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April 24, 2011 4 comments

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

That’s how it started this morning.  We had two services today (Easter Sunday), and they were both pretty packed.  If I were pushed to give you numbers I would say there were 80 people in each service.  Here are the types of people we had:

Most all of our normal regular Embody types.  Then we had grandparents, siblings, and visiting cousins – these are the ones we won’t see again until they come to visit again in 3-6 months.  Which is cool.  But we also had the people who got our mailer and decided this was the week.  We had a single mom and her daughter who entered the front door and made it pretty clear that she was out of her comfort zone (she and her daughter had a great time).  We had a mom and grandma who lost a husband two days ago and didn’t want to be around her normal church friends because it was all so tender, and a little anonymity is helpful right now for her.  We had a good number of Chicago folks who make their summer weekend homes in a little community just down the street (think Dirty Dancing without the “dirty”).

God knows why they all came, and if they’ll come back.  Some of them left their info, and know I’ll contact them.  A few checked the box that reads “I want to be left alone”, and I will. 

We also had a choir.  Funny – for rehearsal we had about 7, but somehow when we stood up there this morning there were about 15 of us.  I don’t know.  Worked out.  There were also donuts the size of watermelons, an easter egg hunt that did two things: gave great photo ops and gave adults an easy way to talk and enjoy relaxing company together.  There was me, looking at the clock when everything was over and realizing I’d miscalculated how long things would go (better short than too long).  There was also a large-sh offering, a new “front” with a new platform so a short guy can be seen while preaching.  Oh, and there was Kathy who drew some really great artwork during each service (both were snatched up for some undisclosed donation after the service.)

Mostly, we heard the story – the love story with creation, broken relationships, God’s plan to fix it, a hero who arises, His death and resurrection, and our part in being the hands and feet of Christ to continue reconciling the world to God – oh, and the most important part…hope.

It was a win.  I feel good right now.  Tired, but really good.  Thanks to those of you who may have prayed for us.  Winner of a day.  Now, if you’re the type who likes to pray, you can pray that some of those people return to become part of our family of faith – and faith seekers.

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Countdown to Easter

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

If I’m playing by the “church planting rulebook” then I’ve got about 8 months to make things happen. 

The rulebook, which nobody likes to invoke or even think about has a lot to do with numbers and money.  On our current trajectory we will need to double our offerings (whether by doubling our attendance or our giving) by January 1, or… well, let’s say the trajectory will need to change.  Outside funding covers roughly 50% of our budget right now, and we’ve bumped up against the very common 75 person wall.

New churches tend to hit a plateau at about 75.  It’s where people start to feel really comfortable.  They like the people they’re worshiping with, they enjoy the size, knowing everyone, feeling like afamily.  It’s really nice, and it can lull you into a comfort coma.  The comfort coma ends up ending a lot of church start-ups because people get stuck and can’t move to self-supporting.

At the same time, the “church planting rulebook” kind of makes me nervous, if I’m honest, because it doesn’t feel very “organic” or “authentic” or whatever catchy word you want to use that actually does carry a meaning that jives with me.

Enough about that.  Let’s just say this: Easter is one of the prime opportunities before us to get to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t help us much.  It’s this: Best Case Scenario: the church’s invitations to their friends, the mailers that go out bring in 70 more people.  20 of them stay and begin to grow in faith from wherever they are on the continuum.  This is really what I hope for ( and I’m remembering that God can do immeasurably more than I hope for).

These new folks have no reason to give to help support Embody.  Many of them won’t know Jesus yet, and, honestly, how could I ask them to or expect them to give in the offering plate?

Ok, here’s where this posting turns into a short rant:

The “church planting rulebook” stinks.  We encourage churches to start, but give them only 3 years to get off the ground and onto their own feet.  But the reality is something very different.  We’re not trying to steal sheep from other churches.  We’re trying to bring good news to people who haven’t been walking with Christ.  And any pastor will tell you that no matter what church they’re leading they see this: sacrificial giving…no, even tithing doesn’t come until someone is far along the path of discipleship.

Something’s not quite right about the whole system.  OK.  Enough about that.  I look forward to reading this posting some day and saying, “O me of little faith”.  God’s going to show up.  I just have to do my part, right?  Right.

Bible 101

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I met a neighbor tonight.  She lives down the street from me, but I have never seen her before.  Her driveway is kind of hidden down a side street, and her neighbor is congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI)…so you know her driveway is probably not overly accessible .  She came to a course I’m offering called “Bible 101”.

EmbodyChristBibleAd

There were 7 of us there tonight, and when we went around the circle telling about our history with the Bible and a little of our background, I was encouraged because the stories were exactly what I was hoping for.  There were people who had grown up in the church but never really read the Bible.  There were others who had grown up away from the church and had no history with the Bible.  These are the people I was hoping for.

Their questions were great: Can you say you believe in the Bible if you haven’t read it in its entirety?  Where does the guilt come from?  Why isn’t the Bible chronological?  What’s with all the different versions?  How did we get the Bible?  How can you know you can trust it?  Did God really tell each person to write the Bible, or were they stories told and passed on?  When was the last writing to the Bible and why haven’t there been any since?

My neighbor was quiet.  I don’t know her story, but I’m sure she had some of these questions…and more.  She must have, right?  I mean don’t we all?  And here’s something else: when do we stop asking questions?  I am sure that there are many people (perhaps you) who looked at the questions posed in just the first class session and said, “Good question.”  For some reason we stop asking questions.  Shouldn’t we be always gathering more and more questions as we go deeper and deeper?

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe we don’t go deeper.

Let’s not be 1000 miles wide and 1/2 inch deep.  I know some great question-askers who can lead the way.

Categories: The Slow Grow Tags: ,

Joe Tells A Joke

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m offering a class and calling it Bible 101.  I know…lame name.  It’s for people who are biblically illiterate.  Dana says I can’t use that word because it makes people feel stupid.  I think her exact words were, “Are you going to use the word “Illiterate”?”  I got the meaning.

I’ve told the church about it and they are invited, but I wanted to make sure others knew about it, too, just in case the Holy Spirit has prepared some heart out there to hear about the book we love.  So I advertised.  Wierdest feeling, advertising.  It’s like saying, “Hey, everybody, I’ve got something you need to hear.  Come and listen to what I have to say.  It’s important and worth you taking your time and sitting and listening to me.”  Can anything be more narcissistic?  Answer: yes – keeping a blog.

Of course, I think this is true.  I do, in fact, have something I want everyone to hear.  But…it just feels wierd when I think of it from random Joe Sixpack’s point of view.  But, I did it.  I went down to the Holland Sentinel (our local paper) and asked the lady at the desk whom I should speak with to put an ad in the paper.  She directed me to Joe.

Joe shook my hand and pulled me close enough to smell the cigarettes covered by coffee smell on his breath.  I like Joe.  Let me tell you why: he didn’t appologize for his lame joke.  I introduced myself and he looked at me with a quizzical face, “Jim Daniels…Jim Daniels…let’s see.”  Now, you should know that we’ve met before, and it’s been a year since I put something in the paper.

Then he sold it.  He said, “I thought I knew you,” (of course he did) “but that must have been Jack Daniels.”  He smiles and leads me to his office.  Lame joke.  I’ve heard it about a million times.  Everybody who tells it thinks they’re the first to think of it, and I just have to give the fake laugh.  Sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I just wait for it.  Joe actually worked at it and made it a little unique.  Joe sold it.  But that’s what he does, right?  He sells stuff…words on paper…advertising.

Here I am doing the same thing.  Trying to get people to buy what I’m selling…giving away, really.  But I have to get them to listen to me first.  I guess you throw out the line and see if anybody bites.  Meanwhile, I have to continue to put out the line, talk to strangers, look for ways to start up conversations, make new friends and generally pray.  All the advertising in the world can’t do what the Spirit of God can do.  Hope I didn’t just waste $280.  Maybe Joe will show up.  I like him.

Categories: The Slow Grow Tags: ,

God On The Bumper

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Two weeks.  I’ve got two weeks.  Well, at the time of this post I will have 10 days (which encompasses 2 Sundays).  Definitely not the amount of time I need to do the important thing that needs to be done.  I’ve got to find a replacement for my friend and worship leader, Lee.  It’s not that I’m lazy.  It’s not like I’ve had months and months and just haven’t done it.  Lee and I were both well prepared and prayed about it, but the timing jumped up on us.  We were planning on having more time than this, but…he’s leaving earlier than expected, so…I’ve got 10 days.

We’ve got some talented musicians at Embody.  They are great, but they are the essential spokes in the worship tire.  We need the hub, the one who can hold together the sound and lead the group to produce an atmosphere that is worshipful and honest.  I don’t want to take anything away from them, because they’re exactly what we need for the fullness of the worship team.  But we need that one leader.

So, I’m utilizing resources at my disposal, or at least in my general area.  I asked the regional church planter guy for some names and he came up with a good one.  I met with the guy over a…let’s call it an adult beverage.  He was a wonderful guy, sensative and creative.  He had a beard, too, which is always nice.  But after listening to him talk for a while, I could sense that our theology was not going to line up well. 

Lee gave me a name of a guy, so I called him.  We’re going to have lunch on Monday.  Serendipitously, I met him at a Western Seminary chapel service yesterday.  I got to hear him play and lead worship, then saw that he’s friends with people I respect and enjoy.  Plus, he’s got Lee’s stamp of approval, which is supreme.  We’re still having lunch Monday.  Problem with this guy is that he’s committed every other Sunday at another church.  So…not sure if I want a band aid – no matter how wonderful.  I may need to take what I can get.

Then there’s Hope College.  They’ve got loads of students who are probably qualified.   But the problem is that Hope just started up and it’s crazy there.  The fella who is my best connection there (whom I haven’t met, but have been directed to by a couple of great friends), the guy who has his hands on all the handles and reins of these young, energetic, telented, God-seeking people (I’m hoping they’re that way).  I can’t get a meeting with him until next week.  It will be really late in the game.

So, I have every right to be a little nervous.  My anxiety level should be through the roof, but it’s not.  I’m sitting in the Way Cup Cafe, eating a french toast bagel with waaay too much cream cheese and a glass of juiced carrots and apples (the healthy choice that made up for the bagel), listening to some feel good rock and roll over the radio and thinking one very clear and comforting thought: our God is sovereign.

I’m only 34, but I’ve been paying attention long enough to know that God’s active when I can’t see it.  Just like I know there is someone who’s heart is finally ready to receive the mailer that should be landing in their mailbox today, just like I know that there are young couples, elderly singles, middle aged parents, and tweens who need to experience God’s grace and some good news, just like I know that there is a way that we will reach capacity in our building, just like I know there’s a smooth and Spirit-filled answer to what to do with our space when we reach capacity.

I know that God is active when I can’t see it.  Here’s what I love: doing my part in the next 10 days, trying to get some traction in the muck, while keeping my eyes open for the moment when God sits on my bumper and all of a sudden the tires catch and we lurch forward into traffic at just the right moment with just the right people in the car.  It’s gonna be good.  No, better than that.  It’s going to be something I can’t explain that has wonderful outcomes.  I think you call that a miracle.  Or…you could just call it the way our God likes to work.

Strategery

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of numbers.  I did my time in Algebra class and took the bare minimals in college.  Some people are great with numbers, love them, live by them, play with them…those people are freaks.  Yah, I’m talking about you, you science freaks.  I’m not that guy.  Give me words; give me a metaphor, “give me liberty or give me death,” “Ask not what you can do for your country…,” “Four score and seven years ago…”.  See? Words can move people.  Numbers just convince people.  I want to be moved.

So…I don’t like budgets, I don’t like adding, I don’t like subtracting, and I hate dividing.  BUT, I understand that it is vital to church planting in the background.  Numbers help tell the story, they give us milestones, and they help us see our trajectory.  Plus (notice I am able to use math terms) there are numbers we have to see in order to maintain us into the future.

Here’s the fact(or) of the matter (notice, math terms can be used for puns as well): Embody needs to have 120 or so people to be self-sustaining.  Presently we worship about 65-70.  This means that as our funding starts to dry up we will need to increase in numbers as a worshiping fellowship and become healthy givers.  Now the big question: how do you faithfully grow in numbers without becoming all about numbers?  What’s the equation? (I had to push for that one).

So I have a little plan, but it relies on the Spirit and on our folks.  Here’s what I’m thinking for the fall: a mailer…it’ll go out in a week or so to our neighborhood; a sermon series (keeps people coming back week to week); two classes for people who are not necessarily part of our fellowship (I’ll put an invite in the paper and send our folks to their friends); and we’ll make plans for 2 services in the future…think it out so we’re ready when we don’t all fit in our building at the same time.

I need a few things that are out of my control: prayer from you, people to be inviters, Holy Spirit moving in hearts.

I need a few things that are in my control: faith, hope, hard work, pavement pounding, planning, sermon prep.

Maybe if all our variables fall into place our function will include multiplication.

Famous

My kids says I’m famous.  It’s hard when your kids put you on a pedestal…you know you’ve got to come down.  They probably think I’m famous because they saw my mug on the front of the religion section of the Grand Rapids Press.  You can read the article here.

It’s an odd thing having an article written about your church and about you.  You’re really at the mercy of the writer, and they don’t always get it right.  For instance, this guy made some mistakes.  He says we have jazz music.  That’s not true.  We’ve got a musician who can crank out the jazz if he wants to…he just doesn’t usually want to.  The guy (whom I really liked, by the way) also said that we just let people set the agenda for the discussion each day, and that we just kind of roll with whatever people want to talk about…not at all the case.  There’s no way I could possibly have something worthwhile to say on such a short notice.

It’s also odd to be interviewed.  You know what you want to say about your church, and you’re afraid you’ll miss something important (like, I was all worried…did I mention Jesus?)  And certainly you don’t want to talk about yourself too much for fear that you’ll come off all pretentious.  ]

The oddest thing was this: taking the picture.  Man, I hate that!  “Here, sit like this and look backward at me.  Nice, that’s just right.”  “Oh, you’re glasses are giving a reflection.  Could you tilt your head this way?  No, less.  A little more.  Ok.  Well…we’ll just go with it.”

Here’s the most important thing: I got a call Saturday (this morning) from a guy named Brian.  He said he saw the article this morning in the paper and wanted to make sure he had the time right for the worship service.  He went on to tell me about where he’s at in faith (agnostic), and how he’s starting to think more about “that stuff”, and will be coming to worship with us this week.  I asked where he’s coming from: Grand Rapids.  I’m hoping that God has a renezvous planned with this guy in the near future.

Just hope he’s not disappointed by the disconnect between my great picture and the reality.  Oh well…I’m famous.