Archives For Church Unity

Hidden Agendas

October 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

– Acts 8:9-19

I love how Scripture has a way of telling you something in a way that nothing else can. Simon the Sorcerer (not hat’s not his last name) was a character the apostles encountered early in their post-Jesus ministry. No doubt the church started with a bang (see Acts 2) and things were on an exciting level. I notice that when excitement comes there is a tendency to veer off mission and vision in order to keep excitement going. Simon is just an example of many who probably felt the way he did but simply did not voice it. I think Simon struggled with pride and greed and his hidden agenda for the Spirit of God was, like Babel in Genesis 11, an issue of making a name for himself. I love Luke’s language as he says that he told people “he was somebody great.” When true power came (another discussion might be that the apostles never discarded that the magic was fake) he wanted it but perhaps masked his desire to follow Jesus with a hidden agenda. He simply wanted the power. He was selfish. Go figure. In walks every human being to have ever lived. There is a lot to unpack here but for the sake of time and space I want to quickly think about hidden agendas.

Have you ever gone to a meeting thinking you were going to go discuss business matters only to be surprised by a hidden agenda you were not privy to? Or what about relationships where people only talk to you when they need something done or they want to use what you are good at to leverage power, prestige or notoriety in their direction? Hidden agendas creep in relationships which means they creep in churches. Ministers have hidden agendas, elders have hidden agendas, parents in youth ministry have their own agendas. The problem is that when there are all of these hidden agendas it blinds us from keeping our eyes fixed on what is most important: kingdom. A side issue with hidden agendas is that we are not open and honest with people enough to wear we can talk with them in dialogue. Why not disclose your agenda and let people who are wise handle it?

Hidden agendas affect your vision like cancer affects the body. Slow… methodical… poisonous…and always lethal if untreated. A way to get rid of hidden agendas is to have a leadership buy-in to a vision that is so Christocentric and God-honoring that any issue, qualm or quarrel can be avoided simply by saying, “That is not our vision.” When people adopt a specific vision then their hidden agenda becomes part of the churches overall agenda. They secretly are doing what they can to adopt the vision of the church. This will avoid that diplomatic elder or that pessimistic “money-holder” or that youth minister who is secretive about introducing “new things” without church approval.

Get a vision…

Make it clear…

Make it specific…

Make it accessible…

Make it doable…

Stick to it!

What do you think?


Image is from the Political Carnival website.

I am hesitant to write this post namely because I cannot control how people will respond to it.  I also want to admit there is a host of history I am aware of but am not trained in that precludes the issues we will address in this post. However, I am struggling with the ramifications of first century Christianity and how we have done Christianity or, in my particular context, how we have tried to “restore” New Testament Christianity. So for the scholars who read this please know there is a lot I am skipping and I ask your forgiveness for that but I am merely trying to scratch the surface in this discussion.

Question: Why do we have many black churches, white churches, hispanic churches (enter other ethnic group here) but few mixed churches?

The answer is obvious to many as the history in America, unfortunately, has paved the mindset of the church and that we are products of our segregated history. The church should have been the leader in integration years before it occurred (in some places it probably was) but unfortunately whites (predominately in the south) developed an anglocentric view of God’s people and believed anything else was not God’s provision. The Stone-Campbell movement was not unscathed by this as many white churches dodged integration (while still making their conscience stay clean) by starting black churches of Christ in the same city (partially funded, in some cases, by the white church) as the white church.

Fast forward decades and we still have black churches and white churches with few exceptions. Why? Perhaps there is some reconciliation issues that exist between the churches in the town. Perhaps that is just the way some people believe it should be. I talked with a gentleman some time ago about the need for our church to reach someone in the inner-city community and his response spoke volumes to me: “I wonder if this is something the ________ church should do.” In another conversation I had with a person about inviting people from the poor community into our worship I was blown away by their response: “Robbie, I am not sure we should invite ‘those people’ because they do not act right in bible class.” My jaw dropped.

Certainly this is not the way Paul would envision the church. A church that was racially integrated (Jew and Gentile issue in Acts 15) in a racially unstable climate? You had Jews, Romans, Samaritans, women (remember they had no rights), slaves and all sorts of different people learning to be a church together. Yet, we still have churches meeting the needs of each person or, should I say, each race.

But here is a question I have as well: Should integration be the goal of our churches? In other words, is it ok to have rich churches, poor churches, black churches, white churches, if they are at least addressing a certain type of people?

I struggled with this one. Really I did. I believe churches should be integrated so far as communication can be accomplished. There are language barriers in our community that would make Hispanics feel uncomfortable since English is not their primary language. But…it can still be done. I believe that the church should be a warm fellowship filled with different races, socioeconomic levels, nationalities and even people with different beliefs (how can discipleship happen if we all believe the same thing?).

I think there are dangers to integrating churches. One danger a church should avoid is the bigger white church looking like a dominating take over of the smaller black, Hispanic or other church. Perhaps new leadership should be installed represented from both churches and even shared pulpit and ministerial duties. Another danger from this is the immediate confrontation of racism within the body. A move like this would only bring the ugliness of some people in the light which is good though because at least you can see an issue that is in the light.

Again, there is a lot more behind this post that I am unqualified to address but I believe strongly that a church should be integrated based on Scriptures like…well…the whole story! Just think about this: What would it say to a community to see one church uniting rich, poor, black, white, green or purple (gothic too!) under the same name? Do you think it might change the community? Do you think it might unite a community?

What do you think?

We are continuing a series of how people perceive the church and using Proverbs 6:16-19 (7 Deadly Sins) as a framework for our discussion.

16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying, “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.”  Lying has no place in our ministries but I am surprised at the temptation there is to do it.  Not so much the blatant lies but it is the lies of omission where we do not tell the full truth of something.  Like when I tell a student I am going to make it to one of there ball games knowing I do not have the time to do it and then when I do not show up telling them, “I was busy!”  No, you should have never committed in the first place knowing you couldn’t follow through.  

Something that was frowned upon in both the Old and New Testaments was the evil of lying.  When a person withholds truth or forges the truth there is a loss of trust between the two individuals.  Growing up, I had issues with lying.  I lied to make me look better in certain circumstances and to pad my ego.  To a certain extent, there has been the temptation to do this in ministry.  Example: people in the church know I have taken a lot of courses on Greek and Hebrew and sometimes they say things like, “Ask Robbie about the Greek of this particular word.”  Now there is the temptation for me to think that I know a lot and so I can probably give them an answer that sounds like I know a lot and if I use enough “scholarly” language I can even dupe people into thinking I am an expert.  

That’s lying.  

So if someone asks me about Greek or Hebrew I will respond by giving them what I think may be the right answer but I try to refer them to people smarter and more capable than I.  I am really just (to use Mike Yaconelli terminology) a klutz in the kingdom of God and a spiritual nincompoop.  The generation we seek to reach is tired of seeing Christian leaders amount to nothing more than liars.  I struggle often with my own hypocrisy knowing I am held accountable even more than those who do not teach.  I am not an expert at what I do and often I struggle with incompetence and spiritual stupidity.  I admit that I am not the greatest at what I do and there are plenty of men (and women) who are more qualified to do what I do.  But I admit that!  I am honest and transparent about my spiritual life which is something churches need to do starting with its leadership and letting this mentality trickle on down.  

Lies can and have killed churches.  How many church splits have started with a lie or a forgery of truth?  It’s a shame.  We need to be truth-tellers and truth-seekers.  “Did you hear about so and so Robbie?”  My response should be, “No, but I am going to go to so and so to see if what you say is the truth!”  

Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.  (Prov. 23:23)

You will enjoy this one!

I got your back…

September 6, 2011 — 4 Comments

Learned a valuable lesson last week when my computer crashed due to a virus: always have your files backed-up.  I decided one day to purchase one year of off-site back-up from MOZY in case some nerd sent a virus to my computer and caused it to crash.  Well it seems that nerds are hard at work and my computer crashed last Thursday night but all of my files were backed-up with MOZY.  The benefits of MOZY over an external hard-drive is limitless (If a flood destroys your computer it will also destroy the external hard drive right beside it).  So all my files are save and I have a nice Macbook to type on right now.

A lesson is learned though…get something to back you up.  In the Christian life we need someone to back us up.  Ministers we need elders to back us up.  Growing up I remember becoming friends with football players which turned out to be crucial in times of conflict with people who wanted to fight me.  In essence, the football player would tell me, “I got your back” which gave me a lot of confidence (too much I might add) going into the quarrel.  We need people who will endure hardships with us and even for us and will say, “Robbie, I got your back.”  I feel bad for the president as he endures much criticism (some deserved I would imagine some undeserved) and the nature of the job means you stand on a lonely position with few people able to empathize.  I imagine the president loves it when a cabinet member looks at him and says, “Mr. President, I got your back!”

Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

I wonder what our churches would look like if we did more bearing than we did bickering.  Instead of saying, “You’re on your own,” we in the church need to say, “I got your back!”  Ever had someone stab you in the back before?  Not literally but that person who told you one thing then spread false things about you that came to bite you in the back.  It is in those tumultuous moments we need someone to be willing to “watch our 6” when the haters, gossipers, and other hell-bound people are trying to subjugate our reputation.

MOZY had my back when I was caught in a bind and I wonder if, in a spiritual way, we could do the same thing for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  (Gal. 6:9).

Seems like a no-brainer but I am having a “get to know you column” in my space for a bulletin.  This certainly is not a unique idea but so often I have people at my church ask me, “Who is so-and-so that was just baptized?”  My response is, “Are you kidding?  You have been attending here together for 12 years and you don’t know them?”  The answer to that dumb question of mine is, “NO!” Sometimes we get busy in our little pew section and we forget to try to put a name with a face so I am using the next few weeks to allow the church to get to know our teens.  I include a picture, some questions about their favorite food, bible verse, quote and I also ask them what do they want to be when they grow up.  It’s not major but it allows some familiarity among the entire church.

What ideas do you have on getting the church acquainted with your youth group?

Memphoplin (Part 1)

June 22, 2011 — 6 Comments

For the first time in a long time I have the opportunity to blog.  I was out of pocket for most of June with back-to-back mission trips and we have VBS this week so my blogging has been pathetic at-best.  What I wanted to do is share a few stories about what we did as a church and some of the experiences we shared.


We worked with Memphis Urban Ministry (specifically the Raleigh Community Church of Christ) in operating their day camp.  From 9am-11:30am (M-F) we had a VBS where they participated in “Walking through Jerusalem.”  Each day they got to experience a different marketplace and learn about the culture when Jesus was on the earth.  You could tell that the kids were absolutely amazed at what they saw and experienced.  Jerica Briggs, one of the hardest working individuals I know, operated the day camp while we were there.  She had a special gift from God that enabled her to reach the students in a way not many could.  In the afternoons we helped with various activities and assisted the staff in whatever capacity we could.

There are more specifics to what we did but I want to share with you one story about one of the inner-city children.  Jerica explained to us that the Raleigh community looks like a nice neighborhood (and it did) with nice suburban homes (there were) but the problem is that when the black folks started going out of the city toward the suburbs the white folks left (white-flight).  As a result, the gangs moved in and crime has escalated in areas outside of Memphis.  One example is the story of John Doe (not his name but I want to keep things private) who, at the age of seven, aspires to be in a gang.  When asked, “What do you want to do in life?”  He said, “be in a gang.”  He already knows the gang symbols, the gang colors and the Tuesday before we came his house was “shot-up” by another gang because his dad was in a rival gang.  I have experienced some rough kids in my day but this one has to top them all.  There was no respect for authority, he did not trust us, and he could care less about the songs we sang or the games we played.

Yet, toward the end of the week, because of one of our adults Clay, this rough kid started singing and participating in the games.  I could tell that a change was occurring in his demeanor and he (though he wouldn’t admit it) actually wanted to be there.  I can’t speak for the teenagers but only speak for myself in saying that I have failed in reaching the inner-city communities of Springfield.  I have falsely assumed things about them (like they don’t want to listen) yet they, in my experience, were more hungry for the Word than I was.  Any affirmation or praise that we gave them was soaked up like water in a sponge.  They were more than willing to learn and even showed signs of absolute brilliance.

The problem with these mission trips is that we go thousands of miles on thousand dollar budgets to get an experience on reaching the poor yet we fail (miserably I might add) at reaching people in our own backyards.  I think there are some serious reasons we are not reaching our inner-city folks like we should:

  1. Racism – Not everyone is a racist but I believe there are many who still cannot worship with people of a different race.  Not only is that ethically wrong to be like that it is biblically wrong (see Matt. 22:37-39; Col. 3:1-11 to name a couple).  Mixed in with this idea of racism there may be the assumption that we have an African-American church in town that can reach “those types of people” while we can reach “other types.”  Something is incredibly wrong when brothers and sisters in Christ cannot worship each other based on skin-color or socio-economic status.
  2. We are not set up to reach people like that.  I think this assumption is correct.  If you look at our church buildings, most of them are set up to suit the member’s needs.  After all, the members are the ones who pay to keep the building in operation.  You have these massive buildings that say nothing more than, “Look how much money we spent on this building!”  to make matters more difficult, our attire says, “You have to own a suit or a dress in order to show up for services.”  That may not be the intention but that is there is assumption.  Then we say, look right…dress right…then act right and then you can come to our services.  If someone was addicted to crack the last place they would go is a church.  Why?  Because they have it all together right?  Someone got upset at me one time because I did not wear a tie on Sunday night while I preached.  I looked at them and said, “Why aren’t you wearing a tie?”  “Well that’s expected of a preacher to wear a tie not me!”  I said, “Where in the Bible does it say that?”  The argument quickly fizzled and the point I made was that we are never going to reach inner-city folks if we do not set up our building, worship and mentality to address their real needs.

Of course, all of this is operating under the assumption that we need to bring them to a location.  What would it be like to grab a few people from church and on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights bring the church into the community?  Chew on that for a little bit…read the gospels and Acts to see where I am going with this thought pattern.

I am going to pause here because I feel like this is enough for now.  The experience opened my eyes about ministry and how we as a church are not being mission-minded like we should.  Tomorrow I will talk about Joplin.

Dear Preachers,

First, I want you to know how much we appreciate your diligent study that takes place every single week as your prepare 2 lessons, 2 bible classes and various lessons in between.  On top of that you visit people all over the congregation in times of trouble, sickness, spiritual laxity and then there are the endless meetings with the elders, committees and other programs in the church and then somehow you are supposed to cast vision for the church and for yourself.  I want to say that your work does not go unnoticed and we, as youth ministers, want to express our gratittude for the work you do not in the 30 minutes you stand before the assembly but the 60+ hours you labor outside of the assembly.  In the words of Paul, “press on” (Philippians 3).

Secondly, I want to let you know that we need your help as a voice among the church but also among the leadership.  Right or wrong sometimes the youth minister’s voice does not hold much weight and sometimes we are pretty young in age so we are somewhat hesitant to speak to the leadership about certain issues.  We need you to be our voice to the leadership when we cannot speak otherwise.

Thirdly, we need your training and mentoring.  More than likely you have more experience in full-time church work than we do so we would love it if you sat down with us and talked about the work of a minister not necessarily in a formal way but in an ongoing discussion as we both labor side-by-side for the church.  “You should have known better” could be avoided if you would sit down with us and mentor us along the way.  Some of us need fine-tuning when it comes to public speaking, preparing messages and so forth so please help us with that.

Fourth, please have our backs.  I will defend you every time someone says your sermon was boring, or you spoke too long, or you spoke too fast, or you used too much Scripture or you didn’t use enough Scripture.  I will defend you when someone is talking about you and spreading rumors.  I will defend you when people say you didn’t spend enough time in the office or you spend too much time in the office.  However, I need you to do the same for me.  When parents talk about how inept, uneducated and ill-prepared I am for youth ministry I need you to have my back.  You know how much effort I put into the ministry and you have seen the work that I do so please do not buy into their gossip but, in all cases, defend me.  If I am wrong then confront me about it but do not buy into the gossip.

Fifth, attend youth functions.  Every once in a while offer to chaperon a youth event.  It serves two functions: 1) The kids learn that their preacher is more than the guy who speaks and 2) they see that the church staff works as a team and supports each other.  I believe Steven Covey would call that a Win-Win-Win because then the students maintain that mentality.

Again, I appreciate all of the work you do and it’s all about God so let’s work as a team and accomplish things for the Lord.

Deo Gratias

This blog post is dedicated to my favorite preacher, Joe Rushing who has labored here at Main Street 20 years come the first weekend in December.  You’re amazing Joe!

Dear Elders,

First I want to say thank you for providing so many youth ministers with opportunities to grow and learn in their ministries.  You have stuck with many in the trenches and many of you are the reasons why youth ministers are still thriving.  You show up at their activities, skits and you even take them out for lunch letting them know how much you appreciate them.  I want to thank you for the great ministry of shepherding you have done and for that we owe you our love and support.  However, if I you were to ask me some advice for elders based on a youth minister’s perspective I would give you the following.  Please do not micro-manage us and actually trust us.  I understand you come from an atmosphere where the “bottom-line” is the point of conversation but the truth is that youth ministry is messy.  I can give you financial statements, expenditures, number of visits, phone calls, hours in the office, gas mileage, class reports, individual growth reports for teens, parent meeting reports, future planning, vision and anything else you want but that would mean I would never see my family and the truth is that youth ministry is never, ever, ever neat.  Some of you get that and trust us tremendously but many of you could care less about what we do and all you want to know is that we are a) not losing kids, b) not losing money and c) keeping parents happy.  So please do not micro-manage us but actually trust us to do the job that you hired us to do.

Secondly, I wish you would go to bat for us when a parent comes to you with a “problem” instead of coming down hard on us every time a parent whines and complains.  Let’s be honest elders, some parents are 40 year old kindergarteners.  Some of them get mad because we “made” them put their children’s phone up in bible class.  Some of them get jealous because they think we love other kids more than theirs.  Some of them get mad because we encouraged their daughter to put some modest clothes on and then encouraged mom to do the same.  I wish you would tell parents to first talk with us before they come to you.  You guys are not the principal’s office or the NCAA rules violations committee you are our shepherds.  If they have not come to us first then that is biblically wrong (Matthew 18, et al).  We need your support and if you keep defending parents all the time then, like a defenseless deer, we are going to run.

Thirdly, please pray with us and our families.  I have discussions all the time about youth ministers who are exhausted and I ask if their elders have sat down and prayed with them and the answer is invariably no.  We need to feed but we also need to be fed.  Coming into our office with no agenda but only to pray is food for our spiritual soul.

Fourth, discipline us.  WHAT?  I know that sounds crazy but just like youth ministers need not to be micro-managed we also need evaluation, constructive criticism and discipline.  If we think we are always doing the right thing and nobody tells us otherwise then we assume we are always doing the right thing.  That’s not right.  Sit down with us yearly to talk about our successes but talk about where we need improvement.

Finally, cast vision and differentiate.  There are elders in churches who are too scared to do and say what they need to because they are afraid of brother or sister so-and-so.  If it is not a matter of doctrine and it is for the betterment of the sheep then do it.  Fear paralyzes churches and the result is that we will not grow.  I was talking with Dale Jenkins one time and I said, “I don’t think we need to change for change sake.”  His response was appropriate and made me think, “Well why not change for change sake?”  I wish elders had 1, 3, 5 and even 10 year visions for what they want the church to do and be.

I love elders and Main Street has some of the best but these are my thoughts I wish every elder would listen to from youth ministers, for youth ministers.

Deo gratias.

Perhaps no book has created such a firestorm in evangelical Christianity than the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  From unabashedly scathing reviews to uneducated praise this book has certainly received plenty of publicity (much to HarperOne’s approval).  I did a Google search with the query “Love Wins reviews” and 2.5 million results came up.  Granted, not every hit is a review of Rob Bell’s book but what that said to me is that the wide-spread attention this book has garnered means there is no need for “another review.”  Yet here I am offering my “two-cents” worth on the book perhaps even risking the same ridicule or uneducated praise that Bell has received.  That’s not the point.  I want to offer my perspective on this book for the readership who may not be privy to it otherwise.  My approach to this review is that I want to take each chapter and discuss it in 500-600 words or so offering my comment and, at times, critique.  I am trying to do this without reading what other people say about the book but instead wrestle with the book’s implications myself.  This will not be the opportunity for people to bash Bell nor mention names of others who have written reviews, conducted interviews or made comments.  My goal here is to, as Bell and every other author wishes, wrestle with the implications of the book with the voices of Scripture and Spirit acting as norm for the discussion.  If you want a more educated/scholarly treatise of the book please visit Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed with his first post, “Exploring Love Wins 1.”

My request for you is that you comment freely but doing so with Scriptures like Colossians 4:6 and Ephesians 4:15 in the back, front and middle of your mind.  I have seen a lot of hateful banter that I am afraid has given Christianity a bad rapport with the unchurched community.  If we continue to bite each other like this what does that say to those on the outside looking in?

Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential.  (Rob Bell, Love Wins, x).