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'A Fruitful Life and Ministry'

After 56 years of full-time ministry, Syvelle Phillips shares his secrets of longevity.

The year was 1948. Harry S. Truman was president of the United States, a loaf of bread cost 12 cents, the apartheid policy of racial segregation was made official in South Africa ... and a 21-year-old Syvelle Phillips began preaching.

Fifty-six years later, Phillips, 76, is still in full-time ministry and plans to preach at least 150 times this year. Ordained by the Assemblies of God (AG), Phillips pastored AG congregations in Florida and California for more than 15 years.

Then, in 1976, he founded the Evangel Bible Translators, which has translated portions of Scripture to nearly two-dozen languages worldwide.

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Phillips also hosted the "Pastor Phillips" radio Bible-study program for 25 years. Additionally, in the early 1970s, Phillips and his wife, Lovie, launched a childcare sponsorship program through Christian Communications Commission. The program provides basic necessities for almost 2,000 children in different parts of the world, while helping many families of national pastors.

Phillips preached to millions in 56 years, but he admits that he doesn't have any idea how many people have accepted Christ through his ministry.

"I have developed an aversion to counting converts," he says. "I decided a long time ago that we preachers really don't know who is born again."

Phillips, who has been married for 53 years and has two sons and eight grandchildren, says he wants to continue to preach and minister "as long as God gives me health and strength."

"I am praying for 10 more years of fruitful ministry, and a clear mind and strong body," says Phillips, whose son, Phil, is vice president of his Rockwall, Texas-based Evangel Bible Translators. "I am blessed to have the privilege of speaking in churches, ministers conferences and mission conventions more than 200 times each year."

A native of Florida, Phillips cherishes his "fruitful life and ministry."

"I have always been open to what the Spirit of God is doing," he says. "Never chasing spiritual fads is one of my secrets to longevity in ministry. I highly value the privilege of preaching God's Word, and being called by God to organize and provide leadership for Evangel Bible Translators for 29 years. Ministering to missionaries, pastors and spiritual leaders by sharing from my many years of experience in the ministry is a source of great satisfaction."

What would Phillips like to be best remembered for?

"As a person who gave his very best to and for the cause of Christ for an entire lifetime," he admits. "I've served the Lord since I was 10 years old (sometimes more fervent than others). When I felt called to preach, I made a commitment. I've been very passionate about my personal walk with God."
Eric Tiansay

Eight Habits of a Long-Haul Minister

1. Stay focused on Christ and the mission He assigned you.
2. Don't look to men or women for affirmation.
3. Don't be easily offended.
4. Keep an ever-present sense of a divine call and destiny for your life and ministry.
5. Don't chase spiritual fads.
6. Deal with sin and bitterness in your personal life quickly.
7. Embrace for yourself the grace of God that you preach to others.
8. Accept God's forgiveness, and forgive God when you think He is slow or has failed you.


Follow the Leader

The top 10 influencers in the American church

Who would have thought that a president, a pope and a Pentecostal would wind up in a list of the most influential people in the church? In a recent survey of pastors by The Barna Group (BG), President George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II and Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes were identified in a list of the top 10 influencers on churches.

BG conducted telephone interviews with a random sample of 614 senior pastors of protestant churches in December 2004. Regardless of denominational background, 34 percent of respondents listed evangelist Billy Graham as the "greatest influence on churches."

The top 10 influencers identified specifically by Pentecostals were Graham, Bush, Jakes, Warren, Dobson, Church of God in Christ presiding bishop G.E. Patterson, healing evangelist Benny Hinn, TV broadcaster Pat Robertson, Bible teacher Joyce Meyer and Trinity Broadcsting Network founder Paul Crouch.

"Billy Graham has been a consistent presence in the minds and hearts of church leaders and the public at large for many years," Barna noted. "However, many of the other leading influencers in the Christian church are relative newcomers to such widespread impact."


Imprisoned: Oklahoma-based Voice of the Martyrs reports that Chinese church leader Zhang Rongliang was taken into custody December 1 at his apartment in Henan province. Featured in the article "Apostles Among Us" in the November/December 2004 issue of Ministries Today, Zhang leads one of the largest house church networks in the country with an estimated 10 million members. Send letters of protest to Ambassador Yang Jiechi, Embassy of the People's Republic of China, 2300 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008.

Gone Home: An ordained minister and defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, known as the "Minister of Defense," Reggie White died on December 26 of respiratory problems at the age of 43. Since his retirement in 2000, White had devoted hours to studying Hebrew. "I was not a student of Scripture," he recalled in an interview with the NFL Network days before his death. "I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the Word."

Slowing Down: Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes canceled crusades in Nigeria to be with his son Jamar after the 25-year-old suffered two heart attacks in late December. "Above everything we do in ministry, our first call is to our own family," Jakes said in an interview with The Washington Post. "My only wish was for my son to come home. He was all that I wanted for Christmas."

New Facility: New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., pastored by National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard, dedicated a new 7,500-seat sanctuary January 2. The new facility is an in-the-round worship center with state-of-the-art lighting, sound and video.

New Arrival: Baby Dayan Kong was born January 6 at 3:06 p.m. to Kong Hee and his wife, Sun Yeow Ho. Kong is the senior pastor of City Harvest Church, Singapore, the second largest church in Asia. Dayan is named after one of Kong's heroes, Moshe Dayan, Israel's defense minister during the Six-Day War.

Pulpit to Politics: A Republican, a former Detroit councilman and the founding pastor of 21,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center church in Southfield, Mich., Keith Butler told his congregation on December 31, 2004, that he is considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2006. "Should I run, I will not be running as a black Republican," Butler said in an interview with Charisma magazine. "I will be running as a Republican who believes deeply in protecting the family in our society, securing America, keeping her safe, keeping American jobs."

WANTED: NEWS TIPS. Have you caught wind of a noted pastor or church leader who has made news by planting a new church, running for public office, retiring after a long tenure in ministry, making a transition into another area of service or launching/completing a building program? If so, send news tips with the subject line "transitions" to

Most Influential Leaders in the Church

34 % Billy Graham
26% Rick Warren
14 % George W. Bush
11% James Dobson
9% Bill Hybels
7% T.D. Jakes
6% John Maxwell
5% George Barna
5% Pope John Paul II
4% Max Lucado
Source: The Barna Group


Watch Your Language

A second look at two popular catchphrases: 'destiny' and 'favor'
By Larry Keefauver

Be careful little mouth what you say." I learned that song in Sunday school. It holds wisdom for preaching and teaching. Jesus warned, "And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak" (Matt. 12:36, NLT). Idle (argos [Greek]) has particular meaning for those of us who preach or teach. It is "pertaining to not giving careful consideration to something" or "lazy, shunning the labor one ought to perform."

Preachers love to imitate and retool the ideas of others. We are quick to embrace new trends, such as praying Jabez prayers or looking under every "purpose-driven" stone. Thankfully, some careful exegesis went into those timely books, but that may not be the case for others.

Take, for instance, some of the popular catchphrases and words that have found their way into books and conferences in recent years. Two that have received a lot of attention of late are "destiny" and "favor." We are encouraged to "pursue our destinies" at all costs, to seek out the "favor of God"--a key that will open the lock of wealth, influence and happy living.

Since everyone seemed to be preaching about it, teaching its principles and even naming ministries and Bibles with the word "destiny," I decided to do an extensive word study on the concept. Unfortunately, the English word simply has no significant counterpart in Greek or Hebrew. Come to find out, it is rarely used by translators because its etymology is simply unbiblical.

Why? I discovered that the etymology of "destiny" is from a 14th century French word destinée that refers to the "fixed order of the universe which is fated, according to fortune or luck, or inevitable." Destiny means we're puppets on a string, enslaved agents of an impersonal set of universal forces over which we have no choice or control.

On the contrary, Scripture declares our freedom in Christ, our ability to reject or accept the blessings of God. With this in mind, "destiny" reflects something of a pagan view of fate--that from which Christ specifically came to set us free.

What about favor? "Favor" (ratson [Hebrew]) is an Old Testament concept that speaks of earning the goodwill or acceptance of God through righteous living--often in a ritualistic or religious sense. Interestingly, translators rarely use the word "favor" in the New Testament because the Greek word charis is much better translated "grace."

The notion that we can in some way earn, deserve or invite God's favor when we have freely received the fullness of grace in Christ can certainly lead us down the slippery trail of "works salvation" versus faith alone.

As preachers and teachers, prophets, evangelists and apostles, we must carefully prepare our words and messages so that they best reflect the heart of God and the truth of His Word. To loosely and lazily use words without accurately explaining their significance is to handle God's Word with levity at best and heretically at worst.

The 3 'Cs' of Word-Study Wisdom

Tips for mining out the original meaning--and sifting through the fool's gold

1. Context: Before you hit the lexicon, look to the passage surrounding the word for clues. For instance, the word "man" ('iysh [Hebrew]) is translated as "male," "husband," "servant," "champion" and "great man." The lexicon provides the breadth of possible translations but not the meaning of the word in its context. Some Bible versions tend to muddy the waters by providing every possible translation of a word--even when it's clear from context that only one applies.

2. Concordance: Check out how the word is used elsewhere in Scripture. Using a concordance, start with the passage and work outward in rings of context (e.g., Paul's use of the word "cross" in 1 Corinthians, "cross" in all of Paul's writings, "cross" in the New Testament, and so on). Watch as Scripture interprets itself before you even crack another book.

3. Conservatism: Ultimately, doctrine and theology cannot be derived from word studies any more than a cake can be made with only one ingredient. Word studies provide valuable insights that complement preaching preparation, but their microscopic perspective can sometimes be deceiving.

Larry Keefauver, D.Min., is executive director of institutional advancement at Beacon University in Columbus, Georgia (


Setting Goals in Children's Ministry

Is your children's ministry accomplishing kingdom objectives? Here's how you can find out.
By George Barna

For the most part, we have lulled ourselves into complacency regarding the spiritual growth of our children. That self-satisfaction is enabled solely because we have no objective measures against which to compare our subjective feelings (see "The Great Disconnect").

Educational researchers will tell you, if you want to assess someone's status, you have to specify what the definitions of good and bad are, or, stated differently, what constitutes desirable and undesirable outcomes. Fortunately, when it comes to figuring out how we're doing spiritually, the Bible provides ample guidance in defining positive and negative outcomes.

For instance, to simplify matters, we might take three important passages of Scripture: (1) the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20); (2) Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5-7); and (3) the "fruit of the spirit" described by the apostle Paul (see Gal. 5:22-23).

While these sections of the Bible do not contain everything that God hopes we will become, they provide a pretty robust guide to personal holiness. Study these passages and you will find many outcomes that should be identified as goals for our lives.

If we seek to facilitate the outcomes noted in these passages in our children's lives so that they become mature disciples of the Lord, then our assessments should reflect the presence or absence of those attributes. Further, if we want our assessments to be most helpful, we might incorporate degrees or levels of the presence or absence of these attributes.

In order to meaningfully create these desired outcomes, we start by tying our search for clues (for spiritual growth) to the means of measurement. Here are some ways we can evaluate outcomes:

  • Formal evaluation tools--written tests, oral tests, essays, competitions, homework assignments
  • Self-report evaluation tools--surveys, inventories, profiles
  • Conversation and dialogue--language used, reasoning skills, foundational worldview expressed and interactive engagement
  • Observable behavior or perspectives--attendance, volunteerism, invitations, donations, professed beliefs, memorized beliefs, physical condition, body language
  • Inferences from choices--character of friends, media preferences, spending habits, social activism, attire, appearance, and so on.

    For instance, if we are seeking to find evidence that a child honors his or her parents, we might examine information from the following: comments about parents in an essay, children's reaction to survey questions, language used in discussions about parents, attitude toward authority, facial expressions and body language in the presence of parents and peers, presents given to parents on special occassions, and so on. Evaluation may seem rather businesslike, but consider this: God will evaluate how we lived. Jesus encouraged His followers to examine their hearts, and the Holy Spirit enables us to live beyond the mundane. Where we choose to spend eternity, who we become and what we do matter to God. We owe it to Him to evaluate the lives of our children so that they may have and exploit every opportunity to become pleasing servants of the living God.

    The Great Disconnect

    We're not passing on a biblical worldview to our children.

  • In his research for the 2003 book Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, George Barna discovered that 87 percent of parents are satisfied with whatever it is their youngsters are receiving from their church.
  • Sixty-four percent of the nation's Protestant senior pastors claim their churches are doing an excellent or good job of helping kids to share their faith in Christ. However, a large portion of churched kids never do so.
  • Four-fifths of senior pastors say their churches are doing an excellent or good job of enabling kids to understand and engage in worship. Our studies among kids show that a substantial majority of churched 13-year-olds admit that they do not feel they have ever experienced God's presence.
    Seventy-four percent of pastors claim their churches are doing an excellent or good job of getting kids to adopt a biblical worldview. In spite of that, fewer than 5 percent of churched kids are born again have a biblical worldview by age 13.

    This piece was adapted from George Barna's book Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions (Regal). Barna is the author of numerous books and founder of The Barna Group (


    Surviving False Accusation

    How to withstand defamation of character without losing your reputation
    By Thomas Gehring

    You haven't been falsely accused yet, but don't think it won't happen. Even low-profile ministries with spotless reputations often find themselves the target of a malicious accusation. First, sit down and reconfirm your calling. Then, call a good lawyer and arrive at a solution that passes three important tests: Is it practical? Is it legal? Is it biblical?

    Practical: Should I really do anything? As a 25-year veteran trial attorney, I would estimate that 90 percent of the time, the best thing to do is nothing. The false accusation is from a source that is no real threat to you or your ministry.

    "Practical" also means that the response must be both meaningful and the right thing to do. Your potential response must be truthful, honest and good for all parties concerned. Don't be self-serving and defensive--and don't underestimate the power of closed lips (see Prov. 17:28).

    Legal: Is the false accusation defamatory? In legalese, defamation is an intentional false communication that injures another person's good name, reputation and/or injures the person in his occupation. Spoken defamation is called slander and written or printed defamation is called libel. A good lawyer can lead you through the elements of this theory of law and tell you if you have a good legal case against the accuser.

    Rarely will a preemptive strike of a lawsuit against the accuser be effective. Why? You are well-known, the accuser is not. Therefore, you are seen as overbearing, aggressive--like you're trying to hide something. If you know the accusations are false, don't panic. Hold your tongue. Your lawyer may decide to send a cease and desist letter demanding that the accuser stop spreading lies about you.

    Should you settle, even if you're innocent? First, as an attorney, I must say, never judge a minister that settled a case and paid money as someone who must be guilty. Always be open to consider settlement and resolution, because money is very temporary but soul-winning is eternal. I've been around long enough to know that lawsuits are forgotten, good people are not.

    Biblical: I have often told pastors I counsel that it is easy to be their lawyer if they have a clear vision. Ultimately, after I have given all the appropriate legal advice regarding the situation, they need time with the Lord.

    Generally speaking, the time to act is when the false accusation is a direct and repeated attack. When that happens, we fight hard; we take all appropriate legal action; we file a lawsuit, or a cross-complaint if they file first; we seek an injunction; we do discovery; take depositions; and we are always ready to talk peace.

    I have never seen a false accusation have a lasting or significant impact on a successful and growing ministry. The false accusation, whether it leads to a lawsuit or not, will blow over. And the accuser, if not redeemable, will fade far from the scene, having moved on to other targets and opportunities. A negative footnote in a ministry's long arc of soul-winning is meaningless in the public's eye and in the eyes of the Lord.

    Thomas Gehring is an attorney for several prominent ministries. His mediation service, Concilium National Mediation Center, based in Los Angeles, utilizes practical, legal and biblical principles to settle disputes. You may contact Tom at

    When an Accusation Is True

    Five steps for addressing claims of clergy misconduct.

    In their book Ministerial Ethics: Moral Formation for Church Leaders (Baker), Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter offer a detailed outline for a church to address accusations of clergy sexual abuse. (It would also be useful for accusations of other misconduct.) Their procedure inhibits the likelihood of false claims and provides justice for the victim of abuse:

    1. Hear the accusation: The complaint is heard immediately by a committee composed of congregants (no staff members) to assess the veracity and seriousness of the alleged offense.

    2. Confront the accused: The committee meets with the pastor and explains the allegations. If the pastor resigns, the committee should still complete its investigation and present a report to the church.

    3. Prepare for a formal hearing: If the pastor denies the charges and further investigation is needed, the committee calls a meeting of the membership to inform them of the charges and the results of its investigation.

    4. Conduct a formal hearing: After allowing for appropriate questions, the committee recommends either the exoneration of the minister, discipline or termination of employment. Following the policies of its bylaws, the congregation decides to take action it deems necessary.

    5. Minister to the victims: If charges are proven to be valid, the church must provide support and counseling for the complainant and ensure that denominational leaders are notified so as to prevent the victimization of others by the accused.


    Dangers of Being Debt-Free

    Why the scariest event in a church's life may be the mortgage burning
    By Patrick Clements

    Let's make one thing clear right now: If you accept my definition of "debt" (which occurs only if you owe more than you own, you cannot manage the payments from your cash flow, or you are delinquent in your payments), then we can agree that being debt-free is best.

    Clearly, if the alternative is being upside down financially, it's obvious why you would want to avoid debt. On the other hand, some people in your congregation (and you might be one of them) will insist that being debt-free means that the church should operate on a straight cash basis with no outstanding obligations. From my perspective, this definition of debt-free is shortsighted and not necessarily biblical.

    As in all things, with church finances our security must be in the Lord. If this is true for you, then what is the highest and best use of dollars that He's entrusted to you as a steward? Is it to pay off the mortgage, or is it to make your monthly payments and use the difference to start a youth program or a meal program for the poor or to fund a missions trip to Nicaragua?

    What can you do that will be effective ministry, will move your congregation toward achieving its vision and will be consistent with your mission statement? Whatever it is, spend your available dollars there.

    I believe that pastors have a responsibility to lead their congregations into a balanced view of borrowing and an optimal use of the dollars that are flowing in. Let's have an impact on people's lives, not just the loan department of a bank.

    In my view, the scariest day in the life of a church is the day they burn the mortgage. Unless they have a compelling vision for the future that will continue to pull them forward, the danger in "finally paying everything off" is that the church will settle back and become complacent, and the congregation will become averse to taking on new obligations and fresh challenges.

    I've seen it happen time and again: a church pays off its mortgage, loses its edge, loses its forward-thinking perspective and begins an inevitable decline.

    Paying off the mortgage doesn't cause the problem. It's what happens next that sets the course for continued growth or decline. If I were still a pastor and my church were debt-free, I'd be looking for a project to put the church's underused assets to work. Like the two wise stewards in Jesus' parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-30), I'd be looking for a way to maximize the return on our available resources.

    Conquering Personal Debt

    Don't let money troubles distract you and strangle your ministry.

    Personal financial woes have a way of smothering ministry vision--and (worst-case scenario) may even threaten your leadership credibility. Here are 13 simple (Note: we didn't say easy) steps to conquering debt so that you can focus on what really matters in ministry:

    1. Ask God: Seek God's wisdom for overcoming financial bondage. Jesus had more to say about money than He did about almost any other subject.
    2. Budget: Sure, it seems like a no-brainer, but there is nothing as revealing as a personal budget to account for income and outlay of household finances.
    3. List debts and interest: Starting with small balances first, use any unexpected income to pay down high-interest credit-card debt.
    4. Get outside assistance: Find a financial adviser who understands your values to help you map out a plan for financial freedom.
    5. Practice full disclosure: Don't hide any financial trouble from your spouse. Seek his or her advice, and bear the load together.
    6. Deprive yourself: Stop spending for things you can do without. One idea: Agree not to make any major consumer purchases for at least two years.
    7. Become content: Credit-card debt is often accrued from purchasing unnecessary items on an impulse. Until this behavioral habit is adjusted, a financial plan will be of little help.
    8. Consider using a debit card. This gives the convenience of a credit card, but utilizes assets you already have.
    9. Consider temporarily discontinuing contributions to savings or retirement. It doesn't make sense to receive 7 percent on your investments if you're paying 18 percent on debts.
    10. Live on less than you earn. Then take the balance and begin to repay debt and start a savings account.
    11. Keep track of cash from ATMs. Cash isn't called "liquid" by accident. Account for even small purchases in your budget, so that you can track spending.
    12. Discontinue any purchases that are not absolutely essential. Live with it, do it yourself, repair it, or do without.
    13. Reduce your credit-card collection to one card. Avoid special use cards. Get an all-purpose card and pay off the balance at the end of the month.

    Adapted from Financial Freedom: More Than Being Debt Free, by Patrick L. Clements with Dave Gerig (VMI Publishers). Patrick L. Clements is president of Church Extension Plan in Salem, Oregon (, a ministry that provides financial and administrative services to the churches of the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

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