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10 Steps to Make the Most Out of 2017

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Another year, 2017, is upon us and 2016 is about to be a part of history. Where does your church go from here and how do you enter this new open door of opportunity? There is a place for planning and strategy as you prayerfully seek what the Lord has for your ministry. Here are some thoughts about how to approach the new year so that you can intentionally lead those of whom God has given you the oversight.

First, plan a prayer retreat as soon as possible! If you have not already planned some time alone to seek God’s face and ask Him for direction, do it now. You must be very practical about this and pull out your calendar to schedule it. If you do not block the time off, it will not happen. A prayer retreat has been defined as “a time you set aside to go away and be alone with God.” You may want to fast from food but especially fast from your phone, the internet, and social media. Be still so you can hear His voice.

Second, utilize the S.W.O.T. analysis to determine where you are. Be willing to evaluate 2016 with other leaders in your church and determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (or challenges). Every church has strengths and it is good to celebrate what you are doing well. Yes, look at your weaknesses and challenges but do not overlook where God is blessing and be thankful for what He is doing in your midst. Then begin to focus on where you can improve in 2017 to be the church Christ designed you to be.

Third, become strategic and intentional. What practices do you need to put in place to accomplish what you believe God is leading you to fulfill? We say we value certain things like evangelism and discipleship but are there consistent patterns evident in our lives that support what we say we value? If people look at our schedules can they tell we value these things? If an outsider looks at our church budget what would they say your church values?

Fourth, remember that church culture begins to change with the language we use. Do you have a clear, concise, and simple mission statement? Have you developed a simple strategy that clearly articulates how you plan to carry out that mission statement? A mission statement is not a fix everything solution but it is a great place to begin the journey. We must remind our congregation regularly that God is able to do above and beyond all we think and even beyond what we can imagine.

Fifth, schedule a leadership-planning meeting to cast the vision for the future. There are several components that need to be a part of this process. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear from everyone about what they think should be the church’s focus. There are some helpful guidelines to follow but do not be afraid of constructive criticism and input. A creative think tank approach can accomplish great things. There should always be honest transparency with your leadership or you will never be able to move forward.

Sixth, determine some strategic imperatives that prioritize what you must focus on first. What are 3-5 items that you feel must be focused upon first? Be sure to remain focused on God’s heart and where the Holy Spirit is working right now. What are the “most” important things you must do to achieve your vision. We are assuming at this point that you know why you exist and what you desire to accomplish as a church. Make a list of what your leadership believes are imperatives and narrow it down to 3-5.

Seventh, develop goals for each of these imperatives to move you forward in reaching them. These imperatives can be new ministries, improving present ministries, or even stopping unproductive ministries. The key here is to list at least three goals for each strategic imperative that will help to make them a reality and not just an idea. You need to know what you need to know but that is only information. You also need to be passionate about that information but that is only inspiration. Involving the head and the heart is necessary but the next step through goals is involving the hands and the feet.

Eighth, designate what needs to be done and who is responsible for making sure it happens. This is where leadership can really drop the ball. Committees tend to be a group of people not involved in a particular ministry telling those who are involved what to do. Leadership teams always focus on what needs to be done and who is responsible. You must determine measurable objectives and then assign who is responsible for making sure it happens. Values are good but values with goals are even better.

Ninth, develop the leaders around you by giving them the resources they need. We say we want to develop more leaders but how much time are we actually spending doing that? We say we value defining and developing leaders but no mentoring or apprenticeship is occurring. The process is clear in the word of God that everyone needs a Paul as a mentor and then they need to find a Timothy to mentor. Find receptive, willing, and teachable potential leaders. Then develop a process to intentionally and consistently train them.

Tenth, seek others outside of your church and ministry to help. There is something to be said about “outside” eyes. We know the scriptures tell us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. Somebody knows what you need to know, so find him or her and find out what they know. Somebody has been through what you are going through so listen to his or her story and learn from it. Somebody has been where you want to go so find out what that looked like for them. These godly advisors can talk you in off the ledge or they can motivate you to take that step of faith that you need to take.

Healthy people and healthy churches lead prayerfully, intentionally and strategically!

 

ABUNDANT JOY!

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The Christmas season is upon us. II Cor 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” The amazing part of the context of this passage is the joy the people had in giving even though they were poor and suffering themselves. II Cor 8:2 says, “During a severe testing of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.” They not only gave generously but their eagerness caused them to beg Paul to let them help. Not just joy but an abundance of joy.

This time of the year should remind us of the wonderful gifts God has given us. We have hope because of Him. This hope is a holy expectation of what is to come. There is peace provided regardless of our situation. He provides a calmness in the midst of the craziness of this world. We must also remember the gift of love described in II Cor. 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”

The gifts of God brought to us through the birth of our savior are hope, peace, love, and abundant joy. Do you have your joy on? Are you able to rejoice in the Lord on a regular basis? Has someone or something taken your joy away from you? Church, not only should you be a generous church but your generosity should come out of your abundance of joy!

Oswald Chambers said, “A life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy!”

If you have lost your joy the place to find it again is in His presence.

John 15:9-11 explains it to us, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Joy is not determined by our circumstances but rather comes in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why from prison Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Without joy we will struggle and joy is not produced by what is happening but by our intimacy with our savior. Our primary focus must always be on Him and what He has done for us. Otherwise, when problems and challenges come our way and we are faced with our own inadequacies, we are tempted to react in harmful ways. Think about it! Mary and Joseph had to leave home when they needed a home the most. They were alone when they needed support the most. Yet we sing, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!”

Three areas will really challenge your joy.

The first challenge is tough situations. We know that these challenges will come. It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems. It is inevitable and James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials.” If your joy is not full as Jesus said the temptation will be to become discouraged, defeated, and fearful.

The second challenge will be difficult people. Now I am sure your church does not have any difficult people but there are rumors some churches do. If your joy is gone you will react in harmful ways that can create division and disharmony. Some chose to be timid and never address the difficult person. Others become cynical and talk about them behind their backs. Then there are those who become bitter and scarred from it. Seek to love them, pray for them, and confront them when necessary. They do not produce your joy, Jesus does!

The third challenge is when your control is threatened. There are many areas of church life where people are use to being in charge and do not want to relinquish that control. When disagreement or conflict comes the reaction so often is not healthy. Some will respond in a dictatorial way saying, “It’s my way or the highway!” Others will become more driven and might respond, “This is where I am going. You come with me or get out of the way.” The third might be the ugliest when a temper tantrum is thrown because they did not get their way.

The focus here is upon how you react to tough situations, difficult people and when your control is threatened. Your joy is not determined by any of these but rather your walk with the Lord. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” When Jesus began His earthly ministry the Father said these affirming words to Him, “This is my beloved Son. In whom I am well pleased.” Joy comes from hearing the Father say, “It’s going to be all right.”

Joy is produced when we realize the depths of the truth of these words. The Father says, “My Beloved Son.” That is His identity. Joy comes from knowing you are a child of the King. Then He said He was “pleased” in Him. That is our security. If God is pleased with us then there is nothing to fear and our joy multiplies. The significance of this passage is that He is the Messiah. He had a job to do and joy comes from fulfilling the role God has for each and every one of us. Joy comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus where we understand our identity, security, and significance in Him!

Healthy churches are experiencing abundant joy regardless of their circumstances and challenges!

BE A GENEROUS CHURCH

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II Cor. 9:15 gives us one of the richest statements in scripture; “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Christmas is all about the greatest gift ever given. The word indescribable literally means too wonderful for words. The words in this verse are the concluding comments of chapters eight and nine. They tell the story of the generosity of a people who display their appreciation through their generosity. This unspeakable gift is the basis, foundation, and motivation for all Christian giving.

Your church is never more like Jesus than when you live generous lives. Every church is there is help people find and follow Jesus. Notice the “helping people!” True biblical prosperity equals generosity. When Paul was headed to Jerusalem with a love offering from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia he said they were pleased to make a contribution to the poor. They were not just willing but saw it is a blessing and privilege to help. They were thrilled to have an opportunity to be a blessing.

We need to be mindful of those who may struggle during the holidays. This time of the year is wonderful but to many it reminds them of their loneliness, their losses, and their lack of hope. They need a little extra giving of our time and attention. Their hearts are breaking and they should not have to face this season alone. We can be generous with our love, encouragement, prayers, and other expressions of kindness. They need to be reminded that they may struggle and suffer for a season but God’s purposes will prevail.

We must make sure our motives are pure in our generosity. What we do is very important but why we do it is even more important. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver who gives out of their appreciation for Him as the indescribable gift. Paul told the Corinthians that the key to their giving was their eagerness and had nothing to do with how much they had. The Gentile believers felt a debt to the Jews who had brought the gospel to them. Generosity to others comes out of His generosity to us.

Here are some things to consider, as your church desires to be a generous church.

First, make sure you are not defined by what you have but rather by what you give. People see our nice buildings and wonder if we have placed too much emphasis on what we possess rather than how we can help those who are less fortunate. There is nothing wrong with nice things but materialism can cause so much focus on what we have that we are then unable to focus on helping others. Do people see your church as a generous church?

Second, make sure you are not defined by how much you give but by your willingness to give. II Cor. 8:12 says, “…it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” The principle is not equal amount but equal willingness. God does not ask us to give what we do not have. It is not about the size of the gift but the size of your heart in doing what you can to help others. Prov. 3:27 says, “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one it belongs to.”

Third, make sure you are not defined by what you do personally but by how it glorifies God. If you do it for recognition or to be noticed you already have your reward. God blesses it the most when we do not care who gets the credit. You should be more concerned about Jesus getting the credit than you or your church. We are not in a competition with other churches but rather with the devil. Praise the Lord when someone turns to Christ because the love of Christ was displayed to him or her in a practical way.

Fourth, make sure you are not defined by how you look but by how you live. If you are going to help people you will have to help them where they are and that can be very messy. They are often broken and looking for someone who cares about them. People want to know that you are real and authentic without pretense. They are not impressed by outward appearances that are not backed up by your daily practices. Matthew 6:1 says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people to be seen by them.”

Fifth, let’s not be defined by a tight grip but by an open hand. Your church should always be eager to help and ready to respond to the needs of others. Sometimes we hold on too tightly to what has given to us. God told Abram in Gen. 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” You are blessed so that you will be a blessing to others. Open your hands and see what God has given your church in order that you might bless your community.

Your church may say it values lost people and wants to be a blessing to the people in your area but that must be backed up by regular practices that show you really do care. It is not just monetary but is a combination of investing your time, talents, and treasures. God is not asking you to give out of what you do not have but instead is looking to see if we are eagerly excited to be generous with what we has entrusted into our hands. Live with open hands and do not hold on too tightly!

Healthy churches are always generous churches!