Sunday, February 21, 2010

watermelon and special sundays

Let's start here: What's up with the steps and the "teaching stage"? a couple of weeks ago we removed the steps that stretch across the front of our stage to make room for the equipment our director of sound, Dan Fulkerson needed to install our new sound system. As I mentioned on vision Sunday in October...our old system was ten years old and on it's death bed. So yesterday we debuted a sleek, new and much more efficient sound system. I've always thought a little lower and further out platform for me to preach from would be more intimate. So instead of putting the steps back we used some of our movable stage pieces to make what I preached on yesterday. Loved it! Made me feel closer to everyone as I preached. We'll see what happens there in the future.

Message on fruit trees yesterday was convicting. Take these two questions with you this week: What kind of fruit are you bearing? and What kind of tree would others say you are? Ouch! Don't you just love conviction? By the way, showed a watermelon for fun yesterday...yes it is my favorite fruit. When Sara and I were engaged in college she used to go by a Knoxville mall just to pick up watermelon flavored popcorn from a store there.

Recently, some people have asked why we don't do special Sundays with special speakers (I get people all the time who say, "why don't you have so and so come and speak?") with big "crowd drawing" programs and events. Well, a couple of years ago we decided to really push our vision. Bottom line, we have one strategy for getting people to Jesus. We expect all the people at Eastview to be "passionately engaged in outreach". This means that all of our church growth is contingent on believers loving those outside of Christ enough to share their faith and get them engaged with our church or some other church. That's it. We believe that nurtured followers of Christ will get the job done of evangelization. And it's working. Other implications of this strategy are these:

1. Since we don't focus time, money and energy on big production Sundays we can focus our energy on every Sunday. To us, there are 52 really important days of the year and we work hard to make them moving, spiritual, biblical, and relevant.

2. If you bring a visitor to church on Sunday, they will experience pretty much what we do every Sunday. In other words, you can really show them who we are because each Sunday is consistent.

3. Since i and a few staff members do all of the preaching, we can extensively plan and execute a teaching schedule that we think will best allow our people to grow. There are a lot of great preachers in the world, but God has placed us here to minister in this place and since we love to preach...this works well.

4. We can sustain this. A good friend of mine says that many churches fail because they grow with programs that they can't sustain over the long haul. Well we know that until Jesus comes back we can dedicate ourselves to preaching the word, prayer, musical worship, giving and remembering the Lord's death, small groups, serving and spreading the good news of Jesus. We can and by God's strength will sustain this over the long haul.

OK. that was longer than I expected it to be. Hope you have a good week. And in case you're wondering, yes I'm finally tired of snow now. Don't worry...spring will come. God promised after the ark and the flood that the seasons would continue...check it out in Genesis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

home again

Well, I missed my people at Eastview yesterday. A pastor always feels kind of weird when he finds himself not a pastor - it's very healthy, mind you, just weird. I heard things went great and I'm already working on Sunday's sermon...looking forward to it.

Let me say that this pastor's conference was the best I've ever attended. Maybe it's because I've gained some experience in this role or maybe it's just that the right conversations happened. Of course, there is the setting. Cabo was great - not really clear sunny days, but nice "partly cloudy" days (you know the kind where you can get totally fried when you think it's not sunny - yeah my head is peeling). Here are some highlights from my week:

-It was whale season..and it is amazing to stand on the beach and watch a whale jump up out of the ocean. Makes you feel really small and makes God seem really big.
-Had a great breakfast with a pastor veteran who is now retired and 80 years old. I loved sitting and listening to his wisdom.
-I won (via a drawing of all the sr. pastors present) a trip to the Holy Land for free!
-I was renewed in my passion and energy for preaching and leading. I am so unbelievably blessed to be able to do what I do. See Daniel 4:17 for a verse that came alive to me this week.
-I am humbled to be able to encourage other pastors who are not having such an easy time of it. This job is not easy and I'm glad God allowed me to speak into their lives.
-There is nothing like sharing the intimacy of a meal together. Many of my conversations this week took place in the context of food. There is something in the sharing and the saying grace and the conversation that happens around a table that is priceless.
-I was able to write a lot in my journal this week. I'm a big fan of capturing memories and God thoughts in writing for reflection and historical perspective later.
-Sara is the best pastor's wife a guy could have. Why did God bless me in this way? Don't know, but I'll take it and I'm thankful.
-We talked about preaching.
-We talked about technology in ministry (what would Paul do if he lived in this era of history? One staff member said he'd own a MAC!). There are a lot of ideas out there. I still believe in the face to face, live ministry as the most effective.
-A guy came and talked about Pastor's tax laws. Very interesting stuff from a guy who has worked extensively on congressional subcommittees with this.
-We arrived home last night to Chicago around 6:30 with a 65 degree change in weather. Good to be home even if it is cold.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sr. Pastor's Conference

OK so this is the part where you get really jealous if you're from my home area of Normal IL (or anywhere in the midwest for that matter). Sara and I left Chicago at 8:30 this morning and by 4:00 P.M (mountain time) we were sitting on a beach in Cabo, Mexico watching the waves crash in. We saw whales (no fat jokes about me in a suit) and enjoyed the beauty of God's surroundings. Why am I here? This is the part no one really believes...I'm on a work trip!

No, it's not hard work, but this annual time with other pastors who lead mega churches is one of the most important times each year for me. It began in the late 80's when a few guys (whose churches were then over 1,000 in attendance) got together to discuss issues and challenges that were unique to their situation. Back then there were about 12 it has grown to over 100 guys and their wives with churches that range anywhere from 1,000 - 20,000.

I have already spent some time with Tim Harlow - pastor of a church of 5,000+ and JP Jones who is in Champaign with a church of 1500. As soon as I got here my old buddy Don Wilson (Peoria Arizona church of 12,000+) started joking with me...he's a blast. All told about 45 pastors and their wives will be here to share a week together. What do we do?

We talk about our churches...our challenges...our frustrations...our joys...our fears...our visions. We laugh alot. We pray together for our children and for our leaders and for our churches. We talk about where the mega-church is as a movement. We compare notes on leadership structure and sermons and all things pastoral. There really won't be a time over the next week when I'm not talking about ministry and the people I've come to love deeply at Eastview church (even if I am golfing, or sitting by the pool, or eating at a marina-side diner). It really is a good time. So I'll try not to rub it in that I'm in a really cool place (where it's not snowing like it is back home...a lot). But I hope you'll pray for me cause I'll be praying for you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

reflections @ 45

Well it's my birthday today. I'm forty-five years old. I preached the funeral for Norma Gresham today - which many people have thought was a bummer for my birthday - but in a weird way a funeral for an older person who has walked with the Lord is a joy. We have hope. And as I reflected this morning it helps me do the thing the Psalmist says to do "teach me to number my days aright Lord". I don't know how many more days I have, but they are numbered (I thought today that if I live as long as Norma did, I've got 32 more years and if I live as long as my dad, I have 12) Again, none of this is really troubling to me. For whatever reason, I've always been very comfortable with my death and my age (somehow they are related:-). I don't mind being a matter of fact want to get there, and if I keep living I will.

Before "45" reflections however, I want to say how awesome it is that so many responded yesterday at the invitation time for annointing and prayer for healing. It always moves us as elders to minister in this way. I love to see the faith that is willing to walk forward and ask God for healing. I told one couple that was praying to get pregnant that they needed to call me when it happened. Same goes for you...if God works miraculously in healing you, please let me know about it.

O.K. - So I'm forty five now!
* I thought I'd be wiser by now.
* I don't think this is middle-age because I don't think I'll live to be ninety (too much coffee and motorcycle riding)
* I'm close to 50 now than forty and when I get there I can start measuring my life in half-centuries.
* I hope that no matter how old I am, I can preach until I die. I'd love to be that guy who is preaching at age 90 and everyone just marvels at how unable i am to put together a coherent sentence and yet still they love the sermon. Oh yeah, I'm not expected to make 90 - OK how about 75. Honestly, I'm unable to string together many coherent sentences now...oh well.
* I have spent very little time in my life at the doctor's or the hospital...I'm thankful to God for that and hope it continues.
* I don't want to have any age conversation that centers around me having to give up coffee or salt or fat or anything else that makes life enjoyable.
* Although, I don't mind talking about my age...most women do ( I know this from being married to one).
* I'll probably write some lame blog like this on my 46th birthday.
* I wore a suit and tie today for the funeral...I guess this is my birthday suit!