Thursday, November 29, 2018

Why You Should Hire an Older Pastor

This article was written by Stan Toler. I am 67 years old and this article speaks to my concern about older pastors. Many of my fellow older pastors are not being being seriously considered to be hired by a church due to age. God can call older pastors to a church just as easily as He can call younger pastors. Don't limit whom God will choose to serve your church by age definition.

11 Benefits of Hiring an Older Pastor
Many churches refuse to consider potential pastors who are in their 50s and 60s, and I believe that’s a great mistake. Sixty is the new 40, and “senior” pastors have more to contribute now than ever.
Age discrimination is indeed a factor in the hiring of pastors and staff members. Thom Rainer, former President of Lifeway, has concluded that it is “pervasive” in the church and has been for some two decades.
Both older and younger pastors may be excluded from consideration because they do not fit the preconceived profile of the church board or search committee.
I’m convinced that churches do not do this maliciously but genuinely believe they are helping their congregations.
I am equally convinced that many congregations are missing out on some the best candidates to help their congregation grow, especially in the wake of long-term stagnation or conflict.
I’m a great cheerleader for young people in ministry, yet in this post I’d like to address the special benefits of hiring pastors in their 50s and 60s.
Men and women in this age group are often seen as “coasting” or “marking time” until retirement. In my experience, that is an unwarranted—and inaccurate—generalization.
Here are 11 reasons to give mature leaders an equal opportunity.

1. High Trust

The pastorate can be a high-stress profession, and many clergy burn out or drop out. The mere fact that a mature minister continues to have passion for ministry shows that they have an ample dose of maturity, wisdom, patience, and credibility.

2. Low Distractions

Empty nesters have the ability to focus on whatever they choose. The days of changing diapers, correcting homework, and rushing out the door to soccer practice are over. Mature ministers have more time to devote to their passion.

3. Thicker Skin, Softer Heart

Seasoned pastors have become comfortable in their own skin. They’ve been through contentious board meetings, close softball games, shotgun weddings, and crisis counseling sessions. They’ve seen the underside of life from a pastor’s point of view, and they understand human weakness. They are well able to be patient, compassionate, and gentle with their congregants.

4. Decades of Experience

The usual rationale for hiring younger pastors is that they have fresh ideas, lots of energy, and will attract young people. That freshness comes at the expense of experience, which mature pastors have in abundance. They’ve probably conducted the funeral of a child or a suicide. They’ve seen churches through transitions. They’ve managed money when times were tough. That rich experience translates into wise leadership.

5. Well-Paced Change

It’s a myth that older pastors are stuck in the past and don’t want to initiate change. However, many have seen congregations divided by ill-thought or hurried changes, especially in response to crises. Mature pastors are patient. They understand how to implement change.

6. Big-Picture Thinking

Many more seasoned pastors have spent their career in mid-sized and smaller churches. As solo pastors or senior pastors with a small staff, they have borne the burden of seeing the big picture. They understand how discipleship impacts church finances, and how facilities maintenance affects momentum. They think holistically about church health and growth.

7. Well-Chosen Battles

Not every situation is a crisis to be managed, a mountain to climb, or a hill to die on. Mature pastors can recognize the difference between a programming fad and a genuine shift in discipleship or ecclesiology. They know when to change and when to wait, when to confront and when to walk away.

8. Clear Sense of Identity

Mature pastors have had decades to work out their gifting, their role, and the unique contribution they make to a congregation. They know who they are, what they can do, and, just as important, what they can’t. They understand their own calling.

9. Secure in Their Career

I love young pastors, and I thrive on their energy, passion, and willingness to try anything. Yet I know that some of the younger pastors I teach will not be in the ministry five years from now. They’re finding themselves and their professional identities. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. Older ministers have answer all those questions. They’re doing something that they know for sure they are called to do—and will continue doing so long as they have the opportunity.

10. Institutional Memory

Pastors in their third or fourth decade of ministry understand the church and their own denominations. They know how it works, what it reacts to, and its shared beliefs. They know doctrine, ecclesiology, and the history of their movement. Far from being a ball and chain, this rich memory makes a firm foundation for growth and change.

11. Lots of Energy Left

Thirty years ago, a car with 100,000 miles on it was considered worn out. Now cars routinely go twice or three times that distance. Same with people. They’re living longer and healthier than ever before. A 62-year-old minister has years left before retirement—and the energy to keep a good pace.
I was given a chance to pastor a church as 17-year-old junior in high school, so I am all for promoting young people into ministry positions. I understand the value of youth.
Yet I see that many churches are placing all their eggs in that basket, counting on youthful vitality alone to revive or change their waning congregations.
Remember that John was about 90 when he received the Revelation. Moses was 80 when called to lead the children of Israel. And Caleb as at least that age when he rightly said, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (Joshua 14:11).
Don’t overlook a pastor who could made a real difference for your church and community because of their age. That wisdom and experience could be just what your congregation needs.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Whatever Happened to Ben Cole?

For those of you who don't remember, Ben Cole was a mover and shaker within the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-2000's. He was a smart young man with a non-traditional sense of humor. (I don't know how to describe it but "nontraditional" is the only word I can think of.)

 Ben had a lot of influence in certain circles in the Southern Baptist Convention. He was a good friend of Wade Burleson and C. B. Scott. As a matter of fact, C. B. went so far as to tell me he looked upon Ben like a son. I think they were close friends at SEBTS. C. B. can certainly correct me if I'm wrong. Ben would do things that would spark controversy. For example, Ben, Wade, and C. B. went to a conference and had their picture taken with prominent CBF Baptist and former president, Jimmy Carter. We talked about that on our blogs for weeks. How could any conservative Southern Baptist show any shred of support for a liberal Baptist like Jimmy Carter? Yep, we argued that one for a while.

This was about the 2005-2008 timeframe so for some of you Young, Restless, Reformed guys, you probably weren't out of junior high yet. Calvinism wasn't a topic of discussion in those days. Tom Ascol was working hard on getting credibility for Founders, but most of us ignored him. We had bigger fish to fry. We had to fix the problem with IMB's trustees. If you're not familiar with the IMB trustees issue, then I recommend you read Wade Burleson's book, "Hardball Religion: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism."

One of the best tricks that Ben Cole ever pulled was getting the infamous Wiley Drake elected as 2nd Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Ben wrote the nomination speech that was given by Rev. Bill Dodson. In my opinion, this was the funniest nomination speech in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. We all had a good laugh, but the laugh was on us. Wiley was elected! Ben was always ready for a good joke.

Ben had an influential blog named SBC Outpost. He was even the subject of a movie about young Southern Baptist pastors.

And then there came a day when Ben Cole decided he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. Not only was he leaving the Southern Baptist Convention but he was giving up being a pastor as well. We were all shocked. Perhaps the best account of our surprise was voiced in SBC Voices when its founder Tony Kummer, ran it before it became a bastion of Calvinism.

So what ever happened to Ben Cole? Unfortunately, it seems that Ben has crashed and burned. In 2015, he resigned as the communications director for Illinois Congressman, Aaron Schock, for comments he made on his Facebook page as well as other venues, that not only damaged his career but Rep. Schock's as well.

I pray that Ben will rebound. He is a very smart and savvy young man. I wish him well in his future endeavors.

P. S. Ben, I'm still waiting for the book you said you would write, with your working title of "A Hill on Which to Kill." I'm sure it will be interesting reading.

UPDATE 12/31/2017
C. B. Scott was kind enough to call me and clarify couple of things written here. He said that Ben certainly did not "crash and burn" (bad choice of words on my part). He reports that Ben is flourishing in a different industry and is doing well. Thank you for the update, C. B.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Heresy of "The Shack"

"The Shack"
Sermon Manuscript by Rev. Leslie Puryear
Bethany Baptist Church, Gulf, NC
March 5, 2017

 2 Peter 2:1 – “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

This verse refers to two things that are used by false prophets and teachers in an attempt to destroy the church by promoting false beliefs. Those two things are “heresies” and blaspheme.”

As used in this verse, what is a ‘heresy”? Well, a “heresy” is defined in the Greek as “self chosen beliefs not coming from God.” What about “blaspheme.” What does it mean to “blaspheme”? To “blaspheme” is defined the Greek as “anything spoken or written that insults God or Christ.” Today, I sense the need to examine a book, which is, according to these definitions, both heretical and blasphemous.

The book is entitled, “The Shack, which was written by W. P. Young, a man who grew up as a son of missionaries. This book was published in 2007, and to date, has sold more than 20 million copies and was on the New York Times best-seller list for 49 weeks. And this past Friday, a movie was released based on the book.

This book has been highly controversial. Many readers have embraced it and many have demonized it. What’s all the fuss about this book and movie called “The Shack”? That’s what I want to talk about this morning.

The theme of this book is, “Where is God in a world full of pain and hurt?”

The Shack revolves around a man named Mack. Four years before this story begins, Mack’s young daughter, Missy, was abducted during a family vacation. Mack, who has been living in the shadow of what he calls his “Great Sadness,” receives a strange note that is apparently from God. God invites Mack to return to this shack for a get together. Though uncertain, Mack visits the scene of the crime and there has a weekend-long encounter with God, or, more properly, with the godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When Mack arrived at the Shack, the Shack had been transformed from an old rundown place to a beautiful house with gorgeous gardens all around. Mack decided to bang loudly and see what happened, but just as he raised his fist to do so, the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman.

This large African-American woman is God the Father, (or at least a version of God she chose to take on, in order to communicate with Mack, according to the book).
Throughout the story she is known as “Papa.” Near the end, because Mack requires a father figure, she turns into a pony-tailed, grey-haired man, but otherwise God is this woman.

Jesus is a young to middle-aged man of Middle-Eastern (i.e. Jewish) descent with a big nose and rather plain looks while the Holy Spirit is played by Sarayu, a small, delicate woman of Asian descent.

By this point many people will choose to close the book and be done with it. But let’s just assume you’re able to get past seeing God and the Holy Spirit portrayed in this way.

There’s very little action in The Shack and the bulk of the book is dialogue, mostly as the members of the Trinity communicate with Mack. They discuss a wide variety of theological topics in this book, each of which is relevant to the theme of Mack’s suffering and his inability to trust in a God who could let his daughter be treated in such a horrifying way.

There’s a lot we could talk about that is a problem in this book, but, for the sake of time, I’ll go over the most important heretical issues to me.

 I. Heresy #1 - God the Father was crucified with Jesus.

The book describes this scene between Mac and Papa: “How can you really know how I feel?” Mack asked, looking into her eyes. Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time, Mack noticed the scars on her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on His...(Papa said), Don’t ever think that what My Son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark...We were there together.”

This is wrong.  It was not the Father who was crucified. God is spirit. The person of the Father has no body of flesh and bones as does the Son (John 4:24; Luke 24:39).  Yet, in the book, the Father has scars. 

It should not be that the Father would have scars on his wrists - since He has no wrists and does not appear to anyone (John 6:46; 1 Tim. 6:16).

 II. Heresy #2 - On the Cross, God forgave all of humanity, whether they repent or not. Some choose a relationship with Him, but He forgives them all regardless. 

 Jesus tells Mack that He is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” Thus, Jesus is not the only way, but merely the best way.

Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.”

Jesus adds, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

In my opinion, this heresy is the most dangerous of all. This is called “universalism.”

“Universalism” is the teaching that everyone will go to heaven. No matter what a person believes or doesn’t believe, no matter what a person does or doesn’t do, that person will still go to Heaven. Universalism is a major theme of this book and movie.

The Jesus of this book is a blasphemous portrayal of the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus was very specific in the Bible, when He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.”

 III. Heresy #3 - God will never judge people for their sins.

In response to a question from Mack about sin, Papa says, “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it. It’s my joy to cure it.”

Now think about this. If there is no judgment for sin, then there can be no Hell. If sin is okay with God, then everybody will go to Heaven.

(Sarcasm Alert) There’s my old buddy God. What a guy. I want this God that’s in the book and movie called “The Shack.”

 The Bible is clear that God hates sin, and judgment and punishment is His righteous response to sin.

 Ecclesiastes 12:14 says “For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.”

The Bible teaches that when God’s love is rejected, and when the offer of salvation and forgiveness is rejected, justice must take place or God has sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for nothing.

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. “

John 3:18 says “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “

Jesus said many things about Hell. Here is just one passage. Matthew 13:41-42, 49-50 says, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The God of The Shack says he or she will not judge you for your sins. The Bible says something completely different.

Hebrews 9:27 – “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”

 IV. Heresy #4  - God is constantly being transformed along with us. 

In the book, Jesus says, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Hebrews 13:8 plainly says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

 V. Heresy #5 - God submits to human wishes and choices.

In the book, God says, “We are submitted to you...I don’t want slaves to my will.” The bible says that we are to submit to God, not Him submit to us.

James 4:7 says, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Far from God submitting to us, Jesus said, “Narrow is the way that leads to eternal life.” (Matthew 7:13-15).

We are to submit to Him in all things, for His glory and because of what He has accomplished for us.

 VI. Conclusion

There are many other heresies in this book that blasphemes God that I don’t have time to get into today. Things like 1) the Bible isn’t true because it reduces God to paper, 2) God limits His power for our own good, and on and on it goes.

 You may wonder why I have spent so much time talking about a book and a movie. I have spent time on this topic because of its impact on its readers and it's potential impact on this church.

Listen to some the reviews on Amazon from people who have read this book.

 “In the pages of thus book I have found the God I have always felt was true even though those around me told me I was wrong. In it was the renewal of spirit and relationship with Jesus I needed.”

 “This book is life changing. Whether you have a religious background or not the story is powerful, thought provoking and inspiring. I am forever altered.”

 “I am not a religious person. I put off reading this book over a year because I saw it had something to do with god. This is one of my all time favorite books... ever!!!
 If I had to describe the trinity, this is exactly how I always wanted to believe they were. Not all this religion with rules and judgments.”

 Beloved, I think it’s human nature for people to want a God who approves of everything they do, who is not judgmental, who requires no repentance, who will never say we have done anything wrong, who serves us instead of us serving Him, who has no rules, and who will let everybody go to Heaven and we’ll all have a jolly old time with our old buddy God.

That’s what people want and that is what W. P. Young has given them in “The Shack” and that is why it’s so popular.

People don’t want to know God as He truly is as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. People want God to be what they want Him to be. That is why “The Shack is so dangerous. It presents a God of man’s imagination.

Some people are saying that even though this book doesn’t provide an accurate picture of God, maybe readers will become interested in God and open up opportunities for us to have conversations with them about the true God. I really hope that will happen. The only possible good that I can see that might come out of this book and movie is that people will come to know the true God. However, I am afraid that won’t be the case for die-hard lovers of The Shack.

 Let me remind you that The Shack is not a Christian book.

 There are already Shack bible studies for sale in Christian book stores across the land. I am glad to say Lifeway does not sell The Shack book nor any Shack-oriented bible studies.

There is also something called “The Shack Bible Project.” People are writing a bible that is based on the God of the Shack.

The Shack is becoming a cottage industry and my fear is that more people will turn to Shack-oriented material than to biblical material. It is a book using Christian characters to disguise a new age view of spirituality.

I've heard many people justify their love of this book by saying, "This book is okay because it’s only fiction." Fiction can be used to communicate important ideas and when used in the right way, it is good. Fiction writing has the ability to have an enormous impact on the reader.

 Yes, "The Shack" is fiction. But when fiction is putting words into the mouth of God that doesn't align with Scripture, then this goes beyond fiction and into theology.

If someone wrote a novel about your grandmother and portrayed her as a drunkard prostitute, would that be okay? Why not?  It's only fiction!

If someone wrote a novel about you that portrayed you as a pedophile, would that be okay? Why not? It's only fiction!

If it's not okay for you to be wrongly portrayed as fiction, then why would we think it's okay for God to be wrongly portrayed in fiction as well?

This book has been very successful in touching the emotions of many people, especially those who have lost love ones through tragic circumstances.

But don't let emotions override your discernment of who God is. Don't let emotions become more important to you than what the Bible says.

If you’re grounded in the Bible, stay grounded in it. If you’re not grounded in the Bible, dust of your copy, open it up and learn who the real God is.

Acts 17:10-11, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

We need to be Bereans and use God’s Word to be the filter through which all things are tested. If we do, we will be less likely to be deceived by unbiblical teachings from any source. 


Portions of this sermon were inspired by the sermons of Dr. Michael Youssef and the writings of Tim Challies.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Single Staff Church

In the past I have written about the "small church" as an advocate to encourage small church leaders that they are just as valuable in God's Kingdom as any other church.

I identified a small church as any church with less than 200 people attending Sunday morning worship. In 2008 and 2009, I even hosted a series of small church conferences that were semi-successful from my point of view.

Lately, it has occurred to me that the real issue that I was attempting to address dealt more with single staff churches than "small" churches. A single staff church can be a small church but it may also be a church much larger than the definition of a "small church." I know one pastor who is the only staff member of a church that has more than 300 attendees in Sunday morning worship. Now that's a tough job.

Single staff churches operate in a much different manner than do multi-staff churches (firm grasp of the obvious). I would even venture to say that there are more single staff churches in the USA than multi-staff churches (based on my hunch, not hard data. I will search for the data and report back to you).

If my hunch is correct and there are more single staff churches than any other type in our nation, then, of course, there are multiple resources that address the single staff churches to assist these pastors in meeting their unique day-to-day challenges. I searched the Internet, including good ol' Amazon and found [wait for it] {crickets chirping}... almost nothing. Amazon has exactly three books which specifically address single staff churches. All three are written by Southern Baptist single staff church expert D. G. McCoury and published by Convention Press. Yes, this is Southern Baptist literature written in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Unfortunately they are out of print. Fortunately, there are a few used copies floating around and I have ordered a copy of all three books. I'll give you pearls of wisdom from these books.

Now what? Do pastors of single staff churches want literature that specifically addresses their needs? What about a conference to talk about these needs? I don't know but maybe you do.

What I would like to do is to discuss issues involved with single staff churches. This is where you come in. What are the main issues of being a pastor of a single staff church? How are these issues being handled? Is there a better way to be the pastor of a single staff church? What other questions should be addressed to help the pastors of single staff churches?

If there is interest in this topic then we'll earnestly look into it for the good of all. If there is no interest, then we'll forget it and let the pastors of single staff churches learn by osmosis. It's up to you. Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 15, 2013

You Might Be a Small Church Pastor if...

Funny bits from The Unappreciated Pastor.

 You Might Be a Small Church Pastor if...

1) You open each service with “These are my deacons, I am who they say I am, I can do what they say I can do…”
2) At least three times a week someone says to you “I noticed your car was at your house.”
3) The phrase “But we’re a loving church” is the church’s unofficial motto.
4) When someone in your church has their picture in the paper it will be pinned to the bulletin board. 
5) You have two revivals a year. The Pastor gets to pick the speaker for one and the deacons get to pick the speaker for the other.
6) You have more deacons than widows.
7) You have more deacons than windows.
8) The budget committee just whites out the dates on last years budget and runs off copies for the new year.
9) There is a woman in the church that you are deathly afraid of.
10) You have two people you consider friends at the church. One of them is in the third grade.
11) When the phone rings you’re just praying you don’t hear the words “Preacher I need to get in the church.” 
12) You have a church van…YOU have a church van.
13) You have to plan your vacation around VBS.
14) You are regularly volunteered by a specific person in your church without being asked first.
15) There is a man in the church that once said to you “Preacher, do you know how much money I give to this church?”
16) Most of the charter members seats are marked with small blankets in the sanctuary.
17) A couple of times a year someone wants to sing a country music song as a special.
18) The congregation appears to double in size when the choir comes down.
19) Your wife strategically plans her grocery store trips so she doesn’t run into as many church members.
20) There is a weekly spot in your bulletin that reads “The flowers in the sanctuary were given in memory of…”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Church Growth in the Small Town

by Ron Klassen, RHMA Executive Director.

Our English language is full of oxymorons, like: found missing, resident alien, same difference, definite maybe, sanitary landfill, and working vacation. To some, “small-town church growth” sounds like an oxymoron. With only one stoplight and precious few residents, can the small-town church actually grow? It can, and it has in many contexts. Perhaps what follows will trigger something that might be implemented in your small-town church.

Church growth methods that are effective in the city might not be effective, workable, or even appropriate, in town and country settings. For instance: To be able to maintain a seeker service week in and week out, there must be a considerable population to draw from. A service targeting seekers in a town of 2,000 isn’t likely to have many attendees. Plus, the ability to be anonymous is considered a crucial component—an impossibility in town and country areas.

Offering a contemporary service in hopes of attracting people may actually lead to church decline. There just aren’t enough people in many towns and churches to maintain a contemporary service—or a traditional service, for that matter. This is quite a contrast to urban areas, where offering separate services for different music tastes might contribute to church growth. Furthermore, the rural culture may not be as responsive to a contemporary worship style, or the church may not have the resources (finances or people) to pull it off. Try to put together a worship team, and it may consist of two who are sharp, two flat, and one undecided!

So, when it comes to small-town church growth, one must be cautious about applying the  conventional wisdom found in many books and conferences.

I’m no church growth expert, but for the past 12 years I have been an observer as I’ve traveled all across the country. I’d like to share characteristics of effective evangelistic town and country churches that I’ve observed.

A sense of urgency. In many communities, rural people tend to think most everyone is a Christian. Or, if not, they think the church has been in the community long enough, and if people want to be saved they know the church is there—they’re welcome to attend any time. They don’t feel a sense of urgency to become proactive in evangelism.

What can be done to help overcome this lack of urgency? One suggestion is to compile statistics to show the need. Do a little homework to find how many are unchurched in your community. Don’t just quote generic statistics for the country. If you do, your church people will inevitably think their community is an exception.

One of the advantages of small-town intimacy is that you know most everyone who goes to church and who doesn’t, who’s likely a believer and who isn’t. Unlike in a city like Chicago, in a small town you can go through the phone book and highlight people who are unchurched or in churches that do not proclaim a clear gospel. Then, add up this list and determine what percentage in your community are likely unsaved. I can virtually guarantee that your congregation will be shocked.

The unsaved are out there! This will open your congregation’s eyes. It will help give them a sense of urgency for evangelism in your community.

Credibility. In urban areas, one could potentially be effective in evangelism without having a credible life. You could steal from your employer during the day, but lead someone to Christ through your church’s Evangelism Explosion program that night. You could cuss out your fellow worker on the job, but be a youth leader who is effectively reaching teens. You could have a shabby reputation with your next-door neighbors, but be a counselor at a big evangelistic crusade.

Why? Because you are evangelizing people you don’t know or aren’t with all week long. They have no idea how you live your life. Contrast this to the small-town environment, where it’s almost impossible to lead a double life. I know of a megachurch pastor whose marriage was in shambles for years, but the congregation didn’t know it. In fact, his wife almost never attended church and they didn’t know it. Yet, he is one of the most successful evangelistic pastors I know. This could never happen in a small town. If my wife missed church even once, scads of people asked where she was!

Without credibility, it isn’t too likely that one can be effective at evangelism in a small town. Two kinds of credibility are needed: personal and corporate.

You can’t cheat your neighbor, not pay your bills, share juicy gossip over a cup of coffee, or tell off-color jokes to someone on the street, and then be successful in sharing the Lord with those same people later in the week as you work cattle with them. Personal credibility is essential.

Among rural people, one’s entire personal history is known: conduct, values, past sins (going all the way back to one’s teen years!), marriage relationship, family life, financial dealings—it’s all an open book. And if one’s book doesn’t make for the kind of reading that enhances credibility, then one’s ability to be successful at evangelism is in question. Life in the small town is lived in a fishbowl. Nothing gets past anyone. There are few dark corners in which one can hide. To be an effective evangelist in a rural community, one must meet the strictest test of accountability.

What is true for individuals is also true for the church. The most effective evangelistic church will be a healthy church—health being what makes a church credible. No evangelism endeavors in a rural community will likely be effective if the church is not healthy. Again, this is because of social
intimacy. If one is talking to someone about Christ and they’re thinking, You attend First Church down the street. I’ve heard all about the kinds of things that happen in that church., they’ll likely conclude that they want no part of it!

How can this hindrance be overcome? I can hear a small-town resident saying: “What hope is there for me? When I was in sixth grade, I stole candy from the local store. I got caught and the newspaper put it on the front page. Even though I was 12 when it happened and I’m 36 now, everyone in town remembers what I did. I want to be used of God to reach people for Christ, but how can I?”

Or someone might say, “I blew it back during those tough years on the farm. I was going bankrupt and hid some assets from my creditor so that I’d have something to start over with. I got caught and everyone knows it. My reputation is shot. I can never live it down. I want to be successful in evangelism, but how can I?”

Or, “What you’re telling me I have to do is absolutely impossible. No matter how hard I try, sooner or later I’m going to sin. A bad word is going to slip out of my mouth, or I’m going to laugh at an off-color joke, or I’m going to say a cross word to my wife in public.”

Sooner or later, it seems that every person and every church takes their turn at messing up. And, in a small town, everyone knows it. If not messing up is a prerequisite for effective evangelism, then no one in town and country areas will be able to do it. How can one maintain credibility in a small town?
One suggestion: Regularly lead your church in individual and corporate repentance. This is a long-forgotten ministry in many local churches.

Start with a prayer time on Sunday morning. Follow the example of many of the prayers of the Bible, many of which consist of the spiritual leader bringing the sins of the people before God. The whole Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 centered around corporate confession. Many leaders, like Daniel and Nehemiah, led their people in prayers of confession.

Many Sundays, during prayer time, as pastor I confessed the sins of the people before God. Not private sins that I learned from counseling appointments, but general sins that I knew our people had committed. (Be careful—if you’ve done marriage counseling that week, don’t confess their sins on Sunday!) I would say things like, “Since last week some of us have yelled at our children when we shouldn’t have, cheated on a test in school, hidden income from the IRS, read magazines or looked at television programs that are an affront to You, gossiped against our neighbor…” Pray thoughtfully and with great care. Don’t say, “In the cafe we have gossiped,” because this might be a slam against the cafe owners.

I would confess these sins corporately before God. Then, if anything happened in the nation during the week, I confessed that: “Lord, Congress passed an abortion law this week that must grieve you terribly…”

Leading your congregation in corporate repentance is not only a regular reminder to them of the importance of confession and repentance, it also has a cleansing benefit. Confessing sins has a way of encouraging your people not to commit the same sins next week. Often I would say this as part of
my confession prayer: “Lord, we acknowledge this is wrong. Help us not to repeat these sins this week.”

My experience has been that corporate confession not only helped the church become healthy, it also provided a model for individual confession. It showed the need for making things right with God and with people.

Maybe it was someone’s comments that caused a congregational meeting to blow up. All it takes is one nasty congregational meeting and, when word gets out into the community, the church’s witness can be damaged for years. But, if dealt with properly, the community will hear about that too. They will say, “People aren’t perfect at First Church, but when wrong things happen there they deal with them.”

Just because we have sinned—as individuals or as a church—doesn’t mean our credibility is lost forever. What we need to understand is that humble repentance is a powerful witness. It’s the kind of news that gets around town too! It restores credibility.

Multi-faceted. It is my observation that churches which are effective at evangelism take a multi-faceted approach. They don’t look for one formula, one program, or one method as their solution. They don’t put all their eggs in one basket. They approach it from a number of angles—sometimes dozens of them.

They look for obstacles that need to be removed which are making evangelism difficult. An example: a church constitution that requires a form of decision making that creates a lot of open conflict and harms the church’s reputation.

They look for building improvements that are needed that will make the church more attractive for newcomers: painting that needs to be done, creating a pleasant foyer, remodeling the nursery, upgrading the sound system, installing new bathroom fixtures.

They look for church ministries that need improving—the music, the children’s programs.

They create lots of opportunities for their people to be involved in evangelism: show movies on Main Street, host a children’s rodeo, a Vacation Bible School, a Thanksgiving dinner, etc.

They repeatedly suggest many ways that their congregation can be involved with evangelism on a personal level: make it a point to go hunting with an unbeliever, invite neighbors into your home, head up a Welcome Wagon program for newcomers, volunteer in the public school, etc.

As the small-town church becomes more intentional about growth, the pastor has many important hats to wear.

Cheerleader. Encourage, share success stories, and affirm effective evangelism endeavors. Write about them in the church newsletter, congratulate in the church bulletin, talk about them from the pulpit.

Equipper. Train for evangelism. Don’t assume your people know how to evangelize or communicate the gospel.

Mentor. Show by example. It’s hard to imagine church people developing relationships with unbelievers if their pastor isn’t. Invite neighbors over. Work cattle with ranchers. Hop on a combine with farmers. Go to auctions. Go hunting. Become a volunteer ambulance driver. Spend time in
the cafe. Attend ball games…and sit with unbelievers.

Orchestrator. Provide multiple evangelism opportunities: a released time class at the local grade school, a concert in the park, a Valentine’s banquet, etc.

Nudger. Keep nudging (not shoving!) your people to do it.

Pray-er. Pray about evangelism endeavors in the pulpit. Pray in other contexts.

Informer. Remind your people about how many newcomers move into town. When I was pastoring in a town of 500, the local city utilities man attended our church. He once told me he had hooked up about a dozen electric meters for newcomers in our town in the past three months. I was shocked. I
passed the news on to our evangelism committee. They didn’t believe me, until I produced real names. Our committee went to work with a plan for welcoming newcomers to town and befriending them. A number of them became a part of our church.

Evaluator. Always look for ways to improve the things you are presently doing to encourage church growth and for new ways to help the church grow.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Four Core Values of Small Town Ministry

The following article was written by Ron Klassen, RHMA Executive Director.


In every ministry, there are times of question: Should I keep doing what I'm doing or do something completely different with my life? Should I keep doing the same thing, but in a different setting?

It's possible to evaluate these questions to another level: Does God want me to keep doing what I'm doing? is there something different I could do, or a different place I could do it, that would have greater impact for Him?

When these kinds of questions surface (which they do about twice a week in small town ministry), a few core values might make a difference.

Value #1: Individuals Are Important to God
Christ's parable of the lost sheep communicates this value loud and clear. To what great length the Shepherd went to find that one lost sheep!

God doesn't view this world in terms of masses; He views this world one person at a time. The God of the universe cares about that one lost person out in the middle of nowhere, whether "nowhere" is a tribal village in Irian Jaya or a small town in our own country---the "remotest part of the earth" of Acts 1:8. The Navigators' slogan, "Reaching the world one person at a time," should not be lost in our day of emphasis on the masses.

The well-known missionary martyr, Jim Elliot, devoted his life---and eventually gave his life---to reaching the approximately 300 people in the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador. Statistically they were an insignificant number, especially when measured against the millions of people in the cities of Ecuador. But they were important to Jim Elliot, because they were important to God.

Confident that people in small population areas matter to God just as much as the urban masses, those who serve in such places can do so unapologetically, and be content to reach people one at a time.

Value #2: Isolated Contexts Are Not Limiting to God
Sometimes we are prone to think God's hands are pretty well tied in lower population areas---that size limits what God can do. But even in small places, large numbers can be reached. It depends not so much on numbers, but on God's sovereignty.

In Matthew 9:35-36, we read that when Christ taught in towns and villages, "crowds" gathered. Similarly, though John the Baptist's pulpit was out in the wilderness, multitudes flocked to hear him.

Time and time again it has been proven that good-sized churches can be found in isolated contexts. One church, in Oshoto, Wyoming, grew to an average attendance of 70, though only 131 people lived within a ten-mile radius of the church!

The "Religion Report"1 told of a city in Russia that missionaries went to. They worked hard, but with little response. An elderly woman in a nearby village invited the missionaries to come and preach in her town. The entire village of eighty showed up, and at the end of the service all eighty responded to the invitation!

Value #3: Sphere of Influence is More important Than Population
Living in a larger context does not guarantee larger influence. A million people living in close proximity does not mean a million people will be influenced for Christ. All of us are limited in how many we can influence. What's the difference, then, if we touch one thousand lives in a city of a million or on thousand lives in a smaller town of, say, two thousand?

Furthermore, it could be argues that because a small town is a more personal setting, the pastor or missionary in that town---known by everyone in town---will have more influence among the thousand lives he touches than he would among a thousand lives in a larger context. In a small town, when the pastor is in the local cafe, he is having influence, while in a large city no one in the cafe likely even knows him or knows he's a pastor. One may actually touch more lives, and have a greater influence in the small town than in the city.

Value #4: The Ability to See Potential is a Key to Success
Looking though God's eyes, it is possible to see potential where many can see none. One pastor might look over a community and see no potential there. Another might look at the same community and be excited about what he sees could happen in that place.

Sam Walton is an example of someone who saw potential when most could see none. He wrote, "Our key strategy...was simply to stores into little one-horse towns which everybody else was ignoring...In those days, K-mart wasn't going to towns below 50,000...We knew our formula was working even in towns small than 5,000 people, and there were plenty of those towns out there for us to expand into. When people want to simplify the Wal-Mart story, that's usually how they sum up the secret of our success: 'Oh, they went into small towns when nobody else would'...While the big guys were leap-frogging from large city to large city...they left huge pockets of business out there for us."2

If Sam Walton could see potential for Wal-Mart in small towns, then can we not see potential for the churches we pastor in small towns?

1. "National & International Religion Report," February 20, 1995.

2. Sam Walton, "Made in America---My Story," pp. 109-110.