Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What kind of Christian are you?

This morning's message from Dr. John Perkins at the Christian Community Development Conference emphasized the need to be known as Christians by our love. Too many American Christians are known by denominations, political agenda, race or nationality.

Why do Christians feel the need to be identified by other standards? Especially when these standards are limiting. It is a matter of saying I'm a Christian but...

Too few Christians are known by our love. How can that be when Christ said that we would be known by this factor (John 13:35)?

Our love must be demonstrated, otherwise it is hardly love at all. Acts of love, both within and outside our churches, will draw people to Christ.

How are you known? What type of Christian are you?


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

Monday, September 06, 2010

The continuing education of a pastor

Although many pastors don't have one, the Master of Divinity (MDiv) is considered the standard education for a pastor. The specifics of this 3-year degree vary from school to school but includes Bible, church history, theology and preaching. There are many variables in applied theology (pastoral work, missions, counseling, denominational issues, etc.) classes.

It is accepted that an MDiv will not give you everything you need to be a pastor. Too much is needed.

Continuing education is essential for pastors who want to improve their ability to serve in a complex profession. Motivational leadership speeches and reading books are not enough. Pastors need certificate granting courses that will expand their knowledge and fill in the gaps in their formal education.

I have recently enrolled in a UIC online course on grant writing. It is designed to help my church attract funding for community ministries. Having majored in Psychology in college and Pastoral work in seminary, I feel I need to improve my business skills to effectively lead my church.

In the past I have taken graduate courses in human resources and management and pursued certificate programs in public relations and emotional intelligence.

I encourage all pastors to continue to grow in their core competencies first but stretch a little bit with computer, language, business or other practical areas.

“Wise men store up knowledge...” Proverbs 10:14

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Methodist study finds four commonalities among vital churches

Today's paper presented an article detailing a survey sponsored by United Methodists. The survey sought to determine what makes some churches grow in a denomination that is experiencing overall decline. The hope is that lessons learned from growing churches can be applied to declining churches.

Four factors were discovered that are believed to be responsible for keeping churches vital:
1. Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.
2. An active lay leadership
3. Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.
4. A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services

These findings are in line with many other surveys on church health. Nothing new here. However, a correlation does necessarily mean a causal relationship. In other words these factors may not be what created the vitality. It is possible that they are the product of vitality not the cause.

It is a little naïve to think that by applying these four factors a declining church can quickly turn around. There are some truths to be explored in these four factors.

First, small groups are vital to the church's ability to expand it's community. I am sure that there are few churches that don't have activities that are appropriate to their demographic. You cannot have youth activities without youth. A vital church will grow the demographic they have, the rest will follow.

Second, an active lay leadership is a two edged sword. Dying churches tend to have the highest percentage of it's members involved in leadership. The key is to get newcomers involved. This is very hard to do when the established group is reluctant to let outsiders into the inner circle. Starting new things will help get newcomers involved.

Third, it is expected that pastors who are viewed as successful last longer than those whose churches are declining. Pastors of declining churches are either fired, move on to greener pastures or quit out of discouragement. There is some truth here in regards to the importance of leadership.

Fourth, multiple worship services is something that growing churches do. Most declining churches will need outside help to pull it off.

Churches that wish to spark a renewal will succeed by improving their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. For example a church that is made up of seniors can focus on ministry to seniors. Churches with large buildings can share space with other groups.

Instead of looking at the largest churches as successful models, visit nearby healthy churches and see how they do it. Travel to communities similar to yours and look for models that can be adapted to your local situation.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seniors are flocking to Facebook

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News noted that people over 50 are responsible for the growing popularity of Facebook and other social network media. A Pew Research study found that 47% of Americans aged 50- 64 and 13% over 65 are using social networks.

This ought to be good news for churches. Facebook has many benefits for churches as a tool to create community and attract new people to your church.
      1. It is free.
      2. It can be updated anywhere from any computer.
      3. Multiple administrators can do the updating.
      4. It can be linked to your website and blog.
      5. You can easily post video and photos.

The Baptist Temple Facebook page has connected our friends and members from around the world including those in military service, missionaries, college students. People are reminded of upcoming events. Photos of those events can be posted even as they happen. Links to updates to our prayer list and blog and the latest newsletter are posted, as well.

The most important feature is that people can interact with the site. They can post comments, comment on others' comments, or simply indicate that they “like” the posting. This characteristic makes Facebook superior to static web pages where communication is one way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Meeting physical and spiritual needs

A pastor recently told me that the role of the church is to provide spiritual nurture exclusively. He did not believe that the church ought to have day cares or food pantries nor allow such groups to share space. Some believe that ministry to the physical needs of a person interferes with ministry to spiritual needs.

On the other hand, Jesus found a way to do both. He fed the multitudes and called Himself the Bread of Life. He healed the sick and cast out demons. The Old Testament is filled with commands related to that care of the less fortunate.

The Bible says about Jesus, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20

It is possible to tend to physical needs and ignore the spiritual but the Bible commands us to do both.

“If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16

There are many churches in urban centers that are weak and dying. Some have soup kitchens and clothing distribution but fail to produce changed lives because they don't address the need for supernatural change. Others will focus on the supernatural but fail to reach a skeptical audience by ignoring the poverty, addiction and crime around them. The result in both cases is darkness and despair.

The light of the gospel will result in prisoners set free from their addictions, families reconciled, cycles of poverty broken by the power of Christ's work on the cross. That requires real help from the church and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...Romans 1:16

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You've got the time

As Baptists, we claim to be people of "the Book” but too many Christians have never read through the New Testament. Few Christians spend enough time with the Bible to let it meaningfully impact our lives. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is providing audio New Testaments to its churches so that, together, we will be more deeply formed in Christ likeness and more committed to our mission of redemption in the world.

Baptist Temple will be distributing these audio Bibles on September 5th. We are asking our members and friends to commit 28 minutes each day to listening to the Bible over the next 40 days. The Bible says, "the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword..." (Hebrews 4:12)

Listening to the Bible together will have a deep impact on each of us as individuals and together as a church. God tells us (Isaiah 55:11) that His Word will not return empty but will accomplish His will.

The format of the audio Bible is MP3. This is the most common digital audio file and will play in your computer, your cars CD player (if it is marked MP3) or your DvD player.

The audio Bible is a dramatized English Standard version of the New Testament. It is also available in Spanish in the dramatized NIV. Children will receive the Kidz Audio Bible filled with songs and exciting dramatized stories.

You can download the free audio Bible here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Myopia and inertia: deadly maladies that destroy churches

In his book, The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers, Keith McFarland, identifies myopia and inertia as two diseases that lead to stagnation, decline and death in an organization. Churches are not immune to these diseases.

Myopia causes a church to look only to itself and fail to see both the needs and the resources around them. A myopic church is more concerned with the present than the future. This disease will lead a church to separate itself from the Kingdom of God.

Inertia paralyzes a church even when they know what to do. Even when denominational consultants point the way out of decline the church suffering from inertia refuses to act. They won’t apply for available grants nor take advantage of mission teams or interns. Every idea seems impossible.

When these two maladies combine, the church will change in negative ways.

Churches that are can see opportunities, locate resources and act quickly will create positive change. They will make things happen instead of sitting around wondering why things happen to them.

Opportunities abound for urban churches to partner with other churches and parachurch groups to expand their ministry. Grants are also available from a variety sources to fund projects of all sizes.

A church that wants to impact its community with the gospel needs to open its eyes and act.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reaching for the future

Declining churches need to rediscover the hope that the founders had when they first established the church. When a group of people gather to form a church they are willing to take risks to make it happen. They take out loans, give sacrificially and make big plans for the future. In some cases members take small personal loans to cover initial expenses.

In the early years of the church everything will be new, many things will be innovative and a spirit of hope in the future drives growth. New churches account for more baptisms per member than established churches.

At some point the new church becomes an established church and goes into preservation mode. Fear of losing what one has replaces hope in what God will bring. The new way of thinking leads to a plateau in growth and, eventually a decline.

Fewer members means fewer dollars. The church begins to start saving money just in case. Eventually the church will disband and turn over its assets to the local association (if it is Baptist). The assets will include a surprising amount of money in the bank and a valuable piece of real estate.

People like me will wonder why it never occurred to them to use the money in the bank to fund an innovative ministry or hire some staff. Why didn’t they sell the building and start over?

Churches go through a bell curve of growth, a long plateau, and inevitable decline. The decline begins when the church starts trying to conserve its gains. Leaders are now more concerned about keeping the people inside happy than reaching the people outside.

One church in Chicago continues to grow by thinking ahead. After 10 years of meeting in rented spaces, they built their first building. Some thought it too big but they soon filled it. Most churches would stop here but this church decided to fund three satellite campuses within a few years. Critics believed that they over-reached but, again, they continued to grow. Two more satellite campuses were established before the 10th anniversary of their building’s completion.

Declining churches can turn things around when they recapture the desire to stretch beyond their own capacity and trust God for the results. Declining churches can turn things around when they realize that the worst thing that can happen is they close their doors a few years earlier than expected. On the other hand, God’s blessings could result in a revival.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It’s Time for Hope

During the darkest days of exile and defeat, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11).

It is hard to find hope today. People have lost faith in the government, in the church and maybe, even, in God. Global warming, terrorism, and financial crises dominate the news. Church leaders seem to spend more time attacking each other than being a blessing. Not all the troubles are national. We suffer physical pain, emotional turmoil and spiritual struggles.

Despite all this and BECAUSE of it, IT IS TIME FOR HOPE.

Biblical and historical revivals have come during times of turmoil and despair. The Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening came to America during times of moral decay and political turmoil. They left hundreds of new churches in their wake. More localized revivals have occurred that have resulted in establishing institutions and movements that have spread the gospel in new areas and in new ways.

Revivals eventually begin to wane but they leave a new high-water mark for the Kingdom. God is building His Kingdom but 2000 years later some still doubt its existence. God’s Kingdom didn’t seem impressive at first because it was often hidden and unseen. His kingdom dwells in hearts rather than the halls of government. For two thousand years this unstoppable kingdom force has been on the move.

The tiny mustard seed has mushroomed and multiplied across the world. An escaped slave named Patrick returns to his captors and establishes the church in Ireland. A shoemaker named William Carey goes to India and translates the Bible into the indigenous languages and establishes the church there. John Wesley preached in the streets of London and sparked a revival that spilled into America.

Even so, the forces of darkness continue to terrorize us. Our most ancient Christian churches in Palestine, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt are persecuted by the non-Christian majority. Our historic inner-city churches are closing, Innocent people still starve to death, and children still die in wars. Marriages still fall apart, and churches still split. Injustice still plagues us, greed and lust still devour us, and lost people still die and spent eternity apart from God.

Biblical hope reminds us that none of these dark forces will have the last word. This hope kept Paul preaching the gospel while sitting on death row.

Our hope greater than the world we live in. We live in hope as an ever-present reality in our lives. A selfless hope that knows, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” (Ro 8:28)

Sermon Audio

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Calling or Career?

The Religion News Service recently reported an over abundance of Protestant clergy in America. This takes me back to my own seminary days when nearly two decades ago guest lecturer, Ray Bakke, unveiled two alarming facts.

First, the number of churches in America was not keeping up with population growth. We were, instead, losing ground.

Second, there is not enough money available to pay for all the new seminary graduates to have jobs.

The result, he reported, would be that 50% of my graduating class would no longer be in ministry five years into the future. Bakke told us that if we want to impact America and the world for Christ, many of us would have to become bivocational.

I don’t believe that many people go to seminary in order to become bivocational ministers. For some ministry is a career choice. You go to dental school to be a dentist and seminary to be a pastor. They don’t envision bivocational work in a struggling rural or inner-city church. They say no to bivocational church planting.

The career minded who do get hired will probably be marked by their upward mobility and keen sense of entitlement. They will plan their ministry around their time off and vacations and rarely will they schedule meetings in the evening.

True calling involves sacrifice. There are many bivocational pastors out there who don’t get days off. Their vacation time is used for VBS or mission trips. They pastor churches or serve on staff with little recognition except from God and the ones they serve. Other pastors who receive full-time support serve long hours ministering to people in need. They serve alongside lay members who have already put in a full day’s work and now are volunteering a couple of hours to Kingdom work.

I have been told that a minister can work hard or hardly work and the church would not be able to tell the difference. I’m not sure how true that statement is but I know you can tell by the results. Even if the results of neglect or diligence are delayed (they often are) the truth will come out in the end. Even if it doesn’t, God is watching.

A minister need not be unemployed while looking for a paid staff position. There is plenty of ministry to do; if one is called.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It’s Time to Rediscover the Baptist Heritage and Renew our Witness

At 40 million, Baptists are the second largest denomination in the US. The first, Roman Catholics number 50 million and Methodists come in a distant third at 14 million.

Baptists also represent a great deal of diversity. Baptists represent the largest African American denomination and the largest Protestant Hispanic denomination. There are also Baptist churches for almost every ethnicity and language group in America.

Politically, Baptists are found on the far left, far right and everywhere in between. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and segregationist Governor of Georgia, Lester Maddox, were Baptist. Some Baptists pioneered the Social Gospel Movement and others preached against it.

It has often been said, “Where there are two Baptists, there are three opinions.”

When the vast majority of Baptist denominational groups met for an historic meeting in Atlanta, the largest of the groups refused to attend.

There are a several Baptist beliefs that define the denomination. These include the Lordship of Christ, the authority of the Bible, religious freedom, the autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of every believer and believer’s baptism.

While Baptists may differ on how to apply the Bible to life we do agree that we should. Perhaps it’s time that being a Baptist becomes more important than being a Republican or a Democrat. Perhaps it’s time to focus on commonalities instead of differences. Perhaps it’s time that Baptists focus more on the gospel and less on what other churches do. Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the Baptist heritage and renew our witness.

Sermon Audio

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Baptist Church to Host Grand Ole Opry

Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville will be hosting the Grand Ole Opry on May 14. The usual venue was closed because of recent flooding putting the weekly country music stage concert at risk of cancellation. Broadcast by WSM radio since 1925, this Nashville icon is the longest running radio program in history.

Ed Stetzer, interim pastor of Two Rivers, believes this to be an opportunity for his church to help Nashville recover from the natural disaster that damaged the city. The church is doing many other things to aid in the disaster recovery but this level of cooperation is unique and marks the church as a member of the community.

Churches need not wait for disasters to be a blessing to the community. One urban church I know hosted a hero’s breakfast for city police, fire and EMT workers. A small town church started a community library. When churches become community centers for things that are not directly religious they develop into valued partners in the community development process.

There are, of course, limits to what a church can do and still maintain its witness. On the night they will be at Two Rivers Baptist Church, the Opry will feature Charlie Daniels, who is an active Christian and has assured that the show will be appropriate for a church venue.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's Time to do justice and love mercy

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

Over 200 years ago Christians in England began the fight to abolish slavery. It was proposed and supported and by a small number of determined Christian’s. It was a complicated and unpopular battle because 80% of Great Britain's foreign income came from slave-grown products. Abolishing slavery would affect plantation owners, textile factories, and retail shops. Tax revenues would fall and many other industries would be impacted.

Against the odds slavery was abolished in the British Empire and, later, in the US. The abolition of slavery was an act of justice and mercy.

God calls his people to bring justice to a fallen world, tempered by mercy. This combination is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit for those who walk humbly with God.

We need to be just on a personal level. God requires that we do what is right and fair with other people. There is an old saying, “honesty is the best policy.” But for the Christian, that slogan should be, “honesty is the ONLY policy.”

We need to bring Godly justice to our world. God demands it (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 106:3; Proverbs 28:5; Isaiah 42:1)

History bears witness. From the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, Christians have been on the front lines of social justice. Christians have championed child labor laws, supported food distribution to the poor, prison reform, cleaned up slums.

The need is still great. There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today; half of them are children. Nearly 50,000 people are trafficked in the US each year. There are countries today where women and children are treated as the property of men in their family. They can be married off, beaten, disfigured and killed. There are countries where becoming a Christian is punishable by death. In America hunger, poverty and abortion are still major sources of suffering.

Food pantries and other relief ministries are not enough. We must work against the principalities and powers that are behind the suffering of so many human beings.

Our sense of justice must be tempered by mercy. Some people love justice instead of mercy. Jonah did not want to preach repentance to the Ninevites. The Pharisees preferred that people suffer rather than have Jesus heal on the Sabbath. Killing abortion providers is a merciless act.

Jesus gives us good examples of mercy trumping justice. Along with Sabbath healings, we have the stories of the prodigal son’s hearty welcome and the forgiveness offered the woman caught in adultery. The Bible gives us wiggle room in individual cases where mercy serves the kingdom better than justice. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Walking humbly with God helps us to keep the perspective required to do justice and love mercy. It helps us remember that our number one priority as a church is making disciples. It prompts us to tend to our own spiritual growth.

Sermon Audio

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It’s Time to develop a passion for the Great Commission

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 NIV

The numerical decline of the church in America is not as tragic as the fact that the church in America is losing its ability to influence society. Not just the church but individual Christians as well. News reports generally show a remarkable similarity in the lifestyles and choices of Christians and non-Christians. As we continue to fail in our mandate to make disciples, we keep finding it harder to differentiate ourselves in life from those who are non- or even anti- Christian. The church can impact the world not by creating more converts but by making disciples. Evangelism involves a process that begins with a personal decision and is not finished until the fish becomes a fisherman.

Many Christians are afraid to share their faith because of the fear of rejection. They might wind up losing a friend. However, we must be mindful of the fact that it is not us that they are rejecting. It is Jesus. You can still be friends. You can still pray.

Another barrier to evangelism is that many Christians are unsure of how to share the gospel. Well, you don’t have scream, put on a suit or, even, thump a Bible. One effective technique is simply sharing what faith in Jesus has meant in your life. Remember the man born blind (John 9)? He simply said, “I once was blind but now I see.”

Inviting someone to church is another effective technique. The famous apostle, Peter was introduced to Jesus by his less familiar brother, Andrew. The Woman at the Well brought many in her village to meet Jesus (John 4).

It’s important to note that baptizing comes before teaching. We are called to belong as well as believe and belonging starts before a decision for Christ can be made. We need to build relationships with people as part of evangelism. Involve yourself in the lives of unchurched people. Invite them over for coffee. People are usually open to talking about spiritual matters with people they know.

Teaching is an essential part of disciple-making and the biggest part of the process is small group ministry. It combines community building with Bible study. It gives close attention to the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of all who participate. If you are a mature Christian you need to help lead a small group.

Modeling is, also, part of the process. You are a disciple-maker. If you are a SS teacher you are a disciple-maker. If you are a Deacon, you are a disciple-maker. If you are a leader, you are a disciple maker. If you are a CHRISTIAN you are a Disciple maker.

Your goal as a disciple-maker is not to make people smarter about the Bible. It is to make people more like Christ. Your goal as a disciple-maker is not to grow your class larger. It is to send people out into ministry. Our success as a disciple-making church is not measured in how many people we can gather on Sunday morning. It is measured in how many are working to build the kingdom.

Sermon Audio

Monday, April 19, 2010

It’s Time to discover & fulfill our God-given mission

If the church is to be relevant today, we need to discover and fulfill our God-given mission. The church’s mission statement is not hidden. It is found in all four gospels (Mt 28.19-20; Mk 16.15; Lk 24.47; Jn 20.21) and Acts 1:8. It is also found in Paul’s letters.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5.17-21

God made us partners in His ministry of reconciling humanity to Himself. Our involvement is significant. We are called Ambassadors for Christ. We have Christ’s authority for carrying out God’s mission.

The church gathered gains spiritual power. The church scattered brings that spiritual to all the dark corners of the world. God’s people can be found in places where people are hurting enabling us to bring words of hope and encouragement from the gospel.

God’s people can be found in key areas of society that have been corrupted by sin. These include government, media, entertainment, business and education. These areas that can be a blessing are often sources of injustice, oppression and corruption. “Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:18).”

We must use our prayers and influence and work to reconcile these areas bringing them into harmony with the teachings of Jesus. It was the church that has historically brought so much justice and relief of human suffering into the world. We must rediscover that missional spirit so that the church continues to be a transformational force in society.

Sermon audio

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It’s Time to Reach Our Spiritual Potential

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-15 NIV

Renewal in the church begins with each of us as individuals reaching the spiritual potential for which God created us.

We can all achieve spiritual maturity. It is a myth that only very special people like Mother Teresa and Billy Graham can achieve full spiritual potential. God calls all of us to maturity. Just like physical and emotional growth, spiritual growth is normal. AND, just like physical and emotional immaturity, spiritual immaturity is a sign that something is wrong!

Spiritual maturity is not automatic. “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others, but instead you have dropped back to the place where you need someone to teach you all over again the very first principles in God's Word. You are like babies who can drink only milk, not old enough for solid food. And when a person is still living on milk it shows he isn't very far along in the Christian life, and doesn't know much about the difference between right and wrong. He is still a baby Christian!” Hebrews 5:12-13 TLB

Spiritual maturity is a process that takes time. “Continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18 TEV

The process requires an effort on your part. “…train yourself to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7 NIV

Part of the process includes Bible reading and study, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and serving others. There is a progression where one moves from awareness to commitment to leadership. Not just positional leadership but, rather, influence that comes when others recognize you as the real deal.

The Church is the hope for the whole world but Christians today are failing to meet their full spiritual potential.
     Our salt has lost its saltiness because our indifference.
            Our light is hidden under the bushel of better things to do.
                   The church is weak and frail due to lack of
                               spiritual exercise.

If we are to renew the church and bring the hope of the gospel to the world, we must begin the renewal in our hearts.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Robbing St. Peter's to grow St. Paul's

In the last 30 years we have gone from a handful of megachurches to a handful in every major city. These big box churches have perfected the attractional model of church growth where the main focus is the weekend worship service. Like big box stores they offer more and better services than the smaller mom and pop churches can.

On the other hand, while megachurches flourish, overall church attendance continues to decline in America. Like mom and pop shops that suffer when a big box store opens nearby, neighborhood churches suffer when megachurches attract Christians from surrounding churches. Small churches cannot compete with the professionalism and production values offered by the megachurches.

Although megachurches target younger adults, Gen Xers still tend to stay away from church and Millennials have the lowest church attendance rate of any previous generation. Not only does overall church attendance continue to decline but, also, hundreds of churches in the US die every year and more than 80% of our existing churches are plateaued or declining.

At the same time, denominational leaders and seminary graduates spend precious resources to start the next megachurch. We have gotten good at the attractional model but, rather than being the answer, it appears that it might be part of the problem. We are growing some churches by subtracting from others.

American churches are in need of renewal and revival. Over the years we have allowed the Sunday event to drive the ministry. Sunday is when we worship, teach, fellowship and evangelize. Missional activities are an optional add-on.

If we are to renew and revive the church we must look to the Bible and rediscover the missional church. Missional is a term that is being used to indicate a movement to align the church away from Sunday-oriented, entertainment-style gatherings and back to the church carrying out God's mission. Missional means more than a church doing mission activities. It means a church understanding how God is at work in the world and joining him there.

Baptist Temple is beginning a sermon series entitled “It’s Time… a journey to missional faithfulness”. Over the next six weeks we will explore how to recover the vitality of the church. We will seek to restore the relevance of the church by returning to the mission of God.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Mission teams can greatly expand the ministry of inner-city churches

Nearly 100 students from the University of Texas at Arlington Baptist Student Ministry spent six days at Baptist Temple to minister in San Antonio. They formed 11 teams, partnering with churches to host backyard Bible clubs in low-income neighborhoods and apartment complexes, serving in a soup kitchen and at a nursing home.

One of the things that struck the students was the poverty found in San Antonio. “One of the main things that surprised me is the neighborhood here around the church has a lot of poverty.” said UTA student, David Weick, “It’s a level that most of us don’t see when we go around in our towns. It’s amazing to see the need of the people here and to see how the church is stepping up to meet the needs.”

These short term missionaries have a long-term impact in urban areas where the need exceeds the resources. In Chicago, one large team was so helpful in so many areas that several local ministries banded together to continue their work. In New Orleans, short-term missionaries worked in tandem to run a day camp all summer. In Miami, short-term missionaries helped jump start a children's Sunday school in a church that had no children.

These collaborations between churches that have abundant resources and those who do not demonstrate the unity of Christ's followers and unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in mighty ways. I have been on both sides of short-term missions and know that everyone involved benefits.

Baptist Temple will host several teams this summer to bring a variety ministries to San Antonio. We will also team up with several churches to send a group to minister on the Mexican border.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hurricane season can put churches on the front lines of ministry

I recently attended meeting last week with the Baptist Children and Family Services (BCFS) Medical Sheltering Operations Coordinator, Jon Bodie. Also at the meeting were Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational and Baptist churches who had agreed to use their gyms and fellowship halls to house hurricane evacuees who need special care.

BCFS is the principal medical needs shelter provider for the state of Texas, serving more than 1,700 evacuees in Katrina and Rita, and sheltering more than 2,800 evacuees during 2008 from Hurricane Ike, Dolly and Gustav.

Some hurricane evacuees are medically frail and cannot be adequately managed in a general population shelter. These individuals have breathing devices, walkers or need regular medication but are not sick enough for hospitalization. They are sent to specially prepared shelters provided by churches throughout San Antonio. The churches provide space and volunteers and BCFS provides medical staff, food, laundry, garbage removal, security and all other needs.

BCFS also provides training for general volunteers and shelter managers. Churches are needed to be shelter sites and provide volunteers. Even churches that cannot provide a site can provide volunteers to serve at other sites.

When disaster strikes everyone wants to be on the frontlines of ministry but the unprepared are left on the sidelines. Plan now to be a vital part of this ministry response. Contact Jon Bodie: JBodie(at)bcfs.net

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…” Luke 12:35 (NIV)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Three Views of the Empty Tomb

Message from Easter Sunday, April 4:

Three Views of the Empty Tomb (John 20:1-18)

Three people came to an empty tomb and came away with different experiences. One found faith quickly, one left too early and one waited until she saw Jesus.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Flash mobs for the common good

A flash mob is a sudden gathering of a large group of people in a public place to do an unusual act and quickly disperse. The people are alerted via text message, Twitter or Facebook. The message is spread virally, as people alert their friends who alert their friends, etc.

The result is 500 people showing up at a designated time and place to have a pillow fight. Sadly some flash mobs have gathered in recent days to do violence.

Flash mobs can also be used for good. Before the social media revolution we had phone trees and fax broadcasts. When a Chicago church became the target of activists who sought to disrupt their Wednesday night prayer meeting, area pastors got on the phone and organized their own demonstration; a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Churches were called, phone chains activated and 1000 people crowded into Armitage Baptist Church for prayer that night. Outside 10 different political groups chanted offensive slogans.

Shortly after the service began, seven school buses parked across the street and the very large youth choir of Salem Baptist burst out and began to sing loudly. The protesters were trapped between the choir singing on one side and the church singing on the other.

The power of praise was too strong. In ten minutes the protesters were silenced, in twenty they were gone.

I saw a video on TV this morning of Fred Phelps’ religious group protesting a soldier’s funeral. A group of people with large American flags placed themselves between the protesters, blocking their offensive signs from view of the mourners.

Phelps’ group won a court decision regarding their right to free speech. Imagine the impact if social media was used to alert veteran’s groups and churches whenever Phelps’ group shows up to disrupt a funeral and are disrupted by a much larger counter protest.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Extreme Love: Loving One Another

The final message from the Xtreme Love series at Baptist Temple

Message from Sunday, March 28:

Loving One Another (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)

The Bible teaches us that we have responsibilities to each other. This passage gives three actions to take and three attitudes to have.

You can get the previous 6 messages here and here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Urban Youth Leader Training

The DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative program for urban youth workers is an intense 15-month leadership development program is described as part grad school, part boot camp, and part retreat. All costs are covered for the sixty urban youth workers from five U.S. cities are that are accepted each year. Candidates must be nominated by a person of influence in their local community to apply for this program.

The Initiative aims to increase the capacity of urban ministers believing that the best way to help our cities is by investing in leaders in the urban community who have already demonstrated leadership skills. Working in small groups participants receive dynamic, hands-on instruction from experienced national leaders. There are individual and group assignments and instruction is varied—from traditional lectures to group dialogue to interactive exercises and simulations.

Among the many strengths of the program is that it keeps ministers in place where they can apply what they learn in a real world setting.

Baptist Temple has been blessed to have our youth minister selected for the program.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Undercover at Jerry Falwell’s Church

Gina Welch admits that she is not a Christian. When she joined Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and submitted to baptism, it was not because she was a repentant sinner. It was because she wanted to know more about conservative Christians and felt that the best way to do so was to go undercover.

What she discovered surprised her. She developed close relationships with people she believed to be her enemy. She also felt a sense of loss when she moved away. She misses the communal signing, the moving sermons and the sense of connectedness.

Despite her strong desire to want to believe, she did not embrace Christian faith nor change her political beliefs. Her story leads me to three observations.

First, community is a big draw for a church. It is so strong that even when a person rejects the religious beliefs and political doctrines of a church they can still feel connected. This is why so many people repeatedly jump across denominational lines when looking for a church. Community was the most remarkable feature in the early days of the church (Acts 2:41-47). A church that wants to grow will make sure visitors feel welcome and are quickly assimilated.

Second, it is possible to belong to a church and never have had a spiritual transformation. This explains why there can be so much unChristlike behavior from people who are in leadership positions in the church. There are some who put the institution of the church above the gospel.

Third, those outside the church feel unwelcome. Gina Welch thought she had to sneak in because she would be unwelcome. She had no idea that, if she presented herself honestly as a curious seeker, she would have been welcome. She maintained her deception despite developing close relationships over a two-year period. There are many in church today who hide their true selves in fear of rejection from their friends.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Extreme Love 2

Here are the next three messages from the Xtreme Love series at Baptist Temple

Message from Sunday, March 7:

Loving God with all your mind (Romans 12:2)

To love God will all your mind you must have a biblical world view. In other words you must see the world through God’s eyes.


Message from Sunday, March 14:

Loving God with all your strength (Romans 12:1)

Loving God with all your strength requires sacrifice, service and recognizing that God is the source of our strength. Loving God with all your heart means setting your priorities around Him.


Message from Sunday, March 21:

Loving Your Neighbor (Luke 10:25-37)

Loving God means loving our neighbor. Jesus would have us ask “Have we been a good neighbor,” rather than, “Who am I obligated to help?”

You can get the previous 3 messages here

Monday, March 22, 2010

Illiteracy linked to poverty

Illiteracy is one of the arenas in the fight against poverty and the proclamation of the gospel. According to The National Institute for Literacy, 43% of adults with very low literacy skill live in poverty and about 70% of adult welfare recipients have lower level literacy skill as measured by the National Assessment of the Adult Literacy.

Motivating children to improve their reading skills can break the chain of generational poverty that keep so many people from overcoming their bleak surroundings and spiritual bondage. William Carey, pioneer missionary to India, created schools for Indian children and adults to teach basic education. He believed that an educated Indian would be more willing to accept the gospel than one living in ignorance and superstition.

This summer Baptist Temple will be on mission at Eagle Pass where, among other projects, we will be placing mini libraries in the homes of poor families as part of Literacy Connexus Books for the Border program. The libraries consist of a modest shelf unit which contains a Bible, a Spanish-English dictionary and an assortment of children’s books.


First Baptist Church in Laguna Park, Texas created a community library in an unused room in their church using a few boxes of donated books. The church, which averages 100 in attendance, started with 350 books. Civic-minded individuals joined church members to increase the collection. Three years later they had over 8000 books and had moved to another building that includes a coffee shop and wireless internet access. Fridays and Saturdays feature live music.

Libraries and literacy are an issue in San Antonio. San Antonio has the second highest illiteracy rate in Texas and, at 15%, is significantly higher than the US average (9%). Churches can make a difference by teaching reading and English as a Second language and developing programs that encourage children to read.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Free Buildings!

While some pastors are gifted at building campaigns where money is raised to build a new facility, I seem to be gifted at building rescue.

It started in New Orleans where I was pastor of a Spanish-language new church start meeting in the basement of an inner-city Anglo church. A church six blocks away was going to disband and turn the building over to the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association. The plan was to sell the building and use the money to fund new church starts.

“Not so fast,” I said, “Any new church will eventually need a place to meet and that will involve another real estate transaction. The primary beneficiaries will be real estate agents and tax collectors.”

I was allowed to move my small congregation into the building. With the help of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary students and short-term mission teams, we were able to add an English-speaking service and several ministries that benefitted the community in tangible ways.

Years later that experience proved beneficial. I was asked to start a new church in a church building where the existing congregation had disbanded and turned the property over to the Lake County Baptist Association in Far North Metro Chicago. Once again mission minded folks banded together and developed a thriving ministry in a church that had once shut down.

This was repeated in the same area twice more as new churches were launched, buildings were repaired, and a gospel witness remained in a community that needed it.

What’s my secret? The desire to do it!

In one building I was able to do more than $200,000 worth of repairs and improvements in a year through donated parts, grants from churches and individuals, and volunteer labor. The dilapidated, out of code and unwelcoming building became a cheerful place where God was praised in two languages.

Two other church starters had first dibs on that building and both turned their noses up. Five years later, one of those new churches disbanded and the other was still renting.

Another key factor is my belief (constantly repeated) that the property does not belong to me, the church that meets in it, nor the association that holds the deed. It belongs to God. It is a Kingdom asset and all Christians ought to participate in its success. That is why so many mission-minded folk (some are not church-goers) pitch in to make it happen.

The third and, perhaps, most important factor is NETWORKING. I go to the meetings where Christian leaders gather, listen to their stories and tell mine. Somewhere in between there is a vision and partnerships are formed. You’ll discover opportunities and resources for ministry if you listen. You’ll discover partners if you tell your story.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Growing Pains 3: Thriving on the Unexpected

Some unexpected things are good. I was taught as a Navy Chaplain to have purchase requisitions ready in case there is money available at the end of the budget year. The department that’s prepared will profit from the windfall.


Thinking quickly and building on past experience can lead to opportunities for mission teams, grants, and new volunteers. I have acquired four church buildings over the years to start new churches. Three had been turned over to the local association when the church disbanded after deciding it could not reach the neighborhood.

These buildings were in need of repair and remodeling but were rent-free. Using grants, donated materials and volunteer labor, they were brought up to acceptable standards. One church building was refurbished because a mission team’s construction project fell through. In a few hours I was able to arrange for daily lunches and snagged the team.

Urban ministry is filled with unexpected opportunities. There are two things that an urban minister must do in order to become aware of opportunities.

1. Network: Show up at ministerial meetings and listen. Get to know people and let them get to know you. Go to meetings in your denomination and multi-denominational ones as well. You will learn about grants, free furniture, available buildings and more. No one is going to come chasing after you with an opportunity.

2. Say YES: There is power in saying yes. This includes yes to helping others and yes when help is offered. When a seminary student asked if they could do an internship at my church, I said yes and it led to many more students over the years. When a denominational worker asked if I could use a group of students whose plans changed at the last minute, I said yes and some much-needed work was accomplished. I know pastors who have said no to both. The long-term result of saying yes is that people will call you first when an opportunity arises and you will get a can-do reputation.

There are three lists you can create that will allow you to say yes to opportunities more frequently.

1. How would you spend $10,000 if someone offered it to you?

2. How would you use a mission team of 30 youth if you had a week’s notice? (or no notice?)

3. How would you use a church member who called during the week and said they’d like to work at the church all today?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Growing Pains 2: Surviving the Unexpected

Another factor that brings growing pains is dealing with the unexpected. New people and new ministries are exciting and worth the adjustments. However, unexpected breakdowns and accidents can elevate the stress level exponentially.

During a busy summer of mission teams and day camp, a water pipe came apart in the kitchen ceiling. The ceiling came apart, everyone was getting wet and there was momentary panic. I found the water cutoff (under a fire ant mound) and the panic subsided. This was an event that was unexpected and unbudgeted. The mission team repaired the pipe and the ceiling paying for all costs.

These things happen. That pipe would have come apart anyway. The timing, while seemingly unfortunate, turned out to be good. Otherwise the church would have struggled to find money to pay for the repairs.

An urban church leader must be unflappable and help others to cope when surprises strike. Planning ahead is always best but some things cannot be anticipated. Back up plans and hip pocket sermons are good to have around when a guest speaker fails to show up or a program runs embarrassingly short.

When heat broke down in the winter (in Chicago) we kept our coats on and worshipped anyway. When a dog came in the open church door during worship, I kept on preaching. (The dog left.) When my music leader quit a month before the launch of a new church start, we sang acapella until two church members learned to play the guitar.

When something breaks raise money to fix it. When a leader leaves, train new leaders. Always keep the mission in mind and your eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). All seem lost in the aftermath of the Crucifixion but victory was 3 days away.

"As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." John 9:4

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Growing Pains

A growing church must constantly adjust. Classroom space must be found, space usage has to scheduled, increased activities wear on the facilities and staff, and more money must be raised. The potential for conflict follows closely on the heels of growth.

This has been a crazy month at Baptist Temple. The office had to be rearranged to accommodate a growing paid and volunteer staff. We have 90 short-term missionaries staying in the church that have created some scheduling and parking challenges. Previously unused space is being cleaned up and painted. Workers are being trained for new Wednesday night mission programs for children and youth.

The results are ministry in multiple directions and numerical growth. Both can become an inconvenience if a church allows itself to become inwardly focused. The temptation can be to cancel ministries and go back to sleep mode. This is why so many churches close every year.

Churches that take missional action may suffer through growing pains but they show steady growth in numbers and budget with a ministry reach that extends beyond their walls. More importantly, missional action is what makes the difference between a church and a private club with a religious theme.

Growing pains at Baptist Temple are signs of renewal and faithfulness to the gospel.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Frontline caregivers

In Exodus 18 we learn that Moses dealt with his endless counseling needs by enlisting the help of qualified people. He set up one leader for every ten and set up a chain of support for groups of 50, 100 and 1000. Moses would handle the tough cases.

The same principle can help a growing church to meet the needs of its members better than a frantic pastor trying to chase after every pain and problem. The New Testament (written before we had paid, professional clergy) encouraged believers to minister to one another.

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up… 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Sunday school teachers, small group leaders and deacons ought to be trained as the frontline caregivers. The tools of the Christian caregiver are the Bible, prayer and listening.

More about Basic Caring Skills

Friday, March 12, 2010

Giving God all You Have

“'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

This Sunday begins the 5th week of our 40 day emphasis on Xtreme Love. We have focused on the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31) and what that means in our lives.

This Sunday’s sermon will focus on Loving God with All Your Strength. In the focal passage Jesus is actually quoting Isaiah 6:5. The Hebrew word used in Isaiah, which has been translated to strength, can also be translated as vehemently or intensely. The implication is to give God everything you got. We can say:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…give him all you have."

At the same time we need to recognize that God is the source of our strength: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). Because of that we can say with Paul, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

Paul, a very tough guy who endured many physical, emotional, and spiritual attacks, never boasted in his own strength or tenacity to survive these attacks. Rather he said, “I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

You might be placed in a very difficult ministry field. Perhaps your family is not of the faith and you feel isolated and frustrated. It could even be a violent situation. That can be a drain on your spirit. Your prayer must like Isaiah’s, “O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress” (Is 33:2).

You may be at a job that sucks away your soul, surrounded by temptation and unbelievers, who do not value who you are. Pray for God’s strength every morning.

Maybe you minister to a group of people with hard hearts who just don’t get it. Remember God desires them more than you. His heart breaks for them. Pray for God’s strength every morning.

Those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint
Isaiah 40:31

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Declining downtown church expands witness and keeps doors open

First Baptist Church of Bennington, VT had been experiencing decline but found a creative way to continue its historic (more than 100 year) missional impact in the community.

"We’ve pretty much taken on as a missional church the goal of providing the missing components for basic human needs in the area here. We’re too small by ourselves to tackle any one of these things," said Wayne Kachmar, a member of the church board of trustees. "But this collaborative model of missional church has given us the opportunity to partner with many different groups and to use what we bring to the table: open space, visibility on Main Street -- accessibility, we’re flat, we’re level -- accessibility to transportation."

Four community organizations are using space in their Education building. These include the Bennington Free Clinic, Project Against Violent Encounters’ Family Time program, the Vermont Center for Independent Living and Easter Seals.

The church no longer needed the excess space and their use by the non-profit groups has the added benefit of freeing downtown commercial space for economic use that brings in tax revenue.

Close proximity allows for greater cooperation between the groups. First Baptist offers healthy cooking and basic sewing classes with more to come in the future.

The Vermont Community Foundation provided a $6,000 grant for such infrastructure upgrades as internet access and improved energy-efficiency that benefitted all parties involved.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A cutting edge urban university

Today I had the privilege of preaching during chapel at the Baptist University of the Americas. BUA develops Christian leaders in a cross-cultural, urban setting.


The faculty and staff are committed to Kingdom growth. The professors have served as missionaries in Europe, Africa and the Americas and have a heart for missions and evangelism.

The school’s mission, San Antonio location, and affordable tuition make the school an excellent choice for Christians called to urban ministry. It is an example of the types of cutting edge schools that are needed if Christians are going to impact in the 21st Century.

Two BUA students currently serve as ministry interns at Baptist Temple and are examples of the dedicated ministers being produced by this forward-thinking school.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Deacons

Many Christians agree that the deacon ministry was born in Acts 6 when seven were selected to help the Apostles in caring for the church’s widows. The qualification at that time was “to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v.3). Later, the Apostle Paul wrote some more specific qualifications that dealt with the character of the candidate rather than gifts or talents (1 Timothy 3).

Biblical deacons are called to assist the pastor in the physical and spiritual needs of the congregation. This concept can be found in the Old Testament as well. In Exodus 18 Moses takes his Father in Law’s advice and sets up one counselor for every ten people. He organized the groups of ten into fifties, hundreds and thousands. Moses was available to consult in the most difficult cases.

Some churches have a formal process of deacon selection and will ordain qualified candidates. Other churches, particularly smaller ones, lack of a formal selection process but rely on deacons who rise to the task and do the job without the title. These people are often Sunday school teachers and/or senior saints who have been around the church for a long time.

A strong deacon ministry will extend the pastor’s capacity to do pastoral ministry to a great degree. Some churches will divide up the church families and assign each deacon a group. Others organize deacon ministry teams that are assigned specific tasks. Some tasks include benevolence, ordinances, hospital and shut-in visitation, etc.

Another organizational strategy is to use small group leaders as deacons. The advantage here is that the small group leader meets with the group regularly, knows the members well, and is positioned to provide immediate care in a crisis.

However the ministry is organized it is important to remember that an effective deacon ministry that blesses the church and supports the pastor is one of humble service rather than haughty superiority.

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Trading Bibles for Porn?

I thought it was a prank but it’s true. A group of University of Texas, San Antonio students will give you porn in trade for the Bible, Quran or any other religious book. The stunt is the work of an atheist student group and it has drawn plenty of media attention. Christians on campus protested. One sign read “Keep your Bible and learn from it.” Others with Bibles in hand, chanted, “You’re the devil.”

The biggest outrage is not that the Quran and the Bible have been insulted but that porn is being distributed in such a cavalier manner on a college campus. The pornography industry exploits women. Not only is there often coercion and violence in its production but it also reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in sexual harassment and rape. The act of openly distributing porn can be seen as setting a hostile environment.

Instead of defending the Bible (which is doing fine, thank-you) the protest should be against the distribution of porn. Feminists, Christians and child advocates should unite in protest to these sexists whose objectification of women reveal their true hearts beneath the façade of enlightened free-thinking.

Maybe the Christians can offer free hamburgers in trade for the porn next year and the campus police won't be needed.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)


Visit these websites for more info on the destructive nature of porn:
Escaping Porn’s Magnetic Pull
XXXchrurch.com

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A change agent is needed to revive a dying church

A third ABP article on churches is transition (Church renewal depends on leadership) points out necessary characteristics of a leader who can turn a declining church into a thriving one. The change agent is inwardly secure, relational, patient, confident, aware of own limitations, and loves the church.

Another important factor I would add is that a change agent is a communicator. He must articulate the vision for the congregation and repeat it often in a variety of ways. The vision must be echoed in sermons, hymn selections, special music and skits.

Every piece of good news that shows the church alive and on mission must be shouted from the rooftops. Negative statements must quickly be countered with positive ones. When there are inevitable setbacks and bad news must be delivered it must be done with a note of hope for the future.

Newsletters, email, web pages, bulletin boards and the Sunday morning bulletin should feature pictures (lots of them) and stories of the life of the church. Celebrating small victories changes defeatist attitudes. First, the negative changes to wait and see. Small victories change the wait and see to hopeful. Soon, people will start to jump on the bandwagon.

Communication also involves tact. Every church member is important and deserves to be heard. Love the opposition and listen to the complaints. Counter bad attitudes gently. Many times people need to voice a negative opinion but will not vote against an idea. Some will vote against it but support the majority.

Staying ahead of negative gossip means posing the negative questions openly and answering objections frankly. Open discussion stops the murmuring and allows church members to defend a new idea.

By constantly communicating information the change agent keeps control of the conversation, keeps the vision alive, and keeps the attitude positive.

Living Springs Church of San Antonio will host a conference for leaders of churches in transition and new church starts on March 26-28. I will be speaking on the first night,

Click here for more information about the “It’s Time” conference.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Can a dying church bounce back?

A recent ABP article (A Time to Die: When churches die, can they live again?) identifies several options a dying church might take when it feels that death is unavoidable. These include adapting to the changing needs (and demographics) of the community, move to another location, share the facility with other churches and community organizations, merge with another congregation, start over again as a different kind of church, or disband. All of these options have challenges and rarely work.

One Miami church, while unable to survive the neighborhood’s transition, managed to be a vital witness to the community to the end thanks to help from their friends.

The predominantly white, middle-class church was quite large until the Interstate cut through the neighborhood. The members moved away and the population became poor and racially mixed. As in many situations like this a remnant remained of the church members who wanted their church to survive. They called one of their members to be pastor. He was retired and his pension and the parsonage provided all he needed.

The church members did not have children but summer missionaries conducted VBS and gave birth to a Sunday school for kids. A nearby church sent workers and the church taught GED and ESL classes during the week. The congregation soon reflected the demographics of the community.

The congregation sponsored a Haitian Mission that eventually took over the building.

These efforts gave a dying church a second life ministry that was more vibrant than it’s first life as an inward-focused suburban church.

Living Springs Church of San Antonio will host a conference for leaders of churches in transition and new church starts on March 26-28. I will be speaking on the first night,

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Why Churches Die

A recent article (A Time to Die: How do -- and should -- churches die?) explores the all too common phenomenon of churches closing their doors. The article points to a lack of effective leadership as the key factor. A series of bad decisions will mark the decline and death of a church.

Quite often a church’s unwillingness to change is identified as the problem, but I have seen churches that have tried every gimmick they could find and, still, failed to grow. Few churches are so resistant to change that they will die.

At a certain point a church will call in a denominational consultant who lead them through some sort of study and make appropriate recommendations. However, once the consultant leaves, the church is still left with the same leadership.

Churches in decline need to seek a pastor with strong leadership skills and a track record for improving situations. Pastors who want to help churches transition need to develop leadership skills. The kinds of skills that help you diffuse tense situations, manage resources well, motivate people to act, and make wise choices.

These skills are best acquired in the military or the marketplace. You can’t get them in seminary because they require practice and experience. Seminars and books will provide technique and a good mentor and/or peer group can serve as a substitute for experience.

Living Springs Church of San Antonio will host a conference for leaders of churches in transition and new church starts on March 26-28. I will be speaking on the first night,

Click here for more information about the “It’s Time” conference.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Extreme Love


Here are the first three messages from the Xtreme Love series at Baptist Temple



Message from Sunday, Feb 14:

The Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30-31)

God requires total devotion from His followers and that includes that we love each other and those outside our faith.


Message from Sunday, Feb 21:

Loving God with all your heart (Mark 12:30)

Loving God with all your heart means setting your priorities around Him.


Message from Sunday, Feb 28:

Loving God with all your soul (Matthew 6:19-34)

Loving God with all your soul requires a single-minded devotion.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Overcoming obstacles to help the poor

Michael Pimpo began a ministry in Far North Chicagoland to help people overcome poverty by providing for immediate physical needs, training and education to develop better habits, and Biblical counsel to address the spiritual issues that lead many to poverty. Michael had to overcome some obstacles of his own.

First there is always the struggle to find food, clothes, furniture, appliances and school supplies to distribute to his clients. Then there is the need to raise funds to pay rent and utilities. Generous donations from both Christian and non-Christian sources have kept the ministry flowing.

Most disheartening has been the opposition from some who profess Christ on Sunday but work against the Kingdom of God during the business week. Some have tried to shut the ministry down because it is perceived to be bad for nearby businesses. The power of the Holy Spirit has been greater than the power of gossip and backroom maneuvers.

PLAN, as the ministry is called is open for a few hours every day and serves nearly 3000 people a month. Michael works at PLAN every day, packing boxes of food, handing out clothes and praying with clients. When PLAN is closed he is out picking up food, raising money and recruiting volunteers. Sundays he preaches at the church he pastors, Life of Faith Christian Church.

Here is a recent Lake County Journal article about Mike and the PLAN ministry.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Thriftshop at Baptist Temple

Baptist Temple opened a thrift shop this week during our 40 days of Extreme Love. Traffic was slow the first day (due to inclement weather) but picked up the second day. The thrift shop is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 1 and provides quality used clothes for a nominal donation. Money raised will recycled back into the community through a various proposed ministries including a food pantry.

There are several good reasons for an urban church to operate a thrift shop:
   o It recycles items that are useable but might otherwise be thrown into a landfill.
   o Reusing items is not only good for the environment but also good financial stewardship.
   o It provides under-resourced people access to needed items at a significantly reduced cost.
   o “I needed clothes and you clothed me.” Matthew 25:36 (NIV)
   o While providing a needed service, it also raises funds that can be used in other benevolence ministries. Thrift shops that are open 5 days a week, average $50,000 in annual income.
    o It is good stewardship of utilized space.
   o It allows us to engage the community in supporting families and individuals by providing access to quality used clothes and other items in a convenient, dignified manner. Potential customers include the poor, the frugal, people who live on a limited or fixed income, the environmentally conscious and people who want to support the cause. All are welcome, there are no qualifications.

WHY NOT GIVE IT AWAY?
I remember an episode of the TV show “Christy” where Christy, a missionary school teacher in Appalachia, received a shipment of used clothes to distribute among the poor. She sent the children home one with clothes and shoes only to be dismayed the next day when they were returned. The parents were offended by this act which they viewed as an implication that they were in need of pity. A more experienced missionary taught Christy that selling the items at a modest price would get the items distributed while preserving the dignity of the people.

Asking a modest price for these items has several benefits:
   o It preserves the dignity of the poor and allows them to participate in the economy.
   o It minimizes competition with existing, for-profit, thrift shops that are beneficial to the local economy.
   o The funds can be channeled into other ministries for the poor.
   o Because people are paying for whatever they take we don’t need to feel “taken advantage of” if they resell it. We still made a profit and the economy benefits twice.
   o In hardship cases where someone has been burned out of their home or people who are otherwise homeless, we can issue vouchers for free clothes.