Archive for the ‘Church Revitalization’ Category

Transitional1Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me, “So how do you like being an interim pastor?” I responded, “I am not an interim pastor. I am a transitional pastor.” He gave me a look of incredulity and drilled down, “What’s the difference?”

While the two terms appear to be interchangeable, the differences lie in the intentionality of the transitional pastor. An interim pastor fills the gap or vacancy caused by the departure of the previous pastor by generally preaching on Sundays and leading the Wednesday prayer meeting or service. He may provide some additional leadership, but generally he has no specific charge for him to lead the congregation. He may even be considered as the permanent pastor.

With Transitional Pastoral Ministry, the congregation and the transitional pastor enter into a covenant relationship whereby the transitional pastor agrees to provide spiritual leadership to the church and lead the church throughout the transitional period. The church agrees to be loving and gracious to the transitional pastor and his family and to pray for spiritual power in his life and work. The church further promises to relate to him as a God’s anointed leader for the task, to support his leadership, and to talk with him about personal concerns instead of talking about him to others.

Therefore, the transitional pastor becomes the lead pastor for the congregation. He leads the church through the spiritual, situational, and psychological stages of the transition that concludes with the church calling a permanent pastor. The transitional pastor helps the church to view the church’s history through the eyes of Christ and assess the church’s current reality redemptively. By affirming biblical principles for church growth, he will lead the church to focus on kingdom results. He will guide the church in a complete review of its documents, procedures, and ministries. He will also train the pastor search committee and assist the committee as a resource; however, he will not be available for a call as the permanent pastor.

In June the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Hammond, Louisiana, called me to serve as its Transitional Pastor. Since that time, I have come to love it and appreciate the value of a transitional pastor in a local church. I believe that through the transitional pastoral process, the church I serve can become more effective as it learns from past experiences, frees itself from hindering traditions, and replaces discord with harmony. As a result of the transition, the church will come to understand its mission and will develop church practices that should enable the church to fulfill its mission. Too often misunderstandings exist about the pastor’s role and his responsibilities which preclude his effectiveness in serving as pastor. The transition period allows for the transitional pastor to reset the expectations for both the pastor and the congregation. This will likely mean that energy previously spent addressing conflict will be redirected so that the church enjoys an increased participation in ministry and mission.

1 cor. 9.22.001Recently I posted about purchasing a couple of tickets to a baseball game for my wife and me to attend. Our local AAA baseball team had partnered with a semiprofessional football in our area for a one-night promotional event through which the Bayou Lacombe Cardinals football team would receive a portion of the proceeds. I also happen to work with the team as their public address announcer.

I had no idea that my post — meant to urge others to purchase tickets to support the football team — would be controversial. Because I am also a pastor, my association with the team was questioned, and I offered an immediate straightforward answer: “I’m building relationships with people who need the gospel.” Somehow this led to a charge that my “popularity” has to do with my willingness to please people and to conform to their ways. The charge continued to what must have been the aim of the original question, which was to disparage the use of contemporary music in churches.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I enjoy contemporary music. But I also enjoy the sacred hymns. However, I also enjoy many other styles of music. When asked “What kind of music do I want the church to use?” I always respond, “Music that honors God and that is done well and that relates to the people. I define “done well” as that which is presented as the best the particular congregation, singers, or instrumentalists can offer because we ought always offer our best when it comes to worshiping the Lord.”

Throughout my ministry I have pursued a variety of interests in order to connect with people in the community. The goal has always been the same — to build relationships with people who need the gospel. The apostle Paul modeled this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul clearly stated his purpose for conforming to the customs and opinions of men by stating “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). What mattered to Paul was not him, his rights, or his preferences, but the gospel. The gospel consumed his life.

The controversy surrounding “contemporary music” hardly smacks of something new. In 1873 (that’s more than 150 years ago!), something new came on the scene when the great preacher D.L. Moody’s singing associate, Ira D. Sankey, introduced what became known as the “singing of the gospel.” Sankey’s style completely revolutionized the music of the church.

Before Sankey, a cappella singing of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs had always been an important part of worship services. However, Sankey introduced a style of popular hymn calculated to awaken the careless, to melt the hardened, and to guide the inquiring souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. Often when the Moody-Sankey team came to town for an evangelistic campaign, the people would come out of curiosity to see and hear Sankey sing. Pedaling his small cabinet organ, he would sing out in his rich, melodious voice, and completely captivate his audience. During this time many church members thought that the use of an organ or any kind of musical instrument to accompany the voices of singers was wicked and worldly. Strict church people, accustomed only to the unaccompanied old psalm-singing type of church music called Sankey’s songs “human hymns.” It took tact on the part of Sankey to break down the prejudice against organ music. He helped transition the practice and the result was a wave of well-composed and great theologically sound hymns which are still sung in churches today.

I believe that each generation needs its Ira Sankeys who can tactfully make the theology of Scripture speak to the people. People often say that the older hymns have such theological value and that we should be teaching their value and not have them lost. If by teaching the value of hymns, you mean that we should sing songs that have robust theological meaning, I wholeheartedly agree. If you mean that we need to teach a particular style of music, that’s actually missing the point. People are converted to Christ through the gospel not through a style of music.

What matters is the theological truth that comes from Scripture. Words are what matters — not the melodies or tunes or even the instruments. We should sing truth. We can sing truth with new songs and new instruments, and we can sing truth with old songs and new instruments and new arrangements.

It comes down to getting the saving message of the gospel to people. I cannot win everyone, but I’m willing to do whatever is biblically permissible to win some. And I’m willing to rub elbows with anyone if it means that I might have the opportunity to speak the gospel.

 

 

 

 

I often use “Truth is unkillable” as my salutation on emails and letters. Occasionally, someone will ask, “What does that mean? Why do you sign off like that?”

I started using the salutation after I had attended a conference at Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary held in January 2012. The conference, “Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists,” included speakers including Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, and Emir Caner. One speaker in particular included that surprised me was Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church.

Known also as the Radical Reformers, 16th-century Anabaptists, such as Menno Simons (the namesake of the modern Mennonite church), Pilgram Marpeck and Balthasar Hubmaier, defended the authority of Scripture, the practice of believer’s baptism and religious liberty. Modern Baptists hold these convictions in common with the Radical Reformers, who for their beliefs often faced persecution and death at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants alike.

Warren pointed out during his address that the word “radical” means “of the root,” as portrayed in most areas of life. In Botany, for example, “radical leaves” on a tree are closest to the root; in mathematics, “the radical is the root of the equation;” and in grammar, “the radical is the root with all prefixes and suffixes removed.” In most areas of life, Warren said, “radical” does not mean “extreme.”

Radical means “rooted.” The Radical Reformers were rooted in Christ and rooted in the Word of God. As rooted believers, as the Radical Reformers read the Scriptures following the Luther’s Reformation, they concluded that Christianity had strayed from its doctrinal moorings. In other words, the faith and practices of the Catholic Church did not root in Scripture but in tradition. The Radical Reformers also concluded that the magisterial reformation did not go far enough.

“The Anabaptists didn’t just believe in the purpose of the Great Commission,” Warren said, but also in “the exact order of the Great Commission.” The church should first go, then preach the Gospel and make disciples, then baptize those who believe, and then teach them to do everything the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded.

At the conference I picked up several books about the Anabaptists, including one on the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the greatest theologian of the early Anabaptists. He used this salutation on all his writing: Die Wahrheit ist untödlich (“Truth is unkillable”). “Unkillable” is not a word in the English language; however, it is the best translation of Hubmaier’s word.

We live in an age where many people want to define truth for themselves — to make it relative or convenient. But truth does not change. We need a reliable source, and the world’s culture will never deliver on a reliable source. We must root our lives on the only reliable source — Jesus Christ. He has given us His Word. The Word alone is reliable — eternal — unkillable!

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.