We talk a lot about growing our church, and so we should. It’s important to be clear on what we are trying to grow toward. For the past thirty years or so, the focus of most literature on local church ministry has been church growth. These all suggest that the small church is somehow deficient, ill-equipped to be stewards the Gospel. If a small church wants to be better, it has to be bigger. Small churches—which, by the way, make up the majority of churches—are uniquely equipped for ministry success just in different ways. Here are some strengths that I believe are inherent in small congregations.
Almost intuitively, church leaders recognize that their church needs to be perceived as ‘authentic’ if they want people to visit and come back. One poll reveals that the number one reason people return to churches after an initial visit is because they deem the church “authentic.” The next most popular reason is the pastor’s preaching. Church programs only pulled five percent of the vote. Our church has this one pretty much nailed down. We are welcoming in a genuine, authentic way whenever we have visitors. Two statements to keep in mind about what authenticity means and why smaller churches are at an advantage for putting it to work are:
- First, be yourself. We are who we are. When folks do decide to come to a second visit, we must be the same all the time.
- Second, make sure your behavior lines up with your stated convictions. Churches claim to be a family, but the larger the church, the more likely it is to be run like a business. Small churches, on the other hand, more often truly function as a family. We must convey our willingness to bring people into our lives.
Lean and Focused
One reason larger churches can attract attendees from across a region is because they have the resources to offer a little something for everyone. Smaller churches don’t have the financial resources or the volunteer pool to run a broad schedule of programs. Not to worry. Instead of running a multitude of generic programs, a better use of resources and energy in the small church is to zero in on one or two things that focus on the unique needs of your local context. Here in the Palos Verdes area, we have a large equestrian community and many civic groups of senior citizens. If we all look for ways to engage just these groups, we can be very effective.
Let’s get a church member to join one or more of these groups. You will enjoy the fellowship and be an ambassador for the church! Rather than pressuring church members to turn all their gifts and service inward, we can have a greater impact in the community when we equip and encourage our people to keep serving where they are already active.
Ministry on the Margins
According research, the largest churches attract a fairly well-defined demographic. The average age of a megachurch attendee is 40. Nearly a third are single and, on the whole, the megachurch crowd is more educated and wealthier than the average members of smaller churches. But which churches are reaching the people who fall outside this demographic and location? Small churches. Smaller churches can become an integral part of the local fabric of their communities.
None of these ideas is guaranteed to grow our church numerically (nothing is, in fact), but fostering the authenticity that comes more naturally to our smaller church will make our church a safe place for the disillusioned. Fostering people-powered ministry can make us a more integral, visible part of the local community. These efforts may not be as glamorous as church growth strategies. But they will equip us to participate in Kingdom growth—to watch how God can take our mustard seed and turn it into great harvest for his glory. We are a small church, let’s make the most of what we have and who we are.
June is the month we recognize and celebrate fathers. The Bible lists several dads who were the kind of fathers whose examples are worth following. Let’s look at four fathers in the Bible who got the attention of heaven. On one hand what they did was spectacular. On the other hand, they only did what is expected of every dad. The men we will consider as follow-worthy fathers are: Noah, Abraham, Job and Joshua. These four guys are household names. They are super-heroes of the faith. Yet each of them did something which today’s dad can easily duplicate.
Noah – saved the race, by saving his family. When the world was falling apart one father went about life in such a way as to find favor with God in heaven. He dared to be different rather than cowering to the spiritual climate of his peers. When the Lord looked at the world he saw a dismal picture. As He considered Noah, God devised a redemptive plan. He decided on a way to save the one man who did what was right – and his family.
Abraham was the founder of a nation. The Lord chose to set a nation apart in order to begin the process of redeeming the world through His mercy to that nation. To raise up that nation He chose a man who would lead his children in the way God wanted him to. Abraham followed God and trusted God even when it called for sacrifice. Because he was faithful, not only was the nation of Israel founded, as the covenant provided, all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Job – prayed for his children. Job got God’s attention. Not because he was the richest man around, but because he was blameless and because as a father he faithfully prayed for his children. Job’s faithfulness in this responsibility has always impressed me. He prayed for his children just in case any of them had sinned. He didn’t wait for a neighbor to report he had seen one of his children doing wrong. He knew the weakness of human nature. He prayed for them “whether they needed it or not.”
Joshua – chose the Lord for his family Josh. When Israel was about to enter her third generation of leadership, Joshua set the example for every home in the nation. Not only that, he also set the tone for every father who would follow after him. When we leave this world our greatest legacy is the one which shows the direction we left. The most important thing we can do in our death is to is to let those we leave know where we are going – where you stand with the Lord.
Joshua as much as told Israel, “I don’t know what you will do when I’m not here. But this is what hope you will do.” (GB) What made Joshua a great father to follow was his determination that he and his family would follow the Lord.
Four famous fathers. Men who loved their families and served the Lord.
Noah who lived different from the people around him.
Abraham who instructed his family in the ways of the Lord.
Job who prayed for his family, that their hearts would stay pure.
Joshua who chose the Lord to be Lord of his home.
They have been famous on earth and they will be famous in heaven. They set their families on a godly path leading by example. They did right when it would have been easier, even acceptable to do wrong. They prayed faithfully for their children. And they chose the Lord as God of their life and let everyone know it. You can do those things. Start with choosing the Lord. Then live for God and let everyone know it. You can make a world of difference.
Change is inevitable but how we prepare to respond to it is a lifelong challenge. Let us learn how to make the most of life’s undulating cycles by learning all we can from the life of Joseph. He experienced numerous ups and downs yet finished victoriously.
First, Joseph rejoiced in his Father’s favor, but was sold into Egyptian slavery. Then, Joseph rose to a position of trust in Pharaoh’s court, but was soon cast into prison, then raised to lead all of Egypt. Next, Joseph was living in comfort, then was cast into misfortune but was soon raise up to a level of honor, then down again into a valley of shame. These cycles of ups and downs are a part of every person’s and nations’ cycles. No person can be assured of a continual straight line of episodes.
Life is always a cycle of light and darkness, sweetness and bitterness, glory and shame, hope and fear, joy and sorrow. Do not think it strange when you are going through a roller coaster experience. Ask the Lord to help you to take up the full armor of God so that you can prepare for the evil day and the changes that will be required of you. It would have been easy for Joseph to retaliate against his brothers for selling him into slavery, but he chose to see things through the proper perspective. Trust the Lord to help you learn to see more things through the providential eyes of God.
Christians need to remember that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth. God does not want us to become so secure, comfortable and identified with this world that we start to rely on it instead of Him. Ask the Lord to help you to remember the words of the old hymn, “This world is not your home, I’m just a passin through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door so I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
Joseph knew that at any hour human prosperity, health or security might be taken away. The great patriarch realized that God has the right to allow adversity, troubles and suffering to come into our life for His purposes. He will not tempt us above our strength. The Lord has the prerogative of changing our honor to shame, our success into defeat, our joy into sorrow, our lowliness into elevation. Ask the Lord to help you to put your trust more on God’s sovereign power, wisdom and loving care. When Joseph was first transported to Egypt as a slave, he must have felt like despairing of life, yet he knew that God was with him. (Acts 7:9,10)
We must trust the Lord to send light when it seems darkest. Always learn to look for the silver lining behind every dark cloud. Joseph learned to trust and wait on God until the storms of life past. You may not have a super Doppler radar view of the movement, severity or composition of the storm, but you are in relations with the controller of everything. Trust the Lord to help you see the sunshine through the rain. Be thankful for the privilege of being a part of God’s plans to bring sunshine to the hearts of people around you through Christ and His word.
Remember, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
The book of Ecclesiastes points out that there is a time (or season) for everything. In Chapter 3, vs. 1 – 4, it reads’…”to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap (harvest) that which is planted.”
So, what is a season? For our purposes, a season in our life is a time frame that has been allotted for something to happen. God has so arranged it so that things here on earth and in our lives operate in seasons. Seasons are basically divided into two types… seasons of seedtime (preparation) and seasons of harvest (reaping from what has been sewn during the season of seed time). During a season, things around us are orchestrated in such a manner that our efforts are supported. Consider the farmer…. his goal is to produce a large crop of something, sell it, and receive money for it. We see that he cannot however; get to the money until he properly goes through the seasons required to produce a crop to harvest. As he goes through each season, he must do the right things… (cultivate the soil, fertilize etc.) otherwise, he won’t successfully produce a crop that will bring him the reward he desires. So it is in our lives. When we desire to be successful, we must observe the seasons that we are to go through and perform properly (do the right thing) as we pass through each.
What happens when we miss a season? Basically we don’t have the wind at our back, helping to blow us in the direction that we’re trying to go. We are in a particular season of life here at First Baptist Church of Palos Verdes. There were times in our past when the harvest was plentiful, a full sanctuary, a youth program, Pastors who served faithfully for many years. Just like the farmer however, seasons change. There are years when a field must lie fallow, or unplanted, so that the soil can rejuvenate. During that season, that field will produce no crop but the farmer is not worried. Nor is our God. He knows that once the soil has rested for a period, it is ready and able to return to the cycle. Seedtime (preparation) for us is deciding who will be our members going forward, discerning how to reach those people, and preparing our church to be a welcoming place for them. If we cultivate and seed appropriately, nourish with hard work and water with prayer, God will bring the harvest.
What happens when we get ahead of a season of God in life? In the book of Genesis, we find the story of Abraham and Sarah. God promises, in spite of their old age, that Sarah will have a son. They were happy but doubtful. So, they decided to get ahead of God – to get ahead of their season. Of course we know that Sarah gave Abraham her slave girl, who them bore him a son. But then…. the true season of God came to pass and, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. It was through that son, Isaac, that the promised legacy would be fulfilled. However, this getting-ahead-of-God cause great strife between Sarah, Hagar, Abraham and their sons. The sons of Isaac would become the Hebrews, and ultimately lead to Jesus. The sons of Ishmael would ultimately become the Muslims. This has had consequences to this very day. So when we get ahead of seasons of God in our lives we can open ourselves to hurt and permanent damage.
Let’s decide what God wants us to do today, here, now. Let us be faithful in preparation so that we will be blessed in the harvest. Look to our own lives as well and ask ourselves, what season does God have us in? And are we prepared to follow him through the seasons he has set before us in faith?
Did you know the word church is not found in the Old Testament. The first person that I know of that used this term was Jesus himself. He is the one who initiated the concept of church. In the New Testament the word church is used 73 times. It is a New Testament concept.
Before we look at what the church is – let me say what it is not. It is not a social club. It is not a business. It is not a museum. The church is not even a building. Did you know that that the first Christians did not even have the concept of the church as being a building? How could they – they had no buildings – but they still had churches. What is the Church then?
The Bible says the church is a FELLOWSHIP
Fellowship is not just something the church is – it’s something we do. What is fellowship? You’re all headed in the same direction. You get to know each other and associate with one another because you’re going in the same direction. That’s what fellowship is. Fellowship is all of us together heading in the same direction. As Christians, we’re all headed to heaven. God wants us to be in unity with one another. Think of this: We are all going to spend eternity with one another; shouldn’t we get good at getting along?
In First Peter we find: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” 1 Peter 3:8-9
The Bible says the church is a FAMILY Did you know that when you become a Christian some things change? God becomes your Father, Jesus becomes your Savior and other Christians become your brothers and sisters. We are part of God’s family – that is why we can pray together the Lord’s prayer and say, “Out Father who art in Heaven…” How do families operate? They operate on the basis of relationships, like a family – that’s what the Bible says. The Bible says we’re to treat each other like a family because we are children of God. We are to get along like brothers and sisters in Christ. And, yes, brothers and sisters sometimes squabble but in the end, they have each other’s back. We are to treat each other with respect. We are to listen to our Father and obey Him. We’re not a country club. The Bible says we are family.
The Bible also says the church is a FLOCK This was Jesus’ favorite description of the church. He called it “My little flock”. Therefore, the church is cared for and led by shepherds. Shepherds lead, feed and oversee. In a church a pastor is to take care of a flock. My primary job is to lead, feed and oversee. The shepherd is to take care of the flock. I want you to notice something in John 21. Not one time did Jesus ask Peter if he loved sheep. He asked Peter if he loved him. I think what Jesus is saying is if you love me – love my sheep also. In the New Testament we are told to – greet one another – encourage one another – live at peace with one another – build up one another – comfort one another – admonish one another – love one another. A flock is to watch out for one another. So it is in the church. We are to watch out for one another. We are a fellowship, we are a family, we are flock.
Loving my little flock, my church family
I was reading some of Billy Graham’s thoughts about Easter and I wanted to share this question and answer exchange with you.
Question: I have a friend who doesn’t bother with God or church most of the year, but as Easter approaches she suddenly gets religious—goes to church, observes Lent and so forth. Do you think she’s a real Christian, or is it all fake?
Answer: Only God knows your friend’s heart, and whether or not she sincerely wants to follow Jesus and has committed her life to Him. Perhaps a seed of faith was planted in her heart as a child, and as Easter approaches she senses a need to have it grow.
However, the Bible does warn us against simply going through the motions, but not allowing God to touch our hearts and lives. In other words, if Christ means nothing to us most of the year, it may well mean that our faith is not real, and our sudden burst of religious activity isn’t genuine. The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). After all, if we truly understand who Jesus is—the divine Son of God who died for our sins and rose again by the power of God for our salvation—how can we treat Him casually? How can we live as if He were unimportant? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Pray for your friend, that during this Easter season she may come to understand how great God’s love is for her, and respond by giving her life without reserve to Jesus Christ. Pray, too, that as we approach Easter this year you also may see Jesus in a deeper way, and commit your life more fully to Him.
Clearly Dr. Graham’s advice to pray for the friend is critical. Notice also though, his admonition to commit our own lives more deeply to Jesus. We talk a lot about those who “only come at Christmas and Easter”. Do we have some responsibility in that? I know we often reach out to friends and family to come on the big holidays but what about all those other Sundays? Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. WE are the heralds of God’s Word and are called upon to speak it everywhere.
Jesus is not a guest speaker that comes through twice a year, he is here EVERY Sunday. Consider your own dedication to the church. Are you there every Sunday? Are there other things ‘more important’ that come up that takes you away on Sunday morning? Don’t forget that this issue is bigger even than your own personal walk with the
Lord. When your seat in the pew is empty, newcomers that may visit see a church that is weak and anemic. Its own people don’t show up so why would I want to come here?
This Eastern season let’s get started early on those ‘come to Easter Sunday’ invitations but commit to make that same kind of outreach through the year. And don’t forget that there is Bible Study on Wednesday and teaching classes on Thursday nights. Don’t just tell people about these things, come and bring them with you!
We are working through the book of Nehemiah this month with an eye towards the idea of “A time to build”. Of course, we want to build the church and we want to do so to the glory of God. Nehemiah wanted to rebuild the home of the Hebrews, the city of Jerusalem. To do this, the people made four vows, or promises, that they put in writing and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in Nehemiah 10:1-27.
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers 30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I think they are for at least two reasons. First, they help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that you are going to do something specific. Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. Love is more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death do us part. Third, God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone. Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant on a regular basis.
So let’s consider making a few vows to build (or re-build) First Baptist Church of Palos Verdes. Remember, however, we don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them. Having said that, many of us never come to the point of getting serious with God simply because we never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be completely committed to Him, we won’t be. Perhaps the idea of re-building the church has challenged or convicted you before the Lord. Listen to Him and decide to put into practice what you know you need to do. Here are a few things we can vow to do for God’s church:
- Vow #1: Submission to God’s Word – As a result of hearing God’s Word, the Israelites made four decisions. The “bound themselves with an oath to follow the law” (Nehemiah 10:29) The people were saying that they are so seriously submitted to God and His Word that they are willing for God’s displeasure to fall on them if they do not carefully obey what He says. I wonder if we have that same submission and dangerous devotion today? Does God have all of you?
- Vow #2: Separation from the World – After submitting themselves to God and His Word, the believers make a second vow to separate themselves from worldliness. When you think about it, separation is simply total devotion to God, no matter what the cost. The Israelites separated from the peoples around them and to God and His Word.
- Vow #3: Sabbath for God’s People – After pledging themselves to submit to the Word of God and to live separated lives, the believers renew the covenant with a third vow: the Sabbath for God’s people. This was a day to be dedicated to the Lord. Do we make that commitment? Does anything else take precedence on your Sunday?
- Vow #4: Support For God’s Work -That leads to their fourth pledge: support for God’s work in verses 10:32-39. The phrase “house of our God” is used nine times in this section and refers to the restored temple. Verse 39 sums up their commitment: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
To God be the glory!