Toward a Pentecostal Strategy for the City

September 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News, Publication, Research

Toward a Pentecostal Strategy for the City

One of the questions that seems to come up in this course discussion is how to change the world around us with a more positive and effective approach toward using the Gospel of Salvation. In this particular module, the difficulty addressed is ethnocentricity. The particularity of our search then arrives at the more detailed question, how can we change the culture (respectively subcultures) of our church congregations? This is a drastic move from a closed circle toward an outreach community that many congregations are unable to accomplish. How do we then empower such congregations to be transformed into cultural reach-outs to a single ethnos or multiple ethnic groups? 

Problem

The problem in the first quarter of the 21st century has been incapability of our church strategy with the times we live in and the mindset they occupy. We’ve been preparing the church for the multicultural battle, all and while we should have been equipping the saints how to rebuild the walls since the battle has been lost.

We’ve been equipping leaders for the ministry while the church ship has been sinking only to end up with well trained captains of a sunken fleet. And in a doomed attempt to reconcile the reality of the ministry with their training, they have turned to wave walkers who briefly surface for breaths of fresh air during Sunday worship only to return to the deep blue walk of their daily ministry never finding their lost piece of eight.

For the battle was lost long ago before the present generation of ministers ever came to existence. They know not the battle. They’ve only seen the ruins that were left within the broken walls of the church. And they have been struggling to reconcile the incomputable of what church eldership has been teaching them to battle against with the Nehemiah calling for restoration, which God has placed upon them. For the answer has never been in building a New Jerusalem for a fresh start, but restoring the old Jerusalem and its former glory to a new state that reclaims our history and heritage.

bulgarian-church

Context 

Recent analysis of migrant churches in the United States reveals that the predominant majority of them are located in cities which have a high influxation and concentration of immigrants. Such localities are called “gateway cities”. Immigrants typically enter the United States through one of these cities and settle there. These areas contain over half of the foreign-born population in the United States as follows:

  1. New York, NY – Foreign born population 18.7%
  2. Los Angeles, CA – Foreign born population 27.1%
  3. Houston, TX – Foreign born population 12.3%
  4. Washington, DC – Foreign born population 8.6%
  5. Miami, FL – Foreign born population 33.6%
  6. Chicago, IL – Foreign born population 11.1%
  7. San Francisco, CA – Foreign born population 20.0%

Strategy

Asking the right questions is important, but the answers cannot be generic for all ethnic groups or cultural settings. There is a strong need to be flexible and observe changes in culture, but not to change the message of the Gospel or compromise our witness. Several common things are noted in any cultural setting where our ministry is involved:

First and foremost, people of all cultures prefer to be personal with a purpose, rather than being project driven. No one longs to be part of someone else’s project. Yet, our very existence demands personal purpose, which could serve as a great cultural catalyst in a church ministry.

Secondly, cross cultural ministry is not done merely on relationships, but on being real in the relationships. The greatest halt of ministry work is when people realize the relationship with the church has not been a real one, but merely a part of a program or a paradigm.

Finally, our cross cultural model for ministry should not be just salvation oriented, but soul oriented. There is a great difference between writing down the number of saved every Sunday and actually caring for the eternal well-being of the saved souls. In fact, this is so fundamentally determinative that it should be the goal in mind of every new church plant.

REVIVAL MUST GO ON…

September 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

In 2020, we will be celebrating 30 years in ministry. Twenty of them alone were spent in America where we have held some 3,000 services across 25+ different states. In these three decades, I have seen genuine revival with the Glory of God moving in only twice.

The first time was in 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Bulgaria, when our youth group of a dozen students grew up to 300 during the spring semester alone. One of those nights, 26 young people literally walked through the door of the small hall we were renting, gave their lives to the Lord and were baptized with the Holy Spirit – all of them on the spot in that one service. I can still remember them all speaking in tongues and none of us knowing what just hit us. As the visible glory of God descended upon us, we were not able to shut down the service till well after midnight. We got written up for breaking curfew, but our names were written in Heaven.

The second time was at the turn of the century when in the summer of 1999 the Lord opened doors to preach over 20 revivals. I started seminary in the fall and travelled back to South Carolina literally every weekend that first semester just to finish all scheduled preaching appointments. Some of the readers of this letter well remember that one or more of those meetings were in your church. And I have been praying for the same move of God since then.

Though we have had similar trends in our ministry in 2014 and then at the start of 2017, it was only this year again that I am seeing the signs of a great revival taking place just like in 1989 and 1999. More and more ministers we contact share the same feel for another great revival and after much prayer, fasting and anticipation I have become convinced that God is on the move in 2019.

For these reasons, we are approaching this season of Revival Harvest Campaign in 2019-2020 with great anticipation. We urge you to pray along with us and seek the will of the Lord – what is it that He wants us to do in this season of upcoming Revival? A move of God of such magnitude and rarity should not be taken lightly!

30 Days of Prayer and Fasting in 2019

August 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Publication, Research

Week 1
September 1, 2006 – Restoration of the Backslidden
September 2, 2006 – Church Leadership: Bulgarian Pastors and Ministers

Week 2
September 3, 2006 – National Revival in Bulgaria
September 4, 2006 – Spiritual and Physical Harvests
September 5, 2006 – Restoration of Protestant Evangelical Heritage
September 6, 2006 – Unification of the Bulgarian Nation and the Bulgarian Church (In observance of Unification Day in Bulgaria)
September 7, 2006 – Renewal of Family Ties
September 8, 2006 – Child Protection
September 9, 2006 – Mission Work

Week 3
September 10, 2006 – The Hopeless (In observance of World Suicide Prevention Day)
September 11, 2006 – Against Fear (In observance of Patriot Day in the United States)
September 12, 2006 – Sexual Purity and Biblical Moral Principles in the Bulgarian Society
September 13, 2006 – Sanctification and Prayer for Restoration of Holiness in the Bulgarian Church
September 14, 2006 – Return Toward Evangelical Roots
September 15, 2006 – Students of Bulgaria (In observance of the first day of school in Bulgaria)
September 16, 2006 – National Day of Fasting for the Bulgarian Evangelical Movement

Week 4
September 17, 2006 – The Country of Bulgaria
September 18, 2006 – National Prosperity
September 19, 2006 – Abortion Prevention and Prayer for Mothers Who Have Had an Abortion (In observance of Abortion Prevention Day in Bulgaria)
September 20, 2006 – Deliverance from Addictions (In observance of the National Addiction Counselors’ Day)
September 21, 2006 – World Peace (In observance of the International Day of Peace)
September 22, 2006 – Spiritual Freedom (In observance of Independence Day in Bulgaria)
September 23, 2006 – Spirit of Forgiveness

Week 5
September 24, 2006 – Restoring of Friendships and Relationships (In observance of National Good Neighbor Day)
September 25, 2006 – Against Stress and Results of Stress
September 26, 2006 – Physical Healing and Deliverance
September 27, 2006 – Peace for Israel
September 28, 2006 – A Fresh Anointing
September 29, 2006 – The Persecuted Believers
September 30, 2006 – Strength and Endurance

The world is my parish

August 25, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

New Wesley Room at Bristol

Here is a bit more about the building from the Methodist Heritage Organization:

George Whitefield invited John Wesley to preach outdoors for the first time to the miners of Bristol in 1739. Within a few weeks’ work started on building the New Room as a meeting place for two of the religious societies in the city, thus creating the world’s first Methodist building.

The current building dates from 1748 when the New Room was doubled in size. Its lower floor became known as John Wesley’s Chapel. It is still in regular use for worship as well as being used for cultural and educational activities and exhibitions. Upstairs John Wesley created twelve rooms around a beautiful central octagonal window. These provided accommodation for himself and any visiting preachers assigned to the Bristol circuit. They now contain a highly interactive Museum devoted to telling the story of John and Charles Wesley and the relevance of their work today.

Being well placed in the heart of the city, the New Room became a center for the Wesleys’ work in Bristol. It was where John’s strong sense of social justice was first expressed. The New Room became a base for running a school for the poor, for providing food and clothes to the needy, for offering free medical care to the sick, and for helping those in the nearby prison. It was also the first place to use John Wesley’s ‘class’ system, where members were divided into sub-groups for mutual support and development. The New Room has been described as ‘the cradle of Methodism’.

The New Room was one of John Wesley’s three key centers. Many of the annual conferences were held there, including the one that first created Methodist circuits. Bristol’s trading links encouraged the growth of American Methodism. Thomas Webb, Francis Asbury, and others committed themselves to working there and sailed from nearby.

 

Encouraged by the Diary of JOHN WESLEY

O HOLY GOD we, have come to a point where

pastors text and post on facebook during sermon hour while thousands are going to hell in a hand basket while listening to a sermon

teachers be sipping a beer with friends on Saturday night and get up to teach Sunday school on Sunday morning still with alcohol on their breath

seminary professors teaching it is OK to drink in the Bible during the so called Theology on Tap meetings in a local pub

lonely pastors sitting in their cars shooting whiskey in the darkness of the church parking lot after preaching 2-3 services on Sunday

preachers are concerned with every social, political and cultural issues except the salvation of eternal human souls

We read the story in Wesley’s journal:

Sunday, 7.-I preached again at St. Lawrence’s in the morning, and afterward at St. Katherine Cree’s Church. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed that I was not to preach any more in either of those churches.

The following weekend – Sunday, 14.–I preached in the morning at St. Ann’s, Aldersgate; and in the afternoon at the Savoy Chapel on free salvation by faith in the blood of Christ.

I was quickly apprised that at St. Ann’s, likewise, I am to preach no more.

I preached at St. John’s, Wapping at 3PM and at St. Bennett’s, Paul’s Wharf, in the evening.

At these churches, likewise, I am to preach no more

THEN HE WRITES:
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I had continual sorrow and heaviness in my heart.

BUT THEN Wednesday, May 24.– about five this morning that I opened my Testament on those words

“There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature” [II Peter 1:4].

Just as I went out, I opened it again on
those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” [Mark 12:34].

In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out
of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Oh,
let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint

“I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed”

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change
which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial
manner despitefully used me and persecuted me.

I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart

Banned from most churches in the area, he meets with Whitfield who has just returned from America

Whitfield tells him they can minister in the fields like they did in America

Thursday, 29th-I left London as I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which Whitfield set me an example on Sunday;

I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order

that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.

Monday, 2.--At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city where gathered 3,000 people

Sunday, 8.--At seven in the morning I preached to about a thousand  persons at Bristol, and afterward to about fifteen hundred on the top of the Mount in Kingswood.

Tuesday, 17.–At 5 in the afternoon I was at a little society in the Back Lane. The room in which we were was propped beneath, but the weight of people made the floor give way; so in the very beginning of PREACHING the post which propped it fell down with a great noise.

NEVERTHELESS the floor sank no farther; so that, after a little surprise at first, they quietly attended to the words that were spoken.”

The ORIGINAL Barney Creek Stones of Spurling

August 20, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

Even though not intending to form a new church or denomination, their rejection of Landmarkist values placed them in conflict with traditional churches in that area. Within a short period of time it became clear that they would not be allowed to remain as members of their churches. On August 19, 1886, after being barred from his local Baptist church, he and eight others organized the Christian Union at the Barney Creek Meeting House in Monroe County, Tennessee. They agreed to free themselves from man-made creeds and unite upon the principles of the New Testament. Between 1889 and 1895, Spurling organized three other congregations, all with the name Christian Union and functioning independently under Baptist polity. While this group would later disband and its members return to their original churches, the Church of God traces its origins to this 1886 meeting.

THE COMMITMENT to follow a biblical pattern of Church government has shaped the Church of God from our founding in 1886. R.G. Spurling called for Christian Union members to “take the New Testament, or law of Christ, as your only rule of faith and practice.” His invitation was to give “each other equal rights and privilege to read and interpret for yourselves as your conscience may dictate” and to sit “together as the Church of God to transact business [as] the same…” (Tomlinson, Last Great Conflict, pp. 185-86).

37 Church Stats to Know in 2019

August 15, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

It’s that time of year again – when we take a deeper look inside the current state of the church.

In 2017 and 2018 these were our most read and shared posts of the year, and we hope this installment is just as helpful.

By going over some of the most important church statistics, you’ll be better prepared to grow your church throughout 2019. From attendance to social media, you’ll find statistics for most every area of the church.

Don’t be discouraged by any unfavorable statistics. That just means there’s room for improvement. Without further ado, here’s the church statistics you need to know for 2019.

1. 23% Of Pastors Deal With Mental Illness

It’s common to think of pastors as perfect, but they’re human too. This statistic is important because it shows that mental illness is an area churches need to address. Not only do pastors deal with mental illness, but almost 75% of pastors knew someone (member, relative, and/or friend) dealing with a mental illness.

Recognizing the signs and being open about it within the church helps prevent tragedies like the one that one pastor and his family dealt with.

2. 35% Of Americans Believe Bible Study Cures Mental Illness

To follow up on the previous statistics, over a third of Americans believe faith can help people overcome mental illness. Having open conversations about mental illness inchurch could encourage those dealing with it to seek help and counseling along with faith-based healing.

3. Regular Attendance Is Less

How churches define regular attendance has changed in the last few decades. An active member used to be defined as one who attended at least three times a week. Now, that number is three times a month or less. This doesn’t mean they’re out of reach though.

4. Why Americans Attend Church

This is probably one of the church statistics you didn’t even realize you wanted to know.Two-thirds of people in a Pew Research survey say they attend church for four main reasons:

  • To become a better person (68%)
  • To introduce faith to their kids (69%)
  • To find personal comfort (66%)
  • Grow closer to God (81%)

5. No Connection To Faith

On the other hand, the same study from above shows that 20% of adults attending services monthly or more say they don’t feel any real connection to God during church. A surprising 40% don’t feel a connection to their faith.

6. Believers Without A Home

Sometimes it’s easy to feel discouraged about low attendance numbers, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still believe. Many believers who don’t attend regularly or at all have valid reasons, such as:

  • Can’t find the right church (23%)
  • Poor health (9%)
  • Sermons aren’t engaging (18%)

7. Believers Practice Outside Of Church

Some Christians who may not have a church they like nearby or had a bad experience at a previous church haven’t given up on their faith. Instead, the Pew Research study found that 37% of Americans who rarely or never attend church, practice their faith in other ways. This shows that having a presence online could be beneficial to reaching those Christians.

8. Millennials Have No Affiliation

When it comes to faith, millennials are choosing not to label themselves as one type of faith over another. Nearly 40% of Americans between 18-29 have no particular religious affiliation. That doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God, but they don’t follow a set denomination.

9. Small Portion Of Tithers

Despite growing your church’s membership, you might find tithing doesn’t automatically increase. In fact, only 10% to 25% of church members tithe regularly.

10. Online Tithing Boosts Tithing

What church doesn’t want to increase tithing? The same Nonprofit Source study as above shows that offering online tithing increases tithing by 32%. This means it’s well worth investing in online giving solutions.

11. Accept Cards To Increase Tithing

Many people don’t carry cash anymore, even to church. Allowing members to tithe via credit or debit card boosts tithing. In fact, Nonprofit Source found that 49% of all donations are made via a card.

12. Less Giving Than The Great Depression

Okay, so this is going to be a bit of a depressing church statistics. During the Great Depression, Americans gave 3.3% of their income to their church. Today, it’s only 2.5% of their income.

13. Over A Third Don’t Tithe

It just seems to keep going downhill, doesn’t it? The Nonprofit Source study found that 37% of attendees don’t tithe at all. That means over a third of your members probably aren’t tithing. If they do, it’s only on rare or special occasions.

14. Some Tithers Give Far More

While the suggested tithing amount is 10% of a member’s income, those who do tithe help make up for those who don’t. The majority (77%) give anywhere from 11% to just over 20% of their income regularly.

15. Most Giving Happens Monday – Saturday

Sunday seems like it would be the biggest giving day, right? Tithe.ly found that while it’s the biggest single day, 67% of church donations happen throughout the rest of the week. This is to fit tithing into their budget better. Another surprising giving statistic is over 30% of donations come in between 9 PM and 6 AM. What does this mean for your church? Online giving is a must.

16. Mobile Giving Rules

When it comes to non-traditional tithing, mobile rules. Apps are the clear winner with 57% of people preferring a mobile option. Tithe.ly also found that web giving accounts for 24% of online donations, while text giving came in at 14%.

17. A Few Give A Lot

If you’re worried about the small percentage of tithers, don’t. In fact, Tithe.ly discovered that 15% of consistent tithers give 51% of total donations. This at least offers your church some consistency for your budget.

18. Regular Attendance Has Dropped

Attendance is one of the most sought after church statistics. Sadly, it’s also a number that’s dropped. Gallup’s most recent yearly summary is from 2017, but it shows a drop from 42% in 2008 to 37% in 2017 for regular attendees.

You shouldn’t panic too much as this number hasn’t dropped drastically at all. In fact, in the 1950s, the number was only around 50%.

19. Small Churches Are Popular

When it comes to attendance, 46% of people attend small churches with 100 or fewer members. Typically, this is due to the fact that smaller churches are more prevalent and easy to get to. They’re also often more community oriented for those who want to build relationships with the majority of other members.

20. Half Of Churches Are Small

To prove how prevalent small churches are, the same study as above found that 50% of churches have 100 members or fewer. Small to medium churches make up another 40% of churches and have 100-350 members. Sometimes it’s not about having the most members, but retaining and engaging the members you do have.

21. Mega Churches Aren’t Preferred

While mega churches seem to have it all, only 8% of all church goers attend one. Part of the reason is they’re just too big. However, they do have the benefit of having a budget that allows them to reach more people online than most smaller churches.

22. Attendance Continues To Fall

Pro Church Tools also uncovered a sobering statistic – attendance in 2050 could be as much as half of what it was in 1990. That sounds horrible, but consider the move towards digital. You could easily see a rise in online attendance.

23. Online Bibles Are Becoming More Popular

While you might not want smartphones and tablets in your church, consider that Barna research found that 55% of church goers use the Internet to read Bible content. Surprisingly, only 53% prefer to use their smartphone to search the Internet for Bible study. However, 43% use a Bible app on their smartphone.

24. Most People Own A Bible

One of the most surprising church statistics is just how many people own a Bible. Barna found that a shocking 87% of homes have at least one Bible. Even 67% of those who consider themselves skeptic, own a Bible.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that seniors (93%) and Baby Boomers (90%) are more likely to own a Bible than millennials (82%).

25. High Bible Engagement

Another comforting statistic is that half of Americans consider themselves Bible users. According to Barna, this includes people who engage with the Bible on their own at least 3-4 times a year.

On the other hand, only 32% never engage with a Bible. Overall, this shows that more people are interested in exploring their faith than not.

26. Desire For More Bible Study

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that while people do want to spend more time studying the Bible, most have a hard time finding any extra time. Of course, some don’t study more simply because they need someone to help guide them. Barna found that 58% of Americans wish they could study more often and that includes 22% of skeptics.

27. Churches Need Videos

Think uploading your sermons online isn’t important? Want to stick with text-based blogs only? Think again! Pro Church Tools found that 72% of people online prefer to learn by video over text. So, go ahead and upload videos to help guide members and visitors online.

28. Short Videos Are Preferrable

Outside of sermons, which people expect to be longer, almost 66% of people prefer videos that are one minute or less. Try uploading quick Bible study videos to engage visitors on your website and social media platforms.

29. Add Subtitles

Yes, people prefer videos, but they can’t always listen with the sound on. In fact, 85% of people watch Facebook videos with the sound turned off. Add subtitles or captions to ensure your message still gets across.

30. Facebook Is Still King Among Social Networks

If your church is deciding on which social network to use, Facebook is still number one. In fact, Pew Research Center found that 68% of adults are Facebook users. The only other network that came close was YouTube at 40%. However, using both doesn’t hurt, especially if your church focuses on video content.

31. Don’t Count Out Instagram

Many church statistics focus mainly on Facebook for social media, but it’s important to not count out Instagram. Not only do 35% of adults use Instagram, but Pew also found that 71% of 18-24 year-olds use Instagram. If you’re trying to reach out to a younger audience, it’s worth expanding your social media strategy to include Instagram.

32. YouTube Works Well For Younger Members

Want to better engage your younger members or expand your reach to 18-24 year-olds? Pew found that 94% of people in that target demographic use YouTube regularly. Of course, 75% of adults overall use YouTube. So, it’s beneficial no matter what age you’re trying to reach.

Consider YouTube for sermons, showing community outreach programs in action, Bible study sessions and even fun skits to show a humorous side to your church.

33. Videos Get More Shares

If you want your church’s social media posts to be shared, opt for more videos. They get around 1200% more shares than images and text. Videos also lead to more web traffic, with increases of up to 41%.

34. Why Do Church Goers Stay?

What is it that makes some church goers stay, but not others? Most often, they stay because the church’s theology aligns with their own beliefs. LifeWay Research found that 52% feel their beliefs completely align with the church, while 42% say their beliefs are mostly aligned.

35. Why Do Church Members Leave?

On the other hand, what makes them leave? Believe it or not, it’s not politics or music. The majority of devoted church members (48%) only leave if they have to move to a new home. However, 19% leave when the preaching style changes, so it’s important to take changes slowly to avoid pushing your members away.

Other reasons church members leave, according to LifeWay, include:

  • Pastor leaves (12%)
  • Politics (9%)
  • Music changes (5%)
  • Conflicts (4%)

36. Church Goers Are Loyal

Despite how it may seem, most church goers are actually quite loyal to their church. In fact, 35% of regular church goers have been at the same church for 10-24 years. Another 27% have attended the same church for over 25 years. The most loyal denominations are Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists, according to LifeWay.

Before you worry that your members are going to leave, remember that 57% of church goers say they’re committed to staying with their church. So, unless you make major changes suddenly, over half of your members are likely to stick with you.

37. Your Website Does Matter

Even if you’re fully engaging your members in church, you still need a church website. Why? According to Grey Matter Research, 17 million Americans who don’t regularly attend church visited a church website. While most are searching for church hours or programs, 26% are streaming video and another 26% are streaming audio. So yes, a website is vital for reaching more people and increasing your members.

WOMEN in MINISTRY

August 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Discipleship Dilemma in URBAN CHURCH PLANTING

August 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

A recent study put forth by Barna research discussed the current “State of Discipleship.”[1]

I’m a big discipleship advocate—constantly preaching and teaching about the Great Commission, mission, and disciple-making. Not only do I preach and teach it—I disciple and invest into others. I love relational community.

But, the Western church is hemorrhaging. I believe the number one reason is a lack of disciple-making. Barna reveals, “only 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in some sort of discipleship activity.”

In the research, Christians were asked which term or phrase best described a spiritual growth process. Ironically, but very illuminating, “discipleship” ranked fourth on the list—being selected by fewer than one in five Christians (18%).[2] That’s disturbing. Only one in five Christians equated the term discipleship with spiritual growth. It seems that something is amiss within the contemporary church.

Spiritual Growth is Great?

Barna’s numbers seem contradictory. Only 25 percent of the polled respondents stated discipleship was very relevant. The research indicated “The implication is that while spiritual growth is very important to tens of millions, the language and terminology surrounding discipleship seems to be undergoing a change, with other phrases coming to be used more frequently than the term ‘discipleship’ itself.” So, the dilemma within discipleship is the fact that a majority of Christians do not equate themselves with disciples.

I found it ironic that 52 percent who attended church in the past six months, asserted that their church “definitely does a good job helping people grow spiritually,” while 73 percent believed their church places “a lot” of emphasis on spiritual growth. How can that many believers think their church is doing a good job at growing spiritually, and yet the church is not making disciples?

The problem is the perceived definition of spiritual growth and its relationship to disciple-making. It seems that a majority of Christians view spiritual growth as an individual construct—as if discipleship can be divorced from Christianity—it’s in a vacuum. Nearlytwo out of five of all Christian adults consider their spiritual growth to be “entirely private.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 10.34.25 AM

The Real News

Disciple-making is about reproducing—making other disciples. If 73% of the polled believers stated that their church places a major emphasis on spiritual growth—why is the church not making disciples?

Why is the church severely declining—with 80 to 85 percent of all Western churches in decline or stagnating?

I believe it has to do with perception. In the article, Barna stated that only 1% of church leaders believed their churches were discipling very well. That’s only 1%—one—uno—eine—en—no matter what language— just 1% believe their church is discipling very well. Opposite of doing well—60 percent (60%) of pastors state the church is not discipling well, at all!

Why would that be? Don’t three out of four Christians believe their church places a major emphasis on spiritual growth? Why the disparity?

As a pastor, I believe it’s because we (pastors) correlate discipleship with relational communion—life together. Barna’s poll revealed that 91% of pastors considered “a comprehensive discipleship curriculum” as the least-important element of effective discipleship. Yet, when polling Christians, a perception of discipleship, or spiritual growth is related to curriculum, class, and study—not relational connectivity and with-ness.

Barna notes “Only 17 percent say they meet with a spiritual mentor as part of their discipleship efforts.” That’s it! This is why the church is not growing and this is why the church is failing at making disciples. The majority of Christians do not see relational communion with others as important. And discipleship pertains to personalized spiritual disciplines.

How Did This Happen?

There’s a logical explanation—but not a quick one.

Perhaps due to infant baptism, from the fifth-century, and continuing into the Reformation period, discipleship progressed toward individual spiritual discipline more than communal interactive relationships concerning the daily rhythms of Christian life.

While catechesis still existed for new converts, the continued practice of infant baptism shifted discipleship away from the convert catechumenate (waiting three years prior to baptism, but partaking in communal life) to spiritual disciplines and devotions of individualized believers.[3]Perhaps the most notable reformer, Martin Luther, believed that discipleship guided the believer into deeper devotions toward Christ.[4] For Luther, discipleship referred to Christ’s inner working power and “not our attempts to imitate” the deeds of Christ.[5]

The early church had communal gatherings for fellowship, teaching, and life-on-life. But, due to ongoing heretical views—the church began to focus more on the individual development of personal character and devotion, along with theological and doctrinal polity. Albeit, Luther’s discipleship consisted of a deeper commitment to the spiritual devotions of prayer, fasting, and the Word of God, it was not communal.

John Calvin described discipleship as an automatic title for the regenerated believer, an identity by grace in Christ.[6] Calvin, a paedobaptist, considered all believers disciples (and I agree), but not in the same aspect of the communal spiritual nourishment, as that of the early church. For Calvin, baptism became the sign and ratified seal of a “professed” disciple (I find an infant professing anything as odd).[7] However, Calvin focused more on knowledge transference, with believers hearing the preached Word, than a day-to-day activity with believers who practiced fellowship-style catechesis and breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42–46).[8] But to his credit, Calvin believed that all Christians should carry out the commission of God within their lives.[9]

So, the problem was an eventual drifting from the early church communal relationship instruction and fellowship to a more individualized spiritual discipline-type formation. So then, you can see, for the contemporary Christian, discipleship is perceived as curriculum, not as much associated with communal spiritual growth. Discipleship became divorced from collective spiritual maturity, because it became divorced from the communal gathering and growth with others.

The solution calls for reverting back to the origin of Christ-following and being a relational disciple-maker of Christ. Disciples make disciples. Discipleship is not merelyspiritual growth, but helping others, relationally, to develop into mature disciples, who make disciples, etc.

VBS for Adults

August 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News, Research

For reasons obvious to most of our readers, I was able to attend no less than 10 (ten) VBS/Kids crusades this summer. Seven Baptist, several Pentecostals and a Methodist one.

The themes ranged from jungle journey and the Lion King to giddy up cowboys and cowgirls and world/planet/time travelling. All cool themes with lots of props and much careful preparation all in the name of bringing the Good News to the little ones. A noble cause truly worthy of any expense and labor for any church out there.

Time and length ranged from one whole day or one evening service to three nights and even several week long ones. For most of it, the ones held in most Baptist churches were designed by LifeWay and were well structured with kids constantly moving from station to station. The rest were somewhat free style, but still designed with the expectation of lots of children attending. In between each module there was candy, snacks or even a full blown supper.

The location of each VBS and the way it was designed for the crowd flow made the initial impression important. Signs welcoming and directing newcomers were grate, but the friendliness of the people made up for less signage and more human touch. Registration was a must and parents’ preferences were not taken lightly. The decorations of each room helped the children adjust to the new setting and work through the set curriculum. And yes, lots of kids made lots of mess so cleanness in class rooms, play areas and bathrooms were tended to. Some churches had a designated team that made sure the facilities were clean for the next group. And where cleanness was not intentional, it was observed that many parents did not return with their children.

Most VBS programs were designed around age groups. Some included even classes for toddlers and several had adult classes too. The ones that did not, included a family night toward the end of the week for parents to attend. A family night was a great feature for parents who did not attend but dropped their kids every night and picked them up afterwards. They were addressed with materials and opportunities for a spiritual renewal.

The thematic VBSs progressed with learning daily and build up on the previous day. The groups of children toggled between Bible lesson, crafts, games and lots of music. Kids were greatly encouraged to participate and learn the songs and dancing, recite Bible verses and answer questions from the covered material. Some parents participated too.

Prayer was made a central focal point for most of the VBSs observed. The Baptists ones, especially, had pledges of allegiance at the start of the service and assembly with prayer toward the end. A memorable experience for all children who enjoy social setting, making new friends and learn the Bible.

Here are several take ways to observe for a VBS in your church:

  1. Prepare for lots of children – if you have it they will come
  2. Train your workers. Form teams for each task. Assign measurable goals to ensure smooth moving through the program
  3. Self designed VBS programs work as good as the paid ones, as long as designed with the children and families in mind
  4. Chose the length of the event carefully with regard of your constitutions. For the most of it, less is really more.
  5. Do not underestimate friendliness, cleanness and the safety of the children.
  6. Don’t miss a family day. Everyone likes hot dogs and water slides on a hot summer day.

This goes without saying, but focus on God – it is easy to lose track and purposes in the larger design of such events.

7 NEW Barna Trends for Stronger Churches

July 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Here are 7 insights drawn from the data that will help you be a more successful church leader.

1. Pastors have higher life satisfaction than most.

Surprised? Be encouraged.

  • 9 in 10 pastors are satisfied with their quality of life.
  • Pastors rate their emotional health and spiritual health higher than the general US population does.
  • 96% of married pastors are satisfied with their relationships with their spouses.
  • 97% rate their relationships with their children as excellent or good.

In the midst of ministry challenges and trials, pastors have personal satisfaction and strength that is higher than among the general US population.

Those statistics are mighty encouraging. Especially if you find yourself standing in the majority.

But what if you’re not satisfied with your life, your emotional and spiritual health, your marriage, or your relationship with your kids? Then what?

Pastors also relate a downside where they rank lower than the general population.

2. Inadequacy, exhaustion and depression harass pastors.

  • Pastors are more likely to have feelings of inadequacy in their work (57% vs 30% of employed US adults).
  • Pastors are more likely to feel mental or emotional exhaustion (75% vs 55%).
  • Nearly half of pastors have struggled with depression.
  • 47% struggle finding time to invest in their spiritual health.

But, wait.

How does high life satisfaction go together with feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion?

How can pastors have higher life satisfaction and higher job stress?

Maybe the answer is Jesus.

We love serving Jesus and spending our lives for him. But ministry has big challenges that we can’t fix in our own strength.

So it’s a both/and. Life is satisfying and life is difficult.

We love our calling. Sometimes we hate the work.

If you’re among the pastors who feel inadequate, exhausted, or depressed, you’ll be interested in this next insight from Barna.

3. Personal spiritual disciplines are central to ministry satisfaction and perseverance.

  • Pastors who practice their top spiritual discipline (usually prayer) every day or more are also very satisfied with their vocation (75%), their current ministry (73%), and they rate low on spiritual or burnout risk.
  • Conversely, those at high spiritual risk (54%) practice their primary spiritual discipline only a few times a month or less.

The Barna team concludes:

“If pastors and those who support them should take anything away from these findings, it’s that consistent spiritual practices matter – to vocational satisfaction and contentedness with one’s own ministry, as well as emotional, spiritual, and relational well-being.”

Your personal spiritual habits make all the difference in your ministry strength.

But you knew that, right? The people who discipled you have been telling you that for years. You say the same thing to the people you disciple. We talk about spiritual disciplines all the time.

But your strength comes in actually sitting down and spending time alone with Jesus.

Are you at risk?

Barna Trends 2018 has a risk metric for pastors. It assesses burnout risk, relational risk, and spiritual risk based on pastors’ answers to questions and their reported well-being.

It becomes a valuable self-assessment to see if you are in danger of relational, spiritual or burnout risk.
Barna Risk Metrics for Pastors

The more factors you check in any one section, the higher your risk. Generally you are at low risk if you don’t check any factors; medium risk if you check one or two; and high risk if you check three or more.

If you find yourself at medium or high risk, what steps can you take? Who can you talk with?

See more about it on the Barna website: https://www.barna.com/burnout-breakdown-barnas-risk-metric-pastors/.

Barna identifies one big cultural trend that explains why we struggle with our spiritual practices.

4. Spiritual practices are hindered by the lifestyle of busyness.

In the general US population:

  • 1 in 7 US adults sets aside a day a week for Sabbath or rest.
  • Only 1 in 5 take any real break from working.
  • Just 12% commit to doing activities that recharge them and another 12% to taking a break from electronics.

Pete Scazzero, founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York speaks about pastors’ busyness:

“The greatest roadblock [that keeps spiritual leaders from finding time to invest in their own spiritual growth], I believe, is a lack of good models. As evangelical leaders, we have inherited a history of activism that goes back more than 200 years. Our great gift is mission: mobilizing believers and leading people to Christ. But this great gift can also be a liability.”

“Spiritually indispensable concepts like silence, slowness, solitude, and being (instead of doing) are difficult for most of us who are heirs to evangelicalism’s activist impulse.”

No one is judging you, Pastor. It’s difficult to fit regular spiritual practices into your busy life. It’s hard for everyone.

And it’s also hard to fit in other practices that will help you flourish.

5. Growth practices are neglected.

Reading

  • Almost half  of the US population (45%) read at least 5 books per year. 18% of American didn’t read any books last year.
  • One-fifth exceeded 15 books. (Mostly women and students.)
  • 18% of men report reading less.

My goal this year is to read 20 books. I used to read 36 books a year. I’m part of the 18% of men who are reading less.

I’ve made a conscious choice to spend a half hour a day reading  pertinent pastor-type blogs, like this one.

To focus my book-reading, I’m intentionally targeting my book choices. This year, I’ll read four classics of literature, four books on church growth, at least one theology book, at least one book on history, and ten others of my choice.

What is your reading goal for 2018? How is it going so far?

Conferences

  • 3 in 10 pastors never attend a conference.

That’s surprising. I rely on a yearly conference for an infusion of inspiration and a new look at best practices to reach my city for Christ.

Here are some conferences that I recommend:

For more conference options, google “Church Conferences 2018” and you’ll find multiple articles with lists of good conferences.

Make this an action item and get your 2018 conference scheduled this month.

6. A healthy pastor and a healthy leadership team correlate to a growing church.

  • Difficult relationships with the church’s board correlate to higher pastor burnout.
  • Pastors in large or growing congregations are more likely to report that their relationship with their board is a powerful partnership.
  • Pastors who are satisfied with their ministry report a positive relationship with their board.
  • Discontented pastors are more likely to report power struggles, feeling under-appreciated, and that the board is one of the worst parts of ministry.

A healthy pastor plus healthy board relationships usually equals a growing church.

If your relationship with your board is difficult, you’ll find a partial solution in this next fact.

7. Prayer among church leaders is infrequent.

  • Only one-third (34%) of US Protestant pastors say that their relationship with their elders could be characterized by frequent prayer together.

Could your tension with your board be lessened by regular prayer together?

What if you tried more than an opening and closing prayer, but 20, 30, or even 60 minutes of prayer time with your leaders? Every month.

And see what God does.

How to Pray with Board Members

I learned a long time ago that a group of friends works better together and has higher satisfaction levels than a group of mere colleagues. So our board meetings have friendship and prayer blended into them.

We start our monthly meetings at 7:00 p.m., but we convene an hour ahead of time for the really important stuff.

From 6:00-6:30, we eat dinner together. We rotate who brings the food, and who brings drinks and utensils. Our iron law is “no business talk during dinner.” Our first half hour is spent catching up on one another’s family, business, vacations, and other interests.

Then, we pray together from 6:30 to 7:00. We start with praise, and mix in both personal prayers (which arise from our dinner conversation) and church-related prayers. It’s spiritual, satisfying, and bonding.

On our twice-annual retreats, we pray at length following Bible study at breakfast and dinner, plus we have at least one more hour-long prayer time before returning home after we’ve completed our retreat business.

What’s Next?

How to Turn Information and Analysis into Action

The key question is: how will what you just discovered change what you do? Don’t click away without choosing something to do to become a stronger pastor.

Here are some action points:

  1. Renew your commitment to practice the spiritual disciplines that keep you close to Jesus.
  2. Read through the Barna Risk Metrics carefully and talk with someone if you have medium or high risk factors.
  3. Read Isaiah 58:13-14 and then recommit to taking a weekly Sabbath. Talk with your spouse about what that looks like for your family. If you need further encouragement in this area, read my short little book “I Love Sundays.”
  4. Set a reading goal and read for a short time every day.
  5. Schedule a conference for 2018.
  6. Initiate extended, and regular, prayer with your board.

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