Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thanks to God for Brooklyn Tabernacle Trip

I am so very thankful to the Lord that He made it possible for me to spend the last four days together with our pastoral staff at the Brooklyn Tabernacle Pastor’s Conference in Brooklyn, New York. Ever since I arrived at Hillcrest Church four years ago, I have dreamed of introducing them to the ministry of that congregation.

The conference we attended was not about leadership methods or church growth techniques, but about spiritual refreshing, inspiration, and renewal. Before going, I told our team that my prayer was that God would minister to them while they were there in whatever way they most needed Him to during this season in their life. I encouraged them to just sit back, relax, soak up God’s presence, and receive from Him without feeling like they needed to observe, analyze, take notes, or glean new ideas. If any of that happened – great! But, I did not want them to feel under any pressure to do that, but encouraged them to remember that God was taking us there first and foremost so that we could encounter Him and hear from Him in a fresh, deep way.

The team went on up to New York City on Saturday ahead of me, and were able to attend the first service at Times Square Church as well as the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Out of all the many, many congregations that I have personally visited or have knowledge of across the USA, the Brooklyn Tabernacle is one of the two I admire most. The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California is the other of the two, and Times Square Church is right up there near the top of my list.

Here are some excerpts from some statements that I gave to our team about the two congregations they visited on Sunday, outlining what I admire most about those churches:

1. Both of these churches are deeply grounded in prayer. They view all ministry as something that most effectively and naturally flows out of a walk with God that is nurtured by a rich, personal and corporate prayer life. I think these churches have come to rely on prayer to such a degree in part because their leaders have regularly been confronted with overwhelming need, be it seemingly unsolvable individual problems in the lives of the people they were ministering to, or insurmountable financial challenges before their entire church body. They have had no other recourse but to cry out to God in desperate faith. Having learned from their experience that He answers those who call upon Him, they deliberately rely on heaven’s help to do the work God has called them to. They believe that the most effective strategies are those which are both birthed and bathed in prayer. Their testimony and example has often encouraged me during these last few years. A quote from Abraham Lincoln has become one of my favorites: “Many times I have been driven to my knees by the overwhelming realization that I had no where else to go.”

2. Both of these churches regularly experience the manifest presence of God. By that phrase, I mean first of all that work of the Holy Spirit whereby we become specifically conscious of God’s presence. I believe one of the key reasons why these churches continue to enjoy such remarkable growth is that people in their surrounding communities have become convinced that they will encounter God if they attend a service at one of these churches. That kind of “buzz” causes a sort of natural publicity that keeps more and more people showing up for the very first time. While each of these congregations has great music and passionate worship, I don’t think people come because of their particular “sound” or “style.” Their secret lies, not in sophisticated cultural sensitivity, but in deep, genuine spiritual reality.

3. Both of these churches are very passionate about reaching the lost. They do not try to target the already churched with better methods or marketing than other churches. Instead, they continually engage in many forms of intentional outreach to the neediest people around them. This is the primary way their churches are built. They attract even the hardest of sinners, lead them to Christ, and then thoroughly disciple them. One of the things that amazes me in both of these places is the apparently high level of consecration and godliness among their people, especially given their backgrounds in what many would call “deeply” sinful lifestyles.

4. Both of these churches look like their neighborhoods. They are multi-cultural and multi-racial. It is easy to think that in a city like New York, with such an ethnically mixed population, such blending is easy or even automatic, but this is not the case. In fact, ethnic and racial tensions are often highest in those areas of the city where very diverse populations live in close proximity. Little love is lost between the Hispanic and African-American communities, for instance, and high profile, severely racially charged incidents have occurred in the city’s not too distant history between African American and Hasidic Jewish populations. In spite of such tensions, these churches both reach a diverse audience, including many different social classes. Brooklyn Tabernacle, for instance, clearly reflects the economic composition of its borough, but it also has successfully reached stock brokers, top fashion models, etc., and integrated them into its church family.

5. Both of these churches have experienced very significant growth over many years without being particularly trendy, hip, or even innovative. They are living proof that authentic, straightforward, Gospel ministry - loving God, caring for people, walking in integrity, and ministering the reality of the Holy Spirit in response to human need - still builds great, lasting churches. Both of these bodies have world-wide impact, not so much through formal missionary ministry as through the natural, spontaneous, ripple-effect that flows from so profoundly impacting individual human lives in a major metropolitan area.

I do not believe God wants us to try to duplicate Brooklyn Tabernacle or Times Square Church in Dallas, but I do believe with all my heart that God is calling us to raise up an Antioch church with the same kind of atmosphere, spiritual DNA, paradigm of ministry, and church growth dynamic as I have described above. As I told our pastors, in the final analysis, I do not believe our primary focus should be on growing our church, but, rather, on becoming the kind of pastors whose lives and ministries produce a thoroughly New Testament church which experiences natural increase.

We had a great time of fellowship during this first trip we have been able to take together outside of the Metroplex. It was not only a bonding time, but I believe God planted seeds in each of our hearts that will bear a very fruitful harvest for many years to come. Would you please pause for a moment and pray, asking God to water the seeds that were sown with His precious Holy Spirit?


P.S. I got my suitcase late last night, just in time to bring it home with me today on the plane. PTL!

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