Thursday, August 12, 2010

Death by Ministry? By Eugene Cho

As I have studied on health, articles on ministry, ministers, and health keep popping up. Here is an article that came through my Twitter newspaper yesterday with, again, some startling statistics. This article is called "Death by Ministry? by Eugene Cho. I have copied it here (hope this is okay, Eugene.)

Several years ago, I spent several hours/week doing research (and meeting with other pastors) about pastoral health and vitality for my denomination.

I chose to spend some time doing that for selfish reasons. I was and am still learning how to take better care of myself in ministry (as evidenced by the scary picture above) – while completely acknowledging that sometimes, it’s not supposed to feel right.

What I learned was pretty shocking and heartbreaking but one of the conclusions I came to was that as ministry leaders, pastors and other pursuers of God’s work, it helps to understand some of the challenges ahead and to be proactive rather than reactive.

Yesterday, I posted Part I of this post entitled, Why is Being a Pastor so Unhealthy. The reasons are complex and I’ll acknowledge that when one looks for “doom and gloom,” you’ll find some discouraging things. I can focus an entry purely on the joys and blessings of pastoral ministry and feel confident I can write a compelling piece. But these statistics (and stories that many of us are aware of) and our personal stories are hard to ignore.

Here’s a summary of what I learned and shared:

There are varying reports from different sources but I believe most will agree that the ministerial profession (life as pastors) is now considered one of the most dangerous or unhealthiest professions. It’s usually rated last or second to last. Read this from a local Northwest minister,Mark, on a comment on an earlier post:

“At the first church I served we had an insurance agent who was a member of the congregation. When I went to see him about some auto insurance needs, he said “Hey, wanna see something that will scare the crap out of you?”…He pulled out a form that had various professions rated for their risk of giving life insurance policies too…Anyway, to make a lengthening story shorter, he showed me that clergy members were in the same category as Deep Sea Welders and Loggers as the second highest risk group to give life insurance policies to. We were behind crab fishermen but ahead of munitions workers.

It was a little disturbing to know that statistically I was gonna die due to my profession before someone who builds explosives. This was back in 1994 the statistics may be better (or worse) now.”

If you don’t believe the above comment, read some of these statistics:

48% of them think their work is hazardous to their family’s well being. Another 45.5% will experience burnout or depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70% say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position. They have the 2nd highest divorce rate among professions. Who are they? They are pastors. Here are some more overwhelming statistics from this article.

  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with spouse and that ministry has a negative effect on their family.
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner once a month.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75% report they’ve had significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 58% of pastors indicate that their spouse needs to work either part time or full time to supplement the family income.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say they have no close friends.
  • Pastors who work fewer than 50 hrs/week are 35% more likely to be terminated.
  • 40% of pastors considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months.
Feeling dizzy? Take a breath. Here’s some more statistics:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons. [compiled by Darrin Patrick]
While I love being a pastor and even more, being called to be a pastor, I want folks to know how incredibly difficult it is at times to handle the complexities and stress of being a minister. Finally, at the of 36, I feel more at peace at how to create boundaries, love my church, better care for my wife and children, support my fellow staff, handle criticism, etc. but there are times, I feel clueless and overwhelmed. I’ve been having occasional visitors from a bhog started by and for pastors’ wives [couldn't find one for pastors' husbands]. Some of their comments have been difficult to read because they hit so close to home. I will not post a link to their blog here but here are but two comments:

“Oh, and the financial part is tough. We live on poverty level. I don’t know how we are going to pay all the bills sometimes, much less buy groceries. The Lord always comes through, though, and on a really tough week, someone in the church will anonymously give us a gift. We have no in between at our church. It’s either people trying to help us out, (it’s all there what we make each week – in black and white) or it’s people that have this attitude - ‘Pastors are supposed to suffer and sacrifice. It’s part of the job.’ Has anyone else noticed that mentality? I don’t know where it comes from, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Pastors aren’t supposed to drive nice cars, have nice houses, or buy new clothes. And we are always supposed to be worried about making ends meet I wonder if it is just half of my church that thinks that way.”

Here’s the second comment:

“Today my son approached my husband and randomly said “I guess you’re going back to church now.” And he wasn’t going anywhere! During seminary, he would walk around the house saying “Bye bye Daddy. Bye bye daddy!” So sad, but very true. It’s definitely a calling, isn’t it? I told my husband the other day: “In my classes that I took to prepare me to be a minister’s wife, they told me over and over again ‘it is the loneliest job in the world,’ but I never realized it until we were in the role…

While I feel solid support from my staff, my elder board, and the church as a whole, I know that many of my peers do not feel this way.

Simply, pastors are often underpaid, underappreciated, and at times, undermined.

There is strain on their marriages and families. Two other incredibly real factors that add complexities to the ministerial calling are: 1) the cultural complexity and dynamic of the 21st century and 2) the nebulous but real nature of the spiritual realm & battle. The reality is that being a pastor is not just merely a job nor should it be one. Ministry is a calling. It’s both amazing and incredibly difficult. While it isn’t my desire to over dramatize the significance of ministry, I do believe that the Evil One seeks to impede and harm the work that is to take place through ministers and pastors.

As for the “cultural complexity of the 21st century,” I think this quote captures my sentiment:

“My viewpoint tends to be more organizational, so my take on being a pastor is that it is an impossible job. Here you are asked to be the lead preacher and teacher, available for counseling sessions, leading a staff of people that can span such responsibilities as missions and janitorial, serving as the public face for your organization in the community, networking with other leaders at Christian conferences and denominational gatherings. That’s a lot of hats! … Let’s finally consider the financial issues. I don’t believe pastors are paid very well, so that’s obviously a downer. And if you are paid well, and sometimes even if you aren’t, that has its own issues, for congregants can quite easily feel they own you, since they’re paying your way. What other organizations is the person at top in such an awkward financial relationship with his or her co-workers and clients?” [h/t Lee H]

My point is very simple:

Please care, pray, and love your pastors (and church staff) in your churches.

Seriously, give them a nice pay raise, more time off, regular opportunities to get away for even a day retreat to pray, buy them some dinner certificates, honor their spouses, love their children, pray for them, and regularly share your appreciation and affirmation.

Now, I know that this can easily be intended to perpetuate the victim language or mentality, but it’s a two-way street. Churches must seek to honor and care for its pastors and staff and build healthy structures to ensure such care. Similarly, pastors and their families must make choices to be holistically healthy! We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on your jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here].

We need to lean on God; stop our self-sufficiency and repent of the idolatry to please all those around us. Easier said than done but it needs to begin somewhere. Why not now?

Some good news:

Despite the intense nature of pastoral ministry, it is also immensely fulfilling. Huh? It makes total sense to me. According to a recent survey, the top five professions are clergy, physical therapists, firefighters, education administrators, and painters/sculptors:

Clergy ranked by far the most satisfied and the most generally happy of 198 occupations. Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were “very satisfied” with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being “very happy,” compared with an average 33 percent for all workers.Jackson Carroll, Williams professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke Divinity School, found similarly high satisfaction when he studied Protestant and Catholic clergy, despite relatively modest salaries and long hours.“

They look at their occupation as a calling,” Carroll said. “A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person’s life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There’s a lot of fulfillment.” [read the entire article]

So, while pastoral ministry is at times exhausting, draining, depressing, and overwhelming, it’s also meaningful and fulfilling.

May God grant you grace, courage, and strength.

God bless you pastors. God bless your spouses and your children. May you bless your flock and may you be blessed by them. And together, may you bless the Lord as you seek to bless His creation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to Church Sunday - Missional or Not?

Looking for a fall outreach idea? Outreach is promoting a "Back to Church Sunday." Read the story here. Outreach says that churches that participated in this Sunday last year averaged a 20% higher attendance on this day. I'm considering this for our church (though not this particular flyer--I'll probably design our own). While we do not want to substitute direct mail for personal invitations, we must also remember that the Spirit has already been sent out into the world ahead of us, and he has already touched many people's hearts.

While it is probable that the "dechurched" and lapsed Christians are more likely to respond to this invitation than the totally unchurched, this group would be great to help them re-connect with God. This too is missional. What would not be missional would be just relying upon this approach, targeting Christians from other churches, failing to be involved in the community, failing to serve or help heal areas of brokenness, or failing to share the gospel. And the primary way that we invite is still by personal invitation. Direct mail can reach some, but personal connections are always the most effective.

So--what do you think about the "Back to Church" concept? Is it missional or not?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Outlive Your Life - By Max Lucado

This is the video trailer for Max Lucado's new book Outlive Your Life. Looks interesting.

Here is the book summary:

"These are difficult days in our world's history. 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, natural disasters are gouging entire nations, and economic uncertainty still reigns across the globe. But you and I have been given an opportunity to make a big difference. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God's love and life? We are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let's live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did."

Have you read or ordered this book? What do you think of the trailer/summary?

Just for Fun - A Chimpanzee Solves a Problem

Reasons Ministers Quit the Ministry - Part 1

In studying about minister health, I have come across some startling statistics and studies. One such statistic is that nearly 1400 ministers across America quit ministry every month. At a time when churches are shrinking and good ministers are hard to find, this is a disturbing statistic. And these ministers are not being replaced, particularly preachers. In my own fellowship, Harding University has commissioned a study for why so few people are going into preaching. The reason undoubtedly has to do with the poor experiences that so many ministers have.

Fuller and Pastoral Care Inc have reported research about reasons why ministers leave the ministry. Here are the top 5 of 10 reasons that they give, with quotes.

1. The Ministers Have a Vision that the Church Does Not Share.

"The most disheartening thing ministers go through is to feel they have a message and direction from God for their church but the people are not willing to listen or respond. In one survey, ministers and laity were asked the purpose of the church. 90% of the pastors state the purpose of the church was to reach the lost but when asking the laity, 90% report the purpose is to meet their own needs! Only 10% of the laity stated the purpose was to reach the lost."

When I saw these statistics, I was blown away. Jesus stated that his mission was to reach the lost. Without this mission, there would not even be a church, and we would not have salvation. Of course this is our mission. And yet, 90% of church members believe that the purpose of the church is to meet their own needs--despite Jesus' clear call to his disciples to "deny themselvs." No wonder so many ministers quit. It is frustrating to constantly try to get people to believe and do what they clearly do not want to believe and do. Most ministers are high on vision and integrity, and so they just finally get so frustrated with lack of support for Christ's mission and the inward nature of members that they just quit.

2. Lack of Denominational Support.

For Churches of Christ, this translates into a feeling of lack of support from elders, other ministers, or influential "informal leaders."

3. Feeling All Alone.

"A pastor's work is never done. They report working between 55 to 75 hours a week, often burning a candle at both ends. Most of the calls a minister receives is not to check on how their pastor is doing but because of problems either in the church or in their lives. Complaints seem to come in on a daily basis. 40% of the ministers report having serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month! Over time, pastors report feeling that others are only caring about themselves, complaining about most everything, and have attitudes of “what have you done for me lately”. Most pastors feel unappreciated. They give so much time to others but who is there for the pastor?"

Loneliness comes, in part, from reason #1 - feeling like no one proactively supports the vision of reaching the lost. Elijah felt this way (1 Kings 19), partly because he was so exhausted. In response, the angel of the Lord told him to eat and rest. And God told him that he had reserved 7000 who "shared his vision." Ministers can better deal with this lonely feeling if they take better care of themselves and make sure that they "have a life"--do fun, non-ministry related things. Still, this is a problem. To work 55-75 hours a week, striving to help others in every way, and to receive daily complaints and serious conflicts every month is enough to make ministers quit.

4. Stress on the Family and Health

"Most people never think about how the ministry demands affect the pastor and his/her family, especially long term. As mentioned before, 94% of the minister's families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry. 80% report that it has negatively affected them. Children of pastors often report having negative experiences and many do not attend church anywhere today because of those negative experiences!"

Ministry ought to be a blessing to families, but for many, it is a significant source of stress and conflict. I'm blessed with a wife who is supportive of my ministry, and who is independent enough to not resent the nights that I'm away. I seek to have "songs, prayers, and Bible stories"--a family devotional time with my kids five nights a week, and to take my day off during the week. But kids and spouses experience enough problems from ministry that they report it is at best a mixed blessing.

When those who are not in ministry "go to church," they can find help, healing, and encouragement. For ministers, there is no separation between work, family, and church, and the latter is often a source of conflict.

5. Must Be the Most Spiritual/Can't Be Real

"While ministers should set standards high enough for others to follow and want to achieve, the very nature of double standards propel ministers to further distant themselves among others within the church. According to statistics, 66% of church members expect a minister and his/her family to live by a higher moral standard than they do. This pervasive thought lends itself unrealistic, and when accompanied by the demands of the ministry, ministers and their families feel the pressures and desire to further distance themselves even more!"

Where do ministers go when they face life, ministry, or moral challenges? I have been blessed to always have an elder or two that I was particularly close to that I could share with. Still, every minister knows that he must be extremely careful who he talks to about any kind of struggle. Sometimes this is because certain things are only appropriate to be discussed in leadership circles, and other times it is because there is a fear that what they say may end up being shared inappropriately.

What is most surprising or concerning about the above statistics? How can we help ministers stay encouraged and stay in ministry?

"Congregations Gone Wild"

The NY Times had an article today called, "Congregations Gone Wild." This article followed a previous NT Times article on clergy, in which a study was cited that showed clergy have higher than normal rates of depression, obesity, and anxiety.

In Congregations Gone Wild, the author, Jeffrey MacDonald, a United Church of Christ minister, writes about how ministers are encouraged to give in to a consumeristic, entertainment-oriented membership: "In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else . . .

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries."

As a minister, I can indeed say that there is pressure to not challenge people, to not call them to sacrifice and service, to concentrate on members' wants and ignore the lost. While we might expect this from members who are not very spiritually mature, or who perhaps are hurting so much that they cannot see beyond themselves, this is most challenging when these pressures come from those that we expect would be supportive of these things. As the article indicates, this can be a source of stress.

Overall, ministry a great joy. But this is one of the stresses that ministers must learn to deal with or they will quit the ministry, as so many have unfortunately done. We must, like Christ, our example, continue to preach and teach Christ's message and mission.

So, what stresses do you think that ministers face? How can these stresses be helped?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Atheist Christopher Hitchens Talks About God and Cancer

Christopher Hitchens is a well-known atheist who was recently diagnosed with cancer. In this CNN interview, he speaks against smoking, drinking, and burning the candle at both ends. However, he says that he still does not believe in God. And if he has a death bed conversion, don't believe it. He would not be himself then. Sad.

What do you think about this interview with Hitchens?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Author Anne Rice Quits Christianity--But is Still a Believer

Now here is an interesting article. Anne Rice, a one time author of graphic vampire novels, made headlines a few years ago for converting to Christianity. Because of her conversion, she ceased writing these types of novels.

Today she made headlines by announcing that she was renouncing Christianity and being a Christian:

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control," the author wrote Wednesday on her Facebook page. "In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen." Read the AP story here.

Here is another quote from Anne Rice's Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For tenyears, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

And yet, the article report this: "Although no longer part of any denomination, she remains a believer and continues to read theology and post Biblical passages on her Facebook page."

So, what does this say about the perception of "Christianity" and "Christian"? I am reminded of a joke I heard once in which someone said this in trying to define Christians: "They are against things and go to a lot of meetings." It is interesting that Anne Rice defined Christianity and being a Christian entirely as being against things.

Now, there are things that Christians should be against. But we ought to be known primarily for what we are for. Jesus said that we would be known as his disciples by our love for one another. He said that we should do our good deeds before people so that they would praise the Father in heaven. When Anne Rice thought of quiting Christianity and being a Christian, why did she not think of quitting loving one another or doing good deeds? The reason is simple. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that a great percentage of non-Christians define Christians as being against things and being judgmental.(Check our David Kinnamon's book UnChristian for stats on this.)

It is interesting that Rice says, "In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being a Christian." This seems to confirm that she is making a distinction between what Christ was actually for and about, and what she perceives Christianity and Christians are all about. I'm not sure if she is actually for homosexuality, or is just against being "anti-gay." The Bible, of course, says that this behavior is sinful. Perhaps she is confronting mean-spirited behavior towards gays. It has been said that we should love the sinner and hate the sin. Sounds like a good idea. But so many times, sadly, it seems that people end of hating the sinner, or at least act and speak against "sinners" in a hateful manner. It is interesting that "sinners" seemed to really like Jesus, where as those who fall into the "sinners" category today often run from, well, Christians and Christianity.

Rice is defined by the writer of the AP article as still being a believer, and the writer notes that Rice continues to post biblical passages on her Facebook page. Rice also writes:

"My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me."

But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

I am glad that Rice took renounced atheism and has made her faith in Christ central to her life. Praise God! I do not know all the rest of her beliefs, and am not here to defend them--that is really beside the point I am making. The point I am making is this--we need to be known primarily for the things Jesus said that we would be known for, such as our love for one another, doing good deeds in the community, etc. We have a huge PR problem, and many non-Christians do not see us as a positive force in the world.

What do you think is the cause of the world's negative perception of "Christians" and "Christianity"? How can we change this perception?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Missional, Evangelism, and the Kingdom of Heaven

Here is a pretty decent post, Missional & Evangelism by Richard Dahlstrom. In this post, Dahlstrom quotes The Message, which is a paraphrase of the NT:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. God to the lost, confused people rigfht here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
(Matthew 9:5-7).

I'm preaching on the "Limited Commission" on Sunday (Mt. 10), which covers similar themes that are found in this passage--being missional (sent), evangelism, and the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God.

From looking at Jesus' life and mission, I have often held up three primary things as being central to the missional concept: seeking the lost, serving the community, and sharing the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. Without an active seeking, there is no missional thrust that compels us into the world. Without service and acts of healing, we fail to demonstrate the kingdom of God--that God's kingdom is filled with love, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And in today's world, sharing without serving often places us in the same category as telemarketers and pushy salesmen. Without service, our sincerity is questioned and we may never get a hearing.

At the same time, if we serve without sharing the good news, or evangelism, we fail to give people the hope of their ultimate salvation. The gospel, or good news, is fundamentally about two things: 1) Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection; and 2) the kingdom of God. The first might be called the gospel about Jesus, while the second might be called the gospel of Jesus, or Jesus' gospel.

Sadly, the message of the kingdom is often neglected or absent today. But where it is preached and taught, it has a powerful effect. People begin to get a glimpse of a God who is powerful and able to infinitely more than them. They begin to get a taste of a life free of worry, stress, and anxiety, where cares are cast upon the Lord. They begin to find fulfillment in self-sacrifice and serving others.

Let us not forget all three of these aspects of mission--seeking, serving, and sharing.
What do you see is the link between "missional" and evangelism?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Desire for Simplicity - How can the church respond?

We live in an incredibly complex world. We have gone from the big 3 broadcast channels to hundreds of cable and satellite channels.

The amount of digital information in the world doubles every 11 hours--an unfathomable rate (see story).

The Internet has brought virtually unlimited amounts news, pictures, books, blogs, videos, and social sites.

And we feel the overwhelming weight of all of this noise. We dread opening our email. There is too much junk email to go through. Too many forwards that are not funny or worth the effort. Too many people who ask questions that require two page answers. Too many people we don't know, with their own agenda, cluttering up our lives.

And the daily choices we have to make--while great in some ways--are overwhelming. Remember the add that highlighted the question at the check out stand, "paper of plastic"? In an overly complex world, even these types of choices can start to overwhelm us.

Our world is longing for simplicity.

For years, consumers responded to having more choices. The more offerings, the greater the appeal to different people. And this is still often the case. But consider the appeal of Google's home page. A single, unadorned text box with no advertising. Simple. No pretense. Nothing else clamoring for our time or attention. Studies have shown that the more you have on your home page, the less people go to it. (Which is one reason I will be reducing the number of choices on MON's home page.)

And despite all of the interest in customization--still a huge desire--it is ironic that the Iphone, with its 100,000 apps, is not able to be customized in its software (see story). People seem not to have minded. In fact, by having a closed system, Apple has eliminated hackers and spammers. Aren't you glad that you don't have to deal with this on your Iphone?

Businesses--often the first to note cultural trends--are responding to our world's desire for simplicity. There are email filtering technologies. Closet organization systems. Simple billing (cell, Internet, and cable on one bill). Simple diets. Simple exercise routines. Simple wills. Sadly, last week I even saw multiple signs for "Simple Divorce" along the highway.

There is much I want to say and apply to the church on this subject of simplicity. But I don't want to do too much at once. I "simply want to ask:

In seeking to be servants, what areas of people's lives can we--individually and as a church--help simplify? Where do people seem overwhelmed in their time, organization, or choices?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In Defense of Missional - Why Is this still an important term?

So what is the big deal about "missional"? Why is this term even needed?

The term missional was not coined by marketers trying to sell religious books. While there were forerunners to the missional concept such as Leslie Newbigin and David Bosch, the seminal work that introduced the term was Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. In this work, written by the Gospel and Our Culture Network, the authors were seeking to describe the fundamental sent nature of the church, particularly in light of what the church in North America had become-a vendor of religious goods and services.

The term missional is from the Latin word, missio, which means "sent." From this term we derive the words "missionary" and "missions." While these terms are not translated as such in English Bibles, they could be, for they are roughly equivalent to the generic use of the term apostolos, or apostle, which also means one who is sent. See Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas (1 Thes. 2:6), and Andronicus and Junias, who were “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:6). All of the gospels and the book of Acts have versions of the Great Commission, in which the disciples, which represent the church, are sent into the world (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:8; Lk. 24:45-48). John’s gospel particularly brings out the concept of sending.
  • 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21)

  • 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt a in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:7-8).

The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, and the Son sends us. Thus, mission is rooted in the very nature of God. God is a sending God, and we are a sent people. The authors of Missional Church state this: “’Mission’ is not something the church does, apart of its total program. No, the church’s essense is missional, for the calling and sending action of God forms its identity.” –Missional Church

What are we sent to do? Well, Jesus, of course is our model for mission. And from Jesus’ own words, he came to do at least these three things: 1) seek and save the lost; 2) serve and give his life for others; and 3) proclaim the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The church is missional when its life and mission is modeled after the life and mission of Jesus Christ and does these things. There is much more, of course, to being a missional church, but this is a starting point.

So why is this such a necessary concept? Well, for centuries the church failed to see itself as being in a mission context. Under Christendom--where there was a blending of church and state and everyone was viewed to be Christian--churches were not set up aroudn mission. Their structure, budget, etc. was set up to be religious vendors, serving existing Christians. In the 18th century and on, there was a revival of "missions," but this was relegated to reaching the lost overseas.

In 20th century, the number of Christians and church goers began to shrink. With this environment, churches began to market themselves to Christians, seeking to attract more “consumers” (who were already Christian) for their product. Reaching the lost and serving the community was forgotten or relegated to a small sub-section of the church. Meanwhile, America became more and more unchurched.

The writers of Missional Church saw this environment and what the church had begun and wrote this work. They saw the need to “send” people across the street, as the US is now the 5th largest mission field in the world. By using the term missional church they wanted to help reshape people’s imagination from what the church had become—an inward-focused, vendor of religious goods and services to consumeristic Christians—to what God had intended for the church—to be a people whose purpose was to fulfill the mission of God. They write:

'Mission' means 'sending,' and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God's action in history . . . It has taken us decades to realize that mission is not just a program of the church. It defines the church as God's sent people. (p. 4-6)

So why keep the term?

  1. It helps people to check their idea of what church is. It does not exist for itself, but for God’s purposes for the world.

  2. It helps reshape the imagination. There is incredible power in language, which postmodernism has taught us. This term helps people imagine what the church is supposed to be.

  3. It provides an opportunity for teaching. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it provides a teaching moment to share God’s original vision for the church.

  4. It challenges the status quo. People may be comfortable with what their experience of church has been. They may not want anything to change in the church, because the rest of their lives have so much change. But change is absolutely necessary. We now live in a world in which for the first time in modern history we have 6 generations alive at the same time. The amount of information in the world doubles nearly every years. If we are to stay current, we must change. And God’s people have always grown the most when they have gotten outside of their comfort zone—when they are in the desert or facing persecution.

  5. It puts up front and center what the church is called to be—the people of God on mission. By referring to ourselves as a missional church, there should be no ambiguity as to what our central purpose should be. Those who are most excited about mission will get this. Those who are most consumeristic or believe that the church exists to serve itself will be the most resistant.

I recognize that missional church is a conceptual thought, and those that are intuitive, conceptual thinkers will be most drawn to it. Those that are more concrete thinkers will need to have more explanation. But this is good, as it provides a teaching moment. As I give Missional Outreach seminars around the country, I encourage people to use the term, as it is helpful, but to also explain the concept in many different ways. Always, of course, we should point people back to the life and mission of Jesus.

For myself, this is a profound part of my journey. I can remember reading Missional Church in 2000 as a part of, of all things, a congregational ministry class. Having grown up going on mission trips with Let’s Start Talking, it struck me, that this was exactly what the church was supposed to be. That we must see North America as a mission field, and all that we do should focus upon this mission. I know others that were struck by this as well.

Are some people jumping on a missional bandwagon and using the term in ways that they do not understand? Sure. But whether the term itself does or not, missional is a profoundly biblical-theological concept that will stand the test of time. And as for me? Well, I was missional before missional was cool. And as one who has led two churches directly in becoming outward-focused, and as one who gives missional outreach seminars around the country and attend conferences on this around the country, I can say that it is a term that helps reshape the imagination and motivate many people towards mission. It is not the only way to get across the concept, but it is a helpful term.

We absolutely cannot stay with the status quo. Church attendance in the US is 18%-20% and falling. Read my last blog post for additional stats. If we keep people in their comfort zone, we will continue to fail to reach the world for Christ. And our own children will suffer for it.

Go missional!

What do you think are good reasons for using the term missional?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Kingdom of God and the Parable of the Sower

Matthew's gospel has the most extensive teaching on the kingdom of God, which he refers to primarily as the kingdom of (the) heaven(s). The central message of Jesus, of course, was that the kingdom of God, or kingdom of the heaven(s), was near-at hand--all around--in your midst. by using the plural form of heaven, the heavens, Matthew emphasized this nearness (Mt. 3:17). The ancient view of heaven was that there were (at least) three heavens. The 1st heaven is simply the air, the spiritual world that surrounds us. The second heaven is the stars, planets, etc.--the celestial realm. The third heaven is the throne of God, or what we often typically think of as heaven.

Why is repentance linked with the kingdom of the heavens? If God is all around us, if the power and peace of his kingdom is readily available to us, then we need to repent--to change our heart and minds, to open our minds--to his way and this new reality. The kingdom of God is God's rule or reign, and we must repent of trying to rule our own lives, and instead follow God and his ways, and depend upon his power.

If we do not understand this, then we miss most of Matthew's gospel, which is filled with parables and teachings about the kingdom. So now I want to take the parable of the sower. The sower sows seeds, and this seed is the message of the kingdom--that God and his kingdom power is all around us. Note Jesus' explanation of this parable:

18“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (Mt. 13:18-23).

1st Group - Some people hear this message about the kingdom, and they don't understand it. How can God be near us? How can he have any real impact upon our lives? They live their lives as if there is no spiritual reality. They do not pray expecting God to do much, if they pray at all. They think that what they achieve is done by their own power, intelligence, and hard work. They live secular lives.

2nd Group - The second group gets excited about the message that God and his kingdom is near. They want to live spiritual lives, dependent upon God. But they are rather shallow--perhaps thinking that God can be manipulated, or prayer works like magic, where God can be forced to do our will by having the right formulas or saying the right words. And when hard times come, they just give up the whole thing.

3rd Group - The third group also gets excited. But they fail to really trust God. They worry about things, rather than depending upon God. They pursue wealth as a means of empowerment, rather than trusting God for their power in daily living. And so, while they may still have an outward belief in this message, they are unfruitful. Nothing comes of it, because their loyalties are divided.

4th Group - The fourth group understands this message of the kingdom and lives by it. They really believe that God and his kingdom are all around. They trust in his power when difficulties arise. They pray fervently and expectantly. They have great understanding. And because of this faith, he produces a crop that is 100 times what is sown. Notice that in this case, God uses the faithful believer in the message to do amazing things.

So my question for you is, which group do you fall into? Do you know and understand the message that the kingdom of the heavens is near? Do you trust in God's presence and power in your life? Or do you trust in your own power? Are you stressed and worried? Or do you trust in God?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Startling Statisfics on the Decline of Christianity in the US & the Need for Church Planting

Mission Alive has put out the following statistics on population growth, church decline, the fall of Christianity in the US, and the opportunity and need for church planting. Note the following:

Here is the bad news:
  • Between 1990 and 2000 there was a net gain of 4600 churches in the US; however, to simply maintain the pace with population growth a gain
    of 38,800 was needed.
  • Between 80-85% of churches in the US are in numeric decline.
  • From 1990-2001 the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as "Christian" dropped nearly 10%. At that rate, non-Christians will outnumber Christians of any denomination by 2042.
  • Many churches struggle with our changing society and increasingly post-modern culture. Perhaps out of fear, many turn inward and are unable to reach their community with the good news.
Here is some demographic data:
  • The US population is expected to reach 392 million by 2050, up from 300 million in 2006. Most of the increase will be in metropolitan areas. This represents a 31% increase in 42 years.
  • 10 US metro areas grew in excess of 40% in the past decade: metro areas as divergent as Naples, FL., Yuma, AZ, Fayetteville, AR, and Boise, ID.
  • Estimates are that 60% of the population increase in the US in the next 50 years will be among immigrant peoples.
  • By 2050, less than 53 percent will be non-Hispanic White, 16 percent will be Black; 23 percent will be Hispanic; 10 percent will be Asian and Pacific Islander.
Here are the opportunities:
  • American suburban life is changing to be characterized by isolation, individualism, and consumerism, providing both challenges and entree points for the gospel.
  • New churches tend to grow faster than existing churches, have a greater percentage of young people and incorporate people faster than existing churches.
  • Churches less than 15 years old gain 60%-80% of their members from people not attending any worshiping body, while in churches more than 15 years old 80%-90% of new members transfer from other churches.
It is clear from these statistics that Christianity in America is on a dramatic downward trend. Only God can reduce this decline. The influx of immigrants represents both a challenge and an opportunity for us. Legal immigration has been very good for America. In fact, this country was built by immigrants, who came motivated and inspired to life a better way of life. As far as minorities and churches, historically, our fellowship has not done a good job of reaching the non-White population. But immigrants are often very open to new faith, as the rest of their lives are in flux already. This is why groups such as Genesis Alliance, a Latino church planting group that I'm on the board of, are so important. We need to plant many new "minority" churches to reach these growing populations.

It is also clear that predominantly white churches and established churches of all ethnicities are needed to plant churches. The sad fact is, very few churches are growing at all, and those that are are growing through transfer growth. Unfortunately, most churches are satisfied if they merely meet the budget and gain members through transfer growth.

We need to plant many, many new churches, as this is one of the best evangelistic methods there is.

What stands out to you about these statistics?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Unbelievable Story of God Sending Latino Church Planters from Columbia

Okay, this is quite an amazing story.

A couple of months ago, I took a trip with Paul Newhouse, who is our missions coordinator, and Sixto Rivera, the Executive Director of Genesis Alliance over to El Salvador. When I came back, inspired by the trip, I featured the work in El Salvador in my Sunday morning sermon. I also had us sing an El Salvadoran song, Bien Benito (I'm so Happy song) in Spanish.

A young lady named Christian came up to me after the service who was Hispanic. She thanked me for singing this song and for our love for the Latino people. She explained that she was from Columbia and had recently moved here. Her first Sunday was during the run-up to Harvest Sunday, when we were highlighting the work of Genesis Alliance and our Hispanic church plant with Carlos Lopez (Iglesia de Cristo in Plano, TX). On that day, she and her husband, Ober Ochoa, met Sixto Rivera. Sixto talked with them, found out their background, and began to look at them as potential Latino church planters.

On Monday, I met with Ober and Christina and Sixto in my office. Now, let me back up and explain the rest of the story.

Christina and Ober are both from Columbia. While she was still single, Christina applied for a visa to come to the US. She has family in the Houston area. When she and Ober got married, they prayed one day that her visa might be accepted. Three days later, it was accepted! But only Christina could come, as she had applied while she was single. So they wrote a letter to the US Conciliar asking for Ober and their child to be given visas as well. They were approved the very day that the conciliar had received the application. This was nothing short of a miracle. As they said to me, you have to be from El Salvador or Columbia or the like to understand how amazing this was. They took this as a sign from God to come to the US.

A bit more on Ober. Ober was brought to faith in Christ when he went to a house church in Columbia. He served faithfully as a member for 5-6 years, and then was made a pastor. His passion is in outreach and evangelism. In fact, he converted his wife, Christina. I asked him if he only studied with beautiful women. I also said that this was an outreach strategy that could only work once! :) (Only one wife is needed!)

Continuing the story . . . When their visas were accepted, they were seeking direction of where to go in the US. Someone suggested McKinney. They said, "McKinney?" So they got on Google and googled McKinney and up came a picture of Towne Lake. Someone in Columbia had a sister in McKinney, so they moved in with her in her apartment complex.

This apartment complex happened to be managed by Marsha Miller, one of our members and a long time family friend. When the Ochoas needed some furniture, Marsha gave them a couch. (Our clothes closet ministry often helps with these types of things.) The person that they were staying with went to McKinney Bible Fellowship. But Marsha said to them one day, in a way that only she could, "Hey--I gave you a couch. Why don't you come to my church?" And so they did.

When their host family asked why they went to High Pointe and not to her church they said that they just sensed an overwhelming love for the Latino people. If I may also share, Christina also said that she felt that I was leading the church to love all peoples, and that this really touched her. For a Caucasian congregation to devote two services to the Latino was just amazing to her. I was very personally touched by this. It reminded me that this work really does have an impact upon people.

Ober and Christina share our view of baptism and even worship. They are a very talented couple that could make great church planters. They are very interested in working with Genesis Alliance and Sixto, and we are very interested in working with them.

Praise God! Clearly, he is at work in mighty ways, bringing together people to fulfill God's mission.

What do you think of this story?!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Love for Scripture - Something My Mother Taught Me

As mother's day approaches, I am reminded of my mother, of course. One of the things that always stood out to me was the importance of Scripture and following God's word.

The Bible, of course, does not claim to be an ordinary book. As the word of God, the Bible claims and is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The Bible is not merely a human product, for “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).

Scripture’s origination from God is so thorough that it is described as “God-breathed” and is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). For the one whose heart is open, God’s Word points a person unmistakably to Christ, and it is the means for faith.

The Bible also was written by humans (2 Pet. 3:15), and it reflects that human authorship. It is written in the context of human cultures (ancient near eastern, Greco-Roman) in human languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). Furthermore, even a superficial examination of the Bible reveals that the books of the Bible differ considerably in style, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

This mysterious combination of the divine and the human is a reflection of the incarnation, through which Jesus, who is God, also became human.

I firmly believe in Scripture. I have been blessed to grow up in a home where my mother regularly read Bible stories to me as a child. And in everyday conversation and interaction, biblical truths were regularly worked in.

This is a legacy that Becki and I have sought to pass down to our children. We regularly read to our children Bible stories, memorize Bible verses, draw application from Bible verses, and talk about God's truths. There may be people, ministers, or families out there who do not believe or want to follow Scripture, but this preacher, his mom, and his family is not one of them!

What did your mom teach you about Scripture?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A little love, human kindness, and prayer opens doors to Clothes Closet Bible study

Today we began having our a devotional time with our Clothes Closet customers. We divided the customers into an English-speaking and a Spanish-speaking group, and had each go to different a portable. Then Glenda Lopez, wife of Carlos Lopez, our Hispanic church planter, gave a devotional in Spanish, while I worked with the English-speakers.

By going into rooms, the customers were able to sit down. This immediately eliminated the "waiting in line," which can be dehumanizing. It certainly does not lead to interaction
I had those in the room introduce themselves and tell a bit about themselves. We then did a type of Discovery Bible study. I wrote up a verse on the board which covered the greatest commands. Then I asked them to rewrite this in their own words (they told me this orally). And then I asked them how they could apply it.

They said that the verse meant to love God with their whole being, and to love others--which they translated into praying for others. I also asked them for their prayer requests. These are what they shared:

Morayna – my cousin Oscar has cancer
Reyna – father-in-law has a heart condition
Terri – Family and mother
Shery – Cousin Tammy has cancer
Velma – son in California and sister that has cancer and diabetes
Diana – Mom just out of surgery – Dad has cancer
Tracy – Dad seeing heart specialist
Donna – Mom with diabetes

Prayers for the world, others, don’t judge people who are different, and prayers for our enemies were also requested.

One lady, Diana Brock, said that she didn't know where she was in her relationship with God, clearly feeling distant from him. But she said that she wanted to come and visit our church. She just needs a ride. (Please let me know if you can help give her a ride. She lives off 380 toward Princeton . Her address is1800 Private Road 5461, McKinney.)

I met another lady named Shery who was part of a cowboy church. The minister of this church set up a 30 day fast and a tent down in Van Alystine over Christmas. Shery had been Jewish, but after encountering this minister, she and her family studied and they were baptized--immersed--in a horse trough! She was very open and sincere about her faith.

Next week I'll seek to continue to build this group up to form a type of Christian community. Please be praying for this ministry, and especially Diana at this time.

Praise God for all that he is doing!

What ideas do you have about how to draw this group closer to God, one another, and the church?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Angels Unaware - Food Pantry Inspires People in Community to Give

Today, Linda Hardin, our church secretary and food pantry ministry leader, wrote this about her experience in a checkout stand while buying groceries for our food pantry. Here is Linda's story:

"Angels unaware. Do you believe in them? I sure do. God sends people into our lives to help or encourage us. Many times it's family members or friends, but every once in a while a total stranger delivers a message straight from God. And it seems to happen at the most unexpected time or place.

That was my experience one day this week after work when I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some sale items for the food pantry. My basket was stocked to the top and so heavy that a young man at the store pushed it up to the checkout for me. It contained 48 cans of spaghetti sauce, 48 boxes of mac & cheese and 96 canned vegetables.

A lady behind me asked me if I was going to feed an army. As the checker counted and totaled, I took a minute to tell her about our food pantry and how one afternoon a week we give a bag of groceries to approximately 50-60 families.

She asked me the name of my church and where it was located. By this time the checker announced my total - $128. As I was digging in my purse for my ATM card, this stranger quickly stepped in front of me and swiped her card.

At first I didn't realize what happened and thought maybe she was cutting in line, but then it dawned on me - she paid my bill. She stepped right up and did a good deed, no a great deed! God touched this lady’s heart and she wanted to be a part of our ministry. I grabbed this total stranger and gave her the biggest hug ever and asked her name. Then I told her I would say a special prayer of thanksgiving for her and ask God to bless her life. So, thank you God for Stacey, my angel unaware."

Isn't this amazing? I have always said that often times the people we reach through acts of service and benevolence is not the people that we are serving, but others who are touched by these acts and who want to be a part of a church/community that serves others in this way. In fact, many church plants begin by going around and asking people in the community to donate food or clothing. Not only does it raise awareness of this church, but it gives people in the community a chance to be generous--which is part of being a disciple--and helping those who are in need.

Thank you, Linda, for sharing this. And praise God for his mighty works!

Have you had people in your community give in response to something that the church is doing?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Inviting the Community into Our Fellowship - Family, Faith, and Friends

For the last two years at High Pointe, we have been actively seeking ways to serve and impact our community. This has involved many different types of service outreaches, from Habitat for Humanity to FriendSpeak to singing in the nursing home. Three of our biggest service outreaches have been our food pantry, which gave out 2000+ bags of groceries last year, our clothes closet, which clothed over 4400 families, and our outreach to Vega Elementary School, where we help mentor, clothe, feed, and play with kids.

These outreaches have been hugely supported by our members with incredible generosity and active service in these ministries. And visitors to High Pointe and people in the community, from school officials to the local Red Cross, have noted High Pointe's service.

But relationships are the key to sharing the gospel.

So our outreach team, ministry leaders, and staff began to ask the question, how can we relationally connect with those that we are serving? We began praying for those who came in with needs. And then we decided to offer a fellowship meal, once a month on Wednesday night, and invite those from our food pantry, clothes closet, and Vega Elementary to enjoy a free meal.

Tonight was our first such fellowship meal, called "Family, Faith, and Friends." We really had no idea what to expect. We did not know if any would come, but we wanted to try.

Praise God--we had a great turnout of both members and people in the community!

The Hispanic family on the right came to us from Vega Elementary school. The mother's name is Maria Garcia. She said that she had been wanting to come to visit us on a Wednesday night for some time. She works on Sunday, but her husband had said, why not go to the church down the road on Wednesdays? Her husband stayed at home working with some homework with the fifth child. In their conversation, they said that this church was non-denominational, and the church that they had gone to some time ago was non-denominational. It sounded like she had said that this previous church was a church that they had helped start. Interesting--I will have to explore this more.

Maria had said that she was tired this night, but that her son Christopher had encouraged her to go. You have to love those kids! Maria, unlike many of the other Latinos who came on this night, spoke good English. I got her contact information and will follow up with her.

We had a great turnout of people from the community, and I was so glad to see our members mixing so well with those who came. In this picture is Bob Renfro, one of our shepherds, Mary Lou Lively (whose granddaughter was baptized last year) , and Laura Cooper (a mentor for Habitat).

This is Early B. Milstead and his wife Lena, daughter Holly, with an African-American family from the community. It was great to see these families sharing this meal and actively engaged with one another. What a great example to the world!

On the right of this picture is Mike Shuttlesworth, a former missionary to Hungary who just returned and placed membership with his family at High Pointe. Mike is sharing his table and meal with another Latino family from our community.

All in all, it was a great night! We'll follow up with more relationship building, prayer, and Bible study. Tonight was a vivid illustration of what it means to be a Christ-centered community that draws all people together--regardless of race, class, background, or gender--under the cross of Christ.

11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)—12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:11f)

How can we build relationships with people in our community whom we serve?