Thursday, January 26, 2006

More Morsels of Truth from ESF Winter Conference

I really enjoyed the conference on church growth at Dryden. It was not your typical Willow Creek or Saddleback church growth conference either! It was guys who are doing ministry in real life small churches throughout NY state. Real ministries of less than 200 members in communities of less than 2000. (Dave Whiting excepted -- Rochester). Each man said it in his own way, but each put a disclaimer on their messages -- "I am not an expert". While I appreciate their humility and sense of perspective, their caveats leave me wondering who will be the model? Who will set the standard or blaze a trail of excellence and say "Thus far hath God brought me -- By His grace I stand". I want to have lots of great men who are serving well surrounding me as a great cloud of witnesses. (ala Hebrews 12:1)

I have tried to boil these seven sessions (each with a man of God who clearly shared his passion in the areas of church growth and health) down to a couple of great thoughts that impacted me or that I want to try and improve in my ministry. What a tough job. But here is the second installment of that attempt:

1. The danger in church growth seminars is that we try to apply someone else’s techniques to our situation. Our standard for leadership is that of Christ. The good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. (not His death on the cross, his daily sacrifice for the good of the disciples) *Even to the point of suffering wrongly. [Paul P]

2. Our contentment must be found in investing your self into someone else. A church exists to build people in Christ. If we strive for bigger/better we are chasing a fleeting dream. It will never big enough or good enough.

3. We may have slipped into “acceptable modes of fleshliness”. Is my sacrifice to be [accepted, noticed, thanked, successful, an authority]? Or is my personal sacrifice to be of service to God? [Paul P]

4. Get rid of fear -- there is no place for it in our ministry! We are not going to do it perfectly, so don't let perfectionistic tendencies stymy action! [Paul P]

5. Have they (the people in the church, YG, SS class, etc.) seen an attitude of self-sacrifice in me? Have I modeled Christ before my flock? Or have I embellished my sacrifice for personal gain (ala Annanias and Sapphira)? The best sacrifice is modeled after the perfect love of 1 Corinthians 13. If I sacrifice my body, but have not love I am like a clanging cymbal! Romans 12:1-2 says that I am committed to sacrifice! [Paul P]

6. We must avoid falling into the trap of giving up on preaching. There are five reasons why we need a healthy diet of expositional preaching in our churches:
a) preaching Scriptures leads people to salvation [1 Timothy 3:15];
b) preaching Scriptures leads people to maturity [3:16-17];
c) God has commanded us to preach! [4:1-2];
d) the Scriptures are a supernatural book [Hebrew 4:12];
e) the Scriptures are exalted by God [Psalm 138:2] [Dave W]

7. Preach truth not preference; do not blur the lines. [Dave W]

8. Being boring is not just sad – it’s sinful. [Dave W]
By the way, Dave was not boring! He mastered the use of Powerpoint in sermon presentation. He did a cool thing with the Scriptures too. He used white letters to singnify the parts that he would read and included phrases of emphasis in yellow for the congregation to read in unison. It worked really well.

9. The goal of great preaching is transformation not just more information. God never says, “I just wanted you to know that”. [Dave W]

10. We must preach Christ, for His glory (not mine). [2 Cor. 4:5] [Dave W]

11. Young people do not have a choice – they grow! Will you direct that growth and steer them toward godliness? Or will you allow someone else to shape them? We can’t sit back and wait for the “worst to happen”. The enemy is busy, so we must be busy! [Russ A]

12. If we help young people grow mentally, physically, and spiritually without helping them grow socially, that growth is useless. [Russ A]
I think that what Russ was getting at was a lack of application in the real world for our young people. We are very good at increasing their Bible aptitude and often not very good at helping them grasp the concept rather than the facts. A favor with God is great and necessary; but a favor with men is critical to ministry. After all, most people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

13. The goal of youth group is not to give more information; it is to apply the truths. Their midweek sesssion are called “Lab Time”. They discuss the message from Sunday, prayer requests, additional passages that bear on the topic, etc. [Russ A]

14. Using Luke 14:15-35 as a backdrop, are we missing out on the banquet of spiritual harvest? Some of the "banquet stealers" are:
a. The “if only” mindset = if only we had this or that we could do minnistry more effectively
b. Excuses = material goods, work, relationships come first before ministry
c. Overlooked opportunities
d. Unmet expectations = it didn't match what I wanted to see happen, let's quit [LD M]

15. Consider Acts 2:41ff as an outreach text. The communion of the disciples also must have included a common purpose. They pooled their resources to reach their world! They lived consistently before others and attracted others to Christ. [LD M]

16. Two people out of 100 members is not community outreach! Simply throwing open the doors and calling “Y’all come” is not community outreach! Community outreach is going inot the highways and bi-ways and compelling them to come in! [LD M]

Wow! Once again, a full day of thinking about ministry to people. Most of the stuff shared is not rocket science. Most of the stuff is not new. But most of the stuff was helpful. I really wished that the deacons and trustees would have been ther to hear some of it. The tapes will not do justice to the sessions. There is great beauty in iron sharpening iron. May I be sharper now than I ever was before!

Keep your edge,

Monday, January 23, 2006

ESF Winter Conference -- Dryden, NY

I am writing via my wireless connection in the breakfast area of the Country Inn and Suites in Cortland NY! I have the Praise and Worship Channel playing in the background and I am chewing on some great spiritual food from the conference that we are at! I love technology!

Let me share just a few tidbits of the conference with you. This conference is geared towards church growth. It could not have come at a better time for me personally or for our ministry at Wyoming Baptist. I have really needed a good refocusing and challenge spiritually. Here are just a few of the nuggets that I have mined as I listened to several of my colleagues speak today.

1. An idea for setting community building goals for our youth group: telecare = once every 3 weeks, each person in the D-group will receive a phone call or IM from the leader; once very six months, each person will be visited in his/her home by the leader. That's how we will build a Caring Christian Community! [Matt S]

2. Make every conversation that I start with a person at Wyoming Baptist begin with a positive language statement. Find something to thank the person for, or admire in them, pass on a blessing to them first! [Matt S]

3. Insight: In the pattern of prayer described for the disciples, Jesus prays "let US not fall into temptation", but "deliver US from evil". He was praying community protection and power on the life of the church! [Matt S]

4. Insight: In the translation of James 5:16, the NIV makes the most sense! The prayer's effectiveness and power does not come from the righteousness of the man or the fervency of the prayer! It is the God we pray to that makes it effective! [Charlie C]

5. Insight: In the context the righteousness of the man makes him able to come into the presence of God with prayer. In the preceding verses, it is the confession of sins that makes the man righteous. [Charlie C]

6. "Prayer changes everything. Prayer replaces nothing." [Charlie C]

7. "Pray the vision (for your church) down from heaven, not conjure it up!" [Charlie C]

8. "Shepherd your people like God" -- Oswald Chambers

9. I must be "experiencing pioneer growth in my life" regularly as a leader/pastor. [Don S]

10. Is my ministry marked by "substantive authenticity". Or are they simply smelling a fragrance that is sprayed on out of the can?! [Don S]

11. Effective ministry leadership is measured by how it a) attracts others and b) how it influences them. Who wants to imitate me? Should they? [Don S]

12. God is constantly bringing us up short, allowing us to fall headlong into the pits (mostly of our own making), so that we will learn to cry out to Him. [Don S]

Wow! a dozen jewels and we are not even half way through the conference! I hope that I can apply just a couple of them to my own life. I feel a bit like a hungry man at the buffet!

Help me to focus on the next thing that you would have me learn and let that be enough -- for now. I need your help to implement change in me first. My number one problem in ministry is not them, it's me! Make me righteous before you, make my ministry effective and prayer-driven. Make me an example of godliness for those that I rub shoulders with every day/week/month/year.

Feasting in Dryden,

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In Holy Matrimony

We are working through the book of 1 Corinthians in the evening services. We have come to chapter 7 and I saw that there was definitely a marriage focus in these verses. So, without creating a worship service involving the Wedding March, I put these songs together with some comments or "synchro-fill" in between. You may want to use this layout for a worship service at a couples retreat or a celebration of a wedding anniversary (we just celebrated 15 yrs!) or with a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7!

As we have worked through the book of 1 Corinthians, we have seen that the personal relationship was not a strength in Corinth. It was every man out for himself or for his faction. There was contention at every turn and the family and marriage were no exceptions to the rule. The Corinthians had troubles in their marriages. If we want to avoid similar troubles, we must choose daily to make God the center of our universe rather than ourselves! We must choose to be on the same page with God. He must rescue and rebuild and restore our relationships! As the Psalmist said in Ps. 127, "Unless He builds the house, the workman labors in vain".

"As For Me and My House" Elizabeth de Gruvelles/Kurt Kaiser

The ministry of marriage and family is a daily act of service and worship to God. We must therefore follow His rules for them. We cannot simply read a book and form a plan and have success. No it is not a result of trying harder to make it work out. It is the result of obedient pursuit of God's design for the home.
Like any other relationship,unity comes from fellowship with Christ. He is the great unifier! Our unity in the home is a demonstration of Christ-likeness. make this your next song a prayer for your home, our church, the youth group, your office, etc.

"Father Make Us One" Rick Ridings

What should our unified family look like?

1 Peter 5:5b-11

You see it is not a matter of saying to others "I have it all together" or "we have a great marriage" or "I have perfect children". Instead it is saying "I have a great God who has caused me to enjoy some success in this area of my life" and "I owe it all to His influence in my life".

These verses end with a challenge to cast our cares on Him. The ultimate humility is asking Gdo for help! Admit that you can't do it yourself! Peter continued on in this passage to describe our adversary as a roaring lion, prowling about looking for someone to devour. He wants to have your marriage, your family, your relationships for lunch. He wants to see you fail. I must cast all of those cares and potential areas of failure on to God.

"Cares Chorus" Kelly Willard

God cares so much about our moments of weakness and failures. He loves to bring His strength to the situation and bring glory from ruin, beauty from ashes, strength from weakness. He has promised us success when we follow his guidance and patterns. Even when it looks like it is counter-cultural and out of control, He knows what He is talking about. His ways are perfect. His ways are the ways of strength.

"Be Strong In the Lord" Linda Lee Johnson/Tom Fetke

Whenever I am facing a struggle -- a snare -- I can go to Him and His word and find the secret to marital success. The world's ways are fakes, traps, decoys. God's way is truth! He has promised us the victory, let's live in that strength and press on!

He gets all of the credit and honor from our "successful" marriages. He gets the rejoicing praise from the victories that we have. He is worthy of that praise!

"The Worship Song" Celeste Yohai

When we blow it, our Father stands ready, willing and able to forgive, restore and rebuild the mess that we have made of it. What merciful treatment -- we do not deserve it. Yet He loves to be merciful to us.

"You are Merciful to Me" Ian White

Did you hear those great names of God in the bridge? Redeemer, Savior, Healer and Friend are all relationship words/names. He is the healer of broken fellowships. These are great names that express His great part in our lives. Here are some others in a great hymn of the faith.

"Join All the Glorious Names" Isaac Watts/John Darwall

Are you excited about the phrase that you have just sung? "A feeble saint shall win the day" (vs. 5). Even though "death and hell" or sin and self or ________(fill in the blank) obstruct the way, we can have victory through the grace and mercy of our God! Amen!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Writing Team 2006 Finished

I made it safely home from Schroon Lake, NY today. I was part of a writing team there this week. I was able to write with my former teammates Dave Smith and Steve Gledhill again. This is the third year that we have been together. Dave and I have actually been together for four years. We have enjoyed the good chemistry and cooperation between the players. We added another "rookie" this year -- Jordan Wertz.

As always, these weeks are lots of hard work and little sleep. We always work hard and drink lots of caffienated beverages. :) This year I was able to teach a three part series on 1 John and a lesson on Scripture memorization. I am excited to hear about these lessons hitting the churches in Olympian clubs in 2008-09. What an awesome privilege to impact 10,000's of children around the world. The scope is both humbling and challenging!

My favorite lesson was one taught by Dave S on the book of Haggai. Haggai acted as a cheerleader/coach for the children of Israel. At just the right times, God brought them message of hope and encouragement to keep on rebuilding the walls. My favorite verse of encouragement is found in Galatians 6:9

"Do not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we will reap if we do not faint"

Hosea's words are just as uplifting:
Msg 1: Put God's plan first
Msg 2: God is there right beside you
Msg 3: Do not give up on God's plan
Msg 4: God's plan will always be accomplished

One of the best parts of the week was the chapel service on Sunday morning. 30 men singing praises to God is a powerful sound! Praise God!

Proclaiming God's Word to young people,

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Me? Ask for directions?

If you are like me -- an aging red-blooded American male -- the farthest thing from your mind is stopping and asking for directions. You would rather die of exposure to the elements than be forced to ask for help. To ask for directions is by its nature and admission of lostness which is only thinly veiled wrongness. That does not sit well.

But I am teaching a lesson to 5th and 6th graders this week on memorization. Memorizing Scripture is a way of commiting to God's directions for life. Maybe the reason that I do not memorize Scripture more is because I think that I don't need it. Maybe I think that I have made it safely this far, why memorize the directions. After all, I can always consult the map (Bible) right? Maybe not. When the pressure gets turned up, I may not have time to thumb through Strong's Strongest Concordance or phone a friend. I need to pack Scripture away so I know the directions for life!

Would you consider five results of memorization?
  1. Memorize so that you can enjoy God's best way of living
  2. Memorize so that your mind will be trained to be like God's
  3. Memorize so that you may be comforted in hard times
  4. Memorize so that you will not be fooled by wrong directions
  5. Memorize so that you can give right directions to others

Those five fruits are all great direction finders. I can know the right way of living, when I get off track, how I can get back on track and how I can stay on track.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV

Hopelessly in need of direction,