Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Results & Sunday School

I did not follow the news on election night and was satisfied to find out the results early this morning over coffee.  I must say that it caught me off guard to learn that the country had voted to give Obama four more years.  One would think that in this "results oriented" world that we live in this would be a confusing move.  All day there have been many explanations of strategies and what ultimately gave the winning side the victory and maybe there is merit to much of this.  In my simple opinion however one thing sticks out more than anything else: perception.

There is a simple principal that I learned long ago from leaders before me and firmly believe to this day.  It is one of the keys to leadership,  "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care about them."  We will overlook some shortcomings in a leader if we really believe that they care about us verses a leader who is smarter and maybe more capable but does not connect.  Certainly as a Minister of Education/Sunday School Director the most important quality I look for in a Teacher is that they care about those they lead.  Teaching skills can be improved but caring about people comes from the heart.

I do not know President Obama or Mitt Romney personally.  From information resources, listening to others I respect and doing my homework, I am convinced that Mitt Romney has the better plan for American and is more capable of carrying it out. Perception is often stronger than reality and it sure appears to be the case in this past election.  The "perception" that was sold to the people is that Obama cares about them and Romney does not.  In my simple opinion this mattered as much as anything else.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Sinner, the Sin, and the Struggle.

Many sins that used to be under the cover of darkness have not only made their way to the light in these times, but are even in the spotlight.  Our struggle with sin will never be over completely on this side of Heaven, though with the Holy Spirit's help, the power of prayer, and the assistance of other believers, we can win some of the battles.

Let's look at some tendencies.  The dictionary defines a tendency as a leaning or inclination towards something, almost like a gravitational pull in a particular direction.  A boy or girl growing up in a home where not much affection is shown may feel unloved and may seek to fulfill this natural need  for love later in life in a wrong way.  They may seek to have intimate relations (outside of marriage) early and often as a way to make them feel loved, and so a tendency develops.  Perhaps a person has always used food to comfort them during stressful times and now they have a weight problem that is difficult to overcome.

People may be raised in an environment where yelling and screaming and cursing is the norm and they acquire this habit which later becomes a tendency.  Having a parent that was a drunk might lead to alcohol experimentation early on that can lead to alcoholism.  Someone can be abused by a person of the same sex and end up confused about their own sexual orientation.  There are so many situations . . . and I am no psychologist.  The point is that these scenarios--and countless others--can cause possible weaknesses or tendencies in our lives that we may always have.

There are many sins I could use as an example here but I've chosen the sin of homosexuality because it has been in the news so much lately.  I pray for the person who has the tendency towards this sin, wherever the tendency came from; not because it is worse than any other sin but because I am limited in my ability to help as I cannot relate.  There are those out there however, who have been delivered of homosexuality and can provide help and direction. 

Please note that there is a difference in struggling with one's sin and glorifying in it. We all have our weaknesses.  There is a struggle when our tendencies come up against our will.  We know something is wrong but because of our tendencies, the pull towards a particular sin is strong. This battle may last a long time and come with victory and losses, but the war continues on.   When two people of the same gender decide to get married, then they are most likely not struggling with this sin any longer and have either just embraced it or tried to convince themselves and everyone else it is not wrong.  They are indeed committing to a sinful lifestyle.

It's important that we remember that lost people are going to act like lost people.  We should continue to reach out to them and try to help them find that one foremost thing that every person needs:  Jesus.  We should do this with love in our hearts but without condoning their behavior or compromising God's Word.    For those who choose to continue down this road and claim to be Christians, the Bible again tells us what to do.  In 1 Corinthians 5:11 Paul states, "But actually I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one." 

Monday, June 25, 2012

What if I Don't Agree With the Direction of the Church?

What if I don't agree with the direction of the church?  This question comes up in every church sooner or later, so what is the proper way to deal with the issue?  What should we do? 

First of all let's establish that disagreeing, just like anger, is not a sin.  When times of disagreement come up in the church--and they will, over and over again--a question we should ask ourselves is do we react or respond?  We are all emotional beings and without the Holy Spirit to keep these emotions in check at times we may react or respond sinfully.

God has always been a God of order, it is people who sometimes get it wrong.  The church was never created to be a democracy though we have brought this type of government into the church.  God has always called men to lead His people and then given those men a vision of what He wants them to do.  The leader then shares this vision with the body and they work together to carry out God's plan.

How to best carry out God's plan can sometimes cause a difference of opinion. I believe a good leader will first spend much time in prayer and then try to the best of their ability to present the vision, the plan to carry it out the vision, and the reasons for the vision and the plan.  There should be a time to answer questions and address concerns that the body may have, but not to change the direction God has revealed.

So if all this happens and we are one of those who still do not agree, what then?  We should respond by entering into a time of intense prayer ourselves and seek God's guidance.  God is not going to give the man He has called to lead the church one vision and then give someone else in the church a different vision; that causes confusion and that is not of the Lord. 

If we do not necessarily agree with the plan, then the next question we need to ask ourselves is do we trust the leadership?  Will God confirm the plan in our hearts later?  Can we remain a part of the fellowship without stirring up strife?  If not, it may very well be God's way of letting us know that it's time to move on, He has another place for us to serve.         

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Church Conflict

Can a person be wronged and then be in the wrong? Church conflict is an age old issue that will never go away until Jesus returns. The early church had to deal with it and I've never heard of a church that has not. The question is not if conflict will come, the question is how we deal with it when it does come. Part of the problem is that as believers are all at different levels in our spiritual maturity. We may all have different ideas and strategies on how to respond when we feel like we have been wronged, and it is a natural emotion for one to become defensive when this happens. What we do or say when we feel like we have been wronged certainly is a spiritual marker in our life. 

Jesus was wronged and did nothing but ask the Father to forgive them. It is very hard for us to do this. However, instead of taking matters into our own hands when this happens, should we not see what the Bible tells us we should do? Matthew 18 deals with this beginning in verse 15. When we take matters into our own hands and do other things--such as spread our hurt to others--then we may find ourselves on the wrong side. Proverbs has a lot to say about those who stir up strife; in fact in Proverbs 6, God says He hates one who stirs up strife among the brothers. Scripture has much to say about reconciliation. One question we might ask ourselves?  Is my reaction and/or response making a possible reconciliation harder or easier?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Importance of Selecting Teachers

I would like to deal with some very good comments and a question that were recently left for me on the post Another Step.  The subject was dealing with SS teacher selection.

Quite a number of years ago our family joined a church which had won consecutive SS Eagle awards for church growth, four years running.  I firmly believe that what happened while we were there was the result of what the commenter was questing in my prior post.  The pastor was very evangelistic and a good friend of mine and the education guy was also a friend and a man I respected.  Their church growth was a case of a formula put into place for church growth, and new classes were created yearly to stick with the formula.  There reached a point when the church plateaued because the teachers of most of the classes were not even mature believers themselves and the principle of as the leader goes, so go the people or the student rarely rises above the level of the teacher kicked in.  As a result of the spiritual immaturity in the church, many petty problems came up and could not be effectively handled and the church spent many years at a standstill.  

Teacher selection is one of the most important responsibilities for the Minister of Education, Sunday School Director and/or Pastor.  The commenter referenced James 3 and I totally agree.  Many who aspire to be teachers should not or should not yet.  It is the responsibility of the overseer to help those in the church to find their place of service and then equip and even mentor them. 

A teacher should never be accepted just because they volunteer and solicitation should definitely not occur from the pulpit.  This should take place after much prayer and then after a one-on-one meeting.  I would also never allow someone who has not been a member of the church for at least six months (preferably one year), to fulfill the awesome responsibility of a Sunday School teacher.  This includes people who come to the church from another church who may have been teaching there for twenty years.

One notable exception to this might be the following:  if a teacher were involved in an accident or had an extended illness or family crisis.  There are times when it is necessary to serve (temporarily) out of need and not giftedness.  Too many times though, leadership uses this "time of need" situation as an opportunity to stop looking.

I will even go on to say that the best teachers, and the ones I always look for, are not those who necessarily have a degree or have great teaching skills, but those who are the best Shepherds.  The Shepherd/Leader is one who is concerned about those under their care and demonstrates this by keeping up with the lives of their class members and spends time together with class members outside the classroom.  Caring about people is not a spiritual gift but a fruit of the spirit.  It is a maturity issue.  Teaching skills can be acquired and taught, but caring about people is a heart issue.

Let me finish up by saying that when your people grow in their spiritual maturity then most often your church will grow as well.  Once a proper leader base is established, the church will never be short on leadership.  It should not be the goal for the church leaders to grow the church but to spiritually grow their people.  When that is done correctly, a steady, healthy growth should occur.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Is Salvation Too Easy?

Should we make salvation easier than the Bible makes it?  I am afraid in many cases we have and the results have produced very few disciples through the years.  Often I have heard a well meaning leader say all you have to do is believe...but believing is not enough, even sincere belief.  Is having faith enough?  I think that depends on how a person defines faith.  These days everyone seems to be defining what things mean to them which does not lead to the most accurate definition in many cases.

In the salvation experience and process the key lies in transformation.  This begins when a person truly gives their life to Jesus and never stops until they leave this life.  Could it be that there was a misunderstanding of faith after Paul preached it?  This is possible I am sure as there is a misunderstanding of faith for many today.  James comes back and further explains what kind of faith the Lord is looking for, the kind that leads to action.

Repentance is not always included in an invitation yet John The Baptist seemed to think it was important.  Many times in scripture we see where Jesus gives examples of the narrow doorway and how hard it really is to be His disciple.  Commitment is a word mentioned many times as well. 

Transformation is not just behavior modification, people do that all the time depending on the particular situation they are in.  Salvation should produce a transformation that has taken hold of and continues to mold a person's motives.  Our behavior should always be improving because more and more we are giving way to this new reprogramming of our thoughts from the Bible and the Holy Spirit.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Another Step

We have now been to dinner with most everyone in the church and we've truly enjoyed getting to know folks and their past histories (how couples met, about their families, how they found their way to Cornerstone, etc.).  As we serve together both in and out of the church this information will help even more to build our relationships and make friends. 

My wife began the women's ministry last week and had a great turn-out.  She has plenty of experience in this area and is very excited about her role.  They will be concentrating on building up and encouraging the women as well as partnering with the overall strategy of outreach for the church.

In the coming weeks my plan is to meet with each SS Leader in their home to further discuss our overall direction, curriculum selection, strategies for reaching out to visitors, and discovering new prospects.  Another concept I will seek to further explain is the need for "open" classes.  Furthermore, I will be seeking input on how I might best assist them in this ministry.

It is already clear that we need two more classes; a young men's class and a young ladies' class, so I will begin praying to see if those leaders might already be in the church. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Building Relationships

Anytime a new leader goes into a church one of the very first things he or she should work on is building those relationships. In church life, unlike the business world, the church is filled mostly with volunteers so positional leadership is very short-lived and only gives one a starting place. People do not buy into ideas until they buy into the person. Trust is the number one character trait a leader must have and while it may be given in a small amount in the beginning, mostly it must be earned over time.

Over the last several weeks we have gone to dinner with six different couples in the church and I must say we enjoyed every single outing. No dinner has lasted less than three hours and the discussion topics were all over the place. I try to make it a point not to talk about church related things at all unless the other party brings it up. It is always interesting to hear about how couples met, what their hobbies are and how they found their way to the church.

In the men's class I am teaching we recently switched over to the Explore The Bible series curriculum, at least for now. Later other options will be considered. Curriculum choices should involve several factors and the experience of the teacher is a big one so knowing where they are in their spiritual journey is important.

We will continue to go to dinner with folks every week if possible until we have made one complete round. Also I will begin scheduling a time to visit each man in my SS class in their home for a short visit. In the classroom slowly we will begin the process from learning Biblical Truths to putting them in practice. By that I mean what we learn one week, a challenge will be given for those in the class to go out in the following week and put the truth into action with myself leading the way. I will then encourage my classmates to share their experience the following Sunday...though no one will be called on specifically. They will also have the option to share their experiences via e-mail, phone or text with me if they are more comfortable with that.

The church has sponsored a little league baseball team and both of the coaches are from our church so we will definitely be attending some of those games. We have invited the whole church out to the camp at the end of this month for a church-wide fellowship which we are also looking forward to. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 26, 2012

First Leadership Meeting

After everyone enjoyed pizza for lunch and the children were taken care of, the pastor began our meeting with prayer and then put in a video about leadership from John Maxwell.  I have long been a student of John Maxwell and was very familiar with the principles being taught, though I do not have the video that was being shown.  

After the video the pastor introduced me and I took about 20 minutes giving a broad vision of where we are headed in Sunday School.  I did introduce a few small changes that will begin on the first Sunday in April.  The first was introducing class rolls, which have not been used in the two months we have been here. I also asked the teachers not to think of these as class rolls but instead, to think of them as Ministry Lists (which is how they are officially labeled).  The people on this list are ones God has entrusted to our care.  Having ones name on this list does not obligate them to a class, bur rather obligates us to them.  

I also wanted all the Teachers from this day forward not to think of themselves as Teachers but as Shepherd/Leaders.  The most important characteristic I am looking for in a teacher--or make that Shepherd/Leader--is that they care about those on their ministry lists and demonstrate it.  There are some visitor/enrollment cards that will be included in their Shepherd/Leader packets on Sunday and we talked about how important this is.  I will also be handing out information sheets for all church members to fill out so we can begin a database.  We also briefly discussed the importance of keeping in contact with those on the the ministry list who are in-service.

We have now been to dinner with three couples in the church and have another one scheduled for Sunday after church.  There are some wonderful folks here and we are excited about getting to know them all better.  On another note Denise met with the pastor's wife on Friday and has been working diligently on launching the Women's Ministry which should kick-off in April.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Building a Dynamic Sunday School

Over the next year I have decided to use my blog to chronicle the process of building the Sunday School ministry within the church where we are currently serving.   While the entries will not be daily, I intend to make them on a regular basis.  It is my firm belief that when a Sunday School ministry is built correctly and is the foundation of the church, God is glorified, problems in the church are few, the gospel is shared on a regular basis, both physical and spiritual needs are met, worship is meaningful,  true disciples are made and there is never a shortage of leaders.

The Beginning

After several meetings with the pastor it is clear we are both on the same page on just about everything, especially leadership and Sunday School.  He prayed about us coming to the church and we prayed about it as well.  After attending worship services at the church we met with the Church Council to further explain what our ministry is about and to answer any questions they had.  It was decided that we could help the church so the following Sunday the pastor publicly announced us.  I will be serving as the Sunday School Director.

First Steps

The pastor and I communicate on a regular basis and one of the things I had mentioned to him that is a normal practice of ours when coming to a new church is to begin forming relationships with the people.  We have been to dinner with two couples in the church so far and another is planned for this week.  My wife is meeting the pastor's wife for lunch this week and I have already been to lunch a couple of times with the pastor. 

We have been here now for about four weeks and last week I became the Men's Sunday School class teacher.  This was a move agreed upon by all parties.  The seating in the class was set-up with four rows of church pews as seating and a lectern up front for the teacher.  Before teaching last Sunday I moved the lectern out and brought in padded chairs and arranged them in a circle.  I like it when everyone can see each other and it also works better for class participation, which I encourage.

Here is where we are starting from:  one adult ladies class, one adult men's class, one children's class (5 years to 5th grade), one youth class (6th to 12th grade), and a nursery class (infant-4 years).  No records are being kept presently, so there is no accurate record on attendance.  Our first Leadership (teacher's) meeting will take place this Sunday right after the service where we will provide lunch and childcare.  This will be mostly introductory and a vision of the importance of Sunday School and where we are going.  Class rolls have been created and will be included with a teacher packet which will be given to all teachers.  It will also include Visitor/New Member Cards (which are non-existent currently). My best guess is there around 55 attending the church.

The church just began a new ministry a few weeks ago that I think is a great idea; they sponsored a baseball team.  The children's minister here is the coach and another gentleman who helps out in the children's ministry is helping him as well.  I can already see outreach ideas popping up for this one!

One of the gentlemen who was in the Men's SS Class the week before I started teaching was absent last week so I asked the Pastor if he would like to join me on a visit to the man's house Tuesday night, which he did.  He is planning on being there Sunday.  I also spoke to another gentleman Wednesday night who has been coming to church but not to SS and asked him to join us on Sunday morning which he said he would.  I believe my first Sunday to teach we had a total of nine in the class.

There is currently no women's ministry at the church, but I have spoken to the pastor about this and how this is where Denise's heart is.  He is definitely in favor of starting this up and will speak with the Church Council soon.

We have no set/standard curriculum for SS but that will be changing soon as well.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Incomplete Strategy

One of the greatest mistakes of my generation, as leaders and teachers in the church, is that we have been satisfied with those in our care simply learning what has been taught. This is an incomplete strategy and does not lead to discipleship.  We are experiencing this lack of "true discipleship" all across the country.  We believe that it is our responsibility to equip the Saints so we teach and challenge our people but take lightly the area of follow-up and accountability.     Lifestyle evangelism and relationship building have taken the place of personal witnessing.  Now don't get me wrong, both of these certainly have a place in the believer's life but not at the expense of one on one sharing our faith.  It all starts with leadership in the church and for one reason or another we have dropped the ball in this area.  Certainly if leaders are not sharing their faith on a regular basis then they can not expect their people to do so.  It is important for us to see God at work.  If we want our people to invite folks to church, then they need to see and hear about those we have invited and are coming on a regular basis.  If we want people to share their faith personally, then they need to hear about our experiences and see God's saving faith in action.  Equipping is more than teaching and providing resources it is taking others with us as we go.  The Lord has convicted me first of the things mentioned here which is why I have put it in the blog.  I used to do these things when I taught a Sunday School class years ago and have made a renewed committment to get back to what I know should be happening.