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Thousands flock to

church in the clouds Bobby Gruenewald and Craig Groeschel’s Life.Church­ Inspires Innovation in a Digital Age

Blood Moons

are not about the end—they are about the beginning For over 3,000 years God has used the blood moon tetrads on His feast days of Passover and Tabernacles as a sign of special revival coming to His people. The last great blood moon revival came in 1967, when God poured out His Spirit to begin the charismatic renewal. Today there are over 600 million charismatic Christians who are the fruit of this revival, including most of the readers of this magazine. The blood moon tetrad of 2014-2015 occurred in troubled times, as have most of the previous 14 blood moon tetrads. Yet we can see the beginning of a new revival coming based on unity in Christ in answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Don’t miss it! We invite you to study the Scriptures, the heavenly signs, and the history of the blood moon tetrads in our new book The Mystery of the Blood Moons. We also want to give you our e-book The Stars of His Coming, which shows how the heavens declare the glory of God; explains the star of Bethlehem and the other signs in the sun, moon and stars of the first coming of Christ; and points to the signs in the sun, moon and stars that we should be looking for in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ.

FREE! Just go to our web site,, to receive your own free download of The Stars of His Coming and a free chapter of The Mystery of the Blood Moons.

c o n t e n t s V o l . 3 3 // N o . 6



N o v e m b e r // D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 5


Life.Church (formerly, led by Pastor Craig Groeschel, right, has been on the frontlines of innovation in the digital age. Pastor Bobby Gruenewald, left, shares his expertise—and that of other online congregations across the nation—to help other churches in using technology to reach people for Christ.





Step back and see the pros and cons of technology for your congregation in these cyber times. By Joshua Mohline


Global ministry turns local as the church takes hold of technological innovation. By Nathan Clark PLUS: Ministering to the Deaf


Is your internal GPS set on the right goal, or are you headed in the wrong direction? By John Bevere


Digital tools aid pastors in their Scripture study and sermon preparation. By Dr. Mike Rakes


Churches are addressing the challenges of engaging online churchgoers, fostering connections and encouraging giving. By Natalie Gillespie


Consider how the role of the church administrator is changing with today’s digital tools. By Michael Buckingham


MinistryToday November // December 2015

Health care executive John Rivers heard from God in a most unusual way. As a result, he launched a “barbecue ministry” that has grown into a chain of popular restaurants. By Taylor Berglund

Discover the best ways a pastor can get to know his new church. By Dr. Alan Ehler


A Louisiana church leads the way in impacting lives in Africa. By Matt Fry


God sometimes uses weakness to strengthen ministry leaders. By Jimmy Dodd


Find out how to respond to attack as you rebuild your church. By Tommy Kyllonen


72 | SCHEDULE Mute the noise around you for a better life.

74 | RELATIONSHIPS Motivate your team with words of affirmation.


76 | VISION Learn how leading and managing are different.


12 | IN REAL LIFE Unmask the language of barbarism. By Dr. Mark Rutland 14 | TRUE STEWARDSHIP Why do some leaders wave the white flag of surrender? By Chris Brown 78 | ON PLATFORM Experience the power of your core message. By Dr. Steve Greene

Ministry Today (ISSN #0891-5725) is published bi-monthly by Charisma Media, 600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, FL 32746. Periodicals postage paid at Lake Mary, FL 32746 and at additional entry offices. Canada Post International Publications Mail Product (Canadian Distributing) Sales Agreement Number 40037127. Subscription rate is $24.97 for six issues and $39.97 for twelve issues. Canadian subscribers add $5 per year for postage, other countries add $10 per year for postage, payable in advance in U.S. currency only. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Ministry Today, P.O. Box 6102, Harlan, IA 51593-1602. Send undeliverable Canadian mail to: 1415 Janette Avenue, Windsor, ON N8X1Z1. © 2015 by Charisma Media. For advertising information call (407) 333-0600. Nothing that appears in Ministry Today may be reprinted without permission. PRINTED IN THE USA

Watch the three-minute video at (Re-)Start your journey with Christ through an awakening to ALL He is. Consider your role in a nationwide Christ Awakening movement. MINISTRY TODAY readers: is your one-stop hub for free Christ-exalting resources. Our goal is to help build into God's people a more complete vision of God's Son. Among our free resources, we offer a one-of-a-kind, nine-week daily email/video series to help Christians spend concentrated time exploring the fullness of who Jesus is today. For anyone hungry for more of Christ, is for you.

Ministry Matters


5 Tips to Help You Hire a Technical Leader By Scott Magdalein Before we consider how to hire your first technical leader, let me explain why I feel confident to speak as an authority on the issue. First, I’m the former product manager for the (now Life.Church) Digerati Team (YouVersion, Church Online, Open, ChurchMetrics and more), and I’ve hired over 100 technical folks in all sorts of roles. I’ve hired front-end and back-end Web developers, iOS and Android developers, SysAdmins, UI/UX designers, data analysts

1) Hire for fit before function. It will be tempting to hire the most technically talented person who applies for the job. After all, you need them to excel at their role above all else, right? However, there is no level of skill that can compensate for someone who doesn’t fit your church staff culture, who doesn’t align with your values or mesh with your team. Most likely, your technical leader will interface with everyone on your church staff and most of your lay leaders as well. Remember, always hire a person, not a set of skills. Skills can be learned; fit cannot.

2) Watch for nonverbal cues during the interview.

and even a Symbian developer (Nokia’s old mobile operating system). I’ve hired for staff roles, freelance roles and supplemental contract teams. Second, I’m a Web developer myself. I’ve worked in agencies building WordPress sites and landing pages. I worked at Treehouse as a Rails developer, and I’m currently working on a new project called TrainedUp. I’ve experienced the process of hiring for technical roles on both sides of the interview table. Trust me when I say that hiring someone to lead all-things-technical at your church can be daunting. In fact, hiring a technical leader is one of the most difficult and frustrating experiences for any leader. It’s worse for nontechnical leaders because of the unknowns of the job. The biggest question when hiring is: How do you know you’re hiring the right person? Here are five ways to make sure you hire the right technical leader the first time: 6

MinistryToday November // December 2015

It’s easy for tech-minded people to stay in the weeds. We love details and bragging on the speed increases that we pulled out of an old server. But if the person you interview talks more about technical stuff than leading people, then you’ve probably got the wrong person on your hands. Remember, you’re not hiring a set of skills; you’re hiring a leader. If this is your first technical hire, then you need a highcapacity leader who can grow with your church. Give me a Luddite with great leadership instincts over a technical genius with no people skills.

3) Assess their teachability.

Any technical hire is only as good as their learning skills. If they’re not teachable or don’t have a knack for picking up new knowledge and skills, I promise you will have a hard time with that person. To assess their teachability, ask them about a time they had to learn a new skill to accomplish a task. They’ll most likely tell you about the skill. Next, ask them how it made them feel. You’re looking for answers like “excited” or “fun,” not “frustrating” or “a waste of time.”

4) Don’t be fooled by certifications. I once hired a developer with a resume full of impressive certifications. More than half of them were completely irrelevant to the job role, but I was wooed by them nonetheless. The interview process was fraught with red flags, but I ignored them because of the pedigree this guy carried. He turned out to be a terrible hire. Certifications aren’t a bad thing. They can give you an idea of what proficiencies a person has. However, my best hires over the last 10 years have had zero certifications. They did great work, were incredibly valuable to the team and contributed far more than the actual work they produced.

5) Move slowly.

Don’t hire a technical leader until you absolutely have to. Try to find a capable lay person in your church to handle some of the technical maintenance such as computer upgrades or website updates. If you must, hire an IT consultant or a freelance developer. Make hiring a full-time technical person your last resort. I’ve seen too many churches bring on a full-time technical person, only to end up with a full-time social media manager and e-newsletter sender. My final bit of advice for you is to get help from an outsider if you’re unsure of the type of technical leader you need and what skills that person should have on day one. A consultant can spend a few hours helping you with technical interviews or writing up an accurate job description and save you thousands of dollars and bad morale down the road.

Scott Magdalein is the former product manager for YouVersion,,, and many other tools. He’s currently working on a new project called TrainedUp to help churches teach more effectively online. This column originally appeared at © iStockphoto/sylv1rob1

Ministry Matters


7 Traits of a Trustworthy Worship Leader By David Santistevan Do you think worship leading is more than what happens in church? I see it as more a way of life than a vocation or leading people in song. Worship leaders lead with their lives. The song we sing every day makes the gathering more meaningful. Private fuel gives rise to corporate fires. And that is

They’re not going to follow. Worship is: “Follow me as I worship Jesus with all I am.” So how do we build that trust? How do we lead in such a way that people feel comfortable to do something so uncomfortable? How do we help others be vulnerable? How do we as leaders give the room permission to pursue Jesus with abandon? Here are a few things you can do on a weekly basis:

1) Become a people specialist.

everyone’s responsibility. The gathered church can’t rely on the worship leader and the worship leader can’t rely on the church. We have a responsibility to “give unto the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts” (Ps. 96:8). It never says to give glory when you feel like it or to give glory when it’s convenient. We’re not called to worship only when the band is good. We all have a responsibility, but that doesn’t mean we worship leaders shouldn’t work hard on developing trust with our congregations. The more trustworthy we are, the more people will follow. Worship leading is all about trust. Think about it. Worship is one of the most vulnerable acts in the universe. Essentially, this is what you’re saying: hh “God, I give my life to you.” hh “Jesus, I surrender all.” hh “Spirit, have your way in me.” hh “Father, you are the Lord of my life.” Those are very vulnerable things to say. Worship cuts right to the heart. If the people you lead don’t trust you, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It doesn’t matter how amazing your band is. It doesn’t matter how strong your setlist is. 8

MinistryToday November // December 2015

Sure, worship leaders love Jesus. But there’s a pastoral side to that love—we want others to experience the greatness of Jesus as well. Trustworthy worship leaders lead with compassion. It’s evident in how they lead. There’s a broken-hearted compassion. There’s a deep desire to connect people to God. The best worship leaders I know are moved by people’s trials. They know what’s going on in their church. They pray for people.

2) Spend time with Jesus.

This is the first thing the enemy wants to distract you from. If he can keep you off your knees and out of your Bible, he’s won. Time with Jesus may feel like a waste some days. But it’s the most productive task. Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer doesn’t fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Effective platform leaders lead with integrity where it matters— behind closed doors.

3) Get outside.

I was always challenged by John Piper’s reflections on one of his college professors, Clyde Kilby. Here was one of Kilby’s resolutions: “At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.”

A trustworthy leader maintains fascination and cultivates a massive imagination.

4) Don’t take yourself too seriously.

There’s a difference between knowing your calling and being impressed with yourself. If you’re overly impressed with yourself, you’ll lead in order to prove to others how good you are. You’ll crave compliments. Worship leading becomes about chasing your identity in your performance rather than the God you worship. Trust me, take God seriously and chill out about yourself. You’ll lead better.

5) Do the work.

Trustworthy worship leaders don’t just show up and wing it. They’ve done their homework. They’ve studied. They prepared their setlist. They’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. They’ve considered the first-time guest. They’ve thought through transitions. This isn’t a lack of “flowing with the Spirit.” This is 1 Timothy 2:15: “showing yourself approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed.”

6) Know the Scriptures.

I remember when I first heard Aaron Keyes lead worship. He inspired me to read my Bible. His exhortations in-between songs were drenched in Scripture. Scripture will keep you from being just a feel-good, trendy, song-based leader. Instead, be a Scripture-drenched leader who happens to sing some songs.

7) Exude confidence.

There’s a difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogance says, “Look how amazing I am!” Confidence says, “I trust the Holy Spirit is going to move.” Confidence is competency on your instrument. Confidence is knowing your craft. Confidence helps you spotlight Jesus rather than drawing attention to what you can—or can’t—do. 

David Santistevan is a worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This column originally appeared at Lightstock

Have You Ever Run Across A Scripture That Confused You? Do you believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures but sometimes cannot explain what appears to be contradictions in the Bible?

Author and pastor Bruce Campbell’s novel, The Beginning: Prelude To The Apocalypse, answers many of the most difficult passages in the Bible. Much like the popular novel, The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn, The Beginning uses true historical events combined with mystery, science and biblical truth.

The Beginning is accompanied by a FREE downloadable Study Guide which is available at One reviewer described this book as a “theological gem wrapped in a story of mystery. You will not only be captured in the suspense of the story but will gain a better understanding of God.”

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Ministry Matters V o l . 3 3 // N o . 6

How to Recruit Volunteers and Keep Them By Benjamin Kerns


Chief Financial Officer JOY F. STRANG Publisher & Executive VP DR. STEVE GREENE Managing Editor, Print CHRISTINE D. JOHNSON Senior Writer TROY ANDERSON Managing Editor, Online SHAWN A. AKERS Assistant News Editor JESSILYN JUSTICE Assistant Online Editor TAYLOR BERGLUND Copy Editors JENNY ROSE CURTIS REBECCA LEEDY

Editorial Assistant SEAN ROBERTS

Finding good help is one of the most difficult aspects of our job as youth pastors. We know that good youth ministry means that students need many adults in their lives who will see them, love them and model an abundant life in Christ. But before we can talk about recruiting volunteers, let’s start with the ones you already have. There are many tricks and tools to find, train and equip volunteers. You should read everything you can read about that because once you have your volunteers, they will need to know all of that information. But knowing information and being well-trained is not how you keep volunteers. You keep volunteers because they feel like they are important and valuable to you and to the ministry you lead. If you want to keep your volunteers, simply show your love for them. They are giving up nights and weekends for you and for the students. Bless them, buy them lunch and coffee, pump them up and thank them. Help them create good relationships with students and help them succeed as small-group leaders. Hanging with adolescent kids is a challenge and can crush your self-esteem. It is even more challenging for your volunteers, so whatever you do, remind them that their only job is to simply love and care for students—and then help them do just that. But that still doesn’t answer the question of “Who?” “Who do you recruit for volunteers?” is 10 MinistryToday November // December 2015

an interesting question. Everyone I know has a different rubric for whom to ask and what to expect. But no matter what you decide to add, at the very foundation of my list is: “Is he someone I want to spend more time with?” My life is hectic, and I have few opportunities for friendship outside my family and my job. So whenever I find people in our church that I like and want to spend time with, I immediately consider them for student ministry. Of course, there are other factors, but this is my main one. If I don’t want to spend time with them, chances are my students won’t either. If I want to spend time with them, then chances are, I actually will spend time with them. I will seek to equip and bless them, and I will love nothing more than to celebrate life and ministry with them. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is not rocket science. Our volunteers are a gift and blessing. When they are treated as such, they will want to stick around and be on our team. Let’s do just that, love and bless them beyond their imagination so they will love and bless our students beyond imagination.

Benjamin Kerns is the pastor to children and students at Marin Covenant Church in San Rafael, California. He has been in student ministry for nearly two decades. This column originally appeared at © iStockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

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Unmasking the Language of Barbarism

A terrifying look behind the banality of the gruesome Planned Parenthood videos


arning: graphic content. Reader discretion is advised. For the Nazis, the eradication of the Jewish population of Europe was a complex problem of arithmetic, science and logistics. Their questions were never about morals of mass murder. The challenge for the Nazis was numbers. They needed a solution—a final solution. How could they kill millions and dispose of the bodies efficiently? Anti-Semitism fueled the Nazi murder machine, but rested on a foundation of “scientific proof” that those being killed were “less than human.” With the ticklish little matter of morals brushed aside, the problem for the Nazis became finding the means to concentrate such large numbers in central locations, an economical instrument for putting so many to death (bullets were, after all, expensive) and a way to dispose of so many bodies. These were questions of planning and logistics, not ethics. The Nazis did have one challenge they did not foresee and struggled to deal with at every death camp. Evidently, no one in the Nazi hierarchy foresaw that disposing of millions of “sub-humans” might emotionally and psychologically impact the people doing the murdering. Alcoholism, low morale and depression were rampant among the guards at the Nazi murder mills. The Nazis wanted to brutalize their victims but could not seem to do it without brutalizing their own. No one can. When victims are made less than human, the perpetrators lose their own humanity inch by inch. This necessarily produces a vocabulary of euphemisms and cold, dehumanized bureaucratic numbers. The Nazis did not speak of killing persons, but only of “numbers processed,” of “quotas met” and “logistical challenges overcome.” The Nazis did not report on how many adults or women or babies they murdered. They reported units processed. None of this is to sympathize with these murderers. Hardly. Rather it is to point out the devastating effect of taking part in brutality. As a Planned Parenthood medical executive munched her salad and sipped her wine on a secretly taped Planned Parenthood video, she chatted glibly of crushing babies. Her “tone” was not the issue. Her tone merely reflected her brutality. That’s just the way the brutalized talk about what they do. At some point, of course, the economics of genocide always begins to take into account a cost-benefit analysis. What does it cost to get rid of these “undesirables,” and how might offsetting revenue be realized? Reports up the Nazi chain of command failed

to mention gold pried out of the teeth of murder victims. Instead, the reports were of “revenue recouped from enemies of the state.” Earlier this year, recordings of Planned Parenthood executives caused a firestorm of protest and counter charges that reached all the way to the halls of Congress. Planned Parenthood and its supporters did not take it lying down. They fought to keep their machine in full operation. Amid the furor, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards apologized for the “tone” of the physician (the head of Planned Parenthood medical services) on that video. Richards made no attempt to deny the harvesting of organs or their distribution but faulted the misjudgment of the good doctor’s callous tone. However, the callous brutality of her “tone” was predictable. Once “science” announced that the unborn were not real humans but something else, something less, they could be killed with scientific efficiency. It was therefore inevitable that those whose job it became to “remove” the little undesirables would also be brutalized by the process. Such brutalization was also bound to inform their vocabulary. Planned Parenthood’s outrage and denial over these videos was also entirely predictable. Holocaust deniers claim videos were highly edited and that Auschwitz wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed on film. The monstrous ethics of harvesting unborn babies’ organs apparently does not touch the callous hearts of the supporters of Planned Parenthood. To such as them, the ethics of exposing the practice to the public—now that is reprehensible. Liberals in the Senate blocked defunding, and the judge quickly ordered that the release of the videos cease. Barbarity breeds barbarity. Heartlessness so cauterizes the soul that inventing a clinical vocabulary to describe mass destruction is absolutely essential. Units. Revenue. Recouped losses. The removal of the unwanted and less than human who drain society’s quality of life. Things, not humans. Tissue, not tiny human hearts and brains. That is the language of scientific barbarism. The talk of financial benefit from the victims is hardly surprising. Tiny unborn humans have no gold teeth to be extracted, but they do have internal organs that can be cut out and sold.

“The economics of genocide always begins to take into account a cost-benefit analysis.”

12 MinistryToday November // December 2015

D r . M a r k R u t l a n d is president of Global Servants. A renowned communicator and New York Times best-selling author, he has over 30 years of experience in organizational leadership, having served as a senior pastor and a university president. Lifetouch





Why Leaders Give Up

How 4 overriding issues can lead pastors to raise the white flag of surrender


uccess never comes easy. Maybe that’s why so many who set out to succeed quit before they ever reach the finish line! One-third of pastors feel burned out in their first five years of ministry, and 1,500 pastors a month leave their ministries, often because of burnout. Beyond that, half feel like they can’t live up to the expectations of the job. And almost every pastor feels the pressure to have a perfect family. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Let’s just say that leadership can take its toll on anyone, but especially on church leaders. But God calls us to be good stewards of what He’s given us, and that includes our role as ministry leaders. Yet many of us struggle with stewarding this aspect of our lives well. So where’s the disconnect between the calling God has put on our hearts and our ability to see it through to the finish? There are four problems that often cause a passionate person to feel as if they’re ready to raise the white flag. 1) They lack vision. Proverbs 29:18 tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Unfortunately, many leaders go into ministry charged up and excited, but with no real vision. They don’t spend time working through the planning phase. Instead, they rush headlong into the doing phase. They’re running hard, but they really don’t know which direction to run. We can’t expect opportunity to come before preparation. But if we cast vision on our leadership role and prepare ourselves, we’ll be ready when opportunity strikes. 2) They carry the burden of too much pain. None of us gets through life without picking up at least some emotional baggage, but if we learn from it, God can use it for His glory. We have to be open to that—and some leaders aren’t. Instead, we carry the pain inside, and it seeps into our ministry. Insecurity might tempt us to flex power when we really shouldn’t. Marital troubles might distract us, making us aloof and ineffective. Money problems mean that finding a way to pay the light bill at home becomes more pressing than preparing our Sunday message. Suddenly, our ministry becomes collateral damage to the other pain points in our lives. God wants us to deal with pain in a godly way. When we can see pain through a healthy perspective, we can survive the tough times in ministry and celebrate the good times. And when that happens, quitting isn’t an option.

3) They’re standing on a weak belief system. It’s ironic, but people expect ministry leaders to hear God more often and more clearly than everyone else. Our faith is strong, and when we lose everything else, we still have Christ. At least that’s the perception, right? Yet it’s not always reality. Church leaders deal with sin too. We can engage with power struggles with God over control of our lives, so when something requires us to “let go and let God,” our faith wavers. In those situations, quitting might be appealing. If that’s the case, it’s helpful to find a trusted mentor—someone who can hold us accountable in our relationship with Christ. We also need to get deep into Scripture and keep an open dialogue with God. He wouldn’t want our shaky faith to cause us to quit. After all, the Bible tells us to “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). 4) Their approach hinges on their feelings. When we’re counseling people and modeling Christlikeness, we need to display a spirit of gentle honesty, but sometimes we let that sensitivity overtake the business side of leadership. After all, we know that ministry just doesn’t happen without money, organization, communication and teamwork. But allowing your feelings to trump the practical business aspects of running a church can wreak havoc on a church’s—and leader’s—success. We have to walk a fine line between being sensitive to feelings and remembering that success also comes with smart decisionmaking and plain old hard work. Ministry is a tough calling. It isn’t for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. Keeping that in mind will renew our perspective when we feel like giving up. Remember what Paul wrote: “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). The next time you’re going through a difficult season in your ministry, ask yourself what underlying issues are discouraging you. Perhaps the fix is in addressing one of the four problems above. Even Jesus had tough days, but He also said that, ultimately, He had overcome the world (John 16:33).

“Allowing your feelings to trump the practical business aspects of running a church can wreak havoc on a church’s—and leader’s—success.”

14 MinistryToday November // December 2015

C h r i s B r o w n is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, pastor and speaker. “Chris Brown’s True Stewardship,” available on radio stations across the country, provides sound advice on life and money. You can follow him online at, on Twitter at @chrisbrownonair or at Ramsey Solutions



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What the pioneering Life.Church has learned about online ministry

Š iStockphoto/vlastas



echnology disrupts the status quo, and the church is never immune. Century after century, culture has been transformed by such developments as the printing press, radio and television broadcasting and the Internet. With each wave of innovation, church leaders have been faced with a changing landscape. Initially, the Internet wasn’t recognized as a tool for online ministry or even online relationships. It was designed for the distribution of content and developed a reputation for being somewhat impersonal. People primarily used the Internet to find and share information, not so much to connect with each other—except for those few who were dialing up via modem to log on to a bulletin board system message forum. Later, churches began to embrace the Internet but more so as a new channel for content distribution. At the turn of the millennium, forward-thinking congregations were launching websites to publish curriculum and broadcast content, extending the reach of their ministry both in terms of when and where people could tune in. But the focus was still on consumption, not connection. At this time, I began my career in the online space. One of my companies hosted a popular website for professional wrestling fans. This group of people was so passionate about the sport that they woke up every morning to check the news on the site and discuss it with their fellow fans. It was the first time I recognized the power of online community. As I transitioned into ministry at Life.Church in 2001, I carried this experience with me. My role was to lead our technology efforts, which back then meant I was in charge of anything with a plug. As we grew, our leaders wanted to explore how we could expand our reach through digital means. I thought back to the online community I saw develop on the wrestling site and wondered if a similar approach could serve the church. We waited for broadband Internet penetration to catch up while we began working toward that vision, and in April 2006, the Internet Campus of Life.Church launched. Later that year Facebook opened to the public, and group environments became more common online. No longer limited to connecting people to content, the Internet had become a powerful medium for connecting people to people. In the years that followed, thousands of churches have launched their own expression of an online gathering.

Pastors Bobby Gruenewald, left, and Craig Groeschel have successfully navigated the changing online landscape.

Changing Online Technology

The earliest days of online churches found leaders trying to figure out what it took and how it looked to minister online. Most churches stitched together stand-alone services like Ustream and Mogulus (now Livestream) with some sort of chat solution to create an online campus. These days, churches have more technology options, including software built specifically for online ministry. “The other big change has been the various devices like mobile, Roku and Amazon TV that are connecting beyond a desktop-only experience,” says Nils Smith, innovation pastor for Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas. While the technology of online ministry has changed, today’s typical online service will include some form of worship music, announcements or greeting followed by a message, all of which takes place alongside chat and prayer. Most churches agree the interactive elements and opportunities to take the next steps are what distinguish church online from simply streaming sermons. “We don’t want church online to just be a remote streaming experience,” says Steve Fogg, church online November // December 2015 MinistryToday   17

Online church is an investment that pays gospel dividends in the lives of people in America and abroad.

pastor for Crossway Church in Melbourne, Australia. “We want people to take real steps of faith both online and offline. The key for us is to have service hosts at every service to pray with, talk with or help anyone who is watching. We believe that for it to be church, we need people to connect with people and respond with steps of faith outside of the service.” People are the heartbeat of any ministry, online or on site. “At the end of the day, we’re a church,” says Jason Morris, innovation and technology pastor at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas. “We’re here to help people.” So who are the people logging on to online ministries, and what drives them there?

Trying Out Church

Morris has found that some people just won’t come to church if they have to come to a building. “Some people won’t show up in person,” he says. “Lots of people check us out first online. Our front door isn’t a Web page anymore—it’s our online campus.” One recent week, the church saw 8,687 unique visitors across its 162 online 18 MinistryToday November // December 2015

services, of which only 16.8 percent had visited previously. The Internet Campus of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, averages 3,500 people from 42 states and 35 countries each weekend. “Each weekend 63 percent of our attendees have attended before, while 37 percent are attending for the first time,” says Nate Merrill, Lake Pointe’s communications pastor. These visitors might be trying to find a new church home or may possibly be experiencing church for the first time. “I think some people are curious about church generally,” Fogg says. “Many feel like it is a safe first step for them to check our church out as opposed to coming along to a physical campus.” When churches combine the safety of an online environment with modern tools like search-engine advertising, they can actively engage a broader range of people. The Church Online team at Life.Church places ads that speak to needs such as this one: “Are you struggling with XXX or porn? Try Church Online instead.” Those who might not otherwise walk through the doors of a physical location can investigate their questions right when they are seeking answers.

Intersecting With Need

Online ministry allows churches to intersect with people in their moments of greatest need. We’ve seen individuals visit Church Online soon after the death of a family member and be comforted by the prayers of the community there. Others log on when they are feeling lonely or vulnerable to unhealthy habits or self-harm. “There are so many people out there hurting and hopeless,” says Justin Brackett, digital communications director at Seacoast Church in Asheville, North Carolina. “They first need to know the church cares about them and is willing to come to them before they are willing to come be with us.” And with mental health disorders on the rise, the need has never been greater. In 2014, the World Health Organization estimated that about 400 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and more than 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Online ministries often have the privilege of seeing people with these struggles take a different direction. One day, a woman from the Philippines logged on to our Church Online. A volunteer welcomed her in the chat room, learned she was having suicidal thoughts and prayed with



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her privately. While chatting and keeping her engaged in a conversation, the volunteer was able to reach out and connect with a pastor in her area. The pastor visited the woman in her home, prayed with her and met with her family. After that, she decided to attend a local church.

Working Around Schedules

For some churches, online ministry is an important complement to on-site ministry. Soccer tournaments, travel, sick kids and other factors can get in the way of regular weekend attendance. “The average Westsider shows up about two out of four times in a month,” Morris says. “But the times they’re not there, they will attend online if given a chance. Church Online can help on-site ministry because we can lead people faster when they are with us more often.” Brackett of Seacoast Church pointed to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study that projected 80 percent of Americans will work in a service industry by 2022. “Most Americans no longer work a traditional 9-5 job,” he says. “Church online offers people the opportunity to be part of something at home, on their own schedule.” Online churches also don’t face the same staffing or facility constraints as on-site ministries, which creates unique scheduling options such as offering services throughout the week. San Antonio’s Community Bible Church offers 498 opportunities weekly through six live services and 492 simulated live services across three online venues. “The scalable growth potential is limitless,” Smith of Community Bible Church says. “Adding seats and parking spaces on a physical campus is very expensive and slow. (But) there’s perceivably no limit and minimal cost to additional bandwidth online.”

Maximizing Missional Reach

The same lack of limitation also extends geographic possibilities for online churches. Melbourne’s Crossway church welcomed people from 70 countries at its online campus just three weeks after launching with 10 services. At Life.Church, individuals from nearly every country in the world have visited Church Online. We see an average of 110,000-130,000 unique visitors across 20 MinistryToday November // December 2015

Pakistan is one of the top five countries Life.Church reaches through its online services.

our 69 weekly services, and our top five countries are Pakistan, United States, India, Bangladesh and Kenya. In areas where Christians face restrictions on their religious freedom, online churches give them an opportunity to be part of a church community. “Online ministry allows us to take the gospel to places where we couldn’t otherwise,” says Alan George, our Church Online pastor. Smith sees the online ministry as vital to the mission. “Some of our biggest wins have been the fulfillment of the Great Commission by taking our local church global and virtually reaching to the ends of the earth with minimal expense and overhead,” he says. “We average about 12,000 weekly attendees from over 150 countries each week. About 52 percent of our participants join us from outside of the United States with large pockets in the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Egypt.”

Welcoming the Different

People with chronic illnesses and those who are differently abled or unable to get to a physical building can find a welcoming community at online churches. “The biggest impact on my life has been

my inability to communicate well with others,” says Gayle Walls, a Life.Church online volunteer who was born with cerebral palsy. “Although I have wanted to tell people about Jesus, my cerebral palsy put up a barrier. Before I began serving, I had always felt inadequate in what I was doing, and now I get to talk to people from all over the world and tell them about the love of Jesus and how much they mean to Him. Because of Church Online, I have found my niche in ministry.”

Criticized for Anonymity

Those who visit online churches are often attracted by their ability to be anonymous. While it’s a benefit that removes obstacles for many, it’s also a common criticism of online ministry. If church is a place where we’re supposed to experience community and authentic relationships, how is that possible unless we’re really known? Contrary to the belief that online relationships are impersonal, they are often hyperpersonal. Anonymity can inspire more transparency in what people feel comfortable sharing with each other. At Church Online, our volunteers often pray one on one with people who are confessing their sins for the first time. Westside’s Morris noted that being

known isn’t solely a problem on online ministry. “You can just as easily be anonymous at a big church if you go in to watch the show and leave without connecting with anyone,” he says. As with on-site ministry, next steps and relational connections are keys to healthy spiritual growth. While opportunities vary by church, many online ministries offer online life groups and discipleship steps. “Our church defines our discipleship process as moving people from seeker to believer to follower to leader,” Morris says. “We have an online expression for each of those stages.” Team members also find ways to make personal contacts with attendees, both during and outside of the service. “We strive to make our experience as personal as possible, and we want them to know we are there to help them take their next step,” Merrill of Lake Pointe says.

Handling Communion and Baptism

Some argue that real ministry can only happen in the flesh. “Most pastors don’t have a problem praying with someone over the phone,” Morris says. “It’s technology that allows you to pray with more people than you could face to face. No one’s going to argue that an online relationship is exactly the same as one in real life. It’s different, but it’s not inferior.” For many churches, online and on-site ministry overlap and intersect. “They aren’t separate environments. That’s a false dichotomy,” says Morris, referring to 2 John as an example where ministry took place through a letter when the author couldn’t be present with the people to whom he was writing. Lake Pointe Church encourages online attendees to build offline relationships around online ministry. “We challenge people to share their couch (invite others to have church in their living room) at, so they are attending in community,” Merrill says. “This is also why we have developed online groups so they are not living an isolated form of Christianity. We have several groups that began with one family and have grown to 40-60 people attending in those locations.” Some aspects of ministry, such as 22 MinistryToday November // December 2015

baptism and communion, are undeniably physical, and online churches choose to handle them in different ways. Some take part in communion together as part of their online service. Some churches connect people to a local church where they can be baptized. Others participate in a baptism via video where the person being baptized is submerged in a bathtub or pool while church leaders are present on the other end. For one online attendee at Morris’ Kansas-based church, baptism traveled to her. Jolene first attended an online service one Christmas in response to a Facebook post. Searching for something more in life, she logged on, asked for prayer and accepted Christ. She began attending services frequently from her home in Ames, Iowa, and wanted to take the next step of baptism. But because of physical limitations, she wasn’t able to travel to Kansas and didn’t know of any nearby churches. Westside’s team hit the road and traveled to her town to baptize her in a lake near her home. Since that time, she’s been consistently attending many services each week, leading an online group and managing volunteer teams. “She’s a part of our team,” Morris says. “She’s a part of our family, really. And to this day, she’s never stepped foot on one of our campuses. This is

her church. This is her family.” For people like Jolene, there’s no question whether online church is real church. Online churches are filled with powerful stories of lives forever changed. “We can take Jesus’ message of love, hope, forgiveness and grace to a world that is broken, hopeless and dehydrated for truth,” Brackett of Seacoast says. “But because of technology, it does not stop with just taking Jesus to the world. We now can have an active relational role in people’s lives to help them grow deep roots of truth, and we can do that with the people in our cities or on the other side of the world.” People serve at online churches. They give at online churches. They laugh, pray, grow and build friendships at online churches. And—as with every physical and virtual place in our world—the all-powerful love, hope and redemption of Christ preside at online churches.  B o bb y G r u e n e w a l d (@bobbygwald) is the pastor and innovation leader at Life.Church. The church has formed a missional approach to technology, expressed in initiatives like the YouVersion Bible app, Church Online at Life.Church and several sites to freely resource other churches. He is one of the leading voices in the church as it relates to innovation and the use of technology to reach people for Christ.

Helpful Resources for Online Ministry Online Church Leaders ( For leaders who don’t know where to begin when it comes to online ministry, the free curriculum available at Online Church Leaders covers the core foundations needed to launch an online church campus on a minimum to zero budget. Church Online Platform ( More than 11,000 congregations have signed up to use this free tool, which includes live moderated chat, live prayer, interactive slides, social media integration, giving connections, reporting dashboards and substantial customization options. Media Social ( Media Social is a cloud-based platform that allows churches to stream video live or in a rebroadcast format. Facebook integration and administrative dashboards help church leaders engage and follow up with attendees. The iMinistry Conference ( With an emphasis on discussion, this conference explores what leaders can do to better leverage online tools and technology for the church.

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THE CHURCH in a Digital Age Discovering new possibilities for your congregation in these cyber times


e live in an increasingly digital world. With the “cyberfication” of life, friends no longer push each other into swimming pools for fear of destroying a phone, some have all but given up on phone calls in lieu of email and, on a more serious note, many won’t engage in a relationship until they’ve had the chance to scope out the person online. But what does this technological sea change mean for the church? And how does the digital revolution apply to worship?

BY JOSHUA MOHLINE BY JOSHUA MOHLINE There is no black-and-white answer as to whether technology is good or bad, and its tools encompass much more than the web and social media. Technology continues to develop in sound, instrumentation, transportation, lighting and communication — tools used in worship services. Fully addressing the benefits and drawbacks of how technology affects liturgy requires examination from three perspectives: technology “for” the church, technology “in” the church and technology “as” the church.

Technology for the Church

Today’s church has the opportunity to be more equipped and empowered than ever before. The information age has made the transfer of knowledge more seamless than a handshake. Whereas Paul the apostle would have to write long scripts by hand and mail them across hundreds of miles of water or desert, all in hopes that they would reach the hands of church elders, pastors now simply need to speak from the comfort of their office to instantaneously stream the message online to thousands of homes. There’s little risk of November // December 2015 MinistryToday   25

Bethel Music’s WorshipU utilizes the Web to train worship leaders.

the message getting lost or the possibility that the message will come too late. Information is relayed exactly where it needs to be at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, leaders and pastors are taking Web-based courses like WorshipU or online seminary to become proficient in theology, worship, leadership and business. Technology has made it possible for everyone to obtain degrees online or secure a wealth of knowledge in any area of interest or passion. Beyond these teaching and education platforms, technology brings simplicity and efficiency to the daily work lives of pastors. A host of smartphone and tablet apps makes preparing sermons, sharing sermons, scheduling appointments or doing Bible study together easy. In fact, the entire Bible is now available in every translation through a single app! To be relevant today, it is necessary that the church use this technology. Relevance is not about being trendy, and certainly it is not about sacrificing values to align with the popular thought of the day. However, relevance is about communicating and demonstrating the values held by the church in a way that will be understood by 26 MinistryToday November // December 2015

the group the church aims to reach. People are communicating through apps, email, Web and other tools, which means these are the mediums by which churches must be communicating with their people and reaching out to the community—or they certainly will fall behind and even become invisible to some.

Technology in the Church

Of the three categories, technology in the church seems to be the most debated, particularly in the context of worship. How much technology is acceptable? At what point does technology stop enhancing worship and start distracting from worship? In reviewing the church’s stance on technology in worship in the last few centuries, we see a recurring pattern. When a new technology emerges, it is often seen as scary and unacceptable in the church. But as new generations come into the church— generations who have become accustomed to these technologies as a part of their everyday life—the church begins to incorporate the technologies into liturgy without much resistance. The congregation is now led by individuals who no longer find the technology scary or new but normal.

Now, the new and scary tools the church is debating are lights, fog and video during worship. Many claim these devices create overly sensational experiences, causing believers to confuse the presence of God with an emotional response to sensory stimuli. Churches fear that the sound system will be too overwhelming for people to hear God and are concerned that people will become drawn to an attraction rather than to a relationship with Christ. However, the underlying belief in this argument is that God is too small to overcome environmental distractions. This also presupposes that God doesn’t use external stimuli to reveal Himself. But both of these stances opposing technology in the church are small minded. Romans 1:20 tells us that God reveals His nature through created things, and Psalm 19:1 says that the skies and heavens declare God’s glory. In Revelation 4:2-5, John explains that God’s throne is surrounded by a rainbow that shines like an emerald. There are flashes of lightning, and seven lamps are blazing before the throne. God is the creator of all. He shows Himself through creation and uses the creations of man and nature to display His glory. No

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The Haifa Home has had an impact and influence far beyond its walls. Survivors from the local area also enjoy a warm welcome at the Home for participation in various celebrations, activities and services. The Haifa Home also gives the residents the opportunity to share their stories with international visitors the ICEJ brings to the Home. This outreach has given them purpose and brought a sense of mission to their lives as they educate younger generations about the tragedy of the Holocaust.

WorshipU is an example of how technology can be used to support the ministry of today’s church.

height, no depth, no array of lights nor volume of sound can separate us from the love of God. He will not be restrained by those devices, and He will ever be able to use them for His glory. Looking at the churches of old, some of the most beautiful displays of art and architecture can be seen in cathedrals’ stained-glass artwork, painted ceilings and ornate construction. These affectations were created by artists and creators who chose to partner with God to create works of art as their form of worship unto Him. The church actually demanded that the sanctuaries be adorned with beauty because God is the greatest artist of all and deserves the finest man can bring. Now, instead of windows and walls, some artists are using light and video as their mediums of choice. Rather than seeing these as distractions, the church should embrace them as an opportunity to see unique expressions of worship coming from the hearts of creative individuals. As they partner with God, these artists create visual worship that wonderfully enhances the audial worship already taking place.

Technology as the Church

The church is starting to experience some challenges and difficulties with this third category. The expansion of online 28 MinistryToday November // December 2015

community has created a false sense of connectivity. Many people are staying home and making video streaming their primary “church” attendance. But this undermines the point of gathering as a local body. Bill Johnson, senior pastor at California’s Bethel Church Redding, believes strongly in convening the church face to face. “Pleasing worship to God happens in the context of people loving people,” Johnson says. This is why in Matthew 5:4, we are commanded to go and make things right with our brother before we bring our worship to the altar. Worship is not strictly a vertical expression but is meant to be enjoyed in the midst of friends, family and church leaders. What better place to find prayer and encouragement than in an atmosphere of love? Along with prayer and encouragement, worship is maximized in the presence of others. In solitude, it’s easy to get distracted or become complacent, but in the corporate setting, we are inspired by one another’s worship. We are reminded of God’s goodness by listening to one another’s testimonies. We can have our faith inspired by the people around us, which leads believers deeper into worship. Technology has its place in and for the church. The tools of technology have

the ability to enhance services, improve processes and transmit content more effectively. But it should never take the place of true, authentic relationship with each other or accountability in the body. It should never be used instead of joining together to worship; for where two or more are gathered, God is there with them. If there are questions about a particular technology, it should be measured first against the Word of God. Does this specific technology go against that for which God has called us? If not, can it be used to either bring Him glory or to bring people together? Finding the right tools to direct people to God and connect them to each other is always beneficial. A particular tool might seem strange or foreign, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Technology is just another avenue that God will use to facilitate worship and communicate just how much He loves His bride. J o s h u a M o h l i n e is director of WorshipU, the online school of worship from Bethel Music. With a background as a worship leader in settings from small to large, he has been a part of the Bethel Church worship teams since 2012. He facilitates the worship school as it equips and empowers thousands of worship leaders and teams worldwide.


Cultivating Worldwide Church Connections How global ministry turned local with the advent of technological innovation BY NATHAN CLARK


t Northland, A Church Distributed one recent weekend, we worshipped with people in Tanzania, Ukraine and India. On any given week, we conference with people in Haiti, Cuba, South Africa, Uganda, Sri Lanka or Brazil. Despite the 100,000 miles of distance between us, no one had to travel—except perhaps the drive to the office or the walk to the couch—because all of it happened out of the day-to-day rhythm of our technology-enhanced global ministries. And all of it happens in the freedom that comes with low-cost connectivity, much like casually deciding to grab a cup of coffee with a neighbor.

30 MinistryToday November // December 2015

A little context is in order. Since 2005 at Northland, we’ve offered online worship, allowing thousands to participate weekly in our weekend worship services. Each weekend we provide live video of the worship services that includes welcoming our online community by name in real time. But online worship is more than just a web-based broadcast. We’ve seen glimpses of how much further technology allows us to go. Churches have formed, led by online worshippers. During a baptism-centered worship service, we baptized inmates from a local jail and featured their video alongside the footage of the baptisms happening in our sanctuary. We’ve commissioned teams for mission trips from our sanctuary,

Lightstock | © iStockphoto/Christopher Futcher

New Life Church in Kiev, Ukraine, maintains a global partnership with Northland in Central Florida.

“Although it’s always hard to see the path of history while it’s still current, it sure seems like we’re in another historic expansion of the church.”

New Life Church is set up to serve worshippers through its online feed. Michael Walker

Serving the Deaf in a Digital World A pioneer in online church services, Central Florida’s Northland, A Church Distributed launched a new option for worshippers this summer: live streaming services for the deaf and hard of hearing. The interpreted service is available at Sundays at 11 a.m. (EST), and is accessible on any mobile device, laptop or desktop. Worshippers can view the entire service alongside an interpreter via picture-in-picture window. The interpreted stream allows the hard of hearing to grasp the full meaning of the music and sermons, according to Krista Elliott, Northland’s lead interpreter. Elliott observed that one of the biggest challenges deaf indiAndrea Finger interprets for viduals face is getting hearing the deaf at a Northland service, people to understand that available through live streaming. American Sign Language (ASL) is a language that cannot be replicated in any way, including through closed captioning. She added that many people in the deaf and hardof-hearing community rely on ASL rather than written language. “Hearing people don’t understand how very impactful it is to have a hearing loss,” Elliott says. “If you’re born without hearing, then English is no longer your first language.” Northland began Web streaming its live worship services in 2005 and helped pioneer live worship via iPhone and Roku devices. Up to 4,000 people worship with the Orlando-area congregation online on a given weekend. The Deaf Bible Society (DBS, also is having an impact on the hard-of-hearing community. An offshoot of Faith Comes by Hearing, DBS is aiming to provide a Bible in every sign language to transform one of the largest unreached people groups in the world. In addition, DBS is working on the first sign-language evangelistic tool in the Middle East, seeking to reach hundreds of thousands of the deaf with the gospel. The need is dire, since in March the Islamic State (ISIS) released a sign-language recruitment video, offering false hope to the deaf in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Native signers are working on the evangelistic video. Taking security precautions, DBS will use makeup and prosthetics to disguise the signer who records the final draft. The finished product will be distributed via video platforms, including the Deaf Bible app.—Christine D. Johnson 32 MinistryToday November // December 2015

then welcomed them just a week later while they were halfway across the world in the middle of their journey. We’ve even had Advent readings streamed live from remote locations—as remote as the Middle East. Again and again we’ve found these online platforms capable of tearing down the walls that usually separate “us” from “them.”

Global Partnerships

This rich sense of “us” imbues global partnerships too. Granted, many of those relationships are significantly older than our online worship environment. For decades we’ve fostered relationships with believers across the world, often stemming from along-theway shared ministry, so some of our global partnerships are built on those lifelong friendships and co-laboring. Like any good partnership, we’ve learned as much as we’ve taught. As our senior pastor, Dr. Joel Hunter, often says, these partners’ clergy aren’t just their pastors; they’re our pastors too. And so these partners have traveled to preach to our congregation, just as sometimes our pastors have traveled to preach in their churches. But it’s not just old relationships that form the basis for these deep “us” relationships. Recently, we’ve begun establishing training centers with partners all around the world. This year we’ve launched three of these centers in Haiti, Cuba and South Africa, and we’re in the process of setting up four more in Egypt, Sri Lanka, Uganda and New Mexico. These training centers are places in-the-field pastors can come for ongoing training, connection and prayer with other pastors from around the world. They’re places to train the next generations of Pauls and Timothys without taking these new leaders away from their communities and churches for years at a time. What enables these centers to thrive is nearly invisible communication technology. For generations, world-class teaching required traveling to world-class teachers. Now that sort of access can be only a few clicks away. And even as we’re just at the beginning of this journey, we can see God using these centers to


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raise up local leadership to become the next world-changing teachers, trainers and leaders. Of course, this isn’t the first time technology has affected Christianity. Technology has long been a multiplier for churches, all the way back to the apostle Paul. Paul used Rome’s highways to accelerate and amplify his ministry. His trips to Rome, Ephesus and Philippi took place on the modern marvel of Roman roads. But as we all know, Paul’s influence didn’t end when his trips did. Much of the apostle’s legacy was left in the form of the letters that make up much of the New Testament. As surely as his trips depended on the breakthrough of dependable travel, so did Paul’s letter-writing ministry. In many ways, the first expansion of the church came down to God’s brilliant strategy to expand the church with technology. The first-century church isn’t the only place we see technology as a tool God used for His kingdom. We see it again in the advent of the printing press. It’s no coincidence that the printing press was invented just generations before the Protestant Reformation. Suddenly the Bible could be in the hands of every congregation. And sure enough, God again used technology to dramatically expand His church. 34 MinistryToday November // December 2015

Historic Expansion

Although it’s always hard to see the path of history while it’s still current, it sure seems like we’re in another historic expansion of the church. In the last year, we’ve had more than 100,000 people from 120 countries worship online with Northland. There are more than 100 partners, missionaries, nongovernmental organizations, parachurches or nonprofits we regularly meet with online. These relationships are facilitated by technology and fueled by the Holy Spirit. And together we’re planting churches, training pastors, spreading the gospel and following Jesus. But this isn’t a numbers game. This is a unique change in the way relationships work within the church. And it’s a glimpse of that eternal family bigger and greater than anyone could have imagined just a couple of generations ago. And we’re just one church among many finding a bigger picture of the Christian community through church online. We see this idea of technology turning partners into extended family so clearly. I’ve seen it firsthand with our partner in Ukraine, New Life Church. Through the years, hundreds of Northlanders have traveled to New Life to work in their sports camps, youth groups or in their orphan ministries. Their senior pastor, Anatoly Kalyuzhny, has preached to Michael Walker

Give your young people a reason to get and stay connected to the Lord There are too many complaints about young people who leave the church, never to return. This doesn’t speak well for what they learned in the first place. Youth programs may keep them busy, but if they don’t get the meat of the Word before they leave home, when will they get it? Much of the time, they settle for cheap substitutes that do not bring real peace and contentment. A person should never see yoga as more calming than choosing to trust in God. Hidden Treasure chronicles my own spiritual journey in connecting with the Lord. It began with a search for inner peace and ended with a total surrender to the Lord. In this book, I provide the Scriptures that brought me to this point. There are no complicated steps or procedures, just unconditional trust in the Lord. This may be too simple for modern Christianity, but it is the essence of humility toward God. Most of the time, the peripherals of Christianity are overemphasized, with the essentials being overlooked. This ends up being no more effective than a motivational talk with a limited shelf life, and it does not produce ongoing Christian transformation.

Visit for a FREE download of Hidden Treasure

Through the years, hundreds of Northland members have visited Ukraine to work in their orphan, youth and sports ministries.

our church, and their youth have come repeatedly for our end-of-year retreat. In 2010, I traveled to Kyiv to help New Life launch a web ministry similar to Northland’s. One of their pastors, Oleg Magdych, hosted me. Oleg and I played soccer, shared meals and spent most of our waking time together, so when he brought his family to Orlando, Florida, we grilled out at my home, picked oranges and swam in the pool. But owing to the ever-present availability of technology, my relationship with Oleg isn’t limited to just the time we’ve spent together on those trips. Last weekend he texted me in the middle of the night because they were having tech problems with their online worship. Through the years we’ve traded many texts and Facebook messages, and not just about technical issues. We’ve also messaged or video chatted about photography, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the current Ukraine/Russia crisis and just the normal “How’s your family?” conversation that it’s normal to have with friends. What I find so remarkable is that mine is not the primary relationship with our partners in Ukraine; there are many at Northland who talk even more often with our partners there. And it’s not something unique to our partnership with New Life Church in 36 MinistryToday November // December 2015

Ukraine. Just about every day of the year someone at Northland is connecting with one of our partners. Just about every day someone is connecting with online congregants too. Maybe it’s through video chats. Maybe it’s by phone calls. Maybe it’s emails or texts or Facebook. But more importantly, these are the sort of connections previously limited to neighbors, friends or family—limited to people privileged by proximity. But now, in the communication age, distance no longer dictates the depths of our relationships or the scope of our shared pursuit of God. What is most striking is that none of this is unique to Northland. We’re seeing so many churches connecting through online church and global partnerships. And together, all of us are starting to get a better glimpse of what it means to worship as family with every tribe and tongue and nation. Together we’re getting a bigger and better sense of how well God grafts us—no matter where we call home— into one connected body of Christ. N a t h a n C l a r k is a minister and technologist at Northland, A Church Distributed (, a church of 20,000 in Orlando, Florida. The online worship environments he has helped create have had more than 1 million views in the last decade. Michael Walker


Gauging Your

Finding your way to get where you’re going



have a question for you: What is your ultimate goal? We often define goals for different areas of our lives— our careers, our finances, our spiritual growth and the like. But it is your ultimate goal that determines your direction. Look at it like this. If the GPS on your smartphone is set for the airport, but you actually want to go to the mall, you’re in trouble. When your GPS announces, “You’ve arrived at your destination,” you’ll moan in frustration as you approach the terminal and see signs listing airlines instead of department stores. In disbelief, you’ll protest, “What happened? How did I end up here?” It’s quite simple. Your GPS took you where 38 MinistryToday November // December 2015

it was programmed to go. What is your internal GPS set on? Having a lot of friends? Establishing a good home and a great family? Enjoying a certain lifestyle? Building a successful ministry? Experiencing health and happiness? You may respond, “I’d like all of these things.” Most of us would! But what single desire outweighs all others? It’s important to make this distinction because it will ultimately determine your destination. To continue our GPS analogy, the road to different endpoints might be the same at times. You may be able to pursue two goals simultaneously for a while. But inevitably there will come a point in your journey when the pathways will split, and you will have to choose one way or the other.

We are all single-minded in pursuit of something. As Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Years ago, I realized I was pressing toward the wrong goal. Every day for 18 months, I would rise at 5 a.m. and pray for two hours. I’d say, “Lord, use me to lead multitudes to salvation, to speak the Word of God powerfully, to bring nations into Your kingdom, to heal the sick and get people free.” I asked persistently and passionately for these things morning after morning. Months passed and one day God spoke to my heart: “Son, your prayers are off target.” I was stunned! What could be better, nobler and more pleasing to my Creator than what I was asking for? I wondered if © iStockphoto/Patryk Kosmider

Internal GPS

I had misunderstood what was spoken to my heart. How could all those wonderful spiritual goals be off target? Immediately, I again heard the Spirit of God. “Judas left all he had to follow Me. He was one of the elite 12. He preached the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, gave to the poor and got people free. Judas is in hell.” I trembled in shock and was dumbfounded. I realized Judas had attained all I was crying out for but was forever lost. Perhaps if he’d examined his internal GPS more carefully, his ending wouldn’t have been so disastrous. I realized I could unknowingly be in the same category as Judas. I earnestly inquired, “What should be my targeted goal?” In answer, God took me to the story of Moses, the Israelite raised as a prince in Egypt. Moses was brought up with no lack of money, possessions or education. He had the best of everything. To most, his

life would have seemed a coveted utopia, yet he wasn’t satisfied. He chose to walk away from what the most affluent nation on earth could offer. Why would he forsake such a lifestyle? Couldn’t he find contentment in serving God while still living in Pharaoh’s palace? No. Moses’ internal GPS dictated that his true desire couldn’t be attained where he currently resided. The writer of Hebrews tells us: Moses “esteemed the reproach of Christ as greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). What great reward? When I pose this question, most people respond that it was the promised land. But if this is so, then we must ask, what did a land of milk and honey have to offer that the fertile land of Egypt didn’t? In this era, Egypt was rich in natural resources and agriculture. Was the promised land that much better? Could Moses build a nicer house in this new land than

the palace where he already resided? I think we can confidently answer no to these questions. So what was the reward Moses sought? He didn’t exactly know at first. He left the palace certain there was more, but he didn’t find his reward until 40 years later when, on the backside of the desert, he met God at a bush and experienced His presence. Once this happened, Moses’ internal GPS was firmly set. God’s presence was his reward. We see evidence of this later when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt. This is the part of the story that changed everything for me. For Moses, the time after leaving Egypt was filled with stress. The desert was filled with challenges, and his national approval rating was at an alltime low. In the midst of these turbulent times, God spoke: “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have November // December 2015 MinistryToday   39




“I’ve learned that nothing could be better than friendship with God. And nothing will keep us on the right path like focusing on the pursuit of His presence.”

brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. However, I will not go up in your midst” (Ex. 33:1-3). Consider the circumstances Moses and the people faced every day in the desert. Slavery in Egypt was terrible, but wandering in the wilderness didn’t seem any better. However, the people had a hope: the land of promise, Canaan. God had told them for years that it was a rich and fertile land, one flowing with abundance. Now God had instructed their leader to take them into this promised land. He declared there would be a mighty angel to guide them and drive out their foes. There was just one catch: God Himself would not go. Listen to Moses’s reply: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Ex. 33:15). Moses’ reply is mind-boggling. Here was a place of lack, stress and hardship. Here was a desert! Yet in essence, Moses told God, “If I have to choose between Your presence and Your blessing, I’ll take Your presence.” Moses’ heart was set on the right thing. It directed him to make the best choice 40 MinistryToday November // December 2015

even when God offered him a good choice, one common sense and uncomfortable circumstances dictated he should accept. Moses’ goal was to know God intimately. This was his highest reward. Nothing was of greater value and nothing could deter him from it. What God showed me through this story transformed my life and ministry. I began to shift my focus from achievement or blessing—no matter how spiritual or commendable it seemed—to intimacy with God Himself. In the years since, I’ve learned that nothing could be better than friendship with God. And nothing will keep us on the right path like focusing on the pursuit of His presence. So I ask you once more, what’s your ultimate goal? Is it God’s presence? Or is it something lesser, something that seems good but keeps you from seeking intimacy with God? How can you recalibrate your heart and your life so that, like Moses, you seek the greatest reward no matter what? What might result in your life, family and ministry when you do? J o h n B e v e r e and his wife, Lisa, are the founders of Messenger International. His resources have been translated into more than 90 languages. To dive deeper into this article’s topic, check out his new book, Good or God? Why Good Without God Isn’t Enough. Learn more at Lightstock

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Studying the Word Online

Take advantage of sermon preparation tools to grow your understanding of the Scriptures



resenting the Word week in and week out demands time and energy, but today’s study tools make the primary job of the pastor much easier than in the past. Pastors who employ online study tools benefit greatly from their use in preparing to preach and teach. My seminary professors grilled hermeneutics and epistemology into me with heavy doses of respect and fear of ever handling the Word incorrectly, so I take great care with the Scriptures. Technology has introduced a new way for me to carry out the interpretive principles I was taught. These tools help me stay on target, as 99 percent of the time I preach on one passage but pull in other passages to illustrate a particular truth. Not only do these tools assist me with correct interpretation, but they also help me handle the demands of my schedule. In the last decade as I have traveled, spoken at conferences and preached Sunday morning messages, I have developed a certain rhythm for my study. My wife, Darla, and I both speak Sundays and utilize certain steps, although we may vary in how we use them. For instance, I now use YouVersion exclusively, but she still sometimes employs Bible Gateway. I use Logos Bible Software, but she complains of how cumbersome it is to navigate through so many options. As a result, she has developed her own work-arounds. Although the Holy Spirit still speaks in analog methods, He also guides our digital preparation. In our case, we usually only preach three to five series a year, so our preparation can begin months in advance. However, if you are a busy bivocational pastor or are fighting for messages from week to week, this process will work for you as well. The following seven steps will help you to consolidate your own process and keep you true to the text: 1) Read and reread. Many pastors have studied both Greek and Hebrew in seminary, as I have. But for

42 MinistryToday November // December 2015

me, the best way to get to the heart of a passage is by reading the text repeatedly in a number of versions. I call this practice “Read 10 and Repeat.” When I started to use digital platforms in my study, being able to effortlessly access many Scripture versions was a great benefit. Many times I’ll read the same passage in 20 different versions. Key words and subtle nuances seem to jump off the screen during this process. When looking for a “word” from God for the people of God who gather weekly, the availability of God’s Word in digital tools allows pastors to step up their game. Rural pastors miles away from a theological library now have fingertip access to versions of the Bible they wouldn’t be able to easily access otherwise. Recently, I was reading 1 Samuel 17 in the Modern English Version (MEV) and noticed David carrying the same encouraging message to everyone, which ultimately put him in front of King Saul: “And he turned from him toward another and spoke in the same way. And the people answered him again as at the first. When the words which David spoke were heard, they reported them to Saul and he sent for him” (1 Sam. 17:30-31). In my reading repetition, I noticed there were multiple dialogues inside this brief section. David was talking to his brothers and to the soldiers, which then led him to King Saul. In his audience with the king, we see a huge difference between faithful David and fearful Saul. In studying this passage, the practice of Read 10 and Repeat quickly uncovered these truths: David’s words had brought him before King Saul, and his first words to Saul were to inspire courage in his heart, while Saul’s first words were to discourage David’s heart. David tells Saul that he went after the lion and bear, struck the predator and delivered the lamb out of its mouth. Reading version after version, it became obvious that the narrator is pointing out that Goliath had the » king and the entire Israelite army in his grip.

Š iStockphoto/gradyreese

“Through greater access and engagement with the text, digital tools enhance your ability to be more accurate in preaching.” 2) Focus on biblical accuracy. When you are reading a Scripture text using an online study tool and you perceive something on which to preach, you can easily capture the message and intent of the writer in an accurate manner. Through greater access and engagement with the text, digital tools enhance your ability to be more accurate in preaching. 3) Go mobile. As with location in real estate, mobility in technology is the gold standard and one that many pastors appreciate. On our church and school staff, we have 150 full-time people, and as you can imagine, this makes designating one day per week solely for prayer and Bible study a nearly utopian wish. I get a day or two to study, pray, read and write, but these times come in pockets. However, because

4) Engage in smart research. Using an Internet search engine, I look up a Bible verse and add the name of a Bible scholar—dead or alive—to see what he may have written on the passage. Here’s what I typed in my search window in the case of the David and Goliath story: 1 Samuel 17:35 (insert name of Old Testament scholar I have found helpful). In this case, nothing surfaced, but sometimes this type of search gives insight into an article or a book written on a particular Scripture verse. During my reading and rereading of the text, certain words usually catch my attention. I examine the Greek or Hebrew, making sure I’m aware of the type of passage, whether poetry, wisdom literature, gospel or narrative, then I zero in on a Many pastors appreciate the mobility that today’s technology affords for their sermon preparation.

of mobile technology, I have the ability to take advantage of small windows of time to study, no matter the kind of week I’m having. Because of this mobility, I’ve migrated to YouVersion instead of any other program. First of all, it’s free (Can I hear an “Amen”?). Second, it’s fast and I don’t have to download every Bible version unless I want to read them at 30,000 feet on a plane with no Wi-Fi. When the MEV translation was released by Passio (Charisma House), YouVersion had it ready for online use almost immediately. I have also used Olive Tree, Bible Gateway and other such tools, and frankly, I have no dog in this fight. For me, convenience trumps product loyalty. 44 MinistryToday November // December 2015

specific narrative or verse. At this point, I usually switch over to Logos, with which I can hold my finger on a certain word to retrieve more information. For example, versions differ in the wording of the 1 Samuel 17 passage. Some say David grabbed the lion and the bear by the “beard,” while others use the word “jaw.” As I was reading in Logos, I held my finger down on the word “beard,” and a number of options appeared, calling me to examine the context more closely. Many types of Bible software are available, so find the one with the online search function that suits you best. 5) Use the toggling technique. Toggling is

the word I use to describe how I carry out my study in preparation for Sunday. I go back and forth depending on what challenges I run into with the text between YouVersion, Logos and any books I might have purchased on my e-reader in relation to the message. Digital platforms give me the ability to move back and forth in the study process between text, original text, Greek and Hebrew word study and books. In constructing messages, I often sense the whisper of the Spirit as He prompts me to toggle back to another source to take me even deeper into the passage. 6) Email to self. Although there are other ways to do it, I email notes and Bible passages to myself during all of these steps. I do this while I’m working on my phone during one of those rare windows of opportunity I mentioned when I may or may not have access to paper and pen. I’ll keep emailing myself, cutting and pasting content as delivery of the message draws closer. 7) Consider culture and context. Rarely— and I know I’ll get hammered for this—do I consult commentaries anymore. Most of them are so dated and contextualized that the only good I get out of them are the word studies on the original language. I’ve never used a Spurgeon story because no one I’m speaking to cares about him or his cigars. But be sure to consider the culture and context of the passage on which you are preaching. Preaching is not doing a book report on a passage you think would be helpful, but rather it’s bringing a fresh word from heaven. A mentor once told me that preaching is simply commenting on your walk with God using the text. The Bible is alive, and releasing its truth through the Holy Spirit to God’s people empowers those who will listen and heed the Word. D r . M i k e R a k e s and his wife, Darla, minister at Winston Salem First in WinstonSalem, North Carolina. He is the author of Slings and Stones: How God Works in the Mind to Inspire Courage in the Heart. YouVersion

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Growing and Giving in the Digital Church How secure e-giving options promote churchgoers’ financial commitment BY NATALIE GILLESPIE


hurch attendance and charitable giving have changed radically, in large part due to the Internet and cellular technology. From electronic giving to live, online services, it’s clear that churches must continue to go digital to remain relevant to their tech-savvy congregants. According to Pew Internet Project’s recent mobile technology research, as of October 2014, 64 percent of American adults reported owning a smartphone, and 42 percent own a tablet computer. In a Barna Group study published in February, more than half of pastors polled agreed that the Internet is “a powerful tool for effective ministry,” up from 35 percent in 2000. Fifty-five percent of pastors also think that a church must have a significant website or online presence to reach people effectively. Churches also need to find effective ways to engage online attendees, fostering connections with their community of worshippers as well as encouraging accountability and giving as their commitment to the church grows. “We just tend to operate on a philosophy that we need to be where people are,” says Nathan Clark, online minister and director of digital innovations for Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida. “I believe more than half of our giving each year is now done 46 MinistryToday November // December 2015

electronically. I myself write less than a half-dozen checks in a calendar year (now). Everything is online.” If attendees can click once to watch a church service and a second time to give their tithes and offerings, can going to a building be worth getting out of their pajamas and off of their couch? The short answer is “yes,” according to pastors and online-giving service providers.

Engaging Online Attendees

At Northland, Clark says he looks for ways to personally interact with the church’s online community. “I extend an invitation,” he says. “I saw somebody online one weekend, and she was not far from where I live. As we started talking (online), I found out she had a son the same age as my son. We were having an open house at my house to get people familiar with the church, so I invited her to be there.” She showed up. After that meeting, the woman and her son started coming to a weekly community gathering. “So out of this online experience, she became grafted into our (church) family,” Clark says. While some churches offer only an online experience, the majority of American churches meet at a physical space and use the Internet to live stream one or

more weekly services. Although the live events may have some attendees who never walk into the building, most viewers worship in both spaces, pastors say. Online watchers regularly attend in person but check in online when someone is sick, out of town or otherwise unable to get to church. Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia, has an online campus as well. “We see the primary attendance there is people (who) just can’t get to the church,” says Drew Landrum, sonin-law of Stevens Creek Senior Pastor Dr. Marty Baker. “You have some megachurches like Hillsong and Willow Creek that people will log on to because they have some of the best speakers on the planet, but I think the larger amount of people attend online when they can’t get to their local church.” Landrum also heads up sales and marketing for SecureGive, an e-giving company Baker founded in 2004 by creating the first giving kiosk. Today, SecureGive also offers church-giving apps for Android and iOS devices, as well as platform for online giving and text-to-give services. Landrum says as fewer people carry cash or write checks,

As fewer people carry cash or write checks, online giving has become the church standard.

electronic giving is becoming the church standard. “It’s not really about what works better, e-giving versus traditional methods,” Landrum says. “It’s just that we’re reaching a point where God’s church is going to very practically say that e-giving makes the most sense.” Landrum is right on the money. As Americans become a “cashless” society, churches are cashing in by installing convenient ways congregants can give electronically. The companies, platforms and emerging technologies seem endless. A Google search of the phrase “electronic church giving” returns more than 37 million results. By employing electronic giving methods, 21st-century churches can advance God’s kingdom by achieving more financial security, engaging new attendees through online and mobile technology and helping congregants become more faithful and disciplined givers. “Churches that are currently offering electronic giving see a substantial increase in giving,” says Niel Peterson, co-founder of ChurchLink, a churchgiving mobile app provider. “On the contrary, churches that are not offering electronic giving are missing out on a Lightstock

substantial level of donations. Every year this disparity grows larger. Ultimately, every church needs to embrace electronic giving. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

Using Tithing Tools

As churches find themselves swept into the current of electronic giving, how can they determine which options provide convenience, reliability and security? They have to do their homework. The church that wants to offer electronic giving will soon see the many options available: online giving platforms through the church’s website, mobile apps, text platforms and electronic kiosks—which are used like an ATM takes deposits—that can be installed in the church. SecureGive’s kiosks have evolved from giving platforms into connection centers, which allows churchgoers not only to give but to register for small groups, summer camp and other events. “We notice that most churches that implement one of our kiosks see an increase in donations within the first six months of 27 percent, and that’s from people who have never given to the

church before,” Landrum says. “That is pretty powerful.” Pushpay is another popular e-giving option dubbed a “complete giving solution.” Pushpay allows congregants to download a mobile app that integrates with church databases. Users can give via text, kiosk and web through the mobile experience. Pushpay also guarantees churches will see an annual increase in giving of at least 5 percent, or the monthly fees will be refunded. “Making first-time and ongoing giving extremely simple is a great way for churches to grow participation,” says Chris Heaslip, co-founder and CEO of Pushpay. “When we give, we also become more invested, both with our heart and the way we volunteer our time.” The company ran a beta test of the Pushpay app in 2013 with a group of 80 churchgoers who had never given before. “We tied Pushpay to their church app, downloaded it on their phones and then tracked their giving habits over the next three months,” Heaslip says. “What we found is that these people were giving an average of $143 (per) month to their church at the end of the three November // December 2015 MinistryToday   47

months. These are the results we get excited about.” ChurchLink offers churches an instant ChurchLink-branded app or their own custom-built app. Peterson says the most exciting thing about seeing churches implement e-giving for the first time is the positive difference it makes to their bottom line. “Giving is an essential part of every church and ministry to advance the kingdom of God,” Peterson says. “The more a church embraces technology to receive donations, the more donations they will receive. It’s that simple.”

Forecasting Church Finances

Two of the big benefits churches say they receive from e-giving are a better ability to survive the “summer slump” and the ability to predict more accurately their financial forecasts. Constance Free Church in Andover, Minnesota, was an early adapter of electronic giving methods. Today the church offers e-giving options that have increased

donations because congregants are able to set up automatic recurring payments. “It gives us a little more stability in the giving because people tend to give online even when they are not attending,” says Jeff Piehl, church business administrator. “Even in summer months, our giving stays pretty consistent. Also, some people just don’t have the discipline to give by themselves every month and enjoy knowing that it automatically comes out.” Another advantage is the way technology allows churches to engage with their congregation every day, not just Sundays. “We see 45 percent of giving happens on days other than Sunday,” Heaslip says. “That tells us that churchgoers are just as compelled to give outside the church as they are in the church. Either way, it’s great that people have a way to respond generously when they feel led rather than having to wait until next Sunday.” Piehl says electronic giving increases

spontaneous gifts as well since congregants can give immediately after hearing a special guest; when asked from the pulpit to give toward a special project; or offer an additional gift on special occasions and seasons like Christmastime.

Freeing ‘Miss Brenda’

Providers say that electronic giving platforms should integrate easily with church websites and databases, freeing church treasurers, business managers or the “Miss Brenda” of the congregation from handling some related duties. “What electronic giving can do for church staff is somewhat revolutionizing,” Landrum says. “You have ‘Miss Brenda’ at the local church who has $2,000-3,000 a week that she has to hand enter as line items. She might get things wrong sometimes, and she may never admit it, but she actually dislikes reconciling. Platforms like SecureGive do this automatically. What I love about our product is that it can help

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smaller churches like Miss Brenda’s, then turn around and handle a church that gets $30-$50 million a year, and serve it with the same level of reporting and accounting.” Landrum says SecureGive frees up about 152 administrative hours each year. “Churches can now take those hours and shift an administrator’s serving capacity because of the e-based giving and e-based reconciling,” Landrum says. “We can track giving more easily now,” church administrator Piehl says. “We still pass the plate during the services, and people who give electronically can fill out a card and drop it in if they want to, but it’s amazing how many people give electronically during that little five-minute window when the plate is being passed.” Tracking also gives churches the ability to see when donors start and stop their gifts. If a donor who gives substantially suddenly stops giving, church administration can decide the right way to approach the giver and find out why. “Electronic giving actually makes

things easier for church treasurers, not harder!” ChurchLink’s Peterson says. “When someone gives electronically through a Church Giving platform, there is an electronic paper trail from start to finish. Additionally, there is no cash or checks to deposit, and the money hits the account usually within two business days. Most platforms also allow importing into all major accounting programs. Lastly, donors also have instant access to their giving transactions, adding a level of convenience and timesaving for administrators.” When considering implementing a new e-giving platform, remember that they all cost money—either monthly fees, charges based on usage, a percentage or some combination thereof. Crunch some numbers, and ask other churches what companies they use. Consider systems designed for churches against regular e-payment platforms. Look for a system that will interface easily with your database and one that has the tracking features you need. Do your research because

different systems serve congregations in different capacities. Finally, make sure the company you choose offers good support and troubleshooting. Pastors and providers agree that electronic giving is here to stay. And that’s a good thing for the financial future of the American church. “Electronic giving is equally convenient for someone sitting in a pew on Sunday morning or sitting at home on his or her couch watching a live stream,” Peterson of ChurchLink says. “The fact of the matter is that when someone is ready to support his or her church with a financial donation, there should be a convenient way to give, no matter where they are. Each time someone gives, it starts with a prompting of the Holy Spirit. That can happen anytime and anywhere.” N a t a l i e G i l l e s p i e is an author, editor and journalist who has been contributing to Charisma Media publications for 20 years. She can be reached at

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Beyond the

paper Trail

How church administration is changing in the digital age BY MICHAEL BUCKINGHAM


hen the phrase “church administration” comes to mind, you may not instinctively think of cuttingedge digital tools. With the administrator’s role centered on organizing information, managing team logistics and communicating information, that is a fair assessment. While the business of the church is not driven by technology, and administrators likely have a longer paper trail, technology can still make an impact on church administration.

Tools and Transactions

The most widely known administrative tool is online giving, most recently taking the form of mobile giving. Online giving has allowed the church administrator to keep tithes and offerings in the forefront as well as special projects like building campaigns. Not long ago, unless a church member attended a congregation that still handed out a box of tithing envelopes, the member didn’t see anything about his giving record until the end of the year. Today, by using technology as a transaction tool for church attendees, we have real-time information as a reminder of their financial role. With regard to church administration, processes come to mind ahead of technology. For instance, long gone are handwritten job applications, and job listings have found a home in the digital world. Employee reviews no longer are an 52 MinistryToday November // December 2015

end-of-year event but rather a day-to-day conversation using tools such as TrakStar. Scheduling staff for the weekend, managing vacations and tracking time can be managed and viewed at once on an iPhone by using tools like Paycom and Planning Center. In this day of megachurches, multiple campuses and church ministries starting every day, it can be hard to know where members and attendees are growing or struggling. Used well, church management software helps everyone on staff get the big picture of who’s connected through a small group, who is engaged as a part of the church and which classes are the most helpful. Web analytics can support this as well. Staffing is a significant responsibility for the administrative or executive pastor. The question he may ask is: How do we ensure we have the “right people on the bus in the right seats”? Online assessment tools such as Strength Finder, StandOut and Keirsey Temperament not only get the right people in the right role but also help those with different roles and personalities work well together. However, these instruments are only helpful when they are actively used, and the administrator, who tends to be more analytical, will find that these sorts of tools are only effective when used outside of the data. Knowing someone’s primary aptitude isn’t enough. Leaders must nurture these strengths with clear and

measurable results while also equipping people with their different skill sets. Of course, we can’t talk digital and not address social media. While social media doesn’t directly correlate to the administration to-do list, it should be kept in sight. Executive pastors should consider crafting a social media policy that fits their culture. Administrative staff needs to understand that church leadership expects them to be an extension of the congregation, whether their social media is seen as an extension of their role as staff or is entirely personal. Members of the communications team also need to understand the expectations of the church regarding tone and boundaries on social media, answering questions such as: hh Do we allow and retain comments that go against what we are preaching? hh How do we handle inappropriate or inflammatory comments? hh Who answers messages asking for church assistance?

Direction and Danger

The biggest opportunity on the horizon is in pulling all of these elements together. Today, a church’s website is often static. Everyone is getting the same information. Imagine tying these technologies together and serving the content that matters most. For instance, instead of showing online to a happily married man that a singles group is meeting Saturday night, the website invites him to watch the game at

a men’s small group. For the person who attends services but hasn’t yet engaged through giving, how about showing him a video of how finances are making an impact through the church in the community? To move in this direction, it’s best not to let technology do the leading but to learn from the church administrator who might use technology to better direct and power the ministries of the church. One of the dangers of technology, in both the church and wider world, is to allow it to drive strategy. Everyone else has a mobile app, so your church builds one. Everyone has big tech on stage, so why shouldn’t your church implement it? The problem is we become high in tech but low in strategy, which flatlines our effectiveness. We may have a cool mobile app, but nobody is gaining anything from it and a stage that looks good but doesn’t connect to the overall brand of the church or support the weekend series. It’s true that we often don’t think of technology when we consider “church administration.” But as we let administrators have a say in strategy, the church can then look for ways to support these strategies with technology, bringing significant benefits to the congregation. M i c h a e l B u c k i n g h a m  serves as experience team pastor at Victory World Church ( in Norcross, Georgia. Email him at or connect via Twitter at @mbuckingham. © iStockphoto/gradyreese


How a health care professional started a barbecue ministry



ohn Rivers has created the most successful barbecue restaurant chain in Central Florida. He employs 1,000 people at the nine locations of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, has published a cookbook and appears frequently on local Christian television. Along with his cooking accolades, he was named a finalist for the 2013 Florida Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Not only is Rivers successful, but he’s a strong Christian. The mission and purpose of 4 Rivers Smokehouse is to use “God-given gifts to support the local community.” The restaurant’s name is inspired by Genesis 2:10, which describes four rivers flowing out from the Garden of Eden to the rest of the world. Yet before he became famous for his brisket, Rivers was a 20-year veteran of the health care industry and president of a billion-dollar company—but God led him down an entirely different life path.

A Call at Work

Rivers’ journey began with an unforgettable call one day on his private line. Since very few people had his number, he expected one of them to be on the call. Instead, he found himself talking to a woman he didn’t know.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Rivers says. “She was crying, and she said to me, ‘Mr. Rivers, Mr. Rivers, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter.’ My daughter, Cameron, she was in kindergarten at the time. I said, ‘What’s wrong with Cameron?’ And she said, ‘Well, her brain tumor, her terminal brain tumor.’ ” Surprised, Rivers hung up the phone. After 20 long minutes, he reached his wife, Monica, and confirmed that, in fact, his daughter was fine. Yet he could not forget the mysterious caller. Although he was head of an oncology department, this was the first time Rivers ever realized what it felt like to lose a loved one to cancer. “I couldn’t explain how much it had shaken me,” Rivers says. “I told (Monica), ‘We’re going to find this family, and we’re going to pour into them one way or another.’ ” He found the family one week later. Oddly, the little girl who was afflicted with brain cancer— Megan—shared almost nothing in common with Cameron. They were not in the same class, the same school or even the same city. The families didn’t live in the same neighborhood or even attend the same church. There was no reason Rivers should have been the one to receive that call, but God used the incident to change his life. The Rivers family gave generously to Megan’s family, supplying access to nurses and case managers, free medication and other health care

Praying as a family is a part of John Rivers’ home life.

November // December 2015 MinistryToday   55

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needs. But Rivers realized they weren’t addressing the real need; what Megan’s family really needed was money. He called her father and offered to send him funds but was turned down. He continued to push and offer help but was denied in no uncertain terms. After he hung up the phone, Rivers heard God say, “Pick up the phone. Call him back.” So he did. He had no clue what he would tell Megan’s father, but he had been recently working on his walk with God. Now was the time to put faith into action. Megan’s father picked up, and Rivers pitched the first offer for help he could improvise: “Let me host a fundraiser for Megan at your church,” Rivers says. “We’ll do a barbecue. All the money we raise from it can go to her.” Megan’s father agreed, and Rivers began preparation for the barbecue. Little did he know that God had been preparing him for this event his entire life.

A Call to Cook

“You have to live your life moving forward, but sometimes you have to look backward to understand your life,” Rivers says, reflecting on his life philosophy. Looking back, he can see how God was preparing him for a special ministry even in his early 20s. After graduating from college, he moved to Texas, where he met the two loves of his life: Monica and brisket. Despite growing up in Florida, he had never tried brisket until he went to Texas—a fact about which he received grief time and again from Monica’s cousins. Testosterone flowing, Rivers declared that he would learn how to make brisket and that he would make it better than any Texan. This proved to be easier said than done. Rivers spent 18 years perfecting his brisket recipe. He flew all over the country for his health care job, and at each location, he would visit a barbecue restaurant—maybe even two or three. He’d meet the restaurant owners, get tours of the kitchen and watch the chefs in action. He recorded episodes of Paula Deen and Emeril Lagasse’s TV shows. He’d seize any opportunity to cook for friends and family, whether the 56 MinistryToday November // December 2015

event was a football game or a weekend party. His brisket may not have always turned out right, but he had tremendous passion for it. These 18 years of practice, preparation and passion paid off at the fundraiser for Megan. More than 450 people attended the event, which was everything Rivers hoped it would be: “We fed a lot of wonderful people,” he says. “We raised a lot of money for this beautiful little girl. And I like to joke and say nobody got sick in the process.” When he went to bed that night, he was exhausted. He did, after all, cook brisket for 450 people. But when his wife asked how he was feeling, his response was immediate. “I’m alive,” he says. “I feel great.” The fundraiser made Rivers realize that his true passions were cooking and serving other people; for the first time in his life, he had combined them. Exhilarated, he started organizing more fundraisers for people in his community, always ready to serve alongside his meat smoker. He kept his health care job during the week, never taking a cent from his weekend outreach. He called it his “barbecue ministry.” The tiny seeds God had planted years before began to grow and flourish. Rivers served almost 50,000 people through his barbecue ministry. And then God planted a big idea in his heart: What if he were to do this full time?

A Call for Faith

Rivers sold his company to go into barbecue ministry full time. The next thing he needed was a headquarters building. His garage had served him well to that point; in fact, he had served 40,000 people out of his garage! But for bigger projects, he would need more workspace. Rivers and his wife bought an old Just Brakes location in Winter Park, Florida, and got a remodeling quote. The contractors told them that restoring the building would take $188,000 and 3 months. Six months later, the couple found themselves with an unfinished building, a half-million dollars in capital sunk into the project and the restoration at a standstill. This was 2009, and the market

Chef John Rivers prepares dinner for Florida’s Southern Supper, a Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner in Jacksonville, Florida.

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collapse had made finances tight for everyone. Rivers realized his family was down to less than 60 days’ cash. Everything else was either sunk into the building or invested in the topsyturvy markets. He trusted God but was starting to grow uneasy. One day, Rivers’ friend offered him a way out of his conundrum with an opportunity to become CEO of a new pharmaceutical business. Rivers had conflicted feelings about the offer even though, he says, it seemed like “an answered prayer.” “It wasn’t about following my heart and following a passion and doing something that I absolutely loved for the right reasons of giving back and helping other people. ... As the weekend progressed, as we mulled over the decision, thank goodness for the faith of my wife because ... even though we were 60 days out from not knowing what was going to happen, she said, ‘If you believe this is what God has led you to and wants you to do, I’ll stand by you and stand by this decision and support it.’” Despite his cash crisis, Rivers continued to act on faith, refusing his friend’s offer. It ended up being the right choice; just two months later, the corporation he would have joined fell apart. Meanwhile, God rewarded Rivers’ faith. 58 MinistryToday November // December 2015

A Christian contractor who worked with Disney and SeaWorld joined the project and helped him get the first 4 Rivers open in 59 days—one day before his finances ran out. Furthermore, Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A, reached out to Rivers and offered his support by creating a pro forma. Cathy told Rivers that if 4 Rivers could make $1,500 per day, then the restaurant would break even. If 4 Rivers could bring in $2,000 per day, the restaurant would do incredibly well. Opening day came without much hype. Because of the Rivers’ tight financial situation, the store had done no publicity or advertising at all. The kitchen could only afford second-hand equipment, which began to break down. The staff gathered that morning and prayed for God’s providence, then they opened the doors. At first, it was just friends and family who showed up to support the new restaurant. Then people who had been touched by Rivers’ barbecue ministry started coming. And then even more people dropped by—people Rivers had never met before. Counting the cash drawer later, Rivers was stunned by God’s goodness. “That day we closed at over $3,500


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Gainesville is one of many 4 Rivers Smokehouse locations in Florida.

in sales,” he says. “By far, by multiple, that is the lowest day we’ve ever had at the company.”

A Call to Serve

4 Rivers Smokehouse has maintained that success for more than six years, but Rivers does not take it for granted. He continues to walk with God through dedicated service to his community. Within the workplace, Rivers and his staff promote exceptional customer service. He says he intentionally finds and promotes people with hearts for service. His employees can be awarded the coveted “Make Their Day” awards if a customer comments that the staff went out of their way to make the customer feel good. According to Rivers, that’s not a rare achievement as they “get stories almost every day from all the different locations.” “They might mention the food, but they’re talking about how they were treated,” he says. “They’re talking about something that happened during their visit that made it an exceptional experience (in which) they felt special.” That care and attention extends not only to people within the restaurants, but to the broader community. Twice a year, 4 Rivers’ staff—and sometimes their family and friends—celebrate Serve Day. Each location chooses a charity and volunteers there for a half-day. Most 60 MinistryToday November // December 2015

recently, the staff went to Second Harvest Food Bank and packed 40,000 pounds of potatoes. Rivers believes the experience not only serves these organizations but also grows the staff: “What I love is the blessing that our team gets back,” he says. “Because a lot of these folks have never gone to the Coalition for the Homeless, they didn’t realize that it’s not just people on the side of the road. They’re also learning about what’s happening around us and how much need there really is.” Though 4 Rivers is successful, Rivers still views each restaurant as a ministry. He keeps the same principle he did during his barbecue ministry days, pouring profits back into the community. In 2014 alone, 4 Rivers donated to nearly 500 different organizations around the world. Rivers encourages other business leaders to be sensitive to God’s voice and to trust Him—whether it requires crazy leaps of faith or continued faithfulness in an existing calling: “Use wherever you’re at as a platform to teach people about God’s love. ... Never underestimate the impact that your actions and your words can have on all the people around you.” T a y l o r B e r g l u n d is assistant online editor at Charisma Media.

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“Although every church needs positive change to remain vital, a new pastor is wise to make getting to know the new congregation one of his first priorities.�


Getting Acquainted How a pastor can get to know his new congregation



astors often make the mistake of assuming their new congregations are like the ones they left. Thinking that everything will work as it did at their previous church, a pastor may be eager to implement the same ministry strategies and approaches in his new congregation. However, a church does not begin on its new pastor’s first Sunday. When a pastor assumes—wrongly—that he has full understanding of his new church and its needs, he can cause a great deal of trouble for himself and the church. The apostle Paul understood that ministry must be contextualized. He preached in an entirely different way among the Greek philosophers on Athens’ Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31 than he did among the Jews of Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:16-41. He spoke the language of each group, cited sources they considered authoritative and addressed the topics that mattered to them, even though they differed greatly. Although every church needs positive change to remain vital, a new pastor is wise to make getting to know the new congregation one of his first priorities.

Understanding the Church

Although some churches may be facing crises that require immediate action upon the pastor’s arrival, most strategic change will have a far greater impact if the people of the church love and trust their leader, understand the reason for the change their new pastor brings and see how the change will bring about an outcome that matters to them. A pastor new to the church can intentionally schedule “listening appointments” in order to understand the congregation and come to know and love its people. There are two key purposes for this process. The first is the building of rapport. People are far more likely to follow a leader they love and one they know loves them. Although the title “pastor” brings some credibility, trust and rapport increase as the pastor

builds relationships and listens to the people. The second purpose is to discover some key elements of the church in order to make the healthiest and most effective long-term change. These elements are: Strengths. Every church that has survived more than a couple of years has some areas of strength. People have specific reasons to continue attending and giving to a particular church. These strengths can provide a solid foundation on which to build healthy ministries. A wellmeaning new pastor may kill effective ministries right away while trying to implement his preferred ministry models or put his own stamp on the church. However, these kinds of changes undermine the trust of the people and eliminate need-meeting ministries that may remain valuable and life-giving for years to come. Values. Discovering what people care about most can provide a basis for healthy change. Asking questions about formerly effective ministries that people still love, though these ministries are no longer vital, can reveal the underlying values of the church and its people. For example, a church that tries to maintain a Sunday school bus ministry may seem like a dinosaur in today’s society laden with fear of child molestation. However, listening to stories of bus ministry success in the 1970s may reveal that the people still love the idea of reaching unchurched, impoverished children with the gospel. Buses may not be the best way to do that anymore, but funding an overseas orphanage, starting a Saturday outreach to kids in a rough neighborhood or even launching a new church targeting the marginalized can be a way to harness that value in a more productive way that both newcomers and old timers can celebrate. Speed bumps and roadblocks. People who have attended a church a long time may not be aware of its barriers and hindrances to growth and effectiveness. The pastor should search for roadblocks that have prevented the congregation’s growth or speed bumps that have limited its ministry effectiveness. These may be congregational November // December 2015 MinistryToday   63

listen. Of course, it is fair to allow the people to ask about the pastor’s own story and values, but at least 70 percent of each conversation should be spoken by others. The pastor should have some open-ended questions in mind that can draw others out, such as asking how they came to faith in Christ, what brought them to the church, what they love most about their church and what they would like to see changed.

Studying the Church

“A pastor new to the church can intentionally schedule ‘listening appointments’ in order to understand the congregation and come to know and love its people.” attitudes and habits, spiritual matters or physical limitations. An example of the latter is inadequate parking. The size of the sanctuary doesn’t matter if people have to walk more than a half-mile to enter the doors of the church. Other speed bumps and roadblocks may not be as obvious as the parking situation. For instance, some churches seem friendly to regular attendees while making it difficult for newcomers to feel welcome, build relationships and get involved. Longtime members might greet and invite one another over but not take time to get to know the newcomers. While unintentional, the feeling of being snubbed can drive visitors away from a church. The new leader will need to listen to those who have started attending recently to assess the level of hospitality of his church. Newcomers also may not feel welcome if all of the church’s ministry leaders and board members have been attending for more than 10 years, indicating a roadblock for newcomer involvement.

Listening to the Church

The new pastor can discover the strengths, values, speed bumps and 64 MinistryToday November // December 2015

roadblocks through listening and study. People love to talk when another, especially a spiritual leader, is willing to listen. The new pastor can fill his calendar with appointments in the office, meetings over lunch or coffee or time together in homes. Sincere, active listening communicates respect, value and concern. Of course, key leaders should be the new pastor’s top priority, but other attendees can also give the pastor insight into the church. The pastor may discover some latent talent and unique elements of the church’s story to share when leading future change. A wise pastor also will meet with his predecessor. Depending on the circumstances of the departure, the former pastor might present a tainted view of the church, but this perspective can be invaluable in revealing the issues and strengths of a church. A pastor also should begin early to get to know new attendees. Newcomers are far more likely to stay and get involved in a congregation in which the leadership seeks to know and listen to them. The goal in all of these meetings is to

The pastor is also wise to study the church through objective means. Researching the congregation’s history will reveal high and low points and indicate what the church has done well in the past and where it has struggled. Sometimes the highlight of a church’s history can become a roadblock as people get stuck trying to return to the glory days. The pastor can read old business meeting minutes, consult denominational records and search for other sources. These findings may confirm or refute what the people perceive as their church’s strengths and weaknesses and help persuade people to buy into change when it does come. The pastor should also study the community. Demographic information is available from the U.S. Census Bureau and in even more detail from companies like Percept and MissionInsite. Talking with people in the community about their values, priorities and opinions of the church can reveal much about how best to target a community for outreach. Finally, the pastor should study by observing both people inside and outside the church. In this way, he can determine their values and areas of openness. Having to take the time to get to know the congregation may frustrate the new pastor eager to bring immediate change in order to take the church to the next level, but an early investment will pay long-term dividends by preventing painful opposition, building trust and discovering the real heart of the church. A l a n E h l e r , P h . D . , is dean of the College of Christian Ministries & Religion and associate professor of religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Lightstock

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Adopt a Village

How our church was called to meet a significant need BY MATT FRY


he honor was all mine. Sitting at the dining room table of a village leader, I was privileged to listen as she shared about the needs of the Mganduzweni village in South Africa. Her husband had been the village leader, but since he had passed away, she was providing leadership for the community’s 170,000 people. As I inquired about the needs of the village, she replied without hesitation, “We need water.” I couldn’t believe they didn’t have water. She explained that they have water brought in once a month, but the supply was inadequate to meet their basic needs. Before I knew what I was saying, I told her, “We are going to get you water. We are going to dig you a well. Not only that, but we are going to build a church here, and one day

James Kirabo, left, celebrates with C3 Church Pastor Matt Fry at the dedication of a well for a South African village.

I will come and preach here. Is that OK?” With tears in her eyes, she simply replied, “Yes.” That was a defining moment not only for our church but also for a village in great need of hope. Since that meeting two years ago, our church has built and dedicated two wells in the village. Not only that, but we broke ground for a brand-new church building, a facility that will provide not only a place of worship for C3 Church South Africa, which worships every Sunday, but also a building for 66 MinistryToday November // December 2015

the children that we feed and care for throughout the week in partnership with an organization called Children’s Cup based in Prairieville, Louisiana.

One Village at a Time

From the beginning of this journey, our passion has been to ask God to direct us to one village that we can give hope to and wrap our arms around. Our church can’t solve every problem in the world, but we can do something. Our prayer is that God could use C3 Church to reach out to this village beset by poverty, AIDS and witch doctors and turn its people completely to Jesus. On our trip to South Africa several years ago, the late Dave Ohlerking, founder of the Children’s Cup organization, said these unforgettable words: “Hope’s name is Jesus.” One of the verses that drives us to fulfill God’s vision is Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I’ve discovered that when I lay down my personal agenda and goals and look around, I see what God sees. There are so many people around the world who are hurting and hopeless. If all churches would take just a small piece, we can change the world—one village at a time.

One Step at a Time

Churches motivated to change the world through adopting a village or community can take these steps to get started: 1) Start where you are. Many people want to change the world but need to know they can begin by making a difference where they are. Where do you live? Where do you work? In what activities are you involved? Start serving those around you and see what God does. When I’m faithful to use what God has put in my hands, He fulfills the dreams that are in my heart. Decide today to make a difference where you are now. 2) Take others with you. Ministry has the greatest impact when we serve with others. Great things can happen when people in their local church join together with others of a similar passion and begin serving together. Most churches have opportunities to get involved locally as well as globally. If God opens the door for you to go on a mission trip, take others with you. Even Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. My wife, Martha, and I decided several years ago to take at least one of our three Children’s Cup

children with us when we travel and minister. When we took all three of them to Africa with us, it was one of our most life-changing trips. The trip was a defining moment for all of our children. One of our daughters spent a summer in Swaziland serving and studying at the Global Leadership Academy. My son will be going on his third trip in November to serve and provide Christmas parties for thousands of children in South Africa. The passion our children now have for the world began with our trip together to Africa. 3) Partner with your church or a missions organization. For many years, our church had a passion to make a global impact but didn’t know where to start or how to accomplish our mission. We also had limited resources and time. But after establishing strategic partnerships, we have been able to accomplish more than we could have on our own. We partnered with different organizations, including Children’s Cup, which provides care points for children to be fed and discipled. Children’s Cup also offers opportunities to sponsor children. 4) Wait on God’s timing. You can’t force a door open. The right decision at the wrong time can lead to disaster. Sometimes God takes leaders and churches through a process of growth and preparation for what He has for us to do. But while waiting, it’s important to keep serving and trusting God to open the doors in His timing and His way. 5) Expect challenges. Satan doesn’t like it when we give people hope! Impacting the dark places of the world isn’t easy. That’s why, according to Ephesians 6, we need to put on the full armor of God to withstand the schemes of the devil. Many Christians glamorize the mission field, but we must not let the devil blindside us. Nevertheless, the challenges are worth it when you look into the eyes of the children you have helped and see their hope. 6) Every child matters. Although not everyone in your congregation will be able to go to the mission field, they can still support the effort by praying, serving and giving, perhaps through sponsoring a child. Sponsors often reflect on how they feel knowing they have a child they are caring for personally. On our family trip to Africa, we got to meet the children we sponsor—it was so emotional! Even with the cultural differences, the impact and connection we had was evident. Together, we can change the world, one child at a time. Never underestimate the power of sponsoring one child. 7) Remember, hope’s name is Jesus. Our passion is to provide real hope for real people in a real world—and hope’s name is Jesus! Providing food, clothing and education is fantastic, but if that’s all we give, we miss out on the most important thing they need. They need to know that Jesus loves them and that He is their only hope. Everyone needs hope and a family. We have the answer for hope in Jesus, and we have a family for these children in the church. The opportunity is in front of us, we have the answer, and the time is now. Let’s change the world together! M a t t F r y is the founding and lead pastor at C3 Church in Clayton, North Carolina. Spencer Combs

C3 Church in Clayton, North Carolina, adopted the South African village of Mganduzweni to make an impact for Christ in Africa.


Survive or Thrive When God uses weakness to strengthen pastors



aul not only acknowledges his weakness, he commits to boasting about it: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul saw human weakness as an opportunity to display the Lord’s divine sovereign power. Don’t be confused. Paul was not a theological masochist who glorified suffering. Rather, he came to embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to acknowledging his constant weakness and Christ’s constant strength. What he summarizes as weaknesses, he details in four additional words: “insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Often God’s purpose is to make your weakness a showcase for Jesus’s power. God’s plan is not to eliminate our weaknesses (no matter how many times we plead with Him) but to cause us to rely solely on the Holy Spirit to endure. The MINISTRY RESOURCE

If you liked the article, you’ll love the book. You can find this book on, or anywhere Christian books are sold. 68 MinistryToday November // December 2015

deepest need you and I have in the midst of insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities is not quick relief but the absolute confidence that what is happening to us is part of the greater purpose of God. This is one of the most difficult concepts for pastors to grasp—and for good reason. Your congregation expects you to be strong. People want to follow strong leaders. If your backstage life doesn’t match your onstage persona, they would prefer you keep that to yourself. Unfortunately, the expectations of a robust, tough, “never let ’em see you sweat” pastor is ludicrous— and why there is a mass exodus of pastors from the ministry in years two through four. Once congregational expectations set in, pastors realize their job descriptions don’t allow them to embrace weakness and admit brokenness, and they conclude they don’t have what it takes to lead. If you’re a pastor, there are three potential paths to follow: One, walk away from the pastoral ministry. Two, become a professional pretender, never allowing anyone a glimpse behind the curtain at your back stage weakness. Or three, embrace the gospel of weakness and allow the strength of the Lord to shine through your powerlessness, your ineffectiveness and your insecurities. The gospel is the story of an all-powerful, divine Father graciously sending His only Son to live a life that would be largely

characterized by human weakness. Power in weakness is shorthand for the cross of Jesus Christ. The Father could have sent His Son in strength, glory and judgment, but He could not have walked among those whom He came to redeem. Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus emptied Himself (willingly laid aside strength), making Himself nothing (willingly embraced weakness). The only way to atone for the sins of mankind was for Jesus to hang on a cross in weakness. While many saw the cross as the ultimate defeat of the divine, God triumphed through weakness and defeat, accomplishing our justification. In God’s plan of redemption, there was weakness (the cross) before there was power (the resurrection). This powerful gift of divine reconciliation can be understood and received only in weakness. G.K. Chesterton famously said that a paradox was a truth standing on its head calling out for attention. The greatest paradox is that God became man. From the cross comes resurrection. Out of death comes life. From repentance comes hope. Out of weakness comes strength. I would come to see this more clearly as I gradually came to see weakness as a close friend. © 2015 J i m m y D o dd . Survive or Thrive: 6 Relationships Every Pastor Needs is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved. © iStockphoto/PeopleImages

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Facing Opposition How to respond to attack as you rebuild



ow do we respond to opposition? The first thing we have to do is pray. Bring the issue before God. Nehemiah did this after Sanballat and Tobiah ridiculed him. You can ask God to fight on your behalf and help resolve the situation. When opposition comes, you have to reinforce your weak points. Nehemiah placed armed guards at the lowest parts of the walls in the exposed areas. His workers had a hammer in one hand and a sword in the other. They were ready for opposition as they continued to work. Strategize, communicate and correct. Nehemiah 4:16-20 breaks down his strategy: “But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were rebuilding the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm. “Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, ‘The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated MINISTRY RESOURCE

If you liked the article, you’ll love the book. You can find this book on, or anywhere Christian books are sold. 70 MinistryToday November // December 2015

from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us.’” Everyone was working around the entire city. They couldn’t possibly cover every area with the same strength. They didn’t have an army, only a bunch of amateurs trying to build a wall out of rubble. Nehemiah’s plan was for everyone to run to an area of the wall to fight together if they heard the trumpet blow. A principle we can learn from this is to keep the lines of communication open during times of intense opposition. Every time you start building for God, there will be a battle. Satan will be there to oppose us when we get serious about rebuilding. Real leaders must learn to build and battle at the same time. Nehemiah had three choices and so do we. You can give up, leave the rebuilding and go fight, or keep building and arm yourself. Follow Nehemiah’s lead. Don’t leave the wall to go fight. You could spend all your time putting out fires and never get your job done. You could waste all your energy on the squeaking wheel that is complaining the loudest, and it will take you away from the dream that God has for you. You will never be able to keep everyone happy in your rebuilding process. But don’t fight alone. When you are facing opposition, you need support. If you are a leader, you always need to be careful not to vent to people you are leading. The battle gets tough and there may be moments you are tempted to do that, but don’t go there.

Take inventory of who is on your team and who is in your inner circle. When you face opposition from within, it can bring your rebuilding process to a complete stop and even take it backwards. Most of us can spot the obvious opposition from within and deal with it or eliminate it. But sometimes there is an underlying opposition that is much harder to pinpoint, and it can do a lot of damage. If you are leading something, you have to remember that those under your leadership reflect you. When people you lead aren’t on the same page, it creates opposition. In essence, it slows down the progress on the wall where I’m working and rebuilding. But when it is your own team and your inner circle, you have to pause, correct, challenge and pour into them. Nehemiah never came off the wall to go talk with the opposition from the outside, but there were several times he had to rally the troops and correct those he was leading on the inside. Quitting is not an option. There will be moments when the weight may feel unbearable. Keep pushing. Nehemiah and his crew worked through the night. They even slept in their clothes. Nehemiah led the way. He set the pace and the example. He endured the same hardships and dangers as the people. Real leaders model persistence. What has Satan been trying to get you to quit? Taken from ReBuild by T o m m y “ U r b a n D . ” K y l l o n e n . Copyright ©2015 by Tommy Kyllonen. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. © iStockphoto/bowie15

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Using the Power of the Mute Button Regular reflection, meditation and silence can improve your life


ur world is filled with noise. It’s hard to find a place of quiet reflection anymore. Whether it’s some kid’s overdriven bass-thumping music from his car, the laughter or racket of children, or jets overhead—we are frequently bombarded with sound—some good, some not so good. Due to my bad back, bad knees and bulbous belly, I haven’t backpacked in years. One of the things I miss about those great outdoor outings into the back country of the Cascades or Glacier National Park is the serenity. Except for the occasional call of a bull elk or the melodic chatter of birds, the silence was golden. Those quiet times refueled my soul. Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. I love people. I can engage in a crowd with smiles and conversation, but I am refreshed in moments of solitude. There’s nothing I love more than a good

“If I don’t take the time to sit and think on a regular basis, then the swirl of data I’m jamming into my mind is of no value.” book in one hand and a great cup of java in the other. Reading. Alone. I find solace in solitude. Interestingly, many people are uncomfortable with silence. I know people who must have a radio, CD or TV playing in the background all the time. Perhaps quiet intimidates some or makes them feel alone. Maybe the hum of a TV in the background silences an inner voice they’d rather not hear. I’m not sure why, but too many humans fill their environment with white noise of some sort, and they avoid silence as if it were the cause of Ebola. Some might argue, “I like to be informed.” Or they may say, “Music matters to me.” I understand. But I wonder if we’ve filled 72 MinistryToday November // December 2015

our heads with so much information, news and opinions of others that we’ve forgotten how to reflect, meditate and think on our own. Is it possible that we’ve so filled our heads with the music of others that we’ve lost the ability to create music in our hearts? I read—a lot. My book budget is ridiculous. I could be a professional reader if somebody would just pay me to do so! I subscribe to no fewer than 20 blogs. I appreciate the insights and wisdom of others. However, if I don’t take the time to sit and think on a regular basis, then the swirl of data I’m jamming into my mind is of no value. Reflection leads to realization. Meditation results in movement. Silence produces substance. So here’s what I propose: Hit the mute button—often. Find a place and time to quiet your heart, mind and soul every day. If you’re like the old woman who lived in a shoe, get up early to invest at least the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee or tea alone before the craziness begins. When we had children at home, my wife would have them take an hour a day to be quiet. Even after they were way past taking naps, they were told to find a spot to read. No playing. No talking. Quiet time for all, including Momma! By the way, all of my grown children are avid readers to this day because of that daily family ritual. You can do this by: hh Turning off the electronics for at least 30 minutes a day (Yes, that means your smartphone) hh Taking a walk someplace other than Main Street or the mall hh Clearing some space in your closet if you must, crawling in there and closing the door for 20 minutes hh Turning off the music on the way home from work and thinking, “What did I learn today? What am I thankful for?” hh At the very least, turning off your car radio once in a while and savoring the relative silence I am grateful for modern technology. I use it. I like it. But I will not let it rob me of what I need most—moments alone—quiet time to ponder, contemplate and ruminate. How about you? Introvert or not, you too need daily downtime to maintain your sanity. Don’t wait for it to happen; make it happen. Who knows what great idea or dream is waiting to sprout out of the soil of solitude and personal reflection?  K u r t B u b n a serves as senior pastor of Eastpoint Church, a nondenominational congregation in Spokane Valley, Washington. He is also a blogger, speaker, radio and television personality and author of the Tyndale House book Epic Grace: Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot. This column originally appeared at © iStockphoto/ImagineGolf



Drawing from a rich heritage, our heart is to serve pastors, build dreams, impact the world: : : One church : : One community : : One city at a time

Let us rise up and build . . . [Neh. 2:18]



Motivate With Words of Affirmation

Why few things are as powerful as praise for those you lead and encounter every day


o you want to change the whole world with bite-sized steps? Affirm people. They’re starving for it. We live in a highly critical age when civility has been replaced with sharp-tongued sarcasm. We celebrate witty criticism far more than we celebrate affirmation, but affirming people is a missing ingredient to deeper relationships, mutual emotional healing and, basically, a better world all the way around. You can most likely identify with what it feels like to live in a vacuum of praise. Statistically—and hopefully you’re an exception—you probably grew up lacking genuine affirmation from your mom or dad. You’ve probably worked in an atmosphere where correction was far more plentiful than congratulations on a job well done, especially when the “performance review” rolls around. You may have even been labeled a rebel or a juvenile delinquent by teachers, school administrators or even the local police. First let me clarify what affirmation is not: hh Empty flattery, words with no foundation in truth hh Appeasement or agreement hh Saying words without action, but saying words plus action It’s important to remember that correction isn’t always bad. Criticism can be valuable, especially when coming from friends and family who are seeking our best interests. But nothing is more powerful to change our direction than affirmation. One of the most important moments in the life of Jesus was His baptism. John the Baptist felt unworthy of the occasion but reluctantly immersed Jesus in the waters of the Jordan as an example to every future follower of the Messiah. When Jesus came up out of the water, something incredibly meaningful happened: “And when Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water. And suddenly the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16-17). When Jesus began His public ministry, God spoke into His life words of affirmation, words that celebrated their Father-Son relationship, words that conveyed value—and He did it publicly.

God didn’t just do this with Jesus. He did it through a burning bush to Moses, through multiple anointings of King David and through the prophetic word to Jeremiah about his calling. He did it, through Jesus, in the life of Peter the rock, Paul the missionary to the Gentiles and John the disciple whom Jesus loved. God sees past our faults and our present messes to what He desires for us to be and calls us by that name. He lets us know that, once we’ve placed our trust in Him, He is pleased to call us His children no matter what because of what Jesus did on our behalf. I have a teenage daughter and two little boys. When I read this passage, I can’t help being reminded of how vital it is to the development of their hearts and their future success that they hear their dad say repeatedly: “You’re my kid. I love you, and you bring me joy!” I lead a church staff. They’re amazing—and they need to know it. I love them as if they were family and believe great things about what God wants to do in, around and through them. They can change the world, and one of my chief responsibilities as pastor of Grace Hills Church is to remind the church’s leadership that they’re my friends, I love them and I’m grateful to be on the journey with them. I bump into grumpy, depressed, agitated, scared, discouraged people in public, and you do too. They often need to know from a fellow human being that they matter to God, they are loved and they can make a difference in this world. We are a divided people. We divide by race, religion, political platforms and cultural differences. And while words of affirmation won’t necessarily stop wars or settle all conflicts, they can go a long way to add value to the lives of the people we meet every day. Our affirming spirits may just be contagious, go viral and change the whole world! So who’s up next for you to affirm?

“I lead a church staff. They’re amazing—and they need to know it.”

74 MinistryToday November // December 2015

B r a n d o n C o x is planting a Saddleback-sponsored congregation, Grace Hills Church, in northwest Arkansas. He serves as editor of, where this article originally appeared, and Rick Warren’s Pastors’ Toolbox. He writes a top-100 blog for church leaders and is author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God’s Love. © iStockphoto/andresr


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Managing and Leading: What’s the Difference?

Why communicating and clarifying a ministry’s vision is the primary role of the leader


t’s been said many times by many different people that everything rises or falls on leadership. I don’t think that’s ever truer than in ministry. Charles McKay, a former professor at California Baptist College, used to tell us if you want to know the temperature of your church, put the thermometer in your mouth. That’s a good statement. You can’t ever take people further than you are yourself, spiritually or any other way. When I was interviewed by Jimmy Allen on the ACTS Television Network, he asked me about starting new churches. He said, “How important is location?” I said it’s very important, the second most important thing. The most important thing is not location but leadership in a church. I see churches in great locations that aren’t doing anything, and I see churches with good leadership in poor locations doing great things. Leadership is the key. You don’t have to be a charismatic leader (in the emotional sense) to be a great leader. It’s not the charisma of the leader that matters, but the vision of the leader. No matter what your ministry concentration may be, your No. 1 responsibility of leadership in that area is to continually clarify and communicate the vision of that particular ministry. You must constantly answer the question, Why are we here? If you don’t know the answer, you can’t lead. As a senior pastor, my job is to keep us on track with the original New Testament purpose of the church. That gets much more difficult as the church grows larger and larger. When we were very small, the only people who wanted to come were non-Christians. We didn’t have a lot of programs. We didn’t have a children’s ministry or a music ministry or a youth ministry. The people who wanted all those things went to churches that had them. Now I meet people coming over from other churches every week. This new dynamic presents an acute problem. Every one of these people carries in a load of cultural baggage. They expect Saddleback to be like the church they left. The first words off their lips can be, “At our old church, we did it like this.” But how can I politely say, “We don’t care how you did it at

some other church”? I don’t mean to be rude, but the vision of the church someone just left isn’t the key issue. Our vision in this church is the key issue. Therefore, I must continually communicate Saddleback’s vision to everyone who walks through our doors. Vision is the main difference between leadership and management. Management consists primarily of three things: analysis, problem solving and planning. If you go to any management course, they’ll be composed of those three things, but leadership consists of vision, values and the communication of those things. If you don’t clarify the purposes as the leader, who’s going to do it? Most churches are over-managed and under-led. Your church needs to be managed, but it also needs to be led. You have to have both. When you only have management in the church, you get the problem of paralysis of analysis. It’s like “Ready … aim … aim … aim … ” and they never fire. Management without leadership results in constantly analyzing and looking but never actually doing anything. Don’t get me wrong. You need managers in the church as well. Without them, you end up with a church that says, “Ready … fire!” without ever taking the time to aim. You need both. Some people have dreams but not vision. There is a difference. A vision is a dream that can be implemented. It’s specific. Every Easter Sunday I stand back and marvel at all God has done in our church. We started on an Easter with a handful of people. Now, every Easter, we have even more than the year before as thousands upon thousands gather together. That’s incredible to me when I think about how it all started with a little vision, and from that, we’ve watched a movement happen. That’s the power of a vision.

“Management without leadership results in constantly analyzing and looking but never actually doing anything.”

76 MinistryToday November // December 2015

Used with permission of the author. For more Ministry and Leadership insights from P a s t o r R i c k W a r r e n , go to Founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, Warren is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century.


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Bates believes that there is one reason Jesus and the apostles were persecuted and killed, and that one reason is because they opposed “traditions of men” within the church. Today, he points out that there has been 2,000 years of these “traditions of men” within church, contrary to the raw, undiluted message espoused by Christ and his followers during their time. To rectify this situation and set the stage for the Second Coming prophesized in biblical times, Bates wrote his book as a trumpet call to his fellow believers, calling on them to turn away from these “traditions of men” before the Lord returns, urging them to look at the original teachings of Christ. His words may be strong, but Bates believes they are true to the Word of God. —John 5:16 and Mark 7:6-9

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Experience the Power of One

Find favor as you consistently communicate your core message


hen we meet new people, the inevitable question is asked quickly: “What do you do for

a living?” I’ve often wondered if I’ll need a business card and resume to accompany my entrance to heaven. “Well, hello there, Angelic Host, I’m the executive vice president of Charisma Media. Here’s my business card. Would you like to see my resume?” When we pause to answer the “what we do” question, we shed light directly onto our platform. By definition, a platform is a place we keep showing up to do what we do best. When we are doing what we do best, there is no need to spin plates, jump on a trampoline to slam-dunk basketballs or juggle chain saws while singing “Nessun Dorma.” When we do what we do best, our platform will thrive. The probability is that you have a lot of other things crowding your platform. Your core message is challenged by the taffy pull for your time and attention. And then, when the bell rings to do what you do best on your platform, only a faint resemblance of your gift shows up for work. Observers of your platform aren’t in a hurry to return for more. When we show up on any platform, our work must reveal our core message with peak delivery. Imagine a cellist for a fine symphony showing up on platform to “phone in” a few measures of stringed harmony. How should a surgeon show up on her platform? An airline pilot? Poor work on the platform is often the result of a plate too full. Platform experts do not allow their plate to fill from a smorgasbord of options. Mission experts attack mission creep with atomic power. For most of us, we would be considered highly favored to do one thing better than anyone else. Many leaders become known for their personal best only to have it thwarted by low-impact juggling activities. The platform is not a place for a factotum to put on a show. A platform expert should be known for what he doesn’t do as well as for his unique message. The platform gift is readily apparent and in use during every platform event. When the audience sees or hears a platform expert, there is no doubt about the gift and the message of the expert. The power of one envelopes the platform.

Try this review. Look at last week, month or year. Note every hour in which your unique gift was on display. Time spent hidden under a bushel, no, doesn’t count in this review. As a percentage of total hours available, what percentage of time were you working on platform with your unique gift fully in play? When you were not on platform, how well did your message perform in silence? What can you do to jettison stuff from your too-full plate? What is on your plate that is more important than your message? How can you develop more platform opportunities? Remember, a platform is more than the place from which you speak. Your platform could also be a well-crafted email message to a targeted group of people. It isn’t an ordinary email; it is a platform message. Your platform could be a blog, an article in this magazine, a tweet, a Periscope, a podcast, a book or many other opportunities available to you. The context of the message will change a little, but the core content will proclaim your unique expertise. An important test of the significance of your message is to assess how it will impact others. Think of it as a message of hope to a generation of hurting people. If your message falls to the floor of any platform without impacting your intended audience, you really do not have a platform. The impact of a message can be seen through change. The more impactful the message, the more radical the change that will occur. And the platform will enlarge. The larger your platform, the more people you will help. A platform can never be the message, but every message needs a powerful platform. Don’t focus on the tool. Focus on the impact of a well-used tool. A platform can never change a life. Only a well-crafted, well-lived, well-executed message can provide a catalyst for change. When you own your platform strategy, no one will ever need to ask you about what it is you do for a living.

“When we show up on any platform, our work must reveal our core message with peak delivery.”

78 MinistryToday November // December 2015

D r . S t e v e G r e e n e is publisher and executive vice president of the Media Group at Charisma Media. Follow his daily, practical Greenelines blog at greenelines. If you’d like to attend his seminar series on the development of your platform, please visit for more information. Sean Roberts



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