At the five year mark back in September of this year, we retired the term “church plant”. Instead, we refer to ourselves as a “young church” or just plain, “church”. Regardless of the designation, The Living Church is from the tradition of well… very little tradition. Part of our vision when we launched was/is to be a church that would be a welcoming, grace-filled, but nonetheless Biblical body of believers that didn’t rely on programs, committees, or that word again… traditions, in order to reach the city we love!
Having the freedom to pursue “raw”, “organic” ministry enables us to create our own traditions when/where we see fit. Ones not born out of obligation, but out of purpose that ties in with our identity (WE ARE THE CHURCH). Traditions that don’t truly serve a purpose, but instead exist “just because” zap time and energy away from the church body. This obviously isn’t a good thing and can become a hindrance to real ministry taking place instead.
One tradition of TLC’s that has survived the filter of purpose has been our annual Christmas caroling outing! It’s been a great way to connect before many of our members leave for Christmas break, as Hartsville is in some ways a very transient community. Not to mention, we have a large number of Coker College students that attend. In some ways, this is the last chance at seeing one another until the new year.
This Sunday evening at 6pm, we’ll be visiting local area nursing home facilities and doing our best to spread some Christmas cheer! Afterwards, we’ll come back to the Hartsville Family YMCA (our current location) for the “after-party”. It can get pretty crazy, you know, with all the cookies, hot cocoa, and all…
Not to mention, we’re giving away a $25 gift certificate to the Midnight Rooster to whoever has the “best” ugly Christmas sweater! Make plans to join us.
In case you haven’t heard, The Living Church has moved its worship services and Bible studies to the Hartsville Family YMCA (111 E. Carolina Ave.). This was a strategic move that will provide more facility space and help cut down our monthly operating costs that were previously tied up in a lease. What this means is: becoming better stewards of God’s resources = more ministry being done… more life change in Hartsville!
In the past month that we’ve been here, we’ve enjoyed having the larger spaces (plenty of room to grow). The child nursery is HUGE and there are several classrooms open for youth, Kids Church, and weekly small groups. However, there are still some kinks to work out.
A gymnasium doesn’t always provide the best acoustics for a worship service, but we’re improving every week on making it work. Lighting is still a bit tricky… you may need to bring a book-lamp if you want to take good notes during my sermons!
We’ll get to where we need to be soon enough. You can help! TLC is raising money via GoFundMe to make this transition as smooth as possible. We wish to provide the most attractive environment for worship and growth for our church members and visitors. In addition to intentional prayer and care, we want to make our new home feel like… well, “home”.
As you can tell from the pics, we’ve already been able to get backdrops made, but there’s still plenty more to be done! Items most of us don’t necessarily think about, but are great to have around. Banners, signs, and pipe/drape stands go a long way in setting the atmosphere.
It’s easy to give! Simply go to www.GoFundMe.com/GoGreenTLC and select a support level. There’s TONS of cool stuff attached (t-shirts, car decals, coffee, and more!) or you can give whatever amount you feel led to.
Curious as to what “church” is like at a YMCA? We’d love to have you worship with us this Sunday at 11:00am! We are a life-giving church that aims to change our city with the hope of Jesus Christ.
For more info about our church, check us out: www.TLCHartsville.org
Today is the National Day of Prayer. In recent years, The Living Church has made concerted efforts for public acknowledgement of this day and partnered with other local churches and civic groups in putting on ceremonies or services. These are great opportunities for fellowship, to show solidarity in the community, and most importantly to glorify God!
At these ceremonies, there’s typically a list of prayer concerns that are geared towards broader issues at hand: National leaders, the economy, wars/military, etc. While these are all needed and valid prayer points, what can get lost in it all is a local focus and our personal application. Even then, many church service attending Christians today know little on just how to pray.
Thankfully, Jesus says a lot about the practice of prayer in Matthew 6 (NIV),
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
There’s much to chew on in this passage, as it uses a lot of dangerous language. It was a bold statement to make in the time of super-religiosity in the Jewish culture of that time period. Reciting prayers in public was an act “to be seen” doing by others, rather than out of genuine passion. In other words, it was out of their heads and not their hearts!
I don’t believe Jesus explicitly is banning public prayer here, but rather pointing to the intentions behind it. If we look close enough (and really, not all that hard), we’ll see some great guidance on prayer habits:
1. Find a private space for prayer, wherever that might be. All Christ-followers should have a “safe haven” where daily devotionals and times of prayer can occur uninterrupted. This way, it’s just you and the Lord with no outside influences (or eyes watching). Today this might also mean to leave the cell phone on silent and keep your computer in another room. There’s too much temptation for distraction!
Find yourself a nice study Bible, a solid devotional book, and a prayer journal. These go a long way in maintaining healthy habits of spiritual growth.
2. Make your prayer language personal, not scripted. Part of the folly of religious leaders in Jesus’ day was the eloquent prayers that were written and memorized, which often were then used by others. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with written prayers, as many Christian denominations utilize them in useful and proper ways. But at the same time, there is the potential for a loss of sincerity. Sincerity comes as a result of your words coming from a true place within, not from a page. With verse 7, Jesus basically gives us the principle of “K.I.S.S.” - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
This is important because so many people are intimidated and confused on how to pray. This is not a new phenomenon! In this passage, Jesus offers us an easy on-ramp to intimacy with God through prayer. Adding superfluous words (like I just did with the word, “superfluous”) is unnecessary when you have the perspective of knowing who you are talking/praying to… the Creator of the Universe! He already knows you intimately.
We are clued into this fact in Jeremiah 17:10 (NLV),
But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.
With that said, let us not waste our time (because we really can’t waste God’s time, seeing that He’s eternal in His nature and all) with flowery language. Be “real”, genuine, humble, and to-the-point. God knows what is on your heart and more than that, why you’re presenting it to Him in prayer. His awareness does not negate the need for offering it up, however.
Our God is a god of personal interaction who desires a deep relationship with us, His children. He wants to see trust displayed in Him and not in ourselves, other people, or things (i.e. idols). Prayer is very much a way to honor God by going to Him first, rather than a last resort. (God should comes first in everything!)
Speaking of honoring God…
3. Be reverent. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “reverent” as, “showing lots of respect”. This means that we truly see God for who He is really is, not just the idea of Him or what we want Him to be. The prayer that Jesus gives as example in Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV) is referred to as, “The Lord’s Prayer”.
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Despite Jesus telling us NOT to pray elaborate, scripted prayers in the verses prior, The Lord’s Prayer is the most often repeated prayer among Christians. It’s as much ingrained into our common vernacular as the Pledge of Allegiance or maybe the Oscar Meyer wiener song.
And due to that, the prayer loses much of its meaning and intent in the first place. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus includes the words, “Pray then like this:” As in, pray in this manner or style. But also pay attention to the elements of the prayer itself, first giving God praise and honor, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.“
The word, “hallowed” means “holy”, “sacred”, “blessed”, or “highly respected”. Starting off in prayer with an acknowledgement of who God is, is like the caller I.D. on our smartphones. We know who we’re talking to! If we are talking to the Lord Almighty (and as Christ-followers, we should only be praying to God), and we believe He created man from dust and knows how many hairs on our head that we have (for me these days, it’s not a whole lot), then we should act like it. While God is to be revered and respected, also keep in mind that He is also our friend.
Abraham is referred to as a friend of God in Genesis 15 and Jesus calls us, believers, His friends in John 15. This should be refreshing and encouraging to you, if you had not heard that before! God is a friend you can share your thoughts and problems with and do so in a secure place of trust. This lends itself well to an overjoyed expression of His divine nature, knowing that He isn’t going to take your deepest, darkest secrets and go gossiping around with them.
Instead, He will take all of those things and deal with them directly through His mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
4. Keep forgiveness at the front, not the back of your tongue. Instead of us desiring “revenge”, “justice”, “what they deserve”, read what Jesus ends this particular passage in Matthew 6 with:
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In addition, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:19 (NIV) that “revenge” is of the Lord, not for us to be concerned with if we have a Kingdom (eternal) perspective:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
We cannot carry on as Christ-followers if we don’t allow forgiveness to come through A.S.A.P. Unforgiveness is poisonous and becomes a burdensome weight we walk around with painfully. And how foolish it is for us to think God will forgive us and answer our prayers when we haven’t forgiven others?
The sooner we release this pain through genuine forgiveness (possibly pushed through with time in prayer), the better we’ll be to move forward and even offer the other party to experience restoration. Our Christian faith, after all, is not all about us! We are to point others to Christ in every way imaginable.
In more general terms, we should make forgiveness the corrective lenses of our prayer time as it brings into focus what Jesus has done on the cross. We cannot possibly offer God more than what He has already given to us! The gift of salvation is something we never could have obtained on our own, yet it was freely provided for us even though we, as sinners, didn’t deserve it.
As we are reminded of our salvation, we remain humble and encouraged. God loves us that much! This thought affects our approach to prayer itself and helps weed out the self-centered concerns we might have.
Keeping these four things in mind on this National Day of Prayer and for all the days following it will make your prayer time more focused, personal, and powerful!
What exciting week ahead for The Living Church and for Hartsville! We’re putting on a BIG egg drop this Saturday, April 19th at 12 Noon and it should be a blast. Food, prizes, bouncy houses, and 10,000 Easter eggs!
Then on Easter Sunday, April 20th we’ll be having TWO worship services: 9:30am and 11:15am. This is a great opportunity for our church to reach more of our neighbors!
Help us PREPARE THE WAY for next weekend! Here are some ways you can do just that:
1. PRAY! - This is, by far, the best thing you can do this week! Pray for all of our efforts to point others to Christ to be fruitful. Pray for our street team for safety and to guide their conversations. Pray for our BIG Egg Drop to be a fun event without any accidents. Pray for our Easter Sunday services for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of those who seek Him! We want to see many people come to Jesus!
2. Purchase hot dog wieners, hot dog buns, potato chips, cookies, sodas, paper plates, napkins, bags of hinged plastic eggs, Easter baskets, and Easter candy (individually wrapped “fun” or “mini” size candy, no loose candy (like M&M’s) please!)
bring items to…
3. Our Egg Packing Party this Wednesday starting at 6:00pm at our Ministry Center (149 E. Carolina Ave.). We’re aiming for 10,000 eggs for this Saturday and we’ll need your help to get there! Roll up your sleeves and make plans to join us.
4. Stop by our Ministry Center this week to pick up some cards or posters to distribute at work, school, or to your neighbors! Personally aim to invite five people!
5. Sign up for our street team and go knock on some doors around Hartsville! Please email us at: info@TLCHartsville.org for more info. You’ll even get a free t-shirt out of it! :)
6. Volunteer to help this Saturday at the BIG Egg Drop and spread out eggs, monitor the bouncy houses, keep an eye on kids, and give out/prepare hot dog lunches. Be at Burry Park by 10:30am to help us set up!
7. Come out a little early for our 9:30 am service next Sunday. This will free up seats for our 11:15 am service and allow you to serve in other areas around our Ministry Center that morning! (greeting team, coffee lounge, Kids Church and Child Nursery)
8. Last but not least, we had an outdoor worship service this morning at Burry Park and we weren’t able to have an offering opportunity. Your support helps us reach Hartsville efficiently and effectively! Feel free to give your tithes and offerings online through PayPal on our website: www.TLCHartsville.org/support
Should you have ANY questions, please feel free to contact me:
Phone: 877-843-4TLC x.2, or Email me at: chris@TLCHartsville.org
Thank you! Let’s bless this city!
I have a “lead foot”. Okay, I’m not as bad as I used to be (although some friends and family may argue that). When I was a twenty-something, I would receive speeding tickets at a rate of two-to-three times a year. I tend to believe that I had fans among the SC Highway Patrol and they merely wanted my autograph!
There’s something about speeding in a vehicle with a steel frame. It’s deceptive! Your mind subconsciously changes the laws of nature. You start believing you’re somehow invincible, when in reality you open yourself up to more danger. Percentage-wise, you become less and less likely to survive a crash the faster you go. Not only that, but when you speed you don’t notice a speed limit, an exit sign, or the large deer with glowing eyes on the side of the road.
Now there are times we can go fast. Nothing wrong with it at all when the time calls for it! (We have places to go, people to see, afterall…) But it should be reserved for those designated areas of higher speed, barring an emergency. I would like to think it’s the Holy Spirit that leads us to know when/where/how to go about fast.
Wait a minute, what am I really talking about today? Well, since you’re reading this, you may know that I’m a pastor. I’m one of those preachers that lead a local church. Every now and then I’ll write about “church stuff” that may/may not interest you.
Recently, news came out that Elevation Church, based out of Charlotte, NC, had planted volunteers in their worship services to walk forward during the invitation for water baptism. This creates movement and conceivably “encourages” worshipers that might be on-the-fence about getting baptized or are uncomfortable in getting out of their seat. Such a method is seen as manipulation and brings into question just how far a church is willing to go (in the negative sense) to see more of an altar response.
Read more about this mess here:
So what’s the big deal? For us Christians, being baptized (submerged into water and raised back up) is an important step in our spiritual journey. The act itself doesn’t give us salvation, but rather declares it! This is our announcement to the world that Jesus has saved us from eternal death and has given us new, fresh start! We are no longer the person we were before. It’s a celebration of life change!
Needless to say, the practice of water baptism is special, if not sacred. It should be handled with sensitivity, care, and encouragement. What Elevation is being accused of doing in partially fabricating a response from the crowds, essentially robs the innocence and authenticity of that moment in the eyes of both Christians and non-believers.
I’ll be on the record for saying that I’m not particularly crazy about the news media. Some things that they report on pastors and churches is witch-hunting at its worst, or just bad journalism at the very least. At the same time, there’s something to be said about God using outsiders to correct His children (it happened to the Israelites quite a bit, actually). This can be seen as a good thing if Elevation can learn from this moment and become healthier than ever before! (and they were pretty strong already)
Let me add that there is nothing wrong with “spontaneous baptisms” (they present the baptism opportunity on-the-spot to anyone there) like the ones Elevation practices. When John the Baptist was calling people to repent of their sins and be baptized, there was not much of an “interview process”. It was an in-the-moment, get-up-out-of-your-seat, call to repentance (seeking forgiveness and restoration from God).
Matthew 3 tells us:
3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
…. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
We must leave room for the Holy Spirit to move and for people to respond. To turn it into a drawn-out process might be nice for record keeping or to satisfy demands of thoroughness and accountability, but it isn’t necessarily Biblical. (Biblical and “man-made” good practices aren’t always enemies either)
So, I don’t want to “pile on” Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church in writing this blog post today. I sincerely use this as a way to send prayerful support to Elevation as they have done awesome things in the Charlotte area. Steven Furtick is a great, talented, and bold pastor who gives much to his church and the city of Charlotte. I also know many folks involved at various levels in the church and they are all genuine and wonderful brothers/sisters in the Christian faith.
But at some point, you must recognize that “a means to an end” (speeding at all times) does have its limit. A basic rule of thumb to go by for ministry methods is, “If this got out to the general public, how would it be perceived?” Now some might say in Elevation’s defense, since this is church ministry related that there are different rules. God understands and the world doesn’t, right?
Or, hey… cops get to fly all over the roads at high rates of speed? Why can’t I?
This is simply about being above reproach. There are just some limits to our methods of ministry that at a certain point go beyond good taste. But taste is subjective, right? In some ways yes, absolutely. In other ways, no. But really the word we should use here is “discernment”. It’s a church-y word for “wisdom” or “understanding”. Basically, being able to know the what to do or say and the timing and setting for it.
As a church planter, I believe that methods (how we present worship opportunities and the Gospel of Jesus Christ) are, for the most part, fair game. We often play it too safe in the church world, worried more about offending church members than the people on the outside that we’re trying to reach. In this case with Elevation and the baptism invitation “plants”, it becomes offensive to both. That’s not good!
There are many ministries that haven’t changed anything about their order of service, worship style, or their outreaches in years. Such churches are like the slow grandma going 40 mph in the fast lane on a 70mph interstate. It’s annoying to drivers, and when churches do this it might be frustrating to our God who has given us the ability and freedom to speed at this given time.
The old lady plodding along at 40 mph in a Buick on an interstate is just as much of a hazard as the hot-shot in a Porsche going 90 mph. So let’s not be too quick to jump on Pastor Furtick, when many of us don’t have an ounce of boldness in our ministry blood. Fear of offending the flock (i.e. deacons and big money donors) is just as bad as questionably presenting baptism opportunities.
There was an excellent quote at Significant Church Network’s National Conference last month from one my ministry heroes, Dr. Mark Rutland:
“If you turn methodology into theology, you’re in big trouble!”
This goes both ways. Too many are stuck in the past, believing that their ways are the only tried and true Biblical methods of ministry. On the other side of the coin you’ll have those that have the “reach them at any cost” which in-and-of-itself isn’t a bad thought, until the method becomes a roadblock or turn-off to those we’re trying to reach.
The Apostle Paul speaks to this in 2 Corinthians 6:3
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry”
When we prioritize methodology (going too fast or too slow) over the message of Jesus Christ, then we end up missing the point of implementing methods in the first place (seeing more people come into a relationship with God). And if we miss the point, others that are without God will pay the price. Do we really want that on our conscience?
There’s nothing more graceful than automotive racing. Sorry, I grew up in South Carolina! As a kid, I frequented NASCAR races locally near my hometown of Hartsville. Darlington, Rockingham (R.I.P.), Charlotte… I was there often twice a year at each track with my dad to watch stock car racing. I love the sensation of speed and it’s truly a rush to watch (and feel) cars go 200 mph right in front of your face! But these are trained professionals behind the wheel on a course that is designed to handle high speeds, even when they crash!
A fan, such as myself, can’t just jump into one of these cars and start racing around the track. I would have to train and acclimate myself to that kind of speed and driving skill demands. In other words, I would hope to know my limits! Starting off I’d probably be a lot like that old granny in the Buick, slowly creeping around the track just hoping just to blow a tire. As I grew more comfortable in the environment and confident my abilities, I would gradually go faster as the situation called for it.
And yes, you can go “too fast” in NASCAR… there’s these little things called “turns” that force you put the brakes on. Otherwise, you’re going to end up on ESPN Sportscenter (as part of the “not-so-top-10″).
As Christians and leaders, we must discern best practices and when we’re fast approaching that line of going too far. There is no shame in wanting to see hundreds of people respond to the message of Jesus and all of the great moments that accompany it. However, let us serve passionately without anything that might cause others to question the things of God! Take the time to examine your methods (both personally and ministry-wise) and weed out the things that smell a bit funny. Do it because it matters!
Jesus says in John 4:24
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Lastly, all this talk of baptisms serves as a reminder of the opportunity that The Living Church has this weekend (Sunday, February 23rd). We have several individuals that have come forward and wish to declare they now belong to Christ!
If you want in on this, contact our church office at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-843-TLC
Our baptisms aren’t very formal, quiet, or clean… they take place in the Black Creek section of Kalmia Gardens here in Hartsville! Church members and supporters line up along a wooden walkway, looking below at a loading dock on the water.
There they will excitedly cheer on those who have decided to follow Jesus! This is always a great time for a church that does things a little different. Come on out and join us!
One of my “resolutions” for 2014? More blog posts!
Thanks to everyone who checked out ChrisHoneycutt.com in 2013!
Here’s a neat stat: Country with the third most visitors to my blog? Russia! Пусть Бог благословит вас
Here’s the 2013 annual report:
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.
As a church planter, I rejoice in seeing new life-giving churches getting started in areas of need around the country. Speaking of which, TLC is fast approaching four years of ministry here in Hartsville! We’ve been able to reach many in this city who otherwise might have never given “church” (and more importantly, Jesus) a chance.
But something I see more and more of these days is that my generation of pastors are striking out on their own, forming launch teams, and planting churches instead of being put in the mix of leadership for existing churches. This dearth of talent will soon show up, if it hasn’t done so already. It’s very much part of a larger conversation of missed opportunities and a lost generation, perhaps too big to tackle in one blog post.
I don’t always talk about “real life” on here. I avoid weighty personal stuff because in my self-doubt I think that…
1. It makes me sound conceited,
2. No one cares, or
3. It just doesn’t pertain to what’s really important.
But what my experience in ministry shows is a testament to this problem of why young adults are checking out of church, or at the very least their grandparents’ church. Maybe more specifically why young pastors aren’t getting fed into “the system” and instead becoming entrepreneurs.
After being called to pastoral ministry at the age of 20, I attended Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida from 2002-2005 to receive my ministerial training. The drive from South Carolina was pretty much a straight shot, driving down I-95 before heading west on I-4. There’s a huge church building that sits on the east side of I-4 just north of Orlando. I used to stare at it (as safely as possible while driving in traffic) thinking of maybe how someday I might get to pastor such a church.
That monolith of a campus belonged to Calvary Assembly, which had thousands of members at one point in their history. The church sanctuary seats 5,500, but today there are only 650 members in attendance.
Just recently there were rampant rumors that they were selling their facilities to a local hospital system. Church leaders vehemently deny the gossip, but it was loud enough to warrant news stories from the media about it. Calvary Assembly was once the biggest church in town, so it’s kind of a big deal.
In the vein of some evangelical “Trivial Pursuit” piece of useless information, this was the same church that Scott Stapp (lead singer of the band Creed) grew up in, for better or for worse. Calvary also hosted a ministry conference in 2003 that had the first public showing of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (complete with an on-stage interview with Mr. Gibson himself). I was there as a volunteer and was excited to be part of the event. That all said, Calvary had a very influential presence in central Florida.
That’s why I’m saddened to see them get to this point. They were one of the first “megachurches” and a great model for others to follow. Now it’s seemingly a shadow of its former self. What happened?
As with any situation, there’s plenty of factors that could be blamed. I can only make an educated guess!
For the longest time, facilities and the mortgage debt incurred to build them, was a burden and consumed the focus of Calvary Assembly for nearly two decades. My college president, Dr. Mark Rutland, pastored Calvary during the early 1990’s and helped steer them out of that debt. It was eventually paid off, complete with a ceremonial “mortgage burning”.
However, the trap that many churches fall into is the issue of investment. In their case, paying off a huge mortgage, putting on ministry conferences, and having the best Sunday morning (and Sunday evening) experience possible. In other words, the focus is placed on their past (debt) and the present (preserving the status quo), rather than their future. What does the future look like?
The future isn’t in another building project or the next revival, it’s in the people that are often put on the backburner or outright thrown away (never bothered to be reached in the first place). This includes children, teenagers, young adults, and the unchurched, all who have no real deep-rooted preferences or hang-ups that older believers might have. Because they weren’t on a committee, haven’t tithed, or weren’t there when the church first started, they are relegated to the second page of church budgets and “vision plans”, often only receiving surface level attention.
I cannot conclusively say that this is was/is the case with Calvary, but it sure seems to be the case with many longstanding churches. In fact, there are thousands of them in America that have more funds going towards cemetery upkeep, than their youth ministry! They quite literally have more invested in death than in life! We’re now starting to see the fruit of such a costly error.
Some churches are closing their doors today and many more are on the way if something isn’t done about the culture of preserving the past (what worked then) and hanging onto the present (what works now, rather than innovating). Creativity and originality can be found in the next generation, if we just give them the time of day!
Those church planters I mentioned before? This is one result from a severe lack of purpose and resources placed into the next generation of leaders. “Succession plans” are a rarity in churches. Transitions from the old to the new are usually fumbled, rather than done with purpose and love. For some reason, we have a hard time handing over the baton. This is where I speak from a place of healed hurt.
You see, there was a time (decades ago) when a pastor graduated from a Bible college or a seminary and they were practically given churches right upon graduation. Not “youth” or “associate” pastor positions, but “senior pastor”… the head honcho! Now, these weren’t always the largest or healthiest churches, but at least they were given an opportunity. My ministry hero Billy Graham was pastoring a church while he was in college!
But around the time I came into seeking a full-time ministry position, I didn’t exactly fit the mold. The mold was a married young man with experience and education, rather than having passion, the calling, the skills, or a display of commitment. Not to toot my own horn much, but I had one of the best resumes coming out of college. This got me tons of interviews for youth ministry positions (narrowed only to youth ministry itself in most cases, which is another issue for another day).
It would almost always come down to me and a married candidate. Guess which one these “pastoral search committees” chose? (here’s a clue: it wasn’t me) I hated that seemingly because I hadn’t yet found a wife, that I felt like a second-class citizen when compared to my peers.
I wasn’t the only one this form of discrimination was applied to either. Other single classmates and friends seeking positions quickly became humorously familiar with the Apostle Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7 for the unmarried Christian “not to marry”, having more time to reach others for Christ! (I never had the guts to use that in an interview, of course.)
Then there was the district office I was in. Something I still don’t understand is the lack of effort made in connecting with young ministerial candidates like myself at the time. I ended up having to reach out to them myself in hopes of a hand-up (not a hand-out), rather than the other way around. In other career fields, you have recruiters, job fairs, etc. No such thing in church ministry!
I would have been satisfied had I just been recommended by the superintendent for interviews, much less outright given opportunities (“placed” in a church, like the old days). Alas, they weren’t much help to me during that time.
When I finally was offered a ministry position, it wasn’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing and the pay wasn’t what I expected, but that was okay! I did my best to work hard and appreciate what I had been given! To this day, I’m thankful for that church for taking a chance on me, as did the other churches that followed. It helped build me up to where I am now!
This is why when hiring for our church, I can put things in perspective because I remember when I was just looking for that first break. With every candidate I look at their heart first and foremost. What’s their passion? Where do they feel called? Have they demonstrated a lifestyle of honesty and commitment? Do their gifts match their responsibilities?
If they come on staff but any of these areas are out-of-whack, then I have a future problem on my hands! These are also areas that they have direct control over, as opposed to if they’re married, what their home life was like growing up, or where they’re from. We’re in the business of healing, not discrimination after all!
Another factor with young adults, from my experience anyways, is letting them know that they matter. Their input is valued and is vital to the church’s success! This is key in today’s culture where everything is instant access and gratification. That has fed the mentality of undeserved promotion or attention in the job market today. Yes, this spoiled attitude must be kept in check, but at the same time we should use their eagerness for acceptance and opportunity to our advantage.
I wasn’t ever asked during my first few years of ministry about what I thought about anything else outside of my particular area of responsibility. Worship music, outreaches, sermon series, small groups, etc. were all off the table. All of those things were for much “wiser” and “experienced” individuals that had been around for 20+ years, even though I had some recent experience in such areas. I was relegated to being the hired hand that ministered to teenagers. I would have loved to have offered my two cents on many of the programs and facets of those churches during my years as just another staff member.
With TLC, we have something called “creative team” which is part staff meeting, part vision casting, part calendar scheduling. But it’s also a way for our staff to offer their thoughts on how we can better serve the church and our community. Having different sets of eyes really helps in being truly fresh and dynamic, impacting those that might be outside our narrow, personal view.
Even though I consider myself “young” at the ripe age of 31, I don’t exactly look like it (thanks to my aforementioned youth ministry days). I promise, I used to have hair! But I have come to the realization that I’m now ten years out of that way of life and I might not know the “language” or the “heartbeat” of this current generation. That’s how fast our culture can change! With that said, I’ve put a team of young leaders together that may know youth, college students, and young professionals better than I do. I not only value their input, but I have given them ownership of that ministry.
This has birthed something we’re calling, “ethos”. It is our new college/young adults ministry that kicks off on Thursday, October 3rd at 7pm. I encourage you to check out its Facebook page for more info!
Keeping with today’s theme, is this Sunday’s message, “Recycle” which will conclude our “Go Green!” series. We’ll be talking about how so many people are ignored and treated cheaply (sometimes by even us, the church) when all they’re looking for is some hope for a better life. The church’s role should be “recycling” the “trash” (people discarded by society) through God’s love and restorative power and letting these new creations to then invest in others in need of a chance.
Sometimes it’s the “trash” that are the missing pieces for future success! We do harm to the Holy Spirit when we ignore the people He sends our way!
A passage that fits what I’m talking about well can be found in Mark 2, when Jesus says,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus said these words, yet we far too often look past them and cater to the ones already healed! What kind of “hospital” keeps healthy patients sitting comfortably in beds, when those in need of care are right outside?
I’ve learned painful lessons in ministry that I hope to continue to employ now and in the future of our church. When I forget that only people matter in this life (because they are the only things that come with an eternity attached) then I’m getting away from who Jesus is. I pray that the Living Church will always evolve to reach every generation better, not beholden to the past (no matter how successful it was), all while honoring God, and holding to His Word. Truth must remain the same, but methods should always be up for debate.
We must invest in the future. We must recycle the trash. We must care for the sick. We must act now, before it’s too late!