Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Plaza Church

         Many of you have called and written asking about this new endeavor Christina and I are about to jump into and are wondering about where and why we are planning to plant a church. Below is a paper I'm writing for our district leaders as a part of my application process. It hopefully brings some clarity to the questions: where are we planting, why are we planting and what do we hope to accomplish.

          Like most of my blogs so far it's way too long, but the reason I'm posting it is to pull back the curtain a bit and let all my friends see my heart and the direction the God is leading me.  Let me know what you think. I'm learning and changing by the day as I assimilate more information and as I'm praying through the direction that God is leading us. 

The Plaza Church

         My heart for this church plant is simply this: to build a Christ-centered pentecostal community focused on serving, loving and discipling the people who live in and round the 64112 area code (Commonly known as “The Plaza”).  We typically leave the term “unreached people group” for overseas missions, but I believe that moniker applies to this locale and it’s residents.

          A quick search at zipskinny.com reveals an interesting demographic.  The people in the zip code of the Plaza are for the most part college educated, single young adults who are employed and making a decent but not lavish wage (35-45k on average).  Like most of us at that stage in life many are just beginning to define who they are, and what course their lives are going to take.  They work hard at their jobs and love their social life.  But many are searching for a larger meaning.
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           They are a very socially conscience generation and the latest studies show that they are intrigued by, but not involved in, Christianity and Church.  A new study from Lifeway Research shows that 2 out of 3 individuals in this age group call themselves Christian and 70% say that the  Church is still relevant.  These are surprising, and encouraging numbers to be sure. However the sad stat is this one: Of those who identify with Christ: only 25% actually go to church.   

              My first reaction is “Why?” Having grown up in church and having spent the last 9 years of my life employed in ministry in the church, I know what a powerful place a community of believers can be.  I know the strength I’ve drawn, spiritually, emotionally, socially and mentally, through the ministries and relationships I’ve found in the church.  So why then are these believers (not to mention the vast numbers of unbelievers) avoiding the church? Why are they disconnecting from Christ and his family at an alarming rate? 

              The answer to this question is, I assume, as varied as the individuals we would ask to answer it.  Some are turned off by style, some by bad experiences, some by the desires and distractions of the world and some simply never felt connected and slowly drifted away.  I don’t know that there is any single solution to the many excuses for why people are not coming to church.  But I do know that a healthy, loving, Christ centered community is the hope of the world.  I do know that when done well, there is nothing on earth so powerful as the church.  Nothing is better at growing individuals into the fullness of Christ and empowering them to live their life to it’s fullest.  

                I think that’s why I want to plant a church.  I see a multitude of people searching for a cause  that is bigger than success and stuff.  A generation accosted by the corruption of their culture and in response something in them is crying out to rise above the fray and live a life worth dying for.    And than I see the cross.  The simple, beautiful cross and the Savor that laid down His life to give me a salvation I didn’t even know I needed.  The old saying goes “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  And I believe that the truth in that saying applies in our day as much as ever.   God’s vehicle for the presentation of His love is the power of the cross, lifted up through the witness of the local church.   This area needs the light in the midst of the darkness.  

                      What will this church look like?  To be honest I don’t know.  Much of the style and look of the church will be formed in response to the insight we gain as we learn more about the culture and people that live there.  Ed Stetzer says in the book “Planting Missional Churches” that “The most biblical church is the one in which the cross is the only stumbling block for the unchurched.”  I like that.  The cross is a non-negotiable.  Discovering what connects people to the cross, and then executing that with a commitment to excellence will determine the style, or look, of the church. I have my ideas and plans for what I think that will look like, but I’m holding loosely to my plans until I better understand the local culture.   

                   I think that possibly the only absolute non-negotiable’s in the formation of a church are Theology and Community. 

                  I believe that if a church is solid in it’s commitment to a Biblical theology then it’s people will grow in their personal relationships with Christ and their lives will reflect that.  As important as it is to be culturally relevant, the medium only matters if the message is transformational and nothing is more transformational than Gods word.    It’s important that a church is not only committed to teaching Gods word, but teaching its people to love and engage in Gods word for themselves.  

                   Community is an old buzz word that I think has lost much of its impact as it’s become a bit over used.  Community does not simply describe a gathering of people.   Community implies a group of people with a common unity that draws them together for the betterment of the individual and the group as a whole.  In Gods family we are to be defined by our love for each other. The “It” factor that drives the vitality of a community is that they simply like being together. They enjoy the gathering and laughter is commonplace.   When one suffers they all suffer, when one mourns they all mourn, when one rejoices they all rejoice as though the joy is there own!  I would love to see people identify church as their favorite place to hang out. 

                   We cannot afford to fail at proclaiming God’s unchanging word in a relevant way or at creating an atmosphere of Christ centered community where we are best known by our love for each other and for our world.  If we have these elements we fulfill the great commandment to love God with all of our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

                 I’m learning so much right now about the process of building a church.  I’ve so many questions about legal issues, finances, payroll, incorporation, organization and leadership structures, developing a board, and so much more.   Growing up in church and in a pastor’s home I have a basic understanding of much of this, but I have so much more to learn.  
              Thanks you for allowing me to share my heart with you about this potential church plant.  In some ways I feel like a pregnant mother, this dream planted in my heart and I can’t wait to see what it will look like, feel like, sound like and how it will live.  I can’t wait to see who God brings alongside of my wife and I to work with us in this harvest. I can’t wait to find the Godly men and women God has already planted around the Plaza who are currently praying for God to bring a local church to their area.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A brave new world.

Dear friends,
As many of you may have heard by now Christina and I are entering into a exciting new adventure in our ministry lives.  I know there are a lot of questions about what these changes are and what they mean for the youth ministry here at Evangel.   I’d like to take a minute and share my heart for our new adventure and also for the future of the the youth group.

For some time now Christina and I have been feeling a sense of impending change in our lives.  We love youth ministry and we love the students here at Evangel but we began to feel like God was setting us up for a new direction. The problem was we really had no idea what that direction was.  There were many days I felt a bit like Abraham must have felt when he was hearing God say  "Leave... your people and... go to the land I will show you. “   I felt a sense of God calling me to step out, but not knowing what the next step was.  Pastor Jason and I talked regularly about these things and have been praying together about this transition for almost 7 months now.

When I was 12 years old I was at a youth camp in Grass Lake, Michigan when I began to feel like God wanted me to be a youth pastor.  From that moment on it was the only job I ever wanted. And other than a brief stint selling Polo shirts at Marshall Fields it’s the only full time job I’ve ever had.  You can imagine my surprise when 20 years later I found myself thinking God might have a new job description in store for me.  For the first time since 1988 I began to seriously consider a ministry other than to youth.  I began to think about planting a church.

And that simple thought has become a driving force in my heart.  I stay up at night thinking about it, I wake up early in the morning writing down ideas that formed in my heart through the night.  Like a woman who has just found out that she’s pregnant my minds wonders to random dates in the future and I wonder what this baby will look like, sound like and feel like.  I can’t wait to meet the people that Gods has been preparing for this ministry and to see the lives Gods will changes through it.  I’m going to be a church planter, and that’s something that only God could have birthed in my heart.

In all honesty I have to admit I have moments where some anxiety creeps in and the doubts start to swirl through my mind.  But in those moments God has repeatedly calmed my heart. He’s encouraged me through scriptures in my devotions, through encouraging words of friends and even through some surprising and timely wisdom from my three year old!

Just to be clear I want everyone to know this: I love Evangel.  I love the youth ministry here, I love the friends and people that we’ve meet here, I love the staff and board and I’ve loved working with and growing to become friends with Pastor Jason.  I have zero negative things to say about this amazing church and I consider it a honor and a blessing to have been able to serve and grow as a part of the staff here.  This is with out a doubt one of the greatest churches I’ve ever been to, much less had the privilege to work with.  I’ve already told Pastor Jason to get used to me asking questions because I want to learn from the guru himself as much as I can!  Pastor Jason and I are committed to make this transition happen in the most healthy and loving way possible.  God loves multiplication but hates division.  We are in this together as friends and family in Christ.

I know there will be some questions. If that’s the case please feel free to ask.  Christina and I would love to share our hearts with you and covet your prayers through this transition.

As for the youth ministry: No worries, it’s in good hands.  We have four former youth pastors currently on staff and several more in our audience.  Pastor Lisa is stepping up to make sure all the leadership needs are covered and that the ministry will not only be able to maintain, but I believe grow and thrive during this transition time.  Please be praying as Pastor Jason and the team start the search for the next youth pastor. I know that God has a great leader that he’s preparing for this position and for our students.  Pastor Kevin has been involved throughout this process and he and Krystal believe God has called them to stay in the Middle School position.  They are absolutely rocking it over there and this summer is going to be amazing as they receive an influx of new 6th and 7th graders.   Pray for them! I would love to see God bless the church with the finances to bring them on board full time.  Will you pray for that with me?

If there are any other questions of things that I can help clarify please let me know.  We love you all and want to thank you for the privilege we’ve had to serve your students these past four years.   

God bless.

Jason B

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The problem with pain.

A few months ago I posted a video on my Facebook showing some hard to watch scenes of Christian persecution overseas. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch my brothers in Christ beaten and abused because of their faith in Christ. It was a scene I don't think I'll even forget.

Yesterday I got an email from a dear friend about that video. Its images had a haunting effect on her and she struggled to put the images of such violence into context with her belief that God is a God of love.  She boldly wondered: "There is no God of Love if he will allow us to suffer so terribly. I would protect my children and NEVER let that happen"

Truth is I've heard that statement in various forms more times than I can remember. It's a powerful and difficult thing to try and reconcile the reality of true evil and the existence of an all powerful and all loving God.  Why would God allow evil, suffering, pain, heartbreak and the like if He has the power to stop it?

Below is my response to her and maybe to you too. Read it over and let me know what you think. How does it impact your view of evil and God? What questions does provoke? What comfort does it give? I'd love to hear your response!

"I'm so sorry that that video affected you that way. That of course wasn't the intention and I'm glad your heart pulling through.

One of the big questions I deal with (personally as well as from others) is exactly that: If God is so loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering in this world?

The best answer I found may surprise you. It comes back to His great love for us.  A bit surprising that His love for us would be the place to start to understand suffering but walk with me through the thought and let me know what you think...

Here's how the discussion goes...

1. God loves us.
2. God loves us so much that He (even though he doesn't "need" it) desperately want us to love him back.  Simply following him or obeying him isn't enough, he wants us heart, mind and soul.
3. That kind of close love relationship can only happen if we have the freedom to choose him.  If we were all pre-programmed to respond to God then we could never truly be in love with him. We'd be at best robots, at worst a form of unwilling slave.
4. So God made an unbelievable concession. He gave us "free-will" The ability for us to choose him, to love him (and really to understand his love for us) came at a incredible price.
5. That price was the reality that having the ability to choose him also meant we have the ability to NOT choose him. In fact we have the freedom to do whatever we want to do. good, bad or indifferent.
6. Evil comes of course as a direct result of people rejecting God and His love.

So what do I do with this? I look at a video like that and see evil. Pure angry mob evil. I think of Stephan, the first martyr, who died in a mob that I bet looked a lot like that.

But I also think of Saul. I think if we had the video of Stephan's stoning we'd be sick to our stomachs and most of out righteous anger would be directed at the arrogant jerk holding the coats so people could throw the rock harder.

But here’s where the "aha" moment came for me.  Why did God allow Stephan to be stoned?  He could have stopped it, intervened like he had for Daniel in the lions den or for the 3 in the fiery furnace.  Here’s what I think: God loves the "Sauls" just as much as he loves the "Stephens".  And because of that he endures the suffering of the Stephan’s for the chance to save the Saul’s.

This seemed harsh to me until I began to see it from an eternal perspective.  Really what’s 5 minutes of suffering compared to an eternity of paradise?  For the matter what's 50 years of suffering compared to 50 trillion years of paradise?

All that to say this: There is terrible evil in this world. But I believe that sometimes God will use the evil of the world to show us the lostness of our souls and to cause us to cry out to him. He's loves us so much (and so desperately wants us to love him) that He'll endure the suffering of the righteous for the salvation of the wicked, knowing that the righteous man reward won't be found on this side of heaven anyway.

Wow, that turned out a TON longer than I thought.  Sorry for rambling on but I really believe a understanding of this changed the way I see life and opportunity and pain and even my desire to live a comfortable life.  Hopefully something in all that help you too... "