Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Looking back and taking account

Many people like to look back at this time of year. They review their finances to see how much they have in the bank and/or how much money they owe, check to see if they’ve made any progress in their careers or education and try to determine if they are generally better off than they were the previous year.

This is also a good time to review your spiritual health as compared to previous years. Do you feel closer to God? Is your prayer life stronger? Have you grown in your knowledge of the Bible?

A balanced life is marked by peace of mind, which means physical health, mental health, financial health, and spiritual health. A lack in any one of these areas affects the others. Sometimes, health in one or more of these areas is beyond our control but maximizing whatever health we do have will lead to peace of mind. Even people who suffer from chronic illness achieve peace of mind and wholeness within their limitations.

Putting spiritual health first will help maximize health in the other areas and spiritual health is mostly within our control. You may be struggling financially but can still find peace and perspective through prayer.

Bible study, prayer and communal worship are the keys to spiritual health. The church community exists to teach and encourage you and each of these areas.

As you look towards the coming year I pray that you will enjoy health in every area of your life and especially the peace of mind that comes with walking close to Jesus.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Repent and Bear Fruit

Message from Sunday,
December 6:

Repent and Bear Fruit
(Matthew 3:1-12)

Preparing our hearts requires repentance and true repentance bears fruit.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gift Giving at Christmas

Message from Sunday,
November 29:

Gift Giving at Christmas
(Matthew 2:1-2,11-12)

An appropriate attitude towards gift giving can reduce holiday stress and multiply the joy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do you need a store clerk’s greeting to complete your Christmas?

It's Merry Christmas not happy holidays, fool!
I keep Christmas in my heart, in my home and in my church. I really don’t focus too much on what they’re doing at the mall or department store. I really don’t care what the public school does either. They can teach grammar and long division, please leave the theology to me.

There are groups of people out there who become outraged at the thought that a store clerk might wish a person a happy holiday rather than a merry Christmas. Some have even suggested a boycott of big name stores, somehow connecting consumerism to the birth of our savior.

Shame on them. Shame on them, twice. First, for attempting to propagate the false doctrine that shopping is a Christian discipline. Second, for failing to bring the blessings of the gospel to a place they have identified as being without Christ.

“Go tell it on the mountain” we sing, to which I add, and at the mall, at work and everywhere you go. Spare me insincere greetings from those who are paid to replace, “Have a nice day,” with “Merry Christmas” because someone threatened a boycott.

Let the merchants bring us material goods at a fair price and leave the evangelism to the followers of Christ.

So, to those who share my faith, I say merry Christmas. To those who do not, I say happy holidays. And to those who need the malls and department stores to validate their celebration, I say good hunting.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The number one way to grow your church

Most people report that they came to faith because of the influence of a friend or relative. Rarely do people report that they became Christians because of a direct mailing or an advertisement. Moreover, several surveys have indicated that many unchurched individuals might go to church if they were invited by someone they know and respect.

Clearly the way to grow your church is to get regulular atendees to invite people they know. This happens frequently but not often enough. One way to increase the number of people who are inviting others to church is a campaign that motivates your members and coaches them through the steps of effectively reaching out to others.

One excellent program that is simple and can be done at no cost is called The 4XFour Challenge. Imagine if everyone of your regular attendees invited four unchurched people in the course of a year. Check out the link for details.

“Then the master told his servant,
'Go out to the roads and country lanes
and make them come in,
so that my house will be full.'”

Luke 14:23

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

True Value

Message from Sunday,
November 15:

True Value (Ecclesiastes 1:16-2:11)

Real meaning in life cannot be found in knowledge, pleasure or work; it comes from a life surrendered to God.

Thanksgiving Can Change Your Life

Message from Sunday,
November 22:

Thanksgiving Can Change Your Life (Ephesians 5:19-20)

A thankful attitude will make us happier, make us better witnesses of Christ’s love, and enhance our relationships with others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Message from Sunday,
November 8:

Gifts That Keep On Giving (Philippians 4:15-19)

When we give, the blessings we receive outweigh our original investment.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

New clinic to provide care to people lacking health insurance

In the midst of the debate regarding health care for the uninsured there emerges a group that is doing more than just talk. Faith Family Clinic of San Antonio will open soon to provide quality, affordable medical care to the working uninsured. Their mission statement reads, “Faith Family Clinic exists to show and share the love of Jesus Christ by providing health and wellness services to the underserved.”

The clinic is made possible through generous donations of money, services and time. This is not a new phenomenon. Most hospitals throughout the world have been started by churches or other religious groups.

While the actual number of Americans lacking health insurance is debatable, the fact that there are too many is not. Christians have seen this as an opportunity to show the love of Jesus Christ in a practical way and have started clinics like this around the country.

Faith Family Clinic is currently taking applications for their first patients. Cost will be from $10 - $50 depending on family size and income.

May God bless and multiply this ministry.

Monday, November 02, 2009

It's all His Anyway 2

Message from Sunday,
November 1:

It's all His Anyway (Psalm 89:11)

God owns all things and we are only the managers, therefore what we do with our stuff matters.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Even our poor are rich

Poverty and prosperity are relative terms. For example if you own a car, you are among the wealthiest people in the world. At the same time if you feel the need to impress others with your material wealth, you will never have enough.

I once observed villagers in Ecuador who lived in bamboo huts. They were lacking in material wealth but seemed to be happy. They had families and friends, the children played games and the adults worked. I realized just how easy it is to be happy if we don’t become obsessed with getting more.

I have a friend who lives off a monthly disability check and lives in a Section 8 subsidized apartment. All his needs are met at a very modest level. He enthusiastically volunteers his time for a variety of ministries. He understands that God has put him in a unique position to be a missionary to his apartment building and his neighborhood. He does not view himself as poor but, rather, called to a sacrificial way of life.

When we learn to simplify our lives and live within our means, a world of possibilities is opened up for us.

Another friend found herself alone and impoverished when her husband left her following a crippling accident. Unable to work she went about learning how to prosper in her poverty. She spent many hours at the library enjoying the air conditioning and learning how to fend for herself.

She went to a local grocer and said that she would give him a quarter everyday for all the spoiled produce. She would salvage the edible portions and make a stew. Later, she made a deal with an elderly man in her apartment building, to cook his meals if he would pay for the groceries. They then shared the meal.

She never felt sorry for herself nor envied what others had. She was content where she was and grateful when her prospects improved. She looked back on those days as character building not misfortune.

Certainly to have is usually better than to have not but the chronically dissatisfied and, especially, the greedy will never be content. “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.” Proverbs 28:25

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Ready to Die?

Message from Sunday,
October 25:

(Ecclesiastes 2:2-4)

Death is sure and we must be ready by a right relationship with God and a life lived serving His kingdom. The Bible is a more reliable guide to the afterlife than personal accounts of NDEs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are Angels Real?

Message from Sunday,
October 11:
Are Angels Real?
(Hebrews 1:14)

Angels are God’s agents to carry out his will including ministry to the elect. Discernment is needed when hearing stories of angelic encounters.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are Psychics Your Friends?

Message from Sunday,
October 18:

Are Psychics Your Friends?
(Deuteronomy 18:10-11)

By consulting mediums and familiar spirits we are denying God’s goodness and working around him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Small Group Structure

Whether they meet in homes, dorm rooms or in church on Sunday morning, small groups are essential to building a Christian community. A simple, easily expandable structure will facilitate numerical growth and leadership development.

The structure described here can be used in Sunday school or off campus meetings: The Small Group Structure

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jesus and the Bible

Message from Sunday,
October 4:
Jesus and the Bible
(Matthew 5:17-48)

To believe the Bible is the Word of God, but separate it from daily experience is to misuse it, and to ignore Christ’s pattern for using the Bible.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ministering to the homebound

Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
Psalm 71:9 (NIV)

Every so often we see a news report where an elderly person is found dead in their home; sometimes weeks after the death. Many elderly people live at or below the poverty level in our inner cities. Some in apartments and mobile home parks and others in the homes they bought when it was a “nice neighborhood.”

Some are lonely and live in fear, prisoners in their own homes. Many of these elderly were once active in church but now have been forgotten. This is an opportunity for churches to step up and show God’s love. Inner city churches can mobilize communities to check on their neighbors and use available government resources to improve the mental and physical health of our “grandparents.”

Read more here about how a church can become involved: Ministering to the homebound

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baptists burning Bibles?

I thought it was a play on words but it is not. A Baptist church is going to be burning Bibles that are not the King James Version. They are doing this in celebration of Halloween of all things. (Maybe they got tired of handing out candy.)

Is this what happens when you have religion without Christ? The Bible says that cursing and bitterness are in the mouths of those who do not know the way of peace and do not seek God (Rom. 3:13-17).

This is another example of a religious group trying to keep people from reading the Bible in their own language. In the mid 1300’s John Wycliff was scorned for translating the Bible into English. They said, “The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity.”

Opponents burned every copy of the English Bible they could find. Wycliff’s translation survived and became the foundation for the King James Bible.

Jan Hus was another reformer who believed that the Bible should be in the language of the people. He was burned to death by religious leaders who started the fire with pages from Wycliff’s translation.

Thankfully, these contemporary enemies of the Kingdom of God are limited to burning Bibles, music and the writings of some leading Christian thinkers, such as Billy Graham and Mother Theresa.

The biggest irony is that this particular group took the name Baptist, a group that has championed religious liberty from the beginning.

They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known. Romans 3:12-17 (King James Version)

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Today a colleague related an incident that is common in urban ministry. One of the youth in her ministry painted gang-related graffiti on several areas of the ministry’s campus. The staff was at once hurt, offended and angry.

These acts of “tagging” feel like a betrayal to those of us who pour our lives into troubled youth. On the one hand, it represents the cultural differences between those who offer help and those who are in need. On the other, it is indicative of the high recidivism rate of the people whose lives have been damaged by sin.

The issue must be addressed, the question is how?

One option is to call the police. The problem is that these particular youth are part of a juvenile offenders program. They have had the police called on them before. Justice might be served but it is not a redemptive act.

Another option is to inform the parents. This can cause shame and embarrassment for the parents and the youth. Again, it is not redemptive.

A third option is to relay to the youth how hurtful the action was, appealing to their sense of decency. This addresses the problem directly, which is a definite plus, but it sets up an "us against them" attitude.

In confronting the youth, it is important to make them understand that the ministry’s buildings belong to them. Ask them how the situation ought to be rectified. By taking ownership, the youth can become part of the solution.

Ideally a team of youth and adult volunteers will remove the graffiti together without assigning blame. This is both redemptive and restorative, turning a bad situation into an opportunity for grace.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How to Develop a Close Relationship with God

Sunday's message: How to Develop a Close Relationship with God (Hebrews 5:12-13)

Desire, consistency and application are needed to develop the habits that draw us closer to God.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are you satisfied with your spiritual life?

Are you satisfied with where you are in your spiritual life? The Apostle Paul wasn’t. He said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).” The disciples weren’t. They said, “Lord increase our faith (Luke 17:5).”

Many Christians have told me that they want to be closer to God. Some struggle with sins, addictions, hardened hearts and shame. For many, bad habits that they have developed over time dominate their lives and create a barrier not only to God but also to a stable and satisfying life.

In order to escape the past and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised (John 10:10) and to live as the new creation that Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 5:17), we need to develop new habits. This is not about a works-oriented religion. This is about following the teachings of the Bible. In the same way that physical workouts make our bodies stronger, spiritual workouts make our faith stronger.

"Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV

Spiritual workouts involve prayer and Bible study. Practicing these habits daily will draw you closer to God over time. This is especially true when done in the context of a group of believers who will nurture you and pray for you.

Many of us who grew up in the inner city developed bad habits related to survival or the desire to escape. These habits destroy our relationships, our health, our ability to be productive citizens and interfere in our relationship to God. One key element in developing maturity in our faith is substituting good faith habits for our bad habits and surrounding ourselves with a community of believers that will build us up and not tear us down.

This Sunday I will be preaching on developing a closer relationship with God and will podcast the message on this blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Losing valuable real estate

Perhaps the biggest investment a church will make is building facilities. A strategic location is selected, plans are drawn up and a building fund campaign is launched. Through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future, a new building is erected.
Years later many of these congregations decline in membership and the beloved structure is now underutilized and needing repair. Eventually the church decides it can no longer endure under the current circumstances and close the doors.

I ran across this situation in New Orleans when I was starting a Spanish-language church in the basement of an Anglo church. Another Anglo church, six blocks away, was disbanding and wanted to sell their building. The money would go to missions.

Acting quickly, I petitioned that the property be turned over to my new church start. Why pay real estate commissions to sell the property and again, later, when we would buy another property. Moreover, my mission field was this very neighborhood.

My argument prevailed and my small Spanish-language church took possession of the building. I was able to recruit an intrepid team of seminary students who developed a thriving ministry in that building including an English-language service, a mid-week youth service, free music lessons, a free summer day camp, food pantry and other services to the community.

This church became a training lab for seminary students, many of whom went on to work in missions around the globe, and a blessing to the community. It even provided an apartment for me that supplemented my modest salary.

There are many inner-city church properties that are being underutilized and, worse, sold off. These properties are in the midst of deep spiritual and economic poverty. It is possible that these properties could be used to house non-religious or faith-based community-based ministries. These ministries could pay for the utilities and upkeep. On Sundays the pulpit can be filled by ministry students and lay preachers who are looking for an opportunity to preach.

This would meet the spiritual and physical needs of the community and take advantage of a building built through sacrificial giving and with hope for the future. We cannot continue to retreat from the areas in our cities where the gospel is most needed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Urban ministry is a special calling

Urban ministry is a special calling. There was a time when I wanted to escape for the city with its gangs, traffic and urban blight. Military service was ticket out but God had different plans.

As I began to discern my call to ministry, the cities kept calling. Circumstances led me first to New Orleans, then to Metro Chicago and now to San Antonio. None of these places were on my wish list but God’s call was clear and I followed. The result has been years of fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

I learned to immerse my in the culture of the cities where I lived. I enjoyed the food, the festivals and the particular seasons. God gave me a heart for the people and for the place itself.

Not everyone can love the city. Some will find ways to escape to the suburbs and never come back. Others will commute because the city still provides employment but will keep their families tucked away in the suburbs.

I thank God for those who minister in the cities of the world, especially those who work among the poor and disenfranchised. They bring hope, fight for justice, and shine the light of the Jesus’ love in the dark places of the world.

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:7

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unleashing the Power of God Through Prayer

Sunday's message: Unleashing the Power of God Through Prayer (Genesis 18:17-33)

Prayer can unleash God’s power and mercy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Prayer is simple and yet, powerful

Prayer is as simple as a conversation with a loved one. Jesus taught his followers to pray to God in simple terms. He addressed God as Abba, (Mark 14:36) the Aramaic term of endearment for Father. He taught that we should avoid outward displays of false spirituality or repeated words that have no meaning. (Matthew 6:5-7)

My own prayer life is marked by an ongoing conversation with God. These days I listen more than talk. Listening with my whole being for subtle nuances that are answers to prayers. Sometimes God is so clear in His answer that I am compelled to act. At other times I find I must wait a bit longer.

Prayer is powerful. The Bible teaches us that when God was ready to destroy Israel for making and worshipping a golden calf (Ex 32:9-14), Moses intervention moved God to change His mind. Hezekiah’s prayer (2 KI 20: 1-6) led God to spare his life

This power is available to us today. Stories of answered prayer abound. I look back on my life as a string of answered prayers; prayers for healing, for provision, for intervention and more. Urban church development requires constant, specific and diligent prayer.

“You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:2-3 NIV

In the above passage the Bible lists two reasons why people do not receive everything God would give them: First, you don’t ask and second, you ask with the wrong motives.

Scripture offers two prescriptions that help to align priorities:
  1. Persistence - Luke 11:5-9
  2. Agreement - Matthew 18:19
This Sunday I will be preaching on spiritual growth through prayer and will podcast the message on this blog.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The biblical basis for serving the needy

The immediate goal of a church benevolence ministry is to relieve human suffering. A secondary goal is to build relationships with hurting people. The ultimate goal ought to be bringing about genuine life change in individuals through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our intent is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, not simply to provide services.

The Old Testament is filled with references about God’s desire that we help the under resourced such as the poor, the alien, widows and orphans. "For the poor will never cease from among the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'" (Deuteronomy 15:11)

That teaching continues into the New Testament where we get a clearer picture of caring for our own. The New Testament church provided a mutual support network. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:45)

Many early Christians had lost family, friends and jobs because of their faith. The church became their new family offering spiritual, emotional and financial support. They shared resources with one another, helping those in need with particular care for widows and orphans.

There are some similarities in today’s ministry context and the first century church. Although people in America don’t lose home, family and jobs because of their faith, church members do face financial hardships due to job loss and unexpected bills.

A church that enjoys true biblical community will bear each others burdens (Galatians 6:2). At the small group or Sunday school level, group members can take up a collection to pay an unexpected bill and help with childcare and meals during a crisis. One Sunday school department held a large yard sale to benefit a class member who, after being laid off, was in danger of losing his home.

Care can be shown for those outside the church as well. One church planter organized fundraisers for a woman in the community whose house had burned down. He, also, arranged for local builders to rebuild the house. The woman was an unbeliever but the love shown by Christians led her to faith in Christ. She was baptized and her home is a meeting place for a small group Bible study.

This type of love impacts the beneficiary, the helpers and the unchurched who are watching.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another." 
 John 13:34-35

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Lord's Supper: A Symbol of Salvation

Sunday's message: The Lord's Supper: A Symbol of Salvation (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

The Lord’s Supper reveals the Gospel and offers the opportunity to teach, affirm, accept, recommit and reconcile.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Communion is more than the bread and the cup

The celebration of communion became a deep worship experience for me when I was deployed to Kuwait a few years ago. I could not go to church every Sunday and appreciated every worship opportunity that was provided.

I went to the “contemporary” service first but discovered that, when stripped of its entertainment value a good band and a dynamic preacher, this style of worship left me empty. I went to the liturgical service where the scriptures, litanies and hymns reminded me of the transcendence of God. For a brief period the war was forgotten and I had respite from the burdensome worries that beleaguered me.

The highlight for me was the celebration of communion. Scholars have argued for centuries over the theology of the Lord’s Supper but all agree that it is important. Most of us understand that there is something more than just the bread and wine present during this ritual instituted by our Lord.

This Sunday I will be preaching on some of the biblical teachings of this ceremony and will podcast the message on this blog.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Internships that build the Kingdom

When I was in seminary, I was told that nearly 50% of seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years of graduation. There are many reasons for this but a lack of a need for trained ministers is not one of them.

Many drop out because they can’t find a paying job or an adequate salary. Others burn out from the stress of ministry or family pressure. Most, I believe, drop out due to inadequate preparation. Seminaries and Bible Colleges do an excellent job of academic preparation but it is not enough. Head knowledge is no substitute for practical experience.

Compounding the problem is the reality that churches today have higher expectations of their pastors in regards to business, technical and leadership skills than in the past. Yet, these are not part of the standard seminary curriculum.

What is needed is a partnership between the academic institutions and the local church that gives students real ministry responsibilities under the mentorship and coaching of a pastor. Ideally the ministry student will learn how to work with church leaders to get things done (the most important task not taught in seminary), how to handle conflict, and recovering from mistakes. Even such seemingly mundane tasks as follow up phone calls and other administrative duties show a side of ministry not available in the classroom

The church gets some benefits in having a student increase the ministry’s impact. More important, however, is supporting the Great Commission by producing highly trained workers for the harvest field.

Baptist Temple has one such intern in April Puckett and is working with the Baptist University of the Americas to recruit others. BUA Professor Mario Ramos and VP of Student Development Marconi Monteiro both strongly believe in the power of mentoring to develop tomorrow’s church leaders. They are eager to work with local churches and other groups to better train their students and impact the community for Christ.

The secular world also sees the value in work experience as part of the learning process. In his book, Recession Proof Graduate, Charlie Hoehn recommends recent college graduates work for free at a major company. Doing so, he says, gives you solid experience to put on your resume and starts building the network you will need to find a paying job.

When counting the cost Hoehn suggests that a person might spend $100,000 on an MBA and still not have the type of experience needed to land the job they want. Free work, he argues, is cheaper and has a greater impact on your job prospects.

There are plenty of churches out there for ministry students to find a place of service, but that service must be meaningful if the internship is to be successful. Interns need to have some sort of recognition of their office and their tasks must have a direct impact on the church’s ministry.

It is the ministry students who start well by finding places of service where they can gain experience that will finish well. They will, also, have the greatest overall impact on the Kingdom.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nic at Night

Sunday's message:Nic at Night.mp3 (John 3:1-8)

Salvation requires a radical change that can only be brought about supernaturally by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crossing cultural divides

I had an opportunity to talk to some seminary students about cross cultural ministry today. They are working in a church where the members are primarily middle class Anglos but the transitioning community is primarily poor Hispanics. They are tasked with the community outreach ministry. They have had much success with ESL and youth sports programs but cannot get the community folk into Sunday school and worship.

Their frustration highlights the complicated nature of multicultural (and transitional) churches. Although the Anglo church has taken steps to reach out to the community there are still some challenges to overcome.

There are language barriers, cultural differences, socioeconomic disparity and more. While church members may be willing to make adjustments, the unchurched have no compelling reason to come to worship. So, the big challenge is the fact that the unchurched are…well…unchurched.

Just because a person comes for English classes and brings their kids for soccer doesn’t mean that they are agreeing to Sunday worship. It does, however, offer an opportunity to build a friendship. Multiple contacts over time and the working of the Holy Spirit are the keys to soul-winning.

If the prospects won’t come to church, they might attend a home-based Bible discussion group. They primary objective ought to be community building with light Bible discussion. As the group develops cohesiveness, more serious Bible study can be introduced.

There’s no guarantee that they will come to the Sunday morning main event but it does provide an opportunity for witness and discipleship.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I came back to Sunday school

I strayed from Sunday school for many years. I was told that the Sunday school era was over. It confined people to a certain hour on a certain day; growth would be limited by the size of building, etc.

Small groups were the thing. The unlimited space and scheduling options promised the potential for megachurch results. There were rumors of super churches in Korea and other far away places. Furthermore, this model was used successfully by AA, Campus Crusade and other parachurch groups.

As a church planter (usually lacking buildings) this was good news. I read all the books I could find, I went to a few training events and I diligently started small groups that multiplied. I even used home-based small groups when I had church buildings.

I had as much success as anyone in my corner of the world but I was growing weary of stagnant groups, absenteeism (work, school, sick, etc.), and childcare issues. I noticed that our local megachurch was doing things a little different. Their groups met on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the church. This not only provided a consistent and familiar location but also childcare. AND they were showing remarkable growth.

I took this to be a revelation and moved our small groups to Sunday morning. People were already there for worship and there was childcare available. The results were immediate: reduced stress, increased attendance and new members.

I believe that small groups are essential to a healthy, growing church and can be done just as easily (perhaps, easier) on Sunday morning as they are on any other day and time. On Sunday you have the advantage of mutual supporting activities. This doesn’t rule out other small groups but Sunday school is far from dead.

Read more about Basic Christian Community.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do You Want To Get Well?

Offering help is complicated. Jesus once encountered a paralytic by the pool at Bethesda (John 5:1-15). He had been in this condition for 38 years but no one would take him into the healing waters. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Is this an insensitive question to ask this poor man? It may have addressed some other questions people had but would not voice.
“Why doesn’t he crawl?”
“Why didn’t his friends help him?”
“Where is his family?”

Jesus’ question cut to the very center of the man’s heart and exposed the motives that lay deep within. He had relied upon others to make his way in life. He would no longer have an excuse for the condition of his life. Healing would mean he would need to work and assume responsibilities.

Questions bring clarity and help us to understand the real need. Jesus asked many questions.
“Who do you say that I am?”
“Why do you call me good?”
"Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
“Do you want to get well?”

Jesus often involved the person in the process of healing. He told a blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam (JN 9:7) and ten lepers to go the priest (LK 17:11-19). It seems to me that an individual seeking help needs to work harder than those who are offering help. Otherwise, wouldn’t our “help” actually be enabling. Jesus the told this man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Another wrinkle is added when Jesus tells the man, “See, you are well. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Jesus is reminding us that crisis situations tend to have a spiritual dimension. To another paralytic Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” before healing him (MT 9:6).

A person seeking help has opened up a door for ministry. The church, both gathered and scattered, is a source of blessing to everyone who is in need. We must be good stewards not just of the resources provided to us by God through His people but, also, of the opportunity to have a life-changing impact on a person’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Offering help is complicated but asking questions, empowering the person to help themselves, and being mindful of the person’s spiritual condition can lead to a blessed outcome.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Acts 2:44-45

The second chapter of Acts is the model that everyone wants to emulate when it comes to being the church. The idea of helping each other in time of need is one of the core values of Christianity that goes back to the Old Testament.

For the poor will never cease from among the land; therefore I command you, saying, “you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11

The harmony of Acts 2 is disturbed by the discord of Acts 6. It seems that there was a perception that the food distribution ministry was being mishandled (v.1). There were also some apparent abuses because Paul had to declare, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b).

The early church selected some church members to manage the benevolence ministry so that the people’s needs could be met with the level of care that they deserved. Thus the deacon ministry was launched.

Two important principles emerge:
1. We need to support church members in a time of need.
2. The ministry needs to be organized so that people’s needs are met in a timely and appropriate manner.

Many churches have benevolence policies that address the disbursement of funds but the real need is spiritual. The easy thing to do is have a policy with a set spending limit and tell the person not to come back for six months or a year. Now, the church can’t be accused of not caring but has this person been helped?

People who fall into financial distress and turn to the church may be lacking a social support network. Acts 2 is all about that social support network. The early Christians were a tight knit community. You probably didn’t need to ask for help because everyone knew your situation.

True help does not come from the church or a well-written policy. True help comes from people. True help will come as a caring person (deacon, Sunday school teacher, etc) who will sit down, listen and ask questions to get to the root of the problem. What are all the needs? What are the available resources? Is this going to happen again? How can we help you help yourself?

Money is rarely the solution. Caring church members who will make some phone calls, do some internet research, and think through the situation can turn a person’s life around. Sunday school classes that offer support and follow up are worth much more than paying a bill.

Every situation is different and needs a personal touch. The issue can be complicated but we need remember that the type of help a church offers must be different than a secular social service agency. Our primary offering is Jesus.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The myth of Hispanic family values

Everyone knows that Hispanics place a high value on family. However, no one goes on to explain what that means. Some Hispanic immigrants value “family” so much that they have two; one in the States and one back home. Perhaps family values explain why nearly 50% of all children born to Hispanic mothers in the U.S. are born out of wedlock.

The myth is so strong that facts will not shake it. I was sitting with a group of Anglo and African American ministers in a class about the role of ethnicity in ministry. When I challenged the statement that Hispanics place family above everything, they looked at me like I had challenged the Virgin Birth. They refused to believe me. What could a Cuban-born pastor of a Hispanic church in New Orleans know about Hispanic families?

It is extremely troubling that ministers (especially Hispanic ones) have bought into this. They myth leads churches to ignore the fact that a great number of Hispanic families are dysfunctional. I was a pastor in a predominately Hispanic area (77%) north of Chicago. There were ministries for crisis pregnancy, teen mom support groups, court mandated parenting classes and gang prevention whose clients were almost all Hispanic. They were all run by Anglo churches.

It wasn’t because the Hispanic churches were not capable. There were 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants in the community; there were doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians and wealthy businessmen. Perhaps perpetuating the myth that Hispanics value family more than Anglos do requires that we Hispanics shun the divorced, hide the teen moms and never speak about child abuse or domestic violence.

The Spanish-language ministry of Baptist Temple is reaching out to single moms and blended families. We don’t expect a lot of competition from other churches. This is unfortunate because dysfunctional Hispanic families need support and the peace that only Jesus can provide.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

We are more than conquerors

When some people see a light at the end of the tunnel, they assume it’s an oncoming train. Their autopilot function is instant negativity. This beyond a glass is half full or half empty. This is a fatalistic world view that impedes progress in both individuals and groups.

People living in chronic poverty (both economic and spiritual) are trapped not only by external circumstances but also by their own disbelief that life can be any better. There is a reason why the message of Jesus Christ is called “Good News” (gospel means good news).

Paul about the Christian’s attitude:
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Christian leaders need to bring a message of hope to a people who are depressed and defeated; a message that echoes the Word of God: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 & Matthew 4:16)

Both hope and despair are contagious. Leaders can influence which attitude will control the future. Lead from the front by encouraging people who are excited about their faith and are making things happen. Avoid spending too much time trying to please negative people. You can wind up losing focus on the mission.

I’m not saying that complaints ought to be ignored. Leaders need to listen carefully and act appropriately but it is the people with positive attitudes who have the vision and capacity to make whatever adjustments might be needed. The chronically negative, on the other hand, will never be satisfied.

Chronic negativity is a spiritual problem. It demonstrates a lack of faith that God is winning. It doubts that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Only the Holy Spirit can defeat the spirit of pessimism that impoverishes the souls of people who give in to despair.

Leaders that God uses have a Holy Spirit driven vision of a future where God is in control and expanding the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. They believe in the power of prayer. They see setbacks and obstacles not as defeat but as challenges to overcome and problems to solve. They believe, “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

Friday, July 31, 2009

Focusing on Urban Ministry

I’m changing the emphasis of my blog to focus on what has been at the heart of my ministry over the years. I came to faith in Christ in an inner-city church on the edge of the Overtown neighborhood in Miami. It was a church in a transitioning community whose membership was dwindling.

The church was not going to make it on its own so the members partnered with others to expand its ministry. A Haitian mission was started, summer groups led VBS, and a weekday ESL program was led by members of a more affluent church. The church experienced revival. The VBS led to a children’s Sunday school, the church became a first pastorate for ministry students and, in time, the Haitian mission became strong and took over the building.

The call of the city was strong. While serving a rural church for a few years, I would return with mission teams in the summer to help in the renewal process of my home church in Miami.

Then I went to New Orleans for seminary and planted two churches in the inner city. I was energized by my colleagues who worked in so many different aspects of the complex urban ministry milieu. I also met Ray Bakke, who opened my eyes to the importance of reaching the cities first. My church, just outside the French Quarter, became a learning lab for my fellow seminary students and I to practice what we learned in the classroom.

Upon graduation I did a tour as a Navy chaplain but the city never left my blood. I settled in the Chicago area for 17 years where I planted two churches and helped sponsor others of many different styles and language groups.

I now find myself in San Antonio, enjoying a new city and the challenge of helping a 100 year old church catch a second wind and reach out to this community and people that Jesus loves so much.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

There's Always Enough Money

I don’t know who said it first but it’s worth repeating: “There’s always enough money to do God’s work.” I believe (strongly) that the offerings of God’s people ought to be the primary source of support for ministry. However, that does not shut the door to other ways of raising money. Churches have developed some very creative ways of supplementing their income to fund ministries.

1. The one most often used is the fundraiser. The church sells something (food, candy, calendars, cookbooks, etc.) It is usually an item people would not ordinarily buy.

2. Cost recovery for special events is also common. This includes selling tickets to a concert or training event (or love offering), fees for daycare, payment for meals, etc. This means that only the people using the service pay for it.

3. Some share space (rent, lease, split costs) with another organization. This could be another church, a school, or a non-profit group. The idea is to use the building at times when it sits empty. This is particularly commendable when the other organization is doing work that the church finds valuable and it introduces a source of income outside the church membership.

4. Running a business such as a daycare, bookstore, thrift shop or cafeteria is done by churches who want to use the proceeds to fund caring ministries such as a food pantry. This offers a service people are looking for, is a source of income outside the church membership, and can provide jobs in the community.

5. Some churches actually operate businesses such as moving companies and janitorial services that provide jobs for people who transitioning from addictions and/or homelessness. These businesses fund the treatment and housing of the people being served while training them in job skills.

6. Another source of income is grant money from government, religious and non-religious organizations. These grants can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars to do tasks for which the church is called.

I am sure that there are other means of raising funds for ministry along with variations on those mentioned above. I do not want to get into a theology of fundraising. That’s for another time. I’m just saying that it’s rarely money that limits ministry; it is lack of leadership and vision

Friday, July 24, 2009

Are denominations a thing of the past?

There are some today who say we are in a post-denominational age. This is partly because contemporary church goers will easily and frequently cross denominational lines and, also because churches are shopping for services rather than automatically opting for denominational resources.

To me, this is more an era of open competition rather than a post denomination age. Competition does, however, result in some institutions closing. In an age when denominations must compete with parachurch ministries, megachurches and businesses that provide services to churches, denominations must implement the best business practices and treat churches like customers or fade away.

First, they must respond quickly to queries from churches. A church may have called several providers for a particular need.

Second, they must provide services and materials that meet the needs of the church. Too much time has been spent in the past developing programs at the denominational headquarters and then trying to sell them to the churches.

Third, they must cultivate relationships with churches in order to understand the changing needs of real-world ministry. This is probably the most important practice that can lead to a true partnership in ministry.

Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when a denominational worker could act like a stereotypical bureaucrat, put in minimal effort and expect to be employed. The bar has been raised.

The good news for denominations is that they have some advantages. They already have relationships with congregations and often get first dibs on filling a need. The bad news is that other providers are quickly closing the gap.

It’s not too late. I am happy to say that I have received good service from denominational workers and appreciate the opportunity to partner.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cast your nets on the other side

Peter and some other disciples were fishing one day but were having no luck. Jesus comes to them and says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (John 21:6a).”

I don’t know what Peter thought but I would suppose I would be thinking things like:
“I’ve been fishing here for years. I know what to do.
“I’ve already tried that side. It didn’t work.”
“I’ve always thrown my net on the left side of the boat.”

The disciples may have been skeptical but they were obedient and cast the net as Jesus said. The result was phenomenal: “they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (John 21:6b).”

Ministry is like that. When we are obedient to Jesus’ teachings the results are greater than we can imagine. Sometimes that means doing something different and sometimes it means doing it again. There was a church in an association up north that had a very large building in a downtown area. The neighborhood was growing but the church was declining. They concluded that the people in this urban area could not be reached so they moved to the edge of town where there was new growth.

They sold the building to another church. That church exploded with growth. They partnered with other groups to develop ministries that impacted the neighborhood. They preached the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. They worshiped as if they were glad to be alive in Christ and hope filled that building for the first time in many years.

People from the community joined the church because they got to know the people. People from the surrounding suburbs joined the church because they wanted to be a part of God’s work in transforming lives. People from other churches volunteered in the various ministries and contributed money to the work. They outgrew the large building and went to multiple services while purchasing other properties adjacent to the church. Their catch was bigger than their net!

The church that originally occupied the building struggled to connect with the community where they had relocated. They were still casting the net where they wanted. We need to drop the net on the side of the boat that Jesus tells us to.


When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
- Luke 5:4-11 (NIV)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Preaching to itchy ears

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)

A man was once complaining to me about preachers he called “ear-ticklers.” He specified a couple of popular radio preachers whom he believed were afraid to offend their listeners. He was oblivious to the irony of the fact that they offended him.

There were certain sins that were particularly offensive to him and he liked to hear preachers let those people have it. He did not consider that he was having his own ears tickled.

He was like the Sunday school teacher who, after teaching a lesson about the Pharisee and the tax collector, prayed, “Lord, we thank you that we are not like the Pharisee.”

As sermon listeners we can become blinded to our own self righteous. If we are not challenged by the preacher, maybe our ears are being tickled. Or, maybe, we’re not listening.

There was a preacher who targeted all his sermons at one very self-righteous man. Each Sunday the man would shake the preachers hand and say, “You sure let them have it today.”

The preacher was at a loss as to how to get through to the man. He had done everything but call him by name. One Sunday, a terrible storm kept everyone away, except this man who had never missed church a day in his life. The preacher had him!

He rebuked and admonished working up a sweat as the thunder punctuated his sentences and the gloom added to the drama. The man sat there in rapt attention nodding in agreement. At the end he shook the preachers hand and said, “Best sermon ever. I wished they would have been here to hear it.”

Pray for your preacher to bring the Word of God and sound doctrine. Listen, God may be speaking to you. Act when the Spirit stirs you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who do you hate?

I read a blog written by a seminary student that lamented the ill treatment she received at the hands of her old denomination and contrasted it with the love and support of her new denominational family. The blog was mostly positive except for an unnecessary jab at a political group that was holding a rally nearby. The attack was unkind and personal and really soured my mood.

How can people, who claim to be loving and accepting, say hateful things about individuals and groups? I suppose that, for some, diversity is a good thing in moderation. It is especially troubling for me to hear these personal attacks coming from people who claim to be Christians. The Bible has something to say about this.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:9-12

I’m not talking about fits of anger or response to hurts feelings. These are areas where all of us need to cultivate discipline. I am quick to forgive such utterances when a person is overwhelmed by emotion.

I am most distressed by cold-blooded attacks against public figures and leaders that are delivered without a second thought. These happen in the presence of other like-minded Christians who tend to nod or smile in agreement.

Jesus said, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44 NIV).”

I wonder if that included Republicans and Democrats. Is it possible that some Christians don’t believe it includes Presidents of the USA? What about gays and people who oppose same sex marriage?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sucker punches disguised as questions

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes

Proverbs 26:4-5

I have been told that there are no stupid questions but I have learned that there are trick questions. Jesus was asked trick questions by people who wanted to trap him into making a controversial statement about such things as taxes (Matthew 22:15-22). Some questions were silly arguments about wives in heaven (Matthew 22:25) or what kind of divorce is permitted (Matthew 19:1-10).

Jesus refused to be pulled into a trap. He declined to answer the questions directly and instead elevated the conversation to matters of greater importance or exposed the petitioner’s hidden motives.

Wise Christ-followers need to use discernment when answering unexpected questions. A sincere question seeks knowledge. If your answer leads to an argument, you stepped into a trap. Such questions are unkind and rude to say the least. Their purpose is to make the other person look silly, stupid or wrong.

I have learned to step away from such traps and let the trickster have the last word. It is of no value to me nor will it advance the Kingdom to enter into foolish controversies (Titus 3:9).

So, do you answer a fool or not?

Like Jesus, we can ask questions of our own to clarify or steer the conversation to higher ground. There are no stupid questions from a sincere speaker but the argumentative, self-satisfied fool with all the answers ought not to be answered “or you will be like him yourself.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Small beginnings

Do not despise these small beginnings,
for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…
Zechariah 4:10 (New Living Translation)

A few months ago, I casually mentioned to a deacon that we ought to open the church gym on Sunday afternoons for volleyball. I believed it would help build community among our younger members. His eyes lit up. “Let’s start right away.”

“Sure,” I said, meaning that we would set a date and do some promotion. He meant that Sunday. He purchased a volleyball got the keys to the gym and invited some people.

Our first day wasn’t that great; four people showed up (two were staff), we couldn’t find the net and there was strange odor in the gym (turned out to be gas). We pretended that there was a net and had a good time.

The following Sunday we had a net and two more people. A couple of months later, the gym is full. There are youth, children, young adults, and adults that were once young. People are rotating in and out and some are just content to watch and cheer (and laugh).

Today we launched a free lunch program to feed the children of our community and only nine kids lined up. The program is in response to the fact that Texas leads the nation in child hunger. The Baptist Standard recently reported that 22% of Texans under 18 are food insecure. This means that when food is prepared, it is usually of poor quality or an unbalanced diet leading to malnutrition and health problems.

Nine children seem hardly worth the effort but there are nine less hungry children. It also illustrates the reality only 7% of eligible children who were eligible received free summer lunches last year.

Nine is three more than we had for volleyball and tomorrow there will be more. Soon we will reach our goal of thirty and might surpass it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Faithful servants and unsung heroes

I met some extraordinary young ministers when I was planting a Spanish-language church in New Orleans’ inner city. One young seminary couple came to a service and said they wanted to join the church even though they did not speak Spanish. They were called to foreign missions and wanted to discover if they could minister cross-culturally. They could. They sang, taught the children and did many behind the scenes tasks that led to our rapid growth and to getting a church building donated to us.

They were looking for a ministry and it eventually led to a job. He became pastor of an English-language group we started and went on to minister overseas.

Another young seminary student had a job. He was minister of music and youth in a town a short distance from NO. He wanted to do something more significant with his life so he resigned, found a secular job, and came to be our music minister. He and his fiancé provided a level of music not usually found in inner-city churches. His talents and leadership attracted other high caliber musicians. The exposure and experience he gained led to a call to be pastor of a multicultural church. He, too, went to minister overseas.

There was a female student who was finding it difficult to find a place to minister. She was called to be an Army Chaplain and needed staff experience in a Baptist church in order to fulfill a denominational requirement for endorsement. She persisted in the face of rejection until she found our church. She raised her own funding and worked full-time as children’s minister for two years. She gained valuable experience and deeply impacted our impoverished community.

During the summer she ran a day camp using youth groups from other churches. She borrowed church buses (and drivers) and took the kids to the zoo and other nice places. During the school year she led a weekly youth rally that featured local Christian bands and evangelistic youth speakers.

These students and others who came created a learning lab that was changing the lives of inner city families. They were putting their calling to work in a difficult environment of different races, deep poverty and bleak surroundings. There were disappointments and victories but, I believe God used these experiences to prepare us for future ministry.

Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things,
I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.
Matthew 25:21 (New King James Version)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dads Are Important

Numerous studies reported by the National Fatherhood Initiative show that the absence of a father puts children at risk. More than 24 million children (34%) live absent their biological father. This not only a problem for the families affected but, also, for American society as these children are in crisis and single parent families are in need of assistance.

Here are a few facts about children from fatherless homes:
--5 times more likely to commit suicide
--32 times more likely to run away
--20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
--14 times more likely to drop out of high school
--10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
--75% of all teens in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes
--9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution
--20 times more likely to end up in prison.
--85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.
--Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor.
-- 75% of children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old.
--Only 20% of children in two-parent families will be the same.
--A study on nearly 6,000 children found that children from single parent homes had more physical and mental health problems than children who lived with two married parents.
--85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
--63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
--Girls who grow up in home without fathers are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

This is an opportunity for the church to have an impact on society. God calls upon us to take up the slack.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress…
James 1:27

Defend the poor and fatherless... Ps 82:3

Churches can address these problems through after school and summer programs, mentoring and teen mom groups. The root causes can be addressed through parenting support groups, marriage enrichment and divorce counseling.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead,
bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord
. -- Ephesians 6:4

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Does a church have to be big?

The median size of an American church size is 75. Nearly 60% of all American churches are less than 100. On the other end of the scale, only six percent of churches have over 500 in average attendance.

My own experience has been that you can have a healthy, effective church of between 50 and 100 people. Small churches can have an impact on its community. The church I was baptized in was smaller than 50. It had a big influence on my life and our neighborhood.

The church had a sizable building but had gone through a rapid decline when the interstate was built right across the street. The neighborhood transitioned from white, middle-class to impoverished and racially diverse. There was no sense of community as crime rose. Although the membership of Highland Park Baptist Church soon reflected the Neighborhood’s new demographics, it remained small.

No longer able to sustain traditional programs nor pay a full-time pastor, Highland Park partnered with suburban churches who wanted to work with the poor. One church helped with VBS each summer and another started an ESL/GED program.

Highland Park also hosted a Haitian mission that eventually took over the building but, in its final years, the struggling church saw three men surrender to ministry, started a new church, became the first pulpit for two ministry students and continued to be salt and light in its corner of Miami.

There are many churches out there like this. They are strategically located in areas of great need. They have no debt but few resources with which to minister to the community. These churches often pool resources to create a more effective ministry. They do youth ministry, backyard Bible clubs and other events together; some even share a pastor.

Other churches partner with better-resourced churches from more affluent areas that want to serve in needy areas. The less-resourced church offers a building and contacts in the community while the more affluent church brings material and human resources.

Partnerships among churches build up the workers and the Kingdom. It also demonstrates Christian community at its best. A church does not have to be big to be effective. By pooling resources a group of smaller churches can do the things the larger churches can do.