Friday, December 22, 2006

What Are You Most Thankful For?

This Christmas, my wife and I are celebrating our first Christmas with our daughter. We struggled many years with trying to have a child and having her is truly a miracle of God. I thought it might be an exciting witness to have our readers share what they are most thankful for this year. Enjoy the picture of our daughter and have a Merry Christmas. - Okpreacher

Monday, December 18, 2006

Article #6 - Rural Church Growth

Grow or Gone: Understanding You

In this last article of my series on rural church growth, I want to deal with a subject very close to my heart. I have seen too many ministers with a genuine call get scarred up serving churches that were never going to grow. A pastor needs to understand his make-up and calling. A pastor friend of mine says, “There are three types of pastors; caretakers, undertakers, and risk-takers.” Most rural churches are looking for pastors that are caretakers or undertakers, but not risk-takers. I’m a risk-taker and I’m writing this last article for my risk-taker ministry friends.

As a Southern Baptist minister who is also a risk-taker, job searching is frustrating. Most Southern Baptist Churches are small rural churches. That means that there are few great risk-taker ministry positions available. So what is a risk-taker to do?

Rural churches normally go through preachers like Hollywood Stars go through spouses. There is always a rural church looking for a preacher. Rural churches are attracted to risk-taker ministers because they are charismatic and passionate. Risk-takers are drawn to any church that talks about change, risk, and the Kingdom of God. Soon the Risk-taker takes the risk and become pastor of a rural church thinking that change can happen. Then the risk-taker faces reality, the rural church that talked about change is trying to make him fit into the caretaker or undertaker mold. At this point the risk-taker faces some choices. First, he can stop being a risk-taker and become a caretaker or undertaker. Second, he can push a head and see if he can win enough people to Christ to keep the church members from firing him. Finally, he can leave the church.

I believe Risk-takers spend too much time in rural churches. I heard a quote that was attributed to Billy Graham which was, “If you serve a church where the people aren’t willing to follow you after six months, leave. There is too much Kingdom work to be done, to keep focusing energy on people who refuse to grow.” I believe six months is too short of a time, but within a year you should know whether your church can grow or not. I believe a risk-taker who realizes that his church isn’t interested in growth should leave the church. I have never seen anything good come from a risk-taker at a church wanting an undertaker. Leave and let them find a pastor that is a caregiver or undertaker. There are plenty of caregiver and undertaker pastors and I’m thankful for them. Let them pastor the rural churches.

I want to challenge the Risk-takers to stop giving your gifts to churches that don’t want them and give them to starting new churches. If the Risk-takers don’t plant churches, who will? Many churches, associations, conventions, and denominations are realizing that church planting is the hope for building God’s Kingdom in the 21st century and are willing to provide support. The key to church planting is risk-takers so please check into the possibility of planting a church in your area.

In closing, caretakers and undertakers are great and are needed to serve as pastors so that the risk-takers can go and plant new churches. Risk-takers stop wasting your gifts on churches that really don’t want it and take the big risk of planting a church.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Article #5 - Rural Church Growth

You Win When You Lose – Understanding the Risk and Sacrifice Involved in Change.

My purpose in writing on rural church growth is to help rural churches identify and solve the main issues they must address for the church to grow again. I believe that many churches talk about wanting to grow, but most are unwilling to pay the cost to grow. I want to be completely honest about what it takes to grow. Ask any woman about giving birth and they will tell you about the pain of birthing. Church grow is a lot like giving birth because church growth is a result of the pastor and church members enduring growth pains in order to birth a movement of God.

The core members of your church must understand that they are expected to stay engaged and sacrifice on their part will be involved as the church seeks to grow. Every rural church has core members. That core must be engaged in the process of change or don’t change. If you lose the support of the core members, your church is sunk. If your core is willing to follow, here is the sacrifice they will need to endure.

The first sacrifice is the style of the church. In my past articles I have written in detail about this subject. There must come a point where the core members see themselves as missionaries. They are to view their community as a foreign country. They must study their community and develop their evangelism and discipleship programs around the needs of the community. The style is to change from being focused on the core to focusing on the needs and style of the community. Most churches aren’t willing to sacrifice the style of the church in order to reach their community. My comfort and your comfort have to be sacrificed in order for us to connect with our community. This means “our Church” becomes “their church”.

The second sacrifice is the members of the church. Church members are use to being the focus of the church. If and when that changes, church members are tempted to find a church that will focus on them. Why should church members stay engaged in a church that has changed it’s focus from church members to the community? The reason is every church member must realize that they are a minister or missionary. A missionary never seeks to build a church that focuses on the missionary, but on the community they are trying to reach. A church must decide, will we seek those going to Heaven or will we seek those going to Hell. Members will leave, but the right type of members will stay. The members that understand their mission and want to be apart of building God’s Kingdom will stay engaged in the church.

The third sacrifice is the money of the church. Every pastor has been told by the church treasure, “We don’t want to lose Mr. and Mrs. So and So, because they tithe lots of money, so keep them happy.” Churches need to view their finances as a tool for doing ministry, not as a shackle from doing ministry. I believe the more a church emphasizes the mission of their church, the more money for doing that mission will be tithed. It will be tithed by different members, members who have been waiting to get involved. So be prepared to lose some money up front, but gaining money as you stand on the mission.

The last sacrifice is the time and energy of the church. To successfully change a church, there is a sacrifice of time and energy that must be made by each member. Changing a church is hard work and it doesn’t happen over night. There are additional meetings, small groups, worship services, parties, and community functions that take up time from our members, but to change a church it is needed.

In closing, I want to challenge you with one thing that never changes. The spreading of the message of God’s Word is the reason a church exists. Never change God’s Word, just communicate it more effectively. What is the result of all this sacrifice and pain? To use the birthing example again, after the pain, you expect life. We sacrifice not for change alone, but for the ability to bring our community into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. In order to bring people to God, Christ sacrificed His life, what will you sacrifice?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Taking Christ Out Of Christmas

Christmas is the time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is important because there is only one true God and He became flesh. Jesus Christ is God. His birth was a miracle. His life was a miracle. His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead was a miracle. Christ the Lord can rescue anyone who will trust their lives to Him. Christians celebrate Christmas because they realize how much Christ has done for them. Christians understand everything Christ did for humanity, He did as a gift. Since Christians view Christ as the greatest gift, they place great importance on gift giving.

This year the ever growing Political Correctness War has targeted Christmas. Many stores and government agencies have made policies forbidding the use of, “Merry Christmas” by employees. To them Christmas is too limiting. Since most of our world doesn’t acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord or honor His birth, the Political Correctness people cry out “unfair”. Why should they be forced to experience a holiday that they don’t believe in? I agree with them because Christmas isn’t about Santa Clause, reindeer, or Christmas Trees. Christmas is about Christ. Why should we be surprised that the P.C. people want to take Christ out of Christmas, when Christians haven’t put Christ into Christmas? Maybe this year instead of getting mad at someone for not saying, “Merry Christmas”, you can share the reason you celebrate Christmas.

The people who took Christ out of Christmas were Christians who deluded the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not saying Santa Clause, Reindeer, or Christmas Trees are bad, but I’m saying that as long as this is all we talk about, we shouldn’t be surprised that the world has very little use for our holiday.

Don’t worry Christmas isn’t going anywhere because the Christmas season is extremely profitable for companies. The bottom line of our country is our economy. Our economy’s survival is built on the Christmas season. Most business gauge their success or failure for the year on how they do during Christmas. So don’t worry, Christmas isn’t going anywhere, but the question is will Christ still be apart of it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Article # 4: Rural Church Growth

Just Be Honest – Understanding your commitment level for change

Nothing destroys churches and pastors like unmet expectations. I believe 95% of rural churches have unreal and therefore unmet expectations. How do you determine if an expectation is realistic? Here are some questions to ask that will help to determine if your expectations are realistic. First, are your expectations Biblical? For example, I expect every member of our church to tithe. This is a Biblical expectation because the Bible tells us that every member of our church should tithe.

The second question to ask is, are your expectations physically possible? For example, I expect to have 500 in worship for High Attendance Sunday and our Worship Center only holds 100. This is an unrealistic expectation, because it’s not physically possible to get 500 people into a space meant for 100. Each expectation should have a faith and a practical side to it.

The third question to ask is what type of commitment is there to fulfilling this expectation? When people are uncommitted to an expectation, it is unrealistic. For an expectation to be met, people must be willing to do whatever must be done, for however long it must be done. People must be committed to accomplishing the task for it to be a realistic expectation.

With this said, I believe most rural churches have an unrealistic expectation of growth for their church. It is unrealistic not because it isn’t Biblical or physically impossible, but because most church members aren’t committed to it. Most rural churches are dying and if they don’t begin a new life-cycle they will either close or have no influence in their communities within five years. Most members intellectually understand that change needs to occur and they talk about change needing to occur, but most really don’t want change. Don’t fool yourself; intellectually knowing changes need to happen is different than being committed to change.

Statements I have heard rural churches say that shows they aren’t committed to church growth are; “We need slow change”, “We can change as long as we take care of those who have money”, and “We can change, but lets not lose our tradition.” Someone who is committed to change says, “I know we need to change, lets do it and how can I help.”

Here is what keeps me motivated to change and to change quickly. I’m motivated by what I don’t know. I don’t know two things. First, I don’t know when Christ is coming back. He could be coming back today. Second, I don’t know how long the lost people in my community have to live. So the question that motivates me is, “how many people must die and go to hell before I’m willing to change.” Most churches want to change slowly because most aren’t really committed to change. You don’t know how much time you have left before Christ comes or your target people die. I encourage every church to change as quickly as you can. Your church must connect with as many people as possible in a short amount of time, because we can’t take time for granted.

If you realize your church isn’t committed to an expectation, either church growth or something else, then let it go. Your church will be what the members of your church are committed to. It is better for you to plant another church than to try and lead a church to change when members really aren’t committed to changing. In closing, understand your church’s commitment level as you make expectations because only realistic expectations can be met.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Guys' Rules

"Got this from a friend on email and thought it was a great laugh. We spend so much time solving all the problems of the world and the church on this blog, I thought I would post this for a laugh. Enjoy."

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Finally , the guys' side of the story, listen up ladies.

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

2. Learn to work the toilet seat.
You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down.
We need it up, you need it down.
You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

3. Sunday sports It's like the full moon
or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

4. Shopping is NOT a sport.
And no, we are never going to think of it that way.

5. Crying is blackmail.

6. Ask for what you want.
Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work!
Just say it!

7. "Yes" and "No" are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

8. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

9. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a Problem. See a doctor.

10. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.
In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 Days.

11. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.

12. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.

13. You can either ask us to do something
Or tell us how you want it done. Not both.
If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

14. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

15. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

16. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings.

Peach, for example, is a fruit, not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

17. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," We will act like nothing's wrong.We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

18. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball, the shotgun formation, or golf.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Article #3: Rural Church Growth

You Reach Your Culture: Understanding Your Church and Your Community.

Most rural churches have already hit their peak and they are in a stage of decline. In my last article I wrote about life-cycles and how a church ages. Understanding your life-cycle is important because where your church is in it’s life-cycle determines your church’s culture. Church culture is important because it determines who your church will reach in the community. Many rural churches talk about reaching younger couples but are unwilling to change their church's culture because they are comfortable with their current life-cycle.

If your rural church is going to be one of the few churches that transition into birthing a new life-cycle you need to understand what is going to be required of you. The first requirement is to die to the current church culture. Your core church members must be committed to the fact, “The church we are is completely different than the church we want to become.”

Most rural churches make a mistake at this point. They will do a study and find out what the current church members like and want their church to be. I am challenging every church to do a study of what your future church members like and want their church to be. Your church must view the community as their future church members. Each rural church must understand who they are, but they also must understand who they need to become in order to reach their future church members.

Each church that desires to birth a new life-cycle must decide to become missional. For example, if I went to start a church in Mexico, I wouldn’t try to plant an “American” church. I wouldn’t preach in English, but Spanish. The whole style of the church would be Mexican. The reason is I want to connect the unchanging message of Jesus Christ with the Mexican people. Most rural churches aren’t missional because they don’t understand the culture of their community and therefore, they’ve created a church culture that connects with them, but with no one else. This isn’t about whether you sing hymns or choruses, but will the whole culture of your church connect with the culture of your community?

The next requirement is to determine who in the community is your future church members. Make a target group. Even though we desire for everyone in our community to accept Christ, we also understand that our community is made up of many different cultures. Which ever culture we create is who we will reach. If we decide to reach people who are 50 our culture will look different then if we are trying to reach cowboys that are 25 and listen to Garth Brooks. A church must determine who they want to reach in their community. This should come as a result of praying, studying of the demographics, and talking with people.

The next step is to study the target group. What are the values of this group? What makes them tick? What music do they enjoy? What language do they speak? How do they feel about traditional church? We need to learn as much as possible about them. The reason for learning this information is for the purpose of creating a church culture that will connect with them.

The next step is to create a culture that speaks to your target group. Every member needs to see themselves as a missionary and the reason your church is creating a new culture is to reach those future church members. Everything related to style and methods must be shaped by your target group. This process will lead you from the church that you are to the church you need to be.

The last step is to develop relationships with your target group outside the church for the purpose of sharing Christ in a community environment. If your target group doesn’t know your church members then they won’t know your church.

In closing, if a church doesn’t want to create a new life-cycle don’t worry about changing your culture. Don’t worry about studying the community. Old life-cycles are driven by the members you have, while new life-cycles are driven by the members you don’t have yet. No matter what, your church culture determines who you will reach.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Article # 2 - Rural Church Growth

Change Brings Death - Understanding Life-cycles

“Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it” is a quote my parents use to tell me growing up. I believe this quote applies to many churches. Churches talk about wanting to grow and make changes, but most church don’t understand or want what they are asking for. When you ask for change you are speeding up the death process in a church. Let me explain.

Churches and vision have a life-cycle. For example, is there any person that expects to live forever and never experience death? No, every person knows that they will probably live 70 – 90 years. That is all the time that you have to make a difference and then death comes. You may have never realized that churches and vision work on life-cycles.

Most rural churches were founded between 1920 and 1960. At that time the church was new and there were many young people involved in the church. The church was relevant to the young members and it grew. Then as the young people aged to become middle-aged, so the church aged. The church wasn’t so relevant to the young anymore, but continued to be relevant to the middle-aged who had families and money. Then as the middle-aged people became older the church aged again. But this time the church wasn’t relevant to the young anymore and all of the families had left. Older people in a rural church love the church because the church aged with them and kept them as it’s focus. Then as older people realize that death isn’t to far away for them, they also realize the church that has aged with them is headed for the same fate. I call this process of aging with what was the foundational young members of the church a life-cycle. Normally, at the end of a life-cycle fear for survival dominates the mission of the church.

The problem is the church has lived out it’s life-cycle. The rural church has only two options at this point. The first is to let the church die along with the members of the church. We have to remember that our individual churches aren’t the completion of God’s Kingdom. There is nothing unchristian about a church dying or closing. Rejoice for the dying church because it has lived it’s life-cycle and served it purpose for that generation.

The second option is to birth a new life-cycle. Birthing a new life-cycle is the work of God giving a group of people a brand new vision to reach young people in their community. To begin a new life-cycle in a church, the old life-cycle is fundamentally put to death. People seeking to birth a new life-cycle realize that the mission, vision, and methods of the church will be completely different than what it was. I heard of a church that every time they changed a program, the church had a funeral service for the existing program. They would rejoice about how God had worked through that existing program in it's prime. Then they symbolically buried it. Everyone had to let it die. Here is a warning: some people think that their church can have two life-cycles going at once but just like you can’t be 40 and 70 at the same time, so a church can only have one life-cycle at a time.

How do you choose what you are going to do as a church? You must decide what Jesus’ Will is for your individual church. His Will may be for the church to close at the end of it’s current life-cycle. If so, proclaim it and tell your church, “Guys, we have five or ten good years left. Let’s make a difference and go out with a bang.”

You may sense that Jesus’ Will is for your church to birth a new life-cycle. This is where you begin talking about change and you tell your church, “Guys, Jesus has given us a new vision and mission. We are no longer going to be the church we were. We are going to go through the pain to do what it takes to birth this new life-cycle.”

One thing I should share with you, if your church chooses to stay with the current life-cycle until death. God will rise up new churches with new life-cycles in your area. They will do what you’re not able to do and there will be people from your church who leave to join the new life-cycle churches. Also if you choose to birth a new life-cycle you will lose most of the old life-cycle people. What I’m saying is that with both decisions you will lose people and this is the reason that the decision can’t be made on the bases of survival, but mission. You must determine where the church is in it’s life-cycle and commit to doing what Jesus wants. Whether Jesus’ Will for your church is dying or giving birth, do it for His glory.