Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Here We Come a'Caroling

The tradition of Christmas caroling began as early as the 15th century when wandering minstrels performed songs in exchange for donations to be given to the needy. In fact, many of the carols we sing today were written during that time. Christmas carols are usually cheerful and proclaim the news of Christ birth.

Christmas is such a wonderful time for sharing the Good News. At what other time of the year can you stroll through your neighborhood, stop in front of the house of a complete stranger, sing a song about Jesus Christ, and get a smile in return.

Christmas caroling can be a part of a churches outreach strategy when combined with other events. While out caroling a church can hand out attractive invitations to other church events such as a Christmas Eve service. A particular neighborhood can be targeted for an annual evangelism campaign that would include invitations to Easter, block parties, backyard Bible clubs and other events.

Caroling also provides an opportunity to involve people who are newer to the church in a fun outreach event. Don’t forget to have Christmas cookies and other holiday snacks ready for afterwards. Some of the church’s seniors and others who may be averse to walking in winter weather might enjoy setting up the party.

The set up is simple. Make up a song sheet of carols. Keep it to one page (printed on both sides) and only one verse for each carol. Fun holiday songs such as “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” are nice but rely heavily on songs that celebrate the birth of Christ. Avoid Santa songs, he gets enough publicity.

When you stop to sing, make sure the group stands together like a choir. Have a designated song leader and sing the songs in the order they are on the sheet. This will help things flow smoothly. Sing two songs at each stop, more if you draw a crowd. Sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as you stroll away.

Brief your carolers so they can know what to expect and begin with prayer. Debriefing is a good idea, too. Let the folks share the contacts they made in the community.

Music touches everyone, and a song celebrating the birth of Jesus combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, may have an eternal impact on someone's life. Can you imagine the impact if every church went caroling at Christmas?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who Plants Churches?

Many churches today are planted by individuals following the biblical example of Philip and the other scattered Christians in Acts 8. These individuals include clergy and lay and men and women with varying levels of education.

Some are apostolic. They gather a core group, select and train leaders and move on. The new church then calls a pastor, often called a planted pastor, who might be full time or bivocational. It is far easier to find a pastor for an established small church than to get someone to start a new church from scratch. Also, most pastors with apostolic gifts lack the gifts to pastor a stable church.

In some cases the individual planter becomes the founding pastor and stays long term. Rick Warren and Bill Hybels are the most prominent examples but often theses pastors are bivocational.

The individual planter will sometimes work alone but might seek denominational or local church help.

Churches often start new churches in a nearby community where a significant number of their members live. Church members will provide the launch team and the church will help pay the planting pastor and other expenses while providing mentoring and accountability. In some cases a church will plant a new work in a pioneer area. This type of church planting still requires an individual to provide the vision.

Denominations will plant churches as well, sometimes in partnership with a local church. This involves demographic studies and intense evaluation of the church planter. The right planter is placed in the right place at the right time. It also involves a greater financial investment for the new church. This model does not have a greater success rate than churches planted by individuals or local churches. I saw a church fail even with a hand-picked, full-time staff of three and $500,000 in pledges. Two other churches that were not denominationally funded survived in the same county. Both have their own buildings in less than 10 years.

No matter who initiates the new church start, partnerships are the key to success. Partners include multiple churches providing funding, materiel and other help, denominational support and individual prayer and financial partners. Seminaries, Bible Colleges and parachurch ministries make good partners as well. It is even possible to have multiple denominational groups involved. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has partnered with American Baptist Churches, Baptist General Conference of Texas, and Missionary Baptist Churches for new church starts.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Missions, Evangelism and New Church Starts

Missions in the New Testament involves evangelism and new church starts. In Acts 2:41 we read that 3000 people were baptized following Peter’s evangelistic sermon. Later, these groups formed communities that we call church and the Lord added to their number daily (v. 47)

The laity were involved in church planting from the beginning. New churches were started by believers who were scattered by persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:19). Phillip preached the gospel and baptized many. The Apostles came later to support the work.

The church at Antioch commissioned and sent Paul and Barnabas to go on a mission trip. They proclaimed the gospel in synagogues and public places, gathering the new believers into churches and teaching them. Paul would appoint elders from the new congregation and move to the next location. He would check on his new churches through later visits and correspondence. This pattern was repeated in all of Paul’s mission trips.

While proclaiming the gospel, the New Testament Church did attend to the physical needs of people. There were miraculous healings and sharing of resources with the poor but the main task remained to preach Christ, gather into churches and teaching to obey all that Christ commanded.

Contemporary missions should follow the same New Testament pattern. The pay off for missions ought to be baptisms and new, indigenous churches among the people we serve. If all we do is clothe, feed and educate are we not just sending them to hell a little fatter and smarter? How faith-based is a program that does not yield faith decisions?

Missions is not an either/or proposition? Evangelism or felt-needs? It ought to be both.

Helping people in need is clearly commanded by God and modeled by Jesus. The immediate goal of benevolence ministry is to relieve human suffering. A secondary goal is to build relationships with hurting people. The ultimate goal is to bring about genuine life change in individuals through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The intent of missions among the poor and needy is to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ, not simply to provide services. It provides a point of redemptive connection and adds credibility to our communication of the gospel.

One such model is Life of Faith Christian church in far north Chicagoland. The heart of the church is a food pantry that also provides clothes, furniture and referrals. Pastor Michael Pimpo uses this platform to connect not only with the needy, who are open to the gospel because of their current crisis, but also to people who want to serve, many of whom are unchurched pre-Christians.

The result of his effort recently yielded five believers baptisms. This may not seem like a large number but it is more than most churches will do this year.

The American church is currently in decline despite having the largest number of seminary trained ministers and having more money than any other church in the world. It’s possible that there is something wrong with our training methods and missions strategies.

It’s time that our missionaries and church planters start working together to bring that New Testament pattern resulted in so many people coming to Christ.