Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview with Russell C. Lambert, author of Why Is My Church Dying?

Pastor Lambert and I met some years ago in an online group for pastors of small churches. We have dialogued often about the issues facing small churches across the nation. Since our initial meeting online, we have also been able to be together at some conferences for small churches and enjoy fellowship over a meal. I greatly admire his commitment to the small church. He is one of those pastors that could easily serve in a bigger church but has the passionate calling to do something for the Lord in places that others have neglected.

After years of service to small churches, Pastor Lambert reveals to us in his latest book, Why Is My Church Dying?, many truths he learned about small churches through his study of the Word and his practical experience. The book is easy to read, with short, but potent chapters. I particularly like the discussion questions at the end of each chapter that help the individual reader reflect deeper on what was read, but also make the book usable as a training tool for a leadership team in a small church.

Though the chapters may be short and easy to read, the truths presented will not always be easy to respond to. For example, in chapter 11 Pastor Lambert hits the reader with a convicting question, “Is your church dying with money in the bank?” We all know the answer to that, but we like to apply the answer to everyone else’s church, not our own. Pastor Lambert forces us to ask that question about our own church. Not all readers will like the answer, but it is something we need to wrestle with. Readers can expect hard hitting questions like that all through the book.

I was recently blessed to interview Pastor Lambert about his book and you can find that interview below:

TERRY: Russell, you have been a pastor for a long time. Your background clearly would allow you to lead a much larger church, but you have chosen to serve smaller congregations. Why have you made that choice?

RUSSELL: I made the choice to serve in smaller, rural churches back in 1992. I had run from the call to ministry for 13 years and when I surrendered and asked for forgiveness, I told the Lord if He could still use me that I would serve Him in out of the way places and congregations that no one else wanted to minister to. To honor that commitment the Lord has had to grow my faith by leaps and bounds.

TERRY: In addition to serving the local church, you have also impacted the larger church through your writings. Can you share with us 2-3 key things you hope people will gain from the materials you write?

RUSSELL: I hope that what I write will encourage church leaders to take on the challenges that are set before them instead of just ignoring them and hoping they will go away. I want people to think about what they are reading and hearing from God's Word; not so much in a theological sense, but in a heart-felt life changing application and then take action based on that.

TERRY: Your most recent book is entitled, “Why is My Church Dying?” That is a question many people are asking in our nation today. Can you give us a synopsis of the book and tell us why you choose to write this particular book?

RUSSELL: Most churches are troubled churches. If you do not believe that, just ask their pastors. Far too often, when pastors are offered solutions, they are one-size-fits-all answers which never truly address root problems. I knew the Bible would have the answers to the root problems of troubled churches if we would only ask the right questions. That is what I have tried to do in this book.

TERRY: Who do you hope will benefit the most from this book and why?

RUSSELL: I think that this book will be a benefit to anyone who is asking the question, "What is wrong with my church?" It will give them a place to start, and hopefully they will do it in concert with others in the congregation who are of like mind and opinion. Of course the danger in that is they might find out that they are part of the problem. This book is not for the faint of heart and is a serious self-evaluation that has enough in it too make us all uncomfortable. Sort of like being told the reason you have cancer is because you have been smoking all these years. But if we will read it with an open mind, it might just help us keep our church from dying.

TERRY: What is the main thing you would like people to walk away with after reading any of your writings, but especially this book?


RUSSELL: Solomon told us generations ago that "There is nothing new under the sun." I want my readers to realize that the struggles they and their congregation are facing are not unique in the history of the church. We must trust in God, have hope, and be willing to change; but not in the ways we might be thinking, but in conforming ourselves and our congregations to the Word of God, to be the church He wants us to be, even if that means serving in a small out of the way place that needs a vibrant and alive church.




Russell C. Lambert is the President of Life Passage Ministries and the pastor of Yachats Baptist Church, Yachats, Oregon. He has authored and/or contributed to four books. Before being called into ministry he served in law enforcement.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sometimes We are Victims. Sometimes we are Reapers.

The other day I was catching up on reading Facebook status updates. It was clear that many people on my friends list were going through hard times in life. Some of them were victims of other people's meanness. Some of them were victims of usual negative situations that they had no control over. Both of those scenarios were sad and brought great hurt to my heart as I read about all the pain my friends were going through. But if I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit that some of my friends were simply reaping what they had sown. The pain that some of them were feeling was the result of the poor choices they had made. I had to wonder what they really expected to happen as they continued down a path that could only lead to more pain.

I was reminded of what God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This verse reminds us that as human beings we have a sinful nature that is always lurking just under the surface. If we do not stay focused on living right, then our actions will not be acceptable to God, to our friends, to our culture or even to ourselves.

I had to wonder why my friends who didn't do their homework or study for a test and then failed were mad at the teacher. They were the ones who made the choice not to study and now had to live with the results.

I had to wonder why my friends who cheated on their boyfriends or girlfriends (especially those that cheated more than once) got mad when their significant other broke up with them. We must learn from our mistakes and move on.

I had to wonder why my friends who were still living at home with their parents but ignored clear rules set by their parents got upset when their parents enforced the consequences for disobeying the rules. Why were they angry with their parents when they had made the choice knowing what would happen. Parents were not the "bad" guys. Parents gave warnings so we wouldn't have to experience pain from the consequences. That's what parents do!

I had to wonder why people who had legal issues which required them to have certain restrictions placed on them by the court would violate those restrictions knowing full well that the law would be brought to bear on them in full force. It just did not make sense to violate those court orders, yet some of my friends did.

I had to wonder why people who did not pay their bills were surprised when whatever they did not pay for was finally taken away or they were evicted. That is what happens when we don’t pay our bills.

It is baffling to me that people do not understand that if we want life to get better, then we must act better. Bad actions will never produce good results. We can blame others for our problems, or we can get our act together and start doing right. This is a hard lesson to learn, but one of the most important to grasp for a better life.

As I was thinking about the difficulties so many of us bring upon themselves, I was reminded of what Jesus said to Simon Peter in Luke 22: 31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When we do make mistakes in our lives, God has a plan for our lives that leads to forgiveness and restoration. Thank God there is a way out; we can find forgiveness through Jesus. Then we can begin to live right so we can avoid future pain. Living right is not always easy, but it can be done. God can help us as we keep our eyes on Him.





Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Monday, May 4, 2015

Christian Stewardship

Introduction:
When we think of the word stewardship, what comes to mind?
How does adding the word Christian to the word stewardship impact our thoughts on the meaning of the word?

Christian Stewardship is the biblical handling
of our time, our talents and our treasure.

As Christians, our stewardship should be based on the teaching of the Bible, not our culture’s ever changing opinions or whatever the most popular management style is at the moment. How we manage our time, talents and treasure says a lot about what we think is important as followers of Christ.

When thinking of Christian stewardship of our time, we should make sure our regular schedule includes time to study the scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15), pray (2 Thessalonians 5:17) and worship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).

When thinking of Christian stewardship of our talents, we should use our abilities to do our best (Colossians 3:23), to bring honor to Christ (1 Corinthians 10:21), and to serve others (1 Peter 1:4)

When we fail to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures, our individual faith suffers and so does the church as a whole.

Most of us tend to agree that we should use our time and talents well, but the area of Christian Stewardship we least like to talk about is how we handle our treasure, meaning our possessions and our money. Most of us do not like it when the church starts talking about money. We have visions of fancy buildings or television preachers who spend millions on elaborate life styles. But the vast majority of pastors live modestly and the typical church building is often quite simple. Though talking about money in church sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, there are THREE important biblical principles we should know for how Christians should handle our treasure.

First Principle of Christian Financial Stewardship

Our giving should flow out of our love, devotion and gratitude to God, not our of guilt, shame or duty.

Genesis 28:20-22
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

Jacob made a promise to follow God with his every area of his life, including his money because of his great appreciation for how God was watching over him. He knew God had done a lot for him and his promise to give back to God flowed out of that relationship. Jacob’s vow to give was not motivated by guilt or shame but by thankfulness to God. The same should be true of in our own attitude toward giving.

Second Principle of Christian Financial Stewardship

Trust the Lord enough to give Him the whole tithe and receive God’s blessing as a result.

Malachi 3:10
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

God promised that if we gave Him the whole tithe, He would bless us abundantly. This makes no sense to the world, but many Christians can give testimony to the truth of it. We can never out give God.

But what is the whole tithe? The whole tithe is a tenth of what God gives us.

Leviticus 27:30
A tithe (tenth) of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.

Back in the day when most people were farmers, God asked them to give one tenth of all they grew back to the Lord. This was how the priests who provided spiritual leadership and comfort to the people lived.

Deuteronomy 14:24-25
But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe…then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose.

God also told them they could give money instead of “stuff” if it was too much stuff to carry. This is how most of us today will give our gifts to God since we most of us are not farmers. We will give money and that is how the pastors and the church will be provided for. It is still okay to give stuff instead of money, so long as it is not junk we are just trying to get rid of. Whatever we give must flow out of a heart of love toward God.

Some people believe that tithing is just an Old Testament thing and that we no longer have to practice it. But Jesus Himself says that tithing is still valid.

Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Luke 11:42
Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

What Jesus was referring to in these verses was the practice of the Pharisees to grow small window boxes of exotic herbs. The Pharisees were faithful to tithe on these little boxes of herbs but they failed to show justice, mercy, faithfulness and love. On two different occasions Jesus said they needed both in order to be good Christian stewards! They needed to tithe and have a right attitude. Since Jesus Himself endorsed tithing, we know it is still valid in our spiritual walk. But Jesus also taught that the attitude of our hearts were just as important as our gifts to Him. If we give with a wrong attitude, we should next expect a blessing from God.

What attitudes did He want us to have when we give?

Cheerfulness

2 Corinthians 9:7
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Compassion

1 John 3:17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Faithfulness

1 Corinthians 4:2, 16:2
Now it is required in stewards that man be found faithful . . . Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him.

Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Sacrificially

Mark 13:43-44
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Conclusion:
God expects us to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasure. That means following the teachings of the Bible instead of our culture. It also includes handling money in ways that non-Christians might not understand. That includes giving out of love, devotion and gratitude to the Lord. Trusting the Lord enough to give Him the whole tithe, and receive God’s blessing as a result. Making sure when we give our hearts display attitudes of cheerfulness, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, and sacrifice.

------------------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Friday, May 1, 2015

Admitting We Have "I" Trouble

Have you ever noticed how the middle letter of the word "pride" is an “I”? It is that focus on "I" that often gets us in trouble.

A conversation with a friend comes to mind. He had recently made the commitment to become a Christian. He shared with me that one of his greatest struggles with his new found faith was the level of pride that existed in the hearts of many long term Christians he encountered. As he got more involved in his church, he had more opportunities to interact with people who have been Christians for a very long time. Though some of those long term Christians set great examples for him for how faith and godliness work out in real life, a great many others just seem to ooze with pride. It was very disheartening for him.


Whether recent converts or long term believers, we must always remember that our struggle with pride lies just below the surface. It is ready to rear its head at any moment. When we fail to remember this, and our "I" problem begins to manifest itself, we can be frustrating for everyone around us. It can quench the Spirit of God that is working in us. It can turn people away from the faith. How many young people grew up attending church but turned away from their faith because of the pride they saw in those they once looked up to.

I know that pride is an issue I have to deal with constantly in my own life. I have come to believe that the longer we are Christians, the more prone to pride we become. This was the problem the Pharisees had in the New Testament, and not much has changed about the human condition since then.

If we want to invest ourselves in helping others find a meaningful faith in Christ, we must learn to let go of our "I" problems and live humbly before God and man.

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Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Does Religious Faith Have a Positive or Negative Impact on Life?

Our culture’s views on religion are rapidly changing. There was a time when it was considered socially acceptable to be a person of deep religious faith. In fact, it was considered a bit odd if a person did not have some type of religion to help bring order to his or her life. But that is no longer the case. Now many sectors of our culture see religious faith as a negative thing. Is religion really a negative factor in life? Or is this just an attempt by some to skew public opinion?

Despite all of the rhetoric, science supports the concept that religion is a positive influence in a person’s life. A report on WebMD that said that “people who attend religious services, or who feel they are spiritual, experience lower levels of depression and anxiety; display signs of better health, such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes; and say they generally feel healthier.”1 That same website revealed that not only are religious people healthier, they also live longer. In a study of over 4000 people, Dr. Harold G. Koenig, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, reported that “people who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to die in a given period of time than people who attend services less often.”2 Numerous other studies make the same conclusion; people who are religious are generally healthier and live longer than those who are not.

In addition to living longer and being healthier, religious people are also happier. Andrew Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes, from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, analyzed a variety of factors among Catholic and Protestant Christians and found that life satisfaction seems to be higher among the religious population. The authors concluded that religion in general, acts as a buffer that protects people from life's disappointments.3 The connection between happiness and faith is not just true for our European friends. The highly respected Pew Research Center discovered that “people who attend religious services weekly or more are happier than those who attend monthly or less; or seldom or never. This correlation between happiness and frequency of church attendance has been a consistent finding for years.”4

People who are deeply religious do not need a survey or study to tell them they are happier than their non-religious counterparts. They already know this because they experience that happiness on a regular basis. That does not mean that religious people do not have bad days or have periods of life in which they feel depressed, but it does mean that as a general rule, they do live happier lives than those who are not religious. This may not be politically correct in today’s pluralistic culture, but it is scientifically accurate. Though some people may not like the idea that religious faith is still a positive factor, there is simply no denying that faith improves a person’s quality of life. We may all be entitled to our own opinion on the subject, but we are not entitled to our own facts. Facts are facts regardless of what our opinion is. And the facts are clear, religious faith makes us healthier, happier and results in us living longer. Perhaps it’s time for more people to get back into church and discover what they are missing!

1 http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/spirituality-may-help-people-live-longer
2 http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/spirituality-may-help-people-live-longer
3 http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/02/does-religion-m.html
4 http://pewresearch.org/pubs/301/are-we-happy-yet

 

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of numerous books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ministering to Dying Rural Communities - Guest Post by Rev. J. B. Skaggs

Most of the movie Phantasm was not worth watching but there was one true statement in it that stood out to me:

Like cancer spreading through a healthy body, small towns are dying and vanishing.

When I drive from Highland, KS to Denver, CO on Highway 36 you pass dozens, if not a hundred, rotted, boarded up ghost towns. In some places you can go more than a 100 plus miles and never see a functioning gas station, but pass by a dozen or more closed ones.

America has become a nation of nomads, who travel from one suburb to another chasing jobs and ever new shopping experiences. The small towns that our forefathers sweat, bled, and toiled to build and just 20 years ago were vibrant and filled with the noise of kids and dreams, have become the rest homes of farmers and widow women. Churches that remain open in these towns have become seas of grey hair. Evangelism many times is reduced to Sunday dinners and the funding of distant urban ministries.

Ancestral lands are an alien concept to Americans. Working to build communities is retranslated into a temporary membership - not a lifetime commitment to build and invest in blood and trade for the entire family. We have no concept of land as our inheritance. America has successfully eliminated all cultural and familial traditions, hereditary lands, and commitment to previous or future generations. All commitments now are focused on this generation.

So where as churches planted elsewhere in the world that existed for hundreds sometimes thousands of years, churches in the United States average two or three generations then dry up and die.
So when one comes into these small rural or even small urban churches, one has to come in with eyes wide open to the fact that many of these churches cannot be restored to their former glories, because the area are being depopulated.

In Highland Kansas, we have ten church buildings. Including the first African American church in Kansas. Only two of those buildings are still churches. The one I serve averages 50 to 100 a week (with no teens or college kids whatsoever). The other functioning church in  town has 6 members left. Many of the towns around the nation are just like this.

My point to the whole long diatribe: a good pastor sometimes has the tough job of being chaplain to a town. His ministry may be to serve as an end of life counselor to the town and the church. Such pastors have to come to grips with the fact that the town is dying and so are the churches in it and it is not his fault. It is simply what American culture has created, a nation of disposable cities, churches, and families. The Norman Rockwell myth we tell ourselves about Mayberry just is not true. So we must gird up our minds and hearts like Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. We must either accept the reality that we will serve small churches in dying towns or we must be willing to follow the masses to minister to where the people have moved to.

Rev. J.B. Skaggs is the pastor of Highland Christian Church, Highland, Kansas. He has a heart for small towns, evens ones that have rapidly aged and seen better days.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Spiritual Realm - Guest Post by Chris Beltrami

Pat and I have logged the many spiritual experiences and miracles that we have witnessed during our walk with God.  The following story is one of them.  
 
Pat was putting a portrait in a frame when the front door to our studio opened.  She responded to the ‘chime’ and raced to the front of the studio.   The customer purchased a roll of film.  Pat gave her ‘change’ for the purchase and hurried back to finish the framing.  Halfway there, the Lord spoke to her and said to go back and speak with the shopper. 
Pat returned and struck up conversation.   The woman said that she was from the state of Washington and was vacationing New England in order to see the famous Vermont foliage.   She, oddly and quickly, shifted her conversation to share a story of how her son and his girlfriend were both killed in a small airplane crash in South America.   She became visibly saddened and said that the South American government was not helpful in providing information for an acceptable and proper ‘closure’. 
Pat prayed with her and asked her to visit church the next morning. 
As the woman prepared to leave, Pat reached into the middle of a box of 50 “Voice” magazines and handed one to the woman.  (“Voice” was published once a month.  Each magazine contained 3 or 4 individual ‘testimonies’ of  persons who had made a decision to ask God to be a part of their life.)  Pat asked the woman to take some time to read through it and hopefully find some Godly comfort.
The woman left.   Pat finished her framing and headed out to lunch.
I was there for only 5 minutes when the woman stormed through the door waving a “Voice” magazine.   She repeatedly shouted, “Where’s the lady?   Where’s the lady?”
I explained that Pat had left for lunch and asked if I could help her.
She was crying as she explained that, when she returned to the car, she opened the magazine and read one of the testimonies.   It was written by a young man who lost his best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend due to a plane crash … somewhere in South America.   This pain and sorrow caused him to evaluate his life and to invite Christ to become his Lord & Savior.
Her crying increased as she said this was her son’s best friend and that he, in these 5 pages of testimony, revealed information that she did not know about her son and the crash itself.  She sighed, as she realized she could now contact this young man and find more closure for herself.
She went to church the next morning.  A guest preacher stopped his sermon, surprisingly, 3 times and pointed to her.  He declared to her, “God is touching you and your life will never be the same.”
 
Mark 8:18  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?...”
 
Time and again, I wonder how much more often these type of stories could (or should) be happening.  
I regularly ask, “How often has God wanted to speak, but I have been so busy with ‘things’ that my ears failed to hear?”
Think about it!!!   We were made body, soul & … spirit!!! 
I need to keep my antennae up and to stay tuned.   I want to remain anxious to hear and to see in a different realm … by reaching out, caring for people, praying for them, believing for miracles, and offering myself as a vessel for His creativity.   
I am simply an earthen pot that needs to be filled with His Spirit.  
 

2 Corinthians 4:18  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.