Why Plant New Churches?

church_plantingThe answer to this question is actually quite simple yet the discussion within our context makes it complex. I take my lead from Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York who has written a brilliant article on this very question. Following are excerpts from his article, Why Plant Churches? (2002).

There are numerous responses to the question worth considering.

  1. “We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we start new ones.”
  2. “Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. A new church will just take people from churches already hurting and will weaken everyone.”
  3. “Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the existing ones that are just keeping their noses above water. We need better churches not more churches.”

These statements seem like common sense to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask, “Why is church planting so crucially important?”

Continue reading Why Plant New Churches?

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The Dual Life and the Mission of God

As a pastor in a long established church (109 years), I find a tension that makes me weary and drives me to question at times, why I’m here. Don’t get me wrong, my congregation are wonderful loving, warm, salt-of-the-earth people who sincerely desire to worship and serve God. We have gotten more involved in our community through a non-profit organization that works with the poor and homeless, we host a SERVE project and take on some big projects to help those in need. We are a church trying to partner in the mission of God.

I like that. That’s how I believe scripture teaches the Gospel is to be lived and realized, through devoted followers of Christ who represent Jesus in their communities and wherever they find themselves. But here’s the great tension of which I speak; The Dual Life.

Continue reading The Dual Life and the Mission of God

Speaking from the Heart about Newtown

With permission I am posting an article written by a friend of mine, Lloyd Rang, that expresses the depths of my heart when I hear the statements made by people like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson.

Speaking from the Heart about Newtown

by Lloyd Rang on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 8:24pm ·

Right after the Newtown massacre, Christian pundits rushed to make statements about the tragedy.

Mike Huckabee, a Republican former governor and TV personality said this:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools … should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and radio show host said this:

“I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.”

And Bryan Fisher, a radio show host and leader of the American Family Association said this: “I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”

Each of these men believe the murder of 20 six year old children and six teachers was a judgment from God on America for, among other things, not ordering public schools to start the day in prayer.

They don’t really blame the madman who pulled the trigger. No, they say, the real culprits are liberal legislators standing in the way of public school prayer. And, of course, God — who allowed these kids to die to make a political point.

These messages have been shared with me by many friends on Facebook, often with a hearty “Amen” attached to them.  But read their words again.

Now, imagine a few things with me:

First, imagine you are standing with the parents of Dylan Hockley, a first-grader killed in Newtown.  Or imagine that he was YOUR child — a beautiful boy born just six years ago, who was just learning how to read and who loved Legos and stuffed animals and who was brutally slaughtered along with other little kids in his class.  Now, imagine James Dobson approaching you, and saying what he said on the radio to your face.

Second, imagine you are living in present-day England — among most secular places in the Western world. It does not have school prayer.  It also does not have school shootings.  Now, imagine reading Mike Huckabee’s quote.  Does it make sense to you?   Better yet, imagine yourself in 14th century England — at that time one of the most Christian places on earth — as the Black Death rolls through.  Does it make any more sense now?

Third — and this is tough, I realize — put yourself in God’s place. Read Bryan Fisher’s words again as he talks about God’s motives. Note how he implies God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.  Note how certain he is of the link between a lack of government-mandated religious observance and God’s wrath. Is this what we believe?  Should we really be saying “amen” to all that?

In the days since the shooting, I have been less vexed by the evil of the shooter than I am by the lack of empathy and the theology of vengeance I hear from my fellow Christians. Because while I expect evil in the world, I do not expect to see Christians celebrating it.  I am horrified when I hear us gleefully rubbing our hands together and saying: “See? God is finally punishing secular society for turning his back on him!”

We are like Jonah, eager for judgment. But instead of Nineveh we see Newtown. And we project our human motives and lust for punishment onto God. We cherry-pick which things he’s upset about, too. Huckabee and the others don’t see Newtown as a punishment for too many guns, or too much poverty — but because God is not honoured enough by the government, and because children in all schools are not forced to bend the knee.

When we do this, we are not showing empathy or love. It is the kind of thing we can only say if we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of a grieving, heartbroken, shattered mom or dad.  And when non-Christians hear such things, they have every right to ask: “Why would I want to serve a God like that?  Why would I want to join his church?  Why would I associate with such angry, vengeful people?”

I would hope that if you or I met a parent of one of these children today, we would wrap our arms around them, and weep with them.

I hope we would resolve to do everything within our power to build a better, safer world.

That we would cherish our own children all the more.  I think we would.

And yet I suspect we would also join them in their questioning of God and their anger.

Because what else is there?

When a loved one loses a fight to cancer and dies too young, we ask “why?”

When the holocaust raged across Europe with its unimaginable evil, people asked “why?”  When wars come, and accidents and ruin arrive we ask “why, why, why, oh God?”

So when a tragedy like this strikes, it’s natural to ask “why.”

I don’t know about you, but i have been asking that question a lot lately. These tragedies test my faith. They sicken my soul.  I cannot explain them.  Not only don’t I understand the heart of God, I don’t even know my own. As scripture tells us “The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

So when I hear fellow Christians like these three  — so certain about God’s motives they feel confident enough to take to the airwaves about it — only two things are possible: Either they are prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah sent from God to speak his heart to us, or they are speaking from their own deceitful, wicked human heart.

And when I imagine them, standing before a parent of Newtown, I know exactly whose heart is doing the talking.

Article by Lloyd Rang — Appearing in the January 19, 2013 issue of “Christian Courier” 

Irresistible Influence

I recently had a conversation with someone in our church who felt somewhat frustrated with where the church seemed to be heading. A year and a half ago as we  discussed our vision and identity as a church, conversations and round-table discussions made it clear that the majority of the church believes we must become far more active in our community and abroad.

This particular member thought it a waste of time and money to send myself and another church member to Zambia on a scouting trip to assess ministry needs in an area where we support a local pastor. They saw no value in such effort believing that the financial support we’ve sent for the past nine-plus years to be quite adequate. I assured her that there will be greater value in further developing our relationship with our friends in Zambia, with hands-on, side-by-side ministry that you can’t put a price on. And our brothers and sisters in Zambia are longing for that kind of relationship. People’s lives are changed in such ministry environments in incredibly profound ways not to mention the intimate relationships developed with our dear friends. I rattled off other various benefits to such an endeavor. She just looked at me, cold and said, “I guess I’m just old-fashioned and I don’t think it’s that important.” I cringe at that mindset, but understand where it comes from.

Continue reading Irresistible Influence

R.I.P. Deep Thinking

At the risk of not keeping your attention I won’t make this entry too long.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state or lack-there-of of critical thinking abilities among people, especially as a pastor. People today tend to process many ideas and information without seriously thinking about anything in particular except in regard to the day-to-day getting along and what that entails.

For years now professionals have been cautiously leery about the internet and social networking fearing how it is affecting the our ability to process things deeply not merely with a shallow once over and moving on to something else without full cognition of what they just read. Continue reading R.I.P. Deep Thinking

Do You Ask Good Questions?

Asking good intentional thought provoking, information gathering questions can take your small group to a whole new level of sharing.  How are you at asking questions?

Have you ever been frustrated during an intense conversation?  Dumb question, I know.  Of course we all have encountered the frustration.  Not the best question to begin a blog on the topic of asking good questions. The reason I started with that question is because it is often the type of question we ask; it only requires a “yes” or “no” answer not to mention it’s a question we already know the answer to.

In my ministry as a pastor I work with people on a daily basis and often times I sit with folks who are trying desperately to communicate their thoughts and feelings but sometimes lack the vocabulary to do so. They also struggle with clarifying what it is that is actually going on in their minds, feelings or life.  Good questions are very important in helping a person come to some clarity in order to better understand.  It’s good for me and them.

Ponderings on God's inertia