The Marks of a Healthy Church

•August 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Acts 13:1-3 1 In the local church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to. 3 Then, after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

Introduction:

•               It was in the city of Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. •               The word Christian actually means little Christ.

•               The community called the disciples in Antioch Christians because they lived so much like Christ lived.
•               Though no church is perfect, the one in Antioch must have been pretty good to have this reputation in the community.
•               Therefore, we can learn a lot about how to be a healthy church from the church in Antioch.

Verse 1 – In the local church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

•               It is important to note that a healthy church has multiple leaders with different types of ministries.

•               This is one of many examples of multiple leadership in the church and one of the reasons why our own church uses a group of elders to lead, teach and preach instead of investing all the power in a single person.
•               Barnabas represented the “traditional” church of Jerusalem, having been sent by the apostles to assist the church in Antioch.
•               Simeon was a black man from Africa and would have had a significantly different cultural background than the others, but he was still a leader.
•               Little is known of Lucius but he was from Cyrene and was probably a refugee who had fled to the area seeking safety.
•               Manaen was a friend of the king and would have been very well educated, wealthy and known all the important people in town.
•               Saul had grown up steeped in his Jewish faith but had a dramatic conversion to Christianity.
•               Each of these men had different backgrounds, upbringings and personalities, but God used them all working together as a team to make the church in Antioch healthy. •               A healthy church is not built on the skills or abilities of any one person, including the pastor.
•               Each of us have a part to play in building a healthy church and the church can only be healthy if we each do our part.

Verse 2 – As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to.

•               While they were in the midst of ministering, the Lord spoke to them about a special work.

•               Some people wait on God to give them some BIG sign about what to do, but God most often speaks while we are in the midst of serving.
•               Therefore, if we want to hear from God, we must start serving!
•               These leaders were also fasting.
•               Fasting is when a person goes without food for a period of time in order to focus more time and energy on spiritual things.
•               Fasting often opens the door to spiritual understanding that helps us know God’s plans for our future.
•               Though there were many leaders in the church, God had a special job for Barnabas and Saul.
•               All of us are equal in the church and should all be doing our part, but God calls some people to a special work of service.
•               Healthy churches produce people who have special callings to serve God.

Verse 3 -Then, after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

•               The leaders laid hands on Barnabas and Saul.

•               When God calls people to special ways to serve, the church should affirm that calling by laying hands on the people and praying for them.
•               This is a symbolic way of giving them our blessing and also releasing the blessing of God into their lives and avenues of service.
•               Though God is the one who calls, the church helps a person clarify his calling and then supports that person in fulfilling that call.
•               Many people try to serve the Lord on their own without the church’s backing. This is always a recipe for disaster.
•               Serving others is hard and we need the church behind us in order to be effective. •               After praying for, and laying hands on Saul and Barnabas, the church sent them out.
•               When God calls people to serve Him in special ways, they do not always stay where they are.
•               They may have to give up a night at home with their family to serve in a ministry.
•               They may have to leave a Bible study group so they can go start a new group. •               They may go help start a new church in a different town.
•               They may go to seminary to receive further training.
•               They may move to a far off place to become a missionary.
•               They often have to sacrifice friendships, jobs and possessions in order to follow the special calling that God has put on their lives.
•               This is one reason why they need the church’s support, because these are hard things to do.
•               Healthy churches send people out to serve with their blessing and support.

Conclusion:

•               A healthy church has multiple leaders.

•               A healthy church has lots of different kinds of people in leadership.
•               A healthy church produces people who receive special callings to serve God.
•               A healthy church sends people out with their blessing and support.
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Learn more about how to have a healthy church in Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.
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The Importance of Shared Leadership

•July 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The New Testament teaches a shared leadership model as normal for the church. In modern times, many churches have become accustomed to a single-pastor model of church leadership. This model puts pastors in situations where they are serving alone as the primary leaders of the church. In larger churches this model may be modified if there is a staff of pastors who serve under a senior pastor, but the basic concept is still that the senior pastor has a great deal of authority over the church. This single-pastor model is especially evident in the preaching and pastoral care ministries of the church. The solo pastor, or the senior pastor in a larger church, is often expected to do almost all of the preaching and pastoral care.

When the bulk of the preaching and pastoral care is centered on one person, it creates the impression that the person has more authority than the New Testament grants. Once the congregation perceives that the pastor has all the authority, it follows that the pastor also bears all the responsibility for getting everything done. This tension between authority and responsibility can be significant. Yet this is exactly what many bivocational pastors face in their churches. The church expects them to provide most of the leadership in the church as well as accept most of the blame for any faults in the church. This is not how the church was led in the New Testament.

In the life of the New Testament church there was an equal sharing of leadership by a group of people. One example of this multiple leadership approach is found in Acts 13:1-3: “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” This passage demonstrates that five people were serving together as the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. There is no distinction made between the leaders, which indicates a joint sharing of duties and responsibilities between these five individuals.

This plurality shows that the church should not rise and fall on the leadership of just one person. When pastors find themselves in churches that do not have multiple leaders, developing leaders should be one of the first priorities. Paul’s young protégé Timothy found himself in such a situation while he was serving as pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy instructing him in how to lead the church. Part of those instructions are found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2: “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”

In this passage Paul instructs Timothy to teach other individuals the truth of the gospel. But they were not just any individuals; they were individuals who must be able to share in the teaching ministry of the church. They were to be trustworthy people who would pass the truth of the gospel on to others. The emphasis was on Timothy training others who would join him in his teaching, preaching, and leading ministries in the church. This should be a goal of all pastors, especially those serving in bivocational roles.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. To learn more about bivocational ministry and how lay people can help bivocational pastors become more effective, purchase the book at Crossbooks.com or at Amazon.com or Barnesandnobles.com.

Killer Cows and the Importance of Contextualization

•June 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I grew up in a medium sized city in the Midwest. As a teenager I moved to a small city in Virginia and after college I lived in a small city in South Carolina. Since my entire life had been spent in the city, what a culture shock it was when I moved to rural Vermont in 1993 with my wife and family. We had come to a small village to serve as missionaries with the North American Mission Board (SBC). We served a rural church with less than 20 members that was struggling for survival. The first week I lived in that tiny village I had what was then a traumatic experience but has since become quite humorous. It was also a great teaching moment which impacted how I view ministry.

I love to walk in the mornings and pray about what God is doing in my life. That first week of living in a rural area I struck out walking down the main street, which was also the only paved street in town. I did not get very far before I encountered a cow that had escaped from the pasture and was standing in the middle of the road. Having grown up in the city, I did not know what quite what to do, so I froze in my tracks. My life flashed before my eyes. My heart raced with fear. Would this cow charge me? Would it trample me? Would it eat me? Surely this vicious creature was a killer cow!

I do not know how long I stood in the middle of the road looking at that cow, but eventually someone drove by in their pickup truck and asked what I was doing. I replied that a “killer cow” had gotten loose and I did not know what to do. They looked at me, looked at the cow and laughed hysterically as they drove away. Eventually I realized that the poor creature was just an old milk cow who had wandered the wrong direction. I slowly eased past her and went on my way. But I have never forgotten my encounter with the killer cow on the main street in town. I knew I was not in the city anymore!

What does this story have to do with the Gospel? Just as I had to adjust to the presence of cows in the middle of the road, I also had to adjust to doing ministry in a different culture than I was used to. I was no longer living and working in a city. I was now in a different environment. I learned to show up at the post office each morning at 9:30 AM when everyone came to get their mail. I could visit half the town in an hour. I learned that I was the “community” pastor, providing weddings and funerals for the entire community and not just for the handful of church members I had. I learned how important it was to make a contribution to the annual 8th grade Town Dinner fundraiser. I learned not to wear a tie, as it made me look like I was a Mormon or a bill collector, neither of which was very welcome in that small village.

During the eight years I served that church, I learned a great many things about how to minister in a rural village. I think it is important to point out that at no point did I actually have to change the Gospel itself. The Gospel is always relevant to all cultures in all time periods and to all people groups. There is no other Gospel but the one found in the New Testament that begins with the sinfulness of mankind and ends with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to reconcile us back to the Father. But methods and programs used to communicate the Gospel are constantly changing. Pastors, missionaries and other Christian leaders who want to reach their communities for Christ must understand this. One generation might use flannel graph and chalkboards, another generation might use video projectors and smart boards, but the message of the Gospel remains the same. One people group might like to meet in house churches and worship in a rare dialect, another people group might prefer giant cathedrals and the use of a more common language, but the Gospel remains the same for both people groups.

Since my fateful encounter with the killer cow so many years ago, I learned to communicate the Gospel in a variety of ways as I have started churches and led evangelistic activities across the mountains, valleys and small towns of Vermont. Each town is a little different, but in each one God has called a group of people to Himself. My ministry is to join God in His work and communicate His Gospel in a way that the called can hear and respond. When that happens, the Gospel goes forth and God is glorified, and His people rejoice, even if it looks differently than what we are used to.

Making Hypocrites Happy

•June 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment
Not long ago I visited a nearby church service to encourage their pastor. He said many good things in his sermon, but one sentence has stood out in my mind these past three weeks. Pastor Bob Butler of Macedonia Baptist Church of Plainfield, Vermont, said “Hypocrites are never happy and they are impossible to satisfy.” Having been in the ministry for more than 20 years, I have had many opportunities to engage in efforts to make hypocrites happy. I do not recall any of them being very successful.
Hypocrites are not happy because they have an overly idealized view of the world. They want things to be perfect. But things are seldom perfect. People make mistakes. Plans fail. Politicians disappoint. Employers make bad decisions. Churches sometimes forget their mission. When things are not perfect, hypocrites respond by getting upset. And since things are seldom perfect, hypocrites are often upset. Instead of becoming upset, it would be far more productive if they rolled up their sleeves and tried to improve the situation. But that would require far more effort than just complaining about the situation.
One might think that if we just worked a little harder we might somehow create the perfect situation and then hypocrites would finally be happy. But as Pastor Bob has correctly noted, “hypocrites are impossible to satisfy.” The reason hypocrites are impossible to satisfy is because they have reserved to themselves the right to decide what perfection is. Though many situations may seem perfect (or close to it) to many people, their opinions do not matter to the hypocrite. The only opinion that matters to the hypocrite is his own. Therefore, he can declare a situation less than perfect, even when others have worked hard to achieve what appears to them to be a great situation.
We have to decide if we are going to spend all our time vainly trying to please hypocrites in fruitless efforts to create their false version of perfection. If we choose to spend all our time in that empty pursuit, we will have little time left to devote to the people and issues in our lives that really matter. As hard as it is, we must learn to ignore the endless whining of hypocrites. Will that upset hypocrites? Yes, but since they are always upset anyway, we must simply learn to live with their dissatisfaction.

Inviting People to Leave – Guest Post by Dave Jacobs

•May 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I can remember fishing with my grandpa when I was a little boy. Fred Flowerday, one of nine boys and a girl born to a farmer in Nebraska. Fred knew how to fish. Grandpa taught me about “keepers”. Those of you who fish know that “keepers” are fish worthy of…well, keeping. If the fish was too small or looked sickly, Grandpa would say, “Throw it back.” All others were keepers.

Now if we apply this metaphor to newcomers at your church, it’s easy to sound callous and disinterested. But the fact is that some people will be right for your church, and some won’t. Some will be keepers, and some should be released to go swimming in another pond. It won’t do you any good in the long run to encourage someone to stay and get involved in your church if you know the church will not be a right fit for them. Save yourself, and your new fish, a headache. Be comfortable in saying, “I don’t think this church is a good fit for you.” You’re not being mean (provided you speak caringly), you’re being a good leader. You’re being good to them and good to your church.

If you sense that your new catch has a different agenda than yours…let them go. If your fish is pushing for a different style of worship than you want…let them go. If they want you to be more charismatic than you are or less charismatic than you are, if they want you to be something other than what you are, they will be frustrated with you and eventually you will be frustrated with them. Express to them that it’s okay for them to leave, no hard feelings.

Now I understand that you want to grow your church. You don’t want people to leave, you want them to stay. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel you’ve got a “keeper” because they seem so excited about the Lord, so talented, so experienced, and they believe in tithing. Sure you might have a small check in your gut about them really fitting in, but hey…they tithe. All people have worth, but not all are worth the energy of trying to keep them happy when your church is simply not right for them. It’s not going to be worth it to you to try and fit a square peg in a round hole. You will either damage the square peg or damage the round hole to make them fit. Either way you’ve got damage.

Maybe you’ve been struggling with someone in your church for a long time. They always seem to be kicking against the goads. Maybe your church is not a good fit for them. Have enough integrity and courage to suggest they try someplace else. Be kind, choose your words carefully, and then show them the door. You barely have enough energy to care for those who are a good fit for your church, let alone those who aren’t a good fit. Keep the keepers and be willing to stock someone else’s lake. Who knows, maybe there they will be happy and flourish because they’ve found a church better suited for them.

This guest post was written by Dave Jacobs of Small Church Pastor.com and can be read at Dave’s site at: http://davejacobs.net/?p=520

Finding Balance – Guest Post by Dennis Bickers

•April 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Recently  while reading another blog a person asked the question of how a bivocational  minister can maintain balance in his life.  This is one of the most frequent  questions I’m asked and thought it was time to touch on it again in a post.  For  a more thorough answer please read my book, The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry.  Here I just want to give a couple of quick  responses.
Bivocational ministers need to stop trying to be the Lone  Ranger.  There is too much to do for you to try to do ministry by yourself.  You  need to surround yourself with a good team of mature Christian leaders who can  help carry the load.  The best resource available today to help you develop such  a team is Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church  written by Terry Dorsett, a pastor and church planter in Vermont.  This is by  far the best book I know about that will help you develop the teams you need to  effectively pastor a smaller church and have any life outside the  church.

John Maxwell says that if you can accomplish your dream on your  own, your dream is too small.  What I tried to do early in my pastorate was to  accomplish dreams that were too small because I was always reluctant to ask for  help, and sometimes too stupid to accept help when it was offered!  Just trying  to be honest here.  With a quality team you can dare to dream bigger, accomplish  much more, and still have a life that you and your family can enjoy.

The  second thing that is essential for a balanced life is the setting of priorities  and goals.  A bivocational minister does not have the time to run around in  circles.  It is vital that you and your church leaders have agreed on priorities  and goals for your ministry so you can pursue those while allowing other people  to handle the other things that come up.  As an example, our church began seeing  a number of first-time guests in our morning services.  At our next deacon  meeting I told the deacons that I simply could not visit these first-time guests  and handle the visitation needs of our congregation.  I asked them to tell me  which one they wanted me to focus on and they would be responsible for the other  one.  After some discussion they agreed that I should focus on visiting our  first-time guests and they would handle the normal visitation needs of our  congregation.  They would contact me if it became obvious to them that a pastor  visit was needed, but they would at least make the initial visits to our church  members.

Do you see how freeing that became?  I knew what my priority was  in the area of visitation and knew what my focus was to be.  Yes, it took some  time to educate the congregation but not as long as one might think.  It also  took some time to train some of our deacons on how to do a good visit in the  home, in the hospital, or elsewhere, but again it didn’t take that much time.   Most of them were already gifted in such ministry and the others learned quickly  and did a wonderful job.  Whatever time I spent in educating the congregation  and training our deacons was an investment that resulted in a much more balanced  ministry and life for me.

Just doing these two things will help you enjoy  much more balance in your life and make your ministry more enjoyable and  effective.  I do recommend you purchase the two resources mentioned above.   You’ll find them in most Christian bookstores and on amazon.com.  I would also  suggest you read Margin by Richard Swenson.  I’ve often said that is  the one book I wish I had read early in my ministry because he explains why  maintaining margin in one’s life is so important.  I might have avoided a lot of  problems if I had only read his book and followed the recommendations he made.

The Challenge of Leadership

•April 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

In my role as a denominational administrator, I attend a lot of meetings with other leaders. It is exciting to hear of their plans for strengthening existing churches, starting new churches, holding strategic evangelistic events and training the next generation of leaders. My role gives me a unique vantage point of being able to not only hear about these plans, but to watch them be put into action over the course of time.

Everyone loves it when a plan works perfectly and the goals are achieved. God gets the glory, the Kingdom is expanded and the leadership teams’ abilities are affirmed. Most are equally thrilled when a plan hits an unexpected bump along the way and the leaders listen to the Spirit and display wisdom in adjusting the plan in order to keep move forward. Making adjustments to a plan mid-stream should not be considered failure. God is still glorified in those moments and the Kingdom still be expanded according to God’s great plan of world redemption.

Regretfully, there are also times when a plan just does not work at all. Leaders must have the courage to recognize that sometimes they just misunderstood what the Spirit was saying and then seek the Lord for a new plan. This can be hard for leaders to do. It is much easier to continue to cling to the failed plan and attempt to pour more money or manpower into it in the hopes that it will work better with increased resources. But this rarely happens and eventually the leaders must abandon the plan, even if they never publicly admit that it failed. Though this can be embarrassing for leaders, such realities are just a part of being a leader.

All leaders make mistakes. But great leaders learn from those mistakes and grow through them. When great leaders experience failure they seek to discover why the plan failed and what kind of plan would have been more effective. Due to this learning process, great leaders tend to make fewer mistakes in the future than they did in the past.

Less effective leaders fail to learn from mistakes and keep repeating them. Less effective leaders tend to blame others for their failures. They may even look for an “enemy” to lash out at even if that enemy had nothing to do with their failure. Their goal is to re-direct attention away from their failure so that people will not notice their lack of leadership. Though this may appear to work in the beginning, if less effective leaders continue to make the same mistakes long enough, people begin to see through their smoke screens. Less effective leaders will eventually find themselves no longer in leadership.

We live in a time in which effective leadership is in great demand and short supply. For those of us who seek to serve the Lord in Kingdom expansion, we must look to Him to help us become great leaders. The church of Christ deserves no less.