Category Archives: Church growth

Ministry is Hard

Ministry is hard, sometimes.

Often, people see the fun things that ministers get to do. They get to visit with families and laugh and play. They get invited to hunt and fish. They get to set their own hours. They eat with people, a lot.

Some people think that preachers only work Sundays and Wednesdays. This is NOT true. Most weeks, ministers work some part of every day. Not because they choose to, but because they are needed, and unless they are deep in the backwoods somewhere, they are reachable. And, because ministers are in it to serve God and others, they say, “Yes!”, even on their days off, and in many ways, they enjoy serving in this way.

But sometimes ministry is hard.

When you live a long way from home, and your loved one is dying, and you have to choose whether or not to go see him before he dies, ministry is hard.

When you invest time upon time into the life of another, only to see them turn from the ways of Jesus, ministry is hard.

When your friend dies, and you are called upon to do his funeral, ministry is hard.

When someone in the community asks you to do a funeral for someone who didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, ministry is hard.

When you show people the ways of the scripture, but they choose to continue in their traditions instead of with freedom in Christ, ministry is hard.

When you watch children spending time with their extended family who lives nearby, while yours only see their extended family during vacation time, ministry is hard.

When your job security is a certain as the emotional state of the church, ministry is hard.

But ministry is fulfilling.

It is wonderful to see lives change. It brings great joy to help others understand the love of Christ in the Scriptures. It is wonderful to have forever family that you can lean on in hard times and in celebratory times. It is great to have the freedom to do ministry when needed and not be confined to an office.

There are many perks to being in full-time ministry, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Pray for your minister. I know this may sound selfish since I’m a minister, but encourage him. Let him know he’s wanted. Let him know his place is secure. Treat him like your brother, and not as an outsider or hired hand. Invite him and his family to lunch or dinner or an outing instead of waiting for him to invite you. Get to know him.

Encourage his family. Often, his wife and kids are left to fend for themselves while he serves everyone else. The preacher’s kid syndrome is real, and many ministers lose their kids to the world because of how the kids grow up seeing the church treat their dad. Let the family of your minister know how valuable they are, not as helpers for the church, but as brothers and sisters who are beloved.

When you treat your minister well, you will find he has renewed strength to soar in the Spirit as he works to serve and teach and lead in the church.

I’m glad to be a minister, working for the LORD, and serving the church and community.

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Watch the Pendulum

Have you ever watched the pendulum on a grandfather clock? Maybe you’ve watched a plumb bob swing, or you created some other oscillating device. Back and forth it goes, swinging each time a little less unless there is a mechanism aiding the pendulum. There’s actually a great video on YouTube where a professor shows his class the nature of gravity when acting upon a pendulum. You can find that video here.

Often times the practices of society work like a pendulum. For a while, society behaves a certain way, then there is a moment of reaction and society shifts to behave in an opposite way.

Before the 1960s, the world was functioning in what is termed as the “modern” mindset, where the scientific method was king, and wars were fought, and society thought happiness could be achieved through rational thinking. Then, the 1960s happened. There was a general revelation that technology and science and logic could not create happiness and fulfillment in society, so a shift occurred. The western world moved into a frame of mind referred to as “postmodern”. It was, basically, a reaction to all things modern. In postmodernism, truths became relative, and one’s perspective determined one’s truth. Also in postmodernism, a person needed the spiritual/mystical to balance the physical, because it became evident that the physical realm is not all there is to this universe, and things in the metaphysical realm influence our reality.

For many people who had grown up modern, this postmodern shift was difficult to swallow. However, all they needed to do was wait. Now we are in yet another shift of culture, and the definition of this new shift is still being examined and explored. We are now in a post-postmodern culture. Not modern. Not postmodern. Somewhere else – likely a combination of both.

In the church, these culture swings happen regularly as well.

For a long time, the church functioned without the scriptures available to all, and she focused on living rightly and devotion to the Lord. Then, when the Bible became accessible to the masses, she swung to focus on knowledge and devotion to the Bible, even though she said the knowledge was to influence actions. Now there is a swing back to try to be more social even as we remain somewhat biblically literate.

There has also been a shift in church culture regarding attending weekly services. For a long time, it was thought that missing church on any given Sunday (unless you were ill) was tantamount to walking away from the faith. Not only did you attend every Sunday to maintain good standing in the faith, but you dressed the part to show your devotion (giving the best) to God.

As culture outside the church has shifted, understandings within the church has shifted, and the attitude toward church attendance has dramatically changed. I remember, when I was younger, how people would make the argument that one would not need church attendance to get to heaven. Even as a teen, I remember attempting to show them the holes in their arguments, using verses like Hebrews 10:25.

The pendulum has swung, and nowadays families treat church attendance as if it is significantly optional. If one person has the sniffles, the whole family stays home. If chores need to be done, attendance with the saints at the assembly is put on hold for more practical endeavors. It is quite the swing of the pendulum how the church perceives attendance at the assembly today.

One of the main problems with this new attitude is the generational consequences being seen. With a 20% retention rate of our young people within our churches, we are already seeing the results of raising kids with this church-optional attitude. When you do not show your kids the importance of the assembly, they will be less devoted than even you are.

Another result of this pendulum swing is being seen in our churches at large. Because attendance is down, volunteers are scarce, and money for ministries wanes. The church is stronger together (Ecclesiastes 4:12). She really does suffer when you are not dedicated to her.

Probably the greatest result of this pendulum swing, however, is seen in the people themselves. Because of a disconnection with the life of the church, the lifestyles of the church looks more like the world than ever. When we do not have continual encouragement and accountability and reminders – when we disconnect from the body – we die spiritually. This is a biblical fact (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Do not sit back and watch the church suffer because the pendulum has swung. You have direct influence on the pendulum. We do not have to be so legalistic about the church as she was for a long time, but in our reaction to legalism, let us not throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. May we all renew our devotion, not only to the Lord, but to His church and her work in Him.


#aztecstrong #marshallstrong #churchstrong

Have you ever been in a situation where pain is imminent? Maybe you’re about to fall. Maybe you’re about to crash. Maybe one false move could cause loss of limb. In any case, your sensed are heightened, and you are keenly aware of every motion in effort to stave off the potential harm that could befall you. No longer are you drifting in semi-conscious automatic behavior. Now you are engaged, and your focus is keen.

How about another scenario. What do you do when you cut yourself badly? Let’s say you are in the kitchen cutting vegetables, and your finger gets in the way trying to pretend it’s one of the vegetables. The knife goes right to the bone. Do you continue in your course of action? NO! You immediately stop, and all your consciousness and efforts focus on stopping the bleeding and healing the wound. In fact, even as the wound heals, your body cannot help but remain focused on the sensitivity of the wound.

Pain focuses us. Terror unites us. Routine divides.

When I think of the terror of the Aztec and Marshall County High School shootings, it strikes me how unified the communities have become in the aftermath of the tragedies. People are reaching out to one another in ways they never would otherwise. Aztec is reaching out in prayer and support for Marshall County. Those two groups would never have even known each other. We are unified when we are singularly seeking to survive from similar circumstances. We have empathy and concern for one another, and we show it outwardly.

In the first century, the church was hemmed in on every side with persecution from a variety of groups that did not like how the Kingdom of God defines by selfless love threatened their power schemes. Christians were imprisoned and killed. People ran for their lives. But the church was growing. How could this be? It would seem the persecution would eradicate this loosely-banded group of misfits claiming such an outlandish story.

Instead of hurting the church, it actually caused its growth. People were unified in their drive to survive and invite others into a better way of love, and as the persecution came, they moved and continued to share, thus spreading the gospel to all the lands within a matter of about two years.

Tragedy and persecution united the church, and it grew.

Today the church is apathetic. Sure, you have ministers, pastors, evangelists, and a handful of people in each congregation that are actively trying to reach out with the good news of Jesus, but the majority of every church is apathetic concerning discipleship and righteous living.

When the church was being persecuted, you didn’t participate if you were unsure. You didn’t ride the fence because that would cost your life. You were either all in or all out. There was no place for another option. Those who were all in banded together in unity of purpose and message and turned the world upside down.

Today, churches are full of people who are riding the fence concerning their relationship with God. They aren’t atheists, but they aren’t sure they want to be fanatics about Jesus either. Thus the church merely survives rather than thriving as in the days of tragedy and persecution.

As the church continues day-to-day as it has for over two hundred years here in America, she becomes less and less energetic concerning the salvation of all mankind. She becomes complacent regarding righteousness. She becomes divisive when, in her boredom, she has more time to focus on petty arguments within her body than with survival and the central message of Jesus.

We must wake up. Just like a person who has become complacent regarding health needs to get back on an exercise and healthy-eating regimen, so the church needs to get healthy again. Away with the infighting. Away with the laziness. Away with the unrighteous behavior that makes church people indistinguishable from the world. Away with the lack of love.

Instead, let us be active. Let us follow the guidance of the Spirit and be lit on fire with passion for the salvation that only comes through Jesus. Let us love enthusiastically, and let us work together in our churches and in the community. Let us reach out to other communities of faith and, in unity, encourage one another and pray for one another as we singularly reach out into the world to spread the good news of hope in this life and in the life to come.

Today’s the day of renewal. Let’s not wait until persecution comes back.


The Twelve Steps

In my last article I wrote about the five keys to maturity as Christians, and in that article I mentioned the similarity between the way the church should function and the way groups like Alcoholics Anonymous DO function. The camaraderie and accountability of those groups keep people on the path to sobriety. The life of the Christian should be filled with others who are helping them along on the path to sinlessness as well, but we have become so politically correct and afraid of rejection, we refrain from speaking into the lives of even those closest to us to hold one another accountable.

If you’re like me, there are many things in your life you’d like to change, not the least of which are sins you habitually commit. We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. So how do we overcome these problems in our lives as believers in Jesus? For those attending AA to achieve sobriety, there are twelve steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understoodHim.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps have been proven to be effective to help people recover from alcohol addiction, and there are similar steps to groups like Narcotics Anonymous and others.

What if there were twelve steps to Christian living? What would they look like? My friend, Roy Rhodes, came up with these:

1. We came to believe that we were powerless in our sin, and that life was outside of our control.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than us was in control and could restore us.

3. We made a decision to give our will and lives over to the care of Jesus Christ, who offers sanctuary and salvation.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We confessed to ourselves, to God and to another human being the nature of our sin.

6. We were entirely ready to surrender our sins to God.

7. We humbly asked God to remove our sins and shortcomings and restore us as bearers of His Image and Spirit.

8. We made a list of all persons that we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to examine the self, and when we are wrong, prompty confessing and setting things right.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to remain rooted in God, our strength and deliverance.

12. Having given our lives to God and experienced his healing in our lives, we try to carry the message of the Gospel to others and live these principles out in all aspect of our lives.

Steps 1-3 are similar to much of the language in churches today about how to come to know Jesus and find salvation. Step three is where we find baptism as a way to connect to the cross and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). Step 12 is the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But what about the other 8 steps?

Sometimes we wonder why there isn’t more growth in the church (because people aren’t living step 12), and I would suggest it may be because steps 4-11 aren’t being done daily in the lives of Christians to even get to step 12.

We may even do step 7, but often we don’t do the other steps surrounding that one to actually achieve success in quitting a particular sin. Steps like numbers 4, 5, 8, and 9 are uncomfortable and awkward. If we actually had to confess to someone else, they may betray us. If we seek amends with those we’ve hurt, they may reject our efforts. So we don’t try. We give up before we begin.

The five keys to being a mature Christian are these: Attend the meetings, get a mentor/partner/confidant, read the Book, works the steps, and tell others. The twelve steps to key number 4 are something like these above. If you want to see success in your life in Christ, you’ll work these as diligently as an alcoholic trying to overcome addiction, because you and I are addicted to sin, and we need to overcome our addiction too.


The Five Keys

The other day, I was blessed to attend an AA meeting in a local church building. This was a requirement for a class I’m currently taking on addictions counseling.

While I was there, the people went around the room and talked about what they were grateful for regarding their AA affiliation. Many people expressed gratitude for the group and sobriety, but one story of gratitude stood out to me, and after this person spoke, many repeated the same sentiment.

This person spoke up about their 28 year anniversary of sobriety. In this celebration, credit was given to AA for giving the right path to success in recovery, but there were five things, five keys, that allowed this person to find the ability to be clean and sober. The five keys are as follows:

1. Attend the Meetings

2. Get a sponsor

3. Read the Big Book

4. Work the steps

5. Tell others about the program

It struck me that these keys hold true for anyone wanting a life change, and especially Christians looking to find maturity in Christ – a life of discipleship. What would it look like if we participated in these keys as Christians?

1. Attend the meetings

“Do not give up meeting with the brothers and sisters as some are in the habit of doing. (Hebrews 10:25)” As you seek the goodness of God, have you been faithful in attending services centered on worship and fellowship with others in the body of Christ, the family of God? Without gathering with the family of God, it is easy for Satan to take us back into our addiction to sin and godlessness. With the family, we can hold strong and find encouragement and renewal.

2. Get a sponsor

It has been proven that people do not continue to gather with Christians in a church setting if they do not have any significant relationships with non-family members within that gathering. Do you have friends within the church who are not family members? You can’t wait for someone else to initiate this. You need to befriend others. This relationship is meant to enhance your ability to walk the path to life. A good friend holds you accountable and encourages you to do right. A good friend reaches out to you when you’re sick or absent. A good friend does life with you. It’s kind of like having a sponsor in a 12 step program.

3. Read the Big Book

Have you read the Bible? Cover to cover? Many people have been in churches for a large portion of their lives, but they are largely ignorant of what the Bible actually says. Some people know enough scripture to make the arguments for traditional doctrine pertaining to their denomination of choice, but they don’t know the larger context of the Bible. The Big Book of AA explains the reasoning behind the 12 steps and encourages people why they should follow this way. The Bible does the same thing for us as we seek to understand why and how to live according to the will of God. In today’s technological age, there should be no excuse for you to be ignorant of the scriptures. If you don’t read well, listen to the Bible. You can find free apps that not only give you the text but will read it to you. If you don’t have a bible app, I recommend YouVersion. You can even get this app for your computer. It’s free and was created by the church in OKC, lifechurch.tv.

4. Work the steps

AA and many other therapy groups have twelve steps they use to find and maintain the ability to overcome an addiction or some other sinful behavior. The Bible gives guidelines for how we can find and maintain the ability to live lives that reflect Jesus – lives of discipleship. If you need it simplified into twelve steps, much of what the original AA twelve steps encourage its adherents to do is applicable to all Christians to find a healthier, more mature life. Celebrate Recovery also has 12 steps that are more Jesus-focused that can help a person overcome any kind of hurt, habit or hang-up (we all have these). This life change is supposed to be part of life in Christ’s Kingdom.

5. Tell others about the program

Has your life been changed because of your relationship with God and His church? If so, just as an AA member tells others about how to find sobriety through the AA program, we should tell others about the message of hope through Jesus. This is actually the first command of discipleship. A disciple makes disciples.

Are you participating in these keys to more maturity in your Christian walk? Do you want to consistently walk the path of righteousness to which we are called throughout the scriptures? When we all participate in these keys, we will grow spiritually, and the church will grow numerically, and the world will be changed, one person at a time, one day at a time.


What Would Jesus Do?

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What Would Jesus Do?

When someone asks you, or your ask yourself this question, consider that overturning tables, beating people with a whip of cords, and yelling at people is an option.

Seriously.

Do you remember the story of Jesus droving out the money-changers in the temple courts? Some scholars believe the stories recorded in the gospel represent not just one event, but two. Imagine that. Jesus, meek and mild, got so beside-himself-mad that he disrupted the church money-making schemes and people’s businesses.

This does not quite fit the idea of Jesus being the Lamb.  If He’s the Lamb, He’s the Lamb who roars like the Lion of Judah.

These religious leaders were allowing outright corruption in the temple courts.  People were having to be fleeced in order to worship according to the Law of Moses.  Church services were overshadowed by immorality of the greedy kind.

Greed is called idolatry in the scriptures, and yet, here it is in the temple courts.

Is this a place you would want to give generously to?  Imagine a church like this.  Would you want to contribute to the work going on there?

Now think of another story.

Jesus gathers his disciples to the side of the temple courts watching the passers-by. Many rich people are coming with buckets of money.  Jesus isn’t impressed.

Then a widow comes, and when Jesus sees her, he tells his disciples to watch.  She barely put anything in – two small coins. Yet, this was all the money she had.

This woman just contributed everything she had to a system filled with corruption which is in complete denial of the presence of the Messiah. If I were Jesus, I might have stepped up and encouraged her to make her donation to another god-fearing charity (if such existed). It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus.

No, Jesus didn’t stop her.  In fact, he praised her.  He loved her heart of generosity and dependence on the Lord.

Would the temple use this money appropriately? Did they believe and teach the right things? No! In many ways, no.  In fact, many of the leaders of this religious movement would crucify the very man praising the woman for donating to the corrupt system.

Does the integrity of the system give value to the intent of the giver?

Many people want to get a list of all the good things being done with the money in the church treasury before they feel comfortable giving.  If a church isn’t teaching to their liking or doesn’t include the program they deem necessary, they threaten to withdraw their tithe. This currently culture seems to have a strong sense of wanting to know what the money is going toward before the wallet is loosened for giving.

Giving with expectation is tyranny in the same way that love with expectation is tyranny.  Giving with expectation is a form of blackmail. Generosity is a form of love, and love is not self-seeking, so how can one justify not giving because they have no control over where the money goes?

You may not know everything the church does.  You may not even agree with everything the church does.  Are you giving to the church?

When the offering basket comes around, are you giving to people, or an idea, or a cause? Or are you giving to the Lord?

Give. Generously give.  Gratefully give.

You haven’t been perfect in the ways you’ve spent the blessings of God, and you have sinned in spite of the love He constantly showers on you. You then, though you are imperfect, will you expect an organization full of other imperfect people to be perfect?  Will you seek to be in control of “your” money?

The next time the plate or basket or bucket is passed, give according to how you’ve been for-give-n. He has truly blessed you, and you are giving in response to Him – not anyone else.

 


Dear Church


Dear Church,

On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.

The American church isn’t growing in most areas.  In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births.  However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.

As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.

We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all.  We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith.  We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.

We evangelize.  We bring people to the churches.  We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.

As a teacher I should know better.  I have been taught the most effective way to train people.  Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching.  I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance.  And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.

Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training.  Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do.  Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me.  Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.

Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years.  How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?

Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him.  How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life?  How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?

Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him.  This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?

Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples.  He didn’t stick around and micromanage them.  How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it?  How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?

Dear church, I’m sorry.

So what can we do to fix this?  How can we become a church that thrives and grows again?  We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships.  We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry.  We model for them.  We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility.  When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church.  We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.

Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating.  These are actions.  The church is to be on the move, not stationary.  The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.

If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple. 


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