Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Principle of Being Present

God has really been teaching me something about encouraging, leading and discipling people. I would like to say I already knew the principle. Maybe I did, but it has never been revealed so clearly and in so many ways than over the last nine months.

It is the "Principle of Being Present."

Often we think of supporting people and ministries as making sure they have the resources to function. It terms of church planters, missionaries or even ministers in your church we think if we make sure they have enough to live on and money for them to sustain ministry for a period of time that is enough.

It is not enough. What they need more than anything is for people to be present in their lives. Not present in the sense that you are watching every move they make, lording over them. But present in the sense that you are walking with them and sharing in their ministry and the vision God has given them.

I had been spending some time with a church planter we support in Ohio and then took a trip to work with a missionary we support in Puerto Rico. They had the same tired look on their face. And in both cases serving beside them changed their whole perspective on what they were trying to accomplish. It seemed to give them a renewed spirit in a way that a check in the mail wouldn't.

We received this from the missionaries report card after our visit last October which confirmed this principle: "I don't know of a single missionary who is satisfied with the results of their effort. The vast majority worry constantly if the churches back home think they are failures. Missionaries put out newsletters that they hope will 'satisfy' the probing eye of the church leaders back home. This may be why the average ministry on the field of the average missionary is only 18 months. (I might add in ALL denominations too). You might want to consider asking questions that minister to the field missionary."

He's right. The only thing I would change is the word "minister" to the word "encourage." And the way to encourage in a way that brings resurrection is to be present. This is what Jesus did right? He became flesh and dwelled among us to bring life. He didn't just mail in a check. He didn't stand over us and watch every move we made. He encouraged us to live a life that reflected the image of the Father. And he did it by being present. The way to lead people be followers of Jesus is to be present in their lives.

Where did Christianity switch from being present to standing on the sidelines pointing out everything that is wrong with culture without investing time reflecting the image of Jesus?

You know this being present thing works when it comes to being a parent too. Some parents think that if they just give their kids everything (even if it means never being around) then they have done all they can do to raise good children. What kids want more than stuff is for you to be present in their lives, encouraging them and walking with them through life.

It works in the business world as well. The manager that encourages and empowers those under them will see greater results with out destroying their spirit. Abraham Lincoln had a habit of visiting the troops during the civil war. He very seldom called people into his office, instead he went to spend time with them on their turf.

If we really want to become a church that makes disciples it is imperative we learn the principle of being present in the life of those we are trying to disciple.

How can you be present in some one's life today?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Complaining is not a Strategy

I was watching the 60 Minutes interview with Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. I was interested in the segment because of the possibility of "drone delivery" in about 30 minutes. After watching the segment I am convinced they can deliver books in 30 minutes better than Dominos used to deliver a pizza.

While watching the interview something Jeff Bezos said caught my attention. Charlie Rose was talking to him about the ability for Amazon to disrupt the old way of buying books because their margins are so small they could drive people out of business. Bezos said this, "You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy."

Immediately I looked for something to write that quote down: "Complaining is not a strategy."

The first thing I thought of were all the complaints I hear from people in "the church world." Most people who complain offer no alternative, they use the power of the complaint to get their way. When you give in, guess what they do next? They find something else to complain about until they get their way. Complaining can be a strategy, if leaders give into the complaint.

Next I thought about myself. How often do I complain about something? More often than I would like to admit. But Bezos challenged me in that one statement, because he is right, "Complaining is not a strategy." When he said that I thought of Amazon's competitors. His statement was either going to make them mad so they complain harder or it was going to challenge them to get better. It was almost like he was saying, "Come on, don't complain, compete. Because healthy competition brings out the best in people."

So, I should not complain about things not going my way. I should see it as a challenge to do things better. I should see it as an opportunity to plan a strategy to get better and create a movement that makes a higher impact in the world.

For those who always complain let this be a challenge to you "STOP IT!"  (I need to hear this as much as anybody. Just ask Rhonda. She says something to me all the time when I say something to a ref at a basketball game.)

For those who lead others, here is you challenge "STOP IT!" Stop letting people who complain change the direction of your God given vision and values. A lot of great movements have come to a halt because a leader let complaining become a strategy in their organization.

Disclaimer: It is not complaining when you stand up for something that is right. The difference is when you look at your motivation. Is it motivated by narrowly focusing on one's self or is it motivated by pointing out something that could be destructive to the culture? Constructive criticism is not complaining.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Resurrection God! Restoring God!

Man, I hate when God keeps trying to get your attention and teach you something that really messes with you. Maybe this is why I have not written a blog in such a long time. Maybe he is trying to focus me on something I need to deal with in order to serve Him better rather than just trying to come up with the next blog.

Here is the deal. I want to make sure the next half of my life ends well and contributes to the kingdom. I believe God has given me experiences in the first half of my life in order to prepare me for the last half. I just have to discern where it is he is leading me.

Well over the last several months something is becoming more clear to me. He is teaching me something I believe is not only life transformational for me, but can transform the church in which I serve. I also believe it has the potential to impact other places in the world.

A few years back I listened to a podcast from a church in Portland, Oregon called Imago Dei. The teaching from Rick McKinley that day was called, "Mustard Seed Kingdom." In it he taught the concept that God is a resurrection God, that he could bring life to that which is dead. He is a restoring God who wants to bring hope to the lives of those who have no hope. He also taught it starts out small and God makes it grow to make a bigger impact than what we could dream.

Recently I have not been able to get this out of my mind especially in some of the things and people I am involved with in Tallmadge, Cleveland, Zimbawe and more recently Puerto Rico. Then I go to the ReChurch conference at The Creek in Indianapolis and there is a clearer confirmation toward some of my thinking. I get a book they suggest and it gives more confirmation.

Here is the short version of what God is teaching me. In order to bring resurrection, restoration and change we have to support those who need new life both in their ministry and in their individual lives. And here is the kicker to my thought process-just sending money is not the support that gives life. It may help temporarily, but support requires that we are present in the lives of people.

Real restoration and resurrection occur only when we are able to speak into the hearts of people or a ministry. Spending time to understand where they are coming from and discipling them to follow Jesus. Giving them lasting hope through development not dependence. I am starting to think that through some of our generosity we are teaching people to be dependent on monetary gifts from others rather than being dependent on God.

I know it takes money to bring change in some circumstances. But money has somewhat become an easy fix for those who have the resources to be generous. I am just saying your presence in the life of that person relationally is probably more important than just sending a check. Sometimes generosity requires a person to be generous by being present.

The most generous person I know gave up everything so we could have a restored life and resurrection. So we could have hope. And the Bible says this about Him: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14)

He was present. He came in the flesh which means he came physically. And then He dwelt among us, living as we live, experiencing the culture we live in and serving us while serving with us. He taught us how to live in such a way that through Him we could bring hope, life and encouragement to people and places that need resurrection and restoration.

Where do you need to be present today to bring a little resurrection and hope?

Friday, September 13, 2013

What about the future?

I am sitting in a coffee house in my home town of Salem, Va. I am here for my high school reunion. I had a cousin ask me last night what number this was so I told him, "30." Another cousin said, "Wow!" That didn't make me feel old.

As I drive around Salem I have noticed it has changed a lot, but so have I. I have a little gray hair. I am a little heavier (which I am working on doing something about). Although those are visible changes I have changed spiritually as well.

I am looking at the church a lot differently these days.

While I can't wait to see some of my high school friends, I don't want to relive my high school days. They were great days, but there comes a time when we have to mature into someone that makes a difference in the world.

I think that is true of the church as well. Through the church growth movement we have seen some great days. People were filling church buildings as the church became more seeker sensitive and attractional. Church was fun and exciting much like my high school days.

But something has happened over the last 10-15 years. While many churches and church leaders continue to live in the days of success, the culture around us has changed. I hear people say we need to go back and do the things we did when we were successful (when the church was exciting and full).

The answer is not about looking back. The answer comes in looking ahead or at the very least looking to the present.

As I sit here in this coffee house I am thinking about the future. Realizing I am getting older, I am starting to ask myself the question how can God use me to impact the kingdom in the second half of life.

It is great remembering the past, but we have no control of that. What we do have control of is the future. So the question is what are we going to do with the future? Are we going to make a difference in the short time we have here on this earth? Or are we going to dwell on the past while the world around us changes and passes us by?

How are you going to be a little more like Jesus tomorrow than you were today?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Great Sunday!

This past Sunday I was still on vacation. I took the opportunity to go to Velocity Christian Church where Scott Pugh is the lead minister. Velocity is a church we partnered with several other churches and Stadia to help launch about 5 years ago. 

I was truly blessed being there Sunday and seeing how from nothing God led some guys and churches who were new to the church planting world to create from nothing a great church. God is so awesome when we allow him to lead. It is amazing how he allows us to participate in his greatness. 

The energy at Velocity and the passion everyone has for people far from God is the reason God has blessed them so much. Experiencing the culture of the church planting world is something every follower needs to experience. 

Here is what I learned that day:

1) Everyone there is on the same mission. They have a passion for people far from God and that is at the center of everything they do. While there is a team of people who welcome you to Velocity, there is a lot of spontaneous connecting with people that is more effective than any welcoming team. Worship ended around 11 and we left a little before or after noon. Time didn't seem to matter.

2) There was a a lot of kingdom talk. It was not just about Velocity, it was about what God is doing in Cleveland and how everyone can participate. Scott even prayed for the other chruches in South Euclid. 

3) It was authentic. No flashy show, just real people who know they are loved by God. No image management, no masks-just people saved by grace.

4) Similar to the first thing I learned, but it needs to be said, everyone seemed to be focused on God and HIS church rather than themselves. It was not about what they personally wanted, it was all about where God was leading them both as individuals and as a church. 

5) Humility. It existed from the leadership down. Everyone willing to get up when worship is done and take the chairs over to the rack or wall, working together to tear down and set up every week.

6) The importance of kids and teaching them how to be lovers of God and lovers of people. The importance of adults being willing to sacrifice their own worship time to make sure kids know and experience God.

These attitudes described above are the difference between a movement of God and a building with people who go to church.

Sunday was a very refreshing experience. Thank you God!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Let the Holy Spirit Lead

I was just reading Seth Godin's blog (here). The title of today's blog was "The River Guide and the Rapids." He talked about how the river always changes so the pilot sometimes has to change how he maneuvers. Then he said this, "the practice of being great at shooting the rapids is a softness in choosing the right tactic, the ability to hold the tiller with confidence but not locking into it."

I had several thoughts about the life of a follower of Jesus when I read that statement. First, life as a follower of Jesus is like maneuvering the rapids of a river. Sometimes there are pockets where the river is moving, but it is moving peaceful and quietly. Other times we see the approaching rapids wondering how we will ever make it through. Life is just like this isn't it?

Second, the thing about a river is we may take a journey down a familiar stretch, but it will most likely be different from the last time. This means we have to change the way we approach it. We can't complain about it because that is the way life is--always changing and giving us new challenges even though we may be going down a familiar path.

Finally, and this is so important for a follower of Jesus--our confidence does not come from us being in control of the tiller. The one who should be steering the raft is the Holy Spirit. He is the one in control. He is the one who gives us the direction, maneuvering us through places that are rocky or have a big drop-off.

When we try to be the pilot, we have a habit of locking into the same pattern. When we do we run the risk of flipping the boat, running into a rock or going off a cliff.

Stop fighting the Spirit. Let Him be the River Guide.

Friday, March 1, 2013

No! Accountability.

In order to be good at something and get better at something a person needs some kind of accountability. I have a leader in my life that each month holds me accountable to goals I have established for myself and the church through the year. At first I did not like the idea, but I have realized how important it is to keep me focused.

The problem is most of us say "No!" to accountability. We want to live by our own rules while trying to find a quick and easy path to success. Or we want to do it our way with no one trying to help us find a better way. And when things don't go our way we wonder why, as if the world is against us, never realizing we have brought chaos upon ourselves.


"No! Accountability."

For some reason the culture has made "accountability" out to be an unnecessary and bad thing. The attitude is one of entitlement. The goal is that we believe our lives should be perfect and we should pursue things that make us happy (at the moment).  When the truth is without accountability there is chaos.

The saddest thing is this attitude has infected the church. Most Christians would not hang with Jesus long if he were here today. He was high on the accountability end of discipleship while giving high support to those he was trying to lead. Whenever the church begins to hold people accountable to living like Jesus one of two things happen:

1) They begin to have a heart change, their lives begin to change and they begin to reflect more of the image of Jesus.

Or . . .

2) They go to a church where there is no accountability and no challenge to live more like Jesus.

I just want to thank the people in my life who hold me accountable, who are honest with me and challenge me to live a little more like Jesus everyday, even when there are times I don't want to hear it or don't like it.