Ministry Innovation

Famous last words for any organization:  “That’s not how we’ve always done it.”  These are famous, and yet still so often repeated throughout the business world, and especially in the church world.  Unfortunately, over the span of the 2000 years of the church’s existence, we have slowly allowed ‘tradition’ to supersede ‘innovation.’  And I’m not saying that tradition is wrong, bad, or should be thrown out all together.  Tradition communicates longevity and history, which are good, but when the Church, the very expression of Christ’s love and power, allows itself to comfortably lean back into tradition because innovation would take too much effort, we’ve missed our mark.  If we are called to reach a lost and hurting world, we owe to the lost of this world to do whatever we can to reach them.  I love what Craig Groeschel says, “To reach those who aren’t being reached, you have to be willing to do what isn’t being done.”  Innovation must take place if we’re going to reach those that have yet to be impacted by the gospel.

As the lead pastor of a church that celebrates its 42nd Birthday this year, I enjoy looking back at our own church’s history and all the traditions that have been present over the years.  It’s exciting to see the practices that have stood the test of time, and the traditions that continue to impact lives for Christ.  

But on the other side, it’s just as exciting to see the different expressions of ministry that were present throughout the different seasons of our church.  Like many churches in America, we had our booming bus ministry during one season…we had a season where Sunday School was actually bigger than the Sunday morning service…we even had a time where we had a thriving Christian School.  These were all effective ways of reaching and discipling people for Christ during that time period, but aren’t necessarily effective today.  That doesn’t make them bad in any way, but they were for a certain period in our nation and region’s history.

The problem arrises when we allow ‘innovation’ to become ‘tradition’, and we no longer are listening to the creativity of the Holy Spirit to reach an ever-changing world.  With that said, here are a few thoughts when it comes to innovation and ministry:

  • Don’t allow innovation to overshadow ministry.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in doing ministry in a more modern/updated way, and miss the point of it all.  The point isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation – it’s communicating a timeless message to a changing culture.
  • Identify your goals of ministry.  Who is your target?  What are their needs?  Why are you doing ministry?  Identifying these are crucial to making sure the ministry you’re doing is actually meeting a perceived need of those your ministering to.  This also allows you to evaluate to make sure you’re reaching your goals of ministry, not just doing activity that you call ministry.
  • Hold your ideas lightly.  Your innovations of yesterday, may not be effective today.  Be willing to hold those past victories lightly, and allow the next generation behind you to innovate.  I love reading the Book of Acts and seeing how the disciples didn’t do ministry exactly like Jesus did.  They continued to innovate, just as Jesus had.  They didn’t just speak to thousands, but they wrote letters, which enabled them to speak to millions.  They didn’t gather a group of disciples, but established churches full of disciples.  Don’t get so stuck on what you did in the past that you stand in the way of what God is doing now, and how He’s continuing to reach those furthest from Him.

As a pastor, I feel strongly that innovation should always be present in the church.  We serve a creative God, and I believe He’s gifted us to reflect His creativity.  Whether you’re a pastor, a leader in the church, or simply attending a church, I challenge you to ask God, “What are new ways of doing ministry that people haven’t even dreamed of yet?”   Then get ready to step out in faith, and watch God do amazing things through you, as you allow the timeless message of Christ, impact the time in which you live!

Why Isis, Ebola, or Subpoenas Aren’t Going to Shake My Faith

Everyone can admit that we live in a media-heavy culture.  We have entire news channels dedicated not just to news, but just to financial news, sports news, even 24 hours of just weather.  Needless to say, there’s a lot of time to do a lot of talking.  And through all of this talking, hype resonates…actually it doesn’t just resonate, it explodes.

And in such a ‘big hype’ culture, as wars, diseases, and other stories dominate the headlines, there’s a new spiritual discipline that is becoming more and more necessary for followers of Christ…peace.  Yes, peace.  It’s so easy to allow the reports, blog posts, Facebook links, Twitter feeds and Instagram pics of Ebola to cause us to go to a very dangerous place spiritually…a place where our entire perspective changes because of a disease…or because of evil in the world…or because of the next major storm that hits the U.S.  When we allow this to happen, our faith is no longer our foundation, but we become slaves to the world’s circumstances.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

With this verse in mind, here are a few things to remember when the next disease, war, or catastrophe happens in the world:

  • Present the issue to God.  I know this sounds really basic, but before you share that link, RT that post, or begin a rant about what’s wrong with the world, our President, our some other global issue, present it to God first.  Believe it or not, prayer actually can make a difference.  In fact, I would argue that our world needs more prayer warriors than Facebook posters…more people committed to praying for the issues of the world than spreading the news about them.
  • How would Jesus have responded to this issue? (or would he have responded at all?)  So often we can get worked up about something that Jesus said was going to happen.  In Matthew 24:6 Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.”  If Jesus said it was going to happen, and that we don’t need to be alarmed, than we shouldn’t be alarmed.  Respond as Jesus would have responded…love as Jesus would have loved.
  • Be part of a solution, don’t become part of the hype.  When our actions and words as followers of Christ cause more fear than faith, there’s something wrong.  Allow your response to the issues of our world be a reflection of your faith in a never-changing, all-powerful God.  If you’re going to do anything, work toward a God-glorifying solution.

 

Stuck

Being stuck can be frustrating.  If you’ve ever had your car stuck in snow or mud, you know the frustration that follows the moment you realize you can’t get out.  Being stuck is not unique to simply driving, though.  It also happens on our spiritual journey.  As we pursue God’s best for our lives, there are moments that we find ourselves spinning our wheel hoping to eventually move forward again.  Avoiding these ‘stuck’ moments can be difficult, but there are practices commonly referred to as ‘spiritual disciplines’ that help keep us on solid ground and positioned in a place to continue to receive from God.

Spiritual Disciplines are items that are not necessarily spelled out in scripture, although they can be very important in our spiritual development.  They don’t move the hand of God in our direction, but rather move us in God’s direction.  There are numerous spiritual disciplines, some of the more common ones are prayer, scripture reading, journaling, fasting, solitude, among others.  The word ‘discipline’ makes these sound very uninviting, but rather than disciplines, think of them as spiritual catalysts.  They help propel you forward in the direction God created you to walk.

So if you find yourself stuck today, what one ‘catalyst’ can you start to do to propel you forward?

The Birth of a Saviour

I’ve been reading, on and off, a great book that is a compilation of sermons by Frederick Buechner called Secrets in the Dark.  Here’s a short excerpt of one powerful message addressing the impact of the birth of Christ:

The face in the sky. The child born in the night among beasts.  The sweet breath and steaming dung of beasts.  And nothing is ever the same again.

Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again.  Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of humankind.  If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in his least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.  And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart, because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.

Hanging in the Balance

Today is such a fascinating day.  It is the day between Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Christ, and Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection. It is a day that some 2,000 years ago the disciples would have mourned and contemplated the future of this great movement their Rabbi had started. The future was unknown to them.  It seemed that this great man, the very Son of God, had just been murdered on a cross and this new movement known as ‘The Way’ was now in jeopardy.  What would the days ahead bring?  Many of them had abandoned their previous careers and callings to follow Christ.  Would they return to these previous professions?  Would they be linked with this ‘revolutionary’ and experience a similar fate?  So many questions and seemingly so few answers.

Have you ever been there?  You seem to be in a place of uncertainty.  You are hanging in this balance of what was and possibly what could be. For the story of Christ, we know the ending.  We know that Christ did rise again and the movement eventually called ‘Christianity’ not only survived, but impacted the entire known world of that day.  For your life, though, what does the future hold?  What will the coming days, weeks and months bring?  Although I can’t answer those questions specifically, the Apostle Paul penned some powerful words only a few years after Christ’s resurrection that apply very well to this place of uncertainty:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Remember that although you don’t know all the answers and what the future might hold, there is a God that holds the future and is not uncertain.  He is ‘working all things’ toward His purposes and will not abandon or forget you!

Having Confidence That Lasts

Jeremiah 17:5-8

5 “This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

8 He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Confidence can be such a fickle thing.  You may have confidence in one area of your life while having a complete absence of it in another.  I’ve often wondered, how can I be so confident and comfortable in this area and lack so much confidence in this other area?  Well, as I read the passage of scripture above, it started to be come clear.  The root of our confidence will determine the consistency of its expression. When our confidence is based solely in our ability and will be very shallow.  But when we find our confidence in an always faithful God, we will be “a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

There may be areas in your life, as is in mine, that you are naturally gifted or have excelled in throughout your life.  These are the areas you often find the most confidence.  The points of failure in your life, then work like a sponge, completely soaking up and eliminating any sign of confidence.  Well, here are a few things God has been teaching me in the area of confidence that I’d like to share with you:

  • Whether we experience victory or failure, finding our confidence in God will guard us from the dangers of both arrogance and depression.
  • Godly confidence doesn’t just happen, it is developed.  Just as you would develop a muscle or skill, you must develop confidence in God. This comes by spending time in prayer, reading and declaring scripture, spending time understanding the promises of God.
  • Confidence in God is not just a frame of mind, it is also a matter of practice. We must not only understand the confidence we should have in God, but exercise it by stepping out in faith and doing what could only be done in His power.
  • A lack of confidence often becomes most visible in failure.  If you are in the midst of failure, know that you can find hope and promise in God.  He has created you with incredible gifts and value that no amount of failure can ever diminish. That is a confidence that is not overcome, but one that lasts.

How do you develop your confidence in God?  Do you find yourself battling a lack or excess of confidence?

The Opportunity of Your Relational Stage

In my small group last night, we were talking about the idea of trusting God in your current season of life.  This can be such an impacting idea if we could just get our minds around.

We all go from season to season experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly.  Tonight we focused specifically on relationships, and when it comes to different aspects of our lives, relationships can be one of the most obvious.  Whether we’re single, dating, married, or have kids, they have such a huge impact on our perspective and ability to do different things.

In each of these ‘relational stages’, we are presented with obstacles that can seem so overwhelming. Maybe as a single person you sense an inability to relate with your married friends.  As a married person, you miss some of the freedom that comes with singleness.  Whatever the stage, there are always obstacles.  Things that seemingly hold us back from all we desire to experience.  Along with those obstacles, though, comes unique opportunities. Opportunities that could not be explored in any other stage of life.  Imagine trying to pack up all your things and spend 3 months serving in an orphanage in Southern India when you’re married.  Or imagine trying to relate and minister to a small group of preschool mom’s as a single girl.  Every stage is unique and allows for unique experiences.

With this said, understanding the ‘relational stage’ you find yourself in, what opportunities can you explore now that you could not be done in any other stage?  How is God calling you to trust Him in this stage to do what couldn’t be done at any other time?

Victim or Victor?

Life can often throw us a curve ball. It’s true that bad things happen to good people, but in reality bad things happen to all people. So why is it that some people are able to rise above bad circumstance while others are overwhelmed by them? Well, the answer is all in our response to what happens. Now I understand there are some terrible things that can happen that bring more pain and sorrow then any person should encounter. For the purpose of this post, I am not addressing devastating circumstances, just everyday difficult ones. In light of these type of circumstances, we can respond in one of two ways: 1. As a victim. 2. As a victor. Here’s a quick comparison of these two responses:

VICTIM

  • Focus is always on the past.
  • Will often miss the roses right in front of them because they’re searching for the thorns.
  • Failure is a near guarantee because they close their eyes to the possibility of success and anticipate eventual disaster.
  • Although this person can be very talented, their talent is neutralized by their lack of confidence.

VICTOR

  • Focus is always on the future.
  • Even in the worst of situations, they always seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Failure is not an option for this person. The hope they possess is too great to settle for what is, to miss out on what could be.
  • Although this person may be very talented, their greatest attribute is their perseverance in the face of adversity.

At one time or another, we can all fall into one of these two categories. The first can be such a destructive perspective on life and leadership. If you find yourself always taking the role of a victim, let me challenge you with this thought: Although life might be tough and seem unfair at times, remember you are still given the choice of how you will respond. I believe that how you respond to difficult circumstances will actually impact your success in life more then the skills or abilities you possess. So regardless of what is happening to you today, keep your head up. Take the role of a victor and rise above!

Your Life Mission

A few months ago, I attended a smaller conference that featured an author named Tim Elmore.  He spoke about the idea of having a life sentence that essentially communicates your life’s mission.  What will some day be written on your gravestone? Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “beginning with the end in mind.” Why not live your life with the end in mind?

As we start a new year, this is always a good time to evaluate and even establish what that mission is. Not necessarily specifically, because our specific expressions of that mission change over time, but what will your life be remembered for?  Here are a few questions to ask yourself in discovering this mission:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you do that brings you the most joy and fulfillment?
  • What do you excel at and gain recognition now for?

I’ve done a lot of thinking and praying on this idea and here is what I would hope my life sentence to be:

“He made those around him better by bringing solutions to the problems life presented.”

What about you?  What do you hope to one day be written on your gravestone?

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