Church; Leadership

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Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Benefits Of Choosing Bold Over Cool
April 18, 2017 at 3:11 am 0
A few years ago, I repented of my attempts to be cool. At that time, I'd led Good Shepherd to have a "church crush" on a large congregation in the northern part of the US, and so for a season we tried to mimic much of what that church did. And that church was cool. The problem was, in our attempts to be cool, we often overlooked the raw power of the Gospel.  In our efforts to mimic someone else, we forgot how God had implanted us with a once-in-the-universe congregational DNA and we'd never live up to OUR potential if we were trying to live into someone else's. So around 2011 or so, I repented of my own foolishness, got armed with a marvelous mission statement of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and our church recovered who we really were.  And are.  Which trends more towards bold than cool, more to emphatic than clever. What are the benefits of such a shift?  Here are five:
  1.  More people get saved.  Sound too Baptist?  Good.  More Methodists should sound more Baptist when it comes to an urgent concern for the salvation of people's souls.  We realized that relatively few people are "clevered" into the Kingdom; instead, they are invited.  Which we do, repeatedly.  Even on Easter Sunday.
  2. Creativity gets loaded into the sermon.  We used to believe we had to have a creative element (drama, video, or radio-friendly secular song) to augment the sermon.  But once we stopped having those "how can this series be cool?" meetings, we stopped forcing elements where they didn't belong.  And, serendipitously, we create more of it organically, as a part of the sermon itself, and people respond accordingly.
  3. We capitalize on our unique strengths.  Praying in tongues and praying for healing smack more of old fashioned Pentecostalism than they do of modern mega-churches.  Yet we have plenty of people who do both at Good Shepherd.  And so we now highlight our desire to be "awake to the Holy Spirit" as a core part of our identity.
  4. We're not as vulnerable to current trends and fads. When you know who you are -- we're the full-color church who is inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ -- then you're much less likely to buy the next product, hire the newest speaker, or enter into the hottest church network.  With identity comes consistency.
  5. I do less self-editing and more Scripture proclamation.  Like I said in the "It Is Finished" sermon from the "Finished Business" series, I'd love to offend folks right into the arms of the King and the gates of the Kingdom.
  Growing Church Congregations  
Church; Leadership
Is Missional The Same As Gospel?
April 19, 2012 at 5:00 am 2
Missional thinking is the latest "must do" in the world of the church.

What is missional thinking? In simplest terms, it changes the way we measure success in the church -- moving away from "how many people attend and how much money do they give?" and moving towards "how many people are we sending into the community to be the church by living lives of mercy, grace, and blessing?"

Now: there's much to say on behalf of missional thinking. After all, Reggie McNeal's Missional Renaissance has been on my "Books I Like" section for several weeks now.

I'm especially moved by the way McNeal ties the church's identity back to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 -- blessed in order to bless. So missional thinking encourages church leaders to think long and loud about how their congregations can "bless" their communities.

The tacit assumption behind this strategic shift is that if churches and Christians bless enough people through simple goodness, niceness, and kindness . . . well, those same people will want to know about the Christ who sends us.

And I'm about 40% sold on that thinking.

Because, as always, it's interesting to note what the bible DOESN'T say.

In I Corinthians 15:3-5, for example, it doesn't say:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: be nice. Be a blessing. Be involved.

It does say:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .

And II Timothy 4:2 doesn't say:

Be a blessing. Be nice. Be involved in season and out of season.

It does say:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage . . .

Lost in missional thinking is the inherent offensiveness of the Gospel. The Gospel is bad news about people before it is good news about God. Or, as Frederick Buechner says, the Gospel convinces people of the tragedy of their lives before it offers them the comedy of grace.

We're not offend people with our personalities, our politics, or our demeanor. But the simple proclamation of the Gospel is bound to alienate some and anger others.

Yet -- sooner rather than later, as I'm recently learning -- the role of the church is to communicate with clarity and conviction truths that I Corinthians 15 spells out: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

So: will the missional blessing of our communities give us more opportunities to proclaim that Gospel?

Or will the missional blessing of our communities somehow dull us into believing that people will be saved from their "lostness" by our "niceness"?
Church; Leadership
It Doesn’t Get Worse Than This . . .
June 23, 2011 at 7:40 am 1
The Body of Christ in Charlotte is reeling this week over the tragedy at Christ Covenant Church.

In a perfect storm of teenage exuberance, foul weather, and well-intentioned adults, this happened:

Day at church camp turns tragic for teen struck by ATV
Evan Wolfe, 15, died after being struck by an ATV at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews.
By Steve Lyttle and Meghan Cooke
Staff Writers
Posted: Thursday, Jun. 23, 2011

More Information
Guest Book: Posts your thoughts, condolences

It was the end of a long, hot day spent volunteering in one of Charlotte's low-income neighborhoods, and Evan Wolfe and his friends wanted to have some fun.

So as a powerful thunderstorm approached Matthews' Christ Covenant Church late Tuesday, 15-year-old Evan and some buddies laid on a driveway and watched the lightning above.

Moments later, with rain now falling in sheets, 43-year-old church volunteer Patrick Keaton pulled into the driveway in an all-terrain vehicle. Everyone but Evan apparently saw the vehicle's approaching lights and jumped up.

The ATV struck Evan, who died a short time later on the way to Carolinas Medical Center.

"It was just teenagers, horsing around as teenagers do," said Michael Ross, senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church. "But it turned tragic."

Evan was among about 300 teens participating in Christ Covenant's annual Seek The City, a weeklong community service camp in which youths sleep each night at the church and spend their days helping with projects in the Charlotte area.

Evan had spent Tuesday at Jackson Park Ministries in west Charlotte, helping with a Vacation Bible School and other volunteer work.

Matthews police are investigating his death and said Wednesday they have not decided whether any charges would be filed.

Ross said both families - Evan's and Keaton's - are "taking this very hard."

Evan, of Weddington, had finished his sophomore year at Metrolina Christian Academy in Indian Trail but was transferring this fall to Covenant Day School, on the church campus. Ross said the young man had made an impact in the community.

"He was a natural leader," Ross said.

The incident happened a little after 10 p.m. A few minutes later, the teens were to gather in the high school for an evening prayer service and then go to sleep.

Ross said Keaton, a member of Christ Covenant Church like Evan, had gotten in the ATV to ride from the high school building to the church.

"He had no idea the students were on the ground," Ross said.

Instead of lights-out, Tuesday night turned into one of sorrow for students and counselors, stretching well into early Wednesday.

Ross rushed to the church from his home and consoled those who had witnessed the incident. He said teens and adult counselors were stunned, trying to make sense of what had happened while a violent thunderstorm raged around them.

A short time later, around 11:30 p.m., he received a call that Evan had died. He brought all the students and counselors to the gymnasium to let them know.

"There was a lot of sobbing, a lot of tears," Ross said.

The church suspended community service activities Wednesday but expects to resume the camp today. Ross said Evan's parents, who were too grief-stricken to speak with the media, asked that the camp go on.

Alex Lewis, a classmate of Evan's at Metrolina Christian Academy, said Evan performed in school plays and participated in several sports, including basketball, football and soccer. He also ran track.

"He wasn't always the star player, but he was always out there giving it his all," Lewis said.

After learning of Evan's death, his friends posted memories of Evan and prayers on Facebook.

"You were a true friend, someone anybody could go and talk to and trust," wrote one classmate. "We'll all miss you, but you're in a better place now."

A teacher at Metrolina Christian Academy wrote: "Words cannot express the sorrow I'm feeling. ... Evan was the kind of student you loved having in the classroom. He was smart, funny, caring, loving and most importantly, loved the Lord with all his heart."

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/06/23/2399438/a-day-at-church-camp-turns-tragic.html#ixzz1Q6fxxxOn

It's the kind of thing that shakes your faith in church, and in God.

As I wrestle with my faith, I'm going to be doubling up in prayers for the people of Christ Covenant and the two families involved. Will you join me?
Church; Leadership
A Weekend Full Of Altar Calls
November 22, 2010 at 7:05 am 1
I experienced three different altar calls this past weekend, each of which took place in very different surroundings with varying degrees of impact.

For those of you not familiar with the tradition, an altar call is a distinctively evangelical and predominantly Southern custom in which a church or preacher issues an invitation for congregants to make a decisive commitment to faith in Christ at the conclusion of the worship gathering.

Though historians trace the roots of the altar call to Charles Finney in the 18th century, Billy Graham raised its profile by employing it to great effect at the conclusion of his crusades. I've personally seen crowds come pouring onto the field of what is now Bank Of America Stadium while George Beverly Shea sang Just As I Am in the background -- all in response to Dr. Graham's "altar call" invitation.

Altar calls are unknown in more liturgical churches and dismissed by our Calvinist friends who warn against confusing emotionalism with saving faith.

But back to this weekend.

The first altar call of the weekend -- actually an urgent appeal for conversion without a invitation to "come forward" for prayer and confession -- took place at a memorial service I attended on Saturday afternoon. (Ironically, as I posted on Friday, I had just that morning taught a class at Gordon-Conwell Seminary on . . . funeral ministries!).

I have to admit I did not respond favorably to that invitation in that particular setting. I have strong objections to using funerals and memorials services as calls for conversion. In my thinking, it deprives the family of an opportunity to celebrate memories of the one who has died as well as denying them the space they need to grieve the loss. Whatever evangelism I bring to funerals & memorials is much more subtle.

The second altar call of the weekend -- actually, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th -- took place in our Sunday services. We employ such invitations periodically rather than each week. Yet given the fact that this past Sunday was called Life After Death, we felt the time was right. We had good though not overwhelming response. The best part of the morning came when we asked the 8:30 and 10 crowds to be in prayer for the services and invitations that would follow later that morning. People were glad to be part of something bigger than themselves.

The third -- and most impactful -- altar call of the weekend came at Sunday's night's BigHouse Student Ministry. My friend Mike Paolicelli spoke to our teens and at his conclusion issued one of the boldest, most decisive invitations I've ever seen. He did not ask students to respond quietly or anonymously. Instead, he asked any wishing to make faith commitments to stand publicly and state it verbally. Teenagers! The most embarrassment-averse population we have! And yet several had the courage and the newfound faith to stand out from the crowd. I left the evening deeply grateful for Mike's boldness, the students' bravery, and God's grace.
Church; Leadership
Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Keys To A Financially Healthy Church
November 16, 2010 at 7:25 am 4
This blog title is a bit presumptuous as it suggests I've got it all figured out.

Well, I don't.

Yet for a variety of reasons, Good Shepherd has long had financial health as a church. In the worst of the recent recession, for example, we had our best of years in terms of giving and surplus.

So here are five strategies we have adopted around here when it comes to money:

5. Tithe (at least) as a church. From its inception, this church gave away 10% of its offerings to both local and global missions. A few years ago, we increased that to 15%. The leadership has long believed that the church needs to embody what we ask the people to embrace. In 2010, we will give away well over $300,000 to global and local mission partners.

4. Let the people know where the money is going. We do a reasonably good job of this -- for example, the people of the church know of the $60,000 to Haiti relief and the $80,000 to Crisis Assistance Ministries. Yet after hearing teaching at a church I deeply respect, I realize we can be much more intentional and transparent in communicating what we do with people's money. Stay tuned for strategic sharing in 2011.

3. Have someone who is both smart & trustworthy oversee the process. I am much blessed as a pastor in that we have a business manager who is, well, both smart and trustworthy. And he is savvy enough to know that we need external audits every other year. Which we have. In dealing with money, you can't have too many layers of protection.

2. Don't speak/teach too often about money, but when it's time, do so without apology. I don't preach about money all that often. We're not high pressure in how we receive the weekly offering. And we don't beg. Yet when we do preach & teach about what the bible teaches regarding money, we do so with enthusiasm and without hesitation. Perhaps the core realization is that giving has everything to do with our own discipleship. We give not because the church needs it but because our checkbook vividly demonstrates how we really feel about Jesus.

1. Don't nickel and dime the church. I believe this is the strongest key to Good Shepherd's relative health. No special offerings. No bake sales. No yard sales. No pumpkin patch. No ministry groups raising their own funds. No fund raisers of any kind. All we do is receive the Sunday offering and then budget accordingly. Because people are not harrassed to give to this effort or that cause, they give freely to the one fund raiser the bible endorses: the offering at worship.