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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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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.

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