Outreach http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach Fri, 06 May 2016 20:31:21 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb How These Churches Have Transformed Their Communities http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/community/22779-change-agents-for-christ http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/community/22779-change-agents-for-christ

Churches are transforming their communities by caring for people in neighborhoods overwhelmed by crime, illiteracy and poverty. Taking the love of Christ into these situations, congregations fulfill their high calling, knowing that the government cannot fully answer these needs.

Pastor Chris Martin's Cathedral of Faith Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was the first to respond to the water emergency in Flint, Michigan, that shocked the nation.

On the streets of Chicago, Pastor Luis Reyes launched a ministry to children plagued by poverty and illiteracy.

In America's heartland, Ray Stribling, a former drug addict and alcoholic, opened Hope City in what the Kansas City Star called the "murder factory" zip code of Missouri.

Martin, Reyes and Stribling are only a few examples of church leaders who have become change agents in their communities. Their churches help lower crime; break the generational cycle of drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty and illiteracy; and bring the gospel to the unreached.

Mobilize to Help the Community

Pastor Martin was thrust in the middle of the water crisis in Flint.

"We've been the victims of a political fiasco," Martin says. "Flint used to purchase water from the Detroit water system, but our mayor decided to save $2.4 million by changing the source of water to the Flint River. This was done without the EPA or any federal oversight. When a pediatrician noticed that her patients had unusually high levels of poison in their system, she blew the whistle and got the attention of the nation."

Cathedral of Faith COGIC stepped in and bought cases of water for Flint residents during the ongoing health crisis.

"There was a mile-long line of people wanting to get into the church for water," Martin says. "We've handed out 25,000 cases of water since January."

COGIC President Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. says there are more than 60 of the denomination's congregations in Flint.

"When we heard about the crisis, we immediately began to mobilize and strategize how we as an organization could help our members and residents," Blake says. "The leadership of the Church of God in Christ cannot stand silent as innocent children of Flint and their parents suffer the ravages of poisonous water."

Martin has a history of leading his church to serve the community. In 2008, when he became pastor at Cathedral of Faith, he launched a "Pullover for Prayer" campaign that was covered by USA Today. The church now also hosts a Head Start after-school program that serves 72 students.

New Church of Joy in Waukegan, Illinois, ministers to over 2,000 kids every week, hosting Sidewalk Sunday School in area parks, tutoring students at a success center and equipping them for ministry through a teen leadership program. The ministry, which started in an apartment and moved to offices in Zion, now operates in an $8 million YMCA facility recently given to the ministry.

"When we launched Sidewalk Sunday School, we didn't have a truck or supplies," says Tricia Reyes, co-founder of Sidewalk Sunday School and Reach a Generation, an outreach to children and teens in Greater Chicago. "My husband was determined that even if he had to use his car, he was going to reach kids with the gospel."

They purchased a flower delivery truck, which a friend refurbished. Now, the ministry has a fleet of Sidewalk Sunday School trucks and buses that pick up kids in 20 cities in Greater Chicago.

"A lot of our students were graduating, so we started a Bible college," she says.

Ministering to children is also important for New Life Church Milton in Ontario, Canada. Pastor Dan Rogge started the church with nine people "in the middle of nowhere," he says. Today it is a growing multicultural congregation of 500 members. When Rogge started the church, he had no idea that a major development was planned around the church property until he submitted plans to build a storage facility, which the City of Milton declined to approve as it would be an "eyesore."

New Life has built a black-box theater and a facility with breakout rooms for youth. The church also created Firm Foundation, an after-school program to teach morality to children, and after learning that the deaf in the community were not being reached, Rogge launched the New Life Deaf Church with captioning.

At Peerless Road Church, a ministry of the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP), in Cleveland, Tennessee, Pastor Brian Sutton led his congregation to help a distressed neighborhood.

"We prayed for this neighborhood and the needs of this neighborhood," Sutton says. "As we prayed, we tried giving away food, and God opened doors for us."

The need for food led to the launch of Serve, a church outreach that ministers to 85 to 110 families every first and third Saturday.

"On a typical Saturday, we'll gather with a food distribution truck," Sutton says. "We fill up the truck and have volunteers of every age meet us at the church to sort it and serve it. Saturday has grown into a time of worship as we have seen people healed and delivered. They will come back and testify."

The church gives away 250 backpacks filled with school supplies to children.

"Right before school starts, we have a local cosmetology school that donates their staff (services) to cut hair," Sutton says. "Every kid gets a free haircut, backpack filled with supplies, and they hear a gospel message. We have bounce houses and give out hot dogs. We have partners who want to help us give away over 500 backpacks."

Kansas City's 64130 zip code is home to several families with family members who are convicted murderers. Hope City, a 6-year-old ministry in that area, is an outreach of the International House of Prayer Kansas City (IHOPKC) and Forerunner Christian Church. The prayer room is the heart of Hope City's ministry to drug addicts, alcoholics and families.

"When my wife and I got saved, we both had to go back and do some time in jail," says Stribling, director of Hope City. "When we got out, we always had a heart for ministering to people on the streets."

Stribling says that lasting change and freedom starts in the prayer room.

"I've been in the 12-step programs and addiction recovery," he says. "When you sit in the prayer room, you encounter the Lord."

Encompassing half a city block, Hope City has a food pantry and a community center, which is open for anyone to take a shower, get a hot meal or cup of coffee and use WiFi. The center also has a residential program for interns and 30-35 people in addiction recovery. The pantry provides meals for up to 1,000 families a month through a partnership with Harvesters Network.

"When someone comes to the community center, they don't have to go to the prayer room, but most of the time the music draws them," Stribling says. "I've led so many people to the Lord who walk into these doors."

In Adairsville, Georgia, a town with a population of about 4,600, Tina Spellman wanted Living Way Church of Foursquare to be a "transformational church." To fulfill that vision, Pastor Spellman launched community gatherings at locations such as businesses, schools, military bases and courthouses. The purpose of the gatherings is to build relationships and invite people into the community of faith.

The congregation also houses the only coffee shop in town at Living Way Community Center.

"We say Jesus shows up at the shop every day," Spellman says. "This is an experimental enterprise of sorts, a partnership between church and businesses."

The community center is also home to the Living Way Christian Academy and KidZone after-school clubs.

Grow by Meeting Needs

These churches have found that meeting the needs of the community has helped increase church attendance and empowered their members to serve.

"We're the fastest-growing church in Flint," Martin says.

Even local gang members consider Flint's Cathedral of Faith their church.

"One Sunday, 20 gang members walked into the service," Martin says. "When they come to play basketball, we tell them that they have to leave their guns outside."

The crime rate is much lower around the church in a city known for a high rate of homicides. Cathedral of Faith is also one of the few African-American churches that is a member of the Flint Chamber of Commerce.

Jaison Randall says practical evangelism has increased church attendance at CityReach Network, an Assemblies of God church plant in Buffalo, New York. The city has a higher-than-average refugee and Arab population, and CityReach aims to meet community needs with a food pantry, street evangelism and home visitation.

"Our Toys for Tots drive has been really good for us," Pastor Randall says of the Christmas toy campaign. "Our acts of kindness break down barriers between people."

At New Church of Joy, reaching children and teens has added to the congregation.

"What we do draws people to our ministry," Tricia says. "There are more people than we realize who support what we do in the community. When we hosted a summer camp, we had a lot of our members take a vacation from their job to serve the kids. I think more people are seeing that we need to reach the younger generation."

But even though a child in the program may not become a church member, her life can still be changed for the good.

"We had a 6-year-old girl who came to our Sidewalk Sunday School services who was picked up by police," Tricia says. "Her mom was strung out on drugs, and the girl told the police to take her to the church because they would know what to do. We kept her for a few weeks until we knew she was in a stable situation. Today, she is going to college and serving the Lord."

Pastors and leaders who want to change their communities need to start with what they have. Finding a mentor is also critical. Bill Wilson, the founder of Sidewalk Sunday School in New York City, mentored Tricia's husband, Luis.

"There are many people who are desperate," Sutton says of such ministry work. "You will have no competition to reach the hurting."


Leilani Haywood is the online editor of SpiritLed Woman magazine and the author of Ten Keys to Raising Kids That Love God. Follow her on Twitter (@leilanihaywood).

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webmaster@strang.com (Leilani Haywood) Community Thu, 05 May 2016 21:00:00 -0400
What We Must Do to Prepare for the Harvest http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22851-what-we-must-do-to-prepare-for-the-harvest http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22851-what-we-must-do-to-prepare-for-the-harvest

As we recognize that we are living in the last days, there are some things that, as the Body of Christ, we need to do. We cannot sit around passively in church, thinking that Jesus will come back for His bride that has been complacent and stagnant.

There are certain things we must do to prepare for the harvest.

"Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they fainted and were scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send out laborers into His harvest" (Matt. 9:35-38).

When we read this, Jesus is saying there are few workers or few people to reap the harvest or reach souls. We usually equate that with people or churches that are evangelizing and getting people saved. That is true; we need that. However, we don't just need people or churches to go out and evangelize; there is something more that Jesus is saying here.

We must honor God with our lives. God wants to restore His honor in all the earth. Honoring the Lord will change the atmosphere around the world. If every church in the world went outside their four walls and reached 100 people and brought them to church and they got saved, would that be enough?

When people come to your church, do they find a place where Jesus is a priority and where an atmosphere of honor toward the Lord has been created? If they find this, they too will turn their hearts to the Lord and honor Him. This is the harvest that God wants.

Most people are satisfied with their salvation, and that's it. I will go to church every Sunday and I'm good, because I know I'm going to heaven. I will throw in a few dollars in the offering, maybe come out and help during a special event or holiday to soothe my conscience and maybe clap my hands if I like the song they sing. That's it, which is all I have to do because I know I'm going to heaven.

The Bible has a different interpretation as to how we must prepare ourselves as the bride of Christ; it is not simply about reaching heaven. We must prepare ourselves for heaven as the bride of Christ.

"'Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. It was granted her to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.' Fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:7-8).

As believers, our righteous acts are walking in unity as a body, giving our tithes and offerings, serving, worshiping and praising God, knowing and living the word of God, honor and reverence to the Lord, and putting God first. We don't have to be a perfect church, but it is important for us to honor God and put our faith in Him. As we respond, He will continue to change us and bring in the harvest.

We must understand the times we are living in and the urgency of the hour. God must come first and be a priority in our lives.

"As they went along the way, a man said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.' Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.' He said to another man, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But you go and preach the kingdom of God.' Yet another said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go bid farewell to those at my house.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back at things is fit for the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:57-62).

This was a priority statement. When Jesus said "no place to lay His head," this was a test. If you follow me, you may have nowhere to lay your head. Jesus emphasized that they can't look back, they can't return to their past, and they couldn't return to their religious family to get them to approve. 

God knows our heart, but He is not going to compete with that distraction in our life. We have to ask ourselves if we are ready to make Him the priority by honoring Him.

It's not simply about the final destination. You want heaven to be a priority when you die, but you won't make God a priority as you live. When you get caught in an apathetic way or stuck in your religion or tradition, you need to respond and do something different so that you don't stay in that spot. Your life, marriage, home, relationships or with God may be moving toward a dead end, so you must respond.

As we prepare for God's harvest, we must create an atmosphere of honor to the Lord at church and in our lives. When we get this, we will not only reap the harvest but we will do the right thing in God's eyes not only by getting people saved but also by teaching the people to honor the Lord and make Him a priority.

This sets us up for the revival to come, when our hearts will be turned towards God and our lives will be surrendered to Him. We will be a people that God will look at and pour His presence out to us. {eoa}

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Tricia Reyes ) Evangelism Thu, 05 May 2016 12:00:00 -0400
Techs Have the Calling of the Great Commission Too http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22775-techs-have-the-calling-of-the-great-commission-too http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22775-techs-have-the-calling-of-the-great-commission-too

Technicians are a different breed. Many are introverts who are content to stay in the back room pushing buttons and not talking to anyone. Many church techs have told me that despite trying, they have never personally led anyone to Christ—and it bothers them.

God created us to worship Him, and we are doing so through our technical talents. But why didn't He create us to be platform speakers or missionaries who boldly go and teach the gospel around the world? After all, God gave us the Great Commission: "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Believing they are missing out on fulfilling that commission can cause tech people to crawl into a shell and feel like they are just "doers," a service department whose technicians simply do what they're told.

I have visited a fair number of churches that not only miss the calling of a tech but also reinforce a tech's naturally negative suspicion that he is just there to "do things." Churches that suspect they might be in this category may be helped by some of these practices:

1. Get acquainted with other teams. Make sure the tech team knows what the other teams are doing and appreciates the contributions of their team members. Do this by forcing one-on-one engagement. Having prayer time together and a few minutes of interaction before rehearsal are positive ways to know what members of the worship, facility and other teams are going through. If possible, get the worship and production teams together for outings that build relational bridges.

2. Provide a path for ideas your team members propose. Don't kill the ideas proposed by the team, but encourage them and have a process for vetting them. Make sure the box that the team operates in is clearly defined, but leave enough room for creativity and freedom to make the work of the technician an art, not a job.

3. Refocus the team. Use a system to review what the teams are doing, and provide praise or correction as needed. Also, hold a brief meeting for the teams right before the service where you can provide a breather, pray a quick prayer for the service and refocus the teams on the real reason why they do tech. The real reason is because tech team members are a part of a ministry that, at its heart, fulfills the Great Commission. Most technicians have led many people to Christ by fulfilling their part in the service. Sure, it's important to have one-on-one contact with people and guide to Christ those who don't know Him. But when it comes to technical abilities and talents, why would these be any less of a ministry to the lost than the pastor preaching? I don't believe it is less of a ministry. The work of a technician is just as much a ministry to others as is a missionary who travels around the world or a pastor who speaks from the platform. I believe many souls have been won to Christ through the ministry of tech. If it were not for technology, how would multisite video church happen? How would ministry tools like CDs be available to hand to our neighbors? Digital witnessing through sermon podcasts or webcasts sent around the world in seconds means a church has an international outreach without the church tech leaving town. None of that would happen without a technician willing to come in early, stay late and work hard to fulfill what I like to call the "digital great commission."

Knowing this should reframe the mindset of the tech team member, no matter his role. This way of thinking should drive the tech team, giving the team a mission, a vision and a goal. It changes how team members act, react and interact. Their job is now more than pushing a button or moving a fader. Through the use of technology, their role is to paint an atmosphere of worship that helps engage or introduce every soul to the Holy Spirit. That's the digital great commission. Let's fulfill it.  
     


David Leuschner is associate senior director of technology and technical arts at Gateway Church in Dallas/Fort Worth. He directs more than 500 volunteers and staff to facilitate several hundred events a month for Gateway's seven venues. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (both @davidleuschner).

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webmaster@strang.com (David Leuschner) Communication Mon, 02 May 2016 21:00:00 -0400
12 Stumbling Blocks to the Gospel for This Generation http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22837-12-stumbling-blocks-to-the-gospel-for-this-generation http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22837-12-stumbling-blocks-to-the-gospel-for-this-generation

I preach in a lot of different places, have been involved in evangelism and have overseen a local church for more than three decades. I have often found that it is not the gospel that turns people off, but the people carrying the gospel who turn them off.

It is my opinion that church leadership should remove as many unnecessary stumbling blocks as possible so that as many as possible can be saved.

The following 12 points are based on conversations I have had with millennial leaders as well as the average person on the street:

1. An overemphasis on money – I have been in some services in which the offering took more than 30 minutes, and it was not a special service but the norm. In other services, it was common to collect three offerings or more! This gives new people the impression that the church leadership is more concerned with collecting money than in preaching the gospel.

This also leaves the church open to suspicion regarding their motives. I believe money and stewardship should be taught regularly, and at times fundraising should be a focal point for in church gatherings, but it should never consistently rival the time given to preaching and teaching the Word of God.

2. The opulent lifestyle of the leadership – In many cases, the lavish lifestyle of the pastor and top leaders is a huge stumbling block for the gospel. I believe God wants His children blessed, but the pastor and leaders should model a lifestyle of simplicity and not extravagance especially if they lead churches in poor communities. The apostles Peter and Paul both stated that greed should not be a trait of church elders (1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Tim. 3:3.)

3. Scandals – In this day and age, any fool can post something scandalous on social media about a church or leader that has no basis in the truth. These are things we cannot always avoid; hence, this is why you should not be quick to believe what people post about others! However, when leaders don't have proper boundaries in their finances and personal life, they tend to cross the line in both.

These are the ones that are ripe for a public scandal. Since the huge televangelist scandals of the 1980s to the present, scandals give the unbeliever another excuse not to repent and believe the gospel. Every leader should be careful what they text, email, post and say in public and private. They should also have a strong interior life in which they walk in the fear of the Lord, which enables all of us to depart from evil (Prov. 16:6).

4. Duplicitous behavior. When children of believers and or the unsaved witness ungodly behavior from their co-workers, employees, neighbors and friends who claim to be Christians, it is a huge stumbling block to the gospel.

5. Religious titles – Many millennials in certain communities are turned off by the excessive use of elaborate religious hierarchical titles. In some religious settings, every body has a title like bishop, apostle, doctor, reverend and archbishop. Young people are especially turned off by the need for this kind of identification for self-validation.

6. Religious language – People in this generation are not as religious as the previous generation and feel disconnected when a believer constantly uses religious language in everyday communication. We have to learn to communicate using the "language of Babylon" if we are going to make strong connections with this generation. We have to teach believers how to "think biblically but speak secularly" if the gospel is going to make inroads in culture.

7. Religious images of power – Vestiges of authority and power in the church turn off many young people. They more easily relate to down-to-Earth, transparent leadership. When they see thrones on a church stage in which leaders are elevated above the congregation with pastors preaching (down) at the congregation, it gives them the wrong impression of leadership and is a quick turnoff.

8. Religious behavior – Sometimes in church the people have so many protocols, traditions and rituals, it scares new people into thinking they have to become religious robots in order to believe. We need to show the world the difference between being religious (which does not save or sanctify a person) and having a relationship with the Lord Jesus.

9. Territorial emphasis over kingdom focus – Many are turned off to the gospel when they see leadership merely focused on their own agenda and building programs and not for the good of their community. God called us to serve our communities not just build larger church buildings.

10. Programs over people – Many people are turned off to the gospel when they see the church focus more on events and programs than on relating one on one to people.

11. Triumphalism – Many young people are turned off to triumphalist prayers and pronouncements about taking cities and nations back for God. They feel called to serve their community but not to take it over by force. We in the church have to be careful with the kind of language we use to communicate our vision.

12. No community and authenticity – What people crave for the most is community. Everyone needs to feel loved and to belong to an entity greater than him or herself. Part of the call of the church is to assimilate new believers into the visible body of Christ through relationships and discipleship. When people come to the church and only experience program based Christianity, they will eventually leave and look for a real community in which to belong. {eoa}

Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, futurist, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). He also has a blog on Charisma magazine called "The Pulse." To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter, go to josephmattera.org.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Joseph Mattera) Evangelism Mon, 02 May 2016 18:00:00 -0400
5 Reasons Why the Large, Single-Site Church Is Dying http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22839-5-reasons-why-the-large-single-site-church-is-dying http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22839-5-reasons-why-the-large-single-site-church-is-dying

One of the largely unspoken phenomena of the past decade has been the decline in large churches located at only one site. Most of the large church growth today is taking place at multisite churches.

For clarity, I define a large church as a congregation with an average weekly worship attendance of 1,000 or more. In this article, I focus on just those churches located at one site. Larger churches with multiple sites have largely avoided this issue. They are growing more through multiple sites than larger services.

So why are we hearing more about the decline of these churches? Allow me to offer five reasons:

1. "Cultural Christians" are numerically declining. A cultural Christian is not really a Christian at all. These men and women attended church services in the past because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do. They were drawn to the services that were large in number because they thought they could escape further involvement. They, in essence, hid in the crowd. Cultural Christianity is disappearing rapidly in America. The decline in their numbers has largely impacted the churches with larger gatherings.

2. The majority of millennials prefer smaller worship gatherings. They are thus less likely to attend a church with a single-service attendance of 1,000 or more.

3. The growth of church planting and church campuses. Simply stated, most of the numerical growth is migrating toward these new and smaller sites.

4. Assimilation is often a greater challenge in the larger gathering. If someone stops attending a large worship gathering, it is likely he or she will not be missed. If the person is not missed, there is no follow up, and he or she drops out.

5. The perceived quality of worship services is no longer limited to larger churches. From 1980 to 2010, many church attendees shifted to larger worship services where they could experience a higher quality of worship. Today, many of the smaller churches are able to have similar quality.

Many multisite church leaders are reporting declines in their larger "home base church" services, but those numbers are masked by growth at other campuses. In many ways the multisite movement has been a great blessing in keeping larger churches on a growth trajectory.

Many of the large single-site churches, however, obviously do not have other campuses to offset declines in their single site services. It is a largely unreported phenomenon. But it is a challenging reality in many churches.

Let me hear from you.

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 ) Church Growth Fri, 29 Apr 2016 21:00:00 -0400
Kingdom Economics: Independent Contractors http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/discipleship/22830-kingdom-economics-independent-contractors http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/discipleship/22830-kingdom-economics-independent-contractors

An independent contractor provides goods and/or services according to a written or oral contract.  Since they are independent, and not employees, they have more flexibility regarding their schedule, the number of hours they desire to work and the type of work they perform, all while increasing their income and usually without a long-term commitment.

Higher healthcare costs, increasingly costly administrative burdens (complexity, expanded paid time-off and legal requirements) have accelerated companies' desire to outsource. Less job security, flat wages, higher health care costs and fewer career opportunities have encouraged the workforce to supplement or replace incomes.

More work is being performed by independent contractors and the trend is accelerating.  The data shows increase regardless of gender, race, education or occupation. Over the last five years, the trend accounts for much of the increase in overall employment. Slightly more than 40 percent of independent contractors are doing it full-time. Nearly 60 percent are doing it to supplement incomes. Most have been doing it for less than a year.

The same forces encouraging independent contracting are also influencing the church. Convenient schedules, time requirements, choice of positions, perceived benefits and the lack of long-term commitment are becoming societal norms. Engaging these changes the kingdom way should help alleviate the consequences of these norms and grow the church. Specific issues and recommendations include:

1. Convenient schedules. Today's congregants want church schedules to revolve around their needs and preferences. "I like to sleep late on Sunday so..." is heard by many pastors.  As leaders we need to be cognizant of the wishes of our congregation, while recognizing we cannot please everybody. Additional services stretch the limited resources available.

Kingdom solution: Obtain information from the congregation while maintaining leadership decisions based on the church's mission, resources and inspiration of the Lord.

2. Time requirements. In today's modern world, time may be the scarcest of all resources. Many complaints are legitimate (my job, family and/or health are suffering because of the time commitment), while some reflect poorly on their priorities (please close the service before the buffet lines get long).

Kingdom solution: Make sure all programs are needed, efficient and the result of prayer. Ensure that worship, sermon and ministry are sufficiently long that all have the opportunity to have an encounter with the Lord.

3. Choice of positions. These days, church leadership will often receive requests from individuals for specific positions. While there is nothing wrong with the requests per se, all positions should be considered a calling where church needs, gifting of the individual and guidance of the Lord are paramount.

Kingdom solution: Actively seek the interests of potential volunteers, but follow the inspiration of the Lord.

4. Perceived benefits. People attend church for a variety of reasons; to make connections, to ease their conscience, to make friends, to meet expectations of others, and/or to worship the Lord, learn His Word and serve.  Kingdom solution:  insure that the complete Word is taught, worship is filled with His presence, and that every person has the opportunity to receive ministry and have an encounter.

5. Lack of long-term commitment. Church membership is declining, church hopping is increasing, and church attendance is either not considered or optional at best for far too many. A lack of long-term commitment is a spiritual problem. When we try to compete with the world in the entertainment arena, we lose. If we compromise the Word to increase its acceptability, we reduce much of its power. If we fail to move in our spiritual gifts to avoid criticism, we are limiting blessings to our congregation.

Kingdom solution: Preach the Word and move in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We need to reverse current trends to ensure a spiritual legacy for future generations. Our callings and responsibilities are critical. Significance and impacts reach far beyond today's environment.

Let us equip the saints and raise up disciples the way the Bible instructs and the Holy Spirit directs; Jesus paid the price, the Holy Spirit empowers, and victory is assured. {eoa}

Dr. James R. Russell is professor of economics and chair of the Undergraduate College of Business at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (James R. Russell ) Discipleship Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:00:00 -0400
A Modern-Day Joseph: How God Moved on the Front Lines http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22799-a-modern-day-joseph-how-god-moved-on-the-front-lines http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22799-a-modern-day-joseph-how-god-moved-on-the-front-lines

I was with my family, whom I hadn't seen in 13 weeks, and was soon to graduate from the Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, California, when a man walked up and thanked me for helping his son return to the Lord.

While in the service, I found myself witnessing in many non-traditional forms. I led a prayer group at boot camp and marched recruits to chapel services, all as a previously burned-out youth pastor with plans to become a chaplain.

Later, while I was training for deployment to Iraq as a field radio operator, a close friend of mine gave me the call sign "Preach," which stuck. The call sign was a term of endearment as well as a fresh reminder of God's call on my life. I was amazed to experience firsthand the fulfillment of the prophecies in Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:17-19.

Wherever I went, I witnessed God speaking to men and women in uniform. He even spoke in dreams to fellow infantrymen while they were on training operations in the field leading up to deployment.

During my 2007-2008 deployment to Iraq, word spread that I interpreted dreams, so Marines would come to me and tell me their dreams. Like Joseph and Daniel in the Bible, I told them that it is God who interprets dreams and mysteries, wanting to give credit to whom credit is due (Genesis 40:8; Daniel 2:27-30). I offered Scripture to support the interpretation I sensed from the Holy Spirit, encouraged them to spend time with Jesus, and gave them reading material.

I was humbled as I saw God communicate with those literally on the front lines for our nation. During one conversation with a spiritually hungry Marine, I shared personal experiences of things I had seen God accomplish and then asked him if he wanted more of God. He said yes, so we prayed together and he was marvelously baptized with the Holy Spirit. I cried because I felt that in my spiritually dry state I was unworthy to be part of such an experience.

In 2009, I had the privilege of watching a fellow sergeant in my platoon be baptized in water. He was possibly the first Christian in hundreds of years to be baptized in the Helmand River Valley of Afghanistan. Though we were surrounded by darkness and hatred in a combat environment, God's Spirit was moving on people, bringing His light.

One time we escorted the battalion chaplain to officiate field memorial services for fallen Marines. While returning to base, one of the first remote controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated in our area of operation. Thankfully it detonated prematurely, but right in front of my platoon. (Up until this time, the IEDs we encountered were pressure plate detonations.) I looked back at the chaplain and his assistant in my truck and said, "Sir, God is watching out for us."

God is talking to our men and women in uniform in direct and wonderfully supernatural ways. And He has placed incredible chaplains and other Christians in uniform with them to be part of the harvest within our military and to plant seeds of faith (1 Corinthians 3:5-8). Some of my fellow service members committed their lives to Christ even after deployment, during their transition to the civilian world. The seeds had taken root.

RELATED: "5 ways to Survive (Even Thrive) Through a Deployment"

Pray for our sons and daughters in uniform to overcome the challenges they face daily. Pray for the ongoing outpouring of the Spirit upon them, especially as they return from serving and need support and healing. {eoa}

Serving in the Marine Corps from 2006-2011, Jared Laskey was the personal radio operator to the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. Some of his unit's missions are recorded in the movies To Hell and Back Again and The Hornet's Nest. He has also co-written a book called Veronica's Hero, soon to be published with Lulu Publishing.

The original article was printed in the March/April 2016 issue of The Message magazine.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Jared Laskey) Evangelism Fri, 22 Apr 2016 21:00:00 -0400
What Laypeople Need to Know About Speaking in 'Big Church' http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22795-what-laypeople-need-to-know-about-speaking-in-big-church http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22795-what-laypeople-need-to-know-about-speaking-in-big-church

By laypeople, I mean non-preachers.

By speaking in church, I mean before large groups of the Lord's people.

Many non-clergy are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind. But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his element when suddenly asked to deliver a talk in front of the whole church.

Marlene said to me, "I'm sorry I took the entire service, pastor. But the Lord was leading me." Translation: She really got into her talk and couldn't control it. As a young pastor, I had invited church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes. (Later, I learned to interview the individual and retain hold of the microphone the entire time!)

Since Marlene had not prepared adequately, once she got going, she couldn't find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes.

Personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare on the Lord.

I see it happen all the time. It's almost embarrassing.

A man is given five minutes to present something in a formal program. He gets up and speaks and speaks. Fifteen minutes later, he says, "They told me I had five minutes to do this. So, in the time I have left ..."

His wife is trying to keep control on the second row. But she'd like to crawl under the pew.

Here then is my list of things non-clergy should know before they rise to speak in church:

1. Standing in front of the congregation makes one lose all sense of time. I know it's true because preachers deal with it all the time.

2. Prepare. A speaker needs to plan carefully and fully two important things: what to say and what not to say. The second is as important as the first.

3. Rehearse. Once they've planned their presentation, they need to practice it. Several times—in front of a mirror, while taking a walk, in the car.

4. Ask. Once the plan has been made and has been rehearsed several times, the speaker should ask the spouse to be their audience. "Honey, would you let me practice my talk?" Assuming he/she agrees, they should then add, "Please don't interrupt me, but I'd love for you to write down any thoughts or suggestions and tell me at the end."

5. Pay attention. Do whatever your spouse says. Ironclad rule. Do not argue. If your spouse says, "That story doesn't work," then it doesn't. If they say something is unclear, it is. (This is really difficult since everything inside you wants to defend the good stuff you've written here. Learn to stifle that. It's your worst enemy.)

6. Be sharp. Cut out all the preliminary talk. We have all heard someone rise to give a talk and begin, "When they asked me to do this, I began to think about what I might say ..." Such an opening is just verbal clutter, and should be treated like all other garbage and trash: taken out and thrown away.

7. No jokes unless you know what you're doing. If you are going to tell a joke (or humorous story) in your presentation, try it out on several people ahead of time. If even one is slow to get the point, omit it. Jokes can be great when done well, but no beginner is going to do this well, mark my word. It takes time and practice, and frankly, a few failures. (Ask any humorist to tell you of the times when he/she told stories that bombed, or even back-fired.)

8. Brief is great. Your allotted time is going to be a lot quicker than you would ever have thought.

9. Nervousness is normal. Knocking knees or nervous hands do not indicate that you should not be doing this. Even the most experienced speakers are often beset by anxieties before their moment arrives. 

10. Speak up. Speak slowly and clearly. Do not mumble. If you're using the microphone, get with the person on the sound board ahead of time. Ask him/her for suggestions. Believe me, they have them!

11. Focus. Here is a little secret I learned by accident in my very first sermon. Sitting on the platform about to approach the pulpit to preach, I was almost overcome by nerves. But, when I began to focus on the people and their need to hear what I had to share, the nerves disappeared.

12. Use good grammar. That's why planning is important, so you will know how to get your message across most effectively.

13. Never apologize. (In this context, that is.) We've all heard speakers walk up to the microphone and begin with, "Now, I'm not a public speaker ... as you can probably tell ..." (waiting for a laugh that doesn't come.) Don't beat yourself up unnecessarily before your audience.

Just do it.

Never turn down an invitation to do some public speaking, unless it's a forum not to your liking or a subject outside your area of knowledge. As a new pastor in the New Orleans area, I turned down an invitation to be a last-minute fill-in for a television program in which several local citizens were discussing the pros and cons of homosexuality. Even though I am opposed to this practice, the last thing I wanted was to be labeled as anti-gay, either by my church or those opposed to church. So, I sent my regrets.

If you fear public speaking, just know you have lots of company. But you will take a giant step of personal growth each time you accept the challenge. Fear can be a monstrous master. Give it an inch and it'll take a foot. The famous cartoonist Charles Schulz was afraid to fly. However, once a year, he took a short flight somewhere. "The nature of fear is such," he said, "that if I give in to it, soon I'd be afraid to leave my room."

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you have terrific assurances that "He will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5-6), that you "can do all things through Christ who strengthens" you (Philippians 4:13), and "He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Go for it. You can do this.

Oh, and there's one more thing. Let's make this ...

14. Afterwards, no autopsies. Stifle the urge to go back and analyze your every mistake. Do not ask people how you did. Do not put the standard of perfection on your talk. (If we pastors did that, we'd never get up to preach.)

Make it fun. Enjoy it. You can do this. {eoa}

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Joe McKeever ) Communication Thu, 21 Apr 2016 18:00:00 -0400
The Guide to Better Transitions in Your Weekend Services http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/service/22740-the-guide-to-better-transitions-in-your-weekend-services http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/service/22740-the-guide-to-better-transitions-in-your-weekend-services

Did you know that you could make a leap in the quality of your worship services just by paying attention to one simple thing?

Usually, we concentrate on finding the songs, videos, and other creative elements for the worship service. The focus is on "the moment" of each element.

What will take your worship service to the next level, however, are the transitions between the elements.

Transitions are like the connectors on a train. Each boxcar can stand alone, but train wrecks happen when no one pays attention to how the cars are attached.

If you neglect to plan for the flow between the elements of your service, your congregation probably won't call your service a train wreck, but they may have trouble engaging when you don't move them from one moment to the next.

Who plans transitions? Your worship leader? Yes, and the programming team.

The Programming Team

The Programming Team is so important to my preaching ministry that I try to stop in on their meetings at least four or five times during the year. And I am a friend to everyone on this team.

Ideally, this team of men and women who are involved in the production of the service will meet weeks in advance to plan the service. At New Song, our Programming Team meets a minimum of twice a month. They're usually planning services six weeks out. For big events like Easter, "This Christmas..." and Oasis (our annual leadership conference) they plan at least six months out.

Our Programming Team can usually touch on three events in one planning session. Using the notes I give them on the messages, they often plan two weeks' worth of worship services and make progress on planning an upcoming major event, or the staging around an upcoming series. During the initial planning of major events, I try to sit in with this team to help supply vision and direction for the event.

Communicating early and often between the pastor and the worship leader and his programming team is imperative for great worship services.

14 Questions for Better Transitions in your Weekend Services

Here are 14 questions your programming team should answer as they prepare for the worship services. Attention to these details is often the difference between a good worship experience and a great one.

1. What's the theme of the service?

2. Who will forecast the theme? And how?

3. How do the various elements of the service fit together?

4. How does one song flow into another? Will a modulating chord be played, or will the band stop, recalibrate, and start over?

5. Will the worship leader say something, read something, or pray something between songs, or will he or she go straight from one song to the next?

6. Will the podium be pre-set, or will someone bring it on stage as the preacher gets up to speak?

7. If there are lighting changes, how will they be made?

8. If there is a video, drama, choir, or testimony, how will that person or group get on and off the stage?

9. What words or music will lead into them?

10. Who will underscore the announcements, and with what kind of music?

11. How will the announcements person segue to the next element in the service?

12. What kind of musical underscore will take place as the preacher comes to the podium?

13. Will there be an underscore as the preacher concludes his message? If so, when will it start, and how will the underscorer know to start it?

14. What will happen on stage after the closing prayer? Will there be a reprise of the final song, or will we go immediately to recorded "walk out" music?

Yes, the Holy Spirit's presence is the most important factor in a good worship service. But our attention to detail can be part of God's gift to the people as they sense and experience his presence.

To download the Cheat Sheet to Better Transitions, visit pastormentor.com.

Now, since we're here, let me throw in one more way to improve your weekend services.

The Importance of Lighting

Studies have shown the people are 15 percent more persuadable when the person speaking is well-lit.

While we rely on the Holy Spirit to draw people, Paul says that by all possible means we ought to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11) so I believe that if lighting can make a difference, then we ought to employ good lighting. And good sound equipment. And any other technology we are able to bring into the worship experience.

We are always budgeting and upgrading to improve the tech that scaffolds our services.

Now What?

What can you do right now to start planning better transitions?

1. Share this post with your programming team.

2. Download the cheat sheet.

3. Discuss the questions at our next programming team meeting.

Hal Seed is the founding and lead pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California. Hal mentors pastors to lead healthy, growing churches. He offers resources to help church leaders at www.pastormentor.com.

For the original article, visit pastormentor.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Hal Seed) Service Thu, 07 Apr 2016 18:00:00 -0400
Research: Americans Say Christians Face Increased Persecution http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/community/22736-research-americans-say-christians-face-increased-persecution http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/community/22736-research-americans-say-christians-face-increased-persecution

A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that the nation's Christians face growing intolerance.

They also say American Christians complain too much.

Those are among the findings of a new study of views about religious liberty from LifeWay Research. Researchers surveyed 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and September 2015 and then compared the results.

Two-thirds (63 percent) say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from half (50 percent) in 2013.

A similar number (60 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline, up from just over half (54 percent) in 2013.

Forty-three percent say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated, up from 34 percent in 2013.

"More Americans worry the U.S. has a hostile environment for religious liberty," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. "As this perception grows, some approve of it while others speak up against it."

Religious liberty has become an increasingly contentious issue in American culture—with disputes over birth controlsame-sex wedding cakesheadscarves at work and prisoner's beards.

The more recent LifeWay Research survey found faith plays a key role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.

Religious-liberty.jpg

Two-thirds of Christians (64 percent) and those of other faiths (65 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline. Self-identified evangelicals (71 percent) and those who attend worship at least once a week (70 percent) are most likely to agree.

Catholics (56 percent) and nonevangelicals (55 percent) are more skeptical. So are Nones (46 percent).

"Christians are particularly sensitive to what they see as intolerance towards their faith," said Stetzer. "But they share a common concern with people of other faiths—that religious liberty in general is declining. And this perception is growing rapidly."

Age also played a role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.

Less than half  (42 percent) of those 18 to 24 say religious liberty is on the decline. By contrast, 6 in 10 (62 percent) of those over 25 see a decline.

LifeWay Research also found non-Christians are less convinced that Christians face intolerance.

Less than half of those from other faiths (43 percent) and Nones (48 percent) agree when asked if intolerance toward Christians has increased.

By contrast, most Christians (70 percent), self-identified evangelicals (82 percent) and Protestants (74 percent) see more intolerance. So do two-thirds (76 percent) of those who attend services once a week or more.

Researchers found some signs that Americans are tired of arguments over religious liberty. A sizable number of Americans believe Christians' complaints about how they are treated are excessive.

Among them:

  • 38 percent of Christians
  • 39 percent of Americans of other faiths
  • 59 percent of Nones
  • 53 percent of those who rarely or never attend worship

American Christians face a challenge, as the nation becomes more secular, said Stetzer. Calls for religious liberty may fall on increasingly deaf ears in the future.

"Most people now believe Christians are facing intolerance. However, a surprisingly large minority perceives Christians to be complainers," said Stetzer. "Both of those facts will matter as Christians profess and contend for their beliefs without sounding false alarms around faux controversies. It won't be easy to strike that balance."

LifeWay Research works with churches, denominations and networks who need input from their members for key decisions and new directions. Some of our ongoing research includes church leadership, theological issues, ethnic/multicultural issues, outreach/ evangelism/missions, worship, discipleship, emerging trends, and the beliefs and behaviors of both the churched and unchurched. LifeWay Research will work with your organization to develop a survey that asks the questions you need to ask, so that you can quickly receive the input that you need. To discuss your research needs, contact Scott.McConnell@lifeway.com.

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shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Bob Smietana) Community Wed, 06 Apr 2016 18:00:00 -0400