Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What I learned from Church: Part V, the Family Unit

After leaving our failed church plant, we embarked on our Church Field Trips. We learned a lot during that year. Had our boundaries expanded even more. Throughout this time, my wife was always employed as a teacher at the school run by the Mega Church that we had attended since 2001. So it was by default, that after our sabbatical of field trips, we returned to the Mega Church.

But something had changed. The Mega Church had evolved in that time into an even more Mega Church - which should be expected. But more importantly, we had changed. We ourselves had evolved to a place where the fit was just no longer right. When my wife stopped teaching to stay home with our two young children, that was the end of our Mega Church experience.

For the past two years, we have not been attending church on the weekends. (I'll pause to give a moment for the "church-crowd" to tsk, shake their heads, or otherwise disapprove of our choice.) No baby dedication. No dropping our babies off at the church nursery.

We've discussed going back to church. For the past two years, we've been discussing going to an Acts 29 church plant in Knoxville, TN called Legacy Church. Knowing that we are leaving South Florida has made it hard to take seriously the idea of trying to find a church family in South Florida for a temporary basis.

We've discussed taking the kids to a local AWANA program now that they are of age. We've discussed popping into a worship service from time to time. We pray together (watching my kids pray is a wonderful experience). We read the Bible together. We discuss charity, theology, Jesus, good and evil, making right choices, etc. We've taught them the classic children's Bible songs.

At this point, I really have to say that we are living the "Revolutionary" lifestyle laid out by George Barna in 2005. It is not a life-long choice. It is a temporary choice. But neither do I feel that we are floundering in our faith. On the contrary, I think that we are still growing in our faith and maturity. Through all of these different "church" experiences, we have continued to grow. I don't feel like stagnation has ever been a part of our lives these past ten years.

Things I've learned from the Church by the Pool (aka The Family Unit):

1. While at the Church Plant, our pastor used to criticize a Homeschool Family that had 6 children for not "showing up to church every Sunday" and "not committing more of their family resources to the church". Now, I totally understand and have a much better appreciation for that family of 8. They were a more tightly knit fellowship than our church congregation would ever be. To them, family came first, and church came second. Sadly, many pastors put their church before their family and then behind the scenes, the pastor's family falls apart which sometimes leads to the church falling apart.

2. We've looked to a family like the Duggars for inspiration in this area. We are not like the Duggars in their fundamentalism or their sheer size, but still, there is something to be learned by the way that they manage their humongous family and steer them in the direction of Jesus and His Word.

3. For now, I would rather not go to church than go to a church that doesn't fit.

4. Our pastor used to make references to "Lone Ranger Christians" who didn't attend church. There is nothing lonely about a family of four.

5. Evangelism consists of building relationships and theological/cultural discussions rather than simply "inviting someone to a church service".

Monday, January 7, 2013

What I learned in Church: Part IV, the Church Plant

While at the height of our involvement at the Mega Church, we were told that the youth pastor was going to start a church plant nearby. We had grown close to this youth pastor and to the youth ministry at the church so we were left with a choice - stay with the ministry, or leave with the pastor.

We chose the pastor mostly because it offered a new opportunity of unbroken ground in our church experience. Starting a church from scratch was scary stuff, but also fun, and exciting and very genuine. The experience was very much a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, but it was also an experience that would "grow" us beyond our limits in a short amount of time.

The fellowship that we had with this small church family was the most genuine, intimate, enjoyable fellowship that we've had with other Christ-followers. The people around us were real, broken, and simply wanted to come together to worship and grow. Our fellowship started with about 40 people, peaked at about 175 people, and petered out to about 75 people. Once again, the national church average attendance is in this ballpark, so having 75 people come together on a regular basis is by no means a "failure".

The lead pastor - a father figure, mentor, close friend - was a "broken" pastor. He had lived a hard life, had a few setbacks personally and professionally, and had had a couple failed opportunities as a pastor. Because of this, he was able to draw in other people who were "broken" - myself included. This created a congregation that, for me, set the bar for expectations of congregational worship and fellowship. This "church planting experience" has shaped much of our growth as Christians (for better and for worse).

Things I learned from the Failed Church Plant:

1. Church planting is not easy. More money is not the answer to getting a church off the ground and running. Vision and Mission Statements and Statements of Belief are also not the answer. A good business sense is not the answer.

2. Baggage that people bring from previous church experience (especially the pastor), has the potential to undermine the church planting effort from the very start. Along the way, more and more people will show up with their own baggage as well.

3. Drawing people out of the community into a church plant is a great experience. Not drawing them from other churches, but directly from the community.

4. I will always miss this failed church plant that was once our family. (and think on what might have been.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Annual Reports

I love that this church puts out an annual report at the end of each year. I love the style and I love the transparency. I think every church should do this.

2012 Annual Report

2011 Annual Report

2010 Annual Report

Friday, January 4, 2013

What I learned in Church: Part III, the Seeker-Driven Mega Church

Right before we got married in 2001, my wife gave her life over to Jesus Christ, unbeknownst to me. She had been reading her Bible in private, while hiding in her closet because she wasn't going to give me the satisfaction of knowing that she might actually be interested in Jesus or His Word.

When we got back from our Honeymoon, we were baptized together. Someone had invited us to a church of about 1200 attenders that was supposed to be energetic and modern (at least compared to the standard traditional church of our upbringing). At the time, we were simply blown away by it all.

They played movie clips in church. Sang songs with a more modern upbeat twist. The preaching was easy to understand, entertaining, and stylized. And it was loud. The congregation was very mixed both in age, class, and race. And everyone seemed pretty enthusiastic about being there each week. You had to arrive early just to find a parking space nearby, and also arrive early just to find a place to sit in the congregation.

We plugged in almost immediately: helping with the parking chaos, helping with the youth group, helping build a singles ministry, connecting with other young, married couples that we could easily call peers. In every way, we fully devoted ourselves to the forward motion. In the time that we were there, the attendance grew from 1200 to more than 5000. Ironically, the church actually "outgrew" us, or we "outgrew" the church. But, nonetheless, somewhere along the way we actually managed to disconnect from the church that had basically lit our fire for the idea of church to begin with. We still have strong friendships with the people but the act of actually worshiping in this environment got lost in translation over the years.

What I learned from the Seeker-Driven Mega Church:

1. Bigger is not always better. It is louder (which is cool), but it is also a lot more complicated and impersonal. The budgets are bigger - way bigger. The crowds are bigger. You can have your choice of 8 different services, which is great for flexibility - and you might not ever see the same people at those services (a relational bummer).

2. A church like this was at least temporarily necessary for us - to show that church can be modern, and relevant. The church doesn't have to be steeped in tradition and history. Change can be a good thing. Evolution can be a good thing.

3. The most important people in the church aren't always the "people in the church", sometimes they are the people who are not in church at all. As a matter of fact, like the lost sheep, they probably aren't in the church. Unfortunately, the seeker driven mega church expects them to come to the church like a magnet. And when they do show up, there's no guarantee that they won't just "consume" the service that is offered to them and then go home. These aren't shortcomings of a mega church, but rather challenges that must be met.

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