Church Planting

Beware Of Wolves

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One of the most difficult and terrifying roles of a pastor is to battle against wolves who seek to infiltrate the church. The Apostle Paul exhorts the elders (pastors) in Ephesus with the following, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30)

These “wolves” are false teachers who creep into the church and seek to mislead the people of God with false doctrine.

The short letter of Jude is a warning to all Christians – especially pastors – to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).” This small but powerful epistle is a grave warning that false teachers WILL seek to infiltrate our congregations and we must be on our guard against them.

In Jude 1:12-13, the Holy Spirit through Jude gives us four descriptions of these false teachers:

1. They Promise Life but Lead to Death.
Jude writes that false teachers are, “clouds without water, carried about by the winds.” This condemnation is two-fold. First, clouds in the first century often brought the promise of rain during a drought. Likewise, false teachers give the appearance of godliness, wisdom, and sound teaching but there is no true life found in their teaching. Instead of building up the Body of Christ, false teachers use flattery to build their own platforms and draw believers away from the Church.

Second, Jude’s statement that they are “carried about by the winds” means that the false teachers are driven by their own appetites and fleshly desires. They refuse to submit their teaching to the Bible or their authority to a local church; instead, they drift from church to church and are carried along by the false “spirits” of this world.

2. They Appear to be Alive but are Dead.
The second description Jude gives for these false teachers is that they are, “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots.” From a distance, it is difficult to discern whether a tree is alive or dead. As you get closer to the tree, it becomes apparent that it has no fruit and the root system has been removed from the ground. In the same way, from a distance, false teacher appear to be spiritually alive and worth following. Upon closer inspection, it will become apparent that the false teacher does not display the fruit of the Spirit, is spiritually dead, and has been removed from the root of Christ.

3. They Boast In Their Shame.
Third, Jude writes that these false teachers are, “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame.” During a storm or a strong wind, waves create foam on the surface of the water for all to see. In the same way, false teachers boast in their shame rather than pursuing holiness. They refer to evil behaviors as good and call good behaviors evil. False teachers applaud and accept such sinful behavior as abortion, homosexual activity, sex outside of marriage, divorce, gossip, and various other sins. In the process, they confuse genuine believers and cause divisions in the church.

4. They Refuse Stability and Community.
Fourth, Jude describes these false teachers as, “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Once again, this has two implications. First, as I mentioned in the first point, false teachers do not submit to church authority or commit themselves to a local church. Instead, they wander from fellowship to fellowship – often avoiding the accountability and discipline of a church body.

Second, just like a shooting star, the teaching of a false teacher is short-lived. It seems remarkable when it comes forth but under closer examination and through a length of time, it quickly dissipates. This has proven true for all of the ancient heresies throughout church history and will continue to be true for all “new” teachings. As a rule of thumb, if a person claims to have a “new” revelation from God, run as far as you can!


What are some other descriptions you would add for false teachers? I’d love to hear and learn from you. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts! 

 

 

7 Pillars of a Successful Ministry

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I just finished listening to an excellent message from Kent Hughes, the author of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. According to Hughes, many pastors and ministry leaders feel like failures because they are measuring success according to the metrics of this world rather than according to Scripture. With this premise, he gives the audience seven “pillars” of a successful ministry.

Once a month I schedule a personal retreat for a full day. I use this day to reflect on the ministry God has given me and to examine how I am doing in light of His calling. My goal for these days is to repent of sin and resolve, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to conduct myself in a manner worth of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).

My next retreat day is tomorrow so I wanted to use these pillars as a guide to ask myself some hard questions. Below are the questions I am going to wrestle with and I hope they challenge you in your own unique context:

Pillar #1: God measures success by faithfulness to His Word.
Q: In what ways have I devalued the authority of Scripture in my life and ministry?
Q: Is there a command from Scripture which I am failing to be obedient to out of fear of offending or upsetting someone in my congregation?
Q: Am I regularly studying and meditating on the Bible? 

Pillar #2: God measures success by serving Him with a foot-washing heart.
Q: In what ways do I need to repent of a domineering leadership style so that I may embrace being a servant? 
Q: Is there a duty in my personal life or ministry that I am avoiding because I feel as if it is “below me”? 
Q: What are some specific ways I can serve the Church God has placed me over as a shepherd?  

Pillar #3: God measures success by loving Him with all one’s heart and soul.
Q: Is my ministry flowing from a deep love for God or an unhealthy need for human recognition? 
Q: Is God’s love evident in the way I speak to and treat those closest to me – especially Ashley and Ava? 
Q: What changes is the Holy Spirit asking me to make to my schedule so that I can pursue my relationship with God above all else? 

Pillar #4: God measures success by believing/having faith in the God who is.
Q: In what ways have I foolishly tried to re-create God according to my image and imagination? 
Q: Is there a promise from God which I am struggling to believe? If so, what steps can I take to find help and counsel? 
Q: Do I honestly have an accurate view of God as He has been revealed in Jesus Christ? 

Pillar #5: God measures success by praying with the passion of Jesus Christ. 
Q: What demands on my time have I allowed to push away the regular discipline of prayer?
Q: What people or organization is God laying on my heart this month to spend extra time in prayer for? 
Q: What are some steps I can take to strengthen my prayer life? 

Pillar #6: God measures success by living a holy life in a pornographic world.
Q: In what ways have I allowed my mind/heart to be seduced by lust?
Q: What does regular repentance and freedom look like in the area of sexual lust?
Q: Have I been meeting regularly with (and being honest with) my accountability partner – especially in regards to lust? 

Pillar #7: God measures success by having an attitude that sees “the stars through the bars” and by rejoicing in the elevation of others.
Q: Have I been jealous of the success of other pastors and churches? If so, what is the root cause of this jealousy?
Q: How have I allowed pride to express itself in my life – both in the forms of arrogance and self-pity?
Q: How is God calling me to submit my attitude to that of Jesus as recorded in Philippians 2:1-11?


I hope these questions both challenge you and encourage you. If you are not in the habit of taking a 1-day retreat every month, you should try it. This is vital for all of us who are Christians – regardless of the vocation God has called us to. 

Is Your Church a Swamp or a River?

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This past Sunday I had the honor of teaching through John 17:6-19 at Renovation Church. This is the most powerful, beautiful, and magnificent prayers ever recorded in human history for it is prayed by God Himself – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The last question I challenged my congregation to consider was this:

Q: Am I Mission-Focused or Inward-Focused?

This question flows out of what Jesus says in John 17:18 – “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

As Christians, we are called to be “sent ones.” We are sent by Jesus into our homes, workplaces, and communities in order to share the message of John 3:16 with every possible person.

I want you to think of two bodies of water: a swamp and a river.

“Swamp” Christianity:
A swamp is created when a body of water remains stagnant. Since there is no fresh water flowing into the body, a swamp will often produce harmful bacteria that threatens to kill anyone who enters into the body of water.

That’s a picture of most churches in the United States.

Many Churches (which are made up by individual Christians) have become so inward-focused that they have lost sight of the mission given by Jesus and the lost outside of their doors. These churches spend numerous hours arguing about carpet color, remodeling their organ, and fundraising for the building they can’t afford (among many other things) – All the while forgetting that our mission as a Church and as Christians is to seek and save the lost and make disciples! (see Luke 19:10 & Matt. 28:19-20).

Why is it that, for the majority of churches (especially in small towns), if you do not dress a certain way or use the right language, you are excluded from the gathering? Why is it that churches are more obsessed with maintaining their denominational heritage rather than preaching Christ-crucified and seeking to share the incredible message of the Gospel with lost people? Why is it that, for many pastors, they put the same amount of passion into their preaching as I do when I’m reading cooking directions? (i.e. none!)

I would argue it is because we have forgotten our mission. We have allowed buildings, budgets, music, and various other (good) things distract us from the main thing – making disciples.

“River” Christianity:
A river on the other hand is a stream of ever-flowing water that is continually being funneled to give life to other bodies of water. This is a picture of the Church I believe Jesus is calling us to. I do not think it’s a coincidence that He promises to all of us in John 7:38, “The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

What if we began to recognize that our churches exist for those not yet there? What if the purpose of our Sunday morning gatherings was to faithfully teach verse-by-verse through the Bible so that the people of the Church would be built up and empowered to share the incredible message of the Gospel with their friends (and enemies)? What if pastors actually proclaimed messages filled with passion because we have the most INCREDIBLE good news to share with a hurting world?

I think we would experience Word-centered, Christ-exalting, and Spirit-empowered revival.

Remember, the church is made up of individuals so let me pose the same question to you. Reader, are you mission-focused or inward-focused? God does not exist for your comfort, YOU exist for His glory. He has given you a mission of making disciples who make disciples. Are you doing that? Or are you distracted by (good) things that do not matter in eternity?

Friends, let’s reject the “swamp” mentality and seek to be rivers through whom the Holy Spirit flows into our homes, workplaces, and communities for the glory of God.

(If you do not have a church you are a part of, I will be preaching on the last section of Jesus’ prayer – John 17:20-26 – this Sunday. We meet on Sunday at 10am at the Garretson School and I’d be honored to have YOU as my guest.) 

The Danger of “Casting Vision”

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At a large church conference I attended a few years ago, one of the megachurch pastors explained to the audience the importance of vision. As a means of discerning who should be on staff, he explained that he will invite his staff members over to his home for leadership training and will purposely keep them up late into the night so that they aren’t as guarded in what they say. According to this leader, as soon as he sees one sign of disloyalty to his “vision” for the church, the staff member will be fired immediately.

I don’t know about you but that sounds like a cult, not a church.

This pastor (as well as virtually every other vision-casting book I have read) justifies this approach by claiming Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” They then conclude that the “vision” being spoken of is a well-thought out plan that steers the direction of an organization.

Yeah, that’s a great point except that’s not what Proverbs 29:18 says in it’s context.

It’s frustrating to me when pastors of all people exploit the Scriptures to back up their ideas. Proverbs 29:18 says (In the KJV since that is how all these books quote it) – “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Anyone who understands the English language is able to discern that the “vision” is referring to the clear revelation God has given His people through His word (i.e. the law). Not the vision of a charismatic human leader trying to create momentum for his church.

As a church planter, many of the leadership books I read urge me to cast vision for my church. Generally, this consists of listening to God in a subjective way to receive a specific vision for the church, create a plan to implement this vision, and then motivate the people of the church to support the vision. These books usually explain that if someone does not support the “vision” God has given me as the Lead Pastor, that person needs to leave and find a different church.

All of these teachings seem to be rooted in Scripture. The authors usually cite the famous leaders of our faith: Moses, David, Nehemiah, the Prophets – among others. One of the things I have noticed is that these books rarely spend any time focusing on New Testament leaders because the process of one man receiving a vision from God for a large group of people is seemingly absent from the pages of the New Testament.

Why the difference?

Answer: The Holy Spirit.

Sound doctrine matters and here’s why – Moses, David, Nehemiah, and the Prophets are not first and foremost examples for modern pastors to follow. Instead, they are shadows that point us to the Great Shepherd of the Church – the Lord Jesus Christ. The only one with authority to cast an unbending vision for the life of your church is Jesus Himself and He has done this in the Great Commission (see Matthew 28). When we foolishly lift pastors up and put them on a pedestal as the one who receives vision from God in a Moses-like way, we commit a grave sin against the priesthood of all believers.

For those of us in the Church, there is only one priest that stands between God and man – the Lord Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I do not have an elevated standing before God to receive a special vision for my church nor do I have inherent authority to motivate (or manipulate) the congregation to get on board with MY vision. I often tell Renovation Church that the only authority I have as a pastor is derived from when I accurately and faithfully expound the Scriptures.

But here’s the thing – I actually DO think it is important for a church to have a strong vision. Our vision must be rooted in the Great Commission and explain how we are going to fulfill this commission in our local community. The more Biblical way of accomplishing this is not putting the burden of “vision casting” on a charismatic leader. Instead, the members of the Church who are filled with the Holy Spirit should each play a role in discerning the vision God is giving the church while making sure it is rooted in the Scriptures and the historic Christian faith.

Karl Vater, in his excellent blog for small church leaders, explains a much more attractive alternative, “Shouldn’t part of that preparation include inspiring them (congregation) to hear from God for a vision for their own life and ministry? But how can they dream their own dreams if they’re constantly pushed to give time and money to support the pastor’s vision instead?”


What say you? Do you disagree with me and think the New Testament describes the practice of one person receiving a special vision for the entire community of faith? Or do you see other ways we can more faithfully practice the art of vision-casting that empowers the entire church? Please leave a comment as I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

When is Renovation Church Getting a Building?

churchbuilding

When people find out that I lead Renovation Church and that we meet at the Garretson School for services, one of the first questions they ask is, “So… when are you guys getting your own building and becoming a ‘real’ church?

It’s a pretty innocent question but the assumptions behind it are fatally flawed.

For those who are curious as to when Renovation Church will get our own building – the answer is probably never… at least not while I am the pastor (unless God clearly makes it known to all of us that He wants us to purchase a building).

There are two primary reasons why our vision is to remain a portable church:

1. Mission Drift
When you purchase a building, the people of the church begin to believe that the church is a building. The truth is, the church is a PEOPLE called by Christ to be on mission with Him to make disciples of all the nations. For the first 300 years of the church, there was no such thing as a church building!

Virtually every church will affirm that the “church” is not a building but rather the people who follow Jesus. Nevertheless, it is clear by the way most churches spend money and by the very language they use, most don’t really believe this. As soon as a congregation purchases their first building, the temptation is to fill it with programs so it does not sit empty the entire week. These programs end up giving everyone a full schedule and destroys their witness to the community.

It’s difficult (impossible?) to be a witness in your family, community, and workplace when you are trapped in a holy huddle at the church building every night of the week.

2. Financial Difficulties
If you have ever attended a church business meeting, you will quickly realize that 99% of the time the members are obsessed with maintaining the church building. They are forced to do bake sales, fundraisers, and other means in order to keep the lights on and pay for the debt the church finds itself in. Even if the building is paid off, maintaining a church building comes with an EXTREMELY high price tag! (The Church and the Government have something in common – both are really good at having expenses  exceed income… which brings devastating debt).

In our first year as a church, we have given over $17,000 to outreach (both locally & internationally). At our last Member Meeting we decided that we would begin giving away our entire offering every 2 months and we voted on who we would give our money to. I do not think fundraisers are always bad but I find it a little silly that the church has to ask for money from the community so that they can use that same money to try to reach the community (or, let’s be real, to pay off the debt they find themselves in due to their building).


Do you disagree with me? Do you think church buildings are something all churches should aim for? Let me know your reasons by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

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.)