What to do with Paquito? Part 1 of 2

By Scott Armstrong

As a youth pastor several years ago, I was talking with a buddy of mine and youth pastor at another church.  “How did your youth camp go?” I asked him.

“Great!” he exclaimed, with a wide-eyed grin.  Then his look changed to befuddlement as he said, “But I cannot seem to figure out these junior-highers!”

“Huh? What happened?” I wondered aloud, somewhat confused myself.

My fellow youth pastor grinned a bit and shook his head.  “Well, I have been praying for one of these guys for over a year. He’s 13 years old and usually bounces off the walls during our youth service.  Finally at camp I thought the Lord was working on him during one of the services, and then I knew it when he went down to the altar!  I gave him a few minutes alone and then went down and prayed with him.  ‘What’s the Lord talking to you about?’ I asked him.

“‘Nothing,’ he said dryly, pointing at another junior-higher.  ‘I just came down here because my friend did.’”

Ah, adolescents.  Sometimes we see the fruit of the Spirit in amazing ways through their lives.  But most of the time we wonder if anything of permanence is really taking place.  In all this talk of video games and movies, does he even care about church? Is she more preoccupied with being popular or being passionate for God? Are they even getting what I am saying?

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Of course, all of us know there usually is light at the end of the proverbial – and pubertal – tunnel.  And that hope is what keeps us going, even in the face of pseudo-altar call responses and A.D.D.  Personally, my love for adolescents has grown enormously, and due to a somewhat surprising source: cross-cultural ministry.

I have now been a missionary in Latin America for several years.   And youth ministry, especially with adolescents, is quite different in Guatemala City as opposed to Kansas City.  I have especially learned three important things from the local churches here regarding this age group.

1. With adolescents, we must have a Commitment to Community.

What does your community look like? A bunch of teens hanging out on youth night?  Do those same teens ever talk with each other about anything of spiritual substance during the week?

A lot of times what we mean when we use words like “community” and “relationships” has to do more with staying up late at an all-nighter with a bunch of our friends than with accountability and prayer support.  And who expects junior-highers to hold each other accountable or pray for each other anyway?!  Absurd!

Now, all-nighters are a part of community and FUN is definitely a big part of community.  But the Latin American church has taught me that even middle-schoolers can truly worship.  In fact, in many cases they are willing –often hungry – for meaningful relationships that move past likes or dislikes.  I have to be honest: a lot of times in my youth ministry I have sought to entertain junior-highers instead of feed them.  Both are important probably, but the first without the second is akin to pastorally letting them drink milk (or even Coke!) when many are more than ready for some meat (Hebrews 5:12-13).

*This article will continue in the next post. 

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Steps Nine and Ten: Organization and Looking To the Harvest Fields

This is the final entry, Steps Nine and Ten, in the series: “Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

Step Nine: Organization

From the beginning of the church-planting process, we must train with the goal of preparing the believers to take on the commitment to organize the church. We must apply the minimum structure necessary to ensure for the church’s healthy functioning, which generally means only naming the official church board. We do not have to form all of the ministries immediately. It is only necessary to identify the leaders of each department. As the church grows we can continue to implement roles as they become necessary.

Organization will be only a guide, not a straight jacket for the new work.

How is a church born?

In the process of founding churches, the moment will come when we must determine who is willing to formally and publicly commit to the new church.  We say a local church is born the moment the believers publicly commit to the Lord and to one another, as well as to Scripture (as it is expressed in the “Declaration of Faith” in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

To plant a church is like beginning to build a house; the basic building blocks of the church are the converts.  It is so obvious that frequently we pass over this concept.  The primary focus of a church planter should be placed on the converts, and even though the structure and organization are not more important, they will help to conserve the results.  The success or failure of a church planter will be directly related to the fruit of his or her work in the souls of the new converts.  Missionary work should not be abandoned to dedicate ourselves to maintain the gains we’ve made.  Both of these– missionary work and maintenance – should happen simultaneously. 

Suggestions:

  1. Train specific leaders to perform their assigned roles.
  2. Meet with the new leaders and the new church board (in most cases, they will be the same cell group leaders or leaders from the home groups), to develop monthly plans and to move forward on district plans.
  3. Submit yourself to leadership above you and teach the new leaders to work as a team with the different levels of leadership within the denomination. We are all on the same team working towards the same mission.
  4. Make a plan that allows for local growth and growth in new communities.  In this way the church will not close itself in to its own four walls.
  5. Maintain a vision to raise up and train volunteer leaders.  Paid leadership has a tendency to slow down the advances of the new church.

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Step Ten: Look to the Harvest Fields

Keep the vision of new works as something natural in the life of the church.  Take Antioch in Acts 13 as a model.

Form a plan that allows for local growth and growth in new communities.  In that way the new church will not close itself in to its own four walls.  The temptation will be to settle for what has already been achieved, and new believers will want to be together and not allow the pastor to leave to explore new fields. One time a good brother said, “Pastor, if you go to another place, I’ll go back to the world.”  The pastor replied, “I thought you followed Christ, but it seems you’ve decided to exchange him for this useless servant.” This happens when koinonia become “koinonitis,” slowing the growth of the church.

Never stop doing the things that produce growth.  It is an error when church planters dedicate themselves to consolidate the fruit of the work and stop evangelizing. (This has happened in some instances, such as in the case of the project Vision 93-2000.  The goal was to organize a pioneer district in Chiapas, Mexico, and the progress stagnated.)

We have had to examine our focus to return to the original vision to plant churches in our chosen field.

***We hope that this series of practical steps for planting new churches has proven useful for you, the reader, in your ministry.  We thank Rev. Manuel Molina for his work in developing this material, and for his effectiveness in putting it in practice.

Step Eight: Corporate Worship

We continue with Step 8 from the series: “Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

 How to celebrate the presence and the power of God together

Corporate worship allows believers, who are growing and enthusiastic about their faith, to recognize the presence and the power of God together.

When two or more cell groups are functioning, the evangelist will work with the cell group leaders in order to plan joined meetings in which the believers will celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ.  If Bible study in the group is done well, the group will quickly be ready to celebrate a worship service and join in public teaching of the Word.

Principles: The value of corporate worship

When two or more cell groups are functioning, the church-planting effort has come to the point of uniting the groups periodically to worship God together.  Corporate worship will:

  • Introduce the new believer to the idea they are part of the body of Christ, which is large.
  • Give opportunities to use a variety of spiritual gifts, and allow them to develop specialized gifts that are difficult to maintain in a single cell group.
  • Give cell group leaders better control in issues of doctrine and lifestyle.
  • Protect from internal and external attack.
  • Offer a special dynamic for worship that usually generates larger groups.
  • Help individual believers learn their responsibilities as members of an organized church and prepare them for organization.
  • Help maintain balance and generate energy as victories, challenges and even failures of believers and cell groups are shared within the setting of the larger group and God’s work there.
  • Give the chance for teachers to exercise their gifts for the benefit of the whole body since many cell groups are not led by believers who have the gift of teaching.

Insist that the local leadership provide opportunities for new believers to participate. A true Celebration happens when we have reasons to celebrate. Believers who share their faith also tend to practice the disciplines of Christian growth and experience the family of God in action through mutual ministry.

We offer opportunities for corporate worship to celebrate how the presence and the power of God are visible in the lives of his children.

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Is it necessary for each church to have a building?

When we return to the book of Acts, we see a model of church planting that allows for the development of healthy churches that will reproduce other churches, especially in homes.  They can choose whether or not to find a building. When the church grows, it can make the decision to purchase land or rent or create a special place for their services.

Allow the emerging leadership to plan and lead the corporate worship and the most prepared leaders to preach publicly. Encourage the development of forms of worship that are culturally appropriate and biblically acceptable.  Do not copy readily available material (like YouTube videos, for example) that will confuse new believers.

Some suggestion on steps for planning corporate worship:

  1. When there are two or more cell groups, unite them periodically for corporate worship (public worship services).
  2. Begin Celebrations weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
  3. Make sure the cell groups continue as the primary source of identity and mutual care in the church.
  4. Work with the leaders of cell groups to plan Celebrations. Make sure they are simple enough that emerging leaders are capable of leading the service effectively.
  5. Increase the frequency of the services when the emerging leadership is able to meet the demands created by additional activities. That will ensure that adding corporate worship will not result in a lack of care in other areas of ministry.

***In the next entry we will address the final two steps in this series.

Step Seven: Leadership Development: Model 222

In today’s entry, we are continuing with Step 7 in the series: Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores. 

How to recognize and train emerging leaders (2 Timothy 2:2)

Step Seven is about discovering and developing the men and women who are capable of implementing the different levels of leadership required by a properly functioning church.

When arriving at this step, the church planters will begin to step back away from intense, active involvement, such as in Step Five, in order to invest their time and efforts in the emergent leaders and focus on the new leaders’ training.

Identify, through real ministry situations, those who demonstrate they are “reliable” and “qualified” (2 Timothy 2:2) in order to begin a systematic training program to continue developing their character, Biblical knowledge and practical abilities.  This entails sharing your experience and knowledge with the leaders.

Principles:

We identify men and women who are “reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Having seen their leadership, we begin a basic training program in which we invest in them and emphasize for each emerging leader areas of character, knowledge and practical skills that he or she needs to develop.

Training is what we offer the man or woman who demonstrates spiritual qualities and a divine call to leadership.  The question is not “who could be a good leader,” but rather “who is already leading” and “who demonstrates patterns of adequate spiritual growth and true love for others?”

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Training for leadership should include character elements as well as knowledge and practical elements.

Leadership training should be conducted in a way that assures simultaneous growth in three areas:

  • BEING (character): Character is developed through the disciplines for Christian growth (1 Timothy 4:12, 15-16), service (Matthew 20:25-28), faithfulness (Matthew 25:14-20), etc.
  • KNOWING (knowledge): This does not deal solely with knowledge of Biblical truths, but rather knowledge of how to study, interpret and apply the Bible to the needs of the people (Ezra 7:10, Acts 20:20).
  • DOING (practical): Potential leaders should know well and have practical experience in evangelism, discipleship and beginning a mission before moving on toward more advanced leadership training.

Leaders should grow in character (being), information (knowing), and practical abilities (doing).

***Find out about Step Eight in the next post.

Update From Bahamas After Hurricane “Dorian”

As our readers will know, Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas this week. Early this morning I received the following report from one of our Nazarene pastors who also serves as a member of our Mesoamerica Regional Advisory Committee:

Hello Scott,

Greetings in Jesus. I live in Nassau, which did not get the brunt of the hurricane, some rain, winds and flooding with minor damage. This was nothing compared to what the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama experienced: heavy forced winds, rain, storm surges, major flooding and major damage to many homes. Many persons in Abaco and Grand Bahama lost everything, some even lost their lives.  Additionally, there are so many who still need to be rescued, and so many people are not accounted for. Please pray that God will alert the rescuers to the cries of those still needing to be rescued, since many of them have no way of contact at this point. The authorities have reported that some 70,000 persons have been affected by the hurricane and over 60% of the island of Abaco is destroyed.  Attached is a flyer we have created to assist with securing hurricane relief for the victims. We are mobilizing the best we can here in Nassau to secure these items, while we wait on the ‘go ahead’ from authorities to travel to the island to distribute relief.

We are trusting God to save and protect these hurricane victims, and we are doing our best here to assist them with the basic necessities. I will update you as I receive further reports.

We thank you for your prayers and anything that you can do to assist. God bless.

For His Glory,

Antoine St. Louis

I have included the flyer mentioned by Dr. St. Louis above, and please consider also donating through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries at the following link:

https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/134047.

Our Regional Director, Dr. Luis Carlos Saenz, has notified us that a group from the region will be traveling to Bahamas tomorrow.  They will provide further information and updates as they are able.

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Step Six: The Spiritual Community

Today we continue with Step 6 in the series: Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

How to create home cell groups or Bible study groups.

Generally we begin a church with a family that offers itself to Christ.  They offer their home to begin Bible studies, and then we invite other converts or contacts to attend one day a week.  The church planter or pastor directs the study. In that way we can open several homes or cell groups led by new converts.  These cell groups eventually join to give birth to the new church.

The goal is to create cell groups that promote a spiritual identity for each member and promote mutual ministries under the care of a spiritual leader or pastor. Discipleship focuses on developing the habits of a disciplined Christian life.  The spiritual community promotes the formation of identity and family responsibility through the practice of mutual ministry.

Specific activities will vary based on the needs and interests of the group.  They can include worship, Bible study, fellowship activities, etc.  There should always be chances to share victories, defeats, challenges and tests, and then an opportunity to pray for each other. There should also be a challenge for the members of the group to serve one another.  These meetings also serve as an opportunity to evaluate the spiritual health of the members. 

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From the beginning, insist on local leadership

Creating cell groups depends on discovering potential leaders (or the leaders of families).  As church planters, we should avoid the trap of organizing these groups around ourselves. We must motivate and empower leaders from the group itself.  Church planters should invest their time in preparing the leaders.

The main characteristics of a spiritual leader are:

  • An authentic spiritual life. He or she is growing spiritually and has something that is worthy of being imitated and shared.
  • Deeply loves the people. He or she is concerned with and involved in the needs and interests of the other believers.
  • Creates a sense of belonging. He or she encourages others so they feel part of the group.
  • Mobilizes others for service. He or she can motivate others to become actively involved in mutual ministry.

If our vision is that the new church grows through the Bible study or cell groups, we must send potential leaders to form those groups. (Keeping them “in their seats” without sending them out will mean the work will be centered only on the initial group.)

  1. Pray that God will raise leaders from among those who are actively following the Christian disciplines of growth. Try to identify the potential spiritual leaders within those who show love and who actively encourage others to grow in their spiritual life.
  2. Begin to meet with potential leaders; help them to develop and have a clear image of the concepts of identity, spiritual community and ministry responsibility. Practice the activities with them they will need to start a new church.
  3. Potential leaders should begin actively seeking those who they want to include in the new cell group they are trying to form. Resist the temptation to intervene in this stage. The leader will have the responsibility to maintain the cell group, and he or she should be the one who forms the cell group.

***We’ll move to Step 7 in the next post.

Step Five: Discipleship

Today we continue with Step 5 in the series: Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

The lack of discipleship in the past has meant that new believers are lost or learn bad habits.  To form habits or disciplines on which a new believer can build a fruitful Christian life is a worthy task.  The evangelist will encourage the new believer to develop an intimate relationship with God through the Five Disciplines for Personal Growth: Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, Testimony, and a Life of Complete Love for Christ. They will form discipleship groups (companions in their spiritual walk) that will be assigned to a discipleship mentor (accountability) for the believers.  The evangelist should take care to not create dependence on him or her.

Expected attitudes and reactions from the group:

Initial: From the beginning, the new contact is hungry for the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2) and begins to practice the disciplines that produce growth (1 Timothy 4:7-8), which will equip a new believer to face his or her daily struggles.

Long Term: The believer will commit to a mutually responsible relationship with other believers (companions on the way) that is centered around the disciplines for personal growth.

Principles:

Our first commandment is: “Go and make disciples.”We are not only to gain converts. It is crucial and important we understand this truth! Developing spiritually strong disciples will be evidenced only when they are obedient in all Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). Healthy disciples are the “living stones” that form healthy and growing churches. Both the book of Acts and the history of the church demonstrate that churches will be formed and communities transformed where there are true disciples of Jesus Christ.

As church planters, our first goal is to guidemen and women to begin a relationship with the master and his disciples, that is, both with Christ and other believers.  Center the discipleship process around the development of the disciplines.  There is no other way to maintain long-term growth!

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Use discipleship methods that prompt personal discovery of the truth of God, especially the materials the Church of the Nazarene produces. New believers should learn to “feed” themselves with the Word of God and not develop dependence on the church planter or evangelist.  When they search for God in his word and focus on that as a goal, rejoice with them and congratulate each small and large discovery they make.  When we base learning on personal motivation and discipline instead of our own ability to teach and motivate, we create a different type of disciple who learns directly from the Bible and is cemented in a personal relationship with God, rather than remaining dependent on our own abilities as teachers.

Establish patterns of mutual discipleship. One of the best ways to avoid dependency is to encourage disciples to personally discover Biblical truth and create an environment that feeds the concept of mutual responsibility.  This style of discipleship gives each believer responsibility to develop the disciplines necessary for Christian growth.  Mutual discipleship:

  • Prevents the church planter from taking responsibility as the principle disciple, avoiding the creation of a “traditional dependency syndrome.”
  • Promotes a sense among the believers of belonging and personal responsibility for the spiritual well-being of others.
  • Reinforces the importance of the disciplines for Christian growth, like the means of grace mentioned by John Wesley (prayer, Bible study, and holy communion, among others). It helps believers learn to be mutually responsible for practicing the habits that produce growth.
  • Prepares the way to introduce the concepts of responsibility, which are fundamental to healthy spiritual development and will prepare the way for developing local leaders.

Common Errors to Avoid

  1. Creating dependency. We create dependency when we allow new disciples to survive sustained by external systems of life. When a newborn doesn’t desire milk, we know that something is very wrong.  When a believer doesn’t demonstrate any desire to feed himself through study and prayer, his condition is critical.  We must learn to treat it like it is. We do not help a new believer if we keep teaching him with the hope that someday he will decide to begin to feed himself.  That only creates bad habits that are difficult to break.
  2. Communicating that, in some way, the Christian life is easier for a mature believer. The only thing this idea does is discourage young Christians! We should be transparent with both our victories and our spiritual struggles. We must work from a foundation of mutual responsibility and establish patterns of humility and transparency that encourage young believers and create realistic patterns for future leadership.
  3. Measuring “success” in terms of attendance. Since church planters frequently feel pressure to gain visible results, it is possible to fall in the trap of confusing participation in activities with the disciplines of personal growth and the level of commitment to Christ and the Church.

***In the next entry we will move on to Step 6.