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7 Quick Reasons Why Your Church Cannot Grow

For the past few months my mind has been on mission and reaching folks who are lost. There are some of you who are like, “Dude, I thought that is kind of your job.” It is but the fact of the matter is that there is more to ministry than mission but that is another post. The teens and I have gone through some discussion on Sunday morning about mission and this has really got me thinking a lot about it. The term “missional churches” has been a Christian buzzword for close to a decade now. I love the way Ed Stetzer defines it in a post he wrote for Christianity Today:

Being missional conveys the idea of living on a purposeful, Biblical mission. Mission is the reason the church exists and the church joins Jesus on mission. And, this mission is from everywhere to everywhere.

I like that definition for mission. Using that as a definition I want to share some things where I think the church is missing the boat. There are other posts that parse it better but this is where I see our churches struggling when it comes to growth (see “Further Reading” below). Feel free to disagree, clarify or add in the comments section below. Also, I give a confession below that I need you to read.

Your Church Cannot Grow Because:

  1. They lack clear vision. Andy Stanley said, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision.” If I were to go up to a member in your church and ask them, “What is the vision of your church?” what do you think the answer would be? Vision doesn’t solve everything but it does give you clarity on where you want to go.
  2. They are stuck in the past. Whether it is antiquated theology or reusing old ways of doing things, churches that remember the “good old days” might not make it to new days. Insert “gospel meetings” right here folks. They are done along with other programs that used to work.
  3. They allow power hungry folks to steer the church. I have never met a growing church who said, “We have this one elder who continually stalls votes or puts out negative vibes.” As long as you have that one person steering the ship because they are power hungry then you will not grow.
  4. Their programs are internally focused. From the youth ministry, to children’s ministry to bible class, to preaching; all seem to gear themselves toward the members. Again, this goes to “lack of vision” but when we start thinking with the members in mind then we might need to evaluate if we have mission in mind.
  5. They do not spend time with the unchurched. I read a book years ago called They Like Jesus but not the Church by Dan Kimball. In that book he made the observation that the longer folks are Christians (in years) the less time they spend with the unchurched. Number four above is part of the reason this is true but it also has to do with our comfort level. It gets messy dealing with the unchurched and it is a whole lot easier avoiding it (we pay the preacher to do it right? SMH).
  6. They do not understand what the gospel really is. I wrote about this a while back but the truth is that our churches have not done a good job at sharing what the gospel really is. We have truncated the gospel making it akin to salvation (i.e., “obeying the gospel”). Worse, I am afraid our theological gymnastic approach to the text (verse hopping and proof texting) has made us more biblically illiterate than ever before. We have zero clue about the story. Another post for another time.
  7. They have no urgency. From visitor follow-up to implementation of new ideas, many churches refuse to act swiftly when it comes to mission. There is more to this but sometimes churches are the slowest to become proactive. We wait and usually are ten years behind the curve on this. I understand change takes time but often it is time that is a luxury.

A Confession…

I have not done well at this over the years and have even contributed to the problem. My heart is for a solution on this instead of whining about problems. I am still learning the missional life Jesus exemplified in the gospels. If I were to open my journal and allow you to read it you would see scores of entries on times where I missed an opportunity or lacked the right courage. I can only get better and do work. I also admit that I have curtailed deeper explanation for my answers above. Meaning, they are too simple and need further explanation. Such is the nature of a blog as one is forced to say what needs to be said and move on. I am sure you understand.

FURTHER READING…

Dear church, our struggle is not against a denomination…

For those of you reading this and are a bit baffled I want to extend both an apology and an explanation. I am a youth minister for a church of Christ which is a small local expression of a larger movement which has historically opposed denominationalism maintaining a strict adherence to Scripture as authority and not some ecclesiastical hierarchy. Anything that smells denominationally is to be rejected because it must hail from some sort of human innovation and is thus not God authorized by God. If you talk to many ministers from the Churches of Christ they will tell you that we are, in fact, not a denomination but each local church is its own expression of the original first century church. When it gets down to it I think it is more semantics than actual biblical mandate as to why we are not a denomination but that is not the point of this post. I actually think the autonomous nature of the church is more theologically accurate than hierarchical structures but another post for another time.

The point of this post is to apologize to other expressions of Christianity that have been maligned, castigated and disregarded as “unfaithful” because of _______________________ (insert doctrinal qualms here). Christianity seems to be one of the fewest movements that actually eats their own (aside from American politics). I actually had this conversation with someone before:

Concerned church member: “Hey Robbie did you hear about Jim Bob and where he attends worship now in college?”

Me: “Ummmm no I didn’t.”

Concerned church member: “He actually goes to a Baptist church and is plugged into their college ministry. Can you believe that?”

Me: “I am so thankful.”

Concerned church member: “That is a denomination and…”

Me (Interrupting): “Would you rather have them doing keg stands at I Tappa Kegga and attending a church of Christ once a week?”

Concerned church member: “Well no Robbie but clearly it is wrong for them to be involved in that ministry because they _________________(insert doctrinal qualms here).”

Me: “ I support them because they are with a ministry that believes in advancing the gospel, baptizing the lost and plugging them into the kingdom to do the same thing. That is alright in my books.”

Many of you reading this are probably throwing your hands up and screaming, “Flaming liberal!” I think you miss the thrust of my conversation and the point of this post. Our struggle, brothers and sisters, is not against denominations but against the unseen forces of evil. Does that mean every doctrine a denomination practices gets a nod? Of course not. Does that mean you endorse everything denominations do? Stop it!

It means that my focus and energy are fixed on those who have no concept of Christ. Many denominations are so focused inwardly anyways that there is no room for discussion of those who are on the outside (wink-wink my Stone-Campbell brethren). I also do not have time to engage in discussion about minute differences in theology. I am sure this is a fruitful and necessary endeavor but one that I am most assuredly ambivalent to. I am not creating a dichotomy in which one chooses over the other but I am simply not interested in those discussions. Ripping apart denominational doctrine is low-hanging fruit for a Wednesday night bible class but for me I simply have no energy to do so.

I understand that doesn’t mean churches should blindly give the high-five of fellowship to any and all movements but I also believe it says something when all churches in a community practice solidarity except for some that believe their way is the only way. I also try to give folks the theological benefit of the doubt. I was reading a paper I wrote many moons ago and if I was a professor reading this for the first time I would be ashamed I what my student wrote. I was (still am?) so presumptuous in my conclusions that I failed to grasp the big picture.

So can we stop the kindergarten my-church-is-better-than-your-church conversations and shift our focus more towards those who are not in any church at all? Can we leverage our combined focus on Christ and use that to advance the gospel in our own context? Can we eschew our foolish pride that says we have to have our name stamped on a program and unite with other brothers and sisters to be light on a hill?

That sounds more eternally minded to me…

 

White Savior Barbie and Short-Term Mission Trips

Have you seen the “White Savior Barbie” on Instagram? The bio for this parody account says it all:

Jesus. Adventures. Africa. Two worlds. One love. Babies. Beauty. Not qualified. Called. 20 years young. It’s not about me…but it kind of is. www.barbiesavior.com/blog/2016/6/3/stoporphantrips

Some of the posts are hilarious…

And here is a funny one…

But then some of them hit close to home…

 

The Huffington post article “‘White Savior Barbie’ Hilariously Parodies Volunteer Selfies In Africa” sheds some light on why the anonymous creators of this account post these pictures:

While the now defunct Socality Barbie used the beloved Barbie doll to lampoon hipster Instagram accounts, Barbie Savior is taking it one step further by poking fun at people who suffer from the “White Savior Complex.” If you’re unfamiliar, the term is used to describe the white Westerners who travel to third world countries and make the entire affair an exercise in self-congratulatory #sacrifice. 

The new account, created by two white twenty-something women (who choose to remain anonymous) was created five weeks ago, and already has over 7,000 followers. Its creators are self-professed former “white saviors,” and say they draw from their own experiences of volunteering in East Africa.  “We were never as ‘savioresque’ as Barbie Savior, but we did things back in our White Savior days that we regret,” the creators told The Huffington Post via email. “It really just started as a joke between us, a way to get some of these things off of our chest. Its hard to pinpoint the irony at times in real life… the wildly self-centered person veiled as the self-sacrificing saint.” Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing volunteer work in Africa — it’s wonderful when people take the time and energy to make a difference for those who may be less fortunate. But the makers of the account say what they’re trying to do is shine a light on the people who fetishize and over-sentimentalize the experience of visiting Africa: The people who turn smiling African school kids into living photo-ops, who talk about how “happy everybody is even though they’re so poor!“ and who never seem to specify exactly what country in Africa they actually visited (because, you know, Africa is a country).

Other articles about this sentimentality pervade:

Perhaps one of the most indicting videos I have seen was done by SAIH Norway called Who Wants to be a Volunteer? See below…

These articles have something to say to the church who may carelessly send would-be “mission workers” to all corners of the globe hoping to do some good in the name of Jesus. I am fresh off of a short-term mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. I have been a part of close to 10 short-term mission trips both participating and leading them on three different continents.

These articles are justifiably poignant in their thrust and expose some of the dangers of “global volunteerism.” Short-term missions alone is a multi-million dollar business with companies touting the “best” mission-trip experience for a youth group. Don’t believe me? I get flyers every week at my small rural church in Joelton, Tennessee from different organizations that all say the same thing.

Yet…I am not one of those who espouses that short-term mission work is unnecessary. As I see it, short-term missions accents mission work you are already involved in at home (more on that below). If done correctly it will help sustain your ministry and compliment a church/ministry where you complete the short-term mission work. Below I have, in a very scrambled manner, a few of my thoughts in terms of some guidelines for short-term mission work. I must concede before you that I have not been perfect with the statements below as many of them come from what I did wrong instead of what I did right.

So here are my jumbled thoughts on short-term mission trip guidelines.

#1 – Partner with an organization/church that is seeking to sustain the gospel in a contextualized manner.

I will never forget a conversation I had with an African missionary. We were talking about some doctrinal issues occurring in the United States and he said: “Robbie, I try to keep the American church as far away from here as possible.” Third-world countries don’t need American churches to save them, they need Jesus.

#2 – Discern what it would look like to send your money, instead of your body.

I wrote a check one time for flights to a place we were visiting for a mission trip. The check was for about $25K. I was nauseous. What would it look like if we just sent that money to folks who know the people better than we do, could sustain longer down there than we could and would not have to worry about hotels or other ancillary expenses? I have been on a bunch of construction mission trips and I always wondered what it would look like if we paid locals to build the church building instead of us. These locals might not even have a job and so the occupation and money might be the gospel they would need at the time.

#3 – Make sure this trip is not about you.

Why are you going? What do you God will accomplish by using you? These are all valid questions to ask yourself before you go on a trip. “I’m going for the experience,” sounds good for donors but I wonder if it is a cop out or, even worse, a code name for saying, “I hope this is a good vacation.” This is not a sightseeing trip (although some of that is not bad) but it is a trip where you will hit the ground running to work.

#4 – Short-term mission trips should, in theory, compliment the mission you are involved in at home.

It is sexy to take a trip to the jungle of Brazil to give much-needed medicine to sickly folks. It is not so sexy to take the same trip in the very county you live in. Go to a school yard in Sudan and invite them to church is “mission work” but doing that in Missouri or Alabama is more like just work. What would it look like to raise money to work with folks in your own backyard? What would it look like to have your entire church involved in service-oriented work with gospel-oriented conversations in the lanes and avenues of your own hood? If our only mission work requires us to get on a plane then we are, at best, hypocrites.

#5 – Find some way to extend the relationship with the missionaries in place.

All too often we simply trash-and-dash the site we work at without cultivating an ongoing relationship. They still have ongoing needs that many of us can help with years down the road. In a sense, the place we visit becomes an extension of our own church as we fellowship through social media and email. I went on a mission trip to Peru in January of 2004 and I still pray for a guy down there who I developed a kinship with.

Ok…I know I missed some things so help me out?

5 Signs That Your Church’s Mission and Jesus’ Mission are Out of Sync

We were interviewing at this particular church for a youth ministry position. The church was large with about 900 or so members and a youth group of almost 150. During the interview process and in conversations over the weekend they bragged about the facilities and the various projects occurring. Talking with the senior minister in his office he unrolled blueprints for a massive building expansion and at the point I knew it was not a good fit for me. This church seemed concerned more about building the church (literally) than growing the church.

You see there is nothing wrong with a building or expansions as they serve a function for the church. Yet it seems sometimes the church gets lost in mission and loses focus of what’s most important. I am reminded of the church in Ephesus that went from being such a vibrant family to them abandoning their first love (Rev. 2:4).

So how do you know if your church’s mission and Jesus’ mission are out of sync? These responses come from a desire for us to revive our effort in the communities to become a more externally focused church. It is my prayer that we change and do so for the sake of the unchurched.

You know your church’s mission and Jesus’ mission is out of sync when…

The majority of the church’s activities are inwardly focused.

Take a hard look at your church’s calendar and your youth group’s calendar. Are the activities focused inwardly or outwardly. Read this carefully: the growth of the church is directly correlated to how often your membership spends time with the unchurched. If most of the church’s activities function to serve only its members then our mission is not in line with the mission of Jesus. A side note tangent I want to emphasize: gospel meetings as they stand now are antiquated and function mainly to focus on the membership and not the unchurched. I dare you to make a list of the activities of your church and prove how they are externally focused. Go ahead. From worship to classes to bulletins to announcements to meeting times all seem to have the same subject in mind: inward not outward.

There is no real growth in the church.

I hear of churches that are growing and upon further investigation most of the growth that has occurred is from members leaving other churches. If Satan ever had a good distraction tool it would be pseudo church growth. How many baptisms have you had from unchurched members in the past year? I am not talking about sons or daughters of attendees but I am talking about people from your community where members from the church have poured into them with intense discipleship.

The church is distracted with inconsequential issues.

Look at the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of Paul and nothing distracted them from spreading the good news. Paul said, Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Jesus was truth and a church that focuses on issues more than Jesus himself is one that is out of sync with the mission of Jesus.

People in the community don’t really talk about the church

Everywhere Jesus went people talked about him (despite his efforts to remain quiet). Both the naysayers and the followers probably had endless discussion at the dinner table about this new movement. Fast forward to now…

Do people in the community talk about your church? “Hold on just a minute,” you say. “There are so many churches in our county and so many people and not everybody is going to talk about the church.” True but I am not talking about everybody. I have said this before in another post but in our county there are a couple of churches that I always here people talk about. They are involved with this program and that school and this addiction recovery and that recreational league. Here is a fact…they are growing and it reflects in how active they are in the community.

Divided Leadership

Jesus prayed,that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). The point of unity is for others to see that God sent Jesus. When our leadership is divided and loses track of vision (or does not have one) then our mission derails from the mission of Jesus.

What else would you add to this list? It is certainly not comprehensive.

7 Proven Ways to Eradicate a Church’s Influence in the Community

I am not a Debbie Downer but sometimes I hear about some of the things churches do and I wonder if they even care about the communities in which they reside. More to the point, I wonder if the community even cares about them or worse, do they even know that the church exists?

I don’t know if I heard this in a sermon or a class or read it in a book but someone once asked: “If the church picked up and left the community would anyone even care?”

So thinking about the community I want to share seven ways in which a church can guarantee to lose influence in a community.

#1 – Spend more time and resources on foreign missions rather than local

I want you to understand something: I am not against foreign missions whatsoever. I believe in funding people to do the work of the kingdom globally but not to the extent that we neglect it locally. I am not creating a dichotomy of either foreign or local but want to merge the two and think local and global.

#2 – Make all of our ministries and programming self-serving

Take the gospel meeting for instance (While I disagree with the conclusion here is a good history of Church of Christ gospel meetings). It used to be an effective program to reach people in the community who did not know Jesus. That time is past. It seems that many churches have gospel meetings because they have always had them. Not just gospel meetings but all of the programs many churches do seem to function at accomplishing one task: making it about us. Should we not sift everything we do with the funnels of the unchurched? Would our sermons look different? Would our classes look different? Would our space look different? Would our terminology look different?

#3 – Shortchange the gospel

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; NIV). Sometimes our theology just…well…stinks and when we shortchange the gospel we do a huge disservice to ourselves, to our communities and to our Lord. All around us are people who could care less about Jesus and are even visceral in their comments against him. So what do we do? Ignore them (see #2) and focus on a more “fertile soil” (see #1). Maybe we are not feeding our followers the right food and the gospel that is sold is one that is nice, smiles, is happy and simply waits (juxtaposed with anticipates) until they to get to heaven (read “On ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’ as U.S. Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith” by Christian Smith).

#4 – Fail to Become Involved in Community Events

To the extent that we are involved in community events will we have an impact in that community. Many churches have a “come to our building” approach to helping when Jesus took a more hands on approach in going to the actual people. Plugging in at schools, assisting community projects, becoming voices for the disenfranchised in the community, working alongside of local government agencies and other avenues. One of the greatest things I saw was when Springfield, Tennessee hosted the Dixie Youth State Tournament a few years ago and one church from the community took care of all of the hospitality for that tournament providing food and water for teams and their families.

#5 – Refuse to cooperate with other local churches.

Nothing gives Christianity a horrible name in community like bickering with one another and refusing to cooperate. I am not saying we need to buy into everyone doctrinally and those discussions are important and necessary to have but instead of competing with other churches what if we blessed them. “Hey Robbie, did you here that ______________ church has almost doubled in size? They probably have ___________ (insert jealous comment berating their ministry in some capacity) and that’s why they are growing.” Instead we should say, “Hey did you see what that church is doing and how they have grown? What can we do to help them and also learn from them? God is doing some amazing work with them.”

#6 – Busy our calendars and not leave space for families to minister.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12; NRSV). I see my role more so now than ever as one who equips (word means for parts to work together) others to minister to their own families but to others in the community. When we fill up our church calendars with this service, that bible study, that meal and that retreat (which are all good things btw) then we are not giving space and Sabbath for families. On the flip side when we schedule a huge event for our church when there is a community-wide event occurring then we are not leaving space for our community. We then compete instead of cooperate. 

#7 – Become the moral police instead of the grace police

I am not going to get into the works versus grace conversation as I share sentiments with Richard Beck and also side with N.T. Wright in terms of justification. The point that I want to make is that people should know us by our grace which is a huge component of the gospel (see point #3 above). Having rallies to oppose the alcohol referendums (because alcohol is the problem with your community right?) or getting petitions signed to have the “10 Commandments” (not 613?) placed back onto school property are adventures in missing the point. Here is a way to be subversive in a culture gone awry: offer grace.

“Without a heart transformed by the grace of Christ, we just continue to manage external and internal darkness.” Matt Chandler, Explicit Gospel

“Repentance was never yet produced in any man’s heart apart from the grace of God. As soon may you expect the leopard to regret the blood with which its fangs are moistened,—as soon might you expect the lion of the wood to abjure his cruel tyranny over the feeble beasts of the plain, as expect the sinner to make any confession, or offer any repentance that shall be accepted of God, unless grace shall first renew the heart.” Charles H. Spurgeon

The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them. Charles H. Spurgeon

Closing thoughts:

These seven things I listed each contain antithetical statements. For example, to ruin our influence we busy our calendars up but transversely (or antithetically) we can free our schedules up to have a greater witness in our community. There is hope found in the local church my friend and an opportunity for us to bring in the kingdom of God to the deepest and darkest corners of our communities. Rob Bell said it best: “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be” (Velvet Elvis).

CiY – Days 1-2

The trip started out difficult as we got about 60 miles down the interstate and the bus decided to quit. This wasn’t too big of a deal because our minister Greg was able to get a van and get a trailer and meet us within 45 minutes. We got to Lee University in Cleveland Tennessee and got settled into our dorm rooms. For me I was very nervous because this is my first trip to what is called Christ in youth move conference.
We went into the main center and began worship. Worship was really loud, and really intense and I just wasn’t used to it yet. However it grew on me and I had an absolute blast. Some of the things that we shared in our devotional about the speaker that was compelling he was to the story of Daniel. All week we’re learning about Daniel and his contributions to the kingdom and how we are disciples and plug in and work for the kingdom.

  
The next day I could tell some of the students were really exhausted. It seems that staying up late and waking up early actually might be a detriment to your physical activity. Go figure! Some of the students went to electives, which are classes that they can choose from so that they can dive deeper into a particular subject. After classes and a little break a massive storm came through campus and shut us down for a while. Yet, we were able to go to worship and have an amazing time. The speaker was really gifted at telling the story of Daniel and our students really got a lot out of his message. 

During our evening devotional we talked about some of our gifts and how we can use those gifts to further the kingdom. I introduced them to Ephesians 4:11 and the APEST gift assessment. It’s important not just to go through life compartmentalizing the kingdom, our social life, our work life and so on so forth. The speaker did a good job in saying that we are either advancing our kingdom, or God’s kingdom. So the challenge was to advance always God’s kingdom. I will post later today about this day.

Our group is really meshing well and we are really cool growing close to each other. This event is good about first of all seeing what we’ve been struggling with, addressing that, and then moving towards how can we be instruments of the kingdom.  

Are nursing homes a waste of your church’s time?

Her name was Jewel and she was a resident at a nursing home in Henderson, Tennessee. I was an undergraduate student at the time at Freed-Hardeman University and for some reason I decided to visit a nursing home once a week on my own. I remember randomly going into a room and meeting this lady named Jewel and talking with her a while and began to develop a relationship with her. We met every week and I would read the Bible to her and pray with her. She would talk about her family and point to the collage of pictures she had taped to the wall. “Miss Jewel,” as I called her, knew me by name and asked about how my classes were going. She really cared about me. I had to go home for the summer and so I said my goodbyes and the summer months passed away quickly.

I returned to Freed in August and made my way over to the nursing home to catch up with my new old friend. I went to her room and there she was. I said, “Hey Miss Jewel!” She looked at me with a blank stare and said, “Do I know you?”

Miss Jewel had Alzheimer’s and did not have a clue about who I was. We talked for a bit and I checked in on her one more time and she was catatonic at that time and could not speak. I wondered if it was even good for us to have met at all. Fast forward a few years and I found myself taking the youth group once a month to lead services at a nursing home. We did that for close to a decade until people from the church stopped showing up at the nursing home and eventually the ministry ceased.

People seem to get fired-up (as they should) about evangelistic meetings, campaigns to feed the poor, helping out with youth ministries and a host of other things but when it comes to helping out with nursing homes that seems to fall down the list a bit.

Why?

A couple reasons come to mind. First of all this type of work is not glamorous. One time we went into the nursing home and underneath a lady on a wheel chair was a fresh puddle of feces that had seeped out of her diaper. She had no clue. Another time we went in and a lady vomited all over herself and the table and she was waiting to get cleaned up. She had no clue either. Every nursing home I have visited has some of the worst smells this earth can muster and it is disgusting. Plus many of the residents do not communicate well (they can’t) and so worship (on the surface at least) seems to be one way. Secondly it is hard to see tangible results from the work that is done. Most of these residents are here for one purpose: to finish the course of their lives with dignity because they can no longer take care of themselves. These people will never make it to church. You will not see their money in a collection plate. You will not see their pictures on social media or the website and so the bottom line for churches is that this type of work could be seen as a waste of time.

So here is my question: Are nursing homes a waste of your church’s time?

I believe they are NOT for three very important reasons.

1. We are commanded to in Scripture.

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us” (James 1:27; CEB). Some might say, “Well what if we do not have any members in the nursing home?” James did not qualify the widows as Christian widows and Christian orphans. He just said widows and orphans. Just about every nursing home resident is either a widow or widower and we should reach them in their need. If there is ever a people who are the “neglected” in our society I would say those in the nursing homes are those people. The psalmist wrote, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psa. 9:9). Isaiah shared, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isa. 1:17). Moses shared Yahweh’s command in Torah: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:32).

2. We practice the Golden Rule

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). When Heather was in the hospital with each pregnancy I often thought that I never knew how important nurses were until we needed them the most. It is easy for us not to want to go to a nursing home because we have other things to do on a Wednesday or Sunday. Yet, if we could fast forward the hands of time and imagine, if you will, YOU as a resident and think about what it would be like. Your family can only come so much because they have to work. Who could blame them? Your suite mate does not talk and so you are left to watch hours of boring midday TV while eating plastic meals. Wouldn’t you long for some worship? Some attention? Some cards? Some prayer? Some bible reading? I know I would.

3. If done right (and well) you can’t can actually grow the church from this.

Stick with me here. Yesterday I was at a ball game talking with a friend about how we used to have so much fulfillment out of visiting nursing homes. Then he took me over to talk with a lady and introduced me to her. She knew me and said she remembered me going to the nursing home to lead worship services. My friend was talking with someone else and didn’t even hear this and it was surely a God moment for me. If I was in insurance I would have immediately set up a time where she and I could talk because we had rapport together. Instead I could leverage that and say, “Your mom enjoyed our worship and visiting with her and so you should come to church with us and experience who we are and what we do first hand.” You won’t get a ton of people to attend and stick but if a church invests their time into my mom and dad then I like them already. It will lead others into the building and inwardly it will create fellowship and sense of mission and purpose within your church body.

I hope this makes sense and my prayer is that it either invigorates a failing ministry to nursing homes or innovates a new ministry where one was absent.

I even have a sales pitch you can make to the leadership of a church.

You ready?

It will cost the church no budget money!

Sounds like a win to me.

 

 

What Selling Life Insurance Taught Me About Ministry

I sold Life Insurance for Modern Woodmen of America for about five full months and in that time I learned so much about ministry. I know that sounds strange but going into the corporate world helped me in my skills as a minister. I want to share some ways I think sales in general helps me in ministry:

#1 – It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

How do you know if you are going to make it in sales? If you can pick the phone up and set up appointments and then convert those appointments to sales. You do that by asking people to buy. This was so nerve-racking for me and I dreaded picking up the phone to call the next person because of the fear of rejection. Remember that feeling when you wanted to ask out that guy or girl and you stared at the phone for hours but could not bring yourself to call them? That was what the feeling was like over and over again for me. Sometimes ministers get afraid of asking people to a bible study, to a church visit or just how they are doing spiritually. What I learned is that it doesn’t hurt to ask but nothing ever is accomplished if we don’t ask.

#2 – Rejection is Not Personal

I heard the word, “No,” so many times I lost count. I had people tell me, “I’ll call you back,” and never did. I had people walk the other way when they saw me in public. I called one guy and asked for an appointment who told me, “I am somewhat of a guru in the financial field so I really don’t need your help!” I said, “Well then maybe we can get together and you can teach me a few things so I can be a better representative,” to which he replied, “I am kind of busy.” I wish he would have said simply “No not interested” so I could move on.

People told me “no” for a variety of different reasons but at the end of the day it was not about me. They could not afford it, they were already covered, their friend was in the business, etc. In ministry sometimes we take offense when rejection comes our way (there are times it is personal) but most of the time it is not personal. I am reminded when Jesus told his disciples that many people will hate them because of the very mention of his name (Mark 13:13). It’s not personal folks.

#3 – Numbers are Important

In sales I was cognizant of my ratios. How many phone calls did it take to get an appointment? How many approaches in public did it take to get an appointment? how many appointments did it take for me to make a sale? That way I could calculate how much money each phone call meant to me. Despite what you might hear among some churches numbers are important. It is biblical to want your church to increase numerically. I remember saying, “We are concerned about the spiritual growth of our ministry not so much the numerical growth.” Shame on me. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can grow numerically and spiritually. SEE ACTS 2. The people who think adding numbers to the church is not important are probably part of churches that are dying.

#4 – Win the Day

Dove-tailing on the last point my goal in sales was to win the day. Based on my ratios did I set this amount of appointments? Did I call this many people? If I did those things (and others as well) then I won the day. My regional director would often shoot me a text asking if I had won the day because he knew that if you had a certain amount of days won in the year then that would convert to money in the bank and time to spend with your family.

What does it look like to win the day in ministry?

Being on salary sometimes does not give us the thirst we need like living on commission did for me (or the fear…). To be successful in sales you have to be organized. Plain and simple. I think the same bodes well for ministers even though you don’t have to be Franklin Coveyish organized. For me it looks like this:

  • Did I read scripture?
  • Did I pray for those in ministry?
  • Did I write (with a pen) one encouraging note to a member?
  • Did I read something that challenged me?
  • Did I polish up on my classes and/or sermon?
  • Did I connect with someone outside the church?

If I did those things (and some others that are personal to me) then I, in my opinion, won the day.

Finally…

#5 Training is Essential

I was always learning during my tenure as a financial representative. An hour of my day was dedicated to learning something new. The same can be said for ministry. Learning how to preach more effectively, teach better, lead better, get organized better and all of these things are huge for ministers to grow. It is easy to get in a rut and think that we have figured it out but there is always something else to learn and the moment we stop learning, as the saying goes, is the moment we stop leading.

 

[DISCLAIMER] – I have come across ministers who seemed like salesmen instead of men of God and so I understand this issue. I have also come across salesmen who were unethical and were more concerned about making money than helping people so I understand that issue as well. I am not saying ministers need to be just like salesmen but I am saying we can learn from them like I have.

Nashville Inner City Ministry – Day 1

My typical Sundays include waking up around 7am; driving to the church building; polishing off my lesson for bible class; teaching; attending worship; lunch and then by about 1pm I relax.

Today my Sunday is a little different. It is 11:21pm and we are staying at the Highland Heights Church of Christ in Smyrna, Tennessee and I can hear faint extremely loud sounds of teenagers playing ball in the basketball court. It is music to my ears.

Today we started the day loading up our vehicles not knowing what to expect from working with the folks at Nashville Inner City Ministry. We were excited but perhaps cautiously optimistic might be the best way to describe it. I have led an inner city trip before with the fine folks at Memphis Urban Ministry (J Reezy!) but this was a different church and a different location. I prayed that their eyes would be opened and their hearts would be melted.

We rode the buses with some fine church members to pick up kids from the projects. Again, my prayers were that the kids would have their eyes opened and their hearts would be melted. We picked up the kids and attended worship. I always love worship at an inner city church because it is the kind of worship I feel my body lean towards. The hands clapping, bodies swaying and praises from good gospel hymns lifted up to God. The sermon was wonderful and I could hear the brothers saying their “Amens” and a couple of times telling the preacher to “Come on wit it!”

After that we had lunch and broke out into small groups with some of the teens mentoring other teens. We asked discussion questions and shared our stories. Some of their stories were encouraging coming from drugs to the gospel and how it has transformed their thinking in penetrating ways.

We went and dropped the kids off after that and got back to the church…It was 4pm. We ate supper at one of the coordinator’s houses and shared conversation with some teenagers over a mean game of volleyball. We laughed, prayed and had good gospel conversations. The kind of things that matter.

We got to the church and we watched a little of the NBA finals and then shared what we learned. Some of the responses:

  • How can mommas drop off their 3 or 4 year old kid and leave them with people for a whole day?
  • The way they encouraged us and welcomed us was amazing.
  • Some the struggles they endured and what I endure are almost the same.
  • Even though there is poverty the same principle applies: we all need Jesus.
  • During some intense impoverished times they seem so happy.

Here is what God taught me today:

  • Hearts can be melted. Eyes can be opened.
  • I am often too selfish with my Sundays. I need to get out and share the gospel.
  • Be thankful for what you have and don’t wish for more.
  • Being a father to my kids is something many do not have the privilege of doing.
  • The kingdom of God is at work, breaking into the darkest places of this world!

VERSE OF THE DAY:

I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers. – Ephesians 1:18 (CEB)

On Proselytizing

Fresh from my son’s PreK graduation I was at home trying to caulk around our faucet because of a slight leak. Samuel had been outside but came in and after talking with him I noticed a faint knock at the door. It is not unusual for a knock at our door as it seems our house is Grand Central Station for neighborhood kids to play. However this was 10:00 in the morning and so I was a little concerned. I answered and standing in front of me was a well-dressed woman armed with a pamphlet and a hyper-positive and high-pitched voice. Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Lady (Pamphlet extended):  Hey I noticed your son was in the yard and I was talking with your next door neighbor and thought I would talk with you to see if you have a church home.

Me (Armed with a Caulk Gun): Thank you. My son just got done with his graduation.

Lady: Oh that is awesome. Anyways, we are not out here proselytizing but I was wondering if you have a church home?

Me: Yes ma’am I attend the Clarksville Highway Church of Christ.

Lady: That is so good to hear! One of the most important questions to answer is “What must I do to be saved?” and so how would you answer that question?

Me: We can do nothing ma’am because we are saved by grace.

Lady: I am so thankful you said that. Thanks for listening to me and I hope you have a great day.

There were other components to this conversation but I gave you the gist. I really felt like she cared about me in a way that inviting people into a relationship with Jesus did not come across as a sales pitch. I have been places where people badgered me about following Jesus and it felt very uncomfortable. This lady was genuine, caring and approached me in a comfortable way. There are so many posts out there that make fun of these people who door-knock (I have written them as well) and do this type of thing that it was refreshing to meet someone who at least cared enough about my soul that they would ask. It didn’t hurt my feelings.

pros·e·lyt·ize (präs(ə)ləˌtīz): convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.
The lady I encountered used the word to connote persuading someone from one “denomination” to another. Yet the original word (I think) is synonymous with how many Protestants use the word evangelize. Many of you have encountered a similar experience to the one I had above. I have also had these experiences in Moore, Oklahoma and Joplin, Missouri during Tornado Relief help. I admire people who do this because I believe that for the most part their intentions are pure. If we really believe in Jesus and the Great Commission then are we not supposed to help in the seeking and saving of the lost? Renowned atheist and entertainer Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) recorded a video of an experience he had with someone who shared a bible with him after the performance. Penn was blown away by the guy and said these things:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize,” Jillette said, “I don’t respect that at all.

“If you believe that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and people could be going to Hell … and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, … how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?

“How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, … there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and [everlasting life] is more important than that.”

I thought those comments were well said and I received them in a way that convicted me. So I am going to share with you a conclusion based on observations I have made over the years.

This church in Springfield that came to my front door this morning is the ONLY one that has ever done so. Like them or not they get out there and put other churches to shame. I know we can fire back and say “But Robbie, it’s all about developing relationships with those people and getting them plugged in to the mission of the church.” You’re right! Let me ask you, “How many people in your church are developing said relationships with unchurched people?” Maybe you are snarky and respond: “They are just looking for salvations and are not really concerned about making disciples.” This is the anti-numbers argument. Perry Noble, pastor of the Newspring Church in South Carolina, has some helpful suggestions on the idea of numbers:

If we’re not concerned about reaching more people far from Jesus, we can keep our churches at a comfortable, small size. We can continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, only talk to the people who keep coming, and never worry about people outside the walls of our buildings because they might make us uncomfortable…

…All the while people are going to hell because we’re more concerned about our temporary comfort than people’s eternal destinations! (Source)

Door-knocking might not be the most effective way at doing mission but by golly they are out there doing it. This is not even about competition either because as soon as I talked with the lady about our home church she was grateful that we were plugged-in somewhere.
It seems that reaching people for Christ is not the issue but how we do it is. I wonder how many of us are so convinced that a relationship with Jesus is primary that we would be willing to tell someone about it.