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Inner Preparation

Are you missing the most essential part of sermon prep?

That God would call a man from the hills of Kentucky to England's Westminster Chapel is one of the great incongruities of church history. I was honored to serve at that famed church from 1977 to 2002. In fact, every time I ascended that lofty pulpit, I pinched myself.
Yet it was both a preacher's dream and a pastor's nightmare.
The dream: All I had to do was prepare sermons and preach them.
The nightmare: Being a good pastor from the pulpit only. John Calvin once said he would as soon enter the pulpit undressed as unprepared—and, believe me, the Westminster pulpit is one platform you do not want to enter having not done your homework. read more

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A 'Burden' to Bring Hope to Philadelphia

Pastor K. Marshall Williams Sr. has a burden.

He knows it’s not his to bear alone, but in his sphere of influence—which happens to be the City of Brotherly Love—the pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church can’t help but see lost souls all across Philadelphia.

“The burden of lostness,” is how Williams describes his passion most succinctly. “My vision is to share that burden of lostness.”

So when Williams heard about the nationwide outreach My Hope with Billy Graham, he did not hesitate to jump on board.

That “burden of lostness” was burning inside of him more than ever.  read more

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The World Needs More ‘Wiki’ Churches

Where do you go when you need information fast? Like millions around the world, I go straight to Wikipedia, the world’s largest free online encyclopedia.

The “wiki” part of Wikipedia is from a Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” While it may seem as though Wikipedia has had quick success, it was actually a bit of an accident.

In 2000 Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started an online encyclopedia called Nupedia. The goal was for it to include contributions written only by experts. Before an article could be posted on Nupedia, it had to go through an extensive scholarly review process. That strategy proved to be painstakingly slow. read more

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Let the Winds of Grace Prevail

Bright and sunny with a soft breeze.

That was the climate this particular morning and exactly how I like it when headed out for a walk. My then-2-year-old son, Jude, loved our walks for many reasons, but particularly for the thrill and excitement of the downhill runs in his stroller. These hills couldn’t come soon enough for him. 

We had barely left when Jude yelled, “Let’s go faster!” Pointing to the uphill crest in front of us, he leaned forward in enthusiastic anticipation. I looked at the graduating elevation before me and realized he had his directions mixed up. An incline wouldn’t give him the speed he was looking for; the hill had to turn in the opposite direction. Sure, we could gain some speed, but it would be more difficult (certainly for me, the one pushing). What he wanted would be best achieved when this uphill journey pointed down. read more

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Why Are Liberals So Afraid of Prayer?

The need for the nation to pray about her problems would be high on my grandmother's to-do list. In fact, she often said, “Prayer changes things!” As a black woman who was also part Native American, she was very proud to achieve the status of licensed practical nurse.

She was a natural caregiver whose profession was simply an extension of the way her mother before her had lived out her faith—visiting the sick and shut-ins her church. Her generation saw America change because of a non-violent civil rights movement that was fueled by civil disobedience and the power of prayer. Her personal life also changed because of prayer and faithfulness.

In fact, she lived long enough to see her four daughters and her 15 grandchildren all graduate from college. Two of us even attended a prestigious Ivy League graduate school, with one of her grandsons becoming the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. read more

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Meyer Practices What She Preaches

After 37 years of covering most of the world’s major ministries, I believe Joyce Meyer’s is one of the best.

We were honored to have Joyce as the guest editor for Ministry Today’s September/October issue. When I became aware of her enormous outreach, I asked if she’d be willing to tell how her family and ministry have made such a huge impact through their missions efforts, both domestically and overseas, as well as their commitment to a lifestyle of radical generosity.

I wondered if she’d say yes. After all, she has one of the largest ministries in America. With her ongoing teaching and travel schedule, along with leading a global ministry, she’s obviously in high demand. In addition, she has the ability to get out her message through her own media. read more

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Complaining Won't Change the World

When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, some of the least successful strategies are ones built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” is a disturbing trend. 

Every month, I see an avalanche of direct-mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show and cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group. 

But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical creates very little change. After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something.  read more

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Study: Americans Don’t Know the Facts About Jesus

Do you know Jesus? Do you really? Following the recent unveiling of a papyrus fragment in which Jesus reportedly says, "my wife," many historians are now questioning what people know about the life of Jesus.

Aside from the bearded, longhaired, Sunday-school image of Jesus, a new poll reveals that Americans are not at all familiar with the impactful life of this man.

According to the poll, most people do not grasp Jesus' influence on culture despite recognizing His image some 2,000 years after his death. Sixty-six percent believe Jesus is the most-recognized figure in history, but most were not able to correctly answer questions regarding His influence. read more

Do You Reflect Your Neighborhood?

Six ways to better represent the diversity of your community

M
any Christians in the Western World have confused culturally determined expressions of the Christian faith with the faith itself.”

That quote from analyst Christian Schwarz, leader of the Natural Church Development movement, is all too telling. As our world becomes more diverse, we’ll need to examine our own “culturally determined expressions” of Christianity in light of the gospel.

Much of what we believe in the United States simply doesn’t make sense in other countries, which tells me we haven’t found a spiritual truth, but rather a Western approach to life. One of those areas, I believe, is our approach to leadership, specifically our leadership criteria. 

I doubt I have to tell you that your town or city is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse by the day. Below are some ways your church can begin to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of its neighborhood and empower people from diverse walks of life to become the people God created them to be:

1) Diversify your leadership. Look around. Who is on your staff? A bunch of middle-aged white men? If you’re in a culturally diverse neighborhood—and you care about reaching the people in that neighborhood—consider looking for leaders with which your community can identify the next time you fill a staff position.

2) Recruit young. When you put young people into ministry, you plant seeds for your church’s future. The young people in your church already understand cultural diversity. Their schools are culturally and ethnically diverse. Train them as ministers, and they will make a difference.

3) Create opportunities for leadership. Proactively look for and discover the talents and giftings of the people God has placed in your church. Get to know those who aren’t currently serving in ministry. Create, or better yet, empower them to create and lead ministries that match their passion and vision.

4) Tell the story. You know those giant screens in your sanctuary? Use them to share people’s stories. Tell the story of a guy in recovery (make sure he’s in a stable place) or the mom who didn’t think she could make it. Help the people in your congregation get to know each other outside the Sunday morning arm pump.

5) Work together. If cultural diversity has some real kickback in your church, start with the men. Enlist some of your key male leaders to be on a work team with other men from a different socio-economic grouping and ask them to work together for a few months. My experience has been that as groups work side-by-side and get to know each other, unity develops. Check back regularly to ensure cultural differences haven’t become the focus of the group.

6) Connect with the neighborhood. Sometimes the real problem is that your congregation isn’t a good representation of the neighborhood. If the people in your church are commuting and the people of the neighborhood are sleeping in on Sunday, you need to create opportunities for people in the neighborhood to feel welcomed. Find ways to celebrate what makes your neighborhood unique by connecting with the community and discovering their concerns.

God put your church in your location for a reason. He isn’t surprised that the neighborhood has changed; in fact, He wants to help you reach this new, diverse group of people. Leadership in mixed cultural situations can be challenging, but communication and an understanding of the strength that diversity brings will help you create a firm foundation for growth now and in the months and years to come. 

Your first step is to take an honest, hard look at the makeup of your church leadership, your congregation and the surrounding neighborhood. Does your leadership reflect the congregation? Is your congregation a fair representative of the community? Take these disparities to prayer and discover God’s starting point for your unique situation.
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor working primarily in urban areas. She has a master’s in Theology from Fuller Seminary and is a contributor to Linked2Leadership.com. Connect with her on her blog Deepimprints.com and on Twitter @KimMartinez read more
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Things Looking Down?

A divine plan for propelling us onto new spiritual plateaus

Bright and sunny with a soft breeze.

That was the climate this particular morning and exactly how I like it when headed out for a walk. My then-2-year-old son, Jude, loved our walks for many reasons, but particularly for the thrill and excitement of the downhill runs in his stroller. These hills couldn’t come soon enough for him. 

We had barely left when Jude yelled, “Let’s go faster!” Pointing to the uphill crest in front of us, he leaned forward in enthusiastic anticipation. I looked at the graduating elevation before me and realized he had his directions mixed up. An incline wouldn’t give him the speed he was looking for; the hill had to turn in the opposite direction. Sure, we could gain some speed, but it would be more difficult (certainly for me, the one pushing). What he wanted would be best achieved when this uphill journey pointed down.

I assured him that on the other side of the summit, where the curve of the paved road seemed to meet with the sky, he’d get what he wanted—a full-speed race down to the bottom. A downhill journey would set the perfect stage for maximum momentum to occur.

Where We Find Full-Speed Faith

“Things are looking up.”

That’s what we say when the downturns of life reverse direction. We much prefer the “uphill” portions of our journey—the seasons where things are headed in a positive trend. None of us would likely choose the more difficult “down” times over the easier to manage—or at least easier to accept—rise of the “up” ones.

Yet time and again, experience shows us that spiritual momentum and full-speed faith are often best achieved when things are looking down. Somehow, when our days and details are not going in a way we’d prefer, eagerness in our seeking and searching for God picks up the pace and intensifies in speed.

To be clear, we can most certainly experience spiritual growth when things are going well. Thank the Lord that difficulty is not a requirement for discipleship. But in our quest for happiness and ease, could we be sacrificing the spiritual growth we deeply desire on the fleeting altar of good times? Is it possible that in our drastic attempts to keep ourselves and our loved ones from experiencing the “downs,” we are being robbed, and robbing others, of the optimum environment for spiritual speed to be gathered, distance to be covered, endurance and character to developed, and quickened faith to be cemented into place?

Scripture says it this way: “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy ... your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow” (James 1:2-4, NLT).

Lean Forward

Maybe, instead of merely detesting the “down times,” we can also be expectant of the high-speed work God is preparing to do in us while we’re passing through adversity. Maybe, just maybe, the warp speed with which He wants to propel us to the next dimension of our callings will be best achieved on this side of the hill of life.

We can and must address and encourage each other through harsh realities, yes, and we can also count it as our privilege to make our requests for His intervention in our lives known. But we must also have the sting of joyful and holy fervor that reminds us our more difficult days are propelling us onto new spiritual plateaus. Somehow, through this, we start trusting more fully, believing more abundantly, expecting more wholly and our hearts start percolating with a newfound spiritual passion.

Things looking down, my friend? I pray that things will look up again soon. But until then, lean forward into the fast and furious winds of grace and prepare for the ride of your life.


Priscilla Shirer is a Bible teacher who speaks nationwide. She has written multiple books, including A Jewel in His Crown. With her husband, Jerry, she founded Going Beyond Ministries. For more information, visit her blog at goingbeyond.com or follow her on Twitter @PriscillaShirer. read more

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Get a Life, Get a Sermon


Are your sermons as well-lived as they are well-studied?

Afew years ago I played hooky from our Saturday night service and hit the ski slopes with my son, Parker. It was the last weekend of the ski season, so it was our last chance to go after a life goal we share in common: learning to snowboard. It was an amazing day, but one moment is frozen in my mind forever.
We were riding up the chair lift when I had an epiphany. I realized that my life had completely revolved around National Community Church for the better part of a decade. In one respect, that's the price you pay when you plant a church. But it was as if the Holy Spirit said in no uncertain terms: "Get a life!"
Let me be blunt: If your life is boring your sermons will be too.
If you have no life outside of church—no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals—your illustrations will feel canned, your ap-plications theoretical instead of practical and your sermons will be lifeless instead of life-giving. read more

Revival Generations

Today’s move of God is for tomorrow’s church, too

John Adams once said that “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” 

What a time to live in when you constantly hear about Stage 4 cancer getting healed, missing limbs growing back, marriages being restored, deaf ears opening up, blind eyes now seeing, cancellation of debt, children’s hearts turning back to their parents.

The church has a unique and tremendous opportunity to see the kingdom of God continue to touch our world in our time and to see it increase in the next generation. It’s important that we live our lives in such a way that will set up a generation we will never see for success. read more

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Forever Changed

One trip to Israel was all it took to make me repriotize my life and ministry

 

After 19 years of international ministry, a weekly television broadcast, establishing a consultancy for pastors and other initiatives, I have experienced something that has caused me to entirely rethink my approach to ministry and also my theology. It has changed the way I prioritize, the way I preach and the way I pastor. This life-changing encounter was with the land of Israel.

After sailing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, standing in the Garden of Gethsemane and peering into the field where the battle of Armageddon is to take place, I realized that much of my ministry had been based upon personal introspection—what I had read and what other scholars had interpreted. Moreover, we often allow English grammatical rules to interpret biblical text and biblical culture.

However, Western theology often opposes Eastern thought. For instance, the Western mind argues the truth; thus we have so many denominations and different reformations. But the Eastern mind simply obeys the truth. In the past, this difference in approach would have inhibited me from fully absorbing the Scriptures. But my trip to this unique place changed all that. I can now personally identify with Naaman the leper who took soil from Jerusalem back to his native land of Syria, so that he could stand upon it and worship the God of Israel. read more

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Covenantal Alignment

Eight reasons Christians need to be active in standing with Israel

 

We as leaders find ourselves in a sobering moment in history, which calls us to take a stand with God’s covenants in the earth. It is our responsibility to do kingdom business until He comes (Luke 19:13).

More than 10 years ago, Robert Stearns asked me to join him in encouraging Christians to pray every year on the same day for the peace of Jerusalem. It is a daunting task to stir the global church to unity in prayer, but the millions of believers who now do just that the first Sunday of every October are proof that God’s grace is on this important issue.

The most essential things I could hope to pass on to the next generation of church leadership are these several reasons for standing with Israel: read more

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Leadership Lessons from Jamie Buckingham

What my grandfather taught me about the essentials of ministry

 

Publisher’s Note from Steve Strang: Jamie Buckingham had a huge impact on my life and on our organization. He encouraged me to start Ministry Today and wrote in it many times. He served as editor for several years before his untimely death in February 1992. We recognize his ongoing legacy with this article. You can read more about Jamie Buckingham, and enjoy some of his best articles in a special online tribute at ministrytodaymag.com/jamie

It has now been 20 years since my grandfather, Jamie Buckingham, passed away. I cherish the 11 short years I had with him. He inspired me to pursue a life in ministry, for which I am very thankful.

Jamie was a unique man, and consequently a unique pastor. He often spoke and wrote about the various traits and the type of character required of those who have been called into ministry. They remain relevant for leaders today, and I am pleased to be able to share some of them with you to honor his memory.

Be real. Jamie often preached and wrote about his many flaws, citing specific examples of ways he had fallen short. He discovered how God could work in those imperfections to give encouragement to others. Living and preaching like this takes a lot of courage (and, according to my grandmother, requires permission from your spouse), but it allows you to experience an intimacy with others you might not otherwise find. read more

Preach It!

Don’t worry about being ‘too political’ in the pulpit


“Pastor, you are too political,” said the irritated parishioner. But he did not stop there. “If you continue this, I’ll leave the church.” A further implication was obvious: “along with my tithe.” In that moment, the pastor is at a crossroad.

Some parishioners have heard sufficiently diluted preaching for so long that they don’t recognize truly biblical preaching. Therein lies the problem.

After all, isn’t the Bible quite clear? “Go into all the world—except the political realm,” according to some people’s Bibles? How has that type of preaching worked out for us? Is anyone’s community more righteous today than 20 or 40 years ago? Not one. read more

No Hiding Place

You can’t stand on the sidelines of the culture war

There are times in life when you can choose your own battles and times when your battles choose you. In 2007, my church was targeted by the homosexual community. A decision was made by our church leaders not to compromise our faith by allowing a memorial service, which would have emphasized and celebrated homosexuality, to be held in our sanctuary.

We did, however, reach out to the family with many acts of love, including paying for another venue to host the memorial service. In response, gay activists unleashed a barrage of attacks through email, blog sites and the media—intending to shame us into silence. I soon came to learn the importance of pastors and churches standing together in a bold front for righteousness and biblical morality in our communities.

One of the most effective strategies used to silence and defeat those who would stand for morality is isolation—making them feel as though they stand alone and public opinion is against them. I was amazed at how quickly the homosexual community was able to organize and mobilize its attack.

This strategy would not have been as effective if the body of Christ would have quickly shown its support and taken a stand with us for biblical morality. The silence of the church spoke volumes. The church should learn from those who oppose us. It’s time we get organized and be ready to mobilize when our values come under attack. read more

How to Ensure a Porn-Free Staff

A proactive approach can help minimize the X-rated threat to your ministry


Porn is probably the fastest-growing problem in the church. When speaking at my Sex, Men and God conferences, I have found that more than 50 percent of the men attending will admit to being addicted—not struggling with—to pornography.

What about your church staff? Many of your staff members were also raised sexually by Playboy, the Internet and our sex-saturated culture. We have to accept the reality that being in ministry doesn’t make anyone immune to the porn problem. This problem is largely a male issue, but there is more research supporting the fact that there is a rising in number of Christian women who are also dabbling in pornography and social networks for inappropriate relationships.

I know from personal experience what it’s like to be trapped by porn and sex addiction. I have been free for over 24 years, and being free is much better. read more

Wired for Influence

How to transition from attracting followers to reproducing leaders

Have you paused to consider that you’re pastoring the first generation in history that doesn’t need leaders to get information? When you see your folks on Sunday, many have been online, finding all kinds of other pastors, authors and zealots and obtaining all sorts of information. Even though people no longer need us for information, they do need us for interpretation as we help them navigate the barrage of information they consume each week.

My concern is that we, the leaders of the church, have either misunderstood the biblical idea of leadership or we’ve dismissed it as “secular” or “fleshly.” We’ve read the Bible with a “follow-ship” bias and missed the call from God across the Old and New Testaments to lead.

Look again at the book of Genesis, where we read familiar words: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.” Just what does that mean? We receive a clue to a part of its meaning in the next phrase: “and let them rule” 
(Gen. 1:26, NIV). read more

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