Church Planting

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).

 

Low Attendance & Insecurity

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My understanding of leadership is that a leader is a person who is bold, courageous, and confident. Leaders aren’t perfect but they are pretty close. Leaders refuse to dwell on weakness and insecurity – instead, they exploit their strengths in order to make a bigger impact.

Well, I’m going to break all the rules of leadership with this blog post. I have been going back-and-forth with myself on how honest & transparent I want to be through a public medium such as a blog. I’ve been told that pastors should only share their insecurities with other pastors so they don’t cause the people who follow them to doubt their leadership.

But this is what I know: Every Sunday I remind the people of Renovation Church that we serve a crucified Savior. The message of the cross is a stumbling block for it displays Jesus at His absolute weakest point. He is abandoned by his disciples, rejected by the crowds, beaten by the Roman Guards, and crucified completely naked – this is true humiliation. Yet it was precisely at His weakest point that He conquered death, sin, and the grave. It is in our weakness that Christ’s power is perfected within us (2 Cor. 12:9).

So here’s my confession to you: I am deeply insecure about who I am as a pastor. Two weeks ago I had the honor of performing child dedications and we had around 70 people in attendance (which is a good Sunday for us).

Yesterday, we had 33 people in attendance. This is the lowest our attendance has been in years. I have nothing to blame it on – it was a beautiful day and there were no major events happening in the community that I am aware of. In my own sinful pride (self-pity is another form of pride) I became extremely discouraged when I got home after the service (just ask my wife!). Rather than praising God for the fact that He brought 33 souls – people loved by Him – under my care on Sunday, I complained and felt like a failure for all the people that WEREN’T there.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that I find my identity in attendance numbers & budget numbers.

It’s a problem that I am too afraid of people doubting me that I refuse to be transparent about how insecure I am when people skip church.

It’s a problem if I cover up the pain of people leaving the church through spiritual jargon rather than dealing with my real emotions.

It’s a problem because it’s in direct contradiction to the crucified Savior whom I worship. The One who emphasizes weakness & transparency as true strength.

Since yesterday afternoon I have been continually preaching the Gospel to my own heart. Here are the truths I am reminding myself continually in an effort to fight for joy. I pray this reflection encourages you as you begin a new week. To be honest, I’m writing this primarily for myself so that the next time I am discouraged I can read this post and remind myself of these marvelous truths:

1. My identity is the result of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.
As I shared above, self-pity comes from the same root as arrogance – pride. It is an obsession with “self” and a demand that we get what we deserve. The truth is, if any of us got what we “deserved” we would be in Hell right now – separated from God as a result of our sin. The beauty of the Gospel is that my identity isn’t the result of who I am or what I have done but because of who Jesus is and what He has done through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. My identity needs to be rooted in the Gospel – not some cheap form of “success” in the church world.

 2. It is not my job to build the church – Jesus promises to do that.
Renovation Church does not belong to me – it belongs to Christ. He is the One called to grow the church – I am simply called to be faithful. I need to remember that “growth” doesn’t always look like increased attendance and giving. Sometimes growth can look like subtraction (i.e. Jesus once “grew” his movement from 15,000 people to 12 after a controversial message – see John 6)

3. Weakness is not a liability.
One of the sports I love to participate in is boxing. When you are in a boxing ring you do not want to show any weakness or openings. As soon as you show an opening you are usually rebuked by a swift punch to the face! The “foolishness” of the cross is that the way we display Christ as our treasure is to BOAST in our weaknesses (1 Cor. 11:30). We openly talk about our insecurity, our weakness, and our doubts. That is what makes Christian leadership distinctively Christian. We do not hide from our brokenness & sickness because we trust the One who came not for the healthy but for the sick (Mark 2:17).

These are three truths I am reminding myself of this week. I pray our attendance increases this coming Sunday – but what if it doesn’t? What we if go from 33 people to 20 people? I will fight for joy. I will celebrate the people who are there rather than despair about those who aren’t. I will remember that it’s seriously amazing that even one person entrusts himself/herself to my spiritual leadership. I will be honest about my own brokenness with the goal of pointing people to Christ – not Tyler Ramsbey.


P.S. – I’m not writing this to get your pity. Many of you have FAR more difficult things you are wrestling with than insecurity & low attendance at church. Instead, my hope is that this will encourage you to preach the Gospel to your own soul. Have a great week!

How Do I Prepare a Message?

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As many of you know, I am a pastor which means I need to be ready every 7 days to speak a 30 – 40 minute message from the Bible that is both faithful to the text and engaging to the audience. I was working on my message late last night and Ashley (my wife) was asking me about the process. After sharing it with her, she encouraged me to share it with anyone/everyone interested so they understand everything that goes into a Sunday morning message!

1. Choose the Text
Before I can begin the process I need to choose the text I am preaching from. This is relatively easy at Renovation Church because we generally preach through entire books of the Bible verse-by-verse. I simply pick up where I left off the previous week. I DO need to “cut up” the text in such a way that we are examining one coherent thought rather than trying to preach an entire chapter of the Bible at once.

2. Meditate Upon the Text
The first thing I do is read through the text I am preaching on slowly. If possible, I also like to read the entire book that the text is in so I am reminded of the overall context. I use the word “meditate” to explain an unhurried process of trying to absorb the text into my own life. Generally I write out the entire passage by hand, commit the whole passage to memory, and then make note of every observation and question I have about the text. The closest comparison I can think of would be that of a scientist studying the almost hidden characteristics of an animal – the scientist spends hours with the animal and takes copious amounts of notes.

3. Make Sure I’m Not a Heretic
After I have an understanding of what I think God is saying through the text, I invite a few scholars into the discussion by reading commentaries. Commentaries are books that go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible and share the scholarly and historical views about the text. I know that if I discover something completely “new” in the text that probably means I am reading it wrong. My goal is to be faithful to the original author’s intention under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – not be “cute” with the text.

The reason I do not begin with commentaries is I do not want to give the people of Renovation Church the opinions and thoughts of a scholar. I do not think the common practice of pastors utilizing each others’ sermon outlines or manuscripts is wise (instead I think it is laziness and/or bad time management). Preaching is an “incarnational” event – God has something specific he wants to speak to the people in a specific place and the role of the pastor is to be attentive to both the text and the congregation so that the message is both relevant and theologically sound.

4. Manuscript the Entire Message
Once I have selected the text, meditated on the text, and studied the text on a scholarly level – I write out my entire message word-for-word how I want to say it. This helps me organize my thoughts and think of illustrations that would be helpful in encouraging others to encounter God through the text. For one of my regular messages (which is usually 30 – 40 minutes) this is anywhere from a 6 – 8 page document.

5. Outline the Message
Once my thoughts are organized and I have some illustrations to help others understand the text, I create a one-page outline. This outline has two major functions: First, it helps the Powerpoint person at church follow along with the message; Second, it is available for me to use in case I feel the need for notes on a certain Sunday. If you were to look at one of my outlines it would make absolutely no sense because I generally just use single words to remind me of the things I want to say.

6. Practice & Preach!
Once everything is done I practice the entire message at least two times as if I was preaching it live. The goal of practicing this many times is NOT to turn it into a performance but to rather absorb the message. I cannot preach something that hasn’t first changed my own heart. When it comes to Sunday morning and I have the opportunity to share the message with my congregation, I usually do so without any notes. I try to make it more conversational by only using my Bible and maybe some words jotted down on the page but other than that I try to prepare myself adequately while trusting that the Holy Spirit will give me illustrations and words of encouragement during the preaching of the message that I hadn’t thought of in my preparation.


This is a weekly rhythm that I absolutely love and it is vital to the life of the church. For those of you that attend Renovation Church who may sometimes get frustrated that I am not always available –  I just know that if I neglect to spend time in the Scriptures for both my personal prayer time and for message preparation, our church will die. Also, keep in mind that I do all of this in addition to working part-time at Southeast Tech, going to school full time for my Master’s Degree, and more importantly as a husband and a dad! I really DO love you and that is why I sometimes need to block out large chunks of time to be alone with God in preparation for Sunday! 

Lutherans, Catholics, & Renovation Church!

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Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the honor of running sound/video for a Lutheran Conference at Sioux Falls Seminary. This morning (Wednesday) I attended Mass at St. Rose of Lima in Garretson. This afternoon I began working on an expository sermon from John 6 to proclaim to the church I pastor – a nondenominational church called Renovation Church.

When I first became a Christian I decried the “dead religion” of liturgy that displayed itself in Lutheran and Catholic congregations. This week I participated in numerous Lutheran and Catholic services, allowing the Spirit of God to speak His truth into my life from preachers vastly different from myself.

Why the change?

I really believe it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. Although I have secondary doctrinal disagreements with Lutherans or Catholics, I know that we proclaim the unchanging Jesus Christ of the Bible. There is value in every Christian tradition – from the chanting of Psalms found in Benedictine Monasteries to the spontaneous worship celebrated in Pentecostal churches.

If you attend a church different from your own and you immediately jump to criticism –  that says more about the condition of your heart than the service of the church.

 

Renovation Church & Weekly Communion

weeklycommunion

Beginning this coming Sunday (November 12th), Renovation Church will begin practicing weekly communion. Communion is when we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through eating a small amount of bread and wine (or grape juice) as a church.

The vast majority of contemporary churches only practice communion quarterly or monthly. This is a major change for many of the people who attend our church. Here are three reasons we will begin practicing weekly communion.

1. Weekly Communion seems to be the practice of the early church.
First of all, let me make it clear that there is no scriptural mandate to practice communion every single week. So if you disagree with me on the frequency of communion, that’s okay. Nevertheless, it’s my conviction that the early church seemed to practice communion each time they gathered together (see Acts 2:46 & 1 Cor. 11:20).

2. Communion is more than a “memorial.”
The Roman Catholic church believes the elements in communion literally become Jesus’ body and blood. Many baptists have taken the opposite path and said there is nothing significant about communion, it’s simply a memorial of what Jesus has done in our place. I think both of these approaches are incorrect.

I prefer the Anglican route of calling communion a mystery. When we partake of communion as a church there is something significant happening. People do not die and get sick by taking communion in an unworthy manner if communion is only a memorial (1 Cor. 11:30).

When we partake of the elements, God nourishes our souls through the power of His Holy Spirit. Jesus is present in communion… just not physically. So how exactly is He present? I’m not sure – it’s a mystery that is beyond my comprehension.

3. Communion is an opportunity for us to respond to God.
We will partake of Communion at the end of every service as a response to what God has done through the preaching of His Word. Rather than passing the elements of communion around, we will invite people to come forward. As people are coming forward, we will have prayer volunteers around the communion table so that people can confess sin & receive prayer (this isn’t required but highly encouraged).

Each time we partake of communion, we are reminded that Jesus was crushed for our sin. The punishment that brings us peace was laid upon Him. His blood was poured out that we might be forgiven. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God.

In summary, it seems right to us and to the Holy Spirit for us to begin weekly communion. I believe God will use this ordinance (or sacrament) as a means to strengthen His people and draw us closer to Him.