Building a Great Team

2004 Detroit Pistons
Photo by Dave Hogg

My all-time favorite sports team to watch were the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Not only did they win the NBA Championship that year, but they did it as a team. Any given night, you never knew who was going to put the most points on the board, and they dominated the LA Lakers who fielded stars like Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. By working hard and playing as a team, they came out on top.

We’re getting ready for a new season of ministry at HMCC, and I’m always amazed that God gives me the privilege to be part of such a great team. From our staff, coordinators, and LIFE Group leaders, to those serving on ministry teams and every member of our church, I’m reminded every week that Jesus doesn’t build his church with all-stars or celebrities – he does it with teams.

What does it take to build a great team? Here are a few things that I’m looking for in our church.

  1. Commitment to the Vision: A successful team is striving for something greater than themselves – something so big that a lack of commitment dooms it to failure. There is no room for straddling the fence or second-guessing. Everyone needs to be on board.
  2. Diversity: Teams that have diverse backgrounds, cultures, and abilities produce an environment of creativity, and are able to solve complex problems.  The body of Christ needs everyone to be involved.
  3. Ownership: A healthy team knows that we’re all “owners”. There is no “that’s not my job” or “that’s someone else’s problem” attitude. If we all own the team, we will work hard and do whatever it takes to succeed.
  4. Selflessness: Team players don’t seek the spotlight or try to assert themselves over others. They know that the team wins or loses together, and that it’s not about any individual. We follow Jesus’ example of humble servanthood.
  5. Courage: You could also call this faith. A team is assembled to face a great obstacle. If it were easy, everyone would do it. We need to courageously face the challenges that God places in front of us, and believe that He will come through for us.
  6. Flexibility: Expect the unexpected. A great team can adapt and adjust to surprises, and not get caught up in the plan that no longer fits.
  7. Positive Attitude: Being honest about problems is necessary. Complaining and discouraging others isn’t. Sometimes the biggest contribution someone can make to a team is to bring their energy and positive attitude. A defeated attitude is inevitably followed by a defeated vision.
  8. Respect: Great team players respect one another, especially in moments of tension or disagreement. If we’re on the same team, we should build each other up, rather than tearing each other down.

Are you investing in building a great team?

5 Tips for College Graduates

UM GraduationOne of the joys we have at HMCC is being able to invest in college students.  They will be the next generation of world leaders, and we get to see many of their lives transformed during their time on a college campus.

At the same time, I’ve watched as a lot of students graduate from college and struggle with the transition to single adult life.  This is a hard transition for anyone, but perhaps even more so when someone has been part of an immersive spiritual community during their college years.

Knowing how difficult these changes can be, I have a few tips to share with you to help navigate the struggle.

  1. Own your spiritual health.  One of the blessings of our college ministry is that there is a lot of structure and accountability to help undergrad students grow spiritually.  This is very beneficial, and I’ve previously likened it to going through boot camp.  The thing is, at some point you have to move on.  You won’t always have someone there to make sure you’re reading the Bible or spending time in prayer.  You won’t always be able to hang out with your LIFE Group every day of the week.  You’ll need to take ownership of your spiritual health, because nobody else will.
  2. Focus on what’s ahead.  Reflecting on your days in college is great, and you’ll probably be reminiscing about it for the rest of your life.  But if you don’t focus on what’s ahead, you can easily sink into an unhealthy nostalgia that actually hinders your future growth.  Complaining about how you can’t hang out til 2AM anymore, or how it’s harder to connect with people when you aren’t stacked on top of each other in apartments won’t do anything to help you move forward in life.  Acknowledge that your college years are behind you, thank God for what He did during that time, and look ahead to the new lessons and experiences He has planned for your future.
  3. Dive into a new community.  One aspect of looking ahead is realizing that you’ll need to develop new friendships.  Your college friends will end up all over the world, and wherever you find yourself, you’ll need to immerse yourself in a new spiritual community to help you grow and invest yourself in.  You don’t need to ditch the close friends you made in college, but holding out on building a new community won’t help you or anyone else.
  4. Context is flexible.  Purpose is constant.  Recognize that what you experienced during your college years was a very specific, isolated context which you will likely never find anywhere else.  You don’t want to end up like Will Ferrell in Old School, thinking that real life is only found by returning to campus.  Context changes, so hold it loosely.  But your purpose should remain the same.  Whatever new context God places you in, you can still grow spiritually, serve God, share your faith, and be part of transforming the world.  Don’t let your sense of purpose be dictated by where you are.  Let your purpose direct how you approach your new job, city, or neighborhood, and God will show you that He has decades of testimonies waiting for you to discover them.
  5. Enjoy yourself.  Personally, I loved starting working life.  If you are resolved to enjoy the new opportunities and relationships in front of you, there is a lot of fun you can discover in your post-college life.  The transition will be challenging, but sometimes facing and overcoming a new challenge can be one of the most fulfilling, enjoyable experiences of your life.

I’m excited for all of this year’s graduates.  Some of you will join our Community ministries at HMCC and continue to grow with us.  Some will move across the world and do incredible things for the Lord.  Wherever God takes you, I pray you will live out the mission you’ve been part of during your time in college.

Reflections on Passion Week 2014

20140421-153538.jpgIt’s Monday, and Christians around the world are slowly resurrecting after a Passion Week full of activity. I’m trying to grow in reflection and thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this past week.

  1. Prayer is powerful.  Our church has been praying together for this year’s Easter Celebration and for friends and family who would come for the entire season of Lent.  God hears and responds to our prayers, and this truth was obvious in how we saw Him working throughout the weekend.
  2. Preach the cross.  I had the privilege of preaching on Good Friday, and I was convicted that I needed to simply present the truth of what Jesus did on the cross without any embellishment.  In the end, the important thing is that we’re able to focus on Jesus, and I felt we were able to do that.  His death changes everything.
  3. Stories are powerful.  I was once told that “someone with a story is never at the mercy of someone with an argument”.  There are many people who argue against Christ, but after hearing 27 people’s testimonies at the baptism on Saturday, I think it’s undeniable that Jesus is working in their lives.
  4. The body of Christ is awesome.  So many people invested time, energy, and prayer into our church over this past week (and for weeks beforehand), and it was cool seeing everything come together.  Designers, dancers, musicians, greeters, teachers, intercessors, and so many more all used their gifts and talents to serve in specific ways.  And the rest of us all got to use smiles, conversations, and invitations to make an impact.  I love being part of a church where so many people are involved in ministry.
  5. There is real HOPE in Christ.  Pastor Seth Kim preached a great message for us from John 20:1-18, and I was reminded that Jesus really is our only true source of hope.   This hope isn’t just for those who already know Jesus, but for those all over the world who will believe in him through our testimony.
  6. It’s about community.  I enjoyed all of our services during Passion Week, and felt that God was working through all of it.  But at the same time, I’m reminded that life change really happens in community.  Easter Sunday can be a starting point, a celebration, or an encouragement, but the main event is when we begin to grow in community and live out our faith together in our daily lives.  I’m looking forward to many new people getting connected to our LIFE Groups so that they can see how we live with our hope in Christ.

He is risen!  I hope you had a great Passion Week!

Purposeful Transculturalism

I recently came across this video produced by The Village Church in Texas, and I was encouraged by their purposeful investment in ministering to people from diverse backgrounds. The video is entitled “Racial Reconciliation”, but it represents a lot of what we have been teaching about transculturalism at HMCC. Take a look:

Racial Reconciliation from The Village Church on Vimeo.

The problem highlighted in the video – the lack of diversity in the church – is obvious. And the fact that many times the secular world’s institutions exemplify greater diversity than the church makes this reality all the more tragic. I’m thankful to see other believers taking the call to reach the nations seriously at home, as well as abroad.

A couple specific observations about transculturalism from this video:

1) It’s hard. Breaking down barriers between different social groups is always difficult, and all the more so because the issues of diversity are so complex. Perseverance is needed to fight for what is valuable.

2) It takes time. It would be easy to watch this video and point out that there are still a relatively small number of minorities in the church. Personally, I applaud the church for making the effort, and we must acknowledge that change does not come overnight.

3) It’s more than race. One of the scenes of the video showed an ASL translator at the front of the auditorium during worship. It’s easy to think of transculturalism or diversity only in terms of race, but it is much more than that. God loves people with a variety of disabilities, socio-economic backgrounds, educational achievements, and cultures.

4) It’s uncomfortable. Anyone who has built a meaningful relationship with someone from a different culture knows that there can be some discomfort and awkwardness as we work through different perspectives, cultural practices, and values. But being uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel is worth it, and surrendering our own preferences is often the cost we must pay.

I’m praying for more churches to hear God’s call to reach the nations and love our neighbors as ourselves. When we can dwell in unity with one another, it demonstrates that we really are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35).

Up/Down

In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the effects of mental illness on people’s lives, and no less so in the church.  Christians are just as vulnerable as anyone to mental illness, but many feel ashamed to share those struggles, wondering if they will be rejected or judged by others.  Because of this, the lives of those afflicted with mental illness often remain shrouded to churchgoers, and we have no idea how to respond when people share their stories with us.

I am thankful that awareness of mental illness is growing among Christians, but it comes at a very high cost.  I have lost count of how many people have shared the pain of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. with me as a pastor, and I feel privileged to counsel and pray for these people who God loves so much.  But for many, the isolation, shame, and alienation from others is debilitating and overwhelming, and all too often results in a tragic loss.  In a world struggling to cope with the painful reality of mental illness, the church must be able to demonstrate compassion, acceptance, and understanding in a way that reflects the love of Jesus.

With millions of people in the United States affected by mental illness, it is almost certain that you know someone, or several people, who are trying to deal with it.  We have a duty to love them, and it is hard to love if we do not understand.  That’s why it encouraged me to discover this documentary on bipolar disorder entitled “Up/Down”.  Please watch it.

Where is the third Person?

I’ve realized recently that there is a big shortage of good teaching on the Holy Spirit.  It’s quite strange that the third Person of the Trinity, one of the main characters throughout Scripture, is either ignored by many cessationists (those who believe that the work of the Spirit was confined to the time of the apostles, based on a poor interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13), or sensationalized through unbiblical teaching by some pentecostals (not all pentecostal teaching is bad, but I’ve read some that has no basis in the Bible).  This is a generalization, but the more that I read from various traditions, I believe that the source of both the neglect and the sensationalism of the Holy Spirit are rooted in a lack of strong biblical teaching through the course of church history.

I took a theology course recently which was structured around the Nicene Creed.  This is a very important creed in Christian history, and it speaks significantly about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  But when speaking of the Holy Spirit, the creed is limited to:

“And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”

All we know of the Holy Spirit here is that He gives life (thus being involved in the work of creation), He is worshiped as a Person of the Trinity, and He spoke (in the past) through the prophets.  When reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, this seems like a ridiculously small scope of the Holy Spirit’s work.  I’m in no position to write a theology textbook, but here are a few obvious roles of the Holy Spirit taught in the Bible:

  1. Creator (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4) – The Holy Spirit is involved in the work of creation.
  2. Prophetic Voice (1 Samuel 10:10, Acts 13:2, 2 Peter 1:21) – He speaks through people with prophetic words (even today!).
  3. Visions (Ezekiel 11:24, Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, Acts 10:9-23) – The Holy Spirit gives people supernatural visions (even today!).
  4. Seal of Salvation (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19) – He dwells within believers and marks them as belonging to Christ.
  5. Incarnation (Matthew 1:18) – He caused the virgin conception of Jesus Christ in Mary.
  6. Baptism (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5, Acts 10:47) – He completes the internal spiritual work of baptism.
  7. Counselor & Teacher (John 14:26) – The Holy Spirit counsels and teaches us as we follow Christ.
  8. Empowering (Acts 1:8, Acts 4:31) – He gives us spiritual power, enabling us to boldly live for God.
  9. Guide (Acts 16:6) – The Holy Spirit gives us practical guidance and direction.
  10. Unity (Ephesians 4:13) – He unites us in fellowship with one another.
  11. Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14, Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 4:11-13) – The Holy Spirit gifts us for ministry.
  12. Sanctifies (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2) – The Holy Spirit purifies us and empowers us to live holy lives.

This isn’t even an exhaustive list.  The point is, I rarely see good writing or teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit in the everyday lives of Christians.  It’s as if we should be content to simply know that He exists, that He made some people prophecy in the past, and that’s it.  It’s not surprising the He is often referred to as “the forgotten third Person of the Trinity”.  I think this not only dishonors God and grieves the Holy Spirit, but also hinders believers from fully living out their faith.  We can do nothing without God, and it is our communion with, reliance upon, and connection to the Holy Spirit that enables us to be obedient to God’s will and build His kingdom.