I love church planting. I’ve committed much of my life to it. My passion is to see new churches planted that transform lives, serve neighborhoods and impact cities. But over the years I’ve seen a kind of church planting that I worry has the potential of doing as much damage as it does good.
This kind of church planting often begins with the best of intentions. The planter loves Jesus, wants to be his ongoing transformative work in the world, and senses a call to plant a new church.
But somewhere along the way, either because of explicit training, implicit assumptions or a combination of both, the planter decides to employ a rather popular method of planting their church. They are told it is an “effective” way to plant a church. And besides, he/she can cite numerous examples of churches like it around the country.
It all seems to make sense on paper.
However, in my opinion, this is a method that has been tried and found wanting. While it may be effective in gathering a crowd, it seems to largely fail at effectively making disciples. In fact, when you strip the particular strategies down to their core and examine the values that drive them, I worry it is a way of planting churches that may actually run counter to Jesus and his kingdom way, inevitably threatening to undermine the work altogether.
Wednesday morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump will be our next commander in chief. It seems like just yesterday he announced his intentions to run for president and the country collectively burst into laughter. “This has to be just another publicity stunt, right? Surely this smug billionaire-turned-reality-tv-star doesn’t really think he’s remotely qualified for the country’s highest office, right?” No one gave Donald Trump a chance. Shoot, Trump didn’t seem to give Trump a chance. But after a dismal voter showing at the polls, a big white working class push, and overwhelming support from the evangelical community, Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton as the next president elect. My mind has been spinning all week. How did we get here? How did this happen? And what does it mean for the church? Now that it’s been a few days, I want to offer a few pastoral thoughts on the other side of this crazy election:
“Oh my god! Did that just go in?! I think that went in!”
I was fifteen years old and I had just hit the golf shot of a lifetime.
Set deep in the trees with over a hundred yards to go and just a six foot window to put the ball through, I was in what us hackers affectionately call a “swing and pray” situation, as in swing hard and pray the ball misses all of the trees directly in front of you. Normally I’d simply utilize my trusty foot wedge and conveniently relocate the ball somewhere less deadly, but just as I located my ball a family walking down an adjacent road spotted me in the forestry and stopped to watch the show.
I spent the next few minutes nervously trying to figure out my shot while pretending not to hear the muffled voices of my own personal shame gallery standing directly behind me.
Flustered, I prayed a short and desperate prayer, nervously stepped up to the ball and swung.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person who handles stress pretty well. I like to be busy. I enjoy taking risks. I tend to have my hands in numerous endeavors at any given time. I never thought anxiety was my problem.
Then a little less than a year ago I hit a wall.
The previous several years of starting and growing the church I now pastor had caught up with me. I could never seem to get enough sleep. Small tasks became very difficult. Things I had normally done with little thought or stress were suddenly accompanied with an almost crippling anxiety.
It all came to a head one day as I was driving between meetings when all of a sudden it felt as though my heart was malfunctioning. I pulled the car over to the side of the road convinced I was having a heart attack. I remember thinking this might be the way I go out and I began praying for my family. That was my first panic attack. It was that moment that I realized I could no longer ignore the stress and anxiety that was slowly taking over my life.
Something had to change.
Something is wrong.
You can feel it in the air. Many of us can sense it in ourselves. Something has shifted and it’s not for the better.
Never before has a generation existed that is more connected and isolated at the same time. We have hundreds of Facebook friends yet we do not know our neighbors. We have scores of LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers but very few people we can call in the middle of the night when we need a friend.
One of my heroes, Brennan Manning, used to tell a story about a friend of his named Mary. Mary worked out of her home in New Orleans and in her living room hung a large banner that read, “Today I will not should on myself.” Whenever one of Mary’s friends said something to her like “Mary, you should get back into teaching” or “You should go on vacation,” Mary would respond “Don’t you should on me. Don’t you dare should on me.”
Should is a powerful word.
At any moment on any given day there is an endless list of things I should be doing. I should eat right. I should exercise. I should spend time in prayer. I should read my bible. I should be more productive. I should be more generous. I should be more disciplined. I should read that book. I should pursue that thing I’ve always talked about. I should get together with so and so. I should be a better husband, dad, friend, neighbor, employee, _______.
I hate regret. It’s an awful feeling. As I look back on this past year, if I’m really honest, I have some regrets. There are some things I did well, but there are also some things I wish I could go back and do differently. There are areas of my life I wish I’d given more attention, and others I wish I had focused a lot less on. My disdain for regret is one of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with the end of the year. The end of the year is a time to look back as we prepare to move forward. This is not always a painless exercise. It takes courage to look in the review mirror and honestly assess what we see, but I believe it’s absolutely necessary if we are to live next year better than the last. And that of course is the beauty of a new year. It is a chance to start over. The beginning of a new year bring with it the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to turn the page and to begin a new chapter.
So for those who like me want to live this next year better than the last, this post is for you. And to make this personal and prove I’m not just blowing smoke, I’ve also included some brief reflections in italics on how I am applying these to my own life in the coming year.
Here are 6 questions to help you avoid regret and live with greater clarity in 2016:
This morning a photo popped up in my newsfeed of one of our early gatherings with the Mosaic launch team. Back then we were just thirty-five or so people meeting in a basement dreaming about starting a church together. My wife Megan and I smiled as we reminisced about those early days. We were young and crazy, full of excitement and anticipation for what God was going to do. Looking back it is truly humbling to think about all we have indeed seen God do over the past five years. But if I’m really honest, it also hurts. As I looked at that picture I saw faces of people I love, people we served with and bled with, many of whom are no longer a part of our church.
One of the things I’ve found hardest about being a pastor is seeing people leave. Some leave because life takes them elsewhere – graduation, a new job, an opportunity that can’t be passed up, etc. There are others, however, who leave simply because they choose to go somewhere else. It’s always hard when people leave, but it’s this latter category that can be especially hard. I’ve sat with enough pastors to know I am not alone in struggling at times with the shuffling of the saints. On the other hand, I’ve also sat with enough parishioners to know that it’s not always understood why this is. Why do some pastors have such a hard time when people choose to leave the church they pastor? Why is it such a big deal? Why do some seem to take it so personally?
So I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the reasons why it can be so hard on us pastors when people leave:
Yesterday the Nebraska state legislature passed a landmark bill (LB268) to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. It’s been a long time coming in our conservative state and its passing didn’t come without fire from both sides.
It’s a hot issue and, as one might expect, there are strong convictions on both sides. That said, as a pastor and someone with a small platform, I feel the need to at least share why I can’t get on board with the death penalty as a Christian.
Just over five years ago my wife Megan and I and our then two kids packed up everything we owned into our Honda Accord and made the drive from Los Angeles, CA to Lincoln, NE with the hopes of planting a new church. When we arrived we hit the ground running. We would spend most most of that year throwing parties at our home, investing in people, building a team, raising funds, making a plan and then in March 2011 we launched.
Five years into this journey I can say it has been a great ride and God has been exceedingly faithful. By many accounts, we’ve lived the church planting dream. We’ve seen people from many different faith backgrounds find Jesus. We’ve grown substantially and consistently each year. We have a small army of amazing volunteer staff. This fall we even plan to launch a second campus.
From the outside looking in, things look great. Conventional metrics might even suggest we’re knocking it out of the park. But if I’m really honest, I fear this pastor made some big mistakes in the way we went about planting our church that now five years in we are going to have to work really, really hard to undo.