Who or What Controls Your Church Schedule?

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

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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?

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

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.

Four Ways to Choose Faith Over Fear

little-boy-1635065_640

 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.

Three Books to Read Before You Go to Seminary

 

pawel-czerwinski-yqp59hghp8y-unsplash.jpgSeminary offers intense instruction and specialized training for those called into various leadership roles in the kingdom of God. Seminary exposes students to wide variety of Biblical, theological, and practical themes. It also inevitably involves a lot of reading. Here are three books a student should read before he or she goes to seminary.

1. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

51crijZbWGL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_This suggestion is not a put down. Before I went to seminary, I didn’t realize how bad I was at reading, analyzing, and interacting with written text. Alder’s and Van Doren’s book on how to read gave me the tools I needed to become a better reader, which a must in seminary. This book is  especially for those who already think they are a good reader and those who would like help improving their skills in this area.

 

2. Who Needs Theology? by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson

41S+OMdKoiL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

In this book, Grenz and Olson describe why everyone is a theologian and why theology (especially good theology) matters. Then they explain how to “do” Christian theology well. The authors go into the tasks, traditions, and tools that are available to a theologian in order for him or her to do their work. This book is good for the student who may look past the reflective side of seminary in a rush to learn the more practical skills of ministry.

3. Why I Am Not An Arminian by Robert A.Peterson and Michael D. Williams and Why I Am Not A Calvinist by Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

62469585The titles of these two books alone should be enough to explain why they are this list. Too many seminary students have emerged from there first semester of study thinking they have solved a debate that has been raging in the Church for generations. These books should be read together by the student who wants to get better, humbler handle on these popular approaches to salvation.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with any one that you know how is thinking about going to seminary.

 

 

 

Three Books to Read about Discipleship

florencia-viadana-DsqgRPnrfW0-unsplashChurches can be as creative as they want to be with their vision, strategy, and values, but  not when it comes to the mission of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the church with making disciples in His name (Mathew 28:18-20). The mission of the church is and always has been to make disciples. Here are three books I would suggest about how that can be done in today.

  1. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

9780800788087This book has evangelism in the title, but it’s really about discipleship. In it, Robert Coleman traces the eight guiding principles Jesus used to train His disciples and to send them out in His absence. Coleman cautions church leaders against prepackaged discipleship programs. Instead, he encourages a more relational approach. This book would be good for anyone who is thinking though the overall process of discipleship and leadership development.

2. Rediscovering Discipleship by Robby Gallaty

shopping

Robby Gallaty builds his case for discipleship in the church on the ministry of Jesus and other discipleship leaders throughout church history. He goes on to suggest a model of progressive discipleship found in Charles Wesley’s ministry. Gallaty gains ground by including  spiritual disciplines like Bible memorization and journaling into his suggested model. This book is excellent for church leaders who want to refocus their churches on reproducible discipleship.

3. Disciple-shift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington

9780310492627_p0_v3_s550x406

Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington believe that discipleship should be the core focus of the church. To that end, they suggest five shifts to engage the “engine” of discipleship. The shift that is most meaningful for me as a pastor is to go from informing the church to equipping the church. This book is best for those who are already looking to ramp up the discipleship efforts in their churches. Readers will find value insights to help them troubleshoot their revitalization efforts.

You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who know who care about discipleship in the church.

Teaching Truth in a World of False Teaching

debby-hudson-IjQdCrknYXI-unsplash

This past Sunday I preached a sermon on the corrosive influence of false teaching and controversy in the church from 2 Timothy 2:14-26. In my opinion, the most dangerous form of false teaching today is what I would call pop theology – spiritual belief for the masses. Pop theology invades our lives and our churches with a thin veneer of spiritual vocabulary and/or Judea-Christian values, but at its core, it is not Christ-centered or biblical. Pop theology appears in many forms but the most popular forms today are consumer spirituality, civil religion, church history conspiracy theories, the quest for personal fulfillment, and insincere objections. In this sense, false teaching is all around us.

The thing that struck me most about this sermon and the text is charge for Christian leaders to gently correct those who are in error. As a minister, I need to have certain character qualities that the don’t usually show up on a job description. Church ministers (and members too) need to engage with those in error with kindness, patience, and an eye towards peace. This can be hard when we live and work in a spiritual battlefield.

I certain don’t do this perfectly, but with God’s help I hope to improve. I pray that God will give me a head for truth, a heart for people, and hands that are eager for collaboration. I have the privilege of pastoring a church named “Unity Baptist” and want more than anything for us to live up to our name.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd

Fotolia_98103171_Subscription_Monthly_M-1080x675

If you’ve seen any number of cop movies you’ve inevitably seen the good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cop” takes an aggressive and accusatory tone with the subject while the “good cop” positions him or herself more sympathetically. The subject is encouraged to cooperate with the “good cop” either out of trust or out of fear of the “bad cop.”

Jesus introduces a similar dichotomy during the Jewish Feast of Hanukkah with a parable about the Good Shepherd in John 10. “Shepherd” is a common designation for a leader in the Bible. Hannukkah celebrates a transition in leadership when true leaders took back control from their corrupt counterparts.

How can you tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd in the church today?

Good shepherds act like the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has a personal attachment to his sheep (v. 2-4). He loves you and knows your name. Like the prophet Jeremiah, God knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb;  He consecrated you before you were born (Jeremiah 1:5). God knew Peter’s name and changed it to fits His work in Peter’s life (John 1:29). Your name is so important to God that it must be written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life in order to get into heaven. Revelation 20:15 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (NASB).

Jesus also provides for his sheep. The 23rd Psalm can be applied to our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He provides spiritual nutrition and refreshment. He provides rest and restores our souls. He also provides a path to righteousness when we don’t know the way.

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, also He protects his sheep. He laid down His life for his sheep. He laid down His life, so He could take it up again. (v. 17). He laid down his life voluntarily, it was not taken (v. 18).

Bad shepherds act like greedy charlatans.

Bad shepherds frighten the sheep. Bad shepherds are called all kinds of things in this passage: thieves and robbers, strangers, and hired hands. Instead of coming to the sheep through the doorway, they climb over the wall and scare the sheep.

Fear is one of the tools of a bad shepherd. They use their power to threaten or intimidate their followers. They scare people with stories of what may or may not happen. Fear is a good motivator, but a bad master.

Bad shepherds also feed themselves first. Bad shepherds only care about themselves. They steal or hurt the sheep for their own benefit. As far as I know, Simon Sinek is not a believer, but he has discovered the reverse of this biblical principle in his book, Leaders Eat Last.

Bad shepherds flee at the first sign of danger. The hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming because he doesn’t care about the sheep (v. 12-13), In the end, bad shepherds are really imposter and charlatans and it’s the onset of hard times that reveals them for who they really are.

According to Jesus, you can tell the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd by the way they take care of the sheep.

I want to encourage you to only follow godly leaders in the Church. There are all kinds of influences and influencers in the local church and the church-at-large – some good and some not-so-good.  bad. Don’t be cynical, just be discerning.

I want also want you to evaluate your leadership in light of Christ’s example. You may not have an official position of leadership, but you have influence over others. Allow God to lead you so that you can lead others in His church.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is about sheep as well as shepherds. Check back tomorrow for a post about how you can tell if you are a sheep that has gone astray.

The Power of “With”

startup-594090_640

The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”