ALL THEY HAD

The legendary NFL coach, Bill Parcels once said, “You are who your record says you are.” You might be coaching a very talented group of players, but if the team’s record says you have only won five games out of seventeen, then you have a non-playoff team. To be a playoff team, that group of talented players must win games. Only then can they dispel the “not very good” label.

A similar statement can be said about pastoring a church. Society, and many in the church world, base success on how many people attend on Sunday mornings. When studying the larger churches, we see they have children’s church with a director, teen ministries with a director, mission coordinators, and other staff members that help that church be successful.

Seeing these bigger churches do those things, we look at our small and rural local church. It oozes with potential, but we cannot help but notice all the missing pieces. We say to ourselves, “if only we could fill these missing pieces, then the puzzle to growing our church will come together.” Our missional focus becomes trying to recruit the missing puzzle pieces. But is this a healthy way to make disciples? Is our commission from Christ about filling in certain roles?

1 Samuel 13:20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. (NET)

Saul and Jonathan were preparing to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines. There was one problem, Israel had no blacksmiths. This meant they had no one who could help them make weapons, the instruments of war. And if you are going to war, weapons are important.

What were Saul and Jonathan going to do? The two of them had swords, but how effective would they be with them if no one else had them? Were they just going to call up the Philistines and ask, “Could we get a timeout, please?” Their enemy was not concerned about them being armed; the Philistines were happy the Israelites did not have any. A takeover is always easier when the other side cannot fight back.

To their credit, Saul and Jonathan did not cry because they did not have weapons. They did not pout and stomp their feet because there were no blacksmiths or weapons. Nor did they pray and ask God to make it rain swords from the sky. Saul and Jonathan did not use this as an excuse to surrender to the Philistines. Instead, they took inventory.

The Israelites did not have swords or spears, but they had farming equipment. And to be honest, farmers were not trained used swords and spears. However, they had spent their entire lives using the plowshares, axes, sickles, and other cutting instruments. Saul and Jonathan had the farmers sharpen these for battle.

I know full praise bands are all the rage in the church world right now, but all you have is a pianist and a hymnbook. Stop crying about it. You may have kids running the aisles full of sugar, not the Spirit, and teens attending with no real engagement. You do not have a person to champion kids or teens. Stop crying about it. It would be nice if you had these people, but you do not. And these missing pieces do not diminish the potential that you see. This gap cannot consume the reality of where you are now. “You are who your record says you are.” Your church is not the mega church. And the truth is, God has never asked you to be.

Instead of lamenting and wasting energy on what your church lacks, ask, “what do we have?” Sure, you may only have farmers with plowshares, axes, sickles, and cutting instruments, but sharpen them! God has not sent you into a battle that cannot be won. He can win with the tools that you have.

How? Pray for God to show you how the people can be used within their own skillsets. Ask for wisdom to sharpen them for the mission. Then go to work viewing them as a strength instead of a hindrance. You may not see the tens or hundreds you are hoping, but it is better than lamenting over what is lacking and reaching no one. Your church can reach at least one person based on what God has already provided.

Jason and Nicole Barnett, Pastors of Greensburg Church of the Nazarene

See What is Around You

Traveling on country and backroads, you see many sights and many times you see a church that is old and dilapidated, what are your first thoughts that go through your mind? Maybe the sign has not been changed in months or even years. The grass and weeds are taking over the once gravel parking lot. Possibly the church hasn’t seen a coat of paint in a generation.

Do you think of the people that once had a vision for Christ’s work on that very spot? can you picture all the sacrifice and hard work to get them that far? Do you sense the passion that must have rang throughout the building at one time? Can you hear the testimonies of salvation and sanctification that must have been experienced here? Or is the only thing you see is neglect and abandonment? Or do you see anything at all?

As you drive through the countryside many times, we drive through places that are picturesque and scenic but other parts of the community you may catch a glimpse of an old broken down house with laundry on the line. There might be an old car in the driveway, what do we think about the people that live there or is it just another place that we passed by?

Some see rural America as a place to retreat from the noise and the confusion of city life. It’s a place to relax and enjoy recreation activities. Others see rural America as a decaying and dying landscape where people are stuck in the past and are as rundown as the old homes and churches that dot the landscape. Still others see rural people as closed-minded bigots who reject modern society and perpetrate longstanding racial and economic biases.

We can become so familiar and comfortable with our surroundings, that we become blind to the very community that we live in.

What do you see? Christ sees people who are without a Shepherd. To Him, these communities represent individuals who have been devastated by the ravaging effects of sin and are in desperate need of the Gospel. Too often, when driving through the countryside of rural communities, we fail to see like this.

And what do you see when you drive by a boarded-up church? We become so familiar with our surroundings that we are blind to the community around us. Do you see a church that died because it was stuck in tradition or legalism? Do you become sad, knowing that it represents a light on a Hill that has become darkened? When you pass a small church on the side of the street of a small town, do you see a vital part of the faith community providing a witness of the Gospel? Or do you see a church that drains resources and should be closed so that the resources could be utilized better elsewhere? Small rural churches are vital to the work of the Kingdom. Over 6 out of 10 churches have less than 100 in attendance any given Sunday.

Rural America is rapidly becoming a spiritual wasteland, where churches are being closed because they are overlooked and cast aside by the larger church community as a place deemed too insignificant or unworthy of our attention. – Glenn Daman, The Forgotten Church

Studies show that rural areas are quickly becoming the new ghetto, with persistent poverty, drug use among young people, and crime, all of which are becoming widespread problems. We also see incredible long standing and increased racial tension. When we see the true spiritual condition of rural America, we simply cannot ignore it. We need to ask “Why?” And “What would Christ have us to do to help?” To see with the eyes of Christ is to see rural people who are “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a Shepherd” Matthew 9:36.

When we drive through the countryside in the fall and find fields of corn and soybeans and other crops ready to be harvested, we are reminded of the spiritual harvest where the problem is never the potential for the harvest. Rather, the crisis is the availability of workers, which should drive us to our knees to pray that laborers would attend to rural America and strengthen our rural churches. We cannot ignore the need, for to do so is to undermine the very nature of the gospel.

The next time you drive past a old, rundown or closed church, pray for the loss of the community. Rural churches are crucial for the furtherance of the Kingdom. What do you see?

Pastor Rob Beckett, serving at Shepherdsville Nazarene Church since 2016 on the Kentucky District along side his wife Joanna.

Moving From Inspirational to Transformational

“Transformation is not some future event but it is the present activity now.”

Many times we see Facebook blubs or workplace posters strategically placed in lunchrooms to restrooms trying to inspire people to produce more and make them feel better about themselves. You will see things like, “believe you can and you are halfway there” or “accept no one’s definition of your life, define yourself.”

By definition inspiration is a person, place, and experiences that makes someone want to do or create something, and can be a good idea. An accurate definition is the act of drawing in: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions. Breathing in is the motivation here. But one needs to be careful of what and how they are receiving inspiration and that the inspiration is not the end of the experience.

Many seem to get caught up on this merry-go-round that never stops that inspirational comments are churned out hoping to lift and encourage someone in our society and churches that will deliver them out of some low place that they are in and experiencing. Inspiration is good and profitable but it is not the answer alone. Inspiration is only good as the tool to help bring transformation to peoples lives. Without transformation, inspiration is like a candy or sugar high that makes you feel good for awhile but does not carry you very far without real change taking place within us.

I think we must periodically examine ourselves and our churches and see that we are not only inspirational churches that lift people up but are also helping them to see the transforming change that Christ wants to do in them. Churches and church people can get stuck in status-quo of doing and speaking uplifting messages and send people home without challenge for transformation.

By definition transformation is change in composition, outward form and character. Romans 12:2 reminds us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In society we hear many things from all over the place, but it is the things of God that which should be the determining factors in our lives. This world will say a lot of seemingly good things but they go against what scripture tells us. Remember earlier the quote that said, “believe you can and you are halfway there.” It is true that belief or faith is the key but it can not be unlocked by our power of anything we have done but only through Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Transformation takes our people and our churches from hoping so to being so, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” Galatians 2:20. Change in life and in ourselves is inevitable, but transformation is by conscious choice. Transformation happens when you move from inspired ideas to transformative action in a deliberate and intentional way. Transformation is not some future thing that you plan to do sometime or somewhere but the present activity that you are doing now that makes the difference.

In the letter to the Ephesian church Paul prayed for them to do exactly this thing. In chapter 1 he prays that the church would be illuminated or inspired by the fact that they are the children of God and that they belong to Him and to inherit the Kingdom. But Paul goes on to pray in chapter 3 that not only would their eyes be opened but that they would act upon it as a realization in their lives…to be transformed in that knowledge.

Your church does not have to be a big church to make this difference in your community. Yes, be faithful to inspiring people, but also challenging them into the transformation that God wants for them. The other inspirational quote said, “accept no one’s definition of your life, define yourself,” The biblical view would say, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” It is in Christ that we should be defined not in ourselves. D.L. Moody said, “the bible was not given for information (or suggestions) but for our transformation.”

Pastors and leaders, lets not just fill our people up on candy that will not last but feed us and them with the strong meat that will make them strong and useful for the Kingdom. Giving them the strength and courage to make that inspiration a realization and transformation in their lives.

Pastor Rob Beckett at Shepherdsville Nazarene Church on the Kentucky district. Restoring the “Image of God” to the broken and hurting.

No gimmicks and more passion about the mission is the recipe for real revitalization.

If God has already provided the ordinary means of growing in grace as we find in His Word, why do we think that we have the right or the greater wisdom to invent new ways through entertainment-driven, success-oriented worship and ministry? Brian H Cosby, Giving Us Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Church

I must admit that during my brief stint as a youth leader in a church that we attended some years ago, I did some things that yes some still talk about but I hopefully now have better judgement in not doing. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that we were simply becoming “all things to all people that [we] might by all means save some.” But I’m quite sure he wasn’t talking about preforming antics so that we could try to convince some teens in coming to church.

You know how the story goes, took some teens bowling trying to have a good time and half way through the night, the crazy notion comes in your head to tell them if they beat me in score then I would wear a skirt to church the next day. Needless to say, they beat me by 1 point. There I was stuck. I cant go back on my word, they would never trust me after that. No, I had to go through with it, but at least the Lord helped me by thinking of a way of fulfilling my promise and not getting completely thrown out of the church forever. Fortunately my wife had one of those elastic waisted skirts that I could pull over my suit and fulfill my promise and retain some dignity at the same time.

The point is what sometimes happens in youth groups is not necessarily appropriate for our church services. I am afraid that too many churches are relying on gimmicks to bring or retain people into the church. The Gospel can be lost whenever Christianity becomes too casual and worship is reduced to entertainment. Many megachurches have a mini-Gospel where the emphasis is more on attracting people rather than retaining them for discipleship and service. They are relying on their cleverness and creativity more than what should be at the base of everything we do…the plain and unedited gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I agree that there are extremes that we can go either way. We can swing so far one way and seem to turn our desire to attract people to our churches that it can look more like a circus instead of a place of worship or we can swing so far the other way that we become so institutionalized that we shut out anyone that is not like us and almost seem to be a exclusive club that guards each and everyone that is allowed in to the inner-sanctum. But that is not the way that Jesus, the master-builder and architect of the Church draw people unto Himself.

Jesus did not feel compelled to put on skinny jeans and wear tee shirts that was too tight to try to be relatable to the crowds. Jesus didn’t feel that He had to be more approachable to reach the people He was talking to. Jesus spoke truth plain and simple. He did not jazz things up to get their attention, He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and left the crowd to digest it and ponder the information and many responded, but many more didn’t. Our passion should be the gospel in the purest form possible without helping it with gimmicks.

There must be at the core of everything a church does, weather big or small in size, a true burning passion inside that weeps at the thought and sight of lost souls all around us that do not know this Christ that came to save the a lost world (John 3:16). Returning to our core mission and commission to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations” must be the central and exclusive mission drawing people unto Christ. Gimmicks do not change peoples lives but the gospel of Jesus Christ does. We must be about speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that people are persuaded to follow. The focus should not be on programs, gimmicks, or events. But true biblical evangelism happens, not when crowds are attracted to a church for their spectacular experience with worship that is covered in blue and purple colorfully lit stages or a sanctuary that is so dark that we think we are in some kind of secular concert wanting to raise lit bic lighters for tribute to Jesus. But rather when the members of the church are sent out into the world to bear witness to Christ to the community around them, that is when Christ is truly honored and glorified and not in a production.

*When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself,” His primary reference was to the cross, but His words also include the resurrection and ascension in its meaning. Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension are all linked to His glorious exaltation and the drawing of sinners to Himself (Romans 6:9–10; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Revelation 1:18). But it is the cross that is the centerpiece of the gospel and the magnetizing force of Christianity. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, in all its magnitude of meaning revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit to human hearts, appeals to the whole wide world. No class, social status, race, nationality, sex, or age group is excluded from its attraction.

Do not be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying treasure that He is and strive to faithfully feed His sheep through the means of grace that God has already provided His Church.

Brian H Crosby

It is Jesus who does the hard work of drawing and converting people for His Kingdom. Our job is to simply lift Him up, glorify Him, and tell of His wonderful gospel. If you desire to see your church revitalized in real and tangible ways then stay on focus and keep your eyes on Jesus. You can rearrange the stage all you want, you can change the lighting to as many colors as you like, and you can try to pull out as many gimmicks as a magician, but the power is in the life, cross, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. Many churches today are in need of revitalization because they have strayed too far away from the passion and power of the straight gospel message for gimmicks.

Pastor Rob Beckett, Shepherdsville First Church of the Nazarene. Shepherdsville KY “Restoring the Image of God to the broken and the hurting”

Something That is Working to Revitalize a Indiana Church

“Hard to really love your neighbor if you don’t at least know them!” – Darrell Sellers

Recently my District Superintendent (pastor to pastors to those non-Nazarenes) posted an article titled “9 Things That Worked in the Church A Decade Ago That Don’t Today.” He then went on to comment that he wishes there would be articles written about what does work. A quick search will find millions of returns on google of people’s opinions, strategies, and maps to success for the growth of a church. There are just as many reasons why churches fail. The following is just an observation of what has worked (and still working) in Washington Indiana. Please realize that every church is different, with different chemistry, different lay people, different obstacles, and different approaches. I will never personally believe there is only one way to solve a problem that is the same in two or more different environments.

The Scripture. We are all familiar to the time where Jesus meets the rather different woman at the well (John 4). That meeting can be broken into parts. The first part is the introduction. Now, many of you that are pastors have or will preach on this passage and find out why she was different. There in the middle of the day, all by herself, and a personal life that sparked conversation in town are some of those things – on top she was a Samaritan and Jesus a Jew! But, nonetheless, Jesus introduced Himself to her. The only person that Jesus told who He was! The point is here they each said “hi” in their own ways. Their relationship starts with a hello.

The What. We, here at Washington Nazarene, look to say hi through a prayer walk. We do this every week on Thursday around lunch time, weather permitting. It is not your typical prayer walk that had become somewhat a fad a while back. We walk our neighborhood with the intent to meet someone new and pray with them if they accept our invitation. We start with prayer asking for the opportunities to meet and pray. Then we walk. For about an hour. It gets hot, I and not in the best physical shape and my partner is in his mid-70s. If we can do it, anyone can! We would love to have a couple more walk with us but for now this is what we have. We say simple hello’s and gauge a response. If they converse, we continue. Nothing pressing and never aggressive. We have faith that Jesus is with us and He will present the opportunity. We have done it for about 3 months now and have had at least one opportunity to meet someone every single walk! Every one of them! If we feel led, we ask to pray. If not we continue on and thank God for the opportunity to meet a neighbor. Hard to really love your neighbor if you don’t at least know them! I always end with appreciation and thanks as I attempt to rehydrate in the air condition of my office!

The Why. We are planting seeds. How many references are there in scripture about planting seeds? Plenty that almost every pastor has preached about it. My last senior pastor has a sermon titled “The Leaky Seed Basket.” We cast our seeds everywhere. But Darrell, don’t you do it to fill your church? I would love to see the pews packed every Sunday! But I do not control that. Matthew 9:37-38 identifies the Lord of the harvest, and that same Lord of the Harvest increases the return based on the very seeds He supplies from 2 Corinthians 9:10. We plant His seeds. He brings the harvest. Galatians 6:9 tells us to not give up planting those seeds. We cannot make the harvest come no matter how hard or how loud we pray for it! The seed is the beginning of the disciple making process. It was the beginning of that conversation between the Son of Man and a Samaritan woman by herself.

The Implementation. What does that look like for you? I am not an athletic person so an Upwards Bounds type of program wouldn’t work for me or this congregation. There are recovery programs all over town here, so that venture would be a drop in an ocean. I found that this congregation loves in a way that leaves a lasting memory. People will walk away knowing the love is pure and lasting. They will never know that love until they meet the sources of that love. They (the congregation) also defined the mission area of this local body was right where we are physically – the neighborhood. I would like to encourage you, the local pastor, that there is a mission for your local church. It does not have to be completed before Wednesday night Bible Study. Find your flock’s strengths, direction and encourage movement in a direction that satisfies both. Start simply. Plant the seed. Then plant another and another and another. He will bring the harvest. And the harvest will be great. It will be more than those in the fields can handle. Seeds must hit the fields first!

Motivational speakers often quote a Chinese proverb that states “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We remember that Paul once wrote I have finished the race and fought the good fight. James teaches all about endurance. All these things start with one simple action. One simple step, One small seed.

Go and plant!

Guest Contributor

Darrell Sellers, Pastor at Washington Church of the Nazarene in Washington, IN

From Smoldering Embers to Revival Fire

Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years and it has been even longer since there was a new conversion at their alters* (or anywhere else in or around the church).

George Barna says that ” a church cannot be turned around until a contingent (or remnant) of people is so firmly committed to the ministry of the church that they will sacrifice almost anything for the good of the church, to the glory of God.”

It is no wonder that so many churches are struggling, the fire in the church has turned to smoldering ashes. Until the people of the church get and see the vision and purpose that God has for that local congregation, nothing will happen of any significance. It will be like cooking on the stove with no heat. Leadership or committees can come up with all the programs and activities they can think of and put all kinds of money in it to make the production or project attractive and appealing that they want but until the church is following and obeying the vision God places for them, it will result in human effort and human results which is inadequate compared to God’s effort and God’s results.

I am reminded of Leviticus 6:13 that says, The fire must be kept burning on the alter continuously; it must not go out.” This is the root of the problem that most churches that are in decline face. They do not tend the fire. Some of the many definitions of tend is to; apply oneself to the care of and to have or take charge of as a caretaker or overseer. God is telling the church that we must take care of and stoke the heavenly fire that the Holy Spirit provides and brings to us. But we can be neglectful and distracted and take our eyes off of the vision that God provides for us and when this happens we must seek to rekindle those fires in our church. Somewhere in the beginning history of your church, someone had a vision and fire that God placed in them to start that church in that place at that time. It is time to reestablish and rekindle that fire.

So how and why is the fire so important and essential for the life of a church? In Leviticus it is mentioned several times that the fire in the altar was to burn continuously. God wanted a perpetual fire burning there, and He must have had a very good reason for it to remain.

  1. The fire was the very representation of God Himself. Before the law was ever given, God appeared to Moses “in flames of fire from within a bush on the back side of the desert. Moses realized that as he gazed upon the sight before him, that even though the bush was on fire it did not burn up or was it being consumed” (Exodus 3:2). God chose the appearance of a continuous fire when calling Moses to lead the people out of Egypt to a new land. Later, when God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God appeared as a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21–22).

Then came the Law. Outside the tabernacle, the fire for the burnt offering was commanded to be kept burning; never was it to be extinguished. Leviticus 6:13 instructs, “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” This is mentioned three times in this chapter (verses 9, 12, and 13).

Churches today can try to create an atmosphere of emotional and spiritual awakening but nothing will replace The Almighty Himself in your church through the Holy Spirit.

2. The fire was the demonstration of His power. Another reason the ongoing fire was so important is that it was started directly by God: “Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Leviticus 9:24). So, for this reason, the fire on the altar served as a constant reminder of God’s power. It was a manifestation from heaven. No other source of fire was acceptable to God.

The church can try to manufacture and duplicate but nothing other than the real fire that only can come from God will work for your church. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in having free reign in the people and in the services will do for God.

3. The fire also represented God’s presence. “God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). The Shekinah glory was visible in the fire at the altar of burnt offering. Shekinah glory is a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth in their place of standing. This ongoing presence of God reminded the Israelites that salvation is of the Lord. The atonement made at the burnt offering could only be made through Him.

In our churches we must allow and tend to the fire and presence of God in our church life throughout our services, our ministries, and our church fellowship. The fire must not go out for any reason or everything we do as a church will be hollow and shallow.

4. the fire represented the purity of God. In the New Testament, John the Baptist said that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). Fire served as a sign of judgment and refining, but it also reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost in the form of “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3).

What our churches need that are plateauing and declining is a renewed and rekindled pure fire that only the Holy Spirit can bring. Churches are smoldering embers, shadows of past glory, dying out because for one reason or for many, have reduced their life to ashes. We need to expose ourselves to the consuming fire of God and allow Him to burn away anything that is not like Him in our churches.

The continuously burning, divine fire at the altar of burnt offering helped remind the Israelites of the reality of God’s presence and of their need for God. The sacred fire endured throughout the 40 years in the desert and likely beyond that, as tabernacle worship continued until the time of King Solomon and the building of the Jewish temple. When the temple was dedicated, God once again lit the fire on the altar (2 Chronicles 7:1). Let us, let God, light the fire in and on us again. The same way that He did when your church first started.

May the remnant of people in your church start praying and seeking the fire from heaven that only God can provide for you. May the fire get inside each and everyone in such a way that they will be willing to do anything that God commands of them that they will do it without abandon. May the fire that is from God be on the alter of the people your church be a continual burning fire that is put out and is always tended and stoked. May the fire that comes to your church reflect His appearance, demonstrate His power, manifest His presence, and most of all cleanse and purify each and everyone for the furtherance of His Glorious Kingdom.

*Lifeway Research

Portions from “GotAnswers”

Pastor Rob Beckett, Shepherdsville First Church of the Nazarene. Shepherdsville KY “Restoring the Image of God to the broken and the hurting”

Honest Conversations: Have You Taken The Time To Consider…? Part 2

“The church needs less finger pointing and blaming and more prayer and anointing.”

We will continue the discussion on the 3 part article that we must have with the church leadership in order for our churches to experience and live revitalization. The first part of the article we looked at the necessity for the pastor, board, and Jesus to be evolved in open and honest conversations about the state of their local church. The need for understanding who they are in the Body of Christ, what their purpose was, how the church was in health terms, and how the church could be more effective corporately and personally. These conversations can be uncomfortable but essential for revitalization.

So later in that same board meeting I shifted the focus of the conversation to them personally. It is easy to stand above others and to bark out directions for the church as a whole and even criticize the work being done or not done, but we must look at ourselves and see that we are the ones that must lead with example. How can we expect a congregation to do certain things if the leaders of the church are not doing them themselves. I remined the board members what Paul instructed us in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test and evaluate yourselves to see whether you are in the faith and living your lives as [committed] believers. Examine yourselves [not me]! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves [by an ongoing experience] that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test and are rejected as counterfeit?” (AMP).

So we had a little examination to test how effectively we were leading the church. I started by asking some simple but poignant questions of the leaders of the church;

  1. Can you name 3 active ministries in the church? At the time of this board meeting there were 9 active ministries operating in the church. Everything from prayer groups, children ministries to food distribution. I went around the room to the 5 present board members and asked them one at a time to name three, and with not much surprise most could name 1 and only two people was able to name 2. This was not done to embarrass anyone but to bring home a very important point, that they state that they wanted to see the church grow and flourish but yet they don’t know how the church is growing and flourishing, without them even knowing what is going on right before them.

Honest conversations require honest appraisals. This was a obvious case of too many chiefs but not enough Indians. A church that is initiating and moving forward in revitalization must have leadership that is aware and invested in each and every ministry of the church. This is not to say that they need to be involved in everything, but be keenly aware of the impact and work that is being done in those ministries.

2. Who has attended or participated in a ministry other than regular scheduled services? This was a natural follow-up to the question before of what ministries they could name. Its one thing to name ministry but are you involved in any with real equity invested in it. You know the saying goes that “where you put your time and money is where your heart is.” Jesus said in Luke 6:45 “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” This applies to what we spend our time doing also.

It is imperative, in revitalization, that the leadership also be involved in some of the ministry happening in the church more than just showing up for services. Not only does it help to build up and encourage the other workers but it helps to strengthen the leaders own spiritual health doing Jesus work along side others. The Christian walk, especially Christian leadership, is participation oriented. Jesus said “take up your cross”, “go out into the fields” and “give a cup of water.” Leaders are to be the examples of Jesus’ hands and feet to others.

3. Where is your support considering prayer, finances, time, or encouragement? Not every leader can do everything in the church and they are not asked or implied that they should but it should be expected of leadership to support every ministry with the resources they need to accomplish the commission of Christ. The leadership of a church in revitalization must have a open dialog with workers of the ministries so that the leaders provide every possible support through prayer on a continual “non-ceasing” commitment. Providing finances from board budget decisions but from their own support when special offerings taken and fund-raisers are promoted. Giving time to workers and for service is essential. and finally the most important is encouragement to ministry workers, letting them know what they do is all for the Kingdom and it does not go unnoticed.

4. How many people did you intentionally call or talk to that you invited to church outside your home? In the first part of the board meeting everyone expressed the desire to see our church grow and have more families in it, but I asked them how they were involved in making that a reality? How many did they talk to and asked to come to church with them this week, this month, or even this year? There was a silence of too long a span. Outside of their homes, they could not tell me of anyone they had talked to, let alone witness to, about church. A church that is experiencing true revitalization is telling everyone about what God is doing in their church. I will say that a church being revived and renewed by God cant help but be compelled to tell of what He is doing and they want everybody to know about it.

Every church that is experiencing revitalization are the “talk of the town” because people are seeing what is going on and can see the fire in the people involved. We must be a people that “Go and Tell” what God is doing among His people.

5. Name someone new that has started to attend in the last 6 months? This question, if I must be honest, broke my heart and disturbed me the most. We have had the honor of have new people come to our church since God has been revitalizing our church, but I started noticing a disturbing trend occurring. I noticed that even though our people considered themselves a “loving church”, there were people coming and not nearly enough people were engaging and talking with them.

Most would say that yes a couple new couples had come but other and a first name they did not know there last names, where they came from, where they lived, what they do, or anything else for that matter. This exposed the fact that they were loving to the people they knew but stayed distant from newcomers and disinterested in bringing new folks into the fold. Closing ranks and circling the wagons is what helped get the church to where it needed revitalization. That culture must stop.

And then finally, I asked one last question concerning our personal involvement in the ministry of the church:

6. When was the last time you walked up to someone and thanked them for what they do in the church? As the leadership of a revitalizing church the leaders must show that they have genuine concern for the people of the church and not just being a commodity. Everyone needs encouragement. This is why Paul always told the churches that he wrote letters to, always be encouraging and edifying the body of Christ so that the work can continue in a healthy, loving environment.

Leaders, let people know that you do appreciate everything they do for the Kingdom, and that without their work and commitment, that your church would be not as effective in ministry.

We must have honest conversations to be everything that the Head of the church expects us to be. They can be done with gentleness and kindness but honest. Revitalization of a church starts with the revitalization of ourselves. In part 3 we will look at ourselves in this honest conversation.

Rob Beckett is pastor at Shepherdsville Nazarene Church in Shepherdsville KY “Restoring the ‘Image of God’ to the broken and hurting”

Five ways to help yourself overcome church hurt and heal

How many times have you heard someone say they are not stepping foot inside a church again because someone hurt them? The reality is that far too many people are have been hurt inside the walls of a church. The church was meant to be a healing place, but for many has become a hurting place. I do not believe it is part of God’s plan for a person who was hurt by others to remain outside the fellowship of other believers, God’s love must shine through. People who are injured by others must not allow their pain to overtake their relationship with Christ. God is calling his people home to heal, be restored, and be renewed in his image.

Everyone has pain.

If you have spent a short period in the church, you will have experienced pain. I still remember the day when a church member yelled and cussed in my face because I did not follow her instructions. After she stormed out, I sat shell-shocked for at least thirty minutes, trying to figure out a way to repair the damage she said I had caused. At that moment, I realized that everyone has pain, but some share it in high-stress moments or moments where they feel they are losing control, while others remain silent, allowing it to build up. That day, the board members’ pain was not what I had done, but the pain of past failures of others, and I happened to be on receiving end of the abuse. I recognized that day that we all have pain, but we have a choice when, where, and how we share it with others. Be someone who extends understanding and not judgment when the pain of others is shown, and realize that everyone has pain, and we need to love them anyway.

Everyone carries pain their way.

On any given Sunday, there are members in your local church who bring with them pain from the past. For some, they will leave it at the altar. For many, they carry it around, some as a badge of honor of what they have overcome, for others scars from the past attacks, and others hide the pain just below the surface, ready for it to come out when they feel wronged or threatened. Feeling pain is natural but living in pain is unhealthy. Christ taught his disciples to forgive and move forward by not allowing the situation to overtake them. What excellent advice for us today. To live for today, and not in the past. Carrying pain is a choice that God is asking to take for you. Do not permit the pain to be carried forward. Release it and move forward with God’s help.

Everyone releases pain in some way.

The pain that people experience will come out one way or another. The person in pain must choose to release it in a healthy way or the worldly way. Some try to remove their pain through drugs, alcohol, overeating, exercising, sleeping, etc.; one must ask themselves what God has to say? I believe that God is calling for us to give everything that is holding us back from being the very best that Christ has created us to be. He wants all the guilt, shame, anger, and envy. If a person does not release their pain, it will come out in unconstructive and damaging ways that will harm relationships and hinder their life in Christ. Be intentional and release the pain through prayer and positioning yourself to heal. 

Everyone needs to give up on what others think.

If you think back to your early memories, you have been told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The mentality of being directing has harmed many people’s ability to think constructively for themselves. This lack of thinking for ourselves has hurt our God-given talent to be who God has called us to be. I am not saying that you should not care about what others who love you have to say, but far too many have allowed the voice of others to override the voice of God. God has created you in his image, not in the idea of a parent, spouse, or friend. Permit yourself to say no. Permit yourself to analyze and think through something before you react. Too many relationships break down because one of the parties has not broken free from the negative mindset of what another person placed on them. Value what others say, but do not let it dictate who you are to become. Honor God by honoring his wishes for your life. 

Everyone needs to love themselves as Christ loves them.

God loves you. Read that again; God loves you. God has created you in his image with giftings and unique characteristics that no one else has. Be proud of who you are, where you have come from, and where you are going. Love yourself as Christ loves you with an overwhelming touch of his grace, mercy, and love. Those that carry the burden of pain from their past are struck in not moving forward. Through Christ’s love and touch on the person’s life, God can help the person heal from the pain caused at the hands of others. 

To overcome church hurt and heal, you have to overcome your own identity found in pain. You have to move from a victim mentality to a victor mentality to grasp what Christ has for your life. The church needs you. Do not allow a person to steal your joy of serving God within the church. Instead, be a joy giver by leading through the example of God’s grace by extending it to others by being who you are in Christ.

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Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky, and is the cofounder of the Rural Revitalization Network

Honest Conversations with the Pastor, Board, and Jesus. Part 1

I think if the truth be told, church board meetings are not the most spiritual encouragement that a pastor or board member will sit through in their church life. Some may even rank it up there with a visit to the dentist. That may be the way that some look at them but that is not the way it should be. Board and leadership meetings should be times of encouragement and empowering our leadership team instead of dreaded obligations that must be endured. Many churches that are in need of revitalization need to be looking at those meetings and start having conversations that look to further the Kingdom of God rather than maintaining a course of status-quo and complacency.

Having a open discussion with the church board and ministry leadership is a must. There has to be transparency and honesty in the discussion. Conversations looking at not only where we have been (reminiscing on days gone by), but where we are now in our church life cycle and where we see that God intends for us to be going ahead.

As I have discussed in other articles, it is essential that everyone in the local church understands who they are as individuals and as a church congregation in the Kingdom of God. So many times, church bodies operate without understanding who they are. Meaning they have a mistaken identity of themselves which ultimately results in lost purpose for existing in the first place. We cannot work and be effective for the Kingdom if we do not understand who we are.

In the church that I pastor, I set some special meeting aside to go over some of the things I thought we as a church need to do, and that was understand who we are and why we do the things we do. In this 3 part article we will walk through some of the intentional and purposeful steps we took and some of the results.

In this first part, I started off by asking 5 questions to establish the foundation for the discussion and evaluation that followed.

  1. What are the 3 core values of the church? Denominationally and locally? The purpose of the question was to see who knew what the Nazarene church stood for and in essence proclaimed to be. The silence was awkward and deafening. No one was able to respond because they did not know.

Christian, Holiness and Missional is what being a Nazarene means. We walked through each one with manual in hand giving the scripture that supported each one. You could tell that it made sense. People often ask what is a Nazarene and this tells who you are in the Kingdom work that we pursue. No one had even sit down with them and explained these to them and I wonder has anyone set down with your leaders and done this. Don’t assume they know what you think they should know.

The greater chance is that some or maybe most cannot answer this question if they were asked with your leadership or board. We must create a culture in our church where people understand and can communicate who they are. If anyone is in leadership they should be able to identify with the core beliefs and expound on them for anyone that ask. Revitalization starts with seeing who we are and where we are at so that the plateau and or decline can be corrected.

2. What is the purpose of this church? After going through the steps of the first question, you would think this would be easier, but be careful not to assume everybody knows. There can be a tendency for people to get inward focused on the purpose of the church. Turning their attention to internal ministry and programs that cater to the attenders rather on the commission of Christ in making Christlike disciples of all the nations and not just the church goer (Matthew 28:19-20).

In our meeting we needed to be reminded that the purpose of the church was to not be isolationist but accessible and available to the people that are not in the walls of the church. We needed to remind ourselves that there are broken and hurting all around us that need the salvation of Christ in disparate ways and we are to be the messengers of that “Good News.”

3. How do you feel the church is doing? It seems that everybody has a response to this question. All seem to have a opinion of some aspect of how they think the church is doing. Preferences start exposing themselves here but we need to be reminded that it has to be measured by what the scripture says a church should be doing and not how they like of dislike the worship music, or that the room temperature is too cold to suit them.

Everything should be measured by teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, making disciples of all nations, proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, encourage one another and build one another up, and as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

If your local congregation is not representing these traits then there is a overwhelming possibility that the purpose that is intended for that church is not being fulfilled.

4. How can the church do better? Again this opens the door for every opinion and comment possible. Every one have their view of what could be better for the present state of that congregation. People can have a tendency to point fingers and tell others how things should be run and directed but their are the very ones that also come up the quickest excuse why they aren’t the one leading the charge for change for the better.

When I posed this question to the leaders there were responses like the worship could be more lively and exciting. One must then ask themselves who makes it lively and exciting? It is up to the congregation. The ones in the pews must be responsive to the Holy Spirit stirring in the worship service for the fire to fall. It is hard to have fire on wet damp wood. Have you ever seen people sit there and say “bless me if you can” attitudes?

Acts 20:28 says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” It is up to each and every member to do there part in the Kingdom.

5. How can you make it better? Here is the rubber meets the road. When you ask the people how can YOU make it better, it quickly quiets the naysayers. 1 Peter 2:5 says “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Doing our part that God has called us into is our reasonable service.

For a church that is in revitalization it is imperative that the pastor, church leaders and Jesus have honest and open conversations to address change challenges and have eyes that are open to the leading of Jesus Christ in His church that we have the privilege to be a part of.

We will continue the conversation in 3 parts for leading in revitalization in your local context.

Pastor Rob Beckett, Shepherdsville Nazarene Church in Shepherdsville KY. “Restoring the “Image of God” to the broken and hurting.”

Six reasons to rebuild the church on the foundation of Christ

The church seems empty. The parking lot only has a couple of cars in her large lot. There appears to be no life left in the once-thriving church. In a last-ditch effort to save the church, the church board hires a pastor with a family believing that a younger pastor will save the church. When the pastor begins to change the ‘way it has always been done,’ there is a strong push back. Over time the pastors’ efforts to revitalize the church are thwarted at every turn. Out of frustration more than a call, he leaves the church to become the pastor of another church. Sadly, this scenario plays out weekly in dying churches all over America. Churches have to begin asking themselves; Is this God’s best for the church, to either die in self-rule over God’s rule? 

If a church is to move from the death spiral into stabilization and eventual healthy growth, a church has to realize that the church is not ‘there’s but ‘His.’ 

Recommit to serving the community instead of just serving those on campus.

Far too many churches are tucked away off busy streets, an island unto themselves, a club, more than a religious center, with the full benefits of membership and fellowship, but isolated from their call to serve the community. If one were to dig into the past of the church’s history, they would find not one major decision to isolate themselves from the neighborhood but slow, steady decisions that drew the walls closer and closer in on themselves. What was sometimes decades in the making will not be a turnaround with one blockbuster outreach event or even several throughout the year. But, a consistent outward-focus where members walk in partnership with the needs of the community.

If the church wants to move from lip service to community service, it must serve the community with a God-centered focus rather than an us-centered focus. This takes lots of prayers, a full-surrendered spirit, and deliberant outreach where the focus is on the agency, the program, or person in the community rather than the church. 

Resubmit to the authority of scripture and to Christ, and not just an influential leader within the church.

Who is running the church? God? The pastor? Or the church boss(es)? The temptation in a declining church is for a member or members to cling tightly to control because they are invested in seeing the church stay open. Too often, the investment that was started out of a place of love for the church is quickly overtaken by pride and arrogance that they are the only ones who can save the church. This misplaced authority eliminates the authority of God and scripture and hardens their unwillingness to cede control over to the pastor or new attenders in the church. Fiefdoms become the norm, and the kingdom of God becomes less and less. While outsiders may realize this is scripturally backward and threatens the spirit of God within the church, the church boss tightens his grip on the church.  

Lay leaders are not the leader of the local church. God has called an under-shepherd to lead the local flock in the mission and vision that he has spelled out for every church. If a church is to grow spiritually healthy, they have to resubmit to the authority of scripture and God’s called pastor and to allow him to lead them forward. 

Restore what has been lost by not holding on to the past.

As the church lies slowly dying, the memories of days long past seem to engulf the church. Tokens of celebration (memorial plaques, a dedicated room, etc.) become golden calves that enshrine the church in idol worship. What was meant for good has become the final nails drilled into the coffin of the soon departed church. Revitalization is about celebrating the past, evaluating the present, and preparing for the future. Restoring what has been lost (families, neighborhood relevancy, and Christ engagement) lets go of past practices to claim what God has for the church today. It does not mean a church has to forget its history, but it does mean they cannot cling to that history, or the church will become history. 

Throughout scripture, God did a new thing using an ancient thing (His Word, his guidance, and people’s obedience) to build his kingdom. Restoring the declining church is more about restoring the church’s relationship with God than attachment to things. Submission is not easy, but it is needed if the church will become the church that Christ has called her to be in this season of her life. 

Repair past hurts to restore God’s legacy within the church and community.

Prayer becomes the central tenant of a turnaround. Prayer, which leads to repentance for past wrongs and hurts that the church has caused, is crucial in the church evaluating where they have been and where God wants to take them. Restoration comes to a church when she can see past wrongs, seek forgiveness, repent, and turn from those wicked ways. The church’s legacy is not a negative one but one of grace for those around them. To win the community, the church must first win the spiritual war through prayer. Prayer cannot be a two-minute bullet point printed in the bulletin as part of the weekly service line-up but an intentional part of who the church is becoming. 

 Repairing past hurts will not mask that those hurts affected people; it will prepare hearts for what God wants to do new within the church’s life. Prayer positions the power of God to prepare the way forward to become a community-centered church. 

Redirecting from what has always worked into adapting to what needs to be changed.

Change is not easy, or it would already come about. Change brings out the worst in people when the change arrives at their ministry doorstep. Change can cause church splits or, at the very least significant fights within the church. Who wins when change is denied or delayed because of a minor, powerful cluster in the church? The devil. The evil one wants nothing more than to sow division and discord within the walls of the church. If the demonic forces can keep God’s people fighting inside, they will miss opportunities to expand the kingdom for God outside her walls. Churches that revitalize adapt to the changing nature of their time and community needs. Sometimes that means programmatic or wholesale structural change within the church.  

Instead of protecting programs, the church has to turn from professing Christ with mere words to partnering with agencies and groups that reach people groups that the church is not currently reaching. A gospel-centered Christ-focused church is a church that walks alongside people to make Christ-like disciples. That takes intentionality and adaptability. 

Refire the passion to allow new programs and people to lead.

Can a church be saved after years in the death spiral? Yes, the simple answer is if there is a remnant of believers who will allow themselves to be the spark of renewal. Revitalization is all about rekindling the passion for what God wants to do amid death. Scripture reminds the reader that old bones can come alive again if there are willing people to move past problems through prayer into a spirit of passion for the lost. Everything that the church has done in the past must be assessed for gospel effectiveness. If a program does not reach people for Christ, then the program should be retired to prepare for a program that will enable the church to reach the community in a new way. 

As part of the refiring process, turnaround leaders should pray for new people to lead or current members to refire their passion for the lost so that the church can become an effective field hospital for the sick.

The church of Jesus Christ is not dead. While a building may lay dormant and His people scattered, the church of Christ is very much alive. For far too long, the world has had a hold of the church and has slowly killed her. It is time that the church takes back the power by becoming a church built on the foundation of Christ as her cornerstone. 

Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky

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