Monday, December 15, 2008

Heartland Kids Making A Difference!

From A News Blog in Salisbury, MD...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ringing The Bell For The Salvation Army Has Its Rewards



The other day I was standing in front of the North WalMart ringing the bell and handing out Candy Canes to all the young children.

All of a sudden I leaned over to hand one of the children a Candy Cane and the child said, I have something for you Sir. He then proceeded to thank me for what I was doing and handed me the package above. On one side was a small Snickers Bar taped to a small piece of paper. When I turned it over I got the added bonus of a message thanking ME for serving.

I'm telling you Folks, there aren't that many slots left open and you should jump on board and take one of the most rewarding hours, couple of hours, whatever you like. If you'd like to help out cal the Salvation Army at 410-749-7771 ext. 100 or me at 410-430-5349. You can also e-mail me at alberobutzo@wmconnect.com and let me know which open slot you'd like to take and I'll take it from there.

To the young man who gave me this Snickers Bar, God Bless You. The memory will last me a lifetime.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Community Christian Heartland kids are the AWESOME!!

Anonymous said...

You're so dramatic and self-serving I'm growing sick

Brenda Spindler said...

Not sure who the little guy was but that's our church and we are very thankful for our "heartland kids". Thanks Joe for posting this about them!
Brenda Spindler

Anonymous said...

Since I don't drink any longer ringing that bell is a good way to meet and greet some beautiful smiles from some sweeties.

The thing that impressed me the most was how many people let their very young kids put the money in the kettle, passing on a tradition of giving in this very blessed holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza and a holiday wish for everyone.

Today's news is the best I can remember since I recieved my James Bond double '00 spy kit with the exploding briefcase for Christmas when I was 8 years old : )

The so called attorney will now have to deal with a very upset throng of city employees that will be willing to stand in line to have their voices finally heard by an interested electorate. The proverbial Poo River will hit the fan then.

Many of these key city employees hold the deepest secrets of the current administration and are more than ready to be able to speak up without retaliation. It's not the city grunt employees that need to worry about their jobs, it will be the multitude of failures among department heads.

I persoanlly think PW director Mr. Caldwell and Joel Hamilton of the Zoo deserve a chance to perform their jobs unobstructed and let them cut their own puppet strings and let truth and reality reign.

MK said...

Joe,, After all yo do,, You deserved that! I am sure you feel very warm and good inside.. I am sure You sir,,deserve that!

I am getting ready to take off This Tuesday to do a Christmas Show at the MAC Center. I have done a few times and have taken personal days to volunteer my talent, and the feeling is WONDERFUL! Keep Up The Great Work! MK

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Exciting Christmas Eve Plans

If you remember, last year's Christmas Eve service was our best attended ever. It was really exciting to see so many new faces join us for that special evening. Our members made a concerted effort to invite their family, friends and neighbors - and we just left the outcome up to God. It was incredible.

This year are striving to make our Christmas Eve services available to more and more people. Since so many people have family obligations or travel in the evening on Christmas Eve, we are going to offer an additional Christmas Eve service at 4PM this year. Thats right...two Christmas Eve services...one at 4PM and one at 7PM. Our worship team is excited. Sean and I are stoked. We can't wait to see what God will do. The two services will be identical, except that our Children's Handbell Choir will perform at the 7PM service only. Each service will last one hour.

How can you help make our Christmas Eve services a blessing?
  • Make attending one of our Christmas Eve services a priority. If you really feel crazy, attend both so you can greet our guests. We promise it will be a blessing for your family.
  • Invite everyone you know to join you for this special event.
  • If you would like to participate in one of the services by reading scripture, please contact David and Juliana Smith.
  • Pray that God will move in SUPER ways, as we take care of the NATURAL.
Can't wait to worship with you on Christmas Eve.
Brent

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being an Answer to Prayer!

From Time Magazine, Monday, Aug. 09, 1971

"There are few human dramas quite as compelling as the search for a lost child. When 9-year-old Kevin Dye wandered away from a picnic on rugged Casper Mountain in east central Wyoming, there was an extra edge of urgency and fear for his survival: Kevin is brain damaged and requires constant medication to prevent epileptic seizures.

Have you ever lost a child (when you weren't trying to)? Maybe in a grocery store? At the park? In the mall? You just turned away for a moment and they were gone. Do you remember the emotions? Your mind starts reeling. Something immediately starts churning and pulling in the pit of your stomach - and only intensifies as the search continues. The longer the search the more raw your emotions become. Any help you can find...anyone willing to join you in the search is a welcome partner. Remember how you felt as you read the following story from Jesus' life.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them. The word "compassion" is an anatomical word. It referred to the part of the anatomy between the navel and the groin. It became a word used to describe the churning and pulling you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are deeply moved by what you are seeing or experiencing. It's the same feeling you had when you lost your child. That's what the word "compassion" means.

Jesus saw people who were broken by life, struggling to get by, far from God and in the dark spiritually and it tore him up inside. Moved, as a parent during a long search, he pleads with His followers to pray that God would send more searchers - because there aren't many. There aren't many people moved by the lostness of others. Not many who lose sleep because others are far from God. There aren't many who are willing to set aside their own comfort in order to bring them aid or bring them home.

The article continues: More than 3,000 volunteers searched for eleven days until he was found—dehydrated and 25 Ibs. lighter than when his ordeal began, but otherwise in excellent condition. Kevin's vulnerability provoked special reactions to his plight. Volunteers from as far away as Philadelphia and East St. Louis came to help in the search; the National Guard was called in to trek through the dense forest at night with infrared spotting devices. The owners of a restaurant on Casper Mountain turned their establishment over to the searchers for use as a headquarters. Residents of the area brought food and coffee to the volunteers, who spent wearying hours in the mountain wilderness."

Kevin's vulnerability moved people to action. These searchers, many of whom were not God-followers, were moved to action by the same impulse that moved Jesus. Compassion for the vulnerable.

One truth about being in church is that it often distances us from lost people. Studies show that the longer a person is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian people they have in their lives. Isn't that ironic. Isn't that exactly the opposite of what Jesus asked us to pray for? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Jesus had people far from God around Him all the time. He said: "There are lost people everywhere" (i.e., the harvest is plentiful). He had so many around him that He often didn't have time to eat or rest. It just seems odd that the longer we're in church the fewer of those folks we have in our lives. Could it be that doing church and following Jesus are two very different approaches to life?

At Community, we don't want to just be "doing church." We are committed to following Jesus so closely that our lives are changing to be like His. We want to be an answer to Jesus' prayer for more workers. It is interesting that after Jesus calls His followers to pray for more workers, He sends them out to minister to the very people that were on His heart (Matthew 10:1, 5). They were the answer to that prayer. Will we be?

The hard truth is this: If we do not have people in our lives who are far from God...we are not as close to God as we think.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Heart of Jesus

Last night we had an incredible leaders meeting. We spent some time talking about our vision to be an externally-focused church. It concerned some leaders that they have heard statements from some members like: “I don’t think I want our church to grow, I don’t know everyone now”; or “why make all these changes to reach new people, we liked things the way they were;” or “what makes reaching new people more important than taking care of those we already have?” or “We were here first. This is our church.” These sentiments are by no means wide-spread but they are difficult to hear none-the-less. One leader observed that these sentiments are exactly what Sean talked about Sunday morning. Even in the church there is a temptation to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of the well-being (or salvation) of others.

All this begs the question: why would a church choose to focus on outsiders? Why even bother with those outside our walls at all? My answer is: because of God’s heart. It has always been my understanding that we are striving to reflect the heart of Jesus, regardless of the inconvenience or cost. We’ve said that spiritual maturity is having the things that matter to God matter to us. It is interesting to think about who was on Jesus’ mind during His last hours on this earth. Where was His focus?

In John 17 Jesus prayed for His disciples, as well as all those who would come to believe in Him through their words (John 17:20-23). That’s US. He prayed that His people would be unified. But that unity was not an end in itself. He wanted us to be unified “so that the world might believe.” Outsiders would be making decisions about a relationship with God based on how they saw His people treating one another. Jesus’ gaze was set on outsiders and he wanted to make sure that our behavior drew them to Him and didn’t push them away.

At the end of the Book of Matthew there is a passage we call the Great Commission. It is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. In that passage Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I have underlined the Greek verbs in this passage: go, make, baptize and teach. Which do you think is the primary verb in that sentence? It is the word “make.” The other verbs describe how we make disciples. We go find them, we baptize them and we teach them. Our primary mission is to make disciples of all nations. As long as there is one person in our neighborhood or in a remote corner of the globe that does not know Jesus, our work is not done. We, like the Shepherd, would leave the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15). Jesus’ focus was on those who were lost and dying without Him. His aim was to reach people and mature them to the point that they would go bring more and more people to God.

In Acts 1:8-9 Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders. These words represent His last words to His followers. He says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. The word “witnesses” is the word “martus” a word from which we get our English word “martyr.” It is a missionary word. It speaks of one who can and will proclaim Jesus to those who do not know Him, even at the risk of their own lives. Jesus’ charge to his disciples was that they be witnesses to outsiders from here to the ends of the earth.

When the early church kept this focus it did well. This small band of disciples, through their witnessing, went from 120 to 3,120 literally overnight. I doubt they were concerned that they didn’t know everyone. It was exciting. They were on the front lines of God's work. People were being added to their number daily and the church very quickly grew to 5,000 men (not counting women and children). Conservative estimates are that within one year of Jesus’ final words, the number of His followers had grown from 120 to 20,000 people. And that was just the beginning.

It was when church members began to focus on themselves that the problems began. Paul's letter to the church in Corinth was written to a congregation that had lost its outward focus. That church had incredible problems. When churches turn inward they begin to fuss, fragment and die. We will have an eternity to praise our God and bask in the glow of our relationship with Him. What must matter to us now is bringing as many people with us as possible.

I have a few questions. Which do you think Jesus cares more about: me getting to worship in a style I like on Sunday morning or His church intentionally reaching out to those who will go to hell without Him? Is He more interested in me “knowing everyone” or with His church bringing more and more people to hear His life-changing Word? Is He more interested in my comfort or another person’s salvation?

The apostle Paul made it his mission to “win as many as possible.” When you hear me talk about being “on mission” that is what I mean. The leaders of our church from our elders, to our staff, to our ministry leaders have come together around this calling. We want the things that matter most to Jesus to matter most to us. As parents, it makes us proud when our children mature to the point that they put the needs of others ahead of their own. We believe God shares this emotion.

As leaders we face many difficult decisions. We lead a diverse church. It is impossible to please everyone. In our discussions we have identified two over-riding choices. We can either be member-driven or mission-driven. Member-driven churches work hard to keep all of their members happy. They focus on those they already have. They don’t rock the boat or introduce change. Their decisions are driven by what would make their members comfortable and happy. Most member-driven churches are withering and dying. The comfort of our members is too small a thing to dedicate our lives to. Leaders of mission-driven churches ask their members to join them in reaching the world for Jesus. They acknowledge the work will be hard. It will require sacrifice. Everybody will be uncomfortable. Yet, these leaders know that the mission of God drove Jesus’ life and it must drive ours as well.

I shared some of this article with Sean this morning. He shared a story of a man who came and spoke at their chapel service at Lincoln Christian College. After he preached one Sunday a woman came to him and said: “I just don’t think I want this church to grow any larger. I can’t go to a church that gets so big that I won’t know everybody’s name. I just don’t want to attend a church like that.” The old preacher said: “Ok, I understand, but I need you to help me with something.” That lady looked puzzled, but said: “OK, what?” He continued: “I need you to help me make a sign to put in front of our church for those who are passing by; a sign that says ‘we don’t give a rip if you are going to hell, there’s no room for you here.’” Ouch!

We long to reflect the heart of Jesus. Our vision is to be a mission-driven church. As leaders we pray that you will join us in the most difficult, exhilarating enterprise on the planet.

Bill Easum writes: “God will give you everything you ever need and more, if you will just make it about His kingdom and not about you!”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Slowed Economy - Sean

Things happen in our lives that are totally out of our control and when they do it can be scary. We need to know that it’s necessary for us to experience this so that we can realize that we are not in control. I’ve been thinking about this a lot more lately because of the slowing state of our economy. People around the country have been losing jobs left and right and it has hit home right here in our community. I’ve been getting emails with prayer requests that seem to have a nervous tone about them because jobs are in jeopardy and the realization has set in that this is out of our control.

In my thinking about this stuff, randomly something hit me as a possibility. What if God Himself, has slowed down our economy on purpose? Maybe, it’s His way of telling us to stop chasing the dream of more. Ever since I have become a Christian I have heard messages about busyness, and this idea that we can’t be too busy to follow Jesus., and as time has gone on that message seems to be getting louder and louder.

I have personally experienced the slowing of the economy myself. About a year ago I got laid off from my job as a Community Life Minister. It was one of the toughest times in my life. Mentally I was spent everyday. Doing ordinary tasks seemed to become impossible to me. The days felt oddly short, yet filled with eternal boredom. I spent nine months unemployed and it financially wrecked me, but spiritually it brought me to places unknown. I experienced what it means that God alone holds us in His hands. I just want to share this message: it was worth the exchange!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Polar Opposite of Passion

Yesterday we talked about being passionate warriors for God. God placed us in our roles and we are called to fulfill our God-given assignments. The thing that most often gets in my way is... drum roll please... complacency.

To be complacent means to be "contented to a fault, self satisfied, especially when unaware of impending danger." The key words in this definition are contented, self-satisfied and unaware. Being complacent is being so proud of our own accomplishments, so satisfied with our life-situation that we are content to just enjoy the fruits of our labors. Complacent warriors aren't engaged in a battle - they view all of significant battles as being in the past - and now are content to enjoy the spoils of their own labor.

The story we studied yesterday began this way: "I Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace contented and prosperous" (Dan. 4:4). What he had forgotten - which brought about the impending danger was that - leadership is a stewardship, it was temporary, and he was accountable.

As warriors for the cause of Christ, we don't get to just prop our feet up and enjoy the fruits of "our labor." Our war is on-going and battles must be fought every single day, so as long as we have breath we continue to fight. The greatest threat to our involvement God's work in this world is complacency.

Leaders don't wait for a crisis to answer the call. A leader doesn't wait for his wife to say she is leaving before getting concerned about his marriage. A leader does not wait for his son to develop and addiction before being concerned about the character of his friends. A real leader doesn't wait for a financial crisis at church to begin to reflect on where the resources God has poured into his life are really going. Leaders live their leadership every day, in light of God's purposes, because they know God has placed them in their roles, for this specific time, and they are accountable to Him.

Monday, October 27, 2008

24-Hour Prayer Focus

We had a great time in our LIFE Group last night. One outcome was the proposal that our group invite our church family into a 24-Hour prayer focus this coming weekend. With a critical election before us next Tuesday, families impacted by the economic downturn, God’s mission before us – we must move forward together under God’s direction and in His power. What a way to start a new month of service. Here is our proposal.

Some Questions about our 24-Hour Prayer Focus.

Who: Anyone and everyone who wants to participate, individuals, couples, families or small groups.

What: A 24-hour chain of unbroken prayer

When: 10:00 AM Saturday till 10:00 AM Sunday.

How: Sign up for a ½ hour or hour time-slot and commit to pray for those items mentioned above – and others things that are on your heart. (we’ll provide a list to help guide your thoughts). We should easily be able to fill up all of the time slots. This will provide a 24-hour unbroken chain of prayer from our church family. Michele Keeton will be doing signups on Wednesday evening or you can also sign up by emailing Michele at bluekeeton@comcast.net.

Where: Wherever you are. You don’t need to come to our campus to pray. Spend time in focused prayer wherever you happen to be.

Please join us…

Keeton’s LIFE Group

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where Have All The Men Gone?

This week we begin a message series that focuses on men…and we’ve strategically placed our Men’s Retreat in the middle of this series. I know this may seem a little unfair for our women. But I hope you’ll agree that one of the greatest gifts we can give the women of our church is to help the men in their lives become the men God is calling them to be. If you look around, you have to admit, the church has not been very helpful in this process.

As part of my prep for the series I’m reading a book titled: “Why Men Hate Going To Church.” For a supposedly male-dominated institution, the statistics are staggering.

  • The typical U.S. congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
  • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).
  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
  • Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance.
  • Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls 2 women for every 1 man.
  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

The author concludes that today's church has feminized Jesus and expects attenders to participate in intimate, nurturing behavior including things like singing “love songs” to Jesus, hand-holding, sharing feelings, while inviting everyone to have a “personal relationship” with the Savior. Many men feel uncomfortable in such an environment and choose not to go. In fact, nearly every man in America has experienced church at some point in his life, yet two-thirds of them do not currently feel it worthy of two hours of their time on a Sunday morning. Something is tragically wrong.

You can draw two different conclusions to this data.

· You could conclude that men are inherently unspiritual. It’s easy to blame the men. Yet, almost every other religion (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim) reverse the men/women percentages mentioned above.

· You could conclude that most of our churches have become environments that are not very inviting to men. Therefore, they are choosing to express their spirituality in other ways and in other places.

Why does this matter? At a recent seminar our leaders attended together, the speaker shared these statistics: If a child attends church first, 17% of the time the parents will follow; if a woman attends church first, 33% of the time the family will follow; if a man attends church first, 93% of the time the family will follow.

We must be intentional about “making room” for men in our churches and be intentional about inviting them to be the “real men” that God is calling them to be.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Becoming A Sticky Church

On Sunday a newcomer engaged me following our worship. She spoke of her gratitude for Community and I said: “I’m really glad you found us.” With tears in her eyes, she replied: “We didn’t find you – God led us here. From the first time I walked into this building, I knew we were home.”

God is creating a church that people love to come to. But, what if, rather than just creating a church that people love to come to - what if we also created a church that people refuse to leave."

For years, the primary focus in many churches has been on the “front door”—people coming into the church. And while such an emphasis remains the Great Commission priority, our leaders are equally concerned with integrating newcomers into the life of the church.

Researchers have discovered four major factors that are at work when churches close the back door effectively. If all four are in play, the back door closed tight. But any one of these factors still contributes to more effective assimilation.

1. High Expectations

The American Church went through a period of more than 10 years when churches significantly lowered their expectations of members and attendees. The result was an exodus of people from the church. “Why would I want to be a part of something that expects nothing of me?” a former active church member told a research team. People want to be challenged to invest their lives in something that matters. We must establish clear expectations of service, stewardship and attendance, etc. We need people invested in the most important mission on this planet.

2. Small Groups

Second, churches that close the back door seek to get as many of their members as possible into small groups. Connections and life-change happens best in small groups. If you are only a Sunday attender, let me challenge you to be involved at a deeper level in our spiritual family. You will be blessed. You can find a list of our small groups on our website at www.heart4communtiy.org. It is in our small groups that we begin “doing life together.”

3. Ministry Involvement

The third key component is ministry involvement. The earlier a new member or attendee can get involved in a church’s ministries, the higher the likelihood of effective assimilation. This is a critical time-frame that our ministry leaders monitor closely. Churches that close the back door have a clear plan to get people involved and doing ministry as quickly as possible. We currently have a high guest-retention rate – one reason is that newcomers get involved in serving very quickly. Incidentally, the newcomer I mentioned at the beginning of this article - signed up to serve the second Sunday she and her husband attended.

4. Relationship Connections

Finally, the more new members connect with longer-term members, the greater the opportunity for assimilation. In an interesting twist in the research, they found that most of these relationships developed before the new member ever came to the church. In other words, members were intentionally developing relationships with people outside the walls of the church. They invited them to church after the relationship had been established.

You’ll have to judge how we are doing in each of these areas. One thing I would ask is that you help make Community a “sticky church.”


Monday, September 29, 2008

Countering Our American Culture

In college I had a really good friend named Legesse. He was from Ethiopia, and had actually spent a lot of time in the country of Yemen. When he moved here to America and eventually to college with me he obviously brought with him some foreign mannerisms. For example, in America, if there is open seating at a movie or anywhere, and you are going with a friend, when you sit down you will naturally leave an empty seat or two between you. It’s part of our American culture. We are all about space. Legesse didn’t have that. If I sat down with him in class or at a movie or a conference he would sit right next to me and it felt like almost right on top of me! At first I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t like not having personal space. But after a while it didn’t bother me. And I started to see this lack of personal space as a good thing because literally and figuratively I allowed people to get closer to me.

Why do I bring this story up? Well, there are times to embrace culture and times we need to counter our culture. I noticed we are encountering something phenomenal here at CCC. We are experiencing growth. Not just in maturity (although I think we are), but we are also experiencing God bringing us more people, and with this awesome phenomenon comes some hiccups that we have to deal with. This past Sunday for the first time I sat in the back row at CCC. I noticed that in front of me there were a lot of empty spaces, empty chairs, even some rows that were barren. I realized that just like in high school on the bus everyone seems to cling to the back! I understand Brent smells a little, but come on people! No, but hear me out on this. Imagine you are a new person coming to Community for the first time. You get there but you are a little late. As you quietly open the doors to where people are meeting you scan the crowd and see that there are no seats open in the back row. You now have two choices: 1. Make the walk of shame – you have to walk past everyone as they watch you. Find a seat right up front as you crawl over people at the end of the isles, and you have to risk someone publically embarrassing you. Or, 2. You just leave. If you were new, which would you choose, and be honest?

I don’t want people to miss out on an opportunity to possibly meet God for the first time because we were sitting in the back to have our own space. That’s not what we as a church are all about. I just want to challenge all of us, myself included, to sit closer to the front and leave the back open. To sit next to someone instead of leaving gaps in the seats. To not just nab the aisle seat because you like the aisle. Let’s consider others even when it comes to where to sit. Let’s counter our American culture.

Monday, September 15, 2008

One Month To Live Inro Video

In case you missed it, we used this video to kick off our One Month To Live Series. We have had several comments on the video, hope it encourages you on your spiritual journey toward a "no-regrets life."


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Baptism Resources

Just wanted to let you know about some new study resources on the subject of baptism that have been published on Community's website. The first item is a brief article titled: Community's View of Baptism. At the bottom of the article there are two downloadable files. The first is a "Baptism Study Guide" which contains self-study materials for both teens and adults. The second download is a recent message on baptism titled: What's the Skinny on the Dip. We hope these resources will (1) help newcomers know what we believe about baptism; (2) encourage others to commit their lives to Jesus through baptism; and (3) help Christians remember and cherish their own baptisms. You can find these resources at the following link: Baptism Resources

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Families Want To Serve!!!!!

I just had a very timely article drop into my inbox from the Externally Focused Church Network. It contains some research finding that might surprise you. The article is fairly brief. I hope you'll take the time to read it. I highlighted in red the text that jumped out at me.

___________

Survey Says Families Want to Serve Together with Family and Community Ministries Journalcp/uploads/family_serving.JPG

In the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of Rev! Magazine executive editor and good friend of EFN, Alan Nelson, predicted 12 trends in ministry to come by 2018. One trend he predicted was that the classroom approach to learning will lessen and people will begin to learn through active service-like community service projects and mission trips. ″Connecting Scriptures with these experiences will increase…Bono and others are causing us to realize that faith without the fruit is dead,″ he writes.*

Alan also predicted that the emphasis on Family Ministry will grow. He writes, ″There is a felt need to pursue family unity and intergenerational worship and spiritual formation. Family Pastor is currently the fastest growing new ministry title and this will continue into the next decade, as churches strive to equip and empower parents to assume their responsibility.″

Well, Alan, it looks as if those two predictions are already coming true. The Family and Community Ministries Journal, published by Baylor University School of Social Work didn't just predict service learning would be important to the future church, they found that families are asking for it. In 1993, Diana Garland, Dean of Baylor University's School of Social Work, and Dr. Pam Yankeelov, professor at the University of Louisville, developed a tool called the Church Census to help church leaders understand how they are reaching families and what church families want and need. 150 churches have used this census for 12 years.* (For a full review of survey findings, see the Summer 2007 edition of the journal).

While the survey has exposed a number of insightful connections to today's church families, discovering how consistently churchgoers expressed a desire to serve was one of the major surprises for Garland. Among all denominations, socioeconomic and age groups, the most common answer to ″how can the church help,″ was ″give us ways to serve others outside our family.″

Parents must be sensing what Garland is already sure about: ″We know that children who grow up serving next to adults are more likely to attend church as young adults. It makes it more meaningful,″ she shares.

She admits that finding families wanting more service opportunities came as a bit of a surprise. Garland shares, ″We didn't expect that. Even families who are struggling themselves want to serve others. The opportunity to help others was the single most requested thing of church families, across the board. They want help living their faith. These families are telling us that the focus of church need to be centered on ways families can minister to the world. We've tended to see service as an add-on to worship, with worship being the main focus. Families are saying we need to turn that around.″

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An Important Question - Your Input Requested!

I want to ask you a question. I hope you'll either email me your answer or post a comment, for others to see, at the bottom of this article. Here's the question...

Today, if you found out that you had 30 days left on this earth, what would you do?

What items would immediately shoot to the top of your personal "to-do" list? How would your life be different after receiving the news? Take some time to mull this over and let me know what you came up with.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Go Fish" Class This Wednesday

CCC has historically offered more in-depth adult Bible studies on Wednesday evenings. That tradition will continue because we see that value of studying God's word so it can serve as the foundation for our lives. Dave Pfingst will be teaching an in-depth study titled "Beginnings" this Wednesday evening at 7PM. As leaders we are committed to CCC being deeply rooted in God's word.

Yet, we also hold strongly to another biblical mandate for leaders. A huge part of our calling as leaders is to equip God's people for works of service. Ephesians 4:11-12 it says: "It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." We are not fulfilling our calling as leaders if we are not also providing opportunities for our members to be equipped to follow Jesus into ministry.

One way we will try to to that is to offer an additional equipping class each Wednesday night, which will run concurrently with our in-depth Bible study. Our first equipping class is a six-week study titled: "Go Fish." Brent will lead this equipping time. It is designed to help us explore God's heart for those who don't know Him and the role we can play in introducing others to Him. Along the way we will be equipped with tools that will help us make sharing our faith a natural part of our lives. The sessions include:

Week 1: We Were All Fish Once!
Week 2: Why Fish?
Week 3: Fish Guts!
Week 4: Fishing Buddies!
Week 5: Muddy Water!
Week 6:The One That God Away!

I hope you will take a chance, offer God an evening a week, and dare to be equipped for the most significant investment of your life. Those who experience an eternity with God because of your sacrifice will be worth it all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Church with the Big Heart

Five players from CCC's softball team were fortunate enough to play in the Rec. League's All Star softball game last night. We had a great time. Our team won the game 10-9 by scoring three runs in the bottom of the 7th inning. Very cool.

The best part of the evening for me happened after the game. When we got home Patti recounted a conversation with a player from another team. He was waiting to bat and asked our crowd who they were cheering for. They said: Community Christian Church. He replied: "Oh, Community Christian, the church with the big heart." And he wasn't just talking about our logo. Let's keep focusing on things that matter most. Let's keep sharing God's big heart with others. They are noticing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kudos to Our Heartland Team

Just wanted to pass on the good work our volunteers are doing in Heartland. Following is a copy of an email from a parent...

_________________

Dear Jean and Nancy,
I called Millie this morning to find out who was in Heartland with our son, Eli. Although he is not 3 yet, he has been enjoying meeting with Heartland for the past month and we see him opening up in many areas. I shared with Millie this;
You two made such a huge impression on Eli with the Bible story David and Goliath. We could barely get in the van after church because he was insistent that we look at "Big Bad Guy, Yellow, Giant" on his Map Book he was holding...which was the best way he could find to describe Goliath...lol. He takes pride in hanging up his Map Book on the fridge so that we don't forget to finish it. And since it is hung at Eli's height, he is reminded of what he was taught that Sunday every morning he enters the kitchen. Last night, although it was getting late, he went on and on about Goliath. So Rick and I decided to view "Greatest Legends and Heroes of the Bible" David and Goliath Movie. Again, he watched it this morning and later at lunch he just had to hold his 'homework'/Map Book while he watched the movie once again. Although his vocabulary is still just a few repetitive words he uses big expressions and acts out whatever you taught him. It brings us great joy to see Eli's excitement for the Lord and bible heroes!!! Even as we headed to the church this morning to meet some friends, Eli had to go get his paper plated basket you made with/for him and take it with us. He loves going to Heartland and learning. We just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you THANK YOU FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR CHILD'S LIFE THROUGH THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST!!!
Love In Christ,
Rick and Annie Dethloff
www.ablessedbunch.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mission Team Update

I tried to write this last night. I wrote about six paragraphs and hit the “send” button and, since my computer had disconnected from the internet without my knowing it, everything was erased. I turned the computer off and went to bed. Tonight I’ll give it another shot.

We are working in the little town of Pearlington, Mississippi. Before the hurricane there were over 850 homes standing, after Katrina there were 30. Only five houses did not have standing water as the result of the storm. The eye of the storm made landfall here, the devastation is amazing.

We went on a tour of the most devastated areas Sunday afternoon. One sight that will stick with me is of a small stick-built home, maybe 1000 square feet, in the immediate area where the levy’s broke. Every window was broken out of the house, the front door was broken. Trash littered the yard. It was, for all intents and purposes, an abandoned home. But as we drove by I look through the broken front door and saw an old man sitting in a chair looking outside. It was a normal day at home for him. Most of the places where houses stood are cement slabs. We’ve heard some incredible stories we’ll be able to share with you when we get home.

The one thing that has impacted all of us is that the three year anniversary of the storm is approaching and there is still so much to be done. Precious few of the homes lost in Pearlington have been rebuilt. We are presently working on four. Our group has been subdivided into four teams, each working on a separate project.

One team painted the interior of an entire house, over the last two days. They are in close contact with the elderly homeowner. He is so excited about moving into his new home. Last night, after our crew left, he came in and primered three rooms so our team could finish their painting today. He is excited to move into his new home in the next few days. It will be his first new home.

One team spent the last two days finishing the kitchen on another home. They installed cabinets, countertops, appliances, and finished the interior trim. Another team has sheetrocked an entire house.

My team spent the last two days finishing the upstairs of a home that will house a new preacher and his family. He is coming to plant a new church in Pearlington. So many seeds have been planted here for the kingdom, and those who have been blessed are responding. Ron (our supervisor) told me today that “Pearlington is on fire for the Lord.” This young ministry family is the next step in creating a long-term presence for the kingdom here. He and his family are planning to move in within a month. They will be sheltered by a home that we helped build. They will be surrounded by passages from God’s word we wrote behind the drywall. They will be blessed by a ministry made possible by YOU. Thank you for making it possible for us to be here – we’re doing our best to be a blessing while we are here. Keep us in your prayers. More later…

Thursday, July 31, 2008

God Sightings!

God seems to always provide the encouragement we need at just the right time. Today has been like raindrops (of encouragement) on my heart.

It started this morning with Miss Gloria. She has a way of just randomly showing up in my office. It is never an interruption, but always a spiritual boost. She shared her excitement of being part of our upcoming mission trip - and in tears - talked about her dreams for Community being fulfilled before her very eyes. Her heart goes before us as we journey outside our walls to bless others.

Ken sent the email about Shawn being baptized (see previous post) which is incredible news. It speaks of a family of Christ-followers reaching out and including one God had sent our way. It is the story of God's grace flowing from one family member to another, helped along by one of God's willing servants. This work of the Spirit holds the promise of transforming the futures of entire families.

Ken later noted, in amazement, the number of new people who have come to Community that are not sitting on the sidelines, but are serving in big and small ways in our ministry. God is bringing spiritual leaders with servant hearts to Community, not just those who are seeking Him for the first time. He is building a foundation of leadership in our Body that will be a springboard for the blessings He intends to provide.

Then Annie Dethloff came in. She commented on how she loved the worship last Sunday and shared with wonder the impact that Heartland had on Eli. He came home and told her the entire Bible story, hand-motions and all - and thanked her for bringing him to church. He will be 3-years-old in October. This is our vision in action. We dream of kids waking their parents up on Sunday mornings begging to come to church.

I could mention two or three other things, but you get the idea. Not every day is like this for me - but the majority are! I think today was just good timing. I pray you are able to lift your gaze occasionally and see God working in this church family - and in your home. When you do, be sure to say "Thank You!"

New Brother in Christ

It is hard to miss God's hand working in our church family. We're blessed have elders, like Ken, who are investing in the spiritual development of our church. Ken sent me the following note this morning.


Hi Brent!

Gotta share this with you... on Sunday, when dropping off my kids at camp for MMAD week, I was approached by Shawn Moore, one of our youth group members. Shawn has been attending CCC for almost a year now, and has really jumped in and become part of the core group. Anyway, Shawn wanted to talk about baptism. He and I had a great talk. He had been talking to his dad for a while about the subject and was looking for some answers.

On Monday, Shawn and I spent some time together doing a pretty intense Bible study on the subject. He decided that he wanted to be baptized on Wednesday. I spoke with his dad on the phone and we made arrangements. Wednesday night Shawn's dad, mom, aunt and cousin all came up to the camp and I had a great time of Bible study with all of them, showing them what I had shared with Shawn on the subject of baptism.

After that, we all went out to the swimming pool (with all of the campers there with us) and Shawn was immersed, accepting Jesus as his Lord and his Savior. What a blessing!! There's more, though... Shawn's dad is convicted that he needs to do the same (and probably would have if he had had a change of clothes...) Stay tuned for developments there...

God is good, and He is busy in our midst!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Honoring Volunteers!

A couple of upcoming events are causing me to take stock of our ministry and the blessing it is for me to lead a congregation like Community. First, I'm preparing to teach three sessions at the Energizing Smaller Churches conference in North Carolina, on "Sharing the Workload." Second, we have eighteen volunteers taking a week of their lives to bless hurricane victims in Slidell, LA. Both of these events have reminded me to be thankful for the incredible team of volunteers that work to bless others every single week!

You may not know how many hours Melissa and Millie put in preparing for Heartland. Or know the hours that David and Juliana log to ensure our worship flows, honors God and is meaningful for each of us. The list of people and ministries I could mention is nearly endless. Think of how many lives are influenced each week by those buying donuts and making coffee; delivering mugs; ministering to our teens; leading our women's ministry; cutting grass; teaching our children; growing our men's ministry; hosting or leading our groups; managing finances; taking care of our facilities or cleaning the bathrooms.

Most things, of any eternal consequence, are happening because of volunteers who are giving up precious hours every week to bless others. We would be offering no meaningful ministry without them. Don't these people have jobs, families, a life? Yes they do. Yet, they have chosen to carve out time to be on mission with God to bless others. They see life through the lens of eternity.

Yes, pray for the team Sunday as we leave for a short-term mission. But please also pray for those volunteers who are on mission here every week, for the long haul... and don't forget to say "Thanks!" Pray that God will lift up the weary arms and strengthen weak knees of the volunteers who serve us, and God, so faithfully.

I'm blessed to work beside you to bear fruit, "fruit that lasts."

"Daily Diggs" kick off today

Is that one cute gopher or what? In Colorado we despised them, but who can hate on a gopher showing off his "hallelujah hands"?

Today kicks off the first edition of our Daily Diggs. "Diggs" are daily opportunities to dig deeper into the "Big Idea" from Sunday and explore how we can put it into practice in our lives.

You should have already received the first "Digg" by email today. If not, check your Junk Email folder. If it's there move it to your Inbox then call me. We need to talk about why church mail is going to your junk folder :-).

I want to thank Sean and Margo, Charlie Fooks, and Steve Raley for all their work. They're committed to helping us stay connected to God and His mission every day. I hope you'll honor their investment in your spiritual development by making an investment of your own. Commit to "Do The Diggs" every day and trust God for the outcome. He'll help each one of us grow up into the image of His Son. Thanks for your part in making it a great day yesterday and for investing in God's future for Community.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Previews of Coming Attractions

I wanted to write to give you a preview of coming attractions at Community. There are some exciting activities coming our way and some important changes. This Fall won't be "business-as-usual" so please read through this entire post to get the full picture.

This Sunday we kick off a new series and our new discipleship process. Our new series is "Fully Alive ." Ignatius (one of the early Church Fathers) said: "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." I believe he's right. A human being living the full, abundant life Jesus came to offer is God's glory. But if that statement is true of individuals, it is also true of God's church. A church "firing on all cylinders" brings God glory and brings Him great pleasure. In this series we'll explore the different aspects of our church life that matter to God and must matter to us. Our first message, Fully Fueled, talks about the vision that fuels Community and drives us into God's future.

Next Week...
Next week you will also begin receiving our "Daily Diggs." The Diggs are daily devotionals, written by our members, based on the "Big Idea" of Sunday's message. They are designed to guide your daily devotional time, help you dig deeper in to Scripture and provide creative ways to apply the material shared on Sundays to your everyday life. These Daily Diggs will come via email (with hard copies on the Welcome Table for those who aren't on our email list). Look for the first installment this Monday morning.

Wednesday Nights... (8/20 and beyond)
Our Wednesday night Bible Classes pick up again on August 20th. Our growth has made it necessary to make some changes. The most noticeable changes will be what happens before our study time. First, the church will no longer be providing meals on Wednesday Evenings. Though we know the blessing of having the family share a meal together, logistically it is not possible for us to provide those meals for our growing family. We do still encourage families to bring their meals and enjoy the fellowship with others prior to our 7:00 PM study time. Second, because of the changes in our class structure, we will no longer have a time of corporate worship before those studies begin.

This Fall we will be offering three distinct adult study opportunities each Wednesday night. We aren't naive enough to believe that everyone is in the same place spiritually or needs the same things to progress on their spiritual journey. Options are good. In that knowledge, we will be offering three different adult study opportunities each Wednesday night. First, Dave Pfingst will be teaching a class titled: "Beginnings." This will be an in-depth Bible study focusing on God's work in fulfilling His promise to Abraham that through him "all nations would be blessed." Second, Brent will facilitate a second equipping study titled: Go Fish! This study will feature DVD teaching content by Andy Stanley. We'll explore the motivation behind sharing our faith. Discover God's heart for those who don't know Him and the role that we can play in introducing others to Him. Along the way each participant will be equipped with tools that will help the make sharing their faith a natural part of their life. Third, Sean and Margo will be leading a Young Adult small group, at the home of Seth and Kristi Friese. This will be a great launch into a new phase of our ministry to young adults in our church and community.

Some other events in the planning stages for this Fall... (Mark your calendars)

Gulf Coast Mission Trip (August 3-9th)
Life Groups Kick Off
(September 7th)
One Month To Live
Series (Sept. 7th - Oct. 5th)
Braveheart Weekend Men's Retreat (October 17-18 - kilts optional)
Senior High Mission Trip to New York City (tentatively October 24-26)

More detailed information on these and other events coming soon.

Brace yourself for an exciting season of ministry at Community.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Softball: Post Season Feedback - Signups

I received a call yesterday afternoon from Darin Kovach. Darin is the President of Wicomico County's Church Softball League. He heard about us from the umpires and officials in the Rec. League. Darin said one umpire, who umps in both the church and rec league, called him and said: "Darin, you aren't gonna believe this. There is church team in the county rec. league. They have more people in the stands on their side of the field than we do (church league) on both sides of the field for our games. They have a great time, a lot of spirit and everyone is talking about them. You should give them a call and try to get them into our league." Darin called to try to get us into a tournament and possibly to provide a team for a Fall church league (if they have enough interest).

Our original reason for joining the rec league, rather than the church league, was to be able to have a positive influence on non-church people's perception of Jesus and His people. Mission accomplished. I just want to say thanks to all of those who played this year. And all those who came out to our games. You really shared something that was very attractive to our community.

There seems to be a lot of interest in playing this Fall. Interest sheets (sign-ups) will be in on the welcome table this week. This might be a great opportunity to invite some unchurched friends to be part of our team(s) as well. If we have enough interest, we'll put a team in the church league and another in the rec. league. Everyone who has an interest, please sign up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Faith Becoming Known II

I just have to preface this post by saying we have a lot of fun playing softball. We have great fans and there are a lot of great guys on our team that are enjoying playing the game together. I would also be remiss if I didn't come clean and say, we're not very good. We have not won a single game this season. Truth is, we might have a better record if we had played in the "church league." But we made a decision to play in the county league because we wanted to have a chance to interact with our community. Our hope is that there just might be more to this thing than wins and losses.

Last night one young man from another team had just doubled off the fence. He came into second base and was standing there with his hands on his knees catching his breath. Guys on our team started encouraging him: "nice shot," "great job." He looked at me and said: "I really love playing against you guys!" To which Shawn Adams, playing second base, replied: "Every team loves playing against us." Both statements are true! The young guys was commenting on how encouraging we were and how you don't see much of that with some of the other teams. It was one of those moments that reminded me why it is worth enduring the pain of losing night after night...God is up to something.

Earlier this season, between games of a double-header, we had 50 or 60 people from church gather beside the field for a cook out. We were just enjoying being together. One of the employees of the park later said: "I love that you guys did that. That is what this park was designed for. Your people are having fun together and people are noticing and talking about it."

Having having fun, building relationships, watching God work through us ... even at 0-and-18 ... Life is Good!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Faith Becoming Known

I received a phone call yesterday from a representative of Roanoke Bible College in Elizabeth City, NC. Patti took the call, expecting a request to come and speak to our teens about attending their school. Yet, the request we received was quite different.

It seems that Standard Publishing is conducting a regional seminar on RBC's campus entitled, Energizing Smaller Churches. It is an equipping opportunity for church leaders in the eastern US who serve churches with 200 or fewer in attendance. It seems that those putting together this seminar have "heard about how God is working at Community" and wanted to invite me to be a presenter.

My first reaction, after hanging up the phone was to laugh out loud. I appreciate the invite, but I think their vetting process needs some work. The reality is, if I actually felt like I had anything to offer (i.e., knew what I was doing), I might accept. But most weeks it feels more like God is doing His thing, and I'm just trying to keep up or, more accurately, stay out of His way. That's not a bad place to be but I'm just not sure that's the "how-to" stuff they are looking for.

Then it hit me... "the way outsiders view Community is changing." These people didn't know me from Adam, but they had heard what God was doing in this church. That brought a smile to my face. God is working, people are noticing the transformation, and God is being praised. That is the vision of our church - individually and collectively. During the smile-fest, God reminded me of something Paul said to the Christians in Rome: "Let me say first of all that your faith in God is becoming known..." Romans 1:8. Very, very cool.

Pray for wisdom as I decide what to do with this invitation. I don't really need another thing to do. Yet, if this is an opportunity to glorify God by talking about how He is working in our church and, at the same time, a chance to encourage the hearts of other leaders, it might be a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Series: Retro Church

For newcomers, going to church can feel like stepping out of a time-machine into another world with a foreign language, strange teachings and traditions from a distant century. If we've been in church for a while these activities can become so familiar they lose their sense of wonder. But the question remains: What relevance do any of these ancient practices have to my life? Shouldn't we just flag them as outdated and move on? Yet, they seemed to be at the heart of the life of the first-century church, but do they have value for us? How do attitudes and approaches of the ancient church mesh with our own? We’ll dig deeper to discover where these ancient teachings and traditions came from and why they are still important for us.

June 29 What’s The Skinny on the Dip? Baptism

Baptism seems like a really weird event to someone one who hasn’t bee raised in a Christian home. Yet, baptism was an important marker in the lives of the earliest Christ-followers. In this message we’ll explore what the Bible says about this strange, yet meaningful, expression of faith.


July 6
They Expect Me To Pay For That? Communion
What’s the deal with the juice and cracker and why does it matter to my life and my spiritual journey? In this message we’ll explore one of the “rites” of Christianity that binds us together as family and helps focus our hearts on Jesus Christ.


July 13
Excuse Me, Are You In My Seat?” Hospitality
Making room for others is not easy for us. Yet, the early Christ-followers found ways to make space for others in their families, around their tables and in their worship. This message explores how we can recapture the art hospitality in an impersonal world.


July 20
Isn’t Faith A Personal Thing? Evangelism
Some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples called them to go and share their new-found faith with others – and they did. The church grew and the number of disciples multiplied and eventually, through the generations, it has come to us. How can we be the bridge that Jesus calls us to be to future generations in a culture that seems hostile to our message?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting Things Together

The part of the elephant we are eating this summer is to "pull different discipleship activities into one unified process for spiritual growth." Churches often do many activities that have a goal of helping people grow spiritually. These activities include: Worship, Preaching, Bible Classes, Small Groups, Ladies Classes, Retreats, Seminars, Book Clubs, Daily Devotionals, etc., just to name a few. In any given week the number of different messages these activities can generate is overwhelming. We might get one message in our Bible study, another message in the sermon, another during a Lord's Supper devotional and another during our small group. This makes all of them difficult to remember and even more difficult to apply. As one writer noted, they become a bed of nails. Lie down on a thousand nails and they won't penetrate the skin. Why? The pressure of each point is diffused by all the others around it. Too many different messages often won't penetrate our hearts and bring real change.

Therefore, our goal (with the "Fully Alive" series beginning July 27th) is to identify one “Big Idea” each week that is important to the spiritual growth of attendees and members, then use a number of weekly activities to reinforce that one message.

Toward this end we have several teams that are working hard to bring this process together. If you have a specific interest in one of these teams, please contact the team leader.

Preaching Team.
Each week’s work begins with the Preaching Team and flows to other work groups from there. This team meets weekly to plan, brainstorm and formulate the big ideas, texts, and outlines for Sunday messages and define desired outcomes in the hearts and lives of the listeners. This team meets every Thursday from 3:00-5:00 PM. During each meeting the team discusses a message that will be preached two months in the future. Members of this team include: Brent Brady (lead), Sean McCarthy, Jim Waldo and Jay Sessoms (apprentice). When this group's work is completed it is given to the Discipleship Team, Worship Team and Resource Team so they can complete their piece of the process.

Discipleship Team. This team is responsible for creating five daily devotionals and one small group study each week which accent the "Big Idea." Each daily devotional consists of a Bible reading and 4-6 questions that encourage personal study and life application. The small group experience will allow further discussion and specific application of the Sunday morning message. Team members include Sean McCarthy (lead),Steve Raley, Charlie Fooks, and Michele Keeton.

Worship Planning Team: This team provides creative content and flow which ensure that our Sunday morning worship clearly communicates and reinforces the week's "Big Idea." Team members include Juliana Smith (lead), David Smith, Brent Brady, and Sean McCarthy.

Research Team: This team provides research items (i.e., articles, illustrations, quotes, insights, etc) to the above teams which, when appropriate, will be integrated into the final work each group produces. This team works independently and does not have formal meetings. Team members include: Brent Brady (lead), Bill Hill, and Anne Bass.

We wanted you to know that many people are working behind to ensure that Community provides relevant environments where you can continue your quest to "follow Jesus so closely that your life is changing to be like His."

Eating the Elephant

The old adage asks: "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer, "One bite at a time." I love that. It reminds us that most of the challenges we face in life are too large to tackle in one sitting. Success comes by making steady, intentional progress over the long haul. This is true in raising our kids, planning for retirement, enriching our marriages and growing a church.

A year-and-a-half ago our leaders began eating the elephant of transforming our church family. We had a vision for a healthy growing church that is welcoming newcomers, growing disciples and impacting our community. The elephant was big. God's dreams usually are. One thing we were sure of was that if we tried to do everything at once, with our limited resources, it was a recipe for failure. We knew we had to break this task into bite size pieces, find a logical starting place, and go to work.

One obvious, and often forgotten, part of this approach is that we will always see things that need our attention that we haven't gotten to. It is easy to see the parts of the elephant that haven't been eaten yet. I think one of the challenges of the adage is not to be overwhelmed and discouraged by looking at what has yet to be accomplished but to keep making steady progress "convinced that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion" (Phil. 1:5-7).

The first course of our renewal was a focus on our Foyer. The foyer is the place we are welcoming guests. With God's provision, we have spent the last year upgrading our facilities, refining our follow-up processes, lifting the level of our worship experience and learning to be good hosts. We have worked hard, and there is more to do. God is blessing our efforts and new families are connecting with our congregation. Our foyer is functioning well. Yet, we realize what we have just eaten is not the whole elephant. In other words, none of our leaders are interested in being a welcoming church with no spiritual depth, where no lives are changing, which is making no impact on our community. Therefore...

This summer marks a shift in focus in our transformation process, a second course. We are stepping down from our Foyer to focus on the Living Room. The living room is where our members do life together. The living room is the place where we truly focus on God's work of life-transformation, becoming more like Jesus. Our leaders are committed to be a church whose members are concerned about the things God is concerned about. Sean has come on board to help carry this burden. Tomorrow I'll share with you some exciting first steps that you will begin to see the week of July 27th.

Till then, keep praying for Community and eating the elephant of God's purpose for your life, one bite at a time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reality Check

I love our church. Amy Pfingst just came into my office and said "I have a reality check for you."

The backstory is that each person was given a flower yesterday as they entered our worship service. In the message from Jonah 4 I talked about how Jonah's concerns and God's concerns were very different. Jonah was concerned about a vine that he had not planted, tended or caused to grow, and only had a short-life span. He loved it because it provided him some temporary relief and comfort. In the story God was ultimately concerned about people who would spend an eternity somewhere. I asked each person to let their flower represent the things that kept them from sharing God's concern. I told the hearers to take the flower home, don't water it, and as it dries, turns brown and withers to let it be a reminder that the things we're most concerned about are often temporary and also to remind us to invest our lives in people.

Now it gets interesting. Amy said that on their way home yesterday Hannah (a seven-year-old with a green thumb) reminded her mother that they must put the flower in water as soon as they get home. Amy tried valiantly to explain my point and informed Hannah that they would not be watering the flower. Hannah repeatedly objected and and again asked "Why?". Amy responded: "Because Mr. Brent said so." Then Danny's voice came booming from the back seat (Danny is a six-year-old with Mike as a role model) "Mr. Brent is Not God!" I almost fell off my chair.

What can we learn from this little exchange. First, it is true - in fact - I am not God. A surprise to many of you I'm sure, but Danny is correct. Second, this exchange is a wonderful illustration of Jonah 4. If I had used the illustration I originally thought of I would have been run out of town on a rail. I almost bought a small tree and set it on the stage, and left it there untended to die. Not a good idea. Besides, some of you would have begun sneaking around and watering it anyway. Why? Because, I'm with Hannah, it just seems wrong to let something whither and die from neglect. But sometimes our compassions getsa little out of whack. Here's a question: how much compassion can we muster for any one of the 155,000 individuals who will leave this planet today - or the other 6 billion who will eventually?