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.
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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