Today is the holiday to commemorate Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  On this day, I usually listen to some of his speeches, such as the eloquent word choices in the Dream speech given at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 1963.  I listened again today on NPR in the car, and then again when I got home. (watch it yourself)

One thing that struck me this year was the introduction.  Dr King was called ‘the spiritual leader of the nation.’  Not Billy Graham.  Not the other 4 speakers at that event (whose names are largely forgotten).  Dr King’s use of scripture to make a moral and social point in the middle of his speech, his insistence that civil rights was a spiritual problem to be addressed by spiritual means.

My home church did that earlier this month when they covered the front lawn with 2,470 crosses, to call attention to the abortion issue.  Not a political statement, but a statement of belief, calling attention to the problem in a way that would not be ignored by passers-by.  It got attention.  The sign was torn down and some of the  crosses were uprooted and thrown into the street.  The sign was replaced with a simple message: “considering abortion? there is an alternative.  call us” and gave the number.  It made the paper.

There are other examples, of course, of Christians giving the faith a bad name.  Protesting funerals.  Pastors arrested for unholy acts.  For these we cringe, and move forward in spite of them.

What are you doing to advance the Gospel in the community?   Wilberforce and his group of friends reshaped England and Western Civilization by speaking out against slavery and complacency.  How are you exercising spiritual leadership?

Can a small church be effective?  Can it transform its community?  How can a struggling church become a “transformational” small church?

Ed Stetzer, chief missiologist and researcher at Lifeway, is hosting a free webcast on the topic on Sept 7, from 10-4 Central.  If you can get to Nashville, it’s just $10.  If you can’t you can watch on free webcast.

And if you’re near Newport News, Virginia, you can watch the webcast and network with other local small churches.  It’s being hosted by Deer Park Baptist Church, 10:20am-5:15pm (eastern).  See the details at Netcasting:Ideas

I saw a church sign like none I’ve seen before.  Instead of using their curbside advertiser to spout cute sayings, Mount Zion Baptist in Hampton chose to honor someone never seen or noticed by most.

How many churches have you seen honor an usher?  Generally, it’s the pastor, or some other senior staff member.  Not an usher.  Ushers stand in the parking lot, or at the door, or in the aisle.

When the visitor overcomes intertia and comes, these special volunteers help them find a place to park, help them know where to take children, and find them a place to sit that meets their individual preferences.  A good usher makes the hesitant first-timer feel like an old friend.

So when someone passes a milestone like 25 years of faithful service, the good churches will make a big deal out of it.  It’s one of the reasons that church was in the middle of a building campaign for more education space.

When Jeff Bezos and his wife quit their Wall Street jobs to create a company in the garage with makeshift furniture and a loan from his parents, he embodied a spirit that is worth emulating.  Who among us doesn’t admire the person who gives it all up to chase a goal that’s bigger – and succeeds.

And now, as the president of Amazon.com, wildly successful and rich beyond his dreams, what drives Jeff Bezos?  To the 2010 graduating class of Princeton, he related the story of one summer with his grandparents.  He was using his adolescent mind to do fancy math calculations, and ended up inadvertently insulting his grandmother.

In response, his grandfather told him, “It’s harder to be kind than clever. ”

And so his speech to Princeton was about gifts and choices.  He called cleverness a gift, something given to you.  But choices are actions taken by you, often in how the gifts are used.

“You can seduce yourself with your gifts if youre not careful, and if you do, it will probably be to the detriment of your choices.”

And then he asked a series of troubling questions

1.  How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

2. Will inertia be your guide or will you follow your passions?

3. Will you follow dogma or will you be original?

4. Will you choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure?

5. Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions?

6. Will you bluff it out when you are wrong or will you apologize?

7. Will you guard your heart against rejection or will you act when you fall in love?

8. Will you play it safe or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

9. When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless?

10. Will you be a cynic or will you be a builder?

11. Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind?

In conclusion, he reminded all of us who listen with ears to hear, that one day – God willing – we will sit and reflect on what we have done with our lives.  Will we be satisfied with the results?

“In the end, we are our choices.”

Hear it yourself, if you dare.

I just found a Bill Hybels interview that says a healthy church will always evaluate what it is doing and what the culture is doing, and will change as needed.

I like the exchange about 5 minutes into this 7 minute interview,  where he says when they learn something new about how to improve, they approach the congregation,apologize for “not waking up to this sooner” and ask permission to do it.  And usually the church responds “Thanks for your honesty, and lead on!”

How often do you evaluate what you’re doing in your congregation.  Are you doing the same summer camp you did 20 years ago because it used to work?  Are all your services scripted the same (opening, 2 songs, welcome, 2 songs, offering, special, sermon, invitation, closing)?  Does the head deacon always wear the same suit?

It is vital to any healthy church to always watch the results of what you do, and evaluate outcomes at least once a year, with a hard look at least every five.

Today’s guest post is from Meredith Mitchell, co-Valedictorian at Hampton (VA) Christian High School.  It is the text of a speech given at her graduation, June 18, 2010.

You so often hear “life with no regrets” and the way that people go about living with no regrets is “living for the moment.” But this is such a worldly concept and is not founded in the truth of the Bible at all. If you live for the moment, I can promise you that you will have regrets. There will be moments that you wish you could replay.

Instead, live for eternity and use every moment that He has given you to further the kingdom of God. 1 Thessalonians says “Pray without ceasing.” Sometimes we take verses like these and translate it into “Oh, well, Paul just means for us to pray most of the time because there’s no way we could always be praying.” But this verse is very literal! I challenge you to let every thought that passes through your mind be offered up to God (more…)

Guest post today from a graduating senior, the 2010 Co-Valedictorian at Hampton (VA) Christian High School, her speech to the parents during Baccalaureate.

Thinking back on of all of the times we have let you down, it would be no surprise if we were at this service alone, yet, you are still here – shedding tears as we take this next step in our life, encouraging us to excel and move forward.

It is because of God’s grace working through you, though, that we are here. Your sacrifices, faithful prayers, and patience gave us stepping stones to reach our goals. When we made wrong turns and bad decisions, you were right beside us, lifting up our heads, and lending a shoulder to cry on, if need be. You saw us as who we were to become and did not limit it us to just what could be seen on the outside. (more…)

I was in a committee meeting for a social cause I’m starting, and oen of the members started talking about her church.  She’s part of one of the ministries that’s trying to do more than the church is comfortable doing.  I think she’s honoring the Gospel with the activity, but it’s at cross purposes with the overall strategy of the pastoral staff.  It’s fine to do so long as it doesn’t interfere or take attention away from what the they have planned to do.

So why doesn’t she get on their agenda and show the value?  Seems that church is run by paid staff and self-elected deacon board.  The only whole-church meetings are tightly scripted without option for questions in the open forum.  Votes are taking in the middle of the sermon, where peer pressure gains the assent from the majority comfortable to “sit and soak”.

The frustration for that one activity is poisoning her response to the rest of the church’s activities.  She’s not coming to church as often.  She’s more likely to miss the Sunday small group Bible study.  I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet she’s diverting at least some of her tithe to the outside ministry directly.

What can you do to first prevent this and second restore the one drifting away?

Start by having a culture of listening.  In my church, one of the largest in the area, the pastor makes an effort to circulate in the lobby after serices, and is one of the last to leave on Sunday.   He acts like the pastor of a church of 150 (rather than 3000).It doesn’t make the church less large, but makes it more personable.

Second, I feel that the job of a deacon includes listening to the congregation and hearing the grumblings, to deal with them before they get out of hand.  In one church, we had two strains of discontent circulating just under the surface.  Few knew of both, but they fed off the negative attitudes of the other.  When I discovered the first, adn then the second, I took action to hear the frustrations, and was able to diffuse the one, and then the second, and although the root problem (lack of a pastor) didn’t immediately go away, the congregational attitude shifted.

In most cases, it’s a misunderstanding, or someone didn’t get the word in time.  If you have active listening systems in place, those will be taken care of early before they discontent takes root and poisons the congregational atmosphere.

In yesterday’s post, I wondered how small a church could be and still function.  Today, I went to class with guest lecturer David Garrison, teaching about Church Planting Movements.

According to Dr Garrison (actually, he goes by David), it’s not the size that matters, but the intentionality of being a functioning church.  You can do all five purposes of the church (Worship, Fellowship, Ministry, Discipleship, and Evangelism/Missions) as a group that gathers occasionally in a holy huddle, but not really be a fully functioning church.  

Garrison says the church becomes church when key leaders are chosen.  He says there should be a pastor/overseer, deacons and a treasurer.

The deacons should be the minsitry leaders of the five purposes.  Remember that the original seven were chosen to minister with food distribution, and Steven was an evangelist.  One person may do multiple jobs in this arrangement, but there must be an acknowledgement that they are doing the jobs of a church and that they should hand off the extra duties as soon as practically possible.

Garrison says the actions of the deacons are coordinated by an overseer or a spiritually mature elder.  This is the job normally held by the senior pastor. 

The third key position is the treasurer.  Having a  treasurer who is unrelated to the senior pastor / overseer will help keep scandal away.  Note that while Jesus was accused of many things, misappropriation of money was not one of them.  He had a treasurer (Judas).  And when the early church failed to use a treasurer and instead gifts were given to the Apostles, it caused jealousy and the death of Annias and Sophira.

When a church has these seven positions functioning, led by people gifted and trained for those positions, they will be functioning as a church should.  And if the doing is properly done, it should cause a growth in both maturity and numbers.

On a facebook post today, pastor/teacher/student leader Alvin Reid quoted Jim Elliff’s call to worship leaders to “Raise the believers’ understanding of the beauty & power of God, & let emotions follow, not lead.”

In reply John Guetterman wrote:

Amen! singers singing the beauty and power of God from the place of divine revelation. This is the glory of corporate worship when we see Him as He is and we are invited into the realm if the spirit through the open door. We need singers who sing from encounter! We need preachers who preach from encounter! This is our hope for our nation to change… Read More… That God would raise up burning and shining lamps leading many to Jesus in this hour! People who have stood in the council of the Lord who speak from the place of knowledge that transcends understanding… We need the Spirit of Revelation. We need the Spirit of Prayer… We NEED GOD!!!

I remember attending a church that led our denomination in baptisms, a supposed indication of the power of their preacher as an evangelist.  However, when I got to know some of the members, I learned there was little followup, little understanding of what the Christian life was all about.  They were led by the emotion of the moment, and a number of those were rebaptisms (“The first 3 times weren’t real, but this time I know I’m saved!”)

You can’t sustain a church on emotion.  People wear out and quit if they live on the evangelism sugar high.  Teaching the congregation the truth of God, leading them to full understanding of their salvation, helping them see the beauty & power of God is what will set them afire and send them out as witnesses.  Their worship will remain beyond the benediction, their testimony will resonate at the restaurant, and their service will be sustainable, because it is all for the glory of God.

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