Archive for July, 2009

10 Ways to be a Great Church Plant Core Group

We’ve been so blessed at Second Mile to have such a great core group — we called them the “launch team” — who have done so much to help us start in strength. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be sharing with a group of men from the core group at Christchurch of East Mesa, a new sister church of ours (both of us were launched out of East Valley Bible Church in Gilbert). My contention is that it doesn’t matter how gifted or called the church planter is if his team is not on board in living out the vision of the new work.

So I made a top 10 list to help these guys start the church in a healthy way:

1. Your primary job is to create a culture that you and God will be happy about 10 years from now. This is a difficult thing to do, and part of the goal behind our current Core Values series. Who you are in the early days is who you will be later. Sure, some things change. But the DNA of who you are as a church and what drives you is formed quickly. Even though many core group members eventually move on, their role as culture-creators is essential.

2. Your new pastor and church will eventually disappoint you and let you down. People get into a new church thinking it will be utopia. It isn’t. Even if it is for a while, eventually the glitter rubs off. If you find the perfect church, leave because you will ruin it.

3. Work to create an evangelistic texture to every ministry environment. Evangelism is not just one program or an event. It happens all the time as people feel comfortable inviting friends and welcoming them into the community. Tim Keller’s resource on Evangelism & Church Planting in Postmodern Cities is very helpful here.

4. Always talk as though nobody knows who your heroes are. Christianity has its own little subculture, and different churches have their own set of “heroes” that they admire and talk about. But if you mention “Piper,” “Keller,” “Crowder,” “Luther,” etc. without explanation and assume everyone knows who those people are, it creates insiders and outsiders in a way that isn’t helpful. For us, and for Christchurch, it’s important not to assume people know who “East Valley” (our sending church) or “Tom” (our sending church’s pastor) are. One lady visited a group, kept hearing from an older woman about all the things “Tom” used to say and assumed that he was the lady’s deceased husband! Either way, to people who are far from God or not from your tradition, this is unhelpful and alienating.

5. Be known by what you’re for, not what you’re against. Is the church started from a positive vision for something or as a reaction against something? It makes all the cultural difference in the world.

6. Don’t moralize your personal preferences. Sometimes people are drawn to a new core group because they think it’s an opportunity to “create the church I’d like to attend.” But if those preferences (styles, times, songs, programs, plans) become sacred and moralized (i.e. “this is the right way to do it”), you’ll be disappointed (at best) or divisive (at worst), convinced that everyone else is sinful and bad.

7. Leave your current church on great terms (or go make it right if you didn’t). For a Christian who’s joining the core group of a church plant, this is really important. Don’t leave with baggage from your last church. If you’ve been in a position of leadership or responsibility, communicate with the people you’ve been working with. Don’t disappear out of nowhere, don’t drop the ball, and don’t smear mud on people or things that you didn’t like there. If you’ve already left and you’re guilty of division or gossip or dropping the ball, go apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make it right. Don’t bring your personal junk into this new work and think it won’t negatively influence the new work.

8. Relentlessly involve new people. I’ve realized that, in general, the “80-20 rule” where 20% of people do all the work is not the fault of the 80%. They would like to be involved. But once the 20% know each other and who they can count on to get things done, they stop asking people outside that circle. That’s why it’s huge to constantly be meeting and involving new people.

9. Be ready for change. I call this the “Brett Farve Retirement Principle” or the “for now” principle. One of my mentors says you should end every sentence with “for now” because the only constant thing in a new church is change. We’ve followed this advice and it is very good (for now).

10. Direction, not intention, determines your destination. This line was stolen from Andy Stanley’s “Principle of the Path” and simply means that where you’re headed is where you’re headed, even if you’d like to be headed somewhere else. The implication is that the things you want to be true of you in the future have to be part of the equation now or they will be very difficult to implement to the culture someday.

These are things that we’re still working on and trying to develop, and I’m thankful for the men and women who are striving to make them a reality in our church. It’s made the early days of this effort a sincere joy.

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What is True Beauty?

This past Sunday, we talked about Authenticity, which is being comfortable with who you actually are. As the father who’s trying to raise two girls to be authentically comfortable in their own skin, I think quite a bit about what culture says to women about what’s important. Many people — both men and women — struggle deeply with appearance issues. It’s easy to idolize a certain kind of look or body shape. One thing that can be helpful is to realize that many of the images and people we see and admire for their impeccable beauty or figure are not real. They look that way because of unnatural surgery, simple Photoshop editing, or other tips and tricks that fool the eye (or camera). When you realize that much of it is pretend, it frees you to not worry about living up to an unrealistic standard — after all it is unrealistic.

The following video that was produced as part of the Dove Evolution campaign provides an interesting look into this. I want to teach my girls that they are defined by what Jesus thinks of them and that basing their identity is like shadow-boxing, where you just can’t win.

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Two Quotes on Relevance in Ministry

Young pastors like myself are always thinking about how to make the unchanging message of the gospel relevant to the ever-changing cultural situation we find ourselves in. Just like a foreign missionary would examine his or her culture and look for ways that the gospel connects, American Christians should be doing the same thing.

Though they might not be exactly on the same theological or philosophical page, pastors John Piper and Rick Warren have been helpful for me as I think through how to have a relevant ministry. Consider the following quotes:

John Piper (in a discussion with other pastors):

“I think there are common denominators in human beings that are so massive, that one can get a lot of mileage out of feeling them very strongly. Like, ‘everybody’s gonna die.’ You should try feeling that sometime. And ‘everybody loves authenticity.’ I try to feel that…and then I read the newspaper and listen to a little bit of NPR and look at advertisers (I think they’re the ones who really study human beings), but mainly I’m trying to understand how John Piper ticks and go deep with my own heart and my own struggles and fears and guilt and pride, and then try to work on that and figure out how to tell others from the Bible how they can work on that. There’s enough connection to be of some use.”

Rick Warren (in an interview/discussion with Ed Young):

“I have found in looking for evangelistic hooks, it is more helpful to focus on what’s not going to change. Because I can tell you 30 years from now what’s not going to change. God’s promises are not going to change. Go’ds character is not gonna change. God’s love is not going to change. God’s word is not going to change. Human nature is not going to change. And I know that even 30 years from now, no matter what the technological changes, communication changes, or cultural changes — it will be a totally different world — but people will still be lonely, people will still get bitter, people will still get angry, people will still have relational problems, people will still have guilt and resentment and regrets and worries and fears and doubts, people are still going to have problems with parents and kids, they are still going to be looking for purpose. So the only way to always be relevant is to be eternal — to focus on eternal things — things that don’t change.”

I think these are wise words. Many things change. But the most important things never do. Remembering that will always keep you relevant.

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The Side of Joel You’ve Never Seen

Second Mile Church was so blessed to have Joel Buckingham lead us in praise and worship for our first four months, and it was a thrill to have him back with us this past Sunday. He serves full time at our sending church and was so gracious to spend so much time helping us. Joel loves Jesus, cares deeply about helping people express their joy in him, and is growing rapidly. But, if you don’t know Joel very well, the video below you will show you the side of him you’ve never seen…

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My Thoughts on “Healer”

Lots of great discussion this week (both on and off the blog) about the recent post asking whether we should sing the song “Healer.” Thanks to so many of you who took the time to comment and weigh in. A number of people asked me this weekend what I thought about it, so here’s my answer to the question, “Should we sing this song at Second Mile?”

Briefly, my answer is, “Yes.”

Here’s my reasoning:

1. I like the song from a musical standpoint. This is not the most important reason, but I do like the song. I think the music is stirring and I love songs with big “anthem” type choruses.

2. The words are true. God walks with us through trials. God heals all our disease — sin in this life (and sometimes our bodies) and our broken lives completely in the age to come. God is the portion of believers. Jesus is more than enough for us. Nothing is impossible for him. These words are in line with biblical truth and helpful for God’s people. When I hear them and sing them, I am reminded of good things that my soul needs to hear.

3. It’s impossible to find songs written by sinless authors. God chose to use an adulterer/liar/murderer to write a good portion of his songbook, the Psalms. A number of the commentors mentioned this same idea. While I am saddened and grieved by Mr. Guglielmucci’s deceit and sin, I do not expect the songwriters of our songs to perfectly live out the truths that they write about. This past Sunday, we sang songs by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, and Elvina M. Hall. I suppose that if we were to know them personally and examine their lives, we would end up disappointed in some points.

4. The song serves as a helpful warning. It is possible to honor the Lord with your lips and have a heart that is far from him. You watch Mr. Guglielmucci sing this song with passion and fervor and it is a helpful warning that you too can have moments of real passion while harboring sin in your life. When I hear this song, I think to myself, “Luke, are your outward expressions of praise and adoration to God simply outward, or is there actual truth and integrity to the things you say, sing, and do?”

5. I can relate to the inner struggle of seeking to believe truth even when I’m not believing it. I suppose there are two ways to view Mr. Guglielmucci’s motivation to the song. The more cynical among us will say that he intentionally wrote a story that would be compelling in order to sell thousands of albums and that he’s just a pure huckster. The other, more optimistic, view is that he was battling the guilt of his life-dominating sin (pornography) and wrote these words as a way of preaching truth to himself and trying to talk himself into believing what is actually true. I’m not sure that we’ll ever know his motivation. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both. But I’m intrigued by the idea of the second view because I often find myself trying to preach things to myself because I’m having a hard time believing them. For instance, I regularly pray things like, “Jesus, you’re all I need” — even when I’m living as if what I really need is some kind of comfort or food or entertainment or approval. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder if this song was a kind of self-pep-talk for Mr. Guglielmucci as he tried to overcome the sin that had overtaken his life. Perhaps it was the truth of this song that eventually led him to come clean and confess his duplicity (as far as I can tell, he confessed on his own rather than being caught). Who knows. But I can relate to the need to preach truth to my heart that is “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” (in the words of another songwriter who struggled to live out the truth of his lyrics)

6. I would enjoy teaching the lessons from this situation to our people. A number of people commented that they would be a bit distracted by this song if we were to sing it on Sunday. I understand that feeling and did feel distracted when I sang it at another church recently. But the distraction was thinking over things like the points above and remembering that Jesus is the satisfying portion I need every single day. I think teaching this might serve as a warning to those who need to be warned, might help expose those who need to be exposed, and might encourage those who need to be encouraged.

So, those are my thoughts. I’m not saying that they’re right or best, but I have thought them through. Matthew and I have not even really discussed whether this will be a song we sing at Second Mile, so stay tuned. Either way, I hope you’ve been challenged in your thinking and encouraged to walk closer with Jesus. He is more than enough.

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Life-Change: Why we do what we do

People often ask me what I like about being a pastor and what I like about pastoring Second Mile. My usual answer is that I love participating in seeing God change people’s lives. Here’s a video that we showed a few months back in a worship gathering from a baptism we did and it highlights some great stories of change.

We’ll probably be doing another baptism soon, so if you’re interested, be sure to let me know!

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Should We Sing This Song?

Have you heard about the story of the Hillsong hit song “Healer”?

Here’s a quote from an article that explains the controversy:

He preached to thousands about his terminal illness and tugged at hearts with a hit song. The problem is the pastor wasn’t dying at all.

Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer “battle”, has been exposed as a fraud…

Earlier this year, Mr Guglielmucci released a hit song, Healer , which was featured on Sydney church Hillsong’s latest album. The song debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts. It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Mr Guglielmucci, who has claimed for two years to be terminally ill.

Below, you can watch YouTube clips of both the song and a news story and interview after the truth came out…but the big question is, should we sing this song at Second Mile? Why or why not? Leave your comment below. I’d love to hear what you think and why.

The song…

The scandal…

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