Leadership, Pastors

OpenMindedChurch.org

Open Minded Church With the help of a growing network of church leaders, I put together a new website at openmindedchurch.org.

Because the church I pastor, One Church, live streams our services and uploads on sermons on Youtube, I frequently receive the same question from various parts of the country, “Do you know of any churches like One Church in my area?

Most of the time I don’t, so I decided to ask some friends to compile a growing database of forward-thinking Christian churches with contemporary worship music around the country.

In a few weeks, we’ve created a directory of 66 churches in 22 states. We know, however, that there are many more out there. For example, Doug Pagitt believes that there are potentially up to 200 contemporary, progressive congregations in the U.S.

Let’s find them and connect them! You can visit the continually expanding directory at openmindedchurch.org. If you know of a contemporary, open-minded church in your area where thinking people are encouraged to wrestle with their questions and doubts, please submit the church.

Thank you.

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Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors, Uncategorized

Church Planters and Pastors: Are You Welcoming New Residents?

United Van Lines 2014 Migration

United Van Lines, the moving company, just released it’s 38th annual domestic migration study (how many people move in and out of each state).

The map shows the states where people are moving to and from.

The old church growth theory goes that churches grow fastest in places that are growing fastest. On paper, since some percentage of new residents are looking for a church, if you’re church is there and welcoming, it will grow just because of the influx.

If you’re a church planter or pastor in those blues states, more people are moving to your state than out, so it would be wise to creatively welcome new residents. Some potential ways to do that:

  • Send new residents a welcome packet in the mail.
  • Provide lots of user-friendly entry points into the church, especially for people who are looking for new friends.
  • Provide groups for all ladies and moms.
  • Don’t shut down your church ministries in the summer (that’s when many people move).
  • Create fellowship activities.
  • Offer a sermon series on adjusting to new circumstances (stepping out on faith, seeing opportunities, adjusting to sudden change, making new friends, etc.)

Obviously, churches reach people all over the country by loving people in a way that is relevant to their ministry context. And, of course, new residents move into every state, so there are always new people arriving in your area. Showing hospitality is a biblical value.

Church planters, however, should be aware of growth trends for the simple fact that more churches will be needed in the growing states just to keep up with the growth.

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Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors

Church Planters: Beware the Church Hoppers

Angry People

When I meet an aspiring church planter, he or she is usually a kind, soft-hearted and trusting person. These are qualities that make for a great pastor.

At the same time, these are qualities that less-than-healthy people will take advantage of.

Every church planter feels the continual pressure to gather an ever enlarging group of people, because a church plant has to fight for survival. New churches die for lack of people and funds. It’s hard to get something new off the ground, and you can quickly find yourself being tempted to involve anyone who comes your way.

Showing up and having a heartbeat, however, are not the only criteria a person must meet in order to be entrusted with any measure of influence in the church you’re planting.

The church you’re planting needs emotionally healthy, stable people.

God loves everyone, but not everyone is emotionally healthy enough to have influence in a church. Any church will only be as healthy as its core group, and unhealthiness in the core group will only be magnified in a new, small church with inexperienced leaders who are often not accustomed to dealing with church drama.

There is a group of people who will do more damage to the church plant than you could ever imagine when you first meet them. At first encounter, they seem nice, very thankful they found your church, and eager to jump in and get involved. You need people, and they’re looking for a church. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, there are people who change churches frequently because they have a difficult time relating to other people and committing any length of time to a church. They are often called “church hoppers.”

Every church planter and pastor I know can verify the reality of church hoppers by painful experience.

There are several types of church hoppers. Here are three:

1. The “We weren’t being fed” type.

They are looking for expository preaching and their favorite worship songs from a particular flavor of church they like, but left, for some reason. They expect you to change your church just to please them.

2. The “We were just looking for something else” type.

This means that they move from church to church based on what feels exciting to them, what is new, and what church style they like. They will leave the church you serve as soon as the newness wears off.

3. The “We were hurt” type.

They experienced a church conflict (often more than one) and, instead of resolving it, they left looking for a church with no conflict and a perfect pastor.

In this post, I’m talking about the third type.

They left their last three churches because they were hurt in a conflict. They were hurt. Over and over and over again. So, instead of resolving the conflict, they left. You can see the clear pattern.

They caused the repeated conflicts that hurt them.

Then, instead of caring enough to confess their role and resolve the conflict, they bailed.

Now, they’re in the church you pastor!

This third type of church hoppers are people who have a difficult time staying in any one church because of their own emotional and relational dysfunction. They cause relational conflicts in every church they try. They may not mean to, but they can’t, or won’t, help it. It is a pattern in their lives that springs from their own pathology.

Once they cause the conflict, they exit for another church, leaving the people who are committed to clean up their mess. They hop from church to church, looking for the perfect church that doesn’t exist.

Young pastors are often idealistic, trusting… and incredibly naive people. Especially when feeling the pressure of church planting, we can lose sight of basic facts about working with human beings:

  • Mental illness is real.
  • Some people really will lie to protect their own egos.
  • Unhealthy people gossip and build alliances, taking others with them when they leave.
  • Because of pride, some won’t admit their unhealthy decisions, even when it’s obvious to others.
  • They don’t see the problem because they are the problem.

This is the reality of working with human beings in a fallen world.

Once again, God loves everyone, but not everyone is emotionally healthy enough to have influence in a church.

In Community of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing a Church, church planter Steve Sjogren warns that new churches attract a variety of people who come for different reasons. Some connect because they genuinely believe in the mission and values of the new church. Some like to help new churches and may leave once the church grows. Some join, however, because they have a history of not being able to build a long term relationship with any church, and your church is their next ex.

The tell-tale sign of a church hopper is the list of churches he or she has left and the strong emotion they hold against “church,” in general.

  • Often, the person will meet with you and emotionally share multiple stories of painful conflict.
  • He or she may demonize former pastors (red flag!).
  • He or she will express frustration with “church” in general and always be on the brink of chucking the whole thing.

You may see some small warning signs along the way, but you may not be aware of how dysfunctional the person is. The inciting incident could be anything, including a normal level of human conflict that occurs on a daily basis.

You will see what is hard for you to believe, because it makes no sense. You will witness emotional and relational dysfunction that the person can no longer mask. You will observe irrational behavior, even belligerence, and you will watch a person you thought was here for life explosively leave the church, inflicting maximum harm on the way out… just like he or she has done before.

It’s new to you but not new to them. You will watch the relationship go up in flames, and now, you need to know something even more painful.

Pastor, they will attack you personally.

They won’t leave because of a conflict with “the church.”

They will leave because they have a problem with you.

It will be intensely personal, because in their dysfunction, it is always personal. They expected you to be the perfect human being who would heal them and coddle them. They often want a job title in the church. They thought you would be different than every other “nasty, terrible, hypocritical pastor” who hurt them so deeply.

In other words, they wanted you to be Jesus. Often, they also wanted a job title, or they wanted you to promote their own agenda.

You didn’t, and for them, it’s personal.

This third type of church hoppers tend to be people who were wounded in a past church experience. Perhaps they encountered an abusive pastor or a shady church conflict and were disillusioned. Unfortunately, they were not able to overcome their own woundedness and function in a healthy way, so they will be overly guarded and actually look for reasons to leave the church you shepherd. They will unintentionally sabotage their own relationships, especially with you, looking for reasons to validate their lack of trust and bitterness.

As the shepherd God has entrusted with this church, you cannot let church hoppers tear the church apart.

Here are some simple ways to guard the church plant from church hoppers:

  • Resist the temptation to give authority to everyone who is nice to you.

Develop a policy that people new to the church wait for at least a year before putting them in any positions of leadership.

  • Vet people before entrusting them with influence.

Why not contact that “terrible, hypocritical” former pastor and get his or her side of the story? It might be quite revealing. Observe the way they interact with others, and do not ignore red flags.

  • There is strength in numbers.

Limit the amount of time you spend with people who have repeatedly left churches, and when you meet with them, make sure other trusted members of the church are with you.

In this church plant, God has called you to be the shepherd, so protect your flock by resisting the temptation to take anybody who comes your way.

God will provide the right people at the right time.

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Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors

Handling Criticism

It’s been eleven months since we launched weekly worship services, and One Church has grown from three people to 200. Overall, the process has been one blessing after another with changed lives, growth, and exciting local and global missions. God has been more than faithful to us.

It’s also true that one of my biggest emotional adjustments since planting One Church has been adjusting to the level of criticism.

I’m sharing this post for two kinds of people:

  1. Leaders who are considering starting something
  2. Church planters and other leaders who are discouraged

Whenever you hear stories of growth, and everything looks rosy, you should know that those stories usually do not include the continual, daily struggles that occur simultaneously with the growth. Some planters were associate pastors previously, and the associate pastor is the most popular person in the world. Once, you’re in the lead role, look out!

People who know me, know that I’m pretty much a mild mannered Clark Kent kind of guy. I’m a huge nerd. I downplay my family’s financial needs and give myself pay cuts to save money in the church budget. My family has sold items that were dear to us in order to pay our bills. I’m usually too nice, and here is the reality:

  • In the past year, I have been called more names than in junior high and high school combined.
  • I have been accused of heresy several times.
  • 25 people left the church after one sermon they didn’t like.
  • One month after launching, one guy told me I’m leading people to hell.
  • A Young Earth Creationist ended his final email to me like this, “I have issued the warning I was instructed to give you. Now I shake the dust from my garments.”

That was before Thanksgiving.

Now, in the past three months, criticism has become a weekly reality for me. Every single week now there are one or more people who express to me that they are not happy about something in the church, usually something to do with me. It may be criticism of a sermon. It may be that they don’t like something about the music. They not-so-secretly want to control the church. There may have been a miscommunication, and apologizing is not enough. Regardless, the criticism is now a constant.

Of course, constructive criticism helps me and One Church. One Church is better because of people who genuinely care about the church and about me, and they contribute in many positive ways. It is easy to tell the difference between people who love you and people who don’t.

Honestly, however, at least half of the criticism you receive will not be constructive. It comes from people who are acting out of their own issues and spewing on you. They want power they have not earned. They want the church you planted to look like the church they just left. 

The Key to Handling Criticism

In my experience, the key to handling criticism is a prayer I heard from Craig Groeschel:

“God, give me a softer heart and thicker skin.”

In other words, “God, help me to love people even when they criticize me, and help me to know who I am in You, so that the criticism does not discourage me.”

Nope, that’s not easy. It is, however, necessary to succeed in church planting.

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Leadership, Pastors, Preaching, Uncategorized

The Future of Evangelicals and the LGBT Community

(Also see my four-part post “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay”.)

This weekend, I will interview two people in One Church who have important experiences to share regarding Christians and the gay community. One is the mother of a gay daughter. The other is a woman who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for 14 years.

The vast majority of One Church accepts those who are gay and will welcome their personal stories this Sunday with open arms. I wholeheartedly believe that churches like One Church will increase in number and size over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals exit congregations that eschew intellectual curiosity and cultural openness.

As the inevitability of legal same sex marriage takes hold from state to state, the political battle is winding down in the U.S., just as it has in the fifteen countries that have already made same sex marriage legal. I wonder, however, if the battle within U.S. Evangelical churches is just beginning.

Mainline Christians have been debating the ordination of gay pastors for 30 years or more, but because of the conservative nature of Evangelicalism, Evangelicals have largely avoided church disagreements. This is now changing.

I encounter Christians on a weekly basis who were raised in Evangelical congregations but now have no problem allowing for same sex relationships. They recognize that the Bible must be interpreted in the light of its culture on any issue (other examples include slavery, world religions, women’s rights, and science). They have already left Evangelical churches that they perceive as culturally backward. They are not necessarily activists, but they do not want to cause pain to others, support injustice or be on the wrong side of history.

I wonder how the Evangelical megachurches that dot America’s suburbs will fare over the next ten years, as more and more Evangelicals distance themselves from opposing the gay rights movement. I would love to believe that calm, rational dialogue will win out. My best guess, however, based on my experience in the Evangelical world, is that there will be internal strife that will eventually lead to church splits and decline, as younger and more progressive members exit.

With a majority of Americans now supporting same sex marriage and more and more states making same sex marriage legal, it will be interesting to see how Evangelical pastors and congregations respond to a rapidly-changing America.

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Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

Give Up Your New Years Resolutions

I gave up on making abstract New Years resolutions.

Instead, I set a few realistic, measurable goals that I can accomplish fairly quickly. One goal completed leads to another, then another, then another, etc. I gave a sermon about it on Dec. 29, 2013 called “Peace in 2014” where I talk about four categories of goals. You can watch or listen at onechurch.com.

My goal for my inner life is to reread Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. Here is a quote:

“By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem with modern living is that we are too busy– looking for affirmation in the wrong places– to notice that we are being blessed.”

– Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, 79

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Leadership, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Uncategorized

When Pastors Fall

A friend informed me that another pastor in our area was forced to resign after the church discovered that he was engaging in extramarital affairs. That is the second lead pastor within driving distance of One Church to be caught in affairs in the past two years. We should pray for them, their families and congregations.

As a pastor, I feel the weight of knowing that some people expect me to represent Jesus Christ (a horrifying and impossible task). Of course, any socially well adjusted pastor knows that he or she does not deserve to be placed on a pedestal, but congregations tend to do it anyway. Even worse, some pastors enjoy it.

If you have been disappointed by a spiritual leader:

1. Remember that Jesus is the Leader of the Church (Matthew 16v18).

Don’t “Drink the Kool-Aid” for any pastor. Jesus has earned your trust more than any pastor ever could. You can allow a pastor to lead and teach you, but keep Jesus the main thing.

2. Resist the temptation to become cynical.

Some pastors will betray your trust. Most won’t.

3. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

We have all been disappointed, and unfortunately, we have all disappointed others. It helps to know that forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness can take place in an instant, but rebuilding trust takes time.

Whenever someone disappoints us, we can remember how it feels and choose to not cause that same disappointment in others.

A Sobering Warning

Adultery is a sin to which any person is susceptible, and none of us should assume that we are immune. As the well-known Proverb warns:

“18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” [Proverbs 16v18-19]

We also need to know that adultery causes more damage in the form of broken homes, disappointed friends and scarred children than anyone could calculate.

I am aware that people who have already had an affair will read this post, and my intention is not to add further pain to their lives. Anyone considering an affair, however, needs to know that cheating on your spouse will hurt your children deeply and for a long time.

Preventing An Affair

Prevention is option number one. At One Church, one of our values is, “No perfect people allowed.” What we mean by that is that we do not expect our congregation to be super Christians and pretend to have no problems.

Churches who pressure people to pretend are hypocrisy factories. While the Religious Right seems to be focused on preventing same sex marriages, hidden adultery continues to threaten all marriages. For example, I know more than one family in which a spouse acknowledged that he or she was gay after years feeling of pressured to hide it.

We are all dealing with brokenness, so there is no sense in pretending. It is surprisingly freeing to call each others’ bluffs and just admit it.

You have stuff to deal with, and so do I.

Once we admit the obvious, then we can confront our needs, anxiety and addictions. Counseling is readily available. If we don’t face them, they won’t magically go away. We will find ourselves habitually engaging in behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety but are incredibly destructive to those we love. It’s cliche but true that “If you don’t deal with your baggage, it will deal with you.”

After the Fact

If you have engaged in an extramarital affair, there is good news and bad news.

First the bad news:

Asking God for forgiveness does not remove the pain and consequences for you or your family and friends. God specializes in creating order out of chaos, good from pain, but it will be a far longer and more painful ordering process than you imagined.

Refuse to play the victim game when the process of re-earning their trust takes far longer than you thought.

Now for the good news:

“6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” [Isaiah 55v6-7]

God offers mercy and forgiveness to the truly repentant, and He can grow you into the type of person who deals with your baggage and chooses to be faithful. There is always hope.

We pray that, in time, your family and friends will be able to forgive you and heal. They need to, but that is in God’s hands, and you cannot speed up that process.

Your continued faithfulness over the long haul will rebuild their trust.

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