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


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 fa├žade 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

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.