Tag Archives: evangelism

Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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You can’t spell ‘Unity’ without ‘U’…and some other stuff

U = YOUIt is now over 9 months since I began my push towards a more unified community of faith in and around Martin County, MN. The early months were spent in preparation and vision-casting among some trusted ministry leaders. That push was followed by a concerted effort to spread the word, especially focused on our county fair outreach, as well as messages sent to individuals and churches. Like most of what my organization, The Gathering, has done, this was something new and different, so the ball began rolling very slowly while people got their minds around what we were trying to do. Doing something different and new often garners reactions like that: people are slow to respond to something they are not used to or do not fully understand. However, I often find myself quoting Charles Spurgeon and Craig Groeschel in those situations:

If we can’t get sinners to Jesus by ordinary methods, we must use extraordinary ones.
-Charles Spurgeon

To reach people that no one is reaching, we have to do things that no one is doing.
-Craig Groeschel

To put it another way: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want different results, we have to do things differently.

That was the goal: do something different, something that showed that our faith community was not simply a collection of churches competing for attendance and tithe dollars, because if that is the perception in the young adult community of churches then we have exactly 0% chance of reaching them. I was realistic in my promotion of this idea; if we were to achieve a level of success in this area we would be accomplishing something that very few (if any) communities have accomplished. However, I believe that we are capable of accomplishing great things because God has empowered us to do great things in His name.

But what would this look like? What shape would unity in a local community take given the breadth of established churches from a variety of differing denominations, each with its own congregational personality and set of distinctions? Here are some of my ideas:

First, I do not think this would become a movement that would seek to dissolve all of our independent churches to become one uber-church serving the entire area. I think we have individual churches for some good and practical reasons, and I see no reason to change that. By having smaller churches comprised of people that work well together and are in full agreement on a variety of theological beliefs, it allows for better discipleship and growth as well as a better structure for ministry and support that starts from and grows out of deep and meaningful relationships.

Second, I think we do have the potential to come together more often for deeper and more connected worship of our God; not just the God of the Lutherans or Methodists, but the God of all Bible-believing Christ followers. It’s true that we can worship by ourselves, but worship in a group can (and should) take that worship to another level when we gather together in a community of believers. Those who have experienced worship on an even larger scale, maybe at a festival or conference, can attest to an even deeper worship experience when an even larger and more diverse group of believers gathers for worship and praise. Worship can be powerful, and the experience of God’s people coming together can not only move believers but it can impact others and draw them towards God. I hope and pray that we can come together as a community in Martin County and as communities of faith around the country and world for the sake of God’s glory.

Third, I believe that God has created us not to simply wander aimlessly through life, but to live life for a purpose. We were created to do His good work, and I believe that when we work together to do God’s work we can accomplish exponentially more. My small group, working together, can accomplish more than any of us individually could accomplish alone; my church can accomplish more than its collection of small groups or Sunday school classes could accomplish alone. And, I believe, a collection of churches working together can accomplish more than the same group of churches could accomplish working alone. We have the hungry to feed, the hurting to comfort, and the lost people to lead towards the Good News of Christ. If we come together, we can do so much more than we are doing now.

Finally, I believe that those beliefs that unites us are greater than those that divide us. There is a Latin phrase that bears this idea:

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas

Translated, the phrase means this:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

This is the essence of the unity I have been pressing for. The essentials we have taken a stand for are the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ, and the need for salvation for all of humanity. In other debates, whether they center on baptism, worship style, format of the Lord’s Supper, etc, there is no a need to quarrel or disassociate over the difference. Some of these things are important, but they are not essential to our faith – we are all believers and followers of God regardless of what our specific beliefs on these subjects are if we have followed the Bible’s guidance for salvation;

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
-Romans 10:9 (ESV)

But in all our interactions and discussions, we have charity, love and graciousness, with a view of the big picture of what God has called us to, both individually and as a group.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or conflicts. We are bound to have struggles. We will come under attack from the Evil One, who most certainly does not want us to accomplish greater things for God and would be most happy to have us settle in to a comfortable, status-quo “faith” that does not seek to challenge ourselves or others. We will have divisions and rifts that will arise based on disagreements, differences in personalities and ideas, and varying beliefs. The road towards unity is one that is long, treacherous and largely uncharted, but I hope we continue to walk down it together, for the Glory of God.

For further reading, check out this excellent article by Dr. Mark E. Ross; “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

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Our Attempt At Unity – The Unity Station

An excerpt of this article was published in the Fairmont Sentinel, September 2014.

unityStationThis year’s Martin County Fair saw a new attraction – the Unity Station tent. Unity Station was a cooperative effort between The Gathering, Martin County Youth For Christ, and over a dozen other local churches and ministries from the Martin County, MN area. It saw a variety of people with different ideas, passions, and goals come together behind one idea: unity of God’s people.

1 Corinthians 1:10 says this:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

Too often Christians divide: denominations, worship styles, priorities, theology. If we want to reach younger generations, this must stop. We need to come together more behind the things we agree about that are of primary importance, things like the truth of the Bible and the fact that Jesus Christ has provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sin. We need to let those other things that are secondary stay secondary and not get in the way of us working together for the common good.

Unity Station was a good start for our community. We saw believers in Jesus Christ from a variety of churches, ages, and backgrounds come together to celebrate what our faith community does to improve Martin County and to share the love of Christ with our community. It was encouraging seeing teens through 70-somethings together for the same purpose and goal. But it needs to not stop there.

To truly see our communities, our churches, and each of us as individuals reach the potential we have, we need to see more of this. We need more groups looking to work together for the good of others, more sacrifice for the sake of what God wants us to accomplish, and more commitment to unity across our community. If we can continue this trajectory, we can become what God has intended for us; to be communities committed to loving God and loving others. I believe that nothing would draw people faster and in greater numbers to an area or a group of people than to become a group of people that are known for their genuine love and concern for one another.

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The Beginnings of Unity

An excerpt of this article was published in the Fairmont Sentinel, May 2014.

While playing football for Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School in the late 1990s I had the opportunity to experience something that seems to have become commonplace in our area now – school sports-sharing. I played for the Granada-Huntley-East Chain-Martin Luther Mustangs. That’s quite a name for a team, and we even received a little light-hearted media attention around the state when we faced off against the Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Oden football team in a playoff game that feature the longest named matchup in most people’s memories. I have been proud to be able to return to the area and give back to my high school by working as a coach, now for the GHEC-Truman Jaguars.

Adding another school isn’t as simple as plugging in a handful of players. After spending time together in a small school, those students are close to each other and have a familiarity and comfort level that they do not have with the students from the other school. I remember those football camps where we would show up for practice in August and not only had to go through the process of preparing for the season but also get to know all of the new teammates that we would be playing alongside, guys that we would have to trust and rely on if we were going to be successful. It took time, but these strangers became teammates and eventually friends, which made for some interesting basketball games later in the year. In a large way our success or failure relied on whether we could be unified as a team put together from two schools.

Many of us are a part of a local church congregation. We may identify ourselves as a member or attender of that church or point it out to others and say, “That’s my church.” But what we sometimes forget is that when the Bible talks about church it usually isn’t referring to one specific congregation or group of believers but rather to the “church universal”, all those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ everywhere. To all believers Paul gives a specific command:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
(1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)

In the two years since we have launched The Gathering, a local ministry focused on reaching out to young adults in their 20s and 30s in and around Fairmont, MN, I have seen impressive examples of unity in our community as well as disheartening examples of a lack of unity. Our new ministry has been invited openly into many churches and I have seen great examples of encouragement and support from many in our community, along with a desire to reach out to and love the younger residents of Martin County and the surrounding communities. The Gathering was one of almost 30 co-sponsors of a community concert/festival in Sylvania Park last fall. Fairmont Area Youth Ministries (FAYM) has consistently done events that not only bring together local church youth groups but does so in a way that impacts the community and world by doing events like collecting food for local food shelves or raising money to feed starving kids worldwide. These are encouraging and exciting opportunities that I hope continue to grow more and more!

But there has been another side as well. I have seen reluctance to get behind opportunities to reach out, skepticism over ideas and visions, and a lack of willingness to support plans that could have real impact on our community. The hesitancy comes in several forms but has often boiled down to a few reasons for the lack of support.

We often have a difficult time getting behind an idea that is not our own. If someone comes to us with an idea they want our support on we may be reluctant, but if we were to come up with the same idea we would all of the sudden be excited. If our church is organizing an event we are all for it, but if another church or organization wants our support for the same idea we are unsure if we want to be involved.

Another barrier to our unity is our time. We often talk about or hear from others that our lives are so busy we never have time for anything, but we do have time to keep up with our favorite TV shows, our hobbies, our vacations and trips and the other things that we really want to do.

Finally, we often hear variations on the detestable phrase, “we’ve never done that before.” For some reason we get this idea that things have been going so well that we shouldn’t change anything. If that were the case we would have a community filled with joyful people that are loving, encouraging and supporting one another so well that needs like loneliness, depression, homelessness and poverty wouldn’t be problems. The reality is that these things are problems in our community, and if we think we are going to change that by continuing to do things the same way that we have done them in the past we are fooling ourselves. As it has been said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If we are to truly impact those around us in need of love and support we need unity within our community of faith. That means supporting good ideas that are not our own, being willing to put in the time it takes to care about other people, and being willing to do things that might be outside our comfort zone.

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Bring It

cow

When you get excited about something – I mean really excited about something – what do you do? Do you sit back, hide it, and try not to let anyone know about it? I suppose if it’s something embarrassing you might hide it. I know I didn’t let too many people know when I watched a couple of World Cup soccer matches a couple of years ago…don’t worry, I got over it. I only watch real sports now.

If you are like me, when you get excited about something you want to share it with everyone. It was a late-fall afternoon several years ago when I found myself alone at a conference in Nashville looking for a cheap lunch. It was then that God blessed me with the gift of Chick-fil-A for the first time. It was amazing, and I told everyone! I can now count at least a half dozen friends and family members that share my love of those wonderful chicken sandwiches.

There’s a guy from the Bible that models this idea perfectly. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist until one day when he heard John make an incredibly powerful statement;

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29

The moment Andrew heard this he left John and began following Jesus. But do you know what he did first?

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus.

John 1:40-42

Andrew was excited about Jesus and the first thing he did was to go, get his brother, and bring him to Jesus! This is something that Andrew does a lot; he brings people to Jesus.

In John 12, there is a group of Greeks who come to Jerusalem and want to see Jesus. They find their way to Philip to try to get an audience with Jesus. Apparently Philip doesn’t know what to do, so he finds Andrew. Guess what Andrew does; he takes Philip to Jesus.

My favorite Andrew story is the feeding of the five thousand. He doesn’t play a big part, but I think what he does says a lot about him. There are 5000 men who have gathered on a hillside to hear Jesus. Given that there would have been family units present, that means there’s a lot more people than that gathered on the hillside. Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. The disciples sort of freak out at this – how are we going to do that! We’re in the middle of nowhere! Where would we even get the money to buy food for all these people!

However, only Andrew brings up a possible solution.

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’

John 6:8-9

Andrew doesn’t know what to do. He only sees one possibility: Jesus. He finds a boy with a lunch, and he brings him to Jesus. He doesn’t know what to do with the boy or the food, but he knows that Jesus can do far more than anyone else. Andrew believed in Jesus, he had faith in him, and he was excited to follow him! Because of that, over and over again, he brought people to Jesus.

Who are you bringing to Jesus? How are you doing it? By your actions do you show that you have faith in him, that you believe in him, that you are excited about him? Do you invite people to hear about him, do you talk to people about him, or do you stop yourself because you don’t know what their reaction will be or you are afraid of the consequences?

Don’t be afraid, be excited! Know that God doesn’t expect you to have all of the answers or to know exactly what is going to happen, He just wants you to point people to Him and trust that He will know what to do with them. The truth is that there are a lot of people that will have a strongly negative reaction to the message of Jesus. That’s ok. The gospel message is one that is divisive; it forces people to make a decision, to choose whom they will follow – Christ or themselves.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be faithful. So be an Andrew – bring people to Jesus. Then, sit back and see what miracles he has in store for you!

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