Systems for Church Growth

Systems are the making of effective life. The Bible says, “Jotham prospered.” The Bible says, “Jotham ordered his ways.” (2 Chronicles 26:7 RV) Jotham’s prosperity and the ordering of his ways are connected. The two things are always connected. People who establish no order for their life will not prosper. I cannot think of one person in my life experience or any person in history who is an exception. Can you?

You see the value of order everywhere.

  • Nature follows a system.
  • Jesus had the crowd sit down in orderly rank before he multiplied the loaves and fish.
  • When Jesus abandoned the tomb, He folded the grave-clothes.

Whether with spiritual gifts or elsewhere in life, “Let things be done decently and in order.”                              (1 Corinthians 14:40)

Systems work for the ministry. Some of the value of this is addressed in last year’s book “The Details Matter”.

Essential Systems For a Church To Grow

  • Systematic Evangelism
  • Disciple-making Systems
  • A System for Involving People

There are other areas of ministry like pastoral care, study, counseling and preaching/teaching where order helps. These will be a later topic.

The systems you put in place depend on you, the congregation and the resources available. Resources, as used here are money, people, energy and available time.  Do not feel guilty for not being able to do something when the resources are not available. However, regardless of limits these three things evangelism, disciple-making, and involvement should be approached systematically.

Systems will help a church grow. Systems will help you be effective in ministry.

Systematic Evangelism

In the Apostolic Continuum, there is no impact without evangelism. Our local congregation is just a bit above average in size. Currently, our evangelism is not as systematic as it will be. There are some things we do right. Each guest gets a personal hand-written card. Where the guest if receptive, they get a text message.

When we get an email address the person begins receives a battery of emails about the church. At Calvary,   AWeber manages our email list. I don’t know that AWeber is the best. It was not the most expensive and came highly recommended. A caveat:  I also use AWeber for carltoncoonsr.com. If you are interested in information about Aweber for church or some other effort take a look here:   Aweber

The email letters we use in followup also follow a system. A copy of the letters is in my book “The How and Why of Follow Up Visitation.” Hint:  This week the e-book with all those letters is available for $2.99.  It is normally $9.99.

The second system for evangelism is a process to get newcomers in the door. Until a church has a consistent flow of guests resulting from lifestyle evangelism, “big events” are required. Last Veteran’s Day weekend we had a “big event.” Several newcomers attended. “Big events” include experiences like All Nations Sunday, Friend Day and Pentecost Sunday.

Big events are not my preferred approach to evangelism. In my opinion, it is better to have a steady flow of visitors. However, at times events are needed to increase the visitor flow.

What are you doing for systematic evangelism? I’d like to learn from your best practices.

Disciple-making Systems

The church is not called to make converts. The commission is to make disciples. How does a disciple-making system look?  Again, this will vary from one church to another. At the least, there should be some classes designed to orient newcomers to the church.

There should also be a time to officially welcome spiritual babies.  Below are some links to my YouTube Channel and some online teaching I’ve provided on the topic of disciple-making.

An overview of New Convert Care

Overcoming Sociological Issues for the sake of Disciple Making

Don’t Drop Your Spiritual Baby

There is more on the topic of Disciple-making at my YouTube channel. If you decide to visit, I’d appreciate an honest comment or two in the review section. (Hopefully positive, but I’ll take them all.)  While on the Youtube channel do not forget to hit the “Subscribe” button.

Retaining converts will depend on how strong and consistent your system is. A sporadic system will produce an inconsistent outcome. My little book “The How and Why of New Convert Care”  provides the skeleton of a system that can be established and sustained.  To get you headed in the right direction, with your own effort for Disciple making the job description for our church’s current Director of Disciple-making can be downloaded here. Discipleship Director

At Calvary we use the ten lessons of “Take Root” to give basic concepts about Christian life. This includes prayer and how to read the Bible. Then there are eleven lessons of “Bear Fruit” to develop concepts of Christian responsibility. Then the seven lessons of “Fitly Framed” help a person find a place of ministry in the church. In this process, we do our best to “Velcro” newcomers into the church.

What I’m describing reflects an ongoing system. Just as the sun will come up tomorrow, the things I’m talking about happening unceasingly. The consistency is what makes it a system. 

Involvement

A church seems to naturally grow if people are involved in meaningful roles of ministry. However, getting people involved requires a system.

I’ve done this the wrong way and I’ve done it the right way. The wrong way was for me to simply teach my series on motivational gifts. The seven lesson series is the aforementioned “Fitly Framed”. It is good stuff. It helps every person find their unique gifting.  Thousands of pastors have a copy of Fitly Framed.

The material is good. But, like most teaching Fitly Framed does not give the structured system to engage people in ministry. Thus, the wrong way was to just dump the information out before the audience hoping it would somehow bring them to engagement. My audience found it interesting, but it did not significantly change people’s involvement in ministry. I’d given information but had not established a system.

The Correct Approach to Getting People Involved

  1. Have ministry leaders think of ways to involve people in the ministry they lead.
  2. Ministry leaders draft a simple job description for those roles.
  3. The church has a “Personnel Director” in place. Initially, this will be the pastor.
  4. Fitly Framed or something similar is taught to the entire church. This same material then is taught as a third level of caring for converts. Going forward every convert or transfer into the church is taught Fitly Framed.
  5. During the class, people take a gift test and discover their various gifting.
  6. The “Personnel Director” works with the students and ministry leaders to connect each person with an opportunity for meaningful ministry. Some ministry opportunities do need the pastor to sign off on a person’s involvement.

Best Practice for Involving People

What I’ve described is the way to get started. But, an order is only sustained with constant effort. How did my best constant effort look?

  1. I”d annually teach/preach a series about Christian Service. This teaching involved at least three weeks of consistently aiming at the target of involving people.
  2. On the last Sunday of this series, the various ministries of the church set up booths presenting their ministry and asking for volunteers.

It works! The first time we did this, our system was overwhelmed. We had far more volunteers wanting to serve than places to put them to work. We learned and did not make that mistake again.

Notice, everything I’m describing happens systematically and repetitively. Neither evangelism, disciple-making nor involving people should be a “one-off.” These are things you should be doing over and over.

System! Remember Jotham prospered. Jotham ordered his ways. The two are connected.

I’m interested in your experience in establishing sustainable systems in these three areas of ministry. This week, my reading has reminded me of the importance of learning from people who are following what the business world would call “best practices.”

What have been your best practice for evangelism, disciple-making and involving people?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green Screen Living

Surviving Depression–Look Behind the Green Screen

Depression

Hope and Despair

Mental or emotional depression is compared to many things. Let me add another. Depression is for the mind and emotions like the physical experience of walking through a swamp. My upbringing was in central Louisiana. On occasion, I duck-hunted in a swamp. At times, I’d walk several hundred yards through water mid-thigh, with mud sucking at every step. Wading through a swamp is muddy, messy, slow and exhausting. Similarly, depression is also muddy, messy, a slow trudge. It is also similarly exhausting.

To make matters worse, the swamp of depression seems perpetual. When a hunter is trudging back to higher land, he can see and know that dry ground is just ahead. Such is not the case with the swamp of depression. In every direction, there is the swamp extending as far as the eye can see.

It is a mental and emotional trip through the thigh-deep water with muck sucking at your boots each step.

The swamp goes forever. It seems that life does not exist beyond depression. Every sun-rise will find you in the same swamp. Walking through a swamp of depression is hard. When the swamp is the only thing, you can see it generates unspeakable despair.

The swamp of depression is real. It is exhausting and debilitating. Let me offer expanded perception.

Depression surrounds you with a “green screen”

“Green screen” is the technique of photographing or filming a person or object against a green monochrome backdrop. With the use of technology, a different image then replaces the monochrome backdrop. The person in the photo may not have traveled to the desert or mountain. Photographic or cinematic sleight-of-hand created what you see.

Understand, I’m not suggesting depression is fake. The defining characteristics of:

  • Sadness without reason
  • Lack of motivation
  • A sense of helplessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of focus
  • Less energy than usual
  • No pleasure in things you have always enjoyed.
  • It being a struggle to maintain normal social activities
  • Breathing taking all of your energy

All of these, along with several other symptoms are as real as this morning’s sunrise.

Depression’s Green Screen

But there is a falsehood in depression. It prompts my “green screen” analogy. Our mind can create its version of a “green screen.” Remember, a “green screen” allows an unreal image to become part of the picture being seen.

In depression, when you look ahead – you see the swamp. It extends as far as your eye can see. Look behind you, and it seems you have been in the swamp forever. All past success has little value while in the swamp of depression. On every side is the same – more swamp. The dark, muddy, and forbidding surrounds you. Every single step is an effort. Beyond that, the “green screen” says your current struggle will be there for every tomorrow. The sense that the depression will be perpetual is debilitating.

Does this not describe depression?

Depression’s green screen lie tells you that you are surrounded by a perpetual swamp of despair. The fable is that you have been here forever and that your life has no value. That part of depression is a “green screen.

Look Past the Green Screen

Surviving depression may become a bit easier, if you can know the lie for what it is. Depression, regardless of its source seldom lasts forever. Mine never has. High ground awaits. But, the false “green screen” would have you think different. Know better!

Use your past survival as a source of present encouragement

Many readers will have already walked through this swamp. In your previous journey through depression, didn’t it also seem as though the marsh would never end? You felt hopeless back then. Remember! You felt then, just like you feel now. Most people eventually come out of the depression. Your earlier depression may have lasted six months, a year or five years. You survived. Remember that survival – it will help you make it now.

Really Think about Tomorrow

For a moment limit your feeling and elevate your thinking. By the way, what we “think” and what we “feel”  are not the same thing. Emotions can be illogical. Look at your calendar. Before you walked into the swamp of depression what coming event would have brought you joy? Is a grandchild about to be born? Maybe, college graduation is just ahead? Perhaps, a conference you have always enjoyed awaits. Possibly, some of your “laughing friends” are coming to town. “Laughing friends” is my term for the small group of people with whom we can laugh with abandon. For most of us, such friends are a rare treasure.

I know what you are thinking, “Pastor, the idea of spending time with anybody or going to any event makes me feel exhausted.” Remember, in this exercise you are not feeling. You are “thinking.” When you think about it, there is great value in the time with those “laughing friends.” Somewhere ahead there is the likelihood of better times. There is a reason to slog on. The surrounding green screen says it is not so. Remember, it is a green screen. The green screen lies!

Really Think about the Past

For a second moment, limit your feelings and elevate your thinking. Open the pictures and videos on your phone or get the box of photos from a closet. Look at the pictures. Think about what you are seeing.  Some examples from my world:

  • Pictures of Lane and Chris as boys,
  • The picture of our two grandsons (holy children to me) at three years old having a whispered conversation on the drive leading to our home.
  • The pictures of our wedding
  • A framed copy of my first published book, Daily Things of Christian Living.
  • The video clip of 18-month-old Elsie, for the first time, discovering her shadow and head-butting it.

These help me peek around the green screen of despair. My life has not been so bad. Pictures of experiences shared with “laughing friends” like Stan and Melba, Tim and Joan, Jerry and Phyllis, Perry and Loretta, or Roy and Debbie help remind me. I have not always been walking through this swamp. As you look at your pictures – remember.

God IS – There!

Job had a similar experience. Job was depressed with good cause. He looked for God in front of him and behind him and on each side. (Job 23:8-9) In spite of Job’s search, God was not to be found. Job was seeing “green screens.” What Job felt was Job’s emotional reality. But, what Job saw was not the conclusion of this. Job said, “He knoweth the way that I take . . ..” (Job 23:10). Job’s based this final conclusion on faith, not feelings. While in his dark place, Job did not know where God was. By faith, Job understood that God knew right where he was.

In conclusion, take heart – this describes your situation as well.

Depression is real.

Depression being permanent – unlikely.

Your past life having no value – nonsense.

All of that is a “green screen.” Know the green screen surrounding your depression for what it is.

Daily Things of Christian Living

 

Destroyers

Identify the Destroyers Without–The Science of Shepherding

Destroyers come from without. It is common. People backslide. Unfortunately, in some cases, they are no longer even present at churches. Others backslide into comfortable carnality. Sadly, precious people are devoured. Through history, some of the finest of God’s flock became prey. Especially noteworthy, destruction comes in different forms. Most of these destroyers, a pastor/shepherd will need to repeatedly address as a part of the “Science of Shepherding”. The primary tools to deal with “destroyers”:

  • Strong, consistent, relevant Bible-based teaching and preaching.
  • An environment where the Holy Ghost minister, convict, direct and re-direct.

Feed the Flock with Protective Intent

It takes intentional behavior from the pastor/shepherd for the tools to work. Intentionality, means you are not always providing an exciting “that will preach” type sermon. Sadly, my “that will preach” sermons tend to be dessert rather than main course. While feeding with intent, this includes quite a few meals of spiritual oatmeal. Similarly, the flock needs some “fiber.” Feed with intent!

Further, studying and preaching about enjoyable topics is easy. My list of “enjoyed topics” is a bit narrow. The needs of the flock are broader than my preferences. For this reason, I have a list of 20 topics to preach or teach about two times each year. As a result, my “list of twenty” keeps me ignoring important topics.

Fortunately, relevant teaching and preaching will address the “destroyers.” Defending the flock begins in the pulpit. Therefore, a pastor/shepherd must patiently and repeatedly identify the predators. The world, flesh and devil are out to destroy people of the flock. My last blog post addresses identifying and dealing with those destroyers in the science of Shepherding series: http://carltoncoonsr.com/know-your-wolf-pastor/

Loose the Spirit

Make room for the Holy Ghost to work. When people are being confronted by a predator the spirit can warn and direct. It is the Holy Ghost who becomes the “teacher” about life. Firstly, let the Holy Ghost have a free channel in which to work.

Such moments often come during a praise and worship service, corporate prayer, and at the altar. The Holy Spirit can do more in seconds than my effort can do in years. So let God have access to the flock.

First of all, let’s consider the destroyers that attack from without.

Destroyers Wolf Lurking

Destroyers from Without

Those destroyers “out there” are identifiable. Responding to the predators without is easier than responding to things within. The late Billy Cole said, “Dealing with a demonic spirit is much easier than dealing with a human spirit.” Wolves can be seen as they flit about. In time, a pastor/shepherd identifies the predator.

So in the natural world, no sheep challenges a wolf. Consequently, a sheep who plays game with a wolf won’t survive. Unfortunately, we humans tend to enter into dalliances with our destroyers. People you pastor who interact with the wolf, imagining they can prevail, don’t survive. Some are so foolish as to imagine their ability to overcome what no human before them has overcome. Most of all, know the destroyers from without.

Bad influences

“Evil communication corrupts good manners!” (1 Corinthians 15:33) The word communication here does not refer to language. It instead refers to interaction with others. Good people spending time with others who are a bad influence, generally has a bad outcome. “Bad” influences result in people misbehaving. As a result, people find themselves acting in ways  they would have earlier found unimaginable.

Because one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch, Paul warned the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5) of immoral behavior they were tolerating. And Paul’s concern with their tolerance was the fornication being like yeast in dough. Especially relevant, in the chapter, Paul spoke of the leaven of fornication, malice and wickedness. Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character (AMP 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Unfortunately, negative influence does not just come from individuals. A pervasive sense of unrighteousness surrounds your flock. It flows from academia, politics, sports, entertainment, media, etc. Christians are the frog in the kettle. And the heat is being turned up. Behavior held in disrepute a generation ago is now accepted. It is affecting those you lead. Consequently, you will find defending against individuals who are a bad influence is a challenge. Most often, it is less of a challenge than defending against the surrounding “evil communication.”

Protect the Flock from Bad Influences

  1. You cannot protect people who don’t want to be protected. It’s not in a pastor/shepherd’s job description to micromanage. Jesus respected people’s right to be wrong. Examples:  The rich young ruler and Judas Iscariot. As a pastor, you do the same. Respect people’s right to be wrong. When people make bad choices, they don’t become my enemy. This is important. If you keep on loving people, in time, some realize their error and return to the fold.
  2. Identify bad influences. Warn the people. Preach and teach about influences. Describe the sorts of people who are a bad influence. Prepare the flock to know predators. Idolatrous nations surrounded Israel. Unfortunately, God’s people often took on the identity of their neighbors. The Israelites made those choices. They didn’t make those decisions unwarned. You must sound a warning identifying bad influences.
  3. Emphasize spiritual disciplines. People don’t pray if the pastor/shepherd does not lead them to prayer. People do not pray effectively, if their pastor/shepherd does not equip them to pray. One of my earlier and most oft-read posts addressed, How to Establish a Prayer Program for a Church of any Size.
  4. When someone is under the sway of bad influences, express concern in a personal way. The Bible calls this “exhortation.” Keep it confidential. Don’t share your concern with ten other people, rather, talk to the person directly. You can express your concern, in moments of conversation. When the predator of bad influence is near don’t delay raising your concern. As part of the “exhortation”, always pray with them. Conversational prayer has been effective for me. The prayer should not be generic. Ask the Lord to open that person’s eyes and understanding and give them strength to rise above “evil communication.”
  5. Ask, a person coming under such attack, “How can I help you?”

False doctrine

First of all, false doctrine is a ravenous wolf. As a result of our “no doctrine” world people don’t “know doctrine.” In some churches, a person attending for decades will still not know what the church teaches. And this is particularly true of those who attend Sunday worship, because most evangelistic preaching gives little doctrinal depth.

Most noteworthy, over thirty times the New Testament references false teaching or doctrine. People whose parents/grandparents came in the church are susceptible to false doctrine. There is no such thing as “hand-me-down” knowledge. Knowledge has to be gained personally. This is true, whether we are speaking of the multiplication tables or the new birth.

The Remedy for False Doctrine

  1. Teach correct doctrine. A strong flock is built by teaching. Unfortunately, Bible-teaching has fallen from favor. The result:  Many get a steady diet of preaching. The sermon begins with a Bible text. After the text has been read, it is often never again referred to. Because we can do better, we must do better.
  2. To combat false doctrine, let the word of God be the authority. Topical teaching that uses verses within context helps. Expository teaching and preaching are also effective. In both instances, God’s word rules!
  3. Empower people to study for themselves. Each person you teach must assess what is being taught. It works well to encourage people to study for themselves. My approach is to say, “Don’t accept what I’ve taught without examination. Someone is a false prophet offering false teaching. Perhaps I am such a false prophet.”  Several times I’ve preached, “Am I a False Prophet?”  We do believe false prophets exist.  “What We Believe and Why”.

Hence, a caveat is needed. A pastor/shepherd can do everything possible to teach people. Unfortunately, those who need it the most may not be present to be taught. In such instances you cannot protect them from false doctrines. There are others who do not mentally apply themselves. Such people are like a child sleeping through the math class. Finally, they gain nothing.

Furthermore, is there a remedy for people who are unteachable? I’ve not come up with one. If you have please pass it on.

Worldliness

A final common devourer from without is worldliness. When people become worldly, they “love the world.” (1 John 2:15-17) The world referred to is not planet Earth. We see that the Greek word translated world is kosmos. The kosmos according to Kenneth Wuest is the “ordered system of things.” (Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament are a great help to the majority of us who are not Greek scholars.) The world as Wuest describes it includes your career, financial transactions, education, entertainment, etc. In essence, the world is our society’s operating system. So we are all living in the world. The pastor/shepherd and his flock are part of the kosmos.

Consequently, worldliness comes when people love the kosmos. John described worldliness:

  • The lust (desire) of the flesh.
  • The lust (desire) of the eyes.
  • The pride of life.

These things that are not of the Father, become the things a person cares about. Unfortunately, the topic of worldliness is broad ranging and ever-growing.

  • Ambitions for success are good. Worldliness is when the ambition causes someone to regularly miss church for extra work.
  • Worldliness is a love for the NFL that keeps someone home from church to watch the Super Bowl.
  • Worldliness is the competition for possessions. Richard Foster called it, “the kingdom of thingdom.” We have to keeping pace with the Jones’ and Smiths.
  • Dressing in ways that while not immodest is extravagant and attention-getting is worldliness.
  • An enjoyment of video games to the point that the musician no longer practices to do their best – worldliness.
  • Loving fishing, golf or quilting can become worldliness. How great is the hold any of those thing have.

While worldliness came come in many guises, worldliness is often not a specific behavior, but rather it is the love of the behavior.

The Remedy for Worldliness

So you may have noticed that the remedies tend to be similar. Again, preach and teach about the world. You will have to define the “world” for your people. As a result, you will also have to give them examples of what “loving the world” looks like. If you don’t name the symptoms, people won’t know worldliness when they see it.

People who love the world do not do God’s will with their life. Similarly, the wolf of “worldliness” is always lurking. The world is the system that surrounds us. So everything people deal with is an opportunity to fall in love with the “ordered system of things.”

Pastor/shepherd, the predator of worldliness is one you won’t run off for long. Worldliness is always near. Finally, worldliness always returns with another effort to destroy the Lord’s lambs.

In conclusion, I’m interested to know the efforts that you have used to deal with the destroyers that have come against the flock. Perhaps the struggles you have been through are different from mine. Someone may well be dealing with a situation similar to something you have worked through in the past.

4 For the Minister Set

After You KNOW Your Wolf

A wolf will attack sheep. Predators destroy. A previous chapter talked about “The Sheep Can Smell What the Shepherd Cannot See!” http://carltoncoonsr.com/sheep-can-smell-shepherd-cannot-see/ Predators do not remain hidden. The lion, wolf or bear come from behind a bush or arise from a swell in the landscape. Their location is no longer secret.  It is important for the pastor/shepherd to:

  • Know WHAT you are dealing with.
  • Know WHERE the destroyer is at.

When You Have Seen the Wolf

In the natural, sheep have no defense against a predator. Their only choice is to flee. The problem: sheep are not good runners. This makes sheep relatively easy prey. It is not flattering to we humans that the Lord chose this particular word picture to describe us.

Throughout human history, the answer for defenseless sheep has been a shepherd. A shepherd defends the flock in its entirety. Not only that, the shepherd is the defender of individual sheep (Amos 3:12). A good shepherd tries to save all the sheep under his care.

Shepherds Feel Loss

A good shepherd feels a sense of loss when one of the flock does not survive. Jesus expressed dismay at not being able to keep Judas safe in the flock. A good shepherd never says, “Good riddance,” at any loss. Over 30 thirty years back, I heard Jerry Jones preach, “Please Take It Personal.” He spoke of Paul’s concern for those who made bad choices. He referenced Hymaneus and Demas. Hymaneus was devoured by doctrinal error. Demas lost out to worldliness. These were men who had abandoned Paul. Paul’s sense of personal loss is clear.

Paul did not feel their departure to be, “good riddance.” His prayer was for their recovery. At times I am moved to pray for two “sons in ministry” who have followed Demas’ path. Most days I find myself angry at their choices. Yet, I felt an acute sense of loss and grief at a sad story not yet completely written.

Strategically Defend

A pastor/shepherd is intentionally strategic in defending the flock against a predator. As discussed earlier, it is a mistake to hurry to “do something.” The sheep are restless and smell a predator. But, upon identifying a predator, timely, decisive and appropriate action is required. I chose the underlined words to specifically describe the sort of action needed for strategic defense.

Appropriate action

This is an action that matches a situation. Don’t use a cannon to deal with a mosquito. A pastor/shepherd can address most things with a quiet conversation sitting on a pew. This extends to spiritual predators. In my experience counseling appointments tend to validate a problem. The wolf begins to look bigger than he is. The late J.T. Pugh confirmed my approach as he talked about pastoral ministry. That conversation is found in a CD set that David Elms did with Bro. Pugh. The title is, “A Conversation with J.T. Pugh.” Every preacher should be required to listen to the series. The series is available at the Pentecostal Publishing House.

Timely action

This means the action is right on time. Not early and not late. Moses experienced a miracle as his rod became a serpent. When the Lord told Moses to pick up the serpent, Moses waited till he could grab the serpent by the tail. Moses picked his time! You do the same. At times you must wait until a predator gets positioned right before dealing with it. The “right time” may be during or after a mighty move of God’s spirit. Many times, the predator can be dealt with in almost a casual aside during a conversation over coffee. You won’t kill every predator. Most of them you will scare away. Like a wolf or bear, the destroyers will return.

Decisive action

The shepherd made a decision. There is no vacillating. No uncertainty about what will be done. I’m not describing a knee jerk reaction. Effective leaders seldom take decisive action on the basis of emotion alone. You determine the strategy through prayer, deliberate thought, and counsel.

When military leaders defend a city, their success is not found by, “do something.”  They take appropriate, timely and decisive action. Their action is intended to defend what they have been assigned to defend. Can those who protect the flock for the Lord Jesus be any less intentional?

As You Deal with Predators Find a Coach

This suggestion may not apply to you. If not, ignore it. Our first pastorate was a Home Missions setting in northeastern Louisiana. I’d not been equipped to be an effective pastor. Few people ask: Is there a course on “Effective Pastoral Ministry?”  If such existed, it might be a best-selling training program.

While I did not have experience, God had blessed me with enough gumption to realize when I was in over my head. When faced with a situation “new to me” I’d phone a mentor. Each man influenced me in specific areas of ministry. It never diminishes a person’s standing to seek advice. As I moved along in life, I continued to seek counsel from people more experience than me. Young pastors are wise to do the same.

Mentors and How They Helped

In my case the mentors and their role were:

  • Crawford Coon is my uncle. More important, he is an accomplished speaker and writer. He also had pastored in situations complex enough to have seen many different things. When I dealt with people challenges I’d call Crawford. I’d lay out the situation and share with him what my strategic response was going to be. Crawford would then coach me along to improve the outcome.
  • If my challenge had to do with leading the church through a difficult season, T.F. Tenney was my leadership coach. He was my district superintendent. Again, I’d explain the challenge, offer my plan of action, and get his perspective.
  • Finally, at times the church was out-of-sync. A revival was somewhere but not at the Vidalia Revival Center. My call would be to the late G.A. Mangun. I knew Bro. Mangun’s direction before I even asked. In the stubbornness of my youth, I needed to hear it anyway. The elder’s solution was always, “Get those people praying. Call a fast. Go on a fast yourself.” Things Learned From G.A. Mangun http://carltoncoonsr.com/things-learned-from-g-a-mangun/
Wise Elders Help You Strategize

Notice, there was more than one coach. Each man brought specific value to the table. I include this side journey for a reason. Talking with such men helped me develop an intentional strategy to respond to a predator. Now, I spend some amount of time coaching others dealing with attacking predators. As I write, a young pastor has asked about how to respond to a particular situation. A district leader has sought advice about a divisive matter of concern. Do not be afraid to get help as you develop your strategy. Through the years, meaningful men and women have always made time for my questions. They will do the same for your questions.

 

Elder, Tell Me Your Memories

 

The Sheep Can Smell, What a Shepherd Cannot See

Because they are prey animals, sheep have a well-developed sense of smell. Sheep are short. Further, they graze with their head lowered. Sheep have a limited range of vision. While a sheep is limited in what he can see, he is not anywhere so limited with the sense of smell. The smell of a predator in the vicinity creates a restless flock. The predator may well be out of sight of the shepherd. Yet, the shepherd does not have the acute sense of smell. The shepherd can’t smell what the sheep smell. So, a shepherd can be unaware of the presence of danger to the flock – while members of the flock are aware.

 

When the Sheep are Uneasy a Pastor/Shepherd Should Beware

Be sensitive to your sheep. The late Ralph Reynold’s book title, If the Sheep Could Speak is interesting. (By the way, this book should be required reading for anyone who will lead a church.) The title makes a powerful point. Shepherds are the ones who “speak.” Yet, as most pastors know, there are times when the sheep do speak. The speech can be about a problem. The speech from the flock will at times be patently unfair to the best efforts of the shepherd. Yet, the sheep do speak. Sometimes, I’d prefer they be silent.

The Benefit of Listening

Yet, I need to express appreciation for some occasions when the sheep spoke. A wise pastor/shepherd is not oblivious to uneasy sheep. Our home missions experience was in Vidalia, Louisiana. V.C. Etheridge was one of our men. V.C. had no formal education. He signed legal documents with an “X.” There is a difference between education, understanding, and wisdom. V.C. had no education. He had a world of wisdom. To get this picture, you need to see the contrasts:

  • I was V.C.’s pastor. The pastor of Vidalia Revival Center. I’m the guy in charge. The fellow running things. V.C. was “just a saint.”
  • Me – a young fellow near 30 years old. V.C. was near 70.
  • My name was on the sign in front of the church. V.C. was a significant member of the church, but his name was not high profile.
  • I had a bit of education from Louisiana College and elsewhere. V.C. had no formal education.
  • My signature is a scrawl scribbled so fast as to not be legible. V.C.’s signing a document was painful to watch. His “X” was not a quick “X.”  Even marking his “X” required him to focus.

Now please understand, V.C. was no rabble-rouser. He and his wife Eula were not prone to gossip. The Etheridges were some of the finest supporters in the church. Beyond retirement age, V.C. continued to work so he would have more money to give to God’s work. As a “baby church” we did not have many options for trustee. V.C. was one of those church trustees.  He loved me and Norma without reservation. V.C. was always excited to introduce me as his pastor.

Just a Sheep?

Still, in the analogy of sheep and shepherd. V.C. was one of the sheep. One among a couple of dozen in the flock. I was the shepherd. I’m the “big kahuna,” with V.C. my underling. As is at times communicated by insecure pastor/shepherds – “Me – Pastor, You – Saint.” In such situations, you can almost hear the guttural communication of egotism gone to seed.

On some church business matter, the specifics of which I cannot recall, V.C. came to me in private. He said, “Bro. Coon, I’m not sure I’d do that. At least not yet.” One of the lead sheep in my flock was nervous. V.C. was no “nervous Nellie” who was afraid of every shadow. His instincts, his sense of smell was something to trust. Something didn’t smell right to him.  V.C. wasn’t rebelling. He was not being contrary. V. C.  was alerting me to danger and uncertainty. He could sense something that I could not.

Responding to Nervous Sheep

There are at least two responses available.  A pastor can become defensive at the sheep’s unease and respond, “Don’t question me.” or “Are you trying to tell me what to do?” The classic response is, “V.C., where is your faith.”

Another option existed. I was a novice pastor/shepherd. Even then I had enough gumption to know that the flock was restless. V.C. could smell what the pastor/shepherd was unable to see. I put the decision on hold. A man who was a financial backbone for the church soon relocated his membership. It was good that I had “listened to the sheep.”  Be wise – a good pastor will not overuse the, “Bless God, I’m running this church,” approach. Watch the flock. Be aware of nervous sheep.

It is worthy insight, “When certain sheep speak, you need to listen!” Listening to V.C. Etheridge helped me keep the flock from great stress.

When the Sheep are Sniffing – Move Slow

When there is danger, the inclination is fight or flight. There is much drama in both fight and flight. Good pastor/shepherds do all they can to limit the drama.  The more of your life and ministry that can be spent not having to “fight or flee” the better. Fight and flight create a tumult in the flock. Sheep are healthier where there is less tumult.

Don’t do the wrong thing, just to do some-thing!

Let’s set the scene. The flock is not grazing. As they huddle close to each other the sheep sniff the air suspiciously. Their weak eyes strain as they try to see the source of the danger they can smell. The shepherd senses the nervousness of his flock. In our scenario, the shepherd decides something has to be done! We have to do it now! Quickly, he begins to move the flock along. The shepherd berates the laggards and uses his staff to pull others along. The pastor/shepherd is leading. He is doing something. Since the shepherd does not actually know where the danger is; he leads the flock to the wolf. 

The sheep knew there was a danger. It was communicated by their behavior. The shepherd was not wise. In his haste to resolve the matter, to escape the danger, the pastor/shepherd led his flock into chaos. When the sheep are nervous, it is not wise to act without knowing for sure where the danger is. Some take the approach, “I’m going to do something, even if it is the wrong thing.”  Most of the time, it is the wrong thing.

Wise shepherds don’t panic.

A panicked pastor/shepherd does not inspire confidence in the flock. God has provided tools to respond to any crisis or to any predator. His Word and the Holy Ghost provide you deliberate guidance. Don’t act outside the guidance of His word. So while quaking on the inside, outside the pastor is a rock.

Do you see this? If you don’t know exactly where the predator is, your impulsive action may move the flock into greater danger. Don’t move the flock into harm’s way. Take it slow. Somewhere a wolf waits. The sheep can smell it. it isn’t time to figuratively take a nap while the flock is restless. Hear what is being communicated. There could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There may be moral turpitude. Personal grievances may not be being addressed. Some key family may be on the verge of divorce. When the sheep are nervous be aware but don’t panic.

Strategies for the “Nervous” Times

There are things a pastor/shepherd can do when he senses the nervous flock.

  1. Keep the flock close together.  Keep them near you. Be at the door as people enter or exit. Be available. Listen. Be close. Hug the old ladies and kiss babies. Use the power of touch and blessing.
  2. Be watchful of people on the outer edges of the church. Do your best to reach out to them.  It is a good time to send cards and make phone calls that say, “I had you on my mind today. I prayed for you.” Don’t talk problem, be their pastor.

Most things a pastor/shepherd can do to keep the flock secure focus on spiritual disciplines. These include:

Lead a season of focused prayer and fasting.

  • Jesus taught that unclean spirits can only be cast out through prayer and fasting. Most issues of carnality are addressed in the same way.
  • Call the church to a prayer chain, or have several nights of prayer. Leading this is not something you can delegate. The pastor/shepherd will have to lead the church in focused prayer.
  • On occasion, I’ve forgotten the normal protocol of Sunday church. Instead, leading the church in an entire service devoted to prayer.

Preach the exaltation of Jesus and nothing else.

  • When there is church stress, the default setting is to preach Jesus. When you don’t know what to do preach and teach on the “exaltation of Christ.”
  • How do you preach the exaltation of Christ? Each message celebrates some unique attribute of Christ. When Jesus is preached, Jesus comes in as the protector and provider. As Jesus is exalted the presence of a predator is less ominous. Jesus is bigger than whatever the battle may be. When you exalt Christ, it is as if the flock settles down to feed on the good things of God.
  • A suggested resource for preaching and teaching of this sort is Charles Rolls books. Specifically the five books on the Names and Titles of Christ.

Take communion together.

  • There is something profoundly spiritual in celebrating the Lord’s supper.
  • It is somehow humbling yet powerful in remembering His body broken and His blood poured out.  This practice has served well in times when the sheep can smell what the pastor/shepherd was unable to see.

I have spent a bit of time on this topic. Here is a recent blog post about the “science to shepherding: http://carltoncoonsr.com/practically-spiritual-science-sheperding/

Now I need to learn from you. Many of you have similar experiences to what I address here. Would you be kind enough to share your story? It is also helpful to share times when we did not handle things in exactly the right way. There are some other occasions, when I’d have done well to listen to some other key sheep. How I wish I’d listened. We learn from each other. We learn from each other’s mistakes.

I’ve shared three strategies for “nervous times.” Perhaps because Norma and I, “don’t do drama” there have not been many of these times. I’m thankful. I’ve not had to seek many solutions to these challenges. Others will have needed more strategies. You may have used different strategies. Teach us. What have you done when “the sheep could smell, what the shepherd could not see?”

The next post will address things to do when a predator is identified….


Questions? A practical and understandable guide to dealing with the real world stuff in ministry:

“Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask” http://carltoncoonsr.com/product/questions-pentecostals-preachers-ask/ $7.99 SALE

 

As One Plants Multiple Churches–Is There Room in the Church for Me? Guest Post–Scott Sistrunk

Is There Room in The UPCI for Me?

 

This is a post from a time back on Detroit Career Church Planter Scott Sistrunk’s blog.  It needs a repeated hearing. Have me failed to validate the gift of those who are more gifted to plant churches than to pastor them?  Think about this . . . perhaps God has gifted you as he has Bro. Sistrunk.  If so, I’ll speak for the fellowship I’m part of and say, “We desperately need you.”  I’d love to clone Scott Sistrunk about 100 times over.  Planter Sistrunk’s article is posted with his permission.  I’ll speak for him and actually ask you to pass it on to others.

 

Is there a place for me in United Pentecostal Church?

I am a church planter. I am called to evangelize North America. I have no choice really; it is my calling. If I was a church planter in Africa, I would be called a missionary. I am having difficulty communicating my calling to my ministerial brethren. You see, I really feel called to be a missionary to North America. Of course, most of my friends know what a foreign missionary is. Of 31,966 licensed ministers (worldwide) only 652 are missionaries. Yes, I know, home missionary is a term often used to describe a person who plants a new church in North America. In that sense, the home missionary refers to a minister (usually a novice) who plants a new church in a city in North America and remains there long term, or moves on to other ministerial opportunities eventually, and the home missions ‘phase’ of their ministry becomes part of their history. Even a “Metro Missionary” who is supported by partners much like foreign missionaries has only been supported for 4 years and has been responsible for planting a single church. No, that is not me. I am a home missionary permanently; a career church planter.

Is there room for me in North America?

It is hard to explain, but I can hear a city’s cry. I don’t know exactly when I started being so in tune with cities. I do remember the first time I heard a city cry out to me. I was a youth pastor and I was on a golf outing with friends. I never expected what hit me as I prayed before going to bed. It seemed to me as if I felt the anguish of every lost soul in that city all at once. I doubled over in pain and began to weep. I was embarrassed and didn’t want my roommate to think I was trying to be “super spiritual.” I buried my face in a pillow and lay between the wall and the bed and prayed until the burden lifted. Shortly thereafter, I began to feel a heavy burden for a city that I eventually started a church in. I was so consumed with the need of this city that the Lord rebuked me for neglecting my current duties and told me to spend more time praying for the young people I was responsible for and the time would come for me to give myself to prayer for that city. I can’t go through a town or village without wondering, “Do they have a church?” Many times the tears come so suddenly and unexpectedly that I am embarrassed. I know more than I should about the number of churches in every district and every metro area. I can’t help but gather information on North American cities. My friends look at me weirdly when I start spouting off population numbers and churches per capita of each metropolitan city. I can’t help it; I am driven by a vision and a burden. You see, I know very well that this kind of passion is not understood in our North American ministerial culture.

What do I do with this passion?

This passion feels like destiny. It is unstoppable, irresistible, strong, deep, powerful, controlling, and exhausting. I am not called to pastor long term. My passion burns relentlessly and it is white hot continually. It is a powerful thing when used in the context of founding a work in a city full of strongholds and no church. My calling makes me almost impervious to discouragement. I never lack motivation. I thrive on adversity and challenge. Once a church is firmly established, self-supporting, stable and growing I can feel the restlessness coming on. It is time to go to a new place. Saints cannot live in this heat long. They need someone who is not always looking for the next place. They need someone who burns with a passion for them… not others. They need a pastor long term, I am a missionary. I envy foreign missionaries who only pastor short term if at all and it is what is expected of them. They are expected to be too busy training leaders, gathering resources, opening new areas and building coalitions and networks of preachers to pastor one church. I feel the pressure of the North American culture to pastor long term. But it is not my calling. I long for a structure in North America similar to what exist for overseas missionaries that I can submit to in order to fulfill my calling. I hope there is room for this kind of ministry in North America. It is what God has called me to do. What else can I do?

Is there room in the United Pentecostal Church for me?

I want to live and minister like a foreign missionary, but in the United States. I want to have a set, known, controlled standard of living. I want be accountable to many. I know this is the price of my calling. I know that God has not called me to enjoy the fruits of long term labor in a particular vineyard. This reward is reserved for and earned by pastors. I am a missionary. My reward comes from knowing there is now a church where there was none before. It is the only reward I seek.

Does the United Pentecostal Church know that it needs me?

Why has our growth been so explosive in foreign countries? Missionaries. Why do we struggle to plant churches in North America? A lack of missionaries. We have asked those without the calling, anointing or grace to plant churches. They have answered the call because of the need. But they have struggled terribly. We have asked those who burn with a missionary’s passion to pastor and teach in one location for life. They have struggled terribly.

We, in North America, have left the work of missionaries to pastors and teachers and evangelists. I ask you; doesn’t New York deserve a Bruce Howell? Doesn’t Los Angeles deserve an E. L. Freeman? I ask the United Pentecostal Church to make room in North America for the passion and ministry of a missionary.