Church Planting

Unmet Expectations = Frustration

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Frustration is what happens when reality does not meet our expectations. All of us relate to this experience.

For some people it is the search for a job. You remember complaining about your old job but any job is better than no job. You have filled out countless applications, wrote cover letters, and even followed up with the hiring manager. Yet it seems as if your search is hopeless… you still have not found employment and are deeply anxious about the bills that continue to pile up.

For many it is the search for a spouse. Singleness is (wrongly) viewed by many people – especially Christians – as a second-class life. You understand what it’s like to go home each day and not have another person to talk through the events of the day with. At times you are overwhelmed with loneliness… at other times you are filled with anger – towards God, life, and circumstances.

For some couples, it is the expectation of having a baby. You got married and began dreaming about your first child – even picking out a room in the home for the nursery. Yet, after years of trying to have children, you are unable to conceive. Frustration is an understatement.

Still for others it’s a marriage that is falling apart… a child that has strayed from the faith… or dreams/career plans that failed to pan out.

This is an emotion and reality I have been wrestling with lately. It’s almost been a year since we launched Renovation Church. My honest expectation is that after a year we would have 80 – 100 people in attendance and the financial means to hire full-time staff.

It seems like the opposite happened. I do not know all the reasons but many people have left our church in the past year – some for good reasons… some for reasons I do not even know. It seems that the momentum and excitement that was with us in the beginning has stalled.

Here is a thought that has continually resurfaced as I have preached through the Gospel of John for the past year:

Jesus was crucified for not meeting expectations.

When Jesus arrived on the scene and many people concluded he was the long-awaited Messiah, they expected Jesus to be a military hero. They believed the Messiah would come, overthrow the Roman Empire, and set up an earthly kingdom that would bring about unparalleled prosperity.

Instead, they got a leader who had no interest in an earthly kingdom. They got a leader who constantly talked about dying and ended up being crucified at the age of 33. The religious leaders shouted, “Crucify him” because He did not meet their expectations.

We still crucify Jesus for not meeting our expectations. When a church doesn’t grow, we blame Jesus. When our marriage suffers, we blame Jesus. When we can’t find a spouse, we blame Jesus.

What if the greatest gift Jesus could give us is more of Himself? What if the Giver is far more desirable than the gifts and one of the ways he shows this to us is by stripping away the very things we thought would bring us happiness?

So what am I doing to drum up momentum in my church? Am I starting a brand new sermon series? Am I going to begin a building campaign? Am I going to try to hire more staff?

No.

I am going to faithfully follow Jesus in the way of the cross. Success in the Kingdom of God is defined by faithfulness, not Sunday morning attendance.

So what about you? Are you feeling frustrated today? How might God be using your frustrations to bring about greater holiness in your life and draw you closer to Him?

Friends, I do not know the answer to your frustration. What I do know is that God is good, God is present, and God loves you. Draw near to him today and He will draw near to you. 

The Root of Unbelief (Sunday Message!)

If there was a guy named Jesus who really lived on this earth and really did all the miracles that people claim… how come he was abandoned by his disciples and died with almost no followers?

This is the question I wrestled with this morning as we continued our Gospel of John series from John 12:37-50. I pray this message encourages you in your faith and challenges you to make the Scriptures a priority in your life.

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to watch the video.) 

Death & Glory (Sunday Message)

This past Sunday I had the honor of preaching on John 12:20-36 at Renovation Church. In this passage Jesus makes the remarkable claim that the hour for him to be glorified is now here. In the minds of many people in the first century, this means that Jesus was getting ready to overthrow the Roman government and set up a Jewish theocracy on earth. Yet Jesus goes on to explain that his glory is displayed in his humiliating death on a cross.

In this message, I wrestle with the implications this has for our lives today. I pray this message strengthens you in your faith and challenges you to take discipleship seriously.

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to see the sermon video)

Slow Down.

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Over the past couple of months, through various circumstances, the Holy Spirit has revealed to me that I make decisions too quickly.

That’s right – too quickly.

I know some of you envy that. Yet often what we perceive as a strength is actually a weakness (and vice-versa). I have always been able to make quick decisions (even really big decisions). I think God has used this at times to help me grow in my faith and lead a local church. Nevertheless, I am beginning to recognize that my tendency to make quick decisions often flows out of an impatience with waiting on God.

As I have been intentionally trying to slow down, I came across an excellent book at a Last Stop CD Shop in Sioux Falls. It is called “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus” by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison. I HIGHLY recommend this book!

Virtually every leadership book I have read calls on the “leader” to make decisions quickly & efficiently. Unfortunately this desire for speed has poisoned the church. I used to think that one of the major weaknesses of the church is the church’s slowness to adapt to change. Although this can be a weakness depending on one’s context – I think the opposite is actually true for many churches (especially church plants). We make major decisions & changes far too quickly – relying on the wisdom of the “lead pastor” or “leadership team” – leaving the congregation in the dark.

In Slow Church, the authors challenge us to make a radical change in our churches: “We need to cultivate rich practices of discernment, where decisions are made not by a single person or a small group of leaders locked up in a boardroom, but by the community as a whole (Page 119).” 

What does this look like practically? I’m not entirely sure. Honestly, I am becoming much more comfortable with not having the answer. We are currently in a season of transition at Renovation Church as our worship leader is stepping down to pursue a different ministry. We have also had some key leaders leave or move on to other congregations. In the past, I would anxiously be trying to figure out a master plan to keep everything moving and trying to drum up momentum.

Not anymore.

In Psalm 46:10, God calls all of us to, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew phrase translated as “be still” literally means to “stop fighting.” Quit fighting for the right answer, the perfect plan, or the entrepreneurial vision.

Be still.
Become comfortable in the uncertainties.
Learn to love the tension of not knowing the next step.

This is only possible if we actually believe God is sovereign and good. This is only possible if we really believe Jesus is the Good Shepherd of His Church.

Maybe you are going through a season of transition right now… Maybe you are trying to form visionary plans according to your own wisdom… Just maybe the Spirit of God led you to this blog post to invite you on a journey of slowing down.

Quit fighting. Be still. Know God. 

Chasing Birds

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One of the activities I thoroughly enjoy doing with my daughter Ava is visiting local parks. Since Thursdays are my day off, we spent much of our morning at McHardy Park in Brandon, SD. McHardy Park is a beautiful area with a large grassy expanse. As I was sitting on a bench and watching Ava toss dirt onto her toy truck, she suddenly squealed in delight and took off running.

She was chasing a bird.

Ava was absolutely determined to catch and pet one of the birds in the park. I do not think she realized that her squealing wasn’t helping her cause; nevertheless, once one flew away she would set her sight on a different bird and charge with sheer determination.

As you can imagine, Ava wasn’t able to catch a bird. She eventually got frustrated and then commanded me to catch them for her… which also didn’t work.

This picture reminded me of the way many pastors & church leaders view “success” in ministry (myself included). We set benchmarks for ourselves and become convinced that if we reach a certain number in attendance, giving, discipleship, or leadership development then we will be satisfied. We follow Ava’s lead and charge with sheer determination, only to have both our goals and frustrations increase.

We need to receive afresh the words of the Apostle Paul – especially since he wrote these from prison:

Philippians 4:11-13
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 
12 I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. 

The key to contentment is being satisfied with all that Christ is for us. We proclaim from our pulpits that Christ is sufficient but our strategic meetings and longings for “success” directly contradict our confession.

If you reach all the goals you have set for yourself – will you be content because of Christ? If the attendance and giving in your church decrease significantly – will you despair or rejoice because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

I foolishly chase the metrics of success – believing that contentment will come when I am seen as a “successful” pastor. I am taking all of next week off as a “stay-cation” – seeking to be more fully present to my family & God. My primary goal for next week is to taste and see once again how good, glorious, beautiful, and soul-satisfying God is. The key to longevity in ministry is understanding that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Friends, get off of the performance treadmill. Plead with the Holy Spirit to enable you to treasure Christ above all things. Together let’s seek to rediscover the key to contentment – knowing and being known by Christ Jesus.

Church Membership Class (Online)!

As many of you know, I am the Lead Pastor of Renovation Church. I just finished recording our membership class so that people can “attend” the class when it is convenient for them. If you are curious about the story, values, vision, or beliefs of Renovation Church, check out the membership class!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to see the video).