Removing barriers…

For the past four years our church has organized an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids in the community where we are located. Fifteen hundred eggs are hidden behind the school where we meet Easter morning, and in 20 minutes about a hundred kids find them all. Then, we invite the kids and their parents into the school gym for baking and coffee. The first year we did this, to my surprise, almost all of the parents stayed for coffee. Its one of my favorite moments in ministry: people from many nationalities enjoying coffee and baking together. The last two years we’ve hauled over our church’s espresso maker, which creates another level of joy among the devoted! Anyway, when it’s all done, we invite people who wish, to stay for the Easter worship celebration. Over the years, few have stayed. This year, however, we opened the large divider separating the two gyms, so the worship area and coffee area were one. Now if you wanted to stay for the service you didn’t need to enter another room. More people from the community stayed simply because we left the gym open. It’s a “no brainer” I guess, but it touches on a theme I’ve been brewing on the past while. The barriers as leaders we put up that keep people from experiencing the love of God. Easter morning I believe folks from our community received it in three doses-four if you like espresso! JLTImage

Preach, pray, be…

Around the dinner table one evening about five years ago, our family was having a conversation about the various abilities that people have. Then the conversation shifted to the various gifts each of us around the table had. My eleven-year-old daughter looked at me and said God had given me the gifts to “preach, pray, be…” It was one of those moments when the earth seemed to spin just a bit slower. I felt like God was speaking into my life, so I asked her what she meant by “be” and she said, “I don’t know, I just had to say that…” It was a season when I was asking God again to confirm or clarify my life mission. My daughter spoke into my life with her words. It was the last part of her sentence that really caught me however. God was calling me to be. I know it’s critical for me to just “be,” but her words affirmed it’s also part of the call of God on my life. I know that when my leadership loses its focus, it’s often because my primary connection to God has lost its focus. Doing is critical to leadership, but on its own leads to burnout. Activity isn’t the primary task of leadership, its movement out of a sense of being grounded. I’ve returned to my daughter’s words many times as a word of grace in my life. JLT

Drawing…


I visited a large church in our community last summer. During the service a new believer shared their faith story and said they didn’t attend church, but knew they wanted to attend this particular church if they would start attending. It was a church that was having a high impact on the community around them. It got me thinking again about something I’ve been brewing on lately. When Jesus said “I will build my church” its clear that building seems to be happening a great deal more at some churches more than others. Or to put it another way, God draws people to certain churches, and people, and keeps others away as well. Many of the churches I connect with get few if any visitors. A few years ago, a woman showed up at our service, and when asked by a greeter how she’d found us, she told them she had a dream where she met a lion in a forest, and she asked the lion what it was doing there. The lion in return said, “What are you doing here? I’m at The Gathering Church and that is where you should be!” “So”, she said, “It took me a few weeks to gather up the courage, but here I am…” It seemed she had clearly been brought to us. (I don’t think she had any idea of the significance of the lion in scripture). Several seeking folks who attend The Gathering now have been brought to us because they sensed clearly they were to attend our church-or a program connected with our church. There are lots of factors as to why that drawing happens more in some places than others, but it seems to me one fact is simply having some kind of a plan for walking with someone not connected with the story of Jesus. The other factor is the culture of the church itself, but that’s for another blog. JLT

Rezoning

When we started this church, one of our goals was to bless and serve the community that we were in as a church. I was convicted through a question posed in something I’d read which said, “If your church left, would the community notice?” We do this serving through a whole variety of events geared at sharing God’s love in tangible non threatening ways including neighbourhood parties, playing with kids in the park, Easter egg hunts, youth after school programs, etc. Our ability to engage the community has increased through a “community space” which our church leased just over a year ago across the street from the school where we meet Sundays. Getting the space was a succession of miracles, including getting the site rezoned to have a church group using it. In order for that rezoning to happen, the city does checks with the residents within several hundred meters of our building. At our annual community pancake breakfast last month, a woman came up to one of our pastors and said, “Someone came to our door asking us to sign a petition because they didn’t want the church in the area. But I told them, “The church comes to bring life not death. They have helped my children. I’m not signing this petition. So I started one of my own to support your church…” I didn’t know this person, and we didn’t get wind of either of these petitions. But I could not help but think that our presence in the community through acts of serving, helped give legitimacy to our being here. -JLT

 

Manna

I heard many stories that were less than encouraging as we embarked on starting a new church. The stats were something like two out of three church plants fail. Great. One writer said “Don’t plant a church unless you are ready to get ripped apart by God, having all your motives examined.” Wonderful. Another church planter said, “You will feel every Monday morning like you want to resign.” Most encouraging. What I decided to do to preserve my spiritual sanity was attach myself to a Biblical metaphor that would serve as a compass on this new journey. The metaphor I used was manna; the divine food the people of Israel ate in the wilderness provided each day supernaturally by God and gathered off the earth. It was enough to sustain them daily, but not enough to store (Sabbath excepted). Manna was God’s miraculous provision for them in the heat and the sand.  I decided to search my heart each day for where God had “shown up.” There was always a small sign of grace. A rough ministry week also holds our first youth event, which went well. A passing comment by someone on feeling connected to others, or that this church is really home for another person felt like provision. Sometimes it seemed like there was almost enough manna to store: On a week I despair of new life, several new believers happen to come and express interest in getting baptized. I gaze across the sand for those kinds of moments, and grasp the manna. Where has God been moving?  Where has the fire of the Spirit been lit? Where is hope taking hold? As I’ve continued to practice that discipline I’ve found I spend less time distracted by my own failures. And continually I’ve been reminded that I do not own the church.

Faith cultures

I think a great deal about cultures: I much prefer one airline over the others in my country, because of what I perceive as very different corporate cultures. All faith communities also have a culture. When I walk into a church, I get an immediate sense about the culture present. In the church world I wander in, I’m often discouraged by the culture I encounter: Too often it seems focused on a particular family group, dominated by white folks past retirement age. A church I visited a while back was lamenting the fact that their church was declining because it was “out in the country” too far removed from an urban population. My thoughts went to a church a few kilometers up the road from them that was thriving and building an addition. It seemed to me that “out in the country” had become an excuse which made it nearly impossible for them to see their potential in that rural community. The church had an identity rooted in an old self-understanding which produced a very tired, uninviting culture to anyone who was new in the neighbourhood.

What are you doing as a leader to keep the culture of your community current and inviting?
JLT