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Greater Things

Jesus clearly promised His disciples that they would do even “greater things” than He did.  Here in North America we desperately need “greater things” to happen in our hearts, lives, and our churches.  We need a movement of God that would fit His description in John 14:12-14 of “greater things.”  We need revival in our established churches and a recommitment to a church planting movement.  A newly released Barna Report has reinforced some of the concerns about our culture here in America moving farther and farther away from God.

Mike Huckabee recently gave this summary of that report:  “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview. The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out as the most shocking and troubling is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.”  That is the polar opposite of what Jesus meant by “Greater Things.”  How can that happen right here in the United States? How can this extremely disturbing number of increasing atheists occur right here in our own backyard?

Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.”   The greater things Jesus promised became a reality as the early church experienced a miracle of “spontaneous expansion.”

Dr. J.D. Payne recently shared with several of us in the missions department that as of October 2017 there are 282 Unreached People Groups here in the USA with 167 in Canada.  Even more alarming is that there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here.  According to him this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time.  Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves; “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Is this promise of “greater things” still available to us as individual believers and to our churches today?  Absolutely, because Jesus is still Lord (and always will be) and He is still sitting on the throne.  But there are some elements that will be required for us to see a movement of “greater things” in our cities and communities.  There are at least two necessary ingredients for us to witness an extraordinary movement of God again today.  First, there must be an extraordinary practice of prayer (Matthew 9:37-38).   Second, there must be an extraordinary commitment to evangelism (Acts 1:8).

We never would have believed that it would be so easy to reach so many nations without ever getting on an airplane but it is happening.  The world is coming to us and we, God’s children, are to be His light.  We must be ready to reach all nationalities and people groups with the gospel.  Isaiah 49:6makes it clear, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Thankfully, the churches, church revitalization, and church planting efforts are impacting the multitude of immigrants who are flocking to the United States.

It is truly a blessing to see churches and church planters ministering to many different language groups and people groups. Many are making a gospel difference in the lives of these uniquely diverse ethnic people groups.  All to often we see contextualizing the gospel as reaching our neighborhood, but it is much deeper than that.  The better questions are; how do we become the church in our neighborhood? And how do we evangelize so that we are not just reaching part of our neighborhood but everyone that lives in our neighborhood?

Joe Gustafson tweeted this about an article by Dr. Ed Stetzer, ““Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to Himself. The contemporary Church would do well to go back to the future and embrace this same approach to evangelism.”  Stetzer’s article points out the need to make some shifts in our evangelistic efforts which are really a return to our biblical roots in the book of Acts.  He says “churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network will be more effective at evangelism” and also that churches “must shift from an attractionalmindset to an incarnationalmindset.”

Let me remind you of a quote from last week’s article where we are challenged to embrace both approaches.  In the book Kingdom First, we are introduced to a church ministry that asks two questions.

  1. “What percentage of your non-Christian friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors would go to a Bible study or church regularly if you asked?”
  2. “What’s your strategy for everyone else?”

Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care Team

How do you make sure that you are caring for the people in the church properly? Is pastoral care completely the pastor and staff’s responsibility? Is it possible that pastoral care is actually keeping many churches from reaching more lost people? How do we balance loving people more and the call to love more people? We have the challenge to help and care for people but also are to share the gospel with those who are far from God.

In Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof makes these observations. “Practically, churches cannot run simply on paid staff. The model is unfeasible and the work is simply too great!” Also, “Ironically, it’s in caring for others that most leaders make the mistake of neglecting self-care!” He has even written a blog article on how pastoral care stunts the growth of most churches, which is well worth the read, at careynieuwhof.com. It will challenge you!

The early church had a problem in this area that we are told about in Acts 6. When the apostles saw that there was a lack of adequate pastoral care they did not work harder or try to do all the work themselves. They did not work longer hours and neglect their families because they were the only ones who could do the work of the ministry. They did not rebuke the widows and tell them they were too demanding but, instead, chose seven other men to help in the needed pastoral care.

Your church will struggle to grow, and the pastor and staff will become overwhelmed, if the church does not take steps to appoint a pastoral team. When we follow the biblical model it ensures that people are properly cared for and that a few are not so overloaded that they eventually burn out. Here are a few ideas from Dynamic Church Planting International’s New Church Dynamics on how to develop a pastoral care team:

First, find someone with a pastoral gift to lead the team. Prayerfully ask the Lord to raise up an individual who has a passion for this ministry. They need to be someone who loves loving others and visiting people in their times of need. If you structure small groups to oversee those in their groups, they are the first responders. Then, this leader can help come alongside of the small group to make sure they are properly ministered to and cared for.

Look for people with the gifts of shepherding and mercy. There may be retired individuals in your church who would love to help in making hospital visits, home visits, and even calling to check on shut-ins and those who are sick. Remember, the number one reason many say they have never volunteered in the church is because no one ever asked them. There are those who would love to help if they were asked and shown what to do. This brings us to the next step:

Second, make sure you give this individual the training they need in this ministry. Here is a simple, but effective, four step process:

  • Model care ministry by encouraging your potential leader to accompany you as you care for people. Never go alone, but always strive to take someone with you so they can see first hand how to handle different situations.
  • Mentor the leader by sharing what you are doing and why you are doing it. They will learn a lot by watching how it is done and then discussing it after the visit has been accomplished. Answer their questions when you debrief immediately afterwards.
  • Monitor the care leader as you begin to give care assignments. Always be prepared, ready to give encouragement and guidance, because you will need to continue discipling them in this area. Continually ask what you can do help and resource them.
  • Multiply by asking the leader to recruit others to the care ministry. If they truly are a leader they will easily recruit others to help in pastoral care. If you do not see multiplication then you will need to pray that God will raise up another leader who can multiply themselves.

Third, empower care team members to visit on behalf of the pastor and staff. Like an ambassador represents his country’s leader, your care leaders represent the leadership of the church. Ask team members to make it clear that they are representing the pastor of the church. People should feel loved and cared for by the church when they are visited by members of the pastoral care team, small group leaders, or any other designated individuals you have trained to provide care.

If you want more out of your team then you must put more into your team. Make sure you have clear expectations spelled out for those serving in this area. Also, they need to know who to call if they are unable to follow through on their visits. There must always be a back up plan. The goal here is that they are loved, cared for, and prayed with. This can be full time job and the pastor does not have the time to do all of this himself.

The model of the pastor doing it all will only lead to people being mad, a lot of frustration, and the pastor becoming totally overwhelmed. Jethro said this to Moses, when he saw the way he was trying to do it all himself, “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone!”

Healthy churches develop pastoral ministry teams!

If Attacked by an Anaconda – Don’t Panic

Church health is dependent upon the health of the pastor and its leadership.  If leaders are going to help people follow Jesus more closely and deeper then they must be setting the example for them to follow.  In Leading on Empty Wayne Cordeiro says, “Wisdom and understanding are not built in a day, however they are built daily.”  Your daily walk with God must be consistent to show others how to develop an intimacy with God.  Cordeiro goes on to say, “We don’t forget that we are Christians.  We forget that we are human, and that one oversight can debilitate the potential for our future.”  

The ministry is not easy!  It is a calling, a privilege, very rewarding and a blessing beyond description but it is not easy.  When consulting with pastors and training church planters I always remind them, “you are in trouble if you are in the ministry.”  C. H. Spurgeon said, “The ministry is a matter which wears the brain and strains the heart, and drains out the life of a man if he attends to it a he should.”  The devil places a big bull’s eye on you when you surrender to God’s calling on your life.  H. B. London, in his book Pastors at Greater Risk, shares the following statistics about pastoral ministry.

  • 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
  • 90 percent felt they’re inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 80 percent say they have insufficient time with their spouse
  • 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
  • 75 percent report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in the ministry

If you are in ministry you are in over your head and without God’s help you will not make it.  I was listening to Brad Faulk share about his work as a church planter in Pasco, WA, and how he felt overwhelmed by the task before him.  He had found a copy of a 1974 Peace Corp manual that described what to do if you were attacked by an anaconda snake.  See if you can relate?

1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.

2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.

3. Tuck your chin in.

4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.

5. Do not panic.

6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet and – always from that end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic.

7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.

8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg. Then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake’s head.

9. Be sure you have your knife.

10. Be sure your knife is sharp.

Maybe the part I like the most is being told twice, “Do not panic!”  Anyone in ministry very long can relate to that except the difference might be, “we did panic!”  We forgot our knife or our knife was not sharp or we tried to outrun the snake.  When the trials of ministry started maybe we never questioned our calling or thought about quitting but somewhere along the way what was once a joy became a load that drained us.  If not careful you can easily get caught up in fixing everyone else’s problems and not take the time to replenish your own soul.  We must discover ways  to refuel and restructure our lives so that we will run the race well and finish well!