How I Approach Church – Part 2

I am continuing on with Part 2 of How I Think About and Approach Our Church Services.

Continued from Part 1

I truly believe God has a purpose for our church services. While each and every service may have a different focus or flavor, I have discovered a consistent, biblical pattern for our gatherings. It is a template of sorts. Throughout the Word I find three primary values with corresponding exercises.  The source of these understandings is from Paul’s purpose statement in Colossians 2.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2,3

First Value: Each service must be Uplifting“encouraged in heart”

Paul’s desire is that the church would be encouraged.   He wanted this to happen for those in Colosse; those in Laodicea and even for those that he did not yet know or had not met him personally. This is a broad prayer with even broader implications.

We’ve all seen a bride that is happy and fulfilled.  There is a certain glow about them that communicates an encouraged heart.  That same sense is evident in an encouraged church. Of course, the opposite is obvious also.  A church that is discouraged and defeated rarely has a viable witness to the community.  Encouragement is contagious and captivating.  Our church services ought to be that way – they ought to be the most positive and uplifting places in town. Of course, they don’t have to be ‘syrupy’ or ‘sappy sweet’ – they have to be based in reality, and yet, they do not have to drop into a place of ‘doom and gloom’. The goal is that people would be encouraged.

My heart is to facilitate uplifting services and deliver uplifting messages.  This does not exclude the appropriate and timely ‘strong word’. But even that must flow from a right heart and ought not be expressed in anger or wrath.  To challenge the church body is often very uplifting if done with a right heart and motives.

The heart is the key to uplifting services.  It will dictate the tone. It will determine the temperature.

I have discovered that nothing sets the tone as well as worship.  A worship lifestyle and worship expression in our services is so important in establishing Kingdom presence.  Worship engages our spirit and encourages our heart.  People will often enter into the sanctuary with heavy burdens and intense pain.  In the midst of true worship, healing and restoration often takes place.  There is the transfusion of strength and courage in the midst of distress and depression.  Despite the situation, the individual can say, “It is well with my soul!”

To be continued…

How I Approach Church – Part 1

A couple days ago Denise and I took the kids to an indoor water park.

Fun? Yes.
Relaxing? Not on your life.

Because I am a student of people, I had a blast just observing folks. I love watching how they interact, play, talk and fight. I especially enjoyed engaging in conversation with the young adult workers that were at each of the tubes and wading pools. I made note of the ones that really loved what they were doing, in contrast to those that just did it for a few bucks and the opportunity to wear shorts to work. Many of them were pretty lifeless and uninspired, but there were a few that really had a spark in their eyes and a bounce to their step. They made it fun. Their energy was contagious.

I think servants of the Most High Lord Jesus ought to be like that. Church ought to be the best place in the world to be (having a wave pool in the lobby may help that some!).

For the next handful of weeks I would like to use this space to communicate what I think makes West Salem Foursquare Church an energetic and contagious place.
The following is Part 1 of a 4-part series.

HOW I THINK ABOUT AND APPROACH
OUR CHURCH SERVICES
@ WEST SALEM FOURSQUARE

It has been said that 90% of life is just showing up. I know that it’s an overly simplistic way to approach church services, however, I have found it to be predominately true! For me to just ‘show up’ is a step in the right direction and provides a vessel that the Holy Spirit could choose to work through. It goes without saying that God works through willing and available instruments. 2 Chronicles 16 tells us that, “The eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

That, however, takes ‘showing up’ to another level. God is looking for full commitment. Our church services require that and the people that gather for services deserve that. We can show up physically and really not be there emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. Because of this value, I have determined in my heart to approach each weekend service with the purpose of truly ‘showing up’ and I am blessed by servant volunteers that do as well! This does not ignore low points or uninspired moments. It is, however, about making certain adjustments prior to stepping into the pulpit (or any place of service) so that the instrument of God is properly cleaned and ready – so that the vessel of God has been purified and useful to the Lord.

For this reason, church for me begins the moment I get into my truck on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning and drive the short distance to our facility. I use that time to emotionally “ready” my heart. I ask for cleansing of sin and rightness of relationship with God. I discern misalignment that perhaps exists between me and God and I seek forgiveness. The goal is not to merely “deal with it” so that God blesses, but rather, to open myself up to the finger of God in identifying areas of sin, because I want to be in right relationship with my Maker regardless of my pastoral position and forthcoming duty. It’s not a matter of role, but a matter of relationship. When I pull into the church parking lot I will transition from “emotionally readying my heart” to the second phase of my preparation: prayerfully “rallying” the people. I will often park my car in the farthest point of our parking area not only to leave closer spots available for others but also to “make a sweep” prayerfully as I walk the distance to the front doors. I boldly ask God to draw his people. Shortly thereafter I will intercede as I walk in and through the seating, hallways, classrooms and meeting spaces. This not only for the preparation of the peoples hearts but to prepare my heart for how I may be used to minister to specific people or situations. I will often sense prophetic words or points of direction for a particular service as I intercede throughout the facility.

This has all been prior to the actual start of the church service. But like a good foundation on a home, I believe this time is valuable and necessary to the establishment of a strong framework of Kingdom dynamics within the service. It paves the way for the Holy Spirit to accomplish his work in and through his people and for God’s purposes to be realized.

I truly believe God has a purpose for our church services. While each and every service may have a different focus or flavor I have discovered a consistent, biblical pattern for our gatherings. It is a template of sorts. Throughout the Word I find three primary values with corresponding exercises. The source of these understandings is from Paul’s purpose statement in Colossians 2.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2,3

Part 2 continues next week.

Hard Bleachers and a Great God

I had a flashback last night.

Sitting in the Walker Middle School gymnasium for my son’s band concert took me back many years. It was more than the locker room smell. It was more than the hard plastic bleachers. It was more than the cackling girls and “trying to be macho” boys running around.

It had to do with the Band Teacher. I couldn’t stop watching him – animated and engaged. He loves the music. He loves teaching the music and hearing the music being played by young people. I could see the twinkle in his eyes from the angle of my bleacher seat.

I’ve seen that twinkle before…

It was in the eyes of Mr. Dwight Kinne.

He was my band and choir teacher (not to mention my parents band and choir teacher as well). He was my mentor and one of the most admired men in my life. He is now with the Lord but I think about him often and wonder if I am making that kind of impact upon those I come into contact with.

As I sat in that sparsely-filled gym, I was deeply moved. I leaned over to Denise and told her that I was getting “kinda emotional” (that’s guy talk) because I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Kinne. Every morning of my junior year I had a Music Appreciation course with him. I was the only student. When I walked into the band room he, without fail, would say: “How are you John?” Most often I would respond with a “Fine” or a “Good.” He would classically look me straight in the eyes and yell: “Fine…good…that’s it? How ‘bout GREAT?!?” A teenage smile would form on my face and I would sheepishly reply: “Yah, I’m GREAT!”

He would put his arm around me, we’d walk into his office and we’d talk about life and music while listening to big band records. Now I’m “kinda emotional” again as I write this.

Dear loved ones: I wish I could put an arm around each one of you right now. I wish each of us could sit and talk about life, work, family and God. I’m certain some of you would say you’re “fine” or “good”. Others would say life has been hard and relationships are painful. Some have experienced the hardship of a lost jobs or salary reduction. Still others might be struggling deeply through despair and frustration. You may not be feeling “GREAT,” but will you hear me when I say: Our God IS great. He is powerful and alive. He is working on your behalf and ministering to his loved ones (that’s you) whether you know it or not.

There in that sweaty gym, on those hard bleachers, I gave thanks again to my GREAT God. By the way, HE has a twinkle in HIS eyes as well…it is a burning, passionate love for us, his children.

What God Uses To Grow Us

I sat down a couple days ago and mused on some of the key things that really cause us to grow in the Lord. There are obvious aspects such as our time in the Word, corporate worship, prayer, etc. Those ought to be givens. Right?  But then there are the “other things”. The tough things. The stuff that we’d all like to avoid, but let’s admit it…in hindsight…we’ve grown as a result of having those experiences. Here are six of them that I came up with for my own life (and I think is representative of so many others):

1.  Pain
C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

2.  People
Dr. Kent M. Keith says, “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.  People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.”

3. Finances
Billy Graham says, “Next to the Bible, the second most theological document is our checkbook.”

4.  Failure
John Maxwell says something to the effect, “If you fall down, while you’re there, pick something up.”

5.  Crisis

Someone once said, “People are like tea bags. If you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water!”

6.  Change

I love what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

What are some other things that God uses to grow YOU?

Essential Church

picture-2

What do you think of Shaw’s comment? Is the church vital and essential? Is it the only movement on the earth that represents Jesus? Thoughts?

A Kid Named Mitch

I’ve heard it said so many times (and I’ve been one to say it from time to time as well):  “If this entire event was for just that one person, then it was totally worth it.”  Down deep though I have to admit that I haven’t always felt like that.  When a great deal of energy, time, money, and emotion has been expended and a single person comes to know Christ or a very small group shows up it can be deflating. Pastors and leaders will often put a nice spin on it by saying, “Well, praise the Lord, it was worth it for that one soul!” but then walk away shaking their heads wondering why they gave so much for so little response. 

This last weekend we had so much snow fall and ice covered the roads to such a degree that our church that averages 1300 in 3 services was a like that of a small group Bible Study.  At the 9 am service, I was literally “preaching to the choir”. For one brief moment I wondered why I put so much time into my sermon and if we should just huddle up, sing Kumbaya and go home. But then it happened…

I remembered a youth meeting about 20 years ago

and a kid named Mitch.

I had been cranking for a couple days on a killer teaching, some silly games, worship and a powerful altar call.  Then kids started calling into the church office saying they couldn’t make it that night for youth group (homework, sick, sports, no ride, etc. etc). I was bummed.  When 7 pm hit only one kid walked into the youth room. His name was Mitch. I pasted a smile on my face, made some small talk and waited a bit to see who else would show.  Nobody did. Just Mitch.

The Holy Spirit did something in me that night that shaped my ministry in those early years and continues to govern how I function.  The Spirit spoke inaudibly yet so clearly: “If you don’t value this child of mine with the best of your energy I won’t give you any more.”  I took a breath and started the most important youth meeting of my life. As I wrapped up a passionate message and prayer time with Mitch, I knew I had been obedient and that the heavens were smiling.  As Mitch heading out the door to his parents car, he said to me:  “Thanks Pastor John, this was a really great night. I’m glad I came.”

From that night I on something happened in that youth group. It grew. No actually, it grew a lot.  The lessons learned on that night were amazing. I am so thankful for them.

So, as I stood this last weekend in a huge auditorium before a smattering of brave folks with 4-wheel drive, I thought of Mitch.  At the altar call time, I fully expected no responses to my overt Christmas salvation message. On Saturday evening there was one. One Sunday at 9 am there was one.  And at the 11 am there were three.  Thank you Jesus.  It WAS totally worth it.

Signs of a Lukewarm Pastor by Craig Groeschel

Give some consideration to what Craig Groeschel, in his blog calls Signs of a Lukewarm Pastor:

A lukewarm pastor:

• Prays as much, or more, publicly than privately.

• Is almost exclusively dependent on others’ sermons to preach than directly hearing from God.

• Cares more about his church than The Church.

• Preaches about evangelism but doesn’t practice evangelism privately.

• Tolerates and rationalizes unconfessed sin.

• Preaches for the approval of people rather than the approval of God.

• Is overly sensitive to criticism.

• Harbors bitterness and unforgiveness.

• Reads the Bible to prepare sermons but not for personal devotion to God.

• Is jealous or critical of someone else that God is blessing.

What a list. Without question, there are a couple here that will convict even the best of Christians. Yet, it’s important for us as leaders to do inventories such as this in order to determine our “heat level”. Are we lukewarm? The Book of Revelation speaks to that quite clearly. We do not want God to spew us out!! Let’s work to be red hot in our relationship to Jesus and in our effectiveness in ministry.

Any thoughts? Feedback?

DMB & Tribes

I remember the moment so clearly. Years ago I was sitting in a car with a buddy of mine from Canada. We had just come from lunch and he wanted to play me a song on his car CD player.  It felt like I was in the Brady Bunch…just listening to the newest tunes on Greg Brady’s record player. My buddy said, “You’ve got to hear this band.” What proceeded out of the speaker system captured me.  It was a song by an eclectic, self-named group:  Dave Matthews Band. I had never heard of them before and certainly had never heard a rock band use violins and woodwinds. It was magical.  I never forgot the moment. It was the start of my journey in the DMB tribe. 

 

Years later, my wife and I and two other couples (some of our best friends on the planet) took a long road trip to The Gorge. The Gorge is a premiere concert venue in the middle of Washington State. Each Labor Day weekend thousands of DMB followers flock to The Gorge for a weekend of music and togetherness. It was surreal. Pure devotion unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any church service (and I’ve been in quite a few of them). They didn’t have FANS they had FOLLOWERS. They were a part of the DMB Tribe – perhaps recently or perhaps since the beginning…regardless, they were followers. 

 

This morning I was sitting in my truck before grabbing some coffee and I began to read the notes on the inside artwork of a Dave Matthews Band greatest hits CD.  In it Steve Morse, a reviewer with The Boston Globe, refers to himself as a “longtime DMB believer”. A believer.  Hmmm.  Believer.  Not just a listener. Not just a fan.  This guy is a follower. And so are many thousands of others.  DMB has a Tribe of Followers.

 

How can the church learn from this?  How can we have people become interested in the claims of Christ and in His agency on this earth: the church, but then see them move closer and closer to the things of Jesus and become His followers? How do leaders create an environment in which there are seekers and followers? 

Any thoughts?  Let me know.