Month: February 2012

A Beautiful Transition

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of many people who were dying, but last night I witnessed one of the most beautiful transitions from life to eternity that is possible. To respect the privacy of the family, I will not share names, but the wonderful lady who passed away was really special to me for many reasons.

Over four years ago, on my first Sunday as pastor at New Life, I met her at the front of the church. She was with her husband and she was sick with cancer. I prayed with her that day and on most Sundays thereafter. Every week, I could always count on her to be waiting for me after the 9am service, holding a tiny bottle of oil, and a heart full of faith for her healing.

There were seasons where she would rebound with full strength, ready to engage life once again. She was a grandmother and an artist who painted beautiful flowers on porcelain plates that now adorn her modest home. One year, despite the cancer, she helped paint the stage set for our Easter production. She also loved to sing, especially at church with her family and friends around her. Then, the cancer returned, this time attacking her lungs and throat, robbing her of the singing voice we all loved.

A week ago, I was at her home and she was writing personal notes in a huge stack of Valentine’s Day cards for a myriad of family and long time friends. She spoke of her kids and grandkids, her frail voice still strong with hope and encouragement.

At the hospital, on her final night with us, her children and husband gathered with a few of us friends around her bed and we sang “Amazing Grace”. Her breathing relaxed and within minutes a transcendent peace filled the room. Her family wept, but they were also very aware of their mother’s victory. She was no longer suffering and most assuredly, she was now singing the joyful songs of heaven. It was a beautiful transition for a dear saint of a woman, one that I will never forget.

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Multisite Minus the Big Screen

In just a few weeks, New Life will open a new location near the center of our downtown district for people to gather and worship. When most large churches open new locations, the sermon is from the lead pastor and is shown via video with some very cool technology making that possible. In this season at New Life, we are exploring another option. We will have a very real and present human teaching the Scriptures.

I am not here to pick a fight with all my pastor friends who have video campuses. There is certainly merit to each approach and I certainly respect the innovation and technology that allows some of our best communicators access to growing audiences. But I do think our approach has strengths that need to be considered, too.

1. We are giving young communicators a chance to grow

I remember all the chances I got while in my 20’s and early 30’s to actually study and preach a sermon. Mostly, it was on street corners on Saturday mornings, or at rescue missions right before lunch, or at some small, rural church led by one of my relatives. But they all were opportunities to learn, to fail and to ultimately grow up. Preaching and teaching, like any other skill set, requires reps and it is hard to get 10,000 hours of needed practice when there are fewer and fewer openings on the preaching calendar.

2. We get the privilege of studying together

Our model of campus expansion calls for each campus to preach from the same text each Sunday, allowing for some differences based on life lessons and personality. This means we have the privilege of studying together. Yes, it is a privilege. Since I have started this with a group of young leaders, my overall study time has been reduced by at least 30% and my preaching has gotten better, or at least, my wife says so. Together, we can read more Scriptures, study more commentaries and have better exegetical debates than if the burden of study rests on just one person. Plus, the unity that is forged in these collaborative study sessions is very powerful and only helps on Sunday in the pulpit.

3. We get to pastor people right in front of us

There is an unmistakable bond that happens between the teacher of the Scriptures and the listener each week. I want to look people in the eye and pay attention to what God is up to in the room and I cannot do that effectively by video. I love when the Holy Spirit alters my course in a gathering because of something unique happening in the hearts of people. Then in the next gathering, I don’t sense those deters, so I follow my outline with equal effectiveness. Somehow, for me, I need to be in front of people to be at my prophetic best.

We are just starting this journey and I am very thankful for a talented team of communicators at New Life that makes experiments like this possible. I may very well use technology to primarily communicate at future campus sites, but for now I really like the relational path we are on together.

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