Can’t Not Go to Language School!

Elizabeth and I are going to language school! Why?

Planning for January through August 2016. You may have heard hints but I’ve been waiting to write about details. Here is a four-part general overview and a request for prayer about supporting us with a special one-time support gift and/or helping us raise funds.

1. The opportunity in Cuba gets bigger. Aren’t you too old for this? Maybe! Ha! But Cuba is Too Big not to go learn more better Spanish. Elizabeth needs to learn too. In Latin America, people need to know me with my wife. And we may travel more. A lot more. She’s prepared to make the sacrifice.

Cuban house church leaders are asking for us to help them! In a country with so many hardships, poverty and struggle, Cuban church leaders want coaching training? Yes. It’s helping them apply the gospel to the challenges in their lives and helping them multiply the gospel to their families, neighbors and cities. They travel far and at great expense to learn. Twenty people in this one group paid more than the average Cuban monthly salary to get to our training.

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Leadership of the Cuban training organization CENCAP came here from Havana to Atlanta to ask for a longer commitment from us. They now have asked us to make a 3-5 year commitment to train, certify and multiply Cuban trainers so the 40,000 leaders currently in training can all have a coach! They want us to implement coaching in all churches, house churches, their seminary and arts ministry!

Why?

The coaching training you sent me to lead is already making a vast impact! And they want more! The CENCAP leaders said coaching may be the most vital aspect of their training in the gospel. Wow. We really need to improve our language skills!

2. So language school here we come, Lord willing! This opportunity requires that we raise extra funds by October 30. Would you ask Jesus about making an extra one-time gift to get us through language school and on to train Cuban leaders?

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40,000 house churches like this one in a barrio of Havana could reach hundreds of thousands more Cubans in the next few years.

Pastor Magdiel (top left corner) and his wife (Arlenis in purple shirt) and kids (clowning in front) lead four different house churches. He and other house church leaders in Cuba need a Cuban gospel coach that will help them thrive under the stresses of poverty, injustice, spiritual attack on the front lines of the battlefield.

So, will you please pray about helping us gain the language skills we need to train Cuban leaders to train Cuban gospel coaches?

Another way you could help would be to ask Jesus also if you ought to help us raise support among your family and friends by sending emails or messages on our behalf. Who do you know that might help? Sign up on the webpage to ‘help raise funds’ on the support page. Or simply forward this email with a paragraph or two of your own. Every bit helps!

Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

1.We will return to Atlanta. It’s our home base. The eight-month move is temporary. While we’re gone, Erica and Austin, daughter and son-in-law will move into the house.
2. After language learning, we’ll take extensive visits to Cuba but not move. That’s an unnecessary challenge. Once trained, Cuban leaders will provide much better training at a fraction of the cost of a non-Cuban.
3. Elysia will join us after her 2nd semester at UGA and take classes for her Spanish minor at the nearby university through a UGA cooperative program.
4. I’ll still work and coach church planters while in school. The internet makes it easy.
5. Elizabeth will study full-time. She’s started working on Spanish basics.
6. We are applying to the Spanish Language Institute where I took an intensive course in 2013. It’s in downtown San Jose Costa Rica. And yes, you can visit!
7. And the answer to most common FAQ? No, language school in Costa Rica is not a vacation. Haha!

3. Ask for practical help and support. Extra expenses for language school include travel, tuition, extra tutoring, room and board, extra insurance, books and all that goes into re-locating for eight months.

So would you pray and ask Jesus if he wants you to be part of the team who will support us through language school?

If yes, click here to make a donation.

And/or click here to help raise funds in your circle of friends? Click on the last sentence if you want to learn more. Or email me and I can explain help

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Costs should be about $27,000. We have $10,500 of that pledged already (as of October 11, $14,100). This is a new thing for CMM so in order to get clearance to go in January 2016, we need to demonstrate to our board of directors that we have the support base to take this risk by October 30.

CMM has made it easier to give online with a new system that takes debit or credit cards through end of October. Paper checks are great too.

Please send any checks to this address:

CMM – Language School
PO Box 3284
Alpharetta GA 30023-3284

4.This is WAY beyond us! We need your prayers and financial support more now than ever! We are nervous. I am nervous about more work in Cuba, learning Spanish better (can I do it?), raising more support and even using new online giving and asking you to help raise funds on top of already supporting us without calling everyone! Pray for us, we’re nervous about what you’ll think and if we’ll be able to raise the money in time! I’m not in control and don’t know if any of it is going to work! This is beyond my typical risk-taking, make-it-happen comfort level!

We have to trust Jesus in a big way! Wow do we need your prayers!!

Honored and overwhelmed by your support for God’s call,
Jim and Elizabeth

Pro Tip: Stay Married

I’ve got two goals for every church planting couple that I coach: Stay Married.

Do we really have to state that goal? Yes. Yes we do.

  • 80% of ministry spouses report that ministry is hazardous to their family.
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Planters included.

Church planter types are awesome. Bold, risk-takers, full of faith in God, ready to storm the gates of hell with a super soaker! We are like the Marines of the church. We go first into harm’s way to fight the good fight and see God’s Kingdom advance!

Only you know what? We aren’t Marines. We are, for the vast majority, married and Marines don’t re-locate their families to the front lines of a battle! We do. And it’s dangerous up here. There is a real enemy and he’s mean, he cheats and he wants to destroy you, your family and that church you dreamed up at the coffee shop when you were amped up on your third doppio espresso of the day.

The church planting battle field is not friendly to marriages. So you need a gospel coach that is going to keep you focused on your marriage amidst all the other demands. Twice in one week this month, I heard of two planters I know personally in different states whose wives had affairs. They were successful. They were ‘too busy’ to get a coach. Part of big name ministries, writing and speaking. But they neglected their marriages. How incredibly sad.

Listen, I know planting is a demanding call. There are no distinct time or space boundaries between work, home, marriage and friendship. It’s easy to get busy! It’s easy to forget about your spouse and your marriage. I got busy serving God, winning the lost, starting Bible studies, gathering, networking, marketing, speaking, raising money and planning (and this was 12 years ago before social media and the cloud!) The kind and firm questions of my church planter coach steered me away from the dangers I see so clearly now but couldn’t during the fog of the start up battlefield.

Church planter, you are different. And it’s not because you are better. It’s because you are a marked man on our enemy’s hit list. If you or your wife fail morally, then you and your family will need to step off the front lines for a long time. Neglecting your first ministry to your family is very easy to slip into but its wrong.

According to 1 Timothy 3, a qualification of leading a church is that you are to be the husband of one wife and manage your household well. The reality is, you lose in marriage? You take a seat. Or at least you should.

My wife and I at the CMM booth at an annual church event. We’ve been married 28 years. As cheesy as it may sound, I hope every church planter couple ends up like us – more in love during and after the hard work of planting a church.

So what should you do? Stay married.

That is a moralist statement. There is no power in that advice. You need to put your faith in the power of who God is and what Christ Jesus as done and will do. And you’ll need a coach who will point you to Jesus – not his great advice or expertise.

What should you look for in a church planting coach?

1. Get a coach who will remind you to whom you are married. As a member of the Body of Christ, we who put our faith in Christ are His Bride. You can’t lose your marriage to Him. He’s the best husband you can trust to protect you and yours.

2. Worship God, not your spouse or your kids if you have them. Worship Christ and ask Him about everything. Everything. You’ll want a coach that prompts you to pray. A lot.

3. Work less not simply more or harder. Minute-by-minute dialogue with God requires much more listening and less hustle than you probably tend toward as a church planter. Most of what I did racing around making it happen was my own willful self-effort. Not good. I needed a coach who’d been close enough to burn out that he warned me of the signs he saw in my own life. I had to learn to Sabbath. To cease. To stop. To be human.

4. Depend on the Holy Spirit. There are mountains of great church planting resources and wonderful subject matter experts, mentors, trainers and coaches available. Not one of us will be better for you as a planter than deep, old-school, radical humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

If you are stuck or struggling, get a gospel coach. One of our team can and will help you find out why you’re stuck and help you follow Jesus and stay married as you plant a church for the glory and by the power of God.

I wanted to be a famous pastor

crowd at conference

I used to want to be more famous. I didn’t say it that way, but that is what I wanted. Honestly, I still want it, but less so. Maybe I’m getting wiser. I’m certainly older. And honestly, I’m afraid. For myself and the men, women and their families who lead churches.

Is this the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom? These days I coach several planters and pastors. I’m involved with many church planting networks where we talk about and expect churches to grow. And always to get as big as they possibly can. And we are always sad and devastated when someone takes a fall.

I’m beginning to wonder if wanting to be more famous, have a bigger reach or growing our numbers is a good expectation. Or if we should be a little more suspicious of celebrity. Even small-time celebrity I (still) want.

This may be an emperor’s new clothes set of questions, but I’m going to ask anyway:

  1. As a planter or pastor, is getting more people to follow you better? Is more influence or power, money, buildings necessarily healthy?
  2. Should we planters and pastors produce media content (i.e. blogs, podcasts, tweets, posts, videos, books) or focus mostly on sermons, prayer, disciplemaking and shepherding? (Yeah, that is a leading question and this is a blog. Forgive my mixed signals. I can see my agenda is showing.)
  3. Is the pursuit of becoming a larger church with big followings a biblical or wise way for God’s Kingdom to expand? Or are there unseen, inherent risks to those who lead them?
  4. Should ‘successful’ planters and pastors speak at conferences, author books that require them to travel to speak at more conferences and be away from their family and flock?
  5. Should we ask some hard questions about our role in attending, promoting or supporting conferences that promote celebrity?

And more importantly, what should we learn by how Jesus handled celebrity?

Planting and pastoring a church is already a dangerous calling. I hear far too often of burnout, moral failures, depression, family struggles and even suicide among pastors. That is not the way it is supposed to be!

Are we, in part, hurting ourselves? Are we playing into a scheme of our enemy? Maybe we should examine Scripture and talk about a better way.

Perhaps we should aim lower.

Lord, have mercy.

2 ways a Church Planter’s Job is Different

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Yesterday at our monthly Church Planting Network meeting in Atlanta, the-one-and-only Dr. Bob Burns led our training on Resilient Ministry. If you are a church planter (or go to a church plant) and there is a desire to survive and flourish in ministry, this book has some great data and insight. And as a church planter coach, I have a suggestion.

It makes the case for gospel coaching for church planters with just two insights.

1. Church planting is non-stop. Being a pastor is “taxing, fast-paced and unrelenting” according to Dr. Bob and his research.  Unrelenting resonates. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for over 25 years in a variety of roles. As a pastor, your “job” is never done. As a planter? There is always more to do. Times ten.

More. To. Do. Now. Faster.

It’s a job without any boundaries. Unlike other jobs, where you get to go home, life and ministry blur together and overlap and go really fast.

2. Church planters live in “GO” mode. The research showed that pastors “rarely re-charge and reflect”. Dr. Bob said that pastors do less self-care than every single profession except one. I’ll let you guess which one is worse.

As a planter, I was ON all the time. All the time. If I hadn’t had a coach who pointed me to Christ and challenged me kindly and firmly, I would have run myself ragged, ignored my wife and sacrificed my children to succeed in planting a church.

Care about a church planter? Encourage him to talk to one of our gospel coaches at CMM who can help him learn how to manage and thrive in a non-stop calling.

Then offer to pay. It will multiply benefits to his soul, his family and the church.

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Mr. Church Planter: Front Seat on the Roller Coaster

Over the years, when people ask me what it’s like to be a church planter, I’ve said often,

“Like being in the front seat of a roller coaster! God’s doing amazing and terrifying things and I’ve got a front row seat!”

Not sure why, but this picture resonates. Mr. Church Planter, ever felt this way?

sad clown on a rollercoaster

Thankful for God’s patience when I was not enjoying the ride…. The ride is long and hard. There is a huge temptation toward cynicism. It’s easy to loose joy along the way. I’m still unpacking baggage, taking off the masks and learning to rest in the ups and downs.

If you want help learning to enjoy the ride God has you on, let me know. Maybe we could learn together.

Friend’s son killed. Hope?

Mark Rodriguez, the 17-year old son of a friend, was killed in a random shooting last night in Norfolk VA. Carlos Rodriguez, Mark’s dad, is a church planter I coach. It’s surreal. Too impossible to consider!

(Update: Sunday Carlos and Leigh Ellen spoke at Mark’s memorial service. Local TV coverage here. Funeral services this Wednesday at 1pm at Tabernacle Church in Norfolk.)

Mark was coming home from a graduation event at his school and a guy taking pot shots with a high-powered rifle killed Mark. The police tracked him down. He took the life of an officer and then was killed in the arrest struggle. News account here and here.

My wife Elizabeth and I were discussing, “Could there be any worse news?” I’m dull with shock. Can’t imagine what Carlos and Leigh Ellen are feeling. Mark was the oldest of four. What do his younger brothers Will and Daniel and his little sister Maria feel? Their church family at Redeemer Presbyterian in Virginia Beach? The kids at Mark’s school? The whole community? The grieving police officer’s family and the Norfolk PDt? What in the world do you do but weep? Writing this all out is my way of processing what has happened and what hope we should believe in light of it

Life is short. And it is wise to stop and ask, ‘What hope do you have? Are you ready for eternity?’

Here’s what I know. Based on his dad’s testimony, I know Mark was ready.

In our many coaching calls, Carlos talked about his son Mark quite a lot. And I enjoyed listening. This young man sounded like the kid every parent would hope for. Carlos said Mark loved the Lord. He was very challenged by the call to be a ‘radical Christian.’ Last summer he went on a long mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Nicarauga last summer. Not a week with his buddies but a summer. Because he was outwardly focused on others. His dad said he had a super high IQ, loved sports, school, was applying for scholarships – could do anything he wanted. He wanted to be a radical Christian. From what I can tell by listening to his dad, he was.

But God decided to take him home suddenly. Crushingly sudden and seemingly random to us. Causes me to wonder about God’s wisdom sometimes…

Trusting that the Church in Virginia Beach and surrounding areas – which in Carlos’ case includes the PCA and two other churches where he had served – will be the hands and feet of Jesus. That they will weep and mourn together knowing that Mark is happier than we can imagine with Jesus.

Can we know for sure? Yes. In Mark’s case it was clear he trusted in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross in his place and that because Jesus paid the penalty for his sins, God who raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise Him from the dead too.

Carlos just texted me:

Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts. I don’t often understand God’s ways but I trust His character.

This man Carlos and his son Mark – and their whole family and church – inspire me. May you dear reader consider this amazing hope and receive what Christ Jesus has done for sinners who will simply trust in him.

Mark was blogging last month. “God is super-good. Can’t wait to be with him forever.”

I’ve been meditating on heaven a lot lately, and I must say, it wells my eyes with tears of joy every now and then. What a beautiful thought that one day, I will be completely in the presence of God and will actually be able to feel the magnitude of all his love and peace with no earthly fears or worries to distract me. The joy that I feel now, the serenity I feel now, will finally be made perfect.

The presence of God here on earth is enough to make me shudder in wonder. I’ve had some incredible moments in life that can only be explained as miracles where I see my Abba, my Father move in love for me so powerfully; it brings me to my knees in amazement. To think that one day I will be perfectly and totally in his presence….I’m definitely going to need a heavenly body because the joy he fills me with now sometimes makes me feel like I’m about to explode!

I love the image of Heaven because it is perfect, perfect peace. Every quarrel, every hurt, it’s all gonna be resolved. All of God’s children will be together and we won’t hurt each other anymore; we’ll finally understand how to love perfectly. And the fact that we’ll all be worshiping the Lord together in one place, forever….that amazes me.

It makes me so excited to think of the wedding feast awaiting us when we go to be with the Lord. I imagine streets filled with rejoicing, loud trumpets, wedding bells….I’m sure it’ll be far more incredible than I can comprehend now, and I love that.

God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever:)

(Kudos to ABC13 for posting this on their website in it’s entirety.)

Are you sure you will go to heaven if you were you to die today?

You can know for sure. God explains it in the Bible. If you want to talk about it more, I’m more than happy to chat with you about it.

_______________________________________

Pray for this dear family and the many traumatized by this tragedy.

First post

I’m a Gospel Coach for Church Planters, Pastors and Ministry Leaders asking Jesus to multiply more Gospel Coaches to reach the lost in North and South America.

We planted a transcultural, bi-lingual church in the Atlanta area and pray for God to give us opportunity to help reproduce in other churches, networks and denominations. I’m a recovering work-aholic. Without the help of a Gospel Coach and a Church Planter Network, I would have flamed out in ministry and sacrificed my family in the process.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’m learning to be Holy Spirit-dependent, Christ-centered and to live in gospel-saturated community.

My wife Elizabeth and I have three grown children and are overjoyed that they love Jesus and serve in other church planting churches despite growing up as church planters’ kids. That ought to be the new normal.