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.

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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.

 

The Heart of a Missionary: The Heart of Every Believer

The Metric of the Heart

When we talk about church growth, as Westerners we tend to many times think in terms of metrics; nickels and noses.  How many people are coming to our services?  How much income are we taking in to support the local work?  These are important because they are a reflection of commitment to the vision of the local gathering.  But what is even more important, trumping all others, is the metric of heart.

What is the heart of the congregation, not simply on Sunday mornings or at mid week home group, but in every day life?  What is at the core of their being?  What is our ultimate aim and goal as we prepare each week to minister to those that God has placed in our care as leaders, as we interact with our neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers on a day-to-day basis?

The Call to Obey

We find our ultimate purpose and aim spelled out for us in the last words Jesus gave before he ascended to take his place at the right hand of the Father.  He gave the command to his disciples and the cascading generations that would come after them, even up until the present day. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said to his disciples,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The thrust of the commission that Jesus gives is a call to make disciples of all nations or people groups.  The word for nations in the Greek is “ethne” and refers to groups of families who are bound together by culture and dialect, not simply modern day nation-states.

But even beyond that thrust there is a call to teach them to obey.  Not simply to “teach them” but to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded.  This is critical at the local church level and for every leaders to understand.  It is not simply giving our people good teaching that matters, but giving them the capacity to obey Jesus as Lord in their day-to-day lives.

The Willingness to Surrender

When we talk about obedience there are a couple of things that must always precede it.  First is the recognition is that Jesus is Lord and we are not.  He is the head of His Church and we are stewards.  He is the Master and we are his bondservants.  That is first.

Secondly, to obey we must be willing to surrender.  And to willingly surrender has to do with trust.  This kind of Kingdom surrender is not something that is forced upon us but it is something that comes into our lives when we recognize the value and worth of the One we are surrendering to and willingly offer up our lives into His authority and care.

I see it like this: Value x Worth = Willingness.  As leaders, one of our supreme roles is to exalt the value and worth of the King and his Kingdom, to display his glorious majesty and the wonders of his works both locally and even throughout the earth so that our people will be captivated by that glory and volunteer freely for service in that Kingdom.

It is not about us, growing our platform, making a name for ourselves, or building our own personal Kingdoms.  It is all about making Jesus famous.  We must decrease so that he can increase in the lives of those we serve.  We must lead by personally demonstrating what it means to personally recognize the value of the King, the Kingdom, and the promises.

Recognizing the value of the King

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”- Luke 9:59-62

What was Jesus saying?  I am King.  I am Lord.  I lead, you follow; and in order to do that you are going to have do some hard things.  You are going to have to deny yourself.  Yes, even as you live in the middle of an indulgent generation.  You are going to have to put me first.  You are going to have to work for ME first and foremost (not another man) by putting your hand to the plow.  But if you recognize who I AM, you won’t think twice about it.

Recognizing the value of the Kingdom:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”- Matthew 13: 44-46

The value of the Kingdom is seen as being worth everything a person owns.  Nothing we hold on to in this world can be compared to its worth.  The action of giving everything up for the sake of the Kingdom is accented, not by masochistic drudgery, but by pure joy.  It’s this joy that that empowers a person to do the hard things in life, to swim against the tide, if need be.

Recognizing the value of the Promise:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”- Matthew 19:29

The promise is for those who are leaving something behind.  Leaving something of greater value for something of lesser value is not wise.  Here in this promise we hear the Master saying that the thing that he calls us to is of infinite more worth than any thing we must leave behind in order to pursue Him and the Kingdom.

For some it may be power, wealth, fame, and if need be, even relationships that keep us back from full surrender.  The promise both for now and eternity.  We can’t lose when we recognize the value of the promise and give our all for the King and the Kingdom.

Jesus died, not simply to:

Get us a ticket to heaven
Get us our best life now
Make us happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise

But rather,

Bring us to a place where He can take His rightful place as Lord, which means we must get us off of ourselves and get us off the throne of our own lives.

That means:

We must first come and surrender.
We love Him with all of our hearts.
We follow Him wherever He leads.
We find out what is pleasing to Him.
We connect with His heart in intimacy.
We direct our lives to His eternal purposes.

He has prepared “good works in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10)  They are not our ideas or our causes.  They are a part of His eternal purposes.  And it all starts with the heart of surrender.

Some people think of missionaries as some kind of special citizens in the Kingdom of God.  And yes, they should be honored as any leader in the Body of Christ would be honored.  Many have given up everything to follow Jesus to the hardest and darkest places of the world.

But the heart of a missionary should be the heart of every believer. 

It is summed up in that one word: surrender.  Willing surrender and volunteering freely comes by recognizing eternal value and worth.  It comes through recognizing the value of the King, the value of the Kingdom, and the value of the promises.

I believe that if we lead the people that God puts in our trust from this paradigm, we will raise up a company of surrendered, love sick, passionate, joyful, global hearted disciples of Jesus who are on mission with God. What shepherd wouldn’t want that?

Three Components to a Thriving Student Ministry

In the fall of 2000, with my new bride of one month and a little U-Haul trailer, Kara and I struck out to a dusty little West Texas town with a dream in our heart to change a generation for God. I’ve got to tell you that it wasn’t long until we figured out that simply having a desire to do something wasn’t enough. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and we had so much to learn!

We were so glad that God would consider using us to shape the minds and hearts of students, who at the time, were just a few years younger than us. We were passionate and excited, but we lacked the ability to see the bigger picture and the wisdom of how to put it all together.

Early on passion, desire and a good work ethic weren’t lacking. I thought that if I preached good enough and worked hard enough that I would see the dream in my heart come to pass. Thank God for dreams and passion, but I’ve learned it takes more than that. Without the necessary components a dream is just a dream, but when you learn to put it all together, you can take your student ministry to the next level.

Sadly, I’ve seen many youth pastors work themselves to the point where they are worn out and burned out. After 12 years of full time ministry to students, I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be that way. We can enjoy ministry to students right now, and I hope this article encourages you in your journey. After all, we’re all growing and learning from one another.

So let’s talk about three components that I think are absolutely necessary to building a thriving student ministry.

• A thriving student ministry is Intentional.

As stated earlier, my biggest mistake early on as a young youth pastor was not a lack of passion or desire, but rather my inability to see “The Bigger Picture.” Great planning can help you accurately assess where you are, where you are going and most importantly how to get there.

What a minute! Planning?! What’s that?!

“Josh, it’s just not in my personality to plan,” said one youth pastor to me during one of our training sessions.

Proverbs 21:5 (NIV) says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Planning produces a peaceful process for my ministry and my personal life to thrive! Planning keeps me running at a great pace so I can be an effective pastor, husband, dad and friend. Planning helps me to approach each day with a clear purpose and an opportunity to be productive.

Intention is defined as “an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions.”

For too long, youth ministries have merely been a holding pond of pizza, iPods, and video games where parents drop off their kids and youth pastors just try to have fun with them. I’ve got to admit that the momentum that is generated from gathering a big crowd feels great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve hit the mark of seeing disciples made. I believe we can have a big crowd and at the same time see God doing something deep within hearts. How does that happen? It only happens when a higher level of intentionality is embraced from us as student ministry leaders. It starts with a plan.

Now I know that I’m “probably the only one who has done this”, but in my early days, I would frantically plan from week to week just hoping that the kids would live out the truth that I preached and come to the events I planned. This approach was like throwing mud at the wall. I was hoping that something would stick! Most of the time it didn’t, and I longed to see a deeper spiritual transformation take place in their hearts. I knew there was more we could do.

So youth pastors must answer, where are we going and how are we going to get there? The answers are found in the creation of a discipleship calendar, events calendar, and a daily schedule. These are just a few of the items that are so important to the well being of the youth pastor, his family, the students and the ministry.

Once the plan is prepared, now we must effectively communicate the mission in a way that garners the support of others and inspires them to find their place in the vision.

• A thriving student ministry is Inclusive.

 Once we know what we are doing, where we are going and how to get there, we can invite others to come along on the journey! It’s a lot more fun when others are involved and finding fulfilling their God-given passions! One key component to making that happen is creating a great mission statement, a grand idea to rally around!

Habakkuk 2:2 (NLT) says “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.

In other words, a clear mission creates clear purpose and direction for your ministry. How do we do that?

• Visit with your Lead Pastor. What does He want to see happen?

• Develop a clear, concise statement that states why your program exists.

• Run it by with your Lead Pastor and get his approval.

• Inform your leaders and students with your mission statement and display in your ministry everywhere you can to create excitement in the hearts of people.

• Everything revolves around our mission.

As you can see, the first thing you must do is have a great relationship with your lead pastor, because as the shepherd of your church. He is the one that needs to cast the vision for the student ministry. What do you mean Josh? I’m the youth pastor. I’m the one with the vision from God!

I am embarrassed to say that was my mindset early in ministry. There’s a problem with that attitude. The truth is that you’re not the lead pastor, and a youth pastor that doesn’t understand spiritual authority will have a tough time in ministry. I can’t tell you of how many youth pastors I have met that have left their assignment too soon because they failed to understand the importance of developing a good relationship with their lead pastor.

Our responsibility as youth pastors is to have the vision of the pastor for our church, because the youth ministry, brace yourself here…is just a part of the overall ministry. Now it’s an important part, but it is still just a part.

When you develop a great relationship with your lead pastor you will have no problem understanding his vision for the youth program and the two of you can accomplish some special things together. At times he’ll just give you a big picture statement and depending upon his personality, he may want to have a more hands-on approach. Either way, you’re ability to connect with your pastor will determine your level of effectiveness.

Once you have a clear understanding of the mission statement of your church and the vision of your pastor for students, you can now derive your own mission statement for your student ministry program and get our pastor’s stamp of approval on what you’re doing.

For our student ministry, E3, we have a very clear mission statement that our students, team members, and parents know. It solidifies our existence and brings credibility and purpose to our ministry.

Our mission statement for E3 is: “We exist so that students may ENCOUNTER God, ENVISION His plan for their lives, and be EQUIPPED to fulfill their destiny.

Simple and effective. It is the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, and it serves as a rally point for the incredible people that serve on your team.

• A thriving student ministry is Inviting.

I’ll never forget it when an attendee at a conference we were hosting came up to me and said “Hey Josh, I want to see your facility! I bet you have the best facility for gathering teens!” Wrong! I don’t have the most “wow” facility for our teens. I have a very nice facility, but I’ve learned to not allow the context of my ministry to outweigh the content.

I love being a part of an exciting environment, but it’s not all about the latest bells and whistles. They have a part in the process and we definitely utilize them, but most importantly, students want a place where they can just be themselves and know they are loved.

So as the youth pastor, you must be the one to establish this inviting and friendly culture in your ministry where students feel loved, affirmed and challenged to be all God wants them to be. At our student ministry, we want every student to feel so important and to know how God feels about them and how we feel about them. Our volunteers help us with this as they give out so many high fives and hugs! Every week, I encourage our leaders to have “4 on the Floor”. What does that mean? It is simply a challenge for them to connect with 4 students every week in a meaningful way. They are encouraged to get to know something about them and to connect at a deeper level. It has been a big hit for us!

When you start raising the level of the love of God in your youth ministry, God starts doing some amazing things! So enjoy student ministry! It can happen, but it’s going to take a great plan and some great people! You can do it, and together, we can shape a generation for God!

Links:

www.significantchurch.com

www.faithfamilyvictoria.com

Twitter: joshjoines

 

Green Pastures

Green Pastures

Psalm 23:1-2 “(1) The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (2) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

Have you ever heard the cliché “the grass is always greener on the other side?” It is a phrase to describe how other circumstances seem more desirable than one’s own, but in reality are often not.  This phrase can apply to church life too. There are some people who adhere to the possibility of things being different or better in another local church. I thought it would be a God idea to share some of our experiences and revelation on the blessings of loyalty and faithfulness to where we worship in the local congregation.

By the grace of God my family and I have been in the same local church with the same pastor for 30 years. Wow, what a life, what a blessing, what trials and what a journey! Over the years we have seen hundreds come and go for one reason or another. Some of those reasons involved God leading people on another path, but many times they were Christians who were simply tempted by “greener pastures.”

Benefits of Loyalty to Your Own Green Pasture

  • Something powerful happens when God’s people come together with one mind and one accord for worship (Acts 2:1-4). We encounter the presence of God! God’s great joy is for His presence to grace His people. He is a holy God and there is none like Him!

Psalm 22:3 “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”

  • Breakthroughs happen when we stay where God wants us to be. Over the years God has come down and touched our hearts, melting away the hardness of sin and cares of this world to bring us closer to Him. Today it is a good thing to give thanks for a good Holy Spirit filled church!
  • There is protection from the enemy when we can know and trust our church family. The Lord carefully watches over the gathering of people.[1]

Watch Out for Counterfeits

Religion, apart from a relationship with God, is a counterfeit of the true Church. Human religion happens when self-righteous men and women attempt to control the hearts of people. Human religion may look like church, but it lacks the life of God. These counterfeit religious ideas are prevalent throughout the world. This has been one of the enemy’s attacks on the local church and her leaders. Because religion has betrayed the trust of people, many believers have been tempted with the “grass is always greener” syndrome.

Many of these counterfeits have built beautiful religious buildings. On the outside they are spectacular, but on the inside they lack the presence and the power of God. Jesus spoke of a temple not made with hands and His Holy Spirit abiding in the spirit of man. Real church happens when believers get together to worship from their hearts.

Watch Out for Complaining

We want to be sheep that are committed to where the Lord has put us, not to complain about our shepherd or our pasture. It seems like many have excuses to look away from where God has planted us to other pastures where the grass seems greener. The crossroad of temptation is learning to discern God’s best for our lives without complaining or comparing our church to other churches. I have been tempted to complain too. Thank God for them gray-headed sheep, the mature believers, who kept me steady and faithful when my focus was on myself.

The Loyalty of Covenant Relationships

Let’s take a look at the scripture in what the Bible reflects on the subject of loyalty. The story of Jonathan’s relationship with David has always been a benchmark of blessing and a key to developing relationships. Jonathan was David’s friend, period. Nothing could untie the loyalty knot that bound these two men together. These two were of the same heart. They were men of battle, strong in spirit and courageously zealous for the nation and Jehovah.

I Samuel 18:1 “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

They loved each other and made a solemn oath of covenant between themselves. From this point on they were back to back, welded together a loyalty factor that even blood kin could not separate. A level of loyalty that God begins to show us can be obtained with special people He brings into your life.

I remember the first loyal friends I ever had.  We were inseparable, not just from spending times hunting and fishing; but our lives were intertwined together to forge such a deep relationship that brought glory to the name of Jesus.

I Samuel 18:3 “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.”

Jesus also gives us this same example as He called us His “friends” and laid the foundation for loyalty to each other with the common bond, His blood, our tribe, nation, family.

John 15:12-15 “(12) This is My commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. (13) Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (14) Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (15) Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.”

But the Lord wants us to have that same level of loyalty as leaders of His bride. God wants us to develop loyal friends that have a “minute man” attitude to drop everything at a moment’s notice to respond to each other’s needs. We stand unified in an unspoken bond of what is mine is yours and what is yours in mine, together in this cause of brining Jesus to a fallen world. We live as this world is not our home, ready to lay it on the line for our brothers and sisters.  This is a lifestyle that is holy and acceptable to Him who died for us.

Don’t Get Uprooted

Here is a great spiritual truth passed on that has sustained my life and brought a deep sense of worth to my life – are you ready for this? “Bloom where you are planted.” Make the decision to stay where God wants you and you will develop and grow!

Get over the petty offenses, go on with your life. That issue or thing that seems like a full blown hurricane is just the enemy making drama out of a non-issue. God had a big plan happening behind the scenes so don’t let the devil lie to you. His goal is to rob us of our greatest breakthrough or blessings. Steady, steady, hold the pattern, don’t let go of the rope as now is the time God is about to do His greatest work in you, your family and your local church. His joy is that you pass this test and go to a HNL (‘hole nuther level).

The greatest conflicts in local church seem to be usually pointed at the pastor. He gets the brunt of sheep kicks, sheep bites and sheep poop, hello! Unless your pastor is out of bounds in any of these three areas, don’t take the bait:

  • Immoral
  • Illegal
  • Unscriptural

Wow, how things get so amplified when we are in the heat of the issues. We get so familiar with all involved and the enemy begins his tireless relentless whisper of all the familiar things we know. All the little details are blown way out of proportion trying to get us to bite and be offended. The word familiar is close to the word family as our local church is our spiritual family.

God watches closely over the local church as this body of believers is the representation of the Lord’s bride in the earth. Being a part of a vibrant life giving local church is an honor not a right. We must continue to humble ourselves and become more like Jesus with the attitude of a servant. Familiarity’s first action is to negate the blessing of being a servant. Jesus showed this example with the disciples when He washed their feet. He knew everything about each disciple. He knew all their “business” yet He did not organize them into familiar categories of status quo, financial status, education, etc. Wow, what a temptation as we grow closer to people and familiarize ourselves with each other’s lives to compartmentalize each other and start down this road of familiarity.

The quickest way to avoid this trap of familiarity is to forgive and to give grace. True forgiveness means true repentance; thus, true repentance means a reversal of attitude and action.  Once we get our hearts right from self-seeking and centered direction, which is the root of familiarity by the way, it becomes a joy again to serve. Jesus took the towel in John 13 and washed the disciples’ feet with joy! Knowing all about them, their attitudes, competitiveness, and all around worldly thinking. Yet He forgave them, took up the towel of loyalty and forgiveness to show real kingdom living.

So now you may be in the heat of the moment with a familiar issue with your somebody! God put the local church as a place designed as a place to grow in spiritual maturity.  As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17. God is doing a big work in our lives constantly perfecting (maturing) us. So give the issue some time, some more prayer and check your heart because the enemy is testing the waters of your soul to look for greener pastures. Remain faithful and loyal for the rewards are out of this world!

Psalm 23:2 “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.”

Daylight’s Burning!

 

 



[1] Psalm 1:5; Acts 20:29

Does Your Ministry Keep Minutes?

I recently had a conversation with an administrator who had just joined the staff of his church.  He mentioned that in the three months he had been there, he had found no trace of any board meeting records for the last decade.  He asked what could happen if he could not find any minutes.  My reply was simple:  A board meeting without minutes is merely fellowship. When a church has a board meeting, it MUST be documented.  Minutes must be taken and properly formatted.  The minutes are documented discussions and decisions made by the board of directors.  Those minutes must also be read by each board member and approved by a vote of the board.  If the board got together and had a board meeting without minutes, the board simply had a time of fellowship.

What if my board members live in different cities or states?

If your church started out with board members living in different states, you understand the difficulties in gathering for a meeting.  The answer to this dilemma lies in your bylaws.  What your bylaws state about board meeting minutes can make or break you.  Every church, ministry, and any other type of nonprofit should include language in their bylaws that allow for board meetings to take place through electronic means.  State laws make provisions for this, so why not have clauses within your bylaws that allow for electronic means of attendance at a board meeting and unanimous written consent by email? These provisions allow board members that live in other states to participate as if they were physically at the meetings.

Different types of board meetings

The laws of all 50 states clearly require that, at a minimum, one board meeting take place and that minutes be taken to document the decisions made. This meeting is called the annual meeting of the directors. In this meeting, you discuss salaries, policies and procedures, housing allowances, retirement programs, insurance, financial reports, and a myriad of other items.  This is often known as the big board meeting of the year. The other type of board meeting is known as a special board meeting.  This type of meeting takes place throughout the year in between annual meetings of the directors.  It is to discuss plans and things that are important enough that they cannot wait for the annual meeting.  Below are some things that come up during the year that require special board meetings.

  1. Building repairs
  2. Hiring an employee
  3. Major purchases such as real estate and automobiles
  4. Loans
  5. Resignations
  6. Member disputes
  7. Amendments to legal foundation (bylaws, articles of incorporation, ordination programs, etc.)
  8. Adopting new policies
  9. Adding or removing a board member
  10. Discipline of church member

How to Keep Minutes

Below is a quick checklist of how to properly schedule a board meeting and how to keep meeting minutes.  Our resource, titled Corporate Records Kit , will teach you step-by-step how to maintain board meeting minutes along with all of your other corporate records, including the corporate seal.

  1. Create an agenda and properly format it with the call to order, reading of previous minutes, new business, old business, etc.
  2. Send out the notice of a board meeting to each board member, giving sufficient time as required by your state’s law.
  3. Create an attendance list and use it to keep attendance of those present and those absent.
  4. Keep detailed notes of the discussions and decisions using a form based on the agenda (StartCHURCH provides that form in the Corporate Records Kit).
  5. Use the notes to create the actual minutes using the format we recommend in our Corporate Records Kit.
  6. Send a copy to each board member.
  7. At the next board meeting, ratify the copy of the minutes you sent to each board member.

Minutes and Corporate Records

What good will board meetings be if the minutes do not appear in the corporate records?  Section 16.01(a), The model corporation of 1987, states that “A corporation shall keep as permanent records minutes of all meetings . . .” It also states that the corporation shall keep the following records in the office of the church or ministry:

  1. Articles, or restated articles, of incorporation and all amendments to them currently in effect;
  2. Bylaws, or restated bylaws, and all amendments to them currently in effect;
  3. Resolutions adopted by its board of directors relating to the characteristics, qualifications, rights, limitations and obligations of members, or any class or category of members;
  4. Minutes of all meetings of members and records of all actions approved by the members for the past three years;
  5. All written communications to members, generally within the past three years, including the financial statements furnished for the past three years;
  6. A list of the names and business, or home, addresses of its current directors and officers;
  7. Its most recent annual report delivered to the secretary of state.

Final Thoughts

A federal Court in Washington ruled that a church did not have a valid board of directors because minutes were never taken to document the election or appointment of the actual board members.  Failure to keep minutes allows for a court to pierce the corporate veil.  Additionally, in an audit, the only proof you have to show that your ministry operates in a manner consistent with your purpose, bylaws and section 501(c)(3), is well documented board meeting minutes.   Failure to keep minutes may cause you significant grief.

 

www.startchurch.com

 

The Life of a Single Mom

She walks in the church and cautiously looks around with her four-year-old daughter in tow. She hesitantly makes her way to the back of the church and sits quietly, thumbing through her Bible, avoiding eye contact at all costs. She has contemplated this day for months.  She wonders if she should even be here. Does she really belong?  A warm, friendly woman sits beside her and begins to make conversation with the four-year-old. The young mom is certain the woman notices her empty ring finger, and she hangs her head in shame.

The single mom is one of the fastest-growing sects of our population, so why have we, the church, ignored them for so long?  According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s article Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support released in November 2007, there are more than 15 million single parents across the United States. And the statistics that surround these single parent homes are staggering:

-1 in 3 single parents  lives in poverty.
-Abuse is twice as likely in a single parent home.
-78% of our current prison population was raised by a single mother.
-Children of single parents are more likely to become single parents.
-Children of single parents are 5 times more likely to commit suicide and 10 times more likely to drop out of high school.
-50% of single parent homes have some form of sexual abuse (March ’07, University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine)

Is it any wonder that twenty-two percent of all pregnancies today end in abortion (Guttmacher Institute, July 2008)?!  Potential single mothers are fearful that they simply cannot parent alone. They are scared – overwhelmed with the idea. They are scared that they, too, will become just another statistic. Where are the resources for single moms? Where can they go?  Sure, there are government programs to put food in the mouths of her hungry children or clothes on their back, but what about her emotional state? Where does she go for friendship and networking? How does she achieve financial success and learn long-term parenting skills? Does she know the resources that are available to her, other than government assistance?

For far too long the church has run from the single mom. Don’t believe me? Some studies suggest as many as 67% of single moms currently do not attend church – many citing fear of being judged as one of the  key reasons (The Church and the Single Mom, Carepoint 2010). Of course, we offer them food when they are hungry. We may occasionally perform a home repair or provide toys at Christmas. But do we stop there?  Dare we open a Sunday school class exclusively for single moms? A Bible study?  Or even a full-scale ministry?

It seems that many churches fear what others may perceive about a single moms ministry. We know that God meant for marriage to be forever (Malachi 2:16, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:8). We also know that our God commands sexual purity ( 1 Corinthians 6:18,  1 Corinthians 6:13, Galatians 5:19).  Does ministering to single moms mean that we, as the church, condone unwed pregnancy or divorce?  Of course not – no more than drug rehabilitation programs support drug use.

If we don’t reach out to them, who will?  For many, the only counseling they receive is from the local government-ran health unit, where they simply receive a pat on the back and a safe-sex discussion. Are you okay with these precious moms receiving a condom and a pat on the back or should be be giving them Christ? How can they make it without Christ filling them and renewing them daily with His love and mercy? How do they not simply give up?

As Christians, we have been commissioned with several tasks by our Heavenly Father.  Psalms 146:9 says “He cares for the widows and orphans.” Luke 14:13 calls us to “invite the poor.” 1 Timothy 5:3 advises us to “take care of the widow.” The widow, oftentimes, is the single mom. The orphans are left by a single mom. The poor are the single moms.

As a former, unwed, teen mom, I can tell you that fifteen years ago when I began the journey, there was nothing for single moms at the local church. I was ashamed and fell away from church attendance.  For almost seven years, I hung my head in shame. I did not feel like I belong anywhere. Consequently, I struggled. I wandered around desperately searching for the love of my King.

Whether they are unwed, divorced,or widowed, many single moms need parenting advice, financial instruction, emotional support via networking, and spiritual growth opportunities.  Let us find these women in our churches and let them know they belong. Let us find them in our communities.  Let us minister to them at their point of need. Let uss begin the single moms groups. Praise God for the cutting-edge churches across the country who have already embraced the concept!  Has yours?

Maybe you are reading and God is beginning to stir  you in a way that you never expected. Maybe you are the child of a single mom. Maybe you know one. Maybe it is just the Christian love and compassion that is moving you to a place of action. Now, you are wondering, what can I do? How do I get started? Well, we are so glad you asked!

Meet The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. The Life of a Single Mom is an international faith-based nonprofit who is committed to seeing every single mother connected to the house of God. Our purpose is to educate the church on how to best meet the needs of single parents both within their church walls and outside of them. Our heart is to teach the church how to go beyond a one-time event and sustain a long-term ministry that sees every single mother learn to walk in the freedom that is Christ alone. To date, we have helped more than 400 churches in 19 countries begin the process of launching a new single moms program within their church or grow their existing ministry. We provide resources and encouragement on both long-term ministry and one-time events. The Life of a Single Mom Ministries  has been endorsed by some of the nation’s largest churches and ministries, including Focus on the Family, Crosswalk, Healing Place Church, New Commandment, and many more.

Evaluation- A Key Component to Growth

Have you ever felt judged by somebody? Let’s face it. Nobody likes to be judged. The good news is that you have the option of judging yourself. The bad news is that judging yourself is really hard to do.

One of the signs of a mature Christian is that they have an internal compass. In other words they have the ability to judge themselves. Think about it. A young toddler does not have the ability to judge himself. He doesn’t know that it’s wrong to throw his toy truck at his sister.

“For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged.” I Corinthians 11:31

The key to spiritual growth is the ability to do self-examination.

About fifteen years ago I was asking the Lord about some things I had in my heart for ministry that were not coming to pass. I was hoping the Lord would say something like, “In a few weeks someone is going to give you a million dollars and you will be able to accomplish your vision,” but that is not how He responded.

This is what He said to me. “If you don’t judge yourself in your weight and diet you will not see your vision come to pass.” I had to make some major changes in my lifestyle because my weight was having a negative effect on my life and my ministry.

Self-examination is the key to personal growth, but it is also the key to church growth.

Growing churches have differing theologies, worship programs and building designs, but one thing all growing churches have in common is the ability to do self-examination. The reverse is also true. When large churches reach the point where they think they have arrived and they stop evaluating themselves they stop growing. The leaders who do the greatest harm to the church are the ones who think they have arrived.

My dad, who was an investment broker, said this to his customers when they were considering investing in a particular stock. “A company is either on its way up, or on its way down. Which way do you think this company is headed?”

The same thing is true about churches. A church is either on its way up or on it’s way down. The question is not, “Are you a small church or a mega church?”  The question is, “Which way are you headed – up or down?”

There is no such thing as maintenance mode. Maintenance mode is really just a slow death. You are either growing or you are dying. If you are dying the only way to stop the bleeding is to be honest with yourself.

Are you open to change? If you don’t change you can become extinct.

A few years ago, I was listening to a tape by Bob Yandian, pastor of Grace Fellowship in Tulsa, OK.  One day Bob received a phone call from an elder of an independent church that Bob had attended as a child. The elder informed Bob that they were closing the doors on the church and he was looking for another church to donate the building to. When Pastor Bob entered the church building it was like walking into a time warp. The church had the same furniture, carpet and décor that it had forty years earlier. The pastor’s guitar was on the platform just like he remembered as a child. The only people left in the church were the five elders who were all in their 70’s and 80’s. Bob looked at his staff and said, “This is not going to be our future! We are going to change.”

The truth is the world is always changing because each generation changes it. Our challenge is to connect people, who are always changing with a God who never changes. We don’t change our message, but we change our methods. If we package an eternal message in an old wrapper it seems like an old message. If we refuse to change we will lose a generation.

How do I do this self-evaluation thing? I’m glad you asked.

Ask somebody to take some time and walk around your church on Sunday morning and look at things from the visitor’s point of view. This should be someone who does not attend your church, but someone who is new. News flash! All of your growth is going to come from people who do not currently attend your church.

Better yet, hire a church growth consultant who will give you some honest feedback. I have been consulting with churches for the past year. I am finding it is hard to give people honest feedback, but I don’t feel like I am being a good employee unless I do. One advantage with hiring a church growth consultant is that the risk is low, if he doesn’t attend your church. In other words you don’t have to follow his or her suggestions if God is not leading you that way.

Here are some steps to take when evaluating your church:

1)    Write down all the things that you feel your church does really well. This is important because there are some things you don’t need to change.

2)    Decide ahead of time what is not negotiable.

3)    Do an anonymous survey of a sampling of your congregation. (You will not get honest feedback if this is not anonymous.) Ask them to grade you church programs. Admittedly this is hard to do, but it is necessary.

4)    Take a look at what other churches are doing. Get outside of you click.

5)    Evaluate yourself in the following areas:

  • Preaching
  • Worship
  • Kids Ministry
  • Youth Ministry
  • Building Décor
  • Parking Lot
  • Bathrooms
  • Signage
  • Lobby & Hallways
  • Feel of the Church
  • How easy is it to volunteer
  • Do I have enough leaders?
  • What happens when I go on vacation?

A willingness to change helps bring new people in. It says to them that you are prepared for their visit and that you are thinking about things from their prospective.

I accepted the pastorate of a small church in Sarnia, Ontario several years ago. The Nursery had not been in use for years so Deb and I cleaned it up, painted the walls and put in new carpet. Some people asked “Why are you doing all this work when we don’t have any babies in the church?” My response was “Company is coming and we need to get ready.”

New people will be visiting your church this week. Are you prepared for them?

You can contact Mark at Mark@SuperChurch.com or 800-798-4872

 

 

Vision Carriers

Years ago if anyone had told me I’d be in full-time ministry, I would have said they were crazy. But God had other plans (as seems to be the case for most of us church staffers), and I’ve served alongside my senior pastors for almost 13 years now. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about each other, including what makes us tick and what ticks us off! Every lesson has been invaluable beyond words. I’d love to share some of those lessons with you.

Every church has a unique DNA. We’re all called to develop Christ followers, but how that is done varies from church to church. Each church’s culture and DNA is downloaded from God to the senior pastors. They’ve been entrusted with a huge responsibility, and they need our support to do the big, hairy, audacious thing that God has called them to do.

This is my third year in the role of executive pastor, “vision carrier” as I see it. (In fact, I describe myself that way on my Twitter profile.) Our senior pastor casts the vision, and I’m responsible to give the vision arms and legs—to make sure everything we do reflects who we say we are. My job is not to tell my senior pastors how to run the church. Instead, it’s to support them as they execute the God-given vision in the way they believe He is asking them to do it.

For example, I can confidently say Freedom House is most known for two things in our community. First is healthy relationships. We believe that because God exists in community (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) and we have been created in His image, then we too were created to be in community and do life together in a healthy way. We follow the Matthew 18 model, and while it can be hard and uncomfortable to be honest and real, we believe there’s no substitute for truly healthy, authentic relationships. It’s why we do the hard work to develop them. We’re also known for excellence. The word average does not compute on our team! We believe “good enough” is the enemy of “best.” If God gave His best to us, then we’re responsible to always give our best service to Him.

These values are important to our senior pastors, so they became important to me. And as I carry that vision to our entire staff and leadership, it has become important to them as well.

Anytime I hear church staff members imply that they could “do it better” if they were in charge, my response is always, “But you’re not in charge! You won’t have to give account for this ministry; your senior pastors will.”

The church staff is the army going into battle together with our senior pastors every day. We’re the defense system there to guard what God has entrusted to the senior pastors (and by extension to us). If we don’t share the senior pastors’ commitment, then our priorities are in competition. There’s an old saying: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. If you try to focus on competing priorities, you’ll accomplish nothing. Ultimately everybody loses. Those of us who serve as staff members in the church will make our senior leaders’ lives so much easier once we understand that our job is to carry the vision.

That doesn’t mean the staff or I are “yes men.” My senior pastors and I don’t always agree on everything, and we’ve had our share of heated discussions. But I do my best to express my opinion in a respectful and honoring way. I never try to get my way for the sake of getting my way; rather, I try to bring a different perspective for the good of the organization. It’s not about me winning or getting my way; it’s about the church as a whole winning; it’s about the vision winning.

In particular, one of my senior pastors and I are polar opposites. Our personalities naturally clash, and in the early years our differences had the potential to be a huge divider for us. Our instinct was to dismiss one another, and I for one was tempted to walk away from God’s calling because of what was, in the grand scheme of things, a small personality difference (despite how big it seemed).

We had a choice to make: we could walk away from each other and never deal with our differences, or we could look at them as an opportunity for both of us to grow. Thankfully we chose the second option! Instead of holding our differences against each other, we chose to see them as complements to ourselves: Where I’m weak, she’s strong; where she’s weak, I have strengths to offer. We’re a good complement to each other, and each of our unique gifts has played a role in what Freedom House has become.  Accepting and even employing our differences has helped us do ministry and life together in ways neither of us could have imagined.

As I walk in the shoes of the executive pastor, I feel like I win when the vision wins. When I see our culture healthy and thriving—when leaders demonstrate our core values in their actions and conversations with others; when volunteers go the extra mile because they understand that’s just how we do what we do; when staff members allow their differences to drive them toward growth—then I feel I’ve done my job well. I’ve given legs to the vision and heart of my senior pastors, and those legs are moving the vision forward to accomplish what God has called us to do.

I’ve had a lot of time to learn my pastors’ heart, and I’ve found it’s essential to vision-carrying. Knowing their heart means knowing what’s important to them, then doing everything you can to make sure that’s what is being done. Their heart adds life to the vision, and knowing the pastors’ heart will make carrying the vision that much simpler. The best advice I could offer any church staff person: Learn your pastors’ heart! Once you know their heart do all you can to make sure their heart and the vision is being expressed in your church. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did and your church will be the better for it.

Follow Makeda Pennycooke on Twitter: @makeda619

When God is Your Job

One of the things we have to guard against as spiritual leaders is letting our relationship with God become a job that we have to do, rather than a relationship that we want to nurture. For everyone in ministry — from lead pastors to lay leaders — the lines between “job” and “relationship” can quickly become blurry. It’s easy to just keep doing what is expected of you without realizing that you are becoming cold in heart.

Honestly, this has happened to me many times throughout my 25 years of church leadership. There have been some Sundays (and Saturdays and Wednesdays) that I find myself participating on the outside — nodding along to the message and  raising my hands in worship — but on the inside, I am as disconnected as I can be. I am going through the motions, but my heart isn’t in it. I find myself distracted and restless, and maybe even a little discouraged. But I plow on, because, well, serving God is my job! When that thought enters my head, I know it’s time to do some soul searching.

Personally, I know I am getting close to the “God is my job” mindset, when:

  • I find myself mindlessly going through the motions during service, but my mind is in a different place (making my to do list, planning my calendar, reading twitter on the front row when I’m supposed to be following along in YouVersion).
  • I lose my interest in meeting new people.
  • I want to come as late as I can and leave as early as I can after service.
  • I start seeing actual ministry as an interruption to the tasks I need to get done.
  • I enjoy video announcements more than worship.
  • I listen to the sermon for other people rather than for myself.
  • I get picky about the song list.
  • I focus more on how the service is being done than on the presence of God.

Serving God should never become a job to us. As spiritual leaders, we must to fight every day to keep the fire of God alive in our hearts. When I find myself slipping into a “God is my job” attitude, this is what I do to get back on track:

  • Do a health check:
    • Am I being consistent in my spiritual disciplines? (Prayer, bible study, giving, and periodic fasting)
    • Am I guarding the gateways to my soul? (My eyes and ears — what I watch and listen to has an impact on your attitude)
    • Am I practicing thankfulness? (Our default as humans is to be ungrateful and negative. We have to be intentional about cultivating thankfulness and positivity in our minds.)
  • Hit the reset button on my identity: Remember this, before you are a pastor, pastor’s wife, church staff, or lay leader, you are first and foremost a child of God. He has entrusted you with responsibility and a calling, but at the end of the day, He still calls you “son” or “daughter.” there is no pretense with God. He sees through all of it, so get real with Him.
  • Hit the reset button on my church experience: Even though you may have a service role at church, you still need to be able to experience God’s presence. Whatever opportunity you have to pray, worship, or participate in the service, make it count. Don’t merely go through the motions.

 

You can learn more about Kerri Weems by visiting these links:

www.celebration.org
www.kerriweems.com
www.shineinc.org
www.facebook.com/kerri.weems
www.twitter.com/KerriWeems

 

How Do I Create a Fast Growing Church?

a.k.a., The Momentum Equation

Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of pastors and leaders ask me the same question:  How can I create a fast growing church?  What do I need to do to create a fruitful congregation?

Of course, I usually stop these people and remind them:  You don’t necessarily want a “fast growing church.”  Rather, you want a healthy church that effectively creates long-term disciples.  Some pastors seek fast growth out of ego.  Others, like most church planters, are just trying to survive.  After all, if they can’t generate success straight out of the gate, they may not have much food on the table.  But, I believe that anyone who cares about expanding God’s kingdom is going to be interested in accelerating the growth of their organization.

Keep in mind:  The Bible says, “Only God makes things grow” (1 Cor.3:7). So, plain and simple:  if we’re out of sync with God, no amount of “watering and planting” will amount to much.  Without humility, integrity, and generosity, it’s going to be hard to grow our churches (or our lives) into anything significant.  But,  beyond this obvious reality, what are some of the factors which can dramatically affect how fast a church grows?  I like to put numerous ingredients into a simple formula I call the Momentum Equation.   It goes like this:

“The right person,

at the right time,

in the right location,

with the right methods,

with the right inner circle of leaders

equals success.”

But here’s the important part:  If any one of these criteria are off, it will have a dramatic affect on your success as a leader.  Almost all of the great pastors I know could easily write a book on each one of these ingredients.  And if you haven’t considered each of these criteria, then listen up:  You just might discover a missing link in your own leadership tool-box.  So let’s begin:

The Right Person:  A lot of people can be quite deceived when it comes to their true strengths and weaknesses.  (Just look at the first few weeks of American Idol for starters).  Not everyone is meant to be a CEO.  Not everyone is meant to be a teaching pastor… or a church planter.   But if we get our self-esteems wrapped around ministry positions we’re not, we’re always going to experience a frustrating lack of fruitfulness.  But my Bible says:  “A gift makes room for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great” (Prov. 18:16).  And sometimes, this process takes decades to unfold.  But, if opportunities seem to be drying up for us, there’s a good chance we’re out of sync with our true gift-mix.

So, how do we know if we’re the “right person” for a given task?  Simply find people who are experts in the area you feel called.  Once they know you, ask them:  “Do you truly see the same potential in me?” Sometimes your greatest fruitfulness and promotions can come when you demote yourself into a supporting role.  No one wants to be an ugly duckling when God created them to be a swan.

The Right Time:

Over the years I’ve met a good number of church planter’s who’s “timing was off.”  I.e., They’ll make a great church planter… in a few years. But many of them bow to external pressures and pull the trigger on a vision that hasn’t fully matured.  As a result, their resources and opportunities always seem to be lingering along.  The same process can show up when taking over positions at established churches.

I once had a pastor friend who became the interim pastor of a church in crisis.  He was a brilliant leader; but, circumstances beyond his control made it almost impossible for the church to see and get in sync with his skills.  Again:  Right person.  Wrong timing.

I also had a friend who pastored in a church and city that was riddled by moral failures and theological extremists.  Christians were desperate for a new voice and my friend fit the wish-list perfectly.  Not surprisingly, he had explosive growth.  He was the right leader at the right time.

So, can we manufacture “great timing?” Sometimes, yes.  After observing organizational life-cycles for a while, it’s a lot like jumping rope:  there’s a time to jump in and jump out.  There’s also a timing to our own personal ministry skills.  Much like baseball, if you enter a big-league vision without big-league skill… you just might turn into one of those bitter players who rant about how you always got the short-end of the stick.  But here’s a better approach:  In the storyline of your life, God’s got a climax for your calling.  But don’t allow finances, comfort zones, or impatience obscure God’s will.  “At the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

The Right Location / City

Before my wife and I planted in the Twin Cities, we were very careful to study a good number of cities.  We constantly asked these questions:  Who are the people that God has most qualified and anointed us to reach?  And where do these people live?

There are also many regional factors that affect speed of growth.  Downtowns and Urban centers often have increasingly transient membership – thus making stability a problem.  Cities with populations less than 50,000 usually have the opposite problem…requiring much more longevity and political savvy.  Bible belt or Sun-belt metros can have a huge number of semi-Christianized transfer growth but can also be over-saturated with your style of church.  But after hours of diligent study, we intentionally chose, not merely our city, but the location and methods as well.  This leads us to the next part of the equation:

The Right Methods

Let’s face it:  We all have opinions about worship, service length, sermon styles and church sizes.  But it’s amazing how thoughtless many Christians are about their methodology.  Almost every month I hear another silly pastor spiritualize a singular method or format of church as though it is the only one we need.  But my Bible instructs me to judge a tree by its fruit not it’s format.

For example, I once heard a well-known pastor say:  “If you’re not doing line-by-line expository messages straight through the Bible then you aren’t preaching the Gospel.” Perhaps if he preached this way through the parables of Christ, he would have realized his statement was both ridiculous and ironically un-Biblical.  But, in every Christian movement there is an unspoken list of values intended to delineate a true elite “super-Christian.”  Unfortunately, many of these values and methods are actually extra-Biblical and are a hindrance to fruitfulness.

So, how do I know if I might be carrying some of these religiously transmitted diseases? Well, simply go and study a diverse group of fruitful Christian leaders (i.e., Find Christians that worship differently or have different secondary doctrines.)  As long as they value the scriptures and are clearly taking ground, open up your heart and listen.

There is also a “statistical science” to success.  Studies like Natural Church Development have long been saying that churches are like human bodies:  you can statistically predict growth and health issues.  For example, obese smokers have a life-expectancy that’s 15 years less than other people.   I didn’t learn this through some prophetic gift.  I learned it by listening to God speak through statistical facts.

For example, it’s also statistical fact that:  Rarely will an American church grow larger than 200 people per acre.  Also, for every two to three seats, the average American church needs one parking stall.   So, in light of these practical insights, I made the controversial decision to relocate our church to a more adequate facility.  Of course, this completely angered one man in our church.  (He was convinced that we weren’t growing healthy because I refused to preach more on his pet-theologies).  He acted as though a simple sermon or worship format would suddenly compensate for methodological foolishness.

But listen:  God doesn’t honor this type of hyper-spirituality in leadership.  Don’t think that your prayer life will compensate for the fact that you never wear a seatbelt.  I.e., Don’t allow hyper-spiritual pressure to cause you to overlook common sense.  Again:  You can be the right person in the right city; but, if your methods & practices need tweaking, no amount of sweat is going to change that.

The Right Inner Circle:

Of course, you might be a tremendously gifted person.  But very rarely will a person make it to the top of their field without a great team.  As John Maxwell says:  “You are only as good as your inner circle.”  For example, when I first started Substance, our entire leadership team was comprised of inexperienced college students.  Almost none of them had been in leadership positions before.  And even though my preaching skills were fairly well-developed back then, these skills were certainly not enough to overcome the foibles of our rookie leadership teams.  Not surprisingly, many dynamic Christians came through our church; but, eventually they moved onto better churches who had better leaders who created better leadership systems.

Of course, I couldn’t blame my lack of fruitfulness on my inner-circle; after all, a good leader is measured by their ability to recruit such a circle out of nothing.  I.e., it’s my job to create the inner circle.   Keep in mind, your age, your ethnicity, your dress style, even your spouse can affect your ability to build a healthy inner-circle.  As a 24 yr old senior pastor, I had to surround myself with dynamic 46 year old leaders.  As a white pastor, I have to surround myself with multi-ethnic leaders who are more adept at recruiting their people.  So back when we planted Substance with a rag-tag group of college students, I knew I had to be intentional about recruiting across cultural and age barriers.

So rather than whining about my circumstances (or lazily hiring other people’s staff), I simply made the decision to do three things better:  (1).  Do a better job at developing the leadership skills of my current team.  (2).  Do a better job at identifying and recruiting socially intelligent leaders out of nowhere… even those outside of my own demographic  (3).  Constantly be switching people into their sweet spots; (and/or removing the people who stop growing / stretching / or who stop living in sync with their own gift-mixes.)

Even more, I taught my inner circle to do a brilliant job at these same three things.  In fact, if your inner circle can’t write a book on each of these three things, then you probably have a rookie leadership team.  And the same thing is true with all of the elements in this formula.

The Final Word

So it begs the question:  How can I get in sync with this equation? How can I increase my leadership insights on this equation? Well, here’s a simple solution:  Get insightful mentors who can help you answer these questions.  After counseling hundreds of young leaders over the years, I’ve always asked them three questions:  What are your dreams?  Who is living out your dream?  And what are you doing to get around these people?  Or, to rephrase these:  What are your leadership problems?  Who has successfully navigated these problems?  And what are you doing to serve these people? (Because access to good mentors usually requires meeting the needs of good mentors).

Keep in mind:  Leadership is a life-long art-form.  I’m only just beginning to understand the momentum equation myself.  But, one thing is for sure:  If we ignore a single aspect of this equation, it’s going to affect how fast our churches grow.  It simply means:  Our time has not yet come.

Of course, God may intentionally ask you ignore a few of these criteria.  I adore pastors who are willing to take on inglorious positions for the cause of Christ.

But pity the leader who’s church has stalled-out simply because they were ignorant of how momentum works.  Agreed?

 

What a Life-Giving Church Will Do

When a life-giving church is established in a community, lives are transformed, families are strengthened, communities are enhanced and the world is impacted. Planting, establishing and growing healthy local churches are not ideas that originated with a man or woman. The local church is a concept that began with God, a concept that His presence would not be confined to buildings or a tabernacle, but that His Spirit would fill the hearts of men and women both individually and collectively. The local church is a gathering where we have God-encounters, a meeting place that has been made possible because Jesus paid our ransom, defeated Satan, positioned us in union with God and gave us authority and empowerment to take dominion in His name.

A life-giving church is to be an expression of Christ. We should endeavor to know Him as He truly is and accurately display His character so that He can be known. We should strive to experience His glory so that His power can bring the changes that people need. I want to share with you some of the things that a life-giving church will do.

A Life-Giving Church Will Facilitate Heart Transformations

God is the only one who can transform a heart. We know that we cannot change the nature of a man or woman, but we know that God can. We recognize our role is to connect people with God. People need to have God-experiences. God, through the Holy Spirit, will do the rest.

God wants us to recognize that a church is not our house; it’s His house. God wants churches that will honor Him in His house, not to take it over and do as we please, but to show respect to what He wants done there. When He is honored, He can move in the hearts of people that we never can. He can take a sinful heart, make it new and give it life. God can take a heart filled with carnal desires, and change it so that it is filled with His desires. God can turn a selfish heart into a generous one, a mean heart into a loving one, a reckless heart into a caring one, a bound heart into a free one, a broken heart into a mended one.  Only God can change a heart, and a life-giving church will not only be open to allow God to move, but will actively pursue His presence.

Individual lives will be transformed, bringing positive change to families and communities. When an addict is freed from their addiction, it brings positive change. When criminals find rehabilitation, it brings positive change. When the poor have their needs met, it brings positive change. When the sick are healed, it brings positive change. When marriages are restored, it brings positive change. When families are strengthened, it brings positive change.

A Life-Giving Church Will Encourage Connection

God wants us to connect with Him, and He wants us to connect with one another.  The interaction between believers is to be life-giving. How we relate to one another should reflect the love God has placed in our hearts. It should confirm the significance that God places on a human life. It should convey the mercy and grace that God has extended to each of us. The relationships that we cannot replace the relationship that we have with God, but they have been designed by God to bring us strength and support, joy and fellowship, prayer and encouragement. The relationships that we share in a life-giving church should show the world that we belong to Christ, pointing the way to want to know Him and to be a part of God’s family.

A Life-Giving Church Will Serve in Love

A local church that represents God will serve inside the church and outside the church. We serve God, we serve one another, and we serve the world. We are filled with God’s love, a love that compels us to action. When we see a need, we collectively try to meet that need. When others see our love in action, it demonstrates who God is, and it draws people to Him. When people see the love in our serve, it demonstrates caring relationships, and it draws people to belong to a life-giving church. All that we do as local churches should be done because of the life God has given to us, life that we live in serving others.

Life-giving churches facilitate heart transformations, encourage connection, and serve in love. Life-giving churches cause change to happen in lives, in families, in marriages, in the workplace, in friendships, in neighborhoods, in communities and the world. If you are in a life-giving church, then share that life with others. If you are not in a life-giving church, get into one. If there is no life-giving church in your area, pray about getting involved in starting one. Together our churches make up the kingdom of God, with Jesus as our Lord, sharing life with others around us. Let’s work together until He comes back to reign as our King!

Connect with Jerry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jerry_stone and www.facebook.com/jerrystone.org. You can also read his blog posts at www.jerrystone.org.

Treasuring the Throw Aways

Believe it or not, many children in southern Africa, are considered “throw-aways” by their communities. It sounds harsh because it is. What a brutally discouraging message for a child to be burdened with! “You are not important. You don’t really matter. You are worthless.” With an out-of-control AIDS pandemic, and abject poverty, there just isn’t much hope in the hearts of the people – and children quickly are seen simply as a burden.

But God calls children a blessing. And that is why Children’s Cup is devoted to giving hope to the “throw-away” children of this world. And it’s working because of the thousands of people we have been able to give the opportunity to make a personal connection with the face, the name, and the story of a child – and for many, the chance to go to Africa – where they’ve seen, they’ve held, they’ve smelled the life of these children who matter more to God than anyone can describe.

The result of these encounters is an immense collection of individuals who are passionate about helping the “throw-away” children grow from hurt and hopelessness to a life overflowing with hope.  Over the past 20 years we have been engaged in rescuing tens of thousands of orphaned and forgotten children around the world.

Here is the story of one of those children who was once a “throw away” child:

Lenhle’s father died when she was just a little girl. As is common in her country, after his death, her father’s family came and took everything, leaving Lenhle, her mother and five siblings with nothing. Her mother struggled to provide for her children, but one day Lenhle came home to find her mom on the front step of the house, not knowing where to turn. They had been kicked out of their home because she couldn’t pay the rent. Six children, an unemployed single mother, and no hope.

When Lenhle was 15, she found a Children’s Cup CarePoint. She started bringing her siblings with her to receive the only meal they ate each day. Lenhle found a place to belong at the CarePoint, and she met Jesus during the Bible Club meetings she attended each week.

Not only did the missionaries and teachers at the CarePoint show her extravagant love, but they also taught her to serve others. And she found a lot of joy in helping other kids at youth camps and Christmas parties – particularly those who were in situations like she had grown up in.

One day while at her CarePoint, Lenhle saw one of the Children’s Cup interns serving at the CarePoint, and began to dream about being an intern herself one day. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.  She wanted to be used by God to show His love to hurting and forgotten children.

Lenhle recently completed her internship, and joined the Children’s Cup team serving at the CarePoints in Swaziland. It is a joy to see her playing with the children she loves so much. Not only is she gifted in her work with children, but because she understands first-hand what they are living through, she is an even greater blessing to them. She gives them hope for their own future. She’ll be the first to tell you, the love she shows them is a reflection of the extravagant love she found in Jesus.

As Children’s Cup has helped give hope to these children, our partners are telling us that they themselves are experiencing a richer depth of life as they engage with us to change destinies. When you serve someone else in need, not only do they grow stronger, but your own life becomes fuller.

By following the example of Christ, we can demonstrate his love by meeting practical needs so that we can then deliver the truth of the saving grace of Jesus.  It starts with clean water and a daily meal, then the efforts expand to medical care and education assistance, and discipleship programs and leadership training. We start with the basic humanitarian needs because a hungry child is less likely to hear the message of the love of Jesus than one you’ve just given a meal to. At the same time, we are determined to do more than just feed children because just giving them a meal doesn’t mean they’ve found hope. My father-in-law used to always say, “Hope’s name is Jesus!”

We give them hope when we give them Jesus.

Not only is Children’s Cup rescuing hurting kids, nurturing them, but also empowering and equipping them to be an influence in their communities right now and into the future.  We have learned that the way we break poverty is through creating new cycles of serving and giving.   Part of that transformation for our kids is serving others that are hurting.  Those who have received hope begin to give hope.   We have children like Lenhle helping to lead groups of six and seven year olds to collect firewood for elderly widows and to help clean their houses.  It is indescribable the impact on these small children when an elderly woman weeps for joy and hugs them tightly, affirming them for being the hands of God to her.

A new culture is being created.

The sites where we feed children (CarePoints) are strategically placed so that they can also develop into a local life-giving church that can reach into the entire community where the children who once were “throw-aways” can find hope. This is when the cycle of hopelessness begins to be broken. And from our experience so far, these churches begin growing very quickly because they are attracting people from every walk of life in Africa that are drawn to the stories of hope and changed lives.  Everybody wants to be part of something that is making a difference.

The churches (some of the fastest-growing and most influential churches) that partner with us to plant and develop life-giving local churches from our CarePoints are telling us that they attribute part of their success to their involvement with Children’s Cup in Africa. Their people have been forever inspired to reach further into the lives of the hurting around them because of the stories of transformation they experienced in Africa.

When your church chooses to treasure the ones others consider “throw-aways” God tends to show up all the more powerfully in your own church.

For more information on Children’s Cup, visit www.childrenscup.org.

 

 

Live the Dream

I believe the Lord gives us dreams of all the amazing things He wants to do in our lives.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  The word tells us that the Lord has a plan for us, a dream for our future.

I had my own God dream that the Lord gave to me.  A couple of years ago, I began to feel a shift in my dream journey.  I didn’t know what it was, but in my spirit, I started feeling like life was about to change for me.  God began dealing with me about leading the women in our church.  As a wife, mom and worship leader, this would be a big under-taking for me.  But as the Lord began to gently deal with my heart, I said yes to the dream!!  Reluctant, scared and not qualified, I said yes!!

God gave me a scripture right at the beginning of this new dream, and it was Joshua 1:9.  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  I quoted that to myself over and over because I needed that assurance that God was with me and to be strong and not afraid!  I’m still standing on it today.

The dream that the Lord has placed in your heart is a beautiful thing.  He has entrusted you with His plans for your future, but, these dreams can be so easily stopped if we let them!  There are a few things that I have found are important when pursuing the dream God placed in our hearts.

First, I want to encourage you that no matter how big or how small the dream, HE WILL ANOINT YOU FOR THE TASK.  However, I don’t believe the anointing is just there automatically!  The anointing comes when you say “yes” and step out.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what’s possible, then suddenly you’ll be doing the impossible!”  That is it! The Lord has anointed you to do the impossible, but first you have to step out.  And be encouraged because this doesn’t mean you’ll start off amazing, confident, comfortable and profound in the task.  But if you make sure to depend on His Spirit, He will grow you in your dream.

DON’T LISTEN TO THE NAY-SAYERS around you. Listen to those that are encouraging, and more importantly, listen to the Lord.    Listen to the voices that say, “Go for it!  God will make a way. You can do it!  I’m behind you!  God is with you, so don’t be afraid!!”  And, it’s just as important to filter YOUR voice.  Sometimes we don’t need anyone else to talk us out of our God dream, we can do it all by ourselves!  Let the Word tell you who you are.  You are more than a conqueror! You can do all things through Christ! Greater is HE that is in you than he that is in the world!!

PROTECT YOUR DREAM! 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  The enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy your dream because that’s your destiny.  He wants to stop it before you even start it.  Be on your guard and protect your dream!

Finally, GIVING UP IS NOT AN OPTION. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.” As a Christ follower, giving up and throwing in the towel are not options.  It’s not a God choice.  It’s a defeated choice, and it’s a choice motivated by fear.  We always press in, press through, lean in, and hang in there.  Aren’t we glad that God never gave up on us?  Despite our sin and bad choices, He pursued us.  In the same way, we should pursue the dream He has placed in our heart.

In closing, I want to encourage you.  Don’t just hold onto your dream and admire it and its beauty.  But let it go so God can take it and carry it farther than you ever dreamed possible to make a difference in the world.

www.healingplacechurch.org
www.livethedreamconference.com

 

Navigating Through Transition Time

Having been in and around church life for the past four decades and also worked in three continents, I have come to realize that God seams to emphasis something new every decade. In the ‘50 it was the great Healing Revival, in the ‘60 the focus was on Discipleship, in the ‘70 we transitioned into the Teaching era, in the ‘80 it was all about Praise & Worship, in the ‘90 we saw the importance of the Local Church and after Y2K the emphasis was on Cultural Relevance (or how I like to call it: being real in a real world with a real God)

 

I don’t know about you, but planting or leading a church from one decade to the next, brings with it, its own bag of challenges. It was in these transition times that my questions began to pile up: What is God doing globally, nationally, locally and in my life. And, how does this all fit in with the next thing that I sense is ahead of us?

I compare Transition Time to a road trip in Europe, when you may have to transition from one ‘Autobahn’ to the next, in a city you are not familiar with and with signs that are in a foreign language. I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learnt:

 

 

Everything slows down.

Like it or not, you will not be able to keep up the old pace. Don’t fight it. To find the right exit on an unfamiliar highway, you will first need to get onto the slower lane and be OK with all the other cars and trucks (churches) you passed earlier, to get ahead of you. Increased talks between your copilot (spouse) and you, your GPS (Holy Spirit) and your good old-fashioned map (Bible) will get more intense. Its time to listen and stop getting frustrated or throwing around your opinions, because the bottom line is, … you really don’t know clearly what’s next. Remember that the flesh does not take change kindly.

 

 

Looking for Exit signs.

I did not know, after driving across the Swiss-French boarder in Geneva, that the French had a different color code for their Highway signs then the Swiss.  So I ended up on the country road and added two more hours to my journey. Signs are here to help us, but the temptation to take the “best looking” sign, can easily put you on a detour. I also learned that if there is no sign where I think there should be one, not to go with my gut, but to continue with the direction of the last sure sign. I think you can read some of the spiritual principles out of this. In short: when you get direction, just obey. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

 

Details become huge.

Because I am trying to read every little board, I don’t know after a while what is advertising, what is important or what is just professional looking graffiti.

Pastor Ray McCauley, my first Pastor in the faith, once gave me the following advice: There are many things you could do, there are a few things you probably should do, but there is one thing that you must do. Find the must and you will be close to the heart of God. Someone once asked me how do I know which one is the “must do”? I told him: when not doing it makes you feel like you need to repent. Transition time is a great time to major on the majors and minor on the minors. Don’t let the details sidetrack you.

 

 

Luggage may shift.

A number of years ago, just a month after our re-launch, another church in town was in trouble and we received a bunch of people almost over night. The initial “full house” was a thrill until these new folks began to unpack their dirty laundry from all the hurts of the former Pastor. The full house came with counseling marriages; financial misuse by the former Pastor and the list of other stuff we were not ready for. It was like someone pulled the fire alarm in a new house and it took more then a year to clean up the mess.

During our recent transition, the luggage-shift was a former employee turning sour and rumors that tried to undermine the leadership team. Small things fit under the skin and can irritate the heck out of you.

 

 

Timing is key.

Some of the highways in Europe are toll roads and they are expensive. The measure the time you entered and when you left the toll road and are able to say if you kept the speed limit. If you were to fast, then they will include the speeding fine. The wrong timing can be expensive.

If God really can redeem the time, then why do we get in such a hurry?

God will only release you into the next level once you have passed the test, and the test will be about your character. He wants to know if your new destiny can be occupied and established with the non-negotiable core values you have been living by recently. (Can you really handle it?) The nice thing about God’s tests is that you get to take them again, and again, and again until you pass. God works in seasons and not in days, weeks and months like we do.

 

 

Did God say?

Every new level will expose new insecurities in your life.  The last level became such a routine; that your faith muscles were not being used as much. But now, walking towards the not-so-clear tomorrow, it will force you to walk by faith again.  The enemy will take advantage of this vulnerable time and just like in Eden, will try and feed the new insecurity by asking you an old question with a innocent sincerity: Did God say? If you cannot say yes as fast as a bullet out of a gun, you are in trouble. Go back and seek HIM not his direction.

 

 

In the eighties I was sitting with the late Dr. Lester Sumrall in a Pastors lounge in Africa, just before I had to lead him out to speak to the assembly. I felt a bit uncomfortable as a young minister with this Missions Apostle and wanted to break up the silence. We could hear outside how the congregation was singing the old song: They rush on the city, they run on the walls! So I asked him: Dr Sumrall isn’t this new militant praise just wonderful? With little emotion he replied: Yah, yah, it comes around every forty years.

I learnt right then, that I will have a lot of transition times in front of me and no matter how intense the Transition period, who HE IS, will always be more important then WHAT HE is doing.

 

Navigating the Relational Roller Coaster

Relationships are God’s primary vehicle for ministry, encouragement, accountability, and partnership.  In the local church, very little ministry happens outside of relationships.  Relationships in general can be complicated and challenging, but throw in colliding cultures, generation gaps, and myopic mindsets, in an economic pressure cooker and you have the context of 21st Century ministry.  The preciousness of the souls of people is what drives us to reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the hurt and pain that we walk through to reach those people cause many of us to grow calloused and never reach our full potential as leaders.

The relational aspect of ministry is definitely like a roller coaster.  There are times you feel nervous, anxious, and excited!  There are times you feel like every aspect of a certain relationship is uphill!  Sometimes, there is a relational freefall, you are gripping the bar, stomach in one big knot, and not sure where the bottom is.  There are ups, downs, corkscrews, and loops. Sometimes you come off the ride ready to go again, other times you have to find a bench and regain your composure.

Two weeks after becoming the pastor of our church at age 27, I sat in a meeting with the most influential leader in our church.  His previously stated 100% support of my new role had for some reason turned into bitter spite. The affects of his new attitude were like dropping a boulder in a small pond.  Three of his sons came through our youth ministry under my leadership. One of his adult daughters had become our office administrator while another daughter and son-in-law were leading our children’s ministry.  The relational web that had developed between our families was extensive and the relational fallout would impact every aspect of our church’s stability and future.

Looking back on that critical juncture, this ability to navigate the relational roller coaster has been my single greatest arena of prayer and the skill that has required my constant attention to develop. There is a foundational and Biblical principle that my dad has taught and lived by for years that has shaped me and guided me through the highs and lows of life and ministry.  Here it is:

Some relationships are seasonal, but ALL relationships are eternal!

How we respond relationally to the people that God sends across our path will make or break our influence and effectiveness for God.  How we think and talk about the people who have wronged us will set us on a course toward total forgiveness and freedom or cause us to be caught in a cage of bitterness for months or even years. The fact of life is that every season will eventually come to an end.  The Bible declares that each of us have the tremendous privilege and responsibility to go from faith to faith and glory to glory.  In each season of faith and in each season of glory are relationships with people who are tied to that church, ministry, city, or organization for that season.  It is statistically proven and historically illustrated that if you lead anything from a Bible study to an international ministry, you will have people who are with you at all different levels and for all different lengths of time.  Those you start with are very rarely those who stay with you for the long haul.  BUT, as seasonal as SOME relationships are, we cannot lose sight of the reality that ALL relationships are eternal. Every act of kindness, forgiveness, and love affects eternity.  Every harsh word, bitter gossip, and harbored hurt also affects eternity.  Relationships that stand the test of time have 3 major ingredients.  Loyalty, flexibility, and vulnerability are 3 attributes that are vital to healthy relationships.  In many cases the absence or low level of these attributes cause severed relationships and bring ministry partnerships to a halt.  I believe the development of these attributes in the life of a leader are just as much a matter of prayer and devotion to God as they are a strategic focus to cultivate these arenas of integrity in our lives.

It seems that loyalty is a lost art in our culture.  Leaders often use people and ministry roles as stepping-stones to greater influence and notoriety.  People often totally neglect God’s leading and shop churches for the best programs for the least amount of investment.  When conflict arises, it is never easy to work through tough issues and rely on God to bring restoration and healing.  It always seems easier to “move on” and declare God is leading us in a new direction.

Proverbs 27:10 says “ Never abandon a friend—either yours or your father’s.” (NLT)  Ironically, it is never a temptation to abandon your friend when your relationship is smooth and mutually beneficial.  It is only when times are tough and challenges arise that the temptation to bale out surfaces.  This scripture may be more personal to me since my father is the reason that I am in the ministry today.  He provided for me naturally and spiritually, invested in me, and mentored me.  His friends in life and ministry encouraged me and invested in me.   A secure and mature father shares his friends with his son both naturally and spiritually.  I am the product of my father and His friends and so this scripture is very pertinent and personal to me.

We all have experienced what it is like for someone we loved and trusted to walk out on us.  Like Job said in chapter 19 “My closest friends have turned against me.”  I believe each of us long to have tight, lasting friendships.  We desire to have people who are loyal to us like Jonathon was to David when He said in 1 Samuel 20 “Tell me what you have in mind, I will do anything for you.”  We all want people who would be loyal to us, but have we demonstrated consistent loyalty to those God has placed in our lives?

In this day and age of fast paced communication and busy schedules, miscommunication and misunderstandings abound.  Flexibility is required to maintain God honoring relationships in life and especially in ministry.  Flexibility is defined as adaptability, suppleness, give, springiness, or resilience.  Can you handle a change of plans?  Can you adapt when things don’t work out the way you planned?  Can you give people the benefit of the doubt?  Can you spring back after being hurt or let down?  The farther we go in ministry, navigating relationships will require resilience and an absolute refusal to get or stay offended.  After all, 1 Corinthians 13 in The Message says 4Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, 5Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always me first, Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 6Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 7Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.  Love sounds a lot like flexibility and resilience to me.

This last area raises the stakes a little.  I believe my generation is tired of ministers preaching a Word of Truth while they refuse to be truthful about their own lives.  This generation is not just looking for demonstrations of God’s Spirit in a healing line, they are looking for demonstrations of kindness, and character, and leadership in the home life.  This generation is no longer impressed with spiritual super stars, but is looking for some real super servants who will walk what they talk and live what they say they believe.  I call this attribute vulnerability.  I believe this generation is crying out for someone to get real.  Drop the facades, put away all the “church language”, please stop trying to impress me with what you know and just tell me the truth about the challenges that you have faced and how you overcame them through Jesus.

I realize that many ministers and leaders have been hurt tremendously by well meaning people and our natural tendency when we are hurt is to recoil and build walls around us so that we don’t get hurt the same way again.  Some of us need to receive from the Healing Jesus that we so adamantly preach and begin to open our lives to others again.

Proverbs 3:3-4 says “Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. 4 Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.”

As we navigate all the relationships that God has given us, let us find new value in the people that God has called us to serve.  Let us come to a place of strength and security through the power and grace of God that we can open our lives afresh to those who desperately need us.

http://www.onefaithfamily.org

http://equippingtoreach.blogspot.com

http://www.facebook.com/shane.rhodehamel

I Took the Road Less Traveled

I Took The Road Less Traveled

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”

 

Robert Frost’s famous poem ends with these words, but for me, it is a reminder of how I started my journey along a ‘road less travelled’ – The road signposted, ‘Missionary’.

 

When I was young, though I didn’t understand it, there were road signs pointing me toward this road less travelled. I loved reading about the American pioneers imagined what it would be like to be a pioneer in an untamed land. I would even create my own adventure by trying to get lost in the miles of endless woods behind my home, only to find to my disappointment, that no matter how hard I tried I would eventually find a road that I recognized and no longer be lost.

 

But it wasn’t until after I graduated from Bible School that I found the road to adventure.  My wife and I were newly married and knew we had a call on our lives.  We were helping a small church in Michigan as volunteers and giving every hour we could to the ministry.  Being volunteers at the church, Julie worked and I would draw houses to make ends meet.

 

However, my frustration was building at the realization that what I was doing was the most natural and temporary of types of work.  This frustration built until one summer morning when the sun splashed across my drawing board and I looked at the graphite I had painstakingly applied to the large sheet of paper and thought, “not one single ounce of what I am doing at this moment touches eternity.” I was drawing another ‘dream house’ on what amounted to nothing more than paper – made from trees, so that someone could cut down even more trees and arrange them into a building that might not even be here in a hundred years.

 

As I sat at that drawing board, I longed to impact the eternity of souls.  I wanted my life to make a difference, and an eternal difference. I wanted to tell the untold, and reach the unreached. To go to those areas of the world that others didn’t want to go to.

 

Twenty years later I can truly say I’ve traveled the road less traveled, but what a road it has been!  My goodness, this road should be marked with those highway signs that say, ‘Scenic Views Ahead’!  For the road signposted, ‘Missionary’, has truly been a beautiful road to travel upon!

 

According to the US Center for World Missions, there are more than 100,000 people that write off to missionary organizations every year sensing some kind of call to travel upon this missionary road. However, less than 1% of these ever find the road, and of those who do, in just 5 years 80% have taken a detour.  Being a missionary is, in the words of Frost, a road ‘less traveled by’.

 

It is estimated that out of the 1 Billion evangelical Christians who live on this ball of green and blue, there are only 400,000 missionaries.  That’s just .04% of the Church – talk about a road less traveled!  This means that even if we doubled the number of missionaries, it would still be less than 1% of the Church.

 

And the crazy thing is, though so few travel this road, it is the most rewarding of roads to travel upon.  I’m forty and have spent nearly half my life on this road and I can truly say that I cannot think of any more rewarding way to invest my life.

 

Not only have I seen the incredible power and demonstration of God, I can say my desire to make an eternal difference is being fulfilled!  I’ve seen more than 1000 Muslims born-again while leading our church in inner-city England! There are fifteen women in current our student body here in Africa who no longer suffer the stigma of not having children. Some were standing for children for as much as 8 years, but after just a few months hearing the Word of God in class, all are now pregnant!  I love the view from this road!

 

We’ve also enjoyed seeing those whom we’ve ministered to go on to do great things.  For example, we have a young lady who graduated from our Bible school in Manchester, who is now reaching into North Korea and having amazing results. A current team member was recently holding meetings in a village her in Nigeria and in addition to several who were healed a paralyzed woman was completely healed.  Having just returned to do some more meetings in that same village the team member reported that this same woman was dancing and running and jumping more than anyone else in the church!  I could go on an on rehearsing the beauty of the eternal scenery that traveling this road less traveled has brought to our lives.  I do love the view from here!

 

For me, living for the cause of telling the untold and reaching the unreached is like the Forest Gump of journeys!  Once you start, you just can’t stop!  It’s almost an addiction of some kind, only without the negative side affects.  It ‘feels’ just way too good to stop!

 

The journey has its twists and turns and it’s not always an easy road to travel, but when I look back on how God has given me fun little ‘rest stops’ along this road less travelled, I think it’s almost too good to tell others about.  As a missionary, I’m supposed to be depressed, starving, and above all – not enjoying life.   That must be a different road, because that’s not been where this road called, ‘Missionary’, has taken me.  Actually, I’ve thought it could be that there is an unspoken conspiracy among missionaries to paint the worse possible picture of what it means to be a missionary so that they can keep all the fun to themselves!  It is an incredible journey, this road less traveled!

 

There have been some great ‘rest stops’, like the time our family found ourselves in the south of France, just as the world famous Monaco Grand Prix was finishing.  We took a small detour off the highway to arrive just as they were loading the still warm cars into their trucks. There I was standing in the course with all the race markings and banners still in place. So I thought, ‘Why not?’… I drove that little three cylinder Fiat rental car as fast it would go around the circuit. I’ve been behind the wheel of an Alpha Romero 166 winding through the mountain roads of northern Italy, and experienced the adrenalin filled joy of belting down the German Autobahn in a brand new Mercedes that the rental agent reluctantly upgraded me too (it was the only car left on the lot)! If you’re going to travel the road less traveled, why not enjoy the ride!  These are the kind of joys I would have never known if I hadn’t decided to give my life to the ‘road less travelled’.

 

I’ve eaten well on this journey too.  From crêpes under the Eifel Tower in Paris, to incredible pasta in a side-street café in Florence, Italy to a ‘proper’ breakfast at the House of Lords with ambassadors and ministers of state. Speaking of Lords and Ladies, my wife and I have had the privilege of dining with a Baroness, or two over the years… and where did we dine, none other than Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s former residence. In Egypt, I’ve had stuffed pigeon and cow brain ‘McNuggets’ (think chicken McNuggets only with Cow Brains instead of chicken), and you don’t want to know some of what I’ve eaten in Burma or Thailand.  All of these culinary experiences add color to life and it’s all because I chose to travel on the road less travelled.

 

When I started this journey, I never thought I would experience such things, and though my focus has always been souls, God has finds clever ways to rewarded me with a great view as we travel this road called, ‘Missionary.

 

I’ve climbed the three highest peaks in the UK and about to climb the highest in Africa.  I’ve had great seats at a ‘free’ center-court match at Wimbledon after finishing a hectic ministry schedule in London.  Another time, Julie and I were blessed with ring-side seats to one of the biggest boxing matches in British History.  Everyone who was anyone was there, and they were all sat behind us and paid big money for the privilege!   However, because one of the boxers, was a Christian from the USA and wanted an American Pastor to help in his preparation for the match, we got free ring-side seats! I have been followed by secret police in a Muslim country, and travelled 3 days in Burma to a meeting where more than 5000 believers received the Baptism of the Spirit.  And, I’ve met the most amazing of people along the way.  Why, oh why, isn’t this a busier road!

 

Now here’s the thing, I do not believe that everyone should be a missionary.  But, even if we only doubled the number of missionaries it would make a big difference to the cause of Christ.  And that would still mean there’s more than 99% of the church to help finance, care for and encourage that 1% as they go!

 

Ralph Winters, who only recently went on to Glory, is a man who has done more for modern missions than almost any other I know.  He made a powerful statement,  “What is needed today is not just a few who are willing to go themselves, but those who will be facilitators of others by the thousands.  This is our heartbeat.  We want others to know what a beautiful road this is, and to help them find it, and then care for and support them on their journey.

 

Club1040.com exists for just such a purpose, helping others travel this same and beautiful road. My hope is that through the efforts of Club1040, the road will become a road – much more traveled!

 

The Club1040 vision is to see closure to what Jesus started, to see a finished work of the Great Commission.  Jesus defined the finish line in Matthew 24:14, when he said that this Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached throughout all the world as a witness to EVERY nation, AND THEN the end will come.

 

According to joshuaproject.net, one of the best mission resources available, there are still more than 40% of the world’s 7 Billion people who are considered unreached.  Therefore, if we are going to bring closure to the great commission, we will have to make significant changes.  We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

 

My hope is that this short article has sown a seed of change in you.  Maybe I’ve helped you to think differently about the missionary call.  I trust you will begin to see the missionary journey for the beautiful journey that it is and either personally start down this road, or help others as they travel the ‘road less traveled’.

 

We’ve created a short film called, ‘New Breed’.  It’s just fifty minutes and follows our family as we moved from the UK to Africa.  If you would like a free copy, please email admin@club1040.com If you are a pastor, maybe you could show it to your congregation, or use it in your small-group ministry.

 

If you, like I myself, long for your life to make an eternal impact, contact me personally at matt@club1040.com and maybe we can help you find your ‘road less travelled’.

 

If you can’t personally travel on the road less travelled, but would like to help us continue on our journey, you can visit www.club1040.com for details on how you can enable us to go in your place.

 

 

 

Boundaries in Relationships

One of the nearest and dearest things to my heart is healthy relationships. My husband Troy and I were not raised with a healthy perspective of relationships, and the church culture we both grew up in did not foster them either. It has taken time and attention to choose the path of health in that area, but it has been and continues to be well worth it.

We have by no means mastered healthy relationships and still flub up quite often. One thing I can tell you, despite all of our flub-ups, is that we are committed to them. God is all about healthy relationships, and because of that, even though relationships can be painful, we strive to walk them out as healthily as possible.

When I look back through our years of ministry and the mistakes we made (and as I alluded before, there are plenty of them), I noticed a common thread that has taken some time to identify and correct: There were times my husband and I thought we were being loving, but we weren’t. Times we thought we were building someone up, and we weren’t. Times we thought we were being longsuffering, and we weren’t. You see, there is a difference between caring for someone and carrying someone.

Let me give you an example: When someone comes to you for help, make sure that you don’t want health for them more than they want it for themselves. I have found that it’s easier for some people to talk about a problem than to actually aggressively attack it.

Let’s say someone is having serious marital issues. You give them the name of a counselor, you give them some great marriage CDs and books, and you tell them about a great marriage life group offered at church. After that, it is their responsibility to take the next steps. If they come back later and want me to pray with them or process with them, I ask a few simple questions: “Did you sign up for the life group? Did you read the materials I gave you? Did you call the counselor?” If they haven’t taken any steps to help themselves, and if the answer is a plethora of excuses, that tells me something about their hunger level for change. I will not meet with them again. It’s not cruel; it’s called setting healthy boundaries. After all, there are other people who need help and are serious about changing.

Another important lesson we have learned is to never talk to just one spouse. That sure was a learning experience! We can’t foster healthy relationships when we only hear one person’s interpretation and think the other spouse is a louse! There are three sides to every story: his, hers and the truth. Be mindful not to speak to situations unless you have a clear picture of what is taking place. What initially presents itself is rarely the problem, and you will see more and more clearly as the story unfolds. That translates to any situation that may present itself. And truthfully, as hard as it is for some people to hear, people marry according to their emotional health. The differential is never the chasm we might think.

It’s very easy to go from supporting someone in a time of trouble, to enabling them. If we don’t see a drive or a compulsion to change, our encouraging—or even begging and pleading—just won’t work. We can turn into their parents instead of their pastors and form a co-dependent relationship.

Let’s face it, some people may be looking for an instant fix from you. It’s much easier for them to ask us what God has to say about a situation, than take the time to hear God for themselves. But they didn’t get into this spot overnight, and it won’t be fixed in an instant. The truth is, each of us must get our own knee time instead of thinking someone else’s knee time will suffice.

To try to rescue people from the natural consequences of their actions and behaviors is to render them powerless and ineffective. It’s okay to let people fall and skin their knees. Everything that hurts won’t kill them. We can’t take the hard work away from people and think we are loving them by doing so. Having a caring pastor’s heart does not mean rolling over and being a doormat. It means we make the hard calls when necessary. Staying up ‘til 3 AM rending the heavens on their behalf will not help them. Setting healthy boundaries in relationships will. Let them rend the heavens for themselves! They will pull through if they decide they want to.

It is also imperative that we draw people to the Father and not to us. People who are attached to a leader don’t last. People who are attached to God do. As leaders, we must make sure we aren’t craving those attachments to make us feel secure or important. If that is the case it will harm us and them. We have to make sure we are healthy so we can portray health in the way we handle relationships.

In the end, we must realize we are not in control of people’s destinies, they are. Healthy relationships are simply the avenue God uses to help us see ourselves clearly so we can look more like Him. When we step back, it gives the Holy Spirit room to work fully in people’s lives. And He’s much better at bringing health and wholeness than any of us.

www.freedomhousechurch.org

www.PennyMaxwell.wordpress.com

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www.twitter.com/PennyCMaxwell

 

Leading When the Results Aren’t What You’d Like

Oscar Wilde, the noted Irish playwright, once said: “The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.” Have you ever felt that way? You preached what you believed to be a great message, but the response wasn’t what you expected? You put together a great program, but people just didn’t get behind it?

If you are like most leaders, you tend to judge yourself very hard, and you are inclined to take it quite personally when things don’t go well. For example, if someone leaves your church, you assume it’s a failure on your part. If someone doesn’t receive the help you offer, certainly you are to blame. If your church is not overflowing with people, it’s obviously your fault These types of self-imposed expectations and assumptions can create enormous frustrations in the life of a pastor, especially when the results we all desire are contingent not just on our efforts, but also on the response of those to whom we minister.

Did Jesus ever deal with fickle people? You bet He did! Was He able to super-impose the results He desired contrary to their own will? No! Jesus addressed this issue when He said: “How shall I describe this generation? These people are like a group of children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you weren’t happy, so we played funeral songs, but you weren’t sad.’ For John the Baptist didn’t drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘He’s demon possessed.’ And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sort of sinners!’ (Matthew 11:16-19, NLT).

Jesus pointed out that some people hadn’t responded positively to Him or to John the Baptist, even though they took very different approaches. In essence, Jesus was saying the same thing that Oscar Wilde did – “The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.”

One reason that pastors get frustrated is because in America, success is very often evaluated by the three B’s – bodies, buildings, and bucks. Keep in mind, though, that in heaven, success is evaluated by obedience. We have the responsibility to lead with diligence, to serve with commitment, and to minister with excellence whether people respond the way we want them to or not. Certainly we rejoice when we get the results we desire, but we must be faithful even when outcomes don’t measure up to our expectations, or are slower in coming than we’d like.

I appreciate what one pastor shared about his frustrations. “During one service I was complaining to the Lord about the lack of attendance: ‘Lord, attendance is just not what I’d like it to be.’ This was the Lord’s response: ‘My son, attendance is not what I’d like it to be in heaven.’ That was the last time I complained to the Lord about lack of attendance.”

I’m not writing this to discourage you from setting goals or striving for growth, but I do want to make sure that you’re enjoying your journey, not just striving for a destination! Make sure you stop and smell the roses on your journey through life. Keep in mind that the weight of the world is not supposed to be on your shoulders; you can’t accomplish anything without God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10) or without the cooperation and mutual faith of others (Romans 1:11-12)!

This article used by permission from Tony Cooke Ministries – www.tonycooke.org

Ten Principles for Launching a Major Growth Thrust

Ten Principles for Launching a Major Growth Thrust

By Gary Rohrmayer

As we read through the book of Acts we need to always remember it is a book of history.  It gives us a glimpse of how God worked through ordinary men and women to fulfill His purposes and carry out His ongoing mission of redemption.  We should look at the book of Acts as a place to glean principles and insights for church planting and church life.  It is not a book to look for blueprints or models but rather a book to discover transferable principles which will be shaped by your cultural context.

Here are a few transferable principles that we can glean from the launching of the church in Acts 1-2:

1. Our motives must be great commission driven.  Acts 1:4-8

If our only motive is to get butts in the seats at whatever cost we are heading for a world of hurt and disappointment.  If all we are doing is to try to increase our revenue stream and meet our church’s financial needs, we are just going to be frustrated.  If all our efforts are trying to get the “already convinced” into our church, the wheels will fall over very quickly.  We must be great commission focused. Our hearts must be broken and burdened for those who are far from God. The only way some churches are going to grow in the consumeristic Christian culture that is being developed is through effective evangelism.  My experience is that unchurched people don’t need all the bells and whistles of the mega church…Christians do!  Those far from God want relationships and meaningful connections.

2. Spiritual dependence is vital.  Acts 1:12-14

The disciples gathered constantly for prayer.  They reflected on their deep dependence on God, clinging to God not knowing what was next, simply waiting in humble dependence was the posture of the disciples. How will your congregation reflect their prayerful dependence on God?  I remember hand labeling 12,000 mailers with our team and praying for each person that God would open their hearts and touch them.  Prayer walking your community before and during your growth thrust has a powerful effect. Having your people generate a list of people they would like to see come to Christ during this outreach and then having a special prayer meeting where each name is lifted up before the throne of God is very effective.

3. Select and build into leaders in preparation for outreach.  Acts 1:15-26

Preparing for a growth thrust is a great way to expand and develop your leadership team and volunteer based.  Giving people short term specific assignments is a great way to training and identify leaders.  In some cases you can double your leadership team and volunteer base with inviting people to fill needs for the short term commitment.  The key aspect is to that the more people you have involved in the planning and preparation the more committed they will be in inviting and reaching out their friends and family. We need to see these growth thrust a leadership development opportunities.

4. Pick a good day and time of year for launching the growth thrust.  Act 2:1

In Acts 2 we see that God launched the Church on the day of Pentecost. This was no accident! There are theological, historical and sociological implications to this date. Pentecost, which means “50” was the final celebration of the Feast of First Fruits which happened 50 days earlier. At this Feast, God’s people were to give a free-will offering (Deuteronomy 16:9-10) celebrating God’s provision. Theological and historical significance was that the Feast of First Fruits started on the Resurrection Sunday and ended on the Day of Pentecost. So we see that the church was born out of the first fruits of Christ’s sacrifice. The sociological significance was that Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks was one of three annual pilgrim feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16) where God’s people from all over the world came to celebrate. This is why we see such an array of people and languages in Acts 2:5-11. Pentecost was no accident. It was strategic and that is one reason why three thousand were added to the Church that day. So when is the best time to do growth thrust?  Our experience in the midwest has been:

Fall: Late September-early October

Lenten Season: February-March

Easter: Late March-early April

The best time for launching a growth thrust is the fall because you have nine months before you face the summer slump. The second best time for launching a church is February, this is a season when unchurched people come back to church. The third is on Easter Sunday.

5. Launch out in the Spirit’s power.  Acts 2:1-4

Remember only God can draw people into a relationship with him. It can be tempting to trust your planning but you must teach your people to act in faith and depend fully on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the life giving power. Prayer and fasting will be critical for you and your church to express its dependence on God. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Psalm 20:7

My hope is that every church would experience a season of dramatic growth like the church in Acts 2 did, but the reality is that most are unwilling to pay the price for that type of growth and impact. A major growth campaign in your church will cost you something.  It will cost you your comfort, it will cost you time, it will cost you money, it will cost you your sleep and it will even cost you some relationships because everyone is not going to embrace this journey with you.

6. Create interest throughout your webs of relationships and throughout the community. Acts 2:5-13

Three thousand people were added to the church in a single day but the big question is how many people were impacted by the miracle of the disciples speaking in different languages?  God in a miraculous way created a buzz throughout the community through this miracle both relationally and attractionally.  There was so much buzz that it caused a reaction in people.  The crowd asked three questions and made one accusation:

“Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?”

“Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?”

“What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had to much wine.”

Here is a big principle that most churches don’t understand.  If you are going to have a major growth thrust you must, in a big way, gain the attention of your community in such a way that it causes people to react. They will react out of curiousness, out of sincerity or even out of anger or jest.

When was the last time your church caused a community reaction that led to redemptive activity?  Many churches are great at creating buzz in the Christian community but what about the community of the unchurched or dechurched?  Its like the church that only promotes their events through Christian media.  Who are they trying to reach? Learning how to grab the attention of your community at large is central to launching a major growth thrust.

7. Have bold relevant preaching of God’s word.  Acts 2:14-36

I remember a well-known pastor say that 85% of the people stay in a church because they made some type of connection with the person bringing the message that day.  We can have all the latest technology, the greatest music, the warmest people, the best children’s ministry but if people don’t connect with the message and the messenger they will move on.  Many a pastor has spent hours on preparing the service and outreach strategy but only minutes on preparing their message. This is to their detriment and is dishonoring to God.

Two things we learn for Peter’s sermon 1) He responded to the questions and reaction of the crowd. The bulk of the sermons preached in the book of Acts are responses to people’s questions. If we are going to do a effective job of touching the hearts of people outside the church we must address the questions they are asking. We must understand their “heart language.”  We must understand what moves them.  Do you know the primary heart language of your community?  2) He boldly proclaimed the word of God in providing an answer to their questions. Paul writes to Timothy, “Preach the word.” (II Timothy 4:2 NIV)  The foundation of any church is to be based on strong biblical preaching, not motivational speaking; an undying commitment of bringing the unshakable Word of God to a world that is falling apart at its core must be the underlying conviction for every pastor.

8.  Ask for a commitment to Christ.  Acts 2:37-41

The key to getting commitment is clarity! Peter’s conclusion to his message was crystal clear, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  (vs 36) His call to action was specific and realistic, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (vs 38) His appeal was filled with passion and urgency, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'”  (vs 40)

Remember that this major growth thrust, at its core, is evangelistic in nature.  Our preaching must be evangelistically focused.  David Murray describes evangelistic preaching as plain, simple and clear. He writes, “Evangelistic preaching will be plain. If we love sinners and we are anxious for them to be saved, we will be clear and plain in our structure, content, and choice of words. If we can use a smaller word, we use it. If we can shorten our sentences, we do so. If we can find an illustration, we tell it. Everything is aimed at simplicity and clarity, so that, as it was said of Martin Luther, it may be said of us, ‘It’s impossible to misunderstand him.'”

At some point during this major growth thrust we must passionately lift up the person and work of Jesus Christ.  We must challenge our audience with the implications of His claims as Lord and Savior.  We must make it clear on how one becomes a true follower of Jesus.

9.  Call them into the community of faith.  Acts 2:42-47

When Peter called the crowd in the temple area to “Repent and be baptized…” he was not just calling them from something (sin, corrupt generation) but also to something (to Jesus, a new community of faith and to a new mission).

Peter’s words give us a beautiful picture of the “church.”  The Greek word for church is ekklesia which in its base form means “to call out.”  Isn’t this what Peter was doing?  Calling them out to repent, changing their minds on who Jesus was and what He had done for them.   He called them out to be baptized, to be dipped under water before the crowd, as a symbol of personal identification with Jesus and His followers.   He called them out to be marked by forgiveness and to receive the promised Holy Spirit.  He called them out from a corrupt generation that offered nothing but hopelessness.  In response to his calling out they gathered together in complete devotion, filled with awe and wonder, sold out to the God that saved them and to each other.  They had a clear sense of mission which was seen in their ability to add people to their numbers daily.

As pastors and church planters we have this same wonderful privilege as Peter.   As we launch a major growth thrust in our communities we have an opportunity to call people out to something greater than themselves. The Church. The Body of Christ. The Bride of Christ. God’s agent of change and hope for our world today.

How do you do that practically?  What are the pathways of discipleship and involvement in your church?  Would a new Christian know what the next step for them was in the life of the church?  Would a returning believer know where to go to re-energize their relationship with Christ?  Would a growing believer new in town know how to get connected with the leadership and onto a path of service?

Clear pathways of discipleship are critical for having a successful growth thrust. George Barna in his book, “Growing True Disciples” writes, “Offering programs is not the issue. We discovered that surprisingly few churches have a well-conceived model of discipleship that they implement. The result is that churches feel they have fulfilled their obligation if they provide a broad menu of courses, events, and other experiences, but such a well-intentioned but disjointed approach leaves people confused and imbalanced.”

Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in their book, “Simple Church” articulate that in order for a church to have good pathways of discipleship and involvement there needs to be four elements: movement, alignment, focus and clarity.  As you consider what you are calling people to, the following questions will guide you in simplifying the process.

Movement: How would you describe the “ministry or discipleship flow” that exists in your church right now?

Alignment: What type of alignment exists between your ministries to achieve your vision?

Focus: How do these ministry opportunities help achieve our missional outcome?

Clarity: Do those who attend our public worship service understand our process and the next steps they need to take?

10.  Mobilize missionaries to serve the world not just members to serve in the church.  Acts 2:47

The new term of assimilation is mobilization.  In the book of Acts we see that Peter not only called the crowd into the life of the church but also called them to be engaged in the mission of Jesus.  This is how ”…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

In 2007 I wrote on the differences of church-centric and mission-centric philosophies of ministries. For years the church has practiced a church-centric philosophy of ministry where the goal was to create healthy members for the betterment of the church.  But in recent years there has been a paradigm shift where churches are embracing the need to be mission-centric, in that the goal for the church is to create missionaries for the betterment of society and cultural transformation.

Churches are in the sending business. One of the questions we must ask in evaluating a church’s health is, ‘How many people are being mobilized for the Great Commission?’” Reggie McNeal reinforces this paradigm shift in his book, The Present Future when he writes, “The first Reformation was about freeing the church.  The new Reformation is about freeing God’s people from the church (the institution).  The original Reformation decentralized the church.  The new Reformation decentralizes ministry.”  The only way we can decentralize ministry is by seeing each member as a missionary to be sent by the church into their personal mission field.

The big principle I take away from Acts 1-2 is this, “Missionally focused leadership will not only lead the church towards missional evangelism but will also engage the church in missional edification; both are key to seeing the church continually engage in God’s redemptive purposes.”

Contact Information

 

www.yourjourney.org

The Importance of Reaching Children

The Christian church is based on a foundation of Jesus Christ through God’s Word, the very Christian principles and values that come with righteousness.  That foundation is what all growth in the church can be based upon. With Christianity under the scrutiny of compromise, now more than ever our foundation is being tested, some replaced, others shaken and even cracked. We believe this is most apparent in our children, more than any other demographic, and that by properly training and molding them with uncompromised Christian principles we can secure the foundation of Christianity and fight the temptation to dilute and compromise it.

Believing is something that comes natural to you when you are young. Think about it – if you said to a three year old, “There’s an elephant in the backyard!” what would happen? For us adults, we would immediately begin to evaluate the statement, doubt it, and dismiss as impossible. A child will run to the window, look around excitedly and exclaim “Where?” Children accept what authority tells them unless they are taught not to through adult influences not holding to their word, bad examples in society and in media, or seemingly unimportant negative human interactions which can all impact the life long paradigm that a child will have.

Children are pliable clay that can be molded into God’s given purpose or manipulated into what the world would convince the youth that they should be. Which will we as the church body allow or influence? Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Will we deny the little ones Jesus calls because we think the needs of adults are more important, though it’s really because they are more obvious, or will we humble ourselves and reach out to the kids God has entrusted to us and help guide and direct them into the truths of God and the joy of being His?

As a church body, we have a game plan that God has laid out for us concerning children. It starts with the God-side: God knows each person before they are here on this earth, then He places them in the safest place on earth – the womb, where each child grows and develops into what they need to be to live here. Then they emerge into their natural and supernatural families whose number one purpose is to lead this child who just left the Lord in heaven approximately nine months ago back to Him, Who created him/her. We must re-connect them with the Creator that they just left, and lead them into the purpose that God has predestined for them to accomplish. The church’s responsibility in raising children is this: to train up adults to parent according to the principles outlined for us in His Word and to supplement the teaching in the home with relevant, purpose-driven services for children.

Now, automatically, I would be thinking, “supplement? – that’s right! It’s not our responsibility to raise up the child in the way they should go, it’s the parent’s job to do that!” But, think about your church? Is every family in that environment accurately raising their children to focus on others, be respectful, and regularly teach their children about who God is, what He thinks about them, and their authority as children of God? If so, please, send us what you have done, because we have never seen it. Sure, there are always a few “all-star” families out there that raise wonderful kids with real relationships with God. If all families were that way, there would not be as much of a need for children’s ministry today. But we all know this is not the case. Therefore, we need to provide a fun, safe place for the kids of our church and community to hear the truth of the Word of God which creates an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to draw them, teach them and train them up in the right ways to think, speak, live and grow. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Children come to us with the ability to be built up in their beliefs, to be guided and directed with a sort of ease that is only apparent in children. We believe this is all part of God’s plan. Children are the smooth liquid concrete that can take on the shape it needs to before hardening. We have a limited time in a person’s life to help form their very foundation. Once adults’ beliefs form, and that has been proven to most commonly happen before the age of 13, a sort of chiseling must take place before new can begin, but not with kids! How many times do you have to hear about something before it really starts to affect your thinking? Think about the habits in your life: whether good or bad, to change these developed thought patterns takes some serious work. Not so for kids. With some teaching and demonstration of  its value to them, kids grasp it, hold onto it, and will begin to implement it into their lives with little doubt and without the internal struggle we as adults may have.

It all comes down to this: When we were called by God to children’s ministry, my wife’s initial reaction was, “puppets, costumes and hand motions during worship… yea, that’s real ministry alright.” But, as we stepped out in faith, the importance and crucial urgency of the Christian church to take children’s ministry seriously and with earnest pursuit became more and more apparent. Not only were these kids able to receive applicable truths about Christian principles and Christian living, they took it very seriously and shared it with others. Every lesson, whether Old or New Testament, we draw a real life application in consideration to Christ in them. They get it! They live it! They preach it! Their very life thoughts are beginning to be ruled around it. What an honor to be able to be entrusted by God with such a special gift – the responsibility to train up Christian kids who have an accurate understanding of His Word, and are applying it weekly to their lives.

So then, evaluate for yourself: Is it worth it? Is growing the church worth the cost of reaching these kids with the foundational principles the church is based on as they grow? We leave it up to you but will never cease pursuing the hearts of every believer to conceive the notion concerning the importance of young pliable hearts and the role that they play in the future of true Christianity. Let’s do it together.

Church Growth – Are You Scoring Points?

If you’ve ever played sports you know the goal, right? Score points! I played varsity basketball in high school and competitive tennis every summer; there was no confusion on my goal. Shoot baskets. Serve aces. Score points. If I wanted to win, I had to focus on scoring points.

In sports, it’s obvious: Score touchdowns. Shoot goals. Make baskets. Hit a home run. Cross the finish line. Make birdie. There is no confusion on the goal in athletics — score! If you don’t score — you don’t win. Fans don’t go to games to see the pretty uniforms, to inspect the quality of the golf clubs or to sit in bleachers. They go to cheer their team to victory. The score tells them how their team is doing.

Unfortunately, in the church world there is a bit of confusion on this subject. As a church, how do you keep score? How do you know if know if you are “winning”? How do you define “success”? When should the pastors, staff, volunteers and congregation celebrate — jump up and down, wave flags, whistle and rejoice? When they are winning — of course! This needs as crystal clear for a church as it is for any sports team.

How to Keep Score Thus, the problem! In church life, everyone doesn’t always agree on how to keep score; on what a point looks like or on how to measure a win. People use different scoreboards for church. Some rack up points when they get to spend personal time with the pastor; others see winning as attending services, wearing the right clothes or memorizing verses.

Still, others feel victory is measured by the Fica tree count, hours prayed, number of favorite songs sung. Some people give extra points for deep Bible studies, singles groups, a “mighty move”, a men’s fellowship or a mother-daughter tea. Still others keep score by mission trips taken, number of crosses in church or size of conferences hosted — you name it. Here’s the kicker … all these things are wonderful, it’s just that they’re not the primary way we score points and win.

This is huge! If we don’t agree on how to keep score and win; then we’re set up for disillusionment, disappointment, frustration and worse yet: faking it! Pretending to win, when we’re actually losing! Ever wonder why so many believers these days seem to be self-absorbed, disinterested, unmotivated, offended, apathetic and even contrary to the life of their church? Perhaps they don’t know how to score points to really win?

That’s why it’s so important for us to align our scoring system with His.

The big question is: How does Jesus keep score?

Jesus told us how to measure wins in Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you … (NKJV)

He celebrated a victory in Luke 15:6:

Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep! (The Message)

We score when we reach the lost and make disciples — and this is worth celebrating! When lost, irreligious, unbelieving, seekers come to church and hear the Word, get saved and tell others — we score points. When the preacher-preaches, the worshippers-worship, the drummer-drums, the ushers-usher, the servers-serve and Joe Unbeliever gets touched by the real Jesus — that is a serious victory! The crowd should go wild!

Connecting With the Culture I have to tell you — it’s happening in our church and we are raising the roof with great joy! It wasn’t always that way. My husband and I have pioneered Kalamazoo Valley Family Church fifteen years ago. We pedaled as fast as we knew how for the first eight years and we saw some good fruit, but to be honest; we got tired of low scoring games. Our church had become so “same old-same old” — even we were bored with it!

Although we thought our church was pretty “contemporary”, one day we got honest and admitted we were not connecting with the culture we were supposed to “seek and save.” I didn’t invite my unsaved friends to church for years because I knew that everything about our church was so irrelevant to them. They absolutely wouldn’t “get it” — the lingo, the dress, the songs, the decor. We were about a decade behind. I knew they would be under-whelmed, bored and immediately disconnected. We had a great church for believers; but my unbelieving friends were in a different orbit.

Over the past several years, we’ve been more intentional about scoring than ever — reaching the lost and making disciples. We’ve had to change our paradigm … not our message. We’ve have to be more culturally relevant without compromising the Word of faith. Yes, we’ve changed a lot — our methods, our dress, our verbiage, our decor, and our music — but not the message. It’s working!

However, I have to tell you everyone on the “team” was not thrilled with the changes. We lost over 100 people within a 6 month period. Our score was moving backwards! So, what did we do? We kept at it and within another 6 months period and we gained over 700 people as a result. Net score: 600.

Our most recent scoreboard showed us we’re still scoring, but there’s a lot of work yet to do to win our county! A recent survey gave us something to celebrate and motivation to score more points! Prior to attending our church, 33% were un-churched and lost; another 32% were churched, but backslidden. Since they’ve started attending our church, 22% have gotten born-again; 13% have been healed; 41% have been filled with the Spirit; 26% say they’ve gotten “on fire” for the Lord; and 50% tell us they are prospering in the financial and relational areas of their life. We see points on the scoreboard. However, our work here is not done.

Winning Where We Are Where I live, in Kalamazoo County, Michigan — population: 225,000 — there are 175,000 un-churched people. Over 2000 people attend our church each weekend, which means we only have to reach 173,000 more people to win! To some, 2000 sounds impressive, to us it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who are still lost in our county. That means we need to keep scoring points. How about you???Perhaps you wonder, “What about the believers? Don’t they need to be fed?” Don’t get me wrong, we love teaching believers the Word, seeing them mature and get a grip on the basics. It’s thrilling. However, there is one caveat. If we are not intentional about turning believers into reproductive disciples who can score points; we end up creating Christian consumers, holy spectators and pew warmers who complain about loud music, crowded parking lots and young people with tattoos and lip rings.

The scoreboard doesn’t lie. Sometimes our websites can lie; our brochures can lie and we can even lie to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to fake it. I don’t want to pretend our church is scoring points and winning games when we’re just playing. It’s a big question: Are we scoring points?

We keep score by winning the lost and making disciples! When you win, we plan to raise the roof and lead the parade with our banners. May all your wishes come true! (Psalm 20:5 The Message)

Life Giving Churches

These days it is not too hard to find great life-giving churches. I speak at one nearly every week of my life. They are exciting, engaging and full of the life of God. What God is doing is amazing in these days and we should thank Him daily for providing the world with real God-life opportunities.

But the perception of church is not what I am experiencing at all in the minds of the majority of Americans. Many think that church is still the boring, uninteresting and nonengaging “service” of their parents and grandparents. And there are reason why they perceive church to be this way. Look at the seven reasons they come to church but are disappointed when they leave.

7 reasons why Christians and others go to church and are not fulfilled:

1. They only go out of Duty – “We were raised in church and we just do it because you are supposed to.” Though not bad to go out of duty, if there is the lack of desire to find fulfillment it can grow old really fast. Duty will only do so much to keep you in church.

2. They only go out of Habit – “It is what I have always done. Sundays are for church, I have done it so long I guess it is just a habit” Habits can be changed and people change their church going habits on a regular basis these days.

3. Friendship – “Church is where my friends gather each week. I love the relationships.” Now this is a great reason to come to church. However, if this is the only time you get to see your friends, you will focus on the friendships more than what you can get from God on Sunday. (hence the need for small groups.)

4. Hope – “I guess I am looking for something that will make my life better and give me hope in these difficult times.” If I am coming for this reason, i better find that something. Church is the last resort where people go sometimes to find answers to life?s toughest challenges. Life Giving Churches By Billy Hornsby

5. Understanding – “My motivation is to try to find some understanding of my life and what it all means.” Living a meaningful life is absolutely vital to happiness and fulfillment. Let the church be where is all starts!

6. Purpose – “My main reason is to find purpose for living. There has to be more to life than just working and recreation.” Many people have found success in business and other pursuits yet feel they have no purpose. What could be a greater purpose than the cause of Christ.

7. God – “Church is my weekly connection to God. I look forward to the chance to disconnect from the world and enter into the spiritual realm.” This is a great goal for attending church. It is the church?s responsibility to help people connect with God through worship, the Word, prayer and fellowship.

Life is full of good and bad stuff. It?s like eating pasta, you can sure fill up on a bowl of pasta yet in a couple of hours you start getting hungry again (at least I do….same with Chinese food). The stuff in life that fills us up, many times, is not fulfilling. It does not have the “spiritual nutrition” that we need to really make us feel that our lives are significant.

People are looking for fulfillment in their “church” and God experience. Too often they get full of sermons, full of religion, full of activities and are still empty… still hungry…. amazing.

I believe the answer can be found in Life-Giving churches…I believe every church ought to be a place that creates and gives life to all that come. I have dedicated the rest of my life to starting life-giving churches that can bring people to a place of fulfillment in their hopes and dreams, walk with God and family, and everyday life and existence. Let?s join together to see this become a reality.

Our Journey to Relaunch

Every church has a different journey, a unique story, as to how God started their work and increased their effectiveness. Our journey did not start out like many church plants with the idea of a big launch and immediate growth. Our story begins with our obedience to move our young family to Baton Rouge to take the lead of an existing church made up of about 35 older people who loved their church just how it was. The church that God had placed in our hearts was a church that was growing with people whose lives had been transformed by the life-giving power of God. We knew taking this church would be a challenge, but we knew that this was what God had for us. When we took this small congregation, there were lots of great churches around us, but none that had the flavor as the church that was in our hearts. God gave us the picture of what He wanted us to do.

I began to build relationships with other pastors that were having the results that I wanted. I saw what they were doing and learned from their experiences. I shared with them where I was at and where I wanted to be. I talked with other church planters and got connected with a church planting organization, the Association of Related Churches. There were two ARC pastors that encouraged me to do a relaunch, to use our current congregation to reintroduce our church to the community as a group that was relevant to meeting their needs. One of those influences was Pastor Dino Rizzo of Healing Place Church, who encouraged me to pursue what God was putting in my heart. The other was Pastor Scott Hornsby of Fellowship Church, who was the person I like to say kicked me in the seat of the pants to get it rolling. He really challenged me to dream big.

I knew that if I wanted to get the results that other pastors were having, our church was going to have to change. I knew the Lord was leading us to relocate to Central, a community outside of Baton Rouge. I had the picture; now I needed to share that picture with our leaders and key families. The board and I were willing to accept that not everyone would like the idea of change. We were willing to lose some families in order to have what God wanted us to have. I had been faithful to care for the original people that God had sent us to. I sat down   family and shared my heart with them. There were a few naysayers that checked out, but most everyone liked the concept and were supportive of the vision.

I knew that a relaunch was going to require change- change that would not happen quickly. We were careful not to be in a rush, but to take time to build trust with our key people. It took time to transfer vision into their hearts. It took time to develop a team of leaders around me that shared my heart. It took us six years to relaunch, to bring about the change necessary to accomplish the vision that God Gave us. At that time I didn’t know many pastors who had gone through are launch, so we acted like we were a new church plant and our congregation of120 people became our launch team.

To be a life-giving church, we have to be continually changing to stay relevant and to move with what God is doing. We changed our location, our church name,and our look. We began to reach out to the community through simple acts of service. Through advertising we let people know that we were new in Central and we wanted them to join us. During the transition, my emotions as a leader went from extreme nervousness to overwhelming joy. My thoughts went from, “Holy Cow, I have just destroyed the church” to “God, You are completely amazing and You blow my mind.” If you are thinking of relaunching your church, my advice would be to pray, pray, pray, and when you are sure that you have heard from God, pray some more! Our change took place as we depended on the Lord to do what He put in our hearts to do.We relaunched in May 2008. It has been just over a year, and Journey Church has grown to an average of 800 people. It has been exciting to experience God Moving through salvations and seeing families healed. It is good to see what God can do through a church that is willing to accept a new concept in order to reach more people.

www.journeychurchcentral.com
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