Growing up in Assemblies of God churches, I often heard preaching in an imperative—even imperial—mode. Pastors operated with a command-and-control model of leadership that carried over into the pulpit.
They thundered forth the Word of God in a high, loud and fast tone of voice. They left no time for questions and made no space for nuance. When they finished their sermons, all they wanted was a yes or no answer from the congregation.
Early on in my pastoral career, perhaps as a reaction to imperative-mode preaching, I preached in the indicative mode. I downloaded information on members of my congregation with a professional tone of voice. My sermons were long, complex and nuanced.
David, finally settled in as king of Israel after years of being hunted by his predecessor, sits in his new cedar palace at peace with his neighbors and says, “Hey, how can I enjoy this cool new house when the ark of God is still sheltered in a tent? That doesn’t seem right. I’ll build God a house to dwell in, too, now that I’ve got some time on my hands.” (My paraphrase.)
But God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet: “Nope. Don’t do it. I have other plans for you, David. I don’t need a house to dwell in … at least, not now, and not built by you. Remember, I took you from the pasture, where you shepherded stinky sheep, and made you ruler over My chosen people. I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for Israel.”
Joseph’s descendants were very different than him. They obeyed when their desires were met and when God manifested His mighty power on their behalf. Whenever they were discouraged or felt abandoned, they quickly drifted into disobedience.
The first symptom of such drifting always came in the form of complaining. Those offended with God usually are not so foolish as to directly oppose Him. Instead, they resist His Word or leadership. The children of Israel complained about their leaders, but Moses answered with, “Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord” (Ex. 16:8).
Your church isn’t growing, and you can’t figure out why. That’s always a tough place to lead and live.
You aren’t alone. In fact, you may be among the majority of churches in the U.S. that are struggling to grow. For some, on the surface, all seems well. Of course, there are a few problems here and there—that’s true in every church—but overall things seem good.
So, what is it? How do you decode the cipher that unlocks the answer? Or perhaps the issues are more obvious and even problematic, but the solutions still evade you.
Pastor, you’ve got a sleeping giant in your church. If you awake that sleeping giant, it’ll change your church, your community and the world.
This sleeping giant in your church is your unengaged lay people.
If 10 percent of your church does most of the work, you have nine entire churches your size sitting on the sidelines each week. Fully engaged, the ministry potential of your church is mind-boggling!
In the last week alone, 57 people have died in four violent events as reported by major news outlets.
Every week, people in your church lose a job or a loved one or have a health incident. Every month, families are torn apart by anger, misunderstandings and rebellion (not just teens; adults rebel too).
The pain from all this is hard to keep in perspective without tuning out. There comes a point when we are tempted to hand out pamphlets instead of dealing with more stress:
After following the news in the wake of last week’s terror attack at the Boston Marathon, it is obvious and understandable that emotions in our nation run the gamut.
We are saddened by the physical and emotional pain that our friends and fellow Americans face as a result of those killed and injured. Our prayers for healing and comfort go out to the victims and their families during this time.
We are angry that someone had the audacity to commit this heinous crime on a day (Patriot’s Day) that was about everything that is right with our nation (courage, honor, freedom) on our own soil—our home.
I was at the C3 Church's Sunday service Sunday night at Oxford Falls, a suburb of Sydney, when Australian talk show host Jamie Malcolm exhorted the congregation. Jamie's words were so unforgettable, I wanted to make sure I recorded them here so I could remember and share them with you.
Jamie spoke about generosity and giving, but he did it in a way I've never heard before. He spoke of how to get started in giving. His point was simple: All too often, we think in terms of larger amounts rather than just starting out and doing something no matter how small.
Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.— Hebrews 10:36
Effective leaders accomplish seemingly impossible tasks because they never give up. They never buckle under. Despite mounting criticism, intense opposition, and overwhelming obstacles, they persevere with determined resolve. They refuse to throw in the towel.
Often, the easiest thing would be to quit. Just give up. Forget about one's dream and return to the comfort and convenience of mediocrity. Give in to the words of the critics, give up to the opposition, and give way to the obstacles. Simply tuck tail and run away.
Great power is embodied in persistence. The race is not always won by the fastest, nor the game by the strongest, but rather by the one who keeps on keeping on, who refuses to give up. Consider the postage stamp. Its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. Race car driver Rick Mears said, "To finish first you must first finish."
It is always too soon to quit. One of the most powerful and destructive tools that Satan has in his arsenal is discouragement, the subtle but dangerous compulsion to give up, to quit, saying, "What's the use?"
When you are tempted to quit: resist. We must endure in the battle until the evil day is over. We must press on in the face of the temptation to quit. Until the war is over, we must fight to the end. Until the race is finished, we must keep running. Until the wall is built, we must keep stacking bricks. Never give up. Never. The promises of God are always at the end.
Last weekend, my wife Deborah and I drove to San Fernando, Pampanga, for our Central Luzon Discipleship 2013 conference. We now have 11 Victory churches in the region. About 1,000 Victory Group leaders attended the conference. I wish you could have been there—amazing stories of the gospel changing lives!
As great as the conference was, I had a troubling conversation with a pastor and his wife. I have had similar conversations with pastors on other continents. Here’s the all-too-familiar story:
Do you realize that if your weekend attendance totals about 90 people, you’re an above average church (at least in the United States and when measuring by such numbers)?
If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier:
1) Decide you really, really want to grow. Believe it or not, the primary barrier to church growth is desire. Do you really want to grow? If the answer is yes, then you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes.
Closing the back door is more about keeping the front door wide open. The spirit and atmosphere that makes a church inviting is the same spirit and atmosphere that makes people want to stay.
Church leaders have been talking about “closing the back door” for years. It’s a good conversation. After all, it is frustrating to see visitors come, people say yes to Jesus, get baptized and maybe even attend a new Christian’s class. And yet, the church still struggles to grow. People seem to be coming in the front and going out the back.
Recently, I did an article on “7 Women Pastors Need to Watch Out For.” Someone who just read it wanted to know why we put the blame on the women when pastors are more likely to be the sexual predator.
“Google that,” she suggested, “and see for yourself.” My only defense is that in the body of the article, we said, “Sometimes women are the victims; sometimes they are the victimizers.” However, my critic is correct. And thus, what follows …
I’ve known more than one pastor who was a sexual predator. And if it makes readers feel any better, every one of them is out of the ministry now.
I’ve been in church all my life. Along the way, I’ve seen and learned a lot. Almost all the insight I have into church has come by experience.
I have observed, for example, that paradigms can often shape a church’s culture. A paradigm, in simple terms, is a mind-set—a way of thinking. In this case, it's a collective mind-set of the church, often programmed into the church’s culture.
If the church is unhealthy, part of the reason could be because it has some wrong paradigms. In that case, it will almost always need a paradigm shift in order to be a healthier church again.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of some of the paradigms that impact a church. I’ll look at some of the negative ones in this post, and in another post I'll share some of the positive paradigms that can impact a church.
Psalm 2, perhaps more then any other Bible text, accurately portrays the spirit of our time. Indeed, it also proclaims our correct response to Satan’s bold advance. Although it was quoted by the early church (Acts 4:25-26), God has set its full realization for the end of this age.
"Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!'" (Psalm 2:1-3, NASB)
For some reason known only to the Lord I am reminded of a dear saint of God who would be spiritually crushed by the lack of depth in today’s Christian world. Of course, I can’t speak for him, but I can speak about him. He was radically saved by the grace and mercy of God. His encounter with Jesus has become known throughout the world. However, his name, his face and his story are almost insignificant. But not to me.
Probably one of the most recognized songs in English Christianity is “Amazing Grace,” published in 1779. Imagine its origin, scratched out with a quill pen on some type of crude parchment by John Newton, a slave trader who experienced the pure mercy and grace of God. Little did he know that his poetic personal prayer to Jesus would be recorded thousands of times and be adored by generations of grateful sinners who knew exactly what he was expressing. I would imagine the rendition of “Amazing Grace” delivered by a band of bagpipes has brought overwhelming inspiration to countless millions.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.— 2 Peter 1:3
"Sorry, you just don't have the experience we're looking for."
"Sorry, but we're looking for someone with a little more education."
"What were some major accomplishments (if any), while being a stay-at-home parent?"
"While working at your previous company, did you do any volunteer work at all?"
It can really be tough in the job market. After a few interviews and even more rejection letters, a person can feel completely inadequate. Fortunately, in God's economy, every believer is immediately qualified for Kingdom work. Peter reminds us that the Holy Spirit equips each believer with everything necessary to please our Father. That's great news.
But, even within the earthly church, it's easy to feel inadequate when surrounded by believers with long histories of ministry or the ability to memorize long passages of Scripture. We need to remember that nothing more special than the Holy Spirit is required to serve God effectively. We all have everything necessary to do our jobs within the Kingdom.
Still, Peter doesn't stop with this reassurance. He challenges every believer to add personal disciplines that will build character, mature us, and be used to encourage the church as a whole. He goes on to write, "Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone" (2 Peter 1:5-7).
The pursuit of these virtues is just one way of expressing our thanks and love to the God who rescued us from our complete inadequacy. Having the Holy Spirit with us at all times, we can depend on him to guide us through the stresses that are used to hone these virtues. All that is asked of us is that we continue on and not give up.
Being fully equipped by the Holy Spirit, let's heed his guidance and pursue spiritual maturity. May we ever strive to become all that God has called us to be, and may he ever grant us the ability to serve him faithfully.
Our culture says bigger is better. But in the kingdom of God, less is often more.
There’s nothing more disheartening to a preacher than to see empty seats in a church service. I’ll be honest—I like meetings where you have to pull out extra chairs and put people in the aisles. Why? Because I assume if God’s blessing is on a meeting it will be packed. I like numbers because, in my carnal thinking, crowds are more significant.
Our culture puts value on things depending on how popular they are, and we are guilty of applying this rule in the church. We like big. We even rate churches based on size. We know that the three largest churches in America in 2013 are (1) Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, (2) Andy Stanley’s North Point Ministries and (3) Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community Church. The assumption is that these churches are leading the way in making spiritual impact.