This is Why I Give Online

7.16.14I give online to my church twice a month, and I wish I could say giving online was for a more spiritual reason. Growing up in the church, I’ve always known what the Bible taught about giving a tithe (10% of your income, off the top, to the church), and there’s never been a time where I’ve really disagreed with it. It’s not my money, it’s God’s. I get that. God’s trying to break the power of greed in my life. I get that. The money I’m given is to be used to invest in the Kingdom both here and for eternity. I get that. I’m all about storing up for myself treasures in heaven.

And yet it took years for me to give faithfully, even after I became a full-time minister! Why? The power and lure of money was just too strong. There was always one more thing I wanted to buy. I obligated myself to a lifestyle beyond my means. Since giving online is a relatively new idea, for years I did it the old-fashioned way: drop a check in the offering plate when it came by. But that didn’t work for me. I never carry a checkbook with me. I’d wait till the end of the month to get all my other purchases out of the way, and would always find that I ran out of money before I ran out of month. Pretty soon I’d be six months behind on my tithe, and if I wrote a check to catch up it would bounce. All the while, I felt guilty because I knew better and wanted to be better.

And then online giving came along, and it’s been a salvation to me. This is why I give online: accountability. I need it for me. I get paid twice a month, on the 1st and 15th. I’ve got an automatic debit set up to give to my church twice a month, on the 2nd and 16th. The first thing that gets paid is my tithe. If I miss a week of church, it still comes out. It may not sound super spiritual, but I need that accountability to hold my feet to the fire and honor God the way I know I should.

And guess what? I’ve been faithfully tithing for years now, and I still have a nice house, still have cars and computers and toys, and our family still gets to go on vacation every year. I honor God with my tithe, and He’s been more than faithful to me. And online giving is how I’ve been able to do it.

Why Attending Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

7.15.14Maybe you did it Sunday. Woke up, got the kids looking decent, scrambled out the door a little late, snuck into the church service a few songs into it, but at least you didn’t miss the main part (the sermon). Maybe you stay for the last song, maybe you sneak out early to beat the traffic (or just to avoid another awkward conversation with “Sister Betty”). In and out. Smooth. Clean. Hazardous to your health.

I would make the argument that attending church can be hazardous to your spiritual health. You attend shows. You attend ball games. You’re not supposed to attend church. When you attend something, you sit and watch as a spectator. If you like it, you offer some applause, perhaps you pay to get in or make a donation, but that’s as far as your involvement and commitment go.

The picture we see of the early church is just the opposite. They didn’t just attend church services, they did life together. They broke bread in each others homes. They got involved in each other’s lives. They gave to those in need. They sacrificed for each other. They practiced biblical community. They were the church for each other.

There is a difference:

  • Attending church is about you. Being the church is about us.
  • Attending church is about getting. Being the church is about giving back.
  • Attending church is about meeting your needs. Being the church is about also meeting the needs of others.
  • Attending church is about being entertained. Being the church realizes that you’re not the audience, God is.
  • Attending church stays skin deep. Being the church goes deep into the lives of those around you.
  • Attending church will eventually dry up your soul. Being the church will enrich your soul and those around you.
  • Attending church is easy. Being the church takes work.
  • Attending church is optional. Being the church is not.

Don’t settle for attending church this Sunday. Be the church.

What the Church Can Learn from Chuck E. Cheese

chuck_e_cheeseLast week my family took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the mecca of children’s experiences: Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t just go there. We shut the place down. Three hours (and a fistful of tickets) later, we walked out of there full, victorious, and with a few cheap plastic toys that broke within an hour. But that’s beside the point.

On the drive home, I began to dwell on what elements in this restaurant would captivate the attention of my two-year-old for three hours. That’s quite a feat! (It’s also the only public restaurant we willingly take him to). The more I thought about it, I pulled out a few overarching principles that I think apply to the church:

1. It was fun. I say the words “Chuck E. Cheese” to my kids, and their eyes light up. Why? Because it’s fun. They get to run around, they get to play games, they have freedom to explore. Our kids would drag us to Chuck E. Cheese if they could. Fun isn’t a sin. Fun is fun. Is there an element of fun, of joy in our Children’s Ministries, in our churches?

2. It was interactive. Chuck E. Cheese is sensory overload for a kid. They literally impact all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). The kids don’t just sit and watch. They get up and do. They get to take part. A church will always better capture the hearts of children and families when those families get to do more than just “sit and watch.” Churches should work hard to engage all five senses.

3. It was simple. One token, one game. All games are one token. Simple enough for a toddler to understand. Some games were worth more, but for the sake of simplicity all games are one token. Simple sells. The lack of theological understanding and biblical foundation is only increasing with this generation. To reach them, we must start simply.

4. It was rewarding. My boys were laser-focused on winning those tickets. They didn’t just want to be entertained through the games, they wanted to win something. At church, how are we rewarding people? How are we enabling our people to participate in and celebrate the rewards of the Christian life? We should want them to know that all their sacrifice and hard work they’ve given to the church is worth it.

5. It was safe. My wife’s favorite aspect of Chuck E. Cheese was the check-in system. Our whole family got a unique stamp, and it was checked again before we went out. Our kids were safe to roam. That safety enabled my wife and I to enjoy the experience without worrying about our children’s safety. In today’s society, safety is king. A church must have a secure check-in system for preschoolers and children if they want to have any type of effective ministry.

QUESTION: What else can we learn from Chuck E. Cheese’s?

Five for Friday (6.27.14)

5Have a great weekend!

A Different Kind of Millennial Problem – Wouldn’t it be great to have this problem in all our churches?

How to Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language (And What to Avoid) – Great help for any marriage!

10 Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup – Great tool! Worth the read!

A Letter to Married Couples Who Are Struggling With Infertility – Great encouragement!

Where Do Millennials Attend Church? – More good insight into this pivotal generation for the church.

The Weirdest Way I Ever Saved a Church Member $700

200294162-001I’ve got a guy in my church named Kenny. I wish every church had a Kenny. This guy is great! Super faithful, naturally evangelistic, always looking to bring the least and the lost to church. One of our core values at Mt Vernon is that we “embrace the messes.” Kenny is one of the guys that leads that charge. He works in “the mess.” He’s a bail bondsman.

Kenny is constantly using his platform as a bail bondsman to tell people about Jesus and Mt Vernon Church. He figures that if he’s bailing them out of jail, they’re definitely looking for something more. Almost every week Kenny has someone new with him that he introduces me to. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Kenny: Josh, I want you to meet Chris* and Brandon*.

Me: Great to meet you! Is this your first time to Mt Vernon? (The deer in the headlights look tells me this is the first time they’ve stepped into a church in years, but I give them the benefit of the doubt)

Chris and Brandon: Yes. 

(at this point I’ll make small talk, find some commonalities and make a few light-hearted jokes, usually at Kenny’s expense. But the conversation usually finishes like this):

Me: Let me guess. Did Kenny bail you out of jail?

Chris and Brandon (looking at each other like I’m a clairvoyant): As a matter of fact he did!

I love the fact that Kenny is so enthusiastic about inviting everyone to church. So here’s how I saved Kenny some money this past week. On Sunday, as usual, Kenny’s got two new guys with him. I introduce myself, make some small talk and welcome them to church. Later  on that day Kenny catches up with me and tells me this:

Kenny: You saved me some money today!

Me: How did I do that?

Kenny: Those two gentlemen who were with me today I met when I bailed them out of jail. And I made a deal with them to get them to come to church with me. I told them, “If you don’t like church on Sunday, you don’t have to pay me any of the money you owe me (their remaining bail).” 

After the service, they told me, “I wish we could lie and say we didn’t have a good experience, but we loved it! Don’t be surprised if you see us again next week!”

Kenny finished by telling me, “Thanks for helping me out today! They owe me $700!”

Welcome to a day in the life at Mt Vernon. I love it!

There is a “Third Way” – A Response to Al Mohler

6.4.14The rising wave of homosexuality in the church has reached the shores of the evangelical world, forcing us to respond. Several weeks ago, a Southern Baptist pastor (Danny Cortez) and church voted to embrace the LGBT community, even though they may still be in a relationship. In his own words: “So now, we will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship. We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgement. We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences. We see that this is possible in the same way that our church holds different positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage. In this issue we are able to not cast judgement in our disagreement.”

Al Mohler, president of Southern Serminary and one of the top influencers in the SBC (as evidenced by the over 22,000 Facebook ‘shares’ on his rebuttal) wrote a strong blog post against pastor Danny Cortez entitled “There is No ‘Third Way’“. The issue is whether the Southern Baptist Convention soon meeting in Baltimore will seat and officially recognize Danny Cortez’s church as a member church in good standing although they have changed their stance on homosexuality. It seems that Southern Baptists will have to draw a line in the sand and vote.

But here’s what troubles me about Mohler’s response: in an issue that needed to be dealt with using a surgical scalpel, Mohler chose instead to employ a sledgehammer, doing irreparable harm where none was needed. Here’s Mohler’s definitive response: But, there is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them. Eventually, every congregation in America will make a public declaration of its position on this issue. It is just a matter of time (and for most churches, not much time) before every congregation in the nation faces this test.

Mohler makes a classical logical fallacy known as a “false dichotomy,” forcing the reader into one of two extreme choices when there are in fact numerous others. Although he might not believe it or teach it, I fear that many reading his blog will take his assertions to an unhealthy extreme and reject not just the homosexual lifestyle, but homosexuals as well. It’s the classic ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’ It’s one thing to affirm the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality (that it is sinful), but another to unnecessarily burn all bridges with the homosexual community. Mohler’s hard-lined, grace-absent response seems to encourage us to pick up our torches and start burning.

For the record: I believe and have publicly taught the Bible’s stance that homosexuality is sinful. And yet there is at least one practicing homosexual (that I know of) regularly attending my church. She and I spoke directly on her homosexuality. I told her the Bible’s stance. And yet she was still in church this past Sunday, seeking God. Why? Because I tried my hardest to balance grace and truth in my relationship with her. Homosexuality is a sin in God’s eyes, but it’s not the ‘unforgivable sin’ that Mohler is making it out to be. His response will unnecessarily embolden Baptists and churches to destroy what little chance we have left to build any bridge of the gospel to the homosexual community.

If Mohler comes out so strongly against this issue, a needed counter of grace would be for him to share about his personal friends in the homosexual community that he is building evangelistic relationships, that he hasn’t condemned them all to hell because of one particular sin. Look at Jesus. He was able to make strong pronouncements of the truth. He didn’t waver. And yet notorious sinners flocked to Jesus and loved hanging around him. Why? Because Jesus fully embodied grace and truth, something I saw lacking in Mohler’s response (high on truth, lacking in grace).

There is a third way. You can hate the sin yet embrace the sinner. We do it every week when the divorced, the addicted, the gossipers, the jealous, the bitter, the coveters and the greedy flock to our churches. We can do it with the homosexual community as well. We can embody grace and truth, embracing the homosexual that walks through the door without condoning their lifestyle. Every week I do it as a pastor when I embrace couples that I know are cohabitating, the husband who is a drunkard, the wife is obsessed with material things, the teenager who is hooked on pornography. Homosexuality is not the ‘unforgivable sin’ that many elevate it to.

I know that Mohler’s blog will embolden pastors to take a ‘strong stand’ at the Convention and make a ‘historic vote’ against homosexuality in the church. I know that my blog will reach only a fraction of Mohler’s readers and will embolden far less. But here is my plea: there is a ‘third way,’ one that maintains our scriptural integrity (on the Bible’s stance against homosexuality) and yet maintains a bridge to the ever growing homosexual community. Jesus embodied grace and truth. So can we.

What the Church Can Learn from Maleficent

6.3.14In 1959 the world was introduced to one of film’s great villains: Maleficent, an evil fairy who curses Princess Aurora, otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. She was reviled and hated for generations . . . until this past weekend. With Disney’s latest adaptation (with Angelina Jolie playing Maleficent), we’re introduced to a new side of Maleficent. (Don’t worry, no major spoilers ahead).

Watching the movie, the viewer is introduced to something previous generations never got to see: Maleficent’s backstory. There was a good reason why she turned so evil. The goal of this reimagination of the Sleeping Beauty story is to get the viewer to sympathize with the villain by giving the context which led to her fateful decision to curse the heroine. It succeeded beautifully and I would recommend the movie to any fan of the original film.

In processing the movie, I realized there is an incredible lesson to be learned for the church: many of the ‘villains’ outside the church that we’re so quick to judge and condemn may not in fact be villains if we took the time to learn their backstory, the context which led them to the choices in their lives. Like Maleficent as the stereotypical villain, churches too often label and prejudge people based on their race, socioeconomic status, or lifestyle. We see a tattoo, a nose ring, a divorce and automatically condemn someone into a prejudged category.

But what circumstances led them to their lot in life? What tragedies befell them? What decisions outside their control helped lead them down a destructive path? Finding out someone’s backstory doesn’t necessarily excuse a person’s behavior, but it helps explain it.

One thing I appreciate about Maleficent is that it didn’t try to turn her into a saint. She’ll never be one. But it helped us sympathize with her, giving us context into her tragic choices and in the end, rooting for her redemption.

How many people out there need the church to understand their backstory and root for their redemption?

 

What’s in the ‘Secret Sauce’ at Mt Vernon

seo-secret-sauceThe DNA of each church is different. Every church culture is unique. Recently our staff got together and identified the defining characteristics of Mt Vernon. What makes us ‘us.’ This list is a continual work in progress, but here’s we think is in the ‘secret sauce’ at Mt Vernon:

We make everyone welcome. This speaks to our culture. It doesn’t matter your station in life. Whether you’re educated or uneducated, churched or unchurched, married or divorced, an outstanding citizen or a recovering addict, we’ll do our best to make you feel welcome at Mt. Vernon.

We embrace change. This speaks to the humility of our people. We have changed almost everything at Mt Vernon in the past decade, and we’re continuing to change and adapt to our cultural context of a post-Christian world in the 21st century. Our church embraces the necessity of constant change as the price of effective ministry today.

We’re all rowing in the same direction. This speaks to our unity. We’re united as a staff and body. There’s no dead weight. There’s no sideways energy. We’ve killed legacy programs that don’t contribute to our overall purpose. We all have our marching orders: creating contagious communities of hope. It’s amazing to see the synergy that’s created when we’re united behind the same purpose.

We teach timeless truths in creative ways. This speaks to how we communicate truth. Everything we teach is biblical truth, like most churches. Yet we go above and beyond to teach those timeless truths in the most creative ways imaginable. We want to engage all five senses. We think it’s a travesty to bore a child with the Bible. We have a standard of excellence when it comes to our environments that blows my mind.

We are serious about having fun. This speaks to our joy. A church service shouldn’t feel like a funeral service. You can be reverent without being depressing. We emphasize joy. We have fun. We laugh together. We celebrate the good things in life, and we make no apologies for doing so. We work hard at having fun.

We offer transforming hope. This speaks to our purpose. We offer the hope of the gospel. We expect lives to be changed. We invite people to a better way of life. We offer them the hope of positive change and the hope of eternity through the power of Christ.

We walk towards the messes. This speaks to outreach. We’re not content to wait for people to come to us. We go to them. Our folks bring those that need hope the most: the broken, the dirty, the messes. We don’t judge them for not getting their life right before coming to church. We don’t condemn them when they’re standing at the entrance to our church and their mess is staining the carpet. We embrace them with open arms, just as Christ embraces us.

 

What’s in the ‘Secret Sauce’ at Mt Vernon

seo-secret-sauceThe DNA of each church is different. Every church culture is unique. Recently our staff got together and identified the defining characteristics of Mt Vernon. What makes us ‘us.’ This list is a continual work in progress, but here’s we think is in the ‘secret sauce’ at Mt Vernon:

We make everyone welcome. This speaks to our culture. It doesn’t matter your station in life. Whether you’re educated or uneducated, churched or unchurched, married or divorced, an outstanding citizen or a recovering addict, we’ll do our best to make you feel welcome at Mt. Vernon.

We embrace change. This speaks to the humility of our people. We have changed almost everything at Mt Vernon in the past decade, and we’re continuing to change and adapt to our cultural context of a post-Christian world in the 21st century. Our church embraces the necessity of constant change as the price of effective ministry today.

We’re all rowing in the same direction. This speaks to our unity. We’re united as a staff and body. There’s no dead weight. There’s no sideways energy. We’ve killed legacy programs that don’t contribute to our overall purpose. We all have our marching orders: creating contagious communities of hope. It’s amazing to see the synergy that’s created when we’re united behind the same purpose.

We teach timeless truths in creative ways. This speaks to how we communicate truth. Everything we teach is biblical truth, like most churches. Yet we go above and beyond to teach those timeless truths in the most creative ways imaginable. We want to engage all five senses. We think it’s a travesty to bore a child with the Bible. We have a standard of excellence when it comes to our environments that blows my mind.

We are serious about having fun. This speaks to our joy. A church service shouldn’t feel like a funeral service. You can be reverent without being depressing. We emphasize joy. We have fun. We laugh together. We celebrate the good things in life, and we make no apologies for doing so. We work hard at having fun.

We offer transforming hope. This speaks to our purpose. We offer the hope of the gospel. We expect lives to be changed. We invite people to a better way of life. We offer them the hope of positive change and the hope of eternity through the power of Christ.

We walk towards the messes. This speaks to outreach. We’re not content to wait for people to come to us. We go to them. Our folks bring those that need hope the most: the broken, the dirty, the messes. We don’t judge them for not getting their life right before coming to church. We don’t condemn them when they’re standing at the entrance to our church and their mess is staining the carpet. We embrace them with open arms, just as Christ embraces us.

 

The Flu, Broken Homes and The Church: The Power of Belonging

5.14.14Where do you belong? To a family? To a school? To a job? To a church? Where do you find your belonging?

Stanford researchers in 2007 came out with the results of a research project they had done with over 7000 different people. In this research they identified markers of a person with a healthy sense of belonging: attached to community, attached to relationships, etc. They identified healthy markers and unhealthy markers. Then they asked the question, “what happens to people when they feel like they belong or they don’t belong?” Are there any significant effects of belonging?”

Here’s what they found: for those who felt like they belonged (they had a strong sense of belonging), they were four times more likely to be healthy in every area of their lives (mentally and physically). They found that the sense of belonging was so important that it affects our physical health and mental health. Another survey they did in this study was that they infected 276 people with the flu virus. They wanted to see if a sense of belonging had any affect on how long they would be sick. They discovered that those who had a sense of community or belonging were three times more likely not to get sick even if they were infected or to have only a short period of sickness. Those without belonging were more likely to get sick and to suffer the full range of effects of the flu.

That’s the power of belonging. In today’s fragmented society, broken families and a highly-mobile society (people don’t plant roots in one town) have opened up an incredible opportunity for the church. The search for belonging is one of the base needs that drive people to visit your church for the first time. Yes, they’re looking for God, but they’re also looking to belong.

If your church becomes a place where people can truly feel like they belong, you won’t need a slick advertising campaign. They’ll find you. That’s the power of belonging.