Tear Down Every Barrier!

By Luz Jimenez Avendaño

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  When they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3 

The Christian church was mature enough to make the biggest of decisions.  They agreed, after deliberation, to take the message of the gospel to the entire world. It was a decision they made under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The men of the early church did not follow their own will, but rather the will of God.

In Acts 13:1-3, the scripture talks about prophets and teachers. These two groups served different functions. The prophets did not belong to a single congregation.  They were itinerant preachers who gave their lives to hear the Word of God and share it with their brothers in the faith. The teachers belonged to an individual local church and their job was to instruct those who had accepted the Christian faith.

This list of prophets symbolizes the universal call of the gospel. Barnabus was a Jew from Cyprus, and Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. Simeon was also a Jew, but the passage gives a second name: Niger. Niger is a Roman name meaning black, which indicates that he would have moved in Roman circles. Manean was a man with connections to the aristocracy and at court. Paul himself was a Jewish rabbi from Tarsus in Cilicia. This group is an example of the unifying influence of Christianity.  Men from different lands and with different backgrounds had all discovered the secret of serving together. They discovered unity in Christ.

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God calls all believers to proclaim his word around the world. We are all called to share the good news of salvation. There is much to tell. Nevertheless, our prejudice towards a culture different than our own, along with customs, traditions, legalism and vain excuses, creates a problem.  Anything that inhibits the call of the Lord serves as a barrier to us obeying His command to “go.”

The truth is that we are believers, and in response to a heavenly call, we must share the marvelous love of God so that others can know him. These men accepted the call of the Lord. They were from different cultures, but they joined together in a single team to accomplish a single goal: to preach the message to those who were dead in their sins and needed to be saved.

Now is the time to break down every barrier and preach the good news!

*Luz Jimenez has served for five years as a volunteer missionary.  She is currently serving as the Global Missions and Genesis Coordinator in the Mesoamerica North Central Field, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

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5 Steps That Help Church Leaders Stay out of Trouble

By Dan Reiland

No one ever starts out in ministry expecting to mess up, fail or quit.

We all begin with great vision, enthusiasm, and dreams of changing the world for good.

So what goes wrong?

Why do good and godly leaders (church staff and volunteer) end up crashing in ministry, and end up out of ministry?

The answer to that question is obviously complicated, but essentially, we fail to anticipate and prepare for tough times and rough seasons in ministry.

This is not intended to create paranoia. There is no need to live in fear or burn energy with needless worry. Leadership is never risk-free. But we can know that pressure, temptation and mistakes will come. We can be smart and anticipate. We can stay close to God and remain strong.

There’s an old boxing adage that says: It’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out. That is so true.

My friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote a fantastic new book titled: “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” It’s such a great book. The title says it all.

Intentionality is the key.

I remember my ordination service well. It truly was a sacred moment. The message, the commitment, and the prayer over me at the end, all marked me. One memory after the ceremony still makes me smile.

The District Superintendent, who I love and respect, came up to me at the reception to pass on a few words of wisdom and encouragement. He said, “Dan, God has given you ability and opportunity, I want you to promise me that you’ll try really hard not to mess up.” That was it! I wasn’t sure how to respond at the moment. I wondered if he said that to everyone, or just me. But all these years later, I see the wisdom. We have to be intentional, or we will mess up.

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I want to offer some safeguards here that will be helpful to you as they have been to me over many years in ministry. These five steps will help you be intentional.

5 steps that will help keep you and your team out of trouble:

1) Recognize that it could happen to you.

Leaders in the highest risk category are those who believe it can’t happen to them. They operate with a huge and dangerous blind spot.

The truth is that any of us can crash out of ministry. Again, no paranoia intended – just reality. None of us are above messing up big time. And rarely is it the case of jumping straight into a moral breakdown or ethical breach of character. It starts slowly and innocently. Catch it early.

The enemy works overtime to tempt you. Don’t take that lightly.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

This is great wisdom and advice.

2) Don’t flirt.

We all know better than to play with fire. When we’re careless fire wins, and we get burned. Flirting is like playing with fire, the flames mesmerize and draw you in. Then before you know it, the situation gets too hot, and you become toast.

Flirting is not just about inappropriate behavior with the opposite sex. In fact, for some leaders flirting with power, fame, and fortune is a much greater temptation.

The option to not flirt is yours. It’s a choice. Don’t see how close you can dance to the edge. Flirting is never worth it. At best it’s a hollow experience, at worst, well, we all know the stories.

3) Know your weakness.

We all have a weak spot where we are most vulnerable. When it comes to desserts, my weakness is chocolate chip cookies. They are so good; it’s hard to eat just one!

The sugar in too many cookies can do damage, but nothing like what happens in leadership when our vulnerability remains unknown or left unguarded.

When pressure is high, and resistance is low, trouble is near. Here’s a common situation, you work long hours in ministry and get tired. Over-tired leads to exhaustion. That leaves the door wide open to your weakest spot.

When you know your vulnerability, you can be smart, guard your heart and stay strong. You’ll be much more prepared because you’ll see it coming.

4) Work in an environment that’s healthy enough to share truth.

Nothing beats a healthy and productive environment where you can tell the truth without repercussion. No leader can successfully carry their responsibilities, handle the pressure, and solve problems alone.

Churches and especially leadership teams are designed to operate in community, not independently. Simply put, we need each other. When faced with temptation, insecurities, fears, and doubt we need to have a safe place to talk. An open and honest conversation can help prevent most dangerous situations before they go too far.

Who can you talk with that is smart, strong and cares about you?

5) Stay honest before God.

It’s not like we can hide what’s going on from God. But we miss out on so much of God’s help when we pretend like we can handle it ourselves.

Talk to God. Stay close to Him. Be honest about your struggles. The Holy Spirit brings wisdom and power, take advantage of it. We all make mistakes, but there is no need to allow a temptation to turn into a pattern that can cost your ministry.

When you name the problem, sin or temptation, you remove much of its power. When you also resist it, with God’s help, you can overcome it.

This article was originally published at: Danreiland.com.

The Best way to Avoid Pastor Burnout? Equip the Saints

By Karl Vaters

The New Testament doesn’t emphasize the role of pastor nearly as much as our current church structure does.

In fact, there’s just one passage – one! – in which the role of the pastor (along with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers) is mentioned.

To be sure, there are plenty of passages about bishops, overseers and more that apply to pastors, but Ephesians 4:11-12 could easily be called the pastor’s prime mandate. In that passage, the Apostle Paul clearly tells us we have been called “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

The longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that one of the prime reasons for pastoral burnout is that too many pastors – especially small church pastors, like me – are ignoring that simple command.

Ministering in a small church does not exempt us from the pastoral mandate to equip the saints.

Many small church pastors have to do many of the tasks that large churches can hire someone else to do. But, no matter how small the congregation is, pastors must never forget that ministering in a small church does not exempt us from the pastoral mandate to equip the saints.

From preaching and teaching to equipping

For too many years, I took almost all of the burden for the ministry of the church on my shoulders. And it nearly killed me – and the church.

So I went back to the pastor’s prime mandate. I redoubled my efforts to equip the church to do ministry instead of doing it for them.

No, the turnaround wasn’t easy. Old habits – both mine and theirs – were deeply entrenched. But it did happen. Or, more accurately, it is happening.

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Here are a few of the steps we’ve taken to bring about that change.

  1. Preach to equip, not just to inform or inspire

I’m more of a teacher than a preacher, so it’s easy to fill people’s heads with Bible knowledge, but shortchange them on how to put it into practice.

If you’re more of a preacher than a teacher, you might be inspiring and energizing them without giving them practical ways to channel that energy.

There are few things more frustrating than a church full of people who are informed and/or inspired without being equipped to do something about it.

Neither information or inspiration is enough. We need to help them turn it into perspiration.

It’s not enough to tack a ‘what to do now’ idea on the end of our sermons. Equipping people to do the work of ministry must always be a central element in everything a pastor does.

  1. Do ministry with people, not just for them

The smaller the church, the more we’ll do ministry with them, among them and beside them. But we can never let ourselves get caught in the endless black-hole vortex of doing all or most of the ministry for them.

In a big church, most people are taught, trained and sent off into ministry without having spent any time with the pastor, other than hearing the Sunday sermon.

In a small church, the pastor has to (gets to) be more hands-on. But we should always emphasize doing ministry with congregation members, not just for them.

Doing ministry for them isn’t healthy – not for the pastor or the church. But doing ministry with the congregation equips the saints, builds relationships and so much more.

  1. Equip teams, don’t appoint committees

Teams do things. Committees tell other people to do things.

A church that is light on teams and heavy on committees will spend more time assigning blame than volunteering for ministry.

  1. Involve the team in the decision-making process

People won’t step up nearly as much for someone else’s ministry as they will for a ministry they had a hand in creating.

Pastor, don’t just tell people what to do, ask them what they’re called to do and how you can come alongside to equip them for it. Including ministry that has nothing to do with your church and its programs.

Become an equipping pastor

Healthy churches are led by equipping pastors.

Equipping pastors work alongside the congregation as we do the work of ministry together.

It’s our calling. It’s our mandate.

And, when we see it working in the lives of the congregation we serve, it’s our joy.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

The Dual Dangers of Legalism and “Traditionalism”

Our Mesoamerica Genesis office is working diligently on assisting churches that exist in large urban areas to become healthy and missional.  One of the first steps in doing so is to take a church health survey in order to discover strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a brave task to undergo actually.  No one wants to find out they are sick, or even worse, dying.

One of the biggest reasons we have found for lack of health in congregations is a combination of legalism and worship of tradition.  Having order and obeying the laws of God are quite important to be sure.  But if we allow our adherence to rule-following to get in the way of mission and loving the world around us, we’ve missed the mark. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and celebrating our rich heritage is a must as Christians.  But if we think the methods from decades ago are holy in and of themselves, we are in dangerous territory.

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Jean David Larochelle’s book in Spanish, A Natural Development of Faith, has much to say about legalism and “traditionalism,” as he calls it:

“The message of the gospel is not negotiable. We do not doubt it. Every principle is eternal.  Every principle is immutable.  Every principle is spiritual and every principle is divine.  But strategies are not principles or doctrines. Neither are they eternal.  I say again, one of the greatest sins of the church is to try to win a postmodern generation with primitive strategies.”

The Good News is not good if it is not understandable. When we do not update our methods for different generations or cultures, we can be almost certain they will not understand them, let alone respond positively.  Grace is diluted by the importance we place on rules and tradition.

“Doctrinally, legalism and traditionalism can become positions essentially opposed to grace . . . God has given freedom to his church, but many continue tying it to legalism and traditionalism.”

In reference to the Pharisees in John 9 who questioned the blind man who received his sight, Larochelle continues, “It is sad to note that, for them, the day of rest had been given priority over the person. Things, interests and laws were a priority over the human person.  Nevertheless, Jesus also made them see that he was opposed to the foolish traditions and legalism they had invented in respect to the day of rest . . . They did not rejoice with the man. They saw humanity through eyes of judgment.”

In closing, the author invites us to evaluate ourselves. “Consider if you have legalistic, rigid attitudes or thoughts towards others or towards yourself.  In the story we are analyzing, which role would you like to take – that of the Pharisees or of Jesus? Which role have you played? Which would you like to play from now on?

These are essential questions for the whole church and for each Christian who desires to reflect the love of Christ in their society.

More Peaches, Better Peaches

By David Busic

A few months ago, I spent the afternoon with Junior and Jaci Rodrigues. They are Nazarene church planters who have helped to birth five congregations. Although they are both from Brazil, they have planted and are pastoring a church in Argentina. The city where their church is located is hard soil. It is the academic capital of the country and home to many universities. Being very secular and post-modern, the city is more aligned with North America and Western Europe than many other places in South America. A high percentage of the population are atheists and agnostics. They are the only evangelical church in their entire urban neighborhood.

The church building is in a semi-commercial neighborhood with many apartments and small houses close by. They were able to purchase it for a good price because for many years it was an illegal abortion clinic. The proprietor of the clinic died in the clinic and was not found for several months. Thus, many in the neighborhood believe the building is cursed. The church meets on the first floor and the Rodrigues’ live on the second floor with their two children. The congregation is growing and is having a Kingdom impact among their neighbors.

The back area of their small building opens up into a little courtyard. There is a peach tree there that had never produced fruit before. However, shortly after they moved in, the peach tree suddenly began producing peaches. Lots and lots of peaches! So many, in fact, that they could hardly keep them off the ground, and a number of peaches began to fall into their neighbor’s back yard area. One day their neighbor came by to pay them a visit. Jaci invited her in and said “I’m sure you’re here because of the peaches falling into your yard. We are so very sorry. We will be happy to come and clean them up for you.”

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The neighbor woman replied: “I am here about the peaches, but not because I am upset. I am curious and have a question. For the last 20 years, I have lived next door. This house has been an abortion clinic and that peach tree has been dead. It has produced no fruit — not a single peach. But when you moved in with your church it suddenly came alive and became fruitful. I want to know what happened? Did you put a spell on that tree?”

Jaci was surprised but prepared. “No,” she said, “There is no spell. All I can tell you is that this was a dark place of death, but now it is a shining place of light and life. I guess that is why God is blessing our peach tree!”

Their neighbor was intrigued and began to attend their church. Today she is a new Christian and growing in her faith.       

This amazing story reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples about missional fruitfulness: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing . . . [but] if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:5, 7 NIV).

Pastor Junior and Jaci Rodrigues are remaining in, relying on, and abiding with Jesus. Christ in them is bringing light and life to dark places. It was my privilege to ordain them as elders in the Church of the Nazarene.

In the inaugural chapel sermon for Nazarene Theological Seminary, General Superintendent J. B. Chapman challenged the faculty and students with a clear mission: “More preachers — better preachers.” I have always liked that phrase. I would like to suggest a small twist to the phrase and turn it into a prayer. What if all of our missional outposts, every local church, had a similar refrain: “More peaches — better peaches.”

More fruit — better fruit. May it be so for all of us.

Dear American Church…I Am Not Renewing My Membership This Year

By Frank Powell

Dear American Church,

Let me cut to the chase. I am tired of this club. I want out.

Here is the thing. I didn’t sign up to join a club. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe I contributed to the confusion. I am not sure how we arrived here, but things are going to be different. I am not renewing my membership this year.

Here’s why.

Jesus didn’t die for a club.

The church should be missional. The church should have an external focus. The church should shine as a beacon of light in the community. I feel like you started this way. When you began, your focus was reaching the needs of your community and your world.

But something changed. Now you focus on your needs. Your mission is comfort and security…at all cost. You invite people into this “mission.” I am afraid you created a monster. A country club minus the golf course, which is the best part.

I love the church Jesus Christ died to establish. I believe in the church’s future. I believe the church is the primary means through which the world comes to know the power of the cross and salvation.

So, believe me when I say this decision is not a declaration of the global church. It is also not a declaration of every church in America. As long as the King sits on the throne, the church will thrive and be a beacon of light in a dark world. This is a declaration of the American church culture, generally speaking.

Let me highlight some of the reasons I think this a club.

Clubs pour time and resources back into themselves.

People in clubs think paying their “dues” gives them stock in the club. People in clubs expect resources to be used on them and their needs. The church of Jesus Christ should never equate giving with power. It should never use most of its resources to feed internal programs and events.

Clubs value comfort and security.

This is why you pay to enter clubs. You want to feel safe and comfortable. Clubs value health and comfort. I am not saying churches are wrong for pushing into suburbs. Our cities need men and women passionate about the mission of God in those areas.

But I am worried your desire to embrace suburbia is often more rooted in your country club mindset than in God’s direction.

Clubs keep conversations in the shallow end of the pool.

Clubs are not venues to share feelings, disappointments, and struggles. Clubs keep conversations in the kiddie pool.

“How ’bout them Cowboys? What about the stock market? Will Trump be the next President?”

True story…I have a close relative (let’s call her “Jill”) who was asked the question “How are you doing?” by a member at her church. Jill had the audacity to tell this lady she was not doing well and needed prayers. The lady then proceeded to tell Jill she never intended Jill to actually tell her how she was doing.

This is a club mentality.

“How are you doing?” is not an open door to tell people about your problems. It is simply their way of acknowledging your presence.

Let’s be real, American church, you secretly hope “How are you doing?” does not lead to someone telling you about their problems. You don’t have time for that.

The church of Jesus Christ should value transformative community. You should bear one another’s burdens. No one should walk the road alone. No one. Galatians 6:2 says you fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. That’s weighty stuff.

Are you bearing anyone’s burdens, American church?

People in clubs want to make their club the biggest, brightest one around.

Being a club is about competing. I am competing against you. You are competing against me. Clubs don’t care if they steal people from other clubs. In fact, stealing people from other clubs is calling “winning.” It shows that one club offers something another club does not.

This looks a lot like the American church. You view stealing people from other churches as “winning” because the bottom line is attendance on Sunday.

The church of Jesus Christ should view church growth through the lens of people coming to know Jesus. How many people have you baptized this year? How many people know Jesus today that did not know Him a year ago?

Why is this a competition, American church???

Clubs only invite people into their lives that look like them.

Clubs value likemindedness. The church of Jesus Christ should value diversity. Can you honestly tell me, American church, you value diversity? You chalk up your lack of diversity to things like cultural differences.

Really?

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Clubs are divisive and argumentative.

A few days ago my wife and I passed eight churches on the way to the church we were attending. We live 1.5 miles from the church building. Eight church buildings in 1.5 miles. That’s one building every .15625 miles (sorry, I like numbers).

I understand I live in the Bible belt, but is it necessary to have that many notches on the belt?

Please do not misunderstand me…this country is diverse and you need different expressions of the church. But do you really need 8,000,000,000 churches in one city? This, however, is what clubs do. Insiders believe their way of doing things is THE way. This is a dangerous trap.

When the focus shifts away from Jesus, the level to which you will become divisive has no end. This starts by refusing to associate with those outside of Jesus. Then it moves to those outside of your fellowship (or denomination). Then it moves to people within your denomination who think similarly but differ on one “important” issue. Then it moves to those in your denomination who think less like you. And so on, and so on.

Eventually you create what you see today. Over 9,000 different denominations (your divisiveness makes it difficult to even define a denomination). Do you see the slippery slope?

American church, if you rallied around Jesus and not your traditions, your impact would be exponentially greater.

People in clubs value keeping everyone happy.

Clubs hate losing members, so they cater to every need. If Joe is unhappy about this change, the club caters to him. If Jill is unhappy about that change, the club caters to her.

Most churches today equate unity with happiness. Unity does not mean you keep everyone happy. Unity means you keep everyone focused on Jesus.

Some people feed on the attention they receive from getting their way. The church should be unapologetically focused on making disciples and shining light into the darkness. Clubs don’t like change. Clubs do things the way they have always been done. Making disciples and refusing to change are usually at odds with one another.

So which value drives you, American church? Making disciples or preserving traditions?

Honestly…

____________________

Again, I am not leaving church…I am leaving the club. There are churches living out the mission of Jesus Christ all across America. Praise God for these churches. But I am tired of spending time and energy contributing to a culture that fattens itself with more resources.

I am tired of spending my time convincing others I am right and they are wrong. This only feeds my natural tendency to be judgmental. If I am right, everybody else is wrong. But if Jesus is right, love, grace, and truth become the standards by which I look at the world. I like those standards. It feeds a much less natural tendency to accept and love.

I want to focus on those who haven’t experienced the gospel. I want to spend time figuring out how to minister to my neighbor whose marriage is on the rocks, my friend battling cancer, or my classmate struggling with pornography. I want to surround myself with a group of men and women that are missional.

There is hope for you, American church. There is hope because God reigns over all things and situations. There is hope because Jesus is the head of the church. But I can’t sit comfortably in a club any longer.

I want to be join a movement. I hope you understand.

Sincerely,

Frank Powell

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

This article was originally published at: FrankPowell.me

Slogans that Awakened the Church: Intensely Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” –Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia.

Henry_Martyn.jpgKnow anyone who views world missions support involvement as being only for those who happen to be really passionate about it? I know people who think that way.

“It’s their thing,” they dismissively say.

If Henry Martyn were still around, he would object. “It is not just their thing,” he would protest, “It is Christ’s thing and it must therefore be a ‘thing’ of every Christ follower.”

Martyn, early 19th century missionary to India ad Persia, saw world evangelism as a central passion of God’s heart. That means, said Martyn, that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will share Christ’s passion for world evangelism.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 call us to “think the way Christ Jesus thought” (Easy to Read Version). Although that exhortation occurs in a passage about Christ’s humility, it appertains to every other context. Being Christ-like to the point of thinking like Christ includes embracing His desire that all the world hear the Good News.

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Pastors sometimes lament that those in their congregation supporting world mission are often the senior citizens. Where that is true –and sometimes it is– it may be because those older people who support world evangelism have walked with Christ over a number of years.  With the passage of time, as they have grown closer to Him, they have become “intensely missionary.” Because Jesus Christ is passionate about world evangelism, it should not surprise us when older, mature believers become passionate about it, too.

So, global passion in those older “saints” validates Henry Martyn’s words: “The nearer we get to [Christ], the more intensely missionary we become.”  On the other hand, Martyn’s statement does not limit mission passion to those who have been believers for decades. He is simply stating something that is clearly a Biblical message: If we get our hearts in tune with Christ’s heart, we will become passionate about proclaiming in all the world the Good News that God has come in Christ Jesus to redeem fallen human beings.

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org