May 31, 2008

What an Awesome Morning in Brazil

Just got done with my session with the pastors and elders from the Presbyterian Church of Buritis in Belo Horizonte Brazil. God really spoke into the hearts of the leaders and gave them a renewed vision for God's ministry and mission.

It was awesome to see pastors and elders on their knees pouring their hearts out to God and to recommit their lives to extend the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

I know that God will use this church to impact this city for Jesus. I can't wait to see all that God will do through them.

Praise God!

May 29, 2008

Went to a Brazilian Soccer Game

After the pastor's conference today, my friend Pastor Robson, took me to a Brazilian Professional Soccer game.

I got to say, there is nothing like it. Thousands and thousands of people yelling, chanting, drumming, dancing, singing, screaming, cursing - although I couldn't understand a single curse word (Robson told me they were cursing in a chant), kissing, hugging.

This is one experience worth having at least once in your lifetime. I've never seen anything like it in any of our sport venues back home.

Pretty cool!

Pastor's Conference - Day 2

Just finished leading the pastor's conference.

Everything went really well. The pastors were very appreciative of what I had to share and they are excited about what God is doing at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

I thank God for allowing me to lead at Trinity. I thank God for allowing me to be with people who want to see the Kingdom grow. You are all awesome.

I will be meeting with the pastors from Eighth Presbyterian Church and from Pastor Robson's church to consult on their mission and ministry strategy.

I covet your prayers.

More to come tomorrow.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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May 28, 2008

Pastor's Conference

There are about 65 pastors gathered at the Pastor's Conference at the Eighth Presbyterian Church in Belo Horizonte. Eighth Presbyterian Church is one of the largest and most influential congregations in Brazil with about 3,000 members.

Today we talked about how to do church strategically in a post-modern, post-Christian, and a post-denominational world.

Although Brazil is a different country than the US, the challenges being faced here are not much different than back home.

It has been a good full day.

I will be speaking to the pastors again tomorrow during the morning and afternoon. Then I am scheduled to meet with the sessions of Eighth Presbyterian and the Presbyterian Church of Buritis where Pastor Robson ministers.

Another full day.

I covet your prayers.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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May 27, 2008

Almost got on the wrong plane

I almost ended up going to the wrong city.

I am at the gate and they started boarding so I boarded the plane - only to find out that it was going to Maringa.

How was I supposed to know? There's no announcements in English - only Portuguese.

I only found out when they announced our destination on the plane.

What adventures!

I am sure more to come.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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Almost there

I am almost there. I am currently sitting at the airport in Sao Paulo waiting for my flight to Belo Horizonte.

It is interesting how different the norms are in different countries.

I am tired. It was a jam packed flight from Dallas to Sao Paulo. It was an overnight flight and not very comfortable.

Now it looks like I am on a packed flight to Belo.

Thank God I don't have any lectures this evening.

I covet your prayers for I have a full load of speaking engagements while in Brazil.

More to come.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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May 26, 2008

On my way to Brazil

Haven't been able to update my blog lately. Been swamped getting ready for my talks in Brazil.

Will be speaking at a pastor's conference in Belo Horizonte for about 70 pastors, leading a retreat for Pastor Robson Gomes' church, and preaching at Pastor Robson's church and at the largest Presbyterian church in Brazil on Sunday.

I will be blogging about the trip while on the road.

Currently waiting for my flight to Brazil.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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May 21, 2008

Assimilate People in God's Ministry

Every single person has an innate sense that we were created and put here on earth for a purpose. Whether people can articulate it or not, everyone ones their lives to make a difference. We know to the core of our being that our breathing, living, and dying has to mean something.

This means that every single person who is drawn to Christ, welcomed in Christ, and connected in Christ's family must be assimilated into Christ's ministry.

It is the task of the leader to help those who have been drawn, welcomed, and connected to Christ's church to get into the ministry and mission for which they were created.

If a person doesn't get involved in serving and giving, that person will never grow in faith. There is no way to grow as a Christian without investing one's life in the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ.

Leaders ought to make it as simple as possible for someone to find their ministry.

If one does not get assimilated in God's ministry, that person will always remain in the periphery of the ministry. There is a window of opportunity to engage people in ministry. Most experts say you have 7-10 weeks to help someone get assimilated once they are drawn into the church.

The question to be asked is - what pathways do you have to help someone get involved in ministry?

If someone were to ask the question, "How does one become a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?" would we know how to answer that question?

May 15, 2008

Connecting People in Christ

Draw --> Welcome --> Connect --> Assimilate --> Disciple

We are looking at how we can be a church that is drawing people and welcoming people. Today, we will look the necessity for connecting people.

Great! Now that we have new visitors that our members have been inviting, and now that we have welcomed new visitors, we have to consider how we can connect people.

Even when a new-comer is drawn to Christ and welcomed into the church, unless they are connected with others, they will soon drift. People discover Christ through relationships and that means that we have to provide multiple avenues for people to connect with others. It is in those relationships that people discover Jesus and grow in the faith.

There are several strategies that I would like Trinity to engage in.

First is what I call the ABC's of small groups. The premise is that it is in small groups that people learn and grow in their faith.

A - stands for activity based small groups. This can be softball, volleyball, knitting, paint-ball, motorcylcling, golf, cars, or just about any kind of activity that people like to engage in. The key here is a leader who will organize and facilitate these activities. These activity based groups aren't started just for activities, but always with a mind to help people develop relationships between mature believers and non-Christians and new Christians.

B - stands for Bible based small groups. Most churches to okay in this area, but the problem is that these are the only kinds of small groups that most churches offer. And the problem with only providing Bible based small groups is that most non-churched people have little interest in the Bible. They need other avenues to connect with Christ-followers.

C - stands for community based small groups. This has to do with different life stages and circumstances. Examples of community based small groups are - MOPS (Mothers of Preschool Children), single parents, divorcees, widowers, recovery groups, etc.

The ABC's small groups allows multiple entry points for people to develop relationships with one another and with Jesus Christ.

Another strategy that I would love to see Trinity be able to start is what I call "Spiritual Trainers." Most churches function like huge exercise and gym clubs like 24 hour Fitness, or LA Fitness, etc. We sign up as many people as possible knowing that only a very few people will actually know how to use the facilities, equipment, and classes to achieve their fitness goals. We know that the great majority of people will give up in time.

If the goal is to get fit, one of the best ways to do that is to have a personal trainer who - based on how much time one has, what their goals are, etc. - designs a training regiment to accomplish those goals.

Many churches have a myriad of ministries and programs. We typically throw the book at them and say, "Here you go. If you can somehow navigate this maze and find the right people and a place where you can serve, great."

Most new comers have no idea who our leaders are and what these different ministries do.

I would love to see a group of people trained to be spiritual trainers who will meet with every member to discern, how much time people have, what their talents and interests are, what their spiritual goals are and design an individual program to help people meet their needs.

When we get better at connecting people, we will facilitate mature Christ-followers to continue their spiritual growth through service and ministry, and help non-Christians and new-comers to develop relationships with one another and with maturing Christ-followers.

Bottom line - we have to get better at connecting people.

May 14, 2008

Welcoming People in Christ

I believe there are five steps necessary for evangelism and church growth.
Draw --> Welcome --> Connect --> Assimilate --> Disciple

The first necessary ingredient for evangelism and church growth is we have to have something that is drawing people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second ingredient necessary for personal evangelism and church growth is we have to welcome people.

One of the things I did not mention in the last entry is that our churches have to be the type of churches our members have no problems inviting people to. Many of our members would like to invite people to our churches but they don't because they know that an outsider would not feel welcomed, or be bored, or whatever. If we're serious about growing God's Kingdom, we've got to get serious about why our people are not inviting people to our churches. And then we have to get serious about getting rid of all the obstacles in the way.

If we are going to invite people to church and to discover a relationship with Jesus Christ, the second thing we need to make sure is that we be a welcoming church.

Imagine if you were invited over to a house where you didn't know anyone but the person who invited you. And they asked you to come over at a particular time and when you show up, they are not there. That's the first problem most new comers to the church experience. If you are going to invite someone to church, either pick them up or arrange to meet them in the entrance or the parking lot. And make sure you get there earlier than your guest.

In the same scenario, imagine that you show up at this person's house and as soon as someone lets you in the door, they go off doing their thing, and the rest of the family is busy going about their own business and you are left there standing in the entrance way by yourself twiddling your thumb. We would never do that to a guest in our own homes. And yet this is the experience almost all new comers have in our churches.

If you're serious about growing, you've got to make sure that your members and welcomers know how to welcome people.

This welcoming process starts with parking. Make sure that you reserve the best parking spaces for visitors, elderly, parents with small children.

Second, make sure you have your best greeters at the door who can usher them to a welcoming center. It doesn't have to be extravagant. It just needs to be welcoming and have people who have the gift of hospitality.

Third, just as you would expect your family members to treat your guest well, train your members to welcome visitors. One of our goals at Trinity is to make sure that a new person has at least three face to face conversations with our members before they enter the sanctuary.

If you see someone who is obviously new, go and introduce yourself. "Hi, my name is James. Welcome to Trinity Presbyterian Church. I see that you've got a couple of kids with you. Let me show you to our children's ministry section and introduce you to the children's minister." That's not that hard. Everyone can do that. And yet a welcome like that will speak volumes about your church.

Another area where many churches fail visitors is with signs. We know where everything is because we've been going to this church for years. But a visitor has no idea where anything is and most are already feeling awkward. They are not going to ask for directions. Clear signs that point to your main ministry areas are vital to a visitor.

There are many other practical things you can do to welcome a visitor. But the best way to think about welcoming people is to envision the church as your home. How would you treat your guests at home. Take that same thought process and apply it to your church.

More to come tomorrow.

May 13, 2008

Drawing People for Christ

I heard someone once say, "Inspiration without organization leads to frustration."

When it comes to living up to the redemptive potential that God has given to each of our churches and to every Christ-follower, I don't think it's a matter of being told that we need to evangelize. Every Christ-follower knows that they ought to be sharing their faith. Every church knows that they need to be growing.

And every time most mainline churches and pastors hear about evangelism and growing God's kingdom, they react negatively because growing God's Kingdom through evangelism is exactly what mainline churches and pastors are not doing.

And the more we hear about how we need to be growing God's kingdom and evangelizing, the more frustrating it gets.

Certainly, the denominational headquarters are giving us no help on how we ought to be about evangelism.

So here it goes. Here's my attempt at addressing how a Christ-follower and a church might be engaged in evangelism.

I believe there are five steps necessary for evangelism and church growth.
  • Draw --> Welcome --> Connect --> Assimilate --> Disciple
I will speak about these five in the next coming days.

First thing is that if we are going evangelize and grow God's kingdom, we have to ask, "What is drawing people to hear my story?" "What are the things that would draw people to our church?"

If we are going to make a difference in the lives of those who don't know Jesus Christ, we have to first have something that draws them to seek Jesus. That's why Jesus calls us the salt and the light. We have to have something that draws people.

On a personal level, are you living in such a way that a person would be drawn to seeking Jesus Christ because of you? Is there something that is tangibly different about the way we approach life, trials, and joys that others cannot help but be drawn to why we live the way we do? Are we a salt and light to those who are around us?

That's the first place to begin. The first place to begin is with our own introspection. Are we any different than a non-Christ-follower? If we are no different - there's your problem.

As a church, we have to ask, what do we provide as a congregation that would draw people in? If there is nothing that would draw people in - there's your problem.

Most people think that programs and facilities draw people. Facilities and programs are merely tools. If you have programs and facilities that stink to royal heaven, well, that's problem. But excellent programs and facilities on its own will not draw people. The most effective tool and instrument for drawing people is your own people.

This goes back to what we were talking about earlier. We, as Christ-followers, have to demonstrate a life that is recognizably different than the world around us - our values, our dreams, our hopes, how we deal with success and failure, how we deal with life's ups and downs.

Salty people are the best "Draw"ers in the world.

So are you a "Draw"er?

May 12, 2008

Redemptive Potential

When Jesus died on the cross, descended into hell, and rose again from the dead, He gave to every Christ-follower and every church unimaginable redemptive potential. How else can we understand the growth of the church against persecution, complacency, bad leadership, and a host of reasons why the church should have folded its doors.

But here's the thing - every church and everyone of us should be asking if we are living into the full redemptive potential in our lives and in our churches. And if not, we need to know why. And then do everything we can to correct and rectify that situation because so much is at stake.

If we do this church thing right, if we do this Christian life thing right, I believe we will see and experience and revolution, a revival, a reformation the likes of which the world has never seen before. I believe that God could radically change the world though a people who live into their God-given redemptive potential.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

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May 10, 2008

"You're telling me my ministry has been a failure?"

A while back, I had a conversation with a pastor who was retiring after more than three decades of ministry in a local church.

This minister had just heard me speaking about the role of a leader in a healthy and growing congregation. I made the assertion that there is no such thing as a healthy church that is not a growing church.

After my talk, the minister approached me told me that he would be retiring in a few months after thirty plus years in the ministry. He had been with the current church for over twelve years. While he considered his church to be healthy, they had not grown during his entire tenure at the church. He then asked me, "So, according to you, my ministry has been a failure."

I responded to the man by saying, "It really doesn't matter much what I have to say or think about this. The thing that does matter is what God has to say about the purpose of our ministry. The great commission tells us that we are to make disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are to be about growing new Christians and growing faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. During the twelve years that you've been a pastor at your current church the population of your city has more than doubled. Yes, I am afraid that your ministry did not do what God called us to do."

What else was I supposed to say. To tell this man that his ministry was a success? God did not call us to babysit people. God called us to be a part of a church that is growing by adding new Christians and helping every Christ-follower become a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

And that is my final answer.

May 7, 2008

Appointing vs Electing Leaders in the Church

Look at the language of how a leader is chosen in Titus 1:5 – appoint elders in every town.

The Greek word for appoint is kathistame. The Greek word literally means to set, to place, to put into place, or to appoint.

This is such a foreign concept to many Presbyterians because we do everything by election. And what is interesting is that the Bible almost always uses the language of appointing leaders.

When the Israelites needed leaders to help Moses with the daily operation of the Exodus, they didn’t say, “Let’s get a nominating committee together, and nominate some people and hold a general election.” The leaders got together and appointed leaders based on their spiritual qualifications and maturity.

In Acts 6, when the apostles were overwhelmed with the burgeoning church to the point that their primary role of leading and teaching was suffering because they were so busy doing the day to day operation of leading the community. And when they needed leaders to manage the daily operation of the church, they didn’t form a nominating committee and hold a general election.

The apostles gathered together and appointed spiritually qualified people to lead the daily operation of the ministry.

The main question to discern is - has our current way of electing leaders been providing the church with Godly leadership? If yes, no worries. If no, then we've got to look at what the Bible has to say about leadership.

May 3, 2008

Leadership and Captain James T. Kirk

This is a section out of Randy Pausch's book, The Last Lecture. It's a gem.

For ambitious young boys with a scientific bent, there could be no greater role model than James T. Kirk of Star Trek. In fact, I seriously believe that I became a better teacher and colleague - maybe even a better husband - by watching Kirk run the Enterprise.

Think about it. If you've seen the TV show, you know that Kirk was not the smartest guy on the ship. Mr. Spock, his first officer, was the always-logical intellect on board. Dr. McCoy had all the medical knowledge available to mankind in the 2260s. Scotty was the chief engineer, who had the technical know-how to keep that ship running, even when it was under attack by aliens.

So what was Kirk's skill set? Why did he get to climb on board the Enterprise and run it?

The answer: There is this skill set called "leadership."

I learned so much by watching this guy in action. He was the distilled essence of the dynamic manager, a guy who knew how to delegate, had the passion to inspire, and looked good in what he wore to work. He never professed to have skills greater than his subordinates. He acknowledged that they knew what they were doing in their domains. But he established the vision, the tone. He was in charge of morale...Every time Kirk showed up on the screen he was like a Greek god to me (pp. 43-44).

I told you this was a good book. Go and get it and read the whole thing.

May 1, 2008

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I just got done reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

I read about two books a week. This book has just become one of my favorites.

Read it. It will make you a better human being.

Make sure to get it and read it, you won't regret it.