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.