Minister’s Assistance Program

Fourteen years ago, our family decided to use the Ministers Assistance Program (MAP). Our daughter Kallie, who was a teenager at the time, was struggling emotionally with a tragic event that happened to a close friend within our church’s youth group.

Gary and I thought it would be best to find a counselor through Converge MidAmerica MAP that specifically worked with adolescents. After a year of godly and professional counseling, our daughter was able to process this tragedy in a healthy way. In May of this year, we celebrated Kallie receiving her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary, which is due in part to the influence and healing she received through her MAP counselor.

Because of the generosity of Converge MidAmerica Churches and private donors, we are able to commit $50,000 a year to the care of pastors and their families through The Minister Assistance Program (MAP) as well as our Pastoral Benevolence Fund that are touching the lives of many of our pastors and their families throughout our churches.

Here are a few anonymous testimonies we received this past year from Converge MidAmerica pastors and their family members who have richly benefited from our Ministers Assistance Program this year.

  • It has given me peace in my current tension. It helps having an objective listener. I am grateful for our donors providing us a resource to unload, unpack, and process. Ministers need to be ministered to. (Pastor)
  • I have been able to experience healing and a freeing perspective in an area that caused great pain. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The counseling sessions provided by MAP were transformational for me in a difficult season. I truly believe the help I received not only benefited me; but my husband, children, and church as well. (Pastor’s spouse)
  • I am more joyful and secure. I feel like I have the resources I need to get better. Whether you feel you are having an impact or not my family feels it. In many ways, this program has been life-changing for us, even at times potentially life-saving. It means so much that people care about pastors and their families getting counseling, because it’s one of the most important resources. (Pastor’s child)
  • Less anxious, more patient, less burdened, healing from grief. Thank you so much for making possible what otherwise wouldn’t have been had this program not exist. I already had enough excuses for why I should just “push through” my grief into counseling. I really needed it and your generosity gave me the counseling assistance I needed to continue to heal. (Pastor)

 

Can we count on you and your church to help us this Christmas season to continue giving this gift to our pastors and their families?  

Thank you and may God bless you deeply,

Mary Rohrmayer

Introducing: Barr 3M Solutions

Hello! We are Philip & Betsy Barr, Converge entrepreneurial church planters in Knoxville, TN. We were inspired by The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and founded Barr 3M Solutions as a way to support our efforts at Knoxville International Church. As we’ve talked with other church planters and executive pastors from around the country, we were excited to realize that Barr 3M Solutions is at the forefront in the innovative field of Creative Church Economics!

We lived in Beijing, China for almost 7 years and were exposed to the practice of using a business platform to break down barriers of entry for ministry in closed countries. As God led us to start this business as a platform for our church, it was exciting to watch Barr 3M Solutions break down numerous barriers we encountered…and so the way was paved for the launch of Knoxville International Church in terms of a physical location, financial support and status within the local community!

We are honored and thrilled to be a part of Converge MidAmerica and hope that Barr 3M Solutions can serve to creatively strengthen the financial foundations of CMA churches as they reach out daily in the name of Jesus.

Our specialists work with churches to identify the resources that God has provided in and to the congregation. Then together, specialists and church leaders explore how these can be maximized in order to provide additional streams of income for your church so you can increase your effectiveness for the sake of the Gospel. Connect with Barr 3M Solutions today for a no-cost, no-commitment consultation to see how your church could pay off all your debts, increase your budget and multiply your eternal impact WITHOUT needing to increase your giving levels.

We look forward to connecting with you individually, in Together Groups or at the Unleash Conference to see what solutions can be provided for you and your congregation!

Blessings!
barr3msolutions.com
admin@barr3msolutions.com
865-438-4772

What Does it Mean to Adopt a Church Planter

I believe every healthy church can play a role in church planting. I believed this when I started this job a little over two years ago, and I believe it now. 
 
I’ve found that many churches don’t think they can be part of church planting because their misconception is that you need oodles of money and a large congregation to participate. If you have money and/or people to give to a new church plant, that is great, let’s talk!  However, I’m also looking for some of our Converge churches to adopt our up and coming planters.  Especially as we are now getting more planters in our southern states, they are greatly desiring to be connected within Converge MidAmerica. 
 
Yes, even if you are a church in Michigan or Illinois you can adopt a church planter in Tennessee, Arkansas, or Kentucky
 
Here are ways that adopting a church plant helps them:
  1. The Parent Church allows the plant to reference them to gain credibility as they build a launch team.
  2. The Parent Church pastor can serve on the temporary church plant board for accountability.
  3. The Parent Church can pray for the church planter and his family.
  4. The Parent Church pastor can provide a confidential ear to listen and even a shoulder to cry on.
  5. The Parent Church pastor may (doesn’t have to be) be a coach to the church planter. 
  6. The Parent Church may send a youth group or missions team to help with an outreach or large scale program. 
  7. The Parent Church may send cards of encouragement or celebration of certain milestones.
  8. The Parent Church can invite the church planter to their mission’s weekend. 
  9. The Parent Church can invite the church planter to come preach.
  10. The Parent Church pastor may come and preach at the church plant or speak to the launch team.
Here’s the other cool thing: when a church adopts a church plant and the congregation starts getting involved, it fans the flame of missions and evangelism in the parent church.
 
So, if any of this piques your interest please contact me. I have planters waiting to be adopted! 

Residency Reflections – Joseph’s Story

Joseph Taylor is a church planter in Chicago, IL. As he is finishing up his residency at Missio Dei Chicago, we asked him to share about his residency. 

Why and how did you and your family choose to do a church planting residency?

I was familiar with church planting residencies from previous ministry contexts and had come to believe in residency’s singular value as a context for hands-on learning and growth, as opposed to the more theoretical and detached environments of seminary. Having previously served almost exclusively in worship ministries, I knew I needed additional ministry experience to prepare me for church planting, and a residency in a church-planting church context made a lot more sense than going back to school to get another degree. The recommendation from Converge assessors and the invitation from leaders at Missio Dei to do a residency sealed the deal for us!

What were your thoughts/feelings going into the residency? How did these evolve over time?

I was pretty excited about the residency going in, and super grateful for the opportunity. My wife Maria and I had been on what felt like a winding road through a spiritual wilderness as we pursued the call to church planting, with several points at which the next steps were not clear AT ALL. 5 months living with my folks in rural Wisconsin made us question whether we were on the right path at all, so the opportunity to continue pursuing that calling at a church planting church in the city that we loved was amazing! I knew residency was something I needed for my own leadership development, and what we knew about Missio Dei made it seem like an amazing place to continue exploring church planting. Plus, we had previously thought we were going to be leaving Chicago for California to pursue a different residency opportunity, so when the invitation came to do a residency AND get back to Chicago, we were elated!



For the most part, those feelings of excitement and gratitude never subsided, though they were certainly tempered as we got into the nitty-gritty of church life and ministry in a difficult, secular urban environment, and as our residency experience turned out quite different than what we had expected. Significant leadership turnover and organizational transition right in the middle of my residency meant that we were now learning in a destabilized environment. It was very confusing at times, and fear darkened our path as we walked with the church we had grown to love through significant challenges. Honestly, it caused us to question whether we had made mistakes or whether we were on the right path.



But when we went back and recalled the ways that Jesus had led us in bringing us there, it restored our confidence and hope – He had brought us to this place, and He was going to see us through! Plus, the circumstances we walked through with the church gave us a unique window into the challenges and joys of that kind of unique season in a church’s life. From that vantage point, we have learned invaluable lessons that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

During your residency, what did a typical work week look like?

My “typical work week” has definitely evolved over the last 10 months. Early on, it was pretty much all support raising, all the time! Tons of communication with would-be supporters, traveling all over the city, the region, and even the country in order to make face-to-face asks, and constant follow-ups and updates. The schedule was nuts. As my support base stabilized, my work schedule shifted to a mix of staff meetings, one-on-ones with fellow staff members, coaching sessions, music rehearsals, strategic planning, and TONS of reading. In the last third of the year, it has been a lot more one-on-ones with potential launch team members, and networking and developing relationships with other pastors and non-profit leaders.

How did you grow during your residency? What did God teach you?

I bet that I won’t really be able to ascertain with clarity what I’ve learned or how I’ve grown during my residency until I have more of the benefit of hindsight. But there are a few thoughts that have settled deeply into my soul over the last 10+ months, including:

  • “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” -Leo Tolstoy
  • “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!” -Thomas Merton
  • “There are two ways of being a prophet, one is to tell the enslaved that they can be free. It is the difficult path of Moses. The second is to tell those who think they are free that they are in fact enslaved. This is the even more difficult path of Jesus.” -Richard Rohr
  • The church…is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. -Eph 1.23 (msg)

A bit more personally, God has been reminding me again and again to lighten up, have fun, and pursue joy!

After the residency, what’s next for you and your family?

After residency, our plan is to move into our planting neighborhood in Chicago, get our family settled there, and devote 10-12 months to doing the hard work of “cultural exegesis” of the neighborhood, in order to learn the major opportunities, needs, and driving narratives, questions and strongholds for the people there. Trusting that Jesus has already been there doing his good work, our hope will be to discern where and how he has been working, and join with him in that work. And we’ll begin down the runway towards launch by pursuing conversations, relationships, and open doors, sowing “kingdom seeds” wherever possible!

Creating a Culture of Generosity

If you are going to grow a church significantly one of the skills you are going to need is to learn how to create and shape the culture of your organization. When we speak about culture, we are referring to an organization’s “values, beliefs, and behaviors. In general, it is concerned with beliefs and values on the basis of which people interpret experiences and behave, individually and in groups.” (HT) Building and shaping an organizations culture is not something that happens overnight, it takes time, relentless focus, consistent practices and inspirational leadership.

So how does one build a culture of generosity?

1. Pray for It!

Generosity is a spiritual issue. It is natural to hold on to things! It is supernatural to give away things. Generosity is a matter of the heart. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Church cites the true motivation for the overwhelming generosity of the believers in Macedonia, “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (II Corinthians 8:5). When the Lord truly has our hearts, then he has our possessions. Asking our generous God to reign in the hearts of our people is the first act a leader needs to take in building a culture of generosity.

2. Model It!

Leaders set the pace of an organization. One of the nine prayers of a missional leader is “Father pour out a generous spirit in my life.” Generosity is a fruit of the spirit. Paul lists kindness as one of the by-products of being in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Like the word love (agape), kindness (chrestotes) is closely related to hesed in the Old Testament, which stands for God’s covenant love. Commenting on hesed, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “loving-kindness — is not far from the fullness of the meaning of the word.” (HT) So loving-kindness is the practical out workings of love in our lives. Thus we have the biblical definition of generosity. As a leader am I generous with my time, my words and my resources and how is my family, leaders and church witnessing that in my life? Generous living leads to generous giving.

3. Teach It!

Teaching generosity principles is critical to the spiritual formation of an individual and for a church, yet we shy away from teaching these financial principles. Brian Kluth writes, “We need to teach people to be faithful givers, not because the budget says so, but because the Bible says so. Our focus needs to be to teach people to be faithful givers to God, not to the church budget. Our goal is that our people please God, not the church finance committee. Church budgets are spending plans, not the giving goal. It is the Scriptures (all 2,350 verses on finances, generosity, and material possessions) that will help people become faithful stewards and givers.” (HT) I would add to this that we help them to be better lovers of God and followers of Jesus. Over 20 years ago, I did my first series on giving. I was afraid, timid and concerned that everyone was going to leave my church because I said that dreaded word in church: MONEY! The surprising thing was that many people began to experience the liberating joy of knowing Jesus. When I go back to my first church, many people comment on that sermon series and the impact it had on their lives.

4. Reinforce It!

Learning to say thank-you well is one of the ways for reinforcing position behavior. Expressing thanks is not optional for believers. Paul’s letters are filled with gratitude on many levels, even for financial support (Philippians 4:14-18). Your people deserve to have their generosity acknowledged for several reasons:

To know that you received their gift, especially for first time givers.
To know how their gift is being used, this is a vision casting opportunity.
To reinforce your relationship with them.
And finally, to reinforce the work of God in their lives. Generosity is a by-product of the work of God in people’s hearts.

5. Celebrate It!

Vince Lombardi once said, “Teams do not go physically flat, they go mentally stale.” Celebrations have a great way of keeping churches and organizations mentally alert. In Encouraging the Heart, James Kouzes & Barry Posner write, “Celebrations—public statements by their very nature—give expression to and reinforce commitment to key values. They visibly demonstrate that the organization is serious about adhering to its principles. So it is important to be clear about the statements you’re making. What are you reinforcing? What are you saying is significant about this moment? Parties are fine, but celebrations are more than parties. They’re ceremonies and rituals that create meaning. When planning a celebration, every leader should ask, ‘What meaning am I trying to create?’ Public ceremonies crystallize personal commitments, binding people together and letting them know they’re not alone.”

Someone once said, “You are what you celebrate!”

Reflective Questions:

How often do you pray for a spirit of generosity to fall upon the hearts of your people?
How are you and your leaders becoming models of generosity?
How is generosity being taught throughout the church? In public worship services, affinity gatherings, small groups and one-on-one mentoring?
How are you specifically reinforcing vision, generosity principles and the generous acts of individuals with in your church?
How strategic are you in planning and creating the celebration of generosity within your church?

The Number One Reason We Are Sold Out for Church Planting

I am passionate about church planting for a number of reasons:

  • Church Planting is the main vehicle for expressing God’s mission.
  • Church Planting is a key strategy in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission.
  • Church Planting is the most effective means for making disciples.
  • Church Planting is necessary for the transforming of cultures and societies.
  • Church Planting is the most cost efficient means of evangelism.
  • Church Planting is critical to establishing ongoing mission posts throughout the world.
  • Church Planting is a natural by-product of a healthy church.
  • Church Planting is needed for the survival of the church in America. 

Every one of these reasons motivates me in some way or another, but the number one reason church planting inflames my heart is because God has captured my heart. God revealed his truth about his Son deep within my soul over 34 years ago and continues to reveal himself to me every day. I am passionate about church planting because I am passionate about God. Because I am zealous about God, all I want to do is to be a part of what he is doing in this world.  If God is on a mission I want to be on a mission. If God chose another vehicle for fulfilling his purpose throughout the world, I would be just as passionate about that vehicle.  

One of the foundational motivations for church planting is the glory of God. One author describes the glory of God as the afterglow of God’s holiness. Because man cannot stand in the presence of a holy God, God gives a glimpse of himself through his glory and through his supreme plan chose to use the church as his chief instrument whereby his glory is manifested throughout the world today. Three times in Ephesians 1:3-14 we see the phrase “the praise of his glory” 

“…to the praise of his glorious grace…” vs. 6 

“…might be for the praise of his glory…” vs. 12 

“…to the praise of his glory.” vs. 14 

Through the church, whether in a primitive village in Papua New Guinea or the rural hamlets in Eastern Europe or the mega churches in the sprawling suburbs of major cities in America, they all have one thing is common…they are bringing praise to the glory of our God. 

We also see in Ephesians 3:10 that this is not just limited to God’s mission here on earth, but that through the church God chooses to reveal his glorious wisdom throughout the entire spiritual realm. 

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rules and authorities in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph. 3:10 NIV) 

Therefore, the planting of new healthy churches is a means of seeing God’s glory spread throughout the earth.  John Piper in his book “Let the Nations be Glad!” reflects on the significance of God’s glory in relationship to all missionary endeavors. 

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”  (pg 17) 

“Worship, therefore, is the fuel and the goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. ‘The LORD reigns, let the earth, rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!’ (Ps. 97:1). ‘Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!’” (Ps. 67:3–4).  (pg 17) 

Every new church planted is a new lighthouse of God’s glory where the afterglow of God’s holiness is reflected, manifested and ultimately enjoyed! 

Let our passion for church planting be driven by a passion for God!  May our zeal for church planting be consumed by a zeal for the glory of God!  

The glory of God is not only the motivation but the goal of God’s sovereign work among men. There is no more majestic theme, no more noble pursuit than the glory of God.

  • Moses’ highest ambition and most noble request was to see the glory of God (Exodus 33:17–18:8).
  • The first coming of Christ was a display of the glory of God (John 1:14; see also Matthew 16:27–17:8).
  • The Apostle Paul was encouraged and sustained by his awareness of God’s glory (see 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 4:3-6, 16-18).
  • The apostle Peter found the revelation of the “Majestic Glory” of our Lord a witness to the truthfulness of the prophetic word revealed through the apostles (2 Peter 1:16-19).
  • Our Lord’s second coming will be a revelation of His glory, and the cause for the saints’ rejoicing (1 Peter 4:12-13).
  • Every supreme goal of our every action is the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). (HT

At Converge MidAmerica we are sold out to church planting for the #1 reason, because we are sold out to God and his glory! 

“To him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

All In Resolution

Are You All In?

6 Tips for a Year-End Offering

December is the largest giving month for most churches and non-profit organizations.  Early in my ministry, I learned that most non-profits see 25% of their giving revenue come in during the last month of the year.  I thought, “Wow. We must be doing really well our giving is spread out pretty much evenly across the year.” Then I realized that we were missing an opportunity to expand our vision, increase our giving units and unleash a spirit of generosity.

 

1. Start earlier.

Start earlier so that you can get your administration team excited about this opportunity to cast a meaningful vision and create an opportunity to expand the churches giving. Start earlier so that you can capitalize on individuals’ year-end giving planning. One thing I realized is that those who make large contributions to non-profits typically make their year-end giving decision in November. 

 

2. Pick your 3 giving projects.

This is an opportunity to share your church’s giving is impacting your community and people outside your church and around the world. We encourage you to pick one that will enhance your local ministry and two that will expand your vision for church planting and world missions.

A few years ago one of our church planters had three projects:

  • Local Evangelism (they expanded their evangelism budget significantly)
  • Regional Church Planting (they blessed Converge MidAmerica’s matching grant fund)
  • World Missions (they raised a full year of support for a missionary who came out of their church)

 

3. Develop a communication plan.

 

November

  • Three November Notices before Thanksgiving
       – One mailed letter from Pastor with a giving envelop 
       – E-Newsletters pointing to online giving
       – Build a Year-end giving webpage and use a Facebook and Twitter Campaign         
         to drive people to the website
  • One Announcement in the bulletin and from the pulpit on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 

 

December

  • First Sunday – Promote Project #1 through a video/personal testimony
  • E-Newsletter – Promote Project #1 – pointing to website/online giving
  • Second Sunday – Promote Project #2 through a video/personal testimony
  • E-Newsletter – Promote Project #2 – pointing to website/online giving
  • Third Sunday – Promote Project #3 through a video/personal testimony
  • E-Newsletter – Promote Project #3 – pointing to website/online giving
  • Christmas-Eve Services – Include a brochure highlighting all three projects with a special giving envelop after Christmas
       – Send out email-blast celebrating the progress and inviting people to give
       – Send out one last appeal on December 31st

 

January

  • Announce the results via pulpit, e-news and letters
  • Send thank you notes to all who participated
  • Share the “thank yous” you have received from the organizations that were touched through the campaign

 

4. Celebrate progress.

Saying thank you well is critical to the health of any ministry.  It is important for you to say thank you personally to individuals and publically through updates.

Here are a few things to celebrate:

  • Amount given
  • Impact the funds are making 
  • Number of families giving to the campaign
  • Number of first time givers to the church as a result of the campaign

 

5. Push it to the very end of the year.

Send out updates and appeal emails up to December 31st. One article cited that 22% of all donations to charities occur the last two days of the year!  They even go so far as encouraging ministries to send out one last appeal on December 31st at 2 PM EST. Why then? Studies have shown that 2 PM EST is the most effective time for an email donation request. HT

 

6. Embrace the benefits

  • Number #1 – God is blessed through our giving  
  • Number #2 – Those who give are blessed in participating (Both individuals and churches)
  • Number #3 – Lives will be impacted for eternity
  • Number #4 – The church’s vision will be expanded and celebrated
  • Number #5 – The church will discover first-time givers through this process 

 

Conclusion:

Remember there is a difference between a last minute appeal and an emergency appeal. Emergency appeals are understandable just by the nature of them, but last minute appeals always feel last minute!  If this is important, then take the time to make your year-end giving campaign feel important, special and needed.  

 

Reflective Questions:

  • Who can help you in planning and executing your year-end giving campaign?
  • What percentage of your offering comes in during the month of December?
  • What ministry in your church needs a boost of funding?
  • What regional partners can you bless and recognize though this offering?
  • What world mission partners could you bless and recognize though this offering?

 

Additional Materials

Four Ways to Boost Year-End Giving

4 Steps to Increasing End of Year Giving

6 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Year-End Giving

3 Tools for Self-Knowledge

I recently returned from a conference in Nashville where several hundred church employees gathered to become better at their craft, and a common theme I heard throughout the week was know yourself

We live in an age where every other link on our feed is some personality quiz or #relatable meme. But is knowing yourself really as simple as taking a Buzzfeed quiz about which Disney princess you are and joining Pottermore to learn all about you Hogwarts house? 

(If you’re not Gen-Z or Millennial, I may have lost you with that last paragraph… just bear with me.)

A while back I was talking to a friend about identity. There are so many stories lately of people making public statements proclaiming they find their identity in “_________.” Maybe it’s their sexuality, their race, their occupation, their neighborhood, their politics, or any other number of things that the world deems important. Through the conversation we realized that while all of those markers may be a part of who we are (and many of them are a small part), where we should really find our identity is in Jesus. 

So before I dive deeper into self-knowledge and self-discovery, I want to lead with this: Let your identity be found first and foremost in who Jesus says you are. The rest is just flavoring. 

If you’re on board at this point, you know your identity is found in Jesus, but maybe there are other aspects to who you are that seem to be a mystery. Ian Morgan Cron said, “We are fundamentally mysteries to ourselves.” We know who we want to be, and often what’s standing in the way of becoming that person is, well, ourselves. While Buzfeed quizzes and Facebook groups can tell you something about yourself (well, maybe), I think there are better tools. So here they are. 

1. APEST

APEST is an inventory that categorizes your gifting as one of these five: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher (APEST). Brad Brisco has a great article about APEST and Church Planting, explaining that each of these gifts is vital to the health of the church, so it is important to recognize your own gifting as well as empower others in their gifting. 

Brisco writes this:

Ephesians 4 is not the only passage APEST is mentioned. Apostle (“sent one”) is used over 80 times in the New Testament. Prophet is used nearly 800 times in Scripture, over 150 times in the New Testament. Evangelist is also used in Acts and 2 Timothy.
Shepherd is used 23 times in the New Testament. Teacher is used 129 times in the New Testament. Compare that with the use of the word Pastor (which we have no problem using as the catch-all word for leadership) is used once.

As pastors and church leaders, our tendency is to settle for categorizing our leadership as just that–leadership. APEST breaks it down, helping you navigate your own gifting, and freeing you up to do what you do best, allowing others to do the same. 

How are you working within your gifting? What things are you doing that you could release to someone else so you can focus on what you do best? What steps can you take to grow in areas in which you are not naturally gifted? 

If you’ve never taken the APEST, you can do so here

2. Love Languages

I remember sitting in counseling as a teenager, having required reading assigned to me. I thought, Why are you giving me homework? This isn’t school! But there’s a reason my counselor and so many others recommend 5 Love Languages. Learning how we (and others) give and receive love allows us to better understand our relationships and grow together. But this starts with understanding ourselves. 

If you’re unfamiliar, the 5 Love Languages are these: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gifts, and Acts of Service. Do you feel loved when someone hugs you, or does it sort of make your skin crawl? Do compliments make you feel all warm and fuzzy, or super uncomfortable? Do you find it easy or difficult to pick out a gift for someone?

To learn your Love Languages, take one of these quizzes

3. Enneagram

While the Enneagram is not a new concept, it recently gained popularity, especially in Christian circles. 

Enneagram is made up of 9 distinct personality types. Unlike DISC or Myers Briggs which explore behavior, Enneagram explores core motivations and fears. So rather than looking at what you do, Enneagram looks at why you do it. 

Reading about your Enneagram number can be challenging, and even scary. The system points out all of your flaws with terrifying specificity. But, as Relevant Magazine puts it, “the Enneagram makes sanctification specific by giving us a roadmap to where we most need God’s healing.”

What are your fears? What are your motivations? Do you feel the need to be perfect? To be needed? To be successful? To be special? To understand everything? To be safe? To avoid pain? To hide your weaknesses? To be at peace? These needs drive us, motivate us to act the way we do. If we gives these needs over to God, we will grow closer to him and to who he desires for us to be. 

It can be tempting to use Enneagram as an excuse for why we are the way we are; instead, use it as a tool to be transformed, as Paul calls us in Romans 12:2. 

You can take the Enneagram test here, but the best way to find your type is to learn about all 9 and test each description against yourself (I recommend The Road Back to You). You’ll be amazed at what you discover. 

Now What?

Take time this week to look back at how you acted and reacted in various situations. Were you operating in your gifting? Did you show love the way others needed it? Were you motivated by fear? 

Make a plan for how to improve next week. Then go back and do the same. Use tools like APEST, Love Languages, and Enneagram to articulate, understand, and transform what used to be mysterious.  

Experience, Humility and Growth: A Church Planting Residency Story

When the thought of doing a residency was first proposed to me I was certain my family and I were not going to do it. I had already taken a year off from vocational ministry to rest and rejuvenate for the church planting season of my life. In our minds, my wife, Kayleigh, and I were eager to move and plant with no more delays. However, we humbled ourselves before the Lord, prayed about the residency being proposed to us, and I called the pastor of the church offering the residency. What was supposed to be a 15 minute phone conversation turned out to be almost two hours long and when we finally hung up, I realized God was redirecting us. Within two days, Pastor Corey Johnston of Heights Church already had a plan for our 9 months there and a couple inexpensive options for our living situation (turned out a family let us stay in their guest house for free). We had specifically been praying that wherever God wanted us to live next, He would provide affordable housing. We thought it would be in Manistee, Michigan where we originally thought we would plant a church. Turns out our next nine months would be in Troy, Illinois. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

The reason we chose a residency with Heights Church all the way in Troy, Illinois is because my regional Converge Director, Norm Byers, had searched out Converge churches whose model of ministry fit closest to what Kayleigh and I are called to do with our church plant. We are very passionate about the Missional Community model that Soma Family of Churches does, and Heights Church was planted to follow this. Interestingly, when Norm first mentioned Heights Church to me, I knew of it because Pastor Corey’s philosophy of ministry paper was previously one of the examples Danny Parmelee emailed to me the year before to refer to as I wrote my own philosophy of ministry for my Converge Church Planting Assessment Center. Heights was the perfect fit for my family and I to do our residency.

Once Kayleigh and I knew God was calling us to do a residency with Heights, we knew we had to raise money fast and do a lot with our current house to get ready to leave for 9 months. We reached out to friends, family, and our local church where I had been a youth pastor for five years, and they stepped up in a huge way. Every month God provided exactly what we needed. The family that hosted us was incredibly generous, and I was thankful that I could use some of my landscaping experience to do a great deal of work on his yard to make it suitable for them to do foster care in the future. God knows exactly what He is doing and he put us in a situation where my “tent maker” skills and experiences played a huge role in being an alternative way for us to pay back some for our living space that was generously provided. We became great friends with the family as well. It’s too long and too wonderful to explain it all here, but every little detail God provided for our residency to happen proved over and over that God knows exactly what He is doing when He calls us to follow Him. His grace abounds abundantly where He directs our steps.

The residency didn’t just give us exposure to the Missional Community church planting model; we lived it! We really came to understand Missional Community as synonymous with Church. The Church by definition is a community on mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ, so really living week in and week out with people who genuinely believe that and are very gospel-fluent was refreshing and extremely exciting. We were part of one Missional Community at Heights for the first 5 months of our stay then the final four months we visited all the rest of them twice each, going to one or two a week while still visiting our own as time allowed. It was amazing how unique they all were and yet unified under the vision and the gospel. It takes about 3 months to really shift in mindset from Church as programs and events to identity through intentional gospel rhythms of life and mission but once that shift happened for us, everything we had researched and studying about missional community before came alive and made a lot more sense.

...the model of church we are passionate about wasn’t just theory anymore. It wasn’t just a great idea on paper for us anymore. It was real and we were living it.

A couple months in the realization hit both Kayleigh and I that the model of church we are passionate about wasn’t just theory anymore. It wasn’t just a great idea on paper for us anymore. It was real and we were living it. The gospel centrality, gospel unity, and gospel fluency we read about, wrote about, and craved so deeply was happening around us, in us, and through us. Words cannot express how much of a game changer our residency was for us. I had studied Soma Family of Churches and Jeff Vanderstelt’s ministry work for 3 years prior and even helped start a hybrid version of missional communities for a large church in transition, but the pieces I didn’t realize I was missing because I hadn’t lived it yet were significant. I thought I got it. I didn’t really get it until I lived it. And now Kayleigh and I feel so much more in tune with our vision and how the Lord has shaped us for the church we are called to plant.

Of course there were definitely humbling sacrifices we made. Firstly, having waited a year already to plant only to be led by God to take another year of preparation was particularly humbling for me, almost humiliating at times since the expectation around us was that we were launching soon. But it’s not about what others expect of you, it’s about where God is leading you and He knew we needed more preparation when we thought otherwise. Moving five hundred miles south to another state was also extremely humbling and overwhelming, especially since we went from living in a full size home that we own to a one room studio apartment above a garage with a kitchenette and small bathroom downstairs. My wife, my two year old daughter, and I along with our dog and cat all lived in one room for nine months, most of which were snow/rain winter months where we were stuck inside a lot. It was very hard but a blessing all the same. We realized how much stuff we had back home that we really don’t need, so the donation pile is growing each day now that we are back. Life was tight during our residency but it recalibrated our minds toward simplicity, and we couldn’t be more thankful for the breath of fresh air that is in a day burdened by possessions.

We weren’t the only ones impacted by the residency; Pastor Corey and many others told me how much of a blessing it was to have us there. Since Heights is a young church with Corey as the only seasoned preacher, having me preach gave Corey some breaks he really needed. I also met with Corey every single Tuesday morning for a couple hours just to talk, learn from, and sharpen one another in Christ. He has great elders and staff, but he told me my outside perspective helped him see many needs and changes to make Missional Communities better. We were able to serve our Missional Community, children’s ministry, and so much more during our time at Heights.

There are many forms of important training any church planter should invest in before being sent out to plant. Jesus’ disciples, although they had no formal training, basically did a residency with Jesus before He commissioned them. Whether you have formal training through seminary or, like me, have a wide variety of experiences under the leadership of others who trained you in ministry and in the Word, doing a residency specific to the model of church Christ is calling you to start is priceless and I highly recommend it.

A residency isn’t just a time to learn more about a certain church model you are passionate about. It is a time to grow spiritually and in the kind of character you’ll needed to plant a church. It’s a time to realize once again that apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, your vision is blind, your strategies are total garbage, and your mission will fail – or worse, it will succeed through carnal means and self-driven ambitions and lack of genuine spiritual vitality.

Looking back, it was mostly my pride that was initially against a residency. I was done waiting and thought I was as ready as I needed to be, that I really understood my vision, and that I didn’t really need to live it out before I planted a church. But I was wrong, and God knew there were things I needed to learn in my residency. Make no mistake, you are more prideful in yourself and dependent on your church planting ideas than you think. A residency isn’t just a time to learn more about a certain church model you are passionate about. It is a time to grow spiritually and in the kind of character you’ll needed to plant a church. It’s a time to realize once again that apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, your vision is blind, your strategies are total garbage, and your mission will fail – or worse, it will succeed through carnal means and self-driven ambitions and lack of genuine spiritual vitality. From a spiritual perspective, if you are absolutely opposed to doing a residency before you plant like I was, you need to spend some time with the Lord and ask Him to search your heart for why you are so opposed. If the answer is your pride then chances are you probably really need to do a residency or some kind of season of repentance and renewal from your idolatrous view of yourself and your ideas. Peter reminds us that “…God detests a prideful heart but gives grace to the humble…” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

One of my other prideful fears was that our residency may cause us to lose the wind in our sails and fall behind all of our assessment center friends who have since gone out and started planting already. Truth is, church planting is not a competition and we didn’t lose any wind in our sails. We are far more passionate and far more confident in God’s calling on our lives. It wasn’t a 9 month set back, but a leap forward. God will use our residency investment to multiply our ministry efforts in the future. That’s who God is. He is the Multiplier.

From a practical standpoint, if you are setting out to plant a church with a model you have never lived before under the leadership of another then I strongly recommend you find a church body that is doing what you want to do really well and go spend time with that church and immerse yourself. Your church planting dreams cannot just be a good idea on paper even if you’ve heard of other’s successes with it. It can’t just be something someone else you trust and admire has lived and done. It is invaluable for your vision to be something you’ve lived and done with others in some context. If you love Jesus and are a church planter, there are few things more encouraging than seeing what you’ve been praying about in action before you’ve even broken ground on your future church plant. It’s priceless and it’s precious. You also get to have a few good laughs as you see how some of your ideas were just plain stupid and, dare I say, unbiblical.

There are many ways God shapes a man and his family to be fruitful church planters; doing a residency is not the only way to go, much like going to seminary is not the only way to go. God trained me through other means, and one of those was a robust residency with a church five hundred miles from home and six hundred miles from where my family and I eventually want to plant a church.

Finding Rest in Busyness

EXHAUSTION

I am a married pastor with six kids. Life is busy with vehicles breaking down, house projects never-ending, deadlines needing to be met, and to-do lists filling my time while dreams of leisure fill my mind. I am exhausted. Where is margin and balance in life? Where is there rest in busyness?

INVITATION

In Mark 6:31, Jesus invited his followers to rest. “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Doesn’t Jesus’s invitation sound delightful?

The context tells us that the disciples returned from ministering in pairs. They went out telling people to repent, cast out demons, and anoint the sick with oil. Some people received them, and some people rejected them. What a tiring day of ministry. In verse 30, they came to Jesus, and he instructed them to come away and rest.

What did they do? They got on a boat and set out for a secluded place. I picture a favorite spot in the house, a quiet place, with a book and a cup of coffee. Maybe your resting place is a beach, mountain top, or stream. Come away and rest awhile. Do you long for a vacation from the frenetic pace of life? Do you long for rest?

INTERRUPTION

Jesus’ invitation results in the opposite. Outsiders saw Jesus and his friends. They raced to meet them. Jesus was intoxicating and electrifying. He was a miracle worker. The masses were hoping that he could offer what they wanted. They want a rest in a way too.

I envision the disciples seeing the growing crowd thinking, “Let’s turn around!” or “Let’s get out of here!” It may have been like waking up in the middle of the night, after a back-breaking day of work, hoping your spouse gets up with the sick kid. You pretend to sleep. Your body aches. Someone else can do it. The immediate thing before us sometimes is the least appealing. Where is the desolate and restful place Jesus promised? Must they dock with all those people right there?

COMPASSION

Jesus didn’t see it that way. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Jesus was human and divine. He embraced the limits of his calling. He tired, hungered, and needed rest. However, he chose compassion.

Why then would Jesus make this invitation to rest before they got in the boat if they were landing to work? Jesus was taking his followers on a journey that was not predictable or easy. Why does he keep teaching instead of start resting? Maybe Jesus had another lesson that didn’t involve words.

Day ended, and night fell. The disciples saw an opportunity to bring Jesus’ conference to a close. They were done. What did they do?

… his disciples came to him [Jesus] and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

Have you ever gotten to the end of your rope, tired, and hungry looking for an escape? I wager many of you have. I bet the disciples had. It was time for rest. Bodies need it. Rest is biblical. Send them away.

How did Jesus respond? Did he go along with their suggestion? “… he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat’” (Mark 6:37).

What! Jesus commanded the impossible. These spent disciples, with only five loaves and two fish, couldn’t possibly feed everyone. There were 5,000 hungry mouths to feed. What was Jesus thinking? You give them something to eat. He knew they couldn’t. Impossible!

You get up and deal with your sick kid in the middle of the night. You help the person broken down on the side of the road. You stay late at work to fix the broken machine. You do it.

Jesus knew what he was saying. He knew they couldn’t feed them. Why would he say that? Maybe it was this lesson without words.

Jesus was teaching. Times like these show desperation. When we are young and rested and full, we believe we have something and are something. We have the truth. We have power. We have vitality. We have answers. Then, we get to the end of the day, energy, and life, pondering if we have anything at all. In truth, all we have is Jesus. I think that was a central point of Jesus’ ministry.

What happened next is familiar. Jesus didn’t send the crowd away as the disciples suggested or split the paltry food and offer crumbs to the hungry. He took the meager rations and miraculously multiplied them. Everyone had their fill and leftovers to boot in the end. Jesus did what his followers couldn’t.

CONCLUSION

The night is upon them. Time is up. We get to verse 45, and Jesus finally sends the crowd and disciples away. They are done with this desolate place. The disciples go to the boat to cross the sea, while Jesus stays to pray.

How restful was that next boat ride? It wasn’t. Their progress was painful. The wind buffeted them. Where is the rest that Jesus invited? Mark recounted,

And about the fourth watch of the night [3-6 am] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. (Mark 6:48-51)

What a man. When Jesus instructs rest, his disciples sought it. Instead, they found work. Night came. They hungered. He issued more work by calling for the feeding of the people. He provided what he demanded. He instructed the disciples again to cross the lake in their boat. The winds rose, disrupting rest. Near morning, quite casually, Jesus walked on water, told the disciples not to worry, and the wind stopped—what a man.

DESTINATION

When they get to their next destination, people recognize them and ran from all over for more healing. The cycle recycles.

This brings us back to the beginning invitation. Where is there rest in following Jesus? Where is balance and margin in the Christian life? Certainly, we need to rest. Sabbath is good. At the same time, Jesus invites us to something better than a 40-hour work-week, an eight hour day with breaks, or a vacation. Fatigue, hunger, and brokenness can present opportunities for Jesus to demonstrate his all-sufficiency. Don’t miss the blessings of interruptions, accidents, and late-night disruptions they can drive you to meet the savior. Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we have nothing left, we can rest in him.

Are you spent with busyness? How do you think Jesus felt serving the masses? Are you willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads? Where can God enter and offer to supply your want? What does it look like for you to follow Jesus’s leading today? Rest in him.

How to Get the Most out of Connect

You may be wondering what to expect at Connect, how to take full advantage of the conference, or why you should even attend. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of Connect.

1. Pastors and Planters Dinner & Orientation

If you are a new pastor or planter with Converge, you don’t want to miss our New Pastors and Planters Dinner Wednesday night and Orientation Thursday morning. These will be a great time to get to know Converge, as well as meet other new pastors and planters.

2. Networking Luncheon

Connect won’t just be providing lunch on Thursday; we’ll be providing a Networking Luncheon. Meet with pastors, planters, or youth ministers just like you. Build new connections and strengthen existing friendships with others in ministry. After all, we are better together.

3. Breaks with Your Team

If you are coming with others from your church, take time during the break to talk about what you’re learning and what action steps you will take home with you. Consider these questions with your team:

  • What stood out to me about the last session?
  • What have I been doing well that was affirmed today?
  • What do I need to improve upon? What measurable action(s) will I take to improve?

 

4. Breaks with Vendors

We have tons of amazing sponsors at Connect. Be sure to stop by and say hi at each booth. Click here for a full list of sponsors.

5. Connect Book

Your Connect book will be your guide to the whole conference. Find speaker bios, session descriptions, venue information and more in the book. Use your Connect book to take notes on each session, and then refer back to it throughout the year.

6. Social Media

Follow Converge MidAmerica on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with us during Connect and throughout the year. Take pictures at the conference and tag us so we can follow you back, and tag #CMAConnect2019 to connect with other conference-goers. Staying connected through social media lets our community stay in touch even after Connect ends, because we are better together.

Haven’t registered? What are you waiting for?

Make Kingdom Memories at Connect 2019

You probably have a lot of family and ministry memories in your office; here are a few of mine. One of my favorites is my bobblehead of Henry Aaron. He was a baseball hero of mine. Another one is a baseball I caught at 50-something years old at Yankee stadium; it was a home run! I also have family pictures of precious moments in our family’s life. I’m sure all of you have these types of memories in your office, as well.

Our family gathering is coming October 24-25 in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Heritage Church is going to be a wonderful host and is anticipating all of us joining them there. It’s events like these where we make movement memories as a family of believers. Do you know that God is using our churches to do great things? We are one of the few growing fellowships of churches in the United States. I’m looking forward to seeing you and making some kingdom memories this fall. We’ll see you at Connect 2019!

Is Your Church on Social Media?

When part of your job description is managing social media, you tend to get a lot of questions about how to use Facebook or Instagram; at least that has been the case for me over the past 2 years. No matter who I talk to about social media–pastors or ministry leaders or congregation members–there are a few questions I’m always asked. 

Why should my church be on social media?

Your church likely sponsors the town high school’s sports teams, attends local festivals, and supports businesses in the area. We do all of these things and more because we want to reach new people, and we want to meet people where they already are. The same can be said of social media. People in your community are already scrolling through Facebook on their lunch break and checking Instagram before bed, so why not meet them where they are? 

Establishing a Facebook page or Instagram account for your church puts your church’s posts in your congregation’s news feeds. It gives you a new platform to communicate announcements, invite prayer requests, and further connect with your congregation throughout the week. Your congregation is already on social media; meet them there. 

What should my church post to social media?

Acts 2:42-47 describes the early church as being devoted to the apostles’ teaching, coming together to break bread and pray, giving to anyone who was in need, meeting together every day, and praising God. Your church is likely trying to accomplish many of these qualities, as well, through gathering for weekend worship, sharing in communion, and taking up an offering. 

Have you considered using social media to do each of these things, as well? Use social media to help congregants devote themselves to teaching by sharing scripture, sermon quotes, or devotionals. Create a Facebook group and post there often to bring people together daily. Post a link to your online giving website and share a story of how your church’s giving has impacted a member of the community. Ask people to comment with their prayer requests and pray for the comment above their own. Share stories of what is happening in and around your church, and praise God on social media for all He is doing in your community. Be the church beyond the four walls of your meeting space. Use social media to connect with your congregation constantly. 

For more concrete examples of what to post on social media, check out SundaySocial.tv, CRTVChurch, and churches like Elevation, VOUS Church, Legacy House, Crosspoint, and others. 

How do I get more people to interact with our church’s social media?

If you are already on social media, you may have trouble getting many people to see the content you are posting. There are tons of tips and tricks online for how to get more interaction on social media, but these are my go-tos:

1. Consider your audience.

Make sure that when you post, you understand who you’re posting to. Any post you make will only be seen by people who already like your page. Don’t post something to social media that’s meant for people outside your church, because people outside your church don’t follow your page. Instead, post content intended for your congregation that is also understandable by guests. If someone who has never been to your church scrolls through your Facebook page, would they want to visit your church based on what you post?

2. Don’t use social media as a bulletin board. 

I see too many churches that only use social media to encourage people to show up to in-person events. If your entire social media presence is an advertisement for events at your church, you’re missing the point. Use your church’s social media to foster community and encourage interaction, not just to advertise events. 

3. Build social media into your culture. 

The Facebook algorithm is a jungle, but you can learn how to navigate it to your advantage. Teach your congregation to always like and comment on your church’s posts; this will tell Facebook to show these posts to more users. Figure out a way to build social media into your church’s existing communication platforms. Maybe your pastor leads the whole congregation in checking in on Facebook at the beginning of service each week. Maybe when you create a Facebook event you take 60 seconds out of service to walk your congregation through inviting their friends to the event. Maybe you print an announcement in your newsletter or bulletin about following your church on Facebook and Instagram. Create a culture in your congregation of utilizing social media. 

Should I pay to advertise on social media?

Obviously a post that you pay for (called a Boost in the Facebook world) will get more views, likes, and interactions. However, whether or not you pay to boost posts is entirely up to you. In July my church hosted a Vision Night for our community. We are a church plant hoping to launch services in November, so this event was to share our vision for the church with community members and leaders in hopes that they would want to get involved. We created a Facebook event and invited everyone we knew, and we boosted the event for $100 to the zipcode of our church for two weeks leading up to the event. We had 2 people attend this event without a personal invitation because they saw the event on Facebook. One was connected to someone else in attendance, and the other was new in town and had been looking for a church home since moving to the area. Both people joined our launch team and are now active members of our congregation. It is certainly never necessary to pay to boost Facebook posts, but if a boost is done well, it will pay off. 

So what’s next for your church? Do you need to create a Facebook page? Are you ready to branch out into Instagram? Will you boost your first post or share brand new content today? Whether your church has been on social media for ages or you’re just getting into the game, take a moment to assess your current social media presence and develop a plan to use social media to point more people toward Jesus. 

 

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Kat is a dangerously outspoken, bluntly honest, fearlessly loving follower of Jesus. Before moving to Chicago in February of 2019 to plant a church with Missio Dei and Converge MidAmerica, she worked for a multicampus church in Florida as a social media director, worship leader, media producer, and graphic designer. For more from Kat, check out her website

Death, A Letter, and 7 Reminders about Pastoring the Dying

Death is certain.

On April 17th, 1790, in Philidelphia, a famous statesman, philosopher, printer, scientist, and abolitionist died at the age of 84. His impact on America lives on today. He invented flippers, the flexible catheter, bifocals, lightning rods, and the first library and hospital in America. He was known for his sayings popularized in the Poor Richard’s Almanac. One of his most famous sayings we find not in his almanac but a letter six months before his death. He wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I think Benjamin Franklin was right: Death is certain.

How do we as pastors and elders and church leaders shepherd through death and dying?

This last winter, I had the privilege to officiate two funerals. They were quite different. One was for a young man who had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. After three years of battling, God took him home. He frequented church and professed faith. The other was my 78-year-old neighbor, Ed. Ed had prostate cancer, usually treatable, yet his cancer spread to his bones and died within a short time. Ed was not religious. He never went to church and did not profess faith. I shared Christ with him a couple of times this year. Days before he died, he confessed to believing the truth about Jesus.

No matter the age, I think death is exhausting and so is saying goodbye. Even if you didn’t know Ed or this young man, it would be hard to have a dry eye spending time with them in their last days. Cancer didn’t discriminate. Death comes to all.

Death is certain.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 states, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” Why is that? The verse continues, “for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Death is certain. It is the end of all mankind.

How do we care for the dying? As pastors, elders, and church leaders, we have a passport into the private lives of people, especially at death. Some seek counsel, pursue confession, and want hope from us in moments like those.

What do we say to a person in the emergency room? What kind of ministry do we give the parent who suddenly loses a child? How do we care for a wife who wants to know where her husband is after he passed? How do we navigate a person saying something off base at the funeral? After the tragic loss of most of his family, Job stated, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). He was correct. However, why does He? Why do bad things happen to good people? Loss can present a real crisis of faith. As shepherds, how do we respond? We need wisdom.

Here are 7 reminders:

1. Visit the sick.

Jesus met the sick. We are to care for those in our congregation. Shepherds should smell like sheep. Take a break from sermon prep, programming, bulletins, and emails. Visit the sick. Visiting can be hard with a busy schedule. Take an elder or spouse or staff member with you. Maximize your time. Sit with the dying. Be available. Acts 5:42 states, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” The early followers of Jesus went from house to house, sharing the good news. If the Apostles made a practice of going from home to home, why not we? Visit the sick.   

2. Listen.

James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Ask open-ended questions like: “How are you doing, really? What are the doctors saying about your health? How can the church help you?”, and  “Where are you at in your relationship with God these days?” Take time to be quiet and truly listen.

3. Pray with the suffering.

James 5:13-15 states, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Whom are you praying with? Don’t go it alone. Grab your leadership team, and pray with the suffering.

4. Share the gospel.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the fact that Jesus died for our sins is of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). He understood that the gospel was primary. Our flock needs to know this. It is a matter of eternal life and death. There are plenty of resources out there on how to share the gospel. Gary Rohmayer, the President of Converge MidAmerica, has spent much of his life discipling and evangelizing those around him. He gave a lecture a while back saying something like, “How can we as pastors ask our people to share their faith and make disciples if we are not doing it ourselves?” I have been encouraged by his example and teaching on exploring the spiritual journey with my neighbors. Gary created a resource to help make sharing our faith a conversation, not a sermon. I like his relational approach. People want care and concern, not a lecture. I know we can’t make people believe, but we can and must share the gospel. Be bold. Share the gospel.

5. Serve.

Once someone has passed away, there are many ways to serve the grieving. A significant way to help is to offer your building if you have one. Don’t let your space sit empty. Recently, the senior pastor of Converge Community Church Jeff Dryden did just that because the family did not think the funeral home down the street was large enough for the service. That was brilliant. It got people in the door who would never have attended on a Sunday or haven’t been to church in a long while. 60% of our population does not affiliate with a Christian congregation. Increasingly, we are living in a secularized society and need to think about how can we be a light in the darkness. Using the building is only one example of how we can serve the suffering. Seize the moment and serve.   

6. Lead the funeral or memorial service.

The 9Marks podcast called Pastor’s Talk spoke on the topic of funerals a while back. One take away for me was to open up the service for anyone to share their memories of the loved one. Personally, I enjoy hearing stories of the deceased at services. Memories allow those familiar and unfamiliar the chance to recollect and mourn. I admit an open mic is a bit risky. However, Mark Dever recommended that the pastor concludes the service to be able to bring gospel hope and do clean up. That made sense to me. Lead the service.  

7. Follow-up.

Finally, I would encourage following up with those who have lost their loved one. Grief is a process. Continue to care for the families through the difficult days ahead. Ask how they are doing. Encourage the church to continue to care. Check-in, don’t check out. Holidays and birthdays and anniversaries can be agonizing. Everyone moves on except loved ones. No one wants to make the sorrowful feel awkward, uncomfortable, or bring up painful memories. However, sometimes, all the loved one wants is to talk about the deceased and remember. Don’t be afraid to follow-up. Mark events on your calendar and follow-up.

How are you preparing people for the certainties ahead?

Death is certain.

I hope you can see that it is better to go to a house of mourning than feasting. May God help you as you care for souls facing their mortality.

Seven steps to empowering people in their giftedness

Did you ever watch Scooby-Doo? I did. I still remember the rerun of the 1972 episode with Jonathan Winters (1925-2013). Did you see that one? Jonathan Winters played himself as a guest on the cartoon show as well as Maude Frickert. Maude’s late husband had invented radioactive chicken feed that would increase the size of chickens to giant proportions. Maude hoped that they could improve their production of fried chicken to take over the market. Unfortunately, Mr. Frickert hid the secret recipe before he died and didn’t tell his wife where it was. Shady characters were snooping around the farm, and Maude needed help. The gang joins Jonathan Winters to save the day in this episode of Scooby-Doo.

Are you hungry for radioactive fried chicken? Yummy. Sounds like a show from the ’70s, doesn’t it? The reason it came to mind was because of Jonathan Winters played more than one role. Not only was he Maude’s voice, but he also pretended to be the National Guard. As gifted as he was, he couldn’t save the day on his own. Church leaders are not that different. Leaders often play multiple roles. We are teachers, event planners, managers, repairman, cooks, designers, tech gurus, janitors, and office administrators. We can’t do it all alone.

Have you heard to the 80/20 rule? 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. Maybe you feel like 1 percent of the people do 99 percent of the work, and you are the 1 percent. We don’t have to function that way. God’s Word encourages us to think of the church in broader terms. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, 

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-19)

Paul was dealing with a church that didn’t value every member of the Body. Paul’s concern relates to us.

We need to appreciate each other. We are a community, a spiritual Body. We are better together.

In small groups, it is good to have lots of people serving. We can use someone to record prayer requests and communicate them. It is good to have someone help with fun activities, and someone to remember birthdays and anniversaries. Someone must host. Someone should facilitate discussion; perhaps you like to have someone do worship, or provide food. We need help. We are better together.

For church services, we have worship leaders, ushers, greeters, sound techs, projectionist, bulletin work, cleaning, maintenance, and loads of people helping with children. Every person has a role. Can we get by with less? Sure. However, what we must do requires more than us. We need help. We need teachers, welcomers, encouragers, givers, servants, and prayer warriors. Even the one who is bound to a wheelchair has a place in the Body of Christ. She can pray. She can intercede. She can petition. She can praise. She can thank God. We need prayer warriors. Everyone is important. We are a faith community.

We can’t do this alone. We can’t just hire another person. The church is not a building, concert, rally, or social club. God tells us we are the Body of Christ on earth. He has arranged the members. He gives people different gifts, abilities, interests, experiences, and personalities. There are many parts, yet one body. No other group is like this one.

Imagine going through life without an arm, leg, or ear? Some of you don’t have to imagine; you know what that is like. God tells us we need each other. He has uniquely arranged the members of the local church to represent Himself to the watching world. Let us not function like we are all the same, or there is only one important role. It is our job as leaders to encourage, equip, and help people discover and exercise their diverse Spirit-empowered gifts for the betterment of the whole. We are better together.

How? How do we help people do this? An easy answer might be to find a spiritual gifts assessment, administer it, and tell people to find a place to serve. Put the burden on them. Wash our hands of responsibility. Check it off the list. Is that what God wants? How do we effectively encourage, equip, and help people find their place? Our answer should include some assessment, but addressing this issue is more than a survey.

Here are seven steps to effectively encourage, equip, and help people discover and exercise their diverse Spirit-empowered gifts. 

  1. Pray about how people can function as the Body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  2. Teach on the nature of the Body of Christ.
  3. Plan. Have a plan to help people find their fit in the Body.
  4. Communicate this plan to the Body. Where will you communicate that plan, at your welcome center, in membership class, or on your website?
  5. Know. Get to know each member of the Body of Christ. You have to know your sheep to help your sheep. What is happening during the week? What are they reading? How is work? What is their marriage like? How are their kids doing? Are they introverts or extroverts? Do they seem to like to teach or not? Perhaps you have people take a class or an assessment tool to help them identify their gifting.
  6. Inform. Inform the community of opportunities for people to serve in various ways. People can’t read your mind. If you need someone to help with technology, ask. Have conversations with specific people on how they can participate in the Body of Christ. Let them know your needs.
  7. Thank God for the diversity of your body of believers and His empowering Spirit. Also, don’t forget to thank those who do serve using their gifting.

I enjoy doing impersonations. Do you? They are funny and fun. Yet, we can’t be in more than one place at a time, we only have 24 hours in a day, and ultimately, we need other people. We are better together.

If you want to find out what happened to the radioactive chicken feed, you will have to watch the rest of the episode. If you want to experience the joy of 1 Corinthians 12, know this, we were made for community. God meets that need by putting us into the church and gifting us in unique ways. Isn’t that Great! Imagine if we all functioned in our God-given roles in the Body!

Let us do our part to help the church function as a healthy interdependent spiritual Body. We are better together.

The art of neighboring

What would it mean if we actually loved our neighbors? I mean really loved them the way Jesus mandates: to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

To be sure, the definition of neighbor is actually far bigger and more inclusive than just our literal neighbors. However, it doesn’t make the person you see when taking out the trash any less your neighbor. Unfortunately, we don’t always live that way. We pull into our garage and close the door behind us, never taking the time or opportunity to truly get to know and build meaningful relationships with our neighbors.

The biblical story of the Good Samaritan reminds us of what it takes to love our neighbor as ourselves. To simply say animosity existed between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ time would be an understatement. Religious and historical differences had driven a relational wedge between the two groups. God’s people knew the commandment of loving God with all their being and to love their neighbors as themselves. Yet, they chose to interpret the commandment of loving their neighbor as limited to those who were of a similar background.

The parable of the Good Samaritan comes out of a teaching moment Jesus took advantage of to challenge the attitude of the day. In the story, the Samaritan demonstrates what it means to love our neighbor. A man was beaten and left on the side of the road to die. While he lay there helpless, others, including some of the religious elite of the day, continually passed him by.

It was the sympathetic Samaritan who saw the victim’s situation and responded to his needs. While others went out of their way to avoid him, this Samaritan was a loving neighbor personified. He showed mercy, compassion and generosity to a person with whom he had no similarities and from whom he would receive no benefits by helping.

I have heard it said that sometimes Christians aim to love everyone and, as a result, end up loving no one. We may not have an opportunity to have meaningful relationships and love all our neighbors. But we can be intentional about neighboring.

For much of my life, I have found a unique way of redefining or expanding the term and meaning of “neighbor.” And I encourage you to try these few things I’ve learned. They made a big difference for me when it comes to knowing and loving my neighbors well. And they may do the same for you.

1. Identify your neighbors

Begin by drawing a map of your neighborhood and plot out who you know and what you know about them. This will begin to create and lead to more intentionality when it comes to knowing and loving your neighbors.

2. Call your neighbors by name

Take time to learn, retain and use your neighbors’ names when talking to them. Nothing is quite as sweet to a person’s ears as his or her own name. Consider writing your neighbors’ names on a piece of paper after the first meeting and then place the list on your refrigerator. Seeing their names on a regular basis will make it easier to know them and will also serve as a great reminder to pray for them. It is hard to love someone when you don’t even know his or her name.  

3. Spend time in the front yard

It is easy with our fenced-in yards to hide away in the backyard. Most, if not all, meaningful interactions with neighbors, however, happen in the front yard. Find any chance you can to be in the front yard, whether it is to play catch with the kids or to wash the car. Simply making a conscious decision to hang out in the front yard can open great opportunities to get to know your neighbors. If you live in a condo or an apartment, spend time in the complex’s shared spaces.

4. Free up your schedule

Learning to say no in order to free up your schedule creates the space to spend more time in your community. We live in an incredibly fast-paced world in which it is easy to run past and overlook the needs of others. Clearing your schedule allows you to slow down enough to live aware of those who are around you. Love requires an element of being proactive. What can you do to be more proactive in showing love to your neighbors?

As Christians, we have no choice but to love those around us, even when they have harmed us. We can love people and not love God, but we cannot love God and not love people. The two go together.

The best way we can show love to our neighbors is to share the good news of the gospel with them. God has placed you where you are and given you circles to influence. Don’t let the next opportunity slip by without rising to the challenge of investing in someone’s spiritual journey.

Will you be the one God uses to bring someone to life in Jesus? It’s a question only you can answer.

Converge responds: El Paso, Dayton tragedies

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity (Col. 4:5). 

Lisa and I were looking forward to quiet first weekend of August. We had experienced a busy summer of travel, including ministry trips to Minnesota, Canada, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and a great time with our missionaries from Europe and Africa in Germany, followed by a week of vacation in Virginia. It was good to finally be home. Our only responsibilities this weekend were serving at church and helping prepare for our first “Back to School” event – a “drive-in” movie (kids make cars out of cardboard and watch a movie in the car – yeah, you can steal that one!).

On Saturday morning, I had a small window of time to do work on the roof before the rain came…again (I live in the “Sunshine State” – which to me is more of an aspiration than reality in the summer here).

It was Lisa’s birthday weekend, so we went out to dinner to celebrate and went home to relax. 

That’s when I heard the news…

Twenty people were killed and dozens more injured on Saturday morning in a massacre at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that was packed with back-to-school shoppers, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.”*

It was discovered later that the shooter had written a personal manifesto. He told investigators he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible.

I never know what to think when I hear things like that.

“Why?”

“Who thinks like that?”

“Why would you want to shoot someone based on their country of origin?”

“Are people really that sick?” 

I thought about all my friends from Mexico and Texas. I thought about my church and our sister congregation, Harvest in Español, and made a mental note to talk with the pastor, Ramon Garcia, to get his perspective. Being truly vulnerable, I was a little upset with myself that I was not more broken up by the news. Yet it has happened so often recently, it has begun to feel like a new normal – unacceptable, but normal.

Later Saturday evening I got the chance to watch a little of the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I turned on the set when Champ Bailey was talking. I had great respect for him as a player and I loved watching him play. My heart sank as I heard him give an impassioned plea:

The first thing people see when they look at me is not a Pro Football Hall of Famer or a husband or a father. They view me first as a black man. So, on behalf of all the black men that I mentioned tonight, and many more out there who’ve had the same experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all of our white friends: When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen. And please don’t get caught up in how the message is delivered.

I found myself tearing up as I heard him speak. I realize that while it is impossible for me to feel the fullness of the pain of his personal journey, my hope is that I am becoming more aware and compassionate toward the challenges to people of color and minority cultures in our country. I was also grateful for the journey that God has our movement of churches on in this area. No doubt, we have a long way go…I have a long way to go…but we are willing to go on the journey.

Sunday morning, I woke up to the news: “In a second mass shooting in less than 14 hours, at least nine people are dead and more than two dozen were wounded early on Sunday after someone opened fire in downtown Dayton, Ohio.”*

Again? Two times in one weekend? What is going on?

I began to reflect in my mind… Columbine, Redlake, Virginia Tech, Foot Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, D.C. Navy Yard, Charleston, San Bernardino, Pulse, Dallas, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Tree of Life, Thousand Oaks… and now this. And, yeah, I know there are dozens more that aren’t top of mind and don’t even include the ones that came to mind from around the world.

I grieve over so many common ground issues in these scenarios. Deranged thinking. Devaluation because of color, class and culture. Senseless actions. Helpless victims. Tragic loss. Ripple effects for generations. Families and communities full of grief, pain and fear.

No doubt we will have outrage, posturing and blame-casting in the political arena. Hopefully we will have robust discussion that results in needed change and meaningful preventative action in the local arena. I ask you to pray that God will lead our leaders to live on the “solution side” of these issues and make godly, right judgments resulting in meaningful progress.  

But you do realize that the only lasting hope for our world is the gospel of Jesus Christ, right?

When the gospel is planted in the life of a new believer, it is joined by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of the word of God and surrounded by the encouragement of God’s people. As more and more individuals are changed by the gospel, it transforms communities. As communities are transformed, it transforms regions. As regions are transformed, so are countries…and so on.

Transforming the country seems too big a task for any one of us to take on. But throughout the centuries God has been transforming the world…one life at a time. And he asks us to join him in this work.

In our country, the Back to School season is one of the most likely times for people to consider visiting a local church. Many are getting back into their life routine after a restful but less than routine summer schedule. Wouldn’t it be great if church became a part of their new routine?  

We as believers recognize that the work of the church is absolutely essential in our world. Hope, help and healing come from Jesus – Jesus changes everything! He is the one who transforms people. And the church (the people, not the programs) is God’s means to get the message of Jesus to those who so desperately need it. Every individual in our communities deserves to hear about and needs to experience the transforming power of the gospel.  

I have four things that God has put on my heart to do with what happened this weekend. I’d love for you to join me in taking next steps in these areas:

  • Take a moment and pray for our country, our communities and our churches. Commit to keep them in prayer on a regular basis.
  • Think of a few people outside the faith and commit to invest in friendship to model the hope of Christ in their lives in hope that they would one day meet Jesus.
  • Invite someone who doesn’t have a church home to join you next weekend at your house of worship.
  • Take the next step to get deeply involved BOTH in the life of your community and your church. Serve with your time, talent and treasure in your local congregation. If possible, reach across a racial, ethnic or cultural divide in your community to listen, learn, lament and love.

 

I sense that these are the first steps we need to take to keep our hearts soft and our lives and churches on mission. I pray that this might be a very fruitful season of ministry in your personal circle of concern as well as your community. May we be prayerful in our hearts, joyful in our posture, winsome in our witness, engaging in our connections, hopeful with our words, bold in our invitations, God-honoring in our lives and effective in our mission to help people meet, know and follow Jesus as we start and strengthen churches together worldwide.

Better Together,
Scott

*News reports from ABC News

Story of hope from R Church

Lupe came into our church less than a year ago during a very tough time in her life. Her marriage was struggling, her brother had committed suicide, her parents had gotten a divorce after her brother committed suicide, and her dad had attempted suicide as well.

She was lost and without hope, but decided to try not just R Church, but Jesus!

The day that she walked through our doors, she felt hope and peace. She decided to give her life to the Lord, and shortly after, her husband did as well.

Lupe quickly started telling everyone around her about what God was doing in her life, and in response to that, many people started coming to church. She went through our discipleship process (Growth track), got baptized and is now serving in the welcoming crew. Her husband is leading the security crew and over 25 people from her family are now a part of R Church!

And her dad, who at one point felt hopeless and wanted to end his own life, gave his life to the Lord this past Easter!

To God be the glory for what He is doing in Lupe and at R Church. 

How To Conduct A Financial Audit

We get calls from churches from time to time asking if they should be doing a financial operations audit. The answer to that is YES.

Why? Because you want to satisfy your congregation that their contributions are being handled with integrity; and to protect your board and Pastor from possible charges of negligence.

All of our churches should be auditing their records, but not all churches need to use outside auditors for this. It can be done by as few as 2 people. Many churches use board members and possibly someone from the facilities team. The auditors should not be paid staff.

Here is a list of items that would normally be covered in a financial operations audit. Your in-house audits can do a few of them on a rotating quarterly basis so they’re all covered in the course of a year.

  • Review internal financial controls to make certain they are adequate.
  • Are collected moneys always handled and counted by two or more people?
  • Is collected money placed in a secure location at all times until deposited?
  • Are there 2 signatures on record of counts to be deposited?

 

(For more information on internal financial controls click here)

  • Verify that deposits equal the offering counts.
  • Reconcile the church checkbook(s).
  • Review expense reports of the Senior Pastor (possibly every quarter) and ensure some one is reviewing the expense accounts of other employees.
  • Compare that bank and investment balances agree with the balance statement.
  • Verify that the church’s debt (loan) statement(s) balance agrees with the balance statement.
  • Make sure there is support documentation to confirm accounts receivable (pledges, loan repayments, etc.) and reconcile them with the balance statement.
  • Review Accounts Payable to insure all bills are being paid. If you’re on an accrual basis, confirm all amounts incurred but not paid have been accrued.
  • Verify that donations in the donor system reconcile to the general ledger.
  • Reconcile the church’s quarterly 941 reports with payroll expenses (easiest in January).
  • Review an inventory of fixed assets for insurance and security purposes.
  • Correct for additions and disposals.
  • Verify depreciation is accurately reflected.
  • Compare current year to prior year amounts of income and expenses to see if there are any large or unexplained differences. Determine if it is legitimate or reveals a flaw in the system. (Most easily done at year end or during the budget process.)

By Ray Woods, Business Manager, Converge MidAmerica

Passing the baton

Paul had Timothy.

Moses had Joshua.

Bilbo Baggins had Frodo.

Brett Favre had Aaron Rogers. (Maybe I lost you on that one. I am not a Packer fan. Go Vikings! It illustrates a point.)

Throughout history, from secular to sacred, there have been leaders who raised up assistants to pass on the mantle of leadership. They passed the baton. 

In high school, I ran track and enjoyed relay races. One thing we practiced over and over was the simple handoff of the baton. Why? Why practice something so easy as the transfer of one section of pipe to another? The reason was that it was harder than it looks.

The baton gets dropped. It happened in track, and it happens in life.

  • Sometimes leadership is passed to a family member who squanders decades of hard work and ingenuity. The son may have trust, familiarity, and time, but not have the other attributes necessary to be a great leader.
  • Sometimes the leader is too afraid of giving up control, so it takes an emergency for the baton to pass. In such cases, the board or people below are left trying to pick up the pieces.
  • Sometimes the leader is too confident, thinking they have this. They don’t see how raising up a leader can help them and those around them.

 

In ministry, it is critical that we raise up leaders to pass the baton. We need more small group leaders, directors, deacons, ministers, elders, missionaries, and pastors. Why? Here are five reasons to raise up leaders.

  1. It helps us remember our goal. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our goal is to make disciples of all nations. We can’t do that alone nor does the message end with our making disciples. We need to raise up people to help people know our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
  2. It provides support for us when we are weary. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12). We are better together than alone. In leadership, we need others. Raising up leaders is work, but in the end, it will help. 
  3. It allows the group to build resilience and health apart from us. “Appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Paul encouraged Timothy to appoint elders, plural. He saw the value in not having a CEO, but a team of leaders to care for the congregations.
  4. It utilizes someone else’s talent that is different from ours. They have strengths we don’t have and can build our groups in ways we can’t.
        • I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
  5. It can extend the ministry beyond us. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). We must not let our ministry die with us. If we are in the ministry for a longer season, don’t inhibit the growth of other ministries by holding on too tightly to those under us. Let us pass the baton to the next generation or next ministry. Raise up a leader. Prepare to pass the baton.

If you agree with me, then whom are you raising up? Can you name a person you are pouring your life into, who can eventually take on leadership? If you can’t think of anyone, whom might you approach this month about a mentorship relationship? Why not take a moment to think about that right now?

So, you have a person you are thinking of as a potential leader, who else comes to mind? Maybe you are at a loss of who would be another possible leader. How can you identify potential candidates? What type of person should you look for? The acronym FAT helps (faithful, available, and teachable). You likely have heard of that. Those are critical attributes of an assistant and any future leader. I would add one more quality that must be present, in some form: skill. They have to have some ability to lead. They must be faithful, available, teachable, and possessing some degree of skill. Perhaps the acronym would work better moving the letters around to FAST (faithful, available, skillful, and teachable).

Unfortunately, the process can be anything but speedy. An assistant may never rise to the skill level necessary to lead a group. He or she may be the best assistant but an ineffective leader. That happens. God made all types of people. Another reason the process may take time is the person you give your time to may not want to lead. He may need to be motivated to take on leadership, or she may be in a season that is not conducive to leadership. Another thing that may slow the process down is disqualifying behavior. The person may lack the necessary character to take on that next role. Thus, you have to go back to exploring who may fill your shoes when you are gone.

Whom can you raise up to extend what you do? Raising up a FAST leader is slow, but good. Don’t drop the baton—be prepared to pass the baton.

What I like about these FAST qualities is the accent on character. The individual is not going to be perfect. No one is. But they must have some degree of humility and integrity. This is not only sound advice from social scientists or people who have gone before us. I think this wisdom is grounded in scripture. Paul talks to Timothy and Titus about finding leaders and key servants for his church. The qualifications are predominantly character. The only skill he notes that elders must have is the ability to teach. So skill is important, but it is not ultimate.

Whom do you see as FAST?

      • Whom do you know that keeps their word?
      • Whom do you know that has some bandwidth to come alongside you for a season?
      • Whom do you know that has a measure of promise?
      • Whom do you know that is open to hear what you have to say?

Those are the ones whom you can bring up and disciple to take your place or extend God’s work beyond you.

We have looked at why this important and whom we are looking to as candidates. Once we identify the person, how do we develop them?

Here are five ideas that come to mind.

  1. Have your assistant lead. Disappear for an event. Have them take over. Ask them how it went.
  2. Praise and thank them when you see them spread their wings in leadership and do well.
  3. Read a book on leadership together and talk about it.
  4. Go to a conference together and discuss leadership.
  5. Meet over coffee to pray. Build your relationship. That relational capital can make those difficult conversations easier and those encouraging conversations more meaningful. 

My favorite resource on discipleship over the years has been Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism.

Regardless of the resources you use, trust me, raise up an assistant. You won’t be around forever. Our message is too important for it to end with us. You won’t regret it. Pass the baton.

Creating spiritual momentum in your church

“Momentum… it’s God’s work. Spiritual leaders can neither create a movement of God’s Spirit nor control it. But a leader should build an atmosphere charged with a desire for spiritual momentum.”  – Wayne Schmidt

As we embark on a new ministry year, all of us will be seeking a unique breakthrough whether personally, or corporately as a church to move us to a new level of impact and fruitfulness. 

God’s people have been seeking spiritual breakthrough for generations through the practice of prayer and fasting. Some examples are Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Barnabas just to name of few. Yet our supreme example is our Savior. He set the example by fasting for 40 days in the wilderness and also through his clear instruction on the subject.

Here are five reasons why pastors should call their church to a corporate season of fasting that will create an atmosphere of spiritual momentum.

1) It’s a biblical practice.

Jesus did not say to his disciples “if” you fast but he said “when” you fast. (Matthew 6:16) ‘If’ is optional but “when” assumptive. Jesus assumed the continued practice of fasting with their prayers. It is a spiritual discipline to be employed by the church as a regular practice. When fasting is a regular habit it keeps our hearts tender towards God.

2) It creates community.

As a community of believers, we need to fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. When we do, there is spiritual bonding that takes places which strengthens our sense of community. Public fasts were declared under great times of stress and need by Samuel (1 Samuel 7:6), Ezra (Ezra 8:1), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:1) and Joel (Joel 1:14). The leaders in the Antioch Church worshipped, prayed and fasted together in seeking God’s leading (Act 13:1-3). Paul and Barnabas continued this practice as the appointed elders in the new churches (Acts 14:23). When it is a regular part of the church’s calendar, it births deep connections in God’s family.

3) It reinforces spiritual disciplines.

When in your preaching calendar do you take people deeper in their relationship with God? One of the marks of a missional Christian is that there is evidence of craving and experiencing spiritual intimacy with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines. When fasting is addressed from the pulpit it reminds disciples of their need to be disciplined in their daily walk.

4) It generates spiritual dependence.

It is too easy to do ministry in our own strength but in doing so we will only achieve results that will impress the man and not God. Crying out for God to do the spiritually impossible is the key to experiencing spiritual breakthroughs. Fasting is a physical activity that keeps us focused on the spiritual. When fasting is regularly practiced, it reminds us that spiritual victories are fought and attained in the heavens first. (Psalm 20:7).

5) It produces humility.

Pride is an infectious problem that spreads through the hearts of all men. Pride produces a strong reaction from God. He will directly and firmly battle against the proud (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:4). King David used fasts to humble himself before God the true King (Psalm 35:14). When fasting is a practice, it can lead to a humble soul who experiences the favor of God (I Peter 5:5).

Will you join us? Pastor, will you lead your church to join us as we kick off the year with a prayer and fasting emphasis?

Check out our resource pages to help lead your church through a 21 Day Prayer Emphasis. 21 Dangerous Prayers21 Courageous Prayers and 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Each of these has a resource page to help you plan a comprehensive campaign.

Building a Vision through Faith: Grace River Church’s Story

Many church plants start off by meeting in a shared location, but when is the right time for them to find a permanent home?

Grace River Church in O’Fallon, Missouri has been asking itself this very question. As a church plant that started four years ago in the living room of founding pastor Chris Highfill, moved to a local elementary school, and now meets in the O’Fallon YMCA, Grace River started looking again for their next move last summer. But this time, they wanted somewhere they can stay for good.

As a young church plant, at first it seemed impossible that Grace River would be able to have its own building. But as Highfill got more connected with Converge leaders, Converge MidAmerica President Gary Rohrmayer starting planting the seed about a capital campaign. Highfill was initially reluctant to start because he didn’t feel that it was the right time. But during June of 2018, Highfill felt God’s prompting, and they started planning the campaign.

All summer long Highfill met with other leaders from Grace River and together they planned their vision for the capital campaign. They held meetings and focus groups to make sure they were heading in the right direction and in September held a fundraising dinner for church leaders. After months of groundwork and prayer, Grace River Church launched its capital campaign in October of 2018.

During the campaign, Highfill often spoke from 2 Corinthians 8, where the Macedonian church gave generously out of poverty, and not out of wealth. He emphasized how the fundraising is not just about the building, but about helping people become the men and women that God desires them to be. The building is the tool to ultimately help reach more people for Christ.

At the time of the capital campaign, they didn’t have a specific building they were aiming to purchase. They didn’t have a plot of land in mind for construction. They didn’t even have blueprints for the congregation to visualize what a new building could look like. They simply asked people to give toward a vision.

Highfill knew that when God’s people would take a step of faith toward the vision, God would provide for their needs.

Despite still not having a building or property in mind, the capital campaign ended successfully with a celebration during the first week of December. The very next week, Highfill drove by a building off the interstate that was for sale and felt that God was nudging him to take another look. It had previously been out of their price range, but he decided to call the real-estate agent about it anyways. As it turns out, the building was bank-owned and had dropped in price by $400,000. And not only that, but it had a built-in tenant that would pay off almost the entire mortgage.

The people of Grace River Church took a step of faith in giving, and the Lord provided almost immediately. After finding out about the property last December, they worked hastily to acquire it, and just closed on the building last month. And while there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of renovation and preparing it for church use, they are confident that the Lord will continue to provide. Their current goal is to start holding services at the new building this December.

The capital campaign process unleashed a surge of generosity among the congregation and ultimately brought them closer together as a church. “Our church became a church because of this campaign,” Highfill said. “We were weak before, but the capital campaign increased our passionate spirituality and increased our faith in a great way.” Highfill is excited to see how things progress as they continue to go all-in together. This campaign has been such a beautiful part of the story of Grace River Church, and now is only the beginning.

As Grace River Church continues to grow, they ask for your prayers in the following way:

  1. Pray that construction costs for the build-out stay low.
  2. Pray that they don’t go over budget.
  3. Pray that through this process, they continue to be the people that God desires them to be.
  4. Pray that the building will be used as a tool to help people find and follow Jesus.

If you and your church are on the fence about starting a capital campaign, Chris Highfill would love to talk with you about his experience.

If you are ready to get started with a capital campaign, contact Bryan Moak, Vice President of Church Strengthening, for more information.

Newest Church Planters – 2019

We have a new wave of church planters!
Have you met them yet?

Danny and Ibeth Flores R Church, Elgin, IL

R church is a church plant in the city of Elgin, IL. We exists so that those who don’t know Jesus can come to know Him! We are a place where people can restart and be restored. We want to help people not only find Jesus but also their God given purpose and fulfill their potential.  We believe that God has called us not to change our city, but to serve it, and if we serve it well, our city will change. We are passionate about reaching the lost and sharing God’s love with those who are hurting.

Greg and Keyonna Payton – Chicago, IL

Rev. Payton is presently a member of New Beginnings Church of Chicago under the pastorate of Rev. Corey B. Brooks, where he serves as an Elder and as a Christian Education Instructor.

Rev. Payton’s goal in ministry is to engage and humbly serve the body of Christ, to lead lost souls to Christ, and to make disciples of Christ. Rev. Payton hopes to accomplish these ministry goals through church planting.

Badr Rhomri and Elsy Afif Real Hope Church, Skokie, IL

Planters of Real Hope Church which exists to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to Arabs in the North side of Chicagoland, to multiply through evangelizing, discipleship and training, to worship the Lord and live in fellowship as members in God’s family.

Kody and Jessica Woodard Renovation Church, Gallatin, TN

Gallatin is one of the fastest growing cities in Tennessee, with a projected growth of over 40,000 people within the next 5 years. It’s our prayer that as people are moving to Gallatin, that Renovation Church would be a place they can call Home. 

Our mission is really simple. We want to help people Follow Jesus, Grow Together, Discover Their Purpose, and Make a Difference.  

Greg and Kate McKinney Glory Church, Kansas City, MO

At Glory Church, our mission is to declare God’s glory among the nations in Kansas City and across the world. We long to be a bridge, connecting the diverse districts of Downtown Kansas City and equipping people to know God, find real and abiding freedom, discover their purpose, and make a difference in both their homes and throughout their spheres of influence. We are working to launch a life-giving church that gathers together weekly to worship in a central location and then scatters in community groups throughout the various districts of the city.

Brady and Ashley Gray Grove Church, Bardstown, KY

Bardstown (Nelson County) is a growing, rural community with a current population of 45,640 people, but it is expected to see significant growth in the next 10 to 15 years.

For over a year, God has been increasing our love and desire to see the people in this community meet Jesus Christ and fall madly in love with Him. Our hope is that the Grove Church offers people a place that will be a refuge of rest who anyone can find the hope, love, forgiveness, and grace that only come from the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Our mission is simple and yet monumentally important. We want to cultivate followers of Jesus Christ who pursue Him daily, worship Him endlessly, and live life in authentic community with one another.

Charley and Nichole DeverHope Church, Knoxville, TN

Knoxville is a growing city with a young, vibrant, and creative community. Many people in the city are burnt out by religion and have given up on the church. While over 70% of people in Knoxville self-identify as Christians, recent studies reveal that only 15% attend a church.

That is why God is calling us to plant Hope Church, a place where people can find rest, find hope, and find purpose in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will do this through multiplying disciples, groups, and churches in and beyond the city.

Nick and Hannah Brzozowski Anchor Church, Champaign, IL

Champaign is the home of the University of Illinois and is young, educated, and diverse. Our hope is that we can make an impact in Champaign that will be felt all over the world.  We will do this through leading people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. Having grown up being exposed to poverty, addiction, and brokenness, I (Nick) have come to discover that our best hope is in the one true Anchor, Jesus Christ. 

Joshua and Cheri Gutteridge – Chicago, IL

We are excited to plant a church in the heart of Chicago. The city of Chicago is populated by 3 million people and organized around 77 culturally unique neighborhoods. The nations live on the doorstep of Chicago! And yet evangelicals comprise less than 6% of the population in Chicago. Every week one church closes down within the city limits. Chicago is a real mission field for the gospel of Jesus!

Our vision is simple. We want to Rescue neighbors in crisis, Rebuild them on the teachings of Christ, and Return them to bless the city through compassionate service, church planting and the integration of work and faith.  

Joseph and Maria TaylorMissio Dei, Chicago, IL

The call to church planting has in many ways been a growing part of Joseph and Maria Taylor’s entire 13 years of marriage and ministry together. While serving in a number of ministry roles on church planting teams in Atlanta and Chicago, the vision and imperative for the planting of new churches in cities around the world has become clear to them. But over the last 6 years, as they have observed the heartbreaking needs of the City of Chicago in particular, and as they have grown to love their neighbors, colleagues and friends who call Chicago home, the need for new, healthy churches in Chicago has become an undeniable and compelling reality. They as a family, with Mia Jane, 6, and Silas, 2, along for the journey, are excited to partner with the Holy Spirit to start a church whose mission is practicing the way of Jesus for the renewal of Chicago. They hope to plant in the fall of 2020.

Five ideas for beating the summer giving slump

“God never estimates what we give from impulse. We are given credit for what we determine in our hearts to give; for the giving that is governed by a fixed determination.” – Oswald Chambers

Helping our people experience the timeless truth of moving from impulse and haphazard giving to systematically and joyfully giving is a continuous process.  

We see this in Paul’s writings:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7)

“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” (I Corinthians 16:2)

Summer is an excellent time to reinforce this principle in the hearts of your people in a way that is inspiring and instructing. Here are five ways to leverage the summer slump to train and motivate your people in the area of consistency in their giving.

1. Get better at vision casting on all levels.

Kennon Callahan writes, “A clear vision of mission will be decisive in fostering your congregation’s capacity for giving.” Vision is always asking the “whys” not the “hows.” A compelling vision moves people on a heart level as well as makes sense on a head level. Crafting your vision through multiple mediums is critical to the process. 

  • How are you at telling your vision?
    • Preaching
    • 2-minute giving talks
    • State of the church talks
  • How are you at writing your vision?
    • Newsletters
    • Membership letters
    • Leadership briefings
  • How are you at showing your vision?
    • Video
    • Testimonies
  • How are you at celebrating your vision?
    • Give and serve moments
    • Testimonies
    • Leadership celebrations

 

2. Manage your cash flow properly. 

Learning the giving rhythms in your church is critical and maintaining 120 days of expenses in your reserve account is important for peace of mind. Stressful appeals very rarely produce the results you desire. You don’t want to create a culture that the only time the church speaks about money is because they are in need. Need-based appeals reduce your vision to paying bills and not changing lives. Making mid-course corrections and spending freezes is a better use of the leader’s time than spending energy on need-based appeals. This will give you the freedom to deal with the money talks as an issue of spiritual formation rather than “help we are in trouble!”

3. Send out quarterly giving reports.

The whole purpose of sending out quarterly giving statements is to create a deeper vision of ownership throughout the church. This giving letter should include a well-written vision letter and thank you. It should include a giving statement and some type of teaching on tithing, generosity or ways to give to the church. 

 

4. Spend focused time with the 20% who give 80% of your budget.

Too many pastors are afraid to give focused attention to those carrying the bulk of the financial burden of the church. The stated reasons I have heard are: 1) I don’t want to be charged with favoritism, 2) I don’t trust my own heart, 3) I’m intimated by people of means.

My response to this objections is: grow up, pastor! Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote “act like men” (I Corinthians 16:13).

Investing time in people who are generous to your church is not favoritism — it’s wisdom. One pastor I know spends time with each of his core givers to assess that they are serving in the right areas to maximize their giftedness. If you don’t trust your own heart then, deal with it by confessing it and submitting to accountability over the issue. People of means need shepherds too. I remember visiting a couple in their home one evening (he had one of the top fifty salaries in our state). As we chatted over the evening, the wife said to me, “Thanks for coming. You are the first pastor to ever step into our home.”

  • How can you invest in your leaders relationally this summer?
  • How can you invest in your leaders spiritually this summer?
  • What could you do this summer to deploy or re-deploy them into service?

 

5. Help people automate their giving.

If your church does not have online giving, you are already 10 years behind. The failure to offer automated giving through online giving or electronic fund transfer (EFT) will hurt you in reaching and capturing the next generation. Every first-time giver should be given a “Ways to Give” document. One month a year could be an opportunity to promote “Let’s Go Green in our Giving” through emails, letters, announcements and giving talks.

 

Bonus: Don’t give into the summer slump mentality in your church. Keep the vision and mission red hot through strategic and creative outreach opportunities. Every summer, our church held a “Friends Sunday” which at times surpassed our Easter attendance for that year and propelled us to record attendance in the fall. Remember: a vision slump will always lead to a giving slump!


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Additional Resources:

Church health is a serious issue

We are serious about strengthening our churches!

Why? Because scripture mandates it.

The Apostle Paul in his letter (actually a field manual) to Titus, who was serving as a regional leader on the island of Crete, charged Titus with the task of strengthening the churches there. He writes, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished…” Titus 1:5. Some commentators say that Titus was working with 100 churches or more on the island of Crete during his time there.

The phrase ‘straighten out’ (NIV) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. “It means, properly, to make straight upon, and then to put further to rights, to arrange further.” (Robinson)

“‘Set in order’ (NASB) is an interesting Greek word, epidiorthoo. The first two, epiand dio are prepositions. The word orthoo is the word from which we get orthodontics, orthopedics and all of those mean straightening. When you go to the orthodontist, he straightens your teeth. When you go to the orthopedist, he straightens your bones. That’s what that means. So what he is saying intensified by two prepositions is ‘thoroughly and completely and fully straighten out what still isn’t straight.’ In ancient times that word was used by secular medical writers for the setting of bones or the straightening of bent limbs. So he says I want you to completely set things straight.” (MacArthur)

Titus’ commission was to establish and re-establish the foundations of the church in Crete for the purpose of seeing strong, gospel-centered churches that are missionally engaged.

How was Titus to strengthen the churches on the island of Crete?

  • Appoint leaders in every town (Titus 1:5-16).
  • He was to set forth the qualifications of healthy leaders (vs 5-9) and to deal decisively with the unhealthy ones (vs10-16).
  • Teach sound doctrine throughout the church (Titus 2:1-15).
  • He was to promote healthy thinking as well as healthy living (vs 1-10), which is found in the power and motivation of the gospel (vs 11-14).
  • Remind the people how to live out the gospel in this world (Titus 3:1-14).
  • He reminds them to “be ready to do good” (vs 2); to “be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (vs8) and “to learn to devote themselves to doing what is good” (vs 14).

 

In light of this scriptural foundation, we see church strengthening as a serious issue.

So what is a healthy church?

  1. It is led by healthy leaders who are examples to follow.
  2. It deals with rebellion quickly and courageously.
  3. It promotes sound doctrine (Strong Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis).
  4. It is intergenerational and branches beyond social structures.
  5. It promotes the centrality of the gospel as the fuel for sanctification and mission.
  6. It does not talk about mission, it fulfills the mission of God.

One of our core convictions is that no leader should lead alone. I believe this also translates onto a corporate level that no church should attempt to achieve that mission alone. Our desire is to walk alongside churches and to be a voice of encouragement, just as a coach calls out the best in them, or a friend is there to lean on.  

We are committed to starting and strengthening churches.

Reflective Questions:

  • How are you measuring the health of your church?
  • Do you know how to establish an annual church health rhythm?
  • How do you gather the opinions, feelings and attitudes of your people in a constructive way?
  • How do you use your annual ministry plan to improve the quality of your ministry?
  • Who do you trust to help you in evaluating the health of your church?

Three benefits of taking the Natural Church Development survey

May is “Church Health Month” around here at Converge MidAmerica.  It is a season in our calendar where we encourage churches to take a close look at both the quality and the quantity of their church’s ministry through taking the Natural Church Development Survey.  Here are a few quick reasons for you and your church to embrace this church health process.

1) It is based on the most comprehensive church health research ever done. 

Over 90,000 churches have completed NCD surveys around the world. Over 47,000 churches have completed NCD surveys in the USA. Dave Wetzler, the USA Director of Natural Church Develop, reports that when churches have completed 3 surveys and two full cycles of addressing the weak system, they have discovered through the process that they see 85% of them improving in quality and quantity both globally and here in the USA. 

They have also discovered that churches that plant daughter churches – they have an overall average score of 55 or higher. When a church has a score at 50 (average) or less, they are still very inwardly focused on their church, their health and their ministry programs. Once a church reaches a healthy average of 55, they become more outwardly focused in reaching other segments of the community or multiplying through church planting and mission efforts. Conversion growth increases and church planting increases. 

Every time a church takes an NCD Survey, it adds to the research and moves us from guessing to assessing. 

2) It separates fact from feelings

So many decisions are based on feelings rather than facts. The NCD survey takes all those feelings that are running through the minds and hearts of your people and quantifies them. 

Church Health is measured through hard data as well as soft data. The hard data is the key statistics you track as a church: attendance, offerings, new visitors, members, baptisms, small groups and leaders. So every church has its own dashboard of stats that they are looking at frequently.  

The soft data is the quality side of your services and ministries. It is people’s attitudes, feelings and perspectives towards the programs, process and the personnel of the church.

People’s real attitudes, feelings and perspectives are hard to determine at times, especially in a church. So how do you get below the surface of what people are thinking and expecting in your community of faith? 

The NCD Survey does this in a very positive and detailed way. It gives you an overall morale number for your church and then drills down in revealing what your people feel are the strengths and weaknesses of your church at this time. 

3) It provides a focused pathway to strengthen your church.

Once the feelings and perspectives of your people have been quantified, now the church can, with laser-like precision, focus on the systems within the church that are weak and need some attention.

All too often church leaders are guessing rather than assessing. They are going on a hunch rather than accurate data. This will always lead to a backlash against leadership initiatives and possibly leadership itself.  

When you listen to your people’s feedback, you honor them and create a deeper level of ownership in the ministry of the church.

Focusing on the feedback of your key leaders helps you develop an annual ministry plan – a plan with clear goals, deadlines and delegated assignments to improve the area your people identified as needing strengthening.

A little focus can make a lasting impact. For example, developing a 12-month ministry plan that focuses on raising the temperature of evangelism throughout every level of the church helps shape the culture and raises the effectiveness of the church.

This month, we have a special promotion for any churches registering for the Natural Church Development survey! Please contact Bryan Moak, VP of Church Strengthening, for more details.

What Are Together Groups?

When we say we are better together, we really mean it! Last year, a group of churches in Michigan was looking for opportunities to connect with each other, but in a way that wasn’t only geared toward fellowship. They wanted a missional gathering where they could work together to advance the vision of Converge MidAmerica and its leaders.

To put that into practice, this past January our district started a pilot program called Together Groups. These groups have enabled us to encourage our pastors of church plants and established churches to connect with and learn from one another. Our Together Groups meet for the purpose of seeing Christ’s kingdom expanded in their area of the region and to move toward our collective goal of seeing 400 strong, reproducing churches by 2027.

Since January, we’ve expanded from six to nine groups and have over 70 total attendees. Each group is comprised of seven or eight Converge MidAmerica pastors from the same region. Our nine regions are Mid-Chicago, South Chicago, Western Illinois, Indy, Greater Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Northern Michigan and St. Louis.

Each Together Group is facilitated by a regional leader who helps ensure that the discussion is broken down into the five predetermined sections.

  • First, pastors check in with one another to hear about the “heartaches and hallelujahs” of their ministry.
  • Then, they pray together with praises and requests, especially focusing on how God is moving in their region.
  • Next, they have a time of teaching, which could be discussing a book, watching a video or having someone share about his area of expertise.
  • After that, the discussion turns toward our four “Each One” statements: Each One Reach One, Each One Raise One, Each One Start One and Each One Send One. This is the heart of the time together and focuses specifically on encouraging each other and partnering together to see Christ’s kingdom expanded.
  • Lastly, the group wraps up by talking about action steps and creates a clear plan in order to move forward with purpose.

In order for everyone to be on the same page, group members agree to a covenant ensuring their commitment, confidentiality, authenticity, value of the overall agenda and promise to work toward advancing the kingdom together. This allows all participants to be striving toward the same goal.

We have seen the Together Groups empower and encourage our pastors over the past few months. A participant in our St. Louis group said, “You can go further in every area of life with a team. Together Groups equip you and your ministry to take the next step as you lead your church to greater effectiveness for the kingdom cause!”

Shane Prewitt, the leader of the Grand Rapids group, said, “While we are still learning many things about how to maximize the missional aspect of our group, the friendships that have been born and the coaching and encouragement that we have received have been life-giving. No matter how busy my schedule may be, the two hours I spend with my Together Group has become sacred territory that I do my best to protect every month.”

Our Together Groups are heeding the challenge of Hebrews 10:25 to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching.” We are excited to see how the kingdom is impacted as our Together Groups continue to meet and encourage one another.

Four things you can do to keep your Easter crowd

Every church has a First Impressions Team — those who welcome greet and serve all who attend your public gatherings. But how many churches have a Second Touch Team — those who are responsible for following up and seeking to connect those new attenders into the life of the church?

Every pastor gets frustrated with the lack of retention from the Easter outreach. The development of a Second Touch Team can help reduce that frustration. Here are a few things you can do to ramp up your game in following up on your Easter guests.

1. Touch your guests within 36 hours of their visit in a meaningful way.

How will you WOW them? When you wow your first-time guests you communicate that you are serious about the mission Jesus has called you to and that people are important to you. The difference between growing churches and declining churches is in how they treat the first-time guest.

Think about how you will respond to the following people individually and personally:

  • Those who fill out the communication card — how will you WOW them?
  • Those who fill out a prayer request — how will you tell them they have been prayed for?
  • Those who want more information on a certain ministry — how will they be contacted?
  • Those who gave their first gift to the church — how will you thank them and encourage them in becoming regular givers?
  • Those who register their children for children’s ministry — how will you recognize the children? What could you send them to WOW them and their parents?

Thom Rainer writes, “If a person visits your church for the first time, the probability of their returning a second time is considerably higher if you make contact with them within 36 hours of their visit.” Herb Miller takes it to another level, “When laypersons make 15-minute visits to the homes of first-time worship visitors within 36 hours, 85 percent of them return the following week.” 

What are you willing to do to see people come back again and again?

2. Offer next steps or come-back activities for guests.

Make sure you clearly and passionately communicate the “why” behind the next steps as well as the “what.” Here are a few next steps or come-back ideas.

  • Announce a new message series that will inspire them to come back.
  • Announce a family friendly event that is fun, creative and connecting.
  • Hand out the Spiritual Journey Guide so they visually see the next steps in discipleship.
  • Offer a newcomers luncheon or dinner.
  • Offer a seeker study such as Bible 101 or Christianity 101.
  • Offer a serving opportunity within a church-wide community service project.

Remember the difference between leaders and followers is that leaders know the next steps. For good retention you will need to embrace the next steps principle.

3. Think about the next 30 days, not just the next seven days.

Allen Ratta writes, “The research shows the more a visitor visits a church the greater the odds are that they will eventually become a part of that church. Yet, churches consistently behave in ways that ignore this critical fact. For example, churches often place all of their efforts in the first-time visitor. Reality is that churches will receive a far greater return on investments that they make in second and third and subsequent visitors. What is lacking in many visitor assimilation efforts is the ability to direct and mobilize key resources to repeat visitors. Sustained follow-up is essential to effective visitor assimilation.”

  • Second visit ideas
    • Personal invitation to a family friendly event.
    • Handwritten invitation to newcomers luncheon.
    • Phone call by a volunteer asking, “How can we pray for you and your family?”
    • Help them connect with a small group leader in their area.
  • Third visit ideas
    • Invitation to spiritual formation retreat or seminar.
    • Invitation to attend a membership seminar or class.
    • Invitation to Bible 101 or Christianity 101 small group.
    • Send a brochure on the ways you will help them grow spiritually and serve in the church.
    • Phone call from a staff person to help them take the next steps into the life of the church.
  • Fourth visit ideas
    • Set up an appointment to discuss where they are on their spiritual journey.
    • Invitation to dinner with other newcomers at the pastor’s or staff member’s home.
      What we measure reveals what really matters to us. 
    • Invitation to serve on a ministry team.

4.  Measure the effectiveness of your retention process.

Gary McIntosh cites the following research:

  • A church must keep about 16 percent of its first-time guests to experience a minimal growth rate of 5 percent a year.
  • Rapidly growing churches keep between 25 and 30 percent of their first-time guests. Declining churches keep only about 5 to 8 percent of their first-time guests.

Do you know how you are doing in retaining your visitors? The churches that track attendance, visitors and visitor retention are statistically the churches that are growing.

Conclusion

Take time this week to focus in and develop a plan for getting your Easter crowd back. This preparation will pay rich dividends not only for Easter but also for the rest of the year as you apply these practices to every Sunday worship experience.

Additional resources

David and Goliath: Are we teaching the wrong lesson?

A few years ago when I was in Israel, we drove to the Valley of Elah where David battled with Goliath. People wanted to get off the tour bus and collect pebbles to commemorate the battle. A Moody pastor turned to me and whispered: “Those pebbles aren’t really from here. So many tourists take pebbles that the Israeli Board of Tourism sends a truck down to the coast at night to haul in more pebbles.” So Christians were leaving with a pocketful of pebble fueled inspiration based on a wrong belief. 

I wonder if we do the same thing with the story of David and Goliath – we collect inspirational pebbles based on wrong beliefs.

We have all read the story, heard children’s Sunday School lessons, watched videos, and preached sermons on it, right? But are we teaching the correct lesson? 

Often the lesson sounds something like: “You may be small and weak like David, but if you use whatever insignificant pebbles you have, and trust God, you can defeat the giants in your life. God can do a miracle.”

Have you preached that? I have. Sounds great. It’s very motivational. “With God’s help I can defeat the giant problems in my life – financial, marital, parental, occupational, you name it. With God on my side and a little bit of faith I can’t lose!” That will sell books! 

But is the lesson of David and Goliath really about fighting my giant enemies or is it about fighting God’s enemies? What if the lesson is about spiritual warfare for the kingdom of God, not about achieving my best by beating my personal giants?

What if the pebbles and slingshot are not to teach us to trust whatever limited resources we have, but to teach us to be so intentional about developing our spiritual skills, strength and courageous faith, that when spiritual attack hits, we can stand and fight for the Lord? 

What if David’s lack of armor is not to teach us we don’t need armor (“God is our armor”) but to teach us to use spiritual tactics – to stay us outside of Satan’s reach while we fight him and to stay on 
the offensive?

Why do I raise those questions? Well, let’s look at them one at a time and see what the text says. 

First, David was not fighting his giant personal enemies, he was fighting God’s enemy. Goliath was not standing in the way of David reaching his full potential and living an abundant life. He was challenging the God of Israel.
David: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 
(1 Samuel 17:26)
 

David wasn’t fighting his giant enemies. He was fighting God’s enemies. David wasn’t even supposed to be in the battle. He was just delivering supplies. Goliath was challenging God’s honor so David stepped forward to fight for God’s honor.
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (46-47)

Can I say it again: David was fighting God’s enemies, not his enemies. He was fighting for God’s honor, not for his well being. David had faith that God would give him the victory because he was fighting for God, not fighting for his own benefit. Can we really assume from this story that God will give us the victory when we are fighting our personal giants? I don’t think so. Look at David’s life. David didn’t defeat all his personal giants and neither will we.

Second, David probably was not bringing his personal weakness, limited resources (5 pebbles), and inferior weapon (slingshot) against Goliath’s strength, weapons and armor, trusting God to show up with a miracle.   

What makes us think David was weak or small? He told Saul:
“When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear;” (34-36) 

Chasing a bear or lion and killing it with his bare hands? Seriously? Picture how you do that without any weapons. Does that really sound weak or small to you? You need big hands and very strong arms and legs to do that. David was a very powerful man, even if he was the youngest brother. 

And what about the slingshot and pebbles? Were they a weak or inferior weapon? Maybe not. Malcolm Gladwell in “David and Goliath: Underdogs and the Art of Battling Giants” (Little Brown and Company) provides a different perspective. He points out that armies at that time had 3 kinds of warriors – the cavalry on horseback, the infantry with swords and spears, and what we would call artillery: archers, and a group called slingers. “Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in increasingly wide and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward.” 

These professional soldiers sound a lot like David don’t they? How effective was this weapon in the hands of a man who had practiced diligently, as David had? It was devastating. 

“Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in midflight. Irish slingers were able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it, and in the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within a ‘hair’s breath.’ An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded into some poor soldiers body by a sling…  Eiten Hirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defense Forces, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-size stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of thirty-five meters would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of thirty-four meters per second – more than enough to penetrate his skull… In terms of stopping power, that is equivalent to a fair sized modern handgun.”   

So maybe David’s slingshot and stones were not at all inferior to Goliath’s weapons.  Maybe the point is that like David perfected his fighting skills by practicing day after day during the boring job of protecting the sheep, we need to hone our skills at spiritual warfare in the slog of everyday living. Be faithful in the little things. Make warfare prayer a way of life. Only then will we be prepared to fight God’s enemies when we face a giant. 

Another reason David beat Goliath was because he didn’t conform to Goliath’s battle plan. David used different tactics. Goliath, with his sword and armor, needed close range, hand to hand fighting, so he called David to come to him. David refused. He launched his artillery from outside of Goliath’s reach. While the range of a spear was only as far as the arm could throw it, a sling was lethal at distances of over one hundred yards.  Goliath didn’t stand a chance. David used a missile against a rifle. He stayed out of Goliath’s reach. 

I wonder if the lesson on tactics is for us is to stay out of Satan’s reach. Don’t fight by his rules. Don’t try to reason with the Father of Lies or you will lose. Like Adam and Eve lost. Don’t see how close you can get to temptation without sinning but keep as far away as you can. Flee from temptation. 

Ok, let’s summarize these lessons. Since I am a preacher I’ll package them as Training, Tools, Tactics and Trust. 

Training: Day after day back in the sheepfold, David did the hard work that prepared him to face Goliath. Because he was diligent in the farm field he was ready for the battlefield. He trained for battle by the way he lived out his daily responsibilities. In the end, Goliath was not nearly as dangerous as bears and lions.
Question: Are you constantly training in spiritual warfare, in everyday life, so you can fight for God’s honor and kingdom when the big crisis comes?

Tools: David trusted the natural abilities God gave him, and honed them into powerful fighting skills. He knew his weapon, trusted his weapon, and used his weapon, instead of trying to borrow weapons from someone else.
Question: Are you developing your spiritual strength and courage as intentionally as you work on developing your physical strength or mental power? Are you developing your skill in using spiritual weapons? 

Tactics: Can you fight Satan while staying out of his reach? Are you usually on the offensive rather than the defensive? Do you fight spiritual warfare smart?

Trust: David said, The Lord will rescue me…the Lord will deliver you into my hands…the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s.” David wanted to be prepared by training hard, bringing the right tools, and using the right tactics. But trust in the Lord is what inspires courage and fuels victory. Because the battle is the Lords, not yours. 

You ask, “But sounds like David won the battle, not God. How can God get the credit if we do all the training, bring the right tools and use the right tactics?” The answer is — same way he does in our life and ministry. God gave David (and us) the natural ability. God gave David (and us) the opportunities to train and develop them. God gave David (and us) the wisdom to choose the best tactics. God gave David (and us) the courage. Remember David’s confidence was in the Lord, not himself. Finally, military history teaches us that the best training, tools and tactics do not always win the battle. Plans and people fail. Leaders sometimes snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Battles are often determined by intangible factors. So in the end, after we do all we can to be prepared, the battle is the Lord’s. It is God who gives the victories in our life and our ministry.

Lynn Anderson, in “Finding the Heart to Go On” (Nelson, 1991, p. 38-45) says, “Training and tools without trust equals pride. Naïve trust with our counting costs in terms of tools equals resumption. Training, tools, and tactics combined with trust results in contagious courage.”

So let’s not confuse fighting our personal giants with fighting His enemies, make promises He never does, or depend on him to show up with a miracle whenever life or ministry is tough. Let’s fight God’s enemies. Let’s fight for God’s honor. Let’s train hard. Let’s be skilled with our spiritual tools and wise with our tactics. Let’s trust that when we fight for the Lord, in the Lord’s name, depending on him, the victory will be his and the glory will be his.