Friday, December 06, 2019

God’s Activity

On this Friday morning, I just received and read the newsletter from Lucedale-First Baptist.  Dr. Eddie Davidson’s column centered around Matthew 2 and the story of the Wise Men.  He speaks of how the Wise Men were “Drawn” to the point of being “Compelled” by a sense of “Oughtness.’  I have never heard that term, but believe it to be a great term in the work of the Lord.  He makes the point that these Wise Men came to Jerusalem based on the activity of God in their lives.

Pondering this thought while reading his column, thinking about the modern-day, Americanized Baptist (that would be me) Church, I attempted to consider the question of “God’s activity among us.”  We spend time in small groups be they called Sunday School, Life Groups, or whatever we choose to call them.  We spend time in large groups which we call “Worship Services”.  We have other times of Bible study.  The question for me is this; “With all our study, meetings, and knowledge, how long has it been since we have seen, witnessed, or been compelled by a ‘sense of oughtness’ by the activity of God?”  It is readily apparent when a question is asked that no one wants ask or even think needs to be ask, there will be push-back.  I dare say this is such a question. 

However, one statement my friend made in this column is THE STATEMENT which needs to be pressed into and contemplated.  The scripture says that the Wise Men came to Jerusalem, spoke to Herod who, in turn spoke to HIS ‘advisors.’  Here is the nugget to consider.  Bro. Eddie writes, “His advisors were experts in the Word of God but blind to the Activity of God.  They saw nothing, they sought nothing, and they found nothing.”  This reminds me of the words to the chorus of an old song, “They were playing games at the foot of the cross.  So close to the struggle, yet so far from the cost.  Never feeling the shame and never sensing the loss.”  To be experts in the Word of God and blind to the activity of God is like the Pharisee who were so focused on the law that they missed the “Lord of the Law” when He passed by.

More than anything else, we need to rediscover the activity of God in, on, and through our lives in the person, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus.  He is still the answer.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

“SUPERMAN” NEEDED FOR CHURCH REVITALIZATION

I read this post today about 'what it takes to lead a successful church revitalization" and thought, "We may want to put him in a red, yellow, black, and blue, suit and stitch a HUGE "S" in the middle of his chest."   This is from Thom Rainer.  My thoughts are: “If it takes all of this in one person, no wonder we have such difficulty in “Revitalizing God’s Church.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, I find nothing wrong with any one of these and admittedly each of these is an integral part of Church Revitalization.  To see these written in one article is a bit overwhelming.

While I believe these need to be seen by anyone who senses the Spirit’s leading to do the arduous and difficult work of Revitalization, I must add that some of the most needed personalities might not be on this list.  These might include:

  • Pray-er
  • Witness-er
  • Love-er of God
  • Love-er of People
  • Love-er of the community

While I could offer several more, I’m not really the professional, hear from Dr. Rainer:


INTRODUCING THE REVITALIZER PROFILE: LEADING A CHURCH FROM ONE OF 12 LEADERSHIP PERSONALITIES

If I write with too much enthusiasm, please forgive me. But I am unabashedly excited about this tool.

It is called the Revitalizer Profile. It is the first step in the Revitalize Bundle, or it can be used as a standalone tool.

As we have coached pastors in revitalization for many years, the most successful path has been helping pastors discover their leadership strengths and learn to lead from those strengths. Too many pastors are told what they are doing wrong; with the Revitalizer Profile we work on celebrating how God has wired them positively.

It has been transformational!

Once pastors have taken this inventory, they are immediately provided their leadership personality. It helps them to know how to lead the church best. Here are the twelve different personalities, including the strength for each and a potential challenge.

Instructor – leads revitalization best through teaching, the source of greatest ministry fulfillment. An instructor may be challenged to balance priorities and time.

Thinker – loves to spend hours in study. Thinkers are best used for revitalization by devising and articulating biblical mandates to move forward. A thinker can be prone to neglect pastoral needs.

Detailer – makes certain nothing falls through the cracks, a great need and strength for revitalization. Detailers must be cautious lest they fail to see the big picture.

Visionary – has the God-given ability to see a future path for revitalization. Visionaries may struggle to be good listeners.

Strategist – can see a path forward for revitalization plus the steps to get there. Strategists, though, should be careful lest they see people as a means to an end.

Loyalist – leaders with a deep love for both the members and the institution, needed traits in a revitalization. A loyalist, however, may struggle to be a good listener.

Responder – has a heart and desire to meet needs quickly, a valuable trait in revitalization. But the Responder may neglect leading the church evangelistically toward growth.

Provider –very good at working one-on-one, particularly across generational lines. The Provider, however, may neglect preparation time for preaching and teaching.

Idealist – is able to provide hope and encouragement even in the stresses revitalization can bring. But the Idealist can get frustrated easily, especially when hopes and goals are not realized according to their own expectations.

Systematizer – highly adept in organizing and prioritizing for revitalization. But the Systematizer can be prone to neglect pastoral needs in their enthusiasm for the pursuit of processes.

Equipper – adept at training and motivating members, particularly in the area of evangelism in a revitalization. But the Equipper may have difficulty communicating how the congregation can balance both an outward focus and an internal spiritual growth emphasis.

Counselor – loves to be around and help people, a vital trait in the process of revitalization. The Counselor, however, can neglect key aspects of church leadership, particularly those that lead the church to growth and an outward focus.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Lessons From the “Prodigals”

Most of us know the story from Luke 15 known as the “Prodigal Son.” The title of this post will confuse some while others will smile and understand it completely

Simply stated, a Father had two sons and the younger of two sons approaches dad asking for his inheritance which his dad gives. A few days later the young man took his money, his inheritance and went to a distant place where he wasted all he had in ‘wild living.’ When the money was gone, so were his friends. Broke, the boy wound up in a pigpen eating the same slop as the pigs.

The Bible says that when he ‘came to his senses’ (that phrase is a sermon unto itself), he got up and went home to his father because he knew that His father’s servants had better living conditions than what he was enduring. Arriving at home, he asked to be received as a servant. Yet his dad, who had been and was still watching for this rebellious boy to come home, received him as a son. A ring, a robe, and shoes were brought and placed on the boy as symbols of sonship. By the way, dad threw a party! All was well until the older son, the one who had never left, came in from the field.

The attributes, attitudes, and actions, of the older brother are seen in stark contrast to that of the Father. Quite likely, the older son didn’t care if his young brother ever returned or not. At the same time, dad was watching, waiting, and praying for his boy to come home. The older brother was possibly relieved to have his younger brother out of the house, while the father couldn’t rest knowing his boy was “out there.”

This is a story which Dr. Luke recorded in what we know as the 15th chapter of the gospel that bears his name. It is a story, some call it ‘a parable’, told by our Lord and the lessons we can learn or the meanings we can extract from this story are endless. Consider a few truths and let them be branded into your spirit because in our ‘spirit’ is where ’life change’ happens.

First, we discover, the Spirit of the Younger brother (SYB) which is indeed prideful and rebellious. When he asked his Father for ‘his’ inheritance, he was exposing his deep-seated attitude of pride, conceit, and arrogance. An inheritance is not granted until someone is dead. So, the attitude he communicated was, “In my eyes you are dead.” The SYB is exposed in us when we become rebellious against our Heavenly Father through our disobedience or when we commandeer His church to achieve our wants, or even when we decide we know better than Him. We do this when we think we serve Him and are faithful to Him, but we do it on OUR terms. Like the Younger Son, this may work for a season, but generally, when we go our own way and do our own thing, we, like the younger son, find ourselves in a proverbial pigpen.

Not to be missed, the Spirit of the Older Brother (SPOB) is also prideful and calloused. Though he had never left home, though he never asked for his inheritance, and though he gave the appearance of being the ‘faithful & honorable’ son, deep inside he harbored bitterness and resentment against his brother who had left home. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that this was tantamount to murder. The SPOB is content to dismiss the wayward and is okay with letting the younger brother stay in the pigpen. The SPOB makes it ‘all about me and my friends.’ Could this be what is going on inside of many institutional and generational churches today? I am not intending to be mean-spirited, just asking needed questions. Could the reason be that so many churches spend most of their time and energy on ‘taking care of us’ that we have unwittingly, unknowingly, and unsuspectedly embraced the Spirit of the Older Brother? Is it possible that this is why the prevailing notion, inside the church, seems to be, “What’s in it for me?” One thing we should be warned about; “The Spirit of the Older Brother” is more contagious than the pandemic flu and causes greater destruction. The SPOF is just as much about pride and rebellion as is the SYB.

Contrast both of those with the Spirit of the Father (SOF) which is a spirit of love, concern, and above all, forgiveness. He is concerned about people being in the far country, whether they journeyed there in open rebellion, whether they fell into sin, or whether from ignorance. The Father is lovingly watching for them to return and deeply desires to draw them back into His house. Wherever they have been and whatever they have done, He offers enough forgiveness through His mercy and grace, to fully restore them into His household. My second grade teacher (who was also my Sunday School teacher), MS Hannah Dobson, gave to me a great picture of the Father looking for the prodigal by taking her right hand and placing it over both eyes as if shielding out the sunlight to see a long way down the road to catch a glimpse of the wayward finally coming home. Painting that picture, she taught us that, “When the Father caught a glimpse of the wayward son coming home, He didn’t wait for the boy to get inside the yard, rather He ran to meet the boy because of His joy that the lost son was found and coming home.”

The SOF has been felt by any parent who has gone through the agony of having a wayward child. Tears flow when that lost soul comes home. We do not wait for them to walk in the door, we meet them in the driveway with tears of joy. This is the SOF when a lost soul comes home.

HOW ABOUT ONE FINAL CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION: The Father always throws a party when a lost person comes home. God, our Heavenly Father, doesn not get too excited about ‘they style of music’ we sing, the ‘style of worship’ we experience, whether our buildings are air conditioned (or not), whether our church is the ‘coolest in the area’ or is known to be the ‘cutting edge’ church, or even whether our congregation is the ‘biggest & best;’ what the Father gets excited about is when a “lost person finds his way home.” The Bible says, “Even the Angels in heaven rejoice.” The reason they rejoice is that the Father is rejoicing. He rejoices when the lost is found and the dead is given life. To the younger brother or to the older brother the message is the same, “Come Home.”

Monday, July 01, 2019

“Thus Says The Lord”–Preacher “PREACH!”

Not long ago I was eating breakfast where I eat a couple times each week and heard some men talking about ‘preaching’.  Listening to people talk about ‘preaching’ is always a little humorous and sad at the same time.  It is a dichotomy to me.  (Sorry Bob C). 

The humorous part is this; many if not most people (particularly those my age and older) tend to think of preaching in terms of style.  In the deep south no self-respecting preacher would finish preaching until his hankie was in his hand, his clothes were wet with sweat, and his voice was hoarse from speaking so loud, long, and forceful.  As my friends said on this particular morning, “Now, that’s preaching!!”  Admittedly and as a confession, I can get ‘wound up’ and ‘passionate’ about the message and have moments that are like this, so perhaps I am a ‘throw-back’.  But from the preacher side of the pulpit, it is rarely, if ever, a plan to speak loudly or softly.  Rather, it is (to use a modern-day word) organic.  Again, the humorous part to me is that to so many, preaching is defined by ‘style’ and not ‘substance.’  This brings us to the sad part.

As I sat and heard these guys talking about ‘preachers’ and ‘preaching’, this thought occurred to me; in all my years of hearing these types of discussion, I have rarely heard anything said about the ‘message given’, it is always about the ‘manner in which it is given.’  This, it seems to me, is a tragic disconnect from the heart of Jesus.  I dare say that Jesus is not nearly as concerned about  style as He is about substance, not so concerned about the type of delivery as He is about the truth contained therein , and not so concerned about the method as He is about the message.  Having said that and knowing people have preferred styles of preaching, please don’t lose sight of two truths: We will never bore people into the Kingdom or Kingdom Living any more that we can intimidate people into the Kingdom or to Kingdom living.

Today, I read a tweet from my friend, Dr. Randy Davis, which said, “America needs Godly men in the pulpit that will preach God’s Word. People don’t need cute stories or 20-minute “sermonettes.” The world has taken the gloves off. They’re throwing knockout punches. It’s time for God’s preachers to stand up & declare, THUS SAYS THE LORD GOD!”   What a great statement and needed call!! 

I’ll suggest that many good things are done today, as a church in corporate worship.  At the same time we should recognize that  the two most important things a church does corporately is to ‘pray’ and then ‘preach’.  These two have the potential and power to affect eternity.  As a professional church musician for almost 50 years, I possess a deep love for worship through music, and music of all styles (Ok, rap leaves me cold, but that’s another discussion).  However, it is missing the mark when musical worship becomes the center piece of our corporate experience and leaves little time for corporate prayer and gospel preaching. 

It is commonly reported that St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”  While this neither sounds like him nor can it be found in his historical records where he said this, these words have seemingly been used in an to attempt to minimize preaching and maximize godly living and discipleship. Today a pastor said to me, “The devil isn’t bothered if we clothes or feed people around the world, but he gets up in arms when we read the Bible, pray, and share our faith.”  This type of life grows out of Biblical preaching.  Yes we need to be involved in social ministries, but absent the ministry of the word, we are missing the mark.

Never forget the words of Apostle Paul in his last letter to Timothy.  As he was facing the end of his earthly life, to his young preacher body, he boldly proclaimed, “Preach the word!  Be Ready (diligent) at ALL TIMES.  Rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.”  What a call!  What a command!  What a challenge!

For a pastor to preach a “Thus Says The Lord” message, he must be “studied up’ and  “prayed up” being spiritually, mentally,and emotionally prepared.  The confidence to speak this way only comes when God’s man has spent enough time with God to be confident in the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.  Here are a few suggestion which might help your pastor or a pastor to be or become everything which God has called him to be and that he desires to be:

  1. Allow your pastor to have  the needed time for Spiritual and Study preparation (if you are a pastor, make the needed time).  No pastor I know  wants to stand in front of their congregation ‘ill-prepared’, but oftentimes their other responsibilities do not allow them enough time to prepare.  By the way, for many or most, it takes HOURS of prayer and study to adequately prepare a message.  Much more than anyone knows goes into the ‘rightly dividing the word of truth ’ for the hearers.
  2. Pray regularly for your pastor and his family.  This big ‘miss’ today among church leaders is the difference in the weight of their job and weight of a pastor’s job.  When a church leader experiences a family or other personal problem, they seek out their pastor and they should, and their pastor gladly shares their burden with them.  Most people are grateful for their pastor giving his time, effort, and energy to assisting them.  BUT PLEASE DON’T MISS THIS: When the pastor experiences family problems, often times, he has no one to personally bear or share his load, so he carries not only the weight of his struggle, but at the same time, carries the weight of his entire congregation.  It is a heavy load and is probably one of the reasons for ‘burn-out’ among pastors. 
  3. Offer Him Time Away (with pay) -  There are times that a pastor gets so overwhelmed that, if honest, he needs to take a step back and recharge.  What I have discovered from my many friends and acquaintances who pastor large or mega-churches is that those congregations seem to be open to allowing their pastor not only vacation time to spend with his family, but they also allow time ‘out of the pulpit’ to recharge their spiritual batteries.  I know one church where every July their pastor is afforded time to do just this.  Other people fill the pulpit in his absence.  Then other churches, offer a ‘sabbatical’ every five or ten years.  A sabbatical is a highly Biblical concept which is found in the teaching of the “Sabbath Rest”.  (As an aside, pastors may last 5 or 10 years, if churches come to understand the load that they carry and offer time for a spiritual recharge and refreshing.) I’ll offer one more note: Pastors today deal with more weighty issues than at any time in the history of this nation.  It’s not that they are lazy or trying to get ‘out of work’, most of the time they are weighted down by the situation and issues they are called on to deal with on a daily basis.
  4. Become a Servant-Helper to the Pastor – There is indeed a ministry that can be done by members becoming ministers which can lighten the load of a pastor.  Men and women can assist greatly by offering to visit hospital, nursing homes, and homebound, in place of or as an emissary of the pastor.  All it takes is a little time to visit with the pastor or on  a visiting team with the pastor to become trained and comfortable in some of those  situations. Some have never walked immediately after a family has experienced a death, received word of a terminal disease, or lost a job.  Most have never been the first response minister to one who has been told that their spouse wants a divorce or that their kids have announced they were homosexual.   Most pastors would welcome help and be willing to train Pastoral Ministry helpers who would visit and report to the pastor any situation that required HIS presence. This is a ministry which, by experience, I know strengthens a church, especially in the eyes of the community.

As I have written these words, they are intended to help our men who God has called to the pulpit to have the needed time to prepared to preach a “Thus Says the Lord” message.  But one of the outcomes of these suggestions could well be that the church would become healthy and productive, thus reproducing.  This could happen when members become ministers and preachers have the time to prepare to preach!! 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lesson Learned

The lessons we learn in life seem to stick with us (or at least me) based on the ‘way’ or ‘how it it’ that I or we learned them.  For instance, when I was a kid my dad told me the fire was hot.  Believe it or not, I was an obedient kid and didn’t stick my hand in the flame (in his presence), but when he wasn’t around?  I now know that fire is hot and will burn!!  You could say that truth is “branded in my mind (and on my finger).”  Examples of this could be told ad infinitum but you get the idea.  The way you learn something, either through experience or repetitive teaching, determines how well something ‘stays’ with you AND how well you really understand it.

Now to the natural world.  Since moving in our present house, I have begun a little ‘raised garden.’  The idea came from my pastor and friend, Tommy.  Living in an area and serving 2 wonderful counties where farming is the primary vocation or advocation, my little raised garden is but a speck, but it’s mine and I enjoy it.  This year, this garden has taught me a spiritual truth. 

Being neither a farmer or a flower guy, nor a horticulturist, the ability to recognize a plant by its leaves, shape, color, or smell (see how little I know) is beyond me.  Candidly, while many talented and experienced people are all around who can do this, I am not one.  So, when I buy my plants for my little garden I depend on the ‘labeling’ which the nursery or Walmart’s Garden Center places on the plants.  GRIN

Well, you guessed it, this year I chose two kinds of tomato plants, two types of bell peppers, zucchini, and squash.  I planted each stalk, watered, and waited.  Expecting cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, green bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, squash, and zucchini, I watered twice each day and waited.  We lost our squash and zucchini after just a couple of pieces because of ‘lack of watering’ as we were out of town for almost two weeks, the Roma tomatoes have done okay (a dozen or so tomatoes), and the Green Bell peppers are doing well.   But guess what?

The “Cherry Tomato’ plants are doing well, the only problem is, they are not producing cherry tomatoes, rather they  producing a habanero type of green (and hot) pepper.  The pepper is good, mind you, but certainly not a ‘cherry tomato’.  Also, the Yellow Bell Pepper hasn’t turned yellow yet, it’s green as can be.  Perhaps if I let them die, they will turn yellow.

As I looked at my little garden the other day, honestly a little disappointed in the production, it is just like God spoke this word in my ear, “You will know them by their fruits.”  I honestly believe that 21st Century American “Christians” need to hear this message loud and clear today.  We must  be told that the ‘fruits’ we produce reveal who and what we really are.  When I see those plants in my little garden, they are where they are supposed to be (in the soil)  doing what they are designed to do (producing fruit), yet they are a disappointment to their owner (me) because I expected something different.

The Bible says that we are “known by our fruit and our love.”  As far as I can tell, these are the two ways which the Bible says the world will recognize us.  My question today is this; “What kind of fruit am I producing?”  It is easy to ask that of others, but sometimes it stings when we ask ourselves the tough questions. 

Stephen Covey would interject habit #2 of the “Seven Habits for the Highly Effective Person”.  It is, “Begin with the end in mind.”  The Bible says, “Whatever you sow, you will reap.”  While I thought I knew and understood this truth, thanks to this garden, I can say, “Lesson Learned.”  

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Word From the Past

Years ago, my parents introduced me to a broadcaster named Paul Harvey.  I used to love his “And the rest of the story” because it was so pointed, poignant, and powerful.  He was not known to mince words, but he was not unkind.  He was not a news reporter, he was more a cultural observer.  I was reminded of his voice and humor when I read the following on a Facebook feed.  At one time, I had the audio of him delivering this message.  While it is not ‘politically correct’ (neither am I) and espouses the work of a ‘devil’ (which I believe because the Bible teaches it – and the world largely denies it), these words, spoken 50+ years ago reach the level of prophecy because they are coming true or have come true before our very eyes. 

If you wanted to destroy the USA, what would you do?  Would you use a frontal assault on a country that has arguable the greatest military might in history?  Would you attempt to detonate an explosive device in some strategic location?  Would you attack the borders?

While some will say, “The devil doesn’t care enough about this country to attack it”, I would counter that the USA, with all her spiritual warts and wrinkles, stands as a bastion of Religious Liberty in this world.  Under her banner of protection, citizens are (at least supposed to be) free enough to express themselves and their core beliefs in Jehovah God.  This in itself makes her a target for the devil.

How do you take down such an empire?  That is, an empire ‘of, by, and for, THE PEOPLE?’  Here is a reminder of what Mr. Harvey said all those years ago.


If I were the devil…

If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee.

So, I would set about, however necessary, to take over the United States.

I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”

To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square.

And the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which are in Washington …”

Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed.

And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.

If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress.

In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.

If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious.

What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?

I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be.

And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.

In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.


Please DO NOT FORGET – These words were spoken over 50 years ago.  Today, let’s covenant together to pray for a people to return to the God of Creation, The God of our Fathers, and the God of the Bible, who is only found through His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

ACP–from another Person

After writing my last pitiful blog encouraging all to fill out their ACP, I received this article, written by Roc Collins (formerly a Mississippian), through a tweet from Dr. Randy Davis.  Randy said, “That will preach, Dr. Roc”.  Take a minute, it will be worth it.

Be blessed.


FOUR REASONS WHY COUNTING IS IMPORTANT

JUNE 14, 2019

By Roc Collins
Director of Strategic Objectives, TBMB

I recently overheard someone cynically remark, “It seems like everybody is way too focused on numbers in church.” I understood what he was saying, but I would argue that focusing on numbers is a godly pursuit.

Before I deepen the chasm of cynicism even further, please hear me out. Every number represents a person so valuable to God that He’d be willing to send His only Son to die in their place. That’s value! As it’s been said: We count people because people count.

Here are four important reasons why counting makes an eternal difference.

Roc Collins

(1) Counting is consistent with the Bible.  In almost every book of the Bible there is a number.

  • About 3,000 saved and baptized at Pentecost.
  • That number spiked to 5,000 a little later!
  • We read in God’s Word that Jesus fed over 5,000 (a number) with five loaves (a number) and two fish (another number)
  • A shepherd counts his sheep. Note: You can’t find the 1 until you count to 99.
  • A widow counts her coins.
  • David counts his warriors.
  • And in Psalms we learn that the very hairs of our head are numbered.
  • Why, there’s even a book in the Bible called Numbers!

Are numbers important to God? Apparently so. And with the number of lost people on a beeline course to hell, counting should not only remind us to reach the lost, it should  passionately compel us to reach them.

(2) Counting helps us correct.

In every sport and every postgame press conference, the coach is handed a stat sheet. The stat sheet is filled with numbers. The numbers tell the story of the game- triple doubles, pass completion percentages, shots on goal, number of sacks, free throw percentages. For any coach, this information is gold because it allows him to make adjustments and prepare strategies for improvement. Think about it for a second. Every game has a clock. Every season has an end. Our mission is no different, but the stakes are eternally higher.

Our numbers remind us of the mission and we are on the clock. Think about it.  There are infinite game plans and strategies, but no team has an infinite amount of time. We don’t either. The Psalmist prayed, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

So what does wisdom look like when applied? Proverbs 11:30 answers the question: “He who wins souls is wise.” Every time we look at a clock, we should be reminded that our time is fleeting, and people need Jesus.

If that’s our focus, we will wisely number our days and have gospel conversations because people count. If our heart’s not broken for that man repairing your car, the girl bagging your groceries, or your neighbor next door could spend eternity separated from God, then we need to correct our perspective and look up at the clock. One day the horn will sound and the final story inside the numbers will be told.

(3) Counting helps us connect.

At the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, your numbers are very important to us, because we want to help you win. When it comes to helping churches, your numbers in the Annual Church Profile we collect every year are gold! Keep in mind, no one is going to call and shame you when you have a rough season of ministry. We all have those seasons, don’t we? Just ask Elijah, Jeremiah and Job. They all counted their losses. Calling you to implore you to shape up is not what we do. We are here to support and serve you any way we can and counting helps us do that. We serve churches. It’s job one.

(4) Counting will help us celebrate.

When your church celebrates baptisms, growth and spiritual breakthroughs, we all want to celebrate with you. I remember days in my ministry when the funds were low and the work was dry.

Then, out of nowhere, we’d see a student get saved, a family join the church, an alcoholic husband do a 180-degree turn and enter a support group or a business man called to the mission field. Sudden outpourings of God in dry seasons inspire everyone.  Like the leper Jesus healed, we can’t help but tell somebody!

When a small church in Tennessee baptizes five people after years when the baptistry didn’t get a drop of water, we celebrate it!

When a church plant doubles in attendance and opens a food distribution center to feed 50 families in the community in one month, we get a fire in our souls. We’re inspired! Every single baptism listed on the ACP is a soul saved from eternal separation. That’s why we count.

When you receive the ACP form next year, please remember that this isn’t just a dry, rudimentary document or another nagging task sent to you from bean counters. It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate, serve and track the hand of God around our state.

Focusing on numbers is not a vice. It’s a virtue. Why? Because, behind every number there is a person precious to God. That person deserves to be counted.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

ACP–It’s more than you think!

About this time each year, many people within the church begin to wring their hands in fear and frustration because the time is coming when we, as Southern Baptists, are asked to turn in a report of our numbers, successes and failures,  for the past 12 months.  We call it the ACP which is short for “Annual Church Profile.”  For better or worse, over the past few years, there has been an effort to update the way we report as well as an attempt to streamline what information we actually turn in. 

The year we changed from SBDS (Southern Baptist Directory Services introduced in 2000) to the SBC Workspace (in 2016), was a difficult year for many reason.  Pointing fingers does us little good.  It was tough for everyone involved.  But honestly, now we are past that and it’s time for all of us to report once again.  I am taking a few minutes to write this because I DEEPLY believe we need EVERY CHURCH to report.  Sadly and truthfully, some have little desire to do so. Let me give each of us a couple of things to consider and hopefully, we can get 100% of churches to participate.

Let me begin by challenging a misconception.  That misconception is that “SBC CHURCHES are asked to report for the purpose of “honoring or humbling a work.”  In other words, we can brag if our numbers are big and be scolded if our numbers are small.  Admittedly, some have attempted to make our reporting into the ‘brag or belittle’ weapon, but that is not the focus nor is it to be accepted in such a way.  Years ago, I heard someone quip, “The only people who don’t talk about numbers are those who have no numbers to talk about.”  Whether this statement is right or wrong is of little importance in the grand design of our calling.  It is my belief that every church ministry needs to report ‘whatever numbers’ they have, large or little, because it is the work of the Kingdom.  If I pastor a church and we only baptize a few, disciple a few, and lose member, it becomes a personal motivation to seek God’s will more on a personal and collective level.  If my numbers are large, I should thank God for His blessing and ask Him to keep me from being or becoming prideful and, at the same time, as Him to give me a vision for those yet to be reached. 

Just this past week I spoke with Dr. Johnny Hunt, long time pastor of Woodstock-FBC and now the Evangelism Director for NAMB, to ask him about the numbers he quoted the conference on Associational Leaders.  He said (what we have read and heard):

  • We have had a decline in Membership for the past 15th years
  • We have declined in Baptisms for the 8th time out of the last 10 years

Make no mistake, as Southern Baptist we must regain our spiritual traction that has sustained us in days past because we are not reaching lost people, we are largely not discipling those who profess Christ, and we are not being the salt and light in this ever-darkening culture.  HOWEVER, in speaking with Bro. Johnny, I pitched to him the truth that, as Southern Baptists, WE DO NOT REALLY KNOW HOW WE ARE DOING.  Why?  Because many churches do not report anything.  In fairness, we have church members who don’t want to be bothered and pastors (sorry men) who could care less about reporting.  The result is this: Every time, I personally hear a statistic, I question its accuracy because, in my spirit and experience (from my small portion of the world), it seems we are simply not gathering enough credible information to know where we stand in fulfilling our mission.

Bro. Johnny did not even let me finish my question because he knew what I was saying.  This is what he told me.  “When I first came to this position at NAMB, I commissioned a 3rd party to study this very truth.  We discovered that 33% of churches are not completing the ACP.”  To know Bro. Johnny is to know he keeps a pretty hectic schedule and we did not have time to develop that conversation any further, you know, to talk about the ‘whys’ and ‘how we can change this dynamic.’  Candidly, if we are to pray through to gain God’s mind and then develop a strategy that helps God’s churches work together to reach the lost and unchurched, we need everyone to participate and cooperate. 

Cooperate!  There is that word again.  Sometimes we forget that Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) is entitled “Cooperation”.  This concept that we put in print, is the one that sets us apart from all other evangelical ministries.  Our Missions Program is called the “Cooperative Program (CP)” for a reason.  It is how we do missions, ministry, and life together.  We COOPERATE.  When we do, things get done and we don’t things largely go undone.  The Bible says, “A Cord of 3-strands is not quickly or easily broken.”  Whether you have 34 churches in an Association or 48,000 church in the SBC working together for the Kingdom, we are able to do much more because of our connections and cooperation than we can independently because the cord is not easily broken.  It’s that simple.

All that I have written is to make the case that we should strive, one and all, to complete our report this year so we can assess the impact (or lack thereof) we are making that we might be better stewards of the sacred challis called the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” so that we might become more proficient in sharing His good news both in word and deed.  We report so we can know how well we are doing what we have been called and commissioned to do.  “WE” are important because “WE” are the sheep of HIS PASTURE.

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