Just Stop It…

We have been in Texas for two weeks. It has been crazy. I have SO much to process, and write about. For now I just want to share a brief nugget from a meeting I was in last week with a brilliant man named David Watson…

Nobody knows about David. He hasn’t written a bestseller, he doesn’t pastor a large church, his name doesn’t appear in newspapers and magazines (In the states anyway). He is wise, humble, bold, and God has used him in amazing ways. As a result of David’s training and mentor-ship there have been more than 100,000 churches planted all over the world. (God gave him a vision to plant 500,000 churches before he dies=) 6 million people have come to faith in Christ through these communities of faith, and discipleship training.

My friend Osei and I had the privilege of spending about 2.5 hours with David for lunch last week in Irving, Tx. We frantically took notes as he shared wisdom from his experiences. We asked questions, and discussed dreams and visions the entire time. I’ll never forget the way he answered a particular question I asked…I don’t even remember the question, but am realizing more and more everyday that his answer is actually the answer for MANY questions that a lot of us have been asking lately.

I’m about to share with you David’s answer, and then ask for you to think of the many questions that come to your mind that this question could be the answer to…

In response to a question from me David replied, “Aaron, stop working with, and worrying about Christians. JUST STOP IT. Focus on reaching the lost. Make disciples, and watch them multiply. Watch new churches start along the way. Don’t start churches with Christians, they bring too much baggage to the table, and you spend all your energy working through that baggage and lose sight of reaching the lost. Besides, new believers are full of passion, and excitement; they do not understand, or get distracted by all these issues that we Christians find ourselves wasting our time/energy on.”

Wow. I reflected back over the past year, and thought about how that answer could have saved me a lot of stress, pain, and heartache. Not to mention, produced a lot more fruit! (Please know that this is NOT an excuse to neglect the discipleship process that must take place with those of us who are ALREADY believers. David is simply referring to reaching the lost in a powerful way. He is a FIRM believer in the discipleship process. He is submitting that those of us with apostolic roles in the kingdom MUST start BEING apostolic by seeing new works started as disciples are made. Many of us plant churches with an original desire to “reach the lost, and spread the Gospel” but find ourselves five years in, running ourselves ragged trying to please the same group of Christians that we may not have even seen come to know the Lord; they were already Christians and joined us from somewhere else in pursuit of something that would “better meet their needs”.

What are some questions that you think this answer applies to? What are some areas of stress in your life that this statement breathes peace into?

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“The Godless: A Desperate Generation”

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts titled, “All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do”. However, the Lord has been teaching, and speaking to me lately about my desperation for Him, or lack thereof. I will be writing a few entries on desperation, and pick back up with the series shortly after…

Inashmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips , but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

Notice the title to this post is The Godless, and not the godless. We are certainly not “little ‘g’ godless”. We serve many “little ‘g’ god’s”. It is as if “Big ‘G’ God” has been pushed from our society, culture, church, and country right out from under our noses. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” This letter was written to the lukewarm church. Alan Hirsch, the author of “The Forgotten Ways”, has responded to this verse by saying, “How in the world did Jesus get outside of the church in the first place?”

We live in a day, time, and country unlike any other in the history of the world. In America we have “freedoms”, and opportunities that surpass that of any other place in the world. People die trying to get into our country to experience “a better life”. The foundation of our country was built upon God, and the Ten Commandments. We’ve got it all together, right? We are a Christian nation, right? Wrong. (When I refer to “Christian Nation” I do not mean that many people sit in a church building on Sunday morning. We’ve got that part down. I am referring to radical followers of Christ who take the Gospel seriously, and die to themselves daily in pursuit of the growth of the kingdom of God; this is something I struggle with daily). But what other country has a cluster of states referred to as “The Bible Belt”? What other country has a church on every corner? We are desperate for God, right? Wrong. We DO NOT need God, right? Right?

This idea of desperation and need go hand in hand. If you do not need someone, or something, then you are not desperate for them. If you are not desperate for them, then you certainly do not need them. This word desperation has intrigued me lately. The root of the word is desperate. Are we desperate for anything other than “The American Dream” that we cling to so…desperately? The definition of the word is: a state of despair, typically one that results in extreme or rash behavior. So, are we desperate? Yes, for many things, but not for God. Does our desperation result in extreme or rash behavior? Yes, our pursuit of comfort and security has led to greed and complete self-dependence. We have successfully removed the need of God from our lives. After all, we have everything we could ever need, and most of what we want. If we are hungry we instantly fill our stomachs. If we are hot we crank on the A/C. If we run out of something we simply go to the store and buy it. If we want something we cannot afford we finance it. If we need to contact someone we pick up our cell phones, which are now in the hands of six year-olds! If we get a flat tire we call roadside assistance. If we’re sick we immediately go to the doctor and get drugs prescribed. (No need to pray to the God we’re supposed to be desperate for to heal us). I could go on and on. Are these things bad? Not necessarily, but where does God fit into our daily lives? Is it even possible for us to be desperate for God? I, in my own power, have the ability to provide for my every need, and the needs of my family. Where can my need for God be found? (I have recently become desperate for God in the area of my marriage, and being a husband. I am desperate for God to be in me, what I cannot be on my own. This is a good start, I suppose, to learning what a daily dependence on my Savior looks like. However, I believe it is far from a Biblical view of “denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus”.) How often do we, in all reality, deny ourselves of anything that we want or need?

I once heard someone say, “Many of the churches in America are so ‘man operated’ that they could grow without God.” What he was saying is this: Find a fascinating speaker who is good at communicating moral behavior, a great “worship leader” who can generate butterflies in your tummy, a staff of motivated (not to mention very well paid) and driven professionals, a cool, modern, and “hip” building/location, furniture from Ikea, a coffee shop, etc., and you can easily get a few thousand people into your building each week for a “service”. For some reason I do not believe the New Testament Church we read about in Acts was led by rare professionals. The early church grew and spread like a virus because it was easily reproducible. It didn’t take a superstar pastor, a rock star worship leader, and a huge building, etc. to multiply. In fact, I would say the above “model” we are accustomed to is nearly impossible to multiply. (Please do not misunderstand me by thinking I promote a particular “model” of church; anyone who thinks that any ONE model will offer “effectiveness”, or “success” proves their ignorance.) We may see addition with our current form of church, but not multiplication. The early Church spread and multiplied because ordinary, everyday people encountered Christ, and it messed them up for good, and for their good. They were transformed. Can our current form of church lead to transformed Christ followers? Of course! I am a product of a great one. Are many of these churches very effective in doing great things all over the world? Yes! Can we always be striving to be more effective? Of course. Might this require drastic and radical change for some churches and individuals, including myself? Yes. I am reminded of a business term I learned in college: Kaizen. It originated in Japan, and is the term used for continuous improvement. It simply means for us to constantly be looking for better ways of doing things. We must never come to the conclusion that we have it all figured out. This births pride and leads to ineffectiveness. As you know, we in America have this mindset. There is no attack here, but a simple submission that the Church (People of God, not a location or building) may be entering a new chapter, or era in what it looks like to be a Christ follower…maybe it doesn’t come with such ease anymore…maybe it requires much sacrifice…maybe it challenges us to be uncomfortable…maybe it BECOMES our everyday lives, and not just a part of our lives.

I was speaking with a student pastor friend of mine the other day. We were thinking hard about this absence of desperation for God in our country. We were chatting about what could be done differently in the area of student ministry. It would seem as if the days of great Wednesday night services, unbeatable camps/events, funny speakers, rockin’ bands, and the most thought provoking messages are quickly coming to an end. Are these things bad? Of course not. Can all of these things be present, along with hundreds of students who attend these weekly events, and still lack a true understanding of what it means to follow Christ? Sadly, the answer is yes. Erwin McManus, in his book, “Chasing Daylight”, writes on the idea of Christians being moved but not mobilized. He was referring to a group of men who came to a weekend retreat and got excited. They were certainly moved, but not mobilized to action. What will it take for us to be more than simply moved, but radically mobilized to live out the Gospel. Can we proceed in the same fashion we have for years? I think not. Do we, as adults, model a need for God to teenagers? I think this would be a good start for us. We must portray a selfless/desperate attitude to the next generation of Christ followers, or they will not be Christ followers at all.

There is a movement taking place all over the world. The truth is that the Huge God that we speak of, and sing songs about here in the states is performing miracles in other countries regularly. He is healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead. Wait, did I just say, “raising the dead”? We are instant skeptics. Once again, we talk about our God being Big. Do we truly believe it, and do our actions prove our belief? I wonder if our lack of faith has prohibited the Lord from doing things He desires to do in our lives. I am reminded of a story in Mark 6 where Jesus returns to His own country to teach and do miracles. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief…” I pray that my unbelief will cease to hinder the Lord’s work. I beg the Lord everyday to give me faith that believes He still raises the dead to life.

Is the Lord doing miracles in the states? Yes. Are we aware of the miracles, and in turn, directing the glory to Him because of them? Not usually. (We must first become aware of the miracles taking place all around us if we are to give Him glory for them) I’ve been to Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and seen a movement taking place. I have heard about it in China, and have friends who are a part of it in India. To describe this movement we can think about the early Church in Acts where thousands were transformed by Christ in a day. Notice, I did not say that thousands prayed a prayer of conversion in one day. We have seen that in the states regularly for many years. I am speaking of people who witness a Christ follower heal the sick, or raise the dead to life through the power of the Spirit of God that dwells in them. Upon this encounter of a miracle they can do nothing but desperately beg to know this powerful God. They are forever changed, forever transformed. That is a movement. Christ is equipping His Church. He is taking His Church back into His hands, and out of the hands of man. He is doing what He is doing, and graciously welcoming us to be a part of it. Thousands of Christ followers in America are waking up to this call of what it truly means to radically follow Christ. A restored desperation for God is flooding into the hearts and lives of Christians all over the United States, and world. This of course, is contrary to everything in our flesh. The question is whether or not we will truly die to our flesh in order to live in this movement.

“Father, continue to wake us up. Challenge us. Move us to action and mobilize your Church. Instill in us a holy discontent for the status quo. May we begin to take the teachings of your Son, Jesus, seriously. We submit to You, and beg for your guidance.”

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1…A?

Why “church planters” Suck at Reaching the Lost
(This one might hurt…it hurt ME to write)

Previous blog written on May 14th, 2008

This is follow-up from part 1 of the “Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost” entry. I couldn’t just pick on the everyday Christian, and had to ask, “well, who is responsible for training, and leading these everyday Christians!?” (I want to start off by saying that I have been one of these “church planters”, “trainers of everyday Christians”, etc. I am guilty. I repent daily. I beg the Lord for something different, something fresh, and something new…heck, something Biblical.) I was recently in Orlando with a large group of “church planters” at Exponential 08′, which is one of the largest church planter’s conferences in the country. I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with a few of the key speakers/authors outside of the conference. These are guys who are introducing new thoughts into the picture for what life as a disciple of Christ looks like according to the scriptures, and the implications that result for those of us who claim to be disciples. We sat around chatting about things, and it led me to the following thought…”church planters” (Me) suck at reaching the lost. There are many reasons for this. I will attempt to touch on a few of them…

We have been planting churches for the already churched for years. Most of our plans, strategies, models, etc. include language and practices that the average Christian is familiar with, or can relate to. However, those outside of the church, who do not have any church background or Christian upbringing are lost in the mix do to a HUGE language/culture barrier. Most of our “church growth” is a result of Christians transferring from one church to the other. We MUST stop planting churches for ourselves, and start being Disciples of Christ who focus on being missional in our communities. We MUST stop kidding ourselves into thinking that the large numbers in our weekly services are a legitimate measure for success. Are those numbers bad? NO. But are we reaching the lost, or simply entertaining a tragic game of “musical churches” for Christians?

I will not be so arrogant as to think that some disciples are not being added to the kingdom as a result of our current form of church, and church practices in America. However, I would submit that we have things backwards. We “plant churches” thinking that it will produce disciples. The opposite, in fact, is what we find in scripture. Jesus COMMANDED us to “go and make disciples”. He never even so much as suggested that we go “plant churches”. Interesting. I have experienced personally that when we start with the disciple, “church” naturally happens. When we start with the disciple those disciples become The Church; they don’t start going to church. They become a part of The Body of Christ. Of course, a natural result of people becoming radically transformed by the Gospel, and living missionally in the context of community, are the “church practices” that follow. Notice though, that these “church practices” are merely a RESULT/REACTION of transformed disciples; they are not the “end”, but simply a “means to the end”. In America we start with the “church practices”, invite others to join those practices, on our terms, and hope that a disciple is produced. We accidentally get consumed with those practices, so much that a team of professionals now has to manage those practices. Typically, those managers of “the practices” must have extensive Biblical Degrees, and demand control of this finely tuned machine, lest they lose control. Ladies and gentleman…ding ding ding: church planter. Me, if I’m not VERY careful. (Except I don’t have a seminary degree…ooops)

Do we find anyone in the Bible ever intentionally “planting churches”? Not that I can find. Interesting. I realize that Paul went to new cities, raised up disciples of “The Way”, and then left. I would submit that he went to those cities to raise up disciples of Christ, and the result was people living in the context of tight-knit community. The followers of Christ in those cities were naturally led into certain “church practices”. His follow-up letters are addressed to “The Church at (fill in the blank)”. He was referring to the people, or community of believers when he refers to them as The Church. He also addressed The Church by the CITY the people lived in. Not by denomination, or what building they attended on a weekly basis. “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) There are verses all throughout Acts that describe this idea of The Body of Christ being together within the cities they resided. They were defined in their city by the way they lived their lives. The outsiders actually labeled them as “Christians”, or “mini Jesus'”. They didn’t even place that label on themselves! They simply lived out the Gospel of Jesus in community with one another, and received their label from others. They were the Bride of Christ, they were The Church. I fear that we have lost the art of being, and raising up disciples in our attempt to “plant churches”. When will we begin to raise up disciples who will go to, or be in their cities in order to truly reach those who do not know Jesus? When will we stop creating machines that busy the “Christian” with programs, and choke out the movement of the Holy Spirit because man takes total control? (If the previous statement does not apply to your church then do not let it offend you. If you feel offended then it might apply, and require some issues to be addressed. Please hear my heart, and receive this gently. I pray for the day when we can all have mutual accountability within the Body of Christ, and “spur one another on to goodness”.)

When will regular, everyday Christ followers feel the freedom, desire, and responsibility to live the Gospel outside the walls of an institution? Is the institution bad? No. Does it do good things? Absolutely. Is the church (little “c”/institution) as we know it in America a catalyst for a movement of the Holy Spirit that sweeps through communities, and transforms the multitudes as we read about it the scriptures? Tears come to my eyes as the hard truth leads me to answer that question with a broken…. “NO”. (There are some RARE exceptions to this statement). This is not an easy realization to come to. It challenges, and changes everything I have ever known about “church”. However, I cannot escape the fact that much of what I see in our “church practices” in America are nowhere to be found in the scriptures. I wonder what it would look like if those of us who call ourselves “church planters” allowed that label to be placed on us AFTER we have raised up disciples in the cities we inhabit? After all, in the scriptures The Church is The Body of Christ. How can we go to a city with a name, budget, location, website, core values, prospectus, mission statement, staff, and plant a “church” with no disciples!? No people? No Body? It seems a bit presumptuous doesn’t it? It’s time we start going places with the intentions of raising up disciples, be led into missional community with one another, and then look back and say, “Praise Christ! Look at THE CHURCH that was planted!”

I do not want to be a mere complainer, someone who tears down and deconstructs. So, please know that I believe there are answers and solutions to the above issues. As my close friend, and mentor Lance Ford told me today regarding this entry: “…include some answers…we can deconstruct until we’re blue in the face…”, and as Alan Hirsch says, “the best critique of the bad is the better.” I have several more entries to follow up the ones I have posted so far. God willing answers and solutions will be formed in the entries to come. Stay-tuned.

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1 – Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost

Previous blog written on April 20th, 2008

I have recently realized how stubborn, arrogant, and prideful we are as humans…and Christians. On a small scale we think that we are always right with our individual convictions, or opinions. That causes us to act with irrational and selfish behavior. We don’t even know how to selflessly serve our spouses, loved ones, families, and best friends much less “love our enemies”. On a large scale our nation has been guilty of ethnocentrism for decades. Ethnocentrism: evaluating other people’s cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. We think our way is better. We go to foreign countries with the idea that we are going to “enlighten”, or teach them a better way of doing things; our way. The reality is that there are movements of the Lord taking place in huge/powerful ways overseas, ways that we have never seen in the U.S! In the evangelical world this has translated to a large amount of Christians, if not all at some point, who feel that they have figured “it” out. (Even if they/we/I do a poor job at living out the basic principles of what “it” is) We begin our journey towards Christ with passion and vigor. Our excitement with this new awareness of grace ironically fuels our ability to start “living right”, and sin less. This is where something goes terribly wrong for many of us. I do not mean to make blanket statements about ALL Christians. However, this was definitely my story, and the story of many I know. We drastically change much of our old behavior, and add some new rituals to our lives. i.e., reading our Bibles, going to church often, praying, serving, etc. These are all great things. However, many of us aren’t quite sure how to handle our life change in terms of relating to others, and communicating these values effectively to those we come in contact with.

We quickly become self-righteous, and Pharisee-like. Either we want our friends to be where we are, making the same changes and commitments, or we distance ourselves from them because they are not. If the first is true then we tend to run them off because we pretend that we have it all together. We become judgmental, hypocritical, lame, boring, etc. If the latter, it is because “bad company corrupts good character”, right? Isn’t that what we have been taught our entire lives? “Aaron, you don’t need to be hanging out with them, they are a bad influence.” Many times that advice is not entirely wrong or bad if we are attempting to remove temptation from some area of our lives. However, it has sadly translated into every aspect of our lives as we become more mature Christians. How does that happen? Can we grow more mature as followers of Christ while we continue to distance ourselves from the rest of the lost world? Dan Kimball, in his book “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, states that statistics show most Christians lose contact with almost all of their non-Christian friends within two years of “accepting Christ”. I thought back on this in my own life, and it was somewhat true. When it wasn’t true was only in cases of sin in my life that I wasn’t releasing to Jesus; I stayed in relationships with those people not to reflect light to them, but to continue in disobedience. Those who participated in sin that was not included in my arsenal of sin were quickly deemed as unholy, and therefore, “unworthy” of me to associate with.

Dan talks about the “Christian Sub-Cultures” that we have created, and essentially locked ourselves in. Think about it, we spend much of our time at “church”. We surround ourselves by Christian friends. We join Bible study groups, and have accountability partners. We busy our lives with “Christian activities”. Many of us place our kids in private Christian schools. Heck, many of us have chosen our careers in ministry where we almost completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We listen to “Christian” music, go to “Christian” concerts, eat at restaurants owned by Christians. We read “Christian” books, and shop at “Christian” stores. We drink coffee at “Christian” coffee shops, and go to “Christian” camps. We go on vacation with our “Christian” friends, and stay away from rough parts of town. We have cross collages in our living rooms. We refuse to participate in many activities based upon what someone has told us our entire lives from a pulpit instead of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us through scripture. Kimball would say that some of us break free from our Christian sub-culture, but usually only for a very brief period of time before darting back to it. We have conditioned ourselves to be so different, and uncomfortable with anything unlike us. All of the sudden everyone who is not like us becomes wrong. And so it goes, that we, as the body of Christ, have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. We so quickly forget that the rest of the world is what Christ has called us to humbly serve, and love in the first place.

Luckily, we serve a God of unending grace and mercy. Somewhere down the road of our journey we realize that we have lost sight of our purpose. We realize that our lives are ultimately designed to reflect glory to God, and that is most effectively done when His gospel is lived out. Part of this translation is that those who are different from us, those who are lost, are the ones we are to be broken over. Finally, we venture out. We try to relate to, and reach those who are “of the world”. The word tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Sadly, we have been neither. The result is that we suck at reaching the lost. We try everything we can to be “cool enough”, or “hip enough” thinking this will reach out to a desperate world in need of a Savior. We realize that the places we’ve spent most of our time over the past however many years might not be where any non-believers spend time. So, we try going where they are. This proves to be quite the challenge. We have spent so many years in isolation that we fit in about as well as home-schooler in the real world. We are uncomfortable, and awkward. We get nervous when we get around “sin” and “sinners”, forgetting that Jesus spent most of His time with people of that label. The end result is sad. We retreat back to the comfortable boxes that we’ve created, and called churches. This is a safe place where “normal Christians” can be professional church members. This is where we stay away from sin, and sinners, becoming more holy, and pleasing to God, right? Now a paid staff is responsible for doing the “dirty work”. The professional member puts their check in the plate, attends all the events, serves in the youth group or nursery, and maybe even goes on the annual mission trip. Our only job now is to invite non-believers into our box, where the professional Christians who make up the staff take it from there. Unfortunately, a large majority of the lost world will never step foot into the doors of a traditional church building. Here we are, comfortable in our simple, easy, and normal boxes. We’ve even pulled God into the box with us. His Spirit in us screams out for air, but our fearful flesh can’t handle it outside of the box; we retreat right back into a life of safety and certainty. All the while the world that we are called to live in is absent from our lives…

It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…

Unity…Whut?

Previous Blog written on April 11th, 2008…

I believe that people all over the world are beginning to realize the need for Unity. For years we thought we could do it on our own. We thought ministry and the growth of the kingdom was some sort of a competition. We thought that the Lord gave US a vision, and that we were to move forward like a fright train pummeling anything in front of us in order to accomplish that vision.

Of course, we rarely see that in scripture. Instead, I see Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples. I see Him commanding us to put the interests of others before our own, and humbly serve everyone around…yes everyone…(Philippians 2) “you mean even the church planter down the road!? But what if our members go to HIS church and not mine!?” (How a thought like that can even enter any of our minds blows me away)

I have come to the conclusion that a main reason we haven’t seen Biblical unity among the body here in the states is because if it happened God would get the Glory. We don’t like that. We want the glory, and we rob God of the glory He deserves because our flesh wants recognition, and approval. We SAY we want God to get glory, but our actions prove otherwise. We say we want to grow the kingdom no matter what, but it usually translates into growing OUR kingdom. When true unity begins to happen is when pastors, leaders, planters, missionaries, etc. begin to humbly serve those around them EVEN if it does not directly benefit THEIR thing, but the others.

Unity happens when we count the interests of others as equally important as our own. Once again, this will be difficult because for this to happen ONLY God can take credit, and receive glory for it. I beg, and pray that we would desire His glory more than our own. “Father, set us free from our fleshly desires…our desires that rob you of the glory you deserve.”