Plan For Holiness' Sake

I’m reading Proverbs 29 this morning. In the ESV, verse 18 says this:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.

I learned that verse in the King James back in the day. It reads like this:

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

There is a lot of popular church work these days in the field of strategy, vision casting and leadership. Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, the whole Catalyst movement, Driscoll; they all deal heavily in vision casting, strategic planning and management and leadership systems. While proponents of these philosophies would say that they simply exist in the field of human relations much like gravity exists in physics and the leadership of the church can choose to make use of them or choose not to heed them at their peril, opponents of management philosophy that I have encountered online and in person tend to accuse “planners” of worldliness. “The church is not a business.” “God’s ways are foolishness to the world.” Stuff like that.

I tend to attempt to walk in some middle ground in this area (assuming there is some) but what struck me about Proverbs 29:18 this morning is that the vision of leadership impacts the holiness of the people under that leadership. While it’s easy to accuse planners of just wanting big churches, or money, or fame or whatever, God’s Word, at least to some extent, says that people aren’t motivated to discipline and personal holiness when they don’t have someone providing them with clear direction for the future.

I think Paul expresses this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 when he says:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

When I read literature about strategic planning, or am in discussion with our ministry team about vision, we typically have our eyes on evangelism (not money or fame btw). However, Proverbs 29:18 is a good reminder that the people of God need vision too, if only as motivation for their own holiness. Vision casting isn’t just about the external mission of winning souls, but the internal mission of feeding sheep.

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Plan For Holiness' Sake

Sacrifice For The Good Of Mankind!, or, Paper Is Easy, Brains Are Better

I’ve decided to give up two personal conveniences for the good of others and the betterment of myself. Both of these conveniences have to do with my public work during Sunday gatherings at church.

I’m giving up capo’d chord charts.

When I lead music from the guitar, I often use a capo. It allows a guitar player to use the most appropriate and best sounding voicings (or chord shapes) in the best keys for congregational singing. There are several problems with this though. First, no one else in the band plays with a capo. My chord sheets says “G” but everyone else’s says “B.” That makes it more challenging for me to communicate. I have to transpose as I speak to my team, which, for some reason, doesn’t always work right. Secondly, I have on more than one occasion placed my capo on the wrong fret of my guitar. I then played all the right chord shapes in the wrong key. Again, the rest of the band doesn’t have this and consequently has no idea where I am and cannot play with me. As a solution, I have decided to just memorize the shapes in each capo’d position and play with charts that are labeled for the absolute key.

What this allows me to do is both communicate with the band easily (because we are reading the same chart) and increase my ability to play the correct chords wherever I am capo’d without having to rely on the transposed chart. They can understand me, I become a better player.

I’m giving up sermon notes. 

I am taking a preaching class this semester and in one of the textbooks the author strongly encourages his readers to get rid of sermon notes. He does not advocate memorizing the sermon, but simply memorizing the outline. I usually preach with an outline about a page and a half long. I was given the opportunity to open up Kroc Church’s study of the book of Galatians and got to preach for the last two weeks through chapter 1. I did not use notes either time. It was a lot of fun.

This practice has done two things for we so far. First, it allows me to keep better eye contact with the congregation while I am preaching. I have noticed an immediate difference in my ability to read the congregation. Secondly, it forces me to write a simple outline. If I’m going to memorize it, it can’t be 8 points with 3 subpoints each. It has to be simple. Hopefully a simple outline is easier to communicate to the congregation.

So there you have it. Two ways I’m trying to become better at what I do. Hopefully these steps won’t come back to bite me one day in a horrible wrong key/forgotten outline mishap. Perish the thought.

Sacrifice For The Good Of Mankind!, or, Paper Is Easy, Brains Are Better

Statistics, or, You're Pregnant? I'll Count You Twice

I grew up in a non-denominational hippie church. Actually, it was a church plant that came out of a hippie non-denomination. What is a non-denomination? That’s for another post. Anyway, my pastor’s mantra was “teach the Bible.” He was good at it too. He still is. I learned a ton and my faith was really formed through the years I spent there. Because of its ties to the hippie non-denomination though, record keeping, and specifically statistics were never really a big deal. In fact, I walked away with the perspective (whether it was taught or not) that focusing on “nickels and noses” was a bad practice to be in. I’ve come to realize that it definitely can be, but how many people you have and what they do with their money can also be a valuable metric for evaluating the health of a church.

Then we have The Salvation Army. 124 countries (last time I checked), 4 US territories, 10 western divisions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Statistics are important. Why? Because if you work at territorial headquarters in Long Beach, California and I work at the Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, there is no reliable way for you to judge how well I am stewarding the Army’s resources in my local context without some kind of standardized measurement system that we both understand and agree on. Sure, the leaders at the territorial and divisional levels come check on us from time to time, but it’s hard to get a good picture of what’s going on from a visit.

So statistics. I find statistics challenging in two ways. Funny thing is, one way is due to my humility and the other way is due to my pride. First off, I find it hard to quantify the work we do. Not because we don’t do quantifiable work, but because we do it all the time. For instance, one of the general categories of statistic that the territory wants is “people assisted.” Well, we do that all day long, every day. The couple hundred of us that work at the Kroc Center are all about assisting people. It’s who we are and it’s the culture we have created. That makes it hard to quantify.

Lest I come across too holy and benign though, the second reason I have trouble with stats is that I want to look good. I am always tempted to find ways to make numbers appear greater than they are. Mr. Jones says he really liked the sermon on Sunday? What he probably meant was that he repented from his sins and decided to follow Jesus. A new salvation! That’s a stat.

In all honesty though, I’ve never done that. But I’ve thought about it. The sick, twisted, Jesus-is-killing-day-by-day part of me that is my flesh has thought about manipulating stories of the saving work of Christ for personal and organizational pride. I would be surprised if I couldn’t find others like me.

So when it is time to report stats, I try and ask myself two things:

  1. What are all the things we did? Who are all the people we served?
  2. Did we really do all those things? Did we really serve all those people?

Hopefully, by asking myself those questions, the statistics I keep are an accurate representation of the ministry that goes on at our corps and in our Kroc Center. I think we lean more towards the “I forget all the things that we do and our stats are a poor reflection of our ministry because we leave stuff out” rather than the “I inflate the ministry we do in order to look good,” but this year I want to redouble my effort to collect accurate stats. Not so we can feel good about ourselves, but so that brothers and sisters around the country can rejoice with us in the work that God is doing in Coeur d’Alene.

Statistics, or, You're Pregnant? I'll Count You Twice

Summer Membership Class, or, Doctrine Is More Fun Than Getting Rained On

I started a new session of the Kroc Church Membership class on Sunday. I typically set up the class to run for 6 weeks in 2-hour segments. Since it’s summer and no one wants to have 6 of their summer afternoons (or whatever passes for summer afternoons in North Idaho) taken up by doctrine and philosophy (except me of course) I am abbreviating the class to 3 weeks of 3-hour sessions.

Sunday’s class went rather well, if I do say so myself. We got through the Our People documentary and the first 4 doctrines. I had to go quickly through some of the finer points, and gave a bit of scripture to take as homework instead of looking it up and discussing it in class, but I think it went pretty smoothly.

It’s a small class this time, only 8, but I think it will be a good one. Lots of interest in what we are doing and a desire to be involved. Truthfully, I’m not interested in making members and soldiers that simply want to get a certificate or say that they are connected to our church. I want people who are excited about the mission of God and want to get their hands dirty with the work of the ministry. I don’t think this class will disappoint. There are several staff represented, a couple from my Community Group, and a few others that have been in the process of checking us out for awhile. It’s a good group.

It’s interesting, but I think there is something to be said for having membership classes more often during the year. The last class I taught was in the late winter, February/March. Since it’s July, any momentum and excitement for membership that we could have generated from the Spring enrollment is gone. We will enroll new members and soldiers from this class some time in August, and then the next class will be in September. I am planning on doing 2 classes this fall, almost back to back, to further capitalize on our congregation seeing the new recruits and the enrollment prompting others to sign up. It’s quite a bit of work teaching two sessions in a semester (back to the six week per session format as well) but I think there will be considerable fruit from it. Whether people become Salvationists or not, the knowledge of who we are and what we believe in invaluable if someone wants to be connected to our ministry. All I have to do now is raise up someone else to teach the classes so that I don’t have too all the time!

Summer Membership Class, or, Doctrine Is More Fun Than Getting Rained On

First Sermon, or, Remember Me? I'm Your New Pastor

I was reminded both by Territorial Commander Commissioner Jim Knaggs and by Major Ben Markham (at service yesterday) that yesterday was the day, that all around the territory (maybe the world?) Salvation Army officers preached at their new appointments. The Salvation Army is fairly unique in that its head pastors, “officers,” are itinerant. They move from church to church, appointment to appointment, throughout their careers, typically every 3-5 years.

In what I consider great news, Major Ben, who with his wife Joann have been our associate officers at Kroc Church for the last three years, announced that yesterday they officially began their new appointment as our Corps officers and executive directors at the Kroc Center. Ben told me that they even got an official letter that said they were supposed to depart their old appointment last week as associate corps officers in Coeur d’Alene and they had 4 days to report in at their new appointment as corps officers in Coeur d’Alene. It’s a long trip.

There is a lot that can be said about the pros and cons of moving pastors around. That’s for another post though. Today I am grateful that my senior leaders are a couple that have been with us since the beginning, understand our culture, the unique role that we play in this massive organization and are prepared to fight for the gospel, the people under their care and the city that they are called to ministry in for many more years to come.

First Sermon, or, Remember Me? I'm Your New Pastor

Soldier Up, or, Don't.

There are a lot of things I love about being part of The Salvation Army. There are also things that totally drive me crazy. That being said, I want to approach an issue with as much grace and an attempt at understanding a different opinion as possible.

The New Frontier magazine (available at a Kroc Center receptionist’s desk near you), Volume 30, Number 09, featured a front page story by Karen Gleason and Amy Jorgens entitled “Soldier Numbers Rise In The West.” It seems that soldiers (Salvation Army church members) are on the rise in the Western Territory of the United States.

First off, that’s great. I’m a soldier. I teach soldiership classes. The commitment to being a soldier is one of the things, in my opinion, that is great about The Salvation Army. What bothers me about this article is a quote by Reno, Nevada Corps officer Major Janene Zielinski. The article says:

Offering adherency as a viable and attainable church membership option is also helping to grow the corps. “People (young families) are responding by the boatload,” she said. “They are thrilled to be accepted, valued and not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment.”

To be fair, I don’t know Major Zielinski, and have no idea what the context of this quote was outside of where I read it in the article. However, all I have to go on is this quote and there are several things that rub me the wrong way.

It was an adherent member of our church that pointed this article out to me. Jeff is a member of our music team (he leads about 25% of the time these days), he’s a member of our Corps Council (sort of a TSA deacon’s board), he serves on the Social Services committee, his wife (also an adherent) is an employee of the Corps and oversees our children’s ministry and their whole family are models of faithful service to Jesus. Jeff was totally appalled by the above quote. The way he took it (and the way I read it) is that those that choose to become soldiers are somewhere ahead in their spiritual walk of those that choose to become adherents. It seems like Major Zielinski is trying to communicate that adherents are accepted while at the same time labeling them as spiritually inferior. It’s totally possible that I am taking the statement “not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment” the wrong way. I would like to know how I should take it if so.

I think there are two extremes when it comes to this issue. One is that soldiers are clearly superior and adherents (which I have on good authority is a word we shouldn’t be using anymore – they are members) are just dodging their responsibility as Salvationists. Soldiers do commit to a pretty strict way of living life. The Soldier’s Covenant (aka, The Articles of War) contains lines like:

I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedient to His leading in my life…

I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral…

I will abstain from alcoholic drink…

…giving as large a proportion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army…

Those are just a few of the commitments that soldiers make. The entire member’s covenant says that they:

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him

Participate through worship, fellowship and service at a local Salvation Army corps

Identify with the mission of The Salvation Army

So, if a soldier is the real deal and the member is being “valued and not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment,” why do we even have members in the first place? If the call to join our army is soldiership, why would we lower the bar just to get more people on our rolls? If soldiership is where it’s at, it totally seems to me that members are cop-outs and the army that created that “adherent member” was just trying to pad its statistics by making it easier to get signatures. Again, that’s a harsh accusation, and I am fully prepared to be corrected, but that’s just what it seems like to me.

The other extreme is that soldiers and members are the same. I think this is both true and false. The big question is,are we disciples of Jesus? That’s the club that the Bible forms: the church. Members, adherents, soldiers, officers, those are all things that we have made up since. I don’t have a problem with that, but we can’t forget the categories that God’s Word puts us in in favor of categories that we make up for ourselves. So it one sense, the sense that my good friend and TSA member Jeff is operating from, soldiers and members are the same: disciples of Jesus Christ who seek to live out the mission of His church with The Salvation Army.

However, soldiers are also different, and I hope that’s what Major Zielinski was getting at. Soldiers are called not only to identify with Jesus and His mission in specific ways, we are called to identify with The Salvation Army in specific ways. If I am taking my soldier’s covenant seriously, I am limiting my personal freedoms, sacrificially giving of my resources, and seeing myself as an ambassador of Christ through The Salvation Army. Can members do all those things? Yes they can, but they don’t have to commit to doing them, and they aren’t committing to do them while taking into account the values and needs of The Salvation Army.

In our church, there are certain things that only members can do, like lead a Community Group. Why? Because I want to know that they have taken a class (where they learn all about our church), that they really are Christians (as much as we can tell), and that they can represent both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Kroc Church whenever they are asked. The members of our church love Jesus, are generous givers, volunteer their time in service and believe in what we are doing.

Soldiers are a little different. We always have fewer soldiers to enroll than members, but if you become a soldier, you are telling me that you aren’t just committed to the Gospel, but you are committed to the leadership of our church and our philosophy of ministry. You are a soldier in the army and you are willing to do what it takes to get the job done. If you are soldier, it might take me a while, but I’m gonna find you a job to do, and in a perfect world, I’m not going to have to make a lot of accommodation for you to do it.

So, where does that leave me and the quote from the New Frontier? Frustrated. Frustrated that we sometimes see officers as more committed to Jesus than soldiers. Frustrated that we see soldiers as more committed to Jesus than members. If you are part of Kroc Church, do I want you to become a soldier? Yes. If you prayerfully consider it and decide to become a member instead, do I look at you as less than me? No. The Salvation Army soldier is not given a higher calling than any other Christian, just a different one. And depending on your views on alcohol, it’s not even a radically different one.

 

Soldier Up, or, Don't.

I Want To Do Everything, or I Think I'll Be A Videographer Today

I don’t want to do everything that there is to be done, but I do want to do a lot of things. I recently completed the creation of a video for my bosses’ going away party and I loved just about every minute of it. Except for the rendering. Lord save us from the rendering. Now, I’m not that great at it (I spent the evening after its debut going frame by frame with my wife on all the things I wished I had done differently) but I’m reasonably competent and I believe I would get better with time. The problem is, I don’t have any more time for another skill set.

There are days where I think I’m a preacher. Days where I fancy myself a worship leader. At other times I think I could be a writer, or a recording engineer, or a producer, or a videographer, or a concert promoter, or et cetera et cetera et cetera. Now in reality, I have a fairly narrow set of talents. I can speak and write decently, I have a reasonably good ear, and a marginally good eye. That’s about it. I can’t create anything with my hands, can’t draw, can’t do physical art in any form, I’m not naturally good with children, and my people skills are something I put on for special occasions. I live with, work with and know many people who’s gifts and talents constantly impress me, partially because I don’t share them.

That said, as I grow in my gifts, I see the need to specialize. I don’t have the time and energy to get better at everything that I enjoy doing. I have to choose. My personality won’t allow for that. So, instead, I get crazy about different things at different times. Last week I was editing video and thinking it might be super fun to do it more often and actually figure out what I am doing. A couple days ago I was a songwriter. Today I am planning another conference and tomorrow I will be putting together a Community Group training. I have to confess to a certain dissatisfaction with any one of these things that prevents me from doing the others depending on the mood I’m in.

I anticipate that this feeling will only get worse as time goes by. I hope that I will continue to have the time to grow in at least some of the things that I somewhat enjoy while I focus on the things I most enjoy and that I am, more importantly, called to for the glory of God and the good of His people. I’m not sure today what the difference between “somewhat” and “most” is. What I can take comfort in is that I know it’s not pottery. I’m terrible at that.

I Want To Do Everything, or I Think I'll Be A Videographer Today