5 Questions for The Grove: Make Disciples

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.

Will we make disciples of Jesus according to the Great Commission?

In our city The Grove has a great reputation. Everyone knows someone who goes to The Grove and people constantly say that they feel like they need to try us out on Sunday. They don’t always show up, but sometimes they do.

We don’t take this as a big success though. We see it as an added responsibility. At the end of the day, when I, as The Grove’s pastor, get to stand before Jesus and give account I don’t think he’s going to be interested in how awesome I am. I do think he’s going to want to talk about how we operated with what He blessed us with. And our reputation is just that – a gift – not something we’ve earned. So, if we are going to be making disciples it isn’t as much about “fulfilling the Great Commission” as it is being responsible with opportunities God has given.

To help us create a way for people to move from “i like the grove” to “the grove is my church” we are going to be working to create on ramps for people. If we think of the Grove as a highway – it’s great to be on that highway, but finding ways to get on has been a bit difficult. Being relationally based is a great way to be a church, but we are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t have weaknesses. If you can just see how awesome the highway is, but can’t get on it – it becomes a hindrance to your life – not a blessing.

So at the Grove we need to answer the question of how do people “become grovers” and how can we help them along the way – because it’s an awesome ride and everybody wants to get on the highway!

5 Questions for the Grove: Unprecedented Serving

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world. 

 

Will we organize for unprecedented serving in our cities?

 

As The Grove began we built community participation through serving others for the greater good into our culture. We didn’t want it to be something we did as much as it was who we were. This gave us the opportunity to be where God was, to work where He was working and to love our city in practical ways.

We allowed this serving to be grass roots style with lots of people serving in lots of different ways. The highest that the organizing got was when life groups would get together and all serve in a common way or at a common time. It was exciting, fresh, front-line, hard to measure, difficult to evaluate and perfect for who we were becoming.

As our church has grown the percentage of people active in life groups has declined (more actual people, but a lower percentage of the overall church). This isn’t to evaluate if this is good or bad, but it is the truth. So, if our best opportunities to serve outside of our (rented) walls is only open to a select few, then the cultural imperative of being a church that is a benefit to our community begins to be lost. This triggers a need to reorganize in new ways so that we can continue to experience what it is to be God’s hand of blessing towards others.

This is being encouraged in multiple ways (establishing a community life director on staff for the church, June 22nd having our Go Serve Sunday, generating local partnerships with active social services organizations). So the new framework is being built, but success for The Grove is not measured by systems. For us, we will know that we have made a great change when everyone grabs onto the fresh vision and participates.

Our missional mandate is to live for Jesus by loving our city. This cannot just be a catchy phrase that we plaster all over everything. If we fail to put actions to our words, we fail to have integrity and then we fail to be the message of God’s love and hope for our neighbors. This question is more than ‘will we serve’; this question is ‘who will we become’.

 

5 Questions for The Grove: Bricks and Mortar

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.  Part 1!

Question 3: What are the next steps to be made regarding property and/or buildings?

It probably took an entire year after The Grove started for people to stop asking when we were going to get a building, maybe 4. It was the most awkward thing. It was pretty much only churched people who asked too. People whose first thought of a church had four walls, a steep sanctuary roof and a sign out front for horrible puns that they hope will get pagan people to hate them less. A couple times I pushed back and asked them if they had sold their building yet so they could focus on being a great church… but only with close friends. It’s a telling thing that the dominant view of the western church – by Christians – is a building. I keep reading through the Bible and I can’t seem to find where Jesus told his followers that having buildings was the trick to making this thing happen.

Being building free has helped The Grove to grow an identity and curate a culture that is focused on mission, impact and being a generative presence in our city. It has helped our definition of church grow past stained glass and steeples – to a Christ centered network of relationships that is the body (not the building) of Christ.

God has given everything we need to become who He dreams of us being.

At the same time, we would also love to have a building. A building would be an amazing gift that we could give to our community. It would be great to make a decently tricked out auditorium for school concerts, political events, community meetings, or Glass Tiger concerts (one of these might be a joke). We could create outdoor play spaces, with a park or sports fields for our neighborhoods. Gym time is always at a premium, and it could be a great tool for ministry and for the betterment of our town. When you travel across the bridge into North Albany, these kinds of spaces are at a premium.

What kind of a gift could we give our city through a building?

This would be the driving question for The Grove if we were to pursue a building.

Yet, because we believe in the provision of God for what He wants to do, we are in no rush.

So, in the interest of preparedness and following God’s leading our leadership council and (mostly) our Trustees will soon be tackling these questions and making decisions (yes, no, wait, etc.) that will affect The Grove’s use of buildings and property to live for Jesus, to love our city and to see lives transformed by God!

In the meantime, those leadership groups would love your prayers and you can check out some possible church building designs below and vote on your favorites!

Touchdown Jesus!

Built entirely out of legos!

If the Hoover Dam was a church….

If we let the mountain hippies design the church!

This is an alien spacecraft beacon. With cell towers for every carrier.

It’s like an orthodox church on a flying carpet?

I don’t even know what to say to this….

For reals… a church meets in that.

5 Questions for The Grove: Generations

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.  Part 1!

Question 2: Will we successfully pass the faith to the next generation?

Organizations that have systems to reward mediocrity drive me crazy. Absolutely nutso. When an organization rewards itself for repeating its past success even while the environment in which it is operating changes, it’s a sure sign that I want to avoid that organization – and the people involved with it. Rewarding mediocrity is the best way to enact a slow, albeit relatively painless, demise to any organization.

Here’s what I think that looks like in the western church…

You are a young person who grows up in a church, say in the mid-1900’s, when Christian kids were equally being recruited to like Jesus, attend patriotic demonstrations and to battle the huns. They did this by holding large rallies which you would attend with your youth group at a local hall, or at a stadium in the nearby city. The rally would include singing of the most contemporary hymns and songs, a special message from a celebrity, some kind of special musical act, and a message from a dynamic preacher. You would leave the rally amped up, ready to take the world for Jesus, for your church and for your country.

You grow older and you stick with your church because it helped you have meaning in your life – it introduced you to Jesus after all, which is awesome – and you become an adult leader in your church. Turns out, there is a whole new generation of teenagers out there and it would be great to introduce them to Jesus as well. So, you get involved with running (and if you are older and have means, you also can be funding) rallies to introduce Jesus to kids. You get celebrities to say something, some kind of musical act (if we’ve reached the late 70’s, we can start getting ‘professional’ Christian bands who go from rally to rally), and a preacher who is really dynamic and relates well to the kids. And it works. Maybe not as much as before, but it works. If you are lucky enough to be a hard core, pre-destinational, God ordained election Calvinist you can ignore the lessening of the ministry effectiveness, but it’s still there. It’s not like the rallies don’t work, but it’s working for less and less people.

Now, let’s say you are one of the few who the second generation of youth ministry actually reached. And not just reached in getting you to go to a rally, or got you to sign some kind of a response card, or say a prayer – but you are one of the few who stuck with Jesus for life. Maybe it was so meaningful you became a youth pastor, or you volunteered in your local youth group. You are a part of a time in youth ministry when some studies show that as much as 85% of teens who profess Jesus at the end of high school will quit the faith during their 4 year college experience and turn away from Jesus completely. In order to fix this you grow bigger rallies, bigger groups and bigger weekly youth events. Your organization figures that if we want to help 15 kids follow Jesus for their whole lives, we need to attract 100 kids to the group. Maybe you even start holding rally-style events weekly, or even twice weekly. You get fun experiences (like vaseline mohawks!! #guilty), loud, front-edge music, minor celebrities (hence younglife’s strategy of reaching the popular kids at a local school and hoping the unpopular follow along), and a dynamic preacher. Kids leave ready to take their school for Jesus every week! But the long term effectiveness is questionable. So, the youth pastors’ turnover rate gets more and more rapid – he’s got to get out of town before anyone realizes how ineffective this 1940’s style of ministry is in 2014…

It’s not that the local church doesn’t want this. Traditional local churches with low conversion rates (that grow by transfers from churches with less attractive life-stage appropriate ministries) are full of people who had an amazing youth pastor (for a couple years anyways) and want to see that experience repeated for their children. It’s a noble and loving and normal Christian thing for a parent to want their teenage child to know Jesus and have the same meaningful experience that they did! I love and agree with this desire all the way! However, the traditional local church runs into a problem when the rally method they have been using for decades starts to fray and they enjoy less and less of a meaningful place in contemporary youth culture. It’s not that it stops working…it just works less and less. The tragic response from older generations is to blame the implementation of the strategy. We fire the youth pastor, spend more money, partner with the local “youth missionary” from young life, youth for christ or youth alive and build skateboarding ramps because kids like skateboarding, right?

 

We are the futile Glass Tiger fans trying to convince Beliebers, Barbz, and Little Monsters of the value of synthesizer produced music.

 

 

The classic argument lately has been that even thought those kids are leaving the church in their late-teens or early twenties, they are coming back when they get married and have kids. That was true…for a while. It’s not anymore. People in a traditional church live in denial of this because they can find anecdotal evidence and point to the young couple with the two adorable kids that came to youth group here 6 years ago and have come back because they want to raise their kids in the church, raise good kids in their good family and contribute to a better world (please do notice the complete lack of Jesus in any of the reasoning). In general, researchers are seeing less and less of these boomerang Christians return to the church in their mid-twenties. There are multiple reasons suggested, but it’s so widespread that churches need to take notice.

So, the traditional western church has become an organization that rewards a youth ministry philosophy that is horribly infective and is getting worse. We reward mediocrity. We even celebrate that mediocrity in our practices, spending and strategies.

We are contributing to the long slow, but relatively painless, demise of our churches by inefectively passing on the faith to future generations.

This is the dirty little secret among youth pastors today. Over and over again I talk to them about current youth ministry philosophies and they are at a loss because they know that past methods are becoming less and less effective, yet they are the very programs desired by the parents and leaders in their churches. They see the need for change, but they first have to reach the church before they can reach lost teenagers.

So, this is the question confronting The Grove…will we effectively pass on our faith to the next generation? Will we help them walk their journey, in their world, and maybe not follow the paths we have created? Will we help them plant churches that are radically different than the current? Do we have a baton that is worth passing on to them?

Is The Grove daring enough to lead the next generation to create radical churches – and not expect them to ever use the word ‘radical’? Or will we reward those mediocre few who fall in line, never ask challenging questions and keep their heads down so that we can keep moving along ignoring the impending collapse?

It sounds like the easiest thing in the world – until you hear how horrible their music is compared to our beautiful Canadian Rock Anthem Makers, Glass Tiger. Or you see how their theology doesn’t even fit into the systematic categories we have built for them. Or we see how little they care about issues that we have declared vital and how much they care about others we have never even considered.

It doesn’t mean that we stop going to rallies, investing in teens, or seeking help from outside the church organization. I am not against traditional youth ministry, but there is no way that it is the panacea of the Holy Spirit.

We need to become a people who help new generations know and follow Jesus – on Jesus’ terms, not on ours. It’s thinking in the same way as a missionary to a foreign field – what does following Jesus look like over there? How is it different? How is it the same? How does their cultural expression of Christianity actually challenge and improve us?

Before you write this off as an out of control rant (which may be true), I want to end with these extraordinary words of change from Billy Graham, from The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons (p.8),

Back when we did these big crusades in football stadiums and arenas, the Holy Spirit was really moving – and people were coming to Christ as we preached the word of God…But today, I sense something different is happening. I see evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way. He’s moving through people where they work and through one-on-one relationships to accomplish great things.

 

 

 

 

5 Questions for The Grove: World Missions

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.

Question 1: Will we be a major player in world missions?

The Grove has been built with a culture of being grassroots, underdogs, unstructured and free-wheeling. It’s awesome. To be that way required a ton of organization and intentionality for our leaders – and it worked awesome. God has given us opportunities and influence that went beyond our expectations. We have been able to contribute to the redemption of our city and our world!

When The Grove started up, we committed to being involved with world missions from day one. Part of our general offerings have always been designated to global missions because the Bible teaches that your heart follows your treasure – and we want our hearts to be drawn to the great commission!

So, as we started we basically supported one missionary couple – we became their biggest supporters – and ran with it. It was very exciting to put our money into action and to see God doing cool things in a foreign country. We then started sponsoring children through Compassion. Then we got carried away with Samaritan’s purse shoe boxes. Finally, we decided to contribute to building a couple church roofs in Liberia and got out of control, funding more than 25% of the project ourselves.

In all of this, The Grove has changed it’s position in global missions from an unorganized and small player to becoming a major player. We aren’t sending millions of dollars, we aren’t eradicating malaria – but for us, this have become a part of who we are – not just something on the side that we do. If we choose to actively disorganize we will stop becoming a player at all. This is why the Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t a movement at all – it’s a blip on the historical radar, so small that it is having absolutely no lasting impact. This is not the desirable future for the church at all – while we do not seek dominance at an institutional level, we do work in a harmonious way for the common good of all.

The question this pushes on us, is how will we organize for impact? Should we focus on one area, or one ministry? Should we spread out our influence to different regions of the world? Would it better for us to focus on health care? clean water? church planting? children’s ministries? Do we send as much money as possible? Do we start taking short term mission trips? Do we send a family somewhere to become a base camp we can operate out of?

In these areas, there aren’t particularly right or wrong answers, but we want to discern how God is leading us, where God is working and how we can get involved. The discussion is going to be happening at our leadership council meetings.

 

11 Things You Can’t Find in Church Planting Textbooks

1. You can do anything you can pay for. This is actually something I learned from my pastor, John Breitmeier. It may sound crass, but it’s really true. You might have the biggest ministry dream in the world, but if it’s not funded, it doesn’t move. As a church planter, you are the main fundraiser and you have to be alright with straight up asking people to fund a church that doesn’t even exist yet. You dream first, but then you have to take a look at the budget and adjust accordingly; God will provide all the money He needs to do what He wants to do.

2. If you send out mailers/postcards/door hangers expect to see the kinds of people who choose churches by mailers. Honestly, what kind of a person gets a postcard in the mail and then makes major spiritual decisions according to what it says. 9 times out of 10 it’s crazy people. There’s the odd person who has been praying and asking God for a sign and then this is how God leads someone to a church, but mostly you are going to see crazy people. The crazy people will also call you and get mad at you for inviting them to your party in the park. It’s awesome.

3. Satan will come against you by coming against everyone close to you. When the devil comes against me it’s no surprise and I am able to stand strong. When those I love most suffer, it hurts in a completely different way. I can point to too many “coincidences” of extreme difficulties and trials in my immediate family, in the lives of my close friends and in my extended family. You may seek prayer cover for yourself, but I think those closest to you need it also. It’s important to not be surprised by opposition, when you make aggressive moves for Jesus, it’s going to be noticed by Satan.

4. Those first two years when everyone thinks you are the greatest invention since velcro shoes…don’t get used to it. In the first place it’s an easy time to get a big head and start believing your own hype. Even more, the third and fourth year is when opposition that has been simmering under the surface finally comes out and tries to kick you square in the face. It’s a special feeling to have someone tell you that you are absolutely terrible, that you are the primary reason that people don’t go to church (I think they meant all people everywhere, which is quite a compliment if you think about it), or have people dedicate their internet chatter to talking about your failings. So, it’s important in your first couple years not to get used to people thinking you are awesome – because some people don’t think that and they are just waiting their turn.

5. The church plant rises and falls on the preacher. People will be extremely patient and generous with pretty much everything about your church except the child’s safety and the preaching. If your chairs are uncomfy, it’s ok. If the school you are renting accidentally forgets the heat over winter break people will keep their jackets on. Even if your band struggles to find it’s voice the people will still worship and love it. But, if your preaching lacks fire people will burn a trail to the exit. Having all those other frills is great, but child safety that allows parents to focus and honestly strong preaching will have people showing up and growing! Also, pretty much all the research on church planting points to the major determining factor of success being the primary vision casting leader.

6. Having a killer band basically makes every Sunday easier. If you are able to create a culture where musicians have the opportunity to grow and play awesome music, they will show up and they will play magical music. Senior pastors who are terrible guitar players (I’m talking to you James Carmichael!) will do the gospel well by getting out of the way and allowing awesome musicians to be awesome. This should also inform the culture shaping process of what you chose to center your service on. Most churches are sermon-centric, but is that the way to be the church in your neighborhood?

7. Set the culture and allow the strategy to flow from it. Culture eats strategy every single time. You can copy the very best ideas from the very best churches and leaders, but if you fail to create a dynamic culture your strategies will be out of style quicker than crocs. Wait, they never were in style. And that’s the point. Let the leaders lead. Great churches have great leaders at all levels of the organization. If you are blessed with great leaders, don’t just delegate responsibility – also give them authority to make important decisions. If you’ve built a str0ng culture, they will be able to know how to make decisions that align with the organization.

8. Church planters need a community of church planters. The second most determinate factor in a church planter’s success is being in relationships with other church planters. The encouragement and mutual support of other planters is such a major factor that most planting organizations require it. This comes in the form of more experienced coaches and/or current planters. Finding and investing in those relationships make a huge difference in your church.

9. Be where the people are. For the Grove, this meant being outside at community festivals all summer long because these were the biggest gatherings of people in our city.  If we believe that God loves people and is working in their lives and we want to be where God is working, then we have to be where the people are. We do not set up shop, advertise and expect the people to come to Jesus because Jesus has already come to earth and the Spirit is at work!

10. Be a generous church even before you can afford it. To this day, I don’t know of a church that can ‘afford’ generosity. Churches (and people) chose generosity intentionally. From the very start set up your church plant as a source of blessing for others and you will have a lot more fun. Give locally and globally, to Christian and secular organizations, intentionally and randomly. Even while your church plant is being supported by outside organizations, decide to be a giving church and support others.

11. Start a church for unbelievers. Starting a church for church people is as easy as making it a little cooler than the coolest church in town. If the coolest church has a boss youth ministry, hire a young pastor with a mohawk and tattoos – church people will flock to you. Starting a church for people who don’t  know anything about church is stunningly more dangerous. First, it gets messy because they won’t know how to behave, and second, the church people will hate it and start gossiping all over town about how “emergent” your church is. This means you don’t need small groups when you start – only Christians think it’s awesome to meet in small groups to talk about their feelings. It also means you might not participate in the local ‘christian’ festival because all the christians are already there – so your band might need to play at the ‘ungodly pagan heathenfest’.

Saccone, Protege

At the Grove we are spending all sorts of time developing leaders and influencing the future of our church and of the church, so it’s totally natural for us to be interested in what Steve Saccone has developed through the Protege program. This book, Protege: Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders is an inside look into the program that Saccone developed at Mosaic church in L.A. and is now being similarly run at a couple other larger churches (mainly affiliated through the Origins project)

Steve Saccone, Protege

Steve Saccone is currently a pastor in San Francisco, and he married a writer (Cheri Saccone), so his books are particularly better written than most by pastors. This makes Protege a great read, with a lot of ease to notice and pull out relatable principles to your local context.

The Protege program is built on (and the book is sectioned by) five  ministry leadership principles:

  1. character and spiritual depth
  2. relational leadership
  3. missional formation
  4. transformative communication
  5. entrepreneurial leadership

These were immediately attractive to me, as we carry these same leadership values at The Grove, so if we can get some help in developing leaders that carry the same values – we’re all over that. If you want some help structuring leadership development in your christian church or organization, Saccone does a great job, and you’ll get a lot of help through this book.

I read this book incredibly quickly for project research but still, here’s some stellar highlight material:

  • p.23, “My experiences and observations…have revealed that four critical things that church leaders continually struggle with are burnout, moral failure, irrelevance to the surrounding culture and division within.”
  • p.29, quoting Ruth Haley Barton, “We set young leaders up for a fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before they consider the kind of person they should be.”
  • p. 29, “A character-driven leader is a leader who becomes a person with something to say.”
  • p. 35, “At the core, envy is really an aching dissatisfaction with who we are, or who we are not. It breeds a way of life that involves constantly comparing ourselves with others and quantifying our successes and failures against our own self-worth. It is actually no way of life at all. This sin leads to a slow death.”
  • p.46, “We’ll never see God-honoring fruit produced in our lives if we are not abiding in Jesus. We may see external success and growth, but never the true fruit of the Spirit.”
  • p.47, “Do you know that farmers don’t actually make anything? They aren’t the ones who produce the avocado or banana. That’s not their job. Instead, farmers cultivate environments where life has the possibility to grow. They partner with the powers of nature (water, sun, soil, etc.) to prepare a place for seeds to germinate and grow. Of course they do their part in planning and working hard, but ultimately the results of growth (bearing fruit) are not in their control.”
  • p.52, “He was plagued by the terrifying question, Who am I if I’m not the person I thought I was and if I don’t have the competence I thought I did?”