Posts Tagged: Ellen G. White

Jesus’ TED Talk

I am consistently annoyed with how long I preach!

I often have the following quote in the back of my mind:

“Speak short. Your discourses are generally double the length they should be.” Ellen, G. White,  Testimonies to Ministers & GW, p. 311

I don’t always preach too long, but often I feel that I do. I’m happy to be in the 32-35 minute range…I’m mildly perturbed if I get over 40 minutes, and I’m downright irritated with myself when I get near 50 minutes or above.

I know, I know, there are times for long talks:

“He should not always give so long a discourse that there will be no opportunity for those present to confess Christ. The sermon should frequently be short…” Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 171

This would indicate that occasionally it is acceptable to give a long discourse, but for the most part, “The sermon should frequently be short.”

Now when I talk about “short” we are not speaking of laziness…some pastors are short because they’re lazy. I’m not talking about shallowness, because some pastors are short in their preaching because they’ve chosen to be shallow…or some have just chosen not to study and are thus shallow because of their brain emptiness. No I am talking about the type of “short” preaching Jesus did:

“In Christ’s teaching there is no long, far-fetched, complicated reasoning. He comes right to the point. In His ministry He read every heart as an open book, and from the inexhaustible store of His treasure house He drew things both new and old to illustrate and enforce His teachings. He touched the heart, and awakened the sympathies.” Ellen G. White—Manuscript 24, 1891

Why am I thinking about this?

Because last week I preached

45 minutes & 11 seconds

& the week before that I preached

50 minutes and 21 seconds

& before that

42 minutes & 52 seconds…so you can see I’ve been consistently annoyed with my preaching recently.

Yes people have been blessed…but I could do better…

I want to be better…

Oh yeah why am I thinking about this?

Because I enjoy TED talks.

What are TED talks? You can listen to them (after you finish reading this blog of course) here.

Basically they are some of the greatest minds around sharing ideas about our world and all kinds of different things in our world. One of the distinctive features of a TED talk, they are messages delivered in 18 minutes or less (a few people go a little over but that is the general rule). If you listen to some of these talks you’ll be amazed by their quality and beauty and how they capture your attention (just watch this one by Benjamin Zander…after you finish reading my blog of course:)). And they do all this in a very short amount of time.

So I am thinking about this…

Because I want to capture peoples minds with the Word of God the way TED talks capture my mind. 

As I thought about this I began to think about the sermon I have often heard referred to as, “The greatest sermon ever preached.”

I was once at a Youth Specialties Conference and I heard Shane Claiborne recite just this sermon…no other words…just this sermon…

and I was raptured by its beauty,

profundity,

and also by it’s brevity. 

It is Jesus’ TED talk. It is found in the Bible in the first book of the New Testament, known as Matthew; Matthew chapters 5-7.

The greatest sermon ever preached…

The Sermon on the Mount

So tonight I paused and I read it aloud…

I read it like I was doing a dramatic reading…

I read it as I remember Shane Claiborne reading it…

Simply & slowly…

I read it because I wanted to see how long it was.

Let me pause and say, if you have not ever read scripture out loud to yourself…not just at church or in front of another;

But to yourself…

Start with The Sermon on the Mount…

It moved my heart to hear these words.

Not because of my voice…but as I slowly read, as I read as if I were preaching…

the words…Jesus’ words, moved my heart.

Read scripture out loud to yourself…you’ll be blessed.

But I read out loud, slowly, like I was preaching to see the time…

To confirm my self rebuke.

It was confirmed!

Jesus’ TED talk was 00:13:11:98

Thirteen Minutes

Eleven Seconds

Ninety-Eight one hundredths of a second

The greatest sermon ever preached was 1/4 of MOST of my sermons.

So I want to be like Jesus.

This includes in my preaching.

The TED talks motivate me to get shorter…

Jesus’ TED talk convicts me to get shorter.

Why the Recent Rhetoric in the Church Makes Me Want to Shout About “SPIRITUAL FORMATION

So today I was listening to a book on tape, in this book on tape there was a chapter heading, “Spiritual Formation.” I listened to the entire chapter and guess what? Afterwards I didn’t want to go and empty my mind, burn incense, light candles, chant in repetition or deny the infallibility of the Bible. In fact the authors description of “SPIRITUAL FORMATION” made me want to read my Bible more, spend more time alone being guided by the scriptures to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. He impressed upon me the need to have a consistent devotional time, and that part of Spiritual Formation included being willing to be more generous with my money to the cause of Jesus, particularly the local church…can you believe such heresy? I say tongue in cheek!

At the end of the chapter the thought that came into my mind and started to drive me crazy, “There are so many in our church that would have shut the audiobook off, or closed the book (if they were actually reading it) the moment they heard/saw those words, “Spiritual Formation” and they would have missed out on some great counsel! Why? Because over the last 3+ years many in the Adventist church have taught our people to be scared of words and phrases, like: “spiritual formation,” “liturgy,” and “kingdom growth.” Even “meditation” is being spoken of like all meditation is bad…I sure hope the folk that believe that fallacy never read the writings of Ellen G. White, there are over 800 references of “meditation” or “meditate;” and oh boy they better not read the Bible either, since there are a good thirty times meditation is mentioned in that GREAT book.

Why would I even say that? Because I really believe some would be shocked! They’d be shocked because we don’t teach them to read and to study and to discern truth for themselves, we teach them to be scared of certain words and so many of the sermons I’ve heard say, “Spiritual formation is evil. It is about meditation, and mantras.” And therefore meditation is wrong, even when there is a very good kind of Biblical meditation, but these people don’t know that, all they know is what we’ve told them to be scared of. We’ve taught them to be scared of words, just like the pharisees taught the Jews to be scared of Jesus because He used the words, “I Am.”

In preaching in this manner and writing EXTREME books on this topic not only are we teaching our people to be scared of words, we are also teaching them to be very judgmental.

I was given a CD of a fairly popular and well known speaker amongst Adventists, he is one that frequents many camp meetings. I’d heard him on a couple different occasions and was usually blessed by his messages. Then I received this CD and I listened…what I listened to was fear mongering and a call to judge, not to judge on actions, not to judge on doctrine, just to judge based on words. This preacher was speaking of a pastor of a mega-church and pointing out all the areas he was in error; which by the way, how far have we fallen when we think that is an acceptable topic for a Sabbath morning service? Anyway, he then said this, which blew my mind, “When you hear our preachers (Adventist preachers) use the term ‘Kingdom Growth’ you know they have been under the influence of (name of the Sunday preacher here) and you need to be on guard.” REALLY? REALLY? This semi-well known pastor with at least a moderate amount of influence told a bunch of folk to judge their pastors based on a phrase, “Kingdom Growth.” I’ve been using that phrase as often as I can ever since; yep, there is a rebel in me.

So we’re teaching our people to be scared of words. We’re teaching our people to be judgmental based on phrases. We’re also teaching our people how to be mere reflectors of man’s thoughts, rather than true discerners.

I was at a camp meeting. The evening speaker delivered a wonderful message, but he went on a tangent. In this tangent he began to condemn those associated with spiritual formation (he didn’t give context to this), he just used those catch words of course. But what drove me even more crazy was at the end of this little tangent he said, “that is why we shouldn’t be reading anything outside of Adventist literature.” REALLY? REALLY? I love this man, he has been a blessing in my life, I don’t know him, but I’ve read his books and listened to his sermons. But REALLY? I couldn’t take it so I confronted him afterwards, “How could you say that?” I asked. Well in the course of the conversation he acknowledged we should, and he even quoted Mrs. White referencing her statement about our need to be well read in the literature of the age, and how of course he didn’t mean don’t read anything outside of Adventism (he has a doctorate from a non-Adventist university). I asked him then why he said it, he didn’t have a great answer, something to the effect of wanting to protect the people. That is not protection though, it is dumbing people down. To this man’s credit he corrected the statement in his seminar a few days later and acknowledged that is not what he meant; unfortunately there were only 150 people at his seminar versus the 2000 that heard his original statement.

We’re teaching our people to be scared of words. We’re teaching our people to be judgmental based on phrases. We’re teaching our people how be mere reflectors of man’s thoughts, rather than true discerners.

But maybe most of all we’re teaching people how to miss the good and beautiful truth completely. The pharisees were so focused on all the potential negatives that could happen around the Sabbath day that when someone, Jesus Himself, actually showed up on the scene keeping the Sabbath they way it should be kept…they missed it completely! I worry that we are teaching our people to focus so much on the negative that they may actually miss a lot of good when it is being done right in front of their eyes.

Someone smart in my life said, I’m not sure who said this to me (maybe it was David in our Faster Pastor episode on Christmas), but whoever it was this is brilliant, “Words and symbols only have as much meaning in your life as you allow them to have.”

Our church needs to learn this! The words Spiritual Formation or any others like this only have the meaning that one attaches to them and if we attach all kinds of fear, judgment, and ignorance to them that is exactly the meaning they’ll have in people’s lives.

But maybe some people out there are using those same words and they are doing a great job of teaching about Bible Study, Sacrifice, Prayer, Service, Repentance, Tithing…but our people will never know; cause they’ll close the book the moment they see the buzz words our church has decided to condemn and attach unnecessary negative value to over the last 3+ years.

Lord help us to spend more time teaching people about the beautiful truths of Jesus and in the glorious light of Jesus’ truth maybe we can trust them to be able to discern error for themselves.

 

 

Our Growth Part 2

If you did not read yesterdays post, I would encourage you to go and do so now. Yesterday, I shared with y’all some reasons I believe our church was put in a position to grow over the past five years. I didn’t get too detailed but tried to stay broad enough so that individuals could apply the principles to their own church as needed.

In today’s post I want to share with you the reasons why I believe we didn’t grow MORE. Yep, we had tremendous growth for an English speaking Adventist church in North America, but was there something left on the table? I’m convicted that there was. So here is the underbelly of our church; I pray this post will help y’all to avoid some of our same pitfalls or maybe to be honest with yourselves about where your church is lacking in order that things may be changed and Jesus may be glorified.

Why We Didn’t Grow More:

Prayer! Yep, that is right prayer! I said yesterday that our emphasis on prayer was the primary factor regarding our church growth. How then can prayer also be something that kept us from growing? Well, prayer didn’t keep us from growing, more accurately a lack of prayer I believe kept us from growing. Our prayer ministries has expanded in tremendous ways over the last five years. We’ve moved from a handful of prayer warriors to 70+ prayer warriors. Yet, it still seems like we are so far from where God wants us to be. Read this quote from Ellen White:

As a church, we have received great light. This light the Lord has entrusted to us for the benefit and blessing of the world. To us has been given the ministry of reconciliation. With power from on high we are to beseech men to be reconciled to God. We are encouraged to pray for success, with the divine assurance that our prayers will be heard and answered. “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19, 20). “Ask of Me, and I will answer your requests.” The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer. The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another.—Letter 32, 1903, p. 5.

Mrs. White is writing about the growth of The Seventh-day Adventist Church and she says, “The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer.” This past year I have had the privilege to do ministry on both sides of our country, in the summer I was in New York City and in the fall I was in Hawaii. While visiting both of these places I attended churches that I have read about and heard about…non-Adventist churches. In New York I went to prayer meeting at The Brooklyn Tabernacle, in Hawaii, I attended New Hope. What impresses me so much about both of these churches is their commitment to prayer…not the leadership talking about it, not books being read about prayer, the people actually coming together to pray. While Christina and I were there on the island there was a major issue taking place and New Hope called a prayer meeting…THOUSANDS showed up to pray. In Brooklyn I arrived early, were the stories true? Do people really come out to prayer meeting early just to pray? Yes they do, hundreds and hundreds of people were there starting at 5 p.m. to pray, even though the actual prayer meeting doesn’t start ’till 7 p.m.. I don’t agree with what these two churches teach on several points, I didn’t love the worship style at either, though I was blessed by both, but I would not dare to denigrate their growth because I saw with my own two eyes memberships that were committed to prayer…not the few…the majority. Could it be God is blessing these churches walking in some errors because they are “united in prayer”? I trust what Mrs. White wrote & believe our church would have grown more if the majority, not the minority of our membership were united in prayer!

 

Staff Transitions. When good staff leave, even if those transitions were necessary in some way there is going to be a time of unsettlement within the church. As I stated in my previous post I was blessed the moment I arrived at Visalia to work with people extremely gifted in their areas of ministry. But as is often the case there are differences with transition of leadership and sometimes those differences can not be reconciled. Well we went through that in back to back years and it caused some unease within our church. Which is an absolutely normal response. We saw over the second year of transition our only down year in local giving (this year we’ve recouped what we were behind last year and increased local giving by more than $100,000). We had another transition this past Spring, but that was due to a relocation and transitions like that seem to be much more readily accepted. This probably isn’t one that anyone can necessarily avoid. Staff transitions are a part of life within and without of the church, the previous administration shared with me that in his time as Senior Pastor two individuals that had been here prior to him transitioned out under his leadership, and I’m sure when God decides to move me on there will be other transitions in regards to our team then as well. For the purposes of this blog I would say that in times of transition growth may slow, but don’t panic! Stay the course, be faithful, God will see you through.

 

Our growth. That is right I believe our growth stifled our growth. Let me give you three examples of how I saw our growth stifle growth. First, we were not equipped to handle some of the growth that occurred and thus rather than having opportunities in place for these new people to immediately begin evangelizing their friends and family…they sat and in some cases their enthusiasm waned. This was a leadership failure that we have tried to rectify in our most recent wave of growth. Second, our members became content. There was a time when a large percentage of our members were inviting friends and family to attend our church on a regular basis. I think when we grew & became crowded folk no longer saw “the need” and their evangelistic fervor began to dissipate. Third, we didn’t adjust quickly enough. You may have heard of the 80% rule, if your parking lot or sanctuary is 80% full then growth will be stifled. At the peak of our early growth (we are picking-up momentum again) we didn’t make room for the people quickly enough. We eventually started a second campus & a second service but we did it all, especially the second service about a year too late! Our hesitancy caused our growth to sputter. Y’all if you’re growing and your room is filling-up don’t get scared of the naysayers, ACT quickly and decisively.

 

Sin. Sin has prevented us from growing more in the last five years than we should have. And I won’t point the finger anywhere else on this one as I don’t know anyone else’s heart but my own. I have come to firmly believe that the sins of leader effect the corporate body. Now I’m not talking about occasional misdeed here and there, I’m talking about cherishing pride. Holding resentment & bitterness in ones heart. Neglecting personal private time with God in prayer and Bible study. Not having enough faith in the vision God has placed on my heart. Laziness. Fear. Over the course of the last five years I have gone through stages of these areas, and while I am not consciously aware of these sins influencing my decisions or limiting growth, based on my knowledge of scripture I believe they all have at times. Leaders your church can’t grow unless you’re growing in your relationship and love for Jesus!

 

Facilities. I already mentioned above the 80% percent rule, Dr. Russell Burrill writes that in the Adventist Church this rule is not just limited to sanctuary seating & parking space, but also to Sabbath School space, especially within the Children’s departments. Well we have more than exceeded the 80% rule. It used to just be our Cradle Roll and Kindergarten classes that were packed to the gills, but now Cradle Roll through youth is full, we have even run out of room for conducive adult studies. If Dr. Burrill’s statement is accurate, which I assume it is as it was based on research, then our growth has been stunted a little from that every single year.

 

A lack of volunteers. We have great volunteers, some of the most amazing people I have ever had the opportunity to serve with, a huge reason for our growth over these years. But we don’t have 100% or even 80% or even 50% of our members volunteering; I would say we are more around 33% of our members regularly volunteering or giving at least 1 hour in a month (it should be 1 hour a week to really thrive). I think this is a fairly simple truth: if you want your church to grow get more people serving! That is easier said then done, at some point it has to be a member standing-up and saying, “here I am Lord send me!” Service to the Lord is a heart thing and since each member is a part of the Body of Christ, if the heart (the members hearts) is not pumping out blood (actively, regularly serving) the body will not operate at maximum efficiency. Most our churches are not operating at maximum efficiency! With each member that gets involved the church has a little better shot of increasing its growth. I’m sure that this is one area that minimizes the growth of every church, because I know of NO church where 100% of the members are involved in service to Jesus. We must not accept this though, we must be committed to the ideal; continuing to struggle, urging, and even pleading when necessary for more help from the laity.

 

These are the reasons I believe over the last five years we have not grown more. I pray that the points made in this blog will help you as you help to put your church in a position to receive the Lord’s blessing of growth! Tomorrow I’ll be posting on what specific things we plan to look at in the years ahead to continue and exceed our current growth.

 

Thanks for reading and please share with your friends and pastors if you think it will be a blessing to them!

 

 

 

 

Our Growth Part 1

I am hesitant to write about the growth of our church, The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church, for fear that it is arrogant or presumptuous to assume anyone would want to know what is happening here in Visalia, California. There is also the recognition that Jesus ultimately brings the growth and to try and label that growth through any other means is foolishness.

In regards to the first concern I read many blogs, many books, many articles from non-Adventists about why their churches are growing, and I learn from these materials. Within our own denomination there is very little material relating to this topic. (There are a few books, like “The Big Four” by Dr. Joseph Kidder which I would highly recommend, but that is one of few). I believe this reality is unfortunate because there is a danger when we only read non-Adventist church growth materials: We may be tempted to say, “we have to be just like this,” Which I have found in our subculture just does not work. Or we can go to the other extreme and say, “we can’t do any of this,” and thus we never try.

In regards to the second concern I believe with all my heart that Jesus brings the growth of a church and that church growth can actually happen at any time in any place and that church growth can also fail to happen even when all the best things are happening. That said, I see how Jesus uses strategy, focus, vision, intentionality in powerful ways to make a difference for the growth of His Kingdom.

So this blog is an attempt to talk about Church Growth from an Adventist perspective with the recognition that even what I share is not possible unless Jesus brings the harvest!

This in fact will be a three part blog. Today I will look at some of the things that have put our church in a position to grow over the last five years. Tomorrow I will look at why I believe our church hasn’t grown more over the last five years. Then in part 3 on Wednesday I will share with you some of the things we are going to focus on moving forward to further place ourselves in a position to grow.

So what are the credentials of this church that make me believe we are in a position to talk about church growth? I will give you a quick laundry list.

  1. This is not a scientific statement and I have no idea the veracity of this statement but I have been told by a number of individuals within the Pacific Union Conference that our church is one of the fastest if not the fastest growing (Caucasian–more on this later) English speaking churches in this Union.
  2. In the last five years our attendance has grown 133%
  3. Our membership has had a net increase of 243 individuals after you take away transfers out and deaths.
  4. Some have assumed that this growth has been primarily transfer growth, this would be an inaccurate assumption: Transfers In: 165 Baptisms & Professions of Faith: 180 (we’ve baptized more than that but more on this later as well).
  5. Our Giving to the world church has increased since 2008 from $550,000 annually to over $800,000; Our local giving over those same years increased from roughly $370,000 to this year we will go over $600,000 in local giving.

So those are the statistics, for what they’re worth. And now to the focus of this blog post.

What have we done here in Visalia, CA to put ourselves in the position for God to bless and grow this church?

Prayer. I could not start this section without stating that very clearly, so let me say it again. I attribute what has happened at Visalia to the foundation of prayer that has been and is being built. I would love to say that this foundation was due to the deep spirituality of the pastor! 🙂 The truth is I was like I am sure many pastors are, I worked first and prayed later. I gave token platitudes to prayer, but I did not really emphasize prayer. I had however a lady in this church, Katy, that from the first day I arrived in Visalia did some friendly nagging (I know nag is not a nice word, but I can’t think of a better word). She was persistent in encouraging me to focus more on prayer. She practically forced a prayer partner on me. She gave me books to read about prayer. But most of all she prayed that her pastor would pray more. Well, the Lord answered her prayers and prayer–our communication with Jesus & receiving His power has become the foundation of what we do in Visalia. How has this looked? We’ve been intentional about placing prayer partners with our key leaders. We have folk that pray every morning before church starts and another group that prays Sabbath afternoon at our sister campus The Ark before their services begin. We have a ladies group that prays Wednesday mornings together for the prayer requests that come in each Sabbath. Recently we spent 40 days as a church praying every morning at 7:14 a.m. & every evening at 7:14 p.m.. As we came out of those 40 days we decided to continue with our prayer gatherings in the morning and so every single morning our church is open for folk to gather together to pray. Every single person that is connected to our church whether member or not is on a list and is prayed for weekly by one of our 70+ prayer warriors. We preach about prayer regularly. We’ve sent out more than 300+ books on two separate occasions focused on prayer (“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala & “Draw the Circle” by Mark Batterson). In other words we’ve made prayer foundational to what we do & we try to keep this before our people!

Ellen G. White’s strategy for church growth. Specifically the books, “Gospel Workers” & “Evangelism” have been books that I constantly go back to to discover principles on reaching people for Jesus! I heard the story when I was in Seminary and you may have heard it too: There was an Adventist doctoral student from Fuller Theological Seminary that was doing some research and he went to visit Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho (formerly David Yungi Cho) in South Korea. Cho is the founding pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church the largest church in the world with close to 1 million members. While this doctoral student was discussing with Pastor Cho the phenomenal growth of his church, Pastor Cho discovered that the student was a Seventh-day Adventist, he dismissed himself went back into his personal office and returned with two books in hand, the books were “Gospel Workers” & “Evangelism” by Ellen G. White. He told the student that he should be familiar with the principles of church growth applied at Yoido Full Gospel Church as they were taught by Ellen White. (On a side note I’ve always wondered how Pastor Cho came upon these books, this past summer a pastor I work with here in Central California Conference that is from South Korea informed me that Pastor Cho for a short time attended our Adventist University in Korea, which is surely where he came across those books). I recalled this story I had learned years ago and I began to thoroughly go through these books & to apply the principles that I learn in them. The methods don’t always work, it was a different culture that she wrote in, but the principles still are from God and still will bless your church. Something else I discovered as I went through these books is that I see the principles of the “Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren (a book I read and have been blessed by) in Mrs. White’s writings. This should teach us something; we should be careful not to condemn everything outside our own walls…we may find ourselves condemning the very things Jesus affirmed through our prophet over a hundred years ago. If our churches aren’t growing shouldn’t it make us sit-up and take notice that the largest church in the world is using principles from our prophet to grow & that the number one church growth book in our nation, “The Purpose Driven Church” is also writing about those very same principles Mrs. White wrote about so long ago. Why then are we not digging into these two books to learn more? That is something we have done and it is blessing our church!

Staff. I was blessed when I arrived here in Visalia to immediately be surrounded by gifted individuals that were doing a tremendous job in their particular areas of ministry. We have since had some transitions, yet we as a church have made an intentional effort to continue to staff our church with a tremendous group of individuals and we do all that we can to allow them to thrive in their particular ministry areas. Now I know this is a more challenging task for most churches since they are not in a position to have “staff.” So for those churches that are unable to have “staff” I would recommend at least one specific team member that you hire. And that would be a prayerful “true” Bible Worker. I say prayerful because Bible Working is tough work, rejection is more common than success, and thus an individual truly needs to be in continual prayer to have real success in their endeavors. I say “true” because there are a lot of individuals that have gone through Bible Worker training but their real objective is to be the next David Asscherick, Nathan Renner, or Taj Pacleb. All great guys, all friends of mine, all tremendous soul winners. But for a Bible Worker in your church you don’t want copy cats of these men. You want someone that wants to be a Bible Worker! They are individuals that want to be out there knocking on doors, giving one on one Bible studies, connecting with all your guests, pestering your members to go on studies with them. There are a number of churches here within my own conference that baptize one or less than one on a consistent year by year basis. To all those churches I would say, “hire a Bible worker.” Cut whatever else you need to in your budget and hire a Bible Worker. Most Bible Workers are willing to work for $1500 a month plus a roof over their heads and some help with gas. A lot of conferences will help churches that are wanting to make this step as well. If I were to move to another church and I was the lone pastor the first hire I would make is a Bible Worker!

Quality. A fourth area I see that has put us in a position for such positive growth is that we are intentional about doing things well. We don’t always do things well, but it is not because we don’t try. I believe within Adventism there is a dearth of excellence or worse yet, there is a dearth even at the attempt of excellence. I don’t say this to be critical…yes I do…I think it is shameful that we are worshiping the God of the universe Sabbath after Sabbath and so many throw together worship services at the last minute without much thought or prayer. This is NOT Biblical! Read the Old Testament particularly the last four books of the Pentateuch and it is obvious that God cares very much about the details of worship! This doesn’t mean that services need to be elaborate, but the first time someone plays a hymn or sings a song shouldn’t be Sabbath morning as they are standing in front of the congregation. The person that is praying shouldn’t be an elder that happened to be early for church that Sabbath and was thus dragged up to fill in the role. And pastors we should NEVER wing it! Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. I am really passionate about this though and I believe that little things done right or at least an attempt at doing right make a huge difference.

It’s Not About Visalia Only! I mentioned above that we had baptized more than the 180 that are on our record books. The “more” that we have baptized have been individuals that have come to accept Jesus through the ministries of the Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church or by studying with one of our team or one of our members, but have chosen to be members at another Seventh-day Adventist Church for whatever reason. There have been more than a dozen folk that would fit into this category. I praise the Lord for this! Because we don’t want our growth to be only about us. My hearts desire is to see the Gospel to be spread far and wide and for all our Adventist churches to grow. Having this attitude has allowed us to say goodbye with grace to other members when they feel that God is calling them to serve in another church. Having this attitude has given us the opportunity to encourage our team and our Elders that are gifted in speaking to share their skills at other churches. Having this attitude has helped us to think valley wide when planning ministries. I believe having this attitude has opened the door for Jesus to bless us even more, because Jesus isn’t worried about just Visalia SDA growing, He cares about His Kingdom growing by whomever, wherever and He blesses those that feel and practice the same!

Demographics. We have also grown because our church has started to look more like our community. Our community is only 50% Caucasian in such an environment it would be foolish and unChristian to attempt to remain homogenous. I am firmly committed to the idea that a church that fails to look like its community will fail to grow. 

A willingness to change and endure the resulting conflict. In the last five years there have been a number of changes. Staff changes, adding a service, adding an entirely new campus. Changes in music. Changes in nominating committee process. Changes in the board structure. Changes in expectations of volunteers. Lots and lots of changes. Some have stuck, some have failed but in every change there has been push back. Just like in nature that which does not change, does not grow. In fact growth in and of itself is a change which has brought some challenges and conflict. A church that would rather stay the same than grow is not a church it is a country club, and last time I checked country clubs were not the body of Christ! Conflict is inevitable, I believe if our goal is to avoid conflict then growth is nearly impossible.

Intentionality. Doing things with purpose. Too much is done in churches without a true purpose. “Why is your children’s program run that way?” “Why do you start your church service at that time?” “Why is that person the leader of that ministry?” “Why do you have Pathfinders?” If the answer to any of these questions is, “because that is the way it has always been.” Then that is not intentionality. To be intentional is to have a reason for everything that you do. We have greeters trainings and elders retreats. We have a stewardship system that functions from week to week in a specific way for a specific purpose. Family Night. Friday Night Vespers. Whatever we do, there is a purpose behind it and when those things start to lose their purpose/impact, then we become “intentional” about closing them down or changing them. Most of us think through our lives with a lot more intentionality than we do our work for Jesus, even though our work for Jesus is the most important task we have on this earth.

Everything is evangelism! Finally, we have made it a point to keep before our people that the most important thing about a church is, “seeking and saving the lost.” We spend our money with this in mind. We shape our calendar with this in mind. We preach this. We urge this reality in the life of each person that joins our family. If you spend, work, and talk reaching people for Jesus, well then you’ll be more likely to reach people for Jesus.

As I was writing this blog I began to realize this list could go on and on (you may feel it already did:) ). We could talk about our Children’s Ministries, our local Adventist schools, our hospitality ministries, health ministries, etc.. But rather than get into specifics I wanted to focus on some things all churches no matter how big or small could do to help reach more people for Jesus’ family.

Tomorrow I will focus on some reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.

I hope you’ll join me!

Late Night Ruminations on Preaching

Awoken by a 2 year old, I am now ruminating on Mrs. White’s instruction,

 “Let your discourses be short.” (Evangelism, p. 177)

I find it funny how many of us Seventh-day Adventist preachers desire & call folk to submit to her counsel yet so many of those same preachers (myself included), cast aside this counsel with one excuse or another.

I know there are settings where the long sermon is expected, maybe at a camp meeting or a week of prayer. The general rule however of preaching in the church or in an evangelistic series according to Mrs. White, “less is more.”

As I’ve been watching Pastor Elizabeth Talbot’s DVD’s (Jesus 101 Biblical Institute) over the last week, I notice she presents true profundity in 28 minutes. This corresponds with the counsel of Ellen White as she references several times that roughly 30 minutes should be the primary length of our preaching. I’m praying for God to move me in this direction.  Again, “less is more.”

I believe it is time for me to submit to this counsel. If I can’t say what the Spirit wants me to say in 30-35 minutes, if I can’t say what the Spirit wants me to say without wearing out the folk in the pews, maybe I shouldn’t be up there saying it at all. So Lord, do this work in me please!

 

 

The Ellen G. White Quote Quota

As a preacher I have a quota on Ellen G. White quotes for my sermons. The quota is basically this: “NEVER have more Ellen White quotes than Bible texts, NEVER!” 

Many years ago my wife and I were traveling, when we arrived at our destination for the evening I had a message on my phone,

“Pastor, Pastor you have to listen to the sermon that was preached today at church. We had guests, they walked out. It was horrible. Just listen!”

Well the next day my wife and I would be driving again and so I decided to download the sermon and listen to it as we drove.  The content wasn’t horrible, the premise wasn’t to far off the mark (though out there a ‘bit), but I quickly realized what the issue was. About ten minutes into the sermon I started to count: 3 scriptures, 20 Ellen G. White quotes, and the three scriptures were from the first 10 minutes–they were easy to remember there were only 3 of them in the entire sermon! (I have to give the speaker credit he introduced her by all her titles: Mrs. White, Sister White, The prophet, The prophetess, The pen of inspiration, Our inspired writer, My favorite author, etc.)

Needless to say I wasn’t pleased!

This gentleman definitely wasn’t following the rule; never have Mrs. White out quote the Word of God!

So why do I bring this up?

Not because I am trying to discourage preachers from using Ellen White, in fact I think it is ridiculous for an Adventist preacher to not quote her, yet to quote from every other Spiritual writer there is, Lucado, Warren, Swindoll, Hybels, etc.. Her writings are powerful and she is often the first quote I want to use to illuminate what is being said. So we as preachers should quote her.

I don’t bring it up because I hear the pastors that do quote her, quoting her too much. I think most Adventist pastors are respectful of the “EGW Quote Quota.”

I bring this issue up, because I am afraid that for many of us, myself included (and not just pastors but many Seventh-day Adventist Christians) we have forgotten this rule when it comes to our Facebook & Twitter accounts!

I am finding more and more Ellen White quotes amongst my peers on Facebook & Twitter and not enough Bible. It seems her quotes are outpacing the Bible 3 to 1 (of course that is not an official ratio), but you get the point! I hope? 

There are times when I’ve been doing seminars or speaking in front of an exclusively Adventist crowd and on these occasions I will use tons of Ellen White quotes, but when I am in a public forum speaking where I know there are many pre-Adventists present I will always make sure there is more Bible than “my favorite author.”

Why?

Because I want to do what Ellen White told us to do & what she tried to do for all of us, “Point people back to the Bible.”

Well Facebook, Twitter, & other Social Media outlets for most of us are public forums. They are for many of us, places where we have a signficant amount of contact w/ a captive audience. an audience which often times may not believe as we do, in those moments where do we want to FIRST point these individuals–hear me I am not saying to do away with Ellen White quotes or that they are unable to be edifying to the unbeliever–but where do we want to FIRST point our readers? To the Word of God! That which is, “a lamp unto their feet & a light unto their path.” (Psalm 119:105)

So let us all strive to remember The Ellen G. White Quote Quota, not just in our public speaking, but in all our public discourse, “NEVER quote Ellen White more than you quote the Bible, NEVER!”

 

 

 

Struggle

As I head into an important meeting August 19 I am in great prayer for the Spirit of God’s leading. Since I always believe in being honest on this blog and in life, I thought I would share the struggle I am having.

My position on the issues of the day are pretty clear, if you read this blog you know I am in support of Women’s Ordination. I believe the day our church took the position to allow women pastors, we should have also taken the position of ordaining. Otherwise it feels like saying “you get paid .75 cents on the dollar” or “here is the title with none of the authority.”

I am disappointed that the current movement is not being lead by our General Conference, and I am finding it hard to trust that things will be different in the future.

**Quick side note, the current administration is getting all the blame, but let us not forget that the previous administration spoke of moving forward on this issue and took a silent survey of the World Division Presidents and pulled back, the current admin is just vocal and so “He” and they get the brunt of our angst, but is an impediment any different whether vocal or silent?

So what is my struggle? My struggle is this: I still believe in the authority of Ellen White in my life as a Seventh-day Adventist, and since she is sleeping in the ground ’till Jesus comes, all I can go by in regards to her counsel are the words we have on the written page. Thus when my friend Pastor Shawn Brace posted two quotes on his Facebook page my struggle has been increased. I have seen the quotes before, but maybe as I am in a great season of prayer over this issue and our church I saw them with new eyes.

I will share those quotes below, but first I want to share one other thing that has increased my struggle. A conversation I had with a fellow pastor, a female pastor, and she said,

“Chad I very much want ordination without regard to gender to happen, but if it happens apart from the General Conference, then I am only recognized in one or two Unions as ordained & if I leave those Unions it has no value. Then all we have essentially done is release the tension a little, much like when certain conferences voted to change ordination policy a few years back, or certain churches voted to ordain their female pastors, it did not really change the issue, women still are not recognized on equal status in the EYES (GC) of the church. If we do this now, will it only release the pressure off the General Conference for a season and in actuality further delay what ultimately needs to happen, equal ordination for all?”

Twice Paul told us that, “Everything is permissible–but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 10:23 & 1 Cor. 6:12). So I am praying, not what is most permissible, but what will be most beneficial to the cause of God & to the cause of recognition for women by ALL the church?

May we all pray, and may God give us wisdom.

EGW Quotes Pastor Shawn posted that stirred my struggle:

“. . . I have been instructed that there is a great work to be done in America. . .

“The world is filled with strife for the supremacy. The spirit of pulling away from fellow laborers, the spirit of disorganization, is in the very air we breathe. By some, all efforts to establish order are regarded as dangerous–as a restriction of personal liberty, and hence to be feared as popery. These deceiv

ed souls regard it a virtue to boast of their freedom to think and act independently. They declare that they will not take any man’s say-so, that they are amenable to no man. I have been instructed that it is Satan’s special effort to lead men to feel that God is pleased to have them choose their own course independent of the counsel of their brethren. . . .

“Oh, how Satan would rejoice if he could succeed in his efforts to get in among this people and disorganize the work at a time when thorough organization is essential and will be the greatest power to keep out spurious uprisings and to refute claims not endorsed by the word of God! We want to hold the lines evenly, that there shall be no breaking down of the system of organization and order that has been built up by wise, careful labor. License must not be given to disorderly elements that desire to control the work at this time.

“Some have advanced the thought that, as we near the close of time, every child of God will act independently of any religious organization. But I have been instructed by the Lord that in this work there is no such thing as every man’s being independent. The stars of heaven are all under law, each influencing the other to do the will of God, yielding their common obedience to the law that controls their action. And, in order that the Lord’s work may advance healthfully and solidly, His people must draw together.

“The spasmodic, fitful movements of some who claim to be Christians are well represented by the work of strong but untrained horses. When one pulls forward, another pulls back, and at the voice of their master one plunges ahead and the other stands immovable. If men will not move in concert in the great and grand work for this time, there will be confusion. It is not a good sign when men refuse to unite with their brethren and prefer to act alone. Let laborers take into their confidence the brethren who are free to point out every departure from right principles. If men wear the yoke of Christ, they can not pull apart; they will draw with Christ” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 257-259).

“I have often been instructed by the Lord that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other one man. Never should the mind of one man or the minds of a few men be regarded as sufficient in wisdom and power to control the work and to say what plans shall be followed. But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 260).

 

 

 

 

1 For Every 10k

That is not a 10k race…for those runner friends out there. I am writing of 10k as in 10,000, & the 1 is representative of 1 church.

We need 1 church for every 10,000 people, to be precise we need 1 church of 200 active members for every 10,000 people. This is the conclusion many have come to, including those in the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Why? Well let the folks at NPUC explain:

“A typical church of 200 active members will impact a maximum of 10k people (200 members x 50 contacts = 10k if there is no overlap).”

Now let me throw in this caveat that I believe to be absolutely 100% truth, and definitely verifiable through the stories of scripture. God could reach everyone with just 1 person. I don’t know how, but He could do it. And although that is true that is not the way God seems to work. In fact He seems to work in the way we would typically think of working, at least when it comes to numbers.

More people reach more people!

“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” –Matthew 9:37-38

The idea is MORE laborers MORE reaping!

So yes God could reach everyone with just 1 person, but He has chosen to use people and to call for more people to help Him in reaching everyone. Which is the very reason why the statistic above is significant. For a church to truly impact 10,000 people it must have 200 soul winners, engaged members in its midst.

In most communities where there is an Adventist church of 500 or more folk will often ask, “Why do we need another church?” It doesn’t matter if the city is 20,000, 50,000, or 100,000+. A church of 500 or more is usually quite satisfactory to folk and again people ask, “Why do we need another church?” How do I know this? Because we have recently started another church (in my mind it is a campus, but to the community it is another church) The Ark a Seventh-day Adventist Christian Church, & because there is already a significant size church in our community, The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church, (740 members and growing) I have heard many times, “Why  another church pastor?”

My answer is this:

Because 1 church cannot reach 125,000 people quick enough with the Adventist message (and yes I do believe in proselytizing) That is how many people there are in my city. Which would mean we need at least 12 churches of 200 soul winners to reach all 125,000+ people in our community.

What about in your community? How big is your city? Does your city have a population of 10,000 or more?

And if so…

Do you have an Adventist church? Are there 200 engaged–on fire, Jesus loving, people serving, Good News spreading–members in your church? Do you have enough churches & or enough members if your city is 20 thousand, 30 thousand, 40 thousand, 100,000, 500,000 people?

For most of you the answer will be NO!

How do I know? Because in the United States the mean size of a typical Adventist church is 215 members. That is good, except…there are only 4950 churches which in comparison to the population of the United States computes to just 1 church for every 63,267 people.

(Even if we took our total Adventist membership in the U.S. and divided it by 200 we would still only have 1 set of 200 people for every 58,900 people. Now probably wouldn’t be the right time to mention that only about half of all professed Adventists are “active” in their local churches right? Yeah that would be a much more dismal picture, so let’s at least let something be rose colored:)).

Back to our situation. In order to have 1 church for every 10k in the United States, we need 31,317 Adventist churches of at least 200 in the United States. So roughly, 26,350 more of our mean size (215) church.

So do we throw-up our hands and say impossible? Can’t be done? Do you remember that God that could reach everyone with just 1 that you were defending earlier when I was throwing-out numbers? Yes, He is still on the throne and He can very well do this! And He can very well do this through us!

Based on some quick adding and some quick math on my part. Let us state that there are about 750 churches with 300 members or more.

What if every church with at least 300 members, encouraged, taught, made a part of their culture, a membership tithe from the church. In other words if a church has 300 members they would ask 30 members to step out in faith and plant a church. If they have 400 members, 40, 500, 50…600 they plant two churches and send out two groups of 30.

What if a church such as Loma Linda University church made the decision to tithe their members. To call for 600 members to step out in faith and plant churches…what if they sent out 6 different teams of 100 to plant a church. 6 churches in 1 year. The same could be true for Pioneer Memorial Church, Pastor Dwight Nelson if he were to stand-up every year and teach every year his congregation to tithe themselves? Could they plant 3 churches of a 100 members every year? Why not? On faith they could!

Here is what I know about tithing financially. With an honest tithe I am never found in need! I believe the same would be true for our churches. If we stepped out in faith and said “we will not be satisfied with the inability to reach more people; we will not ignore the call to pray for more workers, we will actually send out more workers.”

If we were to do this, our churches would never be found wanting and the Adventist message would spread like wildfire!

Are you a Seventh-day Adventist believer? Then the above scenario is not something nice to throw around it is your calling!

“Upon ALL who believe, God has placed a burden of raising up churches.”

–Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, p. 315


 

 

 

 

One of Many Goals for 2012

So I read the following statements this morning and it states well something God has shown me I need to work on in this new year.

“If any one shall seek to draw the workers into debate or controversy on political or other questions take no heed to either persuasion or challenge.” Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 374.

“If men who are engaged in presenting and defending the truth of the Bible, undertake to investigate and show the fallacy and inconsistency of men who dishonestly turn the truth of God into a lie, Satan will stir up opponents enough to keep their pens constantly employed, while other branches of the work will be left to suffer. We must have more of the spirit of those men who were engaged in building the walls of Jerusalem. We are doing a great work, and cannot come down. If Satan can keep men answering the objections of opponents, thus hindering them from doing the most important work for the present time, his object is accomplished.” –Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 376.

______________________________________________________________________________

So what am I working on for 2012? Not spending a lot of time trying to defend & debate the positions I have been convicted on through the Bible and prayer.

I need to be content to state what I believe when folk take umbrage, and if they want to continue after that I simply need to remain silent and walk away. AGREE to DISAGREE.

God has called me to focus on the ministry for the days in which we live and not to remain continually occupied with conflict or vain discussions that rarely go anywhere, but to division and hurt feelings.

Goal for 2012: Less arguments, less repeat discussions, no debating.

Pray for me since I have never been one to back away from a verbal jousting session!

 

 

Stoning the Prophet

These words of Jesus struck me today, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” –Matthew 23:37a

I began to wonder would we as a church be accused of stoning our prophet, Ellen White, as well? Not with literal stones, but with our words.

The old kid saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” BULL! We’ve all been hurt by words. Words are powerful and influential. And in the way many have spoken of Ellen White and her writings I believe it is just the same as casting a stone, because in some peoples lives before they ever opened a book of hers or read one line of her writing she was already dead to them. Before they could make a decision for themselves she was dead to them, because of the words they had heard THROWN around.

I wonder if Jesus would accuse you and me of killing our prophet? Pick-up the books and read them listen to the words. Pray for conviction one way or the other. Before you pick-up a stone and kill her!

I was challenged to stop stoning her and I decided to read her for myself and her writings have become a living breathing blessing in my life!

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