I lifted this from my friend, Charles Wood’s “The Woodchuck’s Den” from today. It is a review of a new Thom Ranier book on churches that are dying. I thought his main points were SPOT ON. I’ve seen this up close and personally in more cases that I want to remember. Well worth the few moments it takes to read it:
Thom Ranier, is now CEO of Lifeway, the publication arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. He formerly taught at Southern Seminary at Louisville and is highly regarded as both a leader and thinker. The introduction and main points are his. All that is added in italics after the main points must be blamed on me. It’s long, but many pastors of smaller or traditional churches really need to read it.
“I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning. The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.
“I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult. On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. ‘What do you think, Thom?’ he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. ‘How long can our church survive?’ I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. ‘I believe the church will close its doors in five years.’ I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis. My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned
1. The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents. They should have either moved or committed to reaching the community as it was becoming - in reality they became what many smaller churches actually are - a commuter church.
2. The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community. Probably because many of the members showed the shallowness of their Christianity by holding themselves to be “better” than the riff-raff among whom they were located.
3. Members became more focused on memorials. And memories. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past. The people were focused on a past that really never was and could never be again even if it actually was what they dream of. When the older people were in the prime of life, it was wonderful so the real desire was to go back to having a church like that.
4. The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent. Well, we have to take care of our own, don’t we?
5. There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die. An annual “evangelistic meeting (where almost all those who attend are saved folks who don’t even know any unsaved person to invite).
6. The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. Oops, no one read even the first line of The Purpose -driven Life - it’s not all about you. In reality it did become all about them, and you can find this attitude among the older element of many other churches., Don’t bother me with what I can do for the church; concentrate on what the church can do for me - after all I am retired. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged. It became what we sometimes call a “pastoral grave-yard” or a good place to “run out the string until eligible for Social Security.
8. The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs. It became more important to pray people out of heaven than to pray sinners out of hell.
9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose. Don’t bother asking some traditional churches to see their vision or purpose statement; they don’t have one. One of the nice things about having no goals is that you never miss meeting a goal you don’t have.
10. The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past. I mentioned this above, but I am convinced that a lot of the problems churches have with older members when they try to move into the present Century revolves around this point.
11. The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had ‘outsider eyes.’ You don’t have to tell me when a church was built or last renovated; I can see it with my own eyes on just a single visit. The old cry of, ‘We don’t need an architect,’ was not only wrong but also created some jumbled monstrosities that are almost impossible to correct. Let’s face it, the unsaved, especially the younger ones, are not attracted to a church that looks like June Cleaver’s kitchen. “
“Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.”
From time to time, I like to add a fresh voice to this blog with the idea that there are some great writers out there who need a broader audience. Today’s blog is one of those occasions and is written by my friend and fellow elder at Life Fellowship, Matt Hatfield. You’ll find more information about him at the bottom of the page. Take a few moments as he takes a deeper look at this week’s announcement by Jason Collins that he is a homosexual. He was met with much affirmation from the media, sports world, politicians and other elites. So what can the Believer learn as we digest the changes in cultural that appear to be unfolding with amazing rapidity. Matt pokes us in the brain with this essay…
Are we ready for… the Pursuit of Happiness?
Evangelicals will certainly look upon this moment as a continuation of the decline of morals in our country; the inevitable outcome of a society that has moved God from the back-burner into the garbage can. The average American citizen? They will think quietly to themselves, “well that’s not the way I roll… but who am I to judge?” And life will go on as normal.
But is there something that could be done? Something that should be said? How does the Christian respond in the face of a moment like this? You know the moment. It’s that instance when we find ourselves “not ready” for apparently what “the country is ready for.”
I don’t know Jason Collins… other than what he has said and what has recently been written about him. He seems like a genuine enough man. Likeable. Not intent on doing anyone wrong. Not wanting to stir the pot. Just want to be who he wants to be. A gay man in a culture wrestling with the whole idea of homosexuality… and tolerance… and acceptance.
But in our spirit, there seems something amiss. In a curious twist of fate, we find ourselves like the man coming out of the closet… wanting to speak up, needing to say something… but knowing that it may not be well received. Knowing that we may be rejected.
What is it that we would say?
I think I’d say, “this isn’t right. This is not God’s plan. This is not what His heart desires.” I know that the culture has applauded the courage of Mr. Collins to stand up for what he feels, how am I to applaud that which I believe grieves the heart of God? And while I know the chorus of “thou shalt not judge” would rain down… I think I’d know that declaring what is right & just is not what was being rebuked by Jesus when He warned His followers about judging one’s neighbor. Warning about consequences is different than rendering the judgment. The former is to be undertaken by God’s children… the latter is certainly up to God.
You see. God has a set of rules. And for the most part, these rules are set in place to maintain order. Keep us healthy. Keep us safe. These principles allow us to know God’s heart and to know what is pleasing and displeasing to Him. And while one of the things we discover when we study His word is that His love for us is immeasurable. We also discover that God cares little for man’s opinion on things. He is not a politician. He doesn’t take votes. The majority doesn’t rule. Frankly, God is about God – and that which would oppose Him is often met with severe consequences. Further, while God wants His children to have joy… defining our own basis for happiness is not all that important to God either. Which makes Mr. Collins’ following statement both naïve and frightening.
“I hope that every player makes a decision that leads to their own happiness, whatever happiness that is in life,” Collins responded. “I know that I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life.”
In this short little statement, we can find the crux of the problem with not just Mr. Collins, or our country… but with the psyche and condition of all men. The pursuit of happiness.
Now such a phrase will evoke almost universal positive feelings in the heart of any red-blooded American because it harkens to the core of our country’s value system. Such is why the founders of our country felt compelled to include the proclamation in the Declaration of Independence. And though it was penned with noble intentions by mostly noble men… there are consequences for even the best of intentions. As an aside, Satan is a master of twisting good intentions to serve his purposes. Thus, the quandary we are in today. By slowly allowing the rhetoric of literal definitions to expunge the meanings of original intentions… man now, cannot just pursue happiness, he can define it. And once man is given the opportunity to take a Sharpie marker and strike out God’s definitions, we are in trouble.
And to be sure, we are in trouble.
Not just because Mr. Collins “came out” but because of the underlying rationale behind. Mr. Collins is not unlike most of us. He believes that he has a right to pursue happiness. This, however, is an American endowment. It is not from God. God calls us to pursue, Him, first… not happiness. If pursuing personal happiness becomes our mantra, then we have indeed declared our independence from God. What irony.
What we will discover in our pursuit of God is that He has standards that are far different from those which flow naturally from our bodies. Honestly, our personal appetites would generally make God wretch. People don’t like to hear this. But somewhere along the way, we bought into a doctrine that equated our happiness with God’s happiness as if God’s sole objective is to create and raise “happy” children. We even have a phrase for it… “God wants me to be happy.” This little cliché has become the magic potion that dissolves marriages, erases debts, covers over wrongs… It’s a cure-all – a man-made tonic on an oblivious but welcoming conscious, dulling our senses and mind until we no longer know right from wrong.
What God wants is for His creation to pursue Him… and leave the defining of “happiness” up to Him. He warns us to “take every thought captive” for a reason. Thoughts can be dangerous. Many should be jettisoned. Too many thoughts start with the premise, “how can I make this work out the best for me?” rather than simply, “what does God’s Word say?”
Now when most of you started reading this article, you probably thought that it was going to give a Biblical response to homosexuality. I don’t think that is really what is needed. The Bible is quite clear on the matter – to suggest otherwise is simply putting one’s head in the sand. Homosexuality is a sin. Whether by nature or nurture, it is out of the scope of God’s desire for His children. But He has a plan of restoration for all sin – including this one.
In the end, I think what is important is that we do an honest assessment. One that has less to do with sexual orientation – as most of us do not personally struggle with homosexuality. But we all struggle with sin. And sin at its core is a feeding of personal appetites to make us happy. So… are you pursuing happiness… or are you pursuing God?
Matt Hatfield is a businessman and one of the founding elders of Life Fellowship Church in the Lake Norman region of metropolitan Charlotte, NC. He has a degree in Philosophy from Davidson College and attended Dallas Theological Seminary in pursuit of his Masters. He is married and has three children and lives in Huntersville, North Carolina.
Bob Bixby is one of my favorite bloggers. Recently he wrote an article on the Religious Affections Movement that takes a puritanical approach to music and art that drips with condescension and snobbery. I wish I could have put a response to their arrogance with as much eloquence and aplomb. Read it HERE.
Dr. Ben Carson, world-renown African-American Pediatric Neurologist Surgeon and Professor at Johns Hopkins University is the latest victim of radical leftist fascism. Read about what happened HERE.
This just reminds us that liberals have no interest in “Free Speech” in spite of their rhetoric. They only want “approved speech”. Don’t burden their straw houses of thought and their extremist agenda with counter arguments or other perspectives. “Tolerance” is only a demand they hurl at their enemies which is code, for “Shut Up if you disagree.” These people are far more hateful, narrow-minded, fascist and tyrannical than the imaginary caricatures they create for enemies. What is sadder still is that uniformed and uneducated low information people are just letting them destroy legitimate dialogue for fear that someone might call them “intolerant” or “bigoted” or some other 2-cent epithet that perverts that historic lexicon of civilization. Political correctness is destroying our character, our morality, our intellectual integrity and our Liberty. Orwell predicted all of this — and yet, most people have never read 1984 or Animal Farm. We will be damned by our laziness and lack of courage.
So pleased today to welcome our very first grandchild into the world, “Ellie Madelynn Mook”, sweet daughter of our kids, Justin and Megan (Burrell) Mook. She put mom through it with a 31-hour labor and delivery, but she was well worth the wait! Julie was able to be there for the delivery and that was a sweet gift to her from Justin and Megan as she shared in the wonder and excitement of her arrival. We are constantly humbled by God’s goodness to us and this precious little soul is among the greatest gifts we’ve ever received. We have been praying for her and will continue to pray that God will form her in the image of His image and will so that she might glorify Him with her entire life.
I learned a very important and personally insightful principle not long ago at at a session I was having with a friend who gives me leadership coaching and I thought I might share it with you in hopes that it might be an encouragement to someone.
We were discussing disappointments, failures, setbacks and mistakes. As part of helping me form a correct perspective, the coach told me that many people have difficulty distinguishing between “Desires” and “Goals” and thus invite discouragement, depression and even a desire to withdraw or quit. Many times people merge “desires” and “goals” into one word. Thus their desires feel like goals and when they aren’t met, they feel like they failed and if they have a tendency to place strong psychological ownership on significance and success and reputation, an unmet “goal” (even if it was in reality a “desire) can be devastating.
The difference between a “desire” and a “goal” is that a “goal” is something that you have all of almost all of the control regarding the outcome. A “desire” is something you want very badly, but you can’t always control the outcome. Goals would include: losing weight, earning a degree, finishing a book, becoming debt free. Conversely, a Desire might be wanting a fulfilling marriage, wanting to see a church or business grow or succeed, wanting to see a child turnout right or wanting to see a student achieve. In the case of those desires, ultimately there are multiple other people who have the ability to prevent you from gaining what you desire. Therefore, they cannot be goals.
I think…no, make that, I KNOW, many people who walk with sensations of failure over things like a broken marriage, a business that went into bankruptcy, a church that split, a wayward child, a broken friendship. But they had no control over how the other person(s) responded. Unless they personally instigated the problem through unBiblical behavior, they should not bear responsibility for the outcome when the other person refused or neglected their role in meeting your desire for them or for you and them.
In closing that session, he reminded me that we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every single day. Our salvation is a product and work of Grace. God does not love us one bit more because we “succeed” or one bit less because we “fail”. If Grace was what saves us, then Grace is what keeps us. Too often, we don’t accept the Grace that God extends from Salvation and beyond.
I hope this helps you the next time you face unmet expectations or disappointment. I know it has helped me.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve had a wonderful and exciting ministry in Cuba where I’ve been able to assist national pastors with their ministries. For security reasons, I am never really able to share everything I’d like to share in my public reports, but the work of the Lord is happening all over Cuba and in the midst of difficult economic times, I always come back from my visits inspired by the faith, sacrifice and dedication of those with whom I partner there. The needs are HUGE and life is simply a daily struggle due to the embargo situation. A large percentage of what I do there is humanitarian in its orientation as we assist these national pastors with the basic necessities for living that they might be able to do the other work to which God has called them. We have HIGH accountability, careful screening and regular visits to make sure good stewardship is performed.
I just returned with a fresh list of things I am needing to send or take over there in the coming weeks. I’m regularly blown away by how people step up to assist me in obtaining these items. I use a portion of my second income with Liberty University to fund this ministry and am joined by two wonderful Cuban American ladies who have given so sacrificially over the years, that I’m humbled to think of it. Then I have Cuban-American friends, Blog Readers, Facebook Friends, former students and sometimes just anonymous benefactors who have also helped. I’ve learned to just put the need “out there” and let God take care of the rest.
So with that in mind, I share my current list of significant needs. Some might seem silly and trivial, but believe me, for them — it can be a big deal. An example is shoes. They have very limited sizes. One of our pastors wears a size 12EEE. IMPOSSIBLE to get there. One of the pastor’s sons wears a size 29/36 pair of jeans. Again, impossible. So by bringing simple items like these with me, it changes lives. The list follows — I am putting the item with all specifics down and the estimated price. If the Lord leads you to assist, you can either send the item to me or the funds and I will get the item. I’ll explain how to get things or funds to me at the end.
Items for Ministry and Pastoral Education
- 10 More Kindles to provide a theological library for each pastor — $69 each
- Funds to purchase the 80 theological texts on the Kindles — $500
- 4 Bicycles for Pastor transportation -$200 each
- 20 used digital cameras w/chargers and memory cards (for ministry reports)
- $400 for a bicycle repair fund
- $100 per month for fuel for the ministry car which serves the entire country from Santiago de Cuba to Havana
- Used iPods and mini-speakers for music in the house churches
- Funds for plastic stackable stools for seating in house churches — $12 USD each. (Approximately 100 needed)
- Musical instruments — New or Used — tambourines, maracas, bongos, guitar strings, latin rhythm instruments,
- Spoons and Forks (non-disposable, at least 70 - for training conferences)
- Plastic Tumblers (at least 70 — for training conferences)
Items for Individuals and Families
(Some of these are very specific for individuals that I identified on my trip)
- 2 pairs of 12eee (extra-wide) shoes (running/walking) — $80 each
- Shoes (Various Needs — $40 per pair)
- Umbrellas for Women (20 — need to be compact, but full size due to heavy tropical rains.)
- Watches for Pastor’s Wives (20)
- Eye drops
- Work Gloves (12 pair - heavy duty)
- Irrigation supplies for micro-business project — $300
- Rubber Boots (size 10) 2 Pair ($30 each)
- Wire fencing pliers w/side snips
- Men’s Hankerchiefs
- Portable Sewing Machine (Used is fine)
- New/Used Portable/Rechargeable Drill w/Bits
- New/Used Plug-in Drill w/Bits
- New/Used Small power hand saw with extra blades
- Small (1-gal) garden sprayer ($30)
- Women’s clothes — Size 0
- Clothing for teens and children — (I have the sizes/needs) — $200
- 34 inch boy’s belt
- Light blanket — 3 for single beds, 1 for double bed (Think Tropical)
If you’d like to mail a donation (item or check) — the address is Dan Burrell, Life Fellowship Church, 16507 Northcross Drive, Suite B, Huntersville, NC — Mark it to my attention. Do not write Cuba on the check, but just let me know what it is for in separate correspondence. All checks should be made payable to Life Fellowship Church.
If you’d like to give online, click HERE. It’s easy to register and simply click on “MISSIONS” and type in “Burrell-Cuba” and it will get to me. Your gift is tax deductible.
Or if you have a question: Drop me a line at DBurrell@lifecharlotte.com!
Thanks in advance for responding as the Lord leads you! These guys are amazing and you are making a huge difference in their lives.
If you are for traditional marriage and like your dollars to follow your values, HERE’s something to thing about the next time you want the Venti Latte…. How’s that tolerance working for you, Starbucks? Oh, I see….it’s only for leftists. smh
If there was ever a death penalty case — this is it, right here. (<– Click on the link to read the article.) How anyone can support abortion, politicians who support abortion, medical practices who recommend abortion, gynecologists who endorse abortion — is just beyond me. This is intentional, pre-meditated murder and I believe both the medical personnel and the woman carrying the child should be prosecuted. This “medical assistant” is as guilty as the SS Guard who dropped the acid tablets into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
And enough of this mamby-pamby attitude toward females who want to get rid of their child — this is cold-blooded murder and they are as culpable as is the doctor.
Whiny liberals weeping at abused dogs and clubbed seals while support this genocidal butchery have ZERO credibility. These are human beings — Defenseless, helpless, innocent babies. — who are being “put down” with less dignity than they’d give an aging Rover. Anyone who feigns compassion for snail darters and spotted owls and unspayed kitties and doesn’t speak out against abortion is a hypocrite.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that changes my life. Not very often, but every once in a while. “Dangerous Calling” by Paul David Tripp is just such a book. If you are a pastor or in full-time ministry work, buy it….TODAY and then make it the next book you read. I have put this in my personal list of the Top 5 most influential books I’ve read. It’s that good. In fact, it is this important a book for pastors. If you are a pastor and simply cannot afford to buy this $12 book, I will buy you a copy and send it to you. Just send me your snail mail address. (Limit 10 — I’m not rich, ya’ know. :-)) Seriously, if you can‘t afford it, I WANT you to have it — you just have to promise me you’ll read it.
It will save you a lot of stress, disillusionment, pain and wheel-spinning in future ministry, if you’ll read and heed it. I wish it had been around 20 years ago.
You can find the book on Amazon HERE.
Monday’s are sometimes tough days of recovery for those in ministry, so I thought I’d give you something to smile at. This has been going around the blogosphere recently (Sharper Iron, Out of Ur, Leadership, etc…), so I’m not sure where it actually originated but here we have it — “The Beards of the Brethren”. Enjoy!
The only one missing is “The Legalist” which is clean-shaven with a couple of small pieces of bloody-toilet paper applied to the upper neck. This is worn by those who equate any form of facial hair with those nasty, counter-revolutionary hippies of 40 years ago and who must be exposed at every level. And woe to you should you be wearing wire-rim glasses while rockin’ a beard. Didn’t you know that Jesus wore his hair in white-walled style military haircut and shaved every morning with his Gabriel Super 2000 electric razor?
So what’s your favorite? What are you sporting currently? Have any others been missed?
I lifted the following from and article in my friend’s, Chuck Wood, daily missive. (The Woodchuck’s Den — to subscribe, write email@example.com and tell them that Dan Burrell sent you!)
We hear a great deal about the growing churches with that growth measured in a variety of ways (honest, believe me, there is such a thing as growth without significant numerical increase). What we don’t hear much about is the churches that are either stuck on a plateau or actually declining (I hate to use the term “dying” although it is appropriate in some situations).
Chuck Lawless is a prof at Southeastern Seminary at Winston-Salem. He formerly taught at Louisville, and he has carried on an extensive ministry of church consulting over the last several years. He has drawn up a list of ten factors that he has found present in most cases of stagnation or decline (or even failure to grow). Thom Ranier (well-know as CEO of Lifeway) has published Chuck’s findings on one of his blogs. Even if your work is exceeding your expectations or going very well, I think you would benefit from giving this list careful attention.
“I love the local church. It’s God’s church, despite its flaws. For ten years, I’ve had the privilege of consulting with churches seeking to grow. Here are my reflections of those years – one reflection for each year. If you’re a pastor in a struggling church, be sure to read to the end. I think you’ll find hope there.
1. Churches often wait too long to address decline. Some churches don’t do regular checkups, and thus they have no means of knowing they’re sick. Others recognize the symptoms but choose to ignore them. By the time they admit decline, the pattern is so entrenched that reversing the trend is not easy.
2. Statistics really are helpful. I realize that numbers can become an idol—and that we must fight against—but numbers do tell us something. Most often, they tell us to ask more “why” questions. Why has the church declined in attendance for five years? Why did the church reach 50 people last year, but attendance grew by only fifteen? Why has worship attendance in the second service plateaued?
3. Prayer in unhealthy churches is reactive rather than proactive. A problem develops, and then the church members pray. A marriage struggles, and then they pray. A young person wanders, and then the church prays. Prayer in an unhealthy congregation is often a response of desperation rather than a marker of the DNA of the church.
4. Churches often settle for numerical growth rather than life transformation. Churches may want to grow, but they seldom evaluate the source of the growth. If the church increases in number at all—even if the growth comes only by believers transferring membership from another local church—the church is satisfied. Few churches evaluate how many non-believers are converted through their ministry.
5. Churches do not know their community. As part of our consultation we would do a demographic study of a church’s ministry area and then ask the leaders to describe their community prior to their seeing the study. Frankly, I’m amazed by how many church leaders were not aware of the demographics of their ministry field. They often lived among a people they do not know.
6. Most churches aren’t ready for conversion growth if God were to send it. The biblical call to make disciples demands a discipleship strategy (Matt. 28:18-20), but few churches have one. They do not have the “nursery” of discipleship ready for baby Christians. Seemingly, they assume new believers will grow simply by showing up each week.
7. Sometimes the most obvious suggestions seem the most revolutionary. Church leaders struggling to overcome decline are so close to the situation they often miss the most obvious corrections. Preach the Word with power and enthusiasm. Train members to do evangelism. Minister in the community. Pray for neighbors and co-workers. Develop a mentoring discipleship program. Do worship well. Going back to the basics is often a first step toward renewed church health.
8. The leader in the pulpit matters. Never have I seen a church reverse a decline when led by a pastor uncommitted to the hard work of turning around a congregation. If he has already mentally and emotionally “checked out,” he won’t fool the church for long. On the other hand, a broken pastor who longs and prays for God to move mightily can see a congregation change.
9. In most churches, somebody wants the congregation to make an eternal difference. I’ve never seen a church so unhealthy that nobody was seeking God and His power. The good news here is that just a few people can ignite a renewal fire in a local church. Somebody sees in faith what God might do, and he/she can be a significant support for the pastor.
10. God is still growing His church. I’ve worked with churches that, to be frank, I thought would never grow. Churches so divided that their communities know them as a combat zone seldom give you hope for Great Commission growth. Nevertheless, I’ve seen God work miracles by restoring unity, strengthening and refocusing leaders, and sending members into the community to share the gospel.
Only God can turn around a church. He has in the past, and He may well do so in your church today.”
I think of myself as being sentimental, without being a sentimentalist. If that sounds a bit like double-talk, perhaps it is. I don’t want to be one of those sappy, teary-eyed parents who commemorate every single milestone in a kid’s life as if it were some gigantic cosmic moment worthy of a request to make time stand still. At the same time, there are certain moments that I think are worthy of reflection, celebration and commemoration. What those exact moments might be are perfectly open to debate.
I had a cathartic experience seventeen years ago in Washington, D.C. I was there taking a summer symposium as I was completing work on my doctorate with Nova University. Part of my doctoral studies demanded of me a grueling week-long session of seminars and lectures from educators coming from institutions that ran the gamut from Harvard to Cornell to USC and more. My wife, a “retired” history teacher who loves, (I mean LOVES) Washington, DC, accompanied me with our at-the-time 15-month-old, and then only child. If I was busy, she was a whirlwind. Generally she was up before I was - heading off to a museum, tour or site-seeing expedition and would often come in at night after I had been released for the day. This was pre-cell phone days, so I had no way of keeping up with her, but she was having a blast.
One afternoon, the administrators of the program had mercy on us and gave us the rest of the day off. Julie and I decided to take a cruise up the Potomac River to Mount Vernon to see George Washington’s estate. It was a beautiful day for a long, leisurely cruise and the boat wasn’t particularly crowded. Sitting in the air-conditioning, a young teen-aged boy came by our table and took a particular interest in Nathan, who was just an engaging toddler. There weren’t any other teens on board and so the boy soon started talking up a streak with us.
During the course of the conversation, I discovered that the boy had just turned thirteen. He was Jewish. He was on a trip with his dad who was a big-time lawyer from Los Angeles. This trip was a gift (turns out a bar mitzvah gift) from his dad upon turning thirteen. He could chose to go anywhere in the country he wanted to go with his dad. Oddly, we actually bumped into this kid and his dad twice more during our trip to Washington…something that had almost insurmountable odds of occurring. Each time, he would come over and “update” us on his trip and his dad would come over as well and we’d engage in some small talk. I could tell they were having an awesome time.
I vowed that I would do the same with Nathan and any other kids we were to have.
It didn’t take long for the years to roll by and Nathan turned thirteen. I presented him with a “gift certificate” explaining the trip and giving him “options” and “suggestions.” At first, he seemed a little non-plussed and I felt disappointed. But as he began debating where he’d like to go, what all we would do, things we could see, he became more excited and so did I. He finally chose California.
So I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and polished up my credit card and off we took. It started off with a bang when we landed in San Diego and got upgraded to a red Camaro convertible for free! We tore off our shirts and went “cruising” like a couple of rubes – which we were. (Actually, it worked out quite well for me, I was able to take Nate on the trip of a lifetime and have my own mid-life crisis adventure at the same time.) We traveled the state from Tijuana to San Diego to LA to Yosemite to San Francisco in eight days. It was a blast. We laughed. We fought. We hiked. We goofed off. We talked. We debated. We just had a great father and son time.
I’m still paying off the credit card bill, I do believe. Since then, Julie has taken Megan (“coincidentally” their trip was to Washington, DC) and Katie (Cruise around the Caribbean) while I had an incredible trip to the Grand Canyon and Southern California a year and a half ago as we finished the ritual celebration of all four of our kids. As I look back upon it, I must say that this “rite of passage” trip we enjoyed may well be one of the most important times we ever had together. The benefits have paid off for years and years as we’ve relived and re-discussed those care-free days together.
I’ve seen other “rites of passage” ideas since then. I know of one guy who made a scrapbook of letters and counsel for his son. Another guy I read about had different friends of his meet his son for a long hike during which they took turns passing on advice to him as they walked together. Yet another idea was a “tribute” dinner where everyone offered “toasts of counsel” to the guest of honor. I still like the idea I got from that little kid on the boat and his dad the best. The boy is now in his late thirties and I have no idea whatever became of him. But a brief interaction with this boy and his dad nearly two decades ago sure did a lot to enrich my relationship with my own children.
Having a rite of passage event or two for any child may be something worthy of consideration. It’s a great time to talk about values, principles, goals and future plans. It’s also a great time to talk about nothing, just hang out, make a few memories, and pose for a handful of pictures – all of which may bond your relationship for some future moments of stress or trial.
Now two of my kids are out of the nest. One of them is married to an awesome guy and they will present us with our first grandchild in a few weeks. My remaining two are in their final years of living under our roof. A different phase of life for us is just around the country. At this point, I have more to look back upon than to which I am looking forward in terms of being a parent. But in my mind, memory and heart, I cherish those days we spent together celebrating the passages of adolescence and young adulthood.
I hope you’ll consider a few planned special trips, days and celebrations as your children grow up and make a plan to transfer spiritual values, family heritage and privileges of maturity as they get closer to the days when they too will be parents traversing the pains and pleasures of rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
A week ago today, I listed two open positions we have at our church for which I am recruiting. Over the last week, I’ve received several hundred resumes from folks looking for employment in the ministry. As a professor for Liberty University in their graduate program, I‘ve learned that during this time of difficult economy, there are many who are engaging in advanced degree programs wanting to change the over-all qualifications they possess with an eye toward going into ministry and this has produced a large number of “older” students who are trying to “break-in” to ministry work.. Add to that the number of churches which are declining in attendance or experiencing financial difficulties and are cutting back which results in dismissals and layoffs, there is just an unusually large number of people looking for ministry openings and also a smaller than normal pool of opportunities.
I’m in a position where I can only afford to give each resume and cover letter maybe 2-3 minutes of review if I have any hope of staying ahead of the tsunami of applicants. I’ve learned, from personal experience, that it is very frustrating to be on the applicant end and to send someone your carefully-worded cover letter and meticulously-dcveloped resume only to have it disappeared into some cyberspace abyss with nary any indication that it was received, considered or anything else. Therefore, I send a very brief acknowledgement when I receive a resume that gives our timeline for making a decision and a second email whenever they are no longer in consideration. I have found that folks are very appreciative of any communication at all and I think it’s just courteous to do something so that they don’t feel locked in limbo.
Quite a few will then write me back upon learning they are no longer under consideration and ask for advice on how they can get further in a process with their next effort. I think this is a legitimate question and as a result, I’ve developed a template reply for those requests as well as I think it is important to help those who are sincerely asking.
Here’s some of what I’ve been telling them and I share it here in hopes that it might help others:
Here are some pointers and tips that are important for me, if not others…
- Use email and a file attachment. Paper resumes are SO yesterday. I hate shuffling the paperwork. When I print one out, that’s a good sign — that means someone has made the first-round cut.
- I expect very few, if any, typographical errors. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
- I enjoy a professional and warm cover letter without being overly familiar or casual. I don’t need hip vernacular, easy complements about our amazing website, a real long history, etc… At this stage of the process, I just focus on facts. Concise, bullet-pointed, facts. Gushy add-ons about having the most beautiful spouse in the world and the smartest children in the world, etc… seem rather out of place.
- Photographs invariably catch my attention and I ALWAYS look at them, but they should be careful. I look for discernment in the photos. Give me a picture of your wife or your older daughters in plunging necklines or short-shorts and I’m concerned about what I might have to deal with as you become a ministry leader of serious grown-ups and believers. It’s not about legalism, it’s about propriety, modesty, dignity and wisdom.
- This may sound superficial and even discriminatory, but I’m going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. If you are sending me a picture, remember that appearance DOES count. If you are 27 years old and pushing the scales at 300 pounds, I’ve gotta’ tell you that I’m thinking about diabetes, heart disease, insurance rates and a whole lot of other negative things. If you dress like you’re still in high school and you are 40 or if you dress like a mortician and you’re 22, that doesn’t just slide by unnoticed. I don’t want to see pictures of you at a birthday party. I do like seeing pictures of you in the midst of ministry as long as they don’t look staged or cheesy. And yep, if you have cute kids, a dalmation and a lovely wife, those pictures leave good impressions as well. However, if your kids are into goth, your wife dress like she’s Amish and you own a pet boa constrictor — I’d leave those lovely photos for some other time.
- Concise – Anything more than 2 – rarely 3 – pages doesn’t get fully read. I don’t care where you went to High School or that someone once worked at Taco Bell. Edit, condense, repeat.
- Professional Achievements – Anything published, awards, recognitions, unusual opportunities give me a reason to remember you.
- Anything Extraordinary – Did you start something from scratch, have you done ‘extreme’ ministry somewhere, have you worked in multi-cultural settings, are you related to D. L. Moody, do you speak multiple languages, have you had the Virgin Mary appear on a honeybun at breakfast, etc…?
- Transparency – I love that. Brutal honesty always catches my attention. If you have a wonderful testimony of God’s redemptive grace in your life — I want to know that. If you’ve had a couple of really horrific ministry experiences and are hurting — you’ll find a sympathetic ear from me if it isn’t presented in a way that is manipulative or indicates you are still carrying tons of baggage. But no one is perfect. I already know that. So help me not to go have to search for the issues.
- Something I just learned – I’d put my “Letter of Introduction/Cover Letter” in the text of the email to which you attach your resume. I found it laborious to open more than one file attachment per applicant.
- I liked when applicants gave me a click-through link to their blog or a vimeo link to a sermon or lesson. It’s not part of the first-level screening, but definitely will be later on.
- I’m generally suspicious if there is NO internet footprint at all when I google a name of someone. It either says that they’ve scrubbed their available information from the internet or that they are really young/bland or maybe both.
- Please don’t nag me. It’s OK to ask once for an update if you haven’t heard anything, but PLEASE don’t call me, don’t email me every day and DO NOT SHOW UP at my office or church saying you were “just in the area.” That’s almost always an automatic, “no thanks” from me.
None of those are “deal-breakers” – but let’s be honest, when you receive hundreds of applications, the “little things” can be the difference between moving ahead and staying behind. Obviously, ultimately this is a spiritual exercise rife with human judgments. We all clearly want the Lord’s will, but at the end of the process – there are some very subjective criteria involved as well. My wife and I once had a birth mother select us to adopt her child over another couple because we had a picture of our toy poodle with us in our introduction packet. Go figure.
So I leave those thoughts and observations with you in an effort to sharpen you and encourage you. As one who works with tons of young people breaking into the ministry and as one who has hired literally hundreds and hundreds of Christian school teachers, pastors, support staff, etc… over the years – I hope these observations will be helpful to you.
If you say this can’t happen or it can’t happen quickly– I have one word for you: Obamacare.
They keep saying, “Hunter’s don’t need ‘assault’ rifles.” That’s like saying, “Writer’s don’t need to be able to draw political cartoons.”
That is not the point of the 1st Amendment and hunting is not the point of the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is not about our right to hunt. It is about our right to protect ourselves from Tyranny. If the 1st Amendment can be construed to protect pornography and lying about your military service awards (both upheld by the SCOTUS), then the 2nd Amendment must be interpreted to protect types of guns that some might find “offensive”.
The NRA needs to step back out of the shadows and get front and center about this NOW. This is not a time for weakness or fear of being unpopular. What if Obama/Holder decide to do by Executive Order what they may not be able to do legislatively with gun control? With each power grab, this President looks more and more like Hugo Chavez and remember, he has been popularly elected by the poor and ignorant over and over again.
Obama is polarizing this country so deeply and quickly that conversations about secession and even the potential for Civil War are now being held in previously polite circles. If the American public thought that what happened on December 14th was a massacre, how much more of a massacre should be expected should they try to take the guns of 60 million determined and ticked-off gun owners by force? But in the words of Rahm Emmanuel, this administration is not going to “waste a good crisis” in order to advance their agenda at the expense of our liberties. They keep drawing the line deeper, clearer and more deeply on OUR side of the Constitution. These are dangerous days of shocking change. We must be vigilant in educating others.
Never under-estimate the tenacity with which extremist liberals and socialists and their media machine are prepared to exercise their power in order to get their way.
The family of Judge Robert Bork released news of his death this morning. Bork was an intellectual giant and would have arguably been one of the greatest Supreme Court Justices in American history. But like a promiseing military officer cut down in an early battle of a long war, Bork was never allowed to display his brilliance. It is widely thought that his intellect would have even over-shadowed the current reputation of Antonin Scalia who is often regarded as the conservative “heavy” on the court. One of the greatest travesties of the 20th century was the hatchet job that Teddy Kennedy did on the brilliant Bork. So vile was the attack, a new verb was coined to describe an unfair political assault on an individual - “borking”. (In March 2002, the Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for the verb Bork as U.S. political slang, with this definition: “To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.)
The unusually partisan battle over his nomination plagues nominees to this day as character assassination and political one-upmanship are now modus operendi — particularly for conservative nominees. Feminist Florence Kennedy used the term “borking” to describe what she was attempting to do when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Court. Another legacy of this political assassination has been that anyone nominated to the Supreme Court from that day to this one, know better than to clearly state his/her opinions or philosophy during the confirmation hearings. Today’s nominees must be nearly stealth candidates who know how to hide their records and their opinions until they are sworn in.
Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy after Bork was voted down (he refused to withdraw his name even when he knew he would be defeated as a show of defiance to what was happening) rather than to choose another strong conservative. To this day, Kennedy is a squishy conservative at best, often playing the role of deciding vote on many cases.
Bork would later write a book in 2003 entitled, “Slouching Toward Gomorrah” which was prophetic tome that remains a must read for thinking conservatives in my opinion.
America is poorer today because he never served on the Supreme Court and sadly, while the immoral Kennedy was celebrated as a hero upon his death, few will genuinely reflect on what might have been now that Bork has passed.
Faith was never meant for easy times. It is rarely necessary then. Faith is reserved instead for the hard times — those times when we are outraged or in agony, when God seem absent or apathetic, when no cliche will encourage and no sacrifice brings real comfort. We need it in isolation, we need it when we find ourselves lonely in a crowd, we need it when all we really want to do is quit, give in, roll-up in a ball and go to sleep with the hope that we’ll never wake up to this current nightmare. It is at THOSE times, when we dig deep and find our Faith — our hope, our confidence, our reason for continuing. And then we blow off the debris of our sin and circumstances, the milieu of a fallen creation and the tsunami of debris that the Fall has created for all who live. No, Faith is not for the easy times and rarely is it easy to have faith. Faith is for the hard times. Sometimes allowing Faith to be “enough” is difficult. But without faith, it is impossible to really know him and the hope that only He provides. –DLB
This time of year, we often start getting wonderful Christmas cards by thoughtful people. Several years ago, I noticed that many of these cards cost $5 or more bucks apiece. Postage is another .45 cents. Every year since then, I’ve tried to respectfully suggest that if you intend on doing this, I’d be most appreciative if you would send me an email saying “Merry Christmas” and let me know how you are doing and then taking that $5 or more dollars and donating it to the Cuban ministry I support.
I’ve literally been privileged to funnel tens of thousands of dollars — probably more than $100K to the important work that is going on with national pastors in Cuba. Right now, we are supporting over 30 national pastors in their work. $5 takes care of a family for about 4 full days. None of it is taken for administrative work — we pay our own travel and expenses. 100% goes to Cuban ministry. So if you’d not send us a card, but would take that money and assign it to my Cuban Missionary fund, I’d be most grateful blessed and you’ll then have a part in this amazing work that the Lord has been blessing for over a decade now. Many thanks! The link to give online is HERE.
Just mark it to go to the “Cuba Fund” and it will get to the account I have set up there and it is fully tax deductible.
Also….this is just a warning, but I’m getting ready to start raising some funds for a REALLY FUN project we’re doing in Cuba, so set aside some fun mon for that in the near future.
(I don’t mind raising funds for things that do not benefit me. None of this does. If it offends you, it is not my intention. Just say “no” and keep on moving. It doesn’t offend me if you don’t want to help out. It’s just that the Lord has used this blog to bless some really fantastic national pastors around the world over the years and I love being a small part of that.)
So what does everyone think about how the world would respond if Prince William and Kate announced tomorrow that due to health issues caused by morning sickness that they have decided to terminate her pregnancy and hope that the next try would be easier on her? (Or perhaps they discovered it was a girl and they really, really wanted a boy as heir?) Would everyone shrug their shoulders and say, “Her body, her choice?” Would they say, “It’s just a clump of cells anyone — you know…a “fetus”.” Would some publicly praise her courage and independence in reaching this decision? Would the “right to choose” remain a solemn declaration of the Pro-Abortion values set?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
There would be outrage! Disgust! Popularity would plummet. You see….everyone sees her “product of conception” as a BABY. Brits have attached their hopes, dreams and aspirations of a future monarch to this “non-person” who is less than three months beyond conception. Countless others await the royal pregnancy from baby bump to the first time he/she is held up to adoring crowds thronging the street in front of Buckingham Palace. While liberals and democrats and misogynists and racists and feminists want the world to think a pre-born child is not a human, not worthy of personhood, not filled with potential, not important enough to be nurtured and loved — thinking people, when faced with the realities of how they would respond should such a scenario transpire, must admit that it is.
Indeed. A. Baby.
About a year ago, Laurette Theriault visiting Life Fellowship in metro-Charlotte, NC (Davidson/Cornelius/Huntersville/Lake Norman area) and God began a miraculous change in her life. Shortly after her first time attending, she trusted Christ as her Savior and she has found her purpose in life. Her’s is a story of a life filled with pain, challenges, offenses and even desperation — until she found the grace that only God can give. I would challenge you to watch her brief testimony which was recently shown at the conclusion of our morning worship services. Regularly, we like to share the stories of people in the LIFE family who have seen their life challenged and change because of TRUTH. Ours is not a church of professional “Christians”, religious ritualism or convenience and comfort. It is, however, a body that is committed to substance over style, depth over breadth, transparency over illusion and authenticity over role-playing.
LIFE means four things for us who call this their church home:
LIVING in community
INVESTING in growth
FINDING our purpose
EMBRACING our mission
Our mission is to “Pursue at all costs, the passionate, God-centered LIFE!”
I’d urge you to come pay us a visit sometime. We meet in the Community School of Davidson on Griffith Avenue in Davidson next to the Harris Teeter. We have four morning worship services available and a fully-graded teaching ministry that covers infants through adults.