Book Review: Viral Churches

Not going to lie, I was thinking I would enjoy this book a bit more than I did. Viral Churches was a good book with tons of useful information. That is pretty much my entire review. It’s not as if I didn’t enjoy it or that it was not a good book, it was just not what I had  expected. To me, the book reads as a collection of individual books. To be fair – this is pretty much stated in the introduction so it is clearly my issue. I guess maybe I just didn’t believe it.

The audience for this book is twofold in my mind. One, it aims to be a guidebook to those who are trying to figure out what this new hot topic of “church planting” is all about. This book does a good job or using a wide-angle lens to explain what planting a new church can look like, and what the differing opinions of how that plays out are. Two, it aims at the folks who are wanting to plant a church but are unsure of where to begin or what to believe. This is not so much as a manual as a written discussion about the end result of various options. For example, the book does a basic explanation of Acts 29 and what their goal of church planting is and how it is achieved. This is quite different from how Saddleback plants churches. If you were looking for a way to start and an organization to align with, it would be helpful to read this book.

So, certainly not for everyone but if you have interest in church planting it would be good to peruse. I would not suggest sitting down and reading it as much as reading the chapters that interest you. Once again, this is stated in the introduction. I guess I just have to learn the hard way!

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Book Review: Church Planting is for Wimps

Church Planting is for Wimps by Mike McKinley is a very enjoyable book. A quick and encouraging read. I would suggest it to anyone in any form of ministry but specifically for anyone looking to plant a church or replanting a church specifically. I would not say that there was anything about this book that would stand out, however, with the simple writing style and interesting stories, it needs to be on the must read list. It will take you 2 hours tops to have the entire thing complete.

Find a copy, read it, and pass it on.

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The Pull Of Efficiency

I am currently reading Kisses from Katie and it is a good book. A very easy read written in a style that is close to daily journal entries. While the chapters are pretty much chronological, they are at the same time topical so it is an interesting format. The basic story describes Katie’s desire to, at first, visit Uganda which quickly turned into quite a bit longer.

Typically the chapters are encouraging but every once in a while there is something that catches my soul. Here is one of those statements.

There are still days when I walk through Masese and feel completely powerless and totally overwhelmed. The illnesses are more than I can treat even if I sit in the makeshift clinic in the back of my van for fifteen hours a day. Sometimes the sadness seems almost unbearable, the problems unsolvable, the wounds unhealable. This has taught me one of the greatest lessons: the tension between inefficiency and faithfulness. The assurance that I must obey and be faithful only to what he has asked of me, even when tangible, earthly results or successes are not seen.

How often do we put off doing things until we think they will be successful? Do we put off meting with that person at church you have been drawn to until you are more prepared to disciple? Do you put off starting the non-profit that you have been thinking about for years? Do we put off the next step that doesn’t look as sure as we would like?

Just some thoughts – wondering how that tension is working itself out in my life.


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Things I’ve Seen 5.30

As the Church Planting Intern for Maine I have been asked to help with the recently launched site for people interested in planting or interested in helping plant churches in Maine One of the ways that I will do this is to look through the various blogs out there for anything that would help the readers in any way. I thought I was supposed to do that THIS week however, we start the ramp up NEXT week. So, this is the week that was that didn’t get was there, but is was here. Got it?

The first is written by Chuck Lawless from Thom Rainer’s site. 5 years ago I would not have even read anything by a southern baptist, and here I am following them on twitter and referencing blogs. This s a great post about ‘Praying Evangelistically’. As you are praying for the souls of people in your town, keep these ideas in mind.

The second is from a bit of an unlikely source but I do think that there is much to say here. I am an insurance guy by day and I have taken to reading various business journals to start my day. This one jumped out at me in the context of planting a church. If you are a church looking to send out people or a core group looking to solidify your goals, take a look and let me know what it makes you think of. Which aspect of church planting do you feel this most directly speaks to?

The third is from the Gospel Coalition. As you are looking to reach people in your community, please make sure that you are acknowledging those who WILL see things differently than you. I know that this is a specific way that I tend to struggle. I am absolutely guilty of thinking in ways that can discourage an artist. Artists can and should help bring us to the throne of God on a regular basis. How can you include instead of exclude?

Well, there you go. The week that was. Let me know what you think.


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Liturgy – Whether you know it or not

A recent article by Ed Stetzer raised a question I had only asked in my head. Aren’t ALL of our worship services full of liturgy? In this article, Ed interviews Mike Cosper who is the author of Rhythms of Grace. This looks like a great book and I hope to read it at some point.

About one year ago I was asked to take over the structure and organization of Sunday mornings at Lakeside Community Church. The basic ‘schedule’ of what happened was already set, we just needed a point person to take care of some of the details. One of the things we were able to put in place is a basic structure of Prepare-Preach-Participate. We prepare our hearts with singing and giving, we hear the Word preached, and we participate with more singing and corporate prayer. This is our liturgy. What’s yours?

Here’s the deal, I have visited many many churches in New England in my lifetime. The bottom line is that  your bulletin is the same  as every other church in New England right down to that very same font that I can see from a mile away. The announcements are basically the same. The songs are basically the same. The order of service is basically the same. Yeah we have a cool three section rubric for our services but it is basically the same.

Every church has that person, you know the one, a strongly liturgical background that freaks out every time anything formal is spoken. Every person also has the other person pulling everyone towards daily liturgical readings from 500 years ago. Whether we realize it or not, our services are liturgical. They SHOULD be designed to point us to Christ. Some services point us to man. That is a horrible sin.

That is our liturgy. What’s yours?

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What Stories Do

This was sent to me in response to my last post. What a great follow-up to that idea. Thank you Lori.
The original story can be found here.

What Stories Do


Almost overnight, my eight-year-old niece went from being a vivacious little girl who sang her way through life—as if she were singing the soundtrack of her own life the movie—and became a frightened, withdrawn child who spoke so softly you could barely hear her. It was as if she were literally losing her voice, losing herself. And then we found out she was being bullied at school.

Later, she told me that she thought she wouldn’t get in trouble if she tried not to be herself. It broke my heart, and I wished she had a book to read before school to hear what God says about her, not what those bullies were saying about her. So I thought I better write one—it’s called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and it has become a book of hope for children.

Children look to us for everything. But in all that we’ve given children, have we forgotten to give them hope? Have we left them in despair, looking at what they should do but don’t? Looking at who they should be but aren’t? How, then, do we give hope to children?

By helping them take the focus off themselves and put it back on God where it belongs. By telling them truths such as these:

God holds the oceans in the palm of his hand. If he can hold the oceans, he can hold you. (p. 106)

If God cares for the tiniest sparrow— how much more mus t he care for you, his child? (p. 152)

If Jesus can calm a storm on a lake, he can calm the storm in your heart. (p. 181)

God sees not just who you are— but who he is going to make you. (p. 145)

We give hope to children when we tell them what matters most.

They don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, or do better. That just leaves them in despair. Taken by itself, the moral code always leaves us in despair. We can never live up to it. We don’t need a moral code—we need a Rescuer.

When I go to churches and speak to children, I ask them two questions: First, “how many people here sometimes think you have to be good for God to love you?” They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them. Second, “How many people here sometimes think that if you aren’t good, God will stop loving you?” They look around and again raise their hands.

These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible, and yet they have somehow missed the most important thing of all. They have missed what the Bible is all about. They are children like I once was. I thought God couldn’t love me because I wasn’t doing it right.

How, then, do we help them? What can we do? We can teach children that the Bible is not about them.

The Bible isn’t merely about them and what they should be doing. It’s about God and what He has done. It’s not merely a book of rules telling you how to behave so that God will love you. It’s not merely a book of heroes that gives you people to copy so that God will love you.

Most of all, the Bible is the Story—the story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. And in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost Him— God won’t ever stop loving His children with a wonderful, neverstopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always, and forever love. Are we telling children the Story—or teaching them a mere lesson?

My niece didn’t need another lesson. What she needed to know was that she is loved—with a wonderful, never-stopping, never-giving- up, unbreaking, always, and forever love. What she needed was to be invited into the Story. What she needed was to meet the Hero and become part of His magnificent Story. That is because the rules don’t change you. But the Story—God’s Story—does.

How, then, do we instill a love for God in children? Simply by telling them the Story—the Story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. By telling it well. Telling it faithfully. Telling it simply. Telling it without dumbing it down. Telling it without explaining it to death. Telling it without drilling it down into a moral lesson.

Stories don’t tell the truth confrontationally. They don’t coerce you. They don’t argue with you to believe them. They just are. The power of the story isn’t in summing it up, drilling it down, or reducing it to an abstract idea. The power of the story isn’t in the lesson. The power of the story is the story.  (Emphasis mine)

When God sent the prophet Nathan to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-4), Nathan didn’t confront David with a sermon about his sin but told him a story. David didn’t see it coming. The story got by his defenses.

That’s the thing a true story does—it doesn’t come at you directly and raise a wall of defense. It comes around the side and captures your heart.

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What if we are all wrong?

42% of the population in Maine is functionally illiterate. I heard that statistic from Keith Lawrence last night at a Southern Maine Church Planting meeting. That statistic hit me pretty hard. If we assume a population of 1.3M people in Maine, we end up with a staggering 546,000 people in Maine that will not comprehend what we teach, whether from the pulpit or in living rooms across the state. I would also make the bold statement that most pastors don’t care based on their actions. Let me make a case for a second.

A typical sermon includes 5-10 minutes of introduction where an illustration is used or a word is explained etc, to get the people ready to hear the message. This could be a witty little story about the CEO of a company who prayed before every meeting or a quick run down of the ways in which we misuse the word love. This would be followed by a verse by verse or even word by word explanation of the text. We explain the text for 15 minutes or so making sure we pull out the nuance of the Greek or Hebrew word used only once in this very verse. We follow all of this up with the climax of application where we give examples of what we can all do differently as a result. At the end of the service the pastor dutifully stands at the door of the church listening to all the people ooh and aah about the sermon. Most weeks however, there are always a few people who seem to never “get it.” Sometimes it comes out as a simple, “That one didn’t speak to me.” A more common explanation is, “I just don’t get much out of it.”

What is the first reaction? I know what mine was/is. “Well, they just don’t get it.”

EXACTLY! They don’t get it. And instead of figuring out why, we do more of the same with better illustrations teaching them more about  Winston Churchill or Football than Jesus.

There are four levels of literacy accepted by most countries. Level 1 is the inability to read or write. This would be described as being illiterate. Level 2 is the ability to read very basic groups of words such as medicine doses and States/cities. Level 3 is the ability to fill out forms with a basic understanding of vocabulary. The ability to fill out a job application or other similar type of forms. These two levels are considered functionally illiterate. Level 4 is reading and writing comprehension. There are levels of reading comprehension however, and the basic rule is that a level 4 literate person could pick up a book written at an 8th grade level and understand it. This is the level at which most pastors in Maine preach at. Listen to sermons from all over the state and you will hear level 4 sermons. Sermons based on the information gleaned from not only research/theology books, but the very version of Scripture we read. What grade is your version written at?

If 42% of Maine is level 3 or below then you are correct, they DON’T get it. If 42% of Maine CAN NOT read at an 8th grade level, then why are we surprised when we hand them a Bible but they don’t seem to read it? I have been known to whack a bee’s nest or two in my day so it won’t come as a surprise for me to ask, “If the KJV is written at a 12th grade level, how many people are we saying that we don’t care about in our KJV only churches?”

So what needs to change? If we are going to try to reach the people of Maine by planting churches, what are we going to do about the 42% of people who will automatically be left out. I don’t want to shoot off a few flares then run away so my first answer is this.

When was the last time you told the gospel as a story? Was it the last time you substitute taught in Sunday School? When was the last time you started your entire sermon by just telling the story of the text in 5-10 minutes BEFORE you dig into the significance of each individual word. I am 100% guilty of this. I have preached to those seminary students in the seats while ignoring those who want to learn but just don’t get it.

I am not advocating that we simplify everything and go with felt boards every week, but I do wonder if we could take 30 minutes out of our week and craft a section of our sermon in order to reach more than 52% of the people who could walk into a service on any given Sunday. ( That was a long sentence but I’m not cutting it in 2 Tracy! ) Another reaction of yours could be similar to mine when I assumed, “I bet that number is lower than 42% in my church.” I bet I’m right, and I bet you are too! We designed it that way. We preach in a way to keep the 42% out.

Please take this information and be challenged to reach more people. This new information has certainly altered my mindset. I am note sure how it will end up playing out in my life specifically but if we truly want to reach Maine with the Gospel, we might need to rethink our delivery.


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