Without sin there’s no grace

One of the most interesting things about Jesus’ ministry is how much time he spent with sinners and tax collectors. Rather than hanging out with the religious elite, he hung out with society’s worst.

That’s become one of the most emphasized parts of Jesus’ ministry. We’ve all heard a million sermons about that. “This church is a place that welcomes the broken, the messed up, the misfits, the rejected… because that’s what Jesus did.”

We’ve all heard that. It’s a great thing the church is becoming more accepting of outsiders.

Here’s a potential problem though: A sinner’s acceptance by the church is not what makes him eligible to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jarrett Stevens said it better than I could ever say it: grace isn’t grace until sin is sin.

A person can’t experience God’s grace until they acknowledge their sin. A person can’t receive the good news until they recognize that there’s bad news.

The sinners that Jesus hung out with knew they were sinners. They even felt shame because of it. Many of the sinners we need to reach don’t want to admit that’s what they are. That’s a huge difference. The guy who sins all the time and is content sinning all the time is not the guy who should be accepted the way Jesus accepted Matthew and Zacchaeus.

To quote Soul City again, we have to accept everyone, and then expect everyone to grow. That’s going to involve lovingly pointing out sin.

“The church can’t become a place that’s known more for what it’s against than what it’s for.” OK, that’s true… but we’re still against stuff, and we still have to talk about that stuff.

Have you met people unwilling to acknowledge their sin? How did you approach the situation?

Churches partnering with families

Reggie Joiner and the Orange team have changed the conversation for many church leaders. Instead of thinking in terms of “children’s ministry” and  “student ministry” people are starting to think in terms of “family ministry”.

The reason: Families get exponentially more time with kids than churches do. So, as the thinking goes, in order for churches to leverage their influence most effectively, they need to partner with families.

That’s awesome. I’m completely sold that family ministry is the way to influence the next generation.

Here’s a problem I see, though:

Even in the Orange model, the church isn’t actually partnering with families… the Family Ministry is.

  • As long as the Family Ministry Department is the one implementing family ministry strategies, then the Family Ministry is the only one partnering with families… the church isn’t.

Does that make sense? We haven’t changed the way our churches engage families, we’ve only changed the way our family ministries engage families.

In order for the church to truly partner with families, family ministry has to become the strategy of the church as a whole.

What does that mean? I don’t know. “Gee, Nate. Thanks a lot.”

I do have some thoughts.

  • It’s not abolishing student ministry like some advocate.
  • It’s going to involve churches becoming more strategic about what they’re teaching on Sunday mornings.
  • If the family ministry has core principles they want kids to know, shouldn’t the ‘big wheels’ get it together and know what they want their parents to know.
  • It’s going to need church programming to reprioritize around families. (Broad, I know.)
  • It’s going to involve connecting older families with younger families.

I don’t know what any of this looks like. I just think something else is coming. Sending kids home with a sheet they’re supposed to look at with their parents doesn’t seem like much of a partnership to me.

Have you implemented the Orange strategy? Are you ready to embrace it as a church instead of a department?

Just teach em the good book

I’ve been to a lot of youth groups. Like a million or something. The reason there are so many youth group stereotypes is because they’re all about the same.

Now, recently everybody has caught onto the whole “millennials are leaving the church” thing. A bunch of people are proposing a bunch of different reasons for why, and offering a bunch of different strategies to fix it.

I thought I’d share my opinion.

  • The problem: nobody knows the Bible anymore.
  • The solution: teach people the Bible.

“Nah, that won’t work.” Yea, because dodgeball, stupid intro games, stupid videos, and stupid stories from the youth pastor have been working so well.

Even the “serious” part of youth groups is pretty stupid these days. Here’s how a typical youth group message goes:

  • Stupid intro story about when the youth pastor was in high school
  • Reading of one verse
  • No explanation of the verse
  • Application of the verse: “Guys, God loves us… and we can change the world. We just need big faith that He can do it. Here, read this book Sun Stand Still.

(The Sun Stand Still thing is just a joke.)

Now, please hear me. I don’t mean to disrespect you if you’re a youth pastor. I especially don’t mean to belittle your desire to help students encounter God. But here’s the thing: the reason students are leaving the church when they get to college is because they don’t believe anything significant enough about Christianity to keep them once they get there.

Here are the core things we teach:

  • God and Jesus love you no matter what
  • You should be a good person
  • You should change the world

The problem is, all of that is sexy in the world right now without the church.

  • God and Jesus love you no matter what… because for God to refuse to accept someone would be intolerant… so of course God loves us no matter what
  • You should be a good person… exactly. We should all be nice so we can live peacefully and in harmony
  • You should change the world… totally! Look at Tom’s shoes, he’s really making a difference! Oh, and we should stop human trafficking!

Please hear me. People desperately need Jesus Christ. Jesus is only found one place. All the Scripture leads back to Him. So let’s just teach it. Let’s make our primary strategy to teach God’s Word. We have to help students see that the Bible addresses the issues they’re dealing with, and that it’s the voice they need to obey, because it’s the only voice that’s true 100% of the time.

As long as we boil Christianity down to a few core ethical principles, people won’t be sticking around. They get those everywhere.

Nope, we aren’t there yet

Wednesdays are the day this summer I’m going to be writing specifically about what I’m learning at Seacoast Church, though most of my posts this summer are probably influenced in some way by my experiences here.

I have the privilege of going to some really important meetings with some really important people.  It can be humbling and make you feel like you don’t know very much, but it can also be an incredible opportunity to learn. Recently I was in one of these meetings with the executive team of the church when they began talking about realigning to the vision of the church. As they were talking, one of the guys in the room made a great statement.

A leader’s answer to the question, “Are we there yet?” should always be no.

A leader knows that you never arrive.  A leader knows that you never accomplish everything there is to accomplish. A leader is driven by pursuing what’s unattainable.

Think about that. A church leader’s journey has no earthly destination.

  • “Well… we finally planted enough churches.”
  • “Well… we finally reached as many as we can reach.”
  • “Well… everybody’s finally fully devoted.”

We know we’ll never make any of those statements. The temptation, though, is to lead like we will.

  • “If we could ever just hit x-number of people.”
  • “If we could just get 75% in small groups.”
  • “If we could ever just launch ________.”
  • “When we get a building…”

Attainable goals are great. But goals aren’t destinations. Goals are tools to help you move forward. And the ultimate goal is to always be moving forward. Why? Because you’re never ‘there yet.’

Determining the ideal world

Recently I was having lunch with a good friend. During one of our conversations, I began to explain some dreams I have about what the church could look like someday. Before I got too far, he said, Yea, the problem is… practically I don’t know how that could ever work.”

Now, practicality is a great thing. ‘Head in the cloud’ conversations have the potential to really annoy me if they last too long. While this is true, I also think we need to be wise about where practicality fits. Here’s why:

Failure to identify the ideal world results in mediocrity and obscurity in the real world.

If you are going to lead a church that has a clear vision on how to best make disciples, you have to take time to think ideally before you think practically.

  • Thinking ideally says: “Here’s what this would look like in a perfect world.”
  • Thinking practically says: “In light of what we would do in a perfect world, here’s what we’ll do in the real world.”

If you don’t take the time to imagine what everything would look like in a perfect world, you’re not going to be clear on where you’re going in the real world. If I don’t know what all my structures would be like if everything were perfect, how can I begin to make strategies and structures that are as close to perfect as possible?

You can’t evaluate something when perfection hasn’t been defined.

In order to pursue excellence and clarity, you have to determine the ideal world before you plan the real world. Don’t discredit the ideal world just because it isn’t very practical. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a different step in the process.

So, in a perfect world, what would your ministry look like? If you don’t know, chances are good that you’re not very close to it.