The quarterly newsletter of the association that shares an important editorial on church ministry and the latest about MCMA activities.
AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE
2nd Quarter 2016 - Volume 20 - Number 2
this rough and tumble presidential campaign it seems apparent that there is a
general coarsening of the culture around us.
Even presidential candidates are not presenting themselves in a positive
or classy manner. The rhetoric of the campaign
trail and apologists on all sides of the debate have lowered the standards of
general discourse making us wonder if civil conversation will ever return.
spin is constant. Straight answers on
any questions are almost impossible to arrive at. Hard truth is rarely articulated; only spin.
beyond the focus of the political scene, the general news in the community it
is not encouraging. Traditional
morality, even concepts of gender identity, are being called into question and
new definitions are being introduced that defy time-tested standards.
institution of marriage has been expanded through court decisions to include
unions of same sex couples with demands by other splinter groups for equality
of any domestic arrangement…of whatever types or numbers of people.
is lower partly due to the fact that many people are not bothering to get
married…cohabitation has become a norm for many.
in America’s educational institutions has been rising at all levels over the
last decades. Beginning in elementary
school and stretching all the way through grad school students attempt to
better their chances at success by playing fast and loose with the rules.
there are many other discouraging deficits in our culture today; these are only
a few. But what are we who are in the
leadership of the church to do in response to them? Let me suggest the following:
1. We must
identify the evil that is present in today’s society. The Bible is full of examples of the same
evils we can point to in the current day.
Our teaching and preaching will be especially relevant if we relate how
the Scripture illustrates the challenge of the current culture.
2. We must
teach clearly what biblical holiness and obedience entails. Without compromise, God’s standards must be
clearly taught. It may not always be
comfortable to contrast the current day with biblical standards, but our people
will be without guidance if we do not connect the dots and help people honor
God in their daily behavior.
3. We must
celebrate the examples of those who rise above the current culture. In our own lives and in that of our people,
when courageous examples of faith and faithfulness that fly in the face of the
trends of the day are true, we need to call attention to them. Special testimony should be given when
people, as in the spirit of Daniel, refuse to defile themselves with the
temptations that prey on them.
4. We must
model and reassure all that a bold resistance is possible. As Joshua made it clear, “As for me and my
house, we will serve the Lord!” No
matter how bad it gets; no matter what the mindless majority may think or do;
by the power of God in us, we can be God’s holy minority!
the clouds darken on the horizon of today’s culture, we can call our people to
remain faithful to God and become a bright witness to His power in daily
A. Johnson, Executive Director
EXPAND YOUR LEADERSHIP REACH
3rd Quarter 2016 - Volume 20 - Number 3
Global Leadership Summit, offered worldwide by the Willow Creek
Association is always a good investment of time for us as church leaders. Among the speakers on this year’s program, a
very compelling presentation was made by Jossy Chacko, President and Founder of
Empart, Inc. He offered us three
directives on how to maximize our effectiveness as leaders…to expand our
1. ENLARGE YOUR
daily, weekly tasks we must care for oftentimes narrow our focus so much that
we don’t think in expansive terms. Our
eyes become so trained on the immediate challenges and responsibilities, we
fail to see beyond today. We attempt to
protect the status quo rather than take risks to go beyond it.
challenge for the average church is obvious.
The coordination of the current program requires so much energy and
attention, that more long-range goals are oftentimes never even
leaders need to get their eyes open by getting out to meet people in the
community, visit other churches on Sundays to see what they are doing, have
probing conversations with people inside and outside the church to brainstorm
possible expansions of the reach of the church.
If we don’t intentionally look beyond the status quo…that is where we
will be five years from now.
2. EMPOWER YOUR
the joy of setting people free to minister.
Begin by helping to build character in them through teaching and
mentoring. Walk with them through their
process of growth, as Jossy says, “lead from alongside.” Relational leadership will bring out the
willing best in others.
those foundations of character and relationship are established, then agreed
upon objectives can be set, all in keeping with the mission of the ministry.
them serve! Don’t micro-manage or try
to control. Don’t take back tasks you
have already delegated. Trust God that
he will empower, motivate, and energize your team members to accomplish their
work, hence your work, with excellence and measurable achievement.
Chacko challenges us to recognize that risk-taking is just another name for
faith. It is fundamental to Christian
life and ministry. When we fail to take
risk, we “move from pioneering to preserving.”
Chacko’s other admonitions regarding risk include: “Risk is a friend to
be loved, not an enemy to be feared;”
“See comfort and safety as your enemies;” “Embrace fear;” “Don’t let
earthly practicalities blind you to heavenly possibilities;” “Expand your pain
do you want to be five years from now?
The great motivational speaker, Charlie Tremendous Jones used to say,
“Five years from today, you will be the person you are today plus the books you
read and people you get to know.” Those
are the resources necessary for us to move out to enlarge vision, empower
people, and embrace risk. We need to
take the time to read and take the time to consult others to get new
perspectives. May God give us the
boldness to expand our leadership reach!
A. Johnson, Executive Director
CHARACTER STILL MATTERS
4th Quarter 2016 - Volume 20 - Number 4
presidential campaign of 2016 was one for the books! There were several unprecedented aspects of
this contest, but one of the most disheartening things about it was that both
major party candidates were held in such low esteem due to the negatives that
swirled about them. Accusations on both
sides of corruption, incompetence, lying, and philandering seemed to demoralize
led to this sullenness in the populace?
Although some relativists may claim that American society has become
desensitized to a lot of traditional mores, I believe that what we saw in the
attitudes of Americans in this last election cycle is that character still
evident enthusiasm gap that existed in this election was due to the fact that
most of us really do have ideals about leadership. We really do believe that people of
impeccable character make better leaders.
On balance, trustworthiness, truthfulness, dependability and
respectability are preferred in leaders.
Even though getting a job done is a necessary thing; getting it done
with integrity intact is an even higher value.
seems to me, that these dynamics need to be constantly on the minds of church
leaders as well. In this season of
American life, we can be tempted to be very pragmatic and just want our pastors
and leaders to do their job efficiently, economically, and with good
statistical results. We want budgets
balanced, programs run, the windows washed, and attendance increasing.
though, if these external signs of success and efficiency are not accompanied
by internal strengths fueled by spiritual power, they fall flat. Why is character so important in Church work?
CHARACTER OF LEADERSHIP CAN GLORIFY GOD. Our
ultimate concern is that those with whom the church is identified, reflect the
spirit and character of Jesus Himself.
The reputation of God is besmirched in the eyes of both the members of
the church as well as the general public when leaders fail to maintain moral
and ethical standards as they pursue organizational objectives.
CHARACTER OF LEADERSHIP IS MODELED BY THE PEOPLE. We are often reminded that the flocks that we
lead will progress only as far as the quality of the shepherds that lead
them. Our people are always watching us
for direction in how to live life in a way that honors God. That is a sobering truth. Even when we are not aware of it, they are
observing our actions and reactions as leaders.
They are making value judgments based on what we value. As our character grows, we will give a real
life example for the people to follow.
Peter admonished the elders in I Peter 5 to be “examples to the flock of
God.” Whether we like it or not…we are
examples for good or ill.
CHARACTER OF LEADERSHIP PROJECTS VALUES TO THE COMMUNITY. Beyond the flock of God, the general public
is looking to leadership in the church for an indication of what the Body of
Christ is all about. In communities
where leaders have poor reputations, where they are known for their malfeasance
or cruelty, where the fruit of the Spirit is not evident in their private and
public deportment, the Church is misrepresented and the work of God is
short-circuited. When this happens, the
dynamic evident in Acts 2 in the 1st century church, "having favor with all the people" - is lacking and the ministry suffers.
all of these dimensions…God’s glory, the spiritual progress of the flock of
God, and the impact on the wider community…character still matters. May God give us grace to cooperate with the
Holy Spirit to develop character in ourselves and our people regardless of the
strengths or weaknesses of character ev evident in the public square as this 21stcentury continues to unfold.
Timothy A. Johnson,
RISING ABOVE THE NARRATIVE
1st Quarter 2017 - Volume 21 - Number 1
the political conversations of the last couple of years, we have been exposed
to several “narratives” that have been put forth by all sides attempting to
either cast the opposition in a bad light or to explain away their own
problems. A “narrative” is basically a
story that tries to put a certain construction on a situation in support of a
particular agenda. It is spin; it really
is deceit; it can be manipulation; it is not necessarily true.
it comes to the living out of personal lives, the “narrative” has become a
convenient device to enable people to offer an excuse for their behavior. We are told these days that everyone has a
story; my story is different from your story; there is no right story or wrong
story; it is what it is. We are as much
products of our story or narrative, as we are players in the drama. We can be given a convenient explanation for
who we are—cold, insensitive because our story is that of the Scandinavian
stoic; emotionally unconnected because our story is that of the adult child of
an alcoholic; wildly promiscuous because our story is that of the son of a
philanderer with no better role model to follow.
local churches, the “narratives” of specific assemblies are also taken into
account. We are the way we are because
we are: “immigrants”; “Pentecostals”;
“traditional”; “denominational”; “congregational in polity”; “working class”;
“urban in orientation”; “rural in orientation”; “suburban in orientation”;
“controlled by the founding family of the church”; “seeker-driven”;
“contemporary in worship”; “missions-minded”….and the list goes on.
are consultants who have made an industry out of helping local churches
understand what their story is and what they want it to become. The fact is that there is something
substantive in a local church’s narrative that explains why it is the way it is
today. Even with its inadequacies, those
realities should not be automatically critiqued…many of them probably need to
all of us, though…whether in our personal lives or in the corporate life of the
church…we must believe that it is possible for us to rise above where we are
today to a brand new reality! We are not
pre-determined by our past; we are not forced to follow patterns that have
retarded growth and progress; we are free to analyze where we believe God wants
us to be and move in that direction.
Romans 12, Paul tells the church not to be “conformed to the world, but be
transformed by a renewing of the mind.”
Many of us conform our attitudes and behaviors to what we have been
conditioned to believe about ourselves based on our own observations and the
opinions expressed by others. We are
then, as one translation puts it, “pressed into a mold” that restricts our
growth and development. We can be led to
believe we are the way we are and there is no escape.
simply is not true…the renewal of our minds can put us on a fresh course that
does not eliminate the DNA of our personalities, but transforms it in a
positive direction. How do we then renew
our minds? Consider….
1. Constant meditative study of the Scriptures
to think God’s thoughts after Him and ask the strategic question, “What would
you have me to do?”
2. Broaden your field of experience and
knowledge Visit some other churches;
attend some conferences; see what others are doing and saying; read and research
possible future paths.
3. Discuss the issues of life and service with
fellow disciples. As the Scripture tells
us, “Iron sharpens iron.” We need the
collective wisdom within the body.
God help us to be transformed to rise above the narratives that hold us back!
Timothy A. Johnson,
TAKE TIME TO THROW A PARTY!
2nd Quarter 2017 - Volume 21 - Number 2
the rhythm of local church work, it is a very healthy thing to pause long
enough to celebrate accomplishment within the fellowship. In America, that logically comes toward the
end of the school year when regular programming culminates and a summer break
ensues. So…my recommendation is that you
throw a party! Why?…
1. Throw a
party because God deserves it! Volunteers in your church have been working
throughout the last season with remarkable faithfulness. Oh, there have been some glitches along the
way, but it is an awesome thing to know that even with all the distractions and
alternative options people have, they have still been willing to serve in your
congregation. What accounts for
that? Ultimately it is a God who
inspires and equips people for service!
It is God who has been showing up right along with your people against
all odd through these months. We need to
throw a party to glorify God for what he has done!
2. Throw a
party because it gives honor to whom honor is due! The Scriptures are clear that we should show
appreciation to those who have served well among us. All people who have applied their time,
talent, and treasure for the sake of the ministry should be celebrated and
shown gratitude. In the setting of a
dinner, an ice cream social, an evening of special entertainment…however you
wish to package it…those who serve should be recognized for the sacrifices they
3. Throw a
party because it reminds everyone of your mission. When the above recognition and appreciation
event is announced, the disciple-making task of the church is automatically
restated once again and the entire membership has their basic purpose
rehearsed, never to forget why they are in business.
4. Throw a
party because it measures actual accomplishment. In the course of the
celebrating and recognition in your party, some statistical reports on progress
made in ministries as well as the anecdotal evidence offered through
testimonies of individuals will reveal the real life impact of what has been
done throughout the year, many times behind the scenes away from public
view. People in the pew can become
cynical and questioning whether or not anything is really happening in the
ministry. A party can give living
answers to those questions.
5. Throw a
party because it enhances relationships. Anytime you give an occasion for people to
gather together in fellowship, you add another building block to ongoing
relationships in the church. When you
add to that the dimension of gratitude and affirmation, relationships are
deepened all the more. Warm, heart-felt
connections between people will develop when the culture of your church is
shown to be thoughtful and thankful. A
celebration party can do just that!
6. Throw a
party because it inspires others to participate. In an event in which the congregation is
invited to participate, everyone will see just how many people are offering
their time and energy to the work of God.
Their example, the testimonies about the impact of their work, and the
loving treatment of the leadership of the church will speak loudly to all potential
future volunteers. When ministry
celebration and recognition takes place, recruitment for the future becomes far
will you do to celebrate the faithful service of your people? In whatever form it takes, let it be a
light-hearted party in which the faithfulness of God and His people is on
center-stage for everyone to see. God
will be glorified and all the saints will be blessed!
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
THE VALUE OF A GOOD SWEAT!
3rd Quarter 2017 - Volume 21 - Number 3
Minnesota, one of our great goals through the summer months is to avoid
sweating. We usually have such
beautifully moderate temperatures that it rarely becomes a big issue for
us. But...when the heat arrives, we keep
the air-conditioning on in the house, the car, the workplace, and quickly move
from one cool spot to another to avoid perspiring.
struck me on my recent trip to Africa that the avoidance of sweat is really a
futile venture. Sooner or later you are
going to sweat in the African heat. But
then nature kicks in. You don't overheat;
the evaporation of perspiration has a cooling effect on your body and if you
remain hydrated, you will stay reasonably cool till the end of the day. You definitely welcome a shower at the end of
the day…but you feel just fine.
America, however, we are led to believe that sweating (or any discomfort) is
not necessary. We can and should avoid
it whenever possible. We avoid pain, we
control the climate around us, we seek to be comfortable at all times.
yet in church ministry, we do not benefit by avoiding all pain. In fact it is impossible for us to grow as
people or develop as ministries without going through the inevitable discomfort
we encounter. For instance:
Confrontation Produces Self-Examination. Most of us do not crave confrontation with
others. We take seriously the scriptural
admonition to “be at peace with all people.”
And yet, whenever we have an uncomfort- able run-in with someone, it
forces us into a process of self-examination in which we have to ask ourselves,
“Am I right or wrong in this situation?”; “Could my opponent have a point and I
have been blinded to something?”; “How am I coming across to others?” In leadership, the temptation to arrogance
gets quickly corrected when we are forced to deal with disagree-ment and
discord. This is a positive corrective
for us, though uncomfortable.
Evaluation Produces Change. As
we move forward in ministry, we are better served if indeed we go through
formal evaluations of what we do and how we do it. As leaders, it is not necessarily pleasant to
see how the ministry we have been doing over the last season is viewed by the
general public or how it is practically moving people toward spiritual
growth. Asking hard questions about the
effectiveness and impact of what we do, however, can bring about necessary
changes and shifts in approach.
of the Truth Produces Growth. A
lot of American preaching and teaching has become happy talk. Pastors tip-toe around moral issues and avoid
at all costs offending anyone in the congregation. And yet, the discomfort of hearing the truth
of the Word of God must be experienced in order for it to have impact. The Gospel itself must be bad news before it
is good news. Unless we realize we are sinners in need of savior, even our
salvation is not possible. So, regularly we usher our people into a place of
discomfort in order for them to be changed by the Word and grow.
we should not welcome unnecessary pain or discomfort in Church ministry, we
must recognize that there is truth in the sentiment of the old cliché, “No pain
– no gain!”
Timothy A. Johnson,
ENGAGING TODAY'S YOUNG ADULTS
4th Quarter 2017 - Volume 21 - Number 4
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has distinguished
himself as a credible Christian commentator on today’s society, with his strong
background in both business and higher education. In his book, The Vanishing American
Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How
to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, he makes recommendations on how
we can build the next generation of adults emerging today. He offers five disciplines that need to be
developed as we face the future:
1. Flee Age Segregation. One of the weaknesses of American culture
today is the separation of the generations.
Whether it is in education, community activities, or the Church…we are
stratified along age lines. There is no
way that the wisdom and experience of the ages can be communicated between
generations with this division. We must
do what we can in our individual families, churches, and other social contexts
to unite younger and older in meaningful relationship and conversation.
2. Embrace Work Pain. There is a lack of a strong work ethic in the
emerging adult population. Many people
coming of age today have not been forced to hold a job that has taught them
important life skills. Sasse urges those
of us in the older generation to introduce younger ones to the joy and pain of
work. This builds character and sets the
stage for our economic future.
3. Consume Less. America is known for conspicuous consumption
of almost everything…food, drink, possessions.
This is both wasteful and an improper focus to communicate values. By both personal example and exhortation, we
need to convey the truth of what Jesus said:
“A man’s life consists not in the abundance of things he
possesses.” In that way, the door is
open to pursuing higher values that transcend mere things.
4. Travel to See. The myopic American perspective is often the
result of a lack of exposure to the rest of the world. Our worldview is expanded and enhanced by
travel to as many places as we can. An
understanding of other cultures and surroundings helps us mature and put all of
life into a coherent framework. With all
the current day opportunities for such travel, there is the potential for
greater maturity in the coming generations.
5. Build a Bookshelf. Success as a society will be greatly enhanced
by creating a reading culture. If all we
have are the meager thoughts in our own brains bouncing around, prospects for
the future may grow dim. But…a reading
list of classic books and works of emerging thinkers will prepare the coming
generations for a life-long process of personal growth.
In each of these above recommendations, the local
Church can play an important role. Just
think through each of them. What can you
as a leader and influencer in your local assembly bring about to positively
impact the current young adult population and then the future generations to
We must proceed with faith and expectation that
whatever cultural drift may have happened in the recent past, things can be
turned around in a positive direction if we take affirmative action in relation
to the generations now coming of age.
May God bless us in this important responsibility!
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
UNIVERsals to celebrate!
1st Quarter 2018 - Volume 22 - Number 1
At a recent meeting of the International Bible
Givers ministry in Anoka, we heard a wonderful testimony about the rise of a
new church planting effort. The pastor
related that the vision for a new church came to him and his wife at 35,000
feet on a flight between California and Minnesota. They landed in Minnesota on a Wednesday with
a clear conviction that God wanted them to hold a worship service on
Sunday. The pastor was led to clean out
and paint up his garage and furnish it with white plastic chairs. Once that project was done, he said that God
gave him the idea to text everyone on his phone to invite them for worship on
Sunday. That week they welcomed twenty
people to worship at this instant church.
They have grown since then and now are a fellowship of about 100 people
I thought to myself, “What a wonderful rebuke to
the conventional wisdom about church ministry!”
The pastor didn’t do any in-depth demographic studies of his
neighborhood; he did not launch a small Bible study in a living room, working
up to a core group of people to launch formal meetings; he did not develop an
online presence; he did not go through any targeted training on how to start a
church. In the end, although he broke
all the supposed rules, a thriving fellowship now exists nonetheless.
This experience points to some universal principles
of success in any ministry that have been true ever since Pentecost and we
should recognize and celebrate them:
We must be driven by
the mission of the Church.
The disciple-making mission of the Church…to lead
people to faith in Christ and help them to grow to maturity by the ministry of
the Word needs to drive us.
We must be sensitive to
the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
As we pray, study the Word, and meditate on the
next steps in our ministry, we need to have our spiritual ears open to what the
Spirit of God wants us to do.
We must begin with our
own personal connections.
Those family members and friends who already know
us will more likely follow our lead in any ministry. We need to be expanding that circle of
friendship to maximize the reach of the ministry over time.
We must welcome anyone
regardless of demographics.
Whereas you may have a certain natural focus of
ages or interests in your ministry, an openness of heart to everyone regardless
of where they are in life will communicate the spirit of Jesus who reaches out
We must pursue
relational ministry always.
There is no organization, website, church facility,
public show, or professional staffing that will succeed without making ministry
as relational and personal as possible.
We live in an era in which the experts demand we
have a highly developed understanding of the demographics of our community,
that we are strumming on cultural strings that will resonate with the common
man, that we need to be connected online to really be relevant to anyone. These factors may contribute to our success,
but the spiritual foundations and the relational connections that have been
central in every generation need to intentionally be pursued in the 21stcentury. May God give us grace to
maintain our focus on these universals!
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
ON BUILDING YOUR LEGACY!
2nd Quarter 2018 - Volume 22 - Number 2
are many joys we experience in our international ministry in Africa; we also
experience some sorrows along the way.
During our last overseas mission, we lost four important people in death
who were key supporters and encouragers in our work. They included Minister Cindy Hayden of
Philadelphia; Elder Natt Miller (father of our Associate Director Natt) in
Liberia; Pastor Charles Goah, member of our MCMA Board; and Dr. Harry Evans, my
university president and mentor. As I
think of each of these friends who have gone before us, I thank God for the
legacy they leave behind. They led lives
of impact and consequence and are worthy of our celebration.
time like this gives us opportunity to reflect on the fact that every one of us
is leaving a legacy of as we carry out the responsibilities of each day. It is helpful for us to remember:
begin with our primary relationships. The
impact we have in any other area of our lives will be compared with the quality
of our closest relationships with family and friends. If we intentionally live each day conscious
of the positive influence we are having on those in our immediate circle, the
genuineness of all other legacies will come clear. Instilling values in the next generation,
modelling integrity and faithfulness to those who are observing us, and being a
source of truth and right in our private lives sets a foundation for everything
else. In fact, if the inner circle of
our lives is touched with lasting impact by us...we have accomplished the most
important thing anyway.
continue with our relationships in the community. Expanding upon that inner circle, as
people of integrity we move out similarly to the next ring of influence to
others in the community. Every person we
meet, every conversation we have, every activity we enter into with the broader
public gives us opportunity to establish patterns of action and attitude that
can leave a lasting mark on hundreds and thousands of people directly and
indirectly. In the words of that great
old song: "If I can help somebody
as I walk along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show
somebody how they're travelling wrong--then my living shall not be in
build a special legacy in the church.
As the 21st century continues to unfold, involvement and leadership in
the local church is going to be an increasingly rare thing. Church attendance is waning; regularly
commitment to it is falling. When we
make a definite, public identification with the people of God, dedicate our time,
talent, and treasure to its health and growth, and maintain a long-term connection
with a local assembly...we stand out as noble examples to the Body of Christ
and the surrounding community. Some of
the most heart-warming memorial services I have attended in my life have been
those of faithful church members who have invested deeply in their
congregations and as a result have spiritual legacies that extend far and wide.
long as we live, we are building the legacies that follow us. May God give us grace to intentionally lead
lives of high impact in our primary relationships, in the broader community,
and in the Church of Jesus Christ. May
He further inspire us as Church leaders to instill the value of intentional
living in all those whom we lead in our assemblies.
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
PRESERVING THE FOUNDATIONS!
3rd Quarter 2018 - Volume 22 - Number 3
Dr. Harry Ironsides, who pastored the historic Moody
Church for an impressive period in the 1930’s and 40’s used to repeat the
statement “If it’s true it isn’t new and if it’s new it isn’t true.”
That is a healthy reminder for us these days in both
what we say and how we say it in church ministry. Both the substance of our teaching and
preaching and the style and form which our ministry takes needs to be tested
against time proven standards.
This is not an easy task in the current climate of
unending innovation and rebranding that happens in this early part of the 21stcentury. As we look toward the coming
school year of ministry in the church, there is a natural tendency for those in
leadership to want to make their local church look cool, attractive,
cutting-edge, leading edge, relevant, updated, and especially desirable to the
emerging young adult population.
As a result, during these summer months there are
facelifts going on in many church buildings, some are installing the latest
coffee bars, some are rehauling their sound and light systems, some are posting
new high-tech marquees, and still others are reworking weekly programming to be
just what the current culture demands.
Such renovations are not necessarily bad. I know if my wife did not have a certain
decorating sense and artistic touch and things were totally left up to me, the
home we have lived in for the last 25 years would probably still have the same
carpeting, 70’s style avocado-colored appliances, and dark paneling it had when
we moved in! Her redecorating from time
to time has enhanced our lives in that place.
And yet, the cosmetics of a building or even of the
superficial aspects of a ministry do not go to the core of what the Church is
all about. We must embrace with renewed
enthusiasm and anticipation of the blessing of God the true dimensions of
ministry that have served well since Pentecost.
What are they? Let me suggest…
foundational commitment to the ever-living Word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the
Word of God. It must be the basis of
our teaching and the direction for our lives and ministries.
recognition that we are in the people-transformation business. Our buildings
and organization should all serve to bring people to faith and growth in
Christian faith. We are to help people
meet their Savior and become more like him…to be transformed by a renewing of their minds.
3. A genuine
effort to build real fellowship within the local body. We must always
seek to encourage the body, nurture relationships between one another, and meet
the real needs of individuals and families, rising above the superficial.
4. A regular
emphasis on the need to reach out to others in love. Once given the
nurture and encouragement within the body, daily ministry needs to be taking
place all across the community as members reach out with the love, grace, and
gospel of Jesus.
5. A restated
reminder of the future we are all heading toward. As believers
we are looking forward to a heavenly future in the presence of Christ
Himself. That is a motivating factor
that needs to be regularly reiterated and emphasized.
Go ahead and install that new coffee equipment…but be
sure in the end you are leading people to faith and growth in Jesus Christ,
mobilizing them in daily outreach, and keeping a heavenly future out in front
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
THE POWER OF PLACE
4th Quarter 2018 - Volume 22 - Number 4
Church real estate
becomes sacred to those whose lives have been impacted by the ministry of the
assembly at a particular address.
Sometimes sentimental attachment to a building is denigrated as
unspiritual devotion to bricks and mortar.
I was struck, however, by the emotional response I had when my brother
Tom and I stuck our heads into our home church…the Kenosha Bible Church a
couple of years ago. This space in which
I personally came to faith in Christ had been beautifully upgraded and
maintained since my days there in the early 1960’s. It was an indication of the respect and care
the new congregation had for this place that was important in my own spiritual
Several years ago I
was struck by the eloquent expression of the late Elton Trueblood in his
classic work, The Incendiary Fellowship:
I can never pass a little building devoted to
Christ's cause without a sense of reverence and the utterance of a short prayer
of thanksgiving. I know, by sad experience, how dull the Adult Bible Class
probably is, and I could repeat many of the stereotyped testimonies of the Prayer
Meeting; I know, furthermore, how great the likelihood is that the pastor is an
unimaginative man; but I know some other things as well. I know that it was in
such ugly buildings that many of our Christian leaders first learned to sing
God's praise and to hear the marvelous cadences of the Psalms. Furthermore, I
can never forget that, apart from the poor little fellowships in such poor
little buildings, there isn't a chance in the world that I would be enlisted
today in the cause of Christ. In my youth I was impressed by seeing devout
Roman Catholics tip their hats, as the street cars passed the doors of their
church buildings. I am tempted to do the same whenever I pass a place in which
the love of Christ has been consciously nourished and where I know simple men
have prayed. Because I can never see such a place without a sense of wonder,
aware as I am of the sacrifice on the part of so many, which has made the place
possible, I can never join in the fashionable depreciation of
"place." The value of the place is not in itself, for that would
entail idolatry, but rather in the recognition that there is no available power
unless it emanates from a center. It was necessary, Christ said, for the
Apostles to gather at Jerusalem before they could be effective witnesses in the
Let me suggest the
1. Your place is proof of the power of God in
His people. God has motivated a local
assembly to provide your current space.
There has been sacrifice inspired by faith and trust in God and a
compelling mission that reflects spiritual vitality.
2. Your place becomes strongly associated in
people’s hearts with their spirituality. As God moves in the space in which you
meet, that very square-footage becomes sacred to those whose lives are being
3. Your place is the launching pad for your
people’s witness in the world. Your
church is the gathering place where equipping and preparation for ministry
takes place; your people with a renewed sense of mission then move out into the
community to share the love, grace, and gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. Your place deserves respect, care, and
investment. Though real estate cannot be
idolized, because of the importance of what takes place within the four walls,
it deserves to be beautified, maintained, and upgraded to accomplish the
May God help us care
for the space in which we pursue life-changing ministry.
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY!!!
2nd Quarter 2019 - Volume 23 - Number 2
my 37th trip to Africa recently, I was musing about the wonderful
opportunities I have had over 16 years of ministry there. Most strikingly, I have developed deep
friendships over this time and find opportunities to make new friends on every
trip. And so, I have been thinking about
the importance of relationships in the wake of yet another meaningful round of
ministry. Consider these thoughts:
1. What matters most in life is relationships. There are many demands on our time and energy
in modern America. We have jobs to
perform, property to maintain, products to purchase, and bills to pay. Yet what keeps us emotionally stable and moving
forward in personal growth are the relationships we enjoy. Unfortunately, we are not doing as well in
that department as we might. One
recent study showed that the average American has not made a new friend in the
last five years. That is an
amazing statistic. The art of engaging
and keeping good friends...including family members is one of the surest ways
to keep ourselves on an even keel. The
evident relational deficits in American life become an opportunity for churches
to provide something that is lacking in many people’s lives.
2. Relationships that matter most are
spiritually-based. My trip to
Africa has proven to me once again that there is a special depth to
relationships that have a spiritual dimension to them. The hundreds of church people we connect with
in on any one trip to Africa are part of a wonderful fraternity. Christians have a built-in brotherhood
because they believe that the Holy Spirit of God indwells all believers and
they have inner strength and character that unifies them even before they get
to know each other. Once they start
talking about their lives and their experiences, the common bonds of faith and
spiritual community become obvious and the inner-connection between human
beings is a remarkable thing to sense. It leads to the deepest of interpersonal
relationships possible. Because
spiritual connections produce strong friendships, the Church again provides a
solution to our nation’s ills.
3. Time seasons and enriches all relationships. As I think of 37 trips to Africa over 16
years, it is heart-warming to see how time itself has produced deeper, broader,
more meaningful connections with people.
The more years we spend in relating to friends and family, the more
meaningful they become. I have just
explored Uganda for the first time with the help of one of leaders from
Nigeria...Bishop Mike. He is a man I
have known for 15 years and we have experienced life and ministry together in
many settings both in Africa and America.
This collaboration on this trip has been the crowning touch in our
friendship so far. We understand each
other; we respect each other; we enjoy each other's company; we care deeply for
each other. Those dimensions of
relationship simply do not happen instantly overnight. It takes time for us to develop deep feelings
from the heart. In our
instant-everything world in which we live, we need to learn the patience it
takes to really develop relationships over time. For our connections in the Church to deepen,
we need to continue on in fellowship with a specific local congregation long
enough for these long-term benefits to come to us.
God give us the courage and grace to evaluate and strengthen the quality and
quantity of relationships within the Church…the environment in which we help
each other deepen our relationship with God Himself!
Timothy A. Johnson – Executive Director
REACTIVE OR PROACTIVE?
1st Quarter 2019 - Volume 23 - Number 1
For the last four decades
or so in the Church in America there has been a strain of
being made by consultants and ecclesiastical observers that the
Church needs to quit
being so reactive to conditions and make up its mind to be
anticipating the challenges and opportunities of the future. This has
become the conventional
wisdom in church leadership. If we don't anticipate the
nature of things in
the coming decades we will first of all cease to be effective and
eventually cease to exist.
That seems to have the
ring of truth as we look at declining church attendance in
America and also the
demographic that still attends. As I visit churches on Sunday
mornings, there is a
remarkable display of gray hair and bald heads, including my
own! The conclusion? Churches
with aging membership have simply not been
proactive enough to
draw younger generations to worship and service.
Pollster George Bama
led the way in the 1980's with his analyses of trends heading
toward the year 2000
in The Frog in the Kettle; following up around the turn of the
century with Revolution
... with warnings that the Church needed to be out ahead of
the curve to avoid obsolescence.
This futurism based on sociological surveys have
brought a great deal
of discouragement to the Church because honestly the individual
church doesn't know what
to do and where to tum to get traction in this 21st century
environment. What are
the current options for the established church?
1. Recognize that
being proactive may not be all that it is cracked up to be. This
concept often has called
for anticipating changes in demographics, the tastes and
proclivities of the various
generations, and the shape of programming and facilities to
be ready for changes
before they occur. Sometimes those predictions are not realized
and there is a waste
of energy in the process. The key for any organization, business,
or ministry is to be as
immediately reactive as possible; to be flexible and nimble
enough to respond
quickly when changes actually occur.
2. Recognize that vitality
in any congregation, old or new will center on a certain
number of basics: clear preaching and
teaching of the Word of God, heartfelt
worship, genuine fellowship
and care, and an outward focus that leads people to
influence their spheres
of influence toward faith and growth in Jesus Christ. These
dynamics happen in a wide
range of cultural and demographic settings. Our call is to
be faithful right where
we are and impact as many people as we can directly and
indirectly as our assemblies
continue to gather each week.
3. Recognize that churches
do have a lifespan just as individuals do. A constant
upward trajectory in
numbers and vitality is not logical nor warranted. Some
congregations simply will
go out of existence. That may be emotionally disappointing to the remaining
members, but does not mean that even during periods of statistical decline the ministry
has been worthless.
4. Recognize that
there are paradigm-shifting options for the future. There is a
movement in which
aging churches around the country are merging their efforts with
with the effect of extending the life and impact of their
mergers entail challenges as well ... but the wedding of different
ages and life experience
opens up possibilities for unique community within the
Jesus said He would build
His church. May God give us the grace to be faithful and
flexible in the
specific field he has called us to.
Timothy A. Johnson, Executive Director
NOSTALGIA AIN’T ALL BAD!
3rd Quarter 2019 - Volume 23 - Number 3
we approach the beginning of another school year, I have a wave of nostalgia that
crashes over me. My memories of my
childhood with a bitter- sweet combination of anticipation and dread that came
around Labor Day, facing another round of studies and enforced schedules…take
me back to days of discipline and rigorous training.
we go through another round of political debates as we are experiencing right
now, I am reminded of a more civil time and place where actual arguments could
be made and debated without ad hominem retribution.
we think of the passing of the great generation of post-World War II church
leaders who are either in heaven or heading there soon…Billy Graham, Torrey
Johnson, Ted Engstrom, Jay Kesler, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Henrietta
Mears, Harold Ockenga, John Stott, Bill Bright, Warren Wiersbe, A.W. Tozer…to
name a few…I remember the depth of their spirituality, the clarity of their
thought, and their unstinting commitment to the cause of Christ.
more personal level, when I think of the members of my own family who have been
sterling examples of Christian character, whose sacrifice for their families,
their communities, and the church has produced great good that is impossible to
measure…I am inspired by the previous generation.
wait…there are those who would say, “Tim, when you let your mind wander to the
past like that you are not facing reality!
You can’t live in the past; you can’t proceed through life looking in
the rear-view mirror.”
one level, my response can be…”Why not?
If I get a glimpse of some good things from the past, why should I not
keep them clearly in view.”
course, many will point out that the “good old days” were not necessary that
good. Oftentimes…people point to all the
technological advances that have made life easier for us.
our nostalgia rarely runs to recapture the glories of the outhouse, manual
typewriters, or pre-micro-wave cooking.
Our hearts more likely pine away for meaningful relationships, reliability
in people’s character, honesty and truthfulness in conversation, and trust and
respect between human beings. We see the value in taking time for other people,
genuinely caring for them, and offering a helping hand to people in need who
are within our reach.
rightly long for days in which people related to each other in positive and
affirming ways that contributed to healthy community.
those good qualities of the past are still in our memories, we have a
responsibility to find creative ways for them to be recreated in our own
time. This is not living in the past…but
rather bringing the past into the present to make life more what God intends
for it to be.
God give us the wisdom to bring the positive spirit of the past that still
lives on in our nostalgia into daily experience as we face the real challenges
of life and ministry as future unfolds.
Timothy A. Johnson – Executive Director
Wisely Above the Trailing Edge
4th Quarter 2019 - Volume 23 - Number 4
may be one of the last people in America to own a 3G iPhone. It has served me well and still does work…although
it must almost always be tethered to a charger in order to be functional. But I have always maintained thingsuntil they just don’t work anymore.
Witness my 2002 Ford Taurus, graciously totaled the other day, opening
opportunity to buy a newer used car!
some people observing these attitudes about things may be very affirming and
declare me to be free of materialism.
Others might point to the apparent pride I have in maintaining older
possessions and condemn me for just that…pride!
It is worth thinking, however, especially in the life of the local
church…just how much above the trailing edge of technology, equipment,
facilities, and even décor should we be striving to be.
impressive architectural masterpieces have been built by the church many times
with the spiritual purpose of erecting something that is worthy of the presence
of Almighty God. These buildings were
monuments of faith that made a public statement to all those looking on. They were physical proof of the value and
importance that corporate worship and the life of the body meant to a local
the flip side, house churches, borrowed meeting spaces, and humble, even shabby
buildings have been defended by local assemblies because they have called their
people to true inner spirituality that does not depend on the ostentatious
trappings of brick and mortar.
does the truth lie regarding physical material stuff in the church? Is it more spiritual to cling to the trailing
edge of electronics, architecture, and style?
Or…can we embrace the latest fashion and equipment and still maintain
our inner spirituality? Let me suggest
1. What is your motivation? Your choices as a congregation regarding
building, decorating, and equipping can be fueled by pride, arrogance, false
humility, realism, or an escape from reality.
Ultimately…we should be aiming to glorify God in all things…and not be
concerned with mere appearances.
2. What is your ministry focus? People who need to meet Christ and become
more like him should be the ultimate goal of ministry. Shabby surroundings may well repel some
people; the latest gadgets and gizmos may attract some people. But…we need to ask the question, what environment
is necessary and reasonable to effectively gather people from our community to
be with us?
3. What are your finances? Overextending a local congregation financially
in order to undertake unnecessary over-the-top upgrades is not good stewardship.
4. What unspoken messages are you delivering? As you make decisions on the property and
material appearance of your ministry…members of the church are watching and
listening, as are members of the community.
Your values will become apparent to those observing…so we need to think
and pray as we discuss and decide.
God help us use wisdom as we rise above the trailing edge in style and stuff…knowing
that upgrades are necessary, but our values must remain directed by the Spirit.
Timothy A. Johnson – Executive Director
MAKING PEACE WITH STATISTICS
1st Quarter 2020 - Volume 24 - Number 1
Thom Rainer, one of the consultants and number crunchers in
the Southern Baptist Convention, has offered some statistics regarding church
attendance that are both interesting and arresting. Take a look to see where your church lies in
0 to 49 worship attendance
40% of churches in America
50 to 124 worship attendance
27% of churches in America
125 to 249 worship attendance
18% of churches in America
250 to 499 worship attendance
8% of churches in America
500 to 999 worship attendance
4% of churches in America
1,000 to 1,999 in worship attendance
2% of churches in America
2,000+ in worship attendance
Less than ½ of 1%
on these statistics and to some extent, in spite of these statistics, let me
suggest the following to help us make peace with our own statistics:
1. Take Courage…most churches are smaller in attendance. It is interesting
to see that less that 15% of churches in the country have attendance over 250
on Sunday morning. It is fascinating to
consider that many of the leadership conferences that pastors from smaller
places attend spotlight the ministry of big box pastors who may not be dealing
at all with what the vast majority of local pastors face. As H.B. London famously said years ago, “80%
of pastors now serving will never lead a church over 200 in size.” That reality should not discourage…it should
be a fact of life that needs to be embraced.
2. Take Note…vitality in the fellowship should
be the primary goal. No matter what our local statistics may be,
leadership must engage the people in the disciplines of discipleship in as
dynamic a way as can be brought about using the gifts and strengths of any one
congregation. Those disciplines include worship,
prayer, study, fellowship, care, and outreach.
Those elements can be present in churches of any size. They also may be lacking in churches of any
size. I remember the palpable vitality I
felt in visiting a Village Missions church in Northern Minnesota several years
ago. An upbeat, positive, forward-looking
pastor kept a church of about 50 members well-engaged in the fundamentals of vibrant
church life. The members were mobilized
in a way that many churches with greater attendance are not.
3. Take Stock…analyze and celebrate what is
happening no matter where you are statistically. Whether you are growing
or shrinking, identify where vitality exists in your fellowship, spotlight it,
celebrate it, and fan the flames of its success. This can be in either formal ministry
programs or in the informal expressions of ministry in the daily lives of your
people. Since you are still gathering regularly,
there is some sense of identity that is holding you together. That identity needs to be nurtured and linked
to the Spirit-motivated activity that is taking place. Leadership needs to keep their eyes open in
order to regularly highlight the good things that are happening. When the people sense that there is forward
movement even in small ways, they will be inspired to continue to be faithful
in making positive contributions toward future progress.
we should be following Christ’s forward lead in the Church, as he made it clear
long ago in his declaration, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall
not prevail against it.” May God give us
the boldness to step out in faith to lead our people forward regardless of our
A. Johnson, Executive Director
NIHILISM VS. IDEALISM
Quarter 2 & 3 2020 - Volume 24 - Number 2
Since the death of George Floyd
there have been genuinely peaceful protests around our country that have rightfully
focused on the need for humane and proper behavior on the part of police officers. No doubt there will be helpful reform that
will come in several directions as a result.
Other responses however, which
continue to rage on at this writing, have come in the form of anarchic nihilism
in which people have thrown all reason and civility to the winds. Burning, looting, destroying statues and monuments,
and doing bodily harm to both peace officers and civilians has gone on, sometimes
totally unanswered by the powers that be.
The argument that such
anarchists raise is that current conditions cannot be tolerated: systemic racism permeates every
institution of American life; capitalism is simply a manifestation of white supremacy;
the forces of law and order cannot be allowed to operate because they too are a
source of oppression. Nothing is right
as it stands now…everything must be destroyed.
In the minds of such people,
there is an imagined utopia that somehow has not yet been realized. In exasperation, they conclude therefore that
everything must be scrapped. The only
problem is that there is no compelling vision of a new system or arrangement
proposed…only the destruction of what has been.
The tragedy of nihilistic civil
unrest that goes unchecked is that honest, hard-working contributors to the
general welfare are seriously undermined and harmed. People who have worked for decades to build
up their own businesses, given jobs to people, enhanced their communities, raised
their families, and supported their churches can have a lifetime of work destroyed
in a night of burning and looting.
How do we respond to all of
this…and how does it apply to the ministry of the church? Let me suggest…
1. Let’s be disabused of the silly notion that
utopia this side of heaven will ever be realized. Every system is flawed because they are operated
by flawed human beings. We cannot expect
perfection in a fallen world. Even
churches are led by imperfect, yet forgiven sinners.
2. Let’s not forsake our ideals simply because
of today’s imperfection. On both
the community front and church front, we need to keep the ideal of how things ought
to be in mind and work toward that.
3. Let’s discover the structures already in
place that can facilitate change.
In most cases, there are ways to bring about change in a non-destructive
manner. People of good will can coalesce to make it happen.
4. Let’s proceed toward change with respect for
the status quo. The way things
are today are that way for a reason. Sometimes
the rationale for things being the way they are has not been well-communicated
in the past. Wisdom needs to be
exercised so that important values are not simply neglected in the process of
change. The inherent good in the status
quo needs to be preserved.
5. Let’s respect and celebrate the contributions
made by people to bring us to this point. In our nation and in our churches, we would
not have a stage to stand on to bring about change without the hard work and sacrifices
of the past. There needs to be a genuine
celebration of that contribution.
May God give us the grace to
patiently work toward change, resisting the temptation to nihilism while stretching
toward godly ideals.
A. Johnson, Executive Director
LESSONS OF THE PANDEMIC
Quarter 4 2020 - Volume 24 - Number 3
The year 2020 will be recorded as
one of the most remarkable seasons in American history. The profound impact of a pandemic with all of
the attendant economic and personal effects will be commented on for many years
In the church, the usual ways
of doing things have been shelved for the moment. Large group gatherings have been curtailed; small
group gatherings are on an uncomfortable footing; whole segments of the church
membership have been homebound.
Attendance has dropped off. Some
people are simply not accounted for and have slipped into no-man’s-land.
For many churches that have a lot
of older saints in their membership their identity as a local assembly has been
nearly erased overnight. Others with more
age groups represented still wonder what the coming months and years will be
like. Will some people everreturn to the fellowship? So, what has
Covid taught us regarding church ministry?
Let me suggest…
1. Covid has revealed that the American church
may have been pursuing ministry with some faulty foundations. The premise of American church life to this
point has included the concept that there are no limits, no restrictions, and
we can proceed to whatever heights we want.
We have the money to build big buildings, equip them with the latest
hi-tech stuff, pack them out with thousands of people, and this will propel us
forward. Bigger is better and we will
enjoy endless progress. Well, both a
virus and government regulation turned those presuppositions on their
head. We have had shown to us that outward
trappings of the Church are not necessarily limitless. But those trappings should never have been our
proof of real ministry anyway.
2. Covid has forced us to return to the relational
fundamentals of ministry. The
fundamentals of ministry lie in the relationships we build with God and with
other people. Covid has forced us to
drop back and attempt to be very solicitous of the needs of those in our
membership. Since we don’t have the
guarantee that we will see people face to face on Sunday, we have to make a
personal effort to reach out to them and know what their needs are. Those who do not do this through this
season will see members slipping away.
3. Covid has tended to cause flexibility and
creativity to flourish. It has been impressive
to see pastors and leaders mobilize to provide ongoing services to people like streaming
worship online, organizing Zoom Bible studies, and doing what can be done to maintain
public health in their facilities. It
speaks of a commitment to meet challenges head on and it is commendable.
4. Covid cannot kill the church; the Church is still
marching on! Jesus made it clear
that he would build the church and the gates of hell would not be able to stand
up against it. Some of the public
expressions of the work of the church have been eclipsed in this season, but
the informal reach of the church in homes, schools, the marketplace, and
community through a mobilized membership have continued on and will do so no
matter what. The historical example of
the Church in China should encourage us…even being forced underground does not
kill the Church.
May God give us the grace to
march on into the post-pandemic opportunities that lie ahead, with a fresh
foundation of Christ-like ministry established!
A. Johnson, Executive Director