Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mission and Spiritual Gifts...

I was an undergrad when I first heard about Spiritual Gifts and the fact that I had a special gifting endowed on me by the Holy Spirit. This revelation was mind blowing to me and I was amazed that I had never heard of this before. I remember wanting to tell as many people in my church as possible that we had these gifts and I used my scheduled turn to lead devotions at band and choir practice to share my new found insights.

I also remember thinking that there are some gifts I would want more than others; some were just more exciting than others. After all, who wants the gift of martyrdom! Over the years since that first encounter I have taken a number of Spiritual Gift Surveys to determine where my gifts lie and while my gift mix has varied based on what survey I was responding to, I generally score high in apostleship, leadership and teaching. I also generally score low (very low at times) in areas such as administration, mercy and intercession.

The purpose of spiritual gifts is clearly explained by Paul,

"A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other." 
1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

So no matter what our gift(s) are, we are to use them to help others. This is often understood that the gifts we are given are to be used in the church only to help build up the body. Recent leadership teaching has even emphasized the need to only work within your gift mix if you are to be truly effective. I don't agree and let me tell you why.

1. Our spiritual giftedness does not turn on and off when we walk in and out of a church building. Our gifts are 24/7 and therefore we can and should use them at all times.
2. We can't limit our ministry to just those areas that we are good at. I score low on administration but my ministry requires that I do paperwork, so I do it. I score low on mercy but if I am engaged in mission, then I will meet people who need a shoulder to cry on. I am not gifted in intercession but I need to pray for those in my community.
3. If you are serious about mission, then you need to be willing to go wherever Jesus is leading/sending you. Those places will not always be within your gift mix.
4. Too often we use the excuse "That's not what I am gifted at," as a cop out for not wanting to do the work. (I know because I've done it!)

The mission of the church requires Jesus followers using their gifts to help build up those within the congregation as well as those who are in our mission field. Mission often requires us to go outside our gift mix to accomplish the task we are called to do.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Successful vs. Unsuccessful

A friend of mine who teaches salespeople how to be better leaders and increase their sales posted this meme on FACEBOOK. It is pretty self-explanatory showing the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. Now I know that we could get into a long discussion about what quantifies success, but based on my friend's profession, I would say that the meaning of success in this meme revolves around qualities found in leaders.

As I read this list (which I don't totally agree with btw because I know successful people watch TV too) it occurred to me that a similar list could be made for churches that are successful and churches that are unsuccessful.

Successful Churches
Actively involved in mission
Are inclusive of others
Embrace change
Seek ways to go to community
Rely on God's leading for direction
See outreach as responsibility of all
Have articulated goals and plans they accomplish

Unsuccessful Churches
Let others do mission
Are exclusive of others
Fear change
Community must come to us
Rely on traditions for direction
See outreach as responsibility of the clergy
Seldom set and accomplish goals

As I wrote out this list it occurred to me that a similar list could be made for the successful and unsuccessful disciple of Christ as well. (Warning: This may hit close to home!)

Successful Disciple
Spends time with God everyday
Looks to build others up/encourage
Forgives others
Always wanting to learn more about God
Have an attitude of gratitude
Seek God before setting goals and making plans
Take responsibility if their church is unsuccessful

Unsuccessful Disciples
Seldom spend time with God
Tear others down/Gossip
Hold grudges
Think they know all they need to know about God
Have an attitude of entitlement
Seldom seek God before setting goals and making plans
Blame others (often pastor) if their church is unsuccessful

What do you think? Is there anything that needs to be added or removed from the lists? Let me know.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Leadership & Church Life Cycle

As a church planter I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of church planting conferences as a delegate and I have been a guest speaker at a half dozen seminars dealing with church planting. At all these conferences, the event coordinators make it very clear to future church planters that they need to have the right leadership team in place if they want their church plant to be successful. I believe the same is true for the church that is wanting to be rejuvenated. Leadership is the key to a successful turn around BUT it has to be the right leadership.

Just like the life cycle of the church can be plotted on a distribution graph, so to can the five types of people within any congregation. The graph to the right shows these groups and the percentage of people who generally make up each of these groups. Here is what each category means...

Innovators (2.5%): These are people that see a gap in mission and ministry and they think of ways to fill that gap. They can create solutions to problems others don't even see; they are interested in new ideas and are willing to experiment. Church planters are almost always in the "innovator" category, but in an established congregation the lead pastor may not be an innovator. If that is true of your congregation, then you have to look for the innovators and get them on your leadership team. Innovators are often seen as "the wackos" by the denomination because they think outside of the organization's box. (I'm proud to be an innovator wacko!)

Early Adaptors (13.5%): Early adaptors do not normally come up with new ideas but they are willing to try new things. These people like to see what the latest and greatest program is out there and then try to implement it into their church. If you can convince them that the new way of doing things is possible and beneficial, they will support the idea.

Early Majority (34%): These people have to see that the new way of doing things will work before they will participate. This group makes up a large portion of any congregation so it is important to get some "wins" under your belt before they will join and when they do join it will build momentum for the new idea to take hold.

Late Majority (34%): For this group to participate in any new venture they must clearly see that the new way is better than the old way. These people tend to like the status quo and leaving things the way they are.

Laggards (16%): These people will not be convinced that the new way is better. They remember the good old days, even if the old days were not that good! They never have fresh ideas on how to make things better.

I noticed that when the church growth cycle and the leadership distribution graph are overlapped that it gives a good representation of the type of leadership that is needed if a church wants to be revitalized. The innovators and early adaptors are important people in the dawning and development stages of any church. Since revitalization requires a church move from "decline" to "developing", these are important people to have on a leadership team leading a congregation in revitalization. The early majority are important during the late stages of development and the dependability stage because they like to see that things are done "right" within the church. The late adaptors are very good at making sure the church stays true to its beliefs and traditions while it seeks to reengage in mission to the community. Laggards are, well, laggards and will not really contribute to the process.

The important thing to remember is that God has put you where you are for a reason and he wants to use you, with the Holy Spirit's guidance and power, to help your church fulfill its mission.

If you are reading this and you would like more information of revitalization or if you would like my help leading a congregation through the process, please send a comment below.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Growth Cycle and the Way Back

It is a sad reality that many churches are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their doors open because the church is no longer viable. The reasons why churches find themselves in this situation is as varied as the churches themselves. There many be problems with people, programs, finances, facilities, style of ministry or a cumulative combination of these factors. Or perhaps the fault lies with theological issues that have negatively affected the ministry of the church and thus contributed to its decline. However, there is a way back to ministry viability for any congregation willing to invest the time, effort and resources necessary.

All congregations can plot their current state of growth/decline on a simple distribution graph which has come to be known as a Church Life Cycle graph. There are a number of different categories that can be used to identify the growth stages, I use the following markers:

Dawning: This the birth of the church. At some point in the history of the congregation someone thought it was a good idea to plant a church that you now call your own.

Development: This is the process of the church discovering who they are by answering three questions - 1. Who are we? 2. What are we here for? 3. Who is our neighbour? Policies, procedures and programs are developed around the answers to these questions.

Dependability: Once the congregation has forged a clear faith identity and has organized its church life to express that faith effectively and persistently, we could say that the church is dependable. You know what to expect in any given situation.

Decline: If you have ever watched the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons you have seen the coyote run off a cliff and keep running for a while until he realizes that he is over the cliff and he begins to fall. At some point all churches in decline realize, like the coyote, that they are falling. They take note of the decrease in attendance, first time visitors, new members and financial giving. Often as a way to reverse the trend they are seeing, they will try to do the things they have always done, only better, while little to no energy is used to better understand their community or develop new ways to be involved in the mission they are called to as a church.

Death: If the church waits too long to reverse the decline the result is the death of the church. Death can take decades to become final and during that time the congregants often play the "blame game" as they blame the denomination or pastors or certain programs for their demise. Death does not have to be the final word for the church at this point in the life cycle. They can either die gracefully and bless another congregation with their resources (if any are left) or they can restart. More on this in a moment.

An honest evaluation by the church leaders and members can pin point exactly where the church is on the graph.

All churches that I have been involved with either as a pastor or as a consultant have wanted their churches to be growing and vibrant. For this to be a reality all the time, the congregation has to move from wherever they are on the life cycle to the "developing" stage.

There are 4 ways to reenergize the church towards growth and mission effectiveness. If you notice on the diagram to the left, the lines from "decline" to "development" vary in length. This is because the further the church slips towards death the longer the process and the harder the journey back to mission effectiveness is. Often you will see a further slip towards death before you see an upswing in growth. So what are the 4 ways to get new life into the church?

1. Renewal: For the church that is just starting to see a decline or they have been dependable for a long time, all that is needed is a fresh look at the 3 questions asked in the development stage - 1. Who are we? 2. What are we here for? 3. Who is our neighbour? The answers to the questions should inspire a renewed interest in the missional quest of the church.

2. Revitalization: This can happen when there is still substantial vitality within the church and the members want to see new things happen. Again the three questions are asked to determine how far the church has wandered from its original mission.

3. Redevelopment: If the church has been on a steady decline for years, perhaps decades, it has little of the vitality needed to turn the church around. It takes a great deal of resources - spiritual, financial and political, to see an improvement in this congregation, but it can be done.

4. Restart: If there is no possibility to bring the church out of its death spiral, a restart may be in order.

The success or failure of churches wishing to reenergize their ministry and be fully engaged in mission has much to do with the leadership within the congregation, which is what I will talk about next time.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Explore Faith

Have you ever questioned your faith? I know I have, many times. Those times when you are just not sure that what you have based your life on is true. Now lets make one thing clear, we all put our faith in something we believe will produce in us or for us the life we desire. For some people that faith is in fame, fortune, power, prestige, pleasure or self. For others their faith is in a transcendent God, like Christians whose faith is in Jesus Christ (Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6). Which ever is true for you, it required a "leap of faith" for you to fully trust in that which you believe will bring the most satisfaction to your life. And when that thing you put your faith in failed, you were left questioning your faith.

The true test of what you put your faith in is what did you put your faith in after the time of doubt. Did you put your faith in something new, or did the doubt and questions and exploration of faith strengthen and renew your beliefs.

The Gospel of Luke records a conversation Jesus had with a lawyer(Luke 10:25-37) which started by the lawyer asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" In other words, "What life should I live to possess what matters the most? What should I put my faith in?" So Jesus asks him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" or in other words, "What is your faith in now? What is the guiding principle of your life?" The lawyer responds with the guiding principle that he was taught ever since he was a little boy, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus says that is the answer, if you do that you will have what you are looking for. But the lawyer has one more question, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan and ends by saying, "Go and do likewise."

Here is what I get from this encounter. The lawyer is there listening to Jesus and asks a question to test him. He wanted to understand if what Jesus believed was the same as what he believed. I think he might have been pleasantly surprised with Jesus' answer that loving God and your neighbour was the right answer. But I think he was not expecting Jesus to say, "Go do it." Faith, especially if we are taught a certain belief system from a young age, can sometimes become a "head knowledge" instead of an "action" experience. We "know" that this is how we should live but we may never see our faith in action. I can imagine the lawyer pondering this..."So my faith tells me I need to love God and love my neighbour; I know how to love God - go to temple, say prayers, read the Torah, but how do I love my neighbour? A better question is who is my neighbour?" After telling the lawyer the good Samaritan story Jesus again says, "Go and do this."

The lawyer, whether he knew it or not, was exploring his faith. There was a disconnection between what he believed and what he was doing and Jesus understood that. Jesus showed him, through the story, that he was just like the two "religious guys" in the story because those guys also believed that they should "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, love your neighbor as yourself." But they didn't live out their beliefs. At the end of his faith exploration, the lawyer would have been faced with decision of "What do I do now?" We don't know what he did in the end because the story stops there and we are left wondering what happened to the lawyer. Maybe we are supposed to ask, "What would I have done if I was in the lawyer's shoes?"

The lawyer's life goal was based on his desire to "have eternal life" and he followed a guiding set of principles that he thought would help him achieve that goal. At the end of his faith exploration he discovers that he is missing an important component in his faith to ultimately achieve his goal of eternal life - that missing piece was action.

If you find yourself exploring faith you need to ask, "Am I doing what I believe?" If you don't think the Christian faith is living up to your expectations, look and see if you are actually "living" your faith. The Christian faith is not only about hearing and knowing but DOING. When you read the Gospels, Jesus is always sending his disciples out to do something because Jesus knows that mission can not be done by always sitting behind closed doors.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. James 1:22-23 (The Message)


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

New and Maybe the Last?

The Salvation Army's new song book is due to be released later this year. The song book, in its various forms, has been a source of inspiration and a devotional resource for countless people over the years. Within its pages are songs that illicit praise and worship, teach theology, and give the framework for Salvation Army distinctives. But the question needs to be asked - "Do we need a new songbook?"

I am sure this is the same question that has been asked each time a new version has been released. Some people do not want to see some of their favourite songs not make the final cut. Then there is the cost of having to purchase a new set of books for the church and tune books for the musicians.

When I ask, "Why a new song book?" it is for the following reasons...

1. Print media is a dying information delivery system. I recently read a blog titled, The End of Books, in which the author Seth Godin made this comment, "We're entering a new golden age for books, one with more books and ebooks written and read today than ever before. Books won't be completely eliminated, but please don't hold your breath for any element of the treasured ecosystem to return in force. I am not arguing that we push the ecosystem out of the door, but I am encouraging us not to spend too much time trying to save it."

I personally do not read the newspaper preferring instead to read the news each morning on my iPad. I like to read the latest book by my favourite author, but I would rather watch him or her teach about the contents of the book on You Tube or iTunesU. I seldom read novels instead I listen to audio books. Even in church, at least my church, all of the songs are projected on a screen. I agree with Seth Godin - printed and bound books will never disappear but they will never hold the place they once did in society.

2. A printed song book freezes time. Think of the worship wars that were fought in too many congregations; it was a fight between old and new - old song book versus new worship media. The song book, even as good as it is, keeps a congregation stuck in the past.

It is like buying a top of the line computer and the minute you take it home it is already obsolete. Oh sure the computer will work fine and serve you well for many years but there is always something new and often better available.

Any printed document is stuck in the age that it is printed. People do not go to a newsstand to purchase a paper from 1983 and expect to find current news stories, and they definitely wouldn't do it every day!

Closely related to #2 is...

3. A printed song book can close a congregation to new possibilities. I speak to this from experience. In the revitalization of churches that I have been involved with, the one thing that is taboo is the song book. Change whatever you want but don't mess with "The Book."

There are a lot of real good songs in the song book - and there are a lot of real stinkers! (God of concrete God of steel God of piston and the wheel. Look it up, its in there!) As good as the songs are in the song book, they are not the only songs available for worship. I read a tweet this week that stated that this Sunday over 30 million people in the USA will sing a Chris Tomlin song. THIRTY MILLION! That is like all of Canada singing "Here I am to Worship" this Sunday! (By the way, Here I am to Worship is over 10 years old now) Now if a Salvation Army congregation only uses the song book in their worship, they would never have the opportunity to hear the great worship songs being written every day.

Some congregations will print their own "chorus book" that has some of the "new" worship songs - as new as the printing of the book at least. I have even heard of some congregations trying to be more contemporary by having a time at the beginning of the Sunday morning service for singing worship songs before they get to the real meeting with the song book. I personally think that is wrong, but hey whatever floats your boat.

I understand that the new song book is going to include some "current" worship music, perhaps "Majesty" will make it into the chorus section, even though we haven't used it in a worship service for over 10 years.

So we are going to have a new song book and it very well may be the last one in printed form. When the next edition is prepared in 25 years or so, we will be able to use our digital interface devices to instantly access the contents.

I want to finish with my favorite line in the song book (not my favorite song - that is Holy, Holy Holy) because it is a truth I try to live by...

"Forward! Be our watchword." (SB 682)


Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Who is at the wheel?

I remember when I used to believe that the cruise control setting on a car meant that the vehicle could drive itself. I thought it was a great invention - you could get your car up to speed, set the cruise control and then have a nap until you reached your destination. Thankfully this error in my thinking was corrected before I had a chance try out cruise control for myself.

Still, cruise control is still a pretty cool option to have on a car, especially if you do any highway driving because it allows you to maintain a constant speed which improves gas milage and keeps you under the radar of police - literally. It is still up to the driver of the car to ensure that the vehicle stays in the designated lane and to navigate safely to the desired location.

I have found that a number of churches also have a cruise control option that they use all the time. These churches have discovered a comfortable speed that they like and they set their ministry on cruise control. Some churches set their cruise control in the 1950's and haven't shut it off since! Others have set their cruise control at a time that they felt was when they where at their peak and have tried to maintain the same "speed" since that time only to find that it is tough to maintain something over a number of years without something going wrong.

Setting the cruise control is the job of the person driving the vehicle, or in the case of the church, the cruise control is set by whoever or whatever drives the church. Some churches are driven by certain individuals, or pastors or boards or families that have been members of the church for a number of years. I don't think all of them are bad drivers, per se, but they tend to lead the church in a direction that is in their best interests and not always in a direction that is in the best interest of mission and the Kingdom of God. Other churches are driven not by individuals but by Mission and Vision statements that have a predetermined destination that the church wants to arrive at within a certain period of time. Still other churches are driven by theology and it is the beliefs of the church that determine the direction it must go. So who is driving your church?