Whatever Happened to Hope?

How do you explain an extraordinarily gifted and successful person who seemingly has it all and ends it all? Suicide confounds us, especially high-profile suicides.

When we hear that a famous chef, a popular designer or entertainer decides life is not worth living, it often leaves us feeling bewildered. By the world’s standards, they were successful. They had notoriety, money and all of the trappings of the “good life,” but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find these high profile suicides are symptomatic of a larger problem.

According to a June article in USA Today, suicides are up 30% since 1999 – totaling nearly 45,000 people per year. In fact, suicides claim more lives than car accidents. First responders seem particularly vulnerable. A recent study indicated more firefighters and police officers die by suicide than all line-of-duty deaths combined. And we’ve all read too many posts relating to suicides attributed to cyber bullying.

Writing from a Roman prison, Paul identified the underlying issue when he reminded the believers in Ephesus of their former condition, “You lived in this world without God and without hope.” (Eph. 2:12, NLT).

In order to see examples of this lifestyle, spend a few minutes on social media or watch any number of popular programs, especially reality TV. You’ll see plenty of examples of what it means to be hollow and hopeless.

People give up when there is no hope.

People die when there is no hope.

Those who are left grieve when there is no hope.

Headlines today often reflect more than actual events. Frequently they describe and define a society living without God and without hope.

Solomon said it best, “A hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Prov. 13:12). And today this sickness has gone viral.

What do you do? What can you do?

For those who claim to be Christ-followers, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and think, “Well, this is what God said it would be like in the last days so – come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

The good news is that God has given us an antidote for the virus. But will we share it?

We don’t need to be reactive people. Instead we need to be a proactive people. Be ready to respond. Be ready to give hope.

Here for You, Louisiana Baptists multi-media evangelism strategy, is a response. A response by you, Louisiana Baptists, to those living without God and without hope.

Instead of sitting around and complaining about the condition of the culture, we are going inside the devices people are using and the programs they are watching with the only thing that provides hope – truth, God’s truth.

As we continue to leverage current communications platforms to seed the truth of God’s word inside every heart and every home, we’re seeding the path to freedom. We’re pointing those without hope to the only God who provides hope.

When is the last time you took a proactive approach? Start now. Take a moment, go to www.HereForYou.org and share truth, share hope with your friends and family via social media.

Whatever happened to hope? Check your newsfeed, check your inbox and stay tuned. Lord willing, we’re taking hope statewide in February 2019.

When is VBS Really Over?

When is VBS really over? Friday afternoon or evening? How about when the last child and his or her family are enrolled in a Sunday School class? Make follow-up with prospects discovered during VBS a part of your planning now.

Fast forward about three months. Can you hear a church leader say,

(Or, is it?)

Months of preparation, effort, energy, time, and money has been expended in getting ready for Vacation Bible School. Now it’s Friday, the children are gone, and the workers are finishing taking down decorations and cleaning up their rooms. Maybe there’s the closing VBS Celebration Sunday night, but for all practical purposes, VBS is over for another year. Or is it?

Why do we have VBS? To have an intensive week of Bible studies, mission stories, upbeat music, recreation, and snacks? Yes to all of the above. But the main reason we have VBS is to discover prospects: boys and girls and their parents in our communities who are not involved in a church or Bible study; people who need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

VBS is not over when the last child leaves, the last decoration is packed away, or the closing night celebration ends. VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

Do you remember those enrollment/registration cards you had each child fill out during VBS? Please don’t put a rubber band around the cards and set them on a shelf in the Sunday School office. Those cards are invaluable! They are the reason for VBS! Make copies and have people pray for the names on the cards. Study the cards for names of those who do not have a church home. Send a postcard or letter thanking them for coming and inviting them to Sunday School.

But don’t stop there! Assign the prospects to the appropriate preschool, children, youth, and adult Sunday School classes for follow-up as well. Think long-term relationship-building. Use a variety of ways to build friendships with prospects: week one, make a quick front-door home visit leaving SS literature or a magazine; week two, send a postcard; week three, make a phone call; week four, send a text or email. Invite prospects to other church events and activities.

VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

If there is indifference toward attending SS or church, then focus on ministry to them rather than just trying to get them to attend. For example, ask for prayer concerns, and then follow-up a week or so later. Build relationships without just focusing on their attendance. Keep ministering to your prospects, whether they come or not. Be a friend in Christ’s Name.

VBS is not over on Friday or Sunday afternoon, or even at the end of the summer. The work of contacting and cultivating boys and girls, men and women should continue. Keep those enrollment/registration cards visible and work them. Think long-term and continue cultivating friendships.

For more information on VBS follow-up or Sunday School, contact: Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists, Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org, or 318.448.3402.

34 Tips for Creating Powerful Worship Experiences and Vibrant Worship Teams

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday we’re featuring one of our most popular posts. If you are kicking the creativity up a notch or simply trying to do a better job bringing glory to God on Sunday morning, this one’s for you! Please share with your worship leaders.

We go to seminary, study Greek, learn about computers, eat casseroles, visit hospitals, and do 10,000 other things as leaders. But isn’t it amazing that simple, practical truths can make or break our ministry? Standards and principles are things that must start out intentionally, and then, after a while, they become instinctive. Here are a few of those values I learned from pastors, deacons, worship leaders, my dad (lots from my dad!), and, yes, my wife and kids.

These aren’t new concepts to creative planning, but they are surefire truths that will keep you and your team growing over the long haul of team planning and worship development.

1. Study Your People

This is a simple concept that is rarely done. So often our calendars, agendas, to-do lists, and book studies overshadow the people we try to bring into the presence of God. Strategies and action plans are all great things, but we can get so focused on our plans that we forget who our people are. So, it’s important to study your people. What do your people do? What inspires them? What makes them laugh? Who makes them laugh? When do you see them falling into never-never land on Sunday morning? Study them. Ask them. Get feedback. I’m waiting for the helmet cam for children so we can see worship through their eyes. People have issues! I know, that’s turned into a major catchphrase of the new century, but it is so true. Find out what their issues are and help them discover, or rediscover, God in the midst of it all.

2. Ready, Fire, Aim

I learned this from an old country pastor before it became a popular business strategy. Simply spoken, take a shot at new stuff in a small way. See if you hit the target and then aim accordingly. Many churches spend half their time, resources, and emotional energy aiming. They aim, and aim, and aim some more. They go to Chicago or Los Angeles and aim. They read a book, take a nap, get up, and aim some more. Then when they finally fire, they fire at the point of no return. A ton of money has been spent, subcommittees have slaved over the issues, then $20,000 and 13 business meetings later the strategy is unveiled. If it backfires after so many hours and meetings, then the entire leadership feels demoralized. So, start small. Fire experimental peashooters before you pull out the thermonuclear version.

3. Create a Vision for Your Worship

Know where you are going and how to get there. Very basic. Just remember: “No Vision, No Life.” That’s as old as Proverbs 28:19. Make your vision work through teamwork. Create ownership and multiply the buy-in through vision casting.

4. Reignite Your Passion for God

If you don’t have a passion for God and a passion to lead people into worship, then sell life insurance or market cereal. This is God-stuff. Passion isn’t just a strong emotion. It is a commitment to a dream in which you’re willing to lay everything on the table and say, “Lord, I don’t care what the cost is. I want to see You in all Your power and glory. I want to experience worship and ministry that is truly transformational. I’m tired of the regular song and dance. I want to see You high and lifted up. I want the holy smoke and fire that accompanies Your presence.” As the church of Laodicea reminds us, if we have no fire, no passion, we leave a bad taste in God’s mouth.

5. Never Kill an Idea Before You Write it Down

During brainstorming worship ideas, as well as church growth ideas, we need to be careful about trashing other people’s ideas before they have been fully communicated and considered. Lay down a ground rule: there are no bad ideas at first glance. Why? Because we all have bad ideas from time to time. If you are facilitating a brainstorming meeting and immediately give a thumbs-down to every new idea, you will cultivate timidity and self-consciousness in your team. No one likes to have their ideas body-slammed three seconds after they speak. After this brainstorming period, you can begin the process of appraising what ideas work and what ideas are simply…well…ideas.

6. Don’t Count on Success, but Never Expect Failure

Yes, this seems very ironic. But if your team is counting on home runs every time they try to lead people into worship, then frustration will soon follow. In the same breath, we must do everything we can to achieve our goals. It’s true: God doesn’t ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful. Results are a God thing, not an us thing.

7. Do Something Each Month in Worship that Frightens You

If you want to grow, you should be prepared to risk. As a rule of thumb, do something every month that scares you. If you grow in your faith and tenacity, do something every week that scares you. It might be asking a 7th grader to pray the benediction. It may be singing in the middle of the sermon. It may be asking a visitor about his relationship with Christ after a service is over. If you’re shaking in your boots sometime during your ministry, you might feel uncomfortable, but at least you know you have a pulse.

8. Think About One Person in the Congregation and Plan a Worship Service that Allows that Person to Truly Worship

Like the culture around us, we have become a politically correct body. So many churches fail to reach anyone because they are afraid they might exclude someone. Don’t sweat speaking directly to youth in adult worship. We are a family, and sometimes transformation happens through overheard proclamation of truth. Sometimes we truly can’t see the tree because all we can see is the forest. Minister distinctively to one person in the body, and, chances are, the ripple effect will transform the entire church.

9. Don’t Try to Turn Smallville into Willow Creek in One Month

It’s the old Sunday after youth camp effect. We got go to conferences, great conferences. Great ideas! We have the passion! It’s all good. We are ready to hurdle every obstacle to make the cover of GC, then reality sets in. We changed, but the people are the same peo- ple from whom you flew away the week before. I love the ancient Chinese proverb: “Oh snail, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but slowly.” In other words, shoot for the stars, but realize that the warp-drive technology is not quite there yet. Be intentional and smart with your changes. And, of course, choose the hill on which you are willing to die. Jesus is patient with you; be patient with your people. Lead them through the process and help them understand the reasons for change. Baffle them with your grasp of common sense.

10. Don’t be Afraid of Emotions, but Don’t Try to Manufacture or Manipulate the Worshipers Emotions, Either

Our obsession should not be: “How can I really tear ’em up this Sunday? What could I do to give those people a really misty eyed, three-tissue sniffer moment?” Your focus should be to bring people into an encounter with God. On the other hand, how can a person who understands this incredible grace mes- sage avoid getting emotional? Some people in your congregation grew up in a paradigm that said emotions are weakness. Don’t cry. You aren’t a man if you cry. Don’t shout, or dance, or laugh. It just isn’t spiritual. Worship leaders need to realize this is not a biblical precept. In truth, it’s a very errant stance. I suppose it’s fine to offer your community unemotional, cerebral, fact-only worship, but I don’t think you’d want to classify it as biblical. You’ll end up painting yourself into a corner.

11. Don’t Take the Name of the Lord in Vain

As we all know, I didn’t come up with this on my own. Basically, the tip here is that when we lead in worship and plan worship in a team, perhaps the quickest way to sabotage the work is to give vague vetoes and blame it on God. Example: Pastor Dave walks into the sanctuary where the ensemble is practicing their part in worship. Dave, after a long sigh, says, “Folks, I don’t think God wants us to use that song.” That might work once or twice, but, after a while, people catch on to the fact that God is your fire escape rather than your Shepherd. I know there are times when we do get a specific word from the Lord, but God more often works when we meet Him in our planning meetings.

12. Most Great Leaders and Creative Thinkers are Untamed Monomaniacs, with a Streak of Obsession, Who Believe Strongly in Their Ministry

Want to have an impact? Discover the obsession for ministry. Everyone should have a standard for which they are willing to bleed in this mission. What’s yours? If it didn’t pop into your brain the moment you finished reading the question, then it might be time to grab your Bible and your toothbrush and head to the wilderness until you do.

13. Read Your Plan Out Loud

This is very practical and very simple. Most people will not read your plan; they will hear your plan. Close the door and read your plan out loud. How does it sound?

14. Exile the Left Brain When Beginning Your Work

Whenever you are working alone on a sermon, a project, a poem, a dramatic sketch, or an idea, your creative side (the right brain or the artist) needs to be able to work without the detailed side (the left brain, or the editor) looking over his shoulder. The important thing when you begin to work is to keep creating without assessing what you are doing while you are doing it. So many times the right brain is stifled because the left brain is asking: “Did I spell that right? Do I really think this will work? I don’t know if this is good enough. I wonder what Roger, the chairman of the church council, will think?” The left brain needs to leave the right brain alone; otherwise, the right brain will never get anything done. After your artistic work is complete, begin the tough, painful left-brain work. It’s important late and fatal early.

15. Keep Toys Close to You

You are at your best when you are like a child. Jesus reminded us of that. Give yourself space, and don’t take yourself too seriously, or you will miss the joy of walking in grace. One way I keep fresh, alive, and responsive is to keep a toy within arm’s length. It’s a fact that you need short intervals of time where you can disengage. When you have the opportunity, play! Also have some fun as a team. It will increase the esprit de corps of your team.

16. Don’t Just Sit There, Write Something

Make it a goal to write something every day. A great way to do this is to take a calendar and try to fill up each day’s space. Write about everything. Try writing a story. Write about things you love. Write about things that annoy you. Write about your passions. Write about your day. Write your prayers. It will be a priceless reminder in years to come of God’s grace. Write anything. Just keep the pen moving!

17. Set Small Goals and Reward Yourself When You Achieve Them

If you finish a task, reach a goal, or see transformation take place in worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, or discipleship, celebrate it. Let everyone on the team in on small victories and achievements. As in the story of the 10 lepers, don’t be like the 9 who received transformation and forgot to thank God. Have few secret victo- ries. Rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Set visible, reachable goals and let the benediction be party hats and confetti.

18. Avoid Lip Worship

Lip worship is worship that is totally auditory. A person who totally relies on lip worship will fail to powerfully communicate to 95.86 percent of the crowd. (Sounds scientific, right? Did I just make up that stat? Uh…well…yep.) But seriously, we have a plethora of learning styles in the congrega- tion. Some people are auditory learners, but many are kinetic learners, natural learners, verbal learners, logical learners, physical learners, concrete learners, emotional learners, visual learners, olfactory learners, musical learners, gustatory learners, interactive learners, analytical learners, and so forth.

19. Avoid Tip Worship

Tip worship is worship in which the sole driving force of worship is life application and very little Bible. This is currently a very popular strategy, which works effectively if it is biblically based. The Bible is very practical. When the application fits, by all means, communicate it. But may we never turn worship into the Oprah Winfrey show.

20. Avoid Rip Worship

Rip worship is when we load the congregation down with guilt and shame. Our duty in worship is not to rip the congregation or to use worship as our personal bully pulpit. Who wants to be part of that? I don’t believe families spring from their beds on Sunday morning saying, “Hey! This is the day the Lord has made! Let’s get ready and go to church for our weekly flogging! This is our chance to feel totally inadequate. Let’s go!”

21. Avoid Flip Worship

Flip worship is worship that is done without acknowledging what a vast and important responsibility worship leadership really is. Flip worship is a kind of worship that says, “Let’s get this thing over with so we can get home in time for the Colts’ game.” Flip worship doesn’t ever get nervous. It never sheds a tear. It reeks of sarcasm and apathy. God, protect Your people from the poison of flip worship and flip worship leaders.

22. Avoid Hip Worship

Hip worship is worship that is totally (as the old saying goes) from the hip. Things unexpectedly happen, not because God came, but because there was not a plan or even a thought. Granted, there will be times when God will call on you to shoot from the hip, but usually shooting from the hip will do little toward developing trust in the ensemble.

23. If You’re in It for the Money, Go Home

Capitalism has no place in the church. If you base your ministry on the financial litmus tests, you will miss out on every spiritual victory. Jesus didn’t knock over the tables in the temple by accident. He made a whip to defend God’s people from charlatans who were trying to turn the temple into a corporation. The “pastor as CEO” paradigm is about as old school as Ahab.

24. Be Prepared to Record Ideas While Driving

If you are like me, you get lots of ideas when you are driving from your personal Jerusalem to Jericho. Take a micro-cassette player with you. I am convinced that great ideas invariably occur between lane changes.

25. Once You’re Through Reading, Then You’re Through Growing

What book is next in line after you finish the one you’re on right now? If you don’t know the answer to that question, beware. Books are a lifelong source of inspiration and mental enhancement. The right books build strong leaders and will help you avoid spiritual osteoporosis.

26. Prevent Right Brain Freeze

If you are stumped on how to communicate a concept, if you are running out of ideas and strategies, or if you are running out of options in creating that aha moment in worship, you may want to take a time-out and disengage. Try listening to music, walking, reading aloud, dialoguing with a friend or associate, lying down in the church lawn for a minute, changing pens, or any approach that might pull you out of the ordinary, so you can jump-start your creative synapses.

27. Early Planning and Creating Gives You More Room for Improvement

One of my mentors once told me there’s no such thing as an overnight success in ministry. In other words, God’s work is planned long beforehand, if not by us, certainly by Him. Do a quick character study of Bible heroes. Was Moses an overnight success? Try telling him that in the wilderness of Midian! Or would Joseph consider himself an overnight success as he reflected on his exciting days in a jail with a baker and a cupbearer? Or what about card-carrying, AARP members like Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, or a 67-year-old Daniel in the lions’ den? In the same way, we need to have slow, persistent, diligent, day-by-day, tenacious, mustard-seed planning. In ministry, you’ll usually lose when you use a no-huddle approach in worship.

28. Write Ideas Without Thinking of What Vehicle You’ll Use in the Final Process

Don’t immediately think of a vehicle before you think of a concept. Great team planners will see the message first. We shouldn’t say, “Golly, we haven’t had a monologue in a while. Let’s try to do one this Sunday.” That’s a backward approach, which caters to form rather than content.

29. Weave Your Worship and Plan Your Pauses

Your worship should be seamless. Work on transitions. For instance:

  • The pianist begins playing during the last four lines of the script.
  • The ensemble approaches the microphones during the last chorus of the hymn.
  • The reader approaches the pulpit during the prayer.

Make your transitions smooth. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve had the blessing of visiting hundreds of churches. I’ve had some astounding worship experiences. But, very few churches have effectively pulled off transitional moments. When transitions aren’t attended to, the service is like driving a car with a bad transmission. The flow becomes jerky and predictable. I love planned silence in worship. Reflective times can be very insightful and emotive, but 15 seconds of awkward, no-clue, ambivalent nothingness is abhorrent.

30. Prepare Well

Getting to Sunday morning is the dessert of the process. If a worship team is prepared, then even the platform people are liberated from the tyranny of self-consciousness and escorted into the pres- ence of God, along with those who worship. Constantly worrying about what’s next and whether you can pull off your plans makes you a “dish-cleaning Martha” instead of a “worship- driven Mary.” Let’s choose the better.

31. Realize the Worship is Difficult

As my grandfather would say, “This ain’t tiddledywinks, my boy!” Worship is a lifelong work of art. No one ever arrives at the ultimate worship plateau. Watch what happens when you think you have arrived. God always seems to remind us of the reality of our own infancy. It is truly a process, not a destination. We are being transformed from glory to glory to glory.

32. Use Technology, Keeping in Mind That Only You can Prevent Lousy Workmanship

In other words, you can have all the bells and whistles of 21st-century worship technology and still crank out mediocrity. Leaning on bells and whistles to replace perspiration is a formula for failure.

33. Become a Workaholic

Become addicted to glorifying God on Sundays. He is worthy of our worship. A minister who doesn’t worship is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood. Do I want that man to operate on me? No way! If you can’t wait for another chance to experience God in corporate worship, then your people will follow your hunger for passionate, holy worship. By the way, may I rant for a sentence or two? If I see one more pastor flipping through his Bible, checking notes, and not singing or worshiping during the service, I think I’ll scream. What an insult to the team! What an insult to God! (Sorry about that! I just had to get it off my chest.) What that behavior says to a worship team and to the congregation is that corporate worship is just all fizz. My part supersedes everything else. The same is true of musicians who take a trip to la-la land during the message. Wherever we are, there we should be. All of us! That’s what worship should be.

34. Every Now and Then, Do a Post Mortem of the Worship Experience

(What did we do well, or badly? Where could we have improved?) Learn from mistakes and, as a team, talk about how to avoid the mistakes. Laugh together, and don’t turn the postmortem into a gripe session.

Ask these questions:

  • Did it work?
  • Was it adequate?
  • How could we have improved?
  • Did we offer people an opportunity to be trans- formed?
  • What feedback did you receive?
  • Are we in a rut or on a roll?
  • Did we, as leaders, worship?
  • Did we improve the mix by using more than two or three communication strategies?

Pray, asking God to continue transforming people through the experience, worship, and truths that we experienced.

What are some tips that have helped you create powerful, creative worship? We’d love to hear from you! We are all on the same journey.

Devotional Journaling Tips

I have been a devotional journaler for about 21 years now. I started this devotional habit after completing the Experiencing God study in 1997!

Journaling helps me pour out my ideas and prayers to God, along with processing life and what I’m reading/studying in the Bible. I’ve written about the daily devotional habits I aim for here.

Making journaling work for me requires a plan. Recently, I’ve found a helpful rhythm with three categories that help me process and pour out my prayers and ideas to God.

  1. GIVING THANKS – What do I need to thank God for today? I’ve heard people talk about gratitude journals for years. As I get older and difficulties and worries add up, I’ve found it helpful and invigorating to write out 10 to 20 things I’m thankful for each morning. This simple practice works! And it’s biblical! “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.” Psalm 107:1. No matter what, we almost always have more to be thankful for than to be worried about!
  2. GIVING UP / GIVING TO GOD – What is too big for me to handle today?  Life on mission, parenting, getting older, being a leader – it all brings you up against your limitations regularly. I’ve found it helpful to admit and write out the things I will not be able to handle on my own and that I’m struggling with in life on this particular day or week. This is practicing in writing the admonition of 1 Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.” Looking back at the list, I can see God’s hand at work and recognize that I’m never alone in the big battles I’m facing in life.
  3. GIVING AWAY –  What opportunities do I have coming up for mission and generosity? This is a time to think through opportunities for mission and generosity that this day and the near future will bring. Busyness is an enemy of thoughtfulness, kindness, evangelism, and being on mission for others. A few minutes each morning helps me plan ahead, ask for God’s help, and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16).

Along with 15-30 minutes of reading and responding to the Bible, these three categories are helping me be more meaningful in my devotional life and more prepared for my day on mission with God.

Any tips, struggles, ideas from your devotional life? Let us hear from you on Twitter or Facebook.

Read this blog in its original context here.

The Mysterious Flag

In the darkest hours of the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington unfurled an unusual flag. It wasn’t the stars and stripes. It wasn’t red, white and blue. It was a simple white flag with an evergreen tree sewn on it. Above the tree were the words, “APPEAL TO HEAVEN”. Washington knew he was out-gunned, out-manned and out-supplied when compared with the mighty British ships, supplies and battalions. This was Washington’s heart-cry of prayer as they pressed on through the streams, hills, valleys and bunkers of Virginia. He knew that without the intervention of God this new nation would die prematurely.

The phrase came from an English philosopher and doctor who wrote a treatise in which he stated that when people have exhausted all courts, arbitrators and kings, “Then they may appeal to heaven.” Few remember that the Revolutionary War was accompanied by a strong wave of prayer. The green and white flag that flew above the six cruisers under Washington’s leadership symbolized this revival of prayer. It flew as a moniker of the godly desperation and prayers of our founding fathers to our Heavenly Father.

I think you’d agree that after all the controversies, violence and discord we see on a daily basis, it’s about time we begin to, as a nation, appeal to Heaven once again. We need that more than anything else. We need it more than schools, armies, or even healthcare.

We need prayer.

As citizens of the United States, we must appeal to Heaven for our families, our broken relationships, and our churches. Because when we pray, we are entering into covenant with the words of Jesus and the promise that if we seek first His Kingdom, then all these things will be added unto us.

Can you hear the voices of our forefathers?

“It is impossible to rightly govern . . . without God & the Bible.” – George Washington

“No book in the world deserves to be so unceasingly studied, and so profoundly meditated upon as the Bible.” – John Quincy Adams

“I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men.” – Benjamin Franklin

Lord, let us not forget the faith that saved us, that freed us, from the bondage of slavery and the bondage of sin. Lord, hide us under the shadow of Your wings.

Restore us.

Awaken us.

Revive us, O Lord!

May we appeal to Heaven.


Ten Steps for Vetting Your Next Pastor

Recently a small Louisiana Baptist church began the process of seeking a pastor. Resumes were received from all over the region, and a few from as far away as Missouri, but one candidate caught the attention and interest of the search team.

His resume more than impressed the search committee. He had a doctorate and was working on another overseas. He previously served declining churches who (apparently) experienced revitalization.

The pastor search team had an initial conference call with the candidate and began formulating a time for a visit. Since the candidate was from a neighboring state, they knew this would take some planning. During this time after the interview the team began to do some more digging on the web and strangely, they couldn’t find any of the churches on his resume. His two recommendations gushed over the phone about his ministry but the churches seemed invisible.

After more digging there wasn’t even a shred of identification connected with his name. Finally, researching his last name brought the committee to an alleged con-man who had been reportedly been outed as an arsonist and a fraud. People previously connected to the man accused him of falsely claiming to be a first responder in New York City during 9-11. They even found evidence that he had spoken in public schools and distributed flags that he claimed were from places near the Twin Towers.

With a few simple tools, the committee was able to match the candidate’s address to the address of this sketchy figure. Thankfully, another small church dodged a bullet.

Stacy Morgan and Bill Robertson of Louisiana Baptists offer a number of tools to help churches who are beginning to search for a new pastor. Here are the top ten recommendations.

  1. One committee member should call all the references for a given pastoral candidate. It allows him/her to listen for nuance, pauses, hesitations, etc. that may go unnoticed if multiple people are making the calls.
  2. Compile a list of questions you plan to ask each reference. (See the free PDF Here)
  3. Contact the newly-discovered references and ask the same questions. Go at least three levels deep.
  4. Resist the temptation to call references from the church in which the candidate is currently serving without discussing it with the candidate beforehand. In many cases it is best to contact these references at the “eleventh hour” so as not to create a problem for the candidate in his church.
  5. Contact the Director of Missions for the association in which the candidate is currently serving.
  6. Secure written release forms from the candidate to conduct a nationwide criminal background check and a credit check. The church’s local banker can run the credit check with written authorization. (This could be another committee member.)
  7. One committee member with some technological skills should review the candidate’s social media footprint to discover what he is passionate about and identify any areas of concerns.
  8. Those gathering information should report back to the committee the nature and content of the conversations and any concerns that have arisen.
  9. The committee should prayerfully draw conclusions and determine whether to pursue this candidate further.
  10. If the committee decides not to pursue the candidate further, this should be communicated to the candidate.

ONE LAST NOTE: Since this process requires much time and effort, it is best not to check references until later in the process when the committee has settled on a particular candidate. Check his references, prayerfully make a decision, and then move forward with the candidate or move on to the next candidate.

Check out this conversation on Pastor Search Tips and Security with Stacy Morgan:

Ten Errors of First-Time Deacons

Welcome to life as a deacon! Always exciting, inspiring, fulfilling and self-satisfying. Wait … that’s not exactly true. Let’s start over.

Welcome to life as a deacon! It’s much different than you expected. (That’s a little closer to the truth.)

As you begin your ministry as a deacon, here are a few common errors to avoid for the sake of your ministry, your marriage and maybe even your sanity. The last thing that anyone wants to see happen here is for you to flame out in the first year. I’ve known a number of men who did and the following exhortations are the result. And by the way, I flamed out early on but found my stride a few months later. I wish I would have known about three of these errors back then.

  1. Listening to Pastor Bashers. Once you become a deacon you enter a different perceived role. It is the role of sounding board for everyone who thinks your pastor is obtuse, lazy, overbearing, driven, longwinded, shallow, manipulative, disorganized, carnal, pharisaical, aloof, nosey, trite, over-analytical, undereducated, simple, complex, late, early, egregious, spineless, stubborn and/or incompetent. Do not listen to any of them. Ever.
  2. Beast Mode. When I became a deacon I was uninformed of my physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations. I actually believed I could be on “beast mode.” Beast mode, a term my kids used a few years ago, is that extra gear you have that lets you become insanely fast and unstoppable. It’s a video game term. But in real life you can only survive on beast mode for a day or two before you completely wear yourself out. Pace yourself in this first year. In the words of Spiderman’s aunt: “You aren’t Superman, you know.”
  3. Desire for “Pixie Dust.” There is no pixie dust that you can sprinkle over some messes that will make them look or smell better. You are going to have to get your hands dirty in other people’s wreckage and there will be no “microwave” or “just add water” solutions. Usually it’s a lot of hard, awkward, ugly work in ministry. There are times in ministry when all the axioms fall short.
  4. Becoming a Solo Mission Specialist. A deacon is never a one-man wrecking crew. It takes a tribe to do it. Going alone could have various consequences including:
  • Gossip from a neighbor who sees you entering a widow’s home by yourself.
  • Anxiety from trying to accomplish tasks both great and small alone.
  • Embarrassment from trying to fold that Lord’s Supper table cloth alone in front of the congregation. (Impossible!)
  • Danger from the generator as you try to reboot the church septic system.
  • Being a deacon without a wingman is a frustrating and lonely undertaking.
  1. Going Full-On Gladiator. Deacons, avoid the temptation to be consumed in conflict. There will be conflict in church. Conflict is actually healthy, but left unchecked it grows like kudzu on a hot Georgia night. It will smother everything good that’s happening in the church. Steve Davis, my pastor, reminded me that all deacons carry around two buckets. One filled with gas and the other with water. In every conflict deacons will throw one or the other at the flames. Choose the water, please.
  2. “Fake It ‘til Ya Make It.” You can get away with this strategy from time to time but it’s a whole lot easier to learn how to do the work and ask questions when you’re confused.
  3. Anticipating the Ticker Tape Parade. It’s an honor to serve but don’t expected to be honored. Most of the important stuff you do will be things that only your Father in Heaven will see. There are also some exasperating moments. I often think about this phrase when I think about pastoring and being a deacon: “It’s early to rise, pride-swallowing onslaught!” Some days are like that and nobody gets a purple heart for those days.
  4. Underestimating the Power of a 40-Year Member. They are out there and you might want to spend a little extra time getting to know them. Political move? Sometimes. Wise? More often than not. Listening and relating to them often makes connections and builds bridges that will reap benefits. They have a lot of experience and are often more open to change than you would imagine.
  5. Trying to Speak When You Have No Words. Sometime I forget that listening and silence can be much more powerful and constructive that wagging my uninformed and mystified tongue. A deacon’s presence at a funeral is more powerful than words. Trying to answer a question because you are embarrassed that you don’t know the answer is downright dangerous.
  6. And Finally … Forgetting the Pianist in Lord’s Supper Element Distribution. It’s so easy to do! She isn’t on a row. She’s out in left field. She’s busy doing something important and she’s in full view of the congregation. Tie a string around your finger and then place the juice and wafer on the piano for her. Everybody watching will be glad you did!

7 Questions Every Father Must Ask

I have a confession to make. As a father, leader and husband I’ve often failed. Often is not a hyperbole either. I mean, I have often failed. If Paul had a thorn in the flesh, I’ve got a briar patch.

But as a Christ-follower and a man, I can do two things with my failures. First, I can learn from failures and actually grow, knowing that God often restores the messes we have created. Secondly, I can teach others out of the abundance of my experience.

That’s why I am so thrilled to share these seven questions that I ask myself every week. Perhaps this week you’ll ask them as well. I believe these questions have been game changers for me.

  1. Am I really available?

In other words, are my kids and wife having to compete with my cell phone, my fantasy football league, my Netflix, my twitter, and my golf game for my attention? This is a difficulty for many men because we are mostly wired to be focused on one thing at a time. Women can answer the phone, fix a sandwich, text and understand the subtleties of adolescent nonverbal codes all at the same time. If I tried that mustard would be all over my phone and I’d be texting with the microwave! It just doesn’t work so well for most men. We’ve got to work on being there. And when we are there we must be present. Eliminate distraction. Look them in the eye. Communicate their importance. Develop the skill of single-focused fatherhood and marriage.

  1. Have I grown up?

There’s a big difference between growing up and growing old. The Apostle Paul said it like this: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things (1 Cor 13:11). So what are some childish things that we need to put away? For many of us, it’s how we handle conflict. It means not slamming a door or throwing a tantrum. For others of us, it’s not withholding affection based on how our day is treating us. Childish things are lust, greed, bitterness, emotionally connecting with other women, spending sprees, and vulgar joking. All of these will affect our kids and our wives, even if they aren’t done in their presence.

Growing up also means owning our failures rather than making excuses or defending our poor choices. If you want to see a real man, look at Psalm 51. It’s the best expression of what a man does when he is found in the wrong. Real men have the integrity to pick the right side of a battle even at the expense of admitting past sins.

  1. Do my kids know I love my wife?

There’s nothing that makes a child feel safer than seeing a mom and dad who truly love and cherish each other with their eyes, their words and their touch. Being “in it for the kids” is not enough. If you are finding it hard to love your wife, you need to address it now. Not when it’s convenient, not when you have enough money to see a counselor, and not when you and your wife are living in to parallel universes of emotion. Invest and love your wife. Get help. Remember how much we are to love our wives (check Ephesians 5:25).

  1. What do I say when I talk about God?

If you are anything like me, this doesn’t come easy. I have to work at it. Find moments to express your faith. We can do this basically by “exegeting the day”. I know, I’m getting a little fancy here. What I mean is that we find a way to view our daily struggles through the lens of scripture. What did your neighbor’s sorrow cause you to do? Share a part of your day with your son or grandson and how the Bible instructed you on how to respond.

  1. Do I practice vulnerability?

Perhaps the most daring thing I will ever do is to let his children in on my true feelings, hurts, fears and loves. Our male ego is the enemy of this front. Your ego will try to convince you that its job is to keep you safe. Your ego doesn’t believe the risk is worth the reward. When was the last time you really risked vulnerability to let your kids and your wife see who you really are? When was the last time you allowed people into the darker places of your heart? Vulnerability is not a weakness. It is a man-sized virtue.

  1. What am I hiding?

Yes, God uses imperfect men. In the same line, God has never called a sneaky man. And God doesn’t want us to be sneaky as husbands, fathers and grandfathers. Secrets are insidious. They damage our families and our selves. Whether it is erasing the history on your internet browser, the private messages on Facebook that you send to an old flame, or hiding a grudge – secrets will damage others before they are ever even revealed. Let’s challenge each other to be “secretless” in our private world, struggling together to make what’s outside become a true reflection of what is inside.

  1. Do I model generosity?

Perhaps one of the greatest legacies a man could leave to his children is the joy of generosity. The givers are the happiest people on the face of the earth. Our kids need this lesson. There’s a certain deep feeling of bliss that comes from giving with no regard for receiving. By modeling generosity, we are teaching them that it wasn’t ours in the first place and so money takes on a transcendent meaning that can’t be found in wealth accumulation. Tithing has taught me how to avoid the virus of materialism and learn the bliss of generosity. I learned it from my dad and I continue to speak it into the lives of my sons.

These seven questions can be touchstones that continue to shape us as fathers. Even more than that, I believe in the long run they will shape the destiny of our families and marriages.

Feel free to use this Power Point for Father’s Day, men’s group meetings, or family seminars! Wide and Standard Screen Versions provided. They are fully customizable.

That’s How Winning is Done

I have a confession to make – I’m a HUGE Rocky fan. I’ve seen all the movies – multiple times. I own all the movies. A perfect day for me would be binging on all things Rocky – including a HUGE bag of popcorn and a case of Diet Coke as I watch one Rocky movie after another … I can only imagine (oh wait – that’s already a song)!

The common thread in the Rocky franchise is unrelenting determination. Quitting wasn’t in his vocabulary. During his classic battles, on more than one occasion, more than one person would yell, “Stay down! Stay down!” They’d see him take an incredible beating and they didn’t want it to continue.

Yet somehow, Rocky manages to get to his feet and get his fifth, sixth or seventh wind and make a final surge that would knock his opponent, and sometimes himself, to the mat.

In one of the final installments in the series, Rocky is talking to his grown son and says, “… It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward – that’s how winning is done.”

There is no quit in Rocky. He is the picture of determination and an unwillingness to accept defeat whether it is from Clubber Lane, Apollo Creed or the entire Soviet Block Empire!

Luke 14 paints another picture of determination. The master prepares a great feast and when everything is ready, he instructs his servants to bring in the guests. One after one they make excuses as to why they can’t attend. He doesn’t cancel the banquet. He doesn’t sulk over the rejection and nurse the wounds of low self-esteem. Instead, the master tells his servants to go to the streets and bring in the disadvantaged and outcast of society – yet there is still room. In one final effort to fill his house he directs his servants to go into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in so that his house will be full.

Do you sense his determination? He wasn’t going to take, “No.” for an answer. Not once, not twice, but three times he sent his servants to bring in the people.

Why was he so determined?

The master knew those that who would come into his house would experience joy (see the end of verse 24). They would be fed. They would enjoy the company of others. They would escape the elements of living on the streets and much more. Likewise, Jesus knows we will be blessed if we accept His invitation; therefore, He’s determined that His house, the church, be filled.

So where do we find ourselves in the story? Contrary to societal norms we are not the master. That’s obviously Jesus. We are the servants. We play a pivotal role. We are the messengers inviting people out of the streets of loneliness, hopelessness and fading pleasure and into an everlasting feast of joy. But are we being obedient? Are we really searching the back streets and cul-de-sacs for people who need what Jesus offers?

As His messengers, do we reflect the passion of the Master? I believe in many cases we have forgotten the message we were commissioned to share and we’ve gone out into the streets to fill our time with other pursuits.

We need to recapture that holy determination, if you will. A determination driven by our own walk with the Lord and spurred by our love for people. Somebody will come, if we’ll continue pray for them. Somebody will come if we’ll continue to invite them. Somebody will come if we keep asking, seeking and knocking.

I’m not talking about harassment, but I am talking about a passionate persistence. A holy determination that does not give up even when faced with rejection after rejection after rejection.

God does not quit inviting those He created to experience His love and forgiveness. God is determined to search for people who will respond to His invitation (2 Chron 16:9).

As we intentionally scatter the seeds of God’s truth across Louisiana via our Here for You multimedia outreach initiative, let’s be determined to share the messages in any and every way we can. Let’s be determined and be prepared to take advantage of the spiritual discussions that will surface as more and more people are exposed to these message spots. Let’s be determined to extend the invitation again and again and again.

God is determined that His house be full. Let’s not settle for anything less. That’s how winning is done (Gal.6:9).

Spiritual Growth in the Summer Months

Summer offers a great change of pace. With that comes the opportunity to start or refresh habits that are helpful to spiritual growth. Changing up routines can also breathe new life into our spiritual lives during different seasons. Here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful in regards to my spiritual growth during the summer:

1. Rest

Remember, rest is a spiritual discipline and an act of faith. Busyness often reveals that we trust in ourselves more that we trust in God, who commanded one day in seven to be for rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Summer is often the time we look to unplug and unwind for consecutive days. And this can be a tool for spiritual growth. Unplugging from social media, email, and other forms of technology can be a discipline worth pursuing during the summer as well. Rest helps us reset physically and spiritually. It’s an act of obedience and faith. Rest well and grow.

2. Read

I like to look for a 8-10 week Bible Study that will challenge me in an area that I need to grow in. It’s possible your church or small group may be doing a study of some kind that you can plug into. Also, if you don’t currently have a habit of regular Bible Reading and devotions, summer can be a good time to kick one off. I like to use YouVersion.com or the Bible app for Bible reading plans. There are many 45 – 90 day plans available that can be a spark plug to your spiritual growth.

I also like to take my devotional life outside during the summer. Mornings are nice in our area during May, June, and July. Morning routines with our kids slow down a bit, so I’m able to be more regular with jogging, walking, and biking before work. YouVersion.com or the Bible app allows you to listen to a Bible reading plan. Also, I always have a few podcast of sermons or books I’m listening to, that help me grow in my faith. Some other tips on developing personal devotional habits HERE.

3. Reflect

June marks the mid way point for the year. This is a good time to reflect and assess the year so far and make some new commitments or resolutions for the 2nd half. Chuck Lawless has a great list of questions for assessing your spiritual health mid-year HERE. I like to use these five markers for assessing spiritual health as well: Living the Gospel, Devotional Habits, Engaging in Ministry, Building Catalytic Relationships, and Experiencing God’s Providential Care. Assess your spiritual health using these five marks HERE.

4. Reach Out

Summer also provides some great opportunities to be on mission in the neighborhood, community, and around the world. Getting out of our comfort zones helps us grow spiritually as we move beyond our strength to depend upon God’s. Look for opportunities to volunteer with a church, or local ministry, or just get out in the front yard and meet some new neighbors. Here’s a few summer outreach ideas for your family, small group, or church.

5. Remain Faithful

Summer is often a time that it can be easy to drop habits like church attendance and giving. These are not essential for salvation, but they are essential for spiritual health and growth. Schedules may be irregular because of summer travel, family visiting from out of town, etc., but make a commitment that we are going to remain faithful to our church by attending and giving. Most churches today have e-giving options where recurring contributions can be setup ahead of travel. And many churches have online access to their services and sermons so that you can stay connected and not miss out on what God is doing with and saying to your faith family. Faithfulness makes a difference for you, your family, and the others that you are committed in a local body of believers.

If you’re not involved in a church, get connected this summer! There is usually great coffee, great relationships, and events and activities planned with your spiritual growth in mind at churches all over your community.

Rest, Read, Reflect, Reach Out, and Remain Faithful this summer to maximize spiritual growth health.

What helps you grow during the summer months?