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

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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.

Pastor, Take a Vacation—for the Good of Your Church – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4 Commitments to Combat Vacation Anxiety

  1. I commit to being honest about my vacation anxiety.

Some anxiety is appropriate. As the leader, I am responsible for ensuring that leadership is being raised up and trained to do the work of ministry. My husband and I are ultimately responsible for having all our bases covered. Pastors who leave town without a thought to what might go on in their absence send a message of disengaged inattentiveness.

However, some types of anxiety are not only inappropriate—they are toxic to my soul and lead to the sin of idolatry. I have to ask myself,

  • Is my anxiety rooted in fear or in a compulsive need to please the people of my congregation?
  • Am I micromanaging the people around me and doubting their ability to do good work without my presence?
  • Have I taken undue responsibility for the Spirit’s movement among the people of God to the extent that I believe that, apart from my physical presence, the Spirit will not (or even cannot) move?
  • Is my identity so rooted in my vocation that the idea of time away from work is disorienting and unsettling?

These are not easy questions to answer honestly, but my answers reveal the ways in which my heart veers toward that “blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”

  1. I commit to going.

Yes, I will actually take my vacation. This requires wisdom and discernment. It’s probably not ideal to take two weeks of vacation in the middle of Advent. But I won’t kid myself into thinking every church function requires me to be there in the flesh. I will work to empower my leaders, be they pastoral staff or lay leaders, and then let them do their jobs. Equipping the saints for ministry is sacred work.

  1. I commit to being absent.

When I leave, I will be as fully “gone” as possible. This may not require a costly overseas escape. A simple, affordable “staycation” will work just as well, if I take the call to absence seriously. That means I will need to communicate clearly that I will not be responding to emails, calls, or texts. But that’s not enough. I must follow through and stay off my phone and email! I will probably disconnect from social media as well. It has the power to make us present in mind and spirit to the wrong things, even when we are absent in the body.

I will, of course, leave emergency contact info with someone who I trust to respect my absence—someone who understands the definition of emergency.

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  1. I commit to being present.

Being absent is only half the battle. As I embrace the call to absence from work, I must accept the challenge to be present—to my family, to my body, and to my spirit.

Present to my family. I commit to paying attention to my loved ones in intentional ways. Even if I don’t go on a lavish trip or even leave town, I will find a way to spend quality time with my family.

Present to my body. So much of pastoral work is work of the mind. After a long day of sermon prep, I find that I have left my seat perhaps only twice, but I am exhausted from the mental fatigue of studying. During times of increased stress and anxiety, my body lets me know through stomachaches, tight shoulders, and jaw tension—once so severe I could barely chew! I will use the time of absence from work to be present to my body through physical movement and bodily care. Exercise, even a simple walk, reminds me that I am a whole person, not a disembodied spirit or mind.

Present to my spirit. It never fails that when I have a moment of stillness, anxiety pounces on my peace. My initial reaction is to flee or distract. Hurry, get busy! If I’m constantly moving, anxiety can’t slither in. Or, Start that Netflix binge! My mind will be too busy with the steady stream of entertainment for anxiety to get a word in. In her book Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon says this is the wrong approach to our anxiety. It sends the false message that the fear we are experiencing is dangerous and should be avoided. But it’s not dangerous; it’s just uncomfortable. Shannon encourages her readers to open their minds and hearts to the anxiety and to sit with the discomfort, thereby debunking anxiety’s lies and stealing its power.

As I sit with the discomfort, I ask the Lord to remind me that I am his beloved, and with me, the Lord is well pleased. I confess the ways in which I have sought to do God’s work on God’s behalf. I ask the Spirit to heal the wounds that led me to these anxious behaviors.

Vacation as Co-laboring

Without a doubt, taking vacation as a pastor can be a challenge. But time away is not merely important—it is essential for both the pastor and the congregation. Those of us who bear the mantle of pastor need to be reminded that we are not the head of the church. Christ is.

Pastors are not, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “the linchpin holding a congregation together.” We are co-laborers with our flocks, cooperating with the Holy Spirit who is doing the work of calling, comforting, and convicting. Our congregations need a reminder that pastoral vacations can deliver blessings as well. They are not to be passive consumers of what the “professional” pastor has to offer, but rather to be engaged, contributing members of the body of Christ.

By refusing to participate in the blasphemous anxiety to do the work of God for him and confessing the idolatry in our own hearts, we will shape our congregation to follow Jesus faithfully—more faithfully than 365 consecutive days of work ever could.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to get back to planning my vacation.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Pastor, Take a Vacation—for the Good of Your Church – Part 1 of 2

By Stephanie Dyrness

You are not the linchpin holding your congregation together.

I sit on the couch, flipping through my digital calendar, trying to do the math. When can we actually fit in some vacation time? There are so many factors to consider: the launch of the combined summer service, Vacation Bible School, various camps, vacations for other staff members. I also worry about the summer slump, which is already upon us. Can the church really afford not to have their lead pastors present, if only for morale?

My husband and I, co-lead pastors of our church, have the vacation time. All the books and all the ministry blogs and all the professors say pastors must tend to their families, guard their souls, and rest. I know in my heart we need to take more than one week—that in fact we need two in a row—to truly decompress and separate from the beautiful but weighty vocation that is parish ministry.

But so much can happen in two weeks. My mind begins to race. A conflict might emerge, a pressing administrative issue could arise, someone might end up in the hospital with only a good word from my lips able to sustain them. As my thoughts careen out of control, images of a church in tatters, a mass exodus, and possible explosions flood my mind’s eye.

Get a grip, I tell myself.

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The irrational fear and anxiety of taking a mere 14 consecutive days away from my parish has unveiled a wound within me that needs attention.

Why the Anxiety?

Vacation anxiety is not unique to ministry, but the pressure does have a unique faith-flavored flair to it. The stakes feel elevated for those in the field of soul care.

Practical concerns

There are, of course, practical concerns. Who will do what in our absence? How will the everyday, unseen tasks be completed? Who will honor the pulpit and preach faithfully when we’re gone? For those of us who feel a sense of scarcity in terms of local leadership, these practical concerns can paralyze us.

Perceptions

But vacation anxiety runs much deeper than the who, what, and how questions that arise when the pastor is out of town. There is also the anxiety of perception. Some pastors are more prone to this anxiety than others, but it merits mention.

As I plan time away, I find myself explaining, almost defending, our vacation. We haven’t taken any time off in 6 months. Or, We’ve been saving up for a long time to take a trip, and we’re doing it on the cheap, so we’re not being extravagant or anything! I secretly wonder, does my congregation begrudge me the time off? Will they perceive me as disengaged, selfish, and uncommitted to the church and the church’s needs? The fact that my paycheck comes from their tithes and offerings adds a new layer of angst, since I often feel the need to prove I’m worth the investment and that I’m not living large at their expense.

An idolatrous heart

But if I am truly honest with myself, my anxiety surrounding taking adequate time off goes even deeper than the practical concerns or the perceptions. I cannot in good faith say, “It’s them! It’s the congregation with their unreasonable expectations!” Because it is also me, with an idolatrous heart that has participated in and perhaps even propagated the narrative that the life of the church flows from, or at least through, the pastor.

In his ever-timely book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson quotes Hilary of Tours who describes a sin so often committed by pastors: irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.

And there it is: the sin of this pastor’s heart. I could blame the constant deluge of images that portray leaders as an organization’s capstone—the source of inspiration, motivation, and momentum. I could blame those highly “successful” pastors who peddle their systems and theories as necessary to salvation and vital to every church’s life together. I could even blame denominational leaders who present stories of visionary, gregarious leaders to mimic and ensure ecclesial growth and vitality.

But my accusations fall flat. I must take responsibility for the state of my soul and the lies I have believed—lies of my own self-importance, lies that my identity is contingent upon my vocation, even lies about the Spirit’s power to move and transform without direction from me. With that in mind, here are a few commitments I am making as I plan my upcoming vacation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

The Art of Turning

The World Cup is here! In the past eight years of our Spanish blog, that has meant that we have highlighted various nations and their cultures, while offering perspectives on the state of the Church in each country as well as some prayer requests. See, for example, Pamela Alvarado’s write-up on Ghana or Mario Josué López’s article on Croatia.

This year we will be doing things a bit differently. Every now and then during the next month we will be offering articles and sometimes videos dealing with different aspects (namely the “culture” side) of the World Cup.  So, to start us off, read this testimony by a former Premier League Player who God called to be a Pastor.  The following is an excerpt froma Christianity Today article originally published in June 2016.

By Gavin Peacock

One skill my dad taught me as a child was the art of turning with a soccer ball. I was never going to be tall, so he would take me into our backyard in Southeast London and teach me how to quickly switch directions with the ball at my feet. “The big guys won’t be able to catch you!” he said. For hours I would practice turning to the left and right, dribbling in and out of cones, spinning this way and that. My dad was right: the art of turning served me well. Many of the goals I scored in the years to come were a result of that lesson.

I was not brought up in a Christian home and never heard the gospel preached. Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. The most biblical form of instruction I received was in assemblies at the Church of England school that I attended. I was a kid who intensely wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field. My father taught me the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena.

At age 16, I left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers (QPR). I had achieved the goal—and I wasn’t really happy. I was playing for the England Youth National Team, and it wasn’t long before I broke into the starting eleven at QPR. But I was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport. Soccer was my god. If I played well on a Saturday I was high, if I played poorly I was low. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my performance. I soon realized that achieving the goal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

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Turning to Christ

Then, when I was 18, God intervened in my life, the first of two dramatic turning points. I was still struggling to find purpose, so I decided to attend a local Methodist church one Sunday evening. I don’t remember what the minister preached on, but afterward he invited me to his house, where he and his wife hosted a weekly youth Bible study.

I decided to return to the Bible study the following week and the next, and I began to hear the gospel for the first time. I realized that my biggest problem wasn’t whether I met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday; my biggest problem was my sin and the disapproval of almighty God. I realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness for me. I realized what Augustine had expressed many years before in his Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Over time, my eyes were opened through that Sunday meeting, and I turned, repented, and believed the gospel. MY HEART STILL BURNED FOR SOCCER, BUT IT BURNED FOR CHRIST MORE.  

In professional sports, the highs and lows of life are extreme, very close together, and very public. The scrutiny is intense. Christian maturity is a slow process, but in the world of professional sport, your slow sanctification is on show. You can sign a lucrative contract one day, and your career could be finished by one tackle the next day. Those were thrilling and testing days, filled with massive highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation. I experienced the full gamut as a believer.

Uncertainty plagues the professional soccer player. On one level the uncertainty and drama spur men on to play their best; on another level they cause deep insecurity. That used to be me as a young man, but as a Christian I now feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn’t my idol anymore.

Turning to Ministry

A door opened after my retirement for a broadcasting career with the BBC, and it wasn’t long before I was covering weekly shows, like Match of the Day, for several million UK viewers. It was a job that found its apex at the 2006 World Cup. Yet shortly afterward the second turning point came: the call to pastoral ministry.

Until then I had always had opportunities for Christian witness as a soccer player and broadcaster, but never had the urge to preach. Then, while reading though the pastoral Epistles, I began to feel a strong desire to pursue pastoral ministry. My church affirmed the call, and after a period of testing, I knew I was going to give up a second dream career for ministry. In 2008, I left the shores of England. Within weeks I went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.

All those years ago, my earthly father taught me the art of turning, but it was my heavenly Father who turned me first to Christ and then to preach his gospel. Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn’t just a one-time initial event; it is the substance of the Christian life. This is a message the church needs to recover. And so, I continue to turn and teach others to turn.

Gavin Peacock is missions pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Alberta and coauthor of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Created Them.

Don’t Blame Your Schedule for Your Burnout

By Ed Stetzer

We live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us that we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.

While it may be true that the term “boundaries” has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church planters and pastors.

People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.

Pastors and ministry leaders who experience burnout tend to exhibit lifestyles that neglect the discipline to handle their activities. Without properly set and upheld boundaries, individuals will more likely experience exhaustion of both body and spirit.

When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo along with all of those duties, I was husband to Donna, blowing insulation to support myself, and a seminary student in Pittsburgh, driving myself four hours, in the snow, uphill both ways. I may have made that last part up, but it was Buffalo after all.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles until I failed to create strong boundaries. That was what finally got to me. If a car hits a dog, the dog isn’t injured because he was running at it too quickly. He’s hurt because he didn’t abide by the boundaries that were set for him.

Similarly, it wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church. I became the focal point for the entire ministry that took place. I was the one everybody needed to talk to if they wanted to follow Christ, receive counseling, or have visit them after their toenail surgery.

I had a congregation full of people who would lean on me from all directions for their spiritual growth. It was these lack of boundaries that disabled any effective ministry and led to burnout.

The fact that I’m still in ministry today should tell you that I have learned some lessons along the way. I’m passionate about sharing the four guidelines I gleaned from my own experience with other pastors and leaders.

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Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry. Four posts coming in the days ahead.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com