Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bible Study Update

I had spent the better part of 2008 comparing the effectiveness of our two primary teaching vehicles: Sunday School & Bible Study. I sought to distinguish Bible Study from Sunday School while at the same time, providing an atmosphere more conducive to learning and retaining Biblical knowledge.

So in January, I introduced a new Bible Study format that was more of a lecture style, focusing on 3-4 week series complete with notes and multimedia elements interspersed throughout. After the first series was completed, I also felt the need to distribute folders to encourage the students to keep and review their notes throughout the year. We had our first quiz after a series on the Apostle Paul and everyone seemed to enjoy that.

Overall, the response has been generally positive and I've observed an improvement in study habits which I attribute to attendees having notes to study, the new "series" format, and the implementing of quizzes (which are written to be lighthearted and fun). One idea did die off, however, as it became unfeasible to video each lesson, edit, and post it to our website every week. But our notes are still available for download each week, sometimes in advance. So far we've studied The Trinity, Apostle Paul, and we're finishing up on a 3 week overview of Psalms. In the coming months, I hope to introduce lessons on Angels & Demons, How to Study the Bible, and later, a Study of the Kingdom of Israel.

Change is always a tricky endeavor, but when executed correctly and with the right intentions, it can be very fruitful. The struggle for me was to offer accessible material to the entire range of students from the newest member to the seasoned veteran, since we only have one adult class. I must admit that it takes a lot of prayer, preparation, and wisdom to offer lessons that challenge individuals without totally alienating them, but I love every minute of it!!

If you like, you can check out our recent Bible Study lessons on our website.

elder todd

Monday, March 16, 2009

Holy Wars??

Luke 22:24 "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest."

What a scene it must have been to witness the bickering and debates of supremacy amongst the disciples as Jesus shared his last meal with them before He would give Himself to be hung on the cross. Today the debate often still rages, though in ever evolving distinctions. Most modern disciples don't attempt to distinguish themselves as greater based on personal virtue. But rather, they proclaim the supremacy of whatever ministry field they espouse to be the most important or greater than all the others.

The preacher celebrates the Word proclaimed as most vital. The teacher stresses the need for understanding. The worshipers speak of their role opening the hearts of the believers through sincere praise. The prayer warriors often think nothing more important than intercession and deep personal communion with God. These, of course, are mere generalities, but we've heard them before. And sometimes, these preferences progress into a far more dangerous atmosphere of competition and feelings of preeminence next to all others.

But the truth is, God never intended for various ministries and those operating in Spiritual gifts to war against one another. Rather, they are to complement one another. We must work together if we are ever going to be effective in reaching the lost and growing the Body of Christ. So remember, what you do is vital. But so is the work of the person next to you who's doing some ministry that may be unfamiliar (and not so important) to you. The Kingdom of God is big enough to hold all of us and our unique gifts together, in the same Spirit, to edify both God and His Church.

I Corinthians 12:4-6

4Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

elder todd

Monday, March 9, 2009

Communicating the Gospel

Romans 10:17 (KJV) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

Welcome to the 21st Century! This new era presents the Church with countless means of reaching the saved and the unsaved alike with the message of redemption, encouragement, love, and peace that can only be found in Jesus Christ. For centuries there were only two basic ways of communicating the Gospel, by word of mouth or in written form. Today we have Radio, TV, Internet, DVD, CD, and several cutting edge churches are even using holographic imagery to project their Minister into several building sites at one time. This all sounds pretty far out, but as a wise man once said: "The more things change, the more they remain the same." So the basic rules of communication still apply. We must consider our audience, the setting, the tone, and most importantly, the message that is meant to be conveyed.

Communication is a funny thing, though. The same message brought forth one way is interpreted an entirely different way in another format. Take for instance, this blog. This is my 15th post and anyone who has visited has read what would be characterized as my own thoughts, opinions, observations, and perspectives. But I bet you didn't know that 6 of my blog postings are actually near word-for-word sermons that I have preached at my home church in the past 6 years. In each of those instances, multiple people told how "the Lord really used you" and "the Holy Spirit spoke to us tonight!" Once I'm asked to speak, I am entrusted with the burden of seeking God for a message for His people. This blog format is different in the way it is received. It is read, pondered, and reactions are slower an more deliberate, which would lead one to assume that this writing was produced the same way, making for an entirely different experience. So what was once the "Word of God" when I was standing behind the pulpit, can now be interpreted entirely different.

Fact is the Word of God will be, perhaps even needs to be expressed in different forms. This approach is not without Biblical precedent: The Word of God was transmitted orally from the days of Adam until Moses when God chose to record upon tablets his most basic commands of obedience for Israel. Jesus spoke in parables, sometimes explaining them in-depth while other times assuring His disciples that there understanding would come in time. Nathan informed David of his sin and his punishment with vivid, relevant imagery. The prophets of the OT spoke of heavenly visions, not to mention the heavily symbolized nature of the Book of Revelations. And as for technology? We've already mentioned Moses' tablets, but also Ezra spoke from a specially built wooden pulpit and employed a clever system of "sub-preachers" to carry the Law throughout the sea of people present. And Christ Himself commissioned a sea vessel to be launched out from shore so all the people could hear him.

So it is clear that we are to remember that the method of communication is not nearly as important as the message.

elder todd

Friday, March 6, 2009

Back to Basics

What should churches do when ministry programs fizzle again and again? When fellowships have little or no participation? How does a ministry deal when it struggles to gather volunteers for outreach efforts? How can we remedy vast inconsistencies in attendance? How does leadership address growing cynicism, destructive criticism with no constructive ideas offered, and if ideas are given, a refusal to actually contribute to its success? What can be done when professing Christians all but abandon their duty to witness to the lost and invite people to church?

I say: Get Back to Basics. Sometimes we can get so bogged down with the "extras" of modern ministry that we neglect the most important thing: being Spiritually Disciplined and growing closer to Jesus Christ, both personally and as a congregation.

How do we go about getting back to basics? Let's look to the Word:

We must be honest about our current condition. "Psalm 12:1 Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases to be,For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men." - From the positions of leadership on down, it is sometimes necessary to admit that we are worn, tired, dry, listless, and in need of rejuvenation. Until that confession is made, revival and renewal cannot take place. This is perhaps the hardest step. Too often, leaders equate an admission that something is wrong with total defeat. As a consequence, they attempt to portray an unyielding optimistic outlook that is understandable, but not genuine. But there is no benefit in avoiding the truth. Rather, confession and repentance (yes repentance) is an awesome experience that brings freedom from private shame and frustration. In fact, it is something that should happen regularly in the Church.

Commit fully and passionately to vital spiritual disciplines. "Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." It is a hard thing to face, but sometimes we need to release ourselves of the many obligations we've created for ourselves in modern ministry. That could mean suspending all other programs, ministries, fellowships, and clubs in order to focus exclusively on Prayer/Fasting, Worship, and Teaching/Preaching as a congregation. This period of focused commitment is certain to result in the restoration both of individual faith and renewed congregational vigor and excitement as God revives and refreshes the Body of Christ. To be sure, no one desires to abandon the various ministries that all serve a good purpose, but the Church must make clear what is most important according to the Word of God. Besides, not now doesn't necessarily mean never.

Re-Engage in those other ministries with wisdom and creativity.
"Galations 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." It is amazing what an extended and focused communion with God will reveal about us. In fact, we would be rather surprised to discover those things that we invite to bind and hinder us as Christians who are active in ministry. Perhaps some of the ministries we feel are absolutely necessary really aren't and we are too concerned with appearing busy and active or being seen as important or needed. Maybe we simply need a fresh approach to how the ministries of the church can be implemented.

I believe that these times of serious reflection and seeking God's direction will not only restore the Church to active engagement with God and our community, but also allow us to see what He desires for us to do and not what we simply think is a good idea for ministry. Like Jesus' encounter with Mary and Martha, God has His own way of showing us the "needful thing".

elder todd

Note: Psalm 12:1, Acts 2:42 (NASB); Gal 5:1 (KJV)

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Want to Be Like Mike

I'm a firm believer that if you want to be better at something, be it sports, music, art, a career, and even ministry, you should look at someone who is succeeding in that area, if nothing more than for inspiration and encouragement. That was the gist of the old "I want to be Like Mike" Gatorade ads from my childhood, where dozens of kids sang of their desire to play basketball as well as Michael Jordan, considered one of the greatest ever. Obviously, most of those kids were never going to be like Mike. Many would never even make a high school or college squad, but it's the idea that we should aspire to maximize our individual talents and abilities.

This issue came up when I pitched an idea to a friend that would involve drastically changing the teaching ministry at my church. His first response was "only Mega Churches do that." I had already known this, but I begged the question "and what's wrong with that?" Since when did Church become a place where sharing ideas and emulating effective ministry methods were forbidden? I think not only is it acceptable, but something that should be encouraged. Let's learn from others who are doing well, and not be too proud to acknowledge that some other ministry may be succeeding at the very thing we're trying to accomplish. Getting over the false assumption that every church must be unique in every way beyond its own inherent qualities could be the first step in seeing a greater harvest from our ministries. So, don't be afraid to be a CopyCat. Fact is, once you've copied something, you're going to put your personal touch on it anyway..

So last week I visited a mega church with some 16,000 members called the "Word Church" in Cleveland and I came away both Blessed and impressed. Pastor R. A.Vernon is truly a visionary leader and besides the awesome worship experience and the anointed Word that was given, I was amazed at the simplistic approach to worship, which in fact, confirmed a vision God had given me about Agape and it's need to return to a "back to basics" approach. Does this mean that Agape adopting some useful elements from Pastor Vernon will turn us into a Mega Church, a "Word clone" if you will? Of course not. We have our own DNA, our own identity, and we will continue to be the Church God has called us to be.

So if you are absolutely opposed to the idea of adopting the practices and methods of other ministries, that's OK. But remember, its quite possible that one of those kids who wanted to "be like Mike" could have been a little boy from Akron, OH by the name of Lebron James.

elder todd

ps. This should have been posted hours ago, but I couldn't decide which MJ photo to use!