J. Gordon Duncan

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When Nothing Goes Right in Worship

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.

 

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September 8, 2014 Posted by | church, church planting, family worship, gospel, men, missional, publishing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death of the Death of Ministry in the Death of Jesus

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.

August 1, 2014 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, mission, missional, Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

“Family Philippians” Available Everywhere

familyphilippiansIntroducing, 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.

Thanks,

Gordon Duncan

You can find “Family Philippians” as a pdf download here, and also at

Amazon Paperback
Amazon Kindle
Nook

September 29, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, family worship, gospel, men, mission, missional, publishing, ruth, self-publishing, training men | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Share Your Wisdom and Publish a Book

5 StepsI’m thankful that I know a bunch of Godly, Gospel-grounded, and bright pastors.  I also have the privilege of bumping into some incredibly wise and astute folks in my congregation and in the day to day.  You guys have a lot to say, but beyond Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, very few people get to hear your wisdom.

Since, I have been publishing for the last year or two, I wanted to encourage and enable lots of folks to join me in writing and publishing beyond social media.

Don’t get me wrong; social media is strong, but the larger population often misses out on your practical wisdom because of their lack of access to it.

To bridge the gap, I’ve published a little $.99 book, 5 Steps to Publishing Your Own Books.

The goal is to encourage and promote my wise and gifted friends to begin publishing books easily and more often.  This book will walk you through how you can go from manuscript to publication to promotion.  And as you do, lots of folks (including me) will benefit from your efforts.

You can find 5 Steps in two formats:

Kindle
Direct PDF Download

July 29, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, publishing, ruth, self-publishing, training men | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samson as More than Hero or Cautionary Tale

A Once and Future SamsonIf Samson were alive today, he would have a million Twitter followers, tweet things like “great #honey last night what a blast lol”, and the world would love him.  That is, the world would love him until he made every mistake under the sun and TMZ started covering him.

With those things in mind, one must wonder what relevancy does Samson still hold?

Is he a picture of what believers can be when they trust from the Lord and turn from their idols?

Is he a picture of what will happen if men pursue their lusts and thus an antitype of say, Joseph?
Is he a foreshadowing of Christ?

Unfortunately, many practical devotional writings pull Samson out of context and teach purely an exemplary exegesis that treats Samson as a model that can be followed or avoided.  For example, Henry Blackaby in his Experiencing God devotional uses Samson’s life as a pattern to be followed when we have lost spiritual power.  Relating to Samson, he says, “Those around you who have relied upon your strength are discovering that you are not as helpful as you once were.”  To remedy this, he encourages, “If you walk with God in this manner, you will grow in spiritual strength (like Samson) and be used mightily by Him.”

Another example is Steven Lawson’s Men Who Win.  He talks of the great victories that God has brought, “Samson slew the Philistines.  David fought Goliath,” but warns, “Our battles are just as real.  The Canaanites outnumber us.  The Goliaths are waiting for us to grow weary and falter.  The Delilahs are lying.”

Truly, whenever we see a biblical character succumbing to sin, the believer should be on guard lest he fall.  Whenever we see a biblical character achieve victory, we should rejoice that God is gracious.  But these kinds of examples miss the point of Samson, nearly completely.

The takeaway is that God moves, enlivens, empowers, and delivers despite the sinfulness of His people.

With these thoughts in mind, please check out “A Once and Future Samson” available as both a Kindle Single and PDF download.  It is a simple, concise, and hopeful look at God’s work among even the worst of us.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, ruth, training men | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is a Good Man Hard to Find” is Available

new releaseExcited for the arrival of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in all formats.  Amazon has it listed as the #1 New Release for men, and thanks to all of you, it is already in the Top 50 of both Men’s Issues and Church Leadership.

The design of “Good Man” is to enable invidiuals, families, and churches to develop and sustain efforts to identify and train Godly men.   The book focuses on four areas:  Home Life, Thought Life, Church Life, and Community Life.  I hope this is a simple, helpful resource.  If so, please let folks know about “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.

You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.

Paperback
Kindle
Nook
PDF

Good Man snippet header

July 9, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, training men | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Another Book about Men, Elders, and Leadership – AKA The Genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”

Good ManThe genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” came about in 2009 as I was preaching a series of sermons about the qualifications of an officer.  SK Church was preparing to nominate, and I was preparing to train men from among the congregation to become elders in the church.

By the end of 2010, elders were installed, and throughout 2011 – 2013, I transitioned from being a solo church planter to leading a session of elders.  In every way, I moved from the theoretical to the practical.

All along the way, I discovered deficiencies in my own leadership, gaps in my convictions, and perceived desires of doing it differently the next time.  God’s grace shown through, the church continued to grow, and my thoughts progressed.

By the end of 2012, I was transitioning from SK to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Fredericksburg, VA.  My thoughts covered everything from building up the men in my future church, sharing mission and vision with families, and starting the process of training officers again.

I realized that the hopes within the Biblical qualifications for officers in the Bible were actually the hopes that should be instilled and developed within every man in the church.   So, my mind returned to the series in 2010.  By December of 2012, I had developed those sermons into a draft, and in the past three months, they have been edited again into “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.

My hopes in publishing this book is that God will use it to encourage families, develops men’s programs, and enable pastors to train and install Godly officers.  High hopes indeed, but they are no less than what God promises in the scriptures.  In all humility, I pray that God brings those hopes to fruition.

You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.

Paperback
Kindle
Nook
PDF
SmartPhone App

July 8, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Daughters are Teaching Me at Evident Grace (notetaking that is…)

notes 1At Evident Grace, we create a unique children’s bulletin customized to each service and sermon so that our younger children can track along with what we are talking about each Sunday.  And as some of our kids get older, they can do those bulletins quickly and then they must begin learning how to take in the sermons as a maturing believers in Jesus.

When it comes to taking notes, everybody has their own system.  There isn’t one fool-proof way to digest what is being talked about.  My good friend, Jonathan Grauel sketches his notes into beautiful works of art.  My wife, Amy’s notes are quotes and observations written in various sizes and on various areas of the paper in a way that enables her to remember better.

My form is pretty boring.  I write down what I hear and casually make observations.   The good thing is that there is no right or wrong way to note taking.  What works, works.

notes 3Recently, my daughter, Meredith, has developed her method as well.  It involves pictures, writing in 3-D, and creating ways in which she can emphasize what she is learning.  She uses different colored markers to make her the notes her own, and when I talk to her about her the sermon, I can tell she is learning and taking in lots of good stuff.

Landry, my second of three daughters, wanted to understand what Meredith was doing, so graciously, Meredith created a template so that Landry could begin to take notes and understand more of the sermon herself.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out all of that was going on.  So this past Sunday, I asked Landry to give me examples of her notes.   In Landry fashion, she has taken in the guidance of Meredith and made the process her own.  Even my youngest daughter, Emma, is beginning to tinker with note taking.   I couldn’t be happier.

The big takeaway for me is that I need to be more actively mindful when I’m listening to sermons, teaching, or instruction.  I don’t remember everything like I used to, so actively engaging the sermon would be a good idea for me.  I won’t be able to be as creative as all you see above, but I do hope to recreate a more active participation in what I’m learning.

notes 2And I have my little girls to thank for that.

June 11, 2013 Posted by | church, gospel, mission, missional, ruth | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sample Chapter from “Joy in Trials”

When the absolute best happens, what kind of thoughts go through your head and heart?

When you get a promotion…
When you sell your house…
When you solve a problem at work…
When your child gets good grades…
When you achieve your time running in a 5k…
When you find $20 in old pair of pants…
When you wake up from a good night’s sleep…
When you fall in love…
When you get pregnant…

What goes through your head and heart?  You really only have a few options.

Impersonal randomness caused these things.
Other people caused these things.
You caused these things.
Or God caused these things.

When the absolute worst happens, what kind of thoughts go through your head and heart then?

When you get sick…
When you lose a loved one…
When you lose a job…
When you bounce a check…
When you can’t achieve your run time in a 5k…
When you couldn’t get a good night’s sleep if you had to…
When you can’t solve a problem at work…

What goes through your head and heart?  You really only have a few options.

Impersonal randomness caused these things.
Other people caused these things.
You caused these things.
Or God caused these things.

Typically, if you have faith in God, when things go well, you want to thank Him.  We say, “Thank you God for giving me this raise,” or “Thank you God for letting that officer not give me a ticket.”  But when things go poorly, well that’s a different story.

We might yell at God, “Why did you cause this to happen?”
We might yell, “Why didn’t you stop this?”
Maybe we blame ourselves for making a mistake.
Maybe we blame someone else or some impersonal force in the universe.

The million dollar question though is, “Can you rise up and call God blessed and thank Him for every and any circumstance in your life whether good or bad?”

These and other thoughts are pursued in “Joy in Trials”.  These meditations from the Book of Ruth are intended to strengthen our love and faith in God…no matter what.

You can find “Joy in Trials” digitally at Amazon and in paperback at Lulu.

November 14, 2012 Posted by | church, gospel, mission, missional, ruth | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introduction from “Joy in Trials”

The Book of Ruth is a fascinating read.  It covers so much of the life experience.

Marriage?  Check
Death?  Check
Children?  Check
Loss?  Check
Faith?  Check
Loss of Faith?  Check

You get the idea.  This story about a wandering family wandering back home with almost nothing and finding a new life is one of the most beautiful pictures of redemption in all of the Bible, and not because everything works out.

Just because people get married and have a new home and family does not mean that everything works out.  This is a book about pain and suffering that finds its way to joy because it gives the reader the luxury and joy of watching God work over the long course of time.

Ruth lets the reader observe God’s hand at work in almost every circumstance of life.  You get to patiently wait to see God move without you having to get your hand dirty.  And because of that, this can be one of the more faith-inspiring books in the whole Bible.  But just like Ruth, you have to be patient and wait to see it all come together.

For me as an author, revisiting old sermon notes about Ruth was a joy and comfort because I did it during a six month period where I lost both parents and decided upon a job change.  I needed to be reminded of God’s big work on my behalf, but even more so, I needed to be reminded that God does all of these things for His glory and in His timing.

That truth brings joy in trials both as a reality and as a book.

Thanks for giving this a shot.  I never take the reader for granted.

If you would like to purchase or recommend “Joy in Trials”, it is available digitally at Amazon and on paperback at Lulu.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | church, gospel, mission, missional, ruth | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment