Category Archives: 5 Principles of Unity

The Church in the Hands of Millennials

“See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. Exodus 35:30-35

I’ve got Millennials on my mind this week. I will be spending this next weekend in Dallas at Christian Unity Ministries’ first annual “Five Principles of Unity” Retreat for the Next Church Generation…where I expect to sit and learn how Millennials interpret and apply some of the Biblical principles which form the core of our ministry’s message. So, I am thinking about Millennials and the church.

millennial crowd

First, I admit right up front that my only “expertise” when it comes to the Millennial generation (those who are now roughly ages 15-35) is that both my adult daughters are in that generation…and I have studied my kids for a while now. Therefore, “Millennials” are important to me. I am, nevertheless, as ignorant as the next Baby Boomer when it comes to understanding them. So, rather than hold myself out as an expert on that generation, I am going to rely on the “facts” about Millennials as presented by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in October, and …

No Church is an Island

Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink…  Exodus 7:17-18

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Matthew 5:45

Apparently, the first four plagues in Exodus affected the Hebrew slaves as much as they affected the Egyptians. It was Pharaoh’s hardened heart that brought the plagues, but everyone suffered from it, including God’s own people. It’s not really fair is it? It does not fit our notion of a “fair and just” God. But it is the picture scripture paints of God, whether we like it or not…whether we understand it or not.

message in a bottleAccording to the stories of scripture, it is one of the ways of God. He sends his rain on both the just and the unjust. His wrath may come as a result of an unbelieving world, but the believing world will share in some of those consequences. This is so, I believe, because we were created for community. We, His church, are expected to be IN the world. We are expected to carry His gospel with us INTO the world, illustrating it in community with one another and in community with an unbelieving world.

I am grateful for Dr. Billy Graham and his generation of church leadership in the Evangelical church, because the world needs to know that salvation is ultimately a personal concept, stemming out of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. But I am also very excited about what appears to be an emerging generation of …

Surviving a Lion Attack

Tuesday Re-mix:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8

Want a chuckle for today?  Check out this Wiki article on 7 steps to survive a lion attack.  Yeh, I’m not altogether certain about those seven steps.  I have a question or two about them.  For starters, do I try to recall these steps before I wet my pants or after?

I love that Peter uses this illustration to make his point about our enemy.  It is perfect for so many reasons.

Consider, for example, how a lioness hunts.  She is capable of following a herd of animals for days, even weeks, stalking and studying.  She watches to learn which of the members are the weakest and the most likely to fall behind the rest of the herd.  You see, when it comes to lion attacks, there is protection in the herd.  The lioness watches for lame or young or otherwise “slower” members of the herd who are more likely to make decisions that tend to “distance” them from the herd…decisions that might make the protection of the herd more and more tenuous.

The same is true of our enemy.  He watches the church (the “herd”)…stalking and learning.  He watches for those members most likely to distance themselves from the church…most likely to forsake the spiritual protection of God’s people.  You see, being created for community means we actually need each other’s diligent protection against the schemes of our enemy.  We really must let friends get close enough to us to protect us.  We  must make arrangements with brothers and sisters who will love us enough to ask us some hard questions about our choices.  That, my friend, is what “accountability” means.

My friend, …

“The Lord Always Before Me”

Tuesday Re-mix:

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I recently read a blog post by a prominent leader in the evangelical world.  It was a post about “Rules of Thumb” for healthy churches.  The rules were all about the proper acreage for church property, the number of parking spaces per attendance, the maximum occupancy for buildings, maximum debt payment budgeted, and so on.  You get the picture.  It broke my heart.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15608205I know this leader/blogger to be a godly man and a well-respected leader.  I absolutely do not question that.  To his credit, his own comments to that post state that he regrets using the words “healthy churches” in his title, as if these various metrics have anything to do with church health.  I respect that, and am so glad he made that correction.  I had actually written my own comment to the effect that he should have entitled the post “Ten Things You as a Church Leader Should NOT be Obsessing About”.  I refrained.  Maybe I shouldn’t have refrained.

Two observations here:

1. I believe our pastors and ministers and rectors and priests often do obsess about the wrong things…I believe church leaders today are easily swayed from “setting the Lord always before us”;

2.  I believe that is our own fault for allowing them, even encouraging them, to do that.

Don’t you think “I have set the Lord always before me” is a comment about focus?  I do.  I think it means always, always, always helping us stay focused on the Head of the church (Jesus) and what He desires and what Honors Him and what His kingdom requires.  I think it means, when the rest of the world is focused on …

Focus…Trees: Leadership Focus that Jesus Values

Tuesday Re-mix:

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.  Mark 12:32-34

Forest for the treesI believe the church has more than its share of leaders who cannot see the forest for the trees.  They get so distracted by the minutia, the petty, the theological fine points, they lose sight of the main thing.  I suspect you know a leader or two like that.  You may even BE a leader like that…but, if you are, you probably do not know it.  After all, what kind of leader would knowingly be like that?

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law in Jesus’ day were often that way.  They were so distracted by the complexities of their traditions and the fine points of the Mosaic law, they had virtually lost sight of the Spirit behind those laws.  Questions like, “What’s most important?” were particularly troublesome for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be a “big picture” kind of leader…at least in matters of theology.  He always had an eye on the things which matter most, and he had a way of embarrassing the institutional religious thinkers of his day in this regard.  He valued a theology which kept the main thing as the main thing.  I think that is what he saw in this particular teacher of the law in Mark 12.  …

Stumbling over the “Stumbling Block” Metaphor

Tuesday Re-mix –

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Corinthians 8:9

I do not drink alcohol.  I do have plenty of friends who believe I should…and there was a time in my life when I did.  But when I got out of college and got married and began my “grown-up” life, I made the decision to not drink alcohol.  I did not make that decision out of any moralistic reasoning, or because of any misguided belief that God frowns on alcohol…I do not believe that at all.  I made that decision because, in my particular “flavor” of Christianity (the Southern Baptist church), there are still plenty of people for whom alcohol is a major “stumbling block” issue…people with whom I would lose my testimony if I did drink alcohol…so it seemed like a small price to pay to retain that ability to be a Godly influence in their lives.  Thirty years later, it still feels like a very small price to pay.

That issue (alcohol in the Baptist church) is about as close as I can come to a contemporary example of the “meat sacrificed to idols” issue Paul dealt with in the Corinthian church.  In that community, there was meat for sale in the market place at a discounted price, because it was surplus meat from pagan temples, i.e., meat intended to be sacrificed to pagan gods, but which was surplus and therefore sold into the market place for resale.  Given the Jewish history with pagan gods and all, there were plenty of “traditionalists” in the New Testament church who refused to purchase or consume that meat and who were fairly judgmental towards those who did.  These are the “weak-minded” people whom Paul is protecting when …

Hearing God Speak Through the Noise of My Brother

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”… Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-25, 29

The ears and the mind are necessarily connected.  That is because hearing requires much more than just ears.  When we were children, we could hear the wind blowing through a sea shell but we thought we were “hearing the ocean”.  We could hear just fine, but we could not discern very well.  Now, as I get older (alas), I am finding that my ears don’t always hear very well.  I can be sitting with you in a crowded restaurant, trying to hear what you are saying and my “discernment” has to kick in so that I can make up for what my ears cannot hear.  I suppose that balance shifts more and more with time.

Interestingly, our Spiritual hearing works in a similar way.  When we are young (spiritually), we don’t discern all that well.  We may hear God’s voice, but we hear it along with all the noise and may not have the spiritual maturity to discern that which is God and that which is other.  I believe we develop that discernment over time, with the help of the Spirit.  I also believe this spiritual skill is critical to our life together in the church.  Wasn’t that the point of Jesus’ lesson to Thomas in John 20?

Thomas’ …

Three Easy Steps to a Church Implosion

Tuesday Re-mix – 

I remember a couple of years back when First Baptist Church, Dallas, made the news with its simultaneous implosion of several buildings on its campus in preparation for a major building program.  The videos were all over YouTube.  Here is one of them.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0nqulYY7AM&fs=1&hl=en_US]

I’m not sure what the psychology is behind this, but I am fascinated by imploding buildings.  Feel free to comment about how twisted I am.  But even as I watched this video, I thought to myself, “There are easier ways to implode a church.”  I’ve seen it happen too many times.  So, for those who are interested in imploding your church but cannot afford the actual dynamite, here is a fairly quick and easy formula…three easy steps, and you won’t even need a fund-raising campaign to pull it off:

1.  Hold onto your pain and encourage others to do the same. This is not difficult.  In fact, it is very human.  Anytime anyone does something or fails to do something and it hurts your feelings (especially if it is a church leader…extra points for that pain), DO NOT go to them and DO NOT commit it to prayer…in fact, do not do anything at all which might actually cause you to forgive and let go of that pain.  Rather, hold onto to it with every ounce of energy you have.  Stir it regularly, just to keep it festering.  Use it however you can.  It makes a wonderful excuse for just about any kind of bad behavior in which you might care to engage.

2.  Talk to as many other people about your pain as possible. Never underestimate the value of gossip for the whole implosion process.  If you share your pain with enough people (NOT with the person who actually caused the pain, …

When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

When installing an appliance or putting together a piece of furniture, it seems to me there are levels of understanding. The lowest level is when you know you don’t know anything at all, so you sit down with the instructions first, before you do anything.  The next level is when you think you know something about it, so you start without the instructions and soon find that your are in fact an idiot and then sit down with the instructions. The third level of understanding is when you know enough about the task to know that each case is a little different, so you start by sitting down with the instructions.

If there are higher levels of understanding than this, I admit to being totally out of touch with them.  I myself typically float back and forth between the first two levels. When my wife sees me walking through the house carrying a tool, she immediately drops what she’s doing and follows me as she grabs the phone and calls for help. I have learned (mostly the hard way) how helpful it is to read and follow the instructions from the beginning.  In my case, it doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least prevents me from screwing my table top into the floor, or other such embarrassing results.

When asked how I can mediate congregational conflict in such a wide variety of denominations and churches, how it is possible to effectively navigate church conflict even with little understanding of the culture, the answer seems obvious to …

Finding Focus in a Church’s Grief

Tuesday Re-mix – 

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1

I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life.  Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself.  But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth.  In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.

But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals?  Churches grieve also.  They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church.  And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting.  It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation.  It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say.  But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.

Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations.  It turns up into down and right into left.  It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction.  It is chaotic and complex and confounding.

So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …