Archive for Observations

Reaching Millennials (1 of 5)

There is no magic to reaching the Millennial generation.On the other hand, if we hope to get them, we simply need to do and be what God’s word has called us to be about all along.

Sometimes working with the millennial generation is about as frustrating as nailing Jello to a tree. The truth is they are not just a gift to your church. They are even the strongest booster rocket you can desire.

They call us to think through what we want to see. As you look this over realize a couple of matters. These are descriptions of the sorts of churches that the millennial generation will consider joining.

As you read these over, resist the trap of “Cognitive dissonance” – that is, the tendency to assume the best about what we are doing, even when our image is far from reality. This confusion is more prevalent in the church world than any other.

When we begin to make changes those already in our church usually resist – even to the point of threatening to leave or even worse, to stir up others to leave because all of the sudden “My” church has changed to a different direction.

1. Be Generous with Money

 

In the eyes of many of the millennial generation, the church seems to exist mainly to for self-perpetuation. More than their predecessors, they live out the line “Put your money where your mouth is.”

To reshape that assumption, let’s be known for our extravagant generosity. Let’s even go so far as to be willing to nearly “Squander” money on the world around us. All hyperbole aside, let’s drop any caution and now define ourselves as incredibly giving without being overly concerned with that self-interest mindset.

The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the word “Generous” to describe one of the marks of the fruit of the Spirit in Ephesians chapter 5. When we show generosity, we establish credibility. As we go into the community to give away bottles of water at a stoplight, sometimes people ask how we can afford to pay for all of this.

“Oh, we pay for it out of our offerings. We can’t help but spend a lot of money in our community to bring the same love that Jesus showed in his day.”

“But how do you cover all the expenses your church needs if you give so much away?”

“We see the city is worth investing in – worth showing love by serving. We believe that if Jesus were walking around town today, he’d being doing this sort of thing.”

As we loosen our grip on funds, our reputation as a giving church will begin to spread like a life-giving tsunami. As it was with Jesus, when we get into the community “Advertising” will take care of bringing all the attention we need to notice and experience God’s tsunami, his love, attention, and acceptance, they will start to “Gossip the Gospel.”

When we start to flow with God’s generosity, we are merely opening the door for our people to do what has already been in their hearts.

When it comes to outreach to the needy, pantries are good, but don’t let that be the limit of your outreach. Sometimes those with the greatest needs can’t get to any pantry without a lot of difficulties. Jesus reached out to the poor in a variety of ways. The most common way Jesus reached out was to meet needs as he ran across them.

Invest a given percentage of the congregation’s income back out into the community. A smart way to begin is to commit to percentage giving. If you already have required portions, you are expected to pay – tithes to the denomination, the denomination’s requirement to foreign missions, etc. You can negotiate those percentages.

Coming soon: 2 – 5

8.5 of My Favorite Mistakes of 2015

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

– G. K. Chesterton

 

I take a bit of time at the end of each year to take an honest, deep look into how the year gone by has gone. I group these together as “Mistakes” that are as positive as possible – I try to see them as stepping stones going into the new year.

As much as I know that my memorable mistakes will lead to learning opportunities that will propel me into the coming year.

I tend to have short-term memory problems with what I learned in previous years. It is important that I take a to heart the AA saying that launches the 12 Steps.

“I choose to take a fearless, moral inventory” of how things have gone, where they are now, and where I hope they will go from here.

It is easy to fall into the opposite belief of the Chesterton quote above.

We can fall into the false belief that a successful life is built on the appearance of outward success. Jesus’ hand picked mentees, the Twelve, make it clear that God sees mistakes as key elements that will lead to personal growth and spiritual health.

Why call them my “Favorite” mistakes? These are the ones that have taught me the most over the past year. Without mistakes we won’t have traction we need in order to move forward. Mistakes are the rough surface that allows us to grip the wall in front of us.

Unless we make some great mistakes, we are destined to stay stuck in the ditch we’ve built from the false belief that perfection is the goal. The only difference between a ditch and a grave is the depth of each.

We tend to run from our mistakes – treat mistakes as though they were a sign of our incompetence.

We tend to hide our mistakes from our for fear they will categorize us as incompetent or immature. If others see our mistakes that draw that conclusion they need to rethink their view of an effective life versus one that only looks successful on the surface.

These are my “Favorite” mistakes of 2015. Believe it or not I had to pare my list down in order that this post won’t become too lengthy! As you read through these a button or two might connect with you and maybe even help you see more clearly about your life. Read More

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.

 

How To Pastor During the Holidays… After the Loss of a Loved One

There are probably more in your church who’ve experienced loss than you  realize. At a time of festivity, some in your congregation are struggling. The “Holidays” are no holiday for them. It’s a time of pushing emotional hot buttons.

If you want to minister to a large percentage of your folks, figure out a way to convey some practical thoughts that will make an adjustment. Send an email, weekly ezine, or just build these into the end of a message…

Read More

How to Increase Your Reach

God has placed in your heart and mine a desire to reach out beyond ourselves. The problem is often that we don’t know how to begin to pull that off. Many times we have tried this or that “Program” in an attempt to touch those around us. I’m not talking about outreach necessarily, but connecting in all of our relationships.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been pondering lately about how to grow in relationships in general.

Read More

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.

Why I Mourn Jerry Sandusky

By now we’ve all heard the salacious details that were brought out in the Jerry Sandusky trial for sex abuse. He was found guilty on 43 counts with a likely sentence of over 60 years. Formal sentencing to take place in a few weeks. At age 63 he’s seen his last day of freedom.

Reports tell that there was great joy and cheering coming from the crowds that were camped out in front of the courthouse. I read a number of quotes from the crowd making it clear these folks were out for blood. One guy said that hanging was too good for this former coach. There was a general sense of outrage in the community beyond those directly involved. No quote came from a victim or a victim’s family.

So where am I going with all of this you might ask. In not way do I think that we ought to go light on a monster like this guy. He has caused irreparable damage to dozens of child-men who will perhaps never be the same after what they endured at his hands. But there is an even greater tragedy here that no one has picked up on yet. Almost certainly an even greater monster sexually abused Jerry Sandusky.

It is well-known, based on generations of patterns lived out before us, and more recent extensive research in our lifetimes, that this sort of abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Abusers were abused. Those who molest nearly always were infected by the horrendous, demonic pattern of someone who attacked them earlier. Count on it, Jerry Sandusky started out as a victim. Clearly, absolutely, Sandusky is 110% responsible for his monstrous ways. In no way was he forced to do what he did. He could have and should have sought therapy for his brokenness along the way. He choose to give in to his inclinations. This is a no brainer case. Yet having stated that, there remains the fact that someone ultimately knocked over a big domino decades ago that in turn knocked over Jerry Sandusky’s domino and he in turn has knocked over dozens of innocent dominos. Victims attack victims attack victims. To quote Sonny and Cher, “And the beat goes on.” It’s satanic through and through – perhaps the greatest example of the way the Enemy of our souls does his worst, most destructive work.

This is a time to mourn Jerry Sandusky and all the dominos that have fallen both directions. What’s called for is a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Therapy, yes, but in the end only a face-to-face transformation will set anyone free.

God have mercy on us all.

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.

A Reflection on Donna Summers

The internet is buzzing today with the news that 70s Disco Queen Donna Summers died today. At the peak of her fame she produced hit after hit that fueled the sounds and culture of the disco scene. Some of that scene wasn’t worth fueling though. As the Holy Spirit began to work on her, she experienced a “radical life change” (Rom. 2:4, Message) in the early 80s. Janie and I were familiar with her new history as she began to rewrite it – part of it was launched out of the West LA Vineyard where we worked at the time. Ms. Summers sensed a calling from God to return to the places of influence where she’d made an impact for sin in the 70s and build a build a bridge of holiness toward Jesus.

I lost track of her progress after a few years but am aware she launched well. God loves a changed heart. Here’s to moldable hearts.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints.” Ps. 116:15, NKJV

New Shoes or Shoe Aficionado?

We live in a rocky, thorn-infested world.

Some wouldn’t know about that because they have worn shoes since the moment they could stand. Since birth we have been well cared for spiritually. They’ve not known life without shoes. Therefore it is difficult to relate to the huge percentage of those who go without adequate foot ware (in the Pacific Northwest U.S. that’s perhaps 91% of the population). Shoe wearers tend to spend all their time hanging around others who are like them.

Many of the well shod have grown to become shoe experts. Their favorite activity in life is to compare and contrast various shoes and shoe stores. They are shoe aficionados! Imelda Marcos, with her 2,700 pair of shoes, seems reasonable – perhaps even a hero even.

Others feel called to reach out to those without shoes – who aren’t aware of how differently life could go with a custom pair of shoes.

Shoes are transformational! There’s nothing wrong with owning multiple pair of foot ware. There’s a lot wrong with a smug attitude with those who feel there is no need for concern with the lost suffering feet of those without proper shoes.

When was the last time you got around the Shoeless? Ask God to give you his heart for them…and he will!

“A man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his own.” – Wm. James