Defining Moments

What defines the church?

Not (Who) what SHOULD define the church, but what really does determine how we are known and how we know ourselves? How do we decide what we do (ministry-wise)?

I just came out of a meeting of elders and architects discussing the future of a congregation. This is part of an ongoing discussion for the past 5 years about needed building and facilities updates. We looked at plans for a completely new facility and compared to plans for extensive remodeling/adding to the existing building. Cost is similar, so that’s really not going to be the deciding factor on what is done.

What will determine our course of action is how we choose to be defined. Will the buildings that we have (or don’t have) define us? Will the ministry that we want to do define us? Or will we truly find our identity solely in the heart of God?

As I think back, I can think of so many examples of churches which are defined by their buildings. I know that the world in large part will always define us that way, but I’m thinking more of how we in the Kingdom define ourselves. It is so easy to lock ourselves into thinking we are where we meet. Or even that we are the meeting itself.

But what happens when the Body of Christ thinks of itself as… the body of Jesus… His shoulders (with His head on top) and chest (with His heart beating within)? What happens when we really live and move and have our being in Jesus? What happens when the local community of faith is joined together in order to proclaim the Kingdom and awaken the spiritually dead all around us?

I intend to find out.

Bubble Ministry…

It seems like too much youth ministry is happening in a bubble. Observing the way many churches do youth ministry, the consistent picture is one of young students involved in activity with each other, but not necessarily with the rest of the church body. I definitely would not be one to say that there is no place for age-based ministry, but wouldn’t it make more sense if it was done in the context of an ageless church ministry?

I hear people lament the fact that students “leave the church” after graduation and entry into young adulthood (some may come back, some may not), but is it possible that they’re not really leaving the church – because they’ve never really been a part of the church? Is physical presence at a majority of youth functions enough to make a student a part of the church? What if they’re also regular attenders of Sunday morning services? What is it then that transforms a student from being a participant of the ‘youth group’ to an integral body part in the Body of Christ?

It is not youth ministry in a bubble. As long as youth ministry is primarily done ‘on the side’ of the church’s overall ministry, kids will ‘graduate’ from church attendance. When youth ministry is a fusion of young people and the ministry of the church, then students who are following Christ will become involved in the work of His Body. Students need to seek opportunities to participate in the service of the larger church body (outside the youth group). And congregations need to find ways to engage the energetic service that is available to them in the sea of young humanity surrounding them (beyond setting up tables for the upcoming dinner, please).

It is time for churches to burst the youth ministry bubble, and to embrace and work alongside the young followers of Christ they will find inside.

Success – A Crown That Will Last

I found this great definition of Success from Impact Ministries/Deeper DTI, and though it may be unconventional, I think it is essential because all else that is truly successful will be born out of intimacy with God.

“Success is developing intimacy with God.”

  • An individual who is developing intimacy with God will make an impact on the Kingdom of God.
  • A team of individuals who make an impact on the Kingdom of God will have a fruitful ministry
  • We do not aim for ‘making an impact’ and we do not aim for ‘fruitful ministries.’ These two situations supernaturally occur when an individual develops intimacy with God.

We can’t control ‘making an impact’ and we can’t control ‘fruitful ministries’, but we do have control over whether we are doing anything to develop intimacy with God. It is a matter of our heart and priorities. We can’t allow anything, including ministry for God, to crowd intimacy with God out of our lives.

I know that’s not the stuff the American Dream is made of, but I think that is the highest hope any of us can have: to know the unknowable God!

The 19th Century Scottish author, Thomas Carlyle, wrote “Every noble crown is, and on earth will forever be, a crown of thorns.” When we think about success, we need to keep this in mind. Whatever success is, it must be of eternal significance. We want the best for the people we love. Jesus himself asked “Who would give his kid a rock when asked for bread?” We want those we care about to enjoy what we’ve missed, to experience what we’ve only dreamed of, to have what we’ve always wanted.

But we must remember that our dreams should focus on the eternal. Nothing we gain or achieve on this earth will last, except what we do to make an impact for the Kingdom of God. We want to succeed in life, but we need to remember that success doesn’t mean having more than the next guy. That’s why I love the definition from DTI.

There is nothing that we can have or do or feel or accomplish, that means more than knowing God. Intimacy with God is our ultimate aim, and we don’t lose out on anything in life by putting God first. He knows how to give good gifts. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”

Put God first. Get to know Him. Gain a crown that will last.

Grape Juice on the Carpet…

I just read an article that mentioned a church in England that doesn’t meet for worship. Ok, well they do meet, but only once a month! How can they even call themselves a church when they don’t even meet together on Sundays? How can they afford a staff or buildings when they don’t even get to pass the offering plate once a week? It sounds like all they do is meet in little groups and clusters at each other’s houses and coffee shops. They get together to talk and laugh and play and grow. These people seem to really care about each other and are genuinely trying to follow Jesus together and make a difference in the world. But they only have a worship service once a month… how can they call that a church?

On the other hand…

I know tons of people who “go to church” every Sunday. Most of them don’t have anything to do with each other on Monday through Saturday, but every Sunday they’re in the same building at the same time, singing the same songs. I’m not sure most of them even know each other, but they at least recognize each other’s faces. Because they see each other faithfully, once a week singing along (or at least moving their lips a little), listening to the sermon (or at least propping their eyelids open and feigning interest together), and putting checks in the offering. And they call that church.

But how can we call it church when it only happens for two hours a week? How can we have fellowship when we see each other next to never? How can we call it worship, when most of us pass through 6 out of 7 days without a single thought of God? How can we call ourselves the Body of Christ, when we aren’t even remotely attached to each other 85.7% of the time?

God I hope we can become the church You want us to be.

Get It?

I sometimes wonder if people get me. My wife says (and I freely admit) that when I preach I sometimes repeat myself too much. I’ll say the same thing several times in a row. I’ll say something, then say it again, just in case. When I make a statement, I’ll invariably make it several times in several different ways…. ok, that’s enough being dumb…

When I look into the gazes on the crowd of faces surrounding me, if they’re glazed over, I’ll say it again. But I still wonder sometimes if I’m communicating in ways that people understand. Do they get it?

I wonder if the substance of the message that I share is something that will change the hearts and actions of the people I share it with. I wonder if the people I share it with absorb any of it. I think if I’m true to the Word of God, then that will definitely shape the hearts that allow it to soak in.

I guess that’s God’s business then, and mine is just to be what He wants me to be and deliver the news He asks me to deliver.

No Fear…

Several years ago we all thought it was cool to wear stuff that said “No Fear”. (I know, I know, I’m getting old…) As if screaming our claim to courage made it more real. The truth is we were all full of fear. Afraid to fail, afraid to fall, afraid to be shunned or ignored or forgotten…

I was reading Psalm 23 today and noticed something I’ve never noticed before. (I kind of feel dumb that I didn’t see it there one of the hundreds of times I’ve heard this verse before.) Maybe it’s the way the verses are broken up by numbers, or the way the verse is usually reserved for funerals and memorials, but for whatever reason I never noticed this before: (now forget about verse numbers & funerals for a second and read this)

“He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…”

I’ve kind of always known this (counter to what some people think of their Christian religion), but I’ve never noticed it in this Psalm before – if I follow God, He may lead me to and through dark places. Sometimes church people live as if God is always making them “lie down in green pastures” next to still waters. But don’t ever forget that the path of righteousness leads us on a rescue mission right through the middle of the valley of the shadow of death! (Picture Frodo & Sam approaching Mordor.)

Two Things
:: Real Courage isn’t wearing a No Fear t-shirt as you soar over a fun box; it’s following your creator into the depths of your “Mordor” knowing that He’s there with You.
:: If your life is all about still waters and green pastures, you may need to stop grazing and figure out where the Shepherd went.

“The Caracas Kid”

This is one of the kids I stayed with last year in Venezuela. His smile was about the only thing I could understand sometimes, but he was a great kid to be around. He’s got a tough road ahead of him. I pray God will put someone in his life to show him the way to be the man God is calling him to be.


The church always talks about faith, but I think a lot of well intentioned people have missed the point. There’s a huge difference between what most poeple call living ‘by faith’ and what they do to ‘keep the faith’. It’s the often the difference between following Jesus and following the rules.

Jesus came to establish a new covenant between God and people that would bring the dead to life, but 2000 years later, the church (or at least what is called the church) too often seems more interested in maintaining its’ own existence than in bringing spiritual life to the sick, dying, and dead. We’ve become more concerned with ‘keeping the faith’ than proclaiming the Gospel.

But religious dedication to a system of services and rites is not what faith is all about. Faith is about listenning for the heartbeat of God and dancing to His rhythm. Faith is about following Jesus through the fires of life, even if you’re not sure you’ll come out on the other side. Faith is about being His Body, working to show people His Kingdom.

God, I hope the people called Christians will become a tribe of followers who step in faith where You lead – even if it is where others have never stepped.


I hope this works…. I hope I don’t get dumped… I hope we win… I hope someone actually reads this…

We hope for a lot of different things at different times in life. Often, our fears drive our hopes. We hope that what we fear is going to happen is somehow stopped from happening. But what if we lived that backwards? What if we lived our lives with a hope based in something other than fear? What if our hearts beat with such hope that all fear was driven out of our lives?

I think we can.

The Bible is full of talk about hope and examples of people who lived with it… and without it. Go to sometime and do a keyword search for “hope”. God has a lot to say about hope because He is the one thing that we can always put our hope in. We can trust Him. That doesn’t mean he’s going to make life easy for us. It means that He will keep every promise He’s ever made… including the gift of life.