What makes us Rockford First? – Part 5

At Rockford First, we strive to have a “Culture of Optimism”.  In short, it is an “it can happen” state of mind.  From the children’s ministry to the senior adults, we believe that God can make it happen.

God can save!
God can heal!
God can reach!
God can restore!
God can help!
God can do the impossible!

Every day, we remind ourselves that God’s ideas of Rockford First’s future are bigger than anything we can imagine.  He is a God of today and tomorrow.  Like it is written in Haggai…

“This house will be even greater than it was before,” says the Lord of All.

At Rockford First, we remind each other that God has big plans for His people and His church.  We want to be a part of that!

We celebrate big “wins” and small “wins.”  We cheer each other on and believe that God’s best is still untapped in each person.  We come to church on Sundays believing God will move in our lives and the person next to us.  We are not surprised when He does, but we are extremely grateful.

We have had some incredibly hard times at Rockford First, both as individuals and as a faith community.  There were moments we weren’t sure there would be a “Next Sunday” (I’m not exaggerating).  There were times we didn’t see any solutions.  Like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, all we saw was the enemy at work and no help in sight.

Then we resolved to be optimistic.
Difficulty was challenged with optimism.
Disappointment was encountered with faith.

We have to continually remind ourselves that God is able, even in the face of the darkest circumstances.  It is a discipline, not a feeling.  We know that God will take every situation surrendered to Him and turn it around for good.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;”
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

What makes us Rockford First? – Part 4

As we prepare for 2013, allow me to discuss another aspect of the culture of Rockford First.

We, at Rockford First, strive to have a “Culture of Authenticity.”

Over the course of the next year, we will have many opportunities. Thousands of people, many who haven’t been to church for some time, will enter the doors of Rockford First as our guests. Many will not have gone to church consistently because, when they do, it often confirms their suspicions that church doesn’t connect to their real lives.

At Rockford First, we want to make sure that the words that we speak from the stage, the message that I preach, the songs that we sing and the overall experience that they have, make sense.  For example, we choose to not use words that were common 400 years ago.  Nor do we speak in “Christianese,” the language found in church subculture.

What I’ve learned over the years is that the vast majority of people who come to Rockford First are not searching for truth; they are searching for happiness.  People need truth, but initially they are searching for solutions to the problems they are presently encountering in life.

If preaching truth were enough, then almost every church in the nation would be full each weekend.  It is not enough to preach truth.  It must be communicated in such a way that people understand and are helped.  Unfortunately, in church we forget that our current understanding of Biblical principles is not common amongst those who do not go to church.  What makes us say, “wow” makes them say, “huh?”

Recently, I heard Mark Batterson mention that when communicating Biblical truth, there is a simplicity on the near side of complexity and a simplicity on the far side of complexity.  Simplicity on the near side doesn’t change a life.  Landing on complexity only confuses.  However, making the complex things of the Bible simple enough for everyone to understand was how Jesus approached “teaching.”  He would say that the “Kingdom of God was like a buried treasure.”  I’m not sure you could talk about a more complex subject than the entire Kingdom of God.  However, Jesus likened it to a buried treasure and went on to tell a story that his listeners could understand.  (Simplicity on the far side of complexity.)

We, at Rockford First, will have a culture that creates authentic services for people to walk away from, feeling like it was helpful and giving them a simplistic handle on truth.  I pray that the hundreds of new people who recently walked through our doors for the first time this past Christmas weekend had an authentic experience.  And above all, that truth was both received AND understood.

What makes us Rockford First? – Part 3

We have been discussing how every company and organization has a culture (including churches), whether that culture is intentionally built or not. A culture many times is determined by what the leadership loves and hates.  So I’m taking time in this blog to reveal what we love and what choices create the Rockford First Culture.

3. Culture of Generosity

At Rockford First, we love to be generous.  In fact, a common term you will hear in our services is that we desire to have “lives that give.”

Rockford First recently completed our most aggressive “giving” initiative called “Love Works.”  Throughout the month of October, we asked ourselves a simple, but powerful diagnostic question, “What does real love look like?”

We determined that according to God’s Word, love is both a conviction AND an action.  It is a choice AND an effort.  Like two wings of an airplane, the only way it flies is if both the heart and the hands are engaged and fully present.  So we began a life-changing journey and it was a game-changer for our church.

In studying the very familiar story of the Good Samaritan, Rockford First determined that we are “The Solution” to the problems in our path.  We cannot meet every need around us, but we can sure tend to the ones God lays in our course of travel.

Our church also discussed that one of the greatest deterrents of becoming the solution to the needs around us are personal mind games.  We are convinced that we have nothing to offer.  We think that the effort to stop and meet a need will be too overwhelming or that we don’t have the ability to really help.

However, the verse that puts everything back into perspective is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NLV), “For the love of Christ puts us into action.”  It became clear in studying Jesus’ story of the Samaritan that the one who helped had already been resourced by God to be the solution.  He used what was in his hand to help another.  It simply came down to a choice of whether or not he WOULD help.

I have discovered that action cures fear.

Once you decide in your heart to live a generous life, you will see that God places needs in your path He has already resourced you to meet.  In turn, God blesses you so that you can continue to be a blessing to those in your future paths.

So at Rockford First, we will do strategic acts of love and live lives of generosity.   We have determined to look through the lenses of love and generosity, realizing we cannot help everyone, but we can do for one what we wished we could do for all.  And in living a life of generosity, we will show those around us that God is real and His love is powerful.  It is all wrapped up in what Bishop Kettler once wrote…

“Works of love are the most convincing arguments.  When others see that with us is the home of active Christian love, ever ready to aid our suffering, needy brothers and sisters, the truth of our faith will be recognized.”


What makes us Rockford First? – Part 2

(Continued from What makes us Rockford First? – Part 1)

We have been discussing that every company and organization has a culture (including churches), whether that culture was intentionally built or not.  A culture many times is determined by what the leadership loves and hates.

In 2 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul writes this about the Macedonian churches… “They gave themselves first.”  So the question begs to be asked, “What do we, at Rockford First, give ourselves to? What do we care about?”

I’m taking time in this blog to reveal what we love and what choices create the Rockford First Culture.

2. Culture of Advancement

Many times you can better describe an idea but identifying what it is not.  (In other words, what is the opposite of the idea?)  At Rockford First, we have a culture of advancement. Meaning we hate the opposite, which is maintaining, preserving status quo, or going backwards.

Rockford First has a great heritage.  Our church was started in 1929, in a storefront in downtown Rockford.  Throughout the decades our church has grown, planted multiple other churches, impacted this community, sent out hundreds of pastors, missionaries and workers into ministry around the world, expanded to new locations, and has over 175,000 square feet of present-day ministry space.  More than 80 years later, Rockford First looks nothing like it did in 1929.

We celebrate our story.  We remember and honor the past.  Our church (like every church its age) has had good and bad times, but God has always advanced this house of worship.  There were specific times that could even be labeled “revival” moments, where God’s powerful hand was at work.  (i.e. Sunday night services in the 1980’s where you had to show up an hour early to get a seat. Wednesday night youth group services averaging 1,000 people in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, just to name a couple anecdotes.) God has done miraculous things at Rockford First.

However, today at Rockford First, we rarely talk about the past.  In fact, I’ve noticed that when I first took over as Lead Pastor, most people talked about the past or the “good ole days,” yet that rarely happens anymore.  I’ve also noticed that churches that always talk about the past are usually in a season without vision, so the church has to focus on the “wins” of yesteryear since there is a drought of victories presently happening.

Now don’t get me wrong… I am in NO WAY insinuating that we should discredit the past by ignoring what God has done.  The Bible is very clear about “remembering.”  My point is this… At Rockford First, we have decided to honor the past without living in it. (Big difference.)

I’ll tell you what we LOVE… what God is doing NOW and what we KNOW He is going to do in the future.  We will not be distracted by unfruitful efforts and conversations trying to revive or relive the good ole days.

Recently, Rockford First was listed as the seventh fastest growing church in the nation. (Which is somewhat of a fictional statement since many great churches didn’t report their numbers.  Regardless, this honor is a signal that God is at work at this house.)  However, though we were excited to hear this finding, it is now history.

We are much more excited about what God is doing in this present season. We focus on what God wants to do next weekend and the one after that.  We will put our heart, soul, prayers and efforts into what’s next.  We are passionate about advancing!