Archive for the ‘Church Leadership’ Category

Foot-washingIn the church blogosphere, church leaders–specifically elders in Churches of Christ–are the target for much criticism.  Yesterday, I happened to be a neutral observer in a elders/members confrontation that will encourage you.

Apparently the worship wars that most big city congregations faced a decade or two ago had just become real at this good-sized church in a small town.  Some of their young people–but not exclusively young people–had been clapping and raising their hands during worship.  The ultimate offense, however, was some “stomping.”  I wasn’t there, so I can’t describe these actions.

Some of the brethren just left for other congregations in the county, but a few didn’t want to give up their pew without a fight so they threatened the elders with their ultimate weapons–withholding their contribution and/or divorce.

You have these options in many counties because there are so many congregations for so few people! I was recently in a Main Street congregation where the preacher told me there were 26 churches in a county with around 30,000 people. Many of the congregations were started in horse-and-buggy days when people didn’t want to be too far away from their cows and chickens–which to me explains adequately why they all started, but not why they still exist today!  My experiences suggest that they continue to exist because of tradition, turf, dynasties, clans, and sectarian feuding.

What this multiplicity of congregations has led to, however, is a consumer mentality among Christians. If I don’t like the price of milk at this store, I just go down the street to their competition. If this church doesn’t give me what I want, do what I want, worship like I want, I just go down the road to one that will.

Our actions suggest that God made a big mistake by describing the church as a family or a body. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if our bodies were built so that if our toes didn’t like where the foot was going, they could just leave!  And we know all too well how destructive abandoning one’s family is!

God hates divorce! But we seem to have created a congregational marketplace which encourages it!

Back to our story:  the elders of this congregation studied and prayed about these worship questions. Their conclusions were not to create laws and limitation where the Bible did not.  They delivered their prayerful decision to the church in a gentle and loving way, which is what brought out the threats of divorce!

So, last Sunday, this general “family meeting” as they described it, was not about worship, rather it was about what it means to be a family!

The elders did so many things right!  The first was to have the open meeting during the Sunday school hour so the maximum number of church members could attend. It says that they really wanted to talk to the family rather than exercising their perogative to “rule” from their board room!

Each of the elders spoke briefly–showing their unity of Spirit and their united commitment to the family.  No doubt they had not all been on the same page when they started praying and studying together, but they were by the end of the process. Majority rule has no place in church leadership.

The first elder who spoke was probably the least eloquent, but he set the tone for the meeting by admitting to how nervous he was. He quoted someone who said that nervousness is the price of being a racehorse instead of a cow!  The laughter–the humility– was good for the family!

Several of the elders spoke of their longevity in that congregation–through thick and thin, a cliche that was worn out by the end of the meeting.  One elder described the tapestry of experiences that he himself was, mentioning first the people in his life and then the congregations where he had attended.  He was just saying that we all bring a lot of different experiences with us when we become part of a congregation.  He went on to talk about how he had been shocked in 1991 when this congregation had men serve communion without a coat and tie on!

All of the elders spoke of their love for the family, their constant prayers for the members of the body, and their willingness to listen honestly to every concern.

And here is where they really acted as shepherds of the flock, over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). The elders described their prayerful search for a biblical answer to this worship question–and then told the church what they believed God wanted this body to do!  These men lovingly led the church–prayerfully and humbly, not from seats of power–toward unity and freedom.

Unity and freedom–words conjoined over and over again in the statements from each of the elders, instructing the congregation to seek these same values as individual members of the body. Their “oversight” meant seeing what was good for the whole Family, the whole Body, and their word from God was not to bind on anyone what God had not bound, but also to call the members of the family to faithfulness, not divorce.

I understand why churches are moving away from the term elders; most have moved to the synonym shepherd. I don’t think that resonates much with most of us who have never had anything to do with sheep. I’d prefer for elders to be called pastors if we need to use a more modern term.  Theirs is more the pastoral role. But their title is not nearly as important as their hearts.

Thank you, God, for prayerful, humble, and courageous church leaders who live out the unity of the Spirit and the freedom in Christ and who lead their congregations by speaking the truth in love.

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Dr. Tim Spivey is my son-in-law, and not just because of that, I have great respect for his work. This particularly insightful post meant much to me today, so I wanted to share it with you. 

DontgiveupWe MUST orient our energies and ministry around health, not pathology. We must spend our focus, time, and missional energy on the spiritually growing rather than those who refuse to accept appropriate responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Let me explain.

It’s easy to spend most of one’s energy worrying about those who aren’t there, virtually forgetting about those God has gathered. It’s easy to spend too much energy focusing on disappointments rather than blessings, or negative feedback over calling and the encouraging voices and signs all around us.

This pulls us off mission as much as anything, because we focus on Satan’s accomplishments rather than God’s provision. It tears down our faith, beats us down, and depletes our passion for ministry. When I’m thinking about what I think God isn’t doing, I’m not thinking about what He is doing–and what He’s doing is far more important than what I perceive He isn’t doing.

At any given point in time, God is doing far more than we realize, and we need to recognize that in our attitudes. We do this by orienting our thoughts around blessings and provision rather than criticism and difficulties.

How do we do that? The same way we change any attitude. We repent, pray, trust God’s work in us, renew our focus and efforts, and do what we need to do to nourish a heart of thanksgiving rather than scarcity. Maybe we need to change up who we spend time with, talk to, listen to, or what we feed our eyes.

Perhaps you’re going through a phase of ministry that is bringing you to the brink of quitting or at least despair. Well, hear this…Getting discouraged doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of being a great leader.

…Moses wanted to die rather than go on with the Israelites another day.
…Elijah thought he was the only one left. He wasn’t.
…David wondered why God was taking so long to deliver Him.
…Even Jesus lamented the hard-headedness and worldly perspective of His followers.

But, in each case, God revealed or did what was needed at just the right time. He usually didn’t change their ministries or solve their problems for them, He fortified their courage and renewed their souls by calling them back to what He was doing, and what He had done in the past.

He can do the same for you.

MW–You can read more of his posts at this regular site: http://www.timspivey.com

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umpiresDid you hear that Major League Baseball has approved a broad expansion of instant replay reviews beginning with the 2014 season.  I think that is a great idea—so good, in fact, that I’m thinking about suggesting instant replay for churches!  Here is what it would look like . . . oops, that won’t work. There are no umpires at church!

One could, of course, argue that God is the Big Umpire in the Sky, and that He doesn’t need instant reply because He always makes the right call.

One could argue that it is hard to have rules for and expectations of churches because there is no enforcement mechanism—at least not since Ananias and Sapphira!

But let’s set aside for the moment Judgment Day questions that God will ask and focus on daily decisions that most likely fall into the category of opinion, not into the category of deadly sins.  Let’s look at decisions like whether to have Bible classes for children, how long the worship and praise service should be, whether to spend 8 million dollars on a new building, which preacher to hire, or whether to discipline adulterous church members or not.

Besides these opinion questions,  church leaders are called upon to decide doctrinal questions as well,  like whether this church will be Calvinistic or pre-millennial, or whether to baptize with the Spirit or with water—or both. They almost always decide who can be a member of this church and who can’t.

With no “umpires” who holds your church leaders accountable for their decisions?  Who decides if they are wise, if they are prudent, if they are good shepherds, or if they are incompetent or unwise or cowardly?  Who determines what is foul or fair when a church leader is at bat?

It’s not as if churches make no attempt at holding leaders accountable:

  • Some churches use a democratic vote. The vocal majority leads and the loyal opposition attempts to hold them accountable.  Sounds good to Americans, but it is not really biblical.
  • Some churches use a representative vote.  Members vote church leaders in or out, according to whether they have represented your viewpoint successfully in church meetings. Again, more a pragmatic solution than a biblical one.
  • Some churches choose to allow an oligarchy.  These are the churches who either allow a small group of life-time appointed leaders to have absolute rule, or it could be a small group of senior staff with so much seniority that they are like banks which are too big to fail.  The common thread is no accountability.
  • Many newer churches and some very old ones are centered around single persons as the Hegemon. Dictator or tyrant is too strong and negative. Monarch suggests divine right—and some make this claim—but it is still not my favorite term. The underlying problem is the very fact of a single leader with absolute power and no accountability, and this danger is a fact even if the church acquiesces to a benevolent, but absolute leader.
  • Some churches—usually smaller ones–believe they exist without leaders. In my opinion, those don’t really exist because the more likely truth is that the church has leaders, but they are simply not designated leaders, rather leaders by default.

I think we can all agree that regardless of how your church is organized that it is accountable to God as are all the leaders as well as all the members. But how do we have an accountable leadership on earth in time and space when God does not seem to strike people dead for lying or open the earth to swallow his people for rebellion.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Recognize that leadership in the Body of Christ is a gift of God (Romans 12:8). Those who have the gift are the true leaders, whether designated or not, and those without the gift of leadership may be doing leadership tasks, but are not the true leaders of your church.  A healthy church identifies those with the gift of leadership and uses them to lead.
  • While you may not believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are a divine checklist for church pastors/bishops/elders/deacons/leaders/servants, they are certainly inspired instructional information and should not be ignored or lightly amended.  If every church leader were of the caliber required by Paul, fewer replays would be needed.
  • Implement what we at Let’s Start Talking call 1A Leadership, that is “One Another” leadership.  Here are the instructions for this leadership model. You will find them very simple:

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Live in harmony with one another.

Stop passing judgment on one another.

Accept one another.

Instruct one another.

Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.

Serve one another.

Submit to one another

Bear with each other and forgive one another.

Teach and admonish one another.

Love one another.

So everyone is an umpire?  Somehow the baseball metaphor begins to break down because umpires are determiners and enforcers. What churches should have are encouragers, instructors, servants, admonishers, and lovers.

If churches were led by these kinds of leaders, our Sundays would be filled with replays—not to determine who is safe and who is out—no, rather to celebrate over and over again the exemplary displays of Christ-likeness.

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On June 12, the National Association of Evangelicals published a Code of Ethics for Pastors to their 45,000 churches in forty different denominations.  Since the very beginnings of Christian community, the sin of its leaders has been the most effective weapon of its enemies.

We don’t need the public media to expose all of the sexual affairs and the addictions to drugs and/or pornography among those who preach publically. You have probably seen it played out in your own congregation.  I personally know one congregation that had a string of three preachers, who in sequence brought disgrace and sin into the church through their own lusts.

James, the brother of the Lord, wrote:  “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (3:1).

The problems of our churches are the problems of all churches; this document from the NAE is proof of this generalization.  But since restoration churches are probably not part of this circle, I wanted to share with you a summary of their code, while encouraging you to forward the entire document to your ministers and elders. Perhaps they would want to commit to its standards as well.

Pursue Integrity

  • In personal character
  • In personal care
  • In preaching and teaching

Be Trustworthy

  • In leadership
  • With information
  • With resources

Seek Purity

  • In maintaining sexual purity
  • In spiritual formation
  • In theology
  • In professional practice

Embrace Accountability

  • In finances
  • In ministry responsibilities
  • In  a denomination or a ministry organization

Facilitate Fairness

  • With staff
  • With members
  • With the community
  • With prior congregations

Codes of ethics are not for wicked ministers, the Elmer Gantrys of the world that choose their position in order to abuse it.  No, codes of ethics are like the locks on your car or that simple dead-bolt on your front door.  Serious criminals have no problem getting through either one.  These simple deterrents are used to reduce the temptation for the weak—and that includes almost all of us.

Of all of the principles above, I need to hold “Embrace Accountability” up for special mention.  Every church should be able to answer the straightforward question:  To whom are your church leaders accountable? 

Whether we are talking about elders, senior ministers, youth ministers, volunteer ministers—regardless of their role or their title, each one should be directly accountable to someone or some other group.

The pastor (a shepherd or a minister) who resists rather than embraces accountability is not to be trusted with the flock!

In the full Code of Ethics for Pastors document, you will be pleased to find each point supported with the Word of God.  Here’s the website where you can read and/or download the entire document:  www.naecodeofethics.com

I’ll close today with some of the opening words of the full document, words penned first by the Holy Spirit:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).

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The pre-start and the start-up phases of any new ministry are hard, but exhilarating. Typically, you have the most passionate and the most committed people involved, so these Starters are willing to do whatever it takes.  Starters are heart, soul, and mind committed!

As the start-up continues, the Friends of the Starters observe the commitment and enthusiasm—as well as the results that follow the  do-whatever-it-takes efforts of the Starters, so they join up and become a part of the ministry—with equal enthusiasm, but not necessarily with equal commitment as the Starters.  But the ministry has grown because both Starters and First Volunteers are part of the ministry, and it appears to have a great future.

A small cloud looms on the horizon, however. First Volunteers do enjoy the work of the ministry; however, they did not come into the ministry to recruit, but to serve. The reluctance to recruit in this second phase means there are fewer Second Volunteers than First Volunteers.

The Second Volunteers are the friends typically of the First Volunteers. They really enjoy working together, so now the First and Second Volunteers merge into a pretty wonderful, but fairly self-contained group—so they recruit no one else and there are almost no Third Volunteers for the ministry.

This promising ministry is completely unaware that it is in a crisis it may not survive! With no new volunteers, no one takes the place of the Second and Third Volunteers that have to drop out for quite normal reasons.  Attrition is predictable.  Typically, Starters and First Volunteers just step into the gaps because they still are doing whatever it takes.

Then more Second Volunteers and some First Volunteers step out—and Starters start pushing everyone to recruit more Volunteers—but especially the Second and Third Volunteers did not commit to the ministry to be recruiters—so they talk to a friend or two, but that is it.

For many ministries, this is the almost predictable slide into an inevitable conclusion—a whimpering end of the ministry with many regrets. I’m sure you have observed some recognizable version of this story in your own church, if not your own attempts at ministries.

Here are a few suggestions for breaking this pattern and prolonging the effective life of your ministry!

1. You never have enough new people! If the ideal number of workers is 10, then seek 20 and plan on seeking replacements continually.  If the ministry does not have a recruiting strategy , purposefully and intentionally organized to bring in new people, it will not survive long.

2. Those involved in the ministry are the best recruiters. Every volunteer can be asked to be a recruiter. Some will be better than others, but every new person should feel some responsibility for recruiting others.

3. Keep recruiting personal. Pulpit announcements, videos, church bulletin announcements can create some general name recognition of the ministry, but one person tapping another on the shoulder saying, “Come go with me” will yield greater results.

4. Teach volunteers how to expand their circle of friends. Most workers invite their immediate friends—and then they stop because to talk to others is outside of their comfort zone. One way to expand their circles is to help them recognize other points of contact at church that exist, but that they do not necessarily think of right away. For instance:

  1. Parents of their children’s friends
  2. People who sit in seats near them at church services
  3.  Common demographic groups at church—parents of teens, retired, but still active, stay-at-home moms.
  4. New people at church who have yet to be plugged into a group or ministry.

5.  Utilize the best recruiters among your volunteers! Former cheerleaders (like Sherrylee) are much better recruiters than bookworms (me!).  Use people’s natural talents. It may be more important for someone to Sherrylee to recruit than any other task in your ministry!

How long the ministry will thrive and survive depends to some extent on the ability of the Starters to recognize the need for expanding its circle of friends.  The earlier in the ministry that friend-building becomes a part of the model, the greater chance of blessed longevity the ministry will have.


Reposted from September 2010

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You are not the preacher. You are not the head of anything at church. But you have just started a great ministry  or you have a great ministry idea that you would like to see get traction and grow.  What do you do now? Here are a few tips from our experience of trying to get Let’s Start Talking established in lots of churches. This is what we have learned from watching people enthusiastic about short-term missions try to work with their home congregation.

  1. Don’t even start unless you are committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed yourself! Lots of people want to start things for other people to do. Just forget it! You should be able to accomplish the ministry yourself—at some level—or you will never get others to buy into it. For LST, this means that if you are not willing to go, you will not be successful in getting other people to go.
  2. Try to get the blessing of church leadership from the very beginning. If the preacher and/or church leaders are opposed to your ministry idea, it is not likely to survive. It might possibly survive if they are indifferent, but the chances are much better if you have their blessing.  Notice, I said blessing, not commitment. See below!
  3. Do not expect to get leadership commitment to your ministry until you have proven that it will be successful! LST actually made this mistake in our Centurion project which launched about three years ago. We asked churches to commit to a goal of sending 100 workers with LST over a five-year period—with no financial commitment whatsoever.  Although a few churches committed, we were absolutely shocked at how resistant most churches were to making any kind of a commitment at all.  We have since modified our approach, so that we only ask for permission to test run LST in their congregation to see if their members have a good experience with it.  Church leaders are much more open to us with this approach.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Join with established ministries who have proven track records and who can help jumpstart your ministry. So you think your teens should do mission trips to learn to share their faith! Rather than asking your youth minister or some parents to plan and organize such a trip, why not ask a ministry like LST YoungFriends to help you, since we have been planning short-term missions, including special ones for teen groups, for thirty years! If you want to start something for the poor, why not contact existing ministries and partner with them–or after-school programs, or abused women, or English As A Second Language outreach??
  5. Be spiritually prepared to be ignored. If I were a church leader and if I knew what kind of transformation happens to every person who spends two weeks on an LST project, I would do everything in my power to make it possible for every person in the church I was leading to participate—there, I said it as boldly and honestly as I can.  However, the fact is that a very small percentage of Christians really want to engage their faith as actively as most ministries require. If you, as the promoter of your ministry, let the massive indifference discourage you, then you are defeated! You must be willing to do your work without recognition, without popularity, and without any other reward than the smile of the Father!  If you need more than this, you will give up!
  6. God has His own schedule for growth! I love flowers—Sherrylee calls them annuals and perennials and I have a vague idea what that means. But I really love flowering trees. I love the blooms on our fruit trees, I love the beautiful white flowers of the Bradford pear trees, and I really love the Oklahoma redbuds!! The time from seed to bloom is very different for these plants. In reality, only God knows the proper time and season for your ministry to bloom. You can choose to acknowledge God’s sovereignty here—or you can try to set your own schedule. Occasionally, we may be able to hothouse something into rapid growth—but these efforts are rarely long-lived. I recommend you let God be in control.
  7. If you are called by God to a ministry, you will never be truly happy until you are answering the call—so get on with it!  I love the story of Jeremiah, called by God to be a prophet to the nations, who yells at God and says, “You deceived me! I did what you called me to do and I’m having a terrible time! In fact, I’ve tried to quit several times . . . but I couldn’t because your word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones–and I can’t keep it in.” (Jer. 20:7-9)

Reposted from September 2010.

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babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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PowerCorrupts-300x207We were in the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin, just a few months after the fall of the wall.  The young woman with us was walking around, enjoying the artifacts, but bottle-feeding her baby at the same time.

Bolting from the corner of the largely empty room, a small but sturdy East German security lady hurried across the room to inform our friend that under no circumstances could she walk around the museum and feed her baby at the same time!  When we asked politely what the problem was, she just simply repeated a little firmer and louder that it was verboten!


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rocking chairIf your church is putting the Boomers out to pasture, you are making a big mistake!

Yes, I am one of the oldest Boomers, and I’d like at least to speak out for almost forty million Boomers born in the first half of the Boomer years (1946-1955), and what I say is probably true for the other 40 million born in the last half of the Boomer cycle (1956-1964).  Almost eighty million Boomers!

Here’s how you will know if your church is putting Boomers out to pasture:

  • You move your preaching minister out at age 59 for someone younger to attract a younger demographic.
  • You decide to disregard the preferred worship styles of everyone over 50.
  • No one over 50 teaches anyone younger than 50 in your educational program.
  • Your “senior” ministry is mostly eating and social activities, carrying for the sick and home-bound, and singing “foot-stomping” gospel songs.

 One out of every four persons in the United States is a Boomer!  And the percentage in your church is probably much higher because the Boomers, though some wandered off momentarily during the 60s,  returned to their churches shortly thereafter and have been faithful, though less traditional than their parents ever since.  Can you really afford to dismiss one out four people in the general population?

Another reason not to dismiss the Boomers is because they aren’t going to quit working! Sixty-seven percent say they are either delaying retirement or will never retire!  Every church longs for more involvement and investment of time by its members. Who has more time?  The younger dads and moms with three kids under 12, trying to grow their career and their family?  The parents of teenagers, trying to both work while running between school activities and ball games?  Or the empty-nester Boomers?

Here’s another reason not to ignore your Boomers:  “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday” (Pew Research Center 2011).   Another source cited, “Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending.”

So let’s talk about who gives!  And let’s talk about who will continue to give over the next 10-20 years!  According to the Convio study (2010), the average Boomer contributes $901 per year, whereas a Gen Xer gives $796, and a Gen Yer  $341 per year.  Even though the individual difference between the Boomer and GenXer is not amazingly large, when you multiply that difference by the difference in group numbers, it makes a big difference! The annual total for Boomers is 47.1 billion compared to $28.68 billion for GenXers.

What I’m saying is that if you are already dismissing the Boomers, putting them out to pasture, then you are ignoring or retiring the most numerous and the most charitable people in your church, and those who have the most disposable time!

These are likely people who invented the word anti-establishment but who are probably still loyal to their tribe!  Also, while being very sympathetic and eager to support the social justice causes about which their children care so deeply, the Boomers are still evangelistic and understand the need to carry the Gospel in word as well as deed.

Every generation has to pass the torch of leadership.  Boomers will continue to be available for service, for leadership, and for active, meaningful participation in their church for twenty more years—and that’s a good thing!

Younger church leaders would do well to capitalize on this demographic in their churches, not caricature it!   

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Low_Hanging_Fruit“Low-hanging fruit” is one of those business idioms that comes close to being a cliché which good writers would try to avoid. I assume it comes from working in orchards, where pickers have no trouble getting the fruit that hangs low on the tree, but that getting above their own reach requires much greater effort—even ingenuity!

I’m sitting here in Turkey thinking about this metaphor in reference to foreign missions among churches of Christ—just wondering if we as a fellowship have been guilty of generally going for the low-hanging fruit.

Before I go any further, I want to categorically recognize the personal sacrifice and commitment of every Christian who left his/her home to go to a foreign mission site. My thinking is more about us as a fellowship, not the individual efforts of our finest who have gone where they were called.

Individuals from Churches of Christ left the country before the turn of the 20th century, but not many, and they are less remembered than those that went to Japan and East Africa, names like McCaleb, Benson, Andrews, Shewmaker, Merritt, families whose work has been legendary into our own time. These first major efforts at foreign missions were a test not only for the individuals who went, but also for the still provincial churches that supported them.

The next great wave of missions was the post-WW II era, those many who went to war-ravaged Europe and Japan especially, preaching to thousands, feeding and clothing people who had lost everything. By the 1960s, these countries had re-emerged materially, which meant they were no longer receptive, so churches in the states became less interested in these fields and looked for new places to work!

Fortunately, South America especially, but also Central America captured our imagination.  The great Brazilian team effort became the new model and standard for foreign missions.  The strength of the churches in Brazil testifies to the quality of work done during the first twenty-five years.  Argentina, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, these countries have stood out perhaps among the Latin American countries—but ask any of those who worked there if response is the same now as it was then. After you ask that question, ask if the interest among US churches in that part of the world is as great as it was then.  I do believe that these two questions correlate.

The 1990s saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. Christians and resources poured into all of Eastern Europe.  For all of the interest in these countries just two decades ago, only Ukraine continues to capture any attention in the States.  Yes, there are still workers in Hungary, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, Kazakhstan—thank God—but very, very few and the work is very difficult. Reception is slow now, and so the interest of the American church has waned.

Our attention turns: CHINA!! I love working in China and we (LST) love sending people to China. The spread of the faith in China is dynamite!

And don’t forget Africa! Interestingly, all the reports are that Africa has become the most Christian continent on earth.  In 2010, Christianity Today reported 470 million Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in five of all Christians live in Africa. So, does anyone else find it interesting that Africa continues to be the #1 mission site for American Churches of Christ?

I’m sitting here in Turkey wondering where we are? I’m wondering where the Church is that has a vision for the Muslim world.  It will need to be a lifetime vision—probably longer! Who is thinking about Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia?  I just saw a CNN report that Morocco is one of the tourist-friendliest places in the world! Could that mean something for a visionary church?

Where are those who will have the same foresight as our brethren who formed Eastern European Missions or Continent of Great Cities (for South America) or China Vision to focus the Church’s attention on those sites.

I know I’m writing in huge brushstrokes and that there are individuals and individual congregations who have this kind of vision.

But, can we as a fellowship see beyond the low-hanging fruit? Can churches of Christ do the hard work in hard places for many, many years? Can we commit to sowing seeds that may not bear fruit for generations?

It’s not in our nature—but it is in our Spirit! 

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