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DECISION FATIGUE

Are you feeling the weight of making a lot of decisions, being unsure of those decisions, along with their impact?  Are you experiencing some “decision fatigue.”  These uncharted times have made novices out of all of us because, if we are honest, we live with the reality of knowing we are inexperienced in facing pandemics.  How do we stay connected with our people?  What does pastoral care and assimilation look like in our new normal?  When should we re-enter our buildings?  When is it ok to disobey laws (Romans 13:1-6)?  

Carey Nieuwhof says, “It’s easier to find relief from the pace than from the weight.  Pace can be controlled fairly easy…Weight is what you feel.  Weight is the tremendous responsibility many people find impossible to ignore…weight is the stress you feel.”  The apostle Paul mentions this weight in II Corinthians 11 where he lists a multitude of external things that created many difficulties.  Then in verse 28 he says, “Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.”  The weight of ministry is real.

There is a weight that a shepherd carries and it is something you fell deep within your soul.  The good news is that you do not have to carry this weight alone.  God promised Paul in II Corinthians 12 that, “My grace is sufficient!”  Our strength to carry this weight comes first from the Lord.  Your doing things for Christ must come out of your being with Christ because He is the one who strengthens and sustains you.  Paul continues in II Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves.  Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?”    

Paul challenged the Galatians to carry one another’s burdens.  No one should travel alone and everyone needs other people to walk this journey with them.  Pride causes you to think that you can handle anything and places the unrealistic weight on your shoulders that you always have to have the answers and know what to do.  You need an existing support team in place that can encourage you, pray for you, and hold you accountable.  In an emergency on a plane you are told to first put on your oxygen mask (abide in Christ) then help others (bear their burdens).

Here is a testimony from Doug Brewer while attending one of our Activate Pastor Huddles through Zoom.  “I hit a struggle on Monday that I have never had before. It really messed with my head! On Tuesday I took my phone and typed in a phrase: decision drain. When I hit search it popped up with the topic of ‘Decision Fatigue.’  I’m considerably better but even in the times of the tornados (May of 2013) and the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995 (and we lost three ladies in that) I have never been exactly here before.” 

“I’ve been intrigued by the topic of DECISION FATIGUE. I’ve been helped by talking to a couple of men at the church, a couple of pastors and just being full blown, straight up honest! When we make decisions we have to make the same decision five or six times based on the people it’s going to effect.  It’s easy when you don’t know the people and speak into someone else’s life and say just close the building down.  It’s different when it’s your people and you’ve known some of them since they were born and watched them grow up” 

“Now they’re graduating.  I don’t want to say no! So decisions like: inside, how often; outside?… what do we do, what do we not do?  It started to build on me!  When it came to squeezing the trigger and making decisions I kept thinking of  the 5 other decisions that potentially came with each individual decision.  What got in my head was that I’m in these meetings with Larry and all these other pastors and listening to a couple other groups.  It seems like everybody else has this together but I don’t.”  

“They are telling me their plans and I felt like I was the only sorry leader that doesn’t know plans much past tomorrow.  It gets in your head! My favorite thing to do is pastor! I love pastoring even more than I like preaching!  I LOVE to pastor!  What got in my head was “ you love pastoring, and like preaching, but Doug you’re a miserable leader!  This time calls for leadership.”  

“It all goes to say I’m grateful for some men and I needed to let other people in. The podcast (Healthy Church Podcast) refreshed me.  I have some really good people around me! I had to say  ‘I’m going to be 100 percent honest with you.’  It was an internal head thing, but its like puppy love… Don’t make fun of it because it’s real to the puppy!”  

I am so thankful for authentic and transparent leaders willing to say, “I do not have it all figured out!”  Carey Nieuwhof says, “Only humility will get you out of what pride got you into!”  During these turbulent times may we first lean on Jesus and then lean on one another.  We need to see less pride and more humility.  We need to see more cooperation and compassion and less cynicism and negativity. 

HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Now that the pandemic has caused us to be isolated longer than most of us expected the spiritual, mental, and emotional challenges have increased.  All of us need to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” and we need to ask others, “How are you doing and can I help?”  The struggle is real and the spiritual warfare, especially in our minds, should not be ignored or denied.  When discouraged we must strive, and it is not always easy, to know what the Bible says not what we think it says.  We begin believing what we are thinking more than what God is saying. 

Depression causes us to think wrong and believe the lies that the accuser, Satan, is whispering into our ears and he is always lying.  He is working overtime and all the time.  He never seems to takes any breaks.  The scriptures are clear in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.”

So, let me ask you, “How are you doing?”  The question is not asking if you are reading your Bible, praying, leading, or making sure you are projecting a strong positive image.  The question is meant to probe deeper and ask how you are spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.  The pressure is real because you are expected to have the answers and to know what next steps your church should be taking.  The frustration is genuine because of the social distancing and staying at home.  This is not how we are wired as believers who desire community.

In a recent podcast Pete Scazzero referred to how our emotions are like children on a vacation.  He went on to say that you cannot put them in the truck nor should you allow them in the driver’s seat.  The reality is that the emotions you have are real and just like children you need to listen to them, take care of them, protect them, and place boundaries around them.  Moving past this analogy allow me to say that what we try to do with our emotions many times is bury them alive.  That does not work and you must develop a healthy biblical system to deal with them.

Maybe the first step is admitting how you feel.  In the Psalms you hear David when he is sad, glad, and mad.  While not allowing those emotions to completely control your life (placing them in the driver’s seat) you also must avoid the temptation to totally ignore their reality (lock them in the trunk).  Elmer Towns wrote, “Too much Spirit without the Word will lead you to an emotional blowup.  Too much Word without the Spirit will cause you to dry up.  The right balance between the Word and the Spirit will cause you to grow up.”

The world we are living in has become very negative and cynical.  People now love to sit behind an electronic device and spew out whatever crosses their mind at the moment.  The atmosphere and environment just seems to be toxic in so many arenas.  It is very easy to get sucked into the wrong unbiblical attitudes and become quite discouraged.  This flies directly into the face of Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Jacob Smelzer offers these suggestions to pastors because the burden of the job has intensified ten times over recently for an already lonely position.  He encourages us by saying, “You’re not alone.   You’re not the only one that feels this way.  It’s ok to ask for help.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  You’re doing better than you think you are. You ARE making a difference.  You matter to ME.”  Please know that you are not alone and you matter to me also.  Feel free to contact me and I would love to chat with you and we can spend some time encouraging one another!   

J.D. Payne recently wrote these wise words, “Right now, we are all inexperienced. We have never done it this way before. Yet, could this be a moment when God manifests His power in and through our limitations? Could this be a time when He provides the wisdom needed to see around corners (Jas 1:2-7)? Seek His face. Cry out to Him (Matt 7:7-12). Remember Paul’s words: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Don’t believe the lies of the Devil.  You are not alone!  There is someone who cares and will listen!  Your feelings and emotions do not mean you are unspiritual but rather they are “common” to man and how God created us.  Do not believe the lie that you not making a difference because in somebody’s life you are a game changer.  You do matter to God, the people in your life, and to me!  Give me a call and maybe we can spend some time laughing and crying together!  

THE VALUE OF COMMUNITY

“I miss you!”  That is a statement being made and heard quite often right now.  The value of community is something the church has been built upon and is stressed in the scriptures.  The early church was devoted to fellowship and meeting together…daily.  In a Zoom meeting with some national church planting leaders, Gary Rohrmayer with Converge shared, “No one should travel alone.  We need each other!”  That is so true and never truer than right now.  You can continue to stay connected and you can continue to walk with others through this challenging time.

Then, Doug Paul with Catapult suggested that we create an environment based on that value that promotes and creates space to think.  It is worth repeating, “We are so busy working in the ministry that we very seldom have time to work on the ministry.”  Here are a few things to think on:  How are you responding to this challenge?  Are you the optimist, pessimist, alarmist, or skeptic?  Here is a more important question:  How will you respond to what God is saying and teaching you and your church during this season?

Doug also suggested that you should never forget that it is always appropriate to stop and pray.  One pastor shared with me that every evening they are opening up Zoom for times of prayer.  In studying the scriptures there seems to be three things that always get God’s attention and a heavenly response: prayer, repentance, and fasting.  All planning must be prayerful planning.  Prayer admits that you do not have the answers and you cry out to God in desperation for direction and guidance.  Fasting shows God how serious you really are!

Doug Paul continued to challenge us that as we navigate these challenging times “together” we do not need more content but, rather, more community.  The focus is to have connection over content by walking this road together.  The beauty of our Zoom pastor coaching calls is the opportunity for live trouble-shooting.  It has been awesome to witness one pastor struggling with a particular challenge and another pastor share how they navigated those same waters.  You see coaching and mentoring is not lecturing and information transfer but is iron sharpening iron.

The last thing Doug challenged us with was to make sure you come away with one practical thing to accomplish in the next week.  The Apostle Paul did not say these thousand things I do but rather this one thing I do.  There is a plethora of information, webinars, downloads, and attachments coming from everywhere.  Take a deep breath and consider the advice of Will Mancini from his book, Younique.  Consider what one thing you would like to change or accomplish in the next 30 – 90 days.  Then determine what four things you need begin today to make it happen.

Without next steps for today what you want to accomplish will just be a pipe dream and never a reality. Thom Rainer has a lot to say about the power of focusing on one thing.  He states the following observations.  “Church revitalization doesn’t have to be as complicated as some make it. Just start with one thing.  Trying to do too much too quickly can kill a revitalization effort.  Ministry complexity will drain the leadership of a church.  When you are forced to choose one ministry to focus on in a church, you typically choose the best and most effective ministry.”

Rainer makes it clear, “You have to begin somewhere and complexity leads to confusion and complacency.”  Get together with other leaders in your church and outside your church and begin asking these questions:  What is God trying to teach you during these challenging days?  What do you need to start doing that you were not doing before COVID-19?  What have you started doing during this pandemic that you need to keep doing when it is over?  What do you need to stop doing because you now see it is unnecessary and unproductive?

If we can ever be of any help to you during these challenging times please let us know.  Reach out to us by email at larry@bmaam.com or Heidi@bmaam.com . Heidi Sorrells is our Pastor’s Advocate for our church health initiative, Activate.   Here is something from her challenging you on asking the right questions, “How has your vision been altered by what God has shown you during this season, and what will you take and make part of your church DNA going forward so you are not just back to business as usual?”

Here is another question you need to ask:  What do you need to spend more time doing and less time doing?  Maybe one thing would be less office time and more community time.  Maybe you need to focus more on leadership development by providing time and space to dream, brainstorm, and white board the things your team believes God is up to and what He wants you to do about it!  May our value be that no one should travel alone because we need each other!   

LOVE & LEAD

Our current social distancing and no groups larger than ten, at the request of our national and local governments, lingers on.  This began, for most of us, thinking and planning for a quick fix to get through this and then, hopefully, life would be normal again.  That has now been going on anywhere from 1-2 months depending on where you live.  It now requires a major shift from the “quick fix” to prayerful planning for the longer haul.  Everything changed drastically and quickly 2 months ago but now we are in the midst of the doldrums (look it up).

While our focus has been forced to move from a quick fix to the long haul we also need to move from more information to spiritual guidance.  There are many resources already available and the Internet seems to be swimming with content on how to get through this pandemic.  The shift must be made from travel agents to tour guides.  A travel agent tells you all about your destination, what it will look like, and what it will be like.  A tour guide makes the trip with you and helps you understand better where you are and where you need to go next.

Find a cohort, a group of friends, who are on the same journey and travel with them.  If you would like to be part of an ongoing online coaching group please let me know (larry@bmaam.com).  Maybe the biggest lesson we are learning right now is how much we need friends, mentors, and travel guides to walk along side of us helping us to navigate these uncharted waters.  One leader said, “Relationships now trump excellence.”  They are more important than the programs, the buildings, or the event.  We need less telling us what to do and more walking with us!

During the Babylonian captivity God’s people did not have access to the temple.  The center of worship was lost but they did not lose their faith.  Our situation is not the first time God’s people have been challenged to remain faithful and strong in the midst of a challenge.  The story is told of a pastor in China who left his city and upon his return a couple of days later a hole had been dug and the entire church building was bulldozed into it and covered up.  That is hard to imagine but the multiplication of disciples is exploding there.   

You now have a great opportunity to re-examine and re-evaluate your mission, values, and vision statement for your church.  Are you aligned with the Biblical values found in Acts of prayer, worship, fellowship, discipleship, serving others, and evangelism?  Values are not something you say you believe but they are lived out in your life and the life of your church.  There is a huge difference between aspirational values and actual values.  We must remember that values are confirmed by actions, not just by words or even a written mission statement!

This is from The Multiplication Workshop by our good friend Dr. Dave Devries, “Values reflect a person’s unique beliefs, core convictions, and guiding principles. These values will guide ongoing attitudes and behaviors. Often times, values are unwritten assumptions that guide actions.”  Before this pandemic hit were you living out the biblical values, written or spoken, that you stated were guiding your church?  It is time to re-access those guiding values and make a recommit to knowing them and living them out daily (see James 1:22).

Most churches will come out of this time with two platforms.  Worship services will begin again at some level with a recommendation of the number of people allowed to congregate.  Now, many more churches have a virtual presence, which is a good thing because the gospel is available to more people than ever before.  Praise the Lord!  Please do not abandon that platform.  Utilize it and see it as another door to connecting those who may be looking and seeking for the truth.  Have a plan in place to follow up on them just as if they filled out a connection card in your services.  What will your assimilation system look like for these visitors?

How will you continue to engage and connect with both audiences?   Think through what that will look like because there are some very important questions to ask.  How much can be done and accomplished virtually?  How much cannot be done and accomplished virtually because of the need to build relationships?  Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”            

Relationships have always have been more important than programs, practices, and procedures.  Jesus made it clear what the greatest commandment was and is (Matthew 22) and the second also.  Mark Batterson recently said, “We need to keep washing our hands and washing other’s feet!”  Through this time we must remain focused on serving Jesus and serving others.  Mark 10:44 says, “And whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.”  Are you willing to voluntarily be a “slave to all?”  Love first and then lead! 

Engaging When Disconnected

One of the greatest challenges today is how to stay engaged at such a disengaged and disconnected time.  There is so much more to this than how well you are utilizing social media, phone calls, email, and other tools to stay connected with your church family.  It is making sure that you are going a few layers deeper and connecting with one another on a relational level.  The goal is not how many likes you are getting on Facebook live or how many thumbs up you are receiving while live streaming.  How many people are you actually engaging with?   

One of our staff recently called a Christian distributor, Lifeway, and asked about an order our church had placed for resources.  If you have not heard there has been a disruption and delay on many things.  After discussing our order with the customer service representative he asked him, “Is there anything I can pray for you about?”  The man began to weep and said no one had ever asked him that before. Wow, he works for a Christian company and usually talks with Christians, yet, no one had ever asked him how they could pray with him.  How can that actually be?

The word “engage” means to occupy the attention or efforts of someone else.  It requires that the person you are engaging with has your full attention.  It is not a casual greeting and then quickly moving to another person and another greeting.  You are connecting with them to see how they are doing and you genuinely want to know how you can help them and minister to them.  Consider asking three questions in order to connect at a little deeper level.  Each of these questions helps to peel the layers off and engages the person by showing that they have your full attention. 

First, ask them how they are doing.  Actually, this can be a very standard question that many people realize, at face value, is just a question and you really don’t care about the answer.  The key here is to ask it and wait on an answer.  Many will give the standard, status quo response, “Fine!”  Second, ask them if there is anything you can do for them or any way you can help them.  What service could you provide or errand could you run?  Third, ask how you can pray for them.  Do not make the mistake of NOT praying for them right then.  Stop and pray!

Here are some ideas from churches of what they are doing to remain engaged and connected during this disconnected time.  One church in Oklahoma utilized Zoom to enjoy dinner together.  They all prepared their meals at home, sat down to enjoy the meal and then joined the group they had eaten out with many times before.  Imagine the laughter and engagement that occurred through this extra effort to facilitate a time of fellowship within the family of God.  What might you be able to do to connect and engage different groups in your church?

Another church shared how they opened up Zoom, at a prescheduled time, as a venue for different people to get on just to say hi and see one another.  It is almost like how you use your foyer at church where you first engage one another on Sunday mornings.  Engagement is not only looking at a screen while someone preaches at you or teaches a Bible study.  Those times are very important but you should consider how you can facilitate a time where people can see one another and speak to one another.  Remember, one of the big five in Acts 2 is fellowship.

StonePoint church in Cumming, GA shared how they would drive by another member’s house and text them that they were outside in front of the house.  Then you could either come to the window, the door, or step outside to wave and see one another in person.  Yes, you need to follow wise social distancing practices because you care about not endangering someone else, but there are ways you can engage one another on a deeper level than only posting a word of encouragement and/or bible study.  Once again it is not an either or but a both and engagement.

StonePoint also engages people by watching their feed and responding to those who are watching.  It is a great tool for assimilating those who are connecting virtually on how the viewers can take the next steps if they are interested.  They also utilize this tool to take attendance.  It is not so they can count how many they have but so that they can follow-up on those who are becoming more distant and disconnected during this difficult time.  A church in AR also does this and people have reached out wanting more information.              

Please do not forget about phone calls, hand written letters, and cards to engage your people.  Take the time to call and engage in conversation and get others to help.  These times are very draining and very depressing to many.  People need hope and encouragement more than ever.  They need to know that they are not alone and that you are there to love them and your church desires to continue shepherding them. You just might come out of this more connected than you were.

The New Normal

Hopefully, we are past the shock and disbelief of the way we now have to hold worship services.  We paused and began to think through how we would make the necessary changes to remain spiritually and relationally connected when the battle cry to contain the virus is social distancing.  The move to virtual church was a stampede and many websites and streaming services crashed on March 15.  Then, we began to think about online giving and plans were made to take that step and other necessary adaptations.

Now we must prepare and plan for the future.  Many believe that the real crisis is at least a week or two away.  Will we be prepared if it gets worse before it gets better?  Leader, what if this is the new “normal” until June, September, or later?  What if we must continue worshiping virtually and then when we do re-engage our finances have taken a 30% decrease?  Please know that I am an optimist by nature and my prayer is that we will not just survive this crisis but that we will be the church through it and emerge the other side stronger and better equipped!

About ten to twelve years ago my good friend, Dave DeVries, challenged me in his training, The Multiplication Workshop, by asking what would happen if we removed the queen (Sunday Morning Worship) from the regular rhythm of most churches?  If you play chess you understand that the queen is the most powerful piece in the game.  The queen has the ability to move in all directions but there are also pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, and a king.  The Sunday morning worship service (event) is important but the other pieces are important also.

Dave asks church planters to stop and think, “How will you start being the church even before you start public worship services?”  Are we only focusing on losing our worship crowd right now?  Please let me say that you should be reaching out to them and caring for them.  They need shepherds to care for them right now more than ever.  Figure out creative ways to stay connected through phone calls, texts, emails, and virtual meetings.  Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw people who were harassed, helpless, and without a shepherd.

While we are watching over the flock we should also be focusing on training and equipping our core.  What if your core of trained disciple-makers grew during this time?  What if instead of three disciple-makers you came out of this crisis with six who are trained and ready to go?  What if your 12 became 24 or your 120 became 150?  The new “normal” could be a refocusing and a recommitment on the Great Commission of making disciples and not just making more worship attenders.  How many disciple-makers could you connect to disciples during this time?

Our goal, when we are able to have services again, is to show our church the one-on-one disciple making that has been occurring during this challenge.  Then we hopefully will have 20 new disciple makers ready to disciple the next 20.  We are using the Small Circle tool that is a free app on your smart phone and free PDF’s can also be ordered at smallcircle.com.  The other good news is that you can go to bmamission.org/activate that offers six hours of free training by the author, Steve McCoy.  Just scroll down to the red tab that says discipleship training.

A new study on discipleship states that, “fewer than 5% of churches in the US have a reproducing making culture.  This report found a disappointing low percentage of churches with a culture of and strategy for reproducing disciples and disciple makers.”  The new normal should be training and equipping husbands to disciple their wives, fathers to disciple their families, and single parents to disciple their children.  The next question should then be; who is the one, after your family, that you could disciple during this time?

In Innovating Discipleship, a book worth reading, Will Mancini speaks of having input results, output results, and impact results.  He wrote it ten years ago but it sounds like the exact situation we find ourselves in today.  He states, “Innovation can easily revolve more around gadgets than changed hearts.  It’s easy to talk technology without connecting the dots to better outcomes in people’s lives.”  It will be sad indeed if all we came out of this with is more simulcasts, Facebook live, and online giving.

God seems to have slowed us down and given us a wonderful opportunity where we can work “on” the ministry instead of working “in” the ministry.  Do you have a process of discipleship in place in your church?  Do you have trained disciple makers who are ready to be a Paul to a Timothy?  Could you train and equip several to be disciple makers to begin pouring into the lives of young disciples?  Maybe this is our opportunity to return the church to the new “normal” of making disciples.

This is a chance to discover new strategies (actually quite old) and take full advantage of this time.  It very well could be the greatest window of imaginative opportunity that we will ever have in our lifetime.  As we look back at the systems and programs we had before this began what did our impact results look like?  Were we seeing changed lives, transformed families, and a real difference in our communities?  What needs to change and are we willing to make those changes?

The Church Left The Building

God has not hit the pause button on His mission.  God has not stopped asking us to go and make disciples.  God’s mission has not slowed down and He still asks of us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The Great Commission and the Great Commandment remain unaffected and unchanged.  Many things are being cancelled but hear this: NOT CHURCH!

Yes, it will look different and large services will not be held. But the church continues to pray, function, minister, meet needs, worship, study, and love one another.  We must continue to be salt and light.  Do you know why?  The truth is that the church is not a building and never has been.  The church is you and me…Christ followers.  

As we submit (not surrender) to the authorities’ recommendations and mandates we should take a position of cooperation for containment as we care for our flocks and our community.  The church is the people of God who love and follow Jesus.  The church is His children pointing others toward Him.  And right now people need Jesus.  It is all of us who are His disciples helping people to find and follow Him.

A.W. Tozer said, “A frightened world needs a fearless church!”  Maybe, without realizing, we have turned the Great Commission into, “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders!”  We have measured success too much by the size of those present more than those actively becoming disciples who make disciples.  Size and money no longer give any church an advantage or disadvantage.

The challenge to everyone of is to have the heart of Christ and a willingness to be His hands and feet. In Colossians 4:3 Paul says, “At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison.”  You cannot mobilize a worship service but you can mobilize a body.  The power of the church is not in its ability to gather but its ability to scatter.

Now geographical proximity is everything.  How do we take responsibility for those around us?  Who on my block is a believer and how can we cooperate to minister to others?  It is time for us to draw a circle around those close to us that we can effectively reach and accept that responsibility.  If you are rural, your circle may include those 2-3 miles around you and if you are in the city it might include 2-3 blocks.

What if we began logging our prayer walk distance?  We say we believe in prayer but this is a great opportunity to put it into practice.  How many miles a day could the members of your church log if each one practiced a mile prayer walk in their neighborhood?  If your church has around 100 attenders that could potentially be a 100 miles a day and easily add up to 700 miles a week.

What if we began holding each another accountable by asking two questions?  How are you doing?  And then following that up with, how are your neighbors doing?  We do not have a relevancy problem, but instead we have an accessibility problem.  The metaphor that comes to mind is that our lights have been under the bushel far too long.  This is a wonderful opportunity to love our neighbors the way Christ commanded.

How do live sent through a crisis like this?  By being the church.  We became experts on doing church but now Christ has placed us in a time to love our neighbor by finding out how can we pray for them and how we can serve them.  We have probably heard someone at some time say, “It’s all about the weekend!”  It is not and never has been.  It is important and corporate worship is needed, but now more than ever it is time to also be the church.

Maybe God is using this crisis to reorient us to love Him first more than a building, a program, a service, or an event.  Here is a word from the leadership of one church,  “Since the ascension of Jesus, the church has gathered with a regular rhythm, but often in different venues. Sometimes the church has met house to house, sometimes in synagogues, and sometimes in catacombs.”  

“Sometimes in cathedrals, sometimes in schools, and sometimes in former movie theaters.  The point was never where, rather, an encouragement to do so on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:24-25).  This is an amazing opportunity for us to remember, and declare, that the church is not a building.”  It is not all about the weekend and never has been.  It is the people of God on mission together.

Have we forgotten about Matthew 18:19-20 that states where two or three are gathered He promises to be present?  Jewish tradition stated that ten men had to be present to constitute a synagogue or to even hold a prayer meeting.  Jesus promised to be present in the midst of even a smaller flock.  Yes, we love getting together but what a comfort to know this truth that He is with us even in groups of 10 or smaller.

To whom is Jesus sending you?  To whom does He want you to be His hands and feet?  To whom does He want you to show His heart of compassion in your acts of kindness and service?

Navigating Crisis

The plethora of opinions on this present declared pandemic is vastly different and the pendulum swings to both extremes.  Here are some thoughts for you to consider as we strive to approach this biblically and with wisdom.  The Bible must establish our moral baseline because it is the divine standard.  Yes, the Bible is our guideline and the Holy Spirit is our guide.  The scriptures do not reveal to us the logistics of individual decisions that involve the when, how, and where. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. 

When you decide how to face this health concern think about the following statement that was on twitter this week.  “Church A – feels led to cancel Sunday Services.  Church B – feels led to maintain Sunday Services.  Let every pastor be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He who cancels does so for the Lord.  He who maintains does so for the Lord.  #TrustYourPastor.  #DontJudgeAnotherChurch.  #SameTeam.”  These are difficult waters to navigate and there is no 100% right or wrong.  Even that statement will be debated and disagreed with.

The New Testament, as it functioned in the book of Acts, was built on home churches.  It is part of the reason why the church has survived crisis after crisis and has remained a force in the world up to today.  Once again, churches and believers will weather this storm through God’s grace and direction.  Much is being said about these present health concerns.  We have all been watching these developments closely and have consulted with many to decide what is best.  Here are some things to consider if you do decide to continue with services.

If through the leadership of the Holy Spirit you decide to have services be mindful of individual health and the health of your church community.  Instruct your people accordingly, that if they are a health risk, do not attend.  If they are not comfortable with being there, do not attend.  If they are sick, do not attend and let everyone know it is ok to stay home.  Encourage every family to decide what is best for them and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Make all aware of the options without any pressure or guilt.

You may decide not to have a nursery or children’s church.  Make your people aware that if their children come with them they will be required to stay with their parents.  This decision may prompt them to stay at home with their children and that is understandable.  Once again, utilize the biblical principle of, “Each one must be fully convinced in their own mind.”  The driving force here is not fear or panic but rather wisdom, safety, and good health practices.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives excellent guidelines on maintaining good health.

Make sure that everything will be wiped down and sanitized before anyone arrives.  Think of all the door handles, light switches, and faucets.  You might consider propping open all of the entrance doors so people do not have to touch them.  Advise and instruct them to not shake hands but instead greet with a smile and say hello.  If your custom is to pass an offering plate consider just having a basket in the back, where they can give at the end of the service.  Place hand sanitizer at every door, which honestly, should have already been there.

That was Plan A, but you may decide that Plan B is the better option for your church.  Yes, this virus scare might be getting blown out of proportion but you believe it is better to be safe than sorry.  Officials have asked everyone to limit their exposure to crowds as best we can.  There are many ways to utilize technology.  There is live streaming, Facebook live, and other ways to worship corporately but not necessarily being in the same room.  The primary focus of the church could shift from a spectator sport and watching the show to being the church.  

This might be the perfect time for a dress rehearsal for your church to get a taste of what it means to be both deeply communal & intentionally missional.  This is a wonderful opportunity to refresh, recharge, & refocus.  This is a time that should help us to appreciate the underground church because this is their regular routine every single week.  Corporate worship was designed to remind us of what really is important in our lives.  God could use this to increase our appreciation for the importance of corporate worship.

Maybe this is not a crisis but rather a great opportunity for the local church to live on mission and be less focused on only the show!!!  What if God is using this virus to reorient His people to love him more than a building and to get back to family worship?

Healthy Church Podcast

The first two episodes of our new podcast is out.  We are praying that it will be an encouragement to you and your church.  We do not have all the answers but we do have a lot of years of experience and figured out a couple of things not to do.  The heart of this came out of a burden for pastors and church leaders with a desire to provide a place where you can know you are loved and someone does care.  Lance Witt in Replenish says, “Inadvertently we have marginalized the soul side of leadership.”  Bill Wellons in What Really Matters would agree with this focus.

Lance Witt shares these alarming statistics,  “1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America.  80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.  70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.  Over 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.  Over 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband entering the ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.  71% of pastors say they are burned out.”

There is more from the Barna Group, Lifeway Research and others but the point is that if you are in ministry you have a target on your back and you are in trouble.  The struggle and battle is real and the spiritual warfare involved is often greatly underestimated.  Difficulties in ministry are not just temporal issues. Like an iceberg, 90% of the spiritual battle is invisible.  Never forget that the evil one hates what you are doing and will do anything and everything he can get away with to stop you.  Don’t be alarmed by the challenges you are facing, they are natural.

The attack of spiritual warfare is real but the enemy will not stop there.  He will use loneliness, isolation, family pressures, financial stress, and unrealistic expectation, along with leadership and people challenges.  Once the wear and tear of the struggle begins to overwhelm you where can you go?  Who can you turn to?  Hopefully, you have many options such as friends, pastors, mentors, etc. but our prayer is that this could be a resource for you to know there are no perfect leaders.  Maybe we can find some answers as we journey this ministry path together.

You can find us at healthychurchpocast.com or download the podcast through iTunes or your favorite podcast provider. Our website states, “The Healthy Church Podcast is an honest conversation about what it means to be a part of a healthy church. There are no perfect churches – because they’re all filled with imperfect people led by imperfect leaders.  But by God’s grace we can begin to dialogue about what changes can be made in our lives as leaders, and in the churches we serve, in order to better love God and His people.”

The podcast will be released on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month with Drew Cline and I serving and your hosts.  Between Drew and I we have over 70 years of ministry experience or maybe we should say ministry mistakes.  Either way we want to help if we can.  Our backgrounds are quite similar yet very unique.  All I ever wanted to do was pastor and began when I was 21 years old.  Yes, way too young but I knew I didn’t need college anymore (sarcasm) because of how brilliant I already was so I headed to my first pastorate without a clue.

Drew’s path led him to minister more in the area of music and creative arts.  He was the lead singer for NewSong, recorded a couple of solo albums, and led the worship teams for Fellowship Bible in Little Rock.  Recently, he was led back to his home church where he grew up, Temple Baptist Church, Little Rock, AR.  Over the last three years he has walked this church through a major replant process as South City.  He has great insights in these areas and is ready, as I am, to not just talk about what went well but where did we struggle.

Church health begins with healthy church leaders and that means every leader’s first priority is to make sure they are spiritually healthy.  Your ability as a leader must come out of your being not just your doing.  You as a leader cannot give what you do not possess.  You can never expect your church to be any healthier than you are.  Our prayer is that you will lead out of a healthy soul as you walk with the Lord and allow Him to do His transforming work in your heart and life.  Join us on the podcast and let us know any other way we can be a help and blessing to you!

Church Health & Revitalization

Church revitalization can be minor tweaks all the way to a major rebuild.  It has been described as an inside job because it is driven by a team within the church whose heart is to see it the church thrive and flourish.  It is resuscitating what already exists.   Replanting is more an outside job that requires much more major help and a total redo which usually involves the passing of the baton.  In today’s article you will hear from our Activate pastor’s advocate, Heidi Sorrells. 

“When I think about Activate I’m in awe of how God has moved and continues to move! When I started working with the Activate ministry in 2015 I didn’t know BMA history, most pastor names, or who was related to whom. Can you believe I didn’t even know who Jerry Kidd was? Somehow, God was able to use what I didn’t have or didn’t know to bring a refreshing newness to everything. Every pastor and church was framed by what God could do in and through them.     Nothing was stale or old.  I found delight in learning who someone was and hearing their story. It was a privilege to begin work with Activate, but also to be on an Activate Team at an early pilot church. This gave me a new depth of insight I’m thankful to have in my current role as pastor advocate. 

Although church decline is sometimes obvious, it’s often hard to recognize. It can come disguised in quality programs and new additions, in filled seats and good preaching. Just as concerning, pastors are wearing thin and struggling to balance the demands of ministry, family, and sometimes full-time jobs. 

To those of us listening there’s a rumble of distress among pastors, a crying out for God to help in stuck places; but, also an uncertainty about where to start or what resources to use. I’m thankful to BMA leaders who saw this growing need; stepped up to take away some of the guesswork; provided a biblical place to start; and gave instruction to help pastors build a team to start with, and discover along-side. 

We see pastors sacrificing to seek God’s vision for their church. One pastor put retirement on hold and committed three years to the Activate journey, believing in God for answers and next steps. That church is now unified as a body and sold out to the new vision God has given them. We hear about hard changes that turned out to reap amazing blessing, people stepping up to lead like never before, churches forming new discipleship initiatives, pastors opening up to other pastors about struggles, and outreach efforts being done with collectively changed hearts. 

 Some of these faith stories include our Activate huddle leaders who are our heroes. They take time from their already busy pastor schedules to facilitate a regional or online pastor huddle for prayer, sharpening and discipling. These huddles are open to pastors who aren’t BMA affiliated, and we pray they will become bridges to our association. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this ministry has been targeted by the enemy. There have been obstacles along the way including serious health battles, lack of financial support, minimal man-power, changes in staffing, and heavy temptation to overload and out-pace ourselves. 

I joke sometimes that we just keep rowing the boat. In truth, God has kept this little ministry going in His goodness, for His purposes, even in the middle of seasons where we were still figuring things out or didn’t know what the future would hold. It’s been humbling to sit in acknowledgment that we’ve had deficits; that there were times we got stuck and couldn’t deliver the next thing we’d been praying about, or that we tried something that didn’t work. 

Ironically, God is helping us take Activate through Activate. We’ve gathered pastors, directors, and huddle leaders and have gotten feedback to evaluate our present reality. We’ve celebrated victories and given praise to the Lord. We’ve bent our knees, gotten real about our failures, and said so. We’ve re-visited God’s vision for the ministry; made sure our values reflect greater humility, more balance, and a true heart of love for every single pastor and every single church that might seek resourcing. We never want to stop learning and applying God’s wisdom. 

As pastor advocate, my role is to listen to the needs of BMA pastors and churches, to coach through Activate materials, and to speak on their behalf. If we can help with an area of resourcing we don’t currently have available, we want to know. We’re mindful of pastors and understand a bi-vocational pastor will have a different schedule and challenges. 

 We recognize that pastors know their church and community best and we give them freedom to adapt Activate tools to fit their environment. We encourage pastors to start with our prayer trainings believing prayer-positioned churches will make change that’s Holy Spirit led.”

You can contact Heidi (Heidi@bmaam.com) to learn more about the Activate Initiative!