Friday, April 28, 2017

What is the #1 thing people want in a church?

In the 36 years I've been in ordained ministry there have been many theories about how to grow a church and what people are seeking in their churches. A growing church holds a conference explaining what they did to cause their church to grow and that theory becomes the latest fad. Suddenly, all around the country churches begin to copy the model they were taught and are surprised to find that their church still didn't grow.

Let's forget about the growth aspect for a moment and just focus on what people are wanting in the churches they attend. According to a recent poll the number one thing people want in their church is preaching that is based on the Bible.

I encourage you to read this excellent article by Tim Challies on what this means going forward.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why would a healthy church remain small?

This is a question many small church leaders have asked. Karl Vaters recently addressed it in a way that will encourage small church leaders and help them gain insights on why their church might not be growing even though it is healthy. Like me, Vaters is a supporter of smaller churches and those who serve them. If you are serving in a small church I think this article will encourage you. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What should you look for in a seminary?

In yesterday's post I talked about my personal educational journey, and I encouraged my readers who have not pursued a formal theological education to consider doing so. Today, I want to suggest some things you should think about when pursuing such education.

First, the seminary you attend should be one that will help you grow in the faith. Some seminaries are so liberal that they do more harm than good. They turn out graduates who have more doubts than faith. More than one seminary student has walked away from his or her faith because of the teachings of the professors under whom he or she studied.

This does not mean that you will necessarily agree with every professor and that your theological beliefs won't be challenged. Part of an education is being exposed to different beliefs and viewpoints, but this exposure should help you solidify your beliefs so you become stronger in your faith. There is a difference between presenting different viewpoints and trying to indoctrinate you with heretical teaching.

Second, the school you choose to attend should offer you a variety of degree choices. As I said yesterday, because of my sense of being called into bivocational ministry I did not want to pursue an MDiv degree. The school I chose to attend offered a variety of MA degrees in their theological school that seemed to be a much better fit for me. Because these programs were offered through distance learning, it was an even better fit for me since I was serving in a judicatory role at the time and managing a small business. I was able to schedule my studies around my schedule rather than having to adapt to a rigid school schedule.

Third, the school you select should be one that is affordable for you. There is absolutely no reason for anyone going into pastoral ministry to incur $60,000 in student loan debt, but I've known several who have. There's nothing wrong with going to some big, prestigious seminary if you can cash flow it, but there is also nothing wrong with attending another seminary or Bible college that you can afford.

Fourth, without question the school you attend should be fully accredited. There are a lot of diploma mills out there offering a theological education. You may find you've spent a lot of money for very little return.

Be wise when you consider which school will be best for you. This is a significant investment in your life and ministry and is not a decision to enter into lightly. I believe I grew as an individual and a minister through my educational experience, and this should be your goal as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Seminary or not

It's funny that I've often been accused of being anti-education because of some comments I've made about a seminary education. As many of you know, I began my pastoral ministry with no education beyond high school, and I did not follow a normal ministry education track.

About 18 months after beginning my ministry I began to attend a Bible college about an hour from my house. Although it was a two year program I needed four years to complete it as I was working a full-time job and pastoring a church besides attending school and being a husband and father. When I completed that program I enrolled in a university, also about an hour from our home, and spent the next seven years earning a bachelor's degree. I sat out five or six years before beginning a master's program, and then I followed that with a DMin degree which I completed when I was 62 years old.

The truth is that I sometimes wish I had sought even more education, maybe a PhD or a ThD so that I could teach in seminaries or Bible colleges now that I am retired. Although I have 35 years of practical ministry experience as both a bivocational pastor and a judicatory leader, I do not have the education that these schools seek in their instructors.

However, that is not the only reason I wish I had pursued additional education. While in Bible school I fell in love with learning. I learned to love the reading, the study, the writing of papers, especially in the postgraduate studies. I was able to go deeper in my understanding of the Scriptures and the ministry through my studies.

Although my education experience was not the norm, there were some advantages in doing it the way I did. I never incurred any student debt as I was able to cash flow my education since it took me so long to complete each of my degrees. In college I enrolled in General Studies which meant I did not have to take specific courses to complete a major. That gave me great freedom to take courses I thought would be most helpful to me and fewer courses that were required to complete a major or minor. Rather than earning an MDiv I enrolled in a MAR program with an emphasis in leadership. Again, a much more practical program for a bivocational minister (and for many other pastors as well IMHO).

I've written in this space recently about how ministry is going to change in the future, and one of my prayers is that seminaries are looking now at how to best prepare their students for these changes. I am concerned that many seminaries are now preparing people for a ministry that will not exist in a few years.

Do I believe that pursuing a ministerial education is a good thing? Absolutely, but don't think you have to follow an educational path that might have made sense in the 1950s but might not be the best one for you to take today. Also, do not limit your education to formal degree programs. Young ministers today must accept the fact that they will be lifelong learners if they are to remain effective in ministry.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Teaching the Bible

We are working our way through the book of Acts for our Sunday night Bible study. In Acts 11 we find the Gospel going to Antioch where a great number of people were saved. Barnabas was sent to Antioch to check out the reports of the people turning to the Lord. He soon went to Tarsus to find Saul to bring him back to Antioch where they spent a year teaching the new converts.

As I was studying this passage it dawned on me how these first converts to Christianity knew nothing about the teachings of Christ. They had no Bible. They had never had contact with Jesus Christ to our knowledge. They were a clean slate when it came to Christian teaching.

To make their lack of knowledge of Christian teaching even worse, they came out of a very secular and immoral environment. Antioch was not only a large cosmopolitan city, it was also well known for its immorality. The temple at Daphne was only about five miles away. Filled with temple prostitutes it was the center of immoral practices which impacted the entire city of Antioch. These new converts needed solid Christian teaching if they were going to successfully put their immoral past behind them.

I became very much aware that this is another way in which our society today resembles the first century. Several decades ago people often came to faith in Christ after having learned much about him through regular attendance in both worship services and Sunday school. Even before they became Christians they had an awareness of biblical teaching and Christian doctrine. That is often not the case today.

People in today's culture often come to faith in Christ with little to no knowledge of Christian teaching. They have not had regular exposure to Scriptural teaching so they do not have a sound grasp of Christian doctrine. This makes them easy prey for the enemy of their souls and is one reason so many fall away after making a profession of faith.

Not only have they not received very much Christian teaching before they became Christians, many do not receive much after inviting Christ into their lives. Sunday school attendance figures continue to go down in most churches. Mid-week and Sunday evening Bible studies no longer exist in many churches. Some of the churches offer small groups that study the bible at other times, but many of them don't.

Churches need to recognize that evangelism and discipleship are two sides of the same coin. Not only are we to share the gospel with others to lead them to a relationship with Jesus Christ, we also have a responsibility to help them grow in their faith. We have to find ways to encourage people to want to be taught the Word of God, and Christians must want to be taught.

We will never walk in victory or enjoy the kind of life God wants for us if we are not knowledgeable about what the Bible teaches. It is imperative that new Christians ensure they are attending a church that is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and teaches it in every possible setting. Churches must see teaching the Scriptures is one of their primary duties and be very intentional about how they go about doing this.