Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fun, Sun, & Run

As most of you know, I was in Florida last week. Many of you have asked me how my vacation and conference were. So I wanted to share some of the highlights. I had vacation Thursday through Sunday, and in that time, I got to:

It was a pretty full four days! My dad, who lives in Lynden, WA, had to be in North Carolina around the time of my conference, so he arranged to take some extra days so that the three of us could be together. It was a great time.

On Monday morning, my dad drove me to my conference in Orlando. I was there Monday through Thursday afternoon, and flew back to Michigan Thursday evening. While at the conference, I got to spend a lot of time with other UB pastors in Michigan who are involved in church planting. It was great to get to know all of these guys a little bit better:

  • Tom Blaylock, the UB Director of Church Multiplication
  • Gordon Kettel, the planting pastor of Imagine This, LLC, in Grand Ledge
  • Howard Matthews, the planting pastor of Homefront Church in Grandville
  • Mark Ralph, pastor at Sunfield UB Church, one of the mother churches for a recent Wesleyan church plant in Portland. Mark has also planted churches in Alabama and Florida.

At the conference, I got to hear from some of the leading voices for church planting in our country--Ed Stetzer, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, and many others. In addition, I got the opportunity to network and meet some of the denominational and Michigan District leaders in the Missionary Church. My hope is that establishing contact with them personally will make it easier to bring in Missionary churches to our inter-denominational church-planting network for Jackson County.

To sum up the conference in the space of this blog is simply impossible. I have so much information I can't even begin to distill it down into a paragraph or two, so I'm not going to try. What I can tell you is that I found my time there to be immensely beneficial, and I'm extremely grateful to the denomination for sending me--it's an incredible honor.

On a final note, it's been exciting to come back and see what's been going on in our church in my absence. There are all kinds of ideas flying around about how to get out into our community. Small groups, minsitry teams, and individuals have been taking initiative to make things happen, and I couldn't be more pleased! Soon, there will be a lot to talk about as plans come together. I hope you're ready to be a part of impacting our community, serving them and their needs in the name of Christ. This is the business he's called his church to be about.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meeting People Where THEY Are

The mission (central 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 Christ." This weekend, we had the great privilege of having Pastor Glenn Bone III and some of his leaders from Good Seed Ministries in Chicago, as they shared with us a how we can be more effective in accomplishing our mission.

There were a few things that Pastor Glenn said that resonated with me. For those of you who heard him, I know you can make your own list, but this is mine:

  • To be completely fulfilled in the Christian life, every member needs to have a ministry (something we do for God inside the church) and a mission (something we do for God to bless the community outside our church).
  • Our natural tendency is to expend our efforts and resources trying to make the mechanisms of the church run, but that will never bring anyone in who is now out.
  • Rather than positioning the church as an institution, we need to postition ourselves as a family. In worship, people should feel they are attending a family gathering, not a meeting. In membership, they should feel they are joining a family, not an organization. In service, they should feel they are working alongside their brothers and sisters, not advancing the interests of an establishment.

I realized this weekend that despite our desires, our intentions, and our rhetoric, we are still in many ways an internally focused church. We do not invest a significant part of our individual lives or our corporate life away from the property boundaries of our church in a missional way.

BUT... I sense in talking with many people after this weekend that a lot of us came away with the same realization, and there is a widespread urgency in our congregation to do something about it. There are many ideas that have been percolating in our hearts; here are some of the ones that I have heard expressed this weekend:

  • A financial literacy course (based on biblical principles) offered through area banks or libraries to help people with debt, mortgages, credit, saving, and investing.
  • A marriage seminar (based on biblical principles) offered through Marriage Matters Jackson or the United Way to help people develop stronger marriages and families.
  • A free or very low-cost daycare that will take care of school-age children of single parents on days there are no school (e.g., holidays, vacations, half-days, snow days, teacher in-services, etc.).
  • Developing a relationship with the Inter-Faith shelter, not just to bring or serve food, but to interact with the residents there and spend time with them. Perhaps assisting in job-training, interview skills, and other needs the shelter has.
  • Partnering with Northwest Schools to see what needs exist within the school district that we might be able to meet.
  • Establishing an after-school club or group to mentor young people.

I know there are other ideas out there--they just haven't been shared with me yet. But all of them are geared around this one concept of meeting people where THEY are... because if they're not yet in the church, then we need to go take the church to them. Already, three of our leaders have asked when they can have some of my time before I leave for Florida on Thursday, and I can't tell you how thrilled, excited, encouraged, proud, and hopeful I am as I look forward to talking with each of them.

Rev. Bone says at Good Seed, they try to partner with four groups:

  • Businesses in the community
  • Government agencies serving the community
  • Schools
  • Non-profit groups

With each of them, they go and introduce themselves and ask, "What do you do to serve our community?" And then, "How can we help?" In each case, they only ask that they be able to explain who they are (they don't lose their identity to whoever they're partnering with) and why they are helping (they don't compromise the mission of the church).

One other thing that Pastor Glenn said that rang my bell was to ask, "If Pathway burned down tomorrow, would anyone be sad besides us?" Would anyone wonder who would provide the essential services that the community relies on if Pathway were gone? Would the community recognize it as a loss? If the answer is no, then we know we're not making an impact for Christ on the world around us.

If we can turn this corner, it may take a little while before we see tangible results. It will take time to develop a trust with our neighbors. It will take time for them to see this isn't just one or two things, but a lifestyle change for us. And we'll have to wait, one by one, for them to have a season in their life that brings them to a time of spiritual searching. But be assured that there will be fruit from this. This is the missing link for us in becoming a church that is fully healthy, growing, relevant, and impactful.

Two years from now, when we're talking about planting our first church, there's no reason we shouldn't be a church double our current size or more.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Promise Of Spring

I've heard a lot of people (including myself... many times!) comment this year that it has been a long winter. It's true. Until yesterday, the last time we saw the 60-degree mark was back in October. I know a lot of folks got out of the house this weekend to enjoy the sun and the warmth. At our house, we did some weeding, some pruning, and some raking, getting our yard ready for spring (and Jared ran around, happy as a bee in a flower shop).

As I was clearing away some of the leaves and dead plant pieces from last year, I discovered that there's already a lot of green stuff peeking its way up through the soil. Pretty soon, our yard will turn into daffodils, tulips, and hostas, followed by lilies, ferns, and rhododendrons. In the swampy area behind our yard, there will be wild strawberries, wild grapes, and black raspberries. Trees are budding, shoots are shooting, grass is turning green. It is so wonderful to witness again the incredible promise of spring.

Spring serves as a metaphor for so many things:

  • God is a God of rebirth. Everything and everyone dies, but death is not the end of the story. Jesus' death was not the end, and our death is not the end. God loves to bring life out of death.
  • There is no winter too long, no heart too cold, no soul too dead that God cannot reach it and restore it. Every single winter--even the longest winter--ends in spring and new life. We must never give up hope for those around us--or for ourselves. The forgiveness of God is beyond comprehension.
  • There are seasons to our lives. Very rarely do we experience uninterrupted years of growth and maturity. More often, we get closer to God in fits and starts. An awareness, an insight, a crucial decision, and we find a breakthrough that propels us into a new stage of spiritual growth. But there are also times of darkness, struggle, pain, doubt, fear, and confusion. God is never absent. If we stay close to him through our winters, he will lead us into another spring and the warmth that comes from standing in the Son.
  • God provides for his creation. The same God who causes the earth to turn, the days to lengthen, the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and the seeds to sprout is the same God who created you and me. He cares for us infinitely more than the flowers of the field, which are here today and tomorrow tossed into the fire. Won't he richly bless us with everything that we need?

As someone who grew up in California, I'm still getting used to experiencing four distinct seasons. We had two--summer (8-9 months) and winter (3-4 months). Winter was rainy and foggy; summer was hot and sunny.

But this midwestern cycle of life and death is powerful to me. Every season has its unique beauty and allure.

  • Summer is the season I enjoy the most.
  • Fall is the season that's the most stunning.
  • Winter has a stark beauty all its own.
  • But Spring makes me the most reflective, and fills me with the most awe for our Creator.

Right now, right under your feet, God is doing his thing, summoning the flowers of the field to reawaken, stirring inside them, calling them heavenward. And he's calling us, too? Don't you hear him?