For that reason when I first received notification that Mark Driscoll’s new book was about to be released I decided to read it for myself. I’ve read, or think I’ve read every book/article the man has ever written, and though I’ve had disagreements with him in the past, sometimes extremely intense disagreements I always read anything he writes. He’s an astute observer of people, and the culture in which we live, and if for no other reason than that, what he writes is worth the time. He’s always been one that makes me “think,” and even though I disagree with him on many things, I’ve always appreciated him for that.
The book, as with many that have come before, and undoubtedly like many that will come after, seeks to help believers discover who they are in Christ. No one would argue that such an undertaking is a daunting task, because most people, even the most committed of Christians, struggle to grasp who they are in Christ. This book is one that the reader would do well to read with an open Bible. The flow and outline of the book are tied to one of the most exciting and engaging of Paul’s epistles; Ephesians! Though not directly a “theological” work, this book does offer the reader a good dose of theology intermingled with numerous real life stories of people who have had to overcome intense obstacles to in discovering their identity in Christ. These stories do well at revealing the power of Jesus Christ in radically transforming a person’s life, not taking them from “bad to good,” but from “dead to alive.” In fact the stories far outweigh the theology in their effectiveness.
If I have any criticism of this book, outside of my standard theological disagreements with Driscoll’s Calvinism or New Calvinism, or whatever it’s being labeled this week, it’s that it suffers from what many books of this nature suffer from… disjointed flow. It’s pretty obvious to anyone, or at least anyone who’s a preacher that this book is based off a series of sermons, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. The problem arises when content isn’t edited to fit the format of a book. Each chapter in this book could stand alone as an individual piece. The book would have been better if the editors would have taken the time to effectively format the text so that the information presented wasn’t needlessly repeated. This issue is systemic in the world of Christian publication, and it’s hopefully one that is addressed in due time… Hint, Hint to Thomas Nelson!
Because of his theological position, I wouldn’t recommend this book to a new believer. But for someone who is well grounded in the faith, even if you’re not a fan of Driscoll, I would suggest that you take time to read this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
“What really matters is what you do with what you have.” Those words from the famed H.G. Wells speak volumes as to the reality of the world in which we live, though I would add to that statement the phrase… “Where you are at.”
Just walk into any chain bookstore and you’ll quickly notice that we live in a world that is overflowing with self-help books. From Dr. Phil to Dr. Drew and everyone in between, there are people out there willing to give you their opinion on how to find “it,” though they rarely ever tell you what “it” actually is. One Big Thing, the latest book by Phil Cooke is more than the typical run of the mill, buy it off the shelf self-help book designed to help you find either happiness or success in life. In our complex world, it’s difficult to find your way, to get your voice heard, and realize the dreams and desires of your heart. I work in the field of ministry communications and I can state as fact to get noticed you have to stand out from the crowd, and doing so isn’t an easy process. The author makes the argument that in order to effectively stand out means that you must focus on the one thing in your life that inspires your passion and separates you from the pack, and on that point I agree 100%. Now this book doesn’t promise to identify what your “One Big Thing” is, but does give you the tools and inspiration to find it so you can start living a life of purpose for yourself, which ultimately will impact those around us in a positive way because one life whether we realize it or not impacts another.
The book is laid out in an easy to follow, easy to understand format that avoids clutter, rabbit trails, or any other literary landmines that so often appear in the books I read. Each section of the book builds on the previous in an ascending order… asking questions such as “whose painting the portrait of your life,” “do we really have a destiny,” and “why one big thing.” Cooke follows up those questions by discussing the concept of power – focusing on our perceptions and values. The work concludes by taking a look at the fact that when it comes to the one big thing, the first that it’s not about us, and it’s never too late to start.
Phil Cooke helps you to not only discover that one big thing, but also teaches you the secrets of making an unforgettable impact with your life. Now as previously stated he doesn’t give us the answer to life’s questions, he simply points you in the direction you need to go to find the answers… which to me is one of the things I appreciate most about this book. This was a book I read in three sittings. It was an easy read and I didn’t have to struggle to get “into” it, which was a great relief to me and my ADD. The book is one that will cause you to reflect on past experiences, or at least that is what it caused me to do. I was led to reflect on my life journey, experiences I’d had and decision I’d made and how they have impacted who I am and what I do in life.
This book is one that forces us to focus on “self,” which for me is hard, it runs against my personality type and often conflicts with my view of faith, which is Christ-centric, and service-to-others oriented. Phil does a masterful job at maintaining a proper balance, and in the process showing us that when we’re at our best, everyone benefits, including the church, and those within our sphere of influence… this book reminded me of many things I already knew but had forgotten or ignored, one of the most important being that I can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything and that I must say “no” on occasion when people want my input or time on a project… do one thing and do it well!
You’re Not Crazy… states the epilogue of the book, which I found reassuring because, I often I feel as if I walk on the edge of crazy… and sometimes cross over. This book is for everyone who’s been pulled in different directions, born with multiple abilities or just wondered what to do with their lives, Phil aids you in getting the answer. Having read most everything from Phil that I can get my hands on I must say that with this book he has again hit it out of the ballpark… Unless you are someone who ignores the obvious you cannot close this book and not be ready to tackle tomorrow. I give this book a five out of five on all counts!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “booksneeze” program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
“And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:6-7)
For as long as I can remember there have been folks who have fretted and fussed over nearly every catastrophic event that has played havoc with our world, believing it to be a warning of the nearing Apocalypse. I will be the first to admit that whenever we our world gets hammered with things of a life altering nature, such as the political upheaval and economic despair that is going on daily all over the world, it is difficult not to think that Christ must be coming soon. Though it may appear that Jesus is indeed be coming soon, we must remind ourselves of the fact that no one knows the day or hour at which Christ shall return.
So then how is it that we are to live in the face of a world gone crazy until such a time that the Father decides it time to send Jesus back to get us… how do we live in a world that’s falling apart? To that question there is no simple all-encompassing answer, but in his latest book, “Globe Quake” Wallace Henley shares with us that there are indeed things that can be done, in our lives as individuals, in the life of our family, the life of our church, and in the life of our nation to help us navigate on our journey through a world that seems headed toward utter destruction.
It’s a proven fact that change, especially that of the intense, life altering variety has the ability to shakes up society, culture and even our longstanding beliefs, as individuals and society as a whole. Henley compares these changes to the movement of the tectonic plates deep within the earth, as they move the earth literally tears itself apart and reshapes itself. For most anyone this type of action would be cause for alarm, but contrary to being an alarmist, Henley goes to the one place we should go first for answers, and yet seldom do… Scripture! He reminds us that while there is always change, there is also always God! This book brings us back to our proper moorings, reminding us that indeed God is in control.
Now as an admitted OCD perfectionist who loves order over chaos I very much appreciated the logical, easy to follow format of the book, its content is well conceived and well presented as evidenced by the simple, yet effective layout of the book, which flows in an ascending order of spheres
The Sphere of person
The Sphere of church
The Sphere of family
The Sphere of education
The Sphere of governance
The Sphere of business-marketplace
It’s obvious from the onset that Henley is an experienced author with the ability to relate his points to everyday life, and though it took me a while to get into the book, buy the time I was a few pages in I was hooked. He writes not as a preacher, nor as a journalist, or politician, he writes as a concise mixture of all three, in a fashion that is very This book was my first experience with Wallace Henley, and I must say that I will be checking out his other offerings in the near future.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishersas part of their “booksneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Our friends over at “Out of Ur” recently posted these thoughts from Will Mancini concerning the ministry trends we’re likely to see in this coming year…
Will Mancini, church “clarity evangelist” and author of Church Unique, is committed to helping churches find their vision for ministry. His work gives him an interesting view of the ministry landscape. Below are his predictions about new and enduring trends we can expect in North American ministry in 2011 and beyond. This post originally appeared at Will’s blog. We’ve condensed it here with his permission.
1: Increasing diversity of opinion about what good vision and strategy look like
In 2010, Craig Groeschel posted on the Death of the 5 Year Plan, yet vision mavens like Jim Collins still talk about 20-year BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). To add to the confusion, the list of “how-to-do-church” books grows exponentially. We’ve gone from simple, deep, organic and total to sticky, viral, dangerous and hybrid. Are we getting clear yet?
2: Articulating the biggest picture will be the leader’s greatest asset
Every church leader is saturated with countless best practices, bombarded with more communication, and ministering to people struggling with increasingly complex lives. This gives us a hyper-need for clarity. Communicating Jesus-centered meaning in life has never had more competition. The best leaders won’t take the most basic assumptions for granted.
3: Social media will open new possibilities for more churches
Unfortunately most churches lag behind the “real world” by 10 years or so when it comes to technology and communication. But online giants like LifeChurch.tv not only lead the way with technology, but do so generously by offering sites and apps like VideoTeaching.com and YouVersion.com. There is a new world of possibilities for vision and strategy not just for large churches but for every spiritual leader with an innovative spirit. Church online, Facebook, and Twitter are just the tip of the iceburg. For example, check out Gordon Marcy, John Saddington, Charles Lee, and Terry Storch.
4: Visioning and spiritual formation will emerge more visibly as disciplines
True visioning in the local church should always be a Spirit-led, Word-anchored exercise of daily spiritual formation. But it is easy to separate the strategic and the spiritual in daily practice. In the future there will be little tolerance for strategic conversations and visioning exercises that aren’t first God-worshipping and God-listening initiatives. Church leaders are tired of anything in the name of vision that smacks of corporate ideology.
5: Small will continue to be the new big
Thinking, acting and leading small will continue to mark the church landscape. First is the new normal of multi-site churches. Leadership Network played a key role in accelerating this innovation which helps larger churches expand through smaller beachheads. Second, as church planting and missional thinking continue to expand, smaller expressions—from house churches to missional communities—become more legit against the traditional, monolithic measurement of big-church-butts-in-seats. We have recently witnessed the birth of a new network to small town, small church America called The Sticks. Last year brought counter-intuitive book titles and blog posts like The Strategically Small Church and The Micro Manifesto.
6: Networks will become the new denominations
As new learning, new strategies, and new relationship cluster in frontline church planting networks—Acts 29, Redeemer City to City, New Thing, ARC, ChurchPlanters.com, PLNTD, Vision360 and the ICF Movement—the knowledge, encouragement, and accountability of traditional denominations become less valuable. Please note that these networks are not trying to be new denominations. Some effective networks, like Stadia and the Church Multiplication Network, are denominationally based. But the momentum of these networks is changing the game.
7: Leaders will pay more attention to shorter time horizons
The emphasis on leadership in the future will be preparing for the uncertainties of the future, rather than trying to predict them. As a result, answering the question, “Where is God taking us?” requires a 90-day focus and a 1-year horizon of shared storytelling like never before. Will other time horizons be important? Yes they will, but not like the way we used to think about it.
8: The intersection of personal and organizational vision will be magnified
Peter Drucker recognize early on that the movement from an industrial to an information paradigm would push the envelope on personal clarity and self-management for business and non-profit leaders. Yet I find very little evidence in the ministry world that a hunger for personal clarity is making an organizational difference. Even so, I suspect this is coming.
9: Visioning will involve making meaning rather than predicting the future
Life brings a daily tidal wave of monotony. We all fight to keep our daily routine vital and life-giving in view of greater purposes. A key attribute of vision is and always will be how it keeps people focused on the future. But one aspect of vision that will bring increasing value is how it refocuses our work today. This is why I like the word “clarity” as a practical substitute for “vision,” especially in church. Expect that people will not care about where you church is going until you can make meaning for them right now. Why am I in worship? Why should I participate in a small group? Why should I give to your church? Clarity today before you envision tomorrow.
10: External focus and biblical justice will stay prominent
Now that biblical justice has returned to mainstream evangelicalism, it will remain a prominent feature in our vision and strategy work. Strengthening this trend will be a generation of Millennials who will rise in organizational leadership. They mark an era of altruism where volunteerism and social entrepreneurship are the standard not the exception. Generationally speaking, they care more about people “outside of the organization” than the boomers did. The mantra we will continue to see, sparked by Eric Swanson, is “Don’t be the best church in the community, be the best church for the community.
11: Churches will consult for vision clarity rather than for capital campaigns
For almost four decades, capital campaign consulting has been the dominant category for “strategic outsiders” in local churches. The role of consulting is moving away from packaged campaigns and programs towards the ability to navigate organic and culture-savvy solutions. Help in clarifying vision has become the most common reason for a pastor to pursue a consultant, according to the Society of Church Consulting.
Not that I agree with all of Mancini’s conclusions but many of them may indeed be right on the money!
Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross… Salary for year ending 06/30/03 was $651,957 plus expenses. (That’s $74.42 an hour for EVERY hour of EVERY day.)
Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way receives a $375,000 base salary, plus numerous expense benefits. (That’s $42.80 an hour for EVERY hour of EVERY day.)
UNICEF CEO receives $1,200,000 per year plus all expenses and a ROLLS ROYCE car where ever he goes and only cents of your dollar goes to the cause. (That’s $1369.86 an hour for EVERY hour of EVERY day.)
The Salvation Army‘s Commissioner Todd Bassett receives a salary of only $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 billion dollar organization.
No further comment necessary except listen for the bells outside stores this Christmas.
Please pass this on to your friends and family…
Chris Anderson’s new book Free tells us it’s the business strategy of the future. Stores can give away free products by charging manufacturers shelf-space fees. Record labels can give away music by distributing it through no-cost, electronic channels. Organizations are getting creative at finding alternative ways to generate revenue.
The trouble is, we don’t buy it.
While we enthusiastically embrace the idea of free, we treat it with very little respect. Free carries with it an inherent perception of no value.
Several months ago, I spoke with a veteran sales leader in John Maxwell’s organization. She has spent over 10 years selling conference registrations to pastors and has created a very important rule for herself: never give away free tickets.
After opening her heart to scores of pastors who couldn’t afford to attend an event and giving them free tickets, they would never show up. It didn’t matter how much they cried or pleaded on the phone about their difficult circumstances, at the end of the day, they didn’t value free.
In 2007, The Washington Post invited concert violinist Joshua Bell to play for free to passing commuters at a DC metro station. Bell has won a Grammy Award and the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music. He is a much sought-after musical attraction. But on this particular morning in January, only seven people stopped to listen to him during the 40 minutes he played.
Exclusivity is, unfortunately, an effective marketing strategy. We want what we can’t have. Even more, we want what others can’t have, and we’re willing to pay to keep it this way.
When Chunks Corbett and Steven Furtick started Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, they created the perception of exclusivity in their Sunday morning services. Each week, they erected partitions in the meeting space so that no matter how many people attended the service, it always felt full. It always felt like you were getting the last seat.
I visited the church just six months ago and, even with thousands of people in attendance, their team still moves these partitions row by row as people enter the auditorium.
Elevation has transferred the principle of exclusivity to their conference endeavors. Last year, they launched a one day event called Thr3e, which sold out with 100 pastors at a price of $300 each. It worked so well, they introduced Impart at a cost of $700 per person.
That’s expensive, but we like it that way. We value it more. We tell ourselves it’s more meaningful, that we’re better for it.
As someone who has dabbled in Christian conferences for the past three years, I’ve witnessed a perplexing scenario. The greenrooms are filled with people who wouldn’t be there if they weren’t invited for free. And the seats are filled with people who wouldn’t be there if they weren’t charged for it.
Free is too unsophisticated for our palates. We ask ourselves, “How could anything truly valuable be free?” When I’m waiting in line at Starbucks, I routinely ignore the free iTunes “Pick of the Week” cards because how could free music be any good? Never mind that it’s Sting.
Even if your offering is free, it doesn’t hurt to make it hard to get. How many of us have clamored for Google Voice or Google Wave accounts because they’re invitation-only?
Even Facebook, which is free to everyone, got started under exclusive conditions. Not only did the first users have to be in college; they had to attend Harvard. And not only did they have to attend Harvard; they had to be a part of the Phoenix “Final Club,” which is a type of secret society. From there, Facebook spread to other Ivy League colleges before being released to other universities, high schools, and finally to the general public.
There’s no doubt that Facebook’s limited release contributed to its rapid growth. We all want what we can’t have.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a market for free. I’m not one to pass up a free Starbucks drink or a free e-book by Seth Godin. The word free certainly makes us perk-up. But if you want people to truly value what you’re offering, make it hard to get.
Ben Arment helps people launch great things. He’s the founder of Dream Year, The Whiteboard Sessions, and STORY in Chicago, and he also wrote a book called Church in the Making. He and his wife Ainsley live in Virginia Beach and have three cowboys, Wyatt, Dylan & Cody. www.benarment.com
Over the past few years I’ve been exceedingly blessed by the writings of Joe McKeever. Though I have some theological disagreements with him, I’ve always considered his pastoral ministry insight to be of the highest quality, and the most recent article of his that found its way to my desk was no exception. I was encouraged and challenged by his words about pastoring a church that is seemingly stuck in place…
10 Suggestions for the Shepherd of a Stagnant Flock by Joe McKeever
How many churches in this country—in your denomination, of your church-type, in your county or parish or town—have stopped growing? It depends on whom you ask. Go online and you’ll soon have statistics coming out of your ears on this subject. In our denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, the most significant number—one that seems to have held steady for over three decades—is that some 70 percent of our churches are either in decline or have plateaued.
Plateau. Funny word to use for a church. One wonders how it came to be in use. Why didn’t they say “mesa,” “plain,” “delta” (ask anyone who lives in the Mississippi Delta—flat, flat, flat!), or even “flatline.” Of course, in the emergency room to “flatline” is to die. No one (to my knowledge) is saying a non-growing church is dead, just that some things are not right.
Healthy churches grow. Non-growing churches are not healthy, at least in some significant ways. If it’s true that seven out of ten pastors in our family of churches lead congregations either in decline or stagnation, this is a situation that ought to be addressed. And to my knowledge, everyone is addressing it. Everyone has an opinion.
My single contribution to this discussion is directed toward the shepherd of a stagnant flock: “If your church has plateaued, make sure you haven’t.”
Bill Day, the numbers cruncher and evangelism professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (as well as pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Metairie, LA), gives his definition of growing, declining, and plateauing: The church that increases 10% in a five-year period is growing. Decline 10% in the same five-year period, and your church is decreasing. Plateauing means your church fits neither group.
Here are ten statements to pastors of churches that are either stagnant or are in decline.
1. Some churches are easier to pastor than others.
When Bob began to pastor Easytown First Church, to his amazement and relief, the numbers turned around almost immediately. People loved him, they began responding to his leadership, the pews filled, and soon they were bringing in chairs. Bob was elated.
That’s when he made a mistake. Bob decided the great response was because of his terrific preaching and inspired leadership. And who’s to say he was wrong? After all, had he preached poorly or led haphazardly, the story certainly would have been different.
But Bob became critical of churches that were not growing and pastors who were not leading in dynamic ways. Without knowing it, Bob had become part of the problem. He was discouraging pastors of troubled churches, when what they needed was an encouraging word.
I have pastored both kinds of churches. Serving at Easytown early in your ministry can sure be nice. It can also give the young preacher a heady dose of ego. I’m afraid I pontificated on matters I knew nothing about and criticized denominational leaders for not doing what we were doing. I cringe with embarrassment over some of the statements I made.
Either because of the Lord’s sense of humor or of fair play, He let me get hold of a church that did not respond to my dynamic personality (!) or bag of tricks. At the annual associational meeting, when certificates were handed out to those who led in baptisms (a practice of dubious merit, I must say), I was embarrassed by our small numbers. As if to break me of disparaging even one person coming to Christ, the Lord eventually let me see how it felt for our church not to make that “top-ten” list at all.
Some churches are easy to pastor, some are hard, and all are different. Not all methods work in every church.
2. Some pastors have the gift.
Argue with this all you please, but I will go to my grave believing that preachers like John Bisagno could grow a huge church in the Sahara. They say “Good morning” in a way that makes you look around for an aisle somewhere to walk down.
As the old saying goes, “Some were born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.” I’m not saying Bisagno is this way; he has helped more pastors (including me) to become Kingdom-growth-minded than anyone I know. But for some of us, those without the “gift,” turning a church around is hard work.
3. Even if my church has plateaued, I don’t have to join it.
Just because my church is not growing does not mean I have to stop growing. Don’t give in; don’t throw in the towel. Don’t stop learning and growing and looking for ways to make a difference.
4. Some churches should not grow—at least, not yet.
Some churches do not grow for good reason: They are sick. The last thing in the world they need is for a hundred new members to join them next Sunday. They need to get some matters right with God and with their neighbors before the Lord is going to allow them to grow.
I watched as a small congregation tried to self-destruct. The unhappy members ran the pastor off, along with the group which supported him. As pastor of the nearest church, I watched this from the outside and did not understand all the issues, but my personal conclusion was that the pastor was a fine man, and the ones who left would have been excellent members of any church. In fact, several joined my congregation and became just that.
As soon as the pastor left, the disgruntled few looked around, found an unemployed preacher, and made him pastor. The man of God walked in, saw all those empty pews, and decided the church needed to grow. He announced a week of revival services. They printed leaflets and hung posters, then held their meeting. But nothing happened. The community wanted none of what that little group had to offer.
The merciful Lord in Heaven clearly decreed that little bunch would not be allowed to mess up a new crop of young believers. They did not need to grow; they needed to repent.
5. The pastor’s problem is not the church members’ or deacons’ problem.
“We announce visitation, and no one comes.” “I handed out assignments, but none of the deacons made their calls.” “These people are just like the ones following Moses—headstrong, stiff-necked, and hard-hearted.”
The people are not the problem, pastor; they are your opportunity. You are your biggest problem, pastor. If you want your people to minister in the community, go minister in the community yourself. If you want your people to visit in homes, go visit in homes yourself. If you want them to take door-to-door surveys or prayer-walk blocks, go do it yourself.
After you’ve done it for six months on a regular basis without telling a soul that you’re doing it, invite the rest of them to join you.
6. The most urgent task is to become a person of intense prayer.
If you love your church and have a burning desire to see it live once again and make a lasting difference in your community, tell the Lord.
The tendency for pastors with a hurting desire to help their churches grow is to look for human saviors—some pastor of a big dynamic church somewhere whose brain they could pick or whose conference they could attend. That’s not entirely wrong, but it’s out of order.
It’s prayer time—time to spend concentrated time on your face before the Lord finding out what He wants for His people. Keep reminding yourself (and Him) that these are His people. He died for them, you didn’t, and their welfare and health means far more to Him than it does to you. Seek His face; ask for His will.
The Lord may tell you His entire plan during a two-day prayer retreat. But I’d be surprised if He did. More likely, He’s going to give you some immediate direction for your leadership and sermons, but you’re still going to have to spend quality time on your knees pleading for His intervention.
Expect this to take six months, a year, several years. Some have said if the church has been stagnant for six months, turning it around will take six months. If a year, then one year. If 40 years … well, surely it won’t take that long! (I’m not sure what I think about this principle.)
7. Go to conferences and read the books on reversing plateaued churches. But do not look for a program for your church; look for a key idea.
There are experts out there who would willingly come into your church (for a fee), take over the show, and rearrange all the furniture to get the church growing again. But then they would leave, and you would be left to deal with the consequences. You don’t need that.
When you sit before pastors with “turnaround” stories, listen in two directions at the same time: to what they are saying, and to the Holy Spirit.
When something is said and all the bells go off inside you, that’s what you came for. The Holy Spirit is fingering this principle, that story, this strategic ministry, that idea.
8. Don’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit has you start with small improvements.
Someone in our church called my attention to a needy trailer park. A seminary student in our church wanted to try to reach the people there. We sponsored him. No big deal. At first, it was just an arrangement between the student and me, the pastor.
In time, as leaders came and went, God sent us a young man with a real heart for the families in that park. He began reaching the kids, some of the parents began to respond, and our church members began to get involved.
This became the finest mission experience of any church I ever pastored. Before long, more than 60 members of our church were involved to some degree with the young pastor, his wife, and that trailer park. It’s my observation that this compassionate ministry helped make it a truly healthy congregation.
“Who has despised the day of small things?” asks the prophet in Zechariah 4:10. I think we can answer that. Our spirits despise small things. We want big numbers, big programs, big responses. Anything wrong with 3,000 people coming to Christ in one day? Not a bit. But great results often begin with tiny deeds, such as prayer-walking a neighborhood or putting someone in a leadership position who becomes a key player.
9. Start even smaller than that.
Walk over your campus. Are the restrooms clean? Do the hallways need painting or brightening up? What do the grounds look like? Never, ever pass a piece of trash on your property without picking it up and walking it to a dumpster.
Even if your sanctuary has not changed since the 1950s and looks every bit as dated as it is, and even if you can’t afford a renovation, you can get a bucket of paint and cover the fingerprints on the walls. You can scrub the floors. You can see that wastebaskets are emptied each week.
Schedule a “work day” on a Saturday. Encourage your students to brighten up their rooms. Appoint two or three of the most persnickety matrons to walk through the buildings with one of the men and make a list of improvements to be made. Talk it up, serve breakfast early that day, and make it fun.
Don’t overdo it and don’t over-expect, pastor. Don’t make this an all-day thing. Two hours on a Saturday morning with 20 or 30 adults can make a huge difference. If they uncover more tasks to be done, ask them if they’d like to have another such work day six weeks later. That’s far enough in advance that they’ll agree, but not so distant that they’ll forget about it.
Go for little improvements at first. See that the church sign represents the church well and is changed weekly, even if you have to do it yourself until the Lord raises up a responsible volunteer. If your sanctuary looks bare, ask a florist to lend you some greenery on the weekends, or even rent you some. When the congregation responds enthusiastically, see how people would feel about purchasing the greenery.
Use the word “experiment,” as in, “We’re going to experiment with this.” It won’t sound as threatening or as permanent as, “We’re making this change.”
10. Thank people. Encourage them. Praise them. Send them notes.
You have two choices, pastor. You can harangue the people on Sunday because they are not what a church ought to be, or you can applaud them as they take baby steps in that direction.
I’m in favor of the pastor calling names from the pulpit of people who did well this week. (You’ll want to work hard to not leave someone out who should have been included. If you do, be sure to include him/her the next Sunday and apologize for omitting them.)
Write thank-you notes on the church letterhead. One or two sentences are all that’s required. Tell them how much better the church looks with those new flowers in front and how it is a glorious witness for the Lord. Tell the custodian how pleased you were to hear someone comment on the clean bathrooms last Sunday.
I once wrote a column in the church bulletin thanking our custodian. Andy was not an easy man to work with. He could be curt, and more than once he’d offended some member with a sharp comment on the way she kept her classroom. But when you gave him an assignment, he carried it out well. So I wrote a note of appreciation to let church members know that Andy was responsible for the building looking so impressive on Sundays. A year later, while looking for something in the sanctuary building, I opened a closet. There was my column, taped to the inside of the door. Andy had kept it all this time.
I never forgot that lesson. It matters. As nutrients to flowers and as fertilizer to a crop, so is encouragement to God’s people.
The Lord’s people should be seen as tender plants; if you want them to grow, you must never mistreat them. Instead, handle them with care, treat them lovingly, and keep them in the sunshine with plenty of food and water. Protect them from storms, shield them from careless children, and watch for signs of disease or trouble. They want to grow, and they will—if we do it right.