Pawn Shop Evangelism

Yesterday at the end of church services I met a new young couple. Been in town for several years, first time at Mt Vernon (and church in general in quite some time). Married for three days. The husband came up to say that he enjoyed the services and that they were planning on coming back. Always fascinated with where people come from and how they connected with our church, I asked him how they heard about our church. And that’s when I heard about the pawn shop.

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The other day this new husband was at a local pawn shop buying bullets. (I’m not from the South but apparently this is a normal occurrence). While he was there he started talking with an older gentleman who happened to go to our church. Both are veterans. At the end of the conversation the older vet invited the younger vet to our church and told him he’d be looking for him. And here they came.

Simple. Easy. Life changing. Think about the simplicity of it all. You’re at a store buying something. Instead of just focusing on the purchase your eyes are opened to the opportunities around you. God brings someone into your path with whom you have a connection. Rather than just talk about the similarities you pivot the conversation and invite them to church. That’s all this older veteran did.

Now here’s where it gets fun. Let’s play this scenario out: the couple is married now for a total of four days. A brand new marriage. They love Mt Vernon and decide to plug in. They are surrounded by healthy mentoring couples who help them build a marriage that stands the test of time. This young couple will most likely have kids, who will now grow up surrounded by the truth in church. Generations potentially will be affected by one simple conversation while buying bullets at a pawn shop.

Today isn’t an ordinary Monday. God has a divine appointment for you to change the spiritual trajectory of someone you’ll come into contact with. Don’t miss it!

Creating Contagious Communities of Hope

Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today. If you have hope, you can endure the greatest trial, walk through the deepest valley, hold on in the depths of despair. If you take away hope you’re finished, doomed to wander aimlessly through the arid wasteland that life can sometimes be. Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today.

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The driving vision of Mt Vernon is creating contagious communities of hope. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His work on the cross, and more importantly his resurrection from the dead, gives us hope. Through Jesus we have hope for a home. We can belong. We are not orphaned in this universe. Our Heavenly Father calls us his own and adopts us into his family through the sacrifice of his son Jesus. We belong.

Through Jesus we have hope to overcome. We can change. We don’t have to remain mired in our current circumstances. We have the power of Almighty God living inside of us, breathing new life and new power into us. We are transformed. We can overcome. We can change. Through Jesus we have hope for a purpose. We matter. We were created on purpose for a purpose. Our lives are infused with meaning simply because we exist. In the eyes of our Creator, we are beautiful, purpose-filled, majestic souls worth the sacrifice of his only Son. We matter.

And through Jesus we have hope for eternity. This world is not the end. This life is not all that there is. By conquering death and the grave, Jesus ransomed us from death and secured for us a future glory that will make this world pale in comparison. In Jesus our future is bright. In Jesus our eternity is secured. Because of Jesus we have hope, therefore we do not lose heart.

If you strip everything else away, it’s the hope we have in Jesus that drives everything we do. And that’s why our unifying vision is creating contagious communities of hope.

Creating Contagious Communities

The battlecry of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Over the past two days we’ve looked at what it means to create and what it means to live in community. Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be contagious.

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The definition of contagious is: (of an emotion, feeling, or attitude) likely to spread to and affect others. That should be an obvious adjective for the church, but many times it’s not. Growing up I was a part of churches that had drawn the circle around a group of people and said in effect, “This is enough; this is all we are going to reach.” I’ve had the heartbreaking experience of seeing friends come to Christ but then be rejected by the church because they didn’t fit the ‘church mold.’ They were good enough for Jesus; they just weren’t good enough for the church.

At Mt Vernon, we never want to draw the circle around those in the room and say, “this is enough.” We want to be contagious. This passion drives the way we present ourselves, the language we use, the songs we sing, and the sermons I preach. We approach church with the mindset every week that God is actively drawing people to himself. He’s actively working in our community, and so should we.

So we invite, we bring our friends and loved ones and even those we’ve just met. We have medically-trained doctors sitting next to recovering alcoholics, and just about everyone in between. We go overboard with our Host Team (guest services) to ensure that everyone knows they’re welcome here. You can’t walk through our doors without being greeted six times. We’re a bunch of saved people that have been transformed by the love of Jesus. It’s a love we can’t keep to ourselves. We’re contagious.

Creating Communities

The unifying vision of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Yesterday I talked about what it means to create. Today I want to talk about community.

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Culture today is overwhelmed with an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The digital revolution of the past two decades was intended to bring people together in new and exciting ways. Email, Instant Messenger, Text Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. In one sense, we are more connected than ever before. And yet, technological connectivity is a poor facade for true community. We were created to do life together. We were wired to live in community. God models that in his own being with the trinity. It’s why humans have always been intrinsically drawn together in relationships. It’s why the worst form of punishment given out to criminals is solitary confinement. We were created for community.

At Mt Vernon, we’re intentional about creating community. Community isn’t something that happens when we sit in rows. Simply occupying the same space together for an hour on Sundays isn’t enough. True, deep-rooted, face-to-face community happens over time through conversations. Community happens as relationships build equity and trust together. That can’t be done sitting in rows. It has to be done sitting in circles. LifeGroups (our moniker for small groups) are the lifeblood of our church. It’s the foundation of our community. Small groups of believers, gathering together in rooms and homes, sharing meals together, opening the Word together, doing life together, creating contagious communities of hope.

Community is where church happens. It’s where we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s where we can practically show Christ’s love to those in need. Community isn’t flashy; it’s more mundane than spectacular, more marathon than sprint. But when life (and church) is lived in community, we fulfill the vision of the New Testament church and bring glory to the One who created us for community.

The Church and the Republican Party

After six years of an increasingly unpopular president, the nation decided to vote the opposition party into power in both houses of Congress as a statement of dissatisfaction with the brokenness of Washington. That happened in 2006 when Democrats took control of Congress in George W. Bush’s final two years in office. To prove the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:9 that there is ‘nothing new under the sun,’ the same thing happened yesterday as America gave control of both houses of Congress to the Republicans as a statement of its dissatisfaction with the direction of the country under the leadership of Barack Obama.

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And yet this victory for the Republicans doesn’t come without danger. For the past six years, Republicans have been the minority party united by one thing: opposition to Barack Obama. Their whole platform has been the simple strategy of being anti-Obama. People put the GOP in power not because they necessarily believe in the Republican brand as much as they’re disenchanted with the Democrats. So as the talking heads are wisely spouting today, the big question now is: can Republicans lead? Can they be pro-solution as much as they’ve been anti-problem? We don’t need a party to simply point out the problems. We need leaders that can offer and implement solutions.

And here’s where the church comes in. In many ways, the evangelical church has mirrored the strategy of the Republican party for the past six years. The church is seen as anti-world and anti-culture. We paint ourselves as victims of a never-ending onslaught of depravity, heavy-handed government and the ‘nefarious’ gay rights movement. The church is known primarily for what it’s against.

And yet in spite of all that, guests and visitors are still flocking to churches today, not so much because they believe in God as much as they’re disenchanted with the world and desperately searching for answers. So, like the Republican party, the same question is before churches today: will we be anti-problem or pro-solution? Will we continue to rail against the sin of the world as our only platform, or will we be about solutions, about hope, about the gospel? People are coming to our churches looking for us to lead. They already know the problems out there. They’re looking for answers. The ball is in our court. What will we do?

Is This a Compliment or a Put-Down About Our Church?

Recently the staff at Mt Vernon got together and talked about who we’d met the previous Sunday. It’s a common occurrence for us, trying to keep up with names and faces as they come in. But I got tickled (yes, tickled. I never got tickled before moving to the South but apparently that’s what we do down here) when one of my staff told me about someone they met. After she finished describing the encounter she said:

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“And I could tell that they were new to Mt Vernon.”

My response: “How could you tell they were new?”

She said, “Oh I could tell they were new because they dressed up nice and brought their Bibles!”

At that point I got officially tickled. I love it! How do you know who stands out? Look for the ones dressed up in their Sunday best with their oversized Bibles in their hands! Now, many well meaning Christians might take this as a put-down of our church, but I take it as a compliment. We intentionally dress down, like a family reunion, because for us formality is a barrier to relationships. Informality breeds community. Part of that informality is the fact that when our sermons (which are obviously very biblically-based) are preached, the Scripture is available on the worship guides, on the screen, and on our YouVersion Bible app live event. We don’t care how they get into the Word, as long as they’re in it.

We have over 60 Baptist churches in a thirty mile radius aiming for the dressed up Christians with the Bibles in their hands. Mt Vernon is going for the rest of the population: the dechurched and unchurched who are still seeking God but are burned by and/or skeptical of organized religion. When my staff member made this comment, I realized that for better or for worse, we’d hit our mark. The super-church-looking folks stand out in our crowd. Amen!

QUESTION: What do you think? Is this a compliment or a put-down for our church?

Add a Little Crazy to Your Life

This past Sunday at Mt Vernon I told the church to “add a little crazy to your life.” Looking at John 2when Jesus cleared the temple, I talked about how Jesus was so fanatical about his Father’s name and his Father’s honor that when he saw his Father’s house being desecrated, he went off.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17

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To the world he looked a little crazy, but a true fanatic will always look crazy to the world.

As Jesus fanatics, we’re always going to look a little crazy to the world. It’s unavoidable. And that’s okay. Rather than trying to conform and fit in, I think we should be intentional about “adding a little crazy” to our lives. Let the world know how much we love Jesus. Make our devotion to Jesus blatantly obvious to all we encounter.

I asked the question at the end: how specifically can you “add a little crazy” to your life? Through the YouVersion Bible app, our members were able to answer the question personally and submit their answers anonymously. Here are a few of their responses. Here’s how my folks from my church can “add a little crazy” to their lives:

  • Get up with my wife at 5am to study the Word together.
  • Stop drinking and partying and spend more time in the book.
  • Go on a mission trip out of the country. Start a private protective recovery home for girls and women rescued out of the sex trafficking trade.

That’s my kind of crazy!

QUESTION: How can you “add a little crazy” to your life?

The Greatest Compliment Someone Gave Our Church

“What a big church!”

“What great preaching!”

“What amazing worship!”

“What great buildings!”

8.28.14Those are all nice things a church can hear. But the other day I heard one of the best compliments our church could get. It came from an unchurched, unbelieving, alcoholic lesbian. I met her recently through the Recovery House, a local in-house rehabilitation facility (drug and alcohol addictions) that allows me to come and talk with the ladies there once a month. Every Sunday they make the journey to Mt Vernon church. 9:00 am, second row, every week.

As I was getting to know one of the new ladies there, she told me her story: she was born up north but raised in Mississippi. Her parents didn’t go to church and she went very sporadically growing up. Never considered herself a “believer.” She wrote church off for good eight years ago when she came out as a lesbian. Years go by and she decided to enter rehab to conquer an alcohol addiction that had grown out of control. Upon arriving to Recovery House she learned that the girls go to church every week. She freaked out a little and asked if she could get out of it. Everyone has to go to church, but she could sit in the van if she’d like.

Grudgingly, she made her way onto our campus for the first time two weeks ago. Naturally apprehensive, she told me how surprised she was that she actually liked it. It wasn’t like the other churches she visited growing up. The next Saturday night, talking to her parents on the phone, she caused their heads to turn on a swivel when she told them, “I’m actually looking forward to church tomorrow.”

Isn’t that great! She still has a long way to go. She’s not a believer (yet). She is in the beginning stages of conquering a difficult addiction. She has a lifestyle that doesn’t line up with traditional evangelical beliefs. And yet she feels comfortable enough at Mt Vernon to start exploring a relationship with God. I’ll take that kind of compliment (and those kinds of people) any day!

5 Things the Church Can Learn From Jimmy Fallon

I’ve got a morning routine. I drop off my oldest son at school each weekday, then I stop by my gym just down the street for a quick workout before heading to the office. I’ll spend ten minutes on the elliptical, partly to get a good heart rate going, but really it’s an excuse to watch last night’s monologue from the Tonight Show on my smart phone.

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I never used to watch the Tonight Show. No disrespect to Jay Leno, but I just didn’t connect with him. Since taking over, Jimmy Fallon has taken the Tonight Show to new heights, leading in the traditional Nielson ratings as well as online ratings. Always trying to learn from others, here are five things I’ve learned from Jimmy Fallon (and what the church can learn too):

1. The core remains the same. From Johnny Carson to Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, the core remains the same: entertainment and making people laugh. For the church, whether it’s traditional, contemporary, liturgical or charismatic, the core should remain the same: leading people to follow and worship Jesus.

2. Jimmy Fallon brought a 20th century show into the 21st century. Many of the elements that Jay Leno did rolled over into Jimmy Fallon’s tenure, just with new names. Jay’s monologue was “what’s in the news.” Since many young people don’t watch the news, Jimmy uses the phrase “Here’s what people are talking about,” referencing the importance of social media. Jay Leno did a bit called “Headlines,” where people sent in funny advertisements from the newspaper. Jimmy does “Screengrabs,” where people pull funny photos off their computer. The essence remains the same, just updated for a new generation. It’s the same essence behind “worship wars,” updating worship music to a style that connects with a younger generation.

3. Jimmy Fallon makes the show interactive. One of Jimmy’s most successful bits is called “Hashtags,” where he sends out a hashtag on Twitter and allows viewers to send in funny tweets with the hope of making it on the air. Today’s generation doesn’t want to simply watch a performance, they want to interact and feel like they’re taking part in what’s going on. This should inform how a pastor preaches and interacts with the crowd during his message. I’ve recently started using YouVersion’s “Live Event” option on their Bible app for their sermon notes, which allows members to take notes, go to church web links and answer questions in real time.

4. Jimmy doesn’t just talk to guests, he plays with them. The traditional late night format was to interview a number of guests with a musical number at the end. Some of Jimmy’s most searched for web clips are of him playing with guests, whether it’s catchphrase with Artie Lange, pictionary with Wiz Kalifa, or a kayak race with Cameron Diaz. The audience loves to see Jimmy and celebrities play together. In churches, we’ve lost the element of fun. While it should never overpower the reverence of worship, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun in church. It’s an incredible way to break down walls and build community.

5. Jimmy Fallon genuinely enjoys what he’s doing, and you can’t help but get caught up in his boyish enthusiasm. In a world of fakeness, Jimmy is the real deal. He loves what he does, and you can’t help but get swept up in it. As a pastor, your enthusiasm, your passion, your enjoyment of what you do each week will be broadcast loud and clear to your audience. You can’t manufacture it. You can’t fake it. If you genuinely love what you do and who you’re doing it with, people will naturally be drawn to it.

QUESTION: What else can the church learn from Jimmy Fallon?