Role of the Pastor 3: To Divide Seas

Image

 

Part of your ministry as a pastor is to lead the people to green pastures and still waters.  You need to take your people out of the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey, a land of abundance and peace.  This is part of being a shepherd to your people.  If you don’t have a destination, you don’t have a destiny.  The word “destin-y” means the path to your “destin-ation”.  At the Tree of Life Church, we talk about dreams, schemes and themes.  Dreams are our destination – where we are going.  Schemes are our plan to get there, and themes are the plan to take the next step.  We can’t sit down and dream, we have to dream while we walk.

However, sometimes leading people somewhere is hard for them.  There are obstacles in their way – wild seas that they cannot cross. As a pastor, you are called to be like Moses: “But you, lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14.15 and 16).

Part of your role is to ensure the path to the promised land is visible and tangible to the people.  A true shepherd loves the sheep and wants the sheep to have abundance and success, and so they find out from God what actions make a way for people to get into the promised land.

You must learn how to make a way for people where there seems to be no way.  This could cover all sorts of things – once a man in our church said he was going to leave our church and find another one.  I asked why, and was there anything I could do to change his mind.  He told me no because his house was too far from our church.  So the next day, in the evening I jumped in my car and drove to his house.  I knocked on the door and when it opened I said “it’s not that far”.  By making that journey, he saw the journey wasn’t that far.  As a pastor, I made a way where he couldn’t see a way.  If you can visit them, they cannot think that their house is too far for them to come to you!  If people realize they are not too far for you to visit, they will feel safer at the church.

You need to split the seas that stop people from getting married in your church.  Don’t just look at someone all sad when they complain about their singleness – teach them how to find a marriage partner.  Teach them what kind of person to look for.  Teach them the warning signs that show they are about to marry a loser.  Help people notice one another in the church as well!

Teach people that they can find good marriage partners within the church, it brings great stability when people marry in the church. I’m not saying play Cupid, I’m not saying force people to get married, I’m certainly not saying prophesy marriage, or even promise a happy marriage.  Marriage is hard work, and if you force people to get married they will hate you!  But seriously, make a way – part some seas.

You need to part seas when it comes to finding work for people.   Teach your people how to find work, how to work hard, how to succeed in a job.  You also need to help people find work – if someone in the church is an employer, then talk to them about a sheep that needs some employment.  Sometimes the person you recommend will embarrass you, but don’t let that get in the way of you being a sea-splitter!  It’s not enough for you to preach about crossing seas, you have to make a way!

You need to part the seas of attendance.  You might have to change a meeting time or a rehearsal time for one person.  We just changed the dates of our summer conference for just a handful of people – it’s called being a sea-splitter.  The year before the conference wasn’t during the school holidays of every London borough and so certain people could not attend, and I failed in my sea-splitting ministry.  At the end of the conference, I vowed not again – and now I am embracing making a way for people to attend.  Make things convenient for people.  In London you have to start meetings a bit later because some people work later.  That is a sea splitter!

If you struggle with this: try having less meetings.  Meet your people on Sunday.  They are there anyway, so have your leader’s meetings, your deacon’s meetings and your children’s workers meetings on a Sunday after church rather than make people come out another time in the week.  Don’t make someone travel twice when they could travel once.  It took a while for me to see this clearly, I will admit, but this is part of your ministry as a pastor: make a way.  

Listen – people always make excuses.  Deal with them:

“Your church service is too long” – “How long is your favourite film?”

“The church is too far from my house” – “How long is your daily commute to work?”

“I don’t have shoes” – “I will buy you some shoes”

You need to part seas when it comes to growing up.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a pathway forward for them growing up.  Teach them how to read the Bible for themselves, give them a place where they can ask questions, point them in the direction of good articles, good teachers, good books.  I am always giving books to my leaders – because I want them to grow.  I want people to see a clear path.  How to flow in the gifts, how to behave in church.  It all needs to be made clear.

You need to part seas when it comes to a place of significance.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a clear path for them to be a significant part of the church.  Encourage people to join small groups, to serve on the rota and to give generously to the church.  Explain that doing these things makes the people pillars in the church – people who the church cannot do without.  And whenever people get saved and healed – they made it happen!

You need to part the seas of ministry as well.  Don’t hold onto the ministry too tightly.  Delegate.  Have a short mini-preach before the sermon so people can get used to standing up in front of people, give people small groups to run, let people preach in the satellite churches (and lead worship) so they can get used to what they are doing.  Make a way for people to enter into their ministerial dreams. We have invested so much in ensuring Charis Bible College London happens for example, not just because it’s great to have a Charis on the doorstep (hence, being a sea splitter for people who want to go to college) but so that the people who run the college are now walking in their dreams, being a sea splitter for them.

If you are a pastor, you are a sea splitter. Get used to it, and get doing it!

5 Ways to Grow Your Church in 2014

Image

 

I am currently – yes, on New Year’s Day – completing our church’s charity return for 2011-2012.  I am currently compiling data from December 2011, which is two whole years ago.  We are now running at 3 times as many people, 4 times as much income, and 5 times as many volunteers.  That’s not bad.  If we manage that again in the next 2 years, by December 2015 we will be a church just under 400, with more than enough money to purchase our own building.  

Do I think I can reach that target?  Actually, I think I can smash it.  I know a lot more about church growth than I did 2 years ago, and I will know a lot more in 2 years time.  So this post is for church leaders looking to see growth in their churches in 2014.  5 simple steps anyone can take that will almost guarantee an increase in people.

1.  Start Counting How Many People You Have in Church every Sunday.

Don’t guess, don’t estimate.  Count.  Get a clicker if you have to (you could get one here).  Most pastors never count and never record.  When you get the numbers put them in a database of some sort.  We use Elvanto which I wholeheartedly recommend, but you could use Excel, or even a big  A board.  Knowing the numbers makes it easy to measure and notice growth.  It’s amazing but as soon as you start counting, that act of focus brings growth.

I know people will say “it’s not all about numbers”.  That depends on what you are counting.  If you are counting people who need the love and life of Jesus inside their hearts then it is all about numbers.  Each number is a person, each person is a story.

2. Throw a party.

We did this in September 2013 and it added 10 people a week to our Sunday morning services!  We just had a bring your friends to church party.  We did our best worship, I preached my best message (also the first in a series to bring people back in next week), and we had our best smilers on the doors.  Also the children’s church had a party as well, and in the service I raffled off a whole bunch of prizes.  It was a lot of fun.

It was our busiest service of the year, even Duane Sheriff and Wendell Parr did not attract the crowds that free food did.  After church we bought all the children in the service a happy meal (all 33!), and had a bring your own food but bring loads buffet after for the adults.  We just chatted and enjoyed fellowship.  That’s a simple thing to do and it works.  We are doing it again Feb 2014 and Easter 2014 and September 2014 and Christmas 2014.  Why?  It works.

3. Advertise.

We have had people come to Tree of LIfe this year due to billboards, newspaper adverts, leaflet drops and all sorts.  People criticise adverts and word-of-mouth is ALWAYS better, but it does bring people in and new people NO-ONE in the church know bring a real buzz to a Sunday assuming your church is disciples and loves new people… which brings me to point 4…

4. Create a Culture of Welcome

You can’t welcome everyone unless your church is less than 20.  Now we are running 130+ a Sunday (I know that because I counted see!), I don’t even know if anyone is new or not – it’s too many people.  So you train people to be welcoming, you have procedures to help and welcome people, you let everyone know we are family and we are expecting guests.

First impressions matter

5. Have a decent and up-to-date website and Facebook page.  No one under 35 will come to your church without going to your website and your Facebook page.  If they have animations from 15 years ago and are inviting people to a Carol Service in 2009, those people have made their mind up about you before they even go.  If you cannot do this pay someone to do the website (if you need a guy, I have a guy) and find someone in your church under 30 and ask them to set up a church Facebook page.  

There you have it.  It won’t solve all your problems but it’s a good kick up the backside to your church that will help you be all you can be in 2014

Loyalty (part 2) Fully Persuaded

Image

Last week we discussed loyalty and how to maintain loyalty in a church or organization.  Today I want to continue that thought by discussing something called “fully persuaded”.   I think most people have realized that to be a leader means to be accused.   If you are in leadership, the only way to stop them talking about you is to quit leading – so get used to it.  You have to be able to handle accusation.

If you are part of an organization you have to also be able to handle accusations made at your leaders.  It is not without good reason that the Bible says not to entertain an accusation against an elder without two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5.19).  If there is just one lone voice against a leader, ignore it.  It’s that simple.

Jesus was accused of misleading people, teaching sedition, preventing people from paying taxes, claiming to be the king, being in league with satan.  I’m not sure many of us today would have become his follower in 1st century Israel.  Paul was accused of being a pestilent fellow, a source of strife, a disturber of the peace, an antinomian, a cult leader and attempting to desecrate the temple.

If you were working with Paul you would have to be fully persuaded about his integrity and character.  Otherwise those accusations would find a hook inside you and you would lose the benefits of Paul’s leadership.  Of course this is why leaders are falsely accused – to diminish their influence, and to ensure you fail to benefit from their influence.

Can you imagine working with Paul and at the back of your mind is the idea that he is a cult leader, that you are in a cult, that he really wanted to desecrate the temple?  It wouldn’t work.  You need to be fully persuaded that Paul is an apostle of God and the messenger of grace.

People say there is no smoke without fire, forgetting that some people in any organizations (sadly, especially churches) can be human smoke machines, puffing out smoke by the gallon with no fire necessary at all.   You need to be fully persuaded that you are in the right place with the right leadership!

So, let’s start by addressing leaders with some points, then we will address the led with some more points!

5 THINGS LEADERS CAN DO TO MAKE IT EASY FOR THEIR PEOPLE TO BE FULLY PERSUADED

  1. Be open about finances.  You get a new car and someone asks “where did that come from?” Don’t reply “The Lord” – we all know that, but let people know where it came from.  Let people see that you are not skimming from the offerings.  Make sure that you are registered as a charity, and complete the appropriate paperwork to stay above board.  You don’t need to reveal where every penny is spent, but people should be aware of the broad strokes.  It makes it easier to persuade them and help them if you are accused.
  2. Be open about your vision.  A pastor recently wanted to work with me on an evangelism project.  I told him it wouldn’t work because we disagreed about too many core issues.  He lied to me about what he believed about Jesus and about the gifts of the Spirit and salvation to try and get me to work for him.  I listened to him preach and pointed out the dishonesty to him – what he preached was not what he told me he believed.  Why lie?  To get our church on board, to add some sort of weight to his campaign?  I don’t know.  But it is difficult to be persuaded to work with someone who is dishonest about their core values.  Let the church know what you are all about and where you see the church going.  Don’t tell someone “yes, we are going to have services like this” when you don’t want to.  People will see right through it.  Shout the vision, make it plain and let people decide if they are going to follow.  Presenting different visions to different people to keep them around will always bring DI-VISION!
  3. Be open in crisis times.  An elder in the church is being disruptive and rude – won’t teach what you ask, and starts insulting guest speakers and is insulting to other elders and their abilities.  When you remove that person from leadership, ensure people know it was done and why it was done.  Be open about the tough decisions you have to make, and be open as to why they are tough.  I’m not talking about gossip, I’m not talking about running someone down and getting your side of the story out.  I’m talking about being transparent about why you made certain choices.  Let people know that you have their best interests at heart.
  4. Have greater leaders than you that you are open with and honest with.  When people see that you are led too, that you are growing too, that you care about developing too, then they will trust you a lot more.  People care a lot less about knowing everything and attacking everything if they know there is a place that your struggles and your concerns are being shared and that they are being shared with someone who is wise and mature.
  5. Be open about your mistakes.  I’m not saying get in the pulpit and share every wrong selfish kill-em-all thought you ever had, I am saying that if you mess it up publically, apologize publically.  If you get shirty one Sunday before church, let people know that you did and that you know you did and that you are sorry.

It is hard in this day and age to cultivate loyalty but these steps will make it easier for people to follow you.

5 THINGS THE LED CAN DO TO HELP STAY FULLY PERSUADED AND LOYAL

  1. If the questions are too many, get out.  I am not saying here stay in a church when things are clearly dysfunctional.  Don’t do that.  If you cannot get answers or even feel that you will get them, then find somewhere else.  Get a new job or new church or whatever.
  2. Remember to stay loyal to the highest authority.  What does this mean – if your elder starts contradicting your pastor then go with the pastor and his call.  He founded and built the church.  If your branch manager is contradicting your regional manager, go with the regional manager.  If your pastor is contradicting Christ, Christ is the highest authority.  Stay with Him!  Paul said follow me as I follow Christ – that’s good advice for any leader: when they are not following Christ don’t follow them!  A good leader will say that as well.
  3. Do not withhold information from your leader.  If there is corruption going on, let people know.  If you knew sedition was going on and said nothing, you are disloyal.  Paul told the Corinthians “it is reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Corinthians 5.1) – it wasn’t a word of knowledge or a vision.  Someone told Paul the church was dysfunctional!  A good structure reports on things!  Good people let their leaders know what is going on.
  4. Base your loyalty on principles not emotions.  Most people operate in the emotional realm most of the time, and don’t operate on the basis of principle.  If you decide to be part of something you make that decision on information and principles and vision, not on the basis of emotion.  I know people who followed a youth pastor who split a church and started a new church across the road.  I asked why they would follow him when it was all clearly out of order.  They said “we know he has done wrong, but we feel sorry for him”.  I can’t think of a worse reason to be part of a church.   Those who joined Absalom’s church all died.  The angels who joined Lucifer Ministries International all became devils.  Be careful where you go and who you are loyal to.
  5. Be prepared to pay “The Loyalty Cost”.  Being loyal will cost you – friends, relationships, parties to go, and more.  Everything has a price – your salvation had a price but you didn’t have to pay it.  But every step you take in working out your great salvation will cost you.  Of course the good news is that the reward is greater than the price.  However, there is a cost to loyalty.  To be loyal to one person means you cannot be loyal to everyone.  To be loyal to one church means you cannot be loyal to every church.  I have friends I just can’t spend time with any more.  Why?  Because I am loyal to Jesus.  I am loyal to the Tree of Life Network.  Every relationship you are in either adds to you or diminishes you, and you can only choose so many.   When Moses decided to be loyal to God he lost access to the riches of Pharoah.  There are people I have lost access to their riches because I have decided to do the right thing.  Loyalty is expensive but it will always pay better than the cost.

Next week, we will look at the Analysis of Loyalty.  I hope you enjoyed this blog.  If you want to know more about Tree of Life Church, visit our website: www.treeoflifedagenham.com or follow us on Facebook.

 

The Reality Gap (part II: the danger of Idealism)

Ever been to a perfect church?  Ever heard a perfect sermon?  Ever been in a perfect time of worship?  Ever received a perfect offering?  Ever had a perfect leader’s meeting?

I doubt it.  

Nothing done on earth is perfect.  You might as well admit it as the evidence is totally in your face screaming at you.  However, many Christians are looking for a perfect church or a perfect service or perfect sermon.  The problem is that the search is futile.  It is absolutely futile.  And because you are always looking at the ideal you will never engage with the real.

I know so many Christians who don’t go to church because it’s not the perfect church, they don’t go to a mid-week group because it isn’t perfect, they won’t teach a certain study because it is not perfect, they won’t serve in a particular department because it is not perfect.

Pastors can be the same.  They never delegate their leadership because the other person won’t do it as well as them (what a guy preaching the first week ever isn’t a good as someone with 10 years experience and 5 years training?! Duh!) even though they know they need to start delegating and raising leaders.  They get upset about a time of worship because it wasn’t swinging off the chandeliers.

There are three main problems with idealism:

1. You ignore the real.  You are waiting for the perfect guitarist to join your worship group, you will miss the guy who is practising really hard, full of life and full of energy and wants to serve and honour you and the church.  Now, I’m not saying appoint the guy who doesn’t turn up at practice, turns up late, runs down the church but loves their ministry, and generally isn’t a team player and lacks the character of Christ.  That’s just bad leadership!  But don’t let the perfect blind you to the good and improving right in front of your nose.  

Remember when doing this that gifting and ability is always easier to develop than character.  Put character first when choosing leaders.  There are 16 qualifications for leaders in 1 Tim. 3, and only one of them is about gifting and ability.  Loyalty to the church and to you, a passion for Christ, a heart for evangelism and discipleship – you cannot beat those in any volunteer!

2.  Idealism paralyses you.  If you are waiting for the best time to do something, YOU WILL NEVER DO IT.  I know so many people called to plant churches waiting for the right circumstances.  It will never come, just start.  Don’t strike when the iron is hot, keep striking until the iron IS hot.  Then strike some more.  Do it, do it, do it.  That’s how you start a church.  Right now, Tree of Life Network is starting a food bank.  We don’t have a building, things are going on right now, it’s not the perfect time, but if I wait for a perfect time I will be waiting forever.  Don’t wait for the ideal time, wait for a good time and do it.  Even do it in a bad time – God is bigger than the times!

3. Idealism causes you to become negative.  You hear a sermon with 99 good points but all you think about is the 1 point you don’t agree with.  You go to a church with 99 things you agree with but all you can focus on is the 1 thing you don’t like.  Idealism means you can never sweat the small stuff.  

Now I know everything should be Biblical but the truth is that no two of us agree 100% on anything.  Some things are no negotiable but other things are really not a big deal, even with the non-negotiables, we can endure a lot of give and take if we know someone is real and we know their hearts and we know they are for us.  People come to me after church sometimes and tell me what I said wrong, and what I said they didn’t agree with.  Other people get healed, get their marriages restored, get filled with the Spirit and get lifted and encouraged.  They chose to focus on the bits that lifted them.

Beware the dangers of idealism.  Sometimes it can take you away from interacting with and engaging with reality.

 

The Reality Gap (part I: what is the Reality Gap)

Image

 

HI there,

I’m Benjamin Conway, and I am the pastor of Tree of Life Church – we meet currently in three locations across England every Sunday and we are looking to increase that rapidly!

This is our blog for leaders and church leaders.  Our blog on church life is called www.treeoflifeblog.com and you are more than welcome to swing over there and check it out.  Our network website is www.treeoflifechurch.org.uk and you can find out what is going on there!

Today I want to look at one of the things that will knock you out as a leader every time if you are not aware it is coming: I call it the Reality Gap.

Basically, the reality gap is this: nothing is quite as you imagined it; nothing is perfect; no-one is perfect; there is no perfect church; no perfect service; no perfect leader; no perfect guest speaker; nothing is perfect.

There is always a big gap between the reality and the dream.  And nowhere is that gap first realized than when you start something new.  I have had a dream to build a 3000 strong mega-church in England since I was first saved in 1996.  And when that dream was just inside my head, it was easy to believe in a mega-church.  Now I have a church of 150 in London, that reality can obscure and frustrate the dream.  I have to remind myself that I am now closer to seeing my dream fulfilled than I have ever been.

You might have a vision to start a Bible College with 150 students and 10 sign up.  Guess what?  You are closer to that vision than you have ever been.  You might have a vision to start a business that makes a million pounds and you make £4.50.  Guess what – that’s the closest you have been so far! 

Don’t let the gap between your dream and reality stop you dreaming.  NEVER let the reality gap knock you for six.  As Andrew Wommack (wisely) says: “Better to aim for the stars and hit the moon, than aim for nothing and hit nothing.”

It’s better to have a dream of winning 100 people to Christ and winning 20 than dream of winning none and completing it!  It’s better to have a dream of being out of debt by the end of 2013 and end up paying 1/2 your debt off, than doing and dreaming nothing and being more in debt than when you started.  It’s better to aim at losing 30lbs and losing 10lbs than aiming at nothing and being even podgier than when you started!

And because of the nature of ministry, we are especially vulnerable to the reality gap knocking us out and discouraging us to the point of quitting.

We launch out into the deep, expecting revival and thousands of salvations.  Instead its 5 people sitting in a living room.  You hire a hall and no one comes, and then you still have to pay the bills.  You appoint an elder then find out they never stop arguing with their wife.  You have chosen some beautiful songs for worship to have the band murder them, bury them, and exhume them and murder them a second time.  You invite a glorious guest speaker, they treat you like a second class citizen, no one comes but the chosen frozen, the people who do come tell you how much they hate your church, and then they leave with your people…

It’s hard when these things happen.  But the truth is that there will always be a reality gap.  The nature of pastoral ministry is that pastors often see the world in black and white, when it isn’t like that at all.

You expect a perfect worship service, but it just wasn’t that good.  Well – please keep in mind it wasn’t that bad either.  You leave the pulpit upset that it didn’t set the world on fire, but if it warmed a handful of people – celebrate what has happened.

You spend hundreds of pounds advertising in the local paper and only three new people came – and two of them were weirdos!  Rejoice in that – it was worth it!  

I know you have a big dream – I have one too – but I tell you the truth, the most surefire way to kill any dream is to fail to celebrate every step towards it, to fail to enjoy an imperfect execution of a God idea.  At the end of the day, we are all very much human and any church and any business will inevitably reflect that.

If you don’t grasp the reality gap, you will get angry at people who you feel are not progressing quickly enough.  That will come across in all your relationships with people, and cause all sorts of problems.

So please, please take the time to understand what a reality gap is, and take the time to adjust accordingly.

Next week, we’ll look into this more and examine the danger of idealism.

Grace and peace,

Benjamin

Planning Your Preaching (Benjamin Conway)

Planning Your Preaching!

preaching%20(1)

One of the things that I often get asked is “how can I preach better?” or “how can I preach with a better response or better results?”  The fact is that preaching the gospel is the power of God – that’s how people get saved, get healed, get transformed.  Preaching is one of the single most effective uses of your time as a pastor and leader.  It’s that simple.  There is a move in some churches today to denigrate preaching and to minimise it’s power – some people are maxing their preach time to 8 minutes.  Wow!  If you want to be soaked in the Word I believe you should take at least 45 minutes.  I preach over an hour nearly every single week because I know it’s the Word of God that lifts and transforms and builds people up.

A lot of people spend a lot of energy and effort into planning the sermon, and absolutely that is correct, but planning a single sermon is great if you are a travelling evangelist, but for pastors you need to be planning more than one week in advance.

Firstly, as the lead pastor of a church, realise that you will always be and always should be in charge of the preaching in your church.  I have been to churches (and even pastored one) where the eldership or the deaconate were in charge of the preaching calendar, the rota of speakers.  One church I know pastored a council worker to come and “preach” about how awful his wife was for divorcing him.  No!   The lead pastor of the church is in charge of the preaching.  Absolutely, ridiculously in charge of the preaching.  No one gets to preach in the pulpit unless you give the say so.  It’s that simple.  The lead pastor is the shepherd of the flock and is the guardian of the sheep.

I take that approach in Tree of Life Church.  If I ask someone to preach, I am more than happy to ask them to preach on whatever I want, I am happy to ask for their notes before they preach.  Obviously with guest speakers like Arthur Meintjes who I have heard again and again and trust to bring a complete work message, I give a lot more latitude but to a new preacher within the church, I am ridiculously careful.  Why?  Because I am accountable before God regarding what is spoken at the church.

All preaching must be brought into the bigger picture of the church.  At Tree of Life Church our bigger picture is to “inspire people to dream, to challenge people to live the dream”, so I (Benjamin Conway) have to look at my preaching every week and ask myself – am I inspiring people to dream?  Am I challenging people to live the dream?  If not, chuck it in the bin as it is not helping the Tree fulfil God’s will.

So, preparation has a massive role to play: not just preparing the message, but preparing it to fit in with the bigger picture.  Then there is the theme for the season: what are we doing as a church right now?  So at the moment (May 2013) at Tree of Life Church we are hammering home the truth that there is a lot of deception in a lot of the church and that a great deal of this deception is basically obscuring the cross of Christ.  So, every sermon preached in May will be about deception and every sermon preaching in June will be about the complete work.

You need a preaching calendar.  You need to include important dates (not just Christmas and Easter, but Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Eve and September.  When the schools return after summer, lots of people come back to church and you need a powerful series to get them energised for church).  You must have a preaching calendar.  You must not just get in the pulpit and “allow the Spirit to lead you” – it will lead to the same message week after week and your church will have no direction.

I have already penned our preaching calendar for 2014.  Our theme is “Identity” and we have 12 months in which we are going to learn about our identity as reborn human beings.  Our summer conference for 2014 is sub-titled “We are Jesus on the earth!” and will be about our identity as the image of God on earth.  In August our worship leaders are going to find songs that fit in with our identity.  Our leadership conference will be grounded in identity.

Identity inspires people to dream, so the theme of the year fits perfectly with the overall dream of the church.  This planning is so important because to fail to plan is to plan to fail: so many charismatics just give us a piece of their mind when preaching – sort of a stream of consciousness from the pulpit.  It doesn’t help.

Then when planning the month around the monthly theme, I consider what the Bible says about the monthly theme and then consider what I want the people to know.  Good teaching should give information that people don’t have and press people to make a decision they haven’t made before.  So, for example, next Sunday morning, I am preaching on how it is deception to believe that you can have a harvest without a seed.  The information I am going to give people is show them all the different ways Christians try and get a harvest without a seed, and the decision I want people to make is to sow a seed into the kingdom (not necessarily money, but an action of faith and love).  Now I know that, putting the sermon together is much easier.

Not only that there is continuity from week to week.  If another person in the church preaches, they get to know the calendar and have to fit in with it.

Any questions about preaching or sermon preparation?  Please ask them below, I will answer all of them as best I could.

(Benjamin Conway preaches 3 times nearly every weekend, in Watford, Guildford and Dagenham.  Every month over 2000 people download or stream one f his sermons online from their church website, www.treeoflifedagenham.com.  These messages are free of charge because God’s Word is free of charge.)

Overcoming the Mundane (or: Ministry can be boring, get over it!)

 

One of the things that happens when you become a pastor or leader, especially when you go full time, is that the things of God can become mundane.  When you see the sick healed every weekend, the novelty wears off.   When you do church every week, and a couple of new people come every week, and the church is growing every week – it can get a bit mundane.  It becomes normative, and what is normative is rarely exciting any more.

Even sharing the Word of grace and seeing lives changed and transformed becomes “the day job”.  

I used to see that feeling as something to avoid at all times – and I think that is the attitude most charismatics have.  So they try and make things novel all the time, always looking for the new thing, the new fix, the new source of revelation.  That is why you have churches going loony tunes over angel feathers, tiny diamonds appearing out of “nowhere” – even though people have been caught time and time again planting these things.  This is why there are fads like barking like a dog and having gold teeth (give me gold in the bank, Lord – not in my mouth).  That is why the drunken like crazy dimension of the grace movement is so attractive to people.  People get bored so easily.

That is why some grace teachers are now bringing the most outlandish “revelations” to people.  When they first taught the complete work it was so radical and so fresh as people suddenly realized their entire lives were built on the foundation of the sand of their effort, their blood, their tears, their sweat.  Then they found out they could build on the rock of His effort, His blood, His tears and His sweat.  They found the rest of the Lord and their lives were dramatically changed.

Once people are on that foundation – there isn’t much more dramatic change.  You are just building, one brick at a time.  An understanding of grace here, a key of how to apply it to marriage there, a piece of wisdom on how to worship: it’s all brick by brick, line upon line, precept upon precept.  It’s the lifelong task of seeing total life transformation by the renewing of the mind. 

And that process is repetitive, and it can often seem very mundane.  That is why our flesh seeks to replace that process with livelier, more sensational processes like getting zapped by the latest speaker on the circuit, getting drunk on the glory, getting high on the Most High, barking like a dog and clucking like a chicken, and having a burn night where you shout at God all through the night.  All of those processes have two things in common: they are sensational and they bypass the seed of the Word of God.

If you bypass the seed, you then totally bypass the harvest.  It’s that simple.  There is no life transformation except by a regular diet of the Word.  When we come to a Celebration service, it should be to get equipped.

As a leader, as a pastor, your job in life is to equip people to do the works of ministry.  You cannot do this without teaching the Word.  You cannot do this without sowing the seed of the Word into their hearts.  The people might be after something sensational (which, by the way is a direct synonym for carnal.  Both mean to be driven by what you see and feel), but you have to be the leader and give them something real, not something that is phoney.  You need to give hope, not hype; life not just stimulation (Onan died for doing that in the Old Testament, that’s a preaching illustration of the dangers of stimulating the church without providing seed if ever there was one – I dare you to preach it!); and something that works on Monday not something that simply takes their mind off Monday.

You have to lead.  Don’t make your service this weekend “never a dull moment” – get the Word into people, make declarations, lift your voice and teach the Word.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is told by God to go to the potter’s house (it’s in verse 1-3), and watch the potter make a pot with the potter’s wheel.  For those of you who are city dwellers (and who haven’t seen Ghost), the potter’s wheel is simply a small table that rotates in a circle.  You put a lump of clay on the wheel and spin it around again and again and again and again.  Every time you spin the clay around you make small changes to it, until it eventually takes shape as a vessel that has use.

That is our task this weekend, to take the people coming to our services and spin them around that wheel and see their lives take shape.  It might not be exciting or dynamic – it might be, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is absolutely life changing – but it is the way to build a church, it is the way to live your life.

Don’t get upset if you feel that you are going around in circles – every time you spin around you are learning a little, growing a little, changing a little, developing a little.  Don’t run from the mundane, overcome it by embracing it and using it to shape your life and shape the lives of the people around you.

Assimilation

 

No – we are not talking about my favourite Star Trek baddie, the Borg.  We are talking about the process that must be in place for making new people feel welcome when they visit a Sunday service.  In the Tree, we call that process “assimilation” – people moving from coming to a church service but feeling “not us”, to coming to a church service and feeling part of “us”.

80% of families who move area and are looking for a new church just go from church to church until they find one that is friendly.  That is all they are looking for – not healings, not miracles, not an accurate exposition of the hypostatic union, not an all singing all dancing youth ministry, but for a church that is friendly.

When I heard that statistic, I thought – I know that’s true.  People come to the Tree who disagree with grace and the complete work, but they know we love them so they keep coming.  Other people would agree with us line by line, but maybe they wanted a leadership position or pulpit or something we were not going to give them, so erroneously feeling unloved they left us.

People have to be allowed to belong to our group before they will believe what we believe.  They have to experience our unconditional grace and love before they will believe in God’s unconditional grace and love.

In Luke 7.11 it said that Jesus was followed by His disciples and the crowd.  We have to allow there to be a crowd – people do not instantly decide to become disciples.  It’s healthy to have a fringe of people in your church still trying to work things out – but while they are working out their response to God and His grace, if they are responding positively to you and identify with you then you need to ensure that they feel part of your church.  That will not happen by accident – or if it does, it will not happen as well as if you do it intentionally and on purpose.

So what is our process of assimilation at Tree of Life Church?  And as I share this – don’t try and copy it wholesale – it won’t seem authentic and people will quickly pick up on that.  A lot of churches suggest getting new people to stand up in the service and give them a round of applause or a small present.  That would not work in Dagenham.  I don’t believe it at all – the church is too variegated for people to feel at home and have that happen.  So we need to be more low key.  

So we have a three fold process, which is working well.  I am also going to suggest two changes that I am considering making in the near future to help us grow.

Firstly, we have a postcard called a Connection Card.  On the front it has a whole bunch of tick boxes that say things like “I want to know Jesus”, “I want to help on Sundays”, “I want to be water baptised”, “I am a first time visitor”.  All our ushers hand these out to anyone.  On the other side, you put your name and address and how you heard about us, and if you have any prayer requests or praise reports.  

Now anyone in our church can fill them out at any time – as the church grows it is difficult to communicate with people all the time, and this means that anyone in the church can write a note that the pastor is 100% guaranteed to read.  

People can then put them in the offering bucket as the offering bucket is passed around.  Now, the 1st or 2nd time visitor can hold onto theirs and hand it in directly to our information desk in exchange for a small gift (chocolates, a book).  This means the person staffing the information desk (who has to be an elder) can make sure that their email address is legible and also spend some time listening to the persons making them feel at home.

Then I read every card personally on Monday.   At the moment, we average between 6 and 20+ cards every weekend across the network, often with five or more from new visitors.  I read everyone, pray for everyone, email everyone and send a postcard to everyone.  That is my number one priority on Monday.  Before I process the counts for the weekend (please please tell me that you do at least a headcount each service as a minimum – if you don’t measure how can you know how well you are doing), before I process the offering, before I do anything.  

Get out of the idea that a pastor should rest on Monday.  Monday is your single most important day – apart from Sunday.  That is the day you deal with what the stirring on Sunday revealed.  Do not rest – strike while the iron is hot.  You can rest on Friday or Saturday, and be able to hit Sunday with full energy and life and smash that service.  On Monday there is work to do!

Those postcards instantly double our retention rate.  The truth is that the average church in the United Kingdom has 4% MORE new visitors per year than the size of their average congregation.  That is a gift from God!  Think about it – if you have a church of 100, you will have on average 2 visitors per week.  That’s 104 per year – MORE THAN YOUR WHOLE CONGREGATION.  Keep 10% of those and you will grow.  We keep 15-16% of new visitors at the moment which means we are a growing church.  Keep 5% and you will stay the same.  If one postcard to every new person and one email to every new person turns your church from a surviving church to a thriving church then this is the single most important decision you will make as a pastor – to build a healthy process of assimilation into place!

So many pastors get hundreds of people pass through their doors per year – a personal gift from the Father to that pastor.  And they let all of them slip through their hands.  Ouch!

Secondly, to ensure their experience from door to service is a positive one, every single service we have 2 people in place whose only job is to deal with new people.  The first one waits outside the front door with our first usher.  But whereas the usher stays in place and greets everyone, the greeter (Greeter 1) takes new people through the path way to the auditorium.  They introduce them to everyone they meet, explain how church works and then pass that person to our second greeter (imaginatively titled Greeter 2) shows them around the auditorium, helps them find a seat, makes sure they have a connection card and shows them love.

Meanwhile Greeter 1 is running back to the front door to do it all again.  We ask people we are not sure about if they are new – because we know regulars won’t mind because they know why we are doing it.  We then smile as big as we can – we want people to know that we are genuinely chuffed they came to church.  They start as guests, but we want them to feel like family.

This is a new procedure for us.  I developed it on purpose.  The first week we introduced the greeters we had a completely unprecedented 15 new visitors.  It was the middle of the holidays, a quieter than normal Sunday with no special programme or special speaker.  But as we put the procedure in place, people just came.  God is looking for churches that will welcome people.

Our third and final piece of the assimilation process is our information desk.  It’s just a table opposite our teas and coffees where new people can ask any questions.  There is always a leader of the church at the information desk and they can answer any question – double check we have people’s details, and just show kindness and grace.

That is how we do it, and that is partly why we are a growing church.  How we deal with new people is process and purpose driven – it is done deliberately not by accident.  We are a friendly church, the Assimilation process just lets us prove it.

Right now I am thinking about assimilation as I want our procedures to be even tighter.  One thing I notice is that people normally sit in the same places in churches.  So if a new person is in your zone, you notice if you are even a little observant.  I am considering appointing 6 zone monitors (if anyone has a better phrase let me know!!!) sort of front left, front middle, front right, back left, back middle and back right who will have some cards and a mission to welcome and make welcome any new looking people in their zone.  Even if the response is “well I used to sit over there but…” it’s still nice to make people feel welcome.

My second plan is to start the assimilation process from the car park not the front door.  That’s wrought with difficulties because we are in a cinema and about half the people arriving are for the cinema, but I thought if we baked some freshly baked brownies or muffins then people wouldn’t mind us handing them out and asking if they are here for church, and then walking them to the usher and greeter.  We have set up our “I’m New” page on the website for people to put their car license into so we can go and visit new people, but I am just thinking it through at the moment.

Our goal: to be the singe most welcoming church in London.  We will only achieve it if we do it deliberately and in Him.  But it can be achieved.  And we can mend the nets and ensure no fish escape us!

You Need People Who Believe in Your Dreams!

Every single human needs someone in their life who dreams big for them and isn’t intimidated or nervous if they succeed in abundance.  You need someone who loves you and knows you can make – and tells you face to face.

We all need someone with flesh and blood to tell us on the outside what God is saying on the outside: you are awesome and you can walk in your dreams!

In fact, I believe you need three people like this as a minimum. One who is further along the road than you – someone who recognizes a little bit of their younger self in you and your fanaticism and dream. Someone who has clearly acquired wisdom that you have no access to apart from them.  Someone who can give you advice with integrity because you know they know what they are talking about.

You need another who is about the same place in the journey of seeing the dream fulfilled as you – someone to challenge you, a friendly rival, a safe refuge, a comrade in dreams.   People like this are gold dust – so many people are consumed with ambition, that holding the hand of a peer or giving them a boost is anathema.  Don’t be like that – be confident enough in your dream and value that it doesn’t bother you to help someone else shine bright.

Finally, you need to find someone that is not where you are – but you know they will be and you need to make the path easier for them. That helps you realize you are moving forward and have learned some stuff.  This makes way for you in so many ways, and it makes you realize the investment that others have put in you and makes you appreciate it so much.

I am so privileged that I have an abundance of all three of these – mentors, peers and people I mentor. And the quality of people I have in all three positions is just wonderful. 

Maybe you wish you had people like this in your life? If you need some help in recognizing a mentor or leader, then listen here to message 4 and 5 here, they will help you so much in how to find the people that God has prepared for you to learn from and teach to.

If you know you have good leaders, peers and people you mentor – let us know here, or if you have any advice on these or questions, please post them!