Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Pizza and Neighbors

A couple of years ago, Jeff decided to get a pizza oven - his mid-life crisis purchase. He has enjoyed learning how to make pizzas and sharing his new found love with family and friends.

This summer we prayerfully decided to do a once a month neighborhood pizza night in our driveway as a way to get to know our neighbors. We have lived in our home for 11 years and shamefully had not met many of our neighbors. We invited everyone on our street and those behind us on the other street. We put flyers in their doors not knowing if anyone would be interested. The first night, as we were setting up chairs and tables, we were anxious and felt a bit silly wondering if anyone would come. We were shocked to have 8 households show up and several we had never met before. We were surprised at how much they enjoyed meeting each other. We had neighbors and even their children asking us when the next pizza night was. The last pizza night of the summer, so many came that we ran out of pizza. I think Jeff made around 20. AND that final night, the rain that had lasted throughout the day stopped an hour before we started and began again an hour after we ended. Thank you Lord!

We have been able to build on some relationships since then which is what we had been praying for. Our desire is to be a light, presence and a blessing within our neighborhood.

If we could offer any encouragement, it would be this. We were blown away with the desire people had to know their neighbors. People do want community. We are grateful for the relationships that have continued and deepened since the pizza nights. Lastly, we did nothing fancy...just chairs and tables in our driveway, pizza and water to drink. By the end, people were bringing their own dishes to share! Now we have names and faces with houses in order to better pray for them.

-Janet Leman 

Friday, September 8, 2023

An Honest Question to Ask Yourself in Evangelism

I stared down at my growing to-do list wondering, "How will this all be accomplished this week?"

I reviewed the tasks, both big and small, that filled the lined paper on the counter before me. Maybe you can relate to strategizing when you will run errands, get the groceries, arrive at the events, practices, or meetings, pay the bills, and more.

Conveniently for us, there are some things that enable us to spend less time engaging in some of these activities. We can do things like setting up recurring payments for bills, opting for store pickup for our groceries, choosing autoship and door deliveries, mobile ordering our coffee for pickup and more. This allows us to make pit stops rather than full blown excursions before turning to the next thing on our list.

Before you think to yourself, "I know what's about to come next; "but... "that precedes the condemnation of our modern conveniences and full schedules." Allow me to share a few points of clarification before we proceed:

1. Modern convenience isn't inherently evil (I'm thankful for the convenience of sharing this blog on the internet where you can opt to read it at any time on your laptop or smartphone)

2. Having a full schedule for God-glorifying reasons - in obedience and response to the opportunities and responsibilities that God has given us - isn't bad (I think of Paul's day and night labor and in toil in 1 Thessalonians 2:9)

With this clarification in mind, I do not aim to critique avenues - which can be a great aid in efficiency - rather to healthily inspect our greatest aim. It is worth examining what our chief aim is, which informs our every other aim and action. 

What is our chief aim as Christ-followers while we are yet in the land of the living? What has God Himself commissioned us to do while we go about our everyday living?

As a part of our purpose to worship and glorify God, we have been commissioned to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

Read with me Matthew 28:16-20 in which Matthew records Jesus' instruction to the disciples that extend to us today, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Our aim as we glorify God and prepare to worship Him forever is to help others do the same as we go and make disciples. This requires sharing our faith as ambassadors (evangelism) and contending for the faith.

Similarly, in Acts chapter 1 Jesus tells the disciples before His ascension of how they will be witnesses to the world, "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea an Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing in to heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:6-11).

Praise God that the Holy Spirit will aid His disciples, including us today, in doing what He has commanded: witnessing to the world of the Gospel, until the day of Christ's return. As I think about how - by the power of the Spirit - I might prayerfully accomplish this, I find myself first asking this honest question:

Is my life conducive to achieving the great commission or my greatest convenience?

Making the best use of my time as it relates to my calendar can be a good and wise thing, but not if it comes at the expense of making the best use of my time in these evil days pertaining to the great commission.

Are there times where I have opted out of personal interaction with someone in line at a store because I didn't "feel like it"?

Are there times when I have put my comfort and convenience as a priority over the gospel mission of making disciples?

Have I sought opportunities to get involved in the lives of others I might encounter, or have I limited easy opportunities to interact with others for the sake of convenience?

Do I ask God in prayer for opportunities for His plan, or to optimize mine?

I pray that you'll join me in asking God to open our eyes to those around us, to engage in the opportunities He has already given us, and to rightly see people around us as souls with eternal destinations before worrying about how quickly we can get to our next one.

What a privilege it is to be a part of God's plan of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18)! Consider reaching out to a friend or care group member for encouragement and accountability and for ways that you can actively engage in this ministry this week. Here are some ideas:

Go into the grocery store or coffee shop to order if you might normally order online

Strike up a conversation with the person next to you at your child's sporting event

Bake a treat to deliver to your neighbor and ask how you might be praying for them

Stop into a local store that you've never visited and begin forming a relationship with the person behind the counter

Say "hi" when you see someone on your next walk around your neighborhood

Get creative and see how many interactions you can have in a week with individuals and continue from there!

I hope you will join me in prayerfully putting this question before us and adjusting accordingly:

Is my life conducive to achieve the great commission or my greatest convenience? 

- Lizzy Blanchard 





Friday, August 11, 2023

Your Neighbors

The article below is a great encouragement as you consider ministering to your neighbors--whether you live in the country, an apartment, or in a subdivision! Click here to read. 

Take care,
Pastor Ben 

PS-Our outreach team is looking at the website blesseveryhome.com as a resource for BCC. Take a look and let us know what you think!

Monday, July 31, 2023

Thankful in Prayer When It Comes to Suffering

On Sunday, Pastor Ben mentioned the following as it relates to being thankful in prayer when it comes to suffering . . .

1. To perfect us and grow us in spiritual maturity
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, 
Romans 5:3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 

2. To display His faithfulness
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Psalm 119:75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. 76 Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.

3. To teach us our own weakness and to cause us to depend more on Him
2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

4. God wants to increase our usefulness
2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

5. To keep us from becoming too comfortable in this world
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

6. To create opportunities for being a witness for Christ
Philippians 1:12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

7. To cause us as Christians to recognize our need of one another and to cause us to draw closer to one another
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

8. His infinite wisdom
Psalm 147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. 5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. 
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?"

Summary - To what does Paul relate suffering
Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Pastor Ben mentioned a few prayer apps and they are listed here:

Five Psalms


Bless Every Home

Unreached of the Day

Friday, July 28, 2023

An Anchor

On November 24, 1572, the sun had set on the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, ushering in an end to what had been a rather peaceful day. However, just around the corner, in the home of one of the most influential men in church history, the scenery was vastly different. The beloved reformed minister John Knox, stricken with pneumonia, lay on his death bed.

Sensing the end of his life and his last breath were near, he gathered his remaining strength to look at his wife Margaret and said, "Go. Go where I cast my first anchor." Immediately, she knew exactly where he was wanting her to turn. Without hesitation, she opened the divinely inspired pages of Holy Scripture and read to her dying groom the following words from the gospel of John, chapter 17. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

To continue reading the rest of Pastor Jordan's post, please go HERE

Friday, July 14, 2023

My Biggest Unplanned Lesson from Sabbatical

Our family was so blessed and felt so loved by BCC allowing us the privilege of stepping away from the ministry for a time of sabbatical! Going into that time Jennie and I each made some plans for things we'd like to do and get out of the time away. In spite of all this, one of the most important lessons I learned over sabbatical was not one I planned or even realized I needed.

As part of my time away I scheduled to meet with other leaders from various churches and ministries seeking to gain wisdom in how to advance the family discipleship culture of our church. During one of these meetings, a wise, older man encouraged me that one of, if not the best thing, I could bring back to BCC, even more than great new plans, was what God taught me over the time. I appreciated his input, but still being fairly early into the time away, didn't really know what that might look like or mean. A few weeks late the realization hit home very hard. Taking his advice, I want to make sure not to waste what I've been challenged with and am learning, so I desire to share it with you too.

About three weeks into our sabbatical, I couldn't place my finger on it, but I found myself disgruntled and unhappy. It felt like there was a lack of peace in our family and my relationship with both my wife and kids felt at odds. Still I was oblivious. One night, putting my son to sleep, as we lay in his bed together talking, having just fought what I perceived as another parenting battle, he said something along the lines of, "Daddy, sometimes it seems like you don't like us." Taken aback I quickly affirmed my deepest love for him and that "Daddy would always love him no matter what," but his words sat very heavy on my heart. Later that night I asked Jennie about it, hoping to brush it off as a child's midnight musing trying desperately to say something to stay up a bit longer. She was gracious, but did not ease by conscience encouraging me to process it more. So I went to bed that night with a heavy heart and racing mind. The next morning, I brought all these thoughts and the pain I felt at possibly causing my child pain to the Lord, having no further comfort or clarity from the night's sleep. In that time together the Lord started me on a path of far deeper realization about myself as well as my shepherding of my family. 

To finish reading this post by Pastor Phil, go HERE


Friday, June 30, 2023

Gen-X Church, Part 1: The Attractional Church

 Note: The following is adapted from my notes from our last Sunday Evening Service when we introduced a new series: "Gen-X Ecclesiology." The goal of the series is to look at some of the major movements in the American Evangelical church over the past 50 years. The first night, we talked about the rise of the "attractional model," or the "seeker-sensitive movement" and how part of the outgrowth of that movement was the megachurch.

These notes haven't been sufficiently edited but I thought it was better to put out something "okay" than "nothing at all."

As we think about the attractional model, the most prominent spokesperson of that model remains Rick Warren. Over the years, people have asked me about my opinion of Rick Warren and I've tried to be fair. I believe he's a brother in Christ but seriously mistaken in some areas. I think one example shows not only why I have concerns about his ministry but is a great example of one of the primary problems with the attractional model.

Last year, as Warren argued against the expulsion of his church from the SBC because of their position on female pastors, he pointed to his accomplishments as evidence of the "rightness" of his position. He mentioned that he had baptized 56,631 new believers and sent nearly 27,000 missionaries overseas. He also noted that he had trained 1.1 million pastors, more than all the SBC seminaries put together.

None of those statistics have anything to do with whether or not there is biblical justification for women pastors. To be fair, he later attempted to address the biblical arguments for women pastors, but his first instinct was an appeal to pragmatics: this must be right because of the good things that are being accomplished by our church.

The History of the Seeker-Sensitive Church and the Rise of the Megachurch

There are three terms that are related but not identical. The attractional model refers to a philosophy of how to do church. The seeker-sensitive movement is an example of that attractional model that really took off in the 1970s and 80s. The megachurch was the fruit of these church philosophies.

There have been large churches before the seeker-sensitive movement. For example, some point to Charles Spurgeon as an early example of an evangelical megachurch. Spurgeon became pastor of a church in 1853 and in 1861 oversaw the constructing of the The Metropolitan Tabernacle, which could allow 6,000 to hear the Word preached. The building housed a SS, preacher's college, conferences, orphanage, poor house.

Institutional Church Movement of the 19th and 20th Century, according to David Eagle in "Historicizing the Megachurch," was an early precursor to the megachurches of today. The movement saw the need for a church to not just be in use on a Sunday morning but throughout the week. And so you had these larger buildings that could house other events during the week like debates or theatre productions or social programs.

The attractional model in its contemporary sense appeared as a part of what we call the seeker-sensitive movement in the 70s and 80s. And as religious historians talk about the megachurch and seeker sensitive movement, they understandably sometimes conflate them and use the terms interchangeably.

In 1975, Bill Hybels started Willow Creek in Palentine, Illinois. Five years later, on Easter Sunday, Rick Warren moved a bible study from the living room of his condo to a local high school gymnasium and Saddleback was born. Before launching the church, he surveyed his neighborhood in Orange County, California in Saddleback Valley and asked people why they didn't come to church. People responded that they didn't find services interesting or they were turned off by all the requests for money.

The argument made by Hybels and Warren went like this: Seekers don't find Christianity appealing because they don't think the Bible is relevant. Therefore, changes to the church service should be made to attract unbelievers, in areas such as music, creative packaging, and the preaching.

Eagle writes:

The megachurch burst into the American consciousness in the 1980s. Megachurches differed from their predecessors by offering their participants a single organization to meet their spiritual, emotional, educational, and recreational needs. In 1989, the vanguard of the megachurch movement, 37 year-old Bill Hybels, said, "We're on the verge of making kingdom history . . . doing things a new way for a whole new generation." A 33 year-old Rick Warren, pastor of the then 5,000 member (now 20,000+ member) Saddleback Community Church echoed similar sentiments:

There's a trend all across America moving away from the small neighborhood churches to larger regional-type churches. It's the same phenomenon with malls replacing the mom and pop stores on the corner. People will drive past all kinds of little shopping centers to go to a major mall, where there are lots of of services and where they meet their needs. The same is true in churches today in that people drive past dozens of little churches to go to a larger church which offers more services and special programs. . . [we'll come back to this] 

Writing in Christianity Today, Lyle Schaller, a prominent evangelical spokesman for the megachurch movement, proclaimed, "The emergence of the 'mega-church' is the most important development of modern Christian history. You can be sentimental about the small congregation, like the small corner grocery store or small drugstore, but they simply can't meet the expectations that people carry with them today." This echoes the well-known marketing consultant Peter Drucker's claim that megachurches "are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years." 

Several historians agree that megachurches lack precedent. Take Patrick Allitt. He sees them as an innovation of post-WWII America. "America's new megachurches," he argues ". . . were designed to provide an entire way of life, including schools, gymnasiums, dining halls, study groups settings, therapy sessions, aerobics classes, bowling alleys, and sometimes even Christian-themed shopping." "Megachurch," Martin Marty says simply, "is . . . an invention of the Age of Greed."

As more and more churches adopted the seeker-sensitive movement paradigm, you had more megachurches.

In 2015, if you had a church of over 1,000, you were in the top 1 percent of Protestant congregations. A megachurch is usually over 1,500 or 2,000 depending on what source you're using. Again, Eagle writes:

They [Thumma and Travis] estimate that in 1970, 50 churches with an attendance of more than 1,500 people existed in the United States but by 2005, that number had grown to more than 1,200. [Latest numbers from Hartford: 1,642 megachurches. 810 in the south, 405 in the west, 309 in the Midwest, 118 in the northeast. California has the most megachurches.] In Thumma and Travis's words, "while megachurches are not an entirely new phenomenon . . . the rapid proliferation of these churches since the 1970s . . . is a distinctive social phenomenon."

That change obviously drastically affected how people viewed what "church" is. The megachurch produced multi-site and multiple services during this time. While multiservice churches existed prior to the 1970s, this is when they started becoming commonplace. By 2016, about 1/3 of churches offered multiple services. Jonathan Leeman in One Assembly notes that "in 1990 ten churches nationwide were multisite; in 2019 over five thousand were . . . There are as many megachurches today in the greater Nashville area as there were in the entire country in 1960." 

Philosophy of the Attraction Model

As Jared Wilson observes in his book The Gospel-Driven Church, though the phrase "seeker-sensitive church" is waning, the underlying philosophy remains enduring. Wilson uses the phrase "attractional church" in his book: "I (and many others) use the term attractional to refer to a way of doing church ministry whose primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing." There are three things the attractional model is built on that Wilson focuses on: consumerism, pragmatism, and legalism.

1. Consumerism

"In considering its reach, the attractional church is essentially asking: Who is our customer? What does our customer want?"

"An attractional church conducts worship and ministry according to the desires and values of potential consumers. This typically leads to the dominant ethos of pragmatism throughout the church. If a church determines its target audience prefers old-fashioned music, then that's what they feature in order to attract those people."

David Wells addressing the consumerism in evangelicalism in his article, "The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church." He says that what shapes what we do as a church - what ministries to offer, what to do on a Sunday morning, is:

. . . a marketing ethos. In one sense, this should not be surprising at all. Americans are nothing if not consumers, consumers of images, of relationships, and of things . . . We have 7% of the world's population but we consume 33% of the goods and services . . . Our whole society has been transformed into a consumer's heaven and we are nothing if not a nation of buyers, thoroughly at home in, and thoroughly a part of, the life of commerce. We move in and out of it much like fish do through water. It is in this commerce that we live and move and have our being. So the Church's willingness to adapt to the marketing model for thinking about itself really is not remarkable.

It is not  that theological beliefs are denied, but that they have little cash value. They don't matter. I likened the situation to that of a child who is in a home but who is ignored. It is not that the child has been abducted; the child is there. The child is in the home, but has no legitimate place in the family. And, again, research which I have had conducted strongly points to the fact that where this kind of theological character is crumbling, there the centrality of God is disappearing . . . In the broader culture we learn that 91% of people say that God is very important to them but 66% go on to say that they do not believe in moral absolute truth. "

There are two implications of the consumerism of the attractional church model: First, the primary purpose of the Sunday morning is evangelistic not discipleship. Second, members of a church are consumers not disciples. We'll come back to this, but even in a church that would reject the attraction model, consumerism still creeps in.

2. Pragmatism

It isn't wrong to be practical. "But," says Wilson, "when we assume certain tangible or visible results from our application and obedience, we have turned from practicality to pragmatism."

There are several implications of the pragmatism of the attractional church model: First, the primary question shaping ministry is not "what is biblical?" but "what works?" Second, it becomes important to produce an experience. Third, preaching moves from discipleship of believers to meeting felt needs of unbelievers. Fourth, deep theological teaching vanishing from the church. Finally, the structure of the church changes without careful thought. The church becomes faced with questions like: Should we do small groups? Multiple services? Go multi-site? Increase paid staff? And we base our answers based on whether or not we think those ministries will "work," not whether or not they're biblical. It may not be wrong, for instance, to increase the number of paid staff, but the reason we do so can't simply be that we think it will draw more people.

3. Legalism

Wilson makes an interesting point about legalism and the attractional model:

We've moved from holiness to legalism. The great irony in this is that the most attractional churches pride themselves on not being legalistic. For some pastors, the reason for adopting an an attractional approach to ministry was to reject the legalism of their upbringing. The generation that gave us the church-growth movement was, in large part, reacting to the negative fundamentalism that dominated American church for many years. This "traditional" way of doing church was characterized by an unhealthy focus on prohibitions, which came at the expense of the gospel of grace."

When the gospel is peripheral, occasional, or incidental to our mission and our preaching, we cannot trust that the gospel is truly drawing and shaping those who respond. Pragmatic methodology is legalistic because legalism is what happens when you disconnect the Christian's "do" from Christ's "done" in the gospel."

There are two implications of the legalism of the attractional church model: First, the metrics for success become man-made. Second, those who chose a methodology that potentially attracts fewer consumers are viewed as doing something morally wrong.

Evaluative Thoughts

There are some strengths that have come from the Seeker-Sensitive Movement and Megachurches. These churches have traditionally been conservative on social issues. The movement helped churches reject the negative aspects of fundamentalism, characterized by a fear of culture and shutting oneself off from the world. The movement also helped the church engage in caring for the physical needs of people in our community, a hallmark of faithfully biblical churches. Finally, it helped the church be willing to change some aspects of the church that were extra-biblical and an unnecessary obstacle to unbelievers.

Unfortunately, there are significant weaknesses. First, the attractional model altered our concept of what the church is, something we still haven't fully grappled with. Is church an assembly of brothers and sisters coming together to sing, read, preach, pray and see the Word? Or is worship like a concert I attend where I expect to be inspired?

Second, we individualized the worship of the church . . . no longer corporate. It's a place we go to get experiences. Third, it created an environment in which bad shepherds thrive. The main preacher becomes the "brand" of the church and there is an instinctive desire to protect him. Fourth, it minimized the importance of doctrine.

Finally, the attractional model failed to achieve the goals of the attractional church model. Numerous studies bear this out. For instance, according to a survey of megachurches conducted by the Hartford Institute:

* 68% of attendees have been there less than five years, compared to 40% of non-megachurch attendees. But that doesn't mean there are more unbelievers because only 2% of attendees at megachurches said they were not a committed follower of Jesus Christ before they began attending the church. Furthermore, only 6% of attendees said they had never attended services prior to coming to the current megachurch.

I'm grateful for how God used even methodologies I strongly disagree with to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Clearly he has used the attractional model. But a far better model is to first look at what God's word says that the church is to be and do. For me as a pastor, Paul's words are clear. My task, even if difficult at times, is thankfully simple:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (1 Tim. 4:1-5).

- Pastor Daniel