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Category Archives: THE ORCHARD FELLOWSHIP

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What type of church is worth the glory of God, worth having His blood shed for, worth breathing the Holy Spirit into, worth being His bride, and worth coming back for?

I dream of a multi-cultural, multi-generational church.  I dream of a church that is radically generous, one that proactively identifies need and then unleashes a flash mob of people willingly releasing their financial resources.

I dream of a church frightened by incrementalism.  I dream of a church thrilled by risk and will do anything short of sin to leave the 99 and find the missing one.

I dream of a church that reflects the Digital Age, one that openly embraces social media and creates two-way conversations with the audience, both in the service and during the week.  I dream of a church that speaks to and reaches the next generation.  I dream of a sustainable ministry.

I dream of facilities that are utilized by the public 365 days per year.  I dream of youth leaders having offices in the local schools.

I dream of a congregation being made up of businessmen and women, people with tattoos, divorcees, homosexuals, Bible scholars, elderly people not caring about anything but seeing the next generation accept Christ, drunks, alcoholics, drug addicts, people with anxiety, people who are scared, the poor, the under-resourced, the devalued, bikers, bouncers, athletes, celebrities, people of all colors, shapes, ages, and varying maturing levels in their Christian life.  I dream they will all sit side-by-side with one common goal – knowing Jesus more intimately today than they did yesterday.

I dream of a church of big ideas.  I dream of being in a room with other pioneers who say, “If caution was absolutely thrown to the wind, what could we do for the glory of God?”  I dream of the college ministry being the most influential group in the church.

I dream of adult baptisms weekly.  I dream of elderly conversions.  I dream of no one ever having to walk alone.  I dream of hundreds of high-capacity leaders being able to serve with their minds, not just their bodies.  I dream of highly influential women serving in leadership.

I dream of having hundreds of local government officials and school teachers attending services weekly.  I dream of Sunday experiences that are talked about Monday through Saturday.  I dream of long lines waiting to get into services.

I dream of sin being confessed and families being reconciled.  I dream of leadership meetings that exceed Fortune 500 companies for preparation, energy, creativity, accountability, and implementation.

I dream of stories of human life so compelling churches are on television every week because it is the best reality show there is.

I dream of this type of pulsating church because I feel that is the type of church worthy of Jesus giving His life for.

Brian Dodd

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The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep.

But I love it.

While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. The fighting white bride shines in the gray of spiritual war.

As a pastor, I realize the gravity of decisions I make. Vision isn’t just a compelling statement of future growth. Programs aren’t just tools for assimilating more people. Church events are far more than ways to make the community come to the campus.

When you invite someone to church, you’re calling them down into the trench. When you talk to someone about joining the mission, you’re asking them to suit up and grab a gospel grenade. The church is currently fighting a battle which will lead to ultimate victory. We win. Satan loses. And Jesus reigns. But we still must fight. The beautiful bride is a battling warrior.

Let’s stop pretending our churches are polished platforms of sanitized morality, speaking sentimentality apart from Truth. Let’s burn the preferences of wooden traditionalism. Let’s quit the silly game of worship experience one-upmanship. Let’s elevate spiritual grit above smooth and seamless operations. We’re in the middle of a serious war. Let’s get real about what we believe and who we’re really following.

When King Jesus returns, will he find the faithful in the trenches or in comfortable country clubs?

So we dig in. War is not won when soldiers retreat. Victory does not come to indifferent combatants. I’ve been guilty of placing myself on a pedestal. I’ve tried to climb into the ivory tower. I’ve ridden a few high horses. And I’ve found I’m at my best when I’m covered in mud in the trench of the local church. I’m fighting most fiercely when I’m not worried about my personal brand. I’m fighting well when I’m more concerned about the local pregnancy clinic than who retweets one of my pithy—but ultimately useless—140-character oddments.

So I fight.

I fight for people in the womb.

I fight for diversity in the local church.

I fight to help the poor.

I fight against injustice, and I fight for the widow.

I fight for every tongue, tribe, and nation.

I fight so sinners can clearly hear the deafening and all-consuming gospel.

The trench is the front line. I never want to leave until the battle is done. I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus.

I won’t stop until King Jesus returns, offering the victory promised. God, please don’t ever take me out of the trench. I want to die fighting.

Sam Rainer

I once heard Tom Elliff describe how he and his wife, Jeannie, get away for a private retreat every year. Once, while sharing a meal in an intimate restaurant, Tom asked Jeannie these questions – he wanted to listen to his wife’s words and hear from her heart.

He said, “you must promise to answer them honestly. I want to know your heart.”

I’ve asked Ruthe these questions several times over the years. The answers can be surprising, even painful, but ultimately, they make me a better friend and lover.

1. What could I do to cause you to feel more loved?

2. What could I do to cause you to feel more respected?

3. What could I do to cause you to feel more understood?

4. What could I do to cause you to feel more secure?

5. What could I do to cause you to feel more confident in our future direction?

6. What attribute would you most like me to develop?

7. What attribute would you like me to help you develop in yourself?

8. What achievement in my life would bring you greatest joy?

9. What would indicate to you that I really desire to be more Christ-like?

10. What mutual goal would you like us to accomplish?

 

1. Ministry is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash. It’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish the race. Sustainability counts more than speed. Don’t give up! Paul tells us to run the race for a “heavenly reward that never disappears” (1 Cor. 9:25). Live with your eyes on eternity.

2. Every church is large is God’s eyes. In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as a small or insignificant church. Jesus died for your church. That’s how much your ministry matters to God. It is the Body and Bride of Christ. The church is the only thing on earth that will last forever.

3. There is no correlation between the size and strength of a church. A church can big and flabby just as a church can be small and wimpy. Neither big nor small is better. Healthy is betterStrong is better. Focus on developing people and God will build his church.

4. Never compare your ministry to anyone else’s. God says it is foolish to compare (2 Corinthians 10:12). Why? First, you can always find someone doing a better job than you and you’ll get discouraged. Second, you can always find someone you’re doing a better job than, and you’ll become prideful. Either one can sabotage your ministry. When you get to heaven, God won’t say, “Why weren’t you more like (some other pastor)? He made you to be you and if he didn’t want you to be you, he wouldn’t have created you!

5. Live for an audience of One. The moment you start worrying about what other people think, your ministry is handicapped. If criticism is true, listen and learn from it. If it is false, ignore it and forget it. Remember that God is the ultimate judge of your life and ministry. Maintain a tough skin and tender heart.

6. Never criticize nor envy another ministry. I’ve seen more pastors defeated by these two traps than anything else. A critical or an envious spirit quenches God’s anointing. God loves to bless people you disagree with! “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). God is watching your reaction to the failures and successes of your brothers. We are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

7. Be humble or you’ll stumble. He who gets too big for his britches will inevitably be exposed in the end! Whenever I am prideful I become the enemy of God because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble people are teachable and don’t rush to judge others Humility is being honest about your weaknesses. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less! It’s not about you!

8. Learn from everyone. The danger of looking at lists such as, “The 100 fastest growing churches”, or “The 50 largest churches” is that you’ll compare and compete. Bad idea! Instead, learn from the models represented by the churches on those lists. The Bible tells us that skill, not merely dedication, is what brings success (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Work smarter, not harder. Every time I hear about anyone making an impact, I say, “Amen! Now teach me how to do it too!” All leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning, you stop leading. You can learn from anyone if you ask the right questions.

9. Remember all growth is seasonal. Every living thing goes through seasons of growth (spring and summer) and dormancy (fall and winter). Churches go through these seasons. Healthy growth takes TIME. When God wants to make a mushroom, he takes 6 hours. When he wants to make an oak tree, he takes 60 years. Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree?

Churches that explode overnight are not necessarily growing; they may simply be swelling by attracting believers who transfer from other churches. That is not legitimate growth. Conversion growth is real growth, so focus on how many new believers you are winning and baptizing, not your attendance.

Nothing bears fruit year round. Your church may be in a Fall-like season right now (no leaves, no fruit) or winter (everything seems dead.) Keep on believing, learning, loving, and putting down roots. Spring and summer are coming! Hang on! The tide goes out, but it always comes back in.

10. Never confuse prominence with significance. My nose is prominent but I could lose it and still live a happy life. On the other hand, my lungs and liver will never been seen but they are far more significant. I’d die without them. You may be serving a small town or in circumstances with limited growth potential. So what? God put you there, and you’d better stay where God put you until God chooses to move you! God has every hair on your head numbered; your ministry matters to the Kingdom!

 

So where did this wisdom come from?

 

Tuesday, November 27, 1739 – …I preached from a balcony to above six thousand people. God strengthened me to speak nearly two hours, with such demonstration of the Spirit, that great numbers continued weeping for a considerable time.

Tuesday, April 30, 1740 – Towards the conclusion of my discourse, God’s Spirit came upon the preacher and people, so that they were melted down exceedingly.

May 14, 1749 – I believe there were near twelve thousand. I had not spoken long before I perceived numbers melting. As I proceeded, the influence increased, till, at last, thousands cried out, so that they almost drowned my voice…What tears were shed and poured forth after the Lord Jesus…After the last discourse, I was so pierced, as it were, and overpowered with the sense of God’s love, that some thought…I was about to give up the ghost. How sweetly did I lie at the feet of Jesus. With what power did a sense of His all-constraining, free, and everlasting love flow in upon my soul! It almost took away my life.

From George Whitefield’s Journal

O God, grant such preaching – and such moving of the Spirit today! May I be so pierced and overpowered by your love!

The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply, a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. C. S. Lewis

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.

. . . let [the pastor or zealous member] nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, LIfe Together

“I once overheard a visitor to one of our services tell this story to a young father. He said, “This morning you brought your child to be given over to the Lord. I did that once too. But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart, don’t do to your child what I did to mine. As he grew up, he listened to me criticize the pastor year after year. As a consequence, I turned off my boy to the church and to ministers, and today he is far from God.”

Jack Miller

1. If you’re looking for the next cool thing in town (We want to grow by conversion growth, not just church-goer transfer growth).

2. If you’re a Christian and you don’t like your current church (You will find reasons to not like this church).

3. If you have a bad track record at churches of being unteachable and causing problems (You won’t change here, you’ll repeat the pattern).

4. If you’re a consumer wanting to “go to church” 1 time a week for a nice show (We are not a Sunday show, we are a community of disciples on a mission).

5. If you want religion (This church will be built on the radical gospel of grace).

6. If you have an agenda (We have our vision, our mission, and our values—your private agenda does not supercede them).

7. If you’re a wolf (We will sniff you out).

8. If you think this will be a nice little church that stays the same size, where everybody knows your name and you have my cell number on speed dial and we have a picnic lunch together every week (By God’s grace, we are growing and will continue to grow).

9. If you think this will be easy and smooth (This will be hard and difficult; this will be a fight, a battle, and a challenging mission).

10. If you want to hold onto your comfortable life (You must lose your life).

Sir Ernest Shackleton used an advertisement to recruit men for his expedition to Antarctica in 1914:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

Originally written by Justin Buzzard, a church planter

I recently came across a definition of how to effectively plant a church.

“Get the right guy, rightly equipped, with the right heart, right doctrine, and right team, in the right place at the right time doing the right things, and good things will happen.”

1st, a Christ-follower thinks, “God made summer.” (Ps 74:17)

2nd a Christ-follower asks, “Why did God make summer?

Everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory! Rom 11:36 (NLT)

Everything was created through Jesus and for Him. Col 1:17 (NLT)

3rd, a Christ-follower asks, “OK, if God is giving me this summer to glorify Him, how can my family and I best do that in the way we spend our summer?

Here’s one answer.

This summer, we’re going to find ways to see, savor and show Christ.

We’re going to see Him.

We’re going to enjoy His world, so lots of time outside. We’re going to look for him in sports and cookouts, music and books, the lake and the city, home and wherever we travel, family time and solitude. I intend to end every day by answering one question – “where did I see God today?”

We’re going to savor Him

We’re going to make much of Jesus by gathering with His people to worship whenever possible. We intend to try to thank Him instead of griping. I want to talk to him first thing and last thing every day. I want to sing to Him and about Him to myself (no one wants to hear me serenade them – even about God!) I want to memorize a verse each week. I want to read a different Bible version this summer. I’ll try to trust his sovereignty in everything. This summer, I’m going to end each day by reminding myself, “God is for me, not against me.”

We’re going to show Him

Since God is love, we’re going to find some way to show love to someone new every day. At the end of each day, I want to know who saw Jesus in me.

What is summer for?

Summer is for seeing, savoring and showing Christ.

It is easy to forget the tragedies when they come one after another.

Japan goes through an earthquake, tsunami, and nucleur meltdown – but our attention and prayers are distracted by Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, London riots, and our country’s spending (8 times our revenue!), and a wife’s broken leg and friend’s cancer and aging parents and a son who is moving to the Middle East and etc, etc, etc.

Yesterday, a Japanese member of the Orchard wrote me a note. It simply says,

“Please pray for Japan. More than 220,000 people who are suffering as a result of this tragedy. Pray for Prime Minister Kan, and other leaders.”

It was a good reminder.

Only a sovereign God can handle the heart-break and pain of this sick and dying world. And he does answer prayer.

C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?”

This is how he answered:

“That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.
If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.

I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.’”

C.S. Lewis — God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, pg. 61-62

On Sunday, Feb 6, I was in an early Sunday morning prayer meeting when my phone rang. Our local fire department informed me that my wife had fallen, was in great pain, and they were breaking in the house to get to her. I said, “tear the house down – just get to her.” That phone call enrolled me in a new class in the school of discipleship.

During the last two and one-half months, my life has radically changed. I have been the primary care-giver for my wife. The nature and location of the break means she cannot put any weight on the leg for about three months. For her, this means being restricted to a wheelchair and walker, physical therapy and constant care, pain and helplessness. For me, it means laundry and house-keeping, grocery-buying and a hundred small details that are necessary in care-giving.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1. Jesus is building the church – not me.

I am planting a church. We are only a few months old as a church – and now, I am extremely limited in who I can meet, where I can go and what I can do. Caring for my wife and the home is sometimes all-consuming of my time and attention.

Several months ago, I had asked our Student Pastor to preach on that particular morning. It is God’s grace and providence that allowed me to be able to leave that morning with no worries about preaching or the church. In fact, at least one conversion took place that morning!

My staff and the lay leaders of the Orchard have stepped up to the leadership challenge and led well over the last several months. They have been understanding, patient and hard-working. I lead a high capacity and dedicated group of people.

2. Trials are synchronized.

This happened three days after moving into a new and smaller house. Imagine boxes and chaos in every room! In addition, my aging parents live 500 miles away and are rapidly declining in health. And, we are at that all-important, all-consuming stage in church planting when we establish membership, place elders in place, and launch community ministries. It is difficult to imagine a more “interesting” time for this to happen.

3. I really am more flawed and “high maintenance” than I thought.

Testing reveals the truth about us – and sometimes, it’s not pretty. Sins have sprouted in me like dandelions in my yard. My emotions have swung from anger to jealousy, from fear to self-pity and pride. It has been a battle to pray, to stay God-centered and Ruthe-oriented. The truth is – I preach better than I live. I am being humbled.

4. I am more loved than I dared think.

God has sustained my strength. We have had wonderful meals provided by so many people. A number of women have volunteered to stay with Ruthe when I needed to leave. We have been the object of a prayer chain involving dozens of people each day. And God has not killed me for my sins. Ruthe has not fired me because of my irritability. It’s all grace!

5. God is a God of process

Healing is often not instantaneous. Nor is growth in Christ-likeness. Marriage is a day-to-day, “poco-a-poco” deal, as is church planting, evangelism, leadership development and most other important things in life. This is cause for hope!

6. I delight in my children, and God uses them as a means of grace.

All of our children are married and have lives of responsibility and pressure of their own. Two live out of town. Yet, each one has found unique ways to be present, support, encourage and help. Each one has been in constant contact and prayer for us. Each one, together with their spouses, have traveled to be with us. Each one has put his or her agenda on hold in order to assist us in practical and creative ways. Each one has helped us smile, laugh and forget out troubles. Each one has encouraged us in the Lord.

More to come.