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It is Not About You and Your Growth December 6, 2011

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Tullian Tchividjian continues to be one of my favorite reads lately.  The following comes from him and his blog at the gospel coalition.

Contrary to what we have typically heard (and been enslaved by), Christian growth is not becoming stronger and stronger, more and more competent. Christian growth and progress is marked by a growing realization of just how weak and incompetent we are and how strong and competent Jesus continues to be for us. Spiritual maturity is not marked by our growing, independent fitness. Rather, it’s marked by our growing dependence on Christ’s fitness for us. Remember, the Apostle Paul (who was more spiritually mature and “sanctified” than all of us put together) referred to himself as the “least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8) and the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15) at the end of his life. For Paul, spiritual growth is realizing how utterly dependent we are on Christ’s cross and mercy. It’s not arriving at some point where we need Jesus less because we’re getting better and better. It was, paradoxically, Paul’s ability to freely admit his lack of sanctification which demonstrated just how sanctified he was.

This is the point: When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!

Thankfully, the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The gospel frees us from ourselves. It announces that this whole thing is about Jesus and dependent on Jesus. The good news is the announcement of his victory for us, not our “victorious Christian life.” The gospel declares that God’s final word over Christian’s has already been spoken: “Paid in full.” Therefore, Christians can now live in a posture of perpetual confidence “that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

I love the story of the old pastor who, on his deathbed, told his wife that he was certain he was going to heaven because he couldn’t remember one truly good work he had ever done.

He got it.

Blessed self-forgetfulness!

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“How to Shrink Your Church” December 5, 2011

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Article by Tim Suttle that is worth your time:  How to Shrink Your Church

Pastors and churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year attending conferences, buying books, hiring consultants, advertisers and marketers, all to try and accomplish one thing: to increase attendance — to be a bigger church.

I’m absolutely convinced this is the wrong tack.

Success is a slippery subject when it comes to the Church. That our ultimate picture of success is a crucified Messiah means any conversation about success will be incompatible with a “bigger is better” mentality. Yet, bigger and better is exactly what most churches seem to be pursuing these days: a pursuit which typically comes in the form of sentimentality and pragmatism.

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.

Sentimentality is mother’s milk to the church which has ceased to believe our faith should really make a difference in the way we live our lives. Instead of proclaiming resurrection, the sentimental church will devote their entire Sunday worship service to Mother’s/Father’s Day — or worse yet, Valentine’s Day. Not that we don’t appreciate our parents and sweethearts, but the yielding of precious worship time to the celebration of greeting card companies signals a much deeper problem: we have lost track of the story of God. Yet, for a church to grow bigger, losing track of the story is precisely what is required.

Instead of pursuing faithfulness the sentimental church must provide a place where people can come to hear a comforting message from an effusive pastor spouting fervent one-liners which are intended only to make us feel good about the decisions we’ve already made with our lives. If our beliefs aren’t actually, really true then at least we can have a Hallmark moment, right? Above all the sentimental church must never teach us that in the kingdom of God, up is down, in is out, and nothing short of dying to ourselves and each other can help us truly live.

Perhaps more than sentimentality, pragmatism is ravaging the church. Pragmatism has led to a fairly new niche industry I call the Church Leadership Culture. Taking their cues from business, church leadership manuals are more than willing to instruct the interested pastor in how to gain market share. I once heard church consultant and leadership guru Don Cousins say that you can grow a church without God if you have good preaching, great music, killer children’s ministry, and an engaging youth minister. Cousins should know. He helped build Willow Creek Community Church and the church leadership culture. In the pragmatic church, there is only one question that matters, “What will work to grow my church?”

The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church’s job is not to affirm people’s lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question. The church’s job is not to grow — not even to survive. The church’s job is to die — continually — on behalf of the world, believing that with every death there is a resurrection. God’s part is to grow whatever God wishes to grow. Growing a church isn’t hard … being faithful as the church, that’s a different story.

I’m the pastor of a church called Redemption Church in Olathe, KS. Our church was planted in 2003 and founded upon church leadership principles that worked like a charm. We grew from 2 families to around 200 families in the first three years. We planted another church in a nearby town and continued to grow. But, when we decided to reject sentimentality and pragmatism and chase faithfulness instead we really began to grow … smaller that is. I don’t know for sure because we no longer count, but my best guess is that we have decreased by more than half. If pressed about my church’s growth strategy, I usually say it is to get smaller and die; to continually decrease the amount of time, resources and energy we spend trying to have the ultimate church experience, and to spend more time actually being faithful. Nowadays, faithfulness — not success — is our only metric. Success is about “doing.” Faithfulness is about “being,” and it’s really hard to measure.

Convincing the church she does not exist for the benefit of her members, but for the life of the world is a bad church growth strategy. It’s also exactly what the church must do. It’s a tough sell because crucifixion seems like a losing strategy unless you believe in the resurrection. Faithfulness seems like a losing strategy unless you believe that the power of the gospel trumps our ability to come up with all the right answers to all the right questions.

So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren’t afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies. After all, it takes zero faith to follow a strategy, but incredible faith to pursue the kingdom of God and leave the rest in God’s hands. If I’ve learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.

 

The Scandal at Penn State & The Gospel November 11, 2011

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This past week the sports world has been rocked by the story out of Penn State in which a long time staff member has been accused of sexually molesting several young boys over the course of many years.  That is horrific enough, but on top of that is the fact that the legendary coach of Penn State Joe Paterno was fired from his job because he knew about the situation and did not go above and beyond legal requirements to make sure these acts were stopped.

As I have been keeping up with this story over the last few days there have been some people who are just completely amazed that such a “good” “legendary” man such as Joe Paterno could get caught up in such an incident.  This is a man who has talked of the importance of character and was always considered to be one of the coaches who did it the right way in the midst of the cesspool of college athletics.

At first my reaction was similar.  How could a guy that has been doing things right for so long end up in the middle of this?  But over the last couple days as I have been able to think through things I have begun to realize that this is not a new or surprising story at all.  In fact, it is the story of man since the Fall.  Men are sinful beings that left on their own cannot do good.  The Old Testament is full of stories that illustrate this.   The best of the best in the Old Testament could not measure up.  Moses could not do it.  King David, a man after God’s own heart could not do it.  Solomon the wisest man to walk the earth could not do it.  The list could go on and on.

Thankfully, God intervened.  God knew man could not do it on their own, and therefore the lives of all those Old Testament people who could not accomplish it points us to one clear and decisive point–Jesus Christ is the only way.  Moses needed Christ.  King David needed Christ.  Solomon needed Christ. Joe Paterno needs Christ.  You and I need Christ.  He truly is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.

So how should we respond to such a story today?  We mourn and grieve for the lives of those precious children that were hurt. We pray that God will touch their lives and hearts with his grace and mercy.  We pray for God’s justice to be displayed both here on earth and for eternity.  And finally, we rejoice in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When we see stories of such great sin it should remind us of how great a sinner we are and lead us to our knees in praise to Jesus Christ who died on the Christ in our place to make atonement for our sins!

 

TBC–Around the World October 23, 2011

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Over the years our church has attempted to be a church that impacts the nations.  This past year  has been no different.  In July our church spent 10 days ministering in Macedonia and then in the last couple of weeks we had 2 members go with a Disaster Relief team from the Missouri Baptist Convention to Japan to provide relief. 

Baptist Press put out an article describing some of the work.  You can find the article here:  ‘Yellow shirts’ give Japan’s quake/tsunami survivors hope

I am proud to serve as their pastor! 

Here are a couple photos from the article:

In Ishinomaki, Japan, Gary Morris of Trinity Baptist Church in Willow Springs, Mo., draws a straight line on a board as part of a six-member Missouri team’s work in repairing first floors of homes destroyed by the March 11 tsunami

Chuck Wiersema and Gary Morris of Trinity Baptist Church in Willow Springs, Mo., help repair and rebuild homes during their relief trip to Ishinomaki, Japan. The restored floorboards and insulation will help keep the rest of this family’s home warm during the coming winter.

7th Grade Volleyball October 8, 2011

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This fall brought our first experience with middle school sports.  First up is 7th grade volleyball.  Michaela has been doing great and their team is 4-3 so far on the season.  In one of their victories Michaela served the final 10 points to secure the victory.  We are very proud of her!

The One You Need October 4, 2011

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The longer I am a father the longer I realize how true this song is…

Softball Champs June 26, 2011

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Yesterday was a big day for Mackenzie and her softball team.  They had lost only one game the whole season and were playing in their season ending tournament in the championship game against the one team that had beat them earlier in the year.  The team was down 9-7 going into the bottom of the last inning.  They scored 2 runs to tie it at 9 and then with the winning run on 3rd base the mighty Mackenzie steps up to the plate and delivers the game winning hit and they won the game 10-9.  So very proud of her!  Here are a couple pictures from the day!

Here is Kenzie with the first place trophy and the game ball that she was given by her coach for getting the winning hit!

Here is a picture of the entire team!  Great job girls!

First High Point Trophy June 18, 2011

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Today at our swim meet McKenna got her first ever high point trophy in the 8 and under division, not too bad for a 7 year old.  She got first place in the Individual Medley, short breaststroke, and long breaststroke and none of the races were even close.  Here is our little champ showing off her trophy:

Perspective June 14, 2011

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Amazing how quickly your entire perspective in life can change in just a few moments.  One moment you are going about your day as if everything is fine and you are in complete control.  The next moment you feel as helpless as you possibly can.

Yesterday a pretty regular doctor’s visit for an ear infection turned into a very scary afternoon of worrying about a possible serious health scare for one of our children.   Thankfully nothing ended up being wrong.  Those few hours of waiting real test your faith in God.  It definitely revealed to me that I need to trust in God more daily and stop trying to live in control of my own life, but daily depend upon His sovereignty and providence (and also hug my kids more and give thanks for good health).

The Spirit’s Leading June 1, 2011

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I have always had a hard time understanding the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  There have been times in which I have felt His presence so strong that I was almost overwhelmed by His power and might.  Other times it is a struggle to realize and remember that He is there every moment of every day.

Recently I was given a good reminder of His presence and leadership in my life.  One afternoon I received a phone call from a church member that his father, a long time church member and deacon, was not doing well and they were not sure how long he was going to be alive.  As I began to contemplate what I should do next, I immediately began to think to myself that I was tired and was nearing the end of a long day, I should go home and relax and I would go and visit with this gentleman and his family the next morning.

When I arrived home to relax, I couldn’t.  The Holy Spirit was instructing me that I needed to go and visit this gentleman and his family right then and not put it off.  I tried my best to ignore this leading and return to my self-centered evening.   The longer I waited, the more intense this leading became.  Finally, I got up and obeyed.  I went to the nursing home and saw this man and his family.  And I am so thankful I did because early the next morning I got a phone call that this man had went home to be with his Lord very early in the morning.  If I had waited to visit him, I would have been too late.

The Holy Spirit in many ways is still a huge mystery to me, but I am thankful He still speaks, leads, and guides His children.  I pray that next time I will not be so stubborn in obeying.