Maximizing the Midsize Church

Got a decent-sized (but not big) church, and want to keep a handle on where you’re at and where you’re going?

Maximizing the Midsize ChurchDavid J. Peter. Maximizing the Midsize Church: Effective Leadership for Fruitful Mission and Ministry. 176p., $18.99, Kregel Ministry.

Nearly one in four congregations in the United States is a midsize church (150-400 worshipers per week), and the midsize church has its own distinctive culture, dynamics, and characteristics. Drawing on years of research and pastoral ministry, David J. Peter has written a comprehensive handbook for pastors and staff who direct these churches.

Peter covers the most important issues leaders encounter, including:

  • The important role they play in advancing the kingdom of God
  • Common cultural characteristics
  • Typical problems and productive solutions
  • Advantages over both small and large churches, and how to capitalize on them
  • Practices for developing healthy programs
  • The responsibilities of the pastor
  • Guidance for hiring staff and recruiting volunteers
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Lay Down Your Goals    

Let’s return to the idea of us “taking things out of God’s hands” through our own control issues—specifically, through the plans and goals we lay out for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with having goals for our lives. They give us focus; they inspire us; they inspire others. And quite often, those goals are things worth aspiring to.

But there’s a down side: Namely, they’re our goals and plans. Thus, they can become a wall that gets between us and God’s plans for us—even when what we have in mind and what God has in mind look very similar on the surface. God is always more concerned with what’s going on under the surface. Let’s look at one of Jesus’ more in-your-face parables, and dig down from there:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15–21)

While this parable specifically addresses our possessions, we would be wise to expand our definition of the word “possessions” here. Let me ask a simple question: When you’ve reached a goal, whose accomplishment is it?

If you answered “mine,” congratulations: You have a possession.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus follows up this parable with his command to not be anxious (which we explored a couple weeks ago, via Matthew). When our goals are more our goals than God’s, we feel we’re the ones who need to protect them. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

The next time you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself, “What am I protecting here that God can’t protect a million times better?” Again, it may not be the goal or the plan that’s wrong, but who’s being glorified by them. If God truly wants us to pursue such things, then we can lay them down at his feet, confident he’ll take care of them.

In my previous book, I’d put forth a series of questions for those considering pursuing a “God-given vision”—specifically, to determine whose vision it really was. I think, with a few minor tweaks, those same questions are a good filter for any goals and plans we have in life. Think about two or three goals you have right now, and then apply the following questions to each of them:

  • As I’m pursuing this, am I sensing God revealing more about the things he truly cares about?
  • Once this goal has been reached, will it reveal more about God to others, or just more about me?
  • Which pieces of the plan were clearly not my idea (even if I’m excited about them now)?
  • Have I tried letting go of my plans, only to find God bringing them up again?
  • Would I still want this to happen even if someone else did it—or even if I did it and someone else got the credit?

How did you do? It’s OK (for now) if you thought, “Well, it’s both, actually—it’s me and God, it’s flesh and spirit.” But it’s critical that we stop to figure out what’s God and what’s just us, because at some point we’re almost certainly going to find ourselves disagreeing with God on some things. And when that happens, guess what? God’s right. At that point, you’ll need to remember what’s truly God’s, so you’ll be able to keep trusting him when you don’t understand what’s going on. Hold your own plans loosely, and hang on for dear life to God’s plans.

Lay It Down Today

Read Luke 12:13–48—or rather read, review, and reflect. This longer passage combines today’s passage, a reiteration of the Matthew passage mentioned/linked above, and two more parables that are tied in more than you might think, so read slowly. When you get to verses 35–48, read them aloud. Put some inflection into your reading; think about how Jesus said these words to his disciples as you read—because, after all, you’re one of them.

Reflect on today’s questions again, in light of what you’ve just read. Allow God’s Word to be “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:11). Ask God to help his Word penetrate more deeply into your goals and plans, so that the parts that are “just you” are cut away—if even if that means all of them. Trust that God’s plans are far better than anything you could come up with, and act on his leading as it comes.

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The Business of Your Life

For young people ready to take their finances into their own hands. . . .

The Business of Your Life CoverKeith Lloyd Brown. The Business of Your Life: A Young Christian’s Guide to Financial Literacy. 240p., $16.99, Deep River Books.

Former Ameriprise financial planner Keith Lloyd Brown divulges the secrets and strategies teens and young adults need to know to master the world of finance. He presents these alongside biblical principles to provide a solidly biblical approach to money management that extends way beyond the basics.

In this comprehensive guide, teens and young adults will learn:

  • The mysteries of stocks, bonds, taxes, and trouble-free banking
  • How to invest in corporate plans and IRAs like a pro
  • Inside secrets of insurance, sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations
  • The intricacies of budgeting and financial statement preparation
  • How to stay out of trouble with the IRS and the Lord
  • . . . and much, much more
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Lay Down Your Doubt

Our anxiety expresses itself through doubt. And our doubt expresses itself by taking things into our own hands. Whether we say it or even consciously think it, trying to make things happen on our own says, at best, “God’s not giving me what I want when I want it, so I’d better make it happen myself.” And despite what seventy-five percent of Christians believe (Barna, 2005), the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” does not come from the Bible.

In this season of my life, God has been confronting my tendency to live out of my doubt. Ask anyone: I’m good at coming up with a plan, pulling things together, and making them happen. I am, to use a human compliment, resourceful. Heck, I like referring to myself as “tenacious.” And yet, in this season all my efforts have come to nothing. Instead, God says, “Depend on me. Let me handle it.”

I try every idea at my disposal, thinking one of them will work. They don’t. And then something that wasn’t my idea shows up and accomplishes what all my bright ideas and efforts couldn’t. Again, God repeats, “Depend on me. Let me handle it.”

Sometimes we already know things are out of our hands. And yet, we wrestle with the same problem as the anxious and the self-reliant—the failure to acknowledge that things still in God’s hands. We see a great example of this as Jesus encounters a boy with an unclean spirit—and even moreso in the people surrounding Jesus and the boy:

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:14–29)

I love the incredulousness of Jesus’ “If you can!” It not only carries the sense of “Who do you think I am?” but also “Don’t you understand who you are, in God’s sight?” Which is borne out by Jesus’ next sentence, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

While it’s not simply a matter of “God helps those who help themselves,” our inability to “make” God’s will manifest might indeed be a matter of us not being in position for God to use us. Our doubt restrains God’s ability to operate. Not that he couldn’t blow past it any time he liked, as Jesus in fact does here. Nonetheless, God wants us to believe, and is willing to withhold his temporal blessings and deliverance until we do so.

I’m not advocating a “name-it-and-claim-it” theology here, but I am suggesting a principle of “believe it and you’ll receive it”—provided it’s what God wanted to give you all along. Psalm 84:11b affirms this: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” There is a truth buried within the more positivistic twistings of the gospel, and it’s this: So much of God’s will for our lives remains unclaimed, because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that God would really want to do something good for us.

Thus, I suspect that the prayer and fasting the disciples lacked for this situation wasn’t purely a matter of failing to press the right spiritual buttons—let alone “if you do this spiritual discipline more regularly, you’ll be so much more effective for the kingdom.” There’s truth to that, but there’s a deeper truth here: Like every spiritual discipline, prayer and fasting was a way for the disciples to humble themselves before God so that they too could see the situation properly, become acutely aware of their own fallenness, human inability, and just plain lack of trust—and acknowledge, as the boy’s father did, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Lay down your doubt, and let Jesus help your unbelief, so that you can receive the good things he has already prepared for you.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s get more creative with today’s passage from Mark. Read it again right now, putting yourself in the disciples’ place. Experience the inability to heal, Jesus’ rebuke, and the curiosity/humility afterward. Then read it once more, from the perspective of the father—the overwhelmedness and desperation for his son to be delivered, and the equally deep desperation to want to believe fully that Jesus could, and would, deliver his son.

Who do you identify with more right now? Spend some time giving up your doubt, and the roadblocks you’ve placed to reinforce that doubt, to Jesus right now. Hand over to him those things that make you anxious or overwhelmed. Let him handle them, and ask him to keep those things out of your hands from this day forward.

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Between Us Guys

For dads, and for all those conversations they’ve been meaning to have with their sons. . . .

Image result for new growth press Between Us GuysJoel Fitzpatrick. Between Us Guys: Life-Changing Conversations for Dads and Sons. 128p., $17.99, New Growth Press.

This easy-to-use, life-changing book for fathers and sons gives readers the tools to have important conversations with boys about life, faith, and being a man. With a conversational and captivating tone, fathers and other caregivers are guided into having gospel-focused conversations with boys ages six to ten about a wide range of topics from social justice and friendships to money, anger, and more.

Dads are given an incredible opportunity to be one of the primary influences in their children’s lives for the gospel. By inviting conversations in every arena of life, fathers pass down the message of Christ to the next generation. As a youth and family pastor and father to a young boy who’s entered into many of these conversations, Joel Fitzpatrick knows it’s important not to shy away from difficult subjects.

But he also knows dads and other caregivers need help in how to have intentional conversations with boys about God, themselves, and what difference knowing the gospel makes to their everyday life. Fitzpatrick invites fathers to share with their sons how the gospel shapes all aspects of life, including how they treat women, people from other ethnic groups, and much more. Specific, practical help is given to dads through suggested activities, God’s Word, and insightful questions.

In a world where television, the internet, social media, and gaming culture have taken away from quality time spent between fathers and sons, Between Us Guys urges readers to lean in to important conversations with the grace and knowledge of Christ.

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Lay Down Your Anxiety   

Let’s begin our exploration of our future at its most immediate location: Today.

11-59My dad has a phrase I’ve used a lot in the past couple decades: “He’s the God of 11:59.” In other words, God intervenes in our lives when he’s supposed to, at our time of deepest need—not when we think he ought to show up, or when it would be easiest for us. Those who constantly take faith-filled risks live in 11:59. The rest of us would do well to remember that 11:59 might, in fact, be the best place to live our lives.

Peter wrote the following about the Day of the Lord, but I believe it applies pretty well on this day, too: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9).

What I interpret as God’s slowness in making my life less stressful is, rather, his patience in waiting for me to repent. God is waiting for me to be willing to live in 11:59—to fully accept the easy yoke of Jesus, so that I move at his correct pace, knowing that his provision will always be there when I need it, and that his provision to me in fact brings him glory. Thus, I’m also often been fond of adding a corollary phrase to my dad’s:

“I need to reset my watch.”

The truth is, we often have no clue about God’s timing. But a good rule of thumb is this: Remove yourself, and anything else other than the God you trust in,  from the equation—which is also to say, remove the pain that “waiting” brings to you—then view the situation again. At that point in time when it’s clear there’s nothing you can do to meet that need, there God will be.

I’m writing today’s entry in such a season. Over the past year, things I thought I could depend on—schedules, promises, routines, people—have failed or fallen by the wayside. My wife and I are in a place where each week could be the one when we no longer can successfully pay the bills, when work may or may not come. And yet, weeks, months, and years like this have now gone by, and a check or an assignment arrives in time, or the money went further than expected. Thus, if we look at the situation objectively rather than with an anxiety about our future, the fact is . . . we lack nothing.

We are already residing in eternity, even here. The more I realize that, the less I need to worry that God will take care of our needs. We all have to rely on God, whether we care to admit that or not. The blessing, when it comes right down to it, is when we realize that and live as if it were true. Because it is.

Matthew 6—the center of the Sermon on the Mount—is loaded with Jesus’ assertions about our future: the Lord’s Prayer; the promise that our private giving and fasting will be rewarded openly; the encouragement to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth; but most apparently in the following passage used by every one of us who worry about the future—thus, I’ll step aside and let Jesus close today’s thoughts, because after all they’re about today:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25–34)

Lay It Down Today

We’re going to be spend some extra time in the Word over the next several entries, to discipline ourselves in this habit. But first, let’s try a little experiment. Find a watch or a clock with a second hand. Then, do not be anxious: Close your eyes and wait before Jesus right now. In fact, do it for exactly 1 minute and 59 seconds—or at least what you think is 1 minute and 59 seconds. Keep your eyes closed until you think that amount of time has passed, then look up. Note how close you were (or weren’t). Read Matthew 6:25–34 again, then reflect:

  • How hard was it to still yourself and wait, for not even two minutes? What kinds of things went through your head during that time? Why?
  • Why do we seem to be able to do everything but wait? Why does that make us so uncomfortable?

Close your eyes once more—this time to pray. Ask God to “reset your watch,” that you can live more within his perfect will and timing, free from anxiety about your future—including your future today.

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God’s Gift of Tremendous Power

We all need more of God’s strength in our life. This book will help you learn more about how to get there. . . .

God's Gift of Tremendous Power coverAnn Shakespeare. God’s Gift of Tremendous Power. 128p., $13.99, Deep River Books.

God’s Gift of Tremendous Power presents a dynamic vision of what it means to live “in Christ Jesus” and to be empowered by Him. It is a practical and inspirational book, explaining how we can align with biblical truth to become channels of God’s love and resurrection power.

Readers will gain a richer understanding of the Christ and our position of authority in Him. Its pages inspire us to live purposefully in the flow of our true identity, and to discover how to pray more powerfully in union with the One who makes all things new.

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