Questions With Answers

town hall meeting

Last Sunday evening we had a Town Hall Meeting for student and kidmin. Ministry leaders from LCBC along with our team were here to get to know one another and to answer questions. Unfortunately not all the questions could be answered in the time we had available so I asked Brad and Ang to compile all the questions and answer them. This document will also be available for the next few weekends in the foyer. Please make plans to get on one of the bus trips! We also have two more town hall meetings planned. One will be focused on adult ministries and one on worship and arts. If you have any questions about either of those two areas please come and ask them!

Frequently Asked Questions about KidMin and Student Ministries

With the elders at both ebc and LCBC recommending an adoption of our church into the LCBC family, people have dozens of questions and we want to do our best to inform you of the exciting possibilities ahead. Here, KidMin Director Angela Oliver and I are providing answers to questions asked at the Student Min/KidMin Town Hall meeting January 24. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask any of the staff. Healthy dialogue is a great thing and we would love to provide as much information as we can.

- Brad Travelpiece, ebc Director of Student Ministries

KidMin Questions

How does LCBC’s kidMinistry work?
LCBC’s kidMinistry experience, kidVenture Island, is designed for children ages six weeks through 4th grade to have fun, feel safe, learn about Jesus, and connect with peers and leaders. Beginning at age two, kids participate in Large Group Gatherings where they sing, dance, and listen to age appropriate Bible lessons. The huge win is that they then connect in small kidLife Groups with other boys or girls their age and caring leaders so they can apply the Bible Story to their everyday life. LCBC believes that every child needs a place to belong and someone who believes in them, and Life Groups are the best way to provide this.

Why aren’t 5th graders in kidMinistry?
LCBC believes the best way to meet the needs and interests of 5th graders is to include them with other preteens in Student Ministries. Fifth graders would be a part of the Middle School environment JCrew (fifth through eighth grade), which we hope to offer during each of our three weekend gatherings. Through dynamic teaching and Life Groups, we can create a place that is hugely beneficial for both 5th graders and 8th graders.

I have heard that LCBC’s kidMinistry only teaches about salvation a few times a year. Is this true? 

This is a misconception that we looked into thoroughly. Their leaders explained that LCBC makes it a priority to teach kids every week about knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him. In addition to that, in order to better prepare parents to disciple their kids, LCBC holds “Salvation Weekends”. Multiple times a year, parents are encouraged to attend with their child as the Salvation message is emphasized as the central point of the lesson, with additional resources distributed to parents of children who decided to make Jesus their forever friend. So their kidMinistry is always encouraging kids to come to know Jesus, and multiple times a year that becomes the entire focus of the gathering.

How can Kindergarteners through 4th graders all learn from the same lesson?
In kidVenture Island, Kindergarteners through 4th graders share the same Large Group time, which includes worship, activities, and the Bible Story. LCBC is very intentional about crafting that lesson to be simple enough for a Kindergartener but engaging enough for a 4th grader. It is within their kidLife Groups where questions and activities are tailored to their appropriate age, and the concept of the lesson gets applied to the context of their lives. These groups, broken up by grade and gender, are where the most growth happens.

What if children/students don’t always attend the same gathering each weekend?

While LCBC encourages families to make it a priority to get your child to the same gathering each weekend so that they can build relationship with the same Life Group leader week after week, your kids will not have a problem feeling accepted and growing in another group if you attend another gathering.

Do kids and students have opportunities to serve at LCBC?
Absolutely, as early as Kindergarten, kids are encouraged to use their gifts to serve others. Whether as a part of the kidWorship team, a helper in Oyster Bay (LCBC’s environment for 2-year-olds), or a technology operator, there are plenty of ways for them to put their faith in action and make a difference.

What will happen to events such as Kidz JAM and VBS?
LCBC is intentional about investing resources, time, and energy into making the weekend gatherings great first and foremost. The kidMinistry leaders, however, have told Ang they love how the Kidz JAM program makes inroads into the community and are interested in evaluating if that is something LCBC could adopt. VBS is not necessarily off the table either, but LCBC looks to give kids the same high-energy experience they love at VBS every weekend rather than once a year.

We’ve been told that ebc has the best KidMin, and at the Town Hall meeting, David Ashcraft said he believes that LCBC has the best KidMin in the country. Which is it?

Scott has certainly painted our KidMin with a broad brush as the best in the world, and our KidMin has been one of the stronger ministries of our church for the last several years. However, partnered with LCBC, we would have an opportunity to adopt a program that is even more effective in reaching a larger number of families over a wider area and helping each child come to know Jesus better. LCBC has learned from leading churches across the country, and they have developed a program that is not only effective, but also sustainable. Ang would be part of a team that could support her and provide resources for her as she in turn equips leaders to mentor and care for kids week after week.

Student Min Questions

How does LCBC approach Student Ministry?
The Student Ministries of LCBC is focused on creating fully devoted followers of Christ. Everything they do is designed to help students feel welcome and accepted exactly as they are while being challenged by Jesus to live differently. This happens in fun, dynamic, high-energy experiences which include games, relevant teaching, and Life Group discussions with peers and a supportive leader. The Life Group leaders are the heroes of the ministry, as students open up and learn from them what it means to follow Jesus in their day-to-day lives.

Why doesn’t LCBC offer any experiences specifically for High School students during weekend gatherings? 

Studies show 73 to 78 percent of students across the country involved in a youth group leave their faith after graduation. In order to change this trend, LCBC removed their weekend high school gatherings so students would merge into the larger church community. High school students get in the main gatherings, are encouraged to serve, and connect with peers at Circl3, their mid-week experience. This helps students connect to the church as a whole, not just the youth group, which they will leave behind someday. After making this change, LCBC found that they had reversed the statistic – 80 percent of their students were engaging their faith after graduation rather than ditching it.

What night of the week would High School meet?
All of the current LCBC campuses host Circl3 on Wednesday nights from 7:30-9:00 pm (doors open at 7:00). This is late enough for most people involved in sports practices to still join us and even bring teammates. And while no night of the week will work for everyone, they have found Wednesday to be a great chance to reconnect with students in the middle of the week. We would also evaluate whether that night is best for our group.

What would happen to Middle School FUSE?
LCBC has a strong desire to do a few things very well rather than doing many things at a lesser quality. So rather than holding two unique Middle School gatherings and having some students go to one and some to another, leaders focus their attention on only the weekend gathering, JCrew, so they can make it as great as they can and encourage all of their 5th through 8th graders to join them there. I hope to have a JCrew gathering at each of our weekend gatherings, and I believe that any student who has enjoyed FUSE would love JCrew.

How would the teaching be handled for Student Ministries?

A large part of the teaching provided in our gatherings would be done via video, created by a team of Student Ministries leaders across the campuses so that the best age-appropriate material is presented. During the times when I would be teaching live, the main points and direction of the lesson are provided to me, while I have freedom to add stories and my own spin on things to make it my own. With less time required to prepare for teaching, I am free to invest more time in the students and leaders here in Berwick.

Would our students have opportunities to attend Impact or other retreats and events?

The LCBC team creates retreats for students every year. They have Fall Retreat for High Schoolers, Avalanche for 7th and 8th graders, and Blizzard for 5th and 6th graders, with one weekend of Blizzard being for boys, another weekend for girls. In the past they have not attended events such as Impact, but High School Pastor John Wilkinson said they are not closed off to new ideas in this regard.

Does LCBC offer missions trips for their students?
There are anywhere between 15 and 20 Summer Serving Experiences available each year for high schoolers, all broken into four different tiers to help ensure students are prepared for whatever trip they go on. The deadline for registration has passed for 2015 trips, but our students and leaders could join trips starting in the summer of 2016.

General Questions

Isn’t it true that we’re already a successful church? Why are we considering giving that up?

Yes, God has been tremendously gracious to ebc, and on our own we can continue to do well, but we believe together we can do better, especially in reaching more of the region. Our attempts at making sites have been less successful than we had hoped, but with LCBC’s resources and expertise we could plant vibrant church sites throughout this area.

Why would our name be LCBC Columbia Montour?

LCBC typically names their sites after the area where their site is located, and we want to make a statement with our name that we are trying to reach this whole area, not just Berwick.

When would the fourth gathering be added?

We don’t have a concrete answer for this yet, however, one strong possibility is launching a second Saturday night gathering this fall so that we can make Saturday a more viable option. This also makes it easier for volunteers to “sit one, serve one,” meaning they could attend one gathering that night, and serve during the other gathering.

What does it take to be a Life Group Leader with kidMinistries or Student Ministries?
First, you’ve got to love Jesus! There is an application process to ensure that we are putting the best people with our kids and students. In kidMinistries, even older kids can help lead groups of younger kids when paired with an adult. Anyone in 11th grade or older could qualify as a JCrew leader, and anyone 23 or older can lead in Circl3.

What happens to our elders if ebc is adopted by LCBC?

While there would eventually be an opportunity to become a part of the LCBC elder board through their normal process, our elders would, for the forseeable future, step into other serving roles within the church as we all join together in our mission to reach lost souls for Christ. The LCBC elder board has eight members, each serving a four-year term, but it is not a representative board so none of our elders would automatically have a seat as an LCBC elder.

What happens to our staff if ebc is adopted by LCBC?

All of our staff members have been offered and accepted positions with LCBC. While some roles would change, the possibilities ahead are exciting. While some roles would change, we are excited about the possibilities of what God could do through our family for His Glory in the years ahead.


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The Land Between

the land betweenThis is a weird season for ebc. We are in an uncomfortable land between our past and our future. God has been gloriously gracious to ebc in granting us the privilege of producing fruit for his glory. His blessing has landed us at a place where we are trying to determine our next steps so we can continue to produce fruit for his glory.

This land between will last through February 22 at which point our ebc family will vote to affirm, or not affirm, the direction our elders have recommended, which is to merge together with LCBC to become a regional church reaching people throughout our region.
I’ve been in a land between before, you probably have too. It’s a time of waiting and thinking, seeking and questioning, praying and pondering. It can be a time full of anxiety because the future is uncertain. It can be a time of sadness because the past, as great as it may have been, is over.
It we let it, the land between can bring out the worst in us. It can make us fearful and suspicious, it can cause us to retreat to a place of comfort and safety.
Regardless of the outcome of the affirmation vote our job as a family for the next few weeks is to navigate the land between in a way that displays God’s beauty.
So how do we do that? There are a couple of things that I think are important just now for us as a family.
First, own your junk. We’re different from each other. We each have a different personal style, we have varying paces at which we’re comfortable moving, we have different appetites for varying levels of information. For example, I tend to move faster than most people are comfortable moving. That’s my problem. I have to own that. I can’t expect the speed of the family to match my speed. So it’s important for me to let other leaders have lots of influence over the speed at which we move. My need for speed is part of my junk and I have to own my junk. The assumptions I make about people and processes are part of my junk. What I assume about other people or organizations says more about me than it does about them. I have to own that. In Psalm 139:23 David gives us an example of what this looks like. He asks God to search him and know his heart and to reveal any hurtful way in him. That’s David owning his junk and you and I need to do the same thing. What is your junk?
Second, assume positive intent. Extending the grace to others that God extends to us means that I’m going to enter a dialog assuming that the person I’m communicating with means well, that they’re trying to do the right thing. Assuming positive intent opens dialog, assuming negative intent closes dialog. Assuming positive intent helps me to hear things that I may not be noticing. When I don’t assume positive intent I get defensive and when I’m defensive I don’t hear what people are saying to me, I only think about how I can protect myself from them. This doesn’t mean that we ignore those times when someone may obviously mean us harm, but it does mean that our first reaction is to assume positive rather than negative. In my own life this has been transformative.
Last, double check your information. There are so many opportunities for all of us to make sure we really understand the opportunity that is before us. Get good information. Have a conversation with a staff member, attend the town hall meetings, go on one of the bus trips to LCBC. Ask every question you have and get good information.
This is a defining time in the life of our church family. The result is not the only thing that matters. We have an opportunity to glorify God not only what we do, but how we do it. So join me in owning your own junk, assuming positive intent and double checking your information. This is an important time in the life our family, let’s do all we can to do it well.
Thanks for the honor of being your pastor.
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Are Big Churches as Effective as Small Churches?

Since we as a family are considering joining together with a large church it seems wise to me to respond to some of the questions I’ve been getting about large churches. People generally have very personal opinions about things like church size and church style and those opinions are generally rooted in some very personal experiences. There is nothing wrong with that until we expect others to share our opinion or until we want our opinion to be more than just our opinion. One of the things that I commonly hear is that large churches have a factory mentality that is impersonal and fails to grow people in their faith. but is that perception actually true? Here is some research which was completed by Rodney Stark of Baylor University where he compared responses from those who attend churches with attendance under 100 with those who attend churches with attendance over 1000. Take a look, I think you’ll agree that the perception that larger churches are a mile wide and an inch deep is not accurate:
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An Important Note From Scott

important noteThis is a big week for ebc, one of the biggest so far actually. Last week, as you’ll remember, we shared some of the mountains we’re trusting God to help us climb this year.
We want to baptize 75 new believers.
We want to upgrade our facility to enable us to continue reaching people.
We want to establish the foundation to enable us to become a more regionally effective church through launching campuses in under served areas.
You can hear the whole talk here.
Moving forward is always a two-edged sword because it requires change and change is messy. Our ebc family is not new to change. In fact, we’re seasoned pros. But navigating change in a successful way that honors God takes a couple things. So, I’m asking all of us, starting with me, to employ a couple strategies to work together to preserve our family vitality as we move forward together.
First, seek to understand before you develop your perspective. Change always has two key components. One is the rational and data that is driving the change, and the second is our emotional response to the change. Both are valid and they’re almost always in competition with one another. This weekend we’ll be launching a whole host of ways you’ll be able to get all the information you would ever want to help you form a solid opinion. Please participate in those opportunities.
Second, separate your emotions from your judgment. Have you ever noticed how two totally reasonable people at an AYSO match can see exactly the same thing and have diametrically opposed perspectives of what actually happened? The reason for that is because emotions cloud our perception and judgment. Emotional judgments are rarely good judgments. However, emotions are important, and they should not be ignored. It’s important to identify what you’re feeling and even why you’re feeling it. We will all have some things to mourn as we walk through moving forward. That is nothing new to ebc and this iteration of progress will be no different. We will also have things about which we’ll be very excited and there will be a great deal to celebrate.
Third, as we’ve been doing together for years, separate your personal preferences from what is best for the mission of Jesus at ebc. One of the flaws I find in myself is that I tend to assume that what I’d love to experience personally is also best for the mission at large. You might do the same thing. The problem is obvious, the mission is not here for me, I’m here for it. And, if you’re already in Christ, so are you. Wanna grow deep in your faith? Jump into the mission with both feet, you’ll grow faster than riding the Phoenix at Knoebles.
I love reading Joshua’s story in the Hebrew Bible. God had made some rock solid promises to his people, but he was maturing them through some tough stuff before they realized the payoff of the promises. The leadership mantle had been passed from Moses to Joshua and God was ready to provide the promised payoff.
Here is how The Message translates part of Joshua Chapter one: In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” 
There are basically two takeaways in my mind. One is obvious, the other not so much.
The obvious one is that Joshua is commanded to be faithful to every part of God’s Word to them, all the time. The emphasis is not on knowing the Word, but on carrying it out (Which, obviously, requires that you know it, but not just know it.). So, for you and I, we need to live the Scriptures, all the time. Okay, got it.
The second, and perhaps less obvious, is that even though God has made iron clad promises and he’s going to keep them, Joshua, and the whole nation, still have to be strong and courageous. Even though the outcome is promised, how it happens and who participates is not (Moses was already disqualified). “Strength! Courage! Give it everything you have…!”
Our next chapter together as a family is going to require both takeaways, absolute, unshakeable, faithfulness to God’s word in our practice, and strength and courage, giving it everything we have.  I’m ready, and I hope you are too. Our best days are yet ahead, God says so.
I love you. Thanks for the honor of being your pastor.
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New Year Thoughts From Pastor Scott

happy new yearHappy New Year.

It’s early on New Years Day as I tap away on my laptop and my mind is flooded with gratitude. I’m thankful for a lake of new mercy that greets me every morning. Because of that mercy I never get what I deserve. I’m thankful for the river of grace in which I spend every day swimming. Because of that grace I enjoy mountains of pleasures that I don’t deserve. Pleasures like the love of a bride whom I adore that has stuck with me for 30 years. Pleasures like the joy of having three launched sons (and a new soon to be daughter-in-law!) who love Jesus and are making their own lives. Pleasures like having the job of my dreams as I lead people I love to reach the Susquehanna Valley and beyond with new life in Jesus. Because of that mercy and grace my heart is filled with hope as we launch 2015. I can’t wait to tackle the challenges and opportunities of this year with you. There is so much to do!
As we begin this new year together I want the first thing I say to you to be THANK YOU! You did it again. Our Big Big Day opportunity for generosity was successful. We have more than we need to do what we were hoping to do. We will be sending $26K to our friends working to reach their people through an underground church. We are working with the Oppels to get them to Papua New Guinea. Our staff has been blessed and there are still funds remaining to invest in updating our facility. I don’t have the final figure yet, but you were generous yet again. Thank you!
I also want the second thing I say to you to be THANK YOU. Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor. I love our church, our mission and you. I’ve learned so much more from you than you’ve learned from me. Our church family is a trophy of God’s grace. 2015 is bringing with it unprecedented opportunities to pull together for this cause for which Jesus died.
Enjoy this holiday, then lets strap on our work boots and get to work.
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You Did It Again!

generous-logoYou did it again. Once again as part of our annual Christmas generosity you’ve been such a blessing to so many, and we’re only getting started! This year, once again you responded to the opportunity to take tags from the Giving Tree, purchase gifts for those who would not be able to do so on their own, wrap em, and get em delivered. And, once again you’ve made an incredible impact.

We don ‘t have exact totals because this is a hard thing to keep track of but we know that you supplied gifts for 36 families! You also purchased gifts for 46 residents of the Berwick Nursing Home who get little or no visitors. You put together 60 bags of food and supplies for those using the free medical clinic and we’re just getting started!
This weekend is our Big Big Day and Big Big Day is actually Big Big Opportunity. It’s an opportunity to keep one eye on eternity as we navigate the holidays by intentionally being generous. Once again this year we’re partnering with the Eriti people from an underground church in China to translate the Scriptures for their people. As God provides $26,000 will go there. We’re partnering with our very own Pat and Kerry Oppel to help them get to Papua New Guinea, we’re going to bless our staff and begin our expansion fund. It’s a huge opportunity for us and I can’t wait to see what God does.
This is not only a big weekend for ebc, its a big weekend for you and me. It’s our opportunity to put our values ahead of our consumption and make a statement that will pay dividends for all of eternity.
Also, we’re finishing our mini-series Fear Not this weekend. I can’t wait to dive into that with you. This weekend is a great weekend to bring a friend. See you then! Thanks for honor of being your pastor.
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This is Option One

Goals-StrategiesWe are a blessed family, a trophy of God’s grace. God has allowed ebc to become one of the fastest growing churches in America. This year we’ve baptized almost 60 new followers of Jesus and that’s more last year but hopefully less than next year. However, growth is a two-edged sword. The reason we exist is to help people meet God for life, and that is happening. The more the better. However, behind the scenes its a different story. Our building, while certainly the best in our area, is stressed beyond capacity serving three times the number of people it was designed for on a weekly basis. Our staff and processes are overwhelmed as we are still using processes that were set up when we were a church of 600 – 700 people.

For those reasons, and our desire to reach the whole Columbia, Montour area we are working through some options to re-tool to accommodate people on a journey to new life in Christ.
There are basically two viable options in consideration. One is to reorganize on our own and the other is to merge with a like-minded church to share resources and continue the journey. The merging option has gotten the vast majority of public attention, but we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking through the goals that processes necessary to move forward on our own. Here is a list of the strategic goals that would be a part of that process. Each one of these goals would be accompanied by a series of steps as well as funding to accomplish the goal.

Become a regional church by moving to a location more convenient for Berwick, Bloomsburg and Danville to attend. (Probable location between west Berwick and Central Road area.)
Invest $350 – $500K in current building (new Kidz Zone, Student Ministry, Stage A/V) immediately to insure continued growth while in transition.
Find new Kidz Zone curriculum that is sustainable to reach 250 kids.
Add fourth and potentially fifth worship gathering.
Establish preaching team of at least two and potentially three people. (Scott to preach 35 – 40 times per year.)
Engage 60% of regular attendees in meaningful service.
Transition Sr. High student ministry to week night event to free students for service on weekends.
Engage 60% of regular attendees in life groups.
Offer FPU at least twice per year.
Establish new Foundations class to follow Essentials
Establish leadership teams for Kidz Zone and Student Ministries
Redesign Koinonia focus
Provide funds and volunteers to three vital local organizations.
Adopt a community internationally.
Establish invite plan with deep invite culture.
Raise necessary funds ($2.5 – $4 Mil) for new building at location between west Berwick and Lightstreet
Liquidate current facility
Reorganize staff to achieve strategic plan
Hire hybrid IT/AV/Graphics/Social Media person
Hire assistant for Pam
Develop job descriptions for each staff member
Develop HR policies
Fund benefit packages for staff
One thing is true, regardless of which option we choose, the best days for the ebc family are yet ahead. Our task becomes to choose the option that would accomplish the most fruit for God’s glory with the most efficient use of resources available to us. It’s not an easy or a cut and dried decision!
Please continue to pray and participate! Talk to me or an elder, share your perspective, it matters!
Thanks for honor of being your pastor.
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Intentionally Protecting Margin

marginmarginA whole bunch of life is about learning to skillfully balance tensions. When to speak and when to listen, investing and saving, trust and discernment. I’m learning that maturity is really about how I balance the various tensions present in my life. Leading a church is the same way. We balance tensions between reaching more people and helping those already reached grow deeper, between planning and spontaneity, between purchasing high quality equipment and stretching limited resources, on and on the balancing act goes.

There is one area in particular though where the balancing act is particularly difficult. In our culture its so hard to balance the tension between moving forward and taking time to rest and refresh. The Bible threads a needle in this area. Paul talks about pouring his life out as a drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6), and Jesus modeled and taught regular times of separation from activity for rest (Mark 6:30-32). God built a full day of rest into creation and even chose to rest himself.
The problem is that most of us just don’t disconnect and rest, especially at this time of the year. Especially at ebc, we move hard and fast through November and December and then January through Easter is the busiest time of the year for us. We ask more of our volunteers and staff and “pour ourselves out” for the mission that has been entrusted to our care. And, all of that is great. But, what we don’t do is balance the tension very well between going hard after the mission and “coming away and resting.” We tend to miss out on unhurried time to enjoy being together.
So this year again we are choosing to provide intentional time for families on the last Sunday of the year to simply enjoy time together. We are providing resources for families and small groups to use while they enjoy the gift of unhurried time together. Watch your program and the website for those resources.
My hope for us again this year is that we’ll value not only hard work and passionate pursuit of the mission entrusted to our care, but that we’ll spend some time enjoying each other and reflecting on God’s faithfulness to us as we draw 2014 to a close and anticipate all that He will do through us in 2015.
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Ferguson is A Mess; And So Are We

My heart is hurting as I watch the events unfold in Ferguson. Since I have a son who is a police officer I tend to have an unfairly visceral reaction to stories about the police. I hear about these kinds of things from his perspective and, well, he’s my son.

However, Voddie Boucham, is a great thinker, leader and pastor that I trust. He’s also an African American male who has suffered injustice seemingly because of his race. So, I was particularly interested when he blogged about his thoughts of what’s happening in Ferguson. I’m giving my blog space to him this week and I encourage you to read carefully. This is good stuff…

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?

I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.

Who Am I to Speak?

My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

The Plight of Black Men

Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.

There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?

In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.

The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.

Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as manyillegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.

But What About Racism?

I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”

Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.

It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.

I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!

As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)

In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.

My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.

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The Tyranny of Personal Pronouns

myI’ve been on one of those personal and spiritual growth spurts the last few months. You know how that is. You can go for a period of time seemingly stagnant and then growth comes again. One of the main things driving this growth is the conversations we’ve been having about our future as a church. Regardless of which option is chosen moving forward I’ve had to address the tyranny of personal pronouns in my life. More accurately personal possessive pronouns. Let me explain.

I love what I do. I love ebc. I love being the Lead Pastor of ebc. I love preaching. I love leading. I love shepherding. I’m living my dream. As we’ve spent the last year or so actively looking toward the future I realized that my inappropriate use of personal possessive pronouns was severely limiting my vision for what might be best for ebc. In every scenario of ebc’s future, as I would work it out in my mind, my role continued largely unchanged doing what I love to do. I found one little word moving through my mind again and again. That dangerous word is the word my. This was my ministry, my dream, my church, my preaching, my leadership, over and over again, my, my, my. The problem is, it’s not mine. The gifts I have to preach aren’t mine. The position I occupy isn’t mine. The church I lead isn’t mine. The people I love aren’t mine.
I began to understand in a much deeper way that I have a role caring for the bride of Christ. It’s his bride, not mine. I began to think of it in terms of my bride, Bren. I expect that other men will treat Bren in a certain way because she’s my bride. When I’m not with her for a time it remains true that she is married to me and therefore is deserving of a certain kind of treatment from others. The same thing is true with the church. The church belongs to Jesus. He’s coming back for her. It’s inappropriate for me to think of ebc as my church. It isn’t. He has asked me to lead her and care for her and keep her on mission until he comes again.
As I began to see the possibilities for ebc beyond preserving my own limited role I became excited at the possibilities for God’s glory.
My guess is you struggle with the tyranny of the personal pronouns too. We all tend to assume ownership where it doesn’t really exist. On the other side of false ownership lies a freedom that comes from resting in the sovereignty of God and his ultimate care for his bride.  When we make decisions that result in greater glory for God, the net result for us is joy. I’m crazy about joy. I love joy. My guess is you do to. So, when you find that destructive little word my floating through your thought process you might want to back up and check it. On the other side of removing it you might find more joy.
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