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Easter 2017

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Wednesday, July 12th 2017

12:43 AM

Trying to Grow the Church Part 4

We had a great time at the NACC this year, and the adventure continued across the top of the country.  We drove through part of Kansas, up through Nebraska, into Iowa and up to South Dakota.  From there, we saw Wall Drug and the Badlands National Park before ending the day at Mount Rushmore.

Our journey continued through Wyoming and into Montana where we entered Yellowstone National Park from the Northeast entrance.  We then turned south into Denver, Amarillo TX, Wichita Falls TX, and Abilene so I could check out Abilene Christian University.

After that, we headed East through Dallas, West Monroe LA for church, and then home.  That giant circle was almost 5,000 miles worth of driving, and this marathon wore us out.

I will be writing about the NACC and parts of our journey as time goes by, but for now, I wanted to talk about our experience in the Wyoming Welcome Center.  This was after our visit to the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore, so we got a chance to see the land that once belonged to the Buffalo and Native American Indians.

As we drove through South Dakota, Michael made a comment that the land still looks empty, and with the exception of fences and the occasional group of steaks, I mean cows, she thinks that this is what the land must have looked like before the White man took over.

When we were leaving the Wyoming Welcome Center, the lady who was in charge gave us some hints about what we can see on the way to Billings MT.  As she was talking, she pointed out Little Big Horn and said that this was the place where General Custer was finally stopped and he got what he deserved.

Up until that point, I thought that General Custer was a favorite military leader as he was marching into the west for the country.  I know that His last stand was his unfortunate downfall, but I never met a person who actually hated him, until I talked to the lady at the welcome center.  I guess it is safe to say that she is a Native American Indian.

After that conversation, I started thinking about how we tend to claim that the land is better off now that we “Americans” settled it, but there is a group of people who disagree with us.  This is not a rant against the government or a statement for Indians, but it is a message that not everybody is a fan of the changes that are made.

Just like the Native American Indian, there are people in the church who are being forced to accept a new reality that is being called progress.

The new generation of the church has taken over, sometimes with hostile methods, sometimes slow and steady, but not with the full support of the older generations.  I’m sure that there are some exceptions to this, but overall, what we tend to see as progress can also be viewed as the end of an era, and that can be painful for those who spent so much time building on the foundation that was laid before them.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.

There are times when change is appropriate and natural, but there are other times when change can be destructive, and that is not natural.

Even the older generations recognize that change is needed for the church to survive, but that does not mean they will not hurt when it is happening.  This is why we need to be sensitive to their view and quit being so bull-headed when receiving feedback that is not what we are looking for.  Instead of getting defensive, we should listen to their side of the story and see if there is a way that we can reach an agreement that will satisfy all parties involved.

I believe the Apostle Paul said it best when he wrote in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Do what you can to keep the peace even if it means slowing down long enough for people to get used to the changes.

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Sunday, June 11th 2017

11:57 PM

Trying to Grow the Church Part 3

The Twilight Zone is probably one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows that has ever been created.  In fact, some have gone so far as to say that it is the original sci-fi show that started many others.  Well, I am a fan mainly because my dad let me watch some episodes, and I got hooked on the twists and turns similar to that of a roller coaster when watching it.

Rod Serling is a genius when writing, and he seems to have some kind of moral that goes with every episode.

In this particular episode that inspired me to write, there was a couple on their way to New York.  Their car broke down in a small town somewhere in Ohio, and they decided to go to the diner while waiting for the mechanic to work on it.

In the diner, there was a napkin holder that had a mystical figure on top that would give answers to questions when you insert a penny.  Think “Magic 8 ball” and you know what I am talking about.  It is a novelty, but the couple got concerned because the answers were too close to truth for it to be a coincidence.

The man got sucked in and started to believe that it could predict the future, so he continued to ask questions.  Eventually, the toy convinced the man that it was not safe to leave town, so he made up his mind to stay where he was.  His girlfriend was scared and wanted to leave because if the toy was really predicting the future, she did not want any part of it.

Eventually, the girlfriend convinced the man that the toy was not predicting the future, and they needed to leave.  The mechanic got the car fixed, and they were on their way.  As they were leaving the diner to pick up the car, there was another couple coming in looking like they haven’t slept in weeks.  They go to the toy, insert a penny and ask if they could leave town.  Out of frustration, the guy said, “Looks like we will never be able to leave town.”

Sometimes fear can convince you to listen to that which you know is unreasonable.

I’m sure that most of us can relate to this kind of situation.  The church meets to discuss something, but there is always a person or people who will say something that will stop the entire process dead in its tracks.  It could be something as little as spending money to replace the carpet that nobody likes or something as elaborate as an entire building that is needed for growth.

The problem is that the vocal minority can often control the room, and that can paralyze a church and kill a project.

What can you do when fear takes over the room?  Unfortunately, there is not much you can do until you find the source of that fear and why it exists.  If the fear is based on something real, you can work at correcting the issue that is causing people to react.  That is easy enough especially if it is a money thing, or a timing thing.  Those are easy to spot and the answer is obvious.  You either show that the money is available or will be available or you wait for the right time to make it happen.

However, if the fear is based on assumptions or the unknown such as “This could happen” or “What if this ends up happening” or something else like it, we have to be wise in how we handle the people who are afraid.

While it is silly to allow fear of the unknown to take over, it is not a good idea to fight those who have that fear.  Instead, we should figure out a way to make sure that they realize that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.  This can happen as long as you take the time to work with the people who are afraid instead of leaving them to continue being anxious over what is happening.

The girlfriend on the Twilight Zone episode got the point across to the man by talking to him and reasoning with him.  He finally came to his senses, but it took time and a conversation.  In the same way, we need to take the time to have a conversation with those who are afraid so we can move forward with whatever project is on the horizon.

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Monday, May 29th 2017

2:57 PM

Trying to Grow the Church Part 2

In many ways, Memorial Day has become the unofficial-official beginning to summer.  Much like Labor Day marks the end of family vacations, Memorial Day brings the family vacations closer as the summer months are just around the corner.  Of course, we should all remember the reason for Memorial Day and take time to honor those who have fallen during times of war.  A quick glance at my Facebook page will show how I did this.

Along with the solemn activities of the holiday, we have the joyous grilling of the meat which is an appropriate way to celebrate the beginning of summer.  We just need to make sure we don’t neglect the former in an effort to arrive at the latter.

When choosing the right grill for the job, I tend to lean towards “Propane and propane accessories” (In my best Hank Hill voice) because of the reliability of the heat and we get to taste the meat.  However, there was a moment in my life when I used charcoal for my grill, and those were good times too!

I remember living in Port Orange, FL, and we had a charcoal grill for our once per week steak offering to God.  Lighting the grill was a challenge, and knowing when to start cooking the meat was very important.

After several attempts of finding the right combination, I finally figured out how much lighter fluid to use, and how long to wait before the coals are ready for cooking.  It got to the point where I could light the charcoal, ride my bike around the neighborhood, and then the grill was ready by the time I got back home. (My wife was at home so the grill was not left unattended)

The struggle is knowing when to stop pouring the lighter fluid so the coals could get a chance to burn on their own.

Lighter fluid is a great invention, but it can work against you if you use too much.  By pouring too much fluid on the coals, the flames will climb to the ceiling, and an exciting time can be had by all.  However, after the fluid is used, the flames die quickly, and the coals are left struggling to survive.  This is why it is best to use a minimal amount of fluid so the coals will get a chance to join the process of catching fire.  It is not as exciting as the big flame, but it is much more effective.

Growing a church can be as challenging as lighting a charcoal grill.

When trying to add people to the pews, it is easy to fall into the trap of using the lighter fluid approach.  It can be exciting to have plenty of events and make noise in the community, but there are times when the events can work against you.  Of course, we need to have a way of introducing ourselves to the neighborhood, and the bonding that comes from the fun is valuable, but there has to be a plan for what to do the next day.

Are we going to follow up the event with another, bigger, better bash, or can we begin ministering to the masses?

Just like too much lighter fluid will keep the coals from lighting, too many big events will keep the people from experiencing the real community that comes from committing to the congregation.  This is why it is better to pace ourselves with the events so we can work on the people of the church.

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Wednesday, May 17th 2017

12:02 AM

Trying to Grow the Church

It is the typical conversation between Ministers.  How is your church doing?  How many are showing up for Sunday morning?  These questions are conversation starters that help us share how we are doing with the churches we are called to serve.  However, there are times when I wonder if it would be better to remain silent.

I love the fellow ministers in my circle of influence, but some of them can cause awkward moments with their replies.

When I am asked about my attendance, I have no reason to lie, so I tell them that we are averaging 20 people each week, and the response is almost the same every time.

I usually get a pat on my shoulder and some encouraging words such as “Hang in there” and “It is hard to grow a church with 20 people,” but what those people fail to realize is that I am not discouraged, and I am proud of our 20 people who show up every week.

Although we are only 20 people, we have every generation represented, dedicated volunteers and competent leaders who are Biblically grounded.  Our worship services are high quality and we have high percentages showing up for Bible Study.  In fact, we rarely have an event without over half of our people showing up because we love being around each other, and we want to let people know that we support our church.

Are we too small to do “Church things” like the “bigger” churches do?  Some people might think so, but they would be wrong.

At this point, you might be expecting me to create a list of items that prove how we are just as good of a church as the bigger churches.  You might even be looking for some kind of statement about how we are better because we are smaller.  I’m sorry to disappoint those who think that way, but comparing ourselves to our sister churches is a recipe for disaster.

Our church was not created to compete with other churches.  We exist to evangelize and edify, to teach and to train, to mentor and to mobilize the people so they can grow closer to God through learning the Bible and serving the Lord.

Nowhere in the above description is there a requirement for us to be a certain number of people before we can start being a church.  There is no growth rate we need to maintain and no master plan for expansion to accommodate the masses.  I am not against strategies that help us grow the churches, but I do have a problem with those who view such strategies as the only way a church can survive.

Don’t get me wrong.  I look forward to the day when we have to build a bigger building and hire more ministers, and Lord willing, we will see that happen while I am still here.  However, that is not my purpose as a Minister.

I exist as a Minister to move people closer to God.

How do I move them closer to God?  I teach them the Bible.  Everything else I do can be considered an accessory because those tasks can help people stay connected to the church, but the main point of my part in the ministry is to teach the Word.  Whether I am in front of 20 people or 20,000 people, my focus remains the same.  I take what I learned from the Bible and pass the information along to those who want to learn.  It may be a simple approach, but it works.

Sometimes, we miss the simple answer because we are too busy looking for the complex.

When the church began in Acts 2, they were not concerned about half the stuff the American church is concerned about, and they were better for it.  Perhaps we should learn from the Apostles and get back to the simple approach of teaching the Bible to those who want to learn.

It is so simple; it just might work!

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Tuesday, April 11th 2017

4:34 AM

Before all else fails, please read the instructions

Some of the best memories I have from growing up involve working on cars with my dad.  We didn't have much money so we had to repair our cars when they broke down.  We would change the oil, give tune-ups, and occasionally, we would have to replace brake pads.

One particular car we worked on gave us a hard time.  We were replacing the brake pads and since we have done this many times before on other cars, we were confident that we knew what to do.  We took the wheel off, removed the brake assembly and began to push the caliper back.  On other cars, all we needed was a "C-clamp" to force the caliper back in, but on this particular model, we could not get it to budge.  We spent most of the night trying to force it before giving up and going to bed.

The next day arrived and my dad was working on the car when I got home.  When I approached the car, I noticed that he already had the pads replaced.  He told me that he did some research and found out that with this model, we have to use a ratchet to turn the caliper back into its original position.

If we would have read the instructions first, we would have saved ourselves hours of frustrating, unproductive work.

Unfortunately, many people have a similar approach with the Bible.  We tend to rely on what we have already been taught instead of reading the text on our own.  Sometimes, we don’t even read the text because we “trust” the person who taught us.  This is what causes problems because there are times when even the best scholars can end up being wrong about their conclusions.

How many years went by before somebody challenged the idea that the world was flat?

If it wasn’t for people being brave enough to question the status quo, we would still be teaching that the world is flat, or the sun revolves around the earth, or the best way to cure a disease is to drain the blood so new healthy blood can replace the old contaminated blood.

When we read the Bible, it is important to remember that those who have taught us are human, and they are capable of being wrong.  They might not be wrong, but we need to verify what was taught so we can be sure.  I am not saying this to cast doubt on our favorite Sunday School teacher from many years ago.  I am simply saying that if you read the Bible and you don’t understand it the way your teacher does, you need to dig in deeper and study the passage.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your teacher and ask for a better explanation if needed.  And above all else, remember that a good teacher will take the time to review the material in an effort to explain it better for the students.

Before all else fails, please read the instructions.

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