Archives For April 2009

Time for Action

Mike —  April 30, 2009 — Leave a comment

“Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”  Someone told Jesus this as he was surrounded by such a crowd that his blood-relatives couldn’t even get to him (in Luke 8).  Jesus’ reply says so much to us today.  “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

I don’t want to be on the outside of the crowd trying to catch Jesus’ attention.  He calls us family, who do what He taught people to do.  I want to be doing what He’s said to do.  Over the past couple weeks, between Lucid and Catalyst, I have had some amazing input from God.  Maybe over the past months He’s been speaking to you as well.
“Consider carefully how you listen.”  Are you doing what He’s been teaching?  It’s time for action.

First, let me just say that the lineup at Catalyst West was the best group of speakers I’ve ever seen at any one place/time.  Every speaker at each session had some important things to say and did so very well.  One of the highlights was Perry Noble, the last speaker of the week.  He was a huge encouragement as he laid out a call to endure in the face of discomfort and pain.  You Can Do This.  It was sort of a run to the Gospel truth with a NASCAR foot to the floor.  It was a great way to end the week.

The size of the vision God will give me is directly related to the amount of pain and discomfort I am willing to endure.”  The thing about these conferences is they can be overwhelming.  You go and hear the exciting things God is doing through some pretty incredible leaders.  But you know you’re going home to people that weren’t there – and you’re not going to be able to fully explain to them what happened.  It can be frustrating to have such an infusion of encouragement and energy only to go home and get doused with the wet blanket of budgets, short-sighted plans, lack of commitment… There can be a let down a few weeks or even days after getting home.
Perry talked about Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones to tell a better ending to the post-conference story.  He talked about how dryness leads to desperation for God and how God takes us through pain to show His provision (another one of those recurring themes for me all week).  Even when things are dry – we need to trust Him.
Ezekiel knew that only God could account for the right answer to the situation He’d brought him into.  He needed to believe (and did believe, as evidenced by his actions) that God could do hwat God wanted to do.  “You alone know.”  So when God told him to call the dry bones to life, that’s exactly what he did.  There was a vision put into Ezekiel’s mind of dead bones returning to life, so He obeyed what God told him to do (even though it made no sense).  We need to “consistently obey Jesus and be ready for God to move.
He interjected the question here, “What would you attempt for God if you knew it couldn’t fail?”  What vision is He planting in our lives that we need to believe He can do?  Are we courageous enough to act?
He finished with the thought that we need to Honor Him.  God doesn’t need us sitting around waiting for Him to zap people into submission to Him.  We need to not only take the first steps toward our vision, but we need to finish what we start.  We need to see through to completion the vision God places within us and understand that He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”
After several days and a number of posts, I’m tempted to say that wraps up my Catalyst musings, but… I think we all know better don’t we???

I woke up with a headache on Thursday and it kind of lingered all day. When I went to bed I wasn’t very optimistic about being able to function at a very high level Friday. When I woke up, though, I felt really good and was thankfully able to pay attention all day long.

The day began with Erwin McManus. Since the first time I read An Unstoppable Force, I’ve really appreciated his leadership in the church and the environment he’s developed at Mosaic. This time, was no exception as he dealt with ideas presented in Wide Awake – mainly the idea that the world needs us to live our most heroic life. Not just to be ‘visionary’ but to be ‘visional’ – awakening God’s visions in others. He advocated being committed to helping people unbury the dreams God has planted within them that have been buried in the rubble of life.

After speaking, with some dance elements added to illustrate, Erwin’s daughter came on stage and sang a song she’d written. A dream within her has been nurtured by her father and allowed to flourish. I was reminded and very convicted that my first job is my family. I need to draw God’s dreams out of their lives. If I fail at that and my kids join the masses of automatons with still-buried dreams – it doesn’t matter what else I accomplish. I know they will make their own choices, but they will do so knowing that God has planted His Kingdom dreams in their lives and wants to see those dreams fleshed out into reality.

Andy Stanley returned to the stage Friday morning to interview Rick Warren. As Warren began his comments with a bit of a disclaimer, you could kind of sense some in the crowd dropping their guard and seeing him and his ministry in a new light. It’s easy to look at Saddleback and Rick Warren, being so big and having so much in the way of resources, that some seem to write them with assumptions about ‘we could never do that here’ or ‘they must be compromising something’. Warren stated that what he does is because he’s “addicted to changed lives” and that what he (and Saddleback) are doing is simply showing people the One who has the power to effect change that matters.

Andy Stanley revealed a great sense of humor (as did Warren) all through this interview. Sharing the stage with perhaps the most recognizable pastor on the planet, he did an awesome job of leaving space for Warren to share his heart while at the same time not just fading into the scenery. There was some really funny back and forth between the two and a great focus on discipleship – moving people from the “come and see” front door to the “come and die” call of Christ to His mission in the world.

I think that I am a “come and die” minister in a “come and see” church. The problem (and maybe it’s part of God’s solution for both me and WestWay) is that it’s not healthy to be one or the other. If we only focus on creating a comfortable nest or exciting show for people to come and check out, without also being clear about just what Jesus expects of His people (everything), then we relegate the church to splashing around in pretty shallow waters. But if we simply issue the call to come and die outside of relational development and equipment for ministry, then we severely limit the likelihood of fruitful ministry.

After lunch, which was again free Chick-Fil-A, Craig Groeschel talked about some myths that are perpetuated in the church: things he’d been “taught and that he thought…” Here are those myths:
-We’re taught that the church should be a safe place.
The church needs to be made dangerous again by faithfulness to a world changing gospel. The gospel is not a safe message. It is dangerous for those who would hold on to the value systems of the world. The church needs to be a healthy environment, but we’re not just inviting people to come and be nice and get a ‘better life’ – we’re calling them to enlist in God’s redemptive mission.
-We’re taught to build a church.
It is more important to build the kingdom, and we need to stop focusing on our own little empires/outposts and see the bigger picture of what God is doing to build His Kingdom. We need to partner with other congregations not compete.
-We’re taught that success is all about big numbers.
Big crowd does not equal successful/effective ministry. Success is when people are finding their identity in Christ. It is what he called reaching “Line 3”. Line 1 is, “I believe the gospel enough to benefit from it.” Line 2 is, “I believe enough to contribute what is comfortable.” Line 3 is, “I believe the gospel enough to give my life to it.

Sidenote: Craig Groeschel has some serious biceps. I think Jimmy wet himself just a little when Groeschel opened the gun show!

Francis Chan was the next speaker and there is no mistaking: Francis loves Jesus! With a passion that cannot be manufactured, Chan directed our attention to our very reason for breathing and the only one with Life to give us. Some great questions that came up as he spoke:
-Whose name comes up more often in the conversations of the church – ours or His?
-Are there more fair-weather church fans or fans of Jesus who will be where He is NO MATTER WHAT?
-Are we waiting for the Holy Spirit (and His power) or are we just doing church in our own power?
-Are we stoppable?
-Are we praying for AND known for boldness?
-If you start with Scripture, would you come up with the church in its present forms?

The final session was Perry Noble, whom Rodd, in the peanut gallery line of the week, likened to Mark Driscoll‘s redneck cousin. Don’t know how either of them would feel about the comparison, but we thought it was pretty funny… please don’t put us in a choke-hold! It’s late, and this session was just plain awesome, so I will set this to post early tomorrow and I’ll talk about Perry later tomorrow.

I was hoping to get these done while I was out there at the end of each day, but my roommates were just so adamant about sleep that I felt like I should turn off my computer and go to bed, so… Oh well. Seriously, we had some great discussion and I didn’t want to sacrifice that in order to write stuff down here. “You can’t fake presence.” (one of Erwin McManus’ statements) was definitely in play. So, the following are some thoughts from Thursday’s sessions:

Andy Stanley opened the morning with some thoughts about leading in uncertain times. His main idea is that uncertainty is why we need leaders. If everyone in the church is certain about where we’re headed and how to get there, then we don’t really need leaders. It’s in those times of uncertainty that God shows up and brings leaders to the surface. I wondered, as he spoke, “Why do so many in leadership positions spend so much effort trying to eliminate uncertainty?”

As I think about this more, I recognize that not all in positions of leadership are truly leading. Also, there is a ton of leadership that happens outside the constructs of our leadership structures.

“It’s ok to be uncertain – but not ok to be unclear.” We need to be clear about the vision for our ministries. What is it that God has called us to do? What was that first spark that started the fire of leadership in our lives? “We’ll never be more than 80% certain.” None of us knows how every little thing will unfold, so we need to be sure to keep track of that anchor that is the original vision and keep moving forward into uncertainty. (I’m just remembering some great thoughts from Leonard Sweet’s AquaChurch about using anchors to move forward and even change direction; they’re not just about keeping the ship in the same place.)

“Many churches are dead because they’ve long ago abandoned the vision and fallen in love with their plans.” When a church loses sight of why they started a particular project in the first place, that project loses a great deal of value. We need to be flexible with our plans as we stick to the vision.

The second speaker of the day was Guy Kawasaki. Rodd and Jimmy are both Macboys, so the man-crush vibe was a little strong, but he was really fun to listen to and had a lot of great stuff to say about the art of innovation. His thoughts about putting out a version 1.0 were especially helpful to hear. Sometimes, “Don’t worry – be Crappy…” should be our motto. Put some wheels on the idea, get it going, get it out there, then fine-tune and fix it. Some of his stories of the early mac-days particularly flesh this idea out. He called one of the products they were shipping when Mac was first growing out of Apple a “revolutionary piece of crap”, but they made exponential progress when they tweaked on great ideas “with elements of crapiness to them”.

In the next session, Jud Wilhite talked about how our distorted self image need to be replaced with God’s image. We need to live out of God’s view of who we are: We are loved. We are chosen. We are part of a plan. Ravi Zacharias followed Jud’s reminder of who we are with some thoughts about the pillars that should define our lives: Eternity, Morality, Accountability, and Charity. Ravi is a great thinker and communicator. “You can mess around with infrastructure, but the foundation must have integrity.”

The last session of the night was the Aussie session. Brian Houston of Hillsong Church spoke about the church as the house of God. This is a guy who is madly in love with the church of Jesus Christ! I think he could make people want to get up and go be the church, even if they don’t know what that means yet. A haunting question he asked, though – “If they can’t flourish, why would they stay planted?” If people can’t grow and develop and live life that is really life in our ministries, why would they stay?

Nick Vujicic spoke after Brian and talked about believing in the greatness of God. This was one of the recurring themes that hit me during the week. “I’d be dishonoring God if I didn’t live my life believing I can change the world.” I have to admit, I haven’t been thinking of myself in those terms lately. I used to. I used to all the time. But lately I’ve just been ‘getting ready for Wednesday’ or ‘working on stuff’ or ‘planning stuff’… I want to go back to ‘changing the world’. God is big enough!

“An excuse is a skin of reason stuffed with lies.” A notable quote from Nick. How many times do we stop short of God’s vision for our lives because of excuses? There may be a covering of reason (good stewardship, not offending people, can’t afford to lose members, avoid the controversy…on and on) but within the reason, is the lie: “it’s not worth it.” Hey, if you’re not changing the world I guess it’s not worth it, but if the struggle is into God’s vision, it’s worth giving everything. Nick is definitely not buying the lie and is changing the world – without arms and legs. He was born without them.

We need to stop making excuses.
——–
Sorry this is a bit long, and the shotgun method may not be the best, but I wanted to get some of this on here while it’s still fresh. Oh, the free Chick-Fil-A was awesome at lunch and Claim Jumper for dinner was a great choice by Rodd!

Origins Labs

Mike —  April 22, 2009 — Leave a comment

Today was the Origins Labs day – kind of pre-conference workshops ahead of Catalyst tomorrow and Friday. It was a good and challenging day, begun by a great time with Erwin McManus in the openning session. It was awesome.

Starting with Acts 17 (when Paul was in Athens), he talked about how there is a first space, which we create for ourselves – a place where we’re comfortable. The second space, as I understand it, is sort of a common space, where we work together and live together with others. The third space is a space into which we will only be invited into by others based on our authenticity and ability to engage in meaningful conversation. People really are willing to enter in to spiritual conversation – but if Jesus isn’t the overwhelming reality of our lives, why would they want to talk to us about him?

Some questions I jotted down as he spoke:
-Are we pretending to touch Athens, while merely living in the synagogue? Are we creating 1st Spaces that are exclusive to those who are like us?
-Are we teaching people to engage in conversation, or are we just talking to each other about nothing?
-Is Jesus the overwhelming reality of my life?
-Are we afraid of the second place so much that we’ve created first spaces to protect ourselves?

McManus had a great comment when talking about the question of how to get the church to engage culture? “What did you do to disengage it?”

In the closing session, he made the statement that “All the material you need to help someone else find God is already within them.” I really love that thought. God wants us to find Him, so He causes us to seek. My job isn’t to teach the right set of facts, or even inspire (or coerce) the right actions – it is to reach into young lives and help people discover where God already is in their story (& where they fit into His).

Some other meaningful phrases and thoughts from the labs with Dave Gibbons and Mark Batterson (I’ll try to unpack later)
-Honor the past; fuel the fringe. (I really feel the tension in this one from Dave Gibbons, whose book I will be buying before we leave.)
-The greatest miracles of life often happen in transitional times. What are the ‘hybrids’ God is calling us to create?
-Leaders are fathers. It’s critical to really see people (with insight of the Holy Spirit) and affirm their unique destiny. There’s no plug-and-play option for discipleship.
-I need to foster an “everything is experimental” mentality in my ministry. (Do we really need things to be ‘established’?)
-Pray for the “unexplainable and uncontrollable”.
-Create a culture of positivity.
-Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is to keep going even though it’s tough, so “try” longer than the opposition tries or circumstances last.
-God brings us ideas/dreams/vision even when the math doesn’t add up. Is the God we serve big enough to bring them about anyway?
-“You’ll never be more than 80% sure.”
-What is one next step I need to take and who will push me to follow through?
-Live with a holy expectation that God can invade my reality at any time. This was from Mark Batterson, but it really echoes back to Erwin’s thoughts about Jesus being the overwhelming reality of our lives.

It was great (and just the beginning). Too much more to write about now.
(+ the awesomeness of Chick-Fil-A with bacon, pepperjack, and Polynesian sauce).

CaliTuesday

Mike —  April 21, 2009 — Leave a comment

The trip so far has been really good. After a little goading of Rodd about his blog, and narrowly avoiding a herd of one horned bucktoothed elk, we stayed last night at his in law’s house near Carter Lake, with an awesome view of the foothills. The sunrise from their back deck would have been awesome, but we took off before the sun came up!

Things went pretty smoothly at DIA, except when I neglected to take my computer OUT of my bag at the appropriate stage of security – but no one has any scars, so we’re all good. I guess it was a little disconcerting for Rodd, as well, when I told him we’d just find George on Bus 17 when we get back on Saturday in order to find the car at the airport parking. There’s a rumor they put up numbers on signs now to help you find the items you park in their giant lots. Who knew? He’s concerted now. The flight went fast, we landed early – then waited.

Apparently Hertz has never seen the Seinfeld where he makes a reservation, but doesn’t really reserve anything. They had way more customers than cars (which was odd because every other rental place there had no line whatsoever). If I had thought what I’d paid already would have been refunded I would have just canceled the ‘reservation’. We waited about an hour, since there were only 2 people working the counter. (Strangely, many of the customer-less rental counters had 3 or 4.) The upshot is that I get to drive around a BRAND SPANKING NEW wine red Mustang for the week! Sorry Jimmy, no Toyota this time.

Once we got the car we went to find a place to eat – which ended up being a mall food court. Kind of dumb to go to the L.A. area and eat at a mall food court, but we were hungry. After lunch we walked around the mall a little bit. I need some shoes, but did not find any.

We drove out to Huntington and down the Pacific Coast Highway (the oil rig portion, though, not the cool cliff coastline part). We stopped at Newport Beach and went in the water a little bit. The surf was very enticing, but my surfing connection was hard at work and unaware of my desperate need for his tutelage (and a board). In the absence of surfing, Jimmy started a seashell collection. I think he’s planning on making a mobile, but he may be secretly hoarding them to use later in attacking a certain Mustang he’s loathing.

We drove around way too long after leaving the beach, heading for Mariners Church, where Catalyst will be this week. This was not good for the morale of the Mustang riders, but all was better in the universe when the bright bent arrow was located (after passing within a couple blocks an hour earlier).

After the burgers, Jimmy’s childhood exuberance returned in full force when he found the most magnificent pair of high-tops that have been manufactured since the early 90’s. I couldn’t pull it off, but Jimmy – you rock those Nike’s, man.

When the shop like a bunch of girls fest was over we drove around a bit more and came back to the land of La Quinta. It’s bed time. Good night…eh, morning. Dang.

Wow.

Mike —  April 20, 2009 — Leave a comment

There is still a lot to process and I don’t have time since I’m leaving tonight to head to California for Catalyst West Coast, but let’s just say right now for the record that the weekend of Spring Thing was awesome.

Rain, flood, and frozen paint!
Tech issues
2:00 AM Wal-Mart Run

The weekend wasn’t smooth or polished, but God was all over it – moving His people further into His action.

“And if you’re not getting this call into God’s action – Don’t come back.” (I gotta check the file for the exact quote, but that was pretty much it & it was pretty much awesome.) One Time Blind did a great job – from the construction call to the top of the Bluff, it was awesome getting to know you guys.

Mike Sander and the band from Norton did a great job going beyond playing music into leading worship. It was a gift to have you guys with us. Mike, if you ever want to start Mike&Mike’s Traveling Improv Show – I want my name on the playbill! That was way too much fun (anyone have video?).

Ok, checked the quote from Kat. Read it, then go to work.
“If you’re still able to get up and come here and be here; then God has amazing things for you. If you’re not teaching someone… why aren’t you? If you leave here today and you are not doing something, if you are not called to action – then don’t come back.”

Why else would we?

The First Decade

Mike —  April 16, 2009 — 2 Comments
It was 10 years ago that my pregnant-for-the-first-time wife and I moved to Auburn, NE to begin our first full time adventure in youth ministry.  We learned so much in our time there about life, each other, the church, and ministry.  I can honestly say that our time there led to as much personal and spiritual growth as any other time in our lives.

It was a great time, but looking back I wonder if what I did there best, I did on accident. Or at least it was just something that I did naturally without trying to think about it and figure it out. One of those things you just know how to do, but can’t explain how or why you know how to do it.  I had no solutions to the problems I was facing.  No experience to tell me what to do to reach desired outcomes.  So I made sure to stay out of God’s way and let Him work.  I knew I would be wholly inadequate for the task at hand if I were to rely on myself – so I didn’t.
When we left Auburn, at least from our new outside perspective, the youth ministry didn’t even slow down for a breath.  The team that had been working with me to lead the youth ministry continued to lead the youth ministry.  Most of them still are (and leading well I’d add).  But I don’t remember doing anything specific to assemble that team.  A few of them were there when I got there, others came alongside at other points… but I don’t ever remember taking any specific actions to pull them together.  Maybe I did and just don’t remember, but I think the more likely case is that God was doing the pulling.  He’d given me and them a vision for what the youth ministry could be and those who shared that vision worked to make it reality.

These days I’m finding myself trying to figure things out a lot more.  For whatever reason, I think I felt like I had to perform here and prove myself, so I slipped into relying on myself to find ways to get where I thought we needed to be, then into frustration when things didn’t go the way I thought they would.  Moron!  I’m done.
God has given me a vision for student ministry that doesn’t fit the traditional youth ministry mold.  I want to see students connecting with Jesus by connecting to His Body, not just each other.  I want to create moments where students encounter the true and living God and give themselves to Him in worship.  I want to see dead students resuscitated and learning to breathe the Spirit of Life.
You may think that after 10 years of doing this, I’d have this youth ministry thing figured out a little better that this post makes it sound.  On my weaker days, I think that, too.  Then I remember how experimental youth ministry can be – like a research and development department for the Body of Christ.  I’d appreciate your prayers as I search God for the way forward and the freedom to keep experimenting together.

Unequivocally Me?

Mike —  April 14, 2009 — 2 Comments

“If you can’t speak your mind on your own blog, you might as well give up and stay on the porch.” – Guy Kawasaki, quoted in The Blogging Church

I read this last night and it made me think of the way I’ve censored myself here on my blog.  I don’t always speak my mind as clearly as I probably should.  I find myself backing out of things I think I should post because I might tick ‘the wrong people’ off.
Sorry I’ve done so much equivocating.
I’ll quit.

Manifesto

Mike —  April 10, 2009 — 2 Comments

I’m writing a sort of ‘manifesto’/agenda to use in training and painting a vision for our youth ministry team. I’d like your thoughts about this part of the introduction – wanting to set the foundation for the need to do things differently:

“Youth ministry in the modern American church is broken. Too many young people are filling space in the activity of our youth ministries, then drifting away as they age – without ever having truly connected with their Creator. They are ‘good kids’; solid church citizens who know when to stand and when to sit, how to feign interested and behave in the presence of adults – but they are not disciples of Jesus. They say the right things on Sunday morning, but their thoughts are not His thoughts and their ways are not His ways. When they grow beyond the age when compliance can be forced or faked, it is quickly evident that they are following their own desires, not those of Jesus.”

What do you think? Too dramatic?