Four years ago our children’s ministry was tanking. We were losing kids and as a result losing families at our church. We made a change in staff and started to do the hard work of turning it around. It was a difficult time but we trudged forward by recruiting new workers and training them, launched a new class, and rearranged some things. Over time the momentum started to shift. Being a portable church made it a challenge but slowly we started to see the numbers rise again as well as the excitement.
Flash forward to today and our children’s ministry is busting at the seems. We have almost as many children between the ages of 0-17 during our second service as we do adults. We have had two very successful VBS’ and each month on the last Friday night we pack out the church with kids aged 7-12 for something we call Frenzy. Kids bug their parents to come to church on Sunday.
What changed? Instead of going for the quick fix we developed a pipeline, not only with kids graduating to the next class but leaders and teachers that are as enthusiastic as the kids. A Pipeline is a continuous source of people that feed and develop your ministry. Developing pipelines only come through long arduous work by the leaders. What do you need to do to develop a pipeline? Here are four ways:
- Break Up the Hard Ground: Most pipelines never start because leaders don’t want to do the hard work. Breaking up the hard ground is stopping all the bad programs, habits, and workers that are preventing anything from happening. This won’t be popular but it is necessary if your ministry is stalled. You will meet resistance and opposition but keep the goal in mind, a continual supply to your ministry.
- Remove the Debris: As you are laying the pipe there is going to be be junk that gets into your lines. It will prevent the pipe from working. This may be a negative attitude or it could be a fear inside of you to go all in. Whatever it may be remove it or it will clog future operations.
- Commit the Resources: Building a pipeline isn’t cheap. In fact it costs so much and takes so much time that you will wonder if it is worth it. Just decide from the beginning that you are going to invest both time and money to make this work. It takes money to get the right person and it takes time for them to build momentum. It takes resources to do a program right and ti takes time for people to be comfortable with it. When I was a kid one of the major streets kept flooding when it rained. The city committed millions of dollars and eighteen months to get the project done. There were a lot of complaints but when it was done it worked and everyone was happy.
- Open the Valve: No pipeline is useful unless you are willing to open it up and let it flow. So many leaders do the work of building a pipeline and then refuse to let the people do what they are supposed to do. The leader doesn’t want to let his baby walk because he might fall. Be willing to give up control and see what God can do. You will always be blown away.
Recently we restarted our men’s ministry, call it version 4.0. We think we have hit on something this time but it is the early stages. We are laying pipe and watching what happens. It is a lot of hard work and time but we are very excited about the possibilities. In three years we will look back and probably marvel that it even worked but we will be glad it did.
I’ve realized lately that I more of a culture guy than a vision guy. It’s not for lack of trying to be a vision guy. When it comes down to it I value culture over a compelling vision or strategy any day. Peter Drucker once said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast everyday” and I am finding that more and more true. Culture is that constant feeling that you get when you are with a group of people. Vision is that idea that strikes you every once in a while. Culture, either good or bad, is what drives a community in the direction it goes. Strategy is the plan to accomplish a goal. The thing is that if the culture doesn’t accept the vision or strategy it is pretty much dead in the water.
That is why as a pastor or church planter you need to spend most of your time on developing and maintaining the culture. So many pastors are known for always coming up with these “ideas” and always focusing on the future and almost never just enjoying or living in the culture they have created. This disconnect can be bad when you people are tired of all the ideas. It takes you being apart of events, small groups, coffee appointments, lunch meetings, and workdays. It makes you feel human to the people and allows them to trust you.
What are the pillars of every good culture? The church values. These are usually the catch words that are hanging on some banner or mission statement somewhere. Most people don’t know them and probably don’t think they are part of the church. The thing is that you have written values and unwritten values. Most people know what the unwritten values are because those are the things the church celebrates all the time. Ed Stetzer says that churches become what they celebrate. If you say your church is all about community but you celebrate social justice issues from the pulpit you have a disconnect. You need to align your values with what is important to you or start celebrating the values that you have written down.
These values will drive your culture. So determine the culture you want. Figure out the values that will get you there and then celebrate those values from the pulpit every time you get a chance.
Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Leaven is another word for yeast. It is the ingredient that makes dough rise. In Biblical times leaven was used as a symbol for sin. Jews were encouraged to purge their houses of leaven as a reminder to keep sin out of their lives.
Sometimes we need to do a spiritual cleansing of the leaven in our lives. We need to rid our hearts and homes of things that drag us down or hold us back from serving God. This could be our phone, computer, or TV. I know this sounds radical but think about how much time your spend on these three things.
At other times you may need to purge some friends from your life. These are people who block you from getting closer to Jesus. It’s not that you kick them off the island but you reduce the amount of time you spend with them and the amount of influence they have on your life. Doing this could free up a lot of your time (and probably money) to devote to better things like serving others.
Where do you need to do a cleanse? Start with Prayer. Ask God to show you areas and give you strength to do it. Take steps today towards that goal. Ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable on it. As you make progress you will feel like a weight has been taken off of your shoulders.
I like to mountain bike. The area I live has some of the best trails you can find. Recently I haven’t had much time to ride due to work and family needs but I have recommitted to getting on the trails at least three times a week. That said I am not very good or very fast but that’s not why I do it. Nothing gives me a feeling of freedom more than being on my bike.
Last week a guy from the church asked me to ride. I also invited my neighbor to ride with us. Both of these guys are studs when it comes to riding but they were very accommodating to my skill level. They pushed me harder than I would normally go but still were gracious in waiting for me. After about seven miles and an hour of riding I was toast. I peeled off, heading for home, and they kept riding.
As soon as they got out of sight I stopped and almost collapsed. I was exhausted and seriously wanted to lay down on a patch of soft sand but I kept going. I still had about three miles before I got back home. As I pedaled ever so slowly thinking about the hills I had to still climb I heard voices coming from behind me. It was the guys catching back up with me. They waited for me at the top of one the hills and my neighbor cruised home with me.
It’s important that we keep going in life. It’s too easy to stop by the side of the road and become a spectator. Sure we may not be at the level of other people but we will never get where they are unless we keep going. No one ever finishes the race that they stop running in.
Today is our daughter Allie’s birthday and I’ve been up since 3am. That was the time 9 years ago that an incredible series of events with her birth took place. Jen attempted to have a VBAC but couldn’t so she went to surgery. In prepping for surgery the medicine they gave her caused stomach convulsions which mimiced contractions which cause the previous incision on her uterus to tear. This in turn diminished the oxygen to Allie for about 15 minutes. When this happens the body starts to produce acid which eats at the organs, especially the brain.
She came out blue and purple and I watched as the NICU team tried to get her breathing. One thing I do remember is the nurse running to call the NICU doctor on call at home and turning around a few moments later and he was there. They rushed Allie to the NICU and the OB GYN rushed to take care of my wife who not only had an emergency C-section but a torn uterus. I remember later some of the nurses later being more concerned for my wife than my daughter. Thank God for being oblivious in those situations. I don’t know if I could’ve handled it if I would’ve known how much danger she was in as well.
After they wheeled my daughter and wife out of surgery (still amazes me that I sat in the middle of all of this) I went back to the original delivery room and just prayed and began to call people close to us. Miraculously God had begun to pull some of my wife’s best friends out of bed to intercede for us before I even called. They came and got me and took me to my daughter in the NICU. She was laying there with a tube down her nose to help her breath and tubes attached elsewhere. The doctor told me that she would have brain damaged and probably be disabled the rest of her life. I hung out with her for a while just praying silently over her.
It was a Sunday morning and was getting close to services starting at Calvary Chapel Santa Maria. I called not expecting anyone to answer but someone did and Pastor Paul was right there by the phone. I told him what happened. He went in to the service and led the church in prayer. That was at 9am and as I walked towards the NICU again the doctor came out and told me that they had taken the breathing tube out of her and she was breathing on her own. Over the next two weeks in the NICU every test came back negative, especially the EEG which tests the brain. She didn’t have any brain damage at all. On Christmas Day 2004 we got to take her home.
On a side note I ran into the doctor again as Jen was giving birth to our fourth child. He remembered Allie and referred to her as the Christmas Miracle.
In Daniel 9 we see Daniel seek the restoration of Israel after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. He knew in Jeremiah 25 that it had been prophesied that the term of the punishment of God was seventy years. As that time draws near he begins to pray for God to fulfill that. Daniel 9:3-19 is that prayer and in it we see the four steps to recover from the sin in our lives.
Daniel turns his face to The Lord and seeks Him. He acknowledges that God alone is the one capable of restoring Israel and that it is the sin of Israel that has brought shame on God and themselves. The first step in recovery is to recognize the sin in our lives, the damage it has brought, and Jesus is the one who restores us. If we try to skip this process we will only repeat it later. We need to confess our sin (see yesterdays post) and seek The Lord. If we try to seek restoration through anyone else it will fall short. We need to recognize our sin and look to Jesus for our help.
The second step in recovery is that we repent. Repent means more than just asking for forgiveness. It means to confess and turn away from that sin never to go back. It gives us the idea of doing a u-turn. Repentance is often a process that takes time especially when someone is recovering from a besetting sin like and addiction or an affair. Don’t get me wrong God forgives us immediately but it often takes time to change our habits and remove the influence from our lives. It is often necessary for those we have hurt to see a period of time where true change is apparent. True recovery takes time plain as that.
After we have dealt with the heart and habit issues it is necessary to begin to repair the relationships. Warning: if you try to do this before you do the first two steps it will be premature and possibly backfire if you happen to lapse again. If you follow these steps and there is an established pattern of change in your life it often makes this steps easier also. Reconciliation often includes counseling, face to face meetings with those you have hurt, and re-entry back into the group setting. This is a place those who were hurt can ask questions, express their feelings, and offer forgiveness. During this time you have to be an open book willing to go back over what you have done. Resistance to this is futile and could damage all the work you have done. Man up and face your past.
The final step in recovery is restoration. This is the process of the group, family, and friends accepting the person fully back into the group with full trust. There is nothing hanging over the head of the offender and the group doesn’t hold anything against them. They have full rights and responsibilities in the group. There is a feeling of restoration and repair amongst the group and life can move on. There is no timetable or formula on this. It is something the group approves and accepts by moving on.
As Daniel as finishing this prayer God answered him. Daniel didn’t even get to say “amen.” God loves us praying for the recovery of his children. If you are going through this process stick to the plan. If you need to do this find some loving people and have them walk with you.
There is going to come a time when we will have to confess something we did. Whether is something we were caught in or something that bothers us so much we need to get it off of our conscience. How we go about confessing can be just as important as what we confess. If we just admit to doing something wrong because we got caught we could fall short of true confession. Many people today throw out apologies only because they got caught doing something wrong. There is no remorse or brokenness over what they have done, they are just trying to move on from the incident.
True confession brings with it the feeling inside that you are sickened by your actions and don’t want to do it ever again. In fact the Hebrew word for confession is Yawdaw, which means to cast off or throw down. It gives you the idea that you are sickened by something and want to get rid of it. So should be our confession of our sin. We need to go beyond just feeling bad about what we did to also wanting to get it off of us and never return to it again.
This is why so many people return to their sins. They regret getting caught, but deep inside they still love the sin they are committing and don’t want to get rid of it. They will go to great lengths to cover their tracks so they won’t get caught again. Sometimes it will lead people to living doubles lives so as to maintain their perceived life all the while maintaining a secret life no one knows about.
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their works were evil.
When we confess our sin our heart should be such that we are devastated by our act of sin and we will do anything to get rid of it.