Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

4 Things I Am Going to Miss

Well, today is my last official day as a Church Planting Catalyst for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. A few years ago, if you had told me that I would be a NAMB appointed missionary for our state convention, I would have told you that you were crazy. Denominational work was something I never aspired to, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve the churches of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. While I am ready and excited to be back in the pastorate, here are four things I will miss about serving as a Church Planting Catalyst:

The Church Planters

A few years ago, the former State Director of Missions, Delton Beale, began encouraging us to pray Luke 10:2. Since then, on the second day of each month, several of us have intentionally prayed that the Lord of the harvest would raise up workers into His harvest field. He has been faithful to answer that prayer. And the quality of men that He is raising up is mind-blowing. The church planters I had the privilege of working with absolutely inspired me. Their energy, enthusiasm, boldness and brokenness for the lost convicted me. They challenged me with their creativity and new ways of thinking. God is doing a great work in and through them and I will miss the time we spent together.

The Pastors

I love the local church. And because I love the local church, I love pastors. I will miss getting to share coffee or pie with the dozens of pastors I was blessed to work with. While I’ve served them, they have regularly been in my prayers, along with their churches. Some have changed churches. Some are no longer serving a church. A few are no longer in ministry at all. We’ve laughed together, cried together, strategized together, and just had fun together. Although I didn’t get to spend as much time with each of the pastors that I would have liked, I will miss the time we did get to spend together.

My Fellow CPCs

Nothing builds camaraderie quite like building something new together. I was blessed to start off with the “first round” of CPCs—James Smith, Frank Pilcher, Tony Inmon and Charlie Minney. Each one brought unique gifts and perspectives to the table, and each one was a blessing to me. No one prays like James, works like Frank, strategizes like Tony or loves like Charlie. Those guys laid the right foundation, worked like dogs and inspired me to be the best CPC I could be. Then after them came my brother Danny and my other brother Danny—Danny Cunningham and Danny Rumple. Those guys are true friends who have a tremendous vision for church planting in West Virginia. Danny Cunningham is the best man I know at building relationships and Danny Rumple is the most biblically grounded, driven denominational servant I’ve ever met. I will miss the road trips, the hotel stays, the staff meetings (not really), the long talks and the teamwork with those guys.

The Ride

It’s amazing how God takes people who really don’t know what they’re doing and does a good work through them. That’s a perfect description of my work as a CPC. I’m a simple pastor. I have some leadership and relational skills, but at my core, I’m a simple small-church pastor. And as near as I can tell, that’s what all of the CPCs have been—simple guys with a love for Jesus and His Kingdom. The closest we ever came to working with brilliant strategists is reading Stetzer or Malphurs’ books. But despite that, God has done some incredible things. The thing that I will miss the most about being a Church Planting Catalyst is sitting back and enjoying the ride when God starts doing His thing through planters and pastors and catalysts who don’t really have a clue. I will miss being on the ride, but can’t wait to hear about how He is riding on without me!


Read more »

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top 10 Leadership Lessons I Learned As a CPC

With only a few more days left in this ministry role, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on some leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past 2+ years as a Church Planting Catalyst. Denominational work in Baptist life is unique. Southern Baptists are not hierarchical—we are a cooperating fellowship of fully autonomous churches. I like to say that one of the reasons we’re Baptists is we just don’t like people telling us what to do. Add to that the fiercely independent nature of West Virginians (our state motto is Montani Semper Liberi—Mountaineers are Always Free), and you can see that cat herding might be an easier calling than leading West Virginia Southern Baptists! Being a CPC has been one of the most challenging and rewarding ministry roles I’ve ever had. It has stretched me and developed me as a leader in ways that I could not have anticipated. That being said, here are the top ten leadership lessons I have learned:

You don’t have to have positional authority to lead 

Within the hierarchy of a non-hierarchical organization, CPCs rank somewhere between pond scum and really likeable pond scum—in other words, it isn’t a title that automatically engenders awe and deference. But real leadership doesn’t depend on position and titles. Real leadership is influence, and influence can only happen in the course of developing real relationships.

Ministry—no matter the position—is difficult

Ministry is about dealing with people. Sometimes it’s about dealing with hurting people and sometimes it’s about dealing with hurtful people. In my dealings with West Virginia churches, pastors and ministry leaders, I have worked with many hurting people and a few hurtful people. Some churches hurt pastors, some pastors hurt churches. They all need the same thing that I do—the hope that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Viewing everybody through that lens helps.

Calling is essential

One of my primary jobs as a CPC was to help potential church planters discern their calling from God. As part of that process, I made a habit of asking them if they could possibly do anything else besides plant a church. If they said they could, I told them to do it.  Because if you can do anything else, you’re probably not called by God to plant a church. The ministry—whether pastor, missionary, church planter or CPC—is not simply a job. It must be a calling from God, for it is the assurance of that calling that will allow you to persevere even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Leading up is challenging, but necessary

Nobody worth their salt likes a yes-man. Yes-men are terribly toxic for any organization, but it takes tact and thoughtfulness to disagree agreeably. In order for an opinion to be valued, it has to be valuable. To be valuable, it must be competent. And as was stated in Lesson #1, influence can only happen where there is real relationship. Relationships are built on trust and leaders will be influenced by competent, trustworthy followers.

Discernment is vital

Being perceived as having something somebody wants can be a precarious position. If an unscrupulous potential planter sees you as the key to “his” funding, he can be tempted to say anything to win you over. Fortunately, God gave the discernment to immediately recognize those guys and send them on their way. The same kind of thing can happen in the local church with what I like to call "Klingons". Klingons are those folks who "cling on" to the pastor to "warn" him of what all the "other" people are saying and doing. One of my regular prayers is for God to bless me with wisdom and discernment. The Lord answering that prayer is the filter that is required to be a good leader.

It is possible to build an airplane while it is in the air

When I became a CPC, it was a brand new position. Church planting in West Virginia was certainly not a new thing, but those positions were. With very little guidance, our team had to figure out how we were going to relate to the churches and the associations. We had to develop training programs for planters and churches from the ground up. We literally started from scratch—here’s your car and your cell phone, go forth and multiply church plants. I learned very quickly that you can’t wait until the process is perfect before you get started accomplishing the mission. Part of the faith aspect of ministry is stepping out of the boat without really knowing what the next step is. Just continually look to Jesus and keep stepping.

Even your harshest critics can be likeable over a piece of pie

Have you ever noticed how many times the Gospels tell us that Jesus ate with people? I added some more extra weight as a CPC, but it has been worth it—no matter what the doctor says. It is really difficult for people to have adversarial attitudes toward each other when pie and ice cream is involved. It all goes back to relationships. You may not ever agree with each other, but the stories shared over desert somehow cut through the tension and give you something to build on.

It’s easy to miss blind spots.

A long ministry in one place is a wonderful ideal to strive for. I would love to have the blessing of shepherding generations of people in the same place. But, as with any blessing, there is a potential pitfall to being in one place for an extended period of time. My grandparents lived by the train tracks most of their adult life. They never even heard or felt the train when it went past. In the same way, our senses can become numb to deterioration in our ministries. Whether it’s poor signage in the parking lot or clutter in the hallway—or something far more serious and detrimental—it’s easy to overlook the obvious when we’re numb to it. The only way to open your eyes to it is to look at things through someone else’s eyes. Be open to those around you and don’t be threatened by their new ideas and suggestions. That’s one of the reasons I love working with millennials. They keep me fresh and open up my eyes to my blind spots.

It’s easier to use reins than spurs

Another reason I love working with church planters is that they are continually running wide-open. I often describe them like a fighter jet with tons of thrust but little vector. But isn't that so much better than the alternative? I know I'm mixing metaphors here, but any football coach knows you can’t coach speed. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to disciple a person out of their apathy. But when a person is energetic and excited, he is easy and fun to disciple and train. I would rather somebody make a mistake or two going full-throttle than miss a dozen opportunities because he refused to get out off the runway.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31)

I am a strategic thinker. To me, the only thing wrong with a 5-year plan is that it isn’t a 10-year plan. I love to look at things from 30,000 feet and strategize and develop plans and cast vision. In many ways, I think that’s what God built me to do. But in the end, it’s not my meticulous planning or bold visioning that will accomplish anything for the Kingdom. Because the victory belongs to the Lord. Yes, we are called to plan and strategize—we’re just not supposed to trust in it. No matter what happens, no matter where we go or what we’re allowed to see accomplished, we trust in the Lord. And that’s the greatest leadership lesson of all.

Read more »

Monday, July 21, 2014

12 Things to Keep Those Pesky Visitors from Ever Coming Back

This past Sunday, my family and I had an interesting experience. We visited an out-of-state church. As unknowns. As guests. As outsiders. We could have been unchurched, or de-churched, or lost, or pagans, or heathenor even angels unawares. We could have been anybody—the point is, we were obviously not one of them. We were the kind of people that church people always say they want to reach. There were seven of us, ranging in age from 4 to 66. Four generations of a whole family who, for all they knew, could have been looking for a church home.

Our experience was not good. Not only would we never go back, we could not in good conscience recommend the church to anyone else. They weren’t overtly mean or unkind. I’m sure in their minds, they were just fine—friendly even. But let me tell you what it looked like from a guest’s perspective.  Here are a dozen things that would combine to cause us never go back to that church again.

  1. The website--I realize that not all churches have websites, but yours should. The website is the first place a person under 50 will look for information about your church. Have a website or at least a Facebook page, and make sure the information is up to date and accurate! If you have changed your service time to 10:45, don’t say it starts at 11:00 on your website.
  2. The parking lot--As a pastor who has worked with many pastors, maybe I’m overly sensitive in some areas. But visitors to your church should not have to park in the back of the parking lot—especially when there are reserved staff parking spots right next to the door.
  3. The directions--Good signage should be one of the easiest things a church can get right. But it is obviously one of the most overlooked. See your church through the eyes of a person who has never been in church—much less your church. An unchurched person might see an arrow pointing to “The Sanctuary”, but how do they know that’s where they’re supposed to go? Where are the bathrooms? Where do the kids go? Do we all go to the same place? Oh yeah, and nobody is around to follow because we’re 15 minutes late since the time on the website was wrong. HELP ME!!!!
  4. The greeters--A good greeter is more than just a here’s-a-handshake-and-a-bulletin person. Here’s a quiz for you: When a greeter sees a family with children, what should he do? A) Pretend to not see them, B) Offer a handshake-and-a-bulletin to the mom who is already holding the baby, diaper bag, stroller, car seat, snack bags and the hands of two other kids, or C) Stoop down, greet the children, and let the parents know of any children’s programs that occur during the service. I would hope the answer is self-evident—but it really isn’t. It’s also a good idea to have friendly people available to escort parents to the nursery, children’s church, etc. If you don’t have separate children’s activities during the service, provide coloring sheets with crayons or activity bags for them.
  5. The bulletin--I know, it’s not hip to call it a bulletin anymore. But just because you change the name to “Worship Folder” doesn’t automatically make it worth the life of the tree it once was. Unfamiliar experiences are uncomfortable. Use the bulletin to take away some of the unfamiliarity. Write it for an unchurched person (what the heck is a doxology?!?). Give the what and explain (as briefly as possible) the why. Here’s a clue—if your bulletin says nothing about Jesus, then your guests will probably not expect to meet Him there.
  6. The bulbs--What do you think it tells a visitor if you have burned out bulbs in your worship center? What about dirty windows? Overgrown hedges? Junk in hallways and common spaces? Let’s be honest—when we “live” somewhere for a while, we quit noticing neglected maintenance and increasing clutter. But visitors notice—especially visitors with children. Do you think a protective mother wants to leave her child in the nursery of a church with clutter out in the open and burned out light bulbs?
  7. The Meet and Greet--At the church we attended this past Sunday, we missed the meet and greet time (see #1), but the vast majority of churches I have visited include some kind of “welcome” time. The intent is honorable, but I have never seen it work as intended. No matter how you orchestrate it (standing, sitting, some stand while others sit, singing, walking, etc.), it is ALWAYS unpleasant for the visitor. Even the best-hearted church members feign friendliness with guests then immediately turn to genuinely love on fellow members. There has to be a better way!
  8. The dishonesty--I’m all for being positive and energetic. Few things bother me more than down-in-the-mouth commentary from people on the platform. But at the same time, people need to be honest. Don’t talk about what a great crowd is here when there are more empty seats than full ones. When we walked in the church on Sunday, they were in the middle of singing Hillsong’s Church on Fire (see #1). Great song—if the church is really on fire. If unchurched people walk into a gathering and hear people singing, “The Holy Spirit is here and His power is real,” what will they think when they look around and see people looking half-dead? Somebody’s lying somewhere.
  9. The selfishness, part 1--When visitors walk into a church for the first time, do you think they want to sit in the front or the back—especially if the service has already started (see #1)? Yet in most churches, the back rows and aisle seats are the first to fill up. In many churches, those seats are already “reserved” by personal cushions or left behind Bibles. I have visited churches where people in aisle seats actually shifted their legs to “allow” me to scrunch past them to a middle seat, rather than simply scoot over to give the guest their seat.
  10. The selfishness, part 2--Of all the churches I’ve attended, something happened Sunday that I’ve never experienced before. Since we were not made aware of any children’s activities, and probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving him if there were (see #6), my 4-year old grandson sat with us during the worship service. I am unashamedly biased, but he really is a good boy. But even really good boys make some noise during church. Not nearly enough that would warrant taking him outside mind you—just some 4-year old boy noises. Apparently 4-year old boy noises were too much for the older couple who were sitting in front of us. In the middle of the service, after glaring back several times, they got up and moved. How do you think that would make a visitor feel? Welcome or unwelcome?
  11. The people--It is easy to like people who are like us. That’s not what church is supposed to be. When the service was over, my 66-year old mother received warm greetings from the older ladies behind us. My wife and I received a few cordial handshakes from some others. My daughter, son-in-law and grandson were not spoken to. Here’s a tip: love the children first. The parents, grandparents and great-grandparents will follow.
  12. The preaching--I know I’m really particular about preaching. I am a systematic, expositional preacher and particularly appreciate that kind of preaching. I understand that everyone isn’t like me, but if a message is going to be topical, it needs to at least be biblical. And no preacher should ever stand in the pulpit (or platform, or music stand, or whatever) and fail to present the Gospel. We must preach the Gospel, or else we just flap our gums and waste people’s time.

I hope my bad church experience will cause us all to think about our own churches. We say we want to reach the lost. We say we want unchurched people to come to our churches. We say we want to see people saved. But do we show that we really mean what we say?

Read more »

Search Deep Riches