Sunday, April 27, 2008

Join David Thornton for lunch - National Day of Prayer

We still have a few spots open for lunch this coming Thursday (National Day of Prayer). David Thornton (linebacker for the Tennessee Titans) will be our guest. He will be giving his testimonty during this lunch. We will be meeting at Mere Bulles in Maryland Farms in Brentwood. You can find more information and register online here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Most Important Leadership Skill

Leadership development has been a passion of mine for years. I never gave it much thought until early into my first pastorate. It was then I learned if I could not figure this part out, I would not survive long as a pastor. How do you organize people? How do you motivate them? What is a strategy ... really? Vision? Mission? How do you get everyone (or at least most) going in the same direction?

Well, I became obsessed with the subject. One book led to another. One conference seemed to more conferences. Not long ago, I tried to count how many books and conferences and seminars and leadership groups and mentors and ... I had gone through over the past 20 years. I gave up. Ad nauseum is an accurate count.

After all of the training ... more than that, after 20 plus years of leading various organizations, I have come to one conclusion. The most important leadership skill is (drum roll please): Relationship skills.

I know, I am a slow learner. We spend so much time on mechanics ... strategy ... vision ... budgeting ... planning (short term and long term) ... execution ... organization. But if you can't do healthy relationships, none of the above will matter. And yes, this is especially true in churches. It is all about the people. It is imperative you learn to work with and through people if you are going to see disciples made (the mission given by none other than Jesus Christ Himself).

So, we learn to forgive. To let go of any prejudices and stereotypes that would hold us back. To communcate. To speak truth in love. To listen more than we speak. Never gossip. Be patient. Kind. Honest. Trusting. Keep no record of wrongs. See the best in others, not just the worst. Not be petty. Encourage one another. Pray for one another. Carry one another's burdens. Support. Treat others the way we would want to be treated.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recovering Church Growth Addict

I have blogged here on my reasons for returning to the local church. But one thing is certain. I did not return the same guy that left the local church 11 years ago. When I left the local church I was consuming every church growth book I could get my hands on. I still have the inflated library to proove it. I learned much that is helpful to me to this day. However, I have had a definite shift in my thinking about leading a church. Here are some random thoughts I have had in this area.

From outside in to inside out. Much of what I learned about church growth was what I would call an outside-in philosophy. It felt like "throw as much mud against a wall and see how much sticks". So, we would mass market (meaning much money for slick mailouts). Well, you could not market without something to market. So, we spent much time coming up with cool sounding / marketable message series and titles (I knew we had gone too far the Sunday we had a female in a bathrobe in the drama). Did big productions. Created as many programs as possible that might appeal to the community. Researched "felt needs" and created even more programs to meet these needs. We did anything we could to draw a crowd of people. Looking back, I can see the army of people it took to keep all of this in the air and the enormous energy and time it required. [Oh yeah, we did increase the number of people attending our church dramatically over these years]

Then I look at Jesus' ministry and I see that every time the crowds began to get big, He threw out a challenge that He knew would chase many of them away (see Matthew 8:18-22 as one example among many). His mission was not a local one. It was not a mission to only a few. So, what was He thinking? You would think with only 3 1/2 years to get this thing off the ground Jesus would have wanted as many as possible following "the Way" (see Acts 9). When Jesus ascended to Heaven, there was only 120. But because He built a solid foundation the early church was able to grow not only by addition, but exponentially.

It was an inside-out strategy. Rather than creating as many programs / strategies as possible that would bring in as many people as possible, hoping many of them will stick ... it seems healthier to grow as many radical Christians as possible, to send them out into the marketplace where they come into contact with thousands every week that do not know Christ. If they are radical about their faith, they will not be able to do anything but spread it to those around them. Thus allowing for exponential growth rather than growth by addition.

But therein lies my challenge. I am an impatient person. Will I have the patience to spend the time to grow radical followers of Christ? Or will I give in to the pressure to "grow a church" faster and revert to "whatever it takes to get them in the building"? I know I'm older now ... and I believe more patient. I do believe if we had radical Christians making up our churches, we could not build building fast enough. In fact, we could stop building buildings and just meet in the stadiums that sit empty every Sunday.

Don't get me wrong. The Church Growth Movement brought some much needed change to the Church. We were out of touch with the world around us and very much ingrown and focused on our own stuff. We were simply walking through the motions of our traditions in many of our churches. The Church Growth Movement woke some of us up in ways we needed to be awakened. I am grateful for all I have learned from these resources. We do need to make sure we don't erect useless and even harmful barriers due to our church culture and traditions. We do need to be aware we are ministering in the 21st Century and not 1950. That does and must impact what we do and how we do it. But I have a desire to build up a body of believers that are radical about their faith and who take it to the streets every day to the people God constantly brings across our paths.

I am not anti church growth. I do believe a healthy church will grow numerically. I am for making disciples who make disciples ... whom God can use to grow His church. As I have said in the blog before, churches don't reach people. People reach people.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why didn't anyone tell me?

I experienced some of the Nashville area's best dining this morning. Today was my first visit to the Loveless Cafe on Hwy. 100. And it won't be my last. But why hasn't someone told me about this place before now? I recommend you have a party of at least 4 and get the family style breakfast. Those biscuits are to die for!

I really have to get out more.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I don't want to be good

We rotate who brings a thought from God's Word each week at staff meeting. A few weeks ago John Duval brought up a thought that has stuck in my mind since that time [that's me to the left ... pondering]. Maybe because it was something that challenged me to the core of who I am. John's challenge was that we would be Godly and not just good.

I thought back to my childhood. I was a good kid. I didn't cause my mom and dad any (OK, much) trouble. I was always the teacher's pet. I usually won the sportsmanship award in whatever sports league in which I played. I even said, "Yes Ma'am" and "Yes Sir". [For those of you that may not know, that is the way those of us with manners refer to people who are older or are in a position that is to be respected. This is now a foreign concept.]

But it is this "goodness" that can get in the way. It can get in the way of our desire to become Godly. If we are not careful, we can settle for being good and never make it to Godly. One area this has really challenged me is raising children that are Godly and not children that are good. This was an area in which John challenged us. My girls are now in college. Much of their "raising" is behind us. I am grateful they have turned out to be godly girls, but I'm sure that is more attributable to God's grace (and their mother) than any intentionality on my part. I wanted them to be good. If they were good, they would not be an embarassment to their mother and me. If they were good, they would have a better chance of pleasing their teachers and thus (in my mind) have a better shot at doing well in school. If they were good, they would be liked. If they were good, they would have good friends. On and on the list goes.

But if they were Godly? If they were Godly, they would be all of the above, but more than that. They would be people who would seek God with all their heart, mind, and strength. They would love Him and serve Him above all. They would passionately worship Him.

I thank God for Godly girls, but I wonder what would I have changed about my parenting with this thought in mind 15 or 20 years ago. How would the conversations have changed around the dinner table if I were more focused on raising Godly kids than raising good kids?

Actually, come to think of it, being good could be the very thing that puts some people on the fast track to eternity in Hell. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but [only] the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ ["We were good!!!"] 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ [Ooops!!!]

I don't want to be good. I want to be Godly!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Masters - shameless hint

Class. Tradition. Amen Corner. Augusta National. It's The Masters. A golfers paradise. I don't have a bucket list. I don't have some list of "things I want to do before I die". Honestly, I have had the privilege of doing most things that would go on the list anyway.
BUT, some day, before I go home, I will walk that magical 18 in Augusta.
[You would think a Pastor could get a break :-)]

Go Tiger! Show them (again) why you are already the greatest ever.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Staff Retreat (Three Initiatives)

We completed our work on the staff retreat about 10:45 this morning. It was a great time of teambuilding, dreaming, digging into the Word, and even a little fun :-). [By the way, don't even think about taking on Laura McDade in Wii boxing]

With all the support staff joining in Monday afternoon and evening, we had a learning experience around what it means to be a team. We then had a pretty intense time of reflection on a message (as in sermon) for church leaders by David Platt, Pastor of The Church at Brookhills (see links to the right).

Tuesday morning began with Ministerial and Professional Staff working through some biblical passages related to the Church. We had some open discussion about our God given mission and some biblical core values we seek to live out.

Each staff member reported on the Present State of their ministry areas.

All of the above information was incorporated into an exercise and discussion related to the future of ClearView. Finally, we laid out three key initiatives we feel will take ClearView to the next level over the next 18 months. We asked ourselves and each other what three initiatives could we take on that will get us further down the road faster as a church body over the next 12 - 18 monhts. Let me share those with you.

1. Leadership Development. We will design and implement a leadership development process that will permeate each of our staff and over 100 lay leaders over the next 18 months. In order to multiply at the rate we will need to multiply in the near future, we must have leaders who are equipped (see Ephesians 4) AND who are all moving in the same direction. This initiative was assigned to yours truly (Mark).

2. First Impressions. This initiative will be led by Michael Smith. It will cover all of our communications (Insights, worship folders, web site, etc.) and a look at all branding issues. It will also do some major overhauling of our parking lot and greeter systems for Sundays. Our signage throughout our property (outside and inside) will need some major upgrading as the new building comes online to accomodate the numbers of new people we are anticipating.

3. Evangelism. The heartbeat of God is to see people come into a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. We (all of us) are the instruments through which He has chosen to accomplish this mission. We are seeing growth in many areas at ClearView. It is my intention (and it always will be) to see us do a better job of reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to impact lostness. We must raise the value of sharing our faith. John Duval will be taking the point for our staff on this initiative.

Everyone will be impacted by these three key initiatives. You may be asked to serve on a team by Michael or John Duval related to their initiatives. I am asking all of you to pray for these three areas of work.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Today's prayer


Thank you. Thank you for helping me through yesterday's message. Thank you for the attentiveness of the people. Thank you for the many who have responded and are responding. Thank you for the staff of ClearView and our time together today. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of whatever it is you seem to be doing at ClearView. Thank you for the privilege of serving you in this place at this time.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Staff Retreat

We leave tomorrow for a staff retreat. The entire staff will be meeting Monday afternoon and spending time together Monday night. The "Ministerial and Professional" staff will be staying through Wednesday noon. I look forward to having some time with this special group of leaders.

Pray for us as we come to mind. The next 12 - 18 months will be very busy and foundational for the future of ClearView.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Are you for real? (follow-up to message)

This is the title to a message I brought April 6, 2008 and this is a follow up to that message. We saw in Acts 8 a picture of a guy named Simon who had it all wrong related to salvation. [I am posting this on the eve of the message in order to have this available immediately after the services on the 6th.]

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13), Jesus warned us there would be those who look like Christians on the outside, who go through the motions of church membership and baptism, but who will not spend eternity in Heaven. This is not the only place Jesus signals this warning. Matthew 7 is another place He warned us of this same danger.

In Matthew 7 He is speaking to the religious crowd. He told them the gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to life … “and few find it” (Mt. 7:14). This specific post is targeted to those who want to know, “How can I know?”

One place we look is in this same passage (Matthew 7). Jesus tells them one way to know if you are truly a follower of Christ is that your life will produce fruit. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. Matt 7:20 (HCSB).

Does your life produce the fruit of the Spirit we see in Galatians 5? Does your life exude the righteousness of Christ?

The second characteristic of a true follower of Christ is a life of obedience. This does not mean we don’t stumble from time to time. We all do. But the pattern of your life … the dominant characteristic should be obedience. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus tells the parable of two houses … one built on sand and the other built on a rock. The solid foundation (the rock) is obedience to God’s Word. Jesus says the same thing in John 15:14 when He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In other words, we demonstrate our relationship to Christ through our obedience.

We are saved through faith in Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). Scripture also teaches that this faith WILL lead to a life of obedience (works). 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can his faith save him? James 2:14 (HCSB). You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:24 (HCSB). Clearly, if the faith you claim to have does not lead to a life of obedience, you do not have the faith that will save you.

Western Christianity has become something of a formula of easy-believism. “Are you looking for a way to fix all your problems? Pray this prayer and all your marriage / finance / family / etc. problems will go away. Don’t you want that?”

“Well of course.”

“Good. Pray this simple prayer and you're in."

I know that is a bit exaggerated. But not much. Somehow, we leave out the parts about “difficult road” … narrow gate … obedience … sanctification (salvation is a process as much as it is a crisis).

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but [only] the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ Matt 7:21-23 (HCSB)

This is the religious crowd. They thought they were “safe”. They even did a lot of religious work. Even miracles! But Jesus said, He never knew them. Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see that we are in the faith. We come to Christ by faith ... the kind of faith that leads to a life sold out to following Christ ... that leads to repentance ... the kind of faith that results in a life of obedience.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why I left the local church and why I returned

This one could be a series. And honestly, it is one I am quite sure I do not yet know all the answers to. Many who read this blog know that I served as a local church pastor for 12 years. Then I went to LifeWay where I ministered in a completely different world for 10 years. Almost one year ago (May 1) I returned to pastor a local church (ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN).

The church I came to out of seminary (I pastored for 2 years in seminary) was in suburban Atlanta. We relocated and experienced some significant numerical growth. So, why leave and go to a denominational role? In reflection, there were several mixed reasons. Some were for the right reasons and some were not.

Why I left ...
1. I felt I could have a broader impact by leaving the local church and taking a role that allowed me to travel and touch many ministers. I have always had an interest and a passion for leadership development. Going to LifeWay (then known as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) was an invitation to do this on a national level.

2. A chance to work with pastors. My dad is a pastor and I had pastored for 12 years at that point. I just love pastors. They (we) are a strange breed. I admit. But I don't know of a group of people that, as a whole, are more passionate about what they do. Most pastors (despite the few that might make the headlines) are committed to The Mission. They (we) come in all shapes, sizes (no preacher jokes here), ages, and personalities. Most do what they do because they believe God has called them to do it.

3. I was tired. I went to the church in Atlanta in my mid 20's with all the energy and strength of somone that age. I ran at an all out sprint for 10 years. We relocated the church. We physically built a 28,000 sq. foot building volunteer over a year span of time. We transitioned a church from the 1950's (I arrived in 1988) to about 1980 (I left in 1997). We added a lot of people (In the last 6 years we went from 70 to over 500 in average attendance). That's a lot of change to manage for a kid (remember, mid 20's to mid 30's ... I was a kid). That's messing with alot of people's world in a short period of time. It truly felt like changing a flat while traveling at 60 mph. Some didn't like it and I just didn't know that was normal. I really didn't realize just how tired I was until the first day I sat down in my office at LifeWay.

But God blessed the church in ways I would never have imagined. And He taught me things I would never have learned otherwise. He then provide rest and a learning experience during my 10 years at LifeWay I could not have gotten any place else on earth. I will forever be grateful for the people and the opportunities I encountered while there.

But there was always that "song in my heart" (phrase I borrow from my friend Ralph Hodge) that would not go away. The song to pastor again. I was not sure God would ever lead me back to the local church, but heart really never left.

Why I returned ...
1. Seeing lives changed. This really is the big one. To see someone come to Christ and sell out. To see them begin to understand what it means to follow Christ and live their faith out loud. What a rush! There is nothing like it in the world.

2. It is who I am and what I was made to be. The "song in my heart" turned out to be what many refer to as "the Call". At the core of who God made me to be is a pastor.

3. Turns out, the local church is the best place to base the broader ministry I was seeking. During my time at LifeWay I had the opportunity to study churches. Churches with a Kingdom mindset helped me understand, it is from the local church we could best launch ministries with broader impact than the local church.

4. The right church. God made it possible for me to spend time with the people of ClearView before I was asked to serve as pastor. I served as their preahing interim for 8 months. It gave them time most churches don't get to take a close look before they felt God leading that direction. It gave me time to fall in love with the people before taking the leap back into the only role for which I was made. Thank you ClearView for allowing me back in the game!

This is a subject I come back to in my mind often. I'm sure there will be more ...