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Ministers' Housing Allowance Upheld

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Ministers' Housing Allowance Upheld

On November 13, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago vacated the decision by the Federal District Court of Wisconsin declaring the housing allowance unconstitutional and instructed the District Court to dismiss it.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the organization bringing the suit, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) lacked the legal right — known as “standing” — to challenge the housing allowance.

The Court listed several reasons the FFRF lacked standing, most succinctly stating that “The plaintiffs here argue that they have standing because they were denied a benefit (a tax exemption for their employer-provided housing allowance) that is conditioned on religious affiliation. This argument fails, however, for a simple reason. The plaintiffs were never denied the parsonage exemption because they never asked for it. Without a request, there can be no denial.”

The Seventh Circuit panel did not address the housing allowance’s constitutionality. “We think it important to allow the IRS and Tax Court to interpret the boundaries of a tax provision before we assess its constitutionality,” their opinion stated MMBB Financial Services signed onto an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief with a diverse array of religious organizations in support of the housing allowance. Filed in April 2014, the brief asked the appellate court to uphold the housing allowance based on several arguments.

  • Ministers are typically expected to live near the church they serve; in smaller
    congregations ministers often function as the building’s primary caretaker.

  • Ministers are on call day and night and are frequently expected to open their homes to church events, meetings with parishioners and out-of-town guests like visiting missionaries.

  • Ministers often face frequent moves and limited choice, especially if they are poorly paid.

  • The housing allowance reduces discrimination among religions that rely extensively upon church-owned parsonages by reimbursing the minister for housing expenses when the church does not own a parsonage.

Reprinted from MMBB.ORG

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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]

You Can't Be a Transformational Leader and...

You Can't Be a Transformational Leader and...

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.

 

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.

Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders

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Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders

Increasingly churches are discovering that the strength of their congregation is directly related to the skill and maturity of their leaders. Simply filling open slots from the membership list based on regular attendance is insufficient for producing good leadership.

Several churches are discovering the value of training future leaders by developing their own Leadership Learning Community (LLC). The idea is based on the region’s LLC ministry among pastors. Core church leadership concepts are taught through a monthly gathering of potential leaders. The invitation to participate may be opened to all who are interested in developing their leadership skills. The leader chooses a book, or curriculum, on an important church issue.

Everyone agrees to study the resource in advance. During the gathering the participants review the content, wrestle with questions that arise, and make concrete plans for applying the concepts learned. The local LLC serves as a pool from which ministry leaders and board members are recruited.

Recommended books for lay leader LLCs include these selections from 2016’s Reading List for pastors:

  • Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion Into Your Congregation by Kevin Harney
  • U-Turn Church: New Direction for Health and Growth by Kevin Harney and Bob Bouwer
  • Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton
  • Emotionally Healthy Leaders: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

More books and resources from previous years may be found at http://www.abcnw.org/llc. Click on the “Reading List” links.

 

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THE REGION AS ASSOCIATION: What It Means for Churches to Be Connected

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THE REGION AS ASSOCIATION: What It Means for Churches to Be Connected

The Region is not a ‘denominational organization’ off on another planet separate from the churches. Rather, it is an organization OF the churches, consisting of member churches who link arms together to accelerate the cause of Christ through their cooperative work.

In today's world a growing number of church leaders and pastors have no denominational background.  So, it is common to hear the question, "Why belong to a denominational group of churches?” As national denominations have become institutionalized, lost vision and have little to offer the local church even long-time adherents to a denomination are asking the question.

There is a good answer to the question. But, a little background helps, especially in our Northwest context. In the 19th century as Baptist churches pushed west they worked together to extend the reach of the Gospel. A primary motivator was their desire to plant churches in areas without a Gospel witness. Through prayer they discerned where the next church should be planted. Then they would bring in an evangelist from the Baptist Home Mission Society who would hold evangelistic meetings with support from local congregations from nearby towns. Many new believers came to Christ through these efforts. These new disciples joined with other believers God had sovereignly placed in the area and together they would form a new church.

In this way early Baptists realized that by joining forces they could make progress that otherwise would not happen. This cooperative work formed the basis for their local associations.

In addition to evangelistic outreach and church planting they built churches, providing manpower for construction along with financial backing. Additionally the local association trained pastors and credentialed them. They resourced local church leaders. They encouraged one another and held each other accountable through regular meetings which included music, preaching and church reports. Counting baptisms and new members was stressed.

What those early Baptists discovered by working together through their local association carries forward to today's context. These discoveries included these notions: 

  • They were stronger together than apart. They were weaker when they operated independently.
  • They were more effective in reaching the unchurched when they collaborated.
  • They were more stable, biblically and theologically, when they were worked together to provide training and mutual accountability.
  • Their collaborative work resulted in multiplication of new disciples and new churches, far exceeding any efforts when they tried to go it alone.

The association was the means through which they worked together. The congregations created the association that organized and gave expression to their cooperative efforts. In today's world we might use the word "network" to describe this togetherness. Although the association had officers and regular meetings distinguishing it from its member churches it was never an entity that functioned apart from the churches that comprised it. Over time these associations organized into state conventions. Eventually, a national denomination was formed out of the various state conventions. But, the main action remained local with the association of churches.

Today, the Region is the entity that embodies and carries forward the intention of churches to work together in association. The Region is not a "denominational organization" off on another planet separate from the churches. Rather, it is an organization OF the churches, consisting of member churches who link arms together to accelerate the cause of Christ through their cooperative work.

Belonging to this association of churches requires mutual investment and commitment by its member churches, pastors and leaders.

Unfortunately, this admirable intention is undermined by two attitudes:

1. Consumerism. This is the attitude that looks to the Region as a remote organization which is in competition with other organizations that dispense goods and services. This is surfaced when someone says, "What has the Region done for us lately?" It's similar to the attitude of the "church shopper" who wants to know what "this church has to offer."

2. Us vs Them. This attitude creates an artificial divide between the local church and the region by failing to recognize the Region as "our organization", our tribe with whom we travel and the friends to whom we are accountable. The counter to this attitude is embracing the view that the region is the broader and larger expression of the church in its cooperative form.

Because of the association of churches and their investment of missions dollars the Region is able to provide multiple resources and opportunities for cooperative ministry. Some examples include: 

1. Each church is supported by its sister churches through prayer, encouragement, coaching, training, mentoring and guidance during pastoral transitions. Through the Region connection a local church doesn't minister alone!

2. The pastor doesn't minister alone! Through clergy clusters pastors are invited into a collegial relationship in which they learn together, coach one another and pray together. In our Region these are called Leadership Learning Communities. Each is led by a Region appointed “Region Pastor.”

3. Church transformation resources. One of the greatest needs today is for the local church to be constantly renewed in its pursuit of Christ’s mission. Towards this end the Region offers church assessments, guidance through the church unique process and coaching for church boards and pastors.

4. Leadership development resources including LLCs, the annual Leadership Tune-Up, local gatherings for training (“Tools for the Trade”, Oikos Training, Leadership Styles Training, etc), ethics conference and area meetings.

5. Guiding churches through pastoral transitions including the provision of interims, intentional interims and transitional pastors. Search team consultants are provided for search teams. Candidates are prescreened and recruited.

6. Wide variety of financial advice, church financial reviews and coaching for stewardship campaigns.

7. Church Plants and Restarts. Rather than simply closing churches when they decline to the point of closing we are able to relaunch churches. We continue to look for opportunities to plant new churches and/or assist our churches that are planting.

The Region is owned by the churches and is an expression of the churches in mission. As such it is worthy of your church’s support through missions giving. Let’s keep our association strong as work together to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the great Northwest.

 

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Practical Advice for Increasing Your Church’s Giving

All but a few churches in the Region are struggling with their finances. Giving is down, expenses are up. Many of the ensuing financial discussions focus on what should be cut to meet ends. We need more insights on how to increase income.

I had a recent discussion about church finances with a pastor who is always trying new ideas to improve his church’s effectiveness. He exclaimed, “Our giving has increased significantly in the past year. In fact, we used to have a small emergency fund. Our giving has been so strong that we quadrupled the size of the emergency fund in the last year.”

Okay, he had my attention. So, I asked, “What did you do that made the difference.” His response was, “We changed the way we take the offering, and how we talk about giving.” Then he listed these practical pointers:

1. We give a small message, or talk, prior to taking the offering at every worship service. Sometimes it is a Bible verse about giving. Other times it is a brief story about a person’s life that has been changed through a ministry of our church. We use these brief messages to cast vision and show how their giving regularly funds our efforts to fulfill the vision God has given us.

2. When a member or new attender starts giving for the first time they receive an encouraging letter from the pastor. This reinforces this important step of discipleship, which is a foundational part of their journey into spiritual maturity.

3. Every quarter we send out a letter to each person who gives. The letter reports what they have given to date. It also thanks them for their regular contributions. Additionally the letter reinforces how their investment in the church’s ministries is resulting in transformed lives.

4. We stopped asking people to give to all kinds of special offerings. Instead, we ask them to give regularly and faithfully to the General Offering. This way, they learn that it is their giving that sustains our ministries including the missions organizations that we support.

5. It is important to make giving as easy as possible. Many people have moved to online bill paying and fewer people write checks. Realizing this we searched for the best online giving app. We test drove many and settled on one that is really easy, www.securegive.com. Over 1/3rd of our contributions come to us online.

6. I stopped talking about tithing. Mind you, I still believe in tithing. But, the reality is that few people actually tithe, that is, give a literal 10%. It seems so far out of reach. Instead, we talk regularly about taking the “next step in giving.” We say things like, “If you are presently giving 1% of your income why not take a step of faith and start giving 2% of your income.” As a result, more people have increased their giving.

In closing out my conversation with my pastor friend he said that these six simple steps has revolutionized their giving and increased his church’s income. As a result their ministries are fully funded and they are expanding their reach. As I listened to his simple outline I was reminded that often it is common sense attention to details like these that can result in a dramatic increase in effectiveness. I trust that you will consider adopting some of these practices to assist your congregation in increasing its giving. 

~ Charles Revis, Executive Minister

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Should We Pray for Growth?

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Should We Pray for Growth?

Charles Revis, Executive Minister

When a church tracks its attendance and finances it may become alarmed to find that decline has set in and major difficulties will be coming down the road. Such awareness may awaken a desire for renewed growth. There may even be a willingness to explore new ministries, launch a different worship service or increase outreach activities in an effort to stop the decline and jumpstart some growth.

I'm all for careful planning that leads to new ministry initiatives, especially if these are motivated by a heartfelt concern for the unchurched. However, I'm leery of new ministry programs that are motivated by church survival. These tend to have a short lifespan and do little to renew growth.

For me church growth is first about effectively implementing the Great Commission within a congregation's immediate ministry reach. Sustainable growth is usually the result of the church's intentional, steady efforts to make new and better disciples who in turn make new and better disciples. With this perspective in mind church growth is not about embracing the latest music style or hip program to attract a larger crowd on Sunday mornings. 

The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual.

One overlooked key to effective church growth is the role of prayer. We tend to look first to techniques, programs and quick fixes when desiring growth. By contrast real growth is first and lastly a spiritual enterprise empowered by the Living Christ. If one can grow a church without the power of Christ then that growth will prove to be shallow, unsustainable and ultimately yields no disciples. It may produce a crowd of religious spectators but that's not real church growth. The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual. And, only the Holy Spirit can provide such power.

This is why prayer for growth is so critical. There is such a thing as a real, humble desire for renewed growth in the church. It is motivated by a longing to see people far from God enter into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. When the church prays for growth along these lines I believe that the church is praying in a way that is line with God's will for His church.

Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24) The Apostle John wrote, "If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." (1 John 5:14-15) Since it is God's will for His Son to build the church we can pray for the church to grow and at the same time be confident that we are praying in accordance with the will of God. Paul reflects this, "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth." (1 Timothy 2:4)

If you want your church to grow I suggest you start with prayer! I'm talking about specific prayers that are focused on seeing people far from God come into a faith relationship with Jesus through your church's evangelistic and outreach efforts. Renew the church's prayers for the lost and there will be a corresponding effectiveness in ministry. Consider this simple outline for praying for growth today:

  • Start with the church leaders praying together for growth at every official board meeting. This shouldn’t be perfunctory but a real yearning for renewed congregational effectiveness in reaching the lost.
  • Confess any and all wrong motives for growth such as survival, achieving financial solvency, or attracting a few young adults to shoulder some of the load. 
  • Pray against the strongholds that close hearts to Christ: obsessive love of material possessions; over-scheduled lives; spiritual coldness; bitterness; intellectual suspicion of Christianity; addictions of various kinds; poverty; racism; etc.
  • Pray for specific people by name starting with family members, coworkers, neighbors and guests who drop in to church. OIKOS is a good approach for doing this in a systematic and church-wide way.
  • Form an intercessory prayer team that meets on a regular basis. In addition to praying for the various needs of the congregation and community the team should pray strategically as described in this list. They should meet early before the worship service(s) and pray through the sanctuary.
  • Conduct prayer walks through the neighborhoods that surround the church.
  • Be prepared to respond to "out of the box" opportunities for ministry that suddenly pop up as a result of praying for growth.
  • A few years ago I heard a church planting coach teach on prayer and starting churches. He told the story of a woman in a house just a few streets over from a new church plant who was standing at her sink washing the dinner dishes when suddenly she had a strong urge to attend church. She was not a regular church attender, but was so compelled by the feeling that she walked into the new church that Sunday and eventually gave her life to Christ. She later discovered that the church's prayer team had walked her street praying for the unchurched that very day. This is a true story!

I encourage you to start praying for growth and look for God to do some really amazing things in your congregation as He empowers renewed congregational vitality and strength.

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Never Too Old: 6 More Ways of Thinking 'New' instead of 'Old' - Part 3

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Never Too Old: 6 More Ways of Thinking 'New' instead of 'Old' - Part 3

Patti Duckworth, Associate Executive Minister, ABC/Northwest

Each new year starts with New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are fine; in fact, we often need a place to draw a line and start again. But if we are going to have any success in our resolutions, it will mean first thinking “new” about those issues or tasks. In my previous article, I shared 7 ways of thinking ‘new’ instead of ‘old’ from Pastor Bruce Young at First Baptist Church of Boise, ID. I’d like to share 6 more “new” thinking patterns from Pastor Bruce.

1. Listen constructively to criticism.

The last two points of my previous article suggested getting good feedback on our sermons so we can improve. Getting feedback could feel like flinging the doors open to knit-pickers, grumblers, and critics. Indeed, whether it is about the sermon or some other part of church life, most pastors tend to avoid critics and criticism. However, Pastor Bruce pointed out it is precisely “old thinking” that causes us to avoid critics. Thinking “new” changes the focus; it get us to think about HOW we listen to criticism. He suggested taking a risk and ask a “critic to coffee” to hear why and how he/she sees things. In the end, it is possible the person is (unknowingly) testing us to see if the grace we preach about will also be the grace we live. In any case, it is essential to not react out of our insecurities and stop taking everything personally. 

Is that easy? Not at all. Pastor Bruce believes perhaps 80% of pastors are insecure, and so avoid and/or over-react to criticism. “Difficult” laypeople, some of whom may not even be Christians, do not help. But many laypeople have lost respect for all pastors because of the way a pastor deals with the person who makes a critical comment as well as the comment itself. His advice?  “Learn the art and the skill of leaning in to criticism, listening, and adjusting where needed. If you are right, but act wrongly, there is still a big problem.”

2. Mature, spiritual people make the best members and leaders.

Moving to church attendance and membership, “old thinking” says prominent citizens make the best members. The truth is mature, spiritual people make the best members and leaders. Perhaps that seems self-evident. But a good question for reflection is “what are the characteristics of ‘good’ church members and attenders?’  If our answers tend to be people of social and economic influence, the answers reflect ‘old’ thinking. “New” thinking about church members focuses on commitment to live daily like Christ and a teachable spirit, among others. 

3. Discipleship is the backbone of the church.

Thinking “New” says discipleship is the backbone of the church. “Old” thinking says “the women’s ministry (or some other ministry) is the backbone of our church.”  Even thinking Sunday worship is the backbone of the church is thinking “old.” People encouraging people to become followers of Jesus who live like Jesus in the world is the key. This development happens in small groups, mentoring or any regular interaction where people have opportunity to be in community, dealing with the real things of life. I heard the senior pastor at Door of Hope in Portland tell his congregation, “If you think coming to this service is church, you are wrong.  Getting into and committed to a small group is really where the church is.”

4. Sunday (or corporate) services are for connecting with God.

What is Sunday services for?  Pastor Bruce challenged “Sunday is for worship services” as thinking “old.”  Rather, thinking “New” embraces that Sunday services are for connecting with God. What people need to do when they come to church is connect with God. So those who lead worship need to be connecting to God as they lead. Worship is the result of connecting with God. The results of thinking “old” are people are talked to in a sermon. They are not expected to respond, and there is no real opportunity to pray during the prayer time. Thinking “New” results in people connecting to God in a way that leads to a response and provides real time for prayer.

5. Congregations encourage and insist pastors do what they are most gifted to do.

“Isn’t that how it works?” you may ask. Not necessarily. Instead, thinking “old” forces pastors to be and do what people in the church want rather than capitalizing on their God-given gifts. Thinking “New” sets pastors free to lead congregations by doing what they do best AND to bring other people into the ministry to compliment and add their gifts to the overall ministry. “Scripturally, pastors are called vocationally to the church to the office of pastor, that is, as leaders,” said Pastor Bruce, “but others in the congregation have the gifts of shepherding” like administration, care, mercy, encouragement, and helps (Romans 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:28). Thinking “New” works at asking pastors to lead and equip and asking others to engage in the work of ministry (Eph. 4: 11-13).

6. Pastors lead through collaboration and influence.

As the conversations among the region pastors and churches has moved to emphasize the leadership landmark, some have drawn the conclusion that being a pastor (or other leader) means things are done the pastor’s way, period. This is a mistaken conclusion. Pastor Bruce believes pastors who do this “use up their leadership chips way too fast and then find themselves in trouble.” Thinking “New” means building consensus. Consensus decision making is written into the governance documents for the leadership board at First Baptist Church. People talk about their concerns and disagreements. Each leadership board member is expected to have an opinion and name it honestly. Everyone has a voice. “God does give direction to the church through the senior pastor,” said Pastor Bruce, “but not always.”  Valuing consensus leadership builds accountability into everyone on the board. Each person knows they can can be challenged, too. What happens then?  “If after two meetings we do not have consensus, we vote, and we support the decision of that vote,” said Pastor Bruce. 

Again, are you thinking “New” or “Old”?  Here are a few more questions for your reflection in this new year based on Pastor Bruce’s insights above.

  • When I hear criticism, my first reactions are __________________.
  • When I think of people becoming members / attenders of my church, I hope they will be _______________ or I am hoping they will ______________________.
  • When people come to our worship services, I hope they will _________________.
  • For pastors: My gifts for ministry are ____________________________; I spend most of my energy on __________________________. (Do these come close to matching?)
  • For members/attenders:  My pastor’s gifts for ministry are __________________________; he/she spends most of his/her energy on ________________________. (Do these come close to matching?

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A Plan of Attack for Youth Ministry

Todd Jones is the relatively new Associate Pastor at FBC Anacortes, WA. He is doing a great job leading the youth ministry in Anacortes. Recently Todd completed an ebook on youth ministry that is designed to help youth workers create a mission, vision and plan of attack for their ministry. It was featured on YouthMinistry360 and has been receiving good reviews.

Todd is making his book available for free and you can download a copy here to use with your youth team. Todd also blogs on a regular basis at this youth ministry blog. This is an excellent place to find wisdom and ideas for working with youth. Check it out at www.stokedonyouthministry.blogspot.com.

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Never Too Old: 7 Ways of Thinking "New" Instead of "Old" - Part Two

So have you slipped into thinking "too old"? What are some "old" versus "new" attitudes and behaviors? I visited with Pastor Bruce Young several weeks after their church's 150th anniversary celebration. He shared several significant ideas about "old" versus "new" thinking. Below are seven important places to replace old thinking with new thinking. 

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Never Too Old - Part 1

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