Four Questions Regarding Community Engagement

I recently did a Breakout Session at a local Church Leadership Conference on the topic of Community Engagement.  Below are some of my notes that I hope will be a good resource for those that are currently leading in a church context!

1. Is your church providing what your community actually needs?

  • It’s one thing to want to bless your community, but you can have the heart to serve and bless your community and actually do neither if you are providing something your community doesn’t actually need…or perceive they need.
  • Are you as a leader or pastor in tune with what your community needs?  This means you need to be in your community, hearing the needs that are present.
    • Being part of community events
    • Being part of community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.)
    • Being present on local community social media groups.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • What does your community complain about the most?
    • What are the barriers that keep your community from becoming something better?
    • Who/What does your community hate or dislike?
    • If resources weren’t a problem, what would your community get excited about?

2. What would happen to your community if your church ceased to exist?

  • Would your community even realize it, outside of a little less traffic in and out of your parking lot on a Sunday?
  • The church has unfortunately relinquished its role in society because we’ve migrated into these little huddles of protection where we strive to not be ‘tainted’ by society.  But the reality is we will never affect our community if we are not in the center of the mess.

Matthew 11:19,

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How is your church pushing your way back into the conversation of your community’s problems?
      • If the end goal of your church is to simply have a service every Sunday, you will never fully impact your community and the words you share every Sunday will be empty and hollow.

3. How are you setting up your church to be able to bless your community?

  • You need to consistently cast vision.
  • Service needs to be modeled from the platform.
  • Be intentional about mobilizing people to serve outside the church.
  • Budget for blessing.
    • Tithe your income toward missions and local projects.
    • Receiving a benevolence offering on Christmas Eve.
  • You will never become what you don’t intentionally plan for.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How are you developing a culture of service and generosity within your church?
      • Through your leadership?  Through small groups? Corporately?

4. What do community leaders think about your church?

  • Chances are good that your community leaders are a microcosm of what the rest of your community thinks about your church.
    • The best way to find out the answer to this question is to ask it.
    • Meet up with your community leaders and ask how your church can serve them…what your church could do to better bless the community.
    • Use these opportunities to develop relationships with the leaders in your community.  
  • Change will happen most effectively in the context of relationships.

The Core of Church Leadership (Part 3)

This is the final post in a series of posts where I have been going through the three main goals of a ministry leader.  You can read the first two posts here and here.  The three items we are looking at are:
  1. Love People.
  2. Lead with Vision.
  3. Live with Excellence.
More often than not in ministry circles, the idea of ‘Living with Excellence’ is understood, but very understated.  What I mean by ‘Living with Excellence’ can be summed up in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach…” As leaders and especially leaders in a church, we are called to not just ‘Love People’, ‘Lead People with Vision’, but our lives should reflect the message we proclaim.  We are called to live lives of holiness, above reproach.  What that means is this:
  • There is NO QUESTION to our character.
  • Our lives become a clear reflection of Christ…this includes our words, actions and attitudes. (Phil 2)
  • We set a high standard that others we lead can see and strive to follow.  (1 Cor 11:1)
Now the problem is, this goes in complete contradiction to our human nature.  Our human nature is not to live according to standards, but according to our desires.  It’s a struggle that we all face…each of our struggles may be different, but as Christians, and especially leaders, we are called to set the pace of holiness.  To live not only godly lives, but ones that are without question.  How do we do this?  Here are a few tips:
  • Practice Accountability – the power of secret sin is in its secrecy.  We don’t need to tell everyone our struggles, but we should tell someone.  Be accountable to a mature believer that you know will ask you the tough questions.
  • Prioritize Your Time with God – our lives will be a direct reflection of the time we spend with our Savior.  The more time, the greater the reflection.  Make your time with God a priority each day.
  • Position Guardrails – Guardrails keep us from going off the cliff on the road and can do the same thing in our lives.  Position guardrails, or safety measures in your life, to protect you from making detrimental decisions or placing yourself in compromising situations.  If you had an issue with pornography, create a guardrail by not going on the internet when you are alone. As a church we have created certain guardrails.  For example, we would not allow a male volunteer to be alone with a female child or teenager.  It’s not that we don’t trust the volunteer, but we want to create a guardrail that keeps us ‘above reproach’.
So who is holding you accountable?  How is your time with God?  What guardrails do you need to put in place for your life, or marriage, or ministry?   

The Core of Church Leadership (Part 2)

As a follow-up to last week’s post on the three areas we need to focus on as leaders in the church, I wanted to cover the second area.  If you missed the first one, you can read it here.  The three areas we are looking at and need to focus on are:

  1. Love People
  2. Lead with vision
  3. Live with excellence
Today, I wanted to cover the idea of “Leading with Vision”.  At Calvary, we are constantly looking to improve on what we are doing, which can lend itself to updating/improving things.  All of this can bring about change, and change brings with it the possibility for disaster.
Imagine driving to a familiar store and taking a right turn down a street that you’ve driven down hundreds of times.  However, this time everything is different.  Little did you know, the street was recently changed to a ‘One Way Street’, and now you are driving in the wrong direction.  As you come to find out, the change was made to improve traffic flow in that part of town, but it was never communicated to the public.  That would be pretty frustrating, and could have disastrous results!!  The same is true, if not more so, as we lead change in a church.  Here are a few thoughts as leaders we need to remember when leading change:
  1. Remember leadership is not about ‘doing stuff’, but about taking people on a journey.
  2. Expect people to be frustrated if you take them on a journey, but don’t tell them where you’re going.  Communication is huge!
  3. Before you share the ‘what’ you need to share the ‘why’.  The ‘why’ will make the ‘what’ more understandable.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

You can read what I wrote in my first post here, but just to summarize here’s what we understand:

  • Our personal mission is to reach and disciple people.
  • As a church, we do this corporately as we are the gift of Christ to the world.
  • The Holy Spirit was given to help us continue the ministry of Jesus and connect people to Him.

With that said, where exactly then do the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” come in?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  As the Holy Spirit worked through the disciples in the early church, it became clear by their experiences that there were certain ‘gifts’ or ‘pathways’ that the Holy Spirit worked through believers.  These ‘gifts’ or ‘pathways’ are outlined primarily in one place, 1 Corinthians 12-14 by the premier New Testament author, the Apostle Paul.  (Just a side note, these gifts are not the same as the gifts outlined in Romans 12:6-8 or Ephesians 4:11, which are seen more as offices or roles in ministry.)

So what is the purpose of these gifts?  In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul makes this very clear, and in fact makes a similar statement a number of times between 1 Cor. 12-14.  He says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (NIV)  In the New Living Translation it says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”   So these gifts are meant for the benefit of others, not necessarily ourselves.  Remember, we are called to reach and disciple people in love.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the means through which God helps us do that very thing.

Now at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 in verse 31, Paul makes a very interesting statement:   “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”  Greater gifts?  That sounds odd!  Are some of the gifts he listed better than others?  I would say no.  But I do believe that there are gifts that are greater in certain contexts.  Let me explain.

In Acts 4, Peter & John walk up to the gate called Beautiful at the Temple.  As they approach this gate, they encounter a crippled man that is begging for money.  At this moment, Peter has a choice to operate in one of two obvious gifts…the gift of generosity or the gift of healing.  Both would be beneficial and good for the crippled man, but one is greater in this setting.  Consequently, Peter operates in the gift of healing and the man is instantly healed through the working of the Holy Spirit.

So the greatest gift is the most beneficial gift in a given context.  Paul further illustrates this in 1 Corinthians 14 when he challenges the reader to be aware of unbelievers in your midst when a gift is in operation.  Because the gift that is in operation needs to be beneficial not detrimental.  It is to be done with the goal of connecting people to Jesus.

You might think?  Do we really have any choice in this matter?  When the Holy Spirit moves isn’t it meant to be free and somewhat chaotic?  Well if that were the case, the Holy Spirit would be operating in complete opposition to God’s nature.  God is an orderly God.  He is the one that set in motion the setting of the sun and the coming in of the ocean tides.  While the Holy Spirit moves and responds, He is still orderly and He choses to partner with us, not apart from us.  In 1 Corinthians 14, it says “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.”  So we do play a part and do have opportunity to “seek the greater gifts” in our given situation.

So what do we do with this?  Our goal is to “Seek the greater gifts”.  The Holy Spirit wants to work through you to do remarkable things in your workplace, home, neighborhood, and school.  But as I mentioned, it is still subject to your involvement.  Seek the greater gifts and allow the Holy Spirit to work through you to continue to “Connect people to Jesus”!

Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)

I recently did a teaching at our church on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and just wanted to share it.  Feel free to offer your feedback below!

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are often misunderstood and misdirected.  My goal is to provide adequate explanation and direction for the role and function of these important gifts.  The premise that I am working from is this:  The Holy Spirit exists to connect people to Jesus, both privately and corporately.

With that said, the mission of every believer and church according to Matthew 28 is to “go and make disciples”.   Beyond that, in John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  So our goal is to work toward that mission of reaching and discipling people through the expression of love.  Everything we do should be covered in love.

In fact, one of the more famous verses in scripture, John 3:16, says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”   God gave His Son Jesus as the greatest act of love in history.  When Jesus ascended to Heaven, though, the church (known as the “Body of Christ” in 1 Cor. 12), became that gift.  We as the church are God’s gift to the world to continue His ministry.

So our target is to reach the lost and make disciples…that is our end goal both personally and as a church.  This is something Jesus did on a regular basis.  He reached even the worst cases with His love and forgiveness.  But when you think about it, Jesus had knowledge that many of us will never possess.  He was discoursing with the religious leaders in the Temple as a child.  Although this is something Jesus did on a regular basis, how in the world are we possibly expected to do that?

There is no way any of us will have the knowledge Jesus possessed nor be able to communicate with the skill and tact that he did.  Of course He was reaching the lost and making disciples, He was Jesus!

But how do we do that?  How do we connect people to Jesus?

Well, maybe that’s it.

Remember I mentioned, the Holy Spirit exists to connect people to Jesus…this is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit!

Throughout the book of Acts we read of the working of the Holy Spirit through the disciples as they continue to do the work of Jesus in the world.  The Holy Spirit is working through these men to connect people to Jesus…whether it was in a gathering of believers, an interaction in the Temple courts, or a conversation in the marketplace, the Holy Spirit was working through them to connect people to Jesus.

So up to this point, we understand that:

  • Our personal mission is to reach and disciple people.
  • As a church, we do this corporately as we are the gift of Christ to the world.
  • The Holy Spirit was given to help us continue the ministry of Jesus and connect people to Him.

And we’ll put a comma there, and continue this further in my next post.

How does that sit with you so far?

Tension – John Van Pay

My friend and church planter, John Van Pay, recently wrote a great post on his blog on the topic of ‘Tension’.  Here’s a portion of his post:

I used to be afraid of tension. I had a tendency to pick a side and become defensive. It was ugly. Maybe deep down inside I still fight that urge. However, I have grown to enjoy healthy tension especially when the goal is the same. If our goal is to make disciples, then why divide over style? Instead of “taking our ball” and going home or pouting, what if stayed long enough to understand a different view point? What if we weren’t always right? I imagine we would be stronger in public if we had healthy discussions on opposing views in prviate. I’m learning it is possible to disagree and still be united if we treat others with love, respect, and dignity. My coach Rod Loy taught me that we should be flexible when it comes to tradition and opinions, but firm with our convictions. Be like a palm tree that was strong and could bend with out breaking. If we were this mature, our marriages, churches, fellowship teams, and ministries would look a lot more like the bride of Christ He destines us to be.

While studying this evening, I came across this quote in a book.

“Church growth, then, must affirm a hermeneutic that captures the tension of being in the world but not of the world. A hermeneutic that attempts to isolate the Biblical text from modern culture will not speak to the world. The Bible simply will not be relevant. However a hermeneutic constantly seeking the favor of culture, even if numerical church growth results, may gain relevancy while losing true disciples. We may “win” this world but make few cross bearing disciples. The cost of discipleship must remain in tension with a culturally-relevant message.” Thom Rainer

You can read the rest of the post here.

FREE Church Resources

This is an exciting time in history to live.  One of the greatest developments most recently in the church world is the concept of ‘Open-Sourced’ sermon resources. Some of the biggest and most successful churches in the nation are now making many of their resources available to any pastor or church for FREE to utilize!  It is the church being the Church and sharing the blessings God has given them with churches across the country and the world.  So now churches that can not afford to have a graphic designer or video director on staff, or are wondering how to do church better can have high-quality materials.  So with that said, below I’ve listed a collection the best free church resources from some of America’s best churches:

  • LifeChurch.tv – This is the church that pioneered the idea of ‘Open-Sourcing’ sermon resources.  They have not only made available some very high-quality sermon resources, but their interface for accessing them is very easy to use!
  • Elevation Church – On February 5, 2006, Elevation opened its doors with 121 people attendance in the Providence High School Atrium. In just over three years, God has moved in amazing ways and has used Elevation to change thousands of lives in the Charlotte area. Elevation was recently recognized as the 4th Fastest Growing Church in America by Outreach Magazine.  Their resources are cutting edge and very relevant for a young, upcoming crowd!
  • North Point Community Church – North Point is one of the great churches in America, started by Andy Stanley.  Although this site does not have sermon resources, it does have some great ‘behind the scene’ resources ranging from small groups to assimilation to media.
  • CrazyChurch.com – This isn’t a specific church, but still a collection of some quality sermon resources.
  • Vine Resources (Southeast Christian Church) – This site has some good resources and a really cool concept with their ‘Swag Bags’.
  • MCM Network – This is the network I work with and we’ve recently open-sourced all the resources we have from Allison Park Church and many of our church plants.

Are there additional sites you know of that aren’t listed here?

FREE Tech/Media Resources for Churches

In the world of church ministry, budgets are always tight and money is short.  In church planting, this is even more so.  If you find yourself in a setting like this, then this post is for you!  Below I’ve listed a number of resources that can be utilized by a church at a very reduced price, or even free in some cases:

  • Google Apps – Google Apps are a FREE resource that provides the following for any non-profit organization:
    • Email Accounts: Unlimited email accounts, 7.42 GB of storage per account, email accounts still function with your domain extension (i.e. nickp@mcmnetwork.org, not nickp@gmail.com)
    • Calendars:  These can be easily shared within your domain or with other Google Apps users)
    • Google Docs: A great tool that allows you to collaborate with other coworkers with online programs that include word processing, presentations and spreadsheets.
    • Google Sites: You can create free basic websites as well.
    • Google Chat: Allows you the ability to chat quickly with anyone else on your domain without having to send a whole email.
    • There are a number of other features, but I’ll stop there.  The best part, though, is it’s all free!
  • MailChimp – This is a good email marketing program.  It is free for organizations that have below 500 subscribers and send under 3,000 emails a month (if your church sends more then this, you’re killing your people with too many emails!).
  • Floodgate Productions – This company has great pricing on ministry videos and worship track backs.  They also give away free videos on a regular basis and actually have a whole page of free video resources.  Their quality is usually pretty high and they seem to have a real heart for ministry!
  • MNW Consulting – This is a HUGE resource for churches, especially church plants or smaller churches.  It is free computer IT help!  This site features forums, topical posts, wiki pages and the ability to contact corporately-trained IT support…all for FREE!

Tomorrow I’ll post a list of free sermon resources.

What other free tech/media resources do you know of?

Establishing an Assimilaton Plan – Part 4: Interview with Debbie Lynch

For my final post on this topic, I wanted to pull in a real expert in this area and there is no one better then the ‘Queen of Assimilation’, Debbie Lynch. She does an incredible job connecting an average of 20+ guests each weekend at Allison Park Church and has been doing this for over a decade.  My favorite quote from this interview was “We don’t want to just be practical, but relational”.  Great stuff!!  Sit back and take notes!

You can read my previous posts on this topic here: (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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