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Racial Diversity = Church Unity

Racial Diversity = Church Unity

One thing I noticed about visiting different churches over the summer is how racially segregated the American Church is.  Most of us say, “So what?  Blacks and whites like different styles of church, and that’s about all there is to it.”  I used to think this way too as I grew up in my all-white church, in my mostly white town, while I attended my mostly white high school.  Actually, I didn’t think this way about race in the Church because I can’t say I ever thought about it at all.

I remember in Crossroads‘ first year as a church (6 years ago), my friend’s wife brought up the value of multiracial churches and how we should pursue being one.  I dismissed her idea.  If people are coming to know Jesus, who cares what race they are?  Why waste time that could be spent directly on the Gospel itself?  Blacks like black churches and whites like white churches, let’s leave it at that.

But is it really this simple?  It certainly was to me until I read the book Divided By Faith in seminary and attended the “Face the Race” conference that GRTS held, featuring authors George Yancey, David Livermore, and Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided by Faith).  It was like an Old Testament prophet knocked at my door and revealed the greater truths of God to me that I had been missing my entire life.

Divided by Faith is a book that chronicles the white Evangelical church’s response to blacks, starting with the era of slavery and moving through each successive racially significant time period in American history, ending with how things are today.  It is a fascinating account, as well as sobering and convicting, realizing that the racial segregation found in the church today has direct roots to how white Evangelicals did not allow blacks into their churches (or their lives) throughout the century that followed slavery.  The authors also do lots of research on how white Evangelicals’ view race.  As I read the accounts given by white Evangelicals, I realized they were saying the exact things I would have said to the survey questions.  I’m not racist.  I have black friends.  I didn’t have anything to do with slavery.  We should focus on other things in the Church, like on Jesus and evangelism, not race relations.  etc etc etc

I don’t have the time and space in a blog post to give Divided by Faith the detailed justice it deserves and all the profound truths it illuminated to me.

If you are white and have never felt what it feels like to be a minority, I encourage you to visit an all-black church.  The people will likely be very friendly, but you will also feel uncomfortable and very aware of your skin color, even though no one will say anything about it to make you feel this way.  This is the experience black people have when they come to all-white churches, and it’s why they don’t come back, no matter how friendly we are.  It’s something you’ve never thought about before, and likely never will, unless you go and experience it for yourself.  And it’s why things in the Church need to change.

I strongly encourage you to read Divided by Faith if you welcome your eyes being opened.  If you prefer the head-in-the-sand approach I lived by for most of my life, or the defensive approach many choose, you are free to do so.  I would ask you consider one more point though…

As I prayed about what to preach on for my first Sunday back at Crossroads (following my summer sabbatical), the Holy Spirit made it very clear to me and opened my eyes to some profound truths found in John 17.  Jesus is praying that future believers (the Church) will be unified, the way He and the Father are unified, and by this the world will know who Jesus is and that He loves them!  It’s a pretty amazing thing, and it’s also amazing that this is pretty much the only thing He prays for in John 17, just before he is arrested.  Of all the things he could pray for us, he prays for this.  And we typically skip over it, not knowing how to apply being more unified as the Church.  But if you look at the early Church, the number one conflict they had to resolve was the Jew-Gentile conflict.  Most of the New Testament letters (our books of the Bible) were written to these early churches, teaching them how to be unified as Jews and Gentiles.  Jews and Gentiles were two different races who had an ugly past together (sound familiar?), but the unique thing about their relationship was they did not have the “convenience” of having Jew churches and Gentile churches.  Each town only had one church and in it, Jews and Gentiles had to learn to overcome their differences, and their hostile history, to become brothers and sisters in Christ under one roof, united in the love and grace of Jesus that they all shared.  If an outsider walked in, they would be astounded at the unity of two groups of people who had been against each other for so long, and had so little in common, yet were loving each other and praising God together.  This is how the world will know who Jesus is, and that He loves them!

This is what I preached on this past Sunday, and it’s the vision and calling the Holy Spirit has placed on Crossroads Church.  I encourage to join in this vision and be a part of the answer to Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for us in John 17:

(Sorry about the low volume level, had some technical difficulties which hopefully we’ll get edited but for now, it’s a good thing I have a loud voice!  You should manage, but will need to crank your volume a little)


You can listen to (and/or download to your computer or iPod) a high-quality audio copy of the sermon here, then click on Sept. 9th, 2012.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Theology

 

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Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

Today is my first day of work back from my summer sabbatical.  First off, I want to thank my great church for providing me with this much needed opportunity.  It has been refreshing and I feel energy for ministry in a way I have not felt for quite some time.

Pastors need sabbaticals.  I know of some pastors who have approached their church board to ask for one and they have been turned down, or they are afraid to even ask because they know what the response will be.  These boards and church memberships need to wake up and smell the coffee of what it’s like to be a pastor; which often is a cheap, burnt, stale coffee that’s been on the burner for waaay too long.  Being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs that exists.  It is not the hours spent in the office or the research or the strategizing, it is the constant emotional and spiritual outpouring, a faucet that rarely shuts off.  It is the relational weight you carry around, knowing you have befriended an entire flock and you desire to be there for them, but you can only go so far for so long.  These things take a toll on a person.  Pastors are not superhuman or superheros.  If you think yours is, or treat him as such, I promise you he will be resigning within the next 3 years.

I firmly believe when you deprive a pastor of a sabbatical you are telling him or her, “We want you to burn out.  We want your marriage to fail.  We want you to have a severe disconnect in your relationship with God.  We want frustration to drive you off the cliff of ministry and of life.”

What else can be interpreted when a pastor is crying out for help and the replies are: “Well I don’t get a break in my job, so you don’t either…” or “We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, what more do you need?” or “How will the church survive the summer without you?”

We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, so go ahead and cheat on your spouse as you feel like God has abandoned you, we certainly aren’t giving you more time off you lazy bum.  Working in the business world is just like having the spiritual, emotional, and relational weight of an entire congregation on your shoulders, you didn’t realize that?  (Yeah right.  This is why every single pastor has a “fantasy dream job” in the business world where they don’t face the pressures of ministry.  They think about it on the days they want to quit the ministry.  Every  pastor has this.  And if they don’t, they will within a couple of years!)

Oh yeah, and sabbatical time is not vacation time.  It’s very intentional with specific goals.  And if you give your pastor a sabbatical, don’t make them do a million things they have to report back to you on.  Trust them that they have an honest heart for God, otherwise you shouldn’t have hired them, and let the Holy Spirit lead them to what is best for them.  This may be going to conferences, job shadowing at prominent churches around the USA, living in a cabin in the woods for a couple months, or even playing semi-pro football!  Let your pastor make these decisions, not you.  Children need babysitters, not pastors on sabbatical.  Let the man rest with the Lord and get way from the expectations and pressures of church life for a few months.

And make it at least 3 months, none of this 4-6 week business.  That’s about how long it will take for him to realize he doesn’t want to quit his job!  Make sure you give him 3+ months so he can not only decompress, but also recharge and come back at full speed.  Trust me, 3 months is an easy investment when the return is a fully charged pastor ready to minister in high spirits for the next 5-7 years, something you will not get without the sabbatical.

I’m not saying it’s always as dire as a marital affair and total collapse, but there are certainly some dramatic rumblings beneath the surface of many pastors that they are never able to be honest about because they will be judged or fired if they express them.

Some of you have pastors who never even use up the vacation days you do give them.  This should not be applauded.  No, these are the men and women you need to grab by the horns, wrestle them to the ground, and say “You will rest in the sustaining power of the Lord!  You will stop working and will trust that God will continue working without you!”  Whether they realize it or not, these men and women have just as many needs for sabbatical refresh as the person openly confessing they are running on fumes.

Your church will not fold if your pastor goes on sabbatical.  If you think that it will, either 1.) You are serving a VERY small God who can’t go 3 months without your pastor saving the day for Him or 2.) Your church is extremely immature in its heart for ministry that you wouldn’t have enough people to step up to take care of the basic needs of ministry for 3 months.  And if #1 is true of you, #2 will naturally be true as well, and vice versa.  We serve a HUGE God, he can handle your church if your pastor goes off the radar for a few months.  Be obedient to God as leaders in your church and allow your pastor to be renewed in a way only an extended sabbatical time can.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

I’ve been on a full sabbatical this summer.  It has been an enriching, rejuvenating, and much needed time.  One aspect of my sabbatical was that I visited different churches each Sunday.  This has been a great eye-opening experience for me.

I don’t have all the answers, but it certainly raised some good questions.  Namely, if we sat down at a table with Jesus and came up with a blueprint for what church should look like, would our contemporary model be what we come up with?  Obviously not.  And that’s not to throw stones at any of the churches I visited, or to say that mine would be the answer, because it certainly isn’t either.  But it’s a question that we need to ask and keep asking and keep rethinking as we strategize and plan our ministries.  Here is a list of what I learned and observed this summer from my church visiting, some of these are more deeper than others.  Disclaimer:  I am wired to see what we can improve on rather than what we are doing well.  I find it to be more productive for producing effective change.  I’m not trying to be overly critical here.  There were good things I saw too, but that’s not really the purpose of this list:

  • Being new to a church is an uncomfortable feeling, and I’m a pastor who has spent his whole life in church.  I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is for someone who has never been to church before in their life.
  • New people like to sit in the back, on the ends of rows.  It is makes it difficult when these seats are unavailable to them.
  • Most people in churches do not sing, or they sing very quietly.
  • With a small number of exceptions, sermons aren’t super interesting or memorable.
  • For the most part, the strategy for a new person to connect into the community of a church is this:  1. Go to a service, 2. Enjoy it / Learn from it, 3. come back, 4. join a small group, event, or service group which is where you’ll A. build friendships, B. grow deeper, and/or C. impact the community.  I look at this progression and wonder if this is the best way?  It seems like a lot of steps to take to get to the “end goal”, and that first step is really impersonal.  That’s the thing I noticed over and over, with a small number of exceptions.
  • Churches are very segregated racially.  The vast number of churches are either 99.9% white or 99.9% black.  This is a subject that I will likely post a separate, longer blog on in order to do it justice.  I’m still wrestling with the best way to articulate this as it’s something God has been weighing heavier and heavier on my heart over the years (and is at it’s heaviest point right now!) and is something I want to communicate in a way that is effective and helpful, not condemning or judgmental.  The book Divided By Faith ruined me on this issue a few years ago and God has only intensified this conviction in me as years have progressed.  I strongly recommend that you read this book if you want to get understanding and grow in this area.  Props to Kingdom Life Church for being a good mix of blacks and whites.
  • I found this randomly funny:  White churches all serve coffee and snacks.  Black churches don’t.
  • I was excited about the idea of video venues.  After visiting a couple, my excitement has lessened.  The jury is still out for me on them.

For now, I just want to leave my observations as observations.  I hope they cause you to ask good questions when it comes to the effectiveness of the local church to reach people who don’t know Jesus and to take Christians deeper in their walks with him.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Theology

 

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Crossroads’ new worship leader…

1.  I started laughing histerically

2.  I almost had to stop it mid way through, but I pressed on

3.  The frosting on the cake are his comments at the beginning about how good he is

And I’ll answer the question you are bound to ask:  Yes, we are recruiting this guy to come to Crossroads to be our worship leader.

And yes, there is a small part of me that wonders if this is staged because how could anyone be this talented?… maybe someone from North Carolina can help me out?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Wisecracks

 

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Religion Stinks

I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone tell me they aren’t interested in Jesus because of how hypocritical they see the Church.  This comes in many forms:  televangelists, “Christian” politicians, the church they grew up in, the pastor they grew up with, their Christian parents, the Church throughout history, and the list goes on and on.

I enjoy telling people who are anti-religion that they have a lot in common with Jesus, especially those who also have a desire to care for the poor.  Just a few of the many fun words Jesus had for the religious people of his day:

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
 “ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
        but their hearts are far from me.
 They worship me in vain;
        their teachings are but rules taught by men.’” -Matthew 15:7-9

And of course there are many more, Matthew 23 potentially taking the cake as Jesus rattles off these harpoons to the religious leaders, calling them “a son of hell (v.15)”, “blind guides (v.16)”, “blind fools (v.17)”, “blind men (19)”, saying that while they clean the outside of their cup, “inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence (v.25)”, calling them “whitewashed tombs (v.27)”, and then the big finish, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (v.33)”

My point is simple: People should not look to religious people/leaders for their example of Christianity, they should look to Jesus.

(A side note: I think a lot of people use this as an excuse to not have to deal with Jesus)

Let Jesus tell you who Jesus is.  It’s only fair.  Curious?  Read his biography, the book of John.

Religion stinks.  A relationship with Jesus doesn’t.

A cool spoken word poetry video that hits on this very topic:

I preached on this topic on Sunday 1/8 as we begin a sermon series in a Galatians, a book that deals with this very thing:

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in My Thoughts on My Sermons

 

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The Elephant in the Church Room: Homosexuality

I preached on homosexuality and the Church yesterday.  This is a tough topic that is very polarizing.  I think my biggest problem with the Church’s traditional approach to it is that it has offered a 2 cent answer and has failed to comprehend that this is a million dollar question.  I think the reason we (heterosexual Christians) have done this is because homosexual attraction is not an issue we have to deal with personally so we make humongous assumptions about the people who do, assumptions we have no way of validating.  The root of this problem is that we don’t have any friends or even acquaintances who are gay or lesbian, so we really have no idea what they are going through.  And we won’t be able to have any friends who are gay or lesbian because we have created such a stigma around it that both sides are now feeding off of, only making matters worse.

What would help?

It would help if the Church would stop creating such a stigma around homosexuality.  The Bible calls homosexual acts a sin; that’s well and good and it’s okay for us to stand behind that, our entire faith is based on the Bible after all, but the Bible calls a bajillion others things sin as well, and I don’t see this type of stigma created around those things. And by stigma I mean: 1.) we (as well as many on in non-church culture as well do) make a mockery of homosexuality with gay impersonations, jokes, sarcasm, and calling one another homosexual slurs, either maliciously, or in fun.  We do not do this with any other issue that the Bible calls sin.  It would help if we stopped this because it is tragically destructive to those who do struggle with homosexual attraction.  Why would you ever want to confide in someone who is blatantly making fun of you and your deepest struggles?  Or even want to be around them?  2.) We say the Church is a place for sinners to come and find Jesus but if your sin and/or temptation is homosexuality, you are shown the door.  It would help if we didn’t expect people to be perfect before they are allowed to hear about Jesus.  It would help if we stopped acting like homosexual acts are a worse sin than all of the things we repeatedly struggle with and do on a regular basis.  I think one of the main reasons we treat homosexual acts like they are a worse sin than others is because since we don’t struggle with it, it makes us feel self-righteous and superior to those who do.  We’d never create this type of stigma about arrogance, greed, lust (see my blog post about my issues in this area), premarital sex, malice, or disobeying our parents, which are sins that Scripture condemns in the exact same context as homosexual acts.  The reason we wouldn’t create this type of stigma for these acts is because we’d be ostracizing ourselves and our close friends.  3.) It would help if we stopped teaching that homosexual attraction is a sin.  Show me in the Bible where it says that being tempted is the same as sinning?  Attraction and lust are two very different things.  I am a married man and I am often attracted to other women that I see.  This is not a sin.  All other women will not become ugly the moment I say “I do”.  But when I choose to lust over them, I have made the conscious choice to sin by acting on my temptation.  It would help if we stopped treating homosexual attraction as the same thing as homosexual acts.  It would help if we stopped making things up that aren’t in the Bible.  It would help if we stopped plucking verses out of the Bible and posterizing them, without any concern for the context of the rest of the Bible, let alone the context of the rest of the same sentence…what a concept!

It would help if as soon as I say “I think homosexual acts are a sin”, I am not called a bigot, homophobic, or hateful by those who disagree with me/the Bible.  It would help if those who disagree understand that I love all homosexuals in the same way I love all heterosexuals who are having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends out of wedlock, i.e. the same way I love everyone who disagrees with the Bible.  And to Christians who’d ask how I do this, it is a very simple answer: you just love them, it’s what we are commanded to do by Jesus.  And no, love is not synonymous with approving of that person’s behavior.  I find it odd that we’d have to agree on 100% of things in order to love someone, it would help if both sides of this issue understood that.  I can 100% love you but not 100% approve of everything you do, yes that is possible, in fact it’s how nearly all of our relationships already function.  It would help if those who disagree with me/the Bible understand that my church has a welcome mat on our front doors to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, or any sexual behavior outside of marriage for that matter.  It would help if church people didn’t assume that a church approves of homosexual acts just because they see gay or lesbian couples in attendance.  It would help if those who disagree with me/the Bible understood that a Bible church like mine is going to follow what the Bible says–that we call everyone to the journey of aligning their lives with God’s commands, because we have made Him the King of our lives and it’s our soul’s aim to walk the path of life He has set before us, not to earn his approval, but out of thanks, love, and worship to Him for all He has done for us, and out of faith and trust that God’s ways are better than ours, even when it doesn’t feel like it.  I’m not saying you have to agree with me on this, I’m just asking that you see ahead of time that this is our mission on all matters, whether it be sex, money, humility, conflict, forgiveness, you name it.  We (by “we”, I mean myself and those who say they believe in the Bible) can’t pick the parts we like and dismiss the parts we don’t, because then every Sunday morning is simply Noah’s opinion session, and nobody needs that.  If you have a beef with what the Bible says, I can thankfully say that is above my pay-grade and you can take that up with God, it’s His book.  There are things that I have a beef with, and I do take them up with Him, honestly expressing my frustration and confusion, but still submitting to Him in spite of some difficulties.

This is a difficult topic but instead of ignoring it or letting it fester, it would help if we put our weapons down and followed the path of Jesus, talking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  Loving her as a friend when everything in his culture told him not to, while at the same time gently showing her why she was so spiritually thirsty, and pointing her towards the answer to her thirst: a relationship with Jesus himself, which would bring her the wholeness each and every one of us is looking for.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in My Thoughts on My Sermons

 

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Resting Ain’t Easy

Two Sundays ago, I preached on “Resting in God’s Power” as a way of concluding our “Not By Might, Not By Power, But By My Spirit” Declares the Lord sermon series:

As I mention in the sermon, resting is not an easy thing for me.  It’s especially hard as a pastor where you have the option of working as much as you want, and the work you do is ‘ministry’, not just work (much easier to justify).  My job isn’t a 9-5 job where I punch in and punch out but is a job where I can always be doing things to make our church stronger: hanging out with people in the church, doing more outreach, etc.  And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these things, but if I don’t keep boundaries on them, I end up running my ministry-batteries dead, along with my marriage and my sanity.

In an attempt to recharge my batteries, and as a way of practicing what I preach in my above sermon, I’m taking all of August off from preaching.  The move to our new building (plus name change) has taken a lot more work/energy than I had anticipated and as we gear up for our Sept. 18th Grand Opening, I know I need some time to recharge my creativity, while also freeing up time to finish the work needed for the Grand Opening.  I enjoy preaching, and think it’s something I’m gifted to do, but preaching every week wears me down over time.  Like a musician forced to write one new song every single week, eventually the creativity, quality, and passion run dry.

I’m a transparent person so bear with me here.  I’ve always struggled with missing a Sunday, or with guest preachers, because of the exact symptoms I preach about in this sermon: my insecurities about who I am (am I only valuable if my church is growing?) and my lack of faith/trust in God that my church will be fine without me being the one preaching every week.  So in this past week, in an attempt to recharge my batteries, I’ve really struggled with the complexity of taking an entire month off:

On two occasions that I told people I wouldn’t be preaching this month they were visibly disappointed.  While I know their reaction is a means of complimenting me, it also fills my distorted thinking with anxiety:  What if attendance sinks this month and doesn’t recover?  What if the work God is doing in these people’s lives stops this month and doesn’t recover?  What if the window of opportunity that has been opening now closes shut?  Included in this is the general anxiety of being a people-pleaser, wanting to please these people’s expectations of me, in the same way I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to any social invite that is church-strengthening or outreach-related, because I don’t want to let someone down.  All of these questions point towards the unhealth that is in me.  I assume that I am not the only pastor (especially solo church planters) who thinks these things.  As I take this month off from preaching, I observe that preaching is essentially an addiction in my life and I am now feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  Even though it is something that wears me out and fills up a lot of time that I often would like to use on other ministry efforts, there is that piece inside of me that needs it to feel in control.  As if God could only use my preaching to work in someone’s heart, not a guest speaker’s, or that it’s my preaching that changes hearts, not the working of the Holy Spirit.

As I get healthier in these areas, I think our church will get healthier in them as well.  I think I’ve conditioned my church that Sunday morning is about hearing me speak, not about coming before God as a community to worship Him and to listen to His word being taught, joining together to be strengthened as we seek to accomplish his mission 24/7, allowing Him to do His work through us, understanding that we are a community where all do ministry, not a one-man show.

As I said in my sermon, resting in God’s power is not easy and I, like everyone else, need to give myself Jesus’ grace for not getting an A+ in this area (thank you, Jesus).  The difficulty of this topic is the reason we are to observe a weekly Sabbath, so we can be reminded of these truths.   The Sabbath is an exercise, like doing bench press, that stretches our faith/trust muscles, bringing pain and discomfort (though the day is meant to be enjoyed, the discipline needed to stop and make it happen is painful), so that we come out stronger on the other side.  This week has already done this in me, and I know the rest of the month will as well.  I’ve very thankful for this month off, as well as my Sabbatical next summer (3 months off, June-August, which will mark 7 years of planting/pastoring Crossroads).  Though this time off scares me, it is a good scare.  It is a scare that is forcing me to realize that I am unimportant and God is important.  That my church doesn’t need me, they need the Holy Spirit.  That the Church is a beautiful body made up of many parts for God to use, not just one part (me) that the rest of the parts hinge on.  These are all things I’ve already known cognitively, but it takes some bench pressing to really work them out into reality, painfully, but coming out the other end much stronger and healthier for it.

 
 

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