5 Questions to Ask Before You Attempt Church Revitalization

White country church

It seems every week a church contacts me to ask advice about church revitalization. I also frequently hear from pastors who are considering stepping into a role in church revitalization. I greatly appreciate the Kingdom platform God has given me – but sometimes it feels overwhelming – as if I have something to offer.

Frankly, I am still in the learning process.

But, we have learned a few things. And, we have had some success — twice in church planting and twice in church revitalization.

And, I fully believe we need lots of church revitalization. Read some of my thoughts about the need HERE.

The problem for me is it seems people often start the conversation at the wrong place. They start with the how and I want to start with the why – or maybe the what.

When people start to talk about the how of doing church revitalization – the things we have done or haven’t done – I always feel like we are putting the proverbial cart before the horse. We need to talk about what church you are going to attempt to revitalize – and why you are considering the move in the first place.

I think before you consider revitalization you need to first consider some broader questions.

Here are 5 questions I would consider before I would attempt to help revitalize a church:

Can this church be saved?

There is actually a more difficult question. Is the church worth saving? I know those are difficult questions. They may even make me seem very arrogant. But, there are some toxic churches in the world. I know churches who have never held on to a pastor for more than two years. They are brutal to pastors. They don’t want someone to help them grow they simply want someone to maintain things as they are, fill the pulpit three times a week, and visit them when they are sick. And, if you try anything else they will remind you they were there before you came and will be there when you’re gone. What is the realistic potential even if the church is saved from eventual death? Will a pastor be able to lead? Can changes actually be made? Nothing of value happens in church revitalization – or really anything organizationally speaking – without some change. Chances are good it won’t be popular – in any church – but change is always necessary.

Is this the right location?

Look at the demographics of the community. Does it — or are the people willing for it to — represent the community? If the community has changed demographics around them they may need to make changes for the community to see them as a vital part of the community. The message doesn’t change, but the demographics of communities change over time. People move. New people move into the community. If the church isn’t willing to embrace the unique needs of the community maybe there is a more receptive area elsewhere. Are they willing to ask such hard questions?

Is this the best use of resources?

Would Kingdom dollars be better spent elsewhere? And, again, hard question, but the longer a church has been plateaued or declining, the longer – and harder – it will be to help the church grow again. Another hard question – how many churches could be planted with the same resources and efforts? Is there a wiser stewardship for the Kingdom than this? Now please understand – I believe in revitalization. I think established churches still play a huge role in the Kingdom – for so many reasons – but, you should be willing to ask the difficult questions or your chances of seeing progress are limited.

Is everyone willing to pay the price?

It will be hard. Change will be difficult for some to accept. Revitalization is harder than planting – in my experience. Will change be accepted? Can you take the hits? Are the leaders of the church going to stand with you? Does your family fully support your decision and are they up for the challenge?

Are you the right leader?

Does your experience, passions and skill sets prepare you for this role? Would you be more effective elsewhere? And, the bottom line question here: Is God calling you to this? I have often said I believe God gives tremendous latitude at times in where we are to serve. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. We need more church planters, more healthy leaders in growing churches, more missionaries, more people to be solid, missional believers serving in secular positions – and more people to revitalize churches. But, sometimes God calls us to specific places, even if only for a season. If God is calling you to this then nothing else matters. Obey quickly!

Answer those questions – then we can discuss the how questions.

7 Damaging Sins Which Can Cripple Every Marriage

couple in distress

Did you know there are sins which can cripple every marriage?

Yes. There are.

You realize there are no perfect marriages because there are no perfect people.

Right?

Let me repeat that.

There are no perfect marriages because there are no perfect people.

Every marriage will have seasons which are more difficult than others. I often encounter couples in our church who think they are unique. Because we tend to put on our happy faces at church, they believe theirs is the only marriage in a bad season.

In fact, I’m convinced not understanding how many couples have weathered through these rocky places in marriage may be a reason many couples give up on their marriage. If they understood how normal they are they might be more willing to raise the white flag – ask for help – and work to restore the marriage.

I have observed over the years there are some issues in marriages which, if not addressed, can be crippling to the marriage. These are the “biggies”. They may manifest themselves in other ways, but if you could trace back to the origin you would find these to be at fault.

And, let’s not sugarcoat. They are sins. And, we have all sinned. And, we all sin. Every marriage is comprised of two sinners.

And, this is the real reason there are no perfect marriages.

Left to fester on their own, these sins will eventually be the destroyer of the marriage or certainly keep it from achieving the oneness God commanded.

So, what are these damaging sins? I’m glad you asked.

Here are 7 damaging sins which can cripple every marriage:

Selfishness – Marriage won’t work without mutual submission. Read Ephesians 5:21. Marriage is not a 50/50 arrangement. Ideally it’s to be a 100/100 bond – where both spouses willingly yield their all. (And, I used the word ideal, because your marriage is not there and neither is mine.) When one spouse demands their way or will never work towards a compromise the relationship can never be all it should be. One person is happy – the one who got their way – the other is miserable.

Discontentment – I’ve said before – boredom is perhaps the number one destroyer of marriage. There will be seasons in every relationship which aren’t as “exciting” as others. Some days you will “feel” more in love than other days. But, the key to a long-term relationship is a commitment beyond emotion.

Pride – When one spouse can never admit they are wrong or see their own flaws it opens the door for a wedge of bitterness in the other spouse. Pride is also destructive when the couple is too proud to admit their struggles or get the help they need.

Unforgiveness – Holding on to past hurts not only damages the marriage bond it destroys the person who refuses to forgive. Trust can’t be developed until forgiveness is granted. And, isn’t grace received expected to be extended?

Anger – The Scripture is clear – we should not go to bed in anger. And, there is a reason. Anger is a wedge – one which only grows wider when not dealt with over time.

Complacency – As soon as you think you’re marriage is above the problems of other relationships you’re in trouble. The enemy loves to attack the unaware.

Coveting – Couples who compare themselves to other couples will almost always be disappointed. There will always be people with more – and it likely isn’t making them as happy as you think it does. And, keep in mind, many times people disguise their struggles well. The couple you think has it all may wish they had what you have. Every couple is unique. Comparison only leads to frustration.

Ask yourself this question: Which of these is most prevalent in my marriage today? Which is causing the greatest harm? Which of these, while it may not be an issue today, could be if we don’t get serious about it soon?

Be honest with yourself — and ultimately — with your spouse.

7 Ways to Respond to Negative People In the Church

Shouting

One of the most frustrating things about being a pastor is the number of people who are negative about everything. Thankfully, I deal with this less often the longer I am with the church. In the established church, most of our negativity comes from a few people. When I was in church planting it came from outside our church. Either way, dealing with negative people has been a huge part of my work. I talk with pastors every week who tell me they have large groups of people who are always negative about something they are doing.

I have learned – when a church reaches genuinely hurting people, when people in the church lead messy lives, when the church actually begins to reach such people, or simply when change comes to reach people — the complainers will rise — often among the most religious of people.

And when these type people talk their negative energy spreads fast.

As Jesus taught His disciples how to build the church, a chief command was to love people no one else loved. Since they were to love even their enemies, this included loving people when they were not very lovely. Even people who are always negative. (That’s a hard command sometimes, isn’t it?)

I have tried to lead a church with this philosophy. Along the way I have discovered what Jesus experienced in working with religious leaders in His day.

With this in mind, how do we respond to those who choose to complain and remain negative towards reaching people for Christ?

What do you do with constant negativity towards the mission God has called you to?

Here are 7 ways to respond to negative people:

Filter negative talk. Ask yourself if what they are saying lines up with truth. Is it true? If not, dismiss it quickly so it won’t begin to control you. When you own falsehood about yourself or the church you validate the person offering it. And, you fuel them for further negativity about you or the church.

Learn when necessary. We should not refuse to listen to any criticism. There is an element of truth in most criticism, even among things you need to ultimately dismiss. Let’s not be arrogant. Be humble and teachable always.

Surround yourself with some positive people. Some people are negative about everything and would never encourage anyone. That’s the reality of working with people. Every leader needs to find a core of people who can encourage them to walk closer to Christ, to believe in themselves in Christ, and who genuinely care about their best interest.

Remember negative people spread things about others too. It often helps me reconcile what a negative person says about me when I realize they are always spreading something negative. If it were not me being criticized, it would be their next victim. Do not give as much weight to the voice of the consistently negative person. Sometimes we tend to give them the most attention. The only way you will ever shut down the person who is always negative is to refuse to give them an audience for their negativity. The fact is if they are given a continued voice they will bring people into their negativity. If the same attention is placed on people who are a positive influence then they will bring people along into positivity.

(What I’m not saying is the avoid the negative person. Most likely they are negative for a reason. They are hurt, angry, broken, confused, or simply sinful in their attitude. Either way – we have to love them. That’s our calling as believers. Many times I’ve found if we love them we can actually begin to temper their negativity – at least lessen its volume.)

Confront untruth. You do not have to go on a witch-hunt for untruth — nor should you — but you should try to stop the spread of falsities if you hear them being repeated or told to you. This is especially true if it is going to get in the way of doing what you know God has called you to do. Don’t be bashful about doing so. Don’t embarrass people or treat them harshly. Treat everyone with love. Be an example of how to handle disagreement Biblically. But, don’t ignore it either.

Be truthful and positive around others. Decide you will always be a positive influence. Don’t repeat untruths and avoid being a hypercritical person. Look for the good in situations. A positive attitude is equally contagious.

Remind yourself of truth. Ultimately you are looking for truth, not one person’s opinion on truth.

What ways do you have to deal with negative people?

A 7 Step Checklist for the Best Thanksgiving Ever

checklist

Want a guaranteed better Thanksgiving? Perhaps even the best Thanksgiving ever?

I actually believe Thanksgiving may be one of the most “Christian” holidays we can celebrate. As believers, we are to give thanks always – in every situation. And, we have reason to be thankful. Our God is on His throne – Jesus is alive – and we are loved with an everlasting love.

That’s enough, right?

But, let’s face it – Thanksgiving is hard for some people. They’ve lost loved ones. They are lonely. Another day off watching everyone celebrate how wonderful their life is online only makes it harder.

Others are so caught up in having the perfect meal and the perfect table setting – the house decorated just right – they get distracted with busyness and end up disappointed rather than enjoying some of the greatest blessings around them.

And, then there are those of us who simply take things for granted – and fail to stop and truly be thankful.

Here’s a checklist of activities, which will make your world look brighter and your holiday grander. I’m convinced. You may not be able to do all of them. I would encourage you to complete the ones you can.

Here’s a 7 step checklist for the best Thanksgiving ever:

Read Psalm 136. Slowly. Maybe even aloud. Maybe a couple times. Let the words dwell in you a while. Trust me.

Make a thankful list. I wrote about this in a previous POST, but one of the best ways to fill your heart with gratitude is to make a list of things for which you are thankful. When you reflect on the things you do have – rather than the things you don’t have – your heart grows in appreciation.

Spend time with family and friends. You may not be able to be with them in person – and that’s one of the harder parts of holidays for some – but even exchanging a text with someone you love can brighten your day. Reach out to some you haven’t heard from in a while. And, if you’re mourning over someone special this year – spend some time remembering why they are special to you.

Smile often. Smiling does something inside of you and always makes an impact on people around you. The ability to smile or not is almost always a reaction to a perspective. How’s your perspective this year? Sometimes a perspective check can change your attitude – the way you feel – everything.

Donate something. Not only can you do shopping online – you can give online to most churches, charities, and non-profits. Giving is a catalyst for an internal smile.

Exercise, take a nap and drink some water. This one may seem out of place, but this year I’ve learned whenever I don’t feel well many times it is because I’m partially dehydrated. And, we all run at a fast pace of life. Taking some time to relax and catch up on your sleep may be the best gift you can give yourself for a better Thanksgiving. And, you know you need to exercise, right? Even the smallest activity can make you feel so much better.

Think others first. This may be the most important. For example, if you wear your feelings on your shoulders or you’re easily offended by what others did or didn’t do for you – you’ll have a miserable holiday. On the other hand, if you clothe yourself with an attitude of humility and consider others even before your own needs – the rest of this list will take care of itself. And, here’s the strange thing, you’ll be blessed as you do!

There’s my list for the best Thanksgiving ever. You may not be able to do all of them this weekend. The key is to complete as many as you can.

Any you would add to my list?

Recharging – Critical Advice for Today’s Leaders

Man using a tablet computer while relaxing in a hammock

This is a guest post by Jeremie Kubicek – co-founder of GiANT Worldwide – a global company dedicated to leadership transformation through intentional apprenticeship. Jeremie has a new book, which I believe can be helpful for all leaders – maybe especially in the church.

Recharging.

I was taught the importance of hard work from a very young age. Growing up in Oklahoma, I learned from the state’s large agricultural industry that individuals literally, reap what they sow—those diligent to their craft that work hard and place high emphasis on quality, would yield the best crop.

I also learned the importance of this in church. As Christians, we are to work diligently in all we do, not for our own glory but for God’s. Colossians 3:17 says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

We see this work ethic in Jesus’ ministry, as he works faithfully at all times to share the Gospel. He even challenged us to work similarly. John 9:4 says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

But what I didn’t learn early on was the importance of rest, taking a break, recharging and strolling with God. For so long, I heard verses like 1 Timothy 5:8, which advocates the importance of providing for one’s family, and thought my responsibilities as a Christian, husband, father and businessman stopped there.

I was wrong. Many 80-hour workweeks later, I began to realize I had personally accomplished a lot, but not what God wanted me to accomplish.

We know God rested for a day in Genesis after creating the world, and He encourages us to do the same. And Jesus later modeled the critical act of rest. The Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray,” frequently after large events in his ministry.” In Matthew, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert away from the busyness of everyday work to spend time and grow with God. We see him refuel in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and prepare for his next few days of “work.”

I was convicted; although we are called to work hard, we are also called to recharge hard.

Early on, I learned that resting and recharging do not always mean sleeping. Although sleep is a big part of the process, coherent recharge is, too. We are all wired differently and for this reason, each of us must find the way to rest and recharge that best fits our unique makeup.

For introverts, this might include relaxing activities such as reading and meditation or more active things like exercise, gardening, cooking or woodworking.

While these may also enliven extroverts, more social activities such as discussing ideas with a mentor, spending time with family and friends or attending concerts or movies may be just want they need to help them wind down.

At the end of the day, it isn’t the form of rest that is important but the intentional inclusion of it in your day. So take a cue from our God and Savior and find a moment to recharge today.

Check out “5 Gears,” for additional help in balancing life, work and rest.

5 Ways to Deal with Your Past

UOMO SEDUTO SULLA PANCHINA

I’m a huge proponent of moving forward. I’ve never been a fan of remaining in the past.

This could be because I’ve had some past I’d rather not remember.

It could be because I am very forward-thinking.

Either way, and it’s probably the first, I’d prefer to reconcile the past, make the most of it, and get on with my life.

Bottom line, however, is that there are really a few choices when it comes to dealing with your past.

Here are 5 ways to deal with your past:

Forget it – If you choose to and you are really skilled, you can block all memory of the past from your mind. In extreme settings, I have seen people do this naturally, but I must admit, it’s rare. And, because I believe we learn from mistakes, I wouldn’t even recommend it.

Misuse it – You can twist the past for your benefit – gain sympathy, make people feel sorry for you, and use it as a personal advantage. You could be a martyr. The people who choose this option, in my experience, are usually as phony as the story they share. It’s often hard to trust them. 

Ignore it – You can pretend your past never happened. You can make up your own version of your past, make it prettier and live in a false reality. With the people I’ve seen do this it seems you never really know the true person behind the stories they tell. They are always hiding a part of themselves. 

Excuse it – You can blame every bad decision you ever made on someone else or every future mistake you make on your past. After all, it was “his” fault”, right? I’ve known people with this excuse who never own up to responsibility – and they always seem to find a reason for not doing so. They never take ownership of their actions.  

Use it – In my humble opinion, as one with plenty of brokenness in my story, the best way to deal with your past is to use it for a greater good. How could your story benefit someone else? How could God use your brokenness to bless others? What have you learned, which others need to hear? Let your past help build your — or someone else’s — brighter future. 

I’m not pretending this will be easy. It will probably involve hard decisions and choices such as forgiveness, confession, and being vulnerable with people. But, the reward for allowing God to use your past for a greater good and being freed from the weight of your past will be worth it.

Which option are you currently choosing to deal with your past? (Be honest!)

7 Ways to Help Children Deal with Fear

image

Tragedy is all around us. It’s on the news every night — and all throughout the day. We talk about it at the dinner table. And, as fun and engaging as it can be, we can thank social media for keeping us constantly informed of all the bad things happening in our world.

Evil is rampant — and, because of this – fear is rampant.

And, it doesn’t impact only us.

Our children are not immune from fear. In an Information Age — they know what we know, filtered, of course, with their childlike mind.

Violence even happens in school — in malls — in churches — places children go regularly.

Childhood can be a scary time of life naturally, but especially these days. We should never diminish a child’s fear or the impact the news of the day is having on them. It may be totally irrational fear – something you know is completely impossible — but it’s very real to them.

How does a parent or teacher address this fear?

Here are 7 suggestions to help children deal with fear:

Don’t assume their thoughts

Don’t assume just because your child doesn’t mention what happened they don’t know about it or care. Fear is a normal reaction, especially for a child. Watch for unusual behavior. Be aware of mood changes or extreme sadness. Make sure they know it’s okay to talk about it and there is no shame or disappointment from you when they are fearful. Maybe tell them of a time you were afraid — even a recent time.

Limit their exposure

You’re curious, so the television may be on news stations. What are they covering right now? Remember children process information different from how you do. They may not appear to be watching, but they probably are more than you think. Fill their minds with things to encourage them not perpetuate the fear. This is a time to turn off the television and simply play with your kids. They’ll get no better assurance than their time with you.

Ask them questions

You may think children are afraid of one thing, but it is something completely different. Many times children, especially young children, are simply confused or have misinformation. You can better address the fear if you know its roots. Getting them to talk about what they are afraid of can help them learn to better rationalize and seek comfort and assurance from you.

Assure them they are safe

Let children know they are safe. Don’t lie to them or give them false assurance, but remember the chances of the same thing happening to them is rare — very rare. Remind them you will do anything to protect them. Show them ways you’ve already provided for their safety. Let them help you lock the doors at night. You may need to help them process for weeks to come. Don’t rush them to “get over it”. Pray for and with them often.

Live a normal life as much as possible

As much as possible, live a normal weekly schedule. Their routine is part of their “security blanket.” Don’t allow their fear to cripple them or the family for long. In spite of our fears, we have to move forward.

Be calm around them

Especially during this stressful time, don’t let your children see you in panic. Watch what you say in front of them. Discuss the world events – and especially your fears of them – outside of their listening ears. Let the home be their “safe place”. Parents shouldn’t fight in front of kids anytime, but especially during a time of uncertainty like this. Renew your faith. Renew your commitment to each other. Children often get their faith through parents.

Read them Scripture

Children need something they can cling to as permanent and dependable. What better place than the Word of God, which will never fade? Recite Psalm 56:3 to them. If they are old enough, write it down somewhere they can see it often. Memorize some verses of strength and share with them often. Help them memorize some. (When our boys were young we played Scripture music appropriate for their age. Steve Green’s “Hide ’em in Your Heart series was great for this. You can find them online.)

What else would you share with parents?

A Powerful Lesson from Jesus in Handling Conflict

A braided leather whip

Some lessons you learn the hard way in life and leadership.

Take for example a recent principle I posted about attributes of a maturing leader. I shared that a maturing leader has learned never to respond immediately in anger. Shortly after the post went live I was interviewed about it for a leadership podcast. They questioned me on how I learned that one.

Well, most of the time you learn those things by responding in anger and regretting it later. And, this has happened to me a multiple of times. I once released a good employee in anger, for example. I regretted it ever since.

Many years ago, however, I was convicted by Scripture. (Isn’t this what Scripture is supposed to do?)

I read a passage I had read many times, but I saw something this particular time I’d not previously noticed.

See if you catch it in this  John‬ ‭2:13-16 passage:

“The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace! ””

Did you catch it? Did you see the powerful leadership principle about responding in anger?

Yes? If so then you were convicted too most likely. 

It’s huge. It will change the way you deal with people in tense or confrontational environments.  

If you didn’t catch it, read it one more time. This time the emphasis is mine. 

The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace! ”” 

Make sense now? He made a whip. Before Jesus cleared out the temple – He made a whip. Handcrafted whip. 

Have you ever made a whip out of cords – a whip strong enough to drive out people bent on making money through unrighteous means?

I have to be honest. I never have made a whip in my life. I don’t know how long it took to make whips in Jesus days, but it certainly wasn’t instantaneous. 

There was time for reflection. Time to think. Time to process. Time to make a plan. Time to pray.

Suddenly the scene I had in my head of Jesus seeing the activity in the temple and going wild with anger was not the same.

I can picture Jesus sitting on the steps of the temple, talking to His Father. (The Scripture says He did nothing except what the Father told Him.)

Maybe the dialogue went something like this:

God, how do you want me to respond to this?

They are in the temple, money-changing. I know how You feel about that. It’s Your house. It’s supposed to be a House of Prayer.

What should I do? How serious should I take this?

(Twisting the leather a little tighter.)

You know, God, they are going to be writing about this for a very long time. This scene may even appear in the movies someday. 

Help me know how to respond. 

It wasn’t a rash decision. It wasn’t unrehearsed. He didn’t respond purely out of emotion.

To me it has the appearance of being a very calculated, methodical, strategic move.

Over the years of leadership, since I realized how Jesus actually cleared the temple and facing lots of critics and conflicts of my own, I’ve made a lot of figurative whips. Perhaps someday I’ll even make a real one – and hang it on my wall. I’ve taken time before responding to think, process, develop a plan. And, all this in the spirit of prayer. 

In the process – of being more calculated, methodical, and strategic – it’s made me a better leader. It’s helped me respond better. 

And, here’s the other thing I discovered. Often, once I’ve made the figurative whip – I didn’t need to actually use it. In fact, and here’s the real life lesson, sometimes the process led me to understand I was the one who was wrong. Ouch!

When you’re facing conflict in life and leadership — when you’re angry — take time to make a whip. It changes everything.