a journal of my journey

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Harnessing New Ways to Communicate

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In this new era of social networking there is far too many ways to communicate. Within minutes people can know where you are simply by “checking in” or what is on your mind. For many social media is something to avoid, they want to have no digital fingerprint out there. Then there are the many that embrace it and it is an integral part of their daily lives. Look around, on almost any commercial or where a company is trying to market to you there are links to social media. Social media is the wave of the future, and can be used as a tool for ministry.

A couple weeks ago I was talking to one of our Elders that serves on our Communication and Technology Committee. It had to do with how we are perceived in our community and how technology can be used for ministry. This last week this article was released that articulated our thoughts pretty well. It has to do with the attractional model of ministry, where one just expects people to walk into our doors. This is contrary to a missional model, where one goes and brings the church to the community. While we look at attractional vs. missional as a form of evangelism, we need to also apply it to our social media. Do we simply wait for people to find us? Or do we engage in people outside our community through social media?

As I have been pondering the use of Social Media in developing this “New Thing”, I have been trying to sketch out ways to communicate with the people I interact with. Much of my time is out in the community developing relationships with people. Sometimes those conversations could last minutes and others could be much longer. It is highly unlikely that I will get their phone number and address to send them a newsletter of our upcoming events. Then how do I get people to know what we are doing and interact around it?

While I do not dare to say we have created something comprehensive, we are experiencing. Our connection to the community will start with business cards with a catchy web address or QR code simply to get people to our site and information. Developing this new thing will take a lot of communication, and the forms of communication is changing. Being on this new front and trying to be relevant to the community calls for us to use whatever means we have. It may be facebook, oovoo, twitter, instagram, or one of the many other forms out there. The point is we need to be where the people are. 

We have found that interaction on Facebook has been key in interacting or gaining exposure to people not associated with us. Last year during Vacation Bible School we had 2500 people looking at our Facebook page. Granted that is not how many people that attended by that is how many attendees and attendee friends/ family saw us. Why would we not want to be effective in bringing that many new and old eyes to what we are doing. The question now becomes what can we do to be more missional about what we are doing. Us going to the community.

Social media has created new avenues of ministry. While we all are trying to figure out how it all works in communicating to the larger community, we need to understand one thing… its not a fad that is going away. 

A New Thing

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The story of my life seems to be new adventures and leaps of faith. In many ways I have been thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. At times I did relatively well… and others I sank. This new chapter in my life is no different. We have been talking about taking that leap of faith for what feels like an eternity. Now it is upon us and there is a sense of awkwardness that ensues.

As we are creating this new community (which still remains nameless not due to the lack of trying) I am being made how painfully aware of how inadequate I feel. The questions begin to mount that I am able to do what is necessary to make this community succeed? Am I the right person? Who am I going to talk to? These are the questions that rattle my head at night. While I would like to say that I have that confidence and bravado that causes me to have unswerving self confidence… I don’t. Instead you get me. A person that is on a journey of faith that allows God to use me in new and creative ways. I realize that this journey of creating a new worshipping community is a difficult one, but I am glad for the team that in the last couple of years have shared the same passion and vision. The team that has taken shape has not been put here by accident but a God thing. It has been amazing to see the core team’s journey to get where we are now.

For the next little bit my blog will simply be a journal of our journey. Some of it will be full of excitement and others will be dealing with the inner turmoils within us. I was told by our coach (guide/ consultant) that I need to share what is on my head and heart. While I am doing some of that here, we could always use your support and prayers. You can sign up for my personal weekly prayer and thanksgiving newsletter or you can get the updates of this “new thing”.

God is definitely doing a new thing here in South Jersey, and we (me especially) are thankful to be a part of this plan. Thank you for your prayers.

 

On A Mission From God

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Over three years ago, in the middle of the struggle to find a suitable position I remember the wise words from my Senior Pastor that this next chapter of my life would need to be about my families needs and not my own. That while my innermost desire was to not only get an ordained position but to be a part of starting a new church. The church that I was called to had no dreams of starting a new church, in fact it was not even on their radar. That leads us to today, where my iPad seems to be filled with scribbles, sketches, and notes on where we are going and being. For six months we have planned for this moment. The moment when we go from thinking and praying to DOING.

As we take this step there is lots of unknowns. Where are we going to find these people for this new ministry? What is it truly going to look like? Those questions that revolve around the ministry. Then their are questions about myself. Can I do it? And then my own doubts come in and overwhelm me. If I did not have these doubts then I would concerned that I have not thought this whole thing through enough. But despite myself, I am to be used for something truly remarkable.

I am convinced and feel called to do and lead this new ministry/ church. The word that I have felt for so long is “it’s time to go and lead”. That is where we are going. Looking ahead the rock that we are rolling up the mountain is steep but at least the rock is moving. As I have broken down the basic plan of how this whole New Worshipping Community is going to form it is not rocket science. Simply go, meet people, and be. It really is not that hard. The hard part is putting myself and my team in the position to do it. To do it through the exciting times and the times we are feeling overwhelmed.

Pray for us. This is going to be exciting. I will be posting way for you to pray for us and be a part of what we are doing as our social media end begins to take shape. Hold on…. “we are on a mission from God.”

Turning Points

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For the past ten years I have been hindered. First the doctors told me I had weak ankles, then gout, then arthritis, then rheumatoid arthritis, then gout, then something else, and so on. For the better part of the last decade I have been hindered by this. My children find it amusing that I use to be athletic and involved in a number of sports. They cannot remember a time where my physical health was not an issue. I remember wondering how I was going to keep up with my kids. Who is going to teach them to ride a bike or throw a baseball? While I was not debilitated it was issues in the back of my head. When older members (by 30-40 years) of the congregation were moving faster than I was, then you have a problem.

Since making the move to the East Coast several years back I have been determined not to let it limit me. I have moved away from foods that caused me flares and stopped taking the steroids that I was dependent on to make it through the day. Simply stopping the steroids I lost 30 pounds in a matter of months. Whoa. Food choices such as no turkey gravy and staying away from seafood helped a bit. While that increased my quality of life, it did not drastically. There were still many activities that I could not take part in simply because I was afraid that it may cause a flare. Too often simply doing something has caused a week of incredible pain, that only steroids could take care of.

This year I have made a concerted effort to not be limited by my physical conditions. I have started going to the gym and so forth. It was when I went to the doctor a couple months ago that something changed. He told me everything that my previous doctors had diagnosed me with was wrong. What?? He did not know exactly what I had and was going to pursue it, but he put me on a regiment to improve my quality of life without restrictions. In the past couple of months I have began to try running, played paintball, bowled, and been more active. 

A long story to a point. I look back and wonder what could have been in those years that I lost. It took me a bit to get over the fact that if I been advised to manage my symptoms better these last few years could have been so much more. After wallowing for a bit, I have come to the place where I need to make up for lost time. Though I have reached or about to reach a new age milestone I look forward to how active I can be. Should be interesting in what trouble I can get myself into.

An Old Fashioned Revival

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Are you imaging tents,old fashioned fire and brimstone preachers, while “When the Saints Go Marching In”? Revival services have disappeared from the mainstream. My wife will talk about the revivals she had at her church growing up. Last year I got a flyer about a local revival and I looked at the flyer with skepticism. What is it that draws such apathy and reluctance? Could it be simply that we are Presbyterians and think those that do it are “other churches”? Maybe or maybe it could be that we don’t know much about them.

This past month I have been preaching through a series that originally was focused upon the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit moves us. That was MY plan… what actually what has happened is more than that. Our church for awhile has been feeling the tug that we need to make a impact in our community. Not one in voice, but one in our actions. While many are getting this nudge, moving ourselves out from the pews has become difficult. We, along with many Christians have become too comfortable with our faith. Stepping out is something that other people do, because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t want to be labeled as “one of them”. Turning the corner to a much more outreach based church has not happened as fast as we have wanted. It is a work in progress.

It was in the planning and discerning process for this month that I began to hear a theme of “revival”. I had my first sermon beginning to be sketched out and realized that I needed to go further. It was on Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones. The question of how far could I really push the idea of renewal was constantly on my head, besides how much could I really teach in one Sunday? While that lesson came to being, the second one on John 15 and how we are to be transformed developed. I was beginning to sense a theme, AND I felt that our church was called to spend ernest time in prayer. Being the Associate Pastor while the Senior Pastor was gone, I couldn’t simply call for a season of prayer. So I took it a bit lightly, but the nudge and prodding remained. The anxiety level at our church was high due to the Boston explosions as well some serious medical issues with some core church members. I did call the church to prayer and over 30 members showed up! Wow. Tonight I continue to plan for this Sunday’s sermon, which has a deep revival theme. For all the preaching I do on it Sunday my words alone will not start a revival. It starts when we as followers of faith and when we the church long for something more to the extent that we are willing to submit ourselves.

Our churches need a revival. Not one with tents and everything having a “revival” theme. But a revival where we turn with brokenness to God. Our church longs to help the community, and that is great. Before we can go out into the community we must ourselves get on our knees and ask God to move. We need God to move within us, to move us from complacency to following God’s will. Revival first starts within us before it can even reach the house across the street. God will not use the “frozen chosen” with barely a heart beat to transform the world. The ones that are used are the ones with the heartbeat of God. 

Tonight I pray for revival within our community, region, nation, and the world. But it must start with me.

Groundswell in Ministry

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What does a Session, Presbytery, or a denomination do to change the tide of shrinking churches and non- relevant ministries? What are we doing to change the tide? Should they sit in their board rooms sketching out what needs to be done? Probably not. A groundswell needs to be created by the people themselves and not from a top down structure. In essence it cannot be created artificially but must be created organically. This is where we have gone wrong in the past as we have made decisions from the board room instead of with the community that we wish to be with.

Your probably wondering what a groundswell is? Simply it is a group of people that begin to gather for a particular purpose or not. Many times it is simply for community. Then community happens, then a movement. It was not artificially created by a demographic study, but simply happens. As our church has been looking at growing many have told us that we need to simply create a “Contemporary Service”. The problem is that our church does not have critical mass in order to sustain a new service. What must be done is that we need to begin gathering people. This is not going to happen over a new service. By adding a new service we would be hoping that people would come in our doors. This is not how ministry is often done today. We don’t even know what a “new community” would even want. This is where a groundswell comes in. By creating community, and undercurrent is created by the community. The community gets excited and determines what suits their needs. It is not a professional survey, but programming is determined by the people.

In light of this I have been fortunate to be a part of a team that is trying to create a groundswell through a growing community. What we are doing is not very traditional in many senses and even raises an eyebrow or two. Our team has created a monthly even called Wing Fest where we go to the local bar and simply have wings. At first it was pretty awkward because I am not a bar person. As the months have passed the staff some of the locals have begun to recognize us. Also running into previous members is an interesting experience. More than a few times I have been told that it was good to see me where everyday people are. That is a great compliment! I have also taken an idea from a good friend of mine where they go to the local bowling alley to hang out. Currently we are going monthly to the bowling alley for $1 shoes, $1 games, and $1 food night. It was packed with people! People to interact with and maybe want to be a part of our growing community. As we head into the summer we will go weekly. Those are only a few of our ideas, the general idea is to simply not do everything in the church but be places where you can meet people.

If I can do it, so can you. Creating groundswells and community is not hard. At first it is awkward, but isn’t God calling us to be out in the community instead of waiting for people to walk in the doors. Ministry in this new climate is vastly different than previous generations. We have all the tools to start a groundswell within our church and denomination. All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to go there.

The Bad Theology of Giving

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I hate when people say all the church wants is my money. Or when people say that you got to give God something in order to receive blessings in return. Have you ever heard the church asking for money in such a way that it gives you a shooting pain behind your eyeball? You probably have and if you are not rooted in the church it probably turned you off. Even being a Pastor at a church it turns me off.

This past week I have been pondering Stewardship and giving. It all started when I heard that KLOVE was doing their annual pledge drive. I understand that they do not do commercials and are donor supported. BUT how do we ask for money and why? It is usually during their pledge periods that I turn the station until it passes. Simply because some of the illustrations that they use cause me to cringe. Many of them revolve around the the idea that if we give to the station, God will bless them back. That someone gave in faith and “BLAM” something happens. Granted I do believe that God can do and will do whatever God’s will is. But still we perpetuate the vendor mentality of God. That if you give, then you will receive. If we look at the book of Matthew:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?- Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)

We need to realize that God takes care of us despite ourselves. That God gives, and gives abundantly. Many times it is not exactly what we want, but we are cared for. Simply by giving an extra $50 will God open the treasure chest and your life will be so much better. You and I are valuable to God and we are taken care of.

There is also a perception that we view people entering our churches as “giving units”. That if we bring in so many people we can continue to operate as we have been. Or as members move on (in many ways) we need to offset their giving by bringing in new members. Too often I hear rumblings that “All we want is people’s money”. In some sense that is true. The lights, heating, repairs, and programs have to be paid for. Without members giving how would we continue? When we begin to look at people in the church as dollar signs to continue the church’s way of life we lose focus. When evangelism is not about bringing people into a deep understanding of the grace that God has given them… we miss the point. When programs become more about the church’s members entertainment, then its core focuses than we have missed the point. In giving we are responding and giving back to God what is not ours… it’s God’s. That is the essence if giving. Giving is not a bill or a fee to be in “the club”, but understanding all of what God has done for us and wanting to give back in some part.

Too often we portray a bad theology of giving. Instead of giving being all about our response to God it becomes all about us. When we are dealing with ministry and money it is important to point it at the right direction. No matter how good the intention is sometimes… we just miss.