Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gangs or Churches?

Lately, I have been a bit intrigued with a series on the History Channel called Gangland. It is a documentary about some of the most powerful gangs in recent American history. The thing that jumps out at me about these gangs is how they are able to recruit young people in droves and how people remain involved even into middle age. I began to question how and why people were involved in gangs and soon found the answer.

Young people join gangs and stay with gangs because they find a place to belong. In a gang they believe they have people who care for them and protect them. That may seem odd, but the recruitment process works much like a college fraternity. An established member of a gang will usually build a relationship with a potential member and invest time with that person. The gang member will then invite the young person to join up and be a part of a family. The desire to belong is so strong in the human heart that the answer is basically a no-brainer for the potential member.

Gangs have it figured out, and yet we continue to struggle in the church. People are longing for a place to belong, and because we as the church are not investing in their lives and inviting them to be a part of a loving community with Christ at the center, they are finding belonging in other places. We must do more than open the doors of the church if we expect people to show up. Those far from God are not going to run into the church, but if a Christian will invest in their lives and show them the love of Christ and then invite them to visit the church and experience the love and sense of belonging in Christ’s church, those far from God may very well experience a life-change through Christ.

This is the question, are you willing to invest and invite? This is not an easy task, it takes work, but it is a necessary task if we are to see the kingdom of God advance. We can take Camden by storm if we are willing to work a little bit. I’m excited to see what God will do through us as we invest in the lives of others and invite them to be a part of what He is doing at Malvern Hill; after all, we are not just a place to belong, we are also a place to become!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Between Two Worlds?

In his excellent book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference (which I haven't finished yet, but would highly reccommend so far), Philip Yancey makes this statement:

The way jesus talked, prayer made everything else possible. Jesus seemed fully at ease with the Father and at unease with the world [around him].

Yancey asks the question, "Why should we pray?" I like his answer, which basically is this: we should pray because Jesus prayed. If we can come up with no other reason (and there are many others), we know that Jesus, God in the flesh, the Messiah, needed prayer and engaged in it often. If the G0d-Man needed this communion with the Father so regularly and so desperately, how much more do we need prayer.

Prayer is a bit of a mystery, but no doubt that Yancey is many ways, Jesus was an outsider here on earth and seemed completely at ease when talking to the Father. As Christians, we exist in a realm between two worlds (this is also the name of a John Stott book), the physical and the Spiritual. We are citizens of two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Prayer leads us to be as comfortable in the kingdom of God as we are in the kingdom of man.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not Just How...Why?

Today at lunch with our ministerial staff, we were discussing the book, Eating The Elephant: Leading The Established Church To Grow, by Thom Rainer and Chuck Lawless. A question came up that I thought was worth mentioning here. We talk alot about the "how" to grow a church, but how much time do we spend on the "why?"

Why are we interested in growing the church? Why are baptisms important and why should we share the gospel? The answer: Because Jesus commanded us to do so and because God is glorified in us as we carry out his commands. The Great Commission is why we must be interested in reaching the world with the gospel. How you go about doing that may vary from person to person, church to church, and even people group to people group. Maybe your church uses F.A.I.T.H., Evangelism Explosion, huge community festivals, or Invest and Invite initiatives, evangelistic crusades, or even door to door evangelism. How you share the gospel is not nearly as important as why.

God is glorified in the salvation of sinners, he has commanded us to spread the good news. That is why we are evangelists...the rest is just details.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

What Is Church Growth?

Church growth is more than a movement so that pastors can pad their resumes and develop bragging points on their blogs. The term, Church Growth, was first coined in the fifties by Donald McGavren to represent true evangelism. Church Growth is about more than just the local church, but the church universal. The growth of the church is the salvation of sinners. It is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Some people claim that pastors and churches can be too numbers driven. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I do know that it is the desire of God that His church grow. Rest assured, the church of God will not grow unless our local churches are growing. What are you doing to bring about growth in the church? Who are you bringing with you?

This is about Malvern Hill and how we can reach our community for Christ, but it is also about the body of Christ everywhere. Regardless of where you are, how are you impacting your world and carrying out the Great Commission. Church growth may not pad a resume, but it will definitely bring glory to God, and isn't that our primary focus?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Preach The Gospel At All Times

The Rick And Bubba show is a nationally syndicated morning radio show out of Alabama. My favorite aspect of these two men is their faith. The show, though carried on secular radio stations, is unashamedly Christ-centered and evangelistic. Over the weekend, Rick Burgess' two year old son drowned in a swimming pool. Below I have posted three youtube links that show Rick speaking at his son's memorial service. This is a touching and beautiful gospel presentation that will impact anyone who hears it--especially parents.

This is an incredible challenge that should spur us all to evangelize and bring glory to the name of our God!

Rick Burgess- A Father's Heart part 1

Rick Burgess- A Father's Heart part 2

Rick Burgess- A Father's Heart part 3

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Invest and Invite

How in the world are we ever going to grow the church? How are we going to see those far from God walk through the doors of his church? How are we going to see those who have walked away from the church run back to it? Maybe you've asked those questions yourself, and I believe I have a simple answer. Invest and Invite.

People in this world are longing for relationship and a sense of belonging. They need to know that they are wanted. Opening the church doors does not communicate, "Please come in," but investing in someone's life and showing that you believe them to have worth and then inviting that person to church says, "you are important and I want you to come with me." Who is important enough for you to invest your life and invite them to join you in your spiritual journey. The Bible says that it is God's will that none should perish but that all should have eternal life(2 Peter 3:9). Is that your will as well? What are you doing to see God's will accomplished? Are you investing and inviting? If not, get started...let's see what God can do through churches that get serious about invest and invite (actually, if you look around, you can see some places where God is blessing this initiative, Northpoint Community Church is a great example).

One word of caution for church leaders: if your people get serious about investing and inviting, you better make sure that you are serious about leading those visitors in an excellent worship service. Afterall, we want those visitors to come back.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Borrowed Note On Regenerate Church Membership

This post can be found in its original form and location at Walking Together by Wyman Richardson.

B.H. Carroll was and is a giant among Baptists. He founded my alma mater, The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was a phenomenal preacher, teacher, interpreter, educator, and denominational servant. His portrait hangs in the rotunda of Southwestern Seminary, and though the portraits of the other Presidents surrounding his are of equal size, there is no doubt who is the Baptist giant in that room.

Last night I read Carroll's testimony, "My Infidelity and What Became of It," and was struck by an anecdotal reflection he gave that proves the need for regenerate church membership. At thirteen years of age, Carroll joined the church though he knew that he did not really believe the gospel. It was "a protracted meeting" and, as he explains it, "many had joined [and] the hour was late," so young Carroll joined the church as well.

Later, when Carroll went to the church and asked for his name to be removed from membership because he was not a believer, the church refused because "the brethren thought I mistook temporary mental depression for lack of conversion." Amazingly, then, Carroll was brought into the church, though he was not saved, and he was refused an exit from the church as well.
Reflecting later on this fact, he explains that the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided by a little diligence on the church's part (and, of course, on his own). Here is what he said:

"The whole thing would have been exposed if, when I presented myself for membership, I had been asked to tell my own story without prompting or leading questions. I did not have any to tell and would have told none. But many had joined, the hour was late, and a few direct questions elicited the same historical, stereotyped answers. Thus, the die was cast."

This is the very heart of regenerate church membership. Any member of a local church should be able to "tell their own story." They don't have to be able to tell it with the wisdom of Augustine or the eloquence of Chrysostom, but they should at least have a story.
How often have we repeated the tragedy of the young Carroll in our own churches, simply for want of asking a few questions?

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Avoid Stagnation

Yesterday I wrote about avoiding frustration, and today, along the same lines I want to talk about stagnation. Frustration is detrimental to any church, but stagnation is just as dangerous (and possibly even more sad). You see, information without motivation leads to stagnation. We've all known those people, they are just like a stagnant pond, water is always coming in, but nothing is going out, and stinks.

Stagnant people are no different. You see, if you are sitting in church week in and week out, soaking up the Word of God, but never allowing the Word to pass through you to someone else with the positive purpose of seeing the gospel change lives, you begin to stink too. Attitudes sour, and evangelsim dies. Church leaders must be careful that in teaching and preaching you do not neglect to motivate your people to put the Word of God to action in their lives and in the world. God's Word is living and active, and this should be most true in the way that it works in and through his people. Don't stink it up...but the truth to work. James simply says, "But, be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22

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Monday, January 14, 2008

No More Excuses

Three posts in one day is probably a new record for me, but I just couldn't resist one more. I'm a little behind on this one, but now that I have found I feel the compelling urge to share it. It is a website that has compiled audio recordings of classes taught by some premier theologians and academics of our time (including at least one, Ron Nash, who has passed away) and has made them free of charge for streaming or downloading.

The internet, for all of its bad press, continues to break down barriers to education. Presumably, you could actually complete the equivalent of a divinity course-load through listening to these lectures. I am downloading the Ron Nash apologetics class now to put on my iPod (it was a Christmas present!); I encourage you to find a class in which you might be interested. They have classes for all levels, including a foundations level. Check it out.

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Listen to some Jerry Clower

Because I am such a Jerry Clower fan and have thought much of this myself before, I share this with you from Baptist Press.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)--Listening to Jerry Clower will make you a better sermon-listener. Of course, many of you about now are asking yourself, "Who is Jerry Clower?"

If you grew up and lived in the Deep South in the 1970s through the 1990s you know all about Clower. A comedian, Clower was born and raised in South Mississippi and looked every bit the part -- heavy-set, thick gray hair, huge smile and deep southern drawl. His down-home humor and comedic routines about southern culture were downright hysterical. He was the clean comedian of my parent's generation, and I never heard of an audience he did not have rolling in the aisles with laughter.

But what made him so funny and effective as a comedian was not his material. You or I could have taken his material and received blank stares. What made him so effective was his ability to tell a story. Some might say that Jerry Clower was a one in a million talent, but the truth is he was about a one in a dozen among his generation in the South. There were Jerry Clowers all over South Mississippi. They did not perform on stages with vast audiences; they simply told stories on the front porch steps to listening family members and friends. Storytelling was a part of the fabric of the culture and it took place wherever two or three were gathered.

A short time ago I downloaded one of Jerry Clower's famous bits about a baseball game on my iPod. An amazing thing happened: My boys absolutely loved it, and after hearing it a few times they could repeat it almost verbatim. They begged me to put more Clower on my iPod, and I noticed how intently they listened to the stories -- knowing that they had to listen carefully for how the story fit together so they could enjoy the punch line.

I realized then just how impoverished our culture is with the lack of storytelling. Television, with its imagination zapping power, has replaced those front-porch times.

The culture of Jerry Clower not only produced good storytellers but also good story-listeners. How important is it that we become good story-listeners? Our spiritual health and well-being depends on it. Have you ever thought about how God chose to reveal Himself in His Word? He gave us the awe-inspiring story of creation, fall, the promise of a skull-crushing Savior, the preparation of His coming, His unusual arrival, His counterintuitive ministry, His death, burial, bodily resurrection and the promise of His sure return and consummation of His everlasting Kingdom. The unfolding of His story is full of twists and turns, high and lows, irony and suspense every step of the way.

God certainly could have revealed Himself to us in the form of a Bible dictionary. We simply could have looked things up in the index and learned about all of the topics and doctrines we needed to understand. But He did not do that. That is why good expository preaching does not come in a Bible dictionary format, but rather it tells the story of Christ and the unfolding of His Kingdom purposes, and it also challenges you to evaluate your story in light of His. This is also why sermons that skip the Story in an attempt to boil the Bible down to lists and life application points fall short and call into question the wisdom of God in the way He chose to reveal Himself to us.

If you see my family driving down the road in fits of laughter, we probably are listening to Jerry Clower -- and, I am convinced, becoming better sermon-listeners. After all, nobody ever stopped Clower in the middle of a story and said, "Would you just skip all of the detail and description and give us the point?" If he had done that you would not have gotten the point.

You might not run to the computer and download Jerry Clower bits, but you should at least think about what it means to listen to the story of the Bible. God thought enough about stories to reveal to us the Ultimate One by which we evaluate every aspect of our lives. Let's start telling His story on front porches and in break rooms and everywhere else two or three are gathered. And let's start getting excited about listening to it as well.


David Prince is pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

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Avoid Frustration

"Motivation without information leads to frustration." I picked that quote up somewhere, but I'm not sure where (I am pretty sure it's not original to me, though). Regardless of where it came from, it is very true. To motivate a person without giving them the information they need to succeed at a task is a very frustrating thing indeed. It is like giving a person a box of matches with instructions to build a fire, but without wood.

We must always be careful to avoid this trap in our churches. It is not sufficient to motivate people, they need to be motivated to accomplish a specific task and then given the information and resources necessary to accomplish tha task. Don't expect people to be evangelistic if you do not tell them how to do it. Motiviation s a necessity in the church, but not at the cost of proper education. Go, stir up the fire, but carry the wood with you as well..
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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Get To Work

Henry Ford once said, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." You can sit around for the rest of your life talking about what you are going to do. People will not call you an entrepreneur or a success, they will call you lazy. But, most of us do not have the problem of sitting around our whole lives talking about what we are going to do. Rather, we tend to sit around today talking about what we are going to do tomorrow.

What are you putting off? Maybe its that job opportunity that you've been considering for years. Maybe its study of God's word or a mission trip this summer. Maybe today is the day for you to finally talk to that neighbor or family member about their relationship with God. What kind of reputation are you building today, more importantly, are you building one at all?

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Preparation requires perspiration. I just came up with that one myself, but it is absolutely true. Everyone wants to be great at something, but a select few are willing to put in the effort and pay the price to be successful. I've been reading, praying, and studying on the necessity of preparation the past few days. If we are to experience the downpour of God's blessings in our churches or in any area of our lives, we must pay the price and prepare the way. I've compiled a few quotes that I'd like to share with you on this subject. I hope they challenge you the way they have challenged me.

"Preparedness is the key to success and victory...the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war."
--General Douglas Macarthur

"Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success."
--Henry Ford

"Don't try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be."
--John Wooden's Father

"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."
--John F. Kennedy

"If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my ax."
--Abraham Lincoln

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Walking Into The Next Room

Last night I got a call that a lady in our church passed away about 6:00. Ms. Anne was one of those special people with extraordinary faith. I tend to look at heaven as a distant reality that is hard to even fathom. However, for Ms. Anne, after being diagnosed with a terminal condition just after Thanksgiving, heaven has been a much more immediate reality. In fact, in talking to her it seemed that dying and entering into heaven was much less like a huge leap across worlds and much more like stepping from one room to the next.

I really believe that is what faith is supposed to be. I do not know everything, but I do know that I want faith like that someday. A faith that knows God is closer than any brother and that the promises of the Bible are not distant dreams but are present realities to be grasped and experienced. Stephen had a faith like that (See Acts 7)...I want a faith like that. I hope that you will join with me as I continue to traverse this spiritual journey to acquire a child-like mature faith in our Savior!

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Monday, January 07, 2008

What Are You Reading?

I am a reader. Increasingly, I am in the minority and am the butt of a few well-intended jokes. But, laugh as you may, I love to read and I strongly encourage reading for all who desire to be informed, and especially for Christians. There are tons of excuses for why people do not read, but the fact remains that most people do not read because they simply do not want to read. They find time to engage in other activities (primarily watching television), but simply do not make time to read.

For Christians, this is scary really, because many Christians are not even making time to read their Bibles. The Bible has become an ornament for Sunday morning and the bedside table instead of a tool and guide into the very heart of God. I am not opposed to television, I watch mine more than I should, but it is imperative for Christians to peel their eyes away from it long enough to engage in activities more stimulating to the mind.

Reading does not have to consume your life for it to be a life-changing event. John Piper illustrates it this way, "Suppose you read slowly...about the same speed that you speak--200 words per minute. If you read fifteen minutes a day for one year (say just before supper, or just before bed), you will read 5,475 minutes in that year. Multiply that by 200 words a minute, and you get 1,095,000 words that you would read in a year. Now an average serious book might have about 360 words per page. So you would have read 3,041 pages in one year." If that doesn't seem substantial, then just realize that is more than 10 substantial books per year (I rarely pick up a book with more than 250 pages).

Give it a shot, it will change your life, and who knows, you might even begin to enjoy it along the way.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Missed Me?

I know the answer to that question, but just to make me feel important, I'm going to pretend that I have been missed from the blogosphere.

I know its the New Year and I should be writing about that, but instead I want to share a little something with you that God shared with me at about 2:00 this morning. I was up with my wonderful son (who does not like sleep very much and didn't seem quite as wonderful at 2 in the morning) who was crying. As a new dad, I still feel lost most of the time, but I am blessed to know who is in total control. So, I held Wyatt and prayed, "God, you created him, he is yours, you know what he needs, please take care of him."

I went back to bed and thought about that little prayer over my 7 1/2 month old son and realized that its the same prayer I should be praying for myself daily. God created me, he knows what I need, I am his, and I need him to take care of me. As simple as this may sound to you, it was an epiphany in the middle of the night...God reminded me that he is still and will always be, my Heavenly Father.

Rest in him today!

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