Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Joy in Service

"She has done what she could." Mark 14:8

If there is a museum in heaven, we shall probably be surprised at the dull objects displayed prominently on sparkling cloth of gold: two mites, a boy's lunch, a cup of cold water, and a broken vase. We may puzzle a moment, but after a little thought, we shall realize these were the most lavish gifts their donors could give to the Master. Jesus' words about Mary's extravagant and apparently useless gift to Him were not faint praise; they were the highest commendation.

Most of us concentrate on wishing we had more to give to the Master, rather than planning how to give what we do have. We lament we cannot sing a glorious solo. We long to have thousands to give. Then we haggle inwardly over whether our tithe is to be computed before or after income tax deductions. We wish we were winsome leaders, while we fail to call the absentees in our Sunday School classes.

Joy will be ours when we lavish on Jesus and on the least of His brethren the full measure of talent and resource that has been entrusted to us.

Father, show me the greatest thing I can do for You and help me do it. Amen.

Open Windows, June 10, 1958.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Problem With "Gift-based" Ministry

This post is a repeat from a couple of years ago. This is in response to those who think they don't have to do missions because they don't the right "giftedness."  

I’ve just finished reading a voluminous document our association has prepared on church planting. I’m on the “Church Start Committee” thus I get to read the document prior to committee approval. The document is very well written and very detailed.One section of the document is entitled, “Church Growth Consultations Process.” This process identifies eight characteristics of growing churches. One characteristic that caught my eye was “Gift-oriented Ministry.” As most of you are undoubtedly aware, there is a certain segment of people who say that we need to discover our spiritual gifts so we can serve God in the ways He has gifted us.This “gift-based ministry” approach is troubling to me. Why? The main reason is that once I discover my spiritual “gifts,” I will have a built-in Christian excuse not to participate in ministries that do not match my “giftedness.” A few examples might be as follows:

Not gifted in evangelism? Then you don’t have to do evangelism.

Not gifted in mercy? Then you don’t have to be merciful.

Not gifted in faith? Then you don’t have to be faithful.

Not gifted in compassion? Then you don’t have to be compassionate.

Not gifted in administration? Then you don’t have to do administration.

The list could go on and on.

If “gift-based ministry” is not right, then what would be a better approach? I highly recommend Henry Blackaby’s little 92 page book entitled, What’s So Spiritual About Your Gifts? Here’s an excerpt from a chapter entitled “Gifting Follows Assignment”:

“As the Spirit reveals the will of the Father, we can then allow Him to accomplish it through our lives by the Spirit’s enabling. Equipping always follows the assignment. The enabling power of the Holy Spirit follows the assignment, never precedes it. For if we aren’t willing to obey the Lord and do His will, there’s no need for Him to give us gifts. Spiritual gifts don’t belong to the believer; they’re an expression of the Holy Spirit doing the Father’s will.”

Did you catch the emphasis of Dr. Blackaby? The emphasis is on God, not man. God empowers, equips, and enables as He calls His people to serve. We don’t deteremine when we will obey God according to our alleged gifting. We obey God and He equips us for the task, whatever it may be.

I know this flies in the face of the thinking of many SBC pastors and churches, but, to me, this is just another example of the difference of being God-centered as opposed to being man-centered. “Gift-based Ministry” is man-centered in that it is based on my gifts and how I will serve. The God-centered approach is following Christ anywhere He leads and relying on Him to equip us for the task. For those who disagree, I would recommend you take the time to read Dr. Blackaby’s book.

If “gift-based” ministry is not the answer then what is the answer for assembling ministry teams? I believe “burden-based” ministry is more biblical. What do I mean by a “burden”? I define a God-given burden in this context as “a sense of personal disquiet, urgency, and obligation, given by God and only by God, to act on behalf of and for the benefit of others to resolve a problem, meet a need, or seize an opportunity.”

I believe that the Bible is correct when it says that Lord adds to the body. If the Lord adds people to our local body of Christ, then we need to pay attention to who He is adding and what their “burdens” are, not so much their spiritual “gifts.”

As far as I can tell, God never called anyone to serve Him based on their “spiritual gifts.” God didn’t go to Moses and say, “Moses, you have the gift of courage and public speaking, therefore, I am calling you to deliver Israel from Egypt.” God didn’t go to Abraham and say, “Abe, since you have the spiritual gift of administration I’m going to call you to be the father of a great people.” God didn’t go to Gideon and say “Gideon, because you have the gift of wisdom, I’m going to call you to overthrow the Amalekites.”

No, God didn’t do that. What God did was choose to call someone, place a great desire in their heart to serve Him in a certain way, and then He equipped them for the task at hand. The equipping was always after the call.

“Burden-based ministry” is how I assemble ministry teams in our church. You see, I assume that if someone has a desire to serve God in a specific area, that is God placing that desire in their heart (“Experiencing God,” by Henry Blackaby).

I ask folks this question: If you could only do ONE thing for Christ and nothing else, what would be your heart’s greatest desire? You would be amazed at the answers. Some will have a desire to minister to elderly people. They become our nursing home ministry. Some will have a desire to reach children for Christ. They become our Children’s ministry. Some will have a desire to feed the homeless, visit the sick, work with youth, etc., etc.

This is “burden-based ministry.” You assemble ministry teams based upon their heart’s desire (burden). Then you have teams of people who actually WANT to do what they are being asked to do. For those who may not feel they are “gifted” for the ministry they feel the most burden for, tell them to ask God to equip them. When you do that, pray for them as well and watch them grow in the Lord! It is an exciting thing to watch.

For those ministries that no one seems to have a burden for, you pray that God will bring people to your church in whom He has placed a desire for those ministries. When you pray like that, you see God working all around you.

I would heartily recommend you try this “burden-based” ministry approach instead of “gift-based.” Once you see God work through the burdens of people’s hearts, you will never go back to “gift-based” ministry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We Taught Them Too Well

Alan Cross has a thought-provoking post entitled, "Are Southern Baptists Capable of Being Missional?". He asks a good question because going on missions personally is not what we have been taught.

IMHO, for years and years, we taught the church they could participate in missions by giving to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong so that missionaries could do the work of missions for us. This was the mantra until recently (within last 15-20 years) when we began to encourage our people not only to give but to go. In my previous church, a lot of the pushback I received was exactly that: we give and they go; we're doing our part.

We taught the churches for 100 years to give and the missionaries would go. We created that mindset and it's going to take a while to change it, if we ever can. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prayer For Japan

This is a video I created for our church. The song is "If We've Ever Needed You," by Casting Crowns. I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How To Plug a Huge Hole in Your Pastor's Pay Package

When I left my last pastor position, I inquired about receiving unemployment with our state's Employment Security Commission. I was told that unemployment tax is optional for churches. If churches choose not to pay it, then unemployment benefits are not available for church personnel. I checked with my church's treasurer and he confirmed that they did not pay the unemployment tax. What this means is that if any church personnel are laid off, fired, or forced to resign, there are no government benefits available to them for unemployment.

I looked into the North Carolina Unemployment Insurance information section and found that for employers in North Carolina, the unemployment tax is 1.2% of the total payroll. If my church had provided unemployment insurance for me as their pastor, it would have cost the church $480 annually, based on my salary of $40,000. This tax rate may vary according to your state.

As someone who has learned the hard way, I highly recommend to all pastors and church staff personnel to negotiate unemployment insurance as a part of your package for your own protection. I know it will be a part of my package from now on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Traditional Small Church Marginalization

There has been some discussion recently about the marginalization of the traditional small church. Read the blogs of Ed Stetzer, Bart Barber, Peter Lumpkin, and Nathan Finn for their take on this topic. Here's my take.

What is a traditional small church? In my definition, a traditional small church is a church which has less than 200 in Sunday morning worship attendance according to the ACP report and practices traditional ways of doing church: hymns, choir, piano, organ, suit and tie or at least business casual for men, dresses for women, "Sunday best" for children, preacher preaching at a pulpit, Sunday School, and traditional programs such as RA's, GA's, Baptist Men, and WMU.

Traditional small churches comprise the vast majority of the SBC (83% per latest ACP). However, these small churches, which are the majority of the churches in the SBC, are represented on SBC boards as a clear minority. The average SBC board representation of traditional small churches is 22%. The average SBC board representation of churches with over 1,000 Sunday morning worship attendance averages 30%. However, these larger churches only comprise 1.4% of all SBC churches.

Have traditional small churches been marginalized in SBC life? The facts clearly say "Yes." The majority of the SBC churches have the minority voice in every governing agency of the SBC. If this isn't marginalization of traditional small churches, then I don't know what is.

I have asked each of the past four SBC presidents to take steps to alleviate the inequitable representation of the majority of SBC churches and each president has declined to take any definitive action. Last year, I proposed a motion to the Executive Board to resolve this inequity, but they have refused to address it.

To me, for anyone to even hint that traditional small churches are not being marginalized in SBC life is the sign of someone who is not paying attention or who is not aware of the realities of SBC life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Do You Get Out of Conferences?

I went to a state conference last week. It was like hundreds of other conferences I've been to over the years. Speakers, breakouts sessions, vendor booths, etc. At this particular conference, there were only about 150-200 people, most of them over 65 years old. Nothing wrong with older folks because I'm one of them, but it seems that the majority of people who attend these things are retirees who have plenty of time to attend.

There seems to be a conference or two every week of the year. Apparently they make money or there wouldn't be so many of them. Besides the major league conferences, i.e., Desiring God, FBC Jacksonville, Together for the Gospel, etc., what is the value of these conferences to you? Are state conferences whuch are put on by our state conventions of any value? Just asking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Single Mom Comes to Christ

One of our members invited a young woman to come with her to church. Ann* and her precious little boy began attending church regularly. It was clear from talking to her that she knew very little about Jesus or the church, but she was eager to learn.

One night I received a call from Ann's friend. She told me that Ann's husband was kicking her and her boy out of their house and they desperately needed somewhere to live. The next day we put out the word to everyone in the church. Soon we located a nice garage apartment for her near the church. We gathered up some volunteers and helped Ann and her son move out the next weekend.

Ann continued attending the church and I had the privilege of baptizing her. She grew as a Christian. She tried to reconcile with her husband but he refused. I left the church to pastor another church and lost touch with Ann.

A few years later, Ann called me at home. She said that she was engaged to a godly young man and asked if I would conduct their marriage ceremony. Of course, I was delighted to do so. We had the marriage ceremony in the back yard of the house which her fiance owned in Asheboro. Ann and her son were moving in with her new husband the next day. She told me about the church they had been attending and how happy she was there.

I am still able to keep up with Ann and her new family through Facebook. She has grown into a godly woman who is now discipling others in Christ.

*not her real name