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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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.

There’s an app for that! Well, maybe not…

By Scott Armstrong

I use apps on my smartphone several hours a day.  You probably do, too.

Twitter? Fantasy Football? Tracking your steps every day? Yes, there are mobile phone apps for all of those.

But you already knew that.  Did you know there’s an app for virtually shaving yourself? What about milking a cow? Or that there’s even an app for nothing? That’s right.  It literally does nothing.  The screen goes gray…………and does nothing.

Make sure you download it today.

There seems to be an app for everything.  There are millions of apps for things I truly have never thought of in my life.

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But as far as ministry goes, there are still areas that apps have not touched.

Giving me 26 hours a day instead of 24? There’s not an app for that.

Helping me to fit in seamlessly in a new culture within 1 week? No app for that.

Getting my neighbor down the street to respond to the gospel and see his life changed? Nope.

Many apps help you save time.  But they don’t give you more time.  Time is the great equalizer.

Some apps help you to learn a language or discover more about a culture or country. But the hard work of spending time with real people and eating their food and beginning to love them for who they are with no selfish or ethnocentric motives? That can’t be microwaved.

I’ve explored lots of apps that provide ways to share the gospel, but no app exists that guarantees life transformation.

The idea of apps is usually to make life easier.  They might help us get work done, interact with others, or have fun. Apps are handy ways to directly assist us in some way and streamline sometimes complicated daily processes.

But ministry just isn’t like that.  Honestly, it drives me crazy.

Recently I was lamenting to my wife that the local church we planted in Dominican Republic just isn’t advancing like I want it to.  Supposedly we are equipped, capable ministers who have been effective in many different places and ministries.  We have not just gone to the training seminars on how to impact the city; we now GIVE the training seminars! What, then, is the problem?! Why aren’t all the neighbors we love and care for flocking to service every week? Why do new Christians take two steps forward and seemingly three steps back in their walk with Christ?!  On a less spiritual level, why are our accounts always so low and why does the stupid bathroom outside our sanctuary keep malfunctioning?!  Aaaargh!

Much of our lives are dominated by apps that help us do things quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.  But almost always ministry – genuine, roll-up-your-sleeves, incarnational ministry – isn’t like that.

I would love for there to be shortcuts.  But no app exists for this stuff.  The Holy Spirit needs to do a deep work in people’s lives, finances, and even bathrooms.

Lord, quick or slow, app or no app, begin that work in us.

Keeping Your Church Young

By Dan Reiland

Churches age and churches die. But intentional leadership can make that divine journey significantly longer and much more spiritually productive. There are several things you can do to help keep your church young, alive and vibrant even though the chronological aging process continues.

This post isn’t about an ecclesiastical fountain of youth. However, I believe “aging” can pivot to “maturing” by making a few key decisions and commitments towards keeping your church young.

1) Choose young leaders.

Mature staff are extremely valuable on your team. Their experience is needed for successful ministry. However, the absence of young leaders, lots of young leaders, is a decision to allow your church to age unnecessarily.

Some churches don’t like to use young leaders. It’s messy. Young leaders lack experience, I know. But young leaders will keep things alive and fun. Young leaders are also full of energy and great ideas; they help you stay relevant with current culture and vision for the future.

Leadership development for your leaders, and especially for your young leaders is essential. 

2) Place a premium on children’s ministry.

When I say premium, I mean choose great leaders, invest significant time and energy, and be as generous as possible with the budget. Without this you are absolutely capping your ability to reach your community.

Please don’t confuse relevant ministry to children with childcare. They aren’t the same. In order to reach kids you need to keep up with the world they live in. That world is fast-paced and built around technology. When you add to that mix loving adult leaders who truly care about children, you create a winning program that the kids will love.

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3) Design your Sunday morning service with a relevant feel.

What is and isn’t young and relevant is subjective. But the big issues are clear. First, choose your music wisely. If you are still singing and playing the stuff we did in the 90’s, it’s time to freshen up what you do.

Second, involve young leaders on the platform. The young musicians and singers will lead you to younger music and a younger vibe overall.  Again, this attracts young people to your church!  If you are thinking, “What about the older people, don’t they matter?” Of course they do. I am one, and I can still make a difference. But we should be more mature. We know that this is not about us, the mission is to reach the lost, and if you reach the next gen, other generations will follow.

Last, make sure all the components of the service reflect a young culture. As you think about humor, video, illustrations, art and especially technology, think young.

Again, if you focus on a younger crowd, the older generations with join in. If you lean toward older, the young will leave.

4) Invest in the next generation.

Raise up and train young leaders, invest in student ministries, and champion the call to vocational ministry among your young adults. Communicate that you believe in the next generation! They are the future!

The vision of the church must capture the young people, and at the same time be compelling enough that older generations get excited about the vision in such a way that they will invest both time and resources. Let’s face it, middle-aged and older generations have no trouble loving and believing in kids; just watch a grandparent with their grandchildren!

This article was originally published at: DanReiland.com

David’s Promise

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons (3 December) was proclaimed in 1992, by an United Nations General Assembly resolution. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

On this day it’s a joy to know that in our Nazarene Church we have a place for everyone!

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At JaxNaz Church in Jackson, Michigan, USA, adults with special needs have found a new way to serve through a unique day program. From tying blankets for children in foster care to creating recipes for a community cookbook, the members of David’s Promise are making a difference and gaining fulfillment.

Watch the video below to know more about this awesome ministry:

 

The Image of a Pastor in the Old and New Testaments

By Rev. Ernesto Bathermy 

The Bible teaches that God calls individuals into different ministries for the benefit of the community of faith, which is the Church, and for building up the Kingdom of God.  This calling is obvious in the close relationship between the spiritual gifts and the One who gives them.  Nevertheless, we must ask, if it is God that calls and if He is the one who gives the spiritual gifts necessary to develop our ministry, why are many of us serving in ministries that seem to fail to accomplish His divine purposes?   

Many ministers become frustrated to such an extent that they abandon the ministry.  A true understanding of our responsibilities as pastors can free us from paralyzing and destructive frustrations.  In the next two entries, I will try to guide us to a better understanding of the pastorate and provide some fundamentals for a more rational pastoral practice.

The image of a Pastor in the Old Testament

The concept of a pastor that we find in the New Testament comes from an image or metaphor of a shepherd that is rooted in the Old Testament.  God used this image to describe his relationship with Israel, his people and the religious leaders in the time of the prophets.

The prophet Isaiah presented the Lord as a shepherd when he wrote, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

The prophet Jeremiah, like Isaiah, tackles the subject in a general way when he writes that the role of a shepherd is to find land for his sheep to graze and care for his sheep.  These two ideas are quite broad.  Though grazing focuses on feeding the sheep, caring for them emphasizes his protection.

The prophet Ezekiel tells us that part of the work of the shepherd should be to strengthen weak sheep, heal their sickness, bind up their wounds, bring back the strays and search for the lost. (Ez. 34:4)

In Psalm 23, the psalmist talks about Jehovah as his shepherd, while he presents himself as a sheep.  A shepherd supplies all of his needs. Verses 1 and 2 show a shepherd that meets the nutritional and material needs of his sheep.  Verse 3 appears to refer to socio-emotional needs, while verse 4 apparently refers to spiritual needs.  All of these elements demonstrate a picture of a shepherd that feeds, consoles, cares for, guides, and is present with his sheep.

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The image of a Pastor (Shepherd) in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the disciple Luke, the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Peter all speak to us about the work of a pastor.

In Luke 2:8, Luke writes about the shepherds who heard the news of the birth of the Messiah while they were “keeping watch over their flocks at night.” That detail demonstrates that shepherds were accustomed to spending the night with their flocks so they could care for them constantly.  

In John 10:12, Jesus says that when a hired hand sees a wolf, he will leave the sheep and run away, but the good shepherd will give his life for his sheep.   He helps us to understand that the shepherd is the one responsible to care for the sheep. It is work he takes extremely seriously.  

John 21:15-17 is a revealing passage.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times.  After Peter’s first response, Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.” When he responds the second time, Jesus tells him, “Take care of my sheep.” After the third time, he adds, “Feed my sheep.”  In verses 15 and 17, the verb that Jesus uses is bόskw(bosko), which translates as “to feed,” and means “to feed or provide food.”  But in verse 16, the Lord uses the verb poimaίnw(poimaino), which translates as “to shepherd.”  It carries the implications of caring for, guiding, governing and  defending.

 In Acts 20:28, the Apostle Paul refers to the elders of the church as “overseers” who the Holy Spirit has placed “to shepherd the church of God.” In Hebrews 13:17, the writer says that church leaders keep watch over the souls of the believers.

It is plain to see that the image of a pastor is important in both Old and New Testaments.  Now that we have examined this biblical foundation, in our next post I will explore some principles and applications of pastoral ministry.

*Rev. Ernesto Bathermy is the pastor of the Celestial Vision Church of the Nazarene in Los Alcarrizos, Dominican Republic. He is also the Dominican Republic Central District Superintendent and Rector of the Dominican Nazarene Seminary.