Monthly Archives: May 2016

The “Perfect” Small Group Leader

small group leader 2

I only wish I actually looked as cool as this.

I lead Bible class at my church from time to time, so I was struck by this image of “the miraculous small group leader” in an advertisement for in Pastor Resources magazine recently.

I decided to take look at each trait described in this image and see what I could learn from it and think of ways to apply it to my own leading of my Bible class small group.

  • Coffee aura. While I don’t drink coffee, I have gotten into the habit of bringing a soda can with me in an effort to calm any nerves I might have. In the process I have learned that having a beverage of any kind in my hand breeds a sense of familiarity, a humanness, an approachability that opens up participants to feel freer to engage in conversations and feel comfortable doing so. Having a “coffee aura” gives leaders a vibe that we are all in this together. We all need something to get us going in the morning. We are all seeking to know God more. I am not there to dictate all the answers, but just to start a dialog about what it means to be a faithful Christian in this world today. Continue reading →

Church Staffing Trends

coffee shop

Church staffers are meeting at the coffee shop to read the Word of God more and more.

Recently in Outreach magazine, William Vanderbloemen, co-author of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, identified five current trends in church staffing that I found interesting and from which we as those who serve the church can learn. Here are my thoughts on each:

  1. Out with the specialist, in with the leaders. No longer do churches need someone who is highly specialized in one area. What is more in demand is someone who can effectively lead a group and motivate people to action.
  1. The succession conversation is vital. There is much more discussion within churches about the direction in which ministry is going and who will be taking over the role of pastor to guide the church in that particular direction. There is a more hands-on approach within congregations as to who will be called for pastoring the next generation of believers.
  1. Experts on millennials are in high demand. As much as I don’t want to admit it, we as a church must understand more fully what drives the millennial generation of believers. We cannot “do church” the same old way anymore. We need input in church planning from those who have a handle on reaching out to Christian millennials in meaningful ways to them.
  1. Personal touch is paramount. There needs to be a sense that the church staff cares about each member individually. People need to be treated like family and not like numbers on an attendance sheet. Members recognize the difference and will run out the door if they are not welcomed warmly.
  1. Impersonal services are being outsourced. Like in many businesses these days, such things as accounting and maintenance are being outsourced so that the church staff can be more involved in the life of the congregation and not stuck behind a desk combing through paperwork. The church is about reaching out to people with Christ, and that is done most effectively face-to-face and in person, with church workers in homes and hallways and parks and coffee shops, wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name.

As I ponder these trends as a product developer of church resources, I realize even more clearly that our materials need to be practical to get people active, they need to be forward-thinking, they need to meet the needs of the growing population, they must have a personal touch and they must provide a sense of care from the faith community. I eagerly await what the Spirit sends my way as I brainstorm new avenues to spreading the Gospel message in the church through the written word in this ever-changing time.

Mouse Trap

I recently had to deal with an infestation of mice in my home. I would see the signs that they were there: Food eaten out of the trash, dish towels chewed through and the droppings.

I put out those simple wooden traps with the metal bar that snapped on intruders when they tried to eat the bit of peanut butter I had placed there.

mouse trapSeveral mornings in a row, I cheered with delight that another mouse had been caught, which I quickly put into the dumpster out back, trap and all.

Then it was time to scour the kitchen with soap and water and wash all the dishes and silverware and get rid of any food that I saw the mice had gotten into. An exhausting and irritating job.

Continue reading →

The Internet of Things

We have been hearing a lot lately about the benefits and drawbacks of the Internet of Things (or IoT, for short). If you’re unclear on what that is, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.[1] The IoT allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure,[2] creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit.

Internet of ThingsFor me personally the concept kind of gives me the creeps. A segment on 60 Minutes showed how someone can take control of car built in the last ten years remotely because of this new technology. It calls to mind shades of Big Brother and that feeling that everyone is watching you.

Continue reading →

The Day of Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. Zechariah 4:10a

I ran across this verse recently and it spoke to me somehow. Maybe it is because I feel like I am immersed in day after day of “small things,” the mundane tasks that need to get done.

doing laundryEngaging in the “small things” of life over and over again like doing laundry, paying bills, cooking meals, mowing the lawn, opening the garage, gassing up the car, running errands can wear me down sometimes.

So I find solace in the fact that the book of Zechariah acknowledges that there are those who have “despised the day of small things.” I am not alone!

Yet Zechariah assures us that we despisers of small things will rejoice. Why? Because the eyes of the Lord will “range through the whole earth“ (Zechariah 4:10b).

Continue reading →

Organization and Organism

The conventional wisdom these days in our society is to say that the institutional church is old hat, out of date and doesn’t matter any more in these “modern times.”

That’s why I am happy there are people like Kevin deYoung, who sets the record straight for us in his insightful book co-written by Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion:

going to churchThe church, as the elect people of God, is both organism and organization. The church is a breathing, growing, maturing, living thing. It is also comprised of a certain order (1 Cor. 14:40), with institutional norms (5:1-13), doctrinal standards (15:1-2), and defined rituals (11:23-26). The two aspects of the church—organism and organization—must not be played off against each other, for both are grounded in the operations of the glorified head of the church through the Holy Spirit. Offices and gifts, governance and the people, organization and organism—all these belong together. They are all blessings from the work of Christ. (p. 170).

The structure, order and governance of the institutional church is important to the development of the faith and in helping the faithful to serve in specific ways that are in line with their God-given gifts and abilities. The church as an institution defines us and reminds us of who we are and whose we are through regular worship, the recitation of the Creed, the gathering for baptisms and the providing of our Savior’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

So much in our world today is defined by what is fun, what makes us feel good, what is exciting and new. But that is not what the Church is designed to provide. The Church is meant to show us our sins, to remind us our need for repentance and our forgiveness in Christ, things our world is not all that willing to face. So it is no surprise that there is resistance to the concept of organized church. But the ultimate goal is far beyond the immediate desire for instant gratification. The ultimate goal of the Church is to show us our salvation—life eternal with Christ forevermore. I can think of no other thing that is more fun, makes me feel as good or is more exciting and new than that.

So with this in mind, let us follow the advice of St. Paul who said this, long before our “modern” era:  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near ” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Strong and Weak

Jesus and crossIn Strong and Weak, a new book being published this month, Christian writer Andy Crouch lays out for us an interesting tug-of-war between authority and vulnerability. If you are too firm, you become a dictator. If you are too warm, you become a pushover.

There are so many applications to this conundrum that I see in the workplace, as a parent, and in our role as witnesses for the faith.

The necessity of striking the right balance between strength and weakness when proclaiming the Gospel is even pointed out by Christ himself: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

We should never try to overpower people with the message of the Gospel and demand that they coalesce to our way of thinking, but at the same time we should not just tell people that anything they believe is fine.

We know the truth. Jesus is the only path to our salvation. He is THE Way, the Truth and the Life, not just one of many ways to God. The Scripture records Jesus saying, “NO ONE comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is, of course, our role model in all of this, displayed most profoundly on the cross. In his ultimate vulnerability, he revealed his supreme authority.

We can show our vulnerability in our witness by acknowledging our sinfulness and our own need for Christ, while at the same time expressing that we have the power of Christ within us because he declared victory over sin when he proclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!”

I am reminded of the experience of Paul who admitted to his frustration that he had a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away from him, though Paul had thrice prayed that it be removed. Finally, God provided Paul with an answer to his dilemma. ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It was then that Paul came to this realization: “When I am weak, then I am strong“ (2 Corinthians 12:10).

It is God’s grace that is sufficient enough for us, too, to face that combative coworker, that ornery child, that defensive unbeliever with Christlike care. It is God’s grace that allows us to be firm, but loving in all that we do, knowing that God has been firm but loving with us through Christ that we might have life everlasting with him. We have the power within our weak selves to do great things! So, go, therefore, and be weak AND strong!


Forgive and Forget

memoryI attended a speech at Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis by renowned theologian Miroslav Volf of Yale Divinity School, Volf talked about memory and about remembering wrongs rightly. Memory, he said, has the positive functions of preventing us from encountering a bad situation in the future, protecting us from harm and even healing us. But on the flip side, memory can be used as sword to inflict pain on others or to cut ourselves off from society in an attempt at self-preservation. Memories can also bring us anger, guilt and shame.

But for Christians, Volf said, all our memories are superimposed with the death and resurrection of Christ. No matter what sin we have the memory of committing, it is washed away by the death and resurrection of Christ. No matter what wrong our minds know someone has perpetrated on us, it is permanently erased by our Savior. No matter what conflict occurred that we replay over and over again, the pain is removed by the sinless Son of God.

So we must as Christians remember wrongs rightly by recalling that all wrongdoing is forgiven by our crucified and risen Christ, who came to save not just some, but the whole world. As Christians, therefore, we are truly to forgive and forget. Even God does not remember our sins or the sins of others once they are confessed and repented of, so why should we? As God tells us, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). And as the psalmist says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Our sins are completely cast away.

So how does remembering our wrongs rightly affect our daily living? It affects us in the ways in which we approach people. We must be eager to forgive others. We must not hold grudges. We must not let sins fester. We have too much work to do together to be sniping at each other. We must do all we can to reconcile with one another and find ways to dwell in Continue reading →

Go to the Tape

video camera in churchAt the Best Practices conference, Joy Hamann and TJ Winters of Concordia-San Antonio in their session Using Video in Ministry, talked about creative ways to incorporate video into your worship and church life. In their particular church they have found that video has been useful in three categories:

  1. Announcements, 2. Testimonials, 3. Sermons. Let’s take a look at each:


You know how every church service either begins or ends with a series of announcements that a pastor reads from a sheet of paper while people fidget in their seats. Haman and Powers have turned that often boring necessity into something that parishioners look forward to. They create 2- to 3-minute videos about an upcoming event or a ministry in the church in which a representative of that event or ministry is filmed talking about how excited they are about the event or the ministry, even sometimes through song or a funny poem. Haman and Powers do not run the same video twice, even if it is for the same event, so that there is variety in the video announcements. Hamann and Winters have seen that people now look forward to the announcements in church and doing the videos ahead of time helps services to move along because they know how exactly how long the announcements will be and they do not have to worry about a speaker running to long or forgetting certain points. People who tape the announcements also are more relaxed when they are asked to do the video because they know that it can be redone, if there are any mistakes or flubs. Here is an a example of a video announcement:


Another way to use video in worship is through testimonials. So often we do not know much about the background and the lives of those in our congregation, but by filming testimonials from people who are willing to share their faith lives on tape, we can get to know each other better. These testimonials can even become part of a sermon on a particular topic or theme or they can be used simply as a way for people to be made aware of a ministry at the church that had or has a significant impact on the life of a brother or sister in Christ. Here is an example of a testimonial video:


Taking videos of the pastor’s sermon each week is a wonderful way in which a church can reach out to the community to those who are sick or homebound or otherwise unable to attend worship in person on Sunday mornings, and sermon videos are also an avenue for spreading the Gospel to those who are seeking the Lord and those who do not have a church home of their own. In many aspects in this technological, internet age, each church has in effect two congregations: the people in the pews on Sundays and those online, and putting sermons on youtube or other media outlets is the perfect start to draw someone into learning more about what a Christian means, Many pastors tell of how people have reached out to them because of something they heard that pastor say on an online sermon and how those pastors were then able to minister to those people. Here is an example of a video sermon by Pastor Bill Tucker at Concordia-San Antonio:

God is truly at work through video to fulfill the Great Commission to go ye, therefore, and preach the Gospel to every nation—even the computer nation!