Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders
Prophets bug me. I think they're supposed to. I'm not usually patient enough to pursue what Mike Bickle calls the "horrible" task of discernment. Like an irritable judge, I prefer to bang my gavel and pronounce bogus any prophecy I can't get my arms around.
The funny thing is, I have no aversion to digging out a commentary and poring over a lexicon to determine what Ezekiel and Zechariah were saying in their sometimes-enigmatic prophecies.
Now, I would never suggest that the words of modern-day prophets should be handled with the same reverence as the oracles of biblical prophets that have found a place in the canon.
But, any time God speaks--or we think He may be speaking--we should listen up, discern and apply what we hear ... whether He chooses to speak through the pages of Scripture, the lips of a prophet or the mouth of an ornery donkey.
Why? Because when the God of the universe speaks to His creation through prophecy, it is an act of great mercy--especially since He has already spoken in Scripture.
Some may say that God has said all He ever needed to say in His written Word. They're right. But more than bringing new revelation, prophecy is often most valuable when it reminds God's people of what He has already said. Consider the warnings and judgments of the major and minor prophets, which ultimately have their foundation in the covenant stipulations of Deuteronomy.
The two most prolific authors of Scripture, Moses and Paul, both lamented not the abundance of prophecy but its dearth.
Several Israelites came to Moses complaining about the spontaneous outbursts of unexpected prophets Eldad and Medad, and Moses replied, "'I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!'" (Num. 11:29, NIV).
Paul echoed Moses' sentiments when he said, "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:5).
This enthusiasm for the prophetic was not born out of inexperience. Both Moses and Paul were aware of the controversy that prophecy would bring the people of God. But they were more concerned about the spiritual famine Amos speaks of--"a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (see Amos 8:11).
Sure, God doesn't have to send us prophets, but isn't it just like Him to give us a second chance to listen and obey?
As you read this issue of Ministries Today, I pray that you'll be challenged to embrace prophetic ministry. Fraudulent prophets will always be with us, as will sneaky evangelists, abusive pastors, heretical teachers and power-hungry apostles.
But, if we allow our fear of the counterfeit to shake our faith in the authentic, we may miss out on hearing God speak.
NOTE FROM STEPHEN STRANG:
Our associate editor, Matthew Green, formerly served as an associate pastor. It seemed fitting to me that he write the editorial for our fivefold emphasis on pastoring. Read and be challenged!
I've worked with pastors whose skills and professionalism could have landed them high-paying jobs in the business world, and I've served others whose gifts were better suited for the Teamsters' union. Tommy Barnett, whom I had the privilege of interviewing for this issue (see "Dream Weaver," page 38), belongs in the first group.
Pastors of large churches like Phoenix First Assembly aren't entrusted with their burgeoning flocks just because of an ability to manage programs and invent new church- growth schemes. God has seen fit to bless their ministries because He has created them with gifts tailor-made for their unique situations.
From my brief time with Pastor Barnett, here are a few observations of the types of people that God often calls to fulfill the ministry of the shepherd:
Simplicity: While the world may extol the virtues of a complex person able to weigh options, calculate risk and analyze potential, a good pastor keeps it simple: "Preach the Word, and love people," my father--himself a pastor--once advised me.
It's not that a pastor is disengaged from the complexities of life, but he or she has the ability to immediately sift through challenging enigmas, separating the eternal from the temporary. It's no wonder that the effective ministry of a pastor surrounds the three things that are anything but temporary: God, His Word and people.
Focus: Successful pastors like Tommy Barnett have the uncanny ability to focus--not just on the lofty goals that keep them in the prayer closet and the board room, but also on the individuals who sit in their offices seeking counsel.
When you're in a room talking with Pastor Barnett, you and he are the only ones there. Not that this comes naturally. If anything, the gift of focus is one that must be honed and practiced, as one's ministry grows and one's sphere of influence broadens.
Dependency: Once again, this is not a sought-after quality, but without it a pastor will become a smoldering wick in a matter of years. Leaders like Tommy Barnett constantly extol the value of those whom they lead, recognizing that their effectiveness is contingent on the partnership of those who share their visions. They have learned to depend on God--and others.
Good pastors revel in the productive service of those whom they lead--even when it has the potential of eclipsing their own ministries. Unthreatened, they recognize this for what it truly is: an indication of their own fruitfulness.
May God raise up more pastors like Tommy Barnett--simply engaged with the things that matter, focused on God and His people and willing to take the risk of dependence.
There's probably not a pastor in the United States who isn't familiar with--or hasn't heavily quoted--Christian pollster George Barna. Whether the subject is church growth, the views of the unchurched or the attitudes of those sitting in the pews, the prolific author and founder of Barna Research Group has studied it and can cite a revealing statistic. His conclusions drawn from myriad scientific research data have compelled many pastors to rethink their approach to ministry. That's why we thought our readers would enjoy a closer look at the man behind the stats and his challenge to today's spiritual leaders. (See our cover story on page 28.)
The Bible itself teems with number crunching, suggesting such activity has spiritual implications. Moses counted the tribes of Israel; offerings and animal sacrifices were counted; troops preparing for battle were numbered; and salvations were tabulated. Even God crunches numbers. He numbers our days (see Job 14:5); He counts--and names--the stars (see Ps. 147:4); He even numbers the hairs on our heads (see Luke 12:7). Let Barna try that one!
Analyzing statistical data is important because it not only gives you insight into your current situation, but also helps you gauge the direction you're heading so that you make better decisions.
We at Ministries Today compile statistics through various means, including our monthly online poll for pastors and church leaders (www.ministriestoday.com). Although the results are purely a reflection of the views of those who take the poll as opposed to a truly scientific survey, they are nonetheless quite insightful. Some stats from recent polls you may find intriguing: When asked what causes them the most stress, 31 percent of pastors said personal finances; only 11 percent worried as much about church finances. But nearly 20 percent--the second highest reply--said private issues are what cause them the most concern.
"Totally fulfilled and satisfied" was the phrase almost 30 percent of pastors used to describe their career satisfaction. Close to 24 percent chose "somewhat fulfilled" and 19 percent picked "mostly fulfilled." On the down side, 17 percent chose "struggling but hanging in there," 7 percent said "dissatisfied but hanging in there," while 3 percent chose "I want to throw in the towel."
It's in those rough patches of ministry where we need to remember the most important stats of all: God's mercy toward us is measureless (see Ps. 103:11; 100:5); His loving thoughts toward us are greater in number than the earth's sand (see Ps. 139:17-18); and His grace is abounding (see 2 Cor. 9:8; 12:9). Those are statistics we can rely on. read more
Twenty years ago--in the winter of 1983--the first issue of Ministries Today (then called MINISTRIES: The Magazine for Christian Leaders) rolled off the presses, sparked by Stephen Strang's vision to serve pastors and church leaders in the Pentecostal/charismatic community. From the onset, our publication has kept readers abreast of what God is doing through the body of Christ across our nation and around the world. We have both encouraged and challenged Christian leaders, providing practical advice and encouragement as well as confronting difficult issues or areas in the church needing a course correction.
Reading through some of our past issues recently, I noticed we have remained, through the years, on the cutting edge of issues related to pastoral leadership and the Pentecostal/charismatic church. We have tackled tough subjects honestly and given practical guidance in a no-nonsense manner. Our articles have given voice both to prominent leaders in our movement and to those on the front lines of ministry who are not "big names." In the process, we have created a forum for true community and fellowship.
My perusal of the past provided a little humor, too, as I stumbled upon some of the then-cutting-edge subjects we addressed 20 years ago. In one of our earliest issues, for example, an article about personal computers--which had just hit the mainstream market--educated pastors on what a printer does, how to use this new thing called a "word processor" and stated that computers are affordable now that one "can be purchased for the price of a new Chevrolet." Times certainly have changed!
All of this got me thinking about what issues church leaders might need to grapple with in the next 20 years. I do believe we have a lot to be excited about--after all, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement is the fastest growing segment of the church worldwide. There is greater unity across denominational and racial lines than in times past. And I believe we are on the verge of the greatest harvest of souls the world has ever seen.
But there also are areas of grave concern, and we as leaders must be willing to address them. To name a few: (1) We must counter doctrinal error infecting the church and ground people in the Word--and we must be better grounded ourselves; (2) We can no longer indulge leaders living on a loose sliding scale of personal morality; and (3) We need to stop the type of manipulation for personal gain that too commonly spills over Christian airwaves and is preached from our pulpits.
I don't know for sure what the next 20 years will bring. But I do know that we, as leaders, must rise to meet the challenge. read more
At first, no one believed them. After all, children often make up stories. Childhood games and imaginative play are what being a kid is all about. So when the two little tykes told their mom they were afraid to go outside--"But Mommy, what about the monster?" they cried--they were swiftly brushed aside. "C'mon," groaned the weary mother. "Just go outside and play!"
It wasn't the first time she had heard them tell this seemingly tall tale. For the last couple of weeks they had talked about this "monster" they had seen scurrying under the house while they were frolicking in the yard. They had seen it more than once. It was a huge beast, according to their description, and they were scared of it. But no one they told would believe it really existed.
Until neighborhood pets started mysteriously vanishing. And until the parents, too, started hearing noises late at night.
It was soon discovered that an escaped python had been living under their house. The creature would sometimes slither between homes in the rural community to hunt for food. And, yes, in case you were wondering, pythons have been known to eat children on occasion--not a dramatic feat when you're 30 feet long and weigh 200 pounds.
No wonder her kids had been crying in fear. Thankfully, this "monster" was caught in time, because no one had been listening to the children's cries. It's hard to be taken seriously when you're 5 or 6 years old and don't have the vocabulary or life experience to articulate what is happening to you.
This same scenario is occurring in churches across our country. Except the pythons in our midst don't slither in the grass--they hold hymnals. They don't look like frightening beasts--they lift their hands during worship. They don't hide in basements--they are sitting in the pew right next to you. They may appear pious, but they are out to feed on our children.
That's why we're addressing the crisis of pedophilia in the church in this issue of Ministries Today. David Middlebrook, author of The Guardian System, wrote the article on page 46 to give pastors practical advice for how to prevent pious pythons from victimizing children in our congregations. It is not an option for us to sit back and do nothing.
We must not ignore our children's cries. As we've seen in the scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church, these child victims were right all along. The monsters they were seeing were very real. The children just needed someone to listen to them. read more
The memo was stamped July 10, 2001, and sent to FBI headquarters from Kenneth Williams, a well-respected agent who was part of the bureau's antiterrorism task force. The classified document warned of a pattern the agent had noticed of Middle Eastern men signing up for lessons at U.S. flight schools. Williams recommended an investigation, speculating that al Qaeda could be using these men in some sort of twisted terrorist plot.
The agent had no idea how soon his dark premonition would be realized. Two months later--almost to the day--his intuition proved right, as Americans recoiled in horror at one of the worst nightmares ever to take place on U.S. soil. It was Sept. 11, 2001--one year ago this month.
But as alert as Williams had been to the clues leading up to the attacks, the FBI, it seemed, had been fast asleep. The memo was ignored. America basked in her dreamland, enjoying the illusory lull of false security. And while we were sleeping, the enemy caught us off guard. We dozed; terrorists formulated a scheme. We snored; they sent coded messages; we hit snooze; they boarded planes.
We were finally forced out of our slumber when American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. It was a jolting call back to the reality of the times in which we live. We were only just beginning to realize the scope of what had been going on right under our noses all along, while we were sleeping.
In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read of the sons of Issachar in David's army, "who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (NKJV). Like Agent Williams, they could read the signs and follow the clues. They could propose an effective strategy. They weren't oblivious to what was going on around them. And they wouldn't be caught dead sleeping while they were supposed to be on watch.
But sometimes I wonder about the church. It seems some things escape our attention as we slumber in a cocoon of self-centered unreality. We somehow miss the fact that our message has become too much about us and not enough about Him and His power. Meanwhile the enemy concocts his schemes, millions go to hell, even believers fall into heresy and don't walk in victory, and a postmodern society marches on without the bearers of truth understanding what it is really going to take to reach this generation.
Memo to the church: We can keep ignoring the signs, or we can wake up from our slumber before it is too late. read more
Examining the principles that are essential in leading a congregation to maturity and fruitfulness. read more
With a sarcastic and somewhat jealous tone, my pastoral colleague grumbled, "This city doesn't need another church!" Often in the last 30 years I've heard a resident pastor complain about a new church plant in his or her area. The fear and concern behind such complaints arise from the fact that too much of modern church growth comes from membership transfer, not unbeliever conversion.
But the truth is that we need more intense evangelism from current churches, and more church plants in the United States and worldwide to keep pace with population growth. Consider these facts from the 2000 U.S. Census:
The U.S. population has grown 13.2 percent since 1990, reaching 281,421,906.
Nevada led the growth by 66.3 percent. Four other states (Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Georgia) more than doubled the U.S. growth rate.
According to the U.N. Population Fund, by Oct. 12, 1999, world population passed 6 billion. Other facts:
70 million people will be added annually to the world population in the next 15 years.
Of the world's 6 billion people, 1.04 billion are between the ages of 15 and 24.
Today's generation of young people making choices on family size will decide how fast the world grows. Experts project we could reach more than 10 billion by 2050.
Need more church plants? You bet. Need faster growing existing churches? Of course. The standard "rule of thumb" still holds: If a church doesn't grow annually by more than a tithe, it is slowly dying.
So what do we do with booming population growth? Pray, covert, disciple, equip and send them to reach others for Christ. We need healthy churches growing numerically and spiritually.
Recently I found myself privileged to teach and worship in Singapore. Church plants and growth are exploding there. In one Singapore congregation, more than 300 people are converted each week and 50 to 60 cells start monthly. In Nepal, one woman missionary has planted more than 40 churches in just 25 years.
Jesus' words are still true: "'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matt. 9:37, NKJV). Pray, evangelize, convert, disciple, equip and grow! We must continue this cycle until Jesus returns. No other option exists. read more
Sensivity and understanding are imperative in Messianic ministry. read more
Quite frankly, I was bothered and self-righteously angered when I first saw it! A car sat in front of a local church with a banner underneath reading, "The Great New Year's Eve Giveaway." At their 1999 New Year's Eve service, the church would give away that new car.
"Hasn't the great giveaway already happened--the gift of God's Son Jesus?" I wondered.
Indignant, I spoke to fellow pastors about this sacrilege. We just knew that enticing people to come to church with such materialistic bait surely violated the ethics of God's kingdom. Or so it seemed to us.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that I had used "gospel dollars" to reward children in Sunday school for bringing their Bibles, memorizing verses and inviting a lost friend to church.
I began to ponder some of the more crass commercials for getting folks to come to church. Then I mused over the "Christian" product pitches and infomercials I encounter regularly on both secular and Christian television and radio.
Have you as a pastor ever had to draw the line in your congregation? Have you ever vetoed a fund-raiser or forbidden a rummage sale? What's an appropriate fund-raiser for ministry or "hook" for reaching the lost? Does Paul's "being all things to all men" extend to some of our contemporary schemes?
We rationalize that ultimately all we do to raise money is to reach the lost for Christ, but is it?
Where do we draw the line? Just a few simple questions might help us discern between evangelism or ministry-and-market manipulation of the gospel.
Is the outreach tool lifting up Jesus? (see John 12:32)
Does the fund-raiser serve God or money? (see Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13)
Will others glorify God or man when they see what we are doing, broadcasting or marketing? (see Matt. 5:16)
Could our church's or ministry's technique(s) be a stumbling block for others? (see 1 Cor. 8:9)
We must be careful not to judge others. However, we must also discern the line between righteousness and wrongfulness. If the church doesn't act with impeccable ethics in the world, then the world will be quick to see the hypocrisy in our ways. More important, Christ does judge our words and actions (see 2 Cor. 5:10). Hence, this must be our motivation in all our outreach and fund-raising: "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9, NKJV, emphasis added). read more