3 reasons I broke up with Facebook

article-2337555-1a339cda000005dc-670_634x403

I joined Facebook in 2008 and immediately enjoyed re-connecting with friends I’d lost track of over the years. Had to learn some etiquette and boundaries from my teenagers, but it quickly become a valuable connecting tool for me in ministry and personal life. Almost everyone I know is on FB.

So why did I break up with Facebook recently? Three reasons.

1. This election. Elizabeth and I studied Spanish in Costa Rica for eight months in 2016. Cramming a new language into a ‘mature’ brain meant I was toast mentally by about 5pm. FB was a way to relax and connect back in the US.

Until we all (myself included) started getting testy, rude and/or disagreeable, saying things we would not say if the person(s) were in the room. Over politics.

Tobias Rose-Stockwell’s post How We Broke Democracy is worth a read. It makes a case against (me) using FB. He says the way we use our technology, particularly Facebook, ‘has changed this election and is now undermining our ability to empathize.’  The powerful FB algorithm has created what my friend Danny Slavich calls our own ‘personally curated social media echo chambers’ where I had actually cut myself off from people while reinforcing my own sinful opinions and pride.

2. Neighboring 101. We chose to live in a part of Atlanta where we are a minority because we wanted to be part of the solution to racism. But I lost my way along the virtual trail. I forgot who my neighbors are and that God’s great command says clearly…

Love the Lord your God… and your neighbors as yourself.

Which leads to some hard questions!

  • Can I really love God without loving neighbors as myself?
  • Am I loving myself as God loves if I’m not loving my neighbors?
  • Are FB friends or people in my physical community my neighbors?
  • Do neighbors tweet, post or talk? Which is more helpful and kind?
  • What if I treated my neighbors like people are treated on FB? ummm

The most basic teachings of the Christian faith have so much to say to our current situation. Scripture says far more about loving actual neighbors than it does about political involvement.

3. Need more joy in life. This rarely-quoted verse in the Bible startled me when Pastor Héctor read it last Sunday.  “…I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink (keyboard and screen?). Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our j o y may be c o m p l e t e.‘ (2 John 13).

My mother taught me that ‘joy is being glad to be with someone’ and if there is anything I need or want more of now, it is joy in the midst of division, sadness and anger. I need to be together, talking face-to-face MORE not less.

So, see you later Facebook. It was nice for a while.

 

(Note: I’m not closing my account. Yet. Nor am I advocating that you close your account. Rather, I’m using it like email or snail mail for messages. And I’m keeping up with this blog and Twitter. FB has a redemptive purpose in that I can communicate with many people who are indeed real-life friends and family. For that I am grateful.)

Advertisements

Boring? or Life Changing?

Jesus said, ‘If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’

What a promise from Jesus? How does it work?

When I was 15, we had just moved to Norcross (outside of Atlanta) and my parents and friends from church encouraged me to memorize Bible verses topic by topic. I had a pretty boring summer job so it gave me something to do mentally while I picked up trash, cleaned carpets and scrubbed the pool at an apartment complex.

I don’t remember how many of those verses I memorized.

But lately I’ve been reviewing. And it’s amazing how many of them are still in my mind. And in my heart and life. I have had a pretty clear picture of who God is, how to live by faith in Christ, how to fight against temptation and live in Christ while in this world. I’m far from some super-Christian but I think I’m doing well.

It has something to do with God’s Word being in me, I think. Let me recommend to you the Navigators’ Topical Memory System. Or any system that will get God’s Word to abide in you.

51qpaj7khil-_sx349_bo1204203200_

Going back to Jesus’ words I started with: I have not gotten every single thing that I have wished for – because often my wishes were flat out wrong and I didn’t know it – but I’ve grown to understand and celebrate what Jesus has done for me.

And I’m learning to ask for things that line up with His will. Like that you would memorize Scripture.

It might sound boring. But if you feel that, you’re wrong. It’s life changing.

Can’t Not Go to Language School!

Elizabeth and I are going to language school! Why?

Planning for January through August 2016. You may have heard hints but I’ve been waiting to write about details. Here is a four-part general overview and a request for prayer about supporting us with a special one-time support gift and/or helping us raise funds.

1. The opportunity in Cuba gets bigger. Aren’t you too old for this? Maybe! Ha! But Cuba is Too Big not to go learn more better Spanish. Elizabeth needs to learn too. In Latin America, people need to know me with my wife. And we may travel more. A lot more. She’s prepared to make the sacrifice.

Cuban house church leaders are asking for us to help them! In a country with so many hardships, poverty and struggle, Cuban church leaders want coaching training? Yes. It’s helping them apply the gospel to the challenges in their lives and helping them multiply the gospel to their families, neighbors and cities. They travel far and at great expense to learn. Twenty people in this one group paid more than the average Cuban monthly salary to get to our training.

Screenshot 2015-08-27 11.04.22

Leadership of the Cuban training organization CENCAP came here from Havana to Atlanta to ask for a longer commitment from us. They now have asked us to make a 3-5 year commitment to train, certify and multiply Cuban trainers so the 40,000 leaders currently in training can all have a coach! They want us to implement coaching in all churches, house churches, their seminary and arts ministry!

Why?

The coaching training you sent me to lead is already making a vast impact! And they want more! The CENCAP leaders said coaching may be the most vital aspect of their training in the gospel. Wow. We really need to improve our language skills!

2. So language school here we come, Lord willing! This opportunity requires that we raise extra funds by October 30. Would you ask Jesus about making an extra one-time gift to get us through language school and on to train Cuban leaders?

Screenshot 2015-08-26 14.08.55

40,000 house churches like this one in a barrio of Havana could reach hundreds of thousands more Cubans in the next few years.

Pastor Magdiel (top left corner) and his wife (Arlenis in purple shirt) and kids (clowning in front) lead four different house churches. He and other house church leaders in Cuba need a Cuban gospel coach that will help them thrive under the stresses of poverty, injustice, spiritual attack on the front lines of the battlefield.

So, will you please pray about helping us gain the language skills we need to train Cuban leaders to train Cuban gospel coaches?

Another way you could help would be to ask Jesus also if you ought to help us raise support among your family and friends by sending emails or messages on our behalf. Who do you know that might help? Sign up on the webpage to ‘help raise funds’ on the support page. Or simply forward this email with a paragraph or two of your own. Every bit helps!

Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

1.We will return to Atlanta. It’s our home base. The eight-month move is temporary. While we’re gone, Erica and Austin, daughter and son-in-law will move into the house.
2. After language learning, we’ll take extensive visits to Cuba but not move. That’s an unnecessary challenge. Once trained, Cuban leaders will provide much better training at a fraction of the cost of a non-Cuban.
3. Elysia will join us after her 2nd semester at UGA and take classes for her Spanish minor at the nearby university through a UGA cooperative program.
4. I’ll still work and coach church planters while in school. The internet makes it easy.
5. Elizabeth will study full-time. She’s started working on Spanish basics.
6. We are applying to the Spanish Language Institute where I took an intensive course in 2013. It’s in downtown San Jose Costa Rica. And yes, you can visit!
7. And the answer to most common FAQ? No, language school in Costa Rica is not a vacation. Haha!

3. Ask for practical help and support. Extra expenses for language school include travel, tuition, extra tutoring, room and board, extra insurance, books and all that goes into re-locating for eight months.

So would you pray and ask Jesus if he wants you to be part of the team who will support us through language school?

If yes, click here to make a donation.

And/or click here to help raise funds in your circle of friends? Click on the last sentence if you want to learn more. Or email me and I can explain help

2015-06-09 21.53.50 copy

Costs should be about $27,000. We have $10,500 of that pledged already (as of October 11, $14,100). This is a new thing for CMM so in order to get clearance to go in January 2016, we need to demonstrate to our board of directors that we have the support base to take this risk by October 30.

CMM has made it easier to give online with a new system that takes debit or credit cards through end of October. Paper checks are great too.

Please send any checks to this address:

CMM – Language School
PO Box 3284
Alpharetta GA 30023-3284

4.This is WAY beyond us! We need your prayers and financial support more now than ever! We are nervous. I am nervous about more work in Cuba, learning Spanish better (can I do it?), raising more support and even using new online giving and asking you to help raise funds on top of already supporting us without calling everyone! Pray for us, we’re nervous about what you’ll think and if we’ll be able to raise the money in time! I’m not in control and don’t know if any of it is going to work! This is beyond my typical risk-taking, make-it-happen comfort level!

We have to trust Jesus in a big way! Wow do we need your prayers!!

Honored and overwhelmed by your support for God’s call,
Jim and Elizabeth

Married 28 years today

Newlyweds at Westminster Presbyterian, Atlanta on June 27, 1987

My bride Elizabeth and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary today.

I am deeply grateful for her. She is my best friend, a most excellent mother to our children and a godly woman who points me and many to Jesus through her music, teaching, serving and example.

Much has changed in this short time and will continue to change. Children, weddings, gospel maturity, pain, poverty, wealth, homes, churches planted, new vocations, languages, technologies and new friends. Amazing how the events of these last two weeks underscore how the world changes quickly and slowly at the same time. But one thing has only increased.

I want her more than ever before.

Being married to Elizabeth is an increasingly beautiful foreshadowing of The Wedding of Eternity for which Christ is preparing His Bride (Revelation 19:6-9). Truth and Grace prepare the Bride of Christ for Final Judgment that ushers in the New Heavens and the New Earth where His people are WITH Him. This is the greatest good. We live in such gratitude that He would chose us for each other and for Himself. It is so good it is hard to imagine. That He would grant us a joy for which we were made, redeemed and celebrate daily? It is a Joy that we could never earn. Intimacy and love that proves His worth and glory. Being married to you Elizabeth as followers of Jesus is an honor. Anticipating eternity.

Happy Anniversary my love. Living with you is like heaven on earth.

The Very Personal Life of a Church Planter: Personal Money

The Very Personal Financial Life of a Church Planter is based on a series of short letters about money and sex that I sent to planters and visionary leaders at RENEW South Florida after I had the privilege to speak at their network meeting and spend some time with them. Love those guys.

The Two are Tied Together. One of the most common very personal concerns people have about planting a church is this: money. My money. Not so much how will the church start and survive. More, how will we survive. Good question. Important issue!

I’ve coached and advised more than one church planter who jumped in and started a church without a financial plan. All they needed were a few promises and a huge leap of faith. Some have since left the church plant. Lest you think planning solves all issues, let me say there are others who raise a lot of money but have little impact. There is no magic pill or short cuts. But God’s given us some wisdom and experience that I hope will help you thrive while you plant.

Financial issues are hard on all planters and their families. How you start a church impacts your family and what you do as a family impacts your plant. I hope this advice helps you live well in a sustainable reproducing church.

Consider your wife. As with sex and intimacy (future post), finances can be a significant but relatively hidden point of contention between planters and their wives (or if you’re not yet married, your future wife). You will face temptation to consider short-cuts or cheats that will provide the money for plans you just ‘have to have’ and gratification you think need. Like past sexual conduct, financial decisions made prior to starting a church plant or during a start-up can hinder intimacy, cut into resources for rest and limit flexibility to live and give generously. 

Consider your context and public persona. Financial decisions impact public opinion of you and your church. Whether we like it or not, most people outside the church form their initial opinion of every pastor through the lens of what they see with TV preachers, remember from past bad experiences or hear by way of gossip. The public persona of all clergy isn’t pretty. You are guilty by association until proven innocent by your faithfulness over time. So does the car you drive matter? Yes. What about your clothes? Yes. Vacations? And yes. Your values are exhibited by the spending choices you make.

One financial adviser told my wife and I, ‘Every spending decision is a spiritual decision.’ And if you recognize that it is all God’s money, then you see the point. So is that meant to scare you? To load up some guilt or manipulate? No. Well, only if it’s real guilt. And if you are guilty, then let me encourage you to repent to the Lord and humble yourself. 

Take pains to set up your family finances and church financial practices to be dependent on the Lord, above reproach, trustworthy and able to withstand scrutiny. Here are some specifics

Ask Jesus about spending. Is it too much to ask the Lord about your spending decisions? I don’t know what you should buy or not buy. I don’t know what would be wise in New York compared to Atlanta compared to a small town. But the Lord does. And you have access to Him all the time. Ask Him. Teach your family to ask Him too.

Avoid debt. It’d be wise to have a rigorous plan to pay off all consumer debt before hitting the field. There is a moral question about raising money to start a church plant that will be used to pay off your personal debts. You may need to wait to start and work longer.

If you are thinking about planting in the future, curtail student loan debt. The crisis of student loan debt may be the next systemic road block we face to getting church planters on the field. (See ‘I Owe U’ by Krstina Bell, TIME October 31, 2011) Church planting assessment centers factor in debt load when they considering readiness for planting.

If your wife will be required to work to make debt payments that will add stress to the work of planting a church. It will limit time and energy for your marriage, family and church priorities.

Budget within your family and church context. Live on a written budget. Depending on where God calls you to plant, you will likely need to alter your lifestyles. But remember He supplies all your needs (Philippians 4:19). Some planters have larger reserves and family resources than others. Be aware you can over-adjust to the expectations of your culture too.

When we moved to plant a church, we did adjust to fit in. I hate TV but we got cable. I tossed my youth pastor duds and bought different clothes. Even learned to play golf. (Not well, but I can play.) The temptation to get an upgraded car did pass through my mind, but I settled on a used Accord. It is wise to live on the humble side of your context.

Always tithe and give. Lead by example. If you don’t tithe, you lack moral authority to ask others to tithe. Key people will see how much you give. When my integrity was questioned, those people stood up for us. 

Save. You’ll need margin in your life and the flexibility to give to important projects. Can’t do that if you are scraping by month to month. Current wisdom is have three to six months expenses in reserve. 

Contributing to your retirement is important too. The church should consult standards to determine the contribution. Believe it or not, one day you will retire…

Raise your support before you move or start public worship. Experienced fund-raisers agree: people give to ‘anticipated vision.’ So your urgent need to get support in place goes away after you move to the field. Once you start public worship, it’s exponentially more difficult to raise funds. Until all support is pledged, it is your part-time job. Raise at least 80% prior to moving to the field. If you are stuck here, I’m a coach who can help you.

Who Bears Your Burdens? One temptation is to put your faith in your finances. But that won’t save you. Finances are a terrible savior, whether you have a lot or too little for your comfort. Christ Jesus has taken the full weight of all your debts on Himself on the cross and knowing everything about your finances, God the Father punished Christ in your place. Trust Him, not your financial support. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness bought for you on the cross and he will provide everything you and your family need.

In the next post, we’ll look at corporate best practices for church plants.

If you need more information about the very personal life of a church planter, seek out a gospel coach. Contact me if I can be of help.

Jesus’ Simple Strategy for Planting The Church

I’m a curious person. Constantly synthesizing everything I learn to try to make sense of the big picture so we can find ways to reach the nations. My family and church staff have accused me of having too many great ideas for everyone, including myself. 

Underneath the driven curiosity is this burning desire that we have got to tell more people about Jesus.I’m often tempted to search for new insights, programs, training secrets, methods, books or ideas so I can be a better coach to church planters. 

So Jesus shocks me in his simplicity. In the quest to see God start a movement of church planting and disciple-making in the US and other parts of the world, Jesus’ strategy is so simple. 

As a follower of Jesus, planter, gospel coach of coaches and trainer of church planters, I need to remember to focus on Jesus’ simple strategy more than curricula and program. I’ve studied Jesus strategy off and on since 1992. I know this. But I get distracted. Many of Jesus’ principles of His Master Plan (Robert Coleman’s classic) we find extremely challenging to church planters.

Jesus didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ for planting The church. His plan was this:

  • Select average men who are loyal, teachable with big hearts.
  • Take the long view of the process.
  • Be with them in their lives. A lot.
  • Patiently hand off people ministry responsibility.
  • Quickly give tasks to disciples.
  • Expect and challenge followers to bring others along.

Church planters should ask potential disciples to follow Jesus the person, not me or you or the program. Over time, (12-18 months after starting) Jesus challenged his followers to his high-cost terms for disciple-making. We can’t change them or substitute our own. Evangelism and suffering can’t be left out. There’s no ‘Plan B’ for disciple-making.

  • Depend on the Holy Spirit as we do the work of evangelism.
  • “Show-how is better than know-how” especially while disciples watch.
  • Send out disciples in pairs to practice stating the gospel simply.
  • Always celebrate sharing the gospel and debrief for teachable moments (review and apply).
  • Expect hardship and learn to fight the spiritual battle together.

Here’s one I really don’t like. Jesus’ goal wasn’t popularity, masses of numbers (or even converts). By today’s standards of starting a new church, but the time of his death, Jesus was a failure. But it was all part of his Plan A.

Jesus said to our Father that he had ‘accomplished the work You gave me to do’ (John 17:4). His work goal to that point was preparing multiplying disciple-makers. Oh, too often I thought we needed better methods. We need better men. And more of Jesus.

If you’re interested in multiplying disciple-makers and want to join us in the learning, I’d love to chat more about what we do in Church Multiplication Ministries. 

Why Church Plant? Why Start New Churches?

In Atlanta, I help lead a Church Planting Network (or CPN) that meets monthly with men who are starting new churches to encourage, train, coach and pray together. This past Tuesday, I posed this question to our church planters, ‘Why do we start new churches?’ To which I got a few snarky answers, ‘To build my kingdom.’ and ‘Because we’ll do it right.’ and ‘Because God doesn’t have spiritual grandchildren.’

After the laughter died down, we dove into the ‘spiritual grandchildren’ remark (nobody gets into heaven because of their parents or grandparents faith) which turned the corner on this basic motivation: more people need to hear about Jesus and His awesome work of salvation.

That is the reason we plant churches. So more people will hear about Jesus.

It’s our experience that unchurched people tend to visit new churches more readily than established churches. In the first two years of our church plant over 1,200 visitors attend one or more worship services and filled out a response card. And each one heard the gospel.

The USA has the third largest number of unchurched people in the world. Fact check it. So that means I live in the third largest mission field. In the world.

Justin Taylor posted this info filled blog about actual church attendance. What about where you live? What percentage of people do you think actually go to church? (I realize church attendance does not equal evangelism but they are related.)

C.S. Lewis puts the significance of evangelism in perspective for me so well:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

― The Weight of Glory

There are no ordinary people. No mere mortals. Everlasting souls are at stake. That is why we church plant.

First post

I’m a Gospel Coach for Church Planters, Pastors and Ministry Leaders asking Jesus to multiply more Gospel Coaches to reach the lost in North and South America.

We planted a transcultural, bi-lingual church in the Atlanta area and pray for God to give us opportunity to help reproduce in other churches, networks and denominations. I’m a recovering work-aholic. Without the help of a Gospel Coach and a Church Planter Network, I would have flamed out in ministry and sacrificed my family in the process.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’m learning to be Holy Spirit-dependent, Christ-centered and to live in gospel-saturated community.

My wife Elizabeth and I have three grown children and are overjoyed that they love Jesus and serve in other church planting churches despite growing up as church planters’ kids. That ought to be the new normal.