Archive for November, 2010

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

“Why,” a 76-year-old woman was asked, “are you seeking therapy at your age?”  Reflecting on both her losses and her hopes, she answered, “Doctor, all I’ve got left is my future.”

Can you feel the force of that statement?  All I’ve got left is my future! Well, think about it.  Our interest should be in the future because we’re going to spend the rest of our life there.  We have to be connected to the past but committed to what’s ahead.  If all we do is look back it’s like the result of driving while looking in a rear view mirror: we’re headed for a body shop! If our vision is fixed on where we’ve been we risk a severe collision with the future!  One writer said it this way: Your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror! Yogi Berra that great “baseball philosopher” also said it in his unique way: If you don’t know where you are going when you get there you will be lost.  Like it or not, the future is upon us!  My goal in this article is to help you see where we are now and where we are headed with personal evangelism training.  I am very much aware of strategic planning but what about strategic thinking?  It must come first.  So here is some of my thinking.

Here’s What We Know

The only thing constant is change. More has changed in the past 50 years than in the past 500 years put together.  Recently, I was on an airplane seated by a senior vice-president of IBM.  This guy was one of the very top-level executives (he told me he usually has the corporate jet flying him to his various meetings around the world).  He said, “Every 18 months IBM has to completely re-invent itself in order to keep up with the competition.”  Why can’t the church do that?  We have to know where we are and decide where we are going and we have to re-evaluate the process on a regular basis.

The most meaningful change takes place in the context of relationships. Relationships are the “glue” that hold people and programs together.  Without real and deep relationships, the laity and leadership will feel no sense of community with one another.  If we only call people together to “do” there will be no glue to hold them together when the planned event is over.  Events attract people, relationships make them stick.

We cannot continue with “business as usual.” If we don’t move with the times we will die.  What works today may not work tomorrow.  I have always wondered why my suit coat had buttons on the sleeves.  Well, I discovered one day that those buttons were originally used to attach ruffles to the sleeves, as these ruffles were not permanent attachments to the garment.  They were simply an “additive” which went out of style.  The Church has its buttons, too!  They are programs, organizations, methods, and styles—still being employed long after their purposes are forgotten and their functions outlived.  We must take a close look at our church’s “coat sleeves” so we can determine the difference between a permanent attachment and an additive which can go out of style.

Here’s Where We Are Going

We know that if we don’t have a vision for the future, then our future is threatened to be a repeat of the past.  I heard it said this way, “If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.”  Our approach will be preactive and proactive.  In the preactive stage we are planning for our future—designing the strategy and in the proactive stage we’re making our plan come true—we’re going to make it happen.  Here are just a few of our strategic plans:

Laity Alive. A refreshing “new from the ground up” comprehensive strategy targeted for the local church.  It involves consultation, planning, training and materials with the purpose of putting laity in ministry in the local church.  The goal of Laity Alive is to set up a functioning lay ministry program that includes small groups, team ministry and personal evangelism in the local church through:

  • Consultation and pre-planning: On-site visit(s) by qualified ministry personnel
  • Education and motivation: The best books, videos and tapes available and special teaching events
  • Training and coaching: “Hands on” personal involvement through actual participation
  • Implementation and follow-through: Formation of “ministry groups” both inside and outside the local church

The “big idea” is to truly mobilize the laity on the local level and put in place qualified lay leaders who will know how to minister in today’s society.  We believe that this new concept will become our “umbrella” covering and that all of our ministries will stem from it.  The potential is awesome!

Personal Evangelism Training. The message never changes but the methods sure do.  It is not longer “is it true?” but “is it real?”  We are preparing all new, one-day “power” seminars that are H.O.T.—High on Touch and High on Technology!  Our new conferences on training the laity are moving from illustration to animation.  Did you hear about the sign of the glass door of a bankrupt bookstore?  It said, “Words failed us.”  We have to move with the times.  We are teaching “relationship” evangelism.  We are showing believers the vital importance of loving God and then letting that love spill over to their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors (someone has called this frangelism!).  We are taking a new look the challenge of the cults in our nation and world.  We are now told that by the second decade of this new century, Islam is expected to replace Judaism as the second largest religious group in this country.  We will show new and innovative methods of dealing with the cults and stemming their growth.

Reach the “de-churched” and Win the Lost. We live in a society where, according to pollster George Barna, 85% of all non-churched adults have had a previous, prolonged period of time during which they attended a church.  He calls them the “de-churched.”  We must set our sights on reaching them and getting them back into the ministry and outreach of the local church.  We want to be a part of a denomination that has as its focus reaching the lost.  Consider our WIN Challenge effort.  Did you know that last year the Church of God signed up 3,074 churches in America and thousands of others around the world who committed themselves to reach the lost in their communities?  In the first eight months of 2000 these congregations came together and won 1,162,477 people to Jesus!  It is mind boggling to consider what can happen when we all come together to win the lost.

Here’s How We’re Going to Get There

We are willing to take more chances with the future.  We will not limit ourselves to the present.  We will think “outside” the box.  We will not be afraid to make mistakes, listen to others and take our “cues” from those laity who are on the cutting edge and live in the “real world.”  We will treat each task as if it is the most important we’ve ever had.  We will build a better and bigger network of friends and try to never let them down.  Here are some of the new ways we will do all of this.

Resources vs. authority. We exist to serve and resource the local church.  Our desire is to come alongside the pastor and local church leaders and assist them in reaching their goals.  We will do this with great teaching and training conferences and up-to-date resources.

Purpose driven vs. event driven. A purpose statement provides focus and direction.  Too often, local church lay ministry has been driven by events rather than purpose.  We schedule events (hundreds of them!) and before long the laity perceive that events are the ministry.  There must be a larger purpose to the events.  We want God’s people to make memories as a result of working together rather than just attend meetings.  This is what shapes the life of a church.

Involvement vs. talk. Have you ever heard this statement: Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I many not remember; involve me, and I will understand.  We give “O.J.T.” (on the job training).  We are providing opportunities for people to not only learn how to witness and share their faith but also to actually get out into the neighborhoods and meet the community.  All of our training seminars are E.P.I.C.—experiential, participatory, interactive and communal.

Printed page vs. virtual reality. Leonard Sweet in his book Soul Tsunami says, “When a church sets out to construct a Web site ministry, it is actually building a postmodern cathedral.”  Who knows where the Internet will take us?  It is going to be an unavoidable force that we must use if we are to reach people (saved and unsaved!).  We are putting time and money into developing the finest Internet resource available for teaching and training laity.  We are planning a “virtual” Soul Winners Internet University where anyone can take online courses, browse our bookstore, talk with us in a “real time” classroom and do a host of other things right from their home or church computers.  Did you know that already 16% of teenagers are claiming that they expect to find an online substitute for church within in the next five years?  We want to be ready.

Make disciples vs. make workers. The Bible doesn’t call us to make “workers,” but “disciples.”  Our goal is to make disciples and help them to reproduce themselves in others.  People don’t enjoy being made to go on a “forced march.”  True disciples will become workers out of the overflow of their growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Word from on high” vs. A.R.K. The key to vital lay ministry in the church is empowerment.  Business gurus have found that empowerment requires three gifts: decision-making power, adequate resources, and the knowledge base from which to work.  Spiritually, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be priests.  True empowerment means giving the person with the ministry vision the ARK (Authority, Resources and Knowledge) of empowerment. If there isn’t enough money, we can allow the person to raise funds. If the person doesn’t know where to begin we can facilitate training. Pastor and board committees become coach and coaching staff rather than impediments to be overcome.  Trust is the key element to release individuals to empowered ministry.

Closing thoughts

The future awaits us, a future which will not tolerate yesterday’s Church in today’s world, let alone the world of tomorrow.  This is an hour of challenge—and of promise.

Any time we’re tempted to think that we can’t go any farther we should stop and remember a certain commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office.  In 1895 he proposed to Congress that the patent office be closed because all the great inventions had already been discovered.  There’s a whole lot more out there!  My personal philosophy is “Don’t worry about what’s ahead.  Just go as far as you can go — from there you can see farther.”

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Who Is To Do the Work of the Ministry?

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:28-30 NIV).

A Vision for Ministry

As Pentecostals, today is our time to see the visions, to dream the dreams and to prophesy as God’s Holy Spirit is poured out upon us. What is God’s vision for His church? I believe that as the “laos of God” (His people) we must move toward a ministry for every believer. From the time I accepted Christ I have had a personal desire to make my life count for Him. I want to make a difference in my neighborhood, my community and my world. As a layman, I face the reality that I am not “called to preach” in the traditional way but I am still to be God’s ambassadors and minister.

I think it is time to stop talking about what we ought to do and just go do it! We must open the doors of our churches and go out [instead of just gather in] for ministry and service. I’ve often thought of how great it would be if every church declared a moratorium on meetings and sent the people out equipped and prepared to offer Christ to the world. What do you think would happen? Just think about it! Spirit-filled believers dispersed for mission and ministry into the highways and byways of our world! This will never happen if we just sit in our churches waiting for the world to come to us. A pastor told me just recently that before year’s end he is gathering the people for the traditional Sunday morning worship service. But rather than the usual “in house” service, he is asking his church to take the “service” to the community by visiting the lonely, the hurting, the sick and the impoverished. He is going to take them all out visiting on Sunday morning. What an idea!

What I just described above is a good example of the cooperative effort that must take place between the pastor and the congregation. We must become partners in ministry. What does this mean? It means a place for service and ministry for everyone. It is more than just doing a few church tasks. It is an attitude, an ethos, something that flows out through all believers in the church. If the laity of the church become true partners in ministry with the clergy the result will be ministry that will be shared between them.

A Vision for the Local Church and Staff Leaders

The church can become a saving station—a place where love abides and all people can find salvation, healing, holiness and safety. Many times when I am doing a church ministry conference I will ask the question, “Are you willing to accept whomever God sends through the doors of your church?” Our local congregations must be a station of fellowship where all people feel included, loved, and valued.

Next, the church can become an empowering station—a place where vital and exciting opportunities for worship and learning are offered. The “empowering” church disciples and trains its members. It will have programs of ministry for the young, old, men, women, boys, girls, married, and singles—all God’s children.

Next, the church can become an equipping and sending station—a place where we equip people for ministry and send them out into the community and world for mission and ministry. Equipping the saints for ministry is one of our most challenging tasks. Every church should have an evangelism leadership team—people who are dedicated, who have caught the vision, and are capable of teaching others in evangelism.

Lastly, the church can become a community outreach station—a place where programs are offered for youth groups, men’s ministry, women’s groups, community agencies, recovery groups, and assistance for those with immediate survival needs. This “community outreach” church cares about the community in which it lives.

Habakkuk stood at his watch post and here is what God told him:

Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. (Habakkuk 2:2-3 NIV)

We are given this time and this vision—and we should write it in big bold letters. Lift it high for the entire world to see! Let us claim the vision and lift high the cross together, as partners in ministry.

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