Serve Others Everyday – Not Just at Christmas

I love Christmas, the lights, family gatherings, decorations, music and gift giving. It’s a time of year when people show compassion to the hurts and needs of others. We see it displayed in the days leading up to Christmas by children taking gifts to the elderly in the nursing home, groups singing carols and delivering cookies in the hospitals, families adopting children in need of clothing and toys, and residents of the local community gathering to prepare and serve a meal for the homeless. It’s amazing how ministry active we can become at this season of the year as we serve others in the spirit of Christmas.

When I see these unselfish acts of Christmas, I’m thankful that this season of peace, joy and love brings out such kindness in most everyone. However, I question our motivation if we only serve and show acts of kindness during the Christmas holidays. Is showing kindness and compassion to others only a seasonal behavior?

More than likely, the needs we choose to meet during the Christmas season exist all year long.  The elderly in our nursing homes need visits and the gift of your presence all year long. There are sick people in the hospital 365 days a year that would love the prayers, songs, cookies, and visits of others. There are children in our community that need clothing, food and basic necessities during the summer, spring and fall too.  If we fail to minister to the homeless in need of shelter and food throughout the year, these members of our community may not be alive next Christmas for us to serve.

Christ spent His life showing us what it means to serve others. He took the form of a servant when he was born (Philippians 2:5-7) in the likeness of man. Jesus taught us that we serve Him by serving others (Mark 9:35). He came to serve and proved to be the ultimate servant by giving His life as a ransom for all (Mark 10:45).

It seems very appropriate that we celebrate the birthday of the greatest servant, Jesus Christ, by serving others. But let’s not limit our service to only the holiday season. Make serving others a daily behavior that flows out of your love for Christ. When we give Jesus His rightful place as Lord of our lives, we will express that devotion by serving others every day of every week, not just at Christmas.

Steps to Engaging Your Community with the Gospel

Ministry in and to the community is the most critically important, but often overlooked activity of the local church. The church gets busy doing the “inward focused” activities that serve and even appear to strengthen the church.  But somewhere along the way, they fail to turn outward and engage the local community by meeting it’s needs and sharing the gospel. This inward focused mentality is killing many churches.

Community

Tom Rainer in his book The Autopsy of a Deceased Church shares that one of the common denominators among dying churches is their failure to engage the community around them.  We see it in every city, both urban and rural.  What used to be a thriving and community-involved church is now stagnant, unengaged and quietly dying.

Lifeway research shares that 78% of non-church attenders believe that the local church is more concerned with organized religion than with making a difference in their own community. Perhaps that’s why non-attenders aren’t coming anymore.  They question what the church does and its significance in the life of the community.

Churches must start asking the question, “How can we effectively engage our community in such a way that we meet real needs and open doors for sharing Christ?”

Before a church dives into unchartered waters and begins ministry to the community, there are important steps to take that will ensure it is relevant, needed and well executed.  Just because “ABC” church in another town is doing a ministry well is not reason enough for your church to invest and engage in the same ministry, unless it’s needed by your community, and God is leading your church to implement it.

Here are some suggested steps for engaging your community through meaningful and relevant, gospel-centered ministry.   

  1. Pray Seeking God’s Leadership – for direction, open doors, resources, powerful witness, laborers for the harvest, and receptive hearers. Prayer teams, elderly widows/physically handicapped, prayer walking areas of need.  Total dependence on God.
  2. Share Vision and Involve Others – with church staff, lay persons, community leaders and people of influence; Through book study, sermon series, testimonies, newsletter/web page or blog.
  3. Assess Community Needs – assessments like Community Assessment Tool.
  4. Determine Giftedness and Available Resources – church resources, passion of members, spiritual gift inventories, surveys; Eph 4 – God has equipped each believer for “works of service”. There are several different church assessments available.
  5. Find your “sweet spot” by matching discovered community needs with the church’s gifting and resources to determine which ministry to engage in.
  6. Plan the Ministry –
    1. Enlist Passionate Person and Leadership Team
    2. Decide on Ministry
    3. Determine Mission Statement –
    4. Prepare Goals and Objectives –
    5. Prepare and Implement Action Plans –
    6. Gather Resources and Enlist Volunteers –
    7. Provide Ministry Training – including evangelism (testimony, tracts, scripture, CWT, Share Jesus Without Fear, FAITH, 3 Circles, Tell Your Story or Most Important Thing, etc.).
  7. Set the Ministry in Motion –
  8. Evaluation –

The possibilities for community engagement through meaningful ministry are endless and only limited by you!

Here are some Community Ministry Ideas:

  •  Parents & Married Couples – parenting courses, marriage enrichment classes, money management 
  •  Women – wives of deployed soldiers, Mothers of Preschoolers, pregnancy care, shelter for abused women/children,  prostitution/human trafficking,  mentoring mothers
  •  Men – literacy, job skill training, computer use, jail/prison, mentoring for ex-offenders, homeless shelters
  •  Students – tutoring/homework assistance, backpack ministry, latchkey kids, sports ministry, foster parenting/adoption, college/university campus
  •  Health Care – clinics, preventive health workshops/screenings, taxi service to doctors, prescription assistance, nursing homes
  • Special Ministry- developmentally disabled, physically handicapped, internationals, refugee resettlement, raceways, truck stops, resorts & campgrounds
  •  Community – food/clothing, benevolence, money management classes, cooking classes on limited budget, rehab house trailers, multi-housing, laundromat, adopt a public school, car repair for low income families
  •  Support Groups – gambling, sexual addiction, substance abuse, grief recovery, divorce

Hope in a Christmas Backpack

Matthew 9:36 challenges us to reach compassionately the harassed and helpless. No demographic is more helpless than children. Here in Kentucky, 26% of our children live in poverty, that’s one out of every four children.  

For the 985,000 children in Kentucky who live in poverty, Christmas doesn’t always come with the promise of gifts—or even a Christmas meal. Every day is more about survival than celebration. But we can help change that.

One very practical way that we can reach compassionately the needy children in our state is through Christmas backpacks.

Last year, almost 8,000 Christmas backpacks were collected in Kentucky for distribution by missionaries and church planters.  Each backpack is a tangible expression of God’s love as it is filled with gifts of clothing, toys and food items. But the greatest gift within each backpack is a copy of the true Christmas story.  Many children have never heard the “true” Biblical Christmas story.

Last year, there were hundreds of decisions for Christ as a result of the gospel message that is shared with each backpack.  An exciting thing about those decisions is that many of them were made by parents and grandparents of the children receiving the backpacks.  The backpacks don’t just provide hope to a needy child, they impact the whole family.

When the backpacks are received by children living in difficult circumstances, not only are the children and their families affected, so are those who prepare and pack the backpacks.  Many churches report that their whole congregation was involved in this ministry, young and old, including those who can’t travel on a mission trip. Some churches reported that working together on the backpacks helped them to focus outwardly on the needs of others rather than upon internal church issues.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!”   How devoted are you to reaching children for God?

Let me challenge you and your church or small group to commit to preparing and packing backpacks for children to receive this Christmas. Time is running out because backpacks must be ready for delivery by early October. It all starts with you – but ends in someone coming to know Jesus Christ and the true Christmas story.

For more information, or to commit your group’s participation in the Christmas Backpack Project, visit:  www.kybaptist.org/backpacks

Unpacking Your Short-Term Mission Experience

After you’ve planned, prepared, implemented and returned from your mission trip, it’s time to unpack. Not just your suitcase, but the mission experience itself.  Follow-up is an important part of going on mission because it helps the participant to understand what they learned and how God can use it in their everyday life.   There are people needing a witness in our own neighborhood and unreached people in our local community.  Taking a mission trip to another state or even a foreign country should help us to be more comfortable sharing our faith and encourage us to be a Christian witness in our hometown. There are so many ways to impact our community and the area around our church using the same skills and resources we take overseas.  So, help your church members returning from their mission trip to unpack their experience and awaken within them the realization that the mission isn’t over.

Here are some suggestions for unpacking the mission experience that provide continued growth:     

  1. Talk about the ministry experience and ask how what they did there can be used here at home.
  2. Share journal entries, pictures and videos with the church.
  3. Have a time of testimony and “sharing” during a public worship service.
  4. Provide a safe environment for discussing what they learned about themselves (weaknesses, failures, disappointments) and what God is teaching them.
  5. Ask them what they learned about God?
  6. Share about the experience on social media with pictures and testimony of God’s activity.
  7. Challenge them to consider how the mission experience may be the beginning of a journey God has planned for them, leading to vocational ministry, missionary service, or involvement in local ministry.
  8. Help them to plan service initiatives at home that draw connections between their missions experience away and service at home.
  9. Encourage them to continue the spiritual disciplines practiced on the trip like prayer, devotions, Bible study and worship.
  10. Send letters or emails of thanks and encouragement to the host missionary. Share with them how God used the mission experience.
  11. Discuss what “next steps” they will take on their spiritual journey.
  12. Send a reminder email or letter to every participant 1 month after returning with a picture of the group on the mission trip with the words… “Don’t forget! God did great things and He isn’t finished with you.”

Unpacking the experience can be a tremendous blessing and serve as a reminder to what God did … and is still doing.

 

What’s a Lollapalooza?

I recently had the privilege of attending a lollapalooza put on by Dexter Baptist Church in western Kentucky.  Pastor David Little led his church to plan and implement the lollapalooza event as an effort to reach out to their community. I had never attended a lollapalooza and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In fact, I’m not sure I could’ve spelled lollapalooza without googling it on my computer.   

So where did this word come from?  Legend and Encyclopedia Britannica have it that musician Perry Farrell claims to have named a large international music festival Lollapalooza back in 1991 after hearing the word.  The popularity and use of the word grew.

People have developed this positive association with ‘-palooza’ and it’s become kind of shorthand.  People have hosted a saleapalooza, gameapalooza, kidzapalooza, doggiepalooza and a variety of others you’ve no doubt come across.

Webster’s dictionary defines a lollapalooza as one that is extraordinarily impressive; alsoan outstanding example”.

What Dexter Baptist did was indeed, “extraordinarily impressive”.  This church that normally averages around 60 in Sunday morning worship had 89 people attend their lollapalooza that included music by a Christian band, free food (and lots of it), door prizes and giveaways, bouncy houses and games, and a presentation of the gospel.  The most exciting thing about their lollapalooza was that four individuals committed their lives to following Christ and another person recommitted his life to Christ.

Dexter Baptist also set “an outstanding example” of how a church can reach out and touch more people through a community event like a lollapalooza than they do on any given Sunday morning.  Yes, it took lots of planning, work, promoting and inviting.  But it was worth it to see so many spiritual decisions made.

The church went outside, the community was engaged and it was a great evening together.  But nothing was more “extraordinarily impressive” than the life transformation I witnessed as people experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Let me challenge you to follow the example of the Dexter church and plan something extraordinarily impressive to reach your community for Christ.

How to Uniquely Involve the Uninvolved

Have you ever felt that only a small number of church members were doing the majority of the work?  It’s pretty common in churches, at least the ones I’ve been a part of, for us to depend upon the same few individuals to teach Sunday School, sing on the praise team, lead the men’s ministry, serve as deacons and coordinate the discipleship ministry.  When this happens, we are observing what is called the 80-20 rule or Pareto principle.

The Pareto principle, named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian mathematician and economist,  states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the inputs or causes.  What if we’re observing the 80-20 rule in our churches because we don’t provide opportunities for the uninvolved 80% to be involved in ministry that utilizes their gifting, skills and experience?  Ephesians 4 teaches that believers have been gifted and should be equipped for the work of the ministry.  Ephesians 2 reminds us that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, what if we’re not seeing more believers involved in ministry and missions because we’ve limited the ministry opportunities made available to them?

An example of this was recently seen when one of the international missionaries with whom we partner needed someone to come alongside them to help with the artificial insemination of dairy cattle on a Muslim island where a plaque had killed most all of the cattle population.   Several Kentucky farmers with the experience and knowledge stepped up to meet the need, and provided a Christian witness too! These farmers may not have volunteered to lead a VBS class or sing in the choir, but God had gifted them uniquely for “such a time as this”.

There are many unique missions opportunities that allow believers to find joy and fulfillment in serving because they’re using the talents and gifts God has equipped them with.  Christ followers want and need to serve – but not all are given the chance if ministry opportunities ONLY exist within a very narrow window of mission experiences.

Here are just a few of the many ways that Christ followers can use their passion, skills, talents and experience to be uniquely on mission.

  1. Athletes are needed to help with sports camps (football, basketball, archery, etc). 
  2. Help is needed with literacy classes or after school tutoring
  3. Farmers are needed to help with artificial insemination of cattle & crop production
  4. Business and leadership classes for professionals in other countries
  5. Cooking and food service help is needed in disaster relief work
  6. Business owners can help with the development of micro-businesses that provide income for indigenous church planters and missionaries
  7. Volunteers can learn how to install and repair wells that provide remote villages with fresh water
  8. Those with construction experience are needed to provide ramps or make repairs for the handicapped and elderly
  9. Plumbers and electricians have skills that can be utilized internationally or here at home as a witness
  10. Skilled chainsaw and heavy equipment operators are needed in disaster relief work
  11. Car mechanics could provide assistance to single mothers and the elderly
  12. Medical professionals can serve through clinics in remote villages or in areas of poverty here in the U.S.
  13. Small motor repair courses can be used as a ministry in many cities throughout the world
  14. Woodworking, leather or metal work may provide income for church planters in many places if they are trained and provided start-up resources
  15. Retirees have years of experience to offer and should prayerfully consider using their unique skills and gifts for an extended period of time
  16. Students should consider giving a month or a summer to serve in a mission opportunity related to their major or degree program

Every skill or talent can be used for God’s honor if we give it to Him through missions opportunities.  The next time you observe the Pareto principle happening in your church, let me challenge you to consider how a unique missions opportunity would involve that unengaged believer to use his passion, gifts and talents.

To BE or Not to Be

BEing a witness to our community, state, nation and world is something we are, not something we do.  Being a witness is a mandate given to us by Christ himself.  Acts 1:8 tells us that after receiving power, we will BE His witnesses.  Yes, we do things to witness, but most importantly, we are to BE a witness.  You don’t have to be creative, educated, innovative or make it up as you go.  You simply tell what Christ has done for you, what you know of Him and what you have learned from Him.

Opportunities to BE a witness exist everywhere.  You can BE a witness in your “Jerusalem” as you go to the grocery, bank, school, park, work or for a walk in your neighborhood.  God has gifted and equipped you to BE His witness and very close to you are pregnancy care centers, homeless shelters, clothing and hunger relief ministries, after school programs, nursing homes, hospitals and community events.

Will you BE a witness in your Judea (Kentucky) or Samaria (North America)?  Missionaries and ministry leaders need help from people like yourself who are willing to go and meet needs related to church planting, evangelism, construction, church strengthening and community outreach.  The witness of trained Disaster Relief workers are needed following a tornado, flood, hurricane, or ice storm.  For a complete list of current opportunities, visit www.kybaptist.org/GO or www.kybaptist.org/DR.

Will you BE a witness across the pond to or to the utter most part of the world?  Missionaries in Greece and Europe are needing people to come a BE a witness by prayerwalking, evangelizing boroughs, planting churches or ministering to refugees.  Villages in sub-Saharan Africa need volunteers to BE a witness by drilling wells for drinking water, delivering hospice buckets for AIDS patients and caring for orphans.

These are only a few of the many opportunities to BE a witness that I’m aware of.  To quote William Shakespeare, “to BE or not to be”, that is the question.  If His power is upon you, it’s not a choice you make.  The command is to BE.  If we’re not BEing a witness, one must ask, “is His power upon me?”

“Pulling Teeth” at Show and Tell

Perhaps you remember as I do, participating in “show and tell” as a child in elementary school. In case you’re not familiar with show and tell, it’s an informative presentation involving the demonstration of an object.  While the class may not always need the demonstration of the object to understand the information presented, together, they communicate much more effectively.

Jesus used show and tell as a means of sharing the gospel with those He encountered.  He demonstrated the Father’s love and preached the message of salvation.  He was always showing and telling, healing and preaching.   

1 John 3:18-19 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;”

The Scriptures emphasize the importance of using actions and deeds when sharing the gospel.  It doesn’t say stop using words altogether when sharing the gospel.  But it does say stop “just” using words.  In other words, show and tell the love of God.  One of God’s frustrations with His people is that we sometimes honor Him with our lips, but our hearts are often far from Him.

I witnessed a show and tell of the gospel in an effective way on a recent Saturday in Bowling Green when Rich Pond Baptist Church assisted Christ Fellowship Church in conducting a dental clinic. The Kentucky Baptist Convention partnered to provide training, dental supplies and use of the North American Mission Board’s mobile dental unit. Brent Fields, Minister of Missions and Outreach at Rich Pond shared that “this opportunity to meet physical needs served as a bridge for sharing the gospel”.

Preparation for the clinic began months in advance with training, enlistment of professionals and canvassing of the neighborhood.  On the day of the clinic, over 35 volunteers worked together to shepherd almost 100 refugees through registration and dental screening, cleaning and pulling teeth, filling cavities and ending pain.  While waiting to be treated, patients heard volunteers share stories of salvation and life transformation.  All day long it was a show and tell of the gospel.

The churches intentionally targeted a refugee population from Africa because of their desire to develop an on-going ministry to their new to Bowling Green friends.  Brent shared that he overheard one volunteer tell a patient from the Congo, “we do this because Christ loves us … and He loves you too!”  Every person coming to the clinic was part of a show and tell as they were shown love in a practical way and told about the gospel of Christ.  Brent also commented that “the dental clinic provided professionals an opportunity to use their skills to demonstrate the love of Christ”.

Churches of any size can show and tell the gospel in their own community and a dental clinic is not the only way to do it.  Other ways to show and tell include after school ministries with children, pregnancy care, small group ministry to recovering addicts or ex-offenders, food and clothing distributing, foster parenting or adoption, rent or utility assistance, parenting courses, home repair, ESL classes, tutoring, etc.  There is no limit to the many ways we can show and tell about the love of Christ.

We must open our mouths to fully express the gospel, but using only words doesn’t fully demonstrate His love. Live the gospel and share the gospel.  Words and deeds.  Lips and life.  Walk and talk. Show and tell!

Why Should My Church Partner in the Baptist Association?

Association is a term that defines how Baptist churches work together in partnership. Churches choose to be part of the local Baptist association and each determines how much participation and financial support they will invest. Many of today’s associations have stepped up to provide value and are leading member churches in revitalization, church planting, leadership development and missions. 

Churches partnering through the local association is sometimes overlooked. Yet, we know that partnership between churches is an important aspect of New Testament Christianity.  The apostle Paul and other New Testament leaders modeled partnership between churches.  While their context may have been different from ours today, the pattern of partnership is repeatable. God still provides uniquely gifted people to lead partnerships today.

In the past, churches partnered together – helping each other with doctrine and practice (Acts 8:14-25; Gal. 3), relocating leaders to strengthen other situations (Acts 11:19-23, 25-26, 12:25, 16:1-3), sending individuals and teams on short-term visits (Acts 11:27, 19:21-22; 1 Cor. 4:15-17; Phil. 2:19-29; 2 Tim. 1:18), sending money to help each other (Acts 11:28-30), and together advancing the gospel and church plants (Rom. 15:24; 2 Cor. 10:15-16).

Here are 5 reasons why your church should partner in the local association –

 

  1. Partnership Contributes to the Mission –

Our mission from Jesus is to take the gospel to our neighborhoods and the nations, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8). How could any local church do that alone? But if we partner with the association, every church can participate in local and world missions. Every church can pray for, give to and participate through the association towards church planting and missions. Together, our mission can be healthier, stronger, longer, and more sustainable.

2. Partnership encourages Maturity

No matter how educated or experienced your church leadership is, the local church will mature and strengthen when it receives challenge and encouragement from other church leaders, like those in the association. Churches working together in an association hold each other accountable to doctrine, practices, and outreach efforts.

3.  Partnership Is an Expression of Humility –

It honors Christ when we consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) and seek ways to work together for the sake of the gospel.  A church is sadly mistaken if they pridefully believe they don’t need to partner with other churches involved in the same mission.

4.  Partnership Provides Synergy –

An association can help strengthen member churches and prop up weaknesses that may be slowing the work. Associations help maximize a church’s potential influence, providing a network through which the churches can influence more broadly than they could individually.

5. Partnership Provides Support –

Sometimes churches go through immensely challenging seasons. If a church loses a leader to burn out, sickness, or failure, she will find support and encouragement from other member churches because of their partnership in the association.

The Command to GO “Trumps” the Need

I am so thankful for the literally thousands of missionaries who serve the Lord in Kentucky each year through a variety of ministries.  Whether one serves as a long term career missionary or a short term volunteer, you are considered a missionary, “if in response to God’s call and gifting, you leave your comfort zone and cross cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission” (North American Mission Board of the SBC).

Missionaries have met many of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs in Kentucky.  Through personal sacrifice and service you have fed hungry children, provided shelter for homeless families, offered accountability for a recovering addict, discipled prisoners in the jail, provided job training for the unemployed, built a wheelchair ramp for the physically handicapped, and cooked meals for the hungry following a disaster.

Why did you go on that mission trip?  What prompted you to leave your job and move your family in order to serve?  What motivates you as a missionary?  Perhaps it is your compassion for the outcast, sympathy for the poor, or simply an overwhelming desire to help those in need. Our primary motivation for serving as a missionary should be the command of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).  Our obedience to His call should trump any and every need that exist.

We must be aware of the needs around us and always looking for ways to meet them in the name of Jesus.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling compassion for the lost and hurting.  But His command to “go” should be our driving force, not the hungry faces, homeless families or children in need.