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.

A Prayer List for Leaders

Psalm 101 describes the king’s commitment to lead in a faithful and godly manner. It was probably used at coronations or other celebration of the king in ancient Israel. A quick reading reveals principles that can be applied to political, business, or even church leaders in any age.

Dr. Daniel Estes turns these principles into a verse-by-verse prayer list for leaders in his excellent New American Commentary on Psalm 73-150. This list can be a series of prompts for prayer or a template for evaluating current and potential leaders.

  • May they maintain a genuine, humble commitment to live by the values of God (v. 1).
  • May they demonstrate integrity in their personal lives (v. 2).
  • May they have discernment to see through issues and people (v. 3).
  • May they be committed to godly standards of right and wrong (v. 4).
  • May they exercise wisdom in their choice of associates (v. 5-6).
  • May they take a courageous stand against evil, even at personal cost (v. 7).
  • May they be just in exerting active moral influence in their sphere of responsibility (v. 8).

Be sure to pray for yourself as you pray for others. Faithful and godly leadership is meant to set an example we all can follow.

Dr. Daniel J. Estes serves as the Distinguished Professor of OT at Cedarville University. While I was a student at Cedarville he was my academic advisor. He is an expert in the poetic books of the Bible and his writing encourages and challenges my soul.

Why I Love VBS

Here’s why I love VBS…

The church where I serve is getting ready to put on VBS this next week (That’s Vacation Bible School for the uninformed). I’ve been participating in VBS since I was a child and I love it. Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. VBS brings the church together around something positive. Summers tend to be a down time in church life when people are pursing other interests. But the weeks leading up to VBS are full of energy and excitement. People come together to get the job done.
  2. VBS forces the church to focus on the next generation. There are all kinds of activities that can happen in church, but you can’t have VBS without children. Children and youth are the future and they need to be prioritized.
  3. VBS allows the church to look outward. VBS is a simple, nonthreatening introduction. It’s so easy to invite families from the community to participate, even a kid can do it.
  4. VBS encourages the church to think about the gospel. VBS is full of a lot of actives , but it’s always organized around a central message – the good news of Jesus Christ. VBS provides church leaders with an opportunity to think creatively and succinctly about the message they want to share.
  5. VBS requires a variety of volunteers. People who enjoy working with their hands and building can help. People that like to teach and organize can help. People that enjoy music and crafts can help. Even athletic types can help with VBS. Men, women, teenagers, and senior can all find their place volunteering at a Vacation Bible School.

These are my top 5 reasons why I love VBS. I know there are more reasons and I’m sure you have your own. Please feel free to share the reasons why you love VBS in the comment section below.

Stuck in a Rut?

I grew up in southwest Michigan where corn and soybean field were plentiful. Whenever a particular part of a field was used too much, especially after a rain, a large deep muddy rut would develop. These ruts were difficult to navigate, even for the best four-wheel drive vehicle.

The writer of Hebrews warns us about a spiritual rut that keep us from reaching our destination. In Hebrews 3:7-11, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7b-11, which itself is a reference to the rebellion of the Israelites when the demanded fresh waster in Meribah (Exodus 17:7). The first half of Psalm 95 is an invitation to worship God as the King and Creator of all there is. The second half of Psalm 95 is a warning about ignoring the invitation to worship in reverence and obedience.

The overlap of these timelines is instructive in itself. This a perpetual problem for God’s people – a rut if you will. The rut is formed when believers trust in God to rescue them from their sins, but fail to rest in the abundance of His grace. They embrace God’s activity in the past, but fail to see His activity in the present.

The writer of Hebrews offers three solutions for those stuck in this kind of rut.

1.Pay attention to the state of your heart. The human heart is prone to wander off course. It must be recalibrated regularly to the “true north” of God’s Word.

2. Push one another toward faithfulness. It’s easier to get out out a rut if you have help. The Christian life was never met to be lived alone.

3. Persist in your confession and convictions. This may seem blatantly obvious, but it’s a crucial addition. You can’t get out a rut unless you try. Those who give up will stay where they are.

The spiritual rut of separating faith from our obedience is nothing new. It has been tripping up believers for generations. But there is a solution for those who find it!

Why Small Groups?

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink a lot of things, including church. For the first time in our lifetimes, we were unable to gather in-person as a church for months as a time. When we did come back together, we had to alter some of our habits to accommodate increased health concerns.

Now that we are meeting together regularly, we are asking ourselves a whole new set of questions. What about bible study classes and small groups? How do these smaller assemblies relate to our worship services? What schedule and format would work best for our church? Are these ministries even necessary?

As our Sunday morning, Small Groups and through-the-week Life Groups resume in-person meetings, I wanted to address the question of groups. Here are 3 of the top reasons why small groups are important to the local church.

  1. The biblical reason: Jesus used groups. Not only did Jesus mandate that we make disciples in His name, but He also modeled disciple-making. In Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty points out five different types of groups that Jesus used in His earthly ministry. Jesus ministered to crowds numbering in the thousand, but He also focused on a “congregation” of 70 to 150 self-identified followers. Beyond that, He spent significant time with a small community of 12 men. Three of those men were singled out for additional interaction and training. The point is that if Jesus utilized small groups, so should we.
  • The personal reason: groups are an avenue for care and shepherding. Small groups can provide a level of personal interaction that is not possible in a worship service. Prayer requests and concerns can be shared in more detail. Questions can be asked and answered. Group members can be encouraged and cared for. Unbelievers can be led to faith in the context of a group and believers can be equipped for spiritual growth in a group. Small groups invite people of all ages to get more personally involved in the life of the church.
  • The practical reason: groups encourage people to stay. Thom Rainer has quoted multiple studies that indicate that people who attend groups are five times more likely to stay connected to the church than those who only attend the worship service. People stay in a church because of relationships and involvement. Small groups are an excellent place to develop both. 

If someone were to ask me why we should restart our small groups ministry in-person or why they should be personally involved, I would start with these 3 top reasons. Small groups allow us to make disciples for Christ in ways that other types of gatherings cannot and that should be enough to move us to action.

Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

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 There’s a new virus spreading across America and its effects are much more deadly than COVID-19. The new sickness that’s spreading is fear. People are afraid to leave their homes because they might catch the COVID-19 virus and die. In some communities, they are afraid to leave their homes because they might get caught up in a violent protest.  Friends and neighbors are hesitant to look at each other in the eye at the grocery store for fear of being judged for not taking enough precautions or for taking too many precautions. Unfortunately, the nation’s politicians and news outlets are fanning the flames of fear to grab headlines and boost their ratings. Make no mistake about it, COVID-19 and racial injustice are serious threats – but fear is the greatest threat in our country right now.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will remember another time when fear was a great threat to God’s people. Joshua stepped up to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, and he was afraid. The Israelites had already failed once to enter the Promised Land and the people there were fierce and powerful. Even though Joshua had some good reason to be afraid, he chose faith over fear. As we follow his example in this chapter, we find four ways to choose faith over fear in our present situation.

  1. Experience God’s Presence (vv. 1-6).

God wanted Joshua to know that He was the one leading Joshua before He called Joshua to lead His people. In other words, God promised that He would always be with Joshua. The newly-appointed leader’s success didn’t rest on his performance, but on God’s sovereign presence and power

The same is true today. God takes care of His people like a loving Heavenly Father. There is nothing that happens to us that does not pass through His sovereign hedge of protection. Even when we can’t understand why He allows something painful to happen, we can trust that He has a plan.

  1. Establish God’s Word as a Priority (vv. 7-9)

God promised Joshua success if he obeyed The Law – God’s Written Word. He was to be so focused on it that he would not deviate from it to the right or the left. Even though Joshua was involved in a military and political operation, God wanted Joshua to know His heart.

I am not trying to minimize the dangers we are facing right now. I am saying that it is much easier to walk by faith in God when we read and study His Word regularly. Political crises, healthcare emergencies, and natural disasters will come and go, but God’s Word remains forever (1 Peter 1:25).

  1. Embrace Biblical Community (vv. 10-15).

Once God prepared Joshua, he shared his plans with the rest of the Israelite people, even the Reubenites, Gadites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had made special arrangements to settle on the east side of the Jordan River. But Joshua knew that if they were to be successful, they would need everybody to be involved.

The greatest source of community and encouragement in the New Testament world is the Church. The COVID-19 crisis has made it difficult to meet face-to-face the way we always have, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice altogether. Faith is encouraged and fear is kept at a distance when we know we are not alone.

  1. Energize Yourself and Others to Move Forward (vv. 16-18).

The Israelites responded positively to Joshua’s instructions. But Joshua knew they needed more than good intentions to conquer Promised Land. He reminded them of God’s promises and pushed them to move forward.

Fear tends to paralyze us. We can fight that tendency by moving closer to our goals, even if it is only one small step at a time. Giving up and giving in to fear is not an option if you know that God has a great plan for your life.

Joshua’s courageous example inspires us to choose faith over fear. As we read in the 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB). We must use the power, love, and common sense that God has given us to vaccinate ourselves from the virus of fear that has infected so many in these times.

The Blessings of Weddings and Funerals

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In his Primer for Pastors, Austin B. Tucker ties pastoral ministry to the ministry of Jesus. “The first miracle of Jesus…was at a wedding where he turned water into wine (John 2:1:11) The last miracle was at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, where ‘Jesus wept’ before he restored his friend to life (John 11:35). Every pastor who walks with his people will have his own mixture of joy and sorrow.”

I have had the privilege and blessing of officiating more weddings and funerals than I can count. As a minister of the gospel, I have always tried to highlight the power of God’s Word during these milestone moments with couples and families.

Here are two guides that I have developed, one for each end of the spectrum of life. One is for Christian couples who are about to get married. The other is for someone who is planning or participating in a funeral for a family member or friend.

Wedding Planning Guide

Funeral Participation Guide

 

Why We Need Revitalized Churches More Than Ever

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It has been a turbulent year. The COVID-19 crisis caught us off guard and threw the whole world into a panic with a rising death toll, social distancing restrictions, and a slumping economy. The recent protests, rioting, and civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis has proven racism and injustice are alive and well in our country. This is also a presidential election year, which means we will also be confronted with all of the political issues that divide us as we move close to November’s election.

The Church was always been an “essential” element of society, whether it was recognized as such or not. But now more than ever, we need strong, healthy, revitalized churches in America. We need churches to grow past their disunity and dysfunction so they can make an impact on the world for Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Here are three reasons why we need revitalized churches now more than ever.

  1. The reputation of the church is tied to God’s glory.

The local church gathers in God’s name and for His glory. Like the Israelites of old, New Testament believers belong to God and are called by His name (2 Chronicles 7:14). New believers are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

If the reputation of the church “stinks,” so does people’s impression of God. That is especially true in a neighborhood or community where a church is perceived as uncaring, quarrelsome, or snobby. An unhealthy church robs God of His glory.

  1. The church is a place to model healthy, diverse relationships.

All people are made in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (Genesis 1:26-27). Those who have a biblical worldview should lead the way in loving those who are different than themselves. The church is an ideal place for those relationships to happen. In fact, if Christians can’t model healthy, diverse relationships in the church, what does that say about the gospel we say we believe?

  1. Strong, healthy churches are a blessing to the communities that surround them.

In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton explains that one of the characteristics of a dying church is that “they cease, often gradually, to be a part of the fabric of their community.” Conversely, revitalized churches and the people who belong to them look for ways to meet emotional, physical, and spiritual needs within their community. This outward focus allows believers to showcase their reason for hope – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These turbulent times provide a wonderful opportunity for the church to become the best version of herself. Christ Himself is calling churches all over our country to shake off their apathy and to put His Word into practice (Ephesians 5:26). Not just for themselves, or their children, but for the sake of the cities, towns, and neighborhoods in which they have been planted.

What reasons would you add for the need for revitalized churches? Please leave your response below. I would love to hear from you!