5 Principles for a Growing Church

 

In June 2010 my family and I moved to Columbus, Ohio to plant a brand new church in the heart of the city. Somehow, we convinced seven others to move with us, and over the course of the next ten months, built a launch team up to about forty people and opened the doors to Rock City Church on April 3, 2011. On that very first Sunday, 430 people walked through our doors and forty-three people made a personal decision to follow Christ. Now, just three years and three campuses later, Rock City Church is home to nearly 2,000 people. Together, we have experienced the hand of God in ways we could have never imagined. Our daily challenge is to remain faithful to the call that God has placed on us, and hold to the principles God so clearly laid upon our hearts before ever taking the first step toward leading a church. Though there are many that have guided us along the way, these five principles are the lens through which our team hang our hats on most.

1. The less you do the more effective you’ll be.

Maybe you’ve been there. You look around your church and it feels like no matter what you’re doing, it’s not working. No matter what you try, it just doesn’t have that Midas touch. So you try something else. You take a stab at this model and then that model. Someone says, “I think what we need is …” and so you try it. Someone else says, I think what we REALLY need is …” and so you try that. And before long, you’re surrounded by a fire-storm of stuff that just isn’t effective.

That’s what I was doing when I first picked up the book Simple Church. It messed me up. I was in a church doing everything but nothing well. The heart of the church was good but we weren’t good at anything. We had a heart for the lost, but we weren’t reaching the lost. And I found myself captivated by this simple thought: The less you do the more effective you’ll be. If you try to do everything you won’t do anything well. So much of our church planting journey was created through the premise of this book.

Simple Church isn’t lazy church or sloppy church. When you think about simple you think of clean, excellence, streamlined, purposeful. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a meaning. It’s clear. It’s defined. It’s excellent. It works.

Simple is captivating. It’s easy to focus on simple. It’s easy to engage people around simple.

When we planted Rock City, we purposefully decided to do a few things really well. It boiled down to three. We want to offer a Worship Experience second to none that gives people the opportunity to experience the Presence of God. We want to see people connected and engaged in Community through Ministry Teams and LifeGroups. And we want to see the church engaged Beyond Our Walls, reaching the lost and meeting the needs of the poor. If it doesn’t fit inside one of these three circles, we don’t do it. Period.

2. It’s all about the ONE.

When Jesus tells us the story of the Good Shepherd he wants us to see what moves the heart of the One. Jesus said,Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

In other words, what moves the heart of the One is the one.

For Jesus, everything He did and everything He said was for the one – the lost one – the desperate one – the hurting one. Jesus came to seek and save the one. And He calls us to devote all of our time, energy, resources and focus on the same.

Salvation alone, no question, is the greatest work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We ought to celebrate it. We ought to be compelled by it. And we ought to see and experience His saving work unfolding all around us – every day – all the time.

If you’re reaching the lost, you’re growing. If you’re not reaching the lost, you’re not growing.

And when you are focused on the one, you care … I mean, really care … about what that one experiences when they walk through the doors of your church. We train our volunteers to treat each and every person who walks through ours doors as if they are the one we’ve been waiting for. The guys who are up at 5:30 every Sunday morning pulling trailers and loading equipment are thinking about the one who will hear about Jesus for the first time that day. The mom and daughter greeting at our front doors aren’t just saying good morning to people as they come in, they are greeting people with expectation that they will experience the presence of God.

When you celebrate the one,  people standing on the sideline jump in with both feet. They give, they serve and they get it. They get why they are here. The purpose of the church becomes their purpose. And suddenly the one becomes very personal for them. Their mom, friend, co-worker and the guy next door are the ones they are inviting to church. At Rock City, we are all apart of reaching the one no matter the cost.

The greatest marketing your church has is the lost person who’s been found and has become so compelled by the Gospel of Christ the desire to reach others becomes the greatest desire and outflow of their life. That’s when you know your church is thriving – when the one begins to reach the one.

3. Excellence honors God and inspires people.

There’s something about simple that demands excellence. If you’re only doing a few things, make sure you do them well. When it comes to creating a culture of excellence, you’ll say NO more than YES to opportunities and to new ministries. At the end of the day I’d rather offend a few and inspire many, than say yes to everyone and inspire no one.

When you think about the best meal you’ve ever eaten, an all-you-can-eat buffet doesn’t likely come to mind. More than likely you’ll think of a dish  prepared so well that nothing else can compare. Sometimes I think we treat church like an all-you-can-eat buffet. We try to offer a little of this and a little of that so there is something that everyone will like. The problem with this strategy is that typically our offerings come out just “ok.” Nothing to write home about.  At Rock City, we challenge our teams to narrow their focus to a few things and do them really, really well. This means we put in the time and make it excellent, no matter what it is.

We’ve found that the more focus we put on excellence, the more creative our teams become. Whether it’s our LifeGroup team finding more and more effective ways of ensuring that each and every person is connected or our mobile team finding better ways of transporting equipment, the desire to do things with excellence can be applied to every area of your ministry.

4. It’s not about you.

This may seem counterintuitive to our second point, but stay with me. When the people of your church have this core belief buried deep within them, your ability to reach people and grow the church is endless. When “it’s not about you,” is alive in your church, people won’t gripe and complain when they are asked to inconvenience themselves by giving up their seat and moving to an overflow experience or even to a campus that might not be closer to where they live. When “it’s not about you,” is alive in your church, every missions trip you take will be full, every outreach event you do will have no shortage of volunteers.

When people get that “it’s not about them,” they see purpose in both the big and the little things they do. They carry this into the other areas of their lives and they begin to walk more confidently in their purpose.

I’m always surprised to hear pastors say things like: “I know we need to start a 2nd service but I’m getting pushback from our team.” More than likely, the people on these teams haven’t yet grasped this truth. If “it’s all about the one” is true, then “it’s not about you” must also be true. They go hand in hand and when walked out together, these truths will engage your church on a relentless pursuit of the lost.

5.  You can’t out-give God.

The heart of the Gospel, the heart of God is generosity. For God so loved the world he gave. And if it’s really about the one – and it’s not about you – generosity is the normal response to the overwhelming generous heart of God.

We knew, as a young church, we had a very small window in which to cement this core belief as an unshakable part of our DNA. After all, it’s a lot easier to create culture than it is to change it. In our first three years, over 30% of our total budget has gone Beyond Our Walls. What this means is, we aren’t just asking people to give generously, we’re modeling it. And wouldn’t you know, there hasn’t been a need our church has had, that God has not met.

We celebrate generosity every weekend with our church. God is glorified when, through us, someone is blessed, our city is made better, and the gospel is shared generously.

Simply put, Generosity inspires the lost, engages and empowers the church, and sets people free.

Our commitment is this: We want to be a simple church. We want to be a church that never stops going, never stops growing and gives more than ever before. And we are going after the one until there’s not one left who is lost, whatever that means, no matter the cost!

What would happen if more of us lived by this commitment? How could your church make an even greater difference impacting the kingdom by making a wholehearted commitment to these five principles?

Climb on the Cross

“It’s over. We’ve surely failed”. These were our thoughts after we had planted our first church and things didn’t go as planned. Little did we know that through all our blood, sweat, and tears, God was going to use this time to teach us and train us- not only to pick ourselves up and learn from what was perceived as failure, but to feel what His Son felt while He endured His journey to the Cross. We had to learn to walk in Jesus’ shoes…literally. Why? We had to sense His heartbeat so that we too could reach those closest to His heart.

There are seasons in our lives in which God wants to hit home a particular principle because He has a purpose for it. In 2006, after going through an emotionally devastating time in the ministry, God placed the theme of the Cross in our hearts. When it landed in our spirit, it was one of those revelation moments. God did not tell us the expected- “Pick up your cross and carry it, but rather to “Pick up your cross and climb on it! And do it daily!” It was one of those a-ha moments- so that’s how He wants us to feel His heartbeat- to climb on the cross like Him! Yes, He died on the Cross for our sins so we wouldn’t have to take on the burdens of the world, but, He is closer than a brother, our great Teacher, our best friend, our daddy, and He yearns for a close relationship with each of us. In Genesis, from the very beginning, God walked with Adam in the garden in “the cool of the day”- establishing the importance of relationship from the start, and that relationship was still just as important in the end- all the way to the Cross- and beyond.

It was the true revelation of what climbing on the cross really meant, that changed our total perspective of ministry. We had always believed in carrying our cross, but failed to realize the true importance of the cross- that it isn’t just a means of identifying with Christ, but rather our source of power from Christ. It’s a sin crushing, life-giving cross that gives hope and freedom to the lost and hurting, and we have the power of Christ made available to us if we only realize one major point. We must climb on it instead of carrying it, and the only way we could do that was to stop being defensive of our ministry. It was to truly turn the other cheek as Christ had done, to say nothing when accused, to endure the pain without complaining, even though we were innocent, and let God bring about the outcome of the situation.

For years, the principle of the cross showed us how to wade through conflict, deal with difficulties, and persevere onward setting our face like flint toward the future. Now, eight years later, we have a new heartbeat- grace. He is now showing us a different side of Himself- the side of mercy, forgiveness, and love for the new flock that He has given us to care for- the flock we’d never imagine we’d have- in a place we never imagined we’d be.

In 2008, while in Louisiana doing ministry consultant work, we received a phone call about planting a new church in Lawton, Oklahoma. After scoping out the city and thinking “this place is ugly!”, God dropped another bombshell. As clear as day, He said, “Where there is no beauty, bring beauty with you.” Wow. Four months later, God had begun to give us a love for the city and its people so we relocated to begin the new journey- and what a journey it has been!

On February 21, 2014, Celebration Church of Lawton, celebrated its four year anniversary! What started out as a perceived failure in our church planting journey, has brought us to where we are now- thriving and growing in a multi-cultural, fun-loving, genuinely friendly church in a military town. God has enabled our church in its few short years to impact our city in ways that really show Him off and He has used and continues to use the most “unlikely” people to do so! We told God from the beginning, “We want those who nobody else wants.” So, He put us to the test! He brought us people who are homosexuals, people who are DJ’s, people with tattoos all over, people who were formerly Muslim, people who stood in our yard cussing and smoking, people who had suffered through abortions, and many others. He put us to the test and we said yes. If we couldn’t love these people like Jesus loved them, then we needed to put away our Bible on the shelf and close it for good. What did we do? We said “let’s go!” and off into the community we went and began to serve!

We stood at gas stations and grocery stores after a blizzard and handed out thousands of dollars in free gas and grocery gift cards. We fed midnight ER crews homemade meals, university student’s breakfast during finals week, Cajun food to firefighters on Ft. Sill, sent Christmas stockings to inner city children in New York, relief to crisis areas after tornadoes, medicines to people in the Amazon jungle, and construction workers to Costa Rica. We’ve picked up trash in our city, handed out Valentine’s and Christmas gifts at nursing homes, and popsicles in the park. We’ve worked with city leaders at prayer conferences, put on first-class women’s and men’s retreats, had another congregation merge with us and have been given debt-free land and buildings which we are currently renovating! We’ve sent numerous people to ministry school, licensed ministers from within, and had people trained for disaster relief.

To think that all of this and much more has been done in just four short years is astounding. The question is, how did we arrive here? We believe that by being obedient to God’s leading and climbing on the cross daily, humbly seeking His purposes and not our own, that God has sped up time and accelerated the work in which He would have us to do. He is providing us with the right people with the right heart with an abundance of resources. He is giving us grace for the journey, and the power of His Cross. Author and speaker, Lisa Bevere writes, “The Cross is the ultimate assurance of every promise kept. It is a sword that slays every last remnant of hostility between heaven and earth, just as surely as it is a sword that transforms us through the surgery of the Word. The Cross was your hope even before you realized you were hopeless, the answer before you realized there was a problem. The Cross symbolizes God’s faithfulness while it expresses his faith in us. Through the Cross we are equipped to walk in him.”

Amazing love, how can it be, that you would die for me? Thank you, Jesus, for allowing us to step in your shoes, feel your heartbeat, climb on the cross with You, endure for a moment your feelings, your pain, your love, your grace. Thank you for believing in us so that we could reach those who are closest to your heart- the ones nobody else wants, the ones you hold close, the ones with that tattoos, abortions, alternative lifestyles, the ones who say, “I have nothing left. I humbly come to you. Take all of me. I’m yours.” Selah.

www.celebratelawton.tv 

www.facebook.com/brandye.goudeaux

www.facebook.com/steven.goudeaux

With God-Like Pursuit

As a new church barely a year old, we are still changing things and adjusting areas due to growth so as to better meet the ministry needs within the church. Starting out however with a big vision and just a handful of people, the elephant in the room was just that, we only had a handful of people.  After counting every man woman and baby, as pastors of small churches do, there didn’t seem to be enough people to provide resources to do the things necessary for building and sustaining a ministry to be able to both attract more people and minister to the very people we were calling church.   I suppose this is the “catch 22” with relevancy to all churches of all sizes.   Looking at the actual size of the church after stripping away the numbers down to unique households, it seemed even more of a challenge.  After all, most of the people were lower income or elderly, and on fixed incomes.

After a swift Holy Spirit admonishment, I was quickly reminded that none of those things have ever been concerns of God.  The God of love is concerned more for the lost and the broken than the circumstances or situations we call challenging.  As a matter of fact, when allowed, God is most powerful in those circumstances and challenges when hearts turn toward Him and seek after His kingdom power and righteousness. It’s how He gets glory. It’s how He is made strong in our lives.  He will not share in our strength or share in our glory. He will however give us His strength, for His glory.

Paul realized it in 2 Cor. 12 and I have been overwhelmed and overtaken by it today.   Since the beginning, our heart as a local church truly has been to pursue his kingdom, not as popular Christian mantra or buzz words that every church uses, but truly by action and in deed. It seemed for the first several months every message taught had Mat 6:33 in it.  Our focus has been so outward that it truly has been transforming the inward and meeting the needs of the very thing we had a desire to build.  Before we launched or officially began, the existing group of people was already serving in the community giving away food and clothing on a small scale.   Part of the planning leading up to our 2013 September launch, was to come up with a name.  I wasn’t interested in coming up with some cool or attractive name that would later force or justify some church vision.  We spent all of about a minute and a half deciding the church name.  Actually, I wanted to just call it “Church” but corporately, this was not possible.  Since we were already operating by Faith it became our name.  Unique?  Of course not, just necessary to form the corporation.  Still as a church by human standards, measurable either by sight or on paper, we were weak.  We are however full of faith with a strong desire to live out the two greatest commandments, love God and love people.  We had the perfect recipe to be made strong.  It wasn’t so much that we were the underdog facing the giant as much as out heart for success, was to see people’s lives changed eternally.

Wired for success, God has placed within everyone the desire to win. As Paul said no one runs a race without the desire to win.  Everyone wants to succeed in their jobs, in school, relationships or any endeavors. Pastors are no different and have been given the vision and wisdom for successful ministry in their community.  We all have God given special talents and abilities intended to be used for His glory.  The temptation however is to put our vision ahead of the vision and wisdom of God.  We like to make things happen and “build the kingdom” even if it is in our own strength, and then later justify it by putting a “God” label on it when we are finished.  Our vision and wisdom should be the same as God’s. His wisdom and vision, is Christ.  It’s through Christ we see his love. It’s through Christ we see his compassion and it’s through Christ we see his heart toward man. Jesus did nothing except what the father did.  What an example to follow. It’s how we can have confidence in the things he asks us to do. You can’t fail when you operate as Jesus did.  As a matter of fact you are guaranteed success simply by doing what God asks you to do.  All it takes is a little faith and obedience.

As a church, we wanted our hearts to be that after God’s so we started behaving like Him. We began giving and when it didn’t seem like we had enough, we trusted and honored God by giving more.  Proverbs 14:31 says whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.  I can’t think of a better way for any church to honor God than to seek the kingdom and feed the least of these.

When we read in the bible of the few times where the disciples lost sight of Jesus, when they found him, he was either praying or caring for the weak and needy. He was never found hanging out with people that might improve his social status.  His concern was for the lost and broken and not of what people might think of him for doing so. Love was the motivation.  Our love for the lost, the weak and needy should be God like in pursuit in that we do it with compassion, empathy and share their feelings.  Hebrew 4:15 reminds us we have a High Priest who is moved with the feelings of our infirmities and weaknesses and can empathize with those that are hurting.  When we hurt, He hurts. When we are blessed, He is both blessed and glorified.

It is so important to Him that in Mathew 25   He shows us just how deeply connected He is to our cares, and feels our pain and hurts.  When someone in need was given food or clothed, He said it was done unto Him. When someone was left hungry, naked or neglected, He said He was the one left hungry, naked or neglected.  Clearly to be in the will the father with God-like pursuit, would be to do these things, for as we know, God’s word is His will.  Will doing these things add to your righteousness? No, and they probably won’t add to your church either, in fact it will cost your church but you will be sowing to righteousness and the kingdom.  Galatians chapter 6 tells us however, that God is not mocked and whatever you sow you will reap.  He also gives seed to the sower. Join God’s distribution plan and he won’t let you ever run out.  Jeremiah 22:15-16 asks some poignant questions for the king of his kingdom. Does it make you king to have more and more cedars? Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, he defended the poor and needy and all went well with him. Is that not what it means to know me?”  declares the LORD.

The sheep pointed out in Mathew 25 didn’t become righteous because they were the ones that fed, gave drink and clothes to Jesus they didn’t even know they did those things for Jesus.  They even said “Lord when did we do these things?”  But a close relationship with the Lord is one that knows him and does these things automatically. They should be second nature.  It’s the kingdom of self that blocks what the kingdom of God has for us.

I realize not every church sees the importance of a ministry for the poor. It’s not very glamorous. You might say “It’s not what we are called to do” or “We are seeing success in this area or that”.  I’m not suggesting and either or but an, “in addition to”.  I am not talking about a once a year rah- rah event where you hand out water bottles or candy bars at busy intersections.  I am talking about beginning a food pantry or regularly serving at another church’s. Yes another church. To get started, begin praying for the needy and for the Holy Spirit to reveal the needs and give you wisdom. Watch what He does.

We have seen much favor in our pursuit of His kingdom. We are forced to seek His wisdom to properly handle resources and the challenges of growth in ministries.  The past week’s events themselves could serve as a stand-alone article any church would find encouraging.  The ministries outside of the church both foreign and local are still disproportionate to the size of the church. While visibly we have grown quite a bit, it has not been to the degree that by outward appearances would seem possible to financially sustain any one of ministries of the church, let alone the inner city food ministry.  What started out as a few bags of groceries now requires two fork lifts, several box trucks, hundreds of volunteers and two warehouses, one of which is now strictly a resourcing ministry in itself to support over 100 other food pantries. This summer we will launch another food distribution site in another city with the same God-like pursuit. Lives will be changed and God will be glorified.

The Trust Factor in Team Building

Every pastor is looking for a quality team of leaders to help fulfill the vision of God in their life.  We know we cannot fulfill the vision of God without this incredible resource.  Yet, great teams of leaders do not grow on trees.  We know the pain of putting our trust in leaders who would let us, God, and the vision down.  This leader looked so good, said all the right things and even seemed to share our passion.  When it came down to performance, it just did not happen.  It left you in a bind, and the vision seemed to screech to a halt.  Instead of you moving forward at a rapid pace because of a great team, it was now time for damage control.  You had to move away from the vision to heal the hurt left in the wake of this supposed leader.  In some cases, this leader even turned on you and made you out to be the bad guy.  We have all been there.  If you haven’t, you haven’t been a leader long enough.  It happens to us all!!!

I am blessed to have some experience underneath my belt.  David said, in Psalm 37:25 (NLT)  “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.”  David had some experience under his belt that allowed for him to gain great wisdom about the character of God.  I can say I have been young, and am getting older, and I have experienced a few things about leadership.  I know what it is to start a small church and have to build leaders.  I also know what it is to have a large enough church that we cannot function one Sunday without great leadership teams.  I am now moving into another time of my life that the vision is big enough that we must have an efficient system to reproduce leaders.  This experience has stabilized my evaluation of leaders.  I am by nature a passionate visionary, like most pastors are.  I see the direction or vision that has not yet been forged, and impulsively build a team to accomplish the God-given goal.  I have of found that it is easy to get a room full of people pumped about what God is ready to do.  The problem is actually accomplishing the God-given task without people being damaged.

I used to get enamored with what many people call “High Capacity” leaders.   These leaders were well spoken, well educated, and seemed to have it all together.  I would spend time with them, build a relationship with them, and then let them fly.  Over and over again they crashed and burned, and the plan of God with it.  I believe we are like Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, when he went to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king.  He took one look at Eliab and said this has to be the next leader.  God said people look on the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.  I heard one person say, “It is not the Leadership Capacity that is the most important, but the Core Capacity,” which I believe is the heart.  Our Core Capacity is our character.  Certainly, we want people to be gifted in an area and competent, but without character our leadership influence is destroyed.

The first step of our Core Capacity is a person we can trust.  Trust is the foundational principle of leadership and influence.  The meaning of trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.  Trust comes in so many forms.  Can you trust someone to tell you the truth even when it hurts?  When you give someone a task or a project, will they follow all the way to completion, or at the first sign of difficulty will they bail?  Furthermore, if they mess up, can they own their mistake or do they play the blame game?  When you, as the pastor, have a bad day how do they respond?  Do they talk behind your back, or do they have your back.  When circumstances appear as if you have made a huge mistake, do they come directly to you, or do they spread rumors?  These trust issues are huge for me.  I will overlook, or try to help issues that leaders and staff have.  I believe this is the heart of a pastor.  Trust is not one of those things I can overlook.  Where there is no trust, a leader has lost all influence, and relationships are broken.

So, the question, is how do we find leaders with the trust attribute?  I believe the first thing we have to do is make sure we are trustworthy.  Do we always speak the truth even if it hurts us or makes a situation a little uncomfortable?  Sometimes, we would rather look the other way so that no one gets hurt.  In the long run, the truth will always come out, resulting in the hurt being multiplied.  Do we believe the best about people? Do we have one another’s backs?  When we give trust, it breeds trust.  We love to quote Luke 6:38 at offering time, “Give and it shall be given to you.”  That scripture really is not about money.  It is about relationships.  When you trust people, it will create an environment where people can be trustworthy.

So, let’s say you have the trust thing down in your own life.  Is that enough?  I think there is another step that is vital.  We have come to the conclusion that anyone who leads in our organization must go through this step.  It is a simple trust test!  The thing about this test is that it is not something that you can complete in a few minutes or hours.  It is the kind of test that God gave Abraham.  You all know the story about Abraham, whom in his old age had a son of promise, and then God asked him to sacrifice that very son.  Genesis 22:1 states, “God tested Abraham’s faith” (NLT).  After Abraham passed the test, God said through an angel in Genesis 22:12 (NCV),  “Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way.  Now I CAN SEE that you trust God and that you have not kept your son, your only son, from me.”  The God that created the heaven and the universe wanted to SEE if He could trust Abraham.  Abraham trusted God, and God could trust Abraham.  God then said to Abraham, “Because you have obeyed I will bless you.”

In our ministry, we believe that every person needs to have a testing of sorts before they can really be trusted with leadership.  Leadership is influential, and has a huge impact in any ministry.  I have learned over time, to slow down and not to promote people too quickly.  Before a person can be a leader, no matter how highly qualified they are, they must serve others first.  Tested leaders observe their faithfulness.  Again, it is a Biblical principle; where you have been faithful over a little, He will make you a leader over much.  We move people through the process slowly.  The greater the responsibility a potential leader will have, the greater the test.  If someone struggles, we work with them.  If they improve, over time, they are promoted.  If not, we don’t.  We have learned over the years to never hire or place anyone in an important role until we are confident in their core competency of trust.  Even when we hire someone, they understand the first year is a year of testing with quarterly evaluations.  It is easy to put a leader in a position.  However, it is brutal to remove them.  There is something so satisfying to be confident in a tested leader.

We had a young man who came to our church who was extremely talented.  He was a natural born leader, great in front of people, anointed, and could even sing.  At every church he attended, he was promoted.  He came to our church and through time began to shine.  He was placed in mentoring relationships.  Through this process we found that his work ethic was less than stellar.  Three different leaders confronted him, in love, concerning that issue.  We explained he would never reach his potential with this issue.  We could not completely entrust him with leadership because of this.  He would get better for a season only to drift back into his bad habit.  In love, we began to reduce his role in the ministry.  Over time, his heart hungered to use the gift that God had given him.  He reconnected, and this time attacked his issue head on.  He began by conquering little things, and as he succeeded, he was given more.  With each victory, he moved up the ladder of promotion.  In January of this year God spoke to my heart about a vision we have put on hold for several years.  He showed me that this young man was ready to be the team leader in this endeavor.  He was tested and tried, and had gained our trust.  Real discipleship had taken place, and the vision of God would be accomplished.

The trust factor is a core quality to look for in building your team. Show yourself trustworthy. Give people the opportunities to be proven. Mentor those who are teachable through instruction, correction, and love. Promote those who have shown themselves to be trustworthy. A team that can be trusted is a team that you can rely upon to stand strong with you, even during challenging seasons of change and growth.

How to Have Longevity in Children’s Ministry

My name is Scott Kinney and I am the Children’s Pastor at Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, SC. I have been on staff with Seacoast for 12+ years and have been involved with Children’s ministry in every possible capacity since I was 16 years old …and that was a long time ago! Over the years, I have faced frustration, aggravation, and burn-out. So, how am I still doing this after all those years? It’s kind of simple, it’s my calling.

Oh, I have wanted to walk away, not just from Children’s Ministry, but ministry all together. There were times in ministry that I thought it would be more fulfilling to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart. To be able to stand and say hello as folks walked by, give a smiley face sticker to a kid (do they even do that at Wal-Mart anymore?) or to point someone in the right direction. Yes, there have been times I wanted to give up ministry all together. The problem was… God hadn’t released me. In those times, I had to stop and realign myself with the calling God had placed on my life.  Here are some things I have learned over the years, when I wanted to throw in the towel and just give up.

  • Am I working at a job or a calling? – In those moments when I’m frustrated, God reminds me that HE has called me to this. It isn’t a job, it isn’t a career – it is a calling – and until he releases me from where he has called me, I am to keep on running the race that is before me. I have a poster that hangs on my bulletin board by my desk that was put out by Group Publishing a few years ago. It is titled “Job or Ministry?” I keep it there to remind me that “Some people have a job in the church, others involve themselves in ministry!” I never want my work for the Lord to become just a job – but to continue to do ministry for the One who called me.
  • Who am I working for? – Another thing I need to check myself on is who am I trying to please? Am I working to please my Senior Pastor, my Campus Pastor, my team, the children, the parents, my family, myself? …the list goes on and on! When I forget that God called me to Children’s Ministry and when I take focus off of pleasing Him, I get frustrated, mad and upset. I’m not talking just about Children’s Ministry programing, I’m also talking about things like: Am I wearing the right clothes? Do I have the right “look”? Am I still young and hip enough to do what I do? When I try to please man it makes me lose focus on what really matters. Only when I stop and realize the reason I do what I do is for an audience of ONE can I put things in perspective and refocus on my calling.
  • How is my God time? – I know what you are thinking, “you work for God, you’re always spending time with Him.” Not true. I can easily get wrapped up in thinking that because I am working on a weekend or midweek lesson that it counts as “quiet time with the Lord”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now, there have been lots of times that God teaches me things when I am preparing a lesson, but it is not actually my time with God, it really is work. I need to regularly check myself and ask: Have I been spending time with God? Am I reading His word? Talking to Him? Listening to Him? It’s easy for me to talk to God, but to be still and listen to Him takes a lot more work on my end. If this is an area of my life and walk that is not so good, I might need to take some time away from the office and get things right with God first. I’m of no use to my team, or the children I’m responsible for, if I am not in alignment with God.  Another area of my God time is: Am I being fed? Am I attending regular worship services? I know after all my time in Children’s Ministry, it isn’t easy to get into attend a service on the weekends, so what we have started doing as a Children’s Ministry team is watching the message together on Monday morning. Fortunately for us here at Seacoast, we have an Online service and the online campus pastor set up a special service just for us to watch on Monday mornings.  However, if your church does not record weekend services, there are tons of churches out there that do – watch a podcast together as  a team or another online church service. However, it is not where we want to be as a team. Our goal is to have enough strong leaders (volunteers) leading the classrooms so that we can attend services with our families – that is the ultimate goal. So for now, we found a quick fix and that is attending together as a team on Monday mornings.
  • What is the enemy up to? – One other area I need to look at when I get to the point of giving up is: What is the enemy up to? We really do have an enemy in our lives. It’s not the kids or their parents. It’s not your boss, your co-workers, or even your spouse – there is a real enemy lurking about. The Bible says in John 10:10 that the thief (Satan) comes to steal, kill and destroy. What is it that the enemy is trying to steal from you? Your joy? The children in your ministry? What is he trying to kill? Your passion for serving kids and families? What is he trying to destroy? Your work? Your calling?  There are times when I want to throw in the towel and God reminds me of the enemy and tells me to stand my ground! Satan would like nothing more than to see all of us throw up our hands and say “we quit!” I would hate to quit and allow the enemy to win in the life of one of our kids. Remember Ephesians 6:10-18

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[c] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[d] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[e] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[f]

So, let me wrap up by saying that Children’s Ministry is not easy and there will be times you want to throw in the towel and take a job at Wal-Mart, but don’t! You will be missing out on some of the most wonderful blessings you could ever imagine.

For those of you leading Children’s Ministry Directors, Ministers, or Pastors be sure to encourage them. Be sure to pour into them, love on them, and appreciate them. Watch for signs of burnout or frustration and step in and offer to help out. Help them to remember that they are called by God to do what they are doing. Remind them that they are working for an audience of ONE! Ask them how their time with God is going? Pray for them and against the attack of the enemy. They really are valuable to your church. I heard a Children’s Pastor once say; “You can do church without greeters and ushers – things might get crazy but you can do it. You can even do church without coffee and donuts. But try doing church without Children’s Ministry and things will shut down quickly.” Children’s Ministry isn’t babysitting anymore – it is hard work dealing with kids, parents and volunteers week after week. Show some love to your Children’s workers today – you’ll be glad you did.

Loving the Platform

I have been leading worship now for over 8 years and what a privilege it is to do so. I get the opportunity to help people see, feel, and experience Jesus with my life. I have done this in many ways, but to be able to do this with music has been such a blessing. At this point in my life I have led thousands of worship services all over the United States. I’ve been in many different churches, denominations, and age groups. I have come to realize that many people’s opinion on what a worship leader is and isn’t varies drastically from person to person, generation to generation, church to church, and especially pastor to pastor. I believe God has given me a clear picture of what a worship leader is. I am just going to share briefly on the importance of a leader falling in love with the body of Christ. You may say: “What does this have to do with worship?” EVERYTHING! This simple revelation changed me as a worship leader and how I approach all ministry. It’s not just for worship leaders… it’s for everyone.

Falling in love with body of Christ is the same as falling in love with Jesus himself. Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, strength and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27 paraphrased) In other words, Love Jesus with everything you’ve got, and love others as much as you love yourself. (SIDENOTE: if you have a hard time giving love to your neighbor, it could be the root issue is that you haven’t learned to love yourself like you should. You can only give love away when you learn to love what the Lord created in you. We can all only love to the extent that we love ourselves.)

A couple years ago the Lord dropped a syllogism in my spirit that changed everything about how I led worship, did ministry, and lived life. A syllogism is a form of deductive reasoning used in the study of logic. I hadn’t even thought of syllogisms since taking logic in High School so I was surprised when the Lord chose to speak to me this way. This was the syllogism: “I am the Church, I don’t love the Church; therefore, I do not love myself.” When I heard this from the Lord I began to weep. I realized that the issues I had with the Body of Christ were issues that I had with loving myself. The more I fell in love with Him the more I began to love what he created in me. The more my love grew for myself and the way I was created, I began to be able to see the beauty in what Jesus created in other people. Every word from the mouth of God is eternal and will not return void. When he calls something good… He means it.

After I started receiving my healing in this process, I realized that I could not separate loving Him from loving His others in His body. Compassion for His body overcame me and still does to this day. Compassion and love started to become my genuine motive for being on a platform week in and week out. I wanted people to hear, taste, and see the Lord in all that I sang or said. My responsibility as a Levite and worship leader is to not just usher in His presence but to give people Jesus. To release a song that is more than words, but full of life, love, and compassion. I get the opportunity to help create a space for Jesus to reside in that moment, at that place, at that time. I also came to realize that this was impossible to do consistently without really learning to love people like Jesus does. The more my compassion grows for people, the more I long to give them Jesus. I can’t wait to worship every week because I long for everyone to meet Him! Loving the way Jesus loves changes everything about worship. When you love someone, you don’t leave them behind. I now desire for everyone come with me into his presence to meet Him because if they can just get a glimpse, it could change everything. So this has become my motivation in worship now: For people to see and hear Him above all else and all that He is… is Love.

The Lord doesn’t want us to worship stages. Stages come and go. Stages are for lights and actors. Platforms are something completely different to me from stages. A platform is a raised place so that everyone, even the people in the back, to see what and who is up there. To me, platforms are a raised place for people to see and hear JESUS better! I long for people to see Jesus in me! To hear Jesus in my songs! To see and hear Jesus in my worship teams! People need Jesus in our worship. People need Jesus in our churches. I love and appreciate the platform because I want everyone to see Jesus. Even that person in the back, who is the furthest away, and feels like they can’t get close to Jesus, I want them to see Him!

I see Jesus doing this Matthew 5:1-2: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” A little history around what I see in these two short verses. At this time in Jesus’ ministry He was being followed by multitudes of people. We call this the “Sermon on the Mount” because, obliviously, it’s on a mountain. Let’s look at the literal definition of Mountain: “A landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill.” Jesus wanted his love, his compassion, and His Father to be conspicuous! He wasn’t trying to get away from the crowds in my opinion. He brought his trusted few close and up the mountain with him so that everyone who was there had the opportunity to hear and see him. He raised himself up not out of haughtiness but out of humility and compassion. Jesus raised himself up to a higher place not because he needed it, but because He loves His people! He raised himself up because he was overwhelmed with compassion for the people. This HAS to be our motivation for the platform. Here are 2 literal definitions of a platform: 1.) a raised level surface on which people or things can stand. 2.) a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands. Do you see the similarities there? Do you see why the Lord uses platforms? The platform exists to make Jesus conspicuous. The platform exists to make Jesus famous. The foundations of our platforms have to be built on love, compassion, humility, and grace. This is what we have to stand on when we are on any platform. This is not just for worship leaders. It’s for everyone! No matter what you do in ministry.

I long for more platforms now! Not out of the desire to further my career. Not because I want people to hear me but because this man Jesus has humbled me with His overwhelming compassion towards me. I have to give that away. People deserve that from me. They deserve my best every week! Every service! Whether it’s 5 or 5,000 people. Everyone needs to see, hear, and experience Jesus. That is why I am worship leader. That is why I love the platform. That is why I can bring something fresh every week. It’s because I’m learning to love like He does and his compassion is overtaking my will. His love is better than what I may feel like from week to week. (I can’t even write this without tearing up because I feel His love, compassion, and pleasure as I write it.)

This perspective makes a difference. Trust me. I have taught my worship teams this and I have seen the fruit. We DO NOT have bad worship services. They don’t exist. It’s not because we’re the best musicians or singers… It’s because our motivations have changed. Every service, every week, he does something brand new because of His everlasting compassion and mercy that is new every morning. If you’re a worship leader, musician, speaker, or anyone who has been given a position in front of people… DO THIS. It will change everything. Your fruit will exponentially multiply and so will your influence.

 

Generational Synergy

“…. I was sitting on a porch swing as I recall, legs dangling and drinking my glass of ice cold sweet tea and my Mamaw  (thats Grandmother for all of you non-southerners ?) was sitting next to me. She was leaning forward, elbows on her knees, graciously smiling and listening to every word this man had to say, as if he were someone of great importance. It was a hot summer day in June and we were in the middle of nowhere, in the Cumberland mountains of Kentucky. We were visiting with a distant cousin we had found at home on his front porch while on our family-tree-tracing weekend excursion. I was 10 years old at the time and after an hour or so of talking I was beginning to wonder what exactly it was that my Mammaw found so interesting about this 90 year old retired railroad man from the sticks! I certainly could not see anything that remarkable about him and he really didnt seem to know all that much about our side of the family. But she was clearly in no hurry. She knew just the right questions to ask to keep him going if he lost his train of thought – which he did more than once! Even for a 10 year old, I could see this man was having the time of his life! I knew my grandmother was beautiful (everyone said so) but she also possesses a very distinct gift of grace and genuine care for people.  She has this way of zeroing in on you when she talks to you, as if youre the only person in the room and that everything you say is of great importance.

It was this gift and the necessity of finding a part time job to help raise her family that led my grandmother to write her own newspaper column and eventually her own weekly radio show in Cincinnati, Ohio. She interviewed dignitaries and celebrities from all over the world such as President Ronald Reagan, Paul Newman and even the founder of my Alma Mater, Rev. Kenneth Hagin, Sr. Her interviews would always float past the superficial and somehow pull out the real story of the person, beyond what they did to become famous. She would somehow manage to spotlight the hand of God at work throughout their career and upbringing, at times even to the surprise of the interviewee, who had perhaps, never seen it quite like that before.

I have always deeply admired my grandmother for many things, but I will always be grateful to her for teaching me my first lesson in leadership at 10 years old and it happened on that June summer day way back in the Cumberland Mountains.  As I sat beside Mamaw on the porch swing, watching her do the same thing with old Ira Turner as she had done with countless celebrities and dignitaries of great notoriety, I learned a valuable lesson of leadership. Learn to always find the value in the one youre listening to and what they have to offer and youll both walk away wiser people for it.

(EXCERPT from the upcoming book release, Your Defining Moment, Finding Your Vocational Calling by Jen Tringale – Fall 2013)

Generational Synergy, A Leadership Strategy

Generational Synergy is a way of leading that will ignite the potential and longevity within a church, ministry or business. This leadership dynamic is designed to add the unique strengths of multiple generations to your organization, resulting in exponential growth.

With 6 generations alive simultaneously for the first time in our nation’s history, leaders need to be thinking and planning more generationally-minded than ever before!  There is a current trend among many churches and organizations to take on a leadership persona of being either young OR old. Many spend a lot of time trying to fight off the stereotype that comes with being branded as one or the other, which often times leads to a disingenuous experience.

Instead of placing value on and utilizing strengths in both young and old in our organizations, a kind of unspoken “generational segregation” becomes the status quo. This trend of generational segregation in leadership creates immense isolation and is stifling to an organization’s ability to grow and succeed. Worst of all, it is counter-productive to establishing a legacy, almost solidifying a stunted one or two generation term of ministry at best.

Synergy leads to continuity, while succession leads to replacement. Generational synergy will bring forth great succession, but aiming for succession misses synergy. Synergy says, “we will go together now”, while succession says, “Sit and wait and you will take my place one day.” We need everyone at the table now to secure the future. No longer can a generation gap separate and segregate. But the Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs working together, will establish not only a legacy of influence but will also yield exponential growth.

As a leader ask yourself these 2 questions:

1) How does what God has been working to establish through me, carry on beyond me?

2) Am I open, as a leader, to going beyond myself in order to have lasting effect? 

The leadership paradigm of “succession” will not afford us the rate of advancement needed to shift our communities, cities and nation, but rather generations working synergistically like Mordecai and Esther; Jesus and the boy with the lunch; and Peter and Timothy. This has always been the mode of operation we see throughout the word of God that has brought the greatest results!

The Hidden Cost:

If you are predominantly surrounded by leaders of your same generation, here is a brief look at what that may be costing you right now.

As A Young Leader:

Separation from older generations of leaders and influencers can push pre-mature decisions to “break-off” instead of being “sent out.” Attempts to lead in isolation cause a wake of casualties with no safety net of wisdom or guidance to steer otherwise. These premature decisions are typically born out of high levels of frustration from feelings of being told in essence to “wait your turn”, instead of being developed and given room to run together.

As An Older Leader:

Without evolving the decision-making table to include younger leaders, organizations are placed in grave danger of extinction. There is no one present to serve up fresh momentum and vitality through creative new methods and innovation, both of which happen to be dominant traits of this next generation. This common protective hesitation to change, on the part of an older leader, typically comes out of a felt frustration toward young leaders who, seemingly, have no real sense of commitment and tend to jump ship too early with reasons of feeling that they “just aren’t on the same page” instead of being planted and allowing a full maturing process to take place.

Invest In The Future.

All of these ways of thinking rob us of a great strength that must be re-established and put back into place in order to have any lasting ministry impact. If it is true that leaders of the same generation, whether young or old, have the exact same generational perspective, then it must be that we are all required to go beyond where we have been. We must trust and see through another’s eyes and invest in days of remarkable expansion rather than showing up on the list of extinction.

Genesis 1:28 “ And God blessed them and God said unto them, “Be Fruitful, Multiply and Replenish the Earth…”

How do you influence a generation of young leaders?  Introduce them to a culture of real family connection where every generation is important, honored, respected and vital to the whole; where there is an expectation of growth and development in order to fulfill their purpose and assignment. Validate young leaders around you and look for ways to invest in their success and ability to lead. Having their voice at the decision-making tables and not just to be “seen and not heard” but to hear what God is inspiring in them, will give you great influence with this younger generation.

How do you connect with an older generation of leaders? The principle of honor paves the way for favor. Initiate connections and relationships through respect and honor for what they have done and where they have been. Look for ways to serve and serve to grow instead of ways to serve just to get. Guard against becoming overly familiar and keep valuing and drawing on the gift of God within them. There is no substitute for the wisdom you will gain from these connections.

The truth is, the principles of God’s Word will always stay the same, but the methods change and should change as our culture changes.

In the book of Joel and again in Acts 2, there is the most beautiful prophetic picture of generational synergy: Acts 2:17 “and it shall come to pass in the last days, says God.  I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams…”.

The bottom line is that we need each other to complete the task at hand.  And in the midst of an era when the benchmark for a world in distress has reached an all time high, this is no time for each of us to burrow ourselves down into what is familiar and become “generational islands” to ourselves. We are the body and we need each other. Fathers and Mothers in the faith, young leaders and influencers alike … lets go together, giving to each other that which each joint supplies and see the body of Christ increase and grow in numbers, yes, but in influence and in unity, until we make the kingdoms of this world the kingdoms of our God.

China Today

My family and I have been living and ministering fulltime in Mainland China for approximately 6 years now. People often ask us what it’s like to live in China. Our response is, “Living in China is like living in 2013 and 1930 simultaneously.” If you don’t believe me just call the man driving the horse drawn cart on his cellphone and ask him. You could also text the man plowing behind the water buffalo and he could help you understand. If that doesn’t paint a clear enough picture simply follow the migrant worker who is helping build the 41-story skyscraper back to his mud brick house. Under his bamboo slat floor you’ll possibly find a pig or two. Along the road back into the city you can watch the young man in his Ferrari honk at an old man as he stops his three-wheel bicycle in the middle of the dirt road to collect an empty beer bottle to sell.

“This is home.” In 2005 the Holy Spirit began to stir in me a heart for missions. I contacted a friend in Florida who has been traveling in and out of China for many years now. He invited me to join them on a ministry trip. I told him I would pray about traveling and ministering with them. At that time I didn’t even have a passport and I needed $3,000 for the trip. Three weeks later I was on a flight from the Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Shanghai, China. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was seated in a window seat over the wing. After the airplane landed in China I looked out over the wing and the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “This is home.” Thus beginning the saga of the Braze family in China.

“You’re taking your 6 month old to China?” In 2007 my wife Elizabeth, my six month old son Joshua and I boarded an airplane bound for Guangzhou, China. This was my wife’s first time overseas. We had managed to raise a grand total of $35 of promised monthly support. Walking by faith we moved to China. Many well-meaning family and friends tried to “encourage” us by saying things like, “You’re taking your 6 month old to China?” As if we hadn’t thought of that ourselves. Our response was, “They have 1.3 billion people in China. It looks like they have the whole baby thing down to a science there.” While overseas God blessed us with our second child, Rachel Anna. She was born in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Corn Flakes” We hit the ground running and I began studying the Chinese language and culture full time at a local university. Six months later my family and I opened a Western Style Restaurant as an outreach to a 16,000 student Chinese university. At the restaurant we used English as a platform to share the Gospel with many young university students. Through this outreach young men and women came to Christ including several of our employees. We held Bible studies and worshiped the Lord together with our new friends and employees.

That restaurant is where I first began to understand what I call, “the next bowl of rice”. One of the dishes we served in the restaurant was nachos. The word for corn flakes in Chinese is yùm?piàn ???.  The word for corn chips in Chinese is also yùm?piàn???. I think you can see where this story is going? To make a long story short, one day our employees changed the recipe and began serving nacho cheese over corn flakes. Why am I sharing this story? I believe this type of inconsistency happens partly because of “The Great Chinese Famine” ??????. According to Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng there were 36 million deaths due to starvation and another 40 million died before they were born.  Bringing China’s total deaths during the Great Famine to 76 million. What happens when your friends, family and neighbors are starving to death right in front of you? You focus on “the next bowl of rice”. You don’t care much about what it looks like, tastes like or even if it is clean. You harden your heart to the suffering of others also as a result of such harsh conditions.

The other day I had a conversation with a retired government official here in China by the name of Mr. Liu. He said, “Americans like you have more than enough to eat and so you go out and help others. The Chinese are not so. We have more than enough to do just trying to feed the 1.3 billion people in our own country.”

As Christians sometimes we forget the position we have in Christ. We often get preoccupied thinking about “the next bowl of rice” and forget what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33. “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (NKJV) We simply need to receive and enjoying what our Father God has already blessed us with in Christ, then work with what He has already given us to bring glory and honor to Him. I believe the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV) makes this clear. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (NKJV)

?????When people ask me the meaning of life (?????) I say, “To have fellowship with our Father God and bring him Glory through our lives.” Through this fellowship we hear the heart of the Father. We also experience the compassion of the Father that moved Christ to work miracles and give his life as a sacrifice for the sins, sickness and poverty of the world. Some estimates say that China has one billion, two hundred twenty million unreached people (1,220,000,000).

“Lepers Today” When we arrived in China we discovered a need we did not realize still existed in this modern day. The ministry was to those suffering from the effects of Hansen’s disease or as it is more commonly known leprosy. In our province there are about 120 leper villages and over 5,000 lepers. We work with a local Chinese doctor to provide medical care, meet basic needs and minister to the spiritual needs of the lepers. We have seen many of them come to Christ.  In all that we do here in China our focus is to instill in the hearts of Chinese Christians the Biblical principal that it is the responsibility of the members of the Body of Christ to minister to the widows, orphans, handicapped and the poor. When we minister in leper villages we take Chinese Christians along to accompany us and experience what it is like to be labourers together with God.

Orphans and Street Children: In 2011 we opened the Braze Family Orphan Home. We cared for 3 handicapped orphans that were abandoned by their parents. The first baby came to us with a whole in his heart. He was very lethargic and never even cried. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his brain and body. As prayers went up to the “father of the fatherless” this changed. I took him to the local hospital and when they performed another ultrasound the whole in his heart had been completely healed up. Glory to God! Psalm 68:5(NKJV), “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.” The second baby was born with missing fingers and no leg on his right side below his knee. The third baby was born with missing fingers and toes. We cared for these babies in 20011 and 2012 and then placed them in families. I also do consulting for a project in our city that provides care for preteens living on the streets. We are currently believing God for the finances to expand our ministry to orphans and street children.

Training and Discipling Pastors and Leaders: Our focus is to equip the Chinese for the work of ministry. We hold regular training seminars with local Chinese pastors and leaders and plan to start a Bible school here in the near future.

Annual Children’s Summer Camp Evangelistic Outreach: Every year we hold a week long character building summer camp outreach for poor migrant worker’s children. In 2012 we had 120 children attend and 40 volunteers from America, Korea, Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Hosting Short-Term Missions Trips to China: Each year we host individuals and small groups who would like to sow the love of God and Word of God into China. We have hosted people from America, Canada, Germany, England, France, South Korea and Malaysia. If you are interested in visiting China please contact us for more information.

For more information visit www.asiacommission.org

Lessons Learned From Unlikely Sources

When leaders fall, the good or impressive aspects of their leadership often fall with them. As Shakespeare’s Marc Antony said of Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” We so rebuff fallen leaders that we fail to learn from them. By completely rejecting fallen leaders we can also miss positive aspects of their leadership.

One of the most reviled presidents of modern times is Richard Nixon. He resigned office in disgrace in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Since that time he has been looked upon with contempt and disgust. (When Presidents’ moral failures are closer to and more common as those among the people they serve – such as sexual wrongs – a greater willingness is demonstrated to excuse or forgive the President.)

Had it not been for the colossal failure of character and integrity that stamped his leadership, Richard Nixon demonstrated great agility in creating innovative policies and obtaining bipartisan support for them. In many respects he was actually far ahead of his time regarding welfare policies, economic development, and international diplomacy. Although ultimately overwhelmed by his failure of character, Nixon’s intellectual and tactical savvy could be brilliant. It was his singular boldness and far sightedness that opened Communist China to the world (in spite of his reputation as a fierce opponent of communism).

Whatever good Nixon may have accomplished it was obliterated in people’s minds when the potential largeness of the leader was betrayed by the smallness of the person. Somewhere during his presidency Richard Nixon morphed from serving the nation to serving self, and he duped himself into confusing the two as the same objective. How tragic. What a burden of worldwide disgrace to carry through the remaining years of his life. What pain for his family to continue to carry after his death. Historians heap scorn upon the Nixon legacy. With the exception of Henry Kissinger, virtually everyone associated with Richard Nixon as President has preferred to minimize or avoid that connection. It would be difficult to consider applying any of Nixon’s governmental and economic strategies today, even if they could possibly be beneficial, because the negative association with his name would outweigh the appeal of the innovation.

King Saul was in some respects the Richard Nixon of his day. He could be a commanding, decisive leader, standing above his peers. But his insecurities, driving need to have his way, and panicky passion to protect his position caused him to defy God’s instructions and betray the nation he served. No one had Saul’s ear because he was too occupied with listening to himself. He duped himself into thinking he was clever enough to successfully play with God’s commands, given through Samuel, and could give the appearance of obedience while actually only fulfilling his own selfish motivations. When the ruse was embarrassingly and undeniably revealed by bleating sheep, Saul looked more like a buffoon than a leader. He convinced himself that protecting his leadership was synonymous with protecting those he served, a conclusion that is inevitably fatal to leadership. It was a sad and terminal flameout. As is usually the case when a leader fails, he did not pay the price alone; his family and nation suffered the consequences.

Did Saul get anything correct? Does his titanic collapse of leadership mean everything he did was bad? With the exception of leaders whose purposes are diabolic from the beginning, even failed leaders usually have some successes or at least implement some forward-looking decisions. What Saul did correctly was have an eye for exceptional young leaders. Note what he did, as recorded in 1 Samuel 14:52, “So whenever Saul observed a young man who was brave and strong, he drafted him into his army” (NLT). Saul knew what to look for in young prospects. Two significant markers stood out, brave and strong. It is what all capable leaders should search for in people. Importantly, the young men were not yet tabbed as or called leaders. That would require training, experience, and additional demonstration. But they possessed the requisite raw materials, the “right stuff.” Saul knew he could put the best-looking and recommended candidates through leadership training and offer them battle experience but if they were not brave or strong they would not become effective leaders.

It is difficult to see far ahead, to accurately measure whether someone will turn out to be a leader, and what kind. We have all blown that. I recall people for whom I had high leadership hopes, only to be disappointed as they washed out. Conversely, I have been pleasantly surprised by people who initially underwhelmed me with their leadership potential but became competent leaders. What a joy those men and women are! In both types of cases it is possible I did not start by looking for indications of bravery and strength. Not just attitude and bearing, intelligence and good heart, or willingness and loyalty – bravery and strength. A lesson learned from an unlikely source, a failed leader.

Of course, the very attributes Saul looked for in young men were also the seeds of his own downfall. David possessed exceptional bravery and strength, so much so that it threatened Saul. Although at first supportive of him, Saul was never the same after seeing David take on and conquer Goliath. When Saul heard people in the streets singing about the magnitude of David’s exploits compared to his, he burned with animosity. He probably stopped looking for brave and strong men, preferring docile and meek ones because they would not intimidate or threaten his leadership. It was no longer about the Philistines; it was about protecting his position. Saul’s demise was in view, but he was blind to it.

Are you on the lookout for brave and strong men and women? Are you recognizing those characteristics as seeds of leadership? Are you “drafting” them for service, making room for their development and training? Are you secure enough in your own leadership that when you find a young prospect with talents and gifts that might outshine yours you will still become his or her developmental sponsor? We can learn from both the positive and negative traits of Saul’s leadership. We can learn much from unlikely sources.

You can learn more about Open Bible Churches at www.openbiblemessage.org and https://www.facebook.com/OpenBibleHQ.

What God Values in a Local Church

Cain and Abel are examples of two brothers who brought gifts to the Lord. Cain was a farmer, so he brought an offering of fruit that he had produced, representing his hard work and ability. Abel was a shepherd, and he brought a lamb. He didn’t bring a living lamb, but a lamb he had slain. It was not just any lamb; it was the firstborn of the flock. What Abel had done was to offer the Lord a blood sacrifice for his sins. It was the offering that God wanted, an offering that made a way for God to come close to Abel. Abel’s gift was based on his dependency to the Lord, while Cain’s focus was based on the good that could be done on his own.

When we love God, we want to give Him what He wants. When we’re serving God as a pastor or church leader, we want our local church to be what the Lord wants. In order to do that, we need to find out what it is that God wants in a local church.

So what does God want? Sometimes what we value differs from what God values. For example, in Mark 12:41-44 Jesus was observing people that were giving their offerings at the temple. He pointed out that the widow who gave two mites had given more than anyone else. The rich put in a greater monetary value than the widow. What made the widow’s offering worth more? The value of her offering was based on the dependency of her heart. She gave God everything she had because He was everything she wanted. Jesus valued her surrender in her gift more than the gift itself.

According to what we read in the Bible, we can know what God wants. After seeking His presence, the Holy Spirit can reveal to us what God wants. We know that God values the position of our heart in consistent loving surrender to His will. When our hearts are submitted to Him, then we give Him leeway to do what He wants to do. When we yield ourselves to God in faith, we give God the opportunity to move by His grace, a grace that takes us over and above what we could ever do on our own.

When we stand before God to give an account for our life, we want to make sure that what we did was pleasing to Him. In our local churches, our aim should be giving God what He wants. To do this, we must learn what it is that God values. While there are many of God’s values that we could discuss, after spending time in prayer, I believe that the Lord wants me to mention the following three in regard to our dependency on the Lord in our local churches:

Liberty for God to express His heart and freedom to demonstrate His power

God is God, and we are not. Our local church does not belong to us; rather, it belongs to God, and Jesus is the head over it. The people that are in it do not belong to us; they belong to their Father God. Our local church is a place for God to encounter His people. Our job as pastors or leaders is to lead people to experience God and to grow in their relationship with God. Our responsibility is not to lead people to us, to be impressed with us, or to commit merely to us. In everything that we do, we are always to be pointing people to a relationship with God, knowing His character and experiencing His anointing.

With this generation, we want to do what we can do to attract people. God values people, and He values our methods of drawing people to His house. Today we can use technology to attract people with  our production – the sound, lights, staging, graphics, and video. We can even take what we do and put it online for the world to see. What we have to remember is that church isn’t just about our gifts, ability, and what we can produce. Church is still about dependency upon God, being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Actually, it is more than about being open; it is about being in pursuit of the Holy Spirit, intentionally going after Him, knowing that if we don’t have the anointing, we have no life.

God values technology – He is the One who gave it to us. Our technology is a tool to communicate the Gospel in a way that a now generation will receive it. However, if we value what we can do more than we value what God can do in our services, then we’ve become like Cain, focusing on ourselves, rather than like Abel, putting the focus on God.

God wants people to know His love and to be touched by His power. God longs to express Himself to His people. Therefore, when we get ready for a service or a ministry event, we seek God for what He wants us to prepare for, and we do it well. In addition, when we are in a worship service, our natural ears are listening to what is being projected, but our spiritual ears are listening for the Holy Spirit. When we give a message, our natural eyes are on the people, but our spiritual eyes are looking for the Holy Spirit. If God leads us to change a song, we change the song. If the Holy Spirit wants to take longer to pray, then we do it. If the Holy Spirit wants us to minister to people at the altar instead of sharing a message, then we might not have a message that day. Our plans will not change people’s lives, but one touch from the Holy Spirit can perform the miracle that someone needs. We are to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, not the leading of a clock, a production schedule, or the rotation of a second service.

God wants the liberty in our services and in our ministries to express Himself to the people He sent His Son to die for. I think He should not only have that right, but He should also have the freedom to have His way at any time. When God wants to have the opportunity to remit His power to perform a miracle in someone’s life, then He should have our surrender to act in the way He wants and at the time He wants. God wants to lead us in what we do, so we need to seek God to show us how to recognize the Holy Spirit and know what He wants.

If we value God, then we will honor the delegated authority that He gave to the Holy Spirit over us. The Holy Spirit knows better than we do about what God wants to do in our services. He knows who is there and what they need. He knows how to attract people closer to God better than we can. He knows what time it is, and He knows what needs to be accomplished in that time. We do not need to be afraid that the Holy Spirit will scare anyone away. When the Holy Spirit moves, He moves in power, in love, and in order. What we need are mature, experienced, and empowered leaders who know how to move with the Holy Spirit and will not allow the distraction of fleshly demonstrations or erroneous teaching about spiritual matters.

We need to trust God concerning the move of His Spirit in our church services. God is better at reaching people than we are. He is better at healing people than we are. He is better at loving people than we are. He is better at providing for people than we are. It is our responsibility to seek what God wants, and then yield to what the Holy Spirit wants to do.

In seeking after God, we should be careful not to rely only on our past experience, but to look to God for a new experience. We don’t have to imitate an older generation or another church culture in order to have what we know as a move of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to use the same music, the same methods, or the same technology in order to have the same results that we had before. In fact, God would like to stretch us to step out of what is familiar in order for us to rely upon His Spirit for something new and fresh. We just need to offer God ourselves and seek Him for what He wants in the services and events of the local church.

The imitation of His Son Jesus Christ in serving others

Jesus came to the earth to reach people, and not just large groups of people, but individual people. There are churches of all sorts and sizes, but one is not more valuable than another. There are a variety of churches that work together to make up one Church, the Church that God delegated to His Son, Jesus Christ. What makes a local church valuable to the Lord is a church that is doing the part that God has called them to do.

Our emphasis should be on growing God’s Church, and He does that through growing local churches. A life-giving church is not always a large church, but it is a healthy church, and it is a church that is reaching outward. I am reminded of the parable Jesus told about the shepherd that left his ninety-nine sheep in order to go after the one. Reaching that one person is valuable to God.

If you were a parent with a dozen children, would it be okay if one of those children went missing? You still have eleven children, does that one child matter? Yes, of course that child matters. You would do all you could to relocate that one missing child. Large churches in large cities are not more valuable to God than a church that reaches a person no one else could. Whether you are reaching one or one million souls for Christ, each reached person is valuable to God.

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many.” God values a local church that imitates His Son Jesus Christ by serving the hurting, the lonely, the broken, and the weak. God values a local church that not only does the works of Jesus, but a church that does the works of Jesus with mercy and compassion, the way Jesus did it.

The generosity of a kingdom-minded leader

What we value is what we will pursue. What we value is what we give our heart, our attention, our time, our ability, our energy, our knowledge and our resources. God wants us to give, and He wants us to give generously. He wants us to us to share who we are, what we have, and what we can do with others, not only for building up our local church, but for expanding His kingdom through other local churches, church planters, traveling ministers, and missionaries. When we operate with liberty in regard to one another, we will experience the liberty of God’s grace flowing to us, in us, and through us.

In addition, God wants us to provide the means and opportunity for others to express their gifts, including the training and equipping necessary to help them to mature in God’s purpose for their lives. God also wants us to help those who are younger, smaller, and less experienced. He wants us to share our strength and our wisdom with our brothers and sisters in our community, our city, our county, our state, our nation, and our planet. He wants us to help fortify and expand His kingdom by networking with one another and by caring for one another.

God wants us to be generous with His grace and His love. God wants us to have the heart to restore the broken, not to disregard someone who has fallen. He wants us to heal the hurting and meet the needs of the poor, not to show partiality to the strong or the rich. God wants us to honor the weak, not to misuse the vulnerable. He wants us to build one another up, not tear each other down through criticism, condemnation, or judgment. God wants us to hold up a standard of holiness, and, with kindness, draw people to God’s love and righteousness.

When we value others, we are valuing the kingdom that we are a part. Then we will know His glory and the fulfillment of living for Him.

In Conclusion

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we value what God values. In order to adopt God’s values, we need to have the following:

  • Church leaders need to spend time with God in His presence to share His desires, to hear His instruction, and to gain sensitivity to the leading of His Spirit.
  • Church leaders must be willing to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to God things.
  • Church leaders need to care about what God thinks more than we care about what anyone else thinks.
  • Church leaders need to surround themselves with a team that shares their values and is able to work together with one another.
  • Church leaders need to have discernment and the courage to guard what God values.
  • Church leaders need to be flexible to change their plans, which requires humility.

As a result of seeking God, we will find Him. We will experience His presence, His love, and His power in our churches and ministries. God will also keep us from overworking or hurting our bodies, our families, our relationships, and our lifestyle. We will see long lasting results in ministry that will point people to look to God and give Him their lives.