Annual Giving Commitments

In a recent letter to the Restoration City congregation, I asked everyone who calls this their church home to give a one time, year end donation before December 31st and to make an annual giving commitment for 2019.  In the letter, I explained that the year end donation is about our collective vision as a church while the annual giving commitment is about our individual discipleship to Jesus.  Understanding the role of generosity in both our collective vision and our individual discipleship is crucial for us as Christ followers.  So, I’m going to use this week and next week’s blog posts to dig deeper into each, starting with the idea of an annual giving commitment.

There’s a temptation to see something like an annual giving commitment as nothing more than a fundraising or budgeting tool that helps us operate as a church but that’s really not the case.  It’s a discipleship tool that helps each of us as Christ followers be intentional about the spiritual discipline of generosity.  In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes that each of us should, “give as he has decided in his heart.”  In other words, our giving is preceded by an internal, heart level decision.  An annual giving commitment gives us a specific opportunity to make that decision.  By making that decision now for the coming year, we become intentional stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Jesus helps us see the significance of intentional stewardship in a short section in the middle of His Sermon on The Mount.  

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Matthew 6:19-21

We need to pay really careful attention to what Jesus is saying in that last sentence: Your heart follows your dollars.  Where we invest our treasure today is where we will find our heart tomorrow.  Every dollar we spend points our hearts somewhere.  The question is whether we are intentional or accidental about that pointing.  If we want to be intentional, we need to ask ourselves three simple but crucial discipleship questions.

  1.  Do you know how your spending is shaping your heart? In my experience, the vast majority of us have only a vague sense of where our money goes every month.  We know what our rent is and our student loan payments but most everything else gets a little fuzzy, oftentimes deliberately so.  Let’s be clear, not knowing where your money is going isn’t just financial irresponsible.  It’s spiritually reckless.  If our hearts follow our dollars, we owe it to ourselves to know where our dollars are going.  So, start tracking your spending.
  2. Are you comfortable with how your spending is shaping your heart?  When I say comfortable, I mean spiritually comfortable, not financially comfortable.  Your budget is as much a spiritual document as it is a financial planning tool.  A good budget doesn’t just make sure you spend less than you make.  A good budget is an intentional plan to shape your soul.  Are you stewarding God’s resources in a way that’s enriching your soul?
  3. What changes is God leading you to make in the coming year?  Maybe it’s time to cut some things out.  Maybe it’s time to save more.  Maybe it’s time to give more.  Maybe it’s time to spend more in certain areas of life.  The key is actually having the conversation with God.  A lot of times, we want to keep God at arm’s length when making financial decisions and that should be a real warning sign to us that something is wrong.  If we’re willing to trust God with our salvation, we should be willing to trust Him with our finances.

That’s what our annual giving commitments are all about – taking control of how our spending is shaping our souls.  So, please, have a conversation with Jesus.  What is He asking you to do?  What changes do you need to make?  What is generosity going to look like for you next year?  Take some time to pray about it and when you’re done, send in your annual giving commitment, either online or with one of the cards we have available on Sunday mornings.  And when you do, know that you’ve taken an important step in your discipleship to Jesus.

Leaky Tires & Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

tired

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking one of our kids to school when I noticed one of the tires on the van was a little flat.  So, I took it to the gas station, filled it up and went on with my day.  Well, by noon the same tire was close to flat again and I knew we had a leak.  So, I brought it to another gas station, they sprayed some kind of liquid on the tire, found the leak, patched it and inflated the tire.  Problem solved, back to life.

None of that is a big deal when it comes to a tire but when we approach our relationship with Jesus the same way, it’s a very big deal.  Over the course of the week, we become aware that our lives are leaking a bit – we see flashes of anger, hints of selfishness and bursts of lust.  We know something’s off but we aren’t quite sure what, so we go to church on Sunday and I spray a little liquid on the tire of your life during the sermon and help find the leak.  “Oh, I’m angry because I’m struggling to trust that God is using His sovereign power for my good.”  Then we patch the leak with a little forgiveness, some fresh inspiration and a whole lot of determination.  But over the course of the week, we see a leak so we go back to square one and start the process all over again.

It’s a totally reactive way of living the Christian life.  You’re always fighting to get back to neutral and never growing into a stronger disciple of Jesus.  It’s settling for sin management when Jesus has called you to Kingdom impact.  There’s no growth, just damage control.

And it will stay that way until we learn to address the deeper issues that are causing the tire to leak in the first place.  That’s why I’m so thrilled to be offering Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course this spring at Restoration City.  It’s an in depth discipleship course designed to help us explore what’s going on under the surface of our lives – where the leaks are coming from and why we struggle with some of the things we do.  The course combines a robust understanding of emotional health, a biblical understanding of spirituality, and the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that will be tremendously beneficial to your soul and life.

All of this fits perfectly with our deep commitment to the centrality of the gospel in all things.  At the end of the day, the gospel is not only the patch on the tire but also the way to stop the leak at it’s source.  EHS isn’t presenting an alternative to the gospel – it’s helping us see where and how to apply the gospel in our souls and lives.

I believe this course is so foundational to where God is leading us as a church that I’m  teaching all 8 weeks.  We’ll be meeting from 12.30 – 2.30 at our WeWork offices on Sunday afternoons starting on April 22nd and going through June 17th with the exception of Memorial Day weekend.  If you’re willing to take the journey with me, get registered today at rcc.church/ehs.

3 Leadership Lessons From Our 1st 3 Years As A Church

3_Year_Leadership

This past Sunday, we celebrated our three year anniversary as a church.  In honor of that milestone, I want to share my top three leadership lessons from our first three years:

#1 Focus On Your People

I wish I could get back every minute I spent on something other than building up the people of Restoration City Church.  I don’t regret a single relationship I intentionally pursued with someone from Restoration City over the last three years but I do regret the relationships I didn’t pursue because I was busy with other things.

Other things like: the latest Christian twitter controversy, denominational angst, comparison with the celebrity pastor I’ve never met, comparison with my friends, gossip about the church down the road, frustration with people who have left the church, Presidential tweets, meandering coffees with other church planters that seem to be more about filling an afternoon than advancing the Kingdom, and a host of other distractions.

If you write a blog (ahem), write it for the good of your people, not some fictitious national audience.  When you prepare a sermon, speak to build up the people in your church, not to impress your pastor buddies who almost certainly won’t listen to your podcast.  Don’t envy another shepherd’s flock, staff, budget or success.  Don’t try to build a platform or make a name for yourself.

Love, lead and disciple the people God has called you to serve.  Pastoral ministry isn’t something done in the abstract; it involves a lot of intersection with real lives.  Get to know names, stories and struggles.  Build leaders.  Make disciples.  You’ll never regret doing the one thing Jesus told us to do.

#2 Have The Courage To Be Clear

The only thing more deadly than trying to please everyone is trying to make everyone think you’re pleasing them.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

Right around the time I moved back to DC to plant Restoration City, Eric Geiger, a pastor, author, and leadership thinker, tweeted this, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader.  Go sell ice cream.”  I’d been in the leadership game long enough to know his tweet was not only witty but also right on.  So, I knew I would have to make decisions that people didn’t agree with.  What I hadn’t yet confronted was the people pleaser in me that would try to spin things so that everyone thought they were getting their way.  I’m not talking about looking for common ground and being willing to come to a consensus.  Those are good things.  I’m talking about trying to make everyone believe they’re getting their way even when they’re not.  That’s a bad thing.  And a dishonest one.

If people are going to be disappointed with your decision, you make everything a thousand times worse by being so vague that it takes them three weeks and a lot of frustration to even figure out what your decision is.  All that does is make people twice as mad; at your decision and your lack of courage in owning it.

Three years in, my goal is to only make people mad once!

#3 Your Church Will Never Be Healthier Than Your Family

I used to think of my family’s health as the floor that undergirded the rest of the church.  You can’t build a healthy church on a bad floor so I had to make sure things at home weren’t falling into disrepair so that the church could continue to grow.  But now I see the health of my family as the ceiling the church will never grow beyond.  In other words, the church will never be healthier than my family.  So, the healthier my family is, the healthier the church can become.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean that our family is the best family in the church, the perfect family, or anything like that.  Trust me, I use my kids in enough sermon illustrations about depravity that no one would buy that even if that’s what I was trying to sell.

Healthy isn’t about being perfect.  It’s about being rooted in Jesus.  It’s about loving Him.  It’s about seeing the world through the lens of the gospel.  It’s about showing each other grace.  My first ministry is to Laura and our kids, who I love more than any other people on the planet.  If I can’t show them the love of Christ, resolve conflict biblically with them, carry their burdens and fight for their flourishing, I’m kidding myself to think I can do it better for the church.  Maybe I can fake it but nothing healthy ever grows in fake soil.

My focus has shifted from making sure our family is “doing ok” to praying my family is “flourishing.”  And the more God answers that prayer, the more I see the same happening in our church.

At the end of the day, I know that leading Restoration City will forever be one of the great joys of my life.  I’m so grateful for the people of this church, who tolerate an imperfect pastor who is still trying to figure things out, occasionally says awkward things in sermons, struggles with being a people pleaser, and isn’t always the best leader.  My prayer is that God will allows us to continue to grow together for years to come.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListWell, it’s unofficially summer.  Pools are open, cold brew coffee is a must and we’re all dreaming of vacation.  I hope you’re also building a summer reading list of books that will stir your affection for Jesus and make you more effective in the local church.  If you are, I wanted to share five relatively easy reads that have impacted me significantly over the last 12 months.  They’re the kind of books you’ll get a lot out of and enjoy reading:

Saving The Saved, Bryan Loritts.  Bryan shows how the performance free love of Jesus frees us from the meritocracy of religion and invites us into the freedom of the gospel.

Goliath Must Fall, Louie Giglio.  Using the story of David and Goliath, Louie paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our Giant Slayer and shows us how the gospel topples some of the most common giants in our lives.

Befriend, Scott Sauls.  One of the best explorations of friendship, community and the gospel I’ve read in a long time.  Scott examines what real friendship looks like and all of the ways we form them in our lives.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith.  James explores how our hearts shape our lives and how our habits shape our hearts.  I may not agree with all the specific liturgical practices in this book but it’s well worth your time.

Designed To Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Geiger and Peck challenge us to see the church as a leadership development locus for the whole community.  This is easily the most influential leadership book I’ve read this year.

I’m praying you’re able to enjoy one or more of these books over the summer.  I’m also curious what suggestions you have for me.  Leave a comment with your must read recommendation for the summer.

RCC Membership Renewal

Man Writing Document Dinning Table Concept

I love the season we’re in as a church.  As I shared in the sermon this past Sunday, we’re asking all of our members to enter into a really simple but really significant membership renewal process over the next few weeks.

When I say simple, I mean all we’re asking you to do is let us know you want to continue as a member, update your contact information, reaffirm the commitments you made when you became a member and let us know if you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss with our staff or elders.  That’s it.  The whole thing will take you less than five minutes to do online; just click here.

Let me also tell you why I think it’s significant:

  1. Ensures Our Membership Rolls Are Accurate.  As our church continues to grow and we add more members, communicating well within the church requires more and more intentionality.  It’s honestly one of the bigger challenges we have, so it’s not a small thing for us to make sure we have an accurate phone number, email address and mailing address for you.  We also want to make sure we’re updating our membership records to reflect people who have moved out of the area or started attending another church.  We don’t want to be the church that proudly reports 2,000 members but has less than 100 people showing up on a Sunday morning!  Membership renewal helps us avoid that trap.  We want to have an accurate sense of who’s really with us as a church.
  2. Reminds Us That Membership Matters.  I meet a lot of Christians today who dismiss church membership as an unhelpful relic of the past.  Maybe that’s true if you look at membership as a formal promise that you won’t even think about attending another church, even if ours is really bad and a really awesome one moves in right down the road.  Church membership isn’t about trapping you.  It’s about discipling you within a local church.
  3. Prompts Reflection On The Commitments We’ve Made To Each Other.  This is what church membership is really about – the commitments we’ve made to one another.  For us at Restoration City, our members make 9 commitments to one another; they’re the commitments that create our culture, define expectations and keep us healthy as a spiritual family.  More than anything, my prayer for this membership renewal process is that it will be a catalyst for self reflection.  It’s a chance to step back and ask ourselves how much those commitments are shaping our lives, make any needed course corrections and move forward as a unified body.  It’s about resyncing us with what we’ve already committed.
  4. Creates An Additional Touchpoint For Pastoral Care.  No, I don’t think a web form is pastoral care.  But I do think it can become a prompt for it.  Please, use the comments and prayer requests sections of the form.  Our staff and elders would be honored to pray for you and we want to hear from you.  If you have questions, concerns or suggestions about the church, let us know.  We want your input and would be happy to talk more in person or over the phone.

So, if you haven’t done so already, please complete your renewal process today.

If you’re not yet a member of Restoration City but would like to become one, please plan to join us for our next New Members Class on Sunday, June 4th right after church.  You can get more information and sign up here.

I’m really grateful for all God is doing in this season to strengthen and unify us as a church.

Dan Iten

Dan and John

This past Sunday was an incredibly significant moment for me.  I got to watch a guy I baptized years ago become an elder at Restoration City.  The above photo is as significant to me as it is grainy – it was taken just before I baptized Dan Iten.  When I first got to know Dan, I was moved by his openness and vulnerability with me, his desire to live a life that was pleasing to God and his desire to pursue a life of ministry.  I remember being so proud of him and so grateful to God when I baptized him.

All of that pride and gratitude came rushing back on Sunday when I watched our members vote him onto our elder board with Adam and Mike.  It was a great day for our church and a great day for me personally.  I have loved watching Dan grow as a man, a husband and a leader in the church.  He’s frighteningly good at his job and works unbelievably hard to make Restoration City the place that it is.  He’s a partner in the gospel and a brother in Christ.

I can take very little credit for what God has done in Dan’s life.  It’s His grace that transforms, molds and shapes.  But I can tell you that there is nothing quite like watching God’s grace at work in someone else’s life up close and personal over a period of years.

We’ve talked so much about discipleship at Restoration City over the course of the spring. On Sunday, I was reminded of just how much joy this whole discipleship journey brings.  Find someone you can pour your life into, love them, walk with them and celebrate what God does in their life – it’ll bring you more joy than you can imagine!

Discipleship Defined

Discipleship Defined

Anytime we put how in front of what, we end up in trouble.
For example, imagine teaching someone how to bake a cake before they even understand what a cake is.  They might be able to memorize a series of steps – add eggs, milk, flour, etc…  But without a clear picture of what they’re trying to create, they’ll have no desire to make it.  Even if they do start baking, they’ll be slavishly devoted to the one recipe you’ve given them.  They’ll never be able to adapt to create a different kind of cake.  Or worse, they’ll try to adapt in a way they think will improve the outcome (ditch the flour, double the sugar) but ends up ruining the whole thing.
Many of us approach discipleship the same way.  We spend a tremendous amount of time debating the “how” without ever being clear on the “what.”  We’re all trying to follow a recipe we inherited or downloaded from a blog but we’re not entirely sure what we’re trying to bake.  Nothing life changing is going to emerge from that confusion.
At Restoration City, we’re walking through 2 Timothy this spring and allowing that letter to shape our understanding of discipleship.  As we move forward, I want to offer a simple definition to keep us anchored on the “what” of discipleship:
Discipleship is the process of heart change that leads to life change.
 
The more you read about discipleship, the more you realize there is no single widely shared definition among authors, pastors and theologians.  We all recognize that the mission of the church is making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).  There’s even widespread understanding of the word disciple in the original context.  The word meant “learner.”  But when we move to questions of what a disciple is today and what discipleship is, things get a little murkier.  My goal with this definition is to give us common language as a church and some clarity on the “what” of discipleship.
In reflecting on John 8:31 and what a disciple is today, John Piper offers the following:
For Jesus “true disciple” is the same as “true Christian” or “true believer.” Jesus is not saying that “true disciple” is a second stage in the Christian life. First believer, and then later you attain the level of disciple.
– John Piper
 
Simply put, a disciple is a Christ follower who is actively learning to follow Jesus.
 
If that’s the case, we need a correspondingly broad understanding of discipleship.  That’s why I think the definition I offered above, the process of heart change that leads to life change, is so helpful.  It encompasses the entire process of us becoming more like Jesus (that’s the life change).  But it also clarifies that life change always comes about through heart change.  Therefore, anything that catalyzes gospel shaped heart change is a form of discipleship – whether it’s a mission trip, a close friendship, a Community Group or mentoring an at risk child.
Understanding discipleship this way breathes a tremendous amount of freedom into the conversation.  It makes us open to a wide range of “hows” and frees us from the need to settle on any one “how” as the right way to disciple someone.  The reality is there are many ways to disciple someone or to be discipled.
On the other hand, it also helps us see that getting together for coffee once a week with someone can’t really be considered discipleship if there’s no heart change that’s leading to life change.   We’ll talk a lot more about how the gospel leads to heart change and what that life change looks like.  But, for today, I just want to get us all thinking about the same definition:
Discipleship: Heart Change => Life Change

Encouragement From Beth Ridgill

If you’ve been around Restoration City for any length of time, you’ve been impacted by Beth Ridgill, her love for Jesus and her love for making disciples.  After a year here in DC, she’s returned to her home in North Carolina.  Before she left, she wrote this letter to our church.  I hope you’ll be as encouraged by it as I was:

Beth Letter

A Church That Makes Disciples

Which is more important to the success of a church: structure or relationships?

The answer is not as clear as you might think.  If you say relationships, you’ll end up with a church where everyone loves each other but nothing gets done.  It’ll feel a lot like five year olds playing soccer – a whole lot of fun and not a lot of progress.  But if you say structure, you’ll have great programs that produce little life change.  It’ll feel a lot like working at a company with a great business plan but surprisingly few customers.

I would respond to my own question by saying it’s a bad question.  Many times, the church sees structure and relationships as polar opposites.  They aren’t.  They work together.  A good church needs both.

The key is making sure you create structures that facilitate relationships.

Lives are transformed in the context of relationships.  Jesus invited 12 ordinary men to become His inner circle (Mark 3:13-19).  The early church was radically communal (Acts 2:42-47).  Paul poured his life into Timothy and Timothy poured his life into the Ephesian church. (1 Timothy 1:1-3).  Paul’s heart for discipleship is evident in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

Want to be more like Jesus?  Live life in a community of people who love Jesus, love the Bible, love each other and love you.  Dig into the Word together.  Pray together.  Care for one another.  Call each other out on sin.  Speak life into each other’s souls.  It’s all about relationships.

We need people way more than we need a program.

When structures facilitate those kinds of relationships, they’re invaluable.  When they take the place of relationships, they’re deadly.  At Restoration City, we create Community Groups and Life Groups to facilitate these relationships.  Community Groups are the entry point.  They’re co-ed, open to anyone and designed to get you in an environment where people share a meal, study God’s Word and pray together.  They’re a great way to start connecting with our church and continue growing in Christ.  But, ultimately, you’ll need something more.  That’s where Life Groups come in.  These are much smaller, single gender relationships that you form with 2-4 others for accountability, confession of sin and spiritual care.  It’s in these smaller, safer environments that God does His deepest work.

Good structures serve, not subvert, relationships.  But don’t ever forget that structures are a means to an end.  Don’t put your hope in a Community Group or Life Group.  Use those as a vehicle to cultivate the relationships you need to grow more like Christ.  Don’t just go to a Community Group, be fully engaged in the life of the group.  Don’t settle for shallow.  Push for deep.  Use everything as an opportunity to cultivate the relationships that will transform your soul.

RCC Community Group DNA

The Community Group Laura and I are leading met last night for the first time.  We loved being able to open up our home, share a meal and take the first steps toward gospel-centered community with a new group of friends.

At Restoration City, we want our Community Groups to be characterized by four descriptors.

Welcoming.  Our Community Groups need to be open to anyone regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey.  Community Groups aren’t just for the spiritually elite.  They aren’t just for those who are new to the faith.  They aren’t even just for Christians.  We want our Community Groups to be welcoming for family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who haven’t yet placed their faith in Jesus or understand that faith differently than we do.  Jesus lived in such a way that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him.” (Lk. 15:1)  If we’re preaching His gospel and becoming more like Him, there should be non-Christians wanting to join our Community Groups.  It’s our job to welcome them.

Loving.  Throughout the Scripture, Jesus calls His followers to love one another. (John 13:34; Romans 12:10; 1 John 3:11)  Our love for one another is a testimony to the world, a tangible reminder of the gospel and a means of growing in grace.  But we can’t love well if we hardly know each other.  That’s why our Community Group meetings start with 30-45 minutes of time to hang out over a meal, dessert, coffee or whatever.  The point of that time isn’t feeding people – it’s giving us space to develop meaningful relationships.

Transforming.  God is working in our lives to make us more like Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:3)  The tool He uses more than any other for this project is His Word.  It’s His Word that renews our minds, rebukes us, reveals the idols of our hearts and prepares us for every good work. (Romans 12:2, 2 Tim. 3:16) So, we want to study the Bible.  Not books about the Bible but the Bible itself.  God’s Word will always be central to our gatherings because it’s the clearest way for us to hear God’s voice.

Multiplying.  Healthy groups will grow.  If our Community Groups are welcoming, loving, transforming places, more people are going to want to attend.  As more people come, your group is going to outgrow whatever living room it’s meeting in currently.  That’s a good thing – because it means we’re ready to plant a new group out of your current group.  Yes, it can be painful to see members of your group leave to go start a new one but it’s a beautiful reminder that our mission is more important than our comfort.  Besides, if we want to plant new churches, planting new Community Groups is a good first step!

Community isn’t optional in the Christian life.  As Tim Keller says, “In short, there is no more important means of discipleship – of the formation of Christian character – than deep involvement in the life of the church, the Christian community.” (Center Church, Pg. 313)  Don’t sit on the sidelines wondering why you aren’t growing – jump into community as see how much God uses it in your life!