Church Health: Spiritual Health

Measuring a Church’s Spiritual Health

One the hardest things for a church to acknowledge is that they may not be spiritual healthy. It may be even harder to identify what truly makes a church spiritual healthy or unhealthy. This is due to the fact that many traditions have emphasized different aspects and expressions of spiritual experience in the Christian faith. It is because of this that many churches will then gauge their own spiritual temperature based upon their own definition of what a spiritually healthy church looks like.   So, we will work off of a simple, yet, biblically rooted definition of what a spiritually healthy church will look like.

In John chapter four, Jesus is speaking to a woman that he met at a well in the most unlikely of places. There the woman tried to ignite a conversation that were their equivalent of modern day worship wars. Her question to Jesus was where they should worship.   Yet, Jesus took the conversation to a whole other level. Regardless of place, God is seeking “true worshippers” that “worship in spirit and in truth.” Biblical exposition and spiritual worship are then the call from the mouth of Jesus. While it is possible for a congregation to be involved in increasing the quality of the preaching, this is a personal endeavor for the preacher. On the other hand the overall worship experience is at the hands of people. Bob Russell writes, “The primary purpose of worship is to honor God, but corporate worship should also uplift and encourage believers” (2010, p. 46).

This is why worship should be inspiring. This is not just a positive experience through therapeutic sermons and happy feelings that are created by the songs. Healthy, spiritual worship compels people to come in with anticipation of what will take place. As the psalmist David wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Ps. 122:1). Not only does inspiring worship draw people in because it lifts up Christ (Jn. 13:32) but it is also inspiring because when people are sent out, they feel compelled to live out the Word of God that was brought to them in the service. This is a place where worshipping in truth comes to play. Through biblical exposition the people are encouraged and challenged to live out the Word in their everyday lives after the worship event, because they understand it is a lifestyle. They are excited to come to church because they know they will leave with greater conviction to live out the Christian faith.

The next major marker that we examine is the issue of prayer. Jesus quoted scripture when he reminded people that the temple was a “house of prayer” (Mt. 21:13). We understand that individuals are now the temple of God with their own body but it is an important aspect that the local church or congregation is also known for being a community of prayer. There needs to be atmosphere of prayer that includes intercession and thanksgiving that is promoted by the leadership and is part of the identity for the whole church.

Lastly the congregation needs to be marked by love. Jesus states in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Love is a badge for any believer as well as the church. While many churches may be welcoming to a point they may not all display an atmosphere of warmth and fellowship. Knowing the love of a congregation includes their welcome and integration, their promotion of fellowship, and their hospitality.

Method of Measure and Content

The main method of measuring could probably be by a survey. It is possible to use a larger survey that will help the church leadership gain a larger understanding of more than just spiritual components. A survey such as the EFCA Church Health Survey (2007) will measure ten different areas for overall church health but it does have three focal areas that include, “passionate spirituality (prayer), Spirit-filled worship, and loving relationships.” Just those three areas from the EFCA Church Health Survey would bring to the table thirty questions.

Another method of measure would be in personal or group interviews. The questions would be opened ended questions so to promote more conversation from those being interviewed. Responses from the interviewer should be there to help dig deeper into the conversation. The following would be possible questions for interviews. These are adapted from some of the questions provided by Thom Rainer’s, “10 Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup” (2014).

  1. How has the church helped you read your bible more?
  2. How has the church helped your prayer life?
  3. How has the church challenged and helped you share you faith with others?
  4. How has the church’s worship service inspired you to serve the Lord faithfully?
  5. How has the church’s worship service inspired your fight against sin?
  6. What scriptures and songs has the church’s worship services helped you memorize?
  7. How is your family involved in worship services?

References

Rainer, Thom (2014). http://thomrainer.com/2014/06/24/10-questions-six-month-spiritual-checkup/

Russell, Bob; Russell, Rusty (2010-05-20). When God Builds a Church. Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

Church Health: Relational Health

Measuring a Church’s Relational Health

“We are a friendly church.” This is a statement that has been used by most churches. The reality is that while some churches have appeared friendly during “meet and greet” times, they have no effort made towards integration and fellowship. A church with a warm greeting may still have a cold fellowship. Churches with a cold fellowship are more likely to face a declining attendance, as people no longer feel cared for by the leadership or other members in the congregation. Therefore, measuring a church’s relational health becomes increasingly important.

Relational health has been defined as different things throughout the years. In the book, Who Cares About Love (Arn, NyQuist, and Arn, 1988), the relational atmosphere in a church is pictured as the Love/Care Quotient (LCQ). That research shown that there was a direct relationship that exists between being perceived as a relationally healthy church and a growing church.   It was found that growing churches showed a significantly higher LCQ than other churches that had been declining for five years, regardless of denomination.   All of that together shows that churches that are lacking in love and care from leadership to members are usually declining. Healthy relationships attract people and a lack of healthy relationships repels.

Still, what defines healthy relationships? Biblically speaking, healthy relationships centers in on a single word, “oneness.” For example, Ephesians 4:3-6 reads,

“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

            In this passage we are immediately drawn to the repetitious use of word, “one.” Seven times in these four verses the word is used to remind the Ephesian believers of the oneness that is in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. So what does oneness look like? It implies closeness in proximity and togetherness in thinking, action, and goals. Therefore, creating an atmosphere that healthy relationships can flourish is vital for overall church health and growth. In the book, Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer writes about promoting fellowship, “Intentionally connecting people in community is not an option for the church. It’s a biblical mandate—the essence of what it means to be the body of Jesus Christ” (2010, p. 151).

Measuring Relational Health

Now that we have a basic understanding for what healthy church relationships looks like we can begin to measure the relational health. We will do this through two primary methods, hard data collection and surveys. This will give a church a good starting foundation for understanding the state of their relational health.

Hard Data

  1. The first piece of hard data to collect would be looking at what material has been brought to before the church to teach them about love, congregational care, and fellowship. This would be sermons topic and in a series. Small groups and Sunday school curriculums. A key point in understanding the churches relational health can be found in whether it is a teaching topic during the last two or three years.
  2. The next piece would be statistical data. The data collected would be the average worship attendance compared to the number of individuals that attend small groups. Small groups could range from Sunday school classes, home groups, teen youth groups, and others. Small groups are a place where intentional relationships are built and an excellent place to grow healthy.
  3. The last piece would be knowing how many people arrive to the church fifteen minutes early to fellowship and don’t leave for at least 15 minutes after service. This wouldn’t include those that have to prepare for the service and clean up afterwards (most of the time) but those that are there early and are leaving late after the service because they desire to communicate with others. The time spent in worship does not provide a time for intimate Christian fellowship (it is important to worship together though) but the time before and after can.

Survey

This simple seven-question survey would be sufficient to give first time guests and entrenched members. While it would be best to remain anonymous, it would be important to also include space to obtain the persons age, and how long they have attended, martial status, and such in order to gain an understanding about different demographics relations also (These were adapted from, Who Cares About Love).

  • Were you greeted at the front door?
  • If you had children with you, were you told about Children’s church and the church nursery?
  • If you are a current attender are you currently involved in a small group (Sunday School, youth group, home group, bible study, etc) through the church?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do you feel the pastor cares for the members?
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do you feel the members care for other members?
  • If you are in a small group, on a scale of 1 – 10, how loved do feel in your group?
  • If you are a member, on a scale of 1 – 10, how loving do you feel that you have been to first time guests or new members?

References

Arn, Win. Nyquist, Carroll. Arn, Charles. (1988). Who Cares About Love? Church Growth Press. Lakewood, Colorado

Stetzer, Ed; Dodson, Mike (2010). Comeback Churches. B&H Books. Kindle Edition.

Church Health: Missional Health

Measuring a Church’s Missional Health

The first point of business is to define what exactly is missional health. To do this we will break down the ideas between the two words, missional, and health. One of the first ideas that comes our mind when using the word missional is its likeness to missionary. A missional church is then understood to be one that basically “sends.” Alan Hirsh writes, “As God sent the Son into the World, so we are at the core a sent or simply a missionary people” (2006, p. 129). Missional has to do with the idea that God’s mission for the church is to send people out into the world to bring the lost to Jesus.

The picture of an airport, fire station, or aircraft carrier all give us a picture of what the missional church should look like (McNeal, 2008).   Together they each are only doing being missional as they send out. Being missional has nothing to do with being attractional but simply with the discipling of believers and being a launching pad for being sent into the world to lead people toward a personal relationship with Jesus.   Of course, this eventually leads to new believers in the church but the process repeats that the new believers are discipled and sent out to bring others in.

Fairly obvious is the ideas behind the word health. Being healthy and unhealthy are not distant ideas for us. The idea then that a church’s missional health can either be healthy or unhealthy can be easily understood. Especially, in light of the fact that much of Paul’s writing in the New Testament uses the body as a comparison for the church.  Overall church health is affected by the parts.  The first part is Missional health.  I would even venture to say that it is one of the most important aspects about a church.  We have got to keep the main thing the main thing.  That is leading people to Jesus and making disciples of them.  The old saying is, “A church that doesn’t evangelize will fossilize.”

In the book, Cure for the Common Church, Bob Whitesel writes, “Slowly over time most churches grow primarily inward in their focus, rather than focusing outward to meet the needs of those outside the church” (2012). When we do plan evangelistic outreach many times we do so in a way that targets people rather than approaching as Jesus would. One writer puts it like this, “The typical church’s plan to get on the stick evangelistically involves the same kind of efforts as deer hunters” (Spader, 1993). We come in as hunters to take our prey, and may leave with only one trophy. The missional church sends people out with the missionary mentality of contextualization. This is the adapting to the culture one is in so to gain access to the people in that culture and a bridge to freely communicate. This would be incarnational evangelism. As Jesus took on our flesh to save us, we take on the flesh of those we are trying to bring to Christ.

Therefore, the key difference between a healthy and unhealthy missional church is not how many evangelistic events are hosted by the church but more by the mentality of its leaders and laity to bless the people in their community in order to bring people to Christ. In the decline of people’s acquaintance to the Christian community it is becoming even more necessary to send people out. Rather than a “come and see” invitation mentality, we are in need of “go and tell.” While the first is still necessary, “churches also need to train people to “go and tell” (Stetzer, 2010, p. 101).  If you think about it, before we can ask people to come, we have to go and tell.

Methods Utilized in Measuring a Church’s Missional Health

There several methods of measuring a church’s missional health in order to diagnose any issues and hopefully present a prescription that a church can then act on. Surveys, interviews, conversations, data collecting are all options but it is best to use a wide number of inputs into the measurement. This will help to bring about a much better understanding of the church’s missional health and what steps can then be implemented to maximize strengths and minimize any weaknesses.

Surveys

Surveys such as the EFCA church health survey provide an instant toolkit to churches that want to look at the perspectives of the whole congregation. While the EFCA will focus on more than just missional health it does provide a strong start for those looking solely at missional health. Surveys can provide a non-threatening approach to members as they can do so without giving their name. It can bring honesty but at the same time it could bring brutal honesty.

Missional Health Survey Questions would include (ratings on a scale of 1-5)…

  1. I know our church’s mission.
  2. The church helps me to get out of my comfort zone.
  3. Our church has been active in helping plant other churches.
  4. Our church is faithful in using its money for the community.
  5. The church encourages people to be involved in a discipleship process.
  6. The discipleship process encourages people to win people to Christ.
  7. The church helps my to discover how to lead others to Jesus.
  8. I have x number of unchurched friends.

Interviews

            Interviewing is a good way of guiding a conversation to find answers from leaders or members. This keeps a conversation from chasing topics that don’t have anything to do with missional health. These may take more time than surveys, and are not recommended for the whole congregation (time-wise).  It does offer more information than what a survey can gather. This is particularly helpful when speaking with ministry leaders.

Some Good interview questions include…

  1. What type of community activities does the church get involved with?
  2. How much time do you spend in non-church related community events and what are they?
  3. How evangelistic do you understand the church to be?
  4. In your ministry are you challenging the people you lead to be missional?

Conversations

In order to gain an understanding of the missional temperature/perspective of a congregation, the method of conversation is an ideal way to go. The conversations can range from one on one interviews or small group times. The idea with conversation is that not just the answers that a person gives, but their reactions and the questions they ask back. A conversation implies that that communication is happening back forth whereas an interview has one person asking questions and the second answering. In fact, at some points it may become a reverse interview, or in a small group, a group interview, where the consultant or data collector is asked questions, or simply records the interactions of missional health in a group. The idea is that the members lead the conversation rather than the person collecting the information.

Conversation may look something like this…

  1. Ask a general open ended questions such as,
    1. What do you think it means to be a missional church?
    2. What types of outreach does your church have?
    3. What type of training does your church provide for evangelism?
    4. How involved is your church in community?
  2. Be prepared to only ask follow-up question in order to stimulate conversation and thinking.
  3. Record people’s reactions, their answers, and the basic understanding.

Data Collecting

            This is by far the most common and easiest method to utilize (probably over-emphasized at times due to its ease). Many times this information is already readily available and does provide some hard statistics that can aid in diagnosing a churches missional health. Some of the stats will come from knowing attendance, first time visitors, guest retentions, conversions and baptisms and such. Others can then be gathered by certain answers given after collecting surveys, conducting interviews, and having conversations.

Some of the following data points would be good indicators for church health.

  1. Regular Numbers (From the current year, or previous year).
    1. Attendance, first-time quests in a year, visitor retention, conversion, baptism.
  2. Number of leaders and members involved in active ministry outside of the church.
  3. Number of community events in the year.
  4. Number of new small groups in the year.
  5. Average number of unchurched friends leaders and members have.
  6. Number of people that went evangelism/outreach training in the year.

References

Fann, Jim. (2007). The EFCA Church Health Survey. Minneapolis, MN. Free Church.

Hirsh, Alan. (2006). Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Grand Rapids, MI. Brazos Press.

McNeal, Reggie. (2008). Missional Renaissance. http://blindbeggar.org/?p=703

Spader, Dann L; Mayes, Gary (1993). Growing A Healthy Church. Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Whitesel, Bob. (2012). Cure for the Common Church. Wesleyan Publishing House. Indianapolis, IN.

Why Pray?

prayer-warrior_0There are several reasons why we pray.  We are commanded to pray in scriptures (Phil. 4:6-7, 1 Thess. 5:17), prayer is communication with God (Heb. 4:15-16), Jesus prayed (Mark 1:35), and Jesus even seemed to expect it as a work of piety (Matt. 6:5-15).  But the question, “Why pray,” is one that is asking what is the value of prayer if God already knows our needs before we pray and Holy Spirit can pray better for us on our behalf.

One answer is that we are personally transformed when we pray.  If pray is communication with God, a point in our existence where we can have a personal audience with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we come in contact with the contagious holiness of God.  As Isaiah saw God in Isaiah chapter six and felt overwhelmed by his sense of sin but was purged of it, we are likewise transformed in the continued presence of God.  Still, why are we encouraged to pray for our needs?

Ultimately, we are lead in scriptures to think that pray does change things, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b).  Dallas Willard writes, ““The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best” (Willard,1998, 244).  Prayer changes things.  It is may be a mystery as to why God has His ear turned to us but He does, and “We may never know the true effects of prayer this side of death” (Ortberg, 2009, p. 95).

References
Ortberg, John (2009). The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Willard, Dallas (1998).  Divine Conspiracy. Harper Collins. San Franciso, CA.

Washing the Saint’s Feet

Some do and some don’t.  That is the observance of washing one another’s feet.  I’m not going to make a distinction of whether you should or shouldn’t but just that this is a very positive experience that we are told of by Jesus.  He says in John 13:17, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”  My own stance is that this should be considered as a third ordinance that can be observed with the Lord’s supper or as a stand alone action.  I think this not only because the only place to even remotely link foot washing with the Lord’s supper is in John 13, but also for the theological reasons below.  Just like baptism and communion, washing the feet of the saints is filled with so many pictures of deep theological truths that make it just to good to pass by.

Humility

One the men from our church pointed out that this is the biggest point that stands out to him at church.  That it really takes someone humble to wash another’s feet.  For me, it is even humbling to allow someone to wash your feet.  You can see that even Peter had to humble his prideful understanding of Jesus washing his feet in John 13:8.  It has always reminded of the caretakers that have had to bathe a loved one who could no longer do it themselves.  It is very humbling indeed but in the same sense it is a very honorable duty that is hard to put into words at times.  And in our world that is filled with selfish consumerism and individualism we could use more pictures of humbleness.

Service

This is the character of the Christian leader.  A leader who leads by serving those that they lead.  Jesus spoke that servant leadership was counter-cultural in Matthew 20:26-28.   The fact that pastors and other church leaders are invited to put the servants towel on and wash the feet of those that they serve is indication of the perspective God desires them to have.  We become so used to the world philosophy of use or be used, in other words, use people and love things.  Jesus encouraged his disciples to wash each others feet because he did it as an example before them (John 13:12-17).

Cleansing

Peter wanted to refuse the Lord Jesus the opportunity of washing his feet.  Simply, it was because it was not cultural for the master to wash the servants feet.  Notice, the next part of the conversation though.

“8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he , Ye are not all clean.” (John 13:8-11).

Baptism is a testifying symbol that signifies that we have crucified with Christ, buried into His death, and raised to new life by His resurrection.  Normally, unlike communion, it is a one time ordinance.  In a way, it is also understood as the outward symbol of the inward cleansing that takes place in the moment of conversion (cf. Isaiah 1:16-18, Ephesian 5:26).   But what we read in John 13, Jesus shares that washing of the feet is also symbolic of cleansing.  So, what does this mean?  Just as baptism externally testified to an internal cleansing at our conversion, washing of our feet externally testifies to a continuing internal cleansing, or progressive sanctification where the Lord is helping us to keep our hearts undefiled in this world.

Picture it like this.  You take a bath (baptism) but then as soon as you step out of the tub and start walking through the world, things start attaching themselves to you.  Mostly on the bottom of your feet.  Its the part that has the most direct contact with the physical world.  The solution then is washing your feet, and by that you feel clean all over again.  God has shown us in the washing of the saints feet that He not only has saved us but has grace that keeps working in our life as we pick up some dirt from the world as we walk through it.

Preparation

In cleansing there is a connection made with foot washing and baptism.  With that being said, Jesus makes a remark in Mark 10:38,

“38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask : can ye drink of the cup that I drink of ? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ? 39 And they said unto him, We can . And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of ; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized”

Cup and baptism together?  This is the Lord’s supper and the baptism, but with the added thought of suffering.  The true cup and baptism is that the disciples and Jesus would go through intense suffering.  But the precursor to this was at the Lord’s table.  The meal and the washing were the final preparations to be made before departure.  Culturally, the meal and washing was shared as guests came in but Jesus used them as preparations for leaving.  Communion and foot washing then are beautiful symbols that point us toward our departure.  We know that Jesus shared that the next time he took the supper with us would be in heaven (Matthew 26:29).  We also know that Johannine community solely out of all the disciples following observed the washing of feet as preparation for its elderly to pass on and for imprisoned believers and their coming martyrdom.  Foot washing is preparation for departure from this world.  We wash our feet to set out on a new adventure beyond this world.

If this has just peaked your interest in washing the feet of the saints you can check out my short book at the following link.

A Ministry of Giving

    We have heard the phrase, “It is better to give than to receive.”  It is probably better to note that this finds scriptural validation in Acts 20:35 when the apostle Paul spoke“I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  An interesting note this is one of those instances where we have something that Jesus said that was not recorded in the Gospels.  Which just adds to the fact that Jesus did and said much more than what was recorded.

 
    Back to our phrase, it really is a blessing to give to people.  Francis of Assisi said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”  But, why do we keep the blessings from giving to ourselves?  There is nothing wrong with giving to those who are not able to give back but why do we rob them of a blessing of not being able to give.  I’m not suggesting the idea of being paid back but in paying it forward.  Also, for those that only think that giving is money to the poor, there are many more ways to give.  Perhaps, in our own personal giving, in our community circles, and church ministries, a deeper understanding of giving is required.
 
   The reality is that we all have something to give.  This was Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 (specifically in verse 7).  No one has every gift, talent, or skill known to man, but we each possess something.  There is something each of us can bring to the table.  Every person can contribute to a community and many times those who are down on their luck or have fallen so far that it feels impossible to get up really just need somebody to come up beside them to help them value and find their gift and put it to use.
 
For example…
 
    Pastor Damien is from a place in Cincinnati, OH called “Over the Rhine.”  Over the Rhine was highest serviced area in the state of Ohio.  Pastor Damien took this gift based ministry mentality and through his church led his community to change.  The moment that he took this focus in his ministry was when he came across a drunk man by the name of Charles that he tried to invite to church.  Charles told him, “I’m a drunk and I won’t go to church.”  Pastor Damien constantly tried to invite him.  A few months later during a board meeting, in a side conversation about who the pastor had been visiting, he brought up Charles name.  One of the deacons said, “Charles used to be one of the best tuck points around until he fell to alcohol and lost everything.”  This caught Pastor Damien’s attention.  The next day he found Charles and asked him if he could repair the churches bricks and mortar (this is what a tuck point does).  
     Charles was amazed at this and after some talking on payment he agreed.  A few days later on after the church exterior walls had been repaired people were talking about how much nicer the church looked.  The next Sunday morning Pastor Damien introduced the congregation to Charles, the one who repaired the walls and Charles couldn’t have looked more proud.  Pastor Damien would say, “I couldn’t get Charles the drunk to come to church but I got Charles the tuck point to.”  Damien gave Charles value and in turn Charles gave his talents.  
       It truly is better to give than it is to receive and the best way for us to give is to help others to give.  The old saying is, give a man a fish and he will eat for day, but, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time.  Here are three easy steps to head this direction…
 

Discover

    Everybody has some type of gift, talent, or skill.  A lot of people have shared with me that they have no gifts and can not do anything.  That is simply not true.  What is true is that many have not acknowledged what God has already given.  No matter how big or how small.  Take a look at the man with one talent from Matthew 25:14-29.  He did not use what had been given to him because he felt it was to small.  So, it was taken from him and given to another.  If we don’t acknowledge what we have and use it then we won’t see any growth or change.

Develop

    For those who have not polished their skills can work to acquire new skills and refinement.  For example, this is a place where the church excel with music.  New musicians could come and find a place to play.  Experienced musicians and singers can take new prodigies under their wing and bring guidance.  In the same light, there may young welders in the church that need tips for jobs, help with purchasing equipment, or learning a new technique.  The question is how you can help people grow their gifts.  One thing we did at our church for the youth was a life skill class before we took them to a Casting Crowns concert.  Instead of just feeding them spaghetti we taught how to make them.  People around you have gifts.  What are you doing to help them discover them and mature them.

Deploy

   Once people have discovered their gifts and have developed them they need a place to use them. If your church has a newly discovered group of skilled laborers could there be a ministry to helping the elderly and hurting fix issues in their houses?  What about a group of teens that want to do something.  Could they go to the local nursing home and play games with the seniors?  Counselors?  Could they start a addiction and recovery ministry?  They people in your church can do something and should be doing something.
 
    It is more blessed to give then to receive.  So give gifts that help others keep on giving.

Five Reasons for Going to Youth Camp

As summer approaches youth camps across the globe will commence.  From sports camps, band camp, church camps and many in-between.  For those thinking about attending for the first time there

can be some intimidation.  Sometimes even the question, “Why should I go?”  As an experience camper, camp counselor, and camp supervisor, I can tell you there are plenty of reasons to go.  Especially to church camp.  Here are five quick reasons to go to youth camp.

Spiritual Formation

Basically everything about going to church, whether youth or family oriented, is about spiritual growth.  Even the next four reasons are built on this principle.  Going to youth camp is a great place to be introduced to intentional and structured discipleship.  The camp may only last a week but the effects of it will last a lifetime.  Having regularly scheduled prayer and bible study times throughout the day, multiple worship and preaching services each day, even serving, doing chores and participating in activities are a powerful way to place yourself in position for God to form your life.

Build Relationships

It’s true that when you get out of high school that you won’t meet most of your classmates except at the occasional class reunion.  Youth camp is different.  You will develop friendships that are deep.  You won’t just camp together, play sports together, and take on tasks together but you’ll experience a whole week of life together.  Even more, you’ll worship and be formed by God next to a whole group of youth experiencing the same movement of God.  Even if your shy you will find it easier to make friends in the youth camp environment than if you stayed at home during the summer.

Getting Out of the World’s Current

Things are moving fast.  You are growing up and new responsibilities are being handed to you each day.  Life demands a lot from even the youngest and as an adult there are fewer opportunities to step out of the world’s current.  Internet, cell phones, and social media have increased the reach of life beyond natural limits.  It can wear you out.  Going to camp helps you disconnect.  I’ve seen teenagers deal with a terrible nervousness at camps because they didn’t have a computer or game to play.  That’s not where you want to be.  If the camp is one week long then that is one week that you can slow down and look at what you really need to thrive and what extra things you have blessed with.

Going Beyond Yourself

Camp will challenge you.  It will stretch you.  It stretched me because of my shy nature.  I had to step out of my comfort zone when I went to camp.  I don’t regret it one bit and camps have truly been one of the biggest formative forces in my life because of that.  You will be challenged not only to make new friends but you’ll be challenged to grow in God through the classes and sermons.  You’ll be challenged by your leaders and friends to be a stronger in the faith and more committed to serving him.

Find Direction

It was at a camp that I started down the path of being a minister.  It is because of many of the prior reasons that camp is an excellent place for finding direction in your life.  Some of more worldly friends will offer distractions.  The world’s fast pace will keep us running after things that do not matter.  Staying focused on our self and in our comfort zone will never allow us to live for God.  By allowing God to work in your life during camp and separate you from those roadblocks may just be the thing you need to find God’s vision for your own life.  Maybe to be a pastor, teacher, missionary, or to work in a secular profession with a Christian witness.  Why wouldn’t you want to have the confidence that what you want to do with your life is what God really wants you to do with your life?
Now, get the forms filled and sent in.  Start packing.  Anticipate and get excited about going to youth camp.

How to handle a full plate.

How to Handle a Full Plate

     A lot of people have asked me how I can get stuff done with as much as I have on my plate.  Most

of the time I am not given a chance to answer them before they are off on another subject or down the road.  I really don’t consider myself a over-stretched individual even though I realize that there is quite a few hats that have found themselves on my head.  

      I am not boasting in what I am about to say.  Just want to give you my life as an example.  I’m a Christian first.  Personal devotion and dedication to God is always at the forefront of my mind.  Pastoring is a primary calling in my life but at the same the same time there is also primary to my life,  the calling and duty of being a husband and father.  My time is also devoted to ministerial training as the administrator of Faith Bible Institute and youth ministry as the vice-president of the Christian Baptist Youth.  Put on top of that, I have another year on my second Master’s degree and will hopefully be putting the finishing touches on a Doctor of Theology by the end of the summer into next fall.  That’s my life in a nutshell and I still feel that I could do more.  That is because I’m an not doing this on my own strength and accord.  This is how God is working through me.  

     These are some of the steps for you take to handle a full plate by the help of God.

Seek God’s vision and grace for your life.

   I am not able to accomplish much, if anything, on my own.  The same goes for you.  God’s grace is the enabler of all things in our life.  By God’s grace we are saved.  By God’s grace we live and it is by God’s grace that we move.  Seeking God’s face through prayer and contemplation throughout the day is incredibly important.  Sometimes we start mindset of seeking God and attributing praise and dependency on Him by learning to speak, “by His grace” when we are planning.

   It is also important to seek God’s vision for your life.  The apostle Paul had his and it filled him with passion and pursuit.  Paul in his recorded trial of Acts says to king Agrippa as he shares his about his conversion, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).  Paul had a personal and God-given vision from God.  It provided passion and direction for his life.  I know what I can do and what God is leading me to because of a personal and God-given vision on my life.  What is God’s vision for you life?

Take advantage of a calendar.

  I thank my mom and dad for teaching me the importance of using a calendar.  They worked full-time jobs and made time for family and ministry.  They knew what was important in their life and their calendar reflected it.  There are two good thermometers for our discipleship life in Christ.  Our budget and our calendar.  Both can point to our focus and our faith.  

  A calendar primarily is beneficial to me for balancing out time.  It helps to make sure that my day is not clogged down to where nothing gets accomplished.  We can have a lot of activity but no real action.  We can become busy bodies that do not get anything done.  That is not the will of God and does not help us at all.  Utilize a calendar to balance your life and use your time wisely.  My hint to you is to have one master calendar per family.  The more calendars you have, even personal ones, the more confusion and stress it brings when people update their personal calendars and do not check in with our family members.

Seek balance.

  In the opening paragraphs I hinted at how many different things I do.  That wasn’t bragging and it’s probably not news to anyone.  I pointed that out because I know that it God’s vision for my life.  A holy discontent in my life drives me to do nothing less than what God has revealed in my life to do and to be.  It is for that reason that I can say that those pieces in my life are the life abundant things God wants me to do.
 
 
I remember Josie last summer playing with Jar Fly shells (cicada).  She had at least five or six in her little hands and she was so proud of it.  I caught a live Jar Fly and brought it to her and she was even more excited but a problem presented itself.  She could not hold on to all the empty prizes she had and hold on to the lively bug.  That’s just like life.  There are a lot of good things we can hold onto but God brings us something really great and what it is he really wants for our abundant life.  Christ tells us that he came to the sheep (us), “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  
 
  In having balance we have to learn the things that may be good for us and put them down so that we reach for the great, God’s vision in our life.  Even more, what may be just good for me to be involved with and pursuing may in fact be another persons great.  Once we know what God’s priorities for our life is then we can begin to find balance in our life as we focus on those things.

Be urgent but not rushed.

   Since I know what God has for me to do there is an urgency or an importance about getting it done. Yet, not at the expense of hurting myself or my family.  Balance is still running its course through this.  Jesus never hurried but was always steady.  Historical leaders in the church called this a “holy leisure.”  We are not doing God any good if we rush through His will for us.  We make mess ups bigger and, well, messier.  We are not slothful or lazy.  It is important to move about the things God has put us to with desire for precision and excellence.  Which again is only achievable if we go in the grace of God.


One Testimony

       Several times I have encouraged my congregation to share their “Jesus Story.”  It is simply how they were before they met Christ, how they came to faith, and their life now.  In order to testify of Christ we do not have to have all the theological terms and nuances firmly set in our mind.  We do not have to have a repertoire of scriptures memorized in order to share what Jesus has done in our life.  We just have to be familiar with our own story, our own transformation brought about by the grace of God.  Look at the trust Christ put into one mans testimony to impact one town from Luke 8.  
26And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. 27And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. 29(For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) 30And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. 31And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.

32And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. 33Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
 
 
34When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.36They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. 37Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.38Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
 
      From verses 34 to 39 we are told of a similar condition of our world today.  Jesus has and still changes lives in a drastic way.  The world though still does not see the benefit of Christ, only that the changes impact their businesses and morality, not their good He does in families and communities.  Jesus did a great work in the man’s life but the people of the community wanted Jesus to leave them alone.  They wouldn’t let him do anymore work there.  At least Him.  
 
      The man whom Jesus transformed wanted to stay next to the one that changed his life.  Jesus on the other hand had a mission for him.  To impact his home city by sharing what “great things Jesus had done unto him” (vs. 39).  We are not told of other disciples of Jesus at Gadarenes but that the whole country had a disposition against Christ.  This is the people to whom this man lived along side of and would see the change in him.  All he had was his testimony.  He had no training from Jesus.  All he had was his testimony and the command of Jesus to share it at home and in his city.  
 
        You may think that your ability to impact others for Christ is limited by your education, social status, or financial background.  You may have other reasons why you do not think you can.  Jesus says you can if you have a firm grip on what He has done for you.  Do not ever be afraid to share your Jesus story.

Church Seasons

If you take the simple request, “What time is it,” and switch the order of the words you can get a deeper question, “Time, what is it?”  It is one of the most precious possession that we have but squander it as if it is an infinite supply.  For some, time is simply a quantifiable measurement using units of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years.  Others mark it by the “moments that take your breath away.”  What is time and more importantly to believers, how has the church observed time? Since it really does seem obvious to me that we go straight from Halloween to Christmas anymore, even though the calendar has two major American holidays in-between the two.

      Scripture actually gives us a pretty good understanding of time.  It uses two Greek words to give us a well-rounded picture of what time is.  The first word is chronos.  This word is part of your everyday terminology, right?  Don’t you look at a chronometer several times a day?  You watch or phone most likely.  A watch measures time and the word chronos is the word meaning the measurement in those afore mentioned units of time.  It looks like this in the Bible…
“Then Her’od, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.” – Matthew 2:7
 
“and the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.” – Luke 1:10
 
“And there they abode long time with the disciples” – Acts 14:28
 
       The second word for time in the Scripture is the Greek word kairos.  This is not chronological measurement of time but the understanding of a time period that bears a common likeness or contains significant events with deep meaning or likeness.  Here are some Biblical examples to make this clearer.
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” – Galatians 4:4
 
“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:16
 
“Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready” – John 7:6
 
“How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” – Jude 1
 
       It is probably easier to see these as the seasons of life.  What we may be experiencing now is only a season.  It shall pass and a new season will take its place.  There are good seasons and bad seasons.  Joyful and sad.  Solomon (using Hebrew writing) sums up the words chronos and kairos very beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
       Now that we have an understanding of time and that it is more than just a measurement of time, let us look at the seasons of the church.  Christmas and Easter are more than just days on the calendar.    Even more, there are several other seasons that the church celebrates.  By using seasons and time the church uses the year to tell the gospel.  The church has ordered its worship by the use of the calendar and season.  The following seasons follow the order of Gospel,
  • Advent
  • Christmas
  • Epiphany
  • Lent
  • Easter
  • Pentecost
  • Ordinary Time
     Very quickly we sum these seasons into three groups, Advent through Epiphany, Lent through Pentecost, and common time.
      Originally the incarnation (enfleshment) of Christ was celebrated January 6 and was called Epiphany.  Epiphany is a moment of grasping something or becoming enlightened.  The church celebrated first the meaning of Christ being fully man and God around 200 A.D.  Christmas became more distinct to be on December 25th around 354 A.D.  Advent and the rounding out of the Christmas season is first seen around 380 A.D.  So here is a run down of the seasons.
  • Advent: Starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  Anticipates Christ’s first advent (coming).
  • Christmas: December 25.  Celebrating the birth of Christ.
  • Epiphany: December 26-January 6.  Reflecting on Christ’s presentation at the Temple, visit of the magi, and His miracle at Cana.
         The second grouping is the Easter Season.  The resurrection to the early church (and us) is the most important event on the calendar (1 Cor. 15:17-19).  It is so important that the resurrection is celebrated not just once a year but every Sunday morning.  In fact every morning belongs to the Christian as a reminder of Christ’s resurrection and our future one.  Every Sunday and morning is a “mini-easter” (Drury, Wonder of Worship, 2005).  Easter itself is a week observing the passion of Christ from the entry into Jerusalem to the resurrection.  It became a season of observance because of discontent in the early church to focus on this for only a week.  Lent (latin for spring) is the 40 days of preparation before Easter some time around 325 A.D. (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday was added around 1000 A.D.).  Not only was preparation made before hand but celebration after Easter was extended to Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and for a long time was more celebrated than Christmas.  In fact the most important season of celebration is from Easter to Pentecost.  Here is the way it falls.
  • Lent: 40 days before Easter.  Preparation is made by identifying with Christ’s agony to the cross.
  • Easter: First day of the week (Sunday) and by calendar the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover.  Resurrection!!!!!!
  • Pentecost: Sunday after the 50 days from Eater.  The birth of the church.
      The last season the church observes and tells the Gospel story is ordinary time. This is the time between Pentecost and Advent.  During this time focus is made on the harvest, that is, evangelism and discipleship.  Outreach and spreading of the Gospel was and is the focus of the church during this time.
        So this brings my final question.  Why do believers celebrate with greater fervency non-Christian holidays in the church more than we do Christian holidays and seasons?  Do we celebrate them because they are our focus or just nicely placed gimmicks the calendars provides us with? Example of my thought…
  • Valentines days over lent
  • Mother’s day over Easter
  • Memorial day, Father’s day, and Independence day over Pentecost.
  • Halloween (especially) and Thanksgiving over Advent.
       I am not saying there is anything wrong with observing those holidays personally or with the church (at least not all).  What I am saying is do we focus, plan, and celebrate those more than the seasons which the Church has historically observed and used to share the full Gospel story each year?
Love the Word.  Live the Word.
Jeremy