Archive for the ‘Church Revitalization’ Category

Back in the late 1980s, Gayla and I lived in a small community north of Fort Worth where I was the pastor of the Baptist church. We lived in the parsonage, a house supplied as part of our compensation for serving as pastor. This house was located less than a mile from the church campus.  However, some train tracks separated the parsonage from the church building.

If you have ever lived near train tracks, then you know the hassle and inconvenience a passing train can cause. You’re alre74202ady running late, you’re driving up to the track crossing, and then — the barriers start flashing. It’s a frustrating feeling, and you can’t do anything about it.

But imagine if that happened as you were trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s exactly what happened to more than 100 runners in Pennsylvania in September. A train crossed the marathon course — and crossed it very slowly. One runner, who was using the race as his last opportunity to qualify for Boston, said that he “missed his qualifying time by eight minutes.”

Race officials had communicated with the railroad line prior to race day and had received “absolute assurances…that trains would be suspended” during the race. Yet those assurances did not stop a train from crossing the course’s seventh mile.

“The incident is especially regrettable and was quite unexpected,” the marathon’s account posted on Facebook, nothing that those times were affected would “be addressed on a runner-by-runner basis.”

We may have a plan laid out for running our best race, and we may have set goals and dreamed dreams, but there’s a “slow moving train” in our way. Let me explain. Although the Lord has led our church to accomplish much in the way of discipling more people, going to places near and far to share the good news, while updating our facilities, the slow moving train in our way is the state of our finances.

Our church’s mission is to bring people who are far from God near to Him so that together we might love Him and love people to make a forever difference. This statement roots in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Every congregation has a mission that God has for it to accomplish, and every mission should find its foundation in the Great Commission. As churches work through their particular mission advance, they will make a forever difference.

However, without the shared financial support from all of its members, your congregation will not be able to continue at the level of advance your leaders have hoped and believed the Lord wants you. The biblical answer to this circumstance is for each believer to follow Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Let me urge you to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you concerning giving.

images-2Without a doubt, 2016 will be filled with plenty of adventure as well as plenty of the ordinary. Sometimes we think that “the ordinary” seems “too ordinary.” That’s what happened to William Cimillo back in 1947. Since you may not know about Cimillo, let me tell you about it. On Friday, March 28, 1947, Bronx bus driver, William Cimillo, got into his bus to start his daily route. Suddenly, Cimillo decided to take a crazy leap. Fed up with the New York traffic, he decided that he had had enough. So instead of sticking with his daily routine, he headed his bus south, going nowhere in particular. He stopped in New Jersey for lunch and parked in front of the White House and took a look around D.C.

Three days later, he was in Hollywood, Florida, where he stopped for a nighttime swim. Now strapped for cash, he telegrammed his boss and asked for $50. The cops showed up soon afterwards. Two New York detectives and a mechanic were sent to fetch the runaway driver and his bright red bus, but according to Cimillo, the mechanic couldn’t really drive the bus, so they had Cimillo drive them back to New York. Upon their arrival, Cimillo discovered that he had become a legend. People from across the country sent him fan mail, newspapers portrayed him as a working-class hero, and his bus-driving buddies raised enough cash to cover his legal expenses.

Realizing they were “the bad guys” here, the Surface Transportation System decided not to prosecute. In fact, they gave Cimillo his back back. For the rest of his life, Cimillo never pulled any more wild stunts. Instead, he kept on driving that bus for 16 more years and passed away in 1975. Those few crazy days in 1947 were more than enough adventure for him. Asked why he did it, the bus driver explained: “This New York traffic gets to you. It’s like driving in a squirrel cage….I just wanted to get away from everything.”

Do you ever feel like the stress is too much and you just want to get away and start a fresh life somewhere else? There’s a better way — trust the Lord, take a Sabbath, be faithful to your tasks.

God has called us to trust Him and to remain faithful to our calling in Him. In the mundane and routine and in the challenging and new, we must look to the Lord as He guides us while serving Him with our hearts and hands.

Last Sunday, our church voted to replant a church in Barker’s Corner. We acted in faith, trusting in God to guide us. I want to report that upon hearing the official word that we would take them on, the congregation there expressed joyful praise and anticipate that the Lord will bless our efforts in replanting a vibrant church there.

We’ve begun the process of the merger, but it will go slowly. I’m asking that we all join together in much prayer for the those working closely with the replant. Legal matters and the naming of a campus pastor are among these first steps. We hope to name a campus pastor soon so that core group development can begin.

We also expect that the Lord will move some from our church to become a part of the core group. I ask that we join together praying for those who will do so in the spirit of Acts 13:2-3. However, until the core group development begins, no one from our church needs to begin attending at Barker’s Corner.

The beginning of the year is a great time to begin reading through the Bible. There are a variety of plans available. Some of these can be found in the devotional guides that are available in our magazine racks. One that I have found to be particularly valuable to me is produced by The Navigators. This simple plan has “grace” built into it, because the monthly plan only has 25 days in it. This gives me the “grace” I need when I invariably miss a day. So as long as I don’t miss too many days in a month, I can stay on a schedule that enables me to read the entire Bible in a year.

The other evening while meeting with some men from our church, the subject somehow moved to the “Dollar Shave Club.” Surprisingly, I found the idea quite fascinating, so I have looked into a bit. Here’s the premise for the company (tongue in cheek!):

A man goes into a store to buy some razor blades, but they are locked up. He tries to get in, but it’s like robbing Fort Knox. No one is around to help, so he tries harder, which sets off alarms that lead to him being assaulted by the staff. Blow darts, punches to the stomach, and so forth. Then the tag line: “It’s like they don’t want you to buy razor blades.”

So when someone came along and offered a different way to buy razor blades, it struck a chord. According to the Wall Street Journal, web sales of razor blades though such companies as Dollar Shave Club, have doubled in the last twelve months alone. They have gone from no slice of the market to nearly ten percent, with little sign of slowing down. Through the first six of 2015, salves have already doubled over all of last year’s totals.

So how did a company like Dollar Shave Club, which did not even exist three years ago, storm onto the scene and take such a big bite out of a company like Gillette that has been in existence since 1901? That’s easy. Gillette and its distributors looked at things from their perspective and not the consumer’s. They made the experience of buying blades negative for shoppers. So when someone came along and listened to the consumer and then thought like a buyer and not a seller, they got a lot of buyers lining up to buy from them. You can only imagine the Dollar Shave Club people thinking, “Okay, people hate the way razors are sold, but stores don’t want them stolen. Let’s just rethink how to get them in people’s hands!” And they did.

In an article entitled “The Church Shave Club” in Church and Culture last month, Pastor James Emery White argues, “Too many churches look at things from the perspective from the inside.” But we need to take the time to look at things from the perspective of those who don’t know Christ. If we will make a forever difference in people, then we must learn to see things — not as seasoned church members and attenders — but as people who do not know Christ. After all, we don’t want to make it hard for people to come to know our Savior.

imagesWhat I’m offering today may not set well with many, but I believe it must be said. I’m a pastor who is becoming increasingly frustrated. I’m not frustrated in my ministry. In fact, God has privileged me to serve in a gracious fellowship of believers that affords me the opportunities to preach and to lead the congregation to fulfill its particular mission in our community and beyond.

So why am I frustrated? I am frustrated because all around me I hear of the increasing number of declining and dying churches that represent only a portion of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have stopped growing. To be sure, some churches will decline because the communities in which they are have declined in population. However, this is not the case for most of the ones I know. And if something does not change within these churches that they will continue to decline and will eventually cease to exist. This grieves our Lord, and it should grieve all believers.

Recently our denomination has focused much attention on church revitalization, and I am glad that we have done so. However, some have the mistaken idea that if we can infuse a declining church with some financial aid, some minor adjustments in their programming, and maybe even sending some people to them, then they will experience a turnaround. Generally when this method is used, the church might survive a bit longer while sometimes a spike may indeed occur. However, without significant changes in the way the church carries out its work, the infusion only serves to prop up a congregation for a short period. Often a declining church needs more than an adjustment, but rather a complete shift from the way church functions.

My bigger frustration comes from a pervading attitude that implicitly says, “We’d rather die than change.” Whether this viewpoint comes from the pastor or from the congregation, it often will serve as the church’s own death sentence.

For the past several years, I sensed the need to prepare our congregation for a strategy that would maximize our giftedness to reach more people. We sensed that the Lord wanted us to plant another church in our area. The experiences we gained from the planting a Hispanic congregation, which meets simultaneously on our campus, guided our preparations. As we sought the Spirit’s guidance on strategies for church planting, we were drawn to the multisite church strategy. We identified several reasons for moving to such a strategy.

    1. Multiplying the resources of God had entrusted to our church. God had equipped our staff and congregation to carry out Great Commission ministry. We had committed every aspect of our ministries to developing maturing follower of Jesus Christ.
    2. Being able to utilize people resources within our congregation. Not only had our pastoral staff grown to take on greater responsibilities, but God showed us people from within the church to consider calls to ministry positions. In the last four years, two laymen have been added to our pastoral staff. We see this as a trend for the future and one that can be further developed as God adds ministry locations.
    3. A perception that the unreached want a personal touch. Building a larger auditorium to accommodate a larger number of people did not make sense when people kept telling us that they chose our church because they sought after a “smaller church.” Having multiple locations made more sense because we could take the church closer to where they lived, while providing a “full menu” of ministry offerings through centralized administration.
    4. The possibility of coming alongside struggling congregation and reinvigorating them for kingdom ministry. Admittedly, this reason came about as a result of how the Lord has equipped and shaped me for ministry. Throughout my ministry, I have reached out to pastors within our convention and beyond to help them lead their congregations. But now I sense that by engaging these congregations by including them in a multisite approach, we could utilize kingdom resources and do an even better job in reinvigorating them. We have since learned that more than one in three multisite churches began a new campus as the result of a merger.

In anticipation of what we sensed the Lord wanted us to do with regard to church planting and specifically, with developing a multisite church mentality, I led our pastoral staff and congregation to alter the way we approach the weekend services. In particular, I knew that our staff had to prepare for carrying out multisite church model at a single-site so that we could transition more readily when the time came to multiply the ministry.

For years, I knew that one of the most effective ways to lead the church comes through better planned Sunday morning experiences which translates to more meaningful experiences for everyone. Throughout my pastoral ministry, I had developed the habit of planning my preaching either weeks or a few months at a time. However, now I knew that we needed to shift to a more elaborate planning model. This would make it possible for our creative team (which also had to be developed) to formulate the creative elements for each sermon series such as this music, set design, graphic design, promotional materials, drama skits, and videos. The shift also necessitated forming a teaching team to share the preaching responsibilities. For years we had utilized the giftedness of others on our staff to fill the pulpit in my absence. But with the teaching team approach, we have more consistency in preaching the sermon series. Not only does this permit us to develop and preach better sermons, we have grown together in our ministry while developing a strategy for growing campus pastors.

Having personally observed and studied other multisite mergers in Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana, I know that extending the kingdom reach and maximizing our mission efforts can be accomplished by utilizing such a strategy. I have witnessed how the Spirit of God has infused new life, and the church now reaches new people.

Yet I also realize the heart wrenching difficulty that declining churches have in coming to terms with their futures. I know that no one readily wants to admit, “We need help” or “Our church is dying.” These congregations have made sacrifices for the cause of Christ in ministry and missions; however, they now come to the critical crossroads of the future. Therefore, I urge the leaders in these congregations to consider prayerfully seeking out a strong congregation in their area help them to breathe new life and to continue the legacy of their church’s contribution to the spread of the gospel. After all, it’s really not about you and your church. It’s about our great God receiving all the praise that He is due.

Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the prestigious Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a leading figure of the eighteenth century First Great Awakening. Religious leaders, like the famous preacher George Whitefield (pronounce “Whit – field”), traveled great distances to meet with him and discuss theological matters.

At age 14, Edwards, already a student at Yale University, treasured the spiritual qualities that directed his life and ministry. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” So the rare blend of spiritual passion and searching intellect characterized his life. By the age of 26, he became the sole pastor of the Northampton Church. Five years later his preaching on justification by faith sparked an awakening.

Yet even a man of Edwards’s credentials was not exempt from criticism. When Edwards sought assurance that those in his congregation had experienced genuine conversion, a group of discontented church members took exception. They launched a slanderous campaign against him that ultimately led to his dismissal from the church he had made famous. One of the greatest theological minds and most devout pastors in American history had been forced out of his church by malicious detractors. Edwards then assumed a modest pastorate in the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and ministered to native Americans.

Eventually Jonathan Edwards was vindicated before his critics. Some of his most vocal opponents publicly confessed their sinfulness in attacking their godly pastor. Ultimately, the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, called his as president in 1758. To its great loss and to that of the American church, Edwards died soon after his arrival at the age of 55. Some consider Edwards to be the finest theologian America has produced.

I offer this short biography of Edwards to remind us that God uses faithful believers who have solid commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His Word. I am reminded of the call that God issued twice to Jonah, “Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach the Word.” The first time, Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sea, and ultimately down into the belly of a great fish. The second time God issued the call, Jonah was more than ready to listen and obey. When he arrived in Nineveh, he preached the word that God had given to him — and God brought about a supernatural movement, and the people repented.

I am praying that God will “do it again.” A few Sundays ago, we dedicated both services to prayer and to seeking God’s divine intervention. We believe that God still wants to do a great work in America and to the ends of the earth. However, He will only do so on His terms. We cannot tell God how He must move. We cannot require Him to submit to our bidding. Rather, we must humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wickedness. Then He will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

Over the past several weeks, we have spent a lot of time refocusing on why Mandeville’s First Baptist Church exists. We have done so for several reasons, not the least of which is so that we can make sure we all get on the same page. The most important reason concerns our belief that God wants to reach more and more people with the good news of the gospel. We have also begun preparing for a church multiplication strategy through which the Lord may use our church to plant and/or to revitalize other churches.

As I wrote last week, whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.

To that end, I want to offer some principles that we can apply to our ministries in order that together we can bring people who are far from God near to Him. One of the biggest keys going forward for us will be our ability to minister in and adapt to an ever-changing world. We will need to reach out both to our members and to those do not yet believe in relevant ways.

1. We must not strive for size, but we must strive to serve God. We must have a passion for the unchurched not because we want to grow a big church but because people need Christ. We need to see our friends and neighbors in that light so that we focus on bringing them to faith in Jesus not just on inviting them our church.

2. We need to study and know the culture where God has placed us. Knowing our community’s culture will help us determine how to embrace the people and how to speak the gospel in their language.

3. Evangelize in every possible way. The entire congregation – not just the leadership – has been commissioned to make disciples of all people. Each of us must know the gospel and how to communicate it. Sharing the good news must permeate our ministries.

4. We must help people make vital connections in the congregation. Active participation matters, because without it people will, sooner or later, fall away. This means more than getting people to attend a Life Group on Sunday morning. We must show them how committed followers of Jesus serve God and His church and encourage them to do likewise. The sooner people become connected with people in a Life Group and become involved in ministry, the more likely they will stay and participate because they will have made vital connections with people.

5. We must do church well. By this, I mean more than just putting together a good Sunday service and preaching a good biblical message. We must do everything we do with excellence. Our special events at Christmas and Independence Day have been superb, but we must do the “everyday things” well. This includes having a full complement of people on hand to staff the classes (not just adults, but all age groups) and to help new people when they come to our church. Rather than just having a minimal number of people serving in these areas, we must strive for excellence in this area by having many joining together in this aspect of ministry.

6. We must help people live out their calling in Christ.
Because the Holy Spirit gifts every believer, every believer can serve God through their unique talents and gifts. Knowing this and acting on this means that we must encourage our members to recognize God’s calling on their lives and to help them become involved in ministry. Doing so will grow more believers in spiritual maturity and expand the scope of our church’s ministry.

On Sunday (August 17) we begin a new series of messages at Mandeville’s First Baptist Church called “Joseph: A Life of Integrity.” This nine-week series of messages has an aim to offer a model, though hardly perfect, of a person who God raised up to trust Him in every situation and to model His grace before those who did not deserve it. Shan Taylor will preach the first message big ideain this series from Genesis 37, where Joseph’s story begins. With seminary classes beginning next week, this gives Shan the chance to dedicate more time for preparing this message.

We have other reasons for having the various pastors from our staff to preach from time to time. First of all, when I’m away from town, it makes sense to have someone from our team to preach because they already know our church family and understand our vision and mission. Second, God has given us a number of gifted preachers, and it is just good stewardship to use them. I must admit that giving up pulpit time to others has not been easy for me, because I love to preach the Word. However, the Lord has given me a calling not only to preach but also to lead and equip. Therefore, in this season of my ministry, God has surrounded me with men who need to craft their own skills to preach. I believe that He will use this investment to further His Kingdom.

There’s still another reason – church multiplication. We know that the Lord desires to reach more and more people with the saving news of the gospel. We also know that He has gifted us with so many leaders for a reason – to plant and/or to revitalize other churches. To that end, I am leading our team to prepare for a church multiplication strategy.

While we will begin the “Joseph” series this morning, we have already started working on the next series of messages as a staff. Not that it’s surprising that we are working ahead, because I have tried throughout my ministry to provide “at least a clue” to David Watson (and now Tyler Harris), where my preaching was headed. But now we have begun preparing all aspects of the services in team fashion. In fact, a creative team will meet this evening to begin planning for October 19. The teaching team will work together on the message beginning in September, so that all who participate in the preparation for the message would be ready to preach on any Sunday. Such a preparation strategy will provide the benefit to those in our services that we will all be focused on one unifying message (“the big idea”) for the week. We will also work to use the week’s theme in our Wednesday activities, including AWANA, the youth gathering, and the midweek service.

This strategy will also position us to launch new congregations in the future and even to assist in the revitalization of other churches. Across the south, there’s a new strategy beginning as struggling congregations are requesting mergers with a stronger congregation. We saw in St. Louis when we went to World Changers last month. Struggling churches in Woodward, Monroe, and Baton Rouge have recently chosen to merge with other churches, and the results have been outstanding.

Whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.