Igniting the World

People have to fuss and fume about something, don’t they? I have my days where that is true for me too so I’m not pointing fingers. After all, if you read my blog you know that I have been fussing and fuming myself over things that I cannot control. I can’t control what people think about the Ablaze Initiative in any way shape or form. And just because they choose to fuss and fume, does not mean I need to follow suit and be discouraged. Do you know what I mean?

My family and friends are heartfelt and dedicated to mission work in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Most days we plug along and do well, and some days we make the mistake of listening to the nay sayers who accuse this Initiative by LCMS as “UnGodly” and “Bad Theology.” They are arguing over words and over chinks in the planning.

We try really hard to stay out of the muck and mire of those commentaries, unfortunately that isn’t always possible. I’ll be honest, we are more discouraged by the open (and at times brutally harsh) discourse among the pastors against this movement than anything else. Listening to those comments (cheeky or otherwise) is (to us) the equivalent of a pastor having to read or listen to his congregation attacking his work as shepherd. We feel greatly discouraged by it and cannot understand the real issues behind the issue.

The trick to not being so open to discouragement, is to find the worm-holes (rings, social networks) and stay out of them. Granted some of their issues are good and some do need to be addressed. Those of us in the field, however, are too busy working to fight it out with the big dogs, so we stay out of it.

Our Mission Start is actually a daughter congregation of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior. We are financially supported though voluntary contributions of members (into a dedicated fund)and not District offices or the Synod office. “Ablaze Funds” do not reach us. That is in part because our congregation can afford most of the expenses, we just can’t afford payroll – so none of us get paid. Pastor goes back and forth between the home congregation and the mission start every weekend. We are looking at programs that would allow funding and we may receive it down the line.

Other questions that I hear in church from other boards are these:

“How do we know this whole outreach thing is even going to work?”

I hear this one a lot. We are called to go forth and make disciples. That was Christ’s commission. God will take care of the harvest. I can’t promise anyone that our “numbers in the pew” will increase greatly. Having them be baptized or confirmed and join is great, no doubt and yes that is what we want long term. What I do know today though there are enough of us who walked ourselves to church or events as kids and while we did not join the church that hosted the event? We are pastors, youth leaders (DCE’s), and vital members within our present congregations and communities. Someone sowed seeds, God grew them, and LCMS get’s the harvest of those efforts today. I think we count as well.

Speaking of counting: Synod decided to set up a counting page, a tool really, nothing more nothing less. It’s meant for encouragement and not demographics. To keep it simple they are only counting one on one experiences of sharing the Gospel with someone else. This is just a tool to help inspire people to share the Gospel. They are not counting “saved souls,” they are counting experiences. For a better explanation on the whole counting process – click HERE

“Is Ablaze theologically sound?” YES it is – Click HERE to see Synod’s explanation.

What about funding? How are the funds being disbursed?
Okay that’s a real issue. We don’t understand it ourselves. Programs that would allow for funding are still being developed and all of the churches are looking into them.

“I don’t like the word FIRE in this campaign. Fire is a bad thing in the Bible.” – If you are just looking for the word “fire” then yes, I’m in agreement that most scriptures are negative about that word. But what about the synonyms? See Foundations of Ablaze for a better explanation on this topic.

“Igniting the world with God’s Love” – is figurative language. Fire is not always bad. Christ himself said “I’d rather you were hot or cold instead of Luke Warm” God does not want a lukewarm church – he wants heat, he wants passion. He wants fire. A Holy Fire instilled in us by Him –

Those aren’t bad things.

So.. for more information on the Ablaze Movement click HERE and see.

Is it perfect? No. Are there bugs to be worked out in how all of this shakes down to the workers? yes. Is it worth it? Well, if you call having a young girl (who first started coming because of an Egg Hunt two years ago) go flying through the air and into your arms every time she sees you worth it? Then yes, I do believe it is.

Sharing the Gospel with Compassion!

The writing is on the wall and unlike what happened in the book of Daniel chapter 5, this writing is good news indeed.

The Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Tulsa, has a new mission statement. Sharing the Gospel with Compassion! I know that can sound vague at first – it does goes deeper than that. Once we find our mission statement and know our focus there is a process involved that puts a firm foundation underneath that and a place to give it wings. A process that involves knowing and following the Word of God, humility, and a lot of seeking the Holy Spirit in prayer. It took following this process to find our new mission statement.

This process also gave us new vision, new value statements, and new goals. This process helped us find one Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG,as Carol,our facilitator, called it: to build a community center that reaches out to youth (ages 2-18) and young adults. That’s our three year goal. When the three years is over – or our goal is complete, we set a new one.

Getting there was hard work. Fear kicked in. Agendas began to surface. We almost slid into – what is normal but counterproductive – the desire to create a goal so big, so hairy, so all inclusive, that it fails. Carol wouldn’t let us do that and kept us focused.

Who is Carol you ask? The woman for LCEF who facilitated our congregation while we walked/worked through the Strategic Ministry Plan, a program sponsored by Lutheran Church Extension Fund.

What prompted us to do bring in an outsider? Our church had some division, lack of focus, business meetings that last for hours on end with little truly accomplished. We are a 50 plus year old church that trying to be everything to everybody and we are tired. It’s not that we are lazy, it’s that we are working ineffectively, running in too many directions. And we were arguing over which direction was the “right” one.

A family in our church found this program, brought it to our attention last fall and we voted to do it. Not try. DO! This isn’t some outside contractor. This isn’t someone with something to sell or an agenda.

This is a Lutheran program that is based on these premises:

We seek our agenda from God the Father instead of consultants.
We trust God the Son to set the example for our actions instead of basing our decisions on other congregations.
We rely on God the Holy Spirit for our direction instead of relying on focus groups and surveys.

It is a process that is:

Designed by Lutherans for Lutherans.
Grounded in the Word of God and bound by LCMS doctrine.
A faith-based process.
About the work (calling) of the congregation.
Committed to a comprehensive plan.

For a congregation of about 500 or so, coming together in unity, service, focus and prayer isn’t as easy as it sounds. We have so many ministries, so many needs, so many opinions that we, as a church admitted if we did not get a handle on this, we would spend our days, doing good work, but working unproductively. We needed a focus. We needed help and we needed guidance. And we needed objectivity. We needed someone with ministry specific training, someone who understands the basic, and maybe not so basic, tenants of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to help us.

This is a long process. One that asks a lot of questions and requires a lot of time in prayer. It requires open hearts, open hands, and willingness to seek the face of God and listen to the Holy Spirit. We spent an entire month in prayer both privately and corporately to prepare for this weekend.

Their brochure puts it this way:

Carry out God’s
Plan and Watch Your Ministry Flourish!
Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Strategic Ministry Planning (SMP)is a faith-based process that helps you go to God with “empty hands,” asking Him to help you set aside personal agendas and to reveal His plans for your ministry. Using a process that is fully participatory and grounded in the Word, we will help members recognize, accept,and take action on God’s calling for your congregation’s

I’m proud of my church. Most of us showed up for this program. More than half of the congregation anyway which is a miracle in itself really.

We split into groups of four with one only “rule.” We were asked to sit outside of family and boards and mix it up a little. We did that. In voters meetings we tend to sit with our boards and families, but not for this.

The funnel of ideas and goals started rather large, with broad questions. She was casting a net for us to start with. Our groups agreed on one answer, of 4 or 5 words, for each question and Carol (our facilitator) put the answers on the wall. The common themes began to emerge throughout the first night; Missions, Outreach, Compassion, Love, Forgiveness, Christ. All of our small groups were saying the same thing. The Holy Spirit was at work.

Once it came time to get to the ‘nitty gritty’ as I like to call it, of creating a mission statement, values, and goals, we had to stick to the words on the walls. Carol would not put in words that we did not as a church put on the wall.

When things got hairy, and they did because we are imperfect people, we stopped and prayed as a group. When we got stuck in fear (and we did) Carol had us write down on cards what one thing are we afraid of losing if we agree to this goal. When ever fear strikes we repent as individuals and confess those fears, lay down those agendas, and turn back towards God. Pastor led us in a corporate confession and absolution and we continued. We are a confessional church after all.

What is really cool is they don’t leave us hanging after we create the goal. LCEF comes back to help us step through the second tier of this BHAG. The ministry boards of the church will come together to examine it and create the steps needed to reach it.

The center is not an exclusionary. We aren’t getting rid of things we are already doing and replacing it with the newest fad. Business of the church continues. Carol will help keep our leaders feet to the wheel and make sure we, as a congregation, stay focused.

I’m excited for the future. Knowing our church’s values, vision, and goals IS exciting.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

The Mission Start that Almost Wasn’t

I have a confession to make. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be a missionary, or be part of a church plant. I mean I just couldn’t see it. I wasn’t exactly raised in the church – mission work was for nuns, or something like that. I never would have pictured this and yet, here we are. This Easter will mark our third Easter Service as an active Mission Plant in Northern Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Ablaze Church began with a group of seven individuals busy at work, planning, praying, hoping, and answering God’s call. Then our numbers grew to eight then ten and then twelve.

To be honest, we didn’t start out wanting to be missionaries. The Christian Worship Band, Zion’s Fire does community outreach events, using contemporary Christian music to reach people with the Gospel of Christ.

(Zion’s Fire: Jeff O’Hara, Jason Hulings, Chis Taylor, Tina Funkhauser and Travis Patterson)

In late 2005 they began a Sunday evening Praise service at our home church, hoping to reach out to the local community and our youth. Several of us worked along side with the band, and with pastor – who over saw the whole thing – developing devotionals, messages, and worship. While the liturgy style was open, the doctrine remained absolute and our service reflected the confessional nature of our home church and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as a whole.

LCMS began a new program called the Ablaze Movement and challenged congregations and districts to prayfully consider planting 2,000 new churches. What a task!

Pastor approached our feable little worship team in the summer of 2006 and asked us to prayfully consider being a part of this endeavor. We were already doing a live worship opportunity for the community. God had already paved a way for the team to gain experience and knowledge, and while we felt comfortable leading worship – a Mission Start? That was huge.

Everyone promised that they would pray. We came together in prayer and in research. Pastor found a grant program (The ARC Program) that could possibly help fund this, and they found a location in Northern Broken Arrow. Our home congregation The Lutheran Church of Our Savior, voted to plant a new LCMS Mission Start in Northern Broken Arrow, in December of 2006. We now knew, this was God’s direction for all of us, and we were excited.

Five different men throughout the Tulsa area took the church planters test (a requirement for the ARC program) – Only two men scored high enough to be recommended as church planters; Pastor Dreier, and another gentleman across town.

From a single seed – two church plants began. District started a plant called Lord of Life with Jonathan using the ARC program and Our Savior started a plant with our little team. One seed – and look what it did. What an incredible gift of God.

Finding out we did not qualify for ARC support was disappointing, but we did not let it make us quit. The ARC program would be used across town, and that was a great blessing for them.

Our team turned it over to God. If this was His will, we reasoned, He could provide the funding. And provide he did. Dozen’s of people stepped forward with several thousand dollars in donations, for equipment, gear, and rent. God’s provisions overflowed.

We opened with a community egg hunt. The weather outside was bitter cold, and we didn’t know what to expect. But we prepared, the eggs were stuffed and placed, the inflatable was inflated, the messages prepared, the prizes accounted for, volunteers in place and we waited and waited some more.

At 9:45 am – with no one arriving yet – we walked into the parking lot with Pastor, and prayed. By 10:15 – this is what we saw.

The line just grew, and grew.

Over 500 hundred arrived, in spite of the bitter cold and threats of snow, for our first annual Community Egg Hunt.

About 100 of them came back that evening for our Easter Service. Three families who were present that day, stayed with us and helped plant God’s new church.

This Easter will mark the beginning of our third year walking with God in our back yard. What an awesome journey it has been.

While we celebrate God’s truths this year, I’ll be taking a look back at some of the wonder of being part of His plan. Stay tuned for more pictures, and more updates about our little mission start – and the heart of God.