They Can't Hear You
(I'd like to thank Gary Lamb for allowing me to post a picture of his truck.)
A few weeks ago I was speaking to a large youth department. The students were into the message and I was approaching the crux of the talk when I just had enough of these two kids to my left about 10 rows back. They kept turning and making gestures to each other. I got frustrated and had enough. I paused my message and called out these guys for their disrespect.
This afternoon I sat down at a coffee shop to do some work and respond to some emails when I noticed that my MacBook was running out of juice. I grabbed my chord and scanned the area around me for the one plug near where I am sitting. Sure enough a guy is sitting at his computer playing a video game with what looks to be an Xbox controller. He's got a web cam set up so I can only assume he's playing online. I approached him with chord in hand and said 'excuse me sir'. He didn't look up. I inched a little closer as he smashes away at his controller... "Excuse me sir." The man doesn't budge. I wait but on the inside I'm getting angry. How can this guy playing a video game not have the courtesy to scoot his chair in and let me plug in my computer. I mean, I have the important work to do here. After what seemed to be 2 minutes (it was about 15 seconds) the guy looks up.
There is a common thread in both of these incidents. God used both to speak to me.
The common thread is that both of these people were deaf. Literally. They were physically unable to hear. The young man in that youth department was getting sign language from his buddy next to him and he was totally into the message. The guy playing games at the coffee shop was equally medically unable to hear.
The real problem however was not with them. It was with me.
As the communicator one of my chief responsibilities is to know my audience. I got frustrated in these two occasions because I felt I was being disrespected. The truth is that I was being disrespectful to those willing to receive my message by being upset with their inability to hear.
In the church we often have this same problem. We look at "The World" and get so angry that they won't hear our message but I propose that the problem is in many cases they simply cannot hear.
As we plant this church I pray that we are the type of church that gets to know our audience so well that we not only craft a message that is clear and compelling but we also consider our audience and the circumstances in their life that make them unable to hear.
The single mom cannot hear about the love of Jesus because it's flippin' hard to get a few kids up and drag them to a service they won't enjoy. It's not worth it to her to fight the munchkins to get dressed, out the door, buckled in the seats only to park her car and navigate carrying 3 bags and a stroller while Johnny is pulling Suzie's hair.
The macho guy won't hear about Revelation 19:11-21 Jesus because the environment we're inviting him to feels more like a tea party than a place where revolutions begin. Like it or not he is unable to hear what you have to say because the message you are sending through your non verbals (which communicate much louder and much more consistently than your words) are telling him that the place isn't for him!
The CEO can't hear the message that he can find true significance in Christ (not his business model) because he can't imagine participating in an organization that lets their property fall apart the way we do. The thug who wants to turn his life around and get out of the hood can't walk into your building in his neighborhood because for as long as he's been alive it's the place where 50 white people meet each week for 1 hour and then return to the 'burbs to watch football and have their cookouts.
When I realized that student was deaf I asked his interpreter to ask him how I can say "idiot" in sign language. I then made that gesture and apologized. I moved back into my message and that student remained engaged the entire time... to the guy giving him the signs, not me. When the gentleman playing video games looked up at me he pointed to his ears to show me he could not hear and then gladly moved his chair in to accommodate me. I said 'Thank You" to where he could see my lips. He gave me the thumbs up.
We can agree that the world needs the gospel message but we need to first think about our delivery. We need to find ways to accommodate for their inability to hear. Part of us finding a way has to be that we are constantly praying for the Holy Spirit to move. Move in that person to allow them to hear our message but also move in us so that we care enough about the community to speak so that they can hear.
I'd love to hear from you.
How does this play itself out in your church/organization? What are you doing right? What do you need to change so that your message can be heard?
All Staples Aren't Bad
As I walked into my bedroom this evening I saw my bed neatly made. I didn't do it. I never make my bed. My wife made our bed. She does this every day. It's one of the little things I love that I don't thank her enough for. It's a staple in my life.
Not all staples are bad.
As a church planter I see a lot of planters who are great at talking about what they don't like at the next guy's church or the church of their childhood. An easy way to weed out potential planters is if you hear them talking forever about what they are not going to be. It's easy to bash the labor of someone else. It's far more difficult to blaze a unique God-given path in a barren land.
When I noticed my bed made and then thought about some church planters being a bull in a china shop I got to thinking about some thoughts I've pondered recently.
My main thought is this: There are some staples that are fine to be left alone.
Philippians 2 challenges me to consider the interests of others above my own:
- As I reach out to my neighbor their best interest should be my focus.
- Therefore what is best to reach my neighbor may not be what is best to reach me.
- In an age of A.D.D. and whiplash change, staples in society may not be a bad thing.
- Change is easier to accept when you were in the meeting to plan the change.
- Most people aren't entrepreneurial.
- Most people (at their core) like stability, consistency and tradition.
- The truth is those of us who ARE entrepreneurial don't mind having some staples in our lives either... like the way my wife allows me to walk in to a made bed every evening.
Some of the other staples in my life:
- I like my coffee at 150 degrees.
- I like a window seat on an airplane.
- I am a platinum member at a particular hotel chain.
- I always like to make a basket before I walk off of the basketball court.
- I like my toilet paper to come over the top.
- I am OCD about my coffee cup logo and lid lining up.
On and on... the point is that while in many ways I love to create something from nothing and I'm a prototype church planter in every assessment I've taken... even I enjoy some staples in my life.
Sweetie, thank you for making our bed.
My Block: Audrey Avenue Edition
The Tour Continues:
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Tonight I spent some time talking to my mom about some childhood memories. I figured I'd give you a peak into my world. Over time I'll try to show you different streets I lived on. We moved a bunch so I'll get to give you a small tour of Bmore by doing this from time to time.
Above is a street called Audrey Avenue. We lived here when I was pretty young. I remember learning to ride my bike here. This is how it went down. My mom let me loose on my bike without training wheels down this hill. I peed my pants approaching the 4-way stop sign but I learned to ride my bike pretty quickly!
Another event I remember from this block is when a kid who lived across the street stole my bike. My mom had strict rules about me not crossing the street. To obey my mom I did what any kid would have done in my situation. I picked up a large rock and threw it across the street. It landed on the kids head. I ran into my house and hid in my room only to have the kid and his dad come to the door. I remember the guy's voice like it was yesterday. He said "I don't appreciate what YOUR son did to MY son." Then the man turned his son around and there was a huge knot with a gash in the kid's head. My mom whipped me up, down and all around that house! That kid never stole my bike again ;)
There is another story about a mean cab driver who lived on that street. The story involves sugar and a gas tank. I won't tell that one on here.
So here ya go... Audrey Avenue in Baltimore, MD.
Today Kristy had a doctor appointment so I played Mr. Mom for a few hours. During my fill-in time I decided to spend some time working with Cman on his activity book. He's a smart kid and loves to learn so we had a good time. Check 'em out.
Broken and Whole
As I speak to people about our strategy I've been fairly amused at how quickly the Church has fallen into cut-and-dry lines of socioeconomic status. It would be hilariously funny if so many Christian leaders weren't so deadly serious. I didn't realize that Christ called Pastors to be paralyzed.
With my return to Baltimore I have a desire to Pastor the entire city. I believe every Pastor should have this passion for their city or town.
Since I will be the Pastor to (at least) two diverse socioeconomic groups I will from time to time speak to how we're going about reaching these groups in different ways. As a Christian who was raised in the projects but spent the last 12 years in suburbia I hope to show the American Church that we can walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to ministering to diverse socioeconomic groups.
Here's one basic key for urban ministry.
Key: Some people have a great need to learn what it means to be whole while others have a great need to learn what it means to be broken.
If you're suffering from the plight of generational poverty your main needs have to do with learning to be made whole in Jesus name. Chances are that the systems you've learned to adapt to do not line up with Jesus' teaching on almost any level. Therefore when you come to Christ you will have to learn entirely new ways of dealing with your finances, your health, your attitude, your tongue, etc. Everything needs flipped. You will have some things about the Christian life down pact. You would likely have learned to live on less. You will know what its like to have been broken. You will know loyalty. You will understand the value in respect and defending the weak. As a man or woman growing in Jesus your main issues will be not brokenness but wholeness.
Conversely as we interact with the suburban version of the urban-ite we will find people who are socially engaged, educationally proficient and usually excited about their creature comforts. These folks don't have a problem being 'whole' in many of the ways I described above. In most of these neighborhoods you will see people taking care of their property, doing life in an orderly manner and running or working out regularly. Folks in this mindset tend not to have a problem understanding the steps the need to take to be healthy but rather their biggest challenge is their own comfort. When I talk with people from this world almost every one has shared some form of the statement "I need to be broken." They won't say it this way but what they do say comes back to meaning and purpose. They will struggle with the difference between success and significance. They have a hard time with honoring God as the owner and authority. Afterall the title on their name plate at work says they are in charge. Their main issue is not that they need to learn to be whole but rather that they need to be broken. Broken to self, broken to the pain of others, broken to the cause of Christ.
What I find amazing about the gospel is that it calls us to a faith that is not either/or. The Gospel calls us to an amazing tension of brokenness AND wholeness. Jesus bascially challenges us to remain broken to find wholeness and in our wholeness we will remain broken.
Christianity at large tends to accomidate one or the other. Christianity seems to be okay with socioeconomic segregation. "Don't try to reach both segments of the urban landscape because it won't work." Again I would laugh at this attitude except it appears to be the prevailing wind in and around our urban centers.
In Baltimore and Baltimore County, MD the numbers I keep hearing are about 2.6 million people. Our denomination has an average weekly church attendance in these areas (all churches combined) of 5,500 attendees.
I'd say it's time we try something different. I believe people can find more commonality around the Gospel than our current socioeconomic segregation suggests. Brokenness AND Wholeness.
Quick Hits from Baltimore
My life has been such a whirlwind lately. I want to take a few moments and get some initial thoughts to you.
- Kristy and Caleb have transitioned extremely well. Our son is as resilient as they come. He took this entire process of a move without one display of frustration or confusion. We had about two months to talk to him so by the time we actually moved he was beyond prepared. It also helped that we were actually moving TO family instead of away from family. He has seen his grandmother, aunts and uncles more in a week than possibly his entire life. Kristy is doing wonderful as well. She's due in mid-January so she's getting an extra crown in heaven for her long-suffering but she's not allowed her burdens to become the burdens of others. She's a champ. I love her. She's a rock for a crazy man like me. Her castle is coming together quite nicely as we are down to just a few boxes needing unpacked and a few pictures needing hung.
- So far I've been able to keep working hard during the entire move. Moving around Thanksgiving gave us a natural 4-day weekend to unpack and get things set up. Fortunately for me the rest of the world was sitting around watching football while I got my office set up and our house unpacked. That allowed me not to miss any time on the grind. - Kristy and I talked about the fact that we feel like we've slid into this new life rather nicely. The area is very familiar to me and a little familiar to Kristy. I've already seen some of the ways I naturally fit this environment and pace of life.
- Fund raising for the church is moving along. We have a few churches give verbal support that we need to turn into commitments and we've been fortunate to meet a bunch of people along the way. For us to do all God has called us to do it requires that we start with a back-hoe, not a garden hoe. My prayer and expectation is that we will raise the commitments we need by early spring so I can begin focusing all of my effort on loving and reaching the city around me. If you're wanting to partner with what we're doing feel free to check out TheBaltimoreProject.com for more info on that. Electronic giving is up. If you're with a church, small group or run your VBS, get in touch with me personally. If you're an individual please sign up for our prayer alerts and set yourself up for a one-time or monthly contribution. Thanks in advance!
- I'm so passionate right now about the concept of redemption. Everywhere I go I see potential for redemption. My entire city is in great need. I spent almost two hours this morning on the first 7 verses of Nehemiah as I couldn't help but to see the parallels leaping off of the page. I hope to share some of the lessons.
- The word and concept of 'honor' has been on my mind for months now. It won't go away. I'm trying to practice honor in my personal life as often as I can. Scripture is clear that we're to not only show respect for human beings around us but to 'honor them above yourself'. We're to consider their well being above our own. When we remain cognizant of this thought and hold it captive in our mind's eye it radically changes how we conduct ourselves. As a practice in my own life it's been challenging and rewarding at the same time. One of the ways I want our church in Baltimore to make a radical statement to our city is through the radical level we carry out honoring one another. My prayer is that everyone we touch walks away with a sense of wonder that we went out of our way to honor them.
- There is a remnant in Baltimore. It's under the surface but it is here. Everywhere I go I come into contact with people who seem to be on the edge of their seat waiting for someone to call out the power of God that is at rest within them. What's crazy is the place I most recently saw Jesus the most was at a Christmas party with an inner-city kids ministry. There were about 7 other adults at this party but they are radically sold out for Jesus. Two of these couples are high-end educated young people who have turned away from suburban church-ianity for the loving chaos of inner-city ministry. The remaining three people run the work. The Pastor is a man of God who speaks Jesus in a powerful way each night and weekend as he works at Home Depot the rest of the week. His wife to whom he will be giving a kidney to in 2009 and a twentysomething missionary who moved from the Midwest and plopped herself down in a gang-infested part of Baltimore to love people with lives that couldn't be more different than her own. There is a remnant in Baltimore. I assure you.
Embrace Baltimore Office Tour
As I continue with TheBaltimoreProject.com tour I wanted to take some time and help get you familiar with some of the great people I get to work with here in Baltimore. Embrace Baltimore is an effort within our denomination (SBC) called a "Strategic Focus City". The idea is basically to adopt a city for a catalytic period of approximately two years with the purpose being to saturate an area with resources, training and awareness. Past cities included in this endeavor included areas like New York, Chicago and Cleveland. Currently along with Baltimore the SBC is doing something similar in San Diego.
I'm jumping into the Embrace Baltimore effort about half-way through their time here so we have a year to get it done together before the team spreads out and goes about whatever God has next for each of them. It's this catalytic effort that keeps the office buzzing and full of energy. From the beginning of the video you will notice that the Embrace Baltimore offices are shared/overlapped right now with the staff of the BBA (Baltimore Baptist Association).
During my drop-in I happened to bump into the Director of the Embrace Baltimore effort- Dr. Bob Mackey. Dr. Mackey is a humble guy with an amazing heart to get things done. I don't blow smoke when it comes to talking positively about people... Bob Mackey is a stand up guy and it's been an honor to work with him. Check out the video below as you get a tour from the top dog himself.
Embrace Baltimore Tour from CaptivateChurch on Vimeo.
Here is the google street view of my home church- 2nd and 4th Baptist Church. I accepted Christ in this ministry when I was 13 years old. The church owned a row house across the street (on the right) and our Sunday School was in the basement. So much of the reason I came back to Baltimore happens on these streets.
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Over the last few years I've been consumed with the idea of redemption. With a heart for the city it is easy to understand how my passions for redemption would run deep. When we think of redemption we often drift toward images of abandoned buildings or poor broken people. My mind's default brings about images of cleaning, painting, sweeping or drug rehab, new clothing and job creation.
Redemption however casts a much larger net than that 'default' concept. I have been thinking a lot about redemption when it comes to generational redemption. It appears to me that we have a generational gap that is unfortunately very clear and -to some- very deep. The older generation has invested years into ministries that were once thriving but are now barely surviving. The younger generation seems to find it difficult to cast a compelling vision for the future so we end up talking about what we dislike from the past. Frankly it's a mess and I believe it's dishonoring to our father and presents a poor picture of the Church of the Living God.
When a Christlike attitude does not prevail we can cause one another much harm. My generation can be jaded and come across as rude while our parents and grandparents generation can come off as condescending and arrogant. This impasse ultimately has little to do with theological problems. It does however have to do with how we perceive and receive one another.
As leaders in the American Church we all have to put our big boy pants on and push our differences aside. Western Christianity is at an impasse where we have to work on the passing of the baton.
With all of this in mind I want to ask my peer group a question:
How do you view the ministry of our senior saints who have paved the way for us? Do you consider their contribution to be leftovers from a bygone era or a legacy upon which you could build? I believe how we answer this question will define our ability to see a smooth generational transition.
In my current efforts with TheBaltimoreProject.com and my return home to Baltimore City I have had the opportunity to work with mature minds from every generation. What I hope my peer group will see is that many of these men who have labored for the gospel their entire lives truly want what's best for those coming behind them. I've been in some discussions recently where I've heard straight from their mouths the passion to see our generation step up and take the baton. It won't happen however so long as we remain disengaged from the process or jaded with our cynicism. It's on my shoulders as a young leader to concern myself with how I show honor to those who have come before. It is your responsibility as well. We set the example.
Two men I met along the way recently are Dr. James Merritt and a gentleman from First Baptist Church of Woodstock named Ken. Ken spends his days in and out of 'closed' countries so we're not using his last name.
I want you to know that these men are men of integrity who have expressed to me a desire to move beyond any generational divide and work together for the sake of the gospel around the world. They are representative of a larger group of Evangelical Christian leaders who have the will to bridge the gap with us if we're also willing to extend our hand in return.
Do we view their era and work as 'leftovers' or an opportunity for them to leave and us to build a 'legacy'?
I'll get into the difference in a future post. For now I want you to meet Dr. Merrit and my new friend Ken.
Dr. James Merritt from CaptivateChurch on Vimeo.
Ken from First Baptist Church of Woodstock from CaptivateChurch on Vimeo.