Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Living in the Future

Imagine a married couple are expecting a child.  Now imagine that during that 9-month period they do absolutely nothing to get ready for that child.  They do nothing to provide a nursery, a bed, or a place to change diapers.  They don't think through how their work schedules are going to change in order to care for this child, or how they will afford childcare outside the home should the wife decide to go back to work.  They don't add the child to their will.  They don't provide life insurance for the child.  Worst of all, they don't secure medical coverage for the child once he or she is born.  Now imagine asking this couple halfway through the pregnancy how they could have possibly been so short-sighted.  And imagine them responding by saying "we are doing just fine right now. We don't have a baby yet, and there is no need to do any of that until we have one."

You have just observed a couple who live consistently in the present, and think nothing of the future.  How many churches do you know like this?

Churches are often accused of "living in the past," but if the truth were told, too many churches are simply "living in the present," and simultaneously wondering why there is no growth, no excitement, and no vision.

Not long ago I was consulting with one of our congregations, and made some recommendations on steps forward they needed to take.  My work with Baptist churches means that I don't have any final authority over the churches I serve, but I also figure they wouldn't be paying me if they didn't want my input from time to time. However, one particularly strong objection to my recommended changes was punctuated by the phrase, "besides, we are doing just fine as we are."

"That may be true," I replied, "but you are not doing just fine as you will be."

A church with 100 active members will always--ALWAYS be at around 100 members unless it begins living in the future, and as such, behaving as if it were at 200 or 300.  But that sort of behavior demands change that can be uncomfortable.

1. Governance.   Smaller churches can have monthly business meetings and discuss everything....and I do mean EVERYTHING.  I once sat through a meeting in which the church body had a 45 minute discussion about how to spend $100.  Unfortunately, they were also very kind and civil to one another while having this conversation, so I couldn't accuse them of being ungodly.  But I did come very close to offering to write a check if they would simply stop talking!

But once a church begins to grow, monthly gatherings where every member of the body has the opportunity to offer input become increasingly impractical.  In Baptist churches, this means that our congregationalism becomes less "democratic" and more representative.  And this may be the hardest thing to change because everyone wants to be heard!  Problem is, once a church gets to the 250 mark, its not possible for everyone to be heard any longer, and if you want to get there, you have to start behaving like you are already there!

2. Staffing.  Conventional wisdom where church staff are concerned is "we will hire them when we can afford them."  To be sure, I have sometimes consulted with churches that are "over-staffed" and did so with the false notion that simply filling a position would somehow create excitement and subsequent growth.  But hiring the right people will create growth.  Generally speaking, you shouldn't wait until you can afford them.  Instead, you should hire who you can't afford to lose, and then watch them earn their keep!

3. Budget.  The ministry budget of a church is the real statement of a church's core values, and without faith-filled and calculated risk playing a role in the budget process, churches will inevitably budget "in the present."  Instead of starting with "what we took in last year," churches should instead start with the financial necessities involved in meeting the needs of its community and the world.  Too many resources that could otherwise be invested in Kingdom advance stay in the hip pockets and purses of God's people simply because we fear dreaming big, and being straight with the church about what it will take financially to live that  dream!  We aren't "all about the money," but we are all about Jesus and His Kingdom, and church members should be challenged to give sacrificially based on a future vision.

Churches that grow and impact their communities and the world are churches that live in the future!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Need Ideas for Celebrating Memorial Day? Here is one great one!

Though instituted primarily as a way of honoring military veterans who lost their lives in battle, Memorial Day is now more quickly associated with a day off from work, barbeque, beer, swimming pool openings, and the beginning of a season in which its appropriate to wear white.  As a result, many Americans will spend this weekend more thankful for an extra day off than they are for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice which allows us to enjoy that day in freedom.

I never served in the U.S. military, but God has allowed me nonetheless to be in close proximity to soldiers.  My first pastorate was a church that sat less than 2 miles from the military entrance to Fort Knox Kentucky.  As such, I often prayed with soldiers before they were deployed, ministered to families left behind, and sadly, preached the funerals of some who never came home.  God has given me a special appreciation for those who put their lives on the line and preserve our freedom.

Sometimes churches have a hard time striking the right balance when questioning how to observe this holiday.  Out of a sincere desire to honor our military, some have gone too far, and in the process gave the appearance that the church bears equal allegiance to two, separate kingdoms.  As a preacher of the Gospel, I've witnessed too many church services during this time of year that could just as easily have been held among any group of pagan patriots at a baseball field.  To be sure, there is a place for that display of patriotism, but that place is not among a gathering of Jesus' people whose primary aim should be the worship of the one true God.

At the same time, the church has a responsibility for showing honor to those to whom it is due.  My calling is to spread the message of Jesus Christ, regardless of what it costs me.  But I'm well aware that in America, it costs me virtually nothing, and this is so primarily because others have died so that I might enjoy such freedom.  This coming Memorial Day Sunday I will proclaim God's Word to God's people, then get in our family's minivan and go to dinner, then go home and enjoy the rest of the day and not worry about being shot at or persecuted in any way--precisely because men and women in uniform have faithfully guarded my freedom to do such for over two centuries now.

So if you are looking for a way to honor our active duty and veteran military, here is one idea I would highly encourage:  Go to a restaurant sometime this weekend and look around for someone in uniform.  Find their waiter or waitress and ask that their bill be brought to you, pay it anonymously, write a brief thank-you note for what they do, and leave.  If they have family with them, pay for their meal as well, and thank the family for the sacrifices they have made at home.  Declaring your appreciation publicly via a colorguard presentation or simply asking veterans to stand in a worship service is fine.  But tangibly expressing your appreciation is in no danger of crossing the line in a worship service meant for Jesus, and will mean much more to those who protect us because, among other things, it actually costs you something to do it!  Its a simple way to show honor and appreciation.  And compared to what these people are giving up to serve you and me, its also a VERY CHEAP way to say "thank you."  It will mean the world to a soldier, airman, sailor, or marine.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a day off, but this is one day we shouldn't enjoy to the neglect of  those it was intended to honor.  So while you are picking up picnic supplies for yourself, think of a tangible way to bless our military personnel this weekend.  They deserve our thanks.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Manhood and Heroism: Two Causes Worth Fighting For

I don't normally write about or publicly push "causes."  Nor do I usually advertise when my family has made a decision to boycott a company or encourage others to do so.  But an unjust situation involving Safeway  Supermarkets has provoked me to the rare extreme in which I call on my readers to hit this company where it hurts:  in the pocketbook!

What would cause me to go to such an extreme?  A case involving a young Safeway meat-cutter named Ryan Young.  Many weeks ago while working at the meat counter of a California Safeway, Mr. Young witnessed Quyen Van Tran beating his girlfriend, was 5 months pregnant.  Courageously, Mr. Young stepped in between the lady and her assailant, and according to local police, possibly saved the lives of both the young lady and her unborn child.  Douglas Castro, a security guard who was shopping that day and witnessed the altercation, testifies to the following:

Safeway employee Ryan Young intervened when he saw a customer assaulting his pregnant girlfriend.  The incident took place in a Safeway Store located in the city of Del Rey Oaks, California.  Local law enforcement stands behind Mr. Young's actions, but despite this Safeway has suspended Mr. Young without pay.

In response to this nonsensical move by Safeway, Mr. Castro started a petition drive on Mr. Young's behalf demanding that Safeway reinstate him.  You can sign the petition here.

A more comprehensive account of the story can be found at the CBS affiliate here.

Here is the bottom line as far as I'm concerned:  I don't know Mr. Young personally.  I don't know his history with the company.  But I do know that witnesses to the incident and police say that he did the right thing.  A young man saw a woman in danger and put his own self at risk in order to protect her and her unborn child.  In doing so, he did what any real man should be expected to do.  But as "reward" for his intervention, Safeway has suspended him without pay for over a month.  Mr. Young, whose own wife is also pregnant, is now in financial dire straits since they are a "one-income family" and his income has been suspended for over a month.

In a day when our society laments the dearth of genuine manhood, such heroic acts should not only be commended, they should be expected.  Mr. Young was simply doing what anyone who dares call themselves a man should have done.  His actions deserve commendation, a raise, and perhaps even a promotion.  He certainly doesn't deserve the "company policy" nonsense and subsequent financial stress he and his family have experienced during this time in their lives.

There is a Safeway 5 miles from my home in central Maryland that our family often frequents, but no longer. The Raineys will patronize Safeway only when they reinstate this young man, reimburse him the back-pay he is due, and issue a public apology for their idiocy.  Until then, not one penny of our family's budget will go toward supporting a company that discourages men from being men.

I hope you will join me in sending a loud, clear message to Safeway.  And again, you can sign the change.org petition here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

How Global Missions Has Changed Forever

The 21st century is an exciting time to be a missionary, assuming you understand how both the job description and work environment of the task has radically changed!

To be sure, since the Holy Spirit's work began in the book of Acts, the core measurements of missionary work have not changed at all.  When we speak of missions, we are using a term that has a thoroughly Biblical definition.  More specifically, missions activity is any and all activity that results in people hearing and understanding the Gospel and coming to faith in Jesus, leadership being raised up from within that pool of converts, and new churches emerging from the result of the Gospel faithfully engaging culture.  But how this happens in the 21st century is much more multifaceted than it has ever been at any time in the history of Christianity.

A few examples from my own environment illustrate this well.

-As I write these words, we have a team from our Association on the ground in a city of 2.5 million in East Asia, and another team getting ready to fly out this Sunday to take their place.  After nearly 5 years of working in this area of the world, several house churches have been started, and our attention has begun to shift toward another city roughly 100 kilometers south.  Problem is, this is a city that does not welcome those from the west, which means if they are to be reached with the Gospel, we must train those in the north who have come to faith in Jesus to reach them, and pray that God calls some of them to relocate and plant churches. Doing this in the most contextually effective way would be a huge challenge, were it not for several Asian immigrants who worship right here in central Maryland in several of our churches!  Their insight and help will speed this process up in a way that would have been impossible just two decades ago!

-About a year ago, I was contacted by a member of our state House of Delegates who attends one of our churches.  She had just returned from a trip to the middle east with the Governor, who was hoping to establish a trade relationship, and discovered that immigrants from this country with whom our government was working believed themselves hated by evangelical Christians.  I responded to her invitation to a meal with an Imam and the Director of an organization that represents this group of people in Annapolis and Washington.  The result has been an ongoing dialogue with the local Muslim community.  We have been very clear with them about what we believe, and we have also expressed that our greatest desire in this relationship is to see them come to know the Jesus of Scripture.  But we have also committed to a lasting friendship that is not contingent on whether they convert to Christianity.  This fall, I and a half-dozen pastors from our Association will be traveling to this middle-eastern nation at the invitation of our new friends.  Yep, you read that right:  Muslims are hosting a group of Baptist pastors on a trip to the middle-east, and are even  helping with the cost of the trip!

-Several months ago, our office became aware of an orphanage in a former Soviet bloc nation where many Down syndrome children were being criminally malnourished.  We are talking about 14 year old girls who weigh less than my 3-year-old daughter!  Through working a number of different angles, the possibility for being able to help these kids has opened up, and we are preparing to assemble a team of nurses, pediatric specialists, and others from nearby Johns Hopkins, and Washington's Children's National Medical Center.  Our access to this opportunity will come from a hospital in the same city as the orphanage that is run by the Japanese.  Oh, and some from the medical community who have expressed an interest in helping come from the  aforementioned Muslim community, whose home country shares a border and strong diplomatic ties with the Eastern European country where we hope to be working.

-Four months ago through a relationship with the Wesleyan Church, our Association helped launch a Washington D.C. campus for a Burmese seminary headquartered in Syracuse, New York.  Several of our pastors will be serving as volunteer faculty, and though the school is cross-denominational, we will utilize the pool of Baptist church planters who emerge from this school to reach the growing Burmese population around our nation's capital.

-Three years ago, a new church was planted in northeast Baltimore through Acts29 and sponsored by an independent Baptist church.  In that time, some of our own church planters have partnered with this church in many ways, most recently through a conference on urban ministry, and multiethnic dialogue that seeks ways to eliminate the racial tensions that have existed in Baltimore for decades between various ethnic groups.  Three weeks ago, I sat with the lead pastor of this church, who expressed his desire to join our Association, but was skeptical about joining with the larger SBC, primarily because, in his words, "I don't know anyone at that level."  An hour later, and because of our prior relationship, and his relationships with our church planters in the city, I convinced him to make a commitment to get to know them.  As a result, we now have an additional church joining in our denomination's continued global missions efforts.

-A young couple in one of our church plants sensed a call to missions in Europe.  But rather than apply for service through a mission board, the husband decided to get further training in his current field of Information Technology.  IT is in growing demand in Europe, and with this realization, this couple is moving to Europe--not as "missionaries" in the official sense, but so the husband can get a job in his field of expertise, and influence an entire sector of society that is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years.

I could give many more examples, but those I've given above are sufficient evidence for the four primary ways "missions" has forever changed:

1. Networks are the new denominations.  Churches who work together in missions need both a theological core, and a mechanism for doing their work effectively.  For centuries, denominations and denominational structures were how both of these were realized.  That has changed.

This is not to say that there is no longer a place for denominations.  If I believed that, I'd have to find another line of work.  :)  Denominations still hold great value, both as a repository of common theological identity, and as a way for churches to combine their efforts in order to more effectively reach the world.  And while I'm at it, I'll also go ahead and say that the SBC Cooperative Program--where traditional delivery systems are concerned--is still the largest and most effective missions-sending delivery system in the history of Protestant Christianity!

That said, it must also be admitted that where common doctrinal identity and missional cooperation are concerned, denominations are no longer the only game in town!  And in some cases, emerging networks of churches are doing these things better than many declining denominational systems.

The churches in my association are exhibit A of this fact.  20 years ago, all of our churches would have given the sum total of their missions support to the Cooperative Program and Associational Missions.  They would have all done their relief work through the World Hunger Fund of the SBC.  They would have all done their church planting work through the North American Mission Board.  They would have automatically sent anyone in their church who felt called to missions to the International Mission Board.  And, anyone called to preach would have automatically been referred to the closest SBC seminary.  This is no longer the case.  International mission work might just as easily be done through New Tribes Mission.  Relief work might be done through Samaritan's Purse or World Vision.  Churches might be planted using Glocalnet, Acts29, or SEND Network.  And pastors might sometimes be considered more qualified if degreed from Fuller or Trinity.

The emergence of the internet and the subsequent opening of even the most remote areas to the reality of globalization means that local churches are discovering, and leveraging, those network relationships that are most effective at helping them achieve the goals toward which they believe God has called them.  As a result, missions in the future will necessarily involve multiple levels of working together.

2. Relationships are the new currency.  In a former life, when churches sent the lion's share of their missions dollars to a single "clearing house," that collective financial pot was what held most mission endeavors together.  But this approach also created some unintended consequences.  At the Associational level, we gravitated toward an approach whereby we relied on larger churches for the financial support we would give to the smaller ones so that they could "survive."  In many Associational contexts, we weren't doing missions.  We were promoting ecclesiastical socialism!

Another problem that emerged from this approach was the fighting that ensued over how the collective dollars were spent.  If a donor wants to give my Association $20K to support a new church, we can funnel those funds through our administrative machine.  Problem is, once he writes the check, that money automatically becomes the "community property" of almost 60 Baptist churches, all of whom want to draw lines in different places regarding where and how that money can be spent.  Thus, in the new world, we are better off if I can simply broker a solid relationship between donor and church planter, and have the money sent directly through the field.

Between donations for new churches, handling the logistics of visiting mission teams, and various other kinds of partnerships, I will likely arrange more than $500K in mission efforts that will NEVER pass through my Association's budget!  Most of the benefit to our churches and their mission efforts doesn't come from our office writing a check, but from our staff leveraging relationships.

For this to be judged a "success," the scorecard for missions organizations must change!  Years ago, my role was judged by how big a slice of the "budget pie" went to the direct funding of missions.  Honestly, less than 40% of our "official" budget goes toward these ends.  So if we are judged by the questions of the past, I would have to lay off a highly competent staff member who has helped us broker the relationships I speak of so that the "pie slices" would look better.  But that's not the work of a missionary.  That's the work of an accountant!

Denominations and missions organizations who succeed in the future will have to realize that an open handshake is, in many ways, more valuable than an open checkbook!

3. Societal Domains are the new "Mission Boards."  In the past, anyone and everyone who wanted to be a "missionary" applied for service, and was "sent out" by  a Board who oversaw their work, as well as provided them with the financial support necessary for them to concentrate on the work to which they were called in a full-time way.  There is still a very real need for this way of doing missions.  But as the world has opened up more and more, multiple avenues have emerged through which people can be "sent," and the "sending agency" might not even be Christian!

Just this week I had a conversation with someone in our Association who feels a possible call to missions in a part of the world that is largely untouched by the Gospel.  He has a high level of skill in computer programming that could essentially earn him a living anywhere in the world!   He had looked at a few traditional mission boards, including exploring the website of our denominations IMB, but didn't sense a strong push to go the route of the traditional "missionary."  Instead, he and I spent some time talking about the various parts of this nation that were in dire need of improvement.  For any civilization to survive in the 21st century requires education, government, transportation, health care, agriculture, and economics to work together effectively.  And in the 21st century, every single one of these societal domains requires computer technology to run efficiently!  I told my friend, "Send your resume to [this country] and you can move to the mission field tomorrow if you want!"  In the future, who "receives" you might be more important than who "sends" you!

4. Laity are the new missionaries.  I'll never forget the young lady who came to me after one of my evangelism classes years ago.  I was a professor at a Baptist University, and this particular class was held right after the morning chapel service.  That morning, a spirited message from a local pastor had touched this young woman deeply, and confirmed in her heart a call to international missions.

But her reason for meeting with me betrayed the contextual misunderstanding of missions that surrounded her on this campus.  "Dr. Rainey," she said, "As much as I love working with children, God has called me to missions.  So I need to find out how to switch majors; from elementary education to Theology."  My response shocked her.  "If that is what God is clearly telling you to do, then by all means do it.  But you do know, don't you, that God doesn't just use people with theology degrees.  In many places around the world, a theology degree means they won't even let you in the country!  But do you know how many otherwise 'closed countries' are begging for good teachers?"

That young lady is now doing what she loves--teaching young children--in an environment overseas that she would have never been allowed to engage had she switched majors!  For this to happen, she had to come to the understanding that some of the most effective missionaries aren't trained missiologists!

Likewise, if we are to have any hope of effectively engaging our world going forward, local churches must tap into the skill, talents, and knowledge of those who sit in the seats week after week, and equip those people to engage their spheres of influence--through the profession to which God has called them!

The world has changed tremendously.  The command of Jesus to reach that world has not!  To obey His orders, we must understand both the Gospel AND the world!  And understanding the world means adjusting our missiology so that the Gospel penetrates the multitude of avenues God has opened up for us at this critical juncture in human history!

Watch "The Exchange" live, here at 3 PM EDT

"The Exchange" is a free weekly webshow hosted by Ed Stetzer, and directed toward pastors and church leaders.  It is broadcast live every Tuesday at 2 PM CDT.  Dr. Stetzer is President of Lifeway Research and the author of numerous books relating to church and culture, and in "The Exchange," he interviews other church leaders from around the world.

Click Here to watch "The Exchange" with Ed Stetzer, LIVE at 3 PM EDT

Monday, May 07, 2012

A Word about Youth and Youth Pastors

On average, about once every six weeks a youth pastor comes into my office and threatens to quit his job.  Now, I oversee missions for roughly 60 churches, and very few of these guys actually follow through with their threats, so thankfully most of these meetings end up simply being a "venting session" for a guy who might otherwise try to find his jugular with a fork.

Here's the thing:  Most of the time, it isn't the youth who frustrate him. Its their parents!

The Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments put the responsibility for a child's spiritual development primarily in the hands of his or her parents.  And many parents who take their kids to church demonstrate by their ambivilance that they don't take that calling seriously.  The result is a youth pastor's worst nightmare.

In light of all this, I thought you should know what kind of counsel THIS denominational leader gives to these guys and gals who are too often simply treated like glorified babysitters:

1. I tell them to invest in the minority.  The conversation usually goes like this.  THEM:  "Youth ministry is driving me crazy.  I don't feel like I'm able to get them to grow spiritually at all, and too many times their parents seem to actually be working against me by putting academics or athletics before their teenager's spiritual development."  ME:  "Do you have at least 10% of the total number of that group who are actually growing and want to continue to grow?"  THEM: "Oh yeah, I think I have more than that actually."  ME:"  Well then, spend 10% of your time with the 90% of slackers so that you don't lose your job, but invest 90% of your time in those who are worthy of your investment."

Yep, you just heard me say that I advise youth pastors all the time to essentially dump 90% of their youth group and invest in the 10% who actually care about moving closer to Jesus.  Why would I do that?  For one thing, its what both Jesus and Paul command.  Jesus warns us "Do not give dogs what is sacred, and do not throw your pearls to pigs."  (Matthew 7:6)  Bottom line:  You have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources to invest in people, and Jesus is going to hold you responsible for how you steward those investments.  Paul likewise commanded Timothy to "entrust to faithful men, who will be able to pass them on to others."  This doesn't mean that a youth pastor should totally ignore or "write off" teenagers who are unfaithful, or whose commitment to Jesus remains in a constant state of vacillation.  It does mean that the lion's share of investment should be in those who exhibit a genuine desire for growth.  So if you are a parent who uses your church's youth ministry as a "backup plan" when there are no standardize tests to study for or county sports leagues in which to play, don't be offended when the youth leader politely but clearly limits the amount of time and effort he or she puts into your child.

2. I tell them to challenge the parents.  Too many parents want authority without responsibility when it comes to the spiritual development of their kids.  Mom and Dad, when your child sees you skip church at the drop of a hat, rarely open your Bible, and utter prefabricated prayers at the dinner table, you shouldn't expect that they will catch a better spirituality from a youth pastor.

Honestly, I've seen this same ridiculous phenomenon in our public school system.  My kids have some fantastic teachers and counselors who all too often have to deal with parents who put higher expectations on the school system than they do themselves.  Essentially, they bring their child to the school counselor and say "fix her," or "straighten him out."  But when a teacher has had that child for 16 weeks, and you Mom  and Dad have had that same child for 16 years, the blame for their behavior can hardly be laid at the feet of the teacher.  The same is true of youth pastors.  If teenagers don't see a love for Jesus at home, it is highly unlikely they will choose to emulate their youth pastor rather than Mom and Dad.  So when your youth leaders challenge you in your responsibility as a parent, don't retch in offence because you are being "called out."  Instead, you need to repent, and model for your teenager what it means to walk the narrow road.

3. I tell them to focus on faithful families.  Ultimately, it isn't (or shouldn't) be the job of the youth pastor to develop spiritually mature teenagers.  Instead, it is his/her job to better equip moms and dads to deal with their kids during this tumultuous time in his or her development.  Youth Pastors can be great partners with parents in keeping a kid on the straight and narrow.  They can give guidance to parents about this developmental stage of life, and they can also get in a kid's face and defend the authority of Mom and Dad.  But that partnership is a two-way street.

Youth pastors can be a most valuable resource to the church, and to the parents who are part of that church.  Unfortunately, too many of them are overworked, under-appreciated, and frustrated to the point of quitting. In the end, I don't think this is because the church expects too much from youth pastors, but I do believe it is because many churches expect the wrong things.  Parents, know what to rightfully expect from the youth ministry at your church, and know what should be expected of you as well.  One day in the distant future, when you don't seem nearly as stupid as you do now, your teenager will thank you for it!