Author Archives: Mr. Marker

How should the church respond to Ferguson?

Landmark, the church I am blessed to pastor, is a multicultural church. Although we have a long way to go, we are being intentional about truly reflecting the demographics of our community. Right now we are approximately 45% African American, 45% Caucasian, and 10% Other (for lack of a better inclusive term). I believe this is one of our greatest accomplishments. As such, I feel it necessary to address current cultural issues, especially in light of the events that have and are taking place in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities across America.

Far too often the church is silent on these issues, but sometimes silence speaks volumes. Why don’t we speak up? Maybe its because of the societal misconceptions associated with our respective cultures. Maybe we don’t want to stir the pot. Maybe we hope it will all just go away or maybe we just don’t know what to say.

Problems ignored rarely go away. It is only through appropriate interaction and open conversation that we can work together to bring resolution in potentially volatile situations.

The church isn’t (at least it shouldn’t be) like the world and thus, should not operate like the world. As the church, we should understand that we are disciples of Christ before we are anything else. As the church, we realize that we are all sinners in need of a savior and without grace none of us would survive. This is a cross-cultural truth.

Therefore, we must live into Galatians 3:28 (NIV) that says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This statement was demonstrated in real time by the early church. It was made up of Jews and Gentiles (two cultures with stark philosophical, religious and cultural differences), united by the power of a life changing Gospel. Unbelievers looked through the “windows of the church” and saw free men in fellowship with servants and Jews eating meals with Gentiles. Everyone was on a first name basis and it blew the minds of outsiders to see such culturally and politically incorrect behavior. Centuries of social constructs were dismantled because of their mutual love of Jesus. Wow!

Today, we must still be defined by John 13:35 (NKJV) that says “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It was the healing message of Calvary that gave them new focus and purpose. It was a message far more powerful and compelling than political talking points and cultural biases. It placed everyone on common ground where there were no big “I’s” and little “you’s.” The message of the cross leveled the playing field and it didn’t matter where you were from. It was God’s Kingdom that truly mattered and they were now full blown citizens of this new Kingdom.

Our response to crisis, any crisis, must always be a reflection of the center of our universe, Jesus Christ. This is what gets the world’s attention. As ambassadors of Christ to our generation what should we do? To find that out we need to look at what Jesus did. In Matthew 14:14 (NKJV) we find this:

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”

Jesus did not preclude anyone based on ethnicity, color of skin, religious background or politics.

I do not pretend to have all the answers. I have no idea what it is like to be African American, Latino, Asian or any other culture than my own. The fact is we all have our own life experiences, good and bad, to deal with. We all have our own cultural struggles to face. Here’s the deal though. When I gave my life to Jesus, I gave up my earthly kingdom rights and gained Heavenly kingdom rights. Along with those rights came responsibilities.

Now, as His disciple, I don’t have the right to hate. I don’t have the right to be a racist. I don’t have the right to be a fearmongerer, a usurper, a gossip, etc. Those were my worldly rights but when I “switched” kingdoms, I assumed a new identity. Now I have the responsibility to love unconditionally, be a peacemaker and spread the Gospel. This means that I shouldn’t attempt to avoid the injustices of my environment and the societal conditions that surround me. As a matter of fact, it increases the desperation of my responsibility to spread the Gospel.

As long as we are alive on earth there will be injustice because the world is governed by the imperfect impulses of men. There will always be avarice and greed, hatred, racism, prejudice, and murder, all driven by an unhealthy push and lust for power. But just because its going to be that way, and just because the world reacts this way doesn’t mean that we have to participate in negativity. Nor does it mean that we can’t make a difference. WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Read the Gospels. Read the Book of Acts. There you will find problems  occurring then just like they are happening now: murders, riots, religious and secular hatefulness, rogue government officials. You name it, it was there. But Jesus had a powerful impact in the middle of all that. And, when the church was born, it continued making such a difference that when they went to one place it was said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,…” Acts 17:6 (ESV)

So, how do we make a difference today? The answer is found in the words of Jesus:

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’[d] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[e] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 22:37-40. (NKJV)

Let me conclude with this. Our responsibility is to exhibit an aggressive, godly love. To accomplish this, we cannot hide our heads in the sand and hope “it goes away.” True love means heartfelt conversation, not speeches. True love means that our sermons will be lived out and not just shouted. True love is politically incorrect more often than not because true love is filled with compassion, not pity. True love means cross-cultural dialogue with meaningful give and take. True love means making an intentional effort to understand our differences and working together towards a common solution.

True love desires to learn each others languages so we can communicate on level ground. True love looks past skin color. True love destroys walls of separation built over years of misunderstanding and ignorance. True love trips over itself to pursue peace. The world does not have a ‘fear’ problem, it has a love problem because ultimately, true (perfect) love, “…casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18 (NKJV)

So to my Landmark family I say, let’s not ignore the problem.  Let’s be a part of the solution. Let us earnestly pray for the Brown family, the Wilson family and for Ferguson, Missouri. At the same time we must understand that what is happening there is just a microcosm of what is going on everywhere. We can either exacerbate the problem or we can do something about it. We can make sure that right here, right now, right where we are, we are making a difference for Christ in our community.

We must pray for our nation and we must show the world Jesus. He is the answer!

**Special thanks to Natalie Bunner and Nancy Langford for their input on this post.

12 lessons I’ve learned about church growth

I have been privileged to serve as pastor of three churches. 28 years as a Senior Pastor will teach you a few things. Here are some of the lessons I have learned about church growth.

In order to experience growth:

1. You MUST define yourself as a church. What kind of church are you going to be? Will you be a church that exists primarily for church-goers or a church for the unchurched? The difference is huge. Here’s one way to determine what kind of church you are. Answer this question: Are we growing because of move-ins and transfers of Christians from other churches or are we growing because we are winning brand new people to Christ?

2. You MUST be willing to LOSE in order to gain. As hard as it is, when you define what kind of church you will be, some people will leave. Don’t give up and don’t blame yourself. Some losses are necessary for the vision to move forward. Once you get over the initial shock, the reality of necessary losses will be revealed. Some of our best gains have been losses. The toughest part for us was the temporary loss of money but that was quickly replaced.

3. You MUST obsess over a focused vision. Everybody say it with me, “Focused vision.” The whole church must be obsessed with a very defined, “one track mind” vision. Too often we chase multiple visions and accomplish little because we are spreading our efforts and resources too thin. Seek ONE vision and go all in for it. Make sure every ministry in your church is chasing the same vision. And remember the number one habit of highly successful people…begin with the end in mind.

4. You MUST have a team mentality. The synergy of a group of people working together for a common goal is invaluable. As a pastor, I may be the primary vision caster but I have learned that there are people on my team who have better ideas, clearer understanding and knowledge, and who are gifted where I am not. Don’t shortchange the vision by being selfish with it. Together we are better.

5. You MUST speak the same language in every area of ministry. The language spoken in the sanctuary must be the one spoken in the Children’s Ministry and the Student Ministry and the Small Groups Ministry. There cannot be an “isolated towers” mentality. The vision for growth must be common to every department. We have learned that catchphrases are important. One of the statements you will hear constantly at Landmark is, “God has a plan. It’s brilliant and I am in it!” Our vision statement is simple and repeatable, “We exist to share the hope of Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere, everyday.”

6. You MUST preach the Gospel. The Good News has to be central to everything you do if you are to grow a healthy, vibrant church. I have found that people who have lost their way and who are desperately trying to find purpose in life don’t give a hoot about our doctrines. They want hope, love and acceptance. Living out the Gospel accomplishes that. Present Jesus to them now. The other stuff will take care of itself when the time comes.

7. You MUST be transparent. Don’t try to come across as some super Christian. Admit you struggle with things. Show you are just as human as they are. Be open and honest. People appreciate that more than you know. Not only that, they can spot a hypocrite a mile away.

8. You MUST know the heartbeat of your community. Get out in the streets and talk to people. Get to know your neighbors. Work among them and listen to what they are saying. More importantly, listen to what they are not saying. Find the felt needs and figure out a way to minister to those needs. Win them to YOU so you can lead them to HIM.

9. You MUST think outside the box. For years I was confined in a denominational expectation box. It was only when I stepped out of that box that our church began to prosper. Its not that the organization was/is a bad thing but the pressure to perform one way and one way only did not allow for organic growth. Programs are good but only to a certain extent. At some point you have to take into account your local circumstances and culture and recognize that a model that works in one place may not work in another.

10. You MUST be willing to change. Status quo may be comfortable but it is not conducive to growth. You have to inventory your programs and methods and be willing to let them die or just kill them outright if they are not contributing in the pursuit of your vision. Some sacred cows need to be de-horned and removed from “idol” status. If they aren’t helping they are taking away from something that would.

11. You MUST allow your spouse to live into his/her calling. My wife is gifted in so many areas. Her gifts and talents stand in contrast to mine so we complement each other in ministry. Sir, you need to release your wife and let her be who God intended her to be. If you do, your whole life and ministry will profit.

12. You MUST not measure yourself against another church or ministry. Pursue your own vision and don’t worry about what others are thinking or saying. Understand that haters are going to hate, critics are going to criticize, and naysayers are going to naysay. Don’t let them distract you from going after what God has placed in front of you. Remember, God has a plan. It’s brilliant and YOU are in it!

Baker’s Dozen

13. You MUST market the vision. Learn how to communicate a vision. Write it down in big block letters. Use every technology available. Get on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Advertise it, proclaim it, shout it from the rooftops. As a matter of fact, do anything short of sin to get the word out in your community. Have block parties, giveaways, and eating meetings. One of our greatest tools of evangelism is food.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but its a good place to start.

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