Category Archives: Church Planting

empty chairs at church

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, there was a particular summer night where the usual youth group crowd was really low.  I wasn’t surprised as it’s just something that tends to come with church attendance during those two brief months in the Seattle area when the sun comes out and people make the most of the warm, long evenings.

I remember the night well as I stood on the stage and my first words of the service were, “hey, where is everyone tonight?“.  Just then a 12 year old girl said, “What about us? Were here!”  Immediatley I realized how rediculous and hurtful my words were to those students who had taken the time and effort to join us for our gathering. 

A 12 year old girl helped change me begin to re-think church growth, my insecurities, and empty chairs.

It was Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher from the late 1800’s who once said, “when we focus our attention on the empty chairs, we do a disservice to those who fill the chairs”.  This is a brilliant statement which many people and pastors in today’s church need to think about and wrestle with!

Spurgeon’s words should force pastors to confront their motives, insecurities, and approach to growing healthy communities of faith.  I’ll be honest…empty chairs sometimes make me feel like I’m failing in leading the church.  I’ve learned to catch myself when those thoughts or feelings arise, as they force me to alter how I lead and what I believe about growth.  Even worse…it often means that I fail in being the shepherd God’s called me to be to those God has brought to us.

My particular pastoral training tells me to do whatever I have to do to fill the seats, yet the message of Scripture tells me to make disciples. Thus, the tension of filling chairs on Sundays and growing a church through the long and sometimes messy journey of disciple-making.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against mega-churches or growth plans that many pastors adhear to…it’s more or less me sharing the truth of Spurgeon’s words, and how they’ve impacted me over time.

Living in a culture where high-achievement, dynamic leadership, and numerical results are often the gauge for success, it can be hard to lead the church in a way that I believe I’m supposed to.  I find myself always asking God for the strength to lead with conviction, be odedient to His mission, follow Jesus through a life of faithful serving, and pastor my church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure if much of this makes sense, but I think people would be surprised by how many pastors are both discouraged and distracted by the “empty-chairs”. 

Pray for your pastors today.

Love and Peace.

Is technology in church hurting our abilities to “listen and understand”?

The church I am blessed to pastor is not unlike most churches who are formed mainly of young people (by young I mean 35 and under), in that technology plays a huge role in how we both “do church services” and why we “go to church”.

There’s no doubt that technology is a needed thing in today’s churches, but it may be going a little too far by hindering people’s ability to develop the discipline of hearing the Scriptures and understanding them.

On Sunday I was watching one of the local Sunday news broadcasts as they ran a story on Mars Hill Church and their desire for people to tweet (messages you send using Twitter) during the worship gathering.  Before I go any further, I should say that this post is not in any way meant to be negative toward Mars Hill or its pastor, Marc Driscoll.  It’s no secret that I differ greatly with some of his theology, his view of women in church leadership, and the way they go about building the empire of MHC.  I believe Driscoll loves Jesus and that God is using their church to reach people all over the world.  He’s obviously a crazy-gifted leader and teacher!  I just don’t understand some of their motives…

In the news story, they showed the Mars Hill Crowd and the huge number of people “tweeting” on their phones while Driscoll preached.  The pastor they interviewed said they encourage this as a way for people to communicate  to their friends about what was happening in the service.  Frankly, that makes zero sense to me!

Some of Jesus’ most unrecognized words are…”those who have ears should listen and understand”.  He continually challenged those around him to both listen and understand his stories and teachings.  It was his way of challenging people to wrestle with what he was saying and to allow their new understanding to lead to knowledge (see Matthew 13:12)

Now if those people who had no TV, Radio, Iphones, and everything else that vies for our attention today were struggling to listen, how much harder must it be for us to listen to the scriptures so that we might understand them?  I’m not saying we should not use technology in the service.  In our church there are several people who read the scriptures on their phones, or who may not even have a Bible at all and need to see the words displayed on our projections screens.  Technology is a must in today’s church!

Technology has it’s place.  But at what cost?  Are we hurting ourselves by promoting Twitter?  How many of these people are really grasping the scriptures as Driscoll preaches?  And the biggest question is, how is the technology we use helping lead people to knowledge?

This morning I read this blog by Bob Hyatt, pastor of Evergreen Community in Portland.  He shares some thoughts and concerns regrading the trend of Video Venues in church.  He has some great thoughts on why preaching is important to the work of a pastor and why listening to a pastor’s teaching has spiritual importance as well. 

You can read the entire post here.  Or, I’ve pasted a couple statements from it…

This is the rule: Technology, taken too far, creates the opposite of what it was intended to create. 

So, what about technology in preaching? 

First came architectural improvements to increase the range of a speaker’s voice. Then microphones to throw the voice even further. Then radio, television, tape and CD ministries, podcasts, vodcasts… and the seed of the video venue, the “overflow room.”  All with the goal of taking the gift of preaching and extending its reach and impact. 

So far, so good, right?

But now, we have all this technology. We’re not only recording the sermon, we’re video taping it and we have discovered we can send that video, not just to the next room, but to a building across the campus, across town, across the state, around the world…

Now, the preaching gift of one person has the ability not simply to reach the back row, but the next town, state, continent. And we’re not just talking about Spurgeon publishing his sermons or Schuller putting his on TV or Driscoll putting his on iTunes… 

NOW we’re talking about not just influencing local preachers by making the “best” communicators’ sermons available… we’re talking about replacing those local teaching elders. 

 

This is a needed conversation in the context of preaching in today’s culture.  I’m not sure what the answer is right now, but there certainly have been some concerns in my mind and heart about the over-use of technology in today’s church. 

Thoughts?

Love and Peace.

Sometimes I fear being a pastor

Recently, I’ve been posting some thoughts on the church I’m so blessed to pastor.  I’ve commented on everything from facing major personal change to being a bi-vocational minister.  It’s been quite a road to this place in my life where last Sunday I was officially installed as the new lead pastor to Redwood Hills church.  It was a special day for me!

Now, I have to be honest and say that I was not that excited about being “installed”, which basically means officially welcomed and given the charge to pastor a body of people.  I don’t really like having a lot of attention being put on me and I have worked hard these past couple years to help our church understand that we are not defined by any one face or leader.  But, it turned out to be more moving and special to me than I anticipated.  I won’t soon forget it!

I also have to be honest and say that being a pastor sometimes scares me.  Or, a better way to say it would be that my own ego and all of it’s potential sacres me!  Especially lately as I’ve watched Ted Haggard tell his story on Larry King and then the news came out this weekend that the famous Crystal Cathedral in Orange County is in massive debt and without a leader.  Although Haggard’s story of destruction is different from the Crystal Cathedral, it borders on having the same source.  Personalities given far too much power and attention!

When we turned evangelicalism into an association (which Haggard was the president of) we have set ourselves up for massive problems!  When a church like Crystal Cathedral, which has an amazing story of how it came about back in the 1950’s begins to spend 6 million on a museum to honor their pastor…again, we have major problems.  I hope you see what I’m getting at.  Far too often the church (the re-presentation of Christ) becomes a place where a figured-head is marveled at, or worse…worshipped.  I see more and more people starting “fan” pages for their pastors on Facebook, and I won’t even begin to talk about how many pastors themselves are spending way too much time in politics and not as shepherds of their church!

The church I pastor is only about 150 people.  That’s a pretty small church, and yet I’m often aware of the dangerous road my ego can easliy take now that I’m the pastor.  It’s scary to think that any minister…not just the Haggard’s, Bell’s, Driscoll’s, or Schuller’s…but ANY one of us can let our positions of leadership get way out of control! 

I wish we didn’t have evangelical associations, televised church services, or churches that offer special status’s for those who give a certain amount of money…but we do and it won’t change any time soon.  So, let’s continue to hope that pastors lead in way where Christ is the head of His church and that more people will begin to see themselves as ministers of the church, and not merely observers and consumers of a pastor’s personality. 

Love and Peace.

Pastors Egos and Church Pirates

I have been a pastor for nearly 12 years now.  In those 12 years, I have worked in a suburb of San Francisco, Tacoma, Washington and now here in Kirkland Washington.  There are certain things I know to be true about being a pastor…

I will always have to accept the challenges and hurts that come with the job.

I have an ego (as EVERY pastor does) that needs to be in check at all times.

I have insecurities as a leader that I must be honest about.

Recently, I came across a video of Pastor Ed Young Jr. in Dallas, Texas.  Young has a massive church along with a huge television ministry.  No doubt there are thousands who attend his church each week with millions of dollars flowing thought their ministry.  I have heard Young speak on several occasions and actually like his creativity and humor.  But, after hearing what he has to say about church planters, or as he likes to call them…”church pirates”, I have to say I’m very frustrated.

The video was recorded at a recent staff meeting.  He is obviously warning his employees to not even think about leaving and starting a church in their city.  He continually compares the church to corporate America and gives blanket statements about his thoughts on church planters.

I have seen this sort of thing in staff meetings before when a couple pastors in my former church decided to plant in the tacoma area.  They both have gone on to have very successful churches reaching many unchurched families.  But it came at a price.  They were never given approval and for years I listened to the “warnings” of not to even think of doing what they did.  Looking back on those days I realize that many people were hurt in this mess.  The church was not a movement of grace and love, but of selfishness, insecurity and a greedy corporate apporach to reaching people.

If someone in our little church decided to leave and start a new church here in Kirkland, I will be the first to admit that my insecurity of losing families would be very real.  But, I hope that my love for and belief in the church would support this new work, and I would in no way look at this as church pirating.  I realize this is all much easier said then done, but afterall, the church always has been about a movement of grace and restoration through people…not senior pastors

 I wish more pastors would get out of their own way…stop leading the church like fortune 500 companies…take their damn names of their buildings…and quit treating their congregations like they are some kind of property!  I know this sounds harsh, but I just can’t see how Young’s or any other pastor who thinks this way is honoring the gospel.  Competing for the gospel will never be a part of the Kingdom, and will surely lead more and more away from the church. 

What are your thoughts about this?  Should there be rules about how close a church should be planted?  Is Ed Young Jr. right to say what he says, or is his ego just getting in the way?