In the wake of destruction from Hurricane Florence, American Baptist Men-USA coordinated a disaster relief team of up to 10 men to help muck-out and clean up between Greenville and the coast of North Carolina. The full response began the week of October 1, 2018.
If you are interested in joining an ABMen-USA disaster relief team or sharing this opportunity, there is a team going to Puerto Rico October 15, 2018. Email an ABMen-USA Disaster Relief Coordinator Jack Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
There he is again with his sign, “anything helps. God bless.” I saw him in a different place in town a few days ago. He has a dog with him. Part of me wants to help. The other part does not want to contribute to drug or alcohol abuse. I drive on by, again, feeling some guilt but also frustration, again.
Perhaps that has happened to you, too. Wesee them occasionally at busy intersections or around the entrances to shopping areas. Our compassion argues with the reality that some people scam our compassion. And both those thoughts wrestle with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink….” So what can we do that might help in a tangible way without propagating dependence?
The Southside Church family in Richland, WA, has found a unique way to offer kindness to
the people they encounter in these situations. On Sunday mornings, there is small table in the entry way with some nonperishable food items: water, fruit cup, cheese and crackers, canned sausages. In addition a card with the church’s information is included as well instructions for what to do with the “blessing bag” once it is assembled. Lastly, a small copy of the Gospel of Mark in modern language (ESV) is included in the bag. All Blessing Bag items are all donated by people in the church.
This project started very modestly in Richland. Enough items were provided for 5 bags the first week. It was announced simply in the first service. By the end of the second service, all five bags had been assembled and taken. The next week, enough materials were provided for 10 bags. As simple training about how to engage people has been given to church people, the number of bags going out on Sundays in starting to increase.
The WHY: This effort is not meant to provide an easy salve for a troubled conscious. These bags are meant to be tangible expressions of care for those who are struggling with the basics of life and give the Southside Church family a means of gently engaging people they might not otherwise be able to approach.
The RESULTS: Of course, these bags will not end hunger in Richland. “What we provide most is encouragement, not food. It’s not up to us to judge what anyone actually means when they hold a sign that says, ‘Anything helps.’ Christ called us to feed the hungry and provide for the thirsty, so this is our attempt to do that, in both body and spirit,” says Laurie Gruel, Southside Associate Pastor. “Our people learned to put a face on this street population by engaging individuals in brief conversation and by telling them we cared while handing them a small bag of food and water. We’ve been encouraged by the gratitude and smiles we have received as we extended Christ’s love to others. It turns out our little Blessing Bags blessed US right along with those we sought to bless!”
If you would like more information about how Southside Church is doing this ministry in safe and effective ways, please contact Pastor Jim Amend at email@example.com or (509) 943-3735.
Do you have a ministry that you would like to share with the wider family? Please contact Patti Duckworth at firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 788-4350.
One of my favorite definitions for leadership is offered by Tod Bolsinger in his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He says, “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” This requires a leader to lead “transformationally”. That is, leading well requires both the leader and people to change as the organization grows in its quest to attain its Christ-given mission. Jesus is at the center of this transformational journey. He provides ordinary Christ-followers with the courage and power to first be transformed themselves as they learn to lead transformation in the organization.
Leadership doesn’t come naturally for the majority of people. It’s a skill that must be developed and constantly nurtured. As leaders hone their craft they will stumble. They will disappoint themselves and others. However, this is normal and no reason to stop leading. Regardless of the difficulties and challenges, the church today needs courageous, humble, Christ-centered people who will respond to the call to lead.
As I’ve reflected on the development of transformational leaders I found myself exploring what holds people back from becoming leaders. To organize my thoughts I wrestled with this phrase, “You can’t be a Transformational Leader and…” I also posted it as a question on FaceBook and received some great answers. So, here’s a list of my responses, with help from friends, to “You can’t be a transformational leader and…” It’s my hope that by considering these negative descriptions we will all grow in the positive qualities and skills required of transformational leaders.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Not be transformed yourself. Leaders are always in personal transformation, growing in their faith and competence.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Refuse to be a life-long learner. By nature transformational leaders are curious. They ask questions. They read. They explore new ideas. They test new skills. They access a variety of resources to always be growing.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack basic leadership skills. Personal integrity, follow through, good people skills, persuasion, attending to details, etc. are necessary foundational skills for instilling confidence that you are a trustworthy leader.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Have no idea where you are leading. Leaders must be clear about their personal mission and the organization’s mission. Leaders know where they are going and inspire others to go with them.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be a one-man band. Leaders lean into teams, have an accountability group, they collaborate, and enter into partnerships.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe you have all the answers, or, at least most of them. Leaders collaborate with others to find the best path forward. They are honest when stumped by challenges they face.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Be arrogant. Yes, you want to be confident in yourself by being well grounded. Arrogance, on the other hand, is off-putting. Transformational leaders have the right blend of self-confidence, appropriate assertiveness and humility.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to execute. Ready, fire and aim is better than ready, aim, aim, aim and never pull the trigger. If you wait until you have every assurance for success you will not lead. Leaders execute, and adjust direction along the way.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Wait until everyone is onboard before moving ahead. There will always be nay-sayers and late adopters, people who struggle to affirm new directions. Attaining a critical mass of 70% to 80% supporters is a good benchmark for moving ahead.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect to never fail. Risk-free ministry is an impossible expectation. Leaders experiment, and by nature experiments will often fail. In this way leaders fail forward.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Lack the ability to influence others to embrace the overall organizational mission and join the team.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Force people to go with you. Leadership is about inspiring, clarifying and exemplifying why the status quo is unacceptable. Barking out commands like a dictator to get with it and move in a new direction is not leadership.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Dislike people. Leaders love people, are motivated to know their stories and invest in the growth of others.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Talk more than listen; a common weakness among leaders who find themselves in front of people speaking on a regular basis.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Fail to recognize that people need to process the grief they feel as a result of changes in the organization.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Throw in the towel at the first sign of opposition. Leaders are resilient. They stay the course in the face of setbacks, uncertainties and pressure to settle for the status quo. Leaders have grit.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Expect everyone to like you. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leaders know that to lead means to disappoint some of their constituency.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Run from conflict. No one likes conflict except a kick-boxer. However, avoiding conflict is non-leadership behavior. By nature leadership is polarizing. If you lead, conflict will erupt. Visionary leaders learn how to navigate conflict, and although conflict is never welcomed leaders act pro-actively when conflict arises.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Become angry and defensive when people disagree. Transformational leaders expect push back, criticism and even betrayal. Leaders make course corrections and improvements in response to constructive criticism. Leaders maintain a non-defensive, non-reactionary stance towards critics.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Avoid facing current reality and/or failing to describe current reality for the organization.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Blame others for your failures. Visionary leaders embrace radical responsibility for the success or failure of their initiatives, and ultimately for the organizations they lead.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Believe lack of resources is a reason to abandon the mission. Leaders are not held back by what appears to be lack of resources. Resources—finances, volunteers, buildings—follow vision not the reverse.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Never apologize, ask forgiveness, confess weakness and/or confusion. Leaders readily admit when their words and actions have caused hurt and confusion.
You can’t be a transformational leader and…Always take personal credit for the success of your organization.Leaders honor others and give credit where credit is due.
You can’t be a transformational leader and… Engage in constant “Programming ADHD” as in moving on to the next big thing quickly after having introduced the previous next big thing just a month prior. People tire quickly of zig-zag leadership, aka “post conference leader syndrome.”
So, in reviewing this fairly long list, where do you find yourself needing to grow? I suggest you share this with a close friend or coach, and stretch yourself as you continue to grow in your leadership abilities. God bless.
I've lived in Montana long enough to know that we are nowhere near being done with snow for the year, but it has most-certainly felt more like Spring lately. Finally! Warmer weather has emerged and the snow piles are receding to remind us that the grass has been there all along, patiently waiting to re-emerge.
What a welcomed sight!
My young family has been suffering from cabin fever for about a month now, so it has been incredible to get back to riding bikes, taking walks, and playing outside. We often celebrate the end of winter through signs like seeing our first robin or tulip of the Spring, but the other phenomenon of this season is the appearance of our neighbors again, for the first time in months. We've all re-emerged from the winter cocoons of our warm homes to rejoin the land of the living. I've missed seeing our neighbors, catching up across the fence, and casually chatting as we meet at the mailbox.
Which has left me processing my role as a neighbor.
Jesus leaves no doubt about what it means to be a faithful follower of God: we MUST love our neighbors. You want to love God...then love your neighbor. They're one-in-the-same. And while 'neighbor' could certainly be interpreted broadly, with everyone being our 'neighbor,' I'm convinced that when Jesus commands us to 'love our neighbors,' he specifically means the people next door. On our block. In our neighborhood. The people we rub shoulders with each day. The people walking their dog past our home.
Jesus wants me to love Jerry and Laurie, Greg and Trisha, and Carol across the street. Jesus wants me to be a presence of love, generosity, and hospitality in the place he has located us. On our block. In our apartment building or dorm. At our local school or park. Jesus wants me to intentionally engage with my neighbors, getting to know them as a means of ministering to their specific needs.
At the very least, Jesus would want me to know their names!
So, how will you take seriously the call to love your neighbors this Spring and Summer...now that you'll actually see them more often? Do you know your neighbors' names? Do you know anything about them? Have you stopped to talk and listen? Are any of them struggling and could use some help? How might God be calling you to be a presence of blessing in your geographical context, working toward the flourishing of your place?
And more overtly spiritual, who goes to church on your block? Who knows Jesus...and who doesn't? Who could use the presence of God in their lives? Who could benefit from the blessing of deep Christian community? Who would come to an Easter service if you invited them? So, will you be willing to talk to your neighbors about faith, church, and how Jesus has impacted your life in a meaningful way? Will you take the risk of being an inviter -- to the challenging, yet compelling journey with Jesus -- and to a church community that is striving to faithfully take that adventure? Let's commit to the God-ordained and Jesus-demonstrated calling to love our neighbors.
"Loving Our Neighbors, Jesus-Style"
By: Pastor Jason Bowker
Mission Northwest Note: The reading selections for January’s Leadership Learning Communities were focused on the topic “Neighboring”. These books urge churches to train their people to befriend their neighbors, to really love them just as Jesus taught His disciples to love their neighbors. These caring relationships open doors for conversations about Christ. It’s a simple concept, but an effective one. Each LLC was encouraged to pick one of three selections to study:
- The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Says Matters Most by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis
- The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon
- Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community by Dr. John Fuder
The Summit Church congregation in Boise, ID gathered on Sunday evening, March 27 to ordain Pastor Brian Merz to the Gospel Ministry. Rev. Duane Vaughn chaired the local Ordination Council which met previously on Saturday, January 27. The Council composed of delegates from sister Mission Northwest churches examined Brian and recommended that Summit Church proceed to ordain Brian. Brian’s ordination meets the standard ABC-USA requirements to have his local church ordination recognized by the Region and ABC-USA. Brian has served in various roles in his 26.5 years of ministry at Summit and is deeply appreciated by the congregation. Presently he is the Discipleship Pastor. Pastor Jim Steiner is the lead pastor at Summit Church and preached the ordination message.
As the service concluded Brian led in a closing prayer, thus putting a fitting end to a wonderful service. His words strike the right tone of awe, gratitude and humility, each befitting the minister newly ordained. Here is Brian’s prayer:
Father in Heaven,
I come before you now, in prayer, and express my gratitude for all that you have provided leading up to tonight. As I reflect on the things that have been said and done here, it is clear that I have much to be thankful for. And I come before you, the giver of all good things, to express my gratitude.
I am most thankful for the salvation and new life you have given me through Jesus. You came into my life when I was still pretty young and didn't understand all that I was committing to. I am thankful for your ongoing presence and faithfulness to me over the years.
I am also thankful for the great privilege of serving you. You are a great King, High and Lifted up. And I am a sinful man. The fact that you would call me into your service says much more about you and your character than about me and mine. Thank you, Lord, for your call upon my life. I gladly embrace all that you have called me to do as a pastor of your people.
I am thankful for your church, expressed here at The Summit. In Psalm 122, David wrote, "I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’" Those words express my feelings toward this church. I am so glad when it's time for us to gather to worship. I am glad that I get to serve here among this group of people. I have seen firsthand your great love and compassion in this group of people toward me and my family. I say Thank You, God, for The Summit.
I am thankful for other pastors and the work they have done in my life. Some are gathered here tonight, others are scattered throughout our community and the world, some are in heaven with you now. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." I have been sharpened and honed as a pastor by the your work through these pastors. I am thankful for the relationships we share and the joy of working along side them in your field.
I thank you in particular for Jim Steiner. He has been not only my pastor but also a mentor and friend. It has been a great privilege to serve with him for 26 years at The Summit Church.
I am thankful for my family, for the upbringing and support of my parents. But I am especially thankful for my wife. She has been a partner and friend in ministry. I don't know where I'd be without her. Thank you, Lord, for giving her to me and using her to teach me about yourself.
So in reflecting on tonight, I come and say Thank You Lord.
But I also look forward to your continued work in and through me. The apostle Paul writes that he was "confident of this, that he who began a good work in [him] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. " I have that same confidence – that you have not only begun a good thing in me, but you will continue to bring it to completion. I believe that for our church as well – that the work you began here at 2nd Baptist in 1954, and continues today at The Summit, will be brought to completion as well.
So I am thankful, Lord, for all that you have done. And I look forward to all that you will do. For you are faithful.
I pray these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.
As Christ-followers Holy Week and Easter Sunday call each of us to draw ever closer to the core of our faith. Meditating on the horror of the crucifixion helps us own up to the deep brokenness of our world, the result of human rebellion against God. We desperately need to be set free from our sin-besotted condition and the shadow of death that attends it.
Pausing in the darkness of the tomb is a preparatory discipline during Holy Week. It predisposes us to receive the announcement of the resurrection like people trapped in a mineshaft when rescuers first cast their bright beams into their entombed surroundings. It’s a common failing of contemporary Christianity to fast-forward past the Cross to the Resurrection.
A close friend and I have commiserated together over recent personal encounters with death. We’ve recognized anew that Death is a power that stalks the cosmos hand in hand with Sin. These evil twins, together with Satan, enslave and destroy all that God has created as good. They are hateful powers from which we would be free. Yet they are stronger than we frail creatures of dust. They imprison us. They crush us.
In this enslaved condition we are caught in a mighty dilemma that drives much of humanity. We pretend to be gods, no beginning and no end, with limitless power. Yet, a few days of the flu quickly disabuses us of our god illusion. When the flu passes we return to our god pretense. That’s just crazy, leading to spiritual insanity. Or, weighed down by our failures, our addictions, the shame and guilt of our sin, we invest in all manner of escape mechanisms. Many of these accelerate our slog towards death.
Ernest Becker, who was no Christ-follower, captured perfectly what living in the shadow of death does to us as human beings who’ve rejected our Creator: Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever… to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one's dreams and even the most sun-filled days—that's something else… Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. (from “Denial of Death”)
As we human beings drift further away from the Living God we are increasingly influenced by the anonymous powers of Death and Sin. The more we dance with them the more we become enslaved by them.
In this vein Fleming Rutledge observes, Sin and Death, as powers, as agents, infect entire structures that then become malign Powers of their own. They operate within their own “hermetically sealed orb” of power. We cannot look for deliverance from another sphere of power altogether. (from “The Crucifixion”)
In other words Sin and Death infect every dimension of our lives, extending to the entire cosmos. We need a Deliverer from outside our closed, fallen system. Only the Father himself, acting through His Incarnate Son, can rescue us. And rescue us He did!
Ironically, the path to deliverance first leads to a place of death, the Cross. At the cross Jesus undoes Death. He embraced the cross and its shame, becoming our substitute on that cruel tree. In His dying death, sin and Satan lost their power against us. Christ put to death Death through His own death at Golgotha. In this way Jesus’ work on the Cross was a form of spiritual jujitsu.
At the Cross we find our Deliverer. This is why we must stay near the Cross. As we journey with Jesus to the Cross and die with Him there we are set free from the hateful powers. For just as we die in Christ we are raised to newness of life in Him through the power of the Resurrection. The two go hand in hand together, dying and being raised to new life. Both result in freedom from the powers that enslave us.
This is what Paul was pointing towards when he wrote:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:4-8)
Yes let's celebrate the Resurrection this coming Easter Sunday with loud rejoicing. And, in preparation for Sunday let us first journey to the Cross. Let us be silent before the Cross remembering that it was there that Jesus laid down His life for us. Let us embrace Him who died for us there and follow Him anew by taking up our own crosses (oh, how often we set them down again). Then let us be free in Christ from Sin, Death and Satan—the hateful powers— that we might live for Him and with Him forever.
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain—
Free to all, a healing stream—
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.
[“Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby]
The following article was published on 2-16-18 in the Billings Gazette honoring 40 years of Paul Reeder’s faithful chaplaincy work. Paul is a long-term member of FBC Billings. He served many years as the executive director of Friendship House for 22 years. Prior to that he pastored several ABC churches including FBC Havre and FBC Great Falls.
Paul Reeder didn’t know he’d be the guest of honor Thursday night. Reeder’s family, friends and colleagues surprised him with a special recognition at the annual police appreciation banquet Thursday at the Big Horn Resort, toasting his tenure with the Billings Police Department. After 40 years as a chaplain, Reeder will retire at the end of the month. One of a dozen current chaplains, he’s the last to leave from the original cohort when the program started in 1978.
Chief St. John said Reeder was the oldest member of BPD, both in age and in seniority. Next in line is the chief himself, he said. “The best I could do for a comparison to you is Queen Elizabeth,” St. John joked. “She is a ruling monarch, circa 1978.”
St. John said that through Reeder’s decades of “selfless service” and his trademark contribution of “massive amounts of baked goods” at Christmas time, he made an impact on the police department. “You will always be remembered,” he said, before presenting Reeder with a plaque and blanket. Reeder was known in the department for hosting an annual breakfast and sending out birthday cards to each officer.
Police chaplains provide emotional support to officers, police staff and members of the public. They attend shift briefings, perform death notices, serve on call and respond directly to crime scenes. BPD’s 12 chaplains put in 1,322 volunteer hours in 2016, according to that year’s annual report. In 2012, the International Conference of Police Chaplains gave Reeder the Special Recognition Award, an honor that’s given out only periodically, and not on an annual basis.
Reeder, who retired as the executive director of Friendship House in 1996, is active in the Black Heritage Foundation of Yellowstone County. He’s also an avid book repairman, regularly setting up shop at police chaplain conferences to fix up attendees’ Bibles as needed. At age 87, Reeder spent almost half his life as a BPD chaplain. He thanked everyone who spoke on his behalf Thursday night. “It’s very evident from everything that’s happened here that nobody loves me,” Reeder joked.
This month brought the passing into eternal life of John L. Ellis. In his passing, Mission Northwest lost a faithful Christian brother, leader and friend. During his tenure as an associate executive minister, John served our churches well with responsibilities in church planting, evangelism, camping and mission support in addition to the broad role of Area Minister for Montana, southern Idaho and Utah.
He could have retired sooner but chose to continue to serve our churches and to help us navigate our Regional disagreements until we called a new Executive Minister.
When I joined the region staff in 1997, John mentored me in the technical aspects of Regional ministry. He also counseled me to guard against losing myself personally or spiritually in the challenging, unending, and rewarding work with our churches.
John’s overriding desire was that churches and pastors stay focused on proclaiming the saving love and grace of God in Jesus Christ to lost and broken people. His favorite passage of Scripture was Romans 8:1-2 and 31-39. To the end of his life, he wanted this truth underscored: “We are not saved by our own goodness. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ’s love for us.”
It will always be a privilege to have worked with John and to have called him friend.
Obituary—John Lucian Ellis
September 22, 1935 – February 3, 2018
Rev. John Lucian Ellis, of Twin Falls, Idaho passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family on February 3, 2018 at the age of 82.
John was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 22, 1935 to parents Ernest L. and Marie C. Ellis. He was the fourth child, joining Mary Elizabeth, Doris, and Ernest (Bill). John married his high school sweetheart, Phyllis Chaney, in Mariemont, Ohio on August 10, 1957. To this marriage were born Ann Elaine, John Bernie, and Nancy Lynn. John and Phyllis enjoyed over 60 years being happily married.
John was preceded in death by his parents, siblings, and his daughter, Ann Ellis-Stone. John is survived by his wife Phyllis, his children Johnny (Robin Ruiz) Ellis, and Nancy (Paul) Bowman. He also leaves his grandchildren Sydney Ellis, Matthew (Jolene) Bowman, and Ryan (Amanda Adamson) Bowman, and his great-grandchildren Abbi, Donovan, and McCauley. John is also survived by his nephew Bob (Jackie) Smith.
John graduated from University of Redlands in 1957, and Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West), in January 1961. John was ordained as an American Baptist minister at First Baptist Church of Fresno, California on January 21, 1961. He served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Huron, California, First Baptist Church in Exeter, California, Mayhew Community Baptist Church in Rancho Cordova, California, and Thornton Avenue Baptist Church in Fremont, California. He then began serving as Big Sky Area Minister in May 1985, and then as Intermountain Area Minister in January 1993 through December 2003.
No Excuse, No Retreat: Leveraging the Greatness of the Local Church for God’s Kingdom
April 27-28, 2018
FBC Great Falls
525 -2nd Avenue North
Great Falls, MT 59401
Friday, April 27th at 12:00pm for Lunch and ends Saturday at 3:00pm.
Our speaker for this conference will be Karl Vaters, author of The Grasshopper Myth, and the upcoming Small Church Essentials (releasing in March, 2018). He blogs on small church leadership for Christianity Today and NewSmallChurch.com. He has been pastoring for over 30 years and is currently in his 25th year as the pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California.
During his time with us, Karl will address these topics:
• Redefining Success in Ministry
• Thinking Like A Great Small Church
• Becoming A Great Small Church
• Finding & Mentoring Volunteers In Today’s (And Tomorrow’s) Small Church
With the number of pastoral transitions looming on the horizon, many of our congregations will be facing what is needed when a congregation loses a pastor through resignation or retirement. Please know you are not alone! Mission Northwest stands with all our congregations during this time and provides many resources. Below you will find a sample of the first steps we strongly suggest in that journey toward the Lord’s next pastor for your congregation.
Celebrate with Thanksgiving
It is vitally important and Biblical to celebrate the departing pastor’s ministry and to say thank you (1 Tim. 5:17). This is done in two ways:
- Informally, by inviting the pastor for meals, coffee, etc. While the friendships long established will remain, the relationship as pastor is coming to an end. These events help everyone to acknowledge this.
- Formally, by planning for a specific time to celebrate the years of ministry the pastor and family have given to this congregation. This should be done in consultation with the pastor and family. This is best done at a time when others from outside the church family can attend. In addition, announce the event by word of mouth, by print and electronic media when and where the event will occur. If people can contribute to a gift or bring written words of thanks, include those pieces in the invitation.
- Two suggestions for the celebration time:
- Give people opportunity to speak their words of thanks, share stories, etc. Some churches have also arranged for those far away to make a call during the celebration and the call was put over the speaker system.
- Make a video recording of the event to give to the pastor later.
- Two suggestions for the celebration time:
- It is highly recommended this event occur sometime other than the regular morning worship so that others who live elsewhere and/or attend other congregations may attend.
Gather a Search Team
If the pastor is retiring (not resigning to accept another church call), the church leadership may gather a search team while the pastor is still serving. The leadership should gather those for the team according to the church’s constitution with one additional quality:
- select people whom the congregation respects and considers wise, spiritually mature.
The goal is to gather a group who can work as a team on behalf of the congregation and whose recommendations will be heard by the congregation as trustworthy and wise. Our materials provide guidelines for leadership as people are selected for the search team. Advice is also given for helping people decide if they are called to be on the team. It is always a good move to ask the congregation to publically affirm the search team during a worship service.
Secure an Interim
At the leadership’s request, Mission Northwest will provide a potential interim for the leadership to interview. Guidelines for the interview would also be provided. The church leadership needs to determine who is responsible for securing the interim according to the church’s constitution. That group will interview the potential interim and make the decision. The congregation does NOT vote regarding the interim because it introduces too much confusion in the pastoral call process.
NOTE: If the church’s constitution indicates the search team secures the interim pastor, then the search team needs to be formed first. Otherwise, securing the interim needs to be done before gathering the search team.
Housing for the interim: A crucial decision needs to be made. Will the church rent an apartment/house? Alternatively, if the interim is more “local,” will overnight accommodations at a hotel with kitchenette or Airbnb be sufficient? If a rental is to be secured, housing guidelines are available.
As the church moves through this time of transition to God’s next thing, your sister churches through the work of Mission Northwest are here to help. A search consultant will be available. Please contact me, Patti Duckworth, with any concerns or questions: email@example.com and 406.788.4350.
In this day of struggling churches it makes sense to return to the basics regarding why people choose to attend a church. Along with this discussion it’s also important to consider why people stick after that first visit. Ultimately it does no good to attract 10 new guests each Sunday if 100% of those guests fail to return. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?
A basic rule of church growth is “Increase the number of guests who show up on Sunday mornings”. Most churches have the capacity to increase their number of guests if they work at it. Obviously there are other entry points other than Sunday worship. Small groups, mission teams, special events are all examples. For the purposes of this article I want to concentrate on Sunday worship since the majority of people check out a church at prime time, namely Sunday morning.
It’s helpful to know what influences a person to attend church on a given Sunday. Gary McIntosh conducted a study using a survey administered to 1,100 church goers to gain helpful insights in this regard. In the study he distinguished guests by two categories: Christ-followers and Seekers. Christ-followers have crossed the line of faith and show up at church usually because they are looking for a new congregation. Seekers are people who have not yet given their allegiance to Jesus. They are at some point in a journey towards Him, from initial interest to seriously seeking Christ.
Surprisingly McIntosh discovered that by far the most influential people for encouraging Seekers to check out your church are “Merchants” (41%). Merchants are people who interact with the public: hairstylists, fast food workers, bank tellers, realtors, car salespeople, etc. These are people who know about your congregation and its good reputation in the community. That is, if your church has some positive name recognition these merchants will drop its name when the subject comes up. These merchants may include your own church members. They have great connectional influence. They will take the initiative to point people to your church, especially if they are deeply involved and love your congregation and its ministries.
The second most influential person for encouraging a Seeker to attend is a “Family Member” (17%), the third most influential is “No One” (17%), in fourth place a “Friend” (11%), in fifth place a “Neighbor” (4%) and finally a “Coworker” (3%). Based on my experience these stats ring true. In my last church a hairstylist was a champion at inviting Seekers to our church. She interacted with all kinds of people all day long and held nothing back when encouraging people to visit our church.
Based on this insight I would recommend that you pull together from among the congregation your most extroverted, winsome and respected merchants for a quick pow-pow. Encourage them to be intentional about their inviting habits. Support them in prayer. Provide them with calling cards to give to clients that includes basic church info: church name, address, worship schedule, mission statement and web address. Ask them for helpful feedback about the experiences their guests share with them after they visit. Use this information to improve your welcoming and assimilation system.
Additionally, it is important that your church raise its profile in your immediate community. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in several externally focused ministries.* These will improve your church’s name recognition, although this is never the primary motivation for doing such ministries. Consider leading your church in a steady emphasis on good neighboring so that more people will be aware of your church and its Christ-like love for everyday people.** Additionally, every pastor would be wise to make it a regular to meet local merchants.
The stats change dramatically when we examine who influences Believers to attend a church. “Merchants” have little influence (1%). Rather, “Family Members” have the most influence at 30%. These are followed by “No One” (25%), “Friend” (22%), “Coworker” (3%) and “Neighbor” (2%). The most influential Family Members are Parents and Spouses.
The surprise in this study is the large percentage of Believers who show up at church with no previous connection to the church—the “No One” in the study at 25%. Most likely this is due to the rise of Social Media and the Web. An increasingly large number of people hear about a church, check it out online and then attend based on positive impressions from their Internet experience. In today’s world the first visit that most people will make to your church is through your web site. This is especially true for people under 40. Without a strong web presence your church will be virtually unknown. Therefore, it’s important to do a first rate job presenting your church through your web page and your Facebook page.
One of the more surprising insights based on this survey is the importance of theology. Even for Seekers, theology was important to 50% of those checking out a church. For Believers the percentage rose to over 90%. Guests want to know that your church has rock-solid beliefs. One Mission Northwest pastor asked an unbeliever with a critical eye to critique their church’s web site. Her response was intriguing. She said that there wasn’t enough emphasis on God! Her point was that people expect churches to have strong convictions about their beliefs. For these to be missing on a church’s web page is off-putting. McIntosh’s research affirms this to be true.
It’s no surprise that “Friendliness” also ranked high with Seekers at 72% and for Believers at 80%. Warmth and genuine interest in newcomers is highly important. But, the most important question in the mind of a guest is, “Can I make genuine friends here?” If there is a sense that all groups are closed, and there is no obvious onramp for making friends, then guests will move on to another church.
One additional factor is the critical part that the pastor’s preaching played in a guest coming to church. Believers ranked preaching at 90% in importance. Seekers ranked preaching at 75%. This is huge! Responders placed great value on preaching that applied to their lives, the authenticity of the pastor, and the pastor’s convictions. Preaching was more important to guests than worship style, the church’s location, and a variety of other factors such as programs. Least important was a church’s name. This is a clarion call to all pastors to continuously hone one’s preaching skills.
With this information in hand, every church can increase the number of guests who show up each Sunday. In my next article, I will share ideas for retaining guests.
*resources: The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson; The Externally Focused Quest by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson
**resources: The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon; The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis
“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.” (Luke 10:27)
Dear ABCUSA sisters and brothers, greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord! As I write to you today, we all would acknowledge that recently our country has experienced a great deal of turmoil, pain and stress.
What are we witnessing? A lack of civility in both discourse and behavior cuts across all strata of our society, and extends even to the Presidency itself. Prejudice and xenophobia threaten to become policy, in ways that are not only unjust, but destructive of basic American core values. Immigrants are seen as a threat and not a blessing. Racism, rightly considered “America’s original sin,” has reared its ugly head in too many disturbing ways. The January 2018 shut-down of our federal government symbolizes the polarization and dysfunction of our political institutions. Schools suffer violence, and innocent children are murdered. Politicians, celebrities, newscasters, sports stars, doctors, and yes, even clergy, have been guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Months after hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico, much of the island has no electrical power, while traffic lights, thousands of homes and many church buildings still require repair.
As representatives of the Kingdom of God envisioned by Jesus (see Matthew 5-7), we must not remain silent as our American society falters in upholding cherished principles, and this is why I am writing to our ABCUSA family. Although my remarks are my own, I have asked our Regional Executive Ministers and the Board of General Ministries’ Executive Committee to speak into this letter. Many have shared advice and counsel, and have also expressed support for the letter. I would like to thank them all for their insights and encouragement.
Each one of the issues raised above deserves thoughtful consideration and prophetic response, but in this letter, I wish to address an underlying theme that may provide our leaders and churches with a perspective by which to faithfully address all of them.
In brief, our culture suffers from a form of spiritual amnesia. Having forgotten or ignored the Baptist and biblical core conviction of the infinite worth of every human being because we are all made in God’s image, many movements and individuals no longer act as if loving one’s neighbor is a fundamental and necessary manifestation of a just and healthy society. We are so quick to judge, denigrate, criticize, attack, and assume to be superior to those with whom we differ. There is precious little grace, courtesy and mutual respect remaining in American discourse and life. We must recapture these virtues which can resupply society with much needed social capital. This failing applies to both the President and Congress, to political and social conservatives and liberals alike, to Republicans and to Democrats, as well as to those of us who are part of religious communities.
If we believe that all people are precious to God and equal to one another, we must reject prejudice, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry. If we believe that political democracy best expresses the civic equality that is demanded by our Baptist belief in soul freedom, then we must abandon “the politics of personal destruction” which in contemporary culture demonizes all who disagree with us, preventing healthy discourse, problem-solving and thoughtful compromise.
If we believe in the equality of all human beings, we can celebrate religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity as a gift that enriches us all. We can defend the right of others to be safe and free, even if we do not see eye to eye on political matters (Baptists have held this position since colonial times). We will befriend the stranger and immigrant and protect the powerless. We will treat others with caring, respect and generosity. We will re-discover the art of speaking the “truth in love” and not in anger (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, we will embrace Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
In the Bible, loving one’s neighbor is a manifestation of godly wisdom. Imagine what kind of a society we could experience if we applied this wisdom to our political discourse: “A person who lacks judgment derides one’s neighbor, but a person of understanding holds their tongue” (Proverbs 11:12; my paraphrase). Consider what policymaking would look like if we applied this admonition: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you” (Proverbs 3:29; see also Zechariah 8:16-17). Immigrants, for example, are our neighbors, not our enemies.
How might we as a Christian movement, made up of local churches and individual disciples of Christ, live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors?
In regard to our witness concerning racism, I encourage all American Baptists to travel to Washington DC for a potentially historic religious service and demonstration on April 4, 2018, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Denominations and organizations from across the theological spectrum are coming together to affirm that we believe in an America that exemplifies racial justice and harmony. I will be there, and I hope American Baptists will support this ecumenical affirmation that all Americans are our neighbors. For more information, see rally2endracism.org.
In response to the status of undocumented immigrants, I would remind us that many are members of American Baptist churches all across the country. They are our sisters and brothers. Seek them out, love them, express solidarity with them, demonstrate compassion and care. Although legitimate differences of opinion exist amongst us regarding immigration policy, I would encourage us to support the continuation of the legal visa status of Haitian, Central American and other temporary legal immigrants. We can encourage Congress and the President to extend a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship to children who came to the United States with their parents, and who may now face either deportation or separation from their parents. If our neighbors are loved by God, we must embrace them regardless of their legal status, remembering that Abraham’s offspring were immigrants in Egypt, and that Jesus himself was an immigrant whose family had to flee persecution.[i]
Surely, we all agree that all forms of violence,[ii] including sexual harassment and human trafficking, are anathema to our understanding of the Kingdom of God. If we believe that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, we cannot excuse sexual abuse and harassment. In the near future, the Office of the General Secretary, in cooperation with other ABCUSA ministries, hopes to launch a creative new initiative as a resource for churches who are already addressing these concerns, or may wish to start doing so.
American Baptists are committed to journeying alongside our 114 Puerto Rican Baptist churches, and we are well on our way to raising one million dollars in One Great Hour of Sharing Disaster Relief funds for the island. Working with the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico region, American Baptist Home Mission Societies is doing a great job in coordinating our rebuilding efforts. Send a work team! Furthermore, we invite your church to enter into a three year sister church relationship with one of our Puerto Rican congregations, culminating in face to face visits to celebrate the faith of our Puerto Rican friends at the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit in San Juan. You will soon receive details on how to become a Sister Church. As a matter of justice and compassion, let us share with our elected representatives that we believe our government must do more to restore the island’s economy and infrastructure.
I welcome feedback from you. Would you please share with me what nationalities and cultures are represented in your congregation? I believe we are a far more diverse spiritual family than we realize. Is your church reaching out to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in loving and creative ways? Send me your stories! Are you willing to stand up against racism? Come to Washington DC on April 4! Is your church willing to befriend a sister church in Puerto Rico? We are all blessed by spiritual companionship and support.[iii]
In closing, I would encourage us all to ponder James’ admonition: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right!” (James 2:8).
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
[i] For ABCUSA produced resources, see http://www.abc-usa.org/2017/03/22/abc-immigration-taskforce-resource-available-in-english-and-spanish/ (2015) and my recent article on immigrants (2017) http://www.abc-usa.org/2017/01/31/immigration-and-equality-a-pastoral-response/.
[ii] Please see my previous pastoral letter on violence: http://www.abc-usa.org/2017/11/06/responding-to-violence-in-our-society-american-baptists-express-love-and-not-fear/, and http://www.abc-usa.org/2016/07/15/taskforce-on-race-and-race-based-violence-issues-a-letter-for-action/.
FBC Eureka received $10,000 from OGHS to provide relief or ten families who lost their homes in the fires that raged through West Kootenai last August/September. Mission Northwest churches pitched in as well bringing the total to $15,510. This is another excellent example of the blessing that comes with being a part of a larger denominational family. These Mission Northwest churches pitched in additional finances: FBC Kalispell ($500), FBC Eureka ($500), FBC ABW Eureka ($400), Cle Elum CC ($610), FBC Pocatello ($500) and Florence-Carlton ($3,000).
This year’s Leadership Tune-Up was another resounding success. Over 166 pastors, staff and church leaders gathered at Ross Point Camp in late September. Keynote speakers included the new General Secretary, Dr. Lee Spitzer; Dr. Tod Bolsinger, Dr. Mark Wilks and Rev. Corey Laughary. The topic of “Adapt: Church Leadership in a Post Everything World” proved to be timely given all the challenges that churches are facing in today’s shifting landscape. If you missed this event, all plenary sessions were recorded and are available at missionnorthwest.org/tuneup. Also, consider reading “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger if you have not yet done so. It’s a fantastic read.
ABHMS continues to receive OGHS dollars to help rebuild homes and churches in Puerto Rico. The need is great and numerous churches have been demolished requiring major repairs or rebuilding. "Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico" is ABHMS' multi-year initiative established to respond to the need Maria left behind. ABHMS has set a goal of raising $1 million dollars in the next six months to continue the work we have begun there. There are 113 ABC related churches and 9 missions that compose the Region of ABC Puerto Rico. Most of the churches were severely damaged by Hurricane Maria and will need repairs and/or rebuilding.
Dr. Lee Spitzer, General Secretary for ABC, has appointed two new Associate Executive Ministers. Rev. Marsha Scipio will serve as Associate General Secretary for Missional Initiatives and Partnerships, and Rev. Dr. Kevin Walden will serve as Associate General Secretary for Congregational and Pastoral Effectiveness. Announced during the Board of General Ministries meetings at the Crowne Plaza in King of Prussia, Pa., Scipio and Walden will join the Office of the General Secretary Ministry Team in January 2018. To support the efforts of the Office of the General Secretary, designated gifts may be earmarked to OGHS or through United Missions Basics.
Paul Burnham, Sr. is now serving as the Transitional Pastor at FBC Castleford, ID.
Terry Oliver is serving as the Transitional Pastor at FBC Sunnyside, WA. Rev. Tim Pettey resigned from the church last August due to health challenges associated with his battle with melanoma. Please continue to pray for Tim, his wife Janette and their children.
Dick Sipe is serving as the Transitional Pastor at Chinese Baptist Church Seattle. He started in August 2017.
Dave Griewe has orchestrated a strategic merger between New Life Bible Fellowship in Caldwell, ID and The River in Eagle, ID. As a result the congregation is growing and there is new excitement in the new church that has formed.
Rev. Bill Hale has been called as the new pastor at FBC Kelso, WA. Bill and his family will be moving from Colorado Springs and we warmly welcome them to the Mission Northwest family.
Friendship House in Billings, MT continues to grow and expand its ministries to South Billings with amazing success. Rev. Matt Lundgren has led the ministry to quadruple its budget, expand its staff and reach more children and families in the name of Jesus. To learn more about this neighborhood action ministry that is nothing less than outstanding go to their web site and learn more. www.friendshipmt.org
Big Sky Area churches gathered at FBC Hardin, MT over the dates of October, 27-28. 50 people were in attendance and the Hardin congregation were great host. Dr. Jeff Johnson brought several dynamic keynote messages. Jae Stockton and Gregg Snelling, both with International Ministries, conducted missions workshops. Additional workshops were presented by Patti Duckworth and Charles Revis.
FBC Anacortes conducted their annual leadership training event, “Leadership Summit”, on Saturday, November 18. Joining in with the event were sister Mission Northwest churches Church on the Rock, Oak Harbor and FBC Mt. Vernon. Dr. Revis led the group in intensive training on the topic of Church Culture.
At our November Mission Northwest Region Board meeting I sketched out five trends that will greatly impact our churches and Region in the next three years, and beyond. None of these are big surprises because we’ve been wrestling with these challenges as part of our Region mission for the last several years. However, it’s important to be aware of these and face them courageously.
- Trend One—Church Turnarounds Are Hard.
A major part of our work together is helping churches stop their decline, turnaround and start growing again. No one expects overnight change, nor are we trying to grow large churches. We simply desire that Mission Northwest churches be healthy enough to make an impact in their communities for Christ. None-the-less turning around a church that has been in decline for ten, twenty and more years is difficult. The longer the decline, the harder the turnaround.
Successful church turnarounds are leadership driven. I would hazard a guess that roughly 70% of turnaround success depends on the leadership skill of the pastor coupled with a deep devotion to Christ and His mission. The remaining 30% is split between two primary factors: 1) A guiding coalition who supports the pastor in the quest for renewal and change; 2) The ability to overcome controllers and/or turf owners who resist change for the purpose of mission alignment.
- Trend Two—Pastors Are Aging and Many Will Be Retiring in the Next Five Years
The average age of pastors in America is at an all time high. The mounting wave of pastors approaching retirement is growing and will soon crest. The implications for Regions and churches are staggering. There are fewer younger pastors entering the ministry to take the place of retiring pastors. And those who are answering the call prefer to plant a new church or join the staff of a large church. Our Regional pipeline for recruiting new pastors has shrunk to a slow flow and we are scrambling to develop new pipelines. One thing is certain: The former days of sending 30 to 45 profiles to a search committee are long gone. We would be wise to return to the former practice of identifying young adults with gifts for ministry and encourage them to consider vocational ministry (bi-vocational, too) as a call.
- Trend Three—The Northwest Is a Difficult Place to Plant Churches
Church planting is hard and frustrating, but we still need to plant churches. Our record at church planting is less than stellar, but this is no surprise. Two reasons come to mind. First, the northwest is notorious for being hard spiritual soil. Second, church planting is by nature a risky business. In the future, the more successful church plants will be started out of healthy churches with disciple making reproduction in their DNA. Churches that start multi-sites will hive off their sites and they will become new healthy churches. Experimental forms of church will blossom as more churches embrace approaches rising out of the Fresh Expressions movement. There will be an increase in church restarts and church mergers in the next ten years. The key will be new churches being birthed with healthy DNA led by a coalition of leaders with strong gifting in leadership, evangelism and discipleship.
- Trend Four—Transitional Pastors Will Replace Interim Ministers
In the past interim ministers served as placeholders until the congregation called its next settled pastor. In the future Transitional Pastors will guide the church between pastors through an extended period of assessment, adjustment, course correction and renewed vigor in preparation for the church’s next life-cycle. In many cases the Transitional Pastor will need to stay longer for necessary changes to be fully embraced. Churches in transition will need to exercise patience, increase their commitment to corporate prayer, double-down on communication, and work closely with the Transitional Pastor until the time is right to call the settled pastor.
- Trend Five—An Increasing Number of Churches Will Learn to Be Light on Their Feet
As traditional churches continue to decline and die, prevailing churches will be those who have thrown caution to the wind by becoming more aggressive in experimentation and learning. They will press into spiritual renewal and exercise radical faith. They will be marked by joy, laughter, spiritual fervor and visionary leadership. They will have learned to change in order to not die. They will not be held back by naysayers and traditionalists. Pouring new wine into new wineskins will be their stock and trade. Coaching churches who want to pick up the pace will be a welcome challenge for Regions like Mission Northwest.
Have you wondered what happens behind the scenes when people indicate their interest in being considered as pastor-leaders by congregational search teams in our Region? While it is not a secret, we engage in some intense work to aid our search teams in their efforts of prayerful discernment.
Here is an outline of what happens after Region staff have received the documents requested from people interested in being considered as a potential candidate. (The documents requested are found on our Region’s website at http://missionnorthwest.org/pastorsseekingchurches).
1. People named as references receive a reference form to complete.
a. Information provided is confidential. Church search teams will do independent reference checks.
b. Church search teams will NOT receive resumes/profiles unless the Region office has a minimum of 3 references completed on file.
2. Potential candidates will be contacted by the Executive Minister (EM) or Associate Executive Minister (AEM) for an interview.
3. At the conclusion of the interview, the potential candidate will be offered the opportunity as appropriate to review profiles for churches currently seeking a pastor. Not all people are appropriate candidates for every congregation.
4. Potential candidates are asked to prayerfully review the church profile(s). If the potential candidates find they are interested in any of the churches, they communicate their interest to the EM or AEM ONLY (not the church).
a. Potential candidates do not initiate contact with the search teams or churches. The right of first contact belongs to the church search team. It is considered unethical by our churches if a potential candidate makes the first contact with the search team. Church search teams do not consider people who subvert this agreed-to process.
b. When potential candidates indicate interest, they are committing to a one-time, non-obligatory interview with the search team. The goal of the first non-obligatory interview is for search teams and potential candidates to make decisions on personal interactions with real people and not solely on two-dimensional forms of information (resumes, profiles, websites, etc.)
5. After potential candidates communicate their interest to the EM or AEM, the EM or AEM will send their profiles/resumes to the appropriate church search teams. Someone from the search team is in touch with the potential candidate to set a date and time for the first non-obligatory interview.
6. The decision to continue the process of discernment now lies with both parties. The search team may wish to have further interviews. Mutual agreement between the potential candidate and the search team is necessary to continue any conversations.
7. The task of the search team is to present ONLY ONE person to the church as THE candidate for the pastoral position. Once a person agrees to become THE (only) candidate for the church, he/she must discontinue all conversations with other groups until the church calls the person AND he/she accepts the call. The church search team does the same regarding any other potential candidates with whom they are in communication.
These steps have been developed over time and from the best practices of hundreds of churches. Clearly, the steps involved in discernment require time to prayer and listen for the Lord’s direction. Everyone is involved in this work—potential candidates, search team members, and the congregation—who often are waiting while this work is going on behind the scenes.
I didn’t pick up running until my mid-20s. I’ve never been an especially fast runner, but I possess one talent that allowed me to finish with better times than many of my competitors: pacing. Others would begin too fast and fail to finish, or they would start their final push to the finish line too soon. A runner who does not understand their pace and adjust their gate accordingly cannot reach their full potential. They might not even finish the race.
When I became the lead pastor of a 50-member, 90-year-old church in need of renewal, I immediately felt the need to pick up my pace even though I had not yet determined where I was heading. Driven largely by a fear of failure, a need to impress, and an unhealthy dose of competition, I packed the calendar with stuff.
It was good stuff, too: a worship night, leader trainings, redecorating the sanctuary, and a neighborhood Easter celebration complete with a petting zoo for the kids. Within six weeks, I had built a spiritual machine rather than a sanctuary. And I was good at it. Too good, in fact.
The church seemed to have new life. We were growing, and many were excited about the changes.
Six months later, I hit a wall. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. My congregation felt the same way. Our pace was unsustainable.
I didn’t enter the ministry to be a hyper-strategic business executive, faced with the impossible task of maintaining momentum through constant spiritual events. I’ve always wanted to concentrate on leading the people I serve into the sacred presence of the risen Christ. But to do so, we needed to slow down and catch our collective breath. I was the pace leader, and the small church I started with was right behind me. We needed to recalibrate.
God was calling us to build calm, safe harbors of connection rather than culturally relevant centers of activity. Our people longed for a place to be rather than a space to do.
1. Model and preach rest as a value.
I began by modeling rest in my own life. I started by observing a weekly Sabbath. I kept my phone on silent and checked it two to three times a day at the most.
But for this to stick, it had to be a deep change, not just a quick fix. I took a more deliberate approach to Sunday services, allowing myself to be present with people rather than settling into the role of the frenzied minister on the run.
We worked toward a culture of casual excellence rather than slick performance. We left nonessentials undone in the name of peace. If bulletins did not get folded, we handed them out flat rather than asking someone to come in early to get it done. We closed the office on Fridays to give the campus a Sabbath as well, and I regularly featured rest, an often overlooked spiritual discipline, in my sermons.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Congregants emailed, texted, and stopped me in the grocery store to tell me how our new value of rest impacted their lives. Most told the same story: they were tired, burned out, and filled with anxiety. They wanted to rediscover what it meant to follow Jesus beyond their phone Bible apps and the seemingly endless treadmill of ministry opportunities.
2. Clarify your church’s vision.
Our leadership set about defining our core values. Prayer, God’s Word, authenticity, fun, and play were some of the 12 we decided upon. We scrapped our growth strategy in favor of an emotionally and spiritually vibrant community. I removed goal setting from our yearly staff calendar. We didn’t need a goal to know whether something was alive and healthy or needed adjustment.
As a result, our staff relaxed and remembered why they were called to the ministry in the first place. We began to experience growth and results far beyond any goal we would have had the spiritual hubris to set. Intentionally living out our primary values allowed us to exceed the limitations of setting and striving toward goals.
After we established the vision of congregational rest, we decided to remove anything within the organization that got in the way of that vision. Few things besmirch the sacred like noise and chaos, so we cut anything that resulted in these annoyances. For you this might mean the annual Christmas play or the yearly rummage sale. Only you can determine if the physical, emotional, and spiritual cost of these activities is worth the reward.
3. Empower and equip your people.
Let’s be clear: rest is not death. Rest means working wiser, not harder. We still believe that a small local church can change the world, and we aim to do so. To become a local church with global impact, we knew we would have to empower our people to become the mechanism of change. The church would be a place to replenish them for their journey, rather than the destination.
Doing fewer organized events as a church freed us up to focus on equipping people to do more in their own community spaces. This encouraged church leaders and volunteers to shift their focus and energy toward their personal living spaces.
Rather than highlighting all the amazing things we were doing as a church, we turned the spotlight towards individuals doing simple yet profound work in their corners of the world. We did this in three ways.
First, we gave space in our Sunday services to let them tell their stories. Second, I used our printed sermon notes to give people a list of challenges to impact their community. Third, we began to offer weekly conference call coaching sessions where our people could digitally join in on a conversation with me and other ministry veterans to glean wisdom and ask practical questions.
In a sense, this is a hack of the popular multisite model. Rather than invest the energy and finance into a large and sometimes risky endeavor, we ask our people to use their home addresses as our venues. Today we have over 400 “sites,” and we never had to set up a single chair.
4. Make church community simple.
Finally, we decided to make the most crucial church services as simple as possible for our congregation. We kept the sanctuary open and available for anyone who wanted a place of communal silence, encouraging them to write out the Word of God by hand to focus their minds on God’s Word. We made our prayer gathering a regular weekly event and started a monthly night of worship through music. This created a rhythm of varied worship within a context of community.
Perhaps the most impactful decision we made was determining what to do with the remaining finances after eliminating the “noise and chaos” programs. Ultimately, we decided to shift those funds to our hospitality budget to provide a free catered lunch every Sunday for all attendees.
For less than 10 percent of our yearly budget, we were able to provide 52 community building, enriching, multi-generational events. Most importantly, we were able to relieve the pressure from our people’s schedules rather than add to it.
Our community is now running at a sustainable and life-giving pace. We have the margin and space to engage beyond the temporal, knowing that while speed might be exhilarating, it keeps you from seeing and experiencing as much.
Adam Stadtmiller is pastor of LaJolla Christian Fellowship, a Mission Northwest congregation in LaJolla, California. This article was previously published in CT Pastors, October 2017.
If you came home from your next doctor’s visit with the news that you had only a limited amount of time left in this life, what would you make sure people around you knew? Other than wrapping up financial affairs, what would you put your energy into communicating to family, friends and acquaintances?
A number of years ago, I had a friend who came to face that reality in his life. As a teenager in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I had gotten to know Joe King when First Baptist brought him in to do a capital funds campaign for our hundred-plus year old but growing church that desperately needed more space. Though older than most of our parents and there to do “adult stuff,” Joe routinely hung out with us teenagers. That made an impression on me. What made a deeper impression on me was Joe’s joyful love of Jesus.
Years later in southern California, it was a great delight to find that John, our sons, and I were in the same region he was serving as an area minister… (and where we would get to know Charles Revis!) Though we eventually moved back to the northwest, we kept in touch with Joe and Marietta, seeing them occasionally at various gatherings. It was a terrible blow to hear Joe’s cancer had returned, and medical options had been exhausted. When I heard the news, I called him. Joe answered with his usual joy. He sounded like Joe, not like a dying person. He was honest the short time he had. But he was also quick to say he knew exactly what he wanted to do with that time: “I am going to make sure I tell every single person I talk with that Jesus loves them.” That was a good idea, I said. We talked a bit more. When it was time to say good-bye, Joe said,
“I need you to know something important.”
“Okay, Joe, what’s that?”
“Jesus loves you.”
A month or two later, I was able to talk to Joe again. His voice was weaker but the joy was still there. Joe said the same thing to me at the end of our visit: “Don’t forget: Jesus loves you.”
A simple statement. And yet it is one of the most important statements in the world. So why does that seem so, well … hard, … so difficult for us to communicate with others?
Offering Jesus is hard NOT because we can’t or don’t know how to. There are a lot of very good books and pamphlets available to help us if we don’t. They are easy reads. For example, 8 to 15: The World is Smaller than You Think by Tom Mercer or Organic Outreach for Everyday People by Kevin Harney are two excellent resources if you feel you need more help in HOW do offer Jesus to the people in your life. With these kinds of helps, we learn we can and we are able to offer Jesus to others.
Offering Jesus is hard NOT because we don’t think we should. Most of us know we should tell other people about Jesus. We should tell invite people to meet Jesus because if they don’t, they’ll spend forever without God. We should “go and make disciples” because Jesus told us to (Matt. 28:19-20). But believing we should doesn’t seem to get us very far. Guilt is never much of a motivating factor.
We can and we should… but where is the urgency about inviting people to know Jesus? Perhaps we believe (deep down) everyone will get to heaven in the end. If we believe everyone goes to heaven, then why bother with any of the church stuff – sermons, teaching, Bible-study, living like Jesus…?
No. Logically and spiritually the idea that everyone eventually gets to heaven makes no sense. If it is true that Jesus is the Son of God, born of human flesh, lived, died and resurrected to make possible our reconciliation to God, then it must be true for everyone. Or it is not true for anyone.
Without a doubt, those statements can raise all the theological discussions that people both learned and spiritually wise have probed for centuries. They are worth consideration, if for no other reason that they help us to understand more clearly what we say we believe. But for me, the issue of “we can (know how to) and should but don’t” share Jesus raises a very different question:
Do we WANT to share Jesus with others?
Perhaps offering Jesus is hard because we DON’T WANT TO. We usually find time and energy for the things we really want. If we sharing with people that Jesus loves them, perhaps it has to do with our priorities.
If honest reflection brings the realization, “I guess I really don’t want to,” the next question is, “how can I want to?” We’ve already noted guilt doesn’t get us there. The only way I know to address a lack of desire is to admit it – and repent of it. If we ask for the desire to share Jesus, Jesus will give us that desire. Asking to “want to” is in line with what God already wants. For our friend Joe, it was always a priority. At the end of his life, it became THE priority.
And now I need you to know something very important:
Jesus loves you!
I was recently invited to preach a Christmas message for Advent and as I was working my way through the assigned texts an old insight suddenly became refreshingly current for me.
In Matthew 1:18-25 we read about Joseph and his predicament upon discovering that Mary is pregnant. By Jewish law he was obligated to divorce her, and to do so publically. This would require an aggressive legal proceeding. In this way Joseph would recover his dowry, and more importantly his good name.
Projecting forward Joseph understands that such a course of action will result in terrible hardship for Mary. No man would marry her. Her family would disown her, and she would raise her child alone in poverty. So, being a “righteous man” he opts for a low-key solution. He chooses to “divorce her quietly.” In doing so he will be assuming some of Mary’s shame.
However, an angel forestalls Joseph’s plan. Through a dream the angel informs Joseph that Mary is with child “because of the Spirit.” Joseph must not put Mary away. He must marry her and raise the child alongside Mary. Joseph swallows his pride, obeys the angel, all the while knowing that this will be the end of his sterling reputation. People will assume, in spite of his efforts to set the record straight, that he is responsible for Mary’s untimely pregnancy. Joseph will carry the full brunt of the shame. This is hardly an auspicious beginning for this young father upon the birth of his first-born!
This struck me as being extremely unfair. Why did God in orchestrating the incarnation of the Messiah turn Joseph’s life upside down? The same question applies to Mary. This is certainly no proper context for the birth of a King, much less the Son of God! The whole situation is deeply disappointing. Yet, God triumphs in Joseph and Mary’s story.
On the one hand, the self-emptying of the Son of God, starts at the lowest end of the human ladder as He is born to parents suffering under a scandalous pregnancy, an imposed census, an untimely trip, and an overcrowded house. This kenotic trajectory will stop only upon reaching its nadir at the cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8) Thank God for how Jesus completely identified with the “least of these” as He journeyed toward His own sacrificial death on our behalf. The incarnation is God’s “yes” for everyone of us!
On the other hand, there’s a major bright spot in all of this for Joseph and Mary. As they gaze into the face of their newborn son they are the first humans on planet earth to gaze into the face of God in the flesh.
Over time as the reality of their son’s identity settles into their souls, the difficulties they’ve endured fade into the background. These troubles are nothing compared to looking into the Face of God in their newborn child.
And, here’s what’s really cool. Jesus will hang out with them for many years to come until He launches His public ministry! Wow! Imagine having a perfect son, who never stays out too late or crashes the family Toyota. He always makes up his bed. He eats all the food on his plate, even the broccoli. And, when, as a parent, you lack faith in God, He could say to your face, “I’m here with you. I’ve got this. Don’t worry.”
In the midst of their frustrating and shameful situation Mary and Joseph find themselves at the very epicenter of God’s redeeming work for all humanity. They have front row seats to the glory and grace of God Himself, the Son of God, living in the flesh in their midst.
What was true for Mary and Joseph, remains true for us today. God is on His throne and the world is in His hands. He wants us to trust Him in the midst of our messy lives and know that He is at work causing everything to work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Now that God has come to earth in incarnate form in the lowliest of human situations you can count on Him showing up in all kinds of surprising places and ways, especially as we invite Him to do so—places where you would least expect Him. Jesus embeds Himself in the fabric of everyday lives transforming tragedy into comedy and mending broken hearts and lives. He gives purpose where there’s only been the aimless, exhausting existential daily grind of living life.
So, this Christmas I encourage you to look for Jesus in your life and its craziness. Jesus brings hope into the messiest of life situations, just as He did at the very first Christmas with Joseph and Mary. He will do likewise for you, and also for your church. May the hope of Christ, who was born to us in the flesh, rise anew in your heart this Christmas season. God bless.