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When You are Weary With Your Work

Nehemiah’s trouble with his workmen was not that they wanted higher wages. As a matter of fact, they didn’t get any wages. His trouble was that they grew weary, and lost both their interest and their vision, as though their labor was being done in vain. Do you ever feel like one of Nehemiah’s workmen? It’s not the wages or the pay – instead, it’s that dread sense of incompleteness. The work is never done.

Perhaps there is no better test of one’s courage than how they act when enthusiasm vanishes. No sea is always at full tide; in every ocean, there is an ebb. I’ve had to remind myself that, how I act in the ebb-tide of life, and when life is bounded by swampy uncertainty, is one of the surest marks of character. We have to adjust to the reality of ministry under pressure and with a tangling web of weariness. It has been accurately said, “The world is run by tired men.”

Whence the Weariness

Aloneness

Dr. David G. Congo surveyed ministers in thirty-two denominations in thirty-eight states to discover the significant factors involved in ministry burnout. His study isolated a number of significant factors involved in burnout. Of the pastors surveyed:

● 70% worked more than sixty hours per week.
● 85% spent two or less evenings per week at home.
● 75% spent less than one evening a month purely for social time with their wives and other couples.

His pastoral burnout survey also showed that 61% of pastors spend less than one hour a week talking with other pastors. A key factor can be noted from Congo’s survey. Beside becoming burned out because they “grow weary in well-doing,” many pastors receive little support from their peers.

Wrong Motivation

In Galatians 6, Paul warns of “sowing to the flesh” saying it only reaps corruption. It is in that setting that we are warned to not be weary in well-doing. Perhaps it is possible for those in a noble work to “sow to the flesh.” In Mastering Personal Growth, part of the Leadership Mastering Ministry series Gordon MacDonald notes that some motives tend to result in weariness. Specifically:

● The need for approval.
● A need for validation by achievement.
● The longing for intimacy.
● Idealism.

Such motives seek their satisfaction in the “here and now.” It may be found in a position . . . or the size of a congregation one pastors . . . or the pulpit one is invited to fill. Those motives are ever unsatisfied and become the source of weariness.

Remedies for Weariness

An Adequate God

Historians note that Charles Spurgeon struggled with deep depression. One time as, Spurgeon was riding home after a difficult day at the church, feeling “weary in well doing” a scripture came to his mind: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon began imagining he was a little fish in the Thames River, fearful lest by drinking so many pints of water each day he might drink the Thames dry. The Thames said to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”

Spurgeon’s mind then took him to the granaries of ancient Egypt, where he was a little mouse, afraid lest his nibbles would drain the supplies of the Pharaoh and cause him to starve. Then Joseph came by and said, “Cheer-up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”

Finally, Spurgeon imagined himself a mountain climber, ascending to some lofty summit. Once there, he feared his breathing might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator then boomed from the heavens and said, “Breathe away, oh human, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.”

It is easy in the hectic pace of ministry to “forget with whom we have to do.” Your God is adequate. Be encouraged as you know His grace is sufficient. His faithfulness is not exhausted. In my weariness, He is not weary! Any spiritual work depends on Him. He is more than capable.

Change Gears for a Bit

If one follows the movement within the gospels Jesus and His disciples are in an almost constantly changing scenario. It was never the “same old, same old.” Repetition is often the foundation of weariness. Winston Churchill wrote an essay titled “Painting As a Pastime” in which he revealed his secret of maintaining a peaceful mindset.

Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose . . . some travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.

It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated. It is no use saying to the tired mental muscles if one may coin such an expression — “I will give you a good rest.” “I will go for a long walk,” or “I will lie down and think of nothing.” The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into action. . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

Churchill made a valid point. More modern research has indicated that this works. Take a bit of time to read about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique suggests changing what you are doing every 25 minutes. There are apps to assist in doing this. I’m to go do something else for 5 minutes before returning to the project. After three such cycles, I’m to spend an extended period of time doing something different. The Pomodoro Technique works when I work it. 

Do Something Different

Shifting gears and doing something different is clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ. How often He must have been weary. We must learn that like long distance Airforce bombers, we can’t land every time we are out of gas. You have to learn to refuel in midair. Another of the Leadership books, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation talks about the need to refuel by:

  1. Divert daily – do something that’s fun.
  2. Withdraw weekly – take a day off every week.
  3. Abandon annually – get away from the church to vacation and don’t call in.

What is being communicated is that rest comes by moving away from the problem at hand . . . dealing with another issue, making a call to a peer or mentor, visiting a church a few cities away, reading a good book . . . or the Wall Street Journal. Just doing something different.

Your different can be horseback riding or a golf course. What you do is not as important as to do something different. Simply put – change! In practical life, there will be times of exhaustion and weariness. There is nothing wrong with feeling weary, but there is everything wrong with abandoning ship in the midst of the fight.

If the world is actually run by tired people, and I think it is,  then some tired people are reading this. My reading audience is made up of “impact making” men and women. I’ve looked at one facet of the challenge of staying fresh for the sake of life. I’m interested in learning what has worked for you. Please share in the comment section.

I recently published a book on encountering depression.  You know someone who needs to read, Light in a Dark Place – Encountering Depression. To read a sample chapter click here.

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Identifying Disrespect

The ability to identify and minimize connection with those who are patently disrespectful is important. Disrespect affects revival, destroys unity and limits a group’s ability to function effectively. This post is part of a semi-regular series of “Spotlight on the Scripture” writings posted directly to the Facebook page of  Calvary – Springfield, Missouri.  Springfieldcalvary 

Matthew 27:5 And he (Judas) cast down the pieces of silver in the temple . . . 

The late Billy Cole would often speak of the importance of respect. Respect validates others. Respect sets boundaries for our behavior. Those who respect, seek a way showcase other people in a positive light.

Recognizing Judas Disrespect

Because Judas may have supported a revolt against Rome, he has been called, “Judas the zealot.” He could also be labeled, “Judas the disrespectful.”

  • Judas disrespected Mary’s worship. He said her offering could have been used in a better way.
  • A kiss of betrayal disrespected Jesus. It also disrespected the significance of a kiss.

Did Judas respect anything or anyone? Probably not. When disrespect is a person’s norm, nothing is off limits.

Judas’ behavior at the temple was disrespectful. Every Jew was taught the sanctity of the temple. The temple had several sections. The Holy of Holies was where the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement. Nobody else went there.

A second section was the Holy Place. It contained the table of shewbread, altar of incense and golden candlestick. The Holy Place was busier than the Holy of Holies. Priests were constantly serving in the Holy Place. Again, there were constraints. Nobody but a priest was to be in the Holy Place. Judas knew all of this.

The Source of Disrespect

When Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver, the English translation reads, “He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple.” The Greek word translated temple is naos. Naos referred to the “Holy Place.”  The area of the temple where a sign might have read, “Priests Only!”  Judas was not a priest. He was not even from the tribe of Levi.

What was Judas doing in the holy place?

  1. Perhaps Judas presumed that his business relationship with the priests allowed him access.
  2. Judas could no longer respect anything. Not only did Judas not respect Jesus, but Judas also did not respect the constraints of Judaism.

How to Know Those Who Disrespect

Mark those who disrespect and carefully watch for such behavior in yourself. Be careful of a “disrespector.” Several characteristics you will see in those who lack respect:

  • They never say a good thing about any other person.
  • When anyone comments on the positive qualities of someone else, a “disrespector” rolls their eyes or something similar. . .
  • The word “I” will be one the person uses often. Those who have a bold “I” in their vocabulary are never a team-player.
  • They say or do things at the most inappropriate times. An example:  confronting one of your failures or some area of conflict in front of other people. The intent is to bully and humiliate.
  • They have no sense of boundaries. You can hear Judas saying, “If I want to go in the Holy Place, bless God I’ll go to the Holy Place.”

In our age of social media dumping those who respect others will become people we prize. What about you?  Do you respect or disrespect?

My latest resource for evangelism – “What the Bible Says . . . “ a seven lesson topical Home Bible Study is available. It provides student handouts and worksheet for perpetual reuse. A pdf of the student handout material is made available to you.  The seven lessons in What the Bible Says . . . :

  • The Word of God
  • Salvation
  • Repentance
  • Baptism
  • The Holy Ghost
  • Speaking in Tongues
  • The Nature of God
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How Leaders Correctly Respond to Criticism

In modern ministry, experiencing criticism is a norm. Unfortunately, my peers tell me that such criticism is increasing. Perhaps there should be, but there is not a class at Bible College or seminary titled, “How to Respond to Criticism.” Few preachers are prepared to deal with it. Criticism is often mishandled.
Expect criticism! Some people are never criticized. It is the people who do nothing, make no changes and do not press for progress. Such people are non-entities in shaping the future. They will never be criticized!  
My readers are different. You are world changers.  Expect to be criticized!

Critical Realities

  1. Accept that criticism is part of the job description of ministry. No meaningful Bible character was not criticized. Roman numeral II of the pastor’s job description should read:  “You will be criticized. Sometimes the criticism is fair. Often it is not.”  Of course, the job description I refer to is imaginary.
  2. These days, criticism is over rather trivial things. A leader needs to keep that in mind. If you don’t keep it in perspective, you can turn something minor into a “big deal.” Rarely will doctrinal matters, or some grand philosophy of evangelism or disciple-making be challenged. Criticism will be about a perceived mistreatment or even something as inane as the color of the usher’s badges.
  3. Unanticipated criticism will come your way. A now retired heavy-weight boxer said, “It’s the shot you don’t see coming that knocks you out.” The unexpected criticism is what gets you. This will likely come from people you have treated with kindness.

More important is how to deal with criticism.

Explain but Don’t Defend

As a pastor, you cannot defend yourself. Adopt Jesus’ model. At Pilate’s hall, “He opened not his mouth.” A leader may attempt to rationally explain a decision. However, you cannot defend your decisions. The challenge is this:  some people don’t want to understand, they want to gripe. Logic and rational explanation will never satisfy such people.
It is tragic but true, much criticism is fueled by emotion. Any time a leader responds to criticism in an emotional way that leader begins to be sullied by the process. As a leader, leave the anger, hyperbole, over-statements and long-standing feud to others. Effective leaders rise above the criticism.

Add no fuel to the Fire

For some years, I led North American Missions for a major religious organization. Early in my administration, an email came criticizing a decision our board had made. I was angry. The email was filled with innuendo, inaccuracies and had the tone of intimidation. I was loading the cannons to fire back.
Before I did, thankfully, I reached out to Mike Williams, a friend who pastors in the Orlando area. Mike’s advice was simple, “Carlton, don’t escalate the problem. Don’t add fuel to that fire. Let the fire die.
Wisdom: if you don’t add fuel to a fire, it will die.
  • A pastor who addresses a parishioner’s complaint from the pulpit adds fuel to the fire. Actually, that pastor just poured gas on the fire!
  • Seeking support from others in the church body in hopes of getting them on “your side” does not work either. This creates division, unlikely to be healed.

In my experience, if a criticism has little merit and the leader has been gracious in dealing with people – others will become defenders. Mike had it right, “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”

Turn it Over to Jesus

Really! At least talk to Him about it. This is His church you know. Pray and surrender the criticism to the Lord. In many instances, you will have to give it to Him more than one time. Either the criticism will continue or the echoes of the criticism will resonate in your mind.
I’ve offered some suggestions on how a preacher can approach prayer in an earlier blog:  Five Steps in a Preacher’s Quiet Time

Lessons that Come from Criticism

The corporate world teaches leaders to look for a lesson in a customer’s complaint. It helps to be able to learn from criticism, even criticism that is intended to be destructive. To learn from criticism requires three things:
  • Step back from the heat of the moment. Look at the situation as though these events were happening to someone else. Are there things you could have done better?
  • Stop being defensive.
  • Get over the “papal” inspired idea that we preachers never make a mistake. We can and do make wrong decisions. When we get it wrong . . . learn and if necessary do everything possible to correct the mistake.

Leaders do not please everybody. While in an executive role and as a pastor, I knew decisions would come under close scrutiny. Decisions were made knowing that someone would be disappointed with the decision. Count the cost of the decisions you make. Three questions may help:

  1. Will the decision stand up under the weight of Biblical scrutiny?
  2. Is the decision the ethical thing to do?
  3. Does the decision make good business sense?

Consider the Source of Criticism and the Method of the Criticism

When criticism comes, consider the source of the criticism. One of my most vehement critics was a person who would not be considered a saint anywhere. My response was to basically ignore the person. That person was not going to help pay the church bills or grow the church. Why be concerned about the opinion of someone who is playing for the other team.
Second, if a mature person has come directly to you the person has handled the issue correctly. Hear them out. Such a person usually has your best interest in mind. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6) 
Daily Unity is the goal for the entire body. The friend who speaks to you, expressing wise and valid concerns is not seeking to divide. That person can often be your best help.
Will you ever get beyond being criticized?
Simple answer, “No!” The later James Kilgore told one of my peers, “As a pastor, no matter how long you have pastored, you must always sit easy in the saddle.” The elder was referring to a horseman never being complacent in the saddle. Even the best-trained horse can be startled by a snake or rabbit. A good horseman is alert. A pastor needs to be similarly alert.
No matter how long you have been in ministry or how long you have pastored in a particular location – don’t imagine yourself to be beyond criticism. You aren’t. You never will be!
So wrapping it up. Criticism – it is going to happen. It is happening, whether you hear it or not. Being forewarned that criticism will happen is the first step in preparation.
Decide now how you will handle the whispers, rumors and occasional character assassinations. As you do – keep an “old rugged cross” on the horizon to help guide your response. Some years ago, a mentor, directed me to Marshall Shelley’s book that further addresses these issues. It was helpful. I recommend it. His title is fitting:  Well Intentioned Dragons
What has been the most unfair criticism that has been sent your direction? How did you respond and how did it work out?
A final note of interest to some:  My book Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask is available to you for free. You pay the shipping and handling.
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Six Ways to Keep Your Preaching Cupboard Full

You can stay powerful, relevant, eternal and interesting with your preaching. Bruce Mawhinney’s book Preaching With Freshness is recommended for anyone serious about being consistent in the pulpit.
This topic is important. A pastor, evangelist or anyone who fills the pulpit must offer quality in feeding Jesus’ flock. Having one “A+” sermon or Bible Study per month and everything else grading a “D” or “F” won’t do.

An Attitude for Consistency

How does a “man of God” have a consistent “word?”  Part of this comes with being mindful that another time to preach or teach is ahead of you. Even for someone who occasionally fills a pulpit, preparation does not start when you are asked to speak. This is, even more, the case when someone is in the role of a pastor or evangelist. Good preaching and teaching is the result of good work.
You are never not getting ready. It does not work out well if the preacher is always a last-minute chef. Having a “meal plan” is better.  Preaching or teaching in series will make your preparation easier. My observation is that at times, a pastor has the foundational concept of a 4 or 6-week series, but tries to get all of it into one message. This is often a misuse of resources. It also over-estimates the average person’s ability to receive.
Take the same material and use your outline to develop four sermon/lessons instead of a single forty minute discourse. Then spend some time each week reviewing the prior week’s material. People will respond. People will retain more of what you are sharing. Repetition is the mother of learning.  Beyond that, here are some things that work for me.

Be always gathering material.

Be like the ant rather than the sluggard. Never stop gathering resources. Every thing you might ever use, about any thing you may ever teach or preach about should be drawn into your net. This is not material you will use this week, or even this year. Today, I use material brought into my net 30 years ago. For years, this looked like 8-12 file drawers full of “stuff.” Today most of the “stuff” is digitized.
To be sure, some will never be used. However, you never know where life will take you. The resources you put in the cupboard today may well benefit you in situations you cannot currently imagine.

Read, read and read some more!

In addition, read! Leaders are readers.  I collect and read sermon books. I don’t read them for sermons. Such books help me provoke thought. I don’t think I’ve ever “cut and pasted” someone else’s sermon. However, the sermons I read are the source of seed thoughts and illustrations. Treasures can be found in sermons preached by C.E. McCartney, G. Campbell Morgan, Vance Havner, C. M. Ward and dozens of others.
Incredible nuggets are found in the old journals from events such as the Keswick Convention in England and Founder’s Week at Moody Bible Institute. My preference for both, are the journals more than 50 years old.
Books I read are well-used.  Where I see a thought that is preachable the initials “ST” for “Sermon Thought” are placed in the margin. Any quotation or illustration that resonates with me is put in parenthesis and a letter “Q” for “Quote” is put in the margin. These “ST” and “Q” items get copied or typed and saved. Use my pattern or create your own. Do something to retain access to these resources.

Listen, Listen, Listen Some More

Through the years, any inexpensive audio material available became part of my resource library. Cassettes by the thousands are stored away. I’ve listened to 99% of them. While driving, constantly listen to something enriching.
My listening is not limited to my own organization. The flow of communication from fellows like Jack Hayford, Warren Wiersbe and leadership resources from the corporate world have helped me. These days, podcasts including TED Talks help keep me thinking.

Systematic Study

Do some study “the book” for a sermon instead of in order to get to know the author of “the book?” Good preaching and teaching should flow from a constancy of study, rather than study being based on needing a sermon.
There are many ways to study. Read and apply Tim LaHaye’s book, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. The What the Bible Says Home Bible Study that I teach the unconverted is based on a topical study. Other forms of systematic study can include the study of a particular book of the Bible, the study of a person of the Bible, the study of a particular epoch of history – such as the life of Christ or the early church.
In my approach, the systematic study is usually moving toward teaching. But, it becomes the source of my evangelistic preaching. It has been said:  study yourself full, pray yourself anointed and preach yourself empty.
Anointing on an empty head is not as effective as an anointing on a head that is full of the good word of God.

Stay Focused

Furthermore, work with a limited number of topics in mind for your preaching and teaching. My Twenty Topics to Preach About Two Times Each Year keeps me focused on thinking about relevant truth.
It is easy to get lost studying and teaching the typology of the Old Testament and miss the fact that marriages are struggling because they don’t know how to budget their money. Irrelevant truth seldom benefits. Stay focused and simple. My twenty topics help keep me on point.

Take Notes

Take notes as you listen to other people preach or teach. I’ll never totally make the digital transition, so I’ll continue carrying my legal pad or journal to any meeting I attend. Pen and paper have a much better memory than I do.
When I listen to others preach or teach, good preaching ideas come to me. Often the ideas have little to do with that preacher’s topic. However, that idea won’t stay with me if I don’t write it down. If I want to keep it – I write it down.

Freeze and label your “stuff”

My parents had a garden. A benefit of the garden is the produce frozen to be used later. In preparing these things for future use my mom would label the freezer bags then freeze it. The garden produce was collected, identified and preserved.

A good preacher is almost always intent on collecting, preserving and labeling material for future use. From whatever source(s) you gain good material, the best way to “label it” and “freeze it” is a program or app called Evernote.
Evernote is a program that saves ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Handwritten notes can be scanned or a picture taken. Audio files. Adobe PDF Files, Files imported from Word or Wordperfect, pictures, emails or through direct input.
Evernote allows “tags” the equal of the freezer bag labels. You can find your “stuff.” So get the material off your notepad into Evernote.
This can be done by something as simple as taking a picture of your handwritten note using an Evernote companion called Scannable. Evernote for the Preacher is a good resource to learn about how one church planter is using Evernote. With Evernote, you can tag what you save. It is also easy to search for the material you have saved. For most people, the free level of Evernote is adequate.
I’m sure some others have even better ideas for staying fresh. Please share them. If you have a question, please ask it as a comment. I may not be able to answer it. More than likely one of my readers will.
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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daily Unity

On the day of Pentecost, 3120 were converted.  These converts lived a unique set of values. Daily they lived with one-accordance. I suggest that the disciples unity was more significant than where they went each day. 

And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. (Acts 2:46)

Furthermore to complete Christ’s commission to the church, we must daily live with one accord. An unknown poet defined unity in a home-spun way easy to understand:

potatoes-1585075__340Potato Unity

During the time they are in the ground in little clumps, that is not unity. When they are put into a bucket, they are close, but that is not unity. They are peeled, (no skin, no façade) yet that is not unity. When they are sliced and diced, they are closer together, still that is not unity. After doing all the things above we put them together in a pot. We turn the heat on them for a while, and then. . .WE MASH THEM! Then there is unity! It was exactly such elements that produced unity in the early church. Perhaps we should begin by identifying some of the hindrances to the daily attitude of being in one accord.

Things that Limit Same Mindedness

  • Self-centeredness and jealousy restrict unity. Paul encouraged lowliness of mind.

(Philippians 2:3) Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each other esteem other better than themselves.

  • Inability to recognize that there are at least two sides to every story. Each valley has two mountains of perspective.
  • Self-appointed critics, who have nothing better to do than talk, limit unity. Such people constantly look to find someone doing something wrong.
  •  Lack of tolerance hinders togetherness. Paul’s love chapter says, 

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. (I Corinthians 13:4).

  • Majoring in the minors sets aside same mindedness. We get caught up in trivialities, when we are part of a world lost without God.
  • Unforgiveness and failing to deal with unresolved differences causes disunity.

We are weak on Biblical confrontation because we have not been taught the principles. Instead, we talk about our conflicts with everyone but the other individual.

(Matthew 18:15) Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

Jesus taught the proper procedure for dealing with this destroyer of unity. If your brother offends you, you go to him alone; sit down with him and say, “Here is the problem.” If that doesn’t resolve it, then Jesus instructed the involving of other people. In addition, the final court of unresolved conflict was the church. The Bible said that if you can work out your differences, you have won your brother.

Perhaps you find yourself in a circumstance where there are those within your congregation who are dealing with the “My” church mentality. This is not beneficial to the unity of the church. For some additional helpful hints on how to handle these types of attitudes please see my other blog on “Church Terrorism Disciple-making and Church Terrorists – This is “MY” Church.” https://carltoncoonsr.com//discipleship-and-church-terrorism-this-church-is-my-church/

Results of Daily Being in One Accord

In conclusion, unity produces singleness of purpose. Singleness of purpose produces power. Acts records there were daily additions to the “one accord” church. Same is true for today. If we want our churches to grow, we too must have unity!

Do you have recollection of when unity played a key role in the growth of your church? Please share your stories with us!

Additional “Daily Unity” resources are available in my book “Daily Things of Christian Living” on my website at Carltoncoonsr.com.

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Daily Prayer for Daily Bread

Matthew 6:11

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Jesus’ pattern of prayer includes the request, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Most Americans find His instruction irrelevant. We do not awaken to pray “Father, the shelves are bare, would you provide some bread?” There is no need because we have tremendous financial blessings. Further, we no longer live day to day. James the apostle advised against looking beyond today because we do not know what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

There are 7 things the New Testament speaks of being done “daily.” Doing these 7 things are the difference between strong Christianity and mediocrity. These make a great series of lessons to teach a local church.

A “Give us this day our daily bread” lifestyle is important for three reasons:                                                                                 bread-1643951_960_720-3

  • It testifies of a dependence on God.
  • It focuses on the bread things. Ancients called bread the staff of life. Bread things are the basic elements of live.
  • We need a regular (daily) feeding from God’s hand.

Daily Affirm Dependence

If your radio receives a clear signal, you might say, “It’s a powerful radio!” Flip a switch and lights illuminate the room. You could say, “Those are bright lights!” the fact is radios and light bulbs are frail. Neither is productive unless connected with a power source. Neither is the child of God unless he connects with God. Our strength is not in ourselves. We depend on Jesus Christ and must live each day seeking to be “plugged in” to Him.

socket-33137__340

Daily Bread-Basic Necessities

In Jesus’ day, bread was the staff of life. When I was a child our family had bread at every meal. Supper meant biscuits or cornbread.  I’ve never heard Dad say to my mother, “Faye would you bring the cream puffs and caviar?” However, I have often heard him ask her for the bread. Bread was basic stuff, nothing flamboyant about it. “Lord, give us daily bread.” True Christian living does not ignore the basics.

John 6:35

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. “ Jesus called himself the bread of life. Simply put, we need Jesus Christ every single day of our lives. Furthermore, we need to be content with HIM. Jesus’ instruction taught that we should focus on daily basics. Jesus told the Jews:

John 6:51

“I am the living bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever and the bread that I give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.”

Christ is the basic element of life. We must get empty for Christ to be valuable to us. Vance Havner said, “The best preparation for the bread of life is a good hearty appetite.” Jesus Christ should be the basic experience of each day. Daily bread is important in any walk of life. If you are looking for ways to implement this into your congregation read my other blog post on “How to Develop a Sustainable Prayer Program for a church of any size”.

Daily (consistent, regular) Portions

people-2596890_960_720

What a strange diet many people follow in their Christianity! Sunday is the feeding day. A time to spiritually gorge. Monday starts a six-day fast during which nothing remotely spiritual enters the mind. The following Sunday is again the feeding day. Isn’t this living as though Jesus taught, “Give us on Sunday our weekly bread.”

When Israel lived on manna, they had to gather each day for themselves. They could not gather two days’ blessings except before the Sabbath. The same principle can be applied to the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Yesterday’s nourishment does not give strength for today or tomorrow. Daily living Christians constantly reaffirm their dependence on God; accept that the bread of life is not an option, and realize that daily portions are absolutely necessary.

Verses that offer spiritual application:

  • Joshua 1:8

    He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

  • Psalms 119:15

    I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

  • Philippians 4:8

    Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I hope that you have found this information beneficial in your walk with God.  I am interested in how you petition Jesus for “daily” bread? Each person does this in a different way. Your approach will likely help others!

 

I have additional information available in this same series from my book titled “Daily Things of Christian Living”. Please visit my website at https://carltoncoonsr.com//product/daily-things-of-christian-living/.

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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.

ONLY 4 Remain: Signed, First editions of Daily Things of Christian Living Includes letter of authenticity!

 

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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: https://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.

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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!” https://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 https://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.

 

https://carltoncoonsr.com//product/elder-tell-me-your-memories/

 

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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: https://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:

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The Science of Shepherding – It’s ALL About the Sheep

To be a pastor should be simple. It isn’t! The Bible word translated pastor is often translated shepherd in other ancient literature. Several upcoming blog posts will use my concocted term pastor/shepherd. The term will put in our face what pastoral life is about.

“Hey Preacher” is Not the Same as, “Hey Pastor”

A preacher may be different things. Someone filling a pulpit while the pastor is away is a preacher. The measure of the person’s success will be how he or she did in the pulpit. People may also notice to what degree the preacher was friendly.

Defining a preacher can happen using any number of methods. The preacher’s preaching can illuminate, entertain, challenge, instruct and more. Those of us who preach are being assessed by our audience on how we handle God’s word. A preacher can preach a conference or speak at a marriage retreat. Someone might lead a Plowing Before the Planter campaign for a church planter. 

All such efforts have value. They are important. Potential measures of these efforts include audience appreciation of the speaker. Media sales; the number of views on YouTube; or marriages changed could also measure. People use a myriad of measures, subjective and objective to evaluate a preacher. All such is fine – FOR A PREACHER!

 

The Pastor/Shepherd Has a Single Scorecard –It is sheep

  • Is the flock healthy?
  • Is the flock growing? Can we imagine that a healthy flock is a growing flock?
  • Are diseases that affect sheep being watched for and treated?
  • How many little things are bedeviling the sheep? Flies and insects are maddening to livestock. The small annoyances mean drops in productivity. 
  • Is the flock eating well and getting proper rest?
  • Are predators being fought off? 

For those who pastor, the flock is the only measure that matters.

  • A fellow can be a grand businessman and manage church finances well BUT what about the sheep?
  • A man can be an exceptional orator and keep an audience interested BUT what about the sheep?
  • Are there any lambs (new converts) in the flock? Is a flock only consisting of “mature” ewes and rams a good thing?
  • A person can have an engaging personality BUT what about the sheep?
  • The building is nice. What about the sheep?
  • I’m impressed with the emergency procedure manual. What about the flock of God?
  • I love the new location. How is the flock doing with the move?
  • The church bylaws seem to protect church assets (and at times even over-protect the pastor). Is God’s flock healthy?

The pastor/shepherd has an obsession with sheep. Sheep are the only measure that matters.

Pastor/Shepherding is NOT Easy Work

In many instances, Pastor/Shepherds are overworked and underpaid. The work should be easy and uncomplicated. It isn’t! Pastor/Shepherding has many moving parts. Many things can go wrong. In spite of all best efforts, many things do go wrong.

  1. Sheep are docile but can endanger themselves. The herd instinct works but each sheep is a risk to wander. From the oldest to the youngest the risk never ends.
  2. Each member of the flock is different. These differences mean different ways of handling people. No, you cannot deal with everybody the same way.  Jesus didn’t! Read and compare how Jesus dealt with Peter contrasted to how He dealt with John. How a pastor/shepherd deals with people is influenced by:
    • Personality and temperament
    • Motivational gifts
    • Education
    • Christian maturity
    • Family background
    • Culture
    • Etc.
  3. Wandering sheep pursue their own interest. With its head up a sheep can see at best fifteen yards. When grazing, a sheep is intent on nothing but the grass. A pastor/shepherd better look out when people get their “head down.”  It means they are not looking at the big picture. Their vision is limited to the “next clump of grass.” People lose sight of what matters. A stable, sane saint becomes obsessed with an inappropriate relationship. Their head is down and they are not looking at the big picture. The “next clump of grass” can be pursuing wealth, an obsession with sport, or a hobby. It can also be a hypochondriac locked in on their symptoms. It all becomes a dangerous distraction leading that person further from the flock. Whatever the “next clump of grass,” a pursuit of the immediate causes a loss of perspective.

 

The Challenges Beyond the Sheep

  1. Diligence and alertness are always needed. The late James Kilgore grew and pastored a thriving church in Houston. He observed, “Pastoring is like riding a horse. You can never sit easily in the saddle. When you get too relaxed the tamest horse will surprise you and begin to buck. In pastoring you can never totally relax.” The elder was suggesting constant vigilance. Be aware!
  2. Predators intrude! David fought a lion and bear in defense of Jesse’s sheep. The world, the flesh, and the devil are never far from your flock. All three have one goal. To destroy!
  3. Sheep don’t take a month off from needing to eat. Each day is another day for the pastor/shepherd to feed the flock.
  4. Time! You lead a flock, but individuals within the flock need individual attention. Individual attention takes time.

The Biblical work of pastor/shepherd includes terribly broken sheep.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He is an example of what pastor/shepherd work can be. Even as he worked with a core of disciples. Many of them unnamed. Jesus was also helping troubled people reorder their lives. With Jesus’ involvement in their life, people’s priorities and values changed.

Restoration of values and relationships occurred as the good shepherd did His work. Examples of broke sheep are abundant. Mary Magdalene, the demoniac of Gadara, and the woman at the Samaritan well come to mind.

  • Each had chaos within.
  • Each had chaos in their relationships.

The good shepherd intervened! He did not limit His work with healthy, happy, “got it together” people. Jesus shepherded people’s lives to a better place. Pastor/shepherds do the same. They guide people to a better place. A pastor/shepherd invests time and energy into people who are a bit of a problem. Yes, the work has many moving parts. A lot of the meaningful work happens away from a stage. It is far behind the scenes.

Upcoming topics in The Science of Shepherding Series:

  • A Shepherd’s Distractions
  • Spiritually Practical or Practically Spiritual
  • A Pastor/Shepherd’s Greatest Problem
  • Understand the Church to Understand Pastor/Shepherding
  • Pastor/Shepherd – What is the condition of the flock?
  • Sheep Identify with their Shepherd
  • Quarantine – Church Discipline
  • Do you Know the Three Reasons Healthy Sheep Become Restless!
  • A Safe Place!
  • The Rod of the Pastor/Shepherd – Being Bruised is Better than Being Dead!
  • The Staff of the Pastor/Shepherd
  • Pastor/Shepherds Who Cry, Wolf
  • The Heart and Mind of the Great Shepherd or that of a Hireling?
  • The Benefits Package – If the Sheep Could Choose!
  • The Pastor/Shepherd’s 82 Hour Work Week!
  • Pastor/Shepherds on Watchtowers
  • Pastor/Shepherds as Watchmen!

UPCOMING WEBINAR

“The What, How and Why of Convert Care”

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Disciple-making and Church Terrorists – This is “MY” Church

In the process of discipleship, territorialism can result in church terrorism. King Herod was not concerned when another Jewish baby was born. Herod was bothered, by the Magi’s question, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” Herod fretted a lot! This new addition reportedly being born in Judea was suddenly a direct threat to Herod.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Herod instructed the destruction of all the boys born in the kingdom. Since Herod could not be sure who was a threat. He decided to act as though everybody was a threat. Such responses still happen.

Jihadists at Church

  • A church attracting newcomers had a participant act as a “church terrorist.” When a newcomer would sit in the pew her family generally sat in she would say, “That is our pew. You will have to sit somewhere else.” Church terrorism!
  • Another interesting experience was the person who decided some newcomers dressed too nice and had done too well in life. Using a device to change their voice, the person phoned newcomers to say, “You don’t fit at our church. Your clothes are too nice. You are too uppity. We don’t want you here.” Church terrorism! 

Sadly tragic. A funny story to tell a few decades out. At the moment, it was behavior similar to that practiced by Islamic jihadists. In these instances, the terrorist symptoms were verbal. More often the terrorism shows up in attitudes. The results are often the same. 

Motives for Church Terrorism

The real basis of all terrorism is fear.

  • Change.
  • Progress.
  • Not being in control.
  • Losing place.
  • Not being treated with kid gloves. 
  • Not being in the know.

Such behavior has to be eliminated

In whatever way, it has to be stopped. It has to be stopped! It is best if the behavior stops through teaching or direct confrontation. If the elimination does not happen using these means then the terrorist will have to go. Since it is not in the best interest of a leader to “run people off.” Patiently pray them out. One elder said of a particular church, “They are two good funerals away from a revival.” The terrorists have to go – whatever “going” looks like.

Most terrorism does not rise to the level referenced. It is more often subtle. Lack of a smile or making a point of not speaking. Commenting about “those new folks,” in a way that has a bit of disdain or derision. What I’m describing is an unhealthy “my church” attitude. 

Actualized “My Church” Territorialism

Territorialism happens when people feel threatened. Notice that the concern is always reflected in thoughts about me, my and mine. There is no reference to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In such a mindset every change and all growth filter through, “How does this affect me?”

  • I’ve been playing music.
  • I’ve been SS Superintendent
  • My kids have always sung the solos
  • Legacy memberships. My mom has been coming here thirty years. Some who use such arguments do not actually support the church in any tangible way.
  • Someone who has been in the church more than five years fills all leadership roles.
  • My seat, my parking spot . . . 
  • Two decades ago a lady told me, “You are too focused on developing new people. I’m going somewhere else.” She and her physician husband went across town.
  • I’ve given money and been faithful in attendance. Do you mean the priority is reaching and discipling new people? These people we are welcoming have never given a dime to this church.

Parallel to Israel

The church universal tends to struggle with a “me first” attitude. There is nothing new there. This is what Israel became. God called Abraham so that there would be a family and nation positioned to bless other nations. Abraham’s descendants wanted that blessing. However, the people of Israel did not see themselves as “a nation of priests” to other nations. The Israelites were instead content for the blessing to end with them. As long as they experienced salvation all was well. They did not see what God had done for them connected with God’s next step in redemption and reconciliation.

I wrote about the importance of the “So That” principle in a chapter of Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. God does few things as an end in themselves. Instead, He is always moving the pieces about to do a significant next thing.

At the time of Christ, the Jews defined themselves by heritage instead of activity. They said, “We have Abraham to our father.”  Their past identified them. A church can be the same!

Addressing Territorialism and Terrorism 

Preach and teach HIS kingdom on the earth. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” can be a good place to start. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Study everything Jesus said after his resurrection. The take-away will be that the apostles, and the church were to “make disciples.” Every ministry within the church body is to focus on evangelism and disciple-making. Nothing gets to just “maintain.” When you teach this, be sure you have a plan to carry out what you are teaching. Teach toward application.

Define and contrast a religious club and the church. A church is intent on growth in both the existing constituency and numerical growth. A religious club comes together to talk about religion.

With faith, express your expectation of growth. Park in the most remote parking space on the church parking lot. If anyone asks why you parked so far away, tell them, “I’m declaring my faith in making room for the new people who are coming.”

Practice growth! Bring people, invite people, spend time with first and second-time visitors. Model the way. Pastor, you must be seen as investing in the lost and in those who are becoming disciples. Have a strategy to follow up on each guest. Jesus talking with the woman by the Samaritan well astounded His associates. Similarly, existing church members MUST see you involved with newcomers to the church. This has to be more than a handshake at the door. Take a new person to lunch on Sunday.

Don’t let terrorism go unchecked. Confront it! If nothing else works, pray it out. Whatever the terrorism being gone requires. It has to go!

Work at Overcoming Territorialism

Moving from a “me first” posture to being on the offense in welcoming new people can be a struggle. As a leader, you cannot make that decision for someone. You can teach, preach and act the principles of hospitality. Some will likely leave. No worry! A church cannot grow if it has its own version of a Herod who kills babies. Those who threaten newcomers are murderers. This is tragic. Discipling “new people” is the work product of the New Testament church.

How Will YOU Get it Done?

Let me give you some broad principles and approaches to applying these.

  • The 3-minute rule. At the end of service, I say, “Spend the next three minutes getting acquainted with someone you do not know well.” Does everybody do it? No . . . but those who care about the church reaching new people will do so. It also gives me as the pastor time and a reason to go to newcomers. Those words and my action make newcomers a visible priority. 
  • Focus on disciple-making classes that feed newcomers at their level of understanding. Where a church is median or less I encourage the pastor to teach the converts class. Median is about 80 in attendance. I currently teach “Bear Fruit” our second level of discipleship training each Wednesday. Others teach a much larger audience. The lesson – new converts are important to the pastor.
  • Communicate that growth is your priority and will be the church’s priority.
  • Schedule opportunities to celebrate. What gets honored, moves up in significance! Each quarter, we welcome newcomers with baptismal and Holy Ghost certificates. Each person comes up front. We give the newcomers their certificates. After this, the church body come by and welcome the newcomers with a right hand of fellowship. We are making a point of welcoming these people into our church. We also do discipleship class graduations – with certificates and a gift. I try to have people prompted to applaud and cheer about this.
  • Defend spiritual babies. Moses’ mother did not let Pharoah’s insecurity destroy her baby. She did all she could to save her child. She hid him. When Moses had grown so that his mother could no longer hide him she shaped a basket for her baby. Not only that, she involved her daughter as a watcher. Invest energy in new converts. Protect them . . . if you see someone not being kind you do your part to defend them.

My webinar on Sociological Issues in Disciple-making is available here. It addresses two other social challenges!

Church Terrorism is Not NEW!

Evangelist Samuel Chadwick blamed himself for letting converts get in a church that was apathetic toward them. Chadwick’s self-indictment, “It was like putting a new baby in the arms of a corpse.” John Wesley stormed at preachers he was training, “How dare you lead people to Christ without providing an opportunity for growth and nurture! Anything less than growth and nurture is begetting children for the murderer.”

Herod and Pharoah were destroyers of the innocents. It still happens. Most things begetting children for the murderer are produced by fear and jealousy. You can overcome these with intentional behavior and the right priorities.

I shared three of my horror stories about church terrorists. My stories are mild compared to some. I’m interested in actions taken that remedied terrorism. Yet solutions are often based on those tragic stories.  Please tell your story.

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Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper: Don’t Have REVIVAL Without Lasting Impact!

What I ask in this blog post is a bothersome question, but perhaps you heard about things like:

  • The Houston revival where in eight months seven-hundred people were baptized?
  • Georgia revival continuing for four months . . . crowds grew from 70 to over 600?
  • California where one thousand were converted in a few weeks?

Well . . . none of those actually happened, but they are similar to things that did happen. The fiery revival of the  book of Acts continues.  Amazing and incredible as it seems. No superlative adequately describes what God is doing.revival fire

There is nothing like moving into a flow of something decidedly super-natural. A God-thing happening at our address. Church happening and things going on that simply cannot be explained other than the sovereignty of God.  Like the former pastor who walked in Calvary a few weeks ago:  He is a scholar and student who in his alone time came to a personal revelation of the “Oneness of God,” and the need to be baptized in Jesus name.

On occasion I’ve been in those flows.  At the same time, let’s be honest . . . there is an unhealthy cynicism we attach to such testimonials.  Why?

  • Perhaps we’ve not seen anything similar for ourselves.
  • We’ve observed that on occasion the church having so many converts does not actually increase in size. A year later the congregation is the same size or smaller.
  • Jealousy – the emotion that is crueler than the grave.
  • Dislike or mistrust of the evangelist, pastor or other leadership involved.
  • A simple lack of faith.
  • The results being a promotion of some preacher (evangelist or pastor) who was involved, rather than a celebration of God’s saving grace.
  • End Time revival is not part of our expectation.

Regardless of its basis, such cynicism is not healthy. God is at work in the land. A rising tide of spirituality is sweeping across North America.

Now that being said, do we miss the point if we put the emphasis on converts rather than disciples. A significant part of the great commission happens after the person’s conversion. Jsus said, “Go ye therefore teaching all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I’ve commanded.”  (Matthew 28:19-20).  Before any person is converted the believers were to “go” and teach.  Part of the conversion experience is the obedience of baptism. After one is converted these young Christ-followers are to again have someone “teach them to observe . . .”  There is more to this matter of revival than noise, commotion and clever self-promotion disguised in terminology that is supposed to sanctify our pride. We need more than revival and conversions.

Nothing is more troublesome to an attractive theory of interpretation than unwanted facts.

I concur that the distasteful behavior of self-promotion – both covert and overt is a hindrance. Many years ago we had an evangelist who had been mightily used in the gifts of the spirit. He’d became convinced of his own importance to the process. His favorite word became “I.” On one occasion a sinner lady who was visiting actually counted how many times he used the personal pronoun “I” during his preaching.  “I” prayed for . . . , “I” preached at a certain place. It took some time to get her past the fellow’s idolatry of self.

I’m aiming for something that needs to be hard-wired into our thinking. Follow the track here:  (1) There can be a revival right where you are. (2) The revival needs to be more than a racket and crafty promotion. It is not connected to your name, location or education. You can have a revival.  (3) Revival renews the saints and results in not only conversions but people becoming committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

With the possibility before you, the question the Ethiopian asked Philip is fitting, “What doth hinder . . .?”  Stop-Sign

  • What hinders you believing there can be revival right where you are?  Perhaps you have tried and tried. In that case, might it be that our idea of what revival looks like is actually incorrect?
  • What is your vital ability? What thing do you or the church you lead have the ability to do better than anyone else around?  How much time, effort, opportunity and energy is given to that vital ability? By contrast, how much time, effort, opportunity and energy is spent on things that you (and the church as it now exists) do not have the ability to excel at?  If most of your energy is being spent on things you are not good at – STOP! STOP! STOP!
  • Are you actually moving people toward mature commitment or are they perpetually dependent on you?  Real revival will mature people.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the church being an impact in its world. What are the things you see that we can do different?  What do you observe hindering the church from having the great revival that is possible?

HELP – I’m actually finishing up my newest book:  Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. It will be available in a few weeks.  Your thoughts on what I’m discussing here will be of great help in rounding out my content.

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Be Great for God – (Lesson 1) Disciplined for Greatness

(Note from Carlton Coon:  Be Great for God is part of a series being taught at Calvary United Pentecostal Church in Springfield, Missouri)Audio of this lesson and others in the four part series will be at SpringfieldCalvary.church. This is the lesson as in my notes.  The original outlining does not make the cut and paste process. If you would like to have a copy of the teacher’s notes, student handout and the covenant I used to challenge the church email me at carltoncoonsr@gmail.com. )

 

Be Great for God – Lesson 1
Disciplined to Greatness

Must Know

Discipline is a non-negotiable for greatness for God.

None are born to greatness. History is filled with people who were born with a proverbial “silver spoon in their mouth,” but amount to nothing. It is not simply being a prodigy. Having exceptional aptitude may allow one to have more potential than others, but if that exceptional aptitude is not disciplined there will be no excellence.
I suggest that each person here can “Be Great for God” in some way and in some thing.
I. There is a perpetual essential discipline of the basics.
A. Someone came into the room where Pablo Casals, the famous musician, was practicing. His visitor was utterly astounded to see him practicing the scales on the cello. The scales are some of the most elementary concepts in music.
B. The visitor asked, “Why are you bothering to spend your time with something so simple as the scales?”
C. Casals answer: “The problem in playing the cello lies in getting from one note to the next. That is why I must always be practicing the scales!”
D. Casals was saying – you never get past the foundational principles and most elementary things of life.

II. Each thing in life has some basic unavoidable concepts.
A. These concepts are things one cannot avoid, nor can one go beyond. The person who excels in higher math – advanced calculus or trigonometry – does not advance to the point of no longer needing the basic principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
B. Teachable point: One builds on the basics; but can never avoid the basics or eliminate them.
C. What we discuss with this will be meaningful for the remainder of your life.

III. There are three broad aspects of basic spiritual discipline:
A. Denial of the flesh.
B. Serving God, His church and the community we are part of. Over the past few weeks I’ve dealt with this topic to some measure.
C. Intimate ongoing personal fellowship with God. This begins with spending time in His word and spending consistent devotional time in prayer. It also includes His word. The BREAD (Bible Reading Enriches Any Day) chart is a good way to start this.

IV. Be Great for God – discipline your spiritual life.
A. Catching the sense of this . . .
1. Reader Acts 1:12-13 – Pentecostals were daily in prayer.
2. Reader Acts 2:42
3. Reader Acts 3:1
4. Reader Acts 4:31
B. These four readings are a sampler that  gives the sense of what is in the book of Acts. Track through the book of Acts – it is as though there is almost a continuous prayer meeting going on.

C. A basic ingredient of being great for God – attainable by any person in this audience – is the discipline of prayer.

D. Regain Pentecost in your life by regaining spiritual discipline.

V. I’m challenging us to become a people of prayer. To become a book of Acts church with corporate prayer and individual prayer. This is the path to excellence.

A. Prayer – The when of prayer. This can be negotiated, but for me it seems to work best early in the day. 15-30 minutes each morning.
1. Read Romans 12:1 – bodies a living sacrifice. Notice that most of the postures of prayer are postures of submission. Kneeling, lying before the Lord in worship, or our hands up in surrender.
2. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices early in the day makes us less accessible to worldliness and temptation from Satan throughout the day.

B. Prayer – the length of time – this is not something to specify. Each of us are different places in life – so the time in prayer differs. I will observe that the time given to focused prayer grows as one lets the discipline of prayer take root in their life.

C. Easily used models to discipline your life in prayer:

1. Prayer clock – one minute on each of those 12 segments – rich, full prayer – 12 minutes. A copy of the prayer clock is in the “tools you can use” section of your lesson. (Teacher – review these 12 things briefly.)
2. A.C.T.S. model of prayer. For me I do this in journaling, but at times find myself using the same model in praying aloud.
3. There are many other models – these two suffice to get you started. If you find something that works better for you – use it.
D. Disciplined to corporate prayer. Most of what we read about in Acts is corporate prayer. Corporate prayer does not replace individual intimate conversations with God; but corporate prayer builds our prayer life and faith life. Corporate prayer at Calvary:
1. Pre-service prayer – three times each week
2. Monday night prayer on the first Monday of each month – youth and adult prayer;
3. Prayer chain – one Sunday of each month.

E. Keeping your prayer from becoming vain repetition – each day have a different focus for your prayer time (the goal is to have “great saints” involved in daily prayer at least 5 of every 7 days). In all prayer be specific in your prayers and be envisioning the future as prayer is fulfilled.
1. Monday – Pray for your children. Spiritual, mental, emotional, career, marriage, health, etc.
2. Tuesday – Pray for Northwest Springfield, the community where Calvary is located. Key people, the alderman/alderwoman; the police who patrol here; for a spiritual hunger to come to people; for the school across the street (teachers, students and workers); those who play and walk in the park; and for this church on this corner to have a vibrant attraction to people who travel past, the alcoholic, the angry, the addicted.
3. Wednesday – Pray for your extended family – parents, grandchildren, siblings, etc. Health issues, marriages, etc.
4. Thursday – Missions work – my personal focus is Boston and Seattle. I’m adding Switzerland to my list because it is the country from which my ancestor immigrated to the United States in 1776.
5. Friday – Unsaved acquaintances. Keep a prayer list. Call their names and intercede for their salvation. Perhaps in this time God will also direct you to make contact with one or two of these. Be sensitive to God in prayer. Always be sensitive to hear the voice of God while you pray.
6. Saturday – Weekend services at Calvary. (1) Evangelism (2) Pastor’s teaching/preaching (3) Take Root class (4) Sunday School teachers
7. Sunday – join in corporate prayer and pray as the spirit leads.

VI. Calling for commitment:
Be Great for God Prayer Covenant:
Pastor, I want to be part of the group who are “great for God.” I commit myself to use the tools of prayer 5 out of each 7 days over the next month. I also commit myself to being in pre-service prayer before 2 of every 3 services. Finally, I commit myself to be in Family Prayer the first Monday of the next two months.
__________________
Name

Tools You Can Use!

A.C.T.S. (originally from one of Bill Hybels books) model encourages prayer journaling or writing out one’s prayer. A single paragraph is devoted to each of four things:
A = Adoration (a paragraph celebrating some single one of the many excellences of the Lord Jesus Christ. A great resource to create a mindfulness of the adorable attributes of Jesus are the five books on the names of God by Charles Rolls.)
C = Confession (this includes confession of sin as well as confession of need.)
T = Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving is part of each day’s prayer.)
S = Supplication (A supplicant comes seeking help from one who is able to supply a need. What do you need that only Jesus Christ can supply?)

Praying the Prayer Clock
A second simple approach to becoming great in being disciplined for God. If one spends five minutes on each of these, an hour will have been spent in prayer. As a starting point devote 1 or 2 minutes to each component.

Daily Prayer Focus Guide
Monday – Pray for your children. Spiritual, mental, emotional, career, marriage, health, etc.
Tuesday – Pray for Northwest Springfield, the community where Calvary is located. Key people, the alderman/alderwoman; the police who patrol here; for a spiritual hunger to come to people; for the school across the street (teachers, students and workers); those who play and walk in the park; and for this church on this corner to have a vibrant attraction to people who travel past, the alcoholic, the angry, the addicted, the abuser.
Wednesday – Pray for your extended family – parents, grandchildren, siblings, etc. Health issues, marriages, etc.
Thursday – Missions work – my personal focus is Boston and Seattle. I’m adding Switzerland to my list because it is the country from which my ancestor immigrated to the United States in 1776.
Friday – Unsaved acquaintances. Keep a prayer list. Call their names and intercede for their salvation. Perhaps in this time God will also direct you to make contact with one or two of these. Be sensitive to God in prayer. Always be sensitive to hear the voice of God while you pray.
Saturday – Weekend services at Calvary. (1) Evangelism (2) Pastor’s teaching/preaching (3) Take Root class (4) Sunday School teachers
Sunday – join in corporate prayer and pray as the spirit leads.
Resources that could help:
Book – Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Book – Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
Book – Daily Things of Christian Living by Carlton L. Coon Sr.
Book – Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

 

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Thoughts from a New Pastorate

I find myself in an interesting place.  I’m a new pastor – the last time that happened was 23 years ago.  Two observations from these few months:

  • A lot has changed . . .

  • Not much has changed . . .

People are the same, but the world is different. People’s commitment to church attendance is not as it was – but I plan to experiment with marketing Sunday evening and midweek just as aggressively as Sunday morning.  I’ll keep you posted on how it works.

 I’m not comfortable with less church – not if one is going to grow people and the church.  The schedule of teaching/preaching 3-4 times every Sunday is more wearying than I remember. My own approach Sunday morning we do education and evangelism, Sunday afternoon is a disciple-making class; Sunday evening is for edification of the saints and mid-week is to equip saints to be effective.

It does seem Jesus has blessed me with some neat ideas that are actually working to take advantage of the changes that have happened.

 Updated Guest Cards

 As I developed Calvary’s guest cards (http://SpringfieldCalvary.church) it occurred to experiment with how open guestsguests would be to receiving a “text message from the pastor.”  Alongside the line for the guest’s phone number, the question is asked, “Can Calvary’s pastor contact you via text message? Y N”  The response has been amazing. Of the guest cards returned well over 1/2 of them are open to communication via text message.

 Text messaging is quick and effective. This past Sunday a family of three were back at Calvary for a second visit. They had received a text message and hand-written card during the prior week.  Sunday afternoon I sent a text to a fellow who had visited Sunday morning with his two kids. He responded to my text  – requesting a Bible Study and volunteering to do any electrical and plumbing work around the church. Maybe I’m on to something?

 Facebook Marketing is Cheap and Works

 facebQuite often Calvary does a two day “boosted” ad on Facebook. The most we spend is $10 per day, usually only $5. The ad is focused on my Sunday evangelistic message. (Side-note:  The most vital church growth concept is to preach to sinners every single week – whether there is one sinner in attendance or a dozen.) My marketing target is not church attendees (though some do get gathered into the mix), but non church members. In targeting my ads about the “Blessing and Benefit of the Holy Ghost” I targeted words and phrases like:  Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, depression, loneliness, etc.

 When a user of Facebook responds with a “Like” we then try to transition that to a like of Calvary’s FB page.  It does not always work, but quite often it does.  This expands the part of the community who are connected with Calvary.

I also ask our church members to “share” the Facebook ads we post. The shares end up on that person’s Facebook page and reaches people the ad would not otherwise get too.

 Preaching to Those I Have Not Yet Seen

 The ability to post Calvary’s preaching/teaching on the church website using Soundcloud is an easy win.  I’m grateful for Ashley Townsend, one of Calvary’s teens who volunteers to clean up the sound, post the audio to Soundcloud and make the appropriate link on the website. One of the most important concepts of any pastorate is involving people in meaningful ministry.  What Ashley does means a lot to her and perhaps more to me.  She accomplishes things I simply could not accomplish.

I’m convinced that the gospel works; that doctrinal teaching/preaching works – if we can only gain a hearing. Posting online allows people to hear me without having to risk walking in the doors of the church. It is amazing the number of listens one gets. Eventually, Calvary may use video and even be live with the preaching/teaching; for this moment and our current setting this works and it works inexpensively.

 I’m enjoying the journey!  Oh, I have a new book out just now:  Healthy Church – Start Here!  addresses the 18 reasons churches are not healthy and do not grow.  Common sense and proven solutions to get the church on-track and growing.  Take a look at Healthy Church – Start Here! The book can also be purchased at Amazon or for your Kindle.