Despite the tough economy, many of the nation’s largest churches are thriving, with increased offerings and plans to hire more staff, a new survey shows.
Just 3 percent of churches with 2,000 or more attendance surveyed by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said they were affected “very negatively” by the economy in recent years. Close to half—47 percent—said they were affected “somewhat negatively,” but one-third said they were not affected at all.
The vast majority—83 percent—of large churches expected to meet their budgets in 2012 or their current fiscal year. A majority of large churches also reported that offerings during worship services were higher last year than in 2011.
We humans are great starters, but often bad finishers. We leave unfinished symphonies, unfinished buildings, unfinished books or unfinished projects. We may not always finish what we start, but God always finishes what he starts.
God doesn’t create a bird and give him half a wing. He didn't create an unfinished flower or an unfinished star. He puts the finishing touches on everything he does, and then he says, “It is good.”
Alan Alda is probably best known for playing Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the hit television show, M*A*S*H. But for all of the silliness of his character on the show, Mr. Alda once made this quote:
“Be as smart as you can be, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.”
A lot of people do not know the difference between being smart and being wise. You might say that being smart is having a lot of knowledge, but that being wise is knowing how to use that knowledge.
If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.— Romans 12:8
Remember the song "This Little Light of Mine?" "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine . . ." As children, it spoke to the fact that we should show that we love Jesus. As adults, I think it has even more meaning--I think it applies to our spiritual gifts.
It's easy to run away from our spiritual gifts--as the song says, to "hide it under a bushel." It's not necessarily because of the gifts themselves but because of the risk involved. What if I mess up? Will God be disappointed with me? What will people think about me? But, it's not about me. God's Word clearly tells us that God has given us these gifts for a purpose, and if we have them, we need to use them.
I know that one of my spiritual gifts is worship. I have seen God use my music in many ways. But recently, I have realized that although I was using my gift, I still struggled with taking risks. My main instrument is my voice, but I also play the piano. I felt convicted that I needed to add playing the piano to my worship ministry. This move was a risk for me. Why? Because I was afraid of disappointing people. I'm a musician--what would they think if I failed at the piano?
I've had to remind myself that it doesn't matter what people may think but what God thinks. I've found that using my piano skills has added to my ministry, has changed my heart, and hasn't changed what people think of me. Yes, it feels risky--but who wants to live under a bushel, really!
So, if God has blessed you with the ability to encourage others or show kindness, look for the extra step you can take to help someone. If God has blessed you financially, then use your money for his purposes. And if God has given you the gift of leadership, get up, start moving, and find ways that you can lead others. Stop following and start leading. God has gifted you for a reason. Avoid bushels. Trust him to use you.
“So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” (Heb. 12:1b, GNT)
If we’re going to be used for God’s purposes, we have to focus our lives. The Bible compares life to a marathon, and that means we have to simplify our lives.
The Bible says, “So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us” (Heb. 12:1b, GNT).
This means we should remove anything from our lives that would get in the way and hold us back. If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. He’ll even keep you so busy doing good things that you won’t have time for the best things.
What was the first thing God said to Jesus in an audible voice? In Mark 1:11 He said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” Jesus didn’t do anything until He first understood this. If Jesus had to know He was in right standing with God without even doing anything yet, then we need to know this.
Let’s break down some words so we can understand them.
With the spate of recent national tragedies in the last few months, all parents are asking, “Is this a safe place for our kids?” That includes churches. As children’s ministry leaders, we’re charged to take our role as both physical and spiritual guardians very seriously, and we should do everything we reasonably can to make our ministry environments a safe place for kids to come. It’s too important to “wing it” or think that the chances of something happening are slim.
Ask yourself and your team: Where are the weak spots in our ministry? Where are the places that need to be shored up to keep kids, families and volunteers secure and safe?
Here’s the challenge. Take action on at least one thing this week. It’s worth the effort and if it’s a visible change, it tells parents, “We care about your child’s safety.”
Recently, we made a slight change. We posted signs on all our doors letting parents know that our ministry areas lock down 15 minutes after the service begins. The doors actually lock and anyone coming in after that time has to be escorted. We also amped up our security check to make sure that every adult walking into our ministry areas had claim tags. Several parents expressed appreciation. Everyone is thinking about security right now.
The challenge for you, however, is to continue to hold the banner of security high. Although everyone is especially raw right now, it will pass. Security won’t be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, unfortunately—but it must be for you. Here are some simple reminders of easy steps to take:
Update or create a ministry policy manual. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Borrow, copy and tweak what you see and put one together. Check out childrensministryonline.com for online examples of policy manuals.
Make it a policy that workers are never alone with a child.Always have at least two adults with any child. This has been my cardinal rule for more than a decade. It protects the church, child and worker. If you have to speak to a child alone, pull him or her aside where you are in eyeshot of at least one other adult. If you need to help a child in the bathroom, be sure there is a set of eyes on you, watching you. Make it a policy that if only one adult shows up to help, the room is closed. This is why we always have three volunteers/staff in a room. If someone needs to leave to get help or supplies, two are left. And if someone doesn’t show up, we still have two and can open the room.
Train your volunteers. Yes, volunteers don’t flock to training meetings. So get creative. Put a quick five-minute training on Vimeo or YouTube. Go over training points in your pre-service meetings. Make sure every volunteer knows the essential policies and safety procedures.
Perform background checks and screen all staff and every volunteer. Regardless of how often someone works, if they have access to kids, they should be screened. If you don’t run background checks, do it—no excuses. If your leadership says no, give them multiple reasons why background checks are a non-negotiable. Several companies offer legitimate checks that take a day to complete for about $7-$12 per person. Make sure the company performs an identity check (be sure to look at the photo identification to ensure they are who they say they are), a criminal background check and a national sex-offenders check. Screen volunteers as well. Ask them to complete an application and call their references. This process will weed out most people who would bring harm.
Update your evacuation, emergency and intruder policies/procedures. Do your volunteers know what to do if something happens? Make sure they do (this is an area we’re working on right now).
Think safety now and always.
Kenny Conley is the Next Generation Pastor at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. A children’s pastor for more than 11 years, Conley has a passion for equipping and encouraging those who pastor and work with kids by sharing ideas, training and giving away “things that have worked for him.”
“Encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
A church family will help keep you from backsliding.
None of us are immune to temptation. Given the right situation, you and I are capable of any sin. God knows this, so he has assigned us as individuals the responsibility of keeping each other on track.
The Bible says, “Encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV).
We are called and commanded to be involved in each other’s lives. If you know someone who is wavering spiritually right now, it is your responsibility to go after that person and bring him or her back into the fellowship.
It is tragic when the vast potential of an individual or entity is limited or eliminated because there is no room for their gifts. In the case of a lion, when captured and encaged, it loses its aggressive roar because it is forced to be localized into the confines of a cage.
It may be a lion, but it is no different from a house cat because, like a house cat, it no longer has to claim its territory and hunt to satisfy its hunger, and is content to stay confined within a building.
To me, all of this is related to the condition of the local church after it ceases to recognize the ministry and function of apostles. This results in cutting off the pioneering spirit and apostolic call to conquer and expand kingdom influence.
I don’t necessarily think people have to use the title of apostle; the function is what is most important.
You’ve surely heard the growing body of prophecies declaring the impending judgment of God on America. Indeed, The Harbinger—a book that many believe holds the secret to America’s not so pleasant future—has remained on the New York Times’ best-seller list for more than a year. Rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s prophetic message is resonating with believers and unbelievers alike—and for good reason.
So when Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke stood on the grounds of the Vero Beach Airport proclaiming “All America Shall Be Saved” in early February 2013, the declaration demanded my attention. After all, this is the same German evangelist who declared “All Africa Shall Be Saved” and witnessed more than 55 million African souls make a decision to renounce Islam, witchcraft and other strange gods—and commit to follow Jesus Christ—in just a nine-year period. 55 million souls.
Despite the judgment prophecies, despite the rising gay agenda, despite the increasing persecution against Christianity in the United States, Bonnke made a bold declaration for the devils in Vero Beach and beyond to hear that night: “All America Shall Be Saved.”
But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.— Luke 22:26
This verse states a view that is so different than what the world practices. According to the world, a leader is to have special privileges and to be treated better than everyone else. A former employee of mine thought that she didn't need to do as much work because she had "paid her dues." It only caused dissent with the rest of the employees. Wouldn't you love to arrive at work someday and find your boss cleaning? Or how about the husband who doesn't feel like he needs to help around the house because he is the "king of his castle?" Wouldn't you love to have your husband cook you dinner after you've spent a long day with the kids? And what if he did that often? Now that's serving up love!
Why are these scenarios so unusual? I think that it's because we have a messed up idea of leadership--and a messed up idea about service. The world seems to see service as a form of weakness. Jesus tells us and shows us that service is a sign of strength--it takes inner strength to serve those around us. It's a very humbling experience. Leaders who think they are above serving are simply afraid of their weaknesses.
Christ tells us that our leadership should be different than what the world expects. We shouldn't gloat over being above anyone else but use our place in life to help others. The best leaders or teachers are the ones who can admit when they are wrong or they don't know the answer. Then, because they are leaders, they work to find the correct answers and lead people down the right path.
Look at the leadership examples around you. Do they tend to be humble or haughty? Take a look at your own leadership style. If you're a parent, how do you lead your children? As a wife, how do you serve your husband? Husbands, how do you serve your wives? Service isn't just a sign of humility but of love as well. Good leadership requires love. It's a love outside of us--God's love. Ask God for his love to empower and guide your leadership and relationships with people. Follow him, for he is our ultimate servant-leader.
In the book, Zombies, Football and the Gospel, Reggie Joiner talks of how Sundays are now a day to watch football, be with family, and do just about anything else but church. I know that this varies from one city to another, but the reality is that most just don’t feel the need to be at church every week.
Have you imagined all that happens before someone even arrives at your church for the first time?
They have toconvince family members to attend. Maybe it’s a cranky teenager, or a detached spouse. Most in a family will not visit a church for the first time by themselves. They’re going to try and get someone to go with them.
They have to wake up early, when maybe they don’t usually do so. So you have a Saturday or Sunday night service … that’s not normal for the weekend warrior either. No matter the time or day you meet, you’re still asking someone to do something they wouldn’t normally do at a time that they wouldn’t normally do anything.
They have the challenge of getting kids ready before arriving. This isn’t even easy for those of us who attend every weekend.
Walked into a place where only a few know their name, and the smaller church, the more of a challenge this is for visitors.
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Eph. 3:18-19, NLT).
The width of God’s love extends across the entire world and includes everyone he has created: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made” (Ps. 145:17, NIV).
God never made a person that he didn’t love. He made you and he loves you—and God doesn’t make junk! He loves you unconditionally. He loves you very, very much.
Everybody matters to God; in fact, we see in the life of Jesus that he even loves the unlovely and those who may feel unlovable. Do you want to know the secret of self-esteem? Here it is: If you want confidence, then understand how much you matter to God. If God loves you, who cares what anybody else thinks?
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, NIV)
The world defines freedom as a life without any restraint: “I can do anything I want to do and say anything I want to say without anybody telling me what to do.” Everybody else may get burned by you, but you get to do it your own way. The world says you can have your freedom but only by being totally selfish.
Yet, the Bible says the only way to true freedom is through Jesus: “If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free” (John 8:36, GNT).
Real freedom is freedom from fear, where you’re truly free from guilt, from worry, from bitterness and from death. You’re free to quit pretending because you’re free to be yourself.
How do you get rid of those kinds of fears? By letting God love you! The apostle John teaches that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...” (1 John 4:18, NIV).
Ever since God called me to preach, I’ve battled with deep insecurity about my delivery style. I can’t electrify a crowd like T.D. Jakes, pack an arena like Reinhard Bonnke or get audiences to turn sermons into trending topics on Twitter like Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick. Those guys hit home runs when they preach. I get base hits—or strikes.
For years I felt like the reluctant Moses, who complained to God by saying, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent” (Ex. 4:10). For years the Lord kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, urging me to surrender my fears so that I would take the microphone willingly. Once He told me: “I didn’t call you to be T.D. Jakes. I called you to be you.”
On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in? Finally I asked an older pastor if he had ever struggled with disappointment in his pulpit performance. He smiled and told me: “Son, I feel that way every Monday of my life.”
I’m learning an uncomfortable secret about preaching: Those who dare to allow God to speak through them will always squirm in holy agony. Preaching the gospel is both a glorious and a horrifying responsibility. When we speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and impart the very truths of Christ, we get so dangerously close to Him that our pride is challenged.
In the aftermath of recent tragic killings, such as those that have taken place in New Mexico, Connecticut and Colorado, our nation has focused on ways to curb gun violence.
But gun control proposals now circulating in Washington and in many state capitals don’t address a more important issue—the constant stream of violence put forth by the entertainment industry. Every year brings a flood of movies, not to mention cable and television programs, that are filled with violence. Whole segments of America’s music industry make their profits from song lyrics that glorify gratuitous violence, and there is seemingly an endless number of video games that are nothing more than murder simulators.
The result of this constant inundation is that our culture has been effectively desensitized to murder and mayhem. Blood-lusty Romans gathered in the Coliseum 2,000 years ago to watch people slaughtered by lions for the purpose of entertainment, and our society is no different. We gather around computers, televisions, and movie screens to watch scene after scene of more graphic violence than anything the Romans could have imagined.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17 NIV)
You may be under a lot of stress right now because of the economy, but God still wants you to enjoy life.
As a Christian, you can enjoy life because your conscience is clear. You can enjoy life because you are secure within God’s love. You can have fun and laugh in church. You can enjoy friends who don’t manipulate you because they are learning to be like Jesus, and that means they are learning to look out for the interests of others.
The numbers are in. Pastor Ted can see the report on the top of his desk. His stomach clinches as he walks across the room, picking up the report.
There are times when the numbers haunt us. It might be the budget, or attendance numbers. Every week there is a part of us that lives and dies by the numbers.
Then there are the times when we just give up. We might be so underwater that we can’t see light, or our numbers are so depressing that we let go. We decide to acknowledge that God is in control and just trust.
Why is it that we have to be at the end of our rope before we really learn to trust? In those times when things are going sort of well, we pick back up the stress and forget to leave the numbers on God’s lap.
There is a scripture that baffled me for years: “Then David prayed, I have sinned badly in what I have just done, substituting statistics for trust; forgive my sin—I’ve been really stupid.” 1 Chronicles 21:8. This is the Message version, and it helps a lot. You see, David took a census of Israel’s fighting men. He focused on the numbers.
“If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed!” (Rom. 8:33-34 CEV)
Most of us spend our entire lives trying to earn acceptance. We want to earn it from our parents, peers, partners in life, from people we respect, maybe even from people we envy. The drive to be accepted is a deep drive that can influence the kind of clothes you wear, the kind of car you drive, the kind of house you buy, and even the career you choose.
Remember how, as a kid, you wanted so badly to be in the in-crowd that someone would say to you, “I dare you to do this” and suggest something that was either stupid or that put your personal safety at risk. But you did it anyway, because your desire to be accepted overruled the desire for safety.