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Friday, May 06, 2005

Thanks for the emails that yesterday's blog prompted. I want to make one thing clear. I am not simply talking about creating conversation in places of commerce. This is not simply about starting pubs, cool coffee shops, music venues, etc. I am not suggesting starting hip spaces that look like another version of the church's safe zones and alternatives of the past two decades.

I am talking about opening our eyes to what God is doing in our midst and getting on board. I heard it said once that God is often times more active in the world than he is in the church. I believe one of those times is now. God will make himself known with or without us. He doesn't "need" our cleverly designed programs and methodologies. He chooses to use us and wants us to get on board with what he is doing.

For instance, there has been more God in Hollywood in the past 5 years than at any time in our history. Do you see Him there? Are you going to the movies with your friends and discussing what they think? Or, do we stay at home and "make a stand" because THAT movie drops the F-Bomb. People are talking at the watercooler about God because of what they see at the movies. Are you in on the conversation?

Jesus was never about providing alternatives. He listened to people. He sought to know them. Their needs. Their desires. Jesus condemned those with holier-than-thou attitudes and postures. Jesus embraced the broken. AND he did this all on their turf.

Christians have always fought over this "of the world" thingy. Yes, agreed, we are to be in the world and not "of" it. But, I am sure God did not intend for us to hide from it. That seems to be more the place we have been in the last few years with a few exceptions. In the world and hiding from it. In the world and seeking sanctuary from it. In the world and ignoring it.

When is the last time we surveyed our congregations to see where they are currently serving their community outside the church walls? What humanitarian efforts can we get in line with? Some would fear these kinds of things would pull resources away from the church if we embraced them. Guys: This IS church. We need to concern ourselves with BEING the church not DOING church.

My recent dreams are really the culmination of some dreams I have been sorting through for a few years and part of the impetus that made us embrace the idea of a move to try something different. We all know outreach is all about relationship—not events. We have said it over and over again, but we still don't get it. I know we don't get it because of how we have been operating. (I am painting with large brush strokes when I use words like "we") Look at your home budget (or, if you are on staff at a church, your church budget). Where is the money going? Is it more about relationship or more about program? Think hard. It's easy to say every program is about relationship, but is it really?

One of the things we are talking through right now is the risk-taking that we will need to become comfortable with in order to move in some new directions. The church definitely needs an overhaul (the big “C” church, that is).

One of the things we are doing this year (and I am so stoked about it) is asking everyone in the church what humanitarian, charitable, sacrificial efforts they are CURRENTLY involved in outside the church. We have found an incredible link with people being involved with the cancer community. SO, this next year, (starting this summer) we are getting on board with what God is already doing and linking up with many fundraising and cancer awareness programs and opportunities. Relay for Life will have a huge Westwinds influence this summer. We are currently working on a CD that all proceeds will benefit American Cancer Society and are in conversation with them currently to bring national attention to the song for their copyright free promotion. We have partnered with the ladies who are running an organization to help unwed mothers with crisis pregnancies in town and we have donated a substantial sum because our people have caught the vision. Our people have been giving clothes and money to an organization that helps children and families with low incomes. NONE of these things were started by our church (organization). They were started by our church (people). They don't have our name plastered all over them. They smell like Christ to me.

In my experience, the church (broad strokes again) would not be happy with doing that kind of outreach unless we take someone else's "secular" idea and re-shape it. Sure, we can do cancer outreach, but we will give it a real cute name--perhaps an acronym--and market our own brand. Then people will know Christians are involved and the church is making an impact. The thought has been . . . better yet, if we put on an event and invited the most popular Christian bands to play we may be able to hear the testimonies of some Christians who are cancer survivors and invite our friends! This stuff doesn't fly with me anymore. It's not working.

Every church conference I have attended in the past few years has been about "how to do church better." But, in all seriousness, I have not been learning about how to BE the church better. I have learned some wonderful things about how to create a cool environment inside the auditorium and produce cool videos and introduce art (all good things to talk about), but where are the conferences that talk about risk taking outside of the building. I have yet to meet someone who's life has changed because I had the perfect transition between the feature music and the video. Don't get me wrong, I believe in being excellent in everything we do. I know that our worship services and programs have helped people in their journey. But, are we leveraging our resources appropriately?

A few weeks ago, I went to Jamaica with my bride--part of a cruise we were on. I sat at Jimmy Buffet's bar--Margaritaville--on a stool at the pool bar. I was drinking a banana drink of some kind that was recommended by the guy sitting next to me. On occasion, I will smoke a cigar. This was one of those occasions because I thought it was cool that I could buy a Cuban. So, here I am, smoking a cigar and having a drink while reading "For the Beauty of the Earth" by Steven Bouma-Prediger. The guy starts asking me what the book is about. I told him it was basically about how Christians have ignored their responsibility in earth-care because they have bigger fish to fry with the business of saving souls. He was VERY intrigued. He told me he would never set foot in a church because of those very things. We talked about God, church, sin, eternal life, good cigars, education, relationships, vacations, children, responsibility. When we were near the end of the conversation we talked about work. He asked me what I do. I told him I was a pastor. He just about fell off his bar stool (which would have been okay since we were half-submerged in water). NOT because I had done or said anything unbecoming of a Christian. BUT, because he couldn't believe he was having a meaningful conversation with a Christian and enjoying it. He couldn't wait to tell his friends he had a banana-drink-thingy with a pastor! (I think his exact words were "this is f#@%!!^#%@$ing amazing). He told me some things I could pray for him about. He apologized for his potty mouth. I told him it was not necessary. He didn't have to impress me. I wasn’t doing anything special in my mind—just having good spiritual conversation. He told me that may be the first time he felt like he could “be himself” around a Christian. It felt . . . “authentic.” Truth be told? I had more meaningful spiritual conversation in that one sitting than I have had for over a year inside my church's walls. AND, I never would have had it with him inside those walls by his own admission.

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