Thursday, July 31, 2008

Excellent Blog Posts Round-up for July 08

There's just a backlog of excellent blogs/posts I've run across in July, so rather than try to post on each one I thought I better just get caught up and share several of them as an end-of-month round-up. Enjoy!

Tim Stevens of 'Leading Smart' on "Thinking about Parenting" - our influence as parents really starts to decline rapidly once our kids hit the early teenage years, so make those years count. Tim also points to a great illustration on communication by Pastor Mark Beeson "Perhaps they Can't Hear You" (video clip).

Phil Vischer (the genious behind Veggie Tales) is launching something new this fall, and has created a video to explain it with some previews from the show. The Agile Ministry blog pointed this out in the post on "Video Pick: Jelly Telly". Phil is trying to address a generation of kids who are not learning much about their faith or how to live it out. He has a passion for using the most exciting technology and video techniques as a platform for biblical values. Jelly Telly is looking to plant a seed that might someday become the Christian Nickelodeon or Disney. Now that's a big dream!

'Developing a Preaching Calendar' - the why, how, principles and details of creating a one-year preaching calendar and how that gets broken down into the actual messages, in an 8-part series. (From the blog "Making Difference Makers")  Jay also has a short post on his 'Message Prep System' which is aimed at a Department Head having a 1-Year plan, and a related posts for for ministry leads or department heads on the need and how-to of a one year planning calendar.

Another excellent series from the Making Differnce Makers blog, "Triple Your Youth Ministry in One Year". Don't let the title scare you off - it's a great mix of principles and practical advice. While these ideas have indeed tripled the size of several youth ministry programs, your mileage may vary.

Ministry Best Practices blog had two particularly good posts this month - one a "Cliff Notes on Vision", and the other a top ten list on "Ways to Draw Me to Your Church".

Kem Meyer of 'Less Clutter Less Noise' gives some great tips on Using the Web as a Primary Communication Vehicle.

Insight from NewSpring on the process they went thru for their 'Church Rebranding Process' starting with a new logo. It took them a while but their goal was 'modernization, understanding their identity, and visual catch-up with who they actually are'.

Nelson Searcy of 'Church Leader Insights' talks about the 'Need for Spiritual Anchors in Your Life.' Some very good ideas in there!

Carlos, blogger on Ragamuffin Soul showed a video clip of an awesome way he blessed and surprised his wife on her birthday.

Tony Morgan drew some ministry inferences from what looks to be an interesting book called "The Starfish and the Spider," which discusses decentralized vs. centralized leadership. He also had a techie article on the use of a popular blogging platform, Word Press for church websites.

Mark Driscoll on Resurgence had an interesting series with a title I loved: "Spurgeon is the Man!"

'Thoughts on Life and Leadership' blog by Jenni Catron, who is the Executive Director at Cross Point Chuch in TN.

Digital Leadership Network talked about the Twitter Spurt on the California Earthquake, and makes a very interesting note: "This incident galvanized my feelings about Twitter - it's not about the news; it's about people. It's about relationships; it's about who connects to who. When do those connections happen and when are they the most meaningful... Increasingly, as the relationship economy emerges, our networks of trusted "friends" will grow more vital. The communication tools we use to support them, whether email, cell calls or tweets, have inherent value. Maybe, as prudent Christians, we will change our view from time spent online to time invested."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sabbatical preview

Hmm, I'm not so sure anymore about the sabbatical we have planned for our Senior Pastor next year. Chuck just got back from a three week vacation in which he fished, relaxed, and basked in the quietude that can only come from a secluded lake-side location with no cell phone coverage and no broadband. The church went on and didn't collapse to the ground, people came to Christ and will be baptized this weekend, powerful testimonies and messages were shared, new people have come, returned, and made friends, and Chuck got to spend some awesome time with his sweeheart (his wife Janis of course). I mean, look at this picture - I would be smiling broadly too if I were feasting on crawfish and blue crabs too!

So what is the problem? I barely know where to start!! It's like we have an imposter back! First of all, he went and shaved his head. Second, he's whipping out his phone and texting in the middle of a staff meeting. He used Instant Messaging for the first time this week. He posted a video on Facebook, and is starting to add flair. When will the madness end?!? If I see him blogging next week, that's it, I'm calling the feds! Worst of all, the staff and volunteer leaders have gotten a preview of the sabbatical to come next year and have seen that God will use us and build His kingdom when we serve Him with our gifts that He has given all of us. The secret is officially out - we are the ministers! I can't even imagine where all this will lead if Pastor Chuck continues down this pathway of spiritual and physical renewal and continues to focus on being an even better equipper and encourager! Can you?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Review - Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests info Fully-Engaged Members

Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson has written an extremely practical and thoughtful guide for those leading or serving in the First Impressions Ministry of a church – “Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests info Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church” (Regal Books, 2007). The book is particularly useful in that it does a great job with both the how and the why. Searcy is pastor of ‘The Journey’ church in New York City, which has seen tremendous growth, due in part to excellence in first impressions ministry and with small groups. (He’s also written an excellent book on small groups called ‘Activate’ which I recently reviewed.)

Fusion starts out discussing the reasons for a strong assimilation process (or First Impressions Ministry, as we call it at Calvary). They break down the process into smaller steps of attracting first-time guests, encouraging them to return for a second visit, become regular attenders, and eventually a commitment to church membership. At each stage biblical hospitality is called for, evidenced by excellent service as folks are warmly greeted, directed to where they need to go, and treated with respect. The importance of follow-up is covered next, with a few extremely practical chapters with ideas for both email and personal contact – fast, friendly, and functional. A well-designed and explained communication card is a key part of this process. Searcy and Henson make an excellent point in encouraging us to provide opportunities to build relationships that will help people to ‘stick’ and not float out the back door. These include personal invitations to connect via small groups, fun events or service teams. I would recommend “Fusion” to any pastor or first impressions ministry team, along with Mark Waltz’s excellent book “First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences In Your Church."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Facing our Differences

There's an excellent new post by Sharon Hodde in her blog 'She Worships' on "Irreconcilable Differences." Sharon discusses some findings by psychologist Dr. John Gottman who carried out a very interesting study on marriage. Gottman videotaped a number of newlyweds discussing an issue on which they disagree, and years later looked at which ones were still married versus those that were divorced. He looked for differences in how the two groups intereacted in the videos. There was in fact one characteristic that was quite common among those who marriages were doomed.

Marriages that don't last are characterized by an element of contempt or aggression when the couples disagree. In contrast, couples whose marriage continued over the long term were able to carefully listen to each other and avoid any kind of tearing down. They would usually have five positive things to say for every negative comment in the course of the disagreement.

This study emphasizes what our small group has been learning in our current study of a book called "A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage" by Stanley, Trathen, McCain and Bryan. This book was borne out of research that intitially sought to find the elements or characteristics present in successful marriages. They found little directly in common - there are a number of ways for a marriage to work. However, they found that there were really just a small number of factors present in most marriages that did not work out. Key among these is the (in)ability to... fight fair. The focus of the book then is a set of practical discussions and examples of how to more effectively communicate in marriage - especially when there are strong disagreements.

I was impressed by how Sharon in her article was able to apply this study to singles as well as married couples:
"So whether or not you are married, we all need to cultivate the art of loving disagreement. This does not mean compromising ourselves, but it does mean that we convey respect and care amidst our irreconcilable differences. When we do this, we increase the likelihood that others will actually listen, and we might learn a thing or two as well.
   I have heard it said that Christians never impose their beliefs on others--they simply propose, as a lover to the beloved. If that is our model for evangelism, then the keys to a healthy marriage have implications for us all."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dancing Corn Starch?

Interesting story crossed my reader this week. Some interesting demonstrations involving highly non-Newtonian fluids/suspensions. In other words... what happens if you mix corn starch and water and pour it on a subwoofer?? Well, it dances of course. A new way to walk on water? Don't take my word for it - go and see the video clips.

Could this kind of thing be the new Diet Coke and Methos? Probably not...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Reedemer Lives

A friend passed along a wonderful video along with the song "My Redeemer Lives" sung by Nicole C. Mullen. Watch "My Redeemer Lives - Team Hoyt" at GodTube or see the embedded video below. It's especially neat to hear about this right after my own son made the local TV news last night for water skiing at a very special camp for special needs children. It's just awesome how much God loves us!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Passing the Leadership Test

In a post at the "Parish the Thought" blog I caught reference to a talk called "Passing the Leadership Test" by Bill Hybels at the 2003 Leadership Summit.

Bill Hybels found five tests that define leadership from Jesus' interaction with Peter in Luke 5:

1. Bias toward Action – if you're going to lead, you want to see impact and transformation, so those who follow you better be geared to get 'er done

2. Can You Follow Direction? – sometimes decisions aren't popular. Will those who follow be willing to do what is needed even if they have reservations?

3. Who Deserves the Credit? – Ministry is about allowing God to build His kingdom through you. To Him goes the glory, no one else. Those seeking limelight or a resume-builder need not apply.

4. The Grander Vision Test – Lives are in the balance. Eternal destinies. Lives not just blessed but transformed. Leaders need to issue a challenge to people who really want want to advance the kingdom.

5. Will You Leave It? – There is a cost to following. It's not fair or right to hide that cost. Many will be reluctant to give up whatever may be holding them back from serving God fully. But those who understand the cost and yet will follow will be used by God for great things.

For other thoughts on Passing the Leadership Test, you can also see some online notes from an attender, and Pastor Troy's thoughts about the test from Jesus' point of view.

(Side note to Facebook fans, Jason Strickling of 'Parish the Thought' just joined Facebook and one of his 'old college friends pointed out his blog to me shortly after I joined. The tendrils of social networking reach out just beyond your direct 'friends')

Thursday, July 10, 2008

175 Rejections

Rejected. To be deemed not worthy. It's a painful word. In devotions this week my mind recalled a pretty painful series of rejections in my life...

Since I was a young boy I knew I would be a college science professor. High school and grad school only confirmed that impression. It was what I was ideally suited for, and I looked forward to it. On finishing up I applied for faculty positions at about 30 schools. Only one interview and no offers. Eek! Well that hurt. I guess I need a broader net. I did a post-doc fellowship for a year, applied to 50 more... and got one interview and no offers. Ok, this is really starting to hurt. I was really starting to doubt my 'life calling'. God came through in a big way (that's a story for later) and landed me a dream job as a research professor in Boston. Several years later it was time to start applying again, now with real experience and 30 scientific publications under my belt. Over the course of the next 2-3 years I applied to almost 100 more schools, had just a single interview and... not one offer. Especially for someone living and working in a system totally driven by performance and success, these rejections were absolutely crushing. They weren't just rejecting my skills, they were rejecting me, who I was, my life dream. I may be a little dense, but I finally got the picture: this is what they mean by a closed door.

I applied, just as a trial balloon, for three non-academic positions. I got three interviews, and three excellent offers?! Dreading the switch to industry and leaving the ivory tower, I joined a small company doing applied math and software development. After just six months my view had turned around 180 degrees. I love my job! What I truly love is learning and problem solving (perfect match for a VP of Research and Development), not boldly going where no man has gone before, asking visionary questions and discovering things no one else has known (a great attitude for an academic scientist). So despite the failure and rejection, it has led me (He has led me) to an even better future, to my adoptive family, to my church family, to a place far beyond my wildest dreams.

I wasn't alone in being rejected, and although painful, it's not bad or a sign of God turning His back on you. Jesus himself was "despised and rejected" (Isaiah 53:3). He knew this in advance but did not turn away - the stone the builders rejected would become the capstone (Mark 8:31, Mark 12:10, I Peter 2:7).

If you're feeling the pain of rejection right now, know that all of us go through this, even Jesus. Look for your significance not in your performance or in the approval of others, but in the fact that God loves you so much he went to the cross and died for you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Connecting with an Early Mentor

I'm currently learning about the importance of mentoring relationships, as well as reflecting on the timeline of my life to see how God uses people, events, and experiences to shape us. One of my key mentors was a high school teacher and basketball coach at Iona Prep, and I thought it might encourage him to hear of the impact he's had the life of a former student. With the help of Google which found a school newsletter celebrating fifty years of service, I was able to learn where he's at and his email address. Brother Thomas Jude Jensen was born and raised in New York and taught by nuns in grammar school. He was greatly impressed with the Irish Christian Brothers by their willingness to help and their commitment to excellence. These traits are ones that he would exemplify in a major way in his life, and which I now realize were successfully modeled to several of his students, including even me. I first got to know Brother 'J' well as a basketball coach. While a solid player and coach, he taught as much about discipline, character and teamwork as about the game fundamentals. One thing I'll never forget was when we went down to the streets of Harlem in New York City for a game in a summer basketball league. Their team was making a free throw, and it came bouncing way out near the top of the key. I out-jumped my foe, faked right, drove left, dribbling with my left hand and taking it strong to the hoop. Hmm... no blocker. Lefty lay-up, as we practiced often, two points. Wow, that was my best play of the season! The crowd was neither quiet nor booing, they were actually... laughing. Huh? The guy guarding me came up with a huge grin and says "Thanks man!" Another said something I can't repeat here and suddenly it hit me. I just put the ball in the wrong basket. Ack! Not much could be more embarrassing for a young teenage boy. We were already getting beaten, but now the other team's confidence went through the roof. As I waited in agony for the whistle to blow to get pulled out, the other team dunked on us and ran up the score. The whistle came. Finally, I could go to the bench and hide. The replacement came in, but not for me? I was kept in. Five more minutes of torture. Still I had to endure. Thoughts of the game dissolved into thoughts of the ribbing I would get on the ride home. After what seemed like an eternity, a sub came in. Brother J stared at me, was silent for a few seconds, and said "I didn't take you out of the game. You took yourself out of the game. That's a far worse mistake than one bad play." Then his eyes went back to the game. I've come to laugh at my mistake for the silly play, a misguided but well executed drive. What I learned by not getting yanked at the next whistle was a dual lesson in persistence and trust that I'll always remember. Want to know one of the ways you know a teacher is something special? When a half-dozen boys spend their summer teaching themselves typing so they can place-out and take an extra class in the Fall. Not just any class, but a third year of Latin! While we did kind of like Latin, what we really enjoyed was a chance to study together and sit at the feet of a master. I frankly don't remember much from the Cicero readings that year, but I do remember growing in my joy of learning, of aligning myself with bright like-minded colleagues, and I started to discover that you're responsible for your own education. By the way, I do remember from that Brother Jensen's teaching in that very class that that to 'educate' comes from the Latin 'ex' meaning out-of, and 'duco/ducare', to lead... hence to educate is 'to draw out by leadership'. (Would our education system today even consider the possibility of a half-dozen kids deciding they want a special elective class and assign a teacher to it, meeting an hour before school even opened??) That summer league was rough - we didn't join it out of boredom but to push ourselves against the very best. This drive for excellence helped us to finish an unprecedented second in the region, falling only to Power Memorial. In that game I had to cover future dream team Olympian and NBA star, Chris Mullin, but he honestly didn't seem so bad compared to what I was seeing on the playgrounds of Harlem. :) One final quote I carry with me was learned on the basketball court. This time Brother J wasn't even the coach but was watching in the stands, and he called me aside for a minute at half-time when my play was simply lackluster. "To succeed, you need to set your mind right... then show some fire-in-the-belly!" Has someone made a significant impact on your life? Why not take a few minutes to let them know?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More on Reveal

Several months ago Willow Creek and Bill Hybels made quite a splash with the results of a study called "Reveal." This study was on the overall health of the church, and it looked at a variety of questions, considering responses broken down by the relative maturity of the respondents in their faith. The most dramatic conclusion was that many churches, including Willow Creek, were far less successful in helping build self-feeding mature disciples than they could have imagined.

The result of this study was published in a book, "Reveal", and the survey taken in hundreds of churches of a variety of sizes and denominations, wth several more results now available. There is an FAQ and a demographics report online. Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research has a lot to say in a recent post about this study as well. So why is this current and important?

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran not one but two articles on this Reveal study! Less Seeking more Thrills and Churches Work on their Message. Willow Creek is definitely changing the way they're doing several things in response to this, including kicking up the level of content. As I pointed out last week, Granger Community Church also reported their own results with the Reveal study and the ways they are looking to change in response to it. Again, they're looking to be more intentional on their discipleship training and teaching. What kind of results are prompting this? In mainline churches, a whopping 83% believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. What about evangelical churches? 57% believe this as well (has someone changed the definition of evangelical on me??!) Other answers showed similar discrepancies with biblical teaching. In other words, even in churches where leadership is strong and where the authority of the bible is a core value, a huge number of members and attenders would not agree with the essential teachings of their church. This has really caught the attention of leadership in churches who are trying to live out the great commission. I wonder what a study of our church would Reveal?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Review - Activate: Entirely New Approach to Small Groups

Outstanding Practical Book on Small Groups Ministry

Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas have written an outstanding book on starting or developing a small groups ministry within the local church entitled "Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups". The material presented demonstrates a depth of insight that only comes from experience – it’s easy to see how Journey Church in New York City went from a handful of people to over 1100 in worship attendance and over 1200 people in almost 100 small groups in just a few years. The book is easy to read, very well organized, very practical, yet gives the important ‘why’ behind each of the main ideas presented. (I would characterize his other book ‘Fusion’ in the same way.) The material is covered in several sections within two parts: the Activate Mindset, and the Activate System. The first half talks about several novel principles and shares some solid insight in sidebars and examples. The second half is really nuts-and-bolts on how to apply this approach not just as a set of disconnected ideas, but as a complete system that can be put in place. It doesn’t tell the reader what needs to be covered or try to set an agenda for the groups, so there is still a lot of freedom for application and customization of the system to best match the needs of the church.

Part One: The Activate Mindset
* Rethinking Small Group Methodology
- Think Inside Out… Not Outside In
- Think Larger… Not Smaller
- Think Friendship… Not Intimacy
* Rethinking Small Group Structure
- Think Short-Term… Not Long-Term
- Think Promotion Months… Not Ongoing Sign-ups
- Think Church of small groups… Not with small groups
* Rethinking Small Group Strategy
- Think Easy… Not Hard
- Think Ahead… Not Behind
- Think Full Staff Participation… Not Staff Specialist
* Rethinking Small-Group Leadership
- Think Apprentice… Not Expert
- Think Decentralization… Not Staff Control
- Think Leader Multiplication… Not Group Multiplication

Part Two: The Activate System
* Focusing Your Groups (with 5 Focus steps)
* Forming Your Groups (with 3 Forming steps)
* Filling Your Groups (with 11 Fill factors)
* Facilitating Your Groups (with 5 Principles)

Some may be put off by the subtitle ‘An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups’. That type of marketing line seems to be best left for readers and reviewers to decide, but the material in the book is not as self-promotional as the title. I had previously read several books by Donahue and others stressing being a Church of Small Groups (not with). What I particularly liked about Activate was that several foundational principles were in common with these other books, while several aspects of the approach were quite different – and Searcy and Thomas discuss the reasons why. (For example, the approach to sign-ups and promotion is different in the Activate system, but with a good rationale.)

I would strongly recommend that pastors and/or those responsible for starting or growing a small groups ministry read ‘Activate’ in addition to the excellent books from other successful practitioners in small group ministry (e.g. Bill Donahue and Andy Stanley).

(After enjoying Fusion and now Activate, I think I should probably look into another resource by Searcy, Breaking the 500 Growth Barrier - an issue our church is currently facing)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chapter Two

I was suprised (but not too surprised) to learn on Tim Steven's blog that Granger Community Church is about to undergo some sweeping changes. Some of these include...
  • Changing weekend services - four 75-minute instead of five 60-minute services. This is both to add some significant artistic and participative opportunities.
  • Halting their long-running Thursday night midweek service "New Community".
  • Once a month First Wednesday service seeks to provide an awesome worship experience.
  • The other Wednesday nights will have three very focused "Journey Bible Study" tracks: Encounter, Empower and Engage.
These changes are primarily a resonse to their recent 'Reveal' study. Tim stresses that they are not changing direction, just switching gears. Chapter One ends, Chapter Two is beginning for Granger. I pray this goes well for them, and have every expectation that it will.

To understand the why, and to see how they handle communication of change in a truly excellent fashion, you really need to watch the video of the service in which this was announced: July 3rd service 'Trading Pop Beads for Pearls'. One reason I found this so interesting and will be watching to see how it develops is because we're thinking about very similar issues - how to make best use of a mid-week service or teaching, and how to best make disciples and teach people how to feed themselves.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrating our Independence

Happy 4th of July!  We're having a great family weekend, lots of picnics, friends, and fun. We got to see some early fireworks last night. Even though the noise of fireworks freaks out David, I held him tight as he plugged his ears. Over the next twenty minutes he went from "Is it over? Please be over!" to "Oooh, pretty" to "Wow!! That was fantastic!" to "Do it again, ka-BOOM!" to "Is it over? On no, please let it not be over!"  He still covers his ears, but I'm proud of my little man who faced his fears and conquered them. The power of knowing you're wrapped in your Father's protective arms and love :)

For a great reflection on Independence day and the faith of several of our founding fathers, see Mark Batterson's post today, or Mark Beeson's post who points out John Adams' remark: "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate in the government of any other."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Online Bible Study Resources

In the course of doing some research this week on the biblical concept of 'calling', I came across a host of outstanding resources. Here are some that I've found very useful or that seem quite interesting...

Bible Gateway is one of the quickest and easiest ways to look up a verse in the bible version of your choice. I really like their online audio bible which has Max McLean reading chapters of the bible from the NIV, or choose one of five other English versions (and one spanish).

Blueletter Bible (making reference to blue hyperlinks) is one of my first go-to sites for understanding the meaning of a verse or passage better. Many versions, links to commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, and it makes great use of Greek and Strong's tools to dig deeper.

Study Light is newer to me - I found it while looking for the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. The site has a number of basic tools, a dozen commentaries, plus some heavy hitters like Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. (Did you know the word 'workmanship' in Eph 2:10 is poema, from where we get the word poem?!)

YouVersion is an interesting new online bible specifically designed to foster community and collaboration around the study of God's word. Nice interface... Commentaries meet Web 2.0

There's also a ton of study-bible resources that are available for download. Some are free, or if you want copyrighted versions like the NIV, many are available at modest prices. Good ones to look at include e-Sword, Word Search, Bible Explorer, Quickverse, Logos Bible Software (that's not an exhaustive list, or even the best, but these ones are good ones.) Related custom applications include Verseminder, for memorizing and devotions, or the Daily Bible Verse Facebook app. (Calvary has a facebook profile and more folks have been becoming friends there lately).

For more devotional reading, there is a ton of stuff out there, including Crosswalk, Our Daily Bread, and The Listener's Bible. On iTunes you can search for podcasts like 'The Bible in a Year', 'Daily Bible Verses', '1 Year Daily Audio Bible', or Dr.Carlson's Science Theater (oh wait, that's not a devotional, still, it's a fun site). No time to list all the great blogs and web resources for e-Ministry, but I'll mention one I just found today - Digital Leadership Network, focused on using technology to multiply the church's impact.

If anyone has other suggestions for resources, they've found useful, leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Interesting posts

Quite a few really interesting blog posts in the past few days - here's a few I particularly liked...

Perry Noble - "Four Leadership Questions that are Stretching Me"
I really like his first one - 'What do I need to stop doing?'

Mark Howell of Small Group Resources highlights a new DVD-driven small group curriculum "A Life that Matters." Based off Rick Warren's book "Purpose Driven Life", but with a very different format of engaging stories, not your typical talking-head study.

Mark Batterson's blog on leadership shows his enthusiasm for a new program they're starting at NCC - a "Protoge Program" of two-year ministry internships that are really win-win for the church and for those serving. He makes reference to their being a 'Teaching Church' (like a Teaching Hospital) and that this is also their farm system for new talent.

Some techie posts by David Russel on Twitter (great for attending conferences with collleagues) and by Tony Morgan on switching from Outlook to GMail. Tony also has a very thought-provoking post on "9 Do's and Don'ts for Ministry Growth".

Carlos and Tony spotlight an amazing promo for an upcoming series "Anything Short of Sin" that emphacizes doing whatever it takes (short of sin) to introduce people to Jesus Christ in a way that's relevant for them. Read more about it on the links - the video is embedded below.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pastor freed from Russian Prison

Pastor Phillip Miles from South Carolina who was sentenced to three years in a Russian prison for smuggling ammo was freed from a Russian prison after seven months, the sentence reduced to time served, reports CNN New Fox News. The pastor had not thought too much about carrying in a $25 box of rifle shells, nothing fancy, and nothing that isn't commonly available in Moscow, but that was a really bad idea.

Various news agencies talk about various aspects of it... the injustice of imprisoning a man who for 30 years has done nothing but help people; the (lack of) wisdom of a man carrying ammo of any kind into another country; an unfortunate 'cultural gap'; evidence of an 'arrogant American attitude'; the unfounded harshness of a 'smuggling' charge; how his time away will help him be a better husband; but it was another aspect that caught my attention as I listened to the story on K-Love radio.

The ordeal has fired up the church with a tremendous sense of unity and purpose. It's been a real rallying point for people in the church to step up while he has been away. Prayer, attendance, and involvement in ministry have all gone way up in the past seven months. Everyone is eagerly planning a celebration time for when he returns, then - like it or not - they're sending him away with his wife and children for some much needed rebonding time, before he comes back to serve the congregation.

What a great Christ-like response to a bad situation. Let's not wait for our pastor to be snatched away in a foreign prison before we love on him and his family, turn our hearts in earnest to prayer, love and unity, and stepping up in ministry to do what God has called us to do!  :)