Oxford University is concerned about pork. They wrote that writers should avoid mentioning “anything else which could be perceived as pork.” And while it is certainly good and loving to try to avoid unnecessarily offending each other, the timing of this adjustment is a bit curious. Why after hundreds of years of publishing did Oxford University press decide this was the time to make that specific adjustment? Coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy by a violent group of Muslims, it isn’t hard to see why Oxford might make this move for Muslims, while forgetting a wide range of other religions’ preferences. Violent Muslims are striking fear in the hearts of their neighbors.
But violence isn’t the only action that produces fear. A fire chief in Atlanta was fired for his views on sexuality, even though he was said to have never discriminated against anyone. Bakers and florists are being forced to provide services for weddings that they believe are wrong. College student ministries are being removed from campuses because of their views on sexuality. Even here in Nashville I’ve heard stories of employers asking their employees their views on sexuality.
It would be easy for Christians and people of good will to act out of a fear of their neighbor—whether it’s a violent Muslim, a religious liberty hating American, or anyone else that might seek to do them harm. It would be easy to live a life in a constant state of fear that there might be some misstep that could cost you your reputation, your job, or your life.
But does anyone want to live in that kind of world? Does anyone want to live in a world where that kind of fear is the norm? I don’t. A world where fear reigns is a world were creativity, beauty, truth, and goodness disappear. It’s a world where the unique gifts and skills that each person has to offer are missing. It’s a world that doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s North Korea.
But a life motivated and controlled by a fear of our neighbors isn’t the only way to live. There’s an alternative. We can choose to love our neighbors, opening ourselves up to whatever may come. We can choose to create a world where love reigns. Because when love reigns, creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth flourish. But in order to love in this way—to create this world—we’ll have to access the unique resources offered in Christianity’s gospel.
In short, a fear of neighbor can only be overcome when our fear of death is overcome. As Christians, we uniquely believe that our Savior defeated death through his substitutionary death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. We believe that he now freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to a world that can receive this gift by faith. When we receive this eternal life we don’t have to fear our neighbor—even if death makes it to our front door—because we believe our Savior will undo any terrible act done to us. In Christ, death becomes a comma, not a period. Our best life is on the other side of the grave and it’s eternal.
Christians are uniquely equipped to create the kind of world we all want to live in because we are able to deal with this ultimate fear—the fear of death. In Christ, the fear of death is overcome which enables us to overcome fear of neighbor. This frees us up to love our enemies, to give our lives to creating a world where this kind of love reigns supreme, and to create the conditions needed for creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth to flourish.
If there’s no Christian God, then there should be great fear. After all, in this view your life is only in your own hands or the neighbor that intends to surprise you with great harm. Those that would intimidate your life control your life because there’s no God big enough to control them or undo their horrible acts. So fear is the rational response of those that don’t have a God powerful enough to raise them from the dead.
Let’s not live that way. Let’s not create that world. The world needs love, not fear. Only Christianity has the resources not to fear even the most fearful situations—the possibility of death. Why? We believe in a God who promises to raise us from the dead. Let’s not flinch, and let’s not hate in the face of intimidation. Let our fearlessness in Christ drive us to love our neighbors, whether they take our jobs or kill us for cartoons.
The Babylonians and the Romans made annual promises to their gods. Apparently, some Medieval knights took an annual “peacock vow” to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. And each year around this time we do our 21st century version of this old practice.
So as you consider all the weight you want to lose, the debt you want to pay down, and the bible reading plans you want to dominate in 2015, I’d like to point your attention to three keys to a great 2015.
I went to my first Nashville Predators game the other day. And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, it was awesome. While you still couldn’t pay me to watch it at home, I’d pay to go to another game. Unlike football games, the action is non-stop. But like football games—and just about every other sport—the goal of hockey is immediately obvious to anyone in the building.
And as nice as it would be if this were the case in life, it’s not. The goal of life isn’t immediately obvious. The main goal that should direct all our tertiary goals in 2015 isn’t immediately evident.
Should fame be our goal? Happiness? Power? Family? Health? A lot of money? Companies in our culture spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to shape the answer you give to this question. The right goal of life isn’t clear.
That’s why the answer that Jesus gave to a group of Middle Eastern Bible scholars in the 1st century was so stunning. When Jesus was asked which biblical command out of the hundreds of commands was the greatest, without blinking, he said that it was loving the Lord with all of your being (Matt 22:36-37).
This means that all of those biblical commands to “do this,” “feel that,” “don’t do that,” and “believe this” should be motivated by a love for the Lord. The main goal of your life is to love Jesus as Lord.
Is that your goal? Are you focused on this goal? Your answer to this question isn’t some irrelevant “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin needle” type of answer. Everything’s at stake. Because if you miss the goal of your life, you’ll lose at the game of life. And that’s a loss column you don’t want to be in.
This past Fall, my daughter played what can loosely be defined as soccer. And every once and a while a girl would score on the wrong goal. Each time this happened, the cute kid was so proud, so confident, walked to their parents with such a sense of accomplishment. The kid felt so right, but was sooo wrong. But we all couldn’t help but smile with her.
It’s cute when this kind of thing happens to kids at soccer games. It’s gut-wrenching to see someone focus on the wrong goal with their life. Don’t miss the goal of your life that was given to you by the Creator of your life. Growing and expressing your love of Jesus is the right goal to focus on in 2015.
But you can’t just pursue the right goal of your life. You need to understand the greatest challenge to your goal. Godly intentions don’t equal godly results. If you try to pursue the right goal of your life without understanding the greatest challenge, you’ll miss it. And if you want to understand your greatest challenge, look no further than the Pharisees.
Do you think that Pharisees set out to be the bad guys of Scripture? Do you think that Pharisees memorized tons of Scripture so they could better oppose its Author? I don’t. But that’s what happened (Matt. 22:34-35). Their godly intentions didn’t equal godly results. Why? There is a subtle, deep sickness that marks humanity—sin—that derails the best of intentions.
This past Christmas we were so looking forward to time on my in-law’s farm. They have about a 100 acres on which to hunt, 4-wheel, feed chickens, and more. Plus, all of the cousins would be there. We were pumped.
And then one of the kids got the flu and derailed all the plans. By the time my sick kid and I got home from the doctor, everybody’s vans were packed and ready to go. I’ve never seen that group of people move that fast. Certain types of sickness can derail the best of plans.
That’s what happened to the Pharisees. And that’s the story of every person’s life. We aspire for noble things, but our best plans get derailed by a nasty sickness. Far worse than any mutating flu virus, sin infects all of our being—ruining our best intended plans.
Even if your final result is better than the Pharisees and your able to “move mountains” with your faith, if you don’t have love, you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). Understand your greatest challenge—your subtle, sin sickness.
3. CLING TO THE GOSPEL
When you set your sights on the right goal and you understand your greatest challenge, you’ll inevitably experience great despair—unless you believe the gospel. The good news of the gospel isn’t that Jesus came to command loving people to love more the next year. It’s not that Jesus came to command unloving people to love. It’s that Jesus loved us by living the perfectly loving life we wish we could live in 2015, and died the sinner’s death we should have died for our 2014, and was raised from the dead, defeating sin, death, and the devil. We receive the benefits of his loving work by repenting of our unloving, sinful ways, and trusting him as our Savior, Treasure, and Lord. And when we receive Him in this way, we receive His Spirit who empowers us to love in 2015 and beyond (Gal 5). The Spirit of God determines the right goal of the people of God. And when this happens, the love of the Lord becomes our goal with all of life for all of life in 2015.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is made up of many individuals, churches, and entities. Although most people understand the term Southern Baptist Convention to refer to the ongoing cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists, it can also be understood as referring to the annual two-day meeting. At this convention, messengers from Southern Baptist churches approve, adjust, or disapprove budgets, committee appointments, resolutions, and more. Though there is no literal convention for the balance of the year, denominational entities carry out their respective responsibilities until the next annual meeting.
The SBC is made up of more than 16 million members who hold membership in 44,848 autonomous, local churches.(1) By calling the churches autonomous, we mean that they make their own decisions on staffing, budget, and program. No one outside the churches holds this authority.
These churches join in 1,200 local associations. Associations place churches in close-knit networks for reaching an area. Some of these associations are supported by the state conventions, while some are not.
On a larger scale, the churches assemble in 41 state or regional conventions.(2) The state conventions (such as those of Alabama and Indiana) or regional conventions (such as those in New England and the Pacific Northwest) join with the associations in such efforts as evangelism training, church planting, Cooperative Program promotion, campus ministry, camp programs, and in many cases, they establish their own children’s homes and colleges.
Finally, Southern Baptist churches partner together at the national level, with several entities: six Southern Baptist seminaries, provide theological education— Southeastern in Wake Forest, North Carolina; Southern in Louisville, Kentucky; Southwestern in Ft. Worth, Texas; Golden Gate, in the San Francisco, California, area; Midwestern in Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans in, of course, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Besides the six seminaries, the SBC also has an International Mission Board, which sends and supports missionaries all over the world; an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, providing resources and leadership on ethical issues; Guidestone Financial Resources providing financial planning, insurance, and annuities for church and denomination staff members; a North American Mission Board, supporting the state conventions in evangelism, missions, and ministry, such as disaster relief; an Historical Library and Archive, preserving the denomination’s heritage and assisting scholars in their studies; LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC publishing house, with “biblical solutions for life”; and an Executive Committee coordinating the day-to-day functions of the SBC. In addition, the Women’s Missionary Union serves as an auxiliary in promoting missions.
The doctrinal center of this massive effort is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, expressing what Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches about itself, and about God, man, Jesus, salvation, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, to name seven of its eighteen topics. While there are many things that are not covered in this document, Southern Baptists do believe that it addresses the key issues needed for cooperation.
The funding mechanism Southern Baptists use to support their various entities and ministries is called the Cooperative Program (CP). Established in 1925, the CP depends upon the undesignated gifts given to it by Southern Baptist churches. By unifying the funding, the CP provides a workable way through which tens of thousands of like-minded churches can cooperate for the advancement and application of the gospel.
Just as every family determines how much money to give to the local church, each Southern Baptist church determines how much to give to the Cooperative Program. Each state convention, then, determines how much money to keep in state and how much to send on to the national level. The SBC then divides the dollars it receives among its entities…. On average, state or regional conventions keep 63 percent of every CP dollar, while sending 37 percent on to the national level.
Of the money that reaches the SBC, 50 percent goes to the International Mission Board (IMB), 22.79 per- cent to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16 percent collectively to the six seminaries and the Historical Library and Archives, 1.65 percent to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 3.40 percent to the Executive Committee.(3)
Assuming the average state allocation, each CP dollar sent from the local church is divided along these lines: 63 cents for the state, 18.5 cents for the IMB, 8.43 cents for NAMB, 8.2 cents for the six seminaries, .61 cents for ERLC, and 1.26 cents for the Executive Committee. Guidestone, LifeWay, and the WMU do not receive CP funding.
It is also worth mentioning that there are a number of special missions offerings that take place throughout the year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goes directly to the North American Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering sends all its money directly to the International Mission Board….
… A basic understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention should provide Southern Baptists with a great sense of appreciation and ownership. The massive denominational effort did not come about easily and it will not stay faithful easily. We have all been given a gift. But this gift comes with responsibility. Southern Baptists must take ownership of their roles, asking the hard questions that our predecessors were willing to ask. With a laser beam focus on the advancement of the Great Commission, we must ask what the SBC should look like from top to bottom in order to be effective and faithful in the twenty-first century.”
Be sure to sign up for the Baptist21 panel where keynote speakers will talk about pressing and hot topics in the convention. Join B21, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Al Mohler, Thom Rainer, and Danny Akin during the lunch slot Thursday at this year’s convention. Register here.
Excerpt from my chapter in Retreat or Risk: A Call for a Great Commission Resurgence.
1. See www.sbc.net/aboutus/default.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).
2. See http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/default.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).
3. See http://www.cpmissions.net/2003/CPStatistics.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).
Post by Jed Coppenger
Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective. The first four essentials were posted in Part 1. Here are the rest.
5. Growing in Self-Awareness – Assessments are important. But often their importance is misunderstood. Assessments aren’t important because they are some kind of test you pass or diploma you earn so you can go on and do what you want. Instead, they are a means by which you grow in your self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to discern your strengths and weaknesses, the way you handle situations and people, the way you handle those things under pressure, the way you respond to a crisis, and more. Self-awareness is a journey, not a destination. The greater self-awareness you have, the greater ability you will have to keep bombs from blowing up in your blind spots.
6. Growing in Idolatry-Awareness – Everyone is tempted to sin but everyone isn’t tempted to sin in the same ways. If you don’t know your idolatrous tendencies then you won’t know how to battle them and ask others help you battle them. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re going to ruin yourself, your family, and maybe everything else on the altar to that idol that is really in control. Your idol is what’s most important to you. And what’s most important to you defines your identity. And when your identity misplaced, bad things happen—really bad. Idolatry awareness is one level deeper than self-awareness. It isn’t afraid to ask questions like: If you were going to do this for the wrong reasons, what would those be? It finds out the reasons you’re so anxious, anger, and depressed. Growing in your idolatry awareness will help you battle every challenge that is making its way to your front door a few months in to your church plant. Rejecting your idols and finding your identity in Christ will enable you to live in peace, even when “failure” is staring you in the face.
7. Develop a Team With Complimentary Strengths – Once you have self-awareness and idol-awareness, you can better build out your team, whether these are paid or unpaid team members. Because you are aware of your idols and secure with your identity in Christ, you can freely face up to your weaknesses and shortcomings. You don’t have to hide or lie about them. Instead, you have the courage to identify weaknesses and shortcomings. Because you are self-aware, you know how to compensate for your weaknesses by building a team made up of people who have strengths where you don’t. Don’t hire someone with your strengths and wonder why things didn’t change. Become aware of your idols, strengths, and weaknesses, so you can put together a great team.
8. Lock Arms With Other Church Planters – Even though you may have a great team in place, it will be difficult for anyone on your team to know what your role is like. That’s why church planters are greatly helped by other church planters. You need brothers. You need camaraderie. You need to be able to hear church planters struggles and successes and be heard by them. You will see yourself in them and they in you. You will find encouragement even in struggle. You will find soberness even in success. Fellow church planters will have a perspective from which to encourage and challenge you in a way that no one else will. Don’t plant alone, lock arms with other church planters.
9. Identify an Experienced Church Planting Coach – Fellow church planters are important, but you also need father church planters. That is, you need a father in the faith that has church planting experience. You need someone who has actually done what you’re doing. And you want someone that has gone through all of the mess and difficulties of church planting life that you are facing without becoming bitter, resentful, and critical. You want someone who has walked through the fire of church planting and has come out refined, not hardened. Their perspective will give you the wisdom, confidence, encouragement, and inspiration you need to start and continue this new work.
The way these 9 essentials play out in the church planter’s life is messy. It’s always messy. And, of course, there’s more to church planting than these few things. But I haven’t come across an effective church planter that didn’t at least have these 9 essentials present in their life to one degree or another.
Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective.
1. Strong Sense of God’s Leading – Planting church can’t be about your daddy, proving that you’re “somebody,” or anything like this. This isn’t some high school clothing fad that you need to be a part of so you know you’re cool. The reason you’re starting this new church has to include you sensing God leading you to take these next steps—in a life of limited steps—for the advancement of his kingdom. When you get this undeniable sense of his leading on your heart, you have something you’ll need throughout your church planting experience—the ability to follow God’s leading into the unknown. Sensing God’s leading isn’t just about an initial call, although it includes that. It’s about being a man of faith who is able to take courageous steps into the unknown of the mission of God for the glory of God. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue this pattern throughout your ministry.
2. Have a Committed Family – When you have a strong sense of God’s leading to church planting, you also need a family that is committed. Although the call begins personally, it has to include a committed family. Any new job opportunity impacts a family, regardless of the profession. But there are hardly any opportunities that will impact your family more than church planting. Your family will become a strategic target for the Enemy. The enemy will pay special attention to you and your family. And so will the folks in your church, regardless of your context. Because of this, your family will experience unique challenges. They aren’t called to be your staff, although they’ll probably help like it a time or two (or ten!). Church planting is messy, which is why you really need a committed family to be an effective church planter.
3. Be Local Church Proven – Local churches plant churches by sending qualified men out to start new endeavors. By qualified men, I mean a lot of things. Primarily, I mean that you should have a track record of being a faithful, effective, and catalytic leader within the local church. If you haven’t started a growing small group, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. If you haven’t been the kind of church member needed to grow a church, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. You may not be a part of a local church that has the vision to plant churches, but people that are considering investing in you should be able to easily track down a proven local church track record. If they can’t, push church planting into the future and invest in a local church for a while.
4. Have a Compelling Plan – There are a lot of gifted guys and gals talking about vision, mission, strategy, and all the rest these days. Of course, they disagree with one another on the nuanced definitions of each of those things. It can be a bit overwhelming. However you slice it, they are saying the same thing: you need a compelling plan. A compelling plan is clear about what you want to see happen, how you hope to see it happen in your particular context, and why it needs to happen in your particular context. A compelling plan is unshakably aligned with the Great Commission. This isn’t a plug-and-play plan that you heard at the last conference you went too. It is something that you have wrestled (and are wrestling with) with personally for a specific context for a specific time. Although this plan isn’t perfect, it has to be compelling enough to move people—some people—to join and fund this new work.