Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Immediate Vision

Today, in my annual State of the Church Address, I shared for the first time publicly a new vision that the elders and I have developed for our church. It doesn't replace or supplant our current vision, but rather it adds to it--it provides a stepping stone for how we get from here to there.

Our initial vision we are now calling our "Broad Vision": To become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

And our new vision we are terming our "Immediate Vision": To trigger a dramatic reaction between our neighbors and Christ in a fusion of real needs and real love.

The Broad Vision is broad geographically, chronologically, and demographically. It encompasses all of Jackson County; it will take time to realize; it is something that we need to build toward and work toward, getting ourselves ready to make it become a reality.

The Immediate Vision is immediate in all the ways the Broad Vision is broad. It relates specifically to our neighbors--the people in our immediate vicinity. It is something that we can begin making a reality right now--we don't have to wait for it.

In some ways, our church is already engaged in the fusion of real needs and real love.

  • The Kids Hope mentoring program at Flora List schools is a great example of what we are talking about. We are coming alongside at-risk kids to invest in their lives and help them experience success and gain confidence to change their future. This is a ministry not only to the kids themselves and their families, but also to the teachers and school administrators, who were begging for mentors to invest in these kids.
  • Our Share 'n' Care ministry, which includes a food pantry and clothes closet, though its scale is small, has helped a number of needy families in moments of crisis.
  • S.P.L.A.S.H. (Single Parents Letting Another Supply Help) is a summer ministry to single parents to care for their kids for a few hours each week so that they can have a break, run errands, or have time with friends during the summer when kids are not in school.
  • At Christmas, we have done an Angel Tree for several years, in which we help needy families with gifts that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.

So this ethos of expressing practical and tangible love is already a part of our identity as a church. But our Immediate Vision raises the bar for us by inspiring us to "trigger a dramatic reaction" through the fusion of real needs and real love. In other words, we aim to have people take notice. We want to demonstrate the love of Christ in such a potent way that it is un-ignorable by our neighbors in the Northwest community.

Wherever Jesus went in his earthly ministry, people had a dramatic reaction to him. Some adored him; some hated him. Some surrendered their lives to him and followed him from place to place; some devoted their lives to defeating his movement. Some were amazed by him; some were threatened by him. But nobody was indifferent toward him--that's not a choice that he left to people. And yet we have an entire community around us that is largely indifferent toward Jesus. What a tragedy! Our aim, our vision, is to hold Jesus out so clearly and unflinchingly that people cannot ignore him, that they will take notice, and have some clear response.

These two visions are actually just two steps of the same vision. Together they provide the formula for igniting a spiritual movement in our area. But to spark a spiritual movement it must first start in us, then spread to the people immediately around us, and ultimately across the county, and beyond.

Our Immediate Vision involves the shining of light in the darkness (fusion is the energy process of the sun), and the result of that is that some will be attracted to the light. When God indicates that we are ready, we will launch the Broad Vision in earnest--making the concrete plans to start planting churches throughout our area, which will shine more light to more people than we ever could from our one location.

In both of these visions, the aim is to get our focus off ourselves and look instead to the needs of the people around us and to the God who calls us to be his witnesses. Enriched by God's grace, infused with God's power, immersed in God's cause, and emboldened by God's call, there is no reason for us to fear or to fail:

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see... And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Heb. 11:1, 6

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How We Obtain God's Power

This morning, we had 31 people in our services who made a solemn, public commitment to live lives that are fully surrendered to God. These commitments came as a result of the challenge issued by Pastor Brent in his message that the Unstoppable Force of God's Holy Spirit is fueled by an unstoppable resolve inside us, the understanding and the acceptance that we must do whatever it takes to be obedient to God, our Ruler and Lord.

Scripture shows us that God has willingly surrendered what is by nature his--the right to enforce his good and perfect will on this world--because of his desire that we would truly love him. After all, love that is demanded or forced is not love at all. So he lays out his plan, he unfolds his wisdom for us to see, he demonstrates his great goodness and love for us, he woos us and calls us to himself... and then he waits for us to respond.

But our response doesn't happen all at once, for what we find is that as we surrender to him, he then invites us to take another step toward him, and another, and another, and another. At every point along the way, he invites us, and then waits for us to respond. So a life of following him, a life of maturity and discipleship, is acquired by adopting a lifestyle of continually responding to God.

Instead of responding to God as a lifestyle, what most of us settle for is responding to him in a moment, or at several moments over our lives. And instead of God shaping us, coloring us, indwelling us, and empowering us throughout our whole lives, what we have is little islands of God's influence in a sea of self. This is ultimately not a very satisfying way to live, nor is it very attractive to a skeptical world. And Satan seems to be more than happy to allow people to claim the name of Christ as long as their lives are basically ineffective and still usurrendered. Perhaps it's because he knows he still owns them.

The other choice we have is not perfection, but rather response. To say, "Well, no one's perfect" is a rather lame protest. It's true that no one but Jesus is perfect, but it's also true that there is a profound difference between those who live in continual response to God's call and those who do not. There are occasions in which I fail God, and they are far more frequent than I would like. Nevertheless, the continual cry of my heart is that God would keep showing me where he wants me to go, that he would give me the courage to do it, and that glory and honor would come to him through my obedience.

This is what 31 people have signed on for: a lifestyle of response to God's invitations--no matter what. This matters, because we become what we commit to.

I am praying for those people. I am praying that:

  • They would experience new-found power in areas of their lives that have seemed to be insurmountable problems in the past;
  • They would find peace in surrendering, hope in trial, and joy in victory;
  • They would be ready for the reisistance that comes from following Jesus;
  • Both the victories and the resistance would open up opportunities for them to share with others about their relationship with God.

What is worth giving our lives to? A moon mission? Global warming? Wealth and power? I think it all pales in comparison to the cause in which Christ has already enlisted us--the spread of his rule on this earth, starting in my own heart and emanating out to the rest of the globe.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 NIV

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Ups And Downs of Pastoring

I try to resist as much as possible the efforts that some people make to put me on a pedestal, or elevate me to a different category of human being, by virtue of being a pastor. For instance, I've been told that people really need to come to our church in order to hear me preach, and what I've said back is, "No, people need to come to our church and have their lives changed by starting a relationship with Jesus." Because our church is not about me; it's not a showcase to display my gifts, or a forum where I tout my personal views, or a fiefdom upon which I enforce my will.

One of the things I've learned in life is that people--all people--are just people. Famous people, poor people, educated people, homeless people, rich people, powerless people, black people, Asian people, incarcerated people, and anonymous people are all just people. Authors, athletes, royalty, gang members, bad drivers, and even pastors--we're all just people.

So I try to convey through words and actions as often as possible, that I'm just a regular person. Even though I'm a pastor, I'm just a person.

Having said that, I also believe that pastoring a congregation is probably unlike any other experience in the world. Oh, it's similar to being a coach, a teacher, a parent, a counselor, a business owner, an umpire, a shepherd, and probably other stuff too. But it's also dissimilar to all these things in important ways. Many pastors will attest to the fact that a life devoted to leading God's people is met with very high highs and very low lows.

Sometimes, in presenting myself, in talking about my life, I'm torn between these two equally true notions:

  • I am, at my foundation, like every other person with the same needs and the same joys as anyone else.
  • I work in a vocation that brings a completely unique set of demands and challenges, and which no one can fully appreciate unless they have personal experience.
This morning, during our worship service, I conveyed some of the discouragement that I had felt during the previous week, but also how God had used some key people at key points to help me realize that my feelings were not well-founded and to put me back on the right track. I debated about whether to share this example. On the one hand, it was an opportunity to show how I am imperfect, just like everyone else, and how I need to rely on God's guidance and grace. On the other hand, I was worried that my story might be misunderstood and misconstrued to be an indicator of fatigue or burnout.

Indeed, I had three different conversations with individuals who were concerned about whether I was growing weary in the demands of pastoring. Every single one of them were well-meaning, full of love and grace, supportive, and encouraging. And I appreciate the affirmations that each of them gave to me.

But I want to be clear: I am further now from giving up than I have ever been.

Part of my discouragement was due simply to the physical exhaustion of holidays and cross-country travel. But most of it was due to wrong thinking on my part (which God has revealed to me)--and that's what I was trying to convey. When we are a community on-mission, personal popularity doesn't matter. I need to make certain that I care more about the mission than I do about whether someone is on-board with me or not. My story was a perfect opportunity to illustrate that point in a personal way... and to put the lie to the idea that I never struggle, or don't have problems, or don't fail.

I think we're so used to pastors being either "perfect" (at least, in our perception) or failing in big, massive, embarrassing ways. The reality is that most of us live in the middle--we're just people, people with jobs that are nearly impossible to describe. But I do think some of the things in the Bible help us realize what pastoring is like:
  • But thanks be to God, who ... through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)
  • I have been in danger... from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; ... Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:26-29)
  • Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)
  • Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, beacuse you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (Jas. 3:1)

I believe this is why the Bible says, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17).

Pastoring is a heavy thing, but it is also a joyous thing. It is a wonderful thing, and a mysterious thing. Above all, I know that it is what God desires for my life, and because of the fire that he has lit inside me, I can do nothing else. It is such an honor to serve him in this way, and it is one I don't take lightly or casually. I am especially grateful for all of you who pray for me regularly. I believe God honors those prayers, and they keep me aligned with him--the exact place I always want to be, no matter what I might be facing next.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Unstoppable Mission

We launched our new series today, "Unstoppable." Little did I know the series title would refer not only to the power of God in us to serve him and his cause, but also to the freezing rain that fell on Jackson this morning--a weather phenomenon that did manage to stop many of our people from venturing out.

Since most of our church was unable to make it to worship this morning, I wanted to give a brief recap of the service here on the ol' blog.

We first talked about football teams, who work and prepare the entire season for this part of the year--the postseason. Everything they've worked for comes down to this moment. This is what they've given their heart, their time, their effort, their lives for--it is the purpose for their playing, to win "the big game." Christ has also given us a "big game," a purpose for living, something to give our hearts, our time, our efforts, and our lives for; it is the unstoppable mission of the Church, summed up in Acts 1:8:

"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Lots of people claim the name of Christ, but they don't accept his mission. They call him "Lord" with their lips, but they don't allow him to set the course for their lives. So how can we know if we are on-mission? If we are accomplishing the unstoppable mission of Jesus, three things are true about us:

1. Everyone Is Included
The scope of the mission is colossal--local and global. Every single person that God has created is included in the scope of the Church's mission. To reach the ends of the earth, we partner with others who extend the mission of PCC in regions beyond Jackson County. We have PCC outposts in Indonesia, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Mexico, and elsewhere.

But we are responsible for our own area in which God has placed us, so for us, the mission includes 100,000 people in Jackson County who have no church family. So often we write people off by saying, "Oh, he'll never come to Christ," or "She doesn't care about spiritual things." Sometimes, we write off our whole society: "Nobody cares about God anymore; everybody's just doing their own thing." But we are not permitted to do that--everyone is included in the scope of Jesus' unstoppable mission.

2. Everyone Is Needed
Because the scope of the mission is so large, every single person is needed. Everyone who claims the name of Jesus ought to have a ministry. Ministry is not reserved for professional clergy--that was never God's design for his church--and no church in the history of the world that has experienced success has been organized that way. Ministry is for all Christians everywhere; if you're a Christian, you're a minister. (see 1 Cor. 12:12-27)

The pastor's job is to equip the church, to prepare them for their ministry, so that the whole body of Christ will be built up (see Eph. 4:11-12). Christ has given each of his followers a spiritual gift, and it was given so that it would be used. Our ministries at PCC are designed to advance the mission--every single ministry is missional. We promise not to waste your gifts and talents; now, will you make the same promise--not to waste your gifts and talents?

3. Everyone Is Changed
The Greek word for "witnesses" is martyrioi, from where we get our English word "martryr." To have a story to share, to have something to tell, we have to have a genuine experience of God in our lives. That means dying to ourselves and surrendering to God's plan and direction (see Mark 8:34-35). The function of the Holy Spirit in our lives is that we are changed into different people.

The reason for the Holy Spirit, the power that he brings in our lives, the change that he produces in our lives, the spiritual gifts that he gives us, and the whole divine plan--is so that we would be witnesses! A witness tells the story of what they have seen and experienced.

This is what we call "Real Story," one of our Core Values, our Key Three. The Core Values work together in a single process. As we tell our stories, we invite people to enter into this Real Community of faith. As they gain exposure to what the Christian faith is all about, they come to the point of surrender to God and experience a new spiritual life, an experience of Real Spirituality. When they have an authentic relationship with God, it produces in them the necessary ingredients for them to share their Real Story, and the cycle starts all over again.

Real Story --> Real Community --> Real Spirituality --> Real Story

The objective of our church is to get this cycle going around and around and around, gaining momentum and traction so that we become unstoppable.

We wrapped up the service with a look at President Kennedy's moon speech, in which he declared that the US would land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth before the decade was out. This goal took tremendous focus, determination, commitment, sacrifice, and cooperation on the part of many countless people. But it was accomplished.

From the beginning of time until 1904, man had never flown. And yet only 65 years after the Wright brothers flew 100 feet at Kittyhawk, NC, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Winning bowl games and landing on the moon are great goals, but they pale in comparison to the importance of the mission that Christ has given his Church, a mission that seeks to change the eternal destinies of every person in the world. This mission is worth giving our lives to, worth sacrificing for, and worth devoting everything we have and are to it.

We aim to be a church where everyone is included, everyone is needed, and everyone is changed. To apply these principles on an individual basis, to know whether or not we are on-mission, we have three action steps that we can take:

1. Name three people you're going to invite to join you at church next Sunday.
2. Name your ministry that advances the mission Christ gave us. If you don't have a ministry, click here, and pick one.
3. Write down how a relationship with Jesus has changed your life. This becomes your Real Story, your witness to share with others. Just tell what you have seen and experienced.

This is the most important, worthwhile thing we can be involved in--the unstoppable mission of Jesus Christ. His purposes will always prevail. Nothing will stop this mission. The question is whether or not we'll be a part of it. It's time for us to get on-mission.