Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: January 2018

Seven Reasons Grace is Planting Churches

Should churches plant new churches? In addition to the fact that it’s how the gospel grew in the NT and has grown all through history, here are 7 key reasons why Grace is leaning into sending off church planters to establish new local churches:

1) New Churches reach new people. Studies have shown that churches younger than 3 years old reach 300% more non-believers than churches older than 15 years. Plus, surveys showing the “rise of the nones” (i.e., upwards of 25% of Americans not affiliated with any religion) demonstrate a whole bunch of people who are not coming to current churches. New churches reach new people.

2) People Need People in all of life. It’s cliche that “life is a team sport”, but it’s true. First, new converts to Christ need a family, a hospital, a nursery… just as assuredly as a newborn baby does. A church is that family, nursery, hospital. Second, ongoing disciples need each other to grow as God intends. “Churchless Christianity” is not part of the Scriptural vision of following Christ. Believers in real relationship is where grace grows. Third, the lost are hungry for community, and the church is filled with it. “People need people in all of life”… so let’s plant more local bodies.

3) Exponential Potential. A church that grows from 300 to 1000 in ten years is a great thing.  But, if over those same ten years, that church planted one new church every 18 months, and each of the plants did too, you’d have 64 churches in 6 cycles… each with several hundred people. If you run it out to ten planting cycles, you find 1,000 churches (not just 1,000 people in our church). Growth at one location is straight-line growth. Growth that establishes new locations is exponential.

4) It “forces” God to raise up leaders.  If it takes 100 leaders to keep Grace Fellowship moving, then it would take 100,000 leaders to keep those 1,000 churches moving! Same exponential potential. Moreover, the more leaders the more people are relying on God’s Spirit and power to work in their lives. As you step out to lead for Christ, he pours himself into you more and more.

5) More people grow more in lean/young churches. As there are new church plants, new people (not even leaders, necessarily) step up to pitch in, help out, and jump on a team. They take a chance on new things because there’s a ‘pioneer’ spirit that says, just try it! In established or larger churches, there seem to be more people who are timid to jump in or would rather simply stay in the ‘back row’ and receive. That’s not a knock on the larger church; it’s an observation of human nature. Instead of 20% of the people doing 80% of the work, a new or small church has a “pitch in and let’s see waht happens” atmosphere. More people grow more in lean/young churches.

6) The US church is no longer a chaplain to our culture, it’s a mission force within it. If there was a time when the US was a “Christian” culture, then the church’s role was often to hold culture’s hand, and help it along. They would look to foreign fields to do missions… among the pagans who don’t know of Jesus. Well, increasingly the pagans who don’t know of Jesus are our neighbors and people in this country! The “missions” calling now includes our own communities. We are no longer chaplains, but missionaries at home. Let’s start reaching out like missionaries… establishing new Christian community outposts (aka local churches).

7) Grace Fellowship’s DNA is primed to plant churches. We prize authenticity in relationships centered on Christ. Our HouseChurch model means we have ten leadership laboratories  and a decentralized, agile structure. We are a body that practices sacrificial discipleship, consistently giving and serving and pouring out for others. We have a leadership culture at Grace–so many gifted leaders in the community, in business, in the professions, in academics, and in ministry. And, we have a missions heart, given to us by God. Why do you think? so we would be burdened wherever we’d find a mission field.

God is on the move… in Grace, in the world, in this country, and in our own mission strategy and ministry vision. I can’t wait to watch God raise up, train up and send out church planters over the next decade. To reach countless thousands for the gospel.

(This post was originally published in June 2017)

3 Keys for your Money

When I meet with engaged couples for pre-marital counseling, one area we always cover is money. The reality is that personal finances are a stressor for many people and households… and it never solves itself on its own. It’s always tempting to think, “when I make more, this will work itself out.” But that’s not true. Witness the number of people earning huge amounts, only to see their stress increase.

Whether you are newlyweds or married for 20 years, it’s worth coming back to the basics every once in a while. There are principles that always work – whether you are in your first job or making your tenth million! Simply put, we have to tackle 3 basics, in this order:

(1) Your Financial Mindset. What’s your general view of money. What is it? What do we use it for? Why? Here are a few key portions that every financial outlook has to account for:

  • Money is a tool. Much or little, it’s just a tool. It’s not to be sought after, but neither is it to be avoided. It doesn’t really matter if you have oodles of it or barely any. What matters is how you use the tool.
  • Settle who owns our money and stuff: us, God, or someone else. Now live in that reality. If it’s God (and it is!), we adopt a steward/manager mindset, not an owner mindset. That changes how we think about everything else.
  • Settle if God is going to get the first-fruits or not. Is giving to the Lord and his Work primary or down the line? Is it non-negotiable or merely a good thing to do? This is global mindset stuff.
  • Jesus in the Gospels calls us to a radical lifestyle because the Kingdom is here. The Proverbs call us to a prudent lifestyle of diligence to be prepared for unexpected hard times. The Epistles call us to a generous lifestyle because of God’s grace. These might seem paradoxical, but each of them is Scripture’s calling for us.  Radically prudent generosity.  Generously radical prudence. You get the idea.
  • Here’s one that might sound controversial, but is really common sense: If you are married, live on one income. If both of you work, bank the second – using it for retirement, one-off items, generous gifts, or upping savings. Don’t work your monthly budget from both incomes. That way if one of you loses or gives up your job, you won’t also have to sell a car & move from your house, etc.

(2) Your Financial Goals. These are the things we do or aim to do that will enact our mindset. Since God owns this tool, and since he calls us to use it radically, prudently and generously, the question becomes: what are we aiming at, and how do we get there?

Goals like short-term an emergency fund. Life goals like regular, consistent and growing patterns in our giving. Fun goals like a vacation to Disney or cruise. Goals like “after 2019, no car loans ever again”  “pay off our house 8 years early” “never carry a credit card balance” “give more on my raise than ever.”

Goals can be process-oriented (“getting on a bill-pay system”) or achievement oriented (“save $5,000 in emergency cushion”). Either way, we need them. We’ll never get anywhere if we don’t know where we are going.

(3) Your Financial Processes. How are we going to do life each month, and how are we going to progress toward the goals? This is where the nuts-and-bolts processes come in. What happens as each paycheck or bill comes in.

  • Designate one person to administrate your family budget. This does not mean they are in control of it. It just means they are the executors of the plan. It takes time to keep up with things. The person who is not serving as the “administrator” must make sure they encourage the one who is.
  • Know the conditions of your flocks, says Proverbs. Spend some time noting everything you spend.  You’ll be surprised. But you will be armed with real data (not wishful thinking). Perhaps 3 months is enough to get a sense.
  • Know your expenses and obligations. List them. Measure them against the income you can count on. Change things if there are more expenses than income. Don’t hedge on this one.
  • Write your first check to the Lord’s Work, and your second check to your savings. Everything else will take care of itself.
  • If things are tight, pay cash for things. Do it until your situation changes. Every study has shown that credit/debit cards do not hinder our spending as much as handing over greenbacks.
  • If things are flush or relaxed, don’t assume they always will be. Prepare yourself for the rainy day, even while you enjoy the sun!
  • Processes really do work. Trust a good process. Work a wise process. You don’t see the harvest the day after you plant the seed… but you know it’s coming.
  • Know the difference between needs, wants and desires. (“I need a car, I want a new car, I desire a Porsche”). Until things are relaxed, say no to desires, yes to needs, and weigh your wants very carefully.

What else? What other keys do you know? Do you have a sense of being out of control or needing a little bit of help? Call a friend or stop by at church. We have folks who will walk with you (confidentially), and help you put into practice God’s mindset so that you can reach godly goals by a godly process.

Life’s Best Teachers

“We learn from our mistakes.” Hopefully that’s true in most cases. But, It is not automatic. Not every mistake teaches you and saves you from making it again. Generally, it bears out in life: experience is a tough teacher, but an effective one.  Mistakes hurt and we don’t repeat them if we can help it.

What other teachers are available to us? What does the Bible say? I’ve found at least seven different teachers in Scripture. We learn from…

1) Our parents – All through Deuteronomy parents are called on to teach their children the Gracious Instruction of the Lord (The Law). “You shall teach them to your children,” Dt 4:7 says. All through Proverbs children are called to hear and obey the voice of their parents. Malachi 2:15 says that God gave us marriage (in part) to have “godly offspring.” We learn cognitively and pre-cognitively from our parents.

2) Our sufferings – Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” He was in no way deficient. And yet, he too learned while on earth. His suffering introduced him to a new experience, a new reality. He ‘learned’ something he had not been through before. Our sufferings, trials and difficult times are tremendous teachers. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

3) The Holy Spirit – Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes he will teach you all things… guide you into all truth… remind you of what I have said (John 14 & 16). Imagine that the God of the Universe would live inside of you, to guide, encourage, cheer and convict you! Stop to listen, repeatedly ask: “Speak to me, O Lord!”

4) The Word – We could pick a million verses here, but settle for Psalm 119:66 – “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” When we put our faith in God’s Word, he will teach us (from it) not only the things we ought to know, but also the wise way to live (“good judgment”). God’s Word instructs us in everything God wants us to know about his Character, purposes and ways. The investment of time in his Word will always pay the biggest dividends, compound interest and capital gains!

5) Our friends as they confront – Each of us needs Nathan in our lives. He confronted King David after the sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11-12). David came clean at Nathan’s verdict: “You are the man!” There are times when a loving, trusted & godly friend can speak a word that punctures the false reality I’m rationalizing around my actions! “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov 27:6). Do you trust them? If so, you will learn from them.

6) Silence – Proverbs 18:2 observes, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Folly in Proverbs–the worst of the villains in that book–is characterized as willful ignorance, along with a purposeful avoiding of correction. The best way to avoid correction is to keep on talking! Holding your tongue will bring an increase in understanding. What’s that old saying about two ears and one mouth and listening twice as much as talking…

7) The Fear of the Lord – Prov 1:9 says that it is the beginning of knowledge. Fear of the Lord is reverence and awe of God and his instruction to us. The proud never humble themselves before the Lord, and they never really learn in life. The more humble we are before God, the more he will lift us up. Fear of the Lord leads to true knowledge and wisdom… and life.

Seven great teachers (apart from our mistakes). Of course the caveat in all of these is a willingness to learn. A willingness to say, “I don’t yet know it all, but I want to grow.” A willingness to avoid being (or remaining?) a fool! God is ready to teach us his ways and will use many different instructors. Are you ready to learn?

What other teachers are out there?  Comment and teach us!

Live-streaming church is great, but there is something even better

At Grace we have been live-streaming our services for several years now. I remember once I had done a wedding in the mountains, and we were driving back to Kinston on Sunday morning. We tuned in from the road; it was so great to be with the body—in some way—even though we were 300 miles apart.

We are seeing steady growth in the number of people who live-stream or watch the archived services. It’s a tremendous tool. Even two weeks ago, when the snow/ice/cold were a factor, almost three times the usual number joined in the gathering at 10:30 on Sunday from their homes. I love that folks were hungry to ‘be together’ even if they couldn’t get out of their driveways!

I rejoice in this use of technology and the internet for the gospel. It’s especially gratifying for Grace folks who work shifts, and now can grow with the rest of the body. Or, for newcomers who are wondering what kind of service and teaching we have. Live-streaming is a fantastic tool.

But I also have a question or two. I think there are good number of people who—when looking for spiritual teaching—rely almost solely on podcasts, web-based sermons, or other virtual church offerings. I’m not talking about ‘tuning in while returning from a trip’ or catching up because of shift work. I’m thinking of folks for whom the internet is the main connection to your church, or the main source of their Spiritual teaching.

I want to offer 4 reasons why being together at church really beats live-streaming the service. The other way to say this is, Why do we come to church?

First, We come to worship the Great King in the company of his people. When you enter the Sanctuary and the worship team is leading songs and Scripture that elevate Christ and ignite our worship of him… that just simply trumps my watching it on my tablet. God inhabits the praises of his people. He does that in your home as you worship him. But consider how much more of him can inhabit two or three hundred people! You experience God in greater degree as we worship him corporately.

Second, We come together in life-changing fellowship. The Body of Christ is an amazing thing. We are not Christian silos, pointing up and relating only to God. We are an interconnected network, a family, an organism. The more we are together, the more we are healthy and holy. You never know when you will have the conversation on a Sunday morning that will change your life or theirs. You cannot predict or orchestrate the multi-directional blessings that God gives to and through you. Fellowship—true, mutual, Christ-oriented & empowered relationship—is only found in one place: with God’s people. Get there and you will get life.

Third, We come to sit under the authority of God’s Word. When we stop everything else, open Scripture together and position ourselves so that God’s voice will be the greatest voice in our present, this is spiritual victory. The Christian life is a battle, and the enemy wants us distracted, multi-tasking, approaching God on our terms or in our comfort. He does not want us clearly hearing the Marching Orders from heaven! When we arrive in a church or chapel, and all of us together seek his truth in our lives, something powerful happens. Perhaps not all at once, but definitely over time: the Scriptures form us as we dwell in them, Marva Dawn has said.

Fourth, We change our character as we come to church consistently. When church attendance is a matter of my convenience, that will show through in the rest of my life. I’ll pursue Christ only when convenient… why? Because I’ve trained myself that convenience is the highest good. When I set the most important pieces in my weekly schedule as immoveable, and when one of those pieces is church and another is HouseChurch (small group), my life will trend in the God-pleasing direction. Our choices form our characters, and where we spend our time will make all the difference.

To those who make live-streaming their church, let me encourage you to consider these 4 insights. Let’s use live-streaming for what it is – a connection when you absolutely can’t be with the body of Christ. But, otherwise, let’s be together with the body as often as we can. This is where life is.

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