Thursday, March 15, 2018

When new ideas become bad

I'm currently re-reading Andy Stanley's book Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. I read the book last year and decided I needed to read it again because of all the powerful ideas presented in the book. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "New ideas are good ideas as long as they don't require anyone to actually do anything new."

Any minister who has ever presented new ideas to a church has experienced that. It's fine to talk about ways the church can reach new people until folks find out that it's going to require them to change something or do something differently. At that point that new idea doesn't sound so good. Older members will begin to firmly explain that this new idea is not the way things are done around here.

Church people fall in love with the way things are done. They fall in love with the place where they sit in church. When I was in judicatory ministry one of my colleagues was visiting one of his churches and was asked to move twice before the service began because he was sitting in someone's seat. I know a church that insists that the pulpit chairs are on the platform for the worship service even though the previous three pastors did not sit in them. A friend told me one church in their state has a clause in their constitution that a black KJV Bible must be used in the pulpit. I've known of KJV only churches, but it was the first time I had heard of a church that specified only one color cover was acceptable.

Stanley points out that this is nothing new. The Pharisees in Jesus' time loved their model of ministry. In fact, one of the things that kept Jesus in trouble with them was that he kept introducing a new model of ministry. He healed on the Sabbath. He offered forgiveness for sinners. He spoke with and dined with those considered outcasts by the religious crowd.

If a church has discerned God's vision for their church the only real question it needs to ask is "What is the best way to fulfill that vision?" Very often the current programming is not the way to fulfill the vision. Much of what many churches are currently doing was the way they fulfilled their perceived ministry decades ago, but they've never stopped to determine if this is still the best way to do ministry today. By asking this question people may begin to realize that what they are currently doing really isn't working, and perhaps hasn't worked in years.

 New ideas become bad when people learn they will be personally impacted by those ideas. The best way to avoid their rejection is to explain first why the new ideas need to be implemented before describing what those new ideas involve. Always explain the why before presenting the what, and the likelihood of acceptance of new ideas will be far greater.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The church library

I've posted articles here before about the importance of church libraries. In my former ministry, when I would visit the churches I served, I always enjoyed checking out the church library. I felt I could tell a lot about a church just from looking at their libraries. However, I've never discussed what I was looking for or what I consider a good church library.

Obviously, the size of the church will often determine the size of its library. I don't expect a small, rural church to have a large library as I would expect to find in a larger church. Regardless of size, what's most important is the quality of the books available.

I want to see a well-rounded collection of books that includes some that will appeal to anyone regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey. Some would be more popular reading selections while others would require a deeper level of understanding of the Christian faith. I want to see some books on theology, apologetics, church history, as well as autobiographies and biographies of Christian leaders. There should be books that explore challenges people face such as marriage and parenting, personal finance, and personal growth. I want to see practical books on evangelism, teaching, planning,, conflict, and leadership.

Persons in charge of the church library should ensure that newer books are added regularly to the library while not overlooking older books that still provide great value to the reader. They should be willing to listen to suggestions people make about the books to be added to the library. At the same time, they should strive to make sure these books are theologically and doctrinally solid. Frankly, not every book that is listed as a Christian book should be added to a church library due to its weak theology.

Many smaller churches struggle to have the funds to maintain a quality library. What we did in the church I pastored was ask people to donate money to a library fund or to purchase new books they wanted to see added to the library at a local Christian book store. Later, we added a line item in our budget for books. Again, it's important to check the donated books to ensure they are appropriate for the church library. If not, it can lead to problems so be careful with that suggestion.

One thing you do not want to do is ask people to donate their used books to the library. You will likely end up with a lot of old books that people want to get rid of that have little if any value in the 21st century. You may end up making a few trips to the dump and trying to soothe the hurt feelings of those who donated the books.

A church library requires a lot of work to maintain properly, but it is a valuable resource for a church to offer people. As we all know, books are expensive and some in our churches may not have extra money to purchase good Christian books. Having those books in the library can be a wonderful tool to promote spiritual growth among its members.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ministers and retirement

I've occasionally heard ministers say that they do not find retirement mentioned in the Bible so they have no intention of retiring. That's fine, but eventually even the most dedicated minister will find that his or her energy level isn't what it used to be. They will need to slow down which may preclude them from serving in ministry. Perhaps an illness will sideline them. I once knew a man who loved the ministry but a stroke made it impossible for him to continue preaching. There are any number of factors that might force a minister into retirement.

Some might respond that they are going to trust God to take care of them and their families. I believe that He will, but how exactly will He do that? Will He drop groceries off at your front door or make your mortgage and utility payments from His debit card? Or, has He given you the wisdom and ability to plan today for your eventual retirement? I think it is most likely the latter.

Before I go any further into this planning it is important to mention one other thing I saw happen too many times as a judicatory minister. I encountered a number of ministers who had done nothing to prepare financially for retirement and had to keep working. While I appreciated their willingness, this wasn't always the best thing for the churches they were serving. In more than one case, the minister had remained far longer than he had been effective, and the church was too gracious to say anything to him. The church's decline matched that of their pastor. That is a very unfair thing to do to a church.

In today's post the planning I will address is the financial one. I recently talked with a pastor in his mid-50s who had nothing set aside for retirement. He was not a member of a denomination that offered a retirement package, and neither he nor his church had budgeted anything to go into a retirement account. Unfortunately, you can multiply his situation by the thousands.

Dave Ramsey recommends that after paying off your debts and setting up a six-month emergency fund you begin putting 15 percent of your income into a retirement account. Your first reaction to that might be that it's not possible. Well, thousands of people have proven that it is possible. It's only impossible if a person insists on living on more than he or she makes. If you've never read his book The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness I encourage you to do so. It will explain the steps you can take to make this possible.

Many denominations offer a retirement plan that the church can pay into and the minister can add to. The denomination in which I serve has such a plan. Now that I've reached retirement age I only wish I had enrolled in it sooner and paid more into it. Our plan recently opened up to persons outside our denomination which is great news for ministers serving in non-denominational churches.

Scripture is clear that we are responsible to provide for our families. That would certainly include making sure that we can continue to provide for them in retirement. Regardless of your age or income I would encourage you to start today looking into how you can best plan financially for your retirement.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Are the young people in your church ready for college?

One of the worst conversations a Christian parent can have occurs when their college freshman comes home after the first semester claiming he or she no longer believes in God. Many secular campuses today are openly hostile towards Christianity. We send our children to these institutions, paying a lot of money for the privilege of doing so, only to have their religious beliefs and values attacked by their roommates, their classmates, and their professors. They are asked questions they cannot answer causing them to question their beliefs until the day comes when they decide they no longer believe.

Christian parents could send their children to Christian colleges and universities, and there are many excellent ones out there. But, there are also some that long ago abandoned the faith as well. Just because a school has Christian in the name or had a historical relationship with some denomination does not mean that it continues to be a Christian school. Some can be just as dangerous to the faith of your child as any secular school.

The best thing Christians can do is to ensure that their students are prepared to defend their beliefs. That begins with the students having a faith that is their own. It's hard to defend something that isn't yours to begin with. Too many young people have a faith that belongs to their parents or grandparents, but they've never really made it their own. When their faith is challenged they find it difficult to defend it because it doesn't actually belong to them.

This is why it is so troubling to see the decline in Sunday school attendance in most churches. Parents are more concerned with seeing their children attend dance recitals and sporting events than they are in helping them receive a solid foundation in the Word of God. Now, there's nothing wrong with dance recitals and sporting events or anything else a child might engage in, but there is something wrong when those things have priority over seeing that the child receives sound biblical instruction.

The odds of your child earning a living playing a sport is very small. The chances of your child facing tremendous pressures to abandon his or her faith is far greater and can have a life-long impact on his or her life. In fact, it can have eternal consequences.

The instruction our children need exceeds what is often found in Sunday school material. That material may be good for laying a foundation when they are younger, but as they advance the material they learn needs to advance as well. That material should include some apologetics as well as biblical instruction in the areas of finances, family life, and theology. They must be encouraged to make their faith their own and know not only what they believe but why they believe it. Then they will be ready to defend their faith when they leave the safety of their families and home church.

Churches need to make sure the material that is being taught in their classes and small groups is doctrinally and theologically sound. It needs to challenge your young people to think for themselves to help them personalize their faith and make it their own.

To send a young person to a secular university without adequately preparing him or her to defend their faith and values is throwing them to the wolves. Even if they do not go to college, they will still face a society hostile to Christianity when they leave home. It is our responsibility as adults to ensure they are prepared to face that hostility without having their faith damaged.

Monday, March 5, 2018

First century church vs today's church

My sermon yesterday came from Acts 2: 41-47 in which we read about the rapid growth of the first century church. On the day of Pentecost the church grew from 120 to 3,000, and after that we read that the church grew daily as the Lord added to the church. It seems that it would be wise to see what the church was doing to experience that kind of growth. I'll just highlight four things we see in our text that led to this amazing growth.

  • They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. This church had absolute confidence in the authority and integrity of the Word of God. They were not dependent on what the media told them. They weren't concerned with the latest poll or what the government thought about their doctrine. They could care less about what the politically correct crowd thought. They were focused on the teaching of the apostles. Remember..they didn't have Bibles. They didn't have Sunday school literature. They had only the teaching of the apostles.
  • They experienced life-changing worship. The text indicated they gathered every day for worship, and this was apparently spirited worship that touched their hearts and souls. Worship should be both a noun and a verb. Worship should allow you to not only glorify God but to enable you to experience God in a way that is meaningful to you. Such worship not only blessed the new believers, but the non-believers were touched by it as well. The text said they had favor with all the people.
  • They had caring relationships with other believers. They shared meals together; they shared communion together; and they shared their resources with anyone who had need. People were more important to them than possessions. Again, even those outside the church were touched by this generosity they saw in these early Christians.
  • They were a praying church that saw great signs and wonders performed by God. Remember, Jesus said His house shall be called a house of prayer. No matter how big or small a church might be, it can never be a great church if it is not a praying church. Maybe you are one who doubts that God does miracles today. Let me remind you that in Matthew 13 we find that Jesus could not do many miracles in some places due to their lack of faith. I wonder whose fault it is if we are not seeing God do miracles today. Has God changed, or have we?
This early church had none of the conveniences today's church has. They had no buildings, no paid staff, no seminaries, no Bibles, no parking lots, no organs and choirs, no social media, and the list goes on. The amazing thing is that the places we read about today where the church is growing the fastest are those places that still don't have many of the conveniences we have today. They have the same things as the first century church. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what we have, but I am suggesting that it might not be enough. Maybe all our churches really needs is to make sure we are doing the same things the first century church was doing and give the Holy Spirit freedom to work in our midst. It seemed to work for them.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Who will be the next leaders in your church?

Everything rises and falls on leadership. I've written this time and again in this blog. You'll find that phrase in 2-3 of my books. I write it and speak about it so often because it is true. No organization, including churches, can rise any higher than its leadership. This includes both pastoral and lay leadership. Since leadership is so important it would seem obvious that one of the most important things a church can do is to ensure good leadership. Unfortunately, that doesn't always occur.

Too many churches rely on the same people for everything. We may complain that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work, but how often do we ask any of that 80 percent to take on a task? How many of that 80 percent are we preparing to accept a leadership role in our churches? Too many times when a task needs to be done we immediately think of the same people we always turn to.

Churches need to have people in their leadership pipeline. We can't wait until we need a new leader and then ask someone to accept the role. We need to be developing people so we always have people ready and equipped to meet the leadership needs of our churches.

Almost every church wants to grow, but how many churches prepare for growth? Example - Your church begins an aggressive outreach effort to reach new people. What happens if you're successful? Will you have sufficient Sunday school classes or small groups to disciple these new people, or will you suddenly realize you need more teachers and have no one trained to teach? Perhaps the growth exceeds your pastoral care capabilities. How will you ensure that those needs are met while you are training new persons to provide that care? Similar questions can be asked about every area of your church life such growth would impact. Here's an even tougher question. Why would God bless your church with growth if your church isn't prepared for that growth?

Even if your church doesn't grow, it will still need new leaders in the future. Your current leadership will eventually be unable to serve. Who will replace them? To avoid burnout it's often a good idea of have a rotation system for your lay leadership, but do you have people to take their place when they rotate off for a year or two?

One of the primary tasks of your current leadership is to develop new leaders. Personally, I think the pastor should oversee that development. This does not mean he or she has to do it, but he or she must ensure that it is done. Eph. 4 is clear that the role of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. If you are a pastor, and you are not intentionally developing new leaders for your church, you are neglecting a very important aspect of your ministry.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

What is truth?

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tells of a time when he met with a number of Russian generals and political leaders. After their meeting one of the leaders came to him and admitted that he believed that what Zacharias had said to them was true. But then he added, But, it’s very difficult to change after 70 years of believing a lie." We in America are facing the same dilemma. We are lied to so much anymore than we don't know what to believe.

When Jesus had been brought before Pilate the Roman official asked Jesus, "What is truth?" That question is even more pertinent today than it was when Pilate asked it.

Every day we hear one group or another make claims of "fake news." Since the last presidential election such claims have been even more pronounced. Listen to the same news story told on two different programs and you'll wonder if they are about the same story. Each puts a different spin on their version of the story to promote the cause they most believe in. Maybe the truth is to be found in the middle, but today I'm not sure one can even find it there.

Politicians make statements they know are not true but hope enough people will believe them that they will take on the character of truth. If those statements are challenged their colleagues will rush in to defend them and leak false information about the ones who dared challenge them.

Manufacturers make claims about their products that they know are not true. They pay high profile people millions of dollars to support those claims hoping to make enough money off the product before the public learns the truth.

The bottom line is that the average American is lied to everyday by people we should be able to trust. There used to be such a thing as integrity in this nation where we trusted one another to tell the truth, but that day is long past. Frankly, the average American finds it hard to believe anyone any more.

There is really only one source of truth today, and that is found in the Scriptures. A Christian speaker said one time that someone asked if he believed in absolute truth. He responded, "Of course I believe in absolute truth. In fact, I know Him."

The media cannot be trusted to tell us the truth. Politicians cannot be trusted to tell us the truth. The manufacturers cannot be trusted to be honest. Only God's Word is true. It doesn't change to reflect the latest poll. It doesn't seek popularity nor does it appeal to people for their votes.

What it does do is offer hope to all who believe it. It offers forgiveness. It offers both an abundant life now and eternal life for the future. It offers us a relationship with the God who created us, and it offers us an anchor in the midst of a chaotic and wicked world. Stay in the Word, my friends, because it is there that you will find ultimate truth.