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Is This the Right Person for Me to Marry?

 
 
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When I was 20 years old, I was an aspiring gospel singer, and I traveled with a preacher five years my senior. At the time, we were both single.

In spare moments the subject of qualities to look for in a lifetime partner came up. This was back when marriage meant one man and one woman in covenant for life, and when young men and women were typically more ready to marry by their early 20s.

By his repetitions, the list was fixed in my mind so I believe I can reproduce it accurately, before adding my brief comments.

First, he would ask, is this person a committed Christian? According to the Scriptures, Christians are to marry only Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14–16). So one should ask: is there evidence that he/she loves the Lord and manifests that love in lifestyle, attitudes and habits?

Christians who ignore this requirement relative to marriage go contrary to clear scriptural teachings. In doing so, they disobey the Lord and deprive themselves of a spiritual dimension to their marriage that God intends to be unifying and enriching.

Second, is this a person of good character? In the early stages of a relationship, one looks for such traits as honesty and trustworthiness; a vision for life that includes serving others; respect for parents and little children; a strong work ethic; and empathy for others. Also, do friends and family give off cues and comments of affirmation or reservation?

Third, what about disposition? It’s true that parties in a marriage have down days for which their mates make allowance. But prominent and frequent pouting, grumpiness, anger or me-first behaviors even in a person of great charm should be noted because such traits will dissipate a lot of the life force that could otherwise be turned to positive, outward and even Christian ministry purposes.

The Proverbs warn against a “quarrelsome and nagging wife” (Proverbs 21:19). If the Proverbs were being written today for our culture, they would have cautionary words against choosing a “quarrelsome and nagging” husband also.

Fourth, what about family background? Marriages tend to be stronger and more fulfilling when a bond between the two families also forms. Cultural and family similarities are certainly not absolute prerequisites in our multicultural society, but they can be helpful if present. If very different, they will require extra effort to bridge.

It is family values, character traits and disposition that, of course, trump all else. However, one question to shed light on this issue is: Do I want this prospective mate’s brothers and sisters to be aunts and uncles to my children?

Fifth, (a modern adaptation to my preacher friend’s fifth question): if two vocations are represented in the potential union, is the success of the marriage more important than the full achievement of either partner’s vocation? For example, one partner wants to teach in Minnesota and the other in Florida. It is possible that a relationship could even be dissolved by unyielding differences.

While it might not answer the specifics between Minnesota and Florida, the couple in which each individual values the marriage above where to live will be more likely to survive this kind of modern-day dilemma.

Some may feel the above questions are too plodding for something so enthralling as love that points toward marriage. Passion is very much a part of the love that God gives to bind a man and woman together for a lifetime. But while passion may be sufficient to get a relationship started, it is not by itself enough as a foundation for a wonderful marriage. And, generally speaking, it is better for the mind to lead with questions like those above and the heart to follow than for the emotions to take over and the rational mind to be switched off until after the wedding.

And so, for the young person wishing to follow the path of wisdom to the altar and to deep satisfaction beyond, both clear judgment and romantic passion should have their appropriate place and contribution.

Christian young people must never forget to bind all this together with a strong cord of prayer. Pay attention to the answer to the above questions (and others); seek godly counsel if perplexities arise; ask for wisdom from God; and you are likely to experience the kind of love that blesses you and your spouse, survives all vicissitudes, and lasts a lifetime.

Donald N. Bastian is a bishop emeritus of the Free Methodist Church and the author of multiple books, including “The Pastor’s First Love,” “God’s House Rules,” “Give It a Rest,” “Belonging: Adventures in Church Membership,” “Leading the Local Church,” “Beer, Wine & Spirits: What’s the Big Deal?” and “Sketches of Free Methodism” — all of which can be ordered from Wesleyan Publishing House. This article is adapted from a post on his Just Call Me Pastor blog. Greenville College will formally launch its new Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian School of Theology, Philosophy and Ministry in October.

DISCUSS IT

  1. Why should a couple care about “little issues” in such areas as faith, character, disposition and family if they are in love?
  2. What other advice would you give a single friend who is searching for a spouse?


The Myth of the Lazy Teen

There’s been plenty of debate about teens and their social justice “slacktivism,” but how much truth is there to the claim that young people are only taking action with 140 characters or less? A new study from Barna shows that teens are actively engaged in service and volunteer projects and youth ministry is a primary channel through which they serve. In partnership with Youth Specialties and YouthWorks, Barna conducted a major study on the state of youth ministry in the United States, which included a look at service and volunteering trends among teens. Here are some of the key findings:

Teens Are Active Volunteers

Volunteer and service projects are a foundational element of youth ministry programs in churches across the country. According to their parents, a majority of teens (68%) are fairly active when it comes to volunteering at least once every few months: a little less than one fifth of teens (17%) volunteer once a week, one-quarter (25%) volunteer at least once a month, another one-quarter (26%) volunteer once every few months, and about one-third (32%) say they volunteer less often than that.

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Teen Volunteering Focuses on Church Service and Poverty Alleviation

Teenagers are flocking to the local church when they feel the urge to volunteer. The most common forms of service for teens (as reported by their parents) are those associated with church/ministry (42%). Followed closely behind are feeding the hungry/helping the homeless (35%), educational (31%), and environmental/cleanup (28%). Less popular are volunteering with animals (20%), service trips (18%), social advocacy/political (11%), or medical or healthcare (10%).

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The Church is Central to Teen Volunteering Efforts

The importance of the church when it comes to volunteering is a testament to the power of local congregations in galvanizing young people to serve their communities and the world. When parents of teens who attend youth group regularly are asked specifically whether their teen has participated in a service project with a church, six in 10 (61%) say yes. So what kinds of service projects are youth groups engaging? Parents of teens who volunteer with a church are most likely to say their kids did a day of service at church (52%). Outside of serving at church, they are most likely to spend a day serving in their town (48%). A little more than one-third of parents say their kids have an ongoing service commitment that they participate in on a regular basis (36%). Of course, many youth groups plan for longer service trips during the year. Just over one-third of parents say their kids go on service trips to a destination that could be reached in one day of driving (36%), about one in five say they go further than that (19%), somewhere in the U.S. that cannot be reached in one day of driving. What about foreign mission trips? Less than one-tenth of parents (8%) say they send their kids to serve at destinations outside the U.S.

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Parental involvement and encouragement seems to be a key factor in teen service. Teenagers who attend church with their parents are more likely to participate in service with their church (60% of teens who attended church with their parent participated in service projects, vs only 16% of those who did not).

The Goals of Service Are to Love and Serve Others

Galatians 5:13 instructs Christians to “serve one another humbly in love,” and for youth pastors and parents, this is the most important goal of a missions trip. Loving and serving others (74% for pastors, 56% for parents) is the primary goal for both groups, followed by being the hands and feet of Jesus (56% for pastors, 40% for parents). Other notable goals for pastors and parents are discipleship for youth on the trip (41% for pastors), teaching and modeling compassion (30% for pastors, 34% for parents), and providing for the poor (30% for parents). Explicitly sharing the gospel on these trips is also considered either very important (69%) or somewhat important (23%) by more than nine in ten youth pastors (92%).

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Debriefing and Follow-up are Important After a Trip

A common experience among teens who participate in service trips, especially after returning from an international trip and facing stark cultural and economic differences, is culture shock. Returning from these kinds of trips often requires some debriefing and follow-up, a practice valued highly among youth pastors. A large majority of youth pastors (81%) valued follow-up to a mission trip either extremely important (32%) or very important (49%). The types of follow-ups varied, but a majority of youth pastors followed up the mission trip experience by having teens share about the trip with other students (83%), reminding students about continuing service in their everyday life (75%) and by praying for those impacted by the trip (63%).

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It’s clear youth pastors believe service and mission trips are an important element of youth ministry and teen discipleship, but do these experiences offer long term transformation? Parents seem to think so—among those whose teenager participated in a trip, their belief was that it made a lasting impression. Three-quarters (74%) say it definitely made a lasting impression, one quarter (24%) say it probably made an impression, and a small 2 percent say not really. Parents also feel the youth leader or pastor adequately prepared their teen before the trip (65% definitely, 31% somewhat), and adequately debriefed their teen after the trip (55% definitely, 40% somewhat).

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What the Research Means

“On the one hand, our society tells teens that service and volunteerism are important hallmarks of a well-rounded individual,” says Brooke Hempell, vice president of research at Barna Group. “College-bound teens know this is an important element of their school application portfolio, and social media reinforces the idea that social justice and activism are “trendy.” On the other hand, each generation demonstrates an increasing self-absorption that runs counter to this trend—many Millennials say volunteering is more talk than action.

“The church, and youth groups in particular, have a unique opportunity to stand out as an authentic example of love through service by being the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need,” Hempell continues. “Parents and Youth Pastors alike know the importance of this, and many find service and missions trips more engaging to youth than trying to compete for being “the coolest place to hang out on a Friday night.” Further, through these experiences, teens learn first hand what the Gospel is and have tangible life lessons to reflect on in the weeks, months, or years that follow. It is clear that service is an important element to any successful teen discipleship effort.”

Comment on this research and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @roxyleestone | @barnagroup
Facebook: Barna Group

About the Research

This study included three surveys with representative random samples conducted among parents of teenagers, senior pastors of Protestant churches and youth pastors of Protestant churches.

The study of parents was conducted online and included 606 surveys among a representative random sample of adults 18 and older with children ages 13-19 within all 50 states and was conducted March 29th through April 7th, 2016. The sampling error for a sample of this size is +/-4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The response rate for the online study was 20%.

A total of 381 senior pastors of Protestant churches within all 50 states were surveyed online March 15th – June 7th, 2016. One method was using an online panel of Protestant senior pastors from a panel maintained by Barna (n=299). The second method was a random representative sample of Protestant pastors obtained from an outside list provider (n=82). The total sampling error for the total number of senior pastors is +/-5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The response rate for the panel maintained by Barna was 37%, and the response rate for the representative sample from an outside list provider was 20%.

A total of 352 youth pastors of Protestant churches within all 50 states were surveyed online March 15th-June 15th, 2016. One method was using an online panel of youth pastors from a panel maintained by Barna (n=51). The second method was a random representative sample of youth pastors obtained from an outside list provider (n=301). The total sampling error for the total number of youth pastors is + / -5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The response rate for the panel maintained by Barna was 47% and the response rate for the representative sample from an outside list provider was 8%.

Youth Specialties equips and encourages churches to help teenagers find and follow Jesus through training, events, and resources. Learn more at 

youthspecialties.com and visit NYWC.com to register for the National Youth Workers Convention, November 17-20

in Cincinnati, OH.
YouthWorks exists to connect teenagers to God, each other, and communities through life-changing Christ-Centered mission trips. Learn more at 

youthworks.com

About Barna Group
The Barna Group is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

 

© Barna Group, 2016.
This article originally appeared at barna.com. 


Signs and Steps to Recalibrate

 
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Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the “11 Signs You Need To Recalibrate” message Superintendent Jason Garcia shared June 4 with the Pacific Coast Japanese Conference.

If our methods aren’t producing new disciples, we need to recalibrate. Here are 11 signs recalibration is needed:

  1. You become more in love with your method than you are with His mission.

When your liturgy becomes more important than your effectiveness or fruitfulness, we need to recalibrate. Europe is full of empty cathedrals reminding us that following a method meant more than bearing fruit. When our liturgy gets in the way of the Great Commission, we need to recalibrate.

Build traditions that keep church members looking forward for them to stay impacting and relevant. Build traditions that are redemptive in nature.

Developing a culture of constructive assessment is vital. Every year, our churches should conduct an audit on what’s working and why it’s working, and what’s not working and why.

  1. People are not getting your vision.

Your vision may not be clear, compelling or communicated often enough. Your structure may not support your vision.

  1. You are doing all the work.

If you are doing all the work, you are not doing His work. Equip other saints to do the work too. Otherwise, how do you expect your church to multiply?

“Pass on what you heard from me … to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2 MSG).

  1. We don’t understand the culture we are trying to reach.

As we minister in a postmodern or post-Christian culture, we may be answering questions nobody is asking. We may produce people who do not know how to navigate culture or address their identity in Christ within the cultural context.

Biblically literate Christians who are culturally illiterate create their own subculture. Paul knew the nuances of his surrounding culture before he introduced Christ (Acts 17:16–34).

  1. You are not being intentional about reaching the next generation.

The church has a holy responsibility to actively target, instruct and nurture our young and established families. Our children’s spiritual, emotional and physical well-being are the foundation to societal health. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

It also is imperative to respond with a Spirit-led, all-out effort to reach teens. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

We must also reach young adults and singles. Millennials are on the verge of reshaping the foundation of American culture. We pray that a demographic known for their hunger for authentic community, their desire to be mentored and their causal/activist nature will experience an encounter with the Creator.

  1. You are either afraid to change, not willing to change or don’t know how to change.

The person afraid to change is often a people pleaser, lacks faith to bring about needed change, has been wounded, or is not in a safe environment to change. They need to be encouraged and empowered.

  1. You are afraid of metrics.

Metrics serve as a platform for improvement, not a weapon to hurt you.

  1. You mistake community service as evangelism.

Offering a cup of cold water will quench a person’s physical thirst, and then you can introduce the One who quenches their spiritual thirst.

  1. You think deep, but not out.

Jesus walked 3,200 ministry miles during his active ministry. The gospel is an interval sport. You burn calories ministering. You pray, rest and then burn more calories.

God has equipped us all with the ability to think deep thoughts, but He has called us to actively burn calories reaching out to neighbors, colleagues friends and enemies. Most of our churches mistakenly believe people will come to us if we open the doors.

  1. Nobody comes back or visits.

Prayerfully and intentionally assess why people are not attending. Invite a recalibration coach to visit and help you assess why people are not visiting or staying.

  1. The senior pastor quits praying with church staff and/or the congregation.

Leadership that doesn’t model dependency on God produces people who don’t depend on God.

Nothing a pastor does is more important than communicating and modeling our need for God. Communicating clever sermons to the church body is great. Praying with the church body is vital.

Here are the first steps toward recalibration:

  1. Get away and ask God to create a white-hot sense of mission.
  2. Recalibrate your structure to drive your vision
  3. Understand and love the people you are trying to reach.
  4. Get coaching.
  5. Commit to change or re-launch.

Jason Garcia is the superintendent of the Pacific Coast Japanese Conference and the leader of the Rizechurch-planting network.

DISCUSS IT

1. Do our methods, liturgy and traditions bear fruit?

2. What do we need to keep, lose and recalibrate?

3. Is your vision clear or compelling enough?



Worship Music at the Movies

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Even if the name Hillsong isn’t familiar to you, you’ve probably spent part of a Sunday morning worship service singing “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),” “Shout to the Lord,” “From the Inside Out,” “Cornerstone,” “Mighty to Save,” “Hosanna,” “Lead Me to the Cross” or another song that originated with the Australian megachurch’s musicians.

What do we actually know about these musicians and the church to which they belong? Moviegoers will have a chance to learn more about them when “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise” debuts in theaters Sept. 16.

“You’re really talking about the people who are writing the soundtrack to hundreds of millions’ Christian faith,” said Jonathan Bock, the movie’s producer in a telephone interview with Light + Life. “Do you know that five out of the 10 biggest worship songs of all time were written by Hillsong?”

Hillsong Church is affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches, the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God, but the Hillsong movie wouldn’t have been possible without the work of people from other denominations. Bock is a Presbyterian elder, and his Grace Hill Media team includes Suzanne Niles, an author, publicist and former Hollywood actress who worships at Timberview Church — a Free Methodist congregation founded by Bishop Matthew Thomas in Mead, Washington.

While at Hillsong in Australia to promote another movie, Bock asked Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston about the possibility of making a film about the church and its music. Bock said that Houston humbly responded, “Who would want to see a movie about us?”

Bock offered to pitch the potential movie to studios to see if they had any interest. When he returned to Los Angeles, Bock quickly received offers from four studios and raised the money to make a Hillsong motion picture.

The film provides a close look at the church’s Hillsong United band as the members write their next album. Their story is told by experienced director Michael John Warren, whose diverse work includes popular rapper Jay Z’s “Fade to Black” movie and a documentary about a beer company. In a statement on the Hillsong movie’s website, Warren said, “I’m not a religious person, but I learned things from working with and becoming friends with the members of Hillsong United.”

Bock and his colleagues interviewed both Christian and nonbelieving directors before ultimately selecting Warren based on his experiences shooting concerts with multiple cameras and his skills interviewing musicians. As an outsider to Christianity, Warren asked more probing questions than a Christian director might have asked.

“He wouldn’t just let them get away with the typical Christians answers,” Bock said. “He ultimately pressed them and forced them to explain their beliefs and their theology and the reasons they are motivated to do what they do. … Out of that, we got a film that is really deeply theological.”

The movie was delayed a year when its original distributor declared bankruptcy, but unlike most of the distributor’s films that remained in limbo, “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise” was eventually released from the bankruptcy proceedings.

Initial screenings have resulted in even more audience enthusiasm than filmmakers anticipated.

“When we started to test it with audiences, people were singing along in the theater. People were putting their hands up. In some cases, we even had people standing up,” Bock said. “We realized that we had actually created an entire new genre of movie, which we’re calling the theatrical worship experience.”



Discipline Demonstrates Love

 
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At some level, most parents fear the possibility that using discipline with their kids might drive them away. Yet the reality is that discipline is needed, and (for most kids) it works.

Many kids aren’t mature enough to realize that if their parents don’t ground them; if they don’t attach consequences to actions that are outside the established boundaries, their parents are not acting in love toward them.

Healthy discipline is a sign that parents love their children. Let’s think about God for a moment. The Scriptures tell us that He disciplines us because He loves us: “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” –Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT) This passage in Proverbs ties God’s discipline to the human discipline a parent provides to his or her child, and this is how we know that discipline (provided in a healthy way) is a demonstration of love.

I believe the healthiest and most effective way to discipline teenagers is to set up consequences for violating boundaries ahead of time. When consequences are set ahead of time, you set up the dynamic where it’s not you versus your child, but rather you and your child versus the consequences. For example, if my daughter comes home late, missing her curfew, and I meet her at the door, I can tell her, “I’m so bummed that you missed your curfew and now you have to spend the next three weeks with Mom and me.”

I don’t have to get angry. I don’t have to yell. I don’t even have to raise my voice. I can actually be empathetic toward my daughter, because the reality is that we agreed to the consequence ahead of time. It’s my daughter and me against the consequence.

No teenager is ever going to go up to a parent and say, “Thank you. Thank you. I love it when you ground me!” But, loving guidelines and strong parental boundaries are a sign of love. Beyond applying consequences, your kids need you to help them process bad decisions and help guide them toward learning from the mistakes they’ve made. They need your coaching and encouragement to build confidence that they are capable of making good decisions.

Your kids are not going to ask you to ground them or bring more discipline into their lives, but they need it! Discipline is a sign of love! Just make sure you discipline in a reasonable and loving ways!



Jesus Is the True Seed of Multiplication

 
 
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“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).

My friend Ralph was a typical follower of Jesus during the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s. In 1971, God spoke to him in the middle of a crowded restaurant and directed him to Hermosa Beach to start a church. At the first meeting, it was Ralph; his wife, Ruby; Carl, their 6-month-old son and nine other people. Ralph didn’t know much about what to do, so he just preached Jesus: Jesus as Savior, Jesus as King, Jesus as Healer. Ralph discipled people around that same theme of Jesus. The church, named Hope Chapel, began to grow. It was an uncomplicated format with a strong emphasis on — you guessed it — Jesus.

Ralph began to sense a call to start other churches with this same focus: Keep it simple. Keep it about Jesus. Keep it about people. Keep it about Jesus changing people’s lives. They had started 29 churches when the Lord spoke to Ralph again. This time it was a call to leave his now megachurch and go start a new church. Ralph once more obeyed the voice of Jesus and went off to plant the seed of Jesus on the island of Oahu. Today Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay is a thriving church that has planted many Jesus-exalting churches. But Ralph is no longer pastoring there because at age 67, in 2013, the Lord called him to plant Hope Chapel Honolulu.

While I was at dinner with Ralph last month, he admitted, “When someone told me over 1,000 churches had been birthed as a result of that first church in Hermosa Beach, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, ‘What if that’s not true but I’ve been telling it to audiences?’” Consequently, a study was done to account for all the churches that trace their spiritual lineage to that first Hope Chapel. The result was over 2,300 churches are in the lineage of that first Hope Chapel church.

Ralph Moore is now 70 and not stopping his emphasis on two things — Jesus and multiplication. Ralph would tell you, “The secret sauce is not a great strategy but a great Savior.”

Mustard Seed

The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to the Jewish gardeners of Jesus’ day. It was a common seed, unremarkable in every way, except perhaps for its diminutive size. It was a seed with multiple uses. Soaked in wine, the seed would release its spicy flavor, which was craved by the Israelite palate. The crushed seeds were used as a source of oil for the lamps that illuminated the Jewish homes. Almost all parts of the mustard plant were (and are) edible.

Since before Christ, the mustard plant has been used for healing purposes. It was first mentioned as a curative in the Greeks’ Hippocratic writings. In the form of mustard paste, it was used for general muscular relief and to help relieve toothaches. It also became known to stimulate appetite and digestion, help clear sinuses, and increase blood circulation.

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30–32), He may have had Himself in mind, the King of this kingdom. He may have been remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him … and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2–3).

Jesus was the undervalued seed who would grow up like a young plant, propagate, multiply then fill the earth with His offspring.

The Mustard Seed Tribe has a singular focus on the true seed – Jesus. He is the one we want to see multiplied. If we are making a disciple, we want to see Jesus, not ourselves, replicated in our disciple. If we are leading a small group our first priority is not getting the vibe just right, it is seeing Jesus exalted. If we are running a ministry – whether youth or outreach or homeless or justice – we are seeking to see Jesus manifested. If we are planting churches, it is not our brand, our band, our preacher or our label we are promoting. It is a profound encounter with Jesus. This is the only seed that we can trust to multiply.

It is this underemphasis on the true seed that often leads to the dismal harvest we see in the ministry of Christians and churches. We plant a seed other than the real Jesus, then pray for it to grow and wonder why it doesn’t. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:16, “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”

The Apostle John won’t allow us to miss the power of this one true seed — Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5); “I am the door” (John 10:9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Jesus is where the life is.

Jesus was speaking of the cross but also giving us a spiritual principle to minister by when He declared, “And I, when I am lifted up [the Greek here can also mean ‘exalted’] from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There is a “drawing,” an attraction that happens when people exalt Jesus and not themselves, their ministries or their churches.

I am reminded of the young boy in the church Christmas play who had one line to deliver, but when it was his time to shine, he forgot his one line. Thankfully, his mother was in the front row and began to whisper the line to him. “I am the light of the world,” she hinted. The boy didn’t quite hear her and softly murmured back, “What, mom?” A little louder, his mother replied, “I am the light of the world.” With that, the boy straightened up and in a booming voice declared, “My mom is the light of the world!”

There is one true light, and our message must not be forgotten, twisted or diluted. The one seed we want multiplied is Jesus.

With that in view, we can look at two other ways Jesus uses the term “seed.”

The first is found in the parable Jesus tells about the four types of soil we will encounter in our process of evangelism and disciple-making (Matthew 13:3–9, 18–23). In 13:19, Jesus says the seed is the “message about the kingdom.” In 13:20 the seed is “the word.” These are synonymous in the parable and identify the same thing Jesus taught in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus identifies himself as “the truth” in John 14:6.

The “message about the kingdom,” “the word,” and “the truth” are each ultimately pointing back to the true seed — Jesus. The Bible, alone, doesn’t save us. The Bible presents to us Jesus, the one who saves us. If we do not major on Jesus when preaching the Word, we miss the truth. We fail to pass on the seed. Too many Christians want to use their Bible to prove something to you instead of to introduce someone to you.

Jesus’ second use of “seed” is found in the next parable He tells in Matthew 13:24–30. It is the story of the sower who plants good seed, but then an enemy sneaks in at night and plants weed seed. The servants are ready to pull up all the weeds but the master says, “No, wait until harvest because then it will be evident which is which.” In the explanation of the parable Jesus makes this statement – “The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38).

Kingdom people are identified as “good seed.” The truth is you are either seeds or weeds! But we must be clear about why we are seed. It is not because of the life intrinsic in ourselves. It is rather due to our ability to carry the true seed. We become “people of the kingdom” only when the King moves into the castle of our lives. Multiplication DNA is not resident in our talents, gifts, intellect, strength, skills or sparkling personalities. It is only present in the true seed.

This is the Apostle Paul’s passionate plea in Colossians 1:27–28: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim…”

The mystery of the gospel is that Christ, the true seed, can live in and through us. It is this seed we proclaim and share with the world. This is the seed that will multiply.

Imitating Christ

As my friend Ralph Moore wrote recently in his blog (ralphmoorehawaii.com): “Sick Christians chase fads. Healthy Christians stick to God’s formulas and get on with life. They truly ‘find themselves’ as they imitate Christ.”

The formula for multiplication is not the next church conference, the newest model or the ensuing book. It is people who “find themselves” as they imitate Christ and who then overflow with his contagious reality.

My wife, Deb, is one of my heroes and a Mustard Seed Tribe kind of women. She carries King Jesus around with her wherever she goes. She’s not a street corner preacher who nails people to the proverbial wall with a “turn or burn” message. She’s just natural with people but always looking for a chance to plant the seed of Jesus.

Eight years ago, my wife and I started renting a 103-year-old house in Long Beach from a nearly retired university art professor. It’s a spacious old place in need of some repairs, but that fact is offset by a gorgeous view of the Pacific. God miraculously opened the door for us to rent it as we were ninth in the waiting line to rent it at its below-market price. As we moved in, we inquired of the Lord, “What is your mission for us in this place?”

We didn’t have to look far. Our landlord, Tracy, lives above the garage behind the house. Tracy can literally look down from her porch into our kitchen and tell you whether I’m having oatmeal or bacon for breakfast.

Now, that reality could be quite negative, except that Tracy has become our friend and even an extended member of our family. Tracy has been a “spiritual” person, but her understanding of Jesus was underdeveloped. Deb wasted no time in “planting the seed” of Jesus into Tracy’s life. Through numerous acts of kindness and conversations, the trust level began to build. Then Deb hosted a women’s group focusing on Jesus. She chose a book study on “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright. Tracy came and began to encounter the true seed.

Gradually Tracy began coming to our church. Next she began helping with our Community Center Theater program for under-resourced children. She put her set design skills to good use. Her friendship circle in the church continued to grow.

A few months ago Deb and I were in the baptismal water as Tracy publicly professed her lifetime commitment to Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. Tracy still has questions, but one fact she is certain of – she’s met Jesus and her life changed. The seed of Jesus has sprouted and is producing new fruit in her life.

Three weeks ago, our small groups pastor told Deb, “Did you know Tracy wants to go through our small group training? She wants to share Jesus with others like herself.” Deb’s spiritual lineage is multiplying.

The seed is Jesus.

Larry Walkemeyer, D.Min., is the lead pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, California, and a superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. This article is adapted from the first chapter of his new FreeMo Journals book, “Multiply Ministries: The Mustard Seed Tribe.”



When Obedience Leads to Legacy

 

by

 
obedience
 

I am a fan of grandchildren. Marlene and I have eight healthy, wonderful, beautiful grandchildren — all of whom are a cut above their peers in intellect and talent (in my humble opinion). I am aware that many grandparents reading this will disagree.

Marlene and I did not set out to be grandparents when we married. In fact, I cannot remember if the subject of grandchildren ever arose before we said, “I will.” We spoke about the possibility of children early in our relationship. But our focus was really on the present relationship — the two of us. One great step after another led us to marriage, parenting and ultimately grandchildren. Without focusing on becoming multigenerational, we now enjoy the fruit of being multigenerational.

That is what multiplication looks like. It is living in love, doing the right thing and living the right way; then preparing another generation to live in love, do the the right thing, live the right way. That generation will then prepare others to … It is quite natural in the world of biology and should be in the church.

This is what it looks like in the church world. Healthy churches will love God so deeply that they will serve Him with vibrant faith and commitment. That will lead the people to love one another deeply. That will result in a commitment to make disciples of all who want to journey as children of God.

The church members may not even have multiplication in mind. As they grow, a number of things will happen. The church will grow, perhaps outgrowing its facilities. It will begin reaching and helping people who might find ministry more suitable in different contexts. It will reach people beyond its geographic ability to capably serve. It will disciple people who turn out to be high-capacity, pastorally called leaders who will need venues in which to serve. The church will then develop interest in reaching people beyond its current congregation. It will create opportunities for many leaders to significantly serve, and it will naturally lead to birthing new churches and ministries. That is not just multiplication. It is a healthy sign of life.

Now I suppose there are people who become parents who do so regretfully, and I suppose there are people who become grandparents regretfully. I would not fit in either category, but I can envision situations where health, circumstance and maturity may cause some to regret children and grandchildren. I also suppose there are times when churches just don’t want to grow. I believe the same factors are often in play: health, unique circumstance or maturity. Some are afraid to multiply or expand even though growth and expansion are inherent in the commandments of Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20, etc.) and explicit in the prophetic statements He made about the church’s future (Acts 1:8).

Like parenting, multiplication in church is not without challenges and threats. The most common ones that I have seen or heard as a church planter, parent-church pastor, superintendent and bishop have to do with finances (it’s generally expensive and money is walking out the door with the plant), departure (members do not want friends to leave) and service (more people need to step up and fill vacancies). Those are all legitimate concerns. They are faith-building concerns. They are God-given concerns, and they are very similar again to parenting. The main challenges are finances (it’s expensive to raise children), departure (we don’t want them to leave) and service (we lose an extra set of hands around the house). Like parenting, church multiplication is generally well-received and celebrated after its fruit is being realized. Like parents, churches that grow and start new ministries find themselves part of a living legacy that brings a plethora of blessings and numerable occasions to celebrate.

Perhaps the best part of being a grandparent is seeing a legacy lived out right before our eyes. Our family does not die with us. Relationships are ever expanding. New life is birthed and lived out right before our eyes. God’s good work in us continues in and through others. That is worthy of celebration.

So get busy loving God contagiously, loving people as family and making disciples of those who need the Savior. Then watch the natural and unexpected outcome of growth, church planting and the spread of the gospel beyond your normal reach.

Bishop Matthew Thomas has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.



How to Become a More Confident Parent

By Jim Burns
Smiling teenage girl sitting in front of her parents
 

When my wife, Cathy, and I found out we were going to be parents, we were brimming with confidence. We thought, how hard can it be? Then, we had kids. Talk about receiving an education!

Fortunately, God is gracious and merciful to parents and children alike. While raising our three daughters we discovered five strategies that helped us keep a level head while parenting. These principles will really boost your confidence also.

1. Bless Your Children. 
Kids love praise from their parents and I’m convinced that they crave it. As they grow up, they have a tendency to gravitate toward adults who affirm them. Be that adult. For children, there is no substitute for receiving a blessing from Mom and Dad during these formative years. It will propel them to new heights spiritually, emotionally and relationally as you build their self-image.

2. Overcome Negative Family Patterns. 
This can be tough if you grew up in a dysfunctional family. Still, you can be part of the “transitional generation” who stops blaming bad behavior from the past as an excuse for bad parenting today. Get help to heal the hurts of your childhood and start setting healthy examples for your own kids.

3. Create a Grace-Filled Home. 
Tweens and teens love to have a safe place to hang out with their friends, and 99 times out of 100, that place is the home where grace abounds. If the atmosphere of your home is negative or threatening, your kids will find somewhere to hang out where they feel welcome. Creating a welcoming atmosphere at home means increasing the flow of acceptance and grace.

4. Communicate with A.W.E. A healthy dose of A.W.E. (Affection, Warmth and Encouragement) works wonders with kids. You don’t have to be a pushover parent; in fact, leniency does not equal love. But when you are fair, firm and consistent with A.W.E.-filled discipline in your home, you’ll build a stronger bond with your kids. And that will be a tremendous confidence-booster for you as a parent.

5. Raise Kids Who Love God and Themselves. 
The key is respect. When kids are taught the value of obeying their parents, honoring and respecting God is easy. Obedience makes it easier to establish a loving relationship with Him. But don’t stop there. Give your kids the gift of learning self-respect as well. This could be one of the most precious commodities an adolescent will ever get. Self-respecting kids do a better job of making right and wise decisions in life, and they will learn this self-respect from you, Mom and Dad!



The Multiplication Equation

 
 
 

We launched our church, Chapel of Change, in 2012 in greater Long Beach, California, with one “Sunday Celebration.” It was an exciting day with 700 people showing up to support our efforts. We intentionally launched large knowing the following Sunday’s attendance would be much smaller.

Going into our church-planting journey, we decided to become a multiplying church. We haven’t launched a new church yet, but we have multiplied in baby steps. Today, we have four Sunday celebrations on two campuses with several church-planter candidates in the pipeline, and we are about to launch a new Sunday night campus.

Multiplication doesn’t just happen. Pastors and leaders need to be intentional. There is an equation that equals multiplication. Let me break down parts of this equation.

Be theologically convinced.

A person has to be convinced God wants multiplication. More so, Christians should be convinced God wants multiplication for His kingdom. It will not happen just based on good intentions or wishful thinking. There needs to be motivation rooted in God’s Word. Get into the Word, and let God’s will drive you. Let God’s Word inspire and challenge you to multiply. Here are some good places to start:

“God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth’” (Genesis 1:22).

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).

“So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).

If we don’t have a theological conviction, our excitement will soon fade in the face of all the challenges it takes to multiply.

Talk about it.

It’s important to develop a culture of multiplication. From there, your culture produces who you intend to be. According to “Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code” author Samuel R. Chand, a leadership consultant for businesses and ministries, “Culture eats vision for breakfast.” Your stories and what you celebrate verbally from the stage help form your church culture.

Before we even launched our church, we were telling stories about other churches planting churches. After we launched, we continued talking about what it looks like to multiply. I showed videos of church multiplication, and our leaders read articles about it.

Now multiplication is part of what we think about on a daily basis. Our people are actually expecting us to launch a church soon and would be disappointed if we didn’t. I no longer have to convince our teams about the importance of multiplying.

Make big moves.

It’s amazing how many pastors express a desire to multiply but never get around to it. It’s more amazing how so many church planters are into church planting until they plant their own church. Then it’s all about building up their work. It may be because multiplication takes sacrifice — big moves —and sacrifice hurts. If you’re going to multiply, be prepared to sacrifice people, finances and talent.

When we started to multiply our one Sunday service into four, it took major sacrifice and risk. We committed thousands of dollars. We invested people into this effort and actually spread our church thin. I recruited a launch team from our established service and reassigned them to our new services. This initially weakened our attendance in an individual service. I would preach to several smaller groups instead of one big group. But, in time, our sacrifice paid off as the Lord increased each service.

As leaders, we are called to make big moves. We are called to pray big, dream big and then do big. I don’t just mean big in numbers but big in sacrifice.

Keep your guard up.

Church planting as multiplication is extremely risky. The spiritual warfare is real. The conflict you will encounter is real. The spiritual and conflict warfare are even much more intense if you plan on being a church-planting church.

Because of this conflict, my wife, Laura, and I have purposely led our church to engage more in prayer. Every October is our month of prayer in which we teach on prayer on Sundays and launch small groups of prayer every night of the week. This has helped the whole church stay spiritually strong and connected to the Chief Multiplier.

Brian Warth is the founder and lead pastor of Chapel of Change Christian Fellowship, a multiethnic church with a mission to give fresh hope to families and the city. He is the author of “Young Man Arise: Fresh Hope Emerging from the Darkness.”



Is That a 3-Point Sermon My Kids Hear?

by Rick Nier
 
 
 
I turned 40 over a year ago. I’ll give you a moment to process that. I know you’re not supposed to ask a youth pastor how old he is, but I offered.

Why is that significant? Except for the increasing pain in my knees, it’s not. Really. I think I handled turning 40 better than I did turning 30. Don’t ask me why. The best I can venture is that by the time I reached 40, I understood I was viewed as older by the teens I work with and I simply stopped caring what other people thought.

I feel good. Honestly. The worst part is increasing the exercise to compensate for the amount of cookies I eat. One might wonder why I don’t just eat less cookies, but I don’t really have time for people who ask questions like that.

Here is what has changed. I now have 2 of my own children who are part of my youth ministry. So when other teens look at me and marvel that I’m old enough to be their dad, they’re not wrong. In fact, I’m older than some of their parents.

One might assume that when you double as parent and youth pastor, your teenage kids must love you, help you invent new games and your sides all hurt from all the laughter that is had.

You might also assume that having family devotions are automatic and easy. But you would be assuming way too much.

Do you know those teachable moments that all the great parenting advice authors have told you to look for with your kids? I do. I’ve even encouraged other parents to take advantage of those moments, only to have those parents come back and tell me their kids saw it as a lecture. They have assumed my family would be different.

It’s not. My kids don’t refer to those teachable moments as lectures, however. They refer to them as sermons. Pastor’s got to preach! I get the same eye rolls, the same long sighs and the same exasperated and held out ‘Daaaaad!’

Sermons or lectures. I’m sure my kids find themselves humorous when referring to my shared wisdom as sermons when collectively whining with their friends. And that’s fine.

But what is a parent to do?

1. Look for the teachable moments anyway.

That’s right. Do it anyway. Bore them if you have to, but don’t let the moments pass by when your child can learn something from you. You didn’t let them run with knives (or in traffic) when they were younger, despite how much they tried to buck the system.

You kept regular bedtimes and forced them to go to school and (hopefully) church and made them eat their vegetables. They very likely whined about all of it at some point. So why did you do it? Because you’re a parent. And God has tasked parents with passing on wisdom from one generation to the next.

So, don’t stop now. I’m not saying you should prepare a 3-point sermon teachable moment every single day, but don’t let the moments pass you by when you can share truth.

2. Don’t assume the eye rolls mean they aren’t listening.

The eye rolls, the sighs, the crossed arms…it’s all part of their job, since, as teenagers, they clearly know better than you. Hopefully you understand sarcasm.

I’m not saying you should simply accept disrespectful attitudes, but don’t let their mannerisms keep you from fulfilling your role. Assume they are listening and be pleasantly surprised when they reflect that is something they say, or in a correct action they live out.

Besides, as I tell my kids all the time; we do the right thing for the right reason. Parenting is our role. Pretending to be above it all is theirs.

I’d offer a third point, but I wouldn’t want you to think of this as a sermon.