Dear Pastor-Me…Sincerely, Church Planter-Me

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I have been a church planter for going on 11 months.  That isn’t a lot of experience, especially in light of the 12 years I spent as full-time staff at established churches (6 years as senior pastor).  Nevertheless, I would like to give myself some advice.  That is to say that I want to give my old self advice.  Church Planter Me has a few things to say to Pastor Me.

You don’t have to own it

I am quickly learning that a church will not start or grow based on my ideas.  Instead, I have to constantly watch to see where the Lord is moving.  That is not always in my ideas and my planning.  Sometimes the Lord moves in different ways through other people and I have to be ready to involve myself in what he is doing.

Small groups are the core of our church planting effort.  My plan is to see several small groups form and them come together to launch a church.  I started the first small group in October and ever since I have been carefully planning where new ones can be.  Not a single one of my plans has come about.  In our community there is a neighborhood that is isolated from the rest of the community.  It is gated and it sits in a remote location such that one never happens to just drive to it or even near it unless they intend on going there in the first place.  I knew at once that we needed a small group there.  My plan was to get a family from our sponsoring church to host it.  They live there, it was the perfect plan.  The problem was that they were so busy with things at our sponsoring church that they did not have time to host a small group.  I saw no way that I could launch a group there and began to wonder if it was God’s will that I even think of doing so.

Then a new person in our group came and said “I want to have one of these in my house. What do I do?”  They live there.  They are 4 adults sharing a house (not uncommon here in paradise where housing costs keep skyrocketing).  It was not my plant, but it seems to be the direction that the Lord is moving.

When I was a pastor, I always tried to plan for the next way our church would accomplish its mission.  I was always careful to check my plans with others, but that was it.  I checked.  My plan was either a go or it was tossed out.  What I want to say to my old self is this, “You don’t need to own it.”  It never had to be my plan.  It is God’s plan all the time, and as pastor my job is just shepherding the people according to that plan as it unfolds.  That may even mean going with the plans God lays on their hearts rather than constantly pushing my own.

It is ok to admit your struggles

I am the master of the brave face.  It is important, maybe even crucial to put up a good front when speaking publicly about ministry.  I have always believed that if I am negative, everyone else would be as well.  As a pastor, I always made sure that I celebrated victories, championed ideas, and spoke of things in their ideal states.

As a church planter, I have learned that sometimes there are just not enough things to celebrate.  Do not get me wrong, there is plenty to celebrate but this is hard, hard work.  The spiritual warfare is intense.  The pressures on my family are enormous.  The realities of our progress do not look so good when I compare them to my expectations.  This is hard.

At first, I hid all of that.  I made sure to voice prayer requests, but I knew that things must be positive.  That is how you keep people excited and on board.  That is how you keep partners running along with you.

One day, I changed that.  I typed one little line in my monthly report/blog post that broke my rules about being positive.  I said, “sometimes I am discouraged.”  I thought about taking it out but decided it was one little line; it would go unnoticed.

It was noticed.  It was noticed a lot.  For the next few days, I got tons of calls, emails, and messages about that one little line and I learned something.  If people do not know when you are discouraged, they cannot encourage you.  Those emails, calls, and messages were full of encouragement.  I needed that and by trying to be positive all the time, I was denying myself that bit of grace that my brothers and sisters were ready to give me.

Pastors are pressured to be perfect.  As a pastor I saw every one of my weaknesses as a potential deal breaker for the church.  If they knew I struggled with this or if they knew I had my doubts about that, they might not want to follow me.  In retrospect, by hiding my weaknesses, I most likely hindered the strengths of others.  If I am going to proclaim grace, I better start living in it!

Be a student of culture

In 11 months I have learned one thing:  Hawaii is a foreign land.  Yes, we are the 50th state.  Yes, we have congressmen and senators.  We have interstates.  We use dollars.  All that aside, Hawaii is a foreign land.  How else can you account for our love of Spam?

In order to minister effectively here, I have had to become a careful student of culture.  I watch, I listen, and I try to embrace what I see.  I try new foods, I follow the unwritten rules of the supermarket, and I try to learn pidgin.  I do this so that I can go from being an outsider to being a local; so that I can go from being a stranger to being a friend.  It requires a lot of effort and it never stops.

The things is, this is not the first time I have lived in a foreign land.  I have served churches in Arkansas and in rural Missouri.  Both were very different than where I grew up.  For the most part, I probably surrounded myself with people most like me.  That was not very effective.

Pastor, become a serious student of culture.  Study it, learn it, practice it.  Do not be an outsider, but become a friend to those in your community.

It isn’t “us” and “them”

In ministry it becomes easy to see two kinds of people: church people and non-church people.  The world becomes a group of people who are either us or them.  As a pastor, it always seemed as though the debate was do I lead us to go to them or do I train us to go to them.  It was always us and them.

As a church planter, I have learned that everyone is on a spectrum in their relationship to Christ.  Some are far away.  Some are not so far away.  My goal is to walk with them as they move closer, where ever they may be.  I have found that this completely changes my perspective in a lot of ways.  It removes the annoying similarities that evangelism can have with high pressure sales.  It also removes the division between discipleship and evangelism.

Pastor, you will never find that balance in your work between us and them.  Instead, see each person as one loved by Christ along a path to Him.  Guide them a bit further.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my pastor self these things, but as it is, I’ll just move forward this way and prepare to learn a lot in the process.

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A Couple of Blogs Worth Your Time

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It has been a while since I’ve posted any articles to my blog. I have a few in the works, but in the meantime, let me suggest a few articles that are worth your time:

The first is Shane L. Windmeyer’s  Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.

Hot off the heels of recent protests for and against Chic-fil-A and their giving to certain charities, Gay-rights activist Windmeyer writes a fascinating account of his meetings with Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy.  I call this fascinating because I believe the friendship there goes beyond the cliche of “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” to what it actually might look like when we truly learn to respect and love those with whom we disagree.

The second is Marty Duren’s The Boy Scouts and A Few Questions.  After an announcement that the Boy Scouts of America may end their long standing rule barring homosexual leaders and members, Duren calls the evangelical outcry into question.  After all, where was the outcry over the BSA’s hiding of child molesters within its ranks?  Where is the outcry over the BSA’s promotion of good citizenship rather than the Gospel?  These questions can be asked about any of the issues of the so called Culture Wars, primarily, “Have we misinterpreted the fall of Christendom as the work of Satan, rather than considering it could be God destroying our most grand, safe, and preferred idol?”

As I said, they are worth your time.

Intended For Greater Things

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Intended For Greater Things

I am very grateful to On Mission magazine for letting me share about our coming church plant.

What’s In A Name?

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It has recently been proposed that the Southern Baptist Convention change its name.  After much discussion and prayer in the Task Force and much speculation throughout the rest of Baptist life, a proposal comes for forth to keep the name and  simply add the option of “Doing Business As” Great Commission Baptists for those churches and agencies that might find it beneficial.

 

I have read a lot of discussion about this.  It all seems to follow similar paths.  First is the nostalgic.  We have always been Southern Baptist, we always will be Southern Baptist.    We all have traditions that make us feel comfortable, but such things can be idolized if we are not careful.  When I hear it suggested that “Southern” has some negative connotations (especially given Southern Baptists past views on slavery), I immediately hear the retort:  “What if Baptist is offensive?  What if Jesus is offensive?”  I can answer those questions, but that would not solve the problem that is evident in those questions.  “Southern,” “Baptist,” and “Jesus” are hardly equal even in name (Acts 4:12).  The questions is symptomatic that nostalgia for “Southern Baptist” may be rising to the level of idolatry.

 

Another path of discussion is that of evangelism.  It is said that changing the name from “Southern Baptist” will not share the Gospel with any more people.  This is true.  However, I have not heard proponents of the name change say that it will.  I have heard people discuss wether or not the name is a hinderance.  There is a significant difference between what shares the Gospel and what hinders the Gospel from being shared.  For example, imagine two missionaries travel to a far away country.  One learns his new language perfectly, but the other struggles and barely learns how to find the nearest restroom.  As they begin to share, they may use the same methods, but the former is more successful.  The latter is hindered by his limited vocabulary.  For the former, learning the language did not share the Gospel, but it removed the hinderance of a limited vocabulary.  Sadly, there are many hinderances among many comfortable and nostalgic things in our churches.  We should remove any hinderance to the Gospel, and that goes much deeper than just a name.

 

Ultimately we are left asking, “what’s in a name?”  Is it hindering the Gospel?  I know a lot of research has been done at Lifeway Research, and they are far more knowledgable than I.  I did a very informal poll by simply asking my non-Southern Baptist friends on Facebook to tell me what they thought of when they heard “Southern Baptist.”  The results varied, but there were a few trends.  One, many people assume that some stereotypes are true.  Some of these are well earned, some are not.  Two, the regional name of “Southern” implies only a flavor regarding style.  In either case, the name could be said to be misrepresenting who Southern Baptists are and what we stand for.

 

What does a name change do?  It may avoid misrepresentations like these.  In doing so, it may remove a hinderance to someone hearing the Gospel.  Before I can determine if that name change is necessary, I want to know if the name is hindering people.  In my informal research, I learned that many people did not even realize that some of the largest Baptist churches and institutions in our area are in fact part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It may be there is very little in a name.  Of course, it may be that there is a great lot in the name or it may be that there is a significant hinderance.  I want to know more about this before I would opt to use the new name or want to see our larger agencies spend significant money to use the new name.

 

Wether the name changes or stays the same (or as the case may be that some churches call themselves Southern Baptist and others Great Commission Baptists), the fact of the matter is that these names do not share the gospel.  The only way is to love God, love others, and tell everyone of this good news of Jesus Christ.

No, Time, It Isn’t About Book Banning

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Is Banning a Pro-pedophile book, the right answer?

This is the question posed by Time Magazine and it represents some fundamental flaws in some of the discussion regarding #BoycottAmazon.

First of all, is anyone trying to ban a book?

It is not antithetical to Free Speech for a company to be selective about what it promotes and sells. If I write a lengthy blog regarding my navel (I might!), the first amendment protects me from the government that might prevent me from publishing or possibly punish me for publishing. Further, being in a free country, I have a right to distribute my navel contemplation article however I am able. I assume, however, that should I submit such an article to Time Magazine, they would most likely reject it. Is that a free speech issue? No.

As a private company, Time has the right to publish whatever it wants. An author may write whatever he or she wants, a publisher may publish whatever it wants, a store may sell whatever it wants, and a consumer may purchase whatever he or she wants. Ah, freedom!

So, why, when consumers use a company’s expressed values as a deciding factor for where thy shop do we suddenly have a “Free Speech” issue?

The folly reminds me of the apostate minister in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Having lived in hell, the man takes his chance to visit Heaven where he is invited to stay. The man is most concerned with philosophy and theology. In fact, he has a group that meets each week in hell and discusses all kinds of questions. He is appalled when he learns that Heaven offers truth for he has long dismissed truth as an ideal. For him, the question is more important than the answer.

For many, the idea is more important than the action. Time Magazine seems to think so

So while a guide to pro-pedophilia is horrifying, of course, Clark-Flory makes the good point that rather than continue to vilify those with this psychiatric disorder — or the books they write — it might do more good for both pedophiles and their victims if we focus on encouraging treatment rather than ignoring the existence of these ideas.

Pursue ideas rather than action. Respect ideas at the point of defending actions. The idea is the thing; the action suggested by the idea is secondary. This is why this discussion about Amazon’s pro-pedophilia values is being sidetracked by talk of book banning.

Of course, if Time really believed that rejection of a thought was tantamount to censorship, then they would publish every thought ever put to paper. They don’t. Consumers would buy every idea published. We don’t.

Publishers and distributors, like consumers, make value decisions all the time. And the controversy surrounding Amazon is about values. Remember, Amazon does restrict material all the time. Yet, of all the material that they deem “inappropriate,” The Pedophile’s Guide was defended as appropriate. So, no, I am not trying to ban a book. I am simply choosing to spend my money with companies that don’t defend reprehensible values. After all, values, like ideas, lead to actions, and actions are something we have to live with.

An Open Letter to Amazon.Com

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This is unusual for me. I do not normally board the boycott bandwagon. I have long since realized that if I limit my patronage to stores that only match my beliefs and morals, I would shop in a very small space. However, I cannot fathom your recent defense of the e-book, The Pedophile’s Guide. I have been your loyal customer for many years, and I have also been a third party seller on your site. I am very familiar with your policies and as such, now realize that pedophilia is apparently something you value.

That is a strong accusation to make. After all, you have issued a statement to suggest that this is not the case, but you are high bound by other values. You claim that “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.” This came as news to me. Being a former third party seller I knew there was quite a list of items that you do not allow. In fact, in your selling policies, under Prohibited Content, you state, “If we determine that the content of a product detail page or listing is prohibited, potentially illegal, or inappropriate, we may summarily remove or alter it. Amazon.com reserves the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate.” Looking at your statement defending this e-book, and knowing your stated policies, it is clear that even though you believe it to be censorship, you do remove listings based on what you judge to be “appropriate.” Thus, you choose not to remove The Pedophile’s Guide because you believe it to be appropriate.

Your store is not a free for all. It is not a place where one can buy anything and everything because there are items that you, as a company, have chosen not to sell. By your own words, you sell only what you deem appropriate.

I cannot in good conscience continue to patronize a business that has deemed pedophilia to be appropriate.

I am going to watch your actions over the next few days. I expect that you will most likely pull the e-book and clarify your company’s values. However, should you refuse to do so, I will no longer shop at your site, I will remove my wish list from your site, and I will remove ever link from my blog to your products.

I have always thought well of your company. You offer a good selection and good service. I hope you will examine your company values.

Sincerely,
Aaron Davis

Update: The controversial title is no longer offered on Amazon.com, though Amazon has not issued a statement addressing this move.

Update #2: I have received a response from Amazon.com, simply stating that the book is “no longer for sale.”
Thank you, Amazon.com!

Update #3: I may have issued my “Thank you” too soon. It is unclear as to whether or not Amazon actually pulled the book. In saying “no longer for sale” Amazon is not implying any action on their part.

Why I Never Watch The News

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I have some explaining to do. I am often asked what I think about various news shows and pundits and when I say “I don’t watch the news,” people are downright dumbfounded. Apparently, it is essential that a Christian be able to recite what O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity, and a host of others from Fox News say daily. I find that odd. Back when I could quote the Simpsons quite proficiently; a show from the same media company; no one ever thought that was fitting with Christian culture. I don’t watch the news…ever, if I can help it. Of course, there are plenty of restaurants and waiting rooms that are happy to show it to me. I’m always grateful for the reminders of why I don’t ever watch the news. However, its such a peculiar stance, I guess I should explain myself.

First of all, please remember that the biggest cable news networks are major entertainment companies. Their stock in trade is getting the viewer to keep watching. They know how to raise your pulse, make you smile, make you cry, make you see red. Further, their entertainment backgrounds drive the news they choose to show. Why is it important what Brad Pitt thinks of BP? Because Brad Pitt is their product. They need us to love or hate him so we’ll keep cheering or jeering him at the box office. Handing the news over to the entertainers has raised the importance of the dancing bears to astronomical levels and placed our civil discourse in the hands of those who prefer the dramatic as to the rational.

Please consider also that these entertainment companies have some technical expertise. Several years ago, I was on staff at a contemporary church. One of my many chores was to create video testimonies of our members. We had no video experts. I have a iMac and know how to use iMovie so it fell to me to edit these things. For one video, I was asked to edit in such a way as to change what the people said. It wasn’t hard to do and it made me wonder, what can the pros pull off. (By the way, I consider that a poor choice on my part. I’ve repented) Seeing is believing, so they say, but how do we know what we are seeing hasn’t been manipulated

So the companies have agendas? So the companies can manipulate how the news is presented? Maybe the problem is as simple as finding the news company which best fits our values? That’s easier said than done. The top three media companies are Disney, Time Warner, and NewsCorp. As news goes, that’s ABC, CNN, and Fox. If you stop to consider everything these massive corporations produce, its easy to conclude that they have no values but one: money. This is why Fox can produce Bible Study fodder movies under Fox Faith, and Family Guy for its Fox TV Network, or the NIV Study Bible under its Zondervan label and the Satanic Bible under one of many HarperCollins labels. Which values are at work in those decisions? The same values at work when it comes to the news: whatever sells, works. By the way, if you don’t think these divisions ever work together (one of the sales ladies at FoxFaith tried and tried to assure me that they don’t), consider this. When O.J. Simpson set out to release his book, “If I did it,” an almost confession to the murder of his ex-wife, this controversial, outrageous news was broken by none other than Bill O’Relly on FoxNew’s O’Reilly Factor. At the time (its changed hands since), News Corp’s HarperCollins published the book. Is this a case of true integrity; blowing the whistle on one’s own company? Maybe, more likely, its grand advertising; an any press is good press approach, disguised as news. Its money that decides what is news and money decides how the news is presented.

The news channels want us to believe it’s about other values. Last week, my family was on vacation which meant a hotel, and that meant cable. We use a ROKU box at home for Internet streaming of TV. Flipping through the news channels (I think we had Fox, CNN, and MSNBC) it was almost laughable to see the feigned emotions all over the map. Outrage and sympathy were as see-through as excitement on an infomercial. See-through or not, its working. Fox has managed to attract an audience for the sake of values. More than one person has told me that it’s the only news for Christians. It’s strange that none other than Fox is now feeding our faith.

So, after seeing that news was being manipulated by those who know how to manipulate, in order to convince the masses that companies with no morals were now moral crusaders, I flipped the switch. Done. I don’t watch the news. No, I’m not uninformed. I read it. There are a number of sources to read the news. Granted, a lot of those sources come from the same place, so I have to be cautious. I have to be a bit suspicious, like I am when Fox Faith calls to sell me a Bible study. I find it a little easier to take in print. By the way, if you don’t believe me, try it. Shut it off for a week. Stick to reading the news. You will be surprised at the difference. Just be ready for the bewildered looks you get when you say, “I don’t watch the news.”

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