Monday, April 29, 2013

How important is your name?

The Bible teaches, “A good name is more desirable than great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)”

Parents will carefully choose a child's name. It is usually the first important decision they make about their child. Businesses will hire the best marketing firm they can afford to name a new product line; one that will make their product fly off the shelf. New church starts are as concerned about finding the right name as prospective parents and big corporations. They try to find a name that says something about their church and will attract people to it.

Often a number of churches will select similar or identical names. This indicates either a movement of the Holy Spirit or a human tendency to follow popular fads. The fact that some churches with hip names survive and others fail, is a sign that there is more to a church than a name.

It is popular today remove a church's denominational label from it's name. Some view their denominational identity as a liability but, rather than withdrawing, they remain in the denomination and pull a religious bait and switch.

Despite the popularity of some very large non-denominational churches, the fact is that most people who attend church regularly do so at a church with a denominational label. Moreover, many large, successful churches use their denomination in their names. Again, there is more to a church than a name.

Whether it is a person, a product, a company or a church, a good name is a product of positive actions. It is maintained by protecting its reputation. One well-known church name is Willow Creek Community Church. According to Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels, its name was selected hastily at a lawyer's office while completing some initial legal documents. They named the church after the Willow Creek Theater where they were meeting.

Name changes are often needed in a church or business whose reputation has been stained by scandal. Otherwise a change must be carefully weighed against the costs. First there is the obvious cost of replacing the signage, stationary and business cards. Don't forget forms, brochures, banners, etc.

Second, there is the political cost of convincing the church membership that a name change is a good idea. Some members will have emotional ties to the name and others just cannot handle any change. Will it be worth the residual ill will?

Finally, there is the marketing cost. Unless you are making a clean break with the past, how are you going to let your friends know that you're still the same church but with a different name? It takes time and money to create name recognition. It is naive to think that people will flock to your church just because you have a “cool” name.

The best type of marketing, whether church or business, is word of mouth. That can be free for a church whose members believe in their church's mission, feel the presence of God in worship and grow spiritually through church activities. It is better to spend your physical and spiritual energies (and finances) on things that will build your churches reputation than on a name change.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; 
bind them around your neck, 
write them on the tablet of your heart. 
Then you will win favor and a good name 
in the sight of God and man.
 Proverbs 3:3-4 (NIV)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Managing Creation

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. I know that there were protests and such but at my elementary school we focused on pollution and littering and what we children could do keep our planet clean. Since that time there have been lies and exaggerations; crimes against nature by industrialists and crimes against society by environmentalists. There have also been terrible disasters, both man-made and natural, but the planet is a cleaner place than it was when I was a child and I have hope for the future.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God gave the management of creation to humanity (1:26-28). He looked down on the world He created and declared it good (Genesis 1:31).

Nature is indeed good. It provides balance between predator and prey. Bacterium breaks down waste and provides nutrients even as it feeds. Plants filter our air and provide us with oxygen.

It is also beautiful. There is a wonderful variety of species. The colors, textures, sounds, tastes and smells are unparalleled by human structures. Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.” God put them here for our enjoyment. Our world could have been created black and white and tasteless. Would we have known the difference?

God cares about nature. Jesus said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care (Matthew 10:29).” The earth and all its resources belong to God. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” The Bible teaches us that we are to care for the earth (Genesis 1:27). It is God’s will that we enjoy the earth and manage it well.

When we fail in our care and abuse the earth we upset the balance of nature and things begin to go wrong. Sometimes our poor management of the earth is due to greed. Other times we don’t want to be inconvenienced. Whatever the reason for our failure, the results are the same. We stand outside of God’s revealed will and we endanger our ability to live on this planet.

Laws have been passed, polluters have been punished and disasters have been cleaned up but individuals can have the biggest impact on the environment. About one third of household garbage comes from packaging. Recycle, reuse, and reduce are the watchwords for those who take the management of creation seriously. Environmental friendly acts can also save you money (another resource that needs preservation).

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Three keys to successful change

It is common knowledge that churches are averse to change but, then again, who isn't. The marketplace, education, military and government are all slow to embrace change. On the other hand, change (or adaptation) is essential to both organizational and individual survival. Some organizations are clearly better than others at managing change. In fact, I once wrote about how Baptists' ability to change enabled the denomination to grow and thrive for over 400 years.

It is sudden change that is usually viewed negatively. A slamming on of breaks, a quick acceleration, or a sharp turn sends people and objects forcefully in the opposite direction. Who likes that?

Churches that manage change successfully do so in small steps. In his book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Peter Sims demonstrates how small changes allow organizations to adapt quickly and experience growth. They allow you to accumulate small wins while minimizing losses. Small wins add up without destroying the structures that are necessary for a church's survival. Small changes allow for course corrections as you navigate through troubled waters.

Churches that manage change successfully plan ahead. We must be like the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Seek to understand what is driving the need for change. Determine what the influencers in your church are thinking. Once the details are worked out, let the influencers tell the story. Communicate the upcoming change through multiple media, pointing out the benefits to the church and its members. Afterward, tell stories of how the change had a positive impact on the church. Meanwhile, plan the next move.

Churches that manage change successfully understand that not everyone will be on board. There will be a small group who will immediately love the idea. They will be followed by the early adopters who were recruited by the first group. As momentum builds, a good idea will spread and the majority will embrace the change. There will always be a small number of laggards. Some will never accept the change and might leave but most of them will stay.

How do you adapt to the changes in your life?

Monday, April 01, 2013

Connecting the past to the present and the future

Easter is a time when the old, old story of Jesus' life, sacrificial death and resurrection is retold and connected to both our current, victorious life and our future hope. It is, therefore, appropriate that the past, present and future were all brought together on Easter Sunday at Baptist Temple.

The service began with the baptism of Ernest, a young man who attended Baptist Temple as a child. He, along with siblings and cousins, would be picked up each Sunday by the church bus ministry. He would attend Sunday school and worship where, he would not only hear the gospel but, also, see it lived out in the actions of the men and women who showed these children so much love.

Ernest had strayed from the faith but, when the Holy Spirit began to speak to his heart, he returned to the place to where he had heard the Word of God. Ernest came to faith because a few years ago faithful Christians maintained and drove the vans, taught the children, gave the needed finances and, most importantly, loved the Lord.

"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)
The result is that on Easter Sunday we baptized a member of the millennial generation who is now a co-laborer in fields that “are white unto the harvest” (John 4:35). The work of the past bore fruit in the present and shows promise for the future.

Towards the end of our worship another act underscored the theme. A special offering was presented from the estate of a beloved saint whose work and giving for the sake of the gospel was part of the reason that our church was able to teach young Ernest the gospel and baptize him when the seed took root.

This generous gift from Nel's estate will go towards building an endowment that will help to ensure that Baptist Temple will continue to be a light in this community where Ernest's children and grandchildren will hear the Word of life. Nel supported her church when she was alive and her gift ensures that she will continue to do so now that she is in the presence of our Lord. She was part of Baptist Temple's past and present and will be a part of the future.

Many Christians' commitment to the gospel is so strong that they have left a gift for their church in their wills. They have ensured that their generosity will extend past their natural life. They not only believe in the gospel but, also, that their church will continue to bring that gospel to future generations.

Furthermore, they know that others before them had sacrificed so that could hear the gospel. Their planned gift is a way to honor those past sacrifices. Remember your church in your will.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1