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This Sunday, I begin a message series on the mission and vision of Palm Coast Bible Church. The following is a small portion of my message for this week.
God is with us always. Where we have been. Where we are. Where we are going. He is with us all the time and at any moment in time. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Those of us who grew up with the church take for granted the most important part of the creation story. God existed before the genesis, before the beginning, before anything else. God spoke, and by His very breath, creation erupted. Before our first moments as humanity, God was already around. Look at Revelation 1:8. “I am the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come – the Almighty One.” God is always previous. God is I Am. God always will be.
Moving with God starts with our view that we are always in the presence of God. No matter where we go or how the situations of our life direct our path, God is always within reach. Although the sin of our life so easily trips us up and causes us to stumble, God is right there to grab our hand and put us on our feet, again. Even if we are on a path that leads to heartache, pain, and disappointment, God is ready to give us a course correction so we might have a change of destination. God is not far from any one of us, and the invitation to move with Him is always available.
Last week, Pokémon Go was released, and the game became an instant hit. Pokémon was a video and card game created in the late 90’s. The new smartphone app takes a few concepts of the card game and mixes in physical exercise and community interaction.
To fill up on supplies, Pokéstops were created. Many of the Pokéstops are church buildings from various faiths, but mostly Christian. The congregation where I pastor (Palm Coast Bible Church) is one of the Pokéstops. Being a Pokéstop presents a great opportunity for our congregation to influence and reach people that would not normally be influenced by the church. The following sign was created to reach out to those playing the game:
We also placed the sign on our Facebook page to reach as many people as possible. Already, we are seeing great interest. Yesterday, I stood outside of our church building and talked with a guy named Thomas. He is a single dad with a two-year-old daughter. We had a surface-level conversation about Pokémon and I invited him and his daughter to join us on Sunday. On Facebook, one of our team pastors had someone he’s been trying to encourage to come to worship say, “Now, I might actually show up!”
This is an example of the church meeting people where they are. 20-30 new people a day are driving onto our church property. These are people that never knew the church existed. Before Pokémon Go, we had less than 10 new people a week driving onto our property. It would be appalling to have this many non-church people coming to our campus, and we do nothing to reach out to them.
Although we are starting to see some good things come from the advertisement, we are also getting some concern over what we are doing. I understand the concern. Before we put out the sign, I spent a good amount of time researching and debating the merits of such an outreach. I didn’t know anything about Pokémon.
Below are the results of my research. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are the bullet points:
- Our freedom in Christ helps us determine if the activity we participate in is beneficial for us or harmful to us.
- There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about games.
- Any game can become a spiritual hindrance under the wrong circumstance, just as any activity in our lives can be harmful if we are not mindful of the activity.
- In reality, the creatures are actually various types of animals.
- Pokemon is not much different than the cartoons of Disney.
I hope to enter into a dialogue with anyone that wants to discuss this issue further. Please feel free to leave comments and let’s work this out together.
I like what the Apostle Paul said, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
See my research post below.
There are two mistakes followers of Jesus make when it comes to culture. The first is being careless, or participating without considering the consequences. The second is being paranoid, or rejecting something based on little or no information. I believe the concerns surrounding Pokemon are a mixture of both.
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 provides good insight for us regarding Pokemon or any cultural phenomena.
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Our freedom in Christ helps us determine if the activity we participate in is beneficial for us or harmful to us. In order to make such a determination, we need to have an accurate understanding of the activity, so we can make the right choice.
On a practical stand point, there is nothing inherently moral or immoral about games. Pokemon uses strategy and an understanding of what piece follows which rules, must like someone who plays chess or checkers. Any game can become a spiritual hindrance under the wrong circumstance, just as any activity in our lives can be harmful if we are not mindful of the activity. We must be cautious not to let any game become an addiction and ruin a good thing. Another concern when it comes to Pokemon is the cost involved. Games such as Pokemon Go have the option to purchase coins in order to advance faster in the game. Care should be taken to make sure one does not overspend on such a game and create financial issues for themselves.
As for a spiritual standpoint, let me address a couple of common issues.
- The word pokemon is short for “pocket monster.” This is a description of the creatures used in game. In reality, the creatures are actually various types of animals. Players capture Pokemons, train them, and use them against other Pokemons. There are advantages and disadvantages to every Pokemon, just as their are in the pieces in a game of chess.
- Most Pokemon have magical special abilities. Most abilities are non-spiritual (weight gain, change the weather), but some are based spiritual concepts drawn from Eastern religions.
The Pokemon Go game is GPS-based, augmented reality game. The game encourages physical interaction by walking around to catch Pokemon. Many people have told me they walk an extra 2-5 miles a day because of this game. Pokestops are places where people can go and refill their supplies. Church buildings are common places for Pokestops.
Pokemon is not much different than the cartoons of Disney. There is “magic” but it is not overly occult. The violence in Pokemon is cartoonish, similar to Bugs Bunny, and there is no blood. Characters actually do not die in Pokemon, but faint. The animals are whimsical and not scary.
Taken at face value, there is unlikely to be a significant threat to anyone’s spirituality. However, it is important for parents and individuals to determine whether or not the game is appropriate for them.
Every follower of Jesus should do research into the game and make a decision on how to proceed.
Content adapted from:
Here is a fun little guide I put together on how to read Scripture in a worship gathering. My goal was to be creative, fun, and non-threatening. I used www.makebeliefscomix.com to create the guide. Enjoy!
Speakers, amplifiers, cords, microphones, lighting rig, computers, and a digital soundboard. As the Assistant Pastor in charge of worship, I was convinced my congregation needed these things (among other techs) to enhance the worship experience and reach more people. The only problem…we were a congregation of seventy-five people, and there was no margin in our finances to make the purchases. In order to buy all the items on my list, we needed $50,000. That was almost half the budget!
Since almost 60% of all congregations in the United States have an average attendance of less than ninety-nine[i], I know I am not the only one who has struggled with the dilemma of needing more money in order to make purchases necessary for growth. Needing more money for more ministry is not limited to only small congregations. Even large congregations struggle to have enough resources to reach more people. The more extensive the ministry, the more money it takes to resource that ministry. Inevitably, all leaders will have to solicit more money in order to further the vision God has given them.
Money is not the answer to a problem. It is one tool that is used to help find a solution.
Fundraising is a necessary part of church and non-profit leadership, I discovered a few principles for effective fundraising. My goal is to help you raise the money you need while being good stewards of the ministry God has given you.
Fundraising is a Spiritual Exercise, Not an Operational Necessity
Always start fundraising with prayer. We are stewards of God’s resources. The first thing we need to do is gain guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Prayer challenges us to stay connected to the vision that God gave us. Fundraising that relates to the vision is much more effective than fundraising for the sake of raising money.[ii] People give to projects and ministries that change lives and change the world. Vision expresses why the money you are asking for can make a difference in this world.
Prayer also helps us to determine why we need or want the money. Before you ask for the money, there needs to be a clear reason why the money is important to your vision. What are you going to do with the money? How is the money going to make a difference in your vision? Can you accomplish the same thing without asking for money?
Money is not the answer to a problem. It is one tool that is used to help find a solution. Seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit will give you the perfect “pitch” for fundraising.
Show me a video of a single dad struggling to put his daughter through college, or tell me a story of a family who lost all their material possessions due to a hurricane, and you’ve got my attention. Convince me that the money you are raising is going to make a difference in their lives, and then you’ve got my bank account.
People do not want to give to the theoretical. They want to give to something practical. They need to know that the money they are giving is going to directly change someone’s life. The former president of World Vision calls this type of giving “Radical Hospitality.”[iii] Giving that changes lives makes the donor feel as though they played a major part in that change.
The best stories are the ones that relate directly to the people whom you are appealing. Your goal in fundraising is to connect people’s hearts to their bank account.[iv] When making the pitch, understand the potential donors’ values. Keep them informed of the impact their giving is making. As a leader, create an organizational culture where donors serve as strategic partners in accomplishing the vision.[v]
Be Personally Invested
Do not ask for money, if you are not willing to invest personally. People need to know that you have skin in the game. They want to see that the vision is so important that you are willing make your own sacrifices for the vision.
I know that as a pastor or ministry leader this is really hard to do. Most of us already have small salaries. Some of us have multiple jobs in order to have a “full-time” pastoral position. It can seem overwhelming to ask you to invest your own money when you feel as though you are already sacrificing. Help your donors see your sacrifice. Be transparent with your finances. Show them how much you tithe. Help them to notice how your family is already investing personally through their time and resource commitments.
Ask for the Money
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge that was sweeping the internet last year? That was one of the best fundraising campaigns in recent history.[vi] The number one reason I believe it was so effective is because everyone who participated asked someone else for money. Yes, the campaign went viral, was a grassroots effort, and was fun, but each person who challenged someone else said something like, “Take the challenge or donate $100. I took the challenge and still gave $25.” The money was asked for, and the people gave.
If you don’t ask for the money, you will not get any.
It doesn’t matter how good your pitch is or how well you connect with your potential donor on an emotional level. You may have the greatest God-given vision ever. If you don’t ask for the money, you will not get any. Make sure you give your potential donor a specific dollar amount. Don’t be ashamed of asking for money. If you believe in your vision, then you are convicted that everyone else should buy into it, also.
Say, “Thank you!”
The final, and in my opinion, most important thing you need to do in fundraising is to thank the donor and God. Everyone wants to be appreciated. A simple thank you note goes a long way in the heart of a donor. It reinforces the idea that they are partners with you in ministry. It also lays the groundwork for follow-up and asking for another donation at another time.
When giving out thanks, don’t forget about God. If we go back to the top of this article, this whole thing started with Him. You are engaged in ministry because God chose to use you to share His plan of reconciliation with the world.[vii] When He provides the resources you need to carry out the vision He gave you, give Him thanks. It will keep you humble enough to realize you can’t do any of this without Him.
[i] The Hartford Institute for Religion
[ii] Curry, Rodin, and Carlson (2009) discovered that a fundraising strategy connected to a vision raises 50% more revenue.
[iii] Seiple (2010) describes Radical Hospitality as giving that speaks to the “way of the Cross” and challenges Christians to follow Jesus’ example in giving. He goes one to say, “Rarely is there a major gift offered without a strong belief in the abilities of the leadership to maximize the impact of the gift.”
[iv] Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:21 give us the reason for this.
[v] Yi, D. (2010). Determinants of Fundraising Efficiency of Nonprofit Organizations.
[vi] According to Landen (2014), the ALS raised over $100 million which is a 3,500% increase in donations when compared with the same period last year.
[vii] 2 Corinthians 5:18-20