The false hope of growing your church by simply copying other churches

The false hope of growing your church by simply copying other churches

When I was a kid our homework was not on google drive, or even on xeroxed pages. We had math handouts printed on mimeograph machines. I don't even know if you know what that is. It is an old skool copier.

The way it works is simple. You have an original copy and then make a copy of that original onto an inked page. Then that ink page is put in a machine that prints a copy onto blank pages. For its time, it was an incredible technology and perfect for math pages. But as you could imagine, with every copy the integrity and quality would diminish. And I am afraid that is what is happening with the church today.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had the privilege to attend a number of different churches. And one of the things I found happening in me was comparing my church to theirs. I immediately found a half dozen things they were doing better than us and scheming about how to improve the quality of our church ASAP. But after have the same experience over and over again, I realized I am getting caught up into a brutal and unhelpful death spiral.

Sabbatical: Week 4

Sabbatical: Week 4

I can not believe I am one month down. This last week I spent some time with a dear friend and attended his class at the University of Miami on entrepreneurship. Then I attended the Oceans conference. It is a faith-based conference for entrepreneurs. Seth Godin was the headlining speaker and he rocked my world! (Down the road, as I digest all that I have been learning, I will look forward to writing more about that as I process what this means for me and my ministry.)

With 4 weeks behind me I have had three big epiphanies:

Sabbatical: Week 3

Well, it seems like my sabbatical is finally underway. I got caught up on my sleep, had some professional development, and this week was a week of sitting heavy. I didn’t think much about it it until some dear family friends made a comment at a picnic. My wife and I were just visiting with our friends and enjoying some good food, when our friend commented that we both look so rested and in love. And you know what, she is right, I am rested and in love.

If I had to sum up this week of sabbatical I would sum it up as marriage restoration. It was a week full of great conversation, special dates and a glimpse of some of that empty nest lifestyle. I am not going to lie, it is pretty nice to have some intentional time with the wife and realize we have plenty to talk about, to dream about, and to enjoy together.

I could not be more proud of my wife and the woman she is. I know you probably say the same thing about your wife, and you should. But for me, I can not believe what an incredibly deep, reflective, and godly woman she is. I love the way she does the hard work and love that I get to be the recipient of all that hard work. Because she has continually worked it out for the last 20 years, our family, our kids, our marriage, and me as a person are all better off for it.

I am sad I don’t have more to say, but this has been a week of personal care and family love. Everyone had school and I spent a lot of time in my jammies and watched some great movies. But the rest week is over and it is time to get after the next couple of things on my sabbatical bucket list.

This week I head off to Ohio for an entrepreneurship conference and staying with some dear friends. We will see how the rhythm of family fun, then personal development, then family fun will work out. As of today, the end of week three, I feel rested, in love, my heart is full and my faith is strong. I love my job and miss it terribly. So now it time to see what God has to teach me in this discipline of time away.

Catch you next week!

bk

There is no prophetic voice without character

There is no prophetic voice without character

Watching the debate and protests of the last two weeks, the last two years, the last 20 years, I am starting to see some common themes:

1) Humans are naturally self righteous people.

2) We all think we are on the “right side of history.”

3) Turns out we are actually just tribal and only defend our side, our view with total blinders to our side’s shortcomings.

4) Because most of us live fully into these first three statements, we are totally blinded to our own hypocrisy and naturally spin out when others don’t take our view seriously.

The church has, in the past fully lived into this reality, most notably in the religious right’s power play in the culture war of the late 20th century. In our effort to defend traditional marriage, slow down and stop the coarsening of our culture, pushing back on the rampant promiscuity and drug use, we joined together used our voices, our votes, and our money to fight the culture war. AND WE LOST HORRIBLY!

Sabbatical: Week 2

This last week of Sabbatical was a jumpstart to some of my professional development. I got to spend time with an incredible friend and talk ministry shop and share life, was challenged by my preaching coach, and started my IDEO U class on Design for change. The combination of all three have sparked my thinking and have set the path from my professional reflection moving forward.

GREAT FRIENDSHIP: The older I get, the more I realize how unique it is to have deep friendships that have lasted for a long time. This last week I got to spend time with one of those decade long incredible friends and my heart and soul benefitted greatly.

My friend Erik might be one of the most gifted pastors and leaders I know. His heart for God and the church are contagious and the chance to spend days together sharing our lives, talking shop about the church, and frankly, to be challenged in my own leadership, worldview, and calling. But what I loved most about my time with my dear friend was the way I was simply encouraged to love God more and to find peace in the unique work He is doing in my life. I left my week in MN with a full heart, a full heart for my friend, for Jesus, and for His church.

PREACHING COACH: This last year I had the brutal realization that part of my calling as a pastor is that of preacher. For some reason I never really saw myself as a preacher and just tried to get through the preaching task with as little pain and suffering for me and for the congregation as possible. But as my job has transformed and I am moving from the occasional preaching voice to preaching 40% of the time, I realized that I should probably figure it out. So I called a friend of mine who is a genius when it some to communication and asked him to coach me.

He is also in MN so we got some face to face time, and over some pizza and beer he gave it to me straight. His feedback was not what I was expecting. You see, I have spent this year trying to get more polished in my communication, grow in my narrative structure, and give clear turn signals as I transition between points. And while I am making some progress in these areas, his feedback is that I have lost my edge. In my effort to “grow up” I have given up my edgy, irreverent humor that keeps people engaged and confirms their own questions and concerns. I will do some more thinking of this, but that means in December when I get the pulpit again, it may get a little saucy. :)

DESIGN FOR CHANGE: Part of my sabbatical is taking a 5 week, online class through IDEO. It is a class that is about using design theory for change. I am really far out of my element, but have really enjoyed my first week. Through our introductions I awkwardly entered this class as a local church pastor and get to share space with Twitter execs, marketing directors, and the like.

This week has been an introduction and I am playing catch up trying to learn the vocabulary and translate the assignments for my church context. My brain is already spinning about the kind of change that I might want to work towards in our church and how to develop a staff culture that builds trust and unites around vision so we can be more effective in our vision. This next week starts the heavy lifting so we will see where this goes!

THE PERILS OF HAVING TOO MUCH TIME: On a quick side note, not having to go to work has meant I have had way to much time for reading and watching the internet. And this week did not disappoint. The political theater and the heartbreaking implications of all that went down this week has got me spinning. It is probably a good thing that I am not preaching for a long time, because if I had the mic I could find myself in hot water. So, instead I am just spinning. I am sure there will be a conclusion of some sort and nobody will be happy. What is the role of the church, or the pastor in navigating this. We don’t have a say in the outcome or the process, yet our churches are full of people who are spun out about all that has happened and the implications of it all. For 10 more weeks I have to keep my thoughts private. :) . But, if you would like to grab a bourbon, or give me a call on your way to work, it could be fun to talk shop. My the Lord truly have mercy on us all!

OK, I THINK THAT IS IT!: Week 2 is in the bag. Looking ahead I another week of IDEO class, a couple of surf sessions, and I am unplugging from 8:00 pm to 6:00 am. I bought an old school alarm clock and a kindle, so the ipad and phone are getting put away and we will see how this break from tech will impact me and my family (because they will be doing the same). Week 3, lets do this!

bk

Sabbatical: Week 1

Sabbatical: Week 1

Every 7 years of pastoral ministry, our church gives its pastors a 12 week sabbatical.  This used to be common place for pastors, but due to changing culture, shorter pastoral tenures, and lack of resources, the sabbatical is becoming more and more rare.  Because of this reality, I do not take this sabbatical for granted.  In fact, I have spent much of my first week wrestling with my survivor's guilt about it.  

But more than my survivor’s guilt, what I really feel is an overwhelming sense of love and care from the the church I love and care so much about.  

As I spend these next few months on “break” from my day job as a pastor of a local church, I am jumping head long into some much needed soul care, professional development, family fun, and ministry reboot. Here are my goals:

What is the fruit when we are corporately devoted to the church?

What is the fruit when we are corporately devoted to the church?

This is my last sermon on Acts 2. When we individually abide in Christ, we are sure to bear fruit. This is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. When we, together, are devoted to a corporate worshiping community we too bear fruit: prophetic ministry that restores, glad and heartfelt community, and the favor of all the people. Enjoy!

Be my witness . . .

Be my witness . . .

There is this brutal reputation Americans have overseas.  If you talk with people from Europe or Asia or South America, they almost all have the same impression of American tourists.  You know it, "THE UGLY AMERICAN."  We are loud, obnoxious, clumsy, rude, and entitled.  

Now, I am sure when you travel, you are none of these things.  But whether or not you are, people's first posture towards you is most likely girding themselves up to deal with the ugly American.  It is a witness that makes traveling less fun for those of us who enjoy cross-cultural travel. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are a witness.  Our being is forming or conforming a brand for someone else.  The way we live is a witness to our nationality, to our school, to our business, to our political party, and mostly to our faith.  We are not natural wanderers.  We tell a story with our very existence, so we need to take the most of every opportunity.  

How diverse is the body of Christ?

How diverse is the body of Christ?

I love the picture of the church as the body of Christ.  Each one of us is unique in our calling, gifting, and passions.  We each have a distinct role to play so that the body can fully function.  There is no hierarchy of body parts, just many parts, submitted under the headship of Jesus, working together for His purposes and glory.  

When we start to think of ourselves as more highly than we ought, when we put ourselves above others, our passions and desire above others, forget that we submit to Jesus, or forget that we live for the glory of Jesus and not ourselves, we become fractured and minimize our impact on the Kingdom of God.  As Christians who have been around the church for a while, this is not a new or revolutionary concept.  We work hard to keep this perspective and live in unity within our churches.  But could this picture be extended to the larger Church with a capital "C."

What I mean by this is can each church, each denomination bring with it their own unique passions, giftings and callings and be used by the headship of Jesus to run after a unique and specific ministry.  On the surface, many of us would say, "YES!"  But how we live, talk about, and interact with these other parts of the body of Christ would say, "NO!"

Why we must grieve our sin

Why we must grieve our sin

This has been a challenging week, much more than I was expecting.  You see, growing up, it was normative to be reflective about your own sin.  Confession was a regular part of the spiritual diet.  But something has happened, something has changed.  

In our culture, nobody confesses.  In fact, we are to celebrate who we are and the way God made us with hostility towards anyone who might suggest that we are not beautiful just the way we are.  This sounds great and makes for nice songs, but this is totally at odds with the life in Christ that we are invited towards.  

The only way we can move towards Christ is by repenting, turning away from the sin, the life, the attitudes, the beliefs, the actions of our flesh, of our worldly selves and then move towards Christ.  We can't go one way while our feet are faced another.  

This passage of scripture actually invites us into an even deeper level of reflection and spiritual work.  We are invited to not just identify our sin, but to grieve, mourn and wail!  Let's be honest, this version of sin does not sell!

Thank God for the artists!

Thank God for the artists!

Talk about an unsung hero!  Bezalel, son of Uri, the spirit-filled artisan who beautified the temple as an act of worship as well as to inspire worship in the people of God.  

It is easy to chalk the act of worship as a spiritual discipline, as focusing your thoughts and life towards God and his purposes.  And while this is true and right, there is this more subjective aspect to worship that is about the stirrings in our spirit that tap into the depths of our being.

The question is who do we lean into a more holistic version of worship that places God on the highest thrown in our minds, and at the same time have our souls stirred to match this intellectual reality.  The way this happens is through gifted and called artists!

What does the church need to affirm?

What does the church need to affirm?

In case you have missed it, the church has zero influence in the culture around us.  And whatever influence we have left, we are squandering it.  We are squandering it with infighting as we try to carve out our piece of the culture by offering virtue signals to those around us to show that we are the most, (fill in the blank), church around.  This is happening to churches from every background, style, ethnicity, and theological perspective.

One of the ways we are staking out the ground us is by letting our people know that we are "affirming." 

The question is, "What are we affirming?"  

In our culture, there is pressure to affirm all sorts of things.  This is true in the LGBTQ discussion but actually applies to just about every issue these days.  Clarifying who or what you affirm allows us to determine who is in our tribe.  We are now as asked to affirm lifestyles, political parties, and theological positions. Without even realizing it, we have changed the direction and purpose of the church.


The more you trust, the more joy you will find!

The more you trust, the more joy you will find!

Experiencing Joy is a strange discipline.  It is not something we can conjure up or try to make happen.  It is an emotion that resides deep within us and is a result of how well we are living into shalom, or at least the hope of shalom. 

It is the hope of shalom where this breaks down for many of us.  

We are situational in our emotional response to life and to faith.  When things go well, we love God, experience his goodness and grace, experience shalom, and therefore experience joy.  But what about when life throws you a few gutterballs.  When the bottom seems to fall out, we get frazzled and often spin out in fear and anxiety.  Here is where our faith in the God of hope is tested.  

We know that our faith is maturing when we can pray like the Psalmist in our lament.  We can cry out to God, we can wrestle with the challenges and even despair of life.  And in all of that, we can affirm that our trust alone is in God.

Our joy is completely linked to our hope, which is completely linked to our trust in God.  

Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the Presence of God

In the 1600's there was a monk named Brother Lawerence.  He wrote a little devotional called, Practicing the Presence of God.  It is a simple book, based on a simple idea, that the day to day moments of our lives are not simply day to day interactions, but moment by moment encounters with the living God.  

This simple idea and change in mindset is a game changer in all of life, but even more so for those of us who struggle with fear and anxiety.  The best way to calm our fears is to recognize we are not alone.  Having someone with you in scary situations or times our trouble is a balm to our souls.  And the stronger, more powerful, and more loving towards us the more our fears subside.  So, when we can get our head around the idea that God, the all powerful, all knowing, creator of the Universe and lover of your soul is walking with you, resides inside of you, and longs to bring you comfort and peace, fear doesn't stand a chance!

Practicing the presence of God is a simple discipline that builds on the discipline of mindfulness.  It is becoming more and more popular in therapy circles to tap into this ancient practice where you get out of your head and get in touch with your body.  Our bodies give us all sorts of data and help us understand the world around us and give us clues to what is going on in our inner life as well.  It is simply a discipline of slowing down, paying attention to the details in and outside of your body.  This tiny step does wonders in grounding us and calming our anger, fear, and anxiety.

We dine together

We dine together

In my sermon, I told the story of Denis Estimon from Boca Raton High School in Florida.  Denis was a Haitian immigrant who came to this country and found himself isolated and alone at school and spent years eating alone. 

As Denis grew up and grew in status among his peers, he never forgot his humble beginnings and the loneliness he experienced as a young child.  Because Denis came to understand that he was loved and had esteem, he found courage in the love he experienced from his peers and then extended that to others.  

This is exactly what the apostle John is talking about in 1 John 4:19 when he says that "We love because he first loved us." The love God has poured out on us is not to be collected and wrapped up in a cozy blanket to give us rest.  Rather, God's love has been poured out all over us so that we can live free from fear of others and be the actual body of Christ as we express God's love, grace, and mercy to others.  

Can you speak truth to power in a blue state?

Can you speak truth to power in a blue state?

I love the phrase, "Speak truth to power!"  As a Christian and as a Christian leader, there is a strong linage for Christ followers to leverage their spheres of influence to stand up for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  

In fact, all throughout the scriptures, we have stories of the prophets standing up and calling out the people in power.  Beginning with Moses who confronted Pharaoh himself, throughout the rest of the Old Testament witness as prophet after prophet confronted the religious and political leaders on their evil ways that have corrupted the religious practices, and have oppressed the weak and marginalized.  

Jesus continued this tradition as he rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees, stood up for the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus leveraged all of his personal power for the sake of the poor and oppressed.  

Since the time of Christ, there were seasons where Christians continued this tradition and did this in incredible ways, and seasons where we have totally dropped the ball.  

The real question is, "What season are we currently in?"

Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple.

Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple.

The more I study Mary Magdalene, the more I am blown away at what an incredible woman she must have been.  I love how much she served Jesus, I love that Jesus gave here the distinct privilege to be the very first herald of the resurrection.   And I love the irony of religious people who have often struggled with women and their roles in the church, have given such a high honor, not to Peter, or James, or John, but to Mary of Magdala.

For as much as I love these things about Mary.  What has impacted me the most this week as I have studied her life and reflected on her place in the life and ministry of Jesus, it is her presence at the crucifixion and in the preparation of the burial spices that caused me to do some additional reflection.  

You see, the crucifixion was the lowest part of Jesus' earthly ministry.  It was horrifying and heartbreaking.  It caused huge panic among the male disciples, to the point that they all scattered.  But for the women who followed Jesus, for Jesus' mother and the closest and dearest of friends, this was a time to share in their sorrow and grief.  

Think about how incredible it was for Mary Magdalene to have such proximity to Mary, Jesus mother, in one of the most inner circle events of someone's life.  Being witness to the death and preparing the burial spices was reserved for the dearest and closest friends.  And of all the people to have this sort of proximity to Jesus and to Jesus' mother, it was Mary Magdelene.

Why are so many gifted people leaving vocational ministry?

Why are so many gifted people leaving vocational ministry?

Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of friends and colleagues who are hanging up their ministry cleats and heading off into other professions and industries.  I am not going to lie, it has been pretty depressing to watch so many gifted leaders come to the awful conclusion that the cost/benefit analysis of vocational ministry is coming up wanting.  

Why is this happening?  What is going on in the church and in the culture that is making vocational ministry completely unappealing?  I am sure there are a number of reasons for this.  But there is one reason that I have been mulling over and wondered if you agree.

I think that a number of Gen X and Millennial leaders are fleeing vocational ministry because the basic deal between pastor and congregation has become untenable for the pastor. 

The simple way I see the past is this:  Ministry has always been difficult.  It is a high calling, a calling from God, a call to selfless service to the church and to work of expanding the Kingdom of God.  It was ok to have low salaries, crazy work hours, committee meetings, and always being on call.  It was even ok that it was mostly a thankless job and often pastors had little fruit to show for their years of faithful service.  Planning and watering was the faithful call, and trusting that God would use their efforts to cause faith to grow was their hope!  It was hard and thankless work, but a noble calling!

Has Jordan Peterson stumbled on something vital for understanding the Gospel in a post-Christian world?

Has Jordan Peterson stumbled on something vital for understanding the Gospel in a post-Christian world?

Over this last year, I have come across an incredible thinker who has seemed to tap into a felt need through his Youtube channel.  Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and teaches in Toronto, Canada.  He has gone from relative obscurity to a Youtube sensation with almost a million subscribers and is now making his way around the lecture circuit and podcast universe.  And, if you don't know who he is or have't listened to a lecture or two, then I think you are missing out! 

But what does a clinical psychologist and Youtube sensation have to say to the church?  And even more, what can he tell us as Christians who long to make the gospel make sense to a culture that is becoming more and more post-Christian?  Great question!

Becuase he is such a good thinker and has started to be asked in many interviews for his reflection on his rise in popularity, he has come up with a rather succinct explanation, and I agree.  In his lectures, interviews and talks he addresses three main topics:

But what does a clinical psychologist and Youtube sensation have to say to the church and for Christians who long to make the gospel make sense to a culture that is becoming more and more post-Christian?  Great question!

Becuase he is such a good thinker and has started to be asked in many interviews for him to reflect on his rise in popularity, he has come up with a rather succinct explanation, and I agree.  In his lectures, interviews and talks he addresses three main topics:

Can you spend a week without spending money?

Can you spend a week without spending money?

I have loved this series examining our inner life as we conduct a spiritual inventory of our souls.  For the most part, I long to move towards Christ.  But I want to do it on my timetable, at my pace.  Most of the questions we have been asking are pretty subjective and on a sliding scale.  But this week we have a real life, a daily test that confronts us at every turn.

When we allow how we spend money to be an indicator of spiritual health and growth we set ourselves up to examine our motives, to wrestle with our inner life, and evaluate the health of our souls every few hours throughout our day. 

Money, wealth, material possessions, for some reason, are deeply connected to our souls.  Scripture talks about these things over 800 times.  There is something to our relationship with mammon that is in total conflict with our relationship with God.  

God longs to be King of our lives, to be a protector, provider, comforter, and where we find our true identity.  In neutral, we allow money and the things money can buy to usurp God.  By taking a fast from spending money, we are confronted with asking these deeper questions every time we are hungry, bored, anxious, lonely, insecure, or simply need a dopamine rush.