Rss

Don’t Complicate Things

Complexity seems to have become the norm rather than the exception.  Keeping things simple in our lives and in our churches can be a difficult thing to accomplish.  The process of simplification may be “simple” but it is not easy to carry out nor is it easy to maintain.  The way we are inundated today with ema

Complexity seems to have become the norm rather than the exception.  Keeping things simple in our lives and in our churches can be a difficult thing to accomplish.  The process of simplification may be “simple” but it is not easy to carry out nor is it easy to maintain.  The way we are inundated today with emails, texts, phone calls, and multi-tasking ensures that it will be very challenging.  Many of the thoughts and the content in this article come from Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  It would we worth your time to read this valuable resource.

A simple church is defined as “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”  The simple church process is far more that just eliminating unnecessary activities from your life.  It challenges you to think through what a discipleship process should look like in your church.  It introduces you to the four essential ingredients of clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.  God designed spiritual growth to be a process where the disciple is continually moving forward.

Rainer and Geiger add to the Simple Church definition by saying, “The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it.  The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment).  The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus).” The imagery in the scriptures illustrates a progression of growth as a disciple follows Christ from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood.  Are people growing, maturing, and becoming more and more like Christ in your church?

  1. Clarity is the first of these four essential ingredients we need to consider.  Simple Churchdefinesclarity as “the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people.”  Remember it is not enough to know what you should be doing (purpose) but you also need to know how to accomplish your purpose (process).  A mission statement must have actionable steps to accomplish your purpose.  What 3- 5 things are clear expectations that you have for every member of your church? What steps do you have in place to accomplish them?
  2. The second ingredient is movement and is defined as “the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.”  Clarity means that you know what you are called to do and can articulate it well but movement is where the actual implementation occurs.  The process of discipleship in the scriptures describes infants and babies who do not know how to care for themselves.  What will we do to help the new believer until they know how to tie their own shoes and how to use a fork to feed themselves?  (Hebrews 5:12)
  3. Developing and designing a process that places people in an environment that encourages spiritual growth is a leaders responsibility. In Ephesians 4 we are called to build up the body of Christ and that is a construction term.  When building and constructing anything, whether it is an edifice or people, it requires a blueprint.  The third essential ingredient is alignment and is defined as, “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.” This ensures that you are working together with the same goals and not competing against one another.
  4. You should not be functioning off of multiple mission/vision statements but one unifying statement that promotes teamwork. The fourth essential ingredient to simplifying your ministry is focus.  Simple Church defines this as “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.”  Focus means that you evaluate ministries and do not sustain them based purely on personal preferences and history.  Is what you are doing right now making disciples that are growing and becoming more and more like Christ? 

Activity does not guarantee maturity.  Being busy is not equal with better.  Our responsibility as leaders is to design a process that partners with the transformation process revealed in Scripture.  This process should place people in the right environments for God to transform their hearts and lives.  It is showing people how to love God, love others, and then serve people in the church and outside the church.  It is asking your people to commit to being faithful to worship services, being a member of a small group, and then serving on a ministry team.  

This requires a laser focus willing to say no to some good things to ensure that you are involved in the best things.  Are you cluttered with activities that keep you busy and give you a false sense of accomplishment but disciples are not being made?  Jesus offers us an intimate relationship with Him. Are you as a church more infatuated & impressed with all the bells and whistles, the trinkets and trimmings, the buildings and furnishings, and the programs and ministries than you are a personal, powerful, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?

 Is your church accomplishing what God called you to do?  Are you fulfilling the Great Commission and carrying out the Great Commandment?  Without a clearly defined process to fulfill your purpose it is easy for a church to experience mission drift.  Over time you have slowly but surely drifted away from your primary calling and the reason you exist.  

Check out the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3 and determine to remember who God has called you to be, repent of any areas of disobedience and neglect, return to being who God intended you be and then you are in the place where revival can occur in your congregation!

R.E.A.L. MEN

This was originally posted May 17, 2018 but was worth posting again with Father’s Day this Sunday!!!

What is a “real” man?  What does a “real” man look like?  Do you have a picture in your mind of John Wayne (is it just me) or some other iconic American standing off the forces of evil single-handedly?  You are independent and you hear an inner voice saying, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!”  There is a huge difference between taking responsibility for our lives and trying to live independently of God and godly counsel.  The reality is that biblical community is required for us to grow and develop into the men God desires for us to be.

When you ask men for a biblical description of a godly man what kind of answer would you get?  There will be some excellent characteristics and spiritual qualities mentioned but can the men in your church give a clear, concise, and compelling vision of what a man of God looks like? Yet that ability is exactly what will enable every man in your church to pursue the goal of looking like what you have described.  You then have a benchmark that holds every man in your ministry accountable to that standard.

Robert Lewis went on a quest to define Authentic Manhoodin developing a ministry called Men’s Fraternity.  Luke McCown (recently retired NFL quarterback) shared with me that when he was playing with the Detroit Lions the chaplain, Dave Wilson, took those four benchmarks and with Robert’s permission developed the following acronym for R.E.A.L. Men:

  1. Rejects Passivity
  2. Engages with God
  3. Accepts Responsibility
  4. Leads Courageously.

These give every man a biblical standard to be held accountable to and pursue.

The greatest challenge for most men in this journey will be accountability. This does not set well with many because men by nature have a desire to be in control of their own lives and to chart their own courses.  The culture has convinced us that independence is a characteristic that must be pursued by “real” men but that is not what the Bible teaches.  Many are raised to believe that they do not need to rely or trust anyone else.  This builds a self-reliance where a man would rather go it alone than to risk the pain of being disappointed or let down by others.

We need a good definition of accountability and fortunately Pat Morley gives us one in his book, Man in the Mirror. 

He states, “to be regularly answerable for each of the key areas of our lives to qualified people.”

The scriptures show us the importance of this truth repeatedly.  Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens” and admonishes us to restore those who fall.  Solomon makes this principle very clear in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 and tells us rather matter of fact, “Two are better than one.”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.”

First, we must be answerable.  Everyone answers to someone and we tend to stray when we are not.  We need godly people in our lives that will ask us the hard questions about the goals we have set but also about the standards by which we should be living.

Second, we answerable in the key areas.  There is so much below the surface that needs to be examined and much of that tends to be the areas of highest risk in our lives.  That which is unseen and not carefully looked at can cause the greatest damage just like an iceberg.

Third, we must be held accountable regularly.  It needs to be frequent and somewhat systematic.  Studies have shown that when men do not meet weekly that eventually they stop meeting completely.

Fourth, we must be held accountable by qualified people.  People who love Jesus and who also have a burden to be held accountable themselves.  They want you to succeed and practice confidentiality.  Accountability in this kind of relationship is required to work properly.

R.E.A.L. men (Reject Passivity, Engage with God, Accept Responsibility, Live Courageously) refuse to be cultural Christians where we never go deeper than discussing the weather, news, sports, and our jobs.  We desire to go deeper with godly mentors who can hold us accountable for our spiritual walk in such areas as our faith, family, friends, fitness, and finance. Accountability takes friendship and fellowship to the next level where we intentionally and willingly decide to live in a fishbowl.  Accountability only works when individuals willingly submit to it.

Unfortunately, we are told that only about 15% of men in our churches will submit and follow through on biblical accountability.  Have a plan on how you can begin to connect them with one another.  The number four seems to be a good number of men in a group to ensure real accountability and that the hard questions are asked in love.  One-on-one accountability seems to fall prey to the stronger personality overpowering the weaker.  The stronger willed individual can convince one person far easier than three that they are not doing anything wrong.

Having three others walking this journey of accountability with you provides flexibility when one of them is unable to attend one week.  Remember that Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”  There is great wisdom in looking for three godly qualified men who will on a hold you answerable on a regular basis in the key areas of your spiritual walk.  They ask the hard questions on the goals we have set and the standards we are called to live by in God’s word.

Do Not Steal My Glory

Jeff Christopherson in Kingdom Matrix says, “Churches can be reduced to man-centered organizations but the Kingdom of God cannot.  Should a church find itself functioning in the miserable state of pragmatic human-centered strategic planning, it is in exceedingly dangerous territory.”  The extreme example of this is putting into practice whatever works believing that the end justifies the means.  Churches focus on spicing up their messages, speeding up their music, and sprucing up their facilities and many times nothing actually gets any better. 

Paul tells us that one plants, one waters, and that it is God who gives the increase.  Christopherson puts it this way, “Whenever we focus on the goals over the process, we will always be tempted to produce the fruit ourselves,” This leads to a belief that bigger is better and size determines our worth.  The reality is that numbers do not equal gospel influence anymore than attendance to church guarantees spiritual maturity.  Just because you listen to truth it does not mean your values and priorities are being transformed. 

Joshua was a mighty warrior and man of faith.  He challenges the Israelites to decide, once and for all, who they will worship.  In Joshua 24:1-13 he communicates God’s word to them and shares seventeen rapid-fire proclamations.  It begins in verse 3, “But I took your father Abraham from the region beyond the Euphrates River” and ends in verse 13 with “I gave you a land you did not labor for, and cities you did not build.”  God tells these mighty warriors who had conquered this land in verse 12, “It was not by your sword or bow.”

We must be careful to never take credit for what God has and is doing.  Yes, we still must accept our responsibilities and obligations but we should always remember that God will not share His glory with anyone.  When Jeff Christopherson was planting a multiplying church in Toronto one of the things God impressed on their group very clearly was, “Do not steal My Glory!”  Joshua would concur and challenges us to always obey God’s word, to not pursue the gods of this world, and to never give our allegiance to anyone but God.

Planning and strategy are good things but it must be prayerful planning.  Thinking through how we can be more effective and efficient is important but we must remain true to the gospel and the scriptures.  While some will scream loudly that size does not guarantee spiritual maturity it could also be argued that small does not guarantee it either. Jeff makes this clear when he states, “Just because my church claims to be a community of Christ does not automatically mean that it is advancing the cause of Christ.”

New Testament churches have a purpose according to Ephesians 3:10, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church.”  The local church does not so much have a mission for God but rather God has local churches to carry out His mission.  If we are not advancing God’s kingdom then is it possible that we are reducing its impact and influence?  In Revelation 2:5 Jesus says this to the church in Ephesus, “Remember then how far you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first.”  

Daniel Im in No Silver Bullets gives clear and sound biblical direction in developing strategies and systems.  He defines a system as “a group of related parts that move or work together.”  It requires training your members in the areas of assimilation, outreach, and discipleship to name a few.  All of your systems can use prayer planning, strategic thinking, and intentionality.  This is the biblical directive of equipping one another as instructed in Ephesians 4:12, “For the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.”

In the area of discipleship Daniel Im states, “Since the starting point for every church’s vision should be the Great Commission and Commandment, it makes sense to view your discipleship pathway as the strategy that’ll get you to the vision.”  We know that our core identity is that we are His disciples (followers). In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Jonathan Parnell defines a disciple of Jesus as “a worshipper, a servant, and a witness.”  Are you identified as following Christ with precise compliance?”

Being identified as His disciples means that our core mission and objective is making disciples.  Matthew 28 commands us to go and make disciples of all nations. Daniel Im continues, “After all, a discipleship pathway is the intentional route that you have set up in your church to develop and form missionary disciples for Kingdom impact.” Most discipleship is pouring into people already saved, which is good, but it is not making “new” disciples, which is even better.  Evangelism is inviting people to Christ while discipleship is investing in them. 

Your discipleship pathway is what shapes character, transforms hearts, and develops the believer.  Your leadership pipeline is what equips these disciples to live out their calling.  Daniel Im uses a great analogy that helps us picture what this should look like.  “If your church was a car that had to get you to a particular endpoint, which would be the vision, the discipleship pathway would be the fuel, and the leadership pipeline would be the engine.  Both are equally important and have to rely on one another if the car is going to experience any movement.”

Galatians 6:14 says, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.”  Do not steal His glory! 

God Desires So Much More

A couple of years ago, Dr. John David Smith, our executive director of missions, challenged our association by giving us a picture of where we were as cooperating churches.  It was to many painful, and I am thankful for the courage of leaders to tell us what we need to hear.  Hopefully, we will receive it with a spirit of humility and repentance.  Whenever you give negative statistics, it does deliver some pain, but my prayer is that it will also call us to prayer and that we will actively pursue God’s vision and mission for His churches. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 churches will close their doors this year! 

Church health researchers tell us that 85% of all churches in North America have either plateaued or are on the decline. We are also told that of the remaining 15% which are considered healthy and growing, only 1% of those churches are growing because of conversion growth (people being born again and baptized). We have approximately 1200 BMA churches listed in the directory and handbook.  That means that over 1000 churches have plateaued or are on the decline.  We must be willing to at least consider the possibility that this is our present reality.

This suggests that as an association of churches we have 180 churches that are healthy and growing.  Our primary motivation should not be size and numbers but rather a healthy church as described in the scriptures.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations and our identity is to be a disciple; an obedient follower of His commands.  As disciples, our mission is to be making disciples.  Are we being transformed daily and becoming more like Christ?  Are we obediently seeking and engaging others to help them find and follow Jesus?

In Ephesus 3:20-21, Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to His power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” God desires far more for His churches than we do.  He desires to see every church bring Him glory and to proclaim His name to every nation. Do you not have a nagging feeling that God intends more for us than only a Sunday worship service?  Do you not sense a higher calling than a wonderful time of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ?   

Todd Wilson reminds us in his book, More,that the incarnation of Christ means that we are the sent ones and the resurrection of Christ means that there is no place we are not sent.  In the Exponential devotional, “Made for More,” Erika Rizkallah says this, “As His church we are chosen by Jesus to carry Christ’s fullness into every corner of culture and sphere of society. The church is the people of God, saved by the power of God, for the purposes of God.  It is all the people of God on everyday mission to fill everything in every way with the fullness of God.”  

You can download Erika’s six-week devotional guide and the Made for Moreresource kit (exponential.org) and it is well worth your time as they lead you through six necessary shifts based on the book of Ephesians.  We see in Ephesians 3:10 that, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.”  God wants his people and His churches to be everything He has commanded us to be.  He also desires that we be everywhere He has directed us to be.

The resource kit will walk you through each chapter of Ephesians with the focus on these shifts.  This free resource instructs us, “Paul’s letter to the churches in Ephesus provides our roadmap. We will work through each of the six chapters together. Each chapter highlights a theme element, a critical move, and an essential shift in thinking and behavior to put us on a pathway toward mobilizing God’s people, God’s way.”  

The themes of chapters 1-6 are:

  1. Made to Do More
  2. Made to Go More
  3. Made to Win More. 
  4. Made for More
  5. Made to be More
  6. Made to Love More

The critical moves of each chapter are:

  1. Mysteries: Illuminate the Mystery
  2. Masterpieces: Investigate the Design
  3. Motivations: Motivate with Love
  4. Missionaries: Organize for Fullness
  5. Mission Fields: Activate for Purpose
  6. Methods: Prepare for Battle  

The essential shifts every church needs to make are:

  1. From more effort to more Jesus.
  2. From more volunteers to more masterpieces.
  3. From more guilt to more love.
  4. From more hierarchy to more missionaries.
  5. From more programs to more mission fields.
  6. From more strategy to more surrender.

Here are a couple of things to begin to see the “more” that God desires for your church.  

  1. Begin to pray and ask God to do a great and mighty work in and through your congregation.  Develop a prayer strategy that involves everyone in your congregation that you possibly can.  Dedicate times to pray and fast to show God how desperate and serious you really are.  
  2. You must believe that God has “more” for your church.  Dare to dream that God has a plan for your church to glorify Him and make a difference in His kingdom work.
  3.  Then you should be willing to evaluate the necessary elements required for a church to bring Him glory. You must begin to evaluate your biblical alignment and obedience to the word of God.  There must be qualified godly leaders who can effectively lead the church to make the necessary changes.  You must also consider looking at congregational health in the areas of fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and mission.  

Are you effectively engaging the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and if not, why not?  Are you making disciples and if not, why not? 

Reaching Out—Siders!

Most people enjoy the feeling of thinking they have the “inside” track. It might be the inside track towards a better job or the inside track of knowing the right people in order to accomplish your goals.  Having the inside track means you know the right people and you know the right steps to get where you desire to go.  With that said, no one enjoys feeling like they are the outsider.  You don’t feel like you know anyone you need to know nor do you feel accepted by him or her.  All of us, at one time or another, have felt like an outsider and it was not a good feeling.

Your church must be careful to not build a culture that promotes a mentality of rewarding the insiders while rejecting the outsiders.  We should never make it seem like being a card-carrying member means you have certain insider information and rights.  Actually, the focus of those already on the inside should be on how they can serve and minister to those who are on the outside.  Matter of fact, Jesus focused on the outsiders by loving them and reaching out to them.  It has been said, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems crazy…until you are that one!”  

Jesus pulled no punches with the religious crowd in Luke 4:25-27 reminding them that Elijah did not go to the aid of a widow from Israel but rather a foreigner, an outsider from the region of Sidon.  Jesus continues by telling them that even though there were many lepers in Israel Elisha went to Naaman a Syrian, also an outsider.  Jesus did not place much stock in lineage, social standing, or pedigree.  The deciding factor on the individual these prophets would help was not based on that person being an insider but rather whether or not they responded in faith.

InKingdom Matrix Jeff Christopherson writes, “Outsiders would be blessed if they responded to the revelation that God gives.  Insiders would be ignored, passed-over, disregarded, (or worse) if they did not demonstrate faith in God’s revelation.  Others, any others, even Gentiles, would receive a blessing from Him, but His hometown, through their own unbelief, would be completely passed over.” How sad that those who watched Jesus grow up would miss out on His salvation.  Their “inside” information did not seem to help them at all because of their lack of faith. 

 Jesus’ message of reaching outsiders was not well received.  They drove Him out of town and wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff.  It should not catch us off guard or surprise us when some of our “insiders” are not overjoyed about reaching “outsiders.” Unfortunately, way too many insiders seem to have blind spots about who they should be reaching out to and are not interested in obeying Christ’s commission.  It is very sad that some Christian “insiders” can even become angry and enraged by the thought of reaching certain outsiders.  

Peter finally figured this out and learned his lesson in Acts 10 when he says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”  He did not come around without some strong hesitation and arguing.  You must be ready to address these challenges, excuses, and disobedience.  Prejudice is real and should not be ignored.  It creates an inward focus on those you already have and causes you to forget that your church actually exists to obey the great commission.

The challenges will be plentiful as “insiders” say things like, “Shouldn’t we focus on taking care of who we already have first?” The bean counters will want to know, “How much is this going to cost us?”  Those in control will wonder, “Will we still have enough votes on our side at the business meeting if we grow too much?”  The “white and uptight” will struggle with worshipping with the “down and out.”  The legalists will worry about new people not following the already well-established unwritten rules that all of the “insiders” know well.

What if pursuing the de-churched and un-churched once again became our priority? 

 What if loving the lost, last, and least was more important than our personal preferences? 

 What if we once again did what Jesus did; built relationships with sinners who were far from God? 

 Jeff Vanderstelt recently tweeted, “When the church doesn’t expect normal Christians to be on mission in their every day life, then we’ve misunderstood the very nature of what it means to be God’s people.”  When the church is not interested in reaching outsiders it has no reason to exist.

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Have we become more concerned about how many are attending instead of how many are engaging people far from God?  Have we become so focused on seating capacity that we have forgotten about measuring our sending capacity?  Have we become so busy with all we are doing around the church that we have forgotten our primary purpose and are neglecting God’s mission? Jesus made our purpose and mission very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Are you making disciples?

*Here are a few more questions to evaluate your ministry.  

*Are lives being changed and transformed?  

*Are you seeing disciples being made?  

*Has your church chosen survival and scarcity over the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community?  

*Does most of your present ministry focus on the “insiders” or are you actively engaging in ministry that serves the “outsiders” on a regular basis?  

*Are you striving to be the fullness of Jesus Christ in every corner of your culture and every sphere of your society? 

Many health issues are amplified and the symptoms get worse when we shift from being outwardly-focused and become inwardly focused!!! 

Do We Need Revitalization?

 We usually will go to our family doctor once a year for an annual checkup.  We want to make sure everything is ok and hope for a clean bill of health.  Maybe we need some minor adjustments or simple instructions to improve our health such as starting to walk more.  Basic steps such as that can make a huge difference in our overall health.  The greater problem is if we ignore our health until very drastic steps must be quickly taken and.  Usually, the longer you ignore sickness the worse it becomes until it can even be life threatening.

Hey church, the same is true about you!  The longer you refuse to ignore signs of being unhealthy the sicker you will become.  Even though the sickness your church might be experiencing can be very complex the solutions can actually be very simple.  A church says, “We never see visitors and no one ever gets saved!” The solution can be as basic as inviting more people and sharing your faith regularly!  The reality is that if your church attendance continues to decline eventually you will have to close the doors unless something changes.

There are different levels of sickness just as there are different stages of cancer.  Are you willing to diagnose just how sick your church is?  Are you brave enough to cry out to God and ask Him to show you where you are falling short of being the vibrant body of Christ He desires for you to be?  Are you willing to repent of the things He shows you that need to change for your congregation to be healthy and thriving once again?  There are different levels of church sickness that you need to consider so you can take the steps necessary, whether they are simple or not.

  1. Maybe you need to refocus on why you exist. Your church exists for His glory and so that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren reminds that according to Acts 2 the church is to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission. Which one do you need to refocus on the most?  Pick the one big thing you need to work on and refocus on that for the next three months. The dictionary says, “The verb refocus means to readjust an optical device.”  It can also mean to change your priorities.  The word of God is our lens and it is to be our rule and standard. Look through His lens and see what may need to be made clearer.  Paul says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”  In II Chronicles 20:12 it tells us that when God’s children were terrified because a mighty army was descending upon them, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  That is a great place to begin by refocusing! 
  2. The prescription for health may require more than a simple tweak or adjustment; it may demand revitalization.  When you take the two root words of revitalize and add the “ion” it means to make live again.  It is the idea of restoring vitality to your church by giving it back the vigor and vitality it once had.  Thom Rainer describes the difference between refocusing and revitalization like this. Refocusing means you want to improve by asking, “How can we do this better?”  Revitalization wants to fix what is wrong and asks, “How do we make it right?”  In our Activate initiative we describe the lifecycle of a church in three stages.  Are you inclining, reclining, or declining?  The longer you have been on the decline the harder it will be for revitalization to occur. There is no silver bullet or plug-n-play that fixes everything overnight.  There is a big difference in the time required to lose 5 pounds and losing 100. There is a big difference in commitment if you decide to get in shape to run a 5K and running a marathon.  It may not be easy but it is always worth it when we are battling for God’s glory. 
  3. Another option may require a church considering replanting.  There are many different ways this can look.  It might mean handing the building over to a healthy congregation or to a new church plant.  It could also mean selling the facilities and reinvesting the resources into advancing His kingdom.  A congregation might need to prayerfully consider what could be done to use the investment that was already made and who might be able to focus on reaching that community for Christ.  Every church has a lifecycle and there comes a time to accept that. 

Recently on a podcast I heard Mark Clifton say, “For a neighborhood a building represents a sacred space.  Every neighborhood benefits from that sacred space. When they see that space decline and fall into disrepair it reflects on the glory of God.  We know that building is not the church but the unchurched, the unsaved, they do think it is a representation of the glory of God.  It is worth reclaiming that property for God’s glory.”  He then quoted a friend who said, “A vacant church looks like a long abandoned castle of a long forgotten king.” 

Consider contacting us to see how our Activate initiative might be able to help you evaluate where you are and what steps you might consider next.  Ultimately Activate is a discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit, driven by the pastor (along with the support of a team within the church), supported by the huddle, and coached by the BMA Activate staff.  You can email me at larry@bmaam.comor Heidi Sorrells, our Pastor’s Advocate, at heidi@bmaam.comand she will be happy to help you any way she can. 

Autopsy of a Dead Church

They say there is a first time for everything so this is the first time I am running someone else’s blog in its entirety here but I think its worth it. Our Activate ministry is a:

BIBLE-BASED DISCOVERY process, LED by the HOLY SPIRIT,
driven by the PASTOR, supported by a TEAM within the church, DISCIPLED by the pastor’s Huddle, and COACHED by the Activate staff.

We utilize Thom Rainers book mentioned here in the early stages of this church renewal/revitalization process! My prayer is this will challenge you and your church to seek to be healthy and multiply!

From Thom Rainer:

“I was stunned.

When I wrote Autopsy of a Deceased Church five years ago, the response took me by surprise. While all authors expect or hope their books will be bestsellers, I frankly didn’t see it coming. Hundreds of thousands of book sales later, Autopsy became the all-time bestseller in the genre of church leadership.

Why? Why did church leaders, both vocational and laity, respond to the book with this level of interest? The concept was simple. We interviewed church members of churches that had closed their doors or died. We performed an autopsy of deceased churches. We found out why these churches died.

After about a year of receiving questions and comments from readers, I saw a common theme emerging. The readers wanted to know what they could do to prevent their churches from dying. Ironically, a book about the death of churches became a book about hope for churches.

While the sales of the book remain strong to this day, I think it’s worth noting what we have learned in the five years since I wrote the book. On this fifth anniversary celebration of Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Here are six things we’ve learned.

  1. Most members of dying churches didn’t see it coming. Many of the members were still dealing with the shock of the death of their churches when we interviewed them.
  2. Many of the members and leaders of these churches would have begun revitalization efforts if they knew how. I am so grateful for the revitalization revolution taking place today. Churches have resources and knowledge they didn’t have five years ago.
  3. “Minor” issues kill churches. Most of these churches did not die because of some major heresy. They did not die because of a mass exodus of the population surrounding them. They died because they lost their focus. They died because they fought over things that really did not matter. They majored on minors to the point of death.
  4. The silent majority killed churches. Some members saw the problems. They knew the power brokers in the church. They knew the personnel committee ran off a pastor without cause. They heard the constant chorus of not-so-well-intending critics attacking church leadership. But they said nothing and did nothing. Their silence was a dagger in the back of these churches.
  5. Some members waited for the silver bullet. Many of them said they kept waiting on that young pastor who would attract new young families. Some of the churches got those young pastors, and they ran them off when change began to take place. Most of the churches, though, never got the young pastor. They waited until death.
  6. A church does not have to die. Death is not inevitable. But most of the members of these churches would rather see the church die than change. They got their wish.

Thanks to all of you who purchased a copy of Autopsy. I am honored and humbled by the response. Now, for the first time ever, we have a video resource for the study of this book. Perhaps it’s time take a group through this book and see what God will do to move your church in the right direction.

I pray your church will not be the next autopsy performed.”


Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.

Leadership Fears

All of us have fears such as spiders, snakes, or maybe tight closed in spaces.  We often fear the future and worry about our jobs, our kids, and our churches.  We can fear not being liked or even of being misunderstood.  We can have a fear of being an outcast or of being rejected by our friends.  We can even be afraid of what the Lord may ask us to give up, what He may ask us to do, or where He might ask us to go.  Fear is real and its greatest danger is that it paralyzes us and we are then unable to do what we need to do.      

Recently, as Dr. Mark Livingston was teaching on leadership he talked about three areas where we might fear man as leaders.  First, we fear what they can do to us.  Second, we fear what they can take from us and then, third, we fear losing what someone might give us.  We know that fear is real and it is an issue that we all have to face.  Fear keeps you from doing things you want to do and sadly, things we should be doing.  We are told that the number one fear most people have is public speaking and many times we have not spoken up when we should have.

  1. What man can do to us, is the awareness of how they can create problems, headaches, and difficulties as we strive to lead our congregations.  There are those who can make every step and every decision much harder than it should be.  They are difficult by nature and sometimes we have even encountered wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Sometimes we perceive opposition but all that is needed is more information. Opposition should not shock us because Paul certainly experienced it (Acts 25:7; I Timothy 5:17).   
  2. Maybe we fear what they can take from us.  There are those who have the ability to undermine our leadership, create opposition, and even take our position from us. You know, the influencer whom the congregation always listens to first.  Please remember when certain people think they have lost their control and influence they will not play fair.  They think they can say and act as they want but they also know that a leader is not allowed the same latitude.  The leader is definitely held to a higher standard.
  3. The other fear we sometimes have is losing what someone could potentially give us.  We fear that certain people might leave and take their finances with them. Unfortunately, there are those who will even strive to use their resources to control the church to make sure things are done their way.  We should never allow anyone to hold the church hostage, including ourselves.  We have witnessed people catering to certain individuals because of what they might get.  James 2 addresses that in the early church and we also must resist the temptation of showing favoritism.   

How do you find courage in the midst of fear?  

  1. Ponder about how big God really is.  In the model prayer Jesus begins with, “Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as Holy.”  A great song says, “Your name is a strong and mighty tower. Your name is a shelter like no other.  Your name, let the nations sing it louder ‘Cause nothing has the power to save but Your name.” Think about His names such as Creator (He who made you), Father (He who loves you), Savior (He who forgives you), Shepherd (He who guides you), and Shelter (He who hides you.)   
  2. Believe and trust that God is aware of your situation and circumstances.  In Exodus 3 God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressions, and I know about their sufferings.”  God has not forgotten, He has not abandoned you, and He never will.  Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”  Yet, so often we act like orphans whining and griping because we do not believe that God has our back.  We think it is up to us to scratch and claw and make things happen.
  3. Be willing to wait on Him to show up. Looking at the life of Joshua we see that his source of courage came from God because he was loyal, faithful, and willing to be lonely as he waited for Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Moses was busy meeting with God and was preoccupied with what God was telling him face to face and friend to friend (Exodus 24).  What was Joshua doing?  He was waiting in silence until Moses returned.  This says something about a man when he is waiting on God’s direction but he does not panic, despair, retreat from his post, or desert his friend.

Joshua type courage comes from remaining completely loyal to his assignment even when he is by himself and probably very lonely. Courage develops, as we trust God in the silent interludes of life.  There are times a leader is called by Christ to come apart from everyone else to be alone with Him.  We must resist the temptation of thinking we will be forgotten, opportunities will pass us by, and we will end up missing out on something.  The quiet times and the resting times can be the most difficult and the hardest to not fear and to not worry.

Dr. Livingston gave us an excellent quote from When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch, “All experiences of the fear of man share at least one common feature: people are big.  They have grown to idolatrous proportions in our lives.  They control us.  Since there is no room in our hearts to worship both God and people, whenever people are big, God is not.  Therefore, the first task in escaping the snare of the fear of man is to know that God is awesome and glorious, not other people.” 

Courage to Lead

Courage is not found where we so often look for it.  We see courage as something we have to produce or we have to find within ourselves…but is that the courage God admonishes us to have? We know that courage is not the absence of fear but doing the right thing in spite of the fear.  Leaders must find the courage to take unpopular stands and make difficult decisions in the ministry.  Where did the leaders in the word of God find their courage?  While they were certainly people of character and had some exceptional qualities, there is so much more to it.

There are many examples of leadership given to us in the scriptures.  Jesus teaches us much on discipleship and leadership development.  Moses shows us how to move a large group of people in the same direction while his father-in-law taught him how to delegate responsibility.  These men mentor us as we read about them and learn lessons from their strengths and weaknesses.  There are men throughout the Old and New Testaments we should observe and study. Two men who found great courage were Joshua and Daniel.      

The Bible gives us the story of Joshua who leads the Israelites into battle with the Amalekites. The fascinating aspect about this account is that as far as we know, he had never before been in battle. When Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out and fight their enemies he immediately responds and obeys.  He does not delay and drag his feet.  He does not offer up excuses nor does he look for a way out of this assignment.  He does not use his inexperience as an argument for them to find someone else.  Instead, he accepts the calling to become their general.

Joshua had an unshakable belief that God was able to handle any situation he would have to face in his young life.  He had a resolute faith and knew there were two words not found in God’s vocabulary; cannot and impossible.  Romans 8:31 says, “What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?”  We must have a resolute faith that believes 100% in Luke 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  God’s strength can show up at unexpected times but we should not expect it if we are not walking with Him and trusting in Him. 

Joshua became Moses’ assistant and was able to learn so much as he observed this man of God.  The book of Joshua is really about an ordinary person accomplishing God’s extraordinary purposes. There was far more to Joshua’s success than personal giftedness, perseverance, or just the circumstances he found himself in. The question is not about God’s ability but your availability.  Is your life as available as Joshua’s was?  Are you prepared to allow Him to make the necessary adjustments in you so His power is manifested in and through you?

God works through those who are willing to pay the necessary price to walk with Him as Joshua did.  As Joshua followed the Lord and served Moses you see lessons he learned that would develop his courage in making him a great military leader and a dynamic spiritual leader.  He watched as Moses met with God and he was willing to wait all alone until Moses returned. This young leader experienced loneliness, separation, and isolation because he saw intimacy with God vitally more important than hanging out with his friends. 

What lessons we can learn from Joshua?  

  1. Serve well when we are assisting others. 
  2. You do not have to be in the lead chair to make a difference and impact.  
  3. Get ready so that when God calls you into battle you are ready. C
  4. Courage is developed in an intimate relationship with Christ where we learn we can always trust Him. 
  5. Courage is born out of a dynamic faith that can only be discovered through following Him. 
  6. Yes, God can unexpectedly show up but we should not expect it if we are not faithfully following Him.

Another example of courage would be Daniel.  He resolves (determines in His heart) to not defile himself.  The leaders around him discover his commitment when they see that following God’s plan was ten times better. Daniel’s courage increased in Daniel 2 as he discovered that God gives you what you need to know when you need to know it.  In Daniel 3, he realized that God is in control of every challenge, obstacle, or difficulty.  In Daniel 6 he ends up in a lion’s den because he refuses to stop what he had always done regularly and faithfully – pray.

He leads as an example of courage that developed from a willingness to pay any price to walk with God.   This is seen quite clearly in Daniel 10:12, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me . . . your prayers were heard.  I have come because of your prayers.”  God lets Daniel know that he showed up because he prayed.  This is a great leadership lesson in courage.  The answer to our prayer is not the most important thing but rather seeking Him more than seeking what He provides.  When He does show up we will not be concerned by what we do not have!

In Joshua: Mighty Warrior and Man of Faith, W Phillip Keller says, “True faith in Him is my personal, positive response to His word, to the point where I act upon it and simply do what He commands.  I do not look for excuses, offer weak-kneed apologies for my inconvenience, or debate the issue with God.  I simple obey and accede to His authority.”  Our courage is not in who we are but in the one we worship, follow, and serve!