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Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

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The Miracle of Marriage

Helping build strong marriages begins with recognizing their unique place in God’s creation

 

When you hold your first-born child, you immediately recognize two things. First, you realize that you are holding a miracle you did not create—but God did. Secondly, you are keenly aware that this miracle needs to be protected by you.

I have been counseling couples for more than 20 years, and I am well aware that just as each child is created by God and needs to be protected, equally so does each marriage. As the shepherd of a flock, be it a church or ministry, you are the protector for the marriages in your congregations and ministries.

Thank you for the many hours that you have invested in birthing marriages, offered premarital counseling and helped to save struggling couples. You have both the scars and joys shepherds accrue in having a family full of marriage from every level of depth.  read more

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Restoring the Fallen

  A blueprint for helping pastors and church leaders overcome sexual sins, and back into effective ministry

 

Counseling pastors who have fallen due to infidelity, pornography, prostitution or other sexual sins has been a regular occurrence in my office for the last 20 years.

When you do something for more than two decades, you learn quite a bit about those who fall and those who are able to get back into a growing ministry again. I’ve also learned a lot from those who fall but don’t go back to ministry, as well as others who go back in ministry without genuine healing and restoration. 

Falling happens in ministry. We can all conjure up names of the famous Christian leaders and pastors who have fallen in the last two decades. My guess is that you can also conjure up names of people in ministry you know personally who have fallen. I was on a plane one day after the national media reported that my pastor had fallen to sexual sin. read more

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Healing Marriages One at a Time

Dr. Doug Weiss has helped save thousands from sex addictions in the last 20 years. Today, he is passionate about empowering churches in strengthening and restoring marriages.


Dr. Doug Weiss is all about healing. He has devoted his life to healing the sexually broken. Through his work as a counselor and clinical psychologist as well as his many books, public speaking and numerous media appearances, Dr. Weiss  has been able to help rescue thousands from sex addictions and other problems. He claims an 85 percent success rate.

Yet in healing sex addiction, he’s really healing marriages. And in healing marriages, he’s putting lives back together and affecting the very fabric of our society at a time when it seems everything is trying to tear it apart.

So it was natural that I invite Dr. Weiss to be guest editor of this issue of Ministry Today. This year we have dealt with some of the important issues facing the church—such as integrity, prayer, giving, evangelism, church growth and leadership itself. None is more important than marriage. For the leader, unless you have this area of your life together, you are ineffective in all other areas. read more

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Addressing ‘Intimacy Anorexia’

 Why it’s critical to stop the silent cancer of many marriages from spreading through your ministry

 

As a Christian leader, you are more than likely dealing with 

marriages on a regular basis. You may have seen marriages destroyed by adultery, alcoholism or sexual addiction. Although devastating, the dissolving of this type of marriage, due to the circumstances, makes sense.

But there is another type of marriage that slowly dies and it’s harder to put a finger on the problem. This marriage often looks good on the outside for decades. The husband and wife may have been singing in the choir or served as cell group leaders, deacons and Sunday school teachers for years. They are raising their family, and some of them are doing a variety of marriage-related ministries. read more

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How to Have a Happy Marriage in Ministry

Building a strong marriage and a healthy church should not be at odds. Father-son pastors share their win-win strategies.


Is it possible to pastor a large congregation and have a happy marriage at the same time? Yes, say Larry Stockstill, a teaching pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., and his son, Jonathan Stockstill, senior pastor of the 5,000-strong congregation.

Here the two pastors tell how God has helped them enjoy a strong marriage and fruitful ministry.

Larry Stockstill:

After 35 years of marriage, I believe a happy wife is the key to a happy marriage. It’s not in the Bible, but “if Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!” The happiness in my marriage has been structured around seven basic principles. read more

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When it comes to marriage, ‘Thou Shalt Honor’

How honoring your spouse can turn your marriage into the most remarkable and rewarding experience of your life and ministry


Sometime back, I—being a loving, sensitive husband whose whole ministry is based on the concept of honoring others—was talking to my wife, Norma, on the phone. In the course of our conversation I asked, “What do you need from me that I’m not giving you right now?”

She responded, “You don’t know how to honor me.” Naturally, I laughed, assuming she was joking. I thought, “You can’t be serious!” I said, “That’s a good one! But what do you really need?” And she said with all seriousness, “No, I’m not kidding. You don’t know how to honor me.”

Honor Is a Diamond

Obviously, after all these years, we still need to work at this idea of honoring each other. And it is work. In my mind, honor is a diamond. We started out with a rough, raw stone. And over the years, I’ve made several major cuts and polishes, turning it into a beautiful gem. As far as I’m usually concerned, I’m doing a great job and it’s ready to mount and display. Norma, on the other hand—because she knows me better than anyone—realizes that there are still some rough surfaces, and she sees them all every day. read more

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Fasting Forward

Prepare your church for a 2012 breakthrough with a corporate fast in January


For several years now, many in my church, Free Chapel, have joined me in a 21-day fast to seek and honor God in January for the new year. By starting each year with a corporate fast, we have found that God meets with us in very unique and special ways. His presence grows greater and greater with each day of the fast. Without fail, He always shows up.

Corporately fasting in January is much the same precept as praying in the morning to establish the will of God for the entire day. I believe that, if we will pray and seek God and give Him our best at the first of the year, He will bless our entire year. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Short Season, Lasting Effect

Fasting is a short season that produces a lasting effect. Out of 365 days in a year, 21 days is not that long to take a break from your routine and experience a fresh encounter with God. We fast corporately as a church at the beginning of every year because that short season sets the course for the rest of the year. read more

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How Ministry Marriages Can Thrive

Avoiding three common traps will help your marriage not just survive


In the beginning, Karen and I were lay members of the church I now pastor. I worked in my family’s electronics and appliance business until one day, the pastor of our church asked me to come on staff as a marriage counselor. Karen and I had been leading a large Bible study, and many couples in the church had been coming to us for counseling.

So in August 1982, I joined the staff of Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas. My official role was marriage and pre-marriage counselor. Ten months later, the church’s senior pastor resigned and I was selected to take his place. Within a year, I’d gone from selling appliances to leading a church with 900 members. I wasn’t prepared, to say the least.

Karen and I had a strong marriage before I went on staff, but the burden of ministry had taken its toll on us almost immediately. After I became senior pastor, it intensified. I made a lot of mistakes as a husband and father. I saw the negative effect those mistakes had on Karen and our two children. read more

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Divorce-Proof Your Church

Ten keys for building rock-solid relationships that go the distance


Believe it or not, 85 percent of Americans still get married. Why? Because God created us that way. At the core of who we are, we long for safe, loving, committed relationships. You don’t have to look very far in the Bible to realize that He also wants to bless our love and marriage.

What’s troubling today is that the majority of couples eventually break up. Research estimates that between 40 to 50 percent of today’s marriages end in divorce. If you count couples that separate but don’t divorce, the statistic is even higher. The snowball effect? Tragically, one in three children now live in single-parent homes or do not live with their parents at all.

Behind pasted-on smiles and closed doors is a lot of brokenness from love gone bad. As a pastoral counselor and marriage and family therapist, I’ve sat and talked with countless clients, and over and over again I hear the same cry of the heart: “All I ever wanted was for someone to love me.” read more

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A Shepherd in the Boardroom

Examining the pastor’s role in mentoring business leaders


When Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and chased out the dove sellers from the temple (see Matt. 21:12), He also launched a discussion among church and business leaders for centuries to follow.

The relationship between church and business ranges from the simple, “Would it be OK to place a brochure for my business in your lobby?” to the more complex, “Would your business donate materials to build a new gym for our youth?”

A slippery slope exists in the relationship between church and business. The primary issue seems to balance on the fulcrum of doing commerce in the church and receiving support from local business for church budgets. As church budgets continue to cope with declining revenue, the tipping point becomes less obvious. read more

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Volunteer Revolution

From recruiting to reproducing, here’s how to lead passionate servants into effective ministry


The volunteer is a unique hybrid—almost an employee and not quite a friend. Volunteers don’t get paid, yet they perform services of their own accord that benefit the local church. They are not co-workers with the paid staff, yet a bond of mutual ministry is often formed. Friendships can develop between volunteers in the pursuit of mutual service, but that is not the goal of the volunteer.

If a senior pastor understands who potential volunteers are, what they want from volunteer service and how they can be developed for effective service, 50 percent to 80 percent of a church’s staff needs could be filled—by volunteers!

 Who are potential volunteers?

Anyone who shows up is a potential volunteer. The mom who attends youth group with her teenager to keep an eye on the kid should be greeted, signed in and welcomed. At the end of the service she should be asked to pour soda at the refreshments table. read more

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Leading by Giving

Leadership, generosity and how a family is redefining generational wealth

 

David Green is founder and CEO of Hobby LobbyBorn in a pastor’s home, he began working at a local five-and-dime as a teen. After marrying his high school sweetheart, he and his wife, Barbara, began a small picture-frame shop, and in 1972 they opened their first retail store. Today Hobby Lobby has more than 475 stores in 40 states. David and Barbara have three grown children.

In 2007, his family made national headlines when they pledged $70 million to Oral Roberts University, which was $52 million in debt and facing unlawful termination lawsuits from three former professors. In the years since, ORU has experienced a dramatic turnaround in enrollment and financial stability. In the following interview, 
Dr. Mark Rutland, who was appointed president of ORU in 2009, chats with Green about the roots of his family’s generosity. read more

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Principles for leading a Turnaround

How to orchestrate a recovery in the wake of organizational catastrophe


In 2004, Hurricane Charley cut a devastating swath through central Florida and made a direct hit on our house. We had made the decision to ride out the storm, believing the weatherman that the worst of it would go elsewhere. He was wrong. 

 We watched in horror as a massive oak tree was sucked up like a giant broccoli plant and plunged into our swimming pool, barely missing the house. That blow could have utterly destroyed the house and very probably killed us. The damage was bad enough as it was.

When the howling wind stopped and the terrible night was over, the scene was a war zone. I will never forget the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I forced the front door open and crawled out to survey wreckage greater than I ever imagined.  read more

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How to Train Your Successor

 Is there a way to retire from your pulpit and effectively mentor the incoming pastor? Yes—and two pastors have the model plan.


Is it possible for a church with a large congregation to successfully transition from a pastor of 38 years to a new and younger leader—and experience church growth at the same time? Absolutely, say pastor emeritus Kemp C. Holden and pastor Marty Sloan of Harvest Time church in Fort Smith, Ark.

Ten years ago, during a lengthy stay in the hospital, Holden heard the Lord tell him to position his church for 20 years of growth. As a result, he created a plan to find and train his replacement and prepare his 3,000-member congregation for the change of leadership. Not long afterward, he met Sloan—who was half Kemp’s age—and knew he was to become his successor. 

In this article, the pastors each tell how God helped them implement Kemp’s plan, which resulted not just in a successful pastoral transition at Harvest Time, but also in an increase of the church’s conversions, attendance and income.   read more

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Dr. Turnaround

Dr. Mark Rutland clearly knows how to save struggling organizations. But equally as impressive as his turnaround record is his passion to empower leaders like you for growth.


Anyone can lead when things are going great. Just show up and act like a leader! But when things are going down or there’s crisis, that’s when you find out who are the true leaders.

Dr. Mark Rutland is a true leader. He led a major turnaround in the 1990s at Calvary Assembly in Winter Park, Fla.—the church where Charisma started and where I served on staff for five years. He did it again at Southeastern College (now University) in Lakeland, Fla., where my dad was a professor when I was a teen. Now he’s doing it again at Oral Roberts University (ORU).

Calvary Assembly went through a painful scandal in 1981. And though the church survived, it went from 5,000 attendees to 1,800 within a nine-year period while taking on huge debt to build a 5,500-seat sanctuary. Rutland was able to stave off bankruptcy, heal a hurting congregation and build up attendance to 3,600 before he left. read more

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Living Flame Of Love

Daily practices for reigniting spiritual passion

 


Saint John of the Cross described his relationship with Jesus as the “living flame of love.” The two men Jesus walked with on the road to Emmaus testified that their hearts burned within them as Jesus opened the Scriptures (see Luke 24:32). How do leaders feed this living flame so that the daily pressures of ministry do not smother the fire that should drive our service in the first place?

In my own life, I experienced renewed love for Jesus as I began to see in the Scripture that God relates to His church as His bride and burns with passion and zeal for her. From Genesis through Revelation, one of the themes of the Scriptures is God’s ravished heart for His people. We discover Him as the one who leaves the Father’s home in heaven to cling to His bride and be united to her as a husband becomes one flesh with his wife.

We find Him in the prophetic pictures of Isaac and Rebekah, of Boaz and Ruth, of Esther and the king. We are strengthened by the king’s declaration of love for the bride in the Song of Solomon. We feel the anguish of the Bridegroom’s heart in the prophetic writings as He grieves the spiritual adultery of His people, and we are continually moved by the constancy of His longing for intimacy and commitment to restoration. read more

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A Life of 24/7 Prayer

Mike Bickle and IHOP-KC prove prayer is far from a boring chore

 

 

Two years ago I spent a week in the prayer room at the International House of Prayer (IHOP-KC), led by Mike Bickle. I’ve known Mike for more than 20 years; I’ve watched his vision for 24/7 prayer unfold. I’ve seen the consistency of his life. I’ve watched how his emphasis on prayer, his understanding of the Tabernacle of David and a type of prayer he calls “Harp and Bowl” has changed the lives of thousands—including mine.

God did some deep things in my life that week in Kansas City, Mo., as I spent hours in God’s presence and studying the Word. He also used Mike to surprise me with a lesson on prayer. One afternoon Mike invited me to sit in on a teaching for his leaders. He talked about the importance of systematic prayer using a written prayer list. With a written list, he said, you’ll pray 10 times more than you will without it. Then he handed out a sheet using an acronym for FELLOWSHIP as a model for intimate prayer. (Go to ministrytodaymag.com/fellowshipprayerlist to download a free copy.)

That week I began using a written prayer list and following Mike’s method of intimate prayer. I also began journaling and spending at least an hour in prayer most days. It’s a discipline I continue today. read more

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A Holy Convergence

Unity between the prayer and missions movements has Jesus’ name written all over it

 


God is arranging a glorious convergence in the earth between prayer ministry and missionary activity. One of our favorite parts of our story at the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, Mo., is the way He brought us into partnership with Youth With A Mission, one of the world’s largest missions agencies. Committing to pray for the ministry of YWAM is a privilege for us, because what God has joined together—missions and prayer ministry—must not be put asunder, and we get to participate in their union.

God’s love is only seen in fullness when the whole body of Christ functions together, and part of our inheritance at IHOP–KC is in the fruit of other ministries. Some speak of “the prayer movement” and “the missions movement” as though they are distinct—if not in conflict with each other. In identifying particular expressions of God’s work, we sometimes lose sight of their integrity. Each of these two movements has attracted some criticism—missions groups for not praying enough and prayer movements for not reaching out in missions enough. 

However, missions is not the ultimate goal; worship is. As John Piper so eloquently writes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Worship is ultimate because Jesus read more

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Church On The Brink

Can unified intercession avert national destruction and bring spiritual renewal?


 

In 1995, in his book The Coming Revival, Bill Bright called 2 million Americans to fast and pray for 40 days because of the dire state of our nation and our great need for revival. He warned: “God does not tolerate sin. The Bible and history make this painfully clear. I believe God has given ancient Israel as an example of what will happen to the United States if we do not experience revival. He will continue to discipline us with all kinds of problems until we repent or until we are destroyed, as was ancient Israel because of her sin of disobedience.”

Sept. 11 came and went. Katrina followed suit. The church’s moral and spiritual decay continues, with entire institutions unclear on the divinity of Christ and the atoning efficacy of the cross but clear on the ordination of homosexuals and the protection of a woman’s right to choose.

A global financial crisis still exists, and along the Pacific Ring of Fire some nations are recovering and others are on edge. Yet, have we connected our hearts to the crisis? Our keen leadership insights and makeshift rebuilding strategies will not suffice in a culture devoid of discernment and prayer. read more

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Blueprint For War

God’s plans for victorious spiritual battle

 


The apostle Paul exposed Satan’s strongholds to help the New Testament church make sense of the enemy’s outrageous victories. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” he taught, “but against principalities, against powers” (Eph. 6:12).

To partner with Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission and establishing justice in the earth, the church must renounce fear and fatalism and recover the prevailing faith behind Paul’s frontal attack against the forces of darkness. Souls are bound in the most desperate spiritual and physical captivity. In answer to racism, abortion, sex-trafficking and false ideologies, God is raising up His house of prayer. His church must learn to contend, to wrestle with and throw down its spiritual adversaries.

In 1996, under the urgency of prophetic direction, I was part of a 40-day fast. During this season of intense prayer and divine initiative the Lord gave me my job description. I saw in a dream a Buddhist house of prayer situated on top of and dominating a Christian house of prayer. In a great wrestling match, the Christian house of prayer flipped from its inferior position to dominate the Buddhist house of prayer. read more

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More Than Songs

 How worship on earth invites the atmosphere of heaven



It doesn’t take a prophet to see that the earth is in a crisis, and it doesn’t take a pessimist to see that much of the church is lukewarm. Yet it is in this environment that the Lord is raising up a worldwide movement of prayer and worship. In an hour of confusion, as chaos grows and darkness deepens, the Lord is awakening the dawn of a new day (see Is. 24:15). We see the dawn breaking upon the horizon with songs of worship in this dark night; it is a global house of worship made up of the entire body of Christ.

But the day is not dawning without conflict. The battle at the end of the age will be a battle for the passion of man, a war between two worship movements. Even now Satan is assaulting the cultures of the earth in an unceasing demonic campaign to raise up a worldwide worship movement (see Rev. 13:4,8,15). He is enticing people to worship themselves, which will lead them to worship him. But Jesus also has a plan in His heart, and His will not fail.

Around the globe young people are catching a glimpse of the beauty and worth of Jesus and how He is worshipped in heaven. As they begin to understand the authority they have in intercession, they are taking their rightful place in the kingdom and will bring a multitude with them to the throne of grace. read more

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Vital Signs

Seven characteristics of the end-time prayer and worship movement

 


What we are witnessing today, with the rapidly growing worldwide prayer and worship movement, is the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about the end times. No one knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but we do know that it will be in response to the church—His bride—beckoning Him to come (see Rev. 22:17). While Scripture is filled with the defining characteristics of this end-time worship and prayer movement, I want to focus on seven that I believe are particularly key.

1. It will be God-centered (Rev. 4:8; 5:11-14; Is. 24:14–16). Those nearest God’s throne are most qualified to proclaim the truth about who He is and what He does. God desires that His people would encounter His majesty and love and that in turn they would offer up their praise for who He is. Worship is a witness on earth to the indescribable value of Jesus. Our worship and prayer are best energized when we experience intimacy with God’s heart. The Father relates to us with tender mercy, and Jesus, our Bridegroom God, relates to us with fiery desire (see Is. 54:5; 62:5). In Revelation 22:17, John prophesied that the Spirit and the bride would say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

2. It will be continual (Rev. 4:8; Is. 62:6-7; Luke 18:7-8). In Revelation John witnesses celestial beings who “do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy ...’ ” (see Rev. 4:8). God desires to be worshipped on this earth just as He is in heaven—unceasingly. Isaiah prophesied of an end-time prayer movement that will not rest night and day until God’s purposes are fully established (see Is. 62:6-7), and Jesus spoke of prayer going forth night and day until His justice is fully released (see Luke 18:7-8). read more

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My House Shall Be Called...

Beyond programs and prayer meetings, the church today must embrace its role as an eternal house of intercession

 


The house of prayer in a city is not a church, not a prayer ministry and not the building in which they meet. The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., is only a “gas station”—we take a cup of gasoline and throw it on the prayer fires that burn in the real “house of prayer in Kansas City,” which is the entire body of Christ, made up of more than 1,000 congregations in our area.

The eternal destiny of all God’s people is to function as a house of prayer now and in the age to come. In one short statement, Jesus revealed this to us when He prophetically declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13).

Isaiah also spoke this decree when he prophesied to Israel: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (see Is. 56:7). When God calls us by a specific name, it indicates our character and how we are to function in the Holy Spirit. read more

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Why I Know Hell Is Real

The reality of eternity without Christ compels me to preach the gospel

 


For the most part, the subject of hell has not been a topic of discussion in churches today. One of the reasons is that, in the past, hell was presented with a fire-and-brimstone, “you’re going to burn” attitude. As a result, it is a message perceived of as unloving and harsh. However, if it is presented as a message of warning, and not of condemnation, it is more readily accepted. A message of warning is a message of love. What loving parent wouldn’t warn his or her child not to play in a busy street? If a person truly understands what eternity might bring, they may be a bit more receptive to the gospel. God’s desire is to get people into heaven, not keep them out!

Another reason the topic is avoided is because of a lack of answers as to the “whys” regarding the extreme severity and eternal duration of hell. To many, God would be unloving to allow such punishment for all eternity.

This lack of teaching—and even ignoring of the subject altogether—is derived from a questioning of the morality of God. Some criticize His justice, stating that if they were God they wouldn’t allow someone to suffer forever, so then God certainly wouldn’t either. A lack of understanding causes silence on the subject. If hell is mentioned, it is downplayed in order to avoid offending anyone. The fear of loss of congregation members is on the minds of many pastors. read more

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Igniting the Fire of Evangelism

How the evangelistic spark of a mass crusade is fanned into a burning flame

 


As the gospel is preached clearly and concisely each night, hundreds of thousands of precious people respond to the call of salvation and receive Jesus as their Savior. Such is the dimension of this response that the hundreds of participating churches are each flooded with thousands of new converts and wonderful reports pour in from the leaders and members of participating churches.

Often we hear of congregations doubling and tripling in size during the weeks following the Great Gospel Campaigns. We have learned that this leads some churches to even start multiple branches to accommodate the new arrivals. On the CfaN team, we call this Spirit-enabled phenomenon “addition” to the kingdom of God.

But our ministry team feels a second responsibility, and that is to inspire and train others in the communities and nations in which we hold crusades to—as the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy—“do the work of an evangelist” (see 2 Tim. 4:5). read more

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A Passion for Souls

Think Reinhard Bonnke and his ministry are all about the numbers? You better believe it—and here’s why that’s a good thing.



 

I was a young journalist attending an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1984 when I saw fliers all over town for a German evangelist named Reinhard Bonnke, who was holding huge crusades throughout Kenya. Knowing Germany wasn’t exactly a hotbed of evangelism, I was curious. African friends told me about this man’s passion to see all of Africa saved. Soon we were covering his ministry in Charisma. One of our first stories was about his massive revival tent that held up to 34,000 people. In 1985, a storm destroyed the tent in South Africa—but in the end, it didn’t seem to matter since it couldn’t have contained the hundreds of thousands who showed up.

I first met Bonnke in Brazil in 1989 when he was there for his daughter’s wedding. My wife and I had flown down to attend a Charles and Frances Hunter crusade in Rio de Janeiro, and we stayed at the same hotel as Bonnke. A friendship developed that continues today. Little did I know he would one day move his international headquarters to Orlando, Fla., which allows us to interact several times a year—most recently when he wanted to introduce me last fall to his successor, Daniel Kolenda. I actually knew Daniel’s family and visited his dad’s church in Port Charlotte, Fla., when Daniel was a little boy. In Charisma’s March issue we covered the incredible story about how after some unsuccessful attempts to find a successor, God supernaturally told Bonnke that the anointed must be appointed. (They recount this story on page 50 of this issue.)

When I recently began inviting leaders to serve as guest editors for Ministry Today, I never dreamed someone of Bonnke’s worldwide stature would agree. But when we mentioned to him our vision to devote an entire issue to the topic of evangelism—and just how important it is for the church—he jumped at the chance. He has edited the issue with the same fervency he seems to apply to everything in life. And the idea of including Daniel Kolenda as co-editor appealed to us. Bonnke can explain better than I how Kolenda is transitioning to fill his huge shoes. read more

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Race Against Time

We must seize the opportunity of a lifetime—to win the nations for Jesus—during the lifetime of the opportunity

 


When my great-grandfather received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at an Aimee Semple McPherson camp meeting, the Lord gave him a life-altering vision. He saw what he described as an “ocean of humanity,” a multitude of people that stretched to the horizon. Their hands were lifted toward heaven and they were crying out, “Bread, bread—give us bread!” 

For the rest of his days, he considered that heavenly vision to be his life’s calling. Even though my great-grandfather never witnessed the fulfillment of the vision God had given him, two generations later I have seen it with my own eyes as I have had the privilege to preach to millions of people in Africa alongside evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. There is a wonderful reality in the economy of God’s kingdom. His calling and promises never die with

the original recipient, and nothing diminishes in God. His desire is that each generation would seize the baton of the gospel from the previous one and carry it further so that in the end those who sow and those who reap will rejoice together. read more

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Plugged In to Prayer

Life-transforming power comes when intercession and preaching are fully connected

 


I was preaching to approximately 120,000 people in the stadium when a power cut suddenly bathed the entire crowd in pitch darkness. Then the emergency generators kicked in, and soon the place was all lit up again. 

I can think of no better example of how intercession and evangelism work together. Regardless of what powerful lights we had, without electricity the place would have remained in darkness, the sound system powerless and the message unheard—regardless of how loud I tried to shout.

On the other hand, no matter how much electricity we were able to generate, without the lights and sound system it would not have had the impact desired. Intercession is the “powerhouse,” and the preaching of the Word of God is the “electricity” that projects the light of God into this world of sin and darkness. read more

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Called to Succeed

Evangelists Reinhard Bonnke and Daniel Kolenda talk about the succession of leadership at Christ for all Nations and their ministry expectations going forward

 


MINISTRY TODAY: Why did you decide to appoint a successor to your ministry?

REINHARD BONNKE: I want the extraordinary harvest of souls to continue for as long as the opportunity lasts. What my team and I have experienced since the year 2000 is possibly unparalleled in the history of the church—masses of precious souls have been pressing into the kingdom of God.

MINISTRY TODAY: The Lord has used you for more than 35 years to lead Christ for all Nations. Was it a difficult decision for you to give up the leadership? read more

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The Soul Purpose

Why the church must return the Great Commission to top priority

 


However, as one of the fivefold ministries given to the church, my perspective as an evangelist belongs with that of the apostle, the prophet, the pastor and teacher. Taken together, these five visions equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. 

So, what does this evangelist see? I see two disturbing trends:

First, I see churches that are not increasing. They sit in communities where the population is growing, children are born, immigrants move in, jobs attract new families, government programs attract the needy, yet these churches remain stagnant. They are growing inward, forgetting the imperative of the Great Commission.  read more

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America: The New Dark Continent?

Africa, the ‘dark continent’ of history, is lit today with revival. Is America the new dark land—and can the same light shine here?

 

 

Those familiar with my story know that early in my ministry God gave me a vision of a blood-washed Africa. I saw an entire continent washed in the blood of the Lamb. How preposterous it seemed at the time! Today, not so much. This vision led and guided me to the astonishing harvest we see in Africa today.

With these millions coming to Jesus, some American friends have begun to ask, “What about a blood-washed America? Can it happen here?” My answer is, “Yes, of course.” But I wonder, What sort of God do my American friends believe in? A God omnipotent in Africa and impotent in America? May it never be. The time has come to speak boldly of a blood-washed America. The gospel is the major force for change on earth, and I sense that America is ripe for change.

The church has been listening to the wrong voices. It has been paralyzed by lies. Professors of religion talk arrogantly of a post-Christian culture, as if this is somehow the graveyard of evangelism. Post-Christian? There is no such thing. The Word of God has never returned void in any generation. It has always remained quick, alive and sharper than a two-edged sword, no matter the label given by academia. read more

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A Word for You

Knowing how Bibles are translated will help you pick the version you need

 

 

In translating any ancient text, determining how literal the translation should be must be decided first. To create a translation, one of three general methods is applied to the translating process: word-for-word or formal equivalence, in which the meaning of the original words is expressed; thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalence, in which the thoughts and ideas of the original text are expressed; paraphrase or functional equivalence, also a thought-for-thought method in which the thoughts and ideas of the original text are reworded for clarity or for a specific readership.

Word-for-Word

For this, the translator attempts a literal rendering of each word of the original language into the receptor language and seeks to preserve the original word order and sentence structure, without adding his ideas and thoughts.

Thus, the argument goes, the more literal the translation is, the less danger there is of corrupting the original message. Critics of this translation method say it assumes too much—specifically that the reader has a moderate degree of familiarity with the subject matter.

Also, a grammatically complete sentence does not always result from a word-for-word translation. Words must sometimes be added to complete the English sentence structure. Most printings of the King James Version, for example, italicize words that are implied but are not actually in the original source text. Thus, even a formal equivalence translation has at least some modification of sentence structure and regard for contextual usage of words. read more

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The Forgotten Heroes

The significance of a ministry shouldn’t be measured by the type of people it is reaching

 

 

The year: 1967. The location:?Swallow Falls,?Md. A 7-year-old red-headed boy jumps out of the car, eager to embark on a long-awaited adventure. The sound of the cool, rushing water beckons him as he races to the crown of the cascade. At the first glimpse of the waterfall, his curious mind starts to wonder, Where’s all this water going?

He jumps from rock to rock, working to gain a clearer view. Finally, he’s close enough to peer over the edge, but just as he catches the first glimpse, his foot slips. He quickly begins the slide downward, when out of nowhere a hand reaches out and grabs his arm. The boy holds his breath for fear that any movement might cause the hand to lose grip. Wide-eyed, he watches as a gold watch falls from the wrist and takes its place among the rocks below. At last, he breathes in relief as he’s pulled to safety. read more

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Where Did All the Young People Go?

Going beyond style to substance to empower the next generation in your church



Our church is overwhelmed with young converts. In fact, of the thousands that come to our services each week, more than 70 percent are younger than 29. And about 40 percent of them didn’t attend a church before they came to Substance Church. Pastors often ask me, “What are you doing to get all of these young people?” Honestly, that’s a critical question that the American church had better start asking soon.

Contrary to the exaggerated claims of attendance, as David Olson noted in The American Church in Crisis, only 9.1 percent of Americans attend any evangelical or charismatic church on a weekly basis. Even scarier is the fact that the vast majority of this number are quickly becoming senior citizens. In other words, there is a generation of young people who have totally given up on the church as we know it. read more

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The Attractional church

How to attract people who are ready to receive God’s Word



Is it possible to improve the environment of your church so that the seed of God’s Word has a better chance of growing? There is a movement of churches that believe so, and because of their ability to attract large numbers of people to their places of worship, these churches have been described as attractional. But is there biblical grounds for this model of ministry?

In the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus presents the results of seeds sown in different environments—different types of soil. Some soil was not conducive to growth, and the seed was either stolen away, produced little fruit or didn’t grow at all. In other words, the Word could not produce fruit in the wrong environment. It sounds close to heresy to say that God’s Word needs the right environment to be effective, but according to the parable, this is the case.  read more

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Honoring a General-Web

Prior to Billy Hornsby's death, friends and leaders from across the nation paid tribute to ARC's inspirational co-founder, president and spiritual father. We've gathered some of those tributes here to honor Billy and give you a sense of what a true spiritual general he was.

 


When I asked Billy Hornsby to serve as guest editor for the March/April issue of Ministry Today and share the amazing story of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), we had no idea he’d be battling for his life. I knew Billy was dealing with cancer, but he’d made it sound as if it wasn’t too bad. Sadly, since the time the articles were assigned and turned in to us, the cancer became so aggressive it affected his everyday functioning.  

In February the ARC’s senior leaders recognized this and gathered in Birmingham, Ala., to pay tribute to Billy’s leadership and to bid him farewell. Rick Bezet, who was featured on the cover of Ministry Today last summer, was one of those. He told me that Billy not only taught them how to live, but also showed them how to die: “He’s shown us how enormous the peace of God is when facing death. I’ve never seen anyone so ‘on’—so totally connected to the voice of God.”

I was honored to visit Billy at his home in Birmingham, Ala., during his last days. Billy was the sort of man you felt was one of your best friends even if you hadn't known him long. I published one of his books a few years back but didn’t get to know him well until a year ago. He told me he approached every relationship as if he would be a friend for life. He certainly treated me that way, and every time I was with Billy—whether in person or on the phone—I came away feeling better.

Billy’s heart for church planting and his vision made the ARC take off. He challenged Greg Surratt on a golf course to create a model of churches that would emphasize life, draw others and grow. Surratt agreed to help him, and the first two churches they planted were New Life Church in Conway, Ark., and Church of the Highlands in Birmingham. Within a decade each had been recognized as the fastest-growing congregation in the country.

The day after Christmas Billy taught on “Struggling Well,” giving hope and encouragement to others. A few weeks later he gathered the ARC leaders and told them to keep their relationships strong and to continue the work he started. One by one they embraced him and thanked him for believing in them. Billy described this period to me as “the best two weeks of my life.”

Billy's gift of establishing strong relationships and peer accountability is badly needed in the church. He raised up good leaders and undoubtedly the ARC will continue to grow and prosper. Part of that is because Billy always believed in people. In fact, Rick Bezet told me that one of Billy’s parting words to the ARC leaders was, “Make sure you believe in someone no one believes in.”

As we pay tribute to a general in the church-planting movement, I'm sad for our loss, yet I celebrate the legacy Billy left behind that's found in the countless people he believed in to do great things for God.  

Steve Strang

Founder/Publisher, Charisma and Ministry Today


f-Strang-HonorGeneral-ScottHornsbyMy name is Scott Hornsby, and I’m Billy Hornsby’s brother. Billy and I are 14 months apart and have shared one of the most remarkable friendships you can have—not just as family, but also for almost 40 years as brothers in the Lord and more than 30 years as fellow ministers. 

Any ministry relationship is vital, but to walk through our callings together has been so special. We’ve had each other’s support through the good and difficult times of our lives. I always knew I had someone in my corner and because of that, when I was down, I felt like getting up again.

Billy’s life has always been an inspiration to me because I saw in his life a burden to help the underdog. When no one else would believe in a person with limited abilities, Billy saw a spark of greatness in that person and helped ignite that spark into a blazing fire. 

I believe one of the greatest compliments you can give someone you grew up with is respect. I’ve seen my brother Billy used by God as a great husband, father, brother, church planter, pastor, missionary, songwriter, author and president of one of the greatest church- planting organizations in the world. He ordained me, he’s one of my presbyters and he is my best friend. Billy has inspired me to be better, reach higher, love unconditionally, give more and never give up.

To the best brother a man could have! Thanks, Billy.

Scott Hornsby 

Senior Pastor, Fellowship Church

Zachary, La.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-GregSurrattBilly Hornsby is someone God brought into my life at just the right time to encourage me to be and achieve something I thought I couldn’t do on my own. 

About 10 years ago I had a dream to plant 2,000 churches in my lifetime. I had been a part of planting four churches, including the one I’m still in, Seacoast Church. And of the other three churches, two of them failed miserably. At about that time God brought this bigger-than-life, bald-headed Cajun into my life, named Billy Hornsby, and it changed my life forever. 

I’ve learned from Billy the value of a friend. I’ve always longed for the type of friendship I’ve read about in the Bible—David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy. Billy has been that kind of friend to me. He looked me in the eye over and over again and told me he loved me. It was uncomfortable for me at first, but Billy pressed in, and I desperately needed that. He even made me an honorary Cajun!

His Billyisms on relationships stick with you; like, the four words that diffuse anger in any relationship: “You might be right.” There are others: “Let your subordinates shine”; “When you back someone into a corner let them out”; “Add value to every person you have responsibility for or a relationship with”; and “Don’t ask a fat person if they’ve lost weight, because they haven’t!”

I’ve also learned from Billy the value of having our treasure in heaven. I heard Billy say many times when he was thinking about life decisions or trying to convince the ARC board why we should believe in a church planter who was struggling somewhere: “Why would we leave all we know for something that we’re unsure of? Because we live our lives these days for treasures in heaven.” 

I saw Billy live that. I often think I need to get a bracelet that says WWBD—What Would Billy Do?—because I want to be like him. I’m proud to say, more than anything else, that Billy Hornsby is my friend.  

Greg Surratt

Lead Pastor, Seacoast Church

Mount Pleasant, S.C.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-DinoRizzoIt has been a blessing to have some truly great men impact my life. But when I met Billy Hornsby about 11 years ago, he brought a whole new dimension of mentoring to the table. 

He is for me a big brother who has lived so much already. He has lived out just about every type of relationship scenario one can live, and as a result he has a deep well of wisdom when it comes to being a peacemaker—navigating and diffusing relationship challenges. 

He truly is a peacemaker. I’m thankful he took the time to invest in me to teach me from those strengths he was so rich with.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

Dino Rizzo

Lead Pastor, Healing Place Church

Baton Rouge, La.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-RickBezetBilly has always been a strong man, physically and spiritually. When he came on staff at the church where I worked, all of the younger pastors wanted to be near him because of his enthusiasm and commitment to Christ. His house was always the favorite destination, for many reasons. We loved the fact that if he were to see a fault in any of us, he would confront it head-on and tell us that any unresolved problem in our lives would inevitably affect our ministry. 

Lately, as members of the ARC have gathered around him, he has continued to challenge all of us to remain unified and clean. There has not been even a hint of division between the members, and he keeps telling us that humility will keep it that way. Most importantly, he said: “Always believe in the person nobody else believes in. Even if it takes breaking your own rules, then believe in them anyway.” 

It is because of Billy’s values and strength that we have been able to accomplish what we have done. And that is why so many people love him.

“Love ... bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:6-7).

Rick Bezet

Lead Pastor, New Life Church

Conway, Ark.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-MattKellerIn February of 2003, I had my first experience with Billy Hornsby and it vastly changed the trajectory of my life and ministry forever. Up until then I had been a struggling church planter who had felt pushed out of the current circle of relationships I had been raised in.

Billy Hornsby saw potential in me and believed in the dream that God had placed inside of our hearts for Fort Myers, Fla. After Billy came and spent a weekend encouraging our leadership team, I’ll never forget saying to them, “I really think he believes in us!” From that day forward, everything changed for Next Level Church. We finally knew we weren’t alone, and there’s no better feeling than that.

Billy Hornsby believed in me when we weren’t sure anyone else did. I know my story is multiplied hundreds of times over in other pastors and leaders in the body of Christ today as well.

Thank you, Billy Hornsby, for seeing what I was having a hard time seeing in myself.

Matt Keller

Lead Pastor, Next Level Church

Fort Myers, Fla. 

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-CoreyWilliamsWhen I think of Pastor Billy, I think of someone who is dedicated to the call of God on his life, both in season and out of season. I see a man who is dedicated to his ministry, dedicated to his family and dedicated to life. 

Pastor Billy, thank you for being my pastor, my mentor and my friend. Thank you for allowing me in your home, to witness firsthand the extent of your commitment to Mrs. Charlene as she battled her own illness, to watch you tend to her needs, considering your own battle was amazing and somewhat divine. Thank you for taking the time to see something in us and picking up this flicker and breathing on it until we became a flame. You are my David, my Joshua, my Moses, my Paul! Truly you are one of God’s generals.

Corey Williams

Lead Pastor, Life in the Spirit Church

Jacksonville, Fla.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-JoeChampionOf all the people I’ve been impacted by, no one has meant more than Billy Hornsby. It was 2002 in Memphis, Tenn., where Billy shared with us the principles of the ARC. And from that day forward, our church has not stopped growing. To Billy Hornsby: Thank you. To your life, to your heart, to your spirit, I’m forever indebted to you.

Joe Champion

Senior Pastor, Celebration Church

Austin, Texas

 

 

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-JohnSiebelingI’m so thankful for the impact that Billy Hornsby has had on my life. His vision to make a difference in this world and his incredible leadership gift have helped so many of us live, think and lead at a higher level. In watching Billy live his life, I’ve seen an amazing example of what it means to lead people. His genuine love for people and passion for family are hallmarks of Billy’s life. There’s simply no way to measure the number of lives that have been impacted through Billy’s Hornsby’s life and ministry. 

Billy, thank you for your passion, your encouragement and your commitment to living a life of integrity. All of these qualities and so many more have touched my life in a deep way. You have paved the way for so many people, and our lives are better, richer and stronger because of you.

John Siebeling

Lead Pastor, The Life Church

Cordova, Tenn.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-CaseyHenaganI have known Billy Hornsby for 20 years, and it has been an honor and a privilege. He’s been an incredible influence in my life and ministry. One of the attributes I admire most about Billy is that he’s not afraid to tell you the 10 percent—that small portion of hard truth that can change your life, if you’re willing to listen. 

Even with his tough exterior, you quickly learn that he’s one of your biggest fans. He has a keen ability to help you see great things in you. He’s walked with me through two of my most challenging moments: the deaths of my child and my mother. Likewise, he’s celebrated some of my life’s greatest victories, one being the planting of Keypoint Church six years ago. His influence gave me courage to take such a giant leap of faith. If I’ve done anything noteworthy, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of great men like Billy Hornsby.

Casey Henagan

Lead Pastor, Keypoint Church

Bentonville, Ark.

 

f-Strang-HonorGeneral-TonySheryllAshmoreSheryll and I were in our car on the way to a beach break, listening to a CD someone gave us. We were several months into our third church plant and were soaking up anything we could find that would help us be better pastors and leaders. As we listened to the simple thoughts being presented on the CD, we both came to the same conclusion at the same time: We needed this man in our life. 

A few weeks later we walked up to Billy Hornsby at an ARC roundtable in Birmingham, Ala., and told him, “We need you to be our friend.” The following Sunday he was in our church sharing his simple thoughts about doing church.

Billy means it when he says he is your friend. The day he said that to us, our lives changed. Our church is stronger and we are better pastors because of that friendship. There is a rare group of people you meet along the way in your journey who just make you better because they are around. The body of Christ is stronger, safer and more secure because Billy and Charlene Hornsby are part of it.   

Tony and Sheryll Ashmore

Pastors, LifeGate Church

Villa Rica, Ga. read more

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To the Jew First

Why God’s order for world evangelism prioritizes sharing the gospel with Jewish people First


 

When I think about the impact of the church’s ministry around the world—how believers are joining arms to share the love and gospel of Jesus Christ with others—I’m thankful that the call on the church is so much greater than the challenge. Our God-given commission to help the nations can often feel daunting and sometimes even overwhelming. 

That’s because we’re trying to reach people with the message of God’s love while they’re hungry, hurt and oppressed. It’s not enough to simply talk to them. In many countries, people are just trying to survive without the basic necessities of life.  read more

The Perfect Model of Integrity

When I turned 50, my staff surprised me with a set of golf clubs. After numerous golfing trips "plow-ing up the course," I resorted to watching videos. My game immediately improved when I learned how to deliver the perfect swing from pros. Hours of written "tips" could not compare to watching master golfers at work.


I heard a funny story about a Bible college professor who would sling his thick hair backward with a swoop when-ever he made a strong point in his preaching.


Ironically, years later his students were also "slinging their hair." Someone discovered that even a student who was bald was slinging his head!


What makes people do what they see and not what they hear?


While traveling through Greece and Turkey for 17 days in 2009, I was struck by Paul's apostolic method of "father-ing." He had no Bible school (not even Bibles!), sermon series or buildings.


His method was to take about 18 young men from different backgrounds in the New Testament to be his traveling companions. His Christ-like example modeled his Christian life before them until they were his "dear sons," and then sent them as his envoys to plant, build and correct his churches.


The apostle Paul makes his intentions known in 2 Thessalonians 3:9, "We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow" (NIV). The model consisted of 10 parts, and focused on integrity, purity and example.

Integrity Matters
Integrity comes from the root word "integer" and means whole number. It is something that is whole with no parts missing or fractions. Integrity, then, is to be a whole, together, healthy person. In my interaction with spiritual leaders, I have seen the need for integrity in several major areas of ministry:


Finances-Surprised by this one? Don't be. Jesus used money more than any other metaphor to demonstrate faith-fulness. When money reaches our hands, we quickly demonstrate our true character just as Ananias and Sapphira, Judas, Gehazi and Achan did in the Bible. Here are a few principles to help lay out some "boundaries" for financial integrity:

  • Use designated funds for exactly the reason they were given or return them to the donor. Always pay bills when they are due, and don't use "cash management" procedures.

  • Maintain a correct church budget at all times. Start with missions at 10 percent, keep salaries at 20 percent to 40 percent; never let money allocated for buildings exceed 35 percent, and an adequate savings should fall between 5 percent and 10 percent.

  • Don't go into business with church members. This changes the pastoral relationship from "overseer" to "money-making partner."

  • Offer fair, not exorbitant salaries. A compensation committee should determine the pastor's salary, and any other member of his family or controlling party.

  • Don't pressure people for finances. This will help you maintain an atmosphere of liberty in ministry. Building pro-jects should be congregation-driven instead of pastor-driven. After all, they are the ones who need the building, not you!

  • Keep financial statements of expenditures. A financial statement actually helps your church as congregants sense accountability and see the true cost of running the ministry.


Commitments—Simply put, keep your promises. My grandfather could borrow money in the 1930s on a handshake because men back then valued their word more than anything else. We must be "men of our word," keeping our com-mitments both locally and internationally.


Announcements—What you say from the pulpit should be "the law of the Medes and Persians." If you constantly alter your word given to the congregation, congregants develop internal questioning about every new piece of direction.


Travel engagements—Frivolous cancelations and no-shows can be devastating to others. There was a pastor in Ni-geria who took 15 different buses to cross Africa to attend a conference in Kenya. When he walked up to the venue, a sign on the door said, "Canceled." It was easy for the American evangelist, but the Nigerian leader wasted one month of his time.


Honesty—Be 100 percent truthful, not 99 percent. Every detail of facts, stories and testimonies must line up with a "court of law" testimony. No wonder they make you swear to tell the "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth"! Humans have found so many ways to stretch the truth, leave out part of the truth and mix the truth.


Exaggeration is unnecessary. Do we think we have to promote, embellish and market God's image?


Spinning the truth (covering the raw reality of an action) leads the congregation to treat every explanation with sus-picion. Get over it and tell them the truth. The embarrassment will be momentary but the recovery will be permanent.

Purity Is Possible
Moral purity, which means to be faithful to a spouse for a lifetime, has become almost unusual in political, athletic, entertainment and now ministerial arenas. Almost weekly, there is a new revelation of an escapade involving a female or male leader.


Satan has used immorality more than any other vice to destroy the integrity and reputation of the Spirit-filled move-ment, beginning in the late 1980s.


It's an all-out war. The days of feeling that any of us are bullet proof are over. Internet pornography and texting have brought the average leader into the arena of moral temptation as never before.


Samson's parents warned him not to touch the grape, touch the dead and not to cut his hair. It's interesting that he killed a lion in a vineyard. But what was he doing there? He took honey from the carcass or dead body of a lion. It therefore became easy to violate the third and last command when he lay his head in Delilah's lap and she cut his hair.


The point: Simple violations of spiritual protocol lead to deadly results. To avoid moral failure, consider James Dob-son's five stages of adultery and stop before you find yourself engaged in the following:


A look: This was David's initial problem. It's a "connected stare" into the eyes of someone to whom you are not married.


A touch: Physical contact, no matter how slight, can lead to a physical relationship


An embrace: Now the relationship is moving rapidly.


A kiss: This is the fuse that lights immorality.


The act: You commit the ultimate act of unfaithfulness.


Put an Internet filter, such as Integrity Online on your computer, phone and every source of online material. Internet porn marketers sit around all day figuring out how to ensnare you with the latest technology. Your filter must be bullet proof and the password known only to your wife or IT Director. Follow these guidelines to defend yourself against sexual immorality:

  • Never be alone with the opposite sex. This means no lunches, travel and even counseling. I use female staff members to counsel women.

  • Always be accountable for your whereabouts. Your wife should know your schedule intimately and you should never show up across town from where she thought you were going.

  • Travel with a partner. Paul had Silas, Jesus sent them out "two-by-two," and you also need a travel partner.

  • Never allow a woman to share her feelings with you. This is usually a first step to adultery.

  • Block all soft porn mailings to your local post office. A simple signature on a form will keep you and your children safe from pornographic mailings.

  • Block channels that air explicit, sexual programs such as MTV. All cable companies have parent blocks. This should be done not only for you, but also for your children who are now bombarded with pornography at younger and younger ages.

  • Take sexual problems seriously. The best defense is a good offense. Counsel with an overseer if your sexual life is dysfunctional.

  • Beware of R-rated TV shows you watch when your family goes to bed. Most temptation occurs after church when you are the most anointed! You are the target of specific marketing at night, so go to bed when your family does, if necessary.

Be the Example
The third part of the model is your example. There are leadership habits you can demonstrate and others will emu-late and follow. Paul called them "my ways." Here are a few I have tried to demonstrate through the years:


1. Order—God is not the author of confusion. He transformed the multitude into a military at Mt. Sinai. Here are a few things you can check to keep your surroundings in shape:

  • Home Environment: Maintain your lawn, closets, garages and cars. People observe the areas because only an or-ganized mind can produce an orderly environment.

  • Time Management: Punctuality speaks of organized time in services, appointments and commitments

  • Attire: Sloppiness does not reflect good leadership. How would you react to a sloppy president addressing the nation?

  • Work Ethic: Spiritual leaders often take liberties in their daily schedules and output. Refuse the temptation of laziness by being an example to your staff of the hours you put in and the productivity you put out.


2. Courtesy—Believe it or not, the community knows your private side, so watch your example in everyday areas of life such as the checkout line. Those who you are trying to influence note belligerence to a clerk or impatience. Take your time and wait it out.


We would all love to abandon our buggy in Walmart parking lots, but putting it where it belongs is an example to watching eyes. And preaching like an "angel out of heaven" in church then driving like a "bat out of hell" to get home is also observed by your neighbors.


3. Family—Paul spoke of the example family as the main criteria for ministry. This, of course, involves your chil-dren's behavior. In church, after church, in restaurants and at school, everyone is watching your children. They will never be perfect, but they should be accountable and corrected. I know a pastor who has 10 sons and they all behave well at restaurants. That should make you feel better!


And honoring you wife is vital. It not only validates your witness, but it also gets your prayers answered. Walk with her, not in front of her, waving to the adoring masses! Open the exit door and even car door for her. You need to real-ize that at least half (and maybe two-thirds) of your church is female, and they notice your interest and concern for your wife's place in the congregation. Your sons, by the way, will treat their wives the way they observe you treating yours.


These are just a few areas of the model. No wonder the apostle Paul could influence his entire generation, billions down through the ages and millions today with his simple lifestyle.


You may not be pastoring thousands, but if your life is a model for others, your stock is rising! Paul told Timothy, "Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4: 12). And John Max-well says, "Be as big a man on the inside as you are on the outside."


Let's rebuild ministry in the United States to once again be as respectable as Billy Graham and his Modesto Mani-festo. A generation is watching, and this is your moment.

Larry Stockstill is the senior pastor of Bethany Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., and the author of The Remnant. read more


Virtually Equipped

With community needs rising in economically tough times, many pastors find themselves unequipped and unprepared for dire situations. Here’s how online education can change that anytime, anywhere.

 

Job losses and tanking stock portfolios. Mortgage crises, foreclosures and mounting bills. Divorces, addictions, affairs and other scandals. What used to be a staple only in news headlines and tabloid magazines made its way into almost every church this past year, as congregants and communities alike struggled with an unraveling culture. Pastors across the nation found themselves face to face with a surging tsunami of needs, to which they responded and continue to respond.

In the process, however, many church leaders discovered an equally pressing need for them to be educated, equipped and trained. A growing number are realizing the important role that practical, applicable knowledge plays when combined with Holy Spirit impartation and raw life experience.

Enter online education. An anomaly only a few years ago, it is now an essential for every Bible college, seminary, university and theological institute. And that’s great news for pastors who don’t have the option of putting life on hold to pursue a degree on campus. Online education can offer the perfect solution for “on the go” lifelong learning. But since not all distance-learning programs are created equal, here are a few things to consider when deciding where to go for your schooling.

Accredited vs. Unaccredited
Accreditation is the license given to religious vocational schools by the federal government and some states permitting them to grant degrees and diplomas. To be accredited, a school must be approved by an accrediting agency within CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). These agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. To find out if the school you’re interested in is accredited, visit chea.org.

Unaccredited schools may be licensed in some states to offer religious vocational degrees, certificates and/or diplomas. All of them should be able to report to you in writing the licensing or religious-exemption relation they have with your state. This way, you can be certain your school complies with state laws and regulations through your state’s department of education.

What are the major differences between accredited and unaccredited? Accredited schools can provide federal financial aid, academically trained faculty, extensive library and research facilities, and accurate measures for student grading and transcripts, recording both student performance and hours earned that can be recognized by other accredited schools.

Accredited programs of study are more rigorous than unaccredited ones. They require more online “classroom” hours, and some involve more direct interaction. Of course, papers, assignments, tests and semester schedules are a part of accredited online distance education. Bachelor’s through M.Div. (Master of Divinity) degrees can be pursued online, but accredited D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) programs all require some on-site or on-campus instruction.

Unaccredited education is usually less demanding and costly, easier to complete in a short time and more accessible to large groups of people. It’s a great option for pastors who want skill training or spiritual impartation from leaders whose ministries they value. It’s also a step up from most church curriculum.

There are a few negatives to going this route, however. You can’t use what you have earned for future study in an accredited institution or on your résumé as part of your job application. If the school doesn’t have proper state licensing or exemption, then what you have received may be illegal.

Deciding Factors

Whether you opt for accredited or unaccredited, consider these factors:

  • School leadership. Is the current president a person of integrity? Is he or she highly esteemed by peers in ministry?
  • Courses or curriculum. Do classes use streaming video, downloadable videos, live feeds or video conferencing? If so, what are the technical requirements (e.g., DSL vs. cable, webcam)? Do courses include resources such as syllabi, bibliographies, textbooks and student note-taking guides?
  • Faculty. Who are the instructors and what are their credentials? Are they Spirit-filled? Is there a standing faculty available to teach live courses?
  • Costs. What is the cost per course, seminar or program of study? Are videos, audio files, DVDs, CDs, texts or supplemental course materials included? What is the total investment you must make to earn a particular certificate, diploma or degree?
  • Licensing. Is the school required to be registered in your state? An unaccredited school may be properly licensed in the state in which it is chartered—but not in your state. Before enrolling, have the school confirm its status in writing.
  • Degrees, diplomas and certificates. What transcripts are kept? Are tests given and grades recorded? How many hours, credits, units or courses need to be taken to earn a particular diploma? The more comprehensive the record-keeping and the more your performance is measured (tests, papers, grades), the better your future opportunities will be to have your work considered by accredited schools.
  • Long-term value. What’s cheaply earned isn’t worth much. Saving money and time isn’t always the best course. Stay away from those unsolicited e-mails promising you a quick route to a degree.

FAQs
Here are three popular questions about online ministry education:

1. Can unaccredited academic studies or life experience be counted in my application for a degree program at an accredited institution? All accredited institutions have some policies for considering unaccredited work for “advanced academic standing.” Each institution has a set policy regarding advanced standing that has been worked out with its accreditation provider. Ask the question while you are in the process of applying. Some pastors never consider that their documented ministry or work experience may be considered for advanced standing at the graduate level.

Note: Don’t call a school’s administrative office and ask if “such and such” can count for credits. You must apply, and everything must be in writing, before a school will determine your academic standing.

2. Do I have to take Greek and Hebrew? Most accredited M.Div. programs require original-language study. Greek and/or Hebrew opens up wonderful revelation in Scripture. It’s worth the effort, cost and time.

3. Is financial aid available? Yes. Accredited schools have federal loans and grants available for undergraduate and some graduate programs. The financial aid officer can tell you how to apply.

As a pastor, lifelong learning and continuing your education isn’t an option but an obligation to those you serve. Even when it’s done online, systematic study can reap a wonderful harvest of truth and practical ministry tools for equipping both you and those you lead.  read more

Reframing Discipleship

How the organic church makes followers of Jesus

Although discipleship is a hot-button issue right now, there’s nothing new about it. Historically, the emphasis placed on this fundamental part of the Christian walk has moved in waves.

The word discipleship took on new popularity after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship was published in English in 1948. Parachurch organizations began to emphasize “making disciples” rather than just converting souls. Thus modern discipleship programs were born. But soon people began to see these programs as legalistic. Young believers eventually burned out from the rote and rigors of regimented prayer, Bible study, confession of sins and weekly witnessing. What began as an exciting prospect turned into religious duty and drudgery. Accusations of lukewarmness arose, fueling the perception of legalism.

On the heels of this came a shift toward extreme grace that infiltrated the early days of the Jesus movement. This reaction bred a segment of Christendom who swung the pendulum of legalism to the other side and were highly undisciplined and morally lax.

The “discipleship/shepherding” movement’s emergence in the early ’70s sought to correct this problem of “greasy grace” by swinging the pendulum back to the earlier ways of discipling young Christians. This time, however, it added a line of theology built on a stringent view of submission to authority. The result wasn’t pretty. Many lives were devastated by top-heavy, high-handed, authoritarian leaders who wielded power and control under the banner of “submission to authority.”

Almost 40 years later, today’s youth know little about these earlier movements nor the roots of modern “discipleship.” In fact, that term has taken on another wind. Yet history and its cyclical patterns teach us this sober lesson: Whenever Christian leaders observe a waning in the faith commitment of young believers, they assume that the antidote is “discipleship” as a method and program.

 

A Modern ‘Reframe-ation’

For the last two decades I’ve been involved in the organic church phenomenon that’s sweeping across the world. I wrote extensively on organic church life in my book Reimagining Church, but here’s a brief overview:

Organic churches meet much like the New Testament assembly did. They have no clergy or professional pastors and typically don’t own a building. They often meet in homes or occasionally in rented spaces. The members participate in all of the church’s decisions. In corporate meetings, every member is active, functioning according to his gifts. Leadership is present, but it doesn’t dominate, control or usurp, and it is exercised by everyone in the church.

Members know each other deeply and live a shared life in Christ. This authentic community is one of the hallmarks of organic churches. Yet perhaps their most outstanding feature is the emphasis on the indwelling Christ and the belief that Jesus is the only head of His church. This belief isn’t simply a theological proposition; it’s the practical experience of all authentic organic churches.

One of the most striking observations I’ve made over the last 21 years is how disciple-making operates in an organic church compared to a more traditional/institutional church. Those who stress the importance of discipleship today take their cue from Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Yet a significant follow-up question to that commission is rarely asked—namely, how did the 12 make disciples? The answer is telling.

The 12 didn’t set up discipleship classes or programs. They didn’t put one Christian above another in a hierarchical chain of command. They didn’t create accountability groups or unmovable regiments for observing spiritual disciplines. Instead, they planted vibrant Christian communities all across Palestine. Likewise, Paul of Tarsus made disciples by planting Christian communities throughout the gentile world. To the early believers, Christian community was the only discipleship “program” that existed, and it was sufficient.

My point: The way the 12 made disciples was the same way Jesus made disciples. To wit, Jesus lived with a group of men and women for three and a half years. During that time, they shared their lives together under the headship of Christ. Jesus, the 12 and some women all experienced authentic community with Jesus as the center of their community life.

In the same way, the men whom Jesus commissioned planted authentic Christian communities all across the world, and within such communities, disciples were naturally made. Those communities were organic rather than institutional.

 

Organic Disciple-Making

It’s impossible to separate the ekklesia from Jesus Christ; it’s His very body. And according to the New Testament, you can’t separate discipleship from the ekklesia any more than you can separate childrearing from the family. In organic churches today, each member becomes “discipled” simply by being part of the shared-life community. Here are some of the features of organic church life that explain how this occurs:

1. Spiritual formation is tied to knowing Christ deeply with others. Organic church life doesn’t include religious duty, programs and methods. The focus is on knowing Jesus. Organic churches recognize that Christ is alive and can be known profoundly. They understand God’s goal is to “form Christ” within the believing community (see Gal. 4:19).

Extra-local church planters give organic churches a rich revelation of Jesus through their spoken ministry. They also offer members practical ways of knowing Him—both individually and corporately. Because of this, members often pursue the Lord together during the week. Knowing Christ together is a large part of their shared life.

2. Spiritual growth occurs naturally in the context of Christian community. The responsibility for discipleship doesn’t rest on the individual in the organic church. Spiritual growth isn’t an individual pursuit. Organic churches by definition are shared-life communities. Members are intimately involved in one another’s lives. Hence, they seek the Lord together during the week, often in pairs or threes. They use Scripture together, not as a means to gain academic knowledge or sermon material, but as a means to learn Christ and fellowship with Him in the Spirit.

Organic churches understand that Christians are “new creatures.” Every creature or species has a unique habitat. When a species is removed from its native habitat, it either dies or some of its natural functions turn dormant. As new creatures in Christ, Christans have a native habitat: the ekklesia—a shared-life community that gathers by, to, through and for the Lord Jesus. Spiritual growth occurs when God’s people live in their native habitat. And that’s exactly what authentic organic churches afford.

3. Transformation takes place by the every-member functioning of the body in regular corporate meetings. Organic churches do not have the typical Sunday morning order of worship in which a minister preaches a monologue to a passive congregation. Instead, their meetings are marked by open participation. Every member functions and shares. He plans with others as a group, prepares in private and then brings something wonderful of Christ to share with everyone else. In an organic church, corporate meetings are the place to give rather than to simply receive (see 1 Cor. 14:26).

It’s easy to assume these meetings would be chaotic. But extra-local church planters equip organic churches to prepare and share the Lord in meetings that are “done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). The result is an unveiling of Christ as He is “assembled” by members of the body in a visible way.

Mutual exhortation in regular Christian gatherings is a major key to spiritual growth (see Heb. 10:24-25). It’s written in the bloodstream of the universe: If you don’t function, you don’t grow. And if you don’t give, you don’t receive. Organic churches are strong on mutual exhortation and encouragement because everyone participates in the gatherings.

4. The marker for discipleship is living by an indwelling Lord rather than by trying to imitate His outward behavior. An organic church can be defined as a group of people learning to live by Christ together. Consider how our Lord lived while on earth: God the Father indwelt Jesus by the Holy Spirit; and Jesus lived by His indwelling Father.

After Jesus ascended, He came back to earth in the Spirit to take up residence in all who trust in Him (see John 14-16; Rom. 8:1-11). For this reason Paul calls Jesus a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Therefore, what the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and me. He’s our indwelling Lord. The Lord declared, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57). Paul later wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

Organic churches, therefore, do not strive to be like Jesus. That only leads to failure and frustration. Jesus Himself said that without the Father, He could do nothing (see John 5:19). Jesus then said to us, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (15:5). The members of an organic church are focused on learning how to live by the indwelling life of Christ. And therein lies what being a follower—a disciple—of Jesus is all about. It’s not about trying to imitate His outward actions. It’s about imitating how He lived His peerless life—by the indwelling life of God.

Essentially, discipleship boils down to learning how to live by Christ. Jesus’ followers live by the life of their Master, just as He lived by His Father’s life. This, in fact, is the taproot of organic church life.

The practical fruit of all of the above is simply amazing. The sense of guilt, condemnation and religious duty dissipates, eclipsed by a love affair with the Lord Jesus, where each member is secure in His unconditional, relentless love for him or her. That loves spills over to God, to one another and to the lost. Further, their chief passion in life is to know Christ and to express Him together with their brothers and sisters.

The organic church has no clergy; yet every member is a conduit of divine life and shares it with the rest of the body. The organic church has no discipleship programs; yet every member’s relationship is an outflow of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son through the Spirit. The organic church has no sacred buildings; yet each living room becomes the boundary between heaven and earth where God in Christ is encountered and expressed visibly.

This is the environment in which authentic discipleship takes place naturally and without effort.


Frank Viola is a conference speaker and author of numerous books, including his latest release, Finding Organic Church. For more information and free resources, visit his Web site at ptmin.org.

  read more

Sowing the Seeds of Generosity

Churches are discovering that generosity isn’t just an
essential component of discipleship, it’s an integral part of spiritual formation.

Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Texas, amazed its community earlier this year by passing the offering plates and encouraging people to take out money if they needed it. To everyone’s surprise, that day they had their largest offering ever.

Pastor Toby Slough explained the situation in an interview with Fox News: “I just sensed in the middle of this economy we had a lot of our members who were feeling guilty when the offering plate was passed. I wanted it to be a time of joy for them, so we told them if they had a need, they could take money out.”

As the concept gained momentum, the church was eventually able to bless people who were unemployed by paying their utility bills. “I’m excited to watch people in need receive because I know as they are blessed, they are going to become givers,” he said. Cross Timbers is one of many churches across the nation today using innovative ways to step up and address the financial needs of their members and their communities. But how does such generosity—blended with action—come about? We all know the benefits of giving, but actually creating a church culture in which giving is second nature can be difficult, particularly during these economically tough times. How can churches build into their members the value that true discipleship includes the oft-neglected aspect of being a generous giver?

Preaching to Give

Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., says the teaching team at his church talks about generosity not because of what they can get from their people, but because of what they want for their people. A similar paradigm shift is occurring in the leadership of countless churches, and it’s resulting in a renewed understanding of discipleship.

“A lot of pastors today are seeing stewardship as an essential part of the spiritual formation of their congregation,” says Chris Willard, director of the Generous Churches Leadership Community at Dallas-based Leadership Network. “They’re teaching about money because they understand that the way we deal with our God-given resources says a lot about our discipleship. It used to be that pastors only talked about money when they needed to raise money. Now they’re talking about it because it’s an important part of spiritual formation. That means they have to talk about giving more than before. And talking about it more builds it more naturally into the flow of the church so people don’t get that there-he-goes-again feeling.”

Indeed, setting the stage for a culture of generosity usually begins onstage with pastors preaching and teaching on the subject. That’s the case at Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, where preaching about giving isn’t unusual since it’s a core value of the church. “We call people to be generous,” says the church’s administrative pastor, Jeff Abshire. “We lead people in the countercultural message of generosity for the sake of the kingdom.”

For example, Antioch’s senior pastor recently preached a sermon from Acts 2 on sharing common resources. At the end of the sermon he summoned everyone in the congregation who had a financial need to come up front, and for the rest of the people to ask God how He wanted them to meet those needs. As people began to pray, many felt led to come forward and offer money directly. One woman was given $20 but only needed $10, so she gave the remaining $10 to someone else. The day became known as “Keep the Money Moving Sunday.”

Other churches have developed a giving culture by first delving into why its members weren’t naturally generous. Executive Pastor Mark Davis of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale in Florida says the wake-up call came for his church when they launched a capital campaign that received a lukewarm response. “We realized something very crucial: Our people hadn’t been taught how to give,” he says. “We discovered that our body was not well-informed or educated. We realized we needed to challenge people in all areas of stewardship.”

As the church leaders looked into what the Bible says about giving and what other churches were doing to educate their people, their thinking began to change. “We had been looking at giving as a practice, but we began to view it as a lifestyle,” Davis says.

Caught From the Top-Down

Pastors can wax eloquent from the platform about stewardship, yet if they want to see a genuine shift in congregants making generous giving a lifestyle, they must first evaluate their own lives.

“Generosity starts with our elders and then moves through our staff,” says Neal Joseph, former executive pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tenn. “That way we set it into the DNA of our church. Generosity is a shared responsibility. ”

Bruce Mazzare, a lay leader at Antioch Community Church, says one of the keys to his church’s success in discipleship is an understanding among leadership that generosity “is not taught—it’s caught. Our leadership lives simply, which has made a profound impact on our people. ”

This top-down philosophy is modeled increasingly by forward-thinking churches. People learn by example, so when leaders live and give generously, people learn to act the same way.

At Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, leaders model a generous life by giving up their salaries during months of special giving. “Generosity is a value that is modeled at the top level. It’s not just something we talk about,” says Gateway’s Associate Senior Pastor David Smith.

Radical giving started with Gateway’s senior pastor, Robert Morris, who writes in his book The Blessed Life about a time when he believed God told him to give away both his cars, his house and all the money in his bank account. “I remember thinking to myself, This time I’ve out-given the Lord!” Morris recalls. But soon after, God provided him with an airplane, hangar, fuel, maintenance, a pilot and traveling expenses. Says Morris: “As I stood there stammering and stunned, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord whisper in my spirit, ‘Gotcha.’”

Other pastors make it a regular practice to donate 20 percent of their time to causes outside their congregations. “That’s why it’s easy for our leaders to talk about it, because they’re doing it,” says Pastor Scott Ridout of Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz.

There’s a caveat to this “lead by example” approach to generosity, however: Because the mere mention of money can cause some people to instinctively question church leadership, pastors must realize that trust is often the most crucial ingredient in creating a culture of generosity. Pastor Dave Rodriguez discovered this truth at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Ind.

When the church was founded in 1991, money scandals so rocked the Christian world that Grace Church steered clear of mentioning money. But later Rodriguez realized they weren’t serving their people by avoiding the topic. Believing that giving is a vital part of discipleship, they hired staff in 2000, which led to the start of their “Faith and Finances” ministry.

“If people don’t trust the leaders of the church to spend the money under God’s direction, they won’t give generously,” he says. “Building trust sometimes involves periods of tremendous pain to show people that you are willing to sacrifice to do what God calls you to do.”

Discipling Generosity

Teaching on generosity starts at the front of the church, and establishing a culture of giving begins within those in leadership. But there’s an added dynamic when generous giving is viewed as an essential part of discipleship.

Jeanette Dickens of Mount Pisgah United Methodist in Alpharetta, Ga., explains, “We want to create a culture of generosity—a continual message of living in the fullness of Christ.”

Willard agrees, adding that teaching stewardship is different from asking for funds. “We need to ask, but we want people to live generously all the time, not just when prompted,” he says. “Part of what we want to do in the lives of our people is to disciple them in all areas. We want them to grow in their view that God owns all their stuff, and He wants us to use it in a way that honors Him.”

To further this discipleship aspect, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale not only teaches giving as part of its classes on spiritual gifts but also sends selected members to Generous Giving conferences and seminars sponsored by Crown Financial Ministries (see “Generosity Jumpstart”). Along with using prepared curricula from Crown or Financial Peace University, some churches develop their own discipleship programs.

Many churches target specific age or income groups with their discipleship programs. Central Christian Church of Henderson, Nev., teaches financial management to premarital couples, while other congregations work with seniors to integrate generosity and estate planning. At Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Mo., parents teach their kids about money through a parent-coaching ministry. Developed by a layperson in the church, the program disciples kids in biblical concepts of generosity and helps them start saving and tithing. Rather than receiving an allowance, kids do chores to earn a weekly “salary.”

At Gateway Church, teaching on stewardship is aimed at four income groups: (1) people in crisis; (2) people who need the basics; (3) people with healthy financial lives and (4) people who are wealthy. Financial Stewardship Pastor Gunnar Johnson says the third group is the most neglected. “These are typically 30-somethings with fairly disposable income. We want to help them grapple with the questions: How much is enough? Why has God given me this surplus?”

Celebrating Generosity

Most pastors agree that the best way to learn generosity is just to “do” it. People will rise to meet needs as they are given opportunities.

Joseph recalls a pivotal moment at Fellowship Bible Church: “On one Sunday morning we gave more than 2,000 pairs of shoes to people in Peru, Sudan, Mississippi and an African village. Our pastor took off his own shoes and asked for everyone to donate the shoes they had worn to church that day. It was a practical application of giving without worrying about tax receipts.”

And generous living must be celebrated. Generous Giving Executive Vice President Todd Harper stresses, “If pastors want their churches to grow in Christian generosity, they must learn to celebrate it by including it in the worship service, encouraging people when they give and inviting givers to share their giving testimonies with the church.

“Jesus talked about money from the perspective of its importance in relation to our heart, and that’s what we’re driving at,” Harper says. “We’re trying to invite people into a life of wholehearted surrender to Christ. Often, especially with the affluent, money is the primary competitor to lordship in their lives. But as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, you can’t serve both God and money.”

Willard adds: “The Bible makes a clear connection between the way people think about money and the way they think about God. Someone has said that you can tell a lot about a person’s spiritual life by looking at his checkbook. It may be an oversimplification, but it’s pretty true. As people learn to follow Christ, their pocketbooks come along.

“We don’t want to make people feel guilty about it,” he says, “but to invite them to experience the joy of generosity. That’s what captivates people’s hearts, when they experience that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

When it comes to discipleship, teachers sometimes learn the joy of generosity from their students. “We were on a mission trip in Moscow,” says Calvary Chapel’s Davis. “As we were loading the bus to go back to the airport, we told the kids they could either keep their leftover rubles as souvenirs or we could collect them and give them back to the church where we had worked.

“The kids scrambled frantically to gather all they could to put in the bucket. They realized their money was about to be worthless to them. I realized that that’s the way we should live every day—giving our money away as if it’s about to become worthless.”


Lois Swagerty is a freelance writer for Leadership Network (leadnet.org). She lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with her husband. read more

How OK Are Your PKs?

Don’t buy into the myth—pastors’ families can raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children

What do Marvin Gaye, Denzel Washington, Condoleezza Rice, Alice Cooper and Jessica Simpson have in common? If you know anything about their backgrounds, you can probably guess. They are all “PKs”—also known as “preacher’s kids.”

Often thrust into the limelight and weighed down with unreasonable expectations from an early age, PKs frequently struggle with unique challenges. Thankfully, most of them manage to become emotionally and spiritually healthy adults. However, it requires skill, insight and discernment to parent a PK and help him navigate the sometimes-rough waters of being the child of a minister.

The most important goal in raising a PK is to attend to his spiritual life. Ironically, parents in ministry, without realizing it, often fall into the trap of assuming that other people, including Bible-study or Sunday-school teachers, are passing on spiritual values to their children.

But cultivating a child’s spiritual growth is first and foremost a parent’s responsibility, not someone else’s. Praying for your children, talking through their doubts and questions, explaining the “whys” of your own church traditions and helping them mature in Christ is the heart of the exhortation to “bring them [your children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

As the old saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” Although we cannot pass on our salvation to our children, we must faithfully nurture them in their own walks with Christ.

During our child-raising years, certain sayings caught our attention and quickly became part of our parenting philosophy. We noticed that each saying reflected a valuable principle for both parent and child.

As our children grew and moved through the different stages of life, the sayings helped us remain focused on certain truths. They also related well to the PK’s world and his place in a ministerial culture. Maybe they will help you in raising your own PKs.

“Kids are people, too” (respect). When our daughter Wendy was 5 years old, I bought her a T-shirt that read, “Kids are people, too!” This little phrase was quickly incorporated into our family conversations (especially when she and her sister were protesting something). It reminded us that all healthy relationships must have respect as the cornerstone.

Respecting your child simply means that you give him the space to be an individual within the family. Every child is born with his own personalities, gifts, desires and interests. Each one is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Respecting who God made him to be as a person is fundamental in developing a healthy, lifelong relationship.

Yet the element of respect takes on an added dimension in the PK world. Ministry parents may need to be more protective than other parents regarding their child’s privacy. When ministers share family illustrations, it’s good for them to remember that their children may not appreciate having things about them told to the whole church. (My daughters gave me permission to use references to them in this article.) Additionally, it is the parents’ job to protect their children from well-meaning people who ask too many questions. And parents must never use a child as a negative illustration or demean or ridicule him in any way.

Respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships and crucial to the connection we make with our children—because kids are people too!

“Accidents will happen” (grace). Children make mistakes, as we all do. The Encarta Dictionary defines a mistake as “an incorrect act or decision, an error or a misunderstanding.” Distinguishing between childish carelessness or mistakes and willful disobedience is important during child-rearing years. We used the phrase “Accidents will happen!” on numerous occasions to convey to our children that a childish mistake could easily be corrected—with no sense of shame or parental anger.

There is a tension in every area of life regarding grace and the law, especially when correcting children. A biblical parenting philosophy, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and solid counsel, will help parents discern the right response to their child’s behavior. If we want our children to grow into men and women who know how to show grace to others, we must show it to them ourselves. And we certainly want them to give grace to us in the future.

A large part of our responsibility to our children involves discipline. We do not give “grace” to our kids in the sense of excusing their poor behavior. But grace involves training them, walking beside them and teaching them daily.

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul exhorts Christian parents to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.” The word training (Greek paideia) carries the idea of complete training and education of the child. Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “the cultivation of minds and morals.”

The second word of verse 4, admonition, is from the Greek nouthesia. This word relates to correction, admonition and exhortation. The challenge comes in consistently implementing teaching, training and appropriate punishment.

As we give grace to our children, they will learn to give grace to others. I have found that people will say things to the pastor’s wife that they don’t have the nerve to say to her husband. They will say things to the pastor’s kids that they don’t have the nerve to say to their mom. Helping children and young people navigate these issues with grace and humor is invaluable to a PK.

Laughing with them about the craziness of ministry life and refusing to take things too personally is an indirect way of giving grace. Being the recipient of God’s grace enables us to give it to others and teach our children to do the same. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:8, NASB).

“Proud to be your dad and mom” (self-esteem). “Proud to be your dad!” How many times has my husband written those words to his children in notes, birthday cards or e-mails? His standard closing illustrates another vital principle in raising emotionally healthy children—that it is the parents’ job to build their self-esteem and sense of security.

I believe that other than instructing a child regarding salvation and encouraging spiritual growth, building his self-esteem is one of the most vital things parents can to do to prepare him for an emotionally mature adulthood. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” This verse indicates a child’s built-in need for the parents’ attention and approval. I am convinced that if a child misses this element in early childhood, he will spend the rest of his life looking for it.

How parents relate to a child will determine how well-developed his sense of security is. A preschool teacher once told me that we should always tell our children we are proud of them, especially when they do something obedient, thoughtful or well. We should then add, “Aren’t you proud of yourself?” This provides the satisfaction of not only receiving approval from others but also feeling good about oneself.

Affirming children’s interests, gifts, efforts and behavior helps to establish a strong sense of self-worth. When a child hears a parent’s praise, a deep emotional need is satisfied that helps him become a secure adult, with a sense of self-respect and worth. The security he feels will be an underlying factor in every decision and relationship he has in the future.

PKs are especially vulnerable to feeling insecure. If they hear criticism of their parents and the church, they will likely take it personally. Unfortunately, they usually hear criticism directed toward them and their parents much more than other children do, and dealing with that criticism will require extra attention and communication. Look for other authority figures in the lives of your PKs, such as teachers, coaches or parents of friends, who will help provide the affirmation your children need.

“It takes so little to be above average” (excellence). Years ago I had the opportunity to attend one of Florence Littauer’s CLASSeminars on developing leadership and speaking skills. I came home with a little phrase that was quickly incorporated into our family life.

Florence spoke on the topic of her book It Takes so Little to Be Above Average. She challenged us to think above average, lead above average, care above average, pray above average and so on. Her premise was that most of the world settles for the mediocre in life. As Christians, motivated by our desire to serve God, we should pursue excellence in every area of our lives.

Aspiring to do all things in an above-average way is akin to “going the second mile,” as Jesus encouraged us to do (see Matt. 5:38-42). Paul refers to this principle when he describes Christian behavior as “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).

“It takes so little to be above average” soon became a mantra around our house. When preparing a report, project or something for church, we asked ourselves, “Is this above average? Have I have made an extra effort to do it well?” Whether others recognized our effort was not important. What was important was giving 100 percent.

This principle will serve anyone well throughout life. Whether it’s put to use while attending college, establishing a home, raising children, entering the workforce, showing hospitality, or anything else, learning to think “above average” pushes us toward excellence.

Colossians 3:23-24 says: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” If we want to work and live “as to the Lord,” then we will give it our all and encourage our children to do the same because we do everything we undertake in service to Him.

“Always remember ...” (unconditional love). When we were raising our children, we began repeating a phrase whenever we dropped them off somewhere or left them to go on a trip: “Always remember something: I love you very much.” Because children squirm when their parents express love for them in front of others, we began to use only the first part of the phrase, “Always remember.” Others may not have understood what our girls were supposed to “always remember,” but they certainly did. It was our code for “Don’t ever forget that we love you.”

The need for unconditional love is the most primary of human emotional needs. Children will inevitably do things that don’t please their parents, and those will need to be addressed. But poor behavior does not change the fact that we love them, accept them as they are and seek the best for them.

In Old Testament times God spoke through the voice of His prophet Isaiah, reminding Israel that He had not forgotten His people. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you,” He told them (Is. 49:15). What a stunning statement of love. God uses an illustration of one of the most powerful forces of nature—maternal love and care—to describe the intensity of His love for His people.

Of course He is asking a rhetorical question. It is unthinkable for a mother to forget her nursing baby. But God says that even if a mother did forget, He would never forget His chosen people. The relationship of God with Israel shows the ultimate in unconditional love. Though His people failed Him time and time again, He continued to forgive, discipline and draw them back to Himself. May God give us the grace to do the same with our own children.

Raising spiritually and emotionally healthy children takes wisdom, energy and a great deal of prayer. But your task will be easier if you include the principles of respect, grace, self-esteem, excellence and unconditional love in your training—no matter what sayings you use to incorporate them.


Susie Hawkins served as the director of women’s ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas and has 30 years’ experience as a minister’s wife. She is the author of From One Ministry Wife to Another and is married to O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. read more

Heretics @ Home?

Are house churches really more vulnerable to false doctrine? Let's remember our roots in the Reformation. read more

The Charismatic Invasion

Statistics prove that millions of Christians worldwide are leaving mainline denominations and adopting more charismatic/Pentecostal elements. How can a pastor help to guide these believers into a faith that’s both Spirit-filled and biblically grounded?

Most churches don’t take attendance and ask people where they come from when they first walk through their doors. If they did, they might be shocked and surprised to find that the rank-and-file charismatic church in America is no longer filled only with those who grew up in these kinds of churches. More and more our sanctuaries are being populated with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and the most recent newcomers—Catholics.

They are coming in large numbers in search of a God who’s real and a place where He’ll show up in a way they have never experienced before. They’ve found something genuine in our churches, something beyond just another great Bible-based sermon, and are sensing His presence as never before—and they can’t get enough.

But problems sometimes arise when these precious newcomers want to move from the pew to the service ranks, or from attendee to member or leader. Many of them get tripped up, cast off or disillusioned as they encounter the doctrine behind the movement—a doctrine that flies in the face of everything they’ve ever been taught or thought to be true about who God is and what He has to say about all the charismatic “stuff.”

It is critical that churches and church leaders be spiritually sensitive regarding these transplants because for some, there is more at stake than the loss of a great religious experience. Some have been baptized as babies or confirmed as children and believe their place in eternity is secure, yet they’ve never had a true salvation experience or asked the King of kings to come in and be their Savior and Lord.

So how do we help them? As I have studied this situation during the last several years I have found that there are two key issues that surface again and again. The first is salvation, and the second is anything related to the Spirit-filled life: baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, healing and even the lifting of hands in worship.

Salvation

The first issue, salvation, is the most important and pressing. It is possible for a person to love God, worship Him and in some sense look like a Christian, while never acknowledging God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Such a person is just as lost as the one who has never darkened the door of a church. You must interact with newcomers to find out where they are on their spiritual journeys: Ask the hard questions, explain and teach.

Listen to see if they use the name of Jesus or if they want to talk only about their love of God. Never forget that there is just one name given under heaven by which a man or woman can be saved, and that is “Jesus.”

There are two catch-points built into most churches: your membership process and your volunteer orientation or assimilation process. I realize that not all churches encourage membership, but hopefully all of us are doing some kind of screening and training of our volunteers and lay leaders.

These processes provide great opportunities to ask the harder questions about salvation and determine whether the most important decision they will ever need to make has been made. If it has not, then you will be able to ensure that they make it right then and there.

At our church we have a training session prior to our baptism services to be certain that the people understand what is about to happen and that they have actually experienced salvation. We have led so many people to Christ in the class that was to prepare them for baptism! And these were folks who had previously responded to altar calls.

Regarding altar calls, remember this: The power of the Holy Spirit can be strong over the life of a person, but so can emotion and anointed worship. They come to our altars desperately needing change. We must give them Jesus.

The Spirit-Filled Life

Now for the second issue: anything related to the Spirit-filled life. This issue often trips up the folks who come from churches or denominations where they have been taught the Word of God, or at least parts of it, and who love what they experience at your church but lose their way a bit when it comes to your doctrine.

Here are the topics with which some will struggle: a second baptism, tongues, healing and being slain in the Spirit. But if you take a minute and break down each one of these topics from the Scriptures, you can dispel many fears, questions and concerns people have about them.

And here is what I have found to be true more often than not: Those who we believe are so staunchly against these cornerstones of the charismatic or Pentecostal movement are not as opposed to them as you might think. They just need to see evidence for them in the Scriptures. When you show seeking believers many of the passages I am about to give you, they will often be seeing these for the first time in their Christian experience, and they will be blown away—or better yet, set free.

A second baptism. Most refer to this as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Others call it a second filling or second experience subsequent and in addition to salvation. The basic premise is that while the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us at salvation (we are the temple of the Holy Spirit), there is a second filling and anointing when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and fills us with power from on high.

Take the disciples, for example: They had walked with Christ and had all the knowledge and belief they would ever need for salvation. Yet Jesus told them to go and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1). On the day of Pentecost, they received this promised gift (see Acts 2), and afterward they went out and did many incredible things, as recorded in the remainder of the book of Acts.

Many other Scriptures make it clear that the Holy Spirit was given apart from salvation, and sometimes several days after salvation (see Acts 2:4; 8:14-25; 10:44; 15:8; 19:1-7). The most convincing passage for me is Acts 9, which details the conversion of Paul. Most Christians will agree that Paul’s conversion took place on the road to Damascus, yet Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Paul received the Holy Spirit days later at the laying on of hands by Ananias.

Tongues. There is perhaps no topic more controversial in the body of Christ than the subject of speaking in tongues. Why? There is probably no simple answer to that question, but the good news is that you do not need to provide a long-winded expository defense of tongues in the church. Simply take people to the description of what happened in the upper room in Acts 2, then show them Acts 10:44 and 19:1-7. Additionally, you can show them 1 Corinthians 14:2—or the clearest mandate I know for the gift of tongues: 1 Corinthians 12-13. You can end by showing them the verse that says, “Do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).

Healing. Most churchgoers believe that God has the ability to heal someone—after all, He is God. And most can testify of a time when someone they know was healed. They just have a hard time when they think a man or a woman is taking credit for being the healer. This issue is simple to resolve: Never take the credit, and never exalt a man or a woman. Talk about the gift and even the process, but always give the credit to God and you’ll see this objection fade away.

Slain in the Spirit. This manifestation definitely raises the skeptical eyebrow of the newcomer—not so much because people fall over backward, but because they can easily come to one conclusion: The person falling over is faking it. I have actually had a person from a non-charismatic denomination tell me that people are either faking it or a spirit other than God is causing it. Often their judgment is the result of having had hands laid on them and seeing nothing happen.

This is also an easy issue to resolve, but not without instruction, explanation and mentoring. Show the skeptic all the places in the Bible that are accounts of a person encountering an angel or the angel of the Lord, and they’ll see the result is nearly always the same, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament: The biblical character falls straight to the ground. So why would the result not be the same today when a person encounters the living God in the form of the Holy Spirit?

The Point of No Return

All the arguments mentioned above can be proved in one passage of Scripture. But first the setup: You will not find an evangelical from any denomination who does not believe and teach the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

But I have found many non-charismatic Christians who are shocked to find that there is a second version—a different telling by a different eyewitness to the same command—found in Mark 16:15:

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (emphasis added).

The bottom line is that we have to teach, being ever conscious that there are those in our midst who are seeing and experiencing things they have never seen or experienced themselves and have been led to believe are fake—nothing more than emotionalism. And we also have to remember that many of these precious folks have crossed over a line of no return. They have been disowned by family and friends just for associating with charismatics and Pentecostals, let alone for attending your church.

Just ask any former Catholic or Baptist believer. A president of a well-known mission agency once disclosed in a magazine interview that while he was on the mission field, he prayed in another tongue. A week later, the organization asked for his resignation.

Unless we simply do not care about bringing newcomers into our midst, and unless we have become so selfish that we actually enjoy considering ourselves better than the rest—more enlightened, or as possessing something that only a chosen few can have—then we must always teach, explain, mentor and show the scriptural reasons and mandates for who we are, what we are and why we do what we do. To do less borders on either naiveté or spiritual arrogance.

They will know we are Christians by our love, and they will know we are charismatics by our exercising of the gifts—but they will judge our character by our fruit. And remember: Gifts without the fruit and without the love—well, you know the rest of that passage.

We’ve had enough gongs and clanging symbols for one generation. Let’s be salt and light and tour guides into the world of the supernatural, knowing all the while that the supernatural God we serve loves all His children and desires for all of them to receive His gifts.


Rich Rogers is the campus pastor of Free Chapel Worship Center in Irvine, Calif. read more

Gleaning From the Fathers: Video

 

This "Conversation on Discipleship" is part of a series of conversations that gathered modern-day Christian pioneers Jack Hayford, Loren Cunningham, Henry Blackaby, Lloyd Ogilvie, John Perkins and Winkie Pratney in one place. For more videos from Conversations With Fathers of the Faith and to find out more about each leader, visit fathersofthefaith.com. read more

Praying From His Heart

Once renewal hit our church, everything began to change. One of my favorite things that happened during this time was that God began bringing so many of us into that deep, intimate place where we could truly experience His love. At times, many of us felt like His presence was so heavy on us and in us that we would never come out of it. I remember a friend called me one day and asked me if I would pray for her. She was in His presence, in that deep, far away place, and she needed to be released so that she could cook dinner for her family.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord oneday is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day (2 Peter 3:8).

So many people were being ushered into His presence during that season in our church. So many at that time were caught up into heaven, into that completeness. We began to hear the heartbeat of heaven. This depth of His presence was new for many. What we learned was that we were moving into true intercession. There was a mixture of love, joy and extreme heartbreak. This heartbreak that we would feel was from the extreme intense love that our Father had for His children all over the world. Like in the story of the prodigal son, we felt the Father missing them and longing for them to come back to Him and His love. Out of that longing , at the same time. We become, if I can redeem this word, "addicted" to His glorious presence.

Calling Forth His Desires

In these times I often "see" faces, places, and situations in my mind's eye. I often feel like God is showing me things that I need to think about and "brood over" in the way that a mother hen broods over her eggs. Genesis 1:1 says, "Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss" (The Message Bible). To be honest, most of the time when I am in this place, I just agree. I agree with the plans that God already has for people's lives, for regions, and for the earth. "Yes God." "Do that God." "Go there, Father." "That's amazing, Lord Jesus." When I pray this way, I feel as though I am praying from His heart. It is almost as though I am calling forth the very desires that are already in the heart of God, as though I am calling them into existence.

In those times, I feel as though I become the very "womb of God." "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:38). The words innermost being come from the word, koilia, which means "womb."  We are the womb of God. In our intercessions, we are creating and birthing the things of heaven. We carry the life of the kingdom within us. It will flow out of us in our intercessions.

No Agendas Required

When any of us go into God's presence, when we tap into the realm of heaven, we position ourselves to receive great breakthrough. One of the things that we need to be careful about is not going before God with our own agendas. Sometimes I think we go before God and we already have an idea of what we want God to do, so we close ourselves off from receiving and partnering with God and what He may want to do in the moment. In fact, God may want to do something completely different. It is almost like we say, "Here God, here is my idea, now do it my way." When we do that, we handcuff God. We are no longer partnering with Him.

Often, when people ask me to pray for them, they come with an agenda-or an idea-of what they want to ask God to do. When I am praying for people and I ask them what they need prayer for, sometimes their requests are not what is on God's agenda for the moment. We need to learn how to be sensitive and move with the Holy Spirit. The same with intercession; we need to listen to the heartbeat of God and not always present our stuff to Him. It's not that our agendas are wrong or right and there are times for that. But when I just want to spend time with God and feel his presence, I don't bring any agenda.

I remember one time while I was praying, a man's face came before me. He was an Asian man. When I saw his face, I began agreeing with God on behalf of this man. I still to this day do not know anything about this man nor do I understand what I was praying about concerning him. You never know. It could have been an intervention prayer, a prayer that saved that man's life. Or, it could have been that I was praying for a whole people group. Some things will not be known this side of eternity. It is important that we learn to respond to His leading- even when there will be no immediate gratification from seeing an answer in the natural.

Another time I woke up praying for one of our sons, Brian. I prayed for his safety. Right after I prayed, we got a call from him in the middle of the night telling us that he was driving home from a trip down south. He had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving and had run off the road. He called to tell us that he was OK. I was so thankful that I had been woken up to pray.

Intercession is just the fruit of being with Him. It was birthed in my own heart because of spending time with Him. I go into His presence to love Him, to experience "spirit-to-spirit"-His Spirit with my spirit. When I experienced this for the first time, I remember just being with Him and feeling our hearts connecting. It felt like my heart was picking up the same heartbeat as His-His heart "liquid love." His heart was broken for humanity. Our two hearts are intertwined. When you feel that, when you see His heart broken and His amazing love, your only response can be to pray with burning passion-compassion for a lost generation.

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident (2 Corinthians 1:20 The Message Bible).

The amazing thing to me is that God is waiting for us to enter into Him. He is longing for us to see His world, to see into that glorious realm of His kingdom. He is wanting us to partner with Him for heavenly breakthrough.

God Likes Our Ideas

God's yes together with our yes are what brings about breakthrough in prayer. I'm continually amazed that God would choose to partner with us. But, at the same time, it makes all the sense in the world that He would want us to join with Him in making history. We are, after all, His children. He is a great and all- powerful God and also a loving and caring Father who, I believe, wants to be involved in our lives. Incredibly, He also wants us to be involved in His kingdom. He wants us to help build His kingdom here on earth. I believe that God likes my ideas. Some of the prophetic acts that we do come from the Lord, but I think that some of the things we do are good ideas that the Father says, "Yeah, that's good."

I am convinced that God likes my ideas. So, when I pray, I pray from a place of security. It is like I go into prayer believing that God is on my side. Let me give you an example. We took a team to Croatia in 2007. It was one of the most amazing prayer trips I've ever been on. One of the places that we planned on going to was a concentration camp outside of  Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. During World War II many Jews, Serbs, Gypsies, anyone who was not a Croat, were put to death. It was pretty brutal. We had joined with our missionary friends and a national pastor and his wife to go there and pray. How do you pray for such a huge, devastating thing? I had been praying, pondering how we could make a difference and help bring healing to a land of much bloodshed. The idea came to get a bottle of wine and have it poured out on the land. We had been praying in one of the towns that morning and I had honestly wondered if this wine thing was what we were to do. I mentioned to some of the group that we needed to get a bottle of wine before we left for the concentration camp but purposely dismissed it still thinking that it might not be the right thing to do. One of the gals on the team spoke up and said, "Are we going to get the wine before we go to the camp?" "OK. Let's get it," I said.

I hadn't told the national pastors what we were going to do yet. You see, I felt like the pastor and his wife were to pour the wine out on the ground as a prophetic sign of reconciliation prayer. Srecko, the national pastor, is Croatian and his wife, Inas, is Serbian. If you don't know, those were two of the many ethnic groups involved not only in World War II but also in the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. So I explained to this wonderful pastor and his wife the idea of pouring out the wine on the ground, and then as we prayed together believing that God would cover the bloodshed over the land with His blood. They held the bottle together and poured. They had never done anything like this before, but were so gracious. While they poured the wine out, I was watching their 6-year-old son playing. He was so carefree and happy. His bloodline represented two warring ethnic groups. His generation would no longer have the pain of war. There would be healing.

Was this my idea or the Holy Spirit's idea? I don't know. It just felt really right. I feel like our lives can be so intertwined with God's that our thoughts, feelings and even what we do are melted together with His. When God made us just the way we are, He liked what He made. He likes everything about us. I believe He enjoys our ideas, and we in turn like His ideas. God chooses us. He chose David.

It says that God chose David and it was in David's heart to build a house for the Lord. God told David in verse 18, "David, you did well that it was in your heart." Wow! That is our God. God chose a man who He knew would say, "Yes!" God said, "yes" to David, and everything else is history. God's yes to you and your yes to Him are all that is needed.

Staying Focused

When our daughter Leah was expecting her first baby, she asked with permission from her husband if I would be the coach for her. I had had three children by natural birth, and she told me, "You're the pro, Mom." It was an honor for me. I told my husband afterwards that it was the most amazing experience and the hardest work I've done since I had my own kids.

God is always breaking into our natural world and showing us the spirit realm. That's what happened in this birthing experience with our daughter. In a natural birth you can invite friends and family into the labor room. Our daughter is a very social being and loved having those friends and family visit up until the time of the birth. As you may know, towards the end of the labor there is a time that is the most intense. It takes all of your concentration just to make it through the contraction. We were at that place. Whenever a contraction would start, we would release peace over Leah, and then the focus was all on her part to listen to my instructions. One of our friends came into the room at one of those moments and began talking, not really paying attention to the intensity of what was going on. Leah seemed to be OK with it. After the delivery, I asked her about the distraction in the room. She told me that she really didn't notice because she was so focused on my voice and what I was telling her to do. As she told me that, I had a revelation of intercession. When God gives us strategies to pray-you know, the ones that we burn with-we can become so focused on His voice that we don't become distracted. Nothing can take us away from his voice. There were times during her delivery that we would lock eyes as well. It was how she got through the intense times. She drew strength from looking into my eyes. There was an intensity in my eyes or determination that she picked up on and could keep going.

There are times in our lives when we must stay closer, locking onto His words and His vision. God gives us prayer strategies, and we look to Him for focus and understanding on how to pray with results. Then the birthing will come.

By the way, the baby that was born that day to our son-in-law and daughter was named him Judah (Hebrew for "praise"). The result of our steadfast focus can only be praise for Him.

When I pray from the heart of God, I become so lost in the presence of God that it feels like the only thing I am listening to is the voice of God. In that place, His heart, His plans, His voice become so real it is almost like we become one. At those times, it feels like I pray with Him. When I am in that place, all I have to do is agree with God and partner with the things that are already on His heart. Those are the times when we pray together, and I begin to co-labor with God through my prayers. Those are the times where I begin to see real breakthrough, no agenda required. read more

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