Iconic Branding

Churches, pastors, and ministries seek to be heard in the massive expanse of one of the most competitive cultural influences in history… the influence and power of global media.  We daily compete to share the most important message of life in a culture that is bombarded with 24-hour, non-stop media clutter.

Marketers today constantly talk about the importance of branding and being relevant in the competitive arena of global media.   The fast food company McDonald’s has done this well through the years.  McDonald’s began by serving hamburgers and fries and not much else.  You can still get a hamburger at McDonald’s today, but you can also get salads, wraps, and a cappuccino.  It is a different world even for McDonald’s and they have continued to adapt their product to stay relevant and to attract customers.

As the church, we must continue to prayerfully communicate the message of Christ in a changing culture and to form mission strategies that are effective and relevant in this new day.  The Apostle Paul understood the need for cultural awareness and adaptability.  That is what he is teaching us in the 1 Corinthians 9 when he instructs us,

“I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

The Apostle Paul understood the importance of sharing the Gospel in a way that communicates clearly in a sea of competing voices and that is culturally relevant to those whom you seek to reach.  As a church, it is important to develop missional strategies that are culturally relevant and that communicate clearly.  

McDonald’s has evolved from their beginnings in 1955 and continues to be relevant in a changing culture.  As a company, they have been able to adapt and make changes that help them compete in this time of huge cultural shifts.  They have remained relevant and continue to attract customers.

And yet, one thing has not changed, McDonald’s has never changed their iconic branding of the “golden arches“.  They may have changed their menu, but the company leaders have recognized that the “golden arches” sets them apart and makes them recognizable in a flooded market of competitors.  

I would encourage you to learn a second lesson from McDonald’s and the Apostle Paul.  We must continue to adapt to stay relevant but certain iconic branding that sets us apart in a sea of clamoring competitors should remain. Though we must be willing to adapt in practice to effectively reach our world for Christ, we must hang on to that which “brands” us as the church of our Lord.  As Paul shares clearly, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).  This message must never change and must always remain as that which clearly communicates who we are in a sea of clamoring noise and media clutter.  Christ crucified and resurrected is our unchanging message.

It is the iconic branding that sets us apart.

 

 

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

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).

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.

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).

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.