Thursday, September 5, 2013

Not for the Faint of Heart



Lately I've been reconsidering how I present our ministry to Believers who are considering membership. I have decided that I'm not going to soft peddle our mission and vision just to gain members. I have had to settle it. Our church mission isn't for everybody.

In fact; What if our Church presented itself the same way the Marines do? What if we stopped using the promise of wealth, material blessings and miraculous healing as our way to draw people into our fellowship? What if we just told it like it really is? You're signing up for something that's greater than yourself. You're signing up for Spiritual Warfare. 

Do you have the heart for this?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Art of STEALTH

We have always been advocates of the wisdom of God that commands that we must prepare for the future. We must be faithful with a little before we are given more. We must be prepared like the wise virgins in the parable of Jesus, so that we don’t miss our once in a lifetime moment. Like an expectant mother, we must get ready for the new life that is about to enter and change our world.

For the next nine months we are going to reset, retool, restructure, review, readjust, repair and revive our mission and vision for this community. We will continue to meet on the First and Third Sunday of each month but our meetings will not be church services. They will become ministry training sessions. The FIRST Sundays will be all about training us to help people through the ministries of lay-counseling and compassion. On THIRD Sundays we will focus on the practical logistics of how to start, maintain and flow with God in the building and expansion of a church and its intricate ministries.

The next nine months will be all about us getting trained for a new ministry launch. Therefore  you don’t need to invite anyone to attend during this period. If someone happens to visit , that’s okay. When they arrive they will step into our season of  preparing for a new move of God.

Urban Life is to be a church for people who want to do more than just attend a weekly service to get their needs met. This is to be a place for people who are seeking God. This is to be a place for  people who are ready to be properly trained for ministry. We are taking the next nine months to prepare our hearts to be that type of church.

The last 50+ years have seen church leaders training people to perform on a stage, behind a podium, or in front of a crowd. We have trained people to believe that worship is the same thing as a music concert and the goals of our young people have been reduced to aspiring to win Christian talent shows.

The Lord told us that we are to train a new team in the art of STEALTH. By definition this word means the act or characteristic of moving with extreme care and quietness, so as to avoid detection. As an acronym it means Spiritual Training for the Equipping, Anointing, Liberation and Transformation of Hearts and Homes.

God has spoken to us to train our church to be effective out of the spotlight, behind the scenes, and under the radar. We must be able to obey the voice of God and follow Him as He leads us behind enemy lines and into the heart of territory that has always been under the control of demonic strongholds. This requires a specially trained Believer.

We cannot desire notoriety and fame in the true mission of this church. That's why we're calling it STEALTH ministry training and Undercover Missions training. God has a great work for us, but it's like the task of Marines, Navy SEALS and Special Force Units who have top secret missions that no one knows anything about except their commanders.

Over thirty years ago our overseer, Bishop Raphael Green, wrote a song that described the heart of many Believers even back in that era and how many view the ministry today. The lyrics were:

Notoriety and fame!
I want the world to know my name;
I'm living and breathing for fame;
Notoriety insane!

The strategy the Lord gave us during our 40 days of prayer and consecration was to reset the ministry, and this time, to start with a new team of people by training them how to serve in obscurity.

You could summarize the strategy with the words of Philippians 2:1-8 (NASB)
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time to Push the RESET Button

Nine years ago we started meeting with a small group of people in our first efforts to establish a Church Launch Team that could help us minister to this community. When we say minister to this community, we're talking about becoming a part of the true legacy of the Church.

The Church built the first hospitals. The Church is still the largest single provider of health care in history. The Church was the first to fight for children and establish orphanages. Most of the first higher education institutions in America were Christian institutions. Every day, the Church provides food and water to millions of people all over the world. Even though it never makes the news, the Church has been on the scene or been first responders in every major disaster that has hit our nation.

The reason we want to train a new launch team is because we desire to be a part of that legacy. We want to get back to our effort to help the hungry students in Harrisburg schools. We want to provide assistance for single parent families. We want to to be a strong support to people like John and Kerry Shuey who are touching other nations for Jesus Christ.

We believe that the Lord has told us that it's time to push the RESET button. In September of 2004, we made our initial start. In September of 2013, we will make a new start. 

We realize that ever since most of our original plans fell apart, we have been trying to move forward anyway. Over the last nine years, the Lord has slowly and carefully brought together another group of people who are not only called, but they have been chosen. It's time to begin again, with a new team so, this Sunday, we will reset the ministry.

The first part of the reset involves taking on the mind of Christ as a church family. This is one of the scriptures the Lord has given us in order to reset the ministry. 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ---Philippians 2:5-8

The second part of the reset involves accepting our role and assignments in this community. This is a brief portion of a letter that our sister DeVata Davis wrote to us while we were in our month of prayer and consecration. It clearly gives us God's perspective of our ministry in Harrisburg.

DeVata writes: I work with the military. I see this picture of you continuing the undercover mission right under the enemy's nose.  You are still 'overcomers under orders' so even when you are crawling through mud into the enemy's territory, with missiles and bullets flying over your heads, you don't turn back. You keep your head down and keep quiet so that the enemy doesn't hear you gaining ground.  You keep crawling, commando style, through terrain that is not pleasant because you have to get into position to wreck havoc on the enemy.  

Because you are under orders from the commander in chief, you understand that this mission is far greater than you even understand. The commander in chief never gives you the whole battle plan and to not follow His orders could mean death to you (and a mission failure) that will impact the lives of many others as well. 

So, keep pressing forward with the vision God gave you until He sends you into another battle with a new set of orders.  

This Sunday will mark our official request for a new team. Only this time, we will be able to communicate, right from the start, that we are an undercover, special force unit. We aren't going to be in the spotlight. We will work behind the scenes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Preparing for a Very Dark Time in America

You may recall that just a week ago we told you about an African country that closed nearly 100 churches. The president of Cameroon used some negative incidents and a few bad pastors as his leverage to close them. You may also recall that we said that we should expect this same strategy to be used in America to close churches.

We thought it might happen in a few years. We were wrong. It only took two weeks.

We just saw another alarming BREAKING NEWS posting. A measles outbreak in Texas is being blamed on Pastor Kenneth Copeland, his mega-church, and his teachings about faith and healing. Since some of the people who attend his church failed to get measles vaccinations, the media is blaming him and his ministry for the outbreak.

We can now expect the next step. Somebody, perhaps a State Representative, a Senator, or someone with great influence, will make a proposal to close the church and any other ministries that are viewed in the same way.

More and more, God is showing us that HE has been preparing Urban Life Church for a very dark time that is coming upon America. A lot more pastors had better start getting their congregations ready for home church gatherings and internet ministry.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Best Thing I Can Do

Last month, we gathered for a couple of Sundays in the home of the Whitlocks. Now I believe that it is time to nudge everyone back into their individual home group gatherings. That's the reason we have resumed following our bi-weekly Home Church Group Calendar and the downloading of material from the church website at http://www.urbanlife-church.org/family_friends.html.

Just last week, in a country in Africa (Cameroon), the president of that nation ordered the closing of nearly 100 Pentecostal churches. He cited the wrong doings of a few bad ministers in that nation. He used their inappropriate actions as the basis to close down churches. Since he used the military to do it, nearly 100 pastors and congregations had no choice. This past Sunday, hundreds of church goers suddenly found themselves forced to do what we are already accustomed to doing in Urban Life Church. They had to meet in their homes.


We should not be so naive and ignorant that we ignore the real possibility of this same strategy being used to close churches in America. With all of the uncertainty in our nation we have been seeking God about the right strategy for our church. I don't know how many pastors, in America, are preparing their congregations for this possibility. 

Right now, the best thing I can do is to teach, train and encourage our church family to seek God and stand up as leaders in their own homes. I want them to know that no matter what the future holds, they can keep moving forward. They have what they need. They can do this. They can rebuild, renew and restore their families. I pray that God blesses their home group gatherings in a very special way!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Maturing Process

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading my morning devotional from Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost for His Highest’.  I've been reading this particular book for many years, but it’s still amazing how God can speak something new into my heart each year that I go through it.

This particular day’s reading led me to a profound thought. The Holy Spirit of God reminded me of the words of Jesus when He was twelve years old. You can find His response to His parents, who had been searching for Him for several days. Luke 2:49 records His response to them: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” The Bible goes on to say,”.…they did not understand His statement, but then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart."

After this, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ words when He was a thirty-something year old man. In John 5:19 He says: "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”

The twelve year old Christ was full of zeal and ready to go forth with God’s work, but He had a process to go through. The thirty year old Christ shows us the results of going through this process.

As a human being, Jesus had to learn obedience. The almighty God of the universe, while dwelling in human flesh, subjected Himself to earthly, human, flawed parents and Jewish leaders.

We must go through the same process. There are many 'twelve-year old' adolescents in the Body of Christ, who are out on their own, having pulled away from their spiritual family, and they are trying to be about God’s business. But like the boy Jesus, they need to go home. They need to submit to spiritual leaders, who are human beings, with flaws and failings.

Many adolescent Believers are in rebellion because they discovered the flaws and failings of their leaders. They felt that this discovery gave them the right to leave and start their own church or ministry. They felt it gave them the right to ignore the counsel and guidance of their leaders.

This has led to thousands of churches starting all over America. There are often three and four church buildings in one inner city block, in neighborhoods across the country. However, many of them are merely gatherings of rebellious and naive spiritual adolescents, seeking attention and affirmation.

We believe that the trials and tribulations of these last days will filter out the adolescents from the adults. There will be a distinction between the immature and the mature. The mature ones will be those who have submitted to the process and progression of Christ.

After submitting to His parents and leaders, the only thing the Bible says about the next 18 years of Jesus’ life was that He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52)

That's why the mature Son of God, in later years says, "....the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner."
  
He moved from the boyish zeal to do things FOR His Father, to the mature Son who didn't do anything unless He was moving WITH His Father. I certainly want to be that kind of leader and I consider it an honor to be connected with people who desire the same.


Personally, I believe that many people went out and started their own churches, when all they really needed to do was establish a consistent time to meet with their family and friends to encourage one another in the Word and to pray.

Part of the maturing process of our church is our new initiative to bring together a team of people who will give our ministry the opportunity to reset and restart next year. We want to grow to the point where we are only doing what we see God doing and we're only saying what we hear God saying. We'll talk more about that next week.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

God Says WAIT

We want to share our most recent breakthrough and ask for your continued intercession on our behalf.

The last three or four years have been very challenging. In fact, the last three or four months had brought us to the point where we were making plans to close the ministry and move.

After more than 8 years of ministry we have only 7 members and about 10-12 in attendance. We were like: Seriously? Really? Seven members after 8 years? I’m a business man. I know when it’s time to quit. It’s simply not working. So we sent out an e-newsletter to state the seriousness of our situation and called a meeting with our church family to prepare them for the inevitable.

The meeting was held this past Sunday morning. We met in the home of two our most dedicated members, and we laid it out there for the Urban Life family. We told them that we have 10 months left on the facility lease and that this is now the official deadline for us to remain in Harrisburg. I took them through our journey from the day we started training our first team in September of 2004, through the day we opened (March 2005), our Bishop's first visit (Sept. 2005) to the closing of the first building (December 2005).

I took them through our journey in the years that followed and all the way to the present where we currently have only 7 members after 8 years of ministry. I told them our final prayer before the Lord has been: How can we continue in Harrisburg if we can’t build capacity? I told them about some of our journey in St. Louis; that after 8 years we had our own facility (paid in full) and a congregation upwards of 300 and still growing. I told them about our dear friends and colleagues, Pastors Frank and Robin King’s journey and where they were after 8 years. I told them I wasn’t just making a comparison about church growth, but I was talking about the level of commitment a pastor must have from a core group of people.

I told them there was no way we could sign a lease for another facility without a certain level of commitment in place. I told them I wasn’t blaming them, but if we can’t grow in Harrisburg, then it’s time for us to go.

Then I had Carol to share her heart and she just broke down in tears. Then they saw and felt how serious we were. They saw and felt how disappointed we were that things are not coming together.

Well, they responded. One person pointed out that, first of all, the only people in attendance for this meeting were the official members of Urban Life. So God had set up this meeting to happen this way. They each declared that they were not going anywhere because this was the first church they have ever gone to that was not religious and abusive. They began to testify of the things God has done in their hearts and homes.

Then they gave some surprising feedback. They said they’ve been inviting people to come and they have also been surprised, disappointed and frustrated that they never come.  One person expressed her frustration that their own family, even after all these years, still have not made a decision to even visit or join the church.

Of course Carol's mom talked. She said, "I just see God in this. We needed to go through this so that we would see who our committed members are. Now you know who you can work with." They gathered around us to pray for us and the prophetic began to flow. Carol’s youngest brother, Michael began to exhort us by saying, “You brought the prophetic word to us. We have never had that before. You were the one that God sent to us.”

It was obviously being communicated: Don’t leave us!

Then each one prophesied right out of the scriptures.

Isaiah 54:17 No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord.
John 10:28-29 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Carol’s cousin, who walks in a strong prophetic anointing, prayed last of all She prayed: Habakkuk 2:3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. Then she prayed, “Lord, we need a strategy. During this time of fasting and prayer, God is going to give you a strategy.”

Even as she was prophesying the Lord was speaking to me to gather THIS group together on a regular basis to pray. So I told them that is the first part of the strategy. "If we are the core group of this ministry, then we have to pray, and we have to do it together, and we have to do it on a regular basis."

It may seem obvious that we could have started with this group all along, but it wasn’t until recently that even this group could attend on a consistent basis. Nearly every person in our church family works on nights and weekends.

So for the first time in 7 years we were able to set a schedule. So that’s what happened after we laid it all on the line. I must be honest and say that I did not expect this. Our extremely negative experiences, since we moved here, told us that they weren't going to respond at all. So God has clearly spoken. God says wait. God says He’s going to give us a strategy. I don’t know any more than that, now. I’ve finally stopped trying to figure out how one event or prophecy is going to lead to the next thing that God has promised. All we know is that He clearly said WAIT, and He clearly said that He will give us a strategy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Behind the Scenes

There are several issues that we are facing as a church family. Our very future in Harrisburg is at stake. We have less than a year remaining on our lease in the United Church Center and due to our inability to build capacity I haven't made any steps in searching for another facility. This is not a lack of faith. I served as my brother's administrator for 17 years. Along with a presiding team of elders, we had the spiritual, moral, and fiscal responsibility to operate according to basic principles of wisdom. That's what I believe I’m doing, even today as the senior leader of Urban Life Church. So we have a literal countdown set before us.

Churches across the country are making dramatic cuts in their staffs, services and programs. Similarly, we had to cut back the schedule after our sons moved away. Now we have to consider closing the ministry when the lease comes to an end.

This month, we had a tremendous boost in our income and we are extremely grateful. Even before I started my fast, God had already responded. It was wonderfully encouraging even though the deadline still looms ahead of us. We're not trying to guilt-trip anyone into giving or doing more. We're just keeping it real and making you aware of what's really happening behind the scenes. We're not complaining because many churches are going through far worse than us. Yet, something has got to change.

So, this is what I have set before the Lord during this season: "Lord, How can we continue if we can't build capacity in Harrisburg?"

More than ever, we need the wisdom of God. The only way we know how to handle the next few months is to go into that secret place with God. I'm not going to go online or stand at the podium and make a scene by fussing, screaming or begging, like many church leaders have done in the past. We're going to keep gathering on the FIRST and THIRD Sundays at the United Church Center and we're going to keep taking the matter to God, behind the scenes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Closing for Repairs


Twenty three years ago, Carol and I were being prayed for by a group of pastors and leaders from across the country. We were attending a special conference called The School of the Prophets. It was a conference for pastors and their leadership teams, including their administrators. During this conference, they set aside time to pray for everyone.

Having accepted the role as my brother's administrator, this was an extremely important time for me. Carol and I had been married nine years. Christopher was only four years old. Our twins were only five or six months old. Even though many things were spoken concerning our future ministry and our marriage, the most profound thing I took away from that session was the prophetic word about how my life and ministry would be perceived.

The word went something like this: “You will appear to be drab because of the way you will disarm yourself and use your weapons to benefit others.”

I have never forgotten that exhortation because it has always given me perspective about the way people would perceive and respond to our ministry, even to this day. Today, in America, you must be bold, strong and forceful to attract people to your business, organization, institution or church. Yet, I've had to deal with the fact that God said that I would appear to be drab.

Drab has definitions like: boring, dreary, drudging, ho-hum, humdrum, mind-numbing, monotonous, numbing, old, pedestrian, ponderous, slow, stale, stuffy, tedious, tiresome, tiring, uninteresting, wearisome, and wearying.

It doesn’t seem very encouraging to have the Spirit of God tell you that your ministry is going to appear to be drab. However, this word has served me very well through the years because it anchored me to not be surprised or get too discouraged by the responses of people. Honestly, that is still a challenge for me.

I have watched our peers experience ministries that were exciting and explosive, while our ministry was more like the day to day, regular life stuff that happens in a family. There wasn't a lot of hype. We weren’t charismatic, possessing magnetic personalities that draw crowds of people. Carol and I were, and always have been just a mom and a dad serving in the role of pastors. So perhaps that is part of the reason we haven't grown very much in Harrisburg. This city seems to desire the next new and exciting thing. However, the various types of people that God sent us to serve; all of them seemed to need a steady, no nonsense kind of ministry leadership.

Part of the reason why we appear to be drab is because we keep it real behind the scenes. Carol and I don’t believe in putting on a show or performing to impress people. Our most powerful moments take place in private counseling sessions in our church office or in our home; in our living room or sitting at the kitchen table. We had some great times in weekly church gatherings and annual conferences, but the bulk of what we are about is what takes place when there is no big crowd to observe it.

To this day, my wife and I still prefer sitting on our sofa, holding hands, talking and sharing our deepest thoughts with one another; rather than standing on a stage or in a pulpit performing for a crowd of people. The secret place is the only place that matters to us.

When our children were home, we had weekly or monthly family meetings and we talked openly and frankly in that setting. Therefore, our sons (preacher's kids) had no need to try to publically prove anything to anyone outside of what went on behind closed doors in our home.

Most recently, when our youngest son got married, Carol and I had a private moment with him a few minutes before the wedding ceremony. When it came time to share publically during the wedding reception, we didn’t say very much because we had said what we needed to say behind the scenes. We felt no need to impress anyone publically.

Publically we may have appeared to be drab, but we didn’t mind that. What we had to say, we said it to our son privately and personally. So that’s a big part of why our ministry can appear to be drab publically. It’s because we keep it dynamic and real behind the scenes.

I share this with you today because I have started another season of personal consecration, fasting and prayer to help me deal with this perception of our ministry in Harrisburg. As our long-time Urban Life members know, I have done this on many occasions in times past and we are in a position where I feel the need to do it again.

When a ministry appears to be drab in a city or community, the number of people attending and supporting can remain small. It has been nearly impossible to establish a ministry team and a support base. In the business world, they call it building capacity. That basically means that it takes a certain minimum amount of staff, customers and investors to sustain a company or organization. 

To date, we have never been able to build capacity in Harrisburg. The past few months have required that we cut back our weekly schedule because we simply didn't have enough capacity to sustain or expand the ministry. There's no blame in that statement. That's just where we are in Harrisburg. I'm not talking about having a building that's filled to capacity. I'm talking about the number of warriors it takes to stand and advance.


So we're about to close for repairs and reconstruction. We're going to reset the ministry and make a fresh start. We don't know how all of this will take place, but it is absolutely necessary. It's time for some prayer and fasting. It's time for some weekend shut-ins and spending time with a new team of people that can be a part of a new ministry launch. Stay tuned. There's more to come in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Increasing in Wisdom, Stature and Favor

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading my morning devotional from Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost for His Highest’. I’ve been reading this particular book for many years, but it’s still amazing how God can speak something new into my heart each year that I go through it.

This particular day’s reading led me to a profound thought. The Holy Spirit of God reminded me of the words of Jesus when he was twelve years old. You can find his response to His parents, who had been searching for him for several days. Luke 2:49 records his response to them: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” The Bible goes on to say,”.…they did not understand His statement, but then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart."

After this, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ words when He was a thirty-something year old man. In John 5: 19 He says: "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”

The twelve year old Christ was full of zeal and ready to go forth with God’s work, but He had a process to go through. The thirty year old Christ shows us the result of going through this process.

As a human being, Jesus had to learn obedience. The almighty God of the universe, while dwelling in human flesh, subjected himself to earthly, human, flawed parents.

We must go through the same process. There are many 'twelve-year old' adolescents in the Body of Christ, who are out on their own, having pulled away from their spiritual family, and they are trying to be about God’s business. But like the boy Jesus, they need to go home. They need to submit to spiritual leaders and parents, who are human beings, with flaws and failings.

Many adolescent Believers are in rebellion because they discovered the flaws and failings of their leaders. They felt that this discovery gave them the right to leave them and start their own church or ministry. They felt it gave them the right to ignore the counsel and guidance of their leaders.

This has led to thousands of churches starting all over America. There are often three and four church buildings in one inner city block, in neighborhoods across the country. However, many of them are merely gatherings of rebellious and naive spiritual adolescents, seeking attention and affirmation.

We believe that the trials and tribulations of these last days will filter out the adolescents from the adults. There will be a distinction between the immature and the mature. The mature ones will be those who have submitted to the process and progression of Christ.

After submitting to His parents, the only thing the Bible says about the next 18 years of Jesus’ life was recorded in Luke 2:52 which states: And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

I certainly want to be that kind of leader and I consider it an honor to oversee people who desire the same.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Contemplative Approach to People

A few years ago, one of my colleagues labeled me ‘the contemplative pastor’. He said I was always approaching issues and problems with thoughts and perspective that are not very important to most people, but they are keys for introducing understanding into any situation.

I didn’t know how to take that statement at that time. I thought I was a straight forward, in your face, kind of minister. However, as I look back over the past nine years, I can see how the Lord has led us on a path that has required us to look beyond the surface of every negative issue in our hearts and homes.

A couple of days ago, someone posted a five minute video clip of a pastor publically correcting various men in the congregation. One was a young man who wanted to get married, but he told the brother, “You don’t even attend church, and now you want me to perform your wedding?” Then he looked at his fiancée and asked, “Do you want to marry a man who doesn’t come to church?”

Next, he publically corrected the young man in the video room because apparently he allows the youth of the church to gather in that room to socialize instead of making them go out into the auditorium.

One thing that caught my attention was that the pastor said he was ready to quit and go start again with a small group of people who really needed help.

Needless to say, most of the comments regarding the video were all about abusive leaders. However, one person said this pastor’s rant was similar to the way Jesus talked to religious people in His day. The video was stirring up quite a debate as people began to throw scriptures back and forth to support their positions. Some felt the video segment demonstrated correction in love. Others felt that it was abuse.

Well, you guys know me. I jumped in and said it was impossible to draw a conclusion to the video because it was only a five minute clip from an entire sermon. I shared that it’s impossible to make a judgment based upon five minutes of what seems like a pastor going off on the congregation. I asked: What was said before those five minutes? What was said after the five minutes? The pastor may have apologized afterwards. What happened after the service? We don’t know, so we can’t make a determination.

I added that I felt it was wrong for the pastor to do this publically, but I also stated that we don’t know what led up to this moment. We don’t know what level of rebellion that may have been present in this congregation.

Of course you guys know that I was not justifying abuse, but (being the contemplative pastor) I could not dismiss the obvious frustration, discouragement and possible depression this pastor may have been wrestling with in that moment.

I share this with you today to remind you to not be so quick to judge the flaws and failings in people. We don’t know the history behind a sudden outburst of rage or anger. As we have learned from our first Life Ministry lesson about mental illness, some people are battling with issues that are not obvious from the outside. Some people are on medication, and even though the medication is helping their brain chemistry, the side effects can produce agitation and anger.

We just don’t know the whole story behind the things that people say and do.

Many Believers don’t realize that there are hundreds of pastors who are being abused by their congregations, board of elders, and overseers. We only tend to think of pastors being the perpetrators of abuse within a congregation. It’s sort of like the way we view domestic abuse as always being a man beating on a woman, but believe me, there are countless cases of men who are being abused by their wives. They don’t say anything in order to protect the children or because no one will believe them.

It is my prayer that as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, that we will develop hearts of compassion and understanding. There is far too much judgmentalism in the American church. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reality In Your Own Church Community

Reality In Your Own Church Community

Several of my Facebook friends have posted very serious commentaries about a crop of reality TV shows that are about to hit the American masses about mega-church pastors and gospel music artist.

Most of the comments were very insightful, noting very serious concerns about how each ministry will be presented from an industry that edits the raw footage and manipulates the scenes to present a view of these ministers that can possibly be completely different from who they are in real life.

Other people, like us, were very concerned with how church leadership will be viewed after watching these shows. Since most Americans outside of the religious community already have very little respect for ministers, we don’t see how these shows will improve their perception. There is a saying in the media industry: Perception is reality.

As unfair as that statement may be, it is a fact in America. That’s why so many producers and directors of television and film are such masters of the art of manipulating reality. They know that in today’s world, whatever people perceive a person, place or thing to be, that first impression becomes set in their minds like hardened concrete. It is nearly impossible to change their thinking from that point forward.

It doesn’t matter how many statistics and examples that are placed in front of them; even if genuine, humble, hardworking pastors and singers are set before them, they will ALL be viewed through the lenses of that first perception that was received from the ‘Reality TV’ show. In all fairness, some of the shows may turn out to be very good. A few weeks ago, we saw one that was very tastefully done by the Sheards, a very famous gospel music and ministry family.

Since we’re very familiar with what goes on behind the scenes, we still view these shows with caution because there is always a bit of ‘staging’ that is taking place. The audience tends to forget that they are viewing the show from the perspective of a camera, lighting and audio crew that is setting up the scenes. We must also remember that people in front of the camera are being compensated for the show. No matter how much is shared, we will never get the entire story.

So having said this, we want to say that the best Reality show of a church and its leaders is the experience that members are sharing with the pastors in their own local church. One of the dangers of these new TV shows is that thousands of people will begin to judge the validity of their pastors and the mission of their home church, based upon what they see on these weekly TV packages.

Everything from the size of the congregation to the décor of the sanctuary will be judged and compared to what is shown on television. People will see where these folks live, what they wear and what they drive. Then they will look to see where their pastor lives, what they wear and what they drive. They will begin to set new standards in their own hearts to determine if whether they should support their pastor or find a church that’s more like what they see in these TV shows.

At the risk of sounding like we’re promoting ourselves and our ministry, we must share what the Bible has to say. We go to the Bible on this issue because we know the power and victory of a Word-filled life.

Did you know that the Bible already has a criteria set for how to know if whether you have good and solid pastoral leadership?

In 1 Timothy 3:1-10 the Bible gives us an easy-to-understand list. It says,
 “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop (church overseer), he desires a good work. A bishop (overseer) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Also look at the qualification list found in Titus. Titus 1:6-9— “….if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop [overseer] must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”

If anyone can proclaim these things about their pastors and church leaders, then they are definitely in a good place. It has nothing to do with the size of the congregation, the type of facility they meet in, where the pastors live, what kind of car the pastor drives, what they wear, their outgoing personality, or their gifting to sing, preach or teach. It all comes down to what the Bible says about them.

So, REALITY should be found in your own church community. In other words, you want to be in a church where the pastors are setting an example of how to deal with everyday life. You need more than examples of how to perform on a stage two or three times a week. You need examples of how to be a husband, wife, father, mother, co-worker, or student. What are the leader’s attitudes in adversity? How do they face disappointments? How do they deal with success? Their lives need to be so REAL that you can learn how to fight for your family just by watching them.

If all they are getting is a weekly performance on a stage or in a pulpit, they may need to consider getting in touch with a REAL church family. We’re not saying we’re the only church like that in Harrisburg, but we are saying that we are one that believes in this kind of ministry.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Answer for Their Pain

Immediately following the Independence celebration and holiday, we are launching our new monthly session that we’re calling Life Ministry Training. This very unique ministry will take place on the FIRST Sunday of each month.

The circumstances that led us to this initiative seemed very negative.  First, we were forced to cut back on our weekly gatherings. Then we received notification that we could no longer hold church services in the place in which we have been meeting for over three years. However, due to the resiliency the Lord has developed in us over the last eight years, we simply adjusted and kept moving forward. Now we have a powerful strategy in place.

Two Sundays out of every month we meet publically. Two Sundays out of each month we meet in our homes. One of those public gatherings is for prayer and teaching. The other public gathering is for fellowship and conversation. Both of the public gatherings will prevent us from focusing only on ourselves and what we are going through in our lives. These two Sundays give us the opportunities to help others in their journey to God.

We now see our recent challenge as an awesome opportunity that has been handed to us! We are especially excited about our gatherings on the FIRST Sunday of each month. This is where we will tackle some of the most difficult issues that are facing our families.

Over the next four months we’re going to help people deal with mental illness, stress, anxiety, depression and grief. We’re going to take away the negative stigmas and stereotypes that have prevented people from getting the help they need. We’re going to take away some of the gross misinformation that has kept many of us from understanding the struggle of our friends and family members. We’re going to learn the practical things that we need to do AFTER we pray for them. We’re going to learn how to allow God to work through us to bring healing to hearts and homes.

We are breaking a lot of traditions because we are changing the old mindset of Believers who attend church gatherings only to receive blessings, to Believers attending church gatherings to learn how to be a blessing to someone else.

I cannot promise that the journey ahead of us will be easy. Our monthly training will involve at least one hour of instruction. Many people find it difficult to sit through a lecture or a class unless it has something to do with obtaining a degree, a certification or a job promotion.

However, I am persuaded of better things concerning the Urban Life family. If the average person can sit through two-hour movies for entertainment and two-hour lectures in the pursuit of higher education, then certainly we can sit through a one-hour-per-month training to learn how to effectively help our struggling family members and friends.

Last year, when we were teaching about the lifestyles of victorious believers, we talked about how sometimes Biblical instruction can be boring to plod through. It is absolutely necessary for our church family to press through it, if we’re going to become mature Believers that God can use in these last days.

Back when we were in college, Oral Roberts told the students that God could use a dull axe to cut a tree down, but He could get the job done faster and more efficiently with a sharp axe. The FIRST Sunday’s Life Ministry Training is about making us sharp.

Our families and friends are trying to put the pieces of their lives together, but WE have the answer to their pain. Now we will all learn how to help them receive the answer. God is going to use these monthly gatherings to make us sharp instruments in His hands.

As we have said on countless occasions, “This is not the Chris and Carol Green Show!”
Today marks a new season in which we call our church family members forth to step into their rightful places of responsibility as a Followers of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Appreciation

I realize that we have a very radical ministry and I wish there was some way to show our church family how much I appreciate each of them for hanging in there with us. I know that it can be difficult to break the pattern of church attendance that has been passed down through countless generations, but they are doing it.

It's been quite a challenge to change from weekly church attendance to meeting two Sundays a month in a public gathering and two Sundays a month in family gatherings. Not many people would keep holding on and believing a leader who is doing something that no other church in the community is doing.

Our vision is very simple. We're following the pattern of the early church in Acts 2. The Bible says that they continued steadfast in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers. It describes how they met house to house and in the temple.

We believe that we are moving in a 21st century version of Acts 2. On the First Sunday of the month we have teaching and prayer. On the third Sunday of the month we have the breaking of bread and fellowship.

Now as we move into the summer months we are stepping up our teaching by starting new sessions of instruction to help us minister to family and friends who are facing some of life's most difficult challenges. We want to provide understanding of what people are going through.

At the request of one of our Urban Life members, we're going to talk about mental illness during our first Sunday in July gathering. In the following months, we're going to take on subjects like addiction, anxiety and depression. We believe that our ministry in Harrisburg is reaching the pinnacle of its purpose in this community. This type of teaching and instruction is going to be pivotal in helping us fulfill our purpose of rebuilding, restoring and renewing hearts and homes.

On the third Sunday in July, we're going to start the Lifetree conversations again. We have permission to host a monthly Sunday brunch in the United Church Center and we are going to include the one-hour discussion-based ministry. It is our hope that this will give us the perfect opportunity to invite our co-workers, classmates, neighbors and friends. It is our prayer that the Lifetree conversations will become a part of everyone's personal effort to lead and disciple someone into a genuine relationship with God.

In the meantime, our home church gatherings will continue on the second and fourth Sundays of each month.

Somehow I must believe that God is prophetically guiding us. In some way, we might be modeling the kind of change that is coming to America's churches. Through circumstances beyond our control, we were forced to alter our weekly gatherings. Now, we have developed a pattern of meetings that are actually far better than what we were doing in the past.

I believe the Lord is helping us the establish the first of many churches and ministries that we will oversee. Part of the prophetic word over us was that we would establish churches because we have an apostolic calling upon us. Harrisburg is becoming the model and template for what God has called us to do.

So I don't despise our small beginnings. Now I live in appreciation.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What God Alone Has Joined

For the record, we want to make it known that we love our future daughter in law very much. From the moment we first met her, we knew that she was the ONE. Since she is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, there was apprehension on David’s part in telling us that his girlfriend was White and from another country and culture.

From our perspective, we were amazed that David had a girlfriend at all. He had always been very shy when it came to talking to young ladies. He told us that he had met someone before Michelle. She happened to be African American. However, she wasn’t willing to make the kind of commitment to Christ that was embedded in our son’s DNA. We thank God that he was not willing to compromise his walk with God for a pretty face.

You can read the story of how David met Michelle on their wedding website at http://davidmichelle13.ourwedding.com/view/4229585459055781/31018268

Our first encounter with Michelle was through tragedy. The associate pastor of our home church suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Thus, we had to make an emergency, unplanned trip to our home church for the funeral. As we were driving to St. Louis, we received a call on our cell phone. It was Michelle. She wanted to know if it was okay for her and David to drive to St. Louis for the funeral. She said it was obvious that this pastor had been someone that was very special to David and she didn’t want him to miss the service. The journey to St. Louis from Tulsa was nearly seven hours and they would have to take on the driving challenge in a quick weekend turn around so that they could get back to school on time. I her told it was okay with us as long as her parents approved.

We were deeply impacted by her love and concern for David. I was deeply impacted by her confidence and forthrightness to speak to her boyfriend’s dad. There was no pretense, no hidden agenda, and no hypocrisy. She was as real as David and his brothers. So, that’s how we first met her; at the funeral of a dear brother and friend.

Before that event David had been apprehensive about telling us about Michelle because he knew that his mother’s life had been negatively impacted by someone who was White. When Carol’s dad left the family, it was due to an adulterous affair with a woman who was White. So David was really concerned about how his mother would respond.

When Carol met our future daughter in law, there was instantly love for her. We have embraced her as one of our own. Our son’s Christopher and Jonathan have embraced her as their sister. Only outsiders make distinctions in countries, culture and color.

Tomorrow morning we journey to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the place where we first met, to see one of our son’s unite in Holy Matrimony to the love of his life. Life is truly amazing sometimes.

We’ll close this week’s letter with a song that we wrote many years ago called What God Alone Has Joined.

A million memories flood my mind
So many things I’ve left behind
Regrets and words that I’ve left unsaid
Like pages in a book unread

Did I do enough to prepare your way?
Did I live enough so that you can say?
Mom and Dad, God heard you when you prayed 
And I can make this vow on my wedding day

They say I’m gaining a son, not losing a daughter
I’m gaining a daughter, not losing a son
So we fight back the tears beholding this union
Let no man put asunder, what God alone has joined

Toys and games now left in corners
Of rooms that will hold a different tomorrow
Recalling chills and spills, giggles and sorrows
My time as your parent was something I borrowed

Now the season has changed and that time is over
We let go today as father and mother
Now the chills and spills, giggles and sorrows
You will share in this life with a covenant partner

They say I’m gaining a son, not losing a daughter
I’m gaining a daughter, not losing a son
So we fight back the tears beholding this union

Let no man put asunder, what God alone has joined

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Prescription for Healing

As we watch God move in this ministry, we reflect back on how God started moving in our lives almost 26 years ago. As a young couple struggling in our emotions and our finances, we were fighting through many failures and poor decisions. In spite of how far we had fallen, God put His hand on us and chose us for a wonderful purpose.

For a long time, we thought that God’s purpose involved having a ministry with big crowds and being well-known, but now we now know that God had something in mind that was far more substantive than that.

In Psalm 119 a very special word appears throughout the passage. The writer says things like, ‘I long for your precepts’ or ‘I will keep your precepts’.

In our studies, we learned that this word, precept, is closely related to our modern word for prescription. It means God, just like a doctor, will make a very thorough examination and based upon what He sees in us He gives a set of regulations for us to follow that will bring healing. It’s the concept of a physician who performs a medical examination and based upon what he or she discovers in our bodies, they write out a prescription that will bring healing to that condition.

That's precisely what is happening to the Urban Life family right now. With the change in schedule, in going back and forth between meeting in our homes and meeting in a public gathering at the United Church Center, we have been yanked out of a religious routine.  We are experiencing the love of God through our relationships and the Word of God is so practical that we can walk it out in everyday life.

The Lord has directed us to instruct our heads of households in how to conduct a Home Group Gathering. We will do this on the second and fourth Sundays in June in the home of the Whitlocks.

On the First Sunday, we will continue to meet for public prayer and teaching, answering questions, and partaking of Holy Communion. This will continue to be a sacred time for us and we hope that our members invite friends and family yo attend.

Starting in July, we will meet on the THIRD Sundays in the United Church Center’s dining hall for the Lifetree Conversations. Last summer, these conversations were a wonderful way to build relationships. They’re also perfect for inviting friends, co-workers, classmates and neighbors because we’re going to have brunch and conversation on topics that will be of interest to people who don’t do the ‘church thing.’

On the fifth Sundays of this year, we will not gather at all. We are designating all fifth Sundays as Free Family Days. We encourage everyone to use these Sundays to relax and recharge.

Everything that we are doing is like a set of precepts; a prescription that God has provided to bring healing to our hearts and homes. Now, we can understand why the Psalmist would say, ‘Behold, I long for your precepts’. It's like saying, “Lord, I long for Your examination and prescribed regiment for me because You're going to heal me through this process.”

Today, we are able to look back to the season before we were sent to Harrisburg and see how God led us through a 17-year journey of preparation and healing. We didn't know how to explain it while we were living it, but today we have the words to articulate the many precepts that emerged from that season.

Godly precepts can help a couple build and sustain a long and happy marriage. They can help an individual build and sustain lasting relationships. They can help a church family rebuild, restore and renew hearts and homes.

Godly precepts were woven into the fabric of our marriage. Through every fight and painful night, we were following His prescriptions. Throughout the childbearing years and the endless tears, we were following His prescriptions. Through victories great and small, and when nothing seemed to be happening at all, we were following His prescriptions.

Now, we are giving others, what God has given to us. And we are very excited for them because we know what God did for us. He doesn't play favorites, so we know He’s going to continue to do great things for them. If they don’t shrink back, God is going to blow their minds with what He has in store for them. There is nothing too hard for the Lord. He has written the perfect healing prescription for you and your family!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Empowering the Family

What in the world are those pastors doing over there at Urban Life Church? Who ever heard of a church that only meets twice a month? Who ever heard of a church that tells its members to meet in their homes at times that are best for their families?

All I know is that the Lord is leading us to really empower the families of Urban Life Church. My wife and I have been called to serve the individuals and heads of household by equipping them to do the work of the ministry, and we are to place the emphasis of that work in the family.

After eight years of ministering in this community, we were always frustrated by the varying schedules and obligations that seemingly interrupted the progress of the church. However, the Lord was able to get through my preconceived ideas and ideology about the role of the church in the 21st century.

In this generation of the church, the family has been pulled apart by so many things that the church has simply become just one more thing that’s contributing to the problem.

Therefore, we have adapted and changed. Now we have adjusted our church schedule and our ministry expectations. We don’t add more to the weekend. Now we keep it simple. There’s corporate prayer and special training to learn how to host and conduct a small group or family gathering. There’s also a corporate gathering for fellowship and reconnecting with one another.

Our desire and expectation, now, is that families will get together and talk. We hope that the talks lead to prayer. We know the prayer will lead to healing.

We’re changing the paradigm of the church. The Sunday sermon and altar call are no longer the highlight of the week. Now it will be the family prayer and having a mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, uncle or aunt to reach new levels of reconciliation and restoration.

I just know that what God is seeking to do in Harrisburg cannot be limited to the four walls of a church. The burden cannot be the responsibility of a senior pastor, alone. Now it’s time for families to be empowered. They need to feel the urgency about the eternal destiny of their loved ones. They need to feel the birth pangs of intercessory prayer. They need to cry in the midnight for their marriages and for their children.

I believe God wants to give the family a hunger for His presence and His word. He wants to infuse their life’s journey with joy and enthusiasm. I believe that we have been given this great assignment to empower the families so that the families can know God for themselves without depending upon a pastor for all the answers and support.

Now that we are empty nesters, we see and understand that the progression of parenting and releasing children should take place in the church just like it should take place in a family. We are to teach, train, equip and release people into the ministry. But the ministry is not on a stage or in a pulpit. The ministry is in their homes, in the simple everyday things of life.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Established by a Second Witness

After receiving an incredible confirmation yesterday that we are moving in the right direction I was just browsing through online again today and a pastor in Connecticut posted the following. This is a second witness and confirmation for us.
There were people Sent to your life for certain reasons and it may have been for you or for them. If they didn't complete their work or even receive what they were to get or give, O Well….
 Some won't get the opportunity again, due to the fact that their heart wasn't right in the first place.
Some won't get another chance due to having a spirit of pride, which is NOT of God, so they too will miss out.
Some will get a chance, but yet are too close-minded, thinking God or you owe them something, so again that chance they got becomes a miss.
 So what do you do? Keep Moving Full Steam Ahead!   ... because for what they didn't do or get~ God has a SET people waiting on you....A Set people that will do it just the way God wants them to; A Set people who are willing to give and receive; A Set people who have GOD’s Spirit, willing to Go Forth and last for the long Haul...A SET PEOPLE of GOD...."

The Lord trully intends for us to accomplish His purpose in our season on this earth.
Yes, Lord! We will keep moving forward!