In Defense of Denominations

in-defense-of-denominationsTeamwork makes the dream work. This is a phrase that is passed around in many circles and I have heard it used to bring light to dark situations. It is an interesting concept. The idea of becoming partners with a group for the common purpose of meeting measurable goals is something that is appealing to most. I have always valued being a part of something bigger than myself and joining with others to collectively pursue a mission. I know that I do not have all of the answers, nor do I think that my way is the best way.

I have had the opportunity, in my experience as a pastor, to talk with many pastors and church leaders from around the world. Many have shared my theological tradition and many have not. One conversation I have engaged in during my ministry with these leaders relates to the topic of Christian denominations. When speaking about this subject, it is quickly apparent that a large number of people are against the idea. The nondenominational movement is something that has gained great steam in the last several years. Church goers cite many reasons for leaving denominations and pursuing a worship community unaffiliated with a larger movement.

Personally, I am thankful that people have chosen a church to attend, so the point of this blog is not to downplay the value of the nondenominational church, because these churches are still a part of the global body of Christ and do great good. I am simply writing this to explain my view as to why I have chosen a larger movement to align myself with.

In my recent past, I have volunteered with a missions organization that has no main parent church affiliation. This ministry has established schools, orphanages, churches, food pantries and pastoral training centers around the world. They have an incredible network of churches that have bought into the vision of the organization and support it with volunteer help and financial support. People are being introduced to Jesus in large numbers because of these partnerships. They have seen success in their work because they have churches that share the passion that they display. This network functions as a denomination in their web of partnerships.

When I think about this nonaffiliated entity, my mind wanders to those who are against denominational entities. Why is this?

I get it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when the general leadership of a certain denomination sends down a decree (for lack of a better term) that sometimes doesn’t fit into the cultural context of a local community. Perhaps, even, a person may discover theological differences that don’t line up with their system of beliefs. But, in my conversations with leaders that have left denominations to pursue independence, the desire to be autonomous was the overriding factor in their decision making process.

A Christian denomination is simply a missional organization with affiliated churches. These churches share a theological identity that is not mandated, but that is shared due to common purpose and passion. In the same way, we see a fast growing movement of nonaffiliated churches that long to be connected in partnership with a missional entity. As a pastor, there is something initially attractive about being disconnected from “outside” accountability. The fact is, this mentality can’t be sustained for very long, because eventually the craving for extended community is realized.

I am a part of something larger and I have learned that I do not have all of the answers. I need my brothers and sisters who are partnering with me to help convey the message that God has given all of us. No individual congregation can do everything they are called to do in complete isolation. This is why I have chosen the path I am on. The sometimes frustrating and flawed movement that I have joined.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

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What if the Church…

What could possibly happen
if the Church made a decree
That no single mother
Would ever go hungry

That no little child
Would go unembraced
That the lowly would be educated
Through the struggles they face

What if the sinner was served
As if it were right
And, instead of spewing venom,
We prayed for their plight

What if our enemies
Were looked at with care
Could we really love them
Would we even dare?

What if we were given
Just one single day
What would we do
Would we give ourselves away

What about if…
We were given only two
Would we still set out
To please God in all we do?

What if all believers
Decided right now
That God’s work was too vital
To simply throw in the towel

I think I know the answer
I think it is clear
For His promises are sure
And can eradicate our fear

A revival would come
Like has never before
We would be the Church
And like Christ even more

So mobilize sleeping giant
It’s time to stand up and fight
We are the hope for the world
Serve others with all your might.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Week that Broke My Heart

Consider these facts:

    • Over 27-32 million Americans have significant hearing loss
    • About one in four families have at least one member who is deaf or hard-of-hearing
    •  The number of severely to profoundly deaf people in the US is estimated at 1 million
    • Only 2% to 4% of deaf people claim to know Christ as Savior

When I first read these statistics, I honestly skimmed over them as if they were another pile of information to wade through on the internet. It is so hard not to. There is so much information out there that would have startled a person years ago, and we have become so jaded as a culture when it comes to new information of this kind. The stats above came from their website.

Last week, I had the awesome privilege of working, for 5 days, for a ministry called “Silent Blessings Deaf Ministries“. The purpose of my time there was to help the organization develop a fundraising strategy for a campaign they have coming up in the near future. So, my time that week largely consisted of getting to know the ins and outs of the mission, vision, and values of this ministry. Silent Blessings is an organization that desires to bring people, both deaf and hearing, into a profound encounter with the reconciling love of God through Jesus Christ. I would say that is a worthy goal.  They also produce a TV show for deaf (and hearing) children that is broadcasted all over the world. It is called Dr. Wonder’s Workshop.  All of the actors are deaf and the voice-overs cater to the hearing population.

I know very little sign language and I only personally know a couple deaf people. For a while, for some reason, I have felt like our church has had some sort of call by God to reach out specifically to this people group. I am still not sure how that is going to look structurally, but we have already started dabbling in sign language as a church to prepare for what God has for us.

My week there was exciting, and I felt like I was at home with my temporary co-workers. I felt like we had the same mission in ministry even though I did not have much connection with the deaf commnunity I know God was nudging me. God broke my heart that week, more deeply, for the deaf community. In many surveys, this people group is called the largest unreached people group in America. To hear stories of how the deaf are marginalized, abused, and ignored entirely made me leave my temporary office shaking my head and desiring more of a connection. One stat that really shook me to the core involved the fathers of deaf children. Less than one percent of fathers who have deaf children are engaged with their child to help them grow spiritually, emotionally, or mentally. Not good.

So, as I reflect on last week, I have fond memories, and I look forward to my continued connection with this organization. My heart is filled…but it is also broken. Jesus loves everyone…even those who can’t hear.

Take a look at the video above and catch the passion for why this ministry began. Go to their website and donate!

-Landon DeCrastos

Simply Serve

painting

I think every pastor, from time to time, sits in his/ her office and wonder what they can do better to grow their church. It is frustrating at times to work hard and to visibly see people losing interest in what you are doing. Pastors…let’s be honest…we feel that growing our church (whatever that means) is solely our responsibility. We try to come up with creative ideas that will get more butts into seats, manufacture excitement, and give people a great show to talk about for the rest of the week. I am more and more convinced that we are missing the point entirely.

I pastor a fairly small church in Fishers, IN called Fishers Point Community Church. We are a slowly growing church plant that has a ton of children and is overall very family-oriented. I love that worship community. As the Lead Pastor of this church, the first paragraph at one point described me perfectly. I felt responsible for everyone’s happiness and the steady growth of the church. Granted, I am responsible for strategic leadership, but growth requires more than what I listed…

One day, I sat in my office and had such a burden for my church. I began to feel as if there was something missing from what we were doing. I looked at our mission statement and it looked good…I thought about our music and it was  great quality…I even critically analyzed my own preaching. Everything seemed great! Why were people coming into our worship services so tired and checking their watches during worship? It occurred to me that our church had never really taken any risks and had not selflessly served the community. I thought we did…I mean we had a great worship service to come to that anyone was invited to participate in…We were not actually serving people for the purpose of simply serving.

When we started targeting people to serve in our community we began to see testimonies regularly and people seeing God moving in their lives! And…most importantly we serve making sure that we do not do so just to get people to come to our church. We make sure that we just simply serve.

The most recent example was a project that we did for a single mother of 2 boys. We painted her house…It was so simple, but through this project the people that participated were changed. This woman was so gracious to humbly let us serve her. She seemed so appreciative. The next morning, in our worship service, we saw spontaneous testimonies, and God took over to the point that I had to surrender my sermon to God’s control. I didn’t preach what I intended. What happend that day can’t fully be described.

We have seen our local church invigorated because children and adults are involved in sacrificially giving their time, money, and energy to make sure that Christ is seen through us. People not only need to hear the word they need to see it.  My vision for this church is to mobilze an army of sacrifically serving individuals to reflect Christ’s love around the community.

I have found that churches and individuals will grow and become passionate about their faith when they take the gospel message they are hearing and translate it to the animation of their hands and hearts.

It is transforming our church…It’s what God wants.

-Landon DeCrastos

A Forest in a Tree

12_The_old_swingset

If you have ever noticed as you are talking to me, I wear a silver necklace. I have worn this same necklace for many years and some people have made the remark that they notice I never take it off. There is a reason for that… it is a reason that has actually evolved over time, but now I understand its full weight. This necklace, given to me by my girlfriend (now wife) so many years ago was actually a replacement to a necklace I wore nonstop that started to fall apart. To tell you what it symbolizes will require a story…

Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? 16 years ago, as I walked through a children’s neighborhood park, I had this feeling. I felt as if I were being followed or watched or stalked. My curiosity was overwhelming so I started to look high and low for the culprit. It was only me and a friend walking in this area so it was an odd feeling to have. As I tried to get my mind off of the concept, I looked up and I found the source. A little boy had climbed a tall tree and was watching every move we made.

We were in this park as a result of being on a mission trip with our youth group to North Dakota. The youth group had split into 3 groups

and our smaller group mission was to clean up this park and to teach object lessons (and play with) kids that we found there. The problem was…there were no kids at this park….well, except this small boy hiding in the tree.

Later, we found this woman who had walked to the park and told us she was this boy’s aunt. We found out the boy’s name was Forest and he was 4 years old. The aunt was somewhat nervous because this particular park had a reputation as a drug dealing hub. Forest was in danger simply by playing at this park.

After a few days of our mission, we saw more and more children come to play at this park. We cleaned it up and made it usable. Parents came to greet us, bring lemonade, and thanked us for making this park a safe play area once again. These children came as a result of Forest and his family spreading the word that the park is now a place of fun… drug dealers, for some reason had moved on to another spot to do business.

At the end of the week, I bought a necklace because I wanted something to remind me of this event. Now, this necklace reminds me of two important truths.

  1. Anything that seems hopeless or lacking worth can be redeemed for good.
  2. Sometimes that which seems weak (4 year old boy) is just what God uses to penetrate the darkness.

-Landon DeCrastos