Archive for August 2007

Please Forgive Me

Every time I run into someone at least a bit of the conversation is about the power of kindness.

I have had some tee shirts printed up that read “Please Forgive Me…” on the front.  That is a great conversation starter.  When people ask what that is about I tell them I’m a Jesus follower, then I ask what has happened in their life by another Jesus follower who has damaged them, miscommunicated God’s character, or worse… Then I ask them to forgive us… much like Nehemiah did in his prayers… though he didn’t sin himself, he asked for forgiveness on behalf of all of Israel.
 
I am having more opportunities to serve my way into people’s lives than ever in any location I have been.

The Bird

Most of the people in the Tampa Bay Area are not from here – much like Denver, or Los Angeles or Las Vegas.  To clear up a misunderstanding, there are very few elderly-retirees living in the Tampa area.  This is not a “snow bird” area.  Those who do own condos in the Clearwater area (just across the bridge that connects Tampa to St. Petersburg) are somewhat wealthy.
 
So far I’ve had two great conversations with people who were in a hurry to get somewhere.  Each time, as I drove near them, the person flipped me the bird – then ended up driving to the same place as me.  When they got out of their cars they engaged me in conversation – as friendly as could be!
 
Keep in mind lots of people here are from NY and NJ where the bird signal is equal to a hand wave.

What’s Your Story?

As we are living life at a slow enough pace and with a friendly enough perspective, we are doing just two things – asking people their names as we introduce ourselves… AND asking them their story.

Everyone has a story.  Everyone wants to tell their story.  Why?  No one is or has been willing to listen to them tell their story.
Is it so amazingly simple.

Moving? Here’s a Tip

In the course of moving south recently Janie and I have researched numbers of ways of doing this.  The “givens” are…
1.    Nothing gets broken (duh – what’s the point if you have nice stuff that gets cracked up along the way regardless of savings?)

2.    Personal sanity.  Enough said.

We discovered two ways specific groups and ways to do this.  I don’t mind mentioning companies.  Hey, I’ve done the research.  I’m not going to hold onto this info.  My life goal is to help as many as possible to become successful in what they (you) are up to.
 

Discoveries about moving with as little pain and expense as possible…

A.    Load and unload your own traditional services.  If you are willing to do the packing of your boxes, the loading and unloading of all your stuff, there are lots of companies out there with this policy.  However, do your homework.  Look closely at references of past customers.  Among our pastoral talent team, with about a dozen families in this group alone, some have had very trying experiences.  One was a “Christian” group based in Tampa and proudly made it known they were long term attendees of a large fundamentalist church in town.  They outright lied to the family on the west coast who were using them.  The truck driver (a middle aged woman who had driven for over 30 hours to get there.

The best prices among these sorts of services – they are usually Ma and Pa Kettle companies you have never heard of.  (In the case of the fundamentalists, after calling them on their many promises they had utterly failed on, the “president” called our pastor an “A-Hole” then stated crying on the phone and eventually invited he and his family to come to church with them…  (This is almost as entertaining as the highlights DVD of Chris Farley on SNL.)

B.    Load and unload… but with a name brand.  Those who had the best experiences were in this category.  The company most used was Planes.  Not sure if they are a nation-wide company, but in each case they were timely, had a great attitude and all goods arrived without damage.

C.    Pods!

You’ve seen the commercials.  The mini-garage like “pod” is dropped off.  Fill it.  Approximately 5 to 10 days later your stuff shows up, depending on where in the U.S. you live.

The Pods approach is far less expensive than any of the above, IF, big IF, you have lots of friends to help you load.  In our case, we hired great laborers who weren’t one bit afraid of working.  We didn’t ask too many questions about their passports.  We paid them a fair wage.  They were happy as clams.  We loaded three large Pods in a matter of eight hours.  That’s what it took to load up our old large, 4,500 s.f. house.

By the way, the Pods people went way out of their way to accommodate us in many many ways that were very impressive.  We were blown away at their service orientation, including me calling the local delivery point near closing time to explain my wife was so stressed out she was crying because we needed one more Pod…  The driver said, “Ah shucks, we can’t have that now can we.  I’ll be right over with another one.  I’m off the clock but we aim to please.”  That is a company, like Apple, Tag Heuer, BMW, Chipotle… that realizes the obvious principle that most companies just don’t get – it’s not the itsy bitsy product in front of us we are selling – it’s raving customers for life we are interested in!

Those who think like this – they aren’t necessarily brilliant, they simply aren’t stupid like 99.99% of the manufacturers, poorly run companies, churches, etc. that abound in the U.S. and beyond.  It is a tremendous pleasure to do business with people who actually get it.  I will not only do business with them, I will become evangelistic about spreading the good news of their simple insight.

From Message First To Serving First

In every major city in the world today, it is no longer possible to approach an emotionally healthy stranger and engage him / her in conversation about spiritual things. True, there are exceptions, but those are the desperate, depressed even suicidal people – or those special situations that God simply sets up in his unique way.
 
It will become increasingly vital that we establish a relationship with not-yet believers by doing exactly what Jesus did – by living the way Jesus lived – as servants of all.  We are the ones who notice the invitations of God that come our way.  Not all needs are assignments from God certainly, but if we value the noticing of our internal Holy Spirit radar, a day will likely not go by that we will not have an invitation from on High to serve.  Out of that serving, will naturally evolve simple questions from those we are connecting with.  Even a newbie in Jesus can answer nearly all of the questions that come from the curious.  This I know – I speak to several dozen not-yet believers each week – one on one.

From Guilt Induced (The “Should”s) to the “Get To’s!”

Why aren’t the people of your church doing evangelism?
Near the top of the list is because there is no real training and no real model for them.  It is a very unfortunate truth that with very few exceptions, the pastors and other leaders of nearly all of America’s church – “Evangelical” church at the top of the list – have no freaking idea how to do evangelism.  In all honesty, we need to take all references to “Evangelical” out of the names of said places unless the lifestyle, practice and fruit is there.
 
I’m not knocking – I’m out to change.  Each Tuesday and Thursday, at 1:00, EST, I am doing FREE coaching for church launchers (Tues) and those leaders / pastors who are stuck or in decline (Thursdays) for 44 minutes.  A good part of what I will be focusing on is practical encouragement as to how they can realistically change and themselves become outward focused.  No, not put together an evangelism team – but they become evangelistic.  People won’t do what you don’t do – if you are a pastor you already know that in your heart.
 
Drop all of the “should”s from your vocabulary.  That is a shaming word. Its use will simply impede the flow of God’s Spirit in your midst.  Tell your stories of your attempts to serve, show generosity – all of which will turn into a conversation.  Tell the good and the failure stories – they will laugh and they will begin to follow your lead.

Doable

The current stat that has held steady for decades – that only 3% of the attendees of even the most evangelistic churches will even one time share their faith in Jesus with anyone outside of their own immediate family, in their lifetimes…

–  this stat will fall to pieces in the next decade.

I may be an inaccurate forecaster, but I fully believe that that percentage will rise to above 50% – perhaps closer to 70% in many cases.
Imagine for a moment.

Fully 70% of your people – not once – but regularly sharing their love for Jesus – their faith in Jesus with not-yet believers.
 
Many factors are drawing the Church of Jesus to this point, but a huge one is the demand that we as leaders drop the “magic thinking” that has existed for decades around evangelism.  I know of what I speak.  I thought this way for a long time.

“One day someone – an inspired soul – is going to get the perfect way to share Jesus… Boy oh boy, watch out then!  We are really going to be effective then.”

I call that the “Big Boom” mindset.  Waiting until we get it just right.  Or waiting until the next “program comes out.
All the while, the simple, childlike model (never a program) is right under our noses that runs through out the scriptures. 
 
“Oh God, lift the veil from our eyes that we can see the simple way you ushered the kingdom to the Earth!”
 
“Anyone can do this stuff!  Where have I been all this time?  How is it that I have been dilly dallying around with my life when I could have been seeing people change for the good for years?”  As modeled and defined by the 3.5 Church, extending the kingdom is entirely possible.  In fact, the more you live in this lifestyle, the more passionate, the more empowered you walk.
 
I hear and read these words many times a week and have for years.
At first these words were gratifying to hear / read.  Now I am almost tortured at them.  Why?  Because I see around me so much energy being invested in maintenance activity in what people have come to call “Church.”

Yet a cursory reading of the scriptures makes it so crystal clear that that Jesus launched a catalytic movement with no hint of maintenance in his model or words.
 
We aren’t the laughing stock of the media because the “world” is opposed to us.  We are our own enemy.
 
To quote Pogo’s comic line, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
 
We are the theoretical army with no bullets and with an aversion to loud noises – if, heaven forbid, someone were to actually fire a shot.
 
Jesus’ and the Twelve’s approach to changing the world was only slightly oriented toward planning.  It was more or less, “Plan on your way to do…”
 
That approach is soon to return.
 
Those hungry for spiritual reality have about had it with the “Ready, Aim, Ready, Aim” but never “Fire” approach to maintenance church (yes, that deserves a small “c”).

From Expert to Novice

Somehow we clearly communicated that evangelism is for the experts only (please – let’s drop the word “outreach” – it is a false, non-biblical word that is entirely confusing – it now means advertising as much as anything – I implore you – words do make a difference – the culture around us isn’t one bit afraid of the “E” word any longer! – ask any salesman)

The Effective Early 3.5 Church saw evangelism as something – maybe the only thing – anyone could do.

“Just tell what Jesus has done for you.”  That’s a rough paraphrase of what Jesus told the Gadarene demoniac.

One feasible theory is that that man was primarily responsible for the launch of the many churches, including the seven in Rev. 2 and 3, in the crescent area of the Gadarene area.  It’s tough to beat his story after all.  “I have a ‘legion’ (that’s 10,000 if taken literally) demons.  Jesus showed up.  Now I’m close to normal.  You too can change.”

That’s evangelism at its finest.

Where On Earth Is The Church Going?

Ever wonder “Where will things be in ten years?”  I abide by the wisdom that our greatest mistake is to overestimate what can happen in the long run (ten years say) and to underestimate what change can happen in the short haul (five years).

With that in mind, let me take a shot at what I see coming around the corner in several areas in the Church scene in the next decade in several important areas that make up the spiritual “umph."  I am basing this not on what I see happening right now, but on what I sense is the convergence of what God has obviously been up to over the past several decades.  Rivers tend to flow, not zig zag.  His progress is referred to as a river continually in the scriptures.  That direction seems to point to the following.

This week let’s look at evangelism.
 
From Complexity to Simplification

Simple does not mean nixing the message one bit.  Peter apparently thought there was great power in the Early Church in believers sharing their Jesus Story –  “be ready to give an account of the hope the lies within you…”  If it is possible to be over trained and to try too hard to be effective, we have gone that distance in many cases.  We have undermined the profound power that is present in conveying to others how Jesus has changed our lives as Peter directs us.  Keep in mind, for the first 3.5 centuries when the Church’s effectiveness was at an all time high they had not access to the printed scriptures.  What they did have was an unstoppable passion and a conviction that people mattered big time – and they were armed with their life changing story they were not one bit afraid to share once they had gained the right to convey that story.

South African Pastors

A couple of amazing South African pastors were here to hang out for a few days recently.  These guys are humble yet walk in the power of the Spirit in an amazing way.  I know they are launching new churches all over the southern African basin, but I could not get them to tell me just how many new start ups they are involved with.  Even as I asked them the “how many” question I felt like such an American.  With “that look” that non-Americans give leaders from the U.S. (we are so into counting things – it really is goofy and not an issue for the most part) I realized I had asked the wrong question.  I do know that beyond South Africa proper, they are planting far beyond 100 new launches simultaneously.  Any way one looks at it, that is exciting stuff.