • Most of our guests have had negative experiences with church. They might show up at "special" times of the year, but for the most part that's about as much church as they want to get. We want them to leave saying, "Boy! That was really different, not at all what I expected!" Because what they expect is to be bored and/or put down.
  • We want them to engage with the message, to listen, to think about it, to consider it. One of the ways we do that is by connecting things that don't seem connect-able. Impact goes down as predictability goes up. If we give them the same old Easter church service, we miss the chance to make an impact.

If it's about us and serving ourselves, then we can just trot out all the traditions that make us feel like we've "had Easter." But if our mission is to reach out to the community around us, we need to do something different--because what we've been doing isn't bringing them back.

This series is all about evaluating the messages that we receive from the world around us. To me, that's what Easter is all about, because we don't want the gospel to be just one more message that people try to shut out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Vision Report

It's been a while since I posted here about how the vision is progressing. There's so much that has been going on that I've wanted to share with you--State of the Church, Annual Meeting & Celebration, Pictoral Directory, Purpose-Driven Workshop, etc.--that it's made it hard to keep you updated with everything that's going on with the vision. So I'd like to take some time this week to bring you up to speed.

So far, in 2008, I've met with 8 different Jackson-area church pastors to talk with them about the idea of partnering together to plant churches in Jackson County. I've had positive responses from 6 of them, indicating that they'd be interested in pursuing the possibility further. They will be attending a luncheon meeting at 11:30 on April 15 at a restaurant in downtown Jackson. If everyone I've gotten a commitment from shows up so far, we'll have at least 4 different denominations represented (U.B., Wesleyan, Missionary, Nazarene) and 1 non-denominational church.

I currently have voice mail messages in with 2 other pastors, trying to establish contact with them, and email messages in with 4 others. I'm hoping to get follow-up calls in this week or next if I don't hear back from them. In addition, I have leads on 8 other churches that would potentially be interested in this project. I'm working hard to get as many pastors contacted as possible before the April 15 meeting.

April 15 isn't a do-or-die date. Churches can still jump in and be a part of the LEAD Team after April 15, but I do want to have as many churches as possible at that meeting for several reasons:

  • I want them as many people as possible to be in on this from the ground-up. There's an added sense of excitement, investment, and ownership when you're involved right from the start. I want to extend that opportunity to as many people as possible.
  • I believe that the greater the number at the April 15 meeting, the greater the sense will be that this is a doable project. If we can look around and see lots of people who are at least interested in pursuing this thing further, each one representing a potential partner church, then we can nurture an attitude of "Why not?"
  • The more people who are involved early on, the greater the opportunities to extend invitations to other churches before it is too late. I don't have any illusions about being the only one capable or willing of bringing other churches to the table. I expect that some of these other churches will bring sister churches along with them, and the wider our circle is from the beginning, the wider it can be when we actually make the commitment to constitute a LEAD Team.
  • I don't want to miss anyone that God may want to be a part of this enterprise. I want to be faithful in doing my part so that God can direct, lead, and provide as he sees fit.
It's amazing--I make my family a priority, pastor our church, work at Olive Garden 4 days a week, and still have time to put together this coalition of churches. I'm not bragging because I know it's not me that can accomplish all this--God graciously gives me the grace and strength I need. I see him constantly multiplying my time and efforts.

I recently heard a church leader say that the most dangerous prayer you can pray is, "God, use me." Because if you are serious about it, he'll do exactly that. I guess I should let you know that I've been praying that prayer for years. That's the desire of my life--that God would use me, that I would open up my whole self to let God do whatever he wants through me.

I'm certainly not here to say that there aren't ways that I've screwed up and messed around with stupid things--because I definitely have. There's time that I've wasted and things I wish I could undo. But I keep coming back to that prayer, and every time I fall down, I know that God will raise me back up again, and I strive anew to be usable and blessable, to be obedient to his call on my life.

What's the prayer of your life? What's the beat of your heart? What do you want more than anything else? You haven't yet found the meaning of life if your #1 desire is something other than bringing glory to God through yours. If you want safety, love, acceptance, respect, money, status, or power, you won't have a life that God uses spectacularly--that only comes from laying down everything else for him.

If you want to pray for God to use you this week, try praying and then inviting someone to the Easter Breakfast this Sunday (8:30-10:45) before the worship service. It's a great time to introduce your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members to other people in the church. The more people in a church someone knows, the more likely they are to stay. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to be transformed by a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Think about it--something as simple as an enjoyable meal could be the catalyst to a new life in Christ. We miss so many opportunities; resolve not to miss this one.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Purpose Driven Church Workshop

On Sunday, I shared with you that we will be hosting the Purpose-Driven Church Basic Workshop on Saturday, April 12, from 8:30am-4:30pm. This one-day conference explains what it means to be a church that is driven by the basic purposes for which Christ intended his church to strive, rather than other things--such as finances, tradition, personalities, power, or anything else.

There are a lot of misconceptions of what it means to be a purpose-driven church. It does not mean:

  • Following the latest fad. The five purposes are biblical and eternal. These principles are applicable in any church in any culture at any time.
  • Adopting a particular worship style. Purpose-driven principles have nothing to do with adopting a particular style. Purpose-driven churches come in all kinds of formats: liturgical, casual, postmodern, charismatic, multi-sensory, traditional, ethnic, and anything else.
  • Cookie-Cutter Copy-Catting. It's not about imitating the ministries, programs, worship style, or structure of any church, but about creating a simple system to ensure a balanced, biblical approach to doing church. Each church must do the work of figuring out how to apply purpose-driven principles to their own unique ministry context.

Going through the biblical principles behind purpose-driven, this conference will help church leaders establish or re-establish the core purposes of their church, design an intentional discipleship process, and build an "outward-in" perspective to growth and evangelism.

It's a great chance that we have to host this conference and provide this resource to other churches in our community. I hope you take advantage of the special $10 registration fee for Pathway attendees (this conference will cost $50 for everybody else, and is normally $119!), and please sign up to help out in one of the areas of need:

  • Registration
  • Kitchen/Food
  • Hospitality
  • Set-Up
  • Clean-Up
  • Parking

To serve in one of these areas and/or to register for the conference, please send me an email. For more information on what the conference will cover, check out the purpose-driven website.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Who The Heck Is That?

I can't tell you how many times I'm talking with someone in our church about something that's going on, and I tell them, "If you want to know more, just get in touch with so-and-so," and then they say, "Hmmm, I don't think I know who that is." (In fact, I overheard a conversation just like that this morning!) And this happens not just with people who are new and haven't had a chance to meet a lot of people, but with people who have been here for several years, or even lots of years.

We're great at welcoming new people and helping them feel comfortable. We do a reasonably good job of helping people get plugged in to a small group or a ministry team, and they begin to develop relationships with a few people. But we're still a small church--there's no reason so many people should have to walk in and feel like they don't even know the names of the majority of the people around them. What's going on?

Well, part of the issue is that we have two services, so some people just don't ever cross paths. And that's ok. We have two services so that we can keep open seats and make sure there's enough room for new people to come and be comfortable. If we grew to the point where we were filling up two services, we'd add a third and a fourth and a fifth if necessary! We want to make sure that there's always enough room for new people.

But the other part of the story is that we don't have a tool that helps people make connections in our church outside of their current circles. The best tool I know of for that purpose is a photo directory. A photo directory helps you put names with faces and faces with names. A photo directory prompts statements like, "Oh! That's who that is!" and "I've always wondered what that person's name is!" and "I've seen them before, but I didn't want to introduce myself since I know they've been coming for over a year now" and, of course "I learned their name two months ago, but now I've forgotten it, so I can't ask what it is again."

These kinds of thoughts and feelings make it difficult for us to establish and develop relationships in our church. They cause us to stick with the people we already know and ignore the people we don't know. Eventually, it could cause us to be unwelcoming to the new people, and we could drive them away because we get in the habit of only interacting with the people we know.

I'm happy to tell you that we'll be putting together a new photo directory this spring. Pictures will be taken on Monday, May 12, and Tuesday, May 13. Please put those dates on your calendar as soon as possible, and make an intentional decision to get your family's picture taken on one of those days. The more people who participate the more useful a tool it will be for us.

There are some neat features with this directory that will make it even more useful:

  • Phone numbers and addresses next to each photo so that you don't have to look them up in the back separately.
  • Email addresses and personal websites for those who want to share that information.
  • Lists of favorite family activities, hobbies, and ministries in the church to help us know a little bit more about each other, and to make it easy to find people with whom we have common interests.
  • The directory company will give us a CD-version of the directory that we can make copies of and distribute. The CD-version is also edit-able, so that as new people come into the church, we can take their photos and add them in. For those without computers, we will print additional pages that can be inserted in the back of the directories.

You would be amazed how effective a photo directory can be in helping new people get connected and engaged with a church. It's so much more than just a phone book--it's a relationship-building engine.

Our goal is to be a church of relationships, not a church with relationships. It's a crucial component of Real Community. Please make sure that you're involved with the directory in May to help it be as effective and useful as possible!