Times of significant interruption can be used by God to bring greater clarity as we pause to ask, “Why?” It might be “Why me, God?” And if we are willing to listen carefully and look deeply within, we can usually find something that needs to change if we are going to be all that God wants us to be.
In our current setting where pastors and churches have had to make significant changes in their weekly activities, some are beginning to ask, “Why haven’t we tried this before?” Remember, the primary mandate of the church is to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples for the glory of God. Let me suggest that it is also imperative that we ask, “How well have we been doing?” An honest analysis would say that Christians look more like the world, than we look like Jesus. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. That reality forces us back to asking, “Why have we been doing the same thing year after year, expecting different results?”
One small change that can make a big difference is if we quit thinking of disciple-making like we were putting on our socks, and begin thinking more like we have to think when we put on our shoes. Socks can go on either foot. Shoes are specifically designed to fit a single foot. You can put your socks on in the dark, but you have to pay attention when you grab your shoes and try to put them on.
Recently, God convicted me with the reality that too often we look at people as if they were socks and try to put them into any one of the numerous open or underserved positions we have in our church. Since God has given church leaders the primary purpose of “equipping the saints” (Eph 4:12), we should be treating people like they were shoes, uniquely designed for a specific application.
That brings us to a tension that all church leaders have to face. Is it more important to staff the organization we have created or to equip the people God created and has called to serve Him? Are there activities and ministries in your church that are not being staffed? If so, are you asking, “Why are we doing it?” Or are you more concerned with sustaining those ministries than you are with helping believers evaluate, identify, and enhance their God given giftedness?
I truly believe that if every pastor and every church would focus first and foremost on equipping the saints that God sends their way, then the ministries God needs us to establish in our churches will be adequately staffed. That means, we have to stop treating people like they were a sock and treat them like they were a shoe.
Many of you have heard me talk about the need to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to major theological and ecclesiological issues. Often major issues fall into a paradoxical tension where we have to hold two contradictory opinions or ideas as both being equally valid. As such, when we don’t maintain the appropriate tension, we end up out of balance, and we WILL eventually end up in unhealthy or even heretical territory. Obvious examples are God is three but also God is one. Jesus is 100% man but Jesus is also 100% God.
Let me be so bold as to suggest that God can use our forced time of not being able to meet as we normally have for large group events to help bring back into balance: the tension between large group worship and small group discipleship. I believe we have placed so much emphasis and value on the worship event that we have taken our eye off the best place for deep discipleship to happen: the small group. Let me illustrate. At the height of the growth of Southern Baptists, the Sunday School was viewed as THE outreach and evangelism arm of the church. It was also the primary discipleship arena. When pastors gathered at various events their number one question was, “What’s your Sunday School attendance?” Then they might ask, “How many did you baptize last year?” Very few SBC churches even bothered to count worship attendance back then. Fast forward to today. When pastors gather today, the only question I hear being asked is “What’s your worship attendance?” We have slowly crept out of balance.
Now, anyone that knows me understands I am not suggesting large group worship is not important, because it is! However, with the advent of radio and television and now the internet, a significant emphasis has been placed on those few who have been uniquely gifted by God as orators—like Apollos in the book of Acts was. Most of us are called and equipped to be pastors (shepherds) and teachers. Those roles are better lived out in smaller group contexts. Let me again be so bold as to suggest that in times like these, the shepherding and teaching skills are in particular demand. So, recognize that you are probably NOT one of the small handful of great 21st century orators and begin to strike a healthier balance between your emphasis on the preaching time. I will even go to the point of suggesting you shine a bright spotlight on the small group discipleship times you currently have in place. And then, begin to think of how you will equip new leaders, increase the number of groups, and ramp up your promotion of discipleship groups.
May God be glorified and your church be edified as you find the right balance between worship and discipleship! Remember, we are called to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples!
How Do you Provide a Personal Touch In an Impersonal World?
During a time of restricted personal interaction, we have had to get creative in how we connect with one another. Many of you have heard me refer to “social media” as the “anti-social media,” because it provides a way for me to communicate with people without having to have a personal relationship with them. Additionally, it has created an environment where people say inflammatory things they would never say if they were face-to-face with someone.
But, I have to admit that the anti-social media has proven to be a valuable tool and even a lifesaver in recent weeks. However, instead of looking forward to calling someone I’ve never met a friend, it has provided me a way to stay connected with family, friends, and co-workers.
During multiple conversations with pastors on dozens of zoom meetings, I have consistently heard stories of how they are using technology to stay connected with people. And it goes way beyond putting sermons or worship services on-line. Personal phone calls, text messages, zoom meetings, and prayer notes are just a few of the ways pastors are caring for their flocks. Let me share two somewhat “old-fashioned” ways that have been used to put a personal touch on things.
One was by Pastor Aaron Householder of Southview Baptist Church in Lincoln. He had his secretary put together church member’s addresses in specific areas of the city, and then he stops by for a quick visit: rings the doorbell, steps back the prescribed social distance, and visits with those who came to the door. What he anticipated would be a quick ten-minute stop, has often turned into a 30+ minute, greatly appreciated conversation.
Another example was used by Kelly Wallace who is the children’s minister at LifeSpring Church in Bellevue. She bought A BUNCH of ding dongs and made snack sacks for each of the church families who had preschoolers or children (yes they were prepared in a hyper-sensitive sanitized manner). Then she enlisted volunteers who went to each home. They rang the doorbells (ding dong) and using approved socially distanced methods, they shared the snack sacks which along with the ding dongs included a cute card that said, “Knock knock. Who's there? Justin. Justin who? Just in the neighborhood and thought we’d say hello and we miss you!"
When I heard the story, I asked Kelly, when’s the last time you went to the home of all your families? The answer was never—we wouldn’t normally have time to do it. I affirmed her efforts and suggested that the children and their parents will always remember that you stopped by. And not just because of the ding dongs or the cute card, but because you cared enough to provide a personal touch in the midst of a very impersonal world.
Having just come through an Easter season that challenged our traditional thinking to its very core, let me encourage you to keep shifting your thought process in one critical area by asking yourself, “Is my church attractional or attractive?”
The word attractional has developed a negative connotation in many Christian circles as it is associated with glitz, glamor, and over the top techniques to attract a crowd. An attractional strategy forces a church to continually create bigger and better ideas to keep people coming because what you use to attract people is what you have to use to keep them.
Let me use a common magnet as an analogy. There are two simple principles we know about magnets:
I would suggest we focus on becoming a more attractive church. I’m not talking about having your building and grounds committee create a more aesthetically pleasing physical facility. Rather, I suggest we prioritize time, energy, and resources to create more attractive people. Remember, God cares about what is in the heart, not what we look like on the outside.
The attractive vs attractional wordplay came to my mind as God put me in touch with two books. Gene Stockton recommended Frances Chan’s book Letters to the Church. In chapter four he uses the experience of a friend who was saved out of a gang lifestyle to challenge churches to model for the world supernatural unity and love. In my role as a DoM, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been invited to intervene in a “church family squabble.” At some point, I will tell them, as lovingly as I can, “We don’t need to teach the world how to fight. They’ve got that figured out pretty well. What we can show them that will be attractive is how to have genuine differences, but still be able to love one another.”
The second book was recommended by my daughter, Emily, and is entitled: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. The book points to PTSD research and uses the term “tribe” in a similar way that Chan uses “gang.” Polite church circles would prefer the words “community’ and “family.” A point in Junger’s book is that many soldiers experience “tribe” while deployed, but have no similar support network when they return home, causing mental and emotional stress.
In a post COVID-19 world, don’t return to an attractional model. Instead, place your energy and focus on becoming a loving, caring, unified body of believers. Be a family that welcomes other members into your community and loves them and disciples them so they become attractive and welcoming to others. Become a Christian gang, a Christian tribe.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Mark Elliott, DoM
I’ve heard a few people suggest that we should remove March from our calendars since the last two have not been very fun here in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa—2019 floods and 2020 COVID19. And after being involved in a series of tough decisions to cancel a host of events, I have concluded that American’s are being asked to either cancel or postpone 2020. My oldest grandchild will hopefully graduate from high school this year; however, the May 23rd graduation ceremony that is on my calendar will not happen as scheduled. I heard on the radio that 2020 UNL graduates will be invited to “walk” with the 2021 graduates next year. We were going to do an “all-family” vacation in Florida the week before the SBC Convention, but both of those events have been canceled.
As I have reflected on the host of cancellations, I found it interesting that the first events to be canceled were major sporting events: March Madness and the 2020 College World Series. I’m wondering what God might be trying to tell us? We have become a nation where we have pursued sports, personal pleasure, and the accumulation of possessions at an ever-increasing almost frantic pace. If we were honest with ourselves we would admit that these things have become our gods. MAYBE God is trying to redirect our focus and energy. Maybe God telling a nation that believes we can continue to living at an ever-increasing frantic pace that it is time to slow down; to be still and to know that He is God.
As we are forced to change our daily life patterns, let me suggest that we don’t swap one hectic and harried lifestyle for another one where we just hop from one on-line meeting to the next. My prayer is that we will be able to reprioritize our time, energy, and resources to put more emphasis upon God, upon our marriages, upon our relationships with family and friends, and upon identifying and engaging in what God has uniquely called and equipped us to do.
Mark Elliott, DoM
I know we are all in agreement that God was not taken by surprise by the events of the past month. Therefore, we need to look to Him to see how we can turn a negative into a positive. How can we get on top of a tidal wave, ride it out, and use its energy for good—just like a surfer would ride a wave?
One major way that we can create positive energy is to shift our teaching themes during our on-line Sunday morning worship time to put special emphasis upon foundational issues. Take a page from Vince Lombardi’s playbook. He would on occasion stand before his team (one of the best professional football teams in his day) and declare, “Men, this is a football.” Then he would proceed to talk about the fundamentals of running, blocking, and tackling. Let me encourage you to help individuals and their families to enhance or for many of them begin a daily personal devotional and/or family chapel time. In times of crisis and chaos, it's always important to focus on the things that are truly important.
Many people have more at-home and discretionary time that could be used for spiritual development. This is a great time to talk about spiritual disciplines— linked here is a discussion summary of John Ortberg’s excellent book “Soul Keeping.” I have also attached a PowerPoint and a worksheet I have used to teach on selected spiritual disciplines. You are welcome to edit them to fit your needs.
As always, I am praying for you.
Mark Elliott, DoM
If you have limited experience recording video preaching and worship, here are some pointers from one pastor after his first week:
This note includes two major sections: (1) Encouragement/Exhortations and (2) Practical How To for those who haven’t used on-line communications with your church.
Encouragement and Exhortation
Let me suggest some strategic ways we can all respond in the midst of these challenging days.
First, I would encourage you to BE PRAYERFUL: We serve a God who was NOT taken by surprise by anything that has happened in the last two weeks. His Spirit indwells us and therefore through prayer we have the opportunity to be personally connected with the God who not only knew what was going to happen yesterday, but He also knows what lays ahead. II Chronicles 7:14 would be one of the most appropriate prayers we could lift up to Him today: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Second, I would suggest that you BE PURPOSEFUL: No, we cannot do what we have been doing in the ways that have been doing them. BUT we can still do the things that God has called us to do if we focus our attention on the “WHY” first and then the “HOW.” God called you to be a "pastor and teacher, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Together we have all been called to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples…for the Glory of God. (Matthew 28:19-20 and II Timothy 2:2) How we do it in the midst of this season WILL be different, and I believe it will drive us back to purpose and away from programs and established processes.
Third, I would challenge you to BE PASTORAL: Yes, you and your family are hurting, and yes, it might be the most difficult time you have ever experienced as a pastor. And if it this is your situation, then give me a call! at 402-680-0820. But I can guarantee you that there are individuals in your flock who need not only the comforting touch from the Good Shepherd, but they also need the listening ear and wise counsel from you--their under shepherd.
Fourth, let me suggest that you BE PROACTIVE: These are not the days where we can function like the lonely Maytag repairman who sat waiting by his phone for a distressed customer to call. Your motto should be “carpe diem” (seize the day)! Your attitude should reflect Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth: “'In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (II Cor 6:2) In times of distress, people tend to be more open to the caring touch of someone who truly loves them and truly cares for them. The number of people who need “the touch of the Master’s hand” hasn’t changed, but their hearts have been changed by the unprecedented circumstances we are all facing. “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! (John 4:35)
Fifth, I would suggest that you BE PERSONAL: With the restrictions on worship gatherings, let me encourage you to shift your focus and energy into strengthening your small groups. For some of you this will be an easy and natural response. For others it will almost be like starting from scratch. If you need help thinking through this process, give me a call. For me, personally, I am having to rethink how I can connect more effectively with pastors and churches. My methodology for 26+ years has been to join you for a worship service as my calendar permitted or to connect over a cup of coffee or lunch—those options are no longer available. Just like I am going to have to change the way I connect with you, you are going to have to change the way you connect with your people. We are all going to have to be far more personal in our approach—which probably isn’t a bad thing!
Sixth, let me encourage you to ADJUST YOUR PERSPECTIVE: While I was in the middle of composing this e-mail, I received a call from Pastor Kojo Allen. In case you don’t know Pastor Kojo, he is a native of Nigeria—a nation that even today is embroiled in conflict between the Muslims who dominate the northern area and Christians who are prominent in the southern area of the country. He grew up with those conflicts as a normal part of life along with the additional hardships of growing up in an area without the ample blessings we experience even today in the midst of what we are considering “extreme hardships.” I am not saying, accept the “new normal.” What I am saying is that it might be good for you to connect with some of your brothers in Christ who are pastoring one of our language churches. Pastors who have fled persecution and poverty that they experienced in Sudan, Burma, Nepal, or Central America. Connecting with men and women who have experienced deep poverty and political persecution can help all of us to adjust our perspective, and to be thankful even in the midst of adversity.
Finally, I let me encourage you to ADJUST YOUR PROCESSES: I was just on a conference call with the Governor of Nebraska. For the next two weeks we are in a government mandated restriction limiting meetings to groups of ten. Even in a best case scenario that restriction will go back to 50 or less for several weeks after that. So…let me suggest you move to a small group (New Testament house-to-house) discipleship based model and then take advantage of the technologies that are at your fingertip related to corporate worship. That brings me to section two.
Practical How To’s for doing on-line corporate worship.
Click the button below and it will take you to our HCN website and to information about both Zoom and Facebook options. If you have any questions after you have reviewed the information please contact our office. We can help trouble
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.