Thursday, February 14, 2019

5 Ideas to Help Your Church Grow

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The year is coasting along, and as I stood back over January, and hit the ground hard in February, I started to ask some difficult questions.

What matters most in 2019? Since I will never have unlimited time, resources or energy, what should I invest my time into in 2019, that would bring the greatest return? What should our church focus on? What matters most? If God were to give me a debrief at the end of 2019, what would I want God to say?

These are the kinds of questions that have been running through my head in January. These are questions every church must ask; lest we run around with a scattergun approach to serving God. Ambiguity and busyness won't grow the church.

And if we're honest, sometimes we equate busyness with effectiveness and tiredness with blessing. Though I think we could do better.

So, I want to give you 5 Ideas to Help Your Church Grow

FIX YOUR ATTENTION

I sense that it is critical where we choose to fix our attention. There are many distractions. There are many things vying for our time. And in some moments there are many and varied thoughts running through our vulnerable minds. Already, I've heard of people experiencing setbacks, or disappointments and find themselves entering 2019 with a less than ideal start.

That's why, I'm saying churches need to fix their eyes upon Jesus. We can't get distracted in 2019. We must keep our eyes on him. We know in Hebrews chapter 12, that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. We must fix our attention upon the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Please hear me on this. This isn't just a nice, ho-hum, predictable statement from another church pastor. I am convinced that fixing our attention to what really matters and the Christ of our faith is absolutely critical in 2019.

I just think, at times we've lost the art of fixing our eyes and heart upon the Lord. We mean well. We do ministry. We work hard. And some months go by and we've realised we haven't sat in his presence. We haven't discipled like it really mattered. We just got busy. We just lost our way.

We need to fix. Fix our eyes upon Jesus. As Hebrew 12:1-2 puts it, '...since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.'

Start with that. Now, here's another idea to help your church grow in 2019:


OPEN YOUR HEART

We need to open our hearts to new opportunities. You've heard it said, that the message doesn't change, but the mediums in which we share it does. No church looks like the church in Ephesus, or the early church in Corinth. No church looks like a 13th century monastery. No church is even the same from a few years previous.  People come and go. What society thinks is important changes. The societal issues prevalent in your community shifts over time. The technology in which we connect with people rapidly changes. The theological hot potatoes of our day always move and change with the wind. Every generation has a different outlook on life.

You get the point. We need to be open. Open to new things. Open to exploring new ventures. Open to investing money in a different pool. Open to allowing a younger generation to try something different.

We need to be open to living on the edge of missional exploration. Even if that means some do not understand what we are doing, and why we are so passionate about it.

Leaders: You need to be open to giving people an opportunity to try something new. You then need to shut your mouth if it fails. Then you need to be willing to empower them again. And again. And again.

The danger is that we become so close-minded that we miss the very opportunities that God wants to breathe his life into.

Isaiah 43:18-19 says, '“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?'

So, I'm hoping to stay open to what God wants to do in my church this year. I hope you will as well.

Alright, so there are a few more important ideas for churches, that will help them grow in 2019.


CLARITY OF YOUR MISSION

Never have I felt this so strong as this year. Clarity seems to be a word ringing in my ears of late. Now maybe God's been trying to speak to me for the last decade about this, I don't know. All I can say is that I sense that clarity of mission, clarity of vision and clarity of goals and expected outcomes will be the difference between growing and declining churches in 2019.

In a previous post on leadership development, I said that failure to set goals will mean you will always be in a perpetual cycle of vagueness. And then guess what? Without clarity, you will reach the end of 2019 and be vague about whether you achieved anything, and you'll simply end the year with a whole lot of vagueness.

As Elvis once said, you'll have a whole lot of vagueness going on.

And this is the truth: What happens with vagueness, stays in vagueness.

I've felt that in the past. I failed to articulate any goals for the church and failed to articulate any goals for my own life, and I arrived at the end of the year in a psychological quandary, wondering whether I had achieved anything of value in the previous year.

I'm intent not to feel like that in 2019. We cannot let our churches feel like that.

So, have your church consider these questions:

What is your mission?
What is your vision?
What are your values?
What are you going to stop doing?
What do you need to start doing?
What do you need to invest your time in most this year?
What goals do you have, and what actionable steps will you take to reach them?

Take a verse like Acts 4:12, 'Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.' Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) and then was able to articulate clearly what his mission was. He had clarity. And I tell you, clarity will help your church grow.

Clarity is critical. And I'm beginning to be convinced that it is the big difference between healthy churches, stagnant churches and declining churches.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CONTEXT

Comparison will kill you. Nearly every church leader has been there on one day or another. Smaller churches compare themselves to bigger churches. Traditional churches compare themselves to emerging churches. Cell group churches compare themselves to other cell group churches. Churches with worship bands compare themselves with other worship bands. Leaders compare their effectiveness to other leaders. And so on, and so on.

The thing is: Every church is different. Every church has a different set of problems to address. Every church has a different living and breathing kind of DNA.

Every single church.

See remember, churches are living and breathing organisms. People. People who journey together. Who try to change the world together. We cannot compare. But we can do one thing:

We can seek to understand the current context in which we minister. We can seek to learn the history of our church (each unique even to the church down the road). We can seek to understand the complexities that exist and discover how to address them. We can celebrate what God is doing, that is always unique to the church in the adjacent suburb.

I am challenged. Instead of spending my mental energy trying to compare how effective or otherwise my church is compared to other denominational success stories, I want to spend my energy understanding my current context.

Who has God called us to reach?
How has God called us to evangelise?
What social issues are the ones we need to invest our time and energy into?
What would good discipleship look like in my context?
How do I develop a passionate, faith-filled, worshipful community amid God's people?

I can't compare my church to yours. It's different. It has unique challenges. I could though help you ask the right questions. I could help you stop so that you can seek to understand your context. That would be key for you and for me.

Ok, so we are nearly there. I want to give you one more important idea to help your church grow in 2019. Here it is:


SHARE YOUR JOURNEY

I want to be honest with you right now. I think when I was younger in ministry, people were projects. I desperately wanted to see the church grow, but people were just numbers.  People were there to be pastorally manipulated to achieve ministry outcomes. Volunteers helping in church ministry were just there to tick the box, so that I felt good that we had 'been successful.'

I feel like in recent years, my heart for people has grown. Relationships are now key for me. This is about people joining together, to make a difference and to do it together in the context of community. People are not means to an end to fulfil a ministry task. Rather, God's people join together to change the world.

We encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
We love each other (John 15:17).
We mutually encourage each other in the faith (Romans 1:12).
We pray for one another (James 5:16).
We carry each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2).

And this my friends are all biblical ideas scattered through the letters of the New Testament.

We do ministry in the context of relationship. We share the journey together.

Would it be helpful for your church to consider the following:

What are we doing to build strong relationships?
What are we doing to connect with each other?
How do we integrate new people into our community of faith?
What avenues do we have for people to find care, discipleship and friendship?
How do we take an inward-focussed church, to be an outward-focussed church?
What relationships will I invest more time into?

A FINAL THOUGHT

These are just some ideas that will help your church to grow in 2019. And if you hadn't noticed, these five ideas spell the word FOCUS. I sense that's going to be incredibly important for the local church in 2019. We need to be a people of focus. So let me recap:

Fix your attention on the Lord.
Open your heart to new opportunities
Clarity will develop as you ask some deeper questions about purpose and direction
Understand the context in which your church does ministry
Share your journey with others as a church community  

If you've been blessed by these ideas on how to help your church grow, please share this blog, via Facebook or Twitter. Or leave a comment. Or if you're subscribed to this blog, send me an email. There is much more to say and I'm keen to hear your thoughts.
 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Finding hope when all you see is despair

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Imagine a pineapple.

On the outside, it's prickly.  Spiky.  If you were seeing this pineapple for the first time, you wouldn't think much could come out of it.  You wouldn't think that inside this pineapple is a sweet, juicy taste.

Imagine a coconut.

On the outside, it's hairy. Brown. Rough. If you were seeing this coconut for the first time, you wouldn't think it was edible on the inside. You wouldn't consider making yourself a cup of coconut juice.

See, the message today is about Hope.  It is about finding opportunity amidst opposition.  It's about finding a breakthrough amidst the barriers.  It's about finding faith, when all you can see is a prickly pineapple, or a rough, hairy coconut.

Just take a look at the stories within the Gospels.  How many times do you see the disciples looking at a situation and thinking there is no hope?

In Matthew 14:13-21, we read about the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus is attending to the crowds of people following Him, healing the sick well into the evening.  The disciples, noticing how late it is, tell Jesus to send the crowds away so that the people can buy food and eat.  To their surprise, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowds themselves.  The disciples' focus was not on what God could do in their situation, but on what little they had - five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus took the loaves and the fish, and thanking God for what they had, broke the food up, dividing it amongst the entire crowd with 12 whole baskets of food remaining.

The disciples failed to understand the provision of God.

Later in Matthew 15:21-28 we read about a Canaanite woman, whose daughter had become possessed by a demon.  She cried out for mercy and healing from Jesus, but the disciples urged Jesus to send her away.  Jesus told them that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, and granted the Canaanite woman's request because of her faith.

The disciples failed to understand the compassion of God.

Even further in Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus is explaining to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the authorities, and that He must be killed and raised to life on the third day.  Peter took Jesus aside and told Him that this should never happen, yet Jesus' response is quite abrupt - "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns".  Jesus added that whoever wants to be His disciple must deny themselves, that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for Him will find it.

"What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"  What we gain in life - objects, status, wealth - will ultimately perish.  The soul is what's important, for that will never perish in Him.

Peter failed to understand the plan of God.

There is Hope for us, and it's related to having the mind of Christ.  1 Corinthians 2:11-16 teaches us that we have been given the Spirit of God; we have the ability to understand God and the gift that He has given us, if we are open to the Spirit.  We can speak in words taught by the Spirit, to explain the truth of the Spirit.  Those who are not open to the Spirit of God consider things that come from the Spirit foolish and incomprehensible, yet those who are can understand because these things are discerned by the Spirit.

Then you can look at situation the way the Spirit of God would. You look at circumstances with faith. We know that, 'Faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see' (Hebrews 11:1).

You can look at a lack of provision and realise that God can surely cater for all your needs.

You can look at a sickness, and understand by faith that God can bring healing into that illness.

You can look at the plans and purposes of God for your own life, and realise, that even if things are going bad-to-worse for you, God still has a plan to bring hope and a future.

Jesus can provide.  Jesus can deliver, and He can set free.  Jesus knows the plans He has for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.

So the next time you look at your circumstances, you can ask God to help you find hope amid the despair.

And hopefully you won't just see a prickly pineapple or a rough, hairy coconut. But you'll see hope. You'll see potential. You'll see an opportunity.

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