Monthly Archives: January 2012

Managing Expectations

So I am in an amazing network of church planters called the new thing network.

Once a month, we do a coaching call & talk about church planting, our hearts & leadership as pastors and how we can lead more effectively and serve our churches better.  It is a great brotherhood & I am honored to have these guys wisdom, and friendship in my life.  My network is Troy McMahon from Restore Community Church in Kansas City, Mike Hickerson from Mission Church in Ventura Ca and Jon Peacock from Mission Church Roshelle Ill.  So this blog is birthed out a conversation with these guys that was a great blessing for me so they all get a big assist on this one.

Planting a church is tough!  One of the most difficult tasks of any pioneering leader with an apostolic gift is to manage their personal expectations.  As well as managing the expectations that others have for you.  For me I am always my toughest critic so  although many had high expectations for the Avenue none were tougher on me than me!

Here are a few things we discussed  – I hope they are a blessing to someone else they certainly were for me.

1) – We are called to be Faithful not successful

This changes the scorecard!  If you are planting a church or working with a campus ministry or banging your head against the wall in ministry you need to know that God does not desire or expect success.  He wants faithfulness he wants obedience, he wants each of us to learn to Walk by faith, to know his voice & to follow.  The expectations of success almost killed me at times this year.  I beat myself up when the numbers weren’t what I thought they should be, when the sermon wasn’t delivered as well as it should have been, and when things didn’t go the way I planned.  I had to learn to trust God to do the God things and to know that my part was simply to keep showing up, keep working hard & keep following where he was calling me to go.

2) – Cast your burdens on Him 

This may date me a bit but I love the old Duran Duran song “when you come undone” The ? that keeps repeating is “Who do you love, who do you need, who do you want when it comes undone.”  Believe me in church planting or campus ministry its going to come undone!  Things aren’t going to work the way you planned it, people will let you down, your leaders won’t get it & you will find yourself tempted to throw your entire vision down the drain.  The question is when things don’t go the way you planned where will you run?  Scripture says, Psalms 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”  Run to Him, allow Him to sustain you, to encourage you, to lead you, to guide you & direct you.  If there is nothing else you should be learning in ministry it is the ability to hear Gods voice & respond.  Dallas Willard once said, “we are called to take one step closer to the kingdom each day.”  Are you in His presence enough to hear His voice?  Do you have enough courage to respond?  Are you casting your burden on Him so He can sustain you?

3) – Have truth tellers in your life

When prides or self pity begin to creep into your ministry you have to have truth tellers who will speak the gospel to you in love.  I have to have people in my life who repeatedly tell me, “its not about you!”  People who keep pushing me more towards becoming who I am called to be & people who will walk with me & continue to speak the truth in love.  The truth I needed this year was, “yes this is going to be hard, yes things may not go the way you planned, but your identity is found in Christ not in how successful the church is.”

I needed to know that Gods ability to clean things up is far bigger than my ability to mess things up.

I needed people to urge me on in the middle of the mess.  I needed people teaching me that this is Gods church & not mine & that His will is going to prevail!

How are you managing the expectations of your life?

What have you learned in the middle of those expectations?


The Road / The Cost of Non Discipleship

In 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote his classic the cost of discipleship it is a brilliant book which teaches that we cannot be a disciple of Jesus without forfeiting some human comfort.  He teaches that one who bears Jesus name but sacrifices little must begin to wonder where they stand with God.  In essence he says, there is a cost to discipleship!

In Dallas Willard’s great book, The great omission, he redirects that question and asks what is the cost of non discipleship?

He says it this way,

Non discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.  In short, non discipleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring. – Dallas Willard

So as a community of faith we are talking through the road to following Christ.  We are studying what Jesus said, then how the early church lived out that teaching & then asking ourselves are we on the same road?  Are we traveling the same direction?  Are we moving on the same path?

It has been encouraging & challenging to find that we are often traveling down a different road!

Kennon Vaughan says this,

In a culture fascinated with numbers, church growth, big buildings, celebrity pastors, and microwave maturity, there is simply no time for authentic discipleship to take place.  Pastors and elders are too busy to model it.  The people are too consumeristic to even desire it.

So discipleship become a class on Sunday, we take the life changing life on life community that Jesus modeled & we narrow it down to an academic class.

AW Tozer said it this way many years ago,

“I feel there is a notable heresy that has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles – the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long we want to.”

 “That salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures.”

 So this leads us to the  ? for us today

Is it possible for us to be a disciple of Jesus and never do the one thing that he has asked us to do?

 If there was one clear command that set the early church leaders on the road they traveled it was Matt 28!  It was the great commission “GO & MAKE DISCIPLES!

If there was one thing they took to heart, if there was one philosophy that allowed a group of 120 in an upper room become a over 50% of the Roman empire in 250 years it was that they took serious Jesus’ last words to go & make disciples!

I have seen the cost of non discipleship in my life.  I’ve seen it in my ministry.  I’ve seen it in the eyes of young leaders who are just waiting for someone to follow & in old leaders who feel they have nothing else to give the next generation.

How have you seen the cost of non discipleship in your life & ministry?

The Road / Covenant Gospel Partnership

As a community of faith we are talking through the road to following Christ.  We are studying what Jesus said, then how the early church lived out that teaching & then asking ourselves are we on the same road?  Are we traveling the same direction?  Are we moving on the same path?

Last week, we talked about Covenant Gospel Partnership, we looked at the life of Jesus with his disciples in John 15:15-17 then we looked at Paul’s relationships in Phillipi in Phil 1 & with Timothy, Luke and John Mark in 2Tim 4.

After the service over 30 people joined the Avenue not as members but as Covenant partners.  It was a very exciting day!

Here’s why we do covenant partnership & not membership.

Membership sounds entitled, in our culture it denotes receiving benefits, as the American Express commercial says, membership “has its privileges.”  It leads people to say that’s my seat on Sunday, that’s my ministry to run, and don’t you dare disrupt my world!

Covenant has always defined relationship.  From Abraham to God, from Jonathan and David to every marriage I perform as a pastor, even now as we are in relationship with a covenant God.  Covenants define relationship!

First, we are people of Covenant. Covenant represents a commitment to do whatever it takes to see a relationship work. It represents a willingness to commit to responsibilities, duties, or obligations in exchange for specific relational connectedness. Covenant people are loyal people. Dedicated people. Responsible people.  As Christians, our covenant faithfulness is a reflection of the nature and character of God – the same faithful God who keeps covenant – in our lives!

Second, we are Partners. Partners with Christ in the cause of the Gospel; and, subsequently, partners with one another. Partnership implies active participation and involvement. Partnership means sharing together common goals, common challenges, common experiences, common resources and common achievements. Partnership reminds us of the significance of our “togetherness” with one another in a world that is dominated by individuality.

We believe the church is a FAMILY on MISSION together.

 “The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.”

The way this fleshes out is this simple equation –

Common Mission + Shared Sacrifice + Gospel Partnership = Brotherhood (Community)

Alan Hirsch calls this COMMUNITAS.

He would say that we don’t find community in proximity, or in common interests or goals.  Community doesn’t just happen because we hang out together & watch football, listen to the same bands or like the same activities.

Community happens when we have……….

  • a common mission (for us that’s to be a Community living like Jesus, Changed by Him & Changing the city for His glory)
  • A shared sacrifice towards that mission – Sacrificing time, treasures & our hearts for the mission & for each other
  • A gospel partnership in the midst of that mission (living like a family is supposed to live) – Phil 1 – “I have you in my heart”

Are you involved in real gospel partnership?

Are you sharing in a common mission?

Are you sacrificing with others to make that mission happen?

If not why?  If not you are missing out on the most life giving relationships we can have on this earth!

Do Overs

Over the past year I have been asked repeatedly, if you could start over what would you do different?

What would be the thing you would like a mulligan on?  What would you do over?

I think the list is much longer than 3 but here’s my top 3:

1) – I would find time for sabbath rest

Church planting is tough.  It is exhausting, challenging, and far more difficult than anything I have ever done.  Everyone told me to take care of myself & I didn’t.  I think here is where we get it wrong, I felt like I could push through it.  I could work an extra few hours on Saturday, I could take another appointment in the evening, I could stay up a few hours later working on that sermon for Sunday.  I got it wrong when I believed that the only one who would be effected by my “extra hours” would be me.  I checked in often with my wife to make certain that my family would not suffer because of the new church.  So I believed that I was simply “manning” up & going the extra mile for the ministry.

The problem was by overextending myself, by not operating in the rhythm of life that God designed for me, I hadn’t disconnected myself from my family or my church family, I had disconnected myself from my God.   I was often left powerless, discouraged, tired and clueless about where to go next.  I leaned into my talents & giftedness but they could not sustain me or lead me.  I disconnected myself from the God who could meet my needs, give me wisdom, guide & direct me and give me real rest.

In year two, one of  my big year end goals is sabbath rest, I have large amounts of accountability, a plan for every week, month & for the year to enjoy sabbath rest.

2) – I would delegate less and coach more

I did far too much delegating and far too little coaching with our staff, leaders & launch team.  If I could go back & do it again I would  say to our strong leaders “You do I’ll help” and just as Jesus did with the 72 and with disciples as he sent them out I would send them out then on their return gather them together for more coaching and discussion.  I would have more dinners in my home, more fires in the fire pit, more breakfasts in the morning & more heart to heart discussions with our leaders.  I could easily spend less time on sermon prep & fund raising and more time walking beside our staff, missional community leaders and future elders.  A great method we have learned (from the New thing network) and one we saw in Jesus is to simply take your leaders through a four step process of leading.

  • I do you watch (You do the leading the teams you are leading watch & discuss)
  • I do you help (You still lead but you begin to give away small pieces to your team)
  • You do I help (You begin to give away large pieces of ministry but you still help make that happen)
  • You do I watch ( You set free your leaders when you are confident in their ability to reproduce)

Coming from a mega church where the style of leadership was rarely any style other than you do I watch, I needed to learn to change my leadership style considerably so that more young leaders were coached, developed & discipled.  It was painful and at times I was disappointed when leaders failed to rise to the challenge, but as leaders we need to constantly balance the invitation into relationship & challenge to become all that God has for you.

This year I am leading 3 huddles of leaders & they are my biggest priority & investing in them will take up around 70% of my time on any given week.  Our staff, our elders and a group of young leaders who are called into ministry.

3) – I would balance my apostolic nature with the patience to let God work

I have been forced all year to balance expectations that I have for myself, that others have for me, and that I believe God has for our church with the knowledge that there is no template for church planting.  Many books and organizations lied & told me if I did these 5 things or if I followed these practical steps then everything would succeed.  The reality is God is going to work in His people in His time.  There is no template for church planting, there is no 5 step plan.  There is a mysterious God who moves & works in His people in mysterious way.  I had to learn that as much as I expected from myself and as much as others expected of me, I was called to be faithful not successful.

I was called to plant the church with the dream that God had given me, in the way that he had revealed to me, with the people he had given me.  Planting on a college campus is amazingly challenging, students don’t commit, there are never enough resources, and there is an enormous amount of young believers who have only been consumers of the faith & have never known or been called to a lifestyle of discipleship.  I was told very early on that my first year as a planter would reveal if I was a priest or a prostitute.  There were many shortcuts I was tempted to take along the way, to bring up the numbers, to make it look prettier & more flashy to our donors & the outside world and we got very close to abandoning the vision God had given us.  Praise God we stayed the course and never sold out for success but continued to seek faithfulness.  His plan is beginning to work, people are coming to know him, being discipled to him & changing the world for him!  Never allow your expectations or others expectations of you to destroy what God is doing in your life.  Be apostolic, dream big, pioneer new things but always be aware that God is driving, he is the visionary not you, he will work out his plan in his people in his time.  You be faithful & let God work out success!
How about you?

What would your three do overs be for this last year?