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!

my take on bi-vocational ministry

Reality Check

A number of years ago I went from being a full time pastor/church planter to bi-vocational breakfast cook at a popular local diner and have learned so much about community and how people depend on that place as a vital connection point outside of their home and workplace. Five years later and I'm seen as more than the guy who cooks their eggs and pancakes, but have become a part of the scenery. Chatting daily with the customers, who are mostly regulars, has been a tremendous way for me to develop my own spiritual gifts in a real, every day place. This opportunity has also allowed me to utilize 25+ years of cooking experience in an effort to support my family.

I had reached a crisis point in my life and call to ministry and had been convicted of the reality of having to support my family, along with knowing at the core of my being that we (my family and me) are where God has called us to be. A second reality was the lack of support I had managed to attract to my own church planting/church restart venture. My wife and I had been called to restart a dying (dead but didn't know it) independent Baptist church and it was what appeared to be (to us and everyone else) a grim situation. But I believed back in 2005 and still believe today that God does not make mistakes. He calls and we follow. We go and he provides...simple as that, right? Well it's not always visibly clear, but if we remain faithful and obedient, and dig in deep, especially when it seems like there is no other way, the visible signs that will validate our call to ministry will become clearer. What will become even more obvious is the fact that God has not set us up for failure and in the end it is Him that will be glorified, and it is the people we are ministering to on a daily basis that will be the marks of our success. What better way to meet your neighbors than to work along side of some of them and serve them daily.

I say this not only to defend my own need to work outside of the church to support myself and my family, but to testify to those who are where I've been; it's okay, even to your advantage and for the success of your ministry, marriage and family life, to work outside of the church. Paul often worked as a tentmaker. Along with working in the community, might I suggest enrolling your children in the local public school? This gives you access to 90% of the families who live in  the community, and serving on school committees, PTA and other activities gets you involved in that community and says to your neighbors that you are there to serve with them. Involve your kids in local community activities; sports, scouting, 4H, etc. This has been such a boost to our success in ministry.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mission From the Gospels:measuring success

I've been thinking about and discussing this very issue recently...and, what the marks of successful discipleship looks like...are we merely turning out religious zealots who are leading people in that familiar sinners prayer? or are they learning to be more loving, kindhearted and full of grace and truth as they interact daily in their own lives, within their own sphere of relationships? Are we merely leading them through the weekly motions of "church" or are we teaching how to worship God in spirit and in truth? I believe there is a proper balance that is gauged through faithful obedience to the mission and the community he has sent us to. I've gotten past the usual tools of church growth measurement; especially when there seems to be no single method or model agreed upon. So many differences yet the only common bond is the gospel. So maybe we should just start and stay there, allowing the Holy Spirit to shape our mission from the gospels, along with our measure of success in ways that will always point back to God and not to man. What would that look like on a practical. daily level?

Friday, February 13, 2015

How Long, LORD?

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Within every person lies the potential to be good or evil, righteous or wicked, loving and merciful, or callous and uncaring, God's way or my way. David saw this truth within himself. So often he prayed for deliverance from his enemy and his foes. But who, really, is the enemy?
In the midst of great struggles it can seem like God is silent and distant. Our own pursuit of the wrong, sinful, selfish desires within can move us further and further away from God's light; like a flame being distanced from it's source of fuel. This journey called life is a constant battle. Every day there is a war raging within us...a fight for our own soul's survival. Every day we awake to new possibilities and a series of thoughts and decisions, conflicts and encounters with our own conscience. Temptations and trials never seem to end. This battle takes place within; at the core of our being--that place where our thoughts and emotions are birthed. Here is the place where the enemy seems to gain victory...when our own thoughts and emotions control us and our actions. When the truth becomes a lie. 

In verse 2 of this Psalm David asks, 

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 

So it becomes clear that his own thoughts can be his foes when he allows his thoughts to take control of him, and he sees the struggle and the potential of what can happen when he allows his thoughts to boss him around. Our thoughts and actions are guided either by our emotions and feelings, without much consideration, or we can pray for a heart of wisdom, giving our thoughts over to God, who in turn helps us to think things through; to weigh our decisions and be guided by a conscience that is turned over to God. When we allow our own thoughts and feelings to guide us, we're easy prey for the lies of this world. But when we pray, as David does here, God's light shines through our darkness and exposes the lies and allows us to see the truth and the potential of every decision, good or bad.
The real struggle, as Paul wrote in the new testament, is not with flesh and blood. It is a spiritual battle, fought in a spiritual kingdom. Therefore, I cannot fight my self-defeating thoughts and feelings in the flesh. This is why David turns to God as he retreats to his prayer closet. It is through prayer and confession that we draw closer to God and further away from the grip of the enemy who wants to control our hearts and minds so that we don't think about God or or anyone besides ourselves. Our foes, then, are those very thoughts and feelings that can deceive us and cause us to be blinded from reality, and to make split decisions without thinking things through, and to act upon what we think is right or best for us. Sometimes even the well meaning advice of others can be our "foes." 
Psalm 1:1 says, blessed are they that do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. That ungodly counsel can come from our own minds, shaped by a number of competing influences. 
Turning to God regularly in prayer can help us to discern what is best for us, and to proceed from there with the decisions we make 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey Towards Missional

 "The devil does not know what to do with a man who just won't give up."

One day I just woke up and decided to be "missional and incarnational." No...it didn't work that way! A decade of failure after failure after failure followed, and a heart and mind that had been broken of everything I had learned and had known. Sifted like wheat? Yeah...been there/done that! Went through a period of darkness, where I actually resented God. I started thinking that this whole church planting thing was just not for me and that I had somehow deceived myself into ...thinking otherwise. Well, we did manage to maintain a healthy youth ministry out of all of this...so that's what we focused on for a few years. There were so many times that I wanted to just go back to Schenectady...even had an offer to get my old job back at the rescue mission. But something just did not feel right. The Holy Spirit still tugging at me...that still small voice saying, "I'm not done with you yet." I remember shaking my fist at God. "How much more am I supposed to take?" And He began to reveal to me how wrong and self-centered I had been. It was never my job to build a church. It was not my responsibility to add to our numbers daily. What I thought had been failure was merely misguided direction.

My wife and I fought constantly. Our sons started hanging around with the inner-city kids we were reaching out to, and adopting some of their behaviors. Our finances and savings were just about dried up. God brought us to a point where we had absolutely nothing to rely on. But then he started to show us what faith and obedience really is and where it comes from. It's that inner tenacity...that drive...that fire inside that just won't go out.

I remember what an older, wiser pastor once told me, "The devil does not know what to do with a man who just won't give up." I almost did many times...but by the grace of God, I haven't yet!

Mission from the gospels...Being the hands and feet of Jesus

Ingredients for a successful church plant:Let Christ build His Church

It took 10 years for God to break me of the "church as usual." mindset...came right out of seminary and hit the ground running with an itch to plant a church because...that's why we go to seminary/bible college right? went to all of the church planting and church growth conferences...heard a lot of great leaders sharing their success (and failure) stories, and I came to the realization that everyone else's success story won't work for me. hundreds of stories, hundreds of models and methods of church planting exposed...but it was Ed Stetzer's message that hit me ...breaking the missional code...contextualizing the gospel to the unique cultural DNA that exists within your target community...and the journey towards missional community began. I remember telling our very small Baptist congregation that we should close the church, sell the building and just live in the community amongst our neighbors, as the sent, hands and feet of Jesus...preached a month of sermons on being missional/incarnational...salt and light...in the world/not of the world, and I lost every single one of them...April 1, 2009, we signed a usage agreement with another church who wanted to use our church building...My family and I just lived in the community, had youth group and small groups at our house (we had already been living in the community 4 years at that point) got involved with the local public school, boy scouts, little league baseball, community soccer league, etc...because our two sons were involved in these activities. We hooked up with a couple community ministries run by other local churches...a soup kitchen and a local rescue mission and just got busy serving. We did a number of block parties and outdoor/park worship services, working with other churches and ministries, and God started showing me a different path to church planting. Fast forward to summer 2014...we're still living in this community...the church that had been using the sixth ave baptist church building had closed and the pastor moved south...and here we are back in the old building again...but it's different this time..God has trained us up according to what he wants...so we'll continue to serve Him, serve this community, AND LET HIM BUILD HIS CHURCH!

Mission from the Gospels:the ingredients for successful mission

Hint: it's not about numbers...not about how many converts or baptisms you've accumulated. Jesus commandment to the church, known as the great commission, is about making disciples who will love Him and one another

The local church must engage the community around it, with all of its subcultures, in order to have a maximum impact in that community...the Baptist church we came to nearly ten years ago failed to do that and had dwindled down to almost non-existence. God brought me and my family to a struggling, under-resourced, inner-city community...gave us a century old building, no congregation, little to no funds, and we were almost to the point of giving up after the first few years. but God showed us over and over what he can do. It's not about what we, a local church can do, but all about what God can and will do when we are faithful and obedient in the midst of seemingly hopeless odds. We've learned the art of collaborating with other churches, not for profits, and local businesses, and in the wake of that process we now see God creating community; missional community out of the ashes of what we thought was doomed for failure...ten years later and we're still here, by the grace and provision of God; learning how to follow His provision and dwell in the land like Abraham. Church planting is a life calling...not something you can just try out, and if it doesn't work, move onto something else. The fruits of our labor cannot be measured by the number of converts and baptisms we've accumulated, but in ways that have stretched our hearts and minds. I can see that God is at work in the midst of our community, and when the single moms and street people, business owners and "church people," citizens and community leaders, learn to love one another and serve one another, out job is going well!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mission from the Gospels:Three questions to ask

Matthew 8:28-34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons
28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed[ men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
  1. What is the Mission?
  2. Who is engaged in the mission?
  3. Who is the recipient of the mission?
People matter to God more than buildings and programs; even more than the Sunday morning ministry menu we call "worship."
We all meet people in our every day lives who need the love and healing touch of Jesus in their own lives.
Demon possession/oppression is a form of imprisonment. "When I was in prison, you came to visit me."
The mission we are called to is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to lost and hurting people. The Father sent the Son, the Son sends us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fulfilling the mission Jesus sends us on and equips us to carry out will interrupt the daily lives of everyone involved; those who are engaged in the mission as well as the recipients of the that mission.
So our mission is not merely to open our church doors to the public and invite them in, but to go to wherever hurting people live there daily lives; even to the darkest corners of our communities.
Am I willing to go to those places?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mission from the Gospels

The best advice I've ever seen or heard on how to develop and maintain missional living/lifestyle comes right from the gospels...the very words of Christ Himself, lived out by Him as our example...He did this first then preached about it...This is what James called "pure and undefiled religion." (James 1:27)...my prayer today is that I might live up to this standard...the one set by Christ Himself

Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, yo...u who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you fed me.
I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.
I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
I was naked, and you gave me clothing.
I was sick, and you cared for me.
I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’