Friday, November 30, 2012

Connecticut Church Planting Update

As most of my blog readers know, on November 1, my wife and I transitioned from the ministry in Vermont that we have loved so much for the past 19 years, to a new ministry of church planting in Connecticut. In this new ministry we encourage existing church plants that are less than five years old and also work with established churches to start more new churches in nearby towns. I thought some of my readers might enjoy an update of what God is already doing in Connecticut through church planting.

1. Redeemer Hill Church, Hartford, CT
Pastor Joe Fisher
This mission is impacting many young professionals, including lawyers, managers in insurance companies, teachers, etc. In a recent pastors meeting, Pastor Joe said, “We have seen some healthy transfer growth, but what I long for is the conversion of souls.” Pray for God to call people to salvation through Redeemer Hill Church. Also, pray for the pastor’s wife, Kelly, who is pregnant.

2. The Bridge, Storrs, CT
Pastor Aaron Campbell
This mission is impacting students from the University of Connecticut, but also has 2-3 couples from the community. In a recent pastors meeting, Pastor Aaron said, “It sure would be nice to have one professor come to know the Lord and get involved in our group.” Join Pastor Aaron in that prayer. Also, the pastor is losing $1,000 in support on January 1, 2013. If you are interested in helping meet that shortfall, checks may be mailed to his sponsoring church, First Baptist Church, 240 Hillstown Road, Manchester, CT, 06040, and make a note on the memo line of the check that it is for Pastor Aaron’s support.


3. New Vision Baptist Ministries, Hartford, CT
Pastor Henry Wilson
This mission is impacting the poor and needy in Hartford. They are currently meeting with another church for Sunday worship, but during the week Pastor Henry counsels people struggling with substance abuse and also teaches literacy and helps mentor people with life skills. Pray for Pastor Wilson as he commutes from nearby Springfield and also works full time job. Pastor Wilson has started a small Christian bookstore as a ministry to the inner city community, but also as a source of funding for the rest of the church’s outreach programs. They accept donations of high quality Christian books, which they resell in the bookstore. To donate books, mail them to Pastor Henry Wilson, 201 Walnut Street, Springfield, MA, 01105.


4. Bethlehem Baptist Fellowship, Bethlehem, CT
Pastor Duane Crossman
This mission is seeking to impact their entire community. They have passed out many pieces of Gospel literature and held a number of special events. So far, community response has been small, but they know that if they remain faithful, the Lord will reward their labor in due time. Pray for the people that have heard the Gospel to respond. Consider sending an encouragement card that lets Pastor Crossman and his church know that others are praying for them. Send those cards to: Dr. Duane Crossman, 80 Eastwood Rd, Torrington, CT, 06790.


5. French Speaking Baptist Church of Waterbury, CT
Pastor Michael Dessalines
This mission is impacting the lives of many Haitians, particularly those from the second generation that are more Americanized than their parents. Pray for many younger Haitians to find Christ through this mission. Also pray for the church to begin to offer financial support to Pastor Michael.


6. New Beginnings Baptist Outreach, Meriden, CT
Lay leaders, Lou and Janet Faccinto
This mission is impacting the lives of youth from at-risk homes. The Faccintos are praying for God to raise up a church planting couple willing to transform this outreach center into a church. Terry Dorsett has been in contact with a potential church planter and is praying all of that through while seeking the Lord’s direction. Would you join the Faccintos and Terry in in this prayer?

7. Community Christian Fellowship, Torrington, CT
Pastor Pat Richardson
Pray for Pat as he seeks to share the Gospel with the community in which the Lord has placed him.

8. Connecticut Church Planting for English Speaking People Groups
Dr. Terry Dorsett, Church Planting Catalyst
Pray for Terry and his wife Kay as they embark on this exciting new ministry. Pray especially for their home in Vermont to sell, so they can physically relocate to Connecticut. Pray for safety for Terry as he drives back and forth during the long winter months. To learn more about how you can partner with the Dorsett’s in reaching Connecticut through church planting, email Terry at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Plant Churches in Connecticut?

As most of my regular blog readers know, I recently transitioned from serving as a pastor and Director for my denomination's efforts in Vermont, to leading a church planting ministry in Connecticut. Since Connecticut has a long and rich spiritual history and her village greens and urban downtowns are filled with historic church buildings, some have asked why would I want to plant new churches in Connecticut.

The state of Connecticut has a population of just over 3.5 million. It is an ethnically diverse state, with nearly 15% of the population born outside the United States. The Asian population has grown by 30% in the last decade and the Hispanic population has grown by 14% during the same time period. The Anglo population has actually declined by 2% over those same years. Since most churches focus on reaching the Anglo population, many of the other ethnic groups have little access to the Gospel. It is an international mission field right in America. We must engage wealthy Anglo congregations in planting churches that will effectively reach their non-English speaking neighbors.

There are more than 40 colleges and universities in Connecticut, including prestigious schools like Yale. Many of those schools were originally started as religious institutions, but now vibrant faith in Christ is hard to find on college campuses. Twenty-five percent of Americans are educated in colleges in the Northeast. If we fail to reach this group for Christ, America has no hope for a prosperous future. We must start churches that will make their focus reaching the next generation with a solid biblical expression of the timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Church once dominated the spiritual landscape of Connecticut. Though many people still say they are connected to the Catholic Church, participation in the church has taken a nose dive in recent years. Though 7% of the population claims to be evangelical, only 3.3% of the population attends an evangelical church on a typical weekend. Though almost all downtown areas in Connecticut have several lovely church buildings gracing their streets, many sit mostly empty of both people and of the Gospel. Though some of those churches may be able to be revitalized and preach the Gospel again, most have become landmarks of a bygone era. New churches will need to be planted in order for the Gospel to thrive in Connecticut once again.
My wife and I have seen the Lord's blessing on our church planting efforts in Vermont. A few months ago we sensed God call to engage in similar ministry in Connecticut. We have accepted the challenge of planting healthy evangelistic churches across Connecticut. But we cannot reach Connecticut alone. We need churches, individuals and mission organizations to partner with us. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise up partners for this mission field.

Mission teams are needed to help new churches do outreach projects in the summer of 2013. Sponsoring churches are needed to provide vital financial support. Families are needed who are willing to relocate to Connecticut to be part of a church planting team. Pray for the Lord to meet these needs.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Points to Use When Sharing Christ With the Non-Religious

 I have written several posts in the last few weeks about viewing evangelism as a process instead of an event. We can read those posts again here:

As we read those posts, it becomes obvious that evangelism is going to take quite a bit of time. It is not something that will be done in a 5 minute chat at the front door like it might have been in past generations. During the long process of evangelism, and especially as we finally arrive at the culminating moment of our witnessing eorts, we need to remember several practical items to be eective in our witnessing.

First, we may want to consider using a version of the Bible people can actually understand. Because many postmodern people have a minimal understanding of the Bible, using a version they cannot understand only complicates the situation. Because of this, it can be beneficial to let go of our own personal preferences and use a version of the Bible the next generation can understand.
Second, we should ask open-ended questions instead of making declarative statements. Open-ended questions are ones that cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Open-ended questions invite discussion. When we ask questions that have a yes or no answer, we tend to lapse into presentation mode, which is often perceived as unauthentic. Presentation mode tends to answer questions people are not asking and miss the issues they really want to discuss. When our friends are finally ready to have the big talk about salvation with us, it will be a two-way discussion, not a one-way lecture. Asking open-ended questions helps us keep the conversation going.

Third, we should be prepared to admit that we do not know all the answers. The person with whom we are sharing our faith may ask complex questions. These questions will often be based on negative experiences they have had or some evil they have seen in the world around them. We may not know the answers, and there may not be any answers. It is fine to admit that we are still looking for answers to those questions ourselves. Admitting that we trust Christ even when we do not know the answers is a powerful testimony about the depth of our faith.

Fourth, we must realize that the results of our witnessing will depend on the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we push too hard when we witness because we think we are the ones responsible for other people’s souls. We are only responsible for sharing the gospel. God is responsible for the results.

Though sharing our faith with non-religious people is a challenge, Christ commands us to share His love with others, and people need the comfort and hope that faith in Christ gives. The next generation should not have to face an eternity of separation from God simply because witnessing to them is a challenge. We can overcome the challenges of witnessing to the next generation when we realize that it is more a process than an event. Part of that process involves building healthy relationships with the next generation. Part of the process includes retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I versus you statements when we tell the story of our own struggles toward faith. Part of that process includes focusing on Jesus and how He changed us during our struggles instead of pretending we did it all on our own. Another part of the process includes talking about the supernatural experiences we have had in our lives. Finally, the process concludes with leading our friends to new faith in Christ. If we stumble on that last point, the whole process will have been in vain.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Training Leaders in Bivocational Churches

Last Saturday I drove to Boston where I led a workshop on bivocational ministry for the annual training conference for United Methodist churches across New England and New York. My workshop was attended by both bivocational pastors and lay people who want to help their churches become more effective.

I started the workshop by asking, “What keeps small churches and churches led by bivocational pastors from being as Kingdom minded as they would like to be?” We had a great discussion about the challenges that small congregations face, but eventually we all agreed that if a small church had the right focus and right plan, there was no reason at all for them to be as Kingdom minded as they wanted to be.

However, we also determined finding the right focus and the right plan was a challenge because most pastors in small churches are already so busy that they just do not have the time to do more. We also concluded that a significant number of pastors of those pastors were already on the edge of burn out.

Though all pastors are prone to burn out, bivocational pastors and pastors from single staff churches typically face this threat with fewer resources from their local church and denomination and sometimes with less information on how to avoid burn out.

One way to help bivocational and single staff pastors avoid burn out is to help them overcome the “second class syndrome” Many small church pastors feel that they are “second class” pastors. Though there are many reasons for this, common ones include: they lack education, they cannot boast about numbers, or they cannot take part in denominational meetings because their second job conflicts with those meetings. But they need to realize that bivocational ministry is actually NORMAL for the church – Acts 18:1-4, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9. They also need to realize that bivocational ministry is becoming MORE COMMON in America. In fact, many younger pastors, especially church planters, are embracing bivocational ministry for missional reasons instead of economic ones.

A second way to help pastors avoid burn out is to help them learn the art of delegation. Pastors and lay leaders need to understand that shared leadership is NORMAL in the church – Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2. God NEVER intended for the pastor to do all the ministry on his own! It is very unhealthy for both the pastor and the church when the pastor does it all. Pastors and lay leaders must be taught that there are multiple callings to ministry in a healthy church. (See 1 Timothy 5:17.) There are people who are called to do ministry who may not be called to be pastors and when we tap into those people, then the leadership in small churches will leap forward. Some pastors do not delegate because they either think the lay people will not do ministry or that the lay people are not trained adequately to do ministry. Pastors must remember that one of the primary duties of pastors is to train people in the local church to do ministry.  (See 2 Timothy 2:1-2).

A third way to help pastors avoid burn out is for them to have a Sabbath on a regular basis. God set the example of working for six days and then taking one day to rest. Genesis 2:2-3. Bivocational pastors and the churches they serve, must understand that the pastor needs a day off each week if they want him to be around long term. Though it can be hard to make time for a day off, delegating small tasks to others will help relieve some of the pressure from a bivocational pastor. However, if the pastor really wants to avoid burn out, he must also be willing to delegate some high level ministry duties to others. Since preaching and visitation are two of the most time consuming aspects of ministry, bivocational pastors should train others to help them with these two ministries. Lay people can and will help with these ministries if trained adequately. If lay people resist learning how to assist in these ministries, pastors should remind them that the Spirit will empower them. Letting a lay person preach several times a year gives the pastor a much needed break and develops the lay people’s spiritual lives. The same is true for visitation.

While it may sound good to recruit a team to help the pastor lead, how should pastors go about building this leadership team? While announcements from the pulpit or in the church bulletin may stir up some interest, it is unlikely to produce the leaders needed. Instead, pastors should personally recruit 2-3 people whom they train to assist them in ministry. Once the small group has been selected, pastors will need to meet with them for a minimum of six weeks (longer is better!) to train them in how to do pastoral care and preach a basic sermon. Classroom training alone will not be sufficient. After 2-3 weeks of learning in a classroom environment, pastors must take the students on some visits. At first the students will observe, but then pastors must assign the students some portion of the visit to lead and eventually must let the students lead the entire visit with the pastor being only a silent observer. Likewise, the students will need to preach a sample sermon or two to the other students. Students will then need to preach a sermon to the home church. Students will then need to preach a sermon at a nearby church. It is interesting how some students will feel more comfortable preaching in the home church and others will feel more at easy preaching to strangers. This is because we all have different personalities, which is why part of our training must include various situations. After each preaching experience, students will need feedback on how to improve their sermons. After the initial training is complete, pastors should look for ways to use these lay people REGULARLY for pulpit supply and visitation. Nothing is more discouraging than to be trained for something and then not get to use that training.

There are a variety of different types of resources available to help pastors train leadership teams. Many denominations have training resources. Many retired pastors are happy to assist, and they have far more time on their hands than a bivocational pastors does. Dave Jacobs, a ministry coach and former Vineyard pastor, has a great website called Dennis Bickers, a key leader in the American Baptist Convention in Indiana, also has a great website at Many of my readers are familiar with the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a
division of Lifeway. This is a resource that I wrote specifically to help bivocational pastors train leadership teams. It is currently being used by over 3,500 churches across North America. It can be ordered from,, at any Lifeway Christian Bookstore, or directly from my own office. You can also find helpful articles at my website: Whichever resource is used, the key is to make sure the students learn practical skills that they can actually use.

I concluded my workshop by pointing out that burn out is a growing concern for all pastors, but especially single staff and bivocational ones. Pastors can avoid burn out best by creating leadership teams to assist them in the ministry. While any assistance from the team is helpful, to gain maximum advantage, pastors need people to help them with some of the visitation and preaching ministries. There are many resources out there, we should use whichever ones work best in our context, but we must make sure they are practical.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Using Supernatural Experiences in Evangelism, Part Two

In my previous post (read it here), I wrote about how I used a story about a supernatural experience to witness to an agnostic friend. I do not think a person has to be a pastor to use this method of evangelism. During a summer youth camp, I asked a group of young people if they had experienced any supernatural phenomena in their own lives. Most of the people in the group did not grow up in Christian homes, and very few of them were able to articulate their faith using theological terms. Yet one by one they shared stories of brain tumors shrinking, parents’ marriages being put back together, victory over various addictions, and a variety of physical healings. Though some of them had not yet made commitments to become Christians, the vast majority did believe there was a God because of their supernatural experiences. 

Those experiences are part of the process postmodern people work through in their journey toward Christ. It is important to note that supernatural experiences alone are unlikely to result in a solid commitment to Christ, but when they are coupled with a powerful Scripture or two, they speak volumes to postmodern young people.

Squire Rushnell has gathered stories of these kinds of experiences across America in his book When God Winks. He calls these experiences Godwinks. Rushnell believes that when we have an experience that can only be described as supernatural, it is actually God winking at us to remind us that He is there and He is involved in our lives. Rushnell is a veteran ABC network television executive whose leadership saw the Good Morning America program rise to number one in its time slot and its ratings increase by 140 percent. He also developed the acclaimed Schoolhouse Rock series and the ABC After-School Specials, which earned seventy-five Emmy Awards during his career. He left that lucrative and powerful career to travel the nation sharing how we can know for sure that God is real because of the Godwinks that happen to us regularly. Books like Rushnell’s can be powerful witnessing tools to help postmodernists realize that God is real and He wants to be involved in our lives.
We must remind young people that there is a fine line between genuine miraculous experiences and slippery con artists. The media tends to promote the more bizarre experiences and often ignores the smaller Godwinks that are happening all around us. Yet these smaller Godwinks that happen on a regular basis are more important in displaying the existence of God than some of the more bizarre reports that make it on the news. As our culture has become more secular in nature, many people feel less connected to the divine than they once were.  This sense of disconnection causes great anxiety for many people because deep down inside, we know that something is “up there somewhere.”  This sense that something bigger than us is out there fuels postmodern spirituality. This should not be surprising since God is the one who put eternity in our hearts (Eccles. 3:11).
However, knowing that something is up there somewhere is dierent than actually knowing Christ in a personal way. As Christians, we must at some point actually share the gospel with our postmodern friends. When that moment comes, we must make sure we do not undermine all the hard work it took to move through the process. I will write more about that in my next post.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Using Supernatural Experiences in Evangelism, Part One

When witnessing to postmoderns, it can be helpful to talk about supernatural experiences we have had with God. I recall a conversation I had not long ago with a young friend who is agnostic. He wanted to know how I could be sure there is a God. Though he is still young, he is widely read and quite articulate about his agnostic faith. Though I could have given him a long list of Bible verses for why I believe in God, that would have been pointless since he does not accept the Bible as truth. However, I believe there is power in the Word, so I wanted to share some Scripture with him. I decided to only share two or three Bible verses with him that had special meaning to me. Then I went on to share a significant number of personal experiences I have had in my life that proved to me that God is real.
One example I shared with him is what I call the green bean miracle. When I was a young father, my daughter pulled a pot of boiling green beans o the stove. She should have been horribly burned, but through God’s power, the green beans landed in a circle around her body, with hot boiling water running all over the floor around her. Not a drop of boiling water or a single hot green bean landed on her. It was a miracle. It is scientifically impossible for such a thing to happen, yet it did. The green bean miracle is not a matter of faith because the experience actually happened. It is a historical fact. It is a real experience shared by my family. It is but one of many proofs of God ’s existence I have experienced in my own life.
Though only one supernatural experience is enough to prove God ’s existence to me, God has chosen to give me a long list of such experiences. Each experience reinforces the reality of God’s existence in my mind. Postmodern people are very intrigued when we share such examples of God’s activities in our personal lives. While no personal experience can ever out weigh the Word of God, when we share an experience alongside a key Bible verse, it can be a powerful combination to help young people understand the reality of God.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Using Jesus Focused Statements in Evangelism

In my previous post we discussed the importance of avoiding the “I versus you” syndrome (read that post here). As we continue that discussion in this post, we should point out that when we share our own faith journeys, one way to avoid displaying an I versus you attitude is to keep the focus on Jesus and how He changed us instead of on how we helped ourselves through willpower or positive thinking.

Many people who do not consider themselves to be Christians still have a deep respect for Jesus. Therefore, they are interested in what Jesus did in our lives. Staying focused on Jesus is also more biblical. Jesus said in John 12:32, “As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself ” (HCSB). If we want people to come to Jesus, we need to lift up Jesus by focusing our discussions on Him. Though we may be sharing real stories of how Christ changed our lives, the focus will remain on Jesus, not on us.

Here is an example of a self-focused statement:

“I was unfaithful to my wife on a number of occasions. I wanted to save my marriage, so I looked deep inside myself and saw a lot of attitudes I did not like. I began to work on those issues. I now have a much better relationship with my wife.”

Notice how often the word I is used and how God does not get any of the credit for the speaker’s improved relationship with his wife? It gives the impression that the speaker did it all on his own.

A Jesus-focused statement might be something like this:

“I was unfaithful to my wife on a number of occasions. The Lord began to deal with me about how He might help me save my marriage. Jesus began to show me a lot of stu that was buried deep within me that had never been dealt with. As the Lord began to deal with each of these issues, my relationship with my wife greatly improved.”

This statement describes the same situation, but in this version, the Lord receives the credit for making the dierence. In the first kind of statement, the speaker is taking the credit for himself. But if we were honest, we would have to admit that the second example is more realistic. We should give the Lord credit for doing His work in our lives. It is important when we are witnessing to share our journey of faith by focusing on how Jesus has helped us.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Avoiding the "I VERSUS YOU" Syndrome

In some of my recent posts I have been discussing how evangelism should be thought of as more of a process instead of a one-time event (read that post here). That process begins with building healthy relationships with others (read that post here). It also includes learning to be transparent about both our failures and our victories (read that post here). It also includes avoiding the “I versus you” syndrome (read that post here). I want to expand the discussion of the “I versus you” syndrome” in this post.

Some time ago I was taking part in a discussion group sponsored by a fairly traditional church in a nearby town. We were studying a powerful passage of Scripture I have enjoyed in the past. We were given a Bible study book that was published by a major Christian publishing house to use as a basis for the study. The leader of the group also shared stories of his journey of faith. Both the literature we were using and the leader’s discussion of it were filled with statements like, “I did this and you need to do that too,” “I stopped this behavior, and you need to stop this behavior too,” and “You need to change the way you think, feel, act, and believe and become like me.”
It became clear that the leader assumed the people in the discussion group could not possibly be living correctly until they changed their behavior to be more like his. After a while, both the study book and the leader’s conversation became insulting. While I agreed that the leader had experienced a remarkable change in his behavior and I was in theological agreement with much of what he said, it was dicult to get past the constant “I versus you” statements.
The leader, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to imply that he had all the answers and had everything about life figured out. Postmodern young adults know better than that. Sharing our story in this way sounds arrogant and condescending. While it is important to share the stories of our own spiritual journeys when witnessing, churches that want to reach the next generation will teach their people to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements.
Using we and us statements helps young people feel as if they are part of the group instead of observers who are outside of the group. Since most postmodern people desire to belong to the group, when our witnessing methods create an artificial division between us and others, it can destroy that sense of belonging. Individual Christians, as well as religious teachers and preachers who want to connect with postmodern adults, need to retrain themselves to use statements that help people feel part of the group instead of being isolated from the group. This does not mean that we should not warn young people about dangerous or sinful behaviors; it just means that we should not create an “I versus you” environment in the process. Because young people will perceive this type of environment as being judgmental, they are unlikely to want to engage in a second dose of hearing how great Christians think we are. Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge.
The following might be an example of a less-eective statement:
“If you continue in your addiction, you will never have a happy life. I trusted Christ, and it helped me overcome my addiction. I have been happier ever since. If you trust Christ, He will help you overcome your addiction, and you will be happier too.”
Though every word of the preceding statement may be technically accurate, to postmodern people it sounds arrogant.
An example of a more-eective statement might be the following:
“Many of us have struggled with various addictions in our lives. We know what it is like to overcome such addictions, and we know what it is like to give in to those addictions. But as we have learned to turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we have found new strength to overcome our addictions. Let us encourage one another in our struggles and use the power of our faith in Christ to help one another overcome the addictions all of us battle.”
That type of statement expresses the need to turn away from sinful actions but does not put the hearer outside the group. To the contrary, it puts the speaker and the listener on common ground. Postmodern people will respond much better to this type of inclusive statement than to one with an I versus you perspective.
Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge. But it is a challenge worth engaging in if we hope to reach the next generation.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fully Engaged in Serving the Lord - Acts 20

On the last Sunday of October I completed 19 years of ministry in Vermont. I loved my many years of Christian service in Vermont, but felt a strong calling to serve as a catalyst for church planting in the state of Connecticut. I preached a sermon from Acts 20:17-24 on my last Sunday of ministry in Vermont. The notes from that sermon are below:

Verse 17 - Now from Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
          Paul’s ministry was beginning to wind down as he made his way back to Jerusalem from his third extended missionary trip. When Paul docked at Miletus, he asked the elders in the church of Ephesus to visit him. Paul had spent three years in Ephesus starting this church and had personally ordained most of the elders in the church.
          It is important to note that every church Paul started (expect one) was led by a group of elders instead of a pastor serving alone. In the one church that was led by a single pastor, Paul encouraged that pastor to train up men to serve with him in ministry.
          Far too many Christians in our modern world have fallen for the idol of the “celebrity” pastor. This is dangerous because pastors are human and make mistakes, and if our eyes are on the pastor instead of Jesus, our faith may falter when the pastor fails us.
          This is also dangerous because no pastor remains in a church forever. The Lord will either call him to a different church, or the Lord will call him home to glory, but eventually the pastor will not be around.
          Therefore our focus must be on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. 

Verse 18 - And when they came to him, he said to them: You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time.
          Paul reminded the elders how he began working the first day on the job and remained “with” them the whole time. The phrase “with you” means that Paul was fully engaged mentally, spiritually, physically and financially in his efforts to make a difference for Christ while he was in Ephesus.
          Paul was fully engaged because he knew that “half-way” efforts only produced “half-way” results. The darkness that engulfs our families, our communities and our nation is too great for “half-way” results to be our goal. Let’s be 100% for Jesus 100% of the time!
          1 Corinthians 10:31-32 - Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God.
          This verse from Corinthians reminds us that whatever we do should be done in a way that brings God glory. God is not glorified by a poorly done job inside or outside of the church. We should never allow our efforts to be so poorly done that they make God look bad.

Verse 19 - serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews
          Being fully engaged was not always easy. Paul had to learn to be humble. Paul was a well-educated Roman citizen. But in his service to the Lord he was often treated unjustly, mocked and plotted against.
          If we want to be fully engaged in serving our family, church and community for the glory of God, we too will have to learn how to practice humility and accept suffering. Part of being humble is accepting that many people, even those close to us, may not appreciate the intensity of our efforts. But we do not serve for others to recognize us; we serve for God’s presence to be recognized by those around us. Humility is knowing what position we should take at any given moment to make a situation work for God’s purposes and plans.

Verse 20 - I did not shrink back from proclaiming to you anything that was profitable, or from teaching it to you in public and from house to house.
          The Greek phrase for “shrink back” is hypesteilamen and refers to pulling back out of fear. People sometimes confuse fear with humility. Paul knew when to be humble, but he was never afraid to speak the truth when it was needed. If fact, there were times that Paul had to confront people face to face for their sins. There were times when Paul had to cut ties with former colleagues. At least once Paul ordered the church to kick out a person who refused to repent.
          We should never confuse humility with fear. Sometimes doing things for the glory of God requires us to stand our ground. Some people will not understand that, most will not like it. But there are times when we must do what we know is profitable for God’s work to be accomplished.

Verse 21 - I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
          Paul did not discriminate against a person due to race or cultural background. He shared with anyone who would listen.
          We live in a world that is increasingly diverse. Part of being fully engaged in our faith is sharing the Gospel with anyone, and offering Christian service to anyone, regardless of their race or cultural background.

Verse 21 - I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
          All races, all educational backgrounds, all income levels have the same need, which is to repent of sin and turn to the Lord, placing our faith and trust in Him for both a successful life on earth and for eternal life in heaven. The Gospel is not a “white” man’s religion, nor is it a “rich” man’s religion. It is for everyone whom God has called to faith.

Verse 22 - And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there.
          Paul did not know what his future held, but he knew he must head to Jerusalem regardless. He was “bound” by the Spirit to obey. The Greek word for bound is dedemenos and it literally means “captive.” Paul had been taken captive by the Spirit of God.
          That can be a scary thought because what if God wants us to do something we do not like? The idea of being held captive is scary because if we were trapped by people or circumstances, our lives could turn out badly. But to be captured by the Spirit is never a bad thing because God always has our best interests at heart. Being captured by God is the BEST thing that could ever happen to us. We may not know exactly what our future holds, but we can face it as fully engaged followers of Christ because God will give us strength to not only endure, but to thrive. We must stop fearing the future and embrace it as the great adventure God intends it to be. 

Verse 24 - But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God's grace.
          Many people have misunderstood what Paul meant when he said he counted his life as having no value. Paul was not depressed. Nor was he contemplating suicide or anything like that. Paul had simply come to the point where his own goals and dreams were no longer his main priority in life. Paul was now looking at God’s goals and God’s purposes as being more important than his own.
          Matthew 16:25 reminds us that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.” This verse points out that we are never more fulfilled than when we are fully engaged in serving the Lord.
          Paul wanted to finish the course God had laid out for him. Paul was not a quitter who gave up when things got hard. Paul was not a drifter who coasted toward retirement or re-assignment. Paul was fully engaged until the very end.
          Far too many Christians start well. We need to learn to finish well. Whether it is a project at work, at home, at school, or at church, Christians should have the reputation of keeping their commitments, finishing what they start, and working hard until the job is done. 

          We must be fully engaged in what God has called us to do.
          Being fully engaged begins with an attitude of humility, which means doing whatever it takes for God’s purposes to work out for the best.
          Being fully engaged may make us feel “captive” to the Spirit, but that is okay because God has the best in mind for those who are His captives.
Being fully engaged means we do not quit until our assignment has been completed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Where is Our Focus? Guest Post by Ann Wilson

Scripture:  Matthew 14:22-23

My parents were dairy farmers.  In the early days before the pasteurization of milk, my Dad and Mom bottled their milk and churned their own butter at home.  Then they sold the milk and butter to families living in the textile mill areas of our town.  It was hard work and required many hours to get it done.

I was a very small child when all this milk and butter was being pedaled.  I have only a few memories of that time.  The one that I can remember clearly was a time when Mom took the milk route herself so Dad could stay home and plow the field to get ready for a crop.  I was too young to be left at home by myself.  So Dad put me in a very large wooden box on the side of the field.  My snacks were a jar of water and saltine crackers.  I felt so safe there in my box as I focused on Dad as he plowed the ground.  My security lay in my father because I knew that he had his eye on me.

When Peter walked on the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-33 he was secure as long as he kept his focus on Jesus.  But when he looked down at the waves he began to sink.  When Jesus took hold of his hand, Peter was safe again.

What are we focusing on today?  Is it Jesus or the things of this world?  Only Jesus can bring us the peace and security that our hearts long for.
Ann Wilson has served in full-time Christian ministry for decades through her calling to be a church secretary. She writes devotionals that are published in church newsletters in South Carolina and is a recognized leader in missions education in her region.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

When a Church Needs a Bivocational Pastor - Guest Post by Dennis Bickers

Many denominational leaders are reporting the same trend: a number of their previously fully-funded churches find they must go to a bivocational pastor. Often, the change is due to decreasing finances or rising insurance costs. One church I serve in our judicatory made that move in 2011 and told me they could afford to pay a good salary, but they could no longer afford to provide medical insurance. So far, the shift has worked fairly well in that church, but that is not always the case.

About a year ago I was asked to speak to a congregation that had told their pastor he would need to become bivocational or seek another place to serve. I was to address the changes the church should expect as they made the transition. A large number of the congregation attended the meeting and asked good questions. The pastor had found other employment and decided to remain at the church in a bivocational role. For several months the transition went well, but recently things are not going so well at the church. I'll explain why in a moment.

There are at least two things that congregations must address when transitioning from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor. One is self-esteem. It is not uncommon for a church to wonder what they have done wrong or why God has seemingly abandoned them when they can no longer have a fully-funded pastor. I once spoke at a church out west whose sanctuary seated 600 people. They now had 60 in attendance, and the morale in that church was at rock bottom. Many in the church saw themselves as failures and could do little but speak of "the good old days."

I try to encourage churches to not see themselves as failures or to believe God has abandoned them. God uses small churches to accomplish great things. Rather than focusing on what they have lost these churches would do much better to focus on the new opportunities they now have. Instead of spending the bulk of their offerings on pastoral salary and benefits these churches now often have additional money that can be used for ministry. More resources for ministry means that more people outside the congregation can be touched and introduced to the Kingdom of God. At every workshop I lead for bivocational ministers I remind them that the call to bivocational ministry is not a lesser nor a greater call to ministry; it is the call God has placed on their lives and is equal to every other call. I would say the same to churches that are moving from being fully-funded to bivocational. Your church is not less important to God and His Kingdom and becoming bivocational may mean that new ministry opportunities are about to open up. Look for them.

The second issue deals with expectations. Churches sometimes find it easier to move to a bivocational salary than to shift their expectations of the pastor. It is not fair to ask the pastor to find another job to supplement his or her salary and then continue to expect the same work from the pastor. This is the problem that occurred in the church mentioned above. For the first few months the congregation picked up several of the responsibilities the pastor had been doing, but as the months went by that started happening less and less. That was one of the things I cautioned the church about, and I thought they understood that when I left, but they evidently forgot. The pastor and his wife told me the church was now expecting him to do almost everything he was doing when he was fully-funded. I doubt he will remain at that church much longer.

One of the strengths of bivocational ministry is that church members often become more personally involved in ministry. They understand the pastor has a job just like they do and is not available 24/7, so many of them step in and fill more ministry roles. Actually, this is a scriptural way for the church to operate. Eph. 4 tells us the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, and when this model is followed good things often happen. Bivocational churches must move from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model. The pastor may not always be available to minister to someone in need, but there is usually someone in the congregation who can do that if they understand they are called to do so just as much as the pastor.

For more on this and other aspects of bivocational ministry you may want to read:

The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry
Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church

Dennis Bickers has authored numerous books on bivocational ministry and is in a key leadership position in the American Baptist Churches, USA.