2 Common Church Start-Up Fails

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As Jeff was giving me a tour of the city, his wife Nancy and my wife Elizabeth were in the backseat getting to know each other. We were visiting one of the couples I’m coaching through the process of starting up a church.

Later Nancy asked, “What are the most common mistakes church planters make?” I laughed, “Nancy, there are so many!” She laughed (maybe just out of politeness) but she was serious. It’s a really good question.

So, in an effort to keep church start-up people from making the same FAILs let me highlight two of the biggest I see in the life of the church planting pastor and his family.

1. Working alone without an experienced gospel coach. Yeah, you saw that one coming didn’t you? It’s what I do! But it does not negate the point! It’s exactly why I coach!

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Gospel coaching is the single most important ingredient to the vitality of a church planter and his family. And the church start up.

If the enemy who hates the church can take out the planter or his marriage, he will usually have taken out the church too.

Do not plant alone. Get a gospel-focused church planting coach who is certified. Take advantage of the available wisdom and resources you can tap into through a coach.

2. Not resting. Start-up people want to do a really great thing! Start a church so more people will follow Jesus! But a driven person with an amazing opportunity + a large dose of your own reputation at stake = long hours and little to no rest.

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You need rest. And I mean literal rest. As in the weekly Sabbath. As in day-long seasons of quiet prayer. As in long annual vacations where you really unwind.

Even if a start-up family lacks the resources to take two weeks of vacation at the beach, nobody is exempted from the fourth commandment or from prayer. Find ways to shut down and rest.

Start-up church leaders also should rest in what Jesus has done for them rather than puny human effort and ability. Spiritual rest and physical rest are related.

Confession: God literally had to close down our first church plant before I would admit how I was worshipping the idol of ministry success. You have got to rest. For more confessions of an old church planter, see my colleague’s blog on CMMnet.org.

These two fails can leave the biggest and widest holes and have the deepest implications in the life and family of church planters. If you are a start-up pastor type and need someone to talk to about this, let me know.

Next time I’ll focus on fails in the work of the start up church.

 

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3 reasons I broke up with Facebook

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I joined Facebook in 2008 and immediately enjoyed re-connecting with friends I’d lost track of over the years. Had to learn some etiquette and boundaries from my teenagers, but it quickly become a valuable connecting tool for me in ministry and personal life. Almost everyone I know is on FB.

So why did I break up with Facebook recently? Three reasons.

1. This election. Elizabeth and I studied Spanish in Costa Rica for eight months in 2016. Cramming a new language into a ‘mature’ brain meant I was toast mentally by about 5pm. FB was a way to relax and connect back in the US.

Until we all (myself included) started getting testy, rude and/or disagreeable, saying things we would not say if the person(s) were in the room. Over politics.

Tobias Rose-Stockwell’s post How We Broke Democracy is worth a read. It makes a case against (me) using FB. He says the way we use our technology, particularly Facebook, ‘has changed this election and is now undermining our ability to empathize.’  The powerful FB algorithm has created what my friend Danny Slavich calls our own ‘personally curated social media echo chambers’ where I had actually cut myself off from people while reinforcing my own sinful opinions and pride.

2. Neighboring 101. We chose to live in a part of Atlanta where we are a minority because we wanted to be part of the solution to racism. But I lost my way along the virtual trail. I forgot who my neighbors are and that God’s great command says clearly…

Love the Lord your God… and your neighbors as yourself.

Which leads to some hard questions!

  • Can I really love God without loving neighbors as myself?
  • Am I loving myself as God loves if I’m not loving my neighbors?
  • Are FB friends or people in my physical community my neighbors?
  • Do neighbors tweet, post or talk? Which is more helpful and kind?
  • What if I treated my neighbors like people are treated on FB? ummm

The most basic teachings of the Christian faith have so much to say to our current situation. Scripture says far more about loving actual neighbors than it does about political involvement.

3. Need more joy in life. This rarely-quoted verse in the Bible startled me when Pastor Héctor read it last Sunday.  “…I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink (keyboard and screen?). Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our j o y may be c o m p l e t e.‘ (2 John 13).

My mother taught me that ‘joy is being glad to be with someone’ and if there is anything I need or want more of now, it is joy in the midst of division, sadness and anger. I need to be together, talking face-to-face MORE not less.

So, see you later Facebook. It was nice for a while.

 

(Note: I’m not closing my account. Yet. Nor am I advocating that you close your account. Rather, I’m using it like email or snail mail for messages. And I’m keeping up with this blog and Twitter. FB has a redemptive purpose in that I can communicate with many people who are indeed real-life friends and family. For that I am grateful.)

Boring? or Life Changing?

Jesus said, ‘If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’

What a promise from Jesus? How does it work?

When I was 15, we had just moved to Norcross (outside of Atlanta) and my parents and friends from church encouraged me to memorize Bible verses topic by topic. I had a pretty boring summer job so it gave me something to do mentally while I picked up trash, cleaned carpets and scrubbed the pool at an apartment complex.

I don’t remember how many of those verses I memorized.

But lately I’ve been reviewing. And it’s amazing how many of them are still in my mind. And in my heart and life. I have had a pretty clear picture of who God is, how to live by faith in Christ, how to fight against temptation and live in Christ while in this world. I’m far from some super-Christian but I think I’m doing well.

It has something to do with God’s Word being in me, I think. Let me recommend to you the Navigators’ Topical Memory System. Or any system that will get God’s Word to abide in you.

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Going back to Jesus’ words I started with: I have not gotten every single thing that I have wished for – because often my wishes were flat out wrong and I didn’t know it – but I’ve grown to understand and celebrate what Jesus has done for me.

And I’m learning to ask for things that line up with His will. Like that you would memorize Scripture.

It might sound boring. But if you feel that, you’re wrong. It’s life changing.

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Most & least diverse religious groups

Thought this was interesting in light of recent conversations. Hope denominations that stress the importance of the biblical doctrines of grace continue to develop in diversity. Why?

The goal is not multi-cultural churches. The goal is churches with one gospel culture.

From the Pew Research Center 2014 Religious Landscape Study

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Will US Believers Suffer Well?

In 2008, I heard John Piper talk about his book Spectacular Sins.

Piper’s prophetic about US Christians persecution and partnering in suffering is strong, biblical and true…. It makes me wonder if this is the tonic for what ails us?

When things do not go well for you personally, physically or politically will it be a crisis of faith for you?

“Our felt needs are about to change.”

“Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses.”

“The aim of this book is not to meet felt needs, but to awaken needs that will soon be felt, and then to save your faith and strengthen your courage when evil prevails.”

“If we are to endure and bear and believe and hope, we need to see the spectacular sins of history the way God sees them. I hope this book helps.”

bss_mediumI never bought the book but the questions haunt me.

Parties with a Purpose

Appreciate my friend Jeff Hooker, pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Athens AL, encouraging me to write for his blog. I met Jeff through the great people at the Alabama Church Planting Network. This re-post summarizes some of what I say in my little book Share What Jesus Gave You.

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PARTIES WITH A PURPOSE

For 90% of people in churches, sharing the Good News directly is challenging. And asking a friend to attend church where the gospel is preached is a huge awkward request. Sadly, very few people do either

But the Gospel is amazing! So how might we find common ground where we can have fun and start the process of sharing Good News? There are many ways. Paul traveled to other cities and started businesses so he could share the Gospel and start churches. Are there other options? Sure! Here’s one we’ve put into action in a variety of contexts.

One weekend, Esther brought a co-worker to two parties hosted by different families in our church. One was a birthday party and the other was a cookout. I don’t know the details, but at some point, Esther and her friend started talking about her faith and about what we believe. My guess is it was a natural part of the conversation. So Esther asked me to help her explain. That night her friend prayed to receive Christ and was baptized the next Sunday.

“Parties with a purpose” is a practical and biblical way to invite friends that don’t appear to have a relationship with Christ into the life of a local church. Jesus famously went to parties with his disciples and people many considered to be unworthy. Jesus turned several party conversations into opportunities to discuss faith (Luke 5:27-32).

The parties don’t have to be big or complicated. Look for any reason(s) to get together and interact with people like Jesus did.

And then have fun, and intentionally talk about life and faith and see where God leads the conversations. God draws others to Himself through His people.

Enjoy the process and party well!

Report on my Trip to Cuba

My friend Omar just posted a good summary of his view on Cuba and our work raising up gospel coaches through CMMNet.org in Cuba. Enjoy and pray as you read.

Peace and Prosperity

IMG_2554 the historic capitol building in Havana

I just spent four days in Havana with some of the brightest and godliest leaders of the church in Cuba, leaders from Holguín, Camagüey, and Havana. Artists, businesspeople, doctors, and pastors, men and women who love the Lord and want to see the spread of the gospel in Cuba.

What was i doing in Cuba?

For the past two years I have been coaching pastors in the US. Coaching is a process in which I help a church leader apply the gospel to the relational, personal, missional, and spiritual realms of his life.

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Through my relationship with CMM I have been invited to help them train and evaluate coaches for a denomination in Cuba called Los Pinos Nuevos. This particular trip was all
about evaluation.  I sat in as two leaders coached each other.
Here are some observation I…

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Easter Season at Language School

It’s been a different sort of week for us here in San José. As you probably know, Costa Rica is a predominately Catholic nation, so things are similar but different around Easter.

All schools and many businesses close all week. Buses scale back their schedules. It’s the middle of ‘summer’ here, so lots of people go to the beach or out of town and visit family. Plus there are big outdoor processionals on Good Friday reenacting Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Here are a few photos of our week:

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Closing scene of the processional in downtown San José on Good Friday.

With a week off from class, we got to spend a lot of time with our neighbors and their children here in the Quad. It’s really great for our souls to be around children and families when we are so far from our own!

Took a coffee plantation tour at Doka Estates just outside the city. I now possess immense knowledge to go with my morning addiction. When I return to ATL, you will quickly grow tired of hearing about my pilgrimage 8-).  BTW, those burlap bags behind us contain the very best high quality bean Costa Rica has to offer. Each exports for $200 to a company that starts with S and ends with s.

We’ve been visiting regularly at Iglesia Bíblica Nazareth (Nazareth Bible Church) a 10-minute walk from our apartment. The pastor kindly invited us to spend a day with his family and the church staff outside the city. Really honored to be invited into the life of a local church. Hoping to learn more about the Church in Latin America as well as improve our Spanish as we participate.

Easter Season Continues

While different, Holy Week was a welcome break and good time to get to know this city and country a little better. It’s proved to me (again) that we have much to learn about crossing cultures, gospel ministry and serving Christ’s kingdom worldwide.

It was great to celebrate Jesus resurrection on Sunday! We miss our family and church but look forward to learning this vital skill for the expansion of gospel ministry in Cuba and Latin America. Thank you for your prayers and support!

Two months into language school

So, how is language school? A lot of friends and family are curious what it’s like for us to live in San José Costa Rica for language school. School is a lot of work but there are some fun and quirky parts to share with you.

The majority of our time is now routine. Classes Mon-Fri start at 730am and end at noon. Everything is in Spanish. Usually I coach church planters in the US over the phone or video calls throughout the afternoon. We study, visit with neighbors, have dinner, study more and are asleep by 9 or 10pm. It still surprising that it takes so much energy. We are both doing well in our classes. The tutoring I received really helped with a big gap I had. The majority of our lives are spent with the work of language learning. Next semester I’ll be adding a third one-on-one class on how to translate.

So far we’ve visited four churches. We know a lot of the songs already from our bi-lingual church back in Atlanta. It’s great to be able to understand the sermons better but it will take a little more time for Elizabeth. We’re through the first phase of cultural adaptation and appreciate your prayers for health and ongoing learning and adjustments.

We’re adjusting and enjoying the good God gives too. Most of the other missionaries studying here have children. I’m actually the oldest regular student in our entering class and we’re one of only three empty-nester couples, so we get a little bit of practice grandparent time. Last Thursday our neighbors who will serve in Panama ran out of gas for their stove in the middle of cooking pancakes for dinner, so they finished cooking in our kitchen and we ate together. God has surprised us with a great community.

Weekends are for rest and going to the store. We had one paseo (trip) out of the city to a really cool tropical garden with waterfalls, hummingbirds, reptiles and toucans. See the photos at the end.

Another treat, is to eat at Subway occasionally (yeah we are so crazy, but it’s amazing what you crave away from home). We are getting to know fellow missionary students and I play full court basketball with a bunch of these young guys every Wednesday night. Well, what I do should not be called basketball. It’s more a disguise and distraction from running.

My mom is planning a visit at the end of March, so it will be fun to show her around the city. She is a retired Spanish teacher, so I think it’ll be great to have her observe a day in the life of the school too.

Quirky things have taken some getting used to. In no particular order:

  • When the US loses an hour on March 13, Costa Rica will not. Effectively putting us in Mountain Time. That will be a first for us.
  • There are no street addresses and numbers so our address is literally ‘San Francisco de Dos Rios, 100 meters east of the Delta Gas Station 300 meters south.’ There is effectively no mail service.
  • We are in high altitude 3700 feet above sea level so food cooks differently. Takes forever to bake anything.
  • The sun comes up at 5:30am and sets at 6pm. Every day all year. And we are 11 degrees from the equator so the sun is hot and bright. Heat of the day starts early. Typical day is high 79 degrees low 65. It’s the tropics but we are high in the mountains. Very nice. Elizabeth is not missing winter at all.
  • It’s ‘summer’ here. Which means it’s dry season and really windy in the afternoons. It has only rained once in two months.
  • ‘Winter’ or rainy season starts in May. We’re told it will rain every day starting at about 3-4pm and rain all night.
  • We have no TV but listen to Costa Rican radio on my laptop. The teachers actually say it’s part of our homework and helps improve comprehension. Bonus: I’m developing an appreciation for Spanish hip hop.
  • We live behind bars and barbed wire. The saying goes here that ‘the good people live behind bars’ to deter petty theft. So far we haven’t had the slightest safety problem other than locking our keys in the apartment once or twice.
  • San José, like any large international capital city has a lot of traffic, noise and pollution, but it’s not too bad. We bought a big fan at Walmart (yes, there is a Walmart) and turn it on to drown out the traffic and dogs barking.

It’s amazing to me that we have already completed two months. The next six will be the hardest but I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks to all of you who are praying for us and supporting us financially. The investment in our skills will help us train Cuban house church leaders and pastors.

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Most every day we make presentations in my conversation class.

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Elizabeth with Violet and Isaac some of our neighbors children at the waterfall garden.

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My wife bravely holding a live toucan. Neither of us opted for holding a snake later on.

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I was pretty excited about the hummingbirds. Really amazing up close!

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This is the view most of the time.

We are super grateful we can be here learning Spanish. Thanks again for your prayers and support!