Why Cultural Awareness is Important in Ministry?

Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:18-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  To do this effectively requires us to have some understanding of the community and the culture that God has called us to minister within.  Race, age, religious belief, economic status, language, educational background, unique community marks of identification, major social issues all have impact on our mission field and can be bridges or barriers to the Gospel.

Every church needs a cultural awareness of their mission field.

The Apostle Paul taught us about the need for cultural awareness in ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”

We are called as believers to be Ambassadors for Christ.

A good ambassador:

  • Has knowledge of who he is and who he is representing.
  • Knows extensive knowledge of the place that he has been assigned…culturally, socially, politically, geographically, etc.
  • Shows respect for the people that he will serve among.
  • Seeks to identify and connect with the people that he will work with.

Do you know your community?

Strategic Cultural Demographics – Strategic Mapping for Ministry/Outreach

  • Ethnic Diversity/Make-up
  • Geographical Divisions
  • Income Levels – average income
  • Educational Levels
  • Employment/Unemployment – biggest employers
  • Percentage of Poverty and homelessness
  • Population Distribution by Age – fastest growing age segment
  • Languages Spoken
  • Major Social Issues that Impact community – drug usage, teenage pregnancy, etc.
  • Unique Community Markers of Identification – university, resort area, military base, etc.
  • Projected Community Growth Rate over Next Five Years – community stagnant, declining, or growing
  • Religious Beliefs in Community
  • What Percentage of Community Looks Like Your Church?

There are several ways to gather this information to help you to understand the culture of your community.  Information can be gathered from census and other community data resources on the internet.  Often real estate groups, local Chambers of Commerce, and schools will have good community information.

Church Leaders should also do personal observation in the community to verify or to discover additional community information.  Drive through the community.  Walk through neighborhoods.  Look for significant community markers or cultural markers (ethnic restaurants, non-Christian places of worship, community assistance or resource centers, colleges, military base, recreational areas). Identify local places where people congregate.  Observe and engage people in local gathering places.

The goal is to learn about people in your community and identify points where the church can build bridges to Christ.

The keys to developing a missional cross-cultural strategy in your church are:

  • Listen and observe
  • Be sensitive
  • Look to build bridges to Christ
  • Share the Gospel in the heart language of your community/target group
  • Make decisions when possible with those of your target group
  • Be inclusive when you reach people – allow them a place in the family of faith
  • Be willing to make changes that break down barriers to the Gospel
  • Do not sweat a few mistakes but seek to learn from them.

 

Importance of the Pastor as a Catalyst for Missions

The Pastor is called to be a preacher/teacher within the body of faith.  This place of leadership gives him a unique authority and influence in the local church.  When the shepherd of the flock leads, the flock will follow.   This is crucial for the general health of the church but also for the missional health of the body of Christ.

The pastor is called to be God’s strategist for the local mission field but is also critical for God’s command to take the Gospel to the nations.  When the pastor has a passion for missions the church will be ignited to go into all the world for the sake of the Gospel.

The pastor is vital in:

  • Casting a missional vision.  If it is not said from the pulpit most in the pews do not think it is important.
  • Helping the body of Christ understand lostness.  When the pastor is consumed by the urgency of our work for Christ, it will overflow to the people in the pews.
  • Making missions a regular and important part of worship. Missions should flow from the worship of God.  We were created to give God glory.  When we meet God in worship, it stirs our hearts to make His name known among all the nations.  The pastor plays a key role by seeking ways to make missions a part of worship (preaching on missions, showing mission clips, praying for missions, highlighting mission offerings, using missions’ illustrations in his message, inviting missionaries to speak).
  • Preaching the Word faithfully and challenging the people to live life on mission for Christ.
  • Leading by example.  The church will never be more committed than their leader.
  • Fostering the development of missionaries within the congregation by seeking to grow and encourage those in the family of faith to serve and surrender to a missions’ calling.  Pastors are called to equip up the saints, so that these disciples may be sent out on mission for Christ.
  • Developing a comprehensive mission strategy to move the church to reach its Jerusalem, to have impact in the church’s Judea and Samaria, and to take the Gospel to the farthest corners of the globe.
  • Being an encourager of missions and missionaries.  Invite missionaries to your church and help the church to build relationships with missionaries.
  • Promoting missions giving.  This is the lifeblood of missions, and when we give cooperatively we can do more for the Kingdom than any of us can alone.  The pastor plays a vital role in helping the church to understand why we give to missions and choose to work cooperatively as Southern Baptists.
  • Encouraging the church to pray for missions, unreached people, and missionaries.
  • Energizing the flock to “Go.”

The strength or weakness of each local church’s missionary strategy, missionary support, and missionary outreach will depend, more than any other one element, on the mission-mindedness of its pastor.   

What Can the Church Do to Address Human Trafficking?

HOW SHOULD THE CHURCH RESPOND TO THOSE ENSLAVED TODAY?

“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves.  Remove your evil deeds from My sight.  Stop doing evil.  Learn to do what is good.  Seek justice.  Rebuke the oppressor.  Defend the rights of the fatherless.  Plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-19).

The church cannot ignore the issue of human trafficking.  The church is called stand against evil, seek justice, care for the least of these, and rebuke the oppressor.  Our God calls us to speak out and to reach out.

AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, HE CALLS US TO BE AGENTS OF JUSTICE AND TRUTH… OF LOVE AND GRACE.

What can the church do?

  • Care enough to get involved.
  • Begin paying attention and being aware of those that may be victims of human trafficking.
  • Avoid the temptation to blame the victims for their situations.
  • Be willing to reach out and offer a hand of help and hope to someone victimized by trafficking.  Offer unconditional love and remember that the chains of sin are not always broken quickly.
  • Realize that breaking the chains of trafficking will not come easy; it will require time, patience, and endurance.
  • Understand that not every situation will result in success, but through the power of God, victories are possible.
  • Address the issue of pornography honestly with your church from the pulpit and in small groups.
  • Begin men’s and women’s groups, where individuals can find a safe place to share their struggles and be freed from pornography’s hold through transparency, accountability, biblical study, and prayer.
  • Train church, children, and youth leaders to recognize the signs of abuse and trafficking vulnerability; and seek to increase awareness how perpetrators utilize extortion and weak areas to exploit the vulnerable.
  • Utilize MinistrySafe and their five-part system that provides a framework for sexual abuse prevention in your ministry areas.
  • Be cautious in allowing new members or new attendees to your church in serving in children’s or youth ministry.
  • Conduct Child Protection training for church, youth, and children’s leaders.
  • Develop child protection policies that build in safeguards.
  • Conduct background checks on youth and children’s leaders in the church before allowing them to serve.
  • Teach Biblical sexuality in appropriate settings to youth and adults.
  • Support or volunteer with a ministry that is working to free victims from trafficking.

The church can make a difference and free those chained by exploitation and evil.

“Rescue the poor and needy; save them from the power of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4).

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.

 

Taking Care of Your Heart

“Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

I have served in active ministry for the sake of my Lord for forty years, and in my role as Disaster Relief Director for the last decade.  Ministry is not for the faint of heart, weak, or timid.  Our calling often requires us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ and others with long hours and stressful days.  This can wear on us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

I was reminded of this in May of 2017, when I began having some neck pain and numbness in my left arm.  When this continued for several days, I decided to call my cardiologist.   I was quickly scheduled for a heart catheterization, and the result was three stents placed in my coronary arteries.  I am thankful for God’s sufficient grace, and that I could catch this health problem before it caused more serious issues like a major heart attack or stroke.  God has reminded me afresh that I cannot serve him well if I do not take care of my own health.

I would encourage you as a minister to:

  1. Develop a regular discipline of exercise.  I have found a morning 30-minute exercise regimen to be best for me as I often lose control of my afternoons and evenings as ministry needs arise during the day.  Find a type of exercise that you enjoy and can maintain. For me, it is walking or riding a stationary bike.
  2. Maintain a healthy diet.  It is easy in ministry to eat on the “go” and to make less than healthy choices.  I am disciplining myself to watch my portion size, to eat more vegetables and fruits, and to watch my cholesterol and fats.  I thank God that eating healthier has increased my energy for His sake.
  3. Get Proper Rest.  We all need a good night sleep.  God recharges the body when we allow it to rest and trust the events of the day to Him.
  4. Take time to get away from ministry for brief periods and to allow God to restore you.  Unlike the Energizer Bunny, we will run down without some down times to relax.  Ministry can be demanding and stressful, even when things are going good.  Burnout and Compassion Fatigue are damaging to us and our families, and can be deadly to ministry.
  5. Rely on the strength of God’s Holy Spirit to help you begin and maintain good health practices.  If overeating is a weakness for you, then ask the Spirit to help you fight the urge to make unhealthy food choices.  If lack of exercise is your problem, then ask God to help you set your alarm and get up a few minutes earlier.

God has reminded me that I cannot minister effectively if I neglect my own physical, emotional, or spiritual health.  God cares about our bodies.  He gave them to us.  He wants us to do all we can to keep our bodies healthy and active for His sake for the days that He has appointed us.  Take care of yourself for your sake, but even deeper for His sake!

“For you were bought at a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Embracing the Stranger Next Door

It was estimated that last year over 50 million people were displaced from their homes, with around 19.5 million forced to live as refugees. These people have been driven from their homes by war, violence, persecution, and disasters.  They have lost their culture, friends, security, sense of community, and often their dignity.

These are people with names, dreams, and hopes. These are people just like you and me. These are people loved by God. And they are coming to our communities.  Every year refugees, students, and other internationals are coming to our communities.  They are becoming our neighbors.  God is bringing the nations to us, and the church has been called to take the Gospel to all peoples.

How can we embrace the nations and reach out to those from other cultures that God is bringing to our communities?

  • Smile and welcome them.  Grace and kindness work in any culture.
  • Open your eyes to those that God has brought to your community.  Take time to see the server at the restaurant, the cashier at the convenience store, the nurse at the hospital, the new person in your office, or the neighbor across the street who may look, dress, and speak a little different from you.
  • Consider adopting a refugee family through your small group or church family.  The Kentucky Baptist Convention Missions Mobilization Team can help you connect to families through partnering ministries.
  • Start a conversation.  It can be as simple as asking someone their name and where they are from.  Ask them about their family or homeland.  Inquire about religious beliefs in their country.
  • Be a good listener.  Seek to be a learner.  People tend to listen to others who really listen to them.
  • Pursue genuine friendship.  Many internationals would love a real friend in a new land.  You are called to share with folks in a relationship, not sell the Gospel.
  • Be an ambassador for Christ.  Let them see Christ in you.  A good ambassador knows when to talk and when to listen.
  • Practice hospitality.  Share your phone number if they need a friend’s help or guidance. Invite them over for tea or coffee.  Drive them to the doctor or help them at a grocery store.  Have them over for a meal at your home.
  • Pray for them.
  • Share your faith story.  Tell them what your life was like before Christ, how you came to Christ, and what Jesus means to your life now.  Try to work on being able to share this in two to four minutes.  Avoid church words like lost or saved, as unbelievers often do not understand the internal language of Christians.
  • Remember the goal is not to win debates, but to passionately share your faith.  Stand strong on what you believe in a loving manner.
  • Finally, be ready for the day when your new friend wants to know how they can have a relationship with God through Christ.  Be prepared to share in everyday language what sin is, who Jesus is, and what the Gospel is.

 “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Studies indicate that those who are prepared for disasters have a greater chance of survival than those who are not prepared.

So how can your family be prepared for a disaster?

  1. Be Informed.  What are the most likely disasters that could occur in your community?  What are the best safety practices that our family should enact if disaster threats happen in our community?  What risks do they impose on my family?   How can I mitigate the risks?
  2. Make a Disaster Plan with your Family.  How will we respond in an emergency? Does everyone know what to do if a tornado siren is heard, if flash flooding is occurring, or what to do in an earthquake?   How will my family get to a safe area?  How will we get in touch after the disaster to ensure everyone is safe and accounted for, or where will we meet if phones or computers are not working? And remember, practice insures everyone understands how to implement the plan.
  3. Put Together an Emergency Kit.  An emergency kit should include:
  • 3-5-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day).
  • 3-5 days of ready-to-eat food supplies
  • a first aid kit
  • paper plates, cups, and utensils
  • toilet paper
  • garbage bags
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • plastic bucket with tight lid
  • disinfectant
  • household bleach
  • battery operated radio with extra batteries
  • 3-5 days of cash
  • essential medications
  • non-electric can opener
  • pliers
  • duct tape
  • matches in waterproof container
  • aluminum foil
  • pencil and paper
  • signal flare
  • wrench to turn off gas and water
  • water hose for siphoning
  • candles
  • good, sturdy shoes
  • rain gear
  • blankets or sleeping bags
  • warm clothing
  • box for important papers
  • whistle for signaling

No one knows when a disaster will strike.  However, we can and should be prepared in the event a crisis happens. Being prepared, may save you and your loved ones.

One last note, even secular disaster entities concur that those with a spiritual foundation, survive better and recover in healthier ways during disaster events than those lacking a spiritual refuge.  So, the greatest way to be prepared for a disaster is to rest your life on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ!

“A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself,
but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

Tornado Preparedness

Tornadoes are one of nature’s most destructive and violent weather events.  A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground.  The whirling wind of a tornado can reach wind speeds of 300 mph.  Most tornadoes move from Southwest to Northeast but can move in any direction.  They may strike quickly with little warning, and in a matter of seconds can cause devastation.  Because wind is not visible, you cannot always see a tornado.  Every year, around 60 people are killed by tornadoes, typically from flying debris.

Kentucky lies in Hoosier Alley and averages 21 tornado events per year.  Peak tornado season for Kentucky is from April through June, but tornadoes have struck in every month of the calendar year.

Tornado Signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roaring sound, like a freight train
  • Funnel cloud

Know the Terms:

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch – severe thunderstorms are possible in your area
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning – severe thunderstorms are occurring in your area
  • Tornado Watch – tornadoes are possible in your area
  • Tornado Warning – a tornado has been sighted or spotted by weather radar

Be Prepared:

  1. Preparedness increases our ability to survive disaster events.
  2. Develop a family disaster plan and discuss the plan.
  3. If a tornado watch is issued, remain alert, monitor weather, and be prepared to execute disaster plan.
  4. If your area is under tornado warning, you should seek safe shelter immediately.
  5. Avoid windows.
  6. Get as low as possible.  A basement or storm shelter is the safest place to be.
  7. If your home does not have a basement, seek a small interior windowless room, like a closet or interior hallway.  Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  8. Get under a sturdy table and/or cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body as best as you can with blankets, pillows, mattress, or heavy clothing.
  9. Do not open windows.
  10. Do not stay in a mobile home during a tornado.
  11. If you are in a long-span building (shopping malls, theaters, gymnasiums, airports), stay away from windows, and seek to get to the lowest level.  If there is no time to get to a lower level, try to get under a door-frame, table, desk if possible.  Remember to protect your head and neck.
  12. The worst place to be in a tornado is in a vehicle.  Always get out of the vehicle and seek the nearest sturdy shelter.  Do not try to flee from a tornado in your car, and never get under your vehicle.
  13. If you are outdoors, try to get to a sturdy structure for shelter. If you are unable to reach a safe place to shelter, lie down in a gully, ditch or low spot on the ground.  Protect your head and neck with your arms.  Avoid areas with trees.  Never shelter under or near vehicles.  Do not shelter under overpasses or bridges.  Find something to hang onto.  Be aware that lightning, flooding, and hail can accompany tornadoes.
  14. If you are trapped, do not panic.  Seek to attract attention to your location with loud noises or by calling for help on your cell phone.

“A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished.”   (Proverbs 22:3)

What the 2017 Hurricane Season Taught Us

The year 2017 will be remembered as one of the worst hurricane seasons in U.S. history. Three major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) caused almost 370 billion dollars in damage, and it was only the second time in history for two Category-5 storms to make landfall at that intensity.  Two areas received over 60 inches of rain, one island was left almost uninhabitable, and September 2017 became the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.

This hyperactive hurricane season left thousands trying to recover, and stretched the capacities of every major disaster response entity.  What are the lessons to be learned from this active response season?

    • Disasters create opportunities for the church to demonstrate the love of God and to share the hope of Christ.  Closed doors open when we show up to offer His love in deed and in truth.
    • Partnerships are vital to effective response efforts.  Working in partnership increases effectiveness and broadens our ability to help more hurting people.  We can do more together than any of us can do alone.
    • Trained volunteers have the greatest impact in disaster response, and greatly increase response effectiveness.  The best way to help in times of disaster is to be trained and connected with a reputable disaster relief organization.  You can get connected and sign up for a 2018 Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief training by going to http://www.kybaptist.org/dr/ .
    • Untrained volunteers create challenges for effective response, but spontaneous volunteers are always going to show up in disaster events with extensive media coverage.  Though untrained volunteers often create response issues, they can fill a needed gap when channeled in a right direction.  God used Southern Baptist untrained volunteers from our churches in amazing ways in the midst of the suffering and devastation, but they were most effective when paired with trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.  Send Relief through the North American Mission Board gives us a vehicle to effectively utilize untrained volunteers effectively, if we develop a strategy from our lessons learned this hurricane season.
    • Disaster sites were overwhelmed with spontaneous loads of collected resources, such as used clothing, bottled water, and other resources.  Before collecting items for disaster victims, we should make sure items are needed and wanted.  We were reminded in 2017 that the best way to help those affected is by giving monetary donations, which enables those affected to both maintain their dignity and to purchase what they really need.
    • Recovery takes time for those affected.  Recovery often takes years for those affected from the loss of disasters.

    • Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the best ways to donate to those affected by disaster.  100% of every dollar given goes directly to meet the needs of those affected.
    • Southern Baptist Disaster Relief remains as one of the most effective disaster relief entities in the world.  Southern Baptist volunteers prepared more than 3 million meals, served over 90,000 days and witnessed more than 700 people profess faith in Christ as they ministered to hurricane survivors in 2017.  Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers brought help, healing, and hope to thousands of people affected by this extremely active hurricane season in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

“And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works for cases of urgent need, so that we may not be unfruitful.”  (Titus 3:14)

When Our World Is Shattered

Last week a quiet rural community was jolted awake by a school shooting that left scores of young people, adults, and families reeling.  Marshall County, Kentucky continues to grieve as they seek to recover from an almost unspeakable act of violence, that left two precious young people dead and eighteen others wounded or injured.  This was a tragic and horrible day for this community and for every family involved.

As the community tries to recover, things will normalize but will be forever different from how things were before.  “Different” in these type of tragedies is an understatement.  According to the National Center for PTSD, 77% or more who witness a school shooting may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.   PTSD is triggered by frightening or life-threatening events.  Symptoms include pervasive and disruptive anxiety, nightmares, sleep difficulties, flashbacks, aggression, emotional detachment, social withdrawal,  on-going emotional distress, and even physical pain symptoms.

These responses are often temporary and ease with time.  However some individuals may need psychological and spiritual counseling to be able recover and cope with PTSD.

What can we do to help those who have gone through and survived such a terror-filled event?

  1. Observe behavior of those affected.   Are they demonstrating symptoms of PTSD?  Are they demonstrating behavior that demonstrates they need help or support?
  2. Be there.  People often do not need wisdom or advice, they just need to know that they are not alone and someone cares.
  3. Acknowledge their pain and confusion.  Let them know that you understand that this is a painful, overwhelming, or hurtful time.  Assure them that they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
  4. Intentionally listen.  Focus on the person.  Follow what the person is saying.  Be conscious of body language.  Maintain eye contact.  Be comfortable with periods of silence.  Fixate on what you can do, not what you cannot help with.   Listen more than you talk.
  5.  Actively offer comfort.  Be with them.  Listen to them.  Walk alongside them.  Shield them from further harm.  Help them discover resources to help.
  6. Promote calming.  It is OK to weep with those who are grieving, but remember that you are there for them and seek to focus on their needs not your own.  Seek to help them reestablish normal activities and routines, such as eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
  7. Allow them to grieve and express their grief.  Grief takes time and most people pass through several stages of grief before ready to move on from the grief event.  Everyone grieves differently and will pass through grief on their own timetable.
  8. Hugs and appropriate physical touches can offer healing and comfort.
  9. Pray with those hurting.  Prayer connects people with God, who is the ultimate source of hope.  Do not underestimate the healing that God often gives through prayer.
  10. Do not try to answer the why questions or offer theology lessons on how God acts in certain events.  In the crisis, people need to know you care, not what you may or may not know.  Let God speak for Himself to the person.
  11. Offer spiritual help when appropriate.  Those with spiritual foundations recover from disaster events in more healthy and positive ways than those without spiritual roots.   Remember to share how God has helped you in crisis times, not seek to force your faith on those affected.  Be cautious in seeking to share Christ to those who have experienced emotional trauma, as we never want to wrongly manipulate vulnerable people.

“Lord, be merciful to us! We wait for you.
Give us strength each morning!
                         Deliver us when distress comes.”  (Isaiah 33:2)