Leaving on a Jet Plane

out-of-office-signWell, not exactly a jet plane. The week that I have been looking forward to has finally arrived; Summer Vacation. My family and I will at the beach this coming week. I am so looking forward to no meetings, no scheduled events, and no places that I “have to be”. Between a heavy summer community ministry load, sermon study/planning, congregational care, and seminary I am very tired and look forward to some much needed rest. I will try to post a few thoughts throughout the week here at The Road Less Traveled. Make sure you check back every so often.

Friday Is For Scripture : Mark 12:41-44

41. Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42.  And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. 43.  Summoning His disciples, He said to them, “ I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. 44.  For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed—all she had to live on.”

Have you ever stopped to think about what you give to God? I’m not referring to anything monetary. I’m talking about how much of yourself you give to God. The way in which God uses what we give is entirely His choice. Your offering, gift, or sacrifice may seem simple and unimportant. God excels in taking the simple and producing great results.

For example, the widow in our passage gave a total of less than one penny. The amount was not the issue. The issue, or what touched the heart of God, was her attitude behind that amount. Her devotion to God led her to give everything she had to live on. This in turn led to a deeper trust in God that He would provide for her needs. Where is your devotion? What does your devotion look like? Has your gift or sacrifice touched the heart of God? The world we live in says you have to give more, do more, and be more in order to be accepted. God requires one thing – obedience.

I believe there are some vital things we can miss if we don’t surrender ourselves to God. I give these to you for your consideration.

1. If I am not surrendered, I will miss the opportunity for God’s blessing on my life.

2. If I am not surrendered, I will miss what it means to be a “friend” of God.

3. If I am not surrendered, I will miss the opportunity to do something meaningful in the kingdom.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #4

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.

The first two posts in this series dealt with the characteristics of staying churches. In the previous post, I began describing the characteristics of sending churches. I defined sending churches as “those churches who are intentionally sending people and resources into their community for the explicit purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ. These churches see their community as their responsibility.” Here is a quick recap of the first five characteristics of sending churches.

1. Sending Churches understand that time is an enemy.

2. Sending Churches have resolved in their hearts and minds that the church exists for those who are not there yet.

3. The passion and resolve to reach their community is reflected in the budget of a Sending Church.

4. Sending Churches intentionally schedule ministries, events, and activities for reaching their community.

5. Sending Churches resist the “maintenance” model of ministry.

6. Sending Churches view missions not as a singular activity to do but instead view it as a lifestyle to be embraced. Churches are really good at compartmentalizing. Programs have made this easier to do. Missions is often improperly viewed as a single event or a special offering. It is often improperly viewed as something we “do”, rather than who we are. Sending Churches see the pursuit of those outside of God’s family as something woven throughout the fabric of their overall work and ministry. If missions is only seen as something we do every now and again instead of embracing it as a lifestyle to be lived, we will never be effective in pushing back the darkness of lostness.

7. The leadership of a Sending Church models and practices a “live sent” lifestyle. When I say leadership here, I am speaking of the pastor. It has been said that “everything rises and falls with leadership.” This is never truer than when it is applied to the church. One of the interesting things that happens in the local church is that the congregation tends to take on the personality of their pastor. If the pastor is loving and caring, the congregation tends to be as well. If the pastor is cold and dismissive, the congregation tends to be as well. If the pastor embraces the fact that God has sent the believer into the world to be salt and light and models that in his everyday contact with people, the congregation tends to do the same. On the other hand, if the pastor refuses to embrace this fact and does not “live sent”, then all the preaching in the world will not do. Sending Churches are led by pastors who know what it means to “live sent”.

8. Sending Churches constantly evaluate ministries, programs, and staff in order to be in a better position to impact their community. The tendency of any organization, churches included, is to continue along the same path unless forced to change direction. As a result it is easy to get locked into a routine and fall into the rut of comfort and ease. We fail to remember that a rut is simply a grave with both ends knocked out. It is important for churches to evaluate their work and ministry often. This requires tough questions and honest answers. This is hard because over the years people become attached to “their program”, “their class”, or “their ministry”. Leaders must be aware that making changes can create a firestorm when someone’s favorite thing is affected, altered, or discontinued. Churches that are intentionally sending resources and people into their community for the purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ are constantly asking questions such as “What is not working?” “Do we have the proper funding for this ministry?” “Which programs are not effective?” “Are we utilizing the time and energy of our people in the best possible ways?” Sending Churches are willing to place the “sacred cows” on the altar for the sake of those who still need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sending Churches are constantly asking questions similar to this one, “In our current situation, what could we do different in order that more personnel and resources are given to the pursuit of those who are not here yet?”

9. Sending Churches see their community as their personal responsibility. I think this is self-explanatory. If we define community in the context of those living, working, and playing within the immediate reach of the local church, how can we not see them as our responsibility? Many churches see their community as a burden and a not a responsibility. The OT prophet Jeremiah spoke to the importance of accepting responsibility for our location and influence. He wrote, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” Sending Churches feel responsible for the well-being of their community and constantly study it, pray for it, and visit it.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #3

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.

The first two posts in this series dealt with the characteristics of staying churches. In this and the following post I want to look at sending churches. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “If there be any one point in which the Christian church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate lukewarmness, it is in the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world.” With this in mind, what is a sending church and what does it look like?

Sending Churches are those churches who are intentionally sending people and resources into their community for the explicit purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ. These churches see their community as their responsibility.

What does a Sending Church look like?

1. Sending Churches understand that time is an enemy. We do not know how much time we have. We can make all kinds of assumptions and plans that have us being here for years and years and years. If we believe this we allow ourselves to, either intentionally or unintentionally, put off what we know we should be doing today. Time is drawing to a close and the number of those without Christ keeps rising. Sending Churches understand that they can’t waste even a minute when it comes to sharing the gospel message.

2. Sending Churches have resolved in their hearts and minds that the church exists for those who are not there yet. I say “resolved” because this is a conscious decision, a reality that you must come to terms with. When a congregation commits themselves to the notion that their existence is for those outside of it, personal comfort goes out the window. If I truly believe that my reason for existence as a church is for those not yet a part of it, then I must be willing to be inconvenienced for their sake. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so very well, “The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity.”

3. The passion and resolve to reach their community is reflected in the budget of a Sending Church. As I shared in a previous post, I believe you can tell a great deal about someone by the looking at the friends they keep, their calendar, and their checkbook. The same is true for churches. A church budget is actually a list of priorities; what’s important gets funded. Churches that see the community as their responsibility and are determined to reach it build into their budgets the necessary funding to allow the work to be done. The mark of a sending church is that more funds are allotted for outside community ministry than is allotted to internal fellowship events.

4. Sending Churches intentionally schedule ministries, events, and activities for reaching their community. 

The key word here is “intentional”. Sending churches are very proactive in the scheduling opportunities for their people to serve and connect with their communities. Community engagement does not happen by accident. These churches understand the wisdom in scheduling different types of ministry in different locations. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it is almost impossible to catch fish without putting a hook in the water. It is rare for a fish to jump in the boat. No matter how much the fisherman wants this to happen, it shouldn’t be expected. No matter how much we want people to come to our churches, no matter how much we want to make a difference in the community, no matter how much we want to go after the lost around us, if we never step out and take a risk we will never know the reward. Sending churches don’t talk about ministry and service, they just do it.

5. Sending Churches resist the “maintenance” model of ministry. Most everything that exists requires some sort of maintenance along the way to keep it in good running and working order. Churches are no different. Churches that fall into a “maintenance mode” of existence make the adjustments to keep this working as they always have. Sending churches focus on creating and reaching instead of maintaining. I want to be careful here. I’m not saying that maintenance is bad or that the maintenance model is not effective for the kingdom. However, if the focus of, and the pleasure of the church is keeping the lights on, paying the preacher, and personal comfort, something is out of focus.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #2

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences and observances.

Earlier this week I began writing about two types of churches: staying and sending. My intention was/is to the highlight the characteristics of each type of church. I know that using the phrase “versus” may bring to mind a battle or competition resulting in a winner or a loser. My use of the phrase “versus” has more to do with two different mindsets or priorities. Here is a quick recap of the first five characteristics of staying churches.

  1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus.
  2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”.
  3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.”
  4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry.
  5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change.

6. Staying Churches believe the church exists to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the membership exclusively. There are many church members today who believe that the church exists for them and that their comfort and needs are of primary importance. It was the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” If churches want to impact their community, the individual congregations must be willing to adjust what they do and what they think. There is a big difference between saying that we want people to come to our church and actually making room and allowance for them.

7. Staying Churches tend to spend more time talking about what is wrong instead of celebrating what God has accomplished. I’m not sure why it is harder to celebrate what God is doing (even if it is small things) than to focus on what is wrong, on what people are not doing, on failures in the past.

8. In Staying Churches, people perform tasks and duties out of a sense of obligation rather than out of a sense of purpose. Purpose is directly linked to service. If you understand your individual and corporate purpose for existence, you will view opportunities to serve and fulfill that purpose with excitement and enthusiasm. If you don’t understand what your individual and corporate purpose for existence is, then all service is seen as a job, an obligation, or an inconvenience.

9. Staying Churches spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on where the church has been instead of where the church is going. Notice that I said “an unhealthy amount” of time. There is nothing wrong with being proud of what the church has accomplished in years past. This can actually be helpful at times. However, if a church lives in the past, consistently looks back to past practices, pastors, and program, it won’t be long until the conclusion that “the best years are behind us” is made. Staying churches love the past and fiercely hold on to it.

In the next post in this series we will turn our attention to Sending Churches.

Staying Churches vs Sending Churches : Part #1

MMlogoDisclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences.

I recently led a conference for our local Baptist association entitled “Community Engagement”. The purpose of this conference was to introduce church leaders to principles and strategies for reaching their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles and strategies that I shared are the same ones that guide our aggressive community ministry at Port Royal Baptist Church. In addition to the fifteen principles, I shared the difference between sending and staying churches. Why mention this? Not every church is ready and willing to reach out and make themselves uncomfortable getting to know and minister to their community. Before any church can get serious about reaching the neighborhoods and communities around them, they must determine if they are willing to pay the price to do so. Over the next few days I will share the nine characteristics of both staying and sending churches. I will begin with the first five of staying churches.

Staying Churches are those churches who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. These churches acknowledge their community but don’t necessarily feel responsible for them.

What does a Staying Church look like?

1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at a person’s friends, calendar, and checkbook and be able to tell where their heart is. The same is true for churches. Churches budget what is important to them. The budget of a staying church reflects a desire, although not spoken, to keep the membership entertained and happy. In staying churches, budgets are heavier in the areas of fellowship and lighter in the areas of missions and evangelism.

2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”. I believe it is fair to say that the one of the largest expenses churches have is facilities upkeep and maintenance. Because of this large monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the church building from anything that might harm or hurt it. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can certainly hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministries. An example here is helpful. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things on the carpet. Children write on the wall. In order to prevent all of this from happening, a staying church makes the decision to not reach families with kids because they might “hurt the building”.

3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.” If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time you have been exposed to all kinds of church programming. I can say that in our Southern Baptist life we have never had a shortage of church programs. Church programming is much live television programming. Cable companies offer shows and programs to satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, hunting, cooking, sports, news, etc.) Church programming is much the same. We utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, young adults, military, senior adults, etc.) Problems occur when churches see the programs as the end and not a means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programming. The real question is not “Do we need to add another program?” The real question should be “Are the programs we are using helping us fulfill our purpose or do we need to do stop and do something different?” A word of caution. Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television show was cancelled? The same feelings are true in the local church.

4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry. This is very common. Throughout the year, most churches take up missions offerings for various causes. Staying churches believe this goes far enough. Why? It’s easy. It’s clean. I had a former church member tell me, “that’s what we pay missionaries for.” It’s one thing to simply throw money at a cause. It’s something altogether different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is one major problem with this practice. The majority of the missions offerings that churches collect are not for their immediate community. Who is reaching them?

5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Not much to stay here. For a church to reach and impact an ever-changing and ever-evolving community, business as usual must go out the window. Staying churches prefer to bask in comfort than to inconvenience themselves for someone else. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty.

Book Review : History, Law, and Christianity

historylawandchristianity-1Apologetic resources abound. No shortage of books that defend the validity of the Christian faith exists. Many of these resources often set Christianity alongside other belief systems and use the Bible to demonstrate the truthfulness and validity of Christianity. I have no problem with this. For I believe as Herschel Hobbs did when he wrote that the Bible is “truth without any mixture of error”. I am comfortable with using the Bible as the beginning of any apologetic discussion. However, there are many who are not willing and able to begin with the Bible itself as a starting point. Fewer apologetic resources begin the defense of the Christian message at somewhere other than the Bible. In his new book, “History, Law, and Christianity; How Does the Historic Evidence for the Christian Message Hold Up Against Cross-Examination”, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery approaches the defense of the Christian message from a strictly historical and legal perspective.

Montgomery’s book breaks into two major parts: Historical Evidence and Legal Evidence. In the first section, the author builds a case for the Christian message from a historian’s standpoint. He began by asking the question, “Are the New Testament documents historically trustworthy?” He answers by offering four tests. Test One, the Biographical Test, answers the question, “Can we arrive at a stable, reliable textual foundation for the claims of Jesus as set out in these records? Test Two, the Internal Evidence, deals with antiquity’s standard that the benefit of the doubt goes to the document itself unless under discussion the author disqualifies himself through fraud or contradiction. Test Three, External Evidence, answers the question, “Do other historical materials confirm or deny the internal testimony provided by the documents themselves?” Test Four, Form Criticism, which seeks to determine a literary work’s original form and the historical context of the literary tradition.

In the second section, Montgomery gives the reason for reasoning the Christian message from a legal perspective. He writes, “Here we shall use legal reasoning and the laws of evidence. The advantage of a jurisprudential approach lies in the difficulty of jettisoning it: legal standards of evidence develop as essential means of resolving the most intractable disputes in society. Thus one cannot very well throw out legal reasoning merely because its application to Christianity results in a verdict for the Christian faith”. Montgomery sets forth to answer the question, “What are the pertinent questions about faith?” He does so by asking and answering four key questions from the jurisprudential standpoint. Those questions are:

1. Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to rely upon?

2. Is the testimony in these records concerning his life and ministry sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself?

3. Do the accounts of his resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, in fact establish those claims?

4. If Jesus’ deity is established in the foregoing manner, does he place a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as to render its pronouncements apodictically certain?

In the course of answering these legal questions, Montgomery puts the witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, death, burial, and the resurrected Christ “on trial” by utilizing the legal means of deeming a witness truthful and their testimony reliable. Montgomery writes, “In a court of law, admissible testimony is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful. The burden, then, is on those who would show that the New Testament testimony to Jesus is not worthy of belief.” It is here that Montgomery excels. He applies the criteria for credible testimony in the legal arena to the New Testament witnesses. He looks internal defects with the witnesses, external motives to falsify their testimony, internal defects in their testimony, and the external defects in their testimony. He then goes to share his conclusions that evidence for the Christian message in valid, reliable, and trustworthy. A tremendous work.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”