Monday, March 31, 2008
I was quite surprised when I walked through the door and saw our mayor, Carol Leahman sitting in the audience. She was visiting her mom who is a resident at Vintage Park. I'll be honest and say it was pretty intimidating to preach to the Mayor, especially since she was one of the few people who stayed awake during the entire message. But after a few minutes, I got over my nervousness and actually preached much better there than I did that morning at TFC. After the message, Chris and I walked around the room serving communion to those in attendance.
I think it's a good thing for the Mayor to see our church in action. She heard our band play at the 150 tailgate party and has now heard me preach (hopefully that was a good experience for her); both of which were ways of serving our community. I figure it's a good thing for Gardner's leaders to know TFC is alive w/young, passionate leaders and actively serving our community.
And as another interesting note; one elderly resident gave Chris and I a sincere thank-you after we were done. She said, "I know you're busy and it's probably hard to get over here on a Sunday (which is true) but we so appreciate you being here; you're the only church we get." Really made that hour worth it. And we were still out in time to watch the KU game.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
"Spiritual maturity is when you do the right thing with or without the accompanying feelings and thoughts."
Or to rephrase it, "Spiritual maturity is when your convictions and beliefs trump your thoughts and feelings."
Or to use another picture, "It's when your beliefs and convictions drive the bus and tell your thoughts and feelings, 'you sit here!';"
Rob admitted that none of us are completely mature. "Spiritual growth is closing the gap."
Friday, March 28, 2008
A main theme of this book is "echoes" of the Christ-story in the world. It's where I got the inspiration for Easter Sunday's, "Echoes of Easter" message.
In his chapter on prayer, Wright lists some breath prayers. I spent time praying these today. You pray a "breath prayer" by breathing in the first half and breathing out the second. Here are his three prayers:
"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." I've been praying this for years.
"Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, set up your kingdom in our midst." Beautiful.
"Holy Spirit, breath of the living God, renew me and all the world." What a bold prayer!
"Hear O Israel; The LORD (Yahweh) our, The LORD our God is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart." This is the Shema passage, Deuteronomy 6:4. Shema is the Hebrew word from prayer.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
In managing our personal finances, Erin and I follow Dave Ramsey's advice, "spend every dollar on paper on purpose before the month begins - it's the only way to win with your money." A major responsibility as pastor is to faithfully manage the resources God has entrusted to TFC and I follow that same principle, although we do it on a yearly basis.
Last July, we set our fiscal year (07-08) budget based upon projected monthly giving of $8,400. That's what we averaged over the previous fiscal year. We were right on that pace, hitting it exactly, through the first half of the year. Starting in January however, the bottom dropped out of our giving. I'm completely at a loss as to why. We've come up $2,000 short each of the last three months (that's assuming our offering is $1,000 on Sunday - our offerings through the first four weeks of March were only $5,700).
So at Wednesday night's meeting, we took a hacksaw to the budget. We cut every single thing we could, except for Children's Ministry budget (if this continues, that will be next). After that, we'll be down to wondering how we'll pay rent and salary.
There is a good thing to come out of this, we've had to reevaluate our priorities and we've realized we'd over budgeted for some categories, which were easy to cut. For example, we thought it would take $3,000 to fund small group child care this year but to date we've spent less than $1,000. So we were able to 'find' $2,000 there. Unfortunately, I have to tell our small group leaders that we have to cut it out for the rest of the year. It could be that the $8,400 we were averaging early on was to help us provide for the basics when we hit a slump. We've had to ask ourselves tough questions about the top budget priorities of our church's mission. And that's a great thing to reevaluate.
One of the things that took a hit is the money from our evangelism/outreach budget that we thought we could use for Love Wins. We have had some money come in from outside the church to support this ministry. Because of the cuts however, we had to use that money to repay ourselves for what we've spent.
My wife pours her heart into this ministry and it's seeing incredible results. It broke Erin's heart that we had to alter the budget in that way. Now, it's only $385, I'm thinking there has to be a way God can supply that need. Maybe it's from the fact that other churches are supporting this or maybe it will come from somewhere else. Maybe since this is an obvious way God is working, we need to keep moving ahead with it, trusting that God will supply our needs.
Which would mean we're following same principle in funding this ministry as a person follows when they tithe: You do what's right by giving to God first and know that he'll take care of you with what's left.
Maybe it's a spiritual thing. Maybe since such great things are happening with new people coming to Christ, other people are being tempted to put other things above their financial commitment to God? Maybe I'm being tempted to focus upon this rather than all the new people. I have to be honest and admit that when trying to pray for the new people, my mind naturally goes back to financial worries. My attention and energy has been taken away from new people, which is a failure on my part.
I also know that God works despite the disobedience of his people. In fact, he doesn't need us, it's for our benefit that He asks us to partner with him. This is God's church! God's using TFC to lead people to Christ, surely he won't let us drown!
David Brush said it beautifully at our meeting last night (I knew I should've written it down, I won't say this as well as he did) "If this is God teaching us to better manage our resources then we'll figure out how to trim the budget. If this is because of the disobedience of God's people, He'll take care of it - we don't have to worry about it." It was more eloquent than that, but very prophetic.
I know this is pathetic, but from the time I enter into the office on Monday until I finish my outline on Saturday, I've got this constant knot in my stomach, "I've gotta preach again this Sunday."
There's a great line about this from a post by Craig Groeschell about how a Pastor's life is different and we need to embrace that difference. One difference he listed was, You prepare new messages every week for the same crowd. (I can’t think of any other profession who does this without the help of curriculum or speech writers.)
Very well said. To read the whole post, click here. This post is a part of a series on the rhythms and seasons of pastoring. It's an entirely different animal than most 'regular' jobs.
It's hard work but I LOVE It! I get paid to talk with people about Jesus!
Just wanted to make sure and throw that in there!
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
If you were in the sanctuary, you know the powerful service that they missed. But while we were seeing the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of people these Super Servants were serving everyone's kids. There isn't a more evangelistic thing anyone could've been doing from 10:30-11:45 on Easter Sunday than serving the kids of our first-time guests.
And as a perfect example, I'll share this story. The toddler of a new family wet his pants in the nursery during the service (he's in the process of being potty-trained). So Barb Pearson went into the sanctuary to ask the parents what to do with his wet clothes and how to change him. I was meeting with that family on Sunday night and they told me how impressed they were with that gesture. Way to go Barb, Tonya and Emily!
Monday, March 24, 2008
Way back on our third Sunday as a church, we played the song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" as a 'bad-news' move in preparation for a message about community. This seriously offended a family that was on our core team. They stuck around for awhile but this event eventually came to a head. They (very respectfully and Christ-like) challenged my philosophy on playing 'secular' music in worship. I shared with them some of the things I'll share below but they weren't able to agree with me. They left TFC over this. As they were leaving, I was told, "When we come to church, we want to know that our kids are safe from pop-culture."
They had been strong leaders, this was a serious event for our young church. I had to decide whether we were going to stick with this or not. But I've decided (I did get input from other leaders) that we were sticking with our practice of playing 'secular' music during worship. Here's why:
- There is no secular/sacred divide. There are profane and evil artistic expression but everything good belongs to God. I have trouble listening to Christian radio because of all the crap I hear on there, stuff that I don't believe honors God.
- God is at work everywhere. We see this in the song we played yesterday. Maybe David Grohl wasn't directly thinking of Jesus when he wrote Come Alive, but ultimately that song is about Jesus. Only one person has "saved me the day you came alive" and it's Jesus Christ. Pointing out the yearning for God in the culture around us trains people to do the same thing.
- It reinforces our Wesleyan Theology. One major part of Wesley's teaching was the doctrine of prevenient grace; which says that God is working in the hearts of every single person, pulling them toward himself. We're also following the methods of Wesley, who found ways to leave the church (we're leaving church culture) to proclaim the message of Christ.
- It connects with the unchurched! I'd have to say this is the main reason. A new person comes in, expecting to hear lame church music but they're surprised to hear a song they recognize. I tell our band if they're choosing between a 'secular' and 'christian' song, pick the 'secular' song. I hate those labels.
Let me tell you an incredible story from yesterday that backs up what I'm saying. We had a brand new family come yesterday because of an invitation. I had the privilege of spending an hour talking with them on Sunday night. It was an amazing conversation, God was using me to help them take some HUGE steps in their relationship with God and each other. But it was a personal conversation so I won't share many details.
But what I want to (and feel I can) share is what happened in the husband yesterday morning. He showed up at church only because he was invited, "we figured we might as well pick a church for Easter, so we went along with the invitation." He didn't expect much - at all. Just going to put in time on Easter Sunday.
So the husband and wife walk in way before church starts (I wish new people could teach regular people what time worship begins) and find some friendly people to talk to. They're surprised to know the person who invited them was honest in telling them to dress casual. "Every church says that but I'm usually looked down on if I'm not dressed up. But you guys really were casual." This means another wall he puts up has been removed.
They then walk into the cafeteria and he's surprised to hear 'secular' music playing on the speakers. "I didn't know churches would play music like this." Although some guys (you know who you are) were making fun of me for the Phil Collins song, the husband told me, "I couldn't believe you were playing True Colors, I love that song. I started to think you weren't so bad."
And the way we spoke, the fact that the nursery ministers were so good with their son and the overall atmosphere of their experience helped him to drop his guard. And when I called for a response at the end, my heart did a somersault when he raised his hand. He didn't raise it when I asked who was "sure" of the Resurrection but when I asked "who wants to believe but needs more time." He couldn't believe I gave that option.
"I went from thinking I'd be lucky to stay awake the whole service to raising my hand at the end. I'm not sure what was going on. I'm not sure what to make of all of it."
We do what we do for a reason - to connect with unchurched families like these. Since I don't have the advantage of knowing what it's like to grow up outside the church, I do two things that raise my evangelistic effectiveness:
1) I depend upon my wife, who did grow up unchurched (basically) and does a great job of connecting with unchurched people
2) I study the methods of effective churches. I heard the idea of playing 'secular' (have I mentioned I hate that term) music before and after worship from Vince Antonucci. He said doing so would set new people at ease - which is exactly what happened. I also listen to his messages, to learn how to better communicate with unchurched people.
God called me to start a new church that would reach the unchurched. I knew this even before I knew he'd called me to Gardner. This passion is just as red-hot now as it was years ago. Maybe I'm even more fired up now that I'm seeing it happen even more and am seeing how our ministry approach is really working.
Trinity Family is here to reach those who don't yet know Jesus. We're sticking with that vision. It will continue to turn away some of the already-convinced. I'll continue to have my heart broken by the unchurched who start to follow Christ but then decide to turn back to their old life. But no matter the cost, we're going to keep doing what we're doing.
The best way to describe worship yesterday was intense. From the opening song to the final blessing, it was full-blast, in-your-face intense. I had so many people say afterwards, "that was an incredible service."
But here's the deal: we didn't really do things much differently than usual. Other than the Foo Fighters song, every song we sang we'd done before, I didn't really preach that much differently than usual. So what was the difference? Right here was the difference - link. Although we didn't hit our goal of 40 hours, we had 23 hours committed to praying for yesterday's service. 23 hours!
That's why yesterday was so intense! Just imagine if we had people praying every weekend? Maybe not 23 hours, but people praying for our services. I put in quite a bit of prayer every week for the church and for our Sunday service. So, I'm laying down the challenge for others; who else will commit to praying for our services?
Why is it worth praying for Sunday services? Because just as we did yesterday, every Sunday we have people in our services that don't yet know Jesus. There's an emotional, physical and spiritual battle happening over people's eternal allegiance every single Sunday. A battle that has an eternal significance.
And I knew I was in a battle yesterday, I could feel it the entire day. I don't believe it was a coincidence that Erin and I started our day with a stupid fight that ended with Erin in tears. I was sitting in the other room trying to run through my message again but I couldn't focus. I realized, "I'm being distracted from the important stuff about to happen today, I WON'T let the enemy win this way." And after realizing that, God told me, "if you want to be prepared to lead worship today, you need to first go confess your sin to your wife and make things right with her." So we talked through it and were both glad our consciences could be clear and our minds focused on what was about to happen. Stories of kids throwing fits on Easter, things distracting us so we aren't in worship on such an important day - they aren't coincidences.
Right now I'm feeling like I ran a marathon yesterday (without the foot cramps). I am so WIPED out. But I know why, yesterday was a battle. If you'd been able to see all the hands that were raised when I called for a response after the message, you'd know why yesterday was so important. People's entire live and eternities were being impacted yesterday! And you want to know why so many people who aren't yet followers of Jesus were there to hear the message of the Resurrection? Because of invitations! Yep, all because of invitations.
There was one new family there that came to the Late Night Easter Egg Hunt because Melissa, Cole and Cailey Billings were passing out flyers in their neighborhood. Several of the families were invited by Travis Bottcher and a few more by Emily Crow. It's amazing how we see a couple formerly unchurched people give their lives to Jesus and suddenly they're bringing all of their unchurched friends! That really is amazing! Last Easter, I pounded the invite drum over and over and the only unchurched family there was invited by Erin and me (although I know we weren't the only ones that invited). Travis and Emily have given their lives to Christ since last Easter and they brought a ton of friends this Easter.
What happens is that the longer we're in a church and following Jesus, the more isolated we become from unchurched people. The longer we're Christ-followers the more intentional we have to become about building relationships with unchurched people. Which by the way, is exactly what Fave Five is all about. But when a churched person is able to lead an unchurched person to Christ, that suddenly opens up a huge door to connecting with more future Christ-followers (to avoid the 'un' words).
I hope you were able to hear the Echoes of Easter yesterday! I heard the echoes as people all across the sanctuary were making commitments to the Risen Christ!
Here are a few more random thoughts:
- Although we had just a handful more people in attendance this Easter than last Easter, the potential from this year's numbers are a ton higher than last year. Last year, we had only one new family but everyone else in the church was there. This year, we had a bunch of new families and were also missing several regular/semi-regular families. If everyone who calls TF home had been there yesterday we really wouldn't have had seats for everyone.
- It was really nice to be set-up already. I didn't get to church until 9:30! I almost felt guilty.
- I want to encourage those who invited but were disappointed that their friends didn't come. You planted a seed. Keep at it. It can take 13 invitations (on average - per a study) before a person finally comes to church with you.
- I watched the Passion of the Christ on Saturday night and it had me fired up for Resurrection morning.
- Travis Bottcher's testimony was powerful. I saw a lot of tears when I got back up. It's even more powerful considering some of the stuff he's faced recently. After he was done, I gave him a hug and told him "that was ballsy." Although one person said it looked like I was kissing him. Sorry, Travis.
- The band did an incredible job; they nailed Come Alive. I told them that when the Foo Fighters play that song at the concert we're going to in July, we'll tell David Grohl and company, "that was good, but you should've heard it at TFC on Easter." The guys thought I was going a bit overboard. But they really worked hard in preparation for Easter.
- My wife put in hours of work on the images we used as background for the last two songs; it was how she spent her spring break.
- My head was pounding and I wanted to take a nap so badly but I had to go do the service at the nursing home at 3:00 Sunday afternoon. My self-pity got stronger when I showed up and there were only 4 people there because several others were with their family. But just as I started to speak, Pastor Andy and the Kelvingtons showed up and it brightened my day. Thanks for being there!
- The first take I did of yesterday's video announcement was much less corny than the one we actually showed but my face was in shadow during the whole thing. But we couldn't do a third take because the PRMS band started playing just as we finished the second. I was told I used "excited" a few too many times. I also had people in awe of how quickly I got to PRMS for the 'live feed.' Yep, it was cheesy. And that idea came to me on Saturday when I realized it would be cold enough to wear a sweater.
- I'm EXCITED about our move! It's a big step, kind of risky considering how we'll bounce around in the auditorium. But the same motivation that prompted me to plant a church is prompting me to lead us into this move. I'd rather fail than maintain status quot!
- Thank you to all who worked in the kids area on Sunday. You couldn't have been doing a more evangelistic thing than serving the kids of new families yesterday!
- I finally beat Medal of Honor last night, Cole Billings can get his game back.
- If you were wondering about the camera lady, we're redoing our website and looking for more pictures. Here are some of the ones Marriam took yesterday. Really good pictures.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
- I haven't been this nervous on a Saturday night for a long time. There is so much stinkin' pressure on Easter. So many people who are taking their annual shot at church, "is this church worth coming back to?" I NEED the Holy Spirit speaking through me.
- I've had this theme "Echoes of Easter" on my mind for months and I think something has come of it and will connect with new people tomorrow, but I can't know for sure.
- What will the huge turnout from Friday mean for attendance on Sunday morning?
- There seems to be a different feel before this Easter than last Easter. Of course, Friday night's event was huge. But last year I spent a month pounding "invite, invite, invite" into everyone heads. This year I haven't talked about it as much but there seems to be a buzz from all the invitations that have been extended.
- Maybe the themes I preached on last spring are starting to come to fruition this spring? Love Wins came out of my pre-Easter series last spring.
- The band is practicing right now. I'm sure they'll nail "Come Alive." It's a great song but it's a difficult song. They gave up watching the KU game to practice - that's dedication.
- It feels good to have everything already set up. I don't need to get to the school until 9:00, so I can sleep in a bit. About the only thing we need to do tomorrow morning is boil some coffee.
- Our custodian, Joe, is AWESOME! Sunday will be his third straight day at Madison Elementary because of TFC. There was a sound training event tonight before and during the band's practice. Joe is actually a part of a church plant himself, but gives up time there on Sundays to be our custodian. He said he's got all his work done so he'll be able to sit in on worship tomorrow.
- If just one family comes to know Christ because of last night's Easter Egg hunt, it will be worth the money. And we did spend a significant amount of money.
- My brother-in-law is coming tomorrow. Have I mentioned I'm nervous about all the new people? My niece told him, "Daddy, I want you to come to my church." So he may be in TF Kidz.
- CHRIST IS RISEN!!!!!!
What basketball tourney? We're talking wrestling. The one sport dominated by my Hawkeyes. 21 National Championships!
2008 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships
Current Team Standings
1. Iowa 95.0 (Clinched 21st NCAA Title)
2. Ohio St 71.0
3. Iowa St 61.0
4. Penn St 59.5
T-5. Oklahoma St 58.0
T-5. Central Mich 58.0
Iowa State is right where they belong; looking up at the Hawks (as usual).
Friday, March 21, 2008
1 Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?
I've always been afraid of suffering, nervous around those going through pain. I don't know what to say or do or how to control/fix those with suffering. Then Erin and I started going through our own suffering this past summer and I've learned a lot about living in the midst of pain; continuing to live even when things aren't as they should be. As I was reading this passage yesterday, I realized another reason (besides my own suffering) I can patiently stand with those who are suffering - because Jesus suffered. If Jesus could enter into suffering, then I can refuse to be repulsed by suffering and stand with those in pain, even help hold them up in the midst of it.
Jesus entered into and redeemed suffering.
Something else I noticed is that just as Erin and I learned how to handle the dumb cliches people throw at you during suffering, Jesus also had to deal with misconceptions of his suffering. Verse 4 reads, Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! Not only does Jesus know what it means to suffer, he also knows how it feels to hear the shallow, ignorant (though usually well-meaning) lines people give to you, "everything happens for a reason." Yet another example of how Jesus shared in our humanity.
Here's the prayer I finished my SOAP time with yesterday:
Jesus, help me to have the courage to enter into suffering with others. Help me to be patient and sympathetic. Help me to remember those that are suffering during this time. I should probably fast tomorrow. I have caused Jesus suffering, I'm sorry for how my selfishness made you suffer.
Monday, March 17, 2008
There are 5 modes of prayer that are most commonly practiced:
I. Praise - Praise is complementing God for who he is.
A. God is worthy of all praise.
B. Through loving God, We experience his love for us.
C. Through praise we begin to place focus on God, and not ourselves.
II. Thanksgiving - Giving thanks to God.
A. Giving thanks to God for what he has done, is doing, and will do.
B. Thanking God for the gifts he has provided. (Family, Friends, Wisdom, etc.
III. Petition - Just ask, while focusing on God’s Character.
A. Request, and believe in God’s power to do what is best in an eternal context.
B. Pray for peace. (Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.)
C. Pray your heart out until you have peace that it is in God’s hands.
Further Notes on Petition:
There is power in joining together in petition, but this does not mean God keeps a score, or weighs a scale with numbers of prayers.
God works out what is needed from an eternal perspective, not a temporal perspective.
We need to be sensitive both to the urgency of the other’s request, and to God’s timing.
IV. Intercession - Intercession is praying on behalf of someone; but more specifically that their relationship with God would be made right.
A. Through intercessory prayer God works on our heart, as much as the other persons.
V. Confession - Can be admitting personal sin, but also a chance for humility before God.
A. "God, I don’t know what to do."
B. Just talk, don’t perform.
C. You can’t pray wrong, if you pray honest.
Thanks to David Brush for taking such good notes.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The best part of the day, though was spending an hour talking with Randy. Randy and I became friends my freshman year of college, when I was on the student ministries council and he's been a significant mentor ever since. I consider Randy a wise judge of character, so it was very encouraging to hear him tell me, "Donnie, you're got the right vision, you're on the right track, keep going after people that aren't in church." He's able to hear my heart for the unchurched, which is encouraging.
Randy also gave me a great one-liner today. As good as the one he gave me last spring. link
He said, "The way of Jesus is not upward mobility, but downward mobility - the way of a servant." Great reminder.
Below is the message I gave to MNU students:
Things have always come fairly easy to me. In high school, I was all-state choir, captain of the football team and captain of the Iowa District Bible quizzing team (yeah!). In college, I got a football scholarship and was Student Body President. I graduated NTS summa cume laude and was given the Evangelism award (still not exactly sure what that mean). And at Fed Ex, I received some safe-driving awards. I think I still have the alarm clock.
Which to be honest, has given me a sense of entitlement. I’m a good guy, people like me, things should come easily for me.
But this church planting thing has been another story altogether. Without a doubt, this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in me entire life. I’ll show you what I mean by giving you a snapshot of one typical day on the job.
It was Saturday night, Feb. 16th. I went to bed early like usual. But this night I was hoping pouring rain would either fizzle out or at least not freeze. But I woke up early Sunday morning to see several inches of snow and that more was still falling. And here are the thoughts that started going through my head when I saw the snow. “There’s no school on Monday, will the school district force us to cancel church? If not, will they charge us $700 for snow removal? Will we be able to get the trailer from it’s parking spot to the school? Will this finally be the Sunday I’ve been dreading – the Sunday when NO ONE shows up? Why does it always snow on Saturday nights?”
We had been promoting this Sunday morning for weeks. I’d been telling the church over and over, “invite your Fave Five.” We were showing a short film called Most, a powerful parable about the cross. We’d printed cool invite cards. I’d sent out several email invites. “Why does it always snow on Saturday night?”
The trailer made it to our school – barely. They had to stick to main streets and when it was going up the slight hill in front of the school, they told me it had gone sideways. Our set-up crew, which was short that month to begin with, got smaller when our sound guy called to say he was snowed in and couldn’t get out of his driveway.
And at 10:30, the time worship usually begins, there was a pure blizzard going on outside. “Why does it always snow on Sunday mornings?”
We launched Trinity Family in August of 2005. Since that first day we launched, I’ve fought some serious emotional and mental battles. I’ve had to continually fight off these serious self-doubt and self-pity that have bordered on depression. God has been teaching me a lot during these struggles. My wife once read “planting a church will change you more than it will change anyone who comes into your church.” I think I really started to get a grip on my emotional rollercoaster rides last fall, when we were two years old. The gap between what’s needed in me as planting pastor and my own skills is huge, but God has been showing me how he fills in that gap.
But I fell back into old patterns that morning. As we were struggling through set-up that morning, I went into the bathroom to get away from everyone else and those old thoughts came running back into my head. “You’re a failure. What’s wrong with my church? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should just quit? What if I started over in a new city? I’m in way over my head. I suck at this.”
That was 9:45. I wanted to get in my car and go home.
By 10:40, some people had showed up. At 11:25, I explained the act of communion. At 11:30, I watched my sister-in-law, along with her live-in girlfriend come forward to take the elements. Later that day, Molly sent me this message on Facebook, “we sure did enjoy going to lunch with you all, we had a good time helping Erin with her thing that she was doing, we would love to help her doing the thing. (that thing is my wife’s stripper ministry) WE really want continue to going to your church as much as possible. Thanks you both we love you guys so much. Much love from the both of us.”
God called me to plant a church in a division chapel at MNU, spring of 2000, my last semester. Larry McCain from NCS was speaking that day and boldly declaring “the single most effective way to reach unchurched people is to start a new church.” If what Larry said was true, I knew I was going to be planting a church someday. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know where, I certainly didn’t know how (I still don’t really know how) but I knew God had called me to reach unchurched people.
A few years later, my second year at NTS, we joined the core team of a church plant in West Shawnee, GracePoint church. Not long after we launched, my wife invited a fellow teacher, Jeremy to Gracepoint. Jeremy soon gave his life to Christ. We had the privilege of baptizing Jeremy and discipling his entire family.
Just before my senior year at NTS, we went through the church planter’s assessment. We passed it with the highest possible score, it wasn’t easy. So we started praying, “where do we go plant a church?” About that time, Jeremy’s family moved to Gardner and said, “why don’t you come plant a church here?” We had other offers, too but weren’t sure. So I went on a long fast, “God, where do we go?” At the end of that fast I was very skinny and I had a deep sense that Gardner was the place. At a church planter’s conference in Atlanta a few weeks ago one of the speakers said, “you know you’re called when you leave the town but the burden goes with you.” I’m in Olathe right now, but my heart is in Gardner.
And it’s that calling that kept me from driving home that difficult Sunday morning. I’ve realized that God’s calling in my life is a bit more significant than my own happiness or even my own “success.”
Which is exactly why God gave me a little talking to last December. I had it out with God one day. “God, why in the world aren’t we growing? Why is TF like my ipod – stuck in the 90’s?”
This doesn’t happen often, but God spoke to me directly that day. “Donnie, when I called you to Gardner, I didn’t promise you a big church. I didn’t promise you people would be writing books about you. I didn’t promise that other church planters would be reading your blog and asking your advice. But I did promise you you’d reach unchurched people. Make a list.”
And so I did. And here are some of the people on that list.
Amanda A single mom who had some Catholic upbringing but not much church involvement. Her son, Alan, goes on and on about our kids ministry. She’s started reading the bible for the first time in her life and goes on and on about what she’s learning.
Emily She works at my wife’s school. My wife got to be friends with her when she told us of a friend that was pregnant and we began moving toward adopting that baby. One night in November, Emily called my wife and said, “Jennifer is going into labor.” We knew a baby 4 months premature had no chance to make it but Erin went to the hospital anyway, to be the presence of Jesus there. And she was. Jennifer’s own family left but Erin sat there all night long. And that’s what broke through to Emily. Two months later, she realized she needed to get off drugs and give her life to Jesus.
Travis a year and a half ago, he wasn’t sure he believe in God. But we started studying John together, just for the heck of it. Travis was captivated by the person of Jesus. Several months later, in the middle of a discussion, he said, “Donnie, I’ve decided to ‘take that step.’” Now in our Bible studies he’s teaching me more than I teach him. We’re starting a bible study in his home later this month. And he doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to take over that group pretty soon.
Casey A little bit of Catholic background but that’s it. Lived with us for a month when she was separated from her husband. We had so many people praying for them, but it looked hopeless. He was done with their marriage. 5 months later, she’s in church every Sunday. She and her husband are in counseling and they’re taking the FPU class together. Every Sunday morning, her adorable little two year old girl comes running up to me, “uncle Donnie!” Another one of my wife’s sisters we’ve been praying for whom we’ve been praying for years.
I could go on and on…
I don’t care whether I’m ever considered a success. I don’t care whether I’m ever on the cover of grow magazine. I don’t care if I’m ever voted Alumnus of the year. That’s why God called me to plant a church and that’s what God’s doing through our church.
If you think you’d like to do this someday, there are some questions I need to ask you.
Are you called? I don’t mean are you called into ministry, I mean are you called to plant a church. Not everyone is called to do it. It’s hard and scary. If you can work in a comfortable established church, DO IT! My assessor told me when he moved to Phoenix, knew no one, other pastors hated him, he pulled the blinds closed in his house and cried out to God. It was the sure sense of divine calling that kept him from driving back to Olathe.
Are you gifted? We don’t have to be superstars (case in point) but church planters do need a unique skill set. Two ways to find this out. Join a church plant and help start something – small group, ministry, whatever. If you can start something from scratch you can probably start a church. Also, go through an assessment. Everything they told me in assessment, both positive and negative, has turned out to be true.
Are you healthy? Darrin Patrick of Journey church in St. Louis said, “pastoring means you’re passing out a photocopy of yourself. You church will begin to reflect your character.” Scary stuff. I heard another pastor say, “health leader = healthy church. Dysfunctional leader = dysfunctional church.”
Do you have healthy relationships? Do you model a healthy marriage? Do you have a healthy self image? Darrin Patrick also said, “I don’t want to be that guy who wakes up on Sunday morning and has his self-worth determined by the size of the crowd and the size of the offering.” Are you healthy physically? Are you taking care of yourself? Or are you a glutton who gets behind the pulpit to condemn the sin of homosexuality? Are you healthy financially? If I had a dollar for every future pastor who wined about their school debt, I'd have my own school loans paid off by now. If you're just racking up debt while you're in school, there's no way you'll be able to make it as a church planter; there's not a lot of money in this gig. "But MNU is expensive." Let me give you a secret, it's called a JOB. Work as much as you can, get as many scholarship as you can and then work your tail off to pay off your loans right after you graduate.
Are you serving in a local church? Great question! “But I’ve got a job, I’ve got homework?” So will the team of volunteers you’re going to try to lead someday. I spent four years in ministry before I could make a living on it. No one wants to follow the professional with no credibility. You’re building your credibility now, as a lay leader.
There’s a lot of annoying little crappy jobs that church planters need to do. Without a servant’s heart, you’re doomed.
Are you leading? Or, are people following you? “He who thinks he’s leading but has no one following is only taking a walk.” Do you inspire confidence in others? Have you felt the burden of leadership? Can you cast a vision? Or are you the guy who reads a book, points out the flaws in a pastor that’s actually trying something and says, “when I plant a church…”
What are your motives? Why are you planting this church? Is it because you’re disgruntled where you’re at? Guess what, people don’t change much from church to church? You’ll have the same relational struggles. Is it to grow a big church and make a name for yourself? I hope you grow your church, but the last thing we need is another hotshot preacher stealing sheep from the church down the street because he’s a better preacher or his music leader has a cool guitar.
Or are you planting a church to reach lost people? That’s the only legit motive.
Are you giving? Are you tithing to your local church? Don’t give me that, “my tuition is my tithe, I have to buy school books.” There’s a deep theological word for that (actually two, but since I'm in chapel, we'll just use one) BULL. Not only are you sinning, but how can you call other people to give when you just decided to start giving when you started getting a paycheck? This is a big one. Money is a HUGE part of planting a church. Can God trust you with his money?
Are you evangelizing NOW? Can you think of at least one stinkin’ person right now that you’ve built a relationship with that doesn’t know Jesus? Times up. If no one popped into your mind, then give up right now. You’ve got no business planting a church. I’m dead freaking serious. Just because you get the title “church planter” doesn’t mean you’ll be able to throw a switch and suddenly start talking with people about Jesus. In fact, when you become a pastor it gets harder. I really miss my FedEx days being surrounded by sinners.
The best indicator of future performance is past behavior. Your character matters. It matters not only when you become pastor but it matters right now. Are you investing in your future church by being a good lay-leader now?
Now that I’ve ticked everyone off, let’s have some questions.
It's nice to be so close to such a big goal. It seems like such a daunting weight but I was able to handle it pretty well, which is encouraging.
I got just enough of a taste to know that I ought to be able to bust through the "3 plate barrier" within a few more weeks.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I passed out cards with a new picture of "the 5."
I also had Travis Bottcher share his testimony, which I've posted below.
Church, this is exactly why we serve. From set-up crew, to music and media to kid's ministry - everyone has played a part in Travis' journey toward Christ.
If you weren't there last night, let me say again, thank you for your ministry. It's making an eternal difference.
I started coming to Trinity Family about a year ago, though my wife, Amy, and Billy have been coming since Trinity Family first started having services. She would go to small groups and Erin would come over to our house and they would have their own study group. I always had excuses why I couldn’t go though and some were actually legit, but some were a little bit of a stretch as far as excuses go. I guess I felt like I believed in God so why did I need to go to small groups. It was like I knew God and I believed in him so what more did I need.
Then for some reason one Sunday, I agreed to go to church with Amy and Billy. As soon as I walked in I met Donnie, Josh, and Nate, and though I was nervous because I knew they knew I had been avoiding this place. They were still genuinely excited to meet me or they all sure did a great job of acting.
I was introduced to a lot of people that day and I remember feeling so relaxed because I felt no pressure. Amy had always told me about the music and how great it was and how she would hear Donnie’s message and would come away feeling better. I would always think, yeah right, how can an hour and half do that much to you. But after I came that first time, I knew what she meant. As I left, Donnie told me how great it was to have me and I told him it was just the beginning.
Donnie and I started having weekly Bible study’s soon after and Aaron Holmes was with us at the beginning as I was going through some tough things personally which was also affecting me spiritually. I kept questioning and looking more and more into what the Bible was saying to me and what it meant in my life. At first, I felt like God was over there on the other side of the room. But as I kept learning and reading I realized he was only over there because I wasn’t letting him in. Donnie gives me a hard time about this but I can’t give total credit to Donnie for helping get me to this point and letting God into my life. At the beginning and still today, I listen and watch Joel Osteen, which not everyone likes or agrees with but he always has a positive spin on day to day things. So for me, during rough times in my personal life, it was good to hear some positive messages and feel like I wasn’t alone. I also feel like if I had not been opened up just that little bit by those positive messages, I would not have been receptive in meeting with Donnie and who really knows where I would be in my life right now.
Which brings me to one example of what Trinity Family has done for me, as a father and single dad at the moment, there is one Sunday that really sticks out in my mind? I brought Billy by myself for the first time that day and took him back with the other kids. He was a little hesitant at first, as he usually is (which he makes up for as soon as I leave I know) but he finally let me leave. After church I went and picked him up and asked him if he met any friends and he said “Hundreds”. That was awesome to hear and let me know that you all were doing a great job and I know you don’t hear it often enough. So thank you for all the great work you are doing.
I want to give you one more example of what Trinity Family has done for me. Two Saturday’s ago, Billy and I went to see Amy in the hospital and a few things happened and I was really frustrated with the situation. When I left I was like I should call Donnie because I need a positive spin on this and Joel Osteen’s music wasn’t doing it for me but it was 8 on a Saturday night. So I decided against it and stayed frustrated with the whole situation. At 8:36 (I looked it up on my cell phone) Donnie called me and I know I scared him when I answered by saying I was going to call you and I can’t believe you are calling me and went on and on and on explaining my situation with him. He listened and eventually calmed me down and found a positive spin which I would never have found. A year ago I would not have slept all night and would have been banging my head against the wall but that simple phone call he made out of the blue, helped me more than anyone knows, even Donnie.
In saying that, Donnie, I want to thank you for sticking with me and being there for me during my roller coaster ride of a life. Especially over the last 6 months, you have always been there to listen to me vent and help me with my anger and confusion towards my situations and towards God and have worked with me in trying to figure out why these things are happening. Trinity Family and you came into my life when I didn’t know I was going to need you but thankfully you both did because my life would be an even bigger mess right now. I have learned that I am not walking alone anymore. So thank you to you all and know you have changed my life which in turn is working to change Billy’s and hopefully Amy’s. Thank you!!!
Monday, March 10, 2008
Here's a rundown from yesterday.
- I was feeling quite sorry for myself at 8:20 when it looked like the trailer had no chance to make it to the school. But when we pulled into the Madison Elementary parking lot at 8:40, I thought, "if things are going this bad now, it probably means God's going to do some great stuff in our service." Which is EXACTLY what happened.
- Our Set-Up guys are FAST. In fact, my dad commented, "I love watching you guys, it's amazing to me."
- I had a good time helping in TF Kidz. It was fun watching the kids play together, sing together and interact with Pastor Andy's story.
- We had a LOT of first-time guests on Sunday and a couple return guests, too. One family came because their daughter is a classmate of AJ Boyd, who invited her to church "in our school." Emily Crow's best friend was at TFC, too. It was her first Sunday. Emily walked up and introduced her as "the top person on my Fave Five (actually 12) list." Church, that's what it's all about!
- It's an amazing privilege to have had my former Pastor, Dan Arnold, with us the past two Sundays. As I said last week, next to my dad, Dan has been the most significant evangelistic influence in my life. Dan is all about reaching people for Jesus. In fact, when he first became a pastor, he told God he'd quit if he ever went a year without leading someone to Jesus. That happened several years ago, so he took a year off, worked at Lowe's and ended up leading a lot of people to Christ at his job. WOW
- I can't describe how amazing it was to look across the cafeteria and see families embracing each other in prayer. It was incredible. I heard all kinds of amazing stories about what happened during this time, but they're probably too personal to share. But God was certainly moving in our congregation.
- We had one of our largest non-Easter crowds ever! Last Sunday was a big crowd, too. One family who was at TFC for their second time, told me they're sensing God ask them to make some big changes in their life so they can be a part of our church's mission.
- To read a great summary of Dan's teaching on Prayer, check out David Brush's blog.
This week has been a bit of a challenge to our portability. Last Sunday, our truck started acting up and we had to spend several hundred dollars to fix it.
And after this Sunday, we're going to have to spend more money to fix the jack on our trailer.
Since my dad was in town, I figured we'd give Brian and the trailer-pullers a break and pull the trailer for them. I originally put on the wrong hitch, the one that's too close to the ground. When I realized this, we had to start cranking the trailer back up to put on the hitch that sets higher off the ground. But, the jack handle was really stiff, needed oil and was so hard to turn, it was killing me. Just as dad said, "this thing's going to break" the handle snapped off.
This was a scary as the Sunday the key broke off in our padlock. Thankfully, the tongue was up high enough that we jacked it up (with a car jack) just a bit more and were able to hook it onto the trailer hitch. With the help of the pipe wrench that's been in the truck since the key incident, we were able to lower it back down over the ball on the trailer hitch. But the jack was still dragging on the ground, so my dad used a brick and some baling wire (the number one tool of a farmer) and we were able to 'fix' it.
The trailer didn't get to the school until about 8:40 but we were still set up with time to spare.
Our set-up guys are incredible.
This is one more example of why I should just stick to preaching!
You can read the article here.
Harmony coached my wife on starting her own outreach to exotic dancers, our Love Wins ministry. So, that means that this quote from Harmony in the article is referring to us. "It's exciting to see churches reaching out in communities nationally. It's easy to go overseas to help a girl in the sex trade, but what about the girls in our own backyard? We have to create an open-door policy in our churches that embraces those in the sex industry with the love of Christ."
Folks, that line is referring to our awesome church!
We're also getting support in April from New Life here in Gardner, Christ Community (our mother church) in Olathe and Burlington First Church of the Nazarene (my home church) in Burlington, IA.
Update: I emailed Harmony about this and she responded with, "Yep! You are one of the churches I had in mind when I said that! Thanks for being a part of this and for being faithful with it!"
Thursday, March 6, 2008
"Echoes of Easter" is the title of my Easter Sunday message and the picture tells a story we'll explain on Easter.
It's a great image! We'll be sending them to the printer today and we'll be passing them out on Sunday.
The only thing left to do is invite your friends!!!!
Monday, March 3, 2008
When young pastor Matt Brown announced he was supporting a ministry for women in the sex industry led by an x-stripper, he was expecting applause. Instead, he got cold stares and an e-mail inbox filled with angry letters. At issue was Heather Veitch, an x-stripper turned evangelist. She looked too much like a stripper and was leading Christian women into the dark world of strip clubs for so-called “outreach.” Capturing it all, was documentary filmmaker Bill Day for his new film “The Pussycat Preacher.”
“Most Christians know that Jesus spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors because that is where the word was needed. But believing the ideal is one thing and living the reality is another,” says Day.
“If we all took a vote on being Biblical versus being respectable , we would all vote for Biblical,” says theology expert Professor Sarah Sumner PhD from Azusa Pacific University in the film. “But the reality is many churches are more concerned with respectability.”
Pastor Greg Laurie from mega-church Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside was one of pastors who didn’t believe Heather’s method of winning souls was worth the risk. He warned Brown to stay away from Veitch.
“When a Pastor you look up to tells you something like that it’s scary,” Brown confesses. “I’m a pastor and I am supposed to love people. But I didn’t love strippers. What Heather did was she birthed that in me and my congregation.”
Instead of backing away from Heather, Pastor Brown put up $50,000 of church money to support the ministry. But in no time at all, a rumor got started that the $50,000 was being used by Brown to buy lap dances for himself. Brown suddenly found himself on the verge of losing his church facility housed on the campus of Southern California Baptist University.
For her part, Heather Veitch claims she is winning souls and that is what matters. For evidence, she has the documentary which shows a number of strippers making their first venture into church. “Now comes the hard part,” Heather smiles.
Day says the film is not rated but very ‘’PG’’ It has no nudity or offensive language. It will be available on DVD, pay to download , or ‘’watch free’’ with advertising at the film website http://www.pussycatpreacher.com/ starting Feb 15.
Seems like something we might do at TFC.
You can pick an hour time slot at the blog or by signing up at the welcome table on Sunday morning.
Here's the 40 hours of prayer blog. link
Here are two emails I got from leaders:
Our group (16 people) met tonight. Again, very good discussion.
There was a universal appreciation for Dan and how he presented the material. We heard (and made) comments like: "that was an ah-ha moment ..."; "...the examples/stories were very pertinent..." and "I never thought of it (prayer) that way."
Of the seven (7) main points, the standouts mentioned by our group were: "Effective Prayer is SPECIFIC," "Effective Prayer requires PARDON/FORGIVENESS," and "Effective Prayer will produce SPIRITUAL PASSION."
I just wanted to take a minute to summarize our group meeting tonight. We started with a recap and discussion about the sermon. I was really hoping that by the end of the evening we would be able to make some sort of commitment to each other as prayer partners. Something incredible happened after a general discussion. We all confessed that our communication with God was lacking. Then we made a plan for how we could revive our commitment to prayer and build our relationship with ourselves. We had trouble hashing out details because there wasn't much time, but eventually we decided to privately write specific requests and trade with each other (woman to woman, man to man). This was the most meaningful small group meeting so far. I ...We are excited to listen to what God has to tell us!
And David Brush posted this link
I also got this email today:
This past Sunday was probably one of the most effective services I've attended in my life.
Finally, another person emailed to say that though they've been meaning to for awhile, they were finally able to make it to their first small group meeting on Sunday night and "enjoyed myself thoroughly."
Since all I saw was the front door as they went in and out, I'll let my sweet wife share her story from Friday night.
This month's trip to the clubs was the most fun yet! Each time we arrive now, people greet us with big grins. I finally remembered to ask the name of the door guy at End Zone. He smiled and replied that he can't remember any of that stuff either becuase he works so many jobs. We also got to talk to Penny and Angela for a little while. These two ladies are managers at the club. We found out that it was Angela's birthday when a guy came up and said, "See, someone else remembered." He was talking about the fact that we brought chocolate dipped strawberries. We actually didn't know it was her birthday though... When I asked Tammy how everyone was doing, she said just fine. Then she told me that she has mentioned to the girls to call us if they need to talk. She talked about the cards that we put in the bags with our information on them. That's good news!
When we got to Bonita Flats, the strawberries were a hit! As soon as we walked in the door, we offered them to the door guy. One of the girls was sitting right next to him and jumped up to talk to us. Her face was really beaming. We introduced ourselves and she told us her name and smiled and thanked us for coming and bringing gifts. She grabbed a strawberry while we were chatting. Then we walked into the club and the strawberries were a magnet. Three other girls came over to get a strawberry. We talked for about 5 minutes. One of the girls kept saying how sweet it is that we bring gifts all the time. She mentioned the jars with cookie mix and how she and her daughter baked them together. Another girl kept going on and on about the strawberries and how she LOVED them. We offered to set the tray up on the bar, but they said they would take them to the back so that they could eat them all!
Thanks to Sarah and Aaron Holmes and Elizabeth Diddle for their gift of these fabulous strawberries!
Sunday, March 2, 2008
- I like the fact that we can change things up on a Sunday morning. We didn't have any music today. Instead of singing, we spent the response time in prayer. I asked someone who is new to TFC what they thought about the change. She told me, "it was good, but don't do it often, I love your music."
- I'm proud of the fact that rather than just talking about prayer, we actually prayed! Everyone talks about prayer, we took time this morning to pray. And we're going to be doing it more next Sunday, you don't want to miss it. Dan was telling me about what we'll be doing and he said, "sometimes God just does awesome things when we become more intentional about prayer."
- Nate told me after church, "we didn't screw up the music today." I added, "and we had good preaching." We had no music and a guest preacher.
- It's an awesome privilege to have my former pastor preach at my church. As I said when I introduced Pastor Dan; his example was a HUGE reason I developed a passion for unchurched people. The only person more influential in my calling into pastoral ministry, with a passion for reaching the lost, is my dad.
- Here's where I really want to brag about TFC. Since we didn't have any music to set up or practice this morning, Zach, Chris, David and Nate all went to observe the set-up procedures of another church that meets in a school to see what they could learn. This is a great church. We're very similar to them in style and ministry approach, we're just on a smaller scale than them. Their church was launched several years ago with a couple hundred people, several hundred thousand dollars (!!!) and two full-time staff. So, yes, we're a bit smaller operation than them.
And yet, every one of the four guys who went came back saying, "we're more efficient than them, I wouldn't trade anything we do for what they do." The only exception is their lighting system. They have a $5,000 (!!!!) lighting system that blows our can lights away, but our sound and media is just as 'powerful' and even more efficient. Turns out that Chris was giving pointers to their full-time music guy.
I say this not to put down that church, they're an awesome church, but to brag on TFC!
The talent we have in our church is amazing! And I know of church plants that have paid twice what we paid for our sound/media systems and literally have half the quality.
- And what else is cool is that while four of our media/sound guys were observing another church, we had 5 guys still at our school, setting up the sound and media that we needed for the day. So our talent pool is several people deep. Holding down the homefront were Josh, Scott, Philip, Caleb and Justin.
- He's been gone for awhile, but today's trip to that church made me want to give a shout-out to my good friend Emanuel Reinbold. God has since moved him onto pastoral ministry in Nebraska (where they really need Jesus - right, Joe) but his hard work in our early days is still paying dividends for our set-up process and sound system.
Yeah, our church rocks!!!