Month: October 2012

My NFL Guest Experience

I went to a Denver Broncos game with some friends this past weekend and had a great time cheering for the home team. We arrived about two hours early, paid $10 to park in a lot that almost two miles from the stadium and navigated our way with a throng through a circuitous route lined with souvenir vendors and potholes.

Once I arrived at the main gate, a security team waved a wand around me looking for hidden weapons, scanned my ticket, but not one person smiled or greeted me warmly. There was not even free coffee or a free gift for first time visitors.

The food was pretty good, but terribly expensive. My seats were certainly not spacious but there was a cupholder, so that was nice. The music blaring overhead was a mixed bag of 70’s rock-n-roll and modern pop hits, and really loud, even for me.

Once the game began, there was tremendous unity among the fans, most of whom were dressed in identical orange apparel. At key moments, like third down plays, the entire crowd anxiously stood to their feet and no one seemed to care that things were getting a bit emotional. Everyone, it seemed, came ready to engage and participate. They really cared about the details of what was happening. People were asking questions, debating strategies and even dancing in public when the Broncos scored. It was an authentic worship experience for many.

As the 75,000 fans exited the stadium, they cheered wildly all the way back to their various remote parking lots, this time dodging storm drains and spilled food in the dark of night.  No one seemed to mind the five hour gathering, the crowds, or even the cigarette smoke billowing from the masses.

All this confirms to me that the “guest experience” at our local churches may be a bit overrated and overstated. It seems that passion for what happens at the gathering trumps any inconvenience. We all seem to give a lot of grace to the imperfections of institutions or traditions that we admire or respect.

We should be intentional about communication, super friendly, and provide worship space that is clean and comfortable. But the NFL is proof that people will overlook lots of challenges for things they believe are important.

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The Thinking Church

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Philippians 4:8-9

What are you thinking about right now? Are you considering any new ideas or imagining new possibilities or realities? Have our churches become so populated by homogenous believers that there is no room for any competing philosophies?

Certainly, our local congregations must hold tightly to the foundations of our faith and not be drawn away by every new and fancy fad. Truly, we must teach the absolutes of Scripture without compromise, but I wonder if we have stopped thinking and growing along the way.

Recently, our team read a book together called Beauty Will Save the World, written by Pastor Brian Zahnd, which led to some great debate. It angered a few, challenged most of us, but made all of us think about some long held beliefs. At the end of the journey, many of us did not change our minds, but at least it caused us to stop and rethink why we believed what we believed.

Are you willing to listen to people outside your primary stream? I am not asking you to change your mind, but I am challenging you to at least listen. The older we get, we must be more intentional to continue our curious pursuit of learning. We must resist dogmatic beliefs that are based on assumptions rather than empirical evidence.

A thinking believer, rooted in the ancient truths of our faith, but infatuated with growing, resisting the stagnation of tired traditions, is a powerful force. God gave us both hearts and brains. We should nurture, cultivate and care for both.

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Sons and Daughters – Fake Trophies

My new book Sons and Daughters just released and I love the conversations that have started, especially from this chapter that I call “Fake Trophies”.

My daughter, Callie, played soccer this year on a recreational team that got “rode like a rented mule” every Saturday for four months straight. Callie is a fairly competitive kid and played well during practices and games, but not everyone shared her zest for the sport. In fact, based on empirical evidence, I can say that there were girls on her team who didn’t even know there was a ball on the field.

At the end of the season, Callie and her teammates were invited to a pizza party, along with all of the other teams in her league. The coaches made a big deal about the girls’ involvement and then proceeded to hand out trophies to each and every girl. Regardless of whether she was part of a winning team or a losing team, regardless of whether she dribbled like a pro or ever even made contact with the ball, every single player received a trophy—the same trophy as everyone else.

I think there’s a correlation here, between this ubiquitous sheltered existence and the fact that we’ve got a rash of twenty-somethings still living in their parents’ basements, with no plans to leave, no plans to achieve, and nothing but time on their hands. They were never challenged as kids, they never learned how to compete, and they’ve never been forced to recover from failure. Now they find themselves aimless and passionless and weak, while we shake our heads in disbelief.

Between the years 1940 and 1970, as a country we sent people into space, we invented computers, we created suburbia, and we revolutionized automobile technology. This was a generation that had endured a world war, had been challenged in combat, and had parents who had survived the Great Depression or had survived the Depression themselves. Competition was a celebrated part of the culture, and winning and losing mattered deeply. Heroes were honored for their victories, and grace was disbursed to the defeated. Losers learned tough lessons, and winners had to practice harder to stay on top. It was an age of innovation and persistence in the face of challenge and turmoil and angst. And every member of that generation was better for having prevailed. They understood the value of improving and overcoming. They didn’t need fake trophies to prop themselves up. Hard work was deeply honored, as opposed to mere limp participation.

This is just an excerpt from this chapter. Read the entire book and then let me know your thoughts.

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What Every Church Planter Needs?

A group of us had some great conversations at our New Life Leader’s Conference last week about planting healthy, life giving local churches. New Life has planted three successful churches in the last four years and we talked at the conference about the reasons each of them is thriving.

1. There was a prayerful evaluation of the lead pastor

One of the reasons many church plants fail is because the wrong person is leading the effort. For our three plants, each of the leaders submitted to an evaluation from our local elders and a stringent evaluation from the ARC Churches a great organization that you can send your potential church pioneers to for evaluation.

2. There were resources to send with them

Church planting is certainly not a business enterprise, but a church plant can fail for the same reason a new business can fail – no money or resources. Our local church set aside a portion of our mission’s budget so that we could send money with the church planting team. It certainly was not all they would need, but it was enough to get them started for a few months in a new city.

3. A local congregation sent them

It is so important for a church planting team to have an extended family. We believe that when a key leader on our team is sent to plant another church, we should celebrate like at a wedding. So many times, a church does not allow talented leaders to leave and it feels like a divorce. These leaders start leading their church like abandoned orphans instead of sent sons. I talk about the strengths and pitfalls of both scenarios in my new book, Sons and Daughters.

4. There were systems and plans to help them launch

We believe in leaning into the wisdom of those who have gone before us. There is not a need, in most cases, to reinvent the wheel with systems and procedures for things like guest follow-up, children’s ministry in a mobile location, sound equipment that can stand the riggers of set up and tear down every week and building a dream team of volunteers. Again, the ARC Churches is a great place to learn many of these things.

5. There is coaching and support going forward

All of the above can be in place and the church plant still fail. We must be willing to come alongside our leaders in those first few months, but also in the years that follow. All of us need mentors, overseers and coaches. Most importantly, we need friends who love us and will take our call when we feel discouraged and alone.

Church planting is a spiritual battle that only can prevail if there is abundant prayer surrounding a faithful leader who will teach the Scriptures and build authentic community. It is not easy and it costs more than any of us think, but our nation and world needs new churches to bring light into the dark corners of our culture. May we be ready to help them do just that.

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