Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Making the Most of Holiday Table Talk

Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming times of the year for parents and kids alike, but I want to provide a few simple, practical ideas to make the most of the time we have, especially when we are preparing food, eating, and sitting around the table for our big meals.

1. Prepare your kids ahead of time - communicate expectations for how you would like your kids to be involved with the process (setting table, help bake, etc.) Explain who is coming over or what the day's schedule will be like.

2. Be present - explain the value of staying with the family and enjoying face-to-face time with holiday guests. Some kids (I was one of them) would prefer to eat and run off to their rooms, but it's important to explain the value of spending quality time with company and family during these occasions. Create an agreement for cell phones and tablets usage beforehand so children know what is expected of them and try to keep children engaged in conversation by including them.

3. Invite kids to play a role - offer kids a choice with how they can help with things like cooking, cleaning, etc. Create a teaching tradition by intentionally picking one item and allow them to help, such as setting the table, preparing the turkey, baking pies, carving the turkey, etc. These are skills parents can pass on as a legacy in their families.

4. Celebrate how God is working in each person's life - Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to talk openly about God and give Him the credit for specific blessings. This goes beyond the pre-meal prayer but sets an attitude of thankfulness for the whole day.

5. Practice kindness and grace - teens especially can be a target for relatives to drill with questions during holidays. Try and keep conversations focused on the positive things your kids have been doing; this is the perfect opportunity to publicly affirm children as well.

Fun Idea! Purchase a light-colored tablecloth and sharpies. Ask everyone to write something they are thankful for on the tablecloth, and then reuse the tablecloth each year and watch it fill with thanks and memories!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Our Volunteers Burn Out

One of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of ministry to work through is volunteer burnout, and it seems to keep happening even with the best efforts to prevent it. However, I believe there are some simple, and maybe some complicated reasons why our volunteers may stay committed for a while, but over time they fizzle down, get burned, and quit. Some even have to leave their current church altogether and start over somewhere new (and the cycle continues...).

1. They Serve People First, Not God
Most of the ministries of the church revolve around people serving other people in some capacity, whether it is teaching, children's ministries, youth, senior adults and many more, but ultimately we should be serving God and His purposes in the church and community through those functions. When we serve only other people, we tend to become focused on results, numbers, progress, and reputation. When we plan events, outreach, and new ministries and only a few people show, we get disappointed and regret signing up. Volunteers burn out because the glorious results they had hoped for didn't pan out. They wanted people to see them serving and get at least a little credit, but none was given. They put in the time to prepare and no one seemed to care, so they stop trying. All these have happened many times because volunteers (and staff for that matter) are focused on the people and not on serving God. Jesus tells a story in Luke 17:7-10 that fits well with this:

"Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

At the end of the day, we are God's servants, and our reward comes from Him. Let's try and remember we serve God first, and through His strength we serve others.

2. They Are Spiritually Dry
Baptists (the people I know and love) are professional fakers when it comes to their spiritual condition. We can preach and teach it all day, but the reality is that relatively few in our congregations have a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. For whatever reason, personal Bible study, prayer, and reflection just don't happen during the week, so many come to church empty and expect God to do something amazing. He still has the power to do so, but the Spirit is ready to work when we are ready to receive Him, listen to Him, and respond to Him. Many volunteers fall into the trap of going through the motions and planning a lesson and being on time to serve, but throughout the week they have experienced little spiritual growth. God can certainly use a volunteer position to ignite spiritual growth, but often volunteers enter into a role unprepared and with an empty spiritual gas tank. When a volunteer coasts on fumes, they will eventually run out of energy. Many volunteers have to miss Bible studies or even worship services because of their roles, so it is even more important that they prioritize their relationship with Jesus at home before they step into a volunteer role at church. Just before the verses above, Jesus says the famous line, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'be uprooted and planted into the sea,' and it will obey you." (Luke 17:6) This issue is about priority - our relationship with God is first, and then out of that flows a joyful attitude and a willingness to serve others despite any other circumstances.

3. They Are Overworked and Under-Appreciated
The reality of most church situations is that about twenty percent of the people do about ninety percent of the work. Those statistics are sad, but true for many. The Sabbath concept is foreign to most Americans, and the idea that we need a time of rest to reflect on what God has done and what He will do in the future has abandoned most of us. Pastors and ministers often forget that our volunteers are unpaid workers, and most of them have busy schedules throughout the week with jobs, kids, and other activities. Having a week off, or a short break from a particular area of service allows volunteers to simply be a church member every once in a while so that they can refresh and reconnect with God and others. Incentives and bribes should not be necessary, but a simple thank you and a show of appreciation for their dedication is always welcomed by our workers. They know that they should not expect earthly rewards, but sometimes a little appreciation goes a long way to maintaining devoted, enthusiastic volunteers in ministry.

4. They Are Simply Unqualified for the Position
I hate to say it, but sometimes volunteers are not cut out for a certain role. They are not gifted, experienced, or skilled but still feel compelled to serve in some way. God bless their motivation, but as leaders we understand that qualified, effective leaders will be able to impact others. I am a firm believer in training and I also believe strongly that God will provide what is needed for a particular area of service. This is why we must offer training and consistently build up our volunteers so that even those who are more unqualified can find their place and serve as prepared and joyful volunteers. Practically, volunteers entering into a new area of service shouldn't be thrown in the fire at week one; give them a couple weeks to observe and watch how ministries and classes are done. They may even need more time than that. A little patience and guidance often can take a volunteer with little experience and transform them into the most motivated and excited volunteers a church has!

Finding great help is possible, and with a little planning, prayer, and preparation, leaders have the necessary tools to develop motivated volunteers who can experience God's grace and glory each week as they serve the church and serve others in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Spiritual Gifts:" Where We've Gone Wrong

It is no coincidence that gifts from the Holy Spirit has been heavy in my thinking, because this is the time of year where churches look for new volunteers to fill all sorts of positions and roles needed for our churches to operate. I've also been reading, thinking, and meditating on what Scripture actually tells us about how Spiritual Gifts are supposed to function in the church. Not to my surprise, I feel the way these gifts are often treated poorly represents what the Bible teaches and what the Holy Spirit desires to accomplish through believers in the local church.

Peter said, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10, NIV). The focus and implication that I believe is often overlooked is grace: Peter is saying that because of the grace given to us, we have been gifted, or in other words, it's the grace inside of us that has equipped us to serve the church. Therefore, we have to immediately fight the tendency to rely on our own strengths, talents, and experience lest we miss out on what the Spirit is offering here. It's an incredible struggle for many churches to find excited, motivated volunteers to fill positions on committees and in children's and youth departments. You know why? The excuse we hear is, "I'm not good with little kids," or "I've never worked with students before," or the classic, "I'm not comfortable doing that..." (That one makes me want to cry sometimes...). From Peter's teaching in this one passage, we can derive several truths about how God has gifted members of the church to serve one another.

1. Gifts are a result of grace - spiritual gifts were not implanted in a believer at birth; sure, God will use talents and predisposed abilities in many useful ways, but that is not necessarily the same as spiritual gifts. It is the grace received in one's heart that blossoms into various acts of service ("various forms" in 1 Peter 4). Grace given to sinners may radically change ones predisposed abilities into whole new creations; for example, a young adult who was abused as a child may be afraid to work with children or teens, but through grace they are given a new perspective and can begin to rely on the Spirit as He uses their experiences to mold them into a servant of the church. God can take a stage-frightened, introverted boy and transform him into a teacher and bold preacher of the gospel. It's not about our talents and our skills - it's about His glorious grace!

2. Gifts are to be used to serve others - I know that some church members would rather die a painful death than stand in front of an audience and speak, but that's okay because God created gifts to serve others. Spiritual gifts are certainly not confined to the public roles in the church, but rather they are used all over, as long as they are for serving others. Peter rightly focuses on the fact that the Holy Spirit gifts believers to serve, not to be served or to look good or to show how awesome the gifts can be. They exist for service, so whenever a believer receives grace, they are immediately equipped by the Spirit to serve others. Peter goes on to say in 1 Peter 4 that if you speak, speak with authority; if you serve, serve with the strength only God can provide. You see, once again it's not about what I can do, what I'm good at, what I'm comfortable doing-it's about doing what God has asked, so that He is praised in the end. If our service brings us praise, even if it brings the church praise, we've failed. Peter makes it clear in 1 Peter 4:11 that our service should bring God all the praise! So whatever the Spirit gifts you to do, do it to serve others!

3. We are stewards of God's grace - like a tattoo placed on our foreheads, God's grace remains with his children. Wherever we go, we have the Spirit-given gift of grace which means that other people should see that in us. Also, as stewards, this grace is not ours to hold captive - it's from God and we should cherish such an incredible gift by using it properly and by allowing it to bless others. It's simple: when the grace in us impacts others, God is glorified. According to the Puritan Thomas Moore, "Grace is the seed, glory is the flower." When grace is manifested in incredible ways, God is glorified. This is why we must be looking for the Spirit to lead us in service instead of doing what we like or what's most comfortable. Think about it, when you are able to serve others and impact a person's life in a way you never thought possible, isn't that an incredible moment? Even in our moments of weakness and failure, God uses the grace within us to change lives and bring Himself the glory He alone deserves.

Here is what really excites me about the gifts the Spirit gives: they always have a purpose! What if I said that the Spirit could provide you with what you needed, when you needed it? What if you didn't need any kind of skill sets or natural talents before you responded to God's call? What if you are actually the worst teacher ever, and God wants you to teach? Is the grace inside of you not enough? The Bible is full of weak, unable people that God used to do incredible things (Moses, Gideon, David, Amos, Peter...and the list goes on) and bring Him glory that He may not have received had he called out the best and brightest to fulfill His purposes. We need to remember that the same grace and the same Spirit are given to all Christians. I know that each of us brings different skills and abilities to the table, and God can and will use them for His glory when we submit them to Him, but in the end God's story is about making the weak strong, about making the useless useful. That's a beautiful picture of how God is glorified through His children.

I would have laughed (and maybe puked) if you told me five years ago I would be a kid's pastor and have the opportunity to teach, preach, and serve full-time in a church. I know that the grace in me has changed me, and that the Spirit has equipped me to do things I otherwise would never be able (nor want) to do. Our thinking on this issue needs to be reworked, and I think many of us are too comfortable filling the same positions and working with the same people at church because it's comfortable. God hasn't called us to be comfortable, he's called us to serve others so that Jesus Christ is glorified and so the Father is praised. Let's do our best to be obedient to serve wherever we can, because we know that the Spirit will gift us and equip us for His purpose. So next time someone asks you to volunteer, think about how God can use you, and please, resist that natural urge to focus on "what I'm good at" or "what I'm comfortable doing." God is glorified when incapable people are made capable through His Spirit! I like what Melvin Blackaby says: "Do you sense that God wants to use your life, but you think you have nothing to offer Him? Don't merely look at what you have to offer the world; seek the heart of God and allow His Spirit to work through you." It's never been about what we have to offer, but it has always been about what God can do through broken, incapable, even downright boring people to bring about transformation in others. So let's be active in changing our thinking and begin serving in ways we never thought possible!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Those Who Mourn Will Be Blessed: Kids of Divorce and the Church's Response

I was struck when reading a recent article from Lifeway's Kid's Ministry, and I was reminded about the precious children I see who already have divorced parents or who are facing such a situation. In some ways it seems that divorce has become accepted to the point that the children are sometimes overlooked, but I believe that an incredible amount of pain, loneliness, and uncertainty fills the hearts of these kids. A child exists because of the union of his/her mother and father, so when that marriage dies, the very essence of that child's identity is broken: the child wonders if their existence even matters anymore, and if they will ever be able to cope with this disaster (on average it can take 10 years for a child to fully process a divorce). We all know these kids, see them playing ball, even coming to church regularly, so what should be our response as the church? How can we create hope, stability, and maturity in these children when their home life is divided, confusing, and unstable? When a child loses a parent to death, the church is usually there to offer support in many ways, but what about the child whose mother or father has left home? Maybe it's time that the church began ministering to its most vulnerable parts instead of turning away from the shame divorce brings.

If the church is unwilling to grab hold of this issue and seek to serve kids of divorced parents, then the statistics will continue which show us that high percentages of adults whose parents were divorced have left the church and have no desire to return. This tragedy can be reversed if the church is a little more patient, a little more loving, and a little more concerned about the spiritual life of children who have divorced parents. Let's make sure they are welcomed, that their hearts are nurtured by caring teachers, pastors, and friends, and that they know God's love and grace are just as available to them as any other child. Instead of regret, anger, or anxiety the church must give these kids hope, joy, and a growing relationship with their Heavenly Father. May we as God's ministers never be responsible for the downfall of "one of these little ones who believe in Me" as Jesus said.


Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child — this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! (Matthew 18:4-6, HCSB)

Friday, February 7, 2014

VBS 2014: Something to Get Excited About!

So this year's VBS may just be one of the best themes and content I have seen in a long time, if ever! I'm excited that we are diving headfirst into the world of Agency D3 this summer because our children will have an incredible opportunity to Discover, Decide, and Defend the person of Jesus Christ. There are three main reasons why I can't wait for July 13th of this year...

1. The Content is ALL about Jesus - this year's content begins and ends with who Jesus is, why he came, and that he died and rose for all people. Kids will be asked tough questions like, "Did Jesus Really Die?" and "Did Jesus Really Raise from the Dead?" Kids who have never made a decision for Christ will have explored the answers for themselves, and it will be up to them to decide if Jesus really is who the Bible says he is. 

2. The Theme is Awesome!! - Who doesn't enjoy being a detective or a secret agent? We see the shows all over TV and I believe it's simply in our nature to want to discover and look for evidence and clues about things. (I clearly remember playing with my dad's old briefcases...I'd keep "secret" files and cap guns and the sort in them as if I was an agent). We all need to get out our magnifying glasses, fingerprint dust, and laser pointers so we can uncover the truth about Jesus! 

3. The Music and Worship Rally Content - this year's music is gospel-driven and lifts high the name of Jesus, and the videos that go along with each day will captivate kids' minds and immerse them into the theme. There's something special about seeing all those kids singing and screaming during the worship rally!



We need a lot of help, and we definitely need all of you to be praying now that God would not only send us children from this community, but that the message of salvation would clearly be understood by those children so that they will have an opportunity to commit their lives to Him. Sign up soon to volunteer!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Should We Do With Santa Claus?

Christian parents and teachers are always faced with the challenging discussion at Christmas time about what to do with good ole Saint Nick. Should we promote him, or should we only focus on the real Christmas story and the Nativity? Should we tell children about Santa’s existence or not? Our culture promotes the jolly old fellow so strongly I don’t think we can ignore it, but I do believe there are some great ways that children can be taught Santa Claus as a way to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. One great way to do this is by sharing the actual story of St. Nick (yes, he is actually a real saint!) with our children. 

The real Nicholas was a bishop in Lycia (Turkey) during the 4th century AD who was well-known for his service to the people and his generosity. He was known to secretly place coins in the shoes of people who left them out—thus he became the model for Santa Claus many years later. “Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas which is actually a misinterpretation of Saint Nicholas. Nevertheless, over time his reputation and stories grew and grew as folklore was added and his works increased in the eyes of the people. After St. Nicholas was venerated as a saint, his feast day was placed on December 6th: once the celebration of St. Nick’s day became more popular in Europe and America as a day to give gifts and fill stockings left out by children with small gifts, Christmas began to merge with this day. Therefore, the story of Santa Claus and Christmas became two December holidays that were forged into one month-long celebration of generosity and joy. 

So you see? The real St. Nick actually embodies much of what our culture celebrates (the whole north pole/reindeer thing was developed in the early 1800s, but he actually was known for wearing a heavy red fur coat due to the cold weather!) but many people may see Christ’s birth and Santa as opposing forces. The truth is, we can use the story of St. Nicholas to further proclaim the real message of Christ’s birth, because St. Nicholas was a devout believer in God and gave generously in order to serve others. He provided small gifts to the poor and gave whatever he could to help people feel merry during this time of year. He is still known as someone who was full-heartedly devoted to his Christian faith; one of his most well-known acts of generosity was buying dowries for three impoverished girls so that they would not have to become prostitutes. 

I know it’s still difficult to try and explain some of these details without forcing children not to believe in Santa (I made a friend of mine cry when I was little when I told him Santa wasn’t real…). However, we simply cannot allow Jesus to be pushed away at Christmas; I know for me, my family never really talked about Santa even though he wasn’t denied, but we always read the Christmas story from Luke 2 on Christmas morning with our family before we could open any presents. Maybe we can explain that the “magic” of St. Nick actually came from his love for God and people. We should be generous because God has blessed us so richly with things we never deserved, and I know that those attributes were impressed upon me from a young age. Hopefully as adults we will be able to impress the same ideals upon our children! What to do with Santa is ultimately the individual parent’s choice, but let’s not replace Christmas with “holidays” or the manger scene with reindeer and a sleigh, for that does injustice to Jesus and to the real St. Nick! Let's all make a special effort to worship Christ's birth and salvation as the only one who could ever save us from our sins!

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Hope with Billy Graham - You can do it!

We have been stressing the importance of My Hope with Billy Graham for a few months now, and ever since we four pastors went to a training meeting back in April (I'll never forget because they fed us the best cookies I've ever had...just saying) we have felt the need and the call to participate in this amazing and powerful opportunity to see the lost come to faith in Jesus here in a few weeks. We have been praying, and our church has been listing names and inviting people already-trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide the conviction and help we need to bring salvation to friends, neighbors, and relatives in our community.Never before have we had a united, national effort to see the lost saved and discipled in Jesus Christ, so I'm excited to see what will happen and how God will transform lives across our nation through this event.
It's simple, really, all we are asking people to do is open their homes and give people an opportunity to watch a 30-minute video featuring powerful testimonies from celebrities such as Lecrae (Christian rapper), Lacey Sturm (Christian band Firefly), David Tyree (NFL), and Jim Munroe (Illusionist). These characters share their stories and how the gospel impacted them at a defining moment, and they gave their hearts to Jesus when nothing else could possibly satisfy. The focus is hope, for we live in a world grasping for some semblance of hope in the world, whether it be through entertainment, pleasure, sports, food, alcohol, success, money, or some other route. Truth is, they'll never find it there. True, lasting hope comes only in the assurance of salvation that Christ gives. Let's pull together and make a difference for Christ in our community by giving the lost an opportunity-we don't save them, we simply give them the gospel. I'm trying my best to meet and invite neighbors, will you too?

Watch, download, and order DVD's from this link