Who or What Controls Your Church Schedule?

Are their things that are controlling your church’s schedule in unhelpful ways?

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The pandemic has had some unexpectedly positive side effects on the local church. One of those side effects is an opportunity for church leaders to assess and adjust the ministries and programs of their church. This brings up the often unspoken yet critical question of who or what controls the schedule of your church? The easy answer is the Bible, but there are some other considerations that usually get added into the mix. Here are 5 things that may be controlling your church schedule in unhelpful ways.

1. Tradition. When asked about why a ministry or program is done the way it is, the traditional response (no pun intended) is, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” There is nothing wrong with familiar habits or established customs, as long as they don’t become an excuses or laziness or lack of creativity.

2. The Calendar. Another familiar response when discussing church activities ends in a day of the week. As in, “We always do X on this day or that day.” I am not trying to resolve the debate between those who prefer to gather “weekly” for worship and those who view Sunday as the appointed day for corporate worship. My point is that apart from a few clear principles in Scripture, there seems to be lot of flexibility for the church to do what works best in their context.

3. The Budget. Like it or not, giving, accounting, and budgeting are a part of today’s modern church. Bible study materials have to be purchased, lights need to be turned on, and staff members need to support their families. At times, a service or ministry must be canceled even if it might have a negative impact on the giving. Other times, churches may see the need to invest in a ministry, like an outreach to college students, that may be a draw on the church’s resources. As important as the church budget is, it should not become the most consideration.

4. Business Meetings. “Business Meetings” is code for the hodgepodge of concerns, interests, and preferences that exist in any local congregation at a given time. These interests maybe helpful, but they don’t always line up in clear and cohesive approach to ministry. To be clear, I believe that church members should alway voice their opinion in a vote, but not everything on the church schedule needs to be voted on.

5. A Denomination. Denominations can provide tremendous resources for church, but they can’t provide an effective ministry schedule. National or regional church leaders can provide opportunities for collaboration, information, or training, but they can’t provide an effective “plug and play” strategy to reach your community or disciple the people in your church.

After reviewing 5 things that may be controlling your church schedule in unhelpful ways, you may wonder who or what SHOULD be controlling your church’s week-to-week schedule. In my experience, the best way to build (or rebuild) a church schedule is by clarifying your outreach and discipleship. strategies. Your church schedule needs to be constructed in a way that will help more and more people come to faith in Jesus Christ and then grow in that faith. As pastor Robby Gallaty at Long Hollow Baptist Church has said, “Discipleship isn’t A ministry of the church, it’s THE ministry of the church.” The most effective church schedules, especially after the pandemic, will be constructed and controlled with this focus in mind.

Exalting Christ in Our Leadership

What does it look like to be a good leader in the church?

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This past Sunday I shared 5 principles about being a good follower in the local church and the greater kingdom of God from Hebrews 13:7-19. Each one of the principles I shared can also be applied to leaders so I promised to share those this week through this blog post. You can find a link to my sermon notes on good followership here.

Jesus Christ is exalted when followers follow and leaders lead. Here are 5 ways that leaders can step up to make a difference in their local congregations based on Hebrews 13.

1. Set an example that others can follow (v. 7). The first generation of leaders may have passed off the scene in the church that recieved the book of Hebrews, but they left behind a pattern that was worth replicating. The best leaders set the tone for others in performance as well as their behavior.

2. Spread the right doctrine (v. 9-14). Like many of the other first century churches, some of the original recipients of Hebrews struggled with false teaching. Christian leaders today would do well by grounding everything they teach in the Word of God. This may seem obvious in theory, but it’s not so obvious in practice.

3. Showcase your sacrifice (v. 15-16). This principle sounds prideful, but it’s not intended to be. These verses describe two practices that believers should engage in regularly, two “sacrifice.” They are the sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of service. Pastors and teacher in the Church should lead the way in worshiping God and serving others with a spirit of humility.

4. Step up for your sheep (v. 17). Shepherding is one of the most familiar metaphors for leadership in the Bible. Sometimes sheep bite, butt, buck, and wander away (metaphorically speaking of course), but they still need to be cared for. Pastors and elders especially, will be held accountable for the “flocks” of believers under their care.

5. Share your prayer requests (v. 18-19). The writer of Hebrews is transparent about his needs and concerns. His request for prayer in verse 18 should be a model for today’s Christian leaders.

The writer of Hebrews (your guess is as good as mine) was concerned with the believers under his care. He wanted them to be good followers as well as good leaders so that their congregation would grow and flourish. We need good followers and good leaders in our churches today as well.

A Fresh Way to Craft a Strategic Plan for Your Church

There are several ways to build a strategic plan for your church. Here is a fresh way that may help you achieve clarity and buy-in.

A strategic plan is a document that establishes the mission, vision, values, and strategy for a church, organization, or business. Instead of being framed and hung on a wall, a strategic plan is meant to shape what happens down the hall and in every corner of the organization. A biblical strategic plan for a church is theology in action.

There are two approaches that churches use most often in establishing their strategic plans. The first is what I call “the leader on the mountain” approach. This is where the senior leader (typically the senior pastor) gathers his thoughts and ideas and shares them with a select group of leaders in a meeting or the whole congregation in a sermon series. The “the secret committee” approach is where the church elects a select group of members to research the options, formulate their recommendations, and then to share them with the congregation.

Each of these two pathways has their own strengths, but they also have weaknesses. This blog post about a fresh way to craft a strategic plan that features both clarity and buy-in from the congregation. This way could be called “the open invitation” approach. Here’s how we used it recently to establish a strategic plan in the church that I serve as senior pastor.

First, I gathered information about the basic components of a strategic plan for a church: mission, vision, values, and strategy. I found a biblical background for each component and reacquainted myself with today’s “best practices.” Care was taken to search out the best goals and ministries for our particular context.

Second, I announced that our church would gather for a series of meetings to “rediscover” our purpose and plan as a church. These meetings were held over a period of five weeks and open to anyone who wanted to attend. I used the idea of “rediscovery” to tie our future plans back into our history and legacy as a a congregation.

Each meeting included some form of collaboration and feedback in the form of question and answer, round-table discussion, story-boarding, or written comments. I engaged with several participants one-on-one after the meetings and in-between meetings during the week. Ongoing feedback was incorporated as we moved closer to our completed plan.

Third, I shared a summary of our shared results in a public message to the church body the Sunday following our last weekly meeting. The message was framed as plan for a “new season of ministry” at the church, rather than the end of series of meetings. Since that presentation, I have been working with the church staff and other leaders to implement our new strategic plan.

Strategic planning is a must for any organization, especially a church. The “open invitation” concept certainly has its weaknesses, but its strengths seem to loom larger in a church and season of ministry that requires a great deal of trust and thoughtful interaction. Church leaders who are looking for a fresh way to craft a strategic plan should consider this approach.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 3)

How should God’s mercy and love impact your prayer life?

Earlier this week I started a three-part mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This is the third and final post in that series.

One of the most descriptive passages of God in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable is more than a story, it’s a picture of the Heavenly Father.

A loving father of two sons experienced great heartbreak. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early so that he could waste it all on himself. After his money was gone, the younger son got a job feeding pig and dreamed about the comforts of home.

Every day, the loving father would go out to the road and look for his son’s return. As soon as he saw him, the father ran to meet his son, greeted him, and embraced him. Instead of punishing the son, he called for a celebration.

This vivid parable teaches us that the Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you. Love includes a group of virtues like benevolence, graciousness, mercy, and persistence. When we read that “God is love” in 1 John 4:7, it means that He is all of those things.

Jesus included this character quality in His model prayer along with the holiness and trustworthiness of the Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus urges us to call out to God to “forgive us our debts.”

Here are three tips for receiving God’s forgives through prayer

1. Cultivate a healthy view of your sin. We have a tendency to go to extremes in our understanding of sin. On one hand, we can blow sin out of proportion, making it impossible to to deal with. On the other hand, we can minimize sin to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Take Him at His Word – He will forgive. 1 John 1:9 states that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)” This is a promise.

3. Confess your sin audibly if possible, to make it more definite. We can pray silently to ourselves or out loud for others to hear. Sometimes, praying out loud makes our prayer more focused and more definite.

The Heavenly Father is loving and merciful which means He will forgive you We can receive that forgiveness and make it our own through prayer. Thanks for join for this three-part mini-series on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. Feel free to add one of your own tips for receiving God’s forgiveness in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 2)

What does God’s truthfulness mean for our prayer life?

Yesterday I started a mini-series of posts exploring the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This material is based on breakout session I shared recently at a conference. This is important because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer.

The prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites numerous times throughout the Old Testament book that bears his name, but one of the most colorful warnings is recorded in Jeremiah 10:1-10. The nations that surrounded Israel studied astronomical phenomena like eclipses and comets so they could worship the sun, moon, and stars as gods. In order to make their worship more tangible, they made idols out of wood and decorated them with precious metal.

Jeremiah described the deceptive nature of these worthless gods with a heavy dose of sarcasm. They looked impressive but they were fake. They were seen as powerful, but they had to be carried around like an infant. They were feared but the idols couldn’t do anything, good or evil, to enforce their will.

Jeremiah presents a sharp contrast in verse 6. Rather than being deceptive, God is trustworthy and lives up to His reputation. He stands above any other supposed god. He is great and mighty. He is real and alive, not fabricated. Jeremiah’s God was a real and truthful so He can be trusted.

Once again, Jesus brings out this aspect of the Heavenly Father’s character in his model prayer in Matthew 6:11. After acknowledging God’s holiness, Jesus asks the Father to “give us this day our daily bread.” This simple request is an expression of dependance and trust in the Heavenly Father.

Here are three tips for building your trust in God through prayer:

1. Focus on God, not just His blessings. Some folks only pray when they need or want something. God the Father loves to bless and provide for His children, but He also loves to spend time with them. Try to set aside time to pray even if you don’t need anything.

2. Be persistent, which is a sign of dependence. When you do make a request, repeat yourself often and be consistent. Not in a ritualistic way, but as a way to express your dependence on God.

3. Write out your prayer requests so that you can document His faithfulness. I tend to be forgetful. When I forget what I prayed for in the past, I miss an opportunity to praise God for His faithfulness in the present. Writing down you prayer petitions make it easier to trace out the trustworthiness of God.

God is real and truthful so He can be trusted. We can build our trust in God through prayer. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father (Part 1)

What does God’s holiness mean for our prayer life?

Recently, I got a chance to participate in a conference by leading a breakout session on the intersection of our views of God as our Heavenly Father and our practice of prayer. This was an exciting study for me to share because the things we think about God (either good or bad, biblical or unbiblical, consistent or inconsistent) have a huge impact on how we approach Him in prayer. This blog post will kickoff a miniseries of blog posts on Silhouettes of the Heavenly Father.

One of the most illuminating stories about the character of God on the Old Testament is Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-9. Moses had a mixed-up family tree. He was raised by a Jewish family and then adopted at an early age by the princess of Egypt. He grew up in the palace but eventually rebelled left home. When he found a wife on the backside of the dessert he also found a and a job taking care of his father-in-law’s flock.

While Moses was working he encountered a burning bush near Mt Horeb. It wasn’t unusual to see a bush on fire in the desert, but it was unusual that it wasn’t consumed. When Moses approached the fire to investigate, the Lord called out to him and told him to take off his sandals. Removing one’s shoes was a sign of reverence and humility in the presence of a holy God.

The fatherhood of God is assumed throughout the Old Testament. He always cared for and protected His people as His promises were passed down from generation to generation. That’s why it’s not surprising that the Lord introduces Himself in verse 6 as, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.”

God was about to call Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt, but first Moses had to learn that God is holy. Because God is holy He must be revered. Reverence is an attitude of fear, awe, and respect for someone in a position of authority.

Jesus Christ makes the connection between the fatherhood of God, God’s holiness, and prayer in His model prayer in Matthew. 6:9-14. After addressing His prayer to “Our Father who is in heaven,” He prays, “Hallowed (or holy) is your name.”

Here are three tips for expressing your reverence for God in prayer

1. Adjust your posture accordingly. The posture that we use as we pray is a reflection of our inner attitude towards God. You may need to stand, knee, or even lay prostrate to express your reverence toward Him.

2. Focus on God’s awesomeness before your need. Our innate selfishness pushes to focus on ourselves first before anyone else. Try listing out some of God’s praiseworthy attributes in addition to His holiness before you list out what you a looking for in prayer. This will help you put your wants and desires in perceptive as you approach the God of the universe.

3. Make every request contingent on God’s will. We often pray for the will of God to be done, but do we really mean it? Praying according to God’s will means He may have a better way of dealing with your request than you could have ever thought of. It takes humility and reverence to see that on a consistent basis.

God is holy and therefore He must be revered in our prayers. Join me again tomorrow as I trace out another silhouette of the Heavenly Father. Feel free to add one of your own tips for expressing reverence in prayer in the comment section below.

Do You Have Any Fish Yet?

A mysterious encounter leads to a boatload of fish. But that wasn’t the most surprising thing that happened by the Sea of Galilee.

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Jesus appeared to his disciples twice after the resurrection, but the disciples were still confused about should happen next. At some point, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John went back to fishing. After a long night with no fish a mysterious figure showed up on shore. The figure inquired about their catch and then told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. As soon as they did their net was full to capacity. Peter immediately jumped into the water and swam to shore recognizing the mysterious figure as Jesus.

Jesus was already cooking fish by a charcoal fire when the rest of the disciples arrived. As they hauled their catch on land, they heard Jesus uttered these remarkable words: “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught” These words were remarkable for three reasons. First, because Jesus was there to say them in person. He had been executed on a Roman cross and laid in a Jewish grave. The very fact that Jesus was alive again was amazing.

The second reason Jesus’ words were remarkable was because He gave them credit for catching the fish. Peter and his companions had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus did the most important part by telling them where to cast their net, yet He still gave them ownership over their success.

Thirdly, Jesus’ words were remarkable because the disciples had abandoned and denied Jesus. When the authorities came to arrest Jesus in Garden of Gethsemane, they all ran away in fear. When Peter was questioned about his relationship with Jesus, he denied he even knew Jesus three times. The men who promised to be faithful had been faithless, and yet Jesus welcomed them anyway.

This is a picture of miraculous, gracious, forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t supposed to be a part of their frustration-filled fishing trip, but He was. Jesus didn’t have to help them catch a record-haul of fish, but He did. Jesus shouldn’t have welcomed them to join Him by the fire, but He called out the invitation. Jesus is still showing up and calling us close today.

Is It Still True That All Publicity Is Good Publicity?

They used to say that all publicity is good publicity, but is that still true?

Phineas T. Barnum is famous for the phrase, “All publicity is good publicity.” In this line of thinking, the only thing worse than being talked about badly is not being talked about at all. But is this true?

The 11th chapter of Hebrews is jam packed with believers who are “famous” for their faith. They are held up as examples of faith, but also as reminders of the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. But not all the examples that are listed are positive.

In a closely related passage in Hebrews 12:14-17, we read about the negative example of Esau. This is the guy who sold his birthright for bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). He was more interested in his next meal than honoring his family as the firstborn son. Rather than being famous, He is infamous in the book of Hebrews for all the wrong reasons.

How can we avoid Esau’s negative example? The verses that introduce him contain two clues.

  1. We must pursue peace. Instead of peace, Esau and Jacob were bitter rivals. They let their personal conflict interrupt God’s overarching plan for their family and His people. Verse 15 intensifies this instruction from a negative angle – by avoid a growing spirit of bitterness.
  2. We must pursue holiness. The record of Esau in Genesis doesn’t mention immorality, but Hebrews sure does. His moral impurity led him toward godlessness and away from holiness.

Even though Esau begged for forgiveness his birthright was lost and his blessing was lost. Believers today have similar opportunity to live as children of the Heavenly Father by faith. To fail is to follow the wrong example in Hebrews and to generate the wrong kind of publicity.

Distancing Yourself From Deliberate Sin

Sin is a common struggle, but God gives us the power to overcome. How can we distance ourselves from deliberate sin?

“Social distancing” is new term now in our common vocabulary. We are encouraged to keep our distance from others so that we don’t share germs. A few weeks ago, I shared a sermon from Hebrews 10:26-39 which included the idea of distancing ourselves from sin. Believers will never outrun sin completely this side of heaven, but with God’s help they should create as much distance as they can here on earth. Here are four ways to do that.

  1. Call it what it is and repent. We like to use pet names for our sin like a “white lie” or a “lapse in judgement.” These euphemisms shift blame around and help us to feel better about ourselves. Instead, we need to own our offensive attitudes and actions and ask God to forgives us.
  2. Receive God’s power to overcome. One of the most powerful pictures of salvation is to be free from the slavery of sin. When we embrace “willful sin” we put ourselves back into bondage. God wants to share His power with us to live free, if we’ll only receive it.
  3. Change the habits that encourage sin. One of the best predictors of the future is to study the past. Our previous patterns of behavior can show us where our weak spots are. Figure out a way to change your habit if that habit leads you into rebellion against God.
  4. Invite others to hold you accountable. The book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Christian community. One of the ways that believers can build this kind of community is by supporting one another in their struggles and their joys.

Sinful attitudes and actions bring guilt, shame, and fear into our lives. In turn, this creates distance between us and God. But God wants to have a close personal relationship with each one of us.

What over steps have you taken to distance yourself from sin? Please leave your answers in the comment section below.

Three Ways That Christ’s Sacrifice Changed the Way We Relate to God

A representation of the Israelite tabernacle

Some moments in time are so significant they shape the course of human history. These turning points are events, eras, and/or developments that bring about significant social, cultural, ecological, political, or economic change. One of the most important turning points, from an eternal perspective, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The writer of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” three times to describe the decisive nature of Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10). This stands in sharp contrast to the repetitive and ongoing work of the Levitical priest in the Old Testament. Christ’s sacrifice changed the way we relate to God in at least three ways.

1. It changed the focus from who we are to who Jesus is. The Bible is clear about who we are as human beings – we are hopelessly flawed sinners. Despite our best intentions, the stories of our lives always end up in pain, brokenness, tragedy when we try to make ourselves the main character. But Jesus Christ has the power to rewrite the story of our lives if we let Him become the main character.

2. It changed the focus from what we are doing to what He did. The book of Hebrews highlights the dangerous temptation of self-made righteous, even for those who know about faith. We may want the new life Christ has to offer, but we want to pay for it somehow through our good deeds and good works. But this the whole purpose behind Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice for us.

3. It changed the focus from the strength of our words to the strength of God’s Word. The Old Testament Law is chock-full of instructions, commands, and promises. These messages all point to the one final statement that God would make in and through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). His words and actions trump everything else. We must lean on and lean into God’s faithfulness when our faithfulness comes up short.

Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was a turning point in human history. In one moment, He changed the way we relate to God forever. That deserves to be celebrated in the history books and in our hearts.