Poetry of Love (Part 3)

12 11 2010

“The Church: God’s Collection of Poems”

One of my favorite poets is Gerard Manley Hopkins.  And in this poem he captures the heart of God for imageodei, people created within His image, a lonely people looking for light, like a man carrying a lantern through the night.  He writes,

The Lantern Out of Doors
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night
That interests our eyes And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
there, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend.

All people matter to God.  All of us at times are the person walking through a lonely night of the soul, looking for something.  We are all walking through the wind and fog.  And we are noticed by Jesus.  Christ minds: Christ’s interest.  His eyes, His heart, His care is upon each man and woman.  He is there for our ransom, our rescue.  He longs to be our friend for we are the apple of His eye.

He is, after all, the master poet, always writing, always meditating upon His work.  He is brooding over each of us for greater healing.  He is longing to complete His work in our lives.  His work is plural: works.  He is working, always working to give us more freedom, to heal the deeper wound.  To avow or amend what He began.  Not done.

The church is His “collection of poems.”  The church—His grand idea.  As disappointing as the church might be at times, she is still his collection of poems, a poetic statement within each soul of a master poet that is masterfully at works. Works, not of our making, but His.  A set of sad works, joyful works…but all thoughtful.

The big poetic idea of Jesus is the church.  A communal idea that was first birthed in and through the nation of Israel but has come to fruition through the church.  Not consummation but fruition.  The works of Jesus are manifested through the little poems that walk, talk, share, cry, give, love.  Little poems.  Undone poems.  Incomplete.

Creation Continues

God’s collection of poems—the church is still being created.  The creation continues.  An incomplete collection; a dirty collection; an untidy collection.  But His creative collection nonetheless.

God’s collection of poems—unfinished.  We are all still so broken, fractured, torn, and tired.  But, the final line has yet to be penned.  There’s still time.  A work in progress some have said. But, it’s true.  A work.  Not a project or “resource.”  We are not projects of this world.  We are not resources for some seemingly greater work.  We are already the greater works of God!

We are original works of grace being created by Heavenly Father for the works of His doings in our life.  Eugene Peterson captures this thought,

Original works of grace are possible in the everyday work of forgiving the sinner, in helping the hurt, and in taking up personal responsibilities…creation continues.  The streets and fields, the homes and markets of the world are an art gallery displaying not culture, but new creations in Christ (Traveling Light)

Creation continues when we cooperate.  When we allow the paraclete to have access into our life—the walking, the conversation, the relationships, the job, the boring hours, the shopping.  He’s never done; never a complete poem.

And so grace continues, grace is not conspicuous.  All grace is a writing of the hand of God upon our lives.  Nobody’s life is without grace.  More about this next time…





6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 5

21 06 2010

This is part five in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #5: Two Levels of Leadership

The ruling leaders of the New Testament churches are called bishops, pastor-teachers, elders, and overseers.  Paul states clearly, “Let the elders who rule [lead, direct, guide, manage] well be counted worthy of double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17a).  Dr. Grudem writes, of the main purpose of the elders: “One of the major roles in the New Testament is to govern the New Testament churches.”  He then references 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ibid).  Dr. Alexander Strauch writes, “Elders…lead, direct, govern, manage, and care for the flock of God” (ibid, p. 25). So, the Bible is clear that certain men are given the responsibility and gifting to lead the local church toward the purposes of God.

Besides the elder ruling structure, we also observe the use of deacons in the local churches.  There is much less in the New Testament in regards to the role of deacons compared to elders, bishops and overseers.  The word deacon is a translation of the Greek word, diakonos, which is the ordinary word for servant, whenever it used in the context of dealing with church officers.  Deacons are mentioned in Philippians 1:1: “…To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”  We find no specifics as to their function, other than a distinction from the elders/bishops.  Deacons are also mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 in reference to the needed qualifications for those in such responsibility.  The list of character and moral qualifications for deacons follow closely the list given for elders.

From the list in 1 Timothy 3, we observe that the deacons must have had some responsibility with finances, administration and counseling.  The best example of the elder and deacon branches of leadership might be found in Acts 6: 1-6. 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

Grudem comments:

The noun deacon is not found in Acts 6:1-6, but a related verb (Gk. diakoneo “to serve”) is found in verse 2… “Here the apostles who ruled over the Jerusalem church found it necessary to delegate some administrative responsibilities to others…” It seems appropriate to think of these seven men as deacons even though the name deacon had perhaps not yet come to be applied to them as they began this responsibility, for they seem to be given tasks which fit well with the responsibilities of deacons hinted at in 1 Timothy 3:8-12 (ibid, p. 919).

The deacons had a distinct role of serving the local church through serving the leadership of that particular body.  It is significant that nowhere in the New Testament do we find deacons as having ruling status in the churches.  The role of the deacons is clearly one of serving the elders in tasks that would pull them away from their primary function of ministry to the Lord, the people, and the spiritual ministries of the church.  (In this regard, there is no biblical reason that women would not also occupy such a position.)  Thus, there are two primary branches of leadership in the New Testament church:  the elders who rule over the spiritual direction of the body, and the deacons who serve the administrative and leadership needs of the elders.

The following diagram illustrates the two branches of leadership and how they function at MSC.  This is a visual of how God has led us to design the flow of leadership from Jesus Christ, the head of the church, through the elders to the congregation:

 

Benefits of Two Levels of Government Structure:

  • The ruling elders are not limited in their ministry and leadership by the physical/administrative needs of the congregation
  • The ruling elders can stay focused on the spiritual vision and direction of  the body, while the deacons take care of the needs of the elders
  • The deacons can provide support and healthy leadership in the day to day functions of the church while the elders can oversee such functions
  • The gift mix needed for each function is very different, and more people can be utilized throughout the leadership structure of the church
  • More people will be served by utilizing the different branches of government, thus enabling a healthy, more productive fellowship

In Practicum:

As stated earlier, MSC has an elder team made up of pastoral and board elders.  Pastoral elders are on staff and focus on preaching, teaching and oversight of the day to day ministry of the church.  Board elders focus on governance.  The roles of both Pastoral elders and Board elders are complimentary and have some overlap, as necessary.  We believe in the function of the deacons but do not use the term.  We consider associate staff, support staff and volunteer leaders who are ministering alongside our pastors, as functioning in the role of deacons.





6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 3

7 06 2010

This is part three in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #3: First among Equals

Paul explains the principle of “first among equals” when he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).  Paul is expressing a “first among equals” status for certain leaders who were especially called and gifted in teaching God’s Word.  John MacArthur, in his commentary on this passage writes, “Elders who serve with greater commitment, excellence, and effort should have greater acknowledgement from their congregations.  Implicit is the idea that some elders will work harder and be more prominent in ministry” (Study Bible, p. 1869).  It seems that God has designed spiritual gifts such that certain members of the church are given the gift of teaching and leadership in preparing and equipping the Body of Christ for ministry.  There ministry will have greater prominence in the local church.  Alexander Strauch also expresses this sentiment:

Although elders act jointly as a council and share equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication.  Therefore, those among the elders who are particularly gifted leaders and/or teachers will naturally stand out among the other elders as leaders and teachers within the leadership body.  This is what the Romans called primus inter pares, meaning “first among equals” (ibid, p. 45).

Even Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John as “first among equals” in relation to the other twelve disciples (see Luke 8:51; 9:28; Mark 14:23).  In all four gospel accounts, Peter is the prominent leader among the twelve disciples.  Peter also stands shoulders above the other leaders in the Jerusalem church (see Acts 2:14, 42; 4:33, 35; 5:12, 18, 29, 42; 6:2-6; 8:14; 9:27; 15:2-29).   Peter is the chief leader among the elders in Jerusalem in the first twelve chapters of Acts.  In the second half of Acts, beginning in chapter thirteen, Paul becomes the dominant leader among the apostles outside of Jerusalem.  In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he speaks of James, Peter, and John as the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:7-9).

We further advance this principle of “first among equals” as we see who the pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) are written to.  Paul directs his two letters to Timothy, and not the elders in Ephesus.  Paul sends his letter to Titus and not to the elders at Crete. Indeed, with Timothy and Titus are both taxed with the responsibility to “set in order the things that are lacking” and develop strong leadership in each church.

The pastoral epistles describe men who are the “first among equals” in building solid structure in teaching, church discipline, leadership qualifications, and church government.  The level of authority and the kind of teaching that Paul brings to these men make it obvious that they are to follow just what Paul admonishes Timothy,  “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Thus, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete are acting in the capacity of being lead pastors over the governing leaders in each congregation. 

Accordingly, scripture shows that the main vision, values, and direction of the Jerusalem church came from Peter (see Acts 1-13), and that the main visionary of the churches outside of Jerusalem rested largely with Paul (see Acts 14-28).  The lead pastor in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s letter was Timothy.  The lead pastor in Crete was Titus.  Thus, the principle of “first among equals” is another strong principle of New Testament government.

Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology explains practically how “first among equals” can function in a local church:  

The senior pastor would be one among the elders in this system.  He does not have authority over them, nor does he work for them as an employee.  He has a somewhat distinct role in that he is engaged in the full time work of ‘preaching and teaching,’ (1 Tim. 5:17), and derives part or all of his income from that work (1 Tim 5:18).  He also may frequently assume a leadership role (such as chairman) among the elders, which would fit with his leadership role among the congregation…Such a system would allow a pastor to exercise strong leadership in the church while still having equal authority with the other elders” (p. 933).

Hence, the New Testament is very clear that God raises up men with a certain gifting of leadership and teaching that is used by God to build up and guide the local church toward the vision God has given that body of believers.  They are not more special or more gifted but do occupy a position of greater responsibility to the Lord and the elders in leading the church.

Benefits of a “First among Equals” Government Structure:

  • A highly gifted leader or teacher can use his God-given gift mix to its full potential
  • As the church provides financial support for this leader or leaders, the whole body will be blessed by their full time commitment to the church
  • Such leadership can provide necessary protection from abuse, heresy, and bad teaching as the leader or leaders can give necessary time to the plans and preparations of leading the church
  • A lead pastor can have the time to seek the Lord for clear direction and vision for the local church
  • A lead pastor with strong accountability will be able to lead the elders in a plan and strategy that can in turn bless every member of the local congregation

In Practicum:

As the senior pastor and founding pastor at MSC, I am often considered the “first among equals” at Elder Board meetings.  I am equal and not above the other elders in all matters related to the board.  But because my role involves visionary leading and teaching God’s Word, God has given me a certain responsibility and equity with my spiritual and board elders that requires that I lead out on visionary matters.  In some church structures, I would be designated as the “teaching elder.”  MSC also has an executive pastor who is a “first among equals” with the other pastors as he leads them in the day to day ministry of the church.

How and by Whom are Decisions Made at MSC?

In the process of decision making, the question is often asked “How and by whom are decisions made at MSC?”  On both the pastoral elder team and board elder team, we have utilized several approaches to decision making.  All of these approaches have value in certain circumstances.  I will explain this process from the continuum of autocratic to democratic:

Autocratic à  Consultative àConsensus à Democratic

The Autocratic mode of decision making means that one man leads and makes all major decisions.  At MSC, we rarely use this approach.  Yet there are times when myself, or one of our other lead pastors or board elders, must make a decision quickly and singularly.  Even in those situations, we encourage that consultation be sought first.

The Consultative mode of decision making means that a leader consults, gets the opinion of others and from that consultation makes a decision with the group largely in agreement.  I prefer this model more than the Autocratic and find that this is often an excellent approach. We have, from time to time, had to make major decisions that will impact the whole church, and I have always followed the consultive and also the following, consensus model.

The Consensus mode of decision making means that the group agrees in unison on a given approach or decision.  This is my preferred approach to leading and managing MSC.  Almost all decisions made by the pastors and board fall into this category.

The Democratic mode of decision making means that votes are cast and the majority wins.  Although this is the approach used in many churches, I have rarely used this, as it has the potential to short circuit the deep prayer and consensus building needed to develop a solid team that hears God together.  However, at the point of a deadlock, this approach can be preferable.

On the Pastoral and Board Elder Teams we approach each issue and decision with what I refer to as the “75/100 Rule.”  This means that we will always seek 75% agreement on a decision, but 100% support once the decision is made.  After much dialogue, once a decision is made, even if there is not complete unanimity on the decision, when we walk out of the meeting, we will support the decision 100% in talking about or discussing it with the congregation.  This enables us to keep unity in the body, even when we disagree on certain matters.





6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” Part 1

24 05 2010

New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure 

Because of the numerous questions I receive from pastors as well as members of Mountain Spring about our leadership structure I wrote a “white paper” for our website that reflects hundreds of hours of Bible study, discussion with our board, and consultation related to the structure of leadership in the local church.  Over the next couple of months I will be sharing parts of this research here.  Following is part one of six:

Why discuss Leadership Structure?

Many church planters and pastors have asked me over the years about church government structure and what I believe to be the most biblical approach.  Due to the growth of Mountain Springs Church (MSC), it has also become apparent that there is a need for a more thoroughly understood biblical approach to leadership and governing structure.  As our leadership needs at MSC have increased, so has our need to understand what the New Testament says about leadership structure.   

Thus, in order to discover a workable, pliable, and dynamic model for leadership/eldership in the local church, I have endeavored to dig into what the scriptures have to say on this subject.  This in no way means that my conclusions will be air tight or sufficient for some people, but it is my hope to cite what the New Testament has to say and set up the most biblical and practical leadership structure possible for Mountain Springs Church.

Though there are many books on church leadership structure, I believe that the scriptures themselves are our best guide.  As we seek to develop a more biblical model for leadership government at MSC, a thorough study of the scriptures must be our highest endeavor. 

Two Exciting Discoveries

Through study of leadership structure in the New Testament, we quickly discover two exciting things:  First, the ministry of Jesus and the churches planted in the book of Acts were all governed by a very functional and dynamic leadership team.  There are many examples of how Jesus and the early church were governed, and the principles of structure found in the gospels, Acts, and the epistles are anecdotal and prescriptive.  Secondly, the leadership structure in the New Testament worked!  The ministry of Jesus and the early church, and the structure utilized, were very effective in reaching thousands of people like no other religious or political movement in the history of the world.  In light of these two insights, it is apparent that if we desire to be faithful to not only the scriptural model, but also the spirit of the New Testament church, we must seriously learn all we can about how leadership functioned in the ministry of Jesus and the early church. 

Let us admit from the outset that we do not believe that a leadership structure is the primary cause of any great move of God.   However, the government of the churches was part of the conduit God used for the Holy Spirit to ignite a powerful move of the Holy Spirit, which resulted in “the word of the Lord being spread throughout all the region” (Acts 13:49).  But government structure is important.  Jesus explained the importance of structure when He said, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Luke 5:37-38).  Thus, Jesus uses a metaphor that anyone in the ancient Middle East would have understood—the value of a physical structure for containing an important product.  Jesus purpose not being the containment of wine, but the importance and uniqueness of physical structure for containing spiritual power and truth.  

Structure matters.  Leadership structure can either severely hinder the development and release of what God is doing, or it can be fluid and dynamic and result in the release of all that God desires in and through a Spirit filled and Word filled church.  It is apparent that the New Testament model of leadership structure enabled the flow of the new wine of the Spirit that was so powerful that the rulers in the first century described the church as, “these who have turned the world upside down…” (Acts 17:6).  At MSC we want the wine (the gospel of Jesus Christ) and the wineskins (structure) that together will enable us to turn the world right side up.

Principles of Structure

I believe a study of the New Testament provides us with “principles” of structure we can learn from. A “principle,” as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary, is “a comprehensive and fundamental law; with respect to fundamentals.”  What we find in the New Testament are not exact rules, but rather fundamentals that point to a Biblical model for church government and leadership structure.  Principles of structural leadership found in the ministry of Jesus and the early church testify of a “wineskin” that is flexible enough to contain the “new wine” of the Holy Spirit in the people of God.

In the major features of description and design, eldership/leadership is plainly and amply set forth by the New Testament authors.  Yet, from the outset we must admit that the exact organizational structure of how such leadership was represented within churches is not spelled out.  George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), author of A Theology of the New Testament, and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary writes, “It appears likely that there was no normative pattern of church government in the apostolic age, and that the organizational structure of the church is no essential element in the theology of the church” (p. 534).  But a thorough study of the books of the New Testament attest to enough information from which we can learn much for our churches today.  There is enough description given for the development of a leadership structure that is faithful to scripture, flexible enough to expand with new changes, and dynamic for a fast growing church.  Following are New Testament principles that I believe are the irreducible minimum for the development of leadership structure for any church.

Principle #1:  Jesus is Head of the Church

In speaking of Christ and His headship over the church, the scriptures are clear: “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22, emphasis added).   In speaking of the role of a husband toward his wife, Paul uses Christ as the best example of headship.  He writes, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23, emphasis added).  In the imagery of the body of Christ, the scriptures clearly define Christ as the head over all men.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul expresses this conviction, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ…” (1 Corinthians 11:3).  The headship of Christ is one of the most important doctrines of the New Testament.

The first and foremost understanding to church polity must begin with Christ as the head and chief shepherd of the church (see also Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18; 2:10; 2:19; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4).  It is Christ who rules over the church.  It is Christ who is building His church.  Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Jesus will build that which is His.

All other structural principles are subordinate to the first and primary characteristic of a New Testament church—Jesus Christ is Lord and Chief shepherd over all.  It is the work of His Spirit that births new life into our spirit when we are born again (see John 3).  It is His Holy Spirit’s presence that brings joy and life to a fellowship of believers (see John 10:10). It is His love and power that builds the church (see 1 Corinthians 3).  It is His anointing that enables the gifts and ministries of the church to function (see Ephesians 2).  It is His strength and guidance that brings unity and purpose to the church (see Ephesians 4). The headship of Jesus Christ must be evident both in the life of the individual believer as well as the corporate gathering of a local church. 

Christ as head of the church insures that His purposes and plans for the church will be fulfilled through those whom He has called and commissioned to lead His church.  This is the first and most important starting principle for all discussion of church polity.  All other forms of church government are subordinate to the lordship and preeminence of Christ.  When the church gathers together, Christ’s spiritual presence  as Ruler, Overseer, Head, and Lord is the insurer of His glory in the church.  All other discussion related to the leadership in the local church is subservient to this central principle.

Benefits of Christ as Head of the Church:

  • When the church is surrendered to Christ, the Lord’s power and presence is free to move and touch the fellowship
  • When the leadership of the church is under the lordship of Christ, there is assurance of the fear and leading of God in all decision making
  • When Christ is ruling over all decisions made through the leadership, God gets more glory and honor
  • When Christ is worshipped as King through the leadership, there is assurance of godly character and holiness needed among the elders
  • When Christ is Lord over a fellowship, He builds His church and the gates of hell cannot prevail

In Practicum:

The MSC Vision Statement is “Experience the adventure of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ”.  At Mountain Springs Church we believe that Jesus is truly the Head of the catholic (universal) Church and our particular local expression of His lordship.  Paul, in his introduction to the church in Colossae, sums it up best:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18).

Thus, at MSC, we passionately desire to honor and glorify Christ in all that we do.  Worship and the teaching of God’s Word permeate all activities at MSC.  We desire to build up a body of believers that reflect His glory, through being equipped to love God and people.





Mao or Jesus

3 05 2010

 

We just got word this morning that Maoist rebels are forming riot groups in the capitol of Nepal, Kathmandu.  In a large park just a few kilometers from where we are speaking at the International Church Planters Summit, the demonstrators are calling for a nationwide strike. 

In our meeting, pastors from all over Nepal are gathering to learn how to start new churches.  And, despite the civil unrest around them, they are being inspired to plant churches.

Today in the Taiwan News I read, “A senior U.S. official urged leaders of Nepal’s former communist rebels Monday to ensure that a protest against the government planned for later this week is peaceful.”

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, leader of the Nepal’s Maoist Communist Party, announced that hundreds of thousands of supporters would come to the capitol, Kathmandu, on Saturday to protest against the government.  The announcement came with threats of indefinitely long strikes and further disruptions to the country if the Maoists’ demands for a new national government are not met immediately (Taiwan New online May 29, 2010).

Here is the fascinating part: the Maoist leaders and students are gathering in the same building that our church planters are gathering, Maoist revolutionaries on the 1st floor and Jesus revolutionaries on the 3rd  floor.

In this interesting historical moment, the small challenges of life still press in. I didn’t sleep well last night, not out of worry about Maoist rebels, but because of the “exotic” foods here in this part of the world—I spent more time in the bathroom than on my bed.  Miserable.  I am missing family and friends, and the familiarity of home (I’ve been gone for almost three weeks).

However, I had a lot of time to think—not very clearly, (that’s not my forte even on a good day!). How humorous and ironic—and symbolic even– that Maoist demonstrators would choose, out of the hundreds of buildings dotting the city, to meet in the same building as our church planters’ conference.

As I walk to and from our venue, UN trucks full of officials and Mao trucks full of students speed by.  In our meeting room, 500 pastors worship the Lord with joy and faith.  The contrast is poignant: two different revolutions, two different allegiances, two different passions.  Mao or Jesus.

I find myself full of excitement as I enter our packed room.  The majority of our pastors, avid and vibrant learners, are in their 20’s– they take notes on everything we teach, they ask insightful questions, and they want to know about Mountain Springs Church, and how to teach the Bible.  What joy!

The majority of these young people are poor.  In some cases they have traveled hundreds of miles by bus to get here.  They are sleeping on floors, gratefully eating the food we provide, and expectant of God showing up. 

Their faith and spirit is contagious.  After lunch yesterday, a group of young men surrounded me and peppered me with questions that ranged from my outfit (my daughter Deborah dressed me for this trip) to my line-by-line teaching style.

Here I am in the spring of 2010, hanging out with the next generation of Nepal’s Jesus revolutionaries.  Young men believing God for spiritual solutions to their country.  Two floors below another group of young people hang their hopes on political solutions.  Two groups full of hope, two groups full of expectations for change. 

30 years ago The Beatles sang about a revolution, capturing people’s longing for a better world, a better future.  The Beatles were right. A better world is only possible through a revolution.  The question is, what kind of revolution brings that better future.

As Jesus followers, we are all revolutionaries.  We are bringing a new future and new hope to everyone with whom we share our faith.  What a privilege.  What an adventure.

Right now I still feel a bit sick in the stomach, but as I meditate on the significance of this summit I am feeling better.  We are fomenting a new revolution in Nepal.  We are one part of a larger story of Christians bringing the greatest news ever told, the greatest revolution ever launched–salvation alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. 

Now that’s a revolution worth dying for.  And, maybe most importantly, that’s a revolution worth living for. Jesus is worth it.





Dunkin’ Donuts and Planting Pastors

26 04 2010

I have come to Okinawa every year now for over ten years, and I think I know almost every pastor on the island.

Right now, I’m eating sushi, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and pondering the challenge of developing future spiritual leadership on this island.  I’ve spoken every night and several times a day for a week, spending almost every waking hour with these gracious, caring, pastors—eating, sipping tea, laughing and sharing our hearts and lives.

Last night I spoke at one of our network churches.  Liz and I stayed up until midnight with the pastor and his wife, sharing pictures, and talking about old times.  Together with my friend and fellow pastor, we reminisced of the days of trouble.  You see, he and I got into trouble together – big trouble in 1989—in ways that would change the direction of our lives as pastors.

It all began with a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts when I was a missionary in Okinawa.  Yes, Okinawa has Dunkin’ Donuts. And the Japanese like donuts almost as much as sushi.  If you tasted their version of Dunkin’ Donuts, you would understand why.  Anyway, one morning we were sitting around drinking coffee and stuffing our faces with cream-filled when he asked me, “Steve, what do you think my church needs?”  After thinking for about three minutes (which is deep meditation for me), I said, “Your church needs to learn how to worship Jesus.”

Thus began a journey that got both of us in a heap of trouble! 

He asked me to teach his church how to worship, so that is what I did every Wednesday night. But more than just a sermon, back then my style was to teach for a little while and then to demonstrate how to worship.  The demonstration time involved closing our eyes and worshipping to music playing over my stereo.  On one fateful night, the Holy Spirit showed up in a dramatic way, and my pastor friend experienced a baptism of the Spirit that quite literally rocked his world.

The Holy Spirit came that night during worship as the power of God hit my friend with such peace and joy that he didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours!  In fact, on this one evening his baptism into the Spirit would initiate his journey on  a road that would change the direction of his life forever.

In the days and weeks to follow, he shared excitedly about the new things God was doing in his life.  To say his Southern Baptist church was not quite as pumped up about his new-found intimacy with God is an under-the-sea, really-deep-under-the-sea-level statement.  In a short time, he was kicked out of his fellowship, and found himself on the streets wondering what had happened.

At about the same time, I was teaching my staff about more expressive worship like raising our hands, about casting out demons, and in general, getting myself into some deep theological doodoo of my own.   I could see the wagons circling, and I knew that my days were numbered.  And like my pastor friend’s experience, it wasn’t long after our Dunkin’ Donuts meeting that my life was profoundly changed – I resigned from my position with a para-church organization and joined my friend as we freshly sought God about our futures.

What an exciting time it was!  Both of us out of a job, but loving Jesus!  Both of us unsure of the direction of our future, but confident in the Director of our future.

And so last night, after all of these years, we were reunited.  We shared of our journey and the adventure.  For my Okinawan friend, God had planted him back on the island to found and pastor Agape Community Church where he continues to minister today.  God led me to Colorado Springs to plant Mountain Springs Church. 

Once again, just like we had done 21 years ago, we worshipped together on a Wednesday night.  However, on this night we were joined by a group of men and women, many of whom hadn’t even been born or saved in 1989.  Together, we were again worshipping the same Jesus that had rocked our world—the same Savior and Lord who continues to rock our world today.  Only now, there’s a church that didn’t exist back then.  All because God powerfully visited a pastor one night during worship, then planted him to shepherd His people.

I have learned that God plants pastors.  He doesn’t plant churches; He plants pastors.  Pastors are God’s methodology, His missiology. Jesus planted pastors.  Jesus is still planting pastors. I think pastors were what Jesus had in mind with His twelve men.  And it’s what He had in mind for these two pastors, one Okinawan, one American. 

Tonight, I count it an honor to be one of His pastors, grateful to be helping to plant more pastors on the tiny island of Okinawa.





A Letter to Mountain Springs

16 02 2010

What a Year!

I’m writing each of you to share my heart with you.  This past year is one of the most redemptive of my ministry life, and has brought many transitions into the life of our church fellowship.  Some of these changes have been difficult, but most have brought great praise to my spirit and I believe all have brought glory to God.  I so appreciate the countless people who have shared, emailed, facebooked or called Liz and me and our pastoral staff to share their prayers and love.  Thank you for your friendship, love and prayers. 

God surprised us with some changes in our plans this past year.  We never anticipated this but eagerly welcomed God’s work in so many lives. 

  • 2 spontaneous weekend baptisms that led to 200+ men, women and children giving their hearts more fully to Jesus
  • VBS in June was another huge surprise with over 1100 children attending, making it our largest VBS ever
  • Josiah Dangers transitioning from youth ministry to becoming our Worship Life Pastor
  • Welcoming Chris Fetters as our Student Life Pastor

These changes have led to greater intensity, focus and vision for your ministries. 

It’s exciting to see the growth throughout our Church. From Family Life coaching and support, to Community Life Small Groups, changes are happening that are bringing both growth and transformation.  As we add a fourth service to accommodate what God is doing, please keep the Pastoral Elders in your prayers.  These changes are exciting and they will take much planning, creativity and leadership.

The Right Type of Change

Change can be difficult.  But the right kind of change can be transformational.  Change is good if it draws us closer to Jesus.  Change is wonderful when we allow it to create a deeper hunger for more of God’s power, influence and love in our lives.  Change is important in our growth as Jesus followers.  Change has the potential to sharpen and develop us.  This past year was like many of the seminal events of my life.  Throughout my life, change has been orchestrated by God to transform me.  All of these transitions, though hard at the time, have turned out to be a deep blessing later.  Let me recount a little of my journey.

Jesus Saved Me

Jesus saved me in my freshman year at the University of Georgia.  At the time, I was a happy, pagan jock that loved gymnastics, girls, southern rock music and having lots of fun.  God apprehended me in my self-satisfied pride, showed me my sin and gave me a hunger to follow Him (but God has yet to deliver me from southern rock).  The cross of Jesus revolutionized my life forever.  When Jesus saved me, I gave up everything I knew at the time to follow Him.  The day after I surrendered my heart to Jesus, everything changed.  I started sharing my faith with anyone who would listen and before I knew it, God opened up Bible studies all over the campus.  I began to devour any Christian book I could get my hands on.  My life on the gymnastics team was turned right-side up and over the next few years, half of the team gave their lives to Christ.  Jesus rocked my life with a radical change.

This new-found faith led me to the mission field in China, smuggling Bibles.  That’s where I met a foxy blonde from UCLA who looked like she needed a man like me in her life!  It took her three years and two continents to finally acknowledge that need.  This was a wonderful change in my life.

Our Adventure

Our adventure led us to Okinawa, Japan, and later to Pasadena, California.  It was during our three years in southern California that God spoke through visions, dreams and many prophetic encounters that He was guiding us to plant a church in Colorado Springs.  After much prayer, seeking advice and receiving God’s confirmation, we made the move to Colorado.  We had no team and no money, we moved to a city where we had never lived and had no equity.  But we did have faith in a great God who does the miraculous.  And we believed that Jesus had called us and anointed us for this new pioneer effort.  It was a scary but exciting change.

God Built a Church

Over the next fifteen years God gave us favor.  From the beginnings in our basement, with no money and no people, God built a church.  Yes, He built Mountain Springs even as we struggled through the internal, spiritual and relational battles that go with planting a new body of believers.  Hundreds of people were saved, hundreds of people thought I was weird, hundreds became leaders, and over time the family of Mountain Springs grew and matured.  Leaders came and went.  We planted thirteen other churches during this time.  Ministries were started, stopped and redesigned.  Pastors came and moved on.  Change was the air we breathed. 

Exhaustion was the atmosphere I lived in—perpetually.  It was during these years that I came close to a mental and emotional breakdown.  Panic attacks and depression were constantly knocking at the door of my life.  Jesus, Liz, my family and friends sustained me.  Liz is my best friend and she always stood strong even when her husband wasn’t too much fun to live with.  Pastor Daniel and Laurie, Dan and Beth Balch and countless others who have never given up on the original vision of Mountain Springs have continued to be strong arms that have picked Liz and me up over these years.  Change was hard, and even when we wanted to give up, God never quit.  I am so grateful.

500-3500

The past seven years have been the busiest of my very busy life.  The growth of the church has been amazing and surprising.  We never expected nor planned to grow from 500 to 3500 so quickly.  It has been difficult but exhilarating.  The constant need for more staff, more buildings and more ministries to accommodate the needs of a growing body of believers has taxed us all.   Not to mention the pressure of a growing family—God blessed the Holt family with two more children during these years (#6 and 7).  The constant need to identify and deploy new leadership and new programs has been more than overwhelming.  We have been in a proverbially “over-our-head” mentality for seven years.  These changes have been simultaneously thrilling and tiring. 

Just to put this in perspective:  in a five year span, we built three multi-million dollar buildings, increased our staff from 7 to 40, and watched our budget grow from $600,000 to over $3 million!  We developed programs that failed, thrived, stopped and started.  As I spoke regularly for five services every week, I developed tendinitis in my ankles, planter-fasciitis in my heels, regularly lost my voice and struggled to keep up. 

Self-Discovery Means Change

As the pressure of ministry has increased, so has my need to understand the limitations of my gifts, talents and skills.  Starting in the fall of 2008, under the guidance of Pastor Daniel and Nathan Baxter (our consultant), the Pastoral Staff Team began to evaluate our gifts, talents, skills and ministry areas in order to better discover God’s specific bulls-eye purpose for our church.  This has been a time of constant study, discussion and testing to find what God has “hardwired” us for.  All of us are growing in our personal discovery of God’s specific and targeted gifts for our pastoral lives.

Over the past two years through much prayer, counsel, reading and discussion with respected leaders, I have been gradually moving away from the day-to-day leadership of the church.  It has become increasingly clear that I’m not a great manager or a very good administrator.  The church has long outgrown my ability to lead all the details.  Everyone has known this—but it’s taken me a while to realize that my need to oversee and lead almost every sector of the church has hampered growth and productivity.

So, this year I have given the day-to-day leadership responsibility to Pastor Daniel.  His leadership, character, detail-orientation, people-skills and passion for Jesus are clear for all of us to see.   His loyalty to the vision and values of Mountain Springs are unquestionable.  His ability to make things happen through leaders has been tested for almost eleven years.  Daniel and Laurie’s friendship through all of these years of highs and lows is truly amazing.

A month ago, I resigned as the chairman of the Board of Elders and handed the chairmanship over to Denny Yoder. Denny and his wife Deb have been supportive members of Mountain Springs for over ten years.  His expertise in managing and overseeing a large organization as well as his love for our vision makes this an ideal transition.  Denny is a retired Air Force Colonel and is currently special adviser to the President of International Students, Inc.  His loyalty, coupled with his gifting as a coach and manager, have made him a perfect fit for taking over the Elder Board. 

The Next Twenty Years

In the first letter to the Corinthians we read, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). As I have sought the Lord for His vision for Mountain Springs and my life as the senior pastor, He once again reminded me of the following five things that He spoke and assigned to me: 

•             “marry Liz” – 1983

•             “plant a church in Colorado Springs” – 1991-1994

•             “build and rebuild the Church” – 1992

•             “build and rebuild the Family” – 1992

•             “plant 1000 churches” – 1994

God has uniquely hardwired me to be a visionary leader and teacher of God’s Word.  As I gaze into the next twenty years of ministry, I am asking God to position me in the place where I can make the most impact for the Kingdom of God.  As I meet with pastors, leaders and friends, it becomes evident that I am in a transition from working more in the church to exclusively working on the church.  I am called to move from being the pastor of one church to being a missiologist-overseeing leader who is guiding many churches.  My job description will now have five key aspects: 

1.            Visionary Leadership | One of my main responsibilities as Senior Pastor at Mountain Springs will continue to be seeking and leading the missional vision of MSC.  To accomplish this better, the day-to-day leadership will continue to be led by Pastor Daniel and our Pastoral Elder Team.  This change, since the summer of 2008, has been a good transition for all of us.  Pastor Daniel’s leadership has led to a very healthy Pastoral Elder team.

2.            Connecting the Bible to our Culture | I love teaching the Bible and connecting the scriptures to our culture.  I consider the study of the Word of God and theology as one of the most important responsibilities for the overall health and growth of our fellowship.  I believe that the power of the Spirit flows most effectively to change lives through the practical teaching of the Bible.  Our style of teaching God’s Word book by book lends itself to the need for much study and preparation, which will continue to occupy much of my time.

3.            Leading a Revolution of Love for our City | God has given us a vision for a revolution of love for our city.  We believe that God wants us to plant new campuses of Mountain Springs Church.  Through strategic prayer, planning and raising up leaders, we endeavor to establish new MSC campuses in the years to come.  My role will be the central teacher for all new campuses through video broadcasts. Pastor Daniel, along with a select leadership team, will be developing the key strategic plan for this expansion.

4.            Leading a Church Planting Network | God has reignited my heart for church planting.  Though MSC has planted 13 churches, the past few years have been a time of missional drift in this area.  Many years ago God spoke to me to plant 1000 churches.  God is rekindling that vision and I will be focusing more energy on the development of the Word and Spirit Network, our church planting/church networking ministry.  This new role will mean connecting with existing church planting networks and setting a strategic plan for WSN over the next twenty years.

5.            Writing Materials for MSC and the Body of Christ | Currently I’m working on a book on marriage and I have a deepening vision to write articles, materials and books on the family and the purpose of the Church.  Taking the needed time for writing will be increasingly important in my role of building up the Body of Christ.

Get Ready!

I’m excited about the future!  The wind of the Spirit is blowing and we are setting our sails.  The church over the past six months has been growing and we will have added another service (Saturday night 4:30pm) to facilitate what God is doing.  New small groups are being developed, many people are getting saved and Easter is just around the corner.  We are beginning a revolution of love in our city!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Get ready for the adventure of your life.