Friday, October 8, 2010

Appreciating Pastors

Sam moved from Texas to Minnesota to serve as pastor of a church that could not afford to pay him because he believed Jesus had laid upon his heart to shepherd in the Free Methodist Church and bring renewal to broken lives in both Anglo and Hispanic communities. In Wisconsin, Mark works full time as a manager to make ends meet for his family while leading a church to growth and impact in the community with major county-wide initiatives. Alma works time and a half every week to keep up the pace necessary to lead a larger Illinois church, and has worked through issues of sexism and racism to provide a solid, healing presence for a congregation rocked by radical shifts and changes. Kevin forsook a promising career as a teacher to take an appointment with virtually no salary in Iowa seeking to turn around the church and bring Jesus to the community. These are real pastors in your North Central Conference.

The stories of sacrifice, of risking careers and asking wives and children to move from comfort to places of extreme discomfort are common among the pastors of the North Central Conference. The only explanation is the call of God. As the Superintendent of the NCC I am often humbled by the huge and sacrificial hearts, bright and creative minds, and obedience to a call that continually keeps these Christian leaders focused. Focused not on the sacrifices they have made but upon the souls God called them to introduce to Jesus, the believers they shepherd toward greater maturity in faith and comfort in times of despair. They focus on God’s love for you. I want to honor the NCC pastors! They are a tremendous blessing and gift to us all!

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. We invite all people everywhere to bestow honor upon their pastors. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1Tim.5.17). Respect is earned, honor is bestowed - given as a gift. It is an act of grace to honor your pastor. That act of grace can have profound and positive impact on unifying a church, strengthening the health of the Body of Christ, and either blessing your pastor for what you know he
or she has done, or imparting the gift of belief and confidence in your pastor that will blossom into deeper, more impactful and Spirit-filled leadership.

Yeah, he probably has had a few bad days and lost his temper at times. Sure, she probably doesn’t preach a life-transforming sermon every Sunday. He probably had an idea for ministry you didn’t agree with. Your
pastor is every bit as human as are you.

Still, your pastor is called by God and appointed by the body of Christ to lead the church, preach the word faithfully, seek after the lost, teach and encourage spiritual health, correct and rebuke wrongs. This is your pastor, given to you as a gift from God, and the lessons learned as you interact with each other in a spirit of grace, mutual respect, and honor are instrumental in God’s plan to make you a wiser, stronger, better lover of God and others.

FACTOID: What do FUTURE NCC leaders look like? Currently, 33 Conference Ministerial Candidates will likely be ready for ordination over the next three years. Of these, 24% are women, 45% are Hispanic, African- American or Asian. Nearly half serve in metro regions, a little more than half serve in small or mid-sized towns and a few serve rural communities.

Looking ahead. Did you know that 80% of Bible School/Seminary graduates drop out of ministry within five years (Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership & Development, 2007)? What would happen if these 33 CMCs and other young and emerging leaders in our conference were nurtured by Christ followers who spent more time encouraging them, being patient with their growth curves, and praying for them instead of criticizing their rookie errors, trying to control agendas through power plays, and pining for that good ‘ol pastor of yesteryear who seemed to have done everything right (now that’s a false memory!). W e might possibly be a collection of churches that see young leaders attracted to local ministry, groomed for current and future greatness in the kingdom, and bust through the giant hurdle of long-term congregational stagnation and decline!  Grow NCC, with young leaders!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Manhattan Declaration

Dear Co-Laborers in the Lord's Vineyard,

Some time ago I signed the Manhattan Declaration and have been a supporter through prayer and finance of the efforts which arise from this framework to proclaim and advocate for biblical values regarding the family.   Political debates which often surround such issues as same-sex unions and abortion can be reactionary sound bites that are designed to elevate fear and rally around particular political causes and the Jesus way of advocating for pro-life and strong families must permeate the fabric of the church (which it often does not) before church can speak to the world (which it often does with weakened credibility).  

However, the Manhattan Declaration provides a means to commit to these issues that is, I believe, consistent with biblical values, the Free Methodist discipline, and provides some helpful tools that can make a difference.  Beginning with prayer and clarity of understanding.  

For that reason, I recommend people join the Manhattan Declaration team's call to prayer and ACTion.  Discover this at

It is not a directive from the superintendent that every pastor or church must agree with every tenant of the declaration, or drop everything and start praying and fasting for the family.  In fact, I pray that God will lead you to firmly commit to those particular biblical causes that the Spirit has laid on your heart and your church which is leading to life-giving, transformative power in your community and world (eradicating hunger, neo-abolotion, missionary expansion, planting and growing healthy congregations, combating addictions, etc.) and to graciously love and support those who are passionate about different aspects of how God is moving to redeem the world.  

But if family matters, the work surrounding the Manhattan Declaration seems solid to me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Want to reach new people? Start new ministries!

It takes new ministries to reach new people.

Bringing Jesus to our communities – seeing children discover virtue, couples honor marriage, the hungry employed and fed, former victims empowering others to live abundant lives and a new song of hope being sung in the hearts of our neighbors  – requires that Christ followers be in the community and meet the needs of people who have not yet experienced God’s love.  No church can meet every need.  Every church can rediscover and reconnect with the people in its community who are not being reached with the gospel, and develop at least one new ministry to do so.

Start by discovering the people and articulating the needs that exist all around you.   First, to whom are you ministering right now?  What are your current ministries doing to demonstrate the love of Christ to your community?  Second, how effective are the ministries you have created - are they growing and expanding in their ability to touch hearts beyond the walls of your church?  Third, what kind of people live in your community that are not part of your church?  Maybe there are people from an age group, socio-economic, ethnic, or cultural sub-group that is common in your area but not common in your church.  What do they need?  What can you supply?  Fourth, what are people in your area saying they need but not getting?  Maybe it’s safety in the midst of increased violence, or activity for youth in a town where boredom prevails, a place for seniors or mothers with preschoolers to gather and swap stories, singles looking for safe places to meet others and explore faith issues, immigrants needing to feel welcomed or economically equipped by someone, or divorcees needing a place to learn to cope and move beyond the pain, etc.  There’s bound to someone in need, ignored by most, that you can love at least.

You might find that you’re doing great ministry easily expanded to another similar group of people with good impact. For example, an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament for teens (that includes witnessing opportunities) might be expanded to include a basketball camp for elementary age kids.  You might discover that your VBS has been diminishing over the past few years, a good ministry but growing less effective, and choose to offer half-day soccer camp with prayer opportunities, half-time Bible stories, and literature distribution about soccer, health and spiritual hope in Christ to parents when they visit the last day soccer exhibition.

Noticing the make-up of your church, and the make-up of your community, you might begin to brainstorm new ways to bring Jesus to folks who are near you but not yet in church.  Find a way to converse with people and ask things like “what is your hope for this community?” or “if a church were to be a real help to you, what would that look like?” or “what can we do together to make a difference around here?”  Soon, you might find a group of people with a few needs that just maybe your church could do something about.

Identify a group your church could bless.  Identify multiple ways that your church could bless that group.  Settle on the best means to do so given your church’s mission, passion, strengths, resources and the articulated and real needs of the community you have discovered.  Gary McIntosh in “Here Today, Here Tomorrow” (Wesleyan Publishing House, 2010) suggests making a list something like this...

Name of Group

Potential Ministry    
Potential Ministry
Potential Ministry   

Best Ministry Option

Such an list might lead to an idea for a new ministry to reach new people.  There could be singles, or immigrants from Croatia, junior-high youth identified as not in church but all around town.  A church might decide it has best experience in working with youth and teens and want to build on this.

Junior High Kids

youth sunday school  
skate park
annual soccer camp  

Soccer Camp

With renewed focus on Junior High youth, the church brainstorms ways to reach this group.  Though many church leaders have taught Sunday School, attendance has been in steady decline and they decide doing the same thing to produce different results is a dead end.  Many youth interviewed talked about being bored, and their parents desired more productive things for the kids to do, especially during the summer.  A skate park came up often but as it needed regular monitoring and major funds to build it right, it was thought to be out of current reach for the congregation.  A couple of motivated college athletes in the church, and connections with the local park district staff gave momentum to the possibility that the church could develop a high quality, time-specific, very participant affordable, soccer camp. The camp would meet a need for the youth and give an opportunity for youth evangelism and family assimilation into the church.

Without new wine skins, there is no new wine.

Start something new!  It takes new ministries to reach new people.  Let’s bring Jesus to our communities!  Let’s make contact!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Word Became Flesh and Moved into the Neighborhood

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, Message).  The Jesus event demonstrates the heart of God – a heart so full of love (God IS love!) that the Creator embodied in order to move into our neighborhoods and make contact with lost humanity. Of course, this is how God operated from the beginning, even strolling through the primal garden seeking a lost and confused Adam and Eve (Gen.3.8).  “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ (Is.65.1).” 
If indeed we are called to follow Christ, then we are called to follow the example set from the beginning.  Make contact.  Aggressively love.  Seek the lost. 

I found Jesus when a humble, patient soul continued to seek time with me, to bear my insults when she would tell me about the Bible.  She persistently invited me to join with her and her Christian friends even when I ridiculed them with language that would embarrass most heavy metal mavens.  When I finally consented to visit church with her she was willing to drive a total of 120 miles (round trip) to get me there.  It takes sacrifices to make contact.  I gave my heart to Jesus on my first trip to church, but it took over one year of persistent, aggressive, patient loving friendship and invitation. 

Most North Central Conference church members know mostly other church members or family and friends that they have often invited to know Christ.  The challenge for many of us is that of making contact with people we do not know who may not have discovered the great joy of peace and purpose, family healing and eternal life that flows from the Holy Spirit upon entering into a vital relationship with God through Christ. 
Looking with the eyes of Christ, however, you discover the people in your community who in fact you may not meet by accident, who will not stumble into your living room for a Bible study, and who will assume your church is not the right place for them.  Prayerfully ask Jesus for eyes to see and ears to hear the needs around you.  It is at the point of meeting a need that we have the best opportunity to communicate the love of God, which is winsome. 

North Central Conference churches – love your community by making contact at a point of a need.  Where are the isolated immigrants? The incorrigible youth? The lonely elderly?  The muddled addicts?  The kids who need somewhere safe to play?  The business leaders looking for real purpose?  The marriages on the rocks?  None of our churches, and none of our individual disciples of Jesus can see or meet all of the needs of everyone.  Start with one need you can meet, and be God’s hand of grace in that instance. Make contact. Persist.  Win a heart. Win your community.  Win the world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Make Contact With Your Community

Norman moved to Minneapolis five years ago but still hasn’t found a friend. Surrounded by almost 3.5 million other human beings, Norman was lonely. After work he catches a few beers with some of the guys every now and then, but most of his friends are the changing cast of Survivor, and while he has tried to connect with a girl, only the virtual women in his life really seem to, well – almost care. Norman is alone, and often wonders about his significance, or apparent lack of it. He needs someone some to make contact.

Susan is surrounded by four children all day long. Most of her life is spent providing for these objects of her love. She longs for time with her CEO husband, but it seems the only opportunity she has to interact with him is as his professional accessory at company gatherings. Lately, even as they lay together at night, she’s frighteningly alone. MOPS at church has been good for her kids, but with her law degree – seemingly wasting away in soccer-mom-suburbia – she finds it increasingly difficult to share her heart or dreams with anyone. Maybe she doesn’t dream anymore. Lonely Susan wonders about her purpose in life. She needs someone to make contact.

Fernando and Maria finally made it to the USA. With their four children in a basement apartment near Des Moines they have discovered that America is not always the land of plenty. Fernando and Maria trade shifts for the kids - he works graveyard shift for a local manufacturer while Maria is a teacher’s aid by day. Though they are both legal residents, they feel constantly watched. Fernando and Maria take great joy in their kids and keep in touch with their family in Mexico, supporting them with a large portion from their paycheck. They are grateful to God, but they haven’t made many friends, and still feel like strangers in a strange land. They need someone to make contact.

All around you in every corner of the North Central United States are people surrounded by other people who are alone. The grocery clerk ringing up your vegetables. The doctor examining your tonsils. The teacher complaining that your daughter is an underachiever. The supervisor making life difficult for your unit. The drunk asking for a buck in front of McDonald’s. Maybe even your own wife, or husband, or mom, or child. Loneliness - separation from one another - is pervasive. Lostness - separation from God who formed you - is pervasive.

False relationships are generated to make up for this. Virtual friends replace flesh and blood relationships. Social networking programs feel like friendships and fill a vacuum of love but can offer little in terms of real support, real nurture, and no eternal hope. Come to Annual Conference 2010 at Sky Lodge in Wisconsin this year and be part of a group of churches and leaders seeking to make contact with the lonely and lost in their community. Jesus called that love.

Invite a Norman to the church softball game. Ask a Susan over for a cup of Starbucks VIA. Go to yoga class with Maria. Play soccer with Fernando. Make contact. Love starts with contact. Contact leads to conversation. Conversation leads to conversion. Conversion leads to more lives that will make contact with the lonely and lost and the cycle of love begins again...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Annual Conference 2010 - coming right up!!

Annual Conference Update

AC2010 is all about “MAKING CONTACT!”  Explore life-giving understanding of your community to more effectively “Bring Jesus” to the hearts of people.

AC2010 is June 11 & 12 @ Sky Lodge Camp in Montello, WI.  Registration forms have been mailed to every church, pastors are to communicate with their delegates and congregations regarding registration.  The mailing included registration forms but people may also register online either via or

Stay current on AC2010 events via the web page.  This is very important.  All church reports will be placed on the web, and not reproduced at the conference.  All reports from NCC boards and committees will be placed on the web for review PRIOR to the conference.

Ballots for the NCC Board of Administration, Ministerial Appointments Committee, and General Conference Delegates will be placed on the web at least two weeks prior to the conference for review so that delegates and pastors may make prayerful and well considered selection of leaders.

At least two unusual and very important decisions will be made at the Annual Conference.  1) General Conference delegates will be elected, which occurs only once every four years.  These delegates become your representatives to the ongoing work of listening the Word and the Spirit as God continually shapes the Free Methodist Church to impact and bless the world for Christ.   2) The Superintendent and Ministerial Education and Guidance Board are recommending a very significant MEG restructuring,  creating regional MEG boards to provide more direct oversight and guidance through the geographic expanse that is the NCC.  Documents providing detailed information will soon be available on the Annual Conference web page, so check often and pray daily!

The Agenda (still under formation) is posted online.

Breakout Training Session to help us MAKE CONTACT include:
Contact with Strangers – Olive Branch Mission
Contact with Children – Hannah Handle, Fillmore FMC
Contact with Elderly – Woodstock Christian Life Services
Contact with Community – Dr. Mark Davenport, Church Plant Director
Contact with Youth – Paul Alf and Monee FMC
Contact with Hispanics – Juan Cordova, Assistant Superintendent

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Growing the North Central Conference

God’s garden called the North Central Conference grows.

Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A farmer scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, wether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself it produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts a sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).

Friends who labor in the Lord’s vineyard through the Free Methodist churches in the North Central United States, you were planting some seeds. God made them grow.

NCC statistical summary (2008) 2009 -- %

Members  (2,900) 3,200 -- 10%
Worshipers (3,900) 4,206 -- 8%
Average Attendance (55) 65 --18%
Conversions  (850) 1,130 -- 33%

The upper Midwest is not a high growth region in America, and with a few exceptions, most of our churches are not located in high growth areas. The largest metropolitan statistical region in the NCC is Chicagoland, which is losing close to 2% of its population annually at present, but the overall growth rate of the NCC regionally is +/- 1%. It is encouraging to see church growth outpace population growth. This indicates that many NCC congregations are intentionally scattering the good seed of the gospel – through both word and deed – in their communities. That’s bringing Jesus to the North Central United States!

Some of the growth shift has occurred through part of the natural life cycle of local churches. The Kingdom of God endures forever, and the Church of Christ is as indestructible as her Founder. However, local groups or cells of Christ-followers come and go, live and die, prosper and suffer, transform communities and are persecuted, come and go and constantly give birth to new communities of Christ-followers who carry the torch of love and holiness into the uncharted waters of tomorrow.

It is always very sad to see a local congregation that had been strong and fruitful for many years find their continuing ministry waning and viability diminish. Over the past several years the conference has seen congregations in Loyal, WI, Iowa City, IA, Wheaton, IL and Sioux Falls, SD transition from viability to contributing to the next generation of Free Methodist growth and life. The result, however, is the birth of new churches, such as LifePointe and CrossRoads in IA, Betel and the Loop in MN, Resolution in IL (and plans are underway for a church plant in Sioux Falls, SD 2010/11). The church plants in 2009 saw over 100 new conversions, and two of the new churches (LifePointe and Resolution) are both averaging near 100 in attendance apiece.

Several congregations have had some real bust-out growth and show long-term, sustained growth through bold, apostolic leadership and a truck-load of love and care for the community. The Betel FMC (which saw 42% growth in 2009) led by Federico Rivera celebrated it’s 1 year anniversary with Bethlehem FMC (Austin, MN) and had over 200 people worshiping and celebrating. Despite severe weather in Fargo, ND the church is seeing new members join. Seniors social gatherings are solid opportunities to connect with the community in Toddville, IA. Foothills Bible Fellowship is raising funds for Haiti in South Dakota. A Super Bowl Sunday outreach was instrumental in leading a soul to Jesus in Rockford, IL. Marriages are being intentionally strengthened in LaFarge, WI. In January 2010 (without all churches reporting) 22 people made first time commitments to Jesus Christ.

Keep planting seeds NCC! God makes it grow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Rocket packs and robot servants. When I was a teenager and thought about the year 2010 I was sure that we would have a moon base and real bionic people. Tech revolutions would end hunger and war. Racism and genocide would be a thing of the past. 2010 seemed to be a time that would mark a turning point in human history, but as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power, we have guided missiles and misguided men.”

The only real turning point in human history came 2000 years ago. The infant creator of the cosmos infiltrated a world mired in misery and grew to teach a path of love and sacrifice allowing humanity to partake in the divine nature. The barrier separating humanity from its creator shattered forever as the shadow of a blood stained cross fell across an empty tomb and the watershed news was proclaimed, “He is not here, he has risen!” (Luke 24:6).

The world is indeed changing, and many significant events and innovations have altered human history. The printing press, the atomic bomb, birth control, antibiotics, intercontinental flight, space travel, computer technology and global networks held in the palms of our hands. Some have estimated that 90% of all human innovation has occurred since 1984 and now we have an “app” for everything. Yet racism, genocide, slavery, poverty, violent crime, terrorism, greed and corruption still infect the human condition. In 1984, at the turning point of the technology revolution, a less than stellar film released envisioning life in 2010. A sequel to the epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film was 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

Long before 2010 Christ made contact, and because of what God has done, we can say, “We love because he first loved us.” The slowly rising tide of love – of looking out for the welfare of others – continues to be the theme of the gospel. Yet in many of our churches we seek self-preservation, focus on our welfare and create protective societies in which we compliment ourselves and often curse or ignore our neighbor. In many of our churches our mission seems to be to avoid contact and save ourselves.

God came to save the world. God calls you to participate in that great mission. May 2010 be the year we make contact. Make contact with the broken and needy in our neighborhoods and communities. Make contact with families in need of hope. Make contact with people of means of and influence, sharing with them the good news of a people infused with the power of God to make the world a better, kinder place – a place of blessing. Make contact with pushers and users, the abused and abusers, and dwell with them long enough for us all to experience respect, care, understanding, truth, righteousness and love. Let us no longer insulate but infiltrate.

There is no “app for that.” There is only a prayerful sacrifice of time and resources, an opening of homes, families, churches, and businesses to become conduits of Jesus’ love. Ask yourself, your church board, your pastor, your denominational leaders – and above all ask God – how we might see 2010 be the year we make contact.