Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Time: The Art of Being Present

I preached on being present on July 6, 2014.  This sermon is the accumulation of lessons I've been learning through pain, failure, forgiveness, and healing.

I used this slide as an example of how I use time blocking to organize my schedule.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fight for Sustainable Ministries, Not Self-Preservation

There is a difference between striving to have a sustainable ministry and fighting to stay alive. When you act out of self-preservation you ask the wrong set of questions. At best, these are questions that are inwardly focused and shortsighted. Although longevity is not bad, your main goal should not be to help your church stay alive. Your main goal should be to be faithful to the Gospel and to join God as God ushers in God's kingdom.

What does this mean? Here are a few possibilities:
  • This may mean that you build a new church building. This may mean that you sell your church building.
  • This may mean that you hire more staff. This may mean that you cut staff.
  • This may mean that you stop pouring money into expanding your empire and start sending funds to an under-resourced church.
  • This may mean that you give away all of your resources to an emerging church so that a new ministry can flourish.*
Are you following me? Being faithful to the Gospel and joining God's mission does not mean that you last forever. It simply means you go where God calls you to go. 

While we shouldn't focus on self-preservation, we SHOULD focus on sustainability and health. Sustainable ministries don't drain the energy and resources out of our organizations and our people. I think sustainable ministries are simply good stewards of the gifts that God has given the church.

Here are a few ways to help you start thinking about building healthy ministries and not ministries that are fighting for self-preservation. This is not an exhaustive list. Comment below if you have more ideas.

Sustainable ministries emphasize health.
Self-preservation ministries emphasize numbers.

Sustainable ministries regularly evaluate the relational, spiritual, and emotional health of their group. Ministry leaders are regularly gauging the health of the congregation. Health and numbers are not mutually exclusive. I am a part of a healthy church that is bursting at the seams. Yet, our pastors, deacons, elders, and small group leaders are engaged with almost everybody who attends the church. We spend most of our time in staff meetings either doing spiritual check-ins with one another or praying for congregants by name. It's been a blessing to spend so much time focusing on spiritual formation and health. This doesn't mean we neglect our daily tasks. We simply don't let our daily tasks consume our focus.

Sustainable ministries look to empower others.
Self-preservation ministries try to hold on to power.

Believe it or not, you and I are not big deals. Sure, we can do some things well. But our ministries will be better if we find what is unique to our calling, do that well, and empower people to do the rest. I was recently talking with a successful lead pastor who is in his 40's. He said 10 years ago he wasn't comfortable enough in his skin to hire people who were better than him at things. Now, he proudly admits that he isn't the best speaker or administrator on staff. Not only is that good leadership, it creates space for new ideas and fresh approaches.

The reality is, none of us got to where we are because of our own power. We all stand on the backs of others who sacrificed, poured into us, loved us, mentored us, and created space for us. Now, go and do likewise.

Sustainable ministries emphasize how volunteers are doing.
Self-preservation ministries emphasize what volunteers are doing.

Today I interviewed a high quality candidate for a youth ministry intern position. Like all people that I supervise, I told him that I am more concerned with how he is doing as a follower of Jesus, a friend, and a son than what he can do for me and "my" church. People aren't tools for you to use to build your kingdom. They are gifts that God entrusts to you to love, serve, build up, and empower. When they leave, you want them to leave better people than when they arrived.

One side effect of this kind of support and care for your employees is that they tend to feel more at ease in their position which enables them to function out of their strengths. It gives them courage to dream big and take risks. And when they fail, they know that you have their back.

Sustainable ministries think about the entire organization.
Self-preservation ministries tend to only think about those with power.

I once served at an upper income church that was surrounded by neighborhoods that were very poor. On separate occasions I had two elders tell me that I wasn't hired to minister to "those kind of kids." They hired me to minister to "our kids." Wow! Too often I see pastors that only pursue deep relationships with people who have power and money in the church. Pastors let the bottom line sway them away from making decisions with Biblical integrity. It is wrong and unjust.

If you spend more time talking about getting better attendance to events than thinking about the needs of your community, you are fighting for self-preservation.

Sustainable ministries regularly evaluate effectiveness and adjust.
Self-preservation ministries idolize the glory years.**

Anybody who has served in a church that is older than 12 months knows what I'm talking about here. Too many pastors approach ministry like a formula. If they had a successful gathering they do everything in their power to replicate the event exactly. The problem is that people change, culture changes, and ministry needs change. Every gathering needs to be birthed out of a prayerful response to timely needs. Do not do an event simply because "we've always done it this way." Listen to the Holy Spirit and listen to the cries of the people. You'll know what to do.

Topo and Kairos

In the opening section of The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson says that being a pastor is all about topo and kairos, place and time.
Place. But not just any place, not just a location marked on a road map, but on a topo, a topographic map—with named mountains and rivers, identified wildflowers and forests, elevation above sea level and annual rainfall. I do all my work on this ground. I do not levitate. “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Get to know this place. 
Time. But not just time in general, abstracted to a geometric grid on a calendar or numbers on a clock face, but what the Greeks named kairos, pregnancy time, being present to the Presence. I never know what is coming next; “Watch therefore.”***
At the end of the day, I think this is the only true way to avoid getting sucked into fighting for self-preservation. God has called you here, in this place, for this particular time. God has called you to love and serve this particular group of people. What are the needs of the people? What gifts do you have? How is the Holy Spirit leading you to use your gifts to effectively minister to these people at this particular time? If you focus on those three questions, you will be ok.

* When I use the term "emerging church" I'm talking about churches that are being birthed or planted. I am not talking about the emerging church movement.
**In an old book by A.W. Tozer he says, "Let go of the good ole days that never were." I like that. We tend to romanticize the past instead of being fully engaged in the present.
***Peterson, Eugene H. (2011-02-22). The Pastor: A Memoir (p. 7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nothing but Net...Worth

Here is another infographic I helped create. You can access all of my research by clicking the link and scrolling to the bottom of the pop-up. It looks like the graphic designer only used about half of the information that I gave him.

NBA Stars
Source: SportsManagementDegreeHub.com

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Pope Francis Get's Right

I recently took up a freelancing gig doing research for a graphic designer. He gives me a topic, I do a ton of research around the topic, I write an in depth outline, and he creates an infographic using the information. Here is one titled "What Pope Francis Get's Right." I did 95% of the writing and research. Eric is a brilliant artist. I love how he brought my words to life.

Pope Francis
Source: OnlineChristianColleges.com

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Without Death There is No Resurrection

A few years ago I was asked to give a word of blessing to a congregation that was going through a tough time. This is a congregation with whom I served in my early years of ministry. They saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. God used them in tremendous ways to bless me. Here I was 6 years later asked to bless them. I took out some names and places. This is what I said.

Good morning church. Give me a second to connect with each of you visually
as a personal hello. I think about you guys all of the time...I even pray for you some. I
cannot express in words how refreshing it is to be back with you today.

Once in the fourth grade I had to iron some clothes so I went into my mom's closet to
get the iron out. I knew it was on the top shelf. When I opened the door of the closet I
looked up to see if I could see the iron. As I looked up the iron clobbered me in the face.
Sometimes reading scripture is kind of like that. You get what you need but it hurts.

_______ asked me to bless you guys. What a humbling thing it is to try and bless a group of
people who have loved and served my family relentlessly. I will do my best to describe
how significant my time at west hills was and how significant you are to me and my
family. But my disclaimer is, I cannot put into words the impact you had on us for the
good. But I will try.

Do you guys remember what the bible says about blessings?

Blessed are the poor in spirit => they shall see God
Blessed are those who mourn => they will be comforted
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness => they will be filled
Matthew 5:10-12

Are you sure you want to be blessed? It appears as though to be blessed is to hurt. To
be blessed is to feel pain.

Once I was going through a bumpy patch in ministry and was hurting. My spiritual
director told me, "There are two types of pain. Pain caused by neglect, abuse, or oppression. That pain is evil. There is also pain caused because the ego is dying. You need to lean into that pain".

I know this has been a painful year for this church family. I find that Jesus is drawn to
those who are hurting and to those who are suffering. He hurts with you. He weeps with

Jesus told his followers to take up their cross and follow him. To take up one's cross is
to die. Death causes pain. But, the gospel proclaims that death has lost her sting...death
has not won.

You see, after death comes resurrection. But resurrection only comes after death.

It was 6 years ago that Tammie and I packed up a Uhaul and moved out to a foreign
land called _________. I arrived wounded and burned out from a rough first 3 years at my
previous church. I arrived dead. And through my relationships with you guys and my
time at seminary I was resurrected.

At ___________ I found love. I found cups of coffee, boat rides on homemade vessels,
buckets of berries, jars of jam, home made folk CD's, bowls of German dumplings, hikes
where the conversations left my head more exhausted than my shaky legs. I found
life. The holy spirit used you to bring about resurrection. I would not still be in pastoral
ministry without experiencing your ministry.

We all need a resurrection. But first, we must surrender our dreams, we must let go
of the good ole days, we must die to ourselves, and bury our bodies within the cave.
Without death, there is no resurrection. On the third day, the stone will roll away, Christ
will call us to come forth from the grave and to take off our grave clothes.

So I imagine many feel like Yesterday was good Friday. You experienced a traumatic
event that made you question everything about who you are and where you are
going. The man you thought was going to deliver you was killed. You are hurting and
confused. To you I say, be of good cheer. Tomorrow the stone will roll away. Tomorrow
is the resurrection.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

reThinking Short-term Missions: 5 Ways to Approach Youth Mission Trips in a Healthier Manner

Recently I was asked to address a class of undergraduate students who are studying to be youth ministers. The professor invited me to choose the topic. I am going to speak on Multiethnic Youth Ministry. I'll provide those notes later. He also asked me for ideas for how I'd teach a lesson on short-term mission trips. This is what I sent him.

Imagine that a group of people who have different skin color as you, who dress differently than you, and who do not speak your language came to you with a truckload of unicycles. The unicycles are this awful brownish color. Let's be honest; The color looks like throw-up. The people seem friendly because they don't stop smiling. They break into tears when they see how few children actually play outside in your neighborhood. You see them pointing at your Xbox and shaking their heads in disgust. 

The group stays in a gym in your neighborhood. They pass out food that smells funny and doesn't taste very good. They try to get you to ride a throw-up colored unicycle. They end up passing out these unicycles to all of the families. After five days of meeting with you and talking broken English with you, they come back in tears. They take a bunch of pictures and hug you. Then they don't show up the next day.

Later you realize they gave unicycles because they "knew" unicycles were the best way for kids to get exercise. They chose the throw-up color because it is popular among kids in their homeland. Even if throw-up colored unicycles are the best way to get kids in shape, you love your Xbox and you think unicycles are dorky. You leave the unicycle in your garage and never touch it.

While there are certainly churches that do mission trips in a healthy manner, the situation I described is the best case scenario for many short-term mission trips.This is particularly true for short-term trips to developing countries. A group of random strangers shows up in a neighborhood, sleeps at a house or a gym, passes out food that doesn't really belong in that community, diagnose a problem in the community, and try to remedy the problem. The worst case scenario is that this group of strangers actually does the gospel disservice by demeaning the community and passing out "gifts" that damage the culture. 

Short-term mission trips can be a powerful experience for your group. I'd much rather take 20 kids on a mission trip than to a week at camp on the beach. However, there are some things you need to do to ensure that you eliminate the likelihood that you will hurt the people you are trying to help.

  1. Partner with healthy ministries that are already doing good work in the geographical area. This ensures that there is a long-term strategy in place. Spiritual growth thrives in the context of long-term relationships. Coming in for a week and leaving can be very harmful. Rather than just pick a random neighborhood in Mexico and go there and build houses, partner with a Mexican church in the community. Ask the people at the church to teach you cultural norms so that you do not offend the people you are serving. Partner with them in ministry. Exchange ideas. Exchange gifts.
  2. Go as servants. Too often we go on these trips, teach these "poor people" about Jesus, build a house, and leave feeling really good about ourselves. The reality is, God doesn't need us. God is already at work in the community. He allows us the privilege to serve in these communities so that we may be transformed by what he is doing in and through the population. Which leads to the next point.
  3. Go as learners. Sure, God can use you to teach, but you have much more to learn from the people you are serving than you have to teach. If you are going to serve on an Indian reservation, partner with a Native American church on the reservation. Let them do the Bible teaching to the community (there is a long and painful history of Euro-American missionaries doing very harmful things to the community). Ask them how you can be a better minister. Ask them what God has been doing in the community. Pray together. Study scripture together. Play together. I guarantee you would leave transformed and you would minimize the risk of being more harmful than helpful.
  4. Articulate the purpose of the trip to the students. Teach them about the culture they are going to encounter. Help them understand that they are going as learners and servers.
  5. Consider not calling it a mission trip. God does the saving, not you. Call it a Service - Learning Trip or a Work Camp. Call it Funky Monkey Week. Call it whatever you want. But consider not calling it a mission trip. Mission trip implies that you are going to save these rotten heathens. This can be very offensive, especially if Christians have had a negative impact on the community in the past.

In my 11 years of youth ministry, the best organization I have found that does short-term trips for students is S.L.A.M. Trips. They are on the Yakama Reservation in Washington. Check them out! Also, to read more about doing missions in a way that isn't harmful check out the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.