The Future of the Church Isn’t Our Youth…

1205206_64700205It’s been pretty customary to hear for years this phrase, “The youth are the future of the church”. And I certainly understand and agree with the sentiments behind that statement. But it’s actually a bit misleading on two fronts.

First, the youth aren’t the future of the church…they are the church now. Since when are committed followers of Jesus not fully functional members of the church family? Being part of the church is about a decision to follow Jesus together, not about your age, stage, or whether you are out of high school or not. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not the future of the church, you are the church. Period.

Secondly, this statement “the youth are the future of the church” is misleading in a much more subtle, and dangerous way. Because the way this phrase functions is to assume that the youth are the guarantee of the future of the church. That if we lose the youth, the church’s future is in danger. So we must pour money, time, and effort into developing the best and most current youth ministries.

But this is wrong for two reasons. First, it distances us from the youth themselves. Rather than being persons to be loved, they become a means to what we want (a church in the future). And secondly, and most dangerously, this idea is actually idolatry.

Let me be clear about why this idea of “youth being the future of the church” is idolatry. Because the future of the church is not guaranteed by getting youth to come to church, it is guaranteed by Jesus Christ. The sustaining and growing of the church is not dependent on wonderful youth ministries, but on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to his bride. And while in some ways this point can seem like semantics, it’s actually important because it’s about priorities.

If we assume that “youth are the future” of the church, we can mistakenly forget that the most important thing isn’t getting youth to come to church, but for all of us to come to Jesus. If anything supplants Jesus from the centre of our thought and practice, we will go off course. Youth ministry is absolutely important (I was a youth pastor for 8 years), but it is not primary. Jesus is at the centre and primary. And whenever anything good, like youth ministry, being missional, family ministry, or any other new thing, pushes Jesus to periphery and takes centre stage we’ve missed the point.

Bonhoeffer puts it this way.

The future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God.

This is what I mean by priorities. We need to first be centred first on Jesus, and not anything else. It is so easy for the desire to have a cool youth ministry, a missionally based church, or any other desire to move Jesus from the centre. This is what we must guard against, if we want to see the future of the church come to pass. Of course youth ministry, being missional, and relevant are all good things. All I’m saying is that they shouldn’t push aside the best and most important thing – a person – Jesus Christ.

Does Life Flourish Around Your Church?

Plattsville_Missionary_ChurchI had the unique opportunity with working with two different churches outside of my denomination, and normal connections in the past month. Both times working with the church was the first time I’d encountered or met them. But the two encounters couldn’t be more difficult.

The first was difficult, at times troubling, and it was draining. The second church was gracious, open, and quite life-giving.

What I noticed was this. Life around the second church seemed to flourish, whereas,  life seemed to wilt around the first.

And of course, there could be a whole host of reasons why at this particular time one church seemed more life-giving than the other. Bad days, imperfections, and mistakes happen to us all.

So I’m not judging either church, but instead thinking about how we should judge or evaluate churches.

Traditionally churches measure budgets, buildings, or numbers. What if instead we started measuring the flourishing of life around the church?

Isn’t that a better metric? A truer metric?

Jesus says he will bring life. So it seems to me that if Jesus is being followed deeply, truly, and freely – life should flourish.

I think it’s a good question to ask about the churches we lead, participate in, or are a part of. I also think it’s a great question for us to ask personally, as people who are the church. Is life flourishing around us? Do our neighbors feel like we are a drain, or a welcome part of their lives? Is Jesus so active in our lives, that life seems to spring around us?

The point is simple: life flourished around Jesus, and it should flourish around his followers as well. It’s not always easy, but it is something to strive for. Something I know I want to strive for in my life and in my church. What about you?

Evaluating Church

1441915_68829979Let’s be honest, we evaluate everything. We do, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. The trouble is rarely do we evaluate what we are evaluating. Let me explain, as this is particularly problematic with church.

We do evaluate church, and it happens all the time, and I know you do it too. On the ride home you talk about how the sermon was maybe good or flat. You talk about the worship and whether it was anointed or off. We evaluate and measure things.

My contention is not with evaluating the church, it’s with what we evaluate the church by. I would say that in the pastor world the standard three things we evaluate the church on is this: budget, buildings, or attendance. Is our budget growing? Are our facilities top notice? Is our attendance growing? And then we start evaluating how we are doing by our programs (i.e. preaching, worship, youth min. etc)

And none of these things are intrinsically bad. We need to be thinking through our budgets, buildings, people, and programs – but these are not the best criteria to evaluate the church. These are not the best criteria to make sure that our church and communities are pointed in the right direction. Because hear me clearly, what the world needs is not bigger budgets, better buildings, more churchgoers, or cooler programs. What the world needs is more devoted followers of Jesus. We need more disciples.

Neil Cole writes this:

Ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing – its disciples. Your church is only as good as her disciples. It does not matter how good your praise, preaching, programs, or property are; if your disciples are passive, needy, consumeristic, and not moving in the direction of radical obedience, your church is not good.

Cole is seeking to take our focus off of the things the church often does (programs, preaching, etc) to the thing the church is called to make – disciples. And I think this is how we need to be looking at our churches. I think these are the kind of questions we need to be asking:

  • What kind of disciples are we making, and do they look, live, and love like Jesus.
  • Are we doing a better job at that – than last year.
  • Are we releasing and raising up disciples and sending them out?

And rather than just using our budgets, buildings, or numbers to evaluate where we are going, what if we ask this simple question: how are we doing at making disciples? Because for the church to be faithful to Jesus, it needs to be faithful to its calling – to make disciples.

And I think if we ask that question it will point us in the right direction. It will help us to be more faithful. It will help us to not get caught up in all the good things around us and miss out on the most important thing – making disciples.

And so it’s a hard question as a pastor to ask, but I think it’s the right one. And I think it’s one that points in the right direction, because it points to Jesus and the church’s calling. And I think that matters.

Why I Still Believe in Church…Even When Its Imperfect

1013561_30930609On Sunday we challenged a pretty close and dear North American myth of Christianity. That all you need is “me and Jesus” to follow him.

This idea that you can follow Jesus without committing to a church, or a community of believers is pretty common. Our culture values autonomy, individualism, and freedom of choice so it’s no surprise its affected religion. The truth though is that you need a community to follow Jesus. Following Jesus isn’t a solo sport, and it’s not healthy Biblically to follow Jesus on your own.

And this is a difficult truth to hear. Richard Rohr once said, “Before the truth sets you free, it makes you miserable.” And this is true.

Because the truth is you need others deeply in your life to follow Jesus well, deeply, and for a lifetime. Faith is passed on in community. Faith is grown in community. And faith is found in community.

So while I know it’s not popular to say: I believe we still need to commit to the church. Yes the imperfect, messy, and occasionally hurtful church. I know it’s not a popular belief, but I believe it is true. God is still using the church, imperfect as she may be.

St. Cyprian once said, “You cannot have God for your Father if You have not the Church for your Mother.” And this is true.

So on Sunday we looked at the last statement in our SevenFold Way of Following Jesus Series.

I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

And I believe that we do actually need to commit, participate, and join in God’s mission through the church.

I’m not saying that you need to join our church, or a church that looks, acts, or is structured like ours. But I do believe we need to join a local body of believers to participate in God’s mission to change the world.

You see, Church is not somewhere you go, it’s a people you participate with. Church isn’t a destination you go to, It’s a calling you live. And it needs to be lived out with others.

So we need the church, and the church needs you. And I hope you might be able to agree with this statement for you and your context:

I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

Because I think the church and community matters, and I hope you do too.

Community is the deepest and most foundational reality that exist. Leonardo Boff

Teaching Notes

Big Idea: I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

Teaching Points:

  • Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable. Richard Rohr
  • Myth: That you can follow Jesus on your own
  • Following Jesus is not a solo sport
  • You cannot have God for your Father if You have not the Church for your Mother. St. Cyprian
  • Church isn’t a destination you go, It’s a calling you live. And it needs to be lived out with others
  • We need to: Commit, Participate, and Transform the World
  • Church is not somewhere you go, it’s a people you participate with.
  • You are needed
  • God what have you given to me to give to others?
  • This idea that Christianity and consumerism are completely compatible…is the great insanity of our times. Win Butler
  • The church exists to transform lives.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever had a bad experience with church? Have you ever had a beautiful experience with church? Why or why not do you think being a part of a community of believers matters? How might you more deeply commit, and participate in church? What next steps can you take?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to you kids about the importance of community. Ask them who other than you as their parents, are adults that they really respect. Ask them why, and then think about how you might have them invest more in your kids, because raising kids takes a community.

Challenge for the Week: Commit and participate in a church, to transform lives.

Do we need the church?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Sunday we are going to be looking at why we need church.

I know that’s not a popular topic, mostly because many people have had bad experiences with church. So have I. But I still believe we need it, and here is why.

God chooses to use his church to change lives.

The church can be messy, misguided, misinformed, and sometimes just plain wrong. But that’s because the church is made up of messy, misguided, and imperfect people. And despite the failings of the church, I still believe God wants to use his church.

So that’s what we are looking at on Sunday. Why it is important to connect with community of followers of Jesus – otherwise known as the church. Now the church you connect with doesn’t have to be ours, structured like ours, or styled like ours. But I do believe that if we want to change lives, if we want our lives to be changed we can’t do it alone. We need one another. We need the church.

But what do you think about this? I know the church brings up a lot of emotions for people. So think about it over the weekend – do you believe we really need the church?

Where is God Taking Us?

1243996_56375506On Sunday we dreamed together where God was taking our church. Our dream to is to be changed by Jesus, and to change lives with Jesus. But what does that look like in the future?

To answer that question I shared seven little signposts that point to where I believe God is taking us. I think these little signs help us get a picture of the future God might have for us. And I asked the church to dream with us, and to see if these are the signposts to our future. Here are the seven signposts:

Signpost #1: Be the Church to the Area

The point for us isn’t to be the biggest or best church in the area, but to be God’s church to the area. I could care less about being cool and hip, I want us to be faithful. The point isn’t for us to be a giant church, but a church fulfilling God’s calling. The point is that there is no competition in God’s kingdom; that we will seek to bless the community.

Signpost #2: Creating Disciples Over Decisions

The point is that for a long time the church focused on getting people to make a decision about Jesus, rather than becoming a disciple of Jesus. I think God is asking us to flip this around. That we would focus on creating disciples, over people simply making one decision about Jesus. Being a disciple isn’t about making one decision to follow Jesus, but a daily decision to follow Jesus – and that needs to be our focus.

Signpost #3: Everyone has a place, and everyone has a role

As I look into the future I see a church where everyone has a place and a role. That we are all serving as the church (not necessarily in the church building or programs). But that each and everyone would be using the gifts God has given us to build up each other, and bless the world. The truth is you cannot follow Jesus and spectate.

Signpost #4: Our Church is a Family

This point is that our church resonates and continues to adopt the metaphor of church as a family. This doesn’t mean you need to have a family to attend, but that when you join us you gain a family. That we would be committed to one another, care for one another, and journey together. Like all family we will be dysfunctional, and there will be difficulty, but we will get through it together.

Signpost #5: Locally Grounded and Globally Focused

I think the days are gone where you can just focus on overseas missions, or local ministries. I believe we need to do both. That we need to be locally grounded, in our communities and neighborhoods and bringing transformation; and also globally focused partnering with people long-term all over the world to bring life.

Signpost #6: Going Deeper with Jesus

I believe a focus in our future is depth with Jesus. Shallow following of Jesus doesn’t change us, and it doesn’t change lives. So I think we will continue to have a greater focus on deeply following Jesus and taking the next step from wherever you are at.

Signpost #7: Gracious and Generous

And last, but not least, I believe our calling cards in the future will be grace and generosity. That we will build bridges through our graciousness and generosity. That we will be committed to being a people of grace and gift.

So as I look into the future that’s where I see God taking us. This certainly isn’t the end of the conversation, it’s just the beginning. But my prayer is that God might have us dream together to find his dreams for us.

 

 

Teaching Notes

Big Idea: God, where are you taking us?

Teaching Points:

  • God, where are you taking us?
  • Without a vision the people perish – Proverbs 29:18
  • A vision isn’t just a vision statement
  • Without a picture of where you are headed your life will likely run off course
  • To be changed by Jesus, and to change lives with Jesus
  • Signpost #1: Be the Church to the Area
  • The point isn’t for us to be a giant church, but a faithful church.
  • Signpost #2: Creating Disciples Over Decisions
  • Being a disciple isn’t about making one decision to follow Jesus, but a daily decision to follow Jesus.
  • Signpost #3: Everyone has a place, and everyone has a role
  • You cannot follow Jesus and spectate
  • Signpost #4: Our Church is a Family
  • Signpost #5: Locally Grounded and Globally Focused
  • Signpost #6: Going Deeper with Jesus
  • Signpost #7: Gracious and Generous

Adult Discussion Questions:

Where do you think Jesus is taking us as a church? Which signpost most resonated with you? Are there any you’re not sure about? What signpost might you add?

Discussion Question for Families:

Ask your kids one question around the table this week. “What do you think are God’s dreams for our family?” and let the discussion begin.

Challenge for the Week: Dream with us – and pray about where God is leading us.

Hudson and His Church Antics, and Church Love

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Today we were talking about Jesus as Hudson and I drove to daycare. At one point Hudson just blurts out “Daddy I really love Jesus, because I love going to church.” For Hudson the connection he has with our church, has positively influenced his connection with Jesus. And I know for many people out there, the church hasn’t been helpful with people connecting with Jesus. For some they like Jesus, but not the church. But that’s why I love my church so much, because it is showing and helping Hudson to fall in love with the Jesus I know.

So my first thought to Hudson’s little statement was this. Thank you. Thank you to all those in our church who continue to pour into our kids. Thank you for all those who welcome kids and make them feel safe and supported. Thank you for all those who continue to love not only my sons but all those around you.

  • Thank you that when he runs down the aisle yelling that he has to pee, you smile and say “run fast little guy”.
  • Thank you for how when we were potty training, and at the front of the church he pulled down his pants to show off his new “big boy” underwear – you all cheered.
  • Thank you for how you watch my boys on Sundays so I can connect with others, and I always know he is safe and cared for.
  • And yes last but not least, I will even say thank you to all of you (which is most of you) who love to give my boys as many cookies and treats as possible before we go home. Because your generosity has Hudson hooked on church, and Jesus.

So thank you. And for all of you who don’t go to my church, thank you if you do the same in your community. If you welcome and care and reach out. Because those little actions, high fives, and hugs change lives. I know they’ve changed Hudson’s and because of that – they are changing mine too. Thank you.

Forgiving Mr. Poopy Pants

1972495_10153908206870643_725029330_nJust a heads up this post concerns poop. Just so you know and it’s out there ahead of time.

Here’s what happened. Krista was taking Hudson to nap, and I heard this conversation from the bathroom.

“Mommy you have to forgive me for pooping in my pants. We learned that at church this morning, when someone does something wrong, you have to forgive them. Okay mommy?”

Now besides the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing, and the poop problem, this was a beautiful moment. Because here is what it showed – that Hudson understood what he was taught.

So often we learn something but never apply it, never practice it, or never learn how to live it out. So after I stopped laughing (and grinning that Krista had to deal with this ‘accident’), I was so glad. I was glad because as a parent Hudson now gets forgiveness. This is not a minor thing, this is not a little thing, this is a major thing. The entire Christian faith is built on forgiveness so if Hudson gets a handle on it at 4, think about how that could shape his life?

Which leads me to my main point: thank you to anyone who pours into kids.

I am so grateful for each friend, mentor, Sunday school teacher, church family member, who supports and pours into my kids. Sometimes it’s through teaching in our Sunday School, or giving him cookies and talking to him on a Sunday morning. The point is that your investment in my kids’ lives, the others as well, is changing them. And it’s a beautiful thing. So thank you to everyone who cares for kids anywhere.

And on this Sunday I was so grateful for each person who cares and pours into our kids here at our church specifically. So for every time you’ve wondered if it’s worth it, every time it’s been chaos, every time it didn’t feel successful – know that sometimes, with God’s grace, it sticks and changes someone. And last Sunday it stuck with Hudson, as he reminded his mommy about the importance of forgiveness. And that is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. So thank you.

…then the church is dying

My youth pastor sent me this picture and quote. He thought I would like it, and he was right.

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The reason I like it is it challenges our priorities. It asks us what matters most, our personal preference or passion for Jesus; is our comfort more important than others coming to know Jesus; what is the centre for us – ourselves or our calling?

These are really important questions to look at and ask. Because I believe the world needs the church. The world needs Christians. The world needs you and me. But it only needs us if our priorities are right. It needs followers of Jesus that are willing to die to themselves, that are willing to put others first, to be last in line, and serve. These are the type of people that change the world, because these are the type of people who courageously follow Jesus.

So I guess this little quote simply is asking me: what’s front and centre in my life ~ God’s calling or my personal preferences. That’s a really good question. A good question to think about, but an even better question to shape and change my actions.

What’s the Most Important Spiritual Gift?

1426291_47484317On Sunday that’s what we are talking about – the most important spiritual gift there is. In fact, I think the case is pretty easily made that this one gift is the gift that has transformed the world. I think both Biblically and historically the case is easily made that this one gift is the most important of all the spiritual gifts.

And no the gift I’m talking about isn’t any of the ones we normally think are important: preaching, prophesy, healing, or even evangelism. This gift is almost so “normal” that most people don’t even recognize it as a spiritual gift. This gift is so “everyday” that we forget how radical it is.

So any guesses what gift I’m talking about?

Well on Sunday we’ll find this all out. But here is a hint, I’m going to be preaching from this passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus says:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Then the righteous will answer, “Lord when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see the a stranger and welcome thee? And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”

So as you think about it come ready to discover how we can change the world through one simple action. And it fits in nicely with thanksgiving and welcoming others, opening our lives to them, and most of all opening our homes.