Monday, October 27, 2008

Trunk Or Treat In Review

Well, folks, another Trunk or Treat has come and gone. This was our third annual, and there are a lot of great things to report. First, let's take a look at Trunk or Treat by the numbers:

We served approximately 300 kids (the number is approximate because only 260 registered--some families skipped the registration table and went straight for the first trunk, especially toward the end of the event). Of those who registered...

  • 121 unchurched kids
  • 124 churched kids (including 19 of our own)
  • 15 kids' registration cards were unmarked regarding church involvement

Those 260 kids come from...

  • 62 church-going households (including 10 PCC families)
  • 71 unchurched households
  • 9 undesignated households

Once again, we had fantastic support from our own people, although many came through (sometimes literally!) at the last minute, which made planning somewhat challenging. Altogether, we had 47 adult and teen workers, providing:

  • 14 Trunks
  • A Fun House in the church basement (first time we've done that)
  • Apple Bob in the Fellowship Hall
  • Refreshements (hot dogs, popcorn, hot chocolate)
  • A giant inflatable bounce house

Looking past the numbers, here are some of my thoughts and reflections:

  • This was our first year providing a Fun House in the basement. After collecting candy from the trunks in the church parking lot, the kids went down the back steps and weaved their way through the classrooms, which had covers over the windows to keep them dark. They were decorated with Halloween lights and glow-in-the-dark spider webs. Kids stuck their hands in various places (bowls of peeled grapes, cold spaghetti noodles, etc.), walked through wet yarn hanging from the ceiling, and (most importantly!) collected more candy. I heard lots of great comments about the Fun House and how much the kids enjoyed it.
  • Even though Trunk or Treat is an Outreach event and falls under the Outreach Core Team, the Fun House idea was developed and executed by the Community Core Team. I think this is a great example of our ministry teams working together, and it was really great to see such wonderful cooperation.
  • I got to look around at every part of the operation throughout the evening. It seemed everything was running very smoothly. About three trunks ran out of candy at one point in the night, but we were able to get reinforcements to them fairly quickly. Great Job, Pam O'Neil and the Outreach Core Team!! Great Job, Judy Wilkes and the Community Core Team!! Kudos to you!
  • In talking with several parents, they all were very pleased with the event. One mom I spoke with has five kids and told me that she needs to get connected to a church. She believes in God, but has been finding life difficult lately and feels something is missing. She was hoping to make it for the start of our new series next week.
  • We're going to be taking the 260 registration cards and entering the information into our PCC database. There is already a team of people put together who handles that. We use that information to follow up with the people who are unchurched to try to further develop the relationship that we've established with them. We'll especially be intentional about keeping them informed of other events and ministries their children might enjoy (Easter Egg Hunt, Soccer Camp, Awana, SPLASH).
  • Events like this are not a substitute for relationships. In fact, outreach is effective really only when it's relational. But events serve as an excellent forum both for establishing new relationships, as well as developing existing ones further. Some of the people who came were ones I recognized from Soccer Camp and SPLASH, earlier this summer. The more contact we can have with them, the more likely it is that they'll show up on a Sunday some week. In addition, Trunk or Treat and similar events provide an opportunity for us to invite our friends, family, and neighbors to come to something that's not intimidating, giving us an opportunity to develop the relationships God has already provided us. When we think outreach, we need to think relationships.

I think this event was a huge success, and I want to thank each person who was involved in making it so effective. Let's pray that God will keep using it to impact the lives of the people we saw last night, and draw them to him.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Persecuted Church

Yesterday, we had a special service that highlighted the suffering of Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith. For those who weren't able to be there, I want to make sure you have access to the same information that was available to those in the service. For more, you can visit these websites, which are all run by various organizations that work on behalf of persecuted Christians: (send letters to Christians imprisoned for their faith) (helping kids understand persecution against Christians)

Persecution against Christians usually comes in one of two forms--either from governments or from practicioners of other religions. These two forms are fused in the case of Muslim governments that enforce mandatory adherance to Islam.

More Christians have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than the entire rest of church history combined. Countless more have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, impoverished, mutilated, burned, or maimed. It's our responsibility to stand by our brothers and sisters around the world, and there are three ways we can do that:

  • Defend. Be a voice for them. Visit the websites above, and arm yourself with information. Speak up for those who are persecuted for their faith, and plead the cause of the oppressed.
  • Encourage. Send messages to those who are in prison or to their families through the websites listed above. Give money to the organizations who work on behalf of the persecuted.
  • Pray. Pray regularly for those who are victimized because of their faith in Jesus. Pray that God would strengthen them, that he would comfort them and be near them. And pray also that their character would remain strong under suffering and would be a witness to their torturers, to the other prisoners, and to others who have contact with them, and that they would be an encouragement to one another. Pray for the families who have breadwinners in prison--they often suffer just as much.

During the service, I read a selection from an excellent book that I read this summer called "The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun." It was one of the best books I've ever read. Much of the book focuses on the various trials that he underwent, but there are also many stories of deliverance and miracles. Through all of it, it is mostly about the power of the gospel to transform lives. I'd like to share a few more passages:

The next morning the guards took me out from the cell and practised martial arts on my body. They kicked and punched me to the ground and ordered several other prisoners to stamp on my chest and private parts. Blood gushed from my mouth. I was dizzy and in great pain. I was sure I was going to die. pp. 89-90

I cried out to the Lord and said, 'Jesus, I can no longer endure. Why are you allowing me to be tortured like this? Please receive my spirit now.' The guards travelling in the back of the van switched on an electric baton when they heard me praying and jolted me with shocks. The pain was too severe for me and I felt my heart and my brain were going to literally explode from my body. Again I cried to the Lord, 'God have mercy on me. Please receive my spirit now.' The word of the Lord came to me clearly, 'The reason you suffer is so you can partake in the fellowship of my suffering. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.' In my proud heart I'd been thinking that I was important to the church, that they needed me to lead them. Now, I vividly understood that he is God and I am but a feeble man. I realized that God didn't need me at all, and that if he ever chose to use me again it would be nothing more than a great privilege. Suddenly the pain and fear left me. p. 92

Since my escape from China in 1997, I've been responsible for the training and implementation of the Back To Jerusalem missionaries. When the first batch of 39 missionaries left China in March 2000, 36 of them were arrested. They didn't lose their vision, however. They went back home, prayed, and found another way to get across the border. Little more than a year later, the number of Chinese house church missionaries outside China already exceeded 400 serving in more than 10 countries... Each missionary receives training in several main subjects:

1. How to suffer and die for the Lord. We examine what the Bible says about suffering, and look at how the Lord's people have laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel throughout history.

2. How to witness for the Lord... under any circumstance: on trains or buses, or even in the back of a police van on our way to the execution ground.

3. How to escape for the Lord. We know that sometimes it is the Lord who sends us to prison to witness for him, but we also believe the devil sometimes wants us to go to prison to stop the ministry God has called us to do. We teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-storey windows without injuring themselves.

This is not a 'normal' seminary or Bible College! pp. 289-290

I can tell you, in my four years of Christian college and three years of seminary, I never once had a class on how to suffer or die for the Lord, but I think I probably should have. This is the normative experience for Christians around the world who want to follow Jesus. It was he who said, "They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me." (Luke 21:12-27 NIV).

And we complain about being tired and busy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Journey Classes

During today's services, we had our first recognition ceremony for our Journey 401 Class graduates. The 401 Class was offered for the first time in June, and we had nine participants. The journey classes represent a significant component of our discipleship ministry, so I thought it would be worth taking the time in this space to give a brief overview of each of the classes, how they work together, and how they help students experience spiritual growth.

The four four-hour classes are all meant to work together and to build on each other. Therefore, each student signs on to a specific set of commitments after each class before they can proceed to the next one in the series. The first class, Journey 101, is an introduction to the Pathway Community Church family, and the other three classes each relate to one of our Core Values, our Key Three. After taking all four classes, students are familiar with our church and have been given the tools they need to live out a life of full devotion to Christ.

Journey 101 Class
This class is required for church membership. Anyone is allowed simply to attend Pathway, but if you want to join, there are specific commitments that you need to be willing to live up to. We cover those commitments as well as talk about who we are and why we do what we do. This class gives an overview to what our church is about so that people can make an informed decision about whether they want to join or not. The class is broken up into four sections:

  • Our Salvation--what Christ has done for us (including symbols of our salvation, Baptism & the Lord's Supper)
  • Our Statements--what we believe to be true (Our Faith Statement, Our Mission Statement, Our Core Values, Our Vision Statement)
  • Our Strategy--how we go about accomplishing the mission
  • Our Structure--how we organize to accomplish the mission
The first section is common to all believers everywhere, but the other three sections are what makes Pathway unique from all other local church families. It's what gives us our unique and distinctive flavor as a church. When someone commits to membership, we encourage them to go on to the next Journey Class.

Journey 201 Class
This class covers the Core Value of Real Spirituality--our vertical relationship with God. In this class, students learn the four basic habits that are necessary for spiritual growth. Since these are habits, they should be ongoing activities for our lives. The Journey Classes are not primarily about acquiring knowledge, but learning how to perpetually live out that knowledge in our lives in a continuing relationship with Jesus. The four habits are:
  • Prayer
  • Bible Learning (through Hearing, Reading, Studying, Meditating, Memorizing, and Applying)
  • Stewardship
  • Fellowship (including getting connected to a small group)
The class is filled with practical advice about how to have a quiet time, how to get the most out of God's Word, how a small group can help us grow, and the emphasis that the Bible places on giving as an indicator of our spiritual maturity. When students commit to living out these habits, they can take the next class.

Journey 301 Class
This class covers how to discover your unique SHAPE that God has given to your life. He has made you the way you are for a purpose, and by understanding your SHAPE, you'll be in a position to live your life with maximum effectiveness. SHAPE stands for the five different components that make us who we are:
  • Spiritual Gifts
  • Heart
  • Abilities
  • Personality
  • Experiences
Each of those attributes of who we are are God-given and God-directed. In this class, we learn how to utilize all of them to be God-honoring. This class is great for gaining a better understanding of who you are and discerning God's thumbprint on your life. It will also help you find the ministry that is the right "fit" for your SHAPE. Providing loving service to others on a team of other like-minded servants is the main way we contribute to our Real Community, our horizontal relationship with one another. After taking this class, students fill out a SHAPE profile and meet with a SHAPE counselor to help determine the best ways that they can use their SHAPE for God's glory.

Journey 401 Class
The last class teaches people how to share their Real Story, the message of who God is and what he's done in our lives and in the world. We cover the basics of building relationships with unbelievers, how to treat them as people instead of projects, the five main components of the gospel message, and how to communicate that message in a clear and respectful way. We talk about the different styles of evangelism and how to find the style that best fits each person's SHAPE.

Even though we recognized our 401 alumni today, nobody ever "graduates" from the Journey Classes. In fact, students are encouraged to refer to their notebooks periodically and review the information they contain. Students are encouraged to re-attend the 101 Class periodically to remember the unique aspects of our church, and our vision to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

These four classes represent the heart and soul of PCC--our philosophy, our theology, our culture, and our reason for being. They teach us how to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. We are always in process, we are always still growing. The four classes are not the end, but only the beginning of growing deeper and deeper in our pursuit of Jesus.

If you haven't taken the Journey Classes, I'd encourage you to get on board the next time they come around. If you have taken one or some, but got off-track somewhere, I'd encourage you to keep going! The Journey Classes provide us with the compass we need to keep pursuing Jesus on the Pathway of our spiritual journeys. To sign up for the Journey 201 Class on Oct. 19, click here.