Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mission from the Gospels

The art of compassion

for many years I have believed that serving the poor and needy; the "least of these," aka, hospitality, is close to the heart of God and really does build bridges for the gospel. I remember visiting the capital city rescue mission in Albany, NY as a young man, and being greatly effected by what I heard and saw, and one of the ministers from that rescue mission sharing with us about the ministry there. He said "until all of your senses are engaged in Christ's service, you will... never fully comprehend the great commission in all of its facets." that was nearly 30 years ago, and I've found what he said then to be true. But it's the personal touch that we extend to others, I believe, that truly effects both the servant and the one who is served; like Jesus reaching out with compassion and touching a leper (He didn't have to, He could have just said "be healed" and the leper would have been healed), so we are afforded the opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus and reach out with love and compassion to the broken, hurting people in our own time and place.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Church Planting 101: planting of the planter

     After 10 years of testing, even being sifted like wheat...at the verge of financial and marital disaster, yet we dug in deep...totally the Spirit working within us and through us...God had allowed everything we were clinging to, to disappear....and all we had left was Him...and when we thought it was all done and over, the breakthrough came...and is still coming...but we need to be prepared to endure...good thing it is God who calls, equips and goes with us, otherwise I would have lost my mind!

    I wish more church planters were prepared for the battles they will face...especially in new, unfamiliar territory. It takes awhile to get into the mind and heart of a community, along with its cultures and subcultures...bottom line...it takes time! I've seen more than a few church plants start and stop over the past ten years. I know exactly how those men and women feel. And I think it's ok to give up sometimes, but not completely. My wife and I thought we were giving up a ...few times, but we remained in prayer and in His word and continued to minister in our community, as members of our community...citizens, yet citizens of another kingdom, in the world but not of the world, and I've come to the realization that it is He who took on flesh and dwelt among us, who dwells in and through us, and it is He who draws people to Himself through us. I would tell any new church planter to move to your target community and just live there for awhile; like Abraham in the promised land. Take a job somewhere in that community, get involved in community activities, get to know your neighbors, frequent the coffee spots and businesses in that community, but not just for the purpose of winning souls and planting your church.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mission from the gospels and New Testament

Daily Summit with the Living Triune God

Entering a different yet familiar conversation: I've had this conversation with many at the various church planting and or pastoral conferences I've attended over the past decade, and it goes something like this: Why can't we get back to that simple, apostolic vision of church, as it is seen in the gospels, book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament...it was

Ok...I'm working on my first book, SUMMIT: Daily Summit with the Living Triune God... still in manuscript phase
It is a look at mission from the gospels and the new testament and how it relates to us today, in real, practical ways...Not just a theological treatise (how many times and how many books have taken that path?) But an honest, first hand look from personal experience on the mission field, and grappling with both new testament ideas and modern methods and models. All of this searching the scriptures daily in an effort to be missional and incarnational has left me kind of burned out! Been there? Done that? Join the club of burned out church planters who threw in the towel and moved onto something else...I was one of them, but God spoke to me with clarity and confirmation from His Word; it's not time to give up, but to dig in deeper. I've learned the significance and value, on the inside of me, of having a daily summit with the Living God, which has brought me to a place of rededication (as often as I need to) and the closest I've ever been to God. In the process, God has brought me:
Simplicity/simplify... For me it has all come down to the great commandment and the great commission (Matt 22&28)...BULLSEYE! Everything else falls under this simple theme in my life...this is what I live for and why I was created
Unity/unify...The cross has become my symbol of both my vertical relationship with God, and my horizontal relationships with other people...not just believers, but E V E R Y O N E!
Magnify...as I learn and grow in Christ and in favor with God and man, it becomes less about me and more about Him; living as salt and light (Matt.5:14ff)
Multiply...as we grow together (Church) we are multiplied, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit our magnified in our lives, both individually and corporately, as the church, living life and growing together, we learn to live as Christ lived, love as he loved, and serve as he served, thereby making Him known through our words and deeds, and he adds to our number daily, those who are becoming more like him in this way...this isn't about a local church and it's programs and ministries, but serves a much larger picture in..
Impacting the community around me which leads to...
Transformation of my community and my city
This is still very much a work in progress and I need help in putting what's in my head and heart down on paper and into a format that can be readily available to anyone and everyone who can learn and grow from all that God has instilled in me

My church Planting Experience: learning to follow God's provision

Learning to follow God's provision rather than asking God to provide is merely a matter of vision. Vision follows provision, sometimes, yet other times it's the other way around. As the old saying goes, "God provides where he guides." God, through the power of His Spirit, gives us eyes to see; like Abraham scoping out the promised land, he could see that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, yet living there by faith, on a daily basis, became overwhelming to him at times.... but,he remained faithful and obedient to God's call, even when he did not know how it was going to work out (Hebrews 11:8ff), because God gave him a glimpse of the bigger picture, and just enough information to get him to the next phase or place in his journey of faith. Also to point out, Abraham's sight was set on that eternal kingdom, whose builder and maker is God. 

 Seeing with eyes like Abraham's has become liberating and a defining moment in my own walk with Christ. Instead of asking God to provide for this or that, I'm now asking Him, "What are you providing this or that for?" Instead of planning and plotting my own course, I am learning to follow His provision and let Him guide my path (Proverbs 3:5&6).

Can you see the difference and how liberating this will be in your own life and call to ministry?

My Church Planting Experience: Planting of the Church Planter (Cont)

God has purposely and permanantly broken me out of that "bubble."

The secret is out...not that I was keeping any secrets, but I was not advertising that I'm a church planter/pastor at the diner where I'm employed. Earlier this year, January 8th, our church building was burlgarized and copper piping cut out and stolen...it was big news and all of the local TV and newspaper crews showed up and reported the story, which led to an outpouring of support, both financial and moral. I received more than my "15 minutes of fame." I would say that working at a popular local diner added to the exposure we received and many customers, along with most of the staff, voiced their concern with compassion and understanding. One concerned woman, a local community leader and business owner, set up a GoFundMe campaign which has aided in our financial support. Also being grounded in the community in which have lived in for 9 years now has proven to me and my wife to be of more value than anything we could have come up with on our own. God impressed upon me over and over the importance of living in the community and being an active part of it. This same community responded to our tragic event. One city councilman spoke on our behalf during one of the news reports..and as a result our grim situation turned around quickly to a communuity support rally. We're still working on getting our plumbing and heating restored, but we have received enough funds to replace the materials that were stolen, and also to purchase several kerosene space heaters. One local man donated 20 gallons of kerosene, and in the midst of all of this, which was designed by the enemy to shut us down, we have launched a community outreach ministry, where dozens of local needy families are served, totally supplied by a local supermarket; they give us their day old food, bakery and produce products. It would be easy for me to boast about all of this, as if i had something to do with it. My part is simply to remain, faithful and obedient. in the community where God has planted me

My church planting experience: Planting of the church planter.

I graduated from Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary (Northeast Campus) in the spring of 2005 and hit the ground running, with an itch to plant a church. But God had other plans which started out as I thought it would, but within three years, took a downward turn that I did not anticipate. We came to an old, dying (dead but didn't know it) independent Baptist church, at first with the intention of restarting the church. I was invited in spring 2006 to attend the Exponential Church Planting Conference in Orlando, Fla. There I met some of the leading church planters on the planet and heard some amazing church planting stories. I returned to NY capital region with a fire that was quickly extinguished (almost completely) by the reality of living in my community. I had not yet "broken the missional code" or applied any of the strategies I had learned from conferences and books; although I tried.

After three years of trying my best, our financial resources had completely dried up; both for the church and our personal support. My wife and I were fighting constantly. Our old, cold building was racked in debt, and we began to battle with our city over code and tax exempt issues; mostly due to misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge over church law, IRS and related issues on my part as well as our city comptroller and code enforcement personnel. All of this contributed to mental and spiritual breakdown of myself, my wife and our family life. Our two sons were adopting some of the behaviors of the inner-city kids we were reaching out to. We wanted to give up more times than I can count, but compelled by the Holy Spirit, to endure patiently, and to dig in deeper, we stood our ground, even leaving our church building briefly and exploring other, more manageable options. Another local ministry used the building under a usage agreement and had even attempted to purchase the building from us, with failed results...which led to the city's questioning over usage of facilities and tax exempt status.

Forward to summer, 2014. That other ministry that had used our Baptist church building, established in 19th century, closed down and moved to South Carolina, leaving the building empty once again, and still in the possession of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. Several ideas surfaced from a half dozen other ministries that wanted to take over the building, which we listened to and remained open to. but none of them came to be. So we entered the building once again, with an overwhelming level of support from our community, and we were immediately met with God's provision; both from the people and with God supplying our every need. He had been supplying our every need all along, but my perspective was different. God brought me through this wilderness; including a period of being "sifted like wheat." almost ending in financial ruin and divorce court. But God led us through all of this; on our "promised land." Like Abraham, we remained faithful and obedient in the midst of what we eventually saw as hopeless. I now see all of this as a part of God's plan for us, and for church planters in general; the church planter must first be planted in the community before seeds can be planted and eventually harvested. But now we are seeing fruit. I've officiated many weddings, funerals, baby dedications, visited many neighbors in the hospital, started a small group/bible study at a nearby senior high rise, and maintained a vibrant youth ministry though all of this. Many of them were in elementary school with our kids when we first arrived here and are now in high school or have graduated...a few of them have been baptized.

But God had to plant us first, and I would say to every new church planter to spend some time living and working in your community...get involved too...school board and PTA; neighborhood association and community projects; community sports and clubs...your wife and kids will love it and it will take your mind off of "church planting" and get you where you need to be...loving and serving your neighbors!

Mission From the New Testament

What I long for!

I often find myself wondering how far away we, the church, have gotten from that simple new testament picture we see in the book of acts...where they met daily in the temple courts and from house to house, and ate their meals together in simplicity and unity of heart, and when they did they magnified God, their number was multiplied by God, the community around them was impacted and transformed by their witness...not by buildings and programs and budgets. ..but by simple adherence to the great commandment and the great commission. ..not out of a sense of dogmatic duty...but by a deep and sincere love that had been stirred up within and among them by the presence of the Holy Spirit...that's the kind of New Testament church I long for!