Church Planting

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.

slowdown

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

StockSnap_Q20BFTIVFA

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

brokenness

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!