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Can a Dying Church Find Life? Six Radical Steps to “Yes”

December 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Each month when I write the Banner article, I read other such articles for ideas and thoughts that match what God has put on my heart.  Then I write what is appropriate for FBCPV.  This month, I posted a condensed version of an article that is so on point that I wanted to share it.  Would love to hear your thoughts.   Pastor Rich

Can a Dying Church Find Life? Six Radical Steps to “Yes”

By Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

The title of this post has a bit of irony. If a church is dying, it cannot then by definition find life.

I must say from a pure statistical perspective, most churches with the symptoms I noted will die within a matter of a few years. Though I don’t have hard data, I would be comfortable suggesting that the percentage exceeds 99 percent.  But among the American churches on a death march, there is that rare exception, that one in 1,000, that extraordinary situation where a church defies all the man-made odds and moves from near death to health. Those churches are rare, but they do exist. In the midst of the gloomy news of terminal churches, I took a look at a few churches that had all the signs of impending death and then turned around to life. All of them of which I have knowledge were located in dramatically shifting demographics. They weren’t merely churches that were unhealthy; they were dying. Even the most casual observer would have predicted the imminent demise of these congregations. They were truly sick unto death. So how did these churches do it?

 

  1. A leader must rise and be willing to lead the church toward radical transformation regardless of the personal costs to him. That leader is typically a new pastor in the church, but it does not have to be.
  2. A significant group in the church must admit that they are desperate for help. The significance of the group could be their sheer size; for example, they could be a majority of active members. Or the significance could be the influence of those in the group rather than the number. This group must lead the church from denial to a painful awakening to reality.
  3. That same group must confess guilt. They failed to reach the community. They held on to the idolatry of yesterday. They were only comfortable with “our kind of people.” They saw the church to be a place where their needs were met and personal preferences catered.
  4. The group must have an utter, desperate, and prayerful dependence on God. They can no longer look at the way they’ve always done it as the path for the future. They must fall on their faces before God and seek His way and only His way.
  5. The church must be willing to storm the community with love. The church can’t assuage their guilt by having a food and clothes pantry where community residents come to them once a week. Members must go into the community, love the unlovable, reach out to the untouchable, and give sacrificially of time, money, and heart. The community must be amazed by these church members.
  6. The church must relinquish control. If the church reaches the community, the community will come to the church. They may be poorer. They may have different colors of skin. They may speak differently. They may have a radically different culture than members of the church. If the church is truly to reach the community, it must be joyfully willing to let the community have control of the church. This attitude is radically different than welcoming the outsiders to “our church.” It is an attitude that says it is now “your church.”

Most readers likely understand the low likelihood of such a transformation taking place. It is so rare that, when it happens, it is often given the name “miracle.” But we serve the God of miracles. Maybe we should expect more. Maybe we should do more.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Election, at long last, is over

November 1, 2016 Leave a comment

As fellow believers, we offer to our new leaders the pledge of our prayers and our commitment to be good citizens in this wonderful land that the Lord has privileged us to live in. By the time you read these thoughts, the election will have taken place. The people have spoken. We have chosen a new President. Some of you are jubilant, some are outraged. Without knowing who won, I want us to consider first the Kingdom of God and understand that our responsibilities as Christians transcend politics – and we must be who we are regardless of who won.

Early Christians lived in a time far different than ours. Life was cheap. Government was a repressive dictatorship. Slavery was practiced. Christians then, unlike us, did not have the right to vote. In fact, throughout the first 200 plus years of the Church, Christians were a persecuted minority. Yet, those early Christians turned the world upside down and right side up. Through the ballot box? No. Through electing leaders that were preferential to their point of view? No. They changed the world by being what Jesus called them to be – salt and light. Governments and political leaders come and go – but the kingdom of God lasts forever. The apostles told the first century Christians five things.

  1. God is the sovereign Lord over human history and government. In Romans 13, Paul wrote: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. The results of this election did not catch God by surprise. Although we voted, nothing happens without God’s permissive will. Sometimes our vote results in leaders who fail us and they become a means of God’s judgment; other times leaders follow God’s heart and they become a means of God’s blessing.
  2. Government is designed to restrain and punish those who do evil. Paul calls human government God’s servant to do good by bringing punishment on the wrongdoer. They are to approve what is right, and disapprove what is wrong; and thereby serve the cause of justice. Paul’s view was that the Roman dictatorship, as bad as it was, was preferable to anarchy. When there is no government, everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.
  3. Pay what you owe. None of us necessarily like the third counsel given to early Christians – but, in Romans 13:6-7 you’ll find it: if you owe taxes, pay taxes! Need I say more? Without taxes, the government cannot provide the duty it owes citizens to keep them safe from harm.
  4. Living under any desirable or undesirable government – PRAY! Paul writes to Timothy: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – the kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-5) Let’s offer to God both intercession and thanksgiving for those elected to office. Paul asked the church to pray that the oppressive and persecuting hand of the government would be stayed. And, early Christians kept praying even amidst fierce opposition and martyrdoms.
  5. We are to show respect for those who hold office – whether executive, judicial, or legislative; whether national, state, or local; whether Republican, Democrat, Independent, or other parties. The NT explicitly tells us to do that. Paul said, “Give everyone what you owe him . . . if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor (Romans 13:7). Peter said the same thing, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). As believers, we can help set a better tone for the national discussion. We can hold to our views without being unkind, without rancorous voices, without becoming filled with anger or hatred toward those with opposing views. Our goal, as Christians, is not to win an election, but to win people to Jesus. Now that the campaigns are over, let the real campaign begin. Let’s pray that the Lord will send to America a Great Spiritual Awakening – that the glory of the Lord will break forth in the lives of our fellow citizens.

May God bless America as America blesses God!

Pastor Rich

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Part Time or Full Time Christian?

October 1, 2016 Leave a comment

I must confess I’ve hesitated to write this month’s Banner article. Not consciously, mind you, just trying to think of something to write about other than what’s at the top of my mind. However, I need to share a burden I have for our beloved church. Over the last three years we have had a small but steady increase in attendance and this has been a blessing to me. As we near the end of 2016, we are faced with a real challenge. You see, I get so many comments from past and present members about how wonderful our church is, how the fellowship is special and real. We have folks show up regularly who haven’t been around that drop in to worship. That’s the problem.

Many of the members on our roster are only seen occasionally. Some drop by 5-6 times a year and are please, they say, to be here. My question is where are they the other 30-40 Sundays? Any church survives by the commitment of its members expressed not only in their regular attendance but in their giving and their participation. Even the most spiritually rich church cannot afford to have a large number of ‘part time’ Christians. We have been studying the Book of Revelation over the last few weeks and this passage just haunts me; Revelation 3:14-18 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

What’s frightening about this statement is that a lot of people in this world who call themselves Christians are lukewarm. They fall into the category of part time Christian. They might go to church on Sundays, tithe every time we go. But the real question is, have they given ourselves completely to God? What about us? Are we a part time or full time Christian? A part time Christian picks and chooses what they will or will not do for God. They’ll get to church most Sunday ‘s they can but won’t be on time. They’ll be on time, but don’t tithe in any regular way. They’ll go to Sunday School, but not Worship service. They’ll go to Worship service but not Beacon Light. Part time Christians are only willing to do it part of the way. But Isaiah 29:13 states: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain.” When we simply honor God with our words, but our actions say we really don’t, He is not pleased. We don’t have the option of picking and choosing when our walk is with God. We don’t have the option of serving God today and not serving Him tomorrow.

We are coming to a time when a number of our regular, full-time, dedicated members are moving on to other parts of the country. This is a good thing for them because as we get older, moving closer to family is right and appropriate. May God bless those whose plans will take them away from us. What that means, however, is that if his little church is to survive, we must now get all our part-time members to become full time members in order to stand in the gap of those who are leaving. In addition, the outreach to the community needs to become more active, and we need to bring in more new people. No church can stand against the normal attrition of age and health issues. We must rededicate ourselves to growing the church. It starts with each one of us. We should be full time, because God is full time to us. He loves us full time. He cares for us full time. He provides for us full time. He gave us full time help when He empowered us with the Holy Spirit. So why would we want to be anything but full time.

Loving you all,

Pastor Rich

 

Categories: Uncategorized

We are all to be Missionaries

September 1, 2016 Leave a comment

What is a great church? For many Americans, great is synonymous with large, volume equals vitality quantity means quality. Whereas the average Protestant congregation is small, the average Protestant goes to a large church. Half of American Protestants are members of the largest 15 percent of churches. One church official put into words what many silently believe: “A small church can be defined as one in which the number of active members and the total annual budget are inadequate relative to organizational needs and expenses. It is a church struggling to pay its minister, heat its building, and find enough people to assume leadership responsibilities.”
But a counter-tradition is quietly emerging. As more churches grow to stadium proportions, small congregations are coming to see their small size as an asset for mission. Scripture is clear that there are many ways we are to “Go”. In Act 1:8 we read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Just because we are small does not mean we are exempt from this directive.
It is not true that small churches don’t have the resources to do effective mission. As Carl Dudley writes, “When church size is measured by human relationships, the small church is the largest expression of the Christian faith,” And David Ray reminds us that “small churches are the norm, primarily because many, many people still find them to be the right size in which to love God and neighbor. And we are extraordinary at relationships when we get people here!
But a devastating lack of mission can afflict our church if members understand their mission as, “providing a church home to Baptists.” The church with little sense of ministry to the unchurched, the marginal, the poor, or to those who were not of northern European ancestry can’t grow the kingdom. When I arrived in 2014 the congregation averaged 29 members in worship. Currently, our average attendance is 35 and while this is still a small number, we are heading in the right direction. However, to survive, we needed to become an active presence in our community.
The small church tends to be shaped more by the dynamics of its own small Christian community than by the dominant culture. While this can separate some churches too much from society, it can also assist the small church in getting involved where the opportunity for mission knocks. A small church can go places and risk ministries that larger churches would find undesirable or impossible.
On “the hill” there are several groups that mirror our congregation. We need to find ‘missionaries’ that will join these groups and represent us. Just three that come to mind are the Peninsula Seniors, Peninsula Vets and the Peninsula Breakfast Club. I have been guest speaker at all three and they are wonderful welcoming people. We also have an opportunity for someone to join and attend the meetings of the Palos Verdes Horseman’s Association so that we can become better known within the equestrian community that passes by our church every day! These groups have regular monthly meetings and a range of other activities.
Because we are “sent,” we need to be a missional community, not a church focused on our own survival. Because we are a community, not a collection of individuals, we work to promote fellowship. We explore together what it means to be disciples, followers of Jesus, the people of God. As apostles, we are sent and equipped to do God’s mission, and our commitment is to a ministry of love. We have an opportunity for those who will step up. There is a newly opened assisted living facility Sunrise at Palos Verdes, nearby on Hawthorne that is in need of “chaplaincy” that is, someone or some group that will find time to provide regular church-like services or bible study. Is that you? Could you spare an hour or so on a weekly basis?
Barring a miracle, FBCPV will never become a leading congregation numerically or financially. Having 50-100 in worship may be as far as it can go in numerical growth. We will always be a neighborhood church increasingly surrounded by larger and larger congregations. That is the trend. Warm, inviting, biblically sound ministry will almost always be small groups or small Christian churches like First Baptist Church of Palos Verdes
Pastor Rich

Categories: Uncategorized

Five Advantages of Small Churches

August 10, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Authenticity

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.

Blessings,

Pastor Rich

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Fathers Worth Following

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.

Pastor Rich

Categories: Uncategorized

How to Prepare for Life’s Changes

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.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Blessings,

Pastor Rich

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized