Thursday, December 31, 2015

16 Questions to Ask Yourself in 2016!

"Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves..." -Corinthians 13:5 (HCSB)

The New Year celebration is a time of reflection.  I would encourage you to set some personal spirtual goals for your walk with Christ this year.  Here is a list of 16 excellent questions to reflect on and ask yourself in 2016.  Please note that Don Whitney is to be given credit for writing these questions, and I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase them.  

1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

11. What's the most important decision you need to make this year?

12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what's one way you could simplify in that area?

13. What's the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?

14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?

15. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year?

16. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How has evangelism methods changed over the past 30 years?

“Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, …..” -1 Chronicles 12:32

Recently a friend called me and asked me about using the “Way of the Master.” The “Way of the Master” evangelism method promotes a very in your face, confrontational style of evangelism, and it has been effective for some. Other evangelism methods we have seen developed over the last thirty years plus include the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosions, F.A.I.T.H., the evangecube, and the old Roman’s Road.

I would argue that culture constantly changes. We must exegete the culture we live in just like we would the Scriptures. We see examples of this in the gospel when Paul preaches his famous sermon about an unknown God in Acts 17.  According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public, a third of adults under 30 years old is religiously unaffiliated today. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. In a population that has grown up ignorant of the bible or church life, the former methods of evangelism may not be as effective.  It also appears that as a christian influence slips away, a more hindu view is gripping American's thinking and theology as seen in the article, "We Are All Hindus Now."  I would like to share a few items that would be helpful in evangelism today:
  • Be Relationship Oriented. In my experience, almost every case that I have led someone to the Lord over the past ten years, I have had a relationship with for some time. Usually a meeting as friends then that becomes an evangelism opportunity. You must be willing to be available and take time to build relationships with people. People who are far from God want to know you care about them first, and that they are not another notch on your evangelism belt.
  • Let’s Have Better Fights. Let’s just admit it we all end up in a fight or love a good fight, especially Southern Baptist! The problem is most of our fights are small and petty compared to real problems in the world. Instead of fighting Starbucks on their choice of holiday coffee cups, let’s fight racism and prejudice. Instead of fighting over the color of carpet in the church, let’s go to war with poverty in our community and make a difference in someone’s life.  Jesus didn't help everyone in need when he was alive, but he did help some.  We can't help everyone, but we can help someone.  Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves which makes a difference in the world, why not the local church? Jesus met both physical and spiritual needs. Why shouldn’t we?
  • Be Patient. This is just an issue of expecting more time. The apostle Paul was converted in a single event, but Lydia's heart was opened slowly in Acts 16. In my experience,  evangelizing someone usually takes at least three to six months and in many cases a year of hearing the gospel over and over. We must show perseverance and persistence. In John 3:37 Jesus said, “One sows and another reaps.” You may find that you are often part of a process not an event.  
  • Meet People Where They Are. The apostle Paul did not expect Greeks to cross-Jewish cultural lines to become believers. In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul said, “I have become all things to all men.” Certainly this has parameters, we do not become like an adulterer or thief in order to reach them. We never violate scripture’s boundaries for what is sin, but we are able to we flex.  We can and should cross cultural lines to meet those far from God where they are.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Remembering Uncle Mike Russel

Uncle Mike Holding Xander!
Uncle Mike served his family as a father, uncle, great uncle, husband, and grandfather.  He made his living as an electrician, and was a big Nebraska Fan!   He loved his Lord, family, and college football.  When I came into Becki's family about 11 or 12 years ago, we were the only two real college football fans.  You see St. Louis is a baseball town, Go Cards!  We would always watch the college football bowls together, and have a good time.  I remember him being at all the holiday family gatherings with the same warm smile you see in this photo, and getting down on the ground to play with all the little kids.  He loved his great nieces and nephews.

Back in November, he began to have memory problems and headaches.  On December 1, Uncle Mike was diagnosed with CJD a very rare brain disease.  I had never heard of it in my yeas as a pastor.  It took him and our family to a hard dark place.  On December 15, the Lord called him home.  His last prayer was the Lord's prayer.  He told us that the whole thing that he was being reminded that Jesus loves him.  We thought that it would take months, but it only took weeks.

We buried Uncle Mike a week ago today.  In moments like this it always appears that darkness is winning, but as the old Appalachian songs says, "The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn!" I do not think it is an accident that the shepherds received the news of Christ's birth in the darkness of night.  It was a dark night spiritually, the nation of Israel's religious leaders had turned their faith into legalism and the priests served as little more than politicians bending rules to their benefit.  The world sat in darkness, but Jesus is the bright and morning star!  We are reminded in the last book of the Bible that the light always trumps over the darkness!  Revelation says,

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you the testimony for the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.  -Revelation 22:16

Our Morning Star will rise in the midst of our most unfamiliar and dark places.  What is your darkness?  Is it a sadness?  A loss? Sickness? Failing Health?  Living with the effects of your sins or others' sins?  Let the light of Christmas shine in your dark moments.  Uncle Mike does not rest in darkness this Christmas, he is bathing in the Light of our bright Morning Star!  The old poem instructs us, "Rage against the dying of the light!"  Let us rage at our sin, and it's effects.  Let us rage at all things that seem to dim the true light of Jesus Christ in all of us.  Let us rage at the darkness in mandkind's souls, and let us proclaim that a child is born who has ended the darkness for all who will follow Him!  Christmas is a holiday of lights, because as the angel told the shepherds,

"10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”  -Luke 2:10-12

The light has come on Christmas Day.  Every Christmas light I see lit up is a reminder of the light of our Morning Star which has conquered the darkness!  Glory be to God!

Merry Christmas Uncle Mike, until we meet at Jesus feet!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What John the Baptist teaches Us as We Celebrate Christmas?

How is this for a Christmas Card!
Forgotten in the Christmas Story, John the Baptist was a man who came onto the Biblical scene like an F-5 tornado.    He speaks to the religious leaders of his day with a clarity and perhaps harshness that we may not be comfortable with today.  But he is a crucial bridge from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  He is the last Old Testament prophet, and Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets in Matthew 11:11. While I am yet to find a nativity set for sale which includes John the Baptist, John's ministry reminds us that God uses all types of people to accomplish his work.  Even someone who lives in the wilderness, wears animals skins, and eats honey covered locus for meals.  If John the Baptist came to modern Christmas Eve service, I wonder if our churches would listen to him or tie him up to a tree outside, while they wait for animal control.  I think that if he could celebrate Christmas with us today, he would teach us at least three important things to say:

1.  Make Jesus the Theme of Your Life!

What is your theme?  What do you talk about most of the time?  Is it sports, politics, health, family?  John talked about Jesus!   He talked about other things, but he talked about Jesus the most!  My hope is that the Lord would bring us to a place where we are so in love with Jesus that we cannot help but talk about him.

2.  Make Jesus the Passion of Your Heart!

John the Baptist is an aggressive guy.  He didn't just talk, but he lived passionately for Jesus.  His passion was disruptive to the religious goers of his day.  With his camp in the wilderness, camel skins, and wild honey and locus on his breath as he screamed "REPENT!" he would have seemed weird to his contemporaries.  He would be a fanatic or radical by that days standards.  Most of us in 21st century America are not tempted to be fanatics.  

Instead we are tempted to do the opposite, and believe a lie.  Here is the lie, "If I believe in jesus and I am not getting into trouble I must be spiritually mature."  Let us not mistake a clean, reputable life, for spiritual maturity.  It could be that the reason we are not getting into trouble is that we are spiritually asleep.  If Satan cannot get us to be bad, he will be content to let us be good as long as we are being quite!  Once the enemy gives us on dragging you into hell, his Plan B is to let you slip quietly into heaven without a fuss.  May the Lord ignite in us a spiritual passion the will not out us settle for a quite, respectable life of spiritual apathy.

3.  Make Jesus the Gage of Your Success!

How do you gauge success?  Is it a title, position, or things acquired?  How would you finish this statement, "My life would be a success if only...."?  

John could have measured success by how many people attended his riverside revival meetings, or by how many prodigals he baptized, or by how many Pharisees he ticked off, or by how many times he could publicly call King Herod an adulterer without losing his head.  

John was popular among the people and it had to be very tempting of him to gage his success by the size of his following.  But in John 3:26, some came to him worried he was losing his influence.  His answer is amazing in John 3:30, "He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less."  If we all had this attitude our country, our churches, and our families would be totally different!  May God grant us the same theme, passion, and gage for success as John the Baptist!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Plant a Second Sunday Morning Worship Service at Grace Baptist Church?

Last night we had a great special called business meeting.  After four months of sharing a vision for a new worship service that will reach a new kind of people, Grace Baptist voted 86% in favor of beginning the new ministry of a second Sunday Morning Service.  Here are the reasons why we voted to start this ministry.

1.  A New Service Will Reach The Unchurched.

Of all the reasons to begin a new service, this should be the most compelling. Christ’s passion for reaching lost humanity is stated frequently and emphatically throughout Scripture:
  • “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” -Luke 19:10 
  • “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” -John 3:17
  • “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:28
  • “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” -John 10:10
2.   A New Service Will Minister to More People.

Research shows that 80% of the congregations that move from one worship experience to two find their overall attendance increases by at least 10% in two years time.  One way it does this is through increasing the visitor flow into the church on Sunday Morning.  The National Visitor Retention Rate is between 8% to 12% a year for local churches.   That means that churches see 8 to 12 percent of their first-time visitors become active members in the following year.  It is shocking to see that:
  • In the past decade, the US population has increased by 9% while church attendance has declined by 9.5%.
  • No State in the US has had a church that has kept up with population growth.
  • Not a single county can report that more people attend church now than they did ten years ago.
3.  A New Service Will Reach New Kinds of People.

A new style service will not only help us reach more non-Christians (reason 1) and help us minister to more total number of people (reason 2) it will help us reach different kinds of people than we are presently reaching. James White correctly points out, “The simple truth is that worship cannot be culturally neutral.” No single service can be all things to all people. Consequently, it is most important to ask, “Who finds our present services attractive?” The most common age of a member at Grace Baptist Church is 59 years old. Given this number, our present services resinates clearly with the 50 years and older crowd, which is not a bad thing. All people need Jesus and that does not change with any age. This is not about getting rid of our current net, but instead it is about widening our current net in Elizabethton. Let it be noted that we have seen growth in our current service; therefore, let us not do away with what appears to be reaching people. More statistics:
•In 1972, Southern Baptist baptized 140,000 teenagers, and in 2008, we baptized 75,000 teenagers.
•The number of people who claim no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990, Non-believers represent the third highest group of Americans after Catholic and Baptist.
•1 in 5 have no religious affiliation.
•Nearly one fourth of those in their twenties profess no organized religion. It is not that they are uninterested in spiritual things, they are not necessarily atheist.

4.  A New Service Will Help Break the Normal Life Cycle of the Church.

The life cycle of a church is both normal and predictable. Like gravity, it is a law that simply exists. Grace Baptist is no exception to the rule. The life cycle describes a local church’s infancy, maturity, and death.

 The sobering fact is that at least 80 percent of churches in America today are on the flat or back side of their life cycles. As shown in Table 1.2, Grace is currently in a plateau, if we do noting our direction will change to decline before we realize.

Grace Baptist Church lies at a crossroad in her lifecycle. Perhaps Grace is at a very dangerous point in her life, because of the church attendance remaining in a plateaued pattern. Mr. McIntosh points out from his book There’s Hope for Your Church that, “A Plateau is much like hypertension, which is called the silent killer by medical professionals.”

•Only about 2% of a church body is likely to invite an unchurched person to church, this is normative for churches in the US.
•More than 80% of the unchurched say they would attend if someone sincerely invited them.
•Of young adults (20-29), 63% say they would attend church if it presented the truth in an understandable way that relates to their lives.

5.   A New Service Allows for Change While Retaining the Familiar.

If we adopt this strategy, we will double our outreach and ministry potential, provide opportunities for more members to have a role task in ministry, and see new kinds of people begin attending. Members will be far more likely to tolerate change around them if their own comfortable world is not disturbed. Change through addition will be more successful than change though substitution.

6.  A New Service Will Activate Inactive Members.

In the typical American church, approximately 40 percent of the membership attend a service on any given Sunday. Reasons for inactivity among church members may vary. But regardless of the cause, the people who stay away are nonverbally saying that the cost of attending (in time and/or comfort) is not worth the benefit (in spiritual growth and/or fellowship) . It is not uncommon, however to see a new service boost the member attendance percentage from the 40 percent range to 60 percent or more. In other words, some of the most likely to begin attending our new service will be our inactive members. We currently have over 600 members on record and last year turned in an average Sunday Morning attendance of 211. We have just under 40 percent attenders coming to our current service.

7.  A New Service Will Empower More Church Members to Use Their Gifts and Passions Weekly.

God has gifted the church with individual members who have differing passions and callings to serve the local church. This is demonstrated in Paul’s teachings in the following passages:
  • “According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…” -Romans 12:6 
  • “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body--so also is Christ.” -1 Corinthians 12:12 
Ask yourself this simple question, “What would we do if God sent us 50 new believers in Sunday School and Worship? Where would they or could they serve the church? Or if we were sent 100 or 150?” Where would these new people serve the church? How would we plug them into the body in a meaningful manner? Are we willing to allow our people to serve according to their passions and gifting, instead of filling in names on a sheet? We want our people to serve according to their gifting and passions, not just fill in a a blank on an elected position sheet. If we do not properly challenge and provide areas of service for church members, these members will go somewhere where they can serve the Lord according to their passions and gifting on a weekly basis.

8.  A New Service Will Help The Southern Baptist Convention Survive.

The Lord has used the SBC for many years to be a great help in my life.  It was in an SBC church I heard the gospel for the first time, received my call to ministry, and was education.  I feel a debt to the convention to do all I can to ensure her survival if the Lord wills it!  There is little question among church growth scholars that planting new churches is the single most important activity for assuring the future of a denomination. But it is not as commonly known that widespread creation of new services among existing churches is the second most important strategy. When a large number of churches in a denotation are staring a new service to reach a new target audience, they are in effect accomplishing the goals of, and realizing many of the benefits inherent in, planting a new church.

•90% of SBC churches are either declining in number or losing ground per population growth.
•400,000 SBC churches in the US, and 360,000 are losing ground.
•SBC membership has declined for five years in a row.
•10 million SBC members are absent on Sunday Morning; 6 million attending each week.

9.  To Fulfill Our Church's Mission Statement, "To Know Christ and To Make Him Known."

Our mission statement is the essence of the Kingdom.  As John the Baptist said, "May Jesus increase and may I decrease."  

Closing thought:

“So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does a new service cause church growth…or does church growth require a new service? Here’s the answer: Growing churches act like the church they want to become. If you wait for the new people to begin attending, and then start your new service…you will be waiting a long time. If you begin a new service in order to reach new people… you will be much more successful.”  -Charles Arn