Is Your Church the Pro Bowl or the Super Bowl?

Last night was the NFL Pro Bowl, not that you watched it. I didn’t. I’m a rabid football fan, and the thought never even crossed my mind. Couldn’t remember where it was on tv. I looked at ESPN’s website, the (theoretically) go-to site for all things sports. There wasn’t even a link on the main page. NBA, NCAA basketball and the Australian Open were apparently more important events to cover.

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What makes the Pro Bowl so forgettable and the Super Bowl so memorable? They’re both football games. They’re a week a part. They’re both in the same venue. Cities pay tens of millions of dollars for the privilege of hosting the Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl was on the brink of cancellation a few years ago. That’s how few people care about the Pro Bowl. So what makes the Pro Bowl so forgettable and the Super Bowl so memorable? And what’s the application for the church today?

1. The Pro Bowl doesn’t count for anything. The Super Bowl counts for everything. The Pro Bowl is a way to highlight the best individual players at each position, but the game itself doesn’t count for anything. Everyone knows that. The Super Bowl, however, counts for everything. It’s the one prize that 32 teams are vying for each season. For the church: What’s at stake when your church meets each Sunday? Do people get the sense that eternity hangs in the balance, or is it just another Sunday routine?

2. The players aren’t playing for real at the Pro Bowl. The players are playing for keeps at the Super Bowl. The number one concern of the players during the Pro Bowl is ‘don’t get hurt.’ They play it safe, not wanting to put their salary in jeopardy for a meaningless game. The fans see that instantly. The Super Bowl is the polar opposite. You can’t keep the players off the field. They’ll play through pain, through sprains, through broken bones if need be. They’re playing for keeps. For the church: Is there a fire at your church? Is your church playing offense, taking new territory for the Kingdom, pushing back the darkness and actively spreading the hope of the gospel? Or is your church playing defense, keeping things the same, keeping the big givers happy, not rocking the boat?

3. Pro Bowl teams are nothing more than a collection of individuals. The Super Bowl contestants are teams that have been through the fire together. The Pro Bowl players are all-stars, but they’re not a team. They play like a group of players wanting to make the highlight reel and display their individual talents rather than win together. The teams that make the Super Bowl have been refined by the fire of the regular and post-season and play as one unit. Their teamwork, in fact, is what got them to this point. For the church: Does the church staff play as a team? Do they put the greater good ahead of their individual ministries? Are they more concerned with sacrificing for the good of the team or building their individual resume for the church down the road?

If you’re part of a church that meets weekly, be sure that it looks more like the Super Bowl than the Pro Bowl.

The First and Most Important Thing We Talk About at Every Staff Meeting

No, it’s not Bible or prayer. Although those are two very spiritual answers, the primary goal of Mt Vernon’s staff meeting* is not to have a Bible study, but to plan and maintain the health and growth of the church. As a guy that’s worked at a local church for thirteen years now, I’ve been to a myriad of staff meetings. There are basics you need to cover: the upcoming calendar, events, allocation of resources, any conflicts between staff members or programs, and of course, depending on the week, you deal with membership complaints.

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But the first thing we talk about every week at Mt Vernon is incredibly intentional. It’s long. Sometimes it’s over the top. Yesterday it took up half of our time. The first and most important thing we talk about at every staff meeting* is people. Plain and simple. We talk about first-time guests. We figure out who they came with, who they’re related to, who else knows them. We share stories and victories (big and small) that we’ve seen in our church over the past week. We talk about needs and pray for them.

This past Sunday there were over a dozen new families that we identified as first-time guests. It took us an hour to finish our “people” portion of our meeting. But the reason we always start with people is because at the end of the day the church is not made up of programs, resources or buildings. The church is made up of people. People are always primary in importance.

 

 

*I use the term “staff meeting” because it’s common and familiar to most reading this post. For years that’s what we called it. About three months ago we went uber-hip and changed the name from “staff meeting” to “team collective” (stealing the idea from a conference we went to). Sounds much cooler, doesn’t it?

A Simple Prayer That Will Revolutionize Your Week

If you’re looking to revolutionize the rest of a week, here’s a simple prayer you can pray.

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35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

Matthew 9:38 is a famous verse calling on us to pray that God would send workers into the harvest field of the world. Here’s the prayer, with a twist: before you leave your house today, tell God that you’re the answer to Matthew 9:38. Don’t just pray for someone else. Tell God you’re the answer, “I’m ready to be used today. I’m ready to work in the harvest field. Use me today.”

Pray that prayer everyday this week, and watch for the opportunities that God will place in front of you. Warning! If your prayer reflects your heart in this, your week will never be the same!

The (Real) Reason Ohio State Won the Championship Last Night

What Ohio State did was beyond impressive over the past two weeks. They won a national championship with their third string quarterback. That doesn’t happen! The Arizona Cardinals limped into the NFL playoffs with their third string quarterback and were quickly dispatched by a sub-500 team in the first round of the postseason. Ohio State took their third string quarterback and knocked off the number one and two teams in the nation. That’s unheard of.

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So for the first time since 2002, Ohio State is the college football champion. You can easily dissect numerous strategies, personnel matchups and play executions to find a reason they were triumphant, but I’ve got a simpler explanation: the reason Ohio State won the championship last night was because they had the chance to do so. Under the old BCS system, it would have been Florida State vs Alabama in the championship game, the two teams that lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Two and a half years ago, in the summer of 2012, the group of NCAA presidents approved this sweeping change to the college playoff format. It was new. It was controversial. It was change. The old system had brought in millions of dollars to the universities. And yet they changed it. They changed the number of teams, they changed the formula that chose the playoff teams, they changed the structure of postseason college football.

The results have been incredible to say the least. The college football world was transfixed throughout the season, and a red-hot Ohio State rose up to win the championship in a convincing fashion. And they had the opportunity to do so because a group of leaders were willing to change.

Now I don’t even have to move an inch to make application for the church today. A church that refuses to change is a church that will fade into obscurity. Now you know and I know that I’m not talking about changing the Bible or changing the gospel. That stays the same. What I’m talking about is the courage to embrace the change that brings a church out of the 1950s into the millennium in which we now live. It’s the courage to redirect energies and funnel finances to relentlessly reach the next generation. It’s the courage stop propping up legacy programs that lost their effectiveness decades ago and try new things until you find something that works. That church, the church with the courage to change, that’s the church that will win championships in the years to come.

Why the Bible Still Applies 2000 Years Later

1.12.15If you’ve grown up going to church, adhering to the Bible seems natural. To the rest of humanity, it’s an oddity. The Bible was written thousands of years ago. It’s not just one book, but a collection of books, written by dozens of authors over a period of 1500 years. There’s narrative, history, poetry, letters and prophecy. And it’s all ancient. It was written before automobiles, electricity, the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of the Americas, and about any other relevant thing you can think of. Humanity has progressed lightyears in the areas of science, medicine, the arts, you name it. We have cats that can play the piano on YouTube. We’re about as advanced as you can imagine.

So how can we make the claim that these ancient letters and books that make up the Bible still apply to us today? Simple: Because human nature doesn’t change. Solomon tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The names of the problems will change, but the nature of the problems never change. Love, greed, sexual immorality, forgiveness, justice, mercy. These are all universal elements in the human story. As long as humans have existed, we’ve struggled with greed, fallen into temptation, aspired to goodness, coveted what we didn’t have.

The Bible isn’t merely a guide for the 21st century. It’s a revelation of the God who doesn’t change to humans whose nature is essentially the same as it’s been since the Fall. The truths the Bible reveals are universal, standing the test of time, far weightier than the light and momentary wisps of modernity. It’s a bedrock from which to build a life and a legacy that will last far after are moment in the sun has gone. That’s why the Bible will apply as long as Christ tarries from this earth.

“Jesus Can Do Anything!” (The Pivotal Difference When Teaching Children the Bible)

Jesus can do anything!” Those absolutely precious words were the sum total of what my 5-year-old told me he learned in church Sunday. And I loved it!

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Walking out to the car Sunday after church, I asked my son Shepherd the typical questions a parent asks, “How was church?” “What did you learn?” “Did you play with your friends?” As most parents know, some weeks you’ll only elicit monosyllabic responses. But this past Sunday, Shepherd was a motor mouth. He went on and on about how Jesus healed a blind man (John 9:1-12). In true 5-year-old-boy fashion, his favorite part was the part where Jesus spit in the ground and made mud to put in the man’s eyes. Mud? Spit? You just told the coolest story ever to a 5-year-old boy.

I was happy when Shepherd told me the story. But I was ecstatic with what he told me next, “Jesus can do anything!” That was the takeaway. That was the one phrase I know that the DiscoveryZone leaders drilled into my son so that he would remember after the lesson was over. It was the one big idea they wanted him to walk away with. And he did.

Here’s the pivotal difference when teaching children the Bible: It’s one thing to teach children a Bible story. It’s good. It’s positive. It’s truth. But it’s quite another thing to teach children what those Bible stories mean. That’s the pivotal difference. I don’t just want Shepherd to know a collection of true stories. I want him to know what they mean, the biblical principles, the timeless truths, the practical application. We don’t do our children the greatest service possible when we simply tell them Bible stories but not what they mean.

The anchor that I want planted deep inside my son from his earliest memories is not just mud and spit, not just a collection of stories. I want him to know timeless truths. I want him to know that “Jesus can do anything!” Don’t just teach children Bible stories. Teach them what those stories mean.

 

One Thing to Remember Before You Leave the House This Morning

If you’re anything like me, then the holidays are definitely over for you. All the rest that built up over Christmas and New Year’s dissipated in a day. Yesterday it was back to work, back to the routine, back to the grind. Today the schedule is screaming at you, you’re operating on less sleep than you should, and you feel as if you’re in danger of stumbling through the rest of the week.

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Before you walk out of your door, remember this: if you are a follower of Jesus, then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. He changes everything! “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us powerlove and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

  • You’re walking out of your house today with power. The same power that created the universe. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The same power that created new life in you. That power, in you. You’re not defeated, you’re by very definition victorious.
  • You’re walking out of your house today with loveThe same love that sent Jesus to the cross for you. The same love that has forgiven your transgressions and sins. The same love that compels you to spread this good news to the world. The God who is love, living inside of you. You’re not starved for affection, under appreciated or neglected. You are by very definition overflowing with love.
  • And you’re walking out of your house today with self-discipline. The self-discipline to resist temptation and life a life that pleases God today. The self-discipline to not just endure the next eight hours at work or school but to own it. The self-discipline to be the person you know God created you to be. You’re not a slacker. You’re not lazy. You have the self-discipline of the God of the Heavens living inside of you.

Remember that today. Shake off those cobwebs. Hold your head up and look expectantly at the world around you. God placed you here, on the earth, today, for a reason. Don’t endure today, own it. Don’t walk in defeat, run in victory. Don’t allow the worries and burdens of this world keep you down. You are victorious. You have the Spirit of the Creator God inside of you. Live like it!

The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Two Things You’ll Need to Truly Change in 2015

This is the day of resolutions: I’m going to lose weight! I’m going to eat healthier! I’m cutting up my credit cards! I’m finally quitting smoking! Are they the same resolutions you made last year? What’s going to make this year any different?

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In his groundbreaking book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg talks through the Golden Rule of habit change: if you keep the same cue and the same reward, a new (better) routine can be inserted. It’s what has made Alcoholics Anonymous so successful over the decades. But in his research Duhigg found that merely changing a habit isn’t enough for long-term change. For lasting change, two essential things are needed: belief and community.

And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: if we keep the same cue and same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group . . . Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people. (The Power of Habit, 92-93)

Lasting change happens with belief in someone or something greater than yourself. Lasting change happens in community. That’s why the driving passion of Mt Vernon church is creating contagious communities of hope. We can change. We can change together. We can change together because of the hope we have in Jesus.

So to all those resolutions you’re making today, let me add one more to your list: get yourself in church!

And Then She Told Me She Was a Lesbian . . . (Repost 2014 Favorites)

5.27.14Recently I got a chance to practice what I preach in the most unusual and uncomfortable fashion. One of the great privileges I have is working with a group of ladies at an in-treatment facility center in Columbus who are dealing with a host of addiction issues. One of the things I try and do is help the ladies dig deeper underneath their addiction to discover what’s really driving it. We’ve talked through traumatic events, bad-guy boyfriends, abortions, abusive homes, you name it.

One of the ladies at the facility for the past few months (we’ll call her “Leslie”) has been a tough nut to crack. She shows no emotion. She doesn’t talk. The most I’ve been able to get out of her is that she doesn’t go to church. She seems to be still deciding whether recovery is for her. Recently I was leading the ladies through the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. It’s a classic story of grace and forgiveness, perfect for a group of ladies who are dealing with guilt and shame.

During a question and answer time afterwards, Leslie spoke up unsolicited for the first time in two months (believe me I’d tried my hardest to get her to engage). She put the core truths of that story to the test. She said, “Is it true that you can’t be forgiven if you don’t want to change because that’s what my friends told me because I’m a lesbian.” And . . . things . . . got . . . weird.

Maybe it was just me. There’s no reason why it should have gotten weird. We had literally been discussing abortion, self-mutilation and crack cocaine in the previous ten minutes. If there’s an issue out there, these girls have lived through it. But homosexuality, that’s the ‘unforgivable’ sin for evangelicals today. Adultery is frowned upon, alcoholism is scoffed at, but homosexuality is, well, just read the newspapers. Watch the culture war being raged between the church and society over tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

Leslie’s quiet, but she knew what she was doing. She dropped that bomb on me to see how the preacher would react. If God forgave the adulterous woman, what about her? Did John 8 apply to her, or is homosexuality the ‘unforgivable’ sin? After Leslie threw that grenade into the middle of the room, the entire dynamic of the conversation shifted. They didn’t want to know about dinosaurs anymore (yes, that was a previous question), they wanted to know why the Bible was so out of touch with modern culture and why it condemned a lifestyle that everyone else seems to accept. If Jesus was so ‘loving’ and ‘forgiving’ (as they put it), why would he be so hateful to condemn the homosexual lifestyle? Especially if it’s something that you’re ‘born with’?

My response was . . . what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!!!

 originally posted May 27, 2014. You can read part 2 here.