Archive for Challenging

How About A Summer Outreach Lab

photo 2If you haven’t taken a stab at Kindness Outreach, the summer is the perfect time for doing a “Lab” – that is, to do some experimenting to learn a few lessons about how to build a heart connection with the those in your community.

Any season has it’s advantages for connecting with people, but the summer works well for both servers and those they serve. The weather is better, so people are outside more, and in general there is a bit of a “Vacation mentality.” This could be the ideal time for your people to take a stab at reaching out.

Here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind.

A. Relax.
As we show God’s kindness we are planting seeds more than harvesting crops, at least to begin with. Don’t pay attention to the conventional stats you might be tempted to count, like “How many came to church this month because we served them.” Trust me, they will come, so don’t worry.

Right now the goal is to learn how to enjoy reaching out with the kindness of God “…that leads to a radical life change.” As we reach out in fun, doable ways we will catch the “Virus” of God’s love for others – and begin to see them with new eyes.

B. Have fun!
We have been wired by God to enjoy life. We may need to “Practice,” but as we stick with it, before long, we’ll be having fun like pros!

If we aren’t having a good time, we can’t disguise the truth. Those we touch will pick up on that, they’ll be turned off and won’t want to have anything to do with the God we are inviting them to follow.

Here are a couple of summer “No-Lose” projects to try on for size.
Give Away Bottles of Water
There are lots of places and ways to serve thirsty people in warm weather.

Dollar Car Wash
Wash a car, then give drivers money for the privilege of serving them. Mind blowing!
This is great for involving numbers of people (a minimum of 10 or up to as many as you want if you are able to do several cars at once).

To get the detailed explaination of these and many more projects, pick up “101 Ways To Serve Your Community.” It’s available on Amazon as an instant kindle eBook purchase, or in a paper version as well.

Are You Really Outwardly Focused?

outward-focusedHave you noticed that the U.S. Church tends to go through trends every now and then? Books are written, conferences are held, programs come and go and the voices of experts in these areas rise to prominence.

When these trends flow, we are naturally excited about the possibility of these manifesting around us, We dream about what it would be like to walk in that reality right now, but the dream world and the real world aren’t one and same.

When there was a lot of hoopla about worship, I helped a church that was doing “Contemporary” worship but failed to connect with their community around them in Pasadena. They were baffled that they weren’t connecting with younger families, even through there was no shortage of those around them.

But I discovered that their worship song rotation included a number of Gaither Band songs. I like the Gaithers as much as the next person. I even have a song or two of theirs in my iTunes collection, but to call their songs contemporary is big stretch.

Currently the trend moving through the Church is a return to the importance of outreach, and I couldn’t be more enthused! As I see it, this is the core of any other practice. Jesus modeled outwardness above all else. Again the question boils down to “Are we really pulling off outreach, or are we just excited about the importance of it? Is it a goal we celebrate at conferences, or is it a current reality?”

What are we to do? Let’s live differently, strategically and begin to walk it out. As the motto of this site goes, “Making the dangerous doable.” Let’s move toward some dangerous but doable stuff together.

How do we pull that off? That’s a longer discussion than we can have today, and that’s exactly what this site is about. We will have scads of discussions here down the road, but today let’s kick it off with a couple of practical assignments.

  1. Commit to the work it will take. I’m lazy by nature, and I’m in good company. When we are lazy it is easy to fall prey to living in a fantasy world. Do what it takes to sweat. As the Army saying goes, “No one ever drown in sweat.”
  2. Resist the temptation to advertise until you’ve practiced it. If you are like me it’s tough to resist plugging a book you like even before you’ve finished reading it. If you are a visionary you’ve probably pulled that one off a time or two. It’s good to be enthused, just hold on to your hat until you have finished it. When you begin to reach out keep it on the quiet side at first. Don’t wave the flag more than your experience can support. Do outreach with a handful of others and as you learn and have fun, then begin to spontaneously share your stories one on one before you broadcast them to the entire congregation.
  3. Start small Great things have small beginnings. That’s biblical and that’s the pattern of church history. Small starts are not the mark of failure by any means, rather they are usually the mark of assembling a runway for God’s Spirit to land with his presence in a big way.

 

Reaching out with waffles?

It’s amazing how transferable kindness outreach is. To reach out with God’s love in a practical way – to bring the Good News to skeptics – can be pulled off in any culture – even Scandinavia. Go figure.

We gave out hundreds of waffles in Norway. Waffles you ask? In Norway that’s the draw. When a Norwegian gets a waffle they feel incredibly loved!

What’s the “Waffle factor” in your neck of the woods?

7.5 Lessons I Learned About Outreach At Burning Man

The famous Burning Man Festival is happening right now in the desert north of Reno right now. About 50,000 people from all over the world are gathered together to celebrate – uh, all sorts of things. If you ask them, they will give lots of different answers as to why they are gathered together, but one thing is for sure, BM is a great place to connect with people who are in search of a spiritual connection.

As you watch the news footage about Burning Man on Labor Day, the lessons below might put things in better perspective.

There are two of the little known facts that people generally don’t know about me.

A. A few years ago I went with a team of friends to serve folks at Burning Man, and

B. I was a guest on the Jerry Springer Show. (Yes, you can see the episode on YouTube, but I’ll save the story for another article.)

Here are a few lessons I learned at the Burning Man festival when I was there with a team a couple of years ago.

1. Being around extreme people tends to beat negative religion out of a judgmental person like me.

We will not be effective in outreach as long as we carry around judgmental attitudes towards not-yet Believers. Pretty much all of us have some measure of a judgmental attitude, it’s just that we are in denial of that truth.

As far as outreach goes, it’s vital that we break free from the grip of negative, judgmental attitudes. When I use the “R” word, I’m referring to human attempts at making something spiritual happen without the power or presence of God. That kind of religion is common, but it is something God hates, something that people outside the Church hate and above all, something God despises.

Extreme people are a gift to Believers. God will bring Burning Man people into your life – not literally mind you – but those he will use to reshape you. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and only hang out with those who think, look like you, drive cars like you and who work where you work.

2. We need big hearts for others if we hope to be successful in outreach.

You will never get a heart for others while you are stuck at home just thinking thoughts or reading books. Change happens when you get around others.

3. To be successful in outreach we need to destroy ridiculous myths we carry about regarding “Those kinds of people.”

Perhaps in all of our lives, there are some we categorize as ones who are impossible for God to reach. We think of them as “Those kinds of people.” They may be people who have wronged us, or maybe they have even done something wrong to all of America. We may feel obligated to dislike them.

As my friends and I drove up to the entrance gate of the BM event I was rubbing my eyes a bit like Mr. Magoo (if you have seen those cartoons of the nearsighted man on TV Land). I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real. It was a scene that resembled what I imagined Woodstock would have been like only a few steps beyond that event. People sported fluorescent wigs and crazy get ups beyond that even.

I had always had categories in my mind – that there were “easy to reach” people, then there were the “hard to reach” ones. People at events like Burning Man were in the latter category because of what seemed to be their wild ways. But surprisingly, when I actually got around them, I quickly discovered they were super nice, very approachable, and in many ways, easier to reach out to than middle-class people I’d been reaching out to for decades in the suburbs across America. Go figure!

It was important that I just stop judging them, open my heart, talk to them, and most of all, listen to them. As my inner chatter stopped a bit he began to speak to me about his love for them.

4. To effectively connect with not-yet Believers, I have to be myself, with no attempts at looking any different than I really am.

In other words, I couldn’t have been anyone other than myself and gotten away with it. Folks at BM have a highly developed BS detector – even more sensitive than most others in the general culture.

Being myself is a high value for me, and probably for you as well. When I drove through the gates at BM I realized that this was not a place where you could fake it for a minute and get away with it.

As well as being transparent, the question was whether I was willing to be a little flexible and join in on the fun. Either you wore a neon wig or you didn’t! (Hey what’s wrong with that! You might look good in one yourself. “All things to all people…”)

5. To walk powerfully in outreach we need to be stirred with love for those outside of Christ.

God will give you a heart for others if you are open to being touched. Just ask him for his heart. He is in the business of touching hearts with his passion for others. Warning: His heart is sometimes offensive to your sensibilities and background.

6. Outreach – especially the practical kind – can connect with radical not-yet Believers more than church folks think is possible.

We found it fairly easy to connect with folks at BM. We reached out a couple of ways – the water give away as already mentioned and something pretty different that fit the BM crowd – Biblical Dream Interpretation. We saw some amazing responses. In a future entry I’ll blog about that unique outreach.

7. The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in the lives of not-yet Believers around us, no matter how they appear on the surface.

In addition to serving BM people, we followed that up with a simple question – “May I pray for you for ten seconds?” Many at BM had a different version of the spiritual world than us, but we brought them the Kingdom’s presence as we prayed for them – for ten seconds. Jesus prayed for less than ten seconds most of the time and amazing things happened.

7.5 Outreach is big fun!

We learned this important lesson. We gave ourselves permission to have fun as we loved and served others. One thing is super clear when you drive onto the grounds of BM – everyone there has come to play!

At a place like this you can’t take yourself too seriously. How often in life will you sit on a toilet only to notice later that your backside is completely covered in blue from the body painted person who went in before you. Hello! That was another blow to the remnant of negative religion in me.

We experienced the favor of God at this festival. We crossed paths with the founder of Burning Man and ended up hanging out with him. He liked us and, though I’m not sure he fully understood what we were doing in serving people with God’s love, he really loved our idea. We ended up hanging out with him for a while and in the end he asked one of our team guys to be on a regional board for him.

I’m not sure I’d recommend going to Burning Man willy nilly unless you feel called to serve and minister to people. If you do end up there, one thing’s for sure – God will “Mess” with your heart and mind and it will be difficult to be the same again. As it turns out that was something I desperately needed.

What Will You Be Known For?

A friend of mine wrote a couple of popular books but those came out a ten or so years ago. He was with a pastor who happened to be on the phone telling someone he was with this author. The guy on the other line said he thought this author had died since he hadn’t come out with any new books lately! This author is actually not that old, but when we aren’t in the public view consistently people can come to some dark conclusions.

That incident got me thinking about our life messages.

Our lives come down to messages – sometimes expressed and sometimes tragically not spoken by the time we finish life. You are a unique expression of the life of God and he wants to life his unique life through you – through your life message.

Perhaps you already understand your life message – then further hone it. A life of clarity is a life of effectiveness.

Lean into it. Don’t wobble. Don’t give in to being diffused. Be a laser. LIfe is always going to try to pull you away from your uncompromising focus.

Walk out your message as you call upon the power of the Spirit. “You can do all things…”

One of these days my author friend really will die – his books really will come to an end. Your life will be said and done before long as well. I don’t wish that upon you, mind you, but let’s face reality. We only have so much time to devote to our life’s message. Now is the time to go for it.

New Steve Sjogren book coming

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After spending a few months working on my last book project I’m excited it is done and moving quickly toward publication.

After doing this a few times I’ve figured out that writing a book is doable once you have the basic plan nailed down, but getting to that point can be a challenge.

The sub-title is “Ten things I learned about God when I died.” There were lots of lessons I picked up on when I went through my NDE. I could have shared twenty lessons, but we capped it off at an even ten. I share a lot of details about what happened to me in the injury and the trauma I experienced after the injury in the months and years following – all stuff that was never made public until now. There has been a lot of pain I’ve had to deal with and forgiveness I’ve had to deal with and to seek from other others who have had “ought” with me.

I’ll share more about the emotional end of things I went through as i wrote this. Suffice it to say, this stirred up a lot of deeply stored up stuff in me I wasn’t aware was there as I recalled what I went through.

I hope you’ll help me talk this up in the coming months leading up to its release.

How to release love at your church

As you make loving others the priority of your church’s life all other goals that are important and biblical, tend to fall into place fairly spontaneously. It works that way with discipleship, prayer – other biblical values that are worth pursuing.

If you make those other goals the focus, as important as they are, they are not likely to materialize in your midst as a congregation. You can try to teach them into existence and to a degree that will help, but in the end God’s presence is required for success.

If you make it your aim to become a praying church it is unlikely you will ever get there unless you reach out to love others. But as you reach out you will learn to pray along the way.

If you make it your aim to become a loving church, one thing is for sure – you’ll never get there by simply trying to become more loving or by preaching about love.

Get lost in loving others beyond your borders and see what God builds. God’s Spirit will come upon your congregation in a profound way. You will be known for your love for one another.

Ideas or People – which are you excited about?

“It’s an awesome thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” I tasted a little bit of that in my near-death experience a few years ago. We will all taste of that awesomeness one day not too long from now. It’s wise to live in light of that reality.

All of life boils down to pleasing Jesus who wants his family to grow larger and larger. Any reading of the words of Jesus makes it apparent that seeing people come into the Kingdom was Jesus’ primary concern.

One day we will all stand before the Lord and be evaluated for what our lives stood for – for how we lived in this life. Some will say, “I promoted some important ideas Lord!” Ideas are important. It is vital that we think in a biblical way, but ideas are merely an assumption that will spur us on to effectiveness in reaching people more effectively. Often in the Church we have copped out and made the focus thoughts about obedience instead of actively obeying Jesus.

One day we’ll all see face to face that God never has been all that concerned with some of the ideas we found so much definition with. It has always been about people. Start today. People are what it’s all about. Pray for a heart for people. You may fancy yourself an idea person. That’s great – so am I – joint the club! But you absolutely have to stretch yourself to actively embrace people. Isolation isn’t tolerable. Ask God to empower you to live in a pleasing way – in a way that is empowered by him to love them one at a time.

Serve AND Speak Words

I regularly hear the phrase, “Let’s show God’s love and if necessary we’ll use words.” I’m not sure if I have especially tuned my ears to this phrase or not, but I hear it a lot these days. Most of the time those who say that think I am going to light up in agreement with them. It’s true, I light up alright, but not in the way they expect.

The norm is to share words when we serve others. It’s abnormal to keep quiet, to not open our mouths, when we connect with others when we see their hearts open in a moment of vulnerability.

One of the drawbacks to the sort of outreach I’ve unleashed (kindness outreach) is that people sometimes tend to under-verbalize the gospel message when the opportunity presents itself. I have been increasingly aware of this for the past decade or so. In on the spot training I have sought to convey this, but usually my words fall on deaf ears. People smile, nod their heads, then to out on an outreach and say precisely nothing. What’s up with that?

Granted, it’s okay to start out saying nothing while your inner fly wheel is gaining momentum. You may be a total introvert. SE / KO is taylor made for you! I’m not going to put a trip on you, but there is room for you to grow just the same. In every ministry it is normal to make progress. How you grow will be unique to you.

It doesn’t take months or years for momentum to kick into gear. If you are an utter introvert I’ll give you a bit of a pass, but maybe God won’t. I’ll leave that between you and him. You might only need to say a couple of words to plant a dynamic seed in others. Jesus often spoke two that made big impacts on his hearers like, “Come out!” or the commentary, “Jesus wept.” It’s not the length or preparation that counts. Just say what the Lords gives you.

Serve in power and speak in power.

Refilled by reading

I’ve been writing a lot lately as I’ve shared on this blog. I can only write so much and then I start to see double.

Something I learned from Stephen King that has been helpful along my journey – as a writer it’s vital to read about as much per day as you write. I’m not sure it’s possible to keep up that ratio every single day, but I love the idea just the same. In the midst of writing I find it refreshing to read as a replenishing exercise. Try it and see if it works for you.