Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Churches Don't Fit Right

            These pants are too big! We seldom struggle with this problem. The bathroom scales and our middle-aged girth speak otherwise. Yet many congregations suffer from  “oversized syndrome.” Their programs, ministries, and organizational structure are simply too big for the size of the church.
            While this syndrome affects mostly small churches, it can impact any size congregation and can keep the church from moving forward in its ministry. While structures usually change as a church grows, many churches—especially declining churches—face the danger of structures, programs, and ministries that may not fit the congregation’s size. No longer do the structures serve the congregation (and the larger community around it), but the congregation serves the structures and may become enslaved to them.
            How can a congregation tell if its structures, ministries, and programs are too big? The following factors provide some insight.
1)    BYLAWS SLAVERY:  Bylaws dictate the organizational structure of most churches. When working properly, they provide a guide to help the church set up its boards and committees. Unfortunately, many churches are structured by bylaws written many years ago, especially during a period of rapid growth in their earlier days. This results in “filling positions” to meet the demands of the bylaws rather than performing ministry. Churches (especially smaller ones) would be served better by fewer leaders with a passion for ministry rather than those meeting a bylaws requirement. Smaller churches would benefit, as well, by considering the possibility of becoming a single board church in which the leadership can work together.
2)    THE MUMMIFICATION OF MINISTRIES AND PROGRAMS:  In ancient Egypt, pharaohs were preserved as mummies to keep their memory alive, though the pharaoh was dead. While great efforts took place to preserve their bodies, the meticulous mummification process could not bring the pharaohs back to life. Unfortunately, many congregations suffer from the “mummification” of their ministries and programs by keeping alive something that died years ago. The church doggedly plans the event or ministry for another year, though interest has waned and the community couldn’t care less. Too many ministries hang on and add unnecessary burdens on the church. Perhaps, churches would benefit from the theme of the Disney movie, Frozen and “Let It Go!”
3)    THE GLUTTONY FACTOR:  The “More is better” philosophy permeates many congregations overstuffed with activity. Too much activity and too few people lead to burnout. Sometimes a congregation falls into the trap of believing if more programs are added, it can become like that big church down the street. But larger churches can also fall into the trap of “program-itis” by spreading themselves so thin that they lose their effectiveness. The difficulty lies in churches that also suffer from the “mummification” factor, resulting in program overload. Churches would benefit greatly if they learned to say “no” to some things.
One cannot underestimate the importance of church growth and a congregation that is committed to the Great Commission of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). As a church grows, programs and ministries often expand, as well as its leadership and organizational structure. But such structures should never outpace the growth of the congregation and will need to adapt as the church changes.
Likewise, in declining congregations, structures and programs can often be a deterrent by maintaining a status quo of the way things used to be rather than focusing on the current reality of decline. If such churches desire to see a turnaround, then structures, programs, and ministries will need to align with the current situation. From there, the church can begin to cast a new vision in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Churches, large and small, need to approach their ministry much the same way as one approaches going to the clothing store. If the pants are too tight, get a bigger pair. If they are too large, get a pair that fits. If more churches would consider this principle in their ministry, perhaps Holy Spirit led disciple making would become a reality.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Moving Forward: Opportunity or Obstacle?

            “We’ve always done it that way!” How often do we hear these words within the walls of the church?   Moving forward creates difficulty for many congregations who find it much easier to remain in one place or to step backwards to a familiar place of yesteryear.
            How does a congregation move forward?  In Numbers 13-14:9, the Israelites struggled with the same question as they wandered in the wilderness and came to the doorstep of the Promised Land. The passage outlines several important factors needed for a congregation to move forward.
            FACTOR #1: EVALUATE WHO THE LEADERS ARE (Numbers 13:1-16).  Without leadership, a congregation will not likely move forward.  Before the exploration of the land and the development of a strategy to enter the land, a team of leaders representing the various tribes gathered to begin the process.  A congregation would do well to identify and evaluate its leaders before moving forward.  A leader may participate in a governing board, but often someone else has a great deal of influence in the congregation regardless of his or her function.
            FACTOR #2: EXAMINE THE LANDSCAPE (Numbers 13:17-24).  Moving forward requires an understanding of the landscape or ministry setting.  When the spies entered the land, they thoroughly examined the land God had promised and the people who lived there.  Likewise, congregations need to understand their own communities and to understand the opportunities and obstacles that await them.  A congregation may find it helpful to have an outside “set of eyes” such as a consultant to assist in this process.
            FACTOR #3: EXPLAIN TO THE CONGREGATION THE OPPORTUNITIES AND OBSTACLES (Numbers 13:25-29).  The report brought back to the Israelites spoke of the fruit and fertility of the land but also spoke of some of the threats.  Moving forward requires an honest look at the landscape that must be communicated with the congregation.  Churches often fail either by moving forward without looking at the obstacles (with the result that they are not prepared) or by being so focused on the obstacles they do not move forward. 
            FACTOR #4: EMBRACE THE VISION OF GOD’S PROMISES (Numbers 13:30). In the midst of much discussion, Caleb knew God would lead His people into the land.  While open communication is important, in order to move forward, a congregation must move beyond the “talking phase” and embrace God’s vision for the church.
            FACTOR #5: EXPECT OPPOSITION (Numbers 13:31-14:4).  Opposition begins with a “We can’t” attitude that really means, “We won’t” and begins the process of disobedience and unbelief in God’s promises.  Opposition continued to grow into grumbling, which in the Hebrew text suggests the people became set in their ways. Opposition continued to grow into a desire to turn back, and culminated in outright rebellion with the Israelites demanding their leaders be replaced.  Whenever a congregation moves forward, expect opposition.
            FACTOR #6: ENERGIZE THE VISION BY STAYING FOCUSED ON GOD (Numbers 14:5-9). While the opposition continued, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb stayed focused on God and His promises with prayerful humility, sorrow and conviction.  Moving forward centers itself in the fact that God will faithfully lead his church through the opportunities and obstacles.
            Moving forward may mean a difficult road to follow and the Israelites showed how fear, anxiety, and outright rebellion could thwart a congregation. Yet overcoming these obstacles and with the Lord’s leading, the Israelites entered into the Promised Land and celebrated God’s blessings.  The rebellion of Numbers 14 eventually turns into the victory of Joshua 3-4!  Congregations need not remain in a state of decline or stagnation, but can move forward empowered by the Lord who leads His people.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When Unexpected Gifts Come

     Sometimes congregations live so close to the edge they wonder if they have enough to pay the pastor the next week.  At other times churches can receive an unexpected large donation.  But these can be problematic, dividing members over how best to use the gift and ultimately moving the church away from dependence on God.  Here are some suggestions for churches that receive large donations.
     1. MEET WITH THE CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND COME UP WITH A PLAN.  Whenever a large donation is given, people will react in different ways.  Some will react with the attitude, "We must save for a rainy day." Others will say, "We must give it all away now."  The church leadership needs to develop both a short-term and long-term strategy to use the donation to further God's work.
     2. MAKE THE DONATION A CONSTANT FOCUS IN THE CHURCH'S PRAYER MINISTRY.  Churches need to constantly seek the Lord for wisdom and pray for unity.  A donation can be a great blessing, but also has the capacity to be a great divider.  Prayer is needed.
     3. MAKE THE DONATION A TOOL TO ENCOURAGE STEWARDSHIP.  Sometimes people stop giving because they figure that the church does not need the money.  However, stewardship is not based on what the church needs as much as it is a way of giving back to the Lord what He has already given. Stewardship is an important spiritual discipline that must be encouraged. One church used a portion of its large donation in its mission outreach by matching, up to a certain amount, dollar for dollar what the congregation gave to certain projects.
     4. WHEN INVESTING, SEE IT AS A WAY TO FURTHER MINISTRY AND NOT MERELY TO SURVIVE.  If done correctly, some of the donation can be invested in future ministry.  With sound financial management, a congregation has the capacity of doing $50,000 worth of ministry on a $25,000 gift.
     5. CONSTANTLY COMMUNICATE WITH THE CHURCH BODY THE FINANCES OF THE CHURCH.  One church actually had $500,000 in funds, but, for a long time, its leaders did not disclose this for fear that people would stop giving.  Nothing can erode the church's trust more than when its leaders keep secret the church's finances.  Forgiveness is free, but trust must be earned.  The church leadership has an important responsibility to ensure that their congregation is a place of trust where the church can speak and live the truth in love.
     6. CONSTANTLY REMEMBER THAT GOD PROVIDES.  It is the Lord's gift and the money belongs to Him.  The church, through celebration and reminders, must never forget the Giver.  The pastor serves an important function in guiding the church to be thankful, yet also humbled by the great responsibility that God has given it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Starting a New Ministry From Scratch: The First 90 Days

      How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: "Change! Do we have to?"  For this Baptist pastor of nearly 32 years, change took place when I decided to leave my ministry to start a new church-consulting ministry.  The new direction has not been without its lessons to be learned, but through this process the Lord has taught me the following important lessons:

     In the rush to get the new ministry organized, this is one of the areas that can most easily be neglected.  In many ways, starting a new ministry is much like a wilderness experience.  Moses and Jesus were among those who spent time in the wilderness before beginning a ministry.
     One of the most helpful aspects of making this change was in getting outside help.   Having an outside advisor such as a business consultant has proven to be a valuable resource. It also makes sense that a ministry devoted to consulting would use a consultant to help it along.
     When doing the Lord's work, some people might be uncomfortable with the notion that one has to market their ministry.  But until the ministry is established, nobody knows what the ministry is about.   Some possible ways to share the ministry’s services include blogging, brochures, press releases, web sites, social networking, a display at retreats, workshops, and preaching/speaking at various churches.
     Starting a new ministry is difficult in that it means saying good-bye to old friends and going into a ministry that has yet to be defined.  This can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness in addition to the discouragement that things are not progressing as rapidly as one likes. 
     When undergoing this transition, after years of preparation and prayer, the plan was to live on my wife's salary and allow the ministry to supplement our income.  God certainly has been faithful, however there were expenses that were not foreseen.  Start up costs to a new ministry such as insurance and supplies are especially difficult since they often precede income.   For this reason having some resources prior to starting is crucial.
     I often pray, "Lord, give me patience and I want it now!"  The truth is that great patience is required to start any kind of new ministry.  In the church-consulting field, congregations weren't automatically knocking on my door wanting my services.  However, as I have patiently planned the direction for this ministry, God has begun to open doors and slowly the pieces are falling into place.
     The old hit song says, "Breaking up is hard to do" but I would add, "Starting up is hard to do."  However in the midst of these challenges, I have come to appreciate, more and more, the sufficiency of Christ.

Monday, August 12, 2013

4T..I-40 Church Consulting Blog with Steve Reynolds: The "Electrifying" Congregation

4T..I-40 Church Consulting Blog with Steve Reynolds: The "Electrifying" Congregation:      What makes an "electrifying" congregation? Dynamic preaching? Uplifting music? State-of-the-art facilities? Multimedia minist...

The "Electrifying" Congregation

     What makes an "electrifying" congregation? Dynamic preaching? Uplifting music? State-of-the-art facilities? Multimedia ministry?  While all these things may be valuable in developing an "electrifying" ministry, there are two electrical devices that may best describe what an "electrifying" church might look like.  These devices are the extension cord and the surge protector and they can teach us much about what it takes to be the church that God desires.

     Extension cords are necessary in a home especially where the outlet is nowhere near where you want to utilize a light fixture or an appliance.  We all know the feeling when we want to place our favorite lamp in the corner of the living room only to find the outlet is 15 feet away.  Without the extension cord, the lamp can still be plugged into the outlet but its light may be of little use to anyone.
     Extension cords are plugged into the source of electricity and can extend the lamp outwardly to different parts of the room or house.  When it comes to power tools, they are useful in being able to go on rooftops and places far away from the source.  By their very nature, they are plugged into the source and extend an electrical device beyond where it would normally be able to function.
     The extension cord teaches us some important truths about the church.  First of all, the church must be plugged into the source-the Lord Himself.  In John 15, Jesus uses the picture of the vine and the branches and the importance of abiding and staying connected to the Lord.  Like an extension cord, the church will be of no use if it is not connected to the source.
     Secondly, it is God's will that the church extends itself and illuminates places that are dark even if those places seem far from the source.  Frequently, the Lord commands the church to extend itself (Matthew 28:16-20, for example).  Too many churches want to stay close to God but are shedding its light on places that are already light and not in the dark places of this world.  Staying connected to God does not mean that the church forms a holy huddle in which light hangs out together.  All that produces is a lot of spiritual glare and does not take God's light into a darkened world. Like the extension cord, the church must go beyond the source and develop its ministry in places beyond its comfort zone if it is truly to become an "electrifying" church.

     Surge protectors have two primary functions- to prevent overload and to utilize different electronic devices.  Occasionally, there are power surges that can destroy highly sensitive electronic equipment.  Some surge protectors can even protect electronic objects from the surge caused by lightning strikes and other electrical phenomena.  Surge protectors also are designed to share a number of electronic devices.  I happen to love electronic stuff (I suffer from "techno-lust!") and I have a number of "toys" hooked to my surge protector including a video, projector, DVD player, surround sound, TV, I-pod charger, computer and a few other items.  Each of these items have a role and work together to form a rather extensive media center in my "man cave." Like the extension cord, they are plugged into the source but they allow or a number of electronic functions without creating an overload.
     In many churches today, leadership often suffers from overload which is caused by a few people trying to do all the work of the ministry.  In smaller churches, the overload can often be placed totally on the pastor's shoulders although some larger congregations can experience this as well.  In Exodus 18, Jethro, Moses' father-in-law warns Moses of his overload and his trying to do everything himself.  In Acts 6, when conflict arose, the apostles appointed seven leaders to address the issue while the apostles devoted themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer.  In I Corinthians 12, Paul describes the many functions of the body-the church while in Ephesians 4, he outlines role of the leadership gifts which are to equip the entire church for works of ministry and service.
    To be an "electrifying" church means that people are utilizing their gifts and that leaders are not getting overloaded.  Leaders, too, must get over the "easier to do it myself" syndrome and equip and turn people loose for the work of God's kingdom.  Until that happens, it will not be an "electrifying" church.
     As we consider the extension cord and the surge protector, would our congregation be defined as an "electrifying" church or has the plug been pulled or have we put the switch in the "off" position?  If we, as followers of Jesus Christ, want an electrifying church, it must start with us by plugging ourselves to the source and being open to where God wants to extend us (See Isaiah 6).  In addition to this, it means using our gifts that God has given us to share the burden of kingdom work so that the entire body may be strengthened to do God's work in a dark world.  It is time for the "charge" to begin.

     So far I have laid the premise for what it means to become an "electrifying" church.  What are some practical ways that you would go about in your church of seeing this happen? You comments and thoughts are welcome.  Feel free to respond.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

4T..I-40 Church Consulting Blog with Steve Reynolds: The Value and Challenges of Supply Preaching

4T..I-40 Church Consulting Blog with Steve Reynolds: The Value and Challenges of Supply Preaching:      As a person who is new in the church consulting field and as one who some would called "retired" (though I hate that term), d...

The Value and Challenges of Supply Preaching

     As a person who is new in the church consulting field and as one who some would called "retired" (though I hate that term), doing pulpit supply by filling in for vacationing pastors and pulpit vacancies has been my lot this summer.  Thus far, I have had the opportunity to preach at five different churches with two more pulpits awaiting me during the next few weeks.  To say the least, the experience has been a valuable and challenging one for me as a consultant and guest preacher.
     As I have had the opportunity to do pulpit supply, I have found that there are a number of benefits in having this kind of ministry.  First of all, pulpit supply has allowed me a number of opportunities to observe what God is doing in a variety of contexts.  Each congregation is different from each other, but I could see different ways the Holy Spirit was working even in the smallest congregation.  In one church, in particular, I had the chance to see how far they had come since I did supply preaching there a year ago during the summer of 2012.  There was a new atmosphere in that particular congregation especially since they had gone through a rather difficult crisis which left the church in a state where one wondered if the church would even survive.  On the other hand, I had a chance to observe not only the ways God was working, but could see the congregation through an objective set of eyes. I could see some of the areas of the church's ministry that needed growth and transformation. As a consultant, preaching at various congregations has allowed me to improve my observation skills in looking at congregations in a variety of contexts.
    Secondly, supply preaching has allowed the congregation to hear a different perspective on the Scriptures that they are not accustomed to.  This does not mean that the pastor is doing a poor job preaching, but sometimes human beings become so used to the pastor's messages, they can almost take it for granted.  At times, it is a healthy thing for churches to hear a different approach to the Scriptures and to remind people that the Word of God is a living word that is proclaimed in a number of ways. Supply preaching can help a congregation avoid tunnel vision when it comes to the preaching and teaching of God's Word.
     Thirdly, supply preaching can be used to build up the pastor and his/her ministry.   In addition to this, supply preaching can also build up the church's ministry by helping the congregation see God's plan from an impartial observer.  As an outsider, often topics can be preached on that may be awkward for the pastor to speak about especially if there is conflict or finances are tight.The supply preacher has no direct vested interest in the congregation and has a great deal of leverage in being able to cover preaching topics that will help a congregation and its pastor fulfill God's calling.
     While there are great opportunities involved in supply preaching, yet it is not without its challenges.  As one who has recently entered the world of supply preaching, one of its most difficult aspects is that I am not connected to the people in the same way as I was when I pastored a church.  When I was a pastor, I knew where Aunt Grace and the Jones' sat every Sunday morning.  I knew that Harriet was still getting over the pains of a messy divorce and that Ralph was grieving over the loss of his wife of 62 years.  In supply preaching, I don't have that history and I can go weeks without really being connected to any one congregation.  Although I have been attending a particular church when I am not supply preaching, it can be weeks between times that I worship in what I would call a "home" church (especially during vacation time).
     It is because of this challenge, I would highly recommend that, anyone who regularly supply preaches, should make it a point to find a home church and to attend its meetings during the week to stay connected.  Another aspect to this is that my wife has not gone with me when I did pulpit supply with the reason being is that it gave her an opportunity to be connected with our new congregation since I had left my previous pastoral post in late April.  Another factor that has helped is that a number of pulpit supplies were earlier than our church service and it allowed me to at least get back for the coffee hour held after the service.  It is my opinion that the greatest challenge to pulpit supply is to stay connected to a local church.
    Another challenge to being involved in pulpit supply is to understand the flow of the service in each church and what the expectations are.  Some churches have lay leaders and all that the guest preacher has to do is preach.  Other churches have no one and you are on your own!  Some are very formal-suit and tie while others are laid back.  In dealing with this issue, I usually wore a suit and tie when I arrived at the church but dressed down if the situation warranted it.  Interestingly enough, I came into one church wearing my suit and tie and during the announcements, a woman told me to take off the coat- "We are informal here."  On a warm summer day in a non air conditioned church, I obliged!
     Some congregations are very good in telling the guest pastor ahead of time what the expectations are and some are not so good at this.  The guest preacher should check with the pastor ahead of time what is expected but this can be very difficult if the church is without a pastor or if communication is poor.  Nevertheless, a supply preacher will have to go with the flow to a certain extent and most people are pretty forgiving of a visiting pastor since we do have guest status.  At one church that I had supplied at for three consecutive weeks, I had become comfortable enough that I even sang with their choir on the third week. Flexibility is a key in supply preaching and it is a great way of connecting with a congregation even if it is only short term.
     Another challenge to supply preaching is that it involves traveling and this can interrupt the Sunday morning flow for most pastors (unless you are a circuit rider!).  Also there are certain expenses involved.  Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a great likelihood that you will preach a sermon that you have used before.  This has its advantages in that you do not have to have as much preparation time but its disadvantages in that there is a danger that it is not a fresh word from God.  Also a supply preacher must be careful to make sure that the same sermon is not used two times in a row if he/she should preach at the same church six months apart.  Even if one takes a sermon out of the file, it must be prayed over, prepared and open to what God might be saying in new insights from His Word.
     Supply preaching, especially for the church consultant, is a valuable and important ministry that will help make those involved in such a ministry become better observers,  providers of a fresh perspective in God's Word and an important source of support to both the congregation and pastor.  It is a ministry that has its significance even with its challenges.  In response to this blog, I would welcome any additional thoughts to anyone who has had an opportunity to supply preach.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Overcoming Top Ten Myths of Reviving a Church

     A short time ago, I wrote a blog called "Top Ten Myths of Reviving a Church" in which I outlined some false assumptions about what it takes to revive a church. In the LinkedIn discussion page of the Society For Church Consulting, one of the responders wrote, "We've been calling these myths 'myths' longer than I've been alive; some may have been calling them 'myths' even before the myths themselves existed! We know it. But at some point when the church hits a rough time, we look back, and lo and behold, we followed what we knew to be myths anyway. What we need is an article on how to catch ourselves as we start following these myths, and then stop ourselves from following them." Not to back away from such a challenge, I have decided to take this responder up on his challenge and write about ways that we can stop these myths from happening. (Note: To get a description of these myths, check my earlier blog)
     OVERCOMING MYTH #1: IF WE HAVE AN EVENT  OR SPONSOR A PROGRAM OR CHANGE OUR STYLE THEY WILL COME:  Events do have a role in reaching out to those who are unchurched, but they are not an end to themselves.  There are a couple of things that should be done to not fall into the event dependency myth.  First of all, if a church is to have an event, it is better to do a few things well rather than over-saturate the schedule and to eliminate those events that are not necessary.  In my previous church, we had four outreach events each year but eliminated one when it became ineffective.  It allowed for the church to focus on the events that were effective and not get bogged down in an event that no one was passionate about.
     Secondly, regular evaluation of outreach events should be reviewed.  One of the burning questions for evaluation should be, "Is the church going out to the community or is the expectation that they should be coming to us?" If the second question is true, the event should be eliminated.  In my previous church, the events that we had were very community oriented.  The church had a children's carnival loaded with games outside in public view, a trunk or treat night for Halloween, and a free Christmas photo night at a community wide Christmas party was being held at an adjacent park across the street.  The expectation was to make the church's presence known in the community which gave the church an opportunity to share its faith in Christ.  In evaluating the church's outreach, this question should be asked, "If our church were to close its doors today, would we be missed in our community?"  This question should be a motivation as to how we should plan events and programs which should be to serve the community with the message of Christ as opposed to have them serve us.  The motivation shouldn't be to get people in our doors, but to get God's people out to a hurting world.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #2: WHAT WORKED YESTERDAY WILL CONTINUE TO WORK: While it may sound like a broken record (I raised the point above), the best way to overcome this myth is to evaluate! evaluate! evaluate! on a regular basis.  Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be to do this after the event or at very least, once a year.  As in the case of my previous church's outreach, we came to the conclusion that the fourth outreach event (which was a community outreach yard sale) had lost its luster and was no longer effective.  In addition, the level of participation from church members had fallen off, so instead of trying to beat a dead horse, the event was eliminated.  In addition, an evening worship service we had was eliminated because it was not reaching those on the outside of the church and had fallen into a "they will come to us" mindset.  In a changing world, what worked last year may not work this year and evaluation on a regular basis is crucial.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #3: ENDING A PROGRAM MEANS FAILURE: Failure gets a bad rap in today's world.  But the truth is that in failure, comes true success.  Baseball great Ted Williams batted over .400 and was the last to do so.  But what is often not talked about is that, as great that his accomplishment was, he failed 60% of the time.  In today's baseball world, a player who bats .300 get paid $25 million a year for failing 70% of the time!  Some of the greatest failures in history became important people.  Thomas Edison, in his many failed experiments, and Abraham Lincoln, in his early political setbacks, are examples of failure.  Yet, in the church, we have a hard time admitting failure and learning from it.  Failure, if it is looked at in a healthy way, can breed great success and blessing. One of the best ways for a church to overcome this myth is for the church leaders to be comfortable in admitting their own failures and giving people permission to try something and not feel ashamed if failure happens.  From a preaching standpoint, pastors would do well in speaking about the failures of the Bible-Moses and his fear of speaking and hot-temperedness, Jonah, who was given a second chance after messing up royally, David, who was caught up in looking at a naked woman (married, at that!) and falling into an illicit relationship with her, and Peter, in his numerous snafus.
     Overcoming this myth may be one of the hardest to do in our success-oriented culture, but again, having a time of evaluation is helpful. What went well/ What did not go well? What valuable lessons were learned?  These are important questions in evaluating a ministry or program that has ended.   I would also suggest that a time of celebration might not be a bad idea especially if it were a program that had a long tradition but because times had changed, it had outlived its effectiveness.  Recently, I watched the Major League Baseball All-Star game in which the 43 year-old Mariano Rivera pitched in his last All-Star game (he is retiring at the end of the season). While he is still quite a pitcher at his age, the reality is that 43 years of age means that his career is coming to an end.  What was moving, however, was how team mates and opponents alike celebrated the many years of one who may go down as the greatest relief pitcher ever to play the game.  The church would do well to do the same in its various ministries whose time has come.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #4: DOCTRINE ISN'T AS IMPORTANT AS RELATIONSHIPS: It would be helpful especially in the church's preaching, teaching, and small group ministry to as what makes a relationship important?  In human relationships (such as marriage), there is the initial attraction,  dating, engagement, and marriage in which a couple is getting to know each other better.  As the relationship grows, they are meeting their partner's friends, parents and relatives.  They are discovering their partner's background, upbringing, their values and personality.  In essence, there is a certain knowledge base to the relationship which defines it.  One could call this knowledge base the relationship's doctrine or core beliefs that define it.  Likewise, the same holds true in our relationship with Christ and His people. One of the important functions of the church is to remove the dichotomy between doctrine and relationship, that in any relationship a certain set of core beliefs are necessary.  The best way for this to happen is for churches to be very proactive in its discipleship and teaching ministries by making sure everyone has had a basic Christianity 101 teaching prior to their making a profession of faith.
     OVERCOMING MYTHS # 5 and #6: INCREASING NUMBERS MEANS REVIVAL HAS TAKEN PLACE and A SHRINKING OR A NUMERICAL UNCHANGING CHURCH MEANS THAT A CHURCH IS HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION: I have placed the overcoming of these two myths together in that it is easy to play the numbers game when it comes to evaluating revival.  It is my opinion that true church growth or revival takes place based on the Acts 2: 42-47 model in which believers were devoted to the apostles' teaching, the power of God was being manifested through supernatural change, the unity of the church was being displayed through meeting each others' needs, the meeting together and the breaking of bread was taking place in public and in their homes with sincerity, and in the praising of God as well as having the favor of all the people.  The result of all of this is in Acts 2:47 was that the Lord was adding daily to those who were being saved.
    It is important to notice that the reference to numbers were those of new believers who were being saved. A church may grow numerically and yet have few newly saved people.  They may have come from other churches either because a church has the "happening church ministry in town" or have come from other churches because they were disgruntled with their previous church or pastor.  If the numbers of a church increase because of what is called "transferred" growth, it is not true revival in the Biblical sense of the word.  Likewise, a church can be in a declining or a unchanging situation numerically and can actually be experiencing revival.  For example, suppose a small rural church has experienced seven new believers coming to Christ in the past year, yet five members have died and another six, upset at the influx of these new people, became disgruntled and left the church. Furthermore, the community had experienced a ten percent drop in its population due to a factory closure which meant four other people had moved away from the church.  Statistically the church had a negative number of numerical growth in the past year, yet I would argue that in spite of these losses, the church was experiencing the influx of new believers in Christ.  The congregation is experiencing a revival of sorts, assuming that the church is growing in the Lord in its devotion to the Word, in its love for each other, in its meeting together and the breaking of bread, and in its praise to the Lord as well as its standing in the community.
     Once again, evaluation is important for any church when looking at its so-called numbers.  Are they new believers? Are they merely transfers from other churches.  How honestly are churches with the numbers?  Numbers being added were the result of the spiritual life of the early church in Acts 2.  Are those qualities of the spiritual life being lived out in the church?
     OVERCOMING MYTH #7: THE CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE INVOLVED IN PLANNING BUT SHOULD LET THE HOLY SPIRIT LEAD: This is a myth that is more about the perception that the work of the Holy Spirit and planning always has to be placed in some sort of dichotomy.  It really comes down to one's basic theological understanding that God is the creator and he has intricately ordered his universe to function with all of its scientific and natural aspects and that God is a God of order.  It is true that God intervenes at times with the supernatural into the natural world, but this does not preclude the fact that God has ordered His creation to be functioning with certain natural laws.  If one looks at the intricate function of the different parts of the human body, one can see a well planned and wonderfully made person (Psalm 139:14) created by God.  If God so created the world with such a well planned intentionality, how can a church not also see that planning for revival is part of the Holy Spirit's work.
     One practical way of overcoming this myth is to stop seeing the work of the elders (or deacons in a Baptist church) as spiritual while the trustees take care of the non spiritual matters such as the building and finances.  All activity, organizationally or otherwise is God's work and programs, money, buildings etc. as well as prayer, spiritual care, discipleship and teaching are a part of the Holy Spirit's work. Perhaps churches need to stop dichotomizing these two functions and function as one entity as leaders by combining the boards for prayer and spiritual formation at least several times a year if not monthly.  Even more importantly in smaller churches, the need for a single board may also be considered.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #8: THE CHURCH LACK THE RESOURCES TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY: In overcoming this myth, I have no easy solution, but Biblical teaching about faith is a must not to mention that people's perception of God must be stretched.  One important factor is to use the power of the testimony of changed lives and churches as a way of encouraging a congregation.  For example, suppose a congregation does not feel they can afford to start up a new ministry that could have an impact on the community.  It might be at this point, another congregation might be contacted who went through similar issues and come and share to the church's leadership how God led them through the process.  Often churches get caught up in these myths because they fail to see how God has worked in the wider context.  This does not mean that the church shouldn't be good stewards and go running off on a whim, but it does mean that God is able to use what a congregation does have to further the kingdom.  By looking toward outside support, the church may come to realize that they had more resources than they realized.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #9: IF WE CHANGE THE PASTOR OR IF WE ONLY HAD PASTOR JONES STILL HERE, THEN OUR CHURCH WILL GROW:  The sad truth is that, by the time this myth gets entrenched, it becomes very difficult to overcome this.  It is not uncommon for churches to go through several pastors in a short time or to experience substantial decline. If this myth gets established, one of two things will happen.  The church will either die (even a continual slow death) or they will stop scapegoating and come to realize that the church has the problem and that blame does not work.  In order for the later to happen, outside help is a must or, at very least, a well trained intentional interim pastor who can guide the church through the process of overcoming this myth before the new pastor arrives.
    In order to keep this myth from developing, the earlier this is recognized as a myth, the better.  Churches would be wise to have a pastoral relations committee or pastor-parish committee to openly talk about expectations.  Also, pastors need to be forthright enough to talk about this myth.  In my previous church (which I had served for nearly nineteen years), I spent my last months making it very clear that God raises up different leaders at different times for different eras in a church's life (I Corinthians 3:1-9, Joshua 1) and that while I still would be a friend, once I leave the church, I will not be available for pastoral duties that interfered with the new pastor or the interim pastor's work. It is my opinion that pastors need to communicate this on a regular basis even if they are not leaving soon in order to show that it is Christ's church and not the pastor's.
     OVERCOMING MYTH #10: IF WE COPY SADDLEBACK'S FORMULA FOR SUCCESS THEN THE CONGREGATION WILL GROW: It is proper for churches to learn from the Saddlebacks and Willow Creeks of this world, but each church must truly be a student of its own context.  In addition to this, churches in their meetings should spend at least part of the time focusing on what God is already doing in the life of the congregation.  A few months ago, I read a book called, "Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change." by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney which presents a business model that focuses on an organization's strengths instead of its problems.  Far too many meetings are spent on problems to be solved rather than looking at what strengths are already there.  In the church, too much time is spent on what is lacking rather than what is happening and how God wants to expand the church's vision.
     As a result of such thinking, we have a number of Saddleback "wannabes" rather than congregations who have a lot more to offer than they even realize.  God has a plan for every congregation to be His witnesses in the community they serve and has allowed each church to uniquely and creatively express their ministry within their own context.
     Overcoming these myths provides a challenge since they are often so entrenched in the life of the church.  In this post, I have tried to at least outline some ways that churches can begin the process of putting a stop to these myths before they take control in a congregation's life.  Now it is your turn for feedback.  I am looking forward to reading your comments.