Thursday, February 12, 2015

Understanding Spiritual Surgery


I remember very vividly the day my sixteen year old daughter had her tonsils removed. I believe my wife and I were more nervous than she was. We sat in the hospital room, listening to the doctor explain the procedure, that ended with the promise of lots of ice cream. That morning, it seemed like the ultimate goal was to "get through this" and then everything would be ok. However, we learned very quickly the surgery was, in some ways, the easy part; the recovery room was where the most pain and anguish was experienced...pain that ice cream didn't seem to help. 

This same principle is true when it comes to spiritual surgery. As a pastor, I have learned that God is always "cutting things" out of our lives that interfere with our relationship with him. Sometimes our surgeries are followed with little or no recovery, as if having a mole removed; like when God convicts us for being belligerent with someone. After repenting and offering an apology to the offended, healing takes place rather quickly. And other times, God must cut away things that are deeper in the body; things that require a lot more bleeding and pain...like my daughter's tonsillectomy.

Three days after my daughter's surgery, she wanted to go out with her friends. My wife quickly intervened with a strong "NO" because she understood that recovery took time; and if she didn't take time to heal, her condition could worsen, making her sicker than before the surgery. Anytime God cuts something away that was "deep" in our hearts (things like pride, jealousy, bitterness, etc)  we must allow God to nourish us back to health. Both our human and spiritual tendencies are to return to our normal state as soon as possible, which is always too soon. God is always working in the waiting. 

It's in the times of recovery that we discover again, the still small voice of God. Perhaps this was what Jesus meant when he spoke to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). When we are at our weakest is when God can do His greatest works in our life. 

Here's three things that will help you in your recovery:

1) Don't rush God; be faithful to Him where you are

2) Don't define God by your weakness; He is still strong

3) Don't resist God; whatever He has removed is beneficial to your spiritual health



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Radical Hospitality


   Attracting unchurched people should be the goal of every church. Churches who have contemporary worship and a modern facility typically attract new people on a regular basis; but what's the secret to get them to return next week? The bottom line is, it’s not enough to be attractional. Lights and modern music will attract unchurched people, but it won't bring them back. There's lots of ways to get people to a building (Easter, children's programs, etc); that's the easy part. Getting them to come back is harder.
    First time guests are handled in various ways. Most churches hand off a visitor’s card and a gift, like a t-shirt or coffee mug. However, if we take a look at this common strategy, we will quickly learn that t- shirts and coffee mugs aren’t causing people to come back...if they were, churches would be full and t-shirt and coffee mug companies would be making bank. Gifts are nice, but gifts do not create an experience, and that's what is needed...an experience. 
   Some first time guest experiences can even be a little scary...especially in smaller churches. I have been to churches were guests are publicly recognized, asked to stand and engaged by complete and total strangers, with extended, sometimes sweaty hands. Other times new guests are treated as if they have a horn growing out of the left side of their head...as they walk into the building, they get “the stare” from everyone. And other times, new guests are looked upon as if they’re wearing an invisible suit; people barely even acknowledge they’re there. 
   While we all have our own ideology about how to engage first time guests, there’s one thing that I know for certain... it takes much more than t-shirts, coffee cups and hand-shakes to make a gospel-impression. It takes something that must be cultivated, developed and celebrated... it takes love. I believe expressing God’s love is the secret to MOVE first time guests to returning guests, especially when the new guests are unchurched people. People outside the church can easily detect or sense love. Whether they realize it or not, it’s what their looking for.....we all are. Love moves people. 
   Movement matters. Movement equals growth. And moving unchurched and/or first time guests to returning guests requires a simplistic, yet intentional strategy. So if love is the trump card that can cause new guests to move to returning guests, what does love look like? Let me begin by telling you what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t mean giving every new guest a Jesus hug. For new guests, there is a way to express God’s love without making people feel weird. I call it “Radical Hospitality.”
    Radical hospitality is simply being an expression of the gospel. It is intentionally engaging people with God’s love and especially His grace. When people are engaged with God’s love and grace, it helps their heart to become more open to community, truth and God’s Spirit. It can make the difference in how they respond to the worship service. It can even make a difference in how they respond to the sermon and the gospel. It will certainly make a difference about whether or not they come back. Therefore, radical hospitality isn’t something we do because it’s nice, we do it because it’s missional.
   When people genuinely love others, it just does something powerful. I have seen first hand how the love of Jesus can literally change the way a person feels about God, church and even their own self. So think of radical hospitality like this; it is the first action to prepare hearts for the seed of God’s word. Therefore, it is the first action to move new guests to returning guest and eventually, on a journey towards discipleship. 
    As you think about what your hospitality looks like, consider these four things:

1) Does your hospitality team (ushers, greeters, etc) understand the mission behind what they do?
2) Is your hospitality authentic or robotic?
3) What are your touch points from the parking lot to the sanctuary?
4) Who is leading your hospitality teams? 

For more resources check out The Unstuck Group



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Small Churches UNSTUCK



Here are five things to think about that will help you break growth barriers and get your church unstuck. Whether you're a small church in a large city or a small town...these thoughts may help you move forward in reaching people with the gospel. 

1. Presence before Preaching: Many people believe if they construct a building with a steeple, stained glass windows, and a denominationally flavored sign in the front yard, people will naturally show up to hear the preacher. Unfortunately, we know this doesn’t work; if it did, the thousands of existing churches would be full every weekend and their communities would be impacted by the gospel. Unfortunately, they are not. I call the “Field of Dream” mentality. It’s the “If I build it, preach in it, they will come” myth. While it worked well for Kevin Costner, it does not work for the local church or pastor. If a small town church wants to make an impact, they have to understand the concept of Presence before Preaching. This is the simple idea of leveraging a high-relational environment by being an expression of the gospel outside of the building…and by the way, that doesn’t mean handing out tracts or church invites. Creating a gospel expression must be intentional and strategic; the motive must be pure. Unchurched people can easily spot strings, regardless of how we try to camouflage them with good intentions. 

The small town is the ideal place to leverage such a concept. As a matter of fact, small towns have one thing the larger cities don’t have; a strong spirit of community; and communities have one attribute that can be both beautiful and tragic. They talk. When a church understands how to simply model the presence of Jesus, without giving a sermon, they become a gospel expression of love that results in the community talking about it. Once that happens a shift occurs, because people like what they see. It’s kind of like discovering a really good restaurant in the city, but even better, because you can’t hide a good restaurant in a small town.

2. Get Rid of the No Shirt, No Service Sign: Over the years I have had the opportunity to travel to different cities. One of my favorite cities is New York. Manhattan has a ton to offer, including a variety of good places to eat. They have everything from fancy, upscale restaurants, where one plate can cost you as much as seventy dollars, to the food trucks that sit on the side of the streets, where you can buy a big slice of New York pizza for three or four bucks. I remember during one of my trips to Manhattan, one of my friends fell in love with the Gyro food truck. According to him, it was so good, he almost got saved again...almost. There’s something I’ve noticed about food trucks; I have never seen a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign hanging on the counter. While food truck menus are different, they all have one thing in common; they serve people...period. Whether it’s the Gyro truck in New York, the Bratwurst truck in Milwaukee, or the hot dog truck in Chicago, their mission is people. They don’t cater to a certain dress style, social class, or economical class...just people. If you have an appetite and a little money, they’ll hook you up. Really, every restaurant’s mission is serving people, but not every restaurant is set up to serve all people. I have seen restaurants with the no shirt, no shoes, no service, sign posted, some even with pride. Sometimes they even have an explanation point at the end of each statement (many are grease buckets, where a dress code is the least of their problems). 
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think I would want to eat a New York strip sitting next to the guy with no shirt, rubbing his beer belly, while fussing at his barefoot children. Gross. I get why restaurants have to post the sign...because somewhere in the past, the beer-belly thingy probably happened. Here’s another interesting observation; upscale fancy restaurants never post that sign. They don’t have to. They send the message by how the building looks and how their patrons are dressed. There’s just an environment that lets you know as soon as you get to the front door, put on your stinking shirt and shoes before you come in. Those kinds of restaurants don’t need a sign posted...you just know. There are a lot of churches that operate like a fancy restaurant. They have a similar code; and like fancy restaurants, it isn’t posted on the front door or written down anywhere, but everyone knows. 

This code, much like those at restaurants, are designed to do one thing; keep certain people out so that loyal church members can get the church experience in a comfortable, pleasant environment. This kind of church attracts people who want their church experience to be similar to the experience of fine dining. They show up to be served and waited on. They expect everyone to be pleasantly dressed; sitting in a pleasant environment with nice people having nice conversations. Everything and everyone is pleasant. When someone walks in dressed differently than those around them, things change fast. Now everyone is uncomfortable. Churches, like the fancy restaurants, don’t have to post a sign; everyone just knows, especially those who walk in looking different than everyone else. 

If you’re going to reach people in your town or city, you have to develop a culture where everyone who walks in the door feels welcome. This can’t be done by simply changing a dress code, there has to be intentionality behind it; and it has to be cast in such a way that your church gets the “why” and not just the “what” of reaching people.


3. Don’t Call Time Outs: A good leader is like a good coach.... He knows the value of winning. And in the case of the Church, winning is seeing lives changed and people discovering Jesus. A good coach knows that winning requires strong leadership, discipline, and creating good plays… or what I would call strategies. One strategy of the game is knowing when to call a time-out. 
I have coached all of our kids through their biddy-ball years. I didn’t have to worry about running plays; our primary objective was to get the first and second graders to shoot the ball at the right goal. Just like in college basketball, each team was given a number of time-outs that could be called anytime during the game. I used time outs when the kid’s tongues were hanging out and they were about to fall over with exhaustion. College basketball, however, doesn’t use time-outs so the players can rest (they use their second string for that). If you watch college basketball, you’ll always notice the coach will call a timeout when the other team has made three or four baskets in a row or some dynamic play. They’ll steal the ball two or three times, make the shot, and the crowd goes wild! When that happens, the opposing coach will call a timeout. There are two reasons he does that; one, so he can tell his team what they’re doing wrong or what they need to change; and two, he breaks the momentum of the scoring team. When a team makes several good plays and the crowd goes nuts, momentum happens. The players are pumped, the crowd is pumped, and the roof nearly comes off the gym. It creates energy in the air that inspires the players and causes them to give it 100%. On the flip side, the other team feels intimidated and overwhelmed. Calling a time out at the right time can make the difference in who wins the game because momentum is power!

If there’s one thing that can cripple a church, it’s a lack of momentum. Momentum is energy, movement, and force. When the church is growing and blowing up, Satan does his best to call a time out in hopes of breaking the momentum. He knows that momentum can take a church to new levels of growth, but the lack of it can paralyze growth. There’s a ton of ways the enemy can call a time out. Things like staff conflict, integrity issues, or financial strain has killed momentum in countless churches. That’s why healthy checks and balances are so important in the church. You must identify and define the core values, accountability and principles that will guide your church well, through season of momentum and rest. There are lots of ways to generate momentum by leveraging your calendar…which is my next topic. 

4. Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail. There is another way the enemy uses time outs; this particular time out is not due to poor Christian discipline, instead, it’s a result of poor planning and calendaring.  Over the years, we have coached many pastors, whose churches struggled with creating, and in most cases, keeping gospel-centered momentum; meaning momentum that counts. In my humble opinion, big days don’t count unless lives have been touched by the gospel. 

Almost every church will experience momentum during the big church days that naturally happen every year. Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day and the first Sunday after New Year’s Day always carry with them a level of momentum. Most pastors can see momentum building weeks out, as they approach Easter. Spring is in the air; Easter candy overtakes Wal-Mart and church people begin inviting their friends and family to join them for the weekend service and many of them discover Christ. New faces begin showing up and there’s an excitement in the air. Then Easter Sunday happens. The chairs are full; the pastor is pumped; and the church appears to be growing…at least for a day. 

Unfortunately the weeks after Easter usually don’t carry the same excitement. Most of the people who showed up for Easter don’t come back. Church people aren’t inviting people anymore because, well, Easter is over and the eggs have all been found. It’s here that most pastors call a timeout and simply wait for Christmas. They spend the next several months surviving the summer and they really don’t get too excited again until Rudolf the Red-nosed reindeer starts playing on the television. As Christmas approaches, it’s a replay of the weeks before Easter. Making an impact in a small town requires churches to be strategic with the calendar. They must learn to leverage natural growth platforms, as well as build platforms during the in-betweens.


5. Learn How to Fish: In Luke 5  we are introduced to a group of fishermen named Peter, James, and John. These guys busted their humps the night before, casting nets and caught nothing. Frustrated, tired, and cranky, morning came and it was over. They began cleaning their nets to head home. Suddenly this guy named Jesus comes on the scene that asks Peter if he can borrow his boat and use it for a pulpit. Peter agrees and Jesus does his deal. Afterwards Jesus looks at the frustrated, fish-less Peter, and asks him to take his boat out into the deep waters and cast his nets. Peter must have looked confused (because you don't net fish in the daytime or in deep waters). Nevertheless, Peter rows out and he throws his nets into the water.  End result? A ton of fish. 
As the story goes on, Peter realizes Jesus is something special; he realizes this guy is much more than a master fisherman; something inside of him tells him he’s The Master. Peter falls to his knees, trembling, not quite sure what to expect next. I love what Jesus says, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." Basically Jesus said, "Your occupation as a fishermen isn't going to change; but what you catch will change." In other words, Jesus called us to catch people with the net of the gospel. I know there are good churches, which have good intentions and really want to see people come to Jesus. Yet at the end of each year they can only celebrate a few conversions and even fewer baptisms. Lots of things can contribute to this. Poor theology, lack of outreach, or lack of discipleship can cause a low conversion and/or baptism rate; but there’s something else that’s crippling the local church; it’s the lack of fishing skills. 

Yeah, I know that sounds weird. However, I’m pretty sure if Jesus used fishing as one of his first analogies to talk about evangelism, so can we. As pastors, we must teach our people that catching people for Jesus begins by knowing where to fish; and that place is the unchurched. 

Small town and big city churches alike must also learn how to fish with the right bait. Your weekend service can be one of the places to fish for the unchurched, if you can get them there. Obviously the weekend service is not a natural place to catch souls for Jesus, because unchurched people normally don’t wake up Sunday morning with a desire to hear singing and preaching. However, with the right invite culture, attraction, and mission, the weekend can become a strategic place to fish. It’s the principle of attracting the unchurched to the weekend gathering. If your church is attractive only to the religious, your chances of actually catching souls on the weekend are few.  Never let anything stand in the way of the gospel; without it, you’ll never catch people for Jesus. Lastly, small churches have to use the right hook, which is the gospel. There is no substitute for the gospel. The gospel is the only life-changing hook that will pull people to the cross of Jesus.


Check out other resources and tools that can help grow your church at 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Burning Bush, Part Two: The Red Sea Moment

There is nothing more exiting (at least for the pastor) than seeing his church grow. When a pastor begins to see people invite lost people to church, gospel movement occurs. Then, when the gospel is preached, other things happen; things like having to over-extend the service because there were so many people to baptize. When movement occurs, people in the church began to understand the mission and vision. That’s a sweet spot for any church to be in. That's when churches begin to grow. However, growth is always followed with a Red Sea moment. It’s that moment when deep faith and trust are needed to take the risks necessary to keep moving! Why keep moving? Because God has never given the church permission to stop growing. Typically, on the shores of the Red Sea, churches get stuck because they aren't sure what the next steps are. 


We have seen this time after time. A church is blowing and growing and then, all the sudden, they hit a Red Sea moment. A disgruntled leader goes off; influential families leaves the church and a split occurs; a deacon's meeting turns into a boxing match; a scary financial fallout; or maybe it’s nothing more than a subtle, but convincing whisper in the pastor's ear saying,  "You can never get passed this!"  Red Sea moments always look impassable. And like Moses, pastors stand on the shore, listening to the hoof beats of the past in the distance; a cloud of dust is on the horizon as once again, Pharaoh changed his mind.


Let me remind you, Satan will not lie down for the church. He is relentless in stopping the church from becoming gospel- intentional. Once movement occurs in the church, Satan will do what he does best; he’ll chase after you with the failures and frustrations from yesterday; he'll tempt you to turn back. The children of Israel were excited until they hit their first obstacle. When they saw Pharaoh and his armies they were reminded of their past. They remembered things really couldn’t change. They said, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt, didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt- we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12, The Message). 

In other words, “Pastor you’re an idiot and were all idiots for following you” (I've been that idiot numerous times).

While Red Sea moments are not pleasant, they are necessary. These moments always precede the next steps towards breaking through a growth barrier.  God told Moses to raise his staff over the waters and he would allow his people to pass through. When we think about that, most of us can see Charlton Heston standing with his staff in hand and his gray beard blowing in the wind as the waters miraculously split and the people went over. But have you ever stopped to think about what might have been going through the mind of Moses in that moment...that Red Sea moment? If I would have been Moses, I know what I would have been thinking, “God, I sure hope I’m hearing you right, because if I’m not and you’re not behind this whole divide the waters thing, I could lose all of Israel by one bad decision.”


Here’s where the rubber meets the road. When pastors come to their Red Sea moment (and there are usually many more than one), they will always be faced with two challenges:

1) We can go back to where we came from. It’s safer and it’s predictable.

2) I can take a risk and go through with this, but I could lose the entire church. 


There is nothing more gut wrenching for a pastor when he knows his decision could cost him all the people God has called him to lead. Yet, I have discovered that taking next steps towards growth always requires taking risk. For the pastor, it means he may have to re-think strategy or implement a new assimilation process. It's risky because no one likes change; but it's necessary because your processes and strategies today will not suffice the growth that is around the corner. If there were no risk involved, there would be no need for faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Leading a church through new growth barriers is not easy; it is filled with confrontation, chaos, and yes, Red Sea moments. Yet in order to grow, we must press on. 

Here are three things that can help you cross your Red Sea:

1) Understand where you are and build plans and strategies to get you across to the other side. Allow God speak to you through others who have been there before.

2) Don't treat the obstacle before you as abnormal. Anytime you are following God, opposition will come. If you treat spiritual opposition as abnormal, you'll try to find a solution for a problem (that isn't there), thus creating a problem. 

3) Be willing to make mistakes...because you will. God can take our worst mistakes and use them for our own good as well as the good of the church and His Kingdom. Remember, He's still God, despite us.

For more help visit The Unstuck Group


Is your Church Culture Stuck?


 One of my favorite 80's movies is Blast from the Past starring Brendan Fraser. The story is about the Webber family. The time period is set in the early sixties (the cold war era) when there was constant talk of nuclear fallout. The dad spends months and months preparing a fallout shelter, believing a nuclear attack is inevitable. In the movie, a plane accidentally crashes into the Webber’s home, which causes the dad to believe the end of days have arrived; in his mind, it’s the beginning of nuclear war. He quickly takes his pregnant wife to his souped-up fallout shelter. The entrance led them several feet underground to a fancy, high tech living quarters that had everything they needed to survive for years.  The impenetrable massive steel doors were armed with time locks that, once engaged, could not be unlocked or overridden for thirty-five years. No worries of anyone getting in...or out. 

The family is safely secured in a comfortable, accommodating shelter while the world above, unknown to them, continued as normal. During the first year, the mom gives birth to a baby boy and names him Adam. During their thirty five years in the shelter, the world above drastically changes, while the Webber’s life remains frozen in 1962. The family passes time watching black and white films and kinescopes of television programs with a projector rigged to look like a television. Pretty high-tech stuff for the sixties. Then finally in 1997, the timer releases the locks. Adam finds himself immersed in a society where his language, dating skills and understanding of life in general is outdated and irrelevant.

Today many churches in America, especially churches 500 or less, have behaved like the Webbers. They built their own fallout shelter. Many of them have steeples with nice stained glass windows; while others have bell towers and wooden pews; and others have leaned towards the contemporary look with modern music and cool lights. Regardless of their design, the purpose is the same as the Webber’s fallout shelter. To protect themselves from the sinful poison outside in the world. Their doors aren’t on timer locks, but that’s ok. Infected people rarely show up anyway, and if they do, they don’t stay.  

These churches are safe and predictable. If they are challenged to change, they’ll push back. They’ll call anything new a spiritual compromise. They’re loyalties lie more to their past traditions than the risen Savior. Their practices and rituals, regardless of how outdated or irrelevant, are guarded at all costs, even if means not reaching unchurched people. They are culture stuck, hiding in a decorative fallout shelter, while the people outside, who are far away from God, walk right by them. When they do attempt to reach  someone, they have about as much luck as Adam Webber trying to land a date in 1997, using his 1960’s dating techniques. Fat chance. 

When a church becomes culture stuck, they are no longer relevant to the people they’re supposed to be reaching. I am not insinuating that showing up in skinny jeans, tee-shirts and flip flops will change lives or bring unchurched people into your church. Wearing skinny jeans, especially in southern small towns like mine, could get you beat up. This is not merely a language or dress code issue; this is a heart issue.  Whether we like to admit it or not, the world has changed, while many churches remain hidden in a fallout shelter. Think about it. In the 1950’s it would not be the least bit weird for an unchurched person to walk into a service and see everyone in suits, ties and dresses. Adam Webber would have fit right in. More than likely, he would probably be dressed the same. He would probably have on the same clothes he wore the night before, on his date. That was the culture for most our country. It made sense. 

Reaching people of this generation and the next, requires us to embrace the culture of today and leverage it for the gospel without compromising the gospel. The gospel must remain unchanged and untampered with, that’s a no brainer. We must be willing to do whatever it takes, short of sin, to reach people for Jesus. This means we have to be willing to come out of our shelters and remove the obstacles that may be keeping the unchurched from showing up on Sunday, and even more importantly, causing the ones who do show up not to come back. 

How do we get the culture of our church unstuck? How do we maneuver through culture change without losing our values and vision? I wished I could tell you that changing the dress code was the instant fix, but it isn't

Here are three things that I believe will place you on the journey of getting your church culture unstuck:

  • Complete a church health assessment; see where you really are. What is the heart of your leaders? Who are you reaching? How many are you reaching? How many are staying?

  • Review your messages and sermons. Are they inwardly focused? Do they promote evangelism? Are they relevant?

  • Assess your facilities. Review your order of service. Talk about your connection points for new people. Look at each of these through the lens of the unchurched and ask, "Do our facilities make unchurched people feel comfortable? Does our order of worship make sense to me? Are my next steps simple to take?"

 Get your team together and discuss these questions. 

Learn how to get a Health Assessment from The Unstuck Group



Monday, January 12, 2015

Burning Bush Moments

During one of our Rural Church Roundtables, one of the pastors asked me a question. He said, “My church is one hundred twenty three years old. There have been pastors before me who tried to make changes and grow the church, but failed. Eventually they were fired or they quit. The church still remains the same. We still reach around eighty people (and have for years). Why should I believe I could make a difference if pastors before me never could? Is there really a way to break this pattern that’s over one hundred years old?” 

That was a good question. I could have used the old seminarian quote I’ve heard so many pastors use before in situations like this, “It is easier to give birth than raise the dead" (in other words, go plant a church and let dying churches die); but I'm not sure that is always the answer. So many pastors face this same dilemma; their church has been stuck at 400, 200, 100 or less for years. They want to lead a change, forge a new trail and see something fresh happen, but they just don’t know how to do it. 

While I agree that church planting is the fast track to reaching the world, we can't overlook the smaller churches throughout America, who, like any church, should be making a gospel difference. There are times churches must close their doors and end their era of ministry, while others simply need help. Perhaps that's a hard decision, "Do I go, do I stay? Do we close or do we keep going?" Personally I believe it all depends on whether or not the pastor has had a Burning Bush Moment.

I use the Exodus term because I believe many pastors ask a similar question that Moses asked, “God, how do I lead your people to something new (the Promise Land) who have been doing the same thing for four hundred years?” For Moses, his challenge would be convincing the people things could be better. He probably had some Israelites who felt like God abandoned them. Others may have accepted it as God’s will; while some, although brutally enslaved, accepted the lifestyle as their own as they found a strange sense of security there. 


The same thing seems to have happened in churches across America. No, they may not be in chains; neither are they building Pharaoh’s pyramids; but they are hand-cuffed to powerless traditions. They live behind the walls of “doing” church that produces little or no impact. And, despite the obvious fruitless trends over the last twenty, fifty or one hundred years, the people have become married to these traditions; they have accepted their way of doing church as a lifestyle. It’s safe. It’s predictable. 

What we're really talking about then, is the concept of leading churches from traditional to intentional. And to do that, every pastor needs a burning bush moment. Not a gooey, angelic experience; rather a desire in their heart to see Kingdom growth. A sense that God is up to something. When a pastor has a burning bush moment, no one can talk him into leaving and nothing can prevent him from staying. He just knows, with resolve, that God is on the move. 

Maybe you're leading a smaller church and you've experienced your own burning bush moment. Perhaps there's a fire in your heart that will not let you rest. What are your next steps? How can you lead a traditional church to becoming gospel intentional? How can you get unstuck? And if you take some next steps, what can you expect? 

Here's three things I believe you'll experience:

1) While everyone loves the idea of leaving Egypt (tradition); not everyone will love the change and uncomfortableness that comes with it

2) Burning bush moments are always followed with Red Sea moments, meaning, you'll have to be ready to take some risk that will affect all your people...and yes, you'll lose some. 

3) At the end of the day, you must discover, build and empower the Joshua's and Caleb's around you...because you can't do it alone. 

These are just three of many things you'll probably experience. My best advice to you, is to seek out help. Remember, there is safety in a multitude of counsel.

Check out other resources at The Unstuck Group











Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Worst Condition a Church can be Found in...ask Jesus


    My favorite books of the Bible are the gospels. In them, we discover who God really is by looking at Jesus' life. When we see the heart of Jesus, we see the heart of the Almighty God. Jesus showed us compassion, mercy and truth. He also showed us things that made him disgusted...one of those things being the local temple. 

  The story begins with Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem. It was a very busy time, as the passover was being celebrated. People from all around were making their way into Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple. Jesus went into the temple himself. The Bible says "After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late afternoon..." (Mark 11:11). In other words, Jesus came in to inspect what was going on. 

   The next day is when the story gets interesting...even a little confusing. Jesus and the disciples got up that morning and was heading back to the temple. On the way, Jesus' stomach began to growl. Someone forgot to pack breakfast. The Bible says, Jesus being hungry...

"He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said, 'May no one ever eat your fruit again!' And the disciples heard him say it." (Mark 11:12-14). Now if I had of been one of the disciples, I would want to know why Jesus cursed a tree because it didn't have fruit when it wasn't the season for it to have fruit? We'll get back to that in a minute. 

  Afterwards, Jesus and the disciples proceeded to the temple (the same place he was the day before). When he gets there, he finds the church serving the people who have come to worship God. Since many people were from far away, they had to wait and buy their sacrificial animal in Jerusalem; and what better place to support than the local church, right? Many people didn't have the right currency, so they would have to get their money changed over. Again, the church was there to serve them by changing over their money so they could buy their sacrificial animal. But there was a problem. The local church was overcharging the people for both the livestock and to change their money over. In disgust, Jesus turns the tables over, drives out the livestock and calls the church a den of thieves and robbers. But that's not the end of the story. Matter of fact, the most important part happens next. 

   Jesus and his disciples leave the church. The disciples probably whispering about Jesus' really bad day. First, he misses breakfast, which results in him cursing a tree; then he flips over tables and drives out livestock, which killed a major income the church was accustom to getting every year. Yes, things were a little frustrating to say the least. 

  On the way back, they pass the tree. It's completely dried up. Peter, who always spoke up first is like, "Jesus, the tree you cursed is completely dried up!" And I love Jesus' response, "Have faith in God." Here is where Jesus, the Master Teacher ties it all together. 

  First we must conclude Jesus does nothing by accident. He really wasn't just having a bad day. There is also a reason the fig tree was part of the story going to and from the temple. Many would ask why Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having fruit in the season that it wasn't supposed to. However, a fig tree is not like most fruit trees. It's unique. You see, a fig tree always produces leaves and figs at the same time. The fact that this fig tree even had leaves that time of year was a freak of nature. Are you making the connection?

  Jesus is teaching us that the temple (and many of our churches today) are much like the fig tree. From a distance, it promises fruit. From a distance, it sends a message to people that it has the fruit they need to satisfy a spiritual hunger. Nice buildings, steeples and fancy crosses all promise the spiritual fruit of peace that can only be found in God. Yet, when you get up close to it, you realize there are only of leaves, but no fruit. This is a picture of religion.

   There are many churches clothed in the leaves of religion. They promise hungry people spiritual supplement. Yet when people get up close, they find nothing but religion. The leave just as hungry as they came. Religion is the best thief of all. It robs people of their faith; it steals the belief that God is approachable. A church that bears only leaves is a church that cherishes their religion about God more than a relationship with God

  These churches are just like the fig tree. They have a lot of leaves, but they are dry and dead. Jesus has removed his breath of life from them. They exist, but they are lifeless, neither do they see life change. Baptisms are few. Discipleship is just a word. What is the end result of these churches? I love this. Jesus answers the question when Peter ask about the dried up fig tree. Have faith in God. When Jesus is invited into the equation, all things are possible. Even dead, dried up churches can experience a resurrection; they can become fruit bearers and see life change through the gospel. 

  So let me close with this. If Jesus showed up at your church this weekend, would he find a lot of leaves and fruit? Would people show up hungry for God's acceptance and find hope and love? Or would they find burdens and legalism hidden underneath religious leaves? If it's the latter, I can assure you, it's the worst condition a church can be found in, because it makes Jesus very unhappy.

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