Sunday, March 30, 2014

The E Word - Part 1

It's time that the church had a conversation about the dreaded E-word.

No not that E Word, silly. (Is there an E Word by the way?) I'm talking about Evangelism.

I say that in as hushed a tone as I can because, like it or not, evangelism has fallen on hard times in progressive, grace-oriented Churches of Christ.

There are quite a few reasons for the oversight:

1) Some of us grew up knocking doors. And once we left home, we vowed we would never knock on another door if we could help it.

That's the beauty of text messaging. I text my friends and have them open the door for me because the action itself takes me back to horrible memories. (Just kidding.)

2) When we stepped out of our legalism, we left behind a message that lent itself to hit-and-run evangelism.

What is hit-and-run evangelism? Hit-and-run evangelism occurs when you have no relationship with a person you are sharing the gospel with. It often happens when you ask someone a question like, " Where would you end up if you died tonight?" Who thought reminding people of their mortality would be a great introduction to a meaningful, life-changing conversation anyway? The run part happens after our "target" or "lost person" (Both are odd jargon for someone who doesn't know Jesus. Who thought those terms up anyway?) awkwardly wiggled out of the awkward situation we created for them.

And then we would quote Luke 10, "shook the dust off our feet," and checked one more person off of our checklist. We did our part. That was what was important.*

3) We weren't sure who we were trying to convert anymore.

There was a time when anyone who wasn't Church of Christ was a person who needed to be converted. But when we realized the kingdom was more expansive than our little tribe, we lost the us/them dichotomy that was so clear in the old model.

If we aren't converting all of those people, then who are we converting? We had our notes for how to defeat a Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist. But our playbook for people without a church background was lacking.

4) Others of us discovered that we could tell people that Evangelism wasn't our gift and we wouldn't be forced to do it as long as we used our gifts in other meaningful ways for the sake of the kingdom.

These are just a few of the many reasons we let the E Word disappear from our vocabulary and practice.

Evangelism, in the churches I've spent time in, is all but extinct.

And it's one of the reasons most of our churches are plateaued or declining. Some of our churches have kept the illusion of growth because they are in booming suburbs. Others have benefitted from the implosion of other churches in their area. And a few churches truly have grown through new Christians.

This is the first in a series blog posts I am writing on the E Word: Evangelism.

But I want to begin by confessing my own sins. I am not an evangelist. I did not grow up in an evangelistic household (Mom and Dad, it's one of the very few growth areas I have from the heritage you have passed on to me). But I want to change that in the years to come. I want to change the future of my family and my church toward this goal.

There are plenty of churches out there who are content to reach churched people. As long as they grow, it doesn't matter if the kingdom grows or not.

I don't want to be a part of that church. Do you?

The church ought to be one of the only organizations who exists for those who not a part of us yet.

But these days, I feel like we're a church for Christians rather than a church for the world.

I'm beginning to wonder if our more conservative brothers and sisters have something right that we've lost. A burden for the lost. A passion to give good news to people who need good news.

But I think we can do better than the old methods. And over the next few weeks, I hope to suggest a way forward.

What are your experiences with evangelism? What keeps you from sharing your faith?
*Though I am hard on old evangelistic techniques, I do not mean to suggest that conversions by the old methods are any less important in the kingdom. Jule Miller film strips have saved many people. So has door knocking. People who don't share the good news haven't saved anyone.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

30 Years Old

Today is my 30th Birthday.

In other words, I'm beginning my 4th decade.

30 will sound different to each of my readers. If you are older than me, 30 sounds like I've got my whole life ahead of me. If you are younger than me, 30 sounds like I'm nearing the end of my life.

Everything is relative.

But one thing I am grateful for is all of the Boomers who made 40 the new 30 before making 50 the new 40. Your vanity is my generation's gain.

But all joking aside, I find great value in reflecting on big occasions.

In fact, here are two birthdays I used for reflection earlier in the life of my blog:
Reflections at 22
Reflections at 26

In many ways, I had no business starting into full-time preaching at 24-years old. If Jesus didn't start his ministry until 30, why should anyone else feel they are ready before then? But I am grateful to Littleton for giving me an opportunity to preach. While most of my Bible major friends have already left ministry, I have been given a gift of a firm foundation because of the support of my elders and congregation.

I see 30 as a year to hit reset in my ministry. I first sensed my call to preaching at the age of 18. I have now trained to be a minister for 12 years. The first 6 of those years were educational training. The last 6 of those years have been on-the-job training.

I am now more certain of who I am as a disciple of Jesus.
I am now more certain of the spiritual gifts and abilities God has given me.
I am now more certain of the kind of leader God has called me to be.
I am now more certain of the kind of church I am called to lead.
And I have never been more excited about my future than today.

God has blessed me with so much:
1) A beautiful, godly, incredible wife - Though I didn't know how incredible my choice was at the age of 20, God knew better than I did that Holly was exactly the person I needed. We celebrate 10 years of marriage this summer.
2) Wonderful children - Maddox and Addison are the loves of my life. And I can't wait to feel my heart expand once again as our next child enters the world next month.
3) A supportive extended family - My extended family and in-laws are a joy to be with. Many people dread the holidays, but each visit home is something I look forward to.
4) The world's best calling - I love preaching and leading a local church. It is a joy to search Scripture each week on behalf of Christians who are seeking ways to connect with those who don't know Jesus yet.
5) A supportive church family - God has blessed us with the Littleton Church. As a young minister, I have received all of the support and encouragement I have needed in my early years of ministry. We could not live so far away from our families if it were not for the love we have experienced from our church family.

The One Word that I've chosen for Year 30: NEXT

I can't wait to see what the next 30 years have to offer! There will be moments of pain that God will use to mold me into the person he wants me to be. And there will be incredible moments of joy that God will use to remind me of his goodness.

Here are some goals I have for the NEXT 30:
1) Grow closer to God - I want my actions to align with the words I preach each Sunday.
2) Grow to love Holly exponentially more so that the empty nest is something we look forward to.
3) Raise my kids in such a way that when they don't have to come home, they will want to.
4) Lead the church fearlessly to reach people who are far from God.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Blessing Ranch Covenant Group (Part Deux)

About five months ago, I posted about my initial meeting with a covenant group at Blessing Ranch. You can read about my first group time here. It was a life-changing experience that I would encourage any minister to consider.

Many people don't know about the loneliness of ministry.

Less than 25% of Christian men surveyed have a close male friend right now.

But get this: For ministers, the percentage is even smaller. Less than 5% of ministers have a close friend. In other words in a room of 100 ministers, fewer than 5 of them have a close friend!

There are many reasons for this tragic statistic:
1) Many ministers have been burned by a friend in the past. We don't know who to trust.
2) Some ministers have allowed the institutional hierarchy of his/her church to keep him/her away from meaningful relationships within the body. Who wants to be friends with a minister?
3) Ministers have allowed their ridiculous schedules and inability to say "no" to allow us little time for building relationships. Who has time for a close friend?
4) Some ministers have built a public facade that cannot withstand the scrutiny of a close relationship. If I have a close friend, he/she will see through my stage act.
5) We forget that ministry is about people and not about programs.

Regardless of your agreement with the reasons I've stated above, this trend of shallow relationships for ministers should concern us.

We know how to preach about community, but very few of us have any community to truly speak of.

These stats have to change.

And Alan Ahlgrim (and others) is giving his life to see these statistics change. Alan, the former Senior Pastor of Rocky Mountain Christian Church, has put together several covenant groups in his first year as Director of Covenant Groups for Blessing Ranch.

Today, I am able to say that I am in covenant with three other ministers who are committed to talking monthly and connecting face-to-face semi-annually for several days of reflection, disclosure, discovery, and discernment.

This past week was such a blessing to me. Here are a few pictures I took from my time on the Ranch:

Here is a picture looking from the guest house at the vistas directly above Blessing Ranch:
Here are several pictures I took from from the top of the ridge in the picture above:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Happy 100th Al!

Today at church, we got to celebrate the 100th Birthday of one of our members, Al Chesser.
Al is an incredible man. He's one of those guys who tells you a story and you automatically believe it was true no matter how absurd it would be for a common person. In the words of one of our shepherds this morning, "With all due respect to the Dos Equis guy, Al is the most interesting man I have ever known."

Al was the President of the United Transportation Union. If you've ridden on Amtrak, you can thank Al Chesser for its presence in our world today. He knew every president from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter. Lyndon Johnson was one of his good friends. He rode on Air Force One, batted against Satchel Paige, and was born before World War I began.

Just incredible!

I got the honor of attending Al's 100th birthday party Saturday evening.
And today, I got to interview Al during a celebration at church. He is one of the most optimistic and positive human beings I have ever met. His faith earned him the respect of Christians and non-Christians alike.

And perhaps most impressively, Al just renewed his driver's license through the age of 104.

Al, thank you for a life well lived!