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Eight Refocusing Questions
Every Church needs to answer the following eight strategic questions:
1. Why do we exist as a church? (Biblical Purpose)
2. How has God worked in our past? (Ministry Milestones)
3. Whom has God called us to reach? (Ministry focus)
4. Who has God shaped us to be? (Core Values)
5. Where is God leading us in the future? (Vision)
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There are a number of reasons why a church may decline and confront the prospect of ministry death. Some of the causes are outside the congregation’s control. Others are a direct result of what the people are doing (or not doing) within the church.
Listed are reasons why churches close. The wise leader will recognize where his congregation is and prevent the loss of a church.
- Loss of population base within the community. A significant factor confronting many churches located in isolated rural areas is the decline within the community at large. As the children become adults, there are not enough economic bases to support them. As the population of the community decreases so do the opportunities for the church outreach and growth. New people, having no ties to the community, may travel to a larger metropolitan area to attend a church that has multiple programs.
- Demographic change within a community. Demographic changes alter the cultural setting of the community. Churches that do not adapt to these changes can find it difficult to minister to the new cultural setting. Because small churches tend to be homogeneous, they are often the last to change when transitions occur in the demographic setting. Unwilling to change, they soon become isolated from the mainstream of the community.
- Changes in society. There are several changes within society that have significantly impacted the small church and contributed to the decline of some congregations. In the past, the church was a social center of not only the people who attended, but also the whole community. People came to church to see their neighbors and friends. No longer is the church this social center; instead people have multiple social centers, which draw them away from the church. Consequently the church no longer has the influence within the community it once had. The downside of this is that people no longer attend church for social interaction, making it more difficult to attract new people. Another factor has been the mobility of people. People will drive past many churches to attend the church of their choice. No longer is there the true “community church” where everyone in the community attends because it is the only church available. Now, because distance is no longer an issue, people have multiple choices of which church to attend. A third change in society is consumerism. Previously people attended a church because of their loyalty to the congregation and community. Even if the church was not “ministering to their needs” they remained because of their sense of duty. Now people hop from church to church depending on their particular needs and availability of programs within the church to minister to those needs.
This is the third installment in a series on spiritual abuse. The whole idea of spiritual abuse is a very troubling at best. The church was intended to be a place of redemptive recovery facilitated by the grace of God. When manipulative control moves to the forefront it can have a very harmful effect on the people who gather to worship. It also has to be established that spiritual abuse can take place in a reverse order. It can originate from the congregation in the form of a board of elders or a single influential member who controls the pastor through financial means or sometimes through psychological and physical intimidation. Increasingly one will find the reverse order in churches that once had to deal with a pastor who was spiritually abusive.
Spiritual abuse is defined as “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support, or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.” It can be defined another way as “destructive and dangerous involvement in a religion that allows the religion, not a relationship with God, to control a person’s life. He also goes on to say, “People broken by various experiences, people from dysfunctional families, people with unrealistic expectations, and people out for their own gain or comfort seem especially prone to it.”Spiritual leaders who resort to this kind of activity may or may not immediately recognize the control they are exerting. The trend usually isn’t immediately recognized but as time passes the cycle of behavior manifests in a manner that has a horrific effect on people’s lives. Even worse is the leader who acclimates himself to a state of denial of his own personal responsibility. To compensate for the increasingly unsettled environment, he may begin to assign all of the spiritual shipwrecks of the past as those who were “wolves” or “rebellious.”
As I filtered through all of the material concerning spiritual abuse, I jotted down a series of questions concerning not just the church but the leader too. They were based more on a rhetorical nature that did not so much require an answer but rather an evaluation of the spiritual health of the place where this activity is taking place.
• What does spiritual abuse do to those who worship there? How does it affect their sense of worship and understanding of God?
• Can God have freedom to transform and can grace really do an adequate work in this atmosphere where fear, intimidation, and manipulation prevail?
• Can true spiritual growth and discipleship take place in this setting?
• What do the actions of the pastor have on his soul in the long term? This was a very troubling question to me personally. What dark things begin to take place in the soul of the pastor who exerts force in such a way that he is never challenged and held to a standard of accountability himself?
• Are his actions motivated by pride of place or position?
• Has he moved from being an under-shepherd to a lord over God’s heritage? Such spiritual abuse literally takes the place of God in the working of the church.
• Is there a sense of the grace of God reflected in any of the public ministry of the Word?
• Is there an attempt to place heavy weights on the people he is called to shepherd?
• Does he empower people to live in a venue of spiritual growth in a public setting as well as within the private confines of the heart?[ read more...]
In the past, I have written on church trouble from the angle of people in the congregation who found great enthusiasm for tormenting pastors until they finally ran them off. The religious landscape is littered with men who no longer pastor churches and gave up the calling of a ministry because of a situation where they found themselves in great contention with the hidden powers that ran the church. If you are interested you may read those old Barnabas Blog posts from a couple of years ago (Part 1 & Part 2). Since writing those posts, I have observed a few more of these unfortunate situations as they unfolded.
On the other hand, there are also churches that have had endure terrible abuses at the hands of heavy-handed, manipulative, and dark pastors who fall into the category of being a spiritual abuser.
I must say from the outset that this kind of activity to me is totally foreign because of the environment that I grew up in with my own pastor (and now father-in-law) Joe Patterson. Because of his spiritual leadership, I grew up with the idea that the church was the most incredible, warm, and safe place on the earth. It was only after I begin to travel around a bit and grew up some spiritually and mentally that I was exposed to the dark side of the church and ministry. To be quite frank with you, it was a bit unnerving and initially faith-jarring.[ read more...]
Pastor Ray Johnson of the Denham Springs Pentecostal Church shares the characteristics of a growing church.
- There are specific, reasonable and attainable growth goals that have been developed. A pastor must see, believe it and work for it!
- There is powerful Bible-based preaching and teaching, anointed singing, vibrant worship, fervent praying, and generous giving.
- There is consistent visitation and follow-up on visitors.
- The pastor recognizes and releases the gifts and callings among the congregation. These gifts include the gifts of teachers, helpers, prophecy, exhortation, ruling, etc.
- The organization, coordination, and emphasis of the basic departments - Sunday School, Youth, Outreach, Music, New Convert Care - is always on soul-winning and discipleship.
People are very busy, don’t burden them with mere activities.
- Many full time church leaders do not understand the time constraints of the working saint and their family.
- Many homes are two income homes where families seldom have time for one another.
- God and church should be at the center of our lives, however church leadership needs to realize that people need a break once in a while as well.
We live in a different world than we did 30 years ago and the family unit is suffering as a result.
It would be a good exercise for church leadership to see how they can cut the church calendar 20% by removing unproductive activities.
Often a meeting can be held shortly after church rather than have people set aside another evening of the week to attend.
Church activities should have a purpose.
Just because you did it last year is not a good reason to do it this year.
Kill the sacred cow!
Does the event promote evangelism?
Will souls be won as a result of it?
Will the body be strengthened because of this event?
If not, consider something that will or give them a break by deleting that event and moving on to the next one.
Don’t have a meeting just to have a meeting.
If you have no clear direction for the meeting or there is not immediate need for one, don’t have it.
- Wait until you have the agenda thoroughly thought and planned out and then announce a meeting.
- Accomplish something at every meeting and your people will feel like coming to the meeting was worth their sacrifice of time.
When I read of this amazing wonder of life, I can't help but think of the time and effort we invest into our ministries, often without any evidence of growth or life. There have been many times I have personally invested my time, talent and finances into a person or ministry without evidence that it would pay off. There have been times, because of this, that I have given up on a person. Yet, there have also been times after giving up, that I have seen a breakthrough, and that person I worked with finally accepts a bible study. They finally come to church. They receive the Holy Ghost. Those years of hard work and effort finally pay off.
The Bible states;
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.[ read more...]
As the attack of Mansoul continued by Prince Emmanuel’s troops, the second captain came to the Ear Gate. The first attack had come from Captain Boanerges who was absolutely confident in what he had to say. Captain Conviction, whose main assistant was Mr. Sorrow, was just as confident but his attack on the Ear Gate came in a bit different manner. Their uniforms they wore were pale and their insignia was the book of the Law that issued a flame of fire. He said to the inhabitants:
‘Hear, O Mansoul! Thou, O Mansoul, wast once famous for innocency, but now thou art degenerated into lies and deceit. Thou hast heard what my brother, the Captain Boanerges, hath said; and it is your wisdom, and will be your happiness, to stoop to, and accept of conditions of peace and mercy when offered, especially when offered by one against whom thou hast rebelled, and one who is of power to tear thee in pieces, for so is Shaddai, our King; nor, when he is angry can anything stand before him. If you say you have not sinned, or acted rebellion against our King, the whole of your doings since the day that you cast off his service (and there was the beginning of your sin) will sufficiently testify against you. What else means your hearkening to the tyrant, and you’re receiving him for your king? What means else your rejecting of the laws of Shaddai, and your obeying of Diabolus? Yea, what means this you’re taking up of arms against, and the shutting of your gates upon us, the faithful servants of your King? Be ruled, then, and accept of my brother’s invitation, and over-stand not the time of mercy, but agree with thine adversary quickly. Ah! Mansoul, suffer not thyself to be kept from mercy, and to be run into a thousand miseries, by the flattering wiles of Diabolus. Perhaps that piece of deceit may attempt to make you believe that we seek our own profit in this our service; but know it is obedience to our King, and love to your happiness, that is the cause of this undertaking of ours.
‘Again I say to thee, O Mansoul, consider if it be not amazing grace that Shaddai should so humble himself as he doth: now he, by us, reasons with you, in a way of entreaty and sweet persuasions, that you would subject yourselves to him. Has he that need of you that we are sure you have of him? No, no; but he is merciful, and will not that Mansoul should die, but turn to him and live.’
Captain Conviction comes in and takes a different but just as effective method of preaching to Mansoul. Where Captain Boanerges relied on authority, Captain Conviction relies on passion and fervor. Notice how that he confronts them with their sin and their rebellion against God. He also establishes the fact that they have sold out their allegiances to a king who is far less superior to what King Shaddai had been toward them. He tells them that their actions are going to cause them increasing misery as time passes on if they do not respond to the gospel call. He tells them that they are to humble themselves before God because this is their only way of escape.
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Casting a vision and leading people are not easy to do. Here are a few pointers when it comes to creating vision in the local church.
Don’t micromanage. Create a program or system for management then simply allow others to do their job. You may consider employing another person to do the managing. This would be someone who is close to you and knows how to follow your orders. Let them do the follow up, you cast the vision.
Admit mistakes. Being the leader does not mean you are going to be right 100% of the time. There are going to be times you make mistakes. Admit them quickly and cast a new vision. Allowing yourself to make mistakes will show your congregation that you are human and will enable them to feel that you are approachable.
Lead without fear. Fear will cripple your potential. “We have not the spirit of fear.” Seek your churches direction from the Lord. While it is good to get other people’s opinion and counsel regarding the direction the church should be moving, God alone can give you Divine direction. Seek God’s face for His will. Once he gives you direction, move forward into it without fear of defeat or what others may think.
Gather allies. Surround yourself with others who think like you do. Especially if they compliment your vision. As you begin to share your passion and burden with them, they will want to get on board. After training and equipping them, get them on board with you ASAP.[ read more...]
There is truth in the saying that you live life in forward motion but you understand it looking backward. I know for myself I would certainly have done many things differently had I the opportunity to do things all over again. However, like everyone else, you only get one chance at this circle of life.
Those who have a teaching father or mentor have an inside edge on doing things right the first time . . . if they have the willingness to listen and apply Godly advice to their life and decisions. Unfortunately, such is not the case for most individuals.
Leaders are a unique breed. They are fueled by passion. They feed off the energy of accomplishment. The adrenaline can be addictive. It is not uncommon for leaders to be so enraptured by the doing that they lose track of their state of being. Many people who succeed at leadership therefore fail at the more important things in life such as family and personal development.
The scripture asks, "And what shall a man profit if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?"
The best time to consider the impact of leadership upon you and your family is now. It cannot wait any longer. Today needs to be the day that you do what is best for those you love the most.
Ponder this sobering thought. At the end of your days who will be there to weep over you? Who will carry you to your final resting place? Who will bury you and weep afterward over regrets and missed opportunities? The answer is your family. It won't be those you neglected your family for.
Ponder another sobering thought. If your spouse or one of your children died today would you bury them with regrets over missed opportunities? If you are like most leaders the answer probably is yes. Please don't say this can't happen to you. It can.
A few years ago I landed at a large airport. Soon after deboarding I noticed multiple ministry colleagues in the area. As I spoke to them they informed me they were there to meet another colleague who had been on an overseas mission trip. He was to land soon and they had to give him the sad news. His wife was killed in a tragic automobile accident on her way to the airport that day to pick her husband up from his missions trip.[ read more...]