When You’re Out of Gas

I experienced a first this week. I ran out of gas in my vehicle while driving on the Interstate. Having never ran out of gas, I was thankful for a few things:

  1. I had a friend with me. Carlos Schmidt was with me to experience the emotions of the moment (laughter) and help me brainstorm next steps. My friend walked with me and told me about similar experiences he and others had along the way.
  2. I wasn’t far from a Gas station. I was a short 1/2 mile walk from the nearest gas station, so I didn’t have to call and wait for my insurances road side assistance or some other service to get some help. Replenishment was in sight.
  3. There were people that offered help, even though I didn’t need it. Those along the way did see my need and offered help, which gave the valuable feeling of other options being available, should I need them. It was great to experience caring individuals that were kind enough to show concern. 
  4. It only took a little bit to get my truck back rolling again. I bought a small jug, filled it with two gallons of gas and my truck was back on the road. I just needed a little fuel to get going again. 

gasguageI thought of times in life when I was spiritually and emotionally out of gas as well. What I needed was a friend, a nearby place to replenish, to know others care, and just a little bit of fuel (encouragement, correction, admonishment, compassion, resources, etc.). I also thought of those around me that are spiritually and emotionally out of gas. I hope I can be and that I can equip others to be:

  • A friend to walk along with them.
  • A place of replenishment and fresh air.
  • A caring, concerned neighbor.
  • A source of fuel to get them back on the road again.

Grateful for these people in my life. May their tribe increase.

New Testament Thinking On Church Buildings

churchI spend a lot of time talking and thinking about church buildings. From older churches trying to rethink their 1960’s built classrooms to new churches trying to fit the nursery into a school hallway. Buildings are important to churches. I wish it weren’t so sometimes. Because they are SO EXPENSIVE! And a church building eats money 7 days per week, when most churches use it 2-3 days per week. Being Portable is a good option to cut cost, but even portable church doesn’t guarantee effective contextualized ministry in a community or the multiplication of disciples. Often times pastors express to me the limitations of the building to ministry and multiplication.

What guidance can we find in the New Testament for the use of buildings for church? Not much. The idea of building a church for worship, etc. had not come into its own yet. We see homes, parties, synagogues (Jewish teaching centers), mountainsides, the Jewish Temple, and lake shores utilized for the ministry of Jesus and the local church. And then one of my favorite spaces mentioned in the Bible is “the Hall of Tyrannus” in Acts 19:8-10:

 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, arguing and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

We don’t know a lot about this lecture hall, but what we do know can give us some principles of thinking Biblically about buildings.

  1. It was a Public Place – I’ve written about the need for churches to be located in familiar, visible locations HERE. This Hall was evidently in the city center and a well-known place.
  2. It was a Place for Disciples to Gather – Paul took the disciples from the synagogue, where they were unwelcomed, to this hall where he could train them further in evangelism and life on mission. It was a place for gathering disciples.
  3. It was a Place to Interact with Unbelievers – Non-believers were invited in and comfortable with this space. Discussions were held that no doubt served to evangelize the lost and equip the saved.
  4. It was a Place for Disciples to Be Sent Out – All of Asia heard the word of the Lord! Wow! That’s serious multiplication. Who was spreading this word? And without radio, podcast, live streaming? No doubt, those who were being equipped and train by Paul and others at the Hall.

The Hall of Tyrannus was a building that made possible the exponential multiplication of disciples. That should be the goal for every church and the hope of every church building project or meeting space.

What challenges does your current gathering space offer for the multiplication of disciples? Number 1 and 3 are most likely challenges for many churches today.

How can you make your church building more of a public space that is useful to the whole community? A few ideas:

  • Starting a Daycare, MOPS, or Mother’s Day Out Program
  • Starting a coffee shop or diner
  • Opening the building for after school programs
  • Holding public forums, training events for the community
  • Moving into a public space like a gym or a movie theater or school for worship

How can you make your church building a place to interact with today’s unbelievers? Stained glass and steeples are not the answer that they used to be for people experiencing life. A few ideas:

  • Think through service times and styles. Later services are easier for young and unchurched families to attend.
  • Offer discussion forums for people with questions about life and God. Check out Life Tree Cafe for starter ideas on how to do this.
  • Start compassion ministry that deals with real life issues for unchurched people in your community like addiction, teen addiction, poverty, divorce care, grief care, etc. Get started on exploring needs and resources for compassion ministry here.

What ideas do you have for making church buildings more effective in multiplying disciples? What other takeaways from Paul’s use of the Hall of Tyrannus can you share? 

Multiply New Orleans 2018

New Orleans is extremely important to Louisiana & our efforts to reach & resource churches there should be of highest priority.

  • 21% of the Population of Louisiana live in the New Orleans Baptist Association’s five parishes. (991,000 is the latest estimate)
  • Includes Louisiana’s second largest & most diverse Parish – Jefferson
  • Louisiana’s largest metro area, with over 1.2 Million living in the Governments statistical area.
  • One of the United States’ most influential ports & tourism industries.
  • And an often quoted fact: the North American Mission Board’s original charter mentions the necessity of reaching New Orleans.

How are we doing at reaching the Big Easy?

  • Church to Population Ratio: 1/7,929. Our state goal is to see every association at 1/2,850.
  • % of the Population attending Worship in an SBC Church: Only 2.1%. (Hard to estimate as only about 60% of the church fill out an ACP – Annual Church Profile)
  • % Evangelical Population: 11% (according to thearda.com).
  • Unaffiliated Population (Nones): 432,270 (according to thearda.com)

The churches of New Orleans have endured much & are a strong lot that do great work reaching its population. And the story God has began writing through church planting over the last few years, in my opinion, is historic & amazing.

  • In 2012, New Orleans became a Send City in the North American Mission Board’s Send City Strategy & George Ross became the Send City Coordinator.
  • In May 2013, we held the first Send City Strategy meeting at Celebration Church to coordinate strategy & try to open a door for church planting to make a difference in the area.
  • Since that time, 43 new churches have been planted. 57 since 2010 when our current state strategy began. 
  • Louisiana Baptists have now gone over $2 million of cooperative funding invested in New Orleans for Church Planting since the beginning of Send New Orleans in 2012. Not including NAMB or Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering grants for startup & building renovation cost.
  • A wide door of opportunity has indeed opened for the next generation of churches to be planted in New Orleans.

NOLANew Orleans is a tough place to minister & we have some incredible young families laboring to plant literally in some of Louisiana’s toughest neighborhoods. I’m inspired by their courage & hard work & pray for them by name on a weekly basis.

Follow much of what is happening in church planting in New Orleans on the Send New Orleans Facebook page. And you can get info on our planters in New Orleans by checking out the Planter profiles at NAMB.net.

Multiply Baton Rouge 2018

capitalThe Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge covers all or part of Ascension, East Baton Rouge (Louisiana’s most populated Parish), West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. James Parishes.

  • Population: 640,059
  • 1 Southern Baptist church (SBC) for every 6,096 persons. Rest of Louisiana is 1 to 2,895. 131 new churches would be needed to get to 1 to 2,895.
  • Only 1.1% of the population (7,049) attended a Bible Study in a SBC Church in 2016.
  • Only 1.9% of the population (11,861) attended worship in a SBC Church in 2015.
    49% of the population is non-anglo (41% African-American, 3.9% Hispanic, 2.5% Asian) with only 16 non-anglo SBC churches. 1 to 18,154.
  • 23% of the population is evangelical, showing that Baton Rouge has a healthier evangelical population than the rest of South Louisiana. 
  • Baptisms are down 25% from a high of 757 in 2006. 558 in 2016.
  • Association Executive Director is Dr. Tommy Middleton. Staff: Chuck Lowman, Randy Osborn, Dana Truitt, Jan Terral. Check out BAGBR.org.

Some good progress made in 2017-2018 in Church Multiplication: 

  • One new Church Plant – Renew Church Baton Rouge.
  • Four new Church RePlants – Oak Crest / United Believers; Sherwood / Living Hope; Park Forest / The Church at Park Forest; Logos and Life / Westside Community.
  • Repurposed Associational Church Planting Team.
  • New churches in the pipeline for Zachary (Living Hope), Ascension Parish (Hispanic).
  • Greenhouse Training planned for August 17-18.
  • Potential Mission Builder Project at Fellowship South Ascension in 2018-2019.  

Pray for Current Church Planters:

1. Cardell Barbarin, Bread of Heaven Baptist Church, Baton Rouge
2. Steven Beckham, Church of Life Fellowship, Gardere
3. Todd Blount, Fellowship Church, Gonzalez
4. Brian Crain, Progression Church, Baton Rouge
5. Patrick Eagan, Celebration Church, St. Gabriel
6. Miguel Flores-Olivera, Jefferson Baptist Hispanic, Baton Rouge
7. McArthur Greensberry, New Beginnings Baptist Fellowship, Baker
8. Nhukm Lama, Louisiana Kachin Baptist Church, Baton Rouge
9. Guillermo Mangieri, Istrouma Espanol, Baton Rouge
10. Josh Morris, Cross Creek Cowboy Church, Zachary
11. Cedric Murphy, Body of Christ Church, Baker
12. James R Riley, House of Prayer, Baton Rouge
13. Edward Scott, Temple of New Life, Baton Rouge
14. Kevin Snaril, True Hope Baptist Church, Plaquemine
15. Ernest Swanson, The Church at Park Forest, Baton Rouge
16. Checkerz Williams, Renew Church, Baton Rouge

Devotional Journaling Tips

JournalingI have been a Devotional Journaler for about 21 years now. I started this devotional habit after completing the Experiencing God study in 1997! Journaling helps me pour out my ideas and prayers to God, along with processing life and what I’m reading/studying in the Bible. I’ve written about my aimed for daily devotional habits here. Making journaling work for me requires a plan. Recently, I’ve found a helpful rhythm with three categories that help me process and pour out my prayers and ideas to God.

  1. GIVING THANKS – What do I need to thank God for today? I’ve heard people talk about Gratitude journals for years. As I get older and difficulties and worries add up, I’ve found it helpful and invigorating to write out 10 to 20 things I’m thankful for each morning. This simple practice works! And it’s Biblical! “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” Psalm 107:1. No matter what, we almost always have more to be thankful for than worried about!
  2. GIVING UP / GIVING TO GOD – What is too big for me to handle today?  Life on mission, parenting, getting older, being a leader brings you up against your limitations regularly. I’ve found it helpful to admit and write out the things I will not be able to handle on my own and that I’m struggling with in life on this particular day or week. To practice in writing 1 Peter 5-7 – “casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.” Looking back at these list, I can see God’s hand at work and recognize that I’m never alone in the big battles I’m facing in life.
  3. GIVING AWAY –  What opportunities do I have coming up for mission and generosity? This is a time to think through opportunities for mission and generosity that this day and the near future will bring. Busyness is an enemy of thoughtfulness, kindness, evangelism, and being on mission for others. A few minutes each morning helps me plan ahead, ask for God’s help, and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16).

Along with 15-30 minutes of reading and responding to the Bible, these three categories are helping me be more meaningful in my devotional life and more prepared for my day on mission with God.

Any tips, struggles, ideas from your devotional life?

When Criticism Comes… Part 1

Criticism is a reality for leaders. “The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” If you want to say or do or be something, you will be criticized. Your response to criticism will determine much about your character and trajectory in leadership. Christ-like leaders respond to criticism with self-control, trust in God, and humility.

A favorite story of mine in relation to this is the saga of David, when being challenged by his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 16:5-12. David vacated the palace because of the threat his own son posed and on his way out he faced a loud critic named Shimei. Here’s a few truths about criticism from this ancient story:

Criticism will often come at the WRONG TIME.

David had been in the midst of family crisis. His son Absalom had conspired against him and turned the popularity polls in his favor. David’s heart was broken due to his son’s rebellion. The last thing he needed was an angry critic hurling abusive words and stones at him.

We should not expect criticism at times when we are ready and waiting for it but instead it will come when we need it the least. Personal and family crisis often provide opportunity for critics to react and people to lose confidence in you as a leader, making criticism more probable, not less.

Criticism will often come in the WRONG WAY.

The public nature of Shimei’s criticism added to David’s current humiliation before his men and family. They were seeing their commander in chief, the warrior king, run away from a fight with an inferior power in Absalom. Now he was facing and shrinking away from the false accusations of a hostile farmer.

Public criticism is most harmful to our reputation as leaders. A critics words will often come in a way that is least beneficial. Most critics will not follow the Biblical pattern of Matthew 18:15-19. The way in which we respond may be the only way that will save our reputation as leaders.

Criticism will often come from the WRONG PEOPLE.

Shimei was a commoner from the tribe of Benjamin. He did not know David personally, nor did he have all the facts concerning David’s current situation. He had no authority to accuse the king. He was only responding emotionally to the opportunity that David’s misfortune provided. He was probably a lifetime critic of David and the truth would not have persuaded him to stop.

There are many people that are divisive at heart and are always looking for an opportunity to criticize and complain. Like the critics that stood shouting, “It will never start! It will never start!” when Robert Fulton was unveiling his new invention the Steamboat. When it started, they regrouped quickly and started yelling, “It will never stop! It will never stop!”

Criticism will often come for the WRONG REASON.

The accusation of Shimei had little basis in fact. He was accusing David of being a murderer of the household of Saul. Most commentators believe that Shimei was referring to the deaths of Abner (2 Samuel 3:31-39) and Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 4:5-12). It is also not impossible that the deaths of Saul and Jonathan were in his mind since at that time David had been a Philistine ally. However, David had no part in any of these deaths. In fact, he greatly mourned each of them and he even punished those who were responsible.

While some criticism we receive will be  true, we must be prepared to face those critics who do not have the whole story or know what you know as a leader. Criticism from those who love us and want what’s best for us and the organization will be recognizable and stand out as something to receive with humility. Undeserved criticism will sting, but must not derail us from our mission.

Next Monday, how did David respond to criticism that came at the wrong time, in the wrong way, from the wrong person, for the wrong reason?

Stages of Fatherhood

4 years: “My Daddy knows absolutely everything.”

8 years: “My Dad is really smart.”

12 years: “My Dad probably doesn’t know that.”

16 years: “My Dad is absolutely clueless!”

21 years: “Dad is pretty well out-of-touch.”

30 years: “I’d like to find out what Dad thinks before we make a decision.”

50 years: “I wish I could ask my Dad about that. He’s was pretty smart.”

60 years: “My Dad knew absolutely everything.”

Twenty Lessons from 20 Years of Church Planting

In June of 1998, I joined my first church planting team in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We helped in late stage planting of Celebration Church in Rio Rancho and in starting Bible Studies in apartment complexes in Albuquerque’s north side. Since then, Heather and I have set up chairs for church in Apartment complexes, fire stations, store fronts, gyms, schools, a museum, and an old church sanctuary or two. Reflecting in my journal the past few weeks on some of the tough lessons learned and that I’m still learning along this journey. Here’s 20 off the top:

  1. Judge each day by the seeds you plant, not the harvest you reap.
  2. Communities have different degrees of spiritual receptivity or soil conditions (see Matthew 13). Timing of results may be dependent upon how long it takes to cultivate the ground.
  3. Expect to feel like a failure. Be patient. “patience is better than power” (Proverbs 16:32)
  4. Failure can be a friend. The best lessons have been learned in my failure and weakness. The first four events I planned as a church planter, no one showed up! Best thing that ever happened to me.
  5. Church Planting = burning shoe leather. Intentionality, determination, perseverance, relationships.
  6. If you’re not successful, someone behind you probably will be. We all stand on the shoulders of those before us, or we prepare the ground for the success of those who will come behind us.
  7. If God called you, he’s calling others to partner with you. Believe it!
  8. God has no small churches, and no big pastors. When you have 25 people, you should preach and serve just like there is 25,000.
  9. Persons of peace make ministry possible and show God’s favor. Pray for them. Watch for them. From Apartment complex managers, to fire chiefs, to restaurant owners, to community leaders; a successful church plant will have a long list of community people that opened the doors for ministry. Remembering these names and faces along our journey.
  10. It takes all different kinds of churches to reach all different kinds of people. One church can’t reach everyone around them. Many Christians don’t understand the gap between some lost people and attending their church. We. Must. Plant. More. Churches.
  11. The value of a godly, faithful wife along this journey is incalculable. I would have quit a long time ago were it not for the faithful love, prayer, faithful service, and counsel of my godly wife.
  12. Expect criticism. And don’t expect it to ever get easier to digest.
  13. Don’t compare your work to others. No two church planting scenarios or ministry settings are equal.
  14. If it seems like God is trying to kill you, He is. Death to self will be an outcome of faithfulness in church planting.
  15. It’s about the whole world, not just your church. From the beginning, get a vision for the people your church will impact all over the world.
  16. Expect pastoral competitiveness. Many pastors have had joy at my presence and success as a church planter. Some have sounded like David’s older brother, “with whom did you leave those few sheep?” (1 Samuel 17:28)
  17. Don’t ignore longstanding rules of thumb as a rule. The things wise, experienced leaders told me that I ignored, almost always came back to haunt me.
  18. Faithfulness trumps talent on a church planting and leadership team. Look for faithfulness and character first, talent second.
  19. The resources are in the harvest. The quicker you can turn the harvest (i.e. people reached) into the resourcers of the ministry the better. Mobilize immediately.
  20. When there are no other answers, perseverance is the answer.

I love church planting. I’ve also hated it a lot of times over the past 20 years. Lol! I’m stilled convinced of something I heard at the very beginning of this journey – “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven” – Peter Wagner. I hope and pray that God allows me to be a part of many more new starts over the next 20 years.

hcfirehouse2

Church in a Firehouse. August 2002.

Devo: Faithfully

“A faithful person will have many blessings” Proverbs 28:20

To maximize impact, spiritual growth, and lasting value; find the a right habit, relationship, discipline and do it FAITHFULLY over time. Adding a dose of faithfulness over time is what makes the difference and brings true, lasting change. No more, I tried that once or for a little while. You’re more likely to find the change you’re looking for in small, simple habits done consistently and FAITHFULLY, than in trying new plans and new ideas and new places every few months. So…

  • Read the Bible FAITHFULLY.
  • Share the Gospel FAITHFULLY.
  • Give to your church and to mission causes FAITHFULLY.
  • Love you spouse FAITHFULLY.
  • Serve your neighbors FAITHFULLY.
  • Teach your kids FAITHFULLY.
  • Build relationships FAITHFULLY.
  • Serve your church FAITHFULLY.
  • Encourage others FAITHFULLY.
  • Pray for others FAITHFULLY.
  • Serve the poor FAITHFULLY.

Observation: Those that do it (whatever it is) FAITHFULLY, in spite of occasional bumps in the road, have deeper roots and greater impact over time. Whatever good you’re doing right now, add FAITHFULLY to the end and stay there awhile for maximum impact.

Common Excuses for Not Sharing and Caring

We know we’re supposed to be witnesses for Christ. We know that people need Christ. What is it that is stopping us from being obedient and engaging the real needs of people?

Here are a few excuses that I’ve used over the years, that still plague my selfish heart today.

1. “I don’t have time.”

We make time for what’s important to us. Obeying Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:21) and helping others (Philippians 2:3-4) find help and eternal life should be on our list somewhere. If we make time for what we care about, are we really saying “I don’t care about what Jesus wants and others need”? Let’s make time!

2. “That’s not my job.”

This is passing our Christian duty off to the person that does more harm in churches that anyone – SOMEBODY ELSE. “Somebody else will do something” – “Why didn’t somebody help them?” – “The pastor should have done something about that.” Passing off the duty of every Christian to somebody else robs you of an opportunity to see God work and it robs people in your sphere of influence of your unique witness to them. It is your job!

3. “They know where I am if they need me.”

This is the classic rearranging of Jesus’ commission to the church. Jesus said that believers should “Go into all the world…” (Matthew 28:19). It’s a commission that requires intentionality on our part. Jesus didn’t commission the lost world to find the church, but the church to find the lost and bring them to Him. Let’s not wait for them to ask! Take initiative and go and find the lost. Glad someone did that for me!

4. “They’ll never change.”

When we say “They’ll never change” about someone that needs Christ, I believe we’re saying more about what we believe about God, than what we believe about that person. Our faith is not in the ability of people to change, but in God’s power to transform. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), so with God, no one is a lost cause. Change is possible for anyone that hears the gospel. It’s not our job to make final judgments about someones heart condition. It’s our job to share the message that can change their hearts (Romans 10:17). We’ll never know if they could have changed, if we withhold the gospel.

5. “I don’t know what to say.”

This can be another way of saying, “I don’t care,” because we tend to find the information that we care about. We can find and remember the best Disney deals, the stats on our favorite football teams, all the restaurants with kids eat free deals, etc. Have we taken the time to learn and understand some keys to sharing the gospel with different people. We don’t have to be Bible scholars or have seminary degrees to correctly share the gospel with people in our lives. You know enough right now most likely. And you have within you the power of the Holy Spirit who promises to help give you the words to say. Don’t hold back. Say it today!

Bridge Church‘s summer message series is designed to tackle the last excuse in this list. BridgeChurch_SermonSeries_WhatdoIsaywhen_-01In our series What Do I Say When…? we hope to equip ourselves with what to say to people at different points of need in our lives. Join Bridge Church at 10am on Sunday’s at the Maritime Museum in Madisonville and get equipped to make an impact and engage the real needs of your world for Christ. You can also find the messages HERE  or on Itunes.

%d bloggers like this: