The evidence of precipitous decline in the American church is irrefutable. This is true of the main line denominations. Some evangelical denominations are holding their own – numerically. However, there is a huge and fatal fallacy in this portrait of ‘we are ok’!
That fallacy is a seriously flawed metric. It is based on a numerical metric only – how many, how much and how often. When you challenge this you are summarily dismissed and worse. I recently posted this reality on a Seminary Prof’s face book page. Within minutes he removed the post.
Southern Seminary under the leadership of Dr. Al Mohler has produced a 92 page PDF file on the essentials of Church Revitalization. It is free. I will send a copy to anyone who makes that request. There are multiple very credible contributors each addressing a distinct aspect of this process.
Dr. Mohler writes the first chapter. In that material he traces the history of the decline of the church in England. America is racing hard after the same destiny unless immediate, strategic and effective action is taken. DO NOT IGNORE this reality.
My previous BLOG article presented the issue of ‘Critical Mass’. Some churches wait too long. I recently was asked to help a church that needed a pastor. When I inquired about their current state of affairs I learned thy had 6 members left, most 70+ years of age and situated in a very remote rural setting. Folks they are already dead. We just need to conduct the funeral and burial ceremony.
Get this resource. Take the action necessary to see God bring Reformation & Renewal to the assembly where you serve.
Critical Mass is the sum of those issues related to genuine transformation in the life of a local church.
The Number #1 issue for the Pastor/Leadership is creating a sense of urgency to accomplish the level and character of change necessary to thrive not merely ‘survive’. Unless they take strategic and focused action, they probably will not. If this mentality of “we shall not be moved” prevails they will ‘go the way of all flesh’. Simply stated the mantra congregations cling to is:
“That may be true for other assemblies but it is most certainly not true of ours.”
First, the purpose of the church, every church, is to “Make Disciples.” To accomplish that there must be a clear and well formulated definition – what is a disciple?
Second, there must be an intentional Strategy and process to make disciples. Parking your car in a stable will not cause it to suddenly turn into a horse. “Going” to church will not suddenly cause people to become fully formed obedient disciples of Jesus Christ.
Third, there must be an objective measurement process to determine growth, maturity in Christ. You must measure spiritual growth by a standard other than the usual subjective “Pastor I sure enjoyed that message.” Howard Hendricks referred to that as the “glorification of the worm” ceremony that takes place in the foyer after each Sunday morning service. In reality, nothing changes in peoples lives and they are not fully formed disciples of Jesus Christ. (Barna recently produced statistics that reflect in Baptist life only 44% of those who attend regularly are affected in any way by their participation in “church”. This by the way is the poorest % among all denominations evaluated). There must be ACCOUNTABILITY in this process for everyone, myself included. None of us went to our teachers and requested additional testing when we were in school. Neither will we seek all that is needed for Transformation if we are left to ourselves to accomplish this. We need “Life in Community”, mutual inter-dependence upon the LORD and one another.
The following items constitute critical issues in attempting this Transformation.
1. This is a Process not an event.
2. 47% of the people in a congregation are opposed to change, any change. 17% of the people in a congregation want “peace at any price – they cannot function in the midst of any conflict. They form an alliance with those opposed to change. This results in a 64% “opposition force” that must be overcome if systematic, measurable positive transformation is going to take place.
3. If this level of transformation could be accomplished without an “outside voice”, you would already have made the transition. You need the counsel and mentoring of an experienced “Change Agent’ to guide you through these turbulent and challenging waters. (Barna says that only 1 in 8 pastors is in his terminology a “habitual leader” as compared to a “situational leader”. IUS sees this number as 1 in 10).
There is one other utterly CRUCIAL dimension of this entire scheme. Most churches wait until AFTER they have passed the point of no return to attempt correction. Cf. Numbers 14:39-45. The nation had listened to the voice of the ten rather than the two. Joshua & Caleb urged the nation to enter the land God was giving them. The ten led a rebellion, seeking to stone Moses. In the passage cited they engage in pseudo repentance, repentance that is motivated merely by self preservation rather than a desire to honor and glorify the God who had rescued them from bondage in Egypt. After they have lost all semblance of effectiveness, lost many of their people and lost the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, then and only then will they attempt recovery and marvel when God is not with them. Read the entire context of Numbers 13 & 14. Notice that God brought a plague upon those so called leaders for their willful disobedience to His clear direction. He does not take lightly the disobedience of leaders. Reflect on where you should be where you are. You may indeed have time to act if you do it NOW!
Focus Issues Constituting Critical Mass:
1. Human Resource – (people)
Generally a local assembly needs 20-25 wholly dedicated people to complete essential tasks – AWANA, Sunday School, Small Group Leadership, etc.
The profile of the people who remain is more important than the simple number of people. If those who remain have a genuine passion to see
Transformation accomplished it may well become a reality.
A posture of surrender and absolute dependence on the LORD is essential.
2. Fiscal Resource – (finances)
Key factor in this arena is the prospects for stability; 3-5 year outlook.
Cf. Luke 14:28-30
Develop a Funding Plan for ministry that eliminates EVERYTHING that is not essential for funding the Transformation process (there are ALWAYS items that can be eliminated- we provide guidelines for this process)
3. Physical Plant – (capital improvements)
Complete a top to bottom assessment of the entire campus. Are there any major systems that may fail (Heating, Air Conditioning, Roofs, etc).
What needs to be accomplished to get the facility into the 21st century? Sound System, Child Care & Nursery Facilities, etc.
What may be accomplished immediately with a minimum of $$ cost to enhance your profile in the eyes of guests.
4. Purpose – (80% + Transformation)
Real progress is possible when 80% + of the congregation are willing to embrace the new initiatives and direction. They do not need to be “cheerleaders” but progress is not likely if there are people actively producing resistance. Once the direction and purpose has been established, there needs to be a gracious but firm termination of such resistance. The key factor in this is the question – - “Do you have any credible exegetical support for the positions you are taking?” I have NEVER found anyone who had any other than “We don’t like what is going on’ as their response. Move on!
5. Healthy Relationships – (No Schisms)
There must be a brutally honest review in EVERYONES life. Are there any unresolved broken relationships in their lives? This includes with their nuclear family, other Christians, neighbors, etc. When we come clean with God on this issue, His blessings flow freely. Refusal to engage this matter usually produces a dark cloud of frustration over the entire process.
Pastor & other leaders must lead in this matter. They must MODEL (1 Cor. 4:16-17) what they expect the congregation to embrace.
The Bad News – This process is brutal, emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting. The cost in personal energy and focus is immense. Weigh this carefully before saying “I Do”!
The Good News – According to Leading Turnaround Churches (p. 13).
Is there really hope for me?
Yes, if you are fully committed to seeing positive change take place in the church you pastor and are willing to pay the price.
Yes, is you are convinced God has placed you in the church where you are, for the sake of winning the lost, building the saints, equipping the workers, and multiplying leaders who make disciples who make disciples.
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Go to a ‘Prayer Meeting’. Record the requests that are offered. Compare them to the prayers of the Apostle Paul as found in the Epistles he wrote. Be astonished. Be mortified. Be stunned. Be grieved.
There is little or no correspondence between what you heard as ‘requests’ and the prayers of Paul. The former were what I label ‘organ recitals’. Almost entirely requests for physical ailments of one kind or another. That might be legitimate if there were also a corresponding number of requests for spiritual power, forgiveness of sin, confession and repentance, etc. Not so. Paul left Trophimus at Miletus sick (2 Tim 4:20). It is not recorded that he prayed after the fashion we hear most often in our Prayer Meetings. ‘Organ Recitals!’
I offer just one passage that is typical of Paul’s prayers. Please consider and imitate as you pray.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
1. may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
2. having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
3. that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
4. what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
5. and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:16-23).
But it’s the poor who are really losing. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets, according to a Duke University study in the 1980s, in part because lotteries are advertised most aggressively in poorer neighborhoods. A North Carolina report from NC Policy Watch found that the people living in the poorest counties buy the most tickets. “Out of the 20 counties with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult,” the North Carolina Justice Center reported.
A 1986 California survey found that lottery players were split 50-50 on whether they played for money or for fun. But among those with less than $30,000, “25 percent more respondents cited money rather than fun, while the reverse was true for those with higher incomes,” wrote Garrick Blalock, David R. Just, and Daniel H. Simon in a study “Hitting the Jackpot or Hitting the Skids.” The researchers made another damning discovery: Local lottery ticket sales rise with poverty, but movie ticket sales do not. In other words, lotto games are not merely another form of cheap entertainment. They are also a prayer against poverty. This fits what the researchers call the “desperation hypothesis”: States are making their most hopeless citizens addicted to gambling to pay for government services.
Some policymakers argue that the moral cost of lotteries is low. After all, the games are voluntary. And perhaps the money collected by the state is better off going to schools than to booze and cigarettes and whatever else.
But to see the true source of the lottery’s appeal, don’t look at poor neighborhoods. Focus on the states.
Half a century ago, gambling was criminalized in every state except Nevada. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43. A political cynic might say lotteries are the perfect public policy: A tax disguised as a game without an organized lobby to oppose it. Corporate income taxes punish corporations, and companies respond with lobbyists. Personal income taxes and estate taxes hurt the rich, and rich families fund elections, so no need to elaborate on that problem. But lotteries disproportionately affect the poor, who vote at lower rates, donate less to campaign funds, and have inconstant representation on K Street and its equivalents in the states. So no surprise that, as recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
In an age of rising income inequality, it’s pernicious that states rely on monetizing the desperate hope of its poorest residents. State lotteries take from the poor to spare the rich, all while marching under the banner of voluntary entertainment. Banning lotto games will not make our poorest communities suddenly rich. But these neighborhoods have lost enough lotteries in life even before they touch a penny to the scratch-off ticket.
Tough Nut To Crack
That is a tough nut to crack. That phrase is often heard when characterizing a difficult task. Leading Turnaround Church is that kind of Nut! Ever done that? If so, you will immediately agree with this statement.
I captured the photo below when mowing our yard. We have a huge Walnut tree in our back yard. To say that the production of walnuts is prolific is a gross understatement. I picked up four 75 gallon containers of walnuts this spring. If you ride over them with the mower it sounds like World War III. Not beneficial for the mower blades.
Walnuts are truly tough nuts. The photo shows the remains of walnuts the legions of squirrels we host devoured. While the walnuts are tough, they do not deter the squirrel’s quest for food. Sound familiar?
”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 )
Those squirrels were not to be denied. Tough our not, they cracked those nuts. They feasted on the meat they found securely tucked away in those hard shelled walnuts. Difficult to access, but with persistence they had a ‘fine dining experience’.
Application – There is a stream of Baptist called “Hard Shell Baptist”. This is true of Baptist whether we are speaking of the Denomination or just that flavor of believer. Try to change the culture in a church and you will quickly discover just how hard ‘those nuts can be’!!
When you as a Leader, one that hungers and thirsts for the righteous Health & Effectiveness in a local church, you will, like those squirrels, crack those nuts. You will persevere. You will prevail. You will triumph. Why? Because that brings Honor and Glory to Jesus Christ Who is Worthy. So sharpen your tools, pray much, stay at the task and crack some nuts!
Every Pastor has them. C & E people. Christmas and Easter, the two times each year when people pay their obligatory dues to God and ‘go to church’ as though church is something we go to.
Yesterday was no exception. The crowd was larger than the usual, swelled by these C & E, in this case E people. I made several observations of these folks that I share in this BLOG.
First, there are those parents who convinced unbelieving children to ‘go to church’ with them. These are almost always mothers who live with the dread that their children are lost. They pray for them. They invite them to special events. They persuade them to attend on Easter. As the service progresses, you can observe these mothers wiping tears from their faces as we sing the songs of the redeemed. They know their children are not.
Second, there are those unregenerate children. This is a growing legion, a well defined demographic in our culture. They sit stiffly with arms folded. Their faces reveal the scoffing attitude which resides in their hearts. They do not sing. They do not pray. They just endure, frequently checking their phone or watch to see ‘how much longer’ before I can get out of here, free once more till Christmas.
Third, there are those friends and extended family that have prayed faithfully for these scoffers over the years. These folks for the most part are waiting for the Pastor to ‘get em saved’. Not gonna happen!
Finally, there is “the message”. This is an emotion packed diatribe complete with video clips of the crucifixion. Bloody. Traumatic, yet terribly deficient and truncated. There is no way possible to depict with even a semblance of accuracy by dramatic reproduction the horror of the crucifixion of the Son of God. The spiritual, not the physical aspects of the crucifixion are the most wretched. The theological dimensions of the crucifixion are not delineated. Why must Jesus die (to atone for the Sins of men). What is Sin? What is reconciliation? What is an Ambassador (2 Cor. 5:11-20).
Is anyone transformed by this gathering? Only eternity will tell. The ‘faces of Easter’ that I observed did not reveal any changed attitudes or submission to the TRUTH of the Gospel. Perhaps because what they heard was not the Gospel. God help us!
Salad For Breakfast
We gather at Cracker Barrel. The background music is ‘Casting Crowns’ bringing us hymns and choruses (this is Alabama). The Waitress, who is always cheerful, brings us coffee and water. Then she takes our orders with the exception of one man. This is where it gets interesting. He always gets the same thing.
There are 8-9 men in this group. We meet at 6 AM to enjoy the common bond we share in Christ and to be accountable to one another for the integrity of our faith. Did we share the Gospel with anyone in the past week? Are there any specific issues in the lives of people we contact each day that need our prayers and encouragement? Any specific issues for which we can and should praise the LORD?
Back to the guy who always gets the same thing. He is a Fireman. He often joins us just having completed a night shift with the Fire Department. His order is always the same. In fact, our waitress knows what to order for him without asking. He gets a HUGE salad (cf. photo below). Cheese wedge, deviled eggs, ham, lots and lots of lettuce and two large containers of dressing. This is his ‘evening meal’. There is never a shred left when he finishes. The others consume eggs, pancakes, sausage, oatmeal, grits, bacon, etc. He gets Salad!
When you encounter people from day to day, remember this. When they have salad for breakfast they are not whacky. Their journey has a different rhythm than yours. And, you may want to try ‘Salad For Breakfast’ some time. You may enjoy it!
One of the candidates for the office of Governor in AL is proposing a Lottery, ostensibly to fund and support Education. Such a proposal is ethically, morally and pragmatically bankrupt.
Wisdom Literature, the Book of Proverbs, declares with absolute clarity that the incorporation of such a mechanism into Social Policy is woefully lacking and counter-productive.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Prov. 12:11)
The literal translation from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament for the final phrase in this verse, ‘lacks sense’ is ‘has a needy or deficient heart’, (kesar leb). The NIV translation of this verse is ‘but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.’ The lottery is the quintessential fantasy and those who fund this endeavor by purchasing lottery tickets are the least able to afford such expenditures. The poor are enticed by this fantasy and squander financial resources they can ill afford to waste. Waste indeed! In the end of this game, everyone is a loser.
A 2011 paper in the Journal of Gambling Studies conducted a thorough review of the available research on lotteries and concluded that the “poor are still the leading patron of the lottery”.
The most effective means of improving the education of children in Alabama is dedicated and involved parents, mothers and fathers. They turn off the TV. They shut down the Video Games. They read to and with their children. They model the vital importance of education by daily focus, instruction and personal investment in the things that matter most.
Buying a Lottery Ticket is indeed a fantasy. We do not need a Governor that promotes fantasy as Public Policy. We do need parents that invest wisely and persistently in the education and development of their children.
How many pulpits in America would be vacated if Pastors were required to mount the scales before they mounted the pulpit?
Recent research reveals that obesity among Pastors is greater than obesity among the overall population. The church does not tolerate the sins of gossip, greed, or false witness. They should not tolerate obesity due to the intemperate and undisciplined consumption of food and a lack of discipline in exercise and physical fitness. Failure in these areas reflects poorly on the message of the Gospel.
According to Pulpit & Pew, an interdenominational research project on pastoral leadership, clergy work was considered one of the healthier professions in the past, just below teachers in terms of low mortality rates.
Follow the link to a color map of the USA showing the Obesity rates by State.
However, recent data has found the obesity rate in clergy members has climbed to 30 percent.
One of every three American adults is obese
By 2015, 75% of adults will be overweight; 41% will be obese
Google BMI = Body Mass Index. Find out how you are doing in the “Battle of the Bulge!”