Rob Bell’s Parting Epistle to Mars Hill

On Rob Bell’s last Sunday at Mars Hill, he read them a parting epistle that he had written to them. If you haven’t read it yet, set aside 15 minutes, and soak it in.

so as i’ve been thinking about my sermon here today, i found

myself returning again and again to the power of a good letter. someone may text you or ping you or email you or direct message you or contact you on facebook-but none of those particular mediums of communication can begin to compare to a letter in which the person has labored over every word, going back over it again and again and again, crafting the phrases and searching for just the right word and turn of phrase to capture exactly what you want to say. technology has given us a wide array of methods to communicate and because of this variety,

it’s important we remember that this is a distinction to be made

between diversity of form

and depth, significance, and soul.

so, i’ve written you a letter…


remember, the movement is word to flesh.

beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it

back into words…


when people

ask ‘what about mars hill?’ or ‘what’s mars hill going to do?’

it’s as if mars hill is a disembodied reality with a life of its own.

here’s the twist: the church is not an inanimate, impersonal

product. there is no ‘mars hill’ in theory. there is no abstract, disembodied entity mars hill apart from the people in this room

who ARE mars hill…

 

if you want this church to be some other church,

then please leave this church and go to that church.

this church has it’s own unique path,

it’s own particular DNA

and you must be true to it,

or you will lose something vital to who you are,

and why God brought you together…

 

people whisper sweet nothings to their lover

but they yell ‘fire.’

reflect on this with me.

love, whispered.

danger, yelled.

fear, it turns out, is often louder than love.

sometimes fear is good, and yelling even better,

especially when there actually is a fire.

but other times fear is toxic, destructive,

the opposite of love.

remember that.

look for it.

and call it out, confront it when you come across it…

Read the entirety of it here

Change of Place

I’ve stolen a mantra from Mark Batterson over the last few years. Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective. Sometimes just changing the environment that you’re in can give you a whole new perspective on something you’re working through.

Today, I packed up and headed to the coffee shop to work through some of my Christmas message and a few things that need to get written in the next couple of weeks for early next year. Sometimes that simple change can spark something that sitting in my office all day can’t.

For me,  sometimes I’ll leave and take a 20 minute drive without the radio on, or I’ll write in my moleskine with a nice pen instead of writing on the computer, take a walk around the office, or I’ll simply change the music that I’m listening to to something completely different. For me, I’ve found that those little things can help get me going when I’ve hit a wall.

What are some of the ways that have been helpful for you to change your pace or place?

Transition Gone Bad

Speaking of a generation having to lead churches through transition, the Crystal Cathedral is unfortunately a perfect case study of how quickly and easily this can all go wrong.

Yesterday, Crystal Cathedral Ministries died. The music stopped playing. In its place, in three years time, will reside the Catholic Church. The namesake of the ministry will be no more. Just like Esau, their birthright was sold.

I’d like to tell you this brings me comfort knowing that orthodox Christians will continue to worship in this building. But I can’t say that. It’s like telling a grieving a widow there are many fishes in the sea.

In one respect, this human metaphor falls short. The Crystal Cathedral isn’t a person, it is an institution. As such, its problems were not terminal. They could have been solved. My father attempted to fix these problems during his short tenure as senior pastor. He saw the Crystal Cathedral was headed toward bankruptcy. He attempted to restructure the board, cut his sibling’s salaries and establish fiscal responsibility. For these actions, he was fired by the board, which consisted of . . . you guessed it, his siblings.

Read the rest of Robert Schuller’s granddaughter’s thoughts here

Learn to Parallel Path

“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

~ Conan O’Brien from his final Tonight Show

It seems amongst my generation, especially when it comes to church, people move to one of two extremes. They either get cynical or overly idealistic. Really, in a lot of ways, they are two sides of the same coin. Cynicism happens when you stay focused on the present reality and can’t see beyond it, while idealism happens when you’re focused on what your preferred future is and you can’t see the present.

The problem with both of them is that they leave you paralyzed. I’ve talked with person after person who has left the church because they’re cynical – the church has hurt them in some way, it hasn’t done what they think it should do, or they can’t see past specific people or behaviors in a certain church, and so they give up on church. And at the same time I’ve talked with a large number of overly idealistic people who aren’t a part of any church, because they can’t find one that lives up to their standards and what they think church should be.

Several months ago, a friend, Nick Boring, introduced me to a concept called Parallel Pathing. It essentially looks like this

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The concept is this – that you have to work within your present reality, with an eye towards the preferred future. As you do that, slowly your present reality will begin to fade out as your preferred future begins to take over. The reason a cynical person gets stuck is because they can’t see past the present reality and they stay in that place, and the reason an overly idealistic person gets stuck is because all they can see is the preferred future and they can’t deal with the present reality.

The person who will really gain traction and make a difference is the person who can learn to parallel path. They learn to operate in the midst of the present reality, while at the same time working towards a preferred future.

In the church world, in the next decade or so, we will see more and more baby boomers who grew their churches and had long tenures end up retiring out of their churches. There’s going to be numerous problems facing those churches as they try to figure out how to take steps forward, but one of them will be learning to parallel path.

I think a part of the reason that so many people in my generation aren’t able to take on an established church and be able to lead it into the future is because we struggle with this concept. There are great, established churches that will need to be lead into the future, but it will take leaders who can work with patience in the present reality and at the same time have a keen eye for the future, who will know when not to stay stuck in one or the other and who can navigate the convergence of the present reality with the preferred future.

I’m currently reading Eric Metaxas’ Biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from his book, Life Together.

“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest andsacrificial”

If my generation is going to lead the church in a significant way into the future, it will take a rejection of cynicism and a rejection of over idealism, and an embracing of the church right where it’s at while being able to live in the tension of also having a vision for the future.

Do Something Difficult

I recently had the opportunity to sit down at dinner with an incredible leader who I have a huge amount of respect for. As he was sharing some stories about leading his church, he told me about a time 10 or 15 years ago when they were growing rapidly and had quickly become the hip young church to be at, and as a result, they started attracting all the hip young people from all the other churches around.

When most people wouldn’t have paid much attention to where people were coming from, they would just be glad that more people were coming, it bothered this guy. He said he decided that for 3 months not to do worship music, and instead of doing a typical sermon, that he would each week give a 1 hour social commentary from a biblical framework on films. He said all the Christians who had left other churches went back to their church because they weren’t getting what they wanted, and the people who weren’t believers who were coming loved it. He told me that early on in his ministry, this decision helped to define who they church would be.

Then later in the evening, he was talking about something completely different, when he shared how they were recently $1 million behind on the annual budget, and at that time decided to get more invested outside their church and to challenge their church to give away huge sums of money. During 1 month, they gave away more money than they had given away in the entire history of their church up until that point. He then said this, “when we did that, we recaptured the soul of the church”

He told these two stories independently, they weren’t really about each other, and they occurred almost 15 years apart. But I left there remembering why this particular guy inspires me and why I respect him – he’s willing to try difficult things. He did it early on in his leadership to define the community he was leading, and he did it as the community had matured as a way of recapturing the soul of who their church is.

I wonder if the thing that simply separates the people who lead in a significant way, who end up defining for the rest of us what we want to do and who we want to become – is just simply that they are willing to continually do difficult things. Maybe the thing that separates someone like that from someone like you and me is just that they’ll do the difficult things that don’t make sense.

What’s the difficult thing that you need to do that will help to define the community that you lead, or that will help to recapture the soul of the community that you lead?

Spend the Right Time on the Right Things

I was recently reflecting with a group about the church planting kick off event we recently had. Someone made the observation that with the time that it took for Rick Warren to be a part of the event, and how long he stayed hanging out with people that he probably invested at least 5 hours into being with us. If anyone has a thing or two on his plate, he’d be at the top of the list.

It reminded me of a screenshot I had taken from one of Jon Acuff’s tweets a while ago (not in a stalker kind of way…but because the significance of it really struck me).

NewImage

A random observation that I’ve made recently – people who seem to be leading well make enough time for the right things. The people I know who lead the most significantly, have the most on their plates and who have the most responsibility, also have learned how to make the right time for the right things.

Somewhere a shift happens in order to lead more effectively where you move from being constantly busy, hurried and pulled in a lot of different directions by a lot of different people towards having even more responsibility and more to do, but handling it in a different way. Some people never make that shift and never gain more responsibility.  Some people gain more responsibility and yet never make this shift, and as a result never learn to lead in a more significant way.

That’s one of the things I’m trying to learn right now – spending the right time on the right things.

Growing a Healthy Church

I recently was asked to write an article for the Pastors in the Foursquare Denomination based on a message that I gave earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt…

Far too many of us have bought into the fallacy that the way to accomplish this mission is to have really great and attractive church services. Is it possible that we have become too focused on the church service, believing that the service itself would accomplish the mission of the church? It seems we have lost sight of empowering our people to live out that mission, instead training them to become consumers of a church experience.


As leaders, we need to stop blaming those whom we lead, and instead recognize that we’ve played a role in creating the vast consumerism that’s running throughout the church in North America.

 

You can read the rest of it here

(also, thanks to Marcia Graham for getting me to do this and editing the final draft)

Jump Farther

I was reminded last night of a story I shared with Parkcrest a few months ago.

One of the ways I bond with my daughter Kate is by jumping. Don’t judge me…it’s hard for me to figure out ways to connect with a 4 year old girl. We like to see how high we can jump, and what she thinks that I can jump on top of. But she also gets really excited to jump to me.

Last night, she got on the couch, asked me to back up and jumped to me. She kept having me go further and further back until she wasn’t able to make it to me.

After she tried to jump that far, Isaac, being the taller and older brother realized that he could jump that distance and further, so he then asked to jump to me. Isaac though, kept sending me further and further back. He knew that because he’s older, taller and more mature that he could jump farther.

I had this simple realization when this same scenario happened several months ago – the more mature you are, the farther you can jump.

The thing is though that most of us don’t live our lives this way. As we grow older and more mature, the more comfortable we become and the less risks we take. People who consider themselves mature in their relationship with Christ can also sometimes be some of the most cautious and risk adverse people. But that’s not how it should be.

God is calling you to risk…to step out of what’s comfortable and into the unknown. The more mature you are, the farther you should jump.

What’s God calling you to? Where do you need to jump farther?

What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?

The Benefits of Doing a Big Idea Retreat

Yesterday I got home from the 4th Big Idea Retreat that I’ve led with several of our staff. Every year I take 5-8 of our staff away for a couple of days and as a group, we outline the next year’s message series. Every year, I’m blown away that we’re able to do this and that we come out of it with some great material. Now that I’ve done this for 4 years, here’s a few of the benefits and why I keep doing it:

1. There are great ideas that I would never have on my own

The way that I was trained to come up with message series is to go away on my own and to dream up what we’re going to be talking about. I could really easily do that – there’s plenty of things that I’d love to talk about, but if we did, the kinds of messages that we would do would be heavily slanted towards what I more naturally want to communicate. Different people have different passions and vantage points when it comes to what we need to communicate. Some of our best series in the past few years were ones that someone else came up with and would have never happened if I was the sole idea person for our message series. Our messages at church are richer because we do this every year.

2. Planning 1 year ahead gives me more room for ideas to build

Because I now know what we’re speaking on through 2012, I can collect ideas along the way, begin reading books that would be helpful and start processing ideas that are months away from being delivered as a sermon. I have a system where I catalogue ideas, insights, etc that can be used in messages. This helps me to have some direction on what to be collecting. This takes a huge burden off of my shoulders…and I’m not constantly having to figure out what we’re going to be talking about next month.

3. We can plan natural ebbs and flows in the life of the church

By planning 1 year in advance, we can be thinking about what we talk about based on attendance patterns, what’s happening at that time of year, and having a healthy balance of the kinds of sermons that we deliver.

4. There is greater buy-in with what we’re doing as a church

The messages that we give help to shape our church and really in a lot of ways are a means to cast vision, simply by what we chose to talk about. I believe that vision is worked out in a team environment, which then also means that the message topics need to be worked out in a team environment

5. I can give voice to and push back on theological ideas and biblical interpretations

I don’t do a huge amount of teaching through specific texts with our staff or theologies, but as we talk about messages and how we want to frame things, I get an opportunity to speak into the way that we’re reading texts and some of our theological framework in a more pointed way than I do when we do take opportunities to talk about that stuff as a staff. It was funny to me what people remembered I had said about specific passages of Scripture based on what we had talked about in years past. And at the same time, I get challenged by

6. I enjoy hanging with our staff

There are things that we can’t plan for, conversations we can’t create and experiences that we don’t have together outside of getting away and spending a few days with one another. I think those encounters make us a better team and help us towards pushing the ball down the field a little bit better. Plus, it gives me some great blackmail material on our staff.

Our Big Idea retreat has become, I believe, one of the more important things that we do each year for our church. I love it and am already starting to think about next year’s.