Ministry Leadership http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership Fri, 29 Aug 2014 20:14:57 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb 4 Creative Ways to Craft a Sermon http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21183-4-creative-ways-to-craft-a-sermon http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21183-4-creative-ways-to-craft-a-sermon

One of my seminary professors gave me a few approaches to generate sermon ideas:

1. The first approach would be to take the author of the biblical passage or one of the characters in the passage and simply imaginatively sit across from her and him and ask different questions. Allow the conversation to proceed like any conversation. Ideas can stem from such an imaginative approach.

2. Another sermon idea-generation method would be to take an issue and look at the text in light of that issue. Think about what your particular text has to say to someone who has just lost a job, if that is their issue. On the opposite extreme, what does it say to someone who has just found a job? Does your text encourage? Does it challenge? Does it do both?

How does the issue change how you look at the text? What questions does your issue raise in the text? There is a lot of preaching in those questions.

3. Another method is to take a saying, cliche', or say a song from the church and "riff" on that in conversation with a scripture. For example, let's take "God is good all the time, all the time, God is good." Now look at that text in light of the Book of Job. What does that saying mean in light of the scripture? Is the saying confirmed? Is it denied?

What does the saying mean in light of John the Baptist getting his head chopped off? What does that saying mean in reference to that? Is the saying true? Is it untrue? Work it out in your sermon.

4. One can also take a sermonic walk to get ideas. When I got up one morning recently, I saw the shining light of the morning sun. Telling me both that I was getting up late (I should be getting up too early to see the sun so clearly) and that I have made it through another day.

One could look at the assurance and the challenge in that one symbol of the sun. Can that give us any sermonic possibilities? What about the door you opened to go to start your day? The door you opened to confront the day? Does contemplation of these things in light of scriptures help you to create a message?

Finally, it is always helpful to take a walk through the Scripture. What do you see when you are walking in the biblical story? What do you smell?

I told one preacher that he was not ready to preach on the demoniacs until he smelled the unwashed bodies. You ain't ready to preach it until you feel the fear of human beings that are acting like animals coming after you.

Could that happen to me? Could it happen to you? All of these questions can help you generate sermon ideas.

Now, don't get me wrong, all of these approaches will give you both fruitful avenues as well as dead ends. You must complete a full exegesis of the passage before preaching, but at the least, they will help you to get the creative juices flowing.

If you can think of any other ideas, please comment below so that I can compile them into another article.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds an M.Div with an emphasis in homiletics and an M.S. in computer science. Visit Sherman at soulpreaching.com.

For the original article, visit soulpreaching.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Sherman Haywood Cox II) Preaching Fri, 29 Aug 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Do You Gravitate Toward Standard or Exotic Texts for Sermons? http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21182-do-you-gravitate-toward-standard-or-exotic-texts-for-sermons http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/preaching/21182-do-you-gravitate-toward-standard-or-exotic-texts-for-sermons

For good reason, young beginning pastors do not take the standard old texts for their first sermons. Few feel qualified to produce a full sermon on such subjects as:

John 3:16. The Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Salvation by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Love one another (John 13:34-35). Forgiveness. The home. Kindness.

That's why beginning preachers almost always gravitate to the exotic texts. They find those strange little metaphors, unusual verses, and unfamiliar images and shed light on them.

Perhaps it's easier to get their minds around such, I don't know. One of my first sermons was suggested by "a house in a cucumber patch," from Isaiah 1:8. That image had brought to mind an old bungalow where some relatives of ours used to live far out in the country, but which was later abandoned and soon completely covered by kudzu vines. Eventually, a massive mound of green vines stood there, hiding what used to be a house. What point my sermon made from that has long been forgotten.

Why didn't I preach on grander (and safer?) subjects like the Incarnation of Jesus, His miracles, His amazing teachings and sinless life, and of course, His death, burial and resurrection?  Answer: Any of those subjects would be so huge, and I felt so small.

I could no more preach a full-length sermon on John 3:16 than swim the Atlantic.

Recently, someone sought my input for an upcoming sermon on the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." The pastor had had a demanding week, and his study time was rapidly getting away from him. He wondered if I could give him a push in some direction with a story or an insight.

My wife said, "No wonder it's so hard to preach on that. Everyone knows it, so it's boring."

Leave it to her.

That's the truth, of course. And it's the very reason we preachers find it difficult to come up with a sermon on such a subject.

The saying that "familiarity breeds contempt" carries a great deal of truth, although we're not suggesting familiar texts and well-known truths are anything less than the inspired Word of God. They simply become commonplace from universal acceptance.

Announce to your people that your next sermon will be "The Golden Rule" or "John 3:16" and watch all but the most determined or least imaginative find reasons to be out of town that day.

Complicating this is that the preacher himself may find such texts and subjects unchallenging and even boring. They're not, of course. The problem is not with John 3:16, one of the most amazing statements of heaven's truth to planet Earth imaginable.

The problem is with us.

1. The pastor needs to give himself plenty of time to prepare such a sermon.  If he begins preparing on Friday for Sunday's sermon, we can almost guarantee the result will be shallow, inferior and unworthy of such a great teaching.

The Holy Spirit has no problem with advance planning for sermons (and everything else). The pastor shouldn't either.

2. The pastor should study that text backward and forward and everything around it, learning text, context and pretext. What is a pretext? All the ways this text has been "done wrong" by others in times past. A pastor should flag those potholes in order to avoid them.

In most cases, the context will suggest the problem that caused the Holy Spirit to put that teaching in the Bible in the first place, and that will get you started. After all, it's frequently good technique to begin a sermon with a problem, particularly one the people in the pews can relate to.

3. The pastor should constantly enlist heaven's assistance and should force himself to listen to the small stirrings of the Holy Spirit bringing His answer. He should pray and then stay for the answer.

In my study, I sometimes find myself saying, "Lord, you have heard every sermon ever preached on this text. And you inspired many of them!" (said with a smile) "I could sure use your help here. What do I need to see that I've missed? Who embodies this trait? Who in Scripture or in the world has violated this truth?"

Whether the answer comes immediately or two hours later in my study or that evening while driving to the store, when it does come, my spirit rejoices, and I grab pen and paper to make notes. Many a time, the answer arrives in the middle of the night.

After all, the Lord knows more sermons than the Library of Congress. He has heard them all.

He waits to be asked for His help.


4. A wise pastor having difficulty with an overly familiar text would do well to use another of his lifelines—a game-show technique—and phone a friend. Prayer is his first lifeline. Always. A friend is the second.

Pastors having trouble with a familiar subject should do what my friend did this week: Call a couple of veteran preachers. If anyone understands the quandary of the young pastor, they will. (That still, small voice that inhibits the preacher from asking an older minister for help is called ego, and he should reject its fearful counsel.)

You would like to know if this pastor friend has an insight or a story that will jump-start your own thinking on this text. Often, he can put his finger on the very issue without a moment's hesitation. A lifetime of preaching and walking with Jesus enables him to do that.

5. Then, a technique I have used a time or two when experiencing sermon-blockage: Go to the food court at the mall (or wherever large numbers of busy people are coming and going). Sit in a corner with your notebook, asking yourself what possible meaning such a text has to these people. I've gone so far as to engage a few of those shoppers in conversation on this very thing. That might require some explanation. I do not approach strangers with such, but invariably you will see someone you know and get into a quick conversation. So, you say, "Bob, do you have 60 seconds to help me?" He will. You say, "I'm preaching next Sunday on the Golden Rule, do unto others, etc. How does that apply in your world?" And take notes.

6. Cut yourself some slack. You'll not hit a home run every time. When the sermon ends, you may decide some parts worked and some did not. Some people were engaged and with you throughout, while some were bored.

What else is new? That happens every week anyway, I assume.

However, presumably, you will be coming back to this text or this subject from time to time over a long ministerial career. So, keep the subject active in your mind.

My story, which I've related before on these pages, has to do with "love your neighbor as yourself," another subject I probably had never preached on for the simple reason that it's so well known and so clear that there is nothing more to be said about it.

Wrong.

In a restaurant in a Mississippi town where I had stopped for lunch, two men sat across the table from me and one wanted to talk politics. When he found out I was from Louisiana, the man asked about our politics, in particular about a former KKK leader who was running for governor. When I said, "He believes things most of our people do not buy," he said, "For instance?"

"He believes in the superiority of the white race," I said.

The man was ready and loaded. He had had this conversation before.

"Well," he said. "That's a little hard to argue with."

I closed the book I'd been trying to read. "I'll argue with it."

"Then why," he said, "down through history whenever whites and blacks have lived alongside each other, have the blacks ended up as slaves of the whites?"

I'd heard that before. It was based on bad history.

I said, "Sir, you will be happy to know that did not happen often. But whenever it did, it seems to me that if the whites were making slaves out of their neighbors, it would say a lot about the inferiority of the white race."


Such a debater never concedes a point, even when you have skewered him. As I say, he'd had this discussion before. The technique of such debaters is to keep changing the subject.

He said, "I see you have a Bible there." "Yes, sir."

"You know there's not a word in the Bible against slavery."

I said, "Are you serious?"

He said, "Give me one verse in all the Bible that says slavery is wrong."

What happened next took all of two or three seconds, but it seemed like a week. My mind was whirring trying to come up with just the right scripture. In college, I'd done a term paper for a Civil War history class on just this subject, on correspondence between two preachers, one in the north and one in the south.  I knew there is no text saying, "Thou shalt have no slaves." But the concept is opposed to everything the Lord Jesus taught.

The Lord who "came to set the captives free" (Luke 4:18) surely would not condone slave-holding among His followers.

While I was scrambling, trying to come up with an answer, the second fellow at the table turned and answered his friend.

He said, "How about 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'?"

I pounded the table. "Great answer! Great answer!"

It was the perfect answer  (I was more than a little relieved).

When the antagonist tried to change the subject—such a person will never admit to any flaw in their thinking; ignorance and arrogance often go hand in hand—I said, "Sir, you'll have to excuse me. I have some reading I have to do."

I never read another word, but sat there thinking what a powerful thing had just happened here. A verse of Scripture, a truth the Lord Jesus called the second greatest commandment, found in Leviticus 19:18 and in Matthew 22:39, had just been taken off the mantle where I'd elevated it and then promptly forgotten about it, and dusted off and shown to be highly relevant to today's issues.

A few weeks later, when the sheriff of our parish in suburban New Orleans challenged me to come up with a scripture to justify my opposition to gambling casinos, I said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He had no answer.

Someone has pointed out that cliches become cliches for good reason: They embody universal truths. Likewise, the widely known and well-loved texts of Scripture did not become such accidentally. They deserve the full treatment from the Lord's teachers and preachers, something many of us have not been giving them.

But these texts deserve to be treated carefully and lovingly. Lives hang in the balance.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Joe McKeever) Preaching Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:00:00 -0400
8 Ways to Represent God in This World http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21181-8-ways-to-represent-god-in-this-world http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21181-8-ways-to-represent-god-in-this-world

The greatest privilege believers have this side of heaven is our calling to represent God to this world. The following are some of the criteria the Bible lays out regarding this:

1. We are called to speak the oracles of God. The apostle Paul said that he was called to manifest the Word of God through preaching that was entrusted to him (Titus 1:3). What an amazing calling. God's Will and Word came through a broken vessel of clay like Paul.

But that is not all. Every believer is called to speak the very words of God, according to 1 Peter 4:11. As broken as we are, God expects us to know His written Word and how to apply it to the world in a way that is effective. Hence, we are called to diligently study His Word so we can handle and impart it without deviation (2 Tim. 2:15).

This also involves being sensitive to His Spirit and speaking prophetically as the occasion arises. All anointed preaching, sharing and conversation is in a real sense prophetic and is necessary to represent God in this world.

2. Our teaching should be based on sound doctrine. Many people shy away from doctrine because of all the denominations and divergent interpretations of the Scriptures. However, this does not mean that doctrine is unimportant and not our responsibility. All true Bible-believing Christians who study the plain sense of the Word (without the traditions of men and culture that have seeped into the church) will generally agree on all the main essentials regarding the first principles (kerygma) of the gospel and its application. The apostles had a deposit of sound doctrine that they handed down to their protégés (1 Tim. 4:6 calls it sound doctrine) with the expectation that they would teach it to others (1 Tim. 4:13).

Biblical doctrine is necessary to train believers for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The apostle Paul was not just known for church planting but by his doctrine (2 Tim. 3:10). The apostle John says (2 John 9) that if someone does not continue in the doctrine of Christ (didache: the teaching handed down by Jesus and the apostles) then they do not have God. John said that if a traveling preacher doesn't teach this doctrine, then we should not put him up in our homes (2 John 10). Thus, the original apostles put much importance upon sound doctrine, which means contemporary believers are called to dig deep and move past the elementary principles of the faith into the meat of the word (Hebrews 5:12-6:3) so we can carry the deposit of sound biblical doctrine.

3. We are called to integrate godly motivation with godly activity. Jesus corrected the religious leaders who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Mark 7:6).

Jesus told them to wash the inside of the cup (their hearts) and not just the outside (Matt. 23:25-26). Paul spoke about how some even preach the gospel out of envy and competition and strife (Phil. 1:15) and not sincerely. God judges our hearts not just our actions (Matt. 7:21-22). Thus, our hearts, actions and words all need to be integrated with godly purity and a motive of love for our heavenly Father which implores us to spread His kingdom.


4. We are called to live to serve; not vice versa. Jesus said (Matt. 28:20) that He came not to be ministered to but to minister and to give His life as a ransom for many. Often, those who are in church ministry strive for a title, position and accolades resulting in an entitlement mentality that demands everyone serve them.

For example, when I was consecrated a bishop (in 2006) many congratulated me for being "elevated" to which I replied that I believed I was being made lower, not higher. Unfortunately, the celebrity-driven secular culture in which certain popular ministers are treated as gods and rock stars has influenced the church at large. Jesus told us plainly that in the world the rulers dominate over their people (Mark 10:42) but the greatest in His kingdom are those who serve. Those who work behind the scenes to make others successful are greater in God's eyes than those who work for public applause. If we are going to represent God in this world, we have to begin by having a servant's heart.

5. We are called to be Christ-like in attitude. In order to represent God we need to be Christ-like. This comes forth strongest when we do not merely think about the things we desire but what others need. The apostle Paul spoke about this in Phil. 2:3-12 when he wrote that Jesus did not think equality with God was a thing to be grasped (even though He was in substance God the Son) but made Himself of no reputation and humbled Himself and became obedient even to the death of the cross. Jesus was broken regarding His willingness to preserve His life (Matt. 26:39).

Often people are flocking to hear the most gifted speakers, singers, musicians and healers because we are a culture that celebrates gifts, talents and abilities rather than humility and brokenness. God told us (Is. 57:15) that even though He dwells in the high and lofty places, He dwells with those who are humble and contrite. He exalts the humble and resists the proud. God loves humility. The apostle Paul said not to think of ourselves higher than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3) and to be willing to dwell with the lowly (Rom. 12:16). To represent God we need to walk in the humility and brokenness of Christ.


6. We are called to discern the times in which we live. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day for not being able to discern what God was doing among them (Matt. 16:1-4). There are always transitions and changes taking place in culture that produce megatrends. God is sovereignly involved in either allowing or orchestrating this confluence of humanity, and has sent us into the world in this day and age to function as lights in this world (Phil. 2:15; Acts 17:26-28). We are called to be like the sons of Issachar who understood the times they lived in and how God wanted Israel to respond (1 Chron. 12:32).

To represent God to this world, believers are not to immerse themselves serving their communities robotically, but they are to study their surrounding culture in order to apply the truth correctly to live out their purpose.

7. We are called to be in this world but not of this world. In order to represent God, we need to put up boundaries so that while we are serving in this world we do not become part of it. Believers are called to be like ships that are in the midst of the sea without taking water into its structure—to be in the water without sinking and drowning in it. Many believers make a huge mistake when they attempt to be relevant to the world by acting like the world because it dissipates the distinguishing boundary of separation God called us to have from the values of the world (2 Cor. 6:17; 1 John 2:15-17). When believers live in conformity to the world they are not representing God (Rom. 12:1-2).

8. We are called to walk in the fruit of the Spirit. It is not enough to walk in the power of God; we need to walk in the holiness, meekness, joy and peace of God. Case in point: There have been many great evangelists and pastors who moved powerfully in the supernatural but undermined the gospel by their lack of integrity and godly fruit. The apostle Paul clearly told us that the flesh is contrary to the Spirit and vice versa (Gal. 5:16-17) and that there is a huge contrast between a person living and striving for accomplishment according to the flesh and those living by the Spirit.

To represent God we need to be continually filled with His Spirit and exhibit His fruit that comprise love, joy, peace, patience, thankfulness, kindness, goodness, modesty and faithfulness (Gal. 5:22-23). Nothing is as contagious in this world as true joy. That is perhaps the greatest witness we have of the reality of the gospel. Unless and until the church embraces and celebrates the fruit of the Spirit over exhibitions of power, self-indulgence and flesh, we will not represent God adequately in this world.

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Personal Character Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:00:00 -0400
4 Practices of Highly Effective Churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/administration/21180-4-practices-of-highly-effective-churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/administration/21180-4-practices-of-highly-effective-churches

The following is another installment from my friends at MAG Bookkeeping. If your church needs bookkeeping or virtual assistance, there is no one I recommend more. You can contact this wonderful organization by clicking HERE.

Now, on to Four Practices Of Highly Effective Churches:

At MAG Bookkeeping, we have the privilege of working with churches all around the country on their finances. In addition, our leadership team is made up of professionals who've collectively spent decades working with churches on their strategic planning, membership strategies, construction projects, discipleship models, and dozens of other issues.

Through all these meetings and interactions with churches, our leaders have seen that effective churches of any age, stage or size consistently do the same four things really well. The ways in which each church does these things will look different, of course, depending on their communities. But across the board and across the country, effective churches that are reaching their communities for Christ do these four things really well:

1. Their Sunday morning worship experience is relevant to their community and effective in reaching attenders where they are. It doesn't matter whether it's defined as "contemporary" or "traditional," or if the pastor wears jeans or a three-piece suit—effective churches have figured out what resonates with their worship attenders  and what makes those attenders bring others with them to worship on Sundays.

2. They understand and emphasize building authentic biblical community. Effective churches don't just publish a list of how people can connect with each other—they are deliberate about helping people build relationships with one another. They have a sustained focus on helping people understand that all the "one another" exhortations in the New Testament can only be carried out in an environment where there's the freedom to have real relationships centered around the Word.

3. They minister well to the next generation. They focus on ministry to the next generation of Christ-followers—the children and youth in their congregations. They understand the power of inter-generational worship and learning, and keep it at the forefront of their efforts.

4. They reach out to the world outside their walls. They balance their outreach between local and global efforts, and communicate to their regular attenders what it means for their church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

That's what we've gathered from our experiences. What would you add to this list? What else have you seen effective churches do well? 

Brian Dodd's daytime job is as a generosity architect and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. During the last 10+ years, he has spent each day having one-on-one conversations with many of the greatest church leaders in America. He also also has over 25 years of church volunteer and staff experience. Check out his blog, Brian Dodd on Leadership.

For the original article, visit briandoddonleadership.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Brian K. Dodd) Administration Thu, 28 Aug 2014 19:00:00 -0400
6 Simple Strategies to Help Pastors Make Big Ministry Strides http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21178-6-simple-strategies-to-help-pastors-make-big-ministry-strides http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/vision/21178-6-simple-strategies-to-help-pastors-make-big-ministry-strides

Who's your favorite football team? I live in Atlanta now, so I love it when the Falcons do well. But being a native San Diegan, the Chargers will always have a place in my heart.

Football games are won by moving the ball down the field a few yards at a time. So many of the most exciting games have been won or lost at the one-yard line.

It's true that we all love it on a kick-off when the ball is carried back for a touchdown, or when a 40-yard Hail Mary pass wins the game. But over the course of any given season, championships are won (or lost) a few yards at a time.

The little victories give you the big victory. If you want to wear the ring, you have to dig in for the small gains all season and execute well every game.

NFL coaches know their goal, develop the best team possible, and score more points than the other team. You know your mission too. It takes hard work to take new territory, one person for Christ at a time. It's not just the big plays that win it; it takes far more well-executed little plays every day.

Here are six "quick plays" to help you as a leader create big gains toward your mission.

1. Get the right people in the room. I invest a good amount of time getting the right people in a room together, at the right time, for the right reason. I never cease to be amazed at the power of a wisely and intentionally convened group in contrast to a "regular" meeting. Or how much time we can waste by meeting with six or seven people one-on-one, multiple times. Get them all in a room at the same time. Meet for a purpose, and get the job done. It's so much faster and so much more productive.

2. Pick up the phone. The difference between getting things done and making things happen is often made by simply picking up the phone! Getting things done is usually the result of someone calling you. Making things happen is usually the result of you calling someone! Heck, you can start a war by picking up a phone. That is powerful. Everyone gets things done, but leaders make things happen. So what could you do by thinking strategically, with a redemptive heart, and in alignment with your mission? What needs to happen? It might be just a five-minute phone call away.

3. Make a decision. It's true that some big decisions require significant time to process and percolate. But through years of leadership, I've learned that many decisions can be made relatively quickly. Most in 24 hours or less. That gives time to pray, think, make a couple of calls, check the budget, etc. So many things get bogged down in your church because simple decisions get stuck in someone's inbox. If someone else needs to make the decision, get the issue moved to that person today.


4. Resist distractions. This is the only item on the play list that is a defensive move. Generally, a list like this needs to be all offense, all the time. But without some defense, you can't win the game. Distractions are lethal to busy leaders. From email to extraneous demands or from persistent sales people to the next unhappy member, sometimes you need to resist the distraction and stay focused on the priority right in front of you. You'd be amazed at how many problems are solved, in fact, just "go away" from momentum. Fight to cast vision and lead in such a way that produces momentum.

5. Experiment. In this case I don't mean to call an audible. Most church leaders don't need encouragement for more of that! I'm referring to taking a strategic risk, a planned approach to something "new and improved." Don't declare it as the new vision for the next five years. Experiment short term, maybe for six months, with something new, a better way of doing something you already do.

Make sure you measure carefully for improved results. At 12Stone® we often say, "don't just make it different, make it better." What needs to be made better at your church?

Don't make a two-year study and write a 20-page paper. Take two to three weeks to dig in, dig deep and make a new plan. The new plan should fit on one or two pages. Then experiment and make in-flight corrections. You'll likely be very pleased with the results and if not, you'll be pleased with what you learned.

6. Care. Don't underestimate the power in simply caring. At times I think it's becoming a lost art. Please don't misunderstand. I believe that church leaders care. They really do, but sometimes the demands of a busy schedule can result in an inability to keep up with everything. This sometimes results in a depletion of the finite amount of energy any one person has. The final result is no energy left to demonstrate that you care. You are so busy making things happen (and getting things done) that your relational bandwidth can run thin.

The good news is that the remedy is often a "simple play," and as long as it's from the heart you are good to go. It might be a hand-written note, or a quick phone call, or a cup of coffee with someone. It might be as simple as a thank-you card with a Starbucks gift card inside. It might be a smile and a hug. Sometimes it's just not complicated. We just need to do it.

So which of these simple plays will help you move the ball down the field today?

Dan Reiland is executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. For the original article, visit danreiland.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Dan Reiland) Vision Thu, 28 Aug 2014 16:00:00 -0400
20 Words of Advice For Young Pastors http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21177-20-words-of-advice-for-young-pastors http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21177-20-words-of-advice-for-young-pastors

Last week, a friend asked me what general advice I would give to young church leaders. I'm sure this list is not complete, but here's a start:

1. Always be a learner. Degrees don't signal an end to learning. The world keeps changing, and none of us knows everything. An unwillingness to learn is intellectual arrogance.

2. Learn the stories of your people. Everybody has a story, including that church member who frustrates you. Learn to ask about those stories. Listen well. Show genuine interest in the people God has placed in your care.

3. Love the grandparents in your church. Sure, maybe they don't like change—but you probably won't either when you reach their age. You need their life wisdom today.

4. Love the children in your church. From their early preschool years, children will choose their heroes. Be one of them.

5. Be patient. Follow Jesus' lead as He made disciples—teach, listen, re-direct as needed, teach again ... and trust the Father to change your congregation. Impatient church leadership is usually discouraged leadership.

6. Laugh. A lot. Today, the situation you face may seem unbearable. I assure you, though, that some of today's events will be comical in the future. Learn to laugh today with godly joy.

7. Invest in at least three people. Lead your whole congregation, but pour yourself into at least three people—a non-believer you're trying to reach, a new believer you're equipping, and an older believer you're encouraging.

8. As much as possible, don't do ministry alone. Train somebody as you counsel, visit and evangelize. Involving somebody else takes more time, but your congregation will be stronger in the long run.

9. Be willing to apologize. You are not always right. None of us is. You will make mistakes. You will hurt people, even unintentionally. Learn to say with integrity: "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

10. Don't forget your spouse and children. Your spouse should not learn from others important information about church events. Your children should not wonder why you're always away from home. Make your family part of your team.

11. Adore the church. The apostle Paul thanked God for the Corinthians and expressed his deep love for them (1 Cor. 1:4, 16:24)—all the while saying to them, "You're an absolute mess."  That mess is still God's church. Love them.

12. Don't be afraid of numbers. You can evaluate numbers without idolizing them. If your church is seeing no one turn to Christ and few believers growing in their faith, those numbers ought to challenge and motivate you.

13. Be accountable to somebody. Seek an older leader to pour into your life—and don't give up until you find that person. Give permission to ask about your Bible study, your prayer life, your godliness, and your evangelism.

14. Beware of "lostness apathy." When your heart no longer breaks over non-believers, it's time to repent. A lack of concern over the lost is sin.

15. Keep up with the news. You need to know what's going on in the world. Your commitment to the Great Commission demands it.

16. Work hard. Frankly, we need no more lazy church leaders. Work every day as if you will answer to God for the way you care for the souls of people ... because you will.

17. Seek financial guidance. Taxation on ministry salary can be confusing. Your contributions toward retirement income should begin now. Get some input from someone who knows this world.

18. Keep records. Years from now, you will wish you had records of the baptisms, weddings and funerals you performed. I know, because my mentor told me to do the same—and I didn't listen.

19. Plan now to end your ministry well. Nobody ends ministry well by accident. In fact, the decisions you make today will affect whether you end well in the decades to come. Don't be stupid.

20. Thank God. I have NO idea why God allows me to be a leader in His church. He does, though, and I get to do something that affects eternity. So do you. Be grateful.

What advice would you add?  

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Chuck Lawless) Pastoring Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Real Worship: What Does It Look and Sound Like? http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/268-worship/21164-real-worship-what-does-it-look-and-sound-like http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/268-worship/21164-real-worship-what-does-it-look-and-sound-like

I crave the real thing.

I don't know about you, but I want the manifest presence of God in my home, life and church—not just manufactured, emotional experiences with great songs.

Of course, I am not opposed to production. I love it. I love a creative, well-rehearsed band. I love the pursuit of ever-expanding creativity.

In the context of worship, I believe it's important for creatives to explore how their art can help to inspire and serve and help people see more of God's glory. I'm all about that.

But I'm also all about dialing back. I've had a few conversations with some leaders in the worship community who agree. Sometimes we need to simplify to see where our heart is.

What is Your Approach to Leading Worship?

Worship leader, worship team, how you approach your worship leading is everything.

There's a way you present yourself that lends to spectating. But there's also a way you present yourself that leads to engagement, singing and corporate worship. I've seen creative, upbeat loud teams engage a room in worship. But I've also seen quiet, acoustic, simple teams cause people to watch.

What's the missing ingredient? Remember the old song you sung as a kid?

Have patience ... have patience ... don't be in such a hurry.

Your worship team doesn't have to be the best—the most talented, the most creative, the most epic...as long as you can be present, be patient, and find your voice. Let's unpack.

Be Present

When I say "be present," I mean to be with your congregation. Not present with your music, but present with the living, breathing humans in the room. Identify with them.

Study them. Know them. When you do, you tend to serve them more naturally. You don't have to guess what they need when you're in touch with their needs.

As a worshiper, I've made a commitment to worship no matter who's leading and how skilled I think the team is or what songs they do. But I love the worship leaders who are more in tune with the room of people than just their instruments—when what truly excites them is being with people rather than just playing music.

When I'm tempted to just run the reel of my worship set, I remember that never before has this group of people gathered in this specific place for this special moment. God always wants to move in unique ways.

Be Patient

When I say "simplify," I'm not saying massive production is wrong. I'm saying let's dial it back often.

Within every worship set, no matter how intense, there should be moments where you dial it back, allow people to sing out, and do simple songs. Don't just go from song to song. Be OK with a little quiet. Some awkwardness is good.

You know that urge you feel to avoid all silence and fill in the space with songs? In my experience that is often the moment where something real and powerful can happen. You can play it safe and just sing another song or you can step into the awkwardness and allow people the chance to bear their hearts before God.

Our aim as worship leaders is to get the room to a place where they don't need us. A place where they are engaged, the Holy Spirit is moving, and heaven is touching Earth.

Stop Copying

This isn't a fully tested assumption, but I'm starting to think that a lot of modern worship music isn't relevant to my church. It may be great at a massive stadium event, but that's hardly the world I live in on a weekly basis.

We have to remember this: Our people come to meet with Jesus.

Oftentimes, the reason your church may not be worshipping is because they don't connect with your song and style choice.

I'm convinced that we need more worship leaders who are willing to be less cool if it serves their churches well. There's more than copying Hillsong. There's more than mimicking Jesus Culture.

You have a voice. Your team has a voice. Your community has a voice. It's time to find what that is even if it means you sacrifice "cutting edge" on the altar.

But that's enough from me. I'd love to hear from you.

How do you keep from going through the motions with your church?

How do you keep worship fresh for you personally and fresh for your congregation?

David Santistevan is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. For the original article, visit davidsantistevan.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (David Santistevan) Worship Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:00:00 -0400
5 Common Mistakes Young Pastors Make http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21163-5-common-mistakes-young-pastors-make http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/pastoring/21163-5-common-mistakes-young-pastors-make

If you could write a letter to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say? What would you tell yourself to focus on or shy away from? What would you tell yourself to pay attention to or to let go a little more often?

Whenever you're starting something new, there are always going to be tricks of the trade you haven't learned yet. There are things you will know as an experienced pastor, with years under your belt, that you didn't know when you were just beginning.

This is OK.

The maturation process means that as you go and as you move forward, you will continuously get better at your job. If you aren't, you're doing something wrong. The mistakes and learning experiences we have at the beginning of our careers are the lessons that make us into the great pastors we will be in 10 years but aren't quite yet.

But just because the learning experiences are good doesn't mean there aren't a few words of caution that could help you out today.

Here are five mistakes young pastors commonly make:

1. They lack a work-life balance. Being a pastor is an all-consuming job. It's relational in nature and, therefore, hard to leave at home. It is easy to get so wrapped up in helping your congregation that you forget there are people waiting for you at home, other people who need you.

Even you need rest and care and attention.

A common mistake young pastors make is to overwork themselves. They overestimate how much they have to give. Overwork leads to burnout and is the cause of many young pastors quitting too early.

Take time for yourself and for your family and to rest. It will lengthen and strengthen your career and your ability to make the impact you want to make.

2. They don't receive counsel from older pastors. The fact of the matter is that pastors who have been doing this longer than you have are going to know more than you do. Wise young pastors find someone well ahead of them in years and experience to mentor and teach them. You and your congregation will benefit greatly from wise counsel speaking into your life and your ministry.


3. They preach outside of their experience and understanding. A dangerous mistake young pastors often make is preaching about something they don't fully understand. As a pastor, we have to be sensitive to the fact that we're speaking into other people's lives, and we have to do so with the sensitivity, tact and empathy that often comes from experience and research.

Be careful when preaching about something you may not know enough about. Unfounded opinions and disconnected theology can be harmful to members of your church who are going through the things you're preaching about.

4. Being driven to succeed more than driven to serve God. Leading a church, just like any other kind of leadership, is a great honor. It's encouraging to see people come into your church, for your numbers to increase, or for your Twitter following to double. It's nice having people know your name and pay attention to you and care what you think. But it's crucially important that we keep our heads on straight.

We need to remember why we're doing this, who gave us the power and authority we hold, and what our purpose is. We are pastors to glorify the Name of God, not the name of us. As young pastors, and old pastors, and everyone in between, it's really easy to forget this.

5. Having passion without knowledge. Passion is important, and as a new pastor, I hope you have loads of it. But a great way to grow in your first few years as a pastor is to increase your knowledge.

Your congregation looks to you for biblical application and translation and nuance that they wouldn't understand on their own. And it's up to you to learn those things so you can turn around and impart them. Read as much as you can—study, research and listen to other kinds of teaching.

Immerse yourself in the knowledge of God so your congregation can too. It's one of the best ways you can serve them.

Being a young pastor is a great place to be. It's a season of excitement and fulfillment, of energy and of passion. Understandably, and blessedly, it's a great time of learning, a time that will set you up with a strong foundation for the rest of your ministry.

You're going to make mistakes, and that's to be expected. But being mindful of these five things can help put you on a path to success you might have missed on your own.

With more than a dozen years of local-church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of Helpstaff.me (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and MinistryCoach.tv, all while staying involved in the local church.

For the original article, visit justinlathrop.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Justin Lathrop) Pastoring Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:00:00 -0400
7 Traits of Pastors Who Lead Breakout Churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21162-7-traits-of-pastors-who-lead-breakout-churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/personal-character/21162-7-traits-of-pastors-who-lead-breakout-churches

If you want to experience an "a-ha" moment about revitalizing churches, this research may be the near the top.

Most of you have heard the dire information and statistics about congregations in North America. Indeed, I have been among the purveyors of the negative news. For sure, the overall picture is gloomy. There is no hiding from that reality.

Reasons for Hope

But I remain an obnoxious optimist about churches across our nation. And one of the primary reasons I do so is some ongoing research and observations about churches that have truly been revitalized.

My own research began several years ago and culminated in my book, Breakout Churches. It was a massive project, beginning with more than 50,000 churches. My research, and that of many others, continues to this day.

While most of the research has focused on information endemic to structural and congregational issues, I have taken a laser approach to look at the leaders of these churches. And while I will release more comprehensive information later in a video consultation, I am incredibly excited to release some key information about leaders of these churches today.

The Seven Traits

The churches I have studied are churches that were once declining but now are growing in a healthy fashion. The decline may have been dramatic, or it may have been almost imperceptible. In almost every case, however, the pastor embodied seven key characteristics.

In some of the churches, the pastors were new, and the presence of a new leader energized the congregations to move forward. In other churches, the pastors had been the leader during the decline, but now they were leading a church headed in a positive direction, a breakout church.

But here is a key to remember. The pastors intentionally adopted seven traits that were key to the churches' turnaround. Let's look at each of them briefly.

1. These pastors faced reality. They looked at the current condition of the church. They likely did an informational historical survey of attendance trends. They refused to put their heads in the sand.

2. They became leaders of hope. They looked at biblical truth regarding possibilities. They communicated that hope to their congregations. They truly believed all things are possible through God, including the revitalization of seemingly dying churches.

3. These pastors adopted a long-term perspective. They likely did not make some type of public declaration of their intent, but they did begin leading as if they were going to be at their current church for around 10 years. Most of them admitted that they did not want to close the door if they sensed God's leadership elsewhere, but they led as if they were going to be around for a while. In other words, they were not seeking to move.

4. They led incrementally. Because they had a long-term perspective, they were willing to lead in a way that the congregation could manage. It was not at the speed the pastors desired, but it was healthy for the churches.

5. They learned how to deal with critics and setbacks. Most of these pastors determined that they would deal with challenging issues in a positive way. Many of them had their own inner processes developed to deal with critics. I have articulated many of those issues at this blog in previous posts.

6. The pastors developed their own intentional outward focus. Many of them admitted they had become inwardly focused, so they started intentionally getting out in their communities. A number of them became highly intentional about sharing their faith on a regular basis.

7. They led their churches to an outward focus. These pastors began to lead their churches beyond their own walls. More energy and time were devoted to connecting with their communities and beyond. The congregations became Great Commission churches in action, not just in theory.

The Most Encouraging Part

Though any story or report of church revitalization is encouraging, I was particularly encouraged to find pastors who had moved from a sense of hopelessness in their own leadership and churches to an attitude of hopefulness and possibilities.

Breakout churches have breakout pastors.

Let me hear from you. Let me hear your stories. What do you think of the seven traits I noted? What would you change or add?

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Thom S. Rainer) Personal Character Mon, 25 Aug 2014 19:00:00 -0400
2 Times When the Pastor Becomes Vulnerable http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/a-pastor-s-heart/21158-2-times-when-the-pastor-becomes-vulnerable http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/a-pastor-s-heart/21158-2-times-when-the-pastor-becomes-vulnerable

We're all vulnerable. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

The brother who gave us that reminder was himself constantly being knocked down but getting back up. If anyone knew the subject of vulnerability, Paul did (see 2 Cor. 4:8-10).

After telling young Pastor Timothy of a coming time when people would not stand for sound doctrine and strong preaching, but would "turn away their ears from the truth and will prefer myths," Paul said, "But as for you, be sober in all things (that is, clear-thinking), endure hardship (expect it, and plan to get through it), do the work of an evangelist (keep telling heaven's good news), and fulfill your ministry (do not let any critic pull you off course)." (With my interjections, that's 2 Tim. 4:5).

I find it amazing and truly heart-warming how such reminders to a minister 20 centuries ago fit us so perfectly today. That's one more reason, out of ten thousand, why you and I live in this Word. There is nothing like it anywhere.

Now, returning to our subject of the minister's vulnerability ...

The minister is most vulnerable at two times: in the few minutes before the morning service begins and in the half hour after it ends.

A wise minister will take steps to guard himself in order to give his best to the Lord and the people (Prov. 4:23 "Guard your heart." Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourself and for all the flock ... ").

A caring membership will protect the pastor at the same time for the same reasons.

First: In the few minutes before the worship service where he is to preach, the pastor is vulnerable.

As he greets worshippers who are just arriving, someone approaches the pastor with a criticism or complaint. Surely, they think, having the pastor's undivided attention like this must be of the Lord. So, they unload on him, dissing the Sunday school material ("heresy!" "wrong!" or "bland") or griping about another member. "Pastor, you're in charge around here. Someone needs to do something!"

They report some gossip they've heard this week or let the pastor know none too subtly that he failed to call on them in the hospital. Great souls that they are, they're willing to forgive, but they did want him to know.

Ugh.

All this registers on the minister's soul like road kill the complainer scraped up off the highway and deposited with him, expecting him to dispose of it.

It stinks.

Just what he needed before he leads this congregation in worship and preaches the message over which he has prayed and studied and labored all week.

In the men's room, a deacon with an issue "of great concern" corners the pastor. In the hallway, a sweet elderly saint grabs the minister to report something she heard about him or his wife or his children. A staff member whispers that a men's Sunday school class is upset because the preacher did not attend their Friday night cookout.


The preacher might as well be mauled by the offensive line of the New Orleans Saints. The pastor's wife pulls her man off to the side three minutes before the service. "When we get home, I want to tell you what Mrs. Crenshaw said. She is so hateful, and I don't want to upset you now. Go get 'em, Tiger!"

Honestly, it hardly matters what the content of this negativity is. Whether the criticism is on-target or completely amiss, receiving it disturbs his inner calm and blurs his focus. Pastors should be protected from that.

The Lord Jesus was focused, not on an upcoming sermon, but something far heavier: a Roman cross awaiting Him just outside Jerusalem. In realms unfathomable to us and in dimensions of which we know nothing, our Lord was preparing to do battle with the prince of darkness. He would die, then be raised on the third day.

That's where His mind was.

"From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day" (Matt. 16:21).

Perhaps the Lord was looking for encouragement or prayer support or was simply preparing the disciples for their own disillusionment when all this happened. I don't know.

But here's what happened.

"Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him: 'God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!'"

A paraphrase of what Peter said might look like this: "Now, now, Lord. Get that negative thinking out of your head. We are not going to let this happen to our beloved Leader. You just stick close to us."

"But Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.'" (Matt. 16:21-23).

The word "satan" literally means "adversary."

Even well-meaning friends become your adversary when they distract you from the work God has given you to do.

Only someone with "his mind on God's interests" will understand this and see how it applies to the pastor as he approaches the pulpit to preach the Word and thus do battle with the devil in his own small way.

Some churches try to get this right ...


One pastor told his deacons about a fellow who regularly ambushed him as he was approaching the sanctuary. Every Sunday, the guy had a gripe about this or that and was eager to unload on the preacher. Thereafter, a couple of deacons stood near the ambush-site and would catch the offender as he headed toward the pastor. They glad-handed him, asked about his family, wanted to be caught up on all the news. The pastor says they regularly rotated so the culprit never caught on to what they were doing.

A pastor enlisted the aid of a staff member to intercept all the notes being sent to him prior to the service ("no tissue in the ladies room," "the plumbing in the hall bathroom needs attention," "can you announce the Tuesday meeting at my house?"

This is why some pastors remain in their study until service time. They walk briskly into the sanctuary without greeting anyone and thus avoid all the distractions. This is not the best solution. They should not deprive themselves or their people of his greeting worshippers as they arrive. The pastor who visits with his people before the service can often do a week's worth of ministry—and save himself a ton of headaches!—in those few minutes.

But he should always keep his guard up, and a buddy close at hand to assist him, particularly if the negativity is an issue in that church. After all, in biblical times, every warrior had his armor-bearer at his side.

Second: In the same way, the minister is vulnerable in the few minutes following the worship service.

What happens is this: Over the last hour, as the pastor led the worship service and delivered his sermon, he had laid himself bare, sharing everything on the inside of him. And now that the sermon is over, he is empty, drained, spent.  But his mind and heart are still lying open and undefended. Closing up and recovering take time, time during which he is wide open to temptation, to criticism, to negativity, and let's be honest, to ego.

Almost no one but the preacher gets this.

Most ministers are plagued with self-doubts about every sermon they preach. Did it work? Did that story fit that point? Was it too much? Was it too complex or too simple? Was my loud tie too distracting? Did anyone care I wasn't wearing a tie? Did anyone notice that I lost my way momentarily during point 2?

While these doubts fill his mind, he positions himself at the exit and shakes hands with departing worshippers. Most will offer platitudes. "Great sermon, pastor."  "Enjoyed the message." "You just get better and better, pastor."

But once in a while, someone will decide to (ahem) help him out ...

"Pastor, you've preached that sermon before. Here—I marked it in my Bible."

"Pastor, that was undoubtedly the worst sermon I've ever heard you preach."

"I heard Charles Stanley preach the same message on television. And frankly, he does it a lot better."

"That is not my favorite suit. I prefer the dark blue one."

"Our former pastor is preaching at Antioch this week. I'd love for you to go hear him and see why he was so loved."

"As you know, pastor, I once took a seminary course online. I'll be emailing you about your sermon because I spotted a couple of things you could do to improve on it."

And then, there is the pastor's wife ...


On the way home, the pastor may chance it. He says, "Honey, how do you think I did today?"

He may ask it, but he does not want what he's asking from her.

I cannot say that too strongly. Wife, do not tell him what you are thinking! (Remember those times when you ask him, "Does this dress make me look fat?" You want the truth, but you would appreciate some tenderness and affirmation. Well, that's where the preacher is at this moment. So, tread lightly here. Say something like, "You did just fine, honey. I'm always so proud of you").

However, let's imagine if the pastor's wife unloaded on him. She says, "Well, OK. I wasn't going to say it. But you had a stain on that suit coat and should have worn the grey. And your hair was sticking up in the back."

Wait. She's just getting started.

"The introduction to the sermon didn't work, honey. I'm sorry. Maybe I was just distracted. And you had too many points to the sermon. And ..."

She's not through yet.

"I distinctly remember you preaching this sermon last year. Don't you think you're repeating them too often? And you used a plural verb with a singular noun several times. And you still haven't lost your rural Alabama accent, saying 'wrench' instead of 'rinse.' And must you say 'y'all'?  It sounds so backwoods, not like someone well-educated like yourself."

(After reading this draft to her, my wife insisted I drop in a note to say a) none of this is autobiographical, b) when I was pastoring, she and I rarely went home in the same car, and c) while I still sound like an Alabama farm boy, she doesn't say those things. Not much, anyway. (Smiley face here).

OK. We were just imagining that the wife might say those things. Be thankful she doesn't. She has been married to her man long enough and learned him sufficiently to know when he needs an encouraging word, when he needs his back rubbed, when he needs to be left alone, and when he can receive positive input (aka, helpful criticism).

Again, it's not a bad idea for a pastor to have an armor-bearer at his right side as he greets departing worshippers. Even if such a friend does nothing, a critic who wants to unload on the preacher will be less likely to pour on the acid if a witness is on the scene.

Scripturally, a pastor is a shepherd whose job it is to protect the flock. However, pressing that metaphor to its limits, sometimes the stronger members of the flock need to rise up and defend him, taking steps to protect him from well-intentioned but undiscerning members.

Pray for your pastor.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Joe McKeever ) Pastor's Heart Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:00:00 -0400
10 Judgments of Jesus Against the Church’s Religious Systems http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/ethics/21157-10-judgments-of-jesus-against-the-church-s-religious-systems http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/ethics/21157-10-judgments-of-jesus-against-the-church-s-religious-systems

Every church and/or organization has a corporate culture with norms, rules and expectations that pressure participants to conform. Some cultures are good and some bad.

That being said, there are particular attributes that characterize false religions or become the norm during religious decline in a true faith such as Christianity. For example, "Every religious system in the world is centered upon a temple (or a sacred place) and has rites and ceremonies, has hierarchies and titles distinguishing men from one another, and has holy days and holy celebrations" (quoted from a teaching I heard from Pastor Tommy Moya several weeks ago).

The Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Micah and Amos decried religious ritual that was without true righteousness, humility and love for neighbor (Is. 1:10-17; 58; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:8). The line of prophets arose starting in the 8th century B.C. primarily because Israel had a tendency to focus more on adhering to the temple ritual worship of the Levitical system than the ethical lifestyle required by the Law of Moses as found in the Ten Commandments. For this, the prophets pronounced judgment upon the nation, and God dispersed the people and, on two occasions, destroyed their temple.

We have the same issue in today's church, irrespective of the denomination or expression of the body of Christ. (Many Pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical churches have these same issues.) Not only that, but all leaders (including me) have to constantly grapple with some or all of the following issues internally to make sure we are never sucked into this false system.

The following are 10 of the characteristics of false religious systems as taught by Jesus in Matthew 23:

1. There are onerous rules and regulations some call legalism (Matt. 23:1-3). In the contemporary church, there are numerous man-made traditions and requirements that never arose from the Word that have become an unnecessary burden upon believers. For example, in many Pentecostal churches the emphasis is on outward holiness related to attire, make up, the cutting of hair, jewelry and other regulations. I have spoken to numerous young people who stopped attending church because these regulations made them feel weird in front of their unchurched friends. Fundamentalists in the past forbade any form of entertainment including watching movies, listening to the radio, watching television, etc. These are legalistic efforts to bring holiness that have resulted in numerous churches losing their next generation.

2. The church leaders serve to receive prestige from men (vv. 5-7). God makes it clear in His word that some religious leaders love the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43). The judgment of God is against the leaders who are constantly posturing themselves within their denomination to attain the highest seats of authority and places of honor amongst men. Truly, some of the greatest people of God in the earth today are hidden from the public eye.

3. The leaders crave titles and moving up the ranks of hierarchical religious systems (vv. 8-11). Today's church is replete with people who use titles to validate their ministries. I can't tell you how many people I have met with the title apostle, bishop, doctor, and archbishop on their business cards who have very little influence in the church and secular world. Truly God doesn't care about an apostolic title; God looks more at apostolic function and fruit. I have found that, the more a person speaks about their academic achievements and ecclesial titles, the more insecure they are as a person and about their ministry accomplishments.


I say this as a person who has been consecrated both a bishop and apostle and who flows in circles with leaders who use these titles. There is nothing wrong with these titles (both are biblical) as long as we don't flaunt them, crave them, and depend upon them for validation and/or to hide that we do not have real apostolic function and fruit. Many of the greatest leaders in the church world do not insist upon people referring to them with a title.

4. The leaders have an entitlement mentality (vv. 11-12). I believe in the biblical principle of serving the people of God as a prerequisite to being qualified to function in the same ministry as they do. For example, Joshua was called the servant of Moses; Elisha served Elijah; David served Samuel and Saul, and the 12 apostles served Jesus.

That being said, there has also been abuse of this principle since many people desire to become leaders partially because it enables them to be waited upon. I believe younger ministers should serve older, more mature ministers out of honor and proper protocol but at the same time older ministers should not demand it or become abusive if they do not receive it. We do not receive titles in the kingdom so we can be waited upon but so that we can have greater opportunity to serve in the church.

The more mature a Christ-follower is, the more they will celebrate service as the highest form of ministry and leadership. God resists those leaders who emotionally abuse and/or lord it over those under their care (1 Pet. 5:3).

5. The leaders become a stumbling block to others seeking the kingdom (vv. 13-15). It has been evident the past 30 years in both the evangelical and Roman Catholic Church that leaders can become huge stumbling blocks instead of assets to the kingdom. Whether it is lavish lifestyles, sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and other forms of narcissism, many have been turned off from Christianity by those who are supposed to represent it. Truly those who handle the Word of God will receive the most scrutiny at the judgment seat of Christ (James 3:1).

6. The leaders value and love money and wealth more than anything else (vv. 16-17). While I do not believe church leaders should live in poverty, nor do I believe they should receive salaries from their churches that are greatly disproportionate to the average income of their congregation and/or community. The religious leaders Jesus denounced seemed to value gold more than the glory and honor of God. Leaders should never serve primarily for money but for the love of God and His people (1 Pet. 5:2).


7. The weightier matters of the Word are neglected (vv. 23-24). Although I believe and practice the principles of tithing, fasting, church attendance and the like, they should never be an excuse for me to think I have fulfilled all of my Christian duties. Jesus says here that we ought to continue to tithe but also includes in our lifestyle the practice of treating others with justice, mercy and faithfulness.

For example, if we tithe but treat our spouse poorly, neglect the poor in our midst, or mistreat others, our tithe will not do us any good. Then we are just like the Pharisee Jesus describes in Luke 18:10-14.

8. Ritual is valued more than inner transformation (vv. 25-28). In the church we all have our traditions and rituals; whether it is the high-church liturgies of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican churches, and/or the more informal gatherings of the Pentecostals and evangelicals. The tendency for human beings is to fall into a routine and equate our routine with true worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she worshipped what she did not know (John 4), which means that people can worship in ignorance and/or without a true experience with God.

Whether it is the sacraments of denominational churches or the shouting, shaking and tongue-talking of the Pentecostals, human nature has a tendency to fall into habit patterns of outward worship bereft of the life-changing dynamic of encountering the living God. We do not have to do away with these rituals, sacraments and traditions, but integrate them with true heartfelt worship and passion for our Lord.

9. They honor the departed saints without living like them in the present (vv. 29-32). I have found that it is much easier to study about revival than to actually work hard for it. It is much easier to study church history than it is to make history. Every denomination and expression of the church has its Christian heroes of the past, but very few denominations, churches and adherents attempt to emulate the life, passion and sacrifice of the saints of old (for example: Ignatius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Francis, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Finney, Spurgeon, Moody, Hudson Taylor, John G. Lake, Wigglesworth, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Francis Schaeffer and more).

Jesus wants us to honor the prophets of old by living like them, not merely by building and revering their tombs.

10. They reject the prophets and wise men that confront their false systems (vv. 33-37). Those who are captivated by a religious system will never listen to those speaking for God that are not of their denomination and/or do not have acceptable academic credentials. Sound familiar? The Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus (John 7:14-18) and Peter (Acts 4:13) for the same reason. It is not an accident that in Luke 3:1-2 it shows that the Word of God came to John in the wilderness and not to an already established institutional leader. Thus, God bypassed the litany of prominent political and religious leaders and their systems (3:1) because they were so corrupt.

When a leader is captivated by their religious system or dead institution, they become blind to the pure Word of the Lord. God has to bypass them and speak prophetically through those outside the dead institution. Those who are humble and have ears to hear (like Nicodemus in John 3) will recognize and receive the people God sends to them, irrespective of their institutional affiliation.

Truly, God cannot be contained in a temple, an institution, a denomination or any one religious system. He is Lord of all and will seek after those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

May God help us to avoid these 10 judgments!

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Ethics Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Why Do We Put ‘Christian Celebrities’ on a Pedestal? http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/culture/21153-why-do-we-put-christian-celebrities-on-a-pedestal http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/culture/21153-why-do-we-put-christian-celebrities-on-a-pedestal

Gungor. Vicky Beeching. Mark Driscoll. David Yonggi Cho. What do all these names have in common? Controversy.

Of course, a blogger like myself could not go silent on these issues.

When situations like this arise, we are challenged, confused, disillusioned. We often resort to bashing, freaking out, and being disgusted (or excited) when a Christian celebrity falls.

When I think of the aforementioned names, I think of children of God who followed the call of God, were used mightily by God, and are being honest with their struggles. Mistakes have been made; power has been abused. But that's no excuse to write people off.

An Issue of Worship

Allow me to issue a challenge—to you, to me. This is about worship. When situations like this arise, I wonder whom we are worshiping, what we're prioritizing. Our worship culture so often becomes a consumer game of digesting the latest, greatest songs and resources, idolizing the people who carry the gifts of God.

The problem with idolizing the carriers of God's anointing is that they weren't meant to hold the weight of such admiration. It wasn't made for man, but for God alone.

When they fall, our spirits fall because we've placed too much stock in a human. When they reveal a deep-seated belief you didn't expect them to have, your world can be rocked to its foundation.

Of course, this is a big deal because these leaders have massive, global influence. We wonder what effect their belief or sin will have on others.

Truth is, we can't look to the conduit of God's gifts as our source, but to Christ. Then, we are free to receive the ministry of those we don't agree with. We can bless and encourage and pray for those with contrary beliefs without tearing down, because it's not our job to police the church.

I don't agree with Vicky's life choices and wouldn't make them my own. Gungor's perspective on the Bible is a little troubling. But that doesn't force me to choose between love and hate, compassion and spite.

Rather, I can respect and reach out.

Criticism & The Cross

We can still sing Vicky Beeching's worship songs. We can be strengthened and inspired by her powerful intellect.

We can still draw near to Christ through Gungor's music. We can still be influenced by Mark Driscoll's preaching. No matter how imperfect they all are, it doesn't negate their ministry.

Honestly, we all encounter struggles and face questions without easy answers. Few of us are bold enough to speak up and say "I'm struggling with my sexuality. I'm struggling with the reality of God. I struggle with the love of money."

What these people invite us into is recognizing our own humanity and bringing them into the context of conversation. Think about the thousands of Christians around the world who have questions, struggles and doubts. If we as the church won't allow their questions to be heard, where is the best place?

We all have questions. Imperfection is part of our nature on this earth. Let your criticism of others be shrouded in prayer for their wellbeing.

Let's look to the cross. Let's make the person of Christ our hero, our daily source. Consider the possibility that your greatest hero of faith could disappoint you with a belief they have. Stay rooted in Christ, and pray for those you look up to.

I'd love to hear from you and continue the conversation.

What has been your response to all this controversy? What do you believe? Let's have a conversation here in the comments.

David Santistevan is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For the original article, visit davidsantistevan.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (David Santistevan) Culture Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:00:00 -0400