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My Multisite Church Problem

This post is a companion piece for an article I wrote for Evangelical Free Church of America. You can read it here.

I thought they were all egotistical megalomaniacs bent on making Outreach’s 100 fastest growing churches list, to be quite honest. I didn’t think there could be any way that a pastor at a multisite church could possibly be interested in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Surely they had to water down the gospel in order to have more than one site!

This became a problem for me in 2017. When my family moved back to San Diego to take a new position in the Navy, I tried to focus on churches that only had one location. I was bound and determined to avoid multisite churches like the plague.c56772_dd97dfecd68f4d7aa4d67d22dc37278f

One by one, the churches we visited just didn’t seem to quite fit. While checking around, I did begrudgingly go to two multisite churches in my neighborhood. One of these visits was to Legacy Church in Tierrasanta. Much to my dismay, both of them were very good.

I went back to other single-site churches, hoping that one of them would be our match. They weren’t. Instead, the multisite churches were great, meaning that they preached the true gospel. I started to change my thinking on the issue. Could multisite churches be more than just ego boosts for their pastors?

As I learned more about Legacy Church, I came to realize that the pastor usually travels from the first location to the second location and back to cover all three services. In many ways, Legacy Church was emulating the Methodist circuit riders of old. Instead of covering miles of a frontier or a set of rural communities, however, Legacy covers La Mesa, CA and the Tierrasanta neighborhood of San Diego.

Then I thought: “This is not how I thought multisite churches worked. I wonder if there are other models as well.”

That thought officially launched my research into multisite churches, followed quickly by a query to the editor of EFCA Today, Diane McDougal. She ok’d the project on the understanding that final approval would come after it was complete. I began my research with Dr. Larry Osborne of North Coast Church in San Diego. Dr. Osborne was great to work with, as was his administrative assistant, Amanda Hoffman. She worked out a schedule that met both Dr. Osborne’s needs and mine as the writer. Our talk lasted about a half hour.

First question: What is the Gospel? I figured…hey, if they weren’t about the gospel, then I’d know my research could end. The gospel is the most important thing, as far as I can tell, so I started my questions with that.

He answered with I Corinthians 15, which encompasses the death, burial, and resurrection. When I asked him why he started there, he replied, “I figured that what the apostle Paul describes as his gospel is good enough for me as a working description.”

Ok, so far so good. Turns out one of the site pastors for North Coast also had a solid definition. Jay Foulk, who oversees the San Marcos/Escondido campus, said the gospel was, “the good news that through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we can be saved from our sins through faith in Him.”

Wow. So maybe this is not only, not bad, but maybe good. My shell was beginning to crack. I still didn’t want to go full bore, but around this time, Alicia and I were regularly attending a multisite church (Legacy), so I figured I needed to get to the bottom of it soon.

I reached out to Nathan Miller, who oversees the site pastors for Christ Community Church in the Kansas City metro area. Nathan was likewise easy to talk to and a gracious subject. As we talked about the definition for the gospel, he added, “No matter what we’re preaching, we ask, ‘How do we get to Jesus?’”

Whereas North Coast Church utilizes a single preacher each week who preaches to all locations via video, Christ Community Church utilizes a model wherein each site’s pastor preaches each week on an agreed topic with agreed-upon points. They meet each week to talk about the upcoming sermon in order to provide a consistent gospel message. In both models, local worship leaders provide the musical leadership to their respective sites.

The rest of the interviews went very well. I was more than satisfied by the answers given. By the time I had finished my first draft of the article, I had become comfortable with joining Legacy Church.

We are now a part of Legacy’s Tierrasanta campus, growing as a family under the leadership of Curt, Todd, Troy, and the rest. And I’ve come to learn just how impacting multisite churches can be in the multiple communities they serve in. I’m probably not ready to go to a service where the only interaction I have with the pastor is on a video screen, but I am comfortable with the model we have at Legacy, and I’m comfortable with telling people about North Coast Church (for my San Diego friends who aren’t in my neighborhood). For those I know in Kansas City, I highly recommend Christ Community Church as well.

As a final note, I turned in my final draft to the new editor, Abby Farson Pratt, at 750 words. Diane liked the articles tight and economic. Abby, while appreciating tight writing, also wanted to explore the issue more, giving me a set of questions she wanted answered for the next draft. I went back to the pastors I had worked with on the project and, ever gracious, they answered the new round of questions. I turned in the new article at approximately 1200 words. That just goes to show that it’s vital to know what your editor wants when he or she wants it.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Christians can’t give up on North Korea

The summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator is off, as in, not going to happen. Well, maybe it will. Trump seemed to leave the door open in a recent news conference. North Korea’s official response seemed to leave the idea of a summit on the table as well. Unfortunately, no one knows for certain, except maybe some diplomats in SecState Pompeo’s department. Obviously, you and I are not privy to that information.

It’s easy to get discouraged as a Christian when it seems like everything is headed back to status quo. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I’m interested in this situation (I actually wrote about this as early as late 2010). I believe that a peace accord and normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang would produce fruit in the kingdom. In fact, I believe that a well-executed summit, and its subsequent deals, could mean a world-wide outpouring of the Spirit.

North Korea, in being one of the absolute worst places in the world to be a Christian, is a linchpin in future kingdom growth. I don’t mean kinda-Christians either. I mean actual believers in Jesus Christ who live for God through the Holy Spirit every day. I mean the kind of Christians that I could only hope to be. The kind we find in many persecuted countries around the world. Back to the point: If North Korea accepts terms, even some of them, and the United States accepts that we’ll have to give in on some measures, then we might just see the kind of real growth that would spur the next revival in the world.

I believe this like I believe that David killed Goliath with a small rock. I believe it like I believe that Noah built a big boat and outlasted a flood. I believe it like I believe Jesus Christ rose again on the third day.

My hope is that you believe it too. If you don’t, please think it over.

We cannot give up on the idea of peace between the Koreas, even if it never leads to reunification. I understand that it’s not all Trump’s fault that the summit was called off. I understand that it isn’t all Kim’s fault that it was called off. Both are to blame and neither are to blame. This is a game that has been played for over 60 years.

That shouldn’t stop us from praying for North Korea, or the freedom of her oppressed people. It shouldn’t stop us from having empathy for the downtrodden. We have to break through the idea that North Korea is the enemy and focus on the fact that North Korea has millions of people who have never heard the gospel.

Pray for North Korea and for peace between Pyongyang and Washington. And then pray that our mission agencies have a plan for getting more evangelistic efforts into the country and that they enact them.

Please read a little about efforts to reach those in North Korea with the gospel by going to this great article in the Atlantic.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Praying for the North Korean Summit

I’ll be honest, I want a peace deal with North Korea. I think it’s in our best interest as a country and I think it’s definitely in the best interest for the gospel moving forward in the North. As an American, I’m not at all for giving in to Kim Jong Un. But I am for praying that peace actually happens.

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate my feelings for America and my feelings for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if you have that problem, but I do. Sometimes I equate the two, sadly, and I have to remember that the two are not the same. The gospel should always trump loyalty to my country.

In this case, however, what is good for the gospel is good for the country. An agreement between the United States and North Korea would signal the eventual end to the saber rattling that distracts American service men and women, provides some stability in that region of the world, and would encourage the North to join the region’s trading partners. While I suspect that they would never become the former foe-turned-trading-friend like Japan or Germany, I do believe we could at least get to an Iran type situation. Yes, still rattling sabers and making threats, but not a belief that all-out war may break out at some point.

It would also allow America the opportunity to press upon the North the importance of religious freedom. Even if this never got more real than what happens in China, I believe that it would be good for the gospel message. Christianity could stop looking like an American religion to the leaders in the North, which would hopefully equal less persecution and more freedom of expression for Christians and would-be Christians in that country.

Do I think that either of these things is a sure bet? Not at all! We have a very self-assured leader in America who is honestly liable to say anything at any time, and often that equals saying the very thing that upsets a particular partner (in this case, the North). We are facing a leader who believes that he is an equal because of his nuclear arsenal (an inaccurate and inflated belief). This understanding doesn’t even account for the fact that an accord between the North and America wouldn’t automatically equal freedom of religion.

So we pray. We pray for the very reason that this is still a long-shot. We pray because we’ve been down this road before, and North Korea balked when it last had a chance to do the right thing. We pray because this would be another way for the Lord to get the glory (as long as we evangelicals don’t give the glory to Trump if it’s successful). We pray because the gospel is more important than any national barrier; the salvation of souls more important than any patriotic position.

Some ways to pray:

  1. Pray that the summit will happen, and that it will be successful. Both of those things are far from guaranteed as of this writing.
  2. Pray for an official end to hostilities on the Korean peninsula.
  3. Pray for people on both sides of the table. Pray that their egos are softened, and their hearts open to change.
  4. Pray for Christians currently living in North Korea. Pray for an end to their suffering and for freedom for them to live as Christians in the open.
  5. Pray for a revival in both North Korea and America.

If you pray for one thing each day this week, then by Saturday morning, you’ll have prayed solidly for North Korea all week! Join me in this effort, and we will all see great things happen.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

First Fiction Credit

The Gem CoverI’m so excited, and grateful, that my first fiction piece just appeared in The Gem, a take home paper for adults in the CoG denomination. Finding a place for short stories in the Christian market is difficult at best, so I’m grateful that my story, “The Roofer,” found a home in only two tries.

From my cover letter that sold the story: The Roofer,” is about a Christian businessman helping a homeless man after prompting by the Holy Spirit. The story will inspire The Gem readers to listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit that we all get, but sometimes ignore. The message of this story is, “Stop ignoring the Spirit!”

If you have the April 8 issue of The Gem, take a look at “The Roofer!”

Sailors in trouble for the Bible

Navy Investigates Sailors Imposing Christianity

IMG_0024In case you missed it, our old friends at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint on April 6 alleging that Sailors are proselytizing in Japan by having a Bible on the POW/MIA memorial table. According to the MRFF, that amounts to pushing Christian beliefs onto unsuspecting persons. The seven-page complaint was filed on behalf of 26 service members and DoD civilian employees who were offended by the display. They suggest that the Bible present (representing the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God) forces people to agree with the display.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported on the story. This is probably a slam dunk. While I found several instances of the Bible being present in the display, including the Navy Live website, I doubt it will remain that way for long. Makes me wonder if anyone from the MRFF will come hunting for my rank because my daughter put a Bible on our display in Navy housing (the irony here is that my daughter used an “Apologetics” version of the Bible). I don’t know the legal ramifications for that, and I’m not particularly interested to learn them. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll learn soon that the Navy has decided to officially remove the Bible from this display and update the protocol.

I want to make three points about the complaint.

  1. The MRFF is a nuisance. I’ve written elsewhere about how they file complaints on behalf of non-Christians who have gotten their feelings hurt. The only thing I’m wrong about in that statement is that apparently, “Christians” also get their feelings hurt. Everyone’s opinion counts but the Bible-believing Christian, in the MRFF’s eyes.
  2. I don’t think they’ll be a nuisance for long. By saying that, I don’t think they’ll go away. Instead, I think they’re going to become a bigger tool used by the adversary to hinder Christianity in the military. I think this because, in this complaint, one of the things they want is for the Navy to investigate the situation and to, “assign appropriate disciplinary measures to those responsible.”
  3. The founder of MRFF states that 16 of the 26 persons in the complaint self-identify as Christian. I’d be curious to know more about this Christianity of theirs. I’m very disturbed that they handed the leadership of the Okinawa hospital over to the wolves. While I don’t know if they tried to get the Bible removed from the desk and felt they had no alternative (which they did…plenty of alternatives), or why they would have wanted it removed in the first place, but complaining to an unbeliever, who will make a spectacle of the Bible instead of treat it with respect, is a bad move.

To be perfectly clear, the MRFF is about removing Christianity from America’s military. Just like China’s decision to prevent the online sales of Bibles, the MRFF should not scare true believers. God understands fully what has happened here, knows the ramifications, and is at least one step ahead, at least eternally speaking.

For additional research, look at the following locations that include the Bible in the presentation:

Navy Live

American Legion

VFW

Wikipedia

Would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Beijing doesn’t want your Bibles

China has made a move that most dispensationalist Christians would say they’ve seen coming for years. Beijing has banned online sales of the Bible in a move certain to put additional pressure on the Chinese underground church. You can read the NYTimes article here.

With Christianity’s gradual increase in China, though our faith still only makes up roughly 6-10% of the total population, the communist government has continued to ramp up its plans to dampen the fire. A regulation preventing the sale of Bibles online (they are already heavily regulated in physical form) is just the latest move. China used to meet the underground church with blunt force, often arresting pastors and levying fines against parishioners. In more modern times, Chinese authorities pressure discovered churches to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (China’s authorized church).

I’ve read the tenants of this authorized faith and on the surface, it doesn’t sound half bad.  However, my biggest concern is that the state authorized church means that the state, which is certainly not friendly toward Christ and his church, can stamp it out any time it pleases. More likely, of course, is that it just keeps the communist thumb on them to prevent the sort of growth that appears to be happening in the underground church.

According to the NYTimes article, a Vatican source suggests that this could be the opening salvo in a new, broader crackdown. Again, the dispensationalists would have no problem believing this to be true. As a premillennialist, I certainly believe this is very possible. While China has been fairly open on some economic issues in order to become the powerhouse that Russia could never be, Beijing has not shown the same interest in religious matters.

China is listed as #43 on the Open Doors World Watch List for 2018. One would assume that it will at least hold on to that number with a move like this, or even move up a number of slots. I’ll update this as further events unfold.

I should add that I don’t want this to scare or anger any of my readers. Our ultimate (and only) hope is in God. I do not believe he is surprised by any of this. Indeed, as a premillennialist, I believe that he is fully aware of every move that the Chinese government is making, just as he is aware of the Soviet efforts before them. I am not advocating any action on our part except to pray for those affected. We do not know them, but we are brothers and sisters and will get to meet them someday. It is our duty and our privilege, and as such I call on all Christian believers to pray for those affected by the curtailment of Bible sales in China.

A final thought as I close: America is beginning its slow move to this end as well. Bibles are still easily available, but I’ll show you tomorrow just how fragile the situation is becoming in America.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

The Happy Giving of Tithes and Offerings

IMG_7493I’ve struggled a lot with tithing and giving to church. Maybe you have too. I vacillate between wanting to give above my tithe (but not somehow succeeding) and believing that God has given me permission to give whatever I want/can give. There’s a problem there that I want to address.

I find that these things (want/can) come only after I have paid my bills, eating my fill of junk, and bought my [insert frivolous purchase here]. My want/can never seems to happen before I’ve received my paycheck…only after everything has been paid.

Truthfully, I’m only now getting to where I am at least paying my tithe back to God. We have done it to the dollar this year (so far). It’s the only resolution I’ve managed to keep to this point. In fact, paying my tithe is the only spiritual thing I’ve managed to accomplish this year. I’m way behind on my daily Bible reading, though there is hope there that I can still finish the Bible this year if I get on it. My daily prayer life has not gotten better, either.

Instead, I’ve begun to be obedient. God said to give a tithe, and thus I am giving it. I realize he also said a lot of things that I’m not having a lot of success with. The point is spiritual progress. Just because I’m not obedient in all aspects of my life doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to tithe properly. And so I do.

And I’m not even giving above what I tithe, at least not yet. But I want to. I want to emulate the Israelites in Exodus 35:21- “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.”

They gave…How often do I give? How often do I give above what I’m already bound by scripture to give?

I realize that this doesn’t affect my overall standing in eternity, insofar as eternity itself is concerned. However, could I see an increase in my standing with God, and with my prayer life, by being obedient? And more than obedient…by giving more than I already do?

We’ll see. As an aside, I’m not out to make myself better than anyone else. I’m fully aware of my deficiencies. But maybe this can serve as a call to me and you that we should give more and ask fewer questions.

Would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.