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?

How to Spot the First-Time Guest at Your Church

Years ago I worked at a church that wanted to work on its outreach, so we brought in an outside consultant. We weren’t having a lot of first-time guests register each week, so we weren’t sure if any were actually coming. Our consultant came in for a “secret shopper” visit one Sunday (where someone comes to your church undercover to evaluate your services) and told us afterwards he had met six first-time guests. I was floored. I’d worked at the church for years and had never met anywhere close to six first-time guests on any Sunday.

8.11.14Knowing when a first-time guest is critically important for your church. You want to make sure you give an overwhelmingly good first impression. You want your pastor to go out of his way to meet them, to give them a few minutes of his time. A great first-impression can go a long way to ensuring that your first-time guests become regular attenders. But how can you tell who the first-time guests are? They don’t advertise it. They don’t wear a sign. They don’t tell anyone.

And then our consultant told us the secret. And it’s a secret that works. I’ve practiced it for years now, and if I’m intentional about it, it really helps me spot the first-time guest. He simply said, “It’s in the eyes.” If you make eye contact with those walking in your building, you’ll spot the first-time guests. They’re hesitant. They’re not sure. They have a bit of the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. They’ve never been to your church before and they don’t know where to go, but they usually don’t want to ask anyone for help. So they hesitate for a moment. That’s the giveaway.

With some practice, you can spot them. I used it to meet some first-time guests to our church yesterday. (I didn’t go out of my way to let them know I that I knew this was their first time, I just made sure to go out of my way to be friendly and cordial to them). How can you spot the first-time guest to your church? It’s in the eyes. Try it this week and see if you can spot them.

Five for Friday (8.8.14)

 

 

Here are a few articles to keep you learning through the weekend:

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8 Ways the Enemy Attacks Church – true words of wisdom from Thom Rainer.

Learning From Young Atheists: What Turned Them Off Christianity – great perspective!

Marco Rubio: Intolerance in the Name of Tolerance is Hypocrisy – grateful for a politician to stand up and say this.

Don’t Overthink It: The Power of an Invitation – if we truly ‘got’ this truth, our churches would never be the same!

The Single Man’s Journey to Sexual Happiness – I wish all of our single men could read this!

What All My Favorite Movies Have in Common

I am a movie fanatic. If there’s a great story playing on the big screen (or at least a decent story with a lot of things blowing up), then I’m there. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Gladiator – coolest ways to die in this movie
  • Braveheart – “Freedom!”
  • Dumb and Dumber – I have way too much of this movie memorized
  • Karate Kid – I’m not talking about the 2010 Jayden Smith nonsense. I’m talking old school, 1984 Ralph Macchio.
  • Avatar – simply an overwhelming movie
  • Harry Potter – not ashamed. Loved the books, loved the movies
  • Lord of the Rings/Hobbit – such an incredible adaptation of the books
  • The Blind Side – how can you not love The Blind Side?
  • Star Wars – huge fan. I’ve already committed to watching the next 743 movies that Disney will produce off this cash cow
  • Shawshank Redemption – When I see that movie on tv, I stop and watch the rest of it, no matter what I’m supposed to be doing

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There’s one theme that weaves throughout all of my favorite movies: it’s the theme of the underdog. Dictionary.com defines underdog as “A competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest. A person who has little status in society.” What is it about underdogs that make them so compelling? Why do we root for them so much?

I think at the end of the day it comes down to hope. Hope that if they can overcome their difficult circumstances, perhaps we can overcome ours as well. We root for the underdog because we identify with them. In a sense, we’re all underdogs.

At Mt Vernon we just started a brand new sermon series called “Underdogs,” where we’re looking at some of the greatest underdog stories in the Bible and where we’re discovering incredible truths about the God who loves to use underdogs. You can catch up on the first sermon here. If you’re in town, come check us out at 9:00 and 10:30 am, or you can watch online at www.mtvchurch.tv.  Hope to see you soon!

Look Around, They’re You’re Best Shot

Here’s something scary you can do the next time you’re at church: look around. Take some time during the service and look at those sitting around you. Pretend you’re stretching your neck muscles or something. Look at the older couple sitting two rows up. You can’t remember their names but you see them every week. There’s the weird guy that seems way too happy to be at church. There’s the family with teenagers where the son has been playing games on his iPhone the whole time. Then of course there’s the young family who exercise their constitutional right not to take their kids to the nursery. Motley crew, huh?

8.6.14Here’s what’s scary: they’re you’re best shot at experiencing the fullness of God. Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 3:

17 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Paul hits the same theme a few verses later:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-13,16.

Our best shot at attaining the fullness of God is in the midst of a biblically functioning church. Christianity isn’t an individual sport like golf, it’s a team sport like football or soccer. We rise and fall together. For better or for worse, your church, the body of believers that you belong to, are your best shot at attaining the fullness of God.