What Story Do You Tell About Church?

design-21Anyone who has ever been a part of a church has a story to tell and the story we tell tells a lot about us.

Some tell stories of grace and support and growth.

Some tell stories of boredom and disconnect and departure.

Others tell stories of insult and offense and hurt.

The stories we tell are a narrative of our experiences. When we publicly share the events of our church history, we give a glimpse into our spirits. If our stories are sweet, it’s a clear indication that we had a good history in church and we are presently in a good spiritual place because of it. When our stories are bitter, our past has not been good, and our current spiritual condition is suffering as a result.

But anyone who has been part of a church has had both bad and good experiences in church. Upon which do we focus?

If your story features a crooked preacher, a lying leader, a gossiping deacon, or a corrupt Elder, you focus on the bad. In fact, through our stories, some of us reveal that we are deeply hurt, bitter and wounded. This is tragic. If your story features supportive leaders, honorable pastors, godly deacons and compassionate members, you focus on the good.

But interestingly, some who have been exposed to the same experiences tell different stories. Some who tell good stories have been brutally hurt in the church.

What’s the difference? While it is not good to compare ourselves to others, some choose to heal while others choose to remain hurt. And you can hear it in our stories.

You don’t necessarily choose your stories (some things happen to you) but you definitely choose the stories you tell.

If your stories reveal that you have been hurt – and we have all been hurt – find healing and the ability to forgive and move forward. Then your story will reveal a spirit that is whole.

What story do you tell about your church? It’s really more a story about your heart.

5 Things Ministry Leaders Should Expect From and Provide for One Another

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  1. Assume the best. Don’t assume that another leader is corrupt or disingenuous. Expect and assume the best for one another. Let’s not become cynical about our colleagues.
  2. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be quick to believe everything that is said about someone else in leadership. If they are accused, wait before judging, and assume the accusation is false.
  3. Innocent until proven guilty. Be slow with your judgments and even slower with your condemnation of other leaders. If solid evidence of wrongdoing is presented, gently engage in Biblical discipline. But if not, absolve the accused.
  4. “I got your back.” Stick up for one another. Your turn for being attacked will come soon enough; you’ll be grateful for the support.
  5. Treat with honor. Respect other leaders, practice mutual deference. Don’t think, feel or act negatively about them. Never speak disparagingly of other leaders. Practice mutual honor.

In a day when leaders are highly mistrusted and eagerly destroyed by an antagonistic culture, we must stick together, fight for one another and watch out for the good of our co-laborers.

Pastor: Smile!

IMG_5316The world is full of negativity. People are swamped with pessimism. Doubt, fear and pain paint the world in a pale shade of gray. People need some bright colors of Good News.

My wife and I recently visited a brief church meeting. The entire team of leaders was full of joy. They cheered one another on. They smiled and gave high fives. The atmosphere was electric with joy and expectation. What a wonderful ministry climate! Immediately, I found myself drawn into their joy. But I also realized how rarely I have been a part of an atmosphere such as that.

If we hope to reach our communities, churches must create a sense of hope and optimism. (Actually, God has already created that atmosphere; all we have to do is tap into it.) If we expect to attract unchurched people with a frown, we should think again.

It may sound elementary, but pastors must be positive. Let me give you a few easy ideas:

Smile when you see people. Make eye contact and be genuinely glad to say hello.

Smile when you talk, sing and worship. Looking as though you are in anguish is not necessarily godly, and it may send the wrong message to others.

Smile when you preach. Unless the topic of your sermon is sad or painful, a smiling face creates an atmosphere of well being and confidence.

If you raise your voice when you preach, be sure not to yell at people. You can be enthusiastic without appearing angry. Few emotionally healthy people are interested in being screamed at.

Ask your leaders to smile. Greeters, ushers, worship leaders, and children’s workers should be happy.

Consider a pre-service meeting to set the atmosphere of joy and happiness. You will find it is contagious – the atmosphere will be transformed.

Admittedly, leading a church is an arduous task. There are times that the burdens are heavy. It is easy and perhaps natural for us to become so serious in our efforts that we appear to be stressed and distressed. But a smile communicates inner peace and joy. Jesus brings us true joy and He wants us to share it with others. Marcus Aurelius said, “The mind reveals itself in the face.” What does your face say about what’s going on in your mind?

We may need to retrain ourselves and others. Old habits (frowning) are hard to break. But let’s encourage the people at our churches to take advantage of the nonverbal and body language signals we send to others.

So, here is a lovely Bible verse that communicates my hope for you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:14

Let’s overflow with hope and joy, and observe the positive impact it has!

Counting Attendance Can Kill You

design-17It’s Resurrection Week and church leaders all over the world are headlong into a massive ministry week. Most dream of capacity crowds and are focused on either filling their buildings or a specific numerical goal. While this is reasonable and usually honorable, the focus on “counting” can become deadly.

Allow me to explain.

God cares about numbers, so much so that He wrote an entire Book in the Bible called “Numbers”! But there are serious considerations in the Bible when leaders focus on numbers – when they should be focusing on obedience.

King David counted his military troops in I Samuel 24. This wasn’t the first time the troops had been counted, but this time was different. God was angry with Israel and some versions of the Bible says He incited David to count the men. F. LaGard Smith says that the problem may have been with David’s motivation for counting. “Selfish ambition for aggressive expansionism” is a possibility. Regardless of the motivation, God was not pleased and Israel paid a heavy price.

Listen, God is not against us counting our influence and impact. We are expected to know how many people attend our services and it is an important part of fulfilling our Mission. But God is against us trying to make a name for ourselves, competing with other ministries, manipulating God’s work to advance our reputation, or simply trying to make ourselves look good.

Thankfully, we are now under grace and God rarely acts in such harsh ways (at least perceived as harsh) when He punishes us. But this makes us wonder if we are being punished nonetheless.

This Easter, let’s keep track of numbers for the right reasons. We want to make progress; we must bear fruit. But let’s not fall prey to trying to impress anyone – except God.

Blessed Easter!

6 Reasons Why Easter is So Hard for Pastors

(and what we can do about it)

design-16I’ve never been fond of the references to Easter as the “Super Bowl of the Church”, but it has some validity. Most ministries are very active during Holy Week as they build up to a Resurrection Sunday Celebration. Excitement is high and we all hope for a great season. But for some pastors, the season is very stressful. There are several reasons for that.

  1. High expectation: most people realize that Easter is the highlight of the church year and they demand that the church be firing on all cylinders. There is little room for subpar ministry.
  2. Comparison: The advent of social media has unfortunately fueled competitive flames among ministers as many tout what an awesome day/service they had.
  3. Guests: we all know that some folks only go to Church on Christmas and Easter (CEOs). This places a lot of pressure on a minister to reach these people in the very little time that they will be in church.
  4. Critical culture: Pastors are being critiqued as never before. People watch famous television preachers and expect their pastor to “perform” on a similar level.
  5. Visiting family and friends: when people bring their family to church, they don’t want to be embarrassed. Preachers feel this pressure.
  6. Concern for souls: Pastors care deeply about the spiritual condition of the people in their Easter services. While we know we can’t save anyone, if we blow this opportunity, there could be eternal consequences.

What can we do to help our Pastor (or ourselves) to find some relief during Easter?

  • Pray for your pastor, especially this week.
  • Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your pastor. Billy Graham has gone to heaven so let’s not expect that kind of effectiveness.
  • Don’t criticize a pastor. Instead, encourage them. A note card or quick text expressing appreciation and prayer support can have a huge impact this week.
  • Distribute expectations. While Easter is the big week, taking a longer view of ministry will help to balance things. While we want the church to be full on Easter, we really desire long-term growth in our ministries.
  • Prepare ahead of time. Pastor, work early on your sermon. Try to be finished early in the week so the last few hours can be spent in quiet reflection and rest.
  • Don’t compare! In fact, stay off of Facebook on Easter Sunday afternoon.
  • Give God the glory for the privilege of ministry, even in stressful seasons like Easter.
  • Take Monday off!

Easter is all about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not a performance or production. Keep it simple; don’t try to impress people. Relax, and worship the Risen Lord!

Blessed Easter 2019!

 

 

 

Hiding Behind Servanthood

IMG_5262About 20 years ago, my father in law was visiting our church. We had a meal event after the service. As the meal was finishing up, I grabbed a broom and started cleaning up. He called me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be doing that, I should allow others to do the clean up. I told him that it was important for me to exemplify servant leadership.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t being a servant leader, I was hiding behind servant leadership.

I am an introvert, so my first preference is to do something other than engage with people. I called it servant leadership, but in reality, I was in my comfort zone.

Servant leadership is not necessarily doing what others don’t want to do; it is doing what you don’t want to do, but need to do.

My father in law was correct (as usual). It wasn’t that I was too good to sweep up, it was that I was more needed interacting with people.

How will you serve? My advice is, find something that really needs to be done but you don’t want to do. Then serve.

Why Some Churches Die

design-15I’m Palm Sunday sermon prepping. Of course, included in the Biblical texts of Passion Week is the little understood phenomenon of Jesus cursing the fig tree. If you are not a Bible scholar, this “cursing” has nothing to do with inappropriate language. Jesus cursed the tree, in essence, killed it with His words, because the tree was not producing fruit.

Here is the Biblical account as provided by Mark:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14) “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:20-21)

There is an obvious application to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Though perhaps not as obvious, there is a possible connection with this obscure event and today’s church.

Jesus expected that this fig tree should produce fruit. The purpose of the tree was to produce fruit. While it may serve other purposes (shade, nice to look at), without figs hanging on its branches, the tree was a failure. It was good for firewood.

Fast forward 2000 years. Many churches produce no fruit. The fruit of churches is Christ followers; disciples. Churches are supposed to produce more churches. While a church may serve other purposes, bringing people into the Lord’s Kingdom is its primary purpose. Jesus expects us to produce!

Could it be that Jesus has cursed some churches as He cursed the fig tree? There is no indication in the Bible that the fig tree represents today’s church. But there are indicators that if we don’t produce, we will be cut down. See: Matthew 7:19.

Of dying churches, Thom Rainer says, “Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes.”

I contend that churches that decide to stop producing new Christians are dead already, regardless if they are still having services. But maybe the final death knell is the Lord drying the church up until it withers away – closes its doors. Maybe it’s a “chicken or egg” proposition: do churches die first and then stop producing new fruit or do churches stop producing new fruit and then die?

We may never know. But let’s learn the lesson provided. Let’s remain productive and fruitful. Let’s be purposeful and intentional about bringing people to faith in Christ through our churches.

p.s. Let’s not avoid the little statement in Mark 11:13 “it was not the season for figs.” Adam Clarke says, “It has been asked, ‘How could our Lord expect to find ripe figs in the end of March?’ Answer, Because figs were ripe in Judea as early as the Passover. Besides, the fig tree puts forth its fruit first, and afterwards its leaves. Indeed, this tree, in the climate which is proper for it, has fruit on it all the year round, as I have often seen. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).

So there you go.

 

Hope for Dying Churches

Where Are The Young Leaders?

IMG_4998-1Moses raised up his replacement, Joshua. But Joshua did not raise up his successor, and the people suffered as a result. Let’s not make the same mistake.

We have a problem brewing. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a lack of leaders coming up through our churches. Of course, there are some young women and men who are preparing themselves for productive leadership in their churches. But considering the great need that we have for leaders, the number of new churches that must be planted, and the age of many of our current leaders, we need many more young leaders! We are experiencing a decline in the number of young people that are entering the ministry; this trend must be reversed.

There are a few legitimate reasons for the decline in young leaders, but some of the reasons must be addressed and turned around. Some young people feel that there is no place for them in the church. They feel unwelcomed and unneeded. They are not included in the life of the church. Their participation is not encouraged. They are told that they must wait their turn. They are ignored. Brothers and Sisters in Christ – these things should not be.

While most of us love the young people in our communities, we can inadvertently drive them away from the church. When we criticize a generation for being different than us, we drive them away from the church. When we refuse to allow them a voice in the direction of the church, we drive them away. When we refuse to change anything in the church, we drive them away. When we look to the past more than we look to the future, we drive them away. When we disrespect a generation, we drive them away from the church.

God help us to turn this tide!

We all agree that God loves the young generation and wants to include them in His church. We simply must do whatever it takes to engage these young people as leaders in training. Here are a few practical things you can do:

  • Pray for the young people in your church and community.
  • Purposefully engage young people in the life of the church.
  • Build personal relationships with young people in the church.
  • Strategically identify young people with the gift of leadership.
  • Develop a plan, formal or informal, to develop the young leaders in your church.
  • Share leadership responsibilities with young leaders.

If the current trend continues, we will not have enough leaders to lead our churches and churches will close. If the current trajectory of many of our churches continues, they will close within the next 10 years – simply because no one will be leading or attending. Of course, we plan to change this course.

When I was a teenager, some leaders in the church pursued me and encouraged me to engage in the church. They recognized leadership potential in me and affirmed me. This changed my life. Can you do the same for a young person in your church?

Let me state: we value all people, young and old. The church family is made up of multiple generations. We cannot focus on one generation to the detriment of another. So let’s change the current direction. Please, young lives are at stake and the future of the church hangs in the balance.

God, help us to raise up a generation of young leaders!

The Sword

There is a beautiful and powerful scripture verse in I Samuel 21:9. At a point of desperation, David is in need of a sword. The only one available is the sword that he took from Goliath when he had killed the giant some time earlier (see I Samuel 17). When offered the valuable and rare sword, David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

This verse is powerful for us because it indicates the value of victories won. When God brings us through a potentially destructive time and we overcome, something significant happens within us. We have seen God do the impossible. A standard for impossible victories is established. From this time forward, we have no need to fear battles. We are able to return again and again to the time of miraculous deliverance, and we trust God, regardless of the challenges at hand.

From time to time, I need to go back and recall the specifics of when God came through on my behalf. There are some swords that are very valuable to me; the swords that decapitated some of the giants I was facing. These swords are proven, trusted. And they provide the confidence I need to slay another giant.

While every battle requires its own strategy, there is nothing like the proven, trusted and effective Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

When in peril, my response will be: “There is none like it; give it to me!”

Leadership Succession

design-11One of my greatest concerns about our current approach to church leadership is that not enough young leaders are being engaged in preparation for future leadership. We need to do better. This post is a series of thoughts that I originally shared on Twitter. I apologize for the choppy nature of the thoughts.

One of my most important tasks as a leader is to prepare future leaders to go farther than I ever will.

My predecessors invested heavily in me; I owe it to them as well as my successors to pass on what I’ve been given.

Leader, if you are indispensable to your organization, if they couldn’t survive without you, perhaps you’ve neglected an important responsibility. You won’t live forever.

One of the most important Bible verses to me: “Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others.”
(2 Timothy 2:2 CEB)

Moses raised up Joshua. Elijah raised up Elisha. Paul raised up Timothy. Who are you raising up?

Moses passed on his leadership to Joshua. But Joshua did not prepare his successor, and the entire nation of Israel suffered because of it. Who are you preparing to succeed you?

Until current leaders and emerging leaders stop competing, the future health of our organizations is in jeopardy.

The most effective way for aging leaders to assure that they won’t be forced out is to make themselves perpetually valuable by virtue of the respect they’ve gained because of their investments in emerging leaders.

Current leaders must possess discernment regarding future leaders. See them, not for where they are now, but for where they can be.

If those who succeed me don’t enjoy more success than I have enjoyed, I’ve failed as a leader.

Leaders: use a relay race as a metaphor. If the next leader is not out in front of you, ready when you’re done, you’re going to get really tired; and your team won’t win the race.

Young leader, your best asset may be the leader in front of you. Pursue a learning relationship with them. You may know a lot, but if they’re in front of you, they know stuff you don’t.

Young leader, some current leaders think you’re arrogant. Prove them wrong. Stay humble and teachable.

Young leader, be humble enough to learn from the successes and failures of those who go before you. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain.

Young leader: find a coach, mentor. Pursue them. Respectfully follow them. Then ask then to train you. It’s humbling and necessary.

While the world is changing and leadership methods are shifting fast, some principles are timeless. Don’t discount old wisdom.

A focus on young and rising #leaders is not to the detriment or disrespect of older leaders. On the contrary; a focus on younger leaders assures that the faithful work of the seasoned leaders will continue and advance. If no one is prepared to succeed you, your work will stop when you do. The task requires both!

Leader, you’ve given your life to the task. Why cause your influence to be limited in longevity by not raising up your successor?

Leader: if your succession plan isn’t intentional and strategic, it is probably non existent.

The greatest hindrance to successful leadership succession is insecurity on the part of current leaders; we’re afraid of being put out to pasture. What you’ve done is too significant to be limited by intimidation of being replaced. Be strategic with it, your legacy will live on once your gone.

Leader, you may have started your organization, but it’s not yours, don’t hoard it. The next generation will need it once you’re gone. Get the next leader ready!

Leader, if your vision can be fulfilled by you alone, your vision is too small. Unless your vision outlives you, your vision is too small. Unless someone is being trained to take over once you’re gone, your vision is too small. But your vision is big.

Leader, you are reaping the rewards of those who came before you. Someone behind you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Be strategic about who succeeds you.

If current #leaders don’t prepare their successors, we will soon have a dearth of leaders. Don’t let that happen.

If every generation of leaders has to begin at square one, we’re all in serious trouble. Let’s learn from the past and make the future better. 

Leadership Empathy

design-10What do good leaders know about the emotions of those they lead?

Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman write and talk about the emotions of everyday people, leaders included. Goleman’s book, On Emotional Intelligence is a highly recognized and invaluable resource for today’s leaders (I believe it should be required reading for every pastor).

In a recent article, Goleman and Ekman detail 3 ways that a leader can sense what another person is feeling. Leaders who have a developed social and emotional intelligence are far more effective at leading others than those who do not. This concept is especially important to those of us who work closely with people who struggle or experience crisis. I found the information helpful in the continual honing of my leadership skills.

The first trait listed is “cognitive empathy,” which is simply being aware of how the other person feels and perhaps what they could be thinking at that time. Most people are able to read the emotions of others. Verbal and physical cues provide most of the data needed in order to identify the emotional state of others. However, leaders must be aware that, in some situations, being aware is not enough. This skill is appropriate when negotiating a deal or brokering a transaction. But in especially sensitive circumstances, others can perceive cognitive empathy as cold hearted, detached or non-caring. Depending upon the nature of the issue being addressed, cognitive empathy may not be enough.

When dealing with people in crisis, leaders should also display “emotional empathy.” Emotional empathy is when a leader feels the emotions of those they lead. It provides the ability to sense AND feel what is happening in the people around us. This is a vitally important trait for those in ministry, in helps industries, and especially for parents. Any married person had better master this skill! Of course, there are times when emotional empathy can hinder the effectiveness of a leader. An example may be a pastor who must provide care to a grieving family. If the minister cannot compose herself long enough to conduct a funeral service, they won’t be able to help the family much. There is a time to cry and laugh along with people, but there is also a time to maintain composure.

Ekman identifies a third element: “compassionate empathy,” which Goleman calls “empathic concern.” This type of empathy takes a leader beyond awareness and sensitivity – to action. We are moved to get involved. Once again, in crisis situations, this trait can be invaluable. Unless and until leaders regularly experience and express compassionate empathy, they are lacking a Christ-like attitude about leadership.

While we are not the Messiah, the Lord calls Christian leaders to not only be aware of and experience the emotions of those we lead, but at times, we are compelled to engage in helping to heal the hurting. James 2:15-16 provides thought: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (NIV) Not every situation requires a leader to have empathetic concern (we would be in a mess if they did), but leaders must never lose the ability to feel and take appropriate actions.

As the world becomes more complex, the responsibilities of leaders follow suit. It is necessary for us to be aware of emotions, feel along with those we lead and know what action to take and when.

It’s not as easy as some people think. So let’s work on it.

The Science of Survival

41Iu-eGceGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I am in the process of reading several survival books: biographies autobiographies, and survival science about people who survived in very difficult, life threatening situations. The reason for my interest is, I see many in my world who don’t survive. They quit. They give up. They fail. They go through the motions of their work but on the inside they are done.

Why do so many leaders opt out before they are successful? What causes some apparently emotionally healthy people to resign from life? Is there a key to understanding why people willingly throw away a lifetime of hard work? These survival books are a fascinating way of discovering the emotional and mental makeup of those who live when many others die.

I’ve read of Salvador Alvarenga who was stranded in the ocean on a boat for 438 days. I read about the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in a plane in the Andes Mountains and only 16 of the 45 survived (for 72 days) (by eating human flesh). I read about Steve Callahan who was lost at sea in a rubber life raft for 76 days. Yossie Gensburg was lost alone in the Amazon for weeks, with no food or supplies. In 1856 a boat with over 100 passengers sank, and only one, Thomas Nye survived. I’m reading about Joe Simpson who broke his leg atop a 21,000 mountain in the Andes, and crawled his way back to civilization. So many crazy stories of people who beat the odds when most others could/would not.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why is a fascinating book by Laurence Gonzales. He delves deep into the human psyche to find what makes some people live despite impossible odds. He especially contrasts the mindset of those who die with those who live.

Gonzalez lists 12 traits of survivors. In the interest of brevity, I will list 5: 1. See the beauty: even in the middle of crisis find the lovely details in the surroundings. 2. Be there for others: those who survive often do so in service to other people. 3. Develop a stoic mindset: focus, discipline and emotional stability are vital to survivors. 4. Know your stuff: many times, survival is a matter of preparation and knowledge ahead of time. 5. Face Reality: survivors understand the danger; they know what is at stake. But they know how to function well in spite of the danger.

I think this list is very applicable to my life as a leader right now.

Once again, I am studying these traits because I want to survive and I want to help others to survive. It is no secret that the same skills and characteristics that help people survive in outdoor emergencies are the the same ones needed to survive everyday life.

While I enjoy the outdoors, I have no plans to be stranded in the ocean or in the mountains. But daily I need survival skills that keep me going against the odds. I plan to survive!

God Loves the Church (even with all of its problems)

design-7God loves the Church, even with all of its problems. He is fully aware of the corruption and exploitation. He knows the phonies, the bullies, the manipulators and the heretics. Nothing gets by Him. He sees every time a church leader abuses someone. He knows every time an unscrupulous leader steals money. He is aware of the wrong that is done in the name of the Church. He takes note of the damage that religious regulations do. For every horror story you and I could tell about the Church, God could tell a million.

Yet, in spite of all of these things, God loves the Church. The Church is God’s plan to reach the world. He identifies the Church as His “Bride.” Even with all of its faults, God chooses to work through the Church. There is no other plan to reach the world for Christ – He chose the Church and only the Church to serve this purpose.

Before we criticize the Church, before we choose to leave the church, if we make the decision to stay away from church altogether, realize that God has His hand on the Church. When we make the choice to walk away, we are actually hurting the Church rather than helping the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, we are meant to be connected to the Church; if we are not, we all suffer.

The Church will never be perfect while we are here on this earth. But each of us can vow to do our best to make the Church better. It becomes better as a whole when the individuals that make up the Church become better people. When I become better and you become better, the Church becomes better. In fact, when participants in the church accept the duty to become better Christians, the Church always improves. The Church represents Christ; we must do our best to represent Him well.

Rather than bemoan how bad the church is, let’s invest in making the Church better. The next time someone criticizes the Church, invite them to be a part of the solution. And the next time you observe something bad about the church, take responsibility to make that bad thing good. You will be making the Church better.

God loves the church, even with all of its problems. We must also love the Church.

What is Means to Live “On Mission”

design-6In reality, everybody lives “on mission.” Whether or not you realize it, you have a mission. It may be to retire early. Or catch a really big fish. Or run a 7-minute mile. But we’re all on one mission or another.

There are missions and there is “The Mission.” A capitalized Mission refers to the Great Commission. Jesus gives the Great Commission to His followers as a means of reaching the world with His love as well as providing meaning and purpose in our lives. It says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Living the Mission means that the goal of our life is to make disciples for Jesus. The most important thing in our life is to lead others to follow Him. So, when we live “On Mission”, it may include things like:

-A second career as a volunteer. -Living on a lower standard of economy so you can donate more to others. -Sacrificing a vacation so you can go on a serving trip. -Cutting back on luxuries so you can give to the needy. -Foregoing a birthday or Christmas gift for yourself and giving to others. -Seeing every relationship as an opportunity to help someone find Christ.

Basically, living On Mission means you realize that there are more important things than your comfort or ease. It seems somewhat counter intuitive; but we derive joy from providing joy for others.

Here’s the thing about living On Mission: it is fulfilling. In fact, most people who give away as much as they earn describe their lives as extremely meaningful and rewarding, Those who serve the most are the happiest. Those who live to focus on the Lord and others find life way more rewarding than those who live to focus on themselves.

Want to live On Mission? You can start here:

  1. Say no to something that you like.
  2. Give something valuable away.
  3. See the world through the eyes of others.
  4. Serve someone, with no strings attached.
  5. Do something for someone (anonymously.)

You’ll find yourself enjoying the concept of selflessness. And you will be making a big difference in the lives of others.

Live On Mission.

There is a Time to Be Silent and a Time to Talk

design-5There is a time to be silent and a time to talk.” Ecclesiastes 3:7b

I’m working on the application of this Bible verse in my life. I have talked when I should’ve been quiet, and I have clammed up when I should have spoken up. In the future…

I will try to talk:

When someone is taking advantage of or victimizing an innocent person. When someone asks an honest question and I have the answer. When I have something of value that needs to be added to the conversation. When the Gospel needs to be shared verbally. When lies are being spoken and the truth is not present.

I will try to be quiet:

When people want to argue. When political debates are happening. When I want to be noticed. When someone disrespects me. When I think I know more than others. When any additional words have no benefit.

“There is a time to be silent and a time to talk.”

International Women’s Day

IMG_4842Let’s celebrate this special day without making it controversial. Enough of the competition and jealousy. Women are a gift from God to the world. It is unacceptable that we are still seeing so much disrespect and objectification. It is past time to end this rampant disrespect.

Through the years, I have seen many females as the most effective leaders. They have been courageous, strong and extremely competent. In the face of great opposition and resistance, they have succeeded. We should be extremely grateful for the women among us who are willing to serve, lead and make the world a better place.

Personally, I am a proponent of allowing God to use whomever He chooses. If they can accomplish the goal, it is foolish for us to limit them because of our presuppositions.

If you wish to debate the qualifications of women to lead, go ahead. But while you are debating, they will be busy leading and accomplishing things of eternal significance.

God bless you, women of the world!

What are we going to do about Illinois?

IMG_4837Rest assured. My wife and I love Illinois. It is an honor to live here and a privilege to serve the great people here. This is precisely why I ask the question above.

Those who live here will admit, Illinois is experiencing some real challenges. Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the reducing population here. At the bottom of this article are some links that discuss the problem and they are the resources for data I used.

A few details shared are:

Illinois’ population has fallen for the fifth straight year. The state lost an estimated 45,100 people in 2018. In 2017, around 33,700 people left. That means more than 11,000 more people left the state in 2018 than in 2017.

From July 2017 to July 2018, more than 114,000 Illinoisans left the state, a total population decline of more than 45,000 people.

The population loss is intensifying.

Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that saw a population loss. More than 43,000 people moved to Minnesota this year and more than 30,000 moved to Indiana.

The most important numbers in the new federal statistics involve domestic migration — the number of people leaving Illinois for other states, such as Texas, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Since Illinois’ population decline began in 2014, the state has shrunk by more than 157,000 people. That’s equivalent to losing the entire city of Joliet, Naperville or Rockford.

The primary driver of Illinois’ outmigration crisis is prime working-age residents (ages 25-54) seeking opportunity.

The most important factor in Illinois’ migration problem is the labor market, which has been crushed by the state’s unfriendly tax policy and business climate.

A Southern Illinois University at Carbondale poll from 2015 showed that half of the Illinois residents polled would leave the state if they could.

The result of all of this data and information is troubling for those of us who love the Land of Lincoln. We are concerned about the future. We’re not sure what the future holds. And we regularly encounter people who are somewhat hopeless about any chance to turn the state around.

I realize, this is all fairly negative. But we believe in transparency: it is what it is. But hang in there; we’re about to turn a corner.

We believe that we are right where God wants us, and that changes everything!

What do leaders do when times get tough? They fight for what is right. When we discuss our issues, we’re not whining, where strategizing. Max DePree says that, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Illinoisans are not stupid – we know full well what is happening.

But there are times that the answers may not be as easy to identify as are the problems.

Of course, we need tax reform. Businesses need a break in order to compete. We must clean up our corrupt politics. We have to change the narrative about Illinois. We’ve heard enough of the complaints. We’re committed to develop solutions!

We’re developing a strategy to rescue Illinois. Sounds grandiose, doesn’t it? Too ambitious? Naïve?

Here’s the thing: we are convinced that our presence here is God’s strategy. He has a solid record of positioning people where they are needed. The good folks in our faith family are not accidents. They aren’t here by chance. God placed them as missionaries to a culture that is in great need of their ministry. A good many of them love their state deeply and wouldn’t leave (regardless of what the SIUC survey reveals).

If God put us here, He has some expectations of us. His idea is not for us to work toward tax reform or to clean up politics. His idea is for us to be representatives of His Kingdom in a place that really needs it. God sends us where we are needed most. If our communities were perfect, we wouldn’t be needed. If Christians abandon the tough places, hope will be lost.

We consider Illinois to be our Mission Field.

As such, our plans center around a few key ideas:

  • Act redemptively. Rather than moan and groan, we will talk answers. We have identified the reality, now we plan to change the reality. We won’t run away from the problem, we will run toward it.
  • Create positivity. Life is more than luxuries and comfort. Our intention is to make life better for people. Where there is a need, God will enable us to meet it. The culture and atmosphere will change.
  • Invest in the future. This investment is not necessarily in the industries of the state; this investment is in our most valuable resource – young people.
  • Intentional inclusion. Our leaders will commit to purposefully and strategically include not-so-likely leaders in our leadership processes. Those who have been marginalized or put on a shelf for a later date will be encouraged, even compelled to lead.
  • Create an atmosphere of hope. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, “Hope is a passion for the possible.” We will be authentically passionate about the good things that are possible for Illinois and its people.
  • We are recruiting difference makers. While some want to leave, others want to be problem solvers. While most people run out of a burning building, there are always heroes who run in. Illinois is not burning, but it’s in trouble. It will take some very courageous and passionate people to rush in. I’ve signed up and believe many more are prepared to do so.

I’m extending an invitation. If you are currently living in Illinois, let’s join forces to make this state as awesome as possible. If you used to live here but left, the door swings both ways. Consider coming home to help in the renovation. If you’ve never been here, if you drove through one time, if you know a lot or very little about this great state, we invite you to be a part of something remarkable.

Anybody can jump on a winning bandwagon. It’s easy to ride the coattails of others to easy street. It doesn’t take character to inherit the fruit of others’ labor. But only a chosen few experience the thrill of helping to redeem and rebuild a really struggling state that has endless potential.

We have a team of gifted and impassioned women and men, young and old that is committed to do whatever it takes to save and redeem our state. They know that this is their mission field. They don’t expect it to be easy and they know it won’t be quick. They realize that they are desperately needed. They have zero intensions of quitting. You can join us.

What are we going to do about Illinois? We’re going to turn it around! Who is with us?

https://wrex.com/category/2018/12/19/data-shows-more-people-are-leaving-illinois/

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-illinois-population-loss-madigan-exodus-20181219-story.html

https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-population-loss-worsens-for-5th-straight-year/

https://foxillinois.com/news/local/45000-people-left-the-state-of-illinois-in-2018-12-20-2018

https://www.ilnews.org/more-people-leaving-illinois/article_5fec216e-0ae3-11e9-a136-7bd1db46ea6f.html

2 Serious Questions for Church Leaders

IMG_4796I have 2 serious questions that I would like to pose to church leaders:

1. Is your church as successful as it possibly can be at reaching the lost and making disciples?

2. If not, what are you willing to do (short of sin) to make your church as successful as possible at reaching the lost and making disciples?

I realize that these questions are oversimplified and perhaps some will consider them unfair. There are many variations and nuances that could cause us to reject such questions as senseless. But please, indulge me for a moment.

As a church leader for over 35 years, it is my responsibility to help the church be as successful as possible. We realize that different people define success in different ways. For purposes of clarity, let’s define success for the church this way: accomplishing the job that God has assigned to us. Perhaps there will be some debate over this job description but the common benchmark for the church is usually twofold: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Jesus identified the Great Commandment: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40) The Great Commission is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, “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.” Most students of Scripture would identify these passages as the standard by which the success of a church is measured. We won’t be judged on the number of attendees or how many square feet our church occupies. There is something more important.

We can safely break it down, loving the Lord and others, and making disciples is the goal, the mission of the church. So, one more question: “how are we doing in these areas?”

Let’s take this idea a different direction. Assuming that some of us are aware that we could do better in one or both of these areas, what are we to do with that knowledge?

I have recently returned to my interest in the study of organizational change. My Master’s studies focused much on this topic. Lot’s of great research has been done on the concept of change in cultures and organizations. Let’s look at just one quick aspect of church as it regards the church.

If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.

Think about it! If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.

Of course, there are exceptions. But generally speaking, a church that refuses to adjust will close it’s doors, perhaps sooner rather than later.

I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but because someone will find it necessary to call me out, let me say this: The Gospel never changes. It must not. No watering down allowed. No mixing and matching Bible verses based upon our whims. We can never entertain the idea of straying away from what the Bible says. That is firmly established. The Message must never change!

But what about our methods?

Listen, it is not our adherence to the Bible that is creating problems for the church in the Western World; it is our adherence to our opinions about the type and style church that we prefer. While there is opposition to the Truth, I can’t think of one church in my area of responsibility that has suffered for it’s position on the Word of God. But I know many, perhaps hundreds that are suffering because they are committed to an ineffective style of ministry. I personally have had the painful responsibility of closing a few churches that ceased to exist. The buildings stood. But pastors left, people left and the buildings were left empty. It wasn’t preaching the Bible that closed the doors. It was refusal to consider another approach to ministry that closed many of the doors. Funerals for ministries are mournful occasions.

Here is some Latin for you: Ab actu ad posse valet illatio – This phrase means, “From what has happened, we may infer what will happen.” It may be understood this way: past performance is indicative of future results. When we observe a pattern, we can assume that, without adjustments, the pattern will continue. Newton’s first Law of Motion (inertia) indicates that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Applied to the church, this means that a stagnant church will remain a stagnant church unless and until someone or something impacts change. Our Latin phrase tells us that we can predict what will happen in a church if we take the time to observe what is currently happening, and what has happened in the past. If a church is stuck – no new people are coming, no one is coming to Christ, the attendance is plateaued or declining, unless something very significant takes place (that is different from what has been happening), that church is doomed to fail. This may seem too negative. I’m sure some would call it a lack of faith. But if your car is broken down on the railroad track and a train is barreling down, you can pray all you want – but God is telling you to get out of the car and run!

Back to our initial questions. Are we winning people to Christ at a pace that is pleasing to God? If not, what are we willing to do in order to change that?

What is off limits if it results in people finding the Lord?

  • Would you adjust your worship schedule?
  • Would you relocate your church?
  • Would you spend church funds differently?
  • Would you change your choice of clothing, music, décor, etc.?

Of course, none of these things will automatically bring people to Christ. But my point is, if what we are doing is not working (and hasn’t been for some time), what is the harm in trying something different? One more time, we are not considering changing what the Bible says. But the Bible never specifically addresses many of the things that some churches believe are sacred.

Let’s tread lightly here. Some will respond to my query by saying, “we just need to pray more.” Or, “we just need old fashioned move of God like we used to have.” Or, “people aren’t as committed as they used to be; if they come to church more, the problem will be fixed. “ I agree with all of these points – to a point. But many among us pray continually. We enjoy powerful experiences of Pentecost. We go to church every time the doors are opened. And still, nothing changes. Let’s not quit doing these things. But perhaps there is more that God is saying to us.

I am not picking a fight with any tradition. I am not discounting the value of any particular method of ministry. I am asking us to consider what might be an incredible opportunity for the church in America. Without doubt, we are in trouble. Our numbers are reducing, younger generations are losing interest in our churches and we are closing churches. Maybe, just maybe, we should look at our methods, our approach, our mission.

Chris Hodges challenges the church by asking: “Why do we exist?” A simple answer is, we exist to glorify God and to win the lost. We don’t exist to be a comfortable place for Christians to gather – until they all die and the church closes.

Jesus gave us one job – to win the lost. If by changing, adjusting, tweaking just one of our practices, preferences or traditions, we may win one to Christ, then change we must.

If what you are doing is working – if people are regularly finding Christ, if you are making disciples, if your church is reaching the mission field around it and loves are changing – keep it up. But, if you realize the church could do more, what are you willing to change in order to see that happen?

Rise Up and Redeem!

design-3I do not believe that politics offers hope for our world. I believe the Church is the Hope for our world, as ordained by God. The Church preaches the Good News of Jesus which is God’s plan of salvation.

While we are instructed in scripture to honor our leaders (Romans 13) and pray for those in authority (I Timothy 2:1-4), the Bible never instructs us to place our faith in politicians. But these days, many Christ followers are staunch proponents of political ideology, one side or the other. Is it possible that God wants us to change the world rather than believing that politicians will change the world? Is it possible that the church has abdicated our responsibility as redeemers of the culture?

I believe that it is time for Christians to arise and redeem! Redeem means to “compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something).” (dictionary.com) It means to turn something bad into something good. Throughout the ages, God has appointed His people to be redeemers in their contexts. Let’s look at Joseph as an example. (See Genesis 37f) He struggled mightily with his family. His brothers rejected him for being a dreamer. But, in the middle of his crisis, at just the right time, God called him into action. He was utilized to speak to those in political authority. Joseph redeemed a horrible situation. He gave solid godly advice to a leader who was desperate. And his advice saved an entire nation!

Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to admit that the world is in a mess. Up to now, our government has failed at providing the kind of solutions for which we hope. Perhaps we Christians should start praying and positioning ourselves to be redeemers of our culture. If God speaks to us as He spoke to Joseph, we will be able to provide real answers, like Joseph did. But, we won’t be called upon unless we are prepared to say something of value. It would be a shame if, in the middle of a crisis, we are asked about solutions, and we have none to share.

Let’s not wait for our government to fix things. Of course, don’t stop praying for our leaders. And certainly we should vote and express our opinions. But more importantly, let’s hear from the Holy Spirit and share the solutions that our confused world needs.

Let’s rise up and redeem!

The Future of Church Planting in North America

design-2Based upon current trends and what some experts are saying, we will see an increase in a change of approach and methodology in the planting of new churches in America. These changes may not be good or bad per se, but we should be aware and consider our approach. These are all in practice in many places, perhaps we are not aware. Below are a few observations about some new approaches:

  • More house churches. More small churches will be established in homes and will stay there, by design. Once they reach a certain numbers, they divide in order to multiple in additional locations. We have seen this tendency in Latin America for many years; the results are remarkable.
  • Fewer large church buildings built. Most church planters want to avoid the strangulation of big debt. Fewer worshipers want to pay big mortgage bills. They prefer instead to invest in life-changing ministry.
  • More opportunities to worship on days other than Sunday. Like it or not, there is a move away from Sunday as “the day” to worship.
  • Large churches planting new churches in other cities and states, even other countries. This is nothing new but it seems to be on the increase. These large churches sometimes serve as a mother church on an ongoing basis.
  • More church planters planning to remaining bivocational. Perhaps out of necessity, but partly because of strategy, many church planters have no desire to be in full-time ministry.
  • Less glamor and glitz in church planting. Many worshipers are unimpressed with expensive and entertaining worship. “Keep it simple” is becoming more of a mantra for some church planters.
  • More marketplace churches. Factories, stores, businesses and coffee shops are increasing becoming the venue for new church plants.
  • “Second career” church planters. More folks are retiring early or are strategically entering ministry once their kids are raised.

I believe that we should consider any and all methods of planting healthy churches. There is no “best” model; the one that is best is the one that works.

For more details about church planting, click here.

Let’s plant churches!