Frogs (Yes, Frogs) In Life and Ministry

Frogs. Yes, I said frogs. Today’s post is all about them and their role in our world. Hang in there, I promise this will be relevant.

You see biologists tell us that when one wants to study and observe a specific biodiverse environment or biosphere, you can study the health of certain critical species and they will help you know the health of the overall biological context. Frogs are one of those species in many environments. They sit in the middle of the food chain. They eat and help control insect populations and they are a food source for many (including us – try a good frog leg sometime!). If your frogs are not doing well, odds are the overall fauna and flora are going to be suffering as well. Kind of like honey bees. We need them to help the plants pollinate and we need the plants to grow to feed others and so forth. Frogs.

I often tell churches with whom I am consulting that there are several “frogs” in church health as well. Key issues, spiritual disciplines or ministries one can study to see how the overall congregation is probably doing. They are health indicators for the entire spiritual environment.

Evangelism can be a “frog” for example. If a church, and therefore a specific group of believers, is not evangelistic that is an indication of something wrong spiritually. They are not reaching other people for a reason or for many reasons. What are they? It is a symptom of a disease. Why are the people not sharing their faith? What is going on in their relationship with God or one another that is holding them back or paralyzing them in fear? Those are the underlying issues that must be addressed.

Stewardship can be a “frog” also. People often vote with their money or display disobedience in their giving. I often will do a study about the giving potential of churches. I will take a county demographic study, take a low-middle average income per household and divide that number by ten. I then determine how many active households attend the church regularly and multiply that number with the final figure from the county. If your active families made the low-middle average county income and tithed, this would be the amount you would expect the church to receive every year. Often the average income of the active church family is much higher than that low-middle county figure by the way. With very few exceptions in the many churches where I have worked this formula, the total amount that should be received is double to triple of actual income. This is not a sermon about tithing that can be a discussion for another day. But many churches pray for budgets that are often unhealthy and not sacrificial or cheerful.

What are some other “frogs” in your ministry life? Disciplines, biblical responsibilities, ministries that are reflections of the overall health of the church? Of your life? What about the level of biblical prayer? The frequency of personal Bible study? The list could go on and on. Instead of condemning people for their unhealthy practices, ask why are their practices unhealthy? Begin to address those root issues.

When I was a full time pastor, I once led a children’s sermon using a frog as my illustration. I talked about becoming new and transformed with the whole tadpole to bullfrog story and then shared (which I copied from someone, somewhere so forgive my plagiarism!) that frog stands for Fully Rely On God. Good lesson, child-like, move on right? Well, I made the mistake of beginning the whole thing by saying how much I liked frogs. So from then on people began to give me frogs. Frog statues, frog carvings, frog rugs, frog lamps, frog posters, frogs! At one point over 400 frogs were collected around my office. My wife decorated her school classroom in frogs. I was surrounded by frogs!

How many frogs can you find in your life? How healthy are they?

Resources for Ministry from the Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching

I have the privilege of directing the Southeastern Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. The Center exists to equip and encourage pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches for the glory of God around the world. Our prayer is that it builds an intentional bridge between the seminary and the local church.

I believe leadership and ministry skills development are responsibilities of discipleship and must be an intentional part of every local church ministry. Through the Pastors Center, we are offering resources and training to our students, as well as to pastors and churches, to further equip them to serve well in the crucible of real life ministry. We are asking important questions like: Who should a pastor be? What should a pastor know? What should a pastor be able to do?

One aspect of what the Center does is to host and conduct various events and workshops in which our students can interact with pastors and leaders. These are normally topical and we have been careful to video them for a much bigger audience. I wanted to use this post today to call attention to what some of those specific resources are and how you can find and share them.

There are two or three general categories to the types of events we are conducting at this time. First we will conduct some campus wide events each year. Dr. Johnny Hunt is coming this fall on Thursday, October 29, 2015 to hold a special Timothy/Barnabas Legacy Conference just for our students, for example. The entire campus will be invited and involved.

We also host several smaller events throughout each semester such as our Authenticity Series: An Honest Look at the Life of a Pastor events. These are normally either interviews or panel discussions with a professor and a pastor discussing a real issue facing church leadership today. We often have a casual gathering of students present who have the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the panelists about the subject at hand. Each of these are caught on video and available on the website. On the Center resources page you will find sessions featuring topics such as: expository preaching, how to deal with conflict in ministry, how to balance family time and ministry as well as upcoming features concerning the call to ministry and the pastoral search processes, church finances, how to evaluate your preaching, and many more.

We also host at least one EQUIP Workshop each semester during which we focus upon and deal with some significant ministry responsibility or activity pastors face. These live events include a panel of professors and pastors with experience in the subject area as well as very practical “walk-throughs” showing how to conduct key ministry opportunities. On the website you will find several resources surrounding the issue of marriage, divorce, remarriage and how to plan and conduct weddings for example. This includes a practical workshop in which we walk through the steps of wedding preparation and counseling as well as a special chapel service discussion that deals with the theological issues involved. New sessions in which Dr. Akin and others are interviewed about this topic are coming very soon.

We also just recorded our workshop for this semester on death, grief ministry and funeral preparation and it will be on the website very soon. Again very practical as well as theological and biblical discussions are a part of each workshop. Each workshop also has downloadable resources prepared by the panelists and leaders that can be gleaned from the website. Future topics include the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

You will find all of these video and printable resources on the page linked below. Please go and check them out, view and download, and share this link with as many as possible!

Recommended Resources: http://www.sebts.edu/center_for_preaching/recommended%20resources.aspx

 

The Phases of Church Leadership: Assessment

In my last post I mentioned I was going to flesh out five phases a church must go through in order to move toward and to remain in a place of strong health. Please read this entire series as I walk through the phases of: Assessment, Identification, Vision Development, Adjustment, and Implementation.

Church leaders must assess what it is they are seeking to grow, to revitalize or to keep healthy and how far away from that ideal they currently reside. They must have a clear understanding of the goal, the standard, and the desired outcome or they will never know how to reach it, whether they reach it or how to stay within its reach.

On a universal level leaders must have a firm grasp on sound, biblical ecclesiology. They must constantly ask and answer simple yet profound questions such as: What is a church? Who is a church? Why is a church? Leaders must assess biblical content and define the standards these answers create. They then must compare the local church in which they serve to these standards.

We must understand what the Lord desires of His church. He is and always has been the owner and master architect. All too often we confuse ownership with stewardship and we claim rights and property that are not truly ours to claim. He never gave up ownership and Lordship to us. This confusion can lead to major conflict and distraction in the church away from the biblical standards that are set by Him.

On a local, contextual level church leaders must also assess the church community of which they are a part as well as the physical community in which that local body lives and ministers. This process includes assessing the past, present and potential future of the church and surrounding area. Conducting personal interviews, surveys, statistical research, demographic studies, evaluation of current personnel and ministry structures, financial reviews, observations of the physical facilities and neighborhoods, and more can all be part of this process.

Looking back for ten years or more and graphing statistical information such as attendance, baptisms, giving, membership and more and then putting them into visual perspective can be an eye opener for the congregation and can give great indications concerning health issues a church might be facing. They can provide moments of celebration as well as moments of honest revelation.

Assessing the community around the church can provide helpful information about the people who the church should be reaching and to whom ministry should be conducted. Often specific needs for ministry can be identified through this study such as ministry to single parents or to low income families. If the area around the facility is loaded with young adults or young families, the planning of programs and projects can be guided with some intelligent wisdom and direction.

I would also suggest every leader meet with those who head the various ministries of the church regularly and assess and discuss what aspect of biblical function the specific ministry is fulfilling. For example a church can assess recent activity by studying a passage like Acts 2:42-47 and recognizing that the first church was engaged in worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and prayer. Then go back over the church calendar for the past year and categorize and assess the programs and projects by primary biblical function being fulfilled. It is often amazing to recognize those areas of biblical responsibility that are being underserved.

Where are we? Where should we be? Assessment is a necessary phase and ongoing project for a church to stay healthy. How consistent, how honest, are you being in your assessment? This first phase will lead us to the next. Watch for the next post to read all about it.