Thursday, June 26, 2008
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
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
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
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."
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
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?
I’ve come to the point where I confidently believe that being relevant to our culture, and the people around us is not an option. Being relevant means that what we do as followers of Jesus, as a Church need to make sense and matter to unbelievers. We can’t forget the love that Jesus has for those who haven’t decided to come to Him yet. The Bible says that they are like lost sheep and He is willing to go after them. Not only does He go after them, he commissioned the Church to go after them and this is where relevance becomes more than just a good thought.There’s this close friend of mine named Legesse Awoke. He’s from
It hit me, we, the Church; speak a different language and the result is that we leave others out! And I’m not just talking about the words we use, but they way we don’t explain things, the way we assume people know things in the Bible, the way we expect them to fall in line when they come into the church building
I even think about how God models relevance to us. God looked at us and realized we had strayed, but what did He do? He came down here Himself to be relevant to us. I think about the Bible – God spoke to us using human language – we know that the Bible talks about some kind of spiritual angelic language that we could never speak or know, but God chose to speak to us in human language. Not to mention the work He is allowing and protecting with Bible translation to all languages in the world! I even think about the story where God spoke to the Israelites and they trembled, and were scared to death! So God said, “Alright, I’ll just speak through Moses from now on.” Because God wants to be relevant to us!
Shouldn’t we follow Jesus? Jesus was relevant, how can we be? Until next time my faithful readers.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I ask this question because it seems like there is an ongoing tug of war among Christians about relevance. I know that some people are so afraid that being relevant is going to water down the message of Christ, but I’ve always thought that it doesn’t have to. I think one of the major causes of these arguments comes down to a definition of a word that is thrown around too carelessly. It’s the word “worldly.” We throw that word around as an insult but what does it really mean? I was looking through Bible verses in different versions that used the word worldly and I noticed that every time it was used it was always describing an attitude of a “me-focused world.” Every time you look up that word it has to do with a mindset that we all struggle with, the mind set that everything in this world is here for me. It’s forgetting that the world is bigger than us.
The word worldly is never used to describe a style, words we use, places or events it’s a mind set, an attitude that people get stuck in. Relevance does not mean we are watering down the message for a “worldly” substitute. Relevance means that we live life in the same world, speaking the same language, and embracing the same culture. For some reason, someone once thought that being a Jesus follower meant that you abandoned the culture you were in and created some sort of Christian sub-culture where we have similar music, but it’s just not as good, we have similar clothes, but they just have cheesy pro Jesus sayings on them – and some how we still live there in that thought pattern. In the thought pattern that Christianity cannot blend with the current culture we live in but it’s simply not true. In fact one of the most beautiful things about faith in Jesus is that it’s a faith that translates into any and every culture. I’ve learned that we are so much more influential and accomplish the mission of Jesus when we live with unbelievers rather than living in spite of them
So the question that scares me the most is what happens if we aren’t relevant? What are the consequences? What are we missing out on that God has planned for us because we’re too busy fighting over trivial stuff? More importantly, how are the people God has put in our lives suffering from our stubbornness? So how can we be relevant? We’ll talk about that next time.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Climate Control: Conditions of a
Even if we can't change the weather, we can alter the atmosphere of the church.
After twenty-two years of pastors' conferences, I have heard my share of formulas for church growth, revival, and renewal. I have done the "pastoral drool" while listening to stories of skyrocketing attendance. I, too, have visited other churches hoping to find the key to growth. But the only church growth I had ever experienced was the plodding, gradual growth that no one writes books about. It seemed a dream for us to consistently have more than five hundred on Sunday morning. Then it happened! We started seeing our monthly attendance rates 30 percent ahead of the previous year. Before we could get used to that, we found ourselves with more than seven hundred in worship. How did it happen? The disconcerting thing was that we really could not put our finger on any single cause.
It began to dawn on me that what attracted these people, more than anything else, was our "climate." Realizing how intangible that word is, I began to analyze it, and I discovered we had encouraged the components of a growth climate for several years without even realizing it. From our experiences and those of other growing churches, I've identified six atmospheric conditions that contribute to growth. These are the elements common to growing churches regardless of their specific programs.
1. A Positive Atmosphere
Growing churches emphasize what God can do, not what we cannot do . . . what is best in people, not what is worst . . . how we can build each other up, not tear each other down.
This has to begin at a personal level. Every church has an ample supply of negative people. What is desperately needed to balance these are other individuals who practice a positive faith in their walk with God as well as their relationships with people.
The runaway bestseller, The One-Minute Manager, reminded us to be eager to catch people doing something right rather than always looking for something wrong. That spirit is catching! When individuals with that attitude relate both to other individuals as well as God, a climate of expectation can begin to build. The emphasis in a church can begin to shift toward what we can do with God's help. Challenges can be dreamed and accepted.
The burden in creating a climate of trust rests on the ones wanting to be trusted, not the one being asked to trust. You don't command trust; you earn it. At the risk of sounding trite, it must be said that trust exists when people are trustworthy. There is no magic to trustworthiness. For church leaders, it means "going by the book." It means being willing to "lose" graciously on an idea and not seek other means of implementing my plan. It means living by the budget and not seeking to get what I want by "special gifts." If I were to lock horns with our lay leadership or congregation on an issue I felt could not be compromised, I would either have to openly persuade them to my position or leave. I would never resort to underhanded means of getting my way. Trust is too important to take that lightly.
Excellence in ministry is not one arbitrary line that measures all situations. Instead, excellence is each of us, individually and congregationally, doing our best with the unique resources and limitations we have. Too often we've made peace with mediocrity, rationalizing our substandard efforts. Our goal must always be our best in every part of ministry. This emphasis on excellence is nothing more than being consistent with the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). God deserves our best-whether in the way bulletins are printed or how sermons are preached-and that level of excellence is a key ingredient in a climate of growth. If people know we will be at our best in ministry, methods, and facilities, they respond.
4. Oriented to Outreach
Many churches establish an anti-growth climate without even realizing it by allowing their predominant focus to become the needs of those already in the church. This, I'll admit, is the easiest path to follow, but it will not produce growth. The mentality of a growing church is continually one of reaching out to others. Even the personal development of current members will be seen in light of increasing their ability to genuinely care about others and minister to them. The minute we start to plan for others rather than for ourselves we create a climate where we develop and the church will grow.
The willingness to experiment, to innovate, and even to fail are part of flexibility. You cannot program this spirit, nor can you command it, but a few people placed in key positions can model it. Both by their own flexibility as well as their ability to allow (even encourage) such flexibility in others, the attitude can spread.
Another element is the ability to adapt. Almost no program is so good that it never needs to be changed. That means we must try to understand the people we are trying to reach and plan events to reach them where they are. When the climate is right, when risks are allowed and even traditional events can be adapted, it helps develop sensitivity to the changing culture around us, which is essential to effective ministry and church growth.
6. A Serving Spirit
In a sense, the serving spirit is a summary of a growth climate. Where people truly want to serve and minister, they will be positive, trustworthy, devoted to excellence, oriented to outreach, and flexible. Just about everything in our society, however, militates against this spirit. It takes a conscious effort to serve rather than be served. We are encouraged today to look out for ourselves or be "fulfilled" (whatever that means). This attitude easily turns our relationship to God around 180 degrees. Instead of asking what we can do for God, we find ourselves wondering what God can do for us. Christians raised on a pop faith that suggests God is little more than a handy 24-hour heavenly banking service find it hard to relate to words like service, or worse yet, sacrifice.
Thus in church we catch ourselves asking if people want to serve. Put that way, of course, many choose not to, and so dies the growth climate. A better way is to start with the assumption that God's people will serve. That is a given. The question is not if people will serve, but where and how they will serve. That assumption and commitment to service is the necessary mindset for growth.
Again, these components of a growth climate can not be programmed. Rather, they can only be practiced and modeled. They will not begin with action but with attitudes. They will not be limited to certain settings but will be applicable to all situations. Whatever style church growth may take, underneath will be an atmosphere that is positive, trusting and trustworthy, devoted to excellence, oriented to outreach, flexible, and committed to service.
The beauty is that a growth climate does not have to wait for action by the official board. One individual can begin to model the components of this climate and have an incredible influence.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I just have to say that I thought Brent’s message yesterday was powerful and moving! It was from the book of Jonah and it really stood out to me because the crux of the message was centered around a word that is used frequently when talking about faith and spiritual things… the word “change.”
Now I didn’t grow up in the Church but as soon as I became part of it I’ve heard this word consistently – and honestly being a true follower of Jesus means that you are a changed person. But when hearing this word change it was always about “us” being changed by “God.” And I’m not saying that this concept isn’t true because it totally is, but I was inspired and moved by hearing yesterday that sometimes we change God’s mind. If that sentence seems to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing straight up, just hold on for a second, don’t attack yet! It’s not that we ever will change God’s big plan (big “P”) – God will never change what’s written in His Word, but it’s that we can change God’s plan (small “p”) in how He will deal with a situation in life.
And it makes so much more sense to me now. Not only does it make sense, it’s freeing, it’s inspiring to hear that because it’s proof that my prayers actually matter! If this concept is not true, than how do we explain Abraham pleading with God not to destroy the city of
It’s like this amazing spiritual intersection that we cross into. It’s in this intersection that we realize that the Christian life isn’t just us responding to God, but that it’s also God responding to us! Our prayers aren’t us just typing words into a computer system called “God” and God being this system that processes our prayers and spits back the automated response. No, God’s an actual being with a working mind and heart. It’s in this intersection that we really see how beautiful our relationship with Him is. What a great message. What a great God.
Dear Brent and Patti and Church Family,
Sometimes when a person performs an act of kindness it can catch us off guard and we tend to trip over our own tongue trying to express how deeply moved we are and how beautiful those people are to us. . Somehow, my fingertips find the words flowing from them more freely able to express that which my heart holds dearly to, yet my tongue can not convey.
Everyone at CCC has shown themselves to be beautiful people….the church body as a whole has touched our family deeply on many occasions. God has blessed us beyond our imagination throughout Isaac’s adoption journey. He taught us, guided us, supplied us, and blessed us in a multitude of ways. Far to many to write out, but almost a shame not to share. They are blessings we want to shout from the mountain tops, Praising His Name!!! One blessing we must share is that through our darkest time when our adoption for our daughter failed God not only blessed us with a baby boy, Isaac, but with a new church family as well. It is no mistake but by God’s design only to have Isaac welcomed by CCC and the beautiful people that make up the body.
We would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt thanks, gratitude, and humility to everyone of you, for; Encouragement and prayer to keep us strong and press on through the journey, the out pour of questions and concern, the care for Eli while we were away in Guatemala, the welcome home, the gifts, the Baby Blessing Shower, the awesome cake, the dinners you provided, holding Isaac in your arms and loving on him, and the heart of Christ we see in each and everyone of you. We may be small in number as a church, but God lives large in us! Thank you for being part of Isaac’s Journey Home!!!
Your Friends In Christ,
The Dethloff Family
Thursday, June 12, 2008
How can we tell if our vision for transformed lives is leaking away? Andy Stanley says, leaders can spot leakage by listening for three things:
The first is prayer requests. What people pray for tells us more than anything else whether people are locked into the vision and priorities of the church. When a group (class, leaders meeting, LIFE Group, etc) gathers in prayer, are the only prayer requests for sick people? Andy writes: "When I'm in such a meeting, I say, 'Whoa, is anybody in this group burdened for broken people or their unchurched or unsaved friend? Yes, let's pray for the sick people. Now, what else can we pray for?'" In our public, small group and private prayer times let's pray for people's emotional, relational, and spiritual needs - as well as their physical needs. Let's pray for people's whole-life transformation.
The second indicator of vision leakage is stories of great things happening in people's lives. If there are no stories, then maybe our vision for life transformation has leaked. It's not that God's isn't working, maybe we've just been distracted and haven't noticed. It is a gift to God and to one another when we notice what He is doing and share the stories of His mights acts with one another. When was the last time you shared what God is doing in your life or in the lives of those you love?
The third indicator of vision leakage is what people complain about. If people are complaining about the wrong stuff, then vision is leaking. When they complain about the music, or the parking, or the carpet, or that the church is too big, or there are too many people they don't know, we can respond, "I know. God is blessing us." But it's a sign of vision leakage. What am I most tempted to complain about? In a moment of self-reflection I can say, often things that have more to do with my comfort or preferences and less to do with fulfilling God's mission in the lives of people.
We know it, vision leaks; churches drift. I hope being aware of these indicators will help us, as individual Christ-followers and as a church, to give our attention to things that matter eternally. Community is an awesome church with an incredible future. May God give us eyes to see and the courage to embrace those things that matter most to Him.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Andy Stanley, in an article titled: "Vision Leaks" identifies three things that distract a church from their vision. The first distraction he identifies is success.
"Success means your options multiply. Size increases complexity, and complexity can confuse vision. Our church was at its most efficient when there were just six of us sitting around the table. Everybody knew and understood everything. It was as smart and efficient as the organization has ever been. This efficiency leads to success, and success gives birth to complexity, the enemy of efficiency and vision. Many churches become successful organizations where everyone is busy, but they've lost connection with the vision."
Things sure have gotten more complex around here in the last couple of years. I'm sure I'll get back to doing the job I was hired for, as soon as I remember what it was. The good news is that stability is returning to many parts of our congregation. A new leadership is in place, new staff members hired, and an opportunity for continued spiritual development is before us.
God's call is for each of us to lay aside the distractions and rekindle His purposes for our lives and reignite His vision for our church family. May the Spirit empower us to "show God's love in such a way that people would exchange ordinary living for an extraordinary life through the transforming power of Jesus Christ."
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I spent the first full day in the office with Sean - I'm already tired of him - I've started looking for the receipt :-). Might as well stop, I don't know where to return him to anyway.
We have a lot of great things planned during a summer that culminates with a mission trip to the Gulf Coast. There will be a lot of hard-working days and Hot Summer Nights. So...let's have some fun, enjoy our spiritual family, serve like Jesus, and just do life together.
I'm glad to be home (and glad to be working with Sean - and with you). I hope your summer is off to a great start. Let's make it one to remember!