Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Retreat, Day Three

I enjoyed another great day at Country Lake Retreat Center in Henryville, Indiana. We heard from Bob Russell again today as he taught us about preaching. I'd heard much of it before at Preaching Summit, but it was good stuff, nevertheless, as we were able to interact with him and ask questions.

Three of Bob's elders also talked with us about how the eldership functions as Southeast. These guys are sharp, and they reminded me a lot of our elders at South Lansing Christian Church. We have an excellent group of elders there. Not only are these men committed to Christ and his church, but they are supportive of our staff and good leaders. I really apprecaited them. Southeast is planning a second eldership retreat next fall that I hope our guys can attend. I want them to experience the same refreshing that I have this week.

We also heard from Dr. Kevin Ezell, a Baptist megachurch pastor from Louisville. He talked with us about some of the early struggles he faced at his church. He had to fire, for instance, 23 staff people in a 24 month period when he arrived at Highview Baptist. He was a stictch and had us laughing until our sides hurt.

From there we drove to Southeast to visit with Dave Stone and to take a tour of their facilities. Amazing. Huge. But also quite complex. As we discussed their men's ministries, their women's ministries, and all their other ministries, I thought about our efforts to become a Simple Church. I'm convinced that we're on the right track. Just three things folks: Seek, Study, and Serve God.

One thing that Southeast is doing that is light years ahead of South Lansing is in connecting first-time attenders and new members to the church. Their assimilation process is specific, defined and hums along like a Swiss watch. I especially like that they're connecting new members and attenders to a five week small group as soon as they join (something Wally, our Associate Minister, and his team has been pushing for). I think we need to send Wally and his team down here soon to learn the ins and the outs of a system that could pretty easily be adapted for South Lansing Christian.

We rounded out the day by bowling with Bob and then eating dinner at Bob and Judy Russell's home. What a great day.

I am looking forward to coming home and implementing what I've been learning!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Retreat, Day Two

I'm spending another night at Country Lake Retreat Center north of Louisville, Kentucky tonight. Bob Russell Ministries is sponsoring a retreat for preachers. Eight guys in a room with Bob. Fantastic. We're learning about church leadership from a legend of leadership. Earlier today we had a private tour of Louisville Slugger with the owner's son-in-law, Bill Clark. Bill is an elder at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville.

He talked about the importance of "swimming with the fish." It is a metaphor that basically means we need to connect with the people our church is trying to reach to get their reactions. A question he recommends we ask them is, "What in our service helped you draw closer to God?" Also, "what was an obstacle?"

Excellent, excellent stuff.

Dinner tonight was at Ruth's Chris - I had the T-bon - Wow! We'll be touring Southeast tomorrow and meeting with some of their elders and Senior Minister Dave Stone. What a great retreat.

My buddy Fred is going on this retreat in November. To all my preacher buddies - you need to go to Bob's website and apply for this retreat!

Oh - the fish. One of the guys at our retreat, a Baptist preacher from Mississippi who is a chaplain on the pro bass fisherman's tour caught this eight pounder this morning right down in front of the lodge. It was his third cast. He threw it back, though. So much for once-a-keeper, always-a-keeper.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Looking out the window

A couple months back I preached a sermon about Cain and Abel in which I suggested Cain's problem was that he looked out the window to point out his brother's deficiencies rather than looking in the mirror and taking personal responsibility for his own. We all do that, I think, to some extent. It is easier to look out the window than in the mirror. Less self-confrontational. It enables us to avoid facing the harsh reality that we need to change.

The window / mirror concept comes from Jim Collins' book, Good to Great. Collins teaches that "level five leaders," that rare breed of individuals that reach the pinnacle of leadership, have mastered this concept. When looking to assign credit they look out the window. When looking to assign blame, they look in the mirror. That is real leadership, says Collins.

By comparison, leaders who were in charge of companies that failed, ". . . did just the opposite. They'd look out the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit themselves when things went well."

Consider then, Collins comments in light of the blame being either accepted or deflected by the men and women who lead us in Washington:

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi
According to The Hill, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when asked Tuesday whether Democrats bear some of the responsibility regarding the current crisis on Wall Street, had a one-word answer: 'No.'" Apparently there are no mirrors in her office.

Republican Presidential Nominee, John McCain
McCain comes a little closer to getting it right. At a Florida rally, McCain said, "As for the Congress, members in both parties must accept a share of the responsibility." According to the AP McCain said, "America is in a crisis today . . . The economic crisis is not the fault of the American people. Our workers are the most innovative, the hardest working, the best skilled, the most productive, the most competitive in the world. ... But they are being threatened today ... because of greed and corruption that some engaged in on Wall Street and we have got to fix it."

Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama
U.S. News and World Report writes, "Democratic nominee Barack Obama in a statement called it 'the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.' He laid the blame squarely on the policies of the Bush Administration, and suggested his Republican rival, John McCain, would provide more of the same."

Real leaders man up and accept their share of the blame. Congress is responsible, and that includes Senators McCain and Obama. President Bush is culpable. Wall Street shares some of the blame. I am partly responsible for contributing to the problem by buying into the buy-now-pay-later culture.

You'll hear a lot of talk over the next few weeks about "blame isn't productive, let's focus on a solution." Well, the first step in finding a solution is recognizing my share of the blame. Real leaders do that. Hopefully one will reveal himself so we can elect him in November.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I conducted a funeral today for a MSU alumnus and lifelong Spartan fan. There was a Spartan flag draped across the casket. The family talked about their dad attending the Frozen Four and the Rose Bowl. They made mention of him watching basketball games with his neighbor. He saw some of the great Spartan players - Magic Johnson, Steve Garvey and the like.

At one point in the service they played the MSU alma mater, "MSU Shadows." It was amazing to watch the congregation. Tears that had been held in for most of the service flowed as the lyrics of the song brought back memories - not just of Mr. Stewart - but for his children and grandchildren who are fellow State alums.

It made me think about my Alma Mater, Great Lakes Christian College. I don't ever recall seeing anyone get misty-eyed as they sang, "'Neath the azure dome of Heaven . . ." There is something visceral and palpable about the love that State fans have for their university that seems to be missing among my generation of GLCC grads.

I think I might know at least one reason why. I play basketball with John who works for the University. About a month ago John had to miss a game - something he almost never does. When he showed up the following week I asked him where he had been. He told me that each year, when incoming Freshman arrive on campus, John gives a talk. Because there are thousands of freshmen, John gives the talk dozens of times. I've since learned that "the talk" is legendary. The title: "What it Means to be a Spartan." John shares MSU traditions with the students. He explains to them that they are inheriting a legacy, and that they are keepers of this legacy for succeeding generations of Spartan alums. MSU has such profoundly loyal alumni because, in part, they learn to love the university the very first week they are on campus.

I don't recall ever hearing a talk titled "What it Means to be a Crusader." To be sure, I learned something of what it means to be a GLCC alumnus. Indeed, I do tear up when I sing the Alma Mater because I recall Dr. Brant Lee Doty, its author. I wonder, though, if this year's freshman even know the song. (State Freshman are required to learn theirs.) I wonder if they have heard of Dr. Doty or if he is just another faceless name, a bit of trivia, or a post-card thought that some of their alumni parents occasionally mention.

My wife and I and many others have bemoaned the anemic alumni involvement at our college. Frankly, there have been instances where we contributed to that problem. I am wondering, though, if part of the solution begins by teaching incoming freshman just how special a legacy they're entrusted with. By reminding them that they're receiving a gift from the college and that the time will come when they'll be expected to give back in equal measure . . .

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Props to a YouTube-er

I'm preaching from Acts 17 tomorrow making the case that we seek God because only He can fill the void in our heart that His absence creates. Huge props to TRIPPISME for allowing me to use his video rendering of the Athens Parthenon. It is a way cool video. The Apostle Paul mush have had some major . . . nerve . . . to go into so intimidating a city and deliver the message of Jesus Christ. Athena's statue in the Parthenon was thirty-nine feet tall, but not nearly so tall as Paul.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

You're welcome - not!

Julio is a young guy that has been using our gym on Tuesday nights for pick-up basketball. Let me first say that he's a good guy. So nice, in fact, that the game has blown up from the original ten or twelve ballers to over twenty gym rats. The place is so busy on Tuesday nights that you're lucky if you can get on the court for one game out of every three.

In an effort to reign in the eager hoopsters, Julio posted this sign on the front door last week:One of our elders saw the sign shortly after is was taped to the front door and freaked out (rightfully so, by the way). We stress, over and over, that South is a "place for you." We are inclusive not exclusive. For Julio - who doesn't attend our church - it was an honest mistake.

Yet I've been around many churches and many Christians that have exactly this attitude. Church starts growing. New people start coming. The "establishment" begins to realize they might lose control and they freak out. (Sound familiar Fred?) Maybe they don't post signs on the door, but it is made clear in other, not uncertain ways, that "If you don't know me and I don't know you, you are not welcome."

My friend, Terry, was fired from a church in Kentucky for this very reason. The church grew. "Our people" were threatened by "those people." Undesirables (read, "sinners") began coming to church bringing their habits and heartaches right along with them. Solution - fire the preacher. My buddy Mike went through the same thing. He started inviting skateboarders to church. Kids with more ink than a Kinko's starting mixing with the Bible Bowl crowd and Mike's phone began to ring. Parents were concerned that their "good kids" might become "infected." (Perhaps because they were never properly inoculated?) When over 100 such kids started showing up on Sunday nights, it was time for Mike to go. Bye bye, Mike. Oh, and bye bye youth group. And, I suspect, bye bye to a generation of kids in that town who have one more reason to hate the church.

The thing is, these churches usually get exactly what they want. A small, close-knit group of believers that know each other, and each others' business. Forty people who come together on Sunday morning and play church the way you and I used to play house with our siblings and neighbors in the yard barn out behind the grape arbor. People stay away and the church slowly atrophies. The building becomes an antique mall and the member or two that has to sign at closing takes some small consolation in knowing that the money realized from the sale of the building went to help the church camp or the Bible college.

There is that problem of the great commission being ignored. There is the little thing about Acts 1:8 being overlooked. "Go ye into all the world." Fine so long as the world don't come in here. "You will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem." As long as the Jerusalemites don't have different color skin or funny hair or tattoos or, or, or, or.

I have to talk with Julio tonight. Hopefully I can help him understand that our church has a different understanding. Some have suggested its time to nix the Tuesday night open gym altogether. I wonder, though, if a better plan might be to "plant" some Southies in the gym as covert witnesses of Jesus Christ. Maybe we can do a little guerrilla evangelism once a week.

If that happens, maybe Julio and his crew - none of whom are members here at South - will begin showing up here for something other than ball. Who knows, maybe we'll have to deal with all Julio's guys coming on Sunday morning and sitting in "someone's seat."

Frankly, I can't wait for that to happen.