In its simplest definition, culture is the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group. Essentially, culture is the environment in which you live, culture is the environment in which you worship, and culture is the environment in which you work.
But the culture of our home, church, and workplace are not the only cultures we interact with every day. We visit the cultures that we like and avoid the ones we don’t. For example, McDonald’s has a familiar culture. You know what the food is going to taste like, you know the happy meals are $2.99, and you know the general menu options. If you like that culture, you visit it and you buy their food.
My family won’t go to McDonald’s. One, we found their environment “moist” because all too often their buildings are wet and dirty. I don’t want McDonald’s because I think the food will kill you so we don’t visit that culture.
Instead, we go to restaurant cultures that we like, and the ones that we think are safe and friendly. We go to ones where we think the food is affordable and good for us.
This is true for church.
This is true for your gym.
This is true for most places you go.
You go to the culture you like.
Additionaly, at work, at home, and at church, you play a part in creating your culture. And, cultures change. They don’t stay the same. Cultures are dynamic; they’re not static. You get to create the culture that you work in, worship, and live.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re working hard, you’re working safe, you are working steady, and you are working sturdy. This could be home, this could be at work, and this could be serving at church. Good job, but the person beside you is complaining.
“Ugh, this is so hard. I don’t like this. I’m so tired of this.”
Now, one of you is about to create the culture. They are going to create a culture of complaint or you are going to create a culture of something else. You can say, “Yeah, I’m tired of this too,” or you can say, “Hey man, I know it’s hard, but it won’t get any better if we complain. C’mon, let’s do this.”
One of you is going to create the culture, and one of you has the opportunity to be the dominant voice and create the dominant example.
The dominant voice and the dominant example always create the culture. So, today, at home, work, church, or wherever, be the dominant voice to create a culture that is encouraging, inspiring, honoring, and enjoyable. It will encourage and transform the weary and transform your jobs, your church, and your home.
With multiple seminary graduations around the corner in the Washington/Richmond/etc., my mind returned to 11 years ago when I was preparing to walk up to the podium and receive my sheepskin. I was fortunate enough to have a ministerial call in hand the day I graduated, so I knew where I was going, to whom I was going to minister, and I even had a sense of how much money I was going to make.
My oh my, how times have changed.
Most of the seminary grads I know are presently without a formal call meaning, that they do not have a secure job in the ministry. At best, some of them have part-time youth or part-time music positions. I even know a couple of grads who have multiple part-time ministry positions. It would appear the day of giving newly graduated seminary students full-time, full pay ministry jobs has come and gone.
So, what to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.
Don’t mistakenly view seminary as the end of the struggle and your first job as the opportunity to exhale. Ministry is never easy even if you do receive full-time pay. Many of you have worked multiple jobs, put off having children, missed family events, and experienced a host of other sacrifices in the past 3 (or more) years to get to this point. The temptation is to think that now that you have graduated, you can exhale, get one job, and that life will smooth out a bit for you. Wonderful though that might sound, that view of ministry is idealistic and even a bit naïve. The freedom to eat pizza and laugh with your spouse or friend (and a host of other freedoms) without the worry of someone calling you on the phone with an emergency shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ministry is the most joyful, rewarding vocation of them all, but it will not be the period of your life where you all of a sudden get to exhale and take it easy. More thank likely, it will be the time where every aspect of you (physical, mental, spiritual, etc) will be demanded. More than likely, these same things will be demanded of your family to some extent. A fulltime ministry position may help alleviate your financial situation (maybe), but that doesn’t mean it will be the panacea for your ills.
The most practical advice I can give any seminary graduate is to find a paying job with benefits along the lines of a Starbucks or something similar. Starbucks offers benefits with an insanely low hourly commitment coupled with a decent wage. If you are applying for a part-time position and can express a willingness to work said job until a full-time ministry position opens, you will instantly become one of the more attractive candidates. Scripturally, we call this “tentmaking” as Paul provided for his income by making tents on the side, and worldwide, more pastors probably do this than receive full-time wages from their ministry. Coupling part-time ministry with another job allows for a larger mission field and offers the opportunity for your brain to think practically about ministry in the day to day. It also gives a church’s committee the opportunity to see your willingness to sacrifice, your maturity, and your heart in a way that they cannot in a candidate who is not willing to tent-make.
Personally, the years I have spent tentmaking benefited me greatly. They have taught me patience as I waited for the church to grow. They provided an avenue by which I could relate better to the people to whom I was ministering. They also guarded my heart against any sense of entitlement that my degree or ordination might tempt me towards. I view the days of working another job as a day for my heart and brain to be challenged in a way that full-time ministry cannot. I generally return refreshed and renewed.
And most importantly, I suggest you make the Gospel both your humility and your confidence. The wonderful truth that Christ has provided you with all the qualification before God that you will ever need should humble you to no end. You could never qualify for such status before God as a Christian much less as a pastor without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That heart attitude will also be your confidence. Knowing that you are loved and accepted as the Father loves Christ (John 17) gives you the confidence to do the work of ministry (in whatever form that God provides) without the fear of rejection or failure. All that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished on your behalf before day one of your ministry whether it be full or part-time.
Congrats to you and to your families for making it to this point. I pray great things for you as you seek to know and understand God’s will for you in future ministry.
In the book of Ezra, as God returns His people from a time of exile, we find that God sends thousands of them back home to begin rebuilding the temple. In chapter two, there are 70 verses of names. These are the people who are sent back to start that difficult work.
Why in the world would God include 70 verses of almost unpronounceable names?
Well, determining why or why not God would do something is a dangerous game. However, we can take away a couple of important principles. Including these names shows the value and dignity that God gives each individual as they make up the people of God. In the midst of those thousands, God wanted the individuals and families to be known. God was working among His people, but He was stirring individuals first. And we give those names honor and dignity in their reading.
The inverse is true as well. Yes, we are saved into a personal relationship with Jesus as we cry out in faith for the forgiveness of sin. That personal relationship is also part of the larger work that God is doing within the church.
But what application should this have for our worship? Worship removes our anonymity.
No Christian, no child of God, should ever be nameless or faceless in the church. The church should be the one place that understands that each person is valued. As any person enters our doors or enters into our communities, they should be treated with dignity, and they should be on the progression of being known and known well – not as a number, but as a person.
Does this mean that larger churches are getting it wrong as they have so many thousands to get to know? No, reading the book of Acts and seeing the thousands coming to know Christ would argue against that. However, the church (and especially our worship) should be about each person becoming known as they are known by Christ. We should reach out across socioeconomic (and pretty much any other lines) to know each other well. So, big or small, the church’s emphasis must be about bringing people to deeper intimacy with Christ first and then deeper intimacy within the church.
These things must be grounded in a worship of Jesus creating a thankfulness for His work that draws us out of the loneliness and deserts of our lives. Worship should be an eye to eye experience of the many becoming one in lifting up the name of Jesus. That should mean that the focus of our worship cannot be about us. The focus of our worship must be on the name of Jesus as He alone is what unifies us. No mission, no takeaway, no benefit will ultimately unify us and remove our facelessness. Jesus alone will give us a true name and a true face.
A lonely person among the people of God should be an oxymoron.
We are known well by Christ as we cry out to Him. Our worship should be moments where we engage each other in an act of unity, and all the other elements that go into the functions of the church should move people towards deeper relationships under the name of Jesus.
You may ask, “But aren’t there portions of the service that do create isolation and alienation like the Lord’s Supper?” In our next post in our worship series, we will wrestle with how a worship service can speak to both believers and non-believers without creating an unnecessary alienation for those who don’t believe.
This is our second post of worship observations. You can find our first here. This week, we talk about when things don’t go well – a common challenge for young churches.
At Evident Grace, we have been meeting for a year and a half. For church planters and church plants, a year and a half feels like five regular years. Each Sunday, you feel like you are taking giant leaps forward as you become more efficient in everything from setup/takedown, greeting, music, children’s ministry, etc.
And then there are the Sundays where you feel like you take giant steps back. It feels like you have never met for worship before. No one seems to get anything right.
Here is my encouragement, fellow planters and young churches: While each good Sunday feels like five years ahead, an off Sunday is not a five year setback. Let me give a painful example.
This past Sunday, we were launching a new series, “Journey to Worship – a Study of Ezra”. Excitement built fairly well, and several folks joined in to help with a decent amount of web/social media promotion. While I am given to hyperbole like many church planters, I could realistically say that folks were pretty excited.
But things didn’t go as planned.
For some reason, from the onset, I stumbled over my words. Apparently, I said that, “Christ was circumcised for our sins.” While true in one sense that was far away from my wanting to say that He was crucified for our sins.
I was leading our music as well. Leading a crowd in singing is something that I have comfortably done for over 25 years now, but apparently, comfortable was not yesterday. I couldn’t get into a groove no matter what. In fact, the team finally stopped one song and just began again.
My sermon was never was comfortable either. I felt rushed. I felt the need to over-explain everything, and I continually lost the ability to pronounce most every world.
We made plans to take the Lord’s Supper, but our elder wasn’t able to make it, so the elements remained lonely on the table – something we had to explain to our congregations and visitors.
I left assured that no one was ever going to show up ever again.
But here is the encouragement to my heart and to yours, young planter and young congregation. Our worship is not about professionalism and perfection. While starting songs together and ending them together is preferable, while a commanding sermon delivery is helpful, neither of those are necessary for worship. Worship must always be about grace. Worship must always be about the lifting up of Christ. Grace and Christ equal worship. Preciseness is a bonus.
Yes, you seek to improve in every area. You learn from things that go both well and poorly. You practice and study more. You offer areas that continue to struggle to God in prayer. And then you give thanks for what happens.
So, this week, we will work towards getting the songs right and pronouncing the words correctly knowing that Christ will once again meet us on Sunday. If we make mistakes, we haven’t stepped back five years.
Christ will be lifted up, Christ will be honored, and we will be transformed. We will wait for eternity for mistake free worship.
Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.
Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go. As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.” And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free. While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”
Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church. This is my portion of SK’s.
Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting. Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church. You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.
We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service. Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted. The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC. Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.
In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”
There is no scandalous story here. There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs. It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end. People moved on to new jobs. Some preferred a different music style. Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm. Things just came to an end.
I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful. Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…
Relationships with Christ deepened.
The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.
Broken marriages were restored.
A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.
Police officers came to know Christ.
Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.
And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.
This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church. In Christ, all death is redeemed. Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).
I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now. Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King. I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace. Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.
The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.
While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point. And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection. As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address. Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.
In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose. It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions. Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him. His fame goes forward.
God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner. He still will beyond SK. His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.
I hope other people add to this story. So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people. Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection. Those stories deserve to be told.
And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.
D.A. Carson lists 8 motivations of the Gospel appeal of Christ. In Tim Keller’s “Center Church”, he combines and simplifies them into 6. I felt they were incredibly helpful for us as a young church as our unified desire is and must be proclaiming the Gospel to each other while continually sharing the Gospel with those who do not yet know Christ.
In our last sermon, we also addressed a broader approach in speaking about the Gospel than just merely “turn or burn”. While this list is by no means all-encompassing, I think it hits the mark pretty well. Tell me what you think.
When sharing the Gospel…
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of fear of judgment and death: Hebrews 2:14-18 speaks about how Christ delivers us from the bondage of fear and death.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of a desire for release from the burdens of guilt and shame: Galatians 3:10-12 speaks of our curse of the law.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of appreciation for the “attractiveness of truth”: 1 Corinthians 1 speaks of the wisdom of the cross being the consummate wisdom to be known.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God to satisfy unfulfilled existential longings: In John 4, Jesus speaks of being living water to those who are thirsty.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God for help with a problem: Carson calls this a “despairing sense of need”. The woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 9) and the two men with blindness (Matthew 9) approached Jesus with practical needs.
Sometimes the appeal is to come to God simply out of a desire to be loved: Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ humility, tenderness, wisdom, His love, and grace draw people like a magnet.
I hope this is helpful and even inspiring to you to speak of Jesus to someone who doesn’t know Him yet. I also hope it is appealing to any who do not yet know Jesus who are reading this.
Thank you for the incredible response. Now, you can purchase the limited edition, two-in-one “I am my father’s son” and “Bedside: A Memoir of Care” hardback in honor of Thom and Ann Duncan just by clicking the button below or the photo to your right. Thanks.
Introducing, sharing, and explaining our faith in Christ to our children is the desire for many parents. How do to that is not always that easy. Additionally, the structure of families is not always consistent. Some families don’t have children. Some families include grandparents, many have step-parents, many are solo parenting, and a few have both mom and dad.
In light of all of those intricacies, how in the world do we introduce and deepen the faith of our families?
While each of the described above deserves its own book, this one is designed to help families with children. And since, the makeup of those families may look different in every household, we will typically just address “parents” and allow you to customize it as you read it.
But the central idea is to create a simple, easy to approach book for you and your kids. So towards that end, “Family Philippians” was created.
As you work through these pages, you and your family will walk through these steps. Each chapter will give you a section of Philippians to read, there will be a brief paragraph to explain and deepen an understanding of the passage, there will be a few questions to answer, and then, there will be a guided prayer time. At the end of the book, you will have covered the every verse of Philippians.
Ideally, each chapter should take no more than 10 minutes, but hopefully, that investment will last a lifetime. As you undertake this adventure, please know my prayers accompany your efforts, and I would love to hear from you about how it all goes.
You can find “Family Philippians” as a pdf download here, and also at
While I’m likely to issue a press release every time Evident Grace twitches, and I’ve worn all of you out on Facebook every time I write a new book, I am not typically issuing updates about my health. However, since a few of you have heard about what’s going on with me, I thought I would send out a prayer update.
To begin with, I’m fine, but the doctors have diagnosed me with an epileptic condition as I am having what they call “silent seizures”. As always, things like this work best in story.
Last year, around the time my father (Sam) passed away, I began have pauses. A pause is when all of a sudden, in the middle of a conversation or even driving down the road, I just stopped talking. I couldn’t talk if I wanted to say anything. As many of you know my pace, pausing is not something I typically do. But if I was in the middle of a conversation, I would all of a sudden just stop. I felt the moments coming on, and I was aware that I was having them. 10-15 seconds later, they would go away.
In October of last year, I had a yearly checkup and told my doctor about them. After hearing that I had lost both of my parents over a five month period, that I was switching jobs, and that I was moving out of the state, he chalked them up to fatigue and stress. So, I did too.
But over the past few months, these pauses began to increase in frequency. I was having them at least twice a week. And, on an occasion or two, I spoke some pretty non-sensical things that I didn’t remember saying. I even had them in two sermons which most of the congregation chalked up to a movement of the Spirit or perhaps a frustration with the crowd.
We have a doctor at Evident Grace, and I asked him to keep an eye out in case I ever had one around him. He was at one of those sermons where I paused, and he recommended that I see a local neurologist that he respected.
So, about a month ago, I had my first appointment, and the doc suggested that I have an EEG and an MRI (one of those strange acronyms that begins with a consonant yet demands an “an” before it). The MRI came back negative, so we know that it’s not a tumor (said in my best “Kindgarten Cop” voice). However, the EEG showed some brain abnormalities on the left hand side. The doc has prescribed some anti-seizure meds, and they are working so far. They do, however, make me incredibly sleepy, and this is to be expected for the first month as my body adjusts.
So, that’s where we stand. I may have more tests to go as the types of seizures I’m having are rare in adults, but the primary plan right now is to get used to the meds and keep track of any more moments that I might have.
I appreciate your willingness to read this diatribe, but I do desire your prayers. These moments have been incredibly stressful to Amy and the girls. I’m slogging my way through my new meds, and we are praying that nothing about this worsens. Evident Grace is aware of what’s going on, and everyone has been incredibly encouraging and prayerful. I just need to be wise about my pace with them, with my family, and with my training schedule. If I need rest, I need to get it.
Thanks for your prayers, and feel free to email me back with any thoughts or questions. I do really appreciate how much Amy and I can depend on you guys for prayer.