Category Archives: strategic planning

Church that Defies Conventional Wisdom

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. Genesis 6:13-14

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

When it comes to building churches, there is no shortage of conventional wisdom. And in matters of church growth, church finances, and (alas) church conflict, the “church world” is loaded with advice and counsel. Moreover, add to that the wisdom of the secular world about how to build a corporation or how to lead an army or how to have a winning team (much of which wisdom gets imposed on church leadership), and you could fill a library with all the ways that it makes sense to build a church.

But God is not impressed with our conventional wisdom…never has been. At a time when the world had never even seen rain before and over a project schedule of some 100 years or so, God had Noah build an ark. On dry land. In the middle of a wilderness. There was absolutely nothing conventional about it. In fact, Noah was surely considered to be a crazy old drunk by pretty much anyone who knew him during this time, and his “project” was 100 years of sheer nonsense.

So, as I consider how incredibly closely Noah had to be walking with the Lord in order to rightly understand his assignment and to then fulfill it, I am captivated by the thought of just one church, one local body of believers, equally sold out and tuned in to God. Can …

Patiently Waiting for God to Show Up

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1

patienceI am a fairly patient person. I actually think it is a gift of mine. Nevertheless, I have no problem at all understanding the restlessness of the Hebrew people waiting for Moses to return from 40 days on Mt. Sinai. At a time in their new chapter when there were precious few “routines” upon which they could rely, one routine had become Moses’ “felt presence” among them. Another had become God’s visible presence through the pillar of smoke (by day) and fire (by night). And now, they had neither. All they had was Aaron, who was pretty clearly a far cry from Moses’ dynamic leadership. So, with Moses’ disappearance up the stormy, thunderous Mt. Sinai for an unscheduled, undisclosed amount of time, the hours turned to days and the days turned to weeks. They had no idea IF or WHEN he might ever return. I have no problem understanding the immense pressure these people began to place on Aaron’s not-so-broad shoulders. “Don’t just stand there…DO SOMETHING,” became the mantra of a restless, fearful people waiting for their God to show up and really set them free. As a church leader, you are probably familiar with that refrain.

In my experience, patiently waiting for God to show up can be the most difficult assignment we are given as God’s people. There is nothing easy about it at all. In a world and a culture where we are taught to take responsibility …

Leaving the Oasis

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai…Exodus 15:27 – 16:1

Some time after they occurred, Moses sat down to chronicle the events of the Exodus. In his telling of the story, he included this obscure little detail in a single sentence in Exodus 15:27. It was very early in their journey, just about the time the reality of the wilderness would have set in (no water, no food, vast wastelands). They found an oasis, complete with shade and with natural spring water, and they stayed there for a short while…a very short while…so short, in fact, that nothing meaningful happened there. And then they left.

comfortIt seems important to note that nothing particular chased them from that place of comfort. They were no longer running from an Egyptian army. They were no longer frantically fleeing for their lives, running to any safe harbor at all. This oasis was a place of comfort and a place where all their physical needs were being met. Logic alone would have said to stay right there for a while, maybe even indefinitely. Couldn’t this have even been God’s answer to their prayers? Couldn’t this have been a “promised land” of sorts?

But Moses is quick to point out that they did not stay there long at all, that they left almost immediately, and who led them to leave this place of comfort was God Himself. The pillar of smoke and fire with which God led them was leaving this place and was beckoning them forward and outward into a vast wilderness …

The Now-ness of God

In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. Exodus 12:11

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:21-22

sailsSpontaneity is not really a thing for me. I just don’t do well with it. But if you tell me that change is coming and that I need to “ready” myself to be able to respond quickly, I do pretty well with that. I always tend to think of it in terms of trimming the sails on a ship, being prepared for when the wind starts to blow. Because, you never know when it will start and you have no idea how long it will last when it blows, so you definitely want to be ready.

Walking with God is a lot like that. There is an urgency to the gospel message. He expects us to be ready to move so that, when we receive a clear word from Him about our next step, there is no delay whatsoever. In the kingdom of God, delayed obedience and disobedience are the same thing. God’ story is filled with references to this very notion.

I sometimes wonder if there were any Hebrew families who got the passover blood on the doorposts right (and were spared from the plague of the death of the firstborn) but who did not eat the passover meal all packed and ready to move out, like they were instructed. I wonder how many Hebrew slaves did not obtain their freedom because they delayed in making preparations to …

The God App

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13-15

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:9-10

God appI can only imagine the despair and hopelessness that would set in after 400 years of affliction, and generation after generation born into slavery. Even with amazing stories of God’s work among and through their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt had to have lost their hope in the God of their fathers. After some 400 years of virtual silence, there had to have been a strong feeling of God turning his back on them, or even abandoning them altogether. And the tiny miracle of Moses’ life being spared and being raised in Pharaoh’s palace would likely have been completely missed or overlooked by the vast majority of those slaves. It would be 80 more years of slave labor before that tiny little miracle would even begin to bear fruit. Good news: God has a plan and in another 80 years or so, He will launch it!

When we (either individually or even as a church) find ourselves in such a hard season of slavery or hard work or otherwise feeling that God is …

What Does Your Church Need God For?

Tuesday Re-mix:

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Luke 12:33-34

wealthy churchThe parable of the rich fool is, I think, a difficult lesson for the American church…a bit like teaching personal hygiene to a rodent…where do you even begin?  Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church.  “Give us this day our daily bread” was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church.  My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary.  I’m not saying God wasn’t in that…I absolutely believe it will bring honor to Him…I’m just saying there is a bit of a cultural divide between the American church today and the early church in matters of material wealth.

There are a lot of benefits which come with that wealth.  Churches all over the world pray every day for some of that kind of wealth.  It has its perks.  But there are some pretty clear downsides as well.  And, at one level or another, the biggest downside is its impact on our faith in God.  The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth.  And when people outside the church look in at us and at our huge buildings and large staffs and extravagant Christmas pageants and decorations, one inescapable question arises:

What, exactly, does our church need God for?

If your church’s answer to that question is not plain…if it is somehow hidden or illusive…then you are not yet finished with your church’s communications strategy.  I certainly believe this is true on the …

Being Found Worthy

Tuesday Re-mix:

When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,  for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them.  Luke 7:3-7

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Hebrews 11:6

faithWhat is your plan for growing your people?  What is your goal?  What does “success” look like?  Can you describe the model Christ-follower into which your are shaping the sheep in your flock?

For me, this story (from Luke 7) about the centurion’s sick servant is all about “worthiness”.  It is about the qualities or characteristics which Jesus found worthy.  And it is chock full of irony.  Notice that the Jewish elders attempt to lure Jesus to come and help this centurion, because this man is “worthy”.  Their version of “worthy” is all about his achievements and his support of them.  Interestingly, Jesus goes.  As he is arriving, the centurion sends a message to Jesus.  What is that message? “No need to come here…I AM NOT WORTHY.”  But, in the end, Jesus actually finds that he is in fact worthy. But not for any of the reasons the Jewish elders had used.

Jesus finds the man worthy because of his great faith.  This centurion believed that Jesus was whom he claimed to be and that he could heal his servant.  It wasn’t his achievements that made him worthy.  It wasn’t his financial and political support for the synagogue that made him …

Relevance and Fruitfulness

Tuesday Re-mix:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   2 Peter 1:5-8

spoiled bananasIt is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective?  I do not mean that in terms of numbers.  I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts.  That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives.  And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?

As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness.  That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space.  Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church …

The Comfort of the Familar

Tuesday Re-mix:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

dog in a kennelMy dog, Maile, sleeps in a kennel.  She actually prefers it.  I’ve had dogs my entire life, and she is the first one I’ve crate-trained.  I will admit I was skeptical at first.  It just looks so cruel!  How can anyone be happy, being in a cage?  But every night, when her eyes are heavy and it is time for bed, she voluntarily abandons the freedom of our bed and goes back to the limits and the restrictions of her tiny little bed in her little wire cage.  Do you know why? Because it is familiar to her…and, for dogs, there is great comfort in familiarity.

People are a bit like that too.  Church people are especially like that.  No matter how antiquated, no matter how ineffective, we all have a tendency to return to the familiar, to the “way it has always been”, because it is comfortable.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was fighting a battle which you as a present day church leader might recognize: the battle against the comfort of the familiar.  It was a daunting task, getting the Hebrew Christians to persevere in the face of the persecution they faced and to stick with the very different forms of worship from those  with which they had been reared.  Gathering together as a church body every week with no sacrifices, no holy places, no sacred implements, no fancy robes, and with “traditions” which were all of one generation in age…all of these new ways had to hold the …

Losing Your Church’s Training Wheels

Tuesday Re-mix:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5:11-14

training wheelsIt is kind of a big moment in a child’s life, going from three (or four) wheels to just two…going from the tricycle (or bicycle with training wheels) to a bicycle.  “Look Dad, I’m a big girl now!”  It is a big deal because it is a big adjustment.  It is not just about balance.  It is about forward motion.  It is an entirely different mindset.

After all, that is the biggest difference between a bike with training wheels and one without…you can sit on a bike with training wheels and not move at all.  You can just sit there and be pretty and comfortable and cool, never moving forward, never taking a risk, never changing a thing.  But as soon as those training wheels come off, that option (sitting still) is off the table.  You see, with the growth from child into maturity, there comes a requirement of constant forward progress, continuous pressing ahead without long stops, without sitting still and being comfortable, and without growing content where you are.

It really is a very different way of being, a totally different philosophy.  It is a new mindset, a new frame of reference.  Constant forward movement means leaning against the very human tendency …