Four Hindrances to Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.

When Jesus spoke to the women at Jacobs well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, He spoke on worship.  Jesus stated that God the Father searches for those that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  The conversation basically boils down to the point that true worship does not depend on the physical location of the person but their spiritual position before God.

So what hinders our worship from being in Spirit and in Truth?  Here are a few issues impacting our personal and gathered worship.

An unrepentant and deceitful heart (Acts 5:4-5 & 8:9-25)

In these two passages, we see the damage caused by unrepentant and dishonest hearts.  Highlighting the necessity of a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, made into a reality by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.  God is not pleased by anything that is not done by faith (Heb. 11:6).  The activation of faith begins with repentance of sin and belief in God.  If there is unconfessed sin in our life, we are deceiving ourselves and hindering our worship.  We need to come clean with God and allow Him to do the full work of Grace in our life.

Lack of prayer (Mt. 21:13)

When Jesus made his way into the temple at Jerusalem, He was disturbed at the marketing chaos and lack of respect for prayer.  He turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out.  Now, we might say this is a location but let us cross-reference with the Scriptural teaching that our bodies are the temple of God as well (1 Cor. 6:19).  We are to be a people of prayer.  Prayer marks our lives because it is more than a ritual of obedience.  It is intentional dialoguing with God.  If we do not have a habit of speaking with God through prayer, how can we also talk, sing, and serve Him in worship?  Prayer is a part of worshipping and can’t be separated from it.

Limited Biblical knowledge (Hos. 4:6 & Col. 1:9)

Despite those with an attitude of intellectual snobbery, Scripture has much to say about the need for Biblical knowledge.  Knowledge of God’s Word and His Ways in the world have a significant impact on our worship.  Worship is more than emotional outburst and your feelings.  A limited Biblical knowledge leads to shallow worship.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity noted a conversation that demonstrates this.  The individual he witnessed to said they did not need the Bible because they thought it restricted what they had already experienced with God through personal observations and feelings.  However, Lewis noted that there is a difference between standing on the beach and going out on a ship into the ocean.  You can only experience so much in the shallows.  But, to go out deeper and experience the totality, you need a map, or you will get lost.  The Bible is our map, and it helps us navigate deeper into our relationship with the Lord.  The more we know of God, the more we can honestly know God.

Toxic attitudes (Phil. 4:8-9 & Eph. 4:32)

Attitudes of ungratefulness, dishonesty, irreverence, pride, jealousy, cynicism, and more also hinder our worship.  We are challenged to think about things that are pleasant and good in the sight of God.  We are challenged to have a spirit of forgiveness and preference of others instead of self.  If we harbor this ill-feelings and negative thoughts, without ever giving them to God, we will find our souls drifting farther and farther from God.

Foundational and Functional Values

There are many ways to describe the culture of a church.  But, what about the values of a congregation?  An organization’s values are those underlying assumptions that guide the decision-making and actions taken.  Many times values are put into competition with one another.  As though one category is more desirable than another.  Terms such as maintenance vs. mission or traditional vs. contemporary are used to note these distinctions.

In a pastoral leadership course I took in undergrad, we discussed this dichotomy and the group created two lists of values.  I recently came across it.  The list looked at the values of churches but focused on a healthier set of categories.  The terms used were foundational and functional.   If memory serves me correctly, there were ten students in the class and the professor.  We had students from different denominations and pastoral experience.  This is the list we made during a single class meeting.

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The table itself brings back good memories of that class.  However, it also reminds me of the need for good teachers who help students get past misconceptions and see things at a deeper level.

While there are indeed some issues on both sides of the table, reasonable thinking would see both sides having desirable values.  We certainly need the timeless foundational values that center around doctrine and the Christian faith.  At the same time, the functional or operational values note that while the message does not change, the method does.  Our local churches would benefit from a healthy dose of excellence.  If we continually pursue mediocrity or worse, our ability to lead people to Christ and disciple them is severely impacted.

Are there other foundational or functional values you would add?

Apps for Small Churches

The following list of apps is the “go to” helps for Bible study, communications and social media, and overall productivity.  Some of these tools are a daily part of my ministry.   Most of these apps come with options at different prices, and most have free levels.  Which is great for small budgets.  However, if there was one common theme about all of these apps that I absolutely love is they allow me to be mobile.  Whether at my desk with a laptop or in a waiting room on my phone or tablet, I can enjoy not being tethered to just my office.  Taking my Bible study with me wherever I am, along with all the other techier points of ministry, is a wonderful opportunity.

 

Bible Study

Blue Letter Bible

Blue letter bible has an app to accompanying its website.  I primarily use this site for looking up verses and original language studies.  However, they do have commentaries as well.

E-Sword

When I need to use the computer for a broader period of study, e-sword is the way to go.  I have Logos, but it can be very slow at times.  However, e-sword delivers everything needed for taking those deep dives into Scripture.  There are apps for phones and tablets, along with a software program for computers.

Communications and Social Media

Facebook pages

When it comes to communication, social media is essential, and Facebook is still king of the hill here.  The feed is directly linked to our website, and what is updated on the page is automatically updated on the site.  Facebook pages also make it simple to still manage our churches facebook account without being distracted by my own account and getting them confused.  🙂

Twitter

Twitter is another social media platform that we use for the church and ministry.  Primarily this is for engagement with a different demographic group, usually younger.

Instagram

Instagram is quickly becoming the most engaging social media platform for our church.  It’s fun and centers around pictures and short movie clips.  It can also be linked directly to our churches website in a way to make an instant photo gallery.

HootSuite & Buffer

With so many different social media accounts, it can become tedious to post the same thing, or even different things, to each account at a time.  HootSuite and Buffer both do the same thing, scheduling out your posts so that you don’t have to sit in front of the screen all day.  You can schedule way in advance and find even more metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of your posts.  I’ve used both and really can’t say there is much difference except interface.  HootSuite is my preference, but I have nothing against using Buffer again.

MailChimp

Sometimes, using email is the way to go.  For that I use MailChimp.  With this website (and app) you can build your mailing list through sign-ups.  Then you can either use a template or create your own email layout.  When you send the email, you are provided with real-time metrics of engagement.  Also, you add your personal email to the sender, which helps avoid junk mail.

Click2Mail

There are also times when snail mail is most beneficial still.  For mass mailers, Click2Mail is a great option.  I upload my letter or flyer, the address list, and the printing and mailing are done for a small fee.  Its great and the quality has been high.  It saves my ink, paper, stamps, and time.

One Call now

One Call Now is a mass calling line.  Previous to finding this gem, our church had a prayer chain.  It was a pass it on to the next person on the list.  The horror stories of playing the telephone game and the message being lost in transition are real.  However, we can record our message, text-to-voice, mass text, or even email to our entire congregation.  We can also create thousands of sub-group combination.  This tool alone has saved us thousands of hours.

Zoom

I have used Zoom interface for both board meetings, conferences, and classes.  It is amazing.  Being able to see and hear every participant at the same time in a “facetime-like” technology is a great way to save time and miles.  I am able to share my screen and for teaching and planning sessions is a great addition.

Productivity

Google Drive

I use Google drive every day.  Whether it’s creating a document, spreadsheet, or slideshow, every tool I need for ministry is here.  This is the essential tool.  In fact, if I wanted, I could do everything in Google Drive that we also have in Planning Center.  It would be a little more work to get everything transferred over, but it really is this good.  It does not have as much capability as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but there is very little that I can’t do with Drive.  Also, it is one of the ways that I have access to all my files wherever I am.

Planning Center

Planning Center is a great website and app that we use for Church Management.  It is a record keeping hub.  There are a few options you need to pay to use, but the basic people management (contact information) is free and secure.  We utilize this with our online giving options at church and is highly recommended.

Switcher Studio

We put the Sunday morning sermons on Facebook Live from the Church.  To do this, we are now using switcher studio instead of directly through facebook live.  There is a free trial period and then becomes a monthly fee.  However, I am able to use up to ten cameras from iPhones, iPads, and Apple Computers.  The app allows seamless switching and overlays to provide a very professional touch.  The app also includes interaction with those on the Facebook feed.

Wix

I am recommending two website hosting and builder options.  I use both of these hosts because of different needs.  Wix is excellent at building a professional website quickly and easily.  They have very affordable pricing, state of the art software, and can be linked to Google Drive and Email to give you a complete online solution.

WordPress

I use WordPress for my personal website.  Mostly, because of the blogging capabilities that are associated with it.  It is another excellent and affordable option for blogs or websites in general.

WordSwag

This final app is a lifesaver.  With so many copyright issues, the easiest way to stay clear this is to create your own media.  Wordswag is an excellent app that allows you to create captioned pictures.  Whether it is inspirational or informational, WordSwag is a quick and easy tool to create professional looking media for your website and social media posts.

Basic Church Ministries

In every church, there are some primary ministries.  The size of the congregation or the purpose of a new pastor to come in doesn’t matter when it comes to these essential activities.  In a way, the following four types of ministry describe much of what groups of believers do in the world.

Ministry of the Word in Discipleship

As a foundation, the Word of God is the starting point for everything else.  So much Scripture attests this point (for example Mt. 4:4; 28:18-20; John 21:15; Acts 6:4; Eph 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17).  The great commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 focuses on our teaching the Jesus’ word to all nations.  The Scriptures are to be used in evangelistic and discipleship efforts.  Everything the church does is to be biblically-informed.  Our worship is to be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that the Scriptures are sufficient in fully equipping people to do the work of God.

Christan Caregiving

Christian caregiving is not something that only the pastor does.  The whole congregation should be involved in the care of souls.  The pastor should take the lead here to model before the congregation and equip them to provide care for one another.  Acts 6, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 each demonstrate that all believers have a place of service in God’s assembly of believers.

Worship

It was already stated that worship is to be done in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  This is more than musical experiences in congregational services.  Worship is both personal and congregational.  In both settings, the character, position of the heart, and development of the believer in Jesus is essential to true worship.  Worship is coming before God in thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100).

Sharing the Gospel

Evangelizing is another essential component of church ministry.  The church is supposed to teach the Gospel, pray for sinners, help individuals develop a personal ministry of evangelism and incorporate them into the larger outreach ministries of the church.  Sharing the Gospel as found in Matthew 28:18-20 notes that all the people in the world are the scope of our mission.  We are to go global and go local with the Word of God.

If you are a new pastor, church leader, or a new believer, these four essential church ministries make up the foundation everything else we in the Church.  Make sure they are Biblically-based and give honor to God and not man.

Help for Sunday School Teachers

Whether you teach youth or adults, I believe these following points will provide some guidance on how to improve your ability as a Bible teacher.

Be early

There is much to be said about punctuality in all areas of life.  However, when you are the Sunday School teacher, being early is very important.  The room needs to be ready for students and your materials set out.  If you arrive after class has started, it takes away from the quality of the lesson since you have less time and will be in a rush.

Be prepared

Closely connected to earliness is to readiness.  One helps lead to the other.  However, the difference lies in preparation to teach.  You need to know your lesson.  Second Timothy 2:15 reads, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  The topic and outline covered should be familiar to you because of preparation.  In fact, the more you have prepared, the less you will get off topic and the less you will have to read from your notes.

Be resourceful

Using a variety of tone in speeches is essential.  It is also crucial to use a variety of teaching methods.  I prefer lectures, but not everyone does.  It is necessary to use the resources available to you when teaching the Bible lesson.  Different teaching methods and tools will make the lesson more productive to the learners.

Be present

Silence your cell phone.  Yes, the teacher needs to be respectful to the students by giving them their full attention.  However, the Holy Spirit also needs to be followed, and this only happens in a Sunday School Class when the leader is fully present.  Watch for those wrestling with the Spirit for more in-depth understanding or other moves of God.  If you have prepared the lesson well, you will be able to address those issues that may be off topic without fear of how to get back on topic later.  Remember, we are not aiming to merely give information but instead lead the students to transformation.

Cross-Organizational Teamwork

I recently gave a presentation on the impact individuals have on cross-organizational teamwork.  The study was based on a group I work with that has members comprised of different community churches and other local organizations.  The study was based on research from Roloff, Wolley, & Edmonson’s (2011) research on team learning (pp. 249-271).  Three areas were addressed: learning curve, task mastery, and group processes.  The step forward is that the original research focused on teams made up of individuals in a single organization.  The study I conducted focused on cross-organizational teamwork.

I believe this is an excellent study for those in Church leadership to apply to their local church work.  It is immediately applicable to those working together in a local church and also the work that is done in unity with other local churches, with denominational efforts, and other groups.  What follows is a summary of each stream of team learning.

The first stream, learning curves, is currently focused on the speed of initial task mastery (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 254). However, the learning curve is impacted by the change in either the task or team membership (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 255).  As the task is modified or a new function is given by the demands of the organization, the team may need to coordinate its members to new roles, seek new members, or training. When groups experience a high volume or member turnover, individuals are not able to move through the early learning curve together, diminishing efficiency.

In the second stream, task mastery is focused on “knowing who knows what” (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 257). In task mastery, the team can efficiently accomplish tasks because members are coordinated in a way to employ their strengths. However, this requires a high level of communication. Steiner (1998) noted the difficulty communication barriers and dilemmas cause to a learning organization (p. 6). It is necessary for an open and safe environment for dialogue in the team and across the organization (Schein, 2010, pp. 305-307).

The last stream in team learning is the group process.Communication, knowledge management, and interpersonal knowledge among the team members can aid or restrain team learning (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 258). Without the presence of psychological safety, team members will disengage from the group and impede total organizational learning (Roloff et al., 2011, pp. 259-260). The research seems to imply promoting psychological safety among teams and the entire organization, along with other team strengthen exercises will help encourage team learning.

References

Roloff, K. S., Woolley, A. W., & Edmonson, A. C. (2011). The contribution of teams to organizational learning. In M. Easterby-Smith & M. A. Lyles (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (pp. 249-271). UK: John Wiley and Sons

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Steiner, L. (1998). Organizational dilemmas as barriers to learning. The Learning Organization, 5(4). doi:10.1108/09696479810228577

Worship at a wedding and funeral?

Last week was busy.  The first half of the week was revival services, and the last half had a wedding and funeral.  The wedding was on Friday evening and the funeral on Saturday.  In less than a day, I ministered in both of the significant situations that most preachers claim they were never taught about in seminary.  However, regardless of the extra consideration and planning that takes place in these ceremonial services, the minister should realize the excellent opportunity to lead people in worship before God.  Two essential streams of thought drive the concept of funerals and weddings as worship services.  First, God is always worthy of our praise.  And, Secondly, God has called you as a Christian minister.

We are reminded in Scripture to worship God in spirit and truth regardless of place and time (John 4:20-24).  However, the words of the Psalmist ring in our ears: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:1-3).  The Lord is undeniably good to us.  A life of gratitude would want to invite everyone in worship to God.

While some situations, like a funeral, make it challenging to have worship we are used too.  Here then, we must understand the importance of proclaiming God’s truth as an act of worship.  This is where the second stream is essential.  Worship is not always loud and vibrant, but always in Spirit and truth.  Again, worship of God is something for everyone eventually (whether willful or not).  Scripture says, Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

In any arena of life, including the wedding and the funeral, the duty of the Christian minister is to proclaim God’s truth.  We are to call people to submit to the authority of God through the Scriptures.  By doing so, the minister directs people’s attention to God and opens up a space for worship.  We should seek to always point others to Jesus, and the funeral and wedding is an excellent opportunity.

 

Giving an academic presentation.

I have not been able to write as much as I like on the blog because of Easter week being incredibly busy at the church and preparations for a recent first-time experience.  This weekend I presented an academic presentation as part of the McDonough Leadership Conference at Marietta College.  It was a great honor and privilege to have this opportunity.  As a requirement of my Ph.D. program, the presentation was a demonstration of a future scholarly capability to do research.  What follows are a few things I learned during my 20-minute presentation.

Practice, simplify, edit, and realize you’ll want to edit during the presentation.

No matter how much I practiced, simplified, edit, and rearranged my talk, I always thought of ways to improve.  Especially, during the presentation.  Like so many things in life, nothing can adequately prepare you for the actual moment (though it certainly helps).  However, maybe my over-analytical nature means I am always evaluating what I am doing.  So, I know if I gave this presentation again, it would already be different.

A different audience and subject matter.

I am used to preaching to congregations.  I am used to teaching to a group of students about theology and ministry.  However, while the subject matter I presented is related to my ministry, coming at it from a research perspective stretched my mind.  Also, there were students from several colleges and levels of education.  There were also professors.  More than just one.  And, business executives and leadership professionals.

People want to ask questions

The presentation slot I was given was shared with an individual with a similar topic.  We worked together to organize our time and wanted to include a Q&A.  However, with the keynote speaker going over their time, it made it difficult to share our independent works.  However, I think sacrificing some of our talk for questions would have been a drastic improvement.  It may have simplified the presentations, avoided to much extra talk, and allowed for better and more pinpoint clarification.

Enjoy

I was nervous.  There is no doubt about that, but I was able to transfer that into a passion about the topic, which is always good if it is controlled.  However, since I presented first and was able to step back for the rest of the session, I really noticed how much I enjoyed the entire process of research and presentation.  With adding open discussion, it could only get better.

 

The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23:6

As we come to the final verse of the twenty-third Psalm, we find a beautiful conclusion.  The psalmist declares the continuing goodness and mercy of God toward His people.  However, we may wonder what brings about these blessings.  What are the purposes and benefits?

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” – Psalm 145:9

God’s goodness comes from His nature, not our worthiness.  Another psalm reads, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:9).  The Gospel writer recorded these words from Jesus, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).  Like the previous, God’s loving mercy comes from His character, not our virtue.  Micah 7:18 is a reminder to us, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.”  The greatest demonstration of God’s goodness and mercy was the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus for us.  Through His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we are the recipients of an “unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

God further demonstrates goodness and mercy by drawing us to His home.  The word house could mean the family or household or flock of the Good Shepherd.   However, it carries with it the continuing theme of this psalm, to be in God’s presence.  John wrote about the encouragement we should receive about going to be with God:

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3

Soon, and very soon, our faith will become a reality.  We shall dwell in unbroken fellowship with the Lord forever.  I am looking forward to that endless day.  It is a promise that every person has been given and will receive if they receive it by faith.

The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23:5

In the middle of our chaos, God can provide a space to receive His grace.  The shepherd knows his sheep are weary and hungry in the dark areas of life.  He also knows that in the treacherous terrain that there are dangerous enemies waiting to attack.  Still, in the midst of an uncertain place, the shepherd of our soul delivers what feels like a banquet to us.

The shepherd would at times feed the sheep on a raised table (like a natural trough in the ground).  Two reasons for this raised table.  First, it kept dirt from the sheep from falling into their food and secondly, this made it easier to keep the sheep from wandering off.  In turn, making it harder for enemies to steal sheep.  God knows what He is going to do for his people.  He knows how to protect us from own self and from those who would seek to do us harm.

Also, anoints our head with oil.  Why?  One, for bug prevention.  Bot flies and such would dig into the nostrils and ears of sheep and drive them made.   The Devil also likes to get in our head, but the Holy Spirit can keep him away.  It was also for healing.  Sheep want to butt heads and would need their wounds attended too.   Sometimes, the Holy Spirit must address the conflict between the sheep and bring healing to broken spirits.

Finally, we are told that our cup is running over.  Seemingly this phrase speaks of the overflowing blessings the shepherd pours over the sheep.   It is lovely to know our God is willingly giving us good, but underserved gifts.  We have not merited the Lord’s favor.  However, He loves us and knows each of us by name.  Oh, how great is the Shepherd’s love for us!

Finally, if you will venture out with me a little, Revelation 19 speaks of a table being spread in the presence of all our enemies throughout all space and time.  The marriage supper of the lamb.  There is one last time in the future, yet to come, that we will have to dine in the presence of the enemy.  But, praise be to God, who gives us the victory!  We shall still have the Shepherd on our side.