Thursday, November 30, 2006

What Will We Do?

I met many young Maasai men in Kenya. They were men of deep thought, and enthusiastic conversationalists. During my days there we would visit from "boma" to "boma" in the mornings. (A "boma" is a Maasai homestead built around the patriarch and his multiple wives and children.) After an adventurous lunch (we never knew what we were going to get) and a mandatory one-hour rest period, we would gather inder the roof of the church for some awesome Bible studies and incredibly deep theological discussions.

As the Maasai of Ilkushin Baptist Church pondered their vision of "a church on every hill," questions began to emerge. One of the most fascinating and interesting questions that they asked me during one of these lively discussions was, "What will we do when everyone in a Christian?" This one had them perplexed. You see, in their world ... in their valley ... almost every person they could imagine was following Jesus. They sincerely saw a quandry ... what would they do when their entire "world" was converted?

I was blessed to challenge them with my perspective on their quandry. I encouraged them not to rely entirely upon the Western missionaries to take the Gospel to the other places. I reminded them that there were Maasai in may valleys in Kenya and Tanzania. They could send out their own missionaries to reach their own people in faraway places. They seemed pretty excited about the idea.

Wouldn't it be incredible if we could ask that question here in the U.S.? "What will we do when everyone around us is a Christian?" Perhaps if we would stop trying to help God convict people of their sin, if we would stop standing against and boycotting everything and begin standing for something, if we could embrace the people within our culture rather than alienating them as our cultural enemies ... then we might be a bit closer to asking that profound, holy, unthinkable question.

Maybe we should just follow the Jesus methods of evangelism ... meeting needs, ministry, grace, love, healing, and forgiveness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Church Buildings & Church Vision - Maasai Style

My first experience with Maasai church life was one of simplicity. Like their homes, their churches were simple and functional. This picture is actually a bit "rougher" than the churches that I encountered. This one seems to be patterned after their home construction.

The churches where we worshiped and spoke were simple metal roofs on rough rafters with cedar posts. Most of them were open-air with handmade benches. Incredibly, the construction team with our church group built three such "roofs" during eight days on the field.

The vision of the Maasai Christians was incredible! They had absolutely no desire to "fluff" their church buildings with expensive decorations and furnishings. Instead, they wanted to start more churches. On my first day there, the pastor of Ilkushin Baptist Church, a sweet, godly man named George Oneipu, took me out in front of his humble church and identified three hills in the distance in three different directions. He told me, through a translator, that it was their desire to see a new church on each of those hills. Indeed, it was their vision that you would never be able to stand upon a hill in Maasailand without being able to see many churches in every direction!

What an awesome vision and testimony! But how far away from that kind of vision are the churches of North America? We built three churches with $5000 in Kenya. Here in the states, churches with perfectly functional facilities will drop $5 Million for "renovations" in a heartbeat. Just imagine how many new churches could be planted in the United States with the money that our churches throw away on "cosmetics" and "looks."

Are we too busy building fortresses on our own "hills" to have a vision for the "mountains" of lost people that surround our churches? Something to think about. What do you think?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Short Term Missions: My Most Memorable Experience

Kenya - 1997
People Group: Maasai

Most of us have who live and minister "stateside" have gone on short-term mission trips to various places. Many of us have ministered in other places in North America. Others have ventured to leave home, cross a cultural barrier, and take the Gospel to the nations.

My most memorable, life-changing, growing experience was almost ten years ago, when I led a team from my church to work among the Maasai people in the nation of Kenya. We ministered in an area called Ilkushin, in southern Kenya, near the border with Tanzania. This was my first-ever experience with church planting. I'll be sharing stories from this experience ... and the lessons learned ... over my next several posts.

What about you? What was your most memorable, life-impacting, growing experience in cross-cultural missions? What did you learn?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Nativity Story - Opportunity to Reach Out ... Or Opportunity to Sell?

The latest edition of Outreach Magazine has a Christmas theme ... naturally. This theme focuses upon the soon-to-be-released motion picture, The Nativity Story. It contains a full-page ad for the movie inside the font cover, as well as a well-illustrated feature story.

The magazine provides a link to a site where church leaders can obtain free ministry resources to use the film as an outreach. Interestingly, if you go to the main web site at, you will find a prominent lead banner with links to a sub-page where you can purchase all sorts of tools to use in making this movie an outreach tool. You can buy post cards, pahphlets, Bibles, banners (extremely costly), even door hangers!

Here's the thing ... are these movies truly effective outreach tools? Or are they opportunities for someone to make money in the Christian "market?"

Think back over the past couple of years, and the many past issues of magazines such as Outreach. Do you remember The Passion of the Christ? Or what about all of the doom-filled, "sky-is-falling" alarms sounded over that non-event known as The DaVinci Code? [Most of the people in my church never heard of it ... they thought it sounded like a diet plan or something :) ]

Are we really using these movies to reach people and fill the seats in Christ's church? Is that's what is really going on here? Or is someone using the church (and its resources) to fill the seats in the movie theaters ... and the pockets of Hollywood?

Opinions? Thoughts? Are such movies effective outreach, even for the cause of Church planting? Or is this just the encroachment of capitalism into it's newly-discovered Christian "market?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Memphis Manatee

I received the weekly newsletter from Cordova Baptist Church in Memphis (I once served as Youth Pastor there), and was shocked to learn that a manatee had been spotted in the Mississippi River. It was discovered by local fishermen. "These old fishermen spotted it two days ago and called the zoo to report that they had seen a prehistoric animal, a Loch Ness monster or something," said Lt. Ed Vidulich with the Memphis Police Harbor Patrol.

Apparently, this eight-foot, 1000-pound behemoth had made the 700-mile journey up the Mississippi River, and spent a few days swimming around in the harbor near Mud Island.

This was a pretty amazing event. According to scientific and historical reports, there had never been a sighting of a manatee so far north up the Mississippi. His presence drew a crowd. People came from all over just to catch a glimpse of the manatee that had wandered into Memphis. They wanted to see this creature that obviously did not belong. Wildlife officials were being flown in from Florida to plan a rescue and get the blubbery critter back to the Gulf Coast. Then, as suddenly as he appeared ... he was gone. The local citizens, as well as the wildlife officials, seemed relieved.

What could have caused his to stray so far north? Surely it must have been seeking something. But what? Graceland? The ribs at the Rondezvous? The ducks at the Peabody? Probably not. Perhaps he was just hungry and looking for food, or lonely and looking for a mate. Maybe he was just curious and looking for something ... he just didn't know what. But whatever he was looking for ... he obviously didn't find it.

But what does this have to do with the church? Plenty, I think. Last week, a family from my church visited a large "First Baptist Church" in a nearby community. They attended to celebrate the baptism of the child of a family member. This family is pretty hard to miss ... they have five kids! The dad reported to me that during their visit, they did not receive a single handshake or word of welcome. No one asked about them. No one invited them to come back. They only received curious stares. They simply felt like they didn't belong ... and they could not wait to leave.

Think about it - How many such "manatees" (guests) wander through the doors of our numerous (almost too many to count) plateaued and declining churches each Sunday? Not many these days. But when they do, it's obvious that they are looking for something. Many times they really don't know what it is that they're looking for ... they're just seeking.

And how do the people of God react? Most of the time we observe. Many times, we observe from a distance. We're afraid to reach out or even to speak. Because, after all, they're not one of us. They don't really belong. Oh, they may "bob around" among us for a while. But eventually they leave. Why? Because the "waters" are just too different from those "waters" of the world in which they live. Because they really don't feel like they belong. And because even though they were looking for something, they just couldn't find "it" ... whatever "it" was. And really, whether we even realize it or not, when they leave many of us are relieved ... because we don't have to change anything to fit our newcomers.

Church ... we have to do better. We have to adapt to reach our culture. We must realize that many of us are trying to minister in the 21st century with 1950's church models, ideas, programs, and mentalities. We must plant new, relevant, cutting-edge churches. If we don't, soon the world will look at us like we are the "lost manatees."

Actual photo of "Manny," the Memphis Manatee.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel ... Continued

We have the lottery (actually, lotteries - many of them) in my home state of Kentucky. I have seen some remarkable sights associated with the lottery in my 8+ years of living in Kentucky.

One morning, when I lived in Hopkinsville, I stopped in at a local convenience store to buy gas for my car. As I waited in line to pay, I saw something that truly dumbfounded me. A woman directly in front of me was cashing what I assumed to be her paycheck. It was somewhere in the vicinity of $150, as far as I could tell. She stepped up to the counter with two cases of beer. She requested the attendant to fetch her a case of cigarettes from behind the counter. She paid for her purchases with the paycheck, then promptly spent the rest of the money ... every single dollar ... on lottery tickets. I watched helplessly as she pocketed a stack of tickets and about fifty cents in change. She then took her beer, smokes, and lottery tickets and got into a car just outside the door of the store. Inside that car were four small children.

That's why we call the lottery the "stupid tax." Surely only sheer stupidity would lead someone to take such actions. Or is it something more?

You might ask, "What does the lottery have to do with the prosperity gospel?" I believe that it has a lot to do with it.

The lottery is, in my opinion, an unfair tax upon the poor. They are "mentally blackmailed" and duped into thinking that if they just keep playing ... just put a little more money in ... just one more ticket ... then they will be the big winner.

Now, stay with me. Who is, hands down, the most attracted to the prosperity, name-it-an-claim-it, you-deserve-it, God-wants-to-prosper-you "gospel?" The people who have little. The people who are seeking financial hope. The poor. Beyond the poor, such a "gospel" would only appeal to the truly greedy.

I believe that we have, in the prosperity "gospel," nothing more than a spiritual "lottery." If the people will just keep giving, keep supporting the "ministries" in faith, then one day they will hit the "Jesus jackpot" and be rolling in the dough. Because, after all, that's what these supposed "gospel" preachers are telling them.

But didn't Jesus say, "You will always have the poor among you...?" (John 12:8) And didn't Paul have an entire ministry among the Gentile believers to collect offerings for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem? What was wrong with those Jerusalem Christians? Didn't they have enough faith? They must not have given their "seed gift" in faith, or surely they would have been healthy and wealthy.

Here is reality: Some of the most joyful, most faithful believers that I ever met lived in huts made of sticks and cattle dung. I met them while serving short-term in Kenya. They had nothing in this world. Just a hut, a garden, a family, and a couple of cows. But they had everything they needed in Jesus Christ. They were the happiest, most fulfilled people I ever met. I have never seen such dedication and faith in the provision of God. The idea that they are poor because of some spiritual problem is preposterous.

The prosperity "gospel" is, in my view, a uniquely North American phenomenon. It is built upon the selfish premise that everything in the universe revolves around us. We are ridiculously pampered and spoiled. To think that the Creator of the universe is actually worried about the size of my house or my personal 401k is the ultimate intellectual and spiritual act of overblown, out of control self-indulgence.

Shame on those pastors and "ministries" that prey upon the hopes of the poor and profit from the uncontrolled self-centeredness of the American people. The prosperity "gospel" is no gospel at all. Surely these are the "wolves in sheep's clothing" that Jesus warned us about.

As we seek to grow the church and plant new churches, let's make sure we avoid this spiritually and morally bankrupt short-cut just to draw a crowd (and grow a bank account). Let's follow Jesus, who said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel

Last week's edition of the Western Recorder, the state newspaper of Kentucky Baptists, carried a front page story by Ken Camp of the Texas Baptist Standard entitled, "Baptist leaders Voice Concern About Prosperity Gospel's Influence."

His article provides a brief critique of the so-called "health, wealth, and prosperity gospel," otherwise known as the "name-it-and-claim-it gospel" and its supposed growing popularity in North America.

The article includes the view of the oft-maligned Joel Osteen, who wrote in his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, "The Bible says, 'God takes pleasure in prospering His children.' As His children prosper spiritually, physically and materially, their increase brings pleasure to God."

His view is countered by Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, who said, "...the prosperity doctrine ... limits God. It makes Him into a behavioral psychologist who resorts to external rewards to manipulate the rat-race human beings."

The possible impact of this "prosperity gospel" is something that I decided I had to learn more about. A church in a nearby community is in the process of planting a new "satellite" congregation in my community. I'll admit that I am no fan of the "franchising of the church" movement and multiple locations. I analyzed that in a previous post. But I am an advocate of church planting. There are plenty of unreached people in our community. A new church is welcome. But in seeking more information about the "home church," I found that the coming message series is entitled "King Solomon's Secrets of Success." A message series designed to unveil the secrets of a successful (and obviously wealthy) king sounds hauntingly like a "prosperity gospel" approach. Of that I am most suspicious.

Of course, this "health and wealth" phenomenon is nothing new. We all remember the "glory days" of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. So-called "evangelists" have been broadcasting "Jesus shows" and manipulating working people out of their hard-earned money for the past thirty years. But what is the current impact? What are the implications of this approach to spreading the gospel message? Is it, indeed, the true Gospel? Who actually responds to this message? What is the impact of this version of Christianity, if any, upon Church Planting?

I'll share my view and analysis of what I believe is the true nature of the "prosperity gospel" in my next post.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Show Me the Money! - Funding Church Planting

A tragic story has been playing itself out in Texas over the past several months. This story involves the possible misappropriation by some church planters and strategists of church planting funds given by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The allegation is that as much as 1.3 million dollars was funneled into house churches or other rapidly reproducing churches that, in fact, did not exist or did not exist for any significant length of time. According to a recent report at, a subsequent investigative probe has already cost the state convention $100,000 and may eventually have a price tag of $150,000.

This story has been and is being covered in-depth by the Texas Baptist Standard and is being closely monitored by the independnt blog Spiritual Samurai.

I believe the heart of this story must be the funding of Church Planting. How is it being done? What is the best way to accomplish the task? Is it truly best for Southern Baptists to pool their funds through larger Baptist entities and allow convention employees beyond the level of the local church to decide where those funds are allocated? Is Church Planting a task for denominations, or is it a task that the local church should be performing?

I know that there are many differing views. Many probably will not like mine. They may even be upset by it. But it is my honest view, nonetheless. More and more, I am becoming convinced that local churches, not denominations, should be reproducing and planting churches.

The inevitable problem that we encounter as we plant churches denominationally is that, in most cases, the "product" (i.e. new churches) must resemble something that all of the churches represented and involved in the process of "sponsorship" can be comfortable with. Multiple sources of funding and accountability bring with them multiple views of acceptable worship style, church polity, leadership ... even the name of the church. Case in point: In many areas of Southern Baptist life, we are still fighting the battle of whether or not a "Baptist" church should have "Baptist" in the name. Churches are being rejected and disfellowshiped over this issue.

I have been a Southern Baptist for 25 years (longer than I have been a Christian ... really). I have served on Southern Baptist church staffs since 1989. Yet the Southern Baptist church that I planted and now pastor was rejected by our local Southern Baptist association six months after being received under watch-care because of this very issue of "Baptist in the name." This is something that I have lived through, and believe me, the scars run deep.

I am so thankful that our church was planted by a local church planting / reproducing model. My church is called Crossroads Fellowship. We minister in the beautiful village of Cadiz, Kentucky. Our mother church was New Work Fellowship in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Our sponsorship and planting plan was simple. New Work developed and prepared a core of people for the plant. This core gave and "banked" their tithes and gifts for a number of months in preparation for the plant. New Work brought me into the process and added me to their staff as a Church Planter. Their sponsorship was simply a generous provision for my family. Our steadily growing church paid its own bills. We gradually stepped down their sponsorship of my family by 50% over a three-year period, when we became a fully self-sustaining congregation. We never received a single penny of denominational support. Yet, we have given faithfully to the Cooperative Program since our inception.

On a Side Note (Chasing a Rabbit): I know personally of two churches planted at roughly the same time as ours in our area, both of which received significant, direct, monetary denominational support, yet neither of which has given any measurable amount in return to the Cooperative Program (according to the statistics that come out in our state newspaper each year). That sort of bothers me. Well, actually, it bothers me a lot.

Anyhow ... that's our personal testimony at Crossroads. We have continued that legacy through our direct financial support of a church plant in Cornwall, Ontario, and the Living Waters Fellowship in nearby Oak Grove (Fort Campbell) Kentucky. We don't give as much as some churches do the the CP. But we are supporting Southern Baptist missions, in particular Church Planting, through our direct financial gifts. So tell me ... are we doing something wrong? Or are we doing something right? Is there a wind of change blowing in the SBC, the CP, and Church Planting? I'm curious, and I' searching.

All I know is that if 1.3 million can be "lost" through one of our current systems, something has to change.