Home away from home


imagesIn the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, Chapter 29, an account is given of the Lord’s plan to turn His people, the Israelites, over to the Babylonians for 70 years of captivity before rescuing them and bringing them back home to Jerusalem. It is from this passage that we get the oft-quoted verse: “‘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’” (verse 11).

Meanwhile, there are instructions as to how they are to live while in exile, and most of it comes as rather a surprise to me: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (verses 5-8).

It sounds to me as if He is telling them to make a home for themselves, while in exile. This is not their permanent home, and yet the Lord wants them to carry on as if it were. Seventy years is a long time. Many of them will not live to see God’s plan fulfilled. Don’t postpone life in the meantime. Live it the same way you would live it were you at home in Jerusalem.

I believe there are obvious lessons for us here for how we are to live in a world to which we don’t belong. Christians know that their permanent home is in heaven. God is preparing a place for us, and He promises to take us to it. Meanwhile we are in exile on this earth (for 70 years), and yet the Lord wants us to make a home here – a place we will settle, carry on our business and watch our families grow. While we are “almost home,” we make this our home away from home.

I love talking about and living for our permanent home in heaven. I like knowing that this is not it. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through/My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue/The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door/And I can’t be at home in this world any more.”

Truth be told, I don’t like being almost home, I want to be home. I have made convenient spiritual alliances with my heavenly home that in my mind excuse me from the responsibilities attached to my temporary Babylonian home. I like spiritualizing this, but in fact, that form of spirituality is a copout.

We spent the better part of a year fighting to save our “almost home.” That fight was all Marti and many of you who jumped in to help, but not as much from me. That’s because this home spells responsibility. This home represents sacrifice, duty, and facing into lots of things that have become barriers to me.

It’s interesting that the Lord told the children of Israel to build houses, not just set up tents. I would have thought tents would have been the way to go. After all, it’s only 70 years; and yet 70 years is a lifetime, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their time in captivity coincides with what the Bible allots as the average amount of time a person is allowed on this earth.

All this means I have some work to do before my 70 years is up, and I need some help. I need to get my heart into this. You guys get it. You stepped up when our home away from home was in jeopardy.

Forgive me while I try to work this out in front of you, but pray for me, and if God gives you something to pass onto me by way of encouragement, send it along.

What do you count?

count-von-count-sesame-streetI had the chance to hang out at my house today with eight incredible church planters from all over the country. We spent the day kicking around some questions they sent me a few days ago, so I thought I’d share some of their questions and my answers here on the blog. Let’s start with the counting question:

What are some measurable things we need to keep an eye on in the church that we might not currently see value in?

If I were leading a church I would count four things:

1. Attendance
It is popular today to say that attendance doesn’t matter, but it does. If you don’t have people you don’t have a church. Bigger numbers don’t mean a better church, but small numbers mean people are going away and there is a reason. So I would track attendance, I’d just resist the urge to brag about it on Twitter. (Yes that was a shot at you, you know who you are.)

2. Giving
Giving indicates growth both as a church and as an individual. If giving is increasing then there is growth happening, and if giving is shrinking something may be out of whack. Not always, but often. The two most important giving numbers are the giving per adult (I like annual giving per adult, it’s easier for me to understand), and year over year total giving. Week to week and month to month is meaningless.

3. Leadership Pipeline
Who are the leaders being developed? Every staff member should be able to name two or three people they are developing as their successors and to describe exactly what they are doing to develop those leaders. This should be a main discussion point at least one a month when you sit down with your leaders. I would have a scoreboard that lists ever major leadership position in the church and the leaders who are being apprenticed in each position.

4. Discipleship
Are you  making disciples who make disciples? That seems to be the point of doing church. If we aren’t making disciples we should sell the buildings, stop leasing the schools and go fishing. A couple of maxims here:

What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done
You have inspect what you expect

To measure discipleship you have to define what a disciple looks like and then ask the people if that is who they are becoming. To me a disciple is someone who serves the local church, prays consistently, reads the Bible daily, engages in biblical community, actively participates in community transformation and develops other disciples. I wrote about how I would use the acronym SPREAD to measure this type of disciple here.

One of the glaring omissions from my list are baptisms. I think baptism is a huge deal and essential in the life of a Christ follower. The challenge I have with using baptisms as a major measurement is that it is easily manipulated. A decent preacher with a pond and megaphone can drive up the dunking number with a well-timed “spontaneous” baptism. The more important number to me is how many people are becoming disciples who make disciples.

So how about you? What do you  measure?