Scattered

COVID 19 Update—Be a lamp.

When the Stay at Home order was first given in March of this year, I was anxious and fearful. What kind of impact was this going to have on me, my family, my work, my church, and our world? I was not prepared for all that would happen. But, I do trust God, don’t I?

God has a way of getting our attention. In the midst of this pandemic, I focused on doing one thing every day–“to just keep going and trust God.” I do not control my circumstances, but I do control my actions in the midst of them. I determine who I trust and in whom I place my faith.

In my daily Bible reading and prayer time, I searched for purpose and meaning to it all. Then I remembered that in the book of Acts “the church was scattered.” I saw lots of parallels to what was going on in my life and in our world. I re-read Acts chapters 6, 7, and 8 and was struck by the boldness of the early church. The church was growing daily, in spite of all that was happening around them. In these chapters of the book of Acts we are introduced to the story of Stephen. At his death, persecution broke out and the church was scattered.

Of course, I would not call the Coronavirus a persecution, but it is a pandemic. It scattered us to our homes. We became isolated and separated. But, the church didn’t close. We are the church. We began to meet as a congregation in our living rooms. We met in groups via Zoom or on the phone. We prayed for each other and checked up on one another. We found hope in the midst of a pandemic! The church was still open and doing His will.

Change is not fun. But ask yourself, what is God wanting us to focus on? Did God allow us to scatter so that we could focus on spreading the Gospel to our families, to our neighbors and to our peers, like never before? Has God strengthened you spiritually? Is He working in the lives of your family and friends? What is God preparing us for, in the days ahead?

Acts 8:1,4 (CSBBible)

1 Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word.

My Sermon Outline

  1. The Cause for the Scattering – a severe persecution.
    1. The opposition came from the religious leaders.
    2. The Church grew in-spite of the opposition – In Acts 2:41, 2:47, 5:14, 6:7, we learn that the Gospel was spreading.
    3. Stephen Stoned to death – All restraint was removed and Saul led an all-out attack on the church.
  2. The Act of Scattering – Separated, set apart.
    1. They scattered – Some because of grief and some because of fear
    2. They left everything.
    3. Everywhere they went, people were hungry for the gospel, for the truth.
  3. The Action of Those Scattered – They preached the Word.
    1. The Gospel was spread throughout Judea and Samaria
    2. When the persecution started, it moved the spread of the gospel to parts it had not reached before.
    3. One author described the movement as lamps. As each lamp scattered, more lamps were lit.
    4. They left because God called them to be a light in a dark world.

Note: This past weekend, I preached this sermon at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, LA. You can view the entire sermon on Facebook at facebook.com/pbcministry. Soon, it will be online at video.pbcministry.com/.

ReGathering Anxiety: Should I Go Back to Church?

This past weekend, hundreds of churches opened their doors and invited their people back. My church was one of those. Normally, my church has two worship services and two Sunday School hours on Sunday morning. We chose to re-establish worship first and continue our groups via digital format, in homes. We offered 4 different worship times. I chose the Saturday night service.

To be honest, driving to church that night, I was anxious. My apprehension was both selfish and congregational. Who would show up? Would they be wearing a mask, like me? Would I be the only one wearing one? Will people follow the guidelines of social distancing? How have the staff and church leaders prepared for this regathering? Will it be safe?

I was blown away, in a good way, not bad. Walking up to the building, I was still anxious, until I started seeing people wearing a mask, like me. Then, I began to recognize people behind those masks. Everyone was waving and excited to see one another. The staff and volunteer leaders did a great job of preparing the church. Greeters were stationed throughout the process from entry to seating to exiting. The church was cleaner than I had ever seen it. I literally touched nothing except my seat. There was an intentional process for how people would arrive, where they would enter, where they would sit, and how they would exit.

After finding my seat, waving at people and getting ready for worship, I was still anxious. Would this be like it used to be? Well, no it wasn’t. People were spread out wearing masks. BUT, once the service started and we began singing, it was incredible. I felt the Spirit of God moving and working. I sensed God was there, in the middle of it all. I WORSHIPPED. It felt so good to be with God’s people, worshipping Almighty God, together, in the same place and at the same time. It felt like “coming home again.”

I hope you experienced the same thing. It was good to be in the house of the Lord. It was good to once again be with my church family. COVID 19 did not take anything away. If anything, things are so much better. We are getting used to a “new normal.” It will not always be this way. One day, I’ll be able to shake hands, hug necks and pat people on the shoulder or back, again. And oh, what a great day that will be.

Until then, don’t be anxious. Place all your cares upon HIM. Go back to church. Nobody can make you, but, you’ll be glad you did.

Can Our Sunday School Class or Small Group Re-gather?

Maybe a better question is, “SHOULD our Sunday school class or small Group Re-gather”? We should know this week (May 11-15) what guidelines the State of Louisiana will suggest in order to Re-gather. Regardless of how you feel about those suggestions, the main question is, can you Re-gather your Sunday school class or small group SAFELY?

If you are considering Re-gathering your class or group, I have one question to ask: Will you do whatever is necessary to make sure that your members have a clean and safe environment in which to interact? Here are four ideas of what your preparation should look like:

  1. Clean obsessively – Clean like you always have. Then, clean some more. Then, clean it again.
  2. Set up for social distancing – Make sure the chairs are 6 to 8 feet away from one another. The further apart, the safer it will be. Don’t expect your members to abide by social distancing if you do not prepare the environment for it.
  3. Create a Non-Touch environment – A great way to communicate that, is, “if you didn’t bring it, don’t touch it.” I know that sounds extreme, but, better someone accidentally touch something than you spend all your time policing actions of people who are touching things they shouldn’t. No food. No coffee…unless they bring it for themselves, of course.
  4. Put up a sign saying, “This is a clean and safe environment”. Put people’s fears to rest. Show them that you have done everything you can to make sure they don’t have to worry.

If you are not willing to commit to “at least” these four things, maybe it would be a good idea to wait a little longer before starting your Sunday school/small groups. Continue to meet digitally and connect weekly. Make sure that people are being cared for and prayed for, regularly. This has been a very difficult time. For some, it has been more difficult than others. Just because someone says we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. 23 “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. 1 Corinthians 10:23 (CSBBible)

Just remember, when you do Re-gather, spend most of that time catching up with one another and praying for one another. Get ready for a new normal. Everything has changed. Embrace it. Do you really want everything to go back to the way it was before the pandemic? I don’t. I want to see revival in the church and in every Sunday school class and small group. I want to see a Spiritual Awakening in our State, our Country and our World. Don’t you?

Is it Worth it?

COVID 19 Update – Is what we have been going through worth it?

The answer to the Christian is a resounding yes. I know it is hard.  I have cried out to God myself, WHEN will this be over? Is all the pain, frustration and agony we have experienced during this pandemic really worth it? If one soul becomes a believer because of COVID 19, it is worth it. If a local church is revived because of this, it is worth it. If our country or any country around the world experiences spiritual awakening because of this, it is worth it. Even if we cannot see one positive thing from this experience, it is still worth it.

God is a God who cares. He would never allow this to happen if it were not part of His plan. If nothing else, it is worth it if our hearts are turned to God. Give glory to God. He KNOWS what He is doing. Imagine how Jesus felt the night He was betrayed. As He knelt in prayer while the disciples slept in the Garden of Gethsemane, He felt the weight of the world. 39 Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 (CSBBible). In that moment, Jesus asked His Father, is it worth it? Jesus already knew it was worth it. He died for the sins of the world. It is always worth it when it is part of God’s plan.

In Acts 7, Stephen preaches his final sermon and soon afterward, he was stoned to death. The next verse states: 1 On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1 (CSBBible). We are going through a tough time. Maybe it’s nothing like what the early disciples experienced, but, look at what happened to the church. When the persecution broke out, the Gospel spread like wildfire. Even today, the Gospel is being spread all over the world. It is reaching places none of us could ever have imagined.

I know that many of us long for the return of what we once had. We long for things to go back to normal. But, that was not what Jesus prayed the night we was betrayed. He prayed, Yet not as I will, but as you will.” It is time for a new normal. Pick your head up. 36 When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (HCSB)

God is at work. Join Him. IT IS WORTH IT!

Be Careful What You Ask For

Covid 19 Update: Ask and you shall receive!

This morning as I prayed, I asked God for things to please return to normal. I miss my family, my friends, my church, my co-workers, and even my schedule. I long for a return to those things I love the most. I desire the freedom to roam, greet others along the path and minister the way I have for decades. But then, I regretted ever praying that prayer and asked God to lead me to discover a “new normal.”

Things will not and should not go back to the way they were, before the pandemic. Yes, some things will return. We will once again have the freedom to go to work, to church and lots of other places. We will be able to meet and greet people, and, even minister like we use to do.  BUT, we are learning a “new normal.” Let’s not lose it! Things like…

  • Worship in our home with our family.
  • A deeper and more meaningful time alone with God in Bible study and prayer.
  • Connecting with people in new and exciting ways.
  • Discovering new tools and resources that allow us to minister in ways we never thought possible before.

These are just a few of the “new normal” highlights.  Be careful of trying to go “back to normal” in your ministry. If you so, you will discover that there will be no room for the “new normal”.  I have learned that, previously, I did not adequately prioritize my time with my family, with God, with people and in using new tools and resources. Now, I need to find a “new normal” that incorporates all of the great things I have learned and new habits I have developed. I DON’T NEED THINGS TO GO BACK TO NORMAL.

God has allowed us to pass through this trial together. I could not handle this if it were not for my God, family, friends, co-workers and church. Why not allow yourself to learn a “new normal”–one that incorporates the priorities and areas of focus God has taught you during this season? Don’t long for the way things used to be. Instead, long for God to bring revival to the church and spiritual awakening to our country and our world.

When Will This Be Over?

Covid 19 Update: Are We There Yet?

I don’t know about you, but Covid 19 is now a dirty word in my vocabulary. When social distancing first began, over a month ago, I had no idea of what was ahead.  Now, my greatest challenges lie in my personal life, not in my ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I know God is in control. I trust Him. He will see me/us through it. But, my life is different now.

To know what I am feeling, you need to know a little about my personality. I am a people person. I thrive on social interactions. These exchanges feed my spirit, soul and body. This time separated from family and friends is difficult.

I am grateful for my wife. Her constant love and affirmation carry me through this ordeal. And, I truly appreciate the technology that allows me to see my children and my grandchild. Technology has allowed me to stay connected in ministry and to my own church. But, it is not the same. I miss the hugs from my girls. I miss the playful interactions with my granddaughter. I miss the hugs, handshakes and lighthearted punches of friends at work and church. This is hard.

It grieves me to think of the thousands of people who are dying or have died from this virus; unable to have family surround them during their final moments on earth. It pains me to hear of people worried about losing their jobs and how to provide for their family. We have awakened to a new world. What will happen next? How long will this last?

The more important question should be, God, what do I need to learn from this experience? God takes us through the valley and prepares us for the climb up the next hill or mountain. He is molding and making us into the very image of God, through Jesus Christ. I will be stronger, more empathetic, wiser, and more sensitive in my walk with the Lord.

So, what have I learned so far? I have learned that I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and body. I have learned how much I appreciate my church–not the building, the people. I love and value my family and my friends. I have learned that my calling has not changed. If anything, my calling is stronger and my passion for ministry has grown. It’s not about me. It’s about HIM.

So, what have you learned? Will your life be “different” when this is all over? I certainly hope so. I would hate to think that God allowed us to go through this and not learn something more about His character, His love, His grace and His plan.

God, send a great revival in the church. God, send a spiritual awakening to our communities, our state, our country and our world. AMEN.

Are We Doing Everything RIGHT?

COVID 19 Update – How do we know we are doing everything right?

For the past few weeks, one of my top priorities has been to contact Pastors and check on them, their families and their congregations. I am one of many who are doing this. We are all checking on one another.

I have also had video conferences with leaders of churches who are responsible for Sunday School and/or Small Group Ministry.  There are two recurring statements in their responses: 1) we have never done this before and 2) we are not sure if we are doing it right.

The church has had to make significant changes in the way we do church. Online worship services, live or recorded. Recorded Bible studies and devotions. Bible study via conference calls or video conference calls…all of these are ways of doing Bible study in the midst of this crisis. These adaptations are our way of trying to stay connected; our way of making sure the church is still worshipping and studying God’s Word together. But, are we doing it right?

I’ve discovered there is no right or wrong way! In video conference calls this past week, with Ministers of Education across the state, I learned we are all doing things differently. Thankfully, the common element among all these leaders is that they are doing something. To be honest, some Pastors and staff are working overtime to discover and implement ways of keeping classes and groups functioning during this odd and strange season. So. what should our objective be and how do we measure effectiveness?

The first objective should be to make sure that our people are staying connected. The best way to do that is to call every member, every week to check in and pray over them. Many are discovering needs and are doing their part to meet those needs. Our second objective is to encourage people to stay in God’s Word daily. When you check on people each week, remind them of the scriptures being covered in the current lesson and encourage them read their Bible. It helps if you can gather small groups/classes together via a conference call or video conference to engage in Bible study together. There are multiple ways to stay connected and do Bible study together. Remember, this season will not last forever.  But for now, make sure you are accomplishing these two things, at least. There is so much more that can be done.  But, how do we measure how we are doing?

Here are two points of measurements:  1) Is every member of every group/class being contacted every week?  A phone call is better than an email or a text. (NOTE: an email or a text is better than nothing at all.); 2) Is every class/group providing some way, weekly, to involve as many people as possible in Bible study and discussion?

There is no one way or perfect way to do everything right. My question and challenge to you is this–What are you doing to make sure your groups/classes are staying connected with one another and God through His Word?

What Have We Learned?

COVID 19 Update – How does our current situation impact your small group ministry?

Everything is changing. And, like it or not, things will continue to change. Once we get past the COVID 19 Pandemic, things will not go back to normal. That might happen for some churches, but for most of us, things will look and be different than before. Digital is and will be a part of our new normal. You can fight it or join in, but eventually, we all must change.

God, His Word and the church will always exist, but how we do church will change. Think about it, in the book of Acts the early church looked very different than it does today. Change is not always bad. People will still need the church. BUT, how we do“church” must change. People will still need community. Most likely, we will still attend a worship service and a small group every week. But, many will begin to do church differently. We will need to adapt to our new environment. So, how will this impact our small group ministry?

In the book of Acts, the church functioned almost entirely out of small groups. As the gospel spread, people met in small groups. The only places you could assemble larger groups were in Synagogues and places of business. Most groups met in homes or outside. The history of the movement of God in North America is largely a story of small groups. Small groups will always exist in some form or another. Most adaptations have been made for large and larger groups.

For most of us, church has been a commitment of one or two days a week. We have typically spent two to five hours a week at church. Yet, there are 168 hours in a week. On average we spend 56 hours of the week sleeping, and another 56 hours at work or school. This leaves the average person 44 hours a week to spend however they want; that is a little more than 6.3 hours a day. My point is, why shouldn’t the church be the church every waking moment of our day? That’s 112 hours a week, 16 hours a day. How can God use your small group to connect people to God and to one another in this timeframe?

Going forward, staying connected will provide the greatest opportunity for your small group or Sunday School ministry. During this season, we have discovered new ways to connect with one another—let’s make that trend continue. Our ministry should be thought of as more than one hour a week at the church, a home or wherever. Our ministry is to do more than teach a Bible study. We are shepherding a small group in their walk with Christ.

What can we learn from our current experiences and begin right away adapting to our new reality? Get your group accustomed to connecting during the week, not just during the Bible study time. Discover new ways of connecting people who can’t attend your group during a particular week. Begin to utilize new resources that you are discovering how to use for the first time. Practice them now, while you have the time. Develop some new habits of Bible reading, prayer, discussion, mentoring, exploring, etc.

There is so much FREE stuff available right now–why not research and try something new? Who knows, these new tools could become an important part of your Sunday School or small group ministry now and well into the future. Don’t be afraid, just try it. We learn best when we are trying.

Don’t be afraid of our future. God is and will always be on His Throne. Allow God to use you AND your digital self to impact people in ways you have never done before.

Below are some new resources to try:

Sunday School Update

We’ve made it through a couple of Sundays, so how did we do?  In all of the bustle to make Worship happen, we really haven’t thought through how Small Groups happen.  With that in mind, following are some suggestions on how to keep your Small Group together through the pandemic.

  1. Contact every member, every week. This is true for every age group. For senior adults, it is their lifeline through this journey. Everybody is hurting and struggling these days…all the more reason why we need each other right now. Call them, email them, text them. What we can’t give them is a hug. But, praying for them over the phone might just be what they need. Keep your group together. Contact them every week.
  2. Remind members to read their Bible every day. Encourage them to pray every day. Send them suggestions of what to read and what to pray about. Below, you will find a list of available resources to review and share.
  3. Remind them that we will get through this. Already, I am hearing from people whose anxiety is through the roof. Trust me, it will get worse before all of this is over; so, be an encourager.
  4. Encourage them to worship. Help them know how and when they can participate in worship, digitally, with your church. Encourage them to connect with family and friends and invite them to worship at the same time. Some churches are using FaceBook Live. Some are using streaming services. If your church doesn’t have those things, encourage them to find one that does. As for me, I sang when they sang. I opened my Bible when my Pastor preached. I bowed my head and prayed when they did the same. The key is to participate!
  5. If possible, have Bible study via digital media. Groups are using ZOOM, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and FaceBook Live to have Small Groups. (SUGGESTION: practice before you go live.)

The more you can do, the more it will help members of your class or group through this very difficult time. I pray God will use you in ways you never thought possible. You might just learn something new.

Below are some resources to help your class or Small Group through this time. You may not be used to these things and some are more difficult than others. BUT, the people God has asked you to lead are worth the extra effort and time required to learn something new.

lifeway.com/coronavirus – Lifeway has generously offered free digital content for any church who is interested. There are tons of resources your church can offer. It is worth a look.

https://www.rightnowmedia.org/ – Right Now media has offered a free “limited access” to some of its best content for Bible study, discipleship and families. Just go to the website and click on limited access and complete the process. Check out these authors: Tony Evans, Chip Ingram, Phil Vischer, Kyle Idleman, Henry Cloud, Max Lucado and more.

What Can I do to Help My Sunday School Leaders during this Pandemic?

Many will lose regular, weekly contact with their class/group. On top of that, they may not have the quality Bible instruction they have become accustomed to every Sunday or whenever their group meets. Here are a couple of suggestions/recommendations that they might try:

Every leader of a group or class should make sure every member of their class/group is contacted and prayed for every week. Relationships are the most important ingredient to a healthy, growing Bible study group. Please don’t let anyone feel alone or rejected during this difficult season.

Encourage every member of your class/group to engage in some kind of Bible study at least weekly. Whether they are alone, with a spouse, family members or friends, make sure they have a plan. Here are some suggestions:

Use your Sunday School Members Guide. Most churches provide a printed piece that you can use for your bible study time. Call another member and read and talk together. FaceTime or Skype another member of your group/class. Read together, discuss and pray for yourselves and others.

Use resources that are available through Social media like Facebook. Your class may have a Facebook group page that you can discuss and chat with online.

Use digital media. Depending on whether or not you and your church use Right Now Media or Ministry Grid from Lifeway, you can find video support for what you are studying.

Ministry Grid – https://ministrygrid.com/training/. Each of the curriculum lines has an extensive library of audio or video support. Some of it is free.

Right Now Media – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/. This resource is also being used by several congregations in Louisiana. With a church subscription, members have free access to tons of material for use whenever and wherever. Here are some suggestions.

Adults:

For those studying Explore the Bible Series (Romans) – How to be Right with God by Ed Young

Other Adult studies:

True Spirituality with Chip Ingram

The Power of Jesus Name by Tony Evans

Life, Money, Legacy by Dave Ramsey

For Families:

The Real God by Chip Ingram

Youth:

“Shaken” with Tim Tebow – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/204649

“Speak Truth” with Sean McDowell – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/297352

“Different” with Jonathan Evans – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/373895

“Not a Fan” with Kyle Idleman – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/187042

Children:

What’s in the Bible is a series by Phil Vischer, from Veggie Tales, all about the Bible – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/KidsShow/1?episode=1

Worship songs for kids – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/KidsShow/136822?episode=1

For Preschool Specifically – https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/KidsSeries/351613?episode=1

Study on Philippians (if they will search there are others just like this on most books of the Bible from the same guy that is listed at the top -https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/KidsShow/298875?episode=1

Whatever you decide to do, be consistent and make sure your encourage and pray for one another. We are not alone. God is with us. God is for us. God will not forsake us.

 

Contact Info:

Sean Keith
Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist
Louisiana Baptist Convention
Sean.Keith@LBC.org
Cell: 318-613-4837