Thursday, November 20, 2014

How the Traditional Church Can Reach Millennials

What is a Millennial? A millennial is a person born in the 1980's to the early 2000's. Many different people have tried to place a particular year on this gap, but there is no possible way to accomplish this. Millennial is less of a specific age bracket as much as it is a perspective or worldview. Millennials are entrenched in postmodern thought and opinions. Western culture has changed a lot in the last few years.

Postmodernism is driving this cultural change. Postmodernism according to Brittanica is "characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism." They further define the term as "a general suspicion of reason." Millennials, we have a difficult time believing. I myself and a millennial, and I think in a very postmodern pattern. I never accept someone for who they are. I am always looking for the hidden agenda. I truly am a skeptic as are many other millennials. Additionally, I am very skeptical of reason. Millennials hate the idea of naivety! The thought of blindly accepting information as true makes me cringe.

There is so much more to understand and discuss when it comes to postmodernity. However, I would like to share what the implications of postmodernism is upon millennials and how their perceive the church. My first senior pastor I served under was Shelly Chandler, and he taught me that perception is everything. So let me list some of the implications:
  • aversion to institutionalism
  • aversion to naivety
  • aversion to tradition
  • aversion to purposeless enterprises and efforts
  • aversion to dogmatic theology
  • aversion to absolute statements
  • aversion to metanarrative
  • desires diversity
  • desires professionalism and excellence
  • desires sound logic
  • desires relevancy
  • desires personal relationships
  • desires to belong to a greater cause
Why do these implications matter so much? Because the church is generally perceived in the aversion section of these implications and not in the desire section. Today's traditional church is highly institutionalized, with the existence of committees for everything, liturgical traditions, institutional architecture. Many traditional churches use phrases like "God said it, I believe it, that settles it;" but this makes millennials cringe. Millennials also do not like metanarratives that attempt to define them, such as God's plan for redemption. They want to define the metanarrative.

However, I am millennial, yet I am very passionate about my faith and even work at a church. What happened? Let me clarify upon one of the concept of relativism. I abhor relativism and am a strong proponent of absolute truths. I particularly affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, but I had to travel to this place. My travels happened through the use of logic. I am a philosophy buff, and to be honest so are the bulk of millenials, because we want to have the question "WHY" answered for everything.

So, I suggest a new tactic for traditional churches wanting to reach the younger generation. First, show compassion to this generation until it hurts. Express your love for them through service to them and their families. Second, be less dogmatic and more explanatory of logic. Assume that your people know nothing about the Bible. Assume your people do not even accept the Bible as authoritative, which could be argued that they do not according to some of their lifestyles. Teach and preach everything from ground zero. You have to make Christianity logically appealing to the point that all other options seem undesirable.

Ajith Fernando was a Christian from Sri Lanka, a culture that has been entrenched with pluralism for millennia. In his commentary on the Book of Acts, he noted that 70% of all evangelism in the New Testament was apologetic in nature, meaning that the evangelist had to reason with the recipient of the gospel. The New Testament era was one of the more pluralistic times in western culture, and I believe a return to apologetic evangelism and sound logic can serve the church well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Church Revitalization and Student Ministry

Today I begin my series examining the idea of church revitalization through the work of the student ministry of the church. If you are new to the blog, scroll down two more blogs and look for the coming soon article. In my Coming Soon article, I give a cursory introduction to this series. I do not profess to know everything about church growth and revitalization, nor do I claim to know everything about student ministry. In part, I write this blog, because it is the struggles and topics that I encounter on a regular basis. The congregation I serve as student minister is two-thirds senior adults. There is a small contingency of median and young adults with even fewer students and children. However, it is the pastor's desire and mine that the church transition and make the turn to a healthier church.

For the basis of my blog, I will be examining Thom Rainer's article from Christian Post 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Leading a Church Revitalization. I will use each of the nine questions as a framework for the series. I reorganized the questions based upon what I consider priority.

The first question that Rainer broached was that of prayer: "Will I pray daily for my church and my leadership?" This seems a rather silly question for a minister of the gospel to ask, but I find it fitting. Many ministers find themselves highly trained and educated. Many of us ministers are graduate students holding at least a Master's Degree, and we find ourselves to have the answers. Many of us have read countless John Maxwell books on leadership or John MacArthur books on pastoral care, and feel that we are highly qualified for the task that lay ahead of us.

I believe that this question is so fitting, because prayer is by nature a humbling experience. Prayer requires that we admit our incompetence and inability to accomplish church revitalization. The chief prayer of the person attempting church revitalization is to ask God to raise the dead. Real spiritual revitalization requires that the Holy Spirit descend on the local body and breath new life into her. This is something that ministers find ourselves wholly incompetent. The only option we have is consistent prayer, asking God to do the work.

Where I am different, is that I am not a senior pastor of a congregation. Our congregation is not built upon the new model of a team of equal ministers either. I am a subordinate to the pastor, and I am to help achieve his goals and aspirations for the church. Where I believe that many student ministers fail is that they do not consider that their responsibility is to the whole church. In their book Leading from the Second Chair, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson discuss the "deep and wide paradox" for second chair leaders. As second chairs we must focus intently upon our specific area of responsibility. As a student minister, I am chiefly responsible for the student ministry of my church. This represents the deep perspective of ministry. Nonetheless, a good second chair leader must also comprehend the wide perspective, meaning that we must understand that what we do or do not do affects the whole of the body. I must commit myself to prayer for the students, specifically by name, because some of them will be on the Stewardship Committee, Deacons, and Sunday School Teachers one day. Since they are one day going to be the leaders of my church and other churches, this means that I must keep their discipleship in view of such leadership. Furthermore, I also desire to develop leaders for our community, state, and nation. I must keep this perspective in view of their discipleship as well.

Student ministers, we must grasp that church revitalization will not when a youth group experiences revival. For it to be "church" revitalization the entire local body must experience revival. So, we must pray for the whole congregation. We must pray that our students will encourage the others in the church towards revival. We must pray that the godly men and women of our church choose to actively engage the students and aid in their discipleship process. We must pray for our senior pastor, because he is the anointed leader of the church, and he is completely devoid of power to revitalize the church. We pray for our co-ministers at the church, because if we do not experience revival, then no one will. Finally, we pray the Holy Spirit will make his dwelling place within our churches, staffs, youth groups, and so on that we may see the church rise from the dead.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Florida Baptists, Millenials, and the Cooperative Program

This past week I attended the Florida Baptist Convention and her pastor's conference in Lakeland, FL. I was primarily there to support my friend and former pastor Dr. James Peoples who was the president of the pastor's conference this past year and was nominated and elected to be the president of the convention this coming year. However, some things struck me as I wandered the exhibit hall and encountered many of the different ministers at the conference. I would like to share some of my observations about the convention.

First, I noticed the lack of young pastors and ministers in general. My senior pastor is by no means an old man, but he has the crown of an old man....white hair. To me his hair is an identifier, because of its brilliant white characteristic. I came into the auditorium looking for him, so I could sit with him during one of the sessions. However, his white hair did not stand out to me this time. Instead, I saw a see of white, grey, and blue haired men. I could not locate my pastor, so I sat elsewhere. While sitting I continued to scan the congregation while the convention began to argue over finances and where a particular 4% would be sent this next year. On the one hand I was encouraged. I saw a great deal of African American and Hispanic pastors. Our convention has been plagued throughout the years of being a predominantly white convention, yet a major portion of the demographic of Florida is African American and Hispanic. I even saw some Asian ministers present, because the convention has been very intentional about planting churches among Asian people groups. However, by and large the bulk of people in attendance were older ministers. It didn't matter what pigment of skin, because many of them had grey hair.

It occurred to me that our convention of pastors is either getting older or the millennials are uninterested in the convention. I myself am a millennial, being born in 1986. I think like a postmodern, and I still have to carefully consider my skeptical attitude towards institutionalism, a trait held by many millennials. David Kinnaman has done extensive research in this area and reported it in his book You Lost Me. Kinnaman works for the Barna Research Group, and in his book, has defined many young Christians, my generation, quite accurately.

What is the reason for this disinterest in the convention? Another symptom of this problem is the trend of churches not giving to the Cooperative Program, but opting to send and train their own missionaries. I have spoken with many young ministers who say they have lost faith in the Cooperative Program and the convention. They do not give because they do not believe in the program any longer. Why?

The CP is supporting many church plants, missionaries, outreach ministries, pastoral care ministries, and many other purposes that millennials are passionately dedicated. Why would they refuse to give to something so noble and worthy of support.

I do not believe that this problem is as simple as millennials are selfish and want to know what they are getting out of it. I believe it is their lack of participation in the handling of the convention and CP. Very few young ministers are recommended to leadership positions in the committee and agencies of the convention. Few young ministers are asked to come preach at the events. I understand that the older ministers are wiser, more experienced, and more invested in these ministries, but if these older ministers want the convention, her agencies, and above all her missionaries and church planters to continue to be successful, then they will have to begin including the younger ministers.

Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, made an interesting comment during his sermon on the CP. If you haven't seen this sermon, it is certainly one of his best. He commented that he used to go to old preachers and ask them questions, now young preachers are coming to him. He touched on the subject that is greatly lacking in our convention: mentorship. The older preachers need to intentionally mentor younger pastors, pass on their wisdom, and pass on their zeal and commitment to cooperating together for the sake of the gospel if CP and the convention are going to survive. Yes, the younger men will change CP, but such is life. Let not our pastors become the ones who say, "We've never done it that way before." I believe that pastors should begin to consider their ministries, including the convention as a legacy to be inherited, not lost to the younger generation. A father looks forward to the day his son inherits the family business, and can lead in such a way to make the family proud. This same mentality is needed in the convention if we are to survive.

Jim Shaddix spoke at the pastors conference, and he used the illustration of a relay race. Armed with only his Bible and a relay baton, he gave a sermon about handing off the ministry to the next generation. An implication from the sermon for pastors is to not run to the best of your ability, hoping that someone is at the next leg of the race waiting for the baton. Instead, I believe pastors should be intentionally training up young ministers to accept the next leg of the ministry. I personally would be much more confident in someone, whom I have personally invested to run the next leg of the race, than someone I know little about.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coming Soon: Church Revitalization through Children and Student Ministry Series

Coming Soon is a new blog series for me on church revitalization. A lot has been said about this topic in recent years, especially with the church planting movement taking place in much of evangelical denominations. However, much of this discussion has been amongst pastors and denominational leaders, but what do student ministers have to say about this? I am convinced that revitalization is long term work that results in long term success. This implies that the church most not be focused solely on adult ministry. There must be great consideration towards student and children's ministry.

Ask yourself this question: Where do you want the church to be in 10-20 years? If you ask the senior adults, they will be gone most likely. If you ask the median adults, they will be senior adults at that point in life. Conversely, if you ask the young adults, college age, student ministry, and children's ministry, they will be the deacons, elders, small group teachers, and other lay leaders of the church. If the church really wants to make the turn to revitalization, then a strategic focus on children's ministry and student ministry is a necessity.

My proposal is to expand on the thoughts of Thom Rainer in his recent post to Christian Post 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Leading a Church Revitalization. Each of the 9 comments will be examined from the perspective of a student minister (me), and how they relate to the entire local body. I will reorganize the comments a little by priority, meaning I believe there is a process to be adhered. First we will examine the topics that reflect personally to the student minister in addition to the rest of the staff. Second we will discuss topics of spiritual discipleship. Third we will discuss outreach, evangelism, and missions topics. Finally, I will be asking various leaders in to comment on these topics. Hopefully, someone will take interest.... Please be in prayer if you are a reader.

I do not profess to be an authority on any of these topics, but as a graduate student I at least know proper logic, argumentation, and research methods. So, as I learn, I share what I've learned. Thanks for everyone who reads this blog.

Replant: How A Dying Church Can Grow Again Book Review

Recently I picked up the book Replant: How A Dying Church Can Grow Again by Dr. Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick. I picked it up through David C Cook Free eBook program, which I would highly recommend. I thought it was fairly interesting when I noticed the Acts 29 Network published the book. Acts 29 is network of churches that are purposed in planting other churches on a global scale. Darrin Patrick is actually the Vice President of the Acts 29 Network. I like the heartbeat of Acts 29, and subscribe to their forum on LinkedIn. Furthermore, I am a Southern Baptist minister, and Dr. Mark Devine has taught at some of the denominational seminaries in school. I tend to respect professors that have served at such institutions. However, what ultimately caught my attention was the forward. The forward was written by Ed Stetzer who is the Vice President of the Insights Division with Lifeway. I love his work, and enjoy his blog The Exchange a lot, and it is sponsored by Christianity Today, a very reputable source of information. He has a way of always causing me to consider new opportunities for ministry. I determined to read this book.

The basic premise of this book is that a particular local body of believers should always consider the expansion of the gospel ministry as the greatest priority, even above its own existence. This is a great premise that should be given great consideration by church leaders, both ordained and lay-leaders. I personally find this concept as beautiful for the body, because if an individual Christian can be called of God to offer up his body as a sacrifice in martyrdom to the advance of the gospel, then certainly a local body of believers can be called to do the same. This book is a recounting of Dr. Devine as to how a church in St. Louis went through such a process during his interim pastorate.

In his book he recounted his desire to revitalize the church, and referred to this as his primary reason for taking the church. However, the story pertaining to the church is very atypical for church revitalization. Instead of introducing new programs, ministries, and revamping the outreach arm of the church, Devine led the church to merge with a mother church pastored by Darin Patrick. The mother church then took over all existing assets of the church and established a new ministerial staff. This was an arduous process and was voted upon and approved by the congregation.

Thus, theoretically, Devine did lead the church to be revitalized, because both the facilities and the local congregation were reintroduced into a thriving worship community. The mother church financially supported the local body until it returned to a thriving community. The mother stayed in leadership over the new satellite campus as well. In actuality, the church was not revitalized but disbanded. They gave their assets to another church, who then planted a new church in the place of the old one, and the former members joined a new church.

To me this not true church revitalization. Yes, the individuals and the group of believers in that facility were revitalized, but in truth the local body was disbanded. Devine subtly admitted this with his argument that it is better for a church to die and be reborn than to die and close, and for the record I agree with this statement. What I found inconclusive, is at what point must a church determine to die and be replanted instead of revitalized?

In my pattern of thinking revitalization is the process where the church procures new leadership, that moves the existing body from debilitated to healthy. Furthermore, a healthy church must be healthy in all areas of ministry. This means that the leadership leads the church away from precipice of death though the power of the Holy Spirit and back on course with its intended design and work in the community. Not long ago I was meeting with a colleague whose church has changed from being a predominantly white church to a Hispanic church because of the demographic in its region. To me this is revitalization more than disbanded.

I am not arguing against Devine or what the church did. In my opinion there are many other churches that should follow suit. Instead, I am calling for more research to help ministers understand what is "the point of no return" for a church? When must the church choose to disband and be replanted? What features of church growth come into focus: membership, discipleship program, amount of young families, sustainable growth and baptisms, financial ability to maintain facility? Certainly this information changes with each church, its demographic, and its inherent needs. If this information were perhaps more available to Christians, then we could make more educated judgments based upon our churches. Understandably, this argument assumes that the church evens wants to grow, be healthy, and advance the gospel, but based upon the assumption that all Christians ought to desire these things, there should be some plea from churches for this information.

I believe that some churches ought to be disbanded and merge with other churches or be reborn. I also believe that some church planters like this model because of its simplicity. However, I do believe that some churches need to transition from their current state and be revitalized. What I am attempting to learn in my own ministry, is how to determine which course of action is right for each church. Right now I see an impetus on church planting in my denomination, but I'm afraid this is too close to the opposite extreme of the previous impetus of the denomination. I think that more thought given to these areas can help to bring some balance to continuum of church planting and church revitalization.