Turn the Page

by Mark Taylor 

New parents sometimes feel trapped.  Infants need constant attention, and Mom and Dad may grieve the diminished freedom, increased expenses, and unending on-call status that come with this new addition to their family.
But after only 18 years or so, that son or daughter, now looking ahead at a life of independence, leaves home.  He gets a job; she establishes a household of her own.  And some parents discover a new reason to grieve: without that child who was once such a challenge, the house now seems empty and lonely. 
Whether pressed by our current situation or nostalgic for a time now ending, we do well to remember a simple fact: life consists of chapters, each building on the one just finished.  Each chapter presents opportunities and challenges of its own.  The person learning submission to God embraces the joys and faces the difficulties of every new chapter without wasting time to yearn for what has passed or what is yet to come.  But not everyone learns to live with such grace.  
This metaphor applies to ministry in particular, as well as to life in general.  Things change in a growing church.  The structures, org charts, procedures, and tactics for ministry in a church of 500 may not move that church to reach 1,000.  We’ve read about this; we know it’s true, but we may not want to face the changes that must happen if growth is to happen.
This is because these transitions involve people, and usually these are people we value and love.
Tim Harlow examined this when he wrote “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”  He spoke of committed leaders years ago who made difficult decisions that moved the congregation forward.  But none of those elders are serving today.  Some relocated.  Some have chosen other areas of service.  Today’s tough decisions must be handled by a new crop of leaders.  He described the painful process of saying good-bye to church members not happy with the congregation’s direction or staff members whose skills didn’t match new needs.  If the church had insisted on trying to please everyone, it never would have grown.
And dealing with our own personal transitions may be even more difficult.  Kent Fillinger’s research for Christian Standard shows that churches averaging 1,000 or more and led by ministers aged 40-44 grew significantly more than those led by ministers 60 or older.  In fact, emerging megachurches (worship attendance 1,000-2,000) with older ministers declined in worship attendance by an average of more than 2 percent in 2016. 

Does this mean all ministers over 60 should quit?  Certainly not!  But leaders of any age must determine when it’s time to close one chapter and open another one.  This may mean adopting new strategies, questioning old approaches, searching for new opportunities, constantly prodding oneself and one’s team to find a better way, and yes, even succession.
And, if the current situation has become comfortable enough that the leader no longer leads with the urgency and vigor that characterized his younger years, he must recognize that a new chapter has already begun.  And he must ask what will change to allow this new chapter in the church’s life to accomplish as much for God as the story that’s already been written. 

Don’t be afraid to turn the page


by J. Mike Shannon

The secret of all genuine accomplishments for God is found in prayer.  Prayer has been called the greatest force on earth.  We all agree with that sentiment, but to say that the key to a church’s vitality and effectiveness is found in prayer seems a bit simplistic.  This is because too often we pass off problems with a casual, “Just pray about it.”
If prayer is not a real force in congregational life, maybe it is because too often prayer has become a simple formality.  It becomes merely a ritual we perform in public worship.  It becomes “the bookends” that open and close meetings.  Prayer can only become a force in a church when it is genuine and not perfunctory.  Real and vital prayer is indispensable to the life of the church, while pious and ritualistic prayers are of little or no value.
Look at Nehemiah’s prayer in his first chapter as he considered the deep need of Jerusalem, and prepared to do his part.  It was not a “tippy-toe” prayer.  It was a genuine heart-felt communication with God.
Nehemiah began his prayer where all prayers should begin: in worship, adoration, and praise (v. 5). 

Too often prayer becomes simply asking God for things.  While God has invited us to take our requests to him, that should not be the only, nor even the main, aspect of prayer.  In fact, just being with God should be enough.  The things he gives us are the additional blessings that come from having a relationship with him.  However difficult the challenge, and however doubt-filled our hearts may be, all prayer needs to begin by focusing on God Himself.
Nehemiah’s prayer also included confession (verses 6 and 7).  He knew that God was not responsible for the problems, but that the difficulties they faced were the logical outcome of their actions.  Nehemiah’s confession was not just confessing the sins of other people; he admitted his own failings.  This confessional aspect of prayer was both personal and corporate.  It is never appropriate to dwell on the sins of others until we have mourned over our own sins.
Nehemiah’s prayer was also characterized by boldness (verses 8 through 11); what some have called a “holy boldness.”  It was not boldness in the sense of arrogance, but rather an attitude of assertive praying.  Nehemiah was not afraid to tell God what hereally thought and he asked God for what he really wanted.
Prayer prepared Nehemiah to fulfill a nearly impossible task.  He backed up his prayer with action and sacrifice.  The task did not seem so big once he had been in the presence of God. 

The old adage is very true, and every church leader should remember it: 

If you have a big God then you’ll only have small problems;
if you have a small God you’ll always have big problems.

Eli and Samuel: Passive Mentoring

by Phil Claycomb 

Young Samuel awoke one night hearing his name called.  He ran to Eli, his mentor, to see what Eli needed.  But it was not Eli calling Samuel.  God was.  Armed with that insight, and the simple instruction to say “Speak, Lord, your servant hears,” Samuel returned to his room and soon found himself in conversation with God.  Sounds fun, right?  Unfortunately, God’s word to Samuel was a dark message of judgment on Eli and all that the older priest represented.  God was doing something new – and that meant that Eli and the old way of things had to go.  I imagine the morning’s conversation was awkward, as Samuel unpacked all of God’s revelation for his mentor Eli.
I want to suggest that the true hero of this story is Eli.  Eli proved to be a great mentor in the roughest of situations.  And it is not what Eli did, so much as what he did not do that made his mentoring effective.  Good mentoring is often deliberate, proactive, intentional – in a word, active.  But good mentoring is also sometimes passive, and Eli shows us how mentors must occasionally step back and give younger leaders room to learn and experience on their own.  Passive mentoring goes further; it makes room for younger leaders to initiate new ventures, even ventures that threaten to undermine the status quo. 
First, consider how Eli passively got out of Samuel’s way.  Once it was established that it was God calling Samuel, Eli gave simple instructions and let the boy encounter God on his own.  We should note that the text specifically states that visions were rare in Eli’s day (1 Samuel 3:1).  It would have been understandable had Eli wanted a ringside seat for the event.  After all, mentors need to be there to help youngsters understand what God “really” means … right?  However, Eli demonstrated masterful mentoring by not intruding.  He stepped out of the picture.  He sent Samuel back to listen to God alone.  Eli was properly and intentionally passive.  His actions remind us that we are not the focus of our protégé’s attention.  Only God is!  This aspect of passive mentoring requires humility of us, because only God deserves followership.  Good passive mentoring focuses younger leaders on God, and not on their mentor.  
Second, Eli made no attempt to re-state, interpret, re-interpret, or control the negative message Samuel heard from God.  Even though God’s message to Samuel, and the boy’s own growth in leadership, ultimately undermined Eli’s leadership, Eli let God’s plan play out.  Nothing in the text indicates that he resisted God’s new direction under Samuel’s leadership.  This is passive mentoring at its best.  Eli appropriately differentiated his own calling and ministry from his successor’s.  He trusted God’s plan – for both of them.  The power of passive mentoring is seen in Eli’s stepping back, giving the young leader room to listen to God without interference, as well as permission to follow God down new and unfamiliar paths.  
Eli is a mentoring hero – he reminds us that the key to mentoring is not always in what we do, but it is sometimes in what we don’t do!

Encouragement: How to Save a Ministry

by Tim Cole 

I recently had lunch with a preacher friend and colleague of mine.  We were ruminating on the memories of our very first sermons.  His first foray into the pulpit was as a nervous 16-year-old at his home, little country church.  He remembered that he’d studied his text thoroughly, reading every commentary on the passage in his preacher’s extensive library.  He’d hand-written his manuscript, which, by his estimation, would last about 40 minutes. 

Though he was given the Sunday evening sermon slot, the audience seemed twice the normal crowd with the youth group joining the curious adults, ready to hear the youngster’s first attempt.  As he climbed into the intimidating 3-sided pulpit, his nerves took over and he dropped his stack of unnumbered pages on the floor.  He silently prayed for God to somehow just get him through the evening.  He remembers that his sermon lasted a whopping seven minutes.  

On his way out the door, an Elder handed him a note written on the torn-off corner of a bulletin.  My friend said he didn’t read it, instead sticking it in his pants pocket while looking for “cover.”  Later that evening he sat alone in his bedroom having a self-described pity party for how poorly the night had gone.  He wasn’t sure if he’d ever preach again.  

At that moment he remembered and finally read the note handed to him by the Godly Elder at his church.  It wasn’t so much a note; just a simple Bible reference, “1 Corinthians 2:1-5.”  A quick turn to the passage revealed its wise encouragement: 

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ – and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (NASB) 

This preacher, now 30 years later, says that simple note of encouragement from an Elder he respected might be the reason he’s still in ministry today.  When did you or I last give our preacher a heart-felt encouraging note – maybe at just the right time?  

The Proverb writer penned, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones,” (16:24, NIV).  

As a minister myself for more than 25 years, and one who now has the privilege of pastoring our pastors, you might be surprised at the number of times preachers have told me similar stories of encouraging words, or actions, from Godly men in their lives that sustained them for years, and sometimes even for decades.  

And maybe this Sunday you might find yourself tearing off the corner of a bulletin…