Tomorrow I will begin my last sermon series @ Courageous Church. If this sounds dramatic, it is.
For the next 2 months until Easter Sunday, we are going to dive head first into a series I am calling: DISCIPLE. We will spend this time learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus then we will go and be disciples of Jesus. I am not stepping down as pastor, but I am stepping up to what I feel is a strong call of God for our church to make a radical move. I have chosen to be obedient to God and hope this stirs your faith.
During these 7 weeks I am also going to ask you to attend many gatherings, trainings, workshops, and prayer meetings. I am also going to ask you to serve God in exciting ways that may be new to you. It will challenge and strengthen you. It will require you to step up in ways that maybe you didn’t even know were possible.
After Easter Sunday, the focus of our church will make a radical shift such that our time, energy, skills, and budget will be spent in ways that will look very different than our first two years together, but will look much more like Jesus of the Gospels. An intense focus will be placed on discipleship, relationships, and radical service to hurting people and pressing causes in our city and around the world. We have new systems and structures that will be rolled out in the days and weeks ahead.
Beginning in May, we will have one LARGE awesome service per month instead of 10-12 services. Our small groups system will be completely overhauled. Teams of 40-60 will be formed to tackle crisis issues in our city and around the world that honor God. We will place a much greater emphasis on training and discipleship on how to BE a Christian.
Currently, the overwhelming percentage of our time, energy, skills, budget, and creativity are spent preparing for Sunday morning services, getting people to our Sunday services, and getting them to volunteer for our Sunday morning services. I love what we do on Sunday morning. I love preaching and it is one of my primary gifts. I love our worship team, our breakfast, our volunteers. Our church is growing.
However, 5 things have convinced me that this extreme emphasis on Sunday morning is not the will of God for our church.
1. Our city is falling apart in painful ways that break God’s heart. Atlanta is now the nation’s hub for child sex trafficking. We have one of the highest teen incarceration rates in the nation. Our education system in Atlanta is beyond broken. In the face of these things, the church continues to preach and sing, but kids keep getting sold to perverts for sex.
If James 1:27 is true and “Authentic faith in the eyes of God is caring for widows and orphans” then I declare that our church will have authentic faith and have hands and feet that address these issues. Right now, our church, like most American churches, as Rick Warren said “Is one big mouth”.
2. As I read the Gospels and see Jesus, I am increasingly stumped how we determined sermons and songs are what makes us most like Him. I am not saying we do away with them, but we preach and sing too much and serve and love in radical ways far too little. The answer is not to add love on top of the sermons and songs, but to decrease the sermons and songs and increase the service and love to create a balance that looks like the life of Jesus.
3. This week I was able to meet with a personal hero of mine and he said something to me that was shocking. One of the best preachers in the world, he leads one of the largest churches in the country. He told me, “At this point in my life I have preached thousands of sermons and I am not even sure what they mean to God, but nothing makes me feel more alive and like I am nailing God’s will like caring for foster children. I can point my finger in the Bible and say yes – this is what God wants.”
For me, I do not want to wait another twenty years to come to this conclusion. I do not want to wait until our entire church is built around my sermons (as it is becoming) and then conclude that it may or may not be what most honors God. I’d rather go for it now.
4. Anybody that ever heard the vision of Courageous Church before we launched in January of 2009, knows that our vision was to never become a Sunday morning machine, but this is what we have become and we do it well. A real temptation exists to keep chugging along, do it like other churches do it, and try to forget the original vision of Courageous Church to take bold leaps of faith to bring about real change in peoples lives, in our city and in the world.
Most of our time is now spent thinking about the arrangement of chairs, the execution of payroll, the brightness of the lights, the printing of the announcements, the lyrics on the screens, the pitch from the mics, and in the midst of all of this – I confess that people have been hurt in the process. We created a church to love God and love people and in the busy-ness of it all – people that we cared about were neglected and forgotten. I won’t do it this way another day.
I am speaking at a youth retreat in Haiti and our church cannot really afford to send any of our teens because the machine is just so doggone expensive to maintain. Not feeling that at all.
5. I feel like this is what God wants for Courageous Church. You know me well enough to know that I never use “God told me” to win arguments or to enforce my will. I really do feel, though, that this is God’s will for us.
A pastor friend of mine that I spoke with about this shift months ago said he would fully support our shift as long as I didn’t start to blast other pastors unlike me. This decision is not an indictment on the American church – it’s just where we are going. Privately, many pastors have high fived me because they understand where this comes from and I hope that this gives other pastors permission to move in this direction if they feel God is leading them that way.
We will spell out more details and include you in this conversation as a key voice moving forward. I love you all. Pray for wisdom.