Saturday, June 28, 2014


As any long-term reader of this blog knows, I am a devotee of N.T. Wright. For Father's Day I received a copy of his book Surprised by Scripture. I am only a chapter and a page into it -- it's a collection of essays on the value and methodology of using Scripture in debates current to the modern (or post-modern) world.

All that said, long-term readers of this blog also know that I am fascinated by our context -- by the way in which the debates of (NOTE: All dates are stupidly approximate) the Protestant Reformation (16th Century), the Renaissance (17th Century) the Enlightenment (18th Century) and  Industrialism (19th Century) inform the attitudes of Modernism (20th Century) and our petulant reaction against Modernism, Post-Modernism, which I won't dignify with a date because I don't think it's a real movement yet.

Keeping up?

All that said, I was so tickled with Wright's ability (page 26) to hit the contextual nail exactly on the head with the following quote. As usual, he takes very few words to exactly diagnose a serious problem in the church and suggest a serious solution:

"We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions."

Love it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Go Big!

One of the things I've done during this time of visioning and long range planning is to read the book Go Big by Bill Easum and Bil Cornelius. If you are a pastor or otherwise involved in church leadership, I highly recommend this book. It's an easy read, almost stupid easy, but I believe it's exactly what is needed for so many churches today.

I vividly remember hearing Pat Kiefert in the early 1990's talking about church leadership. He made a couple very memorable points that I have carried with me ever since:

  1. It's not complicated to create a growing church. It's not rocket science. We know exactly how to do it.
  2. The tricky part of creating a growing church is finding a leader who will have the moral courage to make the hard decisions required.
Like I said, I've never forgotten that little talk Pat gave. (In fact I still remember a great deal more of it, but that's for another time.) This book by Bill and Bil takes those two points and expounds on them at great length and with great practicality.  Wondering about church government? Here it is. Wondering about finances? All there in black and white. Wondering about how to deal with difficult people? There as well.  Wondering about the role of church staff, or how to manage a church staff, or what the relationships between staff and lead pastor and staff and congregation should look like? Bingo.

But by far the biggest points in this book are a clear and unflinching look at the critical role played by the lead pastor. You just can't get away from that one.

And the most important thing the lead pastor has to have is a clear, massive, God-sized vision for the church to be doing what the church is absolutely supposed to do: reach people who are far from God with the good news of Jesus, and help them become followers of Jesus. If the lead pastor doesn't have that kind of vision tailored specifically for the local church, what's the point?

So I recommend this book.  BTW, many thanks to Pastor Paul Johansson, who has been a great role model for me for the last decade plus. He turned me on to this book at exactly the right time.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Vision quest

As of this coming Monday, I'll have been at Calvary for three months. I feel like I'm getting to know the congregation, and they're getting to know me. We're starting to see a little movement toward discerning the Spirit's leading toward a specific vision for Calvary.  
So it seemed timely to take some time to go pray, read scripture, discern, and plan. I am currently out of the office doing exactly that. It's been good time thus far, with lots of good prayer and Bible time, lots of reviewing my notes from the last three months, and lots of getting specific details planned for upcoming things. Through the miracle of modern technology I've also had numerous phone and email conversations with coworkers and other Calvary leaders.
One of my goals for this time was to begin to come to clarity for myself as Senior Pastor at Calvary.  I want to have a clear answer for those who ask me what my own personal vision is for this congregation.  In prayer this week, I finalized this statement, then went back and listed some of the biblical basis for each portion of it: 
My prayer is that (Romans 8:26-27, Acts 1:14)
Calvary will become a (Ephesians 4:15-16, 1 Corinthians 14:12)
Jesus-pursuing (John 20:21, Philippians 2:5-11)
scripture-breathing (John 15:7-8, Colossians 3:16)
outward-focused (Luke 9:23-24, 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
kingdom-seeking (Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 6:33)
community (Acts 2:42-47, Romans 12:1-13)
driven (Mark 1:12, Acts 20:22)
by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Galatians 5:25)
to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12)
who make disciples (2 Timothy 2:2, Matthew 4:19)
and so storm the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 6:12-13)

in the Name of Jesus. (John 17:11, Luke 10:17-20)

This vision time is designed to be a good balance of "big picture" things like this statement, along with specific details like assigning scripture texts for the September / October sermon series, for example. So far it's been good in both ways. 

I want to thank so many people who are praying for and with me during this time! One of the most awesome pieces to this time away is just the massive number of people who have committed to praying for the Spirit to be working in this time of discernment.  Thank you!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Language issues

I took the plunge yesterday and preached my first sermon in Spanish. Understand, I am anything but fluent. I often tell people that I speak Spanish about as well as a three or four year old child. But I can read and pronounce words and generally understand them.

The priority for me to do this comes from the fact that Calvary has a Spanish language worship service and it's important to me that the people who participate in that service sense that they're part of Calvary, not an add-on, not a group renting space, not a separate congregation. So that means the senior pastor should be involved, right?

Therefore, on Pentecost Sunday (yesterday) Pastor Tacho Dominguez preached in our English-speaking services and I preached the Spanish service. We preached on Revelation 5, which makes a marvelous Pentecost text.

But I've been thinking lately about the benefits to the church of Jesus Christ if his people made it a priority to learn another language. What if Christians picked a people group that they care about -- or that they're willing to learn to care about -- and started learning the language? I've been amazed many times to hear people who take the trouble to travel to another country for a church service project, but who refuse to put effort into learning the language. Do these people understand what a slap in the face that is to the people they're trying to serve? I hear them say things like, "We can communicate just fine" or "They understand my heart." No.

Part of the benefit if Christians would start learning another language -- there are many benefits -- is we would begin to learn that interpersonal relationships are always a cross-cultural move. We would start to see that in order to understand anyone or be understood by them, you have to pay attention to language issues.

We would also learn humility, and I believe that American Evangelical churches especially could use a heavy dose of humility.

Without a doubt, we would start to have a greater appreciation for Philippians 2.

So pick a group of people.  In most parts of the U.S., Spanish makes the most sense. However, there are pockets of Russian speakers or Somalis or Hmong or ... well, in the Minneapolis area alone, more than 120 languages are spoken. The nice thing about Spanish is that it's accessible and fairly simple to learn, at least at a basic level. Download the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts or buy a Rosetta Stone program. Pick up a children's book in Spanish and get started picking it apart.

The reason most people don't learn a new language is that it's hard, and it puts them in a place where they don't feel like they know much. Fight through that. Once you know twenty or thirty words, it's a great idea to find a Spanish speaker who will help you learn a little more. Then you discover another of the great benefits of learning a language -- it's all about relationships.

Read Philippians 2, and figure out what people group the Spirit of Jesus is putting on your heart.