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Executive Minister’s Advent Article

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Executive Minister’s Advent Article

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As we move through this Advent season reflecting on various Christmas themes one that stands out to me is the relationship between Christ’s birth and the need for humanity’s spiritual birth. The carol Hark the Herald Angels Sings articulates this connection for us in verse three:

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Jesus is born so that we may be raised out of our spiritually dead condition and be “born from above”, or “born again”. Through Christ we are raised to new life. Otherwise, we continue to be dead in our sins, without hope in this life or the life to come. (Eph 2:1)

We used to talk more about “regeneration” in the Church, that is, the need to be born again. Perhaps the concept of being born again garnered too many negative connotations due to the disappointing lifestyles of so many who claimed to be born again.

Regardless, it is important that we teach what Jesus taught, “you must be born again.” That is, we should avoid leading people into believing that Christianity is primarily a reformation project.

Reformation projects teach, “Just do a little better, improve yourself, God will be pleased and the world will become a better place.” This project is predicated solely on self-improvement. Humanity’s fallen condition, apart from rebirth, precludes this possibility. Reformation projects are hopeless in that they are akin to dead people trying to raise themselves from the graveyard.

Rather the Christian faith is a regeneration project. It is initiated by God in Christ and completed through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is predicated solely on Christ's work on our behalf. God acting in Christ regenerates us.

God’s regeneration project teaches, “You are a dead person walking. Only Jesus Christ can resurrect your life.” Humanity cannot birth itself out of spiritual death into spiritual life. Rather, this is work that must be accomplished from One who comes from outside our fallen world; who pre-existed in a realm of eternal light, holiness and divine power. This One, Jesus the Messiah, is born into our world in order to regenerate us, that is, give us second birth.

Therefore, the first priority in Christ’s mission on earth is to proclaim the Good News of regeneration that comes through a power alien to our own. This is our message. This is our hope. When people respond by receiving the Savior, submitting to His rule as King, they are born from above and become God’s children (John 1:12-13).

All of this reflects what Jesus taught in his explanation about rebirth that puzzled Nicodemus:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7)

We rejoice in Jesus in this Advent season as we reclaim the Good News that Jesus was “born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth."

~ Charles Revis, Executive Minister

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Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service

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Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service

MISSION NORTHWEST NOTE: This article by Thom Rainer is important to consider as you plan your Christmas Eve service(s) this year. You may want to retool how your church does the Christmas Eve service in light of these insights. If you do not offer a Christmas Eve service you should know that you are missing a great opportunity to host unchurched people in your church. This service has the potential to pull in more people than Easter. Plan carefully and prayerfully.

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Christmas Eve is less than a month away. Most churches have some type of Christmas Eve services, but we are seeing clear trends in how churches approach them. Every time we write or podcast something about these services, we get a lot of comments and questions. In that context, here is an update on nine clear trends we are seeing:

1. It is growing in importance. Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.

2. There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).

3. The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.

4. The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.

5. The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.

7. More unchurched are attending these services. As I noted in the first item, one of the reasons for the growing importance of Christmas Eve services is the increasing number of non-Christians who attend. Anecdotally, they seem to be more receptive each year.

8. Churches are building in processes for follow-up. That means they have processes in place to get contact information, and processes to provide some type of non-aggressive follow-up such as a text message, an email or, most effectively, a handwritten letter.

9. All ministry staff are expected to be there. Because this day is the single most important day to reach unbelievers, more churches require an “all-hands-on-deck” presence.

Some of these trends have been around a while. Some are only recently growing in importance. Please share with us what your church plans to do for Christmas Eve.

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The Code of Ethics for ABC Ministers

The Code of Ethics for ABC Ministers

A series of reflections on the Code of Ethics presented in letter form addressed to congregational members of American Baptist Churches in the USA by Rev. Joe Kutter. Additional commentary provided by Rev. Patti Duckworth. This the first letter of six.

Behavior You Can Expect From Your Pastoral Leader

By Dr. Joe Kutter

Dear American Baptists:

I am writing primarily to those among us who are not ordained, to the “Lay Folk” who sustain our churches and our ministries. But I want to talk about “The Ordained,” those frequently called “Ministers.” I want to talk about your pastor and the others who serve Christ and you through the agencies of the church.

Ministers, you are more than welcome to read these short letters because I will be talking about you, and you may want to improve or correct the things that I say. Please feel free. (joe.kutter@abccr.org) Actually, as you may know, I’ll be talking about us since I am a member of the cohort of the ordained.

About what will we be talking? I want to introduce you, the Lay Folks, to a short document called, “The Covenant and Code of Ethics for Ministerial Leaders of American Baptist Churches.” (With that title, it should be a best seller!)

Now some lay person is asking, “Why? Isn’t that a boring paper for ministers? What does it have to do with me? The short answer is, “Yes, it is for ministers, and it has everything to do with you!” It describes the behavior that you can expect from your pastoral leader as she or he relates to you, to your church, and to your community. It describes the standards to which we aspire. It describes your minister at his or her very best.

(Spoiler Alert: You may be surprised to learn that our ethical standards are a bit at variance from what you may expect.)

This is a “Code of Ethics,” not a statement of faith. We will talk more about behavior and less about belief, though the two are intimately connected. We will talk about ethics rather than theology.

Why write this series? I have served Christ and Church as an ordained minister since 1971, 39 years as a pastor and four years as the Executive Director of the American Baptist Ministers Council. I am proud of my colleagues in ministry. I am proud of the standards to which we aspire. When one of us slips up, the rumor mills run wild. In some cases, the headlines scream in deafening decibels, and they probably should. In recent decades, a number of tragic scandals have caused immeasurable harm to thousands of people, and the reputation of all clergy persons has been stained. Too many of you wonder if the ordained among us can be trusted.

My first response is this. The overwhelming majority of our ordained colleagues are women and men of irreproachable integrity. They seek to do the right things in the right ways at the right times.

It is true, we have been disappointed from time to time to learn of a leader who violated our trust and the standards of behavior to which we hold ourselves accountable. That tragic reality acknowledged, most of our ordained leaders engage ministry with honor and integrity, and I want you to know the basic standards that form the foundation of our ethical lives.

So, with the next letter, I’ll begin to walk you through our code of ethics. I want you to share my pride and trust in our ordained leaders.

[CLICK HERE TO READ ALL SIX INSTALLMENTS]

FBC Boise Changes It's Name, and Here's Why

FBC Boise Changes It's Name, and Here's Why

At a 154 years old and counting FBC Boise is the oldest congregation in Mission Northwest. It’s a strong, growing church occupying a classical style big steeple building in its downtown location. Recently it opened a new campus, Collister, when a nearby dying church invited FBC to move in and bring with it healthy ministry. Over the last five years FBC has also been a major player in planting two Boise Churches.

Recently FBC changed its name to “True Hope Church”. It is now “True Hope—First Baptist Campus” and “True Hope—Collister”.

In announcing the name change, Pastor Bruce Young posted the following article. As Mission Northwest churches strive to be more effective in reaching the Northwest with the Gospel it’s important to consider the rationale behind FBC’s decision to change their name. ~ Charles Revis
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“Get on the bandwagon” “Follow what’s trending” “Join the crowd” “Be more hip”


There’s something about all these statements that actually makes me want to go in the opposite direction.

I’ve never been a bandwagon sort of guy, which is why I have always resisted the lure to push for a name change from First Baptist Church to something more hip and trendy. Over the last 10-15 years, nearly every denominational church has changed their name. Often, their new name is a one-word title that is cheesy, meaningless, or just confusing.

For our church, we have an overwhelmingly positive 154-year history of ministry in the Treasure Valley. We have a good reputation with our neighbors, with the poor, with schools, with other non-profits, with our community. So, why change our name?

There are two main reasons:

1. Sadly, too many Baptist churches and Baptist leaders have burned bridges with our culture. For a large segment of society, Baptists are seen as legalistic, stuck in the past, flat-earth thinkers, and perhaps most damaging to the gospel, overtly political and even militant. This has led many to avoid visiting our church. Even today many who are now members of First Baptist Church initially resisted attending any Baptist church.

Fortunately, other forces were powerful enough to overcome their preconceptions and bring them through the doors and they are now joyfully a part of our church community. For many years we have heard from newcomers that ours was one of the last churches on their list to visit simply because of the reputation connected to the Baptist name.

2. For the fastest growing segment of our society (secularists), the name Baptist means nothing at all. It’s not a word they ever use nor does it stand for anything. It’s so foreign, in fact, that they don’t even associate it with baptism, which historically was a natural connection.

This is a problem for any business or organization which has a name that doesn’t direct people toward what it is or does. For example, a dry cleaning business that calls itself ‘Lampshade Company’. If you see the company name advertised on a van or city bus you would have no idea that it was a dry cleaning outfit. Likewise with the name Baptist.

In our world which is awash in bad news, true hope is in short supply. And, if we read the Scriptures correctly, these difficulties and problems (“birth pangs”) will only grow in intensity as we march into the future and the eventual return of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, Jesus is the only True Hope!

Therefore, without trying to be trendy, or hip, we believe the names True Hope First Baptist and True Hope Collister are more meaningful and descriptive names. And, for the downtown campus, retaining First Baptist in the name calls forth the wonderful history that has been etched into the annuls of the city of Boise since its inception. For this reason, we are not ready to completely eliminate First Baptist from our identity. While some will still have difficulty with the word ‘Baptist’, the ‘True Hope’ part of the name will at least convey our belief in a positive direction and outlook for the future through Jesus Christ.

~ Pastor Bruce Young

Loving Our Neighbors, Jesus-Style

Loving Our Neighbors, Jesus-Style

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

"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

Five Trends That Will Challenge Regions and Churches

Five Trends That Will Challenge Regions and Churches

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.