Tuesday, April 21, 2009

HGBC Newsletter May-June 09

To the Saints of God at HGBC,

As most of you know I have begun working on my Doctor of Ministry degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My first seminar is at the end of May so I would appreciate your prayers as I attempt to get all my reading and writing done. I am studying in the field of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, and I have been blessed already by the books I have read and am reading.

One of the major themes in this field of study today is focused around the word “missional.” You might be asking what is “missional?” I’m glad you asked. Missional is the adjective form of the noun mission or missionary. The concept that is being discussed and promoted is that of every Christ follower looking at his own neighborhood, community and church as a missionary. “What does this mean?” you might be asking. Well, let me ask you a question, “What do you think a missionary does?”

I believe it is the task of the missionary to study his “new” environment and culture, learn it, and seek to present the gospel of Christ in a way that those in this “new” culture will hear, understand and receive the message. It means the missionary must learn the language. It means the missionary must adapt himself and his method’s to them rather than asking them to adapt themselves to him. In other words, the missionary’s job is not to make them look, dress, talk and act like Americans, but he is to adapt to their way of living. Be very careful at this point, this is NOT a call to compromise the teaching of Scripture. A Christ follower should never compromise his beliefs or his behavior, according to the clear teaching of Scripture, for any reason at all, even to the point of death.

With this in mind let me ask you a few questions. The first question is “Are you a ‘missional’ Christian?” I believe being “missional” is exactly what the Great Commission calls you and me to be. Mark 16:15 tells us “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person.” It is not their responsibility to come to us, we are to go to them. We are not to attempt to make them like us, we are to make ourselves and teach them to be like Jesus. Being “missional” is exactly what Jesus did for you and me according to Philippians 2:5-8, “5. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6. who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7. but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in THE LIKENESS OF MEN. 8. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (NKJV). If this is the method/mode of operation for Jesus Christ in dealing with us, shouldn’t it be the M/O of every one of us as well? I believe the answer is yes.

The second question is “Are you willing to make the necessary changes in your own life so that you can become a ‘missional’ Christ follower?” This is a very important question that each of us answers on a daily basis. May the decisions we make bring honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 10:31).

The last question is “Are you willing to make the necessary changes so that HGBC can become a ‘missional’ church?” You might be asking, “Aren’t we a ‘missional’ church already?” I encourage you to look back over what we have defined as “missional” already as you ponder whether or not HGBC is a “missional” church. I ask you, “Are we willing to do what ever is necessary to reach out to the lost in our community or do we want them to change to look and be like us?” “Are we willing to lay down our personal preferences so that we can present the message of the Savior to those who don’t share our “taste” for things, whether it is music, times for worship, dress, or anything else?” I believe that these are the things that we are being called to do by our Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray that we all are willing to reach the unreached whatever the cost. May God bless us as we seek to serve Him, not ourselves, in Green Cove Springs and around this world.

Serving Him,

Pastor Mike
Phil. 1:21

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Comeback Churches" review #2

Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too, by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007. 219 pages. Reviewed by Michael T. Madaris.

Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time, almost a year now. It is one of those books that a pastor buys with the best of intentions but never gets around to reading. I chose to write a review of this book because it addresses the very circumstance I find myself in as a pastor. It will be an asset to any pastor or leader who is seeking to bring about significant change in his church.
Ed Stetzer is an author, educator, church planter and pastor. He holds two masters and two doctoral degrees, and is currently employed by the North American Mission Board where he is the senior director of the Center for Missional Research. He lives in Nashville, TN. with his wife and three daughters.
Mike Dodson is a pastor and has been a church strategist for more than ten years. He holds a Doctor of Missiology degree, and lives with his wife and children in Meadville, PA.
Stetzer and Dodson lead the reader on very exciting and difficult journey. It is a journey of transition and change. Change is difficult and scary for any person in any context, but the stakes are exponentially increased when the context is church. Stetzer and Dodson demonstrate this throughout the book, and their point is highlighted by the statistical fact that most churches are plateaued or declining. Comeback Churches was written from the researching of three hundred and twenty-four churches from ten denominations that made a “comeback.” They state that they wrote the book to be a practical, applicable inspiration for those leading churches in need of a “comeback.” “We celebrate those comebacks because they inspire us to believe that seemingly impossible things really are possible. That’s why we wrote this book” (ix). They want to help churches make the “comeback” after being in a state of plateau or decline. “This is not a book of statistics. It is ultimately a book of practical advice-advice from more than three hundred churches and advice from your two authors” (xiv).
Stetzer and Dodson begin Comeback Churches by “examining what a church should be. That is the goal, as we see it…” (1). They immediately launch into the biblical idea of church, looking at passages of Scripture from Ephesians, Matthew, Acts and Revelation. This was a very important step in the writing of this book because to lay a false foundation would negate the concepts of the book completely. Their desire in writing Comeback Churches is developed from their belief that churches should be biblical in nature, character and context.
In reading this book one will come to the determination quickly that following Scripture is a priority for the authors and it is their opinion that the church should follow Scripture also. They give the reader six biblical criteria for the church: 1) Scriptural authority, 2) Biblical leadership, 3) Preaching and teaching, 4) Ordinances, 5) Covenant community, and 6) Mission. These are the biblical foundation of the church, and these criteria were a vital part of each of these “comeback churches.” It would be quite difficult to find anything to critique at this point.
There is a great deal of material covered and many ideas given to the reader concerning leading a church through the transitions needed in making a “comeback.” Of the three hundred and twenty-four churches participating, the vast majority said leadership was the most critical piece of the puzzle in making the changes necessary to produce a “comeback.” They suggest that “Being a good leader means being a godly person of influence. Comeback leaders influence their churches to strive for something more than the present stagnation” (29).
Someone once said that everything rises and falls on leadership and most have come to realize that this is true. It is good to know, at this point, that Stetzer and Dodson make a distinction between influence and manipulation. Quoting Erwin McManus they argue that manipulation is evil, while “influence is the best way to lead and move others toward what is good” (29). The concept of influence is not new in terms of leadership, but in reading some authors it is difficult to determine whether they are discussing manipulation or influence. Stetzer and Dodson do an excellent job of differentiating between the two and defending the use of influence over manipulation.
Another point made by Stetzer and Dodson is the fact that for a church to make a “comeback” those who make up the church must be involved in the process. The pastor/leader must cast the vision to the church in such a way that the members take ownership of the vision and take the steps necessary to bring about the needed change. Every pastor should know that it is impossible to bring about change in the church without the support of the “native” leaders. It is at this point that Stetzer and Dodson deal with the subject of communication in the church (30).
Communication is a very vital aspect of the ideas surrounding Comeback Churches. “Churches wanting change must discuss, discuss, discuss” (30). The majority of the church must acknowledge its current state before it will be ready to move forward. Communication should in the end lead to decisions, strategy and action. It is not enough to know change is needed, one must take action that will bring about the desired results.
One of the most critical concepts dealt with in Comeback Churches is found in dealing with what Stetzer and Dodson refer to as the “Three Faith Factors.” It is impossible to bring about the changes needed to make a plateaued or declining church a “comeback” church without faith. The three faith factors are: 1) “a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church, 2) a renewed attitude for servanthood, and 3) a more strategic prayer effort” (55). One of the things most readers will appreciate about this book is its “common sense” perspective. Stetzer and Dodson are not trying to “reinvent the wheel,” they are just taking solid biblical principles and reintroducing them in light of the current condition of the church in North America, especially the United States. The discussion of the faith factors is essential in keeping with the expressed desires of the authors for the book, keeping in mind that “without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Heb. 11:6, NKJV).
Prayer is the other key essential taken from the book if one desires to lead his church to be a “comeback church.” Stetzer and Dodson do more than discuss prayer from a theological perspective, but they give the reader some practical ideas for cultivating a desire in the people of God to pray. The ideas are helpful, and adequate examples of their effectiveness are given. They use I Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray constantly” and quote John Ortberg who says “Prayer is a learned behavior. Nobody is born an expert at it. No one ever masters prayer” (69). This is a difficult concept to remember and master, but Christians are encouraged to continue praying through the difficult times because of the results of prayer.
Stetzer and Dodson discuss relevant issues in leading churches to make a “comeback” like preaching and worship which seem to be somewhat easy changes to make if necessary,
preaching being a much easier transition than worship. But one of the most difficult transitions to make in the church is in the area of evangelism and missions. One of the words that is used over and over again in the book is strategy. The reader is encouraged to develop a new strategy in the area of evangelism and mission. They give examples of churches that were able to make great strides in reaching out to their lost communities, but they failed to give examples of what types of strategies these churches used. It is stated on several different occasions that this is not a “cookie cutter” presentation, but it would be an added bonus to look at the exact process some of these “comeback churches” used that worked and did not work. This is one of the few faults that I have with this book and others like it. It is practical but too general at times. It would have been more helpful if, in only an instance or two, they presented explicit detail of the strategies, etc… which led to the turn around of these churches.
Stetzer and Dodson make some very simple and yet profound arguments in the chapter dealing with the top factors and the biggest challenges facing a church looking to make a change, looking to reach their community for Christ, looking to make a “comeback.” It is not surprising that churches looking to make the change need to focus on prayer, evangelism and preaching, but what was shocking were obstacles that must be overcome by churches looking to reassert themselves into their culture and world.
According to Stetzer and Dodson the three biggest obstacles to overcome are attitudes, finances and facilities. It is easy to see that the facilities of church might keep them from making a greater impact on their community, and every church deals with the financial pressures of maintaining and growing a church budget in a godly way. But there is tremendous spiritual insight exhibited in their discussion of attitude. At this point the authors are dealing with the attitude of whole church, and to demonstrate the different attitudes Gary McIntosh’s book One Size Doesn’t Fit All is quoted.
The attitude of small and medium size churches that might keep them from being successful in God’s eyes is presented. This is a very helpful section of the book in that it highlights the different thought processes that are underlying in the local church culture. McIntosh goes on to demonstrate that each church must be studied and worked in individually although there are some general characteristics that make up each type of church.
I am glad I read Comeback Churches. It has given me, as a pastor, some great ideas and direction as I seek to lead my church to become missional in her mindset and behavior. Stetzer and Dodson do an excellent job of presenting their ideas and research. I believe every church, leader and pastor should keep it in front of them as a reminder of where he is and where he should be headed.
It is hard to critique a book that you find little wrong with. Stetzer and Dodson do an excellent job of keeping the teachings of Scripture concerning the church, not as an afterthought, but at the forefront of all they say. They used the information they received from the participating churches in a way that is beneficial and encouraging. They accomplish what they set out to do. They inspire the reader to step up and lead. They encourage the reader to do what is necessary to lead their church to be a “comeback church.”
My one regret with the book is that I believe it could have given more detail as to the strategies used by those churches that have already made the “comeback” and have maintained and exceeded the growth. At times Comeback Churches was too general in content. I would have liked for them to say “We began to pray, these are the obstacles we faced, and this is how we overcame them. We implemented FAITH evangelism, but it took us this long to see any results because of this opposition.” This type of information is part of what I am looking for when I read books like Comeback Churches.

"Breaking the Missional Code"

My mom asked me to put my first book review on here so here it is:

Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community, by
Ed Stetzer and David Putnam. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006. 240 pages. Reviewed by Michael T. Madaris.

Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam is a book I have had on my shelf for quite some time now, but had never gotten around to reading. I chose to write a review of this book because, in the end, what is meant by “breaking the code” is an issue close to my heart and ministry.
Ed Stetzer is an author, educator, church planter and pastor. He holds a Ph.D. and is, at the time of the writing of this book, employed by the North American Mission Board. He is also currently the co-pastor of Lake Ridge Church, and resides in Cumming, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. David Putnam is the cofounder of ChurchPlanters.com. He is a sought after leader/coach and consultant with “new and emerging churches across North America.” He is one of the pastors at Mountain Lake Church, and resides with his wife and two children in Cumming, Georgia.
Stetzer and Putnam embark on and lead a discussion of the great journey of transition for the local church in the context of North America, especially in the United States. Many churches are being successful in fulfilling the Great Commission while other, seemingly similar, churches are having little to no success at all. They state that the reason for this success or lack thereof is determined by whether the church “breaks the code” or not. The purpose in writing is to assist the reader in being able to come to terms with the “glocal” context of his ministry, put into practice the universal principles of “breaking the code,” and determine what strategies and methods will most greatly be received in one’s cultural context. This is necessary because of the transitions taking place all around us. Change is coming and has come, while many churches have failed to recognize the change and adapt its ministry to continue making an impact in the culture.
According to Stetzer and Putnam for the church to make the difference needed in our culture, the church must change its way of thinking concerning the philosophy and methodology of ministry. The church must begin to approach ministry from the perspective of “foreign missions.” They argue that the church is no longer just part of a local culture seeking to impact local and distant cultures, but the church is now part of the “glocal” culture. There is no distinction or separation. The church must approach its “local” context just as a person living on foreign soil seeking to impact that culture, people group and context. The church must do more than develop an understanding of “missional thinking,” it must cultivate and develop a “commitment to apply ‘missional’ thinking as well” (3).
Stetzer and Putnam begin by discussing their idea of the “glocal” context. They argue that it is the responsibility of the believer and the church to determine the culture barriers keeping people from becoming disciples of Christ, and strategically breaking those barriers down. They use the word “glocal” to “refer to the convergence of the global reality with our local reality” (5). The church must adapt to this new cultural change. At one time in the history of the church in North America all that was required of the church was to be there because many in the community had some type of connection with or to the church, but this is no longer the case. The church must be proactive in going to where the people are if she is to impact the people, the culture and the world.
This is a very good point in the discussion of the church and fulfilling her marching orders left by her commander and head, Christ Jesus. This is a great, difficult but much needed change in the life of the local church. It is sad to know that this change needs to take place at all. If the church had been led to follow the Great Commission all along, she would already be involved in cultural revolution for Christ rather than seeing the necessity for it now. A good question to ask now to prevent a relapse to her former ways would be “What decisions and practices led to the current condition of the average church, and more specifically, in Southern Baptist life?”
Stetzer and Putnam spend a great deal of time introducing, defining and detailing the dilemma the church faces in dealing with and reaching the Unchurched. This is a group in our culture that has no affiliation with the body of Christ at all. They have no understanding of the church, why she exists or what her purpose is. The modern church, for the most part, still operates under the assumption of “If we build it they will come.” But that is not the case in this “glocal” context. If they are to be reached, the church must leave its seats, walls, buildings and comfort and go to where the people are. The church must take Christ to them. She must learn the “heart language” of the culture surrounding her. She must speak the message of Christ to them in the language they understand. This does not imply that the message needs to be changed, but if the church is to reach the unchurched, she must “speak” the language.
“Breaking the code” is a universal principle that must be applied locally. As Stetzer and Putnam continue they highlight several churches from around the country that are “breaking the code.” But they point out that none of the churches are using a “cookie cutter” method. Each pastor, leader and church has considered their own local culture, learned the language and then launched out into their own community with the life changing message of the gospel. What works in Washington State will not necessarily work in Atlanta and visa versa. What has worked for Rick Warren will not necessarily work in Texas. The principles these “successful” churches use in reaching their culture is what needs to be studied and learned. Then the student must adapt the principles to his own environment, and seek to minister to those who live in around him.
All of this is done, all of the energy is expended, all the study time is committed for one reason and one reason only; it is exactly what Jesus Christ has commanded us to do. There are five passages of Scripture that reveal the spoken marching orders of every Christian and church. The church refers to them as the Great Commission passages. The most specific is found in Matthew 28:18-20. In this passage of Scripture Jesus tells his disciples exactly what is expected of them. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NKJV). How does the church respond to this command and how should the church respond to this command? The point Stetzer and Putnam make at this point is that this is not optional for the church. Marching orders for the soldier never are; it is commanded of him, and the expectation is that those orders will be followed to the letter.
This is an excellent and correct observation by writer and any student of Scripture. It is the expectation of Christ that every follower or believer become a disciple and change the world. It is the pattern Christ followed in his earthly ministry, it is the pattern the twelve apostles followed, and it worked. The intention of Christ was and is the building of people into world-impacting, world-changing disciples. This is what “breaking the code” is all about. It should be the heart of every Christian and church in the world, transforming our culture one life and heart at a time.
Stetzer and Putnam argue that building relationships is the best way to “break the code.” It is done by face to face, one on one time spent with others. Eating with them, playing with them, laughing with them and crying with them, it is in letting them see Jesus in what the Christian does that draws the unchurched to Christ.
There are many quality ideas found in Breaking the Missional Code. It was refreshing to read a book that actually spent as much time with application as with theory. It discussed transitions made by churches who found “success” in the relational ministry of “code breaking.” One of the best points made by Stetzer and Putnam at this point was that you have to know your own church culture and the culture of your community. Changing your music, your look or your style will not automatically mean success. They argue that God’s calling is specific: to a specific place and to a specific people. As you sense His calling, approach it as any Christian would who is going to a foreign country. It is not about personal preference, but it is about presenting the gospel in a way that those around you will be receptive to it. The gospel is offensive enough on its own.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the chapter on process. In this chapter Stetzer and Putnam give a step-by-step process of “breaking the code.” Many of the examples given are from personal experiences while church planting. This chapter is worth the cost of the book for those who catch the vision of the Great Commission as it pertains to planting churches and leading churches that impact their culture and the world.
As I began reading the book I was somewhat frustrated. There was great emphasis placed on the concept of being “missional.” My struggle with this concept was great and to a certain extent remains so. I struggle with the concepts or terminology of Breaking the Missional Code in light of the Great Commission passages. Does the Great Commission call the Christian and the Church to make disciples or is it a call to missions? I answer that it is not a call to missions but a call to disciple-making. Upon completion of the book I believe that disciple-making is what is meant when Stetzer and Putnam write, but that was not clear in the beginning. Missions is part of the Great Commission just as evangelism and church planting are, but these are only parts of the marching orders of Christ. The command of Christ found in Scripture is to “make disciples of all the nations.” If the church focuses on missions, evangelism or church planting alone, she will never fulfill the only command of this nature in the Bible. But if she has in her view the building of people into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, then missions, evangelism and church planting will most certainly be accomplished.
I agree that it is the call of the church to invade our culture. It is the responsibility of the church to study her environment locally and globally. She must always be prepared to give a defense of the gospel. She must not only learn the language of her “glocal” context, but speak the language, and speak it loudly, kindly, graciously and mercifully.
I am encouraged by the concept and strategy of thinking and approaching your ministry setting contextually as though you were on foreign soil. It is a necessary task, and one that is very difficult in nature. One might think that it is too difficult to transition an established church who has lost sight of being on mission into a missional church, but I believe it is no more difficult than what we ask our IMB missionaries to accomplish in their ministry context. It is the call of Christ, it is the command of Christ, and every good soldier follows orders.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Turkeys

Last Saturday morning started very early, the alarm startled me out of my slumber at 5:30am. The reason for my unusual wake up time was that the turkey woods were calling my name, Osceola turkeys to be exact! I had an appointment with destiny and Steve Ard, a member of my church and a good friend. I was to meet him at 6:30 so I had to get going.

We started out hunting at one of my deacons houses, Eric Rendell. We hunting until about 10:15 with no luck at all. We didn't hear anything. We walked the property hunting hard, but the wind was making it very difficult. We thought we heard some turkeys, but maybe not. Who knows? We dropped by McDonald's for some grub, and then headed out to Steve's hunting club. We were met at the gate by another member of the club who gave us a heads up that he had just seen some turkeys, so we made a b-line in their direction. After about 30 minutes of being split up, I walked back out to where Steve was set up, the wind was blowing pretty steady. As I came out of the cut-through that I had been on I looked down the road. 450 yards away was a turkey. I dropped down into the ditch and got my binoculars out of my vest. When they came into focus I saw RED on the head, and knew it was game time. Steve came up to where I was and we made a very quick game plan. I hit my Lynch's Fool Proof box call a few times, trying to cut through the wind, and it worked. We hit the Pine trees and began to cut the distance down quickly, about 200 yards. What we didn't know was the turkey had hit the trees on the other side of the road and did the same thing. I poked my head out and didn't see anything, my senses were on high alert and I was looking hard. All of a sudden, Steve said "TURKEY!" I was really looking hard, but in the wrong the direction. I was looking down the road and the turkey was in the ditch about 15 yards away from me. He saw something he didn't like and ran off down the road and back into the woods.

I tried to hide myself as best I could in the ditch and started studying the tree line across the dirt road. All of a sudden I saw his red head about 100 yards down the road. He busted out of the trees and across the road. I hit my box call a few more times. Then he appeared, on my side of the road, in the same ditch I was sitting in, and he was coming my way. Steve was on my right shoulder, and we were both very excited. As the jake came closer, my emotions got the best of me. He kept coming closer and closer. I thought he was about 30 yards away and I sent an angry swarm of number 4's his direction and cut him a flip or two. He flopped around for a minute, but my first turkey was down.

Steve and I met again on Monday morning at 6:30am for what would be a short morning of hunting. We were through the gate of the club by 6:40 and set up before first light. As the glorious morning began to break, the gobblers began to do their thing. Can I just say, "there's nothing like a gobbler sounding off at first light!" It wasn't very long and we had 4 jakes coming to our spread of decoy's. They were coming from Steve's direction, he finally saw them and dropped on of them in his tracks. As we went out to retrieve Steve's jake, I looked down the road to the same spot as Saturday, and what do you think was at the other end but a turkey. It was too foggy to see clearly even with binoculars, so we ducked back in the woods and set up for round two of the morning. We hadn't had time to grab Steve's bird.

The hen came down the road in about 10 minutes time, but she wouldn't come past the dead bird laying in the road. As she walked away, I heard the distinct gobble of a mature "Tom." I whispered to Steve, "We've got to get that bird out of the road." And off he went. He got to the edge of the woods and did a very effective belly crawl to the middle of the road, grabbed the jake and slid back into the woods.

About five minutes after he got settled back in, I hit my slate call and the Tom sounded off again. He was CLOSER this time. I hot the slate for a few more yelps, and then caught movement out of my left eye. "Tom" turkey had locked on our decoys, went into a full strut, and came running. My gun was on the wrong side of the tree so I slowly moved it to the correct side, but he was moving to fast and I didn't get a shot on the left side, so now I had to move my gun back to the right side with eagle eye Tom within 25 yards and closing fast. I got it moved undetected, he kept coming. He passed the tree and was now in plane view, at a dead run in full strut. Let's just say he never knew what hit him! Those three inch magnum number 4's did their job, and in less than eight hours of combined hunting I had called in and killed my first two turkeys, and had called in another for my good friend.

The only problem is that you can only take two birds a year in Florida. But I can't wait until next year; I'm addicted.