Monday, October 20, 2014

Graveyard Shift

image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of, picture by user Guliolopez
This is the second of our posts based on the content of the Exponential West 2014 conference.  There are some things I should have mentioned in the first post, just to put my posts and comments in context.

First, the conference was definitely a mixture of theologies.  Whether it's being pro or con women pastors, being pentecostal or something closer to conservative fundamentalism, it's likely you found someone else there who is in agreement.  And some who disagreed. The idea was being able to gather with all flavors of Christianity in the unity of the conference theme.  In this case it was evangelism and church planting.

Second, I'm a slow writer and, sometimes, I'm listening to the full thought, then putting my notes down.  So, unless I have a way to go back and expand my notes, there's no guarantee I put down an exact quote.  Much of the time, I already have a foundation for what's being discussed.  What I put on paper is what I don't know: a highlight to bring back the rest of what I know or things that were specifically highlighted.  In other words, some of what I'm going to share will be close to exact quotes, much will be my impressions.  Thanks to the conference staff, I do have some quotes available, which I'll share as quotes.

Our illustration and title come from a humorous comment Francis Chan made about evangelism.  He suggested we should all go to a graveyard and preach to the headstones.  The point was that it's not our power that wins souls and raises the spiritually dead.  Just as it's unlikely our preaching will raise bodies out of their graves, our words are not what raise the spiritually dead.  It's all God.

Chan's talk was based on John 15 and emphasized the thought that we must abide to bear fruit.  As a comparison, he suggested that we could be like the Israelites who talked to Moses after he returned from the mountain or we could be like Moses and go up the mountain ourselves.

Mr. Chan said that a movement starts when the founder knows Jesus.  That same movement dies when all the followers know is the founder.  We need a personal connection to God, individually and corporately.  A couple of Francis Chan quotes:

“I know there’s a lot of strategies out there, but I’m saying for fruit that lasts I think we need to rethink this. We are talking about a miracle and so I’m saying lets abide in Him. Let’s seriously believe that we can be one, just as the Father and the Son are one, and pursue that in the Church.”

“I want us to really think through what we are trying to do, which is raise the dead, and it’s not going to happen through our cleverness,”

In other words, as we shared last time, the thought is that our experience of God's love gives us a joy that is recognizable by those around us.  The more we connect with God, the more others see something in us that they are attracted to and want for themselves.  My own thought is that's not just individually.  Nonbelievers will become attracted to the portion of the Body of Christ that functions as family instead of setting up barriers based on personal or theological differences.


The second day of the conference began with Pastor Sergio De la Mora.  He continued the theme.

“You need to learn to be the pastor God has called you to be and not the pastor you want to be.”

That's both a rich and a scary thought.  How many of us go into some form of ministry with preconceived ideas of who we should be and what God wants from us?  Pastor De la Mora added, "Give God permission to break your rules.".  Our ministry talks of giving God veto rights on our decisions.  Let God be God and we need to leave Him in control.  His way to His results.

Pastor Sergio also suggested that a pastor needs to "learn the pain of your church".  That fits right in with his previous thought.  We can't preach sermons based solely on what we think we should teach. We need to understand the things that are directly impacting the congregation and make sure we preach things that will make positive changes in lives and experiences.  As he put it, "Preach from conviction, not cleverness.".

All the normal topics need to be covered in preaching, but most of our interaction with church members, both personal and from the pulpit, needs to be focused on lifting people out of their pain and bringing them closer to God.  In a sense, all the usual "mandatory" topics are "gravy", but what most immediately draws your people closer to God is the meat and potatoes.

De la Mora said that the pastor and his people were designed by God for each other.  The pastor is sent by God for that specific Body.  The people are drawn to that pastor by God for their growth and benefit.  If everything's right, we can see that's true.  If it's not, we've all seen Laodicean disasters. But in the context of the conference theme, we can go with this one.

Pastor De la Mora suggested that a church (the local assembly) is seen as a combination of its sound, the spirit, and the structure.  In terms of evangelism and discipleship, he had another suggestion early in his message that I had a hard time with.  And I decided to discuss it last so that it wouldn't color the impression of the rest of what he said.  He said that, before planting a church the pastor or team should study the locale and see what attracts people and design how the church looks, sounds, and expresses its spirit to match it.

I agree that some of that has to come into play.  A rural type congregation in a "bluegrass" society aren't going to connect well to some of what's termed "contemporary Christian" music and preaching style.  Likewise, force feeding congregational hymns on a Latino congregation is likely to fall flat on its face.  The "how" needs to be based on the "who".  At the same time, there's a huge caution sign. I'm not alone in believing that properly drawing people to Christ requires that people need to be able to recognize the difference between Christianity and the world.  If that difference is so blurred that people think the church accepts the ways of the world, then do we really have a real church?  Or is it just a way of excusing sin disguised as a church?  We don't want the church to be like the local bar down the street.

I believe Pastor De la Mora understands and supports my issue with how he stated the idea.  It was said at a conference of pastors and church leaders who would understand what a lawyer might call "limiting clauses".  But quotes are being tweeted and blogged, which brings in readers and hearers who may take the statement at face value, without realizing that there are some underlying realities that are understood but not mentioned.  So, being clear on Truth is a good thing.  We want to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:16).

We'll continue with day two on Friday.  When we share Christ, we disciple and evangelize.  Is what we share familiar enough to be attractive?  And is it also unique enough that people see that our faith is different from the world?

1 comment:

  1. Rich post Bill - “You need to learn to be the pastor God has called you to be and not the pastor you want to be.” - This is right where I am living. My desire is to be able to pastor full time but for now that is not possible. Perhaps I will always be bivocational. Everyday I need to depend on His grace to see me through. It is humbling to stand in the pulpit on Sunday a realize you really have nothing to bring. Thankfully He shows up.