Monday, March 31, 2008

Today's Tornado Scare - How Danger Draws Christians Together

We had a tornado warning today, and for a while we were congregated in one room in the offices. Then it passed. (The picture shown here is not the actual tornado--but this one sure looks scary, doesn't it?)

It is amazing how danger draws people together. What would happen if Christianity became illegal or "dangerous" to practice. Do you think we would find our relationship with other Christians to be stronger? Would we value them more? Would we put minor differences behind us?

In the first century, if you found someone who would confess that Jesus was Lord, and not Caesar or Zeus, you found a brother and a friend. And you would cling to them for dear life when the Romans came to hunt you down.

Do you think there would be more or less unity in America is Christianity somehow became illegal?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ministers and accessibility and the difference between the older and younger generations

As I mentioned last week, one of the things that is important with younger generations in particular is openness and transparency. However, I noticed when visiting High Pointe that the minister's office was in the back of the offices. I thought, hmm. I would not be able to see people as they come in the offices back there, and they wouldn't be able to see me. People already have to be buzzed in to get into the church (due to the security that is needed for the Christian school). I wonder if there is another solution?

Then Kirk, our facilities manager, generously volunteered to switch offices with me so that I could be more accessible. Even though the office down the hall was a lot bigger, I really didn't care about that. I still have enough room for my most important books and to have people in that I could talk to. For Boomers and up, the other office might have worked. But for younger generations--which this church and community is filled with--it just signals distance.

Do these kinds of things make a difference? Yesterday, a young guy named James dropped by to see me and asked me to go have some coffee together. James is an upwardly mobile, young executive type who works for Ralph Lauren. A definite leader here who loves the Lord (and exhibits "cool"). The first thing that he mentioned was how he noticed that I was in the office up front (with windows) where people could drop by, and that that was great. He wanted to be able to know his ministers, and to him, that signaled an openness and desire to meet and interact with people.

You see, whether we realize it or not, everything that we do is theological (a line that I learned from my D.Min. director, Kurt Frederickson). Everything that we do sends a message.

This also points out the great need for ministers (and other church leaders) to stay up with culture, to spend time with younger people, and to listen to them. There is no excuse for ministers not at least reading about these things and continuing to learn. There also is a great need for teaching about generations and for cross-cultural learning in a church. Younger generations have grown up in a world where video, cell phones, blogging, texting, and coffee are ubiquitous. It is how they learn and function. It is why they want worship to be more interactive (like at a "supper" table?) and multi-media oriented.

Younger generations can learn from older generations the value of walking with the Lord for years. Godly wisdom. Stable families. Staying faithful to one's spouse. Getting through difficult times. And the interesting thing is, people like James want older mentors to help share some life experience. Not to criticize, but to challenge them, to encourage them, and to shed some biblical wisdom and insight.

Is it surprising to you that something like an office location or blog could be so important for younger generations?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Spiritual conversation with my hair cutter

I managed to squeeze in some time yesterday to get a hair cut. Kirk, our faciliaties manager, had gotten one, so I had to keep up. I went to Sports Clips, which I had gone to in Liberty.
As I went in I met an African-American woman named Nicole. She had a warm smile, and I could sense an open and loving spirit about her. As we talked, she asked me about where I had moved from and why. This opened up a conversation about God.

Nicole talked about how she and her husband had started thinking about "going to church" because of their three children. She indicated that she had not had a loving family growing up, and that that had affected her image of God. I was amazed at her insight. Most people are unaware of this truth that our families, and our fathers in particular, shape our understanding of God.

She also talked about how she was wanting to have more awareness of God in her daily life, and not just make spirituality a "Sunday thing." This is a deep hunger that people have today. Amazingly, this is exactly what I am talking about on Sunday.
For the last three weeks, Nicole has been attending McKinney Fellowship Bible Church. How did she start going there? The minister there came in about a month ago and they struck up a conversation about God! I don't know much about this church, but I am glad that she is at least going somewhere.
Opportunities for spiritual conversation abound--when getting hair cuts, at the neighborhood barbeque, at work, while watching our kid's soccer games. One good book that trains people in how to talk about their faith and start spiritual dialogues is Holy Conversation by Dr. Richard Peace (one of my professors at Fuller).
Ministers need to get out of the office and interact with people. Having just started here, and needing to get my feet on the ground, get the web site going, build relationships with the other ministers and staff, I've been in the office all the time. But during much of the week, I seek to study and work at places like Barnes and Noble and Starbucks. This gives me a chance to meet people and observe "real life" around me.
Spiritual conversations lead to invitations which lead to people discovering God and Christian community. We need to train people to engage in these conversations that are natural and effective.
What kind of spiritual conversations have you had with people? Were you nervous or okay with this? What helped you overcome any inhibitions

Monday, March 24, 2008

David and Jonathon Pacts-Keeping Friendships

You cannot keep intimate friendships up with everyone. The sad fact is, when you move away, you will have many friends that you only are able to talk with occassionally--perhaps once a year or even longer. I have friends from high school that I see only at reunions. Occasionally I'll get an email or a picture from them, but not often. But we still enjoy one another. When we get together, we have a great time. And we make plans to visit each other some years. Well, if not "plans," then we at least think about it.

I have a friend named Ericka from high school, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. At our last reunion we talked about going and visiting her and her family in Arizona and going to see the grand canyon.

We have some friends in Connecticut, Bob and Holly, who we know from college. We just corresponded with each other for the first time in a long time. Despite the long gap in time, we both expressed mutual interest friendship. How can you feel that you have "friends" in a far distant place when you have not spoken to them in years? I do not know, but we do, and apparently they do as well.

I have made a few "David and Jonathon" type of pacts with a handful of my friends, in which we vow to correspond with each other once a week in some way. This can be through an email, a phone call, a blog post, a card, or a visit. It takes time and energy to keep up friendships over long distances. But it is worth it. We all need people that we can rely upon to care about us, pray for us during difficult times, and who will celebrate with us through our joys and triumphs.

There are different types of friendships, and friendships, even David and Jonathon ones, may go through different stages. But in whatever form, we need friendships. I once read that if you do not have 5 friends that you could call at a moment's notice during a crisis, then you are in trouble. I am blessed to have some great friendships. To my David and Jonathan friends, and to all of my extended friendships--people whom I see rarely now but still hold most dear--I say, thank you. And my hope is that through this blog, I can stay in contact with more people than I could before.

How do we develop meaningful friendships? Why is this a challenge for us?

We had a great Easter!, Follow-up on events

We had a great Easter Sunday, with nearly 1100 people in attendance. It is hard for me to compare, since I have only been here on a few Sundays, but there seemed to be a bit of excitement in the air. I sensed an openness and receptivity amongst the people as well. The worship leaders did a good job, and thankfully there were no slide or video problems that came out.

We had a bit of an issue with visitors' cards, so we are not quite sure where a lot of the guests came from. I would assume it is a combination of friends and family invited by members, people from the flyer we sent out, people from the news article, and regular Easter visitors. In the future we'll need to track this so that we can gauge the effectiveness of various types of contact.

On this point, personal contacts are always the most effective. However, flyers, newspaper articles, "e-vites" and the like give members help members reach out and talk about their faith. So their effectiveness cannot be judged alone on the impersonal side, but should also include how they help members.

Good follow-up of guests is essential, with cards, visits, and prayer. At Liberty, we had a great follow-up ministry through Monday Night for the Master. Having just started here, I am still learning about what is in place and what improvements we need to make.

It is typical on any "event" type of outreach to put a lot of time and energy and effort into the event (i.e., Easter, marriage seminar, VBS). In fact, usually people are worn out by this time and ready to rest. Unfortunately, this means that follow-up is usually not performed nearly as well as the event, and many opportunities are lost. In the future, we will need to make sure that we seek to do both equally as well.

We are of course learning about how to reach out in McKinney. And we will want to actually go out to reach people, not just invite them to come to us. We need to be in homes and schools and coffeeshops and parks and other places where people are. This is an essential part of being missional. But Sunday was important because we started with an emphasis on reaching out. And that is a good thing. We will be praying that God blesses our humble efforts!

What types of follow-up do you do in your church after events? What seems to be the most effective?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

See Our Write-up in the Sunday McKinney Paper

If you get a chance to pick up a Sunday McKinney paper, you can see a full page article on "Local Pastors Mull the Meaning of Easter." There are three churches and ministers highlighted--a priest, a reverend, and just plain old me. They quoted each of us pretty extensively and put our pictures in the paper. The reporter quoted me pretty accurately (except that I came from Missouri, not Kansas, but a lot of people don't know that Kansas City has both a Kansas and a Missouri side). The reporter was a nice young woman.

For our McKinney friends, you might write back to the paper and reporter and thank her for the story. Anytime Jesus makes the news, that is a good thing. We need to remember to try to keep the focus upon him, and as a church, simply reflect his glory as best we can.

Easter is tomorrow--it is not too late to invite a friend!

Just a reminder about Easter tomorrow. It is not too late to invite a friend. People who are really unchurched often make last minute plans on these things, so don't worry about the lateness of date. Also, if you invited someone earlier in the week, you can call them and say, "Hey, I thought that we could maybe go out to eat afterwards . . ." If someone does not have family in town, they may be especially open to this.

Remember to pray, and then put the "pressure" on God to touch their hearts, not yourself. We are simply the messenger.

Earlier in the week a reporter and a photographer from the McKinney paper came out and interviewed me and took my picture. They are doing an article on Easter. It should be interesting to see what they print. They seemed to like our community focus. And they guessed I was in my 20s. I told them, you should see my wife. She looks even younger!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What is this blog all about?

In moving to McKinney and working with a new church, we now have quite a number who are new to this blog. So I thought I would take a moment to explain the purpose of this blog.

First, I'll explain the name:
  • Random - While I generally have some main topics that I seek to address, I will draw upon a variety of topics that fit into the other purposes of the blog. And sometimes I just put things in that I find interesting.
  • Stimulating - One of the things I seek to do is to try to help people think about the world around them and to "analyze" culture, rather than just blindly accept the predominant worldview. So I will often comment upon cultural trends and phenomenons, politics, and news. (A note on politics--I seek to find truth in all people and things. So just because I point out something positive in a candidate, that does not mean that I am necessarily endorsing him or her.)
  • Missional - The word "missional" means "sent." Jesus told his disciples, "As the Father sent me, I am sending you" (Jn. 20:21). To be sent, both individually and as a church, is to recognize that we are always "on mission," that this outward thrust is fundamental to who we are, not just an add-on. So I try to highlight this concept and give practical ways for people to reach out to the world.
  • Spiritual - For Christians, all of life is Spiritual, for the Spirit of God lives inside of us. I try to highlight how we can have a greater awareness of God in our daily lives and serve him throughout the week.

There are other purposes of this blog, including:

  • Providing some openness and transparency. Many at High Pointe have already commented how they feel that they know me through this blog. I am so glad of this. Hopefully people who are seeking feel the same way, and will be more likely to visit us.
  • Providing a sense of community. An online community is not a substitute for a real community. However, hopefully this blog can serve as a "water cooler," where people can come together and chat about various things. This can help give people a feeling of connectedness throughout the week. I always hope that people will comment, so that the voice of the community is heard, and not just one person. So tell us what you think and help us generate some dialogue!
  • Providing a research log that can be indexed. I love learning and researching, but I hate filing. The good news is, by posting things that I run across, I can go back and do searches on various topics.
  • Providing a bit of an online journal and personal scrapbook. My friends at Liberty have asked me to post some more family pictures and the like now that we have moved away. I probably could do more of this, and years later will really like it. Personal things like this can also help "humanize" a minister and let people know that I am just an ordinary Joe.

Well, for better or worse, that is why I blog!

Which of these things do you like? What topics are of interest to you?

Time is the real challenge for reaching out

My initial impressions are quickly being confirmed. The real challenge in reaching out in McKInney is time. Reaching people today requires developing relationships with people outside of the church, and this takes time. Unfortunately, the long commute that many here have and the long hours make this time difficult to have.

There is no magic solution to this. We need to help people see that they may have to trade one extra children's activity or extra hours at work to make this time possible. Helping people work outreach into their daily lives is also essential. Finally, the church calendar must be flexible enough that members can use whatever night is needed to reach out.

What suggestions do you have for helping people find more time for developing relationships with outsiders?

Children Ministry Video

Check out our Children's ministry video, put together by Bryan Sharp.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My experience with two homeless people this week

Yesterday we had two young men come by the church who were homeless. They had come from the Samaritan Inn, a type of shelter which is nearby. One of them had been asked to leave permanently, and another could not come back until Wednesday.

I must confess that there is always a temptation to "deal with these situations" as quickly as possible. But, in part because the secretarial staff needs help in these situations, and because in my better moments, I remember that Christ cared for the poor, I spent some time talking with these gentlemen. I would discover, however, that there was something different about this situation.

I asked the two for copies of their licenses and various contact information. They gladed complied. Often for career people who do not want to improve their situation in life, just this simple request weeds many out. One of them had a job at the local Blockbuster warehouse and was actively working to keep it. Linda, one of our secretaries, talked about how we have hope in Christ, which opened up a spiritual conversation. Linda has such a good, caring heart. One of the men, Matthew, said that he had been thinking about being baptized--not exactly a normal thing that is said by people in these situations.

I sat down with Matthew and Patrick and asked them about their relationship wtih God. Matthew said that he felt that it was strong. This was true despite the fact that he had grown up in a home filled with mental instability and abuse. Patrick, on the other hand, admitted that he had just started believing in God, having lived a life far away from him for some time.

We prayed together, and then I asked Matthew if he would like to come back and talk about baptism and what it meant, since he had talked about it. He said that he would. We are supposed to meet on Friday at 1:00 PM. Please pray that he shows. If not, I have his name and can look him up at the Samaritan Inn. While I have been in these situations enough not to "bet the farm" on this, I do think that Matthew really is sincere about wanting to improve himself and get right with God. I pray he comes back.

A church needs to be discerning and not just give out money to people, which could just fund their destructive behavior. And targeting people to help, rather than just waiting for people to come by, is by and large a more effective use of funds. But we do need to help people as best we can--which includes providing food and clothing, as well as giving them career counseling, praying for them, and seeking to share the gospel.

Seeing those who are homeless helps remind me how blessed I am, and how blessed our church is. It is good that McKinney has people who need to be helped financially. This can have a transformative efect upon us as well as them.

Have you had any experience with the homeless? What did you do and how did you feel?

Obama acknowledges both black and white anger

On Tuesday, Presidential candidate Barak Obama spoke about race in America. He acknowledged the frustration and anger that has at times been felt on both sides by blacks and whites.

Again, whatever your politics, Obama scores points with voters by acknowledging these things.

The only thing that can really bring the races together, or any two groups that are warring with each other, is a person, Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of Christ having destroyed the wall of hostility that existed between Jews and Greeks (Eph. 2) by making the one in one body--his own. We need to remember that it is Christ, not laws or politics or summits that has the power to bring healing and reconciliation to different peoples.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Our first Sunday at High Pointe

Yesterday was our first official Sunday at High Pointe. We were warmly welcomed by all. It was Gina's birthday, so the church sang happy birthday to her. Then we had a type of "Covenant Sunday," in which the elders, representatives from the congregation, and the ministers all welcomed us and gave us a ministry "charge." Becki received a bouquet of flowers. It was nicely done (thanks, Bryan!).

We ended with a a responding "charge" from me to the congregation, to love God, to love neighbors, and to seek and save the lost. We passed out flyers for people to invite family, friends, and neighbors to our Easter Sunday service, symbolic of seeking to be a people who reach out.

Last night with to the Bryants' life group. It is a group made up of other young families. We had a good discussion about relationships. It was also clear that there was an interest and even a hunger for those discipleship type of groups--three to four guys who meet together to encourage one another in Christian living once a week. Someone also talked about how going on a short term mission trip helped form relationships with other Christians. I was very encouraged to hear all of this, as these types of things are essential in both outreach and spiritual formation.

Just from going to this one meeting, I now have some additional people that I feel I can talk to more meaningfully at worship. Interestingly, I am looking at things now through a visitors' or new member's eyes. How can I form relationships in a 1000 member church? How do I join a small group? How can I develop meaningful friendships? Too often we assume that people will find these things on their own. Some do, but many do not. We need to help people make these connections.

Do you think that most people make connections at a large church on their own? How can we help them to make these connections?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Churches must not be seen as corporations, ministers must be accessible

One of the things that I try to do with this blog is to make myself available, accessible, and as transparent as I can be. This is particularly important in large churches. The reason is that many younger people who are not church going shy away against any feeling that a church is a corporation run by big shot business executives, only concerned with gaining larger market share.

Dan Kimball, in They Like Jesus Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations, ( relates the experience of one thiry-something who tried to see a minister. "I went to visit a church office, and it felt more like going to a lawyer's office or something. I had to get by the receptionist, who then had another secretary buzzed on a phone intercom. Then I had to sit and wait like I was visiting a president of a major corporation. When I finally walked through the office, it felt more intense and uptight than the broker's office I worked in. I felt more like I was aan interruption than someone seeking spiritual guidance.

Kevin Jacobs was the president of Oklahoma Christian University a few years back.There is a range of feeling about his presidency. But one of the things that he did that was positive was to move his office into the student center of Oklahoma Christian. This physical move sent a strong symbolical message about accessibility and being on the same level as the students."

On this blog I try to respond to as many people as I can. And as I start a new work at a large church, I want to still keep an open profile. I really love all people, and want to be as accessible as possible. So I want to hear from you, and to have you share your thoughts!

Have you ever struggled to think positively about "megachurches" and "megagchurch pastors?" What would make you think more positively of these churches and ministers?

We've arrived in Texas

Hello all. Last night we got in about 10:00 PM to McKinney. We got off a little bit late, and the trip took a little longer than expected. We heard that we missed a bit of "welcome wagon" from some people who had heard we would be out earlier. Sorry to those who came out! We will have many good times ahead.

Today we got moved into our new "home"--a house of some of the members here who are going to be gone to another house that they own in California. It is very generous of them to let us stay with them as we wait for our house to sell.

I know that we have been a bit slow on email and the like this week. Sorry about that. Next week we should be back in the swing of things.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Onward and upward!

Okay, now that the emotional stuff is behind us, we've got some great things in the works for High Pointe. Our new website will be unveiled this week, which is looking great. We are sending out a mailer to the community for Easter, and letting them know that we are making a new start, seeking to reach out and serve our community. We have new friends to make. New relationships to form. New stories to discover and tell and re-tell.

Onward and upward!

Our transition

Sunday was quite an emotional day. I could not sleep at all Saturday night, and wondered whether I could make it through the service. Class, conversations with people, and the first part of the sermon were all tough to get through. Then I got into the biblical part of the sermon, which put me in a familiar rhythm. By then, I had expended about all of my tears through the night and morning and so was able to finish. I know that God helped me through your prayers. I had several people tell me that they saw my post on Saturday night and had prayed for me. Thank you so much!

The depth of emotion on both sides of this (us and the church) has been quite overwhelming. I'm not normally like this. I had people cry in my arms. Wow--it is amazing to be this loved. Liberty, know that it is 100% mutual.

Dennis and Judy and I went out to lunch yesterday. We are all Achievers (, but found time for a last lunch. I have worked with Judy for six years, side by side. She is one of the most servant hearted people that I have ever known, and she shares the mission. Dennis is a great guy, who has come on board in the last year or so. He too shares the mission, is a hard worker too, and will help maintain the values and ministries that have been in place. Dennis said that after seeing how hard this leaving has been on me and the church, he is just going to die here. We all cracked up at that.

My parents arrived yesterday. It was good to see family, since we are leaving a true church family behind. And now we are getting ready to be a part of a new church family.

We will be moving out on Thursday. Our house still has not sold, so we are going to be staying with a family at High Pointe who also has a house over in California. We will stay in their house while they are gone.

We'll keep you posted. Please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Please pray for me tomorrow for my last sermon at Liberty

If you are up tonight and get this message, please pray for me tomorrow. I don't know how I'm going to get through tomorrow's sermon. Only by the grace of God. I have never in my life been this emotional. As my preaching friend Chuck said, this is one of the hardest things that I will do in this lifetime.

I now understand fully Paul's greetings at the ends of his letters, in which he names friend after friend, co-worker after co-worker. We are fortunate to live in a world where with email and phone and airplanes, we can stay in contact with one another. I am thankful for the opportunity that blogging affords, for it helps in this as well.

Please pray that I can get something out tomorrow.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What I'm looking forward to at High Pointe

I've shared with you how it has been a difficult week, leaving great friends behind. But to our friends in McKinney, we want you to know that we are--paradoxiclly--looking forward to our new church home.

Some of the things that I am looking forward to include:
--A new challenge
--Helping another church grow and reach the lost
--Helping provide another church with ministry tools (like our new website--it is going to great!)
--The tremendous potential there
--Working with family friends at High Pointe that I've known from years ago
--Developing relationships with elders, other ministers, the search team, and the many great people there that I've met
--Developing new friendships, enriching our circle of friends
--Having our children be close to their grandparents
--Lots of free babysitting from their grandparents
--Being able to go to family reunions (they are always in Texas, and I never can go!)

Just yesterday I received a wonderful note from someone at High Pointe, talking about how she had faced a difficult move. But she said that she thought we were very much needed there, and that, after over two years of searching, God has brought us to them. If that is true, it is a humbling thought. Certainly we hope that God will use us to help many people find Christ and become more connected with God and one another.

Please keep us in your prayers during this time of transition.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Famous Last Words

I have been thinking about what I will say on Sunday. As I have, my mind has often gone back to Chuck, the minister with whom I worked at Wilshire. I still remember his last sermon, and some of it will be a model for me. I heard from Chuck today. He provided some commiseration about the difficulty of this week, and some words of encouragement.

Diane, a friend from High Pointe, also sent me this link . It is a video of a professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer who gave his last lecture for his class.

Times like this make you think about what is most important in life, both for our families and for the church.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A tough, emotional week

This weekend was pretty emotional. Becki and I went to a banquet for us with the elders, their wives, and Dennis and Dianne. It was a great time, with food, sharing of great memories, and a bit of a roasting. They know me far too well! One of my kids' favorites "dates" is to go to Barnes and Noble, read books, and drink hot chocolate. They teased me about our kids listing such things, rather than amusements parks and the like, as their favorite things to do. We teared up during this time, during the Sunday sermon, in our minister/staff prayer meeting this morning. I really don't know how I am going to get through next Sunday's service.

One thing I do know--we love this church dearly, and they love us. Every meaningful conversation with people seems to result in one or the other--usually both--tearing up. I thought I was more of a man than this! :)

If you have seen The Lord of the Rings, the last scene in the last film is called, "A long goodbye." Indeed, this scene is quite long, as Frodo says goodbye to Sam and his family and his cousins. The music is slow, and they cherish the moments. This well describes what we feeling and doing right now. I know that we will visit many, many times. We have lifelong friends here whom we will never forget.