Why does this keep happening to me?

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Why does this keep happening to me?

Have you ever uttered those words? If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Both of these statements are connected—but only one has been taken out of context. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

The Test

In High School it was rare that I failed a test—but if I did, it’s because I failed to pay attention and study. Paul is saying that God can deliver us from temptations—but, the temptations that are occurring are not extraordinary—they occur to everyone. So, why would God provide a way out? Well—that’s one reason why we have the question, “Why does this keep happening to me?”

When we fail to endure a situation, we’ll most certainly see it again. Think about it—we learn more from our failures than our successes. Why do teachers give tests? To make sure students know the subject.

Escaping the Test

When we groan, “Why does this keep happening to me?” We’re failing to face the trial. We’re failing to pay attention to the spiritual principles that God has placed before us. We seek to escape. But God created us and knows our inner workings (Job 10:11; Ps. 139:13; Heb. 4:12). When God takes us out of those situations, as a merciful teacher who hates to see failing students, He will allow us to re-take the test at a later time. We have not learned the spiritual subject. Recently, I met a man during a church outreach. This man didn’t believe in God—or so he said. I told him about a miracle working God. I asked him, “If you could have one miracle in your life, what would that miracle be?” The man replied, “I just want to be comfortable.”

Enjoying Comfort

One major reason why we will continue to see the same test over and over again is comfort. We’re afraid to leave our “comfort zone,” or we view the test as too difficult. But we must remember that God created us. Let me provide an analogy.

Imagine that I create an off road racecar. My desire is for the car to climb steep hills, run on jagged rocks at high speeds, and jump to great heights. I want to see it go through thick muck and mire. It will be my prized possession.

Finally the day comes. My all terrain mud-bog racecar is ready to go! I’m also in luck. It rained the night before and the ground is muddy. I take my beastly car into a nearby field—it has tons of dirt mounds, jagged rocks, sandy pits, and the ultimate deep muddy trails. The moment of truth arrives. I fire it up—then slowly and carefully, I steer it around the puddles and jumps. I make sure that I don’t touch any rocks. I then drive it back without a splash or speck of mud on it. Wait—that doesn’t sound right? Why? Because I created my racecar to get dirty, muddy, and climb to its potential!

J.A. Shedd once asserted, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Likewise, God created us, not with a spirit of fear but “of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). The testing in our lives will help us climb fears and learn to navigate through the muck and mire of life. We’re not made for comfort, but to overcome fear—trusting in God. Reoccurring things may happen when we fail to trust God. Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything. We must learn to yield our lives to the Creator. There’s no situation we face that surprises God. So, do not pray, “God take me from this situation,” but rather, “God give me strength to endure and learn, in your most perfect will.”

 

Preventing Pastoral Burnout

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What is that noise?

The repetitious blast had me baffled and weary. After slapping at everything on my bedside table aimlessly. Fan. iPhone. Book. Repeat. I finally figured it out—it was my alarm. Ever do that?

It was dark out. Early a.m. and I was exhausted. I needed to go back to sleep. Then a Scripture verse rang through my head:

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?

When will you arise from your sleep? (Pro. 6:9)

I was getting up at my usual Monday morning time, around 2:30 am. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a very early riser. I always loved the verse:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

If Jesus woke up early before the sun had risen and prayed with the Father then I saw fit to do the same. I still carve out time every morning for my prayer and Bible time with God. However, I’m also a fitness junkie—so, going to the gym, or off on a run, at 3:00 am is not unusual for me—but this morning was different—I was struggling to exercise, struggling to read, and even struggling in prayer!

Relief in Sight

Thankfully, that day I was gathering with a man I highly respected—we’ll call him, “Dave.” I couldn’t wait to see Dave! He’s a very well known ex-pastor, someone I had listened to for years via podcast. I had waited for this day for over a month.

But, I’ll be honest. I was feeling so drained that I didn’t feel like going.

Once I arrived, circumstances occurred where I was able to spend some brief time alone with Dave. I could have asked him anything—but for some reason, God knew what I needed to hear the most from him. So, I asked him about personal accountability. I’ll get to his advice in a moment.

Some Crazy Facts

According to a NY Times editorial, pastoral leadership is increasingly suffering from a lack of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. The report stated, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.”[1] George Barna reports:

  • 33% of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 40% of pastors are struggling with burnout and frantic schedules
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s health.
  • 75% report severe stress, panic, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week and have given up a scheduled vacation for a ministry emergency.
  • 1,500 pastors leave vocational ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

Wisdom from Dave…

And so, here I was—feeling burned out. I knew the numbers. I’ve studied them. I’ve taught them. But, now I was the student.

“How do you hold yourself accountable?” I asked Dave. It was an ambiguous query. But as if God were responding to my groggy morning ritual—Dave fully understood what I needed.

He suggested that I break up my day into three modules: morning, afternoon, and evening. There should be 21 modules per week. Each week there must be 7–10 modules of down time (no ministry—fully unplugged, no phone, no laptop, no email).

Of these 7–10 modules, 3 of them should be consecutive—establishing a Sabbath principle. As Joe spoke, I felt the conviction of God—I was only getting 2–4 modules per week—that’s not good.

Effective leadership cannot justify itself with sacrificial burnout. Moses did this. His father-in-law chided him for expecting to do everything (Exodus 18:13–23).

Leaders must have the proper rest—and the proper delegation. Assuredly, diet and exercise can be factors of burnout—but that wasn’t my dilemma. My problem was/is in saying “no.”

Pastors are allowed to say no.

Pastoral ministry is truly a blessing (something in which I do not feel worthy). But as leaders, we must be intentional about taking time off.

Dave admitted that there would be weeks when only 4 modules of rest are possible. When that happens, I should compensate the following week. The main point: I must be more intentional with my rest and family time.

Question for you…

  • How many modules are you getting per week?

Looking for more? Bethlehem Baptist Church created a great resource and made it available through Desiring God Ministries, click here. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/pastors_accountability_form.pdf

[1] Paul Vitello, Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work, New York Times, August 1, 2010, accessed October 20, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?_r=0.

Why Demographics Matter

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This article was published in May 2016 Church Planter Magazine

If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.

Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.

Demographics & Exegeting Culture

Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.

If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.

So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.

Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.

Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.

Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.

Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?

Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.

Demographics & Spiritual Pulse

Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.

I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.

Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.

If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.

Demographics & Sermon Delivery

Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.

Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.

As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.

There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.

 

Tools for How to find demographics:

Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Race/Ethnicity: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?ref=addr&refresh=t

Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us

Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org

Prone to Wander …

When I was six years old I went with my mother to the grocery store. As she was gathering items, crossing them off her list, and correlating which coupon went with which item, somehow, I wandered off and got lost. I can still recall the feeling of being alone; yet, I also knew that I was the reason for why I was lost.

One of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I enjoy hymns that have depth, doctrine, biblical trueness, and theological underpinnings. Many of our current hymns have been written in the 50’s and 60’s, but a pastor, Robert Robinson in 1757, wrote this hymn.

In one of the last stanzas, Robinson penned the melodious words that express human nature, my six-year-old trek away from safety, and most of my Christian journey. He wrote:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

If ever there were words that showed why I love Christ so much, it seems that these take central stage. Throughout my life, I wandered and God sought me. I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve heard this confession many times, as a pastor.

Why is it that as believers, we tend to wander away? We seek after the same dark and dismal paths that we praised the good Shepherd from delivering us? Is it boredom? Is it a sense of discontentment? Is it that we really don’t love our Lord?

No. I don’t think those are the reasons. At least that’s what I want to believe. I believe Paul makes it clear, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).

Obviously, for Robinson, a pastor, these words struck a cord with him, too. We must realize that the writer was not an unregenerate or newly converted Christian, but a pastor. I also think this is the reason that he introduced wandering words with verses of grace:

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wandering from the throne of God

He to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

            How biblical, and how true! Jesus sought us out—not the other way around. He rescued us from the darkness, by the cross—but me, a debtor to his grace—a debt in which I can never repay—pleads for more grace because I am simply a wanderer. Do you ever feel this way?

Here is a simple truth to our humanity. No matter how “devout” or how “godly” we think we are, God knows the truth and the secrets of our hearts. The great reformer John Calvin once equated our hearts to “idol factories.” We’re all “prone” to wander—we feel it—we know it’s coming—and yet—we can’t seem to prevent wandering from the “God I love.”

But know this, saint, in God’s amazing grace, you will ever be preserved. Our hope is in Christ, not in our works. God’s love never changes (Heb. 13:6) and it never fails (1 Cor. 13:4–8). If you find yourself wandering, you’re in good company, but rejoice in the fact that Christ is the good Shepherd, always going after the one who left the ninety-nine.

Rest in His grace, seek Him, repent of wandering, and gather back into the fold.

Armored Communities & Bomb Sniffing Chips: How The Gospel Answers Fear

One of my professors suggested that our doctoral cohort study culture and trends—something I was already inclined to do, but he offered a website that provides great insight. While the site, Faith Popcorn, doesn’t provide much analysis, it provides provoking thought and reflection. Reading the predictions through gospel lenses allows me stay a step ahead of culture.

I realize that this title may sound somewhat Orwellian, but humanity has arrived in the twenty-first century technological age. There are no flying cars, yet, or humanoids; however, not unlike the twentieth century we are still—perhaps even more so—engaged in an age of fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

Faith Popcorn predicts, “people will want guarded homes, there will be ways to filter your water, maybe bullet-proof houses, working more at home, not wanting to travel, armored communities where you will swap privacy for the privilege of living in a safe bubble.”

While some fear may be substantiated, Popcorn noted that “74% of Americans fear ISIS,” so the trends of tiny techno chips and fully disclosing our lifestyle seem to be the writing on the wall.

What do these future trends reveal?

Living With Full Disclosure

Does living within an armored city sound appealing to you? What about having all of your emails, phone calls, texts, and social media updates viewed and scrutinized—for the good of the community?

I see something grander at work here than protection or information gathering. I believe if people swap their privacy for safety something radical may occur. A community may accept sin as normal and justifiable.

Man will always desire to gratify himself. Sin feels good, tastes, good, and looks good. So, to think that an armored community would halt this would be naïve. Since the fall of humanity, man quests for pleasure, while also longing to hide the sin (inject Cain and Abel story, here). While armored communities may sound somewhat attractive at first, the realities of having every near-thought recorded and dissected will inevitably change how we will view sin.

If this future trend of walling ourselves in and being monitored by the thought-police occurs then we will inevitably be encountering some way to moralize or justify sinful behavior. Basically, no sin will be hidden from prying eyes, so to justify one’s actions; acceptability of the sin becomes normal. The community’s hearts become seared and accept sin.

Armored communities could easily become modern Sodom and Gomorrahs, not necessarily in a sexual sense, but in the sense of Ezekiel 16—following vanity and self-gratification.

The Fitbit Frenzy & Fear

Fitbits are probably some of the neatest gadgets manufactured. To think that this Star Trek-like accessory can sense our heart rates, fitness activity, record calories, receive text and call alerts, play music and wirelessly sync with our smart devices is pretty amazing. Newer technology trends are being developed to alert us if someone is strapped with C4 explosives or some type of dirty bomb.

I know, you’re probably thinking, how does this reveal the need for the gospel? A bomb sniffing Fitbit is just a man-made device created to help protect humanity—that’s good, right? Sure it is. But it is also revealing. It’s not the Fitbit itself that is so revealing; it is the reason for the ability’s design and demand. Why would people demand such a device? Surely, Apple would not create a product that people wouldn’t purchase—so, what does this tell us?

How These Trends Reveal and Plead For The Gospel

These two future trends reveal the hearts and minds of fearful living. The gospel’s power delivers people from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13–14). Paul asserted, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

There’s nothing wrong with protected neighborhoods, many well-known pastors live within them, and nothing wrong with an explosive-sniffing-micro-chip—don’t misunderstand me, but the fact that we live in a society where these are good things, detects more than bombs—it detects man’s bondage to fear, lack of love, and trust in God—something which only exists in the gospel.

The art of neighboring seems to be long gone. Both of these trends spell out what the church will be faced with in the coming future—fear and paranoia. But, we, as gospel-centered people, must strive to boldly proclaim man’s redemption from sin, God’s graceful gift of joy, and the freedom from the bondage of fear, to the world. We are ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation, as God makes his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:17–20). Trends of fear should be countered with gospel-saturation. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Maundy Thursday: What Does It Mean?

Paschal-lamb

Today is Maundy Thursday.

Tonight the church observes this day of the Passion Week. Leading up to Easter Sunday, this is the day that Jesus sat with His disciples in the upper room and gave them the command to love one another, in humility. Jesus rose from the table, took of his outer garment and began to wash his disciples’ feet.

Sometimes this day is called Holy Thursday, Great Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Sheer Thursday, or even Thursday of Mysteries. The early church set aside this day of observance to reflect upon the humility of Christ, his unconditional sacrificial offering upon the Cross, and because of the new command of love.

Why is this important and what exactly does “Maundy” mean?

The word, Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment. During the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, to serve one another, to remember to break bread with one another—sharing in His life, love, and witness.

This wasn’t just an ordinary meal, it was most likely the Passover Seder meal; a time to reflect on the great and holy hand of God, which passed over the Israelites and struck down their captors in Egypt. This meal would bring to remembrance the steadfast love and mercy of a God who led them from bondage, into the promised land. It was during this meal that Jesus was introducing Himself as the Paschal Lamb of God and the Savior who would lead His people from the bondage of sin, into eternal life.

Christ, the Lamb of God, fulfilling the requirements of God handed down by Moses in Exodus 12. He was a male without blemish (i.e. perfect; 12:5), brought before the whole congregation (12:6), the blood splattered on the doorposts and lintel (the significance of the Cross; 12:7), roasted with fire (our God is a consuming fire), with unleavened bread (no sin) and bitter herbs (the scorn he endured; 12:8), none of it shall remain in the morning (empty tomb; 12:11), and the blood of the lamb “shall be a sign for you…when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall befall you to destroy you” (12:13).

Today (and everyday), reflect upon the goodness and grace of God, through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life. He gave, that you may have forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Think about what this means, how much He loves you, and the sacrifice made.

Maundy Thursday reminds of us Christ’s humility in serving and loving his disciples—whereby—as his disciples, we are called to love, serve, and share in the rhythms of life together.

I pray that you congregate with other believers this evening, as Christ’s disciples.

Why Demographics Matter

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If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.

Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.

Demographics & Exegeting Culture

Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.

If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.

So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.

Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.

Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.

Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.

Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?

Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.

Demographics & Spiritual Pulse

Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.

I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.

Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.

If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.

Demographics & Sermon Delivery

Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.

Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.

As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.

There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.

 

Tools for How to find demographics:

Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Race/Ethnicity: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?ref=addr&refresh=t

Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us

Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org

 

Urban Areas Are Dynamically Changing—And Why The Church Better Prepare Now

As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy being a visionary and trainer. One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.

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The Reality of Inner City Churches

It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard, yet when they were writing, not many evangelicals paid attention to them. So, this leads us into what is happening with global movements, urban areas, and immigration.

If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then studying diaspora movements (and immigration) is essential. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before.

If we couple that with the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion with inner city churches—they are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution, or temporary visa status—for work—refugees are coming to cities all over the world.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always tried this—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.[1] Where do the immigrants go? Cities.

Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[2]

How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?

Immigration and diaspora models play a huge role with engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20); as well as, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation). I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city, plus there are extant churches available, which can do a better job.

Supposedly, the theory goes, there should not be mega-churches, or any Anglo church planters in urban areas because they are outsiders, do not understand the culture, and cannot engage the people. Another argument is Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, the prominent majority of urban population (I’ll refute this in a moment), and cause their churches to dwindle in attendance. The argument suggests that church planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and beside them. While I would have agreed with this model ten years ago (and to some extent do)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.

Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.

Ethnic Diversity

Take a look at any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. Census reports won’t show the true picture, as many of the people groups living within a city either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam in just fifteen years and how many mosques are now within your city.

Earlier I stated that I would refute why African American churches should be the only churches to plant churches or do Great Commission work in urban areas. Why not? It makes sense, right? The reason is because the advice is antiquated. It’s a tape cassette. While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ (and all people) would no longer view skin color, that we would invest in urban African American projects, events, and churches, and have more African American church planters, dialogue, and such—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer! African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and arriving. To reach an entire city it is going to take a concerted effort of all peoples.

Most cities, like Richmond, Virginia (a smaller scaled city) are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups. They’re here and more are coming.

The Good News

First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. I personally know that major missionary organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel. Here’s a good resource from Keelan Cook.

Second, the nationalities sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. We’ve seen this here in Richmond. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.

Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.” Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, as a church planting movements may manifest. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and ones within lower socio-economic areas are a must. Some of these areas may need food dispensaries, job creating, and addictions help—to break chains of poverty. As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented. We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.

 

[1] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[2] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

7 Leadership Tips I Wish Someone Told Me

 

I’ve always been cast into leadership positions. As a boy, I was chosen to be a captain in neighborhood games. As a teenager, it was organized sports in school. Leadership followed me into the Navy and then into the culinary arts field. I worked my way up: sous chef, head chef, executive chef, and then restaurant owner. Now, I’m a pastor and director of operations for a national church planting network.

William Shakespeare had it right, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” I can relate—not in greatness, but having leadership cast upon me. As an entrepreneur, I was self-taught.

Here’s 7 things I wished someone told me about leadership.

  1. Time Is Not Money

Growing up where the city never sleeps or if you make it there, you’ll make it anywhere—the mantra is “time is money.” I quickly learned this was untrue. Time is a gift. I gained knowledge, studied people, cultivated relationships, and networked.

Occasionally in the restaurant business, time was my enemy. Or so I thought. If you believe time is money—time becomes an adversary. But you quickly learn: time cannot be defeated, only accepted and enjoyed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You cannot accomplish everything today. Do what you can, with excellence, and leave the rest for another day. Stop living in bondage to time. No one gets out of life alive.

  1. Not Making a Decision is Making One

Oh, how I wished someone told me this. Procrastination is a decision. If you fail to be decisive in leadership and trust your intuition, a non-decision may be costly. True leaders take risks. Sometimes those risks may not work out, but it’s always better than procrastination. Why? Failure is a better teacher than success. Procrastination is laziness.

  1. Sometimes Biting Your Nose Off To Spite Your Face Is Good

I worked for a guy who fed me the tag line—don’t bite your nose off to spite your face—I wanted to fire a lazy cook. He made it clear: wait until the end of his shift.

While somewhat true, when things are not done with excellence, it’s time to pony up. It’s just for a season. A job done correctly is essential if your name is on it. Horrible service reflects horrible leadership. You’re not doing anyone a favor by rewarding a terrible work ethic with employment. If they won’t heed training, let them go. If not, it will come back to haunt you.

  1. Innovation Listens

            Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean that you have the best ideas. Listen to the people you hired—you hired them for a reason. They will respect you, if you do. Innovation can save time, vitality, and money. As well, a leader should never be intimidated by innovation.

  1. Leaders Must Continue Learning

Whatever leadership role you possess, people look to you for vision and guidance. Always keep your skills honed. If you don’t—people will go somewhere else. Continue to study in your field. Make sure that you know the new trends, statistics, methods, etc. Knowledgeable leaders produce knowledgeable people.

  1. A Nap Goes A Long Way

Fact: burnout occurs in leadership. I used to think the harder and longer I worked the more I could get done. Baloney. A tired body makes mistakes.

“Power naps can alleviate sleep deficits, boost brain improvements to creative problem solving, help verbal memory, along with perceptual, object, and statistical learning. [Naps] help us with math, logical reasoning, reaction times, and symbol recognition. Naps improve our mood, feelings of sleepiness, and fatigue. Napping is good for our heart, blood pressure, stress levels, and surprisingly, even weight management.”[1] Leadership health is very important.

  1. Always Be Yourself

Stop trying to be someone else—it’s phony. If you do what you love, do it with passion and you’ll be a natural leader. Make your own decisions, prepare for failures, accept them, and move on. You don’t need to know everything. Be yourself.

[1] George Dvorsky, “The Science Behind Power Naps,” September 26, 2013, accessed February 19, 2016, http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-science-behind-power-naps-and-why-theyre-so-damne-1401366016.

A New Year’s ReFocus: Recovering From Mission Drift

This article originally published in January’s Church Planter Magazine, you can get it here and read many other articles relating to the field.

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People broadcast their resolutions every year, only to hear them muffle into the everyday noise of life. As church planters, we can spend a vast amount of time in preparation for a launch. We pray, fast, seek, and preach about the vision that God has entrusted to us in serving and making Him known within the community.

However, somewhere along the journey, we lose focus of the mission that God provided. Maybe it was the launch, perhaps seeing growth, or reaching a different people group? Maybe it’s the sermon preparation time, endless service projects, or the bi-vocational work? Regardless—whatever it is—a year has gone by and we find ourselves drifting from our missional mooring.

It’s time to refocus, regain, and reignite.

ReTurning Home

It’s time to turn around and go back home—at least for a visit.

I love being with God in the streets. It seems that the Apostle Paul did, too (Acts 16, 17). As many church planters do, claiming kingdom property begins with prayer walking in the streets—trekking urban terrain with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t seem long ago that we spent countless hours in prayer or day after day looking to talk with one single person. Let me ask you: when was the last time you did that?

The streets are where we meet people. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood”? Maybe that’s before your time—Google it. The point? As planters, we moved into a neighborhood to interact and build relationships with people. The intention was not to become comfortable, but to make God known.

Whenever I am away from home, I miss my family. I’m not a fan of hotels. But, when I return home my wife and daughter give me giant hugs and refresh me in the reality of being a dad and a husband. I think when planters fall into mission drift they forget their urgent sense of calling to a neighborhood, community, and even, to Christ. As the start of a new year has begun, return back to the core of the mission—return home—be refreshed in the reality of your calling.

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January’s CP Magazine

ReGaining Sight

The Apostle Paul was once named Saul, a law-abiding Pharisee. Saul served God diligently and with passion (Phil. 3:5–6). As someone who studied the Scriptures with zeal, it seems that works, desire, and accomplishment blinded Saul. Even though he was attempting to serve God, Saul had extreme mission drift—he lost complete sight of what the Scriptures were trying to reveal. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and caused physical blindness (Acts 9). It wasn’t until three days later that Saul regained his physical and spiritual sight.

I often wonder about the thoughts that went through Saul’s head. Here he was serving God with passion—perhaps he thought of himself as a modern day Phineas, saving the people from a plague of God’s wrath (Num. 25:6–9)—only to find out that he was persecuting Him. It seems that sometimes God has to step in to our world to help us regain our sight.

Vision is imperative. As the Message conveys, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Pro. 29:18). That was definitely true in my first church plant—I practically did everything wrong. Originally the vision was clear, but the motives and actions blinded the mission.

As you read this it’s the beginning of a New Year; make sure that you’re still casting the vision. Mission drift is preventable. Maybe it’s time to have the scales fall from your eyes—to regain your sight and refocus on Christ.

ReIgniting Devotion

As redeemed people, our passion and zeal for God come to us as gifts of faith. With that stated, anytime that I try and become more holy, I fail—miserably. One thing I know to be true—that when I devote myself back to God—to soak in His presence—He ignites my soul.

I love the Psalmist’s reflection, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Ps. 144:5). Maybe it’s just me, but I yearn for the presence of God to be with me. I want to feel the glory of God in my life—that I may glorify Him. I feel like Moses, “If your presence will not go with me … ” (Exodus 33:15), well, you can fill in the blank.

Reigniting our devotion to Christ is essential. From time to time we lose focus and sight of God’s mission and need to spend valuable time with Him. The New Year brings new opportunities. In seeking new opportunities, this should compel us to seek more devoted time—more reading, more prayer, and more spiritual disciplines. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

So, to begin your new year right, set aside time to refocus the mission, regain the vision, and for God to reignite the soul.