Posts Tagged: Seventh-day Adventist Church

Please Count!

Whether it is self preservation or ego that makes us do it, most pastors/members I know fudge slightly on the high side when it comes to their church attendance numbers. I don’t believe people do this maliciously or to intentionally deceive but innocent or not this self-deception regarding church attendance numbers is detrimental to the growth of the church.

If we don’t know our actual numbers we can be deceived about the health and growth of the church. I first realized this when I was a member of a very large church many years ago. To my casual eye and I am sure to most the members eyes this church seemed like a healthy growing church. There always seemed to be a healthy number of folk filling the pews each week. The foyer seemed crowed before and after church. The quality of the service was great. If someone had asked me, “Are you a member of a growing church?” I would have responded with a firm, “Yes!” But one day I thought to myself, “I don’t remember seeing very many baptisms at this church in the last few years.” And I began to question, “Is this church really a growing church?”

I decided to do a little research and what I discovered was this: at the beginning of the year we had just finished the church membership was 3000…now a couple months into a new year the church membership was…wait for it…3003. The church had grown by a net gain of 3 people in more than a year. I was astonished, I was disappointed, I was sad. I thought I was a member of a growing church. What I discovered is that I was a member of a very kind, a very busy, a high quality church…but not an evangelistic, growing church.

When we count (this is especially for the pastors) we are forced to take a true account of whether or not we are leading our churches to be healthy growing communities. If we don’t count, we can remain deceived; thus limiting the urgency to develop the evangelistic fervor needed within every church.

Now there are always those that will resist the value of counting.

They will say:

“Numbers don’t matter!” I would respond, “That if we see each number as representing an individual that Jesus died for, then they certainly do matter!!”

They will say:

“We shouldn’t be driven by numbers!” I would respond, “I agree. We should be driven by the heart of Jesus wanting to reach lost sheep. And one of the only ways to know if this is happening is to count.”

They will say:

“Numbers are relative.” I would respond, “They are indeed! A church of 16 that adds 3 new members in a year should celebrate. A church of 3000 that adds 3 new members in a year should recalibrate.”

Please count! Count every Sabbath to see if you are growing.

Then after you finish counting, start analyzing. There is no point in gathering data, unless you’re going to use that data to help improve in specific areas.

Due to the fact that we don’t just count at our church, we also analyze; these numbers take on extra value to our ministry. Let me give an example.

This past year, 2013, our average attendance was 356 individuals attending per week; that was an improvement of 16 people per week over the previous year. We are growing. Not as much as I believe we could, but we are growing. There is more though to those numbers than just growth; as we analyze the numbers we see that our 1st service grew by an average of 15 people, and our 2nd service grew by an average of 1. This has helped us to have discussions about what is appealing to people about first service and what may be unappealing to folk about second service? What are the demographics of the two services? Is the 1st service growth new member/visitor growth or long time members just choosing to go earlier in the day? All this is looked at because we count.

Also because we count we have found that we are unhealthy as a church in some areas. Last year we baptized or brought in through profession of faith 60 new people. Yet our average attendance for the year was only up 16 people per week. Our attendance definitely increased after all those baptisms, but that means we were actually a little below the previous years averages prior to the baptisms. Why was this? What was happening? Also, are we keeping all our new baptisms? Yes, for the most part we are. Then that means previous members are no longer attending as much? Who? And why not? We discuss this, look at this, try to work on this, and we know about all this; why? Because we count.

Another area counting has helped is that based on the data collected the past five years, analysis tells us  there are 4 months that are exceptionally high months of church attendance & three months that are exceptionally low in attendance. So what do we do with this information? We schedule for our strengths. We don’t actually try to improve the attendance for the months that are low; five years is enough to show us that these are months that folk just don’t attend church. Rather than wasting time trying to get people there those months we accept reality and instead focus on growing the average months the rest of the year. We also take advantage of the exceptionally high months by making those services as evangelistically appealing as possible. How many churches plan big events in months that are traditionally low and then wonder why no one showed-up? Too many I’m afraid! Why? Because they don’t count.

Has this made you decide to count?

I hope so, because…

…a lack of counting will lead to acceptance and even an over glorification of the status quo.

A lack of counting can prevent growth.

A lack of counting thwarts strategic planning.

A lack of counting may cause you to miss the members that are missing even though you’re adding new folk all the time.

A lack of counting is dangerous and hopefully after you’ve read this blog…

…a lack of counting is something you’ll never have to worry about again!

Please count! It will make a difference!

 

Help! Adventist Ed is Dying!

I haven’t blogged in quite a while & I haven’t written a blog on one of my most passionate topics in a while, so I am going to do both now!

Adventist Education…

Over the last two plus years I have had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Pacific Union Conferences’ Executive Committee. Every committee we receive reports. Reports on baptisms, tithe, race demographics, education. Let me just say all of them are scary sad…well the race demographics are good if you’re not Caucasian, us white folk need to learn how to share Jesus…but that is another topic for another time…but the rest are frightful.

The statistic that saddens me the most, because I credit Adventist Ed and praying friends and family with leading me to Jesus, is the consistent decline in Adventist Education primary & secondary enrollment! Consistent decline, not an aberration, a trend, a consistent trend. And from what I hear it’s not just our Union in North America that is experiencing such declines.

So what do we do? Well take ’em or leave ’em here are 13 of my thoughts on what should change in Adventist Ed in no particular order.

  1. We should go back and analyze all the principles of the book “Education” by Ellen G. White and ask ourselves, “is our school applying and living by all these principles. Some methods may be different, but are all the principles from this book being incorporated and maintained within our schools?”
  2. As parents we should never criticize the teachers in front of our kids! And even if we side with our child we should not do it in such a way that our children will learn to disrespect their teachers. Just within the last 5 years I have found out there were times my parents went to bat for me with a couple of my teachers. I’m actually glad I didn’t know this then; if I had I might have been even more disrespectful than I already was. In our home the rule always was, the teacher is ALWAYS right, even when they aren’t, because he/she is the teacher. Unless they ask you to do something immoral or they physically abuse you, they are the teacher. Period!
  3. We need to remember that our education system was established to serve the church, not the other way around. What do I mean by this? Our schools were established to develop missionaries (in whatever field God lead them in to) for Jesus through the church. This means that the children were taught that the value of a career was only found in as much as it gave opportunity to lead people to Jesus and connect with His body, The Church. This also means that schools should not have their calendars dictate the calendar of the church, rather school calendars should be built in such a way as to decrease the time students and their parents are away from their local churches. Third, schools need to recognize that the growth of the schools is dependent upon the growth of the church, thus a financial system should not be put in place that would hamper churches from providing ministries and training that leads to growth.
  4. When I was a child many of the teachers in the schools also taught Sabbath Schools. Now almost not a one can be found. To at least some extent this may be in part to number 2 above; if you’re criticized by parents at school why would you want to come to to church and be criticized as well? That is a fair enough point, but often the reasoning I hear that teachers don’t teach Sabbath School is because they need a break from the kids. Again though the counsel we received in the founding of our education system was that school teachers should also instruct on Sabbath mornings so that children would see their teachers in service to God & His church. Yes, it is hard and wearisome, but maybe that could be lessened by the following…
  5. Decrease the busyness! This needs to happen in church and school. We are doing far too much of unnecessary things! I speak with parents all the time that are run ragged (and their pocketbooks are shrinking) by all the extra events they are taking their kids to at our schools. Both church and school need to impress upon families the value of being at home and spending time in a home environment. This can’t happen if there are a million different activities happening week in and week out at both church and school. Also, our teachers are then exhausted and the last place they want to be on a Sabbath is with the kids…but that is exactly where they need to be on a Sabbath, at least for that one hour of Sabbath School time.
  6.  We must change the way finances are managed within our schools it is a stress that pastors nor teachers should have to deal with, in fact here is the counsel given, “This matter should not be left to ministers or committee men, who have no time to take this burden. The teachers are not to be left with this responsibility. These matters of school business call for talent which has not been provided (she is saying not provided by the conference which she says it is their duty to provide).” 2TT 474
  7. Of course we must also acknowledge if we are in financial difficulties why that is, “If our educational work had been carried on in accordance with the instruction given for our guidance, the dark shadow of heavy debt would not today be hanging over our institutions.” 2TT 474. This is a repeat of number one. If the system as a whole is suffering then the system as a whole must have gone off course at some point. Let’s get back to the basics of who we are what we’re about.
  8. We need to stop trying to raise money through gimmicks: raffles, benefit concerts, special meals, etc.. We should do as was done in the Bible, place the need before the people and then pray for God to sustain. By doing the events above we actually make it harder to receive the next time. We are teaching our people to give only if they have received.
  9. Devalue sports! I am one that absolutely loves sports! I played organized sports all the way up into my first year of college. In our schools though sports has become of far too much value. These “friendship tournaments” are not so friendly. But even if they were, they are just another thing that take away from the true purpose of our schools, which is not competition but service to Jesus. You want to take kids away multiple weekends a year, take them to serve the poor, not serve themselves in sports. Take them to spend time in nature or at prayer conferences. Not sporting events that we try to make pseudo Jesus centered by having a church service with all the teams on Sabbath morning. I again love sports, I don’t mind folk playing sports, but in most of our schools where one maybe two days a year are given to “community service days” isn’t it shameful that one to two days A WEEK are given to sports either through games or practices? Also, am I the only one that finds it sad that we can afford an abundance of sports activities yet most of our schools are now lacking those who teach outdoor education: gardening, camping, whatever? Isn’t it sad that most our schools no longer have true home economics instructors, true librarians, true shop and wood working teachers? Is anyone else depressed that there aren’t high quality bands and choirs in ALL our schools? But hey, we have sports. This saddens me.
  10. We need to stop being silos! Churches and church members need to affirm ADVENTIST EDUCATION, not a particular school! By the way churches should stop being silos too! A pastor that tries to make a member feel guilty for going to another Adventist church should go into a closest and pray ’till their priorities are straightened out. But I digress…the question shouldn’t be, “which Adventist school are our kids going to?” The only important question is, “are they attending an Adventist school.” And guess what, this includes home schooling! Adventist parents that home school should be as soundly affirmed and prayed for as those that teach within our school systems! (And Adventist teachers that teach outside of our Adventist schools should be affirmed and prayed for as well since they are local missionaries in a foreign field!) I believe we have devalued Adventist education by fighting over schools! When you make the thing of value the institution, the structure, the building, the location, rather than the message and the movement, then ultimately that value will fade; because the only people that value institutions, structures, buildings, and locations are the people that built those institutions, structures, and buildings. Teach people to value a philosophy, affirm the ideals of Adventist Ed above all, criticize no one, and all our schools will ultimately benefit!
  11. Pay teachers more! I wish somewhere along the way we had created a system where every time the health institutes fork out higher salaries for their administrators they had to at the same time set some aside to increase the pay of our Adventist educators. I pick on the Adventist health system b/c they are paid a lot more than the rest of us and thus must have the money somewhere.  But somehow we need to compensate teachers better…
  12. That said, I think we should screen better for teachers as well…a pastor has to explain his/her calling, talk about their faith in Jesus, share his/her commitment to the teachings of our church, discuss their views of evangelism and reaching people for Jesus all before we are hired (and yes I know some bad ones are still hired). Having a Dad that was a teacher in the Adventist Education system for 35 years. A sister that has been in the Adventist Education system for 13 years. Having dated some teachers pre-marriage, I can guarantee you these questions are not often if ever asked. Even having two former teachers on my church staff, I have been told that they were never expected to know what we believe and why we believe it, they were never even firmly taught what we believe and why we believe it…well they had to know that the Sabbath was the Sabbath & we sleep when we die, but as far as the expectation of really teaching our students what we believe and why believe it. They were not held accountable on church attendance. They were not asked about their personal daily devotions. They were not asked if Jesus was their absolute best friend. If Adventist Education is truly about educating for eternity, shouldn’t these things come up?
  13. Last but not least, to make it a nice even 13…our schools should be prayed over in every single Adventist home!

Take ’em or leave ’em as a parent that will soon have three kids in Adventist Ed, these are my thoughts.

P.S. I would encourage everyone to click on this link and buy (after Sabbath of course) the documentary “The Blueprint: The Story of Adventist Education it is wonderful! In spite of all our difficulties I still think Adventist Ed is the best option, but we could be so much better and not dying a not so slow, but oh so painful death!

 

Go Get a Bible Worker First!

I believe that every Seventh-day Adventist Church in America…nay, in the World should invest in the hiring of a really good Bible Worker. Almost all churches I’ve been around void of a pastor, a large percentage of their congregations long for a pastor; I would say in many of those cases these churches would be better off to start with a Bible Worker.

Why am I so high on Bible Workers?

Well let me first tell you this has not always been the case. In fact 5 years ago I would have placed Bible Workers at the very bottom of my ministry totem pole.

Why?

Because Bible Workers a lot of times seem way too happy to me (this remains true in my opinion :)). No people should smile as much as Bible Workers do.

Most Bible Workers I was aware of trended towards emphasis on traditional Adventism (not talking core theology); jewelry, music, women in ministry, service order and function, etc.. And well, I’m just not traditional & didn’t know if I wanted traditional around me at all. (I’ve learned to embrace the traditional in the midst of my non-traditional ways).

I thought they were all vegan and frankly I didn’t want constant lectures on the cheese they’d see me eat. 🙂

Did I mention they smile too much?

And let me be very honest: I questioned the value someone that went to a 6 week or a 6 month course could add to my ministry which was  built on years of studies w/ degrees on my wall to prove it. Boy was I wrong!

You get the point, I was not the prototypical candidate to advocate for Bible Workers. Yet here I am. Shouting through the waves of the internet: HIRE A BIBLE WORKER!

In fact I discovered my love and support of Bible Workers a few years back when our Conference cut the amount of Bible Workers in our territory and I realized I was the only pastor I know of that wanted to give-up some of my money to keep more Bible Workers on board.

What changed my mind?

An elementary teacher turned Bible Worker by the name of Noemi. Who one day told me that she wanted to be hired as a Bible Worker at our church.

I told her to pray about it. Which was a nice way of saying, “Good luck with that.”

But she must have prayed because not more than a month later I had someone in my office offering me $1500 a month to help fund a Bible Worker position. And Noemi was hired.

In my observation of Noemi over the last 3+ years I have come to respect, value, believe in, recognize my great need for, and advocate for the necessity of Bible Workers within our churches.

So that is why I am writing this blog to advocate for and advise on the hiring of a great Bible Worker within your church.

Why Bible Workers?

  1. Most that I have met are passionate about reaching lost people. Having someone like this around can infuse energy into your church.
  2. They are trained for one specific purpose to be soul winners. Unfortunately a lot of churches have forgotten that this is the primary purpose of the church, to bring people to Jesus. Again a great Bible Worker can remind members and motivate them to embrace their true mission.
  3. Let’s be honest. Most Bible Workers are willing to work for a lot less money than pastors. Thus a great Bible Worker will be worth their weight in gold especially next to an average pastor.
  4. Bible Workers have the gift of being able to connect guests with members. They see things a lot of members don’t see and thus can match people up with one another quite effectively.
  5. Bible Workers are happy to get out into the community and mingle with neighbors. They are good marketers for your church.
  6. If your church hasn’t baptized anybody in years, I would be willing to wager that a good Bible Worker will help you baptize at minimum 5 people this next year. If you’ve baptized a lot of folk, prepare to baptize more (our baptisms have doubled & even tripled under the utilization of Bible Workers). And a really great Bible Worker may even help you retain them.

My tips on hiring a Bible Worker:

  1. If you don’t have a Bible Worker be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in your budget to get one. If ever I were to interview at another church no matter how big or how small, how traditional or non-traditional, rich or poor one of my first questions would be, “can I have a Bible Worker?” (Preferably I’d bring with me the two I have now, more on this later).
  2. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. I recognize not all Bible Workers are great. But don’t give-up just b/c of one, two, or three bad apples. Trust me all the bad ones a church may have to go through are worth it when you find a great Bible Worker.
  3. Don’t hire the next David Asscherick. I love David we are good friends, but what I mean by that is unfortunately there are some individuals out there that go through Bible Worker training, go into the field as Bible Workers, but their real desire is to be the next David Asscherick, Nathan Renner, or Taj Pacleb. You don’t want a Bible Worker that wants to be famous. I want a Bible Worker that could care less about preaching or being a great public evangelist. I want a Bible Worker that hustles after leads, knocks on strangers doors in their free time, looks for every opportunity to help at the church in any capacity. Finds joy in taking members out on studies with them.
  4. Try to hire local. My Bible Worker at Visalia SDA & my Bible Worker at The Ark (our church plant) are both local ladies. Noemi has lived here in this valley since she was around 3 or 4 and Kelly has lived here in this valley since she was 7 or 8. The place I met Jesus (Dayton, OH area) has a soft-spot in my heart. I often tell Christina (my wife) it is one of the only places I think I would be immediately tempted to leave California for. Well it is no different for my Bible Workers they grew-up here, they met Jesus here, they care about this community and want to see it reached for Jesus. It also works in your favor to hire a local in order to retain the Bible Workers services beyond just a short stint.
  5. When possible, hire from within. Noemi and Kelly were both members at the churches they are currently serving at before they were hired. Why is this important to me and the best method if possible? Because both ladies demonstrated their willingness to serve long before they were hired. They both demonstrated that they were invested in the well being of the church, not just themselves and their own agenda, or getting paid. They have a knowledge of the church culture, this is huge especially if your church tends to push against the walls every now and then. The church members already trust them so they can hit the ground running.
  6. Once you’ve found someone you can work with, do whatever you can to keep them! This is why I said above if I ever had to move I would try and take my Bible Workers with me. I’m a 49ers fan, three years ago they hired Jim Harbaugh to be their head coach. When Harbaugh joined the Niners he brought the majority of his key assistant coaches from his previous job. Why? Because he/she knows them he/she trusts them. He/she has a working relationship that actually works. If someone meshes with your church and your pastor don’t mess with that!
  7. Hire for the long haul. In a lot of places Bible Workers are hired for short stints often times around evangelistic meetings. Let me share something with y’all. You have an evangelistic meeting every week, it’s called your church service! The average church gets 3 guests for every 50 attendees per week. A Bible Worker that knows your church, meaning they know who the members are & are not. A Bible Worker that knows they will be there longer than three months will have the long view in mind, which means they will take the time to invest in deeper relationships. A Bible Worker that is an actual member and has vested interest in seeing your church grow will help to embrace these guests that often slip through the cracks week in and week out. (Side Note: We were blessed to have a great short term Bible Worker with us this past fall in conjunction with an evangelistic series held at our church this was a great supplement to the meetings, but don’t let it be your sole view of Bible Workers. Hire for the long haul and supplement when necessary.)
  8. Hire with clear expectations. As someone that might be viewed as more progressive in ministry, maybe even some would say liberal (though many call me conservative too 🙂 ), when we hired Noemi I wanted her to know exactly what my views were so we wouldn’t have needless arguments down the road. Also, I wanted her to understand that I expected results and if they weren’t there the relationship as an employee of the church would not remain. I’ve unfortunately heard pastors express great frustration with the lack of results, the lack of work effort they observe in some of their Bible Workers. If an expectations conversation has been had on the front end it is easier to have the “goodbye” conversation later if necessary.
  9. Hire soul winners. I know this should be a given & this somewhat relates to the above topic of not hiring someone that wants to be famous. But I am also thinking about it from the perspective of what the primary function of a Bible Worker should be. There is a movement afoot that a Bible Workers primary task should be as a trainer and equipper of the membership for the work of ministry. Well I agree that is one of their tasks, but to me it is not their primary task, it is more secondary. A Bible Worker is not necessarily an Elder or Pastor which is whom the scriptures say should be the trainers and equippers. I see Bible Workers as having and serving in a very specialized ministry of the church, and that is as a soul winner. Yes every member should be trained to be a soul winner, but that doesn’t alleviate the need for some to serve exclusively in this capacity of aggressive intentional soul winning. Just as every member should be an evangelist, but that doesn’t take away the need for the specialists in this area like Mark Finley or John Bradshaw. If I paid money to have Mark Finley or John Bradshaw to come and hold an evangelistic series at my church, my primary objective for them would not be to train and equip my members; some of that would occur of course, but that is not their focus. Their focus is what? The specialized ministry of public evangelism. To me a Bible Worker is no different. Yes, I want them to take members on studies with them. Yes, I want them to train members to give studies. Yes, I want them to have members out knocking on doors with them; but with or without these things I want their focus to be what? The specialized ministry of aggressive soul winning! That is what we are paying them for.
  10. Finally hire someone that loves people. I was sitting in on the interview with Kelly when she was hired as a Bible Worker and she was talking about how since she met Jesus she saw people differently, when she met people she wanted to immediately share with them what she has received from Jesus. There are some Bible Workers that can give a great study. That are extremely personable. That can hustle and knock on hundreds of doors securing all kinds of studies. But it will all be knowledge based and mechanical and their converts will join based on knowledge and their religion will be mechanical once they do join. Hire someone that sees people differently than they did before they met Jesus, so that they’ll win people not just with what they know, but with how much they love them.

Okay now go find the budget and hire a great Bible Worker & enjoy the church growth that will follow!

Our Growth Part 3

In this final post of this blog series on the growth of The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church I will be looking at some of the specific things we will be focusing on moving forward in order to place us in the best position to continue to receive & handle the blessings of God’s growth in this community. This blog will probably we a little more specific and not as broad as the other two, but I believe there are still principles that I’ll be sharing that can be applied in any and all settings.

In part 1 we looked at some of the principles behind the growth of the Visalia SDA Church.
In part 2 we looked at some of the reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.

And now for the third and final part (Sorry it took so long, I got sick and then the holidays but here it finally is):

What about the next five years?

Prayer. Yes, I want to start in the exact same spot I started the other two lists. It is vital for our continued growth that we continue our focus and emphasis on the power and importance of prayer. We will continue to look for ways to facilitate more prayer, encourage the participation in corporate prayer, recruit more prayer warriors. I’ve spent quite a ‘bit of time on this subject in the other two posts so I won’t say more here, simply this has to remain a priority. It can’t be something we did and then move on from!

What happens when I’m gone? This has been a question on my mind a lot lately. I’ve observed far too often within our denomination that a church may be doing well, then the pastor leaves and everything slows way down or even ceases completely until the next pastor rolls around. Attendance drops, evangelism is nonexistent, the church goes into maintenance mode. I am asking myself heading into 2014 and beyond, “if this is my last year at this church are we in a position to thrive in the absence of a Senior Pastor or under the leadership of a new Senior Pastor?” I want to be thinking and working on behalf of my successor. I want to make sure that when I’m gone systems are in place that are not pastor dependent. That a clear vision is established which is owned by the membership of the church and not just in the heart of the leader, a vision though that is based on principles that should be universal and embraced by all Seventh-day Adventist ministers, thus flexible to the ideas of the new leader. As leaders I think it is our responsibility to think about the well being of our churches not just when we are here but after we are gone as well. We need to think about our colleagues that will come after us and what we are leaving behind. So this is a goal we’ll be working towards.

Sabbath School: Sabbath School, you know that time that is the least attended activity at church (in North America)…oh wait sorry, that is the prayer meeting, the second least attended activity at church (how depressing and pathetic both those realities are!), it has been a burden on my heart recently. The scriptures say this, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15. This text of course has been applied almost exclusively to the idea of personal Bible study, and personal Bible study is very important! But as I was taught in Seminary and as I have read in Christian literature, most of what was learned and understood Biblically in the Biblical era was not done in isolation! In fact Jesus when He was a boy in the temple was participating in a Bible study. A discussion on the scriptures, questions asked, answered, leading to more questions (“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Luke 2:46, 47). We don’t do enough of this anymore! Sabbath School is a venue in which this should be done. I’ve also been convicted about this based on the reality of where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing significantly in the world. As I’ve had privilege to do a little traveling, what I have observed is that Sabbath School is well attended in the countries where our church is really thriving, in fact in some of these places Sabbath School attendance is higher than church attendance. Our Sabbath Schools in the United States may not look like theirs overseas, but the principle I believe still can be applied. Good things happen when folk get together to study the Word of God, emphasis on together, and the sermon time does not count, that is one person who has studied sharing with others what he or she studied, upon which most will go home and still not study it out for themselves to see if he or she was accurate in their studies. We need Sabbath School and I have a desire to see it thrive in my churches (The Ark & Visalia SDA). I’m not sure how yet, but this will be a focus!

Lost Sheep: I’ve heard it said that if we reclaimed all those that have simply stopped associating with the Adventist church our membership would be double in the United States. Here is the sad truth if we reclaimed those that just don’t attend, then our attendance would be double for sure (yep only 50% actually much less on average of the Seventh-day Adventist Church membership attend church from week to week). Here is something Jesus said, “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:

“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” –Matthew 10:5-7.

We know that Jesus had a passion for the Gentiles, we know that He had a special plan for reaching them (read the book of Acts), but I also see in scripture that Jesus had a special burden in His heart for those that were raised in the truth, had known the truth, and yet were not walking with Jesus. I haven’t, in fact I still struggle with this burden, but I want to be like Jesus and I feel that I should have a deeper commitment to reaching this group of folk, “the lost sheep of Israel” aka former or inactive Adventists. This will be a special focus for us in the years ahead. We have already seen some success in this area without being intentional about it, I want us to be intentional and see what happens!

Getting beyond 10%: You may have heard the statistic, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The new reality in churches is that 10% of the people do 100% of the work. We must help folk to understand that one of the privileges of membership is responsibility! I don’t find a single story in all of scripture about a true disciple of Jesus that went to church once a week and then went home, had lunch, took a nap, did yard work on Sunday, went to their paying job during the week, clean the house Friday, and back to church Sabbath and considered this an acceptable pattern for a follower of Jesus. There is not a story in scripture that even remotely follows that pattern, then why on earth do so many of our members find this type of Christianity acceptable blows my mind! Yes that is a rebuke to any that may be reading this and saying, “hey that sounds like me.” Jesus said very clearly, we are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless. He also said we are to “GO” and witness. Paul said that we are all members of one body, and just as one body has many parts we are all separate parts to the same body and that a part is not actually part of the body if it is not functioning. And James said, that if our faith doesn’t display itself in actual works for the Lord then we really don’t have any faith. And in the book of Revelation the folk that are the marturos–witnesses. I want to know exactly how many of our members are actually serving Jesus in a proactive intentional way and then I want to grow each year on that 10% or so that it is and see lives saved and thus the church grow!

Small Groups: This is different than Sabbath School, though part of this can occur at Sabbath School time. But if we’re going to get bigger then we must simultaneously get smaller or more connected, this will only happen through Small Groups. The book of Acts is very clear, there were two aspects of the early Christian Church “house to house” gatherings and larger “temple” (corporate) gatherings (Acts 2:46). Ellen White wrote this,

“The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members but for unbelievers also.” (Evangelism p. 115).

A church will grow if the members are split into small groups to worship and serve together. I have yet to see a thriving small group ministry in a Seventh-day Adventist church. If you are reading this and you are in an Adventist church with a “thriving” small group ministry, please contact me! But we will continue to work at it. I believe there is plenty of evidence Small Groups are Biblical!

I am sure there are a million more things we could work on, but if this is my last year in Visalia (which I pray it is not) this is the direction I pray God will get us moving in.

Thanks for taking the time read these three blog posts. I pray that they have been beneficial to you and that you will be able to apply for sure the principles and possibly even some of the specifics that we have been focused on here in Visalia.

Remember The Church is the Body of Christ which means if your church is lifeless, if it isn’t growing, it isn’t functioning, it isn’t reaching the lost, and loving on everyone, well then it is not really the church and it is definitely not the body of Christ. But don’t despair make a decision now to see that begin to change. Even if you are the only one in your church that is committed to see your church become the Body of Christ again, Jesus will honor your commitment and work with you to bring that desire into reality!

Keep praying, keep studying, keep serving. May Jesus be glorified through the Seventh-day Adventist family!

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!

They Hear Your Words, But They Do Not Put Them Into Practice

Could there be any more depressing of text to the heart of a preacher than Ezekiel 33:30-32?

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” –Ezekiel 33:30-32

One of the most painful things for myself and I am sure other pastors as well, is to observe folk that “like” our sermons but don’t take them beyond the walls of the church. Ezekiel in this text is told that the downfall of the people of Israel is in part due to the fact that they listen to the words of God but fail to put them into practice. How many of our churches are struggling, how many of our homes are falling apart, how many lives are personally crumbling because of the very same reality in our day?  In fact this is such a key point of the text that God tells Ezekiel this twice,

“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice.” 

Then again…

“Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

What an indictment of the church in North America! What an indictment of the Laodicean Church in North American!

But wait pastor, before we agree to quickly!

Something that is even more disappointing and indicting is this: I think there are actually pastors that preach expecting people to hear their words, but never put them into practice. There are pastors that prepare like they are just filling time. Pastors that study like they have nothing new to learn. Pastors that pray for habit not for conviction. Pastors that step into pulpits each week because it is their job, rather than their Divine calling.

As a preacher I want to say to all congregants, and hopefully this is true of your pastor as well:

  • I don’t want you to “like” my sermons. I want you to apply them.
  • I don’t want my sermons to generate accolades, I want them to generate life change.
  • I don’t want you to remember the funny, I want you to remember the Biblical.
  • I don’t want you to follow me, I want you to follow Jesus.

If we are, if I am preaching sermons that are only worth a surface level appreciation, if I am preaching sermons that are only worth a pat on the back, if I am preaching sermons that only entertain & do not take you to the Bible then tell me/us so that I/we can change.

The church in North America is dying…not a slow death…a rapid death! We are falling like Israel! In part because, “They Hear Your Words, But They Do Not Put Them Into Practice!”

Congregants be accountable–say, “Enough is enough! I will not pass through another sermon, another Sabbath, another worship service unchanged, without application to my life.”

Pastors be accountable–say, “Enough is enough! We will not prepare one more message, preach one more sermon, teach one more lesson without the expectation of life change amongst God’s flock.”

Enough is enough for all of us!

 

A Response to Elder Stephen Bohr’s “Reflections on Deborah & Huldah”

Elder Stephen Bohr recently released through his ministry, Secrets Unsealed, an article entitle, “Reflections on Deborah & Huldah.” The purpose of Elder Bohr’s article is to refute, “the women’s ordination advocates” whom “take exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary cases and make them the norm to be followed in all situations.” In this instance he is addressing specifically the lives & ministries of Deborah & Huldah as related in scripture.

Elder Bohr loves Jesus and I know he loves the church. Many individuals have been blessed & will continue to be blessed by his ministry, and I praise the Lord for all that Elder Bohr does that helps people to fall more in love with Jesus.

While it is known from those that read my blog and know me personally that Elder Bohr and I disagree on this particular subject, I am not in this post attempting to prove that the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry is the correct position. The purpose of this post is to address specifically the errors I see in “Secrets Unsealed: Reflections on Deborah & Huldah.”

Within this article I found a number of leaps in logic and assumed deductions made by Elder Bohr which is the very thing he is criticizing those who support women’s ordination of doing.

First off on page 7 of the 3rd Quarter Secrets Unsealed publication Elder Bohr points out that the time of the Judges in which Deborah the prophetess lead the people of Israel was not the ideal organizational system. On this point Elder Bohr and I do not have argument. Elder Bohr then states that the ideal, what Mrs. White referred to as the ‘perfect organization’ is the system of leadership that was established under Moses (Exodus 18), again I agree. What seems to be Elder Bohr’s focus though of the perfect system is that Moses chose all men, men over thousands, hundreds, fifties, & tens. I would like to ask Elder Bohr is the perfection of the system in that men were chosen or the specific structure of governance that was chosen? If the system was perfect because of men, then he is right we are out of line and should not allow women to lead over men. If the system was perfect because of the structure, then guess what? We are still out of line! Because the system of governance that we have at least in my church is not of a Moses figure, but rather as the church in business meeting as the final word, and then the church board, etc.. We do not have a central Moses figure as the head. Even at the highest levels, Elder Ted Wilson does not get the final say, he as he has always stated does and will submit to the collective decision of the church. Could it be that when Mrs. White speaks of this being the perfect organizational system that she is speaking of the principle of “shared leadership” “shared burden” rather than men were chosen or even the exact structure? Would this not seem like more sound exegesis of all of Mrs. White’s writings and this specific text of scripture?

Elder Bohr continuing along the thought line of the time of the judges being an unusual point in Israel’s history (pp.8-10), which I would agree it was definitely a time of Israel in a constant back and forth limbo with God, Bohr states that Deborah’s “service” (he seems to want to completely stay away from acknowledging her as any ind of leader) was “outside the norm.” Bohr points out that Deborah was one out of 17 judges and he says, “What stands out in this list of seventeen judges is that only one of them was a woman!” He then in the next several pages sets forth in positioning arguments to show that she really wasn’t a leader but the people simply saw her as that. He seems to put forth great effort to show the actual leader was Barak, I deduce this from his statement on page 9 where he says, “all the judges from Othniel to Samuel served as military leaders, Deborah being the lone exception!” Bohr then on the last full paragraph of page 9 says, “Deborah was a perceptive woman who provided wise prophetic counsel to the military commander, Barak…Contrary to what pro-ordination advocates claim, Deborah did not summon and lead Israel to battle but rather advised Barak to do so.” Page 10, “It will be noticed that Deborah provided support for Barak’s efforts not he hers.” So in Elder Bohr’s heart I would ask who was the true leader? Deborah the one named by the Bible as judge or Barak as would be more acceptable to the idea that women can’t or should not lead men? To go with the latter would seem to be trying to force scripture to fit with an individuals ideal rather than allowing our ideals to be conformed to scripture.

As Elder Bohr moves forward in his arguments he moves into a position that I am not personally comfortable with, and that is that the authority of the prophet is submissive to the position of leadership, “Thus the prophets inspired the leaders but did not usurp their legitimate authority. This is the role of a prophet.” (p. 11) Bohr asserts correctly that even Ellen White submitted to the authority of the church, i.e. the male authority of the church. He states that this proves that prophets do not have authority over leadership, thus Ellen White a woman did not have authority over any man, thus she nor any other female prophet is an example that one can use in supporting the authority over men. I believe all this proves is that Ellen White was a better person than the rest of us 🙂 She was humble and willing to submit, not because they were men, but because that is what God called her to do in those instances. Bohr states that a prophet does not usurp or have authority of and over an “elder, a pastor, or a Conference, Union, or General Conference president.” I would strongly disagree with this position as I would hope most Seventh-day Adventist ministers would, male & female! Every prophet in the Bible from Deborah to Isaiah to Huldah & John the Revelator, I submit to each of them as they were inspired individuals that are part of Holy Writ. In like manner I submit to the testimonies of Ellen White as she also was an inspired individual. If Mrs. White were alive today and she was sitting in my congregation and got up to speak against me, would I because of my position as an ordained minister of the Gospel have the right to dismiss her? Would it be acceptable of me to ask her to be quiet because I have a higher position of authority over her? I say absolutely not, because I DO NOT have authority over her. In fact if I were to say, “get out of my church and go to Australia” if she did this, it would not be a sign of her affirming my authority or my male headship, it would simply be her following the example of Jesus. Jesus whom in like manner if I were to say, “get out of my life” would also submit to my wishes. NOT because I have authority over Him, but because He honors the wishes even the wrong wishes of His people. A prophet who stands in the highest authority within the church is the first representative of Christ and thus performs and acts in like manner of Jesus. I believe this thread of thought that Elder Bohr carries throughout his article is a dangerous premise to stand upon and it is not helpful in a church that is already undermining & or strongly questioning the authority of prophetic truth!

Elder Bohr in his continued refuting of Deborah throws in the statement, “Notably, God called two males to be His prophets before Ellen White, and neither of them accepted the call so God chose the weakest of the weak as His prophet. He chose the most unlikely of candidates–a poor, sickly, young, unstudied woman!” It seems here that Bohr is implying that God would prefer to not even have women as prophets, but almost He is forced to, to make a point, or because men said “no” again a premise I am uncomfortable with. But let us just say this premise is true; whom, whether Stephen Bohr or myself or any other individual could say that God is not once again calling women to step-up in the place of men to a position (for the sake of argument pastoral ministry) that God originally set aside for men whom have dropped the ball or refused the call? Isn’t this what Elder Bohr is arguing that God called Deborah to Judge, even Ellen White to be a prophet because men were not fulfilling their role? So would Elder Bohr based on his own argument be comfortable in saying that God would never at this point in history call a woman to step into a role that Elder Bohr originally sees as set aside for men? I would not be comfortable with such an assertion unless I had had a direct revelation from God. Elder Bohr states and I agree that simply because a woman served as a judge and prophetess it automatically concludes that a woman can be a “priest”/pastor. Elder Bohr you and I agree on that and I think it is a leap in logic to make this the sole premise of women’s ordination, however, the absence of a woman in the priesthood does not eliminate God using women later in history as pastors & elders. And I think that is the point that you actually prove yourself in the fact that you acknowledge though timidly and it seems regrettably that Deborah was a judge, but the only female out of seventeen. Thus though it was the exception she was still a woman God called to judge, I would say “lead” Israel. It had never happened before, yet God allowed it.

Elder Bohr’s argues against this however, “The Bible allows for gender inclusiveness when it comes to prophets, but it does not allow for this in the case of elders or pastors. In fact, there is not a single instance in Scripture of a woman prophet who was one of the twelve founders of Israel, a member of the council of the seventy, a Levite, a priest, a king, an apostle, a deacon, an elder, a bishop, a pastor, or a husband of one wife!” I could have just smiled at this entire statement accepted that we see the meaning of this differently and moved on until Elder Bohr threw in that last statement, “or a husband of one wife!” If we were to apply this literally then that would mean that any man that has never been married could not be a minister. That is not a position I know of anyone holding. This cannot be applied literally as one of the qualifications for a pastor, elder, deacon unless we are going to truly apply it across the board!

Later Elder Bohr asks the question, “Is the role of a ‘prophet’ interchangeable with that of an elder or bishop/pastor? Were prophets called by God to be leaders in Israel? I would simply say “yes” to this question which seems almost foolish. Let’s mention a few that we believe had inspired prophetic gift and were also leaders: Moses, David, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, John the Revelator to name a few.

As you can see there is much I find in error and contradiction in this article by Elder Bohr, maybe some of my very countering points are untenable and others may point that out to me. I am open to learn.

In conclusion I want to say this, I am absolutely okay with Elder Bohr having a different position on this issue than I do. I do not think that undermines or devalues his ministry. One of the great things about a being a Seventh-day Adventist is that there is a very large umbrella under which hopefully we all operate. We have yes fundamental teachings which should be held onto with a tight grip, but in areas in which there is no clear “thus saith the Lord” I am glad we are able to have cordial discussion & even disagreement. I would simply pray that no matter our position we would all agree to not be disagreeable in the midst of our disagreements.

In 2015 hopefully much of this will be decided and the money & time many of us are spending…maybe even wasting on this debate will be put to the greater mission of telling people about Jesus’ love, Jesus’ truths that reveal His true character, & Jesus’ soon coming!

 

 

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!

 

 

Elder Ted Wilson: Unwilling To Sit On the Sidelines

So I am currently in New York City for NY13 the worldwide thrust of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to reach New York City. I have to admit I came here with some skepticism, not sure what I would be doing or why I am here. But I came, because I was asked and I felt it an honor to be requested to represent the North American Division in this initiative, so here I am.

And I have been taking mental notes some good some not so good…

A good I have observed is our evangelistic speaker for these meetings, Elder Ted Wilson.

What I am so impressed with, as are so many others, he is fully engaged in this initiative!

Something I keep hearing over and over again from people that have been serving the Adventist Church a lot longer than I have is, “Isn’t it great to see a General Conference President preaching and leading a full campaign!” People that have served in the General Conference offices for a number of years are expressing their appreciation of Elder Wilson not just casting the vision, but actually helping to carry out the vision of reaching New York. As one GC official said, “He could do what has been done,  set the vision and say ‘now go do it.’ But he is actually out there with us.”

What I am seeing is that Elder Wilson isn’t content to sit on the sidelines, he is passionate about reaching New York City. He is not going to tell others to follow the counsel of Ellen White to minister to this the most diverse city in the world, without also doing it himself. He isn’t just someone that goes around and talks about what should be done and the ministries that should be done he is actually doing those ministries and doing very tangible things to make those ministries a success!

Unwilling to sit on the sidelines.

He, and his wife Nancy, are even attending the classes for the Field School daily. He said, “I have a lot to learn.” So he is at each class learning.

As I watch Elder Wilson, I think back to the last time we were at some meetings together. A very different environment. The Pacific Union Special Constituency Session on the bylaw changes regarding the ordination of women within that Union.

That day as I once again was observing our General Conference leader, I was disappointed that he was there. It wasn’t because I have a different point of view on the topic and disliked that he disagrees with me, (I’m actually one of those folk that thinks its okay to disagree and state it with conviction trusting that we can both still love Jesus) I was disappointed because I felt that it wasn’t a very presidential move of him to be there when the whole world knew that he would get voted down. It felt to me like a very unsound move politically.

But as I think about Elder Wilson’s presence here at this event I think I understand more and actually now respect his presence at the former event.

Here is what I am concluding: If Elder Ted Wilson is passionate about something, if he is convicted about something, he is not the type to just sit on the sidelines and let everyone else do the work.

He was/is convicted on his position regarding women’s ordination. He is convicted on his position regarding reaching New York City…

…In both instances he acted on his conviction.

Unwilling to sit on the sidelines.

I don’t believe it is fair of me to affirm one and renounce the other.

I admire, I appreciate, I trust a leader…

…who stands for his convictions no matter how politically painful it may be to take on Union that has clearly stated their views.

….who preaches a full evangelistic campaign just like the rest of us pastors do, no matter how exhausting it may be.

I admire, I appreciate, I trust Elder Ted Wilson…

…not because we share all points of view in common.

…because I know his convictions by his actions.

He is a man unwiling to sit on the sidelines.

And that is a leader I can follow!

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